Shade – 4.2

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“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.”

“Uh huh.”

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.

“You did.”

“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.”

“How come?”

“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.”

“You’re sure?”

“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…”

“Stop.”

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.”

Ashley smiled.

“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.”

Ashley smiled.

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.

Pause.

“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.”

Pause.

“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.”

Pause.

“I thought it went okay,” Kenzie said, smiling and rolling her eyes.

Pause.

“It’s fine.  Really.  I’m not-”

Pause.

“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.”

“What area?”

“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.

he’s smart

“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.”

“Interesting.”

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.”

“Yep.”

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.

“I’m here.”

“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.

I nodded.

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.

This worked.

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.”

“It’s the-”

“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.”

“Yeah.”

“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.

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157 thoughts on “Shade – 4.2”

    1. “Ashley’s hands are made by someone who doesn’t even focus on prosthetics and they’re better than what I make.”

      Does Ashley have prosthetic hands and I missed it or should this say Sveta?

      1. When Damsel was cloned, Bonesaw replaced her hands to give her new ones, that allow her better control over her power. It’s mentioned back when Victoria met them for the first time; Rain talks about his Tinkering and mentions it as part of why he’s in the group.

        1. I’m just glad the extra-long creepy fingers weren’t a requirement for Ashley to get a better hang of her power. Great for terrorising her victims, but probably wouldn’t help dealing with her Shard in the long run.

          1. Or life in general. Foot-long fingers make it hard to hold anything that isn’t a couple feet across.

    2. She’d added something to the board. ‘Name? Look-see / Looksee’.’

      There’s an extra ‘ there, unless it’s part of the name.

  1. Why do I get the feeling Madison is Kenzie’s teacher? Think about it. She’s a teacher in training and glow worm exists to hint at what’s to come. Having Madison show up in glow worm and then reappear makes sense.

    It would be a source of drama

    1. Nah, consider this, who else do we know that gets easily overwhelmed by an overload of information? Kenzie’s teacher is definitely an Echidna-made Tattletale clone.

  2. I love how casually creepy Kenzie is. “How did you get my phone number?” “No, it’s not listed online”.

    And she really does have a weirdly oscillating attitude towards Chris.

    1. Yeah, and in addition to that Houndstooth’s wanting to meet them in person… I’m wondering if one of the emberessing things was Kenzie having friends, who turned out to be chatbots or the like, and Houndstooth wants to make sure this set is real.

      And Kenzie’s trigger event was being emberessed as well. And she’s got a tinker specialty that lends itself perfectly to emberressing people. Is there a trend going on here?

      1. I think it was something like being gaslighted, or otherwise having her stuff stolen/messed with for a long time. Her specialties are things that are difficult for other people to move, and ways to keep an eye on things. I don’t know how that ties into the embarrassment, but maybe she was blackmailed or something?
        Also, she should totally go by Watchtower.

  3. The trials of a tinker trigger.

    Also, I’m really caught on Victoria’s phrasing there at the end: “Can I give you a hug?” Not “Would you like a hug?” It says something, but I’m really not sure what, and I’m definitely sure it’s not something comforting.

        1. Yep. Things might still have gotten bad, and ugly, but Victoria might not have spent a few years as a blob, and the whole forced to love Amy thing wouldn’t have happened. Hopefully.

          1. I’m REALLY waiting for Amy and Victory to talk again.

            I am especially waiting for Victory to realize, that her Aura was at least partly to blame for Amelia’s affection/infatuation/obsession with Victoria.

            I’m really curious how Victoria will take it. or if she’ll ever understand what was really going on for Amy.I don’t get he sense that they talked about that when Amy healed Victoria finally.

          2. Well I’d imagine that one of the first things that happened once Vicky got her mind back to normal was that she started freaking out about Amy being there, considering her current reactions to Amy being in the same place as her.

          3. Wait, you’re blaming Victoria’s power for Amy’s actions? I don’t think it’s even an important factor, let alone responsible for anything.

            What exactly do you think happened?

          4. @warren_peace wasn’t it explicitly stated that the slightly older Victoria had messed up Amy when they were teenage sisters by constantly abusing her fear/awe aura? By making Amy almost *always* in awe of her, Victoria changed the way Amy thought of her long-term, like training Amy to admire her whether Amy wanted to or not. After Amy refused a hug and Victoria gave one anyway is when the mind-rape occurred and Amy made Vicky love her, I thought.

          5. I don’t remember V tormenting Amy that way when they were teenagers, was that added later? If true, the original argument makes a lot more sense and I’d have to agree with it. Maybe someone else can confirm if I’m forgetting things?

          6. First interlude, from Victoria’s perspective. She casually uses her aura to persuade Amy to heal a racist thug, with the implication being she uses it to wins arguments with her sister regularly.

          7. Edit: I still think V would be totally justified if she never wanted to speak to Amy again, because juvenile torment like that doesn’t excuse Amy going off the deep end whatsoever. It doesn’t mitigate what Amy did, but it would add a layer of explanation.

            I kind of like it better if V really did that, it feels more real that way, but it puts V’s chat discussion with Madison in 0.9 in a very different context than what I first thought. I don’t know what all the implications would be.

      1. I don’t know how crushing to feel about it. If K just doesn’t do physical affection, it is actually a bonding moment for V to ask consent and accept not getting it. I may read it differently than most though, as I am the person that has to do this pantomime every day:

        Me: *offer handshake*
        Them: I’m a hugger *raises arms and begins to invade personal space*
        Me: I’m not.

    1. As to what that phrasing says? It says she’s been traumatized or been around traumatized people enough to be aware of the notion that people have issues with personal space and touch.

  4. Loved this chapter. Victoria is awkwardly trying to fit in, Kenzie’s projection tech is scary powerful (AND she can see through it – I assume she is wearing hyper-contacts like the one she put in Ashley’s eye), Ashley explicitly trusts Kenzie, Chris and Kenzie have odd banter dynamics, Sveta is motherly and AWESOME, and Tristan is Tristan.

    And Rain keeps ridiculously underselling how OP his power is, or how dangerous it would be in the hands of a creative rules-lawyerer like any Fanon Taylor ever.

    1. One of Rain’s biggest problems is that he’s a pretty negative person about his capabilities. For example his breaking power, he’s too hung up on it needing a follow up, and the issues with directly attacking someone, where someone creative would be able to use the damage to the environment to their advantage.

      1. I was thinking the same about his “mover” a.k.a. stopper power. That could be ridiculously powerful with a moderate amount of, say, judo training. Any martial art that can be adapted creatively. I expect that’s exactly what we’ll eventually get to see from him

      2. Also, it needs to be clarified: stopped in relation to what? How about if he uses it in the passenger compartment on a train? Does the wall behind slam into him?

        This same thing came up in Sanderson’s Wax & Wayne series.

        1. Like most Worm powers, I expect that they are based on the host’s unconscious notions of how the world works (see: Clockblocker). I expect that he stops in relation to any frame of reference that he feels he is currently occupying.

  5. It is almost literally surreal how smart, Cape-savy, and generally compassionate Victoria is showing herself to be in this story.

    I know that in actuality she isn’t really doing anything extraordinary.
    But compared to most other Capes: Victoria is a breath of fresh air.

    1. We know that all capes have issues. Victoria, and to a lesser extent the rest of this team, is one the very few who have actually admitted to having issues, has already faced them, and is thus hyper-competent in a weird way.

      1. Taylor and Blake were newcomers to the (metaphorical) worlds their stories took place in. Sy and Victoria are experienced and (more or less) confident in theirs. Of course, Sy and Victoria are even less alike than Taylor and Blake were.

    2. She had a couple of years to sit and think, and some of those thoughts were productive. Then she had a couple more years to see how other capes’ problems festered and how they turned out, while insulating herself from cape drama as best as she could. Retiring for four or five years would probably help a lot of capes.

  6. Rain’s motion-stop power seems pretty handy to me, to be honest… If nothing else, it’s awesome for making an escape in an urban environment. He just needs to get to some sort of elevated ground… He can basically throw himself off of any building or out of every window, break his fall and run away. Anybody without flight or enhanced durability would be forced to take the long way around. Having the high ground is also nice if one of your team mates can outfit you with all kinds of surveillance tech… I feel like Rain could be quite good at reconnaissance. Would be nice if his tinker hands could double as grappling hooks, but I guess his tinker power is not strong enough there…

      1. Gentle reminder that throwing someone hard enough they fly away is also damaging at launch. A baseball takes several dozen Gs in a fraction of second when the pitcher throws it, and doing the same to a normal human body doesn’t have healthy results even if it can survive the fall impact.

        1. So spread the acceleration out over time. Have the thrower spin around 360° to build up to launch speed. Problem solved.

      2. To what end? I mean, I guess you could figure that out by tracing a parabola, but what’s he going to do at that end? He’s not tanky enough to do well without support.

          1. Skitter didn’t usually try to get launched into the midst of a fight. Her power worked best when she could control her army from a distance. If she had made close-quarters combat a staple of her approach rather than a contingency to be avoided, her lack of tankiness would have hurt her more (e.g., see what happened when she taught Leviathan or Manniquin up close).

            Similarly, Rain’s lack of tankiness isn’t a glaring weakness until you start talking about throwing him bodily into the thick of things.

    1. If Rain got some parkour training he’d be amazing. That is, assuming his momentum stop works on vertical surfaces or his hands, he’d be a virtual Spider-Man level wallcrawler.

      I’m starting to wonder if underselling his powers is part of his strategy to recruit the others to back him up.

    2. What determines what is counted as part of Rain for the stopping power? Since Victoria said he looked frozen in time during his demo, the effect presumably extends to his clothing. Maybe it’s tied to his sense of identity the same way Victoria’s force field is? In that case, suppose he does some mental jiujutsu to include the air around him in that sense of self–unbreakable shield from physical projectiles or for holding, even suffocating, an enemy?

  7. Kenzie seems to be a spacial/multi dimensional tinker. It would fit with the teleport offer, as well as the description of circles (it was pretty wonky, which fits with tinker knowledge not being teachable). It also fits with how she takes pictures and video spacially instead of based on time.

    I think Rain’s problems stem from not being violent enough. His shard is heading in the same direction as Leet’s… and the other shards are pushing for his death to promote the conflict he is avoiding. Recall the described “most powerful” member of his cluster is also described as the most violent.

    Fun chapter 🙂

    1. Handyman. In addition to the obvious he’s got the various useful skills, but they aren’t as good as an actual experts.

    1. Sounds like it’s more than one—more of a noodle pattern than a noodle incident. Also, we’re probably going to find out about it, so it probably won’t qualify as a noddle incident unless it actually involves noodles.

      But yes, Looksee is an adorable name.

      1. Victoria : Captivate
        Sveta : Filigree
        Kensie : Looksie
        Rain : Handyman
        Twins : Capricorn
        Chris : Boogeyman
        Ashley : Eruption

        Just putting some thoughts out there. Of these, ‘Captivate’ and ‘Handyman’ are INSPIRED.

        1. Filgiree is cool, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for Sveta. Also I think it’s already taken. Handyman is pretty good, though, and probably better than my idea for him, which was Hekatoncheire. If it’s taken, though, Kottos is an okay backup.

    2. My current theory for her trigger: she has something extremely embarrassing to her (due to her personality type, possibly something like evidence of non-powered covert surveillance on somebody she liked) in her bag, and somebody at school got a hold of it and showed it off to everybody. Adults who hear it think it’s extremely worrying, kids make fun of both her and whoever else was involved. If it was somebody she liked, they avoid and are disgusted by the stalkerish tendencies displayed. Maybe this is too closely linked to her tinker specialty to really work, but while we haven’t seen many triggers directly relating to the power we haven’t seen much evidence that they CAN’T be directly related in some scenarios.

      1. That’s plausible, but my current understanding of Tinkers is that they were distracting themselves from their problems for quite a while before they Triggered. (Although that implies that Taylor could easily have been a Tinker. I guess the immediacy/lack of available distractions while she was in the locker offset that?)
        So I’d guess Kenzie was sort of paranoid and tried to spy on people who were Messing With Her Stuff, but it sort of backfired. Does that match your intuition?

        1. Hmm, that’s definitely interesting. I haven’t studied much of the nature of powers due to the type of trigger event outside of in-story discussions – so I know Masters were generally very lonely or isolated leading up to their trigger, but little else. How does the distracting themselves idea link up with Bonesaw’s trigger though? She triggered when Jack Slash left her parents bleeding out and proceeded to save them. He found this interesting, so he proceeded to leave them near dead repeatedly until she gave up on saving their lives, realizing it was responsible for their continued torment.

          Other than that bit that doesn’t quite line up (maybe WOG said something about it elsewhere, I honestly wouldn’t know, I was lucky to find JS’s trigger event), that would fit as well. It just seems to me with how worried she is about how embarrassing her trigger event and aftermath was, combined with her reaction to Chris getting near her bag (while, unlike other tinkers we’ve seen, not really caring if other people mess with her inventions, as well as that being grossly out of character for the mask she displays), makes me almost positive that was related to her trigger.

          Think of Taylor’s developed and quite reasonable claustrophobia, Alex’s tendency to despise emotional influence, Lisa’s fear of siblings manipulating each other… Capes are still human, and we know they have issues. As humans, it is to be expected that their trigger events (the worst days of their lives) would be very touchy traumatic territory. Anything gets close to recreating their trigger or even just feels like it to them, that’s when they’re bound to snap the most. Unlike average teens and adults, a parahuman snapping is definitely a Bad And Destructive Thing.

    1. Victoria mused on that just a chapter ago, how everyone interacts like they’re still in therapy. Recall the tone of Prancer’s interlude, in contrast.

  8. Doesn’t it seem like what they’re planning is stirring up trouble where there didn’t need to be trouble – trouble that inevitably innocent people minding their own business are going to get caught in the crossfire of? Has anyone from Cedar/Hollow Point asked them to “help”? Maybe Prancer is doing an OK job there; he seemed fairly reasonable.

    Ironically, I can see the ethics of what Taylor used to do more than what Victoria and co are up to. Maybe that is deliberate.

    1. The problem with being a benevolent dictator is successor government that comes after it. Once your enlightened dictator goes away (due to death, assassination, being run out of town, etc), what follows it. The most likely sequel that you’re living in is a system that’s just as dictatorial but nowhere near as friendly to its subjects. I’m not even going to touch the diplomatic/military complexities of existing as a separate city state along side/within an extablished government. The logical extreme of that path is Nilbog

      1. And nothing can go wrong if you just drive away benevolent dictator, right?

        People seem to think that Earth Bet/Gimel modern US (that’s the problem I have with We’ve Got Worm guys arguments). It is not and we know how fucked up it actually is. World economy is controlled by former S9 member (Number Man). Monsters like Teacher and Contessa are still behind the scenes and most likely rule everything.

        Why should we assume that small community/town that have separate authority is worse than existing government by default (you can call it dictatorship if you want, however in reality it is much harder to have dictatorship on a small scale, government has sufficiently more tools for a total control of human life)? We were able to see how bad Brockton Bay was before (ABB, E88, Merchants) Undersiders took over.

        1. I concur.
          Parahumans change the implications of virtually everything, so few of the old rules are going to apply quite as well.
          Were it not for Golden Morning, Brockton Bay seemed like it would have continued to plod along nicely, since the Undersiders continued to exist as a group without Taylor, and make sure that other villains do the same as them.
          Though it must be noted: if Tt were ever removed from the picture, there’s no telling how things may go, as things may collapse and other villains might decide they like their way better.
          Also see Glassware and David Hunts’s points, these people aren’t the Undersiders.

    2. Prancer is about as benevolent as a supervillain running a coterie of villains with a loose hand in control of a small town gets without going full Taylor and providing food and medical supplies gratis. However, he keeps a loose hand on his people and it seems like several of the nastier sorts are doing their business there, drugs, mercenary work, etc. If one of his people wants time with a local girl or boy, given how scared the people seem they’re not going to say no, and I suspect Prancer would ignore it and probably just pay them off unless things get really violent-in which case it’d be more in his interest to make the victims disappear rather than turn on one of his people. Notice how last chapter a third of the street was closed despite housing being at a premium. People don’t want to live here.

      1. Also while I’m on the subject-this isn’t the Brockton Bay case where a Thinker spent years building a fortune in white collar crime and stock market manipulation with the intent to take over and run the city. Prancer’s group has to make money to keep running, and they can’t do it Tattletale’s way of using shell corporations with questionable employer ethics and selling her intel, not quickly anyway, so they’ll have to exploit the populace or export their nastier activities. Things don’t have to be the way they are here; they could be worse, yes, but they could also be better, and a measured approach to gathering intel and reducing their ability to harm others through horrifying privacy violations should improve things.

          1. The real issue might be more making sure the Wardens or legit government can actually keep the place from going to hell worse. That’s the biggest problem when you remove the dictator from power, the whole place collapsing in the power vacaum.

          2. Fiona. The any credit going my way should really go to the fine chaps at the We’ve Got Worm Podcast, which I have recently binged. I’m cribbing notes from their discussion of Tayor’s running of her territory.

        1. “and a measured approach to gathering intel and reducing their ability to harm others through horrifying privacy violations should improve things.”

          Did you mean the horrifying privacy violations are the tool used (via Kenzie) to eventually improve things?

    3. There are points for both sides. It’s entirely possible that Prancer’s plans for Hollow Point are benevolent…but most won’t see it as likely. At best, he’s providing a potential refuge for criminals and keeping it safe from interference.

      1. Note that among his residents are at least two people who recently rammed an armored bus into a building with dozens of people in it.

        1. To be fair, they appeared to be using some degree of Thinker powers in order to prevent casualties, and avoided killing their enemies. Even wanted to give Victoria medical attention when they noticed she was hurt.

          As far as dastardly deeds go, they were fairly mild.

        2. We actually don’t know if Snag is a resident – he might well be investigating like Ashley was, or trying to hire mercenaries – and so far as we know, the woman was basically uninvolved with the Norfair Incident. She was waiting at the Lodge, after all.

    4. Asking people what do they really want? Why bother? There are so many more important stuff for wormverse heroes to care about, e. g. choosing nice name, being marketable, making money by selling posters and action figures…

      I believe in Wildbow. I think he will continue to revolutionize the superhero genre and this oversimplified attitude “we just need to beat up these bad villains because… there are villains, rebuild and deescalate (I’m starting to hate this world)” simply won’t work.

  9. “I know people too.” So, could Ashley be talking about Amy here?

    If Carol died, would Amy and Victoria interact during the family stuff surrounding that? Or would everything just explode?
    – “Yes”

    1. A death in the family should be enough to bring them together, in the same-room sense. And if it isn’t, whoever doesn’t show up would essentially be saying they don’t care about still being part of the family, so there’d be some kind of conclusion.

  10. I don’t know why I was expecting Kenzie to have something as straightforward as a contact lens camera when she could make an interdimensional camera and install it in someone’s eye instead. No wonder they’re not worried about their bugs being detected if Kenzie could plant them inside solid objects.

    Rain’s arms being worse than someone else working outside their specialty suggests it’s either an experience problem, a resource problem, or he’s not using the arms correctly..I still think he should be trying to transmit his powers through them like Snag did.

    Actually, how did Rain even end up in group therapy for capes anyway? He lives in a remote agricultural area and appears to be one of the only ones with a proper secret identity. Chris it makes sense he’d be found since he turns into non-stealthy giant monsters, but Rain’s issues seem like they’d preclude seeking out mental health assistance if not pushed into it somehow. Maybe he joined the group looking for allies.

    1. Not necessarily. Not all powers are created equal and the person he’s comparing himself to is Bonesaw. Bonesaw’s power is in the top two in the “biology” section, she was one of the world’s foremost experts on the origin of parahuman powers and sufficently powerful to be an integral part of an S threat. She was such a big threat that there was a legitimate fear she wipe a country of the face of the planet with a tinker-plague.

      By contrast, he’s a multi-trigger. It’s entirely possible his power is just bad. (I expect he can expand but I’m not expecting a dramatic change in the near future)

      1. Actually, I think (on Riley’s side, at least) it’s mostly experience. Remember the scene where Taylor looked at a video of herself using a combat trick she didn’t remember devising? She said it reminded her of the Slaughterhouse Nine? The thing they had in common was considerable experience fighting powerful opponents, and commensurately strong relationships with their Passengers. Plus, even ignoring equipment, Taylor clearly got more powerful over time – at minimum there’s the swarm vision and hearing, but I also think the scene where she finally decides multitasking is one of her power-benefits, when she was trying to save her territory from Shatterbird, should count.
        (Also, the Spacebattles WOG thread outright states that Riley’s Shard has rewarded her with enough ‘breadth and depth’ to broaden her specialty to General Meat Tinker. This and another comment (the one about Tinker Inspiration; Leet outright avoids fights so his Shard is trying to kill him, Bakuda was highly aggressive so she had ideas coming hard and fast) is the main reason I think Tinkers rely more on inspiration than on time or materials.)

        1. I would also like to point out that Bonesaw’s speciality seems to be surgery. Creating prosthetics is outside that, but not too far outside- it takes surgery to fit them, after all. Well, probably. Bonesaw made them, after all.

    2. Rain takes very little precaution to protect his secret identity. Using a public screen name that relates to his cluster, reaching out to strangers on PHO for information on multi-triggers, joining a therapy group that requires traveling long distances on a (presumably) set schedule etc. don’t seem like the actions of someone trying to hide.

    3. You’re assuming that Rain hasn’t been lying about virtually every aspect of his life outside of the group. I don’t go quite that far as I believe that his cluster is really trying to kill him, but I’m guessing that he’s been…let’s say “selectively truthful”…about his living circumstances. He’s basically upfront that he’s explicitly looking for allies and I think that was him main purpose in the group.

  11. Kenzie talk about math almost make sense – she is talking about something like covering space. Hyper angles though looks like non-consequitur. Is she inventig new math here, or just using her own language?

    1. A hyper angle would just extend into 3d and make a saddle shaped surface. I think what Kenzie was talking about was having it extend into the 4th dimension instead of the third.

      1. That’s wouldn’t be exiting for Kenzie. Should be something higher, like space of polygonal cones and sectors of those spaces somehow attached to covering space of lense. That would be like hyper hyper angles…

      2. She’s describing a circle in hyperbolic 3D space (as opposed to Euclidean or elliptic space), and a transformative optical lens which maps the >360 degrees of angle in such a circle onto the 360 degrees of space in a Euclidean circle.

        Note for Wildbow: if Kenzie has metamaterials operating in the visible light regime which could make such a transformative optical lens, they could also be used to make a stationary optical cloak (a physical object that passively renders itself and whatever’s inside of it invisible).

          1. Hmm. She said it had “good aerial camouflage”, which I assumed meant active cloaking like a camouflage octopus. I think she would have said “invisible” if it was actually invisible.

  12. I like the glimpse into how a tinker thinks. And also the banter between the cereal-brained tinker and her tumor-brained…let’s call him a peer.

    Rain could try translating “Rigger” into different languages. Knight was taken, so Chevalier translated that into French. It works.

    As always, Wildbow ends the chapter with new questions to answer. At least Victoria finished her chat with Kenzie first!

    1. Chevalier seems like a name that an early French hero would have chosen, so not sure if I can buy that (even if it’s WOG – way to go with stereotyping everyone who isn’t American)

      1. I had to read several times before realizing what the “that” referred to, but this is a good point. It’s not impossible though, Chevalier was early enough to be one of the original 8 wards

  13. I wonder how Kenzie’s cameras will interact with Blindside? Even if they don’t cause cameras to reposition due to their “don’t look at me” aura, I’d be willing to bet it affects people looking at those cameras given how wide-ranging it seems to be, meaning that if Prancer holds meetings with Blindside in the room he can invalidate any footage that doesn’t have sound.

  14. If Kenzie needs a cape name, I think “HyperPerigon” would fit beautifully. It’s a circle [perigon] of more than 360 degrees [hyper], stretched across multiple dimensions… which is how her tech tends to function in general. And it could also refer to Kenzie’s cameras, which give her an effective PoV of more than 360 degrees.

    And I like the way it sounds. 😉

    1. She could just call herself perigon, too. It’s cool, it makes sense, and it also sounds like paragon, which means ” model of perfection”. This could be taken two ways. Either she thinks really highly of herself and is prideful (which we know she isn’t [I think]) or it means that the holograms and projections she can make are perfect models. It works out! Perigon basically confirmed for me.

  15. As a quantum optics physicist with a background in differential geometry (non-Euclidian >3 dimension spacetime stuff) Kenzie’s description of a circle with more than 360 degrees of angle in it and a lens that works with the wrinkles that creates makes perfect sense. Whether you did your research or were just pulling that out of the air, you did good Wildbow.

    1. Even as a dabbler in those fields, it makes good sense to me. The ‘hyper-hyper-perigon’ was confusing as Kenzie said, but perhaps she was talking about a hypersphere? Or no, she was probably thinking of a (don’t have good terms for this) hyperperigon-perimetered hyper… dome, if she wanted a lens but forgot to specify that it was only a partial hyperperigon? Either way, it’s interesting.

  16. Why isn’t Kenzie working with the wardens/established teams? Given what we know about the portals, (emplacement) cameras would be very useful for surveillance. Kenzie was in the Ward/PRT system pre-GM. Some awkward behavior seems trivial compared to what she could contribute.

    1. I suppose that means that Kenzie’s issues and the incident that leads everyone to avoid her is more than just embarrassing.

      She may have done things worse than what she is representing to Victoria.

    2. Kenzie said she loathed being sidelined by the official teams with their hard rules about distancing minors from combat, and that she felt infantilized by her past experiences. She may be unwilling to reenter such an environment on those grounds, regardless of embarrassing memories.

  17. Thank you for your work. By the way, when was it they got the information about TT?(The free questions thing and the conversation)

  18. Maybe Rain is underselling himself harder than we realize. Could it be that his power isn’t just that he Stops, but rather literally turns himself and anything he’s touching into a motionless, fixed point in time, all the while maintaining awareness?

    Essentially he’d be Clockblocker, with more control due to being able to start or stop moving at any given time without the random timer, but without being able to freeze things and just walk away. He could be as invincible as Siberian, minus the ability to actually run away while doing it. A train could run into him, and destroy itself without scratching him. But of course, he’d have to stand still for a pretty long time to avoid being killed in the chaos that ensued..

    Kind of outright become The Immovable Object though.

    If his power is anything like that, it’d make sense that he’d not care about an escort. He could see the trouble coming, press a button to make a call, stop himself in time, and wait while he stares at his would be killers.

    Or it could just be that he can stop his momentum, like he said. I was kind of desperately trying to imagine how that power could be of any use relative to say…flight, and I can’t think of anything just yet.

    1. From what it looks like, Rain’s stopping power is a much weaker but stable version of Clockblocker’s power. From how it sounds, it only cancels all kinetic energy and momentum for about a second, probably less, and it does have a large enough lag time between uses for Rain to explicitly state it. It doesn’t have the potency of be a defensive power like Clockblocker but definitely has mitigation and maneuverability power. Also pretty sure it only effects him and the stuff on him, not anything he touches like Clockblocker.

      1. Ha. “Pretty sure?” What precisely is your certainty based on?

        I happen to think you’re right, but that’s a gut feeling based on nothing. I’m not “pretty sure” about anything

  19. If Kenzie is able to work with equipment that stores/hides/phase itself in dimension, couldn’t create lightweight equipment that hides large in dimension space and appears when needed? Hammerspace; to pull out objects and equipment.

    Anyway how do you imagine the powers of Kenzie work and its application?
    Now we all see is surveillance. It is interesting to see how to should be applied to combat, because Kenzie wishes to take a more active role (combat).

    1. Well, she appears to have asked him out back in Glow-Worm, and the response was “I think I could actually come up with 200 reasons for why that’s a bad idea”. I say ‘appears’ because I don’t think any screen names except maybe Victoria’s have been outright confirmed yet.

  20. All this kind of reminds me of early Worm when Taylor was doing all this research and preparation and note-taking and she finally realized that she should just get out there… But I guess if this team is going to be working more covertly it’s appropriate to have a lot of setup and discussion and preparation?

    I’m interested to see what Kenzie could muster in a combat situation – we know the shards are supposed to facilitate violence and push their hosts toward combat, and surveillance tech seems kind of tangential to that. Helpful, but not to fighting.

    1. I suspect that Kenzie’s ability isn’t designed to make HER fight, so much as making other people fight. Being able to uncover the truth is an ability that’s destined to lead to conflict. Best example of that is Tattletale, who has the Thinker equivalent (together they’d be terrifying). With some leaked footage Kenzie could throw the world into chaos. Or she could, if most of the world hadn’t already been exploded by Zion.

  21. I’m surprised I’m the first to comment on Rain’s power being good for safely landind after jumping off roofs. He can climb as high as he wants and leave tall buildings without going splat. He can finally go for high-ground, unlike Taylor and Sly.

  22. Ah!

    I wonder if Victoria was a cheerleader or on the flag squad in her school before she triggered?

    If she was, she could call herself ‘Majorette’ and dress up in one of those crazy old marching-band majorette costumes, and carry one of those big batons to swat people with.

    1. No, because she’d just be a Band Major. No ‘ette.’ So no one would get why she was trying to feminize a unisex military rank.

  23. Hmm. Going off of the limited information we have, it seems to me like Kenzie’s specialty is in passive hyperdimensional systems, with a disinclination towards mechanical systems that biases her constructs towards emplacements and a preference for visible electromagnetic waves (over, say, acoustic waves) which biases her towards optical devices.

    I’d tentatively guess the apex of her craft will have something to do with making a big emplacement that packs more space into itself, so it can have more to it, so it can pack more space into itself. Like a skyscraper’s worth of material and tech folded up into an emplacement the size of a house. Solving the size problem not by miniaturization, but by going even bigger.

    This doesn’t quite explain the chatbots, but then again Tinkers are generally pretty versatile. Enough so that Hero never realized he had an affinity and Kid Win took ages to find his. It wouldn’t shock me from a technical perspective if the chatbots had no relevance to her powers at all. But from a story perspective … Well, Wildbow could have just been laying character groundwork for Kenzie. Maybe. I’m going to keep the chatbots in mind until/unless they’re definitely shown to be a red herring power-wise.

    1. Neat link! (Except I think they meant everything is a *microphone*, not a speaker.) I hope Kenzie’s passenger is aware of the technique!

  24. I love the story so far. Though I miss the characters of the first. But the real question is… when is PsychoGecko going to finally be revealed as the end boss?

    1. I know you’re only joking, but I’ve been thinking about the endboss. This may already be the consensus (I haven’t read the comments before this chapter) but I’ve been expecting Amy even since before she met Dot.

  25. “Where oh where has my PsychoG gone
    Where oh where can he be
    With his toes kinda sticky and tongue kinda long
    He’s the only axe murd’rer for me.”

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