Hidden 8 mos ago 8 mos ago Post by Thrash Panda
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Nicholas


Nic saw Natalie ball her tiny little fists up the very moment that the muscles in her forearm started contracting her fingers. Right around the time he mentioned tossing the bomb.. behind Archie. His brow soared well above its usual position the very instant that he realized who she was. That’s Wonder-Girl! the one that Lizard-Archie was using as a sandal. And therefore she was also the very same one that showed up to the woods in that nice dress. There we go.

And just like that, his paranoia dropped like an anvil and the corners of his lips wobbled into a smile. He felt like a child grinning at a smiling chimpanzee. In an odd way, her little display of hostility had set him at ease. Really, it had done more to draw them closer than she could ever really be expected to understand. In some ways, violence was his mother tongue. After all, he’d been ordered around as a child, his development highly regimented. He may as well have been sucking straight liquid-combat when he had been at his mother’s breast.

As for casual, conversational English, without clear objectives for every conversation, without an eye on the clock at all times. Well, he was still learning. With a body as muscular as his, he had to fight every fiber of his own being just to relax but seeing that girl’s tiny fist, airtight and clenching on to every last modicum of Archie’s honor, presented a clarity that had generally been absent from his life for the longest while. And then, perhaps for the first time ever, it occurred to him that maybe--just maybe--he didn’t have to learn to see the world in a whole new way. Maybe it was okay for him to pick apart everyone’s triggers, to catalogue their microaggressions. Right now, Natalie’s fist read more like a love-letter than a death threat.

"I'm not really sure what happened in the forest either. I've...repressed that memory and don't really want to bring it back right now, if that's okay."

Nic heard her loud and clear. The courteous thing to do would be to not press the issue, to bite his tongue, to table his curiosity and accept that to get an answer he’d have to infringe on her comfort. It seemed pretty obvious that the right thing to do was to respect her privacy but, the more he thought about it, it felt like it had been a really long time since he had gone out of his way to do the right thing. What was going a little longer going to hurt? After all, having spent years in therapy, years reenacting training routines, years seeing so much blood on hands that looked very much like his own, he had learned patience. Someday soon, he’d be squeaky clean.

And as much as he wanted to say “yes”, to say that it was okay, he really wasn’t sure that it was. After all, he had been arrested twice now. People kept getting hurt. They kept getting hurt. He thought about Lynn, he’d caught a glimpse of her secondhand from some random student he didn’t know. She looked absolutely terrible. So maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do but he felt both that he needed an explanation and that one was, in fact, owed to him. It didn’t seem fair that he had to stay in the dark on the subject because she was uncomfortable.

But he had only ever gotten so much practice fighting for what he actually believed in.

“Oh yeah,” Nic grinned. “I understand. Don’t worry about it. I know it can be hard sometimes. Just thinking about it made me think of a list of things I’d rather not think about,” he said, truthfully. Bridgette Munroe, Dad, God, Uncle Derek, Guantanamo Bay & his sobriety all came to mind alarmingly quickly. “Aaaaaaand now I’m thinking about them.”

"I'm… I'm not doing great, actually,” Eli said, causing his antennae to perk right up, like the ears of a cat. “I'm finding it hard to bounce back from this one, to be honest. I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way right now. I think I just need a bit more time to recover."

Nic felt a salty tear surge through his eye, and he felt his lower lip punch the roof of his mouth as his face, still swallowed by his palm, contorted into an ugly-cry, spurred by just the thought of her suffering. But that, that kind of extreme sympathy, he understood, ran contrary to everything he had worked to achieve. So he did his best to widen his nostrils, so she couldn’t hear the mucus that had suddenly filled his nasal cavities, and he swiped away the tears that had impaled his eye socket as best he could within a single swift motion before offering her a consolatory smile.

"Well, that's what you have your friends for," Natalie offered, "and this meeting will probably help with that. Trust me, I know from experience that right now you need your friends the most. I shut you all out and I still regret it."

He had no idea what Natalie was talking about. He had no idea what it felt like to have people to shut out. After he was done toddling, the role that his nuclear family played was largely born more of economic convenience than emotional nourishment, though he could think of several instances that would speak to the contrary. They all felt like exceptions. He never had friends, not real friends. Not people that would fight to protect him. Back when he was a ward of the state, several of the other boys always said that it was extremely important that they stick together. Nic believed them, so he beat their bullies back. But when Nic was harrassed, his so-called friends had run away, leaving him to fend for himself. Now, he fended for himself quite well, horrifyingly well even, but that wasn’t the point.

Hearing Natalie’s speech, he felt his throat start to close as the tears came surging back to his eyes, though he fought to hold them back, to keep his poker face. And as much as he hoped that they stayed focused on anything but him, he knew that he needed an excuse at the ready. He needed a damned excuse. From the confines of his mind, he howled at the sky, begging for a lie but none came. Only three disgustingly honest, pathetic, sad words came.

I want friends. So, he yawned and took a deep breath, working that consoling smile back onto his face as his brain suddenly started to throb and his antennae shriveled and bobbed.

“I am so sorry to hear that,” he said, slowly, purposefully and with a deliberate meaning. “You’re totally right, getting better definitely takes time, but sometimes if you don’t put anything else towards getting better, it’ll take more time than you really have. That said, if there’s ever anything I can do for you, kill a rat,” he paused to try to think of any other skills he had. He couldn’t bake, he couldn’t sew and he couldn’t sing. For a moment, all he could think of continuing the sentence with was other small creatures he could kill, “or, like, open a jar, just say the word. I’d hate to see you struggle when you don’t have to. I won’t pretend that there’s much reason for you to really believe me much or, really, remember for that matter. But that’s okay. It’s totally okay if you forget. But it is true. I do my best to be there for everyone and everyone,” he paused, smirking, “includes you.”
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Eli was still feeling a bit embarrassed. This felt nothing like her emotional talks with Maddy after the breakout, or with Lynn at the restaurant. She missed Keaton, with her long days of watching movies and eating popcorn while they dished the acting and storylines. After the breakout, and after the bonfire, Eli had been going through her own turmoil. This time everyone was going through it. If felt like Eli was the only one that was feeling so shitty about it. As much as she wanted to blame it on their troubled pasts before they came to the station, she couldn't help but feel that there was something wrong with her.

Then Natalie put her hand on Eli's shoulder and gave her a smile. The gesture was unexpected, but it reminded her so much of her mom. It had the same gentle approach that only someone who cared would give. Natalie was right. She did have friends, and at this point they were all so closely knit together that it would be hard to make sharing her feelings feel wrong around them. Seeing them all together again, in one mish-mash of a piece... It would feel nice. Even after she'd seen half of them soaked in their own blood, and the one she'd least expected to turn on her nearly killed her.

She looked over at Natalie and her smile widened. It wasn't forced, or half-hearted. It was real. The kind of smile she used to give her mother after a comforting hug. She would have hugged Natalie too, if she didn't have to worry that Natalie might not know her strength and crush her on accident. It wasn't out of fear, no, but out of caution. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a sad look in Nicholas's face, but when she turned her head she only saw another comforting smile. Had she imagined it?

As she listened to him speak, she could tell that he was being completely honest with her. It was a rational approach to trauma. Eli could understand that. If she wanted to get better, she'd have to try harder. While she wouldn't need Nicholas to kill a rat for her, (mostly because there weren't any rats on the station), it was nice to hear that he'd help her if she needed it. He smirked and said that everyone included her. Eli chuckled at that, and gave him a gentle nod. "Thank you, Nicholas." She turned to Natalie too. "And thank you, too."

Before she could make any other sappy remark, she felt her phone buzz in her pocket and heard a little ding♪. Flooded with the instant urge to find out who responded, Eli reached to pull her cell out and read it. A wave of relief passed over her when she read it and she let out a sigh.

"It's Lynn, Nat. She actually responded." She looked up at Natalie. "She wants to know if I'm with Keaton. Guess she is wondering if we're there yet." She was about to text back, but then a question popped into her head. "Do you know where we're supposed to go? Archie said something about flour and I have no idea what that means. Keaton hasn't texted me back yet."

She looked over at Nicholas, and suddenly struggled with the thought of inviting him too. The others didn't really know him. Lynn sure as hell wouldn't like it if he was there. She never really took kindly to strangers. Archie might not like it if the guy who threw a bomb at him was there, either. Or was he blacked out, when that happened?

"Nicholas, give me your number. Maybe sometime we can all get together and explain what happened at the bonfire." She held out her phone to him, and decided that exchanging numbers would be better instead of an invitation. He seemed like a good guy, and in this time of strife and struggles, it would be nice to have another person to call a friend. She gave him a smile just to make the gesture genuine. "We're gonna have to go soon, but it was nice to run into you."

At that exact moment, Eli received a text from Keaton too. It was in the form of a huge group chat between who she assumed was the group.

From Keaton: Picnic time. See you near the woods.


Eli raised an eyebrow, until a second later Cara chimed in.

"Keaton means to say that she will meet you at the park down the street from Cianwood's."
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Archie



I'm going to see my dealer. Go to the picnic table by the woods down past that coffee shop we went to last time you busted me out.

Archie read over the lines a few times. He wasn't a particularly smart man- he knew that, Lynn knew that, everyone he had ever met probably knew that. He wasn't one for grand gestures or long winded, beautifully worded dialogue... But he wasn't stupid. He knew people well enough- or at least, he got people. This was textbook- girl shares and tender moment with someone she cares about and she, from what Archie had been told, is so unused to trusting someone with anything that the feeling of vulnerability is too much that she runs. And he got it, he did. Archie realized that the last person she had trusted had quite literally shot her in the back.

That didn't mean it wasn't at least somewhat hurtful.

Archie rubbed the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb and sighed. Yes, this wasn't that big of a deal. He'd see her again, but the last interaction they had was when she had burnt his hands and... well, he cared about Lynn. A lot. He didn't want to have to go through more deal and destruction just to speak to her again. That wasn't right, or fair, or just, or...

He sighed, and took the sticky note. He folded it neatly and tossed it in the garbage. Lynn wouldn't want the doctors knowing that she was going to buy drugs. Everyone in his life had left him in some way at some point when things got hard, or complicated. Whether it had been by choice or not was irrelevant- the people who were supposed didn't. His mom was volatile and left as soon as the money dried up. His dad died. His brother was arrested. His adoptive father pointed a gun at his head. Natalie shut him out. Lynn was running.

He just hoped that Lynn would give him the time of day. A chance to forge some trust like Natalie had. Archie wasn't entirely sure what to make of the Natalie situation yet, if he was being honest. More pressing things had been on his mind and he wasn't very good at thinking about more than one thing at a time. He opened his phone and took a quick glance at her contact picture. It was a picture of them on Homecoming night- he had a beer in his hand and she was laughing at something that he or someone else had said. It was a good memory.

He grabs his jacket and sets out. He'd been well enough for a while and, if he was being honest he was in more for observation at this point than anything else. He'd get himself checked out tomorrow, after he had seen to what he needed to with the group. The picnic tables past the coffee shop that he had visited when he had given Lynn flowers, and when they had found the body- that's where he needed to go.

As he walked he selected Natalie's profile, separate from the rest.

Hey

He frowns at that. Stupid, he is. The absolute stupidest. And Eli's not even here to tell him whether or not that's a word or if that message is a good idea. He backspaces.

So, how are you?

Ugh, he thinks. It sounds so strained, like the small talk you make when you don't really want to be having the conversation. While he erases that message, too, he wonders if he should just call her. That'd probably be selfish, though, because he wouldn't listen to a word she would say, but, rather, he'd listen to her voice and commit the sound to memory. He's nearly forgotten the way she can make every word sound beautiful, and it's something he never wants to lose.

Thinking of you

And that— that's what he should really say. That's what he's thinking, after all, and a lot of girls used to say they could never get in his head. There's something that won't let him send it, though. Maybe it's the fact that it's almost too candid; too sincere. She might take it the wrong way. He doesn't want her to. All he knows is that they're both due for a lot of conversation and that in between whatever plan they make when they group up the time will be spread thin. He feels like it's his duty to warn her, even if she knows herself. He erases the 'Thinking of you' and types, 'Be prepared for a lot of questions.'

He hates that too, though, hates absolutely every word that's coming to his mind. He might even dislike himself a little at this point, and he's admittedly furious with himself for letting them fall apart when it's the last thing he wanted. Archie stuffs his phone in his pocket in a huff and keeps walking. He's getting close to the woods now, and he hates walking alone near the woods. It was weird, but expected given everything that had happened. Finding the body, watching Eli nearly die, watching Radvi blow half his face off... He doubted it would ever go away at this point. The woods up here weren't like they were down where he was from. They're so thick in places that the trees block out the sun almost completely. He had grown up wading through thickets of trees and shrubbery, so he wasn't scared of being out alone, things had gone wrong up here. More than at home, and he found himself scanning behind the treeline for signs of movement- the kind that danced at the edges of your vision and convinced you there was something there. His inner predator was taking over just enough to remind him that that he was not safe here.

His heart monitor beeped, and he released a breath he didn't know he was holding. He looked down and silenced the device. When the beeping had subsided, he heard voices. Thankfully, voices he recognized. Archie cast a sidelong glance at the trees again and quickened his pace. It was Eli, Natalie, and a person whom he had not been acquainted with. Cara had just spoken up as he had arrived, and he unfolded like a six foot jackknife, sliding to a stop behind them and almost tripping on his own two feet as he slowed his pace a little too rapidly. He managed to catch himself without introducing his face to the dirt, but his stumbling had probably alerted them that we was coming up behind them.

It was a sidewalk, but given everything that had happened, it was probably not a good idea to surprise anyone right now. Eli was... she looked disheveled. Not in the way that she she dressed or walked, but in the way that she carried herself. She seemed stiff, if not a little jerky- as if she was ready to book it at a moments notice like deer. Given everything that happened- he couldn't blame her. He carried a big stick inside him, and he found some solace in that- but she had been fairly safe up until recently. Until she met you a voice chastised in his head. He hoped that whatever had put the fear of god in her wasn't him.

Natalie seemed better, and attention catching at that. She smiled easily, and he was pretty sure he had heard her laugh on his way over. What beautiful things those were. Archie remembered the amount of times he had seen that before- in a Natalie that while similar in appearance acted in a totally different way. It was funny- almost like Eli and Natalie had switched dispositions. He smiled at her as he regained his balance and stood straight up again- running a hand through his hair. Words were always hard to form around her, and as his eyes went over this 'new' Natalie all he managed was a "Hey, Nat."

The last one was new to him. Familiar, but not. Archie was okay with names but excellent with faces. He was certain that he had never seen this person in his life. He was shorter, about Eli's height- but he was fit. He stood with his shoulders back and there was an edge to him that Archie couldn't quite place. The other man leered back at him with dark eyes, and Archie was momentarily taken aback by the intensity of the man's gaze.

There was a shrill pop- coming from Archie's spine, and Archie realized he loomed over them in this moment. He was probably a hair over six foot right now, but his previous discomfort had brought out enough of his other side to warrant the beginnings of a change. He shook his head and tried his best to move on. Don't give it any attention, Archie- you'll make it worse if you draw attention to it. He smiled.

"I, uh..." he began, trying to find his words. Nat always made him- it. Nat always made it hard. To find his words. "Hi. It's... on the way. Where we're going and-"

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was never this awkward. Then again this was the first time he had seen them since he tried to kill them. That always made things complicated. "God, sorry. I'm Archie." he said, extending his hand to the stranger. Any friend of Eli and Natalie's was a friend of his.

Assuming, that was, they still considered him a friend.
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Cordelia Lynn Holmes


"Amelia you absolute mot-" Lynn leaned into the wall beside her and emptied her insides onto the ground. She had been in the bathroom one moment and then not the next. Her body was still reeling as though she'd just stepped off a roller coaster, and she had the tense, knife-point jitters of adrenaline. Lynn stood for a moment, staring at the superheated acid that was quietly eroding at the brick wall she stood next to. "Oh, fuck me, can we get some dramamol or whatever before we do this again. Fuck. Motherfuck."

Lynn stood for a moment, reeling less and less with every breath. For a passing second, she considered that right now, with her back to Amelia, entirely unaware of her surroundings, would be the opportune moment for the other girl to do something. If I was right all along, and she narc'ed early - you don't know where you are, this could just be to -

"That's fucking stupid," Lynn muttered, barely audible, rubbing at her mouth. This was near the spot. Lynn had smoked in this alley before, she thought. She padded at her pants for cigarettes, but there were none. Christ I thought the day couldn't get worse after hugging that anorexia doc. She needed a cigarette. Throwing up reminded her of - Lynn grimaced and forced that thought down. Lynn shook her head clear and turned to look at Amelia. She gave the girl a nod and walked over, going to stick her hands in her hoodie poc -

Oh.

Lynn cursed again under her breath and walked out of the alley, instinctively glancing for cameras to her right, and - she paused, and had to arch her entire head around to check to the left. The left socket itched furiously, and Lynn wanted to tear the bandage off and scratch it until it calmed down, but she knew that was a terrible idea. For one - ew - and two, she got enough stares as it was. Lynn huffed and kept walking along, for once not bothering a great deal with subterfuge. Lynn had lived most of her time on the Promise - especially those early days - fully expecting to last no more than a few more days at most. Now, she thought, it was really true. If there were terrorists openly attacking the Promise, it was do or die. Either the next batch of jihad jumpfucks gets us, or - Lynn missed a step, remembering the look on the kid's face, screaming, he was screaming, the gun had fused to his hand it was so hot, it - or martial law finds a reason to give us tattoos and necklaces. Then the third. The long shot. All in on a shitty hand.

Lynn tried to think of the words to put together. She turned to look at the area and found it empty. Lynn normally tried to arrive early by design, find a seat with a back to the wall, look around, mark exits - but this was supremely different. The whole point of this was that they would be busy here while she was taking care of things. Lynn just sighed. The air shimmered as she did so. Lynn found a concrete table and sat on it, for once not cognizant of her legs swinging aimlessly a foot off the ground. Her mind was trying to put together the words, the strategy, the plan. Lynn had known all too well how much dumber she was than Keaton, but there had to have been something. A clever turn of phrase, something she could get through. Lynn didn't see any other way. She has to have figured it out too, if I have. We all die if we stay here. They shook us down without lawyers on the first fucking week, do they think it'll be better now? Keaton could plan it. Eli, distractions, knew some of the security guys. Lynn had meant to ask her about that. It was weird - real weird - she was buddy buddy with Annie Oakley over in the ICU. Eh. Questions that would go unanswered.

Amelia could move them around. Natalie, well, they'd have to tell her it was a field trip or something, but Lynn reasonably believed that she was the only person Lynn had ever met who could, feasibly, pull someone's spine out of their ass, which was a valuable skillset anywhere. Then - then Archie. That was the stutter-step. Can they get him to the pods without him flipping? That was the sick twisted part, the little Che part of her whispered. They need Archie in case things go south. Archie's a great big distraction and every one of them knows it. Maybe he takes Natalie with him too, she stays, wouldn't you like -

Lynn closed her eye and rubbed at her forehead. Something inside her felt so fragile. Her hair glimmered white, soft and radiant, but she did not notice. Why the fuck did he hold me? Why did she come after me? I just - fuck. This isn't gonna get any easier. They have to understand. Lynn couldn't think of a lie Keaton wouldn't see through. Fuck, for that matter she couldn't think of a lie any of them wouldn't see through. That Chinese motherfucker should've aimed an inch to the right. She pulled out her phone, looking at the messages. One from Eli. She started to answer, then stopped. What was she supposed to say? (Lynn also wondered who the fuck narc'd on her. It wasn't Anderson, that she felt intuitively, but somebody did, and if there was a spare moment in this whole process to rectify that, she intended to) There were none from anyone else. None.

Lynn stared off ahead, thinking. She hadn't put much thought into her own next steps, for that matter. Everything since she'd woken had just been a frantic scatter from one movement to the next. Not lying there, though - he didn't interrupt once, he didn't care, he got it, he got how it didn't make sense, how - to - Lynn was trying to think, there were still the kids, someone had to pay, someone had to burn, she didn't know, if she'd only been fucking smarter, she could've found something more tangible than the hint of a hint, than numbers on a doll's leg, than - if she could just get them towards the docking bay, maybe she could slip away. If they all went they didn't stand a chance, they didn't - they were going to have to kill whoever they found, and Lynn wouldn't think twice about Gennedy, she'd already burned a child alive, hadn't she, but the others, could Eli, could - was she still spinning from the teleportation, she felt light-headed, and -

Lynn blinked. Her heart was racing. She reached for a cigarette but there wasn't one. Fucking nurses. She rubbed at her forehead again. Then something occurred to her. "Hey, uh, Amelia," Lynn said, the words feeling clunky leaving her mouth. "You got a smoke?"

She had barely asked before they came. As had been the case all day (not all day, things were quiet for a minute, when you were just still, and you got to pretend), her thoughts hit her half a dozen at a time. Eli looked worse for the wear. Nobody was really badly hurt, but she looked - well, like Lynn felt, though that sort of acknowledgement would never have surfaced to Lynn's conscious mind. Lynn thought after this they would - she blinked, and pushed the thought aside, the nausea worsening for a moment. Natalie. Natalie looked. Natalie looked good. Lynn felt another wrinkle, something that tugged at her from a different angle and in a different way. You know for how fucking awkward that candleshop thing was she was at least trying. The same desperate thought, the one that always came up to the surface, reared up again. She can't - she can't keep him safe, you know, she - And then it flickered and changed, like a candle flame. Archie was there. She'd lied to him in the hospital. Lynn had not - she wasn't supposed to have seen any of them again. She wasn't - this was so much harder than she had thought, and she was not sure why. In the back of her mind, there was the sound of ice clinking against a glass, and the creak of warehouse doors, the old familiar twinge of pain in her knee, some days when the weather changed, when she took stairs too quickly.

Lynn ignored it. Just - just for a minute or two. For a minute she managed to tell herself burning a kid alive meant she could still be a good person. There was still a way. That Archie and Eli and Keaton and Natalie and Amelia, they were all good people, and that - it didn't - there was a way for someone to make it out. There was a way. Just for a minute.

If her thoughts were dancing like firelight, this motherfucker just stepped up and pissed out the fire. Lynn didn't stand up and bristle, but her hair flickered to a sunset orange. Two things were very wrong with this picture. The first was this - wait, Lynn thought - he'd been at the bonfire, right? When she was trashed, she thought there was the faintest sense of an impression of this guy - he -

Lynn glanced over at Amelia and back to the others of the group to make sure she was not, well, hallucinating again. This motherfucker was wearing a leotard. Like they were in the fucking X-men. The part of her mind that had carved a toothbrush shiv an hour and a half ago noticed a bulge in his satchel and Lynn, out of old hypervigilant habit, locked it away for later, trying to decide what it could be, but she was momentarily transfixed by the scene. He had on a Rolex, which Lynn felt obligated to relieve him of at some point. He had on a leotard. He was wearing a leather jacket. Lots of black. And a leotard. The absolute, utter panic Lynn had felt seeing the group approach was just too baffled to speak. He was wearing a leotard. There had been a school shooting that week. He was wearing a leotard. Lynn was missing an eye and this motherfucker wanted another round at the pommel horse.

"Okay, what - " Lynn paused again, trying desperately to make sense of literally anything on this station, because with this, this final point, it had all come crumbling down. She looked from one to the others. "Did - " Lynn was trying desperately hard not to say any shit that might, you know, cross any lines, in terms of sensitivity or whatever. "Sorry, Cara must've fucked up the text - I said, hey guys, let's meet up, not, hey guys, let's cope with the school shooting by getting a fucking spec ops ballerina instructor to show us a good time, classic Cara." Lynn looked at Archie for a moment (two, three, if we're being honest) and tried to puzzle anything from his face. Anything. Were they hazing this guy?

Or maybe it was - oh.

Lynn pulled her cell phone up into her sleeve and took a deep breath before murmuring, "Cara."

"...yes, Lynn?"

"...am I, like, allowed to make fun of this guy?"


Cara did not answer.

"Fucking washing machine," Lynn muttered, turning her phone off for good. She looked back up. There was a hint of - of something on Archie's face. A little hurt, maybe. Don't you get it? Don't you fucking get it, Anderson? Do you think - don't you think - I would've...it wasn't...fucking Amelia, she had to fuck this all up. A little more time, I wanted - but this is already really hard, okay, and what if I - what if I turn out - I killed a kid, I -

The candlelight thoughts flickered again. Once the bewilderment at Nic had passed (it came in waves), the more sobering thought had occurred to Lynn. For all her jitters and jumpiness, this was far more chilling. She stood up, glancing around. "Before I ask who and what the fuck is - " she stopped, just bewildered. " - okay, I have questions that I don't think God himself could answer about new guy, but - " she scanned again, the fear gripping her a bit more tightly. Did one of them say something? Cara. Fuck. Fuck that bitch. "Where's Keaton? Have any of you heard from her? Recently?" Lynn had not seen her since the hospital, or even had any contact beyond the text. Her mind started to race again. We were just texting, but - if they got her, if they figured out - Lynn kept her voice steady, remembering the situation with the body in the woods. They couldn't have that. Not now. "Is she coming?" Lynn realized she hadn't - when was the last time she'd spoken to her? It had been a while, before the docking bay, they'd -

Lynn took a deep breath. She was probably fine. She was probably fine.

Lynn rubbed at her eyes. The left one still itched. If they realized something was up, or something had happened to her, Lynn felt that nervous knot in her gut spiral down into an abyss. Why wasn't she here?

She needed a distraction. Anything. Just for a minute. She couldn't look at Archie or Natalie. She gave Eli a smile, feeling guilty for not texting back for perhaps the first time in her tenure at the Promise. Then back to -

"I - is that like a religious thing?"
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Skai
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Cianwood's... Cianwood's. It had to be close by. Eli recognized the shop to their left. They just had to turn around, walk a bit, and they'd be there. She was still waiting for Nicholas's response, but something else drew her attention before he could get a word in.

There were rushed footsteps behind her. Someone was in a hurry, but they were getting closer and closer. To Eli, it sounded like they were getting louder and heavier. Nic's eyes shifted to her left ever so slightly. He was looking at whoever was approaching. Who was it? She turned her head, just in time for Archie to nearly crash into them in an awkwardly fast motion. Normally she would have just laughed it off, but this time every inch of her body was screaming 'PANIC'. Her entire body froze. It only visibly showed the signs of a subtle flinch, although her mind was struggling between a fight or flight response. Something about seeing Archie in person- in human form, didn't frighten her as much. She dug her nails into her palm. Slowly, she let her hand relax again while releasing a small, barely audible breath. The thoughts faded until it was a dull ache in her spine. She was still tense, but there was no imminent danger. Just Archie being Archie, like he usually was.

It's fine... Everything's fine.

Eli watched him closely. She couldn't help but feel like he was avoiding looking at her. Was he ashamed? Did he see how uncomfortable she was with this? The feeling of shame passed over her in a small wave. She knew that Archie wasn't a real threat. At the moment, he just seemed like a lovestruck puppy. The way he looked at Natalie... it was sweet. Someone had once looked at her like that, too. His eyes turned to Nicholas, and Eli thought that he looked transfixed by the sight of him. She glanced between the two boys. Did Archie remember Nic, from the bonfire? From the loading bay?

Something was off with Archie. Not because of her fear. Not because he was struck by love, or challenged by the other testosterone in the group. He looked... taller. Like... Like how he looked through her blurry vision on the night of the bonf-

Pop!!

Eli's heart stopped. Her skin even paled for a moment. It was like she couldn't function anymore. Archie was... He was changing. Ever so slowly. She stared at him, her eyes expressing her concern and terror but her face as blank as a wall. If he looked at her he'd know that she knew. He was too focused on Natalie, and then on Nicholas. He seemed so casual. Like he wasn't growing millimeters by the second. Why was he playing it off like there was nothing wrong? She fought against the dark path that her thoughts were carrying her towards. It was something Lynn would have thought. Eli wasn't one to doubt her friend's intentions. Archie wouldn't put them in harm intentionally... would he?

The others... Did they know too? She glanced between Nicholas and Natalie. They didn't seem to notice. Natalie must know, right? Or was she staying calm about it too? Eli stared at her too and hoped that she would catch on. Maybe pointing it out-making a scene about it- would push him past his limit. Eli didn't want to repeat it all again. She knew that if he morphed again, she would get herself out of there as soon as possible. It was best if she didn't mention it. Or if Natalie did and helped calm him down before it was too late. As much as Eli wished she could be that type of friend for Archie, there was no way she was going to do it alone.

It wasn't like Eli was scared of Archie. No, not of the innocent and awkward boy that stood before them. She was just scared of what he could become. That thing had no way to discern friend from foe. It would wreak havoc on all of them, if it was set loose. It was like a physical amalgation of Archie's basic survival instincts. A purely predatory state of mind. It only thought that it should kill, or it would be killed. Eli had managed to bring the real Archie back in the loading bay. Could she do it again, after taking such a huge blow to her mental state? Reality was already distorted enough now. Surely she would go insane after the second try.

A thought crept into her head. That if Archie wasn't the sweet boat farmer boy that they all knew and cared for, he could abuse this power to get whatever he wanted. If he was even just a little bit sadistic, he would be just like the parahumans that were sent to the station's prison. To hold so much power like that, and to be unaware of it or repress it, was something Eli couldn't comprehend. It was either something incredibly brave, or something incredibly naive. How long could he keep this up before the world changed him for the worse? How long until the predator escaped it's mental prison and dominated his mind forever?

... Weren't they all like that, in a small way?

Lynn's voice, as clear as day, could be heard to Eli's left. It was hard to tear her eyes away from Archie, but she managed to turn her head to look at the girl. Lynn was looking at Nicholas, but she wasn't noticing Archie. Her eye-... it looked bad. It was healing faster than Eli thought it would, but it still was messed up. Lynn... Look at Archie. Look at Archie. Eli couldn't be the only one to pick up on it. She knew that they were aware of his transformations, but were they aware that he could slow the process too? Lynn smiled at her, but all Eli could do was glance between her, Archie, and Archie's wrist watch.

Wait, he had the watch on? She glanced between his eyes and the watch. How can he be like that... but the watch isn't going off? She swallowed, and looked at him like she was confused by it. Is he... Did he stop himself? The watch... it would be going off if he was changing. Her brows furrowed, and she suddenly found it hard to think. Nothing was making sense any more. She could pass out, if she wasn't so damn wound up about everything.

Damn it... I can't do this. Breathe, Eli, breathe! It's only dangerous if the watch is going off. She managed to take her own advice, and subtly inhaled through her nose before quietly releasing the air from her mouth. While she was still just as tense as before, the breathing was helping to clear her mind. They all just needed to sit down, somewhere that Archie could relax. If he managed to calm down, Eli would manage to be within ten feet of him. She just needed to keep cool about it, and hope that he wouldn't take her fear too personally.

After clearing her throat, Eli glanced around at the others. "Well, should we go sit? I think we... have a lot to talk about." She glanced at Lynn, and then Archie specifically. Lynn was the reason they were meeting, and Archie was the one she needed to understand better. Natalie and Amelia were good friends too, and well... Nicholas could come along because it felt like he was looking out for them in his own way.
Hidden 8 mos ago 8 mos ago Post by Thrash Panda
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Nicholas


Nic had just poured his heart out like it was a glass of rotten milk. In a rather ballsy move, he had explained that he literally couldn’t turn away from her when she was in danger, that it wasn’t even a question. Destroying the ambiguity of his devotion seemed like a great first step in the journey toward their happy ending. Even if he hadn’t made the best first/second impression in the world, at least he hadn’t blown the whole thing by being too honest. They’d have obstacles for sure. No doubt. But he’d fight a thousand were-crocodile reptile people to the death before giving up. Not that he had anything against Archie..

He indulged himself for a moment. Elizabeth Adair had a nice ring to it.

"Nicholas, give me your number,” she told him. Making demands? That must mean that she had understood implicitly what he was trying to get across. It meant that she was just as intent on crossing paths again. In retrospect, it felt like Nic had disappointed a lot of people--a lot of people--but there was no way that this maiden would find her way into their fellowship.

And she handed him her phone. Jackpot. It was already on the new contact page so he didn’t quite have the chance to scope out her wallpaper or anything, but it felt good in his hand. She trusted him. “Nicholas”, it said. He took the liberty of adding Adair to the name section, along with filling out his address, resisting the urge to insert hearts between his first and last names, feeling that doing so would probably be ever so slightly too forward. He’d have more opportunities. That was for certain. And if they didn’t come about on their own, he’d just have to make some.

“Maybe sometime we can all get together and explain what happened at the bonfire. We're gonna have to go soon, but it was nice to run into you." As she said the words and turned away, he could already feel the opportunities to make an impression disappearing, like ghosts in the snow. No, that analogy was a bit too morose. He corrected himself, he could feel his opportunities slipping away, going to heaven with his angel.

Then fate intervened in the form of a lizard man. The timing felt downright providential, like Archie was an agent of the divine, like he was Nic’s personal spirit guide on his quest to help an angel with a broken wing!

He charged over to them with the sort of finesse you’d expect from a tyrannosaurus playing double dutch. When he stopped, the way he tripped and wobbled, it wouldn’t have been surprising if he were wearing bean bags on his feet rather than shoes. So this is the real Archie, he thought.

If he had to rank Archie’s various stylings, he’d say Homecoming Hero Archie & Snakeskin Psychopath Archie were both aesthetically superior to Nauseous Normie Archie. That said, his superhuman levels of discomfort went a long way toward making Nic feel marginally normal. Sure, he had antennae but there was a strong possibility that Archie was literally uncomfortable in his own skin.

He had only talked to him for a second at the party but Anderson seemed like a stand up kind of guy. He was at least quicker to respond to whatever-the-fuck was developing in the woods that evening. They went through that, saw a man nearly bleed to death and he looked at Nic with a long, stiff stare. It’s like his eyes were experiencing the sensation of having its tongue frozen to a flagpole.

Nic regarded him with a generic, vending-machine variety smile. Then he heard the POP. What followed vaguely looked like his spine was getting a boner. He watched Archie's innards bobble around within a couple millimeters without moving a muscle. Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. His muscles were moving, just not in a way that made sense within the usual range of human anatomy. He thought it looked like his insides were shuffling themselves like a deck of cards. It’s not like he was a surgeon or anything but he was familiar enough with the act of breaking bones and disabling muscle-functionality that he could tell that bodies aren’t supposed to do that to themselves.

“Hey, kiddo,” Nic heard his dear old dad pipe up, “y’know that thing we do? Where we keep dangerous people from being dangerous to people. This kid’s a prime example of that. It’s not his fault but it’s an inconvenient truth. Archie Anderson should either be kept on sedatives or kept in a cage. You know as well as I do that if you don’t take action people are going to get hurt. And not the kind of people who should get hurt.”

“I uh,” Archie started, with the cadence of a man holding in the kind of fart that could stop everyone in the room from ever being able to respect him again. "Hi. It's... on the way. Where we're going and-", Archie paused to pinch the bridge of his nose, probably harder than he was pinching his sphincter. "God, sorry. I'm Archie," Anderson said, extending his hand.

“I know,” Nic said, decisively taking Archie’s hand into his own. “Nicholas Adair. We met at the party. Before that thing,” he dribbled his eyebrows, “with the person at the place.”

As Nic loosened his grip on Archie’s hand and attempted to disregard his father’s voice in his head, he saw another girl approach. How could he not. As soon as she looked back at him, her hair flared a fluorescent orange. He really wanted to be flattered but he couldn’t help but wonder if her hair changed color expressively the same way that his antennae might stand up or fold themselves when he was excited or disappointed.

She looks great in orange, but he couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or if it was another chimpanzee smile, brightly colored the same way that poisonous fish and reptiles are. He took a breath. It didn’t really matter. His heart was spoken for.

The new girl was obviously totally enthralled by him and she tried to play it off, changing the subject, unsuccessfully, to a girl named Keaton. Nic still couldn’t keep them all straight. But after her mouth had settled into a regular pattern of speech, she returned to the subject that was really on her mind. "I - is that like a religious thing?"

Nic wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. So he told a certain portion of the truth, “Nah. It’s a gym thing. I like to do a lot of gymnastic routines. I just got so sick of sitting around my place and hadn’t done my laundry in so long that I just figured I’d say Y’know, fuck it and went out for a run, patrolling the ship for hours, using my Orwellian surveillance powers to find Eli so that we can make the most of what remains of our alarmingly short human lives, no biggie.”

“You look good,” he said, completely devoid of particularly emotional force behind it to attempt to prevent sending the wrong signal. “I was really worried about you. I actually had my first aid kit on me at the time but I got nabbed by security before I could get over to you.”

Nic looked over to Archie, still seeming to grow by the second. He got the creeping feeling that this wasn’t going to end well, but he bit down the part of him that kept reciting his father’s T.H.R.E.A.T. analysis acronym*. It swarmed in his mind over and over. Anderson’s toughness was pretty close to an all time low, at this very second. He seemed to be in decent health, not particularly out of shape. Though Lizarchie could close distance, he was pretty sure he could take pause his blood flow suddenly enough to prevent a panic. He assumed that regular Archie had no reason to be able to defend himself through regular means. He was a goof, seemingly infinitely more concerned with his social standing than his physical well-being. And they were on a sidewalk in town. Not particularly challenging.

Archie would probably prefer that I help him control himself than enabling him to go on a massacre. After all, friends don’t let friends murder friends. Right?” he asked himself. It wasn’t a question of ability. Just a matter of ethics. But then Eli piped up.

"Well, should we go sit? I think we... have a lot to talk about."

The urgency of his decision engorged itself. But he felt better, comforted by her calm demeanor. Maybe this happened all the time, he thought, ultimately resigning to just play this one by ear.

*

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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Silver Carrot
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Natalie Ellis





"Keaton hasn't texted you back?" Nat replied to Eli, puzzled. "Do you have her number? I got a message from here just before I met you. I know where we've to meet. It's-"

Right then, Eli's phone pinged again, and Nat stopped talking while she checked it. And Cara confirmed it. Not that Natalie felt Eli would have needed confirmation after what happened at the picnic.

She looked over to Nic, and...was he crying? She listened to Eli indirectly send him on his way, and felt a little bit bad, but the truth was, she wasn't sure he should be there either. He still felt like a stranger to the group. The rest of them had been through some serious stuff together. Sure, Nice was there for the last two, but it wasn't the same. This is the first time she'd ever talked to him. Did he really belong in this group meetup? Nat got the impression that important things were going to be said, if Lynn of all people organised this.

Natalie then heard the sound of somebody approaching from behind them and turned on her heel very quickly. She didn't have her guard up or any hint of aggression but she clearly moved in order to face the approaching person as fast as possible. The moment she saw it was Archie, her last breath got stuck in her chest and her cheeks flushed slightly yet noticeably. She thought she had the rest of the journey to the meeting place to prepare mentally for this, but guess she was being thrown into the deep end. She still couldn't forget their last conversation, that had to get cut short doe to them both having to go to the Ceremony. So much more needed to be said there. The way it was left made her heart hurt every time she thought about it. The rejection. The knowledge that her actions had hurt Archie's feelings and hadn't even helped her out anyway. She had nothing to show for shutting herself out. She should have just leaned on her friends and even if she'd have been a gibbering wreck, that would have still been better than shutting them all out. But it was too late to change the past. She had to fix their relationship in the present.

She eventually caught her breath and smiled shyly. "He-hey, Archie."

Nat heard the pop shortly after Archie say Nic, and saw him grow considerably in height. He stopped, though. And his monitor hadn't gone off. So Natalie figured it was fine. The Beast had stirred, but wasn't awake yet. Even so, her smile had vanished and she was watching him very carefully now.

"Yeah, we're heading to the meet point. The picnic spot," she finished for Archie. She looked over at Eli out of curiosity, and saw she was very obviously petrified right now. Nat gave her a very brief reassuring smile, and a gesture of her hand as if to say 'it's okay. I got this'.

Lynn then arrived, and asked the group where Keaton was. Amelia was also there, but hadn't reached the group yet. Natalie was shocked at the state Lynn was in. What happened to her eye? Was it injured? Scarred? Or was it gone? Natalie had known that several of them had been injured, but that knowledge hadn't sunken in until seeing Lynn's bandages right now. She composed herself, and pointed in the direction they were walking. "You know, Keaton might be waiting for us at the meet point as we speak."
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Luminous Beings
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Cordelia Lynn Holmes


...a leotard.

Lynn turned her eyes away from the man* who was somehow more alien to her than the guy that turned into a lizard with alarming regularity, and found herself uncharacteristically reassured by the woman who beat the shit out of the lizard with alarming regularity. Lynn felt as if her waking mind had been split into too many pieces and passed out a chunk to everyone who'd come along to the picnic. A part of her was seizing upon Eli - she seems skittish, she's looking at me too much - is it the eye? Or - or something else? Is this guy bad news? - another trying to consider what Spoons had said, that Keaton may be at the actual rendezvous point, which was so frankly obvious it almost made Lynn angry at Spoons for pointing it out. At the same time, a part of her recoiled back, trying to assess the hurricane of emotions that was brewing in the girl who'd been comatose a handful of hours before. Why am I so fucking rattled if Keaton's not here? Why - she probably - she probably would've cut and run anyways, so -

That piece trailed off, too quiet and shaky-sounding to hold its own amidst the other trains of thought, all of whom filled Lynn's mind with smoke as they left the station. There was Archie. The knife twisted further. I was never supposed to see any of you again, damnit. Christ why couldn't - why did Amelia have to do this? But the other part of her - one of them - was trying to explain to the others that it wasn't Amelia's fault, she couldn't really even get mad at Amelia for it - but it was a little too noisy for that part too.

Eli looked like she was absolutely terrified. Was that shell shock or was it something else, more urgent? It couldn't be fucking leotard guy, he - / / - the fucking leotard, what was that about - seriously, I don't buy that shit for a second, you were practicing gymnastics four days after Space Columbine? Wait a minute, he can't keep his story straight within a single sentence, first he's doing routines then he's going on a run? Don't they get chafed or something? Is no one else fucking seeing this shit? - // - Natalie was looking at her, the surprise evident on her face. Lynn felt her expression flicker as best she tried to keep it locked tight. Lately, she felt as though there was so much slipping through the cracks, so much she couldn't hold as tightly as she used to. Lynn didn't think for a minute she would've let Archie stay in the bed with her day one - have they made me soft? She looked at Natalie (and how her other eye itched! Like a bad scab) and felt a sudden surge of venom rise up like bile, almost leaving her tongue, and Lynn bl(w)inked, entirely unsure of where it had come from. Get a handle on it you fucking basket case, Spoons already did her makeup today and if you make her cry she'll have to do it again. - // - Eli was still looking at her. Then to the watch, then to Archie. Something about the watch? Lynn's mind tried to remember. He'd had it - the bonfire? She could barely remember. Before, though - it was like Spoon's little necklace. She'd held onto his arm when he'd started to change and kept him from growing, when they found the corpse. For a minute, all the thoughts were knocked aside by that fleeting memory. There were little details that kept overpowering the big ones. The kids locked up, tortured and experimented upon, they were gone when she remembered hanging on as tight as she could, trying to talk him down - or the boiling fury she had for Gennedy would slip away to mocking that hostess at Vaquero. The panic about Keaton was slipping over all the things she was trying to remember from their meet-ups, now that her notebook was gone, shot to bloody ruin. Too many thoughts. She couldn't - // - I look good? Lynn was rattled at the sudden whiplash from the leotard which, quite honestly, had shaped Lynn's perceptions of whether or not this stranger even noticed whether women looked good - to a brief moment of dizzying self-consciousness - to more irritation. Another lie. Two in as many sentences. Is no one going to call him on his shit? And he claims he was trying to save me? Lynn noticed him looking at Archie. It was a little like Eli was, but it was a lot more the way she looked at people. Another little part splintered off, warning there was something dark to this leotard boy, as much as he let the circus dress him and come up with his alibis. And he was taken in by security before he could get to you, was he? the old whiskey-glass-clinking voice whispered, and for once Lynn agreed, wholeheartedly. This one's not going out of my sight until he's going in the ground. They were all looking at Archie, Lynn realized, except for him of course - stupid, clueless him - Natalie was staring up at him, starry-eyed and sweet and - // -

"Let's go, then," Lynn said tersely, snapping as much at the utter chaos of it all than the newcomer and the situation as a whole. Lynn did not turn her back to Leotard, which was the most charitable of names she could give him (and no introductions - some kind of mind fuckery, maybe? Seriously, what the hell is going on with this guy?) as she fell in beside Eli. She'd intended to walk a half-step behind the girl, giving her the ability to glance over to the right and see new guy with the other two (two, Lynn thought bitterly, not one and the other) if he tried anything. On the leftmost wing of the group, she could also actually see the others. Lynn had come to accept there were a fair number of people on the Promise who could snap her in half if they had to. Spoons, the lizard. Maybe somebody with some mind shit. But Lynn had truly yet to meet anyone who could tank a thousand degree punch to the groin, and she'd done it to the devil herself.

Lynn made no real attempt to mask this particular sentiment from Leotard as they walked. It didn't matter if they were followed, not now. Lynn would've found being caught a welcome oversimplification of affairs on the Promise. She fumbled for some cigarettes to give to Eli, but there were none. Gone. "Shit." Lynn glanced up at Eli, and for a moment, she felt as though she were the tallest, that they were all a quarter as tall, the young girl she'd seen being walked to the station the day they'd left their own interrogations. Or any of the ones she'd known back on Earth. Was it you I taught how to tie your shoes, Eli? Or was that somebody else? "You good?" Lynn said, waiting for the conversation of the others to spark up a bit before she spoke. In a way Denzel was working an illusion on her just by standing where she was, blocking Lynn's half-view of the Leotard Boy* and Spoons and Archie. Every other step or so when it sync'ed up right. Could she just make everything go away? "'Cause I've never really had any problems with, like, whipping somebody's ass, so if it's like an interpersonal thing that can get straightened out." Lynn shrugged, missing the flop of her hood against her back as she did so, or the way the baggy fabric hung down around her. I can't believe my dealer went to fuckin' summer camp. I can't believe I'm probably going to punch a motherfucker in a leotard wearing a summer camp shirt.
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Typical
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Keaton Plasse


The park was quiet, as was the area around it. People biked or ran past now and then, but the road was far enough away from the bench that the noise was minimal. Whether that made her feel safer, though, was questionable. Same for the paper bag of flour she’d brought with her, which sat atop the bench beside her, its neatly folded opening contrasting with its otherwise crumpled appearance. Even if she opened the bag and threw flour around the place, she’d still feel exactly as safe as she did now because if the faceless wanted to stop her, they would’ve already done so. It wasn’t particularly hard, with the resources at their disposal. If their group wasn’t being flagged down for congregating at the bench, that meant someone was either protecting them or turning a blind eye. Who, though, was the question. Cara was a good candidate for either, but given that she’d given up every opportunity to turn Keaton in, Keaton doubted it. Gennedy seemed even more unlikely, especially after the fiasco at the loading bay. So that left two possibilities: Someone she’d yet to learn of, or the person the faceless served.

From the street, the group appeared together, and Keaton gave them a single wave, smiling. They really had to risk coming together, huh? But it was just as well. Again, someone was turning a blind eye, so this didn't matter. Her smile faltered slightly as she spotted someone she didn’t recognize. Or, she did. From the loading bay, the guy who threw some sort of explosive at Archie. But also from the campfire. Nicholas. Why was he here? More importantly, why was everyone okay with it? But, at the same time, Keaton knew it was fine. What was one more person who wanted to help? Worst case scenario, he was a double agent, but he’d be a pretty dumb one if he thought putting himself between all of them was a good way to get intel. So, worst case scenario, he probably wasn’t a spy. Because he wasn’t.

With that out of the way, Keaton refocused on her friends. There was Lynn, shortest and surliest beside Amelia, whose power often failed to precede her personality. Even from a distance, Keaton could make out the changes to Lynn’s appearance, but in comparison… she looked better. Like herself, even, with the usual scowl and shifting gaze.

Then there was Eli, who looked like she’d seen better days. Keaton realized she probably should’ve checked in with her after leaving the hospital, but it’d always been easier taking care of others. They’d catch up later, then. Hopefully.

Beside her was Nicholas, who was, well, alright. So there was that. But who was Keaton to judge at this point? She hadn’t judged Archie and Amelia, and the two looked fine. Well, Archie looked—was—a bit taller than usual, and they didn’t look like they did at Homecoming, but a lot had happened between then and now. Plus, this wasn’t the time or place, so maybe a little discomfort was better for everyone.

“So,” Keaton said when the group was close enough, “Nicholas, right? I’m Keaton, and you’re not a spy, but are you sure you want to stick around? We’re about to discuss doing something infinitely more stupid than throwing an explosive at a giant lizard so if you’re staying, know that you’re going to be involved.”

She paused, looking around the group as they seated themselves. “Phones,” she said when everyone was sitting, pulling hers out and turning it off. When everyone had done the same, she looked to Lynn, then nodded. “Right. So. This probably isn’t that surprising, but Lynn and I have been poking around the ship for the past few months. Originally, we were just looking for holes in the story. The Promise, with a pristine record that suddenly shatters when we come around? Seemed like an unlikely coincidence. I’m sure you all know by now, but the Promise has been covering their tracks for years now. The incident with the escaped prisoners? Not a word back on earth. Homecoming and Ariana? Barely mentioned, even on-ship. But this time, in the loading bay, word got out. Not because they wanted it to, but because of the live stream. So for the first time, the world is getting news of what actually happens up here, and the staff is getting backlash.

“Now, one of the main things we’ve been looking into is the possibility of there being children on board. Technically, there shouldn’t be any children, but the Promise has lied before. Plus, where better to carry out human experiments than somewhere off-planet, somewhere where people can be contained and erased if needed? We already know they keep dangerous paras like Salamandra up here—para criminals who have no business up here, who should’ve been killed years ago. And what we’ve dug up, well, there’ve been a few things,” she said, ticking off fingers. “Lynn found a doll tagged with an inmate number in the woods, and I’ve found pacifiers and children's’ books in the supply caches they bring aboard. And the timing lines up; the Promise has been around for seven years. Seven years—more than enough time for a kid to get to reading their first books, even if they were born on board.

“So it became a question of where they were keeping the children. This place is huge, but still limited. The supply cache I found? That was going to the Spire. The structure at the center of the ring, where students aren’t allowed. Now, yes, there are staff families on board, but they number few, and the cache I found… It was too many to be for just a few families. Plus, the Spire is where the labs are. Where they design and build tools, like those tracking chips for Arianna. And that brings us to today. I think our best shot of finding the truth about this ship, of finding out whether children really are being experimented on, is in the Spire. It’s the hardest place for us to access, meaning it’s also the most secure for the staff. If Black and White are hiding something, like their employer, or a bunch of kids, it’d be there.

“And that brings you pretty much up to speed. It’s not much, and our deductions are flimsy at best, but I can tell you this: There are children aboard the Promise, Black and White are hiding something, and the Promise wasn’t created just to rehabilitate parahumans. Other than that, I know as much as any of you.” She paused. “Any questions?”
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by JunkMail
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Archie



There was... a great deal going on in Archie's head.

All things considered, Archie was doing his absolute damndest to at least somewhat enjoy his stay. Yes, he was up here because he had an uncontrollable rage elemental inside of him- but he was doing what he could to not let that slow him down. He had mad mistakes, but he had also made friends, and talked to girls and had at least done what he could to strive for some semblance of the normalcy that had been objectively obliterated when he woke up naked in the woods with his father's gun aimed at his head. Archie had known nothing but normal, and he had strived to maintain that consistency.

But it was beginning to add up. First they found a corpse, something he had never seen before a day in his life. He had never seen a dead person before. At least, not like that. Not freshly killed and bloated from bog water and rot- tortured to death and tossed into the river unceremoniously. The first time he had seen the results of a murder. Then came the breakout- where he was going to be raped and maybe killed and he watched the people he cared about be forced to defend themselves. The first time he had witnessed a murder. Then there was Homecoming, where Officer Radvi shot himself in the head in front of everyone trying to apprehend the greatest espionage and assassin candidate outside the atmosphere- the first time he had seen someone attempt murder. Then there was the shooting, where he had been shot and forced to turn and almost killed his friends again.

The first time he had committed murder. Even if it was in self defense.

He understood that, if there was a god up above that maybe he wouldn't make it into the pearly gates for such an action as taking another human life. There was nothing a priest at some confession could do to absolve him of those sins. But children aboard? Children that might be being tortured and experimented on and forced into those cold, silent rooms like he had been before he came up here, and never seeing the sun and the stars or seeing the grass or the sea? That wasn't right. Maybe he was damned, but if he was he would make sure they weren't. At least- if he could help it.

"I don't wanna be here anymore." Archie said with finality, a grit to his tone that he hadn't spoken with before. "If kids are up here... that aint right. Now- I can't help much but... I'm strong. Just gotta... aim me, I guess." he motioned with his hands, the leaning forward as he did so, and then sat up straight again. "I can buy us time. If it comes down to that. Oh and- one question. Do we know of any way onto The Spire? I aint seen any way in my walks around The Ring."
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Archie was getting shorter. Eli could see it now. He hadn't even seen her panic, so that was good. Nic hadn't even picked up on it. Just Natalie, who gave her one of the chillest "nah, I got this" waves she'd ever seen. Okay. Yeah. Natalie's got this. After all, she'd survived not one, but two encounters with Archie's condition. They'd worked well together to stop Archie, in the loading bay. They could do it again. Although, this time Eli would be at the edges of her range for her own safety.

He's not turning. He's got a grip on it.

She could see it in the way that he held himself. Sort of like the way Eli was holding herself now, too. Tense, but not strained. Focused, but still managing to keep it loose. If he'd seen the look on my face, would he have lost his grip? Would my panic make him lose focus? She bit her lip and looked away from him as they continued moving. Thank god he isn't paying attention to me.

She felt Lynn's presence to her side and she looked over at her. Of course, Lynn couldn't see her looking. Eli stared at the spot where her eye should have been. Where it was healing way faster than it should have been. Does she regenerate? Like a starfish? She turned her face forwards and began to search for the picnic table where they'd see Keaton waiting. You're worried about Archie, and Lynn had her eye blown apart. Who had it worse?

"You good?"

Eli blinked, and looked down at Lynn. She pressed her lips together and glanced towards the others. She couldn't just say it outright. It wouldn't be fair to Archie.

"'Cause I've never really had any problems with, like, whipping somebody's ass..."

Lynn Lynn Lynn. Eli's panic faded instantly and she smiled despite how shitty she felt. The thought of Lynn fighting anyone at all was amusing. Especially if she was going to fight anyone for Eli herself. Well, apparently she took on Archie too. God, has everyone fought Archie by now?

She didn't respond, but instead she found herself reaching her right arm over to wrap itself around Lynn's shoulders. She squeezed her closer as they walked in a little side hug. "Let's just get this meeting over with and go for some pizza." She murmured.

Looking up from her little companion, Eli finally spotted Keaton. She released Lynn from her hug and gave Keaton a small wave in return. Without waiting for an invitation Eli took up a spot at the edge of the picnic table, and she looked at Lynn as she patted the seat next to her. "Sit with me?" To be honest, it felt nice that Lynn would have her back if anything went wrong. She was sure that Keaton, Natalie, Nicholas, or even Archie of all people would have her back too. Lynn's protection just felt a little more comfortable at the moment.

"Phones.

Eli pulled hers from her pocket and immediately powered it down. She set it back in her pocket, in case Cara still had eyes with the thing off. You could never know, these days. With a deep breath, Eli gave her full attention to her friend. The look Keaton and Lynn shared was interesting. Had they been in on this information together? What had they been doing, on the side?

Oh, so they'd been doing their own investigations. She agreed that the big trouble on The Promise hadn't started until their arrival, but she really just assumed that it was the day that bitch Arianna boarded when everything went to shit. No word to Earth about anything. Eli nodded in agreement. It had been like this ever since she was new to the station. The Promise was an island with no communication back home unless it was to say good things. She was just surprised that they hadn't tried to call the Welcoming Day incident a hoax. They'd fully accepted this mistake, which was an extreme step in the right direction. She still even had the right mind to find D's severed head and hack into it for the footage of the breakout. If only she could find the damn thing. D hadn't been around since the shooting.

"Now, one of the main things we've been looking into is the possibility of there being children on board."

Eli already knew this. They used to mention it, way way back. When she first boarded she heard the Promise staff say it themselves. It wasn't major news, after younger and younger children began to show signs of the gene. Eli knew that the Promise was where they sent the young children with extreme abilities. Powers that couldn't be contained unless they were in a state run facility. Whether or not they were testing on the children, Eli wasn't sure. Obviously these kids had parents. They couldn't just hand them over to the state and never ask about them again, could they? Of course, they were definitely testing on adults. How else could they have known that the taser would work on Arianna? The fact that Keaton got a job just to look into the shipments to the Spire was actually a pretty smart move. With Keaton's ability, she was definitely good at figuring out what was inside of a box. Mental note, make Keaton's future gifts super vague and multi-wrapped.

What was crazy about this entire theory was that Lynn and Keaton had found a tagged doll in the woods. It was known to the long term residents that the children were kept on The Spire. How could a doll have gotten to the student campus? Eli's brows furrowed. Why would they give a doll a number, unless the child was numbered too? They wouldn't keep the dangerous children in the prisons, would they?

The Spire. The Spire. All of their questions were leading to the one place that was practically impossible to get into. Keaton was definitely right about a lot of things, like she usually was, but were they really experimenting on kids too? Eli looked down at the table and questioned everything about her time on the station. It was pretty obvious now that the Promise wasn't just created for rehabilitation, but were they really sick enough to test on a kid? If they were experimenting, was it to test nullifying tech, or just to figure out ways to contain them safely until they could control their powers?

Eli was totally and completely at a loss. She was always aware that the station was a little twisted. Well, maybe a lot twisted. The fact that this could have been going on since she first stepped foot on the station, since the station was created... It sent chills down her spine. Those chills were then replaced by a burning heat in the pit of her stomach and at the tips of her ears. If this is true, then the world really has gone to shit.

"I don't wanna be here anymore."

Eli's head snapped up and she looked over at her friend. Archie still had some explaining to do to Eli and she didn't expect an apology from him, but his words and tone resonated with her. He was feeling the same way she was, about all of this. The deep pitted rage for his people's suffering. Eli could see it in his face. Even though he might still frighten her, she would feel pretty great to sic Archie on Wrath or whoever else on the Spire was condoning such disgusting behavior. Or on anyone that would intentionally hurt paras.

"Do we know of any way onto the Spire?"

Eli had been biding her time for almost a month now. Not saying a word to anyone about Packet or the door to the Spire. Now was the chance. While she was worried that it would get them all killed, she could see in their faces that they felt the same way she did about this place. She, who had been there for years, and the friends sitting around her who'd only been here for a fraction of that time. They were all in the same place now. They wanted to take action, and they were determined to get to the bottom of the Promise's secrets. Now was the time for Eli to lay it all out.

Slowly, she rose from her seat so that she would get everyone's attention. This call to act, it made Eli forget about her fears. The shitty feeling inside of her was replaced by a vigorous need to do something.

"I know exactly how we can get to the Spire." She began, looking around at everyone. For the first time in a while, Eli could actually hold Archie's gaze without flinching. "After the woods... After Arianna, and Radvi's accident. I did some digging of my own."

She took a deep breath and pointed up at the Spire. "To get there," she said before pointing her finger downwards. "You have to go below. To the sewers, exactly. I know a technopath. Some guy I met a while back that was drunk enough to spill some information about it. He's... young. Younger than Lynn, maybe? Or the same age. I can't tell."

She shrugged. "The guy knows his way around. He showed me the spot, and even told me he could open it up. I was in a rough place at the time, but at least I was smart enough not to do it on my own." She glanced at everyone's faces, and wondered if they were feeling the same way Packet did in the sewers. "To get to the Spire is easy. Like doing a cakewalk, or whatever the expression is. Once you set foot on the Spire, it's like a game of Mouse Trap." She set her hand down on the table and began to walk her finger around it.

"My source can disable the cameras, if I ask him nicely. That means we can walk around freely, but that doesn't guarantee we won't run into any staff." She looked up again. "If we're caught, that's it. Game over. No one will ever hear from us again." She sighed. "It's extremely likely that we will."

She let that fact settle in for a second, before continuing. "In the off chance we get there, find what we want to find, and get back to the exit, Packet- the guy, can get us back into the ring."

And that's if the staff isn't already aware that we were on the Spire. If Packet was able to keep the cameras at bay for long enough. If Packet isn't discovered himself and we're trapped. If. If IF IF.

Eli was driving herself nuts with the possibilities, and she looked at the others and worried that they could see it in her face. Say something, Eli. Share your thoughts with them. Maybe they'll decide against it anyways. She felt her heart sink. They're going to do it. You've given them a way onto the Spire, and now they're going to risk it.

"I... I wasn't planning to go. Not because I was scared of getting caught. Not because I was worried about what I'd find. I wasn't going to go because I thought that if I did find ANYTHING like what Keaton is describing..." She sighed.

"It's because I know that I'd do my best to let the world know. I'd probably get myself caught doing it, and there goes my chance of seeing my mom again. Of seeing you guys again."

Her hand went to her nose and she pinched it for a second before brushing her hair back from her face. "But... If I have all of you, there's a chance we could actually do it."

We could die helping our people... together.
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Silver Carrot
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Natalie Ellis





Natalie after turning her phone off, was silent as she listened to the group discuss things. There was undeniable proof that there were children on the promise, and they had serial numbers. Natalie had gone pale, and was staring at the table with a furious intensity. Her fists were clenched ad knuckles were white. She listened as Eli explained that she knew a way in. She finally looked up at the group.

"I for one don't want to leave. There's nothing for me on Earth. I want to find out if this is true. There could be other explanations. Maybe they're being raised as, like, soldiers or something. That's not better at all but at least they wouldn't be suffering. But....if they're testing and experimenting on children..."

There was something dark in her eyes as she trailed off. It wasn't just rage. It was something Archie and Lynn might have recognized in Salamandra's; The capability and desire to kill in cold blood.

Nat cleared her throat and snapped out of it. She looked around at the group, and then rolled up her sleeves, exposing her scars. "I, uh, was going to talk about this with Archie first, privately, but we're here now so here goes. I was experimented on, back on Earth. For two years of my life. Some Organised crime effort to develop a way to give non-paras superpowers, called Project Lion. These scars aren't from self-harm or anything. They'd literally cut me open so they could inject my muscles with something. Every muscle. Most of my waking life was spent painfully healing, or being tested. See, my natural para ability isn't strength. It's just having really strong bones. They gave me the strength, because my bones made me the perfect guinea pig.

So you'll all understand when I say that finding out if anything remotely similar is happening here, is very, very personal to me. And I'm not leaving before I do."
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by levinfist
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Amelia





Amelia was largely glad to be back in a group of people she was more familiar with. Well.....almost all people she was familiar with. The fucking weirdo who had tried to go after her meat shield during the attack was an odd choice of companion. Amelia on instinct buried her hands in the jacket she was borrowing from Lynn, and squinted at him with scrutiny. Her thoughts turned very Lynn-like, evaluating him for the odds he was going to narc on them. Such opinion only soured rapidly at his response to her standard quips. Is....is he hitting on her?! Amelia balled her hands into fists and glared at him, before suddenly pulling herself back. Why.....does that bother me so much? Lynn could.....oh. OH. God dammit Amelia, this is not the time to get on that train of thought!

Amelia shook her head and followed with the group, sticking near Lynn but still giving her enough distance to not feel pressed upon. Amelia could tell she was definitely ill at ease, but there wasn't much she could do to fix that. Honestly she wasn't sure if there was ANYTHING she could do about that at all. Lynn wasn't the type to have a heart to heart talk about feelings. Spotting Keaton, Amelia moved with a bit more energy towards the meeting spot, wanting to just get focus on the job at hand.

Amelia sat down near Lynn, and rather then turn off her phone, simply turned from the group and teleported it into her room. Her phone not even being around was better then it being off. Who knew if these could be remotely turned back on. She listened intently to the goal and plan. While not something she new about specifically, none of this was much of a shock to her. She couldn't help but beam mischievously at Keaton and Eli as they explained the depth of which they had thought this out already. "Fuck me, where were you two in my tagging days?" She frowned sympathetically at Natalie's story, before her face took a look of determination.

"Well I for one aren't going anywhere either. I was protesting for parahuman rights even before I had powers. Now we're at the epicenter of all this shit going down and we have a chance to maybe do something about it. I can't pass that up. I won't pass that up. I'm in it through the long haul with you guys. So I guess my only other question then is, how far to we wanna push this?"
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Thrash Panda
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Nicholas


Did he need to do something about Archie? Definitely maybe not right now. The young man was leveling out. He wore a heart monitor right? Or something like that, he’d reasoned out. Did he almost transform into a kaiju every single time he went on a walk? Archie seemed a little too mopey-go-lucky to be numb enough to suppress all of his emotions effectively.

’Lobotomy?’ offered a voice inside his head that wasn’t his fathers, at least not entirely. At the thought, he felt his cheeks burn with the most intense shame that he had ever felt.

“Nicholas, right? I’m Keaton, and you’re not a spy, but are you sure you want to stick around? We’re about to discuss doing something infinitely more stupid than throwing an explosive at a giant lizard so if you’re staying, know that you’re going to be involved.”

You’re definitely not a spy? Actually, in an ironic sort of way, he really explicitly was a spy.

“Well,” he started, “you seem a little too calculated for that to actually be true. To be perfectly frank, I have no idea what’s going on.” He turned to Archie, “Speaking of which, sorry about that.” Resuming, he thought “I already seem to be involved, so… what the hell?” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

At that, he heard Eli groan, already exhausted, "Let's just get this meeting over with and go for some pizza."

“Sounds.. delightful,” Nic commented before offering, “My treat.”

Then Eli said “sit with me,” and tapped the seat beside her. He was more than happy to oblige. In fact, he was so overcome with jubilation that he beamed like a lighthouse before realizing that she had actually been addressing Lynn. Stomping out the embers of hope like a used cigarette, he winced and picked a seat diagonally positioned, so that he could still get a decent view. Unfortunately, that did place him directly across from Hephaestus Lynn, who seemed to be toying with the idea of murdering him even more intensely than he had been considering pacifying Archie.

As he heard Keaton’s discourse on the possibility of children being onboard, he couldn’t help but cringe. He’d seen too many children kept in cages. Mostly because he’d helped put them there. This seemed like as good of a time as he was ever going to get to redeem himself.

As Archie demonstrated an explicit understanding of his lack of fine control, Nic felt the beginnings of a newfound legitimate respect developing. Not just that Archie wasn’t an asshole. It was more than that. He was a humble, gentle soul. The kind of person worth protecting, even as much as other people needed to be protected from him. In a sense, that kinda was the function of The Promise. A place where people like Archie weren’t a danger to ‘normal’ or ‘important’ people. He’d have to think on that.

When he heard Natalie’s backstory, he shuddered. Seemed fairly familiar. While he had never been scientifically experimented on, per say, he was basically a case study in non-conventional warfare. Should he share that? Probably. But was he going to right now? No.

When Amelia gave her impassioned take on it, wrapping up with “I'm in it through the long haul with you guys. So I guess my only other question then is, how far do we wanna push this?

“Other than Natalie and Archie, I have no idea what you guys can do, so I’m not sure what to suggest entirely but.. I for one can release spores that infect people and let me see through their eyes, also transmitting their vision to anyone else infected within range. If you guys wanted to do some additional surveillance or trailing people who go in and out of The Spire, I could probably help with that a lot.”

“That said, there really isn’t a lot I wouldn’t do to rescue whoever is in there. I know a place we could hide out back on Earth, if it helps, but I don’t really have any ideas on getting everyone there from here.”
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Cordelia Lynn Holmes


Lynn very rarely felt as though she had picked up on something that Denim had not. The girl quickly and assertively stated that Nic wasn't a spy, which threw Lynn's mind for a stutter-step - he just happens to be here? Now? - but Lynn quickly came to a possibility that Keaton either hadn't considered or hadn't verbalized - this guy may have just been completely nuts, or a moron, or something else like that. He didn't have to be as comatose as Gennedy's other lapdog to be as brain dead. Lynn chewed on her lip, watching Leotard and puzzling over the possibilities while Keaton spoke for a moment. Lynn spotted the bag of flour beside her and had a quiet grin. There were times that trying to be friends with Keaton was infuriating, frustrating, like standing in the shadow of a giant - but there were others when it was reaffirming, like the older girl had everything figured out, like she knew what was going on and could make it all -

Lynn paused for a moment. ...Keaton was a friend, wasn't she? Lynn felt like the realization had almost caught her off-guard, it had been so natural and unquestioned.

Denzel jarred her back to attention and she nodded, sitting next to her. The new boy kept glancing Eli's way and - and thought Eli was talking to her? Lynn once again looked between everyone at the table trying desperately to see some sort of facial cue or silently-mouthed phrase that would cue her in as to what the actual fuck was happening here. Amelia was glancing at her kind of weirdly, but Lynn had no idea if that was on her wavelength or not.

Archie spoke up first. His voice was different, she thought - almost like it had been in the hospital room (and again, as had happened a hundred times in the time since she'd seen him last, she remembered it wouldn't happen again like a knife between the ribs or a bullet to the knee). Were they getting it? Did they understand what this meant? Whatever guard those kids are under is more than enough, Lynn wanted to say. Just go. Just fucking rush the escape pods and go. Archie said he would buy them all time. He got it. He got what this as. But he shouldn't have. He wasn't supposed to. Would Spoons pull him back, I wonder? Lynn thought, for a minute gone entirely from the table, standing in whatever fluorescent-lit cell the kids were in, smoke and gunpowder around them. One was burning, melting in front of her, a Chinese boy, burning burning, Archie was there, shifting, and the others, shaved bald and tagged, collared and dressed in scratchy jumpsuits, looking on in horror. What do you do if that's the choice? the whiskey-clinking voice asked, and Lynn buried the thought down as her hair and eyes flashed violet.

Eli spoke next, and Lynn's mind began dizzying with the possibilities. For the first time, she thought, there was something of an actual chance that this could happen, and the anglerfish dream-trap of getting out and surviving and living somewhere on earth seemed all the more real for just a second. Just a little moment. Then it was gone. People like me don't make it out, Lynn reminded herself soberly, and the flickering light pulled back away to a hospital bed for a while. A technomancer? That made sense. That made lots of sense. Someone like that could do lots of things. Lynn rolled the phone over in her hand, and a thought began to form.

...how strong are you, Cara? And how strong are you, Packet?

Lynn looked around her, at everything wired to a grid, bound to a machine, interlaced with that always-watching detached voice. "Interesting," was all Lynn murmured as she mulled over the possibilities. Airlocks. Oxygenators. Gravity...light...null tech.

Spoons started up and Lynn was jolted back to attention - her mind seemed to wander so much more these days, and she coudn't figure out why - and pulled up her sleeves. Lynn had counted on the scars being there, but not the reason why. The more she talked, the more it seemed to come together. Christ, Spoons. There was something there, too - organized crime? They'd found a way to make people paras? Spoons story made Lynn's blood boil (the steam gently rolled off her head) but there was some flickering beginning of an idea there as well, one Lynn did not have time to indulge. Amelia was speaking next, and she got the million dollar question Lynn wanted to ask but didn't know how.

Before she could, Leotard piped up, and all the color guards in the world couldn't have handled the red flags. He can release spores? Instinctively, Lynn wanted to reach to her face, to somehow check, but she had enough sense not to look rattled in front of this guy. If there was the slightest sign of doubt before a man in a fucking leotard, she was done for. Lynn did not believe for a minute he was entirely on the level. Transmitting thoughts? That shit means he has to be in your neurons or whatever. No way that's all. No fucking way. Lynn let her mind race for a moment, like a pack of mad dogs chasing a dozen different scents. Could he even infect her? The last thermometer they'd attempted to use on Lynn had melted, and Lynn knew high temps killed bacteria. She'd never caught a cold once in her life, and even drugs and the like only worked on her if she focused on bringing her temperature down. What was the use if she was the only one unaffected? Showing people the vision of other people meant he had to have some kind of control over what they saw and perceived. He could get all the others killed - and was there any way of telling who was affected, Lynn wondered? Or if he was even speaking honestly at all. Lynn did not for one minute trust this slippery bastard. No one rolled up at the eleventh hour with mind-altering powers and a safehouse back on Earth. Lynn had been offered one too many dreams too good to be true to believe in this one.

She forced herself to think a moment longer before ballparking the melting point of a picnic table and creme brulee'ing that leotard into it. Keaton thinks he's not a spy. Unless he found her already, maybe she's right. Even Denim can be wrong, I guess, but this doesn't track. If he's capable of mind-altering - Lynn paused, trying to think it through. If he's working for Gennedy, why would they want us to storm the Spire? Archie alone could fuck up whatever they have in place. That doesn't track. So he's gotta be -

Lynn felt a little cold place inside all the fire. There's someone else on this station who works a lot like you, though. Somebody who can be in a lot of places at once and see a lot of different things. Lynn tried to remember the night in the forest. Had he been there? Wait, Leotard was Rolex - that motherfucker. That same motherfucker. What had Arianna said? They're keeping them upstairs. Arianna wanted them in the Spire, it would seem - and this one had waltzed up and offered to help them. He'd been there right after the cop had shot himself, Lynn remembered. It was coming together.

Lynn glanced at Keaton to see if she had put anything together. Lynn stayed quiet for the moment. If Arianna thinks she has one over on us, then she could be listening now through him, Lynn thought. If she needs us in the Spire, that must be something she wants there. Some kind of fucking leverage. Lynn had no intention of doing the hard work for Arianna or dying at the hands of Gennedy. This was a one-way trip but she did not plan on taking a round to the head again for the sake of the bitch who helped let Salamandra loose. I'll stay quiet. He can't get to me, but he might be affecting the others. He'd come with Denzel, Spoons, and Archie, which meant any of them might be addled. Lynn needed to know more about what exactly he could do. If he pieced together she was immune, then he'd likely go for her. Friends close and enemies closer, you ballet-dancing motherfucker.

And as all that raced through her head, she realized there was a moment of quiet at the table, and no one had said it. She didn't know if any of them had realized it or not. "It's worth saying," Lynn said, taking a moment before she said anything more, feeling like she was climbing out of the bed and writing the note all over again, "Getting to Leotard's vacation house back on Earth is probably not happening if you do this. I'm going to the Spire. But if you go, we're probably going to have to kill someone - "her eyes bulging as her skull slammed into the wall of the restaurant " - and if that's not your shit, then that's fine. But you should all decide right now if you're fine killing whoever's up there. They haven't been keeping kids under lock and key without making someone a fuckton of money. They're not going to let them walk away. Gennedy, Ebony and Ivory, whoever the fuck is up there - anyone who knew about this and didn't do anything has all this to answer for." Lynn paused for a moment, the anger roiling through her voice, but her hair and eyes stayed calm. They burned like a welder's torch, intensely hot and narrowly focused. "I mean - if you don't want to go, I think you should fucking make a break for the pods. As the Chinese fuckers proved - " burning, melting, screaming, a kid, screaming, the gun barrel dripping onto his - Lynn blinked, losing her train of thought for a moment " - it - they - these dipshits can't keep us safe. They haven't given a fuck about us since they interrogated us. They can't keep what's going on here stable and shit. It's been one breakout after the next." Lynn paused. "It's a matter of time until the next one's too big, or the next terrorists bring better guns, or whatever. I haven't - I'm not going off this station - " ever " - until somebody answers for this shit. I don't give a fuck anymore. Anyone who says, you know, that a bunch of fucking children can be imprisoned and tortured on, they can fuck right off. I've been to a parahuman prison. I've got some serious doubts whatever's in the Spire is really that much nicer. I don't give a shit if they've got people like Sa - " Lynn shivered " - lamandra there, there's kids. Kids with dolls. Anybody who puts a kid in a prison cell and stabs them with needles, I don't give a shit. But if that's not what you want to do then I don't think it's, you know, a pussy move or whatever if you go to the pods." There was a part of Lynn inside her chest that was looking out between her ribs, shaking and rattling them, screaming at everyone to fucking do it, to go. I don't sleep good anymore, Lynn wanted to tell them. Spoons might get it, she thought, but the others? She didn't want to see that. She didn't want to see Eli stabbing someone or Keaton having to strangle a guard to death. Archie had already, she imagined, killed someone when he was a lizard, but that was different. That was just a bad dream. She wanted them to get on the fucking pods and leave. Even if they got gunned down outside the loading bay that was better than waking up every day wondering when it would be. The little false hope light flickered back out again for just a moment, and she thought about Archie making it back to his boat farm, just living somewhere quiet by the ocean, fishing or whatever. Lynn had never seen the ocean. Not until she was in outer space.

I don't want to see you people fucking die.

"I dunno. I don't - " Lynn paused again, searching for the words. "You guys should just put some thought into it is all. Because if you go up there and you haven't made up your mind and shit then the guy who has is going to get you. Then that's another motherfucker I have to deal with."
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Typical
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Keaton Plasse


Archie spoke up first, and Keaton listened, feeling an edge of guilt sharpening as he spoke. ‘Aim me… I can buy us time.’ That was precisely what she’d been thinking, because she’d seen him transform enough to know how much damage he could do, how much control he had, and how friend and foe could bleed together under the wrong circumstances. Was she scared of him? Of him as a human, no, but the risk he posed? Of course. If she were a more wary person, or if circumstances had been different, perhaps she would have suggested that he stayed behind. Bringing him was as risky as it was helpful, but in this case they numbered few among the ship and every set of powers had its use. So she silenced her doubts, silenced the part of her that wanted to be nervous around him, telling it that having him around was helpful, that it would benefit everyone more in the end. And it was easy to do that, given how unassuming he looked and acted, just like how it was easy to pretend that the guilt didn’t cut.

The introduction of Packet into their plans was a welcome one, considering how much the ship relied on Cara, and Keaton felt a rush of admiration for Eli. She’d known that Eli wasn’t one to sit on her hands, but to go and find a way into the Spire all on her own was impressive. From the way she spoke of Packet—‘the guy,’ ‘my source’—Keaton figured them not too close, so how trustworthy was he? And was he more of a glitch or a virus in the face of Cara?

When Eli brought up why she originally decided not to go, and why she was deciding to now, though, Keaton understood. Her own reasoning echoed similar themes, but was fundamentally different all the same. For one, while she knew the likelihood of the plan working wasn’t high, Keaton never had to worry about going alone. If she was ever going, she knew she’d be bringing others. Her power, or lack thereof, left no room for argument. It’d be an all or nothing effort. On the other hand, while family was also at the forefront of her concerns, Keaton’s dad was getting by on his own. Sure he needed to pretend that Keaton was a-okay up in the sky to do so, but he was living on. She wanted him to move on, remarry, and have more kids, even. At one point in her life, getting siblings had been her dream, but now it was hers for her father.

But she’d wanted lots of things. She’d wanted normalcy, security, and comfort, but she’d also wanted to be honest with her father. And she couldn’t have all those things. Choosing normalcy meant choosing a life of fear and lies. Choosing security meant giving up comfort and normalcy. Choosing to be honest with her father? That’s how she ended up here. She could blame it on the stress, perhaps, or on her lack of belief in conspiracy theories. How was she to know the government really was tapping calls? But at the end of the day, Keaton blamed it on herself, on how naive she’d been to think that she could go on as usual despite being a para. Life for her fundamentally changed the moment she realized she had powers, and wanting, wishing to go back? That was her mistake.

It wasn’t much justification compared to the others’. She had no lofty goals, no real drive to do good. She was simply present and able, and she figured it not to be the worst way to go out. At least it was better than ducking her head and feigning ignorance for the rest of her life. Compared to that, a chance at helping her friends find redemption and doing the right thing didn’t sound bad at all.

Natalie’s story confirmed some of Keaton’s suspicions and vastly overshadowed others. It’d been obvious that something had happened to her, but what that something turned out to be was more horrifying than Keaton would’ve ever thought. Project Lion? Giving non-paras powers? Natalie had been a para turned para, but… it’d worked, hadn’t it? In some twisted, awful way, those people had managed to produce results. That meant it wasn’t over for Project Lion, meant that Project Promise had another shred of validity.

Amelia spoke, then Nic, who revealed his power readily. It was a strange concept. Spores that could infect others and allow him to peer through their eyes—that was pretty vague, but she’d follow up with a few necessary questions. After.

Lynn came in with the sense, reiterating the goal. The children. But where was the line between Lynn and a child? Was it the years or the innocence that made the difference? As for the escape pods, there wasn’t much to decide between for Keaton. The kind of life she’d find through an escape pod wasn’t the kind she was looking for. They were an option, not a goal.

“Finding the escape pods would probably take some work, so we need to decide whether that’s a priority for us,” Keaton said, looking between the table. “It doesn’t sound like anyone’s first priority is to escape, but we should decide now. When given the chance, do we head towards the escape pods or the kids? Do we expect to split up immediately, or at all?”

She looked to Eli. “And Packet. Is there no way he’d agree to come with us? It’s not a guarantee, but he’d probably be helpful with breaking the kids out or accessing the escape pods.” Or just getting through doors, really, but that was a given. “Do you think you can convince him? And do you trust him enough to try? He’d be in a prime position to alert Cara, and I doubt he’ll get in much trouble if he turns us in.”

“Either way, we should probably share our powers too, if only to make things easier for Nic. No reason he has to get into this without knowing who he’s getting into this with,” Keaton said, glancing to Nic. “I’ll start. In cases where I’m guessing and have enough information, my power tells me when I make a correct guess.”
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Archie



Hearing Natalie's story had been haunting, to say the least. This felt like it was the Shitty Childhood Olympics: Promise Edition, and they were all going for gold. Personally, if he were the judge, he'd give it to Natalie or Lynn for the All-Around, but he was probably pioneering in the Coping Very Badly event.

The worst thing was, he got it when Natalie said that she didn't want to leave, because there was nothing for her on Earth. He felt that shit, because that was him. Archie had done his absolutely best to eek out a shred of normalcy up here and all of this, everything that had happened... he couldn't keep fighting for something that was going to be nothing more than a commercial break in a sea of shit shows. It seemed like she was coming to that realization, too.

"But... If I have all of you, there's a chance we could actually do it."

"You guys should just put some thought into it is all. Because if you go up there and you haven't made up your mind and shit then the guy who has is going to get you. Then that's another motherfucker I have to deal with."

"Lynn," Archie said, trying to get his friend's attention. "This is no way to be. I'm an accident waiting to happen, and we all know what happens to accidents like us. I ain't have nothing to lose." he finished, and he meant it- giving her a reassuring smile. Archie had no plans to die, but if he went out, he could be okay with that. Yeah, he lost a lot of the people in his life that were supposed to protect him, make him feel loved and safe and welcome, but there had been good in his time, too. He had his own space as a kid, saw sunsets, ran on the beach, flirted with girls, forgotten homework, and skipped out of math classes.

"It sounds like we all want to go for the kids." he reiterated, his eyes glancing to each person around the table. Archie understood their desire to ensure that these theoretical children did not end up as bitter and jaded and hurt as they were. All things considered they had quite a colorful cast of rejects with their own circus of issues. It was a miracle they had managed to work as well together as they had. "I know we're all still explaining our powers and all but... Eli," he questioned, turning his head to look at the tallest girl of the group. "How long would it take to get this Packet person ready to help us?"
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Eli's attention turned towards Natalie as she began to speak. Her eyes moved over Nat's face as she noted the expression on her face. It looked like a more intense and deep rooted hate. The same bloodlusted expression on her face as she fought the masked gunmen, but with a tone of revenge that made the bags under her eyes show through the makeup for a moment. So, was this the reason Natalie was such a sad soul?

She listened to Nat continue. Her heart sunk into her stomach and she felt her eyes brim with tears. And yet, her anger and determination only grew stronger. Eli pressed her lips together and swallowed, her eyes looking up to the ceiling of the ring to keep the tears at bay. She looked back in time to hear Amelia agree to the plan and nodded towards her.

Nic explained his ability, and Eli blinked as she processed the information. His spores were... creepy and invasive, but they would be extremely helpful on The Spire. It sounded like he could infect multiple officers and staff and then lead them to the spot they needed to go to. His mention of a hideout back on Earth was touching, but Eli felt her stomach twist every time someone mentioned plans for after their trip to the Spire. Escape pods... safe houses back home... Eli had hope to see them, of course, but... She didn't feel like they would.

Lynn's words definitely solidified that feeling. If they were caught on the Spire, they wouldn't make it back to the Ring. It would either be a fight for their lives, or a life spent in solitude. Probably a life spent in agony at the hands of the Spire's tech department or science division. She glanced at Natalie. There was no way Nat would submit to another life of needles. She'd go down fighting for her life. Lynn would too. Nic, she wasn't sure of. She couldn't imagine Keaton killing with her own hands. Even after Eli watched her put a few bullets into the Silent Court.

She heard Keaton mention Packet's name and turned her head towards her next. Before she could answer, Keaton made a point about telling Nic what their own abilities were. If Nic wasn't sure what their options were, he could make a wrong move in the Spire. Eli nodded in agreement and stood there as she waited for the group to explain.

Her heart constricted again. Archie... You're no accident waiting to happen. She felt her throat tighten. She felt even more guilty for feeling so afraid of him. Of how she even had one thought about avoiding him for the rest of her time on the Promise. He looked like he was ready to give up. Like he had no other option. Yet Eli had a feeling that none of them really had a chance at living a long and safe life. Their lives were at stake every day no matter what their ability was. They were parahuman, and that put a target on their back.

Eli took a deep breath as Archie locked eyes with her. Before she could even explain, she sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear. It was still hard to look at him. Especially now. "I gave Packet an ultimatum before we ended our meeting. If I text him and he agrees, then he is with me-well, us, 100%. No matter what the consequences are. If he doesn't respond, or tells me to delete his number, we can't expect help from him."

"If he does agree to help, we just need to set a date a time. Whether that's tomorrow, or a week from now." She suddenly had an idea and she turned towards Nicolas. "If you were to infect some staff that travel between the ring and the Spire, we could gather intel while we wait."

As for the Keaton's earlier question, Eli wasn't sure if she even wanted to put Packet in that kind of position. "Keaton, I know that bringing him along would be extremely helpful... but... He's so young, and I feel like he has a chance to live on the Ring if he stays behind. I can definitely ask him if he will come with us, but I already feel guilty for putting him in this position in the first place. I'm not sure if I could focus in the Spire if I was worried about his safety too." She bit her lip and shrugged.

"Still... There's a chance he'll want to come." She looked around at them again. "It sounds like everyone is willing to take this risk. I'm... extremely grateful to have you all here with me." She glanced at Archie and nodded. "All of you."

"What happens next is that we plan which day to do this and prepare for it as much as we can. We can look up the old schematics of The Spire through the records. But only once, so that it isn't suspicious. I think Keaton has the best chance at analyzing them and figuring out the best places to search. Nic could infect as many staff as he could handle until then, just to figure out what the security is like over there. I'll message Packet and if he responds... well, we're going to the Spire."
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Cordelia Lynn Holmes


Lynn bit back the words in her mouth as Keaton spoke, the taste of bitter truth burning her tongue as she ground her teeth. Do we expect to split up? Denim, you have to know how this ends. Keaton spoke up about sharing powers, and even as she considered the logic of it, it irked Lynn. Even you can be wrong, Denim, she wanted to tell her, cautiously. Keaton spoke up about her abilities as Lynn had suspected she would - matter-of-factly and directly. To say it matter-of-factly was almost like too much humility, she thought. Lynn had caught the lizard's fastball her first day on the Promise, and still seen nothing that amazed her as much as Keaton's abilities. And Keaton had shot that glance at her - something pitying, almost, something Lynn could not quite decide.

Before she had time to contemplate it much further, Archie spoke, and Lynn turned to listen, Keaton slipping from her focus.

"I'm an accident waiting to happen, and we all know what happens to accidents like us."


Something in look shook, and for a minute she was shaking and cold back in the hospital bed. Accidents like us. Lynn had felt since the hospital - since the kid, the burning kid - since the party - since Salamandra - as if everything in her was filed down to a hair trigger, primed to blast at the slightest touch. Accidents like us. At once Lynn was livid, enough to scream, wanting to shout that Archie wasn't an accident, that he'd never burned a kid alive on one of his boats, never hurt anyone - the lizard had, sure, but not him, he was deliberate and intentional and only an accident like a blackjack, or a lottery ticket, or those urban legends she'd heard about guys who'd kept a lighter in their pocket that had stopped a bullet.

But at the same time Lynn wanted one other person to be collateral, too. Just to - just to get it.

Eli started to speak and she forced her thoughts to focus, but it was like trying to mold sand into place with her hands. An ultimatum to Packet? Lynn wanted to ask. Denzel was too kind. Not an accident. If this guy could get them into the Spire, they didn't have a fucking choice. They had to. Lynn would do it, if none of them would. Or if none of them could. This guy could get them into the Ring - he could get them Cara, he could get them security, life support, maybe even some kind of gravity thing, Lynn didn't know. That was it. There wasn't a chance for him to live if he stayed behind - there was no chance at all. He was going to die like everyone else if they didn't. Lynn felt her eye itching as she grimaced. They'd just have to make him. Lynn wasn't about to watch all of them die to placate one kid being too big of a pussy to -

Lynn felt cold. Like ice in a whiskey glass.

"Do we need him?" she asked sharply, the words leaving her throat so suddenly they took her by surprise as the light of her hair and eyes softened to a bronze-red of a campfire. She felt the attention shift to her and that sudden openness, again, and spoke again. "If he's as young as Eli says he may not be trustworthy. I don't want to work with someone who narcs us out for a Playboy and a pack of cigarettes." Lynn felt her heart hammering in her ears. But you aren’t a bad thing The smell of smoke bristled Lynn's nose and she blinked, forcing herself back under control. Her heart was still hammering. Her throat was dry. She wouldn't have - she wouldn't have hurt this Packet kid, it wasn't like that. Eli was talking from somewhere down a tunnel, she'd moved away from sitting right next to her to somewhere else. The t-shirt was growing tighter on her skin, she could feel every fiber. Lynn dug her right hand into her knee, nails digging into her skin. They still shook. She wasn't like that - she wasn't going to. She wasn't -

"How long are we thinking we'll need?" Lynn asked, her voice sounding foreign to her. Words. Anything. Not anything more about this kid. "The sooner the better. Today."
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Nicholas


"Getting to Leotard's vacation house back on Earth is probably not happening if you do this -”

Did she just call me Leotard? he asked himself. I kinda like it. I wonder what everyone else’s codename is. Packet, Leotard… He took a gander at Eli: Angel before balling his hand into a fist. No, it’s too soon. There’s no way in hell that you can suggest that.

“I'm going to the Spire. But if you go, we're probably going to have to kill someone and if that's not your shit, then that's fine. But you should all decide right now if you're fine killing whoever's up there. They haven't been keeping kids under lock and key without making someone a fuckton of money. They're not going to let them walk away,” Lynn announced performatively. She seemed to speak with every part of her tiny body and the way she moved as she spoke made it seem extremely ironic that he was the one in the leotard.

I’ve basically killed tons of people. No biggie, Nic sarcastically bemoaned within. I mean, I’ve never actually killed anyone, personally, per se, but I’m complicit as fuck. He thought back to all the times that he’d seen through the eyes of his fellow militia-men, as he provided their single point of contact, telling them where they could find necks to snap. Like playing the domestic terrorist version of Gran Turismo’s B-Spec mode.
* * *

Eight Years Ago
The Militia Compound, Nebraska


Nic felt the weight of the ice-cold scalpel in his hand, disarmed by the way that it stuck to his almost amphibious, slimy palm. It shone like silver, felt as light as a feather yet, and yet, as he held it, he found it challenging to move his wrist.

“That’s my boy,” Nathan Adair proudly bellowed. “Steady eyes and steady hands.”

Like he was playing a crane game, Nic extended his arm over the operating table, where a small creature, a squirrel was strapped in place.

“I know this isn’t particularly fun, son. But the sooner you get used to this, the better. I’ll be the first to acknowledge the ethical uncertainty of this exercise, but everything I sacrifice in my integrity is an investment in your development. So, tell me what you have to do.”

Little Nicholas Adair, looked up at his father, framed by the harsh light blazing out of the lamp. He held the scalpel in front of his face, feeling every sphincter in his body clench tight as he tried to speak. He tried to open his mouth, to spread his lips, but he only felt his fist clench the scalpel tighter.

“Well,” Nathan sighed, “you need to get used to the idea of doing things that other people object to. So, without showing any malice, without being remotely disrespectful to the sanctity of this little thing’s life, you’re going to make him scream until you can’t hear it anymore. You don’t savor the pain. That’s sadistic. That’s evil. But you just have to be okay with it. You have to love it. And you have to kill it. Wanna tell me what we named this guy?”

“Nolan.”

“Now, remind me why we named him Nolan.”

“Because he’s got those pointy little ears like Batman.”

“That’s right,” Nathan said, kissing his son on the forehead. “Now go ahead and give Nolan a kiss, and do what you gotta do. You’re not leaving this tent until the lesson is over. I know you think that it would be merciful to just give one of his arteries a little nick and bleed him out but I’ve got a whole room full of squirrels until you learn to do this right. So unless you wanna say goodbye to Nelly and Norah, do a thorough, respectable job on Nolan. Okay?”

Little nine-year-old Nic looked at his dad, suddenly feeling even weaker than before. Somehow, saying even less than the nothing that had escaped his mouth. He stood still, hoping that if he were just still enough, he would eventually stop being there. He would eventually just not have to do this. Maybe he could just stand still until he was an old man. Maybe he could’ve. But he didn’t. He left the room an hour later. And Nelly and Norah were fine.
* * *

Present Day
The Promise


“We should probably share our powers too if only to make things easier for Nic. No reason he has to get into this without knowing who he’s getting into this with. I’ll start. In cases where I’m guessing and have enough information, my power tells me when I make a correct guess,” Keaton informed him. It drew a smile from ear-to-ear across Nic’s face.

“And here I was thinking that you were smart,” he teased.

"Do we need him?” Lynn asked, referring to Packet. “If he's as young as Eli says he may not be trustworthy. I don't want to work with someone who narcs us out for a Playboy and a pack of cigarettes."

“Well,” Nic said kicking one of his boots with the other. “It’s entirely possible that he could get the schematics for us. And it’d probably be smart to keep tabs on him anyway, which could be accomplished by making sure that he remains in range of The Spire. I’ve been wrong before but I bet Keaton could probably suss out whatever we’d need to do to make sure that it’s a win-win for both him and us,” he said, trying to brush over the fact that he was implicitly suggesting blackmail. “But either way I would imagine that someone like him would be unlikely to sell us out.”

"How long are we thinking we'll need? The sooner the better,” Lynn, the one-eyed overseer said, “Today."

“Well, it takes about nine-ish hours after a single exposure for my virus to take root in a host, just depending on their health. So, if we can figure out the Spire guards or workers' preferred entryway but the longer they’re exposed, the longer a range I have on them and the clearer the signal becomes. So, once we know where I should be infecting, I’ll probably need a couple of hours to make sure that I catch everyone going in and out without drawing too much attention to myself.”

“After that, I should probably dedicate a solid couple hours towards hanging out, within range and taking notes on The Spire’s insides,” he says, tapping the notebook he carries within his satchel, “which we can cross-reference against the schematics that you guys lookup. So, if we start picking targets now, I figure two days of reconnaissance plus however long we wanna spend picking our tactics.”
* * *

“Once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships
and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel...
There's only four things we do better than anyone else:
music, movies, microcode (software), and high-speed pizza delivery”

- Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Mario’s Pizza, The Promise

It was another busy day at Mario’s. Ever since the cafeteria incident and the curfew being instated, the business had been booming. Since nobody was particularly excited to be beaten within an inch of their lives by the guards, there had been a lot less foot traffic. And with everybody staying inside, demand for onboard pizza delivery was higher than ever.

It didn’t make sense that he only got paid three dollars an hour plus tips. If the guards decided to confiscate his pizza because his Japanese heritage meant that, if you squinted hard enough, he kinda looked like he could be one of those Silent Court operatives here to fuck shit up, there was nothing that anyone would do to stop them. Ever since the whole damn ship decided to become the embodiment of the suckiest parts of the fucking Patriot Act. It wasn’t worth it. No matter where he went, he couldn’t seem to get the faintest whiff of respect.

He thought about quitting about once every fifteen minutes. There was no part of him that wanted to be a pizza delivery boy. But there was a part of him that needed to carry on because it was something that he was good at. Every time that he thought about going apeshit on his boss, who wasn’t even really named Mario, he thought back to something that the great Homer Simpson had once said. If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That is the American way! And it gave him the strength to carry on, trudging through the ship’s walkways with his resolve intact. Though he was Japanese by heritage, there were relatively few ways that he related to the culture. For starters: He had memorized every single line to the first twelve seasons of The Simpsons, watched every episode of Friends at least four times and he was the best pizza delivery boy on the entire goddamn spaceship. Just as there was said to be no preacher like a convert, there was no one more American than an immigrant.

With the steaming hot pair of extra-large Meat-Lovers ‘Zzas loaded in his backpack, he biked across the parkway at speeds that would make Hermes, the patron god of all mailmen, jealous. He had the onship guard patrols committed to memory and, like clockwork, he always slipped through their fingers, unseen on his bicycle as he made his deliveries, never taking more than thirty minutes to make his delivery. No one had ever managed to pin him down when he was on his route. Not even the supervillain breakout had stopped him from making his delivery on time. Thanks to his repulsor power, Gen doubted that even God himself could do a damn thing about it if Gen wanted to drop off a slice at the pearly gates.

Then Cara notified him, <The order has been canceled and Boss Mario said can keep the pizza since the restaurant has been ordered closed by the Promise’s administration. He apologizes but suggests that you go ahead and file for unemployment.>

Somberly, Gen paused his bike-ride. He was the greatest pizza delivery boy that The Promise had ever known. And now he couldn’t even do that. ”D’oh!”, Gen shouted, throwing his phone to the ground. <How am I to return to my father’s good graces if I can’t receive my employee of the year award, Cara-san! Months of hard work, sacrifice all for nothing! What the hell, Cara-san! I gave up my chance to have a social life for this. I could’ve been somebody. Those Promise-making dream-crushers will pay for what they’ve done. I swear upon all the honor belonging to the House of Houjou!>

<It’s never too late to make friends> Cara offered.

Feeling the crippling isolation get to him, his heart was swallowed by darkness as he realized just how far “being his best self” had taken him from “living his best life”. ”What must it be like not to be crippled by fear and self-loathing?” he asked aloud, channeling his best Matthew Perry impression.

<Cara-san, those people from the bonfire, who were they? Where can I find them? I will offer these pizzas as a gesture of good faith before acquiring their friendship.>

<They’re all offline for the moment. I’ll send them a request for their geo-locations when they get back online.>

”Offline? No one goes offline in this day and age unless there’s something very wrong. Something terrible must have happened for them not to be online when there’s nothing remotely fun to do outdoors in this dystopian police state!” Racking his mind, he tried to remember their names. It was all kinda fuzzy but eventually, he remembered! The boy who elbowed him. He had introduced himself as Nic. There could only reasonably be so many teenaged boys named Nic on the Promise. And so Gen determined that he would scour the student databases, the proprietary social media platforms, and find him. He had gone too long in life without having any friends to call his own.
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