The first thing I noticed was that the Battle Suit felt lighter.
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Took out some of the bits," he said, his voice coming in clear through the helmet. "Replaced some others. Nothing too revolutionary. Don't have the tools for major alterations--tech's too high-end for what I've got access to."
I was standing on top of the six story apartment complex where Red had brought me down. Below and above me was the claustrophobic clutter of the Stix. The Battle Suit felt familiar in a good way--heavy, but the weight was reassuring.
The backpack felt a littler bulkier.
"I added an additional battery," Sumerset said. "Gives you a little more juice to work with. Alright, let's test the first bit. I want you to jump up. Straight up. As high as you can. Land on your feet."
This gave me pause.
"Um, Sumerset. You know, I can jump pretty high," I said.
"And, I mean, I know that I heal fast, but I'm really kinda not in the mood to break a leg or two."
"Trust me, kid. You're gonna love this. Just go ahead and jump," he said. "And remember: Land on your feet."
I sighed, flexed my legs, and kicked myself up into the air. I didn't jump as hard as I could--instead, just past the threshold of where I felt comfortable. Ever since I'd noticed my jumps were getting ridiculously far, we started practicing how I could land with minimal injury. Most of the time, it involved rolling when I hit--I could heal bruises fast, and deflecting the force along the rest of my body made it less of a chore for my regeneration to take care of business.
This time, I soared up a good distance in the air and let myself drop like a jack-knife. Worst case scenario: This would really sting.
When I hit, there was a soft 'whoosh', and for a moment my feet felt like they had just hit a trampoline. Then there was a soft clank.
"Whoa," I said.
"Shock absorbers," Sumerset said. "Well, not really--more like gas-powered recoil. Anyway, point is, with these babies you can jump high with impunity. Best part? They work independent of the suit."
"Neat," I said. "Okay, what else?"
"Hold out your left arm. Open, palm up. Point it at something near you--anything. Then bring your middle finger down to touch the base of your palm."
I did so. A long thread of black was launched out from the back of the gauntlet, hitting the doorway with a loud SPLAT.
"Nice," I said. "Integrated splat gun?"
"Tip of your thumb's got a tiny blade built into it that can cut through the fabric," he told me. "Here's the other cool part--make a fist with the same hand and twist it back round."
I did as he asked. There was a soft purr from somewhere in my arm; an instant later and I was being pulled straight toward the doorway. I yelped as I was thrown off my feet and sent sailing toward the doorway. By the time I figured out how to stop making it reel me in, I'd already been dragged 20 yards across the ground.
I heard Sumerset laughing on the other end of the transceiver.
"Funny," I said. "What if I'd grappled a building, huh?"
"Relax. I can see what you see, remember?" he said. "Alright. One last new gadget to show off. Stand up and clench your toes."
"Tell me what it does, first," I said. "I don't want to fly off in a pair of rocket boots--"
"Just clench your damn toes," he said.
When I did, there was a loud *BANG* that came from my feet. I felt something jerk around my ankles--and then I realized my shoes were locked down to the ground.
"Nine inch long tungsten carbide screws on both sides of your ankles. Uses a powder charge to fire them straight into the ground," he said. "Should cut through most asphalt and concrete, though you'll have to be careful--some materials will just crumble, like tile."
"Why... why on earth would I want to do this?" I asked.
"In case you have to stand and deliver. Once you fire those spikes into the ground, ain't nothing gonna budge you," he said. "Clench your toes again to release."
I clenched my toes again. Something snapped; my feet were free. Beneath me, I could see where the spikes had slammed into the roof's structure--the tops were smoldering.
"Only one load per outing, though. I'll reset them once you're done up there."
"Okay," I said. "Anything else?"
"Yeah. The hell you mention that girl kissing you for?"
"Only two reasons you'd tell me about a prophecy that involves you kissing some girl," Sumerset said. "Either you think it's relevant or you got a crush. And I sure as hell don't see how it's relevant."
"I don't know," I said. "Maybe it is?"
"You want some advice?"
"Not really," I said, although I didn't know how much of that was truth or how much of it was just irritation at having him call me out.
"Save it for after the mission. Ask her out then. Not before," he said. "We're getting into some serious shit and the last thing you need right now are complications."
At some point, 'Serious Shit' became the name of the mission. I blamed Sumerset.
He made up some song and dance about the me that Red knew--'Sally Bruiser'--heading back home. The next time I saw her was right after William left for good.
There was an argument in one of the rooms. William emerged, red-faced and pissed. I was coming up the stairs just as he turned around to shout back down the hall: "You--you goddamn liar!"
He nearly stepped into me as I ascended the steps. Probably scared the crap out of him--I was wearing the full Battle Suit.
"Piss off," he said, and he shoved his way past me. I watched him go, then turned my attention back to the hall.
Red emerged. Her hood was up, but I could tell she wasn't particularly happy. When she saw me, she pulled the hood back and gave me a good, long look.
Did she know?
"The Skull," she said. "Your reputation proceeds you."
"Ma'am." My voice was a metallic growl. "Heard you needed some help." I made a gesture with my helmet in the direction William had retreated. "Problem?"
"No," she said. "His insistence on a romantic relationship simply lead me to desperate measures."
"I told him what was, for him, an unpleasant truth."
"Ah. You ready to talk about the plan?"
"I am ready," she said, and then she followed me downstairs.
Sumerset was waiting. He was dressed in kevlar, with the exoskeleton he had worn here now visible--several black metal poles embraced his arms and legs, interconnected via mechanical joints that were all linked together by a broad shoulder-piece and backpack that supplied the unit with power. He had a riot helm on his head--he looked positively ridiculous. Like some sort of retro-future police officer.
"Plan's simple," he said, and then he got into the meat of it.
Red didn't have anything above a Class 5 on her side, and none of us felt comfortable putting any more kids in harms' way. That meant it was just the three of us. In the suit, Sumerset figured I was a Class 3, and he was pretty positive that Red was the same. He felt fairly confident that with the plan, we'd be able to take out the majority of Voodoo Jones' people. Frankly, we expected a lot of them to run once they caught a load of the Skull--but even if they didn't, the only real X-factor in this was Voodoo Jones himself.
"I do not know how powerful he is," Red confessed. "I only know that, for some reason, he genuinely fears me."
"Probably ain't a Class 3 then," Sumerset said. "Still don't like it. But if he's scared of you, that gives us something at least. You feel comfortable taking him on?"
"Yes," Red said. She said it fast, and with force--she'd been up against Voodoo Jones long enough, I figured. Wanted to see him go down. Fast and hard.
"Then we move out," he said.
My name is Bonesaw, and I am a genuine freak.
The coat and hood go a long way to hiding that. At a glance, all you can guess is that I'm a girl; you got to get closer to see the rest. Sometimes, some people do--maybe they figure me for some pretty little shy thing. Until they catch sight of a hand, or an arm, or my face. Then they gasp and pull away.
I'd be lying if I said that reaction doesn't make me smile.
I get off the bus and check the compass that Voodoo gave me. The needle jiggles before pointing down the street. I follow it, ignoring the occasional gawks and stares. They can tell I don't belong here. I'm some ratty girl in a ratty coat making my way through the richest neighborhood in Metro. I bet they can smell the Stix on me.
I hope so.
The needle swings to the right after three blocks; it points steadily at a house nestled near the corner. Nice place--pretty in an old fashion way. Black iron gates around it with a big garden in the front yard. I notice an old woman crouched over what looks like a bed of flowers.
Then I notice she's staring straight at me.
Something about that stare makes me nervous. Like she can see right through my coat, my hood--see right through the scars that cover me from head to toe. I shove the compass back in my pocket and stare back.
She looks in her 40s, early 50s, and she's got a certain stockiness to her. She stands up, brushing the soil off her knees and taking off her gardening gloves.
"Are you here to learn magic?"
"Pardon me?" I ask.
"You found me with a spell," she says, and then she nods to the pocket where I've shoved the compass. "Yours?"
"Ah, no," I say. "Someone--ah, sent me."
"Information," I tell her.
She thinks this over for a moment, her nose scrunching up. And then, thoughtfully, she nods. She walks forward and opens the front gate.
"Do you like tea?" she asks.