“I could kick the door down,” Murphy suggested as the four of us stood outside of Dragoon’s room.
“That seems a little heavy handed,” Organelle replied. “Maybe we should at least try knocking.”
“Dragoon didn’t come out of her room even when Infinite warped us. I really doubt she’s gonna open it for us,” I said.
Lightshow rolled her eyes and rapped her hand against the metal slab separating us from our drug addled captain. “Drag, open up. I know you’re in there.”
“Busy,” was the muffled and laconic reply.
“Drag,” Lightshow groaned, “Open the door or I conjure someone who can melt the damn thing.”
It took a moment, but our red-headed captain opened the door, sneering when she saw me and Murphy in tow. “What the fuck do you guys want? You here to-” she stopped when she saw Organelle. “What are you doing here?”
“We want to talk,” Organelle replied gently.
Dragoon’s doubt was palpable. “What would be so important?”
“A promotion,” Lightshow replied, “And a big one at that.”
It was enough to at least interest Dragoon and get her to step away from the door. “What the hell are you talking about?”
All eyes turned to Organelle: this was her circus, we were going to let her ringlead. “Dragoon, I’m guessing you noticed the ship jumping earlier.”
“Infinite took us off path. She completely changed our trajectory and it caused a bit of panic,” Organelle said with a clinical candor. “Needless to say, a number of people were…uneasy with the abrupt change.”
It was disturbing enough news to cut through Dragoon’s paranoia and fear to evoke some genuine curiosity. “She’d tell Titan or Command though.”
“That’s the thing, she didn’t,” I said. “She just acted on her own, like something prompted her to do this.”
“Fabulous,” Dragoon replied, almost disinterested. She just wanted to get rid of us.
“Zeal was the first to raise serious concern with Infinite,” Organelle continued. “While he was a bit radical in his suggestion, his dissent is hardly isolated. While others weren’t going to dare and be vocal like him, there are plenty who are wary about Titan and Infinite.”
Dragoon seemed to detect that she wasn’t hearing the full story. “What happened to Zeal?”
“When he suggested that we throw Infinite out an airlock, Titan cooked his brain,” Parasite replied.
“I’m afraid that the longer we are stuck in space, the longer tensions are going to wear and erode relationships between everyone else and those two. And, the reality is that those two are people in positions of power who can’t be challenged. There can’t be a coup thrown; it would end in a slaughter.” Organelle sighed and laced her fingers together, “That’s why we came to you.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“I want you to take Titan’s spot,” Organelle said. “I think that you’ll do a better job than he can.”
Murphy and I glanced at each other, leery of what kind of reaction was going to come from our friend. Alexis wasn’t the best with surprises; someone telling her that she was to become the captain of this whole ship and Titan’s entire crusade was quite the surprise.
“Oh, fuck off,” she finally replied. “Are you serious? You want me to try and take over after Titan literally melted a dude’s fucking head? Fuck that shit! I just want to be left alone so I can make-”
With an alarming quickness, Organelle shot forward and latched her hand around Dragoon’s wrist.
“Wha-” Before our friend could finish the word, she tried to rip her arm and away, frantically clutching at her chest with her free hand.
“I’m really sorry,” Organelle whispered, “But I think we should be having this conversation sober.”
Even Lightshow was thrown by this uncharacteristic course of action. “Organelle, this isn’t what we agreed to! We were going to try and appeal to her, not use fucking force! What the hell is a matter with you?”
Dragoon sank to a knee, gasping for air, her face deathly pale and ashen as she shook.
“You have literally had to make a copy of me to help out with the number of broken and battered Adapted on this fucking ship,” Organelle snapped. “The last thing we need is to fight amongst ourselves. I will not sit back and be passive while we kill ourselves! We need someone new in charge to avoid a massacre! What happens if Clemency gets in a fight with Siege? What happens if Beleth and Psycho really go at it? What happens to everyone in their way?”
“You’re going to kill her!” Murphy shouted.
“No,” Organelle said, “I won’t. I’m keeping tabs on her heartbeat and oxygen saturation. But, seeing her speed through her withdrawals is going to be unpleasant to watch.”
Dragoon looked up, mortified. Her pale face now covered in a sheen of sweat. It didn’t take long before she turned and started dry heaving.
“Organelle, let her go,” I pleaded.
Our medic shook her head, “I told Titan I would help his cause, no matter the cost. I don’t like doing this, but we need her at her best.”
I wanted to shout, to scream, to say something to make it stop. I didn’t care for Organelle’s cold pragmatism; she was torturing my friend and was seemingly oblivious to the incredible pain she was causing.
She knows how much it hurts your friend. It hurts her too. Look at Organelle’s face.
As shocked as I was that Eldritch had said something besides a readout of weight, I obeyed. It was right. Organelle was doing her best to put on a resolute facade, trying to look like a hardened killer, but it was so foreign. This was as much torture for her as it was for Dragoon. She was fighting her nature as a healer and as a disciple of Titan. Having to rebuke all of us for trying to be empathetic and human only made it that much harder.
“No matter the cost,” I echoed. Maybe the only good thing Titan had done in the last few days was tell me to find my voice, to be more vocal, to be more sure of myself.
“Let her do it,” I said softly. “We need Dragoon sober to make a decision and we can’t wait for her to detox. People might be killing each other in a few hours over this shit. We can’t wait until after this ship starts tearing itself apart.”
It was a painful handful of minutes. The only sound was our anxious shuffling and the constant dry heaving of our team captain. Occasionally Dragoon would look up, trying to find some support, but none of us interrupted Organelle. This was too important to stop, too important to let our emotions dictate.
As I watched my friend suffer, I realized a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. Watching something so torturous would have broken me. But now it was almost easy to assure myself that I was doing the right thing, that it was going to be for the best.
It was still a great relief when the dry heaving stopped and Organelle finally let go of my Dragoon’s wrist.
“Blanket,” was the first word that Dragoon managed to expel. Parasite stepped forward and swiped the blanket off her cot, tossing it down to her. She snatched it out of the air and drew it around her shoulders, sitting with her knees pulled to her chest. Even though Organelle’s fast-tracked withdrawals had stopped, she was ashy and looked sickly. “Water,” was her next demand.
Lightshow grabbed the water bottle beside her cot and took a seat next to her, wrapping her arm around our captain. Parasite and I followed suit, going to the opposite wall. Organelle sat down between us, like she was at the head of the proverbial table.
“First off,” Dragoon said, her words still shaky, “Fuck you, Organelle.”
“I deserve that,” she muttered, her resolute and stoic facade melting away. “I-”
“If I didn’t feel like puking my guts out, I’d fucking beat the shit out of you,” Dragoon grumbled.
Dragoon shot a glare at Organelle that immediately stopped her attempt to defend her position. “And fuck the three of you for letting her do that,” she gumbled. “Y’all are a bunch of assholes.”
“You are the one who threatened to assault me earlier,” I replied, “You’re hardly innocent.”
She took a drink from her water bottle and rolled her eyes. “Well, you got your wish for me to get clean. I feel like you could have at least asked me to sober up before springing this bullshit on me.”
“I thought we were going to use a softer touch for this,” Lightshow said, glaring at Organelle. “Or, at least that was what I was operating under the assumption of. But, hey, what do I know?”
Dragoon shook again, turning to look at our mutual friend. “Murphy, where the fuck have you been the last couple days?”
He hung his head; I nudged him and shook my head ‘no.’ I didn’t want him to be ashamed of his own baggage; he needed to own up to it. He explained to both Organelle and Dragoon why he had been so hands off and muted the last few days. What I wasn’t prepared for him to admit was that it was hard to look at me in particular. On Vuuldar, he had seen me start to slip into the beast’s control and he felt guilty fighting. He hated that Titan had set me up for such an outcome.
It had only made him feel more ostracized to harbor animosity against our leader.
“All the more reason someone else should be in charge,” Lightshow thought aloud. “You can’t be the only person who is feeling some misgivings for how Titan moved us around.”
“I’m still not thrilled about nominating myself if he’s fucking melting people’s heads,” Dragoon said with a shudder. “Zeal might have been a huge prick and all, but he was still one of us.”
“Zeal threatened Infinite,” Organelle noted. “Titan is fiercely loyal to his people and his cause; for someone to threaten his lover and ally was bound to rub him the wrong way. You aren’t going to be threatening to chuck anyone out into the void of space.”
“You’re right, I’m just going to suggest he relinquish leadership of the crusade that he spent years constructing. I’m sure he’ll be really receptive to this idea.” Dragoon sighed, “No matter how good and objective as Titan is, he’s still human. He’s not going to want to step down when he’s invested so much time and effort into this. The reality is that he did this, incredibly successfully I might add, for three years. It’s only gone tits up in the last few weeks.”
“By far the most hectic couple of weeks,” Parasite pointed out. “He was used to navigating around a government and Adapted butting heads with one another. He wasn’t truly prepared for fighting against the most oppressive empire in history.”
“And I am?” Dragoon said with a scoff. “If you ask me, it sounds like you’re grasping at straws, Organelle,” she replied, her tone cold. “If you really think I can do better than Titan, who has had nearly three years to prep-”
“You can,” Organelle insisted.
“Why? Why in the hell would you single me out for this?”
“Best mindset,” Lightshow answered. “You’re used to fighting from a disadvantage; Titan has never been at a disadvantage before now. He’s a fucking walking, talking natural disaster; why would he be used to losing?”
“You’re well liked,” Parasite added. “You’ve established relationships with almost half the groups on the ship. Even when we were back on Tso’got, you made a point to look for other people on Server’s forums. You were the one who constantly reached out, constantly tried to bounce ideas off others and improve. People know you and respect the hell out of you.”
Dragoon shook her head, “And so what? Ragdoll fits all of those criteria. Shit, Beleth fits all those criteria.”
“They aren’t ambitious like you,” I said.
“Not ambitious? Beleth controlled a goddamn city! He ran the dart cartel in Ciel!”
“Did he expand?” I countered. “Did he ever man up and truly challenge Shockwave? Did he ever try and bulldoze Suppression? Did he ever really chase down Vermin?”
“No,” she whispered.
“In a few weeks you: recruited more people, dethroned two of the biggest mobsters in Ciel’s history, and helped kill the most notorious domestic terrorist in Ciel. Beleth and Shockwave had been in power for nearly a year and a half before we came along. Two months and both of them were gone.”
“Yeah, because Psycho and his Lunatics showed up,” she pointed out.
I shook my head, “We aimed to pit Shockwave and Beleth against each other, to finally get them to commit to a brawl so we could pick up the pieces. I’ ve talked to both of them,” I said, “And they both would have fought the other. If it wasn’t for interference, your plan would have worked. And besides, we still fought Beleth and the whole Surface Dwellers and lived to tell the tale.”
“Beleth had killed entire Reckoner teams on his own too,” Parasite noted. “Rookies or otherwise, we held our own.”
Dragoon looked frustrated, like she was desperately scraping the bottom of the barrel for a reason to shrug off this prospect. “I’m still an eight-teen year old girl. Shouldn’t we get someone older?”
“Older?” Organelle asked, “How are we going to get anyone really older? The oldest Adapted, far as I know, is Titan at twenty-six. I’m only twenty-two. Playlist has been Titan’s fixer for almost a year and is only sixteen.”
“We’ve all had to grow up,” Parasite said softly, “I don’t think age really matters at this point. You kept a level head on Vuuldar when we were under constant attack. You made the hard call to cut off Lightshow’s arm. You made the hard call to let Mutant go. You made the hard call to let me go,” he added, his voice cracking.
Her eyes widened, “Murphy, I-”
“I know,” he said, tears starting to well up in his eyes. “I’m not judging you. We were losing. Hard. Better just one captured than everyone. You’re the best of pragmatic and empathetic. You can dig deep and sacrifice for people but you can also be cold and calculated when it’s needed.”
Parasite ran a hand along his arm, feeling for something that wasn’t there, trying to massage away an injury that wasn’t visible.
Dragoon started slowly shaking her head, overwhelmed. “This is…this is insane. I can’t be the leader of this whole fucking thing. I, I’m just-” she looked around at all of us, looking for someone to second her; none of us made a sound. “What if I lead us all into the fucking abyss? What if I can’t get everyone to rally under one banner?”
“Then you are no worse than Titan is now,” I said.
“Why not someone more iconic, like Clemency? I’m just a bitch in power armor!”
Lightshow scoffed, “Clemency has the leadership skills of a fucking sponge. He’s a great fighter and all, but he does almost everything solo. That man is one of the few Adapted who never opted to be in a Reckoner team back on Tso’got. Dude is way too headstrong; he’s not going to lead dick. He follows Titan out of respect alone.”
“Alexis, you can do this,” I said sincerely. “You have all of us backing you.”
“The Flagbearers will back you,” Parasite added, “And not just because I’m on good terms with Ragdoll,” he said, glaring at Lightshow.
Her snicker was telling.
“Titan’s family will work alongside you,” Organelle said.
“You sure about that?” Dragoon asked, “The last thing I need is Playlist splattering my head against a wall with that destructive telekinesis of his.”
“We all know that without you, we would have died a long time ago. Titan may have recruited us, and we’ll always be loyal to him, but we aren’t stupid. Interface knows we need a change. Playlist has his doubts. Almanac is concerned. Clairvoyant is anxious. So many of us are ready for something different, for something to give.” Organelle sighed, “Forest dying ripped a hole in Titan. It did damage to him in a way no one thought possible. He might be one of the most destructive forces alive, but he’s a wounded animal.”
Dragoon raised her hand, stopping the medic. “I get it. You’re not giving me a lot of room to say ‘no’ to any of this.” She rubbed her temples, groaning, “Fucking hell. I still hate this. I hate everything about this. I don’t want to fucking be responsible for so many people. I don’t want to be accountable for all this shit!”
“Heavy is the head,” Lightshow muttered.
“Yeah, and all you asshats are trying to put the damn crown firmly atop me.” Dragoon let her face fall into his knees and groaned again, “God, I want one of Shockwave’s cigarettes.”
“I could ask him-”
“I’m being facetious, Nick,” she snapped. “I haven’t managed to pick up smoking yet. Though, I might in a few hours.” She raised her head and looked at Organelle, “So, since you clearly thought of all this shit, how do you reckon is best to go about starting this off? I feel like storming in and strutting up to Titan demanding he abdicate the throne is a bad call.”
Parasite shrugged, “It’d get a reaction at least.”
“Yeah, Zeal got a reaction too. How did that go for him?” Lightshow shot back.
Organelle cleared her throat, shutting up the two jokers. “Titan might be rather reactive to aggression, but he should still be able to tolerate an actual conversation. I think your best approach would be to be honest with him. Engage in a conversation and voice concerns and a possible solution. It will give us a chance to show support for you.”
Dragoon frowned, “Which puts you all in the danger zone with me.”
“Titan’s not a loose canon,” I said. “We aren’t going to threaten violence like Zeal did. He’s not going to start torching people left and right because we make a suggestion. I talked with him after the Zeal incident,” I explained, “He was…. rattled. There was some self-doubt creeping in, leaving him wondering if he was doing the right thing. I think if we offer to take the torch from him, to help finish what he started, he might play along.”
“Okay. Yeah, I like that,” Dragoon said, the wheels clearly turning. “Organelle, set up a meeting with me and Titan. Murphy, Nick, I want you two to come with me. It started with us three, so, you’re both in this shit with me.”
Lightshow gasped in faux offense. “So exclusionary!”
“Do shut up,” Dragoon said with a grin.
Organelle nodded, daring to smile, “I’ll talk to him and let him know you want to have a sit down.”
I felt a tremor of excitement and anxiety; it was no longer a theoretical request or a lofty notion from Organelle. This was going to happen.
“Well, I’ll just say it now: all hail the queen,” Parasite said, his impish grin finally returning.
It didn’t take too long for Titan to agree to chat. Organelle explicitly said that she wasn’t going to explain why, just that we had some concerns to voice to him.
She wanted the true weight of the idea to come from Dragoon, not her.
Titan called us to his and Infinite’s quarters. I was expecting something more grand than our typical rooms which were just a six by three meter cell; in truth Titan’s room was a touch bigger, but not much. His captain’s quarters were maybe an extra meter long and wide, but hardly luxurious.
At the far end, Infinite was laid down on a cot, still fast asleep. Titan sat in front of her, like some kind of guard dog.
Organelle had been kind enough to arrange for us to actually have chairs for this meeting. Even though they were just folding chairs, it beat sitting on the harsh metal floor.
“So, Dragoon,” Titan said as we took a seat, “What’s going on?”
For a moment, I was worried that she was going to fold and back away, just get up and leave without saying a word.
No, she’s ready. Look at those eyes of hers, those belong to a predator.
A little over three months ago, we had just been idealistic kids in Ciel. We had been naive Reckoners who had gotten ourselves in over our head. Looking at my friend now, she was gone. All those nerves, all that anxiety, it didn’t show. She looked determined. She looked unstoppable.
“I think you need to step down,” she finally said, wasting no time to get to the point.
Titan raised an eyebrow, “I beg your pardon?”
“I think you need to step down,” Dragoon repeated.
“I think you should mind what you say next,” he cautioned.
While Parasite and I were wary, Dragoon showed no such concerns. She knew what she was doing and had expected this.
That, or she had the best poker face in the universe.
“Titan, you melted Zeal’s brain earlier today. You killed one of our own. I understand why you did it, but you still did it.”
His lip curled in frustration, “Are you saying you wouldn’t have done the same if they had threatened to toss Eldritch out an airlock?”
She shrugged, “I don’t know, honestly. I might have, but I’m not able to do it so nonchalantly like you. I can’t snap my fingers and melt everyone around me. I can’t turn this ship to a pile of slag in the blink of an eye. You can. You’re a monster, Titan. None of us can stand up to you. The only person who can,” she said, looking past him to Infinite, “Is fiercely loyal to you, and only you.”
“So, I should step down because of a single lapse in judgement? I should step down for defending my girlfriend?” he growled.
Dragoon shook her head, “No. You need to step down because tensions are high and your existence is causing unrest. While everyone from Tso’got might know who you are, the people from Vuuldar only know you as a calamity that wears a leather jacket. Scarier still, a woman who dismantled Eldritch and snuffed out life in a one-kilometer radius only answers to you. They’re scared,” she said with concern. “They don’t have the experience with you to know that you have their best interest at heart.”
Titan took a deep breath, “I know that people are afraid. I know that tensions are high, but that should be alleviated when Infinite is awake and can explain herself.”
“Titan, this isn’t the only reason for you to step down. You’re taking too many risks, too many gambles. You’re too used to fighting with an advantage and don’t have one. Even with all our power, the Trillodan outgun us. Infinite can warp us through space and the Trillodan still beat us to Vuuldar. Eldritch can devour a city, but they can bombard him from orbit. Forest could make a landslide, but they still burned her to the ground.”
He winced but didn’t have a reply.
“We know you’re doing your best, but you have to recognize that this… this isn’t the same as it was on Tso’got. Back then, you were playing a totally different game. You founded a secret society and network of Adapted to help one another. Thanks to your work, you kept us from being taken by Suppression. You kept Eldritch from sure death by dispatching Playlist and Interface to save us back then.” Her look of purpose and raw determination shifted to one of gratitude and genuine amazement. “You did things that no other Adapted had the balls to do, and you did it all in secret. You organized this whole thing. You had ambition that put everyone else to shame.”
“But, no plan survives contact with the enemy,” Parasite said. “The Trillodan were a bigger force than any of us could have guessed. You assumed that we would be able to pull ahead because of their need to keep us alive; Zellig’s elite fighting force however have shown time and time again that they are comfortable fighting from a deficit.”
“It’s not how you are used to fighting,” I added. “You’re overwhelming. You could use shock and awe tactics on Tso’got because no one could stop you. But the Trillodan, they can answer blow for blow.”
Titan looked like he had been slapped in the face. “I devoted my life to this. I gave up any semblance of normalcy to make this possible. I gave my everything to this crusade. You want me to just….bow out?”
“No,” Dragoon said, “We still need you. We’re going to need your raw firepower. We’re going to need your ability to inspire. But,” she added solemnly, “We need someone else steering the plans for now. We need someone who can be more risk averse. We need someone who knows how to fight at a deficit. We need someone who can roll with the punches. We need someone who can be a little more objective than you can.”
Titan looked her square in the face, his red eyes boring into her. “You want to take my spot.”
He let out a ragged exhale. “You can’t possibly appreciate the weight of this. You don’t understand the pressure of leading this.”
“Maybe not,” Dragoon conceded, “But I can appreciate the burden of leadership at least a little…and I know what it feels like to feel small. I can empathize with the rest of them in a way you simply can’t. Titan, you drugged me because you were scrambling. Your plans on Vuuldar fell apart in a matter of hours. You relied on Eldritch turning into an almost unkillable beast to thwart an army and that backfired when he ate four of us. You put Infinite in a place where she would be vulnerable and it cost us a dozen lives.”
Titan bristled but held his tongue.
“There’s a big difference between amassing an army and running it,” she concluded.
He looked between the three of us, his gaze ending up on me. “Do you feel the same way? Do you think I’m guilty of misleading us?”
I swallowed a nervous lump, reminding myself that he wasn’t going to melt me if I spoke out against him. “I think you’ve done the best you can. I think you’ve put a damn good effort out there, but you just aren’t the man for the job. You do a great job with a long, drawn out strategy but you can’t adjust on the fly well enough. I think Dragoon is better at shotcalling in the immediate.”
Titan let out a wry chuckle, “I told you to find your voice. I guess you went and did just that, didn’t you?” His gaze turned to Parasite. “Do you agree?”
“Dragoon has the right blend of pragmatism and empathy to do right by all of us. She won’t let us down,” he assured. “I agree with Eldritch that you have done the best you could; the problem is that you won’t beat Zellig in a war game. You got this whole thing started, let her finish strong.”
Titan opened his mouth to reply, but a soft voice cut him off.
“They’re right, Max.” All of us turned, surprised to see Infinite sit up. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and smiled gently to her boyfriend, “I think we need someone who understands the others better than we do.” She looked past him to Dragoon, “She’s one of the brightest on this ship and the best connected. No one is going to go to fight against her. We’re leading with fear, Max,” Infinite said sadly, “Dragoon won’t have too.”
Titan struggled with the idea for a minute; finally his shoulders sank as he admitted defeat. “Okay,” he said, his voice barely audible. “Okay. Dragoon, you’re up.”
For a split second, Dragoon looked perplexed and dumbfounded that he had actually relinquished his position to her. But, as soon as it started, that moment ended.
“First things first,” she said, “We need to know what the fuck you’re doing, Infinite, and where you’re taking us.”
Infinite lurched forward, nearly falling off the cot. After a second, she sat back up, her eyes glazed over. “I’m so sorry for not letting you know,” she said, but it sounded wrong. The timbre and cadence was different, like someone was speaking through her. “But I’m having her bring you all to meet me.”
While I was confused, Dragoon clearly recognized the speaker.
“Drag?” I asked, trying to get some context.
“You,” she said, raising a hand and pointing at Infinite’s possessed form, “You’re the one in our dreams, aren’t you? You’re the person who made the Adapted!”
“Yes, Dragoon. And I think it’s high time we all met in person.”