The Axiom Project | Introduction. (Part 3)

Catch up: Part 1 | Part 2

Imagine creating a substance that strips away all your genetic flaws and enhances all your good dominant traits. Your myopia? Gone. Crooked teeth? Straightened. Shortest person in class? You get taller.

Guess what? Years ago, scientists created a serum, a red violet, gooey substance that when injected, edits your genetic structure and enhances your physical and mental capabilities. All the injected became smarter, fitter, stronger, faster. In almost every way, they could be called perfect. They had no flaws, no cancer genes, telomeres that don’t shorten — so aging becomes a fantasy. They could run a three-minute mile, a 3-second 40-yard dash, and also bench upwards of 400 pounds. Fighter pilot vision came standard, and if necessary, could solve a Rubik’s cube in less than 10 seconds.

There were two catches. The first was that only subjects with two X chromosomes were successful in the tests that they ran. Second, if angered, there was a violent side effect. Their core temperature would rise upwards 125 degrees. Their pupils would constrict, irises turn from their natural eye color to a deep rouge, and hands emanate swirling currents of red energy. Not quite fire, not quite light, more like a flame-like plasma that made these women all the more dangerous.

They called themselves The Rouge. Militants in red fatigues, they invited havoc to their enemies as a means of pleasure. It may come off as no surprise that as powerful women, they were dedicated to making sure every inch of patriarchy was snuffed out.

This target, this corporation, their patents for drugs that potentially harmed women was as ripe of a target for their agenda. An excuse for them to vandalize, torture, steal and destroy everything for their cause. I found their cause noble, Quixotic even, but their methods were nonetheless illegal.

“Not gonna move, Phenom?” One taller girl jeered, with a sneer not unlike Ronda Rousey’s. Her fists were wrapped in black tape, disintegrating slowly into amber ash with the heat coming off her hands.

“Ladies first.” They couldn’t see my smile behind my helmet, but judging from the looks on their faces, they could tell I was being cheeky. I hoped someone would bite and attack.

Not one person took the bait.

All 30 did. They swung at me from all sides, but not one fist or foot landed on me. I leapt, dodged, blocked, flipped, and launched myself over them to give myself space.

Any ideas, VISOR? My weapons might be a bit much for this. Two swords. Two photon cannons. To unarmored civilians, as powerful as they were, I couldn’t risk it.

— — I may have a solution for this. — — I felt a pulse in both arms — my gauntlets slid over my hands once more to form my suit’s turbine photon cannons. A grid appeared on my HUD, highlighted over the oncoming Rouge. — — I set your cannons to fire a hard light netting to trap them all. Fire when you feel ready. — —

Cool. I felt like a salmon, absorbing blows from these fighters as I tried to make my way upstream. I focused on my wings, and a short, sharp push off the ground helped me flip over my attackers and 20 feet away. Turning to face them, the grid showed up again. I stuck my arms out and fired. A blue white net shot out, and wrapped itself around the Rouge. They were now the fish, and had no way of breaking free. Two strings led from my cannons to the nets, and

“Fuck.” This is awesome, VISOR. I recieved a chirp of approval.

— — I’m pretty sure you can carry this load for a distance. — —

Carry? That was roughly two and a half tons to deadlift, and I wasn’t gonna drag them out of the building. I looked around. Buildings. Buildings. Highway. East River.

“Think they can swim?” I said loud enough for them to hear.

— — It’s gonna require a really good toss. — —

I clenched the rope tightly and braced my legs. My HUD simulated what tossing them would be like. All I had to do was get the perfect toss. I crouched and tugged at my net like it was one of those hammer tosses. They lifted smoothly off the ground, floating high above the FDR Drive. Once they hovered over the East River, the net disintegrated, and they dropped with a loud splash into the water. The force spun me around on my heels and I caught myself. Panting, I got down on one knee.

“That was really cool.” The next thing I felt was the smashing of what felt like a sledge against the side of my head. It was a knee that cracked my helmet so hard, I felt shards of metal and glass dig into my cheek as I went airborne.

My shoulder hit stone, then the other side of my helmet. I crumpled and fell flat onto the ground. I could hear something metal bounce off the ground and land on my back. VISOR?

— — I don’t know what that — — Kzzt!

I felt a surge through the entire back of my body that made me leap onto my feet. Staggering, I looked around, not seeing much through the cracked cameras. I pulled off the front part of the mask, tossed it off to the side and spat out fresh blood. Reached back and felt a lump in the engine located between my wings: ripped it off. It looked like a beetle, only with a pulsing red light in the center of its abdomen.

Get a good scan, VISOR?

Chirp, chirp.

“You got a little something on your chest, Benson.” The voice was to my six, soft, but cold and even more chilling every time I heard it. She retracted her grappling hook after her swing into the building and stared at me with eyes from the same amber you’d find preserved animals in, streaked in places with the same crimson as her subordinates. Her hair, usually in a disarray of auburn curls, lay straight past her shoulders and midway down her biceps. If her mane was copper, and eyes were golden, her skin was a glowing bronze even in the darkened floors of the gutted office building.

She was dressed to suck all the remaining light from the vicinity. Kevlar-woven trench coat, tank top, jeans torn and tattered with precision and Timbs, all in black, save for the red on the inner lining of her coat.

Cardinal red like sin and holy men. They were one in the same to Clarissa Palmeiro.

Yeah. That Clarissa Palmeiro.

I took a thumb and wiped off the spots dripping on my chest plate. “Shame, I just got this washed.” I spat out again.

Status?

— — The whole back end of the suit shorted cause of that device in your hands. Not quite sure if it’s an EMP yet. Wing thrusters not functional and stuck in open position. Flight systems compromised. Swords can’t eject from wing scabbard. Helmet HUD is shot, needs to be reconstructed. — —

What about a replacement helmet?

— — Give it a few minutes to load one onto the suit — want goggles? And about the same amount of time to get the wings back up. — —

I sighed. I’ll make do with goggles. The mask disintegrated and disappeared in a series of blue and white 1s and 0s, replaced by a blue and white pair of Rec Specs. Great, but you know well that I’mma need head protection.

— — On it. — — I turned to the civilians, still huddled together, then to Palmeiro.

“You need them?”

“Hell no,” she sneered. “We got what we needed. And now, you’re here. More than I could’ve wanted.”

“Good.” With one hand turned back into a cannon pointed at her, and the other pointed to the hostages, I motioned for them to get to the elevator bank. They rushed out in a flurry of hushed footsteps. “What now, Reese?”

Her hands immediately ignited, with the roar of a mini-jet engine. She threw her coat off to the side and charged forward. I blocked her first couple of swings and knocked her back with my weaponized arm. She rebounded off a glass partition and sprung up immediately as if she didn’t get hit at all. One leap and she tore open a hole in the ceiling before catching me with a dropkick.

I’d blocked with the same forearm, but tumbled backwards. A cubicle became my cushion. She leapt again, ready to cave my chest in. I twisted away, grabbed her ankle, and yanked her down with me. A crash, a grunt, and I got up and pulled her by her ankle.

Her hair was collecting glass and wood shards. But other than a scratch on her cheek, no visible injuries. I swung her again, this time so her ribs could catch a pillar flush. I could feel the thud, see a basketball-sized chunk come off and expose the rebar. She was down.

For four seconds. She got up to her feet, a cut on her lip and a trickle of blood running down her chin. VISOR told me she had at least one fractured rib. Reese charged forward again, then darted with a wicked juke to her right. Then left. Faked like she’d go airborne again. Slid under my reach. Slammed her flaming fist into my stomach.

I crumpled to a knee. She served a headbutt and I fell on my back. She headbutted me, then spat on my face. “Bitch,” she scowled. I got kicked in my ribs, then smashed in the chest with a broken cubicle wall. She tried again, but I used my cannon arm to blind her with a quick, uncharged blast. I charged up again, but she dodged the next blast.

Checked my nose with one of my: it was flowing something close to a faucet now. I could use that helmet, VISOR.

— — Give it two minutes. Loading is giving me trouble right now. — —

I growled, then ran at Reese. She was laid up, but swung her arm upward. Smash! That same chunk of rebar and concrete caught me in my exposed neck and jaw. The pain made it too hard to breathe. Something had to break, right? Right, VISOR?

— — One minute. Sorry for the delay. Body scans show no breaks or fractures, just lacerations near your jugular. And cheeks. Oh. A vessel did break in your nose.— —

Once I gathered my breath, I sucked my teeth in pain. You’re easily the most annoying pair of glasses I’ll ever wear.

VISOR chirped cheekily, then alerted me: — — INCOMING. — — I felt another kick on my face this time her Timbs connected with my cheek. If I wasn’t superhuman myself, all these blows would have me unconscious. Couldn’t take away from the raw power she possessed. I was hurting, and exposed. Reese knew this. She always knew.

“Get up, Benson.” I struggled to, not for loss of blood, not for loss of breath, but awareness that Clarissa had my number at the moment. She kicked at me again.

— — UPLOAD: New Helmet — —

I grabbed her foot as soon as the new mask covered my face, a full HUD back at my disposal. “Nope.” I pushed myself up to stand again, only to be met with an enziguri-like kick to the back of my head. I staggered long enough for her to collect herself and knock me backwards with another kick. We were already feet away from the edge of the 10th floor; the blow knocked me clear off.

I dropped again, like Dwyer had minutes ago. I had no hero — or working wings — to keep me from slamming into the hood of a police cruiser.

I groaned. It didn’t hurt like I thought it would: the stretched out wings and engine took the brunt of the hit, and for the best too. I heard a revving, and felt a welcome surge of warmth.

— — That impact just helped to reboot your rear engine. Running a diagnostic now. — —

Please make it quick. VISOR came through: the engine was jolted to start again, and energy flowed freely throughout the suit. My forearms felt the massage of turbines rotating smoothly.

An officer came over and looked down at me. “You alright, Axiom?”

“Uh… yeah,” I grunted. “I think I’m good now.” I twisted my neck around. No pain from the lacerations anymore. My nose didn’t feel clogged with blood anymore. The suit had activated its auto heal function, and I could already feel the effects.

I reached out for the cop to pull me up. He did, and I was back on my feet looking like I survived just taken a sanguine shower. I shrugged it off and focused on liftoff. With a sputter and a spray, my jetpack activated and shot me upwards. I braced myself for anything…

…and arrived on the tenth floor to absolutely no one.

VISOR scanned around. — — She’s gone. — —

Just then, two notifications arrived on my HUD. First, from Stunts. “You good, Ben? I’m hearing lots of chatter about you falling from a tenth floor window.”

“Yeah,” I sucked my teeth. “Palmeiro came out of nowhere and caught me good.”

“Shit.” I crouched down and sat on the rubble. “We’ll get her, and the rest of the Rouge. I’ll come get you.”

“Cool. Take your time, though? Please, I need a moment.”

“Alright.”

Aaron was the other call. And easily as supportive as Stunts. “You’re slipping.”

“Aaron, don’t.”

“Clarissa Palmeiro’s always been your blind spot.”

“She’s smart, Aaron. She had this all planned out.”

“And you’re a Benson. You adjust. You get the upper hand. You win.”

I rolled my eyes, searching for the perfect words. “Fuck you.”

“What?”

Click. I pulled off my helmet and found the nearest piece of furniture to punch. The East River was so calm. I wish I wasn’t boiling with anger, after all that just went down, but I couldn’t help it. I swung at a couple of pillars, tearing off huge chunks of concrete. That was enough frustration blown off for the next few minutes.

VISOR? A chirp blended in with the now-rush hour traffic. Let Stunts know that I need to pay my brother a visit.