Happy birthday to you / happy birthday to you / happy birthday dear Outliers / happy birthday to you!
Yes, as of today, Outliers is one year old! I dunno about you, but from this end, that's a pretty weird feeling. Technically, it's older than that: I wrote the very first draft of Sympathy 1-I in August 2014, but it didn't really become itself until I started serialising it. So here's to one year down, and hopefully many more to come!
(And yes, there will still be a normal update tomorrow).
My Dreams Are Ever So Tempting.
Talie leaned back in her chair, eyes wide. “Wow. I thought you were exaggerating, but you really screwed the pooch on this one.”
I scowled. “Please point to exactly where in this situation it started being my fault. Please, find that. It’ll make me feel a whole lot better.”
“I didn’t say it was your fault.”
“Yes, you did! That’s what ‘screwed the pooch’ means!”
“Okay, fine, it’s your fault.”
“And whose fault is it that I was in charge in the first place?”
She pointedly avoided meeting my eyes.
“Yeah, I thought so.”
The light filtering through the windows had acquired a grey tinge, with the faintest hints of peach: it was still early afternoon, but the sun had already begun to set. Not my favorite thing about winter, I’ll admit. I do like the snow, though. Cheap electric lights hung above us, ready to be flicked on as soon as necessary, though Lis was always hounding us about not using them too often. “Ya have no idea how much it’s costing me to get this,” she’d say, to which I’d reply that of course we didn’t, because she refuses to tell us. At that point, the conversation generally devolves into insults and name-calling. Most of our conversations do, actually.
For the second time in a week, the Outliers were all together again. Before this, it was rare to see more than two or three of each other at a time, but now almost everyone was here. I say almost everyone because Adib still wasn’t picking up his phone. If I’d had my way, Sanjay also ‘wouldn’t have been picking up his phone’. Talie, though, had apparently let him know, because there he was, sitting there in his peacoat, paisley scarf, and beret.
Yep. In the hour, one whole hour, since we’d had our asses thoroughly kicked, either he’d headed home and changed, or his clothing stash here apparently consisted of… that. Either way, he was a prat.
We'd assembled around our boardroom table, Talie at the head. I was on her right (and don’t think I don’t see the symbolism there), with Jess opposite me. She looked as haggard as ever, and she’d replaced the bandage on her hand. It didn’t look any more professional, but it was cleaner and neater than it was. Lis was to my right, fingers absentmindedly drumming the gun she’d laid on the table. She hadn’t changed, and her tactical vest hung loosely from her chest, one strap severed roughly. Shauna and Nat were both hunched over the table, looking at something on one of their phones and trying to hide their obvious exhaustion. They both looked up to Talie, so the charade was pretty obviously for her sake. Ivan was asleep: he’d stumbled in, bruises on his knuckles and bags under his eyes, mumbled a ‘hey’ to Talie, and was snoring within five seconds of sitting down. George was currently sitting next to him, holding a permanent marker and looking conflicted. With the exception of Ivan, all of them had peppered Talie with questions when they’d arrived, but she’d waved them all down until everyone was together.
“Wasn’t Flint's fault,” said Jess tersely. Her eyes were sunken and dark, but a certain amount of fire burned there.
I rolled my eyes. “Jess, I appreciate the support, but we already had this conversation. This wasn’t your fault.” I grinned. “Hell, if you’d screwed up better, we probably wouldn’t even be in this mess!”
Surprisingly, she didn’t seem cheered up by that. “Didn’t say it was. But wasn’t yours either.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” George interjected lightly. “I like to think that everything’s at least a little bit Flint's fault.”
“Does that include you obviously being dropped on your head as a child?” I shot back.
“Ooh,” Lis said, “snap. Flint 1.”
Talie held up a hand. “Children, please.”
“Sorry,” the three of us chorused, completely insincere.
She sighed, rubbing the back of her head. “Alright, so maybe it wasn’t your fault, Flint.”
“But regardless of who did it, a pooch has already been screwed. And we desperately need to un-screw it.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.” Unlike… pretty much everything he normally said, there was no bite to Sanjay's words. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, he and Talie actually got on.
“Hmm. Catchy, but I’ll stick with Void, I think.” They both grinned, and I rolled my eyes. “Still, it being obvious doesn’t make it any less true.”
“I actually have an idea on that front,” George said, as he doodled a caricature of a penis on Ivan's temple.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “It’s… well, I like it. A lot. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good plan.”
“What Flint's tryin' ta say is it's nuttier than a barrel of peanuts in a loony bin,” Lis interjected.
“It is a bit… ballsy,” George admitted. “Heh. Balls.” He added a pair to the drawing.
Talie frowned, considering it. “I trust your judgement, Flint,” she said at last. “It’s generally in at least the right zip code. Let’s hear it.”
George outlined the plan to her. He’d added a few details since I’d first heard it, probably based on the new information we’d received, but the premise was still the same.
“Holy shit,” Nat breathed out as soon as he finished. “That’s… holy shit.” Next to her, Shauna looked like someone had kicked her in the nads, white as a sheet and eyes like saucers. Oh right. I’d forgotten that this was the first time they’d heard it too.
“Maybe we should wake Ivan?” I suggested. “He should probably hear this.”
“’m awake,” came a mumbled voice from his partially-obstructed mouth. George froze halfway through writing the word ‘wanker’ on his forehead. “I heard the plan. It's certainly ambitious.” Very, very slowly, he drew back the hand with the marker in it. “It does seem like it will draw undue attention. Hatcher,” he added without changing tone or volume at all, “do that again and I’ll punch a hole straight through your sternum.”
Lis whistled. “Flint 1, Ivan 1, George 0.”
Talie ignored her. “I agree about the attention. We may end up winning the battle and loosing the war.”
“Look,” I said, leaning forward, “sooner or later, we’re going to get that attention. We’ve been lucky so far: we were named as potential suspects and no-one's tried to track us down or anything. But sooner or later, they're going to figure it out, and we’re going to have to deal with that. So why not do it on our terms? If we get it right, it could go a long way towards alleviating the negativity too.”
Talie nodded, obviously receptive to my arguments. Shauna, not so much. “It is recklessly stupid,” she said suddenly. “Just… so, so stupid.”
“Aww, come on,” Nat said to her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “It could be fun!”
She shook her head. “Absolutely not. There’s no possible situation where that's fun.”
“What about if it all goes wrong and we have to blast our way out?”
She bit her lip, obviously considering it, but then shook her head. “Nope, nope, still a bad idea.”
“I’ll win her over,” said Nat to the rest of us.
“You will not.”
“Don’t like it either,” said Jess. Her hands were clutched together, not tightly, but the injured one on the inside. “Risky. Plus, puts us in the public eye.”
“Yes,” I countered, “but in a good way.”
“No such thing.”
“Well, that’s just a highly subjective matter right there.” She smirked slightly at that, but didn’t respond.
“Both sides are making good points here,” Talie said, sterling her fingers in front of her thoughtfully. “But we’re in too much shit right now to play it safe. I say we do it-”
“I knew you’d come round,” I crowed happily.
I froze halfway through a fist pump. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You heard me. Get your gear together, people. We’re doing this now.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” I said, holding up my hands. “Back up. We can’t do it now! We’re fucking beaten to shit! And we shouldn’t do it now either! We just basically spat in the Tower's face, and now you want to kick them in the nuts too?! We’ll be squashed!”
“But you were just 100% behind it.”
“That was when it was in the indeterminate future, not the next few hours!”
“They’re on the back foot right now,” she said in response. “Off-balance and off their game. The top figures are licking their wounds, and the Guardians are basically just symbols anyway. Now is the best time to do it, before they recover. And while we still have the chance.”
I shook my head. “Talie, I know we’ve taken a lot of risks, but this is one too far. If do this now, it’ll be the end. We'll be done.”
“Now you’re just being fatalistic. If it works now, it'll work even better than it would otherwise. Because the Tower will see it as a hostile move, but nobody else will. They’ll see it as a goodwill gesture. People will like us.”
“You don’t know that.”
“And you don’t know that it’ll fail.” She met my gaze. “Flint, we’re doing this.”
I stood, pushing my chair back. “Not with me, you're not.” And I turned and walked out of the room. Behind me, I heard Talie sigh.
“I’ll go after him,” she said. “You guys start getting ready.”
“Ya sure?” Lis asked, muffling as I turned a corner. “He’s not gonna react well.”
I couldn’t make out her response properly, but I got the gist.
“I’ll be fine. What can he even to do to me, anyway?”