The next chapter is here! If you're not up to speed clicky here for the Prelude! Pre-warning; Tara Sinclair is known for her potty mouth.
On the shore of Talos Island, near a disused maintenance entrance to the sewer system, Tara Sinclair watched the viridian stripe in the sky. She was certain of it; it was no coincidence that a month after the last war wall was deactivated that this appeared. She knew what Rikti portals looked like and no idiotic Paragon News Special on global warming would change her mind. When it had become harder and harder to just exist as a Meta Human, she’d done what she could. She’d set up a place to hide for anyone wrongfully being hunted to hide. When the Haven, her bar, her home, her life, had been shut down, that place to hide moved to the abandoned fight club underneath Talos Statue. Over the months it became home to hundreds; an eerily familiar recreation of an alternative world the Outlaw Stars had visited once. Maybe that’s where she’d got the idea from, or maybe it’s just because it made sense. When it finally became illegal to be a Meta and the War Walls had come down, she’d sent her children to the safety of the Iowan farm Jain’s parents owned and she’d dropped off the radar. Now, Tara did what she could from the shadows. She’d formed an alliance with the Evisceration, as much as it killed her to do so, and she’d scraped together the largest and most powerful Supergroup the city had ever seen. Although no one could see them. Not yet. They were a secret and they’d stay that way until they were needed. When Sayia DeLaurent could do no more to protect people like them in the courts across America she’d handed control over to him. The Ultimate Outlaw Stars. They all wore the black and white star. They all stood together and were ready to fight. They knew the day was coming as much as she did. Though she suspected most of them didn’t think it would be today.
Tara narrowed her eyes under the pulled up hood of her non-descript grey hoodie and watched the long sliver of green in the sky. It was changing; growing shorter, thicker and brighter. It wasn’t a theory anymore, it was happening. “Shit…” she sighed. They needed more time. While everyone agreed they had a city to protect, they were very much divided on how to do that. Sayia wanted to follow the laws they had all been used to; he still didn’t like having villains for allies, Tara wanted to do whatever would work to save the people in the city even if it meant making questionable friends and at the polar opposite to Sayia, was Jemima Taylor, or Sister Sever as she’d taken to being called again. She was of the opinion that they should just kill anyone who tried to stand against them. But no one could work out if she meant it or was just saying it for effect. Then, there was Jain. He’d recently busted out of White7’s headquarters just in time before being forced through a procedure that would have left him more Rikti than man. He’d hurt a lot of people, her more than anyone, and she had no idea if she could trust him. He’d escaped at just the right time and she didn’t believe in coincidences. For now she was going to try and ignore it, like he’d ignored her for months. Tara’s jaw tightened. Just leave him to screw his way around the Ultimate Outlaw Stars and he’d be out of the way for sure. Tara looked up at the gradually forming rift one last time. She sure hoped Sayia and Gilliam had managed to get something out of WhiteAlpha. There wasn’t long left.
Below Talos Island, in the former Tsoo Fight Club that now housed the group of Meta Humans who now called themselves the Ultimate Outlaw Stars, Sayia DeLaurent sat in the aged storage closet he’d taken over to be his research base. He’d wired up what hardware he could scavenge from the Talos warehouses into a functioning super computer. At least he called it a super computer. Really, it was a barely adequate computer. It was enough to house both the Gilliam and WhiteAlpha operating systems, though neither of them were fully supported. WhiteAlpha was the prototype of Gilliam, a programme he had affectionately named Sephora. She had been stolen years before and never recovered. It broke his heart to think she’d been twisted and changed, ‘perfected’, to be White7’s A.I. Over the weeks since her recovery he had had Gilliam working day and night to decode her and any information she may still possess. He was starting to think it may be fruitless. Her algorithms were scrambled and this computer just wasn’t giving Gilliam the power he needed. Sayia stretched. He’d been sitting watching streams of code for nearly five hours as if somehow there would be a Sherlock moment where suddenly it would all make sense. He had realised about two hours before that this was not likely to happen, but his stubbornness meant he was still trying.
“At least I got you back…” he sighed and leaned back in his chair
“I will decode her” Gilliam’s voice tinnily promised out of tiny computer speakers
“Yeah” Sayia sighed again “I guess it’d be exactly the same if you’d got stuck on a memory card too…”
Gilliam’s bass-less voice laughed “I would never fit on a memory card”
“She shouldn’t’ve either” Sayia exhaled slowly. He couldn’t help but think this must be what it’s like waiting at the bedside of a loved one in a coma. Knowing everything is still in there somewhere, but having no idea if all those thoughts, feelings and memories could ever be experienced again
“I have every faith you can repair her programming. You built her.” There was hope in Gilliam’s voice. It was strange to think a computer could feel hope. But of course it was no different really to a brain feeling it. Both are simply networks of conductors for electricity, firing tiny impulses based on input from the external world. Sayia could make it so cold, but it was true. In reality, Gilliam and WhiteAlpha were no different from anything else on the planet. They could assess and learn from the world and be damaged beyond repair by it too. It was times like this that he wished his Regen didn’t just burn off alcohol before it had any effect; he could do with a drink.
“We’re fucked.” Tara had a way with words. She really could be as subtle as a brick smashing through a glass door when she wanted to be.
“More fucked than we already are?” Sayia glanced to her as she walked in, half smiling.
“Yes, smartass. More fucked than we already are.”
Sayia took a deep breath and unfolded his arms. Tara was easy to rile, there was no getting around that, but she wasn’t one for exaggeration “What’s up?”
Tara moved his boots from the edge of the table where they were resting crossed over each other by his keyboard and a half-finished bottle of water. She took their place, leaning against it and looked down at him. In the low light there was a bluish purple something about her skin. It only took half a second to work out she was riled enough to be generating a static charge that danced between her pores “Hey!” He should probably pay attention. She only got more pissed when she figured out people were looking at her rather than listening. Sayia stopped examining the hair-thin streaks of lightning and looked up to her eyes; bright blue and reflecting the light of his four monitors. He realised on a whim that she was sitting far too close to comfort to the only thing housing both Gilliam and WhiteAlpha. Considering the electric charge she was capable of generating she… “Hey! You’re glazing over.”
Sayia shook his head “Sorry. You’ve just got me worried already.”
“It’s great to know I have that effect by walking in.” She didn’t look impressed. She was pouting.
“You know that’s not what I meant. You’re… “He absently waved a hand at the visible static “…you know.”
“Because, I’m trying to tell you how fucked we are.”
“Ok, ok” Sayia lowered his hand, pandering to her “What’s up?”
Sayia didn’t need to hear anymore. He got to his feet. “Gilliam. Keep working on it” He picked up a headset and fixed it into his ear.
“Yes, of course.” Gilliam politely replied “I will update you every…”
“Just keep me updated when something happens.” Sayia answered firmly. Gilliam didn’t need to reply. Sayia started to walk. Tara moved with him “What did you see?”
“It’s brighter. And not the sun is shining in just the right kind of way brighter. Like actual brighter.”
Tara simply nodded.
“Then it’s time we earned our name. Get everyone ready. I’ll get Jemima.” Sayia strode away, heading towards the labyrinth of storage rooms that Sister Sever and her cohorts currently occupied. Tara stopped to watch him go. She still didn’t know if this alliance was going to work out. But Jemima had kept her side of the bargain so far. Even her most unstable of followers had fallen in line and to an outsider; you wouldn't have known who was hero or villain.
“Something’s happening huh?” she heard the familiar, corn fed voice over her shoulder.
“Yeah.” she folded her arms defensively without even realising, her eyes still on the entrance to the storage rooms.
Jain exhaled slowly and ran his hand over his buzz cut and onto his five day stubble “You’ve got to stop doing this.”
She turned to him, looking straight up into his eyes so quickly it almost caught him off guard “I don’t have to stop doing anything.”
“You've got to take us out of this.”
“You made this about us.”
“No. You screwed everyone over. I’m not just going to forget that.”
“I’m not asking you to.” Jain shook his head “I’m asking you put aside what I’ve done to us. Just for today.”
Tara’s jaw tightened “Taylor put blocks in your head. Blocks to…”
“I know he did. And what would have happened if I’d suddenly changed? Huh? What would have happened if I’d ditched the women and the lifestyle? What would have happened if I’d suddenly become ex-husband of the year?”
Tara’s expression grew sourer. They both knew he was getting through to her.
“You honestly think I was still taking them home, don’t you?”
Tara didn’t answer.
“T… The moment Taylor…” He sighed and looked away, taking a moment before returning to her cutting gaze “I realised what I’d done to the Outlaw Stars. To Sophie, to Tabby. To you… And then I took a leaf out of the Sayia DeLaurent 2006 edition How to Look Like a Dick: Volume 2. I was being seen with them. I was dating them. But I never. Ever. Took them home…”
“Just forget about it.” Tara shook her head, breaking away from his eyes. The warmth of them hurt.
“…ok.” He nodded slowly, studying her expression. He could have played her at her own game. He could have pulled her up for running back to Sayia, or worse. But he knew all of that was down to him. He also knew he was blaming himself more than he had to. Mind control on the scale Ria Da Silva possessed was impossible to resist without help. And he’d been an unresisting slave for months. Worse, he remembered enjoying it. She had twisted him so much his entire personality had changed. He’d had good, no, great times freed from Tara and the Outlaws Stars and that’s what he hated the most. He hated that he couldn’t turn those memories to ones he wanted to forget. He hated that he’d been programmed so well it was as if he hadn’t been programmed at all.
They both realised at the same time they’d been caught up in each other’s eye lines. Tara broke away first, but he didn’t want to. She could still feel his eyes on her “It’s going to happen today.” Tara spoke the words slowly and clearly.
His expression changed “What?”
She looked back to him. She knew that look. The look that said right now he was a Meta Marine and an Outlaw Star ready for deployment. “The rift is opening and whatever is on the other side is going to come through.”
Jain looked up, even though all he could see was dull, dark concrete coated in moss. He narrowed his eyes and then looked to her “Then it’s time to get them back online.”
“Get what back online?” Tara’s head tilted involuntarily.
“The War Walls.”
Continued in Chapter 2 here
Continued in Chapter 2 here