Group Text (@ Ashley Stillons, Chris Elman, Kenzie Martin, Rain Frazier, Sveta Karelia, Tristan Vera)
Me: Morning, everyone. I’m planning to swing by the Wardens HQ today. Some Qs for people, going to talk to a family member about what you guys might need to do legally.
Me: In interest of not taking over your thing, anyone want to come with? You can make calls & be involved
Ashley S: I have appointments
Sveta K: I can come. I know my way around.
Kenzie M: I’ll come! are you going in the morning or afternoon?
Kenzie M: I can have my parents call in to school and get me out for the day if I have to
Sveta K: I don’t want your schoolwork to suffer
Kenzie M: I’m an A+ student I can miss a day
Sveta K: No you can’t.
Me: It’s best to stick to the rules of the old days. Try to keep grades where they were before you joined a team. If you can miss your study group for this that’s ok. We meet at 2
Kenzie M: coo
Rain F: Can’t make it
Tristan V: count me in
Me: Sveta, Tristan, Kenzie, & me then. Chris is welcome if he wants. 2pm at the front doors. Take extra time to travel, P.transportation strike may futz things up
I’d had to take the train to get to the Wardens’ HQ. It was a fortress of a building, indomitable, and it was situated near the largest cluster of portals in Gimel, very possibly the largest cluster of portals in all the known worlds.
I looked up at a knight in plate armor with his bowed head, both hands on the pommel of a sword, with the tip resting on the ground. A cloth wrap partially covered the legs, like a flag worn around the waist, long enough to reach the knees in front, and to drape near the ankles at the back. Two shields stood behind the figure, hanging in the air at a height and position reminiscent of folded wings.
It was typically simplified when shrunk down for website images and badges, the position of arms, hands and shields suggesting the lines of a ‘W’ for the first letter of ‘Wardens’. Here, it was four stories of statue, built into the front face of the building.
It put me in mind of Gilpatrick’s speech. Five pounds of gun, fifteen pounds of armor? No. Here, at this scale, it was fifty tons of sword, a hundred and fifty tons of armor and shield. Every inch and pound of its composition was symbolism.
“It’s something, isn’t it?” Tristan asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s something.”
I turned to look at him. He’d just walked up to stand beside me. He’d tidied his hair some. I had the impression he’d started to dress up for the occasion and his other impulses stylewise had taken over. His shirt was a button-up, red silk, with buttons in twos at the regular intervals. He wore it very casually, with the sleeves rolled up and the buttons undone at the collarbone. He’d paired it with a nice pair of black jeans, and he’d painted his hair a red that more closely matched his shirt.
“Reminds me of that video that circulated online for a bit. Chevalier and the last fight against Behemoth,” Tristan said.
“Absolutely,” I said. “Probably intentional. It’s a good mental image to have, the hard fight and the great improvements that follow.”
“And the disaster that followed that?” Tristan asked.
I frowned at him.
“It’s reality,” he said.
“It’s a little pessimistic,” I said. I glanced back. I spotted Sveta making her way up the steps from the sidewalk to the raised bit of ground in front of the building. “Hey!”
She wore a black dress that gathered together as a halter neck, with tights covering the legs. She’d redone some of the paint on her arms and shoulders, the paint around the ball joint and along the shell that encased each arm fresh and glossy.
“You guys dressed up a bit,” I said.
“We exchanged some texts,” Tristan said. “I think we psyched each other up some.”
“I was redoing my paint after all the running around and tree climbing yesterday,” Sveta said. “I started overthinking things.”
“You look good,” I said.
“Thank you. You too.” I was wearing a very similar outfit to when I’d been job hunting.
Kenzie was last to catch up to us, running up the stairs. Knee-high socks, a skirt with overlapping stripes, and a blue sweater in a light material, worn over a shirt with the collar poking up through the neckhole. The pin in her hair looked like a bow, but it was two-dimensional and metal.
“Did you go home to change?” Tristan asked.
“No,” Kenzie said.
“You actually wore that to school?” he asked.
“It looks nice, thank you very much,” she said.
“I agree,” I said. “I might have worn something similar when I was around Kenzie’s age.”
“I can understand you not getting bullied,” Tristan told me. “Your parents are superheroes.”
“I don’t get bullied either,” Kenzie said. “I wouldn’t mind if I did. It would at least mean my classmates would pay attention to me.”
“They don’t?” Sveta asked.
“Feels like everyone’s busy with their own thing,” Kenzie said. She looked up at the statue that stood in relief from the front of the Wardens’ headquarters. “Still hurting from recent losses.”
“We’ll see what we can do to keep future losses from happening,” I said.
“Absolutely,” Kenzie said.
Inside the building, statues of key members stood off to either side of the lobby. Chevalier, Narwhal, Valkyrie, Legend, Cinereal, Stonewall, Topflight and Miss Militia. The building was set up so the people on the second, third, and fourth floors could stand at the glass railings and look down at the lobby, and vice versa. People in business clothes were walking every which way, upstairs, and people on the ground floor were free to peruse the gift shop or wait for tours.
There were larger display boards set up around the edges of the lobby, much like the maps that were stationed around malls, but these showed off the icons for each of the teams under the Wardens’ umbrella. They might have been touchscreens. There were screens for Advance Guard, Foresight, the Attendant, the Shepherds, and smaller teams like the Kings of the Hill, the Wayfinders, and the Navigators. The screen for the Attendant was still up, but it was dark, only the faint outline of the Attendants’ icon on the screen. The Shepherd’s screen had been moved forward and to a position of more prominence.
It was darker than the PRT offices had been. The aesthetic of the PRT of yesteryear had always been predominantly white, with black stenciled letters and icons, the periodic bit of chrome or mirror when tech was required. Here, it was dark stone, lined in gold or brass, and the lighting made me think of a cinema with lights set on high ceilings and tuned to be unobtrusive. It was transparent and open in layout and the suggestion of there being very few barriers, like with the glass railings, or the way that it really looked like anyone on the ground floor could go anywhere without checkpoints or security.
“Where are we going?” Sveta asked.
“I should check on my mom first, see if she’s free for a short conversation.”
“Where is she?”
“Legal or Liaison. I’ve been here twice before, but the first time they were still getting everything put together, and I don’t remember much from the second.”
Sveta turned around slowly, then pointed.
“Good,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Are you on good terms with your parents these days?” Sveta asked.
“I’m…” I started. “No.”
“Is she going to help?” Tristan asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not that kind of bad terms, where she’d say no, I don’t think.”
“Is it the kind of bad terms where you invite someone to come with you so you don’t have to worry about the ‘rents being super embarrassing and lame?” Kenzie asked.
“If I had any idea on what she might say or do then this would be easier,” I said. “I think it’ll be fine.”
The stairs led from either side of the front desk to the second floor, going around the statue-in-relief that mirrored the one on the front of the building. The security checkpoint was on the second floor, more or less hidden behind the statue and the slab it stood out from. Glass walls separated the walkway from the offices and departments around the building exterior.
“Names?” the man at the desk asked.
“Victoria Dallon, Sveta Karelia, Kenzie Martin, Tristan Vera,” I said.
“We have an appointment with Foresight on the fifth floor. I was also hoping to stop in and see my mom at her workplace. I’m not sure if she’s at Legal or Liaison right now.”
The person made a phone call. I waited, a little nervous, emotions stirred up. Anger, frustration, disappointment, worry.
Kenzie had her chin at the top of the railing, as she looked down at the lobby. Sveta stood next to her, with Tristan off to one side.
“Is Weld getting a statue?” Tristan asked.
“Not for a while,” Sveta said. “That’s more for people who’ve put in the years, and he only just got in. He’s got a preliminary thing in the gift shop.”
“No shit? Awesome. We should stop in at the gift shop before we leave.”
“You’re such a kid,” Kenzie said, sticking out her tongue at Tristan. He reached out to muss up her hair and she ducked back out of the way.
“Victoria, was it?” the person at the desk asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Your mother says you can go up. She’s at Legal on the third floor. She’ll take her break when you arrive, so you’ll have about fifteen minutes.”
I resisted the urge to wince. Fifteen minutes was too much. Still, saying that would cause problems. “Great.”
“Give me five seconds, and I’ll give you your guest ID cards. Can your friends come to the desk?”
We lined up in front of the desk. The printer didn’t take long, spitting out four cards in four seconds.
“Check your names are accurate, please, and- there seems to be a problem with miss… Kenzie?”
He turned the card around. A slash of distortion masked Kenzie’s face, tracing from her cheekbone to one corner of her forehead. It looked like the heavy compression artifacting that came with any image that had been compressed too many times, but it was dense to the point that her eyes, nose, and cheekbone were almost completely covered.
“Do you want to try again?” Kenzie asked. She had her phone in her hand as she clasped her hands behind her back. I saw the screen momentarily light up.
The man tapped at the keyboard for a few seconds, then turned around to grab the card as the machine spat it out. He gave a singular nod and passed the card with its attached lanyard to Kenzie. Picture normal.
We headed for the stairs up to the third floor.
“I didn’t know they were going to take our photos,” Kenzie said.
“What are you even doing, obscuring your face like that?” Tristan asked.
“It’s not on purpose, obviously, it’s a byproduct of tech I’m wearing.”
Once we reached the third floor, there was less in the way of civilian-facing offices, and there were more people in suits and business clothes. The glass wall had letters applied to it. Just ‘303 – LEGAL’.
My mom had had a study back at our house, with the hundred or so legal tomes with all of the case history, precedent, and whatever else, on top of the books we’d fashioned ourselves, binding in a variety of ways, saving team stuff, parahuman case files we’d printed off the net, and more.
This was that, it was the same kind of heavy oak desks that my mom had had in her study, the shelves, the desk lamps and the scattered paperwork that had yet to be gathered together and bound. It was files and filing cabinets, a storm of legality as if a giant had sneezed in a legal office.
My mom might have been one of the older people around. A lot of the lawyers looked young, and at two in the afternoon, jackets were off and slung on the backs of chairs, sleeves were rolled up and perfect hairstyles were just a little bit messed up. She was doing a lot of the talking, taking charge and getting people organized.
A young lady approached us at the doorway. “If you’re wanting to lay charges against the Wardens, or if you have witness testimony to give, you’ll want to go to Casework on the second floor. I know it’s confusing.”
“My mom is Carol Dallon, I’m just stopping in to ask a question. The people at check-in said it was okay.”
“Oh wow, yeah, look at you. I definitely see the resemblance. Your mom is awesome, you know.”
“I know,” I said, my eyebrows going up momentarily.
The lady stepped away to fetch my mom.
The feeling of trepidation got worse as I watched my mom walk toward me. It was hard to divorce this scene and image with my memory of being on the street outside my mom’s house, the hurt and the feelings there.
My mom smiled, acknowledging the other three. “Victoria. This is a pleasant surprise.”
“I had a conversation with dad last night. He suggested that you might be the person to ask for this thing these guys are doing.”
“Ah,” my mom said. She barely seemed fazed by that. “Just business?”
“More or less,” I said.
Man, I was still so pissed at her. I was more pissed somehow that she was being nice and casual.
“I’m happy to help however you need it,” she said. “The only issue is I can’t step away right this minute. We’re waiting on a phone call from some people in the would-be government, and my coworker is away on a late lunch.”
“I don’t need you to step away,” I said. “These guys are starting up a team. Dad suggested they’d do best if they had someone legal to call up before any big moves. Make sure charges stick.”
My mom looked over at the three. Kenzie put her hand up in a small wave.
“Is that Sveta?”
“Hi, Mrs. Dallon.”
“I didn’t recognize you at first. I can’t believe it,” my mom said. She approached Sveta, taking Sveta’s hands and lifting them up. “What beautiful work.”
“I’m pleased with it,” Sveta said, ducking her head a bit.
“And the art- is this yours? It reminds me of what I saw you working on during one of my visits.”
“It’s stellar,” my mom said.
“I don’t suppose you’d know someone you could put us in touch with?” I asked, more tense than I’d wanted to sound.
“I can ask around. Are you paying them?”
“I think we’d have to,” I said.
“We’re pretty overloaded right now. I can’t make promises.”
“I don’t think the team has any major moves planned for early in their career,” I said. “Having someone available a month from now or two months from now might be good.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still moving at this clip two months from now.”
“What do you do?” Tristan asked.
“We’re lobbying on behalf of the Wardens. The government is figuring out the law as we speak, and we’re trying to figure out the most effective approach to handle law and parahumans and how they interact in the new world. A lot of precedent, citing past history, pulling from the law of Earth Bet.”
“It sounds heavy,” Tristan said.
“We’re deciding the legal fabric of the new world. It is,” my mom said.
“Can you sound some people out?” I asked. “Having someone we could trust to be discreet would be ideal. It wouldn’t be heavy.”
“I’ll ask around. I know we’ve got a few ex-law students who are in limbo,” my mom said. She gave me a look. “They could use the extra funds, and they should have enough knowledge of the system as it stands. They’re even on the ground floor for the legal system we may end up with, if we’re successful here.”
“Thank you,” I said. “We’ll discuss and I’ll look at the books, and we’ll see if we can pay them something fair.”
Keep it business.
“Would you come to dinner tonight?” she asked. “We can talk. If I have a better idea of what you’re doing, I can find you a better fit.”
“I’d really rather not,” I said.
“Communication is key. We should talk.”
“Another time,” I said. Weeks or months from now.
“Okay,” she said. “I’d like to invite your sister to a sit-down.”
My dignity and grace were dashed away, just like that. A startling, painful jar from reality to somewhere else. The lights of the brightly lit legal office seemed too bright and the dark shadows and the dimly lit building interior of the Wardens HQ and its lobby seemed too dark.
It was very, very hard, in the moment, to separate my recollection of being outside the house with her inside that house, from this, and to convince myself that she wasn’t here, somewhere nearby.
“Nah,” I said. My voice too soft.
“Mom,” I said, my voice sharp. “Do you want this conversation to go in the same direction as the one at the barbecue?”
“That’s up to you,” she said.
I thought about saying something regrettable.
“Bye mom. Good luck with your thing.”
She looked like she might say something, but she smiled instead, and said, “Good luck with yours.”
I turned to go, and the others followed.
We walked a little way around the circumference of the floor, between the offices to our right and the railing to our left, until we were a distance away from the legal department. I leaned on the railing, and wrapped one of my hands around the other, squeezing it.
Sveta put an arm around me, and then Kenzie walked up to the other side of me and put a hand on my back.
“I’m okay,” I said.
There wasn’t an immediate response.
“She was never my favorite person,” Sveta said.
“You seemed to get along with her before.”
Sveta shook her head, hair flying out a little ways. “You were always really down when she was due to visit, and you were down when she missed visits. And you were down after she came.”
“I was down all the time.”
“It was different kinds.”
“Family’s hard,” Tristan said. “It really sucks sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Kenzie said. “Family can be the best and it can be the worst.”
Sveta let her arm slide off my shoulder. It settled on Kenzie’s head with a faint clack.
“Ow,” Kenzie said.
Sveta’s fingers lifted up, then came down, in a pat.
I stood straighter, and Sveta moved a bit away, her arm reeling in, giving me freedom to stand back. “Hopefully this gets you guys one step closer to being a team with everything you need. We should go talk to Foresight and see if we can get you the rest of the way.”
“What’re we talking about with Foresight?”
“Jurisdiction,” I said. “There might be a few other pieces of ground to cover, finances, selling info.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “You up to talking about the kind of info you can gather, Kenz?”
“I think so.”
The fifth floor wasn’t built around a hole in the floor like the bottom four were. There wasn’t a view of the lobby, a railing, or anything of the sort. Another security checkpoint was set up at the base of the stairs. With our lanyards and guest IDs, we were clear to go. Our arrival was preceded by a shift in lights visible from the stairwell.
The floor plan was closer to a proper office building, with hallways studded with posters and pictures of team members and leaders, teams, and framed news articles. The hallway to the right of us had ‘SHEPHERDS’ and a shepherd’s crook running down the length of it, a burgundy stripe of paint lit up by lights on the underside of the crook. Red-brown colors to the wall, and the articles and pictures were all for the Shepherds.
In the hallway to our left, Foresight, blue and black paint and lights, Foresight members and victories on the wall opposite.
A door opened and a few Shepherds stepped out into the hall.
“Holy shit,” one said.
“Fuck,” Tristan said, under his breath.
It was the moon girl, from my job interview with Attendant. She was the one who had urged me away from the Fallen. I was hardly enthused to see her either.
“Tristan,” she said. “Tell me you’re not interviewing for a team.”
“I’m not,” he said. “I’ve got the team already.”
She pursed her lips together.
“History, Moonsong?” someone asked.
“Yeah,” Moonsong said. “Tribute knows.”
“Yeah,” the guy who was apparently ‘Tribute’ said. He wore what looked like a hypermodernized version of the suit of armor with the cape over one shoulder. It wasn’t old fashioned armor, though. It was panels on a bodysuit, and the cape was cut to cling close to his body, angular for flowing cloth, with glowing lines where the sharp angles were. “History is putting it lightly.”
“We’re late for an appointment,” Tristan said.
“You’re the guys who are talking to Foresight,” someone else said. “They mentioned something like that.”
“Yeah,” I said. Then, aware of the opening in the conversation, I elaborated with, “Hello again, Moonsong.”
“Hello,” she said. “What was your name again?”
“You seemed cool, Victoria. What are you doing with this bastard?”
“Wow,” Tristan said.
“Just helping out,” I said.
“He doesn’t need it, and he doesn’t deserve it.”
“Whatever’s in the past, he gets his second chance, like anyone. He wants to help people, and I’m going to help him do that.”
“He’s one of the monsters you help save people from,” Moonsong said. “You get that, right?”
“That’s not fair,” Kenzie said.
She stopped as Tristan put one hand out in front of her, keeping her from jumping forward in his defense.
“Tribute and I arrested him,” Moonsong said. “You know that, right?”
I could see the lines in Tristan’s jaw standing out. He said, “I know. I remember.”
“I want to see Byron,” Moonsong said.
“Not your call. His turn isn’t until later.”
There was a shudder, and then my hair started to move. The light further down the hallway seemed to grow darker, and my stomach lurched in a sensation that I connected to a lot of aerial acrobatics.
“You want to pick a fight here?” Tristan asked.
Tribute shifted his footing, stepping forward a little, and clasped his hands in front of his groin. With his head bowed slightly, he was faintly reminiscent of the Wardens’ emblem.
I stepped forward, ready to put myself between them, and I felt the stomach-lurching sensation again. My leg buckled, and I nearly fell.
My hair was floating now, and my legs were straining, almost locked in position with the stress of keeping me upright.
Gravity manipulation, but somehow a mix of zero-grav and enhanced gravity.
I flew instead of walking, and it was hard to keep my position. I stopped when I was between Tristan and the other two. “This isn’t helpful.”
“Victoria,” Moonsong said. “I’m going to tell you how this goes.”
I felt the gravity shift again, an attempt to put me down against the floor, and threw up my forcefield to avoid twisting my ankle or hitting the ground too hard. I was glad my skirt wasn’t the kind that could flip up, as it hugged my thighs, but my midriff was exposed now.
“Tristan joins the team, and he charms the pants off of everyone he meets. He’s good at the stuff he does in front of the camera, he’s good at the hero stuff, he’s strong. He gets decent grades, he makes friends, he finds allies and he works on them. Because that’s what sociopaths do. He doesn’t actually care about them.”
“Sociopath?” Tristan asked. “You’re as deluded as ever.”
“He jokes and acts all cute about how he’s competitive, he likes to win, and he tends to win so you don’t really see how sore of a loser he is when things go bad. He sets his sights on something he wants, he gets it. Sets his sights on something else, he gets it. Until he doesn’t get what he wants. Like being team leader or getting a key role in an event that’s coming up. That’s when he starts using the people he’s been working on. They’re usually desperate people. Vulnerable ones.”
I thought of Rain, who Tristan had called a friend. Or did the whole team count?
“It’s called leaning on people when you’re struggling.”
“It’s called manipulation. And you’re good at it,” Tribute said.
“Fuck off,” Tristan said. “Drop the power use and let us go. We’ve got things to do.”
“Moonsong,” Sveta said. “I don’t think you know Tristan as well as you think.”
“Same,” Moonsong said. “I feel really sorry for you if he’s already got into your good graces. Because that bastard is the kind of guy who hires someone who kills people by looking at them to cover his ass, and uses them against teammates. He likes to win and he wins at any cost.”
“We know the story,” Sveta said.
“I doubt you know the entirety of it. Have you split the discussion fifty-fifty between listening to him and Byron?” Moonsong asked. She didn’t even wait for a response before deciding, “No. Because it doesn’t work that way.”
“I gave Byron the opportunity,” Tristan said.
“Yeah,” Moonsong said. “I know how that goes. Like with Team Reach’s therapist, right? You get your turn, Byron gets his, you go in for extra advice, you take over, and somehow the team’s therapist gets weird ideas in his head about Byron. You suggest things and then when Byron gets his turn he’s having to play defense, get rid of these preconceived ideas. He gets no time of his own with the therapist, because he’s stuck trying to undo the damage Tristan did during his time.”
“All I did,” Tristan said, lines standing out as his neck, “Was try to figure shit out. There’s a lot to figure out with the situation being what it is, and somehow I end up doing the legwork.”
“It’s a lot of work to manipulate everyone around you, isn’t it?” Moonsong asked.
“Stop,” I said. “Stop this. Now.”
I pushed out with a faint hit of aura.
“Please,” Sveta said, adding her voice to mine.
“I want to hear that Byron is okay, from Byron’s mouth. I don’t give a shit about Tristan’s time.”
“Fuck this,” Tristan said. “Fine.”
He blurred, his eyes becoming crimson points, then transitioning to become teal.
Byron, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans.
The gravity effect dropped away.
“Hi Byron,” Kenzie said, her voice small.
“You okay?” Moonsong asked.
“I’ve had better weeks, but things with my brother are as tolerable as they get,” Byron said. He slouched, sticking his hands in the pocket of the sweatshirt. “You kind of went overboard.”
“I had to check.”
“I know,” Byron said.
There was a noise behind us, and I turned to look.
Foresight. Anelace and someone I hadn’t met.
“Why don’t you come on in? Step into the office,” Anelace asked. “Moonsong? Can I have a word?”
Foresight’s administrative office wasn’t the same office I’d been in when I’d interviewed with them. Their headquarters was situated elsewhere, and this was something else, a space set up for meetings, for paperwork, interactions with other teams and more. Much like the hallways had, it looked like an office.
Right away, Moonsong, Tribute, and the member of Foresight stepped into an office, closing the doors. The blinds were at an angle where I could see where they stood, but not their expressions or what they might be saying.
Anelace stepped into the back, then came back to the sitting area. He looked at us, then at the other members of Moonsong’s group. “Come on. Let’s keep everyone separate until things are settled.”
Our group walked into a back room, a single table and some nice chairs in a room with a coffee maker and microwave.
“I was looking forward to seeing you again, Victoria,” Anelace said. “Sorry it’s not under better circumstances.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’m going to go talk to the others. There won’t be a problem if I leave you guys here?”
“Not at all,” I said.
Anelace left us in the room. Kenzie flopped forward, forehead hitting the table, arms extended all the way in front of her.
Byron changed back to Tristan.
“No,” Tristan said, quiet. “So long as I’m here, Moonsong is going to be frothing at the mouth. I’m trading out until she’s good and gone.”
They swapped back. Byron slouched into his seat.
“I didn’t know that about the therapy, Byron,” Sveta said.
“It’s why you don’t want to sit in for Mrs. Yamada’s?”
“It’s part of it,” he said. “Look, I don’t want to demonize Tristan or anything, like Moon is so good at doing. He has his good side, but a lot of the time, I’ve got to conserve my strength for dealing with the rougher patches. Minor, basic stuff.”
“Do you think he’s a sociopath?” I asked.
“No,” Byron said. “But I think… he’s got to be the worst possible person to end up sharing a body with.”
“Is there anything I or we can do to make it easier?” I asked.
“I’m working on a camera that looks inside Tristan to find Byron, or vice-versa,” Kenzie said, without raising her head. “It’s not going so well but I’m going to figure it out.”
“Thanks Kenz. No, nothing makes it easier. You can… tackle the broad strokes, you can be careful not to talk past my face to say something to Tristan and never do the opposite when Tristan’s the one in front. It doesn’t make a difference with the stuff that really matters. That’s my stuff to deal with.”
“What stuff?” I asked.
“He’s… stubborn, destructively stubborn, he holds this idea of what should happen in his head, and if that doesn’t work for you then you’re probably going to be pretty unhappy, because you aren’t going to change anything about it.”
“Reminds me a bit of my mom when you describe it that way,” I said.
“Yeah, but you can walk away from your mom, can’t you?” Byron asked.
“Yeah,” I said. I sighed.
“I really appreciate that sigh. Maybe you get it,” he said, leaning his head back until it rested against the wall, his face turned skyward. “He thrives on competition, you know. He’ll be a terrific hero, probably. Put a challenge in front of him, and he’ll give his all to kick its ass.”
“But?” I asked.
“That’s him. That’s who he is, intrinsically. I don’t know if there’s a but. It’s reality, and it’s reality that I’m the challenge and he’s energized when it comes to the tug of war over this one body we share. He thrives on it in a way, and I’m… drained, beaten down.”
“We have your back,” Sveta said. “Not just Tristan’s. We’re backing Capricorn, and we’re invested in finding answers for both of you.”
“I appreciate that. But I don’t like this. At best, it’s… more draining. More of me being beaten down and left more exhausted. At worst… Moonsong might be right.”
“At best,” I said, “It’s Tristan doing what he’s good at doing. What happens if he doesn’t have that outlet?”
I didn’t get a response.
There was a knock on the door. Anelace, the dagger-themed member of Foresight.
“Can you join us?” he asked.
We migrated from the team’s lunch room to the office where the team leader, Moonsong and Tribute were seated.
The leader stood by his desk, one foot on his chair. He looked larger of frame, and had Foresight’s symbol on an eye patch. A bit of a corsair look, with a jacket and lots of belts, and long black hair tied back into a sailor’s ponytail. Veins of gold decorated his costume.
“Sorry for the hassle,” Tribute said. “History. Things never really resolved so much as we all walked away with the situation left halfway through a disaster.”
“It’s alright,” I said.
“We’ve been having a conversation with the Shepherds,” the leader of Foresight said. “They’ve explained some of the history. It muddies the waters.”
“We understand,” Sveta said. “Sorry about this.”
“They had the suggestion that we make sure both of the Capricorn twins are on board with this plan of yours.”
“Why’d you have to drag me into this, Moonsong? This doesn’t help. I don’t want to own any part of this, whatever they do.”
“I will always fight to give you your voice.”
“I don’t want to speak,” Byron said. “I want to ignore this side of my reality and conserve my strength for the fights that need it.”
“Is that a no, then?” the leader of Foresight asked.
“No,” Byron said. He seemed to flounder for a moment. He looked at me. “Fuck.”
He didn’t break that eye contact with me as he said it. My eyebrow went up.
“Don’t let me get in the way of you giving these guys their chance,” Byron said.
“You’re vouching for them?” the Foresight leader asked.
Byron punctuated the sentence by changing into Tristan.
“I’m good with this,” Tristan said, shifting his posture to avoid looking at Moonsong.
“Good,” the Foresight leader said. “Thank you for your time, Shepherds.”
Tribute and Moonsong left the office. Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.
I looked around the office and saw an article. The leader was on the cover, with the name ‘Brio’.
“You really want to do this?” Brio asked.
“They’re suited for it,” I said. “They have the ability to gather the information and figure out how to crack the toughest nuts. Tinker devices and people on the ground who won’t get a second look hanging around Hollow Point. They get the info, they sell it to you guys, and if you want it, they work with you on the actual cracking of the nut. Joint operation, or it can be solo, one way or the other.”
“Are you participating?” he asked.
“If I’m wanted, I’ll add my strength to theirs for the big plays.”
“To be honest, there’s a lot about this that could work,” Brio said. “When the Wardens gathered us all together, they assigned territories by lottery. We’ve got other things we’re focusing on, and Hollow Point is in a bad way.”
“If you’ll pay a modest fee, enough to cover their lawyer, buy the info, keep them supplied, they’ll bring you in for the actual arrests. It’s a win for you guys, while these guys do the leg work.”
“If it works,” Brio said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“We’re hard workers,” Kenzie said. “We’re really good at what we do.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Brio said. His voice had a tone shift that suggested he was used to talking to kids in a certain context. “You have a lot of hurdles.”
“We’ve been doing our initial research,” Anelace said. “Figuring out how we might fix Hollow Point. They’re tied into some bigger-picture stuff.”
“Tattletale,” I said.
“Her on one end,” Anelace said. “But she’s more the kind of person you have to deal with further down the road. Once you scare them, they’ll call her. They already called her once about us, and she reached out to try to convince us to leave the area alone.”
“And?” I asked.
“And we’re leaving it alone, or we were, until you sent your proposal,” Brio said.
I nodded. Not good to hear, but understandable. I wondered what played into that decision.
“On the front end, you’ve got some others to deal with. You’ll have to get past them before you can even start on the project.”
“Speedrunners,” Anelace said. He turned around, reached for a file, and put it on the desk, pushing it in our direction.
“I know them,” I said. I left the file for Sveta, Tristan and Kenzie to look at.
“A couple of times a day, they use their time powers. Sweep the area, search every nook and cranny. You won’t be able to set up shop.”
“That’d be Secondhand,” I said.
“They use Final Hour to cover other business. Even if you avoid being caught in the sweeps, you won’t be able to look or listen in if they’re conducting meetings in banked timestreams.”
“And Last Minute is still with the group?” I asked.
Fucking time manipulators. “Something to work out in advance then.”
“They’ve got two thinkers, Braindead and Birdbrain, working as a team. You won’t be able to have undercover agents if they’re checking things. You will be tracked and your agents will be thoroughly investigated.”
More folders hit the table.
“Powers complicate things, and they’ve got a lot of powers there,” Anelace said.
“Bitter Pill, tinker,” Brio said. “A lot of the people in Hollow Point are expected to partake, and that means truth serums, just to start with.”
I looked at the other members of the group.
“You really think you’re up for this?” Brio asked.
“Just speaking for myself, I’m more excited to do this than I was before you started talking about what we’re up against,” Tristan said.
“I already have some ideas,” Kenzie said. “Not about the time guys, but I have ideas.”
“We knock the time guys down first,” Tristan said. “Without a question. We’ll have to. We can do this.”
I looked at Sveta, who had been quiet.
“I want to do this,” she said, meeting Brio’s eyes.
“Then we’ll give you our files as starting points. You guys own this if it ends up being a disaster, you keep us informed, and-”
“In exchange,” I interrupted, “You guys give us access to your costume sourcing.”
“I can do costumes,” Kenzie said.
“Without battery lives?” I asked.
“Give us access to your costume manufacturing. I know you have it and I know you’re branching out to share it.”
Anelace and Brio exchanged a look. Brio nodded. “Okay.”
“And you give us your blessing to operate in this territory,” I said.
“I don’t know if I like what I saw earlier,” Brio said. “Blessing might be a strong word.”
“All parahumans have their issues,” I said.
Brio seemed to consider for a moment.
He extended his hand to shake.
We shook it, each of us in turn.
No name yet, costumes to be decided, codenames to be determined.
But we were a team with a mission. We were doing this.