It's a long one.
In the city, there was an abandoned warehouse. Once, it housed furniture. Later, it was briefly used for weaponry storage during the war. After that, after they took the weapons away for the army to use and the furniture company went out of business, a chop shop set up in it. The police fond it, and by the next morning it was clear, some of it smuggled out when they got warning of the investigation, the rest confiscated. From then on, no one bothered to use it for business. They simply left it there – an eyesore, some said, but no more than the other decrepit, crumbling buildings surrounding it on all sides. It was in the Bad Part of Town, where the good kids didn’t go and the rich, rebellious teens only went for a thrill when they didn’t know any better.
Not everyone in the Bad Part of Town was Bad, though. Some of them just wanted to be. Others were trying not to be. Then there were those struggling to leave, because they weren’t Bad with a capital B; they weren’t even bad. They were good people, down on their luck. They suffered, sometimes for their own troubles, sometimes for the sins of their parents, and sometimes for no reason at all.
The warehouse didn’t house those who wanted to be Bad or those who tried to be Good. Those who were trying to leave wouldn’t give it a second glance. The criminals, the villains, the chop shop men and the killers – they cast glances, sometimes, but only with disdain. The warehouse wasn’t for them.
There were people inside the warehouse. They were good, possibly even Good, and they were poor, but they had no intention of leaving the Bad Part of Town. They were not normal, in ways they themselves considered at once to be both good and bad, and as such they acknowledged that they were different, but stayed away from the superhero label. They didn’t feel a duty or a responsibility to protect the little bit of good there was in their part of the city, but instead felt as though they had been spontaneously animated from its layers of dirt and grime, and that it was simply the natural thing to do in their positions. And so, housing them, the warehouse became the Warehouse, capital W.
There were three permanent residents of the Warehouse, and none of them used their given names. They were Beaks, Cogs, and One-Punch. They didn’t work together so much as they worked around each other, distant from even those they considered something like family.
Beaks had been the first to decide the Warehouse was her home. At age five, she had been a cute child, but with an unpromising physical appearance. She’d been happily unaware of how others saw her pushed-up nose and overbite. She had a nasty habit of eating paste and a strong affinity for the class pet, a parrot named Cap’n. Her parents were good to her, she had a decent amount of friends, and she didn’t struggle in her meager kindergarten schoolwork.
In November of that school year, there had been some sort of toxic chemical spill across campus in the high school science labs. Beaks – known then as Patricia Riley – hadn’t bothered asking why her school had been closed for two weeks. On the day she returned, she found a bit of something stuck to the bottom of her table and, assuming it to be paste, took a taste. It hadn’t tasted right, but she didn’t think anything of it when she went over to visit Cap’n’s cage. When the teacher wasn’t looking, she reached through the bars and stroked his wing.
When Patricia woke up in the hospital, only her mother was there.
Her body had been drastically changed; where her nose, mouth, and chin had been was now a large orange beak. Her arms had become flatter, and her fingers were mere stubs, short enough that there were no knuckles left in them. Her eyes were small and round; there were feathers on her back and shoulders; her stomach protruded, and one toe on each foot was twisted around so that it was opposite the others, making it very difficult to walk in shoes that weren’t several sizes too big.
Her mother promised that she would do anything to fix her daughter, who cried herself to sleep for many nights. Her father, on the other hand, acted almost as though she didn’t exist, ignoring her except when directly addressed or when absolutely necessary. He devoted more time to Patricia’s older brothers. Patricia felt it had been her fault, somehow, and blamed herself for her dad’s estrangement and her mother’s near-constant fatigue. She bore with her lonely, frustrating new life, home schooled, for two years.
When her eighth birthday was approaching, Patricia overheard her father talking to a business associate on the phone. She listened from the kitchen of her family’s apartment, diligently doing the work her mother had given her, but at the same time devoting some effort to hearing what he was saying. When he stated to the business associate that he had two kids, although he corrected himself a moment later, Patricia felt like something had broken inside her.
She ran away. She went as far as she could, for a long time. She found that she couldn’t stay in small towns; she was noticed too quickly. She couldn’t survive on her own, without any civilization at all, though the solitude helped her discover that there were benefits to her chemically induced mutation: with practice, she found herself able to fly, though she was clumsy at it at first, and she was stronger than before, though not very. Her voice, when at a certain pitch and volume, created an outward force she had nearly no control over. More than once, she was forced to use it to protect herself.
She found The City, the city of the heroes, and realized there was no better place for her. Even if she wouldn’t fit in, she might not be considered quite so much of an anomaly with other metahumans running around. With it’s large population, larger than that of her home city, she would be difficult to find. At that point, she was twelve, and had remained unseen long enough for the active search for her to have ended. She found the Warehouse, and she settled in, stealing scraps to get by.
And that was Beaks.
Cogs, whose name was once Melody Harper, and before that Cybertech Automaton Model 37.8B, came next. Beaks had found her in an alley, broken, a man with large goggles taking pieces out of her arm. She hadn’t been about to stop him, instead just watching him patiently, curious. When he looked up, though, and saw her standing behind him, he’d run, dropping most of what he’d taken from the robot’s limb.
Beaks brought the robot back to the Warehouse and looked her over. She’d left her behind, curiosity sated and confident that the robot wouldn’t work again, contemplating selling it for parts. Buying food felt more satisfying than scrounging. When she’d returned, however, the robot was sitting up, tinkering away at her own right arm, trying to restore its mobility. With pieces missing, however, she was mostly unable to bend her elbow and fingers. Aside from her mobility troubles and the wires hanging loose from her side, she seemed incredibly normal, amazingly life-like. She’d explained to Beaks how she’d come to lie in the alley, “passed out” for several hours.
Cogs had been one of many Cybertech robots, but she had been the first created just as she was, meant to think she wasn’t a robot at all. Though her body was made of metals and plastics, her mind was more than half organic, and she had thought processes similar to a human being’s. Her outer layers were semi-organic, allowing her to feel pain, to bleed, and to look more human than was previously possible. Her immune system, partially robotic and partially organic like her brain and skin, was filled with microscopic robotic cells that used human food sources to replicate and build, allowing Cogs to grow. She’d been built to look like a three year old, but not to stay that way.
Before she’d been activated, the Harpers, friends of her creator, had just begun contemplating starting their own family. Her creator had offered to let them use her, the prototype “Living Android”, as their first child. They accepted, and she was given memories of all the faces and places she would need to function. After that, they only took her to specific doctors, dentists, and schools, all of which worked with her creator to keep the illusion of her humanity. It worked for a long time, and the Harpers had more children, human children.
At sixteen, Melody suffered a serious accident, falling down the stairs of her suburban home. If she had been human, it might have merely resulted in a broken arm and perhaps a concussion. It jostled something in her, though, breaking open her skin on her head to the point where she could see her own circuits in her cheek. She panicked, and her parents immediately took her to her creator, who explained everything to her in simple, unemotional terms.
Dr. Preston patched her up, believing no deep damage had been done and that her main systems had been unaffected. He was wrong, though – deeper in her head, beneath her brain, a restraint device had been knocked loose. It had kept her from acting obviously inhuman in ways he could not otherwise prevent. She realized her full strength, and was able to adjust her inner circuits to create weak magnetic and electric forces. She could record sounds and sights and play them back. Unrestrained, she began to malfunction in small ways, suddenly losing control of limbs or her eyes or accidentally short-circuiting household objects, but she refused Dr. Preston’s offers to repair the device. She liked being “super-powered”.
She liked it until it settled in, anyway. After a while, thoughts of her own existence and its morality began to plague her, and she fell into a depression. Her parents brought her to therapy, but Dr. Preston deemed it unnecessary and disallowed her from telling the psychiatrist about what she was. When her younger brother and sisters began to use her robotic nature against her in arguments, she decided to leave.
Like Beaks, she found her best haven to be The City. She was able to blend in well, although she had nowhere to go, and, for a short while, she felt normal again. When she was hit by a car, however, and her arm and side were ripped open, she was hit with the realization that she could never be normal, and some part of her registered that she was comfortable with that. She managed to crawl into the alley before the robotic cells in her system knocked her out to begin what basic repairs they could manage. She was lucky to have learned a bit about her own workings from Dr. Preston herself, though, or else she might have had to go without an arm. She wasn’t sure if the skin would grow back. It did, but only partially, and she covered her arm and side whenever she could to hide the wires and bits that hung out. Eventually, she and Beaks gathered enough parts to give her arm more ability, but she began to use her left hand more often.
One-Punch was the last to join them, and much older. She had, unlike the other two, never had a stable home. Born with the name Tamantha Abbot, her mother had been an alcoholic and a drug addict, and her father had left not long after she was born. She was taken from her mother and placed in her twenty-two year old half-brother’s care when she was ten. He’d just graduated from college and was working as a radio DJ, and could barely scrape by enough money for the two of them. He married, and although his wife had a job, too, things were still difficult. He, like his mother, fell into drug abuse, and he accumulated a heavy debt.
When she turned thirteen, Tamantha’s brother took her on a long ride out of the city. When she asked where they were going, he’d merely said it was a surprise and winked. It was a surprise, but a far cry from what she’d expected; he took her to the home of a middle-aged man, leaving her there and driving off with money. He told Tamantha to stay with the man, and he never returned.
Tamantha was not the only girl in the man’s house; there were two others, named Isabelle and Emily. Isabelle had been kidnapped and brought to the man, while Emily’s own parents had brought her. They were forbidden from leaving the building, and Tamantha soon found out why: the man had a taste for young girls.
He locked them away in the basement of his rather large countryside home. They rarely saw much let, and he fed them only what they absolutely needed. He would lock all the doors in the house when he used them, and bring one or two to his room.
One night when Tamantha was sixteen, she and Emily were brought to his room together. While he was in the throes of passion, Tamantha managed to untangle herself from him, taking a pillow – the only thing not nailed down in his room, as he removed everything that he perceived as a possible weapon – and covering his face. Emily had held him down, at her urging, and they waited until he stopped struggling. Tamantha grabbed his keys, and she and Emily dressed and ran. He had, however, only passed out – or nearly passed out and laid still to fool them, Tamantha never knew – and was up again, pursuing them. Tamantha turned and punched him, just once, and he fell. They ran, and didn’t stop until they were at the nearest home to their prison. They called the police, hoping to save Isabelle as well, but by the time the authorities arrived, he had killed her.
The man as taken away, but Tamantha had grown extremely suspicious after her brother’s betrayal and her captivity. Emily, who had always seemed more like a shell of a human being to her, put up no protest to being placed in the state’s care and urged Tamantha to do the same, telling her it was the sensible thing to do. Tamantha knew, on some level, that she was right, but she snuck away in the night.
Unlike Beaks and Cogs, Tamantha had grown up in The City. She returned to it, living once again in the slums that had been her home in her mother’s care and her brother’s. She did odd jobs for cash, learning, over time, to protect herself, less afraid to do so after having escaped her life as a sex-slave. There were times when she nearly decided to resort to prostitution, but memories of her three captive years haunted her, and she was unable to bring herself to it.
She had met Beaks before, and, though startled and slightly disturbed by her appearance, had become something of a friend to her. They didn’t cross paths often, but they were civil enough when they did. When Cogs joined the mutated girl, Tamantha – who called herself One-Punch more for affect than anything else, though she’d become more than capable of defending herself – decided to join them as well, thinking both girls needed some sort of “older sister” figure and ignoring the nagging in her own mind about her own dislike of authority figures. What she truly needed from them was companionship, and she got it, to some extent.
“How’d it go?” Beaks asked, lounging on a dirty, torn mattress.
“Not so good,” Cogs answered, closing the Warehouse’s door behind her. The larger, garage-like doors were barricaded with boxes full of leftover furniture that had never been salvaged. “There was a man hotwiring someone’s car, and I tried to stop him, but he was too fast.” Cogs hated being slow. Beaks wasn’t fast, either, but she wasn’t a robot. One-Punch was fast.
“OP wasn’t with you?” Beaks asked, looking up. She lifted herself with some difficulty into a sitting position. “What’s she doing?”
“I think she’s dealing with Jimbo.” Ol’ Jimbo was a homeless man, and completely out of his mind. He lived around the Warehouse rather than in it, and had been there almost as long as Beaks. The girls didn’t mind him, and had even found his random bursts of laughter and nonsensical speeches comforting in a way, if not amusing. They’d protected him from thugs, those who wanted to be Bad, before, but recently he’d gained metahuman abilities as well, harnessing electricity with more effectiveness than Cogs. He wasn’t coherent enough to convey it to him, but his powers were the result of a chemical spill that had doused several men and women, including himself, who were waiting at a crosswalk. They’d all more or less gained the same power, but had dispersed after the incident. It seemed that they were simply going on with their normal lives.
“What’s up with Ol’ Jimbo now?”
Cogs shrugged. “I think he might have given a shock to someone who was giving him a hand-out.”
A few minutes later, One-Punch returned. “We nearly had a situation there,” she announced as she came in, tossing both girls fruit. It wasn’t exactly fresh, but that meant it was cheap. “The guy was threatening to sue or something. I don’t know what he thought he could have gotten from an old homeless man, but Jimbo’s hands kept sparking, and it took a while before he stopped.”
“You get to deal with angry civilians and I have to chase down a car,” Cogs whined, biting into an apple, not caring to avoid the bruises. Her robotic cells would deal with it.
One-Punch shook her head. “I stopped a girl from getting raped last week. That doesn’t count for anything?”
Cogs and Beaks didn’t respond. They were strong, but not as agile or skilled at fighting as One-Punch. They knew when to keep their mouths shut. That was how the Warehouse worked – how most of the Bad Part of Town worked.
“Thought so.” She sat down on a crate, pulling a newspaper out from under her arm, salvaged from someone’s trash. “‘Pinnacle saves the President’… again.” She dropped the paper. “Life on the outside’s interesting, huh?”
Not one of the three was sure of the sincerity of the words, but Cogs and Beaks nodded absently anyway.
Such was life at the Warehouse.