A Second Generation Whateley Academy Story
Making a Noise in the World
Central Village, Phoenix, Arizona
October 20, 2016
“Remember I want the rent on the first of the month, no delays or you're out,” the man said, handing over the keys.
Taking them, Natalie nodded, forcing herself to smile as her new landlord left the old, decrepit home. She'd known that she was going to be starting from the very bottom, but she hadn't realized it would be quite so filthy. Unfortunately, even though she had enough money to rent or lease a better place, her fake ID wouldn't pass a basic check, and no one but a slumlord would rent their place to a seventeen-year-old with no obvious job.
“At least this place isn't falling apart,” she told herself. A few of the potential rentals she'd checked out had rotting floors, broken plumbing, and doors that wouldn't keep out a slight breeze. This place was just filthy and old, she could work with that. She already had plans for turning the single bedroom in the back of the house into her workshop, she could sleep in the living room. It would take a few days to secure it, but with no one watching her and room to actually do things, her devises would do all of that nicely.
The cement floor sucked. Trying to move on them without her legs would hurt. Sighing she put throw rugs on her mental shopping list. More money she couldn't use for her workshop. Going into the space that was laughingly called a kitchen she took a look around. It was missing the stove, but at least there was a sink, and a cheap, apparently new mini-fridge. The walls and cupboards were covered in a layer of a grease and grime.
Cringing, she took off the cotton glove covering her cybernetic right hand, and opened a cupboard. The metal prosthetic couldn't get infected by anything she touched, and she didn't have to feel the slimy scum on the wood. She recoiled at the smell of mold and filth that erupted from the fridge. Roaches skittered under rotting debris and ancient food containers, while a cloud of flies flew out in a swarm that briefly surrounded her head.
Slamming it shut, she ran to the sink to scrub her hand clean. There was no way she'd be able to clean everything to a standard she'd be willing to live with, in just a few days, maybe a month or two would do it. And she didn't have the time, she had to be at a business meeting that afternoon and then she had to set up her workshop.
Sighing, she grabbed her phone, did a quick search and dialed a number. She had the money, she might as well use it. “Hi, I need a crew to take away everything in my house and then deep clean it. I need it today and money is not a problem.”
South Mountain, Phoenix
Forte took a moment to look at the restaurant, it wasn't the worst one in the neighbourhood, but it was far from the best. It only had a few small windows and one public entrance, if things went wrong it would be hard to get out of. Fixing her leather jacket, which looked nice and light, but actually weighed several pounds, she headed inside.
Clumsy and Foot Long waved her over as soon as the door closed. Smiling, she walked confidently up to the two gangsters, took her backpack off and grabbed a seat. “So you liked my devise?” she asked.
“It's good,” Clumsy said. “That was you the other day, fighting Jackalope?”
She nodded, not sure what to say about it. She'd won the fight, if it could really be called that, but she hadn't done anything impressive except get knocked on her ass twice and then set off a sonic weapon which let her run away.
Clumsy watched her closely, “I thought you were a weapons dealer, why the hell are you robbing banks?"
“Setting up a workshop costs money and a girl’s gotta eat,” she said.
“Why didn't you go in and take all the money, like a real supervillain? Handing over a note like that is for pussies,” Foot Long said.
She raised her eyebrow and looked at him like he was an idiot. “Right. I do that and I'd have the Phoenix Warriors come running and every cop and part time hero would be on my ass. If it wasn't for some bad luck, they wouldn't even know Forte exists. As it is, they still know almost nothing about me, and I don't plan on making any more public appearances for a while. Despite my name, I'd prefer to keep things quiet and live a nice, long life making lots of money, not fighting superheroes every week or trying to break out of jail. Any other stupid questions?”
For the first time, she saw Clumsy smile. “The weapon you used, you're selling it?”
“Yeah, the Boomer does something similar. Everyone within ten feet gets sick and wants to vomit, they’ll recover in a few minutes. It's a one-shot, but like I said last time, if you can give it back to me after using it, I can repair it for a small fee,” she said, hoping to sweeten the deal.
“What about the other weapon you're selling?”
“The Shriek. It's noisier, it will pop eardrums and stun everyone nearby when it goes off. It also leaves the person suffering from a very bad headache for a few hours. Good for when you want to make a demonstration, or need someone down for a while. Same deal as the Boomer, one shot, but I can fix it afterwards.”
“What if we throw them into a room while we're in the hallway?” he asked.
“You'll be fine,” she assured him. “At worst with the Boomer, you'll feel like you have butterflies. With the Shriek your ears will ring a bit. It wouldn't be a good weapon if it took you out when you used it.”
Clumsy sipped his drink for a few minutes thinking things over. “How much for all of them, today?”
“You don't want to test them first?” she asked.
Clumsy shook his head. “I need all of them, and I saw your work on the news. So I'm trusting you, don't let me down.”
Forte smiled. “You're in luck, I've got my whole supply with me, and they're just waiting to be used.”
Central Village, Phoenix
Natalie grabbed her many bags from the back of the Uber. Flush with cash not only from selling her weapons, but with several thousand still left over from her bank jobs, she'd done a fair bit of shopping. Most of it would be delivered on Monday, but there were few essentials she couldn't do without, a cot and sleeping bag, some new clothes, more chemicals, and two things to make her life easier.
The cleaning crew was still there, just finishing up from the looks of it. The cupboards were wide open, airing out and smelling strongly of cleaner. She could actually see the paint on the walls, now that the grime was gone. The cement floor was as good as it was going to get. Going to the bathroom she whistled in appreciation. Somehow they had made it sparkle.
Walking the six person cleaning crew out to their van, Natalie thanked them profusely and handed each of them a hundred dollar tip. Sure it would look suspicious, but they'd somehow made the place livable, for that they deserved the extra money.
With the place to herself it was time to improve the security.
Pulling out her new tool set, she replaced the locks on the front and back door with top of the line electronic locks, and added two bolts at the top and bottom of the doors. The windows had rusty bars covering them, they weren't very good, but would do until she could improve them. Still she put her alarm devise on both doors and the bedroom window. If they were dislodged they'd shriek, hurting the intruder and warning her.
Closing the curtains, she took off her gloves, shoes, pants and shirt. Standing in her underwear in the middle of the living room, she whistled a complicated tune, the yellow lines along her prosthetic legs and right arm lit up and began to whine.
She'd discovered while working on a last ditch sonic weapon for her new arm and legs, that a certain frequency could make bugs flee the area. She used it now. The high pitched whine was barely audible, that just made it worse, causing her heart to beat faster, as it set her nerves on edge. It was like listening to dozens of mosquitoes buzzing beside her ear at night. She watched the roaches and other things that had survived the deep cleaning run for cracks in the walls and floor, seeking an escape. Slowly she walked around the room, touching the wall so the bugs had nowhere to hide from the noise. After ten minutes, she went to the kitchen and did the same thing, opening the cupboards to ensure everything would leave.
Half an hour later she was certain that her new home was pest free.
Setting up her cot, she left her clothes and everything else in their bags. Unpacking could wait for the morning, she was sweaty and tired after her long day.
Taking two bags she went to the bathroom. First she changed the shower head to a special handheld sprayer, then she set up a transfer bench, that sat halfways in the tub, to make it easier for her to use the shower. Getting her shower supplies and her Sleeper gun, Natalie buckled herself into the transfer seat, took off her prosthetics, then slid the seat into the tub. Closing the curtains she grabbed the sprayer and had her first really good shower in over a week.
Foot Long drove the stolen car down the street, trying to look calm. “You remember the plan?” he asked his crew.
“Yeah, you stop the car, Baby gets the door open and throws the grenade in. Then we rush in throw our grenades, and go fuck them up while the others grab the goodies,” Tweak said. “Don't worry man, this'll be easy. We got stuff that can take superheroes down. We are the shit!”
The rest of them shouted and hollered in agreement, psyching themselves up. They'd never done anything like this before. The Mountain Boys were drug dealers and had a nice little protection racket going in their neighbourhood. The worst they'd ever done was robbery, carjacking, and breaking some bones when someone tried to deal in their territory or wouldn't cough up the money after being asked politely. But having a supervillain supplying them with super weapons had them feeling powerful, and like his friends, Foot Long wanted to move up in the world.
They came to stop a few houses down from the trap house. Baby, the newest member got out and walked up to the rundown bungalow. Once he was close to the door, the rest of them got out and trying to stick to the shadows followed him. Down the street he saw the rest of the gang doing the same.
Foot Long watched as Baby knocked on the door, which opened slightly. As planned, Baby threw his devise inside and bolted.
Foot Long and his crew started running for the house. There was a single gunshot, and then it felt like his guts were rumbling. The door opened up as the shooter fell to the ground, noisily vomiting.
Jumping over the drug dealer, Foot Long threw his own devise into the hallway, and drew his gun. Another devise was thrown into the kitchen. Waves of nausea made him gag, but it only lasted a few seconds and he sucked it up. Going deeper into the house, he saw that everyone was down, vomiting and crapping themselves. One of them tried to reach for his gun, he kicked him in the head, taking the gun for himself. He heard the rest of his crew going through the small house, punching and kicking the people they found, and grabbing their weapons.
The second group, led by Clumsy, came rushing in. They immediately began ransacking the place, grabbing money, drugs, and guns.
“Stay the fuck down!” he shouted at a big guy who was trying to stand up. The man ignored him managing to get to his knees, drooling heavily and looking greenish. Stepping forward to kick him, Foot Long accidentally squeezed the trigger. The man glared at him for a moment and then fell to the floor, moaning in pain as he died in a slowly growing puddle of blood.
“What the hell are you doing!” Clumsy shouted. “You weren't supposed to kill anyone!”
“I-I-” he tried to say.
“Fuck!” Clumsy roared. “Everyone grab what you can and get the fuck out!”
Just then Baby came into the house, clutching his stomach. “Hey guys. I think I need help.”
Running over to him, Clumsy swore again. Blood was trickling from his fingers.
“Foot Long get over here!” the gang leader shouted. “You get your guys and drop him off at the hospital. Just dump him, then lose the car and lay low for a while.”
Nodding, he put an arm around Baby and headed for the car. “Everyone we're outta here.”
A minute later they were out and driving away.
Central Village, Phoenix
Opening her fifth roll of aluminum foil, Natalie began tearing it into thin strips, carefully placing them in a noxious concoction of bleach, mercury, three rolls of pennies, and a dozen other chemicals that were held in a large soup pot. Even with her painters mask, the open window, and several fans, the fumes were hard to take. A dome of silence kept outside noise from interfering with her work. Around the pot, she had placed portable speakers playing an odd humming sound that changed its pitch and speed every two minutes. For most people it would be annoying, she was used to it, listening to make sure the speakers weren't distorting the sounds.
Once that was done, she put the lid on, secured the edges with duct tape and left her simple workshop, which would normally be a bedroom, firmly closing the door behind her. In a week the starter for her new and improved sonic metal would be ready to go. Once that was done simply keeping it fed with aluminum, would provide her the material to create at least a pound of sonic metal a month. She'd need more of course, but she was starting small and this was only a temporary place. Within a month or two she'd have the resources to create a more permanent workshop, and trying to move too many odd or fragile things could draw attention to her that she'd rather avoid.
“This is just like music, it takes time and a hell of a lot of effort,” she told herself.
Taking a seat on the floor, she mumbled a light curse that all of her furniture would be delivered on Monday, while putting in her earbuds. Various wires, speakers, batteries, and electric motors were spread out on a set of place mats around her. Picking up a screwdriver, she began humming along to the music, focusing her mind entirely on the project at hand. Taking apart the first speaker, music filled her mind, the notes telling her fingers what to do.
Phoenix Warrior HQ
Sun Hawk tried to hide a yawn. She'd been up half the night doing patrols, followed by reading a physics paper she had to write a report on. Even though she was a part time student, finding time for her job and her studies wasn't easy. And now instead of sleeping, she was in the conference room with every other Warrior who wasn't on patrol.
She sat at the back beside Mogollon, where he wouldn't block anyones view, discretely holding his hand. Old Scratch was seemingly dozing in the corner, his old fashion derby hat covering his sharp features. Desert Rat sat with his feet on the chair munching on pork rinds, his beady eyes constantly scanning the room. Shadow leaned against the wall at the back, his face flickering seemingly at random, each time looking like someone else. When her own face appeared on his body, she shuddered and quickly looked away. Finally Magma Man sat at attention, waiting to hear what was going on. Lolomi was at his usual spot at the front of the room, looking more serious than usual, but Janet was taking the place of honour.
The gadgeteer/devisor, who looked like a fantasy dwarf wearing red coveralls, took a second to collect herself. “Thanks for coming everyone, we've got some potentially very important news about the teen bank robber. Last night a trap house was robbed, likely by a rival gang, and a member of the 17th Disciples was murdered.”
That didn't elicit much reaction. While most gangs kept their disputes to beatings and threats, murders did happen. As long as they didn't involve civilians, or start a gang war, that kind of thing was mostly left to the police.
“The police arrived quickly enough that most of the witnesses were still there. When questioned, the ones willing to speak all said they were hit with a feeling of intense nausea, making most of them throw up and even lose control of their bowels,” she said.
Everyone was listening now, even Old Scratch stopped pretending to be asleep.
Janet smirked. “I thought that would get your attention. An odd device was found at the scene. One witness who was able to remember the details, claims it was thrown into the house by the attackers.” The wall flickered showing a gray plastic ball, along with a detailed blueprint of its insides.. “It was made using parts from a computer speaker, and the speaker itself is blown. I made an exact replica, right down to the brand of speakers, nothing happened. It's a dud.”
“So it's a devise,” Magma Man said.
“That's my best guess,” she said. “I did a search for any recent crimes that would fit a devisor or gadgeteers MO, and what do you know, last Sunday Phoenix College was robbed.”
The wall behind her flickered, a video began to play showing a young woman with black hair walking down a deserted hallway closely looking at the doors and classrooms. The camera changed, and the girl was now standing at the end of the hallway, she raised her arm and the image turned to black.
“By the time campus security realized there was a problem, the suspect had broken into the chemical supply room, punching through the lock by an unknown means, stolen several containers of dangerous and restricted chemicals, and left the campus. There is video of her leaving with a heavy backpack,” Janet said.
“She wasn't holding anything in her hand,” Old Scratch said. “How did she break the cameras?”
Lolomi spoke for the first time. “We don't know. It could be a mutant power, magic, a devise attached to her outfit, or something else. While we are now fairly certain we are dealing with a devisor, we don't know if she is one.”
“You're thinking she could be a minion?” the Mogollon Monster asked.
“Partner, minion, test subject, or she's the actual devisor, I don't want to make a guess just yet. If we choose the wrong one, it leaves us open to a nasty surprise.”
Sun Hawk leaned forward in her chair, studying the girl. “Why is she wearing gloves? Every time we've seen her she has on a pair of gloves. If she wants to hide her prints why not just use some crazy glue or the new invisi-gloves? They make her stick out.”
Janet answered that one. “She could be hiding GSD, it might be to cover a skintight metal suit, they could be enchanted to help her summon the suit, or it may just be a fashion statement. We won't know until we can capture her or at least see her in action again.”
“It's now very important that we catch her,” Lolomi said. “If she or the person she works with is selling devises to criminals, it could upset the balance of power among the gangs and cartels. We do not want a gang war.”
Sitting back, Sun Hawk couldn't stop looking at the girl and her gloves. Something was niggling at her brain, telling her she was missing something important. As the discussion continued, she couldn't help but wonder why she was certain she'd seen the girl.
Central Village, Phoenix
Sitting on her just delivered couch, which was big enough to be a comfortable bed until she got something better, Natalie stared numbly at her new laptop.
She'd just finished watching a news conference where the Phoenix Warriors had taken centre stage, and her face was plastered on the screen. It wasn't immediately obvious that it was her, the makeup and wig helped a little, but anyone who got a close look at her would spot the similarities.
That wasn't the worst of it. She skipped back to near the beginning of the video and pressed play. “The suspect is wanted for questioning in connection to the murder on Saturday of Jonathon Washington. A devise that resembles the sonic weapon she used during her bank robbery was found at the murder scene.”
Pausing the video, she looked at the photo of Jonathon. It was a mug shot, but that didn't matter, her devise had been used to help kill a person.
“I'm a supervillain, I knew this was going to happen,” she told herself.
The words rang hollow in her ears.
“What else am I supposed to do?” she asked. “I didn't want to do this, I wanted to be a musician. I was going to be a musician.”
And now she was a murderer, even if she hadn't pulled the trigger, she'd given criminals the weapons, knowing they would use them to commit crime. She whistled. Her right arm hissed and hung limp, the glowing lines fading to a dull gold. She wrenched it out of her sleeve and threw it to the ground.
Taking the empty sleeve in her hand, she waved it in the air, showing it to an invisible jury. “How am I supposed to play like this? They don't make anything that could replace my hand. Even I can't make one good enough.
“And my legs. Do I want to be helpless again? Carried like a baby?! Do I just throw them away too?”
She didn't realize tears were rolling down her cheeks.
“I had a future. I had a good future. I had the talent, the drive, the will. I did everything right and worked my ass off for it. And for what?” she demanded. “It was taken from me, and I never did anything wrong. Why shouldn't I take what I want? Everyone else does. At least I'm honest about it.”
The doorbell rang.
Wiping her eyes, surprised when her sleeve came back wet, her eyes fell on her arm that lay on the floor. There wasn't time to put it back on, cursing she shoved it behind the couch. Going to the door, she looked through the peep hole and saw a man with a large box behind him. She started to reach for the door knob with her right hand and cursed again as nothing happened.
Opening the door properly, she did her best to smile.
“Hi, I've got a fridge for a Melody Smith,” the delivery man said.
“That's me, come on in,” she said, stepping aside.
He wheeled it in, following her to the kitchen. His eyes went to her empty sleeve, before quickly looking away. As he set it up for her, she kept noticing him glancing at where her arm should be. By the time he was done, she was standing almost sideways, hiding her right side from him.
Walking him to the door, she said, as cheerfully as possible, “Thanks for the help,” and handed him a twenty.
“Yeah, no problem,” he replied. His eyes once more went to her sleeve, it looked like he was about to say something, but he stopped, looking at her with pity before turning away.
Resisting the urge to slam the door, Natalie closed it, then went to retrieve her arm.
Putting it back on, she glared at the empty room. “I did things the right way, and you took everything away from me, turning me into a pitiful, limbless freak. I don't care what I have to do, I am not going back to that!”
South Mountain, Phoenix
Foot Long looked up from his burger as Clumsy sat down. He watched in silence while the Dome of Silence was discretely turned on.
“Any problems with Baby?” Clumsy asked.
“Not a one,” he replied. “He was able to walk when we dropped him at the ER. He's going to tell them he was just walking along when a stray shot hit him. Some passersby he doesn't know picked him up and drove him to the hospital.” It was a common story. The police would know it was a lie, but with no one to say differently, they had nothing on Baby.
“We're gonna have to give him a new name. He's not a baby anymore.”
He nodded in agreement, they'd think of something good once the kid was out of the hospital. “How'd we do?”
“Even with your fuck up, we got about 30k in cash, around 70 or 80k in drugs, and Tweak knows some guys looking to buy a few pieces. Not as good as I thought, but still a good haul,” Clumsy said, raising his beer in a toast.
“Damn, we did good!” Then he got a bit nervous. “Any chance that this could blow back on us?”
“Nah, those guys are weak ass pussies, and no one else will care. They can't cover what they lost, it's their asses, not ours.” Sliding over thick roll of cash, a small baggie was stuck in the middle of it. Clumsy gave him a smile. “Here's the first part of your cut.”
Seeing the goods, Foot Long broke into a grin, all his concerns forgotten.
Desert View, Phoenix
Alastair heard the garage door open, it was about time, he'd been expecting his guest an hour ago. Taking a glass and a bottle of red wine from his bar, he went to his special meeting room in the basement. Unlike the rest of his house which was filled with exquisite furniture and art, this room was almost bare, except for a single, comfortable plastic chair sitting beside a metal table. The white-tiled walls and floor were extremely easy to clean thanks to the drain in the center of the room, the faint smell of bleach added to the surgical atmosphere. Having the doorway covered in mystical runes that allowed only a few key people to even notice the room was an added bonus.
Taking a seat, he poured himself a glass of wine, then ran his hand over his thick red hair, making sure it was nice and neat, and straightened his tie. Appearances were important, especially when meeting someone for the first time, the wrong impression could ruin everything.
His men entered the room without knocking, carrying his guest between them. The skinny little man didn't look like much. That wasn't surprising considering he wasn't anything much. The sallow skin, gaunt appearance, open sores on his face and his rotten teeth told Alastair everything he needed about his guest. Hopefully his brain still worked.
“Good evening Mr. Gustav, or would you prefer I call you Joseph?” he asked.
“I don't know nothing, and I ain't gonna say nothing. Now let me go,” the addict said.
Alastair allowed himself a small frown, bad manners were the bane of society. Lifting a finger, his men quickly left, locking the door behind them. Taking a sip of his wine, he watched his guest, much like a young boy would study a slug.
“Joseph, you were at the drug house that was attacked on Saturday night, is that correct?” he asked.
Placing his wine glass on the table, he rose to his feet, towering over the addict who scurried away from him. The man didn't have anywhere to go, and Alastair forced him into a corner simply through his size and presence. Grabbing a skeletal forearm, he squeezed his thumb and forefinger together, turning flesh and bone into a messy pulp.
Returning to his chair, he sniffed the blood and bits of flesh on his fingers and scowled in disgust, wiping it off with a silk handkerchief from his pocket. “You aren't even good enough to become a snack,” he said, watching the writhing man scream in pain.
The show went on for several minutes, as he slowly sipped his wine and poured himself a second glass. He didn't mind the wait, he tried to keep his evenings free as a matter of habit, and had ensured that nothing would interrupt this special affair. Finally the addict was simply moaning and sobbing, clutching his arm protectively.
“Are you ready to answer now, Joseph?” he asked.
“I was there,” came the answer, barely understandable through the sobs of pain.
“Very good,” Alastair said. “When the men attacked, they used a strange weapon, what did it feel like?”
“It was like a drum was beating in my stomach. Really loud, shook my guts,” he said. “Made me shit myself. Felt bad, really bad and then it went away, but I still wanted to puke and shit.”
He had thought the heroes were telling the truth about the criminal devisor. Now the question was what were her plans? If she was just a regular supervillain, the Cano family could ignore her, or possibly hire her for their own uses. But if she was looking to create her own organization and claim territory, or side with another cartel, she would have to be dealt with.
Of course if she was a powerful devisor, even if she joined the Cano's, she could be a danger to his position. He would have to think about this very carefully.
“Now Joseph, this is very important, I was also told you know one of the attackers. Who is he and where can I find him?”
The addict looked at him nervously, whatever was left of his brain furiously thinking. “Let me go and I'll tell you.”
Once more rising to this feet, Alastair smiled. “I was hoping you would say that.”
Stepping into the centre of the room, the air began to shimmer, gaining colour and weight. It swirled around him, forming a massive, hulking body. After a moment, a naked, sexless giant with wild red hair and a mouth far too wide for its head was looking down at the cowering, pitiful man.
“When you want the pain to stop, tell me what I want to know,” The Cannibal said.
South Mountain, Phoenix
Foot Long sat on the curb, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette, listening to his friends joke and talk. Everyone was in a good mood, they had more money than they knew what to do with, and they'd heard that Baby was going to be OK. So it had been a night of beer and strippers. They were taking a break before heading to another place to hook up with some hotties, and everything was right with the world.
“Hey when are we going to do another hit? There's this sweet ass ride I've been looking at, an old '84 Mustang, all fixed up, new engine, and one hell of a nice paint job,” Tweak said.
“Stop dreaming, all of that cash is going straight in a vein and up your nose,” Foot Long said.
“Well, some of it, yeah. But I've been keeping some off to the side, decided I should start saving some.”
Some of the others overheard their conversation. “Looks like we've got us an investor here. Gonna start wearing a suit and trading on the stocks soon, rich man!”
The rest joined in and for the next few minutes insults and rich jokes ran wild.
When they got bored of it, Tweak looked down at Foot Long. “So when are we gonna do something.”
“Clumsy and I are looking at some places. We got more heat than we wanted, so we're just scouting things out for now,” he said. “We've told a few others about Forte. So if we keep things cool for a month or two, the capes won't have such a hard-on when they hear about her stuff being used. And she said she'll have some really cool shit ready to go in a few weeks, now that she's got a lab going.”
“Like what, laser beams and jet packs?”
“Nah, dumb ass. She does her thing with sounds. She's got a piece that puts people to sleep, almost totally silent, point, shoot and boom, they pass out.” He saw that his buddy wasn't impressed by that. “Think about it. See someone you don't like driving a car, you hit em with it, they crash and no one can say you did anything. Or you wanna rob em, you shoot em, grab their stuff and you're gone, no risk. Or a cop or cape is giving you a hard time, you use it, and they go down. But if they come after you later, you didn't do nothing, you were just standing there and they fell over. Didn't even kick em when they were down, you're totally innocent.”
“Oh yeah,” Tweak said, his eyes widening as understanding blossomed.
“Another one we want is a wall buster. You stick it to a wall, and it makes it crumble. We're thinking of getting the first few of those and going after some jewelry stores. My sister knows a guy who buys diamonds. Doesn't care how hot they are.”
Finishing the last of his beer, Foot Long got to his feet. “Things are looking up for the Mountain Boys! Let's get back to the party!”
A giant figure stomped out of an alley. In the darkness all Foot Long could make out was the outline of a twelve-foot-tall monster, who was at least eight feet wide, with a mass of tangled hair. That was all he needed to see to realize that he and everyone around him were probably already dead. Everyone in Phoenix knew what The Cannibal looked like and what happened when he appeared.
The gang fled. They didn't run as a group, or help each other escape, it was a mad dash, every man for himself as terror took over.
Foot Long didn't make it far before he was scooped up in an enormous hand. The grip threatened to break his ribs, he could barely breathe, and with his arms trapped he couldn't even try to beat at the hand. Then he and The Cannibal were in the air, arcing through the sky to land on a nearby roof, where he was dropped, landing in a painful sprawl.
“I want to meet your devisor,” The Cannibal said, in a barely human growl.
“OK! I'LL CALL HER! I HAVE HER NUMBER RIGHT HERE!” Foot Long said, pulling his phone out of his pocket.
“No. I want it to be a surprise. Have her go to Goodman's Junkyard, make sure she's alone.”
Foot Long nodded. “Goodman's Junkyard. Alone. Got it. I'll make sure she goes there.”
“I'll be in touch with you tomorrow. If you don't have it set up by then, I will have a talk with you and your gang.” The way The Cannibal licked his lips left no room for doubt about what would happen.
The monster left the roof by the simple expedient of jumping, leaving Foot Long shaking in a puddle of urine.
Central Village, Phoenix
A complicated harmony of sounds came from the speakers that surrounded a thick bracelet. Natalie tapped away at her laptop, altering certain notes, pitches and frequencies, trying to find the perfect mix. She'd been fine-tuning it all morning, after getting the basics prepared the day before, and she could tell she was almost there.
Making one last change she turned all her attention to one of her earliest examples of sonic metal. The bracelet began to vibrate and slowly lost its form, turning into a semi-liquid puddle. She hit a button and the speakers played a different, much deeper but simpler hum. she quickly added the specially treated copper wires, which made her sonic metal truly useful. It took several minutes for the two to bond with the aid of the binding acoustics. The wires turned golden and began to glow so brightly Natalie had to put on sunglasses to look at them directly.
Once the glow faded to a faint yellow, she shut off the program, added two more speakers to the ones already hooked up to her laptop, and started a new program. This one was an ear rending mix of different frequencies, pitches, whines and hums, that would be sheer mind numbing noise to anyone that heard it. She on the other hand listened carefully, doing her best to ensure nothing was out of tune.
The pool of sonic metal bubbled and oozed. Slowly it began to form a rectangle, about the size of her hand. Two small prongs jutted from one end. Taking two jumper cables that were already attached to a car battery, she placed them on the prongs, jumping a little as sparks flew up. The faintly glowing lines in the sonic metal began to glow more brightly. They were a bit brighter than she'd expected, but nothing set off any alarm bells in her mind. She sat back, grinning with delight.
The biggest problem with her sonic metal was powering it. Even with her cybernetics, anything beyond regular daily use would leave them drained fairly quickly. Now she had a battery that would be easy to carry and conceal, and would fit any of her cybernetics or armour. Once she had her first batch of improved sonic metal ready, she could make several more of them. Then when she made her new arm and legs, she could place slots in them, allowing her to store one in her arm and three in each leg to power her cybernetics or her armour.
She wanted to squeal with joy, but stayed silent so as not to disrupt the process.
Double checking the Dome of Silence ensuring no outside noise would damage her work, Natalie quietly left her workshop, hoping her growling stomach wasn't too loud, she'd forgotten to eat breakfast and was starving.
Throwing some leftover pizza in the microwave, she turned on her stereo and checked her phones. First her usual one that was under her name and useful for her civilian life, there was nothing but some follow up emails asking for reviews on the things she had bought during her shopping spree. It was about what she'd expected, her old life, friends and family had basically gone up in flames, which was one reason she was now living in Phoenix.
Her burner phone on the other hand was more interesting, with a message from Clumsy asking to call him right away. She was tempted to, but the smell of food was too enticing.
Eating pizza on the couch, listening to Benny Goodman, in the comfort of her own place, nice soft rugs on the floor, with two hands and her legs stretched out, while her devises were being created in the next room, and a bag of money stashed inside the wall, she felt at home and happy for the first time in far too long. While she would prefer to be in a mansion with a handsome guy at her side, eating pizza made by her personal chef, being served on a silver platter by yet another handsome man, she was willing to take what she could get. She couldn't be too greedy after all.
At least not yet.
Once lunch was done, she turned down the music and phoned Clumsy. He picked up the phone on the first ring.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hey Clumsy, this is Forte. What can I do for you?” she asked.
“I want the greatest sound system for my car that money can buy,” he said, not wasting time with small talk.
She raised an eyebrow at that, it definitely wasn't what she'd expected. Taking a moment to consider it, she shook her head, it could be an interesting job, but she didn't want to become known as the stereo repair villain. “That's not really my thing.”
“I thought you might say that, and I don't mean any disrespect, but I really do want the best sound system in Phoenix. I'm talking about subs and amps that will make the street shake, speakers that I can hear from across the neighbourhood, one of your domes of silence built in so when I need to I can be totally silent, the works. I know you devisors like to make all kinds of cool things, and I am willing to pay for anything you need, just as long as it works when you're done.”
The job suddenly sounded a lot more interesting. She'd been so focused on her prosthetics, and creating weapons, that she'd completely ignored what she could do to a stereo. Ideas started rising up in her mind. She squashed them down, forcing herself to focus on the moment. “I'm a little more interested, but I've still got a lot of things to do and this would be a big job.”
“I understand I'm asking you for something big, but I think I know what will get you really interested,” Clumsy said. Then he gave her a number.
Natalie blinked in shock, finding herself speechless for several seconds. “You'd pay that much?!”
“Damn right I would. No one else will have anything like it. For that kind of thing, money is not a problem,” he said.
“I can start Sunday. Where do you want to meet?”
“Goodman's Junkyard. It's out of the way, has a nice little garage to work in, and the owner owes me a favour. No one will bother you.”
“All right, I can be there at about one to look it over and come up with some ideas. See you then.”
Hanging up, she fell back onto the couch, kicking her feet and cheering with delight. Becoming a supervillain was turning out to be the best decision of her life.
Goodman's Junkyard, Phoenix
Even with the garage door open and a fan going at full power it was hot in the small building. Despite her worries, Forte had taken off her jacket and changed her clothes. Wearing just a pair of shorts and a light t-shirt, her cybernetics were clearly visible and she felt over-exposed, but it was better than drowning in sweat. Working in the place during the summer would be hellish.
Despite the heat she was still smiling. She'd finished her sonic metal starter and fed it the first batch of tinfoil, which had begun to liquefy almost immediately. She'd gotten a call from a potential client and set up a meeting for Friday. And this job, which would fund her for a whole month was looking more and more interesting.
She'd already removed the speakers from the car, and was making a rough picture of the interior, trying to work out the best places to add extra speakers, subwoofers, amplifiers and a few completely new ideas that would blow anything on the market, completely out of the water. She just had to make sure her plans would look good. The practically new BMW was really nice looking, and she was going to make sure Clumsy got his money worth.
Taking a seat behind the steering wheel, she let herself imagine it was her car and the music from her earbuds was coming from the car stereo. She'd want to do some more modifications of course. With a bit of planning she could improve the engine, making it so silent, you wouldn't even know it was on. Sonic metal in the seat that would shift to provide the perfect support. She might even be able to make a forcefield for it, she had the plans for a sonic field that would stop bullets, but powering it was almost impossible.
Adjusting the rear view mirror to see how she looked sitting in the driver seat, she saw a person jogging past the door.
“Who could that be?” she asked herself, turning off her music. The only people she'd seen at the junkyard had been an old guy dozing near the gate, Clumsy and Foot Long, and those two had taken off an hour ago.
She was struck by indecision. If she got out of the car, her cybernetics would be seen and it would be easy to guess that she was the wanted criminal. But staying in the car would make her a sitting duck if the person wasn't just an employee or someone looking for a car part.
“Screw it,” she said. There was no way she was going to let fear control her. Getting out of the car, Forte walked towards the open door to see what was going on.
Someone just outside muttered something.
With her nerves already on edge, Forte ran for her jacket. She didn't know what was going on, but if she had to fight, she wanted her armour.
Shots echoed in the garage, at least one bullet came so close, she heard it crack past her ear. Diving for the floor, Forte covered her head with her right arm, and tried to hide behind her metal legs. The shooting seemed to go on forever, filling the garage with dust and smoke.
The second it stopped she lunged to her feet, staying as low as possible, trying to put the car between her and the gunmen. Her legs were sluggish, not moving with their usual grace. She didn't have time to see what the problem was, they worked well enough to let her scramble for cover, that was all that mattered.
People were shouting, she couldn't make out what they were saying over the ringing in her ears. There was another shot and once more Forte hit the ground, this time behind the car. The gunmen opened fire, filling the room with sparks and ricocheting bullets. Whistling, her fingers turned into claws and two-inch-long talons tore apart her shoes.
Glancing at her legs, there were several dents in the sonic metal, marring the yellow patterns. Her right arm had a similar dent on the bicep. Panic started to overwhelm her, she had been less than an inch from getting killed, and the gunmen were still shooting.
She allowed herself a single deep breath, forcing the panic down.
Getting into a runners crouch, she softly whistled and her legs began to glow more brightly. The second the shooting stopped, she leapt for her coat, moving as fast as an Olympic sprinter. Slamming painfully into the wall, she ripped her coat from it's hook, placed her foot against the wall and threw herself back behind the car.
There was more shouting from outside, she ignored it, focused solely on putting her coat on. Then she whistled and the sonic metal flowed over her. Flexible, segmented plates covered her torso, a short skirt of armour flowed over her pelvis and upper thighs, her left arm was covered in metal ending in a clawed gauntlet. A featureless mask with eye and nose slots protected her head. This was the older, basic armour she'd shown to Foot Long, there were no whip-like fingers and no hidden devises inside. But it was thicker and able to take a hit, time to see if it really was bulletproof.
The gunmen began shooting again, but this time bullets tore through the left wall, hitting her armour. When she didn't die, Forte began to laugh hysterically. Getting to her feet she raced for the exit, still laughing.
Two of the gunmen fired straight into her chest. She jumped at the nearest one, her legs whining, their batteries draining at an alarming speed. Hitting him in the chest, something inside of him crunched from the impact. Gripping his face, her right hand thrummed and the groaning man fell unconscious.
“Shit! I need help!” the second gunman shouted.
Forte ran at him, relying on speed and brutality over skill. He tried to shoot, only to be met with a click as he ran out of bullets. Her claws tore into his leg, making him drop and shriek in pain. Again her hand reached out, putting him to sleep.
Three gunmen, she hoped that was the last of them, came from the side of the building. Breathing hard, She used most of the remaining power in her legs to jump straight at them. Lashing out with claws and talons. The first man went down, clutching his stomach. The second one shoved a pistol into her side and began firing. Her talons shredded his face, while her devise knocked him out. The third tried to run. Grabbing a pistol from the ground, Forte paused to increase the strength and dexterity of her arm, then threw the pistol like a baseball, catching him in the back. He fell screaming, rolling on the ground clutching his side.
Falling to her knees, drained of all energy, Forte tried to comprehend what had just happened. She wanted to vomit, she wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, most of all she wanted to wake up from the nightmare.
Her body began to ache, every breath was agonizing.
Someone was clapping.
She looked up, and up, into the terrifying face of The Cannibal.
'I'm going to die,' she thought.
“Very good, Forte,” the monster said, somehow making its growl sound cheerful. “I really thought they would kill you.”
Forte didn't know what to say. She didn't have enough power in her legs to run away. She didn't have a chance against him in a fight, and she doubted she could put him to sleep. She was going to die and there wasn't a thing she could do about it. She was just as helpless as she had been a year and a half ago. Behind her mask, tears began to fall.
The Cannibal leaned down, looming over her like she was a bug. “Since you aren't dead, I have some questions for you. First, why are you in Phoenix?”
Old habits kicked in, jump-starting her numbed and terror-stricken brain. “Selling weapons, sir,” she answered in a whisper, as if she were a young child talking to a scary teacher.
His eyes widened a little, his lips almost seemed to curve upwards a hair. “Who are you working with?”
“No one, sir,” she answered.
“You just came to Phoenix and started selling weapons to a random street gang to make money?”
The monster began to chuckle, it quickly turned to laughter, a deep belly laugh that nearly knocked Forte over. She clutched her ears as the booming noise threatened to overwhelm her. Slowly the laughing stopped.
Looking back up at The Cannibal, she wondered what he would do next.
He stared down at her, his grotesque face looked curious. “You'll probably end up dead or enslaved, but if you survive, the Cano family may have some business with you in the future. Remember this moment, and think very carefully on it when naming a price.” He walked away, leaving his fallen men and Forte in the junkyard like so much garbage.
When he was out of sight, Forte struggled to her feet and headed into the bullet-riddled building to collect her things.
Central Village, Phoenix
Natalie stumbled out of the car, her legs barely working. She hobbled to the door and practically fell inside. Gasping in pain, she curled up into a ball clutching her ribs, trying not to breathe too deeply as every breath sent a wave of pain through her body.
When she could move again, she dragged herself along the floor to the nearest wall socket. Trying to whistle, her ribs howled in agony. Crying, she pulled off her pants, her fingers tapped along the edge of her prosthetics. The now dead legs released her thighs, falling to the floor. Opening a compartment revealed a power cord that she plugged into the wall.
Moving more easily now, despite the pain, she pulled herself along the floor, grabbing her backpack. She began throwing clothes haphazardly into it. She would charge up her legs, then she would leave. She had enough money she could go anywhere, somewhere that didn't have freakish monsters who would eat her alive. There were safer places, like Nebraska or Kansas. She could figure out how to sell her things safely online.
It would be safer.
She needed to recharge her jacket. If anyone attacked her it didn't have enough power to let her do anything.
Taking it off she plugged it into a charger, and went to grab her vest that concealed another of her sonic metal suits. The heavy fabric felt safe and secure in her hands. As she put it on, the blood on her shirt filled her eyes.
Recoiling in disgust, Natalie ripped the t-shirt off. It was smeared with blood from her hand and arm, she didn't know whose blood it was, or how she hadn't noticed it before. Walking on her hands she tried to reach the bathroom, but couldn't move quickly enough. Vomiting noisily, bile and water soaked the carpet. The convulsions caused the ever present pain in her ribs to flare up.
Falling onto her back, she moaned in agony.
Time had no meaning as she lay on the floor, trying to shut out the terror and pain of the last few hours.
Desperately she hummed to herself, hoping the music would help clear her mind.
The doorbell brought her back to reality.
She cringed, a part of her mind screamed that it was The Cannibal, coming to kill her. The more rational part of her realized that he wouldn't knock on the door.
The bell rang again.
“Just a minute,” she shouted, then whimpered in pain.
She went and got a long shirt with extra long sleeves. Slowly she made her way to the door. “Who is it?” she asked, wincing as even talking made her ribs hurt.
“I'm a police officer, Ms.. We received a call saying you might be hurt, and just want to make sure everything is all right,” a woman said.
“I'm OK, thank you for coming, but everything is fine now,” she said.
The officer didn't go away. “I'm glad to hear that, Ms.. However I would appreciate it if you could open the door and tell me face to face. Is that possible?”
Swearing, Natalie briefly considered telling her to simply go away. Shaking her head, she decided that would be a red flag for the officer, proof that she really was in danger. Making sure her right hand was covered by her sleeve, she opened the door.
The officer clearly wasn't expecting to see a legless girl opening the door. She hid it well after an initial bit of confusion at having to look down so far. “Hello, Ms.?”
“Melody,” she replied. “I'm sorry about wasting your time. I was out exploring the city, and almost got hit by a car. My legs got all screwed up, and I hit the ground pretty hard. I must look terrible, I was just about to take a shower when you arrived.”
“I'm sorry to hear that,” the officer said. “Did you happen to get a look at the car?”
She shrugged. “A dark blue, I think.”
“Are you sure you're OK? You should probably be checked out by a doctor.”
Natalie shook her head. “No thanks, my legs took most of the damage. I've just got a few bruises. A hot shower, some pain pills and a good sleep will help deal with that. But if I start peeing blood or anything I'll head straight for the ER.”
That seemed to be enough for the officer. “All right, Melody. If you start feeling worse call an ambulance, and if you remember any details about the driver please give us a call. I hope you feel better soon.”
Closing the door, Natalie leaned against it and sighed. That had been terrifying.
Still, the talk had helped clear her head a bit. She probably did look like shit, leaving town without tidying herself up would only draw attention. Going to the bathroom, she undressed and took her arm off, strapped herself onto her seat and began to spray herself down.
Even with the shower on its softest setting, the water hurt. Studying her torso, there were swollen, ugly red bruises all over her chest and stomach, and her hip was worse. The spot where the gunman had unloaded his pistol at point blank range was not only horribly bruised, but the skin had split from the impact.
By the time she was done washing, exhaustion was threatening to put her to sleep in her chair. Barely bothering to dry herself off, she wrapped herself in a towel and crawled one-handed to the couch. Slipping under the soft blanket, she fell asleep almost immediately.
Central Village, Phoenix
Natalie woke up with the sun in her eyes. Half remembered nightmares slowly fading from her mind.
Despite sleeping for so long she didn't feel rested. The knotted, sweaty sheets were wrapped so tightly around her that it was hard to breathe.
Rolling onto her front, she whimpered as the bruises made their presence known. Gazing sleepily around the room, clothes were thrown on the floor, her backpack was almost invisible under shirts and pants that had been haphazardly thrown into it, most of them only partially in the bag. Her legs were on the far side of the room, and she couldn't remember where she'd left her arm.
“Damn,” she whispered. Her mouth was sticky and dry, while her tongue felt so big she wanted to gag.
Sliding out of bed, she moaned as her bruised hip was jolted.
Finding some clean underwear beside her backpack, she put it on one handed. Feel a bit better she slowly dragged herself to her legs.
A minute later, she walked to the bathroom and found her arm lying on the floor. She slipped it on, it was low on power but it would do for now.
Getting a wet washcloth she wiped the sweat from her skin, trying not to press too hard on the many, very colourful bruises that covered her body. “Note to self, armour needs padding,” she muttered.
When her skin felt clean, she pulled out a bottle of rubbing alcohol and wiped down her prosthetics. They were pockmarked from the bullets, which was messing with the feedback. That would take a few hours to fix.
Getting dressed, she poured herself a bowl of cereal and forced herself to think.
“I can run,” she said to herself. “But if I run, what happens the next time I get into a fight? There are supervillains and superheroes all over. Do I just keep running?”
She thought about the fight.
“I took down five men who ambushed me. I got hurt, but it's just bruises. My armour works. I couldn't fight The Cannibal, but I didn't actually have to fight him. He was testing me, and I didn't fail.”
Nodding, she continued down that train of thought.
“He's right my plans were laughable. But they did work. Now I need to fine-tune them. Take a few days to recover and come up with my next step.”
Her thoughts went to Clumsy and Foot Long.
“They betrayed me. I thought they would be helpful, and they set me up for that psycho,” she said, her voice flat and utterly devoid of emotion. “I have to make an example of them. I can't take out The Cannibal, yet, so I need to show the city what happens when they fuck with me.”
The music of creation rose in her mind. Finishing her breakfast, Forte went to her workshop, there was work to be done.
South Mountain, Phoenix
It was a somber group that was drinking at their usual hangout. Last week they'd been thinking of their next big score, and now their plans were up in flames.
“Do we have anything left?” Tweak asked.
“Just the silence thing, and the shriekers,” Foot Long said. “Those are supposed to be noisy as fuck, don't want to use them without a good reason.”
“So what's the plan now?”
He shrugged. There wasn't a plan. They'd go back to selling drugs and getting protection money. No chance of moving up in the world or even expanding their territory. And despite handing Forte over to The Cannibal, they were still known to him. What that meant for the gang and him personally, he didn't want to think about.
“Do you think she's dead?”
Foot Long stared at his friend like he was an idiot. “You saying The Cannibal wanted to throw her a surprise party? What the fuck do you think?”
That brought the mood down even more.
“But what if she didn't die?” Tweak asked. “What if The Cannibal just wanted her to do something for him? Or was giving her a warning? He's done that before.”
He tried to think of something to say. He wanted to tell Tweak that that idea was a load of BS, but there was a chance it wasn't. What if she was alive? She was naive, but she wasn't helpless. She'd only sold and used weapons that were all non-lethal, but she said she kept the best for herself and she was trying to keep things quiet.
What would she do if she was pissed?
“Fuck. I've gotta call Clumsy.”
Central Village, Phoenix
The workshop reeked of sweat and chemicals. Acid stains marred the cement floor, and the paint was discoloured from the acrid fumes. Forte ignored all of it, too intent on the music that played in her mind, directing her actions, as she created her devises. The face mask she wore had been modified, with every breath she took golden wires lit up and it gently hummed, destroying harmful particles before they could reach her nose. Her hands and arms were covered in thick rubber gloves. A hastily designed speaker system alternated between a deep pulsing bass and a high pitched squeal, with a constant low hum in the background.
Her two jackets were hanging from hooks on the ceiling, their lining was cut along the seams., a tarp spread out under them. She sprayed a cloudy liquid on them, making sure it got inside the sleeves and the lining, until they were thoroughly soaked. Slowly the sonic metal dripped out of the jackets, forming a pool on the tarp. Forte watched the entire two hour process.
The ruined jackets went into the garbage, along with the rags she used to mop up the thin layer of chemicals that covered the pure metal.
Wincing, she bit back a groan, as her bruised ribs let her know they didn't like how she was moving and stretching. Forcing herself to ignore her body's complaints, she placed several electrodes in the liquid metal, the other ends were attached to car batteries. They sparked and crackled briefly.
Taking her gloves off, Forte put in a pair of earplugs before starting up a new sound file. A wild cacophony erupted from the speakers, making her wince in pain. The sonic metal jumped, vibrating violently, while the yellow lines became painfully bright.
Taking a seat on the far side of the room, grateful for the chance to take a break, she watched her new suit take shape.
Desert View, Paradise Valley, Phoenix
Alastair savoured his breakfast. It was almost impossible to go wrong with bacon, but his personal chef managed to turn a simple breakfast of bacon and eggs into a slice of heaven. Sipping his sweet corn atole, he let out a satisfied sigh. He wasn't fond of most Mexican food, but he had become a fan of the sweet drink soon after arriving in Arizona.
One of his men, carrying a folder, stepped quietly into the dining room and took a position by the wall. Alastair glanced at him, if it was urgent the man would say something. After a moment of silence, he returned to his breakfast, the news could wait. It had taken years to fill his organization with competent employees, who knew what was urgent and what could wait, were able to handle themselves competently in a fight, and didn't feel the need to act like macho men to prove themselves.
His thoughts went to the 'assassins' he had used against Forte. The petty thugs and drug dealers had spent months asking to move up. Then when given a simple job, ambushing and killing a naive devisor who didn't know how to fight, they had failed miserably. He had to admit she had some interesting tricks, the claws were unexpected, and her willingness to get her hands bloody was worth remembering, but anyone competent could have shot her in the back of the head before she knew they were there.
Overall the cost of tidying up the junkyard, which included removing the failed assassins, was well worth the results. He was no longer being pestered by incompetents, and he had a good idea of what to expect from the new devisor.
Now, provided she stayed in Phoenix, the question was how to make use of her.
Scraping up the last of the eggs, he pushed his plate away and looked at his patiently waiting employee.
“Sir, it looks like Forte is remaining in Phoenix. Our observers saw her working on her devises all of yesterday and most of last night,” the man said.
“And who is she?”
“We are fairly certain she's Natalie Foster, a seventeen year old, former musician,” he said, placing the folder on the table.
He opened the folder to a picture of the girl, without legs, talking to a police officer. “It's almost a certainty. We assumed her metallic arm is a prosthetic like her legs, and we were able to use a basic web search to confirm her identity.”
Alastair flipped through the folder, a news article caught his eye. It was Forte, younger and with long hair, but clearly the same person. The headline read, 'YOUNG MUSICIAN CRITICALLY INJURED IN MUTANT ATTACK'.
“Interesting,” he said. He could definitely work with this when the time came.
Central Village, Phoenix
Natalie laid stretched out on the couch, a heavily modified speaker held together by duct tape and screwed into the wall above her head, facing her body. It sounded like a giant purring cat.
For the first time since Sunday, she didn't hurt.
That morning she'd remembered reading once that a cats purr could help it heal. She didn't know if that was true or not, but the music started playing in her head almost immediately. Since her armour was still forming in her workshop, she'd taken some supplies and tools to the living room, then let the music overtake her. That had been at about nine in the morning, an hour ago she had finished cobbling together the bastardized healing speaker and created an audio program to go with it.
Her bruises weren't miraculously disappearing, but they didn't feel as tight and breathing deeply was only painful, not agonizing.
“Maybe I should get some science books,” she said to herself. “Then I might understand what exactly I'm doing.”
She hadn't hated science when she was in school, it simply wasn't her favourite subject-. Her lack of interest had simply been due to her wanting to play and study music rather than deal with temperatures, elements and chemicals. Now she had to wonder if that was holding her back.
Her devises worked, and she could make the simpler ones from memory alone. That was better than some devisors she'd studied, who could only make one of a kind devises. She could also kind of control the music when she worked, changing some notes to make her devises differently, a little less deadly, more protective, less showy, and things like that. And if she didn't want to make something, or didn't want to make it at that moment, stopping the music wasn't too hard, just a matter of self control, like not scratching an itch. She'd read one interview by a former supervillain called Lady Havok, who said she would often make devises without any conscious control of her actions.
Not being able to control your own mind sounded terrifying. She had enough problems already, losing her mind was at least as horrifying as the thought of losing her left hand.
“Stop thinking like that,” she told herself. “Once I get settled, I can get a few science books and maybe even take an online class. If it goes well, I'll see about learning more.”
With that settled, she closed her eyes, trying to rest.
Central Village, Phoenix
Wednesday, October 30th
Forte looked at herself in the mirror. Her new armour fit nicely, even with the padded kevra undershirt it had only taken a few minutes of work to adjust it around her breasts and shoulders.
Unlike her old armour, this one connected with her legs, allowing them to share their energy supply. It would tear holes in her pants or tights, but that was a small price to pay for protection. Like her old armour, this one was made of segmented plates, allowing her to move easily. But this time they went almost all the way to her knees, and were several millimetres thicker.
Her right arm was completely covered in metal, with a razor sharp blade on the outside of her forearm. It didn't go past her wrist, allowing her to move her hand freely. It looked scary, and Forte figured anything that let her hurt her opponent more was good. Her fingers remained human-like, but thicker, ending in two inch long claws. If she could get a grip on someone she'd be able to tear them apart.
Her left arm was also completely covered with a clawed gauntlet. However she had a buckler on the forearm, which would hopefully help block some hits.
Her mask was still featureless. She'd figured out how to put protective lenses over her eyes, it wasn't much, but it was better than before. She wished she could put a filter over the nose slit, however she didn't have enough sonic metal, and she couldn't quite figure out how to have the sonic metal move it from the backpack to her face. The lenses were flat, and could flow with the metal, the filter simply couldn't do that.
Tensing her right arm, her hand began to glow, relaxing it, the glow faded. Behind her mask, she grinned. The next time she got into a fight she was going to have a nice surprise on her side. Flexing various muscles, she increased and decreased power to her limbs, now she wouldn't have to whistle in a fight, making her actions more fluid and natural.
Softly she whistled the code for her armour. It flowed off her, disappearing into a backpack that had been hidden under the armour. Taking it off, she checked her new devised batteries. There were three of them nestled in their slots. The first battery was almost empty, just like she'd expected. The liquefying and solidifying of the sonic metal was extremely energy intensive, but that was why she had the other two batteries. Now she would be able to fight or run for several minutes without running low.
Forte grinned. She would take the rest of the day to make some devises, get a good night sleep and tomorrow night she'd go visit Clumsy and Foot Long.
South Mountain, Phoenix
The bar was almost dead, even the regulars were largely avoiding the place.
Foot Long sat in the corner watching the door. What was left of the Mountain Boys, all seven of them, were either trying their best to get drunk, or were like him, waiting for the shoe to drop. Their wariness, and the rumours that they were on The Cannibal's shit list, had the locals avoiding them. He couldn't blame them, no one wanted to mess with that unstoppable killing machine.
And it wasn't like they could tell the truth, that they were worried about the newest supervillain in town. If word got around that they'd set up their supplier to get killed, no one would want anything to do with them.
So here they were, huddled together for protection, while trying to look like they weren't terrified. Six of their members had vanished. Some of them had said goodbye as they left to visit friends or family in different cities, the rest just vanished. If they were laying low, had left town, or were dead, no one knew, which only helped make everyone feel more on edge.
“I wish we coulda kept that BMW. She was fucking tight,” Tweak muttered.
“You're still moaning about that? We needed something to get her attention, it was lose the car or get turned into shit,” Foot Long replied.
“But it was the nicest car I've ever driven. She was a beauty, and now she's probably blown up or full of holes. It's sacrilegious!”
“Really Fucking bad,” Tweak explained.
Sipping his beer, Foot Long wondered if he should just go to the bathroom and keep walking. He had a nice thing going here, but being terrified of being eaten by an ogre, or getting attacked by a skinny girl who had threatened to destroy his brain was putting a pretty damn big damper on things. “Why not just steal another one?” he said, just to keep the conversation going.
“The security on them is a bitch, man. Finding the trackers, getting past the print scanner, and removing the security shut off is hard as hell,” Tweak moaned.
He barely listened as his friend complained, just nodding his head every once in a while. A few times someone in the gang would get a message and leave for a few minutes, quickly coming back with a bit more money in their pockets and a little less drugs. They weren't doing much, but they still had product to move.
Just when he was about to call it a night, the bouncer who had mostly been sitting by the door relaxing, stood up, shaking his head and motioning for someone to leave.
Then he was falling backwards, hitting the ground hard.
A girl holding what looked like a toy gun stepped around the motionless bouncer. She had black hair, but the glowing yellow hand made it clear who it was. Her eyes met his, and she whistled.
“SHIT!” he shouted, reaching for his gun.
His gang, the ones who weren't passed out, dove for cover or went for their guns as well. A few of them started shooting.
It didn't help, Forte had her armour up, and the few bullets that hit her bounced off harmlessly. The people in the bar dove for cover.
Then he saw Clumsy throw a ball.
Forte saw it as well, the lines on her legs flared as she jumped at least twenty feet straight back. A second later an ear piercing shriek erupted from the devise. Foot Long grimaced in pain as his ears rang, and a fiery needle pierced his brain. It only lasted a moment, but he was left shaking his head trying to clear it.
The people closer to the Shriek were on the ground clutching their heads, screaming in pain.
Raising his gun again, Foot Long started shooting. It didn't seem like bullets could hurt her, but it was better than nothing. The armoured supervillain sprinted forwards, her right hand glowing. She pointed it at Clumsy who was fumbling in his coat pocket for another Shriek. Her hand flared into a miniature sun.
It sounded like the end of the world.
Foot Long dropped his gun, covering his ears, trying to make the booming echoes stop. His head throbbed, bringing tears to his eyes. Looking over, Clumsy was sprawled on the floor, bleeding from his eyes, ears and nose.
“You move, you die,” Forte yelled, barely audible over the ringing in his ears.
No one moved, those capable of it wouldn't dare.
She searched Clumsy's pockets, taking her devises back, along with all the drugs and cash he was carrying, throwing them into a bag. Turning to the rest of them, she pointed the plastic gun in their general direction. “Money and drugs, now,” she said, putting her bag on the table.
They didn't argue or even try to hide anything, it all went into the bag. When they'd emptied their pocket, she looked in the bag, then at him.
“This doesn't even cover the costs of your betrayal,” she said. Pointing her gun at him, she motioned for him to come forwards. “You and I are going to have a talk. Out the back, now!”
Shaking in fear he took the lead, praying that he wasn't about to die.
Forte walked past the innocent people who had been hit by the Shriek. Hopefully someone would call paramedics, they'd probably be OK, but having a doctor look them over would probably stop them from long term hearing loss.
She didn't give a shit about Clumsy, he deserved getting hit by a sonic boom, but she hadn't wanted the bystanders hurt.
Foot Long led them through the small kitchen and out the back door. With a bit of privacy, she shoved him against the wall and dug a single claw into his side. It wouldn't leave a bad cut, but it hurt and drew just enough blood for a good show.
“How much money did you get from robbing the drug house?” she demanded.
“I don't know! A couple of thousand,” he said.
She didn't know if he was telling the truth or not, she didn't really care. A nasty, vengeful side of her was hoping he wasn't lying. “Sucks to be you then,” she said, bringing her bloody claw up to his face. “Tomorrow night, I'll phone you with a location. You'll come running with 50K in cash.”
“I don't have that kind of money.”
“I don't care,” she said. “That cut I gave you, it's full of nanites. They're already moving through your body, crawling inside your veins, getting inside your heart, digging little holes just under your skin. In twenty four hours, they'll head to your brain. Once enough of them arrive, they'll go boom. It probably won't kill you, they're very tiny after all. But they'll destroy your neurons, veins, and more. It will be like a massive stroke, even the braincells that survive will be crushed as the blood floods your skull. You'll forget how to walk. Your childhood memories will probably vanish. You'll almost certainly never talk again. You'll shit yourself because you can't use a toilet without help. You might be able to tie your shoe laces if you're really lucky, after a few years of therapy. There are so many things that could happen, I almost want to take you home, tie you up and watch it happen.”
She got in very close, her armoured cheek touching his. “Whatever it does, I know this much. You'll spend your life in the hospital, having nurses bathe you, changing your diaper, feeding you with a spoon, carrying you from your bed to your wheelchair like a helpless, little, baby. Everyone who sees you will look at you with pity, or disgust, wondering what you did, to deserve becoming a useless, wretched creature. And every minute of your life, you'll wish you had died cleanly and painlessly.”
He started sobbing incoherently.
“Get me my money, and I'll get rid of the nanites,” she said.
Turning away from him, she increased the energy to her legs and sprinted away with her money.
Late at night
Lolomi drained his coffee cup and wished he had something stronger. After the day he'd had, waking up at two in the morning even for a potentially important interrogation was not something he was looking forward to.
“What do we have so far?” he asked the detective.
“That new supervillain attacked a bar, she seemed to be focused on the Mountain Boys, a small street gang that mostly stays below the radar. She blasted the gang leader, one Howard Wilson, with something loud and powerful, then ran off with the second in command, Conner Fox,” he said. “We have four of them in custody, two were too drunk to get away, the other two practically begged us to protect them. I'm about to question the first one now, if you want to take part.”
“I would. I'll let you do most of the talking,” Lolomi said, motioning for the detective to take the lead.
“He's called Tweak, his real name is Eddie Hernandez. He's got a record of vandalism, possession, assault, and he carjacked a few cars when he was sixteen, we suspect he's stolen a lot more. We were all waiting for him to get caught doing something big, so we could send him away and let him be someone elses problem. He's with his lawyer, and they've been talking for at least twenty minutes.”
They stepped into the interrogation room, which had a skinny young man who jumped as the door opened, and a tired looking lawyer, going over his notes.
“Good evening, Detective Perez, Lolomi. I'm Mr. Romero, Eddie's attorney,” the lawyer said. “I'd like to ask why my client, who was the victim of an attack by a clearly deranged supervillain is being held and interrogated?”
“Your client,” Detective Perez said, “asked us to bring him in for his own safety. Since he's so concerned about this villain we thought he'd like to give a statement and answer some questions in a safe place.”
“A statement is acceptable, as long as it doesn't turn into an interrogation of this traumatized young man,” Mr. Romero said.
“I wouldn't dream of it.”
“And of course,” Mr. Romero said, “I'll be right here helping my client.”
Detective Perez sighed. “Of course.”
“I'm glad we have an understanding. And I hope no one is talking to the other young men who you brought in. As their legal counsel, I want a chance to speak with them before anyone asks them questions.”
“Don't worry, we are making sure everything is done by the books.”
Lolomi bit his tongue, this was going to be a long and likely pointless night.
Central Village, Phoenix
Natalie stretched out on her couch, catching up on the latest news about her, while her healing speaker purred above her. Her old bruises still ached, and despite the padding she had a few new ones from last night. The new ones were tiny, nowhere near comparable to her old bruises, but padding was still a work in progress.
The media and the police weren't keeping her attack on the Mountain Boys quiet, it wasn't everyday a supervillain marched into a bar and publicly took out a gang. They also knew that her name was Forte. Despite that she wasn't front page news, That honour went to a supervillain named Klepto, who had tried to rob a bank in downtown Phoenix only to be stopped by the Phoenix Warriors, while his crew successfully robbed a bank all the way across town during the fight.
It was a little more risky than she would do it, but she had to congratulate him on his plan, it had worked wonderfully.
Now if only she knew where to get some minions.
Maybe she should ask Foot Long about that when they met up.
Her thoughts went back to the previous night. No one had died, although Clumsy was apparently in serious condition at the hospital, so there was no blood on her hands. Still she had thought she would feel a little guilty over what she had done. She'd gone after them for revenge, they couldn't hurt her, they didn't even know where she lived. She'd hunted them down and made them know some of the fear she had felt.
Did that make her a monster?
A criminal and supervillain lived by their reputation. If she was seen as weak or incompetent, she would be eaten alive. Still no one really knew her yet. No one could have connected her to the Mountain Boys. Did she really need to go after them?
There was always the but.
But once she did become better known, word might get out how they had screwed her over, setting her up to die at the hands of The Cannibal. Even though she was just starting out, that could hurt her. Now people knew she was serious. She had publicly walked through a hail of bullets and taken down seven armed men. If people thought about betraying her, they'd have some serious second thoughts.
“So,” she asked the room, “am I a monster?”
She still hadn't personally hurt anyone who was innocent. The bouncer had just been put to sleep, and Clumsy had thrown the Shriek. She hadn't been expecting that, and had almost fallen victim to it. That would have been embarrassing at best, and most likely deadly. So the only person she had injured was Clumsy, and that had been self defense. Actually now that she thought about it, if he had thrown the second devise, the people already hurt would have been even worse off. She had practically been the hero there, taking weapons away from people who were clearly too incompetent and untrustworthy to use them.
“I'm not good, and I'll never claim to be, but I'm not a monster. I'm just doing what I have to to survive, just like everyone else,” she said.
“Now,” she said, looking at her right hand, “let’s go try that new idea, so I won't have to wear a glove all the time. It's probably getting a bit too suspicious with all the pictures they have of Forte.”