The minutes that followed were among the longest I’d experienced in my life.  It wasn’t a tedious, slow, agonizing passage of time like I’d experienced in the hospital bed, waiting to find out if I was being arrested or if my back was broken.

This is probably a good thing. It means the doctors and nurses aren’t attacking you too in all the mayhem.

No, these minutes stretched on because there was so much going on, and I couldn’t lose my focus, look away or pause for contemplation for a second.

Oh. Never mind. I misread that “wasn’t” up there.

Different groups tried to pick fights with us.  It was nonsensical, given that we weren’t even in the ring, but adrenaline was running high and we stood out because we were apart from the rest of the fighting, isolated.

Which is what you didn’t want to do, stand out.

We had stuff they could take, and warm bodies they could… well, warm bodies.  It was enough.

Eesh.

“We hold our ground,” I told Lisa, “Unless things get bad enough that we’re at risk.  We wait for the fight to end, we see if we can find him, and we make our exit.

Hm, alright. Fair enough.

So… you’re alright with the Merchants getting five new capes? Nobody’s even brought it up besides Taylor asking if it was possible.

Sticking around also means we can get more info on what Skidmark’s got in those vials and where he got them.”

…I guess it was a good time for me to say that.

“Okay,” Lisa confirmed.  “That works.”

Yeah, it’s the best plan we’ve got.

This was what the Merchants were.  Even less organized than the ABB, they were humans reduced to pack behavior, with Skidmark and his people acting like kids who would put animals in a cage and shake it set them on each other, instead of house-training them.

An apt description. We’ve seen so much bullshit from them that doesn’t seem at all organized by anything other than “might makes right”.

None of this made the Merchants any less dangerous, though.  Just the opposite.

Yeah. :/

I had no options here, in the face of this.  The most I could do would be to use my power on the entire crowd, and that would turn this already disturbed situation into something else entirely.

Yep, and I’m not sure it would even accomplish much of use.

So what now? Tactical retreat?

“Charlotte, we came to get that kid.  My friend feels it’s important, and she’s usually got a pretty damn good reason for doing what she does.”

That is true, even if it does come with a talent for rationalizing things.

“Thank you,” I said.

“So it’s up to her, what we do here”

What were our options.  Using Lisa’s power?  I wasn’t sure how it applied here.

Yeah, what is she supposed to Know that would help them get Bryce out of the brawl?

If she had a way of addressing the audience, maybe there was something she could say to turn the tide, or turn them against their leaders… but the only way to do that would be to get the microphone Skidmark had.

Hm. Might work, but would probably be difficult.

We had Lisa’s soldiers, but no matter how well-trained they were, there was a certain point where fighters in quantity overcame fewer fighters of higher quality in a brawl.

True.

Not to mention that some of the Merchants had guns.  The great equalizer.  I was pretty sure Lisa’s soldiers would be packing, but the problem with guns was that they drew attention, and we definitely did not want to fall under too much scrutiny.

Another good point.

Minor reached me and ushered me back to the others, and we backed as far away from the fighting as we could.

Yeah, good call, Minor.

The moment I saw Lisa, I asked her, “Should I-” I left my question unfinished.  Should I use my bugs?

I don’t think it’s worth it.

“No.  The moment an enemy makes their presence known, Skidmark might try to break this up and send the crowd after any unfamiliar faces.  Not saying they’d get us, but they could, and there’d be other victims too.”

That is a very good point.

“Fuck.” I looked at the ongoing fighting.  “We should do something.”

It’s okay, Taylor. Most of these people are here by choice, and besides, at least you already saved one person.

“I’m open to ideas,” she said. 

Oh, huh.

“Can we- can’t we run?” the girl we’d rescued asked.

I think she has a point, though Taylor might not want to hear it, especially coming from her – Taylor really doesn’t want to be a bystander who runs away instead of helping.

“Look, um, what’s your name?” Lisa said.

Yes, please. It’s been a bit awkward to call her the “rescued girl” all the time.

“Charlotte.”

Did the merchant who abducted you insist on calling you “P-chan”?

But if he does win… imagine explaining to Sierra that not only did Bryce willingly join the Merchants, but Skidmark gave him superpowers on a can and he’s now a supervillain.

The man -Thomas?- beckoned with a wave of his arm, and Bryce and his girlfriend ran, dropping to the ground as they touched the border of the ring.

Oh don’t you dare

Welp, I guess Taylor’s going in.

“No!” I shouted, as the effect of Skidmark’s power sent them careening into the ongoing free-for-all.  My voice was lost in the cacophony of the screaming, shouting, hollering crowd.

Cod damn it, Bryce.

So you know how I was talking about people voluntarily entering the arena…?

I stared helplessly at the unfolding scene.  The two teenagers managed to get to their feet and gather together with Thomas, the mother, and one or two others.  They were soon lost in the jumble of people that were all punching, kicking and strangling one another, spurred on by adrenaline, self-preservation, alcohol, stimulants and greed.

Yeeah, you’re either going in there or leaving Bryce and his girlfriend alone for now. Time to make a choice. I think the latter is better.

There was little enough room that when someone fell, they were trampled by those that were still fighting.

I doubt Bryce can win.

Bryce had reached his girlfriend, and wrapped his arms around her.

Huh, that was quick. I guess he’s experienced at getting where he wants through the crowd at this point.

Still holding her, he turned to see us approaching.  I was in the lead, and Minor close behind me.

Maybe he just wanted to say goodbye?

He looked the other way, past the glowing perimeter of Skidmark’s arena, and I followed his gaze to where a middle-aged woman with bleached blond hair and a taller black man with a scar on his lips stood.

Friends of yours?

A.k.a. bodyguards?

I recognized them from Sierra’s description.  They were the same people who had attacked the church.

Oh yeah!