Keaton passed on the biscuits, knowing that her nervousness wouldn’t mesh well with a full stomach considering where they were going. Instead, she focused on the smell of the biscuits and the others’ smiles as they ate, trying to find comfort in those. She’d known she was the anxious type, but she’d done well with curbing anxiety with adrenaline up until now. That said, she also hadn’t been in control of the situations she’d been placed in up until now. Salamandra, Arianna, the Loading Bay gunmen—they had all appeared suddenly, unexpectedly. Now, with all the research and planning that had gone into this, Keaton was feeling the full brunt of doubt. If things went wrong here—if she’d made a mistake, failed to account for some unknown factor that she should’ve known about—there would be no second chance. This was it. Now or never, life or death, and she prayed to god or whatever hell was in the starry void that she’d done enough.
Nic’s mention of codenames threw her for a loop, and she stared openly at him as he spoke, dubbing her Professor Xavier. Her brain told her the fit was a stretch, but her power told her it fit, so she stayed quiet for a few seconds, trying to come up with something to say. Thankfully, Natalie spoke for her, voicing her thoughts more directly than Keaton could’ve managed at the moment, and Keaton shot her a smile for that.
“Yeah, that and most of those names are longer than ours anyway. Maybe for our next mission,” she said, attempting a lame joke that she was pretty sure fell flat.
Resisting the urge to pick at her nails, she focused on Eli’s words, nodding at the part about the napalm and smoke bombs. She’d gone over the risks with Nic during planning, specifically highlighting that it was always smoke bombs over napalm unless the group was in a spot where explosions couldn’t make things worse, but Nic had already known that. With Eli reemphasizing the point now, Keaton knew there was no way Nic could forget.
The landscape under the manhole was both what Keaton had expected and not. She’d expected the dark and damp, the rats and grime, but she hadn’t expected the not completely offensive smell. Another moment of thought, though, had her realize that they were probably in a side tunnel not directly connected to the tunnels she was thinking of, and she was glad for it. Still, she kept her mind off the smell and the state of her stomach, glancing behind her to make sure the group was getting in fine. Lynn was a concern without her powers, and though Keaton knew her thoughts on pity and little bitches, it was better safe than sorry for this mission.
Apart from looking a bit affected by the smell, though, Lynn looked fine, so Keaton focused on looking around at the tunnels as she fished her flashlight out. A click turned the light on, and she pointed the beam around, noting rats skittering out of the way as she did. Rats were good, meant that this part of the tunnels was deserted and maybe even forgotten. Or not.
Packet’s mention of escaped prisoners froze her in her spot, and she quickly redirected the beam of her flashlight down at her feet, looking to Packet with wide eyes. A nervous, hyperadrenalinated part of her wanted to snap at him, maybe even yell a little. Why hadn’t he mentioned this before? What part of “coming in prepared” did he not understand, and how in the world had he survived for so long doing what he did if he was this dumb? The more sensible—and perhaps more nervous—side of her, however, held her in place, and she managed a slow exhalation after a moment, attempting to calm herself. Getting mad wouldn’t do anyone any good, and everyone was counting on her to be level-headed, so she would be.
She continued her patterned breathing as Packet started voicing doubts over their pathing. Having seen the maps he was referencing, she knew he was right, and that only made things worse. That Packet had been around here before made it hard to believe that he’d provided the wrong maps, but the alternatives were worse. Had they been made? And how had the Staff changed the tunnels so quickly, if they’d changed them at all?
The sneaking feeling of helplessness was setting Keaton on edge, and she attempted some hasty blind checks with her powers. Such checks were like shots in the dark, and Keaton had long learned to stake nothing on them. Still, they offered her reassurance and guidance when she had nothing, and the former alone was encouraging enough to have her attempt them now.
The tunnel to their right was nondescript, and Keaton’s power gave her nothing when she prodded it about dangers, risks, and the “right path”. It was the same for the right-split tunnel, but the tunnel splitting to the left gave her something—something weird. Risky. Not dangerous, or was it? Her power was coming up empty, and she wrestled with blind questions for a moment longer until an unexpected question—whether they had time to spare—gave her a hard answer. No.
“Y-yeah.” She cleared her throat, nodding at Lynn and tracing the girl’s gaze to find another deadpan answer. Yes. “We need to go. There’s something out there. Hunch.”
Unclenching her hands, she looked around at the group, trying to find a mental foothold. Priorities. What were they?
Eli’s attempt to reassure the group fell a bit flat with Keaton, but Keaton managed to use the attempt as motivation to force herself to calm down. Because she had to. Because they were counting on her.
“I don’t think we should split up. If whatever’s out there finds us—we should stick together.” She held Eli’s gaze. Eli was calm, and so was she. “Our options are right split or straight right. Left split feels weird. Don’t know why.” Her words were coming in staccato and she hated it. “The other two are the same. I think. But we have three right votes, so let’s go right.” Was that risky? She couldn’t be sure, but she didn’t want to stick around and find out what the darkness held.
She glanced around at the group, her gaze stopping on Packet. “You should head back. The maps were wrong, and we're probably going to get lost down here.” The concept of a filter came back to her briefly, but she brushed it off. If Packet wanted in, he was in. If not, he could back out now.
“Let’s go,” she said after another, quicker glance around the group. The maps were wrong. The plan was wrong. What else—how much else—was wrong?