Hive 18-V

A Name I Haven’t Heard.

“Who are they?” I hissed at Kai, my gaze snapping back and forth between the two groups.

She did the best imitation of a shrug she could in the space. “I said 'that’s new’, didn't I? I've never seen them before in my life.”

“So they're not from around here.” I knew the answer to the question, before I asked it, but I wanted confirmation.

She shook her head. “Looking like that? No way.”

“What's that supposed to mean? There was military stuff all over that market back there.”

She made an ambiguous gesture. “It's one of those things. There's… a theme, I guess? Maybe a culture. People don't look like that around here unless they're actually military, and it's not like there are military bases nearby. They're probably mercenaries.”

Well, that was an interesting tidbit, but not really relevant right now. What was was them being mercenaries: if Kai was right, then it didn't take much to make the connection. The man in the white tie, the one who whisked away Green Cloak last time with an offer of employment. He must not have trusted them to achieve… whatever it is that he wanted on their own.

They were talking, it seemed, the blurry woman and a broad-shouldered man with sandy blonde hair taking the lead, but they were too far away for me to make out the words properly. “I need to get down there,” I whispered urgently to Kai. “Is there some way that they won't see?”

She flicked a finger and a small mirrored disc appeared for a moment before vanishing again. “I normally just make stairs,” she explained apologetically.

I took another look at the drop. It was too far for me to take safely; I'd break a leg for sure. I could avoid the problem by just floating down in a clone, but that was really, really obvious. Conversely, leaving a clone behind and being invisible solved the 'being spotted’ problem, but then I had no way down. Unless…

“How visible are those mirrors of yours from the side?” I asked Kai.

“Not very,” she answered hesitantly. “Why?”

I closed my eyes, concentrated, and made a smoke-clone. I didn't switch over to its perspective this time, though, instead leaving it where it was with its eyes closed as I shuffled a little further forward. “I need stairs,” I answered.

She jerked back, eyes darting around. Oh, right. She'd just heard me speak, despite the fact that, to her, I was still lying there unmoving. “I'm invisible,” I said with a little chuckle. “Sorry about that.”

Her eyes darted at the other me, then to a spot surprisingly close to where I actually was. “How many powers do you have?”

“I'm not sure,” I admitted. “Depends on how you quantify it: there's multiple, but they're all linked together. Stairs, please?” She pursed her lips, but held out a hand, and concentrated. I leaned out over the edge and saw the roof above me reflected in multiple descending platforms. “Thank you.”

There was a small lip above the top of the crawlspace, and I flipped over and gripped it, pulling the rest of my body out and lowering myself down onto the first step. It remained solid, thankfully, but there was a strange texture to it. She hadn't made them thick, and their appearance made it a little hard to discern where the edges were, so my descent was slower than I'd have liked, but I made it down with all my limbs intact, so I'd take it.

The sounds of conversation resolved themselves into actual words as I approached the two groups. “...not our job,” the man was saying. “We're here to retrieve the datapad, not get petty revenge on your behalf.”

“That's not what I'm saying,” the blurry woman ground out, obviously frustrated. “But it doesn't make sense to treat it the way you're talking about.”

“You're lecturing us about tactics?” scoffed one of the other mercs, a short, wiry guy. “You idiots have been blundering around-”

“Schaus.” The blonde man cut him off with a wave of the hand, and the other man quieted instantly. So he was either respected or feared by his people. “Who they are or what they've done doesn't matter. We've been contracted to work with them, so we will.” Definitely mercenaries then. Was Kai just very sharp, or was there a reason she'd 'guessed’ that.

“Thank you,” said the blurry woman grudgingly. “But that doesn't change the fact that your plan makes no sense. We know exactly where this datapad is. We have the numbers advantage. If it's such a big deal to White Tie, then why don't we just take it? We have the numbers advantage.”

“Actually,” he replied evenly. “We don't. In fact, even combined, these 'Outliers’ still outnumber us. Add to that that they have experience working together, which we do not, and the fact that they apparently managed to defeat you once already, and a full assault becomes ill-advised.”

“They're just a bunch of kids,” Green Cloak complained, and I found myself taking a few steps towards her with my fists clenching before I even realised it was happening. “We can take them.”

“See!” protested Schaus. “This is what I'm talking about, Porter!”

“Schaus,” apparently-Porter snapped again, sounded tired. He turned back to the other group. “It doesn't make sense for us to try and assault them head on and claim the datapad, especially considering we only have a set of probable locations, not an actual locations. But if we set bait, they'll come to us, and that means we control the encounter.”

“Or,” the blurry woman countered, “you could get the attention of any of the other groups in this city and bring them down on our head.”

“I'd argue you already did that, with your…” he paused, a little disdainfully, “actions at the school on Wednesday.”

The blurry woman sighed. “That wasn't my idea.”

He didn't seem to believe her. “Either way, we have a dossier with limited psych information on them. I'm confident we can figure out a plan that will work. All the four of you will have to do is follow instructions.”

Green Cloak bared her teeth and stepped forward. “And what if we say we don't take instructions from you?”

Porter sighed. “We're both under the same employment. There's no need to fight.”

“Really. Because I see one, and it's-”

“Boss,” said one of the other mercs urgently, cutting her off. He was looking at some sort of device in his hand. “There’s something here.”

Oh no. I started backpedaling away immediately, as everyone’s gaze snapped onto the man who'd spoken. “Are you sure?” Porter asked.

“Definitely.”

He nodded, looking grim, and turned to Schaus. “Do a sweep, now.” The wiry man disappeared in a blur of motion, shooting back and forth across the room in a grid pattern, rapidly approaching me. Panicking, I found myself backed against a wall, and a second later there was a heavy impact as the man slammed into me, knocking me off my feet and out of my invisibility.

I looked up from the ground to see Porter staring down at me, expression unreadable. “And who,” he asked, “the h*ll are you?”

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