I don’t know how I’m going to help these guys, Jessica.
I found myself actually hesitating before approaching Sveta, Tristan and Chris. The group had lost two of its members and its mentor in a matter of nine days.
Kenzie was missing, I noted. She was always early, barring extraordinary event. Worrying, when she was first or tied for first place among those I was most concerned about- she had just lost her friend, or whatever it was that Ashley was to her. Hard to pin down. That was the first half of it. The second half was the underlying threat within this group that Jessica had been so concerned about.
What do I even do?
The big question mark shaped space where Kenzie was supposed to be was enough for me to get over my hesitation.
They were standing at the top of a set of concrete stairs. The stairs were supposed to lead up to a shopping center, the sort of building that had a mall on the ground floor and in the basement and offices for the second floor and above. It had been looted on a prior occasion, and now the doors and display windows were boarded up, shutters closed where the shutters were intact.
Sveta had started painting her body again, now that the court proceedings were done. Forest green, again, with teal blues for the select details and animals. It was only partial, and she used the negative, unpainted space in a neat way, with a mandala or kaleidoscope pattern to what was painted and what wasn’t. Her top was another of the simple tops with knots at each shoulder and below each armpit; there was a navy blue base to the cloth and more teal for the lettering around an anchor design. Her pants looked like sweats. Her feet were ‘bare’, being only the prosthetic feet, and I could see where the tops of the feet were painted, the toes left alone.
Tristan had a white jacket on over a crimson top, jeans so faded they were almost white, and white sneakers. He hadn’t found the time to apply more paint to his hair, it seemed, and he hadn’t shaved. I could see the faint shadow, even from a distance.
And Chris was… very much Chris. His hood was up and his hoodie zipped up all the way. He had dark circles under red eyes, his braces were on and looped around his head, and he had a different set of headphones on, with a forward-sweeping bar that clipped to the front of his hood. It looked a bit like he’d done it himself, and I was left to wonder just why he’d wanted to keep his head that securely covered.
The pressure differential between portals was responsible for strong wind on a good day, these days. Clouds and weather came rolling through with little warning beyond what the scientists on the far side could figure out. Today wasn’t such a good day- there were two portals in reasonably close proximity here and the two played off each other to make the wind issue twice as bad as it might otherwise be.
The tallest buildings were swaying. It was bad enough of a gale that there wasn’t much traffic on the road or sidewalks. I was forced to fly close to the ground.
“Heya,” Sveta said, as I flew over to join the group, staying near to the ground. She reached out for my good arm and gave it a squeeze. I shifted position and gave her a better one-armed hug.
“Where’s Kenzie?” I asked.
“She’s running late,” Tristan said. “And this is her neighborhood.”
“And it’s her project we’re here to see,” Chris said.
“Did you guys call her?” I asked.
“Moment I arrived and she wasn’t here,” Tristan said. “No response.”
“It’s ominous,” Chris said. “I would say something about the sky falling, but there’s already a Chicken Little out there. I’d say something about the world coming to an end, but that joke got tired a year ago.”
“Not really a joke, that last one,” Tristan said.
“Meh. There’s a warlord out there with the fire-to-ice shtick and a demon mask, and I’d bet money he did it so he could make the reference every chance he got. I can’t use ‘hell freezing over’ because it’s tainted with that guy’s suck.”
“He sounds Fallen,” Sveta said.
“No,” I said. “Just a douche.”
“We ran out of good names and now all the good themes and ideas are being taken or spoiled,” Chris complained. “I have no fancy way of saying ‘that kid is never late’.”
“Kid?” Tristan asked. “You’re only two years older than her.”
“She’s way more of a kid than I am,” Chris said.
“I don’t know, Chris,” I said. “I think she has the edge when it comes to certain kinds of maturity. Work ethic, maintaining the relationship pillars…”
“What the hokey garbage fuck is a relationship pillar?” Chris asked.
“…and she’s more polite,” I said, teasing. “The pillars are honesty, trust, respect, caring, sharing…”
Chris withered like he was in physical pain, a vampire exposed to the cross, hissing through his teeth and braces.
“She’s pretty on the ball with that stuff,” I said. I craned my head and flew up until my feet were just above the others’ heads, so I could try to spot Kenzie. Chris continued hissing.
He was very good at his inhuman sounds.
He stopped hissing to say, “I regret asking. I miss Ashley and Rain already. Without them to balance out the group, we’re going to end up getting back together as team Caramel Friendship with tramp stamps like the Love Bugs have.”
“I hate that term,” Tristan said. “‘Tramp stamp’.”
“It’s a label for a reason,” Chris said.
“I had a crush on a guy in high school who had a lower back tattoo, and he wasn’t a ‘tramp’,” Tristan said. “It gets me when I think of that term getting thrown around and an awesome guy getting shit because of it.”
“He should have paid more attention, then,” Chris said. “His fault.”
“Let’s not fight,” I said. “Kenzie. At what point do we spread out and hunt for her?” I asked.
“Soon,” Tristan said. “I thought we’d give her ten minutes, and that was four minutes ago.”
There was a pause. The wind whipped past us.
I was hoping they’d put up a nice structure around each portal, to control the pressures and block the wind. I wasn’t sure of the logistics of it, but it would be really nice to fly again without it being the effort it was now.
“I’ve never seen Love Bugs,” Sveta commented.
Chris snorted, “Count yourself lucky. The younger kids at the institution are always watching that kind of crap. It’s so high pitched it sets my nerves on edge when my senses aren’t heightened.”
“Are the Love Bugs the ones with sayings and puns around their symbols, like scrollwork on a coat of arms?” Tristan asked. “I wonder if there’s a good goat pun I could do for my Caramel Friendship team lower back tattoo.”
“That’s a different show,” Chris said. “I can’t tell you how much I hate that I know that.”
Tristan’s watch beeped. He sighed.
“Time to swap?” I asked.
He nodded. “Better go look for Kenz. Make sure she didn’t get mugged or blown away in this wind.”
“Hey Byron,” Tristan said. “I’ll give you three hours later if you give me an hour now.”
He changed, blurring. Byron appeared, and immediately had the wind blow his hair into his face. He fixed it. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, only a thin sweatshirt that was more for the hood and graphic than for the warmth, black skater pants, and sneakers. Between the dip in temperature and the wind, he should have reacted more to the chill. I supposed his temperature resistance helped.
“Nah,” Byron said. “Feels weird, Trist, you coming out this way when you had almost no time left. I know it’s not far, but…”
He shrugged. “Going to play it safe and stick to the routine.”
“It’s good to have you with us, Byron,” I said. “We don’t talk enough.”
“I’m here when Tristan is.”
“You have us at a disadvantage, then,” I said. “You know us and we don’t know you.”
“Are you leaving or will you stay?” Sveta asked.
Byron made a face.
“Stay,” she said, punching him lightly in the arm.
“Okay. Sure. I’ll help look, and compromise for Tristan.”
“Which way is her house?” I asked.
Nobody knew, so we had to get phones out. All three of us looked.
“Got it,” Chris said.
“Damn it,” I said. He’d won the race.
At a glance, Byron didn’t seem to care one way or the other, but he was a hard guy to read.
Chris turned on the spot, then pointed.
“You guys go straight, Sveta go more left, I’ll go right?” I asked.
That got multiple nods of affirmation.
As I got ready to take off, checking for traffic, since I didn’t want to fly high, I heard Byron in the background. “Tristan, was your crush Jhett Marion? Wasn’t it a roleplaying game tattoo? He had back hair when he was fourteen.”
I shook my head. Poor Tristan.
The areas where the portals had opened up were in worse shape than the others. People had reacted, and the violent reaction was only a small part of things. Some had realized their close call and moved away from the portals that could potentially expand again. Abandoned property, harsher weather, and the fact that a lot of the constructions had been rushed meant that there was a kind of decrepitude setting in. Debris, trash, broken windows, and the occasional door left open.
I imagined there were people out there who would have happily claimed the empty houses, even with the proximity to the portal, but it was the same kind of dynamic as in Hollow Point. In a lot of places, the people that had abandoned properties hadn’t gone through official channels or put up listings to let others know the properties were available.
One street, a bus parked to block off the road, with another two vehicles parked further down that same road. It was there, it seemed, to break the wind that would have blown straight into the main road through Norwalk Station.
I did one loop, seeing only crowds and countermeasures. There were signs warning that the main road was blocked by the portal, with instructions for detours and flow. The signs had been hastily put together.
A flash in the distance got my attention.
That would be her.
Four people were blinded and sitting on their asses, backs to the wall. Kenzie was there, uncostumed, her face blurred.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
The blur faded away and Kenzie smiled. “I’m good! Except I’ve been waiting way too long.”
“We’ll talk about that in a second. Who are these guys?”
“I’m blind!” one shouted. “New person, help!”
“They wanted what I was carrying, and I said no. They insisted, I shot ’em. I set it to a two.”
“There are settings?”
“They’ll be blind for two hours. Where were you all? I was lonely, geez.”
“We were waiting at the stairs of the financial building, where the mall closed up.”
Kenzie smiled. “What? No. I sent a new location.”
She did, fishing out her phone. “Don’t try running just because I’m not looking or aiming at you.”
She fiddled with her phone. She wore a blue polo top with heart-shaped buttons down the collar and a pink stripe across the chest. She had a pink skirt, blue leggings, and an hourglass hairpin. Her eyehook extended out from her belt, and she had her flash gun dangling from her pinky.
The box she’d brought for the day was sitting beside her. It was just large enough that I imagined it had to be inconvenient. Larger than a backpack, just broad and tall enough that holding it by the handles on either side had to be a pain. Kenzie wasn’t fully grown, either.
The box had been painted to match her outfit, it seemed. Two triangles with one point touching formed an hourglass shape, and that shape repeated across the box, from a predominantly pink hue at one corner to a deeper blue at the opposite corner.
“I like the color matching,” I said.
“My outfit?” she asked, typing at her phone. She smiled. “They were my back to school clothes. I like them.”
I tried my phone, sending a message to the others, to let them know where we were. I saw the tiny red warning icon on each text message I sent. “My messages aren’t going through.”
“That’s what’s going on,” Kenzie said.
One of the thugs who’d tried to rob Kenzie lurched to his feet, then ran, blind, down the street.
“Cell towers might be struggling,” I said, while I kept an eye on the guy.
Kenzie didn’t look up from her phone, but her eyehook turned to track the runner.
The guy didn’t run in a straight line, and as he veered, he ran straight into a pile of trash, tripping heads over heels.
The others who remained looked alarmed at the noise that caused.
“What the hell are you guys doing, mugging a kid?”
“We weren’t mugging her. We were questioning her.”
“And demanding my box,” Kenzie said.
“There’s so much going wrong, you mentioned the cell towers. That’s been breaking as fast as we fix it. The power’s fucked and we’re getting blackouts, and some food that was supposed to be delivered wasn’t. Now some kid turns up with suspicious stuff?”
I looked at Kenzie. She shrugged, saying, “The power outages aren’t that bad. I dunno about the other stuff. Looks like the cell towers are off. I connected online, though. I’m stealing someone’s internet.”
“Their story doesn’t jar with what they said to you?” I asked.
“No, but if they were telling the truth then they were major jerkasses about it.”
“We heard the portal was broken by a group of people. We’re keeping an eye out. Neighborhood watch thing.”
“You ignored a bunch of other people and came after me instead,” Kenzie said. “Is it because I’m a kid?”
“You were carrying a weird colorful thing!”
“Weird thing aside,” I said. “I mean, come on, guys. She’s gotta be the least threatening person you’ll run into in the next while. She’s, what, five feet tall and ninety pounds?”
“Close! Eighty-one and a quarter pounds,” Kenzie whispered. “Four feet ten and a half inches. But thank you for thinking I’m bigger and taller. I’m flattered.”
“You can’t know,” the guy said. “Maybe they got away with it because they were kids. Parahumans are dangerous, they could be anywhere.”
Another of the guys said, “Young ones are more dangerous if anything. They don’t have the impulse control.”
“Even if that was eerily accurate and true, you guys were nasty about it,” Kenzie said. “That wasn’t okay.”
“Fuck,” one said, under his breath.
The guy who’d tripped over the trash hadn’t quite found his feet. He tripped over the trash he’d knocked off of the pile, falling again.
I walked over to him, grabbed him by the scruff, and dragged him back to the others. Kenzie had approached too, but it wasn’t to help the guy. She used her eyehook to pick up the trash.
“We were the ones who helped stop the portal thing from being worse, you dingbats,” I said. “Do you want to make this a thing, Looksee? We could arrest them.”
“Nah. I think they learned not to mug potential capes. And to be nicer, right? Don’t call people names or go straight to being rough.”
“Not mugging,” the guy I’d just brought back to his friends said. “We were investigating and looking out for trouble.”
“I’m trying to be nice,” she said. “You keep arguing points or swearing instead of saying sorry. Maybe we should call the police after all.”
For all the good that’ll do.
The men gave their apologies in near-unison.
Kenzie nodded, satisfied.
Her face and hair briefly went blurry again as someone drove past.
“Do you guys have a number I can try calling?” I asked. “Or an email we can send? We’ll call someone to pick you up. You’ll get your eyes back in two hours.”
They gave me an email. Kenzie sent the message to the families of the blinded men.
“I asked before,” I said, my voice quiet. “Are you okay? With Ashley’s pre-court proceeding not going well, same for Rain, the group being in a weird place, how are you holding up?”
“I’m holding,” Kenzie said, smiling. “Ashley told me to be tough, so I’m being tough. I’m focusing more on my stuff, but it’s a good distraction.”
“You’re sleeping okay? Eating okay?”
“Not sleeping, but nothing too bad. I’m staying up until midnight, sometimes one or two in the morning. Working on stuff like my box here. I was working on Tristan and Byron’s thing too, I have some stuff that has a one percent chance of working, max, and it would be video only if it worked, but it would maybe let us see Byron while Tristan is out and vice versa.”
“Eating! That reminds me. Do you want to come over sometime soon?”
“I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.”
“I eat. Three regulars. My parents were always very big on sitting down and eating as a family. Unless it’s an emergency, I don’t miss dinner.”
I’d told myself I wanted to check on them. This worked. I could remember how horrified the others had been at the prospect of my going over to her place for dinner, but this seemed important.
“Then yes, I’ll come over.”
“Tonight or tomorrow? Do you have a preference for what to eat?”
“Sure, and no preference for day or food. Just let me know, and double check that the message got through. I don’t want to miss this because of a missed message.”
“Will do,” she replied, with all the seriousness she would have shown if she were receiving a field order.
“I’ve got to say, it’s concerning, if people are reading this failure of infrastructure as sabotage.”
Our guys showed up around the same time the vigilante’s backup did. We left them to their backup with a brief explanation, then walked in the direction of Sveta, Chris, and Byron. Because the box was heavy-ish and I only had the one hand, I took one handle and Kenzie took the other.
We explained in brief.
“Your dad didn’t give you a ride?” Byron asked.
“He’s busy with stuff. His work isn’t doing so great right now,” she said. “My mom wants to move but can’t find a good place to go. I’m not too bothered.”
“You brought a thing?” Chris asked.
Kenzie gave her box a pat. “We don’t have far to go. At first I thought we’d use the abandoned shopping center, but I think we’ll get better results at this place. It’s managed by a real estate company that’s rivals with my dad’s. We kind of have to break in.”
“Sweet,” Chris said.
“Not sweet,” Byron said. “Concerning.”
“Concerning on multiple fronts,” I agreed.
“Can you go with me on this?” she asked. “It’s a good location, not too much noise, I think, and I’m super-duper eighty, seventy, mayyybe sixty percent sure this is going to be totally worth it.”
“What are you up to?” I asked.
“Nothing! Nothing. Field test. It’s hard to get optimal conditions, targets, and stuff. I still need to fine tune.”
“She’s up to something,” Byron said.
“No! Yes! But not in a bad way!”
“Kenzie,” Sveta said. “What are you doing?”
“Please? I’ve worked so hard on this project, and the idea of this moment with the flashy reveal and everything has been keeping my mood up since one of my favorite people got sent to a cape gulag.”
“It’s a block of buildings in an isolated area, with heavy supervision, limited time outdoors, and explosive trans-dimensional ankle monitors,” I said. “It’s not that uncomfortable.”
“Has to have slave labor to be a gulag,” Chris said.
Kenzie tried her best puppy dog eyes.
“If we caved to this, what kind of precedent would we be setting?” Sveta asked.
“It’s not even good puppy dog eyes, compared to what you could really do,” I said. “At least step up your game. Give us a quivering lip. Change your posture, here, like this…”
I adjusted her stance, having her draw her shoulders together, hands clasped in front of her. I changed the angle of her chin. Kenzie made her lip quiver, then said, “This could be the last thing we do as a team.”
I shook my head. “Too much.”
“B.S., by the way, because we’re more likely to fizzle out than just stop today. Unless this is a huge fuckup,” Chris said. “Try harder.”
“It’s illegal,” Byron said.
Her composure broke. “Come on! It’s too much and it’s not enough and it’s illegal? Cut me some slack! You know I’d do something quasi-illegal for any and all of you, any time.”
“That’s not a good thing!” Sveta said.
“It’s also fully illegal, not quasi-illegal,” Byron pointed out. “Breaking and entering, criminal trespass.”
“But it is a good thing, right?” Kenzie asked. “Actually, it’s very much a good thing because you’re good guys. You wouldn’t ask me unless you thought it was for the greater good. And I’m asking you because I think this is for the greater good. I’m asking for the benefit of a doubt.”
“I have so many doubts when it comes to you,” Chris said.
“Ha ha,” Kenzie said, smirking. “Keep teasing. I bet I can shoot you at least three times and give you a wedgie with my eyehook before you can transform.”
“You’re only proving my point.”
“Kenzie,” I said. “You can’t hold back on this for the dramatic potential when it’s illegal. Dish.”
“I think I found something. I want to see with my cameras, and I want you guys to be a part of it. If you aren’t, then I might not be able to explain it after.”
I looked at the others.
“It might be big,” Kenzie said.
“You’re, how did you put it? Mostly sixty percent sure it’s maybe totally worth it?” I asked.
“Something like that. Fifty…seven percent sure.”
“Alright,” I said. “I’ll try this. If the others don’t want to, I’m willing to risk it, since I have people I can ask for help.”
“I’ll come,” Sveta said.
“I was good to go at the start,” Chris said. “I was less convinced the more you talked, Kenz.”
“I’ll hang back,” Byron said.
He was the only one to duck out. He followed us, up until we reached the destination, and then went for a walk around the block.
The building was a nice place, with brass capped white pillars at the outside. It looked like a hotel, stately, but there was no sign of any occupancy and the wear and tear of age that I’d noted earlier seemed to have caught the outside, leaving it dusty and plastered with a few pieces of trash that had blown up against the building face and then stuck there with residual grime, dust, and rain.
“This place has a keypad lock,” Kenzie said. “I was thinking of the shopping center, that would work too, but getting inside would be hard. Instead…”
She slapped a box the size of a smartphone onto the side of the front door keypad, tapped it once, and then pushed the door open.
“It’s concerning just how naturally you did that,” I said.
I helped her lift the box.
“What’s concerning is that she probably spent four hours building that, instead of looking up one of the thousands of tutorials online on how to break a keypad lock,” Chris said.
“One and a half hours, thank you very much. Except it was closer to three because I was splitting my attention between watching television, homework, and building that.”
“So pretty close to four hours, then? Or are you doing that thing where you took three hours to get it technically finished, and another half an hour to build a nice case that matched the outfit you were going to wear today?”
“Or was it forty five minutes? Was it an actual hour? Was I actually right on the nose with my guess about it taking four hours total?”
“It was twenty minutes to build the case, you booger. I made resin and glassworking machines since I like my work to look nice and I make a lot of lenses. It cut down on the time, even if it wastes material if I’m not paying attention.”
“I was close,” he gloated.
“You were sorta close, you booger.”
Sveta let her hand drop to the floor. She brought it back up, a cigarette butt clasped between two fingers.
“People have been here,” I said.
“They might still be here,” Sveta said.
“Hmmm,” Kenzie said. She consulted her phone. “This way.”
‘This way’ was to the penthouse, which took up the entirety of the fourth floor. The stately, crimson-carpet, white-pillar look was in full force for the open concept room.
The window was open and the fierce wind blew the sheer curtains into the room. Even the heavier crimson velvet curtains were moving.
Cigarettes littered the floor by the window. The wind had blown them and the ash across the floor, and moisture or humidity had given the cigarettes and their ash enough dampness to run and stain the tiled floor beneath them.
Kenzie indicated for the box to go down. We eased it to the floor.
“I hope this works,” she said.
She traced her finger along the pattern at the top of the box, zig-zagging across the surface.
Colored particles, each spherical and about an inch across, began to fill the room. It was seemingly random at first, but slowly, patterns began to emerge.
“So. My focus is on space, not time, and this is wonky,” she said. “So, initial capture is going to be all impressions since the date I specified.”
Each figure was a smear that filled the room to the point things got dark. Skin-tone spheres began to cluster into groupings that looked like faces, but where one person walked across the room, every space that their face had occupied began to get the dots.
The room filled to the point that it began to get dark. The faint ambient glow of each dot became more apparent.
“This is messy,” Chris said.
Finer dots began to appear, piercing the larger ones and replacing them in clusters. It took minutes, and I was reminded of using the internet in recent months, when the servers were first going online. Each image load had taken twelve passes, each pass taking a minute or two.
It wasn’t only resolution that mattered, though. Each person had been in the room for extended periods of time, and each one was a smear of every action and movement they’d taken while in the space.
I folded my arms, walking around and through images, looking for ones where a face stuck out without smearing one way or the other.
“Color isn’t accurate, by the way,” Kenzie said.
“Good to know,” I said.
One face, a woman, strawberry blonde, with one tattooed arm. I could see the impression she’d left where she had slept on the edge of the bed, but had climbed off the bed on the opposite side.
I could see other activity, with a lot of flesh tones.
Going by profile, there were two men, and there was another woman who wasn’t present much.
“And… resolution is as good as it’s going to get,” Kenzie said. “But some are sharper than others, where one person or thing was still for a very long time. Sleeping faces and stuff.”
I peered down at the sleeping face of the woman.
“Who are these guys?” I asked.
“Give me… five, ten minutes. Maybe fifteen or twenty. I want to sweep and see what we can pick up.”
Thin lines that formed cubes began to dance around the room, seemingly at random. Where each cube touched a face, they began to roll along the track formed by each blurry caterpillar of merged images, pausing now and again.
There was one, however, that wasn’t looking for faces. It moved along the chest of dressers, pausing on the bible that lay on one shelf. It went over to the television, then the VCR. The longer it wandered, the more frantic and jerky it seemed to get.
It settled on the box Kenzie and I had hauled into the room.
“Oh my god, you stupid box,” Kenzie said. “No, I do not need you to find yourself.”
She kicked the box.
The cube-frame continued to dance around the room.
“You know you’re absolutely terrifying, right?” Chris asked.
“You can turn into a spider-face. You can turn into a blob of brain tissue and tentacles. You have a rage form,” Kenzie said.
“And yet you’re way scarier than I am.”
“Who are these people?” Sveta asked.
I continued to walk around the room, studying the men. The other woman was too blurry to make out, her visits too fleeting. From the way one man danced around the door, he might have repeatedly gone out with her.
Dark hair, dark clothes, pale face, dark eyes or sunglasses, for her.
One man had a red hat, it looked like. The other was bald.
While I stared, the door opened. Byron came in.
“Change your mind?” Chris asked.
“I saw the dots outside. I came to see what you were doing,” Byron said.
“I’ll clean that up before anyone else notices,” Kenzie said. “Probably picking up birds.”
She fiddled for a bit.
“No, stupid box!” Kenzie said. The cube-frame had settled on the box again. She kicked the box twice.
“Watch. You’re going to destroy that thing through your percussive maintenance,” Chris said.
“Am not. I know how it works. Aha! Thank you, box.”
The cube-frame had settled on the table by the window. A silver and black smear covered most of the table. Now the cube danced through the smear.
“Aaaand isolating,” she said. “I’m going to pull out the best images, going by what seems to be the most accurate. Medians and modes.”
The woman’s image at the edge of the bed remained, while the rest of her disappeared.
There was another image of her on the bed. She was in the middle of coitus with the bald man.
Sveta made a sound as she saw it, and moved to block Kenzie’s eyes. When the eyehook looked over Sveta’s head, she pulled it down.
“I need to see to take it down. There. We don’t need that, thank you,” Kenzie said. She tapped the top of the box. The image disappeared.
“You’re going to be so much scarier when you’re older,” Chris said.
“Well,” Kenzie said. “Probably. I’m hoping to get a handle on things before then.”
“Breaking and entering and getting footage of people in bed isn’t progress,” Byron said.
“This is important,” Kenzie said. Her expression was serious.
We had our images. Kenzie had saved three to four images of each person, as they stood in the room.
The strawberry blonde with tattoos down her arm wore a cat mask and a bodysuit, as she leaned against the wall. The bald man wore war paint.
The man with the dyed red hair was someone I’d met before, if only briefly. He was the smoker, and he’d slept sitting up in the armchair.
“Kingdom Come,” I said. “I ran into him at the community center.”
“Yep,” Sveta said. “Might explain why Norwalk went south.”
There was no ID or good resolution on the woman at the door. Too much movement, not enough of a stay.
The images weren’t a snapshot. The woman and Kingdom Come had been captured sleeping. The bald man had tossed and turned too much to be captured at any one point while he slept, so the best resolution was when he’d sat eating. Even though the images froze in time, they were out of sync, each one at a different moment.
“You knew who they were already,” I said.
“I had some idea. This place and the mall were the big locations where they made calls to and from, in the big network of call locations for this group,” Kenzie said.
On the table by the window, the blur had solidified into a concrete image. It was clearest of them all, to the point it looked real. Human faces moved and adjusted, but the rectangle was static in shape, inflexible.
It was the tinker device that had blown up the portal. This would presumably be the one that had successfully been used on the Norwalk portal.
“You wanted to rope us into this by showing us this scene,” I said. “It’s a lead. A big lead.”
“Yeah,” Kenzie said.
“You’re not pulling our legs?” Chris asked.
“This was really tedious to do,” she said. “If I was going to pull your legs or try to get you all on board as a team, I’d have done something easier and more fun. More convincing, probably.”
“Don’t be dishonest to get us to stay together,” I said.
“Okay. I wasn’t dishonest this time. This is real.”
We walked around the room, looking at the culprits.
“Um. Did it work?”
“Yes,” Sveta said.
“Yep,” Chris said.
“Fuck yeah, this worked,” I said. “I want to get these assholes.”
I glanced at Byron and I saw him nod.
Kenzie didn’t smile or cheer. Her expression was intense and unmoving, with something like a blue fire in her eyes as the box glowed before her. “Perfect.”