I gave a grimace at my old suit and the armor plating that had re-constituted itself.
“What a piece of trash,” I said with a sad shake of my head. In some ways I envied Murphy and Nick; their Adaptations were so simple and straightforward in terms of application and enrichment. Murphy’s was all based on his physique and cellular integrity, Nick was based around consumption. Elegantly simple and straightforward, each equipped with innate knowledge and only needing simple practice to improve upon the skills imparted by…whatever made us Adapt.
Of course what I was given wouldn’t be so damn easy to work with.
“What are we gonna do with you,” I asked the vacant room and let my power flick on. It took weeks to finally figure out how to shut off my power, to cut the incessant buzz and white noise it seemed to emit. Every project I wrote down, every schematic I drew became this angry voice in my head that demanded completion.
After several days of wonderment and awe, of drawing and conceptualizing, I finally had enough and hadn’t realized the damage I had done. Even without new drawings and ideas, the old ones lingered like a weight on my psyche, the Zeigarnik effect in full swing.
For weeks I had become irritable, cursed with a perpetual migraine until I finally figured out how to make it shut up. It was oddly responsive and was easy to make a binary function; I hadn’t had the good sense to simply command the power specifically to stop functioning. While I lost some of the innate knowledge it gave me, it took the edge off the migraines and let me feel more human.
Over the following month I learned how to flick on my power in doses, limiting myself to a solitary idea, or something small enough to complete in a timely manner. It kept me from repeating my initial blunder and overtaxing myself, crippling me for weeks.
However, despite the cool schematics and all that the Adaptation injected into my brain, it didn’t exactly give me instructions. All I was given were blueprints and a rough idea about assembly and parts required. The actual finesse and figuring how to obtain the resources was all up to me.
Trickiest for me was learning to direct my gift in a manner that wouldn’t overwhelm. I could ask it for a suit that could fight Beleth, but then I wouldn’t be able to make it because its requirements would far exceed what I possessed or had the skill to create. The process was only further complicated by my inability to completely translate the information my Adaptation fed me. I understood it but had trouble retaining or sometimes interpreting the directions. Previously, I had attempted to write them down to try and get insight into my powers exact function; it was like a dyslexic person trying to be a stenographer.
Still, as the switch flicked, I tuned out the noise around me and honed in on my armor.
“Improvements needed,” I commanded my gift, “Shock absorption, additional strength, tertiary weapons.”
Answers came in a flood and I began to scribble in my notebook as fast as I could.
Easiest improvement was shock absorption, and not something I was going to build. I could still fill the requirement and make my Adaptation happy by simply buying a Kevlar lined bodysuit. Peddling a few more surveillance drones to another Reckoner team would likely let me foot the bill.
More muscle strength was dependent upon building in more magnetic actuators and beefing up my power supply. While I had managed to get a solid battery pack in my suit and made a feedback loop to let my motion help restore it, I was inevitably going to need something more potent as I increased my armors weight and output. Currently I could run my armor at peak efficiency for about two hours but my current strength amplification was only about a 250% increase.
Shock and Awe had been an eye opener for me; I wasn’t weak, but that was still leagues short in comparison to how hard Murphy could hit with an empowered punch and Awe hit substantially harder than he did when fully charged. Even his half charged stomp had cracked the breastplate. I’d need to eventually add more plating to my suit and bulk it up to endure hits from brutes like him. But that issue and the need for a better power supply would have to wait; that was more than I could chew today.
More scribbles regarding actuator placement and their wiring. From the looks of it, this would about double my kinetic output and would likely increase battery consumption by 25%. Still about ninety minutes; it’d have to do for the short term. Getting a new power supply wasn’t something I wanted to contemplate at present. And like Murphy pointed out, most fights weren’t going to last long. Our team was time dependent besides him, we either won quickly or were likely to die out slowly.
“It won’t make me as strong as Murphy, but closer,” I mused. I could only squat about my own body weight, something I would need to address. Maybe I could start exercising with Nick and get myself in better shape. “Yeah, but he’d bring around Xana, and then I’d be the awkward third wheel.”
I felt a little nagging; my power didn’t like when I was distracted since I had it turned off so often. Recentralizing my thought, I focused on weaponry. Several options began to rise for a mixture of projectile weapons or stuff more engineered for close quarters. The initial ideas I simply took and ran with, not wanting to let the floodgates open too far and impose a demand I make myself a small armory.
On my gauntlets I could route an electrical charge and allow it to be a contact taser. As long as I wasn’t up against Awe again that would work as another good non-lethal measure. The other two ideas I now had to engage with were much more anti-personnel.
The second was a sword made of individual metal squares all coated in magnetite and other alloys to make it selectively magnetic and keep from getting stuck to my armor. An electric charge could stimulate the shards and have them quickly assemble into a meter long blade. In the hilt there could be a power supply to heat up or electrically charge the blade, making it a more potent tool.
Last was a projectile based weapon, one I wasn’t sure if I was entirely comfortable with. The core concept was to build a mechanism into the arm of my suit that could reconstitute metal or another just dense enough material into makeshift bullets. Rigging a pair of hoses, I could easily engineer an air compressor and the gun would just load itself, and I’d always be able to make ammo as long as I had access to scrap metal and power to operate my suit.
“Violent, but effective,” I muttered to myself.
I wasn’t a fan of lethal measures, but on our first outing I had been quick to threaten Shock; it nagged at me that I had told Awe Eldritch would be the one to do it. Putting him on the spot like that, it wasn’t okay.
But Murphy and Nick were both right when they pointed out we were inevitably going to have times where we may need to put someone down who doesn’t want to go down. Some of the heavy hitters, I’d need what would normally be lethal measures to even make a dent. “Hell, even my compound wouldn’t necessarily be enough to stop Nick if he ran rampant again.”
Hearing about that from Murphy was distressing; if enabled, Nick was scary powerful. Part of the reason he’d never gone much larger than a tonne was because he realized how intoxicating it felt. When we had been experimenting with his gift, we’d had him grow to three tonnes and he said it felt a bit like getting high. He was controlled, but still.
If he was ever emotionally volatile, he was to be sidelined, that much was for sure.
Maybe not exercise then, but yoga and meditation?
A stab from my head as my power prompted me to get back to work. “Yes, yes, I get it,” I replied and grimaced as I penned the last detail down.
With ideas in mind, the next step to sate my contract with the Adaptation was to get to work. Rummaging through the materials I had on hand, I couldn’t help but frown. Limited supply and resource made my Adaptation tricky.
I started with the gun for my suit since that was the easiest. A small compression chamber was similar to the usual design of the genesis machinations that I integrated into all of my creations, this one was just slightly re-purposed; instead of gathering itself back up, it simply collected other material on demand. Making a small bandolier that pulled itself around my wrist, it functioned as a loading system and gave an effective 20 round clip if I came prepared. I built a small housing to contain the mechanism, knowing that my power wouldn’t be happy until I knew it worked.
Four hours gave me a functional firearm that I was admittedly nervous to test. Still, I walked out into our ‘backyard’ with one arm plate on and pointed it at the ground, giving it a shot straight into the dirt beyond our patio.
A projectile zipped out with a pneumatic hiss and burrowed deep into the ground. “Holy shit,” I muttered to myself as I reached into the ground and fished out the metal shrapnel; it hadn’t held together upon impact which did make me question its efficacy against armor.
Still, for now, one less thing I had to contemplate.
Next easiest to address was the suit.
Message boards existed to talk about Adapted, that was common knowledge. However, there were places you could go to talk with fellow Adapted. Other technology related Cognates or Peculiars had made chat rooms specific for Adapted that they had a way to check.
I wasn’t sure how, but no one had been picked up by Suppression or the Snatchers so I was willing to trust them.
Among Adapted, we all looked out for one another when it came to those assholes. Even members of cartels and criminal syndicates didn’t give up Reckoners to Snatchers or Suppression. Adapted only had two things that were sacred: autonomy and identity. No matter how bitter the rivalry, you didn’t breach that contract.
Looking on, I found one of my standard contacts in Manda, a city about 200km away. Her Reckoner alias was Armor Smith and like me, she was a cognate that seemed rooted in tinkering, though hers was based more around metal work and refinement rather than machine construction. Her Adaptation allowed her to produce materials that seemed to defy physics and other limitations but she was fairly narrow in her production.
Unlike me, she was very central on armor of some capacity. Technically, she could imbue material for other purposes, but it seemed to lose a lot of its potency.
I sat down at my computer and shot her a message:
Me: Hey, smithy, you there?
There a short delay before the site informed me she was typing a reply.
A.smith: Hey! Those drones you sent us are working out great! Ragdoll has been kicking ass with them paving the way.
Me: Good! So, I need a favor, I need a Kevlar suit. Something to slide under my armor. lightweight…and maybe supped up?
A.smith: Too much abuse?
Me: Armor is holding for the most part. I’m not.
A.smith: Gotcha. I saw your fight with Shock and Awe, does look like you guys took a beating.
Me: Yeah, it was…a bit of a wake up call.
A.smith: Everyone has those. How soon did you need it?
Me: Today if possible.
A.smith: I’d have to bug Transport. It’d cost you.
Me: I’d give you a trio of fresh drones. One has infrared vision.
There was a pause and I could practically feel her mulling it over.
This was one of my private struggles that the rest of my team didn’t know about. Nick was too focused on getting his power ship-shape and controlled. Murphy’s ‘parasite’ seemed to work entirely off his body which meant the guy worked out constantly to increase his base physical attributes.
Neither of them needed additional resources to be productive. Even the little bit of stuff they needed, I made it all.
My power had necessitated I start figuring out how to network to get resources and outside expertise with my construction. The group in Manda, Flagbearers, had proven an invaluable resource. Comprised of Armorsmith, Ragdoll, Transport, Mr. Magnificent, and Soliloquy, they were a fairly popular group who functioned very differently than we did which had been eye opening to me to realize how different teams could be.
Flagbearers operated like a support group for Ragdoll. From what I heard, he had the ability to selectively adjust the mass in his body without any outward changes. So he’d make his hands weigh nearly 50 kilograms right before he hit someone; he’d also fling himself around in the strangest and most drunken looking display of acrobatics ever, but I couldn’t argue with his results. Mr. Magnificent seemed to upgrade people and primarily seemed to remove limitations for Ragdoll, increasing his speed and strength dramatically. To top it off, Armorsmith decked him out in the best protection that could be made.
Murphy had taken some of his inspiration for the way he moved from the somewhat drunken and unpredictable stylings of Ragdoll, even he insisted otherwise.
Transport and Soliloquy played support roles in a more indirect manner. Transport was able to teleport inanimate objects and would help arrange the battlefield so Ragdoll could get around more readily as well as make it a more treacherous landscape for the opponents. Soliloquy seemed to be an emotional manipulator that affected train of thought. Whenever he talked, you seemed drawn to him if he put power into this voice. Given a megaphone, he could make it difficult for anyone to focus except Ragdoll.
Maybe later we could start researching other Reckoner teams and see what kind of tactics people used and apply them to our own game plans. Right now we were just being a bit haphazard and charging in, relying on an overwhelming display of force to win out.
Finally, her little chat bubble lit up.
A.smith: We can do it. Can you make a drone that conveys audio?
Me: For Soliloquy?
A.smith: It certainly isn’t for me.
Me: Should be pretty easy.
A.smith: Transport will start prepping. Have a place in mind?
Me: Same place you mailed stuff to. Just look up a satellite image. Does he want to move the drones?
A.smith: No, that’ll be too much for him. Even moving this suit is going to basically knock him out. 200 kilometers is a long ways to blink something.
Me: Tell Transport he’s a gentleman and a scholar.
A.smith: Don’t do that, he might want to hit on you and he’s a god awful flirt.
Me: Noted. I’ll mail these drones out to you tonight if I can.
A.smith: Thank! You’ll get your suit in about 5 minutes.
Me: You’re a lifesaver.
A.smith: Power being a pain again?
Me: A bit. I have to do more with it, so gonna head off.
A.smith: Good luck!
Like another load of weight being taken off me, I felt my mental strain reduce as another problem was solved.
The sword was a bit trickier as I had to begin dismantling part of a spacecraft I had managed to recover. Industrial junkyards didn’t seem to care about much of their material and didn’t notice when a few broken chunks of spaceship exterior went missing after a failed launch attempt. Tso’got wasn’t exactly the best with reusing metals and other materials since their biggest industrial venture was metalwork.
Proper recycling would make things more streamlined and screw up the status quo for the tycoons who ran everything. Instead their ‘recycling’ was a haphazard operation that was maybe 40% efficient if that. For once though, I wasn’t going to complain.
It meant there was plenty of titanium carbide for me to recover.
While difficult to dismantle, it was fairly easy to bind onto small slivers of serpentine compounds that were lined with magnetite. I started working on the sword at noon and didn’t realize how fast time went by as I kept slowly dismantling the ship fragment and rebuilt it around the new blade.
My stomach grumbled and I finally checked the clock: I’d been working for the last seven hours with no interruption.
“Mom and dad should have been home an hour ago from work.” Since they weren’t though, it left an easy conclusion.
They were out with the gang again. My parents were punctual most of the time, kind of an admirable quality and one of the few positives they had gifted me. However, when Imperium was involved, it all went out the window.
Their usual winning formula was cast aside to reveal a pair of animals who hardly resembled my parents. It was like being out with other Imperium membership removed all inhibitions…that or the alcohol did. Most times when they came home late they reeked of rum. It was as if they did depressants as a protest to the Dart epidemic that the Surface Dwellers had released on the city.
I wolfed down a sandwich to placate my hunger and set back to work, knowing I would have limited time to build until my parents were home…and I didn’t want to have this tugging at my psyche all night. There was a chance my phone was laden with messages, but I didn’t check. Distractions would cost valuable time that was possibly fleeting.
The handle was almost easier to make than the dozen pieces of metal I had to plate and rig to all attach end to end when the handle was charged. All I needed was a similar serpentine/magnetite core and hope to high heaven that they resonated appropriately when I turned on the power supply.
First test, a failure. Metal just kind of slapped together in an awkward heap around the hilt.
“Take two,” I muttered, scrapping the idea of magnetically drawing a sword together. Too messy. Still, the selective magnetism could act as additional support for the metal in terms of holding it in place and weathering structural damage.
Option two was to try and get the thirteen sections of metal down to three long shards. While I could make this one assume the right shape, there wasn’t a good way to hold the metal in place when I swung or had a collision of any substance.
A trial against my armor had the sword fall into three distinct pieces.
“Maybe just wear it like a regular sword; you did take the name of an old infantry soldier,” I muttered to myself. Defeated, I opted for simplicity and set to joining the parts into a continuous piece of reinforced metal. Joining the titanium-carbide was slow going since it was incredibly heat resistant. “Because how else is it supposed to survive re-entry you idiot,” I muttered as I held a laser to the edges of two slabs. Focusing my suits laser through a narrowing lens, it produced a beam intense enough to bind the magnetite core of the blade.
Still, it took several minutes for each little point of contact between the metal.
Ten at night and I still hadn’t checked my phone. My parents still weren’t home…had something gone wrong?
Within the week we were going to be interfering with Imperium’s operation. But still, they were my parents. Was pulling the trigger on this a good thing?
“No,” I replied, “They are part of the biggest power struggle in the city. They have to be debased.”
Nearly eleven now, still no parents and I had almost put in 16 hours working on my suit. Fatigue started to threaten me as I joined the third section of blade to the whole. I jammed the blade down into the hilt and activated the revamped power supply. A sheen of electricity danced across the surface at what should be about 25000 volts.
Not only would the blade cut deep, but it’d be as effective as a taser while the battery charge held.
“I guess since it isn’t magnetically bound anymore, the weapon is still a weapon even when the power supply kicks the bucket.” My rumination was interrupted by a loud opening of the door downstairs.
At first all I heard was shouting, but then I recognized the timbre of the voices, their manner of speech.
Excitement, drunkenness, frivolity. They had an excellent night; someone else had a miserable night because of them.
“Just a few more days until they being changing their tune.”
Was that really what I wanted though? Sure, it was awful having a few gang bangers as parents, but they weren’t the worst people on the planet. They fed me, didn’t beat me, kept me clothed and sheltered, what more could I really want?
I was interrupted by a tromping of feet up the stairs. As soon as my dad made it up to the second floor, a laser sensor was tripped and projected an illusion across my workspace to look like a regular desk with papers scattered across it. My initial application of this technology had been to keep my parents from discovering I was an Adapted long before I used it to cloak Nick in his Neklim ‘suit’.
A knock at the door; mom would have burst in which meant it was dad.
“What’s up dad?”
The door opened and he swaggered in, already a bit tipsy. “It was a good night sweetie, shame you weren’t there!”
I feigned interest, “What did I miss?”
“Good old fashioned robbery! Squad of six, we stuck up a place and made out like bandits.”
It took effort to hide my disappointment; my mom I expected no less from, but I hoped my dad would wise up. Still, at least he tried to be pleasant and warm. Mom had accepted I was a failure in her eyes, he at least made an effort to include.
It made for a conflicting vibe: in many ways I found it easier to deal with my mother because we hated each other and we knew that we hated each other, but he was trying to be nice while doing something awful and it made it almost paradoxical.
Did every Adapted have a miserable home life like mine?
“Dad, you do realize you just ruined someone’s night, right?”
He rolled his eyes, “Fucking Zari punks don’t deserve to have a good night with how they treat us. Plus, it was a club, probably insured to the teeth anyways; all they are going to be out is time having to fill out some forms and deal with bureaucracy.”
He shook his head, “Victimless crime. Though, not sure why that bothers you. The Zari are aliens anyways.”
“Dad, this is their home. We’re the aliens.”
That sentence seemed to take the edge off his buzz instantly. “Listen, Lex, you don’t get it. Zari took lots of our technology and failed to make it decent. Now they treat us like second class citizens. I know your friend,” he paused, trying to recall a name.
“Xana is a good egg. But there are so many who treat us like shit. People die, people get hurt, and more often than not it is them doing the hurting. We’re just here to balance the scales.”
I shrugged, letting it go. I was never going to convince him that he was wrong, that his warped view of reality in black and white was far from the truth. “You and mom gonna drink more?”
“Of course!” he replied, boisterous. “Would our little girl care to join in the festivities?”
He sighed, clearly expecting to be snubbed. “You know, it’d mean the world to me and your mother if you’d join us.”
“Mom made it clear to me a year and a half ago I was a failure.”
Even drunk, I could tell that hit him like a brick. Still, he composed himself, “Fair. Just know, you’re still our girl. We care.”
Did they? I knew he did, but did she?
“I know dad, but it just isn’t something I can do.”
“Okay,” he conceded. He turned and closed the door behind him. While we didn’t have a backyard like Murphy, there was a little fenced off patio where my parents often drank and smoked in the early hours of the morning, annoying the neighbors. Both of them would likely try to OD on caffeine to wake up the following morning and resume working like good employees; no one would be the wiser.
If there was nothing else I could learn from them I could definitely take away tactics to be subtle about my two different lives.
Now that they were home, I dared not work anymore and retired to my bed, checking my phone for the first time all day and seeing a slough of messages from my two teammates and friends:
Nicky: Before we head out Thursday, are we doing another meet up?
Idiot: Doubt it. Don’t want to push our luck with your parents.
Nicky: Fair enough. Still feel like we should all be on the same page.
Idiot: Didn’t see our fearless leader at school. Alexis!!! Answer me!!
Nicky: She actually took a page from your book and played hookey.
Idiot: Of course on the same day that I didn’t. The juxtaposition here is real.
Nicky: Maybe she just wanted to avoid you too. You are annoying.
Idiot: I can be so much more annoying than you mortals believe.
Nicky: Alexis, help me! He’s out of control.
Nicky: It’s been like 12 hours and she hasn’t answered the phone. She must be building. Can’t wait to see your progress!
Idiot: I echo the big guy. Hope it is coming along well!
I smiled as I heard the downstairs door slide open and shut again. My room was against the back of the little town house which made it obnoxiously easy to hear everything they said, especially when they were drinking and being loudmouths.
“Of course she’d sit this out, Tom, that girl is a mistake.”
“Mary, she just isn’t cut out for it, let it go. Ever since that night, we’ve known she doesn’t have the balls for it.”
I heard my mother sigh, “Such a waste. Could have done lots of good shit for us; instead she’s just a complacent little bitch. Girl will never accomplish anything like that.”
“Mary, let it go. We had a good night! We have a little extra scratch to bet on the dogs.”
I almost fell onto the floor after hearing that: they had told me that they had a work function that night, they had to make appearances elsewhere and would miss the dog fight.
My first instinct was to call off our mission, do something else to hurt Imperium and start our campaign against them…but I stopped myself.
“They made their choices,” I reminded myself. “You told Eldritch and Parasite what we’re doing and when; you owe it to them to be as good as your word. Own what you are,” I insisted aloud. A steadying breath in, a relaxing breath out, the process repeated a few times.
“I am a Reckoner, I help those who can’t help themselves.” Quietly I repeated my little mantra in defiance of my parents drunken yammerings. It took work to keep calm, stifle my urge to curl into a ball and cry.
I’d had issues with panic attacks, fortunately Xana had showed me how to mentally center myself when I felt them creeping up, though at times like this it was still challenging. Come to think of it, it was what really helped us bond and grow closer together…despite my initial mistrust of the girl.
Maybe it was because she was a Zari and my parents being members of Imperium had more influence than I wanted to admit, or maybe because I was skeptical of anyone dating my friend, but initially I threw all the shade her way.
Instead she turned out to be…damnably perfect.
“Come on, Alexis,” I muttered to myself, “Focus.”
Taking down the cloaking, I took another look at my suit and the updated arsenal I had given it. My Adaptation seemed to help me give it a once-over and subsided, the demands I had given it to fill all met.
I gave a sigh of relief; sleep would be easy. Sixteen hours of work had left me exhausted now that I let myself relax.
With the illusion replaced, I laid down and sent a reply to my friends:
Alexis: Updates all made to the project. I think you’ll like it.
I set my alarm for school tomorrow morning and felt my eyes start to close, fatigue hitting me like a ton of bricks.
Just a few days until everything started to change. Just a few days until I could prove to my mother exactly how wrong she was about me.
I wasn’t a worthless girl who would accomplish nothing.
I was the girl who was going to tear her whole world apart.