Prepared 20-IX

HANNAH
Surrounded By Idiots.

The chorus of protests was loud enough they probably heard it on the other side of town.

“Absolutely. Not.” Awestruck’s voice boomed over everyone else, drowning them out, and triggering a primal fear instinct in me that made we want to find something large and solid to hide under. “You’ve finally lost it.”

“Were you not listening?” Galvanize said, frustration bleeding through the artificial filtering. “If I’m right, we don’t have enough firepower. Even with them, we might not have enough.”

If you’re right.”

“I am.” There was nothing smug about the words. They were heavy with worry and a sort of dreading certainty. “But if I’m not, you can destroy my career all you like, and then throw this lot in jail cells afterwards.”

“Awestruck,” Paladin interceded. “Maybe we listen to her? When was the last time she acted like this?”

“...Lazarus,” he admitted grudgingly.

Never heard of it.

“Sabah will know. Or it’s classified, one of the two.”

“Yeah. So maybe the benefit of the doubt is earned here.”

Awestruck grimaced, turning away from her to face the Outliers, and by extension, me. “If any of you try anything,” he said flatly, “I will make sure you never see the sun again.”

“Hey, when was the last time we had any water?”

...uh, before we got on the train to the market? I think? Now’s a weird time to think about that.

“Not really. One, apparently we’re going to need to fight, and not being dehydrated would probably help. Two, on the other hand, it’s probably good that we didn’t, because we’d probably have pissed ourselves there.”


“...oh.”

Yeah.

“Ooh yeah,” Skew said sarcastically. “Be worried about all the trickery we’re going to pull from down here on the ground.”

“While dyin’,” Ricochet added.

“Those two are really leaning into the Greek Chorus thing, huh.”

“Instance,” Paladin asked, looking down at the two of them, “do you have any healing saved?”

“Minor ones,” he replied, sounding worried, “but nothing that’ll heal a gunshot wound.”

“Stabilize her, then, and bind them. Away from each other, not together. You two, try anything and, as bad as you might feel now, you’ll be longing for it once I’m done with you.”

“Aww,” Skew cooed as the hero approached, “we don’t get to be press ganged? I’m so disappointed.”

“You two know you’re not actually funny, right?” Instance asked as he leant over Ricochet. “Like, you have to know. You seem pretty self-aware.” He motioned for her to move her hands away from the wound, and laid one of his own over it. A harsh grey light began emanating from it, mildly unnerving to look at.

“I’m touched.”

“Not a compliment.” He withdrew his hand, to reveal the wound and the surrounding material were all now that same shade of grey. “That’s a stasis effect. It’s not going to get any better, but it’s not going to get worse either.” Standing back up, he brushed his hands off. “Fog?”

I turned around just in time to see her sweep past me, nearly bowling me over. Oh, right, she hates me, doesn’t she. I’d forgotten about that. With a quick gesture from her, fog flooded over the two injured, and snapped into restraints, and a small wall in between them.

“Oh sure,” Skew said, “because without this, we’d just hop right up and take you all on.”

“See, this is what I’m talking about,” Instance replied, sounding mildly amused. “You have to-”

“Found her,” Galvanize’s voice boomed out. “Everyone, follow me.” She swivelled away from us, towards a side street.

“You haven’t actually given us any reason to do that, you do realize.” It was… Flatline, that was it, speaking for the first time that I’d heard that night.

“No, I haven’t given you any choice. Now move.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Guys.” It was Skew’s voice, but… serious? It almost sounded strange. “Go. I’m pretty sure this is a big deal.”

“Are you sure?” Tide asked.

“Yeah. We’ll be fine. Go.” She turned to me. “I’m assuming you’re going?”

I scratched my head. “I kinda think I have to?” Plus, beating on Green Cloak sounds really nice right now.

“You do,” Galvanize confirmed. “Enough chatter, we need to move.” Her mech set off down the street. “Outliers in the middle. Guardians on the end.” Valiant followed her, and, tentatively, so did the others.

“I don’t know exactly what we’re going to find,” Galvanize began explaining. “This entire situation is shrouded in layers and layers of deception and false information. But I’ve gathered enough to know that someone who has possession of the information on that datapad is going to be capable of doing some horrible things. A teleporter doubly so.”

“You can’t be more specific?” Paladin asked.

“And why,” Awestruck growled, “are we now only hearing about this.”

“No I cannot, and because it was just speculation and hearsay before. The relevant people were kept in the loop.”

“So basically,” Tide called out, “we’re cannon fodder.”

“Yes,” the hero replied bluntly, which seemed to take the wind out of her sails somewhat.

Kai, who had been doing her best to make herself invisible, hadended up lumped in with the Outliers along with me. She  was muttering to herself, arms folded tightly, and when I tried to walk closer to her she moved away.

“She blames us for dragging her into this. Which is pretty fair, to be honest.”

We’ve been dragged into this just as much as she has!

“Right, because these things are always so logical. And you know that’s not true anyway.”

...darn.

Without Skew, I had no real way of interacting with the Outliers, so I ended up at the back of the group, right in front of the Guardians. I realized my mistake just a hand came clamping down on my shoulder.

“You have some explaining to do,” Stump growled from above me.

I’d had enough.

I ghosted, and he stumbled as his arm went straight through me. I kept walking. “Look,” I said, feeling somewhat justifiably irritated, “I know it looks bad. But I didn’t ‘betray’ you, I didn’t stab you in the back, I’m not working any angle. I was trying to find the Prowlers like you asked me to. I can’t help it if the universe wants to keep throwing me in with these gosh-darned idiots, but I’m not with them.”

“And Stonewall?” he asked, flat. Now it was my turn to stumble.

“You forgot about that, didn’t you.”

WE’VE BEEN BUSY, OKAY?

“That,” I said with as much false confidence as I could muster, “was extenuating circumstances.”

“Which were?”

“Extenuating.” I could feel him glaring at me.

“Ha- Wisp.” Wait, did he- “Are you trying to handle everything in the worst way possible?

“No!” I protested. “It just… keeps working out that way.” It sounded weak, even to me.

“Once this is over, there are going to be consequences. You know that, right?”

I sighed. “I’m… not really good at thinking ahead. Right now I’m just trying to concentrate on the here and now.”

“Maybe not the worst idea,” he conceded. “But, please. That stunt you pulled cost us a lot. Just… think, please? Even just a little? About others, if not about yourself?”

I looked ahead, at Kai. “...I’ll try,” I said quietly. “But right now, I really do think the present is probably more important.”

“I guess that’ll have to do.” He let himself start slowing, moving back towards the others. “Oh, and stay away from Fog. She hates you even more, now.”

I groaned. “Why did she even hate me in the first place?”

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” he admitted. “I’m not really sure she does.” I glanced back at him, and sure enough, I could see her glaring at me from behind him.

That’s comforting.

“Hey, we have a nemesis! There are worse things to have.”

She is not my nemesis. Also, that’s dumb, I don’t have a nemesis.

“What about Green Cloak?”

...shush up.

“Stump had a point, you know. A good point.”

Can we not rehash this again? Not now?

“Fine. But it needs hashing, sooner or later.”

Later.

“It better be. Also, was it just me or did he-”

LATER.

I glanced back over my shoulder, checking to see if Fog was still glaring at me (she was). As I did, though, I saw something flash across a rooftop. Just for the briefest of moments, a flicker of white.

Did you see that?

“See what?”

...never mind. It was probably nothing.

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