Prepared 20-VIII

King Undisputed.

In retrospect, I only had myself to blame for this. Noticing something about the Tower, and then dismissing it? I might as well have A-framed my legs and hung a “Kick Me” sign above my crotch.

“I’m gonna assume this is somehow yer fault,” Ricochet said to me.

I sighed. “I’m so glad we’re friends.”

The Tower heroes dropped down from the rooftop, Balthazar levitating those that couldn’t take the fall on their own. “All of you,” boomed Awestruck, hovering above the ground, “get down on the ground and put your hands behind your head. You are under arrest.” I’d never been inclined to see him in a particularly heroic light, but right then, he looked downright villainous; mixed shades of grey in his costume, harsh shadows on the lines of his face from the light Paladin’s glowing armor was putting off. He raised a hand and pointed, and with a whipcrack noise, a shockwave tore up the ground in front of Kai, who had been trying to sneak away. “All of you.”

“Can you move your hands?” I asked Ricochet, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Cause I can’t.”

She waggled a few of her fingers, currently applying pressure to her wound. “Well, I can. Should is another thing.”

“Well, we’re on the ground already, right? Points for effort.”

“Don’ think they’re gonna go for that.”

Predictably, the others weren’t obeying either. Thankfully, the Prowlers and mercs had already been secured, or they probably would've taken the surprise of the new arrivals as an opportunity. The Outliers had been somewhat spread-out, but I could see pretty easily that once things popped off, they'd mostly be moving directly towards Stonewall and Vortex, who could protect them from the first blows Which, you know, indomitable spirit and all that, but I really wasn’t seeing a way out of this. We couldn’t fight Valiant on their own while fresh; with the Guardians, while injured and under-strength? Even the most compulsive gambler wouldn’t put money on that. Still, if we were gonna go down, going down fighting seemed pretty good to me, even if I couldn’t actually stick to it myself.

“You have five seconds to comply.” All of them stood at the ready, various appendages, tools or parts beginning to glow or move. “Four.” The Outliers shifted slightly, doing the same. “Three.” Kai, muttering words I couldn’t hear in a high-pitched, strained tone, dropped straight down to the ground and covered her head. Less obeying instructions, and more trying to make herself less of a target. “Two.” And Wisp was-


“Wait!” As tense as things were, the sudden cry made almost everyone jump. “Waitwaitwaitwaitwaitwaitwait!” Wisp rose out of the ground in between the two groups. What the fuck? “Just… please, wait.”

“Why?” asked Stump. “So you can lie to our faces and then stab us in the back again?”

Again, what the fuck?

“What? Argh, no, that’s not-” She paused, clenching and unclenching her hands. “Now isn’t the time. That datapad you were all looking for? Green Cloak just took it.”

Dead silence.

I let my head slump back onto the tarmac. Well, at least she didn’t say that we had it in the first place.

The reaction, though, wasn’t what I was expecting. Or from who I was expecting. “’re sure?” asked the artificial voice of Galvanize. And even through the filtering, she sounded worried.

“Positive,” Wisp said, sounding a little uncertain.

“We need to find her,” the hero said, turning to the others. “Now.

“What?” Paladin asked. “What’s going on.”

“No time to explain.” Her oddly-shaped mech began to rise, until it was about half a story off the ground. “We need to find her, before it’s too late.” Small panels began opening on the mech, sensory devices sliding out of them and pointing in different directions.

“It’s just a datapad.” Balthazar said, disbelieving. “How much harm-”

“There is a strong chance we will all die,” Galvanize said curtly. “There is an absolute chance that many, many people will die.”

“I don’t think-” Paladin began, but Awestruck cut in over her.

“She’s right.” He turned to the Guardians. “You handle this. It will be a good training exercise.”

“Ya hear that?” Ricochet snorted. “Hey, we’re a trainin’ exercise. Glad to be of service.”

“Absolutely not,” Galvanize said. “We’re not leaving behind any potential firepower. You’re all coming with us too.”

Christ. It was possible the hero was overreacting, but somehow, I didn’t think it was likely. We’d sort of know, or suspected, that the datapad contained dangerous information, but they way she was talking about it was more like a weapon. Suddenly, I was very glad we’d managed to get it away from Edith. If she had gotten her hands on something like this…

Then again, I wasn’t sure Green Cloak was any better. Edith was crazier, but Green Cloak was, you know, dumber.

“You don’t make the calls here,” Awestruck growled at Galvanize. All the Guardians were looking slightly uncomfortable and confused. The Outliers were too, of course, but they were hiding it better.

“Of all the times to be getting insecure, Awestruck, now is not one of them.”

“And them?” He jabbed a finger in our direction. “Are you suggesting we just let them go?”

“No. When I said “all”, I meant it.” Her mech shifted slightly to look at the Outliers. “You all want to be heroes, right? That’s how you frame it. You think we’re not up to snuff, and so you’ve got to step in and do it yourselves, because you’re all teenagers and any form of complexity in systems or morality is completely foreign to you.”


“Well, congratulations, now’s your chance to actually make good on that. Consider yourselves shanghaied, because we’re going to need every hand we can get.”

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