Narwhal faced down the Fallen, standing in the middle of the road. A crowd of patrol block soldiers stood behind her, with the buses lined up.
The soldiers with guns were only slightly less intimidating than the array of forcefields she’d conjured up, arranged above and to either side of her with the blades pointing forward, each one slightly tilted in angle compared to the one next to it, so they all pointed at the one point ahead of us.
I floated above her.
“It’s over,” Narwhal called out. “The Crowleys are running, the Mathers leadership is gone. Half of your town was leveled and legitimate authorities are going to be staying there to make sure everything’s healthy as people move back in.”
And we’ll provide some resources to anyone that wants out for good, I thought. I hope that pans out.
“Healthy,” the Fallen woman in the lead said. “Healthy food is stuff you have to choke down. Healthy body means doing grueling work. That’s you saying it’s going to fucking suck.”
Yeah, she didn’t look like someone who ate her vegetables.
“I’ve done this kind of thing before. I fought warlords,” Narwhal said. “I helped the villages after. I delivered supplies to isolated settlements. A lot of people want this to have a happy ending, and experience tells me that ending is possible.”
A guy called out, “The only happy ending I want is the kind you use your hand for, bitch!”
There was some raucous, tense laughter from the group.
I felt such disgust, looking at them. It wasn’t the joke- I could imagine Chris or Rain saying something like that and it being something that pushed the envelope. They wouldn’t have said ‘bitch’, though.
I couldn’t understand them.
My phone buzzed. I flew to the ground, off to the side of Narwhal, and brought my phone to my ear.
“Tattletale here. Can we talk?”
“Standoff with the remaining Mathers Fallen and Narwhal,” I said. I assessed the situation. “I think Narwhal has it handled.”
“I’d think so. I’ve found the Crowleys, they covered their retreat, and now they’re on the move. They borrowed a fleet of cars from a town north of here, and they’re heading east.”
“East? Boston? New Brockton?”
“I’m betting the Boston district of the Megalopolis,” she said. “They’re taking a route using roads that are barely roads, they’re so rustic. If you take the major highway, you could get ahead of them with time to spare. Give me what I need and we’ll help.”
“Undersiders. I can twist Prancer’s arm, promise to help him bounce back if he’ll lend me people. I could also give you the information for March. She’d help, but it would have to come from you, not me.”
“Do I want her help?”
“She’d do the job and she’d do it well, if she thought it would help Rain.”
“But?” I asked. I was still keeping an eye on the situation with Narwhal and the Fallen.
“You know the Graeae twins? They’re part of her group.”
“A bit. They helped Rain out.”
“They were two of three, originally. They had another brother, and they’re triplets and cluster-mates at the same time. Big bro went off the deep end. Kiss and kill are messy enough when you’ve got family bonds, but the brother went full kiss, full kill, at the same time, like where the venn diagram overlaps.”
I felt my skin crawl, and darker thoughts bubbled up, as I drew some parallels. I kept my voice level as I said, “I’ve read about that.”
“Whichever order that goes in, it’s… it’s not good, Victoria.”
“Thanks,” I said, my voice curt. “Let’s speed along to the explanation.”
“With my power, I can usually figure people out. With March, I can’t. When that happens, it’s because there is no answer, or I’m asking the wrong question.”
That was more information than I’d ever had about Tattletale’s power and its limitations.
“You should know I’m baring my throat and showing you some weaknesses as a gesture of good faith,” Tattletale said.
Or as a manipulation tactic.
I watched the Fallen advance a little, but kept up my end of the call. In a pinch, I would fly in and stall. I drew out the thrust of Tattletale’s explanation, something that I seemed to have to do with regularity. “You think you can’t figure out if March is one or the other because she’s both?”
“Or neither, but saying it’s neither would mean it’s so far afield it’s not sensible. Which would fit her. Either way, if she really likes someone, that isn’t a good thing.”
“You’re saying not to rely on her, then?”
“Know what you’re getting into. She’d be useful to have if you pick this fight. It’s a lot of Fallen and they’ll be going to somewhere there are friends.”
“Understood,” I said. I was distracted as I replied; the Fallen were more agitated now.
“We know they’re projections!” the Fallen woman jeered.
Narwhal looked at one of her team members. I imagined it was the kind of disappointed look that went with a sigh.
She looked at me, and I nodded.
My phone beeped, loud. I twisted my head around, burying my eyes in the crook of my elbow, bringing out the Wretch.
The flash was so bright I could briefly see my bones through my arm, with everything else being a mottled pink.
The Fallen were left partially or wholly blind. Some screamed, others opened fire. Narwhal already had her barrier up. The forcefields glowed as they absorbed the fire.
Our trap worked.
“Sounds like you’re busy. We’ll meet, and you can bring some of your people this time, if you want. You can glare at me, I’ll fill you in on the why and the what.”
“That’s only if we agree.”
“Let’s keep this simple, Victoria. I’m trying to play ball.”
“You were ops for an assassin that came after my teammate.”
“I’m trying to play ball with this. If you put him in jail, I might have to break him out, or he’s going to break out on his own. He’s a tinker, among other things. The places they’ve got aren’t that good, trust me.”
“If you or your people help him, we’re actually going to have a problem,” I said. “But whether we release him in exchange for your help isn’t up to me.”
“I’ll send you some stuff. Use it to convince others.”
Captain Marcial scrolled through my phone logs. Another captain, Gaymon, was standing next to her, arms folded, watching the screen.
“Using this phone is a hassle,” Gaymon said.
“I’d have given you better if I had better,” I said. “She texted all that to me, and I don’t know how to put texts on a laptop, or where I would even get a laptop out here.”
“Whatever,” Gaymon said.
I frowned a bit, but I didn’t want to make an issue of things. I knew some of the patrol blocks were more anti-cape than Gilpatrick’s, and Gaymon had given me that vibe and cemented it in place with his attitude.
Gilpatrick, Sveta and Chris were next to me. Ashley was a short distance away in the company of ‘Jester’, the both of them sitting on a rock by the ditch. Rain was lying across the long seat at the rear end of a bus, resting and avoiding any and all disturbances after the attention from Scapegoat.
Shortcut from Advance Guard was lurking around the periphery. Thankfully, he was staying quiet and sticking to the background.
“This Tattletale, you trust her?” Marcial asked. She was a slim woman, with a nose that had been broken at least twice, and a thin old scar that parted her eyebrow. Like Gilpatrick, she was ex-PRT. She wore a raincoat that was open in the front, because it couldn’t close around her body armor. The hood kept the drizzle off of her face.
“No,” I said. “I don’t really trust her.”
“Not so compelling, then,” she said, looking back down at the phone.
“It’s… not a point in her favor,” I said. “But I’d rather operate under the assumption that she’s telling the truth about where the Fallen are and what they’re doing. I’m going to go after them and, if she turns out to be right, put myself at risk. If she’s wrong, I’m flying for a few hours when all I want to do is get my gunshot wound looked at. Take that for what it’s worth.”
“So you do trust her.”
“I trust that the Fallen are dangerous. That trust means I’m willing to accept the hassle and the risk.”
“That Tattletale is yanking our dicks?” Captain Marcial asked, her voice about as uncaring and dry as was possible.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Children present,” Sveta said, quiet. Her arms were folded, and one finger moved, pointing at Chris.
“I don’t care,” Chris said.
“I don’t care either,” Marcial said. “If they can fight, they can hear some bad language. This feels like a wild goose chase or a trap. We’ve already been stung a few times.”
“We know they went somewhere. Our tinker thinks there’s reason to believe Tattletale is right. They used guns today, multiple witnesses can testify they put civilians in the line of fire to use as human shields, and tortured others. There’s a chance they bring that behavior to a settlement. I think it’s worth using the only lead we have, after they slipped our perimeter.”
“They being the Crowleys?”
“Yes,” I said. “Possibly with some scattered Mathers, and the Clans, and the remaining Bikers.”
I wasn’t sure how keen the Bikers would be when it came to playing along, but I wasn’t going to bring that up. Marcial’s approach wasn’t warming me to her, and I was reluctant to give her fuel for her suspicions and delaying tactics. It was her call when it came to her patrol group and what they were prepared to do. She had authority over her group in the field like Gilpatrick had for the Bridgeport patrol.
I was keenly aware of Captain Marcial’s geographical position, as well. She was in charge of the patrol block from New Haven. They were the closest neighbors to the Mathers camp of Fallen. The same town with the shop where I’d picked up the donuts, and with the people who’d been camped out watching for trouble, that Looksee had fooled and helped bring into custody.
If anyone was going to turn out to be a Fallen sympathizer, a thing that was happening with some frequency, I wouldn’t be shocked if that anyone was Captain Marcial.
“Crowleys aren’t on paper as being a big threat,” she said.
“Crowleys aren’t on paper as having gun toting soldiers either,” I said.
“We took the same road they did when we came here,” Chris said. “You can smell the gunpowder in the air, mixed with the smell of cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline and body odor.”
“You can, Chris,” Sveta said, stressing the ‘you’.
Gaymon’s superior approached. I’d caught the man being called Captain Bash, but I wasn’t sure if it was a nickname or real last name. He didn’t look like a Bash, with a shorter than average stature, skinny physique and a bit of a receding hairline- I could imagine it being the sort of thing where a tall muscular man was nicknamed Tiny. The PRT director in my hometown had confided in me at one point that she’d been nicknamed Lady, and from her lack of grace and finer manners, it might have been the same sort of thing.
Bash indicated the phone, “What’s this?”
“Villain says she knows where the Crowley bunch went, after Scapegoat helped them push past our perimeter. Gilpatrick’s cape says they want to follow up on it. If this is to be believed, the Fallen went north, to the Meridian stretch, and then they’ll go east.”
“To a populated part of the city,” I pointed out.
“And?” Bash asked.
“We’re trying to decide if it’s worth going after the jackasses,” Gaymon said.
“It’s more complicated than that. We can get better info, but it costs,” I said. “And I need the approval of my whole team on this, first. I want to make sure we have the other resources we need if we’re going to pay this cost or convince the rest of my team. If we can work with what we’ve got, though, that’d be ideal.”
“I’ll defer to Gilpatrick and Marcial,” Bash said. “You make the call, we’ll help, whatever happens.”
“Again,” I said, trying not to let the combination of Chris and Bash sidetrack things too much, “We have witnesses. They came armed and they fought hard. This wasn’t the prankster, pain in the ass, public nuisance Crowleys. This was something more vicious.”
“Because they were defending their home?” Marcial suggested.
“I trust her, Liz,” Gilpatrick said, speaking just a moment before I said something I would have regretted later. “If she says it was serious, I believe her.”
“This is your girl from the community center?”
“She is,” Gilpatrick said.
“The wrecking ball.”
Fuck me, was she trying to push me?
“She kept my people alive and safe. She protected civilians. Considering the fudge-cluster that was, I’m happy with how she handled it.”
“Disaster follows in your heroine’s wake, huh?” Marcial asked, still in that same dry tone.
I closed my eyes, then measured out my response, “It’s my feeling that when you have powers, it’s your responsibility to take action in the face of disaster. So yeah, you’re going to see me a lot on the scene of bad stuff going down.”
“Cluster fudge, bad stuff,” Chris said. “You don’t need to censor for my benefit. I promise you, I’ve heard worse. I’ve said worse.”
“Don’t interrupt,” Sveta told him.
“I understand that you’re defensive, Victoria. You put a lot on the line,” Marcial said.
“I’m not-” I started. I clenched my fist.
“It’s okay. This is how I function. Ask anyone who works under me. I’m asking the questions others are going to ask after we’re done. Why do this, are we sure, wasn’t there some indication it was a trap? Succeed or fail, they’re going to wonder, and I intend to have the right answers for them.”
“Okay,” I said, though I didn’t feel okay with it. The annoying thing with how she ‘functioned’ was that I had a hard time going back and finding the thread of the conversation again. Chris’ commentary didn’t help. “Defending their home, you said.”
“Mm hmm,” she said. She looked at Gaymon as he nudged her.
“The supporting images aren’t very clear,” Gaymon interrupted, holding up my phone. “Especially on a screen this small.”
“Yeah,” she acknowledged him. “I don’t think anyone has satellite footage that’s worth three fucks, yet.”
I pressed, “They were armed and ready for a small war. This isn’t limited to the guns people brought with them and the rifles they had for hunting. There were assault rifles and whole groups with a matching gun in each person’s hand.”
“I bet if you asked them, they’d say it was a good thing they were armed and ready, since a small war came to them,” she said. When she saw my expression, she added, “I’m anticipating the responses we’ll get, that’s all.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay. Do you have any questions? Do you need anything?”
“Do you want your phone back?” she asked.
I started to approach, and she tossed the phone my way. I had to fly a bit to catch it one-handed.
“We’ll let you know what we decide,” Gaymon said.
I turned to walk away, and Gilpatrick told his peers, “I’ll be right back.”
He walked with me, as I walked up to Sveta and Chris, put a hand on Sveta’s shoulder, and had us all walk over to where Jester was talking to Ashley. From there, I indicated we should walk a little further away for our pow-wow.
“Sorry,” Gilpatrick said. “That is how she operates.”
“She make a lot of friends with that ‘function’ of hers?”
“No,” Gilpatrick said. “I’d never pretend she has many allies or friends. She was New York PRT, and if you ask the New York PRT, they’ll say- they would have said that they were the best in the country.
“A few PRT teams would have said that,” I replied, with a sigh. “Does she live up to her own hype?”
Gilpatrick gave me a one-shouldered shrug. “Her ass is so covered it’s bulletproof, and that’s a skill a lot of people overlook. People who matter trust her when she talks because she is very good at explaining things to people who know nothing. Again, a skill.”
“That definitely doesn’t make friends if she wins important people over to her side when multiple others try and fail,” I said.
“I won’t comment,” Gilpatrick said, in a conspiratorial way I wasn’t sure someone else would catch. I was right. It was something that had happened.
“That’s politics. Is she good at her job?”
“Depends on what you see as her job. I’d like to think I’m a better teacher and shaper of our youth. She’s better at going after the bad guys.”
We met with Ashley, where she’d found a rock to lean against. Jasper put the phone down beside her, then walked over to stand by Gilpatrick. I really wondered what he’d been talking to Ashley about, and why he’d even gone to talk to her in the first place.
“How’s everyone?” I asked.
“Patched up,” Sveta said, patting her prosthetic shell.
“Good,” Chris said. “Did what I wanted, mostly.”
I raised an eyebrow at that. He’d seemed slightly dissatisfied earlier. He only shrugged.
“I’ve been talking to Jester and Looksee, getting caught up,” Ashley said. “It’s a good distraction.”
“Ooh, she’s into archery,” Looksee said. The phone rested on the rock between Jasper and Ashley. “Badass.”
Ashley raised a hand, indicating the phone, “See? Distraction enough.”
“Wait,” I said. “Say again, Looksee. Who is into archery?”
“Because she’s our biggest obstacle, and I was looking for clues.”
“Looksee, you can’t spy on people,” I said.
“Please,” Sveta said.
“Is it really spying if the information is a mouseclick away?”
“Yes,” Chris said.
“Oh, hey, Creepy Kid. Tattletale was asking about you. I didn’t say anything, of course.”
“I’m apparently Creepy Kid now,” Chris said, to Sveta and I.
“I told you, you need to pick a name, or it’s going to get chosen for you,” I said.
“I don’t have good ideas,” Chris said. “The good names are taken. The shortlist is Dramaturge, Cryptid, Cryptozoo-”
Looksee snorted audibly over the phone.
“Don’t laugh, Looksee,” exaggerating her name.
“Looksee is good! Victoria said you can make any name work if you do good enough, and I did good today.”
“Well enough,” Chris said.
“Everyone did well,” I said. “You included, Looksee. I know that wasn’t as close to the frontline as you want, but the camera drop, outlining the cables-”
“Threads,” Looksee said. “With force around and to them.”
“Okay,” I said. “And the fake cable coming at Cradle. It was good.”
“She was telling me about it,” Ashley said.
“It was good,” I said.
“If you keep saying that, she’s going to blow a fuse,” Chris said.
“Oh, completely changing the subject, Capricorn is coming back with Vista. He’s a couple of minutes away.”
“I’ll go say hi in a second,” I said.
“This whole thing is dizzying,” Jester said. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“In a way, I grew up with it,” I said. “Was different, back then. I dealt with more known quantities. Or I thought I did. No Marcials. I never thought I’d miss having my mom as team leader once I flew the coop. I considered it a good day when my aunt was the one in charge, and I still found it stifling.”
“It’s not all people like Marcial,” Gilpatrick said.
“I know,” I said. I had to make a three-quarter turn to lightly punch him in the arm, because my injured arm was the one closer to him. “We’ve got people like you and Jester.”
“The fact that you’re using that name and you’re putting us in the same sentence pains me,” Gilpatrick didn’t move his lips as he murmured the words.
Jester cleared his throat, looking at Gilpatrick.
“I’ll give you one thing,” Chris was saying in the background, “The camera thing was a good play. Brutal.”
“Thank you, nice of you to say,” Looksee said.
“It was,” Sveta said, “But I don’t like how that was worded. Brutal and good shouldn’t be put together like that.”
Chris went on, “I wanted to make a joke before, but speaking takes concentration when you don’t have the mouth you’re used to. Now it sounds dumb, because I’d be saying it out of nowhere.”
“Say it. Say it,” Looksee said.
“Looksee? More like look out,” Chris said, and he chose the most deadpan tone of voice he could manage, in a way that sucked any of the residual humor out of the line.
Looksee laughed all the same.
“I hate to be a wet blanket,” Sveta said. “But, please, almost caving in someone’s skull was an emergency measure, not a thing to be encouraged.”
“Seconding that,” I said.
“You seem to have your hands full,” Gilpatrick said.
“Feels like it,” I said. Even if I had perfect control of the Wretch, every hand available would be full.
Ugh. I didn’t like thinking like that.
“You guys talk,” I said. “I’m going to go see Capricorn. He should be there soon.”
“He paused to rest,” Looksee reported. “He’s a minute away.”
“Good enough,” I said.
“I’ll come,” Ashley said.
I hesitated. I’d wanted to fly. “We’ll walk fast?”
We skirted the larger meeting, where Mayday had joined the discussion with Marcial, Bash, and Gaymon. Gilpatrick took my leaving as an excuse to go, too, but he took a separate path.
Only Ashley and me.
“What did you talk to Jester about?” I asked.
“We didn’t talk much. He brought the phone, and he managed it so I didn’t have to, asked how you were doing, we talked briefly about you. He was curious about powers. Looksee did most of the talking.”
“Talking about me?”
“Nothing bad,” she said.
I looked back over my shoulder. The group was still gathered. “They’re doing better than expected. Sveta’s quiet.”
“They’re relieved that Rain is okay,” Ashley said. “And they’re resilient.”
“And you?” I asked. “Are you okay?”
“You said everyone did a good job. I didn’t,” Ashley said. She walked with her hand clasped around the injured portion, but the posture looked defensive.
“I really liked how you handled things with Gilpatrick, turning yourself in, asking him if you could join the fight. They’re the right moves.”
“If I end up imprisoned and unable to see or call her, someone needs to look after Kenzie.”
I looked at Ashley. Her hair had dried somewhat, but it still had the wet hair look, where it webbed into thicker locks. She was wearing the new dress- the one she’d bought in Cedar Point, but it had been melted at the side, near where her wrist dangled by her leg. Since the capture the flag game, I’d thought of Kenzie looking after Ashley in a way, but I wasn’t so sure I’d seen Ashley looking after Kenzie. Defending her, maybe. Being there-
“Being there for her?” I asked.
“It’s part of it,” she said. “She doesn’t have anyone.”
“I mean someone who will be there a year from now. The team is wobbly, none of her classmates want to be her friend, and very few people spend time with her without wanting something from her or having to be with her. When I get in trouble for blasting Beast of Burden, make sure she has someone. You or someone else.”
I nodded. “Her parents?”
“Go to that dinner at her house or ask the others if you want an answer to that question.”
I tilted my head a little, trying to see more of her face. “Usually I can count on you for straight answers.”
“Not about this. She’d be upset with me and things are hard enough. She’s upset with me and I’m upset with her. The talk on the phone, with a bystander there, we were dancing around being upset with each other.”
“Did I miss something?” I asked.
Ashley shook her head. She moved her injured hand, bouncing it up and down briefly, then clenched her other hand at her arm as a muffled use of her power erupted between her fingers. Agitation.
“I could have screamed at her. It’s why I wanted this talk.”
“I’m not sure, but she was trying to reassure me. She said the situation was bad, there were lots of people hurt, Rain killed Snag, he was almost killed by Cradle, and even she almost killed Mama Mathers.”
Ashley gave that last bit some emphasis.
“You think it was intentional? To connect, or…”
“I don’t know. She said it and I can’t get it out of my head. If it was intentional, even if it was accidental, if she killed someone, if she ruined herself like that, for something so stupid, or because she was careless, if she’s even capable of making that kind of decision-”
She was getting agitated as she talked.
“I get it,” I said, interrupting the speech. “I get it. We’ll figure something out. I’ll talk to her.”
We walked for a short bit in silence. I heard Ashley whisper something, but it wasn’t aimed at me.
I chose to ignore the whisper, in the same way I hoped someone would ignore me communicating something to the Wretch.
“She needs someone to look after her,” Ashley said. “Now that someone can’t be me.”
I looked up. The sky was still overcast, the light of the sun fighting to shine through in a way that made it look more like the heavy clouds had faint energy glowing from within them, rather than a distant burning orb sending its light to us.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to the team,” I said. “I think people are more shaken than they’re saying.”
“There was a lot there that was rough. There’s still stuff out there- angry people with guns, who just saw their own get attacked, or who were forced to act by Mama Mathers. Good people got really hurt.”
“Bad people got really hurt too,” Ashley said.
I paused, feeling the weight of that short statement. “Yeah. We’ll see how that goes.”
Water pattered against my hood, and I thought the rain had started up again- it was only the wind stirring the droplets from the leaves above.
I saw the distorted space before I saw Capricorn, Vista, and Chasmal. Capricorn had one of his stone constructions over his shoulder, something that looked like a coffin, but was obviously made of Tristan’s power, with hooks and such. Interestingly, though it looked like the sort of heavy something that would have required Tristan’s attention, it was Byron in the blue armor who was hauling it, holding up the thicker, wider upper end, with the bottom end dragging in the path behind him.
Vista was shortening their path. Chasmal would be making the coffin and the person inside light enough for Byron to drag, while simultaneously phasing Mama Mathers partially out of reality.
He had a costume that sported Advance Guard’s geometric future aesthetic with a deep blue color scheme with orange trim. The aesthetic and design seemed to be intended at invoking the dark, vigilante style.
I was really hoping that a measure like that would sever her connection to others, for any point in time that she woke up.
“You got her?” I asked.
“Yeah. We also pointed Mayday’s cape and the patrol crew to the building we sealed up,” Byron said. “Hi, Damsel.”
“She’s still unconscious or asleep in there?” I asked.
“Has to be. I’d have felt her struggling, or we would have heard her.”
“She could be dead,” Damsel said.
“Let’s hope,” Chasmal muttered.
“I’m hoping she isn’t,” I said. Damsel nodded her agreement with me.
“I used my power to sweep over the area,” Vista said. “I can get a general feel for when there are people somewhere and as far as I can tell, most of the town was evacuated. We sent some people to rescue and retrieve.”
“Armed, armored people,” Byron said.
“But I think we did it,” Vista said. She offered her fist out. After a moment’s hesitation, Byron bumped it. I was a little quicker to respond.
Vista offered her fist to Ashley, and Ashley shook her head, flashing a small smile instead.
Vista seemed to take it in stride. “There were two groups that left. One to the south-”
“Handled,” I said. “Projections stopped them, even though they knew they were projections. They lined up to face down our defending group, and we blinded them.”
“And the second one that tore through Advance Guard and the Hollow Point villains as they left by the north road.”
I wished I had a better answer for her. “We’re still figuring that one out.”
“I hear Prancer’s group skedaddled?” Vista asked.
“What’s left of it. They took a few bodies with them.”
“Eesh,” Byron said.
“Eesh is right,” I answered him. “They’ll go back to Hollow Point and they’ll probably find one of the Wardens’ teams waiting there. The Shepherds or Foresight. With luck, they’ll be so tired they won’t want to fight for the territory, or they’ll lose that fight if they pick it.”
“We’re not invited?” Byron asked.
I shook my head. “We weren’t invited, we’re battered and weary, and I think I’d rather deal with the Fallen, if we were going to do something.”
“Alright. That’s almost a relief. Come on,” Byron said. “Let’s get this creepy woman somewhere more secure.”
“Hardly a way to talk about me,” Vista said.
“Ha ha,” Byron said.
“We’ll take her to the patrol block leaders,” I said. “See if that sways them any.”
“I can take over dragging it if you want,” Vista said.
“I’m good,” Byron said. “I like getting to pretend I’m the one with enhanced strength.”
“What did you get, if he got that?” Vista asked.
“Resistance to temperature extremes,” Byron said. He grunted as he started dragging. “There was a time I made ice.”
“Uh huh. There have been other things.”
“Can you change back? Is that a thing you could do if you tried, or could you change to something new?”
“I could,” Byron said. “But I don’t want to go back, and I’m worried about how I’d get somewhere new.”
“I’m happy my power’s simple,” Vista said.
“Gross distortion of dimensions, simple,” I said.
She smiled and winked at me.
She was happy, it seemed.
I was- I was almost happy too.
I had my concerns. I had plenty of worries about what was going to unfold as authorities decided to go after the Fallen or to let them go, and even the simpler joy of being a heroine had been tainted by Wretch and the horribleness of the people I’d been dealing with. I could ask how everyone was doing, keep tabs on things, and help people out, and there wasn’t anyone who was positioned or invested enough to do the same for me.
A reminder to myself that I needed to call that therapist.
But I could put it all aside, put it out of mind.
We had Mama Mathers. We had Operator and we had Cradle. It was a win, and a win we’d thoroughly earned.
Son of a bitch, I should have known.
“Why?” I asked.
“We couldn’t come to a decision, so we talked to the administrators who coordinate the patrol blocks,” Captain Marcial answered me. “They said no.”
“We’re leaving the remaining Fallen?” I asked.
“We explained the guns,” Gilpatrick said. “The degree of violence here, the boundaries that were crossed. They’ll have people on the lookout for violence, if the Fallen lash out or try something, but the sentiment expressed was that they didn’t want to punish others for getting away from a violent situation and standing down.”
“They’re the Fallen,” I said. “They don’t back down.”
“They don’t back down, but they do get tired,” Marcial said. “We have problems today, occupying heroes and patrols. The Fallen are a problem for tomorrow.”
“That’s the word from above,” Gilpatrick said.
I retrieved my phone and checked the time.
According to Tattletale, the Fallen would get off the road in two hours and get into the Megalopolis again, somewhere on the east coast. They were obscuring their retreating convoy with powers, allegedly, and once they were in the city they’d connect with others. Again, allegedly.
We’d have to deal with Tattletale to know what location, or where they were if they did get to the city. We’d have to achieve something of a win, and we’d have to have a way to deal with the defeated Fallen. Here, we could put them on a bus in shackles, or dedicate whole teams to managing the powered ones. It helped that most of the powered had injuries that slowed them down.
It wasn’t doable.
“I’m sorry,” Gilpatrick said. “We mitigated the damage. We met most of the objectives, even in the face of much greater numbers than we expected. Today was a win.”
“That’s not much consolation,” Capricorn said. He was back to being Tristan. “We were there in the thick of it. We saw them and talked to them. Lives are going to be lost if we let this go. They’re pissed. They’re heading into a population center.”
“Our resources are exhausted,” Gaymon said. “We have limited personnel and that personnel has been tied up for the better part of the day. If they go there and stop, we intend to let them. Otherwise, it ends up as one prolonged engagement where both sides get tired and sloppy.”
“This was already sloppy enough,” Bash said. “Unexpected numbers, the violence.”
It was so maddening, that the desire for peace and a stop to conflict would provide the flammable material needed for the fires to spread.
I didn’t let that show on my face.
“You’re still standing,” Capricorn said, “There’s gas in your vehicles. These people are unreasonable, dangerous and desperate. You can’t let this go. Others can’t afford for you to let it go.”
I wished Narwhal was around. I wished Mayday would speak up.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d had an impression of Marcial almost right away, that she wasn’t on our side. She’d proven it. Gilpatrick- I wanted to imagine he’d tried and failed. In my time with the patrol block, I’d seen decisions from oversight that had definitely been this dumb.
“Thank you,” I said, as diplomatically as I could. “I understand your hands are tied, if your bosses are saying no.”
Capricorn’s head snapped around.
“They are,” Marcial said. Had it come from anyone else, I might have been more inclined to believe it.
Capricorn was giving me a hard look through the eyeholes of his helmet.
“There’s no changing your mind,” I said, for his benefit. “We’ll figure out what our course of action is in the next while.”
“It was a good collaboration. A good effort, even with everything that went wrong,” Gilpatrick said. “Be safe, take care of yourselves, and let me know if you need anything.”
I left the scene behind, feeling like I might have said something regrettable if I’d stayed a moment longer.
“This is where we part ways, I guess. We’ll meet, talk,” Vista said. “You have my number.”
I nodded. I clasped her hand in mine.
“Kick some ass,” she said.
“We’ll see,” I said.
We were a group as we walked away. Me, Capricorn, Sveta, Chris, Ashley, and Looksee had joined us, coming from New Haven to our powwow.
One more member to get.
We filed into the bus. Rain was awake, a phone that wasn’t his in his lap.
“Cradle?” he asked.
“In custody,” I said. “Which is something we need to talk about, because it’s you that makes the final call.”