Soundtrack: LUST. -Kendrick Lamar
Trainwreck watched with a grim cast to his face as the group of battered and weary-looking women were marched into the bombed-out mall complex. At fixed intervals down the line, gun-toting Merchants prodded their captives onward. A woman cried out in pain – struck in the back of the legs by a young, overeager Merchant. Another Merchant smacked him over the head for this offense. Territorial.
The grizzled tinker pulled his gaze away from the ensuing brawl to survey the posse of prisoners and captors as a whole. Aside from the now-familiar infighting amongst the Merchants, there had been no major incidents on their excursion. The captive women were docile, any ideas of escape or rebellion beaten out of them.
Although he found the job distasteful at best, Trainwreck only allowed himself to feel muted sparks of concern which flared with each beating. He didn't kid himself into thinking that he was a good guy by any definition of the word. After all, he had a job, and he was too professional to drop the ball because of something as inconsequential as his own skewed conscience.
That said, he was pretty pissed off that Skids kept saddling him with the shittiest duties.
"Alright, break it up now!" Trainwreck hollered at the two men who were still intent on tearing each other apart. He lifted an unwieldy metal fist and pounded the ground for emphasis, cracking the tile floor. He heard a chorus of whimpers from the nearby women and grunted, shamefully proud at their response.
These are the only people in this godforsaken town I get any respect from, and it's 'cause I dragged them half-naked out of their homes. The other Merchant capes often found him off-putting, not because of his hefty power armor or laundry list of crimes, but due to his ugly mug of a face. This was a nice change. Well, rep is rep, even among the Merchants. Speaking of...
"We're almost back to the Markets. You don't want to be gettin' handsy with each other in front of everyone. You're Merchants. Got a rep to hold up. Capiche?"
The men in question, having broken apart already, nodded in sullen silence rather than responding. Trainwreck pointed a stubby metal finger in the direction of the Markets' entrance: a largely sealed-off wing of the sprawling mall in which they'd made their base. "Let's go. Armbands out, 'less you wanna look like pussies in front of everyone. Ladies, look lively."
There was a burst of commotion as some of the armed men began to bring out their elastic armbands, marks of their "prowess" as far as Merchants were considered. Others began to goad the women forward more roughly than before, making use of their weapons and fists.
Trainwreck reached into a compartment on the side of his hulking chassis to withdraw a cheap cellphone. His fingers were clumsy when jabbing in the numbers, but he was used to it by now. "Trainwreck here. We're on our way with the girls."
There was a slurred response on the other end of the line. Trainwreck interpreted it as, "Problems?"
"No capes and no cops," he replied. That was a white lie. The small troupe had encountered a young, musclebound parahuman with heroic intentions, but the fight had been short. They'd left the boy in a grimy alley, bloody and bruised. The incident wasn't even worth mentioning. "Things're smooth sailing for us."
Another mumble. Something to the effect of getting their asses back to the leadership's headquarters along with a handful of threats to his life and manhood. Trainwreck nodded, before realizing he should vocally confirm his response. Another grunt signified the end of the call.
Trainwreck pocketed his cellphone and heaved a sigh that wheezed out from the chambers of his tinker-tech lungs. Skidmark was getting fed up with him, he knew that; he just wasn't sure why. He'd done nothing to slight the man, he committed to each duty he was saddled with, and he'd been a pretty good employee all things considered. That might be the root of the issue – Skids didn't seem like the type of guy to value excellence. He just wanted people who were desperate, mean, and willing to prove it.
None of those three factors had beenwere in short supply after Leviathan had left his mark on the town.
"Get the fuck back in line!" a hoarse voice barked, snapping the tinker out of his thoughts. He looked to see the same troublesome Merchant strike a young woman across the face with his baseball bat. Her head snapped to the side, spraying drops of blood onto the captives nearby. She swayed away from her assaulter, long, sweaty locks hanging in a dark curtain around her face.
Trainwreck roused from his position at the head of the company. With how over-zealous some of the gangsters could get with the women, it would probably be best for him to act before this boy took it too far.
The youth continued to spew out an almost unintelligible string of profanity. "Don't get in my fuckin' way, you dumb cunt! If I fuckin' wanna hit a bitch, I hit her, and–"
Before Trainwreck could intervene, the Merchant swung his bat again, then suddenly froze in place, eyes bulging out and mouth hanging open. The girl withdrew her clenched fist from his torso, flashing two long, gleaming blades which extended from between her knuckles. Her victim fell to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut, entrails spilling from his exposed midsection.
The girl lashed out at the woman nearest to her. Two strikes of her fists – four blades hissing through the air – and the woman lay dead, bisected, on the floor of the mall.
Any hope in the captives that the sudden rebellion had sparked was brutally extinguished with her indiscriminate attack. Screams echoed through the empty hallways of the mall as the women tried to run, only to be cut down by the girl's frenzied attacks or by the gangsters' panicked gunfire. Chaos reigned outside the Merchant marketplace.
Trainwreck barreled towards the commotion on all fours. His posture was almost simian, given his broad, mechanical upper body and stocky metal legs. The loping strides quickly brought him in arm's reach of the parahuman girl.
In the brief time that it took the cyborg to close the distance, the girl had managed to cut down two more people. Flecks of gore drenched her scrawny frame. She was encircled by a myriad of severed limbs and the gouges that she had carved into the cement pillars. A stream of blood was dribbling into a gash that she'd scored along the floor. She slowed in her carnage to let out a scream of rage that sent chills up the tinker's artificially-constructed spine.
"Hey!" Trainwreck bellowed at the girl to draw her attention before she could cleave apart another woman. The massive gauntlets that served as his hands clenched in front of him, triggering a mechanism in his gut to churn out a carapace of plate armor. With the additions, it was as though he'd gained over half a foot in height. Another motion caused the spout on his back to belch out a cloud of steam for effect. "Back the fuck off, girlie."
To his surprise, the girl didn't attack him. Her head cocked to the side, and what he could see of her expression seemed more…quizzical than hostile. Not that he'd stake his own safety on the curiosity of a parahuman who'd gutted a handful of people in seconds.
In closer quarters his view of the girl was unobstructed, but what he could see of the girl was not pretty. The blades that she wielded were claws, two jutting out of both her hands from between the knuckles. They were bone-white, but glinted as light reflected off of them. Each sporadic twitch of her hands sent blood wicking off their surfaces.
The girl's face was just as menacing, with her teeth bared and eyes bloodshot. There was no sign of a bruise where the Merchant had struck her; perhaps it was just buried beneath the coat of grime and viscera that splattered her face.
"Now just calm your ass down and maybe we can see about other options for you besides the Market," Trainwreck continued, his confidence increasing with each second that the girl didn't lash out. The last thing he wanted was a fight between himself and some berserker with bystanders nearby. He tried to sound pacifying, hard as it was with those claws out. "You want to work for us? That's fine. Just put those claws away and let's talk—"
Letting out another bloodcurdling war cry, the girl slashed at Trainwreck with her left-handed claws. Instinctively, he threw up an arm to block the attack. Her wrist rebounded off of his gauntlet with a clank, but the blades still sliced into the metal plating. Trainwreck's other arm swung into her gut – not hard enough to kill a human, but enough to give them second thoughts.
The girl folded over from the blow, spitting out a glob of blood, but remained on her feet. Trainwreck's injured arm came down to swat her aside and send her reeling. The girl fell to her hands and knees, claws raking furrows in the floor as she skidded across it. Angry.
Her fighting style was wild, uncoordinated. There was no rhyme or reason, no intent behind the attacks besides causing harm. It pissed Trainwreck off.
Trainwreck's other foot swung forward to punt her out of reach, but a flash of her blades almost took his whole leg off at the knee. He swiveled around and planted that foot behind him to stabilize himself and keep the girl at arm's length. Her next strike only grazed his armor, but the scratch went long, opening a gash up the front of his torso.
Shit. She's gonna eviscerate me at this rate.
With another sweep of her arm, the girl shaved off three metal fingers from Trainwreck's outstretched hand. Now he was on the defensive, backpedaling as well as he could with only one and a half functioning legs. The damaged hand folded inwards to reveal a circular saw – a monstrous thing designed less for its cutting power and more to crush and rend flesh.
He heaved the weapon forwards and pulverized the ground between them, yet still managed to miss the girl by a mile. She was pressing her attack on his unarmed side, now, turning his remaining hand into scrap metal. Trainwreck brought his saw around to gnaw into her torso; it flayed her clothes and flesh but groaned in protest once it reached her ribcage. The blade sputtered to a stop, mangled.
In the pause that Trainwreck took to gape at the damage, the girl lopped the circular saw off at the wrist. Her next step took her too close for the tinker to throw a punch, and then she was on top of him.
There weren't many things around that could make Trainwreck really fear for his life. Nine out of ten times, he could make it out of a fight with only superficial damage to his framework, find a promising dumpster, and get to work on rebuilding. But now, with this feral girl dragging her claws through his guts, he felt his mortality with shocking clarity.
God no, not like this, he thought. A critical support gave way and caused half of his body to sag inwards. At this point, the girl was reducing the metal of his midsection to a pulp, any solid structure long since rent into scrap. He dimly heard her inarticulate war cries, but they sounded far-off. I can't die working with the Merchants…killed by some crazy bitch! Fuck, god, let me live.
Trainwreck's body, no longer under his control, staggered back and collapsed, and to his relief the girl did not pursue. She turned and leapt in the opposite direction. From his position on the ground, he could hear the thump of footsteps as she engaged another target. They wouldn't be as tough to kill as him.
Gunshots began to fire off rapidly like a string of firecrackers before being cut short, and the footfalls grew more distant. She was gone.
"Fuck," Trainwreck said aloud to the empty hallway after he had caught his breath. He tried to look down at his feet to survey the toll on his chassis, but the mechanisms in his neck were nonresponsive. "Double fuck. Motherfuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck."
A quick twist of his neck detached his head from the hunk of metal that had served as his body. He flopped around on the floor like a fish for several seconds before the crude robotic arm at the base of his neck activated, lifting him above the filthy ground. It took him a while to gather his thoughts, even with the threat of the girl long gone.
Eyes on the prize. You've got a job to do. Trainwreck's spider-like appendage skittered across the ground with his head in tow. It cost him a few seconds to detour around the inert form of his body, but he didn't want to chance the sparks of electricity and ragged metal. Byproducts of the damage that the girl had inflicted.
When he reached the hip of the fallen giant, one of his fingers opened the catch and released his cellphone. It was even harder than normal to dial. If he didn't know better, he would've blamed it on nerves.
"Mall?" A disguised voice, making it impossible to discern the speaker's age, sex, or ethnicity. It was the clipped and concise edge that revealed the nature of the speaker.
"Boardwalk," Trainwreck replied without hesitation. Failure to procure the code word would have resulted in a string of more stringent security measures. If he failed those, the assumption was that someone else was in play: a Master/Stranger, a shapeshifter, even someone who had him at gunpoint. The phone would self-destruct or bring him to some other grisly but quick demise.
"This is an emergency, then," the voice decided. Its tone brooked no disagreement. "Forwarding you to our employer."
There was a brief silence, as the tinker's unease grew. If he brought this to his boss' attention and then was wrong about the threat that the girl posed, there would be repercussions. Minor ones at first. Less generosity when he asked for materials, more troublesome goons should he request any.
But the worst part would be the horrible dread of knowing that he was on his boss' shit-list as a problematic element. His reputation was at risk.
He heard a click as if someone had taken a phone off the hook. Trainwreck interpreted that as his cue to speak. "Boss? I'm in a bit of a bind. Nothing to do with the Merchants…no, there's another cape around. A loose cannon. I think she'll be a problem."
Fuck it. This is more important.