It was getting dark. The black clouds on the horizon were roiling with thunder. Birds squawked and lightning flashed.
Sixteen goblin ears collected and placed in a backpack, Tesla Squad headed back toward home the way they’d come when Modok moved.
“Ugh,” the not-a-corpse said, and rolled over. Four guns trained on the half-troll on the ground. “Modok head hurt,” he said.
“I see that rumours of your death were greatly exaggerated,” David said, shotgun pointed down at the thing lying in a puddle of its own blood.
“And that you’re not petrified,” Jarred noted.
“Huh,” David said. “Didn’t notice that before.”
“Modok half-troll,” Modok said. “Modok regenerate but not turn to stone.”
“If you can regenerate, you can walk,” Jarred said, and prodded Modok with the end of his gun. “Up.” The half-troll grudgingly obeyed, rising so that a caking layer of greenish-black blood fell off him in little flakes.
“Walk.” Jarred indicated which way. Modok walked. Tesla Squad followed him, guns at the ready. Rachel followed them all, silently, although Sarah watched the group’s six.
“So are you guys army?” Rachel asked.
“Nah,” David replied. “Para-military. We’re armed and dangerous but not included under the jurisdiction of the army. Whatever good that does us.”
“Oh,” Rachel said. “I thought ‘cause of the guns and things…”
“Ah. But notice that we’re not wearing army colours?”
Rachel had noticed that their attire was casual. They all sported jeans; Jess had sown-on prints on hers, and a brown vest; Jarred wore a black pair of jeans and a black shirt, David the same but he’d found a shirt with a band printed on it; and Sarah had a white singlet under a short black leather jacket. They didn’t look like they were in the army. But she had to ask.
“Now that you mention it, yeah,” she said.
“Ergo, therefore, consequently… not army.”
“But you guys are deadly,” Rachel said.
“Kinda our job,” David replied.
“So where are you from?”
“Didn’t the bag give it away?” Rachel replied. “I’m a Sanctum girl myself. You?”
“Penrith, originally,” David said. “That’s down in New South Wales. We’re kinda from all over.”
“I’m from Melbourne,” Sarah said.
“I’m from up north,” Jess added.
“I’m the only one from here, originally,” said Jarred. “This is my city, in a way.”
“I left my home just the other day,” Rachel said. “It’s—”
Jarred held up a fist. For her sake he whispered “Quiet!” as he pulled up in the middle of the street, scanning around. Then, around the corner lumbered a big, hulking ogre wielding a ‘No Standing’ signpost as a club. The ogre roared in challenge.
“COVER!” Jarred shouted. There were ample cars to get behind, so the team dashed for the nearest ones, pulling Rachel and Modok with them.
Down the street roared the ogre, all muscle, warts and spiky teeth. The thing was twice the size of a man. Rachel had to resist the urge to look over the car, which was okay, because the urge to curl up into a ball and hide was stronger.
Then the bullets began flying.
Jarred used his own gun, while David and Jessica used the ones they took off Modok. Bullets tore through the air to the sound of thunder. Rachel covered her ears with her hands.
The ogre roared; the barrage continued. Still the ogre advanced; she could hear its heavy footsteps pounding against the road as it ran. A massive roar and a car went sailing, to crash into the wide of an office building with a massive crash of metal and glass. Rachel meanwhile just pressed her hands over her ears and pleaded for whatever was Out There to make it stop.
Rachel heard a massive whack and then saw a rock hit Jessica in the head, knocking her over. Sarah, next to her, turned as she saw this happen. She knelt down beside her teammate and pressed her hands to the gaping wound, all blood and… oh god, that was bone! Rachel almost vomited.
She barely noticed the wound glowing blue. Mostly, she just saw the blood on Sarah’s hands.
Jarred leaped up onto the car he was behind.
“Hey! Beautiful! Eat lightning!” he shouted. There was a flash and a loud sizzling sound as lightning—honest-to-god lightning—sprang from his hands. It must have hit, because the next second the ogre wailed in pain.
Then Rachel felt it. Her power. It responded to the lightning. It sent a tingle of power down her body, through her veins. Every hair stood up on end. Sparks jumped from her fingertips and she just about jumped herself.
Jarred jumped down off the car and took cover again.
“Shit, I’m out of juice,” he said.
All the while David and Jessica emptied their guns at the monster, but seemingly to no avail.
Jarred saw Rachel’s hands, and the sparks sailing from them out of her control.
“If you’ve got what I think you’ve got,” he said, before sending another volley of bullets at the ogre, “then we need your help!”
Rachel looked at him. She felt the power building inside her.
She couldn’t hold it in any more. Rachel stood up—almost face to face with the ogre, only a car’s distance away now—and thrust her hands forward. She let the power off the leash.
A pair of lightning bolts arced from her hands, almost knocking her over as they whipped at the ogre. One went wide. The other hit the ogre square in the chest. The ogre was thrown backwards with a burnt smell to it.
Everything went still then. Nobody fired their weapon. Nothing moved. Everyone was breathing heavy. Except Rachel. She could barely breathe.
“Hey,” Jarred said to her. “Deep, slow breaths. Like this.” He demonstrated. She followed his advice, and the buzz and blur she realised she was experiencing lessened and finally died down.
She ran over to the nearest garden and threw up. Jarred came over and rubbed her back, but she’d already heaved everything up.
“Twice in one day,” he said. “You’re gonna need to eat.”
Her stomach rumbled like the thunder building on the horizon.
Jarred keyed in the password to open the gate, and waved to the guards overlooking the courtyard from the first floor, turret guns pointed out the windows. It was a seemingly random arrangement, all the guns sticking out some of the windows, but apparently there was order to the chaos. In someone’s mind, anyway.
“What’s that big one on the roof called?” Rachel asked.
“That’s a modified .50 calibre M2 machinegun,” Jarred said. “Fires big fucking rounds that puts big fucking holes in just about anything air-born. We call her Karen.”
“Oh, so you name your weapons,” Rachel said.
“Just the mounted ones. It’s so we can tell them apart. You know, instead of saying ‘the one on the roof’ or ‘the working one next to the broken one’.”
The group walked through the foyer to the lifts. Jarred pressed the up button and turned to Rachel.
“So, remember what I said about no freeloading? We’re going to give you a sort of job interview to get to know you and figure out what you’re good at. Everyone here is good at something—we make sure they are. You want to fit in here, you find something you’re good at and you do it. Got it?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “Got it.”
“Good.” The lift came and the six walked in—Modok prompted with Jess’ gun barrel—and Jarred pressed the button for the top floor. There was no muzak. Jarred tapped his fingers against his gun while he waited. David hummed. Jess whistled. Sarah, Modok and Rachel remained quiet.
The doors opened with a ping and deposited the group in a large waiting room decorated in mahogany. The receptionist looked up from her work and stood.
“Hi. How can I help you?” she asked.
“Fresh blood,” Jarred said, pointing with his thumb to Rachel. “Xavier in?”
“Mr Brock’s out at the moment, took Misters King and Skye with him. They’ll be back in an hour. Do you want to wait?”
“Nah. So would the meeting room be open?”
“Let me see… yes, there’s currently nobody scheduled to be there. It’s all yours if you want it.”
Jarred led the way and the group followed him into an office with lovely views of other offices. This one had the glass replaced and it looked clean and tidy, compared to the other office buildings around Neo-Brisbane. A large oak meeting table with a black strip and a hologram projector in the centre dominated the room. A bookcase dominated the right hand wall, while a kitchenette took up half of the left side.
Jess went to the bookshelf and started pulling books out, tilting them on their edges.
“What are you doing?” Sarah asked.
“Someone this rich and they don’t have a secret room behind a bookcase isn’t using their money right,” Jess replied. “If they’re not capable of spending their money properly, I’ll gladly show them how it’s done.”
“I doubt there’s a secret room in there,” Jarred said.
“Have you seen the blueprints for the building?” David asked.
“No...” Jarred said.
“Then how do you know there isn’t one?” Jess said.
“Sit down and read Rachel’s mind.”
“You’re reading my mind?!” Rachel asked. “Okay, what am I thinking right now?” She thought really hard about the colour pink.
“That’s easy: pink,” Jess said. Rachel’s eyes almost popped out of her head, they went so wide. “I can read everything you’re thinking. But, for the benefit of all the non-psychics in the room, I won’t tell everyone your deepest, most embarrassing secrets. Yet.”
“Thanks,” Rachel said, sourly.
“Right, let’s get this thing on the road,” Jarred said, and took a seat on the side opposite the bookcases. He gestured for Rachel to take the chair facing the door, at the foot of the table, which she did. David, Jessica, Sarah and Modok took their own seats.
“Right,” Jarred said. “So, what can you do for us?”
“How do you mean?” Rachel asked.
“What are you good at?”
“Oh. Well, I’m a trained singer.”
“Nice,” David said. “Got any favourite songs?”
“Um… I grew up with my dad’s rock and roll,” Rachel said.
“Oh, you are going to fit in just fine here,” David said.
“Grew up with,” Rachel said. “Didn’t say it was my kind of music.”
“ARGH!” David said, voice raised. “Flip table!”
Modok moved to actually flip the table, but Jarred stopped him just in time with an arm. “Woah! No flipping this baby!” He ran his hand over the surface. “This is pure mahogany.”
“Modok can flip it,” Modok said.
“But Modok not going to, because it’s an expensive table, and I don’t want to have to replace it,” Jarred said.
Modok looked sad.
“Cheer up, big guy. Help yourself to some tea or coffee.”
Modok stood and went to the kitchenette where he made some tea.
“Now, where were we?”
“Rachel’s skills,” Sarah said.
“Because we need people with skills,” David said.
“Mad skills,” Jess added.
“So, Rachel,” Jarred said. “What can you do?”
“In the Sanctum,” she started, “I was good at inventory.”
“Well, we do have inventory,” Jarred said. “We could put you there. You would be utterly forgotten about, though.”
“That’s okay,” Rachel said. “I want to be forgotten.”
Jarred raised an eyebrow. “How come?”
Rachel took in a breath. There was no point hiding it—Jess could read her mind, and was probably doing so already. So she’d tell them. Truthfully. She let out the stored breath and spoke the words she’d been running from.
“Because I killed my mother.”
Modok slurped his tea.
“You killed your mother,” Jarred said. After a suitable pause he added, “You don’t seem like the killing type.
“Would it help if I said it was an accident?”
“A little,” Jarred replied. “Only a little.”
The room’s quiet was interrupted only by Modok’s tea-drinking.
“I didn’t mean to kill her,” Rachel said. “I just got into an argument with her, things got heated, I shouted...” She fell silent.
“Go on,” Jarred prompted.
“It was the eyes, they stayed open after... after I pushed her into the glass coffee table. With my voice. I shouted so loud it knocked her over, and her fall broke the table... put seven glass shards into her back...” Rachel looked on the verge of crying. “She died before the medics got there. And her eyes stayed open.” The tears really did trickled down her face then. Jess, not the most empathetic of people, reached behind her for a tissue box there and handed it to Rachel.
“My mum’s dead and it’s my fault!” She’d started hyperventilating. Jarred let her take all the time she needed. “If I’d just calmed down... if I’d just listened to her...”
“What were you arguing about?” Rachel looked up at Jess, the speaker. “What was so important that you killed her over it?”
“Hey,” Jarred said.
“What? I wanna know.”
“My drinking the night before,” Rachel said. “I was underage at the time. The Sanctum enforces the legal age pretty strictly, at least the one I was in. I found her bottle of wine. Drank all of it. Can’t even remember why I needed it, must have been a bad day...”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Jarred said. “You don’t need to continue. You don’t need to analyse your actions, and you don’t need to drag up the past any further.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said, her tears having lost their strength.
“You can stay in our basement for a while. It’s not much, but it’s out of the way and you’ll be basically forgotten, if that’s what you want. We’ll show you around the place, I’ll talk to our chef and see if I can get him to give you some free grub. He doesn’t like that, but he can shove it. I’ll see what else I can get you.” Jarred paused to consider. “Food, water, bed. First week’s free. Then you’ll have to earn your way if you want to stay.”
Modok grinned. “Electric man make rhyme-rhyme!”
“Not the time,” Jarred said to him. Modok pouted, but then snickered. “Well, that about covers it.”
Rachel and Modok were put in the basement diagonally opposite one another, in amongst large wooden crates of long-life food, cubic bottles of water, and all manner of things Rachel didn’t get a good look at until she was settled in. The two couldn’t really see one another with the boxes and so forth in the way. It was a maze down here, everything put wherever it would fit, organised by dimensions rather than any other way.
“We don’t know what to do with you,” Jarred told Modok. “I guess we don’t need to keep you, not really. If you wanna go, you can. If you wanna stay, it’ll be down in the basement with Rachel. Guards and cameras are for her sake.” He pointed his thumb in that direction. “Do anything to her and we’ll kill you. Other than that, do what you like. S’long as you don’t harm anyone, though. Got it?”
Modok nodded. If that meant yes coming from him, that was fine. If not… well that was what the guard was for. Jarred turned to the lifts and pressed the button. He looked over his shoulder to see Modok fall back onto his basic bed, the springs squeaking under his weight.