“I’m sorry, what?” Alexis asked, oddly defensive. “You need a NEW team? We’re a commodity now? Something available for mail order?”
Our newfound friend let out a weak laugh, “I didn’t…I didn’t mean to sound like I was trying to take over.”
“You could have fooled me,” she shot back.
“I-” he stopped himself and took a moment. “Dragoon, listen, I need help. I can’t fight against Vermin alone; you guys aren’t ones to shy from a rough fight, clearly.”
“And you think we’re going to give up what we’re doing to help chase down a group of psychopaths led by Rat? You want us to derail what we were doing against Imperium?” She got up and marched over to Mutant, getting right up in his face, “Tell me then, what are you hoping we do?”
Nick and I shared a glance, neither of us enjoying being a spectator to this dressing down. However, it was good to know Alexis was willing to defend her spot and push back.
“Vermin is here, we might as well see if we can kill a member or two,” Mutant said, caught off guard by how stalwart our captain was.
“No! And you know why? Because we can’t! You’re looking at a guy who is out of fuel for his Adaptation, a girl with power-armor in desperate need of repair, and a guy who has probably had all his ribs broken twice over in the last half hour.” She jabbed a finger into his chest, “How dare you waltz in here and start insinuating that we’re simply onboard to help you because we were crazy enough to fight Imperium!”
“Drag,” Nick finally said, “I think he gets it.”
He looked decidedly uncomfortable with the verbal lashing administered. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I um…I thought you’d share my enthusiasm.”
“It isn’t that we are against the idea,” I interjected, not giving Alexis another chance to chastise immediately, “It’s just that we’re pretty tapped out. Right now man,” I laughed, “We wanna get the fuck out of here in one piece.”
He nodded and turned back to Alexis. “If I can get you guys out of here, can we talk about it?”
She was oddly put off by his persistence and it finally dawned on me why: she’d always been second rate in the eyes of her mother. For someone to want to join us, to think we were doing something good and noble was an outlandish concept even though she had planned for others to rally people behind our cause and help tip the scape. While Mutant seemed to come with his own issues and questionable motivation, he still knew who we were and clearly had some respect for the fight we had put up thus far.
While another Enhancer probably wasn’t the best option for our lineup, beggars couldn’t be choosers.
“If you abandon your desire to kill Vermin, you’ll have a place with us,” she replied at length.
Mutant seemed stunned, caught off guard by her giving him a place and by her requirement. “They killed my last team! You want me to just let that go?”
“Personal obsession is going to kill you. I won’t have you drag us into your mess,” she shot back. “I almost got Parasite killed because I got far too invested in our fight with Imperium. If you are willing to let your vendetta go and you can get us out of this building, we’ll talk about you joining the Rogue Sentries and about what we might be able to do about Rat and his crew in the future.”
He exhaled slowly with clenched fists, “They killed my friends.”
“And they will kill you the second you slip up.” She let out a huff, “Listen, you seem like a good guy and probably a beast of an Enhancer. But if you want to hold a grudge, you’ll get us killed right along with you. If you wanna join us, it isn’t about hunting Vermin, understood?”
Slowly, he nodded, “If Reflection gets in my way, do you mind if I kill him?”
“Is he the one making those freaky things?” Nick asked. “If yes, please.”
Mutant nodded, “He stores copies of himself that manifest like a twisted image of him. Each one lasts for about half an hour and he adds one to his stockpile every ten minutes. They have no survival instinct, no pain receptors to speak of, and they are super awkward to fight against if you don’t catch them by surprise. More problematic is that they relay information to the source; he knows we’re here, and he’ll know I’m with you.”
“And you’re the only one of us who can really fight,” Alexis muttered, “Great.”
“Dude, eat them,” I thought aloud, pointing to the disgusting messes on the floor. “They should be made of protein, right?”
“Are you fucking serious?”
“I can’t exactly take one for the team here, otherwise I would.”
He approached with some reservation before touching the first copy we had killed. While it did disappear, my friend immediately turned to the side and heaved, emptying his stomach violently. “Oh, fuck no. Not again. Never again.”
The new guy’s eyes widened as he watched the corpse simply fade to non-existence. “What the fuck?”
“Eldritch is powered by consumption of organic material. Specifically dead stuff,” I explained, “But, he does taste what he breaks down. Not your favorite meal buddy?” I asked with a laugh that reminded me of my broken ribs.
“It was like eating moldy bugs,” he said, retching again. “Oh, fuck me, I am not eating the other one!”
“At least it’d be fresher!”
He turned to me, his face void of any color and coated in a cold sweat. “Seriously, you cannot fathom how disgusting that shit was.”
“We get it,” Alexis said, stepping in, “How much?”
“About thirty kilograms, but I’m not sure how long this stuff is gonna last…or how big I can get in this building; I don’t trust the floor to hold me if I go past 300 kilograms. And I won’t go back outside with my suit. Someone is doing some serious fuckery with my brain. Losing control was…unpleasant.”
“Dissonance,” Mutant supplied, “She interrupts thought and concentration. While it sounds stupid, when you forget you’re in a fight for a second there can be serious consequences.”
“Why isn’t it hitting us in here?”
“Limited to line of sight. She’s great in a wide open area, which is what you guys made as the playing field. Unfortunately, Shockwave just stood in the middle like a jackass.”
I sighed, “So we go out the back and take a bit of a detour, away from the main event. Alexis, pack your armor and let’s go. The long we stay here, the more likely we are to meet more of Reflection’s duplicates.”
Nick threatened to vomit at his name.
“Mutant, what exactly do you do?” I inquired. “The name ‘Mutant’ doesn’t really seem right for a guy who turns into a wolf.”
He grinned and the air around him warped again, this time leaving a massive insect in our midst. While it had the form of a person, it was clad in purple and amber colored chitin armor. His frame was bulkier, his arms and legs littered with threatening barbs and daunting claws. “I’ve got ten different forms I can change into, each with a specific purpose. This one is defensive and strong, but way slower than the wolf.”
Mutant shifted back to human, “I can technically merge forms, but it puts a huge strain on me. Though once I lock five in, I can only access those five until I sleep to reset.”
This guy’s power seemed surprisingly A-list for us to not have heard of him.
He shifted back into the werewolf form we had seen already and began sniffing the air. “We have company.”
“Grow,” Alexis commanded.
Nick hastily ditched clothing and grit his teeth, skin erupting in the black growths that formed a muscular suit over his body.
I glanced over and saw our lupine newcomer recoil. “That is…. really unsettling,” Mutant said with a shudder as my friend grew a foot in height and bulked up.
“You get used to it, sort of,” I told him as Alexis finished throwing the rest of her armor into a gigantic duffel bag. “Here, gimme. I can’t fight, at least let me mule.”
I took her bag as our two combat-ready Adapted lead the way.
Sure enough, his nose wasn’t wrong; there was a number of twister aberrations waiting for us, each with its own horrific spin on the progenitors biology. Some had extra arms, some had lopsided limbs, one had massive teeth and a jaw that opened all the way down to his sternum. Eldritch led the way, lurching forward and immediately found himself beset by a trio. Mutant jumped against the wall and around the roadblock, shifting forms into the beetle again and hitting one of the reflections hard enough to cave in the left half of its rib cage, though it didn’t seem to mind too much.
While Eldritch was strong, these things didn’t seem to care much about broken bones and his growths sinking their teeth into skin; even though he ripped chunks out of several, they didn’t seem bothered and lashed out at him, grabbing, kicking, and biting as much of his Neklim suit as possible. All they had to really do is make sure he couldn’t grab their head or do too much damage to their chest.
Mutant shifted again into the werewolf to increase his speed, bounding forward to slash the eyes out of one clone before changing to a third form. Like the beetle, his torso was covered in chitin plates but his limbs were unprotected and his hands changed into pincers that looked like they have been sharpened to a razor edge. A tail sprouted from the base of his spine with a nasty stinger on the end; this form’s face was more foreign as it was equipped with faceted eyes and mandibles that made him look like a proper scorpion.
While not as well defended as his beetle form, it was quicker and the tail moved with blinding speed, impaling a clone and tethering it so he could step in and slice the throat. As it shriveled, another leapt forward with its awkward arms swinging like a top; Mutant was quick enough with his shapeshifting to change into Beetle and take the hit, using the strength of the form to pull the clone in and pound his head flat.
Eldritch had found his stride, using some of the excess mass stored to extend his arms, allowing them to open like some kind of freakish mouth and utilize the teeth on the tentacles; with more exposed surface area, he could dig the barbs into more skin, eventually coating enough skin they couldn’t tear free. One ended up being pressed into the floor until his torso was completely flattened while another was held still… and then had his head torn off.
But true to form, they didn’t seem to show any kind of survival instinct and insisted on attacking even after several were culled. Their persistence was rewarded as one slipped by our guards, seeing our captain and I as weaker prey. Alexis was quick on her feet and narrowly avoided being grabbed by an arm that was almost three times as long as it should have been. Dropping her bag, I pulled the staff free and dug deep for what little bit of strength I had left.
After ducking under a swipe, I slammed the staff into his elbow and shattered the joint, rending the arm fairly useless. An oversized leg tried to kick, but the movement was incredibly telegraphed and easy to avoid. I jabbed the staff forward into his chest to push him back a pace before swinging the staff straight down, an overhead crush that found its mark.
Even without my passenger helping me much, the weight of my staff and force of the efficient blow crushed my opponents skull.
Especially after spending so much time fighting Ironclad, I forgot how easy it was to break people.
“That should have bought us a few minutes,” Mutant muttered, reverting to human form. “Everyone okay?”
“Fine and dandy,” I said with a huff. “I could do without the stench.”
“Imagine eating the shit,” Eldritch hissed at me.
Mutant recoiled, alarmed that he could talk. “Holy shit that sounds freaky. You are undoubtedly the weirdest Adapted I have seen.”
“Our resident weirdo,” I said with a grin.
“Focus, please,” Alexis snapped, “We’re almost outside, but once we get out we lose Eldritch since I don’t want him losing control again. At that point, it’ll all be on you, Mutant.”
Our newcomer nodded, “I’m pretty sure we’ll be fine. Reflection isn’t likely to send too many more clones after us since I’m sure Rat wants a handful helping fight Imperium’s backup.”
I was sure that Mutant did know what he was talking about, especially given his obsession with Vermin, but I still stayed alert and ready for a fight. Being smacked around earlier and caught off guard by Reflection had been embarrassing.
Alexis passed a pair of pants over to Nick as the tentacles all dissolved, leaving him naked for just a split second as he flew into some sweats.
“What’s the plan now?” he asked, his suit no longer imposing an affect on his voice.
“The hologram orb has about another six minutes of charge left on it; we look like normal people and try to get far enough away that both Vermin and Imperium lose track of us. Ideally, we make it most of the way to my car without anyone’s identity being any more exposed.”
“At least Vermin aren’t known to share information,” Mutant noted, “So no one else will be coming after us.”
“And just seeing us doesn’t tell someone a lot,” Nick pointed out, “It isn’t like we’re celebrities.” I could have made a point that for some Cognates would be enough to find us, but it wouldn’t help at this point.
“Either way, let’s go. I need to eat more so my damn thing can keep fixing me. I’m pretty sure I still have a few cracked bones I could decidedly do without.”
Alexis nodded, “And, hologram up.”
Our cue to exit a backdoor and scurry out an alley.
As we went south, we were given a quick glimpse back into the fight that was still going on between Imperium and Vermin. Other members of Imperium had shown up with Reappear, and Kudzu was back in commission, slowly overgrowing the area and trying to build enough of a gap to let them disengage. Shockwave was still on the steps, blasting back Rat, but clearly tiring. Blood was still seeping out and Ironclad was done being a deterrent for him and now was nowhere to be seen. The tar guy was having chunks frozen by Toolkit lobing customized grenades and simultaneously slapped around by Collision’s battery of debris, but all it seemed to do was slow him down. Siphon was looking worse for wear, running around with a pyrokinetic keeping him at bay and out of range of his drain.
It seemed like the best that Imperium could get was a clean retreat; the worst would be a myriad of casualties if not a full rout. We kept our collective heads down as we scurried away, taking a longer route away from the brawl that broke out, leaving us woefully uninformed of whatever the outcome might be.
We’d have to find out later.
Vermin taking advantage of the window we had made presented a few problems that we’d need to address: the biggest was that they had some kind of Adapted with precognition feeding them information. Rat was a crazy bastard, but he clearly wasn’t an idiot and didn’t charge blindly into a fight with one of the most powerful men in the city.
“Who do you think is gonna win?” Nick finally asked, breaking the silence as we felt confident we were far enough away.
“I don’t think there is going to be a clear winner there,” Ted replied with a sigh, “Whoever wins, there’s gonna be fallout.”
The hologram fell and showed the four of us, back in regular clothes, all battered and bruised. Fortunately, the exception was Nick; since re-activating his Adaptation, he hadn’t endured any otherworldly blows that could damage him under an extra layer of alien muscle. It was probably for the best that his alien growths helped to maintain their source since he was the only going home where people would want the bruises explained.
As we piled into Alexis’ car, we all exhaled a massive sigh of relief.
Regardless of what happened between Imperium and Vermin, we were in the clear. With a successful disengage, we were back to being regular people.
Most of the drive back to Nick’s place was pretty quiet since the exhaustion and disappointment had caught up with us. Today had seemed almost poised to be a win at the start, but it had gone downhill so fast. Shockwave had been an issue we truly weren’t ready for; even though Vermin had technically saved us, this had tremendously upset our greater plans to bait Surface Dwellers into a fight with Imperium.
I could tell that Alexis was mulling over the same thought as she drove: if there was no Imperium, who the hell could challenge Beleth and his crew?
As shown today, we certainly weren’t capable. Shockwave had dismantled us in a matter of seconds, just like he had with so many other Reckoner teams. Unfortunately, Beleth was on equal footing: in a league way above our own.
Still, I gave a sideways glance to my best friend; he’d endured a beating from Shockwave and been able to repair his body. Whether he was aware of it or not, he was alarmingly powerful. He could completely overshadow my finesse with limitless brute force, and he’d been durable enough to stand in front of the second strongest Projector on the planet for several minutes before going down.
What if he had been twice the size? Three times? Was there a size where he wouldn’t go down?
As we pulled up, Nick hopped out and gave us a salute, leaving the three of us alone. “So, Ted, where are you staying?”
“Nowhere,” he confessed, “Vermin lit my last apartment on fire, so I’m homeless. Part of why I followed them here. I was displaced and angry… in retrospect it was a little short-sighted.”
I rolled my eyes, “Alright, come to my place. I have floor space, though it isn’t too comfortable it beats a curb.”
Alexis looked over at me in the passenger seat, “Murphy, your parents?”
“Likely still on a bender,” I replied with a dismissive wave. At her puzzled expression, I told her what I’d told Nick yesterday: about my parents being drug addicts who would disappear for weeks at a time, and how I hadn’t seen them in over a month now. Both her and Ted were horrified when I told them about how I fought for money regularly and had been paying my own bills with Basl and his fight club since my parents had squandered what little wealth they had.
It felt a lot better to finally be upfront with my friend and captain.
“Fuck me, Murphy, I’m sorry,” Alexis said after letting me finish. “I assumed it was bad, but this is…”
“Fucking awful,” Ted finished for her.
“Getting your apartment lit on fire thanks to a handful of psychos sounds a little higher ranked on the ‘shitty scale’,” I replied.
He shook his head, “At least we picked a fight with them. It wasn’t my parents who did it.”
It felt like a blow to the gut, hard enough to wipe away my grin. You shouldn’t expect the people who gave birth to you to abandon you, but here I was. “Yeah. It sucks. But there are worse things I suppose. It was probably why I Adapted, so at least I’ve got that.”
There was an awkward pause. “Maybe Adapting isn’t really a good thing,” Alexis thought aloud.
“Wait, what?” I asked. “Are you serious?”
“Think about it. We all come from fucked up families, have these twisted views of reality, and then we are given fucking super-powers to go run amok with. Maybe people in Hosjon’s class were right, maybe we should be put away entirely.”
“Our ethics teacher,” I supplied. “Alexis, you’re tired, and you hurt. Of course you think we’re a lousy sect of people and should be thrown in the bin. Let’s get some food, get some painkillers and you’ll change your tune, okay?”
“Murphy, seriously! What if we’re making a huge mistake?”
“And Suppression are on the right track? The answer is simply to incarcerate people and subject them to inhumane treatment and experimentation?” I asked sarcastically. “Alexis, take it down a notch, yeah? Let’s at least table this discussion until you’ve had a chance to wash the blood out of your hair. Sound reasonable?”
She gave a grudging nod.
Ted shifted uncomfortably; I’d entertained the idea of getting new teammates but never really thought about how awkward it would be getting used to the three of us since we’d known each other for nearly eight years. He wouldn’t know her like I did: instead he’d just seen his prospective team captain worry about whether Adapted were bearable for society.
Definitely not something that would inspire confidence.
“Don’t worry, she’s really fine,” I insisted.
He just shook his head and smiled weakly as we pulled up in front of my house. I opened the door and they piled in, Alexis immediately heading to the bathroom to clean up and get the blood off her face.
It left me alone with the new guy, and a bit of an awkward silence.
“I, um, don’t normally invite people to live with me on a first date,” I finally said as I opened the fridge, need for more nutrient winning out over loitering for small talk. “But I guess for you, I’ll make an exception.”
He let out a chuckle, “Yeah, I know that this was a bit… sudden. But, thanks.”
I shrugged, “I don’t have parents to impress with the guys I bring home, which I guess is good for you.”
Ted took a second, stunned, before giving a genuine laugh. “You’re a cheeky fucker, you know that? And for the record, I’m a terribly impressive guy to bring home to the parents. How many guys do you know that can totally change species?”
“The guy we dropped off kinda can,” I countered as I began wolfing down leftover pasta and lunch-meat straight from the package.
“The dude grows stuff on top of his skin, hardly counts as changing his own biology.”
“Bullshit,” Ted countered.
As I felt my passenger return to duty, my smile crept back across my face. “Someone is just jealous that he can’t be as big.”
“Your friend is compensating.”
“And compensate he can,” I replied. “Though, I kind of doubt it. He has an insatiable Zari girlfriend who has yet to complain about impotence.”
Ted blushed and it was my turn to laugh.
“It never turns off with him,” Alexis called out as she walked out of the bathroom, changed into a pair of sweats and a loose white shirt. While the dried blood was washed away from her mouth and out of her hair, it was clear she’d been on the receiving end of a beat-down.
Our newcomer nodded as she walked in, “I believe you. So, I have some idea of what you guys can do, but no one has entirely nailed down specifics.” He looked at Dragoon, “I know you clearly do stuff with machines and tinkering, but is there a kind of gimmick to it?”
“Self-repairing stuff. Even while Ironclad was beating the shit out of me, the armor was trying to fit itself back into place so I could take another hit.”
He gave me a look, “You’re nimble and strong, but I’m not totally sure why.”
“I got a little guy living in me,” I muttered between bites.
I forced my passenger into one arm, “Alien thing running around under my skin. When it is used, it gives a ton of resilience to my cells and strengthens bone and muscle function. Also fixes me up when I get beaten too damn badly. I’m pretty sure it’s fixed over a dozen broken ribs today.”
And as soon as I mentioned that, a flood of emotional distress washed over me as my brain replayed everything that happened in the last hour and a half on fast forward. Immediately overwhelmed, I felt the world start to spin. My hands shot to the kitchen counter for balance as my breathing quickly went shallow, my body unable to regulate, my passenger unable to counteract this with a hit of serotonin. Wobbly knees, blurring vision, and a profound throb rang through my head.
I started to laugh, a nervous giggle that sounded like I had forgotten what laughter was for. Except, from there it ballooned, my laughter turning into a fit that I couldn’t stop.
“Murphy!” Alexis shouted as I slipped and fell onto my ass, my laughter quickly devolving into tears as I became acutely aware of every hit I’d received. “Murphy! Come on, snap out of it!”
She reached forward and grabbed my collar, and I thought of Kudzu.
My head slowly shook, “I could have died today, I…could have killed someone. I had her neck in my hands, I had her life between my fingers…”
“Kudzu. I could have snapped her neck. I could have killed Mizu when he was down. I almost killed him on accident anyways!”
“Murphy,” Alexis pleaded.
To my surprise, Ted put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her off, though she refused to move too far away.
Tears streamed down my face as I shook, “I should be dead. Ironclad should have killed me! I shouldn’t be standing, I shouldn’t be breathing! I should have died in a tree!”
A wave of cortisol and adrenaline fueled something between a panic attack and a bloodthirsty rage; as Alexis reached forward to touch me, to comfort me, to show she cared about her friend and teammate, I shoved and threw her all the way across my kitchen. Ted got between us so I couldn’t chase her; they said something, but it was just noise to me. My chest felt like it was tightening and I was painfully aware of something.
I couldn’t breathe. I needed space.
I followed my gut and went out the sliding door, staggering forward a few paces before falling to my knees and sucking up gulps of air.
I had no right living through today. I should have died…. and I wasn’t sure how long I was out there alone before I heard someone approaching.
“Hey,” Ted’s voice called out, the door closing behind him. “Drink.”
“Motherfucker, shut up and drink.”
I looked at my fellow Enhance who was holding a bottle of rum for me, a firm expression glued to his face. He was clearly not going to take no for an answer.
Eventually, I obliged and took a swig of the firewater. It was decidedly rough going down, but it did help pull me more center and get me out of my own head. “Another,” he insisted as I tried to pass the bottle back.
I reluctantly obeyed.
This time, he took the bottle and took a massive swig of his own. “When I was attacked by Vermin, when my team died, I remember falling apart like you did. Rat hit my beetle form hard enough to break the armor in several places and it messed me up, made me feel weak and vulnerable. But, for a while, it was just a little voice in the back of my head. I was focused on escape, on getting home, on making sure I’d live. The second every basic need was taken care of, I lost it, just like you did.”
I nodded slowly. It made sense: I was home, I was safe, and my passenger was functioning again. I had everything I needed to feel secure.
“You’ll be fine,” Ted assured me, “Considering what I saw you go through today, I’m amazed this didn’t happen earlier. You’re a tough bastard.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I’ve had a handful of life and death situations in the last week and it’s just…”
An audible flick caught my attention as he lit a cigarette and took a puff before answering. “It’s something I’m used to. Believe me, I get it. There’s days I’ve fallen apart and been a mess. Trust me, be happy that you have these moments.”
He gave a grim expression, “Mate, it means you survived. You lived long enough to have a breakdown, which beats the alternative.”
It was a sobering thought but still, “I wish I didn’t have to.”
He shook his head, “Trust me, better to let it out. Keep it in, you go crazy. It was a rough day, but now you’re going to drink with your teammates and mellow out, yeah?”
My extended hand got a light chuckle from him as he passed the bottle.
I rolled my eyes and took the bottle back from him as Alexis walked out and took a spot next to me. “Sorry.”
She shrugged, “You had a bit of a breakdown after being blown up, beaten silly, and almost suffocating. It’s acceptable. Don’t push me again, with you that’s like a punch and Ironclad’s bruises still hurt. And don’t apologize again,” she snapped before I could open my mouth.
I donned a weak grin which got a proper smile from her.
“So today was a shit-show,” she lamented as she took the booze. “Throws a huge wrench in our plan.”
“Plan? Imperium is going to be gutted by today,” Ted replied, confused.
“We were never supposed to really bring down Imperium,” I told him.
“We were supposed to make them look weak enough to encourage Surface Dwellers to move in. But, since Shockwave is – at best – gonna be markedly worse for wear, there isn’t going to be a fight between the two. If Shockwave fights for his turf, he’s going to die. Since he isn’t an idiot, Imperium is going to disappear for now and lose tons influence.”
“And Surface Dwellers is just gonna fill that vacuum after crushing the small fry who try to lay claim to the now empty turf,” Ted extrapolated. “You wanted to pit the two against each other and let them slug it out so both could be brought down at the same time.”
“We’d make a vacuum big enough that Reckoners could help fill it,” she explained, “But the hope was we’d make enough of a name and spectacle to attract some additional Reckoners to help us. Today was supposed to showcase us mounting a decent fight against Imperium, or at least showing we could go properly toe-to-toe and not lose. It was going to be a beautiful bit of PR for us…and instead it almost turned into a snuff film.”
“Hey,” I noted, “It is working, at least a little bit. We do have one foolish volunteer.”
He nodded as he slugged down another gulp of the rum.
“Didn’t get us a Projector or Conjurer though,” Alexis lamented as the bottle was handed back to her. “We are still a woefully lopsided group all things considered.”
Ted took another drag on his cigarette, “I know some people that I can ask.”
Both Alexis and I looked to our new Enhancer. “Wait, what?”
“I mean, you have to realize that there are other people without teams. They don’t make headlines like you clowns have now, but lots of smaller teams scattered around Tso’got, hell, even in Ciel get crushed and have a survivor or two. When you are lonely, you find a few people like you, people who get it.”
“A lot of those people go to ground though,” I replied, “People without a team are an easy mark for Snatchers or Suppression.”
“The bigger fear isn’t about them. Sure, Suppression is scary, but generally if you run into Suppression, it’s because they have been on your trail for weeks. The bigger cage is psychological honestly. People get afraid to reach out, afraid that someone else will die on them, or that they’ll let someone else down. But Server’s set up for communication is safe and makes it fairly easy to get in touch, and people like me have used it to reach out to someone else like them… someone else who can empathize. There are a few survivors like me around Ciel; I could reach out and see if some people are willing to come out of hiding.”
Server was an enigmatic Adapted who seemed to facilitate nothing else than the message boards only Adapted could use. If anyone else tried to access them, no dice. How his program could distinguish who was Adapted versus those who weren’t, no one knew. And no one had been able to find him to ask either. The guy was a complete ghost.
Alexis and I looked to each other, mulling over Ted’s proposal. “We’re gonna need extra hands,” I said.
“We are,” our captain admitted. “Can you vouch for people?”
“As well as you can vouch for any other Adapted. We’re a bunch of fucked up people, and many of the ones I am in touch with are extra broken. They’ve seen people die or had more close calls than they reasonably ever should.”
She frowned, “We’re gonna be going against Surface Dwellers. I need to know that people aren’t going to crack on me or break down mid fight. We need people who can stand their ground, Ted. Can you vouch for the people you know?”
Another drag on his cigarette bought him a moment before he replied, “There’s a few I can reach out to.”
“You should probably let them know what we’re going to be up against,” I said with a grand gesture, “Toppling criminal empires and the like. We don’t want someone coming on with us because they believe we’ll be nice and tame.”
He let out a weak laugh, “You think you can really stand against Beleth?”
“He isn’t invincible,” I pointed out. “He has lost before. Shockwave showed him a good what-for the last time they had an engagement.”
“And how did going up against Shockwave work for you guys?”
“Bad,” Alexis replied, “But largely because we were woefully outnumbered. Eldritch took a number of hits from the bastard without going down; how different would it have been if he had Parasite and Dragoon helping him?”
Ted didn’t have a great response for that and instead opted to finish his cigarette.
“I mean, I’m not saying we could have won, but it would have been a very different fight if we could have isolated him. Truth be told, we aren’t push-overs,” Alexis stated plainly.
I swooned, she glared.
“But we aren’t on their level. We will need as much help as we can get. So, if you can bring more people to us, please do.”
He smiled and took another swig of rum, “Does this mean I’m in?”
Alexis smiled and extended a hand, “Welcome to the Rogue Sentries, Mutant.”
“We’re gonna have to train with new people,” I groaned, “I’m going to have to teach CQC to so many clueless people!”
“Oh, shut up,” Alexis snapped at me, playfully. “We both know that you’re going to thrive on being the badass instructor.” She took another hit from the bottle, her cheeks already rosy, a determined look coming to the forefront. I recognized that look: it was the same one she had donned when she resolved for us to fight Imperium. “Surface Dwellers are probably gonna own the city by morning; We’re gonna have to take it back.”