Sympathy 1 - I


Hello, and welcome to Outliers! 
...er, sort of. 
Y'see, this is the original version of Chapter One. It's kind of pretty meh, the general consensus being that it's character-dense and confusing. I've kept it around for posterity's sake, but the landing pages from places like WFG and TWF still land here. 

So, to read the actual Chapter One, click here.


Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

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“Would you stop that?”

The four of us were standing in a dirty, dingy apartment corridor, Foresight and I by the door and Vortex and Flatline watching our perimeter. The door in front of me was old and shabby, with splinters and fading paint, but the lock, which I’d been unsuccessfully trying to pick for the last 10 minutes, was brand new, and expensive-looking.

I sighed, and slipped the lock picks back into my belt. Over my shoulder, Foresight was giving me an irritated glare. “I think you’re forgetting who’s in charge here,” I said in a low whisper, rolling back on the balls of my feet and standing. “You don’t exactly get to tell me what to do. Kind of the opposite, in fact.”

Foresight snorted under his breath, his eyes disdainful above the mask. “I don’t give a rat’s about the chain of command when you’re going to get us dead. They’re going to hear you fiddling away.”

“Hardly,” I replied, “considering that you confirmed that they were all distracted. Unless…" I paused in mock thought for a second, "you’re saying you were wrong?” I saw Flatline cringe a little in the corner of my eye, but it did the trick. Foresight’d never admit to being wrong in a situation like this, mainly because he pretty much never was.

“No," he said grudgingly, "they’re still busy. But don’t try and push it, because they’ll notice sooner or later.”

Vortex moved up to join us. As usual, his blank helmet gave me the chills, an irrational thing I’d really have liked to be done with by this point. “So we’re busting the door down, then?”

I pushed up my goggles and rubbed at my eyes. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess we are. Foresight, gimme a layout.”

He stretched out his gloved, armored hands, and a glowing wireframe of blue light appeared in between them. “Five inside, in two rooms. Three in the main room, one in the kitchen, one’s just gone into the bathroom. In the main room, Ado and Junction by the table, Occam in the armchair. Maelstrom’s in the kitchen, and Phantom’s on the shitter, and not likely to be going anywhere anytime soon.”

“Well,” Flatline muttered under his breath, “that’s certainly a handful.”

“Tell me about it,” I said with a grimace. “Maelstrom in the kitchen’s probably going to be a bitch, but I think it'll be manageable. First priority is neutralization of Ado and Junction. If they fight, Ado’s going to be a nightmare to put down, and Junction’s going to make capture an absolute hell. I’m not too worried about Phantom, Ricochet’ll deal with him if he tries to make a run for it, and I’d like to see him pull his fadeout trick five stories up. Foresight, you can handle Occam, right?”

He gave me an expression that was halfway between a grin and a sneer, and said nothing.

“Brilliant,” I said, rolling my eyes. I held out my hand and Flatline handed me an earpiece, which I slid in. Normally, it’d never leave my ear, but I’d needed to have him check out a few aberrances with it. “You there, Ricochet?”

A voice sounded out over my earpiece. Ricochet always claimed her accent was Canadian, but it sure wasn't any Canadian accent I'd ever heard.  “Sure am, boss.  What’s up?”

I quickly ran over the situation.

Eesh,” she said, “not good.”

“Yeah, pretty much. If you had a layout of the room, do you reckon you could take out Ado?”

Don’t see why not.

“Good.” 

I had Foresight do his mirage thing again and snapped a photo of it on my phone, which I sent off to Ricochet. There were a few seconds of silence, and then her voice crackled back onto the line. “Yeah. Yeah, I can do it. S’gonna be a bit tricky, though.”

I let out an inaudible sigh of relief. Ado (-doh, not -do) was the biggest worry about my side of this op. Her power allowed her to turn into a cloud of salt, which she usually sent flying around at the speed of a shotgun blast. None of the team had any real way of countering her; the last time we went up against her, we had to resort to getting Void to hold her in place and threatening to dissolve her unless she shifted back. Given that Void wasn’t here, if Ricochet hadn’t been able to pre-emptively knock her out, I was just going to resort to hauling a fire hose up to the room and blasting away, which, while fun, probably wouldn't have been a great idea. 

Ado and I have something of a history; namely hating each other’s guts with a fiery passion. We’d fought many, many more times than I could count, most of them ending with a stalemate or mutual failure. Although her power was much stronger than mine, I’d generally managed to leverage mine in unique enough ways to level the playing field. Our conflicts had been getting more and more vicious, and I was certain, sooner or later, hatred was going to overrule the unwritten law, and one of us was going to die.

Oh, and we used to date.

Did I mention that bit already?

My earpiece crackled to life, but it wasn’t Ricochet this time. “Skew, you there?” It was Freefall, who was, well, not leading exactly, but liaising for the second squad.

“Yeah, reading you loud and clear. Everything’s good on this end; we’re ready to go. How about you guys?”

We’ve got a problem. Second group’s just shown up, headed towards the site.”

We’d picked now as the best time to make our move because The Cabal, as they called themselves, were split into two groups, and distracted due having just finished a job of some kind. My group would deal with those not on the job, while Freefall’s squad, consisting of her, Stonewall, Tide and Ribbon (the rest of our group, minus Void) would handle the ones coming back from it.

“So what’s the problem, then?” I asked, slightly irritated. Everything she’d just described sounded in line with the plan.

New meat.” She was terse and businesslike as always, but there was a real undercurrent of worry underneath.

I let out a frustrated hiss. “Ah, fuck. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.” She made a noncommittal noise of agreement. “What’s the roundup?”

Medusa, Strongarm, three unknowns.”

“Three?!" I exclaimed in disbelief. "Oh, this is going to hell in a handbasket.”

Vortex spoke up, his husky voice laced with caution. “We calling off the mission?” He’d been pushing for us to move against The Cabal for a while now.

I considered the options, wishing again that Void wasn’t out of town. Normally, she made decisions like this while I got to play dutiful second fiddle. But with her gone, I was the de-facto leader of the group.

“No.” I said at last, then again more firmly. “No, we’re going ahead with it. We can deal with this.” He nodded her head in approval, for which I was very glad; he could beat my ass in any fight that came about.

I turned to Foresight. “Can you get a good visual on them from here?”

He closed his eyes for a second, and then nodded before opening them again. “Three unknowns, like the bimbo said." I ignored the insult for now, but I'd definitely remember to mention it to Freefall later on. "First has a cloak, big eye symbol on the back, and on his chest. Second’s in a bodysuit with armor plates. Light brownish red, look kind of like crab claws. Third one’s wearing black body armor, scarf over her mouth, and carrying a shit-ton of weapons.”

There was a hiss of breath from Flatline. “What?” Foresight queried, turning on him.

“Thunderdome,” he said flatly. “The third one, the one with the weapons, she calls herself Thunderdome. If you hit her, you get pulled along with her into a pocket dimension, and neither of you is leaving until one is either incapacitated or dead. Powers don’t work there, nor do guns or electricity." He paused, visibly struggling with a decision. "Killed a number of my friends that way," he murmured at last, almost too quiet to hear. We all looked at him, surprised. Up until now, he’d steadfastly refused to tell us anything about his previous work. We were all pretty sure that it was with some form of government agency, but he hadn’t let even the slightest bit slip, which made now even more shocking.

“Shit,” I said. “Freefall, congratulations, you’re off initiator duty. We can’t have you trapped in that situation.”

Glad to hear.”

“Ricochet, you packing anything that doesn’t need gunpowder or electricity?”

“Hold up, lemme check.” There were some rustling noises over the radio. “Yeah, yeah; I got the Dwarves, two tranq crossbows and a baton.”

“Right. In that case, I’m putting you on first blow. I’m really sorry, but you’re the only one with a chance against Thunderdome without powers.”

S’okay, I get it. You’re buying me a drink for this, though.”

“You do realize I can’t buy alcohol, right?”

Yup,” she said, and I could practically hear her shit-eating grin. “Tha’s what makes it fun.”

“Some days, Lis, I really wonder why we keep you round.” I opened up the radio to the full group. “Ok, everyone, we’re good to go. Once Freefall’s in the air, Ricochet’s going to start the party for both teams, taking out Ado on our end and Thunderdome on yours. Once Freefall’s landed, I’m trusting you guys to deal with whatever happens on your end. Ricochet, you’re clear to be as lethal as you want.” That got an expression of approval from Flatline. “If you can just knock her out, that’s fine, but if comes down to you or her, make sure it’s you.”

“Don’t worry, Flint. There’s no way in hell I’d let you skimp me on my drink.”

“Codenames in the field, Ricochet," I admonished her. "My squad, Vortex’s on door duty, and gets to deal with Maelstrom.” Vortex was easily the tallest of us, with the strength to match, and his power could easily counter Maelstrom’s swarm of debris. “I’m in second to deal with the first salvo, and to hopefully disable Junction enough that Flatline, who’s third, can take him down, and make sure Ado is disabled properly. We can’t let him get a single portal out, understand?” He nodded grimly. “Foresight, you’re in last, and handling Occam. I’ll go for Phantom, and we should be clear. Any questions?”

No-one spoke up.

“Okay, then. Let’s do this.”