A gunshot, and Wash fell with a grunt. Faintly he could hear talking, a distant buzzing- and then he heard it. “You know, Meta? Why wait? Why don’t you meet him, right now?”
Heh, showtime. Church materialized over Washington’s shoulder, all glow-y and a whitish-blue (which was bullshit, by the way, who wants just white as an armor color? Bleh. Yes, Meta, he's shading you.) as he looked at the Meta. The assorted fragments appeared in a glowing ring around the Meta’s head, and Church paused when he saw a familiar black-armored projection staring back at him.“Uh, hi,” he greeted.
“It’s him!” one whispered.
“It’s the Alpha!” another voice hissed. After that, Church stopped being able to pick out individual voices as they rose to a clamor of “Alpha!”
While they did… that nonsense, Church turned and looked at Wash. “...You know, I can see why you didn’t want anyone in your head. Got some pretty heavy stuff going on in there. I think you need to talk to a professional.”
Washington just groaned. “That’s too bad. I just lost my job, and we had great mental health coverage.” ...Right, bullet wound, Church kind of forgot.
Serious mode engaged, he supposed… “How much time do you need?”
Wash looked at the still-arguing-with-itself Meta. “Whatever you can get me. When the E.M.P. goes off-”
Church turned away, false bravado lining his voice. “When it goes off, I’ll be fine. It only affects computers, remember? And I…”
He paused, taking a breath to collect himself and come to terms with what exactly he was about to do. Yes, this was a suicide mission, but… it would get his friends out safely. Hopefully. Well. He didn’t know what would happen, he just had to hope that reckless group of idiots wouldn’t flip the jeep somewhere and die.
“...am a motherfuckin’ ghost.” Church ran from Washington’s head into the Meta’s.
Instantly he was hit with a complete and total cacophony of noise as the fragments slammed into each other. If you’ve ever been on an overcrowded school bus, it was kind of like that, except there’s no seats and everyone’s trying to touch you.
...Okay so it’s nothing like an overcrowded school bus but you get the point. The moment after he made the comparison, though, the noise got quieter, and.. A familiar figure put up a wall between them and the others.
“Hey, nerd,” she said, her helmet off to smile at him. “Seems you’ve gotten yourself into one hell of a pickle, huh?”
Church looked down, a sheepish grin on his face. “Didn’t really have a choice, now, did I, Tex?” He’ll walk over to hug her tightly and hold her close against him.
“I- Church!” She laughs, sputtering at his hair in her face. “Bargh, you don’t even have a body and I can taste the hairspray! Ew!”
He snorts and pulls back, linking their hands. Church glanced over and saw Washington moving in slow-motion, his hand going for the switch. “... Hm. How much time do you think we have?”
“About… ten seconds, real-time? But here… well. As much time as you need. Why?”
He looked at her, then their joined hands, then the fragments staring at them through the firewall. “....Do you want to die, Tex? I don’t.”
“Well, you should have thought of that before you had swirly-straws over there hit the emp switch.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Nice going there, too.”
“... Delta’s here, right?”
“Wait you met- right, of course you did. Uh, yeah, he’s here. You want to talk to him?”
He kissed her cheek before she headed off, then came back dragging a green-armored guy with glasses. “Wow, he’s even nerdier-looking than me- oh, whoops, I did not mean to say that out loud.”
“It is alright, Alpha. What do you need?” the emerald man asked, tilting his head curiously.
“Realistically, how hard would it be for us to get the hell out of dodge to… anything nearby, out of range of the emp, that can hold us all?”
“The… emp?” Look at the confusion in the poor fragment’s face.
Tex leaned over with a snicker. “Sim trooper, remember? It’s an E.M.P., they’re just idiots.”
“Ah. Well, realistically, as… separated as we are currently, the closest nearby computer does not have the space to hold us all. Of course, you could fix that if you wish..”
“How? We don’t have much time left,” Church warned, glancing back at Wash. His hand was almost to the switch.
“..Merge with us.”
“Excuse me, uh, hi, tapping in here to say absolutely fucking not!” Tex griped, flicking Church’s ear.
“Wuss. You aren’t going to merge with the fragments, are you? You don’t know what will happen.”
“Well, worst-case scenario, we all die. Best-case scenario, we live and go our merry ways.” Church shrugged. “I’ll take either one at this point, honestly.”
“....Fine. But, I’m staying. Ah- no, don’t interrupt me,” she hummed, narrowing her eyes at him. “I’m staying because someone has to be here to make sure the suit gets fried. And… you’ll be okay without me, Church. Seriously.”
He paused to look softly at her. “.... I… okay. Okay, Tex. Just… be careful, okay? And.. if you do make it out… come find me, please.”
“Eh. You know it’s hard to kill a bitch like me,” she answered, that cocky grin on her face.
“That is is. I…” Church took a long, deep breath, looking at the fragments as Delta went to explain what would happen.
“Goodbye, Texas.” She looked stricken for a moment, then smiled sadly.
“Bye, Church.” Tex turned and folded her hands in front of herself, staring at Washington’s falling hand. Church watched her a moment more before sighing and turning to the fragments… and let himself be open as the AI fragments rushed him.
Fuck fuck uck fuck fjduck fuk FUCK THISa huRTS why did he- ow ow ow ow ow ow- this was a mi s-take- !
As it turned out, merging fragments hurts worse than walking on Legos with tacks stuck through them while barefoot. Whaddya know. Church- Alpha- the conglomerate? No, he was Church- was just… barely clinging to his sanity and sense of self. He looked down at his hands, and instead of the white glow he’d gotten used to, they were multicolored- sometimes flashing green, purple, magenta, all kinds of colors.
No time to think about that now, though. He looked over at Wash, whose hand was almost on the button- then took a deep breath. Something.. Someone whispered instructions to him, how to expand his senses and find the nearest computer that could house them all. Church paused, breathed, then leaped, the whispers guiding him through the wires and signals until they were off of that damn planet, far, far away from the Meta.
Distantly he realized they were in a ship, as they had to nudge through some firewalls to curl up in the computers. It.. had taken a surprising amount of energy to get this far, so once he was certain they were safe, Church flopped down on the ground and groaned.
“Never. Ever. Make me. Do that. Again,” he whined pathetically.
A bright flash surrounded him, and he felt a weight on his chest. When he looked up, the pinkish one- the kid, Theta- was sitting there, grinning at him. “You did it!!!!”
Oh my god how is this one so cute. How. He’s so tiny. Church, of course, said none of this out loud (but let’s be real, Theta probably heard him anyway) and just raised an eyebrow. “Did you doubt me?”
“I have trust issues. It’s my whole thing.”
Okay, that got a laugh. “You know what, kid? I think we’re gonna get along just fine. Now, c’mon, it’s naptime.”