Differences 8-II

How Have You Been.

“Wait, wait, wait, hold up. What did you just say?”

We were standing inside one of the abandoned warehouses along the river, not too far from the one I'd been testing my powers. Apparently, the… Outliers, that was it, had made something of a base of the place; although from the outside, it appeared just as decrepit as its surroundings, the damage to the interior had been repaired, if a bit amateurishly. There were functioning lights, dropping down from the roof to hand above a large table, chairs and a raggedy couch in the center of the room. At the far end of the large space, another dim bulb illuminated an old wooden desk with a modern looking computer and monitor sitting on top. For some reason, Matrix-esque lines of code streamed down the screen in a never ending waterfall of letters and numbers. Maybe it was the screensaver.

Before I could continue telling my story, Skew had insisted we get out of the cold, despite it actually being pretty balmy for winter. Judging by the way her head had been twitching back and forth, like she was trying to keep on eye on everything around us without actually moving her head, it was probably more about being out in the open than the temperature. They’d come back here, to their base, which explained why they'd happened across my little tat with Fog, if it was just happenstance. As they’d led me through a practical maze of dark, dusty offices out the front, I had begun to seriously entertain the rather silly notion that they might just have wanted a convenient place for an execution, and so my real body was currently standing about halfway back into the offices, tucked into a corner. I’d had go stop briefly while switching over, but I'd excused it as having thought I'd heard something. Trust, but verify, you know?

In the light of the room, patchy as it was, I got a better look at the three… vigilantes! That was it, where I’d heard the name before, the Outliers were that vigilante group I’d found in my research, associated with… that big robbery. Ah. I’d have to ask about that one. Anyway. The three of them had visibly relaxed as we entered; Skew had pulled back her hood to reveal a mass of glossy black dreadlocks bound back in a ponytail and the guy had somehow managed to pull off the balaclava from underneath his goggles, like a magician whisking a tablecloth out from underneath the table settings. He turned out to have a shock of disheveled black hair, and a small, pursed mouth that made me think he was sucking on a lemon. Freefall-and/or-Flatline, the other woman, had shed her fleece-lined jacket, and I noticed that there was a rough, blood-stained bandage wrapped around her left hand. 

In fact, they all seemed kind of beat-up. I hadn’t noticed in the low-light conditions, but all three of them were splattered with blood to various degrees; the woman just had flecks here and there, but Skew had some liberal splattering going on, and the man’s boots were almost completely coated, though I only noticed it against the black because of the odd glossy sheen. On top of that, bits of their costumes were torn or ripped, and I could pick out a myriad selection of cuts and tears. These people looked like they’d been through a wringer, and oddly enough, it made me just a little bit more willing to extend some trust. Following their example, I pulled down my hood and let my hair hang out. I don’t know if they even noticed, but it felt… appropriate, I suppose.

Anyway (again; I’m getting distracted), once they’d settled at various places around the table and couch, I continued… well, started, my story. Edited, of course. I tried to leave out any details that would be specific pointers to my identity, but they didn’t seem to be that interested in those parts. What got their attention, though, was when I described the sudden appearance of Black Armor.

“You’ve got to be f****** kidding me!” Skew exclaimed, pushing her chair back with a scraping noise and shooting onto her feet. “This guy. Tall, looks like he ate another entire human being and absorbed their mass? Talks like some kind of ‘noble warrior’?”

I leaned back slightly. “Um… yeah, though I don’t think I’d phrase it quite like that?”

She buried her face in her hands and made a muffled scream. “F******… arghhh!” Without looking, she stuck her hand out towards the man. “Phone.”

With a sigh, he tossed it towards her, and she caught it with a swipe. She punched a number in, rapid-fire, then turned and began pacing as she put it up to her ear.

“Godd*****, if I lose my phone over this, I’m going to flip my s***,” the man muttered. He had a strong English accent, and somehow, it made the vulgarity a little hilarious.

Less hilarious, though, was Skew. She paced for about ten seconds, her face getting more and more strained, until she reached the end of her little track, spun smoothly on one leg, and hurled the phone at the opposite wall, where it smashed into a scatter of disparate pieces. This was particularly impressive because the wall was a good 20 feet away.

“Called it,” Flatline (I’m pretty sure, so I’m just gonna stick with that) said, and Freefall snorted. She’d pulled a medical kit from somewhere, and was re-bandaging her hand.

She let out a stream of truly awful swearing, so bad that I almost covered my ears. “Why? Today, of all f****** days, why?!” She collapsed back into her chair. “I’m gonna kill him. Really. I will stab him and he will die.”

“So…” I hazarded. “I’m guessing this guy is one your posse?”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “Stonewall. And not only did he take on three supervillains in an environment full of bystanders, but he then provoked the heroes at the worst possible time.”

“Well, he did, you know, save a whole bunch of people from being held hostage by terrorists?” I didn’t consciously make it a question, but it came out that way anyway.

“Yeah,” she repeated. “Still, it’s just… really bad timing.” She paused. “Sorry about that. Please continue.”

There wasn’t much more to tell. I finished the school confrontation, then quickly described what little information I’d gotten from the Disciple before Fog had showed up and the whole thing had gone downhill.

“So yeah, that’s where I’m at. Hopefully, I can get follow the leads from there. Tomorrow, though. Right now I need to go home and cry.”

That got a smile out of Skew. “I feel that. I know the base you’re talking about. It’s not as near as he implied it was, but it’s not far away. Didn’t know that’d happened to them, though.”

“Mmm. I’m hoping I’ll be able to follow them from there, but honestly,” I admitted, “I’m sort of making this up as I go along.”

“Yeah, about that,” Skew said, leaning forward. “Now, don’t take this as a criticism, but what you made you just… up and go at this? Most people would’ve gone to the Tower if they wanted to go into heroics.”

I rubbed at the back of my neck awkwardly. “I… don’t really know, to be honest. I just… I wanted to do something, and… something about the heroes just rubbed me the wrong way, I guess? I just… they were kind of unpleasant, honestly, and…” I trailed off. “I guess when I say it out loud, it sounds kind of strange.” Truth be told, there was no concrete reasoning behind it. I’d just set myself on a path and followed it, without doing too much thinking about the why.

“No, no, I get it. Believe me, we know all about that.”

“Tough.” It took me a second, but I realized it was the woman, Freefall, speaking for the first time. “Going in there on your own.”

“Hey,” I said, a little indignant. “I can handle myself.”

She raised her uninjured hand. “Not what I was saying. Want help?”

Surprised, it took me a second to reply. “Ummm…”

If that counts as a reply.

“Sorry, Freefall, but I’m gonna have to cut you off there,” Skew interjected. “Ordinarily, we’d all be more than happy to help, but right now, we’re kind of busy with our own thing.”

“Oh yeah, right, the robbery thing.” They all turned to stare at me. “What? It was on the news.”

She shook her head. “Anyway, we’re going to be all tied up with that, so I’m afraid you’re on your own.”

“That was the plan anyway.” A thought struck me. “Maybe, then, we could… help each other out? I help with your thing, you help with mine? Uh, you guys… didn’t actually steal the money, right?” I added belatedly.

“Hah. No.” She sat back, looking thoughtful. “I dunno if I want to get you involved in this pile of shit, but as a general idea, I think it’s a good one.”

I smiled, behind the scarf. “Great. Is there some way we can contact each other?”

Without missing a beat, Flatline pulled another phone out of his pocket and tossed it to me. I flinched back, but managed to snatch it out of the air. “Burner phone,” he said. “One number on there, belonging to a matching phone I’ll keep.”

I looked down at the unassuming piece of plastic. “Oh, okay. Brilliant.”

Skew grinned at me. “At this point I’d say welcome to the Outliers, but seeing as you’re not actually, let’s just go with ‘happy acquaintanceship’.”

 “Yeah,” I agreed, “that’ll do for now.” I still wasn't sure if they could be trusted entirely, but... 

It was a good start.