About an hour later, the gang had reconvened at the warehouse, awaiting their after-action review. The Association had been monitoring the entire affair through satellite and local CCTV cameras, so a preliminary report could be expected fairly soon. Full debriefings would generally take place later, if the situation demanded it.
The warehouse roof was slid part way open from the middle so that they could get a signal inside through the faraday cage, a sometimes inconvenient leftover from the previous occupants. Nick was perched on a crossbeam in the warehouse rafters when they received the unfortunate news.
“Six out of ten?! How in the hell did we rate six out of ten?!”
“Ugh, keep it down Cooper,”said Sabrina, nursing her forehead with an icepack. “My head is still killing me.”
Nick groaned in annoyance as he skimmed through the actual text on his bracer’s display. ...Debatably excessive uses of force,
it said. Abandoning teammates... ...Willful and accidental damage to civilian and private organization property.
Nick had to reread that last bit several times with context to make sure it meant what he thought it did. Yup. They were deducting points for interfering with the Knights.
To be fair, the Knights were authorized to operate here. Specist ****s that they were, they were still specist ****s with a government paramilitary contract in this area. Some old sympathetic military contacts of Louis Cannon's had pulled strings to make the arrangements. So long as the Knights played by the rules, everyone else had to play nice as well. Not an ideal setup, if you weren't human.
He could still argue self-defense, Nick figured. It was perfectly valid. The thought of how close that Knight had come to impaling him still gave him chills. Hence, why he was perched up on this I-beam about thirty feet up off the ground. The height gave a certain sense of security. Distance from the arguing below helped too.
A loud smash echoed off the walls, giving the gryphon a start. Looking down, he saw Cooper’s beer bottle shattered on the ground near his workbench, lying in a puddle of about half of its original contents.
“Oh, come on,” Nick growled. He hopped off the beam and swooped down to face Cooper, hackles raised.
“Cooper!” he yelled. “You do not
throw things in here!” He waved a paw towards the towering construction he’d been laboring in earlier at the back of the warehouse. “I’m working on delicate stuff here that doesn’t
need to be smashed or soaked in beer.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Cooper. “If you put half the effort into the fight that you did on that… that whatever, then maybe we’d have a decent rating.”
This took Nick aback. He wasn’t expecting a backlash in that direction, and it stole the words from his beak. “Wha-- I… I did…”
“Then how come I was the only one fighting that big ugly, huh? Where was everyone else?”
“S-supporting you! Everything anyone did back there was to give you the best possible shot!”
“Yeah, and you did such a good job, didn’tcha?”
did fine, even though you
rushed us in there without any prep time!”
“So this is my fault now? I don't remember being the one running away with his tail between his legs!”
Nick mostly bit back a snarl, suddenly aware that his claws were scraping the smooth concrete floor.
“You wanna go?” Cooper unhooked his breastplate and tossed it aside, revealing just the black turtleneck underneath. He thumped his muscular chest twice with a fist and spread his arms wide. “You, me, right here, right now. Bring it.”
Nick winced, looking away sheepishly. He did his best to relax his paws, and his claws slid back into their concealed position.
“Knew it,” Cooper muttered. “Pussy.”
Nick stared into the distance, feeling utterly paralyzed. He didn't want to hurt Cooper. He really didn't. But Cooper was making it really hard, and had no idea what to say anymore.
“I feel I must agree with our feline companion,” said Monsieur Étranger, apparently relaxing against Nick’s workbench, arms folded across his chest. “You are quite out of line here, Monsieur Caldwell.”
“You stay out of this, bro.”
“Should I? I was under the impression that I was part of the team that you were just making accusations towards.”
“Shut up!” Sabrina called out, loudly enough for everyone to pause and look at her. She exhaled a long, shuddering breath in the following silence, pressing the ice pack against her temple. “I am going to go lay down on the couch up front, and if I hear one more word about this I swear to god I will liquefy
every brain in range. Got it? Got it? Okay.”
With that, she strode to the door leading to an outcropping of offices attached to the front of the building, opened it, and slammed it shut behind her. Nick could just make out a muffled, pained, “Owww
” from the other side immediately after.
Cooper shot a contemptuous glare at Nick. With a rude hand gesture, he turned and stalked toward the front entrance. He only made it about two steps before walking into Mr. E.’s outstretched hand, holding Cooper’s discarded breastplate.
“I believe you dropped this,” said Mr. E.
Cooper ripped it from his grasp without a word and continued out the door. Seconds later, four tires screeched their displeasure against the asphalt.
Nick continued staring into space for several minutes, just trying to comprehend how it had gone so bad so quickly. When he finally came back to the present, he was alone.
Cooper’s bottle was still lying in pieces in front of his workbench. Nick sighed, and glided across the warehouse to fetch a broom and dustpan.
As he swept up the clinking glass shards, he began humming to himself, which eventually turned into singing.
I look around here and I want to cry
I feel like the world is passing me by
And I just can't help but wonder
Will my talents ever shine?
And is it a curse I'm under
To fail every try?
The gryphon set down the broom and dustpan, and hopped up on his workbench. He continued:
I signed up to be a hero
Helping every citizen
All I’ve ever wanted in my life
Is to aid the innocent
But my future’s going nowhere at this rate of speed
There's gotta be something better
There's gotta be something better than this for me
He picked up a crescent wrench and tossed it back and forth from paw to paw, singing:
There's gotta be something better than this
I know there's so much more that I can be
And I know this life I'm living can’t be my destiny
There's gotta be something better
There's gotta be something better than this for me
Nick set down the wrench and jumped down to finish sweeping the last bit of glass, and sang:
There's something better than this out there for me...
“There is always a future in music,” came a French-accented voice, causing Nick to nearly stumble over his own paws.
The gryphon froze in embarrassment at being caught; he’d been sure
no one was there. The self-consciousness began immediately eating away at him inside. Couldn't even bring himself to make eye contact.
“Apologies, was I interrupting? I will see myself out.”
Nick waited until he heard the door open and shut, then collapsed with a groan.
<Well, it's not like you were totally quiet about it,> said Sabrina through a thoughtspeak channel.
Nick buried his face in his paws. “How do they do
that?” he mumbled.
psychic, remember? No idea what his deal is though.>
“Right.” Nick got up and paced his way over to the rack that held his bags. He pressed the button to close the warehouse roof and hit the air before it shut. The night was still young, and he needed to get away from here and blow off some steam. Undercity was just the place to do it.
* * *
“Hey Viktor, we're going out for drinks tonight, want to come with?”No, of course I wouldn't,
thought Viktor O’Dennis. I would rather drink bleach than be forced to socialize with you shallow, simple excuses for colleagues.
Out loud, however, he responded, “M-maybe later.” He attempted a friendly smile, warping his face into something nervous and slightly off-putting. “I-I-I'm closing the lab tonight, and I just wanted to look over a few last results.”
Viktor’s colleague--was it Mike? Brian? Daryl? He could never keep their names straight--nodded understandingly. “Okay, umm… Sure thing. Just don’t be a stranger, okay? Seeya.”
The other scientist, whatever his name was, left the room through the lab’s sliding glass door. Viktor let out a sigh of relief and let his clenched left fist relax around the copy of the key he was holding.
Fifteen minutes later, when he was sure everyone else had left, he bolted up from his seat and headed for the interior lab. There, the containment vault sat in the middle of a stainless-steel room, a vertical chrome cylinder surrounded by inches of bulletproof glass.
Viktor unlatched the glass case, inserted his personal key along with the copied key into the cylinder and turned both at the same time. It was quiet for a tense moment. However, Viktor was confident that the alarm would not go off. He'd done an impeccable
job temporarily shutting down the security measures. Several seconds passed, and there was a quiet whirring noise accompanied by the clicks of internal tumblers sliding open. Viktor grinned, genuinely this time, but still no less off-putting.
The cylinder split along four lengthwise seams, unsealing with a hiss. Pale mist billowed forth, pooling at the bottom of the case. Rays of the palest blue light peeked through as the four sections separated, blossoming open to reveal a gently incandescent orb on a pedestal at its center. It was powder blue, whole sections lit from within, and not much bigger than a baseball. Relatively unassuming, but oh, so powerful. If only those fools would recognize it.
No matter. Viktor recognized it, and he was going to take his creation for the test run it deserved. Maybe even make some money along the way. This access wasn’t being logged, and no one was scheduled to use it for over a week, so no one was going to miss it for a short time. Viktor had thought this through. He was
a genius, after all.
He unceremoniously snatched the orb from its resting place, stuffing it and a foot of ribbon cable that trailed from it into his coat pocket. There was a newfound sense of purpose in his stride as he closed up and hastily exited the labs. He would show them.
They would all see.
Source song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMgclhlpwb0