“ATTENTION CRIMINALS!” blared a voice over the screaming sirens. “SURRENDER AND YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED!”
The powered armor’s vision now online, I could tell that the two people in front of me were speaking, swearing most like, but I couldn’t hear them at all. They both had hands clamped over their ears and their eyes screwed shut.
The suit must automatically dampen the sound. To me it was loud, but not deafeningly so.
“YOU WILL HAND OVER THE ARMOR OR WE WILL DESTROY THE BUILDING! YOU HAVE SIXTY SECONDS TO COMPLY!”
With a wail, the sirens died and the building was plunged back into darkness. Temple Sun, I realized. This is their strategy. Shock and awe, disorientation, overwhelming force.
“Holy shit!” The buyer screamed. I could hear him now. “What the fuck!”
“Christ, how did they find us?” The guard seemed to have fared better than the buyer, who was curled on the floor, clutching his head. The guard blinked his eyes rapidly.
“Fuck!” I could hear the cries of pain and confusion from the other guards around the room.
“Hey, focus.” The guard nudged the buyer with his foot. “Get in that armor.”
“I’m out of here,” said the buyer, shaking his head as he pushed himself to his feet.
“No, you aren’t. I can’t leave until the deal is done.”
What the hell? I thought as the guard leveled the HT-50 at the buyer.
“Get. In. The. Armor.”
The buyer scrambled to his feet and backed up against the armor. I felt a gentle nudge through the armor. It simulates pressure. Neat. My heart raced as I tried to think of a way out.
“That works too,” the buyer said faintly.
“TS-804-D, open,” said the guard, looking over the buyer’s head at me.
::Override protocol?:: asked the armor. Um, what do I do?
“Override protocol,” I whispered. Did it work?
::Protocol overridden:: Oh good.
The guard stared at the armor. “TS-804-D, open.”
I have to do something, I realized. This wasn’t going to go well for me if Temple Sun brought down the building. Ideas, come on. I need… Oh, that could work.
“AUTONOMOUS DEFENSE MODE ENGAGED!” I said. My voice blasted out through the shoulder-mounted loudspeakers, rattling the crates around me. Holy crap, is that the default volume?
The buyer threw himself bodily away from me, and landed hard on the floor.
“No, no, no! Why now?” shouted the guard. He shouldered the HT-50 and aimed down the sights. God, that’s an awful idea. He’s going to break his arm off as soon as he fires it. Then again…
I didn’t hesitate. Getting shot is not high on my priority list, even if this logically shouldn’t be able to fire his weapon. I reached out to the side of the crate and tore the lid off its hinges with a screeching of metal, then threw it at the guard. It felt like throwing a sheet of cardboard. He fired reflexively, the weapon jerking and spitting lead with a sound like punch to the eardrums. Fortunately for me, the oncoming metal plate blocked his vision enough that as the HT-50 punched holes in the metal, none of the shots hit me, instead driving through the surrounding crates.
The lid of the crate slammed into the weapon, driving it back into the guard’s shoulder. The guard, was shoved back into the crate behind him. The lid fell to the floor with a *clang!* covering him.
Once again I was glad for the automatic sound dampening as the sound of the HT-50 died down, seeming to reverberate longer than it should have as the suit adjusted to the sound levels.
I stepped out of the crate and jumped.
My legs jerked with sudden force and I heard a *thump* as the armor catapulted me into the air. Jump jets? I can use that. The floor dropped out from under me and I easily cleared the stack of shipping containers that acted as a wall. I landed atop it with a *Clang!* and quickly looked around for escape routes.
The sound of gunfire reached me from across the warehouse, first short bursts of automatic gunfire, then the deep, slow *chunk, chunk, chunk* of heavier weapons.
In that moment, the floodlights burst back into full power and the sirens screamed to life.
“YOU HAVE MADE YOUR DECISION. WE REGRET THE NECESSITY OF YOUR TERMINATION.”
I reflexively threw my shadow over the armor, just in time to feel the explosion pass through it and me like a punch to the lungs. It felt like getting the breath knocked out of me, though I could recover immediately. The crates underneath me shifted and with a groan started to slide.
I pushed off and let the jump jets boost me into the air with no particular direction. Seeing an opportunity in a split-second as I flew through the air, I used my power to adjust my trajectory towards the catwalk. I crashed through the railing on one side and dug my fingers into the metal to stop from continuing right off the other side. My gauntleted hands tore through the metal with a screech. I ground to a halt and flipped myself up to my feet. The catwalk swung from my landing, hanging precariously over the maze of boxes below. From this height, I could see how the floodlights shone in through the high windows that ringed the warehouse. They must have it totally surrounded. I broke into a run, using my power to dampen the sound, and made it maybe ten meters before the second explosion hit. This one blasted a sizable chunk out if the north face of the building, showering brick shrapnel down onto the crates below.
I lost my footing as the catwalk started to shift, knocked loose from its supports by the blast. I recovered quickly, but the catwalk detached from the ceiling and started to fall. I pushed off of the catwalk, praying that the jump jets would be enough.
The force from the jump jets pushed the catwalk down as much as they pushed me up, but they provided enough force for me to reach the ceiling. I reached out as I neared the roof of the warehouse and latched on to one of the I-beam supports with one hand. I grabbed on with my other hand as well for stability then looked around for a way out, and found one. A few meters away, a ventilation duct hung from the ceiling, which lead to a vent on the roof.
Could I jump to that? I wondered.
Another explosion made the decision for me. The I-beam, already burdened with the the weight of myself and the armor, dropped a few inches. I suspected it could handle my weight a little longer, but I didn’t particularly want to gamble on that. I swung myself back, and when I swung forward again, I pushed out my legs like I had when I jumped, triggering the jump jets. I released my grip in the I-beam as soon as they fired, but they sent me into a spin. I spun through the air, the world rotating beneath me.
I tucked into a ball briefly to rotate faster- counter-intuitive, but if I didn’t, I would hit the vent with my back instead of my front and not be able to make any purchase. I uncurled just in time to hit the vent square in the chest. I could feel the impact through the breastplate as the armor simulated the force, though much softer. The duct crumpled under the force, but held- for a moment. Already damaged, the vent started to sag under my weight, so I wasted no time in pulling myself up onto it.
The ventilation duct twisted and started to come loose of its restraints.
Not this again.
I reoriented myself and ran along the top of the duct. I reached the ventilation unit and tore the side off of it then reached in, ripping out the fans that ran it to clear a hole. As I cleared a hole for myself, the metal of the duct sheared off with a screech, and I fell.
Heart racing, I grabbed out frantically and latched onto the edge of the ventilation unit. Metal protesting, I pulled myself up into it, aided by the armor, and climbed up through hollowed out shell. I smashed through the metal grating at roof level and leaped out onto the roof. I had a moment’s reprieve, but then-
-the next explosion hit, taking out the final support on that side of the building necessary to keep it upright. The armor stabilized me automatically as the roof started to tilt, but my head swam as the world tilted underneath me.
Gotta get out of here.
I spotted a roof across a street at about the same level. I could jump that. I started to run. The roof beneath me rumbled and folded behind me as it collapsed into the foundation. As I ran, the jump jets started firing with every step, launching me forward, and ::Sprinting:: appeared in the corner of my vision. I grinned and leaned into it. A crash behind me signaled the collapse of the remaining supports, and I found myself sprinting up a steep incline, still at full speed. It was exhilarating, the wind rushing through my body, my legs pounding almost silently on the roof. I reached the edge of the roof and pushed off, jump jets firing out one last burst to fling me over the street.
I’m glad the sky is clear tonight, I thought as I passed over the Temple Sun squad below. I would be all but invisible against the black sky. To my surprise, when I looked down, there was only one or two people on this side of the building, clad in heavy armor. From the volume earlier I’d assumed there would be more. That’s how they operate.
I landed on the building across the street running. I shifted to a slower pace. I didn’t need the jump jets for now, but some distance would be nice. A few blocks away, I stopped. They weren’t coming after me. My heart pounded in my chest, slowing gradually as the adrenaline seeped out of my system. I tasted salt, and something bitter for a moment, but it faded quickly. Holy shit that was intense. I opened the faceplate, because I didn’t know how to mute the loudspeakers, and laughed, leaning against an air conditioning unit. The buyer is probably dead. The laugh died in my throat as that thought hit me. I’ll get this delivered, get Charity, and get out.
I rose and teleported my phone to my hand. I let the darkness over the screen fade, then dialed Mafic awkwardly with gauntleted hands.
“Yes, what?” answered Mafic.
“Your package has arrived,” I said. “Where do you want it delivered?”
“Um, who- oh. Right. That package.” He sounded groggy. “That was fast. Yeah. Take it to…” There was a rustling sound.
“Sorry, did I wake you up?” I said, real anger slipping into my voice.
“It’s goddamn one in the morning. Of course you woke me up!”
I chuckled, dripping with sarcasm. One in the morning is nothing. “Sorry, bit of a night owl.”
“Yeah, should’a guessed. Take it down to the docks. I’ll meet you-”
“No.” I hung up. The beacon is definitely not at the docks. After a few seconds, he called. I spoke before he could.
“You know, I’m tempted to keep this thing. I like it, and it occurs to me that if someone beat your bid, then there must be someone out there that will pay me more.”
“What, you want more money? We had a deal. You break it and I crush you in that armor like a bug in a tin can.” Weird threat. Then again, that’s probably how he crushes bugs.
“I don’t want more money,” I said. “I want something only you can give me. Anyone could give me money.”
“So, what do you want?” He asked crossly.
“Charity. Give me five minutes with Charity. ”
“How do you…” He paused. “Nevermind. It’s a deal.”
He agreed to that faster than I expected.
I disconnected again after he gave me the specific location. I was about to set off towards the docks when I felt the air stir behind me.
“Shadow, you’re a hard one to tail,” Savage said.
“Savage,” I greeted him, turning. What’s he doing here?
“Do you want to explain what I just heard?” he said as he prowled around me.
“Didn’t Jamisson tell you?” I asked. “I’m undercover.”
“I know. I was curious how you were handling a solo assignment.” He paused. Oh good, he’s not going to tear out my throat. I relaxed a bit. Not that he could, through the armor. “Demolishing a building is undercover?” he continued. Or could he?
“Hey, that wasn’t me,” I replied.
“I know. I saw the Temple Sun squad. You going to explain that?” He was starting to sound impatient.
I explained the job, delivering black market power armor without Temple Sun finding out.
When I finished, Savage said, “Hm. At least we have a way to clean up once this is over. We can just tell Temple Sun who has their suit and let them handle it. Now go to that rendezvous. I’ll be watching you.”
With that, he vanished off the side of the roof. I lowered the faceplate of the armor and set out across the rooftops.
Running in the powered armor was exhilarating, across the rooftops, doubly so. It wasn’t quite as mobile as AtlasTech’s Powered Fast Response model, since it was heavier and lacked the various grappling guns, but it was still damn fast. Rooftops rushed past as I ran through the night. I approached a taller building, so I leaped. The jump jets fired, launching me into the air. I arced effortlessly through the air as I used my power to adjust my trajectory. I cleared the edge of the roof easily, and landed atop it silently as I dampened the sound with the shadow covering the armor.
I reached the docks very quickly, though they were quite some distance away. I didn’t come down here often. The docks were Anchor Boys territory. Lead by a man called Davy Jones, the Anchor Boys were a mostly unpowered gang, since they were farther from Collswell University, but were rougher and more violent. Some of them were even anti-metahuman, despite (admittedly unconfirmed) rumors that Davy Jones was a metahuman himself. Though less individually dangerous, they were much more likely to try to mug you. That Mafic was meeting me outside Blackwell territory was bizarre. That he was meeting me in the Anchor Boys’ territory, doubly so.
I dropped down into the dry dock, armor absorbing the force of the landing, and looked around. A U of metal walls curved around me, pointing out towards the harbor, away from the city. I spotted an anchor spray-painted on one of the walls- the Anchor Boys’ tag.
Why the hell are we meeting here? I wondered. This is rival gang territory. I tensed up. Is this a trap?
“Shadow,” called Mafic from above. I turned to him with my power, staying static as I rotated around my center of mass. I wondered briefly what that looked like, but my train of thought was derailed entirely when I saw Mafic.