Hive 18-X

Move Along.

I wasn't dead. In case that wasn't obvious. Although I felt like I wanted to, my mind heavy and laden with fatigue, I could still think. So unless I had just had some fundamental beliefs proven extremely false, my neurons were still firing. But my vision was still black, and-

I paused, then blinked. It was subtle, but there was a change in the blackness. The barest hint of flashing patterns and fractals. So…

You're not blind, or dead. You've just got your face pressed up against your own arm.

The way I'd fallen when I'd pushed myself off into the sewer had somehow managed to land me in an awkward resting position, forearm over my eyes like I was taking a nap on my desk. The reason I hadn't noticed that immediately was that, despite this body was theoretically undamaged, I felt like I'd been systematically worked over with a baseball bat. Every inch of me ached in a steady pulse, like post-workout pain, but too evenly distributed. Thankfully, I still had both my arms and all my internal organs were on the right side of my skin. But apparently, injuries in my other bodies weren't as consequence-free as I'd thought.

I lifted my head up, a process that was very slowly and only very mildly excruciating. My eyes adjusted, and I saw concrete, and murky water lapping up against it. The other senses followed shortly after, and I gagged as concentrated sewage stank forced its way up my nostrils. Seriously, if my face was any lower, I'd have been drinking it.

The noise I could hear in a sort of fuzzy auditory blur gradually sharpened into actual words. “....dn s hww that could have happened, Khan.” It was Porter, sounding mildly peeved, and very close. Probably just above me on the edge of the lip of the half-pipe. I froze, my neck in an awkward half-raised position that immediately began to ache.

There was the almost-inaudible murmuring of a response over a headset, and Porter hrrm-ed. “Are they both stable?”

More buzz. A pause. “As much as I'd like to, no. You're sure it was- hmm, yeah, that would seem to be in-character.” He sighed. “Fucking Broker.” That must be the man with the white tie. The Broker. That was a suitably sinister name, I supposed. “No, I don't- Fine. Stabilise, but then leave her there. Yes, yes, you're right, I know. But they won't be happy.” Pause. “True enough.”

“What's happening?” called another voice. The blurry woman.

“What's happening,” he replied, his voice becoming slightly more muffled as he presumably turned to face her, “is that your pet sociopath just stabbed one of my team.”

Tense silence reigned for a second. “Did she, now,” she responded slowly.

“Yes,” Porter said, curt. “But seeing as she already lost an arm and then got herself thoroughly beaten by a teenage girl, I'm inclined to let it slide. Only because Schaus is fine. But she is staying there, and none of you are going to get her. As of now, she is officially off this contract. Understood?”

I think it was pretty telling that none of them spoke up. “The girl?” Metalface asked instead.

“Gone, at least when Khan got there. I suspect she might not be in the best condition, though; Schaus was equipped to handle durability of that category.”

“She could tell the Tower,” Combat Gear said, speaking up for the first time.

“Yeah, she could. Probably will. But that will take some time, so our schedule is accelerating before that can happen. Jensen, you're confident in that location?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then I don't believe we have a choice. We're retrieving the datapad now. It’s not the best situation, but if we catch the Outliers by surprise, it should be manageable.”

“Oh shoot,” I whispered instinctively, my eyes widening. I might have said it a little louder than I'd intended, though, because there was a short pause, and then footsteps, quickly growing louder. Good effin’ job, you idiot. If he leant over that ledge he’d see me for sure. I was in shadow, and the lighting was low to begin with, but not enough to hide me entirely.

“Think, think, think! Use your goshdarn brain for, oh, I don't know, the first time today!”

The footsteps grew louder, and I bit my lip, hard, thoughts running at full throttle. Can't move, he'll hear. Can't distract him, don't have anything to do that with. Can't fight, that doesn't work, and I'm about to keel over-

The top of his head appeared over the edge of the pipe, staring down almost directly at me. I froze, holding my breath and trying desperately not to whimper. After a few seconds, he frowned, shook his head, and then disappeared again.

I gave it a couple of moments, ones that felt like an eternity, then allowed myself to slowly release the breath I'd been holding. I didn't dismiss the clone I'd ghosted into the ground below me, though. There was always the possibility he'd come back.

“What was that?” one of his team asked.

“Though I heard something. Nothing there, though. Is everyone ready to move out?” He barely gave it a second before continuing. “Then let's move. You three, you follow, you listen, you do what I tell you. Otherwise, this…” His voice faded away as the sound of multiple sets of footsteps did the same.

I sagged in relief, all the adrenaline and nervous energy flooding out of me in an instant. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was lie my head down right there in a sewer and have the world’s longest nap. But I couldn't do that, I needed to get up and… and…

An indeterminate amount of time later, a hand fell on my shoulder, bringing me out of my fugue. “Hey. Hey! Are you dead, or-”

I raised my head with a groan. “I'm not dead,” I said groggily. “I wish I was, but I'm not.” Slowly, with great effort, I pushed myself over so I was on my back. It hurt, but everything did. Standing above me was Kai, looking relieved and trying not to show it.

I glanced down, and realized I was still invisible. I dismissed the clone, popping back into visibility, and she jumped backward. “Sorry,” I said weakly. “How did you find me?”

“You were making a distortion in the water,” she pointed out. “I'm surprised he didn't notice it.”

“It was probably hard to see in the shadow,” I mumbled, dropping my head back with a splash and staring up at the ceiling.

“Are you… okay?” she asked me.

“Honestly? No, not really. I'd probably be dead if you hadn't jumped in earlier, though, so… thanks, I guess.”

“Don't worry about it,” she said, her voice a little strained. “So, what the h*ll just happened?”

“Frankly, I'm not too sure myself.” Every part of me wanted to wither and die, but I began pushing myself up to a sitting position. “But some people I know are going to get badly hurt if-” something in my gut twinged, and I winced, falling backwards.

Almost instantly, Kai caught me. Using both hands and a decent amount of effort, she pulled me into an upright position. “Don't kill yourself, geez. Can you even walk?”

“No, probably not,” I admitted. “But I need to get to the docks, and warn those people before they,” I gestured in the direction Porter had left, “can get to them.” I looked up at her. “You've already gone above and beyond, and I have no right to ask this, but… help me? Please?”

Even with the glasses, I felt our gazes lock. Her face was blank, and she said nothing, for long enough that I was beginning to think she'd say no. Then, her composure broke, and she sighed. “You,” she said as she crouched down next to me and slipped an arm underneath mine to lift me up onto my feet, “are very lucky you're cute.”

While I blushed and stammered, she hoisted me to my feet with a grunt of effort. I almost immediately staggered against her, and would have fallen again if not for her supporting me. “Come on. I can guess which route they're taking, and I know one that should get you- us, there before them.” We began walking, me using her as a makeshift crutch and trying very hard to minimise the amount I touched her, and her doing her best not to groan.

“So very, very lucky.”

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