Ashley took her time exploring Hollow Point. Much of her attention was on the stores and the people within them. A store with supplies for those living on the fringes and in the tent cities, a used bookstore that was selling books taken from homes in the old world, ten dollars for a cardboard box full, a closed children’s clothing store.
The people that noticed Ashley were quick to avert their eyes or mind their own business.
She paused at a manicurist’s, looking within. There were rows of comfortable looking chairs with small tables beside them and foot baths below each seat. Ads in the window showed a variety of nail art.
Ashley held out her hand in front of her, her black nail polish contrasted with the colorful ‘Chevalier’ pattern, mimicking the delicate gold flourishes on a silver background. She moved her hand to compare to the ‘Alexandria’ image.
She stepped away and walked a little ways down the street. She peered into more closed buildings, passed a bar where the man at the counter pretended not to see her, and then walked by a clothing resale store. She paused at a clothing store, and then entered.
She looked through a series of black dresses and skirts, taking some off the rack and draping them over one arm.
“Ma’am?” the store employee asked. The young woman looked terrified. “Can I help you with anything?”
“I’ll let you know.”
“Please do. I’ll be at the counter.”
Ashley continued browsing, picking out an assortment of dresses, until she had eight gathered. She approached the change room and paused, looking at the sign that said only three articles of clothing could be brought into the changing area.
She entered the area, but didn’t step into any of the booths. Instead, she stood before the mirrors, holding dresses against her front. She paused as the front door opened, the bell jingling. A male voice asked a question, and the cashier said something in response.
She left six of the dresses where they were, and took two with her as she returned to the woman’s side of the store.
“Damsel of Distress,” the man said. He wore a mask with antlers at the corner, forking and extending into the wild locks of hair. He’d used face paint to blend his face into the mask, but the paint mixed multiple colors, with a golden sheen to the paint above his eyes and black on his lower eyelids and lower eye socket. He wore a jacket that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Robin Hood, with a stag’s head and a singular antler in gold, running from the collarbone, along the collar, and over one shoulder. “What brings you to Cedar Point?”
“Is it Cedar Point or Hollow point?”
“That depends on who you ask. Some of the more colorful locals prefer the latter.”
“The capes. Yes. I’m guessing you’re here for them more than you’re here for the shopping.”
“I’m here to see what’s here,” she said. She turned away from him to pick through some clothes. She lifted the sleeve of a dress that was still on the rack, the dress was opaque, but the sleeve was sheer with a lace pattern worked into it.
“And I’m not impressed so far.”
“What did you expect to find that you’re not seeing?”
“Organization. A timely response to my arrival. I’ve been walking around for nearly half an hour and you’re the first person to show their face.”
“We prefer discretion.”
“It feels toothless. A sanctuary for villains, and you let people walk in here without stopping them?”
“We’ve been keeping a close eye on you.”
“Eyes aren’t teeth.”
“Some are, when you add powers to the mix. Shall we take this discussion outside?”
Ashley looked at the two dresses in her hand. She put one back where it belonged, and then approached the counter.
“Um,” the salesgirl said. “You can have it. It’s on the house.”
“Is it?” Ashley asked.
“Store policy. The owner hopes that you’ll have a positive view of the store, in case of future trouble. Would you like a bag?”
Ashley looked at the dress, then shook her head, slinging the dress over one shoulder. She looked at the villain with the antlers. “We can talk outside.”
“I’ll be right with you.”
She walked out of the store, glancing over one shoulder to see him discreetly passing some bills to the salesgirl, who ducked her head in acknowledgement.
The streets were mostly empty, without many cars, parked or otherwise. Some of the stores had tunnels or alleys that led to parking lots, but even those didn’t have many vehicles. Employee parking, when many stores had only one employee on average.
“I’m Prancer, by the by,” Prancer said, as he exited the store.
“I’m- no. Not a messenger,” he said. “If Cedar Point is anyone’s, it’s mine.”
“I was there when you first raised the idea of a gathering place.”
“Then you know what we’re doing.”
“I walked away halfway through your speech.”
“Ah,” Prancer said.
A car pulled out of the alley, turned a corner, and then drove through the neighborhood, not slowing as it passed the pair.
“Normally when one villain visits another’s territory, there’s a token show of respect.”
“Normally,” Ashley said, “the person holding the territory does something to earn the respect. Normally, when someone brings up respect, they’re prepared to back up their words. Are you going to back up your words and give me some evidence that you deserve even a token show of respect?”
Prancer didn’t immediately reply. The two stared each other down.
“You’re going to be one of the difficult ones, it seems,” Prancer said.
“If you’re relying on convention and expectation then yes, I am. If you show me you deserve my time and respect, I’ll give you it. If you think I’ll give it to you because you run this territory, you’ll be sadly disappointed. I might even supplant you.”
“That’s a dangerous game, Damsel of Distress. Making threats, forcing people to play their hands. You don’t know what cards someone has up their sleeves.”
“I have ideas. You appeared alone, no bodyguard, no backup. You appeared late. You can’t back up your reputation.”
“You might have the wrong ideas about the kind of territory this is.”
“Enlighten me,” Ashley said. It almost sounded like a threat.
“Come. Walk with me,” he said.
They started walking down the sidewalk, in a neighborhood where a third of the businesses were closed.
Prancer did the talking for the first leg of their walk. “Any community of capes will have its rules. Standards and things it does that benefit everyone in it. I’m not a warlord. I manage a very diverse group. If someone causes a problem, if someone tests us, I can and will give that diverse group direction or adjust the rules. I can and will point one of the many, many powers we have at our disposal here at that someone. Some are dangerous, some are devious, and some aren’t even parahuman kinds of powers.”
“Economic. Social,” Prancer said. “I might not be a warlord, I might not even be a warrior, but I have reach. A few words from me, and you might find it very hard to find work with a parahuman group. You might find that people won’t recruit you or do business with you.”
“Am I supposed to be concerned? I’m not looking to join any team, Prancer. I’m not looking to buy or sell petty drugs or prostitutes. When I decide to act, I’ll be leading a team, not joining one, and people will flock to me regardless of what you say. They’ll do business with me because there’s no other choice. I’m ready to call that bluff of yours.”
“And be the first I make an example of? No. I’m something of a schemer, a bit of a politician, and I’m a very good businessman. But if you’re going to deal with me, you should know that above any and all of that, I’m a salesman. If we’re talking about bluffs, I know bluffs when I see them, Damsel of Distress. I know you came here because you want something.”
“I did. I finished some shopping and I have your measure, and I have the measure of your neighborhood.”
“Something drew you away from your cozy apartment in an unassuming neighborhood, away from your regular appointments with therapists and the Wardens. Your years of history before Gold Morning are a pattern of laying low, being quiet, committing crimes to get food and clothes, and then getting restless and bored. That’s when you traditionally start stirring up trouble. Are you restless?”
“You read my files. If you’re expecting that level of access to intimidate me, you’ll be disappointed.”
“I think you’re bored. I know you’ve been hanging around the Cabin, or the Lodge if you want to call it that. I know you like spending time at the tea shop. I know that when you get restless you often look for people to spend time with. The Jewel of Boston, the Slaughterhouse Nine. We know how those stories ended.”
“I’m alive and many of them are dead.”
“That’s not how I would have put it, but alright,” Prancer said. “If you want something here, you should ask.”
“I thought I might want to find a place around here, but if you’re slow to respond to my arrival, you might be slow to stop heroes from getting in my way.”
“You want a place in the community?”
“And security, assurance I won’t be harassed. You know about the appointments. They’re why I’m left free when other ex-members of the Slaughterhouse Nine are still under lock and key. They study me then, I let them, and I want to leave it at that, for those days and those times only. I don’t want to be surveilled or scrutinized when I don’t have to be.”
“We have a variety of security measures in place. If you chose to move here, if we allowed you to, I think you’d be satisfied.”
“More robust assurances would come only when we knew we could trust you to some degree. Obviously, we’re not about to share particulars with a stranger. You could turn around and join a rival group and share that information with them.”
“And if I became less of a stranger, it would require an investment of time and trust. At that point it would be hard to escape. Sunken cost.”
“Then it seems we’re at an impasse.”
“So it seems.”
“And I can expect you to leave promptly, then.”
“I’ll leave when I’m ready,” Ashley said. She turned to walk in another direction, heading for another clothing store.
“Switch to the overhead camera. I want to see what Prancer says and does.”
“I’ll project onto the other wall,” Kenzie said. “I want to keep the main camera on Ashley.”
She struck a few keys. One face of the projector box behind her desk lit up, projecting onto the wall. The image was blurry and badly affected by the light around the room at first, as any projector screen could be, but it swiftly clarified, crystallizing into an image as sharp as any flatscreen television. It was an overhead of the street.
The overhead image split, until that screen showed two camera views of Prancer at the same time, one directly overhead, and another that gave something of a view of his face.
The main camera, on the wall in front of and above Kenzie’s desk, showed Ashley’s point of view. The view bobbed with every step Ashley took, and was periodically obscured when Ashley blinked.
Tristan was bringing things into the room. The team’s temporary accommodation. Rain was in the corner, where a table had been set up, laying out parts of mechanical arms while Chris watched.
In the center of the room, Sveta, Natalie the law student and I watched things on the cameras.
Natalie had her arms folded. Her hair was shorter than most boys wore theirs, with a curl at the forehead, her glasses seemed oversized for her face, and her forehead was wrinkled in worry or concentration. She dressed in clothes that made me think she’d picked clothes out of a magazine without reading the rationale behind those clothes. She wore a blouse that fit her body closely, made of a faintly reflective material, with a black ribbon tied where it drew the collar together. She wore a straight-cut skirt that started at the waist and ended at the knee, and dark hose, with tidy, heel-less business shoes. It was the kind of thing that made a model in a magazine look stunning, but Natalie was five-foot two, she didn’t really have a waist, and the outfit made both of those things very obvious.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I think it would be very hard to explain to a judge why your agent took the free clothes from the store,” Natalie said. “I think you could explain it, but it feels like an implicit protection racket and that’s something that would be thrown in your faces.”
“Hey Tristan. Can I grab one of those whiteboards?” I asked.
The whiteboard didn’t have the legs or rollers attached yet, so Sveta held it upright for me. I wrote down the bit about taking the dress ‘on the house’.
“I don’t like the threatening tone, either. Entrapment has a pretty high bar, but if your agent threatens the targets, implicitly or explicitly, to insinuate herself into that environment, it casts a lot of it into jeopardy. They’ll turn around and say they had to do these things because a woman in black who can kill people by pointing at them was telling them to.”
I wrote it down. “We’ll tell her to tone it down. How long until we can communicate with her, Kenzie?”
Kenzie spun around in her computer chair, pulling her legs close to her chest to keep them out of the way of the desk’s edge. She stuck out a foot, kicking one of the boxes to the right of the desk. A bar appeared diagonally across it. “Sixty percent. Ummmm. Fifteen minutes until we can be totally sure they’re not tapped into cell towers or internet.”
“I actually have a lot of concerns about her as an undercover agent.”
“She’s not an undercover agent,” Tristan said. “She’s just there. Keeping an eye on things, keeping an ear out.”
“That’s an undercover agent,” Natalie said.
“She isn’t joining any team or participating in anything,” Tristan said.
“No espionage, no immediate risk,” Chris added his voice.
“I have concerns,” Natalie said. “I’ll just say that.”
Ashley was investigating a bookstore now, on the main screen. Our testing of the waters.
On the other screen, Prancer was meeting a trio of others.
Kenzie glanced at it and hit a key. Windows popped up, with three-dimensional models of each face, mask included. A young woman with a purple hood with nascent antlers sticking up through it, a skinny woman with rusty nails instead of teeth, and a woman in a white jacket with a doctor’s face mask.
I named them. “Velvet and Nailbiter. That might be Bitter Pill, but she hasn’t shown her face or been photographed any for the files. Is there sound?”
Kenzie hit a key on her keyboard. “It’s going to kill the flying camera’s battery. We get a minute or two and then I need to bring it home. Or we get three minutes and I bring it halfway home, and someone has to go over to pick it up wherever I land it.”
“…up to?” Velvet asked, her voice playing from a speaker.
“Looking around. She was thinking of moving in, but she didn’t like how long it took us to turn up,” Prancer said.
“She’s aware we were watching her, isn’t she?”
“No. And she doesn’t give a shit, either. I outright told her and she was more concerned about the fact we hadn’t shown ourselves sooner. She’ll be a problem if she sticks around.”
“What kind of problem?”
Tristan, Rain, and Chris had stopped what they were doing and drew close, to listen and watch.
“She was quick to talk about supplanting the local leadership. We operate with a soft hand and she seems like the sort that respects only firm ones. There’s more to it, ties into something we’ve heard from… key voices. I’d rather have that conversation somewhere more private than this.”
“Do you want me to deal with her?” Nailbiter asked, her words whistling through her teeth.
“No,” Prancer said.
“Why am I here then?”
“Because I think you and her are similar. You respect strength, you know how power works. You’ve dealt with scary customers. If we end up interacting with her more, and especially if she moves into the neighborhood, I think we want you to be on point, interacting with her more.”
“I can do that. She was Slaughterhouse?”
“Briefly, and you were Birdcage. I think a lot of the same principles apply.”
Nailbiter chuckled, a wheezy, whistling sound. “I never thought of that. Probably.”
“If this visitor of ours winds up being a problem, I don’t want you stepping into the fray against her.”
“Why not?” Nailbiter asked.
“Because I don’t know how it would turn out. I’d rather make moves where I know the result in advance.”
“Whatever,” Nailbiter said.
Velvet made a sound, then drew closer to Prancer, putting her arm around him. He put his arm around her. “Not whatever. I like that kind of thinking.”
“Thank you,” Prancer said.
“I’m curious what that thing is that you don’t want to talk about in the open,” Velvet said. “Can we go inside?”
“We can. You’re free to carry on with your day, Nailbiter. Thanks for coming. Pill, I want to ask you about some import-export work. Can you come?”
There was no sound from Bitter Pill, only a nod that the camera caught.
The group split up, Nailbiter walked away. The trio headed into an alleyway. The airborne camera moved, trying to get a view of the alley interior, and only saw a door close.
The image changed, as Kenzie typed. It showed an overhead map of the area. Kenzie marked the building they’d entered with a red highlight and a little flag icon, then began typing out a note.
“Can you get sound of building interiors?” I asked.
“Kind of not really,” Kenzie said.
“That’s real clear,” Chris said.
“I’ve got one camera with good aerial camouflage that I really don’t want to get damaged because it took a whole weekend and a lot of stuff to put it together. I have two more that don’t have special camouflage, they’re just painted to match the sky, and I can only use them if the sky is the right color, or if I don’t mind them being spotted. They could get destroyed and I wouldn’t mind them breaking that much. It would take me something like two days to get more advanced sound built into any of them, and then I’m putting a lot of eggs in one basket or I’m making a disposable camera not so disposable.”
“But you can do it?” I asked.
“I’m better with visuals, but yeah, I can do it.”
“Even if we decided it was worth building, it would take a while before you had that kind of microphone online,” Rain said.
“It’s a sound camera, not a microphone,” Kenzie said. “But yeah. And I’m trying to figure out the teleporters and the longer ranged cameras and I’ve got to fix up some old stuff so it’s ready if we need it, and that’s all stuff I really should do, and if I’m doing that I’m not doing any of the fun stuff.”
Ashley, on her screen, paused to write something down.
She used a small burst of her power to destroy the paper shortly after writing it down.
Kenzie snapshotted the note, then typed it up, adding it to a log in the sidebar, where it joined two other brief notes that Ashley had written on her way into Cedar Point.
“One thing I’ll say about Ashley?” Tristan said. “She’s provocative. From what I saw of that conversation, she impugned Prancer’s leadership right off, forced him to prove himself, gave us a sense of the power structure. She almost had him talking about anti-surveillance measures, but he’s being smart about keeping that mostly under wraps.”
“He probably has some we haven’t heard or talked about,” I said.
“She didn’t make any friends while she was doing all of that,” Rain said.
“We don’t need her to make friends,” Tristan said. “She’s not going undercover. Not explicitly. She’s just… there. Keeping an eye on things.”
I said, “My instinct is that if she keeps pushing on the level she was, people will get antsy or suspicious. It might be good to have her hang back, wait a bit before making contact or visiting again.”
“I could swing through,” Chris said.
“We should wait until we’re more settled,” Tristan said.
“There are actually a few obstacles to figure out,” I said. “Sorry to take over the one whiteboard here.”
“We got a lot of the whiteboards because we thought we’d have one for each member of the team, and one for you, Victoria,” Rain said. “Two for Kenzie and two for me because we’re tinkers and you can never give tinkers too many surfaces to write stuff down on.”
“Yus,” Kenzie said. Her legs were kicking a mile a minute as she focused on her computers, a box to her right and the projector box on the far side of her desk, the camera images playing on the wall. One of the split-screen images showing the overhead of the building Prancer had entered turned red, blacked out, and then disappeared, shrinking down to leave the other image, which was tracking Nailbiter.
“Can you project the faces you had onto one of the whiteboards?” Sveta asked.
Kenzie brought up images, then moved the projected image until it overlapped one side of the whiteboard. She had to look over one shoulder as she moved the mouse to make sure the image was in place.
Sveta dropped her hand, and used a tendril-wrapped marker to slowly trace out major facial features, hair, and the outlines of the masks for Prancer.
I looked at Natalie.
Natalie’s forehead, perpetually wrinkled, wrinkled further as she raised her eyebrows, looking from whiteboard to whiteboard, screen to screen. “I recommend moving slowly at first. I’ll give you some general, not-a-lawyer advice on things for free. It’s interesting and it’s relevant to what I want to do in the long run.”
“Okay,” I said. “That’s great. I’m not sure how slow the initial moves are going to be, though. The team needs to get some things out of the way before they have more freedom.”
Sveta turned her head. “The stuff Foresight said?”
“Yeah,” I said. “We’re situated on the very outskirts of Cedar Point, here, and you can’t move into the area until a few hurdles are crossed. You can’t really have Ashley or Chris spend any extended time in the area until the Speedrunners, Birdbrain and Braindead are dealt with, and we can’t move this headquarters into enemy territory if they’re going to find it and trash the place. In an ideal world, you’ll want to do something about Tattletale’s involvement too.”
“I’ve been thinking of Tattletale as an inevitable thing we’ll have to deal with,” Rain said.
“There are things you can do,” I said. “We can discuss those things when Natalie is gone.”
“Actually,” Natalie said. “I should probably go. I have a class tomorrow morning and then work at the Wardens’ building tomorrow afternoon.”
A class. I felt a tiny bit of resentment over the fact that she had that.
“Alright. Thank you for coming and saying hi,” I said.
“It’s interesting,” she said, forehead wrinkling in that worried way. “I really recommend you be careful.”
“As careful as is possible,” Sveta said.
Natalie nodded. “It was nice to meet you all. You have my number if you need it.”
There was a chorus of farewells. I walked Natalie to the side door of the building, where the fire escape was. The way down was steep, and she kept one hand on her little messenger bag and the other on the railing as she made her way down, bringing one foot down to a step, then bringing the other foot down to the same step.
Her entire demeanor made me feel faintly anxious. I didn’t have a great read on her yet, she’d spent ten minutes at the temporary headquarters here, and most of it had been spent observing.
It was something of a relief to have her available if we needed her, and it was a different kind of relief to have her gone. The others, too, seemed to relax a bit.
“Natalie seemed nice enough,” Sveta said.
“She did,” I said.
I took a moment to get Natalie’s number off my phone and put it on one corner of the whiteboard I’d been using, the whiteboard leaning against the wall. I then wrote down Gilpatrick’s, with a note beneath it. For emergencies only.
The Patrol was a resource, Gilpatrick was one too. I didn’t want to overuse that card, though. Gilpatrick had already been too kind with being a reference for me while I hunted for work.
With those numbers in the top corner, joined by my own, I wrote down ‘Hurdles’.
We’d already covered the basics of the major players on the scene. Speedrunners, Birdbrain, Braindead, Bitter Pill. There were others that we’d learn about, I was sure. Prancer was the closest thing we had to a kingpin that needed toppling.
In a hypothetical world where everything went perfectly, I wouldn’t have minded getting Tattletale as a part of things. I wasn’t sure my hopes were that high.
I put them down as the people the group needed to knock down before they could fully set up.
I wrote down ‘Team: Needs name & brand.’
“Ooh,” Kenzie said.
She was watching me write stuff down, her attention no longer on her computers.
“Here,” Tristan said, approaching my whiteboard. He held it up, and then created the orange sparks. They solidified, becoming the legs that raised the whiteboard up to a convenient level.
“There’s no rush to name ourselves,” Sveta said.
“No rush,” I said. “But it needs doing. It’ll be easier to interact with other heroes once you have something. Are you taking a cape name?”
“Probably,” she said. “I’m not sure I want to go the doll route. A little too similar to Mannequin. A lot of the reaching, grabbing names are already taken.”
“Brainstorm, think about it, see what feels comfortable,” I said. “Kenzie and Tristan, you guys too. You probably can’t use your old cape names.”
“I was Optics,” Kenzie said. “I can’t use my old name, I don’t think. PRT owned it.”
“Exactly,” I said.
“I think I can use Capricorn,” Tristan said. “When we reached out to the first Capricorn for permission, they signed over the rights to Byron and me, not to Reach.”
“You’re sure?” I asked.
“Ninety-nine percent sure.”
“That simplifies things,” I said.
“Observer, Pupil, Scrutinizer,” Kenzie said.
“Those are terrible,” Chris said.
“Um. Watcher. Eyewitness, Gape?”
“Oh yeah,” Chris said. “Gape. That doesn’t have connotations at all.”
“Beholder?” Kenzie asked, her eye on her computer screen. “Spectator. Specs. Voyeur?”
“Voyeur. Perfect,” Chris said, filling his voice with sarcasm. “Little Kenzie watching through the window while you change. We could make that a thing.”
“What kind of thing?” Rain asked.
“You could be Groper,” Chris said. “Sveta could be Hentai or Tentacle Love or something.”
“Ew,” Sveta said. “And lame to go there.”
Chris smiled, seemingly not bothered that he’d bothered Sveta. “I could be…”
“Short and curly?” Rain asked.
There were a few chuckles.
“And Victoria, she needs a name and she’s sort of a member of the team,” Chris said.
“I’m shocked, just shocked, at how Chris finally starts participating more when the rude stuff comes up,” Sveta said.
“I’m not,” Kenzie said. “That seems like it’s one hundred percent Chris.”
I smiled. Chris had given me an in, and if I was going to get along with these guys, I needed to put something out there. “If you want to give me a vaguely rude name, tie it to my attention-grabbing aura, me being hard to crack when my defenses are up?”
“You have an idea?” Chris asked.
“Pearl,” I said.
“That’s… really subtle,” he said. “Kind of wimpy.”
“I don’t get it,” Kenzie said.
“I like it because Kenzie doesn’t get it, so I don’t feel weird saying it around her,” I said.
“That’s a good line of thinking,” Sveta said. “I approve.”
She’d stuck out her fist, and I stuck out mine to meet it. “Thank you.”
“I actually agree with Chris,” Kenzie said. She’d turned around and was looking something up online. “Pearl is pretty lame as innuendo goes.”
“But it works,” I said. “It fits. That has to count for something.”
There was a throat-clearing noise, interrupting the back-and-forth. All heads turned toward Tristan.
“I think I have all of you beat,” Tristan said.
“Of course you do,” Rain said.
“Even if you didn’t have us beat, you’d say you had us beat,” Chris said. “And then you’d ruin the joke by insisting you win even when yours is lame.”
“I’m one hundred percent positive I win,” Tristan said. “I have the best rude name. Guarantee you.”
“One hundred percent is pretty confident,” Sveta said.
“I’m one hundred and ten percent confident, even,” Tristan said.
“Out with it, then,” Chris said.
Tristan straightened, fixed his armor at the front, and cleared his throat, drawing it out.
“You’re setting us up for disappointment,” Rain said.
Tristan cleared his throat again, exaggerated, until everyone from Sveta to Chris was rolling their eyes.
“Wet and Horny Teens,” Tristan said.
It said something that nobody wanted to give him a laugh at that. It was Chris who cracked first, falling out of his seat before the impact let the initial guffaw loose. I chuckled, half at Tristan, and half at how much Chris seemed to be enjoying this.
“That’s atrocious,” Sveta said, but she was smiling.
“Tristan is pretty atrocious, so it makes a lot of sense coming from him,” Rain said. “It says a lot that that’s his idea of subtle.”
“It’s subtle like a brick through a window,” Sveta said.
“Come on,” Tristan said. “You guys give me so much shit, you don’t give me any credit. I deserve a win for this one. It’s great.”
Chris was on the floor still, pounding one fist on the floorboards while holding in his laughs.
I looked over at Kenzie, who had her back to the group, her face in her hands as she held in her laughs.
Immature, stupid, but so valuable to have the little bonding moment. I had a smile on my face as I returned to the whiteboard.
My eye returned to the people the group needed to take down, the ones who were in the way, or who were set up in such a way as to make the covert information gathering fail from the get-go.
I wrote down ‘Rain’s situation’.
He needed protection. I added the three members of his cluster, and then drew an arrow, looping back to Tattletale.
The smile dropped away from my face as I stared at her name. It kept going back to her. She was a massive obstacle.
Sveta came to stand next to me, looking at my whiteboard. “Distract me from these perverts.”
I stuck out my marker, putting a dot beside Tattletale’s name.
“You’ve got a bit of a grudge,” Sveta said.
“I’ve got a lot of a grudge,” I said. “A lot of things would be simpler if we could do something about her. I’m thinking…”
“You have an idea?” Sveta asked.
“Yeah,” I said. I turned around. “I have an idea. I don’t suppose you have any contacts or favors you can pull in? With capes, specifically?”
“Maybe,” Sveta said. “Weld, and Weld’s friends. I’m kind of reluctant to go there though.”
I nodded. It made sense that she was reluctant. Sveta wanted to stand on her own. Going that route would be the opposite of what she wanted.
“What’s this?” Rain asked.
“Friends, contacts,” Sveta said. “Capes we could reach out to. Victoria has an idea.”
“I do,” Kenzie said, perking up some as she caught wind of our conversation. “Or I might. I can try. What’s this for?”
“Making a first move, in a way that won’t give the lawyer headaches,” I said. “It’s not going to make us any friends though.”
“Seems to be an emerging pattern, that,” Rain said.
If we aren’t in a position to behead the snake, maybe we can de-fang it.