“I felt energized after,” I said.
“Can you elaborate on that?” Mrs. Yamada asked.
“My cousin remarked I looked better, more in touch with the world. Normally, I get these intrusive… non-thoughts.”
“Non-thoughts?” Rain asked.
“Like, not intrusive thoughts, not ideas that I can’t get out of my head, but my mind has these places it tries to go, and I reflexively shut them out. Like, one thing, I spent two years in the hospital and in the care home, obsessing,” I said.
“I know what you’re talking about,” Sveta said.
“Yeah. And I feel like I’ve devoted enough thought to that. Two years of time, more than a lifetime’s worth. So I lock up, mentally, or trip over the subject. I get that a lot as my mood gets worse. I have it for things I do, like using my powers. I had it a lot less after the day at the hospital.”
“Some people have physiological signs, feeling ill, headaches, breathing, when they’re trying to find an outlet for things they can’t otherwise express,” Mrs. Yamada said. “Others have habits, things or people they go back to, they could have needs or cravings.”
“What if the thing you turn to is also the thing that causes stress?” Kenzie asked.
“That is absolutely a thing that happens, Kenzie. It’s at the root of downward spirals like addiction or overeating. On a more subtle level, something like a panic disorder can self-reinforce because the panic provides relief, even as it makes the actual situations worse. I like that Victoria identified something that arrests or controls the downward spiral.”
“It’s the sort of thing I plan to do again,” I said. “Putting all the other stuff aside, distilling things down to the most basic route of helping people, in a way that’s good and healthy for me, too. Or-”
Mrs. Yamada had started speaking at the same time I added the ‘or’. We both stopped.
“Go ahead,” she said.
“Or where there’s bad, the good is enough to outweigh that bad and leave me better off,” I said. I shrugged.
“Here in the group, we often discuss the issues we’re facing, how we relate to what others bring up, and we talk about solutions. I’ll periodically try to turn things to more positive topics, but with six people here, it’s common for people to come to the session with something they want to delve into.
“I like that you’re dwelling on the good things, Victoria, and that you’re giving me an excuse to turn things toward a better note as we wrap up. Does anyone else have something to share?”
Tristan raised one hand a little, and Mrs. Yamada nodded, giving him permission to say.
“It’s not positive,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s alright.”
“It’s fine. Go ahead.”
“What Victoria was saying, how she was saying she was happy, seeing the kids happy, and how she felt energized after. I don’t have that. I don’t have a way to recharge when I’m not at one hundred percent.”
“You definitely have things you’re passionate about,” Rain said.
“I like people, parties, noise, really letting the walls drop away and having fun. There are things I’d want to go out and do which I can’t. Things I’m not comfortable talking about with Kenzie present.”
Kenzie smiled at him. “Rude stuff. I’m not that young.”
“I know you probably know, I’m still not comfortable talking about it like this,” Tristan said.
“You say Kenzie but you don’t even mention me,” Chris said. “I’m perversely pleased by that. You mean fucking, right?”
“Please, Chris,” Mrs. Yamada said.
“I mean stuff,” Tristan said, “Stuff I can’t do because of my situation. I did some of it back before the trigger. More like sophomore high schoolers stealing their parents booze and having way too many people in a house while the parents are away, but that was the time of my life. It was when I was the most excited to be on this- on that planet. Now I can’t do stuff like that, the pressure release valve is screwed up for the same reasons I’m screwed up.”
“The case seventy stuff,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “Now me passing out drunk might mean I screw up the time window for passing back control, however many alarms I set, and I can’t do that to Byron. I can’t go have a one night stand because the way things are mean I’d be involving him in it as a bystander or voyeur.”
“Can you find new outlets?” Sveta asked. “One thing I’ve learned over the past little while is that I still had a lot of growing to do. It’s easy when you’re in a bad place to think ‘this is it, this is me,’ but there’s always more out there.”
“I’m trying,” Tristan said. “But it sucks to know that the stuff I want to do and the people I want to do are out there and I can’t do that. I know it’s the same for Byron. It’s different for him, though, because he’s a quiet guy, he wants to take it easy, but you get the weird conflict where you want to chill out but you can’t because you also want to maximize your use of time, when you only get to live half your life.”
“I’d like to talk about that at a later point, when we’re not a minute away from wrapping up,” Mrs. Yamada said. “I’d also like to have a word with Byron and you after the session, make sure everything’s okay.”
“Sure,” Tristan said.
“On a positive note, if nobody minds,” Sveta said, sitting up with the faintest of metal-on-metal sounds. “I got to recharge too, but it was a big one.”
“Your trip?” Kenzie asked.
“I know we talked about it last week, but we mostly talked about Rain staying safe and the hero team thing. It wasn’t a little pick me up. It was big, and I really want to find the chances to go and do stuff like that again.”
“Traveling?” I asked. Her smile was contagious.
“Traveling. We had a boat, and when we weren’t around people, I got out of my hamster ball. We stayed pretty close to the coasts, Weld sailing or driving the boat and me swimming. It was really, really nice.”
“I can tell you got a lot of sun,” Tristan said.
Sveta smiled. Her face was so pale that her complexion was borderline impossible for a human. “I like swimming. I want to find a way to get out and do it more. It’s the first time I can remember moving and having there be resistance. Everything else is too hard or too reflex.”
“Anyone else?” Mrs. Yamada asked. “Final words? Thoughts?”
“I’m glad you had a good time,” Kenzie said.
“I really did,” Sveta said.
There was a pause. No responses, the only sound was a clack as the wind blew the blinds away from the window and they swung back into position. I wondered how bad the rain was.
Mrs. Yamada looked up at the clock, then said, “Then we should wrap up. Tristan, a word. Everyone else, have a good week. There won’t be a Friday meeting this week, so I will see you next Tuesday.”
“I’d like to exchange people’s contact information, if it’s okay,” I said. “If you’re wanting to do this.”
“You keep saying that like you’re hoping we won’t,” Ashley said.
“It might make things simpler,” I said.
“The others have my number,” she said. “I don’t keep track of it.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Do you guys mind giving Victoria my number while you’re at it?” Tristan asked.
“Can do,” Rain said.
People were standing, now. Tristan gave Sveta a hand in getting to her feet.
The group, Tristan excepted, filed out into the hallway. A few people had coats draped or hooked on the the stacked plastic chairs along the hallway’s length. I’d left my bag on the ground. I pulled my phone out before I slung it over one shoulder.
A message from Crystal, asking if I was coming home for dinner.
“Pass me your number?” Rain asked. His phone was as battered as he was, with a crack running down the case.
I thumbed through the concentric rings, put my thumb on my phone number and profile information, and then flicked it in Rain’s direction.
“Got it,” he said.
His info appeared on my phone, at the top edge. It was soon joined by Tristan’s, then Kenzie’s and Ashley’s, near simultaneously. Kenzie’s name was framed with colorful symbols. Chris’s and Sveta’s were the last to appear.
Rain had handled sending me Sveta’s, Ashley’s and Tristan’s, it seemed. Ashley was pulling on a raincoat, and Sveta’s hands were clasped in front of her.
Sveta might have sent me hers without using her hands, now that I thought about it. It was possible she had a phone in her suit.
I glanced back into the room, to see if Mrs. Yamada had anything she wanted to convey with a look or gesture. Instead, I saw her talking to someone who wasn’t Tristan.
Byron had black hair, shorter than Tristan’s, slicked back with something that shone in the room’s lights. He wore a jacket, a black v-neck shirt, and jeans. The contrast between him and Tristan in everything but facial features were striking- Tristan had been bright haired, his top and shorts all about contrasts with light and dark, color and lack thereof. He’d brimmed with confidence.
Byron didn’t. He looked distinctly uncomfortable, his hands in his jacket pockets, shoulders forward, a look of concern on his face. The muted gray-blue of his jacket, the black v-neck shirt, the jeans, there weren’t any of the intentional contrasts I’d seen in Tristan.
“Are we going to wait for Tristan and try to have a quick chat about things?” Rain asked.
“I have dinner,” Kenzie said. She looked at me. “I try to have dinner with my parents every night. We’re trying to reinforce that normalcy.”
“Is that going alright?” Sveta asked.
“It’s going,” Kenzie said. She smiled. “Which is better than the alternative.”
“I’m all people’d out,” Chris said. “Most of you guys are better than some, but I’m done for now.”
“That’s a good enough reason to put it off, then,” Rain said. He gripped the doorframe, leaning into the room a little. I heard Mrs. Yamada’s voice stop.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Wanted to let Tristan and Byron know we’re heading out. We’re not meeting today.”
“Okay,” Byron said. “He’ll have heard you.”
He sounded different, even. Quieter, in the way people talked if they were sure they’d be heard regardless, if they didn’t care, or, on the other side of things if they knew they wouldn’t be listened to.
“We’ll hang out,” Rain said. “You and me, we’ll do something soon.”
“Okay. How’s Erin?”
“She’s good,” Rain said. “I could invite her to come with.”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
“Yeah, for sure,” Rain said.
Rain was still smiling when he stepped away from the door.
“Let’s go,” Rain said.
I had to pause as Kenzie and Chris got out of my way and turned to head down the hallway, while Rain and Ashley led the way. I didn’t catch Ashley and Rain’s brief exchange of words.
I glanced back at the room, and saw Byron was looking at me while he was saying something to Mrs. Yamada. The up-down look, followed by the quick glance away when he realized I’d seen him.
You’re too young for me and you’re not my type, based on what little I’ve seen and heard, I thought.
Sveta took my arm, squeezing it. My reminder to focus on the others.
“You’re okay,” Sveta said, squeezing harder for a moment. “You can talk.”
“You seem to be doing okay yourself,” I said.
“I’m great,” she said. “Today was a good day.”
We walked to catch up, and I could feel Sveta periodically leaning harder on me as she worked to maintain her stride. For all that she was in there, no doubt pulling on multiple components and relying on intricate machinery, she managed pretty darn well.
A little less so on the stairs to the ground floor, but I gave her my arm and plenty of support, and she did okay.
She hugged me with enthusiasm as we walked the five feet from the stairs to the side door, where the others were waiting under the rectangle of roof that jutted out from the side of the boxy building.
“I’m going,” Chris said. “Bye.”
“Bye,” Sveta said, amid a few other scattered responses. I raised one hand in a token wave.
Chris removed his headphones as he walked away, stowing them in one pocket of his cargo shorts. He didn’t use an umbrella or wear a raincoat. He seemed content to get rained on.
Kenzie had a blue raincoat with duffle coat toggles on the front, and was standing a bit in the rain, head bent over her phone. Ashley stood on the sidewalk, her hood up. Rain had settled for an umbrella, but hadn’t opened it yet.
“I’m walking to the bus station in Webster,” Rain said. “Normally Tristan, Sveta, and I walk that way.”
“I can head that way,” I said. “I’ll walk with you guys for a bit.”
“I’ll come,” Kenzie said, not looking up from her phone. “There’s still time before dinner.”
“You sure?” Sveta asked.
“Yep,” Kenzie looked up from her phone.
“And Ashley?” I asked.
She didn’t reply, turning away to look down the length of the road. She turned around, looking the other way. In that moment, a car appeared.
“I’ve got a ride,” she said.
“Spending time with the the ol’ guardians?” Sveta asked.
I didn’t miss the word choice. The forced cavalier attitude. Awkward.
“I try to get as many of my appointments into the same day as I can,” Ashley said. “It’s nuisance enough to have my day disrupted with this inanity, I don’t want it taking over my weeks.”
“We’re inanity, are we?” Rain asked.
“You can be,” Ashley said. “Checkups and tests, therapy, group therapy, being supervised without it being official supervision, interviews, prosthetics tune-ups, work. It becomes inane.”
“It’s all for good reasons,” Sveta said.
“I’d do better without all of the distractions,” Ashley said. She looked at me, and she did the up-down assessment too. It was something different from what Byron had done. “I look forward to learning what you have to teach.”
“It was nice to meet you,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I was lying, but it seemed like the thing to say.
She walked down the little dirt path that extended through the grass from the building’s side door to the road. A black sedan. She opened the back door, climbed in, and closed the door with more force than was probably necessary.
“I have so many questions,” I said.
“Weld’s kind-of dad figure was the Director in charge of the Boston PRT,” Sveta said. “He was also kind of in charge of looking after Ashley, because her town was close to Boston.”
“Making sure she didn’t do too much damage?” I asked.
“Yes. And gradually trying to get her used to the idea of cooperating with the good guys, making sure she was staying reasonably healthy. They reached out regularly, letting her know there were better options. Except that Ashley was a different Ashley.”
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s going to be on your team?”
“Yeah,” Sveta said.
I didn’t have a response for that.
She squeezed my arm. “I spent a lot of time with a lot of people who never got a chance, Victoria. I feel like it’s my duty to give her one.”
I drew in a deep breath, then sighed. “I don’t disagree.”
“But you don’t wholly agree, either?” Rain asked.
“I… believe in second chances. Not necessarily in every circumstance, though, which seems to be the direction a lot of people are going.”
“We should walk,” Rain said. “The sooner we get where we split off in different directions, the earlier Kenzie can head back to her parents’ and make it on time for dinner.”
“Yes, please,” Kenzie said, still looking down at her phone.
Sveta had an umbrella. I held it so Sveta could walk while leaning on me, the two of us sharing it.
There weren’t many cars on the road, and even with the overcast sky making it rather dark out for the late afternoon, there weren’t many lights on either. The route we were walking put us on a long stretch of road with small businesses and restaurants on either side. Most of the illumination came from store signs in bright colors that were reflected in the puddles.
“I didn’t get a great read on Chris,” I said. “He’s the other big set of question marks.”
“I like Chris,” Kenzie said, without looking up. “He’s crazy smart about some things and adorkably stupid about others. He’s hard to figure out but when he lets you in it makes you feel special.”
She said something like that with no compunctions, no reservations. I almost envied her.
Sveta reached out and placed a hand on top of Kenzie’s hood. “It would be unfair to share Chris’ story when he didn’t want to share it himself, Victoria. I only said what I said about Ashley because she’s open about it.”
“In fairness, I wasn’t asking or prying,” I said. “I was remarking.”
“Remarking with a question mark at the end?” Rain asked.
“Inviting an answer, but not pressing for one,” I said. “I can drop it.”
“Okay,” Kenzie said. She put her phone away. “All caught up. Stir fry for dinner, I’m going to pick up broccoli, and my workshop is warming up for later.”
“You’ve got a workshop, like a proper tinker,” I said.
“Absolutely,” Kenzie said, dead serious.
“Are you hiding a jetpack inside that raincoat, or are those rocket boots?” I asked.
“I wish,” Kenzie said. “I can’t do that stuff. I make cameras and inconveniently big boxes. My best stuff is inconveniently big, box-shaped cameras.”
“Big boxes?” I asked.
“The term in my file is emplacements. Terminals, tech, and computers big enough they’re hard to move around. Like turrets, but I can’t really make good weapons or defensive things.”
“I see. I can see why Watchdog wanted you.”
And I might be able to see why your supervisors wanted to keep you away from the front lines.
“Out of curiosity,” I said. “Where are people? I’m trying to figure out where you guys are situated and what locations might work.”
“I’m from Norwalk Station,” Kenzie said.
Norwalk Station would be off to the west end of Norfair, where we had the community center incident. The ‘Nor’ part of Norfair. It was a nice-ish area. I’d passed through it a few times. “And you’re in school? Are you in the morning or afternoon block?”
“Morning. I joined the study block for afternoons, I keep good grades so they let me, and I have paperwork from before that says they’re not supposed to give me too much homework, so I don’t have too much to do in the afternoons.”
“They might expect you to check in,” I said.
“Weld and I are in Stratford, so is Ashley,” Sveta said. “Chris lives somewhere around here. Tristan is close to here.”
Here being Fairfield.
“Bridgeport span, here,” I said. “I’m closer to you guys in Stratford than not.”
“Of course I’m the furthest out,” Kenzie said.
“Almost,” Rain said.
“Almost,” Kenzie echoed him.
“Where are you situated?” I asked Rain.
“It’s complicated,” he said.
“Uh huh. That’s starting to sound like a catchphrase.”
“I hate saying it as much as people hate hearing it. Locationwise, I’ve always liked saying I’m from everywhere that isn’t anywhere.”
I gave him a look.
“Stop being vague and teasing Victoria,” Sveta said.
“I’m not teasing. I’m in the middle of nowhere, it’s hard to pin down. North of Greenwich. It’s a trip to get here.”
That put Tristan, Byron and Chris close to center, Kenzie out west, Rain out to the far northwest, me a bit to the east, and Sveta and Ashley a bit further to the east. With the trains I was figuring it might take about four or five hours for Kenzie to get to where Sveta and Ashley were situated. It would take Rain another couple of hours, depending on how far north he was.
“That’s a pretty significant logistics problem,” I said. “Even in the best case scenario, if we found a place close to here, that’s a two hour or more trip for people to get here?”
“I could build something,” Kenzie said. “I can’t make promises.”
“How confident are you?” I asked.
“Kind of confident,” she said, sounding anything but. “I haven’t done teleportation or breaking movement devices before, but if I made it a series of emplacements and built them big, then if I traveled once a week or so to visit the send-receives and make sure they don’t break down, it might work.”
“Tinker stuff breaks,” I said.
“It does,” Kenzie said.
“It would also be liable to break or break down when you needed it to work the most. During disasters, or times when there aren’t a lot of downtime.”
“That’s very true,” Kenzie said.
“I’m wondering if there’s even a good way to go about this. I’m not trying to screw you guys up, I’m genuinely wondering.”
“It might not be as complicated as it seems,” Sveta said. “I can move quickly if I have to, Ashley doesn’t have much occupying her days, when she doesn’t have her appointments, and I don’t think she minds much. She’s happy to wake up early and read on the train, she even goes to the New York hub a lot, and that’s a full day trip. As for you, you can fly again-”
She squeezed my arm as she said it, rocking a bit side to side as she did it. I rocked a bit with her.
“-and the way you were talking about things, this wouldn’t be a full-time thing for you,” Sveta finished. Her enthusiasm had risen as she talked, and only dropped with that last part.
“Maybe,” I said. “It seems you’d want a location that was closer to Kenzie and Chris then. Closer to Rain.”
“Yeah,” Rain said. He was looking around a fair bit. “I don’t mind the trips, either.”
“You okay?” I asked him.
“Yeah. Forgot for a short while that I have an attempt out on my life. I really should dwell on it more, to be safe, especially with Kenzie in tow.”
“I can hold my own,” Kenzie said.
“It’s an attempt on my life,” Rain said. “Lives could be lost. I don’t want yours to be one of them. I would feel insanely shitty if you jumped in to help and you got hurt or killed.”
“I’m going to call my ride, I think. See if she can catch me en route instead of me going to her,” Rain said.
“She? Erin the lady friend?” Kenzie asked.
“Erin the friendship I’m not going to mess with,” Rain said. He pulled out the phone and stepped a bit away, walking at the road’s edge instead of on the sidewalk.
We reached an intersection, and Rain stepped away, one hand to his ear while he held the phone to the other. His eyes roved, looking at nearby rooftops and the dark spaces between buildings.
The building at the corner of the intersection was a bar, and a group of ten or so people were standing outside, smoking. The place and the people smelled like the cheap alcohol that was barely a step above moonshine, that was being sold on the cheap in a lot of places. Made to fill a need, now a surplus, with cheap, shitty beer available to fill the need instead.
Their attention was on Sveta.
“Hey,” one called out.
She glanced at them, then set to ignoring them. I took her cue.
“Hey,” the guy called out again, drawing out the word. “Hey, you with the paint.”
“Whatever you’re going to say, I’ve heard it before,” Sveta said.
“What the fuck’s going on with you, huh? What’s wrong with you?” he called out.
I turned my head to look at him. Sveta squeezed my arm, then shook her head a little.
“Hey, you’re weird,” he called out. “You’re freaky.”
The light changed. We crossed, Rain trailing a bit behind, still on the phone, periodically responding. He shot the guys a dark look.
“I don’t like it when people are mean to you,” Kenzie said.
“Thank you for that,” Sveta said. “And thank you, Victoria. I know you probably wanted to say something. I’m glad we didn’t make it into a thing.”
“Does it happen a lot?” I asked.
“Some. It beats people running away and screaming, and the running and screaming part beat people dying because of me,” Sveta said. “This is an improvement. Things will improve more in the future. I believe that.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Me too.”
“Me too,” Kenzie said.
Sveta put a hand on Kenzie’s hooded head, squeezed my arm.
“My ride’s here,” Rain said, catching up with us, waving at a distant vehicle with its headlights on. I got a better view of it as it pulled up beside us. It wasn’t a pretty vehicle – a van with rust around the right headlight. “We’ve got a good long drive back. Was good seeing you guys, good to meet you, Victoria.”
“Good to meet you, Rain,” I said.
The driver stuck her hand out, waving. We moved around to where we could see her through the passenger-side window.
Erin, Rain’s friendship he wasn’t intending to mess with, was not the kind of person I imagined driving a van like that, or spending time with someone of Rain’s somewhat grungy, not-inclined-to-smile presentation. There were women where someone’s first thought might be ‘they could be a model’ and there were women where the first thought was ‘they have to be a model, it’s not fair if they aren’t’. She was the latter. Short black hair with a long swoop at the front, dangly jewelry, more piercings in one ear, and one of the memorial shirts, much like how the dress I was wearing served as a way for me to represent and remember Brockton Bay. She was from New York, it seemed, or she wanted to represent it.
“Erin, you’ve seen Kenzie and Sveta before.”
“Hi again,” Erin said.
“And this is Victoria. We were talking about having her be our coach.”
“Hi,” Erin said, leaning toward Rain to get a better view of me, extending her hand in another wave. Rain looked momentarily like a deer in the headlights with Erin’s face close, with Erin doing a very good job at not noticing or not looking like she’d noticed. “You look a lot like Glory Girl.”
“I am,” I said. “I was.”
“Huh,” Erin said. “That’s really cool. Maybe I’ll see you around?”
“It’s likely,” I said.
“You guys have a good night.”
“You too,” Kenzie said. She held up her phone, like she was trying to get a signal. “Drive safe.”
“We good to go?” Erin asked.
“Yep,” Rain said. “You want a ride somewhere convenient, Kenz?”
Kenzie climbed in behind Rain, giving us a wave before the door was closed.
Just Sveta and me left.
We watched as the van pulled away.
“I have a lot of sympathy for Rain,” Sveta said.
“Are you talking about the attempt on his life or the long car trip with the girl he very clearly likes?”
“Oh, yeah, the dangerous thing too,” Sveta said. “Mostly the long trip.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“But that’s all negative. We’re going in the same direction, right? We can catch up?”
“We can definitely catch up. I want to hear more about that vacation.”
“And you can come over for dinner, right? Sometime? You’re not far. I can’t promise a good dinner, because I’m still trying to find food that Weld can really taste that won’t make the neighbors evacuate their apartments, but there’s takeout! Or delivery. I’m sure there’s something we can do.”
“You couldn’t keep me away,” I said.
Sleep eluded me. I stood on the balcony, I stared out at a city without nearly enough lights or light in it, a jagged and incomplete skyline, and I tried to shake a persistent melancholy I couldn’t put my finger on.
The day had been a good one. My friendship with Sveta rekindled, with Sveta doing as well as I could hope for, possibilities for the future, interesting puzzles to work out, and I’d been able to do favors for people I cared about.
A part of it was the therapy. It was strange, to be in a place mentally and emotionally where therapy had a cost to it, in a way. The voice of Mrs. Yamada and the tone of the conversations reminded me of the darkest period in my life. Those reminders were probably responsible for the nightmares that had torn me from sleep.
Maybe it would be good if I called the new therapist, a new voice.
It wasn’t the nightmares that kept me from getting back to sleep, but a restless nagging feeling. I liked problems I could decisively solve, things I could tell myself I had an answer for, something I could handle in the dawn, and then I could go back to sleep. The feeling that had settled with me wasn’t that sort of answerable question.
It was the restless nagging that had me carefully and slowly open the sliding door of the balcony, step into the living room, and gather some things. A bag with my wallet and things, fresher clothes, the mask I’d worn for the broken trigger incident.
I went flying, and my destination wasn’t one that would answer the nagging feeling, but one that could answer other, more concrete questions. With luck, I’d be able to distract myself.
There were cities and areas I’d considered for the therapy group’s expedition. Ones in need, ones I knew didn’t fall neatly in one jurisdiction or another. I used the highways and major roadways as my waypoints, so I wouldn’t pass them or find myself flying too far north or south.
The sun was rising by the time I reached the first. Sherwood span. Too low a population, I could tell right away. Too many farms, the houses too spread out.
It took me twenty minutes to reach the next. The area was slow to wake up, which was a surprise, given the amount of construction sites I could see from above. Usually the work started first thing.
It was a nice slice of city, with a view of the water, tall buildings, shiny, modern, with nice, large houses, but it was only halfway erected. There were cars in driveways, but there wasn’t much life.
I flew low, stopping at one of the gates to a construction site for a taller building.
Laminated sheets had been put up on the gates.
Construction suspended until we’re given what we’re owed.
The same was on display in other places, with laminated sheets of paper and graffiti. Some of it was angrier.
I was reading a very bold, large bit of text about how certain people should be choking on cocks, when I saw I had company, standing in the corner of my field of view. A cape.
I turned to face them.
Not anyone I recognized. A man in armor with spikes on it. Plate mail, and plate armor was hard to get done right, especially in this modern day. He carried no weapon I could see. Spiky plate armor wasn’t exactly original or new, either.
He didn’t say anything or do anything, but he was holding a piece of paper.
I approached him, my forcefield up. He didn’t budge.
When I was in arm’s reach, he put his gauntlet toward me, paper in hand. I dropped my forcefield to take it.
He wasn’t someone who sounded more intimidating from the inside of a helmet. His voice was very normal as he said, “We saw you fly in, we discussed, we called some people, this is our message to you.”
“Got it,” I said. I looked around. “Quiet town.”
When my head was turned, he reached for my throat.
I put my forcefield up, and I knocked his hand aside, forcefully enough I almost put him on his ass. The sound rang in my ears.
“Our town,” he said.
That said, he trudged off.
I watched him go, and then I walked in the opposite direction. People were watching from doorsteps with coffee in hand, or standing by cars, now.
I didn’t want to back down or look weak, not if this was possibly a place I might be visiting with any regularity, so I walked slowly, like I wasn’t bothered.
With all that in mind, I still stopped in my tracks when I read the note.
Turn around and fly home, Glory Hole
They’d asked around, huh?
I folded the paper up, and I held the folded square as I walked, thinking, observing. A slice of city, paralyzed, a clear villain presence.
The guy with the spikes might have been Cleat. A low-tier cape with some background in fighting rings and mercenary work. Unlike most in fighting rings, he’d never found enough success to get traction in other circles. Ironically.
I’d left Brockton Bay in the middle of a situation, or I’d been taken from the city during. I’d put in the hours and put heart and soul into trying to combat the badness that was taking over the city, and at the end of the day, I hadn’t ever enjoyed a resolution to that situation. I’d never felt like I’d made enough of a difference in the end result.
It was tempting, the idea of coming here to a place like this and somehow completing that journey or using a success here to convince myself I could have made a proper difference if I’d been given a chance.
But this wasn’t about me. It was about those teenagers and kids in Yamada’s group.
A sign was erected by one construction site. It was covered in graffiti. ‘Cedar Point Apartments’ was written at the top, but ‘Cedar’ had been covered over in paint, and ‘Hollow’ had been written in its place.
Cute, and from some cursory investigation, the rebranding had been performed elsewhere, throughout the district. Graffiti and other signs of anger were clear as day, much of it vile and senseless.
Did I really want to pit those kids against this? They might give it a shot, and if it was insurmountable, Mrs. Yamada might be happy, and if it was surmountable, everyone would be happy.
I wasn’t sure.
I looked at the graffiti, getting a sense of the atmosphere here. Vulgarity, vulgarity, obscenity, drawing of vulgarity, hate, anger, vulgarity, possible gang tag, ‘hollow point’ appearing again.
I stopped in front of another piece of graffiti. It wasn’t crowded in with anything else, so it stood out, almost a piece of art in how it was spelled out on a ruined wall, half-toppled.
THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE NOW
I had the paper in my hand, I had my doubts, but the nagging feeling ceased being nagging and became acutely clear as I looked at the statement.
“Fuck that,” I said.