Chapter 231 Blackwater Allegiance
Z watched as 'Mr. Vane' - whatever his real name was, she did not particularly care - left the Wanyudo.
"What do you think of him, Z?" said Knife.
"Sharp eyes." Z narrowed her own eyes, remembering Vane's stare that mirrored hers almost perfectly. Eyes weary of the world around them, and yet always aware, always alert.
Those were the eyes of someone whose vigilance was born from suffering and loss.
"True, he did remind me of you somehow, but now that you mention it, it's all in the eyes," said Knife. "He could even pass for your son or something."
"Son, is it?" Z shrugged. "Your imagination is running a little too wild, Knife. Take Fork and Spoon and get some rest. I need some alone time. In the meanwhile, tell my riders to give me status reports on their projects."
"Got it, boss," said Knife, and he waved his hand, motioning the other two bodyguards - Spoon and Fork - to follow him out of the meeting room.
When they left, Z found herself staring into her cup of coffee, staring at her muted reflection. It was hard to make out anything other than the purple glow of her eyes.
"V, my little daughter, you've come home, have you? After all this time?" Z sighed deeply and slid her cup away, not wanting to look at her reflection anymore. "But home…is no place for you."
Z looked at the door that Aldrich left through. Her gaze was sharp again. "I only hope you've chosen right."
Aldrich walked back into the main living room of his base. The moment he stepped in, all of the Blackwater students stopped what they were doing to pay heed to him. Not that they were doing much aside from talking, gathered around tables and furniture as they were.
Aldrich went to the kitchen area where he looked in the fridge and took out a can of beer. He ignored the almost dozen stares etched on him as he opened the can.
"What? I can't enjoy a beer?" Aldrich took a sip as he met everyone's stares. Some were eased. Most anxious. None hostile - a good sign. "This isn't like before when you guys got to go out to the city and I couldn't. And I think I deserve this after raising you all from the dead."
"Technically though, didn't you kill us?" said a lanky, long haired guy with deeply sunken in, tired golden eyes. This was Elias. Blackwater's rank 6 with a speed based power that let him boost his speed by sapping it from others.
"Even if I did, I could have just as easily left you all for dead," said Aldrich. He raised a brow. "I can do that even now, if you want. Turning any of you into dust isn't much of an issue for me."
Aldrich took another sip. "But I'd prefer not to. I'd like for us to be able to enjoy a drink like this all together, even if I am just a Dud in your eyes."
Alexis lightly chopped Elias's head. "Elias, you idiot, we all talked about this." She nodded towards Aldrich with her pale white eyes. "All of us are in agreement about staying here. Even Elias. It's just difficult for him to express himself properly."
"Beats dying again, I guess," Elias shrugged and lazily plopped down on a couch. "I have no real preference either way, but if you want to do this, Lexis, then I will too."
"You're no Dud to me, either," said Ace. "You have undeniable power, plus I hear from the news you've got some big shot Fortune heir backing this whole operation. I'm in as long as I get a fat chunk of credits."
"Credits won't be a big deal," said Aldrich. "And the rest of you?"
"Most of us here are child recruits from mercenary groups," said Alexis. "We have no real attachment to the organizations that raised us. If anything, if we're going to get paid under you, then we don't see why we shouldn't take your offer. p anda
Novel Especially because as Elias somewhat rudely pointed out, we would die otherwise."
"It's good to see we're all starting to get on the same page." Aldrich scanned the room. "I know almost all of you are either child soldiers picked up and raised by merc groups or laboratory experiments. You have no real familial attachments to any of these places. I can take it that most of you are fine being under my employ?"
Most of the Blackwater students nodded.
"Let's see, if I remember my research correctly, two of you here do still have families you're involved with. Gerald and Kat, you two, what do you think?" said Aldrich.
Kat was the daughter of two renowned assassins in the underworld taking up the family practice. Gerald, on the other hand, had been sold by his parents as collateral for a gambling debt they had racked up.
The criminal organization that picked Gerald up realized his power had strong potential along with Gerald himself having talent. Gerald was a soft spoken and seemingly frail minded person, but when it came to fighting, he could put focus to an almost unnatural degree.
So the merc group had trained him, then geared him towards Blackwater to complete his training.
"I'm not against the idea of working with you," said Kat, her feline ears twitching nervously. "But like, my parents will worry, and I have to see if they're okay with this and all…"
Aldrich had not expected Kat of all people to be the type to worry about her parents all that much. But this was not that much of an issue.
From what he knew, her parents were independent contractors not affiliated with any organization, meaning Kat was not an asset tied up to any organization that they had to retrieve.
If Kat just wanted to do her own thing, so long as her parents accepted it, she should have no issues working with Aldrich. "You can contact your parents. I'll set that up when possible. I can assume you aren't worrying about their safety, right?"
"No, they're total badasses. I'm sure they're fine," said Kat. "Probably looking for me, though."
"Right." Aldrich looked at Gerald. "And you?"
"I haven't seen my parents in a long time," said Gerald.
"I imagine you may not want to, considering how you ended up being in Blackwater," said Aldrich.
"Yeah…" Gerald shook his head. "But I still want to see them one more time. If I work with you, I want to ask you for that favor."
"I'll do my best," said Aldrich. "That, I can promise."
Gerald smiled warmly. "Okay then."
"Good," said Aldrich. "Then all of us have an agreement."
Aldrich nodded mostly to himself. When Blackwater did not know he was Aldrich and just Thanatos, they followed him without much question due to the heightened loyalty conditioned into them from becoming undead. However, once they realized it was Aldrich, there was some level of resistance, but it looked like it was mostly just at the surface level.
Most of the students were just like anyone else. They wanted safety and security and credits. Which Aldrich could provide. The credits, he would have to borrow from now, probably from Aarav, but he could pay that back tenfold soon enough.
And, maybe, as Z had said, the students wanted freedom.
Ironically, under Aldrich's control, they were less free than ever, but freedom was always an illusory concept. If Aldrich could make them feel freer, then he was sure they would prefer working under him than whatever forced labor they faced in their mercenary organizations.
In any case, Aldrich could not foresee the students having so much resistance against Aldrich that they could override their loyalty directive. The only one that had done that was Evan Harker, and that was because as a member of Seth Solar's gang, he had absolutely hated Aldrich.
Aldrich would keep an eye on Simon Wells, the last remaining member of that gang, but for now, allowed him to exist so long as he did not make a ruckus. Simon did not show nearly as much direct hostility against Aldrich. At the very least, not enough to surpass the loyalty directive.
Plus Simon had decent potential to grow stronger where Evan's wolf bots, though strong, were resource intensive.
On top of that, Svetlanna was a better techno than Evan in almost every metric. She was not as specialized in creating battle bots, but she could hold her own in combat using her energy absorbing hair whereas Evan was basically useless without his drones.
Evan was just dead weight. Someone who barely sat at rank 14 in Blackwater's A class, just ahead of Eric whose powers were meant mostly for healing, not fighting.
"Help yourselves to whatever you want," said Aldrich. He pointed at the empty beer cans and bottles strewn about. "Just make sure to clean up later."