Chapter 126:

Chapter 126 - Going Rogue


Five minutes earlier…

Luca lay still outside the enclave’s gate, too consumed with self-pity to do anything more. After alienating his new friends, botching his only chance to protect them, and having his forehead grazed by Viper’s bullet, his investment in life had reached an all-time low. Sniffer whimpered softly on his hip, sharing in his sadness. He imagined that the sentient weapon was thinking the same thing he was:

They should never have left Trigger City.

Blood pooled over his left eye, leaking freely from his devastated brow. The pain was excruciating; he almost wished he’d taken the gunshot straight-on. As it was, the curve of his brow felt like it had collapsed in on itself, making the eye itself feel loose and irregular in its socket. Idly, he wondered how long it would take to bleed out from such a wound. Probably a long time.

He drew a sharp intake of breath. The shock was wearing off now, leaving him alone with the pain and the fear of permanent disfigurement. Unable to bear it any longer, he rolled onto his belly. He needed relief. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get it, given that a squad of Gunslingers had just walked into the enclave intent on raising hell, but maybe he could weave his way between the gunfire and find a clinic or something?

It was worth a shot.

He hadn’t even properly gotten to his feet yet when he saw someone approaching from the south–a thin man striding casually across the empty stretch of land between the city gates and the Armature Express. The man walked right up to him and stood with his hands in his pockets, regarding him with a melancholy expression. It took a moment for Luca to recognize him. The same mental block that had stopped him from recalling Joan’s face seemed to extend to this man, and it took no small amount of effort to overcome it.

“Gio,” he groaned, still unsteady on his feet. “I know you. We worked together once… Didn’t we?”

“Yeah, kid. We worked together.” Without another word, the man reached into his suit jacket and produced a flask and a handkerchief, then held them out for Luca to take.

He did so with shaking hands. “Thank you,” he said, unstoppering the flask. The pungent aroma of alcohol wafted out, and it took a deep breath or two before he could muster the courage to splash it on his open wound. The sting of it was incredible–almost debilitating–but he grimaced through the pain, knowing that it just might stave off infection. Finally, he slopped a little onto the handkerchief and held it to his brow.

“It won’t last,” Gio reminded him. “Ya need a doctor.”

Luca nodded gingerly. “I know. I was thinking I’d try my luck inside.”

“Bad idea. I’m about to head in there. And where I go, trouble always follows.”

“What am I supposed to do, then? The nearest settlement has got to be miles away!”

Gio scratched his chin, looking off toward the enclave’s gate with a frown. “I’m here looking for someone. Should be a little girl with him by now.”


“Right. According to my intel, she’s a healer. If ya stay put, I’ll bring her out to ya if I can.”

Luca’s heart sank. His good eye flicked to the right, toward the patch of ground where CJ’s body lay. “No good,” he murmured. “Her gun’s out of juice. If it hadn’t been…”

He sighed deeply, willing himself to keep his emotions in check. “If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t be a murderer.”

To his surprise, Gio brought a gloved hand to rest on his shoulder. “Listen to me, Luca,” he began, eyes flashing with grave sincerity. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen after I walk through that gate. But it may be that I don’t walk back out again. With Joan dead and Morgan in there with me, it’s possible that ya might end up as the last resistance member left standing. Murderer or not, you’re the only one I can count on to keep up the fight against Montrevi.”

The name gave Luca pause. Montrevi…? The same man who’d loaned Mimi the Armature Express led the Guardians of Prosperity? It was hard to believe, but the more he thought about it, the better it fit with what he’d already recalled. The red suit. The aloof demeanor. That singular voice–the same voice he’d heard whispering commands into his ear following his abduction.

It all made sense. But even so, he felt woefully unprepared to do what Gio was asking of him.

“B-But how?” Luca stammered. “I don’t remember anything! Not about the Guardians, or even what we actually did to interfere with them. I’m useless!”

His admission brought a hint of a smile to Gio’s lips. “Relax, kid. The finer points’ll come together over time, just like they did for Morgan and me. When it comes to keeping a rebellion alive, knowing what to do–and even what you’ve lost–ain’t the important part.

“It’s knowing what you stand to lose that matters.”

The man’s words struck a chord with him. He thought back to his experiences in Trigger City over the years, watching as the gulf between the haves and have-nots widened. The worst kind of people had grown fat off the arms trade, and political figures had stooped to sowing fear and uncertainty to get their way.

The recollection of it all kindled something inside him: disappointment. Disillusionment. Hope. The very things that had likely drawn him to Morgan’s resistance in the first place. He was about to say as much when he noticed Gio looking beyond him, toward the yawning mouth of the enclave’s gate. Luca followed his gaze just in time to see an armed guard get yanked back into the darkness by a pair of deft and unsettlingly familiar hands.

“Hold on a sec,” Gio said, striding off toward the entrance. “I think I just figured out a way to get ya the help ya need.”

Luca’s curiosity got the better of him. He trailed along at a distance, coming just within earshot of the gatekeeper’s desk while guards continued to be dragged into the deep shadows behind her.

“My my, don’t you look dangerous,” she murmured, giving Gio a quick once-over. “Gunslinger, are you? Here to see the boss?”

Gio rolled his shoulders. “What’s it to ya?”

“The Czar is very busy today,” Patricia explained. As before, she reached calmly beneath her desk, preparing to heft her destined weapon into view. “If you want to see him, you’ll have to–”


A stiff chop from behind knocked her out cold, sending her slumping to the desktop. Her intern jumped at the sound, paling visibly as her assailant stepped forth into the light:

Hard Viper.

“So. You decided to come along after all,” he growled, eyes narrowing at Gio. “Well, you’re too late. I’ve pretty much got everything locked down around here.”

“Really?” the younger man replied. “So, ya iced the rebels?”

Viper’s expression hardened. “...Not exactly.”

“Protected the boss’s interests in Ballistona?


“...Ken, did you do anything of value to the organization at all?”


“That’s what I thought.” Gio crossed his arms and peered beneath the gate’s overhang, noting the presence of a dozen or so unconscious guards strewn across the ground. “Ya know these guys are all technically on our side, right?”

“Don’t give me that, Gio! You weren’t here! You didn’t see what happened!” Viper clenched his fist, jaw quivering as he fought back the tears. “The mean lady tried to make me do math! MATH, Gio!”

His colleague sighed, shaking his head in amusement. “It’s fine, Ken. I don’t care anymore. As of today, I’m giving up on the Guardians. I’m going rogue.”

“WHAT?!” Viper’s face reddened instantly. He looked like he was going to have a heart attack. “That’s… That’s…! That’s so cool! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!”

“Hey, no problem. You can do it too. We can be rogue agents together.”

Viper appeared to consider it for a moment, then shook his head stubbornly. “Nah. Nope. Now that you did it first, I’ll just end up looking like a poser. I’m sticking with Montrevi.”

Gio shrugged. “Suit yourself. But can ya do me one last favor, at least? A, uh… Super secret rogue agent favor?”

Viper’s eyes lit up at that. “I’m listening.”

“The kid over there,” he began, thumbing toward Luca. “He’s pretty messed up. But shit’s about to get real hot in the enclave, and I don’t want him stumbling around looking for a doctor around all that drama. I need ya to head southeast with him, jack the rebel’s car, and find somebody to patch him up in the next town over.”

“Him? I’m the one who shot him, though.”

“Focus, Ke–I mean, Viper. This is a matter of international security. Are ya a bad enough dude to get it done, or not?”

After a moment of indecision, Viper gave a quick salute. “You can count on me, Gio. Us mavericks have to stick together, right?”

“Right.” With that, he shot Luca a wink and carried on through the gate alone.

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