Discussion in 'It's Galley's Turn' started by keltena, Dec 31, 2022.
(Poll site is blocked by my internet but I vote girl)
(In-thread votes/opinions are every bit as welcome! Just let me know if you do use the poll later so I know not to count you twice.)
That's right! I remember now! Your partner was a…
"Probably," Ortega admits, with that wide, shit-eating grin that is a dead giveaway when she is about to do something crazy. "But that doesn't change anything; we still need to take him out. I doubt that someone calling himself Psychopathor is going to stop on his own."
"You got a point there," you admit, adjusting your mask a little. It is slick with sweat. "Aren't the rest of your cavalry going to arrive soon? I thought the Rangers always got their man."
"Alas my friend, the cavalry is us." Ortega doesn't wear a mask. Her bronze skin is tanned a deep brown by the unforgiving Los Diablos sun, and her long, black hair is pulled back in a severe ponytail. "Steel is down and out, and Anathema and Sentinel are up north helping out after the latest quake. We're spread far too thin—so when are you going to accept my invitation and join up properly?"
It's not the first time she has asked you about this, but your answer is the same as always.
‣ I do not want to register as a hero.
‣ I am not ready for the big leagues.
‣ She should tell that to Steel, who doesn't trust me.
> Not ready for the big leagues
Whatever our plan is, it's probably best not to remind anyone of anything that might make us seem more suspicious.
> She should tell that to Steel.
I want to hear more about their history
Don't let me interrupt your thoughts, but since I know all the pauses have made things pretty disjointed:
Keep in mind that we seem to be dreaming about our hero days right now — whatever our reasons for not joining up at the time, they likely didn't involve a villainous master plan. Which is not to say we couldn't still have wanted to keep our head down for whatever reason, of course! (Or that our nightmares necessarily have to be 100% accurate recollections — it sounds like this was a real recurring conversation, but it has been some years...)
I guess that explains why our first thought while getting exploded at was trying to remember what a gender is.
To be fair, normally we could just take a moment to mind read someone's gender! These are exceptional circumstances. :P
I see an extra like on the vote to bring up Steel, so let's do that.
> She should tell that to Steel, who doesn't trust me.
"Tell that to Steel," you say with a shrug, following Ortega as she crawls along the wall, trying to find a better angle of attack. "He doesn't trust me one bit."
"I do," Ortega says quietly. "And Anathema would vouch for you as well."
"Thanks, but…I don't want to get caught in the middle here." That's only half the truth, but it's the half she gets.
"Too bad. The health benefits are second to none," she jokes, flinching as another blast tears through the building next to her. Psychopathor is firing blind, but he's still dangerous.
"I'm not the one who needs health benefits, old woman," you tease, because you quickly learned that being an ass helps when you are nervous.
"Old?" Ortega huffs as she crawls along the wall, head kept carefully down. "I'm not even thirty!"
"Yet…" you add with a smirk. It is one of Ortega's sore points because she is a lot older than you—not that it shows. At least, not when it comes to maturity levels. But then again, you have seen a lot in your life, things Ortega wouldn't believe even if you dared to tell her.
Sometimes you wish you could. You never planned to get this close to someone, but since you met her, you discovered it was nice to have someone…
‣ …to flirt with.
‣ …to be friends with.
‣ …who would have my back in a fight.
Well, that could have done more to clarify our history with Steel... How about our history with Ortega, then? (This choice won't lock us in to/out of any romance routes, ftr; it's just asking what kind of relationship we had with her back in the day.)
To be friends with
> …to be friends with.
You are comfortable with staying just friends because…
‣ …I don't dare let anybody closer than that.
‣ I prefer men.
‣ I am not interested in romance at all.
You can tell this is a nightmare because we have to justify not dating our friends. :/
> I don't dare let anybody closer than that
Angst? Oh, we can do angst all right.
> …I don't dare let anybody closer than that.
Just being friends is a whole lot closer than you ever expected to get to anybody—and even that makes you nervous. It's not that you don't appreciate it; it's just that you never planned for it. Things you haven't planned for are the things that usually end up getting you hurt.
But in the end, it was just impossible to resist how Ortega treats you like a friend, even though she doesn't really know anything about you. If anything, she's made it clear that she respects your need for privacy.
You are not used to that. Another explosion brings your scattered thoughts back into focus as the pair of you freeze in place. The shot missed, but it also blasted a huge hole in the wall where you would have been if you had kept crawling. So close, and getting closer.
You're running out of time.
"If you get an opening, do you think you can hurt him?" you ask, pulling out your gun.
Your gun, while top of the line, is just an energy caster. You can hurt people, stun them, maybe even kill them if you ever turned the dial up to the maximum setting—but it wouldn't even tickle Psychopathor. Nothing you have done so far has been able to breach that armor.
Steel was the one among you who had a shot at actually hurting the old monster. His armor is equipped with ordnance almost as heavy as Psychopathor's: the smoking hole in the old monster's shoulder is testament to that. That is also why Steel was taken down.
Ortega might not be playing in the same weight class with her electric blasts, but…
"I'm almost out of juice, but if I can get in close, I can short out his armor now that Steel has breached it." Ortega flexes her hands, lightning playing around them. "And I bet I can dodge faster than he can aim."
"You can't," you say, shaking your head. "That plasma cannon he's lugging around doesn't rely on his reflexes alone."
"What do you mean?"
‣ I know a lot of people, and I have information from my contacts….
‣ I'm good with tech; I recognize the design of that gun….
To clarify: this choice really is asking "Are we more tuned in to technology or word on the street?", not "What do we tell Ortega to avoid admitting we just read his mind?" In case anyone was confused. Not that I speak from experience or anything…
> I'm good with tech - fits with my later Device-focused plans, and being good with people (mind control) doesn't necessarily mean being good with people (lots of contacts)
We didn't establish ourselves as an angsty loner just to brag about how many people we know, now did we?
> I'm good with tech; I recognize the design of that gun….
With your background, it is tantamount to self-defense to learn everything you can about technology. Even if you are not one to get stuck in the lab yourself, you know enough to recognize what you are looking at.
"It's got an organic telepathic interface. The aiming mechanism is controlled by a pentacle of linked rodent brains. Telepathic rodent brains. Rats, I think." In fact, you can feel them scurrying on the edges of your mind; the only reason they haven't found your position yet is that you keep redirecting their attention. But they are growing wise to your manipulations, and you can't keep this up forever.
"What?" Ortega gives you a blank look.
"It can sense where you'll be before you're there," you explain, hiding your smile.
"I thought that was your thing, Sidestep." Ortega is one of the few who know the secret of your martial prowess.
"I don't have a 'thing,'" you protest, but the whine of the plasma cannon powering up stops you from escalating the argument. If you're going to stop Psychopathor, you have to do it now.
‣ I'm a better fighter than I am a tactician, but…
‣ I'm a better tactician than I am a fighter, but…
We can do both, of course, but where do we really shine in a pinch? By being skilled enough to out-fight stronger opponents, or sharp enough to out-think them?
Pictured above: the most immediate consensus in the history of this thread.
> I'm a better tactician than I am a fighter, but…
You're a good fighter, even without your telepathic advantage, but you're still baseline human in your capabilities. You win by outthinking and out-planning your opponents. Psychopathor dropped in on a fight he wasn't invited to, but thinking on your feet is what you do.
You know that Ortega is counting on you to find a way to beat him.
But how? The plasma cannon is far too accurate for its bulk. Ortega will risk taking major damage in the process, even if her thoughts are notoriously hard for a telepath to pick up. You, on the other hand, are far better at staying out of harm's way, but also far less likely to survive a hit.
‣ Ortega should attack on her own while I stay safely hidden, distracting the targeting array so she won't get shot.
‣ I risk myself to draw his fire, and Ortega can wait until she has a chance for a clean attack.
Possibly our tactical expertise says that I should flip a coin?
As an expert tactician, we know there's only one answer to an armored supervillain wielding a jar of psychic rat brains.
Which, according to a coin flip, is…
> Ortega should attack on her own while I stay safely hidden, distracting the targeting array so she won't get shot.
"If you're gonna do it, do it now. Just be careful," you caution, doubting she will listen.
"Since when was I ever not careful?" The grin is wide and filled with confidence, and for a moment you wonder how much of it is fake.
"Don't make me read you that list; we'll be here for a week. They don't call you 'Charge' just because you can throw sparkles." You close your eyes for a moment, trying to tune into the pattern of the targeting matrix. "I will do my best to try to distract them."
"'Sparkles'…if you fail, I will come back and haunt you for that comment alone, you know."
Before you have a chance to say anything in return, Ortega leaps out from behind the building, dropping into a roll before the plasma tears into the wall where her head was a moment earlier.
Score one for her reflexes, you suppose.
"There you are, you asshole!" Psychopathor bellows, swinging the cannon in Ortega's direction. Armored feet grind rubble to gravel as he moves to follow, unleashing blast upon blast. You struggle to keep up with the scrambling minds of the rats.
Alien. Linked. It's an uncomfortably familiar feeling. You can't touch or control them, but you can do your best to mask Ortega's exact position. Mental chaff—telepathic smoke designed to conceal and disturb. Designed to irritate.
You realize your mistake a moment too late as the cannon swerves in your direction.
You made them mad.
The wall you are hiding behind explodes into a shower of debris, tossing you back like a rag doll. Your nanomesh skinsuit protects you from the worst of the shrapnel and flames, but you are trapped beneath wreckage too heavy to move and it is crushing your leg. And the footsteps are coming closer.
As is the laughter.
You tear desperately at the rubble that traps you, but you can't get loose. Any second now, Ortega will appear behind Psychopathor, sending enough bioelectricity through the armored suit to fry the old monster's control systems.
Any second now.
But the steps keep coming closer, and you can't get loose. When did you start to imagine you had friends that would come to the rescue? When did you get so woefully naive?
The sad truth is that you are a liar and a fraud, and that you are going to die.
> Wake Up!
Nobody hears your scream as you tear yourself free of the constricting blankets. You tumble to the floor, finally awake.
Your skin is covered in sweat, the sheets still half wrapped around you like a shroud. But you are alive, and still free. Naivety or not, Ortega really did save you back then. You can still smell the acrid smoke coming from the fried armor and see Ortega's worried face as she freed you from the rubble.
But that was years ago. You're no longer Sidestep, and Ortega is a distant memory. Playing the hero is a thing of the past. Most dreams pop like bubbles when they are confronted with reality.
You know yours did.
And that is why you avoid sleep when you can. The nightmares are always there to remind you.
You free yourself from the sheets, but make no effort to get up. You know your legs would be shaking, and that would be an intolerable weakness. Better to just sit here and stare into the dark, and pretend that everything is alright. Pretend that the best times in your life aren't fodder for your nightmares. Pretend that you're still in control.
No. That is not pretending. You are in control. And sometimes, that means turning into a nightmare yourself.
If that is the only way to beat them.
Taking a deep breath, you finally stand, pleased to see that your legs and hands are steady once more. That is how it should be: Sidestep is dead, and Josie is just a face you wore in the past. Not who you will be in the future.
Heading to the shower, you strike up a jaunty whistle, focusing on the positive. Waking up before your alarm just means you have more time to prepare for your meeting later tonight. In Los Diablos, the underworld comes to life when the normal world goes to sleep. It's a daunting prospect to function in both those worlds, but you have an ace up your sleeve.
You don't bother to turn on the light in the bathroom, as showering in the dark is a remarkably peaceful experience. You need a bit of peace of mind right now.
It was a risk getting this close to the Rangers this early. But they had what you needed, so there really was no choice. Lady Argent ending up in battle was not what you had planned, but at least you managed to complete your mission. That's all that counts, right? You know that is true. But still…
‣ …I feel uneasy about this course of action.
‣ …I wish I could have told them who I was.
‣ …I wish Ortega had been there so I could have beat her.
‣ …I'm glad Ortega wasn't there.
>glad Ortega wasn't there
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