• hcmills

Chapter 124: Let it B

“Yeah,” I drawl, absentmindedly scratching Elizabeth on her head as she slowly swims in the general direction of our camp. “We didn’t really have a plan B yet; we were more concerned with plan A.”

Dave scratches the back of his neck. “We threw some other ideas around, but they were focused on this group. Peter and Mia are—excuse the pun—M.I.A. and I think we’re all agreed we’re not currently willing to touch Steve or Calyx, so, those plans are all more or less irrelevant. We’ll have to come up with something new.”

“I guess whatever we come up with will have to involve the only remaining source for a sixth,” I say with a sigh. “The former forward council team, under the lovely Dominique. I never liked her much anyway. You guys think I should just... challenge her?”

“No!” several people shout at once.

I look around at them, rendered rather speechless.

“No offense, Emma,” Alec says, alerting me to the coming offense, “but it didn’t turn out so well the first time.”

I frown. “Yeah, but—”

“No, he’s right,” Dave says, shaking his head. “It’s too messy. We don’t know what we’re stepping into with these people; that’s what tripped us up the first time: Samuel’s unexpected entanglement with Bruce.”

I purse my lips. “What would you suggest, then?”

“If Friends need person, why not steal one?” Loudmouth croaks. “No kill necessary! Worked for Friend Jacob and Loudmouth.”

Still doesn’t realise he probably ended up killing a ton of Hoig. Oh well.

“Weirdly enough, Loudmouth has a point,” Jacob says thoughtfully. “We could nab one of them and make a run for the doors, let the ones we leave behind fight amongst themselves about who stays in the Hub. We won’t have killed anyone directly, so once we’re through, whoever we brought will hopefully be incentivized enough by their own survival to cooperate.”

“Dude, yeah!” Alec exclaims enthusiastically. “Emma could just dose them with enough Dreamcloud to keep them knocked out for hours, and—”

“Ehm, actually,” I interject, “That is one of the things Dave and I discussed and ultimately rejected. I’d need to give quite a dose to make a person actually sleep through anything, up to and including being carried away and taken through a door. Problem is, we have no idea how thin the line is between ‘sleeps through anything’ and ‘will never wake again.’ Dreamcloud Energy is still Toxic Energy in the end and overdosing on it seems like a really bad idea.”

Alec frowns, then his face lights up and he sits up straighter.

“As for knocking someone unconscious,” I continue, “that could probably be done, but considering how Strength and Toughness work in this Realm, there could, once again, be a very thin line between a bump on the head and a shattered skull, and I doubt any of you would be willing to let me experiment.”

He sags back down.

Truth be told, I think it shouldn’t be too hard to pull off, as long as you have a material with the right Toughness in comparison to the person you’re hitting. Ballparking the other contestants’ Toughness isn’t too hard, but again, we’d need to experiment what the right amount of Toughness and force would be exactly. I wonder if it’s the ratio of the Toughness of the person you’re hitting and the material that matters, or the absolute difference... I feel like it should be the first. Probably.

Kaitlynn stifles a giggle. “All right, so if we do ‘steal’ a person, like Loudmouth suggests, they’d have to be awake, which makes taking them a lot harder. Is there a way we can still make it workable?”

After a moment of silence, Jacob speaks up. “I mean, I’m guessing you thought of this as well, but... couldn’t you try and Charm someone into coming along willingly, Emma?”

I sigh. “Yes. I could. Dave and I had a long discussion on that one. I really don’t like the idea of mind control, which is why we ended up going with the idea of an open challenge toward Bruce; we wanted to keep things at least marginally ethical. As far as that’s possible in this screwed up place...”

Jacob lifts a brow. “Killing someone seemed more ethical than Charming them?”

I shrug. “Someone would have died either way. It seemed the fairest option, with the least suffering overall and the least creepy hi-jacking of people’s free will.”

“But it failed,” Dave says gently. “We have to consider it now, Emma. We go in at night, find a suitable target. You provide a low dose of Dreamcloud, combine it with Charm... it’s a good plan.”

“Yes, sound smart,” Loudmouth croaks, before betraying his lack of understanding by ‘surreptitiously’ glancing around to study our reactions.

You’d think talking about Charm around him out loud might be a bad idea, but honestly, he’d never figure it out in a hundred years.

[I don’t see why you’re reticent against this idea,] Suri chimes. [Why spend all that time practising Charm, only to refuse to use it now?]

Well of course you think it’s a good idea. And that was before I knew what you got up to with my brain!

Obviously, I can’t say any of that out loud.

Finally, I groan, and cover my eyes. “Ugh. Fine, you’re right. I’ll do it. Jacob should be in charge of the mission though.”

Jacob looks up in surprise. “Wait, me?”

“Wait, him?” Alec echoes.

“Ya, why not Loudmouth?” Loudmouth asks. “Loudmouth hero too!”

“No, Emma’s right. Jacob knows the Lightning Witch’s team best,” Dave says, stifling a smile as Jacob glares at Alec and Loudmouth.

I nod. “Exactly. For starters, if I’m to use Charm, we’ll need someone who’s Yang.”

I look at Jacob expectantly.

“Oh!” Jacob says, catching on. “Well, the good news is, four out of the six of them are Yang. Only Dominique and Onni are Yin, so we’ve got options.”

“Right,” I continue. “However, we also need to grab one who has already reached Level 3, so we can immediately leave, which means we’ll probably have to pick someone on the fly.”

Kaitlynn scrunches up her nose. “Well, we should probably still come up with a preference, right? In case there’s more than one option?”

Jacob nods thoughtfully. “Well, like I said, there’s four of them. Javier, Melissa, Lily, and Mark.”

Good thing he’s better at names than I.

“Javier seemed like a pretty decent guy,” he continues. “Kinda quiet, a front-line fighter if I’m not mistaken. Melissa has Radiate with at least the Recover Purpose, so that might be useful, but she seemed a bit... off. I’m pretty sure I caught her talking to herself—like for real to herself, not to her guide.”

“Well, we all cope with trauma differently,” Dave says.

Jacob shrugs. “Anyway, I can’t tell you much more about those two, as I hardly know them. Next we’ve got Lily. She’s cool, but she and Onni got along pretty well when I was there. I got the feeling something might have been brewing between them, and if that’s progressed at all in the meantime, then she might not be too happy getting abducted.”

“Few people would be,” I remark. “But noted. If we can avoid taking her, we will.”

Jacob nods. “Finally, there’s Mark. He’s kind of a pushover—Dominique pretty much treats him like a doormat—so he’d probably be relatively easy to manipulate, but it does make me wonder if he’d make a good Trial-partner.”

Loudmouth nods wisely. “Loudmouth knew Hoig like that, once. Always got sent out to look for dirak eggs, till he didn’t come back one day. Poor guy; wonder what happened to him?”

“I think I can take a guess,” Alec remarks dryly.

“Anyway,” Dave says quickly before Loudmouth can ask about his guess. “Who should be our top-pick?”

“Well,” I say. “Three of us already know Regenerate—four actually, if you include Loudmouth—and I’m sure Jacob and Kaitlynn will pick it up soon enough with half a Skilldream or so, so Recover isn’t that attractive anymore, in my opinion.”

“Then it’s between Mark and Javier, I guess,” Jacob says narrowing his eyes. “Steady, or easy to manipulate.”

I purse my lips. “My gut says Javier. I think my Charm can handle it, and I would prefer competent and steady over less competent and easy to direct.”

Jacob nods. “Then, in order of preference, it would be Javier first, Mark second, Melissa third, and Lily fourth. Now we just need to figure out who among them is Level 3.”

“So, I take it whoever we pick enters a door with Emma?” Alec asks.

An awkward silence falls over Elizabeth. Kaitlynn looks down. Jacob scratches his neck and Dave just sighs.

“Ehm,” Alec continues, bemused. “You know, since she’s best able to control them?”

“I... yeah,” I manage to bring out. “Yeah, that’s probably best.”

Alec and Loudmouth share a confused glance, and both shrug.

Kaitlynn fidgets next to me, studiously avoiding my gaze. “Are we... heading over right away?”

I shake my head. “I’m out of Espir. I need to sleep first.”

Jacob frowns. “Could you sleep during the day? I really do think our odds of success would be better at night.”

“Oof, I’m not sure if I...” I trail off. “Actually, I’ve noticed that my Toxic Tolerance isn’t capable of blocking the effects of Toxic Energy with Purpose, or at least not entirely, so I guess if I slowly turn my Toxic Energy to Dreamcloud, I’d drop right off. Would that be safe, Suri?”

[It shouldn’t pose any real risk for someone with your Tolerance.]

I relay her answer.

Dave raises a brow. “Useful. All right, then I suggest we head back to our island to grab the rest of our supplies, have Emma sleep, and then enact plan B.

“Sounds good. Now, are all agreed that for the immediate future, I’m going to be in charge?” Jacob asks.

I nod, curious to see where’s he’s going with this. I see various other gestures of agreement, some more reluctant than others. Jacob seems satisfied regardless.

“Then our first order of business—as we head back—shall be to come up with a better name for this operation than Plan B.”

Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

First printing proof of my paperback had some issues, so I've made some edits, and have given it another go. Next one should arrive Tuesday or Wednesday; exciting!

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