Diamondback carried over the mind controlling Alter's broken and battered body to Aldrich, tossing the man beside the cop Aldrich restrained. They lined up perfectly together, two men thoroughly broken in both body and spirit.
Though, Aldrich did note, the guy he was restraining had it pretty good. No broken bones anywhere. Just a week ago, and he would have more than considered snapping things already. Maybe he had softened up.
Aldrich was still a lich. An existence separated from the living, related to humans only in the same vestigial lens that normal men saw monkeys through. Though he did actively try to stop this way of thinking from infecting him too much.
The fact of the matter was that if Aldrich grew too far from his own humanity, the more liable he was to becoming too much a monster. And, if he surmised correctly, that was a one-way ticket to suffering from a bad case of immortality induced insanity.
Or maybe it was simpler than this. Maybe he was just more patient.
Who knew. In any case, it was now time for questioning.
"You two look pretty buddy buddy," said Aldrich, sarcasm dripping from his voice.
"Shut it," said the mind controlling Alter with strained voice.
"I'm surprised you're even conscious. Your AC count must be pretty high for you to have a body this tough even without Augmenter abilities." Aldrich tapped his shades as he scanned the Alter. AC count of 3400.
Not bad. A thorough C ranker.
Even D rankers had superhuman physicals, provided they trained. Enough to weather a few stone splitting hits or recover from a broken bone in two or three weeks.
And now, Aldrich could see that a C ranker could take shattered arms and an annihilated leg and stay conscious. Something that would have been absolutely lethal for humans pre-Altering.
"They're both nothing but chumps. If we want to question them, we'll have to make it quick." Diamondback loomed over both restrained cops.
"Right." Aldrich nodded down towards the two Alters. "I'll ask things nicely. Consider that a warning. If I don't like what I'm hearing, I'm going to start breaking things. Do we have an agreement?"
"Yes, yes, we do!" said the Alter under Aldrich.
"Be quiet, Tommy, and let me do the talking," said the leader. He glared up at Aldrich and Diamondback. "What do you two want to hear, huh?"
"You still have an attitude in this situation? Interesting. Well, to start off with, it's pretty obvious you two aren't cops," said Aldrich.
"No shit," said the leader. "Agh!"
Diamondback had shot a crystal shard into the leader's thigh, lowering the velocity so that it stayed stuck to minimize blood loss.
"Sorry. I dropped that," said Diamondback. He hovered his hand over the leader's head. "I might drop it again, too, unless you take up a better tone with us, boy."
"What's the point? You two are going to kill us anyway," said the leader.
"Not necessarily. You, in particular, might be useful to keep around with that power of yours," said Aldrich. "The fact that you aren't using it, though, makes me wonder. You need to put your hand on your head to channel it, right?"
"…" The leader stayed quiet.
Diamondback hovered his palm over the leader's other leg. Aldrich raised a hand to stop him from firing another shard. "It's okay. Silence is answer enough sometimes. Now, why are you patrolling remote highway like this? And posing as cops? Where did you even get these cop cars? Highway patrol cars aren't easy to come by, and as far as I know, all of them have trackers to stop them getting lost in the Wastelands.
If you're using them for dumb stuff like this, you obviously took the trackers off too, and that requires some serious techno tinkering."
A brief silence.
"You've already killed my crew. I've got nothing more to give you," said the leader.
Aldrich looked into his red tinted eyes. It was said that the eyes were a window to a person's soul. Aldrich fully believed this. He could tell so much from the eyes. And what he saw was determination. Some resignation.
This guy was ready to die. He probably truly had cared about his crew.
Well, that just meant he wasn't as useful. Aldrich could raise him as an undead and get answers that way, but that would give away his Thanatos identity too quickly.
"And you?" Aldrich tapped his pistol on the head of the guy he was restraining. "You have anything to give us? Looks like your boss here is letting you down. He says his crew's dead, but he doesn't even count you."? ??? a ???e?
"I'll tell! I don't give a fuck about this crew, I'm just a new recruit anyway!"
"That's what I like to hear," said Aldrich. "Answer the questions I gave to your boss."
"We were out here cause we took a free for all contract floating around the Darknet. Five hundred thousand credits just for useful tips on people coming in and out of cities in this area related to the Burning," said the underling, his voice panicked. "That's why we were on this road, cause it leads to a city, shit, what was its name?"
? ?? ??-??? ??, ?,?,? "Redrock." Aldrich paused for a moment. "It's just a tier 3 city. Relatively unimportant. But you still set up a watch here?"
"Tougher and better hunters than us have set up watches all around the tier 2 and 1 cities. Plus, we're not that good of a crew to take on leftovers from the Burning," said the underling.
"Burning?" said Aldrich.
"It's what the underworld calls the whole Red Circle disaster," said the underling. "Shit was fucking wild. Biggest thing that happened to upset the balance since, like, Dracul going apeshit and completely breaking up one of the Dark Six. And that was fifteen years ago."
Aldrich nodded. Dracul, one of the world's few Sentinels. A man Aldrich wanted to meet once he got on the global stage. He probably would join Aldrich's fight against the rest of the Dark Six. "And who was the contract from?"
"Contract was anonymous, but everyone knows it's probably a pissed off Dark Six."
"Any extra details on what the contract wanted? What are the criteria for useful tips?" said Aldrich.
"Anyone and anything related to the Red Circle. That's all we know! Five hundred thousand was just a shit ton of money. You understand why we had to be here, right? Shit, if you aren't related to any of this, no, even if you are, I can just pretend nothing ever happened. I swear!"
"I don't think we're going to get anymore out of this low level hired guns," said Diamondback. "Technically, they aren't even hired guns. They're just freelancers that have no real relation to the Dark Six.
No real point of connection.
Even if you thought about baiting the Dark Six by forcing them to say they had a good tip, the info probably goes through too many layers of screening for us to infiltrate the Dark Six."
"Yeah, that's what I figured too. These guys are just one crew out of probably thousands just roaming around. No useful information. All nuisance." Aldrich sighed. "Well, atleast we know that there's more of them out there. And that this contract's relatively recent.
I would've heard about it from my technos if it was before I got on the road, so it got uploaded within the past ten hours."
"If you want to get into a city safely, now is probably the best time," said Diamondback. "Not enough time's passed for too many crews to get in on this and set themselves up. Especially not around a tier 3 city.
The question is getting out. Things might get messier. Messy enough that it might be better to reconsider this trip entirely."
Aldrich shook his head. From what V said, Randall, Elaine's adoptive father, was now close to death from a terminal illness called Waste Lung. Developed when toxic particles in the air remaining from geostorms accumulated in the lungs, slowly rotting them over time.
If Aldrich did not get into Redrock now, Randall might pass away before Aldrich could make good on Elaine's last wishes.
"We're still going," said Aldrich. "I told you, I have errands to run. And a promise to keep."
"What about leaving?" said Diamondback. "These guys may be chumps, but 500k isn't chump change. It's enough for decently strong hunters to start camping in and around even tier 3 cities."
"That's what I have you for, isn't it? You're supposed to be my bodyguard," said Aldrich.
"…" Diamondback sighed. "I guess. Yeah. That is true. And I don't think we'll ever run into a crew strong enough to take me out. That's the nature of a free for all job like this. You end up netting in a lot of crews, but most of them will be trash."
Diamondback shook his head. "I still think you should've changed your CID completely."
"That would make things too easy now, wouldn't it?" Aldrich looked at Diamondback's judgmental face and sighed. "That was a joke. My techno is extremely capable and familiar with Z's CID template.
She can remotely alter some details on our CIDs if we have to.
I can minimize our risks going into and out of the city, but the fact of the matter is I'm pretty decided on going in."
"I'll do my job regardless of what your decision is," said Diamondback.
"Good." Aldrich looked down at the two fake cops. "And now it's time we got rid of these guys."
Diamondback nodded. "Yeah."