That half smile loomed above me, sneering with malice as his hand gripped around my throat, squeezing the air from me. My passenger couldn’t alleviate the pressure and I couldn’t push him off, no matter how hard I tried.
I could feel my heart slowing, my vision swimming as he whispered a single word to me, “Pathetic.”
With a jolt I sat up, my breath shallow. As soon as I went up, I almost went back down as I came to a groundbreaking conclusion:
I fucking hurt…everywhere.
Such a plain thing, but for me it was almost extraordinary since I hadn’t woken up in pain since Adapting.
Today however, I felt like my body almost couldn’t move. While the thing under my skin had made a point to fix up the gashes and perforations in my skin, it hadn’t gotten time to fix the muscle damage yet.
I sat up, feeling light-headed and dehydrated. “Protein, water, and a shower. Not necessarily in that order,” I groaned as I rose, a bit shaky. However, as I shambled through my living room and back to my kitchen, I forgot that I wasn’t alone in my house anymore.
Alexis was already up and making breakfast. She turned to me…and immediately noticed my lack of pants. Her eyes went wide in a mix of confusion, shock, and teenage awkwardness all meshed together as her friend stood before her in nothing but boxers.
“To be fair,” I preempted, “I’m used to being alone. You have only yourself to blame.” My face still felt it’d been hit with a brick, but I put on my usual grin to assuage her feelings of guilt. I knew she felt remorse for her brash actions and borderline bullying me into the fight with Siphon. It didn’t help that I was showcasing the vast array of injuries I had sustained from the night before.
It was going to be hard to really let Alexis know that it wasn’t her fault. Either way, I had little to offer against either opponent. It might have been better if I’d fought Collision, but if I had made a single mistake, I wouldn’t endure being hit with a car as well as she would have. So, I stayed quiet and hobbled forward to join her.
“I made you breakfast. Eggs and bacon. You need protein, right?”
“Someone’s learning!” She shot me an annoyed glare which made my smile feel a little more genuine; I didn’t want her making this weird with one bad night screwing up our dynamic.
Grabbing a chair I didn’t so much sit down as I collapsed. My passenger was tapped, completely out of food to consume. I’d never lost nearly so much blood before and replicating multiple units of the stuff had done a number of my metabolism as well as its.
“How are you feeling?”
“Never better, can’t you tell?” I took the glass of apple juice and drained it, glad for the liquid and sugar to help refuel the alien mending me. Feedback was immediate for the passenger as it jostled inside me, shifting from legs to my stomach, sapping some of the excess sugar like someone siphoning fuel from a car.
I cringed, even thinking of the word ‘siphon’ immediately dredging back memories of the beating from last night, as if the nightmare hadn’t been enough of a reminder.
It had been close at first, my enhance balance and sheer power from the organism giving me an edge when I was at full strength; within a minute Siphon had almost closed the gap in power between us.
He’d endured, the gauntlets on his hands allowing him to take the staff strikes comfortably. Even though I put a few kicks into his torso, he didn’t go down and it should have cracked ribs at bare minimum.
It was almost like he didn’t feel pain once he flicked his power on.
“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?”
I chided myself for letting my smile slip, “Yeah, a little,” I admitted. “Never been thrashed like that before. It was…humbling.”
“We should just be happy we got out alive,” she replied meekly as she put a plate in front of me.
I didn’t wait for her to sit down and quickly gorged myself, again feeling that draining of resources as the passenger took in its own sustenance and began moving throughout my body to continue repairing damage.
Alexis looked…sad, which was not a good look for her. While normally she was a little melancholic, this was different. But then again, how often did you lose connection with your family?
Still, no one died, she was right. That was enough of a reason for me to smile.
But, apparently it wasn’t all that was on her mind.
“Murphy, where are your parents? We’ve been meeting at your place all week and never even seen them a single time. I get them avoiding us and whatnot, but it’s like they don’t exist.”
I opened my mouth to lie but she stopped me.
“Don’t just say they are out of town. We’d see some evidence that they at least lived here or bought their own food, something. Either they have been gone for weeks on end or are fictional. Also, you, me, and Nick have been good friends for like six years now. Neither of us have met your parents which seems…improbable, bordering on impossible.”
I rolled my eyes and laughed, “I have a fucking alien living under my skin. We dabble in the impossible regularly.”
“But to the rest of the world we are normal, at least the kid known as Murphy Pell is.”
My smile wavered, “Alexis, don’t push this.”
“Murphy,” she started.
“Alexis, please,” I whispered, “Not…right now.”
She hesitated, the damage to my body on full display as I sat in front of her. “Nick and I need to know. We’re teammates and we need to trust each other.”
Here I had a choice: I could railroad her with guilt about nearly getting me killed, or I could just disclose the truth and come to grips with reality.
Or option three, the doorbell could interrupt the conversation.
Alexis looked at me, inquisitive. “You expecting anyone?”
“Before noon on a Saturday? Seriously? I don’t even make it to morning classes most of the time.”
She rolled her eyes and walked to the door; as it opened, Xana barged her way in with Nick in tow. “Hey look who’s still alive!”
“My plans to play rope-a-dope didn’t play out so well,” I admitted, raising my hands in surrender. I didn’t bother getting up to greet my guests as I still felt a bit unsteady on my feet which was by far the most disconcerting thing about the beating; my agility and mobility let me feel free and alive…but now I felt almost caged with how off-kilter I was.
Nothing had taken me this long to heal thought according to Alexis this should have taken weeks to mend with how much abuse I endured. I guess healing a majority in ten hours meant I couldn’t complain too much.
Nick took a seat across from me at my small dining room table and let out a huff, “You look like shit man.”
“You know, I generally avoid saying that to you most days.”
“I see your wit wasn’t beaten flat at least,” Xana replied. “That might have made last night worth something.”
“Less than a minute and we’re already ganging up on me,” I lamented playfully, “Haven’t I suffered enough?” Even though it was a joke, I noticed Nick flinch. “By the way, what is everyone doing in my house? It’s Saturday morning, shouldn’t you all be asleep or fucking like rabbits?”
Nick’s face went from downtrodden to a scarlet hue of embarrassed in an instant; to her credit, Xana gave me a mischievous grin and took the comment in stride. “He said we should see you. I was definitely opting for the latter.”
“Xana!” Nick hissed, his face finding a way to turn a shade brighter.
“What? Don’t act like your friends don’t know what we do behind closed doors. That’s just rude!”
I nodded thoughtfully, “She makes a good point. You really should be more open about these sorts of things; I don’t even know if-“
“Okay, stop,” Alexis finally cut in. Her own cheeks shared a hue with Nick, embarrassed on his behalf. “I don’t need to hear about Xana slobbing my friend’s knob.”
I didn’t think Nick’s horrified expression could be more exaggerated; I was wrong.
“I might want to hear about it,” I chimed in, smiling proudly. “Plus, Xana might have useful tips and tricks for you, Alexis.”
She slammed a fist into my shoulder; I was grateful that the passenger was absorbed the blow.
“Well, glad to see someone is feeling a bit better at least,” she remarked as my ‘parasite’ swam away and refocused its attention reducing swelling and inflammation around my ribs.
“No thanks to you,” I said with faux offense. “The thing still has a bunch of muscle damage to repair, I don’t need you piling more onto its workload!”
While my Adaptation did have some magnificent aggressive properties and enhance mobility, the real upside was the innate healing factor is bestowed. Nick’s healing factor had an activation cost and only ran when he was in his Neklim suit, but mine didn’t require thought or too many resources all things considered. Anyone who had endured the beating that Siphon put down on me would either have been dead or out of commission for weeks; I’d be out and healthy by the afternoon, less than a day after a near death experience.
Of course there were exceptions with people like Awe who could regrow limbs in a matter of minutes, but fuck that guy.
“In all seriousness,” Alexis started, “We should talk about what to do next.”
Nick nodded, “I don’t think that Murphy or I really know what Imperium is bound to do next, and it can’t be long until we end up biting off more than we can chew. After all, if Shockwave shows up, we don’t have a good answer for him.”
“He won’t want to show up,” our captain countered, “The second he does, he looks weak.”
“But if you guys keep hammering them, something is going to give,” Xana shot back, “If you keep pushing, they are going to push back. Besides, if they come out and make a big show of eliminating you guys, it won’t be a show of weakness, it’ll be a show of strength. You guys did go toe to toe with Shock and Awe, you aren’t regarded as lightweights.”
“Personally, I think we should challenge him. If he shows and we escape, then he looks weak as all hell.” Everyone looked at me like I was a deluded nut and I just smiled.
“How the fuck do you propose we don’t die?”
“Simply,” I replied, turning back to Nick, “We make sure we pick a fight where we can get away.”
I could see Alexis’ wheels turning, “Shockwave is a powerhouse, but he’s not great for a chase.”
“If we pick a fight in a big open area, he’ll see it as an advantage for him, and it is under any normal circumstance. But it also gives us plenty of room to run away and let him come up empty handed.”
Alexis nodded, “Most of their heavy hitters are Projectors, if we give them an open arena, we put ourselves at a disadvantage but we can probably sucker them into a fight. As long as we make sure there is some cover to fall back to, we bait them out and get away and punch another hole in their rep.”
“I know causing collateral damage isn’t ideal, but if we fight in a courtyard downtown, that’d work nicely,” I suggested.
“We’re newbies, we don’t really have a rep to protect like they do,” Nick added, “the emotional impetus is gonna make them a little reckless. If we can disengage, I can shed my coat and Murphy can grab me to run. The only person I can think of who really chases on Imperium’s lineup is Siphon, but if we don’t give him an juice, Murphy can outrun him no problem.”
Xana frowned, “Okay, sorry to piss on everything-“
“Nick might like that,” I added quickly.
“But you’re assuming you can just run,” she continued, with a glare at me. I smiled innocently as she rolled her eyes. “This is Imperium, they aren’t just some pushovers who are showing up on the scene, they have eliminated rivals before with extreme prejudice. There’s also people like Kudzu who could make running away extremely difficult. And Nick, you’re assuming you can disengage, but you don’t run all that fast.”
“I’m getting faster,” he said quietly, “But it’s like running on stilts. It is a challenge.”
Xana put a reassuring hand on her boyfriend, “And you are, but you’re not going to going all that quick with a pair of Projectors laying into you. And even then, what would you do if Shockwave showed up? Your armor has gotten better, Alexis, but do you want to really give it that test?”
Our team leader frowned, clearly not liking that option.
Leaning in, I voiced a crazy idea. “What if we let Shockwave punch himself out?”
All heads turned to me like I was out of my mind.
“Think about it! Eldritch is basically built to take blunt trauma like no one’s business. Shockwave does huge, sweeping blasts that crush cars and blast the sides of buildings.”
“You are making this sound really unhealthy for me,” Nick replied.
“My point is though, the bigger you get, the harder it is to just bludgeon you down. If we put you in a two or three tonne suit with plenty of excess mass to consume, you’d be able to basically endure a bomb going off and shrug. Shockwave doesn’t have the heat to cook chunks of growth off like Shock did, all he’d be doing is essentially hitting you with a massive boxing glove.”
“But he’s been refining his skills for years,” Alexis commented, “Sure, Adaptations have metabolic constraints, but he isn’t going to just run out of juice.”
“And I’d rather not be his punching bag for an extended period of time,” Nick added.
I rolled my eyes, “I think we’re all forgetting something very important here.” All eyes were focused on me, a morbid curiosity plain on all of their faces. “Nick doesn’t have the same metabolic limitation that regular Adapted do. He is only bound by his external food supply, not his bodies own need. If there was ever a gift built to win a war of attrition, it’s his, provided we do enough prep work.”
Everyone paused to give it some thought, and it was suitably Nick who broke the silence, “I still don’t like the idea. Sure, my ‘suit’ can withstand the abuse, but under it, I’m going to be eating a huge chunk of the blasts. I’m literally connected to my suit, I will be feeling every hit. Under duress, maybe we could try to outmatch and outlast him, but I don’t care for the idea of weathering a beating against one of the most powerful Adapted in the city.”
I shrugged, “Fair. Then, I suggest we avoid Shockwave until we can recruit someone else.”
“Wait, what?” Alexis seemed perplexed by my idea. “You don’t want to just stick to a trio?”
“We’d need more people in the end,” Nick said, coming to my aid, “We have holes in terms of coping with various power sets. Even with the updates to your suit, the three of us are woefully unsuited to cope with someone like Shock and Awe. Shockwave isn’t someone we can easily fight, etc. By and large, the three of us are built to fight up close and personal, and we need someone who can fight from the back line, take better advantage of the distraction and disruption Murphy and I can provide.”
“Besides,” Xana added, “You’re hoping to avoid a big fight with Imperium or Surface Dwellers, but you should plan for the worst. If that happens, you’ll want more friends around to watch your back.”
“Xana’s right, no plan survives contact with the enemy,” Alexis said to herself as much as us. “Okay, we’ll have to start looking around and snooping for Adapted willing to join up. You’re right, we can’t expect to get much farther against big names without extra hands.”
I knew it hurt her to have to admit it, but the bigger named teams had more people than three with only one exception that I knew of.
For about a year, there was a super-group of Reckoners in Manda that called themselves “The Unstoppables” like a bunch of jackasses. Though, to be fair, it was comprised of three of the most intimidating Adapted who walked around on Tso’got: Clemency, Innate, and Co-conspirator.
An emotional manipulator who could harness energy from people around him, a master fighter/extraordinary cognate, and someone who could rob people of information and duplicate herself to spread her influence; it had put the scare into numerous people cartels in Manda and beyond. However, it seemed that the group had issues when it came to leadership and identity: too many obscenely powerful people in a room created plenty of friction.
I knew Alexis wasn’t keen to introduce other people into the group since we were all friends. Adapted tended to clique up and if we found anyone, we’d likely find several; it wasn’t a stretch to think someone might challenge her claim to leadership. But, if and when we ran into Shockwave or Beleth, we needed extra hands. Those two had literally dismantled small teams, like ours, on their own. Beleth had survived attacks from Suppression more than once, and Shockwave had been filmed taking a fight against three Reckoners and ripping them in a matter of minutes.
“You said you’ve done some networking, right?”
She nodded, “A little, but nothing like this. I’ve been effectively selling some of my drones to help Reckoner teams with scouting, but the people I talk to are already in set teams, and often in another city. I doubt we’re a big enough pull to draw someone to us.”
“That and we have no patronage,” Nick added. “No one wants to show up here if we aren’t bankrolled.”
“We are chasing down well bankrolled gangsters and we’ve already shown we aren’t afraid to take a bit off the top.”
“But there is a certain air of legitimacy given to people who have someone looking out for them,” Alexis replied, “Even though you swiped 30 grand, Murphy, it doesn’t keep the lights on for long if people are trying to live off being a Reckoner.”
While being a criminal Adapted was an easy way to make a living, being a Reckoner and living off your work was a bit more difficult. Barring skimming off the ill-gotten gains of criminals, many people would try to find a Zari or human benefactor who essentially employed them; while this was a great development for most, occasionally that money came with some uncomfortable strings attached.
After all, they were paying you. It was your job to see to their best interests.
You also ran the risk of a patron being a plant by either Suppression or Snatchers in an attempt to make contact and capture you.
“For now at least we don’t need any additional,” I remarked, “We’re set for a bit and don’t have tons of upkeep cost with the exemption of your armor.”
“Yours is going to cost a few hundred for me to fix up since Siphon made you a pincushion,” Alexis noted and then immediately regretted mentioning last night as we both glanced at our third member who was…displeased.
Nick leaned forward, “Are we going to talk about last night?”
Alexis cringed, clearly dreading the conversation. “I’d rather not.”
“Nick,” I interjected, “It’s cool. Trust me, yeah?” I gave him an authentic smile and nodded, knowing full well that Alexis wasn’t going to do this again. She had beaten herself up enough; piling on was only going to make it worse.
He didn’t like my answer, and I knew why: he couldn’t help but blame himself a bit for what had happened to me.
I probably would have felt more frustration about it if I hadn’t knitted eleven broken bones over the course of a night.
It was easy to forget that Adaptations were all so different and had their own strengths and drawbacks. While Alexis could make a suit to withstand a bomb, she couldn’t endure her person being stabbed, let alone recover from what I had endured. Nick could maybe remake his body, but we had never tested to see what his Adaptation would repair; neither of us could stomach hurting our friend to see if he would heal/how much he would heal when he grew.
“So, what now?”
“We keep hammering Imperium,” Alexis replied, still a little shaken at the thought of the prior night. “Even though last night was…a bit of a setback, it wasn’t without some merit. I still put heat on Collision.”
“But you lost your in with Imperium,” Nick pointed out, “We don’t have your parents unwittingly feeding you information.”
“There are still places where they are a bit outspoken about their workings,” Xana pointed out. “They have that distillery downtown. It’s even in the old police station, as if to flip off the city and remind people they are above the law.”
I let out a giggle, “What?” I replied to their disapproving stares, “You have to admit it is a little funny. Gotta admire their gall as to put an illegal distillery in the middle of the city, in an old police station. If nothing else, they have balls.” Alexis stomped on my foot under the table and I winced; my passenger hadn’t raced quick enough to stop the blow. “Easy, I’m not quite up to snuff. Predictive responses are a bit slow still.”
“Oh, sorry,” she muttered, ashamed.
Just like we had tested Nick’s powers, we’d tested mine to put it into more quantifiable terms since Alexis was very much science minded. While I could direct the organism to assist me with specific muscle functions, the organism also reacted to threats seen and unseen. The tiniest changes in the air around me would prompt the organism to shift and shield something, even if I hadn’t seen it. It even seemed able to move around quick enough to respond to gunfire; the faster it had to adjust though, the more I felt it internally. Feeling a block of tissues shift locations within a heartbeat felt like the strangest kick in the torso.
“I’ll be fine, honest,” I said with my smile equipped. “I’m just salty I lost my fight and you won yours.”
“Getting back on track,” she replied, shooting me a glare, “Attacking their distillery is a bold move, and a very public one. It’s basically right downtown, and there’s no way there isn’t at least one Adapted guarding it nightly. But,” she added, “It would make a nice staging ground. It’s by a few taller apartment buildings and there are some slums a few blocks away. It would give us somewhere to run.”
“But, lots of clubs and nightlife spots around it, people are going to film us, regardless of what happens. People will get hurt if we get into a big fight.”
Nick shrugged, “I’m likely to scare them away to a safe distance. No one wants to be near a four tonne Neklim.”
“Four tonnes? That’s a lot…you compensating for something buddy?”
He blushed and Xana reached forward to slap me.
“Ah, ah! I’m a hurt boy, remember?”
She glared and I stuck my tongue out at her. “I don’t think you’re nearly as hurt as you let on, you’re just milking it.”
“Maybe,” I replied with a wink. “But seriously, Nick, that’s a lot of mass. You good to control that? Until recently you’ve been doing a quarter of that.”
“I know, but even at two I wasn’t doing enough to Ironclad. And sure, I could probably take some abuse from Collision, but if you hit me with a few cars at a usual size and I’m going to start losing focus. I’m just going to need to be bigger to endure the heavier hits.”
Alexis and I exchanged a glance: was this a good idea, especially on the heels of me getting hurt and him feeling a bit guilty? I still vividly remembered him being out of control before thanks to him being emotionally compromised.
“If you get that big, my compound won’t stop you, it’ll only slow you down,” she cautioned.
“I know. But, Murphy was right. I don’t have a limiter on my Adaptation besides consumption, we should be willing to take advantage of that. If I can just take the abuse, it leaves you two unfettered to run around and flank threats.”
“Let’s let him feel like a big man,” I suggested, “If he’s that big, he could smack around Ironclad like he was a toy.”
Xana sighed, “Sure, but it won’t make him immune to Shockwave. He will eventually show up and no matter how big Eldritch can be, he won’t be big enough to withstand that guy.”
I noticed a little unspoken communication between Xana and Alexis: it seemed this wasn’t the first time they had talked about this.
“Maybe not,” I offered, “But he will still be able to take a huge hit or twelve from Shockwave and keep running.
Nick smiled, “Well, maybe not a war of attrition, but it’d at least be enough to buy time. And that’s if Shockwave is there. He’s still probably not going to want to show his face since all of the criminal Adapted scene is about posturing and proving yourself.”
He seemed strangely emboldened, not the usual muted Nicholas Weld I was used to dealing with. Maybe it was more than guilt driving him; maybe he needed to prove himself and us as a team since he had been absent from the last fight. Either way, it was good he was at least pumped up and excited to contribute.
Better than wallowing.
“Well, we have to let Murphy heal,” Alexis concluded, “And we’d probably want to move against their distillery in the middle of the week.”
“Less people out and around,” she insisted. “Sure, you roaring will scare them again, but we’re less likely to have collateral damage if people aren’t out getting hammered on a weekend. I’m sure there will be a handful of people lingering and still getting a drink on a Tuesday, but not so many as to cause a mass panic and get tons of people trampled.”
My phone buzzed on the table:
Basl: You gonna show today?
Me: No, I’ve got stuff today. Tomorrow should be good.
Basl: Money is good today.
Me: Sorry, seriously swamped. Can you put it off?
Basl: …I’ll let you know.
Nick took a look at me, inquisitive as I put down my phone. “How long do you think you’ll need to heal fully?”
I let out a laugh, “When you consider that I’ve already knit almost a dozen bones, sealed up seven different stab wounds, and repaired the damage in my liver, the remaining muscle damage and inflammation should be a cinch! I ought to be ship shape by tonight. Provided the damn thing doesn’t get too tired.”
Xana raised an eyebrow, “It gets tired?”
“It is an organism. It has its own metabolism to look after. Eventually it will wear out and need to take a nap.”
She seemed surprised, “I just thought it was some weird supernatural goo that was inside you.”
I looked to Alexis, “Want to let her know?”
“We had…trouble figuring out exactly what makes his Adaptation work,” she admitted, “I don’t know how to make an MRI or anything like that, so we had to guess and do something a little more…hands on as it were.”
For a second, Xana didn’t realize what she meant. “Wait, you tried to cut him open to see what it was?”
I snapped and pointed a finger gun at her, “It can quit snowing, she’s caught the drift!”
“That just seems, barbaric.”
Alexis blushed and looked away, “Well…I was curious. And it was before I had Adapted so I didn’t know how to make any better precision stuff.”
“Our best guess is that the stuff essentially meshes with my cells and somehow charges them up. Because even when we cut me open, we didn’t really notice something that out of place…it just looked like overdeveloped muscle tissue. Even when I congeal it all into one spot,” I added emphasis by willing the passenger to inflate my forearm, “There isn’t that much to it but it still finds a way to reinforce my bones, raise capacity on muscles and tendons, etc.”
“The best approximate we got was that, if seriously concentrated, it would yield about a 10x greater output than just his muscle alone. But, that is only really doable for things like a single punch, a single kick. Start talking in terms of movement, it needs to balance out or he’ll flop over,” Alexis added.
Xana cast a look my way, “That’s why you’re always working out so much. Your power is directly linked to your own strength.”
I widened my smile, “Unlike some people at this table, I have to work for my power. Someone here cheats.”
Nick rolled his eyes, “Oh yeah, I’m sure you’ve never used a little hit of your strength to finish a lift.”
“That would defeat the purpose of hard work,” I said, putting my hands and equipping a stern expression. All of a second later, I chuckled and slipped back to my smile, “No, but seriously, the only time I use it is if I’m dumb and almost crush myself.”
I caught my friend looking at me, still noticing some of the damage as my passenger wriggled under my skin and effectively massaged the muscle, reducing the swelling and repairing the muscular damage.
There was an awkward silence and Nick glared up at Alexis; he was clearly not okay with the small explanation of what happened that I had given him. He was angry at being left out, and it wasn’t going to be contained for much longer.
Best bet was going to be getting ahead of the whole ordeal.
“Hey, Xana, do you mind giving us a minute,” I asked, ditching my smile.
She sighed, knowing full well what was going to happen; hell, she probably would have prompted us to just get it over with if I didn’t. “I get it,” she said. “This is between you guys. I’ll be out back fucking around with my phone. Take your time.”
As soon as we heard the door close, Nick’s frustration broke out. “What the fuck happened last night?”
Alexis winced again which didn’t help. “I shouldn’t have listened to myself and we should have stopped. I beat Collision, but Murphy…”
I let out a wry laugh, “I got my ass fed to me. I went up against Siphon thinking he would be a pushover; all I had to do was end the fight quickly and he’d be toast, his Adaptation would be effectively bypassed if I could knock him cold before he had a significant drain on me. But, he had read my movements like a book. Even with superior speed, strength, agility, it all paled when stacked against his experience. A few hits landed, but most were blocked by gauntlets made for shock absorption; even though I broke a rib or two, he’d trained himself to move well enough that I didn’t do more damage.”
Nick frowned, “Why didn’t you run away when he didn’t go down quick?”
“With the staff Alexis had made me, some of the hits would have shattered bones and done enough damage underneath to be life threatening. When I hit Siphon, he took it and rolled, almost comfortably so. His lack of injury, lack of panic at being so clearly outclassed physically just…got to me. I let my pride cloud my senses.” I paused, “Since I Adapted, I’ve never lost a fight. I didn’t want last night to be my first.”
While he heard my explanation, it didn’t seem to sink in. He glared at Alexis,” Why didn’t you help him if you could see he was losing? Surely you could have done something!”
“Nick, she was busy with Collision,” I interjected but was almost completely ignored.
“He was throwing cars at me!” she shouted, frustrated. Last night was still a raw nerve for her, and, come to think of it, Nick didn’t know why.
“You could have made distance to help! You shouldn’t have left him on his own!”
“Nick,” I cautioned, putting a hand against his bicep, “Enough man.”
“No, it isn’t!” he snapped. “Alexis, I said to not make me regret encouraging this, and you did! My best friend nearly died! He recovered from the ass kicking Shock and Awe gave us within three hours, but it’s been a whole night and he still isn’t 100% yet!”
“So you what, think I wanted this?” Alexis snapped, “Yes, I fucked up, Nick! I’m sorry, but Murphy is an adult and came with.”
“Because you bullied him into it!”
“I am right here,” I reminded them.
Alexis shook her head, “Nick, stop, that’s enough.”
He raised his eyebrows, affronted. “I’m sorry, but it fucking isn’t! You’re supposed to be the leader of the team, and you almost got a member killed because your stupid vendetta against your fucking parents! You’re supposed to fucking care about your friends!”
“THEY KICKED ME OUT!” Alexis screamed, shrill, right back in his face. “Collision broke my helmet,” she finally whispered after catching her breath, “I had to expose myself to finish the fight and bargain to keep Murphy alive.” She took another deep breath and an intense glare almost pushed Nick away from the table, “Don’t you ever say I don’t care about my friends. Don’t you fucking dare.”
With that parting comment, she got up and walked towards the back door; Nick tried to get up to follow her but I empowered my grip and pulled him back into the chair.
“Nick, enough. Give her a minute, okay? She’s gone through a lot in the last eight hours. She lost her home, nearly watched me die, and got the piss beat out of her herself.”
My friend growled, “That doesn’t mean she should be off the hook for what happened to you.”
“Let it go,” I insisted, my smile gone as I tightened my grip to the point of being painful. “My own ego did more damage than she did.”
“Nick, stop!” I insisted and finally got his undivided attention. “I got dumb, and I got punished for it. Alexis showed herself, lost her home, and risked exposing her identity to the psycho who stabbed me to make sure I lived. She fought through Collision taking the staff and slamming it into helmet hard enough to lift her off the ground. Our captain has whiplash like she’s been in a major car crash and refuses to complain because of how bad off I am.”
“Is right about me being an adult. I knew the risk, and I let myself get pushed around. If I had balked, she would have stopped. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.” I took a deep breath, “She shouldn’t have pushed, but ultimately it was my own damn fault. I could have fought smarter, and I should have. Siphon kicked my ass, and that is on me.”
My friend let out a huff, his fists clenched with no real outlet for his anger. “I’m just…pissed I wasn’t there.”
“Let it go,” I reiterated. “Besides, better I get injured and not her. I heal quickly; this should have put my ass down for weeks and I’m up in less than a day.”
He took a few deep breaths and nodded, “You’re right.”
“I’m always right,” I replied with a wink as my smile crept back.
He scoffed and shook his head, caught off guard by my casual behavior. “Oh, that is some shit and you know it,” he shot back. “You might know how wrong you are if you went to class more often.”
I rolled my eyes, “Come on, I’m smart enough to make it by with only half the lessons, what would happen if I was there all the time? It would be wildly unfair!”
Nick just shook his head, “The perpetual truant, Murphy Pell, doing everyone a service but not exploring his full potential. What a saint!”
I rose and gave him a bow, only to get punched in the shoulder. “Ow,” I said with a wince. Nick recoiled in horror as I smiled wider and started cackling. “You fucking fell for it! Oh my goodness, too damn easy!”
My best friend rolled his eyes at me, “You’re hopeless, you realize that?”
“Fully aware!” I sobered up a little before continuing. “Seriously man, Alexis made a mistake, but she’s human. We lived, we learned, and we get to try again. This time when we take the fight to Imperium, we get to have a big monster-man with us.”
Right on cue, Alexis came back in, looking much calmer. A silent exchange was passed between her and Nick as she sat down.
I wasn’t satisfied with that. “So are mommy and daddy going to fight any more?”
“No,” she and Nick replied at the same time.
An awkward pause settled over before I nudged Nick under the table, “I’m sorry,” he confessed, “I’m sorry I snapped. I’m…I’m pissed I let my storage spoil and couldn’t help. That should have been much easier last night and none of us should have gotten hurt.”
“I’m sorry I let myself run wild with my emotions and get crazy,” she replied. “I’m sorry I fucked up as captain of our little squad.”
Another silence, another uncomfortable pause that settled over the room. “So,” I asked to break the stifling calm, “What’s the plan?”
“We fought Imperium without our biggest threat,” Alexis said with a nod at Nick, “I think we give them a threat that can’t be pushed around.”
Nick and Xana gave me a glance, “You’ll be good to fight in a few days?”
I grinned, “Looking forward to it already.”