The group sat together around a round table in the center of the room. The walls were covered in pictures and newspaper clippings. But everyone’s eyes were focused on the seventh, empty chair.
“We’ll have to start without him,” Will said. “He’s probably just sleeping off the other night.”
“Yeah, cause he got hurt.”
“Can it, Allspades,” Hawthorne said. “The rest of us actually have normal lives.”
Allspades’ eye twitched slightly. “Well maybe you’re just not trying hard enough then.”
“Stop it,” Mach said. “That is not why we are here.”
“Agreed,” Will said. “But we do need to talk about that night.”
Red Racer smiled brightly. Allspades sighed and rested his head on his hand.
“Around the table or all at once, your choice.”
“What’re we supposed to talk about?” Unimportant asked.
“How about getting shot?”
“It always does,” Allspades said. “You get used to it.”
A wave of annoyance washed off of Unimportant. “I’d rather not…if it’s all the same to you.”
“Seconded,” Hawthorne said.
“Not exactly what I meant,” Will said. “Getting shot hurts, but knowing that is different than feeling it. Allspades, Unimportant, you’re the only two who’ve felt it head on, unless one of the rest of you wants to jump in…so, are you still afraid of it?”
Allspades shrugged. “It happened a lot back then. The bullets don’t make it past my skin, but the bruises hurt like hell. Last forever too.”
Will nodded. “You have it easy, compared to most. A lot of tanks do. What about you?” He looked at Unimportant.
Unimportant’s hand drifted toward his shoulder, stopping just short of actually touching the wound. “It’s a good reminder…if nothing else….I never thought I’d get shot…I always thought my powers would keep it from happening.”
Will nodded. “You’re not the first.” He lookedto the rest of the group. “Mach, your armor would stop a bullet right?”
“Yes. It was based off of Sherman and Panzer’s old suits. They had their prints on display in the museum a few months back.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Okay then.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick case. He reached inside and gingerly picked up a long bullet with a spiraling blue tip. “Would it stop one of these?”
Mach’s chair scraped against the floor as if she was trying to get as far from the bullet as possible. “Where did you get that?”
“What is it-it?” Red Racer asked.
“It’s one of Gale Forces bullets,” Mach said. “He stole Slipstreams old spear and based those off of its design. Their designed to pick up speed the farther they go. A couple dozen suit mechers died because they never had to avoid getting shot before.” She stared at Will. “Where did you get that?”
“Souvenir,” Will said. “At half speed it could pierce through any armor on the planet. At full speed it’s probably faster than you.” He nodded at Red Racer.
Red Racer stared at the bullet in awe.
“And I’ve yet to see a fire manip burn hot enough to melt t before it hit, or a physical tank who it would bounce off of.”
He carefully returned the bullet to its case. “Bullets are always a risk, but they’re not the worst thing that could happen to you out there. No walker in their right mind isn’t afraid of getting hurt. Even the ones who seem invincible, Adamant, Miss Mirror, Maestro, are afraid. It’s what keeps you alive.
“A few nights ago, nearly a fifth of the city was in chaos. You all barely saw the worst of it, but you did a lot to keep it from getting worse. That’s something to be proud of. But, I’m sure at least a few of you thought you weren’t good enough. That…is completely normal, but not entirely wrong.”
“Huh-uh?” Red Racer asked. “But you said we should be proud-oud.”
“You should. But none of you were perfect. People think that fear is the greatest weakness for a walker, but they’re wrong. Fear, when it is controlled, is one of your greatest strengths. The greatest weakness for a walker to have, is overconfidence. If you never look back, never wonder if you could have done better, than you never can. The best way to remove overconfidence is to figure out what you were the most afraid of. Allspades, you’re more used to this than the others.”
Allspades glanced around the table, and shook his head. “That night wasn’t that special to me. I’m pretty used to things like that…”
“But?” Hawthorne asked.
He shot her a dirty look. “But…do you all remember what I said the second night? About losing control? It’s…not entirely true.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t lose control…I give it up. I enjoy what I do. I saw my reflection at the warehouse, when I was fighting those guards. I…I didn’t know I could look that…happy. The thing that scared me the most that night…was me.”
The rest of them avoided looking at him. Red Racer had stopped fidgeting entirely.
Allspades focused on his hands, resting on the table.
Will stared at Allspades. “Allspades, listen to me. …That’s a good thing to be afraid of. As long as you feel that fear, as long as you’re afraid of how far you’re going, you won’t go too far. But…if you ever realize that you stopped feeling that way, that you stopped being afraid, that’s when you need to stop…Do you understand?”
Allspades nodded. “I think so.”
There was a moment before the next person spoke.
“I’m sorry but I have to know. Why did you all let me take the lead?” Hawthorne asked.
Red Racer shrugged.
“You made quick and well thought decisions,” Mach said. “At no point did I feel reason to doubt your capabilities.”
Unimportant nodded. “That’s right… We didn’t have time to argue over who was in charge… You kept us organized and tried to keep us out of danger.”
Hawthorne looked at Allspades. “And you? You had the most experience. Why didn’t you try to take over?”
Allspades chuckled quietly. “I was a bullet, not a gun. My contributions to plans usually consisted of, yes I can break that, and no I can’t. The only thing I had really free reign on was distraction work, and that wasn’t exactly a group project.”
“Tell me,” Will said. “Did you ever put your teammates in a situation where they were definitely going to get hurt?”
“Did the words ‘necessary sacrifice,’ ever cross your mind?”
“Would you have acted differently if you had the same information you do now?”
“Then you’re a better leader than I had to deal with. Nothing that happened that night could have been avoided with the information you had. You followed the leads you had to the best of your ability, and, unless I’m mistaken, you’ve already spent at least one night trying to figure out where you messed up. There’s nothing for you to regret.”
After a moment, Hawthorne nodded and a smile formed behind her mask.
“Mach, would you go next?”
The mecher nodded. “I feel that I was relying too much on completely borrowed tech. I had not even tried to modify the code for the vehicle tracker or create a gadget for the type of fighting that occurred in the parking lot. You told me that mechers who survive have learned to prepare for any situation. That night was the first time I realized that I was not even close to being that capable. I spent the last few days focused entirely on those problems. But every time I thought I’d solved one, three more popped into my head. It felt like I would never be ready.”
“You can’t be prepared for everything,” Allspades said. “It’s not possible.”
“He’s right,” Will said. “I believe that I made a mistake in trying to explain that to you. The best mechers don’t have a tool for every situation, they figure out how to use what they have in any situation. Don’t worry about what you can’t do. You need to really understand what you can do. Do you understand?”
After a moment, Mach nodded. “I believe so.”
Will smiled. “Okay. Who’s next?”
“I think that getting shot was mine,” Unimportant said.
Will raised an eyebrow, but moved on.
The group turned toward Red Racer, who gulped.
“I-I…I really don’t know-ow. That night-ight…I was nervous-ous, but I was really excited too-oo. The scariest part was when that guy tripped me in the tunnel-nel. But even then-en, I wasn’t scared-ed. I tripped all the time at first-rst.”
He smiled nervously at the group.
Will smiled gently at Red. “Don’t worry about it. You were excited, and this was probably the first time you were out in a while. You aren’t going to learn something every fight, just make sure you don’t stop trying to, okay?”
Red Racer nodded happily.
Will looked at the group. “All right, let’s move on then.”