previously: Rise of Hellion ch6: Retail Hell
Sitting in Tony’s comfortable gaming chair I spun around, trying to jumpstart my brain. “Who or what is Feng?” I asked aloud to the search engine. Yes, I knew I had to type, but I was trying to think of all the possible ways to address the question. This was not Google or Yahoo, but rather the low-security clearance (guest level access) of the TAC archive network.
“Need help?” Tony asked, from his place on the floor. He had been doing pushups, sit ups and other gym class exercises while wearing earbuds. He removed one earphone, awaiting a response.
This of course implied that he had been watching me without my knowledge, which was more than a little annoying. “Nope,” I said quickly as I spun back to the screen, my metal leg narrowly avoiding the side of the desk. I tried different search combinations; Feng- terrorist, Feng- officer, Feng-scientist, doctor, weapons, etc. Unfortunately, Feng is one hell of a common name (especially for people who reach the top of their respective fields.)
In a state of defeat, I slammed on the caps lock key and proceeded to type, ‘F-E-N-G.’ To my surprise that brought about something completely different. “Falcon Element National Guard: project FENG.” I clicked on the link only to see a mostly blacked out document. There were no readable names or dates but there were a massive number of preliminary sketches for various combat-use prosthetics.
“What are you looking up, anyway?” Tony asked, resting his sweaty head on my shoulder.
“I think I found Dr. Frankenstein’s lair.” My mind trailed off. I was at a loss on how to explain my interest in what appeared to be a high-security clearance military organization.
“What’s project FENG?” Tony leaned forward, tilting his head like an owl. With a few blinks of his odd, robotic eyes he took control of the mouse, scanning through pages faster than I could stand to look.
“Will you stop!” I groaned. “You’re giving me a headache.”
“Sorry,” Tony said with a chuckle. With one last blink he put the page back where he’d found it. “The drafts look like early versions of my augmentations. Even here you can see the technical specs for my eyes.”
“Oh?” I smirked. The drawing was too elaborate for me to decipher. “Kinda like a Deadlock 1.0?”
“Yeah,” Tony said, still focused on the schematics of the eye that decorated the front page. “That sounds about right.” The device appeared to have lenses, connected to wires that fed into minicomputers.
I had a feeling the design would work much better with the invention of wi-fi. “Can you get in further, using your security credentials?” Clearly, he could see how much of the information was blocked out, unless his powers somehow allowed him to see through encrypted data.
Tony stroked his fingers over the screen causing the image to warp. Apparently, he could in fact see through encrypted data. “I could give it a try, but first I want some answers, if you please.”
“Ok, that sounds fair,” I said with as much confidence as I could muster. “How about we go back and forth? You ask a question, then I get to ask a question.”
“Fine with me,” he said crossing his muscular arms. “As long as I get to go first.”
I had a feeling I already knew what he was going to ask. “Sure, go ahead.”
“What’s your relationship with Baron? You know he’s a terrorist, right?” Tony gripped the back of his chair, turning me to face him. “Let me guess: his preferred term is ‘freedom fighter?'”
“That was a lot of questions for one turn,” I replied, never breaking eye contact. He was clearly comparing me to the teenage girls who flee Europe and America to become ‘warrior brides’ in the middle east but end up being given away like participation trophies to potential suicide bombers.
“Let’s start with the first one. Why did he call you his sister?” Tony asked in a way that seemed serious, yet with the genuine curiosity of a nosy younger sibling.
“We’re not related, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “You know what I mean.”
“Are you asking as my superior?”
“I’m asking as your partner and friend.”
His words brought me a level of comfort. We were in the same boat; augmented bodies being kept alive for the purpose of becoming super soldiers. Perhaps he could be trusted. “Back at the Asia base, Baron was sent to rescue Anya…”
“Toska,” Tony bluntly corrected. “Civilian names are only for friends and allies.”
That was like a rock shattering a pane of glass and I was more than a little annoyed. Not only was he interrupting my story but he had the nerve to tell me who I should or should not consider friends. “Fine then, should I call you Deadlock?” I locked eyes making sure to scowl.
Tony smirked as he noticeably pressed his tongue to the inside of his cheek. “No,” he replied with clear notes of sarcasm. “Tony should work well, considering the complexities of our relationship.” He paused, smiling as if this was all a big joke. “Nicki.”
Because we fucked; I was the girl who threw herself at him and now he thinks he can hold that over me. Great, just freaking great. “Baron was sent by Kitsune,” I continued. “I don’t know if that’s her real name or her supervillain name, but rest assured I don’t consider her a friend.”
“Understandable,” Tony replied in his professional tone. “Please continue.”
I sighed. No matter how much he pissed me off, the sight of Tony’s dark puppy dog eyes made me want to trust him with my life. “When rescuing Toska he was informed about my whereabouts and potential.” At least that was what I heard from Anya when we landed in Russia. “I shadowed Baron for a few days, we went on patrol, smoked some weed and drank stolen sake. He told me about his dreams of leaving the life.”
“The life of crime, working under the Yakuza,” Tony added.
The way he glanced at me with a comically intense face drove home the idea that I was a naive, little girl who loved fairytales. “You don’t believe me?”
“I’m just saying, if he wanted to disappear, why didn’t he? Vancouver is a long way from Asia, he could have easily faked his own death. But for whatever reason he is making the conscious choice to stay employed by the most powerful cartel on the planet.”
The Yakuza is the most powerful cartel on the planet? I really didn’t want that to be true. “I think FENG knows the answer. I believe he, they, or it,” my voice became flustered as I started to doubt my own sanity. “FENG is in possession of two or more individuals whom Baron considers friends, people who I know he would be willing to die for.”
Tony scoffed in disbelief. “You’re trying to tell me Baron is risking his life, to get the battery, on the possibility of saving his friends?”
“You seem to already know his history. Is that motivation so hard to believe?”
Tony closed his eyes, taking a long blink. “Actually no.”
“Upon review of my files,” Tony said still focused on whatever was projecting onto the back of his eyelids.
“Your files?” My focus went to the drawing of the eye. Was his mind even human or was Tony’s consciousness crafted from a series of computer chips?
“Based upon the information in TAC’s database,” he clarified. The event that turned Baron to a life of crime was the death of his parents who were political prisoners on a certain communist controlled island.”
“Fascinating,” I said with a smirk. I knew Baron was a good person. “Is it my turn to ask a question?”
“Shoot.” Tony nodded.
“Is Baron alive?”
Tony paused for a moment and bit his lower lip. “Yeah.”
He did not sound at all confident in his answer. “What does that mean?” I asked. His oddly hesitant tone seemed strange, as if he was trying to spare my feelings.
“I was kind of mentally off that night. All I can remember is fighting; shit was collapsing, burning.” Tony’s calm, cool demeanor was quickly fading. It was clear he felt guilt, maybe even remorse. “All I know is I didn’t kill him.”
That would have to be good enough for now. “Ok, I guess you get the next question. Unless you’re ready to keep your word and log in so I can read the rest of the document.”
“No, I don’t think I will,” Tony replied with a self-righteous grin.
“No to what? You won’t log in or you won ask another question?” With my pregnancy hormones on full blast I was ready to punch him in the face.
“I have the entire document memorized,” he explained in a cheeky manner. “I’d be willing to discuss its contents over-“
“Coffee?” I assumed.
“I was thinking more of a sparring match in the first-floor gym.”
I took a moment to consider my options. Over coffee and junk food I could have coaxed out enough information to formulate a battle plan. But realistically, whatever plan I came up with would require Tony’s help, anyway. And if worse came to worse I would get my opportunity to punch him. “Fine, let’s go. first one to the mat gets to ask the next question.”
That response made Tony smile. “You’re on.”
We both raced for the door, nearly bodychecking each other in the process. At the last possible second Tony let me slip by. To repay his kindness I went for the southern staircase, knowing Tony would head east to the outdoor fire escape.
Neither of us could fly, but Tony’s agility allowed him to walk on water, so I knew he had the win. I could practically picture him jumping down entire floors of stairs. Knowing that, I took my time.
Somehow, Tony had the same idea in mind. When I opened the door, he was just getting in. It would be a foot race to the sparring ring. We both started to run at full speed. I launched off what I thought was a springboard (it was just a wooden stool.) Instead of an impressive tumbling pass, I only managed a half-twist before landing on my back. I was expecting to hit the mat but instead I could feel the air below my body.
Tony had caught my dumb-ass mid-air and was now carrying me like a bride. “Please don’t do that, at least not until the baby is born.”
A whistle blew, followed by slow applause. Someone had been watching.
I looked to the dark audience section of the gym. There were only a few rows of chairs set up at the moment so it was not difficult to locate the source of the noise. A familiar tall Hispanic woman stood up.
“Maverick?” I didn’t know if I should rush in for a hug or be genuinely scared. Tony lowered my feet to the floor, allowing me to stand, but he kept an arm around me. He clearly knew something I didn’t.
“It’s been a while,” Maverick said from behind a pair of dark glasses. She shifted a stack of files in her arms; this was not a friendly encounter; she was here on official TAC business.
“What are you doing here?” I asked nervously.
“Axel filled me in on your escapades.”
Tony placed his hand on my shoulder, physically moving me to stand behind him. “Our escapades.”
“Yes, I assumed as much,” Maverick replied.
I was somewhat insulted. After all, I was more than capable of screwing up all on my own. “What exactly did Axel tell you?”
“That you snuck out and caused close to a million dollars’ worth of damage to a retail warehouse.”
I hung my head like a child facing the school principal. “Sorry Ma’am.” My apology was genuine, but I soon realized that showing weakness was a big mistake.
“My main purpose here is to get some insight on your interest regarding the battery.”
“I don’t know anything about the battery,” I said with a notably anxious laugh. Was I being accused of spying? “And I certainly don’t have an interest in it.”
“While that might be true, you are still in contact with individuals who have a reputation for wanting to acquire said item.”
“The individuals TAC stole it from?” I said the words out loud but somehow Maverick didn’t hear.
“What the fuck?” The tall imposing military officer gripped her head in visible pain. She appeared to be looking around for the source of a sound only she could hear.
“Damn alarm,” Tony said, pretending to look behind him at the fire exit. “Should shut off in a few seconds. “Anyway, you were saying?”
“Axel gave me intel on your relationship with Faust,” Maverick explained, still only addressing me and not Tony.
“You mean like the fact that he tried to kill me?” My voice creaked with emotion.
“He tried to kill you by kidnapping you from the clinic, to place you on the secured roof of the building that just happened to house the battery?”
That cleared up any doubt; she thought I was a spy planted by Kitsune. I had never been more grateful to have Tony at my side. If Maverick had heard my snide comment, there would be little doubt of my allegiance.
Tony took a step forward standing in front of me like my personal bodyguard. “Maverick, with all due respect, if you have something to say just say it.”
I wanted to put my big girl pants on and tell him to stop speaking for me, but the fact that he could address Maverick without fear was kind of inspiring. Did Tony hold rank over her? Or maybe it was just the fact that he could probably kill her with his mind.
Maverick locked eyes with Tony, pausing with an intense, awkward silence. “I will see you both in my office; building 203, room 5409, at fifteen hundred hours. Will that be acceptable, Deadlock?”
Tony nodded. “See you at three pm.” He stayed in front of me until Maverick left the room.
I released my breath, resisting the urge to burst into tears. “Thank you, Tony.”
“No problem. I mean you’re not a spy, right?” He said with a chuckle. “At least not intentionally.”
I knew he meant the last part as a joke, but the reality stung. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he said as he patted my back. “just don’t show weakness.”
I nodded, taking a breath to calm down. “What are we going to do?”
“Meet with Maverick, hear her out. I assume Axel is going to be present, but if not I’m sure as hell going to demand it.”
“Because he has our back,” I replied. That made a lot of sense. “So, moving on.”
“To what?” Tony asked, heading for the chairs.
“You got to the gym first, you get to ask the next question.”
“Give me a second.” Tony tilted his head forward, letting his wavy hair fall over his face. He looked like a typical shy, goth best friend from a made-for-tv movie. “Do you trust me?”
“Yeah, I do,” I said with a smile. “Like it or not, we’re one in the same.”
“You’re what I want to be when I grow up.”
That got a genuine laugh from my super soldier boyfriend. “I’m going to try to find Axel before the meeting.”
“Can I come with you?” I asked.
“Sure, I mean if you’re not too tired.”
I’d been expecting him to say no, as I was kind of hungry. “Can we grab a bite to eat, first?”
Might be faster if I go alone. If I can’t get some face time, I’ll just call him,” Tony said as he put his arm around me. “I’ll try to bring back some breakfast.”
“Sounds good,” I said with a shrug.
Tony leaned in close, rubbing his nose to my cheek like a puppy. “Try not to get yourself kidnapped by the evil dragon.” He turned my face, to kiss my lips. “My Princess Peach.”
His soft, tender lips tasted of cool ranch chips and Gatorade. I truly didn’t want to let him go. “Can I ask a question?”
“Sure,” Tony replied as he kissed me again.
“What are we?”
“I never had a girlfriend.” Tony blinked his eyes, his cheeks flush with embarrassment. In that moment he looked genuinely human. “I don’t know what that actually entails.”
“There are no info files on the TAC database?”
Tony laughed. “I really do like you as something more than friends. You’re beautiful and I love just being around you.” He moved his hand to my waist. “And even if the baby isn’t mine, I want to be the one by your side. Because I want to be the one to love you.” He blinked tears from his eyes. “I should go before I embarrass myself further.”
I threw my arms around him, holding him close for one last kiss. “Don’t be too long.”
Tony got up to leave, his eye sparkling with a sense of joy that I’d never seen before. “Don’t go breaking my heart.”
I watched as Tony left out the northern entrance. I took a moment before heading to the West facing exit. Placing my hand upon the cold metal door I knew I should not open it, and yet I did.
That was why I was not at all surprised to land hard on my back, in the middle of a parking garage. “Ow! Fuck!” Looking around, I could see the lot was about half full, not uncommon for a weekday.
“You think they would install security cameras, but I guess the brass doesn’t care if some low rank pencil pusher gets their car broken in to.” The male voice was a cross between the Flower Child and Faust, leaning more towards the creepiness of the latter.
“Hello,” I muttered as I forced myself to stand on my own two metal legs. I was surprised the light weight frame survived the fall as well as it did. I located my target sitting comfortably on the hood of a blue Honda Civic.
His blonde hair was shoulder length, and he wore a jacket that seemed to slip off his half-naked body. That wasn’t even the most distracting part. His skin, although human, appeared to be partially made of a holographic metal. “Are you looking at my fucked-up arm?” The man chuckled as he looked to the side, drawing my attention to the intricacies of the prosthetic.
“No,” I replied in an aggressive yet hopelessly confused tone.
“Kind of hard not to look.” His muscle tissue sparkled with an ethereal, hypnotic glow. He looked like an angel; a digital angel made of led lights.
“I’m leaving,” I said confidently turning away. If I don’t look, he’ll disappear. Yes, that sounds about right.
“So, kid,” he said in a raised voice. “You’re really not going to take my advice?”
“About what?” I muttered, increasing my pace.
“About not being a total pussy and taking what’s rightfully yours.”
“I’m not stealing the battery.”
“why? Because it’s morally wrong? That thing was created as a weapon of mass destruction,” he shouted after me.
“I can’t hear you,” I said, putting my hands over my ears like a small child.
“The first team to unlock it’s secrets will rule the world.”
The cliché sentence caused me to stop in my tracks, doubling over with laughter. “Did you seriously say ‘rule the world’?”
“You don’t buy it?” he asked, still sitting on the car well over fifty feet away.
“No, I don’t. Now leave me alone.”
“Can I ask, what’re you planning on telling Maverick?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I plan on telling her that I want no part of this.”
“This?” He of course laughed.
“Ruling the world or whatever,” I said, throwing my hands up as I attempted to turn away. Every part of my body wanted to run but my brain refused to comply.
“Except you do,” his voice became softer, disappearing on the wind. “Because like it or not you want to know what happened to Noah.”
“No, I don’t,” I replied calmly. “I have a boyfriend; someone who wants to start a life with me.” I’d known Tony for longer than I’d known Noah. He was good, kind, pretty much perfect in every way.
“What about the fact that you’re a blood thirsty little bitch who is tired of bowing down to powerful women; Anya, Maverick, Kitsune- when will it be your turn?”
“When I’m good and ready,” I said sarcastically. I would not be ready; I would never be ready. If Maverick and Kitsune wanted to fight for the title of Queen of the world they were more than welcome to. ‘Go!’ I shouted to myself. ‘Walk away!’ I closed my eyes and started to force myself to move forward. I didn’t hear any footsteps, so in my mind I stupidly assumed he was not following me. When I reached the main road, I was more than ready to take a step forward. I wanted to see Tony; to play videogames eat junk food, and just act like a typical fucked up pregnant teenager.
I froze as I felt a metallic hand grip my shoulder. A rush of cold spread down my arm like someone had just dumped a soda cup filled with liquid nitrogen. Before I could fully react, my blond stalker spun me around and pulled me close for a deep passionate kiss. This was immediately followed by an intense electric shock, preventing me from opening my eyes.
My mind was treated to a stream of images, as if he was transferring a bunch of files in to my brain. What was I seeing? There was a glowing figure, a man made of parts. “Tony?” He looked powerful, mystical, inhuman. The images came faster, creating animated scenes. Tony’s body rippled with energy in the form of blue and yellow light, but in the place of a heart was a glowing orb. No, not an orb, it was a long mechanical stick, connected to a full circuit. I thought I knew what I was about to see; Tony’s augmented body powered by the battery. But if the device wasn’t in his heart, where was it?
The image of Tony turned to face the camera; his eyes sparkled with a sinister glow as he ran his fingers through his hair. The battery was in his brain and what it was doing to him was downright terrifying. However, the worst was yet to come.
The camera pulled out, to show more of the scene. Tony took a knee, bowing down to someone with metal legs. “No, please no.” I was not going to steal a weapon of mass destruction and I sure as hell wasn’t going to stick it in my boyfriend’s head turning him in to my personal attack dog.
“Keep watching,” my stalker said, as he paused for breath.
As if I had a choice in the matter. Even without his mouth on mine, I was still paralyzed, frozen in place as the images continued. Tony was bowed down, his skin shimmering with electricity as a hand reached for his. It was my own blood covered hand. The camera turned as a vision of future me helped Tony to his feet. In one arm was a perfectly swaddled newborn, and on the opposite hip was a machete caked with blood and gore.
Future-me had the biggest smile as she threw her arms around Tony, holding him close in a loving embrace as the world behind them burned.
This could all be mine; I could rule the world with the love of my life at my side, all I had to do was make a play for the battery.