Prepared 20-III

To Die For.

“Oh hey, it’s that person who bumped into us at the market earlier!”

Everything going on, and that’s what you twig on to?

It was, though, same head-to-toe black fatigues. Significantly less weapons, I noticed. Considering the charring in various places on the ground around her, and the explosion from before, it wasn’t hard to figure out why that was.

“Sure thing!” Void called out, in response to him. She and glowy-arms were still circling each other, not throwing any punches, but not taking their eyes off one another either. “Here’s a proposal: you put down Ricochet there, and in return, she promises not to kill you and your entire family.”

“I ****in’ do not!” Ricochet yelled. “Void, stop deprivin’ me of my rightful ****in’ revenge!” Her accent was an incomprehensible mess, like she was picking sounds at random.

“Ignore her,” Void replied smoothly. “She’s kind of dumb.”

A little bemused, I leant over towards where Skew slouched nearby, watching the scene intently. “You guys are being… kind of blithe about this?”

“Ricochet can handle herself,” she said absently, doing a poor job of hiding the concern in her voice. “I’m more concerned that they’re using this as an opportunity to recoup and hit us from somewhere else.”

“Really?” Kai asked, somewhat nervously. “You’re more worried about that than the possibility of your friend dying? You’re kind of a shitty person, bro?” Bro?

“She’ll be fine,” she snapped. “Now shut up and keep an eye out. Wisp, I can’t fight, so I’ll need you to.”

“Oh, I- uh, I’m not-”

She sighed irritatedly. “You’re super strong and tough. Just swing a fist at them.”

“And kill them?!” I demanded.

“They’d do the same, grow up-” she cut herself off with a hiss. Porter had just drawn the knife across Ricochet’s throat, leaving a thin red line.

“Enough,” he said, sounding exasperated. “God, you really are a bunch of kids, aren’t you?” With a start, I realised he hadn’t actually moved his knife-hand at all: it had grown, cutting across, then returned to its original shape. So he could make his flesh into either knives, or just inanimate materials in general. I was leaning towards the latter, based on the shape-changing.

“Well, if you want to take that approach,” Skew yelled from beside us, “then you’re the one attacking kids. So don’t try and place yourself on some moral high-ground.”

Surprisingly enough, he chuckled at that. “Trust me, moral high ground isn’t relevant here. Tactical is. I could kill her right now-”

“You could try,” Ricochet snarled.

“-but I’m not, as a sign of good faith,” he continued unabated. “So, again, let’s negotiate.”

Skew opened her mouth, but Void held up a hand, and she closed it again, looking pissed. “Fine,” the apparent leader of the Outliers said. “What do you want?”

He gave a low, humorless laugh. “I don’t really think I need to say it.”

“Well, humor us.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up slightly, but his eyes didn’t change. “The datapad.”

“The datapad again, huh? Must be something pretty flash, for all this.”

Thank you for that scintillating insight.

“And now we’ve avoided a possible misunderstanding, go us. Why?”

“We’re mercenaries. We’ve been hired to.”

“And them?” She gestured at Metalface.

He shrugged. “We were hired to work with them, so we are. Don’t get me wrong, neither party is particularly happy about it, but in our line of work, sometimes you just have to knuckle down and deal with it.”

“And why does your employer want it so badly that they’re willing to hire you to assault a bunch of kids, then?” I frowned, curious. She sure was asking a lot of questions… it was almost like she was trying to keep him talking while they set up an ambush, but everyone was present, and if there was an outside factor involved I doubted Skew would look so nervous.

Apparently, Porter had cottoned on to it too. “Don’t have the slightest clue. But we’re getting off track. Here’s what I’m offering. You give us the datapad, which presumably isn’t in this building considering how there’s not really anywhere left it could be, and in return, we let this young woman, but also all of you, live.”

“Lie,” Skew muttered under her breath.

“How generous of you,” Void replied. “Very magnanimous. A lot of sacrifice on your side.”

“The fact that I’m making it at all is the sacrifice.”

She laughed, surprising me. “Come on, you can do better than that.” The genuine good cheer in her voice was tempered with a ragged edge, but it being there at all was still unnerving. I think these people are all messed up.

Kai leant over to me. “I think these people are all messed up,” she said quietly, and I had to withhold a snort.

“You’re making a dangerous assumption, though,” Void continued. “That this situation is going to keep going in your favor.” Her hand twitched, and a low breeze began to blow.

He laughed. “Well, yes. Primarily because it is going to continue to do so. I have to apologize for deceiving you a little bit, though.” Everyone tensed.

“And why is that?” Void asked slowly.

“Well, for one, we don’t actually need you to give us the datapad. We already have it.”

There was a beat of silence. Then, ringing out clearly in the emptiness, Skew’s voice: “BULL. SH*T.”

Void tilted her head. “I’m inclined to agree. Why would you bother going through all this if you could just find it on your own.”

“I guess that’ll be a riddle for the ages,” Porter said calmly. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be going.” He began walking forwards, grip on Ricochet iron-tight and steady despite her struggles. “Sorry, but you’ll be coming with us for at least a little while. Insurance, you know.”

The other Prowlers and mercenaries began to move away, and towards the exit. And… no-one did anything. Even Ricochet was silent. “What’s going on?” I hissed at Skew. “Why aren’t you doing anything?”

She turned to look at me, and I reeled at the pure rage in her eyes. “What, exactly, do you think we can do?”

I stared down at them as they walked towards the exit. “I don’t know,” I admitted.

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