“Classify the following angles as obtuse, acute, or right,” Kenzie said. She sighed.
“You know this?” I asked.
She looked up from her homework and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know this. I didn’t have the words to describe what I knew before taking the class but I get this.”
“Make it interesting,” I said. “Challenge yourself, try to answer as fast as you can, and try to get past where you’re having to think about it and get to where the knowledge is automatic.”
“Acute, acute, obtuse, right, acute, obtuse, acute, right, right,” she said. “I’m really tempted to sit down and make up my own questions to leave on the worksheet for the teacher, except I’d have to look things up to make sure some mathematician didn’t already give it a name. What’s it called when it’s a full circle? Three hundred and sixty degrees of angle?”
I frowned. “You’re asking me to think back about seven years right now. Complete, I think?”
“Full, complete, or perigon,” Chris said.
All heads craned around to look at him. He was sitting in a corner, a table to his left, with so many things piled up that the bag, costume, snacks and notebooks loomed well over the top of his head. He sat on a chair with his feet up on the seat, a comic and phone on his lap. He had his headphones on, but only one was covering an ear.
He realized people were looking and frowned. “What?”
“You actually have a brain?” Tristan asked.
“I studied it a few weeks ago,” Chris said, shrugging, turning his attention back to his comic.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t remember studying that when I was your age,” Tristan said.
“I self-study. There aren’t enough seats in schools so they gave us the option of doing these workbooks and handing them in. I’ve lost track of how far ahead I got,” Chris said. “It’s why I don’t have homework. My regular schoolwork is the homework and I get that done earlier in the day.”
“Perigon,” Kenzie said to herself, hunched over her worksheet and books, a pen in hand. “That one sounds best. Let’s call this one a… hyper-perigon angle.”
“More complete an angle than a circle?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “If you want to get into multidimensional space then you have to get there somehow. So you make a circle that’s more closed than a regular circle and that gives you an in, right? It can be theoretical if you want but obviously this is one of a hundred ways I can start pushing the boundaries.”
She drew on the paper with her pen, drawing out a perfect circle and then scribbling out extra lines and numbers.
“You’re aware you can’t hand that in now, right?” I said.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Kenzie said. “Once you’re there you can start thinking about lenses positioned to use the excess space you’ve given yourself and play that out. I heard somewhere that images that hit the back of your eye get flipped upside-down, and the brain turns it back upright. So we write something down that lets us toy with that concept…”
Her pen moved as she wrote out a mathematical formula.
“…And from there we get the reflected extra space on the other side of the lens constant. In brief, we start talking about hyper-hyper-perigon angles.”
“Hyper is right,” Chris muttered.
“Shh, leave her alone,” Sveta said.
Kenzie looked up at me, “This is where I have to leave you behind, Victoria, because I get stuff that’s hyper-hyper but I can’t help you get it.”
“Frankly, you left me behind a minute ago,” I said. “What are the hearts, stars, and apples you’re writing down?”
“It’s algebra, duh. You don’t have to use X and Y or A and B. You can use anything to represent the variable. I like hearts and stars and apples.”
“I feel like if you autopsied Kenzie, she’d have a bowl of breakfast cereal instead of gray matter.”
Kenzie spun around, sticking out a hand to grab the desk so she didn’t keep spinning. She stared at Chris, “I feel like if we autopsied you, Chris, we’d find you have one of those tumors with teeth, eyes and hair in it instead of a brain.”
“There’s a good chance you actually would,” Chris said. “That’d be cool.”
“Yes it would,” Kenzie said, very seriously. She spun herself around, grabbing the desk, now facing her defaced homework.
Sveta walked over from the whiteboard, where she’d finished tracing the faces that had once been projected onto it. An artist’s sketch of the players we’d seen and been involved with. Another part of the whiteboard had some name ideas.
“You can’t hand that in,” Sveta said.
“I said that already,” I said.
Kenzie looked up at me. “People often ask how the tinkering stuff works. It’s real easy. All it takes is closing a circle extra closed and having the right lens to use the wrinkles and bulges that result.”
“Easy,” I said, smiling a little.
She continued drawing out math and lines. She had a steady hand when it came to drawing out the geometry. I idly wondered if her tinker power played into that. She began drawing out a gun, similar to her flash pistol.
The drawing of a woman’s face was comparatively, almost ludicrously crude compared to the gun she’d drawn out. Kenzie scribbled out the eyes, then wrote out ‘I gave boring angle homework and now I’m blind foreverrrr’.
She wrote out a few more ‘r’s and then paused, scribbling out ‘boring’ and writing ‘obtuse’ above the scribble.
“Kenzie,” Sveta said, with a truly impressive amount of disappointment in the one word.
Kenzie turned her head slightly, looking up at Sveta with one eye that twinkled with mischief. She looked back at her work, writing down an extra ‘oh no’ by the teacher’s head.
I cocked my head, listening as Kenzie worked with renewed energy.
“You’re getting carried away,” Sveta said.
I looked at the boxes near Kenzie, saw the projector box to Kenzie’s right had a face lit up. It was pointed at the whiteboard Sveta had been working on, but no longer projected the camera images of the faces.
Reaching down, I plucked the pen from Kenzie’s hand.
She didn’t protest or stop me, only leaning back as I picked up the paper.
I walked a few paces away, holding up the sheet, glanced back at the projector box, and then walked another two paces.
The projected image of the scribblings, tinker notes and doodles disappeared. I turned it around to show Sveta.
She took the sheet, then experimented with moving it inside and beyond the boundaries of the projector box. Kenzie perched on the edge of her seat, watching, her tongue sticking out between her teeth, where she lightly bit it.
“Well played,” I said.
“I said it was fine,” she said.
“She filled in some of the right answers with real pen marks while scribbling,” Sveta observed. She turned the sheet around, moving it through the air.
The scratched out word with ‘obtuse’ over it had been cover for putting ‘obtuse’ into one of the blanks.
“Very well played,” I said.
Sveta handed the sheet back. Kenzie put it down and moved her hand. The projector moved the image of the scribblings on her whiteboard, leaving the sheet normal. She flipped it over and sighed, head lolling back. Without looking at the sheet, she said, “Acute, right, obtuse, acute, acute, obtuse.”
Sveta approached, putting a hand on Kenzie’s head. “How about instead of doing the math homework you could do in your sleep, you take advantage of having us here to help you with stuff you aren’t as strong with? What do you struggle with?”
“I get As in everything and A pluses in some stuff. But I work on English for the longest and I’m a little less good at gym. Mostly when I get bad marks it’s because I lost marks because my teachers are fed up with me.”
“Fed up?” I asked.
“Mrs. Beyer docked my grade because I wanted to stay inside at recess to talk with her about a project and she said I couldn’t and she needed a break from me. She said no ifs ands or buts and I said but, so she penalized my grade. Then when I tried to argue she took off a mark for every word I said. Five marks for five words, and one for the but- don’t even say it, Chris.”
Chris was talking with Tristan and Rain. “You’re so self-important you think I’m listening to you?”
Kenzie smiled, rolling her eyes a bit.
“English, then?” Sveta asked.
“It takes me the longest,” Kenzie said.
Sveta looked at me. “How were you in English?”
“B minus or thereabouts,” I said. “I did better with the courses I took at the hospital than I did in high school.”
“I write good papers and I’m good with themes and symbolism, but the classes I took in high school spent so long on each thing I felt like my brain was turning inside out with boredom. I’d start resenting the books and I sabotaged myself by not doing the related work or reading it myself. Don’t do that, Kenzie.”
“I do well in English, even with the parts we sit on forever,” Sveta said. “I’ll take point in helping Kenzie, you help?”
“Sure,” I said.
My role ended up being even more backseat than that. Sveta had read the book, and I hadn’t. I stood back, watching, glanced back at the others, where the three boys were talking video games, which they had been doing since before Kenzie had started on her homework, and I rolled my eyes.
Rain stepped away from the conversation. Grabbing a marker from the packet, he wrote ‘Rain’ at the top corner of his whiteboard.
Below that, he wrote, ‘names’, followed by ‘Bracer’, ‘Clasp’, and ‘Pinch’.
I approached, looking.
“No homework?” I asked.
“I like to do it late. My family mostly leaves me alone while I’m doing it, and I get to tire out my brain and distract myself from what sleeping actually involves. I can go straight from that to bed.”
I nodded. “Sounds like you have a system then. If you ever need help with studying, I’m happy to help.”
“I’m a pretty crummy student, but I get by. I think I’ll be okay.”
“Yeah. I can’t see myself doing anything that leans too heavily on the school thing anyway.”
“You’d be surprised at how it comes into play,” I said.
“Maybe. But… I dunno if I see myself being alive and well a few years from now. That might be some of it.”
“Because of your cluster?”
“Because capes don’t tend to live that long. Because things were going south well before Gold Morning and it doesn’t feel like anything’s over or stopped. Every day, I think about the fact that there are still Endbringers out there. Broken triggers. Dangerous people with too much power.”
“There’s heroes. People stopping those things. Maybe you’ll be one of them. People die- it sucks but not all of them die. Not all of us.”
“I guess,” he said. “It might sound like I’m trying to ask for a pep talk, but I’m really not. Right now, I’m focused on things I gotta do. Like a name.”
That was my signal to back off. Fine.
“Clasp is a fairly decent name. Could work with the right costume. I’m not sure it feels right with the blaster power.”
“I was thinking of seizing something, as a prelude to something, or unclasping as… it sounded better in my head. Don’t laugh at my terrible names or reasoning, please,” he said. “Making a name that captures all of your powers when you have four is a pain in the ass. I’m just brainstorming.”
“I’m not going to make fun,” I said. “I have no idea what I’m going to call myself when I get back to the costumed heroics.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I was trying to think of names that might sound like they refer to the hands and the set-up, knock-down part of the power. Kind of. I don’t know.”
“Bracer’s taken, by the way,” I said. “I’m not sure of the others.”
He reached down to the pile of stuff at the foot of his board and picked up one of his tinker arms. It was just a bit thinner than his regular arm, just a bit shorter. Kenzie’s picture of a gun had looked more ‘tinker’ than this. It was wires with sheet metal bent into a crude, hand-like shape around it. He brought the textured plastic pad up to his shoulder and bound the straps around his shoulder, armpit, and upper arm before tapping it twice. He winced, showing his teeth momentarily.
“Hurts?” I asked.
“Nervous connection, and a bit of excess energy with the switch-on. I could fine tune it so it doesn’t shock me, but I might break something in the process. Ashley’s hands are made by someone who doesn’t even focus on prosthetics and they’re better than what I make.”
“You might be better than you think.”
“Mrs. Yamada thinks I have self esteem problems, but I do suck, so it’s more like I’m too aware of my reality. My blaster power is okay, because it’s mine, but it’s kind of all or nothing, leaning just a bit toward nothing, especially if I’m avoiding trying to kill, which I am.”
“Okay,” I said. I thought of him jumping off the train. I wondered how honest he was about it. “The mover power, it lets you…”
He stepped back, then jogged a few steps, stopping mid-run, as if he’d frozen in time. He hadn’t, though. While suspended at an angle someone else would have tipped over, he twisted around and put a foot out to one side. He moved in another direction, back to his board.
“Any limitations? If I used my full strength and threw you, would you only slow down?”
“No. I’d stop. If I timed it right, I could fall from a plane, hit terminal velocity and then stop myself just before hitting the ground. It’s- it’d be useful then, it’s useful if I want to not fall over or if I want to maneuver a bit. But it’s not that amazing as powers go.”
He wasn’t lying, then. Not about that. There were uses, but it did sound somewhat limited for even a secondary power.
He seemed to read something in my expression, because he had further protests, “It’s really not that amazing. I have to wait between each use of it, and it’s not something I can build a name or identity around. The emotion power has no impact or visual side to it, so it’s out too.”
“A few of the multi-triggers I’m aware of tend to have more… I’m not sure what the word is. Esoteric or abstract names. The one villain in my town was Circus. The solution to a disparate set of powers is to just create something more out there that has its own identity, and then fit your powers to match, instead of trying to fit your identity to a random set of powers.”
“Identity like what?”
“Like… if you’re standing back and using your blaster power, maybe something like a warlock aesthetic. You could have a robe, multiple arms, you’ve got your ‘magic’, both with the blaster power and the emotion one.”
“No,” he said, quieter than before. He stared at the board. “Not like that. That’s not me and I don’t want to go there.”
“Okay,” I said. I folded my arms, looking at the names he’d put down. “If you like video games… is there an aesthetic or character or kind of game you could tap into?”
“I’d be worried about choosing something I get tired of a month from now.”
“Just…” I started, trying to think of a good argument. “Just as a starting point, to get you thinking.”
“The space opera game I got from Chris, one of the things he gave me to keep me sane when I’m out in the middle of nowhere and I don’t want to bother Erin. Chris, what’s the Void class I played, the worker one?”
“There are three. Miner, welder, and rigger. You played either of the last two.”
Rain nodded to himself, then looked at the board.
He started to write something down. He got as far as Rig when I said, “Rigger and Rig are taken.”
Rain threw down the marker and he clenched both his tinker and regular hands into fists. “Son of a…”
“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” I said.
“What does it matter?” Tristan asked. He was still hanging with Chris at the one end of the room. “Names are taken, so what? It’s not like there’s a system out there enforcing that stuff. Kenzie could call herself Optics, it’s not like there’s a PRT.”
“I don’t want to though,” Kenzie said. “It gets complicated.”
“Okay, but for the sake of argument,” Tristan said. “Why couldn’t she if she wanted to?”
“Rigger or Rig could still be alive,” I said. “And we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with people picking up where the PRT left off. Finding a good name and identity you’re comfortable with is hard, and capes tend to be protective of their names as a result. Mix-ups and headaches used to be common and we don’t want to go there. People travel to your town to literally fight you over a name.”
“I’m still not sold on the PRT issue,” Tristan said. “They’re gone. They aren’t coming back.”
“The remnants of them are. Organizations using their files and methods. A military-esque group following the rules and regulations of the PRT’s code of justice. There are headaches involved.”
There was a knock at the door. Sveta started toward it, but Kenzie leaped out of her chair and beat her to it, opening the door.
Kenzie saluted as Ashley entered. Ashley had a plastic bag with books and her dress in it. She moved those things out of the way, holding them while Kenzie fished the two camera drones out of the bottom of the bag.
“Good work,” Tristan said. “Lawyer-person left some tips, but I liked a lot about how you handled that.”
“It was very natural,” I said. “You’ll probably like the headaches you gave them, putting them on the spot like you did. Kenzie got some of their conversation after.”
“How was the train ride?” Sveta asked. “You might have to go back and forth a bit, I hope it isn’t too boring.”
“It was fine. I read a book. A baby cried after looking at me and I was amused.”
“A baby cried?” Tristan asked.
“I look intimidating, apparently.”
“Or it cried because it’s a baby,” Chris said. “Babies cry about everything. They’re stupid like that.”
“It cried because of me,” Ashley said. “I’ve made enough people cry to know when it’s because of me.”
Chris shrugged. “I’ll defer to the expert.”
“It could be because you’re different,” Kenzie said. “The first house I was in growing up, there were mostly only black people in my neighborhood, and I remember my aunt had a baby and the baby cried whenever he saw a white person. It might be like that. Except you’ve got the cool eyes and hair.”
“On that topic,” Ashley said. “Eye. Mine’s bothering me.”
“Oh, sure, I’ll get it,” Kenzie said. She ran to her desk, then ran back to Ashley, who bent down, one hand on Kenzie’s shoulder.
Sticking a pair of tweezers into Ashley’s eye, Kenzie grabbed and withdrew the camera. It had a flat head like a nail, but the camera’s body more closely resembled a pin in how thin and long it was, with wires encircling its length in a double-helix.
I winced a little, watching it come out. Ashley didn’t seem to mind.
“I can’t stand that,” Sveta said. “Maybe it’s because eyes are one of the only things I have, but eeesh.”
She rattled a bit as she shuddered or mimed a shudder.
“It’s phased out, you wimps,” Kenzie said. “It’s not actually stabbing anything. It treats the eye as a portal and a model and unfolds in non-space using that framework.”
“I felt it moving around,” Ashley said.
“It’s mostly not actually stabbing anything,” Kenzie corrected her statement. “One to three percent in reality at most, stabbing at things. Sorry. I’ll fine tune the phase. It might be responding to your power.”
“I have regular appointments with someone who can give me a replacement if you destroy my eye,” Ashley said. “I’m not worried. I trust you.”
“Awesome,” Kenzie said, wiping the camera-pin with a tissue.
I wasn’t sure it was ‘awesome’. I knew who that person was. Bonesaw.
“We watched what we could before you left and the flying cameras ran out of battery,” I said. “Then we talked about plans and did some homework.”
“Thinking about names,” Rain said.
“Rude jokes about names too,” Chris said. “Tristan had a good one.”
“Glad I missed that,” Ashley said.
“You have a board, just so you know,” Kenzie said. “You can make notes.”
“I’m fine,” Ashley said. “What plans were you talking about?”
“We wanted to wait until you were here to do anything,” I said. “Tattletale’s a persistent issue. She’s lurking in the background, and she’s hard to shake. Instead of having her looming, it might be nice to rattle her a bit. It might be possible to do it in a way that doesn’t tip her off about who you guys are or how you’re operating.”
“How?” Ashley asked.
I explained, “Kenzie can call her old teammates. We’ll offer an exchange. A favor for a favor. We know that the people in Cedar Point are easily spooked. This is new, untested ground, and thanks to you, we know that Prancer is the closest thing they have to a boss and he’s inexperienced. We can put them on the back foot.”
“I’ll give you the transcript and a recording so you can check it out on your own time,” Kenzie told Ashley.
“Back foot?” Ashley asked.
“They’re easily spooked and Tattletale gave them free questions they can ask. They’ve used some already, and they might have used them all,” I said. “So… we leverage hero groups and some secondary people. They do a one-loop patrol or light investigation, show their faces.”
“Pressure,” Tristan said. “Part of why you patrol in the first place, but we’re using other people.”
“We can apply pressure on our own,” Ashley said. “We have me, and we have Chris.”
“The law student said you should back off a bit,” Sveta said. “You did a good job of being intimidating and believable. It would be better if we stirred the pot some, let them focus on other things, heat dies down. There’s less of a chance they’ll investigate you if they’re focused on heroes.”
I jumped in, “Seeing how you were in Prancer’s face, I think it might be better to have you keep doing that, than to have you inexplicably be nicer or calmer. We just drop you back into Cedar Point when they’ve already got their hands full, you get to make them miserable and blindside them. They might even turn to you for help.”
“And that gives us power,” Ashley said.
“And we have a trump card,” Tristan said. “The recording of the conversation with Tattletale. That’s endgame stuff, but if it turns out she’s digging and she’s on our trail anyway, we can use it to mess with her. We can give them the impression she wanted us to pressure them so they’d use questions and keep buying her services.”
Hm. Maybe not the best thing if Ashley was that pleased with my idea.
I decided I had her on board and I had her playing nice. Time to sell her on the more cautious, moderated part of things. “We play this slow, but we can maintain power, we can put them on the back foot, and we have a way of screwing up one of the major players on the bad guy’s side. That last one is the kind of thing we’ll want to consult outside parties for. Tip off the Wardens or one of the big teams that we’re messing with Tattletale, in case they want that to coincide with something else they’ve got going on.”
“More people involved is more chances a spy gives up the wrong info,” Chris said.
“Very true,” I said. “That’s where it’s good to make it so we’re only calling people we know and trust. Former teammates. I think we can reasonably assume the likes of Chevalier are fairly legit. Others, we control the information we give them. We do this smart.”
“I like it,” Ashley said.
“I can call my old teammates,” Kenzie said, collapsing back into her computer chair. She put the eyeball-pin camera into a jewelry box. “I don’t know if they’ll say yes, but I can try.”
“If everything else falls through, I can call Weld and ask if he knows people,” Sveta said.
“There are options,” I said. “I met some people at the community center. They might help me out.”
“I know people too,” Ashley said. “From my appointments. I can try asking when I next run into them.”
“You’re sure? You actually have hero friends?” Tristan asked.
“No. But they’re heroes other people trust to work with someone like me, we talk, and I can exchange favors with them.”
“That’s awesome,” Sveta said.
“I’ll call mine, first?” Kenzie asked.
The others agreed. Chris was still in the corner with his phone and comic, and Tristan walked over to grab him, wheeling him to the center of the room so he’d participate. Chris did crack a smile at that.
“Still feeling that hit of joy from the other day?” Rain asked.
“Indulgence, not joy. I’m indulging myself or other people if I smile.”
“Shhhh!” Kenzie shushed people. “I’m on the phone.”
There was a pause.
“Hi, Houndstooth,” she said.
“I found it online.”
Pause. Sveta used the break in Kenzie speaking to shoot me a worried look.
“It’s technically online. It didn’t take much to figure it out.”
“No, I don’t want to bother you. I’m part of a different team now and we’re doing our thing. Yeah. We’re calling people we know and trust and exchanging favors for favors, and I thought I’d ask you, since you seemed like you might be interested based on how the last conversation went.”
“I thought it went okay,” Kenzie said, smiling and rolling her eyes.
“It’s fine. Really. I’m not-”
“Okay,” she said. She pulled the phone away from her ear. “Houndstooth wants to talk to the person in charge of the group.”
I saw Ashley and Tristan exchange looks.
“I hate phones,” Ashley said.
Tristan reached for the phone.
“Houndstooth. I’m Capricorn. Yeah. Team Reach. Group of six with a coach that’s a partial member, kind of.”
He glanced at me as he said it, and I shrugged.
“Everyone’s here. We’ve got a thing going on, we were thinking of cooperating with other groups. Can I put you on speaker?”
There was a pause.
Kenzie turned around, and hit a key on her keyboard.
An image appeared in the center of our group, and most of us backed away.
A still image of a person. He had a sleek, Anubis-like helmet or mask that encapsulated his head. His actual outfit was sleek as well, but Western. Nothing of an actual houndstooth pattern, ironically.
“You’re on speaker, I think,” Tristan said.
“Hi guys,” Houndstooth said. He sounded more adult than ‘kid’. “I’ve got to admit, I’m wary.”
“Understandable. I get that this comes out of nowhere,” Tristan said. “Listen, this is a take-it-or-leave-it thing, we’re fine if you decide it’s too much of a question mark and pass. Offer is a favor for a favor. There’s an area we’re interested in, and we’re hoping to get some other people showing up there, patrols. Maximizing pressure and seeing what we can shake up.”
“Can’t say until you agree, but it’s not too dangerous.”
“I can think of a few places it could be, especially if you’re a new team operating in open jurisdictions. New Brockton, or one of the Fallen camps, big or small.”
Kenzie wrote something down. She held up the paper.
“Less dangerous than that, even,” Tristan said.
“We show up, we… patrol, make our presences known. What’s the fallout?”
“Twenty percent chance they pick a fight?” Tristan asked. He looked around at the group.
“Ten at most, and only if you stick around. I visited and they took half an hour before showing their faces,” Ashley said. “They won’t go for the jugular, either. Worst case is they bruise your pride.”
“I’m feeling more like this is one of those places the B-listers are moving to, now.”
“No comment,” Tristan said.
“Yeah,” Houndstooth said. “And we can call in a favor in exchange? What sort? You patrol somewhere or help us pull off a complicated arrest?”
Kenzie pointed to herself.
“We’ve got Optics, who’s not calling herself Optics anymore, for one thing,” Sveta spoke up.
“You’re lucky,” Houndstooth said. Kenzie sat up straighter.
“…but I’m thinking in other directions.” Houndstooth finished. Kenzie slouched in her seat.
“What kind of directions?” Tristan asked.
“I’m thinking. Capricorn, can I hold onto this favor without naming it?”
Tristan looked around. There were a few nods. Tristan said, “Sure. That was my original take on how this would go. The others seem cool with that. I’ll give you my phone number.”
Tristan gave his number. There was a break while Houndstooth took it down.
“If you’re game, I think we can let you know where we’re thinking of,” I said. The others nodded, so I added, “Cedar Point. Hollow Point in villain vernacular.”
“You know,” Houndstooth said. “It bothered me that it wasn’t being looked after.”
“That was my feeling too,” I said.
“Who’s speaking, can I ask?”
“Victoria Dallon. I used to be Glory Girl, and I’m the coach, so to speak.”
“I know the name. Hi. You’re wanting to rattle these guys?”
“That’s the basic idea,” I said.
“Basic idea? Even before you said that, I had the impression there was a less basic part to the idea. Am I right about there being more to this?”
“Some. Nothing that impacts you negatively,” I said.
Tristan spoke up, “We’re hoping to tap some others, maintain pressure, and hold off on getting personally involved until we know how much reach these guys really have.”
“They’re bit players. This thing happens now and again. It tends to self-combust.”
Tristan looked at me.
Passing the ball to me? I said, “We know how much reach they probably have, and there’s some.”
I went on, “Personally speaking, I don’t want this to combust. Some skirmishes are probably inevitable, but these guys aren’t, as was said earlier, going to go for the jugular. I want to keep it limited to that.”
“I don’t want to see any places combusting either. If you think it’s safe and if you want to help save Cedar Point, I think I can sell my team on a patrol or two.”
“That’d be great,” Tristan said.
“If something happens and we get in over our heads, you back us up or call the bigger names?”
“Of course,” Tristan said. “Probably the latter. We’ve got kids and stuff, and we’ve been urged on multiple fronts to keep on the down-low.”
Ashley looked annoyed at that.
“Alright,” Houndstooth said. “Hm. I know another team that might be okay doing something similar, if you’re wanting to get others on board. I can put you in touch with them, but I’d want a minor favor. One I already have in mind.”
“If they’re trustworthy and won’t spill our role in things or why people are showing interest in Cedar Point. What’s the favor?”
“They are trustworthy. Before I commit my team, I want to meet you guys face to face. Grab a coffee or something. Glory Girl and Capricorn and whoever else is in a leadership position.”
Kenzie sunk further in her seat, so low her head couldn’t roll backward off the back of the chair. Instead, she slid to one side, her head closer to the armrest. She indicated herself, pointing, eyes rolling back so the whites showed.
“I think that should be fine,” Tristan said. He looked at Kenzie, and she nodded, exaggerated. “Yeah. That’s good.”
“Great. The team I’m thinking of is Auzure. Corporate.”
“I know them,” I said. “I’m not sure they’re my top choice.”
“I don’t recommend them lightly,” Houndstooth said. “They’re by-the-book, serious, they’re strong for a small team, they stick to their word, and they’re looking for opportunities to get out there.”
“That last bit is what concerns me,” I said. “They’re looking for exposure and this team wants more subtlety. We want the villains in Cedar Point wondering why heroes are there and tapping their resources.”
“And you get to see what resources they have.”
“Basically,” I said.
“You keep using that word and I keep realizing you’ve really got a plan. Okay. I think I like this. Auzure is out, then? That’s your gut feeling?”
“Can I put you on mute while I confer?” I asked. “I’m just the coach, I don’t want to make decisions.”
Kenzie sat up and hit a key on her keyboard. A red ‘x’ appeared over the mouth and ears of the hologram image of Houndstooth.
Really weird that she had that, I noted.
“What’s up?” Tristan asked.
“I interviewed for Auzure. They were just a bit sleazy. Greedy. Their reason for interviewing me was to get at my family, just as one example of a red flag that came up. My feeling is if you guys bring them in, they’ll try to do something flashy or get more involved than you want them.”
“If that’s the case, I’d rather avoid them,” Sveta said.
“They sound like the bad kind of corporate team,” Tristan said. “But I might be biased. Okay. Any thoughts? Objections?”
“We could use them in a limited capacity,” I said. “Have them make a phone call, instead of actually showing up.”
“Phone call?” Rain asked.
“Yeah. Can I just see what Houndstooth says to this?”
“Sure,” Tristan said. “Unmute.”
“Houndstooth,” I said.
“In the interest of keeping Auzure involved in only a limited capacity, what if we had them call someone and ask about renting space? No commitment, just see if the person reports it to the villains in town. The villains would probably stress over the notion.”
“Stress you want. Yeah. Could work.”
“Ideally, we’d ask Auzure to call when Auzure is busy.”
“You don’t want them in your jurisdiction?”
“…Yeah.” I said. I almost said ‘basically’.
“I hear you. Yeah. I think they’ve got something going on right now. Rumors of war on the horizon. Earth C. If you used them in the next week, I don’t think they’d pick up on hints.”
“We’d need to figure out who we want Auzure to call, so that the person called might tip off the villains. It might be tight to get that information in a week, but yeah.”
“You’ve got Kenzie. I think you’ll do just fine on that front.”
I looked at Kenzie, expecting her to perk up. She smiled, but she didn’t really show much more enthusiasm at the praise.
“We’ll have that face to face meeting,” Tristan said. “We can hammer out particulars then.”
“Yes. I’ll call you after I’ve raised the idea with my team, and we’ll figure out a time to meet. I’ll keep quiet on it being Cedar Point until they’re on board.”
“Great,” Tristan said. “I’ll let you go now.”
“Alright. Another day, Capricorn.”
The phone call ended.
“I like him,” I said. I looked at Kenzie. “Good recommendation.”
“Yup,” she said. “He’s going to want to dish out all the super embarrassing dirt on me from two years ago. Uggh.”
“We know the dirt,” Rain said. “Most of us.”
“Uugh,” Kenzie groaned. “It’s like having friends over and your parents bringing out the photo album. Except way, way worse, because I wasn’t a baby when I messed up with Houndstooth around, and it’s so much worse than being in the tub or having food on my face.”
“We know your history, we know you’ve made great strides,” Sveta said. “I can’t speak for the others, but to me, you’re about those strides and those successes. You’re not defined by your worst days.”
“Uuuuuuggh,” Kenzie said.
“Right?” Sveta pressed.
“Yeah,” Kenzie said.
“It didn’t sound like that call was easy to make. If Houndstooth is on the up-and-up, then it was a really, really good recommendation,” I said.
“He is. He’s one of the best true-blue heroes I know,” Kenzie said, smiling a little.
“Two teams we can use to apply some pressure and get Cedar Point to reach out to Tattletale,” Tristan said.
“Even if they catch on, they’ll be left wondering. Heroes on your turf aren’t something you can ignore. Ignoring that makes you look weak,” Ashley said.
And one way or another, we would strain the relationship with this group and Tattletale, and make them less likely or able to call on her when we made our play.
Kenzie stood from her seat, walking over to her board. She began copying down a redacted version of the scribbled-down tinker notes from before.
She was bothered, that much was clear. Now she was stepping away to dwell on the tinker stuff. That didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world.
On one wall, the one operating camera drone was showing a view of Cedar Point. Sunny, largely abandoned, and a little rough around the edges, covered in graffiti with broken things here and there from a riot or protest that hadn’t been cleaned up after.
The group was talking amongst themselves, about what needed to be done and arranged.
“Rain’s thing needs some attention,” Tristan said.
“We can talk some about that tonight, and talk more tomorrow. Offer for an escort stands, Rain.”
“Nah,” he said. “I don’t want to play that card yet.”
“Kenzie said she could do some of the surveillance from home, but we’ll probably want to meet here if we meet,” Tristan said. “Kenzie will be a regular. I can come once in a blue moon.”
“I’ll be here when I’m not there,” Ashley said. “If I’m holding off, then I’ll be here for the next bit.”
“Cool,” Kenzie said, turning. She’d added something to the board. ‘Name? Look-see / Looksee’.’
“I’ll be here too,” Chris said. He’d stood from his chair and was walking around Kenzie’s desk, peering at the tinker stuff. “Or around here. Sometimes I just sit around outside or find a place to read comics or watch stuff on my phone.”
I saw Kenzie nod to herself, glancing back over one shoulder at Chris.
‘Cool’, she’d said. I wasn’t sure it was. I hadn’t quite anticipated this, but with people being where they were, with the older members helping Rain, Ashley being available for surveillance, it meant Kenzie and Chris and Ashley would be spending more extended periods of time together.
Or, put another way, the ex-Slaughterhouse Nine member and the two ‘kids’ of the team.
“I’ll stop in regularly,” I said. “Keep an eye on things.”
“Yep,” Sveta said. “Rotate or something? With overlap, because you and I need to hang out.”
“Naturally,” I said, smiling. She’d picked up on the same concerns I had.
“A few of us here at any given time,” Tristan said.
There was a bit more conversation, hashing out particulars of schedule, as well as who was available on what days.
“I could stop in at Cedar Point. They know I was poking my head in before, but there’s no reason to let them think I’m gone and dealt with,” I said.
“You’ve got the hero itch,” Sveta said.
“It’s not the hero itch,” I said. “It’s that Tattletale told me to go away and it means something if I don’t.”
“Chris!” Kenzie raised her voice.
Chris froze. He was leaning close to her projector box. Stuff was piled on top.
“Do not touch my bag!” she said, way louder and more intense than was necessary.
“Not touching a thing,” he said. “Relax.”
“I’m not going to relax! Back off!”
“What, is it going to blow up or something?” he asked, with a chuckle.
Kenzie strode forward, through the group, “Step back and leave my stuff alone!”
“I didn’t touch anything. Really.”
“Kenzie,” Sveta said. “He didn’t touch anything.”
“And stop saying my stuff is going to blow up!” Kenzie said, volume still raised. She shot Chris a look and smiled. “Pretty please? It’s really not funny.”
“That was my fault,” I said. “I brought it up first. I’ve dealt with tinkers and hyperdimensional tech makes me nervous.”
“You’re fine,” Kenzie said. “You’ve been cool. I like you. I have more mixed feelings about Chris. And I have very strong feelings about things like my bag being messed with.”
Chris threw his hands up, retreated to the chair that Tristan had initially brought to the edge of where everyone was standing, and kicked at the ground, wheeling himself back to his corner.
I met Sveta’s eyes. We communicated more or less telepathically: more supervision would be needed.
Kenzie was now rummaging, gathering her stuff and getting it organized. She had what looked like a gym bag, white with pink piping as trim, and big plastic zipper tabs. She put stuff in it and then picked it up.
“Want to have a chat, Kenz?” I asked.
She drew in a deep breath and sighed heavily, bag held close. “Fine.”
“It’s not obligatory,” I said.
“It’s fine. Yes. Chat. You’re cool. Some people aren’t.”
“Referring to yourself?” Chris asked.
“Not helping, Chris,” Tristan called out.
I led Kenzie out the side door, to the fire escape that was the access to the mostly unfurnished apartment. The air outside was far warmer than the air inside. It was late in the afternoon.
“Sorry,” Kenzie said. She put her bag down on one corner of the fire escape, then leaned against the railing, looking down as she wound her foot around the strap.
“It’s okay,” I said.
“I’m really glad you’re here,” she said. “And I kind of like that you don’t know all the bad stuff.”
“You’re worried about what Houndstooth is going to say?”
“I don’t like being embarrassed,” she said. “And it’s really, really embarrassing.”
I didn’t like standing over her, so I walked over to where the stairs met the little platform of rusty slats and sat down sideways with my back to the exterior wall of the building. Not facing her directly, but I could comfortably look her way.
“I hear you,” I said. “I said it before, but I’m grateful you were willing to get closer to that territory to help everyone out. I have things I don’t like thinking about or getting into and I know what it takes to go there.”
“I didn’t even really think about it so it’s not all that,” Kenzie said.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Talking is good,” Kenzie said, eyes on where the strap was wound around her ankle and foot. “You ever- have you ever been so humiliated that you wished the earth would open up and swallow you up?”
“I think everyone has. It’s part of being young, that you fumble your way through things.”
“Urgh,” she said. “I… I once embarrassed myself really, really badly.”
“And it wasn’t just one earth that split open but a multiverse of them. I was so humiliated an alien actually noticed and reached between those earths and into my head. And now I- everything’s messy and hard.”
“Sveta and the others seem to think you’re doing better.”
“I am. I’m mostly good. I backslide now and again, but I get a handle on things and I have people who help when I do.”
“That’s good,” I said. “That’s an achievement, especially when you’ve got an alien tied to you. You’re swimming with an anchor around your waist, and you’ve reached the shallow water. That’s incredible.”
Kenzie nodded. She didn’t smile.
“He saw me not long after everything went wrong. And then he saw me a while later when I joined his team and I wasn’t exactly great then either. Even if he saw me at my best now I don’t know if he’d be able to look past all the bad he’s seen before.”
“You might not be giving him enough credit,” I said.
“Maybe,” Kenzie said. “But I might be giving him just enough credit, and I might be really worried that this cool heroine who’s helping us out might see or hear about the bad and then she not be able to see past it, either.”
“The others have heard some of it, haven’t they?”
“From my mouth. That’s different.”
“They’ve heard it and they want you on their team. They respect you. Whatever happens, I don’t think Houndstooth can say anything that’s going to have more weight than what Sveta says, because Sveta’s awesome and I respect her a ton.”
“She’s great,” Kenzie said, staring down at her feet. “She’s the best.”
“And,” I said, pausing. “Whatever he says, I don’t think it should have more weight than what you say, either. Not when people like Sveta trust and respect you and I trust and respect her. Okay?”
Kenzie sniffed. A slightly runny nose, now. She wasn’t crying that I could see, but she might’ve been close.
“Can I give you a hug?” I asked.
“No,” She said. She stooped down and picked up her bag. She craned her head around, and looked through the window.
The window was opaque, the surface blurred. Kenzie’s tech, I realized.
“Come,” Kenzie said. Bag in her arms, she hauled the door open, and held it for me as I followed.
The others were watching. Sveta was on her way to the door, no doubt to let us know what was going on.
Two people were in the center of the camera’s focus, walking down the streets of Cedar Point.
I recognized one as Snag, and I could guess the other was the woman of Rain’s cluster.
Rain turned his head, looking at me.
I had an idea of what he was going to ask. He couldn’t leave this opportunity to get information alone. He couldn’t afford to.