"That was a good old scrap. Best I had in a damn while." Clint exhaled as he stood over a pile of half-melted rubble. His breath was visible, tinged with toxic lavender.
Underneath the rubble, pinned below a pillar of concrete, was Shuten Doji. He lay flat on his back, arms out to his sides in exhaustion. Despite the multi-ton pillar of concrete bearing down on him, it was more like a paperweight that held him in place more than anything that really hurt him.
"Screw you, Unbreakable," said Shuten Doji, his voice a little strained from the weight on his chest. "I said it before and I'll say it again: coming here just for the sake of your personal vengeance - it's a foolish decision.
You probably believe your alliance with Thanatos gave you the freedom to strike, but soon enough, an upstart like him, even a Sentinel, won't be enough.
And when that happens, you'll regret breaking the peace we brokered."
"A peace?" Clint shrugged. Various inhuman parts on his body - the carapace on his skin, the feathered gills on his neck to filter out poison, the insulating blubber under the carapace to fend against fire - glowed white before fading away like dust. "That ain't a peace. It was a ceasefire."
"And you broke it. You understand what that means, don't you? You still have an entire tribe to take care of. You - you're an interesting specimen, Unbreakable, one of the only Alters to have undergone Metamorphosis without dying.
You could have helped the world so much by lending your body to science, but here you are, licking old wounds like a bitter dog."
"Here I am," said Clint. He glanced at the facility's now shattered dome entrance. "So that's what you're studying here? Metamorphosis?"
"Why's it matter to you?"
"It matters to the team that's infiltrating the labs right now," said Clint.
"What!?" Shuten Doji exclaimed. "This wasn't about your vengeance?" He blinked, recalling parts
"Oh, believe me, that's been in the back of my mind," said Clint. "But I've had time to calm down about that. A little. I'll still kill your kind if it comes down to it, but you're right. Ain't about to go on a rampage with my tribe on the line.
That is, until now.
All that talk about vengeance was to keep you fightin' me, ya blockhead."
Shuten Doji furrowed his brows together, his glowing purple veins visible under his skin. "What!? You would dare to steal our research? You're making a mistake, Unbreakable! This research - it isn't petty R and D for the next killing weapon - it's the key to our future! To humanity's future!"
"Really now?" Clint sat down on the pillar cross-legged. He rested his stubbled chin on his hand casually. "Kinda interestin' comin' from a group of thugs. Suited up thugs, granted, but still thugs, y'know?"
"You know nothing," said Shuten Doji. His eyes flickered in recognition as he recalled their battle. The battle that had utterly destroyed the lab's shield dome and, he realized, its communication lines.
Clint had made absolutely sure to keep Shuten Doji isolated here, leveraging the fact that he was the one and only Unbreakable - the one man army who had taken down an entire high tier corporation by himself with a personal vendetta to boot - to bait Shuten Doji into thinking only about the fight here.
Shuten Doji put a resisting hand against the pillar pinning him. His fingers easily dug into the solid concrete like it was made of putty. "Down there is mankind's only hope to survive the future. You cannot destroy the research there. Not if you actually care about this world."
"Huh." Clint raised a brow at Shuten Doji. "You're being serious, aren't ya? Desperate, too. But not in a way to try and spare you, cause' no self-respecting Sword is ever gonna beg for their lives.
You really do think the world's hope is down there."
"Yes," said Shuten Doji. "As is mine."
"Tell ya what," said Clint. "Your comms may be down, but mine ain't. When my team makes contact with the lab, you tell em' to stand down, and I guarantee we won't touch nothin' there."
"Promise me you won't hurt a single one of the scientists either," said Shuten Doji.
Clint nodded. "Sure. Killing innocents ain't my style anymore anyhow."
"Hang on, everyone." Alexis spoke with practiced calm. Her white hair swayed in the air, glowing and starting to crackle like living lightning. A green circular barrier projected around her, and beneath it, Stella, Tox, Diamondback, Kris, Akan, and Falco.
Outside of the barrier was nothing but exploding carnage. Missiles and high caliber bullets and explosives boomed everywhere, drowning everything out in bright hot hellfire.
'All of you will regret trying to stop our research. Research to evolve humanity beyond compare. Beyond the chains that bind it to this world.' Machine Mind's voice projected mentally to everyone.
"Outta my head, you old creep!" Stella slapped the side of her head.
"Can he read our minds!?" said Tox, alarmed.
"Nah," said Stella. "Telepathy's an extension of him being able to project his mind out. A good amount of higher end technos got it. But he can only communicate. Can't read your mind or anything fancy like that."
"Most of the firepower here is from the Cyclops, r-right?" said Falco. "Sooner or later, they'll run out of ammo!"
"Did you not read the mission report?" said Alan. "Cyclops are like mini factories. They have nanoprinting cores that give them an infinite supply of missiles and bullets."
"That's cheating!" said Falco.
"Infinite until they run out of energy," said Alan.
Kris scoffed. "If only Machine Mind wasn't personally supplying them with his A rank energy reserves. I swear, I'm being severely underpaid for this mission."
"Quit complaining," said Diamondback. "What's done is done. Just focus on getting out of this. This is purely suppressive fire meant to keep us down. Stall us out until the storm's traces pass and they can reach out to reinforcements."
Our EMP charges didn't work," said Alexis. "And my jamming lightning isn't doing as well as I'd hoped either."
"Because Machine Mind is strengthening every single bot here," said Kris. "He's got higher end technopathy that lets him move machines manually even when you blow out their circuits.
If we want to get out of this, we'll have to destroy the rest of the Cyclops the hard way. Note that I am heavily resisting the urge to put down this newbie again."
"Noted," said Diamondback. "Now let's get to thinking productively. I can deal with this myself. The Cyclops can't break through my armor. The issue is that the moment this barrier comes down is when we get hit by an explosion.
I know most of you are tough enough to weather it, but Falco can't. And yes, Kris, I understand your frustration - don't voice it again."
Kris grumbled unintelligibly.
"I can do it," said Tox.
"Hm?" Diamondback stared down at her.
"I can get us out of this. I just need to…switch," said Tox. "My trigger. It doesn't just change how I think. It makes my power stronger too. I can bore down through the rock below us and take out the bots surrounding us without Lexis ever having to put the barrier down."
"Perfect," said Diamondback.
"I just don't like changing. It isn't who I am." Tox sighed. "But I have to. We have to clear these guys. Only then can I go back and help Ace."
"Wait." Stella put a hand to her ear. "I've got comms from Clint."
She cocked her head, listening for a few seconds before smiling.
"What's going on?" asked Tox.
"Looks like we won't be needing to fight our way through after all," said Stella. She took in a deep breath and then yelled, "Hey you geriatric mind-peeper! Listen up! Your Sword on the surface has authorized us to get what we want!"
Almost immediately, the missile and gunfire stopped.