“I felt guilty, so we made a little dojo in the back yard for you to train in. For us to train in.” Damn. Jordan was still on top of him, that bewildered, hurt, and lost expression in his eyes. It hurt to look at. Colin had to get him past that. “You found a way to counter my toss. When I used it here, you used the same counter. Do you remember?”
Jordan’s mouth opened a hair wider, and one could almost perceive the shaking of his head as an involuntary twitch. No, he was… He wasn’t processing this very well. The sound of his voice should have done it alone, even if Jordan wouldn’t recognize his face. But the connections were being formed. Colin just needed something more.
“When you tried to save that broken trigger, I called you out on your lie. Do you remember what I told you?”
Jordan’s eyes were starting to get just a hair misty as he swallowed, and when his mouth opened, a small noise escaped the back of his throat before he could form words.. “That… That I should have asked if she was okay.”
He licked his lips for a moment as his brain began to catch up at last. “I… Old man?”
Finally! Colin took a deep breath, letting it out slow. They’d wasted enough time with this. He still didn’t agree with it, but at least they could move on. “Jordan. Get off. We don’t have time to be laying here. Things are happening, and we have work to–”
Jordan’s arm snapped, making his fist collide with Colin’s nose, but there wasn’t any strength behind it. Okay, he deserved that. He probably deserved a lot more than that.
Jordan, though, was already scrambling off of him, a look of horror and shock on his face. “Oh god! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I-I-I didn’t… I…”
“Shh.” Tess had moved next to Jordan, and laid a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder. “Shh, it’s alright. We have a mission that we need you for.”
Jordan looked at her, blinking several times. “M-mission?”
Colin began to pull himself to his feet slowly. “The Simurgh is active again. She already spent enough time over one village that we’re going to have to quarantine it, but she’s heading towards New Brockton.”
That made Jordan’s eyes go wide in a panic, but Tess was right there again, a hand rubbing Jordan’s back. “She’s approaching from the northwest. Burlington is safe, at least for now. We aren’t sure where she’s going to go after that.”
There was a pause, a delay as Jordan considered this… and then suddenly, his face was hard and determined. His own confusion and pain was suddenly a distant memory. Had he forgotten the fight already? Or was he just ignoring it for the time being, focusing on the mission? “Right.” He grabbed his halberd. “How fast can we get there?”
“What?!” One of Jordan’s gang, the little Asian girl, started marching up towards the three of them, livid. “No, no, fucking, no! What a crock of shit! How do you know that they aren’t up to something after that pile of bullshit?!”
“Emi,” Jordan said in an even tone as he turned to her.
“No! They fight you, then act all buddy-buddy?”
Jordan shrugged a shoulder as he hurried towards his pack on the ground. “They had their reasons. Right?”
“Plausible denial,” Tess said before turning to Emi. “You’re right. You have no reason to believe us, not after that. But we both know that if we came to get Jordan to help with an Endbringer attack, you won’t be able to stop him.”
Emi marched straight up to Tess, ignoring the fact that she could probably be killed by Tess just falling on her, and crossed her arms defiantly. “Yeah, well… I… I’m coming with you, bitch!”
“Emi,” John barked, taking a cautious step forward. “You might want to–”
“We’re wasting time,” Colin announced, his patience wearing thin. “Each moment that we spend here bickering is another moment that we can’t prepare. Now, we’ve planned on bringing the five of you to this battle, and we planned on escorting the five of you to wherever you want when it’s done. And, if we need to make some sort of reparations, then we’ll do so. But right now? Unless everyone is there and ready to do their part, then chances are that people are going to end up worse than dead. Do you really want that on your consciences?”
He paused for a moment, looking between them. The only one freely moving now was the teenager who was only opening an eye every few seconds as she grabbed a bag from the wagon. Good. Colin decided to force their hands now rather than say much else.
“You have a choice. You can stay here and twiddle your thumbs, waiting for news and to find out what happened to Jordan… Or you can come with us, and help Jordan. Make sure that we don’t do anything. The choice is yours.”
He turned on his heels and started to make his way to the Pendragon VIII. The latest in a slew of new designs that they’d worked on recently, trying to get everything ready. It didn’t surprise him in the slightest when Jordan quickly fell into step next to him.
“I’m going to need more information on the situation.” All professionalism. All of the previous pain set aside and forgotten. It didn’t surprise Colin in the slightest, but it still earned a mark of respect. Colin had become almost useless after Tess had been shut down by Saint, but here Jordan was, focusing on the task at hand.
“We have a terminal ready for you. It’s also got a refresher on everything that we have on the Simurgh in case you need it.” He took a slow breath. This was going to be the hard part. “We also have a suit of armor specifically for this situation ready for you.”
“I don’t need new armor.”
“Just humor us. We’ve been working with your brother directly on this one. It’s the latest iteration, a fusion of his own work and ours. You’ll have better battlefield tracking and command capabilities, and you’ll have a client agent to help you sort through battlefield data with the built-in display.”
Jordan sighed softly, but gave no other indication as they made their way up the ramp. Good. At least he was playing ball nicely. Colin folded his spear and stowed it effortlessly as they entered the craft, heading to the storage unit. He retrieved the cloth armor and turned around to hand it to Jordan, only to find that little ball of spunk glaring up at him.
“Gimmie,” Emi snarled. “We got a thing, and you aren’t getting in the way of it.”
Right, Gina Franklin had mentioned that Emi had put those robes on Jordan. Had they known how much those robes and that mask over his helmet would make him look like Eidolon? It had been hard getting a full debriefing out of her — Miss Franklin had been in shock, coming down from an intense battle with more blood and death than she’d ever seen. He’d watched too many in her state after his strike team missions, and even more after Endbringer attacks.
Colin handed over the cloth and started getting out the rest of the pieces of armor. Boots, greaves that came up to the thigh, codpiece, gauntlets, bracers, flexible chest and back protection, shoulders, and helmet. Each was designed with snap in place integration, and was fitted with microcomputers that would distribute the workload between them. The armor was still mostly that Tinker cloth that Chris Abrams made, but was the latest iteration of it, only developed last month. Once the overarmor was in place, it would also use the suit itself to improve its processing power.
It took a few more minutes for the others to board the Pendragon, looking more than wary as Dragon followed them. As soon as all were aboard, the ramp began to close and the thrusters began to warm up.
“We know that you’re hesitant to let people know who you really are,” Tess said. “We’ve gone ahead and done some designing of armor for the rest of you as well, complete with helmets. We couldn’t finalize it, but we have manufacturing capabilities now.”
“So we’re Jordan’s groupies,” the man, John, said in his thick New York accent.
“You’re Jordan’s team,” Tess clarified. “We don’t want you to present yourselves as stragglers on, but a full team under his command.”
“I claim the funny one,” Emi snarled as she finished stripping Jordan, not minding his nakedness. Almost immediately, she was grabbing the cloth to help him step into it.
“Then I’m the spicy but serious second in command,” the oldest woman, Kathy, said.
John rolled his eyes. “Then I’m the skilled, bitter, almost unpredictable one who secretly wants to be in charge.”
“Where does that leave me?” Brenda asked quietly.
“You’re the dark and mysterious one,” Kathy replied instantly. “Play that up, never quite say as much as you could and leave them guessing. You might gain some fanboys for it.”
It was honestly interesting to watch them. John, Kathy and Brenda began to change how they stood and their expressions almost immediately. John folded his arms over his chest as he leaned against a cargo rack, glaring at everyone. Brenda almost sashayed to a seat before settling down, a slight smirk on her face as she put the blindfold over her eyes. Meanwhile, Kathy marched to Tess, shoulders squared back and a serious expression on her face.
“Will we have the same capabilities as Jordan?”
“No,” Tess admitted as she hung a sheet of fabric over the end of the craft. Right, just because Jordan didn’t mind being naked in front of them didn’t mean that the others might be. “At least, not yet. We’re doing quick fabrication, and while you’ll have some of them, we can’t give you everything on such short notice. However, we can offer you the chance to choose armor elements and their appearance.”
“We’re going to have a different color scheme than Jordan,” Emi said as she got the armor in place. “All eyes should be on him, not us. He should pop, we should be support. Can you do that?”
“We can make some modifications, but we’re limited in that.”
Emi growled again as she pulled Jordan down to snap the chest piece in place. She learned fast.
Kathy nodded thoughtfully. “How long until we’re in the air?”
“We’re already in the air and en route,” Tess said, a small hint of pride in her voice. “We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
“E.T.A.,” Jordan said. “Estimated Time of Arrival. Can her helmet help her with the lingo?”
“I’ll link into it and give her text advice,” Tess confirmed.
“Good. The better that we can keep up the ruse of being on his level, the happier that we’ll be.” Kathy turned to Emi. “Almost done?”
Emi clicked a pauldron into place before grabbing the helmet, carefully sliding it over Jordan’s head. As soon as it was in place, the helmet closed — the smooth visor slid down, and the both sides closed over his mouth, sealing him in. “Yeah, yeah.”
Emi moved to a chair and settled down dramatically, spinning to face a bank of monitors and wiggling her fingers in anticipation. “Let momma do some magic. How do you use this thing?”
“Why don’t we let Jordan use that bank,” Tess said, an amused hint to her voice as she motioned to another chair. “I’ll walk you through what we can do.”
Colin moved to his seat and began running a diagnostic. Jordan’s attacks had mostly done superficial damage, but he had been fighting smart. He’d purposefully targeted Colin’s joints, where the armor was forced to have more bend and give. The pistol shots to the armpit hadn’t done as much damage as the blade — a small gift from Chris’ cloth armor.
The fight had been… intense. Despite all the data that the combat prediction program had on Jordan, it hadn’t kept up. Jordan switched between styles without any predictable pattern, and had changed targets too fast for it to keep up. It was good software, something that he had every right to be proud of, and the Dragon’s Teeth relied upon it. However, it wasn’t perfect, and people like Jordan who never seemed to display their full capabilities could give it more trouble than anyone wanted to admit.
That knee, though… Jordan had gotten two good chops with his halberd in, and while it didn’t look like he’d done much damage on the surface, he was maneuvering everything below the knee only by his body. The energy reserves of his cybernetics wouldn’t last forever doing that, and it would slow him down. At least both of his legs were fully cybernetic, even if his groin itself still was, blissfully, flesh and blood. Otherwise, being pulled into the splits like that would have strained muscles.
Heat dissipation had briefly been an issue, and the on-board computer systems were only running at 83% efficiency. He’d had to activate the reserve liquid coolant system to keep from baking alive. Jordan had made good with that fire pellet attack. Tactical, smart. Smarter than Colin had been at his age.
Truth be told, Jordan was better than him. It was painful to admit, but true. Jordan had logged far more training time than Colin had when he’d been in his prime. He had more experience than most people who had started in the Wards had gotten by the time they were his age.
And that was before the modifications that Jordan had. Jordan would have a Brute rating now due to his cybernetics, and a Thinker rating, no matter how low, due to what all had been done to his brain and nervous system. He should have been severely wounded by that fall out of a the window, he was hitting harder than ever, and his reaction times were completely skewed. His gear offered him a low Tinker rating when it came to calculating threat, but lower ratings tended to be more dangerous. What they lacked in power, they made up for in other things. Jordan was no different — his Tinker-made gear was extremely familiar to him, offering him full knowledge of its capabilities and limitations.
And Colin? Colin had gotten soft over twenty years. Twenty years without training, without a real fight. He wasn’t at his peak any more, despite it not being his body holding him back. He was getting better again by the day, but a skill unused got soft. Had he gotten another year to get back into practice, it would have been a much more equal fight. He honestly looked forward to sparring with Jordan again once he got himself back into full practice.
Later, after this whole business with the Simurgh, he’d sit down and have a talk with Jordan. They’d talk about their time together, about what all Jordan had done, why things were happening the way that they were… And how he’d never actually seen Colin.
It was wrong to have Jordan believing a lie like that. The fact that nobody had bothered to tell him was insulting to the both of them. It served absolutely no purpose, and what purpose did it serve? None. None at all.
But everything had its place, and right now it would only distract Jordan. Colin glanced to the boy… To the man, and saw the entire bank of computers lit up. Jordan was expertly navigating between screens of text, displays of maps showing the position of the Simurgh, and historic footage. His time using the computer in his room had served him well; he was navigating it all better than some people would have before Gold Morning.
“Don’t underestimate him,” Kathy said softly. When had she shown up?
“I don’t, believe me. I never had any illusions about winning that fight.” Winning would have been counterproductive.
“That’s not what I mean.” She glanced at Jordan again before giving Colin a hard look. “Don’t forget what happened with Agamemnon.”
That was a good point. Jordan was keenly aware of danger, but didn’t pay much attention when him ignoring it could serve some greater good. What he did with Agamemnon had been stupid and dangerous, and ultimately unnecessary.
And it had resulted in Jordan’s death.
But Kathy continued whispering. “What’s the point of bringing him?”
“Agamemnon. I’m told that he’ll be good for morale. If the person who drove Agamemnon off, who was instrumental in the first solid victory against Fyrtorn… If Jordan is there, it tells people that we might make it. It’s about symbols.” It all seemed stupid to him, and he was sure that it was stupid to Jordan as well. They were soldiers, they marched to battle against evil. Symbolism wasn’t their thing. Leave that to the PR departments or whatever.
But Kathy was nodding. “Makes sense. He doesn’t realize just how big of a name he has, both for good or ill.” She paused. “But don’t think you can con a con man. Something else is going on here.”
Wait, had Tess not explained? “There is.”
“Do you mind–”
“Kathy!” Emi put a hand on her hip, already done up in her cloth armor. “You’re up!”
Kathy held up a finger before looking to Colin. “You’re lucky, asshole, but that luck won’t hold out forever. Nobody fucks with my friends like that and comes back with their balls attached.”
As she walked away, Colin was reminded of what exactly got Elizabeth Teeter kicked out of the Orphanage — attacking someone who turned out to be innocent of a rape accusation. He had no doubt that she would make good on that threat if she could.
Instead, he turned back to observe how the armor looked on Jordan. It was designed to look a bit like his, save for the helmet. The shoulders were similar, the chestpiece was reminiscent, the greaves were almost exactly the same, sans the gilding that Colin had on his. The biggest difference, besides still showing more cloth than hard armor, was the fact that the color scheme was different. A heroic red and green design, with gold trim. Tess assured him that it looked good, but he’d been hesitant. It sounded like it would have clashed.
But she’d been right. As usual. Just like the dual knife sheaths on the chest armor did look good, and had a practical use. One would hold the knife that Jordan’s brother had made him, while the other would hold the nanothorn generator blade.
He looked back to the others, who had replaced the green with blue. It wouldn’t last — they didn’t have the time or materials to give a good coating. But it worked. Their armored portions were similar, though the cuts were all different. Unique to each of them, showing a bit of personality, a bit of individuality. The overall theme was similar, but it gave them all a personal touch. They could pass for almost a military team who had taken the time to personalize their armor.
So it surprised him when he saw Tess’ client body retrieving a halberd from the manufacturing equipment. He closed his helmet and spoke up. “What’s up with the weapon?”
“They said it was right for them each to have one. I explained what we’re doing with Jordan, but…” Her words trailed off.
“E.T.A. four minutes. You may want to let him know about it.”
Right. He rose, putting up with the strain that walking put on his body as he retrieved the new head. As he returned to Jordan, he opened his armor again. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Jordan didn’t look away from the screens.
“A few. You aren’t going to like them.”
“Good ideas are rarely liked. Not when it comes to combat.” He paused for a moment. “You aren’t taking your halberd today.”
That tore Jordan away from his work. His face was unreadable behind the helmet, even with his mouth visible, but Colin could imagine his eyes wide with surprise. “But it’s my weapon…”
“Exactly.” Colin held out the spearhead. “It’s a modified nanothorn generator. It uses some of your brother’s tech to provide power, but even then, it won’t work for long. Fifteen minutes before it needs a recharge. It’ll be linked to your helm, so you can activate it with a word. We designed it specifically to attach to the shaft of your halberd — all that you have to do is switch out the heads.”
Jordan frowned for a moment before reaching for his weapon. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“I’m taking you to help fight the Simurgh, and you can’t even fly. Most people would say that I’m not being nice at all.”
Jordan said nothing as he attached the spear to the shaft.
That was a fair response. “We don’t have time to discuss it right now. After all this is done, I promise you that everything will be explained.”
Jordan hesitated for a long moment before nodding. “Alright. Dragon, can I assume that you’ve been tracking everything that I’ve been looking at.”
“Yes,” came Tess’ voice from the terminals.
“Can you please save the video from screen two, timemark 3:14 to 4:28, and screen five from 1:22 to 7:01? Uh, if we have a way to show it, that is. Sorry.”
“You’re fine, Jordan. Saved, and ready for when you need it.”
“Awesome. Thank you very much.” He turned to look at John. “Miss Tease. Other than being a flirt and stuff, how would you describe her?”
John shrugged. “Big beautiful woman. Creative, funny. A flair for the dramatic. Fast witted. Uh… Apparently a virgin?”
Jordan nodded. “Good enough. Keep that in mind. I want you to sound like you’re putting it together when I explain things.”
“Making sure my method acting’s up to par,” John said with a dismissive snort before pulling his helmet on. “The play’s the thing, and all that. I getcha.”
Tess pulled down the sheet. “Alright, everyone. We’re landing in a minute. In positions. Colin in the middle, Jordan and I on either side, and–”
Kathy interrupted, suddenly sounding stern and professional. “Two by two following the commander. You, with me.” She pointed at John. “The two of you following.”
“They can’t see us making faces at them,” Emi whispered.
“If we close our helmets, nobody can see it,” Brenda responded.
“See, that takes all the fun out of it!”
Colin rolled his eyes, not sure if they were just getting in their roles or not. His helmet’s HUD displayed that they were descending now as everyone got into position. “You ready for this, Jordan?”
“No, and I’m glad we hadn’t gotten lunch yet. I haven’t felt like I was going to puke for a long time now, but oh boy.”
Colin frowned at him. “I should have checked if you needed dramamine.” The inertial stabilizers were good enough that he hadn’t felt the motion at all, but if Jordan was having trouble…
“Nah,” Jordan said softly. “Just salt. Listen, if this armor is voice controlled, can I get a list of commands for common things? Like how Defiant has been opening and closing his helmet?”
“Done,” Tess said before donning her helmet. As the ramp began to open, Jordan’s helmet closed. Good. It would be better if he didn’t speak or do anything until it was time.
As soon as the ramp was fully lowered, the group of them began down it. It wasn’t with military precision, but it would have to do for now. They didn’t have the time to get everyone on the same page. Hopefully, Tess had explained everything to the others.
People stared as they marched towards the makeshift command center. Wardens, Dragon’s Teeth, random capes… It didn’t matter. Some people inspired others to keep it together through big speeches or other dramatic gestures. Colin preferred to save those for the Legends of the world.
Being professional, focused, and setting an example just by doing what he did? Alexandria had approved of him using that method when he’d studied under her. You needed the people to make the speeches, yes, but you needed the people to be examples. The rock that others could rely upon.
Soon enough, though, he was able to see the others. General Gill of the Dragon’s Teeth and his command staff. Chevalier, Legend, and the other top-ranking Wardens. General Wright and Miss Militia of the United States. Which wasn’t as much of a surprise to him as most people would think. Even if the Simurgh wasn’t threatening their territory, they’d still want a hand in fighting her. Even Tattletale, Bitch, Parian and Foil were there, though Bitch had brought her spiky-haired son and seemed more interested in glaring at him than anything. Even Dinah Alcott was there, nursing a mug of tea.
Chevalier looked up from the Tinker-made table at them. “Defiant, Dragon, J–”
“I’m sorry that we couldn’t secure Jordan,” Colin interrupted.
Chevalier paused for a moment, looking from Colin to Jordan. Almost immediately, a window opened on the holo table, complete with audio. Of Jordan pinning Colin to the ground, slamming his knife into his helmet. “Leave! Me! Alone!”
This was still dumb in Colin’s opinion, but he trusted Tess’ guidance on the matter. He’d have to be the one to explain it all. As soon as the video stopped, he turned his attention back to Chevalier.
“But I did bring that project that I mentioned working on. A bridge between the Wardens and Dragons Teeth. Unfortunately, we currently only have one squad. In ascending order, may I present to you, Lacuna, Mover, recon and quick assault specialist.”
“Yo,” he heard Emi say in a dismissive tone. “Nice weather we’re having, eh?”
The urge to roll his eyes was there. “Next we have the Thinker, possible Breaker, Schrodinger. I believe that she will compliment Alcott nicely.”
“I hope that I can be of assistance,” Brenda said politely. Truth be told, nobody was sure what exactly Brenda’s power was, but by what she displayed against Fyrtorn, Thinker would be at least a good cover.
“Next we have–”
“Archimedes,” John interrupted gruffly. “Brute, Breaker. Numbers don’t matter.”
Were they… in character like that? Did they operate like that so effortlessly? These people were weird.
“Right. Next we have the team’s second in command, Sagittarius. Shaker and blaster.”
“My Blaster capabilities are limited by my shield capabilities,” Kathy said in a professional if slightly sultry voice. “But I’ll offer what assistance I can.”
Colin looked to his left, at Jordan. “Finally the team leader, and the only untriggered person in the team. An expert in small team tactics, well-versed in the Endbringers, and one of the best combatants that you’ll meet. He’ll be undoubtedly useful in figuring out how best to engage the Simurgh.”
He looked back to the assembled. “Chevalier, will you please recognize Relentless?”