Rain had been slouched across the back seat, a first aid blanket over him, a phone there to give him something to occupy himself with. As he worked his way to a position where he sat upright, Tristan worked his way past the seats to offer a gentler hand. I would have offered help, more to help reduce the stress on Rain’s body than because the strength was needed, but I wasn’t able-bodied.
Not many of us were really up to the task, now that I noticed. Sveta wasn’t weak but she wasn’t coordinated. Ashley had her screwed up arm that was misfiring. Chris was able but not inclined. Kenzie was eleven.
As for Rain- the worst damage had been healed, physically, but he’d come awfully close to dying. A serious impact in the next hour or two could phase out the healed body parts, with catastrophic consequences for both Rain and Scapegoat. When he moved, though, it was in a careful sort of way that went beyond someone reeling from physical injuries and going easy with the weird phased-in healing that Scapegoat did. We had to be ginger with the traumatized parts of him that weren’t physical.
I wanted to draw on my own experiences to empathize with him and better know what to do, but I didn’t have great experiences to draw on. I’d been badly hurt before, but the only comparable kind of harm had been followed with convalescence and a kind of sedation. That had been followed by Amy’s attentions and some erasure of memories.
A dark, heavy thought to go alongside how drained I felt in the moment.
My best comparison was being made normal, on the eve of Gold Morning. A kind of trauma that wasn’t physical, and that was definitely lasting. I could remember how I’d been in those early days and weeks, ginger in how I handled everything, including myself. It hadn’t helped that just about everyone had been reeling from the loss of Earth Bet, their homes, and loved ones.
“You comfortable?” Capricorn asked.
“As comfortable as I’m going to be the next few days,” Rain said.
“Sorry that we’re going to put more stuff on your plate so soon,” I said. “We’re trying to figure out what we’re doing.”
“I can take it,” Rain said. “I’ve learned to deal with shit.”
“Thank you for swearing,” Chris said. “One of the most annoying things about being a hero is all the goody-goody types who refuse to swear around me.”
“Well,” Rain said. He moved a bit, paused to wince, and then finished his sentence, “I think it’s firmly established that I’m not a goody-goody type. I do want to help, though.”
“It’s nice that they aren’t swearing,” Kenzie said. “They’re thinking of us.”
Chris scoffed audibly. With the seats of the bus being what they were, it was hard to see his face.
“The worst part about being a hero isn’t anything about swearing,” Ashley said. “It’s the untenable bureaucracy.”
I saw Chris’ hand pop up to scratch his head. He said, “You meant to say interminable or something, I think.”
“No,” Ashley said. “You meant to say yes, Damsel, you’re right.”
“The bureaucracy is definitely a wall we’ve run into,” I said, interrupting. “The patrol doesn’t want to pursue the remaining Fallen.”
“Who? Do you know?”
“The Fallen?” I asked. When he nodded, I followed up by outlining them. “Crowley brothers, their underlings. Bamet is out of action. The one who goes changer from a point in space is still out there, presumably. Valefor might be out there but I made sure he won’t be able to give any orders for a while. We got Mama.”
“Oh wow,” Rain said.
“I told you before, but I don’t think you were in a good state to process what I was saying,” Sveta said.
Rain nodded slowly. “You got Cradle. You got Mama. Snag’s dead- he’s dead, right?”
“He’s very dead,” Chris said. “You should know.”
“It all feels like it might break away and reality might hit if I move too fast or look into it too much,” Rain said.
I thought of the state I’d been in, at the end of twenty-thirteen, the start of year zero, after Gold Morning. “The way you described things, it’s as if you’re dreaming and things are less distinct than the very intense reality that came before the dream.”
“Yeah,” Rain said. “Exactly.”
“I get it,” I said. “I’ve been there. You want to watch out for the moments where you’re trying to reconcile the disconnect and make the now feel real again. It’s easy to get carried away.”
“In a fight, you mean?” Capricorn asked. “Throwing yourself at a situation to feel alive again?”
“Not like that, exactly,” I said.
“I don’t get it,” Looksee said.
I floundered for a moment, then said, “I guess, just as an example, I remember taking a shower and having a moment where it really woke me up and I felt grounded in reality again. There were a few days of painfully cold and hot showers, trying to wake up and stay fixed in the present.”
Sveta reached over to touch my arm.
There had been other moments, too. Scrubbing myself until my skin broke, among other things. Too personal and raw to really share.
“I’ll watch out for that,” Rain said.
“I would really, really advise talking to Mrs. Yamada the next chance you get,” I said, “because I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can watch out for on your own.”
“I left a message for her,” he said. He touched the phone, which still sat in his lap.
Ashley’s power flickered in the background. She adjusted her position, acting like nothing had happened as she leaned against the edge of one seat, a death grip around her forearm.
“I’m going to remove my helmet,” Looksee said. “My breath keeps fogging up the screen.”
“Keep your back to the windows,” Tristan said.
I wasn’t sure it mattered- the windows were in dire need of cleaning and dirt from the road covered them for extra measure. It was a good practice to be in, though, for our team members with secret identities.
There was some rummaging. Looksee wasn’t the only one to adjust her stuff. We settled in for a longer talk, with Tristan removing his helmet. He set it down on the faux-leather bench of the bus beside him, then blurred, becoming Byron.
Byron, too, removed his helmet, setting it down next to Tristan’s. Red and blue tinted metal, horns and ridges for the former, faint fins and distinct scales for the latter.
I pushed back my hood and pulled my gloves off, being more ginger with my left glove because of the injured arm it was attached to. I laid the gloves across my lap, and the metal decorations stabbed upward like a small crown. My hands were clammy.
“The patrol doesn’t want to go after the remaining Fallen?” Rain finally spoke. His voice was as careful as his movements had been, with a questioning, almost unsure lilt at the end.
“Tomorrow’s problem, they think. There’s enough to deal with today,” I said.
“That’s the bad news, then?” Rain asked. “Good news is we got some of the worst of them, the bad news is the Crowleys are going to riot?”
“That’s the gist of it,” Byron said. His reserved tone of voice was a good match for the quieter-than-usual Rain.
“You’re the resident expert, Rain,” I said. “How do the Crowleys react?”
“Oof,” Rain huffed out the word. “I know them mostly from visits and once a year events. We’d sometimes get people sent to us from their family, trading people between families, to cement ties. I was one of those people, once.”
Sveta spoke up, “Tattletale wants Cradle in exchange for helping us stop them. The patrol isn’t helping, so…”
“So it’s not even guaranteed we can make this work,” I finished the trailing sentence.
“Wants Cradle how?” Rain asked.
“To go free,” Sveta said. “The patrol is holding him and the assassin-”
“They’re annoyed about it,” Chris added.
“-And we wanted to ask for your input,” Sveta finished her statement.
Rain leaned back, his head lolling back until it rested on the top edge of the bench seat. He sighed.
“I thought I only had Love Lost to worry about now,” he said. “You want to let him go?”
“I don’t,” Kenzie said. “I want you to be safe.”
“We’re unsure. Trying to figure it out,” Sveta said. “It’s why we’re asking about the Crowleys.”
“Where were you originally?” I asked. I put the question out there in part to not make this too abrupt or intense for Rain. “Were you Crowley?”
“McVeay, kind of. My aunt and uncle were more into it than my parents, I think. We had irregular visits to or- or by some intense, religious people that everyone listened to. A lot changed as we moved around, sometimes we camped, sometimes it was trailers, but a few things were constant, like religious services, extended family being there, and those intense, scary people. Then I was sent to the Mathers, along with my aunt and uncle. A bunch of the original people I know from childhood were already there- or here. Are still here.”
“The community part of it sounds nice, at least,” Kenzie offered.
“It really wasn’t,” Rain said.
“Sorry,” he said. He sighed. “Crowleys… we’ve been seeing them like I used to see the McVeay leaders when we’d go visit their compounds or when they checked on us. The rest of the family never respected them. That branch started because some university kids wanted attention, and then a bunch of brothers with powers jumped in, played along, and took over. They almost got killed by the other families before they figured out how to play the politics.”
“And somewhere along the way, they started buying what they were selling to keep the group together?” I asked.
Rain shook his head. “I don’t know. It never felt like they took this seriously, everyone says they capitalize on the reputation of the other families. But they had the guns today, didn’t they? They were for real.”
“Yeah,” Byron said.
“You don’t have a good sense of them, then?” I asked.
“I have a bit of a sense. The low level guys, there are some that call themselves jackasses. It’s a badge of honor. They vandalize, they do the stunts you might hear about on the news, interrupting serious events, getting people offended.”
“The people most people think about when they think of Fallen,” Byron said.
“Yeah,” Rain said. “Thing is, when we’d all get together so every family had enough people nearby to be an army in case something happened, we’d see the jackasses and they’d be some of the scariest people around.”
Chris leaned forward, “Stay away from those Jackass kids, Junior, they’re up to no good, I hear one of them was crazy enough to trim his pubes with a weed whacker. Be back before eight, because we’re decapitating a baby for the ritual tonight and we need you to hold it down.”
“Not the baby,” Kenzie gasped.
“That first part isn’t all that wrong,” Rain said. “We’d laugh about it, because parents would tell soldiers to stay away from these loons that have probably never seen a fight.”
“They’re all loons,” Kenzie said.
“Well, yeah,” Rain said. “These guys specifically were… not all super nuts. Some were like you or me.”
“You and me are pretty screwed up,” Kenzie said. “I don’t think that’s a good measure.”
“I think it’s right. The minor ones were almost normal, except for the part where they were Fallen and they’d each done something to earn their stripes, like playing death metal over speakers at a remembrance ceremony. But there are a lot of them who… I guess spent years getting celebrated for doing fucked up things. No empathy, no fear of death. Those are the ones to watch out for, and the ones I can definitely see hurting civilians. Shooting people. Shit.”
“Those are the little guys. What about the leaders?” I asked. “If they can order their guys around, what are they going to tell them?”
“I don’t know. I never really learned much about them specifically. I saw a few of their immediate family members. They thrive on being unpredictable, I guess. They seemed to go back and forth between a ton of infighting and hurting themselves and then suddenly being really good manipulators who would send relatives to other branches and isolated cells and try to get them to collaborate on something or they’d steer that ship.”
“If the patrol knows they’re that hard to figure out, they could be taking a wait and see approach,” Sveta said. She looked at me.
“The patrol is overlooking that we have some pretty good ideas about their current direction, with them using the guns like they did,” I pointed out.
“People are going to get hurt if someone doesn’t stop them,” Rain murmured.
“You think?” Byron asked.
“Oh yeah,” Rain said. “Yeah.”
I started to lean forward, because the backs of the bus seats obscured so much of the group, found I couldn’t comfortably do it without my arm hurting, and sat up straighter instead.
“We wanted to prevent this. A spy in Advance-”
A noise at the front of the bus interrupted me. The door was being pushed open. Kenzie and Byron reached for their helmets. Kenzie held the front half of her helmet up in front of her face with her hands.
They relaxed when the head popped up. Black haired, with jewelry.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Erin said. “I can go.”
“Stay,” Rain said.
Erin remained where she was. From the height she stood at, she had to be standing on the stair of the bus just before the level the driver’s chair was situated on. The flat barrier with the railing separated her from us.
“You’re okay now,” she said. “I saw you before, briefly, while you were bloody- I shouldn’t be mentioning that.”
She sounded so shaken.
“Do you guys want to be alone?” Sveta asked.
“Sure,” Rain said, at the same time Erin said, “No.”
The tension in the pause that followed was almost physical.
“Is your family okay?” Rain asked.
“Mom was really upset. She got angry, and tried to pick a fight with someone our age, one of the people in body armor. I was just talking with her, while she’s handcuffed to a rail in one of the buses now. Dad- he’s angry too but he’s holding it together so he can stick with Bryce.”
“I’m glad they’re alive,” Rain said.
“They’re shaken. When we were mind controlled, it shook them. There was a moment I was talking to my mom when she asked me for an explanation, and I thought- did she get it? Then she started making up these really thin reasons and getting really angry at me for no reason, when I wasn’t saying anything.”
Erin looked so disappointed.
She went on, and her eyes were damp as she said, “But I’m glad they’re alive too, Rain. You gave me something I didn’t think was possible. They’re away from all of that. Maybe there’s a chance.”
“I hope so,” Rain said.
“I’m sorry I was so horrible to you,” she said.
“That night was the kind of night that’s horrible no matter what,” Rain said. “Wasn’t you. Let’s pretend it never happened.”
“I’d like that,” she said. “Can we go back to being friends?”
“Friends,” Rain said. “Yeah, of course. Come sit? Keep us company? These guys are going to leave soon, and I’ll be bored like this.”
“I-” she started. “Bryce did get a little bit hurt. I was about to check up on him. I’ll visit properly later.”
“Okay.” The one word from Rain sounded anything but.
“You guys do your hero thing,” she spoke with a forced brightness. “Thank you, everyone. I know you helped. You’re amazing.”
“Except for Kenzie,” Chris said. “She’s just okay.”
“Don’t listen to him. You’re especially amazing, critter,” Erin said. “Second only to Rain, and I’m biased.”
I snuck a glance at Rain, trying to read him.
“Do your hero thing, Rain,” Erin said. “Because- you are a hero. Thank you for helping to get us out.”
“Say hi to Bryce for me, yeah?” Rain asked.
“I will. I’ll visit soon,” she said. “I promise.”
And then she was gone, ducking her head down, exiting the bus. I twisted around and watched through the blurry, dusty window as she walked away, escorted by a patrol student in uniform.
When I looked back in Rain’s direction, his eyes were moist and getting moister.
I dropped my gaze, my eyes settled on the ‘crown’ of spikes from my gloves. Each spike was meant to run over the top of my knuckles and rest flat against the back of my hand, all in parallel. I rested a finger on one of the longer spikes.
Rain couldn’t be faulted for feeling vulnerable after his ordeal.
“Cradle would hurt them to get at me,” Rain said.
“It’s possible,” I said. I was put in mind of Cradle’s words, and the way his description of Rain had struck home for me. Had I been willing to look at Rain, I might have found it hard to maintain eye contact.
“That’s not what I thought you’d say,” Sveta said. Her eyes, like mine, were downcast.
“You want me to let him go,” Rain said.
“I’m in this to help people,” Sveta said. “I think we should all want this. Even if any of you are more selfish than that, think about where the team is.”
“Where’s the team?” Kenzie asked.
Sveta met my eyes. I glanced at Ashley, in turn, then at Byron.
“Kenzie, Ashley kind of killed someone,” Sveta said. “So did Rain.”
“You came very close to killing someone too,” I said.
“I had to,” Kenzie said.
“Wait, let me talk,” Sveta said. “I’ve been thinking about this. I talked about this in front of all of you at different times. In the group, and in the room with Victoria. My first clear memories, I was dropped into the middle of a populated area in Russia. I killed a lot of people accidentally. Civilians and army that came after me, and then people from the PRT. I didn’t stop because I found a way to stop. I stopped because they caught me.”
“You’ve talked about it,” Ashley said. “Deaths stay with us.”
“They’re supposed to stay with us!” Sveta sounded plaintive and outraged at the same time. “This is major. I got each and every one of those names of the people I killed. I learned about them. I know it wasn’t my fault, but…”
“Saving those people wouldn’t mitigate that,” Ashley said. “There aren’t scales that balance because you take one life and save another. If you take lives you’re a murderer and nothing wipes that slate clean.”
“That’s not true,” Kenzie said.
“I know that, Ashley,” Sveta said, upset, “That’s not what I’m saying at all.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I think it would be really messed up if the deaths were glossed over because things were as bad as they were,” Sveta said. “And if the team stayed together. I don’t see a good way for things to end.”
“End?” Kenzie asked. “There doesn’t have to be an end.”
“Kenzie,” Sveta sounded apologetic as she said it. “How does this continue?”
“It continues when you accept that the people who died were…” Chris said, trailing off.
“Monstrous?” Sveta asked, archly.
“Assholes,” Chris said.
“Yeah. Let’s kill every asshole,” Sveta said. “That’d be great. We’re supposed to be a hero team. I wouldn’t feel very heroic if this was how we left this.”
“We don’t have to leave anything,” Kenzie said. Sveta moved her hand to reach over the top of the seat and touch Kenzie’s shoulder, and Kenzie pushed it away. “This is silly.”
“An awful lot of us have killed,” Rain said. “Consequences pending or interrupted.”
“You said, once, that you wanted to turn yourself in,” Sveta said. “You weren’t clear about what happened around that, but it led to your joining the group.”
“Time with Mrs. Yamada first, then the group,” he said. “I heard some of that discussion.”
“Mama Mathers kept you from confessing,” I concluded.
“Yes,” he replied. “I’ve always told myself that I’d face consequences for what I did. There’s no room in the jails, yet. But maybe one day I’ll face a sentence. A lot of people got hurt because I didn’t act. Maybe ten, twenty years, with time off because I cooperate. That doesn’t wipe the slate clean, like Ashley said, does it? But maybe it helps?”
“Ashley- you’re cooperating, aren’t you?” Sveta asked.
“No,” Kenzie said.
“I think it would be a relief,” Ashley said. “Incarceration. I’ve been waiting a long time for it, I think, and there are people waiting for me on the other side.”
“I don’t want to be the bad guy. I just want due process,” Sveta said. “That’s all.”
“How does this relate to going after the Fallen?” I asked.
“I don’t want this to be all regrets,” she said. “You’re certain this is going to turn violent, Rain?”
“Completely,” he said. “It’s the mindset. The Crowleys are a bit of a mystery but Fallen as a group aren’t.”
“Then let’s get people to help,” Sveta said. “The patrol might not help, the Undersiders might refuse if we don’t give them Cradle, but we made other allies. If this is an emergency then let’s call in favors and do what we can.”
“Without getting involved,” Byron said.
“Yeah,” Sveta said. “Not us as a group. We’d be peripheral, coordinating. We all know people. We can do the right thing here, all of us working together. That’s what I want most- for this to have been a good thing.”
“You say that like it’s already over,” Kenzie said.
“This part of it’s almost over,” Ashley said.
“No,” Kenzie said. “Nuh uh.”
“Does not compute with K-z logic,” Chris said.
“Fuck off, Chris,” Kenzie said. “Dickhole.”
She grabbed her helmet as she stood up, putting it on as the two halves. She stopped walking as I put a hand out.
“Let me go,” she said.
“I will. One question though,” I said.
“Are you going to regret not being here for this conversation? I can fill you in after, if you need to get away, or I could come with you, if you needed company or backup.”
“You agree with Sveta, don’t you?” she asked, accusatory.
“I like the idea of due process and fair justice,” I said. “I’m not as sure as Sveta that this machine has its cogs in place.”
She stood there. Even with the parts of her bodysuit that stood out to give it definition and decoration, it was very apparent how small and skinny she was. A couple of inches shy of being five feet tall. Fragile, in a completely different way than Rain was fragile, right now.
She pushed past my hand, walked down the aisle a bit, and then seated herself on a seat a few rows behind Ashley, her back to us.
“Outlining our options, Tattletale said she’d keep an eye on Cradle,” I said.
“She says a lot of things,” Chris said. “I’m a bit lost, in all of this. But she pointed Cradle and the cleaver assassin at Rain, right? She led them right to him.”
“It looks like it,” Sveta said.
“Then she pointed us at the assassin guy and Cradle.”
“Yeah,” Sveta said.
“And now she wants us to let Cradle go.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Contradictory,” Chris said.
“She promised an explanation,” I said.
“Damn this fragile healing effect,” Rain said. He sounded angrier than anything, now. “I really want that explanation, now, to my face.”
“I can help with that,” Kenzie said, from halfway down the bus, her back still to us.
I looked at Rain, and then I looked at the boy who had forecast so much of this. Tristan might have been the type for a victorious ‘I told you so’, had the roles been reversed. Byron, however, was quiet, his expression unreadable.
My hand moved, and the ‘crown’ moved with it. I’d exerted too much pressure, and the point of the spike had pierced the bed of my finger, with red blood welling up and a droplet tracing its way down the spike.
I donned the glove, the fabric serving to cover the small puncture wound.
I’d met with Tattletale before, in a place very similar to this. The city was close to one of the portals, and it was very likely that it was one of the cities that had been supplied with foreign material, and that material was concrete. Underfoot, the buildings, the supporting pillars that ran diagonally from the ground to the buildings.
Yellow paint marked the pillars, so cars wouldn’t drive into gray pillars against a backdrop of gray ground and gray buildings. More of the paint had been used to define the boundaries of the road. Perhaps because the yellow paint was so prevalent, some enterprising vandals had used a boatload of it to scrawl crude images and words along many surfaces- only some of which had been cleaned or partially cleaned. I suspected the cleanup crews were high school students working as part of a morning or afternoon block, because there seemed to be a bias in the graffiti that was partially removed versus the images that hadn’t been touched. Art was allowed to stay up as long as possible.
Again, I was guided to a food court, this one beside a complicated concrete edifice with extraneous pillars and supports, and a long overhang that kept things dry in the light rain. Again, the graffiti, I noted. Maybe it was something Tattletale liked or identified with the Undersiders.
This time, though, I wasn’t arriving alone.
It was an odd feeling, to have the team with me, when things stood where they did. Minus two members, but most of us were present. Yes, things were tense and uneasy, but there had been a moment back there where I’d been damn proud of all of them. Against Cradle in particular, we’d stood together.
Once we’d figured out where we were going, deciding on a route that avoided the settled areas and roads, Vista had shortened the distance as much as she could. We’d left Kenzie’s projector cube behind, in favor of the faster trip. Even with the shortcut, we’d had to hitch a ride to get ourselves here. Concord Station.
The Undersiders were waiting for us. They sat on tables and chairs, or lounged with stuffed animals and mutant dogs giving them something to lean on or sit on. Foil and Imp stood, while others sat or leaned back. Foil was stock still, on guard, and Imp was restless.
There were others. I recognized Snuff. There was the boy with the birds. Two people were dressed to match Rachel in general style, with heavy clothes that seemed more utilitarian, except for bits and pieces, like a collar here or a spiked belt wrapped around the arm there. The guy wore a bear trap decoration around his lower face.
Maybe those were utilitarian too, with ‘intimidation’ being the sought-after utility.
They would have outnumbered us without the mutant dogs and the giant stuffed animals with the black cloth. With them, though? Three to one.
Similar to Snag’s numbers, now that I thought about it.
“The Fallen reached the city a bit ago,” Tattletale said. “They didn’t go in with guns blazing, but they’re liable to come out that way.”
“I see your team made it out intact,” I observed. Off to my left, Chris walked away, traveling the perimeter of the area where the overhang kept the rain off. Foil changed position, ready to take a shot with her crossbow if she had to, and one of the dogs that had been lying down stood up.
“We get by,” Tattletale said. “We were playing it careful, we even tried to warn Prancer that something was wrong. He didn’t buy it. That’s the issue you run into when you surround yourself with villains and deceivers. You can’t be sure they’re for real when they tell you something important.”
“Is it isolating, Tattletale, sitting there surrounded with your deceivers and villains?” I asked.
“No. I’m pretty content right now, actually.”
“Weld says hi, Foil,” Sveta said. “He wishes he could have talked with you while you were there.”
Foil nodded, but she remained silent.
“This is kind of a favor, us stopping while we’re partway home, waiting for you, giving you the deets you’re so eager for.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I really do appreciate this. I know it’s a really difficult thing, acting halfway decent. Do make sure you keep pointing it out, any time you do it, and gloss over the parts where there’s tacit manipulation or something in it for you.”
Tristan leaned over and murmured, “Are you sure you’re good taking point on this?”
“Yeah,” I murmured back.
“She and I, we have a rapport, Capricorn,” Tattletale said. “It’s not a healthy rapport, but we are who we are. Oil and water.”
“Can we be the oil?” Imp asked. “Slick, dark, with wealth implied?”
Beside me, Looksee had her camera. She hefted it up and set it down on the table.
“No recordings, please,” Tattletale said. “Or this conversation is over.”
“It’s not a recording,” Looksee said.
“Strange tinker devices? Not a great way to open this discussion,” Tattletale said. “At least it’s interesting. I thought this would be the usual predictable thing with you sniping at me and then asking the questions. Why did I help you, why did I help Cradle, what are the Fallen doing, what are you missing?”
“No,” I said.
“If you’re not giving me Cradle, this is going to be a short meeting,” she said.
“Explanations before we give you anything,” I said.
“And we’re back to the script,” Tattletale sighed the words, barely audible. “Normally people pay me for my information. But for you, and for hometown pride…”
“Not me,” I said. “The explanations aren’t for me.”
I looked at Kenzie.
She hit a button on her camera. When it didn’t boot, she hammered it with her hand a few times.
The projector came on. The two missing members of our group appeared. Ashley was projected, her lower body a static black dress. She’d be sitting on a bus right now, a laptop beside her, to capture her face and anything she said.
And Rain. For the moment, he was intact, but frozen in place.
“Ah,” Tattletale said. “Your Fallen teammate.”
“It’s up to him whether we give you Cradle or not,” I said. “But we’re leaning toward not, just so you know.”
“Of course. Standard negotiation.”
Looksee hit the camera again.
Rain animated, the image glitching in the moment before it caught up. Now he appeared like he was in the plaza with us, the occasional scan line or glitch marking him for the projected image he was.
Looksee’s camera had captured the images of the wounds. The slashes, the cuts and cleaves, and the parts where skin peeled away. It simulated the blood.
She’d even captured the background sound. The ragged, rough breathing, like each inhalation and exhalation was an effort.
“I don’t need to ask you why you helped both Cradle and us,” I said. “I think I get it.”
“Do you now?” Tattletale asked. Her attention was on Rain’s spectre. Damsel’s spectre moved around the group, standing beside Looksee.
“I get it because you want the same thing I want. You were managing the battle and hoping and praying that people would see the light and play nice. You want the old rules and the old ‘game’, and you’re apparently not that stellar when it comes to reading multi-triggers like my teammate, Cradle, or March. You underestimated the bloodlust and you overestimated how much my teammate deserved it. He got the cleaver, and you felt so darn awful about it, you volunteered help.”
“Oh my god, Tattletale,” Parian said.
“There’s a good bit more to it,” Tattletale said, before turning to tell Parian, “so don’t buy too heavily into the theatrics. We’re capes. We should be used to this.”
“If you want to deal with people like Cradle, you should at least look at the consequences,” Sveta said.
“I’m aware of the consequences. I’m aware of a ton of stuff. The reality is, Garotte, there’s bigger picture stuff. There’re a half-dozen people who are only seeing one or two dimensions of the greater structure and we’re each trying to keep it from toppling without being able to talk to the others. I’m trying to hold up my end and simultaneously open the channels of communication. Kind of important.”
So she said, but she didn’t like looking at Rain as she said it.
I could work with that. Maybe I wouldn’t take point on this after all. I felt a grim kind of satisfaction.
“Great,” I said. “Elaborate. But don’t tell me. Tell him.”
“Please. Let’s talk,” the bloodied image of Rain said.