321 S Oak St.
Grove City, Idaho
Entry into the home was not much of a problem for Ashley now that she’d adorned herself in the full RPR assembly. She doubted anything she did while wearing the blood-red armor could be considered inconspicuous, but she entered out of sight, just in case.
Until she’d summoned the remainder of the RPR, she’d instructed it to keep a close distance, and most especially to remain outside of town and away from people or roadways. Nabu, the AI that governed the suit was more than happy to comply. The Artificial Intelligence almost seemed sapient, but Malcolm insisted that it was a product of some very sophisticated computer algorithms. Ashley had her doubts, but so long as the suit performed as it should and obeyed her commands, she was willing to look the other way.
She stood just outside the home’s back door, gauntleted hand poised over the knob.
“Miss Harris,” Nabu said, a light, almost undetectable inflection in his voice that hinted at an Iraqi accent. “You may wish to enter through the window.”
“Why is that?” Ashley asked.
“The door’s core is composed of reenforced steel. While the servos in the suit are capable of removing it from its frame, it would be rather loud. It might attract undue attention.”
“What about the energy blades, wouldn’t one of them be able to cut through it?” She asked, hand still inches from the doorknob.
“In theory, yes, but the director never tested them in the field and certainly not on—”
“Yeah, well, now’s as good a time as any.” Ashley rolled her eyes and cut Nabu short. The AI was a bit long-winded, and far too cautious for her tastes.
“Need I remind you, miss, that you could overload the—”
“Better to do it here than in the middle of a fight.” She responded, again stopping the artificial intelligence before he finished.
“Once again, there is no faulting your reasoning, miss,” Nabu replied. Ashley shook her head and bit back a sharp response. His tone had sounded almost… sarcastic.
Ashley dropped her right arm and pumped her fist three-times. A long, curved section of black metal slid out from the wrist, and burst alight, a thrumming, cackling blade sizzling to life along its length. She wasted no time, raising her arm and slicing down. The blade sheering through it from top to bottom as easily as if it were paper, but burned so bright even the filters on her helmet weren’t enough to keep her eyes from watering.
She pushed the half of the door still affixed to the hinges open and shouldered through, her armor just a little too large to fit through otherwise. She kept the blade extended, fearful that she might come under attack, but as she emerged on the other side, she encountered no obstacles and the only sound was the clank of her own armored feet. Still, she kept her weapon ready.
Her eyes scanned her immediate area. She’d stepped into a quaint little joint kitchen and dining room area. The cupboards were solid flat-white and the countertop was ceramic tile. It looked old, with a few nicks or scratches here or there, but overall appeared well maintained.
The oven and range looked relatively modern and the microwave most certainly was, but otherwise it seemed consistent with the era in which the home had been built. She stepped through the room, ceramic tiles cracking under the weight of the suit, and moved past the dining table, a simple blocky affair that showed signs of frequent use. Though blocky and not real pretty, to her eye it appeared handcrafted.
She walked into a carpeted hallway, peering left into the front room, eyes studying the loveseat, sofa and television mounted to the wall, and screwed up her nose in frustration. The room was empty. The decor seemed rather spartan, even to Ashley, who’d never really done much decorating beyond throwing up a photo or two. She turned right, stopping about halfway down when she caught her reflection in an old oak-framed mirror.
She’d seen the RPR armor more than once, but inspecting it from the outside and seeing it looking back at her in the mirror was a very different experience. For a woman, Ashley was about average height, roughly five-foot-five, the armor added a good fourteen or fifteen inches. No one would suspect that the person within was the vivacious young blonde. Most would assume that a man wore the suit.
Malcolm based it on the same technology that powered the Indigo Knight’s suit and shared a few of the same design elements. With the latter’s armor, however, he’d gone with a medieval motif. Hers was more sleek and streamlined and looked like something a villain might wear rather than a hero. While the armor was predominately red, a few bits of black and silver shone between segments.
Four glowing red lights, two about four inches in diameter, and the other pair about two, shone from the chest-piece. Segmented pieces of armor overlapped, to form a bulletproof shell around the wearer. She flexed her hand in front of the mirror, segmented digits moving with as much ease as if they were her real fingers.
It was the helmet that sold the look. The face was mostly black, blending in with the red tones around the edges. Red light shone out from two dark sockets, and a grill that covered the ‘mouth’ portion of the faceplate pulsated and throbbed with angry scarlet illumination. A second, smaller one that comprised two slits, glowed with the same eerie red color, and took up the center of the face where a nose would be. She shivered and glanced down at the energy blade still pulsating from her arm. The weapon was curved like a scythe.
She peered back at the mirror. The helmet resembled a skull and she held her breath as she repeated the suit’s designation in her mind. Like the Indigo Knight armor there was a clear motif, he’d meant the suit to resemble some robotic red grim reaper, thus the skull-like helmet and scythe-style blade.
She moved away from the mirror, mind swirling with the revelation. Had Malcolm designed this suit with some evil purpose in mind? She’d had what some would call a checkered past, but a bank-robber who could walk through walls and had a weak spot for damsels in distress was a far cry from the image that sprang to life. No, she shuddered, she would never go down that route. She would only use the suit for good.
Four doors lined the hallway. The first led to the bathroom, a tiny, little affair, that while clean could do with some repairs, and the second, a home office. She only glanced inside for the barest of seconds before closing the door again. She regarded the final two doors. She thought perhaps, given the size of the home, the one at the end of the hallway was a closet. So she selected the other, cracking it open before swinging it wide.
Putrid green light spilled out into the doorway and as she peered inside, the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. An inert form lay sprawled atop a queen bed. Luminescent green swirls gyrated and pulsated in the air above him.
“What the fuck?” Ashley asked aloud, the voice changer in the helmet producing a deep baritone growl instead of her usual soft soprano.
She stepped forward, and stopped, slamming into the empty air as if she’d smacked into a brick wall. The girl took a step back, heart pounding away inside her chest, and licked her lips.
“Uh, Nabu. I think we’ve hit a bit of a snag.” She placed her hands on her hips and let out a sigh. Making contact with Brian van den Broeke would be a little more difficult than she’d expected.