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Seanzilla

NC-17 Corporate Heroes

19 posts in this topic

“Just… just shut up and trust me. When have I lied to you, Phantom?â€

 

Luther did his best to keep his frustration and fear hidden as he stared at the rooftop of the skyscraper across from his current location. A week ago the gap between the two rooftops would have been too large for Luther to jump across, despite his enhanced physique and the augmentations provided by the Sony Hypersuit Mk III Ghost the gap would’ve been insurmountable. Yet the technician kept insisting that the gap between the Mk III Ghost and the Mk IV Ghost Prototype was enough for this to become an easy feat.

 

Normally Luther would’ve believed him, but normally Luther wouldn’t be facing a horrendous plummet towards his own death. “How big is the chance that you’re wrong and I’ll end up dead?†He asked and a video feed opened up in the corner of his helmet’s HUD, showing the technician sitting safely in Sony’s Neo Human Division’s HQ. “I’d rather not end up a smear on the pavement, Roy.â€

The technician shrugged. “You didn’t mind going through all the other hazard test. You didn’t mind being set on fire, shot, stabbed, beaten, electrocuted or deprived of oxygen, but you’re scared of jumping?â€

 

“I dislike heights.â€

“Then you picked the wrong business, hero. Come on, trust me. I’ve got this.â€

Luther let out a deep audible sigh, making sure that the microphone installed in his helmet caught every second of it, before moving to the far end of the rooftop. He crouched, putting his left knee adjacent to the right ankle, hands resting on the ground at shoulder width. He took a few deep breaths before raising his hips slightly higher than his shoulders, another deep breath. Luther remained motionless as he visualized the jump and in a split second he jumped from his starting position into a sprint. The force of the impact of each step was enough to leave marks on the rooftop as Luther ran across with incredible speed. Each subsequent stride was longer than the last, until he finally reached the edge.

He jumped, vertically, allowing the speed of the sprint to carry him forward as he prayed to whatever god he normally did not believe in to allow him to make it. Each passing second seemed to last a lifetime as the opposing rooftop got closer and closer. Even with the oxygen regulatory system built into the suit Luther couldn’t help but feel short of breath as the moment of truth approached ever so slowly.

A sudden beep, accompanied by a blinking exclamation mark surrounded by a red triangle on his HUD, pulled him out of his trance and broke his concentration. No longer focused on his jump, it seemed as if time fast forwarded to him landing on the rooftop. The momentum of the jump was enough to prevent a sudden stop, causing Luther to trip and roll forward after safely landing on his feet. He spun around twice before slamming his hand through the roof to stop the momentum. “See, you made it,†Roy said as he clapped at the achievement.

Luther took a moment to calm down before standing up and looking at the damage he had caused during his landing. He was glad to see that the jump was indeed as easy as Roy had said, he had landed comfortably in the middle of the rooftop area, but the cracks that originated at the point of impact could be dangerous for civilians on the top floor of the skyscraper. “Don’t worry,†Roy said, as if reading Luther’s thoughts, “we’ll get a clean up crew on those two rooftops as soon as possible. For now, you should get to work. You heard the alarm right? It’s time for a field test.â€

 

-----

 

“I still don’t understand why you insist on testing my jumping when you know that I can create a paraglider at will.†Luther had arrived on street level and walked in the opposite direction of the fleeing and panicking crowd. Something was going on and it is always a safe bet to go to the point everyone is running from if you are looking for trouble.

“I thought it would be funny,†Roy said as he kept an eye on the video feed sent over by the cameras built into Luther’s helmet. “Any idea what is going on?â€

“No,†Luther replied, “no visual on any suspect activity. Any other Neo Humans on site?â€

“Negative, you’re the only one here, but if you don’t hurry up someone will show up and steal your Board Points.â€

“Let them. I am going to see if I can reach a decent vantage point.†Luther jumped and latched onto the wall of one of the many buildings that oversaw the street; it only took a bit of climbing for him to reach a suitable height. From here Luther could see that the crowd was much larger than he had initially anticipated, even for a friday night in the middle of the city’s center. “I still don’t see anything.â€

“Try zooming in.â€

 

“Roger,†Luther replied as a slit opened in the normally smooth black helmet. The camera lenses readjusted as Luther zoomed in to try and get a visual on ground zero. “Uhh, Roy, do you see this?â€

“Is that what I think it is?â€

“I’m going in,†the lenses returned back to their normal state as the slit in Luther’s helmet closed. He jumped off the wall, stretched out his arms and a set of black bat-like wings manifested on his back along his arms. Using the contraption he rapidly glided over the crowd, no longer having to deal with random civilians bumping into him, and mentally prepared for combat.

“Wow…†Roy said as Luther made his landing, “your camera didn’t deceive us. It really was a huge wolf. Try not to get bitten, we have no idea if the suit can sustain a bite from the jaws of a beast as big as that.â€

“Roger,†Luther slowly approached the gigantic rampaging wolf. The creature’s size compared to that of a car, but if Luther didn’t stop him innocent people would get hurt. “Hey, you!†Luther shouted; the wolf turned in his directed, snarled and began growling. “Yeah, Luther said, “that trick works on civvies, but I’m not going to turn tail and run. Either you tell me who you are or I beat you up and then you tell me who you are.â€

The wolf’s snarl disappeared. “Figured a Neo Human wouldn’t fall for it. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.â€

“Phantom.â€

“Phantom? Oh! I didn’t recognize the suit.†The wolf began circling around the stationary Luther, it’s large tongue licking it’s snout. “Is it new? Well, not that it matters after I tear it off your cold, dead body.â€

“Name.â€

 

“How rude of me, they call my Lupus, nice to meet you. I wonder how many spots I’ll jump after killing you… I might even reach the top -1000! That’d be fantastic.â€

“That’s why I never heard of you. You’re just a puppy.†Luther taunted, but before he could continue Lupus lunged at him without any additional warning. The jaws of the wolf spread wide open, giving Luther a clear view of the gaping maw that approached his face. Not willing to risk the battle of teeth and helmet he reached out and grabbed both ends of the maw, maneuvering his fingers to avoid them getting cut by the teeth, and stopped the creature in its tracks. “Thought so,†Luther said, still completely serene, “You’re big, but that’s it. You’re just small fry.â€

 

Lupus began growling and violently movings its jaws as it tried to close its maw and bite off Luther’s fingers, but Lupus’ jaw strength couldn’t match the power of the Mk IV Ghost. As if tossing an average sized human, Luther turned and performed a simple hip throw to get the wolf flat on the ground. As the wolf lay dazed on the ground, Luther quickly got on top of it and wrapped his arm around the wolf’s neck, putting it in a rear naked choke. The animal viciously twisted and turned as it did its best to escape Luther’s grasp, but the increased strength of the suit was enough to keep him steady and subdue Lupus. It didn’t take long for the lack of oxygen to knock out the wolf.

 

Luther exhaled before letting go of the wolf’s body, noticing that it slowly started shifting back into a humanoid form. “Roy, call the authorities. I’ve got a Bad for them.â€

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The city of Wolfsdale was one that never slept. While the metropolis, founded in the late 2040s, lacked the cultural pedigree of some older cities, as a major hub of Neo-Human research and development, it was unparalleled worldwide as a hotbed of superhuman activity. In such a bustling hive of constant activity, there was sure to be at least one superhuman incident going on at any time, and now was no exception.

A Neo-Bad -- what a researcher of 20th century graphic fiction would have described as a supervillain -- stood in the middle of Lewis Square, surrounded by a ring of police cruisers that kept the astonished crowd of onlookers at a safe distance. The police were there in force, as expected in such a crisis, but they made no attempt to confront the villain -- their jurisdiction was over mundane crimes, and their role here was merely to keep the civilians safe. A century of run-ins had decisively taught police departments the world over that it was better to leave superhuman threats to the actual superheroes; being tasked to actually subdue a Neo-Bad was deemed as an officially-sanctioned kind of forced suicide.

The Neo-Bad was a large, bulky man dressed in a skintight suit of purple spandex, garishly adorned with dozens upon dozens of pouches strapped all over his belt, torso, thighs and forearms. He wore no mask, baring his bald, scarred face for the world to see. He was holding a hostage; he had his meaty fingers wrapped around the throat of a terrified-looking man in a sleek, pearly-white armored suit garishly adorned with his sponsor's logos. The Neo-Bad gazed around him, regarding the throng surrounding him, and announced, "Hear me, people of Wolfsdale! Look upon this man I have at my mercy; I'm sure you all recognize him! This is none other than the man ranked 180th in worldwide Board rankings, Captain Cyclone of Mitsubishi! If my demands are not fulfilled, this man dies!"

Abruptly, the crowd parted with a chorus of 'oohs' and 'aahs' as a quartet of men and women in armored black-and-grey suits strode through the square, coming to a halt some distance in front of the police barricade directly facing the Neo-Bad. These superheroes were no strangers to the public eye -- they were Team Mustang, the team that had shot to worldwide fame thirty years before when they had dramatically stormed the American Embassy in Algeria on live television, killing an infamous Neo-Bad who had taken the embassy staff hostage. Their leader's metal faceplate slid open, revealing the chiseled, All-American features of a blond, blue eyed man -- Mustang, otherwise known as Colonel John Clarke, the team's public face, spokesman and the only one of its members to have unmasked in public. He was a shining paragon of a superhero, leader of the team that defended America's freedom from encroaching menaces; rumors were already spreading that he'd make it to the Ten within a couple of years, give or take.

"Well, now there's a face I didn't expect to see," Mustang said casually. "Didn't we work together in the summer of 2140, Gale Force?"

"It's no longer Gale Force, it's Fuckslayer!" the Neo-Bad bellowed.

"Okay... Guess it's no surprise you don't have any legitimate sponsors left. So, what do you want, Fuckslayer?"

"In return for this do-gooder's life, I demand that you free the members of TITAN your precious government is torturing in Fort Claremont." Immediately, Mustang's expression hardened, and his team members behind him raised their weapons, aiming them at his chest.

"I'm sure you're aware that TITAN's been designated as a terrorist group by Interpol?" Mustang replied coldly. "I doubt the government would free dozens of dangerous Neo-Humans for the sake of a single Hero representing a foreign corporation. Have you tried just asking for money, like everyone else?"

"Cut the bullshit," the unfortunately-named Fuckslayer snarled. "I know how you frauds operate -- distract me by talking long enough to put a bullet in my head, is that it? Hate to break it to you, boy scout, but that ain't working on me. I'm not just a speedster; I'm also a sensor. Anyone within two miles even thinks about shooting me, and I'll break this guy's neck, and be halfway to the state borders within half a second. Now, you gonna talk..." Fuckslayer tightened his grip on his hostage's neck, making him whimper piteously. "Or shall I make you talk?"

Mustang merely nodded calmly, and smiled a little. "Two miles, huh?"

"The hell are you talking about?" Fuckslayer growled. "I don't know what kind of tricks you're playing, but-"

Fuckslayer never got to finish his sentence. Abruptly, a sharp crack resounded through the air, and Fuckslayer's head abruptly exploded like an overripe fruit.

Mustang raised a gauntlet-covered hand to his face, wiping away a splatter of gore. "We do not negotiate with terrorists," he said as he walked over to the shaken hostage, pulling him to his feet. Almost immediately, the crowd burst into applause.

...

On the rooftop of a skyscraper three and a half miles away, a lone figure, its features completely obscured by the armored suit it wore, pulled back a lever on the massive laser rifle braced at its shoulder; immediately, there was a loud hiss as a series of cooling vanes opened up, venting a cloud of evaporating coolant. Then, it got to its feet, picking up the rifle and retracting the bipod. The figure raised a finger to its helmet, and spoke in a voice that was muffled but unmistakably that of a young woman's.

"Hellcat to HQ. Mission accomplished. Over."

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The sky was dark above his head and the moonlight was hidden behind thick, ominous black clouds. Jon weaved his way carefully through the thick trees before coming to a stop and dropping to one knee. A couple of feet ahead of him, the mass of trees opened out into a large area that held a large stone building surrounded by a fence topped with razor wire. It might have been secure once but now the fence was decrepit and falling down in various places while the building itself had seen better days. Jon stepped forward at a crouch before he was right on the tree-line, where he took up a position half covered by a thick trunk in front of him.

 

“Entry, advise location. Over.†A quite voice said in his ear, quite enough that only Jon himself would be able to hear it even if someone was stood right next to him.

 

“Command, I’ve got a visual on the building; switching to infrared now.†He replied at a murmur before reaching up and pressing a small button located on the side of the ballistic glasses he was wearing. The clear lenses dulled to a deep red as the building in front of Jon lit up with various heat signatures in his sight. He quickly scanned the building before pressing the button again and letting the lenses return to being clear.

 

“Command, 10 signatures confirmed, all presumed hostile. 5 on ground floor, 3 on the first, and 2 on top; awaiting further instructions.†Jon said quickly.

 

“Entry, Skyline and Cloud are 30 seconds out and will extract target…do your thing.â€

 

“Acknowledged, moving in now.†Jon replied before stepping out of the trees silently and accelerated to a sprint quickly.

 

The 8 foot fence loomed in front of him but without hesitation Jon took a longer stride and bounced off his extended leg to sail over the fence without any perceived effort and landed on the other side with a roll. Without losing any momentum he lunged forward and picked a boarded up window that would lead him into the room the 5 men he had seen on the infrared were located. A couple of feet away from the window Jon launched himself into the air again, aiming directly for the wooden boards. As he did, he crossed his arms in front of him and a dark grey metal materialized out of thin air to form a pair of gauntlets around his hands and forearms. At the same time, the same metal appeared in the shape of boots on his feet.

 

The wooden boards smashed to pieces as he entered the room at a roll and took in the 5 armed men and his surroundings in milliseconds. Jon didn’t take time to talk and stepped forward to kick a large metal barrel into the two men in front of him, sending them both floundering to the ground. By this time the remaining 3 men had managed to raise their rifles at their intruder but Jon was already upon the two closest to him before they could pull the trigger.

 

He batted one of the barrels away and planted a metal fist into the holders face, sending him flying backwards. Before that one had settled, Jon twisted violently at the hip at aimed an elbow at the next man’s face. As his arm moved through the air, the metal around his right fist faded away to be replaced by another segment that covered his elbow; just in time for it to cave in the face of its target. By this time, the last man standing in the room with a weapon had managed to pull the trigger and a hail of bullets headed for Jon. Not that he was worried as the metal faded from his right arm completely and allowed him to grasp the man in front of him and spin around to use him as a shield against any bullets that might of hit him; and it worked as the man’s body bucked with the impacts.

 

Jon didn’t wait for the rounds to stop as he held the man in front of him and charged forward before throwing the body forward into the man who was firing at him. The man managed to dodge the deadweight but Jon was already upon him as he knocked his weapon aside. With a swift kick to the side of the man’s knee, Jon knocked the man to a crouch before reaching around his neck from the front, twisting his body around, and jerking upwards to break the man’s neck.

 

By this point, the two who had been knocked over by the metal barrel at Jon’s entrance were on their feet and levelling their weapons on Jon. Jon pounced forward and managed to get a hand in front of the weapons just as they fired. The bullets could not penetrate his armor and the weapons jerked wildly in the men’s hands as they backfired. With a flick of his shoulders, Jon knocked the weapons out of the men’s hands completely, and buried a fist in each ones face. One of the men managed to get a few words out before collapsing to the floor.

 

“It’s a Neo!†the man shouted.

 

Jon spun quickly and dashed to the stairs just as he heard a bunch of footsteps starting to make their way down them. The armor had reappeared on his right arm but had disappeared from his left as he planted it on the banister and launched himself over the railings so that his boots met the flesh of the men coming down the stairs. Jon managed to catch two of them and slammed them into the wall with enough force to crack the stone as he settled on the stairs and used one of the men to prevent himself getting shot by the third man. This time he didn’t charge forward with the meaty shield, instead he simply launched it forward where it caught the third man at the ankles and caused him to trip forward; directly into an uppercut delivered by Jon that nearly took his head of. It certainly took the man out of the game.

 

As Jon stepped up onto the next floor, a voice filled his ear again; although it was different from the one before. “Entry, target has been extracted; mission complete. How did it go on your end?â€

 

“All hostiles  incapacitated, starting with clean up now, Skyline.†He replied before reaching to the back of his belt and pulling out a six inch combat knife, serrated on one side.

 

“Well it’s nice to hear you enjoyed yourself. Daddy’s on the line by the way so listen in while you clean up.†Skyline replied before falling silent.

 

Jon stepped forward to the man he had punched and lifted his head back before drawing his blade across his throat viciously, parting the flesh like paper. He stepped up to the second man and did the same as a third voice sounded on the radio.

 

“Entry, there’s not a simple way to put this so I’m just going to have to say it; you’re being pulled out of the operation and being sent back to the city.â€

 

Jon narrowed his eyes behind his glasses as he slit the third man’s throat and continued down the stairs to begin on the other five. “I thought I was out here for another couple of months to finish this thing?â€

 

“You were, but you’ve slid another 10 places on the board and Mr Hammos is getting worried; he can’t be seen to sponsor a hero who can’t even keep his place on the board secure.â€

 

“If I’ve dropped ten, I’m still in the top 500.â€

 

“Yes, but you are the only Alloy Knight that is below the 200 rank and it is looking bad; remember we need this cover and Carl is the only one who will sponsor you even while you are working for me. So you need to come and increase your rankings back in the city; but that’s not all…â€

 

“Should you even be talking about this over a radio; is it secure enough?â€

 

“It’s secure enough, yes, Anyway, Mr Hammos is also introducing a new Copper Knight to the world in few days and all the Alloy Knights need to be in attendance. There will be a chopper waiting for you back at base to return you to the city. Goodbye.â€

 

The voice faded away as Jon cut the last man’s throat.

 

===================================================================

 

24 hours later, Jon was touching down at Hammos Industries main headquarters in a private helicopter. He had changed out of his military gear and was now in the clothes he had made vaguely famous as Steel Knight; second in command of the Alloy Knights and sponsored by Hammos Industries. As the door of the helicopter opened, Jon slid into the practiced role of the Steel Knight before his foot touched the concrete.

 

As he started towards the main building, a car raced to his side and slid to a stop to allow a giant of a man to climb out of it with a smile on his face. He was about 8 feet tall and just as wide, his muscles made trucks look like bicycles. His chest was bare, while a pair of blue jeans were pressed against his legs and his bristly black hair glistened in the sun.

“Steel, my brother; how nice it is to see you after so long!†he said with a hearty laugh and stepped forward to envelope Jon in a massive bear hug.

 

“Whoa there, Gold; I’d rather like you not to crack my bones to dust.†He said with a laugh of his own as he wriggled free and brushed his hair back over his head. “I kinda like it when I’m not being snapped in two. Also, it hasn’t been that long, only like 2 months since we saw each other last.†The man before him was Gold Knight, the leader of the Alloy Knights.

 

“Steel, my brother, always remember that if I do not see you for 2 hours, I will begin to miss you; let alone 2 months! Now then, care to elaborate on your overseas trip? I’d like to hear any juicy details.†Gold said while leaning in conspiratorially.

 

“You know as well as I do that a secret is best held by a single man; the owner of the secret. That way there is no way it can leak out, and I would like to avoid anyone poking around while I am on a break from the world of crime fighting.†Jon smiled again and slid over the hood of the car to get in the passenger side door. “So come on then, Gold. Let’s go and introduce me to this new Copper Knight I’ve heard nothing about.â€

 

Gold folded himself back into the car and took off with a wheel spin, heading towards the main building at quite a speed. “You shall be surprised, Steel, when I introduce you to her.â€

 

Jon looked across at Gold with a glint in his eye. “Her? I’m liking this new member already.†He laughed loudly and Gold joined in nearly immediately.

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It was already past midnight when Luther walked through up the stairs of his modest apartment complex, but unlike the Hypersuit he had been giving a testrun earlier he was dressed in ordinary jeans and shirt, just like a civilian, with a black backpack strapped over his shoulders. The physical and mental exhaustion, caused by all the hazard and performance tests Luther had to perform in the new Suit, almost lead to him walking past his floor if it weren’t for Ms. Thornton calling for him. “Luther,†she said, as he noticed him walking up another flight of stairs. “Where are you going?â€

“Oh,†he answered, noticing the plate stating ‘Apt. No. 401 - 408’ on the floor he had just passed. “My bad. I’m just exhausted, thanks for calling me.â€

“Another long day?â€

“Yeah,†he wanted to ask what his elderly landlady was doing out and about at this time of night, but the leashed dachshund meant that she was probably taking him out for a walk. “Goodnight, Ms. Thornton,†he said as he walked past her to apartment number 404.

“Goodnight, Luther,†and with that she disappeared down the stairs. Luther sighed. He didn’t particularly dislike the woman, but her meddlesome nature made it increasingly difficult to keep his identity as the Phantom a secret. While he understood that many Neo Humans willingly revealed their identities, Luther was still part of the old fashioned ones who much preferred their privacy over constantly being scrutinized by the all-seeing public eye. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keyring in order to search for the one that opened his door.

He pushed the key into the hole and turned it, noticing that the door was unlocked. He stood still for a second, trying to recall the events that directly followed him leaving the house this morning. Of course Ms. Thornton was there, along with her annoyingly loud dachshund Jerry, but other than that he could not recall whether he had locked his door or not. He chalked this one up to forgetfulness, it wouldn’t have been the first time, and opened the door.

As he stepped in he flicked on the light switch and carefully examined the room to make sure that no one broke into his apartment. Relieved that it was indeed his own mistake he crept forwards and dropped himself onto the couch. He leaned his head back and stared at the ceiling as his eyelids slowly grew heavier by the second. Mere moments before he passed out he caught a sound that brought him back to full focus. Instinctively he materialized a baseball bat as he slowly rose from the sofa and listened carefully.

 

He could clearly hear it now, a buzzing sound coming from the bathroom, but he had no idea what the origin could be. Carefully and silently he started inching closer and closer to the bathroom, hoping that he would be able to identify it. He kept his head bowed, ear pointed in the proper direction, eyes closed and it didn’t take long before he realized that the buzzing sound was someone humming. “Damn it,†he said, as he disintegrated the conjured bat and approached the bathroom normally.

Without knocking, or any other kind of announcement, he opened the bathroom door and saw a silhouette with a female figure reflected upon the shower curtains. Her humming had stopped when Luther pulled open the door. “I don’t mind you staying here,†he began, leaning with an arm against the doorway and his other hand still resting on the handle, “but a call would have been nice. How’d you get in anyway?â€

“Ms. Thornton let me in, she is quite nice,†the woman had a particularly sultry voice that Luther would be able to recognize among millions. It was one of the features that he liked most. “Isn’t it about time you gave me a set of keys?â€

“No.â€

“Why? Afraid I’ll spend too much time here? Please, Luther, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in this ghetto if it weren’t for you. I still don’t understand why you won’t use all of your Sony money and get an apartment at the Shangri-La. You could even stay at my place, if you’d prefer.â€

“No, Rox,†Luther sighed and got off the door, “we’re not having this discussion today. Finish your shower so we can go to bed. I’m exhausted.† Luther yawned before he started inching the door close.

“Why don’t you come in? Join me?â€

“Maybe next time,†he said, right before closing the door and turning around. Roxanne Butler was Luther’s girlfriend for the past three years who would love nothing more than for Luther to accept his role as a Neo Human and start climbing the ladder. Despite her acceptance of Luther’s unusual philosophy, she couldn’t help but be very pushy and try to change Luther, but he did not fault her for that. She meant well.

“If I made as much money as you do, I would’ve bought an apartment at the Shangri-La in a heartbeat,†Roxanne came walking out the bathroom in a white bathrobe, a white towel wrapped around her long auburn hair. Her emerald green eyes and countless freckles scattered across her nose and cheeks were the other features Luther had grown increasingly fond of.

“You know as well as I do that I don’t ‘play’ superhero for the money. I do this to help people. I am not going to live an exorbitant life when what I have here is exactly what I deserve.â€

“Well, we can stay at my place,†she approached Luther, grabbed him below the collar of his shirt and pulled his face an inch away from hers, “it’s not the Shangri-La, but it’s much better than here in the ghettos.â€

“Rox,†he placed his finger on her lips and gently pushed her back, “if the fact that I don’t deserve any better than this place as a hero is the reason that I refuse to leave, why would I go live in a home you paid for as a Neo Bad?â€

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Excitement. Triumph. Apprehension. Fear. Haruna gazed through the scope, her crosshairs wobbling ever so slightly as she centered them on the head of the Neo Bad once known as Gale Force. She remembered the man when he had still been with the board four years prior. He seemed like a decent man, even if his ready smile hid the doubt that roiled in his heart. There was no time for lamenting what depths he'd fallen to, however. She had a mission to complete, and she had to obey.

 

With a silent word of apology, she gently squeezed the trigger.

 

...

 

Tension. Anger. Panic. Fear. Haruna was in Liberia, facing down a Neo-Bad with her team on streets strewn with dust and soaked with blood; it was one of her first outings as Hellcat, when she'd proven herself worthy of the mask she now wore. The Neo-Human they hunted this day was a monster who had killed hundreds of innocents for some villainous plot -- a beast to be put down by fire and gunshot. And yet, even beneath the spiny, steel-skinned exterior of the thing he had become, within him were the very same feelings surging through her mind. The Mind's Eye, that uncanny insight that spelled out her opponents' every movement like a book, was a powerful tool, but how it probed the flickering nerve impulses of friend and foe alike unnerved her as much as it unnerved them. 

 

She anticipated a ponderous hammer-fist and nimbly stepped to the side, before jamming her carbine into the thin armor of the Neo-Bad's armpit and pulling the trigger.

 

...

 

Confusion. Terror. Fear. Fear. Fear. Haruna watched in silence as the unsmiling men in the white coats forcibly pulled the screaming woman from the black suit of armor and jammed a syringe into the crook of her arm. Immediately, the torrent of thoughts flooding through her mind abruptly ceased as the woman convulsed and went limp. Meanwhile, the Doctor spoke to her, the calm of his voice dissonant against the chaos that had just unfolded. "This is the AR/MS-08X Next-Generation Augmented Resilience/Mobility Suit, Sniper-type. Reporting Name: Hellcat. This is a high-performance system that we deemed a perfect complement for your particular brand of skills." Pride. Triumph. Regret. "This suit will be more than your sword and your shield. It will be your wedding dress; from now on, you are bonded to this suit, to the hero it represents in the public's eye..." He gazed upon the sedated woman, now being lifted onto a gurney. Sorrow.  ",,, Until death do you part. I pray that you will not become a slave to this destiny."

 

The doors opened, and the gurney was wheeled out. Then, the doors closed with a resounding thud. Haruna never saw the screaming woman ever again.

 

...

 

Haruna's eyes abruptly snapped open. She was looking at the familiar featureless white ceiling of her bunk, and below her, she felt the soft sheets of her bed, now wet with her sweat. She tried moving her arms, but they remained stiff and unresponsive. The Doctor must have forcibly overriden her augmentations -- her convulsions must have gotten violent again, she deduced. It was no wonder the men in the holding facility, though obliged to respect her for the Hero she was, always respectfully kept their distance. Their professional demeanor never wavered, but she knew exactly what they thought of her. Skilled, but unpredictable. Volatile and dangerous; a killer without equal, but not a soldier. A hound on a frayed leash. 

 

It irked her, but there was nothing that could be done. Let those men think what they wish. I am Hellcat of Team Mustang, and I will carry on the name until the day I die. Unless I end up like the woman on the gurney. Will Doctor be there to 'initiate' my successor like he did with me, I wonder?

 

For now, there was nothing she could do until the half-hour time limit on the override expired. She closed her eyes and tried to return to sleep, but to no avail. She was alone, in a body puppeted without regard to her will and nothing but her memories to keep her company.

 

Mustang had once shown her the antique comics that some credited for inspiring the Neo-Human industry. They were a quaint curiosity in this day and age, but something about the stories they told resonated with her. Sometimes, she wondered if Peter Parker hadn't gotten such a raw deal after all.

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“So when am I actually going to meet this new Copper Knight? I’ve been here for like 10 minutes and I’ve seen hide nor hair of her.†Jon said as Gold led him down a corridor within Hammos Industries.

 

“Soon enough, friend. She’s in with David at the moment so she’ll be back in an hour or so. I believe Mr Hammos wants to see what she’s capable of in the training room afterwards so we can catch her there.†Gold replied as he led Jon around a corner and stopped in front of a pair of smooth silver doors with no handles. He hit a button to the side of the doors and they slid open silently to reveal an elevator sized room with another set of doors on the far side. Gold gestured Jon forward and stepped into the room behind him, the doors sliding shut once he was through.

 

A screen above the second set of doors lit up with a flash of static before revealing the face of a blonde woman with frameless glasses sat on her nose. “Identify.†She said in a pleasant and polite voice.

 

“Gold Knight, One.†Gold said confidently.

 

“Silver Knight, Two.†Jon followed with.

 

There was a pause before the woman on the screen spoke again. “Alloy Knight One confirmed, Alloy Knight Two confirmed; welcome home.â€

 

The doors in front of them slid open as the screen above went blank. The doors led into a large near-circular room surrounded with various screens and computer terminals with a rectangular table in the center with five chairs positioned around it; two on each side and a fifth on one end. A man, dressed in a long sleeve shirt and black trousers, was sat on the fifth chair with his shiny black shoes propped on the table in front of him. He had a head of wavy brown hair, flecked with grey, and an impressive beard of the same, and he seemed to be asleep.

 

“Mercury, you old man; look who’s back!†Gold said loudly, startling the man out of his chair, where he fell to the floor directly onto his behind.

 

“Ah, right in the tailbone.†He muttered, standing up and rubbing the spot that had hit the ground. “You’re far to loud, Gold, learn to respect a man whose resting his eyes.†Mercury said. Mercury was clearly older than both Gold and Jon and was in fact a second generation Neo-Human and oldest member of the Alloy Knights. He glanced up and seemed to realize for the first time that Jon had also entered the room. “Ah, Steel, you’ve returned. I suppose you were called back for the rounds of introducing our newest member to the world. Did you enjoy your time away?â€

 

Jon walked forward and punched Mercury lightly on the shoulder. “I was all set to be grumpy on my return but I can’t be anything less than happy when you’re in the room, Mercury. Where are the others?â€

 

“Out and about, no doubt trying to get a glimpse at this new Copper Knight; I hear she’s quite the looker.†He chuckled to himself. “I also hear she’s sporting the new team gear.â€

 

“New team gear?†Jon questioned and looked back to Gold, who was sheepishly rubbing his head.

 

“Yeah, I was going to mention that after you had settled in properly. It looks like we’re going to get…uniforms of sorts, so we’re all matching as a team in design. Apparently it’s better for our public image, according to Mr Hammos.†Gold said, as he walked forward and took one of the seats at the table. “I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t comment on it, but he says it’ll adhere to our personal tastes.â€

 

“Well, that should be exciting.†Jon said, his sarcasm not very well hidden. “Oh well, I guess I can complain when I see it. Anyway, I’m going to chill in my room until the illusive Copper makes an appearance, so I’ll see you later; Gold, Mercury.†He nodded his head to each of his team members and headed to a door at the far end of the room that opened as he approached it.

 

This lead him down a set of stairs and into a wide corridor that had six doors, three on each side, at equal intervals. Jon took the first of the left, that opened at his voice, and entered his room. As the door slid shut behind him, his features that had been soft and open before hardened.

 

“Tedious.†He said and walked forwards into the room. It was nothing extravagant, with a bed in the far corner and a computer terminal in the opposite one; a door on his left led to his bathroom. Compared to the other Knights’ rooms, his was bare and lifeless.

 

A message left on his computer laid out a timetable for four cities the Alloy Knights were visiting to introduce the Copper Knight to their ranks, and what they would be doing in each city. Jon took a seat on his bed and sighed inwardly; he never liked long stints at being Steel Knight, preferring the services he provided as Entry with his Spec Ops Team, The Needle.

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Like clockwork, the annoyingly loud dachshund of Ms. Thornton started incessantly barking from 9AM until his landlady finally decided to go out for a walk with him. Luther had previously tried talking to her about it and asking her if she could walk the dog five minutes earlier so he didn’t wake up the entire apartment complex, but her reply to that was: “But that’s before he needs to go!†Sometimes she made Luther question his decision to be a good guy.

As always, Luther got up, made some coffee, lit up a cigarette and sat down behind his computer to read up on current affairs while he waited for Roxanne, who slept like a rock, to wake up. The morning news hardly ever had anything of interest to him, but today there was something that actually caught his eye. “Chinese Weapon Manufacturer Norinco’s Main Factory Site Of Neo Human Battlefield; 14 Deceased And 34 Confirmed Injured.†Even though Neo Human battles weren’t uncommon, one with this many victims was far from a daily occurrence.

Further reading revealed that the group suspected to have started the fight was the Neo Bad supergroup called VALKYRIE, a name Luther had never heard of until now. "Rox," he shouted while still scrolling and reading through the reports, "get up! I need you."

 

The shout was answered with a loud, reluctant moan followed by an equally unwilling sigh. "Fine!" She shouted back and moments later she appeared in the living room dressed in her bathrobe. "You are such a sweet talker," she grabbed a mug and started pouring coffee, "how can I refuse when you call for me like that?"

 

Luther ignored the teasing. "Do you know anything about VALKYRIE?" He asked, his attention still locked on to his monitor. "They have done quite some damage in China while we were asleep."

 

"VALKYRIE?" Roxanne repeated, "Yeah, I know of them. All female group of Bads who formed a month or two ago. I was actually approached by them, they wanted me to join. Sad that you aren't the only one who needed me?"

 

"Who was their leader?" Luther asked dryly. "Why did they approach you? What do they want?"

 

"Calm down, tiger," she sat down on the sofa and turned on the TV. "I don't know anything about VALKYRIE as a group. I only met their boss when she tried to recruit me and I bowed out when I realized that she's bad news."

 

"Are you going to keep making me ask questions," Luther's attention finally got torn off of his monitor and got directed towards Roxanne, who turn around on the sofa to meet his gaze, "or are you going to tell me the full story?"

 

A mischievous grin appeared on her face. "I'm sorry, I just don't like it when you pay more attention to other girls. Makes me feel like I haven’t been bad enough." Her voice trailed on as if she was trying to seduce him, but his deadpan gaze made her realize it was pointless. "Her name was Crazy Hare and like her name implies; she was absolutely insane."

 

"Insane? How?"

 

"I can't explain it," Roxanne continued, "it was as if just being in her vicinity was enough to make me go insane. As if I was losing my grip on reality. Wait…†she paused,  â€œyou mentioned China? That is quite odd. I remember Hare mentioning that she wanted to clean up Wolfsdale. Either way, she asked me to join the group, said I’d be the sixth and last member. Of course, I declined, but I guess she finally found someone else to her liking. What’s the plan?â€

“I’m going to the office. The prototype I tested yesterday passed all the tests, so I am getting an official model today.â€

“Ooh,†she smiled, “all black and plastered with the Sony logo?â€

“That was the deal.â€

-----

“How do you know all this?â€

 

“Can’t reveal my sources.â€

“Luther, you are telling me that you have information on a terrorist Neo Bad cell that plans on doing God-knows-what to Wolfsdale, but you can’t tell me how you know it?†Roy groaned and spun around in his chair while processing everything Luther had told him.

“Sorry, can’t tell you anything more than this. I’ll take care of them myself; if they actually show up in Wolfsdale I’ll stop them. Meanwhile, could you look into what they were trying to pull in China?â€

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Like the new suit?â€

 

“The matte black paint is a nice touch,†Luther answered as he carefully examined the new suit. “I’m going out. Probably spend all day kicking in some doors until I find out some more about this… VALKYRIE.â€

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9.05 am, Team Mustang Global Headquarters, Wolfsdale

 

Haruna knocked on the door again, and sighed, slumping against the wall in resignation. The boss wasn't a morning person; that was no surprise. The life of an officially-sanctioned Hero, especially one as high in the Board rankings as the good Colonel, was a demanding one. After all, the team was among the watchful guardians of a city that never slept; they'd forfeited their right to a 40-hour work week the moment they donned their suits. Men and women in their station had to catch what rest they could whenever available, and if the Colonel needed to sleep off an exhausting shift until noon, so be it. Team Mustang functioned on a rotation basis on slow days anyway.

 

Haruna was pretty sure that making her wait outside his bunk for a whole 45 minutes was stretching it, though.

 

"Important message from the sponsors, sir," she called out again, hammering on the door a few times more for good measure.

 

There was the sound of frantic footsteps from inside the room. followed by the whoosh of a toilet flushing. Then, the door opened, revealing Colonel John Clarke's honest, square-jawed face. His eyes seemed a little bloodshot today, for whatever reason. "Sorry to keep you waiting, kid. I was... um, indisposed."  Sheepishness. Guilt. There was a rustling noise from somewhere behind him, and he suddenly looked away and scowled. Annoyance. Then, he turned back to Haruna, his disarming smile reappearing as if nothing amiss had happened at all. "What's this about?"

 

Haruna's expression was unreadable. "S-Sir... Is this... w-workplace sexual harassment?" She said slowly, trying to avoid glancing downwards.

 

"Oh. Whoops."  Shock. The door closed, and Haruna heard more rustling noises. A moment later, the door opened, revealing the Colonel, thankfully with his pants on this time. "You said it's the sponsors, right?"

 

"Yes sir." She heard the curious rustling from inside again, and noticed something a little amiss. Frowning slightly, she continued, "You aren't letting me in. Is someone inside?"

 

"No. Of course not." Extreme Nervousness. Panic. His perspiration seemed to have exceeded regular levels, for whatever reason. "Why would you even think that?"

 

"Sir... I am a sensor-type." Haruna continued slowly. I recognize that Pattern, too... "Corsair is in there."

 

"I was showing her the nuances of close quarters ground combat. It's important in our line of work."

 

"While naked." Haruna's eyebrow twitched.

 

"I prefer the term 'Greco-Roman Style', thank you very much," Colonel Clarke said dismissively. "Care to join us? I know you're a sniper, but you'll do well to learn these things too."

 

Anticipation. Attraction. Haruna's eyebrow twitched a second time. "Sir, the  liaison stressed that this was quite important. His phrasing was considerably more colorful, however."

 

"Fine," Colonel Clarke grumbled, before turning and muttering something under his breath. Annoyance. "This had better be very important, kid."

 

She handed over a set of sealed manila folders marked 'FOR YOUR EYES ONLY' in red block letters. "Wasn't told the specifics. Neo-Bad attack in Shenzhen. 14 deaths, 34 injuries confirmed. Instigators believed to be from newly-formed supergroup VALKYRIE. Details enclosed within." Colonel Clarke took the proffered documents, and carefully opened the first sealed folder, pulling out a series of printed sheets of paper and slowly scrutinizing them. "Responsible for unresolved incident in Delhi subway... mind-influencing powers of unknown extent." he muttered to himself. Uncertainty. Worry. "Well, this chick's bad news, that's for sure."

 

Colonel John Clarke leafed through the next four folders, continuing to express similar sentiments as he read on. Then, he glanced at the last folder, and abruptly paused, his face turning white. Immediately, a maelstrom of impressions bombarded Haruna -- Anger. Disbelief. Confusion. Shock. Apprehension. Fear. Slowly, he slid the papers back into their envelope and turned to Haruna, saying, "You... you haven't read these, have you?"

 

"No, sir."

 

"Shred it. Do not speak a word of this to anyone. Then, meet me in full battle order at the hangar in 10 minutes. We've been activated." Colonel Clarke whispered grimly, his mouth a hard line. Then, he turned back to the inside of his bunk, and shouted, "Oi, woman! Get to the hangar in 10, fully suited up! We've got trouble!" He stormed off in the direction of the armory; moments later, the door burst open again, and a busty blonde woman dashed out. Haruna was not one to notice such things usually, but the woman had quite an imposing figure, a fact made all the more obvious by the lack of anything to conceal it. She might have had some mysterious secondary power to defy gravity, for one thing.

 

"Corsair..." Haruna called out, and the woman turned around, glancing at her like a deer caught in headlights. 

 

"You might want to unstrap that black thing on your mouth."

 

Embarrassment. Shock. Guilt. Target deliberating murder of all witnesses. Immediately, the woman dashed back into the room, the door shutting behind her again. Haruna put a palm to her face, and jogged off towards the office where the shredder was. She wondered what the document was -- the Colonel was a calm, collected man when he was on the job, at least. It would take something quite shocking to make him react as he did. She wouldn't have looked, though; not even if she had a gun to her head. Orders are orders, after all.

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“Steel, let me introduce you to the Copper Knight.†Gold said as he hit a button to the side of a heavy duty metal door and stood aside as it slid open to reveal the newest addition to the Alloy Knights.

 

Jon stepped into the room and in tune with his personality as Steel Knight, let loose a long whistle while he raised and eyebrow. Stood before him was an impressive figure of a woman; she stood taller than Jon by a couple of inches and through the skin-tight neck-to-toe outfit, she was lithe and muscular. Her hair was cut to no longer than her ears and stylized into spikes that were swept to the right. For the most part it was near-black in colour, the exception being streaks of blood red at random intervals. Her eyes were a deep chocolate brown and were full of intelligence and sharpness as they swiveled to settle on Jon.

 

“Steel Knight, I presume?†she asked and stepped forward with a hand extended to shake.

 

Jon took the hand in a firm grip and smiled from ear to ear. “Nice to meet you, Copper. Although I have to admit, if that is our new costume; I’m going to have to start working out. I wouldn’t want anything embarrassing like a beer belly to show through.â€

 

“I highly doubt you sport such a thing.†Copper said and released his hand to rest her own on her hips. “This is just what we’ll be wearing underneath; I’m afraid I’ve already locked away the outer layer, so you’ll have to wait for the first event to see it in action.†She spoke confidently and even Jon, under his persona, was slightly impressed. “So I hear you are second in command, that true?â€

 

Jon grinned and turned to Gold to make a jest at him about the current leadership role, but found that he had disappeared while they had been talking. “Sneaky git.†He muttered before looking back to Copper, who was carefully looking at him with an analyzing eye. “Yes, that’s true. Are you looking to be promoted already? Scoping out your competition?â€

 

Copper smiled and turned around to take a seat on a bench that ran down the center of the room; built in the fashion of a retro locker room as it was. “I just like to know who’s in command. I wouldn’t want to create conflict within the team by taking orders from the wrong person.â€

 

“There’s nothing to worry about there, the others know that when Gold or I give commands, they should really be followed without question. In that respect we run pretty well within the team. Is this your first time in a team?†Steel walked further into the room and took a seat next to Copper, leaving a foot or so of room between them on the bench.

 

“Not completely.†She answered, turning her head to look at Jon. “I was in Team Hotshot until it was disbanded 3 years ago. Since then I’ve been running solo under the teams sponsor. They agreed to sponsor the members of Hotshot until we found a new team.â€

“Yeah I think I heard about that.†Jon lied, and stretched off his legs in front of him. “What’s you’re current rank?â€

 

Copper smirked and Jon frowned before she answered. “I currently sit at 86th Position.â€

 

“Not bad, not bad. I feel bad I’m so far behind now; I guess I’ll have to work on that if I want to retain my position as second in command.†Jon stood up and laughed, offering a hand to Copper, who took it and pulled herself to her feet. “Get changed and meet the rest of the team out by the plane, we’ve got to get this tour of introduction started.â€

 

“Where is it we’re heading first, I haven’t been told anything except congratulations for joining. Even Mr Hammos didn’t mention anything.â€

 

“Don’t worry, that’s how we usually roll around here. Either Gold or I tend to find out what the hell’s going on and informs the team; you’ll get used to it eventually. As for our first destination, it’s the city of Wolfsdale. Ever been?â€

 

Copper shook her head. “In Hotshot, and in my brief stint as a solo act, I worked out of Kirkwall, that’s pretty much the biggest place I’ve been.â€

 

“I’ll be sure to give you the tour after all the official business is taken care of; maybe we’ll even get to beat someone up.†Steel walked to the door and hit the button to open it. “See you at the plane, Copper.†He said with a wave over his shoulder without looking back.

 

As the door slid shut behind him, he didn’t catch Copper leaning back on her hands and smirking, her gaze locked onto him until the door fully closed.

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Luther had spent so much time as a solo act that he had built up a sizeable network of underworld contract. Most of them petty criminals or gangbangers who claimed the role in order to act tough without actually putting their money where their mouths were. Luther spent the majority of the day paying these people visits in his newest supersuit; the black colour to fit his name and Sony logo to ensure that there was no mistake who had developed this bit of technology.

 

Whether it was the added intimidating factor given by the suit or the fact that his contacts understood that the matter was urgent enough for no one to have the luxury of wasting Luther's time, but it did not take as long as he had expected to find details on the remaining members of VALKYRIE. Sadly he did have trouble finding anyone with data on their powers. Other than their names and appearances the members of VALKYRIE were still an enigma.

 

Following one of his leads had eventually brought him to the slums. The actual slums of Wolfsdale were decrepit, impoverished, devoid of any signs of joy and very much unlike Luther's middle-class neighbourhood, despite Roxanne's insistence. If his information was correct, and Luther believed so, one of the members known as Bloodhound resided in these very slums. A map of the surrounding area popped up on the lower right corner of his HUD, including a GPS tracker showing his destination.

“Roy, I’m here.â€

“Remember, Phantom, she’s dangerous. Don’t underestimate her.â€

“Roger,†Luther carefully strode carefully into the decrepit apartment complex under the cover of night. Most people were smart enough to get home and stay home before sunset in the slums, which made his job a lot easier. He followed the directions one of his contacts had given him to the door that supposedly belong to the Neo Bad known as Bloodhound; female, ranked -1052, unknown power, unknown sponsor.

Luther reached out and placed his hand on the door, the sensor would catch any sound coming from within the apartment and amplify it enough to make it audible to Luther. Surprisingly, the sound he heard was woman’s moaning. He cocked his head as he wondered whether he had been given the wrong apartment or sent on a wild goose chase when he heard a second moaning voice coming from within, also female but distinctly different from the first.

He was about to leave and pay the people who sent him the wrong way a visit when he heard the moaning stop and one of the women started talking. “Is it him?†Luther waited for a second, but there came no verbal reply. What did follow, was a whooshing sound in the door’s direction, causing Luther to instinctively hop back to create distance. His instinct saved him, as the door was instantaneously smashed into pieces as a claw reached out and barely scraped the paint off of his new black helmet.

“So, you’re the Phantom?†The figure who stood in the doorway was was wearing a form-fitting black catsuits with a metal helmet, with two cat ears on top of it. The helmet was painted in orange and white with black stripes to emulate a tiger’s fur. The claw that had reached through the door turned out to be a set of gloves with long nails made out of an alloy of unknown origin.

“You aren’t Bloodhound,†Luther said calmly, you’re Feral Tiger. You knew I was coming.†It didn’t take long for him to make sense of the situation and the arrival of an adversary that he did not expect.

 

“Correct, I am Bloodhound,†the second woman said. She was standing on the bed in the apartment, dressed in the same black catsuit but with a different helmet; hers was shaped like a dog, with the lower maw under her head, the upper maw covering her forehead and a visor in between.  â€œI saw you coming from a mile away.â€

She was either bluffing or a sensor type, Luther thought as he quickly analyzed the situation. It was unlikely that any of his contacts had sold him out and he had made sure that no surveillance of any kind had caught him moving in this direction. If she had actually seen him coming, that would have been the only way, but before he could finish his train of thought the Tiger advanced on him.

She was agile, fast, well trained and precise. If not for the upgraded suit Luther would not have been able to keep up and avoid getting harmed, but he knew that this would not be the end of his troubles. Despite the theory that Bloodhound was a sensor, he had no inclination as to what Tiger’s real power could be. “Those claws are just toys,†he said as he narrowly escaped from one of her strikes with his arm still attached. “What’s your real power?†Luther asked, not really expecting an answer.

She answered with a feral roar, doing her name proud, as her savage advance continued tirelessly while Bloodhound stood perfectly still in the background spectating. Luther continued dodging the attacks, waiting for a time for him to retaliate, when he suddenly realized that he stepped back improperly, making him lose his balance and stumble to  regain it, but Tiger’s attack did not wait and connected with his shoulder, effectively clawing a part of the suit off but not cutting deep enough to reach his flesh.

After regaining his balance Luther jumped back, worried about the situation; it was unlike him to stumble in the middle of a fight and he suspected that a foul play had been made. Tiger bended forward, arms parallel to the ground and fingers bent to shape her hands like talons when she let out a roar even more vicious than the previous one. Luther was overcome by a sudden dizziness when he realized that her roars had a disorienting effect on him.

The situation had turned extremely sour. He would have been able to handle Hound and Tiger if it weren’t for her disorienting power causing his motor skills to diminish to such a state that he had difficulty backstepping. Defeating Tiger by herself would’ve been manageable, but without any information on the Hound’s capabilities sticking around would be his end.

 

Running away while dizzy wasn’t much of an option either.

“I thought ghosts were supposed to be intangible, yet we managed to catch one.†A third voice appeared behind him and Luther turned around to face her. She was wearing the same catsuit, but unlike the other two she wore no helmet. Her skin was pale, almost sickly so, she had long purple hair that fell down along her back, purple lipstick, thick black eyeliner and piercings in her lip, eyebrow and ears. While staring into her deep green eyes Luther felt as if slowly his constantly thinking and analyzing brain was started to drift off. His thoughts no longer focused on the mission at him but slowly derailed to inane and irrelevant subjects and no matter how much he tried he could not regain his focus.

Crazy Hare had appeared before him, with the three last members of VALKYRIE standing behind her and watching the lone Luther as he succumbed to the hopeless situation he had found himself in.

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"Listen up, ladies," Mustang declared to the assembled members of his team. "We've received intel on the whereabouts of a Neo Bad supergroup known as VALKYRIE. Not only have they acquired a dangerous Nanotech weapon of unknown capabilities, they have uncovered information that, if leaked to the public, would prove very detrimental to our group. They're in the slums of Wolfsdale; we are to move against them at once."

"I cannot help but think this is a trap," Superfortress rumbled, a massive, imposing presence in his battleship-grey, hulking exo-skeletal armor. Despite the stereotype of bricks, the moniker the Neo Humans endowed with high levels of strength and endurance were commonly known as, being prone to think with their fists rather than their heads, Superfortress was the most level-headed, collected member of the team, frequently the voice of reason when tensions got high. It probably helped that the current operator of Superfortress was formerly from the special forces. "This information seems too easily won, as though it's been deliberately leaked."

"And throw away the perfect opportunity to strike? Trap or not, we cannot let them hang onto weapons of mass destruction... Or our team's secrets. We shall strike them down in their moment of complacency." Thunderbolt interjected. He was a cocky, confident and impatient one, not unusual for someone who perpetually lived life in bullet time. Haruna always got a little on edge when he was around; he was always so full of tension, so volatile that the emotions spilling forth from him were impossible to ignore.

"All this talk's wasting time. Mustang's given the order, let's just go already." Corsair was an odd one. She seemed strong-willed, but she simply caved whenever Mustang was around, becoming like a puppet to his will. Haruna practically felt the resolve draining from her whenever Mustang was so much as brought up. He's using her. Ironic, considering the reputations of other illusionists as the ones who played people like fiddles.

"The Board of Directors has already made its final judgment," Mustang was a hard one to read -- sometimes, it seemed that that practiced false smile he wore for the camera was more than just skin-deep, that he somehow cultivated an entire personality of noncommittal, insincere affability. She never could pick up anything from him beyond what little his perpetually even, collected voice betrayed -- perhaps it was a result of his power, a secret even his most trusted subordinates could not decipher. He strode into the rear hatch of the waiting helicopter, beckoning the others to follow him. "Get going. We're gambling with people's lives with every second we wait."

With military precision, the four of them filed aboard, and the chopper rose upwards into the overcast skies.

...

Haruna was in position already, atop a rooftop overlooking the slums where VALKYRIE had been traced to. It was an excellent vantage point, with few blind spots and unobstructed lines of sight. It was her perfect playground -- the moment the order was given, the unsuspecting Neo Bads would fall like wheat before a scythe.

Mentally, she scanned the surroundings -- above the typical hubbub of the masses of humanity below her, she picked out several sharp points of spiking emotion -- probably the Neo Bads, plotting their triumph. Then, she noticed something else -- there was someone there with them. His mind was chaos, full of conflicting impulses and fragmented sensations -- he was seemingly being brought to his knees by thought alone.

"Eyeball to Sunray, the targets have a hostage with them. I repeat, the targets have a hostage." She murmured into her mike. Then, more softly, she whispered, "I have a bad feeling about this."

"Prioritize elimination of Neo Bads." Mustang said calmly, without inflection. "Attack."

Suddenly, a surge of fear shot through her. It's a trap! She yelped a warning through her comms, but got nothing but dead air. Then, her Mind's Eye went completely dark, leaving her alone with her own thoughts.

Fear.

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The Alloy Knights had landed in Wolfsdale a while ago and had been briefed when and where the first meeting and Copper Knight reveal would be. Since then, Jon had slipped off on his own in order to compose himself before standing before high ranking members of Hammos Industries. His wandering had brought him to the slums of the city and night had closed in quickly around him. It didn’t bother him though, he was dressed in his signature outfit and although he wasn’t exactly on par with the big leagues, he was still high enough ranked that he was recognizable. The few people that were still out at night, probably dubious in their relation to the law, avoided him and Jon let his feet carry him as they willed.

 

His feet led him to some kind of dilapidated apartment complex but before entering the front door he stopped himself and looked up the side of the building. What brought me here, I wonder. He thought just as a jarring roar echoed out of the building. His Entry persona would not have investigated the noise unless it was part of the instructions that would lead to the competition of the mission. However, his Steel Knight Persona was a ranked hero who was pretty much required to look into such a strange noise. So with Steel Knight in command, Jon immediately burst into the building and rounded the corner to swiftly ascend some stairs.

 

The roar sounded again and Jon pinpointed it from originating about 4 floors above him, so he accelerated and bound up the steps which had become a blur beneath him. Soon enough he was on the correct floor and burst through the entry door into the wide corridor and onto a strange situation. There was a gang of six females surrounding someone in black armor marked with Sony’s sigil. Even Jon knew that the armored fellow was Phantom, a high ranking Neo whose reputation normally preceded him. This was why it was strange that he seemed to be on the losing end of the current fight. As for the women surrounding Phantom, Jon didn’t recognize any of them.

 

He stepped further into the corridor and it seemed everyone’s eyes turned towards him; well, everyone’s visors with the exception of one of the girls whose pale skin stood in contrast to her purple hair and dark makeup. Jon stepped further into the corridor and smiled, he held his hands loose at his side as he spoke.

 

“Well, this just seems a little bit unfair. Six on One? I don’t think even one of the Ten would like to fair those odds; although, they are ridiculously strong, so I can’t really speak for them. But I digress, how about we all step away from dear old Phantom and have a nice chat. What do you say?†Even as he spoke in the jovial tone of the Steel Knight, his mind calculated the best way to combat them if they started to do anything aggressive towards him.  

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Luther had been driven so far out of focus that he did not even notice the appearance of the Steel Knight. His thoughts had shifted so far from the realm of reality that only the word 'run' echoed in his mind as if a million different people were shouting at him simultaneously. "They are here," Bloodhound said calmly, ignoring the appearance of the Steel Knight, "one of them is missing, she did not enter my radius. They will be here in 40 seconds.. One from stairs leading to the roof, one from the stairs leading to the ground floor and 2 from the window.â€

“Sorry, hun,†Hare said, directed at the Steel Knight. “We spent all out free time playing with him,†she pointed at Luther, “I’m afraid our guests will arrive soon and we’d be rude not to attend to them.†She turned around and addressed the women standing behind her. “Blackbird, I need you to blind them. Cobra, pull the trigger in 10 seconds.†The two women she addressed had helmets with a bird and a cobra on them, sticking to the theme Hare had picked for the members of VALKYRIE.

Luther slowly felt his grip on reality returning as he steadily regained his senses and his control over his body, but he wasn’t able to run yet and he had no idea what was going to happen. That’s when it all went down in a split second, despite the feeling that it lasted minutes. Cobra snapped her fingers a second before two Neo Humans jumped in through the window brandishing the latests weapons developed by Raytheon and unloaded their magazine on the group of terrorists without any hesitation.

 

What should have been an easy job turned sour when they realized that several civilians had come running out of their homes and not only caught several of the bullets meant for Hare and her consorts, but had also started advancing upon the challengers with baseball bats, pots, pans and whatever other type of makeshift weaponry they could find within their homes. Luther was too much in a state of confusion for him to be able to make out what exactly had been going on, but between the screams of fear, agony and confusion even he could tell that it wasn’t good.

 

By the time he regained full control the hallway was deserted. Well, deserted by anyone living. The corridor had been covered with the corpses of a dozen civilians who were caught in the crossfire between VALKYRIE and whoever else had shown up to put a stop to them. As Luther slowly rose to his feet he noticed that between the various civilians there was also the corpse of a Neo Human. The Neo Human’s armor had several scratch marks across the chest, reaching deep enough to draw blood, and was missing the top half of his helmet along with the upper half of the Neo’s head.

Luther recognized the suit as belonging to Thunderbolt, a member of Team Mustang, and felt sick, but realized that whatever was going on had to be going on nearby. He ran down the stairs and was met by another disgusting scene. The body of a female Neo laid slumped against a wall painted with blood and entrails, presumably hers judging by the gigantic hole in her head and helmet. Another member of Team Mustang, Corsair. “Fuck,†Luther muttered, partially blaming himself for being unable to help them, but without any time to sit on his anger he ran out of the building.

 

He expected to see the three remaining members of Team Mustang facing off against VALKYRIE, but he did not expect it to be a two on six with Superfortress being the only remaining member of Team Mustang aided by Steel Knight. Mustang and Hellcat were nowhere in sight and it was pretty obvious to Luther that just the two of them had trouble handling the girls of VALKYRIE. It was then that it dawned on him; he had noticed it earlier in his brief exchange with Feral Tiger, but it wasn’t until he saw them working in unison that he realized that these girls were insanely powerful when working together.

Feral Tiger slashed Superfortress in the ankles, bringing him to his knees. Lazy Cobra’s  whip was quickly thrown around his neck, forcing him to struggle against the bind to prevent asphyxiation. Crazy Hare approached the kneeling Superfortress and raised one of her two pistols, aiming it at his head, while Bloodhound, Blackbird and Scarecrow kept Steel Knight busy.

BANG

Cobra released her whip and let Superfortress’s lifeless body crash into the ground as Hare started laughing loudly and maniacally. “SEE!?†She shouted loudly between her laughing. “WE ARE THE STRONGEST! EVEN FUCKING TEAM MOTHERFUCKER MUSTANG CAN’T STOP US! HOW ABOUT YOU, STEEL KNIGHT!? YOU GOING TO FUCK OFF NOW OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FUCKED AS WELL!?â€

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Fear.

"Eyeball to Sunray, do you copy?" she whispered again, this time with a tinge of desperation in her voice. "Do you copy?" Still, nothing came but dead silence.

Then, a window shattered, and she saw the familiar gunmetal-grey form of Superfortress, followed closely by another Neo Human she didn't recognize, crash out of the window of the building. Then, a second group of Neo Humans burst out -- from their masks, they had to be the ones they were looking for. It's VALKYRIE, and there's Superfortress. But where's Mustang and the others? Her leader, along with Corsair and Thunderbolt, were nowhere in sight. She half-expected for them to burst out from somewhere and put the enemy team down with their trademark surgical precision, but as the two beleaguered Neo Humans fought on, the truth started to dawn on her. They might be dead already. Will they be able to hide it if half our team goes down?

Then, as she watched in horrified silence, the members of VALKYRIE executed Superfortress, leaving the unfamiliar Neo Human on his own.

"Eyeball to Sunray. Ironside is down, and the other Board member is in danger. Screw the ROE, I'm taking the shot-"

Suddenly, she saw one of them raise a sniper rifle at her direction -- not a laser like the one she used, but a heavy rail gun, a massive affair linked to a back-mounted power supply by a heavy power cord and extending launch rails almost as long as she was. She didn't need her Mind's Eye to realize that she had to get out of there -- immediately, she grabbed her own rifle and tumbled away, just a fraction of a second before something tore through the roof where she had been moments before, gouging out a huge hole and peppering her with a spray of debris. Immediately, she jumped off the building, breaking her line of sight from the other sniper -- and another shot went straight through the building hiding her from her opponent, lancing past her head by scant inches and blasting a man-sized hole in the facade of the building she was falling in front of. She calculated the trajectory of my fall without having to see me, and almost made it -- just what on earth is she?

Horrified realization struck her -- if she didn't do something, the woman would have corrected for her error, and this time, she probably wouldn't miss. She pulled out the little boxy carbine, a successor to the venerable P-90 design of the past, and fired a burst sideways, the kick throwing her a few inches to the side. It was just barely enough to evade the third shot, which just barely nicked her helmet and blasted another chunk out of the masonry behind her. Barely nicked was an understatement, however -- while the shot had technically only grazed the helmet by inches, the sheer energy it carried was enough to tear half the helmet off, the fragments slicing into her face and covering one eye with a sheet of blood.

Then, she hit the ground with a bone-jarring thud and gasped in pain. The shock absorbers had soaked up much of the impact, but hitting the ground from a multi-storey fall freaking hurt, Neo Human or not. Might have cracked a few bones. Going to be held up in the med-bay for a while. If I can even make it out alive, that is. There wasn't any time to waste on lying around incapacitated however. She made a mental command and her suit responded, a needle jabbing into her skin and filling her bloodstream with a rush of painkillers. This will have to do for now. I've got to go back, the others must be in trouble.

She loaded up a map of the twisting streets of the neighborhood and picked her way through the alleyways, keeping off the main road. Hopefully, the enemy sniper -- in all probability, the one whose existence was proving a thorn in the side for the higher-ups -- wouldn't be able to track her as she approached. No more shots came her way, but when she rounded the corner, she came across someone she hadn't been expecting to see.

"Mustang?" she breathed.

"We're extracting," Mustang replied, breathing heavily. "The mission has been compromised; the others are currently engaging in delaying actions."

"You left them to die." Haruna replied numbly. "We were led into a trap, and you left them to die."

"They knew the risks. Their sacrifice will not be in vain, however," Mustang said without emotion. "Our mission objective will be fulfilled regardless, and evidence of our involvement will be wiped clean. The 'chemical explosion' will see to that." He tapped his wrist, and a holographic image sprung up before it. The text on it read, <Thermobaric Cruise Missiles Launched. ETA: 2 Minutes.> He grasped her wrist, motioning with his other hand down the street. "Let's get out of here for now; we're still within the blast radius. We'll be back later -- I'm sure our disaster-relief efforts will sit well with the Board."

"You authorized a missile strike... in an urban area, with two other Board members present..." she said, slapping his hand away. Then, with trembling hands, she raised her carbine to her shoulder, unsteadily pointing them at his chest. "Call them off."

Quick as a flash, his own pistol was raised, its muzzle cold against her forehead. "I've said it once, and I've said it again. Team Mustang. Never. Loses. Now, are you going to come along quietly, or let me decide for you?"

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These girls are good. Jon thought as he fought three-on-one with the members of VALKYRIE. Superfortress of Team Mustang had managed to survive the initial onslaught somehow, Jon had used his abilities to prevent his death, but he appeared to have reached his limit as the remaining VALKYRIE members brought him to his knees and Crazy Hare raised a gun to his head before blowing it apart. At the same time, Bloodhound and Blackbird dodged past his guard as he blocked Scarecrow and caught him with a double kick to the stomach. Luckily he had armoured the point of impact so the strength of the blows only pushed him back a couple of feet.

 

Crazy Hare started laughing while shouting obscenities at Jon at the same time. This one has lost it, a complete and utter nutter. He thought as he dropped low to one knee as the all-female villain team approached him with a six-on-one situation. This probably can't get any worse. I might need to break protocol and take them out quickly. I just have to make sure Phantom doesn't walk in at the wrong moment. Jon had been acting as 'Steel Knight' during his short-lived partnership with Superfortress but he had seen a few opportunities to end the VALKRYIE member's lives; not taking the chances only to preserve his cover.

 

"Catch." Lazy Cobra said as her whip latched around Superfortress' body and flung it had Jon.

 

Jon rolled back to avoid the flying body, where it crashed out of a window behind him, but as he got back to his feet, Crazy Hare had levelled her pistols on him and fired. He activated his armour to cover his chest and the bullets crashed into them with enough force to fling him back and out of the window that Superfortress had just broken.

 

This could hurt; can't complain about my enhancements right now. He thought, referring to his artificially reinforced bone structure. The impact against the floor jarred his whole body but nothing broke, as it most likely would have with normal bones, but he did groan out loud. at the same time, VALKRYIE burst out of the window and descended to the ground rather gracefully.

 

Jon quickly rolled to his feet and squared off against the six Neo-bads wit ha half grimace, half grin on his face. immediately, Scarecrow and Bloodhound dashed forward to engage him as he noticed Blackbird raising some kind of large scoped rifle. A rail-gun? he thought before having to dodge attacks coming his way. He heard the rifle fire off with its trademark booming echo but he was too busy deflecting attacks from the pair in front of him to look at what she was firing at. They worked in a unison Jon had rarely seen, the second one attacking the moment he defending against the first. Luckily neither of them had gotten a physical hit on his body thanks to his quick reactions and armour abilities.

 

Blackbird fired twice more and Jon was starting to get annoyed with his two opponents as Crazy Hare watched with amusement. Enough. His face suddenly changed from the happy-go-lucky Steel Knight to the cold, calculating, and emotionless face of Entry. Bloodhound landed a kick to his stomach as Jon didn't defend, simply bracing his stomach muscles to resist the blow instead, and then took advantage of her momentary surprise by stepping into her body and aiming a elbow at the side of her head. As he formed his armour around the point of his elbow, it changed from grey to gold. Unlike the blunt impact the grey armour gave him, gold armour forged edges along the central area of the attacking limb. Although it wasn't sharp, it was very close and gave Jon more puncturing power than normal. When his elbow caught Bloodhound in the side of the head, the new edge sunk slightly into the material before sticking and sending her tumbling to the feet of her partner.

 

Jon had followed Bloodhound to the ground and rolled over her falling body, using the force to spring back to his feet and catching Scarecrow in the stomach with a forearm. As with Bloodhound, the gold armour clashed with the costume before catching and lifting Scarecrow into the air before dumping her on the floor.

 

Before she had even made contact with the ground, Jon had changed direction and was now charging straight at Crazy Hare. She is clearly the leader; if I take her down, the others will run or fall apart. He thought as golden armour formed around his forearms.

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“God,†Hare said as she pulled a vial out of one of her suit’s pouches, “you aaaaaaare boring.†She sighed as she swung the vial back and forth between her thumb and index finger in the direction of the charging Steel Knight. Luther, who had snuck into the building while the group was busy with their battle, used his suit’s built in computer and vast database to quickly examined the content of the vial. It took less than half a second for a pop up to appear on his HUD, listing the grey matter within the vial as a WMD. He was about to call out for the Steel Knight to stop, but he was glad to see that the Knight realized something was wrong.

“We just wanted to plaaaaaaay, but you have to go and ruin everything!†Hare clenched her fists and tilted her head back, jokingly feigning anger, but the unsettling smile on her face did a bad job at concealing her actual enjoyment. “But, since you want to be all serious with a group of beautiful women who just wanted to have some fuuuun, we have to get serious too. I hate that. Yup, really hate that. We were so niiiiice and didn’t even use our powers like we did on that Ghostboy and the filthy Team Horsey. Oh well~â€

Bloodhound coughed as she slowly rose from her feet after recovering from the impact. “Phantom is back there,†she said, pointing at the back of the building before coughing some more, “and Blackbird is on her way back.â€

“Oh, hello there, Phantom,†Hare used her free hand to wave excitedly, “would you also like to know what this is?â€

“That is a vial of mist containing nanomachines programmed to target and destroy any Neo Humans within the vicinity, judging by the quantity I’d say it’d kill everyone in a 5 mile radius.â€

“4.7! I see you’ve done your homework, good boooooy! Would you like a snack?â€

“Mustang and Hellcat have met up,†Blackbird came walking, her railgun perched upon her shoulder. “Based on what I know of Mustang, we likely have less than 2 minutes to evacuate.â€

“Yes! Yes!†Hare shouted, jumping up and down like an excited schoolgirl. “Here’s the dealio, boyos! We are gonna skedaddle! If you want to have some one-on-one with me that bad, and who’d blame you, you will have to schedule a meeting with my secretary. For now, if you follow us,†her psychotically cheerful demeanor disappeared and turned menacing, “I open this vial and everyone dies and you should know that I have an entire canister that’ll detonate as soon as my ticker stops! Also, your dear friend, Mustang, will be blowing up the block in 2 minutes. You might want to stop him. Or you can chase my perfect ass. Your choice!â€

 

The group of women started strutting away, confident that the Steel Knight and Phantom would make no effort to put a stop to them, and in Luther’s case they were right. These women was crazy, dangerous and at this moment they were even untouchable. However, if they were telling the truth and Mustang was about to wipe out the block, he would be a far more pressing problem. “Fuck!†Luther shouted as he dashed out in the direction he had come from, his suit’s radar already booted up and searching for signs of life that corresponded with the data on Colonel Mustang.

 

Luther had to stop him. Who cared about Board Points, he wouldn’t let the neighbourhood get destroyed that easily.

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Fear. Terror. Fear. Terror. 

 

In an ordinary situation, this would hardly have been a fair stand-off. Haruna couldn't read minds, but she could do the next best thing -- a whole second before her assailant could try anything, her finger would already be squeezing down on the trigger. However, whatever power had sealed her abilities was still in effect, leaving her all alone in her head. She couldn't win -- even with a gun at her head, Mustang was still the commanding officer she obeyed and respected, but even without her powers, she was getting the ominous feeling that Mustang would have had no trouble squeezing the trigger. 

 

"One minute to impact," Mustang said conversationally. "We're running out of time. Lower that gun like a good girl and follow me."

 

Haruna stood motionless, her gun still trained on Mustang's chest, the barrel wobbling slightly.

 

"Fifty seconds... C'mon, give it up. You can't possibly be thinking of shooting me, can you?" Mustang said, his expression one of cold, dead-eyed apathy. I wouidn't be able to read him. He's empty inside.

 

Mustang... you are a monster. "Call. Them. Off." She growled, her finger tightening imperceptibly on the trigger.

 

"What a shame. You had such promise, girl." Mustang's finger squeezed down on the trigger, and Haruna felt a surge of fear as every fiber of her being screamed at her to pull that trigger-

 

Everything happened within an instant. Suddenly, the fog clouding her senses vanished, and she sensed the presence of someone approaching Mustang from behind very, very quickly. There was a thump as a gunshot rang out, and Haruna felt a sharp pain along her cheek as a bullet grazed past it. Then, she saw the newcomer, a man in black armor conspicuously labeled with the Sony logo -- he'd tackled Mustang, throwing his aim off, and was now grappling with him on the ground, trying to wrest the pistol from Mustang's hands. Mustang let out a snarl of rage, flecks of spittle flying from his mouth, and shoved the man off him, throwing him down the alleyway; in a single motion, his gun was raised, aimed straight at the man's helmet. He pulled the trigger -- and the bullet glanced off a barrier that had appeared out of nowhere. Immediately, the man raised his hand, and there was a flash of light in his hand as an identical-looking pistol materialized in his hand. Immediately, Haruna raised her own weapon, and Mustang found himself staring down two gun barrels.

 

"Call the missiles off," Haruna repeated hoarsely. "You have the codes."

 

"I deleted them," Mustang replied coldly as his faceplate closed over his head. "I could not let uncertainty cloud my judgment." You bastard-

 

Then, the flash grenade Mustang had dropped in the confusion went off, and the world went white. The other man fired, but the bullet pinged harmlessly off the concrete ground. Where is he?! Haruna's senses expanded, and even blinded, she managed to pinpoint him, a single blip hurrying down the alley. At this range, a spray of burst fire couldn't miss-

 

Then, a wall of heat and force slammed into her as her world shook at its foundations, and everything went white.

 

...

 

Anxiety. Concern. 

 

Haruna's eyes snapped open, gazing towards her black-armored rescuer. His armor was battered and scored by the impact of the explosion, but he seemed otherwise unharmed. One could never be sure with this kind of thing, though -- brain damage was a finicky thing, and even modern medical science couldn't always mend all the scars a traumatic head blow could cause. For all she knew, she'd just gotten a blood clot in her brain after that impact, but now probably wasn't the time to be thinking pessimistically.

 

Relief. "Hellcat of Team Mustang, right? Apart from that slimy bastard, you're the only one left alive," the newcomer said.

 

"T-The missiles... the missiles..." her eyes widened as she sat up, and immediately, she felt her strength leave her as bile rose in her throat. She let out a choked, ragged gasp as she stared, wide-eyed, at the result of the explosion. The building they'd assaulted had been completely obliterated, with nothing remaining but a rubble-strewn crater shrouded in thick, choking clouds of dust and smoke. Everything within three hundred meters of ground zero had been completely devastated -- this place was a run-down slum not particularly known for adherence to building safety codes, let alone resilience against bombing. Fires burned freely throughout the rubble-strewn area, and poking out of one of the many rubble piles was a charred, blackened hand. From its size, it couldn't have belonged to anyone but a child.

 

"He must pay for this." Haruna said numbly, tears welling up in her eyes. "He will pay."

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Jon froze in his tracks as his eyes locked onto the vial Crazy Hare held between her fingers. He didn't know what it was, but his gut was telling him that it was ridiculously dangerous. Sure enough, after playfully moaning about Jon being boring, Hare explained that the vial was a Neo-Human killer of massive proportions. Jon thought for a second that he could probably neutralize her and take the vial before she could activate it, but then she explained about the larger one linked to her heart; Jon couldn't take the vial safely and quickly without killing her.

 

Phantom was nearby now and both he and Jon had to simply watch as Hare and her team walked away. It was actually making Jon a little bit angry that she'd gotten the upper hand over them so easily. Once they were out of sight, Jon heard Phantom curse and sprint away into the alleys. Jon himself deactivated his armour and reached into his pocket to pull out his phone. With a few key presses, he made a call to one of his Needle teammates.

 

The phone was picked up nearly immediately. "Spytiger, I need you to find out if Colonel Mustang of Team Mustang has authorised any weapons capable of destroying a city block." There was a pause before the man on the other end of the line answered.

 

"He did, two cruise missiles with co-ordinates locked onto a building in the slums of Wolfsdale; impact in 30 seconds."

 

I can guess which building. He thought as he thanked Spytiger and put his phone away. "No time to run away." he muttered. Most people who saw Steel Knight in action would probably say that he was wicked fast, even when wielding his summoned armour. What most normal people didn't realise was that Jon looked fast in close quarters because he made the least amount of necessary movement to achieve his goal; he was no kind of sprinter. Not that sprinting away from a set of cruise missiles was really an option unless you were a speed class Neo-Human.

 

However, standing practically at the point of impact wasn't advisable either, so Jon dashed forward to a building in front of him and launched himself through the small window. He rolled to his feet but didn't stand up completely, instead stopping in a half crouch with one knee on the floor, the other bent, and his hands resting on the floor.  A metal-on-metal scraping sound filled the air and bronze plates appeared and slowly covered his body from head to toe; the plates were bobbled like a bar of chocolate with small swirls etched into the metal. Then his standard grey metal appeared and formed a second layer of armour. Finally his edged gold armour appeared and created a third layer of body-covering armour.

 

This kind of set up was not something Jon used at any point, multiple layers of armour took effort and this was multiplied by the fact he was covering his entire body at the same time. Jon guessed he would be able to hold it for a full minute before having to release it and rest before being able to summon his armour again.

 

Despite the fact that his 'helmet' made him blind, Jon thought for a second that he could see the intense flash of light as the missiles made contact and exploded. He certainly felt the heat, even though his metal did not conduct heat like their metal counterparts. Jon felt himself leave the ground, the armour locked his joints in place but didn't latch him to the floor, and could feel every impact as he was sent tumbling over the floor. It felt like hours, but Jon suspected only a brief number of seconds had passed.

 

When his movement finally ceased, Jon took a couple of seconds to make sure all was settled and then slowly removed each layer of armour. As he removed the bronze one, he felt small objects shifting as he straightened out to stand up. Jon pulled himself through the shredded bricks until he was sat on top of a pile of them and able to assess his surroundings; what was left of them anyway as the missiles had pretty much levelled the entire slum in every direction. It was at this point that Jon glanced down and saw that he was on the edge of a massive crater where the building had been moments ago.

 

Jon rolled back quickly to avoid accidently sliding into the crater and got to his feet; one last glance around made him notice Phantom and a girl he didn't know meters away from him. He took a step forward and it felt like someone had swung a homerun into his stomach with a steel bat. It took him a second to realise that although he had been wearing his armour, he had still taken a hell of a beating. He suspected that if he had not had the advanced bones, he was be a pile of broken limbs. Ignoring the pain as it reverberated around his body, Jon clenched his teeth and walked forward until he was close enough to Phantom and the girl to talk.

 

"Ok, anyone want to tell me why Colonel Mustang decided to level this place and nearly kill us in the process?" he said, brushing brick dust from his clothes. "Because I am not amused."

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"Okay, anyone want to tell me why Colonel Mustang decided to level this place and nearly kill us in the process? Because I'm not amused."

 

A newcomer had shown up -- he was dressed in civilian attire, but from the way he carried himself, and the fact that he'd just walked out of the blast radius of a high-yield explosive blast, he was probably a Neo-Human, though not one Haruna recognized. He was probably friendly; if he wasn't, he'd probably have struck first and asked questions later. Besides, almost getting killed by missile strike made for an oddly effective bonding exercise.  Anger. Confusion. Curiosity. This guy's in the same boat as us.

 

"He b-betrayed Team Mustang," Haruna said bitterly. "Abandoned the others to d-die. Then he c-called in the strike... to hide the evidence. Because Team Mustang n-never loses." Haruna said haltingly, a tear sliding down her cheek. Confusion. "I'll explain. You have heard about our reputation, h-haven't you?"

 

"Of course. Thirty years of continuous service, not a single casualty. Guess that whole thing's a lie, huh?" the guy wearing the Sony outfit -- Phantom, if the faded decals stenciled into his chest armor were accurate -- replied.

 

"Lies. I served for f-five years. There were three changes of m-membership in that time, not c-counting myself. Every time one of us dies, the story is hushed up, and a new user of the suit is brought in. On the r-record, we always escape by the skin of our t-teeth. And if one of us is injured, or o-otherwise unfit to serve..." she made a slicing gesture at her own neck, and whispered, "They are silenced. The members of Team Mustang are n-not the people. They are the masks. Colonel Mustang is the only one to have u-unmasked himself for a reason -- and even then I don't t-think he is the original."

 

"...That's messed up." Phantom observed. 

 

"We have to hide," she said, her face pale and her eyes wide. "He will be back -- not just to s-show off for the reporters. He wants to ensure all evidence of the team's deaths h-has been wiped clean. If h-he finds me, he will kill us all."

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