“Syv, I’m bored.” Mech said.
Bullets ripped the trees in front of us in half with only a fraction of them actually hitting Mech’s shields below me. He was – or at least, had been – the Warhammer from the Glass Cannons and, despite the team name, he was far from glass.
“This Johnny was built wrong and his bullets aren’t doing anything.”
I chewed absently on a SlyEye chili dog while sitting cross legged on Mech’s flat head. I caressed the cold metal beneath me as I searched the dark ruins around us.
The hunting Johnny was camped out in the third floor of a crumbling apartment complex, the gold flashes I’d glimpsed through my scope marking him as the Big Johnny Four of the Sunbros. I hadn’t seen the Sylvia the Devs had sent after us yet though.
“Four’s gotten comfortable. He’s sitting on a chair. The other Deadringer is trying to flank us.” I said.
“We won’t win if we turtle Syv, all I know how to do is attack.”
I took another bite of the hotdog, peeling back the self heating wrapper and tossing it behind me. I chewed and took another look through my sniper scope. I sighed and slid the half eaten SlyEye into the bag on my hip.
“Go ahead Mech. Go get him,” I said and slid off of my boyfriend’s back.
“I’m gonna take you to pound town.” Warhammer yelled, his electronic voice cracking as he charged towards the bullet-spewing clone.
I stood and watched as the sunlight that filtered through the treetops sparkled against his smoky crystal armour. His hulking form smashed through both underbrush and rusted machinery as he pushed against the concrete building.
“It’s time for them Gripplegraps!”
I unwrapped the SlyEye to the sound of my Mech slamming the Sunbro noob into sludge. I smiled around the footlong and swept the area for more gold clad hunters.
We’d met during a match, my Greenskins vs. his Glass Cannons. I’d watched Mech from across the field, watched the way that he took down Crawler and Clone alike with a joy that was barely seen in those of us born for Superchamp. I’d dropped on him and left a note scribbled on a wrapper on his shield before he killed me.
We exchanged letters after that. Every time our teams fought, we’d pin them to the crawlers marching down each other’s lanes all game. Every night that one of us stayed in the other’s city’s away apartments, we’d flash lights at each other across the dark.
Then I was recalled for retirement and Warhammer said we should run.
“Woo! That attack sure fell flat.” Mech said.
He wiped the blood and dust off of his shields. Not far away from him was what was left of the Four. I trotted over to the gooey paste of clone and kicked the pieces around, looking for anything salvageable.
Hammer grabbed me from behind in a hug and I felt the heat from his exhaust fall over me. I leaned into him and kissed his hand.
“Good job, Mech. I’d kiss you if you still had a face.”
“Naw. You can still kiss me, and I’ll take you to pound town later.”
I turned and kissed between the camera’s that had become his eyes. He slid his colossal hands down my hips and rests them there. I giggled and leaned on his arm, letting him support me.
“We should move. The other one is still out there.” I said.
“I’ve got you Greeny, no one is hurting my girl.”
He cupped my crotch, lifting me up off the ground and pressing into the bulge hidden there. I moaned against him. And—
I was staring at the inside of a respawn vat. The green text in front of my eyes scrolled too fast for me to see. I punched the inside of the vat, frustration venting out my fist as pain. The front slid open and I tumbled out.
“Are you okay Sylvia?”
I scrambled to my feet, the feeling of newly cloned flesh making me shiver.
“What?” I said.
“I said, ‘are you okay?’ You usually don’t fall when they open that shit.”
A Four stood in front of me, his armour gold and black. He held out his hand, ready to grab me if I fell again. I shrank away from him back toward the open creche.
“What happened to Mech?”
I ran under his arm and away from the respawn vats. I heard him behind me, throwing the name Sylvia at me like grenades. I stepped down hard, my foot hit air, and I fell head first into a crafty table, food and drink flying everywhere.
I landed on the floor, my nose pressed against the toe of a leather cowboy boot.
“Yeehaw. That was a magnificent dodge by Deadringer Sylvia of the Sunbros. That landing gets a ten out of ten.” Jack Flack, the Superchamp announcer, said.
I picked myself off of Jack’s shoe and stood again. Jack stood in front of me, a coffee cup in one hand and a carafe of cream in the other. He stared at me as the remains of his coffee dripped down his vest.
“Sorry sir. I’m not feeling well.” I said to him and pushed past him.
“Don’t forget to buy a Battle Bright Taco™ and an 80 ounce Pistol Punch™ on your way out.” he yelled after me.
I ran through a hall made of curtains and searched the dark depths of swinging cloth as I passed, the sounds of footsteps behind me.
“Mech? Are you there?” I yelled.
Light fell ahead of me and I raced toward it.
“WELCOME BACK DEADRINGER SYLVIA!” The light said.
I shielded my face with my hand. Hundreds of seats hid behind the stage lights, each one filled with cardboard cutouts of the Superchamp clones clapping. Speakers filled the stage with the sounds of a crowd going bonkers, whistling and hooting.
“Y’all got dealt a bad hand in that round but don’t fret. The crowd’s with y’all still and the runners are still runnin’, so we’ll get’ch’all out there in a jiffy.” Flack’s voice boomed above the noise of the nonexistent crowd.
“WELCOME BACK BIG JOHNNY FOUR!”
I I looked back toward the curtain where Sunbro Four stood waving. He glanced at me through half closed eyes and raised his eyebrow. I flipped off the cardboard cut outs and stormed off the stage.
Two people in gray uniforms were picking up the spilled crafty. I kicked a stray Greenskin Gourmet Doughnut into the mess of curtains to my right. Fuck these people. They wouldn’t let me leave, so they can deal with smell of rotting anchovies and goat cheese.
“Sylvia. What in the hell is going on? Why didn’t you wait for me to get back?” The golden Four said from behind me.
“I don’t call myself that.” I said.
“What? Is this about D? I know you still miss her, I do too, but this shit isn’t going to help.”
“Fuck you.” I slammed my fist into the wall. I snatched a wrapped SlyEye out of the pile of spilled food and pulled the heating tab.
“You’re eating those now? Shit Sylvia, you have to stop this. You told me you got the SlyEye EyeBuy.”
The foil turned a bright blue and I tore the top off of the footlong chili dog. I bit the tip off and chewed it, my breath coming out of my nose in harsh bursts. I swallowed and went in for another bite when I noticed my gloves, the black, gold pattern on them.
“Fuck me. How do I get out of this nightmare.”
One of the attendants stopped picking up food to point toward a door marked ‘Exit’.
“Thanks.” I said through a mouth full of meat, beans, and cheese.
The ready room beyond the door was filled with guns, food, and anything you might need to hunt down someone dangerous. I grabbed a pack from the rack and started stuffing it with as much as I could.
“Are you going to talk to me? Or am I just going to have to keep following you around and shit?”
I looked at Four, pausing my packing for a moment to really look at him. His eyes were deep in his skull, the black rings around them made him look like a racoon. He swept his gloved hands through his grey hair, sticking it up with sweat as the ran through. I sighed and zipped up the bag.
“She’s gone. She’s not coming back. I have to find Mech.” I swung the pack onto my back and grabbed a sniper rifle with an Acog sight.
“Okay.” He said and got ready.
The ruins around Stygere were filled with the sounds of mutant animals going about their business. I ran ahead of the Sunbro Four towards the last place that I’d been with Mech. It wasn’t hard to find, the trail of ruined bushes and trampled rubble left by Mech’s huge feet kept me on track.
“Look, I know how you feel. I miss her too, Sylvia. I’ve been hinting that you can talk to me for over a year.”
I could hear the buzzing of the drone following us. They’d be watching our every move, the crowds paying by the minute for the privilege. The Four continued talking the entire trip, no matter how much I ignored him.
“I lay awake at night. Okay? I know you and D had a thing but you weren’t the only one with feelings for her.”
I slid into cover at the edge of the clearing where Mech had smashed Four’s previous body to paste. It was quiet, the animals in the area still shying away after all the action from earlier. One of the giant trees ringing the clearing had been felled since I’d been here, the trunk in splinters and another mangled body resting in the branches.
“Will you please talk to me? Please, Sylvia!” Four said, standing next to me.
“She’s dead, Four. Forget about her. Move on.” I said, the words erupting from my mouth before I knew what was going on.
He looked at me and his eyes darkened farther. He bared his teeth, about to say something but before he could the forest behind him blurred red, disgorging a figure in red cloak holding a double-bladed scythe in her left hand.
“Hey Big Guy.” She said.
“What?” Four turned, his eyes wide in their sunken sockets.
She cut him in half, the blood splattering across the ferns and trees around us. He held out his hand as both halves fell to the ground in a heap of gore and flesh.
“No.” He whispered and laid still.
The sound of the drone had gone, replaced by the sound of trees swaying in the wind. I dropped my gun and held my hands, palms up.
“Hold it. I’m not here to fight. I just want to get back to my Warhammer .”
With a swipe, she cleaned the blood off of her blades. She leaned against the trunk of a clean tree and popped the tab of a can slung on her belt. She took a deep swig, the carbonated, yellow drink flowing down her jaw to sink into the cloth of her cloak.
“Hey Sylvia. Long time no see.”
“Stop fucking calling me that.” I screamed, “My name is Syv. It’s Syv. Not Sylvia. Not Deadringer. Not even Sylv.”
I started ripping off the gold and black armour, throwing the pieces into the pile of dead clone in front of me. The woman in red took a step back, her hand going to the scythe again.
“I’m not this Sunbro slut. I’m a damn Greenskin. I hate the colour gold. I hate their snobby ass attitude. I hate the way that they make it to the Superchamp stadium every year. I just want to go meet my boyfriend and live in the woods.”
I slung the bag onto the ground next to me and ripped off my chest piece. I stood in front of her, naked and painting, my skin chilling in the shaded forest.
The forest shimmered beside the woman and revealed a Lady Death clone in a patchwork blue, black, and gold suit. The Lady Death’s visor was cracked and partially missing, the woman’s black-almond eye looking through the hole. She held a golf club in one hand and a grenade in the other.
“Is everything okay D?” The new woman asked.
“I have no fucking idea, Blue. You take care of the drone?”
“Yeah, they never saw me coming.” Blue grinned.
“This is a clusterfuck.” D handed her scythe to her partner and unbuttoned her cloak.” We’re going to have to deal with this one, and our other new friends, before we can even think about going back home.”
She let the cloth fall from her shoulders with a shrug and let it pool in the crook of her left arm. The skin of what used to be her right shoulder was red and mottled, a deep scar ran through where her arm used to be. She took the can from her belt and drank.
“Well, get what you’re bringing Not Sylvia. We’re going to go join the others.” She said, exasperated.
For a beat I continued standing there shivering and stared at D, then grabbed the bag off the ground. I slid the sniper into the holster on the pack and then slid it back on my back. I left the armour in the pit of dead Four.
I followed the two through the thick underbrush. They were walking hand in hand, silently looking at the forest around them as animal sounds started coming back. I pulled one of the many foil wrapped packages out of my bag as we walked.
Vines spread open around the entryway to a half collapsed building, trees crowding the door with plastic wrapped cartons sprouting from their trunks. I pulled the cooking tab on my lunch as the two women moved through the crowded doorway, the smell of chilly and melting cheese wafting from the package.
“We’re coming in.” D called to the abandoned factory.
“‘Bout time. Y’all are late and I’m gettin’ grouchy. Ain’t that right y’all, Mama Harry’s gettin’ right ornery.”
Across the floor of rotted machinery sat four people; a woman with steel gray eyes and a pistol the size of my arm in her hand, a haggard older man with a shaved head and an arm missing, and the hunched figure of Mech with me in his arms.
“Fuck.” I and … the other I… said in unison.
There was a bloodstained bandage covering the eye of the me in Mech’s arms. She was stripped of armour and was wrapped in a white sheet.
“I should have seen this coming. The moment I saw those two alive.” I said, motioning to the two Lady Death clones now joining the group sitting on the loading bay. “The Devs are bad at this.”
“What’s going on?” Mech asked.
I tossed the Slyeye at my counterpart. She caught it and ripped open the package.
“We found her with Johnny following her, though I had to take him out. I feel a bit bad about that, we might have been able to use him.”
I sat and put my hands in my head. This was either a nightmare or bullshit, and neither were what I wanted. I was in a body that wasn’t my own with augments I didn’t deserve and a ghost of myself in Mech’s arms.
“Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.” I whispered.
I felt a soft hand on my back and looked up to find my own face staring back at me. She put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Mech was behind her, supporting her with one hand.
“So?” I said.
“Are you okay, at least?”
She tugged on Mech’s hand and looked at him. He lifted her onto the flat platform on his head and then slid his fingers around my waist to do the same. His cold touch made me shiver but the warmth of being back in my boyfriend’s arms kept the chill away.
“The Sunbro Sylvia shot me. I lost my eye but it went through. Four says I’m lucky.”
“Don’t tire her out, she’s got the last of our bingo in her.” The bald man said.
“Anyway. Mech killed her. D and Blue found us. We came here.”
Other-Syv held out half of her hotdog to me and smiled. I took it and chewed, the sour taste of my self pity replaced by meat and cheese.
“You should have seen me, Syv. My gripplegraps were so good.”
I stroked my boyfriend’s head and smiled with my other. We ate together and Mech held us.
“All runners, you have two minutes before I come in there and kill you all.”
The forest outside the factory was dark, the air thick with the chill of night. The group had gone to sleep not long before with D watching over us all.
“Just go away, Johnny. We don’t have to fight.” D yelled back.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and stepped out from the shelter of Mech’s arms, where Syv and I were sleeping.
“She killed her, D, The Greenskin Lobi completely erased her.” Four’s voice sounded hoarse next to the sharp cold of the night.
Syv poked her head out of Mech’s embrace and the big cyborg’s eyes lit up. I put my finger to my lips and went to my pack. I checked my sniper’s breach and loaded it.
D was wired, I could hear the Energy Aid in the way her response wobbled from her mouth. “I know, Big Guy. I’m sorry, but we have wounded inside. Please.”
I hoisted myself onto the rusted catwalk that D sat on. She was looking out into the darkness outside, her scythe in her hand. I tapped the wall next to her to let her know I was there and then slid beside her.
“Can you see him?” I asked.
“No. It’s too dark and I don’t have a faceplate anymore.”
I flicked the Acog night vision on and steadied my rifle on the window ledge. I looked through the scope and gasped.
The forest was filled with crawlers. Hundreds of them stood, silent and waiting, just outside the carton trees. In front of them all, on top of the biggest crawler I’d ever seen, was Sunbro Four.
“We are fucked. Get everyone ready.”
“Thirty seconds and I’m coming in.”
Explosions ripped through the waiting crawlers and lit up The Taint. My night vision peaked and shut off before I was blinded. I blinked the tears out of my eye and switched my rifle to the other side.
D jumped from the window and out to the chaos below and then started chewing through bots with her scythe. Behind me I heard the stomping of Warhammer’s feet as he charged into the fray. I struggled to keep the fighting in focus as the fire burned and the bullets flew.
I began shooting. The bots were so close together, and so many, that each shot ripped through two or three. I saw the shimmer of Blue’s cloak float in front of me and then an explosion.
“I got a hunger and only mooks can suffice.” Mech warbled.
He charged through a group, bullets pouring into him from Four’s chaingun. This time his shield started buckling.
“Away. Hahaha.” he said and started running backward, shields up.
Syv crawled beside me, her own sniper in one hand and the pants from her armour in the other. She had wrapped the sheet around her waist, leaving her chest bare.
“I thought your dangly bits might be cold.”
She handed me the armour and I quickly slid it on.
Below us we could hear Mama Harry’s pistol booming, each shot shaking the catwalk. Syv and I smiled at each other as the sounds of the battle continued.