Ayesha was finally growing tired. The ache in her muscles was returning, the dry feeling at the back of her throat was intensifying, and now a burning hunger was starting deep in her stomach. But she wasn’t spent yet.
‘Hey, buddy!’ she called at Luis, wishing they’d thought of code names before, ‘Can you make sure taser-gloves doesn’t start round two?’
‘Yeah,’ said Luis, ‘I can take care of it.’
Ayesha thought she detected a hint of emotion in Luis’s voice, but she didn’t think too much of it. She needed to take care of the three on the ground floor.
She moved around the edge of the pit with more grace and enthusiasm than she felt. Ayesha was exhausted, nearly spent, but she couldn’t let them know that. She saw the man who had been holding the tube struggling to reach it from where he’d been knocked to the ground. She quickly jogged to the weapon and picked it up, out of his reach.
‘Now, what the heck is this doo-hickey?’ she asked no one in particular, turning it over in her hands. Ayesha was strong, but it still seemed too heavy to make a good weapon. Her initial assessment, that it was maybe a piece of improvised scientific equipment, seemed to be close to the truth.
Ayesha looked down to the ground where it had been turned when the man was hit by the bolt. She expected to see scorch marks or maybe even a gouge taken out of the concrete. There was nothing. In fact, the ground where it had fired seemed to have been swept clean of splinters, fragments of wood, and other detritus that littered the warehouse.
Her eyes and flashlight followed the cone of swept concrete to where in met the wall. Against the wall, she saw that all the detritus had been messily thrown into a huge pile.
Ayesha scrunched her face slightly into a mock confused expression, ‘Some kind of super-sonic sweeping brush?’
‘Do what you want!’ said a high-pitched voice, ‘I won’t tell!’ Ayesha glanced at the man on the ground, shooting death glares at her. She smiled like a cat with a mouse.
Ayesha lightly tossed the weapon away from her, but not so hard or so far that it would damage anything or set it off. It hit the ground with a dull clatter, rolling a little.
‘That’s fine,’ she said, ‘I don’t really care.’ Ayesha unslung her bag and reached for something inside of it.
The man’s rage eroded quickly, exposing the fear beneath.
Ayesha pulled out a small length of plastic.
‘What’s-‘ was all the man had time to say before Ayesha moved. Faster than the man could react, she slipped behind him, brought his wrists together, and closed the zip-tie around them.
When the man realised what had happened, he began to struggle. He had the wisdom to stop when he saw what good it did.
Ayesha zipped around to the two attackers, now both without their rifles, and repeated the move with two more zip-ties. Both were relatively uninjured but too dazed to fight back.
She looked at the three bound people next to the pit, smiled again while struggling not to cough, and said ‘Don’t go anywhere, ‘kay?’ Ayesha then turned to look back into the lower level. ‘How are things looking down there?’
She had expected to see Luis keeping his robot’s weapon trained on the gloved man, but staying back from him. At worst, she thought that Luis might be trying to physically restrain him, using the robot as backup.
What she did see was so unexpected that it took a while to realise what Luis had done.
At first she couldn’t see the man. He wasn’t where she had left him. Luis’s robot was pressing close to the wall, and Luis was stood by it, as if they were both inspecting something.
Ayesha looked at where they were focused, and that’s when she saw him. Luis’s monster had raised one armoured paw up, and was pressing the man into the wall. Though his shield had protected him from the fall, he was still injured, and the way he was being pressed into the stone wall didn’t look comfortable. Ayesha could see his face in the darkness, illuminated by a blue-green light. The monster’s back was to her, but she guessed that meant he was prepared to fire a bolt at point blank range. Directly into the man’s head.
Lightly, she darted to them, and it was then that she heard Luis’s hushed voice.
‘I will fucking kill you, do you fucking hear me, shithead? I will fucking kill you if you don’t answer my fucking questions.’
Ayesha’s brows furrowed. If Ayesha had heard Luis speak like that twenty-four hours ago, it would have been all she could have done to stifle giggles. Now though, seeing him illuminated in the dim, blue-green light, his voice still trembling a little from the adrenaline, there was something much more serious in his tone. Something nasty.
And that was without considering the half-ton of weaponised machinery that he had control over.
Ayesha reached out a hand for his shoulder. As she touched him, he flinched away.
‘Don’t fucking touch me!’ he said, not looking at her.
There was a pause.
Luis seemed to realise what he had said and who he had said it to. He turned to her, but his eyes still couldn’t meet hers. ‘Just, leave me alone.’
‘You sure you don’t want to let him down, Champ? He doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.’ It was true. Ayesha had no idea how much pressure Luis’s robot was exerting, but between that and his injuries, it looked like all the man could do to manage his pain.
‘He’s gonna answer my questions!’ snapped Luis, ‘They tried to kill me!’
‘Didn’t…’ whimpered the man. Ayesha realised that he was struggling to breathe.
‘People tend to not feel too chatty when they can’t breathe in,’ said Ayesha, keeping her eyes on Luis. Luis’s eyes finally met hers. He looked away first.
‘Whatever,’ he said. The robot pulled back and the man slumped to the ground, gasping unevenly. Luis looked at the him. ‘If you do anything, I will fucking kill you.’
The man didn’t seem to be listening. Instead he was coughing into his hands. It was at that point that Ayesha realised he wasn’t wearing his gloves anymore.
She went up to the man as Luis and his robot backed up a step. Squatted down next to him.
He looked to be early middle-aged, older than the other assailants had seemed. He had a full, dark beard and balding, dark hair, and between them thick-rimmed dark glasses. Beneath the odd pieces of armour and unfamiliar technologies, he was wearing, incongruously enough, a sweater. It was the kind of garish, busy-patterned sweater that one might find at the very end of the very last aisle of a particularly ill-favoured thrift store.
‘Sorry about that,’Ayesha said, brightly, ‘It’s his first time playing bad cop.’ She considered for a moment, ‘In fact, this’ll be my first time playing good cop.’
‘Please don’t hurt me,’ gasped the man, ‘We didn’t mean to hurt you.’
‘Oh, you were just firing AKs and rayguns at us as a way to make friends,’ said Ayesha. She touched her ribs, where the numbness and pain was mercifully fading, ‘And those gloves were just to win the tickling contest afterwards.’
‘Where did you get the gloves?’ said Luis. Ayesha saw that he was holding them up. They were no longer glowing.
The man glanced at him suspiciously, ‘Where did you get that Mally?’
‘What’s a Mally?’ said Luis.
‘Are you seriously that dense?’ said the man incredulously. His anger was returning to him with each breath. It shrank back quickly, as Luis’s robot took a step closer, its mouth open and glowing. ‘Okay, okay! Sorry!’ said the man, ‘Call it off!’
Ayesha coughed, only partially to draw attention to herself. ‘Call off the Mally?’ said Ayesha, putting things together.
‘Yes!’ said the man, before he caught himself. He went tight-lipped.
Luis noticed, rage returning to his voice, ‘Answer my question: what’s a Mally?’
The man looked as if he might speak, until a high-pitched voice sounded from above.
‘Don’t tell them anything!’ it said, ‘They could be with Parma!’
Ayesha’s eyes lit up as if she’d just been given a birthday gift. ‘Oh!’ she said, delighted, ‘You’re baddies!’
The man said nothing.
‘Look, here’s the score: When you knocked both of us down a one storey drop (nice move, by the way – very slick), Captain Rube-Tube up there didn’t even hesitate to fire with that penis-extension of his. If it hadn’t been for my friend and his Mally’s shield, you would have been caught up in it. So why don’t you ditch these assholes help us out?’
The man’s expression barely changed, but she saw the doubt in the flicker of his eyes. ‘It’s non-lethal,’ he said quietly, with just a hint of uncertainty.
‘Non-lethal in skilled hands, I’ll bet,’ Ayesha conceded, ‘But can you look me in the eyes and tell me you’d trust that trigger-happy dick to keep things nice and safe?’
The man said nothing for a few seconds. His mouth moved back and forth. Then he sighed and started to speak.
‘Mallymechs, short for Malachite Mechanisms, are a type of super-tech. Nobody really knows too much about them. All we know is that they’re extremely powerful, can be bonded with human beings, and always have that same colouration.’ He flicked his head towards the robot, ‘A copper derived alloy for the chassis, and a glowing, turquoise, crystal-like substance that appears to be a derivative of…’ he paused, as if waiting for either of them to finish for him. When they didn’t, he continued, ‘Malachite. Hence, Mally.’
Ayesha was pleased to hear the professor-like tone in the man’s voice. It meant that it would be easier to keep him talking now that he’d started. Which was good, since she suspected that he may be holding something back.
‘And they’re worth a lot, right?’ she said, ‘Or why else would you be trying to steal one from my friend here?’
‘We picked up the pulse!’ said the man, angrily. At these words, Ayesha noticed Luis go rigid. She refused to turn to him though. The man with the gloves couldn’t see that his words had got to him. He continued, saying, ‘The contract just confirmed it.
‘Oh,’ said Ayesha brightly, ‘You were after the big dog too?’
For a second, it seemed like the man wanted to ask Ayesha what she meant, but instead he ignored her, still speaking to Luis. ‘We didn’t think that it had bonded with anyone, we assumed it was wild!’
‘But just in case it wasn’t,’ chimed in Luis, equally angry, ‘You thought you’d bring some guns along too.’
The man said nothing for a moment, ‘They were for the Mally. They can be violent when cornered and not bonded. We wouldn’t have hurt you.’
There was a crack and an explosion of dust. The man yelped and fell back a little. Luis’s robot had lashed forward with one forepaw, gouging a small hole in the brick wall, scant inches from the man’s head.
Ayesha saw it happen. Felt her mind shift faster in response to the movement. When she saw that Luis didn’t intend to hit the man, she ignored it.
‘You were firing at me!’ hissed Luis, ‘You were talking about taking me in for surgery!’ Ayesha couldn’t remember hearing anyone say a word with such distaste.
The man was cowering now, one arm raised, ‘You would have lived! We just wanted to get the implants out of you! And we only fired at the Mally, we thought it would be dangerous!’
Luis’s robot drew its foot out of the wall. There was a cracked imprint left behind. ‘You were right,’ he said.
‘So,’ said Ayesha cheerfully, but sharp enough to cut off what Luis was about to say, ‘You guys are, like, scavengers or something?’
The man’s eyes narrowed as he brushed the dust from his garish and increasingly threadbare sweater. He didn’t respond.
Ayesha had lost her patience. The pounding in her skull was growing with deep, bass throbs of pain, her throat felt like a desert, she was almost asleep on her feet, and she still needed to use a washroom.
‘Look, I’m getting bored of your silent act, so I’m just gonna do your voice too, ‘kay?’ The man still didn’t talk. ‘”How did you know we were scavengers?”‘ she said in a nasal mockery of the man’s voice, ‘Well, I’m glad you asked! The technology you’re using – the shield generators, the electric leaf blower, the gloves – they were all made by different people. You didn’t build them all yourself. Plus, if you’re stealing this piece of tech, then you’ve probably stolen more, right? “Wow! You’re so smart, mysterious yet distractingly attractive super-speedster! I wish I was as clever as you, then I wouldn’t have got my ass handed to me!”‘
Ayesha was going to continue, but she knew that if she spoke one more word then she would start coughing and wouldn’t be able to stop.
The man didn’t agree, but his lack of denial said to Ayesha that she had been right.
Luis seemed to have drawn the same conclusion. ‘So, if you scavenge Mallys and stuff, you know something about them, right?’
The man sighed again, ‘I don’t really know that much.’
‘But, say,’ Luis paused, collecting his thoughts. He’d lost a lot of the edge that his voice had gained these last few minutes. It started to sound more like the Luis Ayesha had known at the bar, ‘If someone wanted to find out more about the Mallys – wanted to figure out where one had come from or why they’d been connected to one…’ Luis was speaking almost to himself now, in a flow of loose words, ‘Like, the people you work with would have more information – right?’
The man scoffed, smirked slightly, and said, ‘Trust me, you kids don’t want to speak to the kind of people I work with.’
Luis seemed to barely to hear him. Instead he turned to Ayesha, his eyes bright. ‘If they know more about the Mally, then maybe they know who gave us these powers! Who made us do that stuff!’ he said, excitedly.
Something in the man’s continued silence over the last few minutes had struck Ayesha as curious. She had thought he was trying to intimidate them, or at least not give away too much information. Then she saw his expression change. It was at that point that Ayesha knew he’d been putting things together.
‘Shit,’ he said softly, ‘You’re two of those nine freaks who went apeshit at Five Points.’
Ayesha and Luis didn’t look at each other. Ayesha for once had little idea of what to say.
After a second or two, she collected herself, then smiled at him. ‘Yep,’ she said, ‘And if you tell us who you’re working for, then the worst thing to happen to you this evening will be deciding to wear that sweater.’
The man seemed not to notice the joke. He had turned pale as a corpse in the dim lights around him. ‘We’re with the Choppers, okay? But I barely work for them – just odd jobs occasionally. I know more about the tech than the rest, okay? Please don’t hurt me. I just owed Ash a favour or two, I never wanted to hurt-‘
‘You’re gang’s called the Choppers?’ she said, almost laughing through the pain in her throat, ‘Did you have to pick after the cool names had all gone? Where are the Choppers based?’
‘The Iron Triangle! It’s on-‘
‘Willets Point,’ interrupted Luis, surprising both the man and Ayesha. Luis shrugged, ‘I’ve been near there before.’
‘Great! You’ve been very helpful,’ Ayesha said, ‘But I have one more question: How were you going to get the Mally out of here?’
The man was silent more, though far more apprehensive than he had been before. His eyes flicked from Ayesha to Luis, his lips tight.
‘I know,’ said Luis. His voice was slow and hesitant, but it drew the eyes of both Ayesha and the man. Ayesha saw that Luis had picked up the two gloves that the man had dropped at some point during the combat. He was studying them, his brows furrowed, with an inscrutable expression in his dark eyes.
Suddenly, he began putting on the gloves.
‘Don’t do it, kid!’ said the man quickly, ‘They’re booby-trapped!’
‘No they’re not,’ said Luis with absolute certainty. Looking at them up close, Ayesha wasn’t sure why she’d thought of them as gloves. With their metallic, armoured look, gauntlets was a better word.
Luis seemed to have no trouble fitting them to his hands. He flexed his fingers.
‘A bold new look for you,’ said Ayesha, ‘Very stylish.’
Luis didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t seem to notice anything. He was staring at the gloves, his eyes wide and his head tilted a little, as if listening to something far away.
Ayesha looked down at the man with a questioning expression, and was surprised to see him shoot back a bewildered shrug.
Finally, after a long moment, Luis spoke. ‘Shit…’ he said softly. He finally turned to look at Ayesha. ‘These gloves,’ he said, ‘You were right – they’re the same kind of thing as the Mally.’
‘Okay,’ said Ayesha, ‘I don’t see how that will-‘
She stopped herself when Luis abruptly strode over to his huge robot without so much as a glance at her. Luis raised the gloves up to its flank, and touched it.
Instantly, the familiar blue-green light blossomed from the point of contact. Then it spread. A flowing, hologram web of glowing lines interwove across the machine’s surface. The Mally didn’t react as the lights coated it, staying still as a statue. Finally, the network was complete. The holograms glowed brighter, until Ayesha thought they would blind her in the semi-darkness. Then they vanished.
Ayesha’s eyes adjusted, showing the empty space in front of Luis’s raised hands.
When the holograms vanished, they took the machine with them.
Luis looked back at them, grinning like a child with a new magic trick.
‘Neat, huh?’ he said.