“She needed a hero, so that’s what she became” -Unknown
The sparring pit smelled of sweat and desperation. The scent of it clung to Zaria’s clothing, just as that damp clothing stuck to her tone and muscular frame. A bead of sweat dripped down the side of her cheek and onto the soft dirt as she struggled to keep her opponents arm locked tightly against her body and pinned between her legs. The notion of being able to rip apart the fragile ligaments that held his joint together fancied her after the beating that he had given her over half a year ago. A pair of panicked slaps against her shin pulled her from the confines of her mind and Zaria released John’s arm back to him. He cradled the overextended limb delicately and sat up, his face contorted in pain. Zaria rolled backward and popped lightly back onto her feet, smiling cheerfully at her opponent.
“John, you gonna live?” Virus called out from his spot leaning against the thick wooden tent pole.
“Bitch got lucky,” John grunted while pushing himself to his feet. Zaria raised a disapproving brow.
“Please, that was so easy, I’m embarrassed for you,” She laughed.
“Fuck off,” John said under his breath and made a beeline for the tent exit. Two of John’s friends followed suit, glaring back at Zaria as they slipped out behind their hurt leader. Grant laughed heartily and clapped Zaria on the back as she slipped back into the crowd of soldiers to watch the remaining matches.
“Told you not to worry,” Grant grinned. Zaria smiled up at her massive friend before staring intently at the pit where two more soldiers, a tall, dark-skinned woman and a man with slightly graying hair, were facing off.
“It was too easy. I need someone to push me or I wont get stronger,” She said quietly. Grant grimaced and placed a gentle hand on her bare shoulder.
“Wait till next time and tell Virus you want a two on one. I’ve seen him take on about four at a time. The guy can throw down,” Grant informed her. Zaria shrugged and squatted down on her toes. Reaching out, she grabbed a handful of dirt and let the tiny grains of stone sift through her fingers.
“It’s been seven months Grant. Seven months and no one’s heard a thing,” Zaria said morosely.
“Hey, that doesn’t mean anything. Rogue’s tough as shit, I’m sure she’s out there somewhere Shorty,” Grant comforted.
“Yeah, because if she isn’t then someone’s going to have to suffer for it,” Zaria snarled, tossing the remaining dirt in her hand to the ground.
“Murphy’s going on recon tomorrow morning. Why don’t you go too?” Virus’ voice sounded from behind Zaria. She jumped in surprise and stumbled into the rear end of the soldier in front of her. He turned and gave Zaria an amused look before turning back to watch the fights.
“Sorry dude,” she sighed, “Graceful, Zaria.”
“My bad. Anyway, you in?” Virus asked. Zaria turned and glared at him, venom filling her pale blue eyes.
“Of course I’m coming with,” She snapped. It was in that brief lapse in control that Virus finally saw it. Saw the waning line of forced courage that tugged at the tired lines in Zaria’s face. The dark circles beneath her lashes that revealed countless nights lying awake on the far side of a straw mattress, staring at the rusted tin ceiling of her shack as she nursed a bottle of liquor. The raw skin along her cheeks where she struggled in vain to clear the salty tears that wound their way through the valleys of her sunken and sullen features.
“Good, you leave at five. This’ll be a good test to see if your fit to lead a team of your own,” Virus ordered, tearing his eyes from her aggrieved gaze and pushing through the crowd with his head slightly hung.
“Want some company tomorrow?” Grant asked, noting the expanding irritation flickering behind Zaria’s eyes.
“Sure, could use someone that actually gives a shit about her,” Zaria whispered angrily. Behind her she heard the barely audible sound of a single wounded pause in Virus’ step. “I’ll catch you later though. This chickita needs a drink.” Slugging Grant in his massive arm, Zaria slipped through the crowd and out into the dusty air.
She held her hand up above her eyes to block the blazing beams of morning sunlight that seemed to desire only a place of rest on her pupils. Squinting, Zaria slowly made her way down the dirty street, her weathered combat boots beating the ground with insipid vigor. The single-story shacks along the main path through the camp were a bustle in the mid-morning hours as the locals of New Kennedy made for their fields or prepared morning meals for themselves and their families. The fishing crews steadily wheeled their small, dingy ships out on large carts pulled by small, motorized vehicles. All of their lives appeared so simple and easy. Zaria watched them each individually and as a mass, wondering if any of them suffered the way she did. And if so, how did they continue on like they did? When it was all she could do to exhaust herself day in and day out simply so that she might be able to fall asleep at night, consumed by fear and nightmares of loss.
Zaria tiredly pushed open the tin door of her hut, and let it snap shut behind her. She impatiently fished out a half-empty bottle of liquor from the cabinet and took a long drink straight from the mouth of the bottle stained with multiple imprints of her lips. She gasped as the fiery liquid dribbled down her throat, the petulant burning casting warmth through her core. She slammed the base of the clear bottle down hard on the counter and turned to face the old, padded striking dummy she had built several weeks prior. Its grimy gray surface was coated with blood where her knuckles had split open from repeated abuse and countless hours of training. Several long limbs extended from the main body of the circular pad made of solid wood used to train the body for blocking and striking simultaneously.
The raven-haired woman positioned her feet for balance and began to train for the next hour, wailing upon the surface of her faux enemy. Blocking each arm of her created device and slamming her fists, palms and knees into it without mercy. Each strike ebbed her mind into a calm, cathartic state of numbness. It was a state that she imagined Rogue entering whenever she fought.
Zaria shifted her feet and hooked her fist into the side of her opponent’s top, toppling it over with a thunderous blow and shout. She breathed in and out rapidly while several beads of sweat trickled down her scalp. Before she could stand her practice dummy back up, a short rapping sounded on her door.
“Hello?” Zaria called out as she walked over to the rusty door. She could hear muffled muttering, but nothing distinguishable. Confused, Zaria pulled the door open. As she did, a calloused hand shot through the opening and clamped around her mouth. Zaria’s hand reflexively shot upward and lifted the palm from her face. Extending her free hand forward, her fingers locked around skin and cloth and pulled hard. The body that followed was one she recognized, and as she rolled backward and shoved her knee into his sternum, Zaria could see that John knew he was done for. Air left his lungs and Zaria snapped her foot out the instant her back touched the floor, sending her assailant flying upside down into the far wall. Zaria quickly rolled to her feet and glared down at John who now gasped for oxygen like a fish for water.
“Are you fucking kidding me dude?” She barked. It was then that she saw his eyes focus on something behind her. Zaria ducked quickly and slammed her leg backward, instantly breaking the knee of the next oncoming attacker and sending him toppling over with a howl of agony. The third and final opponent made to grab her in a bear hug, but his motion was far too slow. Zaria span beneath his arm and secured his wrist in the same motion. Continuing her turn, Zaria drug the attacker to the ground, placed her free hand on his shoulder and pulled his wrist back, tearing the ligaments and splitting the cartilage in his elbow as she bent it the opposite direction. Flipping him over and ignoring the shrieks of pain, Zaria snatched the nearly empty bottle of vodka off of the nearby counter and clubbed him across the face with a shout, shattering the bottle and leaving fragments of razor sharp glass embedded in her enemies face.
Had the disturbing screams and cries not been enough to alert those around, the three bodies that the small, female soldier dragged out into the dust, broken and bleeding certainly was. Petrovich stood down the street, watching as Zaria left a young man with a clearly broken leg and another with a broken arm and face full of glass laying half dead in the street. She appeared a few moments later holding another man by the hair as she dragged him outside. Once she stopped pulling she began beating, savagely pounding the man’s face multiple times into the ground. Even from nearly a block away, Petrovich could see the contorted, furious expression on his young friends face. His heart skipped when she reached down to her thigh and un-holstered the rusty revolver that rested there. She quickly drew back the hammer and pointed the gun down at the top of the man’s head.
After a brief moment of hesitation, Zaria pulled the trigger. A sharp crack echoed down the street and not a soul around spoke or moved. They all knew the loving and caring doctor, respected her. None of them could believe she would murder someone in cold-blood, let alone in public. Petrovich watched as she glared down at the body and spoke.
“That was a fucking warning! Virus and Tanner will hear about this and if I ever hear a word out of you again I’ll make sure the next bullet goes through your fucking head!” She snarled. John quickly got up and ran with dirt spewing behind his frantic steps, leaving behind him his injured friends and a bloody stain where his face had been beaten into the ground. Beside that stain was a small, dark brown hole in the road where Zaria had shot, just inches away so as not to kill another human being. Zaria turned and slammed the metal door behind her with enough force to vibrate the entire shack.
“Good,” Petrovich smiled. He reached out his calloused hand full of dull and dirty coins and handed them to the vendor. The senile vendor, with only a stripe of color left in her long gray hair smiled warmly at the Specialist before he departed, nibbling on his sinewy stick of meat.
He wound his way down the street until he arrived at the large Mercenary tent that those of Lance called home here in New Kennedy. Pushing his way through the dangling flaps, Petrovich quickly located Virus amongst the rest of the soldiers. The Scout sat atop a tall stool, hunched over the bar with a beer in his hand. Petrovich slapped his hand down on the bar top next to his age-old friend.
“Virus, where’s Tanner. The three of us need to discuss something,” Petrovich rattled out before Virus could think of a clever way to call him old again.
“Can’t use your liver spots as a secret map?” Virus asked, high fiving himself.
“I cannot wait until you actually begin to age,” Petrovich chuckled. Virus grinned and knocked back the remaining contents of his beer.
“Hopefully I’ll be dead by then. Tinman’s in the back going over some Intel we intercepted from a patrol. C’mon,” Virus informed his friend. Hopping off of the stool, the slightly below average height soldier led his aged friend across the tent to Tanner’s room where Virus could just make out the telltale mutterings of the Mechanic attempting to decipher whatever materials he was flitting through.
“Tincan, Petrovich needs to talk to us. You got a minute?” Virus called through the flap that was bound on the inside with a single cord of rope so as not to be interrupted. Through the tiny seam, Virus could see Tanner, pacing and muttering. The usually put together Mechanic ran his hands through unkempt blonde hair and sighed loudly.
“Yeah, what’s up?” He asked, walking over and undoing the cord from the canvas flaps. He stepped aside and allowed his comrades to enter.
“Tinman, Virus, you know that I used to be an Augmentation Specialist,” Petrovich started off. He took a seat in the wicker chair beside Tanner’s cot and placed his hands casually onto the armrests. Virus leaned nonchalantly against the wooden beam holding up the end of the tent and nodded.
“Yeah, kind of living evidence of that,” Virus laughed.
“What’s your point?” Tanner asked intently. The tone drew an interested glance from Virus who’s back straightened immediately.
“I believe that your technology expert, Jeremy, has the tools necessary to replicate the nano bots required for the Augmentation Process,” Petrovich answered slowly.
“And?” Virus asked, hearing the hesitation in Petrovich’s uncertain voice.
“There is a particular soldier in your company that has the same promise that I felt coming from the two of you and your brothers. I would like, if that individual is alright with it, to create one last Mercenary,” Petrovich asked.
“Woah woah, you can make more? We could make an army, Petrovich. We could stop Seraph without a problem if there were enough of us!” Virus said excitedly. He took a few steps closer in his glee before he noticed the distant, concerned look in the old man’s eyes.
“I feel a ‘but’ coming,” Tanner murmured, earning a nod from Petrovich.
“The chemical required to create the anesthetic, no longer exists. The last of it was destroyed in the war after the North China Air Force bombed District X.”
“Hypothetically, if I was a little rusty on my quantum physics and human experimentation, how would you explain what’s so special about this one anesthetic?” Virus asked.
“It’s a chemical with similar affects to Propofol. It’s called Sine Dolore. It’s Latin for painless. Essentially it causes the mind to enter a force-induced coma the instant it senses the body about to suffer from extreme pain. We used it on the Mercenaries so that the effects of the Augmentation didn’t damage their minds. That much agony is enough to drive anyone to insanity. I’ve only seen a few survive intact, and those were the ones with incredible fortitude,” Petrovich explained, eyeing Virus and Tanner’s wavering expressions.
The sounds of the soldiers in the other room were the only thing heard for what seemed like an eternity and each of the three men shifted uneasily, remembering the few times they’d had to deal with insane Super Soldiers created by small companies that had no idea what they were doing. When those poor individuals went insane, nothing but a force like a team of Mercenaries could hope to take down the thrashing, mad minded individuals with no notion of the destruction they caused. They were like a rabid bear, uncontrollable and unstoppable. Virus and Tanner both shivered, the nightmarish scenarios flooding back to them.
“So who in the hell do you think would be ballsy enough to try without the anesthesia? Grant could probably take it, or Murphy?” Virus asked incredulously. He was rubbing his fingers into his forehead with enough force that Petrovich could practically feel the stress pulsing through his skull.
“The one that would give anything and everything for her cause,” Petrovich said firmly and without any hint of doubt in his unwavering voice. “I want to augment Zaria.”