“You’re going to have to explain this to me again,” Diane said, not feeling particularly enthused with the current plan.
“Look, it’s pretty simple,” Beck said. “Talbot dislikes you, and Ed likes you. This isn’t rocket science.”
“We’re not counselors, we’re cops,” she chided.
“We’re cops trying to make things easier on ourselves. Ed is flirtatious.” Di gave him a glare that probably would have killed lesser men. “Ed’s perverted,” Beck quickly amended. “But he’s never done anything too extreme. He likes you, he’ll do what you say, even if it is on the slim chance.”
“No chance,” Diane snapped..
“Even though he has no chance, he likes to dream. Talbot on the other hand finds you somewhat abrasive.” Diane chuckled but didn’t deny the accusation. “Right, in either case breaking his nose wasn’t the best way to ingratiate yourself to him,” Beck said dryly.
“He deserved it. The man doesn’t know how to hold his liquor.”
“All the more reason for you to stick with the one who does like you. I can talk to Talbot, get him to get some other people involved. If you go, it all goes to hell and off track. Least with me it’s a polite conversation.”
“And for me it’s what? Oh, it’s not sexual harassment if he’s cute about it?” she said, narrowing her gaze at Beck.
The man held up a hand in scout like fashion. “I do swear, if Beck obtains any injuries that I as county sheriff will look the other way.”
“Deal,” she said immediately.
“That is reasonable injuries mind you, broken limbs void the deal.”
“Even if he’s asking for it?”
“Even if he’s asking for it,” the elder officer said sternly. Diane pouted but mulled it over for a few seconds.
“Can I taze him?” she asked hopefully.
“Look, I know you’re looking for a gift from me before you leave, but damn it, it will not involve Ed.”
“I guess that’s something,” she said with a roll of her eyes, then turned unexpectedly toward the back seat.
Beck raised a brow and a hint of a smiled graced his lips. “Case isn’t effecting you any is it?”
She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t sarcastic, she wasn’t really anything aside from embarrassed. Diane stared into the back seat as if expecting something. When called on it she could only blush.
“That thought we’re being watched hasn’t gone away.”
“Paranoia’s one thing when we’re out in spook country, but we’re approaching home. That shit’s just crazy here.”
Crossing the border to Merlin should have put her at ease but really it just put her further on edge. Something was wrong but she couldn’t focus in on what.
“You’re all rubbing off on me,” she admitted turning back even as she felt a chill run up her spine.
There was observant and then there was odd. Elliot had placed himself furthest away from the officers at the base of the windows, but when something interesting came up he couldn’t help but lean forward naturally. As he crept closer though the reaction was already immediate from the officer he had come to know as Diane.
Once or twice it might have been a coincidence, but Elliot wasn’t one for that. Throughout the investigative process she had been feeling uncomfortable, not Ed uncomfortable, granted, but still uneasy. She often looked back, and more so, often looked to the exact spot he was before he retreated into the shadows. It was enough to make a man paranoid.
They approached this ‘Talbot’s Bar.’ Apparently he was connected to the facility. Elliot certainly had more questions about this but he naturally didn’t want to attract the attention of the giants in front of him, so he kept his silence.
“I’ll see if he’s inside,” the officer said as he lurched out of his seat after putting the car in park.
“It’s not his shift, so he’s inside,” Di said snidely.
“That would be the simple way of looking at things, yes.” He opened his door and climbed out, while Di got out to take the driver’s side.
Elliot couldn’t hear them outside of the car so he took the time to weigh his options. The male officer, Beck, was going inside to meet someone from the facility. He might be the best person to reveal himself to,or the worst. They were kept in that prison for a reason and given everything Mutatio had said was 100% right, then the people in the facility were not looking out for Archimedes’ best interests.
That left riding it out with the female officer. Mutatio was nowhere to be found at the car wreck, so if he was continuing this plan it meant he had to hitch a ride somewhere else. This Ed apparently was on the scene before the cops. Mutatio likely hitched a ride with him. That idea was certainly the best bet and it was Elliot’s only lead. If he wasn’t there, and there were no signs of him there, he would have to take the long trek back home to the facility.
He stopped that thought there.. Best to think positive. He’d be engaging Mutatio and likely a giant or two in a life or death struggle in no time!
“Alright, I’ll pick up Talbot and hopefully he isn’t three sheets to the wind. You check on Ed and hopefully this mess is done within the next hour,” Beck said.
“Why? You got some place you need to get to?” Di asked. Beck was a married man, but after a couple decades of marriage the idea of him taking his wife anywhere was laughable.
“Reservations at ‘The Old Owl.’ Something about a going away party or some such.”
Di smirked and punched him gently on the arm. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Figured you deserved one last taste of civilization before you go, but business before pleasure.”
“If Ed’s inside can I just head to ‘The Old Owl’?”
“Don’t jinx me with that shit, if Talbot isn’t piss drunk it’ll be a minor miracle in and of itself.”
Di laughed again before heading back to the squad car. “Tell him if he cooperates he can come with us.”
“I’d rather not have to take out a loan to pay for the tab just the same.”
“You’re sure that’s accurate?” Part of Mutatio would have preferred to drive on through the night to their destination, but not only was that impractical, it also would deny one last opportunity to gain fresh allies.
He was no fool, this task wouldn’t be done within the day. They needed supplies going forward and a clear itinerary. Once this began there would be no room for surprises.
There was also the matter that he expected either Gold or Dynamo to arrive before the dolt could load his truck with all the essentials. Heroes tended to be quite inconvenient that way.
No matter, they likely had the data now, all the information he had seen and set him on his righteous path oh so long ago. If they could not be swayed then then there would be no helping it. At least then the doctor will have had a satisfactory answer.
The more he thought about his actions the more he hated his tactics. What’s done was done, but every minute gave him new ideas of what he could have done better in hindsight. His sense of urgency had forced his hand, but if he had chanced another week he could have gathered far more evidence and made a more convincing case. No, regrets could come later. Right now he could only deal with what was in front of him.
For all his failures he had gained one unexpected resource at the very least, even if she was only aiding him for her own survival.
“The locations are accurate, I can’t tell you specifics. You’d get just as much from any newscast.” Lindsey spoke slowly, her head hurt, she was tired, and she was depressed. She was alive though. If nothing else Mutatio could recognize a survivor when he saw one, and at the moment her only way to make it out of this intact was through him.
However, she was about as trustworthy as a rabid dog and was as equally as disposable.
Her knowledge was limited, her insights basic, and he was well aware that she was giving him the bare minimum and nothing more. Her value was simply the anomaly of her survival, otherwise he might have killed her before she had had the chance to wake up.
Lindsey represented something he had failed to take account of, and so long as the curiosity drove him, and she resisted the urge to stab him in the back, it was worth keeping her around.
“Good, the dolt will finish loading the car with provisions and then we’ll be off. If you want to sleep, now would be the time.”
It’s amazing the things people did when they thought they were alone. Officer Di, for example, fashioned herself out to be a singer.
Elliot didn’t recognize the music, but he could tell he didn’t like it. Some upbeat teenager was going about how hard life was and that love was great while singing very, very badly. Officer Di however, managed to outdo the artist in terms of tortured vocals. He was sorely tempted to forget stealth and secrecy and simply blast the radio out of existence.
Of course the funny thing about that was he could hardly move without her breaking off from singing. The fact that she was driving was the only thing keeping the woman from looking back. No one should be that aware, or that paranoid, especially with everything he had seen in this town so far.
It was a bit more than a suburb, and something less of a big city. It was certainly more developed than what little information the Archimedes archive had to say about the subject. It was full of small tourist shops, restaurants, and disturbingly, several places baring the name Archimedes. That said, there was nothing unsavory about it. There didn’t seem to be a slums, or anything to suggest a high crime rate. More so, given the conversations he listened in on, it didn’t sound like she was all that troubled about the state of the town after she was gone. All in all nothing that would warrant the, albeit justified, paranoia she was displaying.
It was just another mystery on Elliot’s plate, one that would have to languish at the bottom of the pile.
Eventually the car began to slow down. “Ugh I don’t want to be doing this.” the woman muttered. She rested her head on the steering wheel and Elliot felt some degree of amused pity from her. Still he braced himself. He had hoped he could have worked his way to the front seat by now but her unnatural awareness had kept him pinned. He’d have to make the move quickly once she left if he wanted to get out unnoticed.
The car came to a stop as the officer set it in park. She went to rub her face, clearly not enamored with what came next, and with a major huff opened the car door and set about making her way to the entrance of the shop..
Elliot set to work immediately. There was a mesh of steel separating the front and the back seats. With the armor’s strength he was able to tear through it like it was aluminum, but just as carefully, reset it so no one would be the wiser without close inspection.
He watched the officer head toward the entrance, giving her just enough time before following after.
Diane emerged from the car, trying to put on as professional a look as she could. She wasn’t convinced it would do a damn bit of good to stop Ed’s advances, but it was at least worth trying.
As she knocked on the door, there was an obvious clatter from the other side then silence, and no immediate answer.
She tried again but silence once again greeted her. Was he really so freaked out by that damn road?
“Ed this is Diane open up.” She didn’t need official titles with Ed. It wasn’t like there were anyone in this town who didn’t know who she was. Still though, she was met with silence.
“Ed I’m serious this is Deputy Diane open up I know you’re in there.” She added a bit of harshness to her tone. It was entirely possible that Ed was drunk off his ass and it was slowing him up, but even with that excuse he could manage a ‘just a minute’ at least. Again after the demand there was silence. She was starting to think she imagined the initial sounds.
“If you don’t answer me I’m coming in regardless.” She sure as hell didn’t have a warrant or probable cause, but he didn’t know that. She finally heard movement on the other side of the door.
“Just a second,” Ed’s muffled voice suddenly said.
Diane had a few choice words for him but bit her tongue. Drunk off his ass, no doubt about it.
She waited patiently for him to open the door, and sure enough when he did he didn’t look quite in his right mind. “Oh Di, what can I do for you?” He wasn’t slurring at least, but he didn’t seem nearly as sharp as the last time they spoke.
“Just need you to pick up the wreck. We’re done with our investigation.”
“Alright, come in.” He stepped away from the door and allowed her room to enter.
“Come in? Ed you need to come out of there and get in your truck. This isn’t us asking for your favor this is part of your job description.” Despite her anger she entered anyway, but she immediately knew it was the wrong decision. She ducked before she knew something was amiss and that was the only thing that spared her from a wrench being lodged into the side of her head.
“Ed what the hell?!” Diane yelped, but the only response from the driver was another clumsy lunge at her head. The wrench missed her by inches and clanged heavily against the wall. The recoil knocked the wrench from his hands and she took advantage immediately, forcing his wrist behind his back and slamming the old driver up against the wall. “I don’t know what the hell your problem is, but…”
It felt as if an icy hand was crawling down her spine and then locked onto the base of her neck. She jerked, expecting someone behind her, but as she turned she only found thin air. What relief this may have provided ended abruptly as Ed barreled into her and sent them both sprawling to the floor. Ed may have been old but he was built solidly and as he tried to pummel her with his ham hock hands she could only defend her face and absorb the punishment.
“Ed, damn it, ED!” He wore a glassy eyed expression at first she just thought he was piss drunk but there was a sober purpose in his eyes. She hadn’t seen anything like it. Still, she should have been able to shove the heavy bastard off of her if she weren’t fully distracted. That creepy icy grip had her by the back of her neck and it was taking up the majority of her ability to concentrate.
“Curious,” A voice barely above a whisper came from the table. She strained to see, hoping someone could pull Ed off of her. What she saw made her think that she had let one of Ed’s blows slip through.
A tiny man, a well-dressed tiny man at that, peered down at her from the edge. “I can’t get in your head, quite the day of discoveries.” He chuckled as if somewhat amused as Ed tried to cave her skull in.
“Well she’s not exactly portable so it will have to remain a mystery. Ed dear boy crack her head open and be quick about it, we still have to finish packing.” He nudged a hammer toward Ed’s grip and the man obediently reached for it. Diane fought the larger man all the while disbelieving any of this was actually happening. What occurred next hardly alleviated those thoughts.
There was a burst of light and the hammer was knocked off the desk.
“Okay Doc, admittedly I’m not the brightest sort, but I’m not sure how staging random fights between the townsfolk really helps that plan of yours.”
The well-dressed hallucination didn’t show signs of shock, merely relief. “I was worried you wouldn’t show.”
“We don’t have to end this in violence,” the new comer said, “even if that’s what I really, really want.”
“Then let’s talk it out. But first, this is a private conversation. Ed?”
She felt Ed roll off of her and Diane immediately reached for her radio to call for backup. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the small malicious figure wave his hand and a breath later it was like she had been speared by a linebacker into the concrete. She arched her back in pain and struggled to remain conscious, but it wasn’t much of a fight.
“There, no prying ears. Now please tell what you’ve learned dear boy?” With his polite tone Elliot was quite happy to oblige him. Elliot nodded, maintaining a casual posture, which was why he was disappointed when Mutatio raised his shield at the absolute last moment before Dynamo’s blast struck him.
“So close,” the hero grumbled.
“You insolent child. I gave you the proof and this is how you react!”
“I actually haven’t seen the video yet,” the so called hero sheepishly admitted.
“Are you deficient?! This isn’t some game! You can’t-” In his anger the doctor forgot to keep his eyes on Dynamo at all times. For one brief moment he blinked and that was all the time Elliot needed to make up the distance between them. Unlike the previous occasion the shield didn’t hold under the assault.
The doctor’s defense shattered in a brilliant display of pink shards. He scrambled across the ground raising his hand but found Dynamo’s palms trained on him. Blast, Mutatio thought, he had ruined the surprise of his offensive capabilities on the officer and now the brat was waiting for him.
“No this isn’t a game, no I don’t know what you have planned, no I don’t know all the sins these people have committed against Archimedes. I do know however how many people died in Archimedes this morning as a direct result of your actions. Do you care to hear it?”
There was nothing but malice in Dynamo’s voice and that line in particular stopped Mutatio cold.
“I didn’t think so,” Elliot continued. “It’s over Mutatio. Come back and explain what you’ve done, there might be leniency.” He stressed ‘might’ though they both knew that was highly unlikely. “If you can present your case, show us the evidence and justify your plan I’ll be the first one to back you.” That also seemed unlikely to both but Elliot continued as if at least obligated to try.
“You’re a man of reason, a man of high intelligence, release your hold on him and we’ll make the trip back to Archimedes together.”
Elliot saw a flicker of doubt in Mutatio’s eyes, but only a flicker. “Do it!” the doctor screamed. The burly man had kept his distance as Elliot tried to reason with the mad doctor but now boldly threw himself at the young hero. Ed didn’t care for life or limb, there was no hint of defense in his actions. Mutatio was relying on Elliot not hurting a hostage. To be afraid to fully act lest he hurt someone innocent.
A decided mistake on Mutatio’s part.
Elliot rose and avoided Ed’s clumsy swipes. It’s not to say there was no danger, should he misjudge the timing of his dodge one hit would leave him a walking bruise, another would could very well kill him. Lindsey was nothing more than a waif compared to Ed and she very nearly ended his father’s life. His father however hesitated. Elliot would not.
The moment he had a clear shot he rocketed to the underside of Ed’s head and slammed into him. He held nothing back, and silently hoped he hadn’t tore off the man’s head. He need not have worried. Despite the armor’s insane strength the blow did nothing more than knock the man on his ass. Considering how unguarded he was he was sure the cop could have done the exact same thing if she was aware. Blow to Elliot’s ego it may have been, it was the result he desired at least. Ed rolled on the ground clearly in pain and not a threat to get up immediately. So it was just him and the doctor.
“It’s over Doc you can-” Elliot cursed as it was all he could do. The doctor had decided he wouldn’t go quietly and Elliot should have known that meant he wouldn’t sit idly by and let some random giant decide his fate for him. During the skirmish he had made his way to a few fuel tanks, which in the garage there were plenty. He had cut open a few and their contents were now spilling on to the floor. Mutatio stared him down before, with a just burst of energy, he set the floor ablaze.
Elliot rocketed toward him and this time the doctor offered no defense. Elliot lifted him by the collar and roared, “The hell is wrong with you?!”
“I’m just giving you a very simple choice,” Mutatio said nonplused. “You have me and I’m not going to fight back. This can all be over, you just have to let that woman on the floor there burn to death.”
The doctor very well could have been describing the color of the sky for the emotion he put in the stakes. His smug grin told Elliot everything he needed to know. He raised his fist suddenly but the doctor laughed it off.
“Oh please, even if you didn’t need me alive you don’t have the stomach for that. Either we fly off together boy, or you best get started. I don’t think flying that poor officer to safety will be as easy as you think.”
The two locked gazes, a breath in between when the inevitable would happen. Elliot lowered his fist.
“We’ve made our choices boy. No turning back now.”
Elliot didn’t acknowledge him only threw him to the ground and flew down to the officer. He looked back to see Ed stumbling toward the doctor, bloodied nose, but under Mutatio’s thrall it didn’t seem to affect the giant. He could still stop them, all it would take is letting another innocent person die because of this mess.
That wasn’t going to happen.
Ed and the Doctor ducked out, apparently having their getaway already planned, leaving Elliot with a burning building and an unconscious body about as tall as a ten story building. No pressure, right? He flew down, not knowing the how in the world he was going to pull this off. He went to her shoulder trying to rouse her awake, figuring he still had some time before it got really bad. He forgot the simple fact that that they were in a repair shop. Typically, things like fuel were always on hand.
When the flames got to their first gas tank, Elliot honestly wished he had just killed the bastard.