Myriad did not fit the part of gang leader. She was small girl- she didn’t even look like a woman, yet she commanded the room with a casual ease. Why are these people so afraid of her? Myriad’s gaze pierced through my covering darkness and pulled me in. Her eyes were inverted, a dark iris with a pale white pupil. It was like looking up at the moon in a cloudless night sky speckled with alien stars. I looked down from the moon, shifting my gaze back to Myriad, who stood leaning out over the edge of the concrete rooftop.
After a taking moment to get my bearings, I joined Myriad. The streets impossibly far below were full of vague, half-formed figures stumbling about. The lights of the towering, gently swaying buildings around the one on which we stood pulsed organically, sweeping out across the cityscape from whatever direction I happened to be facing, waves of dirty light rushing past. The tableau was overwhelmingly surreal, and though I had little problem with heights, I still backed carefully away from the edge, dizzy with vertigo.
“This is my city,” said Myriad, her voice echoing from the buildings and returning a hundredfold. “Now let me see yours.”
She turned and looked into my eyes once more, but now her eyes were completely black. It was like staring at the eyes of a black granite statue.
The statue was immense, towering over both of us. I didn’t recognize who it was immediately, because it was heavily damaged, crumbling into piles of black powder that collected around its pedestal. It was my father, rendered in black marble.
“Oh my. Bit of a broken pedestal there. Who is it?”
I looked around for the source of Myriad’s voice and found her standing beside me.
“None of my business, I know.” Myriad pinched some of the crumbled marble between her gloved fingers and sniffed it. She wrinkled her nose and sneezed. “Fake.”
I looked around us. We were in the city still, still recognizably Collswell, but it was different. The buildings around us were new, brand new, and shining. They gleamed like polished steel, almost painful to look at.
“Woah.” Myriad skipped over to the nearest building. “Shiny.” She touched the wall. “Fake.” She kicked it violently. The building collapsed, folding in on itself like a house of cards. The shining surface shredded like tinsel, raining around us in glittering spirals. “Fake, Fake, Fake. You’re faaake.”
“I try,” I said. “I wouldn’t have convinced the Wardens otherwise.”
A rumbling to my left drew my attention, and I turned my head to see a gleaming building rising out of the ground. Myriad glanced at it out of the corner of her eyes.
“You live in a city of lies.” Myriad mused. “What are you really like, I wonder?”
If this is my subconscious, what can I show her to convince her? I scanned the street. What did Dr. Mind say again? What I think I am, what I want to be, what I fear I might become.
“Let me show you,” I said. I need to find something criminal.
She followed as I lead her through the streets. I knew the way instinctively, but the streets were like a house of mirrors. After a few wrong turns, we came to a building unlike the others.
“Collswell Cathedral,” Myriad remarked, and I saw she was right. One of the city’s tourist locations, the city’s multi-denominational cathedral was even more grand in my mind, towering above us. Odd that this is here. I’m not exactly religious.
We entered through the heavy scorched wood doors and walked through the nave, now devoid of pews. A single folding plastic chair occupied the nave instead. We approached the centerpiece of the cathedral, the massive gold wall that divided the cathedral from the sanctuary. In place of the religious iconography, the wall was covered in the symbols of famous heroes. Instead of going into the sanctuary, though, I brought her down to the crypt. I had a good idea of what what would be down there.
The crypt was exactly how I remembered it, though the water that collected on the floor was dark and dull. In the real cathedral, I knew, the water collected maybe ankle-deep quite regularly. According to rumor, they tried everything, but it just kept flooding. Eventually they just gave up and let it flood, still with no idea where the water came from.
I gestured to the well in the center of the room, and Myriad waded to it through the ankle-deep water. The statue which stood next to the well watched her with its blank face, unmoving, as she passed. She looked into the well.
“Golly,” she said, and broke eye contact with me in reality. I glanced quickly around the room. Mafic and Felsic were still flanking the door.
“So, do I get the job?” I asked.
“You’ll fit right in,” Myriad said, and turned away. She nodded to Mafic and Felsic as she left the room, feet scuffing on the dirt floor.
As soon as Myriad had left, Mafic shot me a dark look. He was intimidating in his armor, a twisted metal suit that looked like it logically shouldn’t be able to move. Thorn-covered metal vines snaked from his arms, moving like snakes. Ugh, creepy.
“Remember, just because the boss trusts you doesn’t mean I do,” Mafic said. “Her vetting process doesn’t catch everyone.” Obviously.
“Only to be expected,” I shot back. “Now are you going to fill me in so I can do my job?”
Felsic stepped up. He was much different from his brother (or at least rumor said they were brothers). His body was covered in crystalline growths, forming a suit of angular armor. They were heavy hitters both, with no real tendency for subtlety. Either of them could probably kill me. I shifted uncomfortably and reached out to the shadow cast on Jamisson for reassurance. Still there.
“We got our hands on some of Temple Sun’s power armor and a whole bunch of their combat Chems,” Felsic explained. “We need to move it through the city without attracting attention and causing a running cape fight or worse, get on Temple Sun’s hit list.”
“Doesn’t sound too bad,” I said casually. Holy hell, how am I supposed to do that? Hit list? I guess Temple Sun doesn’t like other people having their stuff. Wait, why do they even want it if they can’t use it without getting on Temple Sun’s bad side?
Mafic grunted. “Yeah, except that when he said ‘we got our hands on some armor,’ he really means that we know where it is: still in the hands of its buyer.”
“What?” I asked, irritated.
“We bid on it, black market, and somehow someone beat our bid at the last second. They must have placed the bid literally seconds before bidding closed, without us noticing.”
“Who?” I asked impatiently.
“We don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
Felsic spoke again. “The process is totally anonymous. We don’t know who it was, they don’t know we bid. We do know where it’s being kept, though.”
“I can see why you didn’t want to do this yourself. You don’t know who you might be pissing off, so you’re hiring me to take the fall.”
“Basically, yes,” Mafic said.
“Hm. I can live with that if the pay is worth it.”
“It is. We’ll be paying you the money we bid on the armor. Half up front.”
Black market power armor, maybe… a hundred thou?
“Good. Where will I be dropping it once I have it?”
“Drop it at the docks. I’ll give you a specific location once you have it.” Doesn’t matter. I know where it is already.
“Short. You’ll need to get it before the buyer moves it to a different location, but we don’t know when that will be.”
“Okay, so just to be clear, you want me to steal a suit of armor made by one of the most dangerous paramilitary contractors in the world and I won’t know who I’m stealing from or how long I have to do so?”
“Sounds about right. That a problem?” Mafic said. I smiled. I guess that touch is unnecessary, because they can’t exactly see my face, but every bit helps.
“When do I start?”
“Hm. You say you’re in it for the money, but somehow I suspect you enjoy it,” said Felsic disgustedly. Woah, villain’s got standards. Wait, does that mean he doesn’t enjoy it?
“Can’t I be both?” I retorted glibly. “Half up front and it’s a deal. Shake on it?”
They both looked at me warily. They had the same hazel-brown eyes, I noticed. The brothers theory might have something to it.
“No.” Mafic said simply.
Dammit, looks like I’m actually going to have to do this job if I want to get in. Can’t push this without seeming suspicious. I’d taken a look at the building the tracking signal on the shipment of Denudine was coming from. There was no way I would get in there without marking someone and teleporting in or getting someone to let me in.
“Fair enough,” I conceded. I gave them the details of an account my dad used to use which he had set up to shuffle the cash around for a while to obfuscate the trail and then funnel it into my college fund. I could retrieve the money later.
“Hey, why aren’t you guys making your new recruit do this?” I asked casually while the transfer processed. “Why hire it out?”
“We’re going for stealth here. We don’t want the buyer or Temple Sun to know we’re involved,” Felsic explained.
“Logical. So, where is the package?”
Half an hour later, I crouched in the shadows outside the loading doors near a ventilation slot. The street was dark, the streetlights intact, yet unpowered. I could feel people breathing on the other side of the wall faintly, and the air blowing from the vent gave me a good idea of the layout of the building. There was one large room at the center, ringed with catwalks and full of a maze of crates forming halls and rooms. A few guards patrolled the main storeroom, judging by the air currents they stirred, but being as large and complex as it was, I couldn’t tell how many.
Let’s do this, I thought to myself, and slipped out of the shadows. The door next to the loading dock was locked, naturally, but I could handle that. I placed a hand over the knob and pushed air through the lock mechanism to sound out the tumblers, and found a surprise. Alongside the normal pins and tumblers was a small plate of circuitry, probably an RFID reader of some kind.
Damn. If I try to pick the lock, it’ll set off an alarm, if I manage to get it open at all.
I checked the cargo doors to find them similarly locked.
How can I get in? I wondered. I glanced back at the entry door and idly teleported one of my lockpicks, a basic hook pick I usually started with, from hand to hand. When I realized what I was doing, I almost dropped it. Now that’s a thought.
I crouched by the door and inspected the bottom of it. It had a flap to prevent a draft from getting in, but the gap was wide enough for me to slip the lockpick through. I worked it back and forth until it was through, leaving behind smears of shadow where it touched. After a few moments, I felt air circulation on the other side of the door through the lockpick.
Here goes, I thought, mentally preparing myself.
In an instant, I could feel myself flow through the darkness coating the lockpick and pour out on the other side. My stomach lurched uncomfortably. It wasn’t as easy as it was to teleport to a marked person. Probably, I speculated, because there’s not much of a connection. Only maybe half a centimeter wide.
I glanced around me as I shifted the pick back to my case. There didn’t seem to be any guards in the loading room, but I ducked into a corner behind some dollies anyway. Cameras don’t have to breathe, I thought as I scanned the ceiling for security. I couldn’t see any. Odd that they would alarm the doors but not bother with cameras.
I exited the loading room to find myself on the floor of the storage room. The lights high on the ceiling strained to illuminate the warehouse floor, which I was glad for. I would be harder to spot in the gloom created by the stacks of crates. The crates themselves were an eclectic mix of shipping containers, military-grade munitions crates, and wood boxes all stacked together in a maze.
How the hell am I supposed to find this armor?
A movement on the air made me reflexively duck into the gap between two shipping containers. Barely a moment later, one of the patrolling guards rounded the corner. He was massively muscular, and had no visible gang markings. Across his back he carried a weapon so large it looked fake.
Holy shit, is that a Hard Target? How can he carry that?
The AtlasTech Hard Target was not an infantry weapon. Typically mounted on powered armor, it was the kind of weapon designed to kill metahumans immune to normal bullets. Its design philosophy seemed to be that if there were enough bullets, and the bullets were large enough, it would eventually destroy anything. Which usually worked in this case.
The butt of the gun had been modified, the mount for attaching it to powered armor sawn off and replaced with massive recoil compensator, presumably so it didn’t break his shoulder and knock him over every time he fired it.
That’s clearly a shoulder stock. How the hell does he fire it like that. I watched him pass. If the army knew these guys had HT-50’s, this place would get an orbital strike.
The guard glanced around for a tense moment, then stepped through the door into the loading room. I made sure it was clear again and slipped out from the crack. My foot caught on something, and I had to teleport my leg out to avoid falling. A tangle of rope, I saw, that had been thrown into the gap that was my hiding place. Curiously, I started to coil the rope, running it through my hands. By the time it was fully coiled, it was completely covered in shadow. This could be useful.
The guard chose that moment to exit the loading bay, surprising me. I scrambled back into the gap, throwing the coil of rope hastily around my shoulder.
I managed to get distracted by a rope, I berated myself. I need to focus on the task at hand.
I pressed myself into the crack as the guard walked past again. He strolled past, unconcerned. Once he was past, I relaxed. I slid back out into the open space and scanned the area for guards. I could feel maybe three breathing in among the stacks and at least one up above in the room hanging from the ceiling. Less of them than I expected, but heavier armed. What are they expecting to come up against?
I moved silently through the aisles, tracking the guards much more carefully now and adjusting my path accordingly.
Tall metal case, Temple Sun logo. I glanced over the crates as I passed, but there was nothing that matched the description. A guard’s yawn from nearby caught my attention, and I looked around for somewhere I could get out of his sight. Nothing presented itself.
Dead end. Shit. How did I miss that?
Thinking fast, I remembered the rope still coiled around a shoulder. I let it drop down into my hand and threw the coil over the stack of crates, holding tightly onto one end. It uncoiled as it flew and landed across a shipping container, and I threw myself into it, flowing through the darkness covering the rope in an instant and emerging on the other side of the crate. I yanked on the rope, pulling it over to my side before the guard could spot it.
I crouched down and pushed air through my torso to scout out my new location, but stopped when I spotted what I was after. A tall, upright case with the Temple Sun logo, a blazing sun with a sword through it shining behind what appeared to be the Parthenon, emblazoned on it, but scarred and pitted.
How did they get their hands on this? I wondered as I approached the case.
“It’s in here, just follow me. It’s damn heavy, but I can load it up for you.”
I jumped at a voice echoing in the cavernous room, and it took me a moment to identify the source. One of the guards, accompanied by a new person with much smaller lung capacity. They moved through the stacks towards where I was as I tracked them. Here to pick up the armor, no doubt.
I rushed to the armor crate and inspected the opening mechanism. The crate was clamped shut, with a keypad to release the impromptu security system, but the door was bent and damaged. I flicked out the hook pick I’d used earlier and jammed it into a gap between the door and the golden metal wall of the crate. Not a moment too soon, I used the pick to jump myself into the crate and jerked the pick out of the crack. I found myself pressed up against the armor, barely fitting into the crate with it.
A wave of uneasiness hit me. There’s no getting out of here easily, I realized. Or subtly.
“It’s this one right here,” came the guard’s voice, muffled by the metal of the crate.
“I can see that,” came another voice. Who is that? Why do I recognize that voice? “The logo is not exactly subtle.”
I heard a beep from near my shoulder. The keypad. I ran my hands frantically over the armor, searching for an opening. I found one after a few moments- the faceplate of the armor was lifted up. I stuck my hand into the open helmet and planted it on the back of the inside of the helmet. I flowed into the armor just as the clamps on the case clanged to the floor when they released their grip, and the faceplate closed automatically, shutting out the world.
“Damn imposing, ain’t it?” the guard said.
“It is that, and I paid more money than I ought to have for it.”
::Activating:: appeared in the corner of my vision, and then, ::systems engaged::
“Well, it’s yours.”
::Warning: no weapons system detected::
Oh, so that’s where he got the HT-50 from.
And the world exploded with sound and light.