previous: Rise of Hellion ch10: Sticks and Stones
I wanted so badly to dream of Abaddon but fate had other plans. Ever since discovering the underground tunnel system, I often wondered about the presence of other vehicles. From my place in the passenger seat, I could hear the sound of cross-traffic but saw only open darkness. Until the day Baron managed to total our ride.
If there were any bodies left on the exterior of Feng’s truck, they were certainly very dead (and in a million pieces.) Their involuntary sacrifice was what allowed the cab to remain intact, (until ten seconds later when a giant blade came down, slicing the top off like a tuna can.) If I had not been already ducked in the fetal position my head would have been carved clean off. This was not an accident; this was a trap, and I needed to know if we were still in immediate danger. “Baron!” I shouted over and over as I dug myself free of the wreckage. “What the hell is this?”
Baron appeared in full armor, with his helmet protecting his face. “A minor setback.”
“A minor setback? That’s easy for your armored ass to say.”
“My armored ass?” he was legit laughing now. “Just trust me.” he scooped me up like a bride, making sure to position my face against his chest. “Watch your head.”
“My what?” Before I could ask questions, Baron shot up, through the ceiling, landing in a place that appeared to be covered in sand. Had I not been facing Baron’s chest I would have gotten a mouth full of beach and other grossness.
Baron dropped me on my back, allowing me the chance to clean off my soft, fleshy unarmored body. After muttering profanity, I managed to get to my feet. “So, where the hell are we?”
“If my navigation is correct, we’re in Beloit, Wisconsin, near the riverbank.”
“If,” I muttered.
Baron took off his helmet, taking a better look around. “As for what we hit: I’ve heard about anti-military, anti-police traps.”
“Put in place by the drug cartels?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“And local militia. Welcome to Wisconsin.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine, you are not the world’s worst driver.” Just an idiot for driving straight into an obvious snare. “What do we do now? All joking aside, we’re pretty screwed.”
“Not if you still have the battery.”
I quickly checked my hiding spot. Since my prosthetic legs were still in pristine condition, I just assumed the device survived. Thankfully, the battery was still attached firmly to the joint. “I still have it, but I’m not sure of your game plan. Are we trying to lure out TAC because they’d want to retrieve their property? Or are we trying for Kitsune? Or…” I pursed my lips and chuckled to myself, the answer was obvious. “You want to lure them both, because you always bet on both sides.”
Baron started a slow clap. “You know me too well, baby sister. And yes, I do have a plan.”
I would quickly learn a valuable piece of information; Baron knew people, lots and lots of powerful, scary people.
A high-ranking Central American gang (with ties to Cuba, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, and other places where Baron had worked in the past) was more than willing to take us in. The community settlement consisted of twenty different families, including women children and elders. We were given clean, donated clothes to be able to blend in as normal citizens of southern Wisconsin, as well as food and a place to stay. All this was in exchange for Baron’s help in upcoming missions, as well as any drugs, weapons and other tech he managed to salvage from Feng’s mobile lab.
For the next few days, I stayed behind, hanging out with the women and children. There were females who went on missions with the men, as well as ‘children’ who were being trained for their future careers. I hung with the dedicated ‘kitchen crew.’
The women here were elders passing down recipes and hand washing stubborn blood stains, with a few acting as babysitters. A little boy ran past my leg, pausing as his hand touched the metal.
His voice was so small and sweet, I couldn’t help but reach down to pick him up. “Yup, I’m a robot superhero like…” I wanted to say a character that he might have heard of, but he quickly replied.
“I-man!” the boy excitedly flailed his arms.
“He means Iron Man,” said a nearby voice. I turned to see a teenage girl with black lipstick and a face full of tattoos; crosses, tears and Spanish quotes.
“Mama!” the little boy said happily, reaching out his arms to the tough, intimidating young woman.
“Hey, Denny!” She scooped up the little boy, giving him a spin like a playful older sister.
“Mama, Helly has leg like I-man!”
“My name’s Hellion,” I held out my hand for a handshake.
The girl chuckled. “My street name’s Diamond, but you can call me Lucy.”
I had a feeling she was prompting me to reveal my actual name. “Hi, Lucy.”
She snickered, realizing she was not going to get that info. “I got a question. did your man get you knocked up before or after you lost your legs?”
“After,” I replied in as monotone of a voice as I could muster. “But, Baron, he ain’t my man.”
“Didn’t say he was,” she said with a smirk. “Plus, you ain’t his type.” She walked Denny to one of the older women before taking a seat at the outdoor picnic table. “What did you call him?”
“Is that some kind of pet name? Around here he goes by Leo.” As she kicked up her legs, I expected her to pull out a cigarette but instead she moved her backpack to her lap.
“So, if Leo is not the father, who is?”
This got looks of scorn from several if the elderly cooks, accompanied by scolding in Spanish.
“The baby’s father is a friend of his. Noah…” I didn’t expect her to know who Noah was.
Lucy’s eyes lit up. “Noah? Damn that white boy is fine.”
“You’ve met Noah?”
“I’ve met A Noah,” she explained. “The one I met was the guy who escaped prison with Leo, along with some kind of talking robot? They stayed here for a while looking for work, ended up building the monster in the basement.”
“Monster in the basement?”
“You’ll see; it was Noah’s first baby.” Lucy took out a binder marked, ‘Mr. Halliway, period 3: Advanced Coding.’ She pulled out a pen and started to fill in what I assumed was her homework. “So, what’s Noah up to these days? Are you his girl or his side piece?”
“Actually, he’s dead.” The room went quiet. “So, anyway, you all call my partner Leo?”
That question got a few laughs. The women said several more remarks in Spanish, causing me to think they were making fun of the dumb pregnant white girl with robot legs.
Lucy raised her hand, and muttered something that seemed to calm everyone down. She then turned to me. “As an international freedom fighter or terrorist as some like to call him, he goes by a different name in every region. But we all have reason to believe Leo is his real name.”
“Really,” this deepened the mystery surrounding Baron. “How long have you known him?”
An old woman chopping vegetables answered. “Leo is a long-time ally and friend.”
The way she spoke was odd, bordering on paranormal. I was about to ask a possibly stupid question when Baron walked through the door.
“Yo, Hellion, this way.” Without even checking if I was following him, Baron started in the direction of the basement stairs.
Lucy smiled like someone who knew a secret. “You might want to hurry.”
I caught up with Baron just in time to see him unlock the door. To the naked eye, the chipped, painted wooden door looked like something that came with the house. He raised his hand, bringing up a holographic panel. This was why Lucy told me to hurry. The blue light scanned his palm, signaling the door to swing open. He jumped through, and I quickly followed.
The entrance was a large metal slide that coiled around a corner, to a very specific location. “Where are we going?” I shouted.
At the end of the ride was a dark room with soft fluffy carpet. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed that I landed in some kind of adult movie theatre. “Wow.”
Baron took a seat at what could only be described as a DIY supercomputer. “Welcome to the magical wonderland of the dark web.”
“And what are we doing here?”
“We are going to attempt to cast our line and see what we can pull in.” Baron held out his hand, “if you please.”
“You want to upload the battery?”
“Not the whole thing, obviously. Just enough to show our hand.”
I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“You’re not sure if what you have is the real battery or a replica.”
“I just assumed,” Baron said with a shrug as he continued to type. “Even if it’s a fake, the device is still TAC technology.” He held out his hand for a second time.
“Fine.” I took a seat and started to remove my leg. “little privacy?”
“I’m not looking,” he said, returning to his typing. “But for every second you make me wait I’m going to search out gross crime scene images.”
“Whatever.” I removed the battery from its hiding spot, and gave it one last look before placing the sacred item in Baron’s open palm. “Battery, battery in your hand, show us the way to the promise land.”
Baron folded his fingers. “I’ll give it my best shot.”
I watched as Baron disappeared under the desk, searching through a trunk full of cords. After a moment he picked out a three prong USB hub that looked more than a little strange. “I don’t think that’s going to fit.”
“If I had a dollar for every….” Baron was laughing too hard to continue the joke. Instead, he simply let his skills do the talking. The prongs bent in strange directions, like worms attempting to feed.
Soon I learned what exactly was on the flash drive; a whole lot of code. “Any idea what it means?”
“Noah once told me about a secret government project, something that could hold the world’s energy hostage for an indefinite amount of time.”
“That’s not possible,” I muttered, entranced by the wall of text. It was possible, because Noah was just that brilliant. suddenly my chest froze. “Please don’t tell me you’re putting it on the web.”
“Oh, heck no, that would probably set this whole room on fire. “easy way to piss off the most powerful gang in southern Wisconsin.”
“Fair enough.” I had to admit that was a relief. “so, is that the real thing or a replica?”
Baron shrugged as he continued to type.
“What does that mean?”
“I wasn’t physically present when this was made, I have no idea if this is what the device was meant to look like. We just need to toss out our lure, make our presence known. If the worm is a dud, then we’ll just fall back on plan B.”
“Ok, so what are you posting?”
“Do you want an honest answer or the dumbed down version?”
“Dumb it down please.”
“I’m posting a jigsaw puzzle missing half the pieces.”
“Copy that.” I sat quietly, watching as Baron did his thing. I waited until he was finished, having saved deleted or sent the wall of code. “Can I have the drive back?”
“Depends,” he said as he disconnected the battery from the main circuit. “Are you going to stick around for a while?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“The battery is your ticket back to the safety of TAC. I need to know I can trust you not to ditch me.”
“Did you ever give me my knife back?” I had no reason to ask prior to that moment.
Baron fished around in the deep pockets of his armor. “Here.” he handed me a cleaned polished blade that seemed slightly larger than the one I’d lent him. “You’re gonna need it.”
“I’m going to need it?” I repeated sarcastically, as if I didn’t believe him. “I’ll try to make sure the kids don’t swipe it while I’m asleep.” I closed the knife, slipping it into its hiding place on my upper thigh.
“Do you think I can get a ride into town?”
“No, but you can walk.”
“Seriously?” I groaned. The gang’s housing encampment was a good twenty miles away from the main township (library, school, Walmart, etc.) “There’s no pedestrian walkways, I’d have to cut through the woods.”
“You can walk along the highway like a hitch hiker or you can climb a tree to look for a shortcut. I imagine the Walmart would be visible from several hundred miles.”
“Fine, see you in a few hours.”
“A few hours?”
“Once you tell me how to get out of here.”
“There’s a door around the back, it’s exit only.”
The rusted metal door was not hard to find. “If I’m not back by dinner, try to save me some rice and beans.”
“Just remember, it’s exit only, one way. If you forget anything you’re totally screwed.”
“I heard you the first time,” I replied as I slammed the door. What could I possibly forget? As I emerged in a heavily wooded area, one thing came to mind; how was I going to find my way back to the housing compound? Oh well, that was a question for a later time. I climbed a tree, hoping to spot the Walmart. The bright, glowing sign was a beacon of refuge and not too far away. Unfortunately climbing down proved slightly more difficult.
Within the ten minutes it took me to carefully plan each step, someone managed to set a trap. “Ow!” The metallic net was all but invisible in the darkness. Each of the loops was large enough to catch my arms legs and neck. The more I struggled the tighter the bonds became until I felt like hog-tied cattle. This feeling was enhanced further when I felt a massive work boot gently press against my face.
“Calm down,” said an unknown male voice. “My superior wants you alive.” The large man threw me over one shoulder.
With how gentle he was being, I assumed this body position was an effort to hide his identity as well as the name of the roadside motel he was sneaking me into. I was treated to a view of the floor as we entered through the house keeping laundry room, then down a hallway of reddish-brown carpet, to the door of a ground floor hotel room. I could hear the key card beep, followed by a lock. The man carried me to the bed, placing my body on the bare mattress.
“Could you at least untie me?” I asked since I was still bound like an animal awaiting slaughter.
“That won’t be happening.”
Before I could catch a glimpse of the man’s face, the net transformed into rope, securing me to the bed by my arms, legs and neck. My body was stretched in five directions, pinning my head back. I was about to scream when a different set of hands covered my eyes and mouth with large pieces of precut duct tape.
“We’re going to cut the baby out of you,” said a calm female voice.
I recognized it. Although, at that moment, I prayed I was wrong. “Maverick?” I mouthed the syllables with what little breath I could pull in through my nose.
The female voice sighed. “You deserve an award for that, would you like your eyes or your mouth?”
The man answered for her. “I’d recommend the mouth. The extra oxygen will make the procedure easier.”
Maverick chuckled. “Easier for her to survive? This little slut doesn’t need any help with that. She’s like a cockroach, right Miss Nicki?” She made the choice for me, carefully removing the tape from my eyes.
I blinked once, then twice, before blacking out completely.
I awoke after an indeterminate amount of time, still in the same position but in a horrendous amount of pain. I wanted to scream or at least be able to take a decent breath but the tape was still on my mouth. That was when I heard a constant beeping, like a heart monitor. Was I in a hospital? No, the ceiling was the same one I’d collapsed to.
My neck was unsecured, so I felt the need to attempt to sit up. I captured a short glimpse of a strange woman with long purple hair. She was sitting in an office chair, sipping on a large pink Starbucks drink.
“Nicki, are you awake?” she said in her Russian accent. She put her drink down, walked over. “I’m going to pull off the tape, but you have to promise not to scream.”
I forced a nod.
She quickly removed the tape causing pain in the one place that had not felt like fire and brimstone.
I forced a breath, desperate to try and keep my promise. “Anya?”
“Yup, it’s a-me,” she replied in her best Super Mario impression.
“What happened? And can you please untie me?”
“Baron knows where you are and he’ll be back soon. And trust me you don’t want me to untie you.”
My mind went straight to the last memory; haunting words like something out of a horror film, ‘cut…baby…out.’ That would explain the horrific pain. “Anya, I need you to be straight with me, please. I already lost my legs; I can take whatever bad news you have about my lower body.”
“That depends, what did you hear before they knocked you out?”
I swallowed hard, tasting a mixture of saliva and blood. “Maverick was with a guy and they said something about taking my baby.”
“Sounds about right. To her, that child was nothing more than TAC property.”
The room’s main entrance flung open, leaking in the sound of gunfire. Baron flew in, slamming the door behind him as he struggled to his feet. “Oh, hey, Nicki, you’re awake,” he said calmly as he brushed himself off. My friend’s armor was covered in blood so he started to undress, down to his underwear. “Anya, babe, did you get what I asked?”
“The jeans? Yes, I did.”
“And the supplies? We’re going to need to flee the city, this might be the last Walmart for miles.”
“Yes,” Anya groaned, walking over to a pile of Walmart bags. “See for yourself.”
Baron did as she asked, but not before releasing my restraints. “Anya keep an eye on her, make sure she doesn’t go in to shock.” He disappeared to the bathroom, emerging seconds later with a clean face and wearing a pair of low-rise jeans.
“Where is my baby?” I asked, through tears of physical and emotional pain.
“If I had to guess, he’s probably in TAC custody,” Baron said, taking a seat by my side. “Do you still have the battery?”
Anya answered for me, twirling the flash drive between two fingers. “I made sure to take it off that bitch before I put a bullet in her head.” As if to drive home the point, she walked over to a dead body that she had shoved in the closet and stole this person’s sunglasses.
“You killed Maverick?” I asked with a noticeable tone of confusion.
“You seem surprised,” Anya replied as she shut the closet. “I never had much love for that traitorous woman. She took me under her wing, only to throw me out with the trash.”
“Um, ok…” I placed my weight on my arms to sit up, just enough to see the massive scar on my stomach. “So, what now?”
Baron sighed. “Well, since all hell is breaking loose, I say we take the fight to TAC.”
I nodded; the idea made sense. “I think we should do some recon first. Since I have a foot in both sides, I think we should try to set up a meeting with Tony (or Deadlock, whatever you call him.) If TAC has my baby he will know where and hopefully why.”
Anya scoffed. “You know why.”
I glanced at Baron since he seemed to be the more mature of the two. “Why?”
“Noah and Tony have a lot in common. He was never as physically modified as Tony, but his intellect was something nurtured by the same lab that created Tony’s enhanced abilities.”
“Are you saying I was carrying the next messiah?”
Anya laughed. “Someone thinks highly of themselves.”
Baron threw a pillow, narrowly missing Anya’s now empty Starbucks cup. “I’m in. I can hold my own against TAC, how about you Annie?”
“Did you just call me Annie?” Anya rolled her eyes as if this was all a big joke. “I’ll go with you guys on one condition.”
“Let’s hear it,” I replied, attempting to test how much I could sit up without doubling over in pain.
“Axel is mine.” She lifted her shirt showing off a scar that went from her hip to her naval.
I felt my breath freeze in my chest. “What’s that?”
“The work of Colonel Julian ‘Axel’ Diaz. He raped me, tried to give me a superbaby of my own. I had to carve it out while it was still the size of a Ping-Pong ball.” Anya motioned at my stomach. “Your kid is probably still alive, growing in a lab someplace. Perhaps you’ll meet him again someday. I couldn’t take that risk.”
“What would you do?”
“Baron filled me in on the deal that TAC is allegedly offering. I will consider turning myself in for immunity.”
In exchange for Axel’s life. I would have to be ok with that, for now at least. “I’m glad. Which one of you has a car?”
“That would be Baron’s department,” Anya said as she hurled her cup at the wall, bouncing it into the trash can. “Where are we headed?”
A large explosion could be heard directly outside the room: the hotel was under attack. Baron sighed, more annoyed than afraid. “That’s our signal to G-T-F-O.” He grabbed his armor, getting redressed into his chest piece, and helmet as he slid the antigravity boots to Anya.
Anya sarcastically scoffed. “You expect me to carry her while you shoot your way out? Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“You have a better plan?”
“Actually, I do,” she said, sliding the boots back in Baron’s direction. “suit up and use your chest projectile power to blast a hole in the wall. Then we can all make a run for it.”
I slowly raised my hand. “How far of a run are we talking about?”
“Yes, Baron,” Anya asked. “Where are you parked?”
“Under the cow,” Baron replied, while quickly getting dressed. He took a deep breath and shot a round from the x-shaped hole in his chest piece. With a six-foot hole punched in the wall, Baron scooped me up in his arms. We flew towards a cow sculpture that marked a local gas station.
Landing near the base he punched the floor, exposing an old, rusted dial. He seemed to know the passcode, opening the lock just as Anya joined us. Together we slid down a pipe, to a small parking garage. Apparently, we were not the only people looking for an exit strategy. There were a dozen or so vehicles to choose from, but many were reserved for certain families.
Baron selected an ATV. I sat on his lap, burying my face in his shoulder. Anya sat behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist. I had a feeling I knew why he chose such a small vehicle. The larger vans were meant to usher the elders and children to safety. (I truly hoped that was the case.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t see a thing, until we finally stopped in yet another forested area.
I stretched my back, looking up at the sky. “Tony, if you’re watching, I could really use a visit. I even have Baron and Anya.”
A gust of wind hit me in the face. Anya and Baron stood at my side, looking around. Baron had his weapons ready while Anya seemed more focused on seeking out abnormalities in the surrounding atmosphere.
An aircraft landed. I couldn’t really tell if it was the same invisible helicopter Tony had been traveling in, but it certainly looked the part. The door opened but the man who emerged was taller, darker; it was Axel.
Baron barely had a chance to hold Anya back before she attacked like a bloodthirsty puma. She had a garrote wire up her sleeve and was more than ready to rip his head off.
“Stop!” I shouted. “If Axel is here it’s for a reason, we need to at least hear him out.”
Anya didn’t move. “You can hear him just fine at fifty percent oxygen.”
“Ok, I can work with that.” I took a step towards Axel. “Where is Tony?”
Axel replied, blinking tears from his eyes, “Tony traded his life for your baby.”
“Traded to who?” Anya asked. She tightened the piano wire until we could see blood.
Axel was clearly in a lot of pain. “There are more than two teams at play.”
I place my hand on his cheek, his tears seemed genuine. “How do we know you’re not lying?”
“Because I have the child.” Axel looked towards me. “Everything you want is in there. You don’t need me alive.” He removed his gun from its holster, handing it to Anya.
Instead of taking the opportunity, Anya looked towards me as well. “Your call.”
I felt sick. “It’s my call?”
next: Rise of Hellion ch 12