Skitwell’s got himself in a little hot water now. Medusa and the people of Radium aren’t the only ones interested in what these Enforcer robots are going to do. Some of the press spoke with an Office of Superhuman Resources spokesman about them and raised a good question, “There are states passing laws to inspect children’s genitalia before they can participate in sports. Will your Enforcer robots be participating in this?”
“The Enforcers will adhere to Federal guidance on sexuality and gender identity. The Enforcers have no place upholding those laws,” the spokesman said.
“So now you’re picking and choosing which laws to enforce?” someone among the reporters asked.
“Scaring children doesn’t rise to the same priority as stopping murderers and catching thieves,” the OSR spokesman responded. Ooh, I wondered if that might be off the cuff. Someone might be annoyed over there.
“What about rioters burning down cities?!” someone else asked.
“Everything action of the Enforcers is recorded. That function doesn’t turn off. We at the Office of Superhuman Resources feel confident that the Enforcers are capable of identifying if anyone steps out of line of protest and anyone who attempts to illegally prevent a protest by force.”
“Are you saying your Enforcers might side with the protesters?”
The Spokesman smiled at that one. “Do you have reason to believe that stopping riots and siding with protesters is the same thing? No, what I said is that the Enforcers are programmed to enforce the law and protect people. They can’t lie and they can’t cover for anyone on any side.”
Cop unions lost their shit at the idea that. Some people said it led to even worse rioting by them that night. The part where I came in was the night after that one. Qiang and I were finishing up a dinner of fried morels when there was a ding dong at the door. My security spies showed me Marianne and Adrian outside, along with a group of people on the older side. Folks from around town that I don’t know the names of but nod to the more we see each other.
I met them at the door while Qiang ran off to go shoot people in videogames. They grow up and snipe people so fast.
“Marianne, Adrian,” I acknowledged them. “Should I be inviting y’all in?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Marianne said.
“Our kids are in trouble,” one of the group said. “We need your help.”
“All of you?” I glanced over the crowd. “Well, come on in, then.”
Here’s a story. A bunch of superheroes’ superpowered teenagers have been making their own fun. One of them has a way to teleport people and he’s been taking their clique to protests. The supers started helping out along with the Exemplars, but they feel differently about teenagers joining in.
“Larissa called,” explained one tearful mother. “She said Dean’s been shot and can’t get them back. ICE is there, but we’re not getting any word from the Exemplars. There are explosions.” Her voice had sped up while she talked.
“Bring their kids back, please,” Adrian pleaded.
Of all the things, to have heroes begging me for help instead of to spare them. Asking me to be the savior of their kids, rather than the bogeyman. I could have been smug about it, but instead I just nodded. “They have cell phones on them?”
Marianne shook her head. I smiled, “Smart of them, kinda.”
A few of the parents got their phones out and showed numbers, different ones. The husband of the woman who’d been crying kissed her cheek and held her. “She said it was a burner. Can you find them?”
I set about tracing. “I think so.
I have assets all over, hidden away, waiting. They’re robot doubles more often than proxy bodies, which have biological needs. I fired up my personal Flyer. If their teleporter’s alive, I can stabilize him and patch him up. Try to get them all back that way, if possible. If not, I’ll shepherd them somewhere safe and keep them there until our ride arrives. It’s one of the classic hero plans, the Shaun Classic: lay low in the Winchester, have a pint, and wait for this whole thing to blow over.
And speaking of blowing, there’s plenty of it in the clusterfuck. I checked the news while I got everything powered up to see what was going on. ICE Remnants are still active there. The protests got more intense and then they blew up a few buildings all in a row. Cops took that opportunity to break out lethal force and readily accepted the Icers’ help. Looks like there aren’t a lot of Exemplars left to help out.
My Empyreal City armor was encased in a fake gargoyle. The armor flexed, strained, and broke through the treated plaster. I pulled the snarling gargoyle face off the head of the Lady Guardian armor, revealing feminine grey and yellow armor. I flexed the shimmery nanomachine wings, worthless for actual flight. Instead, I latched out with them to guide myself through the raging, fiery Empyreal City night, hunting for wayward teens using their burner phone numbers.
The thing about burner phones is that you get rid of them once you’re done. The kids aren’t done. They were also across the city from me. Nothing to it but to travel over everyone, where possible, and check out the scenes below.
People are staying shut up the closer you get to the epicenter of the situation. Some emergency vehicles are speeding along. The police cordon was a mixed sign. They weren’t letting paramedics through and were trying to detain anybody who wasn’t police who came their way. Well, less “detain” and more “beat the crap out of and handcuff.” It irked me, and I don’t like being irked.
I landed in the middle of them, my wings splitting apart to reach for every baton, every gun, and every pair of cuffs around. The arrested stood up, now clearly outnumbering the cops, and made a break for it. I popped open a police van nearby and let them out, too.
“Are you crazy?!” some guy in SWAT armor yelled at me. He threw a punch. I didn’t pretend to react, just tripped his legs out from under him and launched myself into the air to climb above everything.
The kids were a few streets over. They were smart to leave their phones behind and bring cheapos they could dispose of. They weren’t so smart leaving the SD cards in instead of swapping them out and destroying them after that call. The teens were all gathered around each other, taking shelter under an awning at the entrance of a store. A few regular people were sticking around nearby for whatever protection was offered by the person with the a staff crackling with electricity. Another of them formed a pair of short dagger blades out of ice, but she couldn’t keep from shaking. No way was that group all from Radium.
I emitted a soft glow and lowered myself slowly in front of them. People gave me a wide birth. The guy with the electrical staff pointed one end of it at me. “Stay back.”
“I’m here to help,” I said. “Your parents called. Where’s Dean?”
“He’s over here!” That was from under the awning. There’d been enough people in the way to block my view, but then they parted for me. I jogged up to the unconscious boy. Chest wound. I plunged the nanomachines inside, commanding them to close the wounds, repair him, and replace the blood.
“Has he been out this whole time?” I asked.
“I gave him something for the pain,” said a girl next to him. “He’s hurting too much to get us out. You’re Lady Guardian, right? How do you know our parents?”
“It’s my town, too,” I reached out, checking on the situation. Mostly, I focused on police radio chatter. They were approaching, but not just them. They’re mentioning Icers. “We need to get moving. That way’s clear, but we need to go.” I pointed off in the direction of the opening I’d made.
The girl picked Dean up and threw him over her shoulder. The guy with the staff twirled it and started waving them all down the street. “Come on, we need to go.”
Yeah. I could take ICE and the cops, of course, but I hate escort missions because then I have to keep someone else alive. Lots of someones in this case. Teenagers, ugh. Almost as bad as herding kids. I had to stay overhead, guiding them along while watching their rear. We were too far for me to get a good look at the cops, but that didn’t stop them firing off plasma. Their existence was an affront to me. I could have wiped them out. And then what would the teens do while I was busy?
Then the ATVs came whizzing up. They had the ICE logo on them still, each one packing a driver and a gunner. They melted some building facades aiming for me, then fired blindly into the crowd to make room for themselves. I swiped with atom-thick blades and left them halved on the sidewalk. I’d say so much for my heroic reputation, but this was ICE. And then an APC of theirs rolled along, running over protesters without stopping. The nanite blade struck deep into it and pulled my robot double along after it. I ended up halfway inside the top of the APC, pulling and cutting until I’d torn its armored shell open before rolling it over onto its back and letting the driver and passenger spill out under the heavy metal. If only they hadn’t already unloaded elsewhere.
While I was busy with that, I realized the kids had made pretty good headway. I jumped back to where they were, frozen in front of a line of bright lights and men. I landed in front and spread my wings out. “They are under my protection.”
“No,” a voice said. It was Skitwell, but not in his usual suit. This time, he wore an OSR uniform and led a group of Enforcers, both the bigger kind I’d fought, and slimmer human models that spread moved past us toward the Icers and cops. “You’re all under my protection,” he declared. “Move along and go home.”
Huh. “I guess that wasn’t all talk,” I said to him as we passed by. He eyed me curiously, but smiled as the teenagers cheered both him and the awakening of Dean.
The guy with the staff folded it up to something the size of a tall can of tea, then hugged Dean. Afterward, he put his hands on the other boy’s shoulders. “Feel like you can get us out of here?”
“Yeah,” Dean nodded his head. “I don’t know what you did.”
“It was her,” said the girl who’d been tending to him, pointing to my Lady Guardian armor.
“Room for one more?” I asked. I moved in close, the nanomachines taking plenty of samples of these kids in case whatever powers they used could be copied genetically.
It was like everything around us went black, as if the world fell away. When it came back, we were standing in one of Radium’s streets where a bunch of angry and concerned parents crowded us. The kids thought they were free and clear until their parents started yelling about groundings. I think Dean got the worst of it. After his mom was done hugging him, she grabbed his ear and started screaming about never seeing the outside until he’s thirty-five.
If they expected me to save them from that bunch, fat chance. Though I guess it was nice seeing Marianne and Adrian wave at me in thanks.