Aldrich stopped his car by the side of the highway. The scene looked all manners of off. It was in the dead of night with the moon hiding behind a thicket of clouds. Most of the light around came from the harsh glare of reds and blues generated by the cop cars.
Dealing with cops was not really an issue. Police forces within cities, especially lower tier cities, were easy victims to corruption. Whether they were fed by the hand of a corporation or an organized crime group, the difference was minimal.
But highway cops were held to a much higher standard. The intercontinental highway system was crucial for maintaining transportation and supply lines through the wastelands where variants, villains, and nomads were all routine threats.
The Panopticon often managed the roads with drones in association with heroes from the Alterhuman Agency, but in stretches of highway like this, in remote areas with low variant activity, cops often made up manpower deficits.
They were responsible generally for scanning who went through the roads and reporting back any suspicious activity. Essentially like border patrol.
"Is something amiss?" Valera said from the backseat. She had sensed the shift in atmosphere while asleep and instantly woken up, her battle hardened experience letting her easily transition from deep sleep to alertness.
Chrysa, however, remained snoozing in Valera's arms.
"Those two vehicles up there belong to government authority. Think of it like a city watch," said Aldrich.
"Will they present an issue for us?" said Valera.
"Hopefully not," said Diamondback. "You all have solid fake CIDs, so if they're regular highway patrol, they'll just scan those and let us be on our way."
"Something is off," said Aldrich as he spied the twin cop cars. They were built sturdy and heavy. ARMA Blue from the HT (Harsh Terrain) model line meant for roaming across the wastes.
As far as cop car models went, nothing was wrong. Heavier cars like this were normal on the wastes.
It was their numbers that brought immediate alarm to Aldrich. "Highway patrols don't happen in groups of two. Even in low risk areas like this, you need more than two cars in case you get unlucky and a tough variant just so happens to be prowling around looking for dinner.
They get hungry enough, and they can just shove past AV (Anti-Variant) fields as well, especially weaker ones like the type on these roads."
"Yeah. Should be six cars minimum. Sometimes, though, patrols can split up." Diamondback said. His black pupil narrowed down to reptilian slits. "But I don't see net antenna on either of those cars. Those are out here cold."
"That's the biggest issue," said Aldrich. "If they're cop cars, they'd want net connectivity to report back anything they see. That's the whole point of patrolling in the first place."
"There's no base net connection here either." Diamondback looked down at his phone to confirm.
"I do not understand most of this conversation, but I can sense that those guards are not to be trusted. Shall I be ready for a fight?" said Valera.
"You can fight too?" Diamondback raised a brow. "I understand Bruce here's concealing his AC count somehow, but you are too?"
"I am far from helpless," said Valera defiantly.
"I know Clint insisted on you coming with us, but you might find yourself bored if you came here just to guard us," said Aldrich.
"…We'll see. Someone's coming." Diamondback pointed at one of the cop cars. A figure emerged from the passenger side, indicating another presence obscured under tinted window on the driver's side.
A police officer dressed in grey uniform - the standard color for highway patrol - walked up towards Aldrich's car.
"Pretty normal gear for a highway cop," observed Diamondback. "Variant grade heavy rifle, anti-personnel pistol, AC visor, and radio."
"You've got targeted EMP charges, don't you?" said Aldrich.
"Yeah." Diamondback's hand was already at his waist, thumbing a rectangular pouch on his belt. He pressed an indent on his skin where a cybernetic implant called an AC suppressor activated, dramatically lowering his AC reading, though it did nothing to actually lower his power. "You think things are gonna get nasty?"
"I'd be ready." Aldrich rolled down his window as the officer approached. His demeanor instantly changed, a slight smile forming on his lips as his eyes altered their sharp gaze into a welcoming one you'd see on any average passerby.
"How can I help you, officer?" said Aldrich.
"I'd like to do a full inspection of your vehicle," said the officer gruffly. He eyed Aldrich through his red visor and paused for a moment. "You a Dud?"
"That's how things are, yes."
The officer nodded to himself slowly before looking over to Diamondback. "And who's that? Your friend?"
The officer's stare lingered on Diamondback for longer. His body language was calculating and tense. Like a stalking predator sizing up its prey. He was assessing Diamondback's threat.
The officer's tense shoulders slumped when he did not read a particularly high rating from Diamondback. AC suppressant cybernetic implants were not too rare, used by a large chunk of mercenaries and villains and other Alters that wanted to keep themselves a secret.
But a suppressant on Diamondback's scale, one that could reduce his A rank ratings down to something in the D range, were far and few between.
"Any other passengers?" said the officer.
"Wife and my child in the back," said Aldrich.
"You got a kid? Look mighty young to be popping one out."
"Well, I guess things just happen."
"Yeah, they do. Like this inspection. Get yourself and all passengers out of the car. Me and my boys will do a thorough check of the vehicle. Routine inspection for this part of the road, hope you understand."
"I don't believe you have the right to do so," said Aldrich.
"Here's my badge," said the officer impatiently, reaching into his pocket and thrusting a star shaped card at Aldrich's face.
Nothing was off about the badge.
Aldrich tested the officer more.
"I'm afraid that doesn't cut it, officer," said Aldrich. "To search my personal vehicle, you need to have probable cause, especially if you don't determine us a threat."
The officer chuckled as he put away his badge. He unholstered his pistol and clicked the safety off. "Listen here, you Dud piece of shit, I'm getting real tired of checking cars over and over again, and you're the first one to be giving me lip about your rights, as if powerless freaks like you even deserve them in the first place.
Now do as I say, or my little friend here-," The officer waved his gun towards Aldrich's face. "Might do the talking instead of me. And you don't want him to do any talking."
"Ah, I get it. You're not a real cop, are you?" said Aldrich.
? ?? ??-?? ???. ??? "Yeah, fuck if I'm not? I-,"
Aldrich reached out and grabbed the officer's wrist, the same hand that waved the gun so casually in his face, with lightning quick speed. He twisted the man's wrist with such strength that he sent the officer off his feet.
"W-what the fuck!?" the officer exclaimed first in surprise, then in pain as Aldrich tightened his grip hard on the wrist.
"Argh!" the officer dropped his gun.
As this scene unfolded, Aldrich spied the other cop cars opening up, unleashing a team of fake cops out.
"Diamondback. It's time you earned your pay," said Aldrich. "Though technically, I guess you aren't being paid for this."
"A little action's payment enough." Diamondback, for the first time ever during the entire ten hour car ride, cracked a grin. One less manic than the type Clint bore during a fight, but one still packed with enough bloodlusted fervor that Aldrich wondered if everyone in the Spearhorn tribe was like this.
Diamondback got out of the car in a swift motion, simultaneously taking out a thin black rectangular EMP charge. He pressed his thumb on a button, arming the charge and causing it to glow with three bright white strips.
Diamondback tossed the charge towards the cars. It exploded in the midst of them, unleashing an omnidirectional wave of crackling green energy. The energy wave did not harm the cops, but any tech they had got fried.
The radios on the cops' hips sputtered in showers of sparks, rendered inactive. The visors on cops' faces cracked and sparked, some sparks painfully getting into eyes and eliciting grunts of pain.
The harsh red and blue light from the police cars cut off, abruptly drenching the scene in darkness.
The only source of light came from Aldrich headlights illuminating Diamondback's shining, sparkling figure, light blue crystals completely covering him from head to toe in a sturdy suit of armor.