"Get…get rid of us!? We-," the underling briefly glanced at his boss. "No, I told you everything I knew! You can't do this to me!"
"You're a hunter, aren't you?" said Aldrich.
"Y-yeah, but why does that matter!?"
"Then you know what risks this job comes with. You hunt down other people. You bring them in dead or alive. You do this knowing full well you're also flipping a coin. One side dead, one side alive. Tonight, both of you got unlucky." Aldrich pressed the gun against the back of the underling's head. "Accept the results of the draw. They won't change."
Aldrich fired the gun. Instead of the echoing roar a normal gun would've blasted out on the wide-open wastes, there was instead more of a higher pitched 'ping' from the gun's built in silencer. Standard issue for hunters that often needed to work in cities, dodging police and heroes.
The underling's head jerked forward. His body shivered once as lead gored through his brain, making his nervous system jolt in one last death throe. Then, he transitioned fully from man to corpse, the body growing still as a light pool of blood started to already form around the head.
"And you've already been ready to die," said Aldrich to the boss.
The boss stared at him wordlessly and just closed his eyes. He must have had a strong bond with his crew. Except for the newly onboarded underling, of course. A bond close to family, if their loss meant this guy could stare down death without a whimper or a whine.
Aldrich did not feel much of anything towards the man. He was just exterminating pests. When it came to taking out targets, his 'lich brain' revved fully into gear, and it became much harder for him to separate man from meat. To think of people like this as more than just a bag of bones and flesh all waiting to rot and decay.
An inevitable casualty. Whether by quick bullet or the comparatively slower wear and tear of time, there was no real difference to Aldrich.
They were not useful to Aldrich as undead either, even if he could somehow tell Diamondback to leave and raise them discretely. The mind controlling Alter, maybe, but his power seemed to have too many limitations and it did not work on legitimately strong targets.
Not too worth the effort. Fler'Gan was better.
Aldrich nodded to Diamondback.
Diamondback executed the boss with one quick shot of a crystal shard. Clean. Efficient. That was how he did things. Aldrich liked it.
"About clean up." Aldrich stood up from the underling's corpse beneath him. He looked around at the scene of devastation, the upturned cars, the blood pooled corpses, the scattered weapons, and saw more nuisances to deal with. "How are we going to do this?"
"Some of my boys are trailing us from farther away. Not close enough to draw attention on us but not far enough where they can't handle the clean-up for situations just like this," said Diamondback. "I'll pack all the evidence we have up here, the bodies and guns and so on, and cram it all into the cars. Afterwards, I'll toss the cars a couple miles down for my boys to get rid of."
"You foresaw this happening?"
Diamondback shrugged. Whenever he moved, the noise from his crystal body sounded like a series of clicks and cracks. Notably, though, his diamond body, though seemingly completely rigid uniformly, bended flexibly to accommodate movement.
Whatever crystal Diamondback was made from, even if it did resemble diamond, was something far more durable and far easier to shape.
"I've been working as muscle for forty years," said Diamondback. "Ever since I was fifteen. Worked all the way back with Daz, Clint's pa and living legend. I've picked up a thing or two about how things go in this line of dirty work."
Diamondback moved reached down and picked up the two corpses, slinging them over his shoulder. Compared to his massive frame, the corpses looked almost like they belonged to children.
"The blood?" Aldrich watched blood trickle down from the head shots on the corpses, dripping down like raindrops on window glass across Diamondback's body.
"You're new to the Wastes, I forget. The Wastes round these parts are dry. The earth is thirsty. Greedy. It'll suck the blood right up." Diamondback tossed the corpses on top of the two police cars.
Aldrich saw that Diamondback was right. Whatever blood pooled on the cracked, parched earth seeped into it in a manner of seconds. A few little dark splotches atop the orange earth were all that remained of the once warm and fresh blood, and even that would fade away with winds carrying dust and more dirt.
"I'll handle all of this. You're tough enough to handle yourself for a bit, aren't you? Your girl too, she's got attitude, and I bet she can back it up. Drive the car down. Try not to let the little girl see this." Diamondback walked away, towards the cop cars, picking up any guns and other odd pieces of evidence he found along the way. "I'll catch up soon."
"Thanks," said Aldrich. "I owe you one."
"Yeah? Then treat me to some donuts in the city. It's nice eating fresh hunted meat out in the Wastes, but sometimes a man's a got a sweet tooth he's gotta satisfy."
Aldrich nodded, amused that a tough guy like Diamondback had such a strong sweet tooth. "If that's what you want, then sure."
=? ??? a ???e?
The rest of the way into Redrock went by without much issue. Just two more hours of driving through endless stretch of road with Chrysa sleeping through it all. Noticeably, Aldrich sensed her mana pool seemingly growing by the minute, likely influenced both by her natural growth and the newly established link between herself and Aldrich.
The roads were more peaceful because the closer Aldrich drove to Redrock, to highway under direct surveillance by Panopticon drones or real police or heroes flying by, the harder it was for hunters or underworld criminals in general to just camp in areas to harass people.
Plus, closer to Redrock, there were more civilian cars around too, and though Aldrich's car, a solid 300,000 credit behemoth of comfort and power of advanced air conditioning and armor plating, stood out considerably, he did not stand out so much that he looked any different from a rich guy cautious about his safety.
Especially now that flight was hyper regulated.
In the post-Monstering age, commercial flight was a lot more difficult to work with. Airspace was shared with variants now, after all, and nothing put a damper on flights more than a giant bird or bug ready to tear into a plane's hull.
There was also a phenomenon known as variant resistance to consider. Over time, in a form of natural selection-evolution on steroids, variants would respond to human activity and begin to counter it. If there were too many things dominating airspace, more and more variants would start to develop flight capabilities, and that was the last thing the Panopticon wanted.
Flight capable variants were much harder to deal with than grounded ones. And they made walled cities much harder to defend logistically.
Most airspace in the modern post-Monstering age was therefore dedicated solely to trade. Transporting goods and supplies from one place to the other so that the global economy could still be, well, global. Unmanned or one-man piloted airplanes and drones did not seem to incite variant resistance nearly as much as commercial craft packed with tons of Alter lives either.
There were exceptions with urgent government or Panop-AA sanctioned flights like the one that had taken Thanatos out to the Crypt, but in general, aside for the ultra-wealthy, easy commercial flights were a thing of the past.
Even flying heroes needed to have a specific license to have the authority to fly around from one place to the other. Very few like Solomon Solar had unrestricted access to airspace. Generally speaking, only A rankers and above had complete access whenever and wherever they wanted.
Aside from desperate situations like with Haven's attack, most other heroes needed their flight paths pre-authorized.
"Damn, donuts really do hit a good spot. Especially after a good fight." Diamondback leaned back on a plush brown couch, watching a wide screen HD telescreen playing the news. On his lap were a box of two dozen donuts. A variety pack, some chocolate glazed, some strawberry glazed, others sprinkled, others plain, etcetera.
The big man ate the donuts like they were little pieces of candy, swallowing them straight whole.
"Language," said Aldrich. He sat on a desk in front of a laptop, prepping a connection with V. Valera sat beside him, peering curiously at the screen to try and make a sense of it.
"What is that?" Chrysa sat beside Diamondback, cocking her head curiously at the colorful donuts. "Give me one!"
"Sure, kid." Diamondback held out the box of donuts towards Chrysa, and she scanned the colorful assortment of baked goods before she picked out a sprinkled one.
"Sprinkles, huh? Good taste." Diamondback downed another donut.
"Itsh good!" Chrysa said, crumbs falling from her mouth as she spoke while she chewed.
"Don't talk while you eat. It ain't polite," said Diamondback.
Chrysa gulped down the rest of her donut and nodde. "Okay."
Aldrich nodded at the interaction. Diamondback was better with kids than he reckoned.
Aldrich had rented out a decent hotel in Redrock's center district. In walled cities, the further to the center you were, the higher the land prices generally.
Most of the hotels here were on the better side, too, most requiring a check of a CID to determine things like criminal background and credit history. For Bruce Vayne, a supposed multi-millionaire trust fund child and his wife, child, and their bodyguard, getting entry was easy.
For the average lowlife hunter, though, entry was much harder. Fake CIDs let hunters move in and out of cities and some districts because most border CID checks were quick, easy, and light.
But they did not pass closer security checks, especially in wealthier areas that cared more about security and took their time.
? ?? ??-??? ??, ?,?,? You needed a CID properly rigged by a good techno for that, and Aldrich had precisely that now that Z had upgraded his CIDs. Diamondback's fake CID was also pretty solid, likely due to needing it for his work.
Among the Spearhorns, he did the most business in the cities, probably because he was the only one among them that had the cool to hold down a proper conversation.
Now feeling just a bit safer, Aldrich got ready to contact V and get things ready. He needed to confirm Randall's location here, check on the status of his troops and Casimir still in the Wastes, any extra news about the Dark Six's plans against him, and whether there was any useful information mined from the bug on Desmond.