Paranoid 12-III

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Too Stubborn To Die.

Oh crap. Am I recording this? I really should be recording this.

At the sound of the new voice, Metalface and the blurry woman jerked around to face him. More importantly, Green Cloak did the same, shooting up from her ‘unconscious' sprawl. Her hood had fallen back, revealing dark, wavy hair, and a face that looked vaguely aquiline, with a long prominent nose and thin mouth, and sharp, angled eyes that burned with hate.

“You!” she snarled at the man. Hearing her voice again sent tremors down my spine, and I nearly dropped my phone, my hands were shaking so hard. This was the witch who had taken pleasure in tormenting innocent people, in holding students hostage. One way or another, I promised myself, she was going to pay.

“How long have you been awake?” the blurry woman demanded, sounding more than a little agitated. “We carried you the whole way back!”

“I wanted to see how you talk about me behind my back,” she said dismissively, eyes still locked onto the man, who was simply standing with his hands folded behind his back. “We can talk about it later. Right now, we need to KILL THIS MOTHERFUCKER!” Up until the last few words, her tone was deadly calm, making the sudden yelling even more shocking.

“Well, I of course object to that line of reasoning,” replied the man. “Both from a self-preservation aspect, and in the more general sense of it being quite impossible.” His voice was dry like sand, with only the barest hint of emotion. It was distinctly unnerving.

Green Cloak snarled and lunged forward, but an outstretched arm from Metalface stopped her cold. “What do you want?” he rumbled icily.

“Me? I want to help you, of course.” The words sounded like they should’ve been delivered with a little grin, but he was completely flat. I could barely even hear the question mark on the first word.

“I think we’ve had quite enough of your ‘help',” the blurry woman shot back, though without much energy behind it. “All it got us the first time was the law bearing down on us, and nothing to show for it except bruises. All it got us the second time was humiliated by a bunch of teenagers, and yet more bruises. So why don’t you take your ‘help’, wrap up in a nice little bow, and shove it straight up your own ass.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “Do not think you can get away with blaming me for your own failings. All I did was provide information. What you chose to do from there is no concern or fault of mine.”

“Bull-sh*t it ain’t. Everything you said was wrapped in little hints and directions. You were f***ing playing us like we’re chess pieces, and now you want us to pick ourselves up and jump right back on the board?”

“I feel that metaphor might’ve gotten away from you slightly.”

“It was a simile, you arrogant prick. And f*** that, and more importantly, f*** you. We’re done.”

“No, you aren’t.” He adjusted his stance slightly, holding his hands behind his back. “That datapad could make you rich.” Datapad? What in the world…? “It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone who is anyone wants the information it contains. It would also not be an exaggeration to say that we, myself and the organization I represent, are the only ones among them who would treat you fairly after it is recovered. Continuing to work with us is your best, and only, option.”

“Or, and I don’t like repeating myself, we could just kill him.” Green Cloak had seemed a lot more… mature before. She was more like a petulant child now, and I had to wonder which was the real one. I actually think it’d be worse if it was this one.

“Again: no, you can’t. Believe me, you do not want to test that one.” He paused. “Let me rephrase. Right now, you are in the unique position of being second priority. You have made yourself known to all of the players, if we are to continue with your… simile, and made it clear that you are after the same information. You’ve also made it clear with your frankly pathetic efforts that you are, by far, the least competent of the ‘players'.”

“The fuck did you just-”

“And, it is likely that it’s the only reason you’re still alive. Right now, you are small fry, a nuisance at best and an amusement at worst. It’s completely safe to ignore you, from the perspective of pretty much anyone, and focus on the real threats. Once the ‘game’ is over, though, you stop being a joke and start being a loose end. Whoever wins will inevitably have to deal with you, and how euphemistic that phrase is depends entirely on who that is. What I’m proposing is simply quid pro quo. You continue to pursue that datapad for us, and in return, when this situation is resolved, we’ll allow you to continue on your way.”

“That doesn’t sound like a very good deal for us.”

“It's the one you’re getting, and it’s really not like you have options. But we’re not entirely unreasonable. New information suggests that the datapad was accompanied by 200 million dollars in unmarked bearer bonds. We have no interest in them: if you find them, they're yours.”

That certainly garnered a reaction. I had to try very hard not to gasp. That was… a lot of money. A lot of money. Just what had I gotten myself into? Green Cloak started, then tried to act like she hadn’t reacted. Metalface's eyes widened, and he glanced over at the blurry woman, whose face was unreadable behind her power. “That sounds far, far too good to be true.”

The man sighed (an affectation: his expression didn’t change at all, and neither did his tone. It was like he knew where he was supposed to sigh, but didn’t actually understand the why, which made me think he might have some kind of condition. One of the -paths, maybe, I dunno; I’m not a psychologist). “You are a fishing boat caught in a storm. I am offering you not only any port, but a safe port with the promise of protection, and yet you still seem convinced that maybe if you row hard enough, you’ll come out on top. In reality, if the waves don’t get you, the monsters will.”

“And all we have is your word that you’re not one of them. We don’t know who you are, we don’t know who you work for, we don’t know what you want, and yet we’re just supposed to trust you? Yeah, I don’t think so.”

“Fair,” he acknowledged. “But know this, then, and it is not a threat: what I am offering is the only way you make it out of this alive. None of the others would even think about doing so, none of them could even conceive the idea. Yes, we are using you. Yes, you cannot trust us. But you do not have any other options. We are giving you a more than generous chance here. Do not waste it.” He glanced towards the doorway, and I hastily yanked my phone away. Had he seen it? They were standing in the light, so it should’ve been hidden, but it wasn’t inconceivable that he’d seen something. “And I believe that means my time is up. Think on it, although you really shouldn’t have to.”

There was a wordless scream of rage, and the whooshing pop that I recognized as Green Cloak's teleport. “F***!” she screamed: evidently, the man with the white tie had disappeared as quickly as he’d come. “F*** f*** f*** f*** f***!”

“Shut up,” snapped the other woman. “What was he talking about?”

There was a rustle behind me, and I turned just in time to see a blurry chaotic figure blow past me. It hit the wall as it turned past the corner, bouncing off without any loss of momentum, and came to a stop in the entrance to the room, blocking it off.

“Get down on the ground!” Stump yelled through his whirling mass of branches. “You're all under arrest!”

Oh, gosh darnit.

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