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Lynn didn't know if it was the dominatrix boots or the surprising development of cynicism from Spoons, but she was fucking here for it. God, we go dress shopping once and I turn into a simp. While Lynn would have neither the inclination nor the emotional intelligence to put it into words, she felt a quiet steady spot growing inside her gut, even as the rest of her shivered, skin riddled with goosebumps and pink in the chilly, reeking air. I'm not fucking crazy, Lynn thought. They know this shit is crooked too. Spoons agreed with going right, although Lynn felt she may have endorsed any course of action that ran counter to what Packet did. Something about him seemed fishy, which was significantly less cool than seeming Fishy.

Eli didn't dismiss her out of hand, and Lynn felt the steady spot grow stronger. As they talked behind her, she kept her eyes, one good and one scarred, trained into the dark. She'd been around at night plenty, and done her fair share of sneaking about in dark places. This was a different kind of dark, and the light that Packet kept moving with them had taken away any night sight she might've had. Normally, Lynn gave off enough light for that to not be a problem, but she didn't like standing still under a spotlight while someone may as well have been invisible ten feet behind them. The collar was cinched around her throat, pinching her skin as she turned to look like a noose of cold iron.

Lynn dared for a moment to turn away from the dark as she heard Denim's breath catch in her throat a few times. Fear. Something about that snapped the steady place into cold water that snaked down through the rest of her. Denim was supposed to have all the answers. Her scowl deep in the shadows as she turned her back once more to Packet's light, she stared back the way they had come with the shiv in hand. So be it. Lynn and Keaton had always had somewhat differing philosophies toward problem-solving.

They had all agreed upon right, and Lynn tensed in preparation for the Toaster's defense lawyer to pipe back up, but he said nothing. Alarm bells rang in Lynn's head like a cathedral in an earthquake. Why isn't he putting up resistance? Does he just want to move out of here? Or does he really know what's down both of these tunnels? A part of Lynn wondered if both tunnels led to the same place. His little detour sure gave whatever's behind us time to catch up, Lynn thought, rolling over the shiv, trying desperately to keep her fingers warm, the feeling of numb stiffness as alien to her as the skin-splitting pain of the burns up and down the rest of her. She saw Leotard and -

A sudden flash of insight went through Lynn's mind and she felt her throat seize up as she turned back into the dark, heart pounding. The squirrels. He can control them - what about all these fucking rats? What if that thing was the fucking escapee?

Lynn ground her teeth together, hating every moment of this. But they moved. Lynn followed awkwardly, trying to keep pace while constantly checking over her shoulder. As best she could tell, nothing was following them, but she may as well have been blindfolded and stripped naked in these tunnels. She wasn't, as far she was aware, given keener senses by her powers, but it certainly felt that way - the whole world seemed duller. Washed out.

Finally, they reached a door that looked like it wouldn't have been out of place in Fort Knox, and Packet confirmed Lynn's theories regarding his lack of sexual prowess when he announced his love for a fucking door as soon as they walked up. He opened it up, which was more than Lynn had been expecting at that point in the journey, and let them know they'd need to find another way to reach him when, without fail, they were up there past 9:30.

"We can use all those toaster-proof means of communication we have to reach you, sure. Maybe my dealer has a fucking pager." Lynn muttered, but she did so quietly enough at the back of the group she thought Packet couldn't hear. He still had to take the collar off, after all.

Packet touched the handle and quite possibly popped his cherry as blood came out his face. Don't get any on your pocket protector. Lynn glanced at the others, as if to confirm they were all seeing this shit, though she notably did not look to see if Leotard also thought this was strange. Leotard probably had tapes of this kind of thing in a shoebox under his bed. Along with some dead squirrels. She did notice Leotard glancing over at Eli quite a bit. For a moment, that cold feeling sunk through her again. Have they been talking? What has he been saying? She didn't want to think Eli would trust this one a lick, but Denzel was too nice for her own good. Maybe you're getting that way too, a quiet voice muttered at the back of her mind, and Lynn felt a twinge of pain in her knee.

Admittedly, when the door open, even Lynn's snark failed her. The great empty expanse of space stretched out on the far side, and Lynn briefly forgot her terror of the dark behind her and the secrets before her. Hope there's a handrail to hold onto or some shit. Packet asked who was going first and Lynn saw Archie volunteer. Lynn half-lunged forward to go before him, her gut dropping out as if she'd plunged down the first great drop of a rollercoaster as she saw him move through the first steel door. As she felt it did every day, the smallness of her body betrayed her. There was no way she could move through everyone to the front in time, and by the time she had Archie was already through the airlock. "Fucking boat farmer," Lynn muttered again. They didn't know what was up there. She should've gone first. Releasing her irritation through a long exhale through her nose (one which, she realized lamely, was not flickered with flame or the scent of smoke as it usually was), Lynn leaned back and lit a cigarette while the rest of the group idled on up the ladder. She would at least watch Keaton's back as she went if she couldn't test the waters first. While Lynn wanted to keep them all (well - you know, mostly all) safe, she privately felt Keaton was likely the most crucial one for success. If any of them had to die, it was best it was Lynn. They were all more important. They all deserved to live. For a brief second Lynn thought she could feel the warm feeling of the hospital bed against her - the warm that was entirely different from the heat she carried with her - but it passed in the stinking darkness of the sewers. Lynn enjoyed the feel of a cigarette that lasted more than thirty seconds as they went up the rungs, idly glancing between the group going up the ladder and the empty (?) dark behind them.

Then it was Lynn and Packet and whoever else was watching. "Well," Lynn said, turning (barely) away from him as she exhaled the smoke from her cigarette. "You going to be a gentleman and unzip me?" She arched her head back as far as she could as Packet's clammy, cold fingers brushed against her. Lynn felt her cheeks burning red. Even he was taller - she was small and cold and weak. Had she ever been anything else? Never again, Lynn thought, as he hacked the collar. Never again will one of these motherfuckers put me in chains. With a monotone beeping the collar was deactivated and Lynn felt a surge of life run back through her. The raw burned skin that covered her whole body began to patch itself back up; her hair, mousy and messy, erupted into a geyser of golden flame; the cigarette ignited like a furnace and evaporated around her face in a single ashy cloud of nicotine. Lynn took the collar and rolled it around her fingers. I could melt this into slag, she thought, crimson light radiating off every inch of her. And Gennedy and Salamandra and Arianna and every other rat down here too.

Lynn rolled her head back and forth, grateful beyond words to feel the agony across her skin receding. As foreign as the feeling of cold was to her, so was the feeling of being burned. It was awful. Christ, it was terrible.
It - The man was screaming, reaching up with his mangled hands to his ski mask, which he was able to rip off with scalded fingers. Lynn hadn't been able to see before, but the molten metal had splashed to his face and was fusing the mask to his skin. Fucking right, Lynn thought. You're the sort of bastard who kills - He looked up at Lynn with wide, horrified eyes. He was screaming. He couldn't have been more than thirteen years old. He was screaming. He had gangly long arms that were longer than his legs, they hadn't growed evenly. He was screaming. His face where he was trying to grow in facial hair was burning, melting through, superheated metal or molten barrel, it didn't matter, he couldn't get it off, couldn't get it out. He was screaming.

"Try not to finish all over yourself next time you touch a door," Lynn snapped, more ferociously than she had intended to. She paused for a moment, the air around her roiling into steam. She shouldn't stay down here much longer. Packet looked so young. He had acne. It - fuck. Why had she snapped? "I - fuck, I didn't. Whatever. Thanks. Shit." Lynn turned and stepped through the airlock before Packet tried to talk about her feelings or asked if she used an Android or something. She clenched her jaw, exerting the restraint one might if you were easing yourself down from a pull-up bar, and kept her flames as contained as possible as the door opened before her.

For a moment, alone in the dark, empty chamber, Lynn let herself be as young as she was, and felt her mouth go agape. She'd - she'd seen space flicker past briefly in the rocket on the way up, and she'd of course spent her fair share of time staring out the windows of the Promise, but this was - this was - wow.

Wow. Lynn floated out for a moment, feeling like a goddess, like a newborn star burning beside a million others. She supposed the flickering light she gave off was hardly ideal for stealth, but Lynn did not care. The sun didn't hide. Neither did she. Lynn looked around, looking at the Promise, at the great neverending dark, at the Earth. It was so blue. For a moment, just a hint of the same shade snaked through the roots of Lynn's hair, danced like the center of a fire around the darks of her eyes. I want to go to the ocean, Lynn thought. I want to go back.

Lynn let herself feel the - everything - of the moment for a few long, dizzying seconds. Then the cold steel of the Promise crept back in, as it always did, and Lynn felt a surge of guilt. The others were probably in danger on the other side - they could already be fighting another escapee. Lynn cursed and propelled herself forward, the glass fogging each time she made contact to propel herself further along. Lynn came to the heavy door and paused for just a moment. She slid the shiv, useless and pathetic as it now felt, into the back pocket of her jeans.

Then she did the same with the collar.

Lynn stepped through the airlock, a smirk across her face. Who wouldn't be happy? She'd never have another collar on for the rest of her life. Or for a few more hours - whichever was longer.

"Oh motherfucker," Lynn muttered into her biscuit and Leotard started rattling off codenames. Who showed up and started giving people nicknames? Was this second grade? She wasn't going to take the biscuit on general principle, but the snowy air cut through her jacket and she felt her stomach rumble a bit. It looked warm. Lynn ate the biscuit with as much angry dignity as she could muster. Fuck that's actually good. Do his dorms have a kitchen?

Then Leotard pulled another surprise out of whatever superhero underwear he had on, which was homemade explosives. Lynn took the napalm cautiously - not out of fear that it might kill her, but out of a bewildering sensation that there was actually a redeeming quality about the man she had first met wearing a leotard. Lynn rolled the satchel over in her hands, processing through this for a moment. If I find myself respecting him, we might be really fucked. Lynn looked down at the bag, taking a moment. Okay, but no self-respecting man should've had a satchel in the first place. "Uh, thanks," Lynn said, unsure entirely of how to respond to being given explosives. I mean shit at least he did his homework.

Spoons had piped up about the nicknames, which Lynn was grateful for. Leotard did something useful and I'm agreeing with Spoons. Christ, this really is the end. Lynn opened her mouth to speak again but the raw skin on her face bristled with pain as she did. "Ah, shit," Lynn muttered, wincing and rubbing at the sides of her face. Light burns speckled across her body from going from total immunity to regular mortality. The collar had done nothing to nullify the heat she'd generated. Even the inside of Lynn's throat felt like she'd gargled with sulfur, and she could feel her stomach roiling with pain from the internal burns as the heat worked its way out. Had there been no one around, Lynn might've stuffed her mouth with snow, but she was in no way going to let Leotard change her codename to, like, Ice Chipmunk or something, because she did that.

Lynn looked over at Eli, who had given her a very Lucy look upon receiving the napalm. She stayed close, Lynn thought, for a brief moment, and he did too.. To no one's surprise, Boat Farmer went along with the nicknames. Lynn walked over to the manhole as Packet opened it up and gave him a withering look before going down the ladder first. Anyone with an iota of reason could have potentially seen the flaws in this, however Lynn was operating on two primary principles: the sooner she got through these tunnels, the sooner she had the collar off, and at no point in her life was Lynn going to afford anyone any opportunity to interpret her actions as being those of a little bitch.

Lynn hit the bottom, nose bristling at the smell. The biscuit turned over in her stomach. Everyone came down and Packet started fucking with the lights. This guy totally hacks the nudes of the girls on his floor, Lynn thought idly. Good thing her flip burner phone couldn't be hacked. Not that he'd want mine anyway. Lynn followed along, doing her best to mask her shivering and clutching the sharpened toothbrush in her pocket. Actual weapons were pretty difficult to come across on the Promise, and Lynn had not even deemed it worth it to pocket a spare knife from the cafeteria. She, however, refused to be stripped of her powers and be completely defenseless.

Packet casually threw out the fact there might be people wandering around in the sewers and Lynn managed to bite back both a slew of insults and urge to kick him into the stream of nearby sewage. That was the sort of thing you brought up before you were in the sewers without a collar. Did he know what those escaped convicts were like? Did he know what they'd do? What they'd already done? They were gonna rape him, Lynn thought, blood thundering in her head and a sudden urge to see if she could whip Packet's ass back to the Stone Age clenching her fingers into fists. Lynn scanned her surroundings, not fully trusting in Packet's ability to blind the cameras to their presence. As if a sign from God that Packet was a narc, a rat scurried past them, and Lynn instinctively stepped up as she saw Archie flinch. The little plague carrier ran past her and Lynn watched it for a moment. Maybe he's one of the escapees, like in that wizard movie. Lynn watched it for a moment vanish into the dark, the group moving past her for a brief moment. Lynn was used to having to hustle to stay apace with a group when walking, just as she was used to stretching to make her feet touch the ground when she sat.

The rat moved back into the dark and there was -

Brown hair and the outline of something in the dark, grizzled, scars -

Lynn's hand was out in front of her clutching the makeshift shiv before she'd realized what was going on, her heart thundering in the back of her head. There was a flicker and shimmer of light, like fire, like

-a living elemental. She pulled her hands away from her face, revealing eyes that were so bright that they were painful to look at for long. “I’ll kill you!” She roared, lunging for Lynn with a molten arm cocked backwards -

Lynn stepped back, shaking. She was dead. She was dead, this was - there was something. It was her mind playing tricks on her. Lynn stared for a moment more, clutching the shiv, staring into the dark, but nothing came. Not her, Lynn thought desperately, the weight and cold of the collar around her neck seeming to tighten and tighten like a noose pulling taut, But someone.

Lynn walked backwards slowly to the group, eyes staring into the dark. She diverted her attention for a split second to flash a scowl at etc. "You forget there's escaped murderers and then you take us fucking trailblazing, great." Lynn spat. "We go right like Anderson says, I don't trust Discount MapQuest as far as I can throw his pocket protector." Lynn turned back towards the dark, eyes dancing for any sign of movement, any sign of anything. Lynn had fought before, with a collar. Many times.

She had always lost.

"And we go now," Lynn said, looking back into the dark, shaking no matter how hard she clenched her muscles. She's dead. It wasn't here. Whoever else it is it isn't her. She's dead. "None of you lose your shit on me, but something's back there. Unless Pocket wants to flip the lights or Codename Antenna happened to catch that rat with his NSA shit, I say we haul ass."

Lynn glanced as Denim approached - although she wasn't much living up to her namesake today. Lynn's fingers unclenched as she recognized Keaton, turning back to Packet. She looks like she let Spoons pick her outfit. Lynn scowled. Well shit, I guess she kinda did.

"Keat," Lynn said by way of greeting as she approached. "Not really." Packet had been fairly quiet which she chalked up to his bizarre relationship with the Toaster. I bet this guy fuckin' rooted for that dude in the suit when he watched the Matrix, too. "Just, you know." Lynn shrugged. This was a weird situation. Small talk, which Lynn was ill-suited for at the best of times, seemed especially pointless right now. A moment later Spoons came rolling up, waving. For once, Spoons looked like she was really in the mood to punch a hole through a horse or something equally destructive, which is what Lynn wanted. About time, Lynn thought. She looked pretty badass with the vest on. There was more movement and Lynn turned, seeing something she recognized as Eli after about three seconds of squinting through her healing eye. Did everyone but me agree to dress like a fucking ninja or something? The good news is I can count on Leotard to show up in a corduroy morphsuit or some shit. Lynn gave Eli a nod as she drew closer. She lit a cigarette by striking her thumb against the tip and puffed it idly for a moment, the nicotine calming her nerves a bit. Cigarettes truthfully didn't do too much for her - she burned through them about as quickly as you could chew the sweetness out of bubblegum, but if she focused on relaxing her power a bit, she could get a buzz.

Then Archie came along, and a stray spark or two flickered off the cigarette as she took it out of her mouth, giving him a nod. Just about the whole crew, then. Lynn turned towards Packet, feeling as though - not that Lynn had ever had occasion to actually do this - she was watching the people in line for a terrifying roller coaster sidle ahead, one by one. knowing her turn was coming up.

Eli murmured to her quietly, and something about it felt like the dressing room again. Lynn nodded, crushing the cigarette in her hand and letting the soot fall aimlessly to the ground. "Yeah," she muttered back. "Guess so." Archie placed a hand on her back and Lynn felt something like a jolt. There was a part of her thinking about the sharpened toothbrush in her waistline thinking about what inch of Gennedy was mortal, what weak spot she could find - and another part thinking about how close Eli was, and Archie, and how steady his hand felt. Some part of her blurted out that he was standing next to her and not Spoons but she had no idea why she'd even thought that.

For a moment, the steel under Lynn's skin that held her face in an iron scowl seemed to soften. She opened her mouth, just barely - savoring the sight of the rush of steam that came as her superheated breath met the freezing air - and felt as if she was back in the changing room, feeling immensely stupid, naked even in a new dress, not wanting to open the door and see Nat and Keaton's faces. As quietly as she could, Lynn murmured, "Stay close," although to Eli or Archie or both she couldn't have said.

Then the year in juvy and the years before it came back, and Lynn stomped the jitters in her stomach down the way you stomped the sparks out of a campfire in the morning. Lynn took the collar from Packet, biting back the urge to remind him that she was fully capable of shoving that collar up his ass, powers or no. She took a moment and a few deep breaths, trying to bring her body temperature down as low as she could. The fire in her hair seemed to flare and recede with each breath, as if the bellows of a furnace were somehow drawing the fire out instead of making it rise higher. When her hair and eyes were down to a muted yellow, she pulled her scarf loose, and with her teenth clenched, snapped the collar around her neck.

The effect was instant. Visible agony flashed across Lynn's face, although she ground her teeth so tightly no sound escaped. Her skin immediately turned pink as her body was no longer immune to her superheated blood and the convection air around her. The color and light died, leaving her hair a ratty auburn mess. Her good eye blinked a few times, desperately batting away the tears as the sharp pain of burning seared across all her skin, inside and out. Without the firelight, Lynn seemed smaller - the freckles and deep bags under her eyes faded into visibility. She gripped onto the collar for a moment, riding out the transition. She could feel the heat - at first intolerable, liking having the still hot coils of a convection oven wound through her skin - fading rapidly, and then the cold set in. She was thankful for the clothes Keaton had helped her get, though there was only so much they could do for a ninety-pound girl in the snow.

After about thirty seconds, Lynn took a deep breath and seemed to steady herself. Any damage the heat had done to her would be undone once she had the collar off, but she had known it would be unpleasant until then. All her skin pink and the tips of her hair singed, Lynn shook her head like a dog and turned back towards Packet with a look that could very charitably be described as righteous fury.

"Let's get this over with," Lynn said, her voice as hoarse as if she'd just swallowed a gallon of boiling water. "Who the fuck wants to live forever."

..bably won't ever get this, but, yeah. Sorry. Ly -

There was a knocking at the door and Lynn started, the hair bound back in boxer braids going from the gentle shimmer of dying coals to snakes of orange and red. The pen and paper in her hands fell to the floor. Lynn sprang up, heart pounding, thinking for a half second the knock on the door had to be Salamandra, and an instant later she was as convinced it was Gennedy.

Leotard, Lynn thought. That Judas motherfucker. Lynn grabbed the duct-taped handled toothbrush shiv she'd been idly crafting the night before and slowly approached the door.

"Lynn? Lynn Holmes?" The voice was a man's, high-pitched and reedy. Emotionally, it provoked the same response as the person at the DMV calling your name over the intercom.

Lynn paused. An illusionist. Her heart folded over on itself and then sank, her face and fire flickering. Eli...? Eli wouldn't... Lynn stared at the door, heart thundering in her chest and in her skull.

"I, uh, was coming by as scheduled. For your follow-up. You're late."

Lynn blinked. It was like five in the morning. Follow-up, was this...wait, no...

"We just wanted to touch base and make sure you've been eating three square - "

"Oh, son of a bitch," Lynn said, opening the door and slipping the toothbrush behind her into the waist of her jeans.

There was no one there. Immediately, Lynn's mind surged back to illusionist, and she stepped backwards, trying to keep her senses primed for a ripple on the carpet, the smell of aftershave.

"Cordelia Lynn Holmes," Cara's voice said. "I was just fucking with you. Packet wished for me to ensure you were awake at this time."

Lynn stared incredulously up at the ceiling.

Fucking toasters.


Lynn stood looking in front of the mirror in her room. She didn't recognize herself, although Lynn wondered, in a rare moment of genuine introspection that was most certainly not brought on by feelings of impending doom, when she ever really had.

Her hair was a muted blue, like a gas fire whose valve had been turned almost all the way off. Her hair was mousy and her thin frame was entirely masked under the mountain of clothes she was wearing. Lynn had a wifebeater under a button up shirt, with a baggie hoodie on top, and the wool jacket that Denim had picked up. Keaton had also insisted on a scarf, which Lynn thought was both utterly useless and stupid, but she had worn lazily around her neck anyway. It was a simple gray, which was as far as Lynn would go in terms of fashion (old habits of avoiding bright colors died hard). She wore the pair of jeans that had the least amount of holes, and the singular pair of thick wool socks she had purchased made her feet snug in the stolen shoes she wore.

Lynn slipped the shiv into her waistline where she could grab it more easily. If Leotard gets any ideas when that collar's on, I'll fuck him right up. Lynn stared at the mirror for one minute more, then reached up slowly and pulled the bandages off from around her head and eye. It took a few minutes, moving gingerly, but they came away.

The left side of her skull had pinkish skin, scar tissue that looked as if the gunshot had been a decade ago. The hair under the bandage was growing back more slowly, and did little to cover the wound as well as she liked. Inside the socket was an eyeball, vaguely formed and webbed white as if it were blinded by cataracts. Slowly, Lynn put her hand over her right eye. The world was blurry and halfway-defined, murky gray and distant.

But there was something.

Lynn took her hand away and took a deep breath. She grabbed the letters and a bag which she slung over her back. Inside the bag, a change of clothes was wrapped in a trash bag, because Cordelia Lynn Holmes was not going to die soaked in sewer sludge and smelling like ass. There were a few bottles of rubbing alcohol, a can of hairspray, and a big roll of duct tape. Lynn felt privately that covered every possible contingency she could foresee. Last but not least, buried at the bottom of the trash bag was the softest blanket she could find and a teddy bear. Since you lost yours in the woods.

Lynn took a deep breath and walked out, coming to the exit of the dorm buildings. She dropped three of the letters in the box, her fingers hesitating to let go of the fourth. She considered burning it, just while she could still burn anything she wanted for a few more minutes.

"Fuck it," Lynn muttered, dropping Che's letter in the box and walking away. It was still before the dawn, and Lynn's whole body steamed as much as her breath misted before her as she walked through the quiet and the snow.


Lynn walked up to behind the coffeeshop, teeth clenched as tightly as her fists. Packet was sitting alone, which about figured. Lynn eyed him for a minute, pacing around. Lynn didn't see anything out of the ordinary. She'd circled the coffeeshop a few times before approaching, glancing around for anyone hidden, any Promise security lurking. There was nothing.

Lynn stood a few feet away from Packet. This was weird. As she stood still, the snow near her misted and melted.

There was a pregnant quiet. "So," Lynn said, looking around. She had absolutely no idea what to talk with this guy about. Well. Hmm. He did, like, computer and machine stuff. That was something. "You ever on Soundcloud?"
I'm brainstorming characters and will join if one comes to me

Leotard spoke but Lynn's mind would not focus. It was just thinking of Packet. Is he old enough to drive? Has he had his first shitty haircut? Is he old enough to want to fuck girls, or - Lynn's fingers tightened around her biceps as she stood in the gray camp shirt, watching Leo as he spoke. As he mentioned the limitations of his powers, Lynn privately halved them for her own personal memory. For the girl who had not seemed to remember a single theorem for any of her math quizzes that semester, she etched what the spore-flinger said into her skull. This one shouldn't be trusted, you fucking idiots, she wanted to hiss. Even she, however, had to admit they were up against some very steep odds, and if one were going into this ordeal with the goal of surviving, turning down this brat was less than ideal. Still, Lynn wished there had been a little more preparation for this. We shouldn't have brought him now. He proves his loyalty by getting this information. Now he knows the whole group and their names, their powers. She shot a glance at Keaton. Denim was the smartest person she had ever met - but she thought that she had, perhaps, never had the same kinds of lessons as Lynn had. Sharing information with the new guy so he was up to speed was the smart thing to do, but Lynn wondered if Keaton's power gave her an ounce of cunning. Maybe you were a meta after all, she thought bitterly to the old familiar voice wondering what use this pommel horse Judas had after he told them the ways in and out of the Spire.

"If you're going to take notes, keep a lighter or something on you to torch it if you get caught," Lynn said. "Wearing, I don't know, literally anything else might help with not getting caught, by the way." Lynn felt it strange she was lecturing him on this given she had a >1 felony/hr ratio that day, and was wearing an outfit that was rather plainly neither hers nor legally acquired.

Archie shot down going today, and Lynn felt a sharp flash of anger at him before it passed. It's not him, she thought, rubbing at her forehead. Three days. Three days of this. Her stomach rolling over. The - thinking about the hospital bed. Lynn blinked, realizing she'd been looking at Spoons. Still - four or five days was too long. Especially with Unknown Factor back handspringing his way through the Spire's security forces. Unless Packet started his work on Cara early, that was.

For a dizzying moment, Lynn had two thoughts that rocked her as if she'd had her skull blasted apart again. She could get to Packet first and convince him not to help - scare him shitless, anything - if she cared about this shithead teenager more than everyone at these tables.

Then the second: no matter what she chose, she was just using someone. Another kid. Which one? Who deserved to live? I suppose I should be the one to pick, after all, Lynn thought, her empty stomach threatening to heave, the socket in her head aching. I've got more experience at getting kids killed than any of them do.

"Less waiting the better," Lynn said, again so sharply and suddenly it surprised herself. "In the event you don't hear something related to - fucking gardening, I guess - from Denim each night, assume they got to her." Lynn didn't attempt to disguise her looking at Leotard as she said this. "Act accordingly." Lynn's tone left little room for ambiguity. She reached for another cigarette and cursed. Next time I rip that guy off, I'm not going easy on him. "Oy, Amelia, you got another one?" she asked, turning to Amelia. Leather jacket's better on her. I probably look like a six year old Hell's Angel in that thing. A pirate Hell's Angel. Christ, what if they shoot out the other one while we do this. I can't play the piano or nothing. Lynn scratched at the bandage, sparking a raw pain in the socket before she pulled away. It itched. "I'll help plan," she said. "And wouldn't be opposed to meeting Packet. Geek like him meeting two and a half teenage girls, probably like Christmas fuckin' morning for him." The candle flickered up and then the tree and - Lynn had not missed Leotard's reference to prompting cooperation from the kid whether he wanted to or not. Lynn's mind was too frantic, like a thousand steel ball bearings blasting against the inside of a shotgun barrel as it fired, to form any one single stance on the issue, whether it was worth scaring this kid shitless or not, whether any of this was right. "After that I'm going to the gym and I'm going to let Vaquero wreck me one last time, so, you know." Lynn stopped, realizing she'd been implicitly inviting the others to do this, like the time with Eli, when they'd giggled and made fun of the hostess. She scratched at her head. She'd need to eat a lot of food to be in fighting shape come three days time, but - but that hadn't really been why she'd set it.

"And getting absolutely annihilated isn't off the table either. Maybe if we're lucky we'll - " she paused short of saying make even more cops shoot themselves this time, remembering Denzel at the very last moment. I can't believe I just held back a joke about a fucking cop for these people. " - find some good shit, I dunno." she fumbled out, rubbing at her head.
u guys make me sad
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."
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. 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."
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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