Paranoid 12-II


Hi there! The author here. So in a few weeks, on the 30th of May, Outliers will be celebrating it's 1-year anniversary! Yeah. That's pretty scary, honestly.
In celebration, there will be a bonus chapter on that day (a Monday), but I've got a bunch of different ideas, so I'm leaving the choice to you. Yes, you. You specifically. Simply go over to the sideboard, or click right here, then click whichever option you prefer, and whatever wins, I'll write! Pretty darn simple.

A quick rundown of the options:
Regular chapter - exactly what it says on the tin
Vignette - you get to choose the topic: I'll set up another vote if it wins
Miscellany - same as the Vignette
Rewrite - basically, I've been planning for a while now to do a complete rewrite of the first chapter: as it is now, it's pretty confusing and character-dense. This one's probably going to happen anyway, but if it gets voted for, it's a definite schedule for me. The anniversary post will be a rewritten Sympathy 1-I, with the others following when I get a chance.

Alright, that should be everything. We now return you to your regularly scheduled chapter. 

Just Because You’re Paranoid.

I landed at the bottom of the shaft in a soft crouch, my reduced mass making the 10-meter drop unnoticeable. With the entrance melted shut, the sewer was dark, and the glare protection on my goggles meant that I could barely see more than a few paces in front of me. I slid them up onto my forehead, underneath the lip of my hood, and shadows lessened slightly. Well, it wasn’t much, but it was something.

Ahead of me, the pipe split in two, a T-junction with a stream of… liquid running down it. There was no sign of Metalface, but over the squealing of metal from above as Stump wrestled with the cover, I could hear faint splashing noises coming from the left. Rhythmic, like someone running through water. That would be them, then. I started after them, but it was quickly getting quieter, and by the time Stump got down, he’d have nothing to follow. I’d have to leave a trail for him to follow. I wasted a precious second considering before an idea hit me. I began running after the sound, still light to mask my footfalls, but as I rounded the corner, I briefly went dense, just before my foot hit the ground. The concrete crunched underneath, and I readjusted as I stepped away, leaving a single footprint marked into the ground. Hopefully, if I did the same at every corner, Stump would be able to follow.

The layout of the pipe was actually quite sanitary. Round, with a diameter at least a few heads taller than me, it had concrete paths on either side, with a channel down the middle for the sewage. I doubted they all looked like this, but this one had obviously been designed to be accessed. It continued on straight ahead for a fair while before taking a curve to the left, but there were various offshoot pipes before then, smaller ones, without the walkways. The splashing was coming from the second one on the right, and with a grimace, I jumped off into the ‘water'. It barely rippled as I landed, which was good, but it did still ripple, meaning that St least some of it was touching me. I couldn’t feel anything, but I still vowed to douse my pants in sanitizer as soon as I got out of there. Maybe the rest of my costume too. No, definitely the rest of the costume too. I went to mark the ground, but realized that it wouldn’t be visible through the liquid, so I tore a chunk out of the wall instead.

As I followed the noise, and the twists and turns it led me down, the tunnel grew progressively darker, until the only light was the faintest of glows from up ahead. I would’ve expected orange-red, but instead it was a pale, steely blue. It must’ve been an actual torch or glowstick, instead of a power like I’d have thought. By the time it reached me, it was barely a shade, and I had to really squint to see anything at all. I angsted over the decision for a moment, then pulled out my phone and activated its flashlight. There was the possibility they’d see the light, but I doubted it; for one, it was coming from behind them, and their own light would likely mask any traces of mine that reached them. I considered it a safe bet. Now all I had to do was not drop my phone in the sewer water.

After a few minutes, with a few more twists and turns, the splashing up ahead slowed in pace, and I matched it accordingly. I was actually starting to worry I wouldn’t be able to find my way out, but the markings I’d left for Stump should also serve to allow me to backtrack. I hoped. Plus, as a last resort, I could always just launch myself up through the ground and back to the surface, at least in theory.

Abruptly, the noise cut off, and I froze, holding my breath. For about a minute, I stayed like that, phone pointed down to minimize how far its light travelled, until it became clear that they hadn’t noticed me. Moving much more slowly now, I rounded the corner, poking my hand out first to see if it got any reaction, then my head. Ah, that explains it. Sitting in the side of the pipe, well above what the discoloration indicated was the high water mark, was a doorway. There was no door, or any steps, but a small amount of liquid was dripping off the end of the ledge, and wet footprints leading into the darkness. Well, this was… interesting. I could understand having a tunnel, but we weren’t in a major pipe, I didn’t think. And if it did lead to another exit, why didn’t the pipe look like the one where we’d come in? Something was wrong about this. Or maybe I just knew nothing about sewers and it was perfectly normal, but my gut was saying otherwise.

I hopped up onto the ledge, hands out to the side for balance. Jumping was a lot easier like this, even though logic said it shouldn’t be. I was lighter, sure, but that meant I had less force available to me. Even if my strength somehow stayed the same, the air resistance should be much heavier, the same effect that allowed me to drift down lightly on the breeze slowing my upward movement. And yet, it didn't. I was starting to suspect my powers were all kinds of bullcrud, even by the high standards precedent had set, but they’d yet to do me wrong.

The tunnel was more of the same light grey concrete, almost completely unblemished under the clean white light. If anyone had been here in the twenty years since it was built, there hadn’t been many of them, and they hadn’t done it consistently. It was actually possible no-one had been here at all. That’d be cool, being the first the person to ever-

Second. No, fourth, if you count when you’re unconscious. Darn. Squashed before it had even begun.

The steel-blue light was visible from up ahead, coming out of an offshoot doorway, and it wasn’t moving anymore. I switched off my light and sidled closer to the corner, watching the light carefully for moving shadows, then, very carefully, peaked my head around the corner.

It was a room. Why was it a room? Who decided to put a room down here? And how? And why- no, I said that already. It was a decent size, maybe a little larger than the average office, and half-filled with sealed wooden crates. One had been cracked open, and inside, I could see various sealed and non-perishable foods, as well as a few crinkled wrappers. Setting down Green Cloak's unconscious form on a box was Metalface, but more interestingly, next to him, carrying Combat Gear, was a fourth figure, one I hadn’t seen before. The light was emanating from her hand, and my eyes couldn’t quite keep focus on her. I managed to get the impression of dark hair, and the sort of stockiness that usually meant a life of manual labor.

“Well, that could’ve gone better,” she said as she set Combat Gear down on the ground. She sounded tired and worn out, and although she’d been carrying an adult male on her own with seemingly no issue, she began cradling her left arm, wincing slightly.

Metalface grunted in agreement as he sat down on a crate. He pulled off his mask, revealing a face that looked pretty much exactly how I imagined it would. Thick, broad, broken nose, deep-set beady eyes, hair in a buzz cut. “We are just lucky the Tower did not notice us,” he rumbled out. It was the first time I’d heard him speak, but I found myself clenching my fist anyway. I could take him down. I could charge in there, and hit him hard enough to break bones, and then I could drag his body up to the heroes and-

I pulled my head away, and leant my back against the wall. Calm, Hannah. If I lost this body, I’d be stuck on the other side of town with no way to get back, and I didn’t know what the blurry woman could do. Better to wait for Stump.

Not wanting to stick my head out again, I turned on my phone’s camera, and poked it out instead. The quality was a little grainy in the low light, but it was good enough.

“We were lucky,” the woman replied with tired humor in her voice, “that there was a manhole cover right there. If it hadn’t, we’d probably be sitting in a cell now.” She sighed heavily. “Oh man. What do we do now?”

“Well,” said a new voice. Out from the shadows, which swirled behind him, stepped a young man with dark skin. He wore glasses, a simple sky blue shirt, and a white tie. “I believe I can help with that.”


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