Beacon – 8.2

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Defiant walked over to the Dragon craft, knocking on the frame of the hangar door.  He wore power armor -armor heavy enough it needed engineering to move around- and the rap of metal gauntlet on metal frame turned more heads than necessary.

He wasn’t the kind of guy who cared.  That hadn’t changed any from when he’d been Armsmaster.  I knew most of what I knew of him from Dean, with a little from chance encounters.

There were tinkers who were barely restrained.  They were excited about what they did and they needed only the slightest excuse to go on at length in their attempts to explain their work.  Then there were tinkers who were drawn into themselves, the work and the inspiration all happening in their own little world.  Kid Win had been more the latter.  Chariot had been, but he’d been a special case, with reasons to keep secrets.  Armsmaster, obviously, but that had been what had set me on this train of thought.

Lookout was the explaining, excited sort, naturally.  Bakuda, from what I’d heard, had been the sort to go on at length, even while in captivity, but she took that to an extreme, like it applied to other things than her tinkering.  Bonesaw… yeah.

I shivered a little at that thought.  Bakuda had been able to make bombs that threatened hundreds, thousands, or even theoretical millions of lives.  Bonesaw worked on one subject at a time, but her ability to make actual monsters and set worse things in motion made her scarier, in my books.

I distracted myself from thinking too much about that, focusing instead on how that the names I was pulling up were so divided along the gender lines.  Chariot, Armsmaster and Kid Win on one side, Bakuda, Bonesaw and Lookout on the other.

If I thought about it harder, putting effort into finding exceptions to that gender rule, extending my line of thought to tinkers I didn’t know but could make guesses about… it was really hard to imagine Dragon talking about the minutiae of her work with anyone that she wasn’t very close to.  Past a certain point, professionalism had to take over.  She couldn’t risk revealing weaknesses, right?

Trainwreck from Brockton Bay had been both a Case-53 and a tinker, reportedly.  The guy had taken the oversized silicone testicles meant for hanging off the back of pickup trucks and incorporated them as an ‘easter egg’ in his power armor at one point, to be revealed if the heavy metal ‘kilt’ of his power armor moved the wrong way – usually when he vented enough steam.  No surprise that he’d ended up with the Merchants when everything had gone to hell.  I hadn’t interacted with him in any casual capacity, but I was on the fence about whether his demeanor meant he’d be less guarded about talking tech, or if the fact that he’d had to build his Case-53 body made it too personal.

Had I been able to go to college and study parahumans -it still stung that I hadn’t- even something as simple as the dispositions and presentations of tinkers could be something really, really interesting to look into for a paper.

I wanted to be able to do research and dig for answers.  We’d already unraveled some of the big mysteries, and by some tragedy, we couldn’t actually work on them.  We weren’t sharing information.

Time enough at last.

Either way, it tied back to my general observation: as Bakuda’s personality had been colored by the same traits that made her ramble and rave about tech to even her captors, Armsmaster had taken the taciturn tinker approach and extrapolated it to the rest of his personality.  He stayed by the door, silent, knuckles of one gauntlet still resting on the frame, and he volunteered no small talk.

In fairness, I’d given him something to think about.  The Leviathan attack had to be something that weighed heavily on him.

Unfair of me to confront him, but I’d felt I owed my family that- living and dead both.  I’d have asked about Dean, but Dean had been injured early enough that I couldn’t imagine that he’d been swept up in the setup or rendered a casualty that might have been avoided if someone like Kaiser or one of the giantess twins had lived.

Thinking about it and Defiant’s place in it was heavy, so loaded that I felt inarticulately guilty by association alone.

I thought about the information and how we might share it.  The old Parahumans Online was there, but it was bare bones, fractured, almost so messy that it was easier to restart than to fix.

“-if I wanted to make something like that, I’d have to make it a cube.  I think that would be awfully silly to have a cube flying around.”

“You could make one of several cubes.  Or a thousand cubes all strung together.”

“It’d look awful, and the connections between cubes would be weak points.”

“If you want to talk about artificial and abstract constraints, the person you should really talk to is Defiant.”

“Really?”  Lookout was coming down the ramp with Dragon beside her, Dragon offering a guiding hand at her shoulder.  Lookout looked at the cyborg in green and gold armor by the side of the ramp.  “You break constraints?”

“I could help work out ways to minimize the size, the scale of the weak points, limit energy loss, even the look of it.”

“That’s awesome.”

“If you get a chance, on a day we’re not as busy, you should have a conversation with him.  He’s not as intimidating as he looks.”

“Hm,” Defiant grunted.

Lookout looked up at Defiant, then turned back to Dragon.  “But I want to keep talking to you.  I could talk to you forever.”

“Not forever when we have work to do,” Dragon said, giving Lookout a couple of pats on the shoulder.

“Thank you for showing me stuff,” Lookout said, turning around, talking while she walked backward.  I put out a hand as a just-in-case, because the ground was uneven, only recently covered in undergrowth, which had been uprooted and cut away to make this parkland accessible to humans.

Sure enough, Lookout tripped.  I caught her weight with one hand between her shoulderblades.  Cloaked tinkertech bounced against my wrist and forearm.

“It was my pleasure, Lookout,” Dragon said.  To Defiant, she said, “We got an alert from Valkyrie.”

“I saw.  No rest for the weary,” he said.  “Do you want to go?  Or should I call?”

“I’ll talk to her.  We might have to go, either way.  She doesn’t call often.”

“I’ll be out here until you’re ready to go.”

They were busy, so Lookout and I said our parting goodbyes then headed back in the direction of the others.

There was no reading Lookout’s expression, but there was a skip in her step.

“You happy?” I asked.

“Very.  Thank you for making me.”

“I didn’t make you,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“You’re welcome, though.”

“I really want to see them again soon,” Lookout said.

“Maybe,” I said.  My thoughts were on their admitted association with my sister.  That was a road fraught with hazards.

“Did you have a good talk, at least?  Or was it not a talk?  Did you both just stand there being all grim with you having your arms folded and him looming there with his spear in his hands?”

“We talked.  I don’t know if I’d call it ‘good’.  I got some answers on stuff.  My shoulders feel lighter, but I’m not sure if it’s genuine or if it’s because I transferred the burden over onto his shoulders instead.”

“He’s strong.  He can handle a lot, I think.”

I opened my mouth to retort, and then closed it.  It wasn’t worth arguing.

Besides, we were closer to people who could overhear and put pieces together.

Tempera and Fume Hood.  Tempera raised a white-painted hand in a wave, and they walked over in our direction, intercepting us.

“It’s been a little while,” I greeted them.  “Have you heard anything about Sam or Hunter?”

It had been so long ago- a scared boy and his friend with new and uncontrolled powers.  Too dangerous for me to intervene, apparently, but I’d been able to tap Tempera for help, and to ask Mrs. Yamada to look in.

“They headed over to the settlement across the ocean,” Tempera said.  “It’s smaller, with its own problems, but it has a place to hold parahumans.”

I nodded.  “And you guys?”

“We’ve been busy,” Tempera said.  “Trying to find places where help is needed, and where we won’t cause too much of a commotion.”

“We’re toxic,” Fume Hood said, with some irony.  “I see you got hurt.”

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging one shoulder.  “Shot.”

“Stupid thing to do,” Fume Hood responded, with more irony.  “Don’t do that.”

“All the cool kids were doing it,” I replied, “A power nullifier knocked out my defenses, I figured I had one shot to get on board with the trend.”

She slouched forward a bit, head hanging so her hood covered most of her upper face.  Her thumbs were hooked into the belt of her outfit.  I saw the hint of a smile on her face.  “If you’re saying I’m cool, you might have other problems.  Any head injuries?”

“Ooh,” Lookout said.  “Or it could be the same thing.  Bullets have lead don’t they?  If you get traces of lead in your system, it can cause permanent brain damage.  Among other things.”

Tempera looked at me, eyebrow quirked- the eyebrow had white paint from her face-paint mask on it, making the fine hairs clump.  “Smart kid.”

“I’m not all that smart,” Lookout said.  “I just researched it a lot recently.”

“Oh.  Lookout, this is Fume Hood and Tempera.  They were at the community center attack.”

“I know.  I looked everything up and I found some of the surveillance camera footage, so I got glimpses of stuff.”

I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, so I put it in my back pocket for later.  I’d digest it and talk to her when we weren’t in front of others, if needed.

“That thing about it being cool to get shot- don’t take that as an actual example,” I told her.

“Ha ha,” she said.  “Give me some credit.”

That was part of the general problem- I had no idea how much credit to give her.

“It seems you’ve found your team,” Tempera observed.

My knee-jerk reaction was to say no.  That the team was breaking up, even though it wasn’t.  That it wasn’t my team, even though it clearly was, now.

“Guess so,” I said.  “You?”

“Seeing where I’m needed.  I was with the Wardens on a trial basis until things-” Tempera stopped herself.  “It was probably for the best.”

“For the best?” I asked.

“I mean the Wardens and what they needed from me- the rest of it was definitely not for the best.  The work I was doing was heavy.  Tensions between worlds.  It’s not me.  I prefer community level things.  Hands on work where improvements are tangible.  After I moved on, I was checking in with Fume Hood before and after doing low-level cape stuff.  Mostly refereeing riots.”

“It went so well last time,” Fume Hood said.  “I ended up going with Tempe for a bunch more.”

“Wise,” I said.

“Oh yeah.  That’s me.  I exude common sense,” Fume Hood said.

Tempera looked back in the direction of the other members of Breakthrough.  “In an email a bit ago, you mentioned what you were doing at Cedar Point.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “It didn’t go great.”

“Well, um,” Lookout cut in.  “We did scare off the villains there.  We more or less handled it.”

“It was messy.”

“When powers get involved, it’s always messy,” Lookout said.

“It’s true,” Tempera said.  She produced a glob of paint in her hands, then dropped it.  It splattered on the ground to her right.  A moment later, it reversed course, leaping up to her waiting hand.  “Messy.”

“Neat,” Lookout said.

“I asked, after your email.  People were positive about it,” Tempera said.  “Cedar Point, and what you were doing.  It got me thinking, we wanted to be community heroes, but- there wasn’t opposition.”

“So they created opposition,” I murmured.  I glanced at Fume Hood.  “Sorry.”

“The timing was wrong.”

“You guys are thinking about this stuff?” I asked.

“After dropping the ball in our inaugural event, I think we have to,” Fume Hood said.  She had a billiard-ball green sphere in one hand, that she tossed into the air as she said ‘ball’.

“We have opposition now,” Tempera said.  “It makes it easier to be active.  So long as people can believe we’re doing something about this disaster with the portals, they’re letting us be.”

“Maybe,” Fume Hood said.  “Seems too easy.”

“It does tempt us down the potential road of manufactured enemies,” I said.  “History’s told that story enough times.  But I don’t think we have a shortage of real ones.”

“No shortage, for sure,” Tempera said.  She drew in a deep breath, then looked down at Lookout.  “Sorry, kid, to be talking about stuff this heavy.”

“Heavy and messy.  I can handle both,” Lookout said.  “So long as I’ve got my team.  And my team has their own people.  We share the burdens.”

Her focus turned to Sveta, Capricorn in red armor, and Weld, who weren’t as under siege as they had been earlier.  No mob of questions or attention.  Weld bent down to kiss Sveta, and held the kiss.  Not a makeout session, but not a peck, either.

I looked away to give them their privacy, a smile finding its way to my face.

“I like that,” Tempera said.

“Hey, Breakthrough,” Fume Hood said.  “Are these guys enemies?”

My head snapped around to look at her, then followed her line of sight.

Mom and dad.

Ugh.  “My parents.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Fume Hood said.

To my left, Lookout stood up straighter.  If I hadn’t been watching for her body language in the absence of facial expressions, I might not have noticed.

“We didn’t mean to interrupt,” my mom said.

But you did, I thought.

“Tempera, Fume Hood, Lookout, these are my parents.  Brandish and Flashbang.”

“You mentioned you grew up with capes,” Fume Hood said.

“Yep.  Yep.”

“I actually wanted to talk to Natalie,” my mom said.  “Check that she’s managing okay, with everything.  But it would be strange, I think, if we didn’t even say hello to each other.”

“A little strange.”

“We won’t bother you,” my dad said.  “It’s good to see you’re doing well.  I like the costume.”

“Thank you.”

“I wanted to ask,” my mom cut in.  “Have you heard from your cousin?”

I shook my head.  “Not since we parted ways.  Communication is usually sporadic to begin with, but the attackers have been knocking out the phones.”

“You’ll let us know if there’s any news?  I worry.”

So they were an ‘us’ again, now?

“Yeah,” I said.

“And I hear you moved,” she said it in a way that left the question or follow-up there only in abstract, not in any tangible form.

“I don’t remember the address off the top of my head, but I’ll let you know the address at some point.”

It was the best dodge I could come up with on the spur of the moment.

“I know the address,” Lookout said.

Damn it, Lookout.

“Remember, you never know if there are people with enhanced senses around,” I said.  “I might not have a secret identity, but it doesn’t mean I trust everyone here with the address of the place I live.”

“Oh, for sure,” Lookout said.

“Very sensible,” my mom said.

Yeah, well.  I gave her my best convincing smile and a small nod.

She totally knew why I’d just done that.

Turnabout was fair play, though.  I knew why she’d done this, pressing me for information I might have been reluctant to provide on my own.  Telling her where I lived meant I had to deal with that slim chance that there might be a knock on my door, with my mom, my sister, or both on the other side.

Nah.

“Oh, Natalie brought Tony, I’ll introduce you,” my mom told my dad.  She laid a hand on my arm in passing.  “Take care of yourself, Victoria.  You too, Looksee.”

“I’m Lookout, now.”

“Oh, did you change?  Be careful,” my mom said.  “Rebranding is a useful tool, but not if done in excess.”

“Yep,” Lookout said.

My dad gave me what I decided to read as an apologetic smile, before following my mom.

I sighed.  I glanced at Tempera and Fume Hood, and I could see Fume Hood’s annoyance.

Wrong thing to comment on, mom.

“Is it a problem?” Lookout asked.  “That I changed it?  I used to be Optics and then Looksee, and now I’m Lookout-”

“It’s fine,” I said.  “You were never officially Looksee, really.  Even if you were, it really doesn’t matter.  I think the mentality only really applies if it’s twenty-twelve, you’re in the Protectorate or an up-and-coming team, and you really want to rise in the ranks.”

“Was that you?” Fume Hood asked.

“A bit,” I said.  “Yeah.”

“Is it you now?” Tempera asked.  A change of wording and tense, and Tempera had a good way of sounding thoughtful, serious, and kind all at the same time.  I could really believe that prior to Gold Morning, if her aspirations were different, she could have been great.

And in that little observation, I was already snapping over to my mom’s kind of mindset.

“Hard to say sometimes,” I said.  “You grow up with that drive, your parent’s ambitions in line with your own interests.  It can be hard to separate them from your own.  But I think so.  Yeah.”

“You want fame?” Tempera asked.  “No judgment here.  I’m curious.”

“Sure,” I replied, taking my time with the word, feeling less sure in the two-Missisipi seconds it took me to utter it.  “Maybe fame is the wrong word.  Prestige has a power to it.”

I glanced at my mom as I said it.  Was that her idea, too, rather than my own?

“Me too,” Lookout said. “Fame for me.  I want lots of people to cheer for me and think I’m awesome.  Does that make me shallow?”

“No,” Tempera said.

That thought brought me to the edge of what felt like an existential cliff- the wobbly, spooked feeling that hit when at a high ledge and the brain and body momentarily forgot that flight was a thing.  I’d had similar wonderings when I’d been in the hospital.  I’d wondered if my thoughts were my own, and it had been terrifying and maddening, because they’d been all I’d had.  My heart had been my sister’s, because of the hormones, dopamine, connections and whatever else that had resulted from the changes-

-even just thinking about that made me feel nauseous-

-and my body had belonged to… nobody.  Nobody and nothing.  Not a single fucking soul had wanted it.  Not me, not my family, not the hospital, not my sister-

“I think Capricorn would be down for it, but I’m not sure about the others.”

Maybe my sister had.  Maybe it hadn’t been an accident.

“Ah,” I said, trying to bring myself back to coherence.  “The others and fame?”

“Yeah.”

“Swansong yes, for sure,” I said.  “Tress.  I don’t know about our multi-trigger or Cryptid.”

“We need to bug our multi-trigger to come up with a name,” Lookout said.

“Yeah,” I said.  I felt distinctly out of place, with the memories and the existential brink such a short distance behind me.  “I think there’s potential.  For rising in the ranks.  I think I’d be happy with it.”

“I have no interest in that, so if we get too much attention, we’ll send the people your way,” Fume Hood said.

I smiled.  “I don’t think it works that way.”

“If-”

She was cut off as Dragon’s craft started up.  Narwhal and Cinereal joined Dragon and Defiant on board.  Weld, I saw, remained behind.

Another crisis, of the sort that wasn’t announced or explained.  Some of our best were out there now, trying to handle it.

And this- this series of attacks by Cheit.  We had to handle it ourselves.

There was a rush of wind as the air blew downward and out, with the dragoncraft navigating a route through the foliage so it wouldn’t knock too many branches down.  In the midst of it, it was hard to be heard, so I just signaled a goodbye to Tempera and Fume Hood.

“You’re pretty deep in thought,” Lookout said.

“Sorry.  Talk with Defiant, then my parents, thinking about our goals.”

“It’s okay.  I am too.  I saw stuff on Dragon’s ship that got me thinking.  Aren’t Weld and Sveta cute?”

I looked.  They were leaning against a pair of trees that had grown together- or one tree that had grown apart, with a seam running through it.  Weld had his arm around Sveta, who leaned against him, and the wind from the craft had blown her hair around.  Some had blown into his face and around his chest and shoulders- some, it looked like, had gotten snagged.  He didn’t react or brush it away like someone else might, if they had hair across their face.

“Super cute.”

“I want to find someone like that one day,” she said.

Capricorn sat on a slab of stone that looked Tristan-created.  Red armored, so it was Tristan in the armor right now, Byron as the observer.  Cryptid was a few feet away, sitting on a seat that was much the same, but smaller.  The coloring of the stone and the veins running through it made Cryptid easier to spot, as the camouflage extrapolated from the image of what he was sitting on and painted it up into his body, in fragments.

It was camouflage that would primarily work against someone who wasn’t actively looking for trouble, and primarily in static, dull environments.  In the city or the immediate vicinity of strange textures, it wasn’t nearly as effective.

“And there they are,” Cryptid said.  “Did you steal Dragon’s notes?”

“No!” Lookout said.  “And I wouldn’t.  She’s nice.”

“She gives me a vibe like Legend and Valkyrie do,” Sveta said.

“Good vibe or bad vibe?” Capricorn asked.

“Bad.  Sorry,” Sveta said.

“So powerful they’re scary?” Capricorn asked.

“No.  I think if it was that, I could deal with it.  I’m scary,” Sveta’s voice was quiet as she said it.  “But they give me this feeling, like they descend from the heavens and deign to deal with us mortals, right?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I could see that.”

“But also… Legend was tied into the Cauldron thing.  I had to get the full story from Weld, but it’s why he left the Protectorate.  He got caught.”

“He seemed remorseful, but I don’t know if that’s good enough.”  Weld was as serious as I’d ever seen him.

“Where I get paranoid is that I have to wonder if Valkyrie, Dragon and some of those others are for real.  Why are they that strong?  What happened, and… if they’re on that level, are they tied into it, like some of the other powerful people were?  Did they ignore stuff?”

“It makes for an uncomfortable feeling,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Sorry if I offended anyone, saying stuff about their favorite people.”

There were a few heads that shook across our group.

“I like them,” Lookout said, “But I’m not offended either.”

“I think if I had a chance to get to know her and reassure myself on things, it wouldn’t be so bad.  But she’s kind of… distant.”

“Less distant for me, I think, because she’s apparently dating the Protectorate team leader from back when I was in Brockton Bay,” I said.

“Prettty much the same for me,” Weld said.

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  She smiled.  “I get that.”

“I don’t like her,” Cryptid’s voice was almost a mumble but not quite.  It wasn’t until I saw him lower his hand that I realized he’d had his fingers in his mouth- maybe adjusting his braces.  “But I think I’m different from you, Svet.  I get the vibe that the more we knew about her, the less we’d like her.”

“Well,” Lookout said.  “That’s screwed up, but that’s okay, because you’re screwed up.”

Chris scoffed.  “Thank you for respecting my opinions.”

“I might respect them if you justified them, except Dragon is cool and there’s no justification for thinking otherwise,” Lookout said.

“No infighting,” Capricorn said.

“Okay,” Lookout said.

“Let’s change the topic.  Before Antares and Lookout arrived, we were talking jurisdictions,” Capricorn said.  He leaned forward, elbows on his knees.  “Remember when you were talking about your rationale for making Cedar Point our focus, Victoria?”

“I remember,” I said.  “High villain population, not covered in any existing jurisdictions, it slipped the net.  Plus they flaunted their villainous independence from things.  That kind of pissed me off.”

“Cedar Point is mostly okay now though,” Lookout said.  “I peek in now and again using cameras I set up a good while back.”

“Mostly okay,” Capricorn said.  “But there were other places that were up for consideration, and I get the feeling some more have sprung up since.”

“They have,” Weld said.

“Teams have other focuses,” I said.  “The gaps are getting wider.  It doesn’t help that the portals blew up like they did.  A lot of key sites fell apart.  Places where a team like Foresight might have headquartered are gone or hard to use.  It means crime is up, there’s more distractions, and there’s a lot more places for people like Cheit’s groups to hide without leaving the megalopolis.”

“What are you thinking?” Capricorn asked.  “An agreement?  That we all take territory and commit to keeping the streets clean of crime there?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m thinking… more comprehensive than that.”

“Comprehensive how?” Weld asked in a voice that was deep, the tone serious to the point of concern.

“Comprehensive… like jurisdiction.  Why do we fight over it?  We don’t want to be crowded out or to let others take credit for our successes.  Very often our territories are close to home, so there’s a personal element.  If there’s crime and we want our people to stay safe, we want to rid that area of crime.  Financially, it’s easier to hero in some areas than others.”

“Sure,” Capricorn said.

“I think so long as those issues exist, no matter what we do, there’ll be pushing, shoving, and trying to get people to take some cases or to get others for ourselves.  If we can address those issues… say we all get a special allotment, we put funds into a pot and apportion it out, and we organize, with communication and sharing of information.”

“I can do the getting and sharing information parts,” Lookout said.

“And,” I said.  “Keeping in mind this whole Cheit thing is demanding attention and resources while they’re doing other things in the background- it potentially addresses some of the other heroing issues we run into.  Like how hard it can be to go run off and do something where we’re needed when things can be going to pieces on the home front.”

“Meaning we can go investigate this group that attacked the portals while still maintaining a territory,” Capricorn said.

“Or investigate whatever.  Yes, for sure,” I said.  “And then a week later, we might babysit another territory while simultaneously giving the team in charge there a new, fresh set of eyes for any ongoing problems, while they do their thing.”

“Have you been thinking about this for a while?” Weld asked.

“Only since talking to Defiant.  I’m talking out loud as I think about it.”

“And you want to take over where the Wardens left off?” he asked.

“Not taking over, and not doing what they did,” I said.  “They’re- you’re, if you want, you’re still a fixture.  But the Wardens were always focused on the top-level threats.  Distant wars.  Class-S stuff.”

“Ogun,” Weld said.  “Sleeper.  Machine Army.  And a bunch of other things I can’t even namedrop, because they’re classified.”

I nodded, my arms folded.

“I’d have to ask,” Capricorn ventured.  “Let’s say we did this, and magically everyone was on board.”

“We wouldn’t need everyone,” I said.

“Even so.  We’d need enough, since it’s…” he struggled for a moment.

“The more you have, the more effective it works in aggregate,” Weld said.

“Yeah,” Capricorn said.  His mouth moved with a smile, barely visible with the gaps in his mask.  “Thanks.”

I tilted my head.  “What are you asking?”

“What’s our role in it?”

“Nothing too special,” I said.  “Except that people were already talking to us and communicating about collaborating.  They wanted a chance at doing their part in Hollow Point.  Let’s… I don’t know.  We’d coordinate until things were coordinated.  Let’s learn from our mistakes, and make every territory into a Hollow Point.  Make it so the bad guys don’t know who’s going to show up on a given day.  And because we have other focuses and bigger priorities, we offer leniency if they help us with the things that matter.”

“Cheit,” Sveta said.

“The Fallen,” Capricorn said.  “They’re not all gone, Defiant said.”

“Or any other big group that’s a problem,” I said.

I saw them considering.

“It’s a tall order,” Capricorn said.

My motivations weren’t pure.  My mom and the conversation with Tempera and Fume Hood had me thinking about why I did this stuff.  Why I did the hero thing.  She was a little ways away, having a conversation with Natalie at the very edge of the parkland clearing.

There were other things too.  I wanted information.  I missed having resources and we couldn’t lean wholly on an eleven year old girl with a bad family situation to tackle it.

“I know someone from the library who might know how to set up a database,” I said.

“I-” Lookout said.

“A mundane one, that doesn’t require tinker maintenance.  It’ll last longer.  You- you’ve got something amazing with the time camera, and you wanted to be more frontline.”

“Yeah,” she said.  She gave me a frenetic nod, helmet bobbing.

“I don’t think we can or should chuck you into a fistfight with a cape, but… we can get you closer to what’s going on, test the waters, and we can only do that if you’re not maintaining databases.  Breakthrough has something solid with a pretty strong set of powers, and good group cohesion in a fight.  Let’s start building an infrastructure that we can lean on.”

“It would need refining,” Capricorn said.

“For sure.  We can sleep on it – but we can’t wait for too long,” I said.

“No, you’re right.  I don’t think we can afford to wait too long before doing something big to try to fix these big problems,” Capricorn said.

“And,” I said.  I paused for effect.  “Defiant gave the a-ok.  They’ll talk to the prison-”

“Yes!” Lookout shouted.

“We can go in as a group-”

“Yesss!”

A cloaked Cryptid covered her mouth.  “Let her finish.”

“We can see our people, see what we can figure out about what’s going on.  Let’s make sure our asses are covered and that we’re not neglecting anything back in the city.  There’s a chance that if we start poking our noses in, we might scare the people who are trying to pull something there.”

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64 thoughts on “Beacon – 8.2”

  1. Very nice introspective chapter. Very glad to see Tempera and Fume Hood doing okay, even if they’re apparently doing it as a duo now.

    So they want to be a wandering team and set up a system for other wandering teams to rotate in and out, providing a backdrop villains can’t crime against. Very neat, and very in line with the stated purpose of Victoria Dallon, Warrior Monk.

    She’s still going to do that, right?

    (P.S. Who the hell is Ogun?)

    1. According to the Parahumans List, he’s a Tinker/Shaker who creates devices by passively altering his surroundings rather than actively tinkering. I don’t think we know much about the type of devices, but it’s easy to see how a Tinker who isn’t constrained by such limitations as “needing to sleep” or “paying attention to other things” could become an S-Class issue.

    2. Ogun was a revolutionary in North Africa (IIRC) who led a particularly bloody rebellion that got thousands/tens of thousands of civillians killed, before being put in the birdcage. Tinker/Shaker who makes random gear out of his environment, he doesn’t use workshops or things like other tinkers tupically do.

      1. That’s a really interesting docs link, I’ve never heard of this before. Are there more like it? I don’t really care about whatever game it’s from, it’s just fun reading about new powers.

  2. Hey, the bottom of the page says John Charles McCrae *2017*

    probably should change that to 2018?

  3. That somewhat answers questions about Valkyrie (while raising questions about this “Ogun”), as well as setting a direction for our heroes to act in.

    It’s a bit of a slow chapter and that’s fine. I do think Wildbow’s use of pacing is improving.

    1. It of course also raises the question of what exactly Valkyrie is sufficiently busy with to require Defiant and Dragon’s primary avatar to cut short a meeting about defending against Cheit and Teacher-Caldron. I mean, at her current power level she could make a go of taking on the entire original Triumvirate.

      Though it could be as simple as working to purge a shattered quarantine zone on Bet before it overruns a portal.

      1. How is Dragon constrained at all from having sufficient avatars?

        She is at her full powers, she can self modify, she can build autonomous AI’s, there should be dragon craft on every street corner.

        What is the limit on her capacity?

        1. My impression is that she’s currently constrained by the limited manufacturing base on Gimel. I mean, she could probably start making mining/smelting/chip foundry/etc autonomous installations, but maybe “smarter Machine Army” isn’t the best PR look for her?

          1. She lost a lot of her infastructure battling Khepri, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s worried about Teacher compromising her systems again or some of Richter’s shackle code got turned back online while Defiant was cleaning out Teacher’s hacks.

            Also, Gimel streets are likely pretty low on the list of places to put however many war drones she does have. The Wardens have been consistently busy in some unspecified fashion with something important enough that their remaining leadership is only barely attentive to the portal disaster. That smacks of continuous heavy combat, where an arny of expendable networked war machines would be greatly appreciated.

            She also only has one humanoid avatar active because she’s keeping the AI thing on the down-low. No idea how much combat power it represents, but since she’s pretending it’s her main body it has a standing claim on an outsize portion of her attention. So if she’s taking it away from a meeting to a battlefield, I feel it probably means she’s committing most of her avaliable force. While her nature is a secret, her drone armada was extremely public and no one would call her away from a scheduled meeting because they needed a war drone or twelve.

  4. Is anyone else worried by the fact that Lookout did “research on lead poisoning” recently? Like, we knew her parents were trying to poison her, but this is the first kind of poison that has been confirmed.

    1. She had mentioned they were trying to poison her with lead when she was talking with Victoria, she said she was “alright with them trying to give her a mild case of lead poisoning”

      1. this is additional confirmation that Kenzie wasn’t just namedropping a random toxin but specifically that was it 😡

        they didn’t want to kill her they just wanted to give her brain damage so she’d be easier to deal with 😀 😀 😀

    2. I assumed that the research on lead poisoning came from Victoria’s shooting and how she’s over-the-top caring for every member on the team in an unhealthy sort of fascination that got her in trouble in the first place.

  5. That friendship between Fume Hood and Antares though.

    That’s the good stuff right there. Great chapter Wildbow, always awesome to see character conversations.

  6. Typo thread.

    “in the two-Missisipi seconds”

    “Prettty much the same”
    Unsure if typo or insistence on that syllable.

    1. Not sure if this is a typo, or some other kind of mistake, or if it is deliberate/correct, but I figure it is worth mentioning in the typo thread just in case.

      I see that the word “university” is capitalized mid-sentence, which suggests that it is a proper noun. Do they actually have a university that is just named “University?” Or is there a word missing (you’d think they would at least include a “The” in the name)? Or should that not have been capitalized? Even if it were lower case, it still doesn’t quite seem right, though. If she is talking about a specific university (with the assumption that people would know what one without needing to name it), there should again be a definite article. If she is speaking generically, since she’s American it would be weird for her to say “university.” It would be much more likely for her to say “college” in that case.

  7. Weld n Sveta sure are neck and neck with dragon & defiant for cutest couple!

    The more I see Victoria planning, the more I like how she thinks!

  8. Nobody is going to talk about Trainwreck having literal truck nuts as part of his armor? That might bump him up to my favorite Brockton villain

    1. I wonder if we’ll get a flashback of the event during which Victoria discovered these particular Easter eggs… did she ever beat Trainwreck? She probably thought of him mostly because Defiant’s discomfort reminded her of the curbstomping Armsmaster got from Trainwreck at that party she attended.

  9. It’s funny how reading Victoria’s plan reminds me of Prancer’s. They’re different but both are these bottom up efforts to organize the secondary players. Hopefully this’ll go a bit better for the good guys. But knowing the Worm-verse…

  10. Obligatory mention that Carol is the worst.

    The settlement “across the ocean.” Is that in Gimel-Europe or Gimel-Asia? Maybe Gimel-Australia? We know so little about the other parts of society that survived…

    Confirmation that they managed to prevent word of Dragon being an AI from leaking. Sveta is a bit suspicious but has nothing to act on-still, that could damage relations in the future if Kenzie keeps corresponding with Dragon and she worries.

    The remaining Wardens are spending all their time taking on high-level parahuman threats, an operational tempo much harder than the Protectorate had to put up with, and no real ability to be the leaders they tried to be for the parahuman community anymore. I suppose someone needs to be stopping Ogun from killing thousands, there’s whatever Black Kaze is up to (It probably involves mass murder), the Machine Army is a constant threat, someone needs to keep an eye on the Endbringers…there’s probably gonna be a few new high-end threats that crop up every now and again too.

    1. Jessica Yamada mentions in her first meeting with Victoria that if Vicky hadn’t recovered her human form, she’d recommend a trip to Europe because of a new Asylum being constructed there. So I’d guess it’s Europe, since Hunter can’t control her power properly.

      Australia evacuated to a different world to Gimel. Pretty sure the surviving Europeans went to a different Earth again, and the Chinese tried to claim several worlds- including an attack on World Australia.

      Dragon’s true nature is a big secret, and one everyone who knows it wants to keep that way. Teacher because he wants to control her; Dragon and Defiant because they want to stay free; the Undersiders because Dragon wants to keep the world stable, and Tattletale wants that too. It’s a situation where it might leak out slowly, but there’s not really the infrastructure for a dramatic reveal any more. ‘How have you not heard? It’s posted all over the internet!’, ‘Great, my computer needs electricity, and I’ve not had that for eight months.’

  11. From a narrative perspective, it’s nice that the “new triumvirate” and most of their organization have been removed from the scene. The protagonists can operate freely without subjecting us to repetition of the chafing-under-authority trope that ran rampant in Worm. The conversation with Tempera about an independent heroic team’s need of “opposition” sort of dances around this. It’s natural for the public to wonder why they need a local team, when the big team appears to be handling things. When chaos reigns, anyone who wants to help can do so in whatever way they like.

    1. Think of it more like a heroic temp agency than the big guns. You can tailor your responses more easily too. In a way it does harken back to the cops and robbers approach I suppose.

  12. Can’t wait to see what comes of Lookout learning from Dragon and Defiant!

    Also, it’s kinda extra sad to see Kenzie being wistful about cute couples and potentially having a partner in the future- all she really wants is a stable family to love and be loved by, and she’s been denied it at every turn :<

    1. Though I must say, I really hope she finishes learning how to deal with boundaries before she has kids. You could probably imagine the phrase ‘helicopter parent’ taking on new meaning applied to the context of Kenzie having a family. (Black Mirror, Archangel?)

  13. I’m just…I’m gonna need a moment to get over Trainwreck having truck nuts on his power armor.

    Between Blasto, Rotten Apple, and the Merchants, Earth Bet had a whole bevy of Florida Man and Florida Woman contenders, didn’t it?

  14. I just want to point out, how Victoria was asked if she was proposing to do a Taylor and instead came up with her own solution.

    Instead of every team taking on a section of the city, she wants everyone to work together in a neatly organised fashion.

  15. I’m pretty excited to see which of the threats looming on the horizon come into the story. Or maybe even some mysterious link between them or some even more mind-blowing magic trick to tie everything together!

    1. Let’s see what looming threats I can remember:

      1. The Endbringers Abide. Unfortunately their motivations are totally inscrutable now that Eidolon and Scion are dead; the Simurgh had that cloning project but I’m pretty sure that was a fakeout on her part. I expect that at some key point in the future conflict they’re going to suddenly wake up and kick over the table.
      2. The Sleeper has subsumed a world and is hanging out on a balcony reading. There is no particular reason to expect him to leave, but someone may poke him with a stick.
      3. Teacher-Cauldron has dreams of multiversal dominion and is manipulating Cheit and the Fallen, presumably among others.
      4. Goddess controls Earth Shin absolutely and probably has designs on expansion. Probably opposed to Teacher, presumptive resistance to Path To Victory since she was discarded by Cauldron rather than manipulated.
      5. The Machine Army is a rogue Von Neumann machine plague overrunning Bet and approaching the portals. Their behavior would indicate that they’re just in an expand-exterminate loop and probably not going to align with anyone on their own initiative or be particularly easy to manipulate in a useful manner unless Dragon or Teacher are able to compromise their systems. Also, there is presumably some reason they were originally quarantined rather than having Legend burn away the entire area.
      6. Nilbog’s creations are still out there, but so long as they don’t get back into contact with Nilbog himself they’re probably not a strategic threat; without him to provide command and generate reinforcements they’re a lot less dangerous on the macro scale.
      7. Citrine-Cauldron and Tattletale are working at cross-purposes while trying to strengthen Gimel, which could end badly, especially with Teacher-Cauldron inflaming anti-Parahuman sentiment.
      8. That is not dead which can eternal lie; the mass broken trigger incident hints that Scion’s lost Shards may be trying to reconstitute.
      9. Abbaddon. I’m not convinced he planned Scion’s and Eden’s destruction, in light of their anti-precog defenses (while those were partially installed lockouts, the Simurgh is frankenstiened together from Eden Shards not intended for release and her power could not track Scion directly) but he’s in the multiversal neighborhood and may want to pick up the pieces.

      1. There’s also planets full of monsters or overrun by deadly mold, but those are more no-go zones than threats because there’s no indication they’ve got the cohesion to mount a coordinated assault on portals.

      2. I’d find it very surprising for Abaddon to appear unless he really did engineer this whole situation (which I could believe), or alternately decided to simply loop around and stab the other two in the back while they were fragmented without any idea we’d do his job for him (seems more likely). But the idea that he went off to do his own thing, then noticed Gold Morning and decided drop everything and rush off to Earth in a span of just a few years? The numbers don’t work. It’s been over thirty years since he crossed paths with the Thinker. If he went on his way, then he’s either already arrived and fissioned off at his destination planet, or he’s still traveling and it would take another thirty-plus years to backtrack. The only way he arrives in the near future or recent past is if he intended to from the start or shortly thereafter. Fifteen years ago, tops.

        Personally, I don’t think we’ll see Abaddon himself, but rather a baby-Abaddon parasite that rode Eden to the Earths, bailed out of her corpse sometime before Scion destroyed it, and is now infesting and assimilating the infrastructure they left behind. Note that “Worm” referred to the entities. It stands to reason that “Ward” also refers to entities. So, obviously what’s going to happen is that Teacher is going to find Babyddon and try to get it to imprint on him, much like Scion and Keven Norton, so that it becomes his ward. But because Wildbow, this will go horribly wrong and something far worse will happen: Babyddon will imprint on Carol instead.

  16. “If we can address those issues… say we all get a special allotment, we put funds into a pot and apportion it out, and we organize, with communication and sharing of information…Keeping in mind this whole Cheit thing is demanding attention and resources while they’re doing other things in the background- it potentially addresses some of the other heroing issues we run into. Like how hard it can be to go run off and do something where we’re needed when things can be going to pieces on the home front.”

    This section and others like it in the past bother me a bit. I wonder if it’s because I’ve worked peripherally with event organizers before for catering services and with hosting parties before, but I guess in my experience the discussion is a lot more specific. Discussions always sounded like to-do lists rather than the vague objective-setting here.

    I’m aware that whenever we see Breakthrough discuss logistics, it’s always the brainstorming phase – we aren’t looking at implementation. That’s done off-screen more often than not, and handled by non-Breakthrough folks a lot of the time.

    Even so, I think the places where Wildbow works shine are where the author puts in significant details. In Twig it was the use of things like aqua nucifera, the way smog worked, the details on whether Sy was looking up a skirt or noting the way a particular outfit fit onto a person. In Worm it was a lot of the stuff granted attention like how it felt to walk into Protectorate HQ, what the sights and sounds were, how PoV heroes saw the world through the lens of their powers.

    Ward is a story which is about logistics in many ways, but the way logistics are talked about, there’s an inequality in detail. When Victoria is scouting we get specifics about what is or isn’t working in the city, but when Victoria talks about planning for the future, she thinks and talks fluff, almost like a politician. It isn’t that I want a carbon copy of a real-life event organizer – no doubt that’d be boring. But stuff like “addressing issues” or “getting organized” or “investigating whatever” feel so non-controversial as to be inane. Surely everyone is *already* invested in those three things, so bringing them up as an action plan seemed weak.

    It’s particularly noticeable since Victoria uses the word “issues” three times in a row, which makes her sound almost like she’s stalling. The group’s agreement and engagement in the dialogue that follows then feels more out-of-place.

    Of course, this is all with grains of salt. I’m not saying this as rigorous analysis. This is me trying to put words to a very mild, nitpicky, gut-feeling discomfort.

    1. I have had a similar feeling. We don’t have to see all the work, but there should be signs that work has taken place. The only sign here is, “I know someone who can set up a database.”

  17. “Did you have a good talk, at least? Or was it not a talk? Did you both just stand there being all grim with you having your arms folded and him looming there with his spear in his hands?”
    Excuse you, Defiant holds his spear in the crook of his arm. Much more comfortable.

    I liked that Tinker tangent, especially that part about Trainwreck’s Easter Eggs.

  18. “So they were an ‘us’ again, now?”
    Normally a good thing if your parents get back together. I suppose Vicky is afraid that means Carol can push Mark to also push the reconciliation with Amy.

    1. I don’t doubt that Carol wuld try that, but I can see Mark saying. “Not a good idea at the moment,” everytime it comes up and whilt hoping agaisnt all logic reconciliation is possible, leaving that Nuclear launch button well alone

      “Hey kiddo, I thought I’d rop in all alone and ask if you wanted to spend quality tme with your pop, shopping at shopping mall five.”
      “Yours or mom’s idea.”
      “Your mom’s and she promised to take your relative shopping to shopping mall twelve.”
      “And will find out she can;t get my sister what she wants and had to oh, I kow, go to shopping mall five, where I am.”
      “Which is why I told her I’d be taking you to shopping mall eight. And if she uses we couldn’t find what we needed, well she can’t blame us for using it either.”
      “I love ya dad.”

    2. Just putting in a good word for the real-life kids of split-up parents I know who have conflicted or negative feelings about their parents trying to get back together. There’s often good reasons for a split, even an amicable one.

  19. I was worried for a while that Chris might be a psychopath – since Victoria thought he felt no fear while he was trying to control her – and that he’d been manipulating Kenzie to do Simurgh-knows-what through a cunning strategy of not actively avoiding it. If Kenzie is now friends with an unrestricted AI who gets powers from a hostile alien, I find this news genuinely comforting.

    Before scrolling down, I predicted Chris would try to push Kenzie away from Dragon but would fail. That indeed fits the conversation.

  20. It amuses me that the people Sveta gets a bad vibe from have basically nothing in common except power level. Hell, on a technical level I’m not entirely sure Dragon is all that powerful a Tinker; my running theory is that a lot of her prowess comes from being an AI rather than her Shard. For instance, I suspect containment foam isn’t really a Tinker creation at all, hence being so easy to mass produce.

    Meanwhile, Legend is a Cauldron cape who hung out with Cauldron while Valkyrie was a standard trigger cape with a Scion shard and didn’t seem to have much of an opinion on Cauldron per se. Dragon’s specific opinion on Cauldron is a little unclear, but I think she doesn’t like them but they were able to exploit her shackle code to make her into their pet Big Brother, though with as much malicious compliance as she could pull off. So they made her scrub mentions of Cauldron from PHO and she did it in an intentionally clumsy way.

    1. Technically, some degree of wariness towards people with high power levels seems warranted. Eidolon created the Endbringers without any real intention to do so. Also, Scion.

  21. Great character development chapter Wildbow! I love seeing old faces reappear and interact with new ones, i.e., Kenzie and Dragon. Keep up the excellent writing!

  22. I wonder what happened to Legend and the other Wardens members. I assume they’re in a different universe- I just wonder if it’s someplace similar to the Cauldron compound, or just an alternate Earth which isn’t known to the Earth Bet/Gimel residents.

    1. Since they were swept up by multiple portals and destinations were shifting, they’re probably not all on the same world. Given that, I assume they’re mostly on random Earths, but particularly high-value ones may have been singled out by precogs and dumped into specific prisons.

  23. “Svet”
    This is actually widely used shortest form of addressing to girls with name Svetlana (Sveta) in Russian.

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