Chapter 25:

Chapter 25 - Hide and Seek


“Before we start,” Viper said, “Let me tell you why you’re guaranteed to lose.”

Roulette crossed her arms. “You’re gettin’ ahead of yourself. I don’t even know what game we’re playin’ yet.”

“Oh. Right.” Viper cupped his chin and closed his eyes; he looked to be lost in reminiscences of the past. “Well, there’s this game I used to play with my childhood rivals back in the day. Highly sophisticated–too complex for most kids to understand. Looking back, it was more like… Espionage training, really. Me and my circle, we were destined for great things, you know? We weren’t out there playing hopscotch or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. We were warriors, born and bred. Mostly me, obviously. In fact, you could say I’m the only one who lived up to that calling in the end–the rest settled for normal boring jobs. One’s an accountant now, I think.

“Anyway, the idea of the exercise was twofold: you’d have one kid–let’s call them the intelligence specialist–who would wait around for a while. You know, to simulate the time between a global crisis developing and military agencies catching wind of it. Then you’d have the rest of the kids–let’s call them sleeper agents–who would take that time to post up in a hidden location of their choice–”

“Hold on,” Roulette said, lifting a palm in the hopes of cutting off his long-winded explanation. “This is just hide and seek. You’re describin’ hide and seek.”

“What? No, this is totally different. We called it SNEAK: Super Neat–”

“It’s not different. It’s not different at all. I know, I played it. My daddy played it. My daddy’s daddy played it. Probably every kid in the history of the world has played it.”

Viper chuckled condescendingly. “...I can see I’m not getting through. Maybe if I explain the rules agai–”

“Are there ‘hiders’?” she queried.

“...Well, yeah, the sleeper agents would hide. I was getting to that part if you’d have let me finish.”

“Are there ‘seekers’?”

“There was an intelligence specialist. I guess you could say they did a little seeking, if you want to be reductive about it…”

“Right. Because it’s hide and seek. You just tacked on some fancy names and pretended you came up with it, but it’s still hide and seek. Is that what we’re playin’, then? Hide and seek?”

That ruffled him good. He fixed her with a hard stare and drew a deep breath, no doubt regretting his choice to include her in his treasured childhood ‘exercise’. “See, this is why we never let any girls pla– I mean, undergo it with us; facts and logic have no place on the battlefield,” he huffed. “But, sure, if that’s what you want to call it… That’s what we’re doing. But even if you grew up playing a children’s game that was superficially similar in a few minor ways, that experience won’t help you today…”

Viper’s eyes glinted as he reached for his hip and slid a small, glossy black pistol from its holster. He held it up before her proudly. It looked as though the gun had been polished far more often than it had been used.

“What’s the point here?” she asked. “You goin’ to shoot me? If so, I reckon you’re right–you’re bound to win if your opponent is limpin’ and bleedin’ all over the place.

“No, idiot,” he grunted, shoving the gun back in its holster. “I’m a Gunslinger, and what you just saw is my destined weapon: Peacestalker. Whether it’s in my hands or on my hip, it enhances my already-awesome stealth skills by muffling every sound my body makes.”

Roulette smirked. “...Except the sounds that come from your mouth, apparently.” Now that she thought about it, the nature of Viper’s power made a lot of sense. She and Marka had been laughing pretty hard, but they hadn’t been totally unaware of their surroundings. Under normal circumstances, the veteran mafioso would probably have heard his assailant’s approach and reacted more quickly, perhaps even sparing himself the broken nose and allowing him to reverse the tempo of their scuffle.

...But if he’d never heard a thing–not even the whoosh of Viper’s foot as it barrelled toward the side of his knee–Roulette could understand why the big man had gone down so easily… And why his attacker might be a little better at hide and seek than the average person.

“Here’s the deal: I’ll be the sleeper agent, and you’ll be the intelligence specialist,” Viper said. “I’ll go and hi–err, conceal myself, and you’ll come over a minute later to try and uncover my position. Clear?”

“Crystal,” Roulette replied. Viper turned on his heel and sprinted away from her, then, only pausing to look back a moment before he rounded the corner of a nearby dwelling.

“You have to turn around and count to thirty!” he shouted. “It’s cheating if you watch where I go!”

Roulette rolled her eyes and turned her back on him. Rather than counting, the girl wondered exactly how she had come to be here… Alone on the rim of a desert far from home, playing hide and seek with a moron. When she’d originally come up with her plan to go after the Gun Czars, nothing like this had ever even crossed her mind; of course, neither had the possibilities of being abandoned by her partner or befriended by an ex-crime lord. Maybe revenge just isn’t my strong suit, she concluded. Maybe I’d be better off settling down back home, setting up a little farm for myself…

“Okay!” Viper called from somewhere distant, pulling her out of her reverie. She turned back around and trudged after him. Some cows. Coop full of chickens… Maybe a hog or two. Roulette saw little need to exercise any brain power during her search, leaving the girl plenty of time to continue fantasizing about the possibility of a peaceful life.

In fact, all she had to do was follow the tracks.

They led her around a corner; the same one he’d been about to disappear around a moment before. She followed the tracks along the side of the building until she reached a door. It stood at the other end of a small, square porch located beneath a set of sandstone stairs leading up to an identical door set into the exterior of the building’s second level. A simple square pillar stood on the porch’s left-hand side, supporting the landing of the stairs above.

The tracks stopped here. For a moment, Roulette wondered if her quarry had rushed inside and disturbed the building’s inhabitants for a shot at victory.

…That’s when she noticed a clear substance drip-drip-dripping from the porch’s indented roof. She looked up and, sure enough, Viper was up there with his arms and legs braced against its borders, sweating profusely as he tried to resist the ravages of gravity.

“Oh, wow. Good effort,” she sighed, offering a half-hearted clap of approval. “You know you left tracks, right? They led me right here.”

“Shit!” he gasped, finally allowing himself to plummet to the ground. To his credit, he landed more gracefully than she’d anticipated. “I knew I forgot something! Next time you won’t be so lucky…”

He ran off again. Roulette settled in for another short wait, her foot tapping impatiently. I wonder if dustsnuffles are okay to export, she mused. I could have a petting zoo for the kids…


She set out again, this time without any idea of where he’d gotten off too. It was better that way, she figured–more accurate to the intended hide and seek experience. Sadly, he had learned little from his mistakes; instead of distinct tracks in the sand, the telltale squiggle of a man’s palm feverishly trying to wipe them away stood out on the terrain. The squiggles guided her along behind the rows of houses until, eventually, she reached a patch of suspiciously wet sand at the mouth of an alley.

Roulette tried not to think too hard about why it was wet.

Viper stood a few feet away, his back pressed to the tan-colored wall of the alley. It appeared that he’d smeared his entire body and face with wet sand in a misguided attempt at camouflage–and, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t working. He remained stock-still nonetheless, plainly hoping that she’d pass him by without a second glance.

Unfortunately for him, she had eyes.

“Oh, come on,” she groaned, bringing a hand to her face. “Viper… Viper, sweetie, no…”

“Damn it! I panicked, okay!? I panicked!”

You called me over!” she reminded him. “You could’ve taken as long as you wanted!”

“I know, I know… It’s just, I couldn’t find anywhere good. And wetting the sand was taking so long. I only have so much spit–”

“Hush. It’s fine. Just really try this time, okay?” she said. “This is the last round. One last chance to prove yourself. Don’t call me ‘til you’re good and ready, alright?”

He nodded sheepishly and dashed out of the alley. From the looks of things, he hadn’t expected to do so poorly in his game of choice. Roulette reckoned the man hadn’t butted up against nearly enough reality checks in his life–maybe in a minute, after suffering a crushing defeat at her hands, he’d find it in himself to be a little humbler in the future. A girl could dream.

“...Okay!” he called. He didn’t sound very far away. She sighed and followed him out of the alley, back into the street where Marka’s prone form still lay. And what did she see sitting in the middle of that street, less than twenty feet away?

An overturned cardboard box.

“...My life is a joke.” Roulette murmured, and moved to approach the box.

That’s when the unexpected happened:

The wind picked up. A low hum filled the air.

…And, little by little, the propeller of Viper’s flying machine began to spin.

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