Over the course of the rest of the trip things got a bit more smoothed out. People sorted into groups and started hanging out together. There was some drama, but not a lot. It went like you might expect for a bunch of people stuck in a room for a while. We got on each other’s nerves. We found stuff in common. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Genie, Bull, Gardener and Tamer formed one group. The Furies and Jane formed another. Predictor and Slicer did their own thing, as did Fisher and Nirav. That left me and Preventer, Pitcher, Zilla, Noon and Dusk as the sort of default group.
Our crew was a little too big to have conversations where everyone participated, so we tended to split in two, but the split changed often enough that I just kind of thought of us as one big friend blob. I learned some interesting stuff during our trip.
Pitcher, it turned out, didn’t find Predictor nearly as annoying as I did. She actually seemed to think that her boss was really cool. I tried to get her to see how cheesy and lame his whole seeing the future thing was, but she never really came around. She insisted that it was great.
She did let me know that this was far from the first time she had been in the Pantheon. His Fist apparently took care of most of the undercover missions for the Regime. From the way she talked about it, the rest of us were kind of regarded as blunt weapons, hammers for smashing. I tried to say that wasn’t true, but it was hard to deny that when we took over Redo we ended up burning it down.
I also found out that Pitcher had originally been in the Pantheon, had in fact worked out of Legion’s fort, back before Legion was there. That was a bit of a shock, since I hadn’t known that her Fist was that old.
The way she told it, Predictor’s Fist just showed up one day, abducted her and told her that she was destined to be one of them. Apparently, he was in it, but not the leader at that point, and bringing her on board was part of a change in membership kind of thing.
It was fascinating, because I hadn’t known that that was a thing that could happen. I had never paid a whole bunch of attention to the Fists before I ended up on one, just stayed away and built roads. Maybe if I had this wouldn’t have been such a shock, but I had had no idea that Fists could shift over time. I always thought that the five members were fixed and never got changed.
Genie was actually pretty cool when I got to know her. She definitely had the most useful gift among us, for just like day to day stuff.
I could control a lot more rocks and dirt than she could metal, of course, but the cool thing about her power was that it wasn’t limited to just stuff that was connected to other stuff. She could make the metal that she controlled fly around, and this was super useful.
She had small rods of the stuff sewn into her clothes, which let her fly. She could shoot it at people like bullets, or make it get thinner and expand a lot, or even make it into a liquid to burn people, although I got the impression that she couldn’t control it once it had been turned liquid.
She was unusually talkative about her gift. It made me think she was either really sure that I was never going to fight her, or she was just that kind of person. Nobody else really volunteered too much about their gifts.
Zilla, in particular, remained kind of mysterious. She mostly just hit on Preventer, but would occasionally drift by to harass me. I didn’t really get what her deal was, but one thing I hadn’t realized earlier was that everyone in her faction was terrified of her.
Like, Genie worked for Legion, right? In the Pantheon’s whole organization thing, she should have been frightened of Legion. But the way that she talked about her was much more like she was her big sister. Legion was a friend of hers. It wasn’t that way for Zilla.
Noon and Dusk gave me the impression that Zilla was for them like She was for us. Just this watching, judging presence, and they had to give everything their all or she would get mad at them and they would have no chance. They actually acted like the whole God thing was true, and Zilla was more than just another Ultra.
She never acted super threatening to me. She was a bit smug, and sometimes kind of made cryptic comments that might be supposed to be menacing, but I guess it went over my head. Our talks were pretty pleasant, mostly she just wanted to know what I’d worked out about Preventer’s guy back home, and how serious I thought that whole relationship was.
Noon’s gift didn’t seem to have any non combat utility at all. I felt kind of sorry for her. I couldn’t imagine what I’d have done if I’d come out of the Process and my brah had been like ‘ok, let me know if there is a city you want to be exploding and on fire, otherwise peace’. I guess I could have gone around and destroyed stuff that was in people’s way, but it would definitely have sucked.
She was also one of the more scared ones of our group. She didn’t even have any Ultra toughness, so if we had to fight the Union she was going to have to rely on us to make sure they didn’t just shoot her. My story of fighting with Mario’s friends, where they never ever stopped making bullets go into me, made her get all quiet and frightened, and I felt bad about that.
Dusk’s gift, on the other hand, seemed like whether or not it was useful outside of a fight depended a lot on what you were trying to do. She was pretty close mouthed about the specifics, but Zilla didn’t mind teasing her about it, and she’d also used it a couple of times, and I was pretty sure I’d worked it out.
She seemed to get a sense of who was watching her, and get a choice to ‘ride’ on their perceptions when they looked away from her. So if you saw her 5 feet from you, and then you turned your head, she would slide along, five feet in whatever direction you were looking.
When a lot of people were looking at her, she could be taken into a lot of places at once, and a few times she sort of glitched through some rocks and dirt, so the effect was at least strong enough to take out normal people. But I didn’t think it would be much use when she was alone.
I also wasn’t entirely sure that she didn’t also just have some normal Ultra Speed to go along with it. I’d always kind of envied folks who had that. It would have been really cool to get some extra time to think about stuff so I wouldn’t put my foot in my mouth as much.
I had been thinking that it was Predictor who would let us know when the journey was getting to be over, but it was actually me.
“Guys,” I said. “Get everyone, my gift is telling me about some Union stuff. He says the trenches up ahead are too even to just come on their own. Somebody dug them.”
Preventer moved off to gather up the other groups, while Zilla peered at me with naked interest.
“How far away are they?”
That was an awkward question. I didn’t get the distance in units that would make sense to anyone else. They were kind of at the end of my reach, was all I knew.
“Like a half a day’s walk?” I said.
“It won’t take us quite that long,” interjected Predictor, as everyone else showed up. “A few of our number are far faster than one might suppose, and we don’t have to go all the way into their camp.”
“We don’t?” asked Fisher.
“The jail will be on our side of it,” he answered, like knowing that ahead of time was no big deal. “If all goes well we will be in and out before the Intervention Group mobilizes to respond.”
“When will the jail get here?” asked one of the Furies.
Slicer stared her down, and she sort of wilted back into the group.
“This evening,” said Predictor. “They plan to stay till morning, they intend to bring our target into contact with one of their elite soldiers at the camp. They will stay for the duration of that session, then depart back to more protected Union space.”
“That’s not exactly what you predicted before,” noted Haunter. “In the previous scenario we had some time to do reconnaissance, preparation, that kind of thing. You kind of gave the impression that they’d be hear for a while. What’s altered?”
“Nothing,” snarled Slicer.
“Much,” corrected Predictor.
There was a beat of silence as everyone glanced at their neighbors. I met Zilla’s gaze, not surprised to see her rolling her eyes.
“My visions have altered due to the actions of a member of the Gauntlet, the elite soldiers of the Union. Her actions brought about this change.”
“The Gauntlet,” I asked, responding to the sudden dismay on the Goddess’ faces “How strong are they?”
It was Genie who spoke.
“Very strong. We don’t like to talk about it but…”
She shot a glance at Zilla, who gave her a nod of permission.
“… they raided the central fort, more than once. Each time they killed a particular Overseer or group of them, before withdrawing.”
“They are cultivating us,” said Dusk, angrily. “Cutting down the voices which might drive us to threaten their heathen hovels. They are trying to make us follow only the weakest, most complacent leaders.”
I looked to Zilla, who didn’t seem offended. I guess the implication was that they’d failed?
“Having seen your forts,” said Fisher. “It would take a powerful set of Ultras to reliably perform missions within them. I can only add that the Fists of the Regime also count these Gauntlet troops as our strongest enemies. They are the ones who are scrambled to deal with First Fist’s punitive attacks. There are supposedly only a few dozen of them.”
“Are they here?” I asked.
Slicer and Predictor looked at one another.
“It’s not likely,” he said. “The future isn’t changing fast enough for the fort to be directly reacting to the unforeseeable one. She probably communicated with them remotely last night.”
“But the rest, or some-“ began a Fury, but Zilla cut her off.
I couldn’t see exactly how she did it, but the Goddess who was trying to talk gasped out loud all of a sudden, and dropped to one knee, while the rest of their crew all looked over to Zilla, like their heads were all getting turned by the same lever.
“It isn’t important,” she said, “which heathen is there. It doesn’t matter one bit. We have two Fists, we have Zeus’ blessing. Nothing can impede us.”
People nodded along at that. No one in my Fist, I noticed.
“We are here for several purposes. We seek to seize this God empowering creature. Who among us doesn’t crave her gift improved? We shall take it for the glory of Olympus, and of the Cloud Gatherer.”
Her voice was falling into a cadence I recognized from old pro wrestling promos. It got her people nodding along.
“We seek to bring retribution against the Godless foe, who slaughter our sisters from afar. We will bring them face to face with the Goddesses they think hold no power over them, and cast them from this world in ruin!”
Their eyes were bright now, faces growing stern and cold as she made them ready to fight.
“We seek to rescue our comrades, imprisoned and dreaming within this floating tomb! We will bring them back to their homes in triumph, and our names shall ring out unto Olympus!”
Fists clenched, teeth bared. They looked like they were about to yell and rush the ring. I stepped out in front of Zilla before this went any further.
“Ok, yeah.” I said, my voice kind of putting a stop to all this momentum. “We are gonna do all that stuff. But we are starting out by sneaking in, remember. And only once that has gone well can the rumble start. Ok?”
I tried to look Zilla in the eye, but found, for some reason, that I couldn’t. She was making her eye go all fire color, like her hair, and I just found myself glancing away.
There was an uncomfortable silence, before Jane took my back.
“As Indulger points out,” she said. “This is going to be a stealth mission. Predictor will be leading a few of us up into the enemy ship. The rest of us are going to wait for the signal to strike. Does anyone need to go over their part in the plan again?”
Several people did, actually, and they moved over and started conferring with her, which had the lucky side effect of breaking up the group dynamic that Zilla had been making. People clumped up and began to talk to each other again.
Zilla slid over to my side, just at the same moment that Preventer did.
“Thanks,” the Pantheon warlord said, “for getting that out there. No point in wasting my best pep talk before the enemy even shows up.”
She didn’t sound real sincere, and I kind of felt a threatening vibe from her.
“No problem,” I said, hoping she would hassle Preventer some more.
Instead she leaned in close to me. She had a weird scent all of a sudden, and I was basically feeling afraid. I kept from backing off by reminding myself that she thought we would all come back to life every day, so killing me wouldn’t make any sense.
“After you did me that favor,” she said, doing the heel thing where you sound like you are whispering, but everybody can actually hear you, “I was wondering if you might do me another solid.”
“Oh?” I said.
“I mean, seeing as you are the one who conquered us and all.”
She had a smirk on her face as she said that. That was really strange, because before she had seemed like she understood what I was going for there, back when she thanked me for it.
“What is it?” I asked.
She grabbed onto my hand again, her own tiny ones wrapping around a finger each.
“Once we are out in the open, you know, once the quiet part is over and we are just taking out the remaining Union guys…”
I wasn’t exactly sure that was how it was supposed to go, but I nodded any way for some reason.
“Do you think that you might bring yourself to, say, grind up the Union camp?”
“Uh…” I said, flummoxed for a moment. A lot of people were very carefully not listening to this conversation.
“Grind em?” I asked.
“Make the ground under them just rise up, crush them in your big stony hands.”
Wow! There were a lot of ways that could go wrong.
“That’s not part of the plan,” I protested. “We don’t get anything out of attacking a Union Intervention Group, and also we didn’t…”
She cut me off.
“It is now.”