Narwhal’s group were some of the more experienced heroes around, hand-picked from teams like Foresight, the Shepherds, and Advance Guard. They were veterans with years of experience, many of them ex-Wards who had grown up with their powers. The Undersiders had taken over Brockton Bay’s underworld and had allegedly compromised its overworld, with fingers deep in the pie of government, local business, and the local hero teams.
Now villain and hero sat together, crouching and kneeling on wet grass and in mud, hands over their ears, expressions grim.
We’d backed off a bit, and now we huddled, with Capricorn erecting more defenses.
Rain had moved his hands from his ears, lowering them. Fluke looked at him and then nervously started to lower his hands. Rain motioned for him to put the hands back, and Fluke wasted no time in doing so.
Rain had put his hands up only to show us and convey the urgency of it. Now he could be our ears, and he had his phone out of his pocket, his fingers tapping on the onscreen keyboard.
The whispers I heard were indistinct, but they came with a return of the white snow in my vision, moving in my peripheral vision and creating shapes that weren’t really shapes, like the way faces could seem to stand out from a pile of leaves or the light and shadow in a cloud.
Rain’s head turned, and I followed his gaze to look at Rachel. Her hands were pressed to her ears, and her mouth was open in an ‘o’. I saw her stop, mouth closing, her chest expanding as she drew in another breath. The water from the branches above poured down onto her, and she didn’t seem to care in the slightest. Her shaggy mane of auburn hair was plastered across her face, and aside from rubbing her forearm across the edge of her eye to move the hair so she could peer between the wet locks, she seemed fine with it.
Again, she did the thing with the ‘o’ shape, and I could tell she was putting a good amount of effort into the sound she was making.
When the mutant dogs responded to her howl, I could feel the low sound run through me, and it was clear the others could too. Rain winced in pain, covering his ears again.
Rachel was shouting, but I couldn’t hear her with my hands where they were. The mutant dogs in the woods moved, running off to our right and left. Around the camp.
My arm throbbed, and I wasn’t sure I could keep covering my ears, even when the effort was mild and I was hunched over, bringing my head down to my hand more than the inverse.
I chanced a momentary listen, and I could only hear howling. Mama Mathers was being drowned out.
Rain typed out his message, and held out the phone for Sveta, Capricorn and I. Vista and Foil drew close enough, and so they got a look too.
If you see mama you will start to see things.
If you hear… start to hear things.
Etc for touch/thinker senses
She can see/hear/thinker through these things
I nodded. I’d known and inferred most of that.
Loose color scheme: white is leader/important Mathers
“Valefor and Mama Mathers,” I said.
Rain nodded, then typed.
Bamet mutates with a touch. Permanent physical mental change. Uses stolen features to alter animals and make them smarter. Would be near stables.
“He wears white?” I asked.
He typed, and I felt a pang of irritation at the fact that Rain hadn’t shared this earlier. I could understand that he hadn’t been able, but some of this would have been really good to know.
Coronzon pulls himself into portal and builds up strength. Ive never seen but he comes out messy and big. Has cancer/is not active much except in sitting in as elder in council
“This is the leadership again?” I asked. “White?”
Rain nodded again.
He was typing more when a dog came barreling out of the woods, straight for us. Its mouth was open wide, tongue lolling out the corner, and it howled with the howl momentarily interrupted each time its feet slammed into the earth.
Vista’s power increased the space between the dog and us. The dog might as well have been running on a treadmill, but the treadmill was real ground.
I started to move forward, ready to intercept, and I glanced at Rachel to double check. Some of it might have been that she knew her dogs best, and I could use her reaction to know what to do. Another part of it was that I knew she had a violent history.
I’d already made the mistake of letting that go too easily with Ashley.
Rachel, hands over her ears, was approaching. She shouted something to Vista, but Vista couldn’t hear.
I leaned forward, and I used my good arm to pull Vista down. The level of noise the dog was making was unreal, and I could hear shouting and commotion, including Rachel’s cussing. I remained ready to shield the others as the dog lunged forward, faster in running than Vista’s distortion was extending.
The dog broke free of the distortion and closed the distance. I saw the slobber flying, the rain splashing off of its back, and I saw the eyes, recessed in eye sockets framed in spiky bone.
I threw myself to the ground.
The dog leaped over us, and over Capricorn’s wall.
The Fallen were in the woods, closing the distance to us while we couldn’t look or see without risking running into Mama Mathers.
I covered my ears again, and I risked looking.
With my hands over my ears, I could hear my heartbeat, and I could hear the lowest sounds the dogs were making, the impacts when they ran too fast and hit a tree with the broad side of their bodies, and the crashing thumps when they hit one of their targets.
The patter of the rain was gentle and the moisture was cool against my lower face, the light from the overcast sky was mild and softened by the branches overhead. But for the conflict, the monster dogs and the mass of people in costume, it could have been a really nice day for a walk in the rain.
It was an odd thought, I knew, but I was struck by the contrast.
I wondered if Chris experienced a bit of this, his headphones muffling the outside world, as he took stock of it.
Strange, too, to have the monster dogs present, but not to be having to deal with them as a horrific kind of opposition. I didn’t have to try to get between them and civilians. I didn’t have to worry about failing to save a civilian from the dog that had maimed them.
If and when I heard the howling in the distance, I wouldn’t be reminded that the outskirts of my hometown were being stalked by these kinds of monsters, sometimes with innocents getting hurt.
I really didn’t like Rachel, but…
Paradigm shift, I supposed.
Fuck, my arm hurt. Pulling me back to reality. Civilians were still a concern. The first wave looked like Fallen soldiers. Others might come.
I took flight, going from a position low to the ground to the upper reaches of the trees. I took my hands away from my ears, and the only sound I could hear was the incessant howling of the dogs and the faint static sound of rain against leaves.
Dangerous to use my thinker-one power when Mama could be in the area, but my instinct was that she wasn’t. Now that I was thinking about her, the whispering was back. The snow was the same as before.
The power wasn’t really a power, but the benefit of flying. A bird’s eye view, being able to see the battlefield from a semi-decent vantage point, provided I could get up high enough. I could see motion through the trees, but I couldn’t see much else.
No white. Seir had dressed in black – if Rain had continued to talk, would that have been part of it? How set was it? I could imagine the Fallen identifying themselves as closer to the Simurgh sticking to white or silver, while the Leviathan-favoring Crowleys might prefer green.
No green, no black, no white. I wasn’t even sure if it was that hard-set, or if my speculations were off-point, but it helped on a level. It helped validate my assumption that Mama Mathers wouldn’t be part of a headlong rush, and I liked even the idea that my enemies’ costumes might be conveniently color-coded.
Valefor and Mama Mathers were scary, or Valefor had been scary, but they weren’t warriors, and they weren’t generals. Their weakness in this was that they were subtle players and the small-scale war wasn’t subtle.
I descended, aiming for the group where the Fallen were more numerous and the one dog was alone.
One cape, that I could tell. She wore a biker helmet, with fragments of helmets worked into her costume. Her arms looked like melted plastic, swords with the blades curved into hooks on the end. Weld was fond of the design- what the hell had he called them? She was using them to climb the dog, hacking at its face, and missing as it shook and twisted its head away.
There was a limit to what I could do when my arm was hurt to the point my entire body was feeling it. I grabbed her by the helmet with the one hand, and pulled her back into a more upright position, until her stomach was exposed. I drove my knee into her stomach, and felt some resistance. Light armor.
I kept my knee where it was, and flew straight up, twisted around so my bad arm was furthest from her. She pulled back, trying to get into a position to hit me or fight back, and I used my grip on her helmet to jerk her head down, until her ass was higher than her head.
My old mantra, from before. This was the disorientation.
The issue with her weapons was that they had reach, where the more dangerous part of the weapon was the hook, and I was in too close for her to properly use it. Toward the base of the weapon, the melted plastic was sharp in places and jagged, but it wasn’t going to gut me.
Hook swords. That was what Weld had called them, back when we’d been on a team together.
She brought the crude base of the hook-sword against my armor, and it caught on the breastplate. She used the catch to reposition, twisting around.
I could see that her helmet had changed. It had waves and ripples that looked almost like hair, and it had a melted-plastic emblem as part of the visor, appearing where the eyebrows might meet. It was no larger than my palm, and looked like a star with the bottom two legs removed, spikes radiating up.
It was my emblem.
The armor I’d felt at her middle was my breastplate starting to form. It was completely formed now.
Faceless, featureless, biker girl wrestled to get to a more upright position, and she leaned back far enough to catch the hook of her right hand on my breastplate. She reared back, other arm back, and I did a barrel-roll.
The hook came at me as she fell away, a last-ditch effort to catch herself. I brought out my forcefield just long enough to deflect it, and the hook caught on that instead. When I put the Wretch back where it belonged a moment later, she fell.
Biker-girl was eerie, because of the black melted-plastic look, the faceless visor, and the fact I hadn’t heard her make a sound.
I flew after her, faster than she fell, and I was ready to catch her if she needed it. I watched as she used the hook-arms to swipe at the tree branches, trying to find traction. She caught one branch with two hooks, and one slipped free of the thinner edge of the branch. She swung in a quarter-circle before the other hook came free as well.
She made her descent, hooks finding more purchase, until she found a branch thick and sturdy enough to catch her body weight.
She swung forward, backward, and then lifted the hooks free, performing one flip in the air before landing square on two feet, hooks out to the side.
I hit her a second later, literal flying kick to ribs. She bounced off of a tree before collapsing to the ground. I winced at the pain in my arm, as the impact from the vibration traveled through my body to the injury.
I flew to her side and checked her vitals. The plastic was melting into black ooze, breastplate included. I heard and felt her cough and saw her whole-body flinch in reaction.
“Ribs?” I asked, as I put my hand to her bodysuit-covered collarbone and felt the already wheezy vibration of her breath. She nodded, tight. I asked, “Do you have any fight left in you?”
She shook her head.
“You’re biker, right?”
“Stay,” I said. She slumped back. I checked my directions and used Capricorn’s wall as a reference point, as the wrestling in the air had turned me around. I looked down at biker girl, “Nice descent, by the way.”
“Thank you,” she said, her voice soft but strangled, before she coughed hard, with more full-body flinches.
“You guys have got to stop fucking working with the Fallen,” I said.
“I-” she started.
Then I heard her try to scream, and I saw her try to move, as if to get away from something, only for both things to fail.
Rain’s refresher- she watched, she heard, and she could pull something like this, to take any of her people out of commission or make them suffer for a perceived failure.
Or to mess with us. Like with the breaker. Also a biker, now that I thought about it. They were expendable in her eyes.
Nothing I could do except deal with Mama Mathers sooner, or pave the way for others to do the same.
I flew to the others, looking for Weld amid the dogs and Fallen, and finding him taking on four unpowered Fallen and one biker. The dogs kept their distance while Weld fought, barking and howling with a volume like cannons firing.
“Go down!” I called out. “Getting beat by Weld is better than somehow winning and the dogs coming after you!”
“Eat cocks, heathen!” a Fallen soldier shouted.
I approached at a walk, keeping the guy between Weld and I. I saw his agitation grow, as he tried to keep Weld in focus while not ignoring me. He couldn’t run out to one side either, with the dogs around.
A face in the corner of my eye made my head turn. Visual snow. The guy ran from Weld and came after me while I was distracted, machete held high.
I hit him with my aura, and I saw his expression change. His attack was delayed, thrown off by the surge of emotion, and I flew up a bit to put a foot on his chest, my hand down and ready to smack the blade with the Wretch out if it looked like he’d cut me.
I used my foot and my flight to push him in Weld’s direction. The Fallen soldier landed on his ass at Weld’s feet, and Weld stepped on one of his calves. I could hear the bone crack.
A young ‘punk’ Fallen in the group surrendered, dropping to his knees, hands up. One Fallen hefted a baseball bat while approaching his surrendering kin, but then backed off as Weld quickly advanced on him.
It hardly mattered. Maybe the bat would have been more merciful. The surrendering Fallen slumped over and fell to the ground, eyes wide, twitching. No screams, only a near-immediate catatonia.
Those who remained looked and saw, and then they turned toward the most vulnerable target they could see- me.
I hit the ground to spray them with dirt and mud, flying back a little, and one of the dogs lunged in, trampling them.
Weld and I remained where we were, checking that nobody was going to get up anytime soon. We relaxed when they didn’t.
Well, insofar as I could relax, seeing the person Mama Mathers had taken out.
“You get Mathered?” I asked.
Weld glanced at me, then tapped his ear. He turned his head to show me.
No ear canal. He’d welded his ears shut. It was one way to do things.
I gestured, and he nodded. We headed back to where the others were at the more fortified wall, a short distance into the woods proper. Another wall was at the wood’s edge- this group had to have climbed it, and beyond it were the two farmhouses that were near. The denser settlement was a few minutes of jogging beyond the closest farmhouse.
We’d have to leave the fallen Fallen where they were.
As I rejoined the others, I could see more signs of fighting. Fallen had flanked this group.
Prancer’s group was struggling, but these capes knew what they were doing. Sveta, Narwhal, Vista, Capricorn- Rain was just about the only cape present who didn’t have a lot of experience in crisis situations.
Parian was at the far end of the clearing with Foil. As she rejoined us, she tossed something at me, levitating it with her telekinesis. I caught it.
Cloth set around beads or something hard, with thread binding it shut. I saw her tap her ear, and I nodded.
The makeshift earplugs fit snugly, and the cords trailed out a bit.
Rachel looked annoyed. She said something, and nobody could hear her. Imp laid a hand on her arm, indicating her ear, and she gave Imp a more annoyed look.
I turned to Rain, and waited as he typed his message into his phone.
I raised a hand, then did my best to indicate with gestures that I’d look.
If someone or a group of someones was capable of tying up a dog, then there was a chance it was one of the more problematic factors in play.
I used the bird’s eye view, moving carefully at first, then checking with more confidence as I verified that Mama Mathers wasn’t close.
There was movement. Something big. I flew down to where Rachel could see and indicated a direction.
I flew to the dog.
The dog prowled, the low growls it was making deep enough that I could feel the vibrations in the air, even though I couldn’t really hear. It was a gangly thing, as Rachel’s dogs went, and the plates were lighter. I wondered if it had started as a chihuahua. I was pretty sure breed factored in.
I realized it was focused on something, and flew closer. It snapped at me as I got closer, and I flew back and up.
A small movement made the dog jump back. It saw me and jumped back again.
I realized what the movement was- a figure, camouflaged. The camouflage was dying out, and it wasn’t nearly as effective as it had been.
“It’s you,” I said. I pulled out an earplug.
“-get this thing to stop growling at me? You’re supposed to be strong,” Chris said.
“What are you doing this close to the fighting?”
“Get this thing off me! What are you, deaf?”
I flew down between him and the dog, and in facing the dog, I could see Rachel approaching at a jog.
“Can you call him off?” I asked, gesturing.
She whistled, and the dog backed off, going to her side.
“Thank you,” Chris said.
“What are you doing here?”
“Keeping an eye on things, trying to be ready with my next form if we need it,” he said. His features were almost visible as he moved and the camouflage shifted.
I looked over in Rachel’s direction. “Dog spotted him sneaking up on us. He’s friendly.”
“Hi friendly, I’m Imp,” Imp said.
“Ha ha,” Chris said, humorless. He turned his camouflage-cloaked face my way. “Should I transform?”
I considered for a moment, then shook my head. In a softer voice, I said, “The form’s slow, you said.”
“Yeah. I could keep an eye on things, though.”
“We have someone we’re trying very hard to avoid keeping an eye on, out there,” I said. “You should get those headphones of yours on before we go to the others, because we don’t want to hear her either.”
I heard him rustle.
“Besides,” I said. “We might want to move to a phase two kind of approach.”
“I didn’t think you guys made that much progress,” Chris said.
“Speak for yourself,” Imp said. “Please. I have no idea who you are or what you do, so speak, fill us in.”
“Don’t be annoying,” Rachel said.
“You have a really bad gauge of what annoying is, for the record, especially when you bring Yips along all the time now-” Imp said, indicating the gangly dog. “And Yips is your worst dog.”
“I’m trying to make him a better dog, like I’m trying to make you a better human. Don’t be annoying.”
“Fine. You handle this without my help.”
“Fine,” Rachel said. She reached out, then let her hand drop to her side. She looked my way. “You found my dog quickly.”
“Okay. Thank you,” I said. There wasn’t a follow-up and there wasn’t really anything for me to say or ask her, so I turned to Chris. “We didn’t make much headway, but they have a crapton of capes and the Hollow Point guys seem to have crumbled. I’m thinking phase two, but I haven’t brought it up with anyone else.”
“Phase two?” Rachel asked.
“Contain,” was Chris’ blunt response.
“Okay,” Rachel said.
I wanted to explain further, but my eye and ear were somewhat compromised. Would Mama hear and adapt?
That’d have to do for an explanation. I’d outlined a multi-stage course of action with a list of priorities, and we were already having to skip to the next big phase, without having removed the capes Rain had mentioned. Valefor was out of action, but Mama was in play, Bamet the animal herder was out there, Coronzon the monstrous changer was there, and then there were the Crowley brothers.
As far as I knew, they were the only Fallen left. The Mcveay’s were kaput, the Behemoth-worshipers with the strong religious bent hadn’t survived the apocalypse.
The Crowley brothers weren’t really water manipulators, by and large. They and their immediate family members tended to riff on the duplication theme, often duplicating things that weren’t themselves.
I’d really wanted to knock out at least most of the leadership before moving on to the next phase. Taking out all of the major leaders would have worked too.
“I recognize you,” Rachel said, interrupting my thoughts.
“What?” Imp asked.
She was talking to Chris.
“You know him?” I asked.
“What?” Chris asked. “No she doesn’t.”
“I know of him,” Rachel said.
“No she doesn’t,” Chris said.
“What?” Imp asked, again. “Wait, the changer thing- this kid is the fucked up bird thing we saw and the crawly skull thing we heard about? And the tentacle thing from the video Tats showed us?”
“Video?” Chris asked.
“Is he?” Rachel asked. “Oh, okay.”
“What? How is that okay?” Imp was incredulous. “You can’t just raise a topic like that and say oh okay.”
“Whatever. It’s not important,” Rachel said.
“You have me on video?” Chris asked, sounding as alarmed as I’d ever heard him.
“No big deal,” Rachel said. “Not important.”
“It’s important to me! I don’t like people recording me without my permission. I get enough of that with the one teammate.”
“Fuck me,” I said, under my breath. Louder, I said, “Guys.”
“You know him?”
Rachel shrugged. She laid a hand on her dog’s neck, and the dog jumped. She sounded like she was trying to be soothing as she told Imp, “Forget I said anything. And you’re being annoying again.”
“Rachel, you know I love you in the most hetero of ways, but telling people to calm down never works and it’s not working here.”
“I told you to stop being annoying, not to calm down.”
“It’s the same thing, with me. I get stressed, this is how I deal. And I get stressed when you say you know him-”
“She doesn’t, by the way,” Chris said. “Needs to be said again.”
“-I have a right to be irritated when you don’t finish the thought.”
“Thought’s finished. I recognize him. Thought started and ended.”
“How? Who? When? Where? When? Who? Explain.”
“Too much hassle now that you’re being annoying,” Rachel said. “I’m fine leaving it be.”
“I can and will do horrible things to you without you knowing,” Imp growled.
“I’m fine leaving it be too,” Chris said.
“Good for you two, but I’m not fine!” Imp retorted.
I pushed out with my aura, getting their attention.
“We have a job,” I said.
“Good,” Rachel said. Imp, meanwhile, only huffed.
We backtracked to rejoin the others. Chris stuck by me, adjusting his clothes so that the garment he wore in monster form cloaked him like a poncho, the folds covering his lower face. He wore the headphones, but he didn’t have the braces on.
“You’re okay?” I asked. “Not seeing things?”
“I’m seeing lots of things. I need distractions.”
“There are others who are comatose right now because she got to them.”
“Emotion powers don’t affect you as much, right?” Chris asked.
“Monsters don’t get to me.”
I thought about responding, but we were back where the others had gathered.
Sveta was with Weld, Narwhal had most of her team, Foil was with Parian, and Vista was sticking close to her team with Capricorn sitting next to her. She was saying something in Tristan’s ear, while he held the earplug just slightly out of his ear, ready to put it back in at a moment’s notice.
I needed to say something to her.
Rain was just far enough ahead of the others that I thought he wasn’t part of the greater group. He was with the stragglers in Narwhal’s team, Fluke included, and they were coming back from a brief excursion, carrying some of the injured they’d collected. The biker girl with the broken ribs was one.
“Can you hear?” Rain asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“We grabbed these guys because we need to see if we can shake them free of the effect. I wrote up more on my phone, to catch you up.”
“Snag did a number on you.”
He nodded. “But I want to help. Take my phone. It’s a resource.”
I nodded. I took the phone, then gestured to the others. “Come. I want to discuss this.”
When I approached Narwhal, Vista and Weld, it was with Sveta, Rain and Chris at my back. Capricorn was already hanging out with Vista, so he had to take only a few steps to join us and be part of our group again.
We were missing two members. We’d soon have another backing us, if Narwhal was game.
“I’m thinking phase two,” I said.
“If we can’t crack this army of theirs and knock out their leadership, do you really think we can contain it?” Weld asked.
“I think we have to change venues,” I said. “We leave. We make this a siege.”
“That’s phase two? No,” Rain said. “They still have hostages, and they have the food to drag this out. Hostages.”
“We’re hurting the hostages by being here,” Narwhal said. “The Fallen and their allies are being subjected to mental torture the moment they fail expectations.”
“We can back off, and you can fill us in so we’re armed with knowledge,” I said. “The closer we get to them the more we get caught up in their rhythm, so I want to pull back.”
“You’re sure about this?” Sveta asked.
“I think so,” I said. “I don’t see a clear other way. We’re pinned down, and that’s even with us having heavy hitters. We can’t get close if seeing or hearing one person can destroy us. The big issue is that they’re united in their horribleness, and we’re… all on different pages.”
Rain hissed, “If I can contribute anything at all, let it be me telling you that you can’t let these guys have a chance to regroup.”
“Multiple buildings are damaged, Prancer’s group set fire to a number of them. They’re in disarray,” Narwhal said.
“They revel in disarray,” Rain said. “W- they were the fastest growing settlement to start from scratch. They’re good at kicking ass when they have nothing going for them.”
“I know you’re concerned about the hostages,” I said.
“Victoria,” Capricorn said.
I moved my hand. The same gesture he’d given me, before. Flat, angled so it wasn’t quite a ‘stop’ gesture, not facing the grass and mud beneath us either.
“Fuck,” Capricorn said. “Rain, I get what you’re saying, but you left. You’re out of the loop. We really discussed this and planned this, and we took it to the heroes.”
“Not that it worked out great so far,” Chris said.
“Don’t snark,” Sveta said, quiet.
“We’ve been accommodating of your situation,” I said.
“You’re playing that card?” Rain asked.
“We’ve been accommodating,” I said, again, reinforcing it. “We’re here, and a big part of the reason we’re here is because you wanted this.”
“I wanted to save good people in a bad situation.”
“Accommodate us,” I said. “Please.”
I saw him make a fist.
“Please,” I said.
It took him a moment, but he relented.
“I’ll talk to Advance Guard,” Narwhal said. By her resigned tone, I could tell she didn’t want to pull out.
“We’re with Prancer, you know,” Foil said, behind us.
“I know,” I said, turning around.
“If you go, we’re staying. We’ll do what we can here.”
“We’ll have to dodge March if she’s still around,” Parian said, quiet.
“Yeah,” Foil said. “This isn’t a good day.”
“Be safe,” I said.
“That’s the plan,” Foil said.
Narwhal called out the order. Rachel called out another. Her dogs were guarding the perimeter, and they drew closer. Some capes took up the job of watching for trouble.
I grabbed Rain by the wrist, as we walked away.
With Mama Mathers infecting us, there was a limit to what I could do. As it was, I dragged my finger along his wrist, and I spelled out words. They weren’t very clear words, only ‘ERIN’ and ‘NO-‘. I didn’t get to write the ‘W’, because he pulled his hand away. He stared at me through the lens of his mask.
I heard him sigh.
I made sure the others were secure and Narwhal’s team was ready to go, and then I flew skyward, until I was high enough up to be safe. I made a call.
“Looksee,” I said.
“Oh my gosh, you have to fill me in on everything.”
“Soon,” I said. “Can you do me a favor, though?”
“Yes,” Kenzie said, with no hesitation. No qualifiers, either.
“Tell me how things have gone on your end, first. Distract me.”
Sure enough, I could trust Kenzie to talk nonstop at the slightest provocation, and I could use that in the moment.
I asked because I needed a bit of cover to give me time to type a message that was easily in my top three messages I never thought I’d write, while not looking at the screen.
Shh. Find Tattle. Coordinate with us & undersiders.
I heard Kenzie’s voice pause as the text reached her. She kept talking, but I heard the renewed excitement in her voice. What kid didn’t love a secret mission?