Outcasts & Runaways – Part 2.1

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Chapter 18 – Earth

Jenny screamed, and something shiny and pink slithered instinctively over her arm. Shannon zoomed by in a white flash, snatching another two darts out of the air as a host of guards poured into view yelling and waving tranq rifles. More guards raced to intercept Brock before he could reach the electrified fence. Lyra snatched her arm from Mikey’s grip, turned, and clapped her hands at three oncoming men; the thundersnap that followed made Mercury’s head pound even as it sent the guards crumpling to their knees. Just twenty more yards, but could they make it?

She could stop them. Mercury swallowed hard, suddenly so, so aware of the very real mercury lurking beneath her skin. Silver sweat poured down her temples, slicking her short black hair against her chin. They had taught her how to use it, and wouldn’t it be poetic justice if she—

Please, God, I don’t want to kill anyone. Help us, somebody help us! Mercury screamed in her head as she put on an extra burst of speed. Ten yards. Shannon abruptly stumbled and fell against Mikey, the speedster’s leg pierced by a wildly lucky shot. Dirk was roaring, near-black shards of energy flying from his hands like daggers of broken glass; but he lacked control in the turmoil, and most dissolved harmlessly wherever they made contact. Brock reached out desperately for the fence mere feet away.

Tears dripped from Mercury’s face, but they weren’t falling now. The reflective drops drifted through the air, sucked into the rapidly growing spiral of razor-sharp metal swirling up and out of Mercury’s right hand. She hardened her jaw, trying to shut out the ten-ton weight in her stomach. I’ll do what I have to to keep them safe.

And then a blazing light broke the night sky overhead, and the world froze.

Everyone stopped. Mercury, the other kids, the guards – all stared in shock at the impossible green hole opening in the sky, ten feet wide and twenty feet above the ground between Mercury and the fence. Electric green sparks danced from the swirling vortex, mini lightning bolts snapping at the people below. Jenny shifted in Mercury’s arms, her eyes wide in the eerie light. “Pretty…” she whispered, and the pink creature on her arm fluffed its little white mane in agreement.

Then something dark fell through the portal, landing on the ground with a whump. A moment later the hole fizzled and snapped shut with a flash that left Mercury blinking. The front lawn of PreLax Advanced Research Labs lay in a pool of dark, confused silence for another beat. Mercury shook herself and took a step just as one of the guards raised a shout.

And then Brock reached the fence, and a new, horizontal burst of light meshed with an ear-rending blast as the electrified fence exploded in a latticework of fire. The guards’ shouts turned to screams and the kids’ to cheers as the nearest ten-by-ten section of fencing tore itself loose and collapsed to the ground.

Waytago, Brock! Mercury forced her feet to move, heading in the direction of Brock’s excited yelling. I don’t know what that was, but thank you, Lord! The green hole had been the distraction they needed, just enough to let Brock open their escape route. Now they might make it, now they could—

A tall form tackled Mercury, sending her and Jenny crashing to the ground. Both girls screamed in terror. For a moment, a man’s leering face was close enough for Mercury to make out his square features in the dark, before being replaced by the open barrel of a tranq gun.

“Got you!”


Pain and nausea spun in Barrenger’s head like vengeful dance partners. There had been lights, and dizziness, and unreal sensations as he’d rushed through a surreal, green tunnel – then a sudden flip from rushing forward to rushing down. Darkness and stars erupted as he left the portal at a different angle than he’d entered and hit the ground hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. His body felt wrong, his brain felt scrambled, everything hurt. For second or years he just lay on the grassy earth, partly stunned, eyes shut tight as he resisted the urge to scream or vomit. Or both.

Dead silence met his ears beyond the roar of a raging headache. Was he dead? Who knew death was more painful after the fact?

Then a bright light seared his eyelids, followed by the smells of furnace and burnt grass. People were suddenly shouting, screaming. Barrenger’s muscles clenched as fresh horror washed over his confusion, Salein’s last words echoing in his ears. What she’d done to him. Were those screams the sounds of damned souls locked in eternal torment? He didn’t want to look, at himself or at the nightmare realm he’d been sent to; maybe if he ignored everything, he’d wake up to find it was all a bad dream…

Something hit the ground a few feet away, and the high screams of two girls pierced his eardrums.

Barrenger’s eyes flew open.

His surroundings were as dark as nightfall, a few distant lights dimly illuminating the grass, but Barrenger didn’t need a spotlight to recognize the forms of a man attacking two smaller figures. The man was holding something in the face of his larger target, but the little girl continued to scream in great, sobbing wails as a tiny, winged serpent struck at their attacker’s head. Something felt wrong about all three of them, something Barrenger’s addled thoughts couldn’t sort, but that didn’t stop him from scrambling to his knees and lunging on the man with a roar.

More screams, these confused as much as fearful. Barrenger rolled the man off the girls and belted him in the jaw, then gave an involuntary yell as pain blossomed in his hand. Why hadn’t his selah absorbed the impact? The girls struggled to stand, a metallic stick forming shakily in the older one’s hand as more figures raced towards them. Barrenger spun on his knees and lashed out, landing a Twa’ki crosscut on the back of another man’s knee that sent him crashing to the ground. A third stumbled straight over Barrenger as if blind, and Barrenger did a Diving Felhawk maneuver, hurling the man backwards into three other men who collapsed in a heap.

The cries of pain were satisfying, a beacon of hope that he had some semblance of control in this nightmare, and Barrenger burned with the urge to fight despite the pain in his muscles and head. But as countless more shadowy figures moved towards them and mysterious projectiles whizzed by his ears, one of Master Dama’s oft-repeated mantras rose in his thoughts:

“Prudence supplants bravado. Don’t fight senselessly when retreat will win the day.

None of this made sense, so Barrenger chose the only course of action that did. He stood up, tripping briefly on his deformed feet – Don’t think about it! – and then hauled the girls upright, leading them in a stumbling run towards the hole in the nearby fence.

“Get to the woods!” he roared.

“What?!” the older girl yelled back, her silver eyes bright and bewildered. But she didn’t protest when Barrenger hupped the little girl into the crook of his arm, and together they raced across the grass.

Other people, mostly kids, were already heading through the hole, all of them clad in identical white clothing and wearing no shoes. One looked to be a man, pale-haired and muscular, and he carried a wavy-haired girl across his shoulder as another pale girl with a braid followed close behind. A small, dark-skinned boy waved at them from the tree line, and a dark-haired teenager who could have been close to Barrenger’s age held glowing purple shards in his hands and was hurling them with fierce focus at the advancing attackers. One of the blades speared the shoulder of a man to Barrenger’s right, releasing the iron scent of blood. The older boy froze momentarily at the sight of Barrenger before shifting fluidly into an unfamiliar offensive stance.

“Dirk, it’s a friend!” the silver-eyed girl yelled. “We have to go!”

The glare the boy shot him stank of suspicion and distrust, but he nodded, his purple blades vanishing. As they reached the tree line, Mercury yanked her hand free of Barrenger’s and yelled to the girl with the braid.

“Now, Lyra! Do it now!”

As Barrenger watched and the smallest girl clung to him like a suckerfish, the braided one turned back to the fence, facing the empty stretch of grass between her and the dozens of men racing towards them. She held something in her hand – a shiny device roughly two fingers tall. Music burst from it suddenly, a jarring, energetic instrumental unlike any music Barrenger had heard before. The girl’s body bent with a deep intake of breath, and she held her hands out towards the men.

The music transformed into a single, deafening blast of sound that made Barrenger’s ears ring; but it was like listening from behind an amphitheater, all the noise directed away from them. The approaching men were not in so advantageous a position; they collapsed like reeds in a gale, clutching their ears, their mouths open in screams deadened by the noise. “Lyra” dropped her hands as the last man buckled, cutting off the sound so abruptly that the silence rang. Soft moans and softer alarms slowly filtered back in as those not in the direct path of the soundwave recovered their hearing. Smart use of her audible gift, Barrenger thought fleetingly, impressed despite the danger.

“Just like they taught her,” the silver-eyed girl muttered fiercely. She moved to meet the brown-haired girl and extended a hand – but stopped short, fingers curling into a fist. The girl named Lyra smiled strangely and nodded to Mercury, her face lined with exhaustion, determination… and pain. She didn’t appear physically hurt, though. Before Barrenger could process any more of their peculiar behavior, the girl with the silver eyes pointed firmly into the trees, her voice ringing with command. “Come on, that’ll only buy us a few minutes! Let’s move!”

Barrenger followed the ragtag group into the forest, hugging the smallest child close to his chest. The world had gone mad and his skull felt broken, but he would make sure this little girl was safe. That felt right, and he needed something to be right. Then, and only then, would he let himself face the rockslide of horrifying reality poised to crash down on his head


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A\N: Sorry for the late post! This will be the last chapter I post on O&R for a while. I am still a ways away from finishing Part 2, but I wanted ya’ll to get SOME payoff for that really long buildup to the kids meeting. 😅 Hopefully I haven’t lost anyone along the way. If you’re so inclined, I would love to hear your thoughts on the story so far, your favorite parts, and even what you think might happen next!

Thanks again for sticking with me, and have a great week!

– Jenn/River

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