It was an overcast day. Our nights were dark with the city power rationed and most apartments and businesses left unlit, and emerging from that to a day where the sun couldn’t shine through had an effect on the mood of the Megalopolis.
I was fully in costume, and I was surrounded by people who weren’t. New Haven wasn’t the closest settlement to the Fallen camp, but it was close enough that people were bound to pass through. It was the time of afternoon where everyone who had work was working, too late for lunch, too early to end the work day.
There were still people at the coffee shop, favoring very relaxed clothing. Some were students, part of one block or another, with no work for them for the moment. Most were keeping an eye on me.
Image was so important. I had my hood down, because it was large and heavy enough to be warm, and I didn’t want sweat in my eyes later, when it mattered. Having the hood down and the metal mask at my belt meant that I could present a fairly friendly face.
The coffee shop was somewhat industrial in feel, with a floor of poured concrete that had been altered after pouring to give it a look very similar to wooden floorboards. The bottom half of the employee’s counter and the counters that jutted out from the walls with stools lined up beneath them were more concrete. Everything else was wood.
I waited in line like everyone else, encouraging the woman in front of me to stay in line when she offered to let me cut ahead. It could have been fear, respect, or help. Free coffee for the cop or feeling the pressure of a parahuman standing behind her.
There were looks from people who were clearly bothered by my being around. There wasn’t much I could do about that.
On the other side of the coin, one of the teenagers who weren’t in school was trying to surreptitiously take a picture of me with his phone, which I noticed because the girl sitting next to him kept jostling him and trying to get him to put it down. Interest of the positive but borderline troubling sort.
I was reminded to check my phone. Kenzie was only a little way away, and was messaging to ask where to meet. It looked like Tristan had it handled.
The woman in front of me finished collecting her order.Two boxes of donuts and other assorted breakfast desserts, stacked on top of one another and tied with twine, and one thing of coffees, plastic with four cup-holders and a handle in the middle. I already had a soft drink, and I wedged it between the coffees before picking it all up.
“Are there others in town?” the barista asked.
“We’re passing through,” I said. I keyed my voice to be audible by others. We were close enough to the Fallen camp it wasn’t out of the question that they would have people planted here to keep an eye out for trouble.
“Okay. A lot of the ones who show up cause problems.”
That would be because this area of the city was relatively close to this group of the Fallen. There was another that was even closer to them, but it was small and somewhat disconnected from the city. A few houses, a gas station that doubled as a hardware supply and grocery store, and a dentist’s. Here, at least, there was a place to watch movies. I could imagine Rain’s peers piling into cars and driving into the town, and the headaches that no doubt followed.
“I’m more interested in solutions than problems,” I said.
She smiled slightly. Her eye flicked to the next customer, and I took that as my cue to get out of line.
“Have a nice day,” I said.
As I turned around, the teenager at the one table put his phone down. His female friend looked unimpressed with him.
“Want a photo?” I asked him.
“He does,” the girl said, sounding as displeased as she’d looked.
“Here,” I said. I put the donuts and coffee down on an empty chair on their table. I stepped back a bit, then flew, so my toe was barely touching the ground, my other leg bent slightly. I turned my body so the white gold color of my breastplate would catch the light coming in through the window. I put my hood up, and the ornament at the peak of the hood with rays forking up slapped my forehead.
I’d need to figure out something to do about that.
He had his phone up by the time I settled into my pose, both hands on my hood, the parallel spikes that extended up from my shoulder now pointing back.
“Got it,” he said. “Thanks.”
“Can I see?” I asked.
He showed me.
“Is something happening?” he asked.
“Somewhere else,” I said. “I’ve got a ways to go to get there, though.”
Not technically a lie.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m figuring that out,” I said. “But I’m thinking I’ll name myself after a star.”
“Cool,” he said.
“And I should get this to my people,” I said, dropping out of my flight and rapping a finger on the lid of my cup. “You take care.”
“You too,” he said, a grin passing over his face. He nudged his friend. “See, told you it wasn’t a big deal.”
“Could’ve been,” she said. She shot me a smile. “Sorry about him. Bye.”
I winked at her before collecting my things and heading for the door.
It was stupid and people had probably been rolling their eyes at me in there, but I was left smiling. I liked being in costume again.
I kicked off of the ground and flew skyward.
The others would be arriving. Friendly faces. Some unfriendly ones. New Haven was our meeting place. There was a portal here, and it was one I was familiar with. If I didn’t want to go through the portal in New Brockton, but I wanted to go to Brockton Bay, this had been the most convenient option. It had been where the patrol block passed through and focused most of its work.
I found my place in the town and spotted the bus. New paint, some windows covered up rather than replaced, but it was the bus. I flew to it, timing my landing so I landed next to it while it was at a stop sign.
The door opened with an agonized sound that suggested some repairs still needed to be done. Jasper was in the front seat.
“Hi,” I said. A hand covered in coarse hair appeared from the side, giving a wave, and I poked my head in to see. Gilpatrick was sitting in the seat just in front of the stairs. Bald, bushy eyebrows, hairy arms, and Patrol outfit. I gave him a small wave back.
“Hi,” Jasper said. “You look way different.”
“Should we get out?” Gilpatrick asked.
“Not unless you have questions,” I said. “You got the documents?”
“Yes,” Gilpatrick said. “New Haven patrol is already at the location. Others are still to arrive. We’ll coordinate and figure out where we need to go once everyone’s here.”
“Don’t take the main road north or east. Take the dirt road to go east instead of the highway. The road you want to go down doesn’t have a name. Just turn northward at the giant cow.”
“Giant cow?” Jasper asked.
“Wood. Someone had to be the first to build a giant cow, I guess,” I said.
“In a time when resources are scarce and we need to do all the building we can, someone built a giant cow?” Jasper asked.
“Let it go,” Gilpatrick said.
“Here,” I said. I stepped into the bus, put the box down, and used one of the back-swept spikes of metal on my glove to cut the twine. I handed Gilpatrick the box.
“Stay safe,” I said.
“Hey, before you go,” Jasper said. He adjusted his sleeve.
“Don’t,” someone said, behind him.
His sleeve up, he turned around to show me. A playing card, with a jester’s cap on it. ‘Jester’ was spelled out beneath.
“Everyone’s giving me shit about it,” he said, but he smiled.
“You actually did it,” I said. “You like it?”
“Then that’s what’s important.”
He smiled. “Yeah.”
“Are they calling you Jester like you wanted?”
“They have to, don’t they?” he asked, still smiling.
“Yes they do.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Gilpatrick said. “Get in touch after, okay? We’ll chat about how it went, catch up.”
“Will do. Thanks for everything,” I said.
I collected the remaining box of donuts and the tray of coffee. I flew back and out the door of the bus rather than back down the stairs. The door was still closing, screeching shut, as Jester put the bus into motion.
The patrol would be part of our extended perimeter. Evacuating the citizens and containing the problem to just the Fallen camp were almost mutually exclusive things. We couldn’t let people go without risking that they’d cause trouble elsewhere. We’d funnel them into the patrol block.
It’d be three buses or vans filled with young men and women. All would be seventeen and older, uniformed, with guns and some semblance of an idea what to do. There would be instructors, many of whom were ex-PRT, and many graduates.
The others had already gathered, situating themselves in a parking lot with aborted construction of a store partially blocking them from view. Kenzie had arrived, and laid down at the back of the van, helmet off, legs bent at the knee and dangling over the bumper. A woman that was very clearly her mother stood a few feet away, her back to the open van door. Tristan, Sveta, and Chris were there, standing a distance away. Only Chris was uncostumed. He wore a beige sweatshirt with the hood up, and jeans. The ‘sash’ he kept with him for wearing in costume was wrapped around his shoulders like a scarf.
“There you are,” Tristan said.
“I spotted Gilpatrick. Two of our four truckloads of Patrol guys are here. The other two are on schedule, I think.”
“Are those donuts?” Chris asked.
“And coffees, with one soft drink,” I said.
I handed over the box, giving Chris his soft drink. I distributed the coffees, giving one to Sveta and one to Tristan. Kenzie pulled on her helmet and jumped out of the back of the van, running past her mother.
“You sure you don’t want a drink?” I asked Kenzie. I’d asked in earlier phone conversation.
“Have stuff in the car.”
I looked back toward the ‘car’, the van, and made eye contact with Mrs. Martin.
Steel rings at the back of Mrs. Martin’s head kept her dreads away from her face in a deliberately messy style, the metal of the rings a contrast to the hair and the skin that was closer to real black than brown. A series of steel bangles hung from her neck and one wrist, carrying on the aesthetic.
She wore an amazing bohemian-style top, predominantly red, the pattern detailed, the fabric as light and loose as it could be without floating off of her. The sleeves were cut so they technically stopped at the elbow, but the excess fabric at the bottom edge of the sleeve was such that it grazed the skin of her legs, beneath her shorts. Her sandals were stamped straps of red leather that went from her toes to encircle her ankle, red on black skin.
She was young enough she might well have been a teenager when she had Kenzie, clearly fashionable, she was slim, and she had more poise than some superheroes I knew.
Put all of those things aside, and she could have been any parent at a PTA meeting, with stress lines in her face that didn’t match her age, and a rather normal face beneath her very striking makeup.
“Mrs. Martin?” I asked.
“Irene,” she said.
“Hi Irene, I’m Victoria.” I smiled and put out my hand to shake hers. She didn’t shake mine so much as she put her fingers in my palm. A little bit at a loss of what to do, I shook it as best as I could. She took it in stride.
A bit of a diva.
“I love this,” she said. She brushed her fingers down the front of my breastplate, then plucked at the fabric of my sleeve.
“It’s new. Made it yesterday.”
“In one day?”
“Kind of. It was a group effort.”
“We added to my suit too,” Sveta said.
Kenzie’s mother gave Sveta a careful look. Sveta’s body had curls and sweeping lines extending up from the shoulder, out from the elbow, and out of the collar of her top, which was more of a costume top than her other clothes. All had been painted.
“It’s good work,” Kenzie’s mother said.
“My mom is kind of an artist,” Kenzie said, as she came back from the donut box, two donuts in hand. “She works with my dad right now. She does interior decorating. She makes houses look nice for sale, dad sells them, and she helps the families find the kinds of things they want after they buy.”
“I’m an aesthete, not an artist,” Kenzie’s mom said. “I appreciate others work and do what I can to make others appreciate those works. I can’t create much of my own.”
“Aesthete,” Kenzie said. “Got it. Do you want a donut, mom?”
“No,” her mother said.
“You mean ‘no thank you’,” Kenzie said.
Her mother gave her a look.
“Manners, please,” Kenzie said. “We’re with my friends. Don’t embarrass me.”
Irene Martin clapped her hands together, sharp, and turned to me with a smile. “I don’t want to fight. Are we going to get this machine out of the back?”
A part of me wanted to address the aborted conversation, but Tristan jumped in before I could.
“I gave it a shot, Victoria, but I’m far from being strong enough,” Tristan said.
I glanced at Kenzie, who smiled. I decided to let the subject drop.
“I strapped it up before I wheeled it in,” Kenzie said. “I hope that helps.”
“It does,” I said. “Out of the way.”
They stood back.
I hope you like the costume I made for us, I thought, as I released the wretch. As far as I could understand it, I was effectively wearing clothing with room for three of me, too many sleeves, too many pants legs. I was putting my hands through two sleeves, into the matching gloves, and I had the benefit of the strength. If I was quick, I could do things before the other arms and legs started moving about, around me, in front of me, behind me.
I hauled it back as smoothly as I could. The others backed away more as I brought the large cube out onto the ground.
Mrs. Martin adjusted the back of the van to fix the ramp. She turned around. “You have what you need?”
Kenzie climbed into the back and came out with some smaller cases. She put both donuts into her mouth, biting down into them to hold them, so her hands were free enough that she could pull three straps over her head. She retrieved the donuts. “Yes.”
Her mother shut the van door.
“I won’t be home for dinner, probably,” Kenzie said.
“Will you need another ride?”
“Probably not. I’ll make my own way back. I’ll be late. You and dad can have a date night or something.”
Irene Martin didn’t respond to that. She glanced at the other members of the group.
“It’s just a suggestion,” Kenzie said.
“You wouldn’t tell me what this is, but it’s serious, isn’t it?”
“It’s pretty serious.”
“Will I get a phone call tonight, telling me you’re in the hospital?”
Kenzie groaned louder. “Go. Thank you for the ride. Enjoy your day. Enjoy time with dad. Okay? You don’t have me around to bother you.”
Irene Martin threw her hands up. Kenzie gave her a push, and Irene walked around to the driver’s side. She turned around there. “Victoria?”
“You could come over for dinner some night.”
“Yes,” Kenzie said. She did a double take, between her mom and me, then turned to me and said, “You could.”
“I-” I started. I wanted to connect to the team, help them, and divine any underlying crises or subterfuge. It was the first time I’d seen the two of them even remotely on the same page. It seemed fine. “Sure.”
Kenzie pumped both fists.
Irene Martin pulled away. I turned to face the other members of the group; Tristan, Sveta, and Chris were very different people, and all faced me with expressions of alarm and horror.
“Yes, awesome,” Kenzie said, as she joined the group, depositing her things. “I can show you my main workshop. We could have a great dinner, my parents are top notch cooks. Do you like pasta?”
“I do, yes.”
“There’s a dish I love and we haven’t had it in months because I couldn’t find a good place for Italian sausage, but I did the research on my own and found one place with good reviews. I could ask my mom to make it. Oh, and you like cape stuff, I have some magazines, and if you want them for your collection, we could collab.”
“My mom seemed to like you a lot, I haven’t ever known her to do that before. A lot of people-”
Chris took Kenzie’s hand. Her eyes lit up as she kept talking.
“-seem to like her a lot, she’s a charmer, but she hasn’t invited-”
He maneuvered the donut Kenzie was holding into her mouth.
“-amfohn oher beguh,” Kenzie said, around the donut.
“Don’t talk while you eat,” Chris said. “You’ll choke.”
“Let’s focus on the mission,” Chris said.
Tristan provided the update on where things stood. “Advance Guard is here. They didn’t want to meet. They’ll go to the north end of the compound and work south from there. The Wardens’ backup are running late. Transportation issues.”
“And Rain?” I asked.
“No update,” Sveta said.
“One message. She saw the clairvoyants getting ready and she took the opportunity to send something. She’s on her way. Beast of Burden and his group are participating, but they’re not cooperating with Prancer’s group. They’ll be independent and it sounds like they’re out for blood.”
“Let’s get this thing situated, while we still have a chance,” I said.
A convoy of vehicles traveled down the highway. The cars ranged from the sleek and black to the ones that hadn’t weathered the end of the world so well.
Kenzie’s camera tracked them. There were several pickups, and some members of the various factions stood on the backs of the pickups, hair or capes flapping in the wind. One pickup had Moose in the back, with Etna sitting in front of him. Another had Beast of Burden, who was heavy enough the truck couldn’t bring others. He wasn’t huge, but the armor had heft and the back of the truck rode low to the ground.
Ashley was sitting in the passenger window of a vehicle, one of the three rustier, more worn out vehicles in Beast of Burden’s convoy. One hand maintained her grip, so she could have her head and upper body outside the vehicle, hand out in the wind, hair flapping in the wind behind her.
Behind them, four mutant dogs the size of cars were running at a speed that kept up with the cars. They were meat and armor plates, with no rhyme or rhythm, for the most part. We weren’t in a position to zoom in or get any detailed looks, but I knew from past experience that up close, the meat would look like something between raw meat from an animal that had just been flayed, and the scale of a crocodile, dark and condensed down. One of the dogs, the one Bitch rode, was different from the others, symmetrical, leaner.
There were other cameras, but with only laptops to go by, we didn’t have a lot of screen real estate to go between them.
I hit the spacebar on the keyboard of my laptop. The camera switched to an overhead view of the dirt road outside the Fallen compound. We had the information on the Fallen the Wardens had provided. The address was one part of it.
We also had some notes on the parahumans within. A lot of them were strong.
Nobody was emerging from the Fallen’s area. There were no visits to the nearby town with its gas station, no visits to New Haven, and nobody going to work.
Kenzie’s cube was off to the side of the road, set in a ditch surrounded by tall grass. I’d dropped straight in and flown straight up and out to minimize any scent trails and tracks.
I hit the spacebar again.
The Patrol. They were settled at the edge of the woods, gathered in small groups that formed a loose line. Vehicles were parked, boxes placed on the ground and used as seats.
I struck the key once more.
Advance Guard were more focused on the mission. Mayday was doing a lot of talking, while Mapwright went around touching people. Each person she touched had their eyes flare pink. The organization of the group was interesting to see, with the core members at the middle, others forming a loose ring around them, and the peripheral and utility members, I was assuming, at the very fringes, forming a second ring.
I hit spacebar.
Back to the first feed.
Alt-tab, and I switched to an overhead map. Advance Guard had sent it to us in a message. It gave a view of the forest and roads, lines struck out for cliffs or other barriers. She’d avoided detailing the settlement itself.
We had the details. Thinkers had always avoided scanning for the Mathers family because using a thinker power on or near them had a way of causing severe problems for the thinker. A strapped to a hospital bed screaming kind of severe.
I alt-tabbed back to the video. Tattletale either wasn’t present, or was in a car, not on a dog. I studied the cars until I was pretty sure I recognized the one from the night prior.
I was bewildered on two counts. That I heard Tristan’s voice but it sounded off, in a way that made me think someone had died or something had gone wrong. The other half of it was that I thought he meant the villains. Tattletale. Here somehow at the same time they were clearly elsewhere, on the video on my laptop.
It wasn’t Tristan speaking oddly, but Byron speaking normally. His armor was the same general style as Tristan’s, but it had a blue tint, and it was scale, not plate, with fins and conch spirals instead of spiraling horns.
And it wasn’t the villains, who had somehow traveled the rest of the distance. It was the Wardens.
I smiled. “Good to hear. How are you doing?”
“Nervous. I think the kids are too.”
The kids were sitting with their backs to the side of the building-in-progress. Nobody had come into the parking lot since we’d arrived. Kenzie and Chris were chatting. They’d decimated most of a box of twelve donuts between them.
“Yeah,” I said. How much destructive power was packed into those cars, with those dogs? How much was packed into that compound of Fallen?
I folded up my laptop and slid it into my bag. I deposited it with Kenzie’ stuff.
“Anything I can do?” I asked.
“To help you be less nervous. To make this easier.”
Byron shook his head.
“I appreciate you being here. I appreciate you being here too, Tristan, I know you’ve been part of this since the beginning, but it matters. It matters more that you’re willing to make this leap, Byron.”
“I was a hero once. I wasn’t that bad at it,” Byron said. “I don’t want kids and innocents to get hurt. I happen to think… a big way for kids and innocents to not get hurt is for this team to have never happened.”
“We’re doing something good here, today,” I said.
“And I’m here,” Byron said. He shrugged, and his armor made a sound at the gesture.
I didn’t have a response for that. I got my things together and beckoned the kids. As we walked beneath the building, Sveta dropped down from the roof, reeling in her arms with enough force she wobbled mid-step.
The Wardens were a block away.
Narwhal. A big name. She was tall and her horn exaggerated that fact. Her body was covered in scintillating shards of forcefield that looked grey-blue in the light from the sky above.
Weld was there. He had a bag with him that had to have weighed a hundred pounds. Gear for a teammate.
There were seven others. They were faces I didn’t recognize.
And, last but not least, Vista. She had to be seventeen now. As old as I’d been when I’d been hospitalized. She’d updated her costume to show the skin she hadn’t been able to show as a Ward, with legs bare, shoulders and arms uncovered, and she’d dressed up other parts, with new gloves and boots with less cloth and more armor, and a redecoration of the breastplate, so it had grooves running through it. There was a texture to her visor, to the point that it just looked like a pane of opaque green glass, etched with ripples. She had a scarf loose around her shoulders more than her neck, which made me think of Miss Militia.
“Hey, little V,” I said. “Not so little anymore.”
“Hey big V,” she said. “What a time to meet, huh? We need to hang out.”
“We do. So much,” I said.
She approached and gave me a hug, the breastplate of her armor clacking against mine. She squeezed me and I squeezed her back.
“I heard you were better,” she said, quiet.
“Great to see you,” I said. “It seems a lot of other Brockton Bay names are appearing.”
“Tattletale. Rachel. Foil. The other Undersiders.”
“Yeah,” I said.
We broke the hug. She gave my arm a pat as she stepped back. Weld clasped my hand. His other arm was already around Sveta.
“You’re down for this?” I asked.
“You know I am,” Weld said.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Point me at the bad guys. I’ll turn their world upside-down.”
“They’ll be here in a minute,” I said. Tristan wasn’t here, so I was the de-facto leader on our side. “You’ve read the doc?”
“Yes,” Narwhal said. “Vista, would you do us the honors?”
We weren’t far from the edge of New Haven. The surroundings began to distort.
“My cameras!” Looksee cried out. “Ugggh. They don’t like so many powers and so many of those powers are from your city.”
“You’re staying, Looksee,” I said. “Narwhal, do you have a group hanging back?”
“Our thinker and our blaster,” Narwhal said. “They’ll keep your tinker safe.”
“Don’t talk their ear off, Looksee,” Chris said.
“My cameras do not know how to deal with this power,” Kenzie said, oblivious.
The space ahead of us continued to fold into itself. Street, road, grass, trees and field all compressed. The effect was to create something that looked almost like a portal.
Two portals, I realized. The angle of the other wasn’t clear, to the point the distortions masked it.
Our groups parted ways. From a city under an overcast sky to foliage. The forest was dark. Chris was the first to walk through. Eager, even.
“Phones on vibrate, careful from this point forward,” I said. I changed my phone.
Sveta, Byron and I passed through, entering the forest at the periphery of the Fallen camp. Paths cut between the trees, left by animals and not people.
It was dark, and for the most part, we were well camouflaged, in the dark.
Ahead of us, Chris was crouching. He had a hand at the corner of his mouth, and he was working out the wire from his external braces. His mouth yawned open and he looked incredibly uncomfortable as he adjusted, head twisting this way and that.
From the central pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, he pulled out a disc. He tapped it twice. A projection wrapped around him. Camouflage.
It didn’t make him transparent. It did seem to pull things from his surroundings and create a patchwork exterior. Bark, grass, greenery, a slice of fur. The patches didn’t line up, so it looked more like a nature-themed scrapbook collage than a second skin.
I saw him part his lips in a smile, and the projection disc seemed to take a moment to remember what teeth and braces were. The teeth were there on their own, then they became part of the collage. The metal bits of the braces, sans wire, were next.
He had a second disc. He pressed a button.
A projection of Looksee appeared, crouching as well.
“Cameras are showing them on their way. I’m putting it through to your phones, but it might be-”
Chris adjusted something on the disc. The volume of Looksee’s voice dropped second by second.
Nearly mute, she turned to Chris, hands on her hips.
“If she’s reporting something, let her,” I said.
I pulled out my phone.
The camera footage flickered violently, with patches here and there where undulating lines of code flashed pink against a red background. What I could see at the fringes were that Hollow Point’s convoy was a minute away.
If the shrinking of the glitchy area on the phone was any indication, Vista’s adjustments would be gone by the time the villains turned up.
“I’ll let my brother take point. We trade places as we need to,” Byron said. “We’ll play this by ear, like we used to. Remember that innocent lives are on the line. Even among the Fallen.”
“They’re our priority,” I said.
“Deal,” Tristan said, as he settled in. He was just a hair more obvious than Byron had been, with the red tint to the metal, standing amid a forest of greens, browns, and grays.
Her volume back to ninety percent of normal, Kenzie reported, “Advance Guard is at the twelve o’clock, Wardens to the nine. We’ve got the five o’clock point, road is to our north at the four, running into the camp from the east. The Patrol block is on standby at the two.”
I mentally mapped it out.
“I’ll save my changes,” Chris said. He moved into an area of deeper shadow, and the projection overadjusted for a moment. “For now, I’ll skulk. I’m good at skulking.”
I frowned at him. “You hang back. Your job is to escort people out. Direct them to the Patrol group, who can figure out how to deal with them.”
“I know,” he said. “I can do other stuff.”
The phone wasn’t quite as good a view as the laptop had been. The images were squashed, the figures too small to easily make out. I saw the white blur of Ashley’s hair, saw her disappear into the vehicle.
The dogs lagged behind the cars and trucks. Some of the cars fell behind as well.
As the majority of the convoy turned north off of the highway, Tattletale’s group, dogs included, continued on into New Haven.
“Be safe, Looksee,” I said. “There’s a not insignificant chance she’d target you and use you to find Rain. They have the dogs.”
The projection of Looksee nodded.
The convoy continued to disintegrate. The road as the road made its gradual turn, where it would stab into the Fallen camp from the east. Whoever Beast of Burden had driving was happy to ignore the road and drive into field. Truck tires spun through mud, kicking up detritus.
Depending on where they came in, they might run into the Patrol block.
The bulk, however, were heading down the main dirt road into the camp.
“Tattletale is parking,” Looksee reported. “They planned to situate themselves around here.”
“Shh,” I said.
I could hear the crackle of stones being kicked up by tires on the dirt road, tires tearing through loose terrain.
I could see them. A hundred feet away, barely visible through the gaps in the trees, they were going way too fast down the unfamiliar road.
When the last of the vehicles passed us, we moved toward them, so we’d be at their tail. Chris’ temporary projection-costume altered rapidly to absorb the surroundings. It got weird here and there where it caught a flash of Tristan’s armor or my face.
I heard the distant detonation that marked the first shot fired, the start of the war between the Hollow and the Fallen. I couldn’t tell if it was a trap laid for the vehicles or a power used by the raiding attackers.
We picked up speed. I took flight, and flew fast enough through the trees that I needed to put my hands out, touching and deflecting trees in passing.
My plan was to draw close enough that I could identify what was happening. That would let me help coordinate the group.
If one side was clearly overwhelmed from the start, it dramatically changed how we would be approaching this. The Fallen being annihilated was bad in its own way, much as Hollow Point’s group being annihilated. One suggested civilians would die at the hands of reckless attackers. The other promised retaliation from the defending party, aimed at a nonspecific enemy.
There was something that mandated a change in our approach, from the very moment the explosion sounded and the engagement was started. It wasn’t what I’d expected.
Gunfire. From both sides.