By Spinning Demon (Topman) and Gauntlet (Shadowman)
"Where did you learn how to do that?" I asked.
Needle Gal pushed the last one into Gravity Man's right wrist and moved on to his left arm. "Mostly practiced on myself," she said as she pulled another needle from her hair like a seamstress and began lining it up in place along Gravity's outstretched arm. "It took a long time before I figured out where the right pressure points were. Luckily 15 years is a lot of time to practice."
"Well it's a hell of a skill," I remarked. "You should use it more often."
"It's not like the bad guys usually stand still long enough for me to try," she said with a laugh. "Besides, it doesn't always work. We got lucky that a lot of the old Robot Master infrastructure is the same across all models. If General Cutman had done a full strip-down of these guys instead of just playing Frankenstein with them, I'd have had no idea where to aim."
From where I stood, I could see the full view of her work. Suspended from the ceiling and the floor by an overkill of metal bindings, Gravity Man hung spread-eagle, still unconscious. From each limb, and up and down his torso and spine, nearly a hundred needles stuck out in various points, which Needle explained cut off the currents of energy to his various systems and reflexes. A single larger needle jutted from the side of his neck, a temporary stopcap that had incapacitated him long enough for us to bring him here.
The cell was completely barren other than the three of us. A single one-way mirror was the only thing that broke the perpetuity of the grey walls. Nothing that Gravity could use even if he had his powers, but Needle assured us that he wouldn't be able to sneeze, let alone throw us across the room.
"Done," she sighed as she pushed a last needle through. "Now all that's left is to wake him back up. Ready?"
I tensed. I didn't really want to be around in case Needle Gal had done her job wrong. But at least he couldn't throw me around if things got heated. I nodded, and she removed the larger needle from his neck. His eyes flittered open, and he looked out at his reflection groggily before snapping back to focus at the sight of his bound, needle-ridden body.
"What did you do to me?" he hissed. I got the sense that he wasn't just talking about his looks, and that he'd already tried to use his powers and failed.
"It's a good look for you," I joked.
"Laugh, runt. It's a sign of greatness that such measures had to be taken to keep me contained."
"Someone has an ego!"
"Why were you at emerGEnesis?" Needle wasted no time in asking.
"Why should I tell you anything?"
She flexed her hands and removed another needle from her hair. "Just because you can't move doesn't mean I can't make you feel pain. I know all the right spots to make you squeal."
Gravity laughed. "Pain is like an opiate to me, little girl. I relish in it."
Needle ignored him. "Were you looking for the virus? KADE?"
"It's an elegant thing, isn't it? KADE? Just rips them apart. Humans are so easy to wreck."
"Why did you go to emerGEnesis? Do you have some kind of information linking them to the virus? Did you go to steal it?"
Gravity Man leered at her. "I'm going to tell you, but don't hold any delusions that it's because you intimidate me. I imagine what might happen if you don't know, and what might happen if you do know, and that second one is funnier to me."
"If we know what?" I asked.
"We have no interest in KADE. There are far more... intimate ways of disposing of humans. We were only there because someone told us that you'd all be there. And I couldn't pass up a good tussle."
"You were tipped off that we'd be there? Who told you that?"
Gravity breathed in, closed his eyes and smiled. Almost as if he was relaxing at the beach. "Who indeed?"
We tried for a few more minutes to get him to talk, but he wouldn't budge. If only we'd caught Gyro Man he might have been easier to intimidate, but when the dust had settled he'd been long gone. He probably hadn't minded leaving Gravity behind after the psycho had used him as living artillery.
None of this felt like a victory. Needle and I headed back to RPD Headquarters in silence, but if she was anything like me, she was thinking the same thing. The fight was 2 versus 8 and we'd barely scratched out a win. Gravity was treating his incarceration like a well-deserved break. If what he said was true, that someone tipped the Ascendant Androids off about us staking out emerGEnesis, then we had a serious security leak. All in all, I was stuck wondering how things could get much worse.
I know, I know. I was asking for it.
When we trudged our way into the briefing room, Shadow pressed his hand on my shoulder and forcibly shoved me into a seat. "Sit down, and keep your mouth shut," he said. I'd never seen him so pissed off. Everyone at the table was shrunk back into their seats... well, everyone but Ha'Khael, who looked practically gleeful.
"What the HELL were you thinking?!" Shadow continued shouting at Snake; I guess that he'd already been at this for a few minutes. His words were raspy, strained, but they still packed a punch. Snake looked like he'd just come off a slab in the morgue, not the repair lab. "Did I tell you to hold on emerGEnesis until I went through the proper channels? Or did I tell you to trespass, so that you could not only get us all in serious trouble but almost get yourself scrapped?!"
"We didn't know the Androids would be there," Snake said.
"Oh, so that's why you disobeyed a DIRECT order from me? Because you didn't know you'd get your ass kicked in the process?"
"What's wrong with you, Snake? You don't usually pull crap like this. I used to think I could rely on you, but lately..."
I don't know if I felt guilty for convincing Snake to go behind Shadow's back, or if I was just getting sick and tired of how our leader had been treating everyone lately, but I decided to cut in. "It wasn't Snake's fault. It was my idea to-"
Big mistake. In a single move Shadow drew his katana from its sheath and slashed it against the table where my arms were resting. A warning shot.
"Top, you really don't want to piss me off any more than you already have. You're just one fuck-up after another, you know that? You can't sit still, you left Ha'Khael unguarded-"
"Oh, I didn't mind," Ha'Khael said sweetly.
"Shut up, Ha'Khael. And I got a report that you almost BEAT a woman to death?!"
"She attacked us, Shadow. Hu Man was a threat. I was just trying to keep the peace."
"Keep the PEACE?! For fuck's sake, Top, you nearly killed her! Maybe she called herself 'Hu Man' but she's not a robot master, she's a young woman. She has a family. She has a name. Esmeralda Ocana. And she's in a coma now, thanks to you."
My face was flush with indignance. He was talking about her like she was completely innocent, but he wasn't even there to see what happened.
"And you, Hard, weren't you supposed to be watching him to prevent exactly this kind of thing? Or were you too busy pursuing this death wish you seem to have? Should I just get them to decommission you, save us all some trouble? That's what you want, isn't it?"
"Woah!" Needle Gal sprang up from her chair. She looked to Hard, but he wasn't meeting her eyes, or anyone else's. "Shadow, that's out of line."
Shadow sighed. "You're right, Needle. Hard's not the issue. Top is the loose cannon. And we can't keep cleaning up his messes with everything else that's going on. It's time to face facts, Top, you're completely out of control!"
"You keep SAYING that! But whenever I say we should go after Mesmerman, you-"
He banged the hilt of his katana on the table. "God DAMN it, Top, enough! You're not in any position to question-"
"I'm in the perfect position! I want him OUT OF MY HEAD! Why is it that you won't even lift a finger to look for him, after all the damage he's causing?!"
Ha'Khael chuckled. All our heads turned to him.
"What the hell's so funny?" I asked.
"You mean you don't get it, squire?"
"Stop calling me that," I snapped.
"I guess I gave you more credit than you're due. Isn't it obvious? He doesn't think it's Mesmerman," Ha'Khael said.
"Shut up, Ha'Khael," Shadow growled.
"I'd wager he never did," he smirked. "He simply led you to believe he did. It's pretty ingenious, I suppose. If you're being mind controlled, what better way to throw the assailant off-track than by tricking you into thinking you're investigating a false lead?"
"He's lying," Shadow said through gritted teeth.
"I can't," Ha'Khael huffed. "Tell me, squire, don't you find it rather convenient that as soon as you started losing control, your leader decided to consult a mystic on the case who just so happens to be an expert on possession? And doesn't it strike you as odd that you've been assigned to escort me time after time despite how dangerous I'm rumoured to be?"
"I'm done warning you, Ha'Khael," Shadow threatened, but Ha'Khael was enjoying this too much. And for once I actually wanted to hear what he had to say.
"The truth is he doesn't know what's wrong with you," Ha'Khael sneered. "He's as clueless as the rest of you."
"That's ENOUGH," Shadow boomed, and in a single move his katana was at the demon's pale throat. He stilled his hand before too late, but a single streak of red ran the edge of the blade and dripped onto Ha'Khael's stark white robes.
"Oh my," Ha'Khael pulled back, touching his hand to his neck and looking at the small splotch of blood that wet his fingers. "And you all think I'm the dangerous one?"
"Top," Shadow growled, "don't LISTEN to him, don't TRUST him, I've told you that before. Just go to your quarters-"
"Yeeessss," Ha'Khael mocked. "You really should listen to him, squire, and go-"
"STOP CALLING ME THAT!" I turned on Ha'Khael. "I'm not somebody's squire, I'm not some errand boy who-"
"Aren't you?" Ha'Khael asked. His voice wasn't light and airy anymore, it was forceful. Menacing. "Shadow Man, the RPD, the simpering humans who surround your life, whom don't you serve?"
"Shut up!" My rage was building, I was skating in circles in place. Maybe Shadow outranked me, but I didn't have to take trash from some retired demon. I was tired of seeing his smug face leering at all of us, provoking us with every word that came out of his mouth. "You don't know anything about me!"
"I know that you're weak! I know that you're useless. You're obsolete."
He held up his hands, and the tips of his fingers glowed with tiny points of magical light. I recognized those lights. They were cruel, painful, mocking. I felt compelled to snuff them out. I veered out of the circle I was still skating and vaulted onto the table. With a single devastating kick, and a satisfying crunch, his body crumpled, and the lights faded from his fingers.
"What'n the holy hell, Top?!"
"Top, hon, what... what have you done?"
"Oh, you STUPID son of a..." That last one came with a swift strike from Shadow's katana, which I narrowly avoided.
"What the hell?" I screamed at Shadow. "I just saved your lives! He was casting a spell! He was gonna-"
"He was healing himself!" Gemini said. Even he looked dismayed. I don't see why, he couldn't stand Ha'Khael.
"No, he... those lights, it was some kind of attack, he was going to-"
But I couldn't finish my sentence. I had to tumble under the table and slide to the other side to avoid a stream of Shadow Blades I was lucky to dodge.
"You're done, Top, you're finished. I don't care what's wrong with you anymore, you're a danger to everyone around you. We can find the problem once you're offline just as easily. You can submit to a diagnostic, or you can get a sword through your chest, but either way we are shutting you down."
"No way!" I yelped. "Half the time one of the team goes offline they come back reprogrammed or with a kill code in them!" But I didn't have time to argue my point further. Another barrage of Shadow Blades came at me and this time I couldn't dodge. I spun to deflect them, then leapt mid-spin when the ninja emerged from my shadow behind me to try to sweep my feet with his blade. I landed still riding the tail end of the spin, using my trailing leg to steer myself toward the door and then pushing off, using what little momentum I had left to speed myself out of there.
Was nobody else stepping in to stop this insanity? Apparently not. I stole a glance as I turned a corner into the first corridor out, and I could tell Shadow was already issuing orders to search me out since they wouldn't be able to catch me on foot. Spark was knelt over Ha'Khael's corpse, Magnet was loading his pistols, Snake was sending his Search Snakes out to establish choke points in major areas of the city... they acted together so quickly, so uniformly, I actually wondered for a second why I wasn't in there with them. Until I remembered that it was me they were hunting.
A voice came through my communicator, articulate with fury. ["You'd better hope you can outrun us,"] Shadow menaced, ["because when I find you, I will end you."]