Beacon – 8.3

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The wind had reached inside the apartment space, blowing papers through the room and across the floor.  A window had been left cracked open, and the combination of persistent wind and a few days of us being away had added up to a fair bit of mess.

We hadn’t left anything too vital behind, nothing too identifying on papers, no computers, nothing that would hurt if stolen.  Some of the basics had been left behind, as had a lot of the detritus.  Some were things like the snacks for when we patrolled or camped out in headquarters, loose papers and an assortment of tinker notes, Sveta drawings, and what seemed to be Chris’ notes for a game he was playing or designing.  The whiteboards had been wiped down, but some had been wiped more meticulously than others, and traces of letters remained here and there.  Sveta’s still had fragments of the individual pieces of art.  Ashley’s hadn’t been wiped clean at all.  ‘Swansong’ still stood out on it.

I bent down and picked up one sheet of paper, which looked remarkably like an instant message conversation- one line on the top left, a line just below it and aligned to the far right.  The left column had a spiral drawn above it.  The right a teardrop.

note to self: owe 45m and thank-you treat to
awesome brother

suck up

seriously what do you want?  we time share a body and I
have no idea what sort of thing you like. think about it
and write something down when I pass control
$50 max.  I have cash from work on construction block

dunno. clothes? clothes are expensive
something in my style

proposal: I get you two somethings not totally your
style but maybe broaden your horizons

I like my horizons where they are
hoodie / v.neck tee / straight-leg jeans
no big graphics. dark colors if any color at all
or don’t worry about it. if it’s a hassle
don’t sweat it

The conversation terminated there.  No reply from Tristan.  No indication if they’d found equilibrium or if the gift had been given.

The long plastic tables with the legs that folded down were still in place.  I rolled up my sleeve, hesitated, and then undid my sling, ducking my head to get the strap over it and off.  I wouldn’t do anything more strenuous than what I was doing in the physical therapy sessions.

Both sleeves rolled up, I began gathering papers.  When repeatedly bending down got to be a pain, I used flight to dip and move along the length of the floor, gathering with one hand and holding them with the other.

Everything in order.  There was a process, and I could follow steps and make things better.  It was meditative, even.  I didn’t mind that there were parts that were mind-numbing or dull.

The landlord had sent an email, asking if we were staying and asking us to either check and see that the place was intact or let her know so she could stop in.  With it being a hero headquarters of sorts, temporary or no, I’d decided it was better to err on the side of caution.  Easiest for me to stop in, considering how much easier it was for me to travel around the city.

I had originally planned to simply stop in and check that the place was intact. Now I found myself staying.  Fifteen minutes of tidying became thirty.  After another fifteen minutes, I dug into the snacks, getting a drink and a small bite to eat.

Food not from our Earth.  An unfamiliar variety of trail mix gathered together by something like honey and some preservatives, packaged in waxy paper rather than plastic.  It was supposed to be in bars, but it crumbled so much that I ended up eating more of it by tipping the open bag into my mouth to let the broken-off bits fall in, than actually eating any bar.

This was where we were at.

This is how things are now.

We weren’t in a position to fight against a dedicated, serious enemy that wanted to dismantle us.   The foundations our buildings were built on weren’t as solid as they should be.  Our infrastructure was stretched thin, and a lot of it had been built with things given by other worlds.  Things that had strings attached.

Clothes, appliances, even things as simple as screws were coming from elsewhere.  We’d been desperate to set ourselves up and get back to a semblance of normal; it was to the point that a lot of things that looked like Earth Gimel things with the inevitable shortcuts and changes made were actually foreign products.  Not Gimel, not Bet.  The clues were subtle.  The font had weird serifs on it, the layout of things like ingredients and the absence of nutrition info, the lack of anything like trademark or copyright symbols by brand names-

It wasn’t ours.

Now relations with other worlds were tense.  Some remained allies, but the construction workers’ riots, Cheit in general, and the sheer mess of this portal disaster were taking their toll.

I picked up some papers that had blown against the wall and beneath a table.  Kenzie’s homework, with doodles all over it.  She was experimenting with art styles on her English homework.  An apple in the top corner, realistic and shaded, with ‘apple for teacher’ written beneath it.  A lot of disembodied heads littered the page, drawn in an art style that consisted of circular heads with details and hair drawn on.  ‘T.soup’ praised the drawing of the apple.  ‘Maxtag’ suggested asking Sveta for tips.  Another, unnamed one at the bottom right told her to start over on a fresh page, because the current one was a mess.

I put it on Kenzie’s table with other papers and weighed it down with a small hammer.

After another fifteen minutes of work, I got my laptop and put it on the table at my station.  Once it booted up, it took a while to connect to the internet- long enough for me to sweep the entire floor.

No disasters so far today.  No major fighting, the blackout and phone connectivity tracker was already up, and there weren’t any fresh outages.

I left it on in the background, music playing, while I resumed work, so the group could have its fresh start if and when we resumed working out of this headquarters.  My work was punctuated by my searches online.

I paused to stop and check my arm.  The muscle twinged.  I’d go easier, I decided.

Trash collected from the small bins and put away, stray boxes returned to where they belonged.  Rain had left us a few stray pieces of traps, and blades both with and without handles.  I left those where they were, because a tinker’s stuff was sacrosanct, even if it didn’t look like tinkerings.

Though I’d have to touch it anyway.  Odds were slim that he’d be the one to turn up here and collect it.

I was wiping surfaces clean of dust when I heard heavy steps on the fire escape.

I flew, heading first to the ceiling, my sudden movement stirring some of the thin snakes of damp dust and hair that I’d been wiping away.  From the ceiling, I headed to the space above the door.

The footsteps were quieter as the person reached the top.

“Hello?” he called out.

“Tristan,” I said.  I dropped down to the floor.

He pushed the door open.  He wore his costume top, helmet, and jeans.  He had his usual rugged gym bag with him, heavy with his costume stuff.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I saw the door open and thought maybe someone broke in.  You got the email from the landlord?”

“Yeah.”

“I wasn’t sure if it was only me.  Huh.  You beat me to it.”

“I fly,” I said.  “Tactical and logistics advantages.”

“And I’m jealous,” he said.  He stepped inside, pulling off his helmet, then looked around.  “I was thinking I’d sweep or something, but I guess I made the trip for nothing.”

“I did send out emails, trying to set the plan.”

“Outages.  My ulterior motive was that I wanted to come here and see if the internet and phones were working.  Besides, it seemed like the thing to do.  If we can’t communicate with anyone else, we should go to the nearest rendezvous point.”

“Until Lookout gets us some means of communicating reliably,” I said.  I remembered the conversation.

“Yeah.”

He put his bag down.  He wasn’t gentle, and I could feel the weight of it settling through the floor.

I walked over to my computer and turned the music down.

“You can leave it on if you want.  What is that?”

“Oldies rock,” I said.

“Oldies, huh?  Where’s the line drawn for that?”

“Before we were born, I think.  A lot of what I listen to is from a decade before that.”

“Ahhhh,” he said, like it was a big revelation.  He walked over to his table and whiteboard, paging through the papers he’d left behind.  The conversation with Byron was among it.  “From the days before powers.”

I frowned a little.  “I hadn’t wanted to make it about powers.”

“I ruined it for you.”

“No, not ruined,” I said.  “It’s more-”

“It’s hard to get away from, isn’t it?” he asked.  He did what he could to fix his hair, where the helmet had pressed it down.  As simple as the action was, there was something very serious in his eyes and his voice as his hands worked.  “It saturates everything.  Our team, we get it more than a lot of others, I think.  Other teams, maybe they have one or two members who really feel the weight of powers the way we do.”

I thought about it.  “Different ways, for different members of our group.”

Fingers worked to twist locks of hair into the rolling curls.  He still hadn’t painted his hair again.  “You’re an outside case, but I think you qualify, you’re even an expert on the matter.  Sveta’s been like she’s been for… five years?”

“About.”

“Ashley dealt with her hands from the time she was thirteen to the time she was a little older than twenty.  Two years spent being dead, clock turned back a bit, fuzziness from not being her original self… still.  Eight or nine years at most?”

I shrugged.

“Byron and I trigger, endure a few years of this.  Kenzie triggers really young, same principle, though, and she doesn’t have that many years under her belt.  Rain triggered later than most of us, but he’s very, very similar to you, I think.  He grew up within arm’s reach of powers.  Not so direct as you, but… there.”

“Yeah.”

“You lived it.  From birth, your mom was a hero and that was normal.  Your dad.”

“My aunt, my uncle, my cousins.  My boyfriend, friends, afterschool activities, hopes, dreams, field of study, the meals I ate.  Over a thousand nights spent acutely aware that one of my parents was out there, and they might not come home.”

“How do you avoid drowning in it?” Tristan asked.

“If you’d asked me before?  I’d have said they were natural waters for me.  I didn’t drown because I breathed it.”

“And now?”

I shook my head.  “I think I could still breathe it, live it, if it wasn’t for-”

For the wretch.

“For?” he prodded.

“Things I need to figure out.  One personal, and a bunch of external ones.  People, forces, trends.  I feel like I might be drowning, but it’s because of others making the waters choppier.  Pushing me under, even.”

“Tattletale?” he asked.

“That was a fast reply.”

“An accurate one,” his voice was smug.

“Yeah.  People like Tattletale.  Don’t get me wrong, I have my own stuff to deal with, and I’ll figure that out with my therapist.  But I really want to handle or get away from the people who are making life way more fucking difficult than it needs to be.  Get some control over things, so they stop getting in the way.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Capricorn said.  “This strategy of yours.  Uniting the teams.  Is that you handling things like you just described?”

“Yeah.  Some.  Is that a problem?”

“Nah,” he said.  He smiled.  “Nah, it makes sense.  Assess the problem, get the resources together to address that problem.  More contacts is good.  More resources is good.”

I nodded.  “You brought this up for a reason.  How hard it is to escape, the power stuff.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “Nothing big.  Tired of swimming, always on the cusp of drowning.  Can’t get away from my situation.  Rain was a friend and we’re going to see him later, but he’s gone.  Sveta- can’t complain to her.  It’s like bitching about a cut finger when your friend is inside a blender.”

“I think she’d listen and understand,” I said.

“I have days where I can’t do it anymore.  No energy to keep fighting and pushing forward.  Byron worries about me then, you know?  But that’s not the hard part.  It’s that all the time, I’m also watching Byron, worrying about him.  Gotta keep an eye out, try to analyze, figure him out, make sure I’m not being too hard on him when he’s having a bad day.”

“It’s good,” I said.

“But I was never good at understanding him.  I want the days we fight tooth and nail and fuck with each other.  I know they’re bad, duh but that’s so easy.  This is what drains me.  We’re not fighting each other, and how do you fight onward if you’re not revved up and ready?”

“You find external focuses.  Other enemies to fight.  Line them up, knock them down, vent off steam that way.”

He created what had to be his fourth top, setting it to spinning.  It was more balanced than the others, but it had some wobble.

“I miss kissing boys,” he said.  “I saw a guy with a beard on my way here.  He wasn’t my type at all, but it hit me pretty fucking hard, that I’ve never kissed a guy with a beard, and I might never.”

“Never is a pretty ridiculous word when we live in a world with powers.”

He snorted loudly.  Then sniffed, hard, blinking fast once or twice.  “You’re Sveta’s friend, for sure.”

“Yeah.”

“She likes to hold out hope.  There’s hope, there’s always hope.  But that doesn’t do any good, does it?  I’m trying to get through the now, and you two are telling me what the future has in store.  My boat’s sinking because there’s a big gaping hole in it, and every time I ask for help, my friends say, ‘If you get to shore, there’s an awesome party with great booze, music, and dancing’.”

“What I’m saying- what Sveta’s no doubt saying, is don’t stop bailing out the boat because you’ve lost sight of that shore.”

“I lost sight of shore a while back.  I dream of it, but I dunno.  One of the coolest night of my pre-cape life, I was teenager, went to a birthday party and it was boys and girls, big house, mostly unsupervised.  Someone had the bright idea of playing strip poker.  We didn’t get that far before everyone started chickening out and panic-squabbling over rules details until it wasn’t fun anymore, but… that energy, before it went to pieces.  You know?  The people, wondering if it’s going to be the best night of your life or the night you fuck up so bad you wince about it for years?  It’s stuff like that.  Jumping off the roof of a house into the pool below and having everyone cheer.”

“I can see it,” I said.  “I think my equivalent is different.  The cheering I get, I think.  Validation.”

“I’m not sure I’m chasing that anymore, and that’s my identity, or it was.  I’m not sure I’m bailing out the sinking ship anymore.  If I can’t figure out those things, then I’m not sure it matters whether there’s a shore or not.”

“Pretty dark place to be,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he said.  “And I wish I had a not-Case-53 Weld of my own to lean on or help me bail out the boat, but I don’t.”

“Shit,” I said.  “I most definitely hear you on that.”

He smiled.

“I’m not six feet tall, broad shouldered, or all that muscular, but if you want to hammer this stuff out-”

“Nah,” he said, dismissing me.

“Seriously, Tristan.  Listening ear, time.  I’m not sure I have it in me to dredge up the time I couldn’t bail out, see shore, or even… whatever it is.  Remembering the good days.  But if you need me to, if you want to tackle this like our team tackles the bad guys, I can try.”

“Don’t.  No,” he said.  “Because if you tackle this like this team handled the last few things, two-sevenths of you will be gone by the time you’re done.”

“That sounds about right if I have to do any dredging.  But the offer stands.”

“Nah,” he said.  “No need.  You’re looking after the kids, right?  Checking on Chris, you checked on Kenz.”

I nodded.

“And that was important to do.  You’ll check on the others.”

“Probably.”

“Focus on them.”

“A lot of what you were saying sounded like a cry for help, Tristan.  Especially toward the end.”

“It’s not, not exactly.  It’s- I can’t talk to Byron, because the two of us can’t be in the same room at the same time.  My parents don’t like talking to me.  Not since the murder charge.  I’m limited in the friends I can talk to, with one being worse off and one in prison.  I needed to vent and I needed to say it out loud and make sense of it.”

I frowned at him.

“For the record.  This is coming from three places,” he said.  “Beard guy I saw on the way over.  That’s a bit of it.  Sveta was asking me for boy advice, that was the second.  So you know, look out, because that’s probably coming.”

I frowned more, but mostly because Sveta had asked Tristan first, and not me.  I could set that aside because Tristan was wrangling something.

“And the third part, which actually got me thinking about this in the bigger sense… that whole thing about how powers are hard to get away from?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.  That’s our group, but when I was trying to figure out who we might be seeing at the prison, the mentality we were working with or around, what to look out for… isn’t that it?  They can’t get away from their powers or what their powers have done to their lives.”

He grabbed the latest spinning top he’d fashioned with his power, caught it between fingertip and thumb, and crushed  with an ease that suggested his superpower wasn’t even needed.

“I can turn into a monster that’s ninety percent mouth.  I could do it now.”

“Don’t,” Capricorn said.

“Or a form that’s all slimy tentacles.”

“No,” Capricorn said.

“I just don’t see why it matters what’s in my pockets.”

“I don’t see why you didn’t just leave it at home,” Lookout said.

“Because,” Cryptid said, “I need a bunch of this stuff.  There’s a good chance it matters.  And because it matters, I don’t need glorified security guards tampering with it.”

“You could put it in the locker,” Sveta suggested.  “Two of us can move fast.  If there’s an emergency, we could go get it.”

Discussion continued.  I waited, my eyes roving over the surroundings.  The entryway to the jail was built of the same prefabricated segments, with the arching ceiling over the booth, the layout of the hallways, and the setup around the door.  The difference was in the protective measures.  The entryway looked like a place that was triply fortified, with shutters that could drop down at regular intervals, and a very fortified booth.  Painted lines traced along the floor, pointing to different destinations.

“I’ll keep some of the essential stuff,” Cryptid said.  “If I end up unconscious for any reason, if I look dead, if I’m dying, something vital plops out of my chest, just stab me with these.  If you can get me conscious again, I’ll figure out the next steps myself.”

They looked like the epipen needles and the adrenaline-shot needles that came in the mass-produced first aid kits.  He had three of them, and he walked over to the desk to show the guards.

We were in costume.  Cryptid wasn’t cloaked, because cloaks would have been concerning, but instead had decorated himself in a look that was shadowy, crocodile-like scaling.  The light and shadow that hit him affected him in a different, odd way, with deeper shadow and slimmer bands of light.

He ended up having to hand over the cloaking device, too.  He turned his head away from both guards and security cameras.

“You don’t need to worry,” one of the guards said.  “We’re law enforcement.  We’re on the same side.”

“I prefer to play it safe,” Chris -not Cryptid for the moment- replied.

“If we didn’t have this recommendation letter, your attitude here might mean we’d turn you away.”

“But you have it, right?”

“Cryptid,” Capricorn said.  “Go easy.”

“I am, believe it or not,” Cryptid said.  He took the cloaking device as it was slid back in his direction, and snatched up the syringes when they were passed his way.  “I’m here because it’s my duty to a friend.  I hate institutions.”

“You live in one,” Lookout said.

“Barely.  It’s a place with a bed and we have a nice agreement where they don’t make me follow rules and I don’t bother anyone too bad.  I don’t see why it matters what I have on me, when we’re capes.”

As much as Cryptid was complaining to us, but the guys at the desk overheard.  One said, “The question is what you might slip to them, not what you do yourself.”

“They have powers.  What tool are we going to hand over that would trump that?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” the guy at the desk said.

I was given the all-clear.  I fixed my bag over my shoulder – my arm was back in the sling, so the management of the bag was made more difficult.  The contents had been confirmed safe.  I’d have to use their supplied cord for my laptop, since they’d taken the battery, but that was fine.  At least it lightened my load by a pound or so.

“Keep a safe distance from all prisoners in the area,” the instructions came from the desk.  The first shutter between us and the yard was opened.  “Limit hugging or touching to once at the start of the visit and once at the end.”

“Aww.”

“You may sit at the same table, but nothing may cross that table while you’re there.  The breadth of the table should be kept clear.  You will not agitate the prisoners, whether the ones you are visiting or the ones who may be observing.  Some others will be out exercising, but they won’t be allowed to approach within three hundred feet.”

“Got it,” Capricorn said, with a rush to his voice that, in another context, might have suggested he was in a hurry and he wanted the guard to stop talking.

In reality, he was probably trying to get an answer in before Chris said anything ill-advised.

“Don’t wander off,” the guard said.  “Stay within ten feet of one another.  If there is an emergency-”

“If there’s an emergency, we’re capes, Cryptid said.

“If there is an emergency, you’ll return here.  Failing that, enter any non-residential building.  There will be two near where you are seated.  You’ll be free to seal and shutter the entrances.”

It was such a messy prison system.  A minimum of guards, the prisoners free range, without even a wall between them at the outside world.  It was just… flat and marshy out in three of the four directions, with the fourth not being fantastic.  Everything hinged on the ankle-worn bombs and other countermeasures that the prisoners wore.  To run meant to have one’s foot and calf blown off.

The shutter down the hall opened.

“You may proceed straight ahead.  The prisoners you’ve asked to meet will be on their way to the table shortly.”

The light from outside was bright as the shutter came up.  Wind blew through as the shutter raised, but it wasn’t because of the distorted portals and weather from that.  We were too far off the beaten track, and things were more tranquil here.

Buildings were set down in tight clusters, for administration buildings, or in nondescript collections of apartments, fitting within the narrowest possible interpretation of code and then cramming that full of one-room apartments.

One set of a dozen prisoners were filtering into the buildings.  Our visit had been timed by the prison to take advantage of the shift to the next exercise period.

I saw three or four of the Fallen capes in the mix.  Complicated.  They were some of the ones who had been in the background during the raid on the camp, periodically using their powers.  If they were here, they were diehard enough to be deemed irredeemable.  Most of the others had either expressed genuine remorse or they’d feigned it well enough to convince a judge.

If they were here, they were the kind of Fallen who were unquestionable problems.

I was glad that most seemed to be going inside.  Some found seats by windows, where they could stare us down.

I spotted Rain, who approached from the other half of the complex, passing through a corrugated metal gate that a guard managed, and approached us at the table.

The table was longer and wider than what I was used to, and so were many of the other parts of the area – the buildings were squat and heavy, with a lot of fortification.  Roads were wide enough that four cars could pass down them side by side.

The large fixtures and the wide, broad planes of everything coupled with the isolated individuals to make the entire space out to look exceedingly isolated.

Rain took his seat.  He’d trimmed his hair short, and with no hair in the way or covering anything up, his eyes were open wider, no longer shielded or half-closed in readiness to blink as hair fell over them, and a multitude of tiny nicks and cuts covered his face.  There were places where the scars left a tiny notch in his jawline or ear.  The lines of his hands and the half-moons of his fingernails were black with oil.  He wore a prison-issue denim coat over his regular clothes.

At least he had that luxury.

“Hi,” Lookout said.

“Hey critter,” he said.  “I heard about some of your adventures a few days ago.”

“All good now.  Things are mostly the way they were, except I don’t see my parents outside of the courtroom.  It’s nice.  More peaceful, with more people to talk to.”

Rain nodded.  “Peaceful, yeah.  Same, except for the whole imprisonment part.  Boredom so bad you might imagine you’d do something stupid.  Some do- and I’d join them if I didn’t have the realty check every night.  The days don’t seem to end.”

“We brought gifts,” Sveta said.  “Things to read.  The guards will bring it to you later.  I hope that helps with the boredom.”

Rain smiled.  “That’s perfect.  I’ll probably end up reading each one twenty times.”

“Have you heard from Erin?” Lookout asked.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “She dropped by yesterday.  She’s splitting her attention between me, her family issues, and Lachlan Hund.”

“The brainwashed teenager,” I said.

“So apparently when I ran off the night before the attack, going to March to try to break the connection to Mama, Erin was given some options.  One of those options was that she marry Lachlan.”

“Oh no!” Lookout said.

“They’re both really nice, attractive people,” Rain said.  His expression was grim.  “Front-facing people to recruit others.  They could become celebrities without any issue.  I can see the logic”

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  “Logic, except, the brainwashing, the forced marriage, all that.”

“Mmm,” Rain grunted.  “It’s an awkward thing, her helping him and him being a go-between for her and her family- who aren’t dealing well with the family mostly shattering.  She might be by later.”

I noticed mostly because Lookout was bouncing in her seat, but Ashley was in view now.   Double-vision.  There were two of her, wearing similar dresses.  The one slightly in the lead was our Ashley, our Swansong, with hair cut short.  It had fanned out slightly at the bottom, and where weight had pulled it straight, it had a bit of a twist to it.  Her bangs were similar, but more twisty, pushed over to one side.

Our Ashley’s hands were intact.  Her darker self had knife-hands.

“So cool,” Lookout said.

Rain leaned forward, touching the intercom at the middle of the wide table.  “Can the other Ashley Stillons join us?”

“Checking,” came the reply.

I was aware of the eyes on us.  The visitor seating table was about a hundred feet down from the main office.  Some chicken-wire fence separated sections of the greater infrastructure, but little effort had been made to make it tall or make it private.

I might’ve seen one or two more fallen, as I surreptitiously glanced around.  I got my notebook out and began scribbling down notes as best as I could with only one arm free.  People, places.  Suspicious individuals.

Lookout bounced out of her seat, half-running-

“No running, careful!” Sveta called out.

-and half skipping.  She slowed down at the warning.

Ashley pulled her into a hug.

“How are the hands?” Rain asked.

“More functional, but the right is giving me jolts of pain.”

“Damn it, sorry,” Rain said.  “Tonight’s not a good night.  We’ll see about tomorrow?”

“Okay,” Ashley said.  She set a hand atop Kenzie’s head.  “If it gets bad, I can take it off.”

“Best not to,” Rain said.

The intercom buzzed, but no voice came through.  It took three or four seconds, and then there was only a “Permission refused.”

Too bad.  It had been a long shot, to bring Swansong’s sister in.

I looked at her, and I saw a reflection of Ashley, but one that casually wore the glares and haughty expressions that had been rarer or which had only emerged in times of stress.  She stalked, eyes wide.

I was reminded of the Siberian, seeing her, what with the long pale hair across her face, the natural arrogance, and the dangerous look in her eyes.  I didn’t see it in the Ashley that was hugging Lookout right now.

“You’re getting our emails, right?” Capricorn asked.

“Yes,” Rain said.  “Thanks to your testimony.  Until we fuck up, we get some slack.  You guys had ideas for a new team direction.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “We didn’t want to decide on anything definite without consulting you guys.”

“I have questions, yeah,” Rain said.  “Like what does Capricorn Blue think?”

“He’s not protesting as hard as you might think,” Capricorn said.  “We need to do something.”

“It’s bad.  The war,” Sveta said.  “It’s not one with battlefields, and we’re not organized enough to win a war of information.”

“I like it,” Ashley said.  “The thing about the group that never made sense was the insistence that Capricorn was a leader.”

“Hey.”

“But,” she said.  “We have three leaders.  Different styles.  Different focuses.  It fits for a group that’s steering other teams to better places where the old didn’t fit us.”

“We’re not taking over anything,” I said.

She snorted.

“No, really.”

“Capes take over.  We take power because we have power.  Just as those with money have a natural ability and desire to earn money.  The healthy are inclined to stay healthy.”

“Capes are unhealthy by definition,” Cryptid said.

“There’s room to maneuver in there,” Capricorn said.  “Listen, Rain, Ash, are you two talking?  How easy is communication?  What other channels do you have open?  People here you talk to?”

“I can do bi-weekly maintenance on Ashley’s hands, we get internet, some freedom of movement, some access to tools.”

“More of a benefit to Rain than to me.  But it’s nice to be able to talk to him, at least,” Ashley said.

“Some people talk to housemates by standing on the balcony,” Rain said.

“My roommate is fine.  Exceptionally beautiful and graceful,” Ashley said.  “Good genes, I think.  Clever.  Quick to learn.  Witty, even.”

“That joke is wearing thin,” Sveta said.

“I’m not joking,” Ashley replied.

“I think it’s a perfect assessment,” Lookout said.  “I like our version better though.  The hair looks amazing.

“She’s fine.  There’s a lot to catch up on.  The others in the house- not good people.  A big Asian woman who won’t tell me her cape name.  She stonewalls me.  Another woman who only whimpers and cries.  She panicked months before we arrived.  Tried to take off her ankle bracelet.  Now she has a bracelet on the one ankle she has left.  The last is a child killer.”

“What?” Sveta asked.  “That’s a thing?”

“She went by Unicorn, but it was an inherited name.  So she’s Unicorn the fifth or something.”

“Unicorn four,” I said.

“Shit, yeah,” Capricorn said.  “I heard about that one.  It was on the news a decade ago.  She was on the sponsored team ‘Goldenrod’.”

“She’s Monokeros now,” I said.  “Yeah.  Stay away.”

“They send teams of two to escort her when they need her to do something, like visit the doctor,” Ashley said.

“Not much help then,” Rain said.  “I’ve talked with my housemates, a bit.  They don’t love me, but two sound like they’d be willing to sell me info, if they see anything hinky.”

“If it’s verifiable info, I can put money in their commissaries,” Capricorn said.

“Great,” Rain said.  “We’re looking at staff, mostly.”

“You’ve already started then,” Cryptid said.  He looked over his shoulder.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “Definitely.  Helps with the monotony.”

There were so many people watching from windows.  Our investigation couldn’t help but be conspicuous… and if it was staff that was interfering, then they had the benefit of access to surveillance, records, and any number of other means of tracking these patients.

Now that it struck me, we’d have to figure out if a staff member could theoretically detonate the ankle bombs as a weapon, to control or remove problematic individuals.

I’d ask when Rain and Ashley couldn’t hear.  It wouldn’t do to stress them out.

“I found one person who stands out,” Ashley said.  “It might be worth looking at them or having a chat.  Or it might be a problem.  You know them, Victoria.”

Oh, no.  Those were spooky words.

“It’s not bad,” she said, seeing my reaction.  “From the community center.  Crystalclear is on the boys’ side.  That’s your starting point, I think.  If anyone knows something, it’s him.”

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64 thoughts on “Beacon – 8.3”

  1. Catching up is crazy, all the way through Worm, to Ward, while Ward is updating. Still great to be here and see our protagonists suffer live I guess!

  2. Question 1:
    “There were places where the scars left a tiny notch in his jawline or a gap in a girl’s ear.” – I can’t figure out what’s being said here. What girl?

    Question 2:
    “Hi,” Lookout said.

    “Hey critter,” he said. “I heard about some of your adventures a few days ago.”

    “All good now. Things are mostly the way they were, except I don’t see my parents outside of the courtroom. It’s nice. More peaceful, with more people to talk to. So it’s pretty great, except for the whole imprisonment part. Boredom so bad you might imagine you’d do something stupid. Some do- and I’d join them if I didn’t have the realty check every night The days don’t seem to end.”

    Who is talking in this last paragraph? Is it Lookout or Rain?

    1. I suppose this is the typo thread, then.

      “If there’s an emergency, we’re capes, Cryptid said.

      Missing quotation mark.

      Most of the others had either expressed professed genuine remorse…

      Presumably this should be one of “expressed” or “professed”, not both.

      I might’ve seen one or two more fallen…

      Should be “Fallen”, going by earlier convention.

    2. “I fly,” I said. “Tactical and logistics advantages.”

      -logistical

      I know they’re bad, duh but that’s so easy.
      -comma

      “I miss kissing boys,” he said.
      -I thought he was going to go into the wrestling aspect of dating boys.

      One of the coolest night of my pre-cape life, I was teenager,
      -a teenager

      It’s- I can’t talk to Byron, because the two of us can’t be in the same room at the same time.
      -But Byron can hear you when you speak, can’t you blur back and forth? I guess you can’t watch his body language…

      ‘I needed to vent and I needed to say it out loud and make sense of it.”
      -need x2?

      I’d join them if I didn’t have the realty check every night.
      -reality

      “We brought gifts,” Sveta said. “Things to read. The guards will bring it to you later. I hope that helps with the boredom.”
      -bring them

      Should “Permission denied.” have a comma before it?

    3. “and crushed with an ease”
      Likely missing ‘it’ in the doubled space.

      “I can see the logic”
      Missing full stop.

      “half-running(…) half skipping.”
      Hyphenation.

  3. “I spotted Rain, who approached from the side of the street that had buildings for me”

    For me? Maybe meant “from me” or something?

    “There were places where the scars left a tiny notch in his jawline or a gap in a girl’s ear.”

    I’ve never heard “gap in a girl’s ear” before.

      1. “and I’d join them if I didn’t have the realty check every night”

        Should this say reality instead of realty? I’m not so certain that Rain is selling real estate every night. Unless this is referring to his group night thing, but has he ever mentioned that to the others?

  4. So CrystalClear is in the prison, or a guard? Or a fake prisoner? Or there is a boy in prison and CC is “on his side” figuratively?

    I eagerly await a full Reddit breakdown on this, after the feeding frenzy over Monokeros dies down.

    1. If he’s in here it’d be as a prisoner, most likely. For something relatively serious, since he’d been a cape in good standing last we saw, but not necessarily as bad as even Ashley. It seems like this is where they’re putting every parahuman they want to jail and can’t shove in a normal prison.

  5. Oh boy, so much character developments!

    Loved the marler board chat between Tristan and Byron. Even in being thankful to his brother, Tristan keeps trying to win!

    The talk about oldies rock and powers driving lives was pretty heavy and leads me to a very pointed question. What the heck did Crystalclear do to land here?!

    (Also, I had the conversation about kissing boys that went a lot like the one in this chapter a few days ago, in Victoria’s shoes, are you secretly stalking me?)

    1. Cc is a staff member not prisoner. Both ashley and rain had been investigating staff not inmates. Ashley says she has someone they should look into, CC. Therefore, cc must be staff. Makes sense they’d have thinkers on staff to keep an eye on the prisoners.

      1. Upon further reading I realized I read it as “boys’ side” instead of “boy’s side.” I though he was a staff member on… the boys’ side of the campus? Not on a single boy’s side… my bad. Still, points to cc being a memtor/sponsor, not an inmate.

  6. >Those were spooky words.
    Victoria knows a lot of people she’d rather never see or even think about ever again.

    1. Every time I see something like that I think “YAY, OLD CHARACTERS!” followed quickly by “Oh god, old characters………”

    2. There’s the one (Amy), Tattletale, and I suppose her mother, but who else does Victoria actually dislike? She’s been friendly or at least cordial with just about everyone else from her life in Brockton Bay that she’s bumped into.

    3. You want some spooky words? I got yer spooky words right here:

      “WoooOOOooOOOooooOOOoooo… I aaAAaaaAAAaammm the ghoooOOoOooOOoost of CloooOOoooOOooockblooOOooOOooOOoocker…”

      “Fuck me.”

      “GlaaaAAAAaaAAaaaAAAaaadly…”

      *Facepalm*

      1. “You’re not a ghost, your clcokblocker’s soul that was picked up by Valkyrie and then put ina cloned body by Nilbog, Bonesaw and that sister of mine.”

        “Aw, I bet Grue that it’d work.”

        A young black man with cornrows came to stand next to Clockblocker and grinned, “Ward vs Undersider? When did thatever go your way? Pay me the ten bucks.”

  7. Crystalclear eh? What’d he do? Try to tell people the heroes knew that the villains were in charge of the economy?

    1. So… A boy that Victoria and Crystalclear both know. Somebody from the community centre attack.

      I reckon it’s Blindside. And I reckon Crystalclear’s weird colour-shifted edge vision is probably esoteric enough to bypass Blindside’s don’t-look-at-me aura. And if not, it probably is if there’s a physical eye-blocking barrier in the way. A wall, for example.

  8. Wow CC has really dropped in society’s estimation. A little while ago he was trusted to stand guard over inter-universal negotiations. Now he’s in prison? That seems very odd.

    1. He’s still a guard, it sounds like. The conversation had shifted to talking about potential allies among the staff, after which point CC’s name came up.

    1. I wonder if we’ll see the guy who has duplicates that pop out of space “blisters”. That would be such a great power for pranks.

  9. “I can turn into a monster that’s ninety percent mouth. I could do it now.”

    “Don’t,” Capricorn said.

    “Or a form that’s all slimy tentacles.”
    Well I’m not surprised. But Chris you are acting like you are ninety percent mouth right now!

  10. Their desperation to replicate Earth Bet explains why they have malls and skyscrapers, despite that development pattern taking far more (scarce) resources to build and maintain than traditional urbanism does. If I were in charge of planning, most housing in the city would be terraced and made out of rammed earth, on narrow streets with nary a car in sight – and we wouldn’t have had to risk war with Earth Cheit, and cut deals with other worlds, in order to build them. Wildbow, you’re not making a subtle political point about our oil addiction, are you?

  11. I walked over to my computer and turned the music down.

    “You can leave it on if you want. What is that?”

    “Oldies rock,” I said.

    “Oldies, huh? Where’s the line drawn for that?”

    “Before we were born, I think. A lot of what I listen to is from a decade before that.”

    My headcanon is that she’s listening to “Hocus Pocus” by Focus and no one can stop me.

  12. As much as Cryptid was complaining to us, but the guys at the desk overheard.

    I can’t parse what that sentence was supposed to read as. As much what? Or “but” what?

    1. I believe what it meant was just a way to accentuate how much Chris was complaining, to the point that the guards could hear him. Not sure if it helps but I tried.

  13. I don’t know why, but something in the interaction with Tristan gives me the heebie jeebies. It feels… off. Convienent.
    Or like… the realisation that the “Conversation” between him and Byron could have been entirely written by either one of them in order to give the impression that everything is fine.


    Of course that is probably just my paranoia based on Yamada’s last assessment of something wrong in the group. If something truly that suspicious were afoot you’d need…. I dunno, some kind of enforced cooperation from the other twin… perhaps backed up by threats or something.
    … You’d also have to get past TT’s radar somehow, given that if anything truly diabolical was afoot I imagine it would have been in Tats interests to flip the table when she was last negotiating with team breakthrough.
    So….I guess everything is fine. In Tats we trust.

    Also, the fact that we have a prison full of powerful docile supervillians that can easily be turned into powerful desperate supervillians by anyone with the hacking ability to gain control of the bomb systems seems very very bad.
    I mean… if someone controlled it and could make those threats, you’d have a bunch of dangerous rioting people (some of which were already terrible), with superpowers and bombs… all of which are not actually responsible for their own rioting (hence making them effectively innocent hostages).

  14. Dear Tristin:

    Kissing boys with beards isn’t as fun as it may look.

    Source: many of the girls I’ve dated since I grew one

  15. I’m curious how most readers
    apportion credit for beating Zion in Worm. Personally I think it’s about 50% Khepri, 25% Tattletale, 15% the tinkers led by Defiant, and the remaining 10% split hundreds of ways

    1. Khepri made them all co-operate, without her there would have been no effective resistance/fight. To me it’s 80% her then the rest is split fairly equal amongst the rest for not being dicks about it when she released control.

      (Spoiler Alert!!)

      I know that there were other ways that the outcome could have been achieved, but in the particular story line that was followed, all was effectively lost until Khepri mind controlled everybody and forced them to work together. She had them work together on a level that could never be effectively achieved with even the best peer to peer co-ordination.

      Easily my favorite part of Worm, sometimes I wish that someone could do that in real life. Might solve some of the worlds problems if everyone could work as one.

    2. You don’t give any credit to Contessa? She was the one who arranged events so that they’d lead to the rise of Khepri. Whether she told Doctor Mother about her death, though, I don’t know. Have we word of God on that?

      1. That’d be tricky, since Tress killed Doctor Mother before the rise of Khepri. And broke Skitter’s replacement arm whilst she was at it.

    3. The Simurgh should get a big chunk of credit, since she was the one who identified and demonstrated his weakness.

    4. I assign most of it to the Simurgh; I basically consider the Travelers flashback arc to be when the battle was won. Basically, the key to the victory was imitating Eden. Khepri was only able to do so because she’d seen Eden in the Cauldron facility. She only managed it because the facility had been rebuilt to be more resilient after the Simurgh’s portal attack and resisted Zion for a considerable period. And she’d gone there in the first place as a result of the attack by the Irregulars, who formed due to the fallout from the Echidna incident, which the Simurgh arranged.

      1. Oh, and she used her telepathic powers to nudge Taylor a bit in the direction of becoming Khepri, but only mildly, nothing like how she prepped long-term sleeper agents. It is possible she used her agents and her big brother to indirectly maneuver Taylor over the duration of the story, though, since Leviathan and Doctor Manton had a huge impact on everyone in Brockton Bay.

      2. Normally I’d say you’re reading too much into things, but I guess this is the Simurgh we’re talking about. That’s about how her plans work.

        1. Yep, though also I think what ended up happening was plan B; I suspect plan A was that Eidolon and Glastig Ulaine just straight-up killed Scion and returned as heroes. The three combatants all have access to precog defenses, with Scion’s definitely affecting her, so she couldn’t have predicted the outcome of that battle with certainty.

          1. That’s a fascinating take, guy! I never thought of anything like that but it’s solid, poetic even!

  16. So, I’m remembering Original Flavor Ashley “showering” with annihilation, and wondering if the Powers That Be actually think that strapping a bomb to Ashley’s ankle is really anything more than a polite suggestion that she behave herself.

    1. They may have taken additional measures.

      Also, her power is unstable enough that trying to destroy the bomb might trigger it.

  17. Excited to see CrystalClear again, thought his interlude was rather interesting and hope he’ll be getting more impact into the story moving forward.

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