- March 12, 2023
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 20)
Stakeouts are boring. It’s one of the few things movies never succeeded in making look fun, but they at least turned that into a joke. It’s not funny in real life. It’s just sitting and waiting for someone to do something, and that can never be anything but boring.
We started watching out for Andrea by mid-afternoon, I think? We’re still waiting for Andrea by the time the last classes finish for the day.
Finally, we catch sight of her as she leaves her building, and heads for the engineering lab. The Hood watches her with his helmet and I can hear the lenses focusing inside it. As I try to follow her with my own eyes, from a building across the way, my mind does what it always does. It strays.
I should have been there for her. We were friends, I knew what had been happening and spent barely anytime searching for her. I could have went back to the Timeless whatever, or asked the Director for help, or someone, but I let it go. Goddamn it, I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid. I actually had the gall to complain about Emily and Marie being bad friends to me, and then I turn around and be a bad friend to Andrea.
I feel a hand clasp onto my shoulder. I turn around to find the Hood… rubbing my shoulder… like an… an empathetic person?
“It’s not your fault,” he tells me, “it’s not like we came back with nothing to do. You had responsibilities to Aegis City and your family. If you had found her, it’s no guarantee you could have done anything before she decided to do whatever’s setting off my radiation sensors.”
He gives my shoulder a good tap before pulling away, and I should feel comforted… and I am! I’m just…
“You know,” I start thinking out loud, “it’s moments like this when it seems like you could be a good guy if you wanted to be.”
“Of course. I can,” he tells me, scanning the campus, “if I wanted to be.”
Then I make the decision to tease him. You know, to cause problems. “I don’t think you want to be bad at all.”
The Hood stops, glances at me, and turns back to the campus. “You’re also stupid, so that’s no surprise.”
Now there’s no need to be mean. It’s… getting beyond aggravating, but I have something to say. There’s something that hasn’t added up since we fought those cops.
“Insult me all you want,” I tell him, “you wish you didn’t need to take a cold shower at the end of every day.”
He turns and stares at me again, trying to wield the dark abyss like a–
“Cold shower…?” he questions.
Okay, maybe the head tilt should have given away that he was just confused.
“Metaphor, simile, I don’t know,” I’m rambling now, “you know what I mean…. I don’t think you meant it.”
“I don’t think you meant it… when you said pulling the trigger is as easy as breathing. I think it’s something else…” I turn and face him with everything, as he turns to meet me. “I think you hate it.”
“You think I hate killing after all you’ve seen me do?”
“No,” I say, taking a page out of Andrea’s book, “I think you hate that you like it, love it in fact. I think you shake after you’ve gone so long without fighting because you’re addicted to the power trip, and you know it’s wrong so you hate yourself.
“You hate yourself so much that you try to punish yourself with this kind of… war on crime. You’re not a punishment to criminals, they’re a punishment to you. You think you don’t deserve the… I dunno, the light? and honestly man, you need to get the fuck over yourself.”
The Hood stares, and his head does that little tilt again. “Hmph,” is all he says. That’s not good enough, how can he take all that and just blow me off?
I keep badgering, I taunt him this time. “What, did I hit a nerve?”
“No, you were actually onto something there,” he admits, making a pinching gesture just to really turn on the condescension in his voice, “you were so close in fact, but like always, at the end, you remind me that you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Criminals aren’t a punishment, they’re a reprieve.”
“A reprieve? A reprieve from what?”
What the hell does any of that mean? Does he really think that all this hard, annoying dark exterior is endearing? Is he that afraid- that much of a coward- that he can’t respond with anything other than deflection and gaslighting?
Jesus shit, I would rather have him scream back at me than this petty bullshit.
“Hmm, everyone’s gone, we should go.”
He’s already on the ledge by the time I say, “Dude, fucking talk to me.”
“We’re a bit too busy for you to take your turn to psycho-analyze me. We have your ex to catch.”
The Hood jumps off and pops out his wings to glide.
I lean back against the side wall and really lean my head back. The cold cement of the well is soothing, I don’t know why, it just is. Maybe because it’s cold and I’m always hot, even when I’m not on fire I sometimes feel like I’m going to explode for no reason at all.
But this time I do have a reason. This guy is so fucking annoying. Why did a guy whose saved my life so many times have to be this fucking annoying?
“Come on, Thomas!” he calls to me.
“Ehh,” I growl to myself as I light on fire, burning my spot on the roof before I even start flying.
I tell him to, “Shut up,” as I fly after him.
He’s racing across the ground to the front door, and I cover the same distance in half the time, getting there just before he does.
I grab the door handle and keep him from opening. I stick my finger in his face, and yell at him for all it’s worth, “And don’t call me Thomas!”
Clearly, it’s not worth much, because he retorts with, “Make me,” before pushing me aside to get in.
“Why are you such an asshole?!” I yell at him.
He turns around and yells back, “How would you feel if people were psycho-analyzing you at every turn? Constantly questioning what you do, who you are, and what’s wrong with you? Do I ever do that to you?”
The Hood stalks up to me, and proves he is much better at getting in other people’s faces than I am.
“Did I ask you why you weren’t there for Andrea?” he asks me.
“Did I blame you for not saving Uub?
“Did I question you why you fight, or why you don’t hide your identity, or why you want to be a superhero?
“No, I didn’t. You do that to yourself.
“Better question, why do you think you should be privy to know?”
I shake my head, confused, through for a loop
“You’re not my friend, you haven’t respected by boundaries or tried to make a real friendship. You just want to jump into the deep end, have inside jokes, and make me fit in with what you want.
“You talked a lot of crap about Emily and Marie not listening, but you know what, you’re not that great a listener either. In all honesty, most people aren’t great at things they think they’re good at, and that includes you.”
The Hood turns around, and leaves me there in the hallway, alone.
There’s this tense feeling in my chest, keeping me from moving forward. I have somewhere I need to be but my brain is just keeping me from going and I have all these emotions just weighing on my mind just to make sure I don’t.
“Are you coming?” he calls to me. I have to blink to be certain myself, to understand what’s going on. He’s standing at the end, just before a turn, watching and waiting for me.
With a long gesture of the arm, “We had a moment, moments can be tense, that doesn’t mean you have the time to process it here in the hallway. We have somewhere to be.”
I straight-up shake my head like a cartoon character to snap myself out of it, because he’s right.
Fucking hell, he’s right. I hate when he’s right.
I run down the hallway to catch up.
He keeps walking as soon as I’m behind him. He doesn’t bring up what just happened, he ignores it and focuses on the mission. I’m sure a military captain or something would find that ability commendable, but I can’t stand it. I know I should be trying to focus, but I can’t.
Maybe I haven’t been altogether fair in trying to assume being a regular person works for irregular people. Maybe I don’t have to be his friend, and maybe we’re not in a place where I can consider changing that. I have to treat him like he’s the Hood, not everybody else. He doesn’t exactly treat me like I’m everybody else… ever…
He actually seems to beat up and threaten everyone else. Maybe I’ve taken that for granted… or maybe I’m just dealing with a supposedly ‘recovering’ sociopath.
As we walk through this building, it makes me wonder, “Do you know where you’re taking us?”
The Hood comes to a door with a push bar, and electrifies it with his hand. I assume that was the security system.
“Yes,” he answers me as he opens the door to an elevator and I wonder why there needed to be such security. I notice the keycard swipe on the wall next to it and realize it must be for authorized personnel only.
He kneels down and puts some kind of device on the elevator button. It starts scanning it.
“It’s gonna figure out the code to work the elevator,” he tells me.
You know what, it doesn’t matter, what matters is what’s going on in this elevator.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him. Better to say it first than second. “I’m sorry I pried into you…” Jesus Christ, now I’m realizing it, “you… you were trying to be nice, to me… and I… just used it as an excuse to pry.”
Does that mean he was trying to my friend in his own way and I just… basically told him to fuck off? Fuck, why is getting to know someone this hard.
“I’m not exactly sorry for anything,” he tells me, and I turn and stare at him.
He senses me staring and then looks at me with his arms crossed. With a shrug, he asks, “What?”
“You can just lie,” I say, “and you know, preserve the moment.”
“Oh…” he says, “true, true, I could.”
Then I’m just listening to the elevator which is… why is this elevator taking so long? It’s only three floors?
“I’m sorry for calling you, Thomas…” he says, interrupting my thought, enough that I look at him in shock, as he adds, “Thomas.”
Did he just… yeah, he made a joke, that’s… that’s… wow.
“You know, just when I started to think you were something other than human, I find out you got jokes.”
“Maybe you need a bigger idea of what being human is, maybe non-boring people wouldn’t be so hard to understand.”
I shake my head. “I hate when you say something that’s true… but you’re an asshole about it so I can’t agree with it.”
He lets out this kind of muted grunt. “Hmph.”
“What?” I ask him about it.
“Nothing, you just made me chuckle. It’s nice, better than what else I’m feeling.”
“Can I ask what you’re feeling?”
Before he can answer, his wrist device beats, and shows him the code. He looks to me, and then to the code, memorizing the five-digit pin and entering it by hand to make the elevator come our way.
The Hood goes back to standing in place, and I’m still staring at him. He turns to me, and groans as he sees I’m still staring.
“You don’t have to, I’m… trying not to pry.”
I look away and the Hood is staring at me this time. “You’re not exactly doing the best job.”
I shrug at him. “I’m not perfect.”
“Hmm,” he grunts again as he watches the slow descent of the elevator continue.
“Fine…” he says, and my eyes are wide open. “I… I have this innate feeling that we’re going to get into a fight that could have been avoided if no one knew we were here, and your joke… helped. Before I’ve just been thinking that we should have taken Icicle or Espada.”
“Yeah, they would probably help,” I agree.
“They could be quiet.”
The elevator opens for us and when we get in the elevator, he presses two floors down. I have to wonder and ask, “Where are we going?”
“AUSI’s engineering laboratory, it’s famous for how huge it is and the tools they allow. It’s where they helped make the last space shuttle.”
“But why is it below ground?”
“Something explodes or leaks, there’s a level of dirt to fall on it and contain it.” That would kill everyone in the room! The Hood reads my face and explains, “It’s a cost-efficient measure, separates the dangerous stuff from everyone above, poisons the environment instead, same reason the particle accelerator is in the Aegis Needle, high above everyone else.”
“There’s a particle accelerator in the Needle?” I didn’t know that, how have I not seen it anywhere?!
Then we get to the bottom floor and the elevator dings as it opens.
As the Hood aims to step through the elevator, I place my arm in front of him, blocking his way.
“We’re not here to hurt her,” I say as I point my finger in his face, “we do not touch her, do you understand?”
The Hood stares into my eyes without response, doing that thing where he waits for me to back down but I don’t. I care more about Andrea than the little fear I still have of him. I have to admit, I didn’t expect him to actually move.
He grabs my hand and twists it back, gaining a pretty high squeak of pain from me, one I’m not proud of, and pushes me back. He walks into the lab, and as I rub my arm after him, I try to tell him, “There is such a thing as a moral gray area within which we are working in.”
“Moral gray areas are for people who can’t commit,” the Hood says back, leaving me facing his back. “It always comes down to being good or bad, and who you’re being good or bad to. It’s only gray because you haven’t spent the time to figure it out.”
Oh great, more bullshit. “You’ve got to be-“
I’d argue more with him, but the digs of AUSI are impressive.
Aegis University of Science and Innovation really pulled out the stops for this place. No wonder people need permission to use it. This isn’t just a simple engineering lab for miscellaneous mechanical crap, but anything and everything. There are experiments at every table with things I see in superhero movies. They’re surrounded by welding tools, compartment forges, lasers for whatever; how did this place get permission to exist, let alone the money?
Whether or not the Hood was trying to answer my question or was just muttering to himself, he comments, “Gotta love government contracts.”
“Do you really know that?”
“Nah, I’m just taking a wild guess.”
We can hear the machinations of a mad scientist up ahead, and the moment the Hood goes to crouch, I walk past him.
“You know,” I tell him, “just when the girls are getting along, it only makes sense for the two guys to fall apart.”
“Shut up, Tommy,” he snaps at me, following behind.
Some of the inventions look a lot like weapons and armor. I get a bad feeling from what the smartest one of them all is making.
There’s almost a clearing among the projects, where the lights come down to focus on the work, leaving the ceiling overhead completely dark. This wide-open space must be where they come together as a group to work. That’s where the sparks fly.
As we come up behind her, I see the welding outfit and the mask that comes up and over her ponytail. She’s welding a suit of some kind, and there’s no way it’s for a good cause.
She stops what she’s doing and turns off the blowtorch. She turns towards us and flips up the faceplate, revealing that same cold stare she had for me earlier. “I would ask how you got in here, but that seems redundant to worthwhile conversation.”
“I don’t think I’ve had a worthwhile conversation all day, be a nice change of pace,” the Hood remarks in the same cold tone as her. Now I realize why she’s getting to me. The nicest person I knew is now just like the meanest.
“What are you making, Andrea?” I ask her, slowly closing the several dozen feet distance between us. As I approach her, so does the Hood.
“This?” she asks with a gesture to her suit, trying to annoy me, there’s no other suit she’s working on! “This is for the Stoneman, tested with pieces of his skin, meant to contain him so his power can be controlled.”
I’m internally pulling my hair out. She’s making a suit to help the guy who’s hurt my family.
The Hood moves up beside me, pulling out his handgun but doesn’t aim it yet. He asks her, “How did you manage to keep this a secret?”
Andrea chuckles, and arches her brow as she counters, “Who said it’s a secret? I’m making a device to control a dangerous superhuman, the university thought it was a charitable invention.” She turns her eyes from us, moving her hand to her work, presenting it to us. “This city is flooded with violent superhumans. When I said someone else was benching the costs, the university was more than happy to greenlight the project and the private lab time, even gave me some help from some of the students. If I had to guess, they think S.I.L.A.S. is paying for it.”
“I was close enough,” the Hood mutters.
The Hood is about to raise his gun, having heard all he needs to hear, but I don’t trust him to wound her, so I move in his way to keep him from raising his gun.
He growls into my ear, “What are you doing?”
I ignore him to ask, “But Andrea, why are you doing this, and who’s really paying for it?” She knows what the Stoneman wants to do, how he threatens my life.
The Hood growls, “We can ask that later, after I blow out her kneecaps.”
“Yeah, not gonna happen,” I growl back.
Andrea tilts her head, leaning against the suit like it was the tree in the Palace’s garden. She taunts me like she did before, as a joke, only this time I can’t laugh.
“When I failed before, when I couldn’t do anything to stop that child… if it can be called that… it ruined me. Not only in the eyes of my peers but myself, this is my… comeback so to speak.” She swings around the suit to give me her back, chiming with a smile, “I was too reliant on the knowledge I had at the time, I let myself forget how to study, analyze, and learn, which is my power in the first place. So, I rededicated myself to researching the superhuman gene, there’s no way I couldn’t have saved the infant with the knowledge I know now.”
The Hood pushes past me, the buttons being pushed are ones that dig into him more than me. He jabs his finger in her direction, yelling, “Don’t act like you cared about that kid! You just want to salvage your reputation as the biggest smartass on campus!”
Andrea nods her head back and forth, and turns back to us to admit, “You’re not wrong, but it doesn’t matter. After I was able to make the suit for the Stoneman, I finished my dream project, and together, they reminded me of how capable I am.”
She turns towards us, moving behind the suit of armor, for protection, tilting her head out as we begin to inch towards her.
“You asked who benched this project, wel,l isn’t it obvious? The same people who almost destroyed my reputation to begin with, the Savaage. How else were they going to make it up to me?”
“That’s it,” the Hood yells as he pulls out the submachine gun on his back into his left hand, “I don’t care how much you like her, Tommy, this is the part where I shoot her.”
I light myself on fire and hit him with a fireball as he lets off shots with the rapid-fire weapon. He falls to his back and pulls his gun away from the flames. I take the chance to fly towards Andrea, to get in the way and bet that he won’t shoot me.
Not the best bet, but it’s the best way to grab her myself and makes sure he doesn’t.
She’s smiling as she shakes her head, but she’s not getting into the Stoneman’s suit, so what could she be confident about? This is usually the part where something hits me.
I was right, of course, and I look up to miss what crushes down on my shoulder and sends me crashing into the ground. There is one thing training taught me though, don’t lay in place.
CHUT! CHUT! CHUT!
I manage a barrel roll away, as these metal tendrils come down into the floor to crush me.
I manage to float over to the Hood as I watch the tendrils rip their tips out of the ground. The tendrils are made of this shining metal with finger looking pieces lined around the circular end to grip things. The metal tendrils pull back and I see them shift high above us.
What comes down is easily the most comic booky machine I’ve ever seen.
A metal suit with what seem to be six metal tendrils coming from its back. Wait, nope, not maybe, definitely six metal tendrils.
The arms constrict to grow shorter and lift the suit to float behind Andrea. The suit opens up further as she steps back and opens her arms out to it. She allows it to envelop her and clothe her. Then it closes around her, leaving her chest covered by six glowing metal circles, and the rest of her body in this thick tan padding.
Then the helmet retracts, allowing us to still see her face.
“How the fuck did you get a school to allow that?!” the Hood yells to her.
The circles close into her chest, and with a grunt of pain, she bends over and shows six metal circles doing the same into her back.
She raises herself above the ground with this smirk on her face that reaches from ear to ear.
She raises her hand closer, looking at the back of it as the two front tendrils move in tandem with them.
Andrea looks down at us, with a tone of pride. “I call it the Automata armor. Originally, it was made of plastic rather than Ionium. It could help people stand up right and grab the small things, but it could never lift someone off the ground like this one. The Savaage paid for that upgrade.”
The mention of the Savaage triggers the Hood, and he lets loose a couple rounds with his handgun. It would have hit her dead in the head had the front arm not moved so fast to block.
“Not even a scratch,” the Hood whispers.
“Now that was rude, I was answering your question,” Andrea mocks him, placing her hand out to let it run against her fingers. “As I was saying,” she starts again, showing this new, arrogant love of her own voice, “the originals had an honestly charitable purpose.”
Charitable? What I’m looking at now is the weapon of a supervillain. Andrea has gone off the deep end in a way I never could have imagined. It enrages me to think that this is what she’s become, that she has the gall to speak positively about any of this.
I question her as I make a fireball between my hands, “What charitable purpose could that thing possibly have?”
Andrea, thankfully, drops her smile. She shakes her head at me, like I should understand why any of this is happening. “These tendrils, when mass produced, would be caretakers, protectors, for people who can’t help themselves. They would care for whoever they were assigned to, like a service animal.”
“Yeah,” the Hood comments as he takes out this black block that he inserts onto the edge of his gun, “a service animal that could tear a man apart.”
He aims at her as she rolls her eyes, “They could never kill someone, have you even been listening?! Hurt someone? Never. The originals could never do that… but… they could protect someone even from themselves.”
“Oh, Jesus Andrea,” I gasp. It’s always going to come back to your dad, isn’t it?
The Hood fires his gun and launches what I can only assume to be an explosive straight for her. At the same time… I let loose my fireball.
The mask finally comes over her face, with two white eyes hiding her smile. A helm really, one that lights up and leaves as inhuman an impression as the Hood.
I hear her voice, with a speaker layover like the Hood’s, but I can still recognize the person inside, the woman who used to be my friend. “Automata is a good name for a suit,” she says, her eyes lighting up, the only thing peering through the smoke, “but it would also make a better alias.”
Automata, that’s who I’m fighting now.
She only needs the two middle arms to hold her up, and that becomes evident as the other four come at us. Here’s hoping the giant bugs in the Danger Zone actually prepared me for this.
As I see the first tendril coming for my head, I dive bomb to go under, where I meet the second that uppercuts me.
Emily’s never hit me, but I bet this is what it feels like as I spin head over heels towards the ground, right through a table…
My head is reeling and I expect it to for a long time, though I’m not given the chance to ache in peace because a tendril grips my leg. It feels like my ankle is being put into a trash compactor.
The tendril lifts me up so I hang upside down. Then I watch the Hood somehow evade the tendrils better than I did when I was flying.
He jumps and slides over tables, pushing projects into the way of Andrea’s powerful tendrils. To narrowly miss one that comes down on him, he jumps into a backwards flip, so it narrowly misses the back of his ankle.
Mid-flip he takes something out of a compartment, and I recognize it as the atom thingy he hit Emily with when we first met.
He jumps away as it explodes, letting it propel him. The arm stops bringing me towards Andrea, all the arms stop, except for the one that he used the thingy on. The one moves from the smoke, and the tendril is streaked black, but no dent. Just some smoke that can wiped away.
After that’s cleared up, the tendril goes right for the Hood. He jumps over it and onto it, running along the thin width like a master trapeze artist. The other two tendrils go after him, and he takes out a disc that he smashes into the one he’s standing on. It looks like a small engine as it spews fire and causes the tendril ripple. He uses the extra space to swing underneath and dodge the two tendrils, swing back up atop the highest one, and continue running towards Andrea.
As he runs towards us, Andrea doesn’t even twitch inside her suit. I don’t understand why until he’s aiming his gun, aiming to shoot and run at the same time.
It’s strange, being electrocuted like this. It’s not like being shocked, a superhuman did that to me once, but more like the electricity is just flowing through my body, up my spine. It freezes me in place, doing the same to the Hood until he slips and falls off. The electricity stops as soon as he’s not touching the tendril, but another loops around behind him, grabs him behind the neck and slams him face first into the ground.
Andrea lifts me up so we’re face to face, me hanging above her, and then lifts the Hood the same way, without his guns.
Andrea crosses her arms as her mask retracts to look the Hood in the face, arching his back in pain as the tendril holds him by the base of his neck. Even after being electrified, he’s struggling, reaching his hands all around the tendril to find a weak point.
“You never give up do you?” she asks him, watching as he even reaches out for her in a rage. “You seem more feral than thoughtful, but physically impressive nonetheless.” She electrifies him again. “Sadly for you, that matters very little.” The Hood slows and it’s hard to watch her slowly beat him down, even if I don’t like him.
The Hood reaches for a compartment over his ribcage to take something out, but a tendril grabs that hand, and closes around it to force the Hood’s own hand to crush it, making him let out this low groan.
“You’re a walking Swiss army knife, aren’t you?” Andrea asks, her hand moving to her chin. She’s inspecting him again, but this seems more to bask in how her intelligence has bested his. “You made those gadgets, didn’t you?”
The Hood still twists in her grasp, where he growls, “What do you care?”
She controls the tendril around his hand to control his hand itself, like a puppet having its strings pulled. She opens it towards her so she can see whatever he tried to take from the compartment in his suit. She recognizes it as, “A thermonuclear explosion, made into a tiny transportable grenade. I’m guessing your suit protects you from the radiation whenever you use one but so does mine.” She closes his fist again. It may be broken, definitely sprained.
This situation we’re in, it’s my fault, that’s no secret to me. I could have let him kill her, could have grabbed her right in the office. I could have done so many more aggressive things to have stopped this situation way ahead of the Hood and I getting our asses handed to us. I feel guilty that I dragged someone down with me, but I wouldn’t do anything differently. I needed to see this, to see that Andrea really isn’t in there anymore.
“You must be quite the genius to make that yourself, even as part of this team,” she compliments him, but knowing her it’s to build to a more profound insult. She proves me right when she asks, “Though, all that genius, all the resources, and time… and shooting poor thugs was the best you could come up with?”
The Hood’s free hand is hanging at his side, limp, unable to do anything. His voice is low and shallow, and I can tell that he’s been brought to his wits end. “It was the best solution, to a different problem.”
Andrea develops a look of realization after pondering that for a few seconds. I don’t understand what the different problem would be, when is it not to stop crime? But Andrea, she knows, she understands, the people-person in her.
“I figured you for a monster,” she says as she smirks, “and here I thought I wasn’t here to make the world a better place.” She takes her tendril and then throws him towards the opposite wall.
He hits the wall like a fly hitting a windshield, and falls to the ground with a quieter sound.
“Aagh,” is the sound I make as a cold tendril grips me by the back of my head. It turns my head around and forces me to look up at the mask of Automata, not the face of Andrea.
“Would you consider yourself a brave boy, Thomas?” That’s the question this metal face asks me. Not my friend, Andrea, not the fellow high schooler who wanted to save her dad. Not the girl who hugged me goodbye from what now feels so long ago.
Automata asks me the question, Automata just hurt my teammate, and Automata is the supervillain trying to kill me now. I should treat her like I do all other villains.
“No,” I answer her.
I hear her laugh at my answer, hear her giggle. She’s happy to think that I’m afraid of her, happy to think that she has something over me.
I relieve her of that notion when I remind her, “I can’t be brave if I have nothing to fear.”
She stops, she stares, and she starts muttering, “You little…”
She doesn’t get to finish because of me igniting in her face.
To say I lit myself on fire is an understatement, I erupt in flames that flood everywhere, consuming and blinding her, as well as myself. That’s not why she better let me go. Right now, I’m heating up.
“Believe it or not,” I tell her, “it only takes seconds to get above a thousand degrees, and I’m willing to bet those arms will melt before then.”
She doesn’t call my bluff and throws me by my leg, but I recover in the sky. I fly back towards the wall as I spew flames in her direction, making sure to blind her as I widen the distance between us.
I need time to get the Hood and escape to the elevator. I look for him on the ground as I try to plan our escape route and-
He’s standing up where he landed, leaning against the wall, holding his arm across his stomach as if he’s holding himself together. He looks up at me as I let loose on Automata, and he limps towards the elevator.
As I let loose the fire, watching it splay out across the lab, it’s funneling back towards me, I don’t see anything of Automata. For a second I wonder if I cooked her in her suit, if I killed her a while ago and I’m just hammering on. I feel like one doesn’t just kill someone and not notice.
I don’t stop as I float down to meet the Hood by the elevator. As he bangs his hand on the button, I ask him, “How are you still standing?”
“I’m the- *cough*cough*.” As soon as he stops coughing up blood, he looks at me and admits, “I got no idea, I feel I’m bleeding from the inside out.”
Then the elevator door dings.
I let go of the fire and he presses the ‘up’ and the ‘close door’ buttons as I slip in. The second he does he tilts back against the wall, his chest rising and lowering each second. I reach out to lend a hand but he holds up his to stop me.
As the elevator begins to rise, I point, making it clear with words that, “We get it, you’re a big strong man, you took a beating, let me help-”
Thank god, I didn’t take that step a second earlier, because I would have been swept by the mechanical tendril that blasted through the bottom of the elevator. It takes hold of the ceiling… and then the elevator is no longer abiding by speed limits.
The Hood drops to the ground, holding himself in the corner of the elevator. He warns me to do the same, “Drop down, she’s going to shoot us out the top!”
I ignore that order, because the second the elevator starts tipping to the side, I know we’re completely airborne, and amp it up to blow a hole out the top.
The Hood flies out with me as we look out over the campus at night. It’s strange to be flying and gliding over the engineering department, especially as giant metal tendrils are coming out of the top.
The Hood is gliding towards the front of the building and I’m descending after him. The second he touches the ground, he crumbles, and he’s at the mercy of Automata as she climbs down the side of the building.
If you guessed that she’s going to send a tendril our way, you would be right. I hate that you’re right.
I’m flying up to dodge, but the Hood is on the ground, he’s wide open.
An ice wall comes up between us and the tendril, but the wall only delays the tendril by a millisecond. That gives enough time for a blur to fly down and punch smack the tendril away.
As the tendril pulls back and shatters the ice wall, Emily in full Espada mode, has her arm wrapped wound the Hood’s shoulder as they kneel together on the ground. Her teeth shine as she tells him, “You look like you could use some help.”
“Don’t need it,” the Hood says, which prompts an arch of her brow, until he finishes, “would appreciate it.” She shakes her head and laughs as she pulls him to his feet, only let out a little shriek when he nearly falls down again.
“What the fuck happened to you?!”
“I… took a few too many hits…”
I hear the sound of feet shredding ice and I turn as Marie jumps down behind me, her ice path falling to the ground behind her. I hope my grin conveys how happy I am to see them. In her ice armor she gives me a smirk back until I hear and feel the wind of helicopter blades overhead.
I look up to see three moving in to place spotlights on Automata as her tendrils hold her high above the building. In one of them is the Director, ponytail flowing as she’s dressed in combat gear with other strike members.
With a microphone to her face, she brings her hand up to make sure it works. Coming out over the intercom, the Director yells, “Dr. Andrea Ray, surrender and get out of the suit, or we’ll take you out.”
Automata seems to have built her suit with a built-in microphone because we can all hear her respond over the sound of the helicopters. “It’s so nice to see you again, Director, finally coming to do your own dirty work, I’m impressed.”
There’s an adrenaline boost through my body when I see the Director handed a rocket launcher as she hangs onto the helicopter. She holds it with one hand as the visor comes over her eye. I don’t care how impossible that should be, it’s badass to watch.
She takes aim, and before she fires, she responds, “Let’s see if you’re impressed by this.”
She fires the rocket straight for Automata and she sends a tendril straight for it, a dead-on collision that leaves the tendril unscathed. As it continues towards the helicopter, Emily signals that it’s our turn as she flies up and punches the tendril back.
I’ll admit, her fist hitting the tendril made a funny sound.
We all spring into action as Emily goes full Espada and flies towards Automata fists first. She slows down and begins to dodge and evade the tendrils coming at her. I fly to cover her back, throwing fireballs at the two tendrils moving head over heels after her. I catch the attention of one as the Hood and Marie ice jump to the roof of the building.
Automata sends a tendril straight between them, which Icicle freezes in place, but misses the real attack. The Hood sees the second tendril looking to sweep them, and he throws a disc at Icicle’s chest that jetsons her up and over to dodge the second tendril.
He boosts up with his jetpack after he throws the disc.
He takes out his last gun as he jetpacks up a few feet, shoots the disc on Icicle’s chest so she can fall back down into the hero landing. She sees that he’s falling short of a direct shot to Automata, so she creates an ice ramp to catch him. Popping out a knife to stab into it, it gives him the chance to boost with his jetpack again towards Automata.
Espada flies around as her tendril follows her, hopefully seeing as I do that Automata’s mind is being stretched thin. The tendril is blindly following her so Espada flies around the tendril, making it tie itself together to form a knot. She sees Automata focusing on the Hood and aims to give him a chance.
She calls out, “Icicle! Freeze Clap!” Freeze clap? Oh my god, they came up with a new move!
Icicle hears her and looks up as Espada brings her hands out and smacks them together for this big clap.
The clap is powerful, let alone loud. I feel the ripple and I’m at the same height as Espada. I watch Icicle and she holds her hand out above her, an icy mist coming from her hands, but no stream of ice. What is she waiting for?
Without warning, this thick wave of ice forms above Automata as she raises her arm and tendril to smack the Hood. The ice wave barrels into Automata, making it look like she was being hit by a tidal wave.
She’s not completely stunned as the Hood ends up reaching a closer section of her tendril, so he needs another distraction.
I fly head on towards her. I don’t fly as fast as Espada, but a straight stream of fire nearly does, blasting dead ahead, consuming Automata again, blinding her as needed. When I release the flames, the Hood is there, reminding everyone that he’s a ninja as he holds his feet to her chest and his free hand behind her head. He’s steady as can be as he holds his knife for a straight shot into the metal bolts on her chest.
“This is my favorite part,” I hear him tell her, right before he stabs his knife between the bolts. Sparks start flowing immediately, and her front tendrils start to bug out.
“Get out of the way!” I hear the Director over the intercom, and I see her aiming her rocket launcher again, and she fires as the Hood leaps with his wings out.
Automata raises her arms to block, and her front tendrils spasm out and fall to the ground. The rocket is a direct hit that sends Automata to the ground, halfway off the rooftop, leaning over the water. Her middle and back tendrils still work, but Icicle is there to freeze the middle ones on the ground after they fell over. She ices them up fast all the way to Automata’s feet, but the back ones try to go for her.
Icicle is trying to freeze them as they barrel towards her, and tries to ice jump away. She would have been hit together had Espada not fly down and slam her hands down on the tendrils, smashing them to the ground.
Espada takes the tendrils by the body and flies toward Automata stuck on the ground. Her super strength out muscles the mechanical limbs so she can swing them down upon the villain like pool noodles. Hitting her once with each one, and then flying straight down to slam both hands into Automata’s chest, collapsing the roof of the building.
Espada doesn’t let her fall, she grabs Automata by the shoulder and reaches around to the bolts on her back to grab and twist them, killing her control of all of her tendrils.
“This is usually the part where I quip and then knock you out,” Emily jokes, then knocks Automata’s lights out, “but we haven’t gotten to know each other yet.”
“Yes!” is what I cry out in victory now that this over, and Emily carries Automata and all of her tendrils with one hand.
As she floats, the building below her blows up.
Emily hangs onto Automata through the fire and floats down to land as I do with the Hood and Icicle in front of the burning building. She throws Automata to the ground, an unconscious heap, and we all watch the building burn.
As we stand together, I really want to point out and cheer, “The building is on fire, and for once it’s not my fault!”
Before Emily or Marie can talk about how awesome that is, or more realistically crack a joke, the Hood reminds me, “It’s probably because you incinerated the lab right below it.”
“Oh, it is my fault? Well fuck me,” I complain, “I thought I had it this time.”
Emily pats me on the shoulder. “Maybe next time.”
The helicopters land as Marie and Emily use the force of ice and wind to begin putting the fire out.
The Director walks out of her helicopter ordering the cleanup crew to get busy. She’s walking towards the Hood and me as she points towards Automata, ordering her men, “Get her out of that suit, and in cuffs!” As she comes up on us with this glare, “As for you two,” that changes into a smirk, “I have to say, one building and what looks like no casualties is pretty good in terms of damages.”
“That was the point of getting to Dr. Ray now instead of waiting,” the Hood tells her as he crosses his arms. I wonder if it ever gets exhausting having to maintain that tough guy facade.
The Director doesn’t go for it, placing her hands on her hips as she points her chin at him. “Oh really?” she jokes before complimenting, “Well good job then.”
The Hood drops the act for a second to nod his head and accept the compliment, which gives the Director a chance.
She says one more thing, “And Hood?” which prompts him to tilt his head and leaves himself wide open for her hug.
“Thank you for openly giving a shit for once.” Her head moves into the crook of his neck, leaving the Hood frozen, and for once I hope it’s not because he’s pissed.
I’m glad to be right as he closes his arms around her back, and assures her with some actual softness, “Of course, Claire.” What I would give to know how they came to be on a one-way first name basis.
Director Knight pulls back though, her hands to his arms as she warns, “But go over my head like that again, and my foot will find places up your ass that a colonoscopy has never reached.”
She threatens him with a smile, and I think that’s why he only responds with a nod of his head and the agreement, “Sure thing.”
I can’t help myself, seeing the two most inhuman individuals I’ve ever met, having an actually human moment, stills my heart. “Look at you two,” I tease them, “actually being adorable.”
“Don’t make me kill you, Tommy.”
I thought North Aeg was hell, but who knew being trapped in a tank in a small dark lab would be worse. The Savaage told me that they were getting me a suit so I didn’t destroy everything. Ion told me I was getting a suit so I could destroy what I wanted. That suit better be on its way, because being paralyzed in a fish tank is slowly crossing from the territory of ‘not worth it,’ to ‘worth burning everything down.’
What’s not making this experience better, is having to look at Ion’s creepy mug. Whoever he is, whatever he is, he makes me uneasy as he stands and watches me. He dresses in this sleek suit that I never could have afforded, looking like this doll a girl used to play dress up with. He’s inspecting me in my tank, thinking up something nasty I’m sure.
“I wonder what he thinks of my suit,” Ion mutters to himself. Is, is he serious? Does he have nothing better to think about? “I’m not thinking about you.”
It was very mind numbing the first time he did that, read my mind and responded to it. Being that it’s my only way to talk to someone, the creepiness kind of… fades.
Hopefully, with news of my freedom, the Savaage’s head bitch screams ‘she’s here!’ with the clacking of her heels. Dressed in another pantsuit, black and red, she still can’t look more interesting than the walking light bulb.
Hundress walks up behind Ion, standing in the little light before me. She doesn’t say anything. Ion opens his mouth first. “Let me guess, there is good and bad news.”
Hundress nods her head and steps up beside him to speak in a low voice, “Dr. Ray made the suit for Mr. Sanchez here,” free at last, “but it was taken by S.I.L.A.S. when she was arrested,” thought too soon.
Ion keeps his chin between his grossly long fingers when he tilts his head to look down at his second-in-command. “Why are you whispering? What does it matter if he hears?”
Hundress squints at him, and for a second I wonder if she’s actually annoyed. I can’t tell if she’s scared of him, she never questions him. He does come off as a maniac and he pokes fun at her but she never snaps back. She has some real goddamn patience. She had none of it for me.
Her glare loosens and waits for his further command. I would have talked so much shit by now, let him touch me and turn to stone. Then again, I still don’t know why she doesn’t.
“It’s not a real issue,” Ion tells her with a wave of his hand, “we’ll steal the suit for Mr. Sanchez from S.I.L.A.S. eventually.”
Eventually? They have me in a tank, losing my goddamn mind, doing nothing but listening to them shoot shit!
I want to struggle and shake in my bonds, but I can’t, I’m pumped full of some kind of paralyzer in this liquid.. I only do one thing, make bubbles. Just, goddamn bubbles.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I stopped feeling pity for myself to look at Ion, as he leans his face into the glass with his hand laying his hand flat against it. His body makes the liquid hum with electricity. There’s little crackles of lightning flowing into the liquid, slowly sparking closer and closer… to me.
“Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you,” he assures me, and I can’t help but remember that he knows I’m paying attention. I think I liked it better when he ignored me.
Ion turns back to Hundress, and she stands at attention, his loyal soldier. “I think we can make that happen soon, retrieve Dr. Ray’s Automata suit too, and make our own before giving it back.”
Hundress doesn’t tilt her head, twitch her lips, or show any sign that she’s confused before she asks, “Why would you give it back to her?”
“I want to see how she will use it.” For some reason that tells Hundress all, she needs to know. It tells me that this Dr. Ray is probably nuts like Ion, and Ion is not only nuts but a sadist too. “We’ll give it back to her when she gets out of prison.”
“That will be much longer than you plan to be in this city for,” Hundress reminds him. At least that tells me I’m still in Aegis City, but that also tells me that they’re planning to leave soon and if they do that, I’m leaving too.
Ion chuckles, shaking his head as he looks down at her. “You really think she’s going to serve her time in prison? None of the assets that S.I.L.A.S. has put away are going to stay in prison, Automata, Saint Lucifer, especially not Dr. Magician,” he lists with a wag of his finger. “I really like that fellow, I like his top hat. I should have asked him where he got it.” Dr. Magician sounds like a real classy bottom bitch with that stupid name. “We’ll set them all free when we take the children, right when they couldn’t be more distracted.”
“Care to tell me when that would be?”
“At the trial of one Evan Settleborn, Dr. Magician, since we did pay for his lawyer to call for a witness everyone wants to see. It’ll be the most entertaining trial of the century, better than OJ’s.” OJ’s a tough trial to beat.