Beacon – 8.6

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“I have a random thought,” I said.

Sveta and Capricorn were with me.  Heroes were arriving- some in cars.  They were the ones I’d labeled in green.  The friends, the acquaintances, the ones where I figured there was enough trust that we could promise a favor in exchange for their help and they’d listen.  Our vantage point on the roof of a garage put us above them all.

“Do share,” Sveta said.

“When the team was first getting together, I was trying to wrap my head around it.  In thinking about names and thinking about themes, whatever I thought about, I felt like there was always at least one odd man out.”

“I know what you mean,” Capricorn said.  “Branding, theme, style.  If the team goes rugged then you, me, Ashley and Lookout are tough to fit in, while Chris and Rain are happy as clams.  Sveta can adapt to that.  If we go polished, preppy, hair done up… opposite.”

“Applies to other things too,” I said.

“And I don’t think I could adapt to polished,” Sveta said, cutting in before I could return to my thought.

Capricorn shrugged.  “You’ve got the creative, artistic touch and a pretty face.  You could change how you do your arms.  I really think you could pull it off.”

“Except I don’t want to, and I’m uncomfortable,” she said.  “Sorry, can we change the subject?”

“Sure,” Capricorn said.  “But before we drop it-”

“Capricorn,” I interrupted, my voice a warning.

“What?”

“Boundaries,” I said.

“Really.  It’s twice now in recent memory you’ve wanted to change the topic.  This is just me adding to the discomfort for five seconds so I can avoid all of it in the future.  Okay?”

“Okay,” Sveta replied, sighing like it was an extension of the word.

“Why uncomfortable?”

“Um.  Saying I have a pretty face is a very nice thing to say-”

“No hetero,” he interrupted.

“-er, yes,” she said.  She smiled despite herself.  “But it reminds me that I’m just a face, pretty much.  Sorry, I’ve been thinking a lot about… um, bodies, and my lack of one, because of stuff I brought up with you both.”

“Got it,” Tristan said.  “Chat me up if you want to pick my brain again.  Until then, no talk of bodies or boning.”

“Thank you,” she said the two words with finality.  She looked at me, “There was always one person who didn’t fit in, when you tried to create a cohesive identity?  Except maybe for the, uh, group.”

The therapy.

“Victoria wasn’t a part of that,” Capricorn said.

“I guess,” she replied.

“Thing is,” I said.  “Standing here, thinking about how I didn’t even have to ask Capricorn if he was on board with seriously going after these guys-”

“Damn fucking straight,” Capricorn said it with enough force that a few heads turned our way.

“We’re tenacious,” I said.  “Every last member of the group, we’ve been given every reason to give up and we pushed on.”

“For better or for worse.  Poor Lookout,” Capricorn said.

“I can get behind the idea,” Sveta said.  “Tenacious.”

I stood a little straighter, taking in the group of gathered heroes.  I drew in a breath.  “Then let’s go be stubborn.  We’re not going to accept this loss.”

“Yeah,” Capricorn said.

I flew down from the roof of the concrete garage.  I went straight from flying to striding forward.  Capricorn hopped down, though it wasn’t a distance most would want to jump- twenty feet onto packed dirt, a heavy landing with the armor he wore.  Just a little bit of enhanced physique could go a long way.

Sveta’s landing wasn’t as graceful.  I heard the noise as she hauled herself, turned to look, and saw her coming my way.  My arm went out and I caught her with it- stopping her from stumbling forward while helping to keep her upright.

She took my hand and gave it a momentary squeeze.

Heroes gathered around us.  Fume Hood was present- Tempera wasn’t.  Lighter had come, which was nice- it was my first time seeing the low-key vigilante, though we’d talked some by email.  He’d been scheduled for a turn at harassing Cedar Point, but things had gone to hell before the scheduled time had come.  He’d been enthusiastic about that- and I could assume he’d like the idea of this.

Sometimes a team seemed like too much, but being a solo hero was too lonely.  Triggering tended to involve some lack of support structures- that was Parahumans 101, class one, an hour and fifteen minutes into the three hour lecture level stuff.  To go from that to being a costumed hero didn’t generally involve gaining more support.

Maybe this would appeal.

Houndstooth was absent, but two of his subordinates were present.  I recognized Foxtrot and another member of the Kings of the Hill.  Foxtrot’s chatter about the Cedar Point operation had led to Advance Guard jumping in and our involvement being spoiled.  Well, I had my suspicions that Scapegoat might have helped matters.  The defected healer from Advance Guard was the primary one to blame- but Foxtrot had let some minor things slip.

My parents had been on that list of heroes with green labels.  I’d been pretty certain that in an emergency, they’d help.  If I asked, even.  But they hadn’t answered the call, and they weren’t here.  I couldn’t fault them – three out of four of the people we’d reached out to hadn’t.

“You want to handle this?” I asked Capricorn, as we drew nearer.

“Nah.  Let me lead in, but this is your idea.”

I nodded.

Twelve capes in all, from various teams.  More would have been nice, but we’d reached out at eight-something at night to essentially say we wanted a hand, could they meet us near the mid-Megalopolis point in the next ten minutes?  Some had been too far, others had been retired for the evening… these numbers were good, considering.

“Thank you for coming,” Capricorn said.  “I’ll recap in case our teammate didn’t spell it out in full when he reached out.  Two villains, strong ones, just threatened civilians to get the good guys to back off so they could make a run for it.  They’re driving trucks of stolen livestock.  The one we caught said they’re working for Prancer, from Cedar Point.”

I started my piece.  “We feel the rules need enforcing.  They can’t threaten civilians.  Help us, and we’ll either owe you one or if you want a longer-term relationship, we can talk about building something.”

Lighter was nodding.  Fume Hood looked receptive- but I wasn’t sure if that was her trying to be helpful, putting on a good face.

“Where are they now?” Foxtrot asked.

“Just north of here.  Mover and multiple vehicles,” Capricorn said.  “Trial and Error.”

“I’ve run into them,” Lighter said.  “Trial hits hard.  I didn’t get Error.”

“Good names,” Foxtrot said.

We’ll have to politely disagree on that, I thought.  Instead of voicing that thought, I explained, “Trial hits hard, he’s defensive, and he’s mobile, manipulating chains and spinning them to propel himself forward.”

“Yep,” Lighter said.  “Good summary.”

“Error is a stranger.  She seems to blur perceptions so you lose coordination and lose track of who’s on the battlefield and where.  That includes whoever you’re trying to hit, I think.  She seemed to have an always-on effect surrounding her at low strength and a concentrated, magnified use that seemed to require her eyes and focus to be on the victim.  She uses it to take people out of the fight.  If it affects you, don’t do anything, or people that aren’t Trial and Error might get hurt.”

That got nods.

“Two from Advance Guard are pursuing.  We’re going to go assist.”

“The sooner the better?” Foxtrot asked.

“Yeah,” Capricorn said.

“Lead the way,” she said.  “I want to see how these guys pulled their concept together.”

“Tress and Antares are fast.  The first responder types should follow them.  Everyone else, with me,” Capricorn gave the order.  “If you have questions, ask us, or call our phones.”

I was in the air a moment later, heading toward the last known location.  I gave Fume Hood a nod in passing.  Sveta and I had four people with us- two more who were able to get on a motorcycle or get in a vehicle within a few seconds of getting the go-ahead.  The engines were already running, and they peeled out.

It became clear that our fastest moving members of the group were pulling away from the members at the rear.  I turned around in the air, looking for Sveta, and I found her riding the roof of the rusted, post-apocalypse sedan that one cape had climbed into.

I gestured, and she thrwe out a hand, which I had to fly over to intercept and catch.  She pulled herself to me, which made flying momentarily difficult, slowing the pull somewhat as she drew near.

“I’ll take the lead group, you take the stragglers?” I asked.  “I go left, circle around to eleven o’clock.  You go right, two or three o’clock.  Remember Capricorn will be coming in for their six like a battering ram.”

“I go left,” she said.  “Look.  Trees, taller buildings.  That’s my kind of terrain.”

I nodded once, confirming.

She let go of me and pulled away with a force that was almost as intense as her arrival had been.

Foxtrot was one of the two in the lead.  She didn’t teleport, exactly, but as I flew, I could see glimpses of her off to the side, below me, just ahead of me.

I’d researched her, after she had ended up being a bit of a problem.  Foxtrot and Houndstooth had dated for a bit- and potentially still were.  It had been a thing early and then the team had grown and that faded into the background.  It said something that she’d, despite the concerns of the girlfriend being promoted, despite the fact she had no apparent record or history of a hero until about a year ago… she’d settled into a weird pseudo-leadership position, leading patrols a lot of the time.

For the moment, she was my ally in going up against the Trial & Error team.  I had to consider her power; on paper it was ‘harassment repositioning’.

She was speeding up.  All at once, she was at a rooftop ledge just above and in front of me – ready to leap down on top of me, despite the considerable distance to the ground.  As I flew closer to a rooftop to lower my profile, she was there, within arm’s reach.  I had a close-up view of her cute, smiling fox mask, bright costume with a crown and a chevron for the ‘hill’ worked into the lapel and sleeve, just above a Gold Morning remembrance armband.  Her hair was tied into a lopsided ponytail, and her hands rested on the rooftop ducts just in front of her.

Her power let her pick a target.  Her not-quite-teleports would position her advantageously to catch them off guard.  They were not-quite teleports because she didn’t appear out of nowhere so much as she was just there, ready, when the time came.

She picked out a target and her teleports centered on them.  What wasn’t on paper or available with a bit of research was the detail that she very clearly escalated.  In speed, in proximity, in how there was an ever-improving edge that each location she or her power was picking seemed to offer.

Then, like a switch had been flicked, she broke away.  The speed slowed and the target of focus changed to our companion.  Something-kite.

I was willing to bet Foxtrot had a bit of a history as a cape, but not as a hero.  The speed with which she’d assumed a place on her team and the intensity I felt as she closed in on me made me think she was more experienced than her record with the Kings suggested.

We were pulling ahead.  I could hear the tires as the trucks Prancer’s hires were driving turned corners.

I pulled out my phone and plugged in the earbud to make a call to headquarters.  It wasn’t Chris that replied.

“Heyy!” Kenzie answered.

“You’re supposed to be home and in bed.”

Kenzie audibly scoffed.  “At eight o’clock at night?  When stuff is happening?  No.  Don’t be silly.  Listen, I’ve got the others in on conference, Swansong and… we really need that one last code name.”

“Don’t even ask,” Rain said.  “The names I’m feeling are closest to right right now are terrible.  For now, if you need to call me something, use Precipice.”

“Precipice,” Kenzie said.  “Okay.  A bit of a mouthful to shout in a big fight, but Antares and Victoria are both long words.”

I expected Chris to say something about codenames or whatever.  I noticed the silence.

“Where’s Cryptid?” I asked.

“Gone,” she said.  “He made the calls and then he left.”

“Okay.  Can you give us eyes on things?  Cameras?  Specific locations on where these guys are, so we can close in?”

There was a pause.  My phone started a video, then started chugging along, before seeming to stop.

“One second,” Kenzie said.  “You’re outside of my setup.”

Then the video started.

Trial, Error, a crowd of hirelings with guns – there was no shortage of people looking for easier money, given the situation across the city.  I saw other capes I could dimly recognize, too.  Cleat.  Etna.  Crested.

“Can you tell the others?  Three more capes, twenty hirelings?  I’m going around the right side.”

“Got it.”

I landed on a rooftop, striding forward at a slower speed than I’d been flying.  The intent was to buy myself a moment when-

There.  A glimpse of Foxtrot.

“Additional capes, guns,” I said to the glimpse.  Her head snapped around to look at me.  “Proper B-listers.”

Her focus might have changed to me, because she recurred in my vicinity, as I continued forward on foot.

“This is supposed to be the drop-off,” I spoke my realization aloud.  “Spright and Shortcut are down there, making things difficult.  I think Flapper is airborne here too.”

I reached the rooftop’s edge, looking across to where I could see the trucks – the people around those trucks were so small that I couldn’t make out whether they were male or female.  The coveralls didn’t help.  Foxtrot appeared next to me, standing almost shoulder to shoulder with me, nose pointed out in the direction of those trucks and specks.

Kite landed beside me a second later.

“What are you gunning for, with this strategy, pulling everyone in together?” Foxtrot asked.

“That?  Is it really the priority?”

“No,” Foxtrot said.  She made an amused sound, “But that isn’t, down there.  Not until we have friends at our back or our side starts bleeding.  What’s this group thing?”

“It’s saying to hell with jurisdictions,” I said.  “To hell with getting credit for one win or another.  Coordinating to make sure we’re all going after the ones who count.  Sharing information.”

“Some like credit and having their own jurisdictions,” Kite’s voice was quiet, almost guilty.  “Not me, but I know people and I don’t think it will be that easy.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Well, in an ideal world, I’d like to do something here that would get us attention, enough that any abstainers would feel like they’d need to join in if they wanted a share of the limelight.  But that’s all secondary.  For now, we live and let live, and we fix what’s broken.”

“Others are reaching you now,” Kenzie reported through my phone.  I missed Kite’s response.

Sveta’s group.

“Tell them to hold back a second.  How far behind is Cap?”

“A few minutes.”

Okay.

Shortcut and Spright were mostly evading at this point.  They weren’t pushing in to attack, because Error didn’t let them do so without risk.  They’d draw in close, then pull away, leap onto something, wait until someone tried to come after them, and then move again.

The villains started to corner them, and Flapper made her appearance, diving down from above.  She landed, and long clothes-wings extended out to sweep the legs out from under a whole crowd of mooks.  Her sleeves raised up to become a barrier around her, a shield against incoming fire.

Then, with one herculean flap that drove people back with dust in their eyes, she took to the air again, weaving past the lights that illuminated the area and past power lines.  She had to run alongside the edge of a building to reach the roof.

They didn’t have a lot of space to maneuver.  The area was a loading bay to a large store, more or less a wide road without markings that sloped gently down to the bay doors that lined one wall of the brick building.  Neither of the vans had made it to the bay doors, if that was even the goal- the wheels had been slashed.  One had bumped up into a yellow-painted pillar, the front grille dented.

Round two.  We could use what we’d learned from the first round.  The buildings opposite the row of loading bay doors looked residential, which was inconvenient.  I could imagine the employees of the store lived there.

“If we corner them, and we will corner them,” I said.  “They’ll threaten civilians again.  Can your power get you inside to warn civilians, Fox?”

“Only if I have someone else I’m tracking that gets close.”

“I can get you close,” Kite said.

“Good,” I said.  “Lookout, are you there?”

I heard her yawn.  “I wish I was there.  But I’m here.”

“We’ll get you in the field,” I pledged.  “Communicate with Sveta, see if her contingent of capes has anyone who could help notify civilians and get them to evacuate.”

Kite and Foxtrot slipped away.  I gave them a wary look as they made their way to the ground, then around to what would be the ‘front’ the residential complex, if the back of the building was what faced this loading area and fight.

My attention fixed on Spright and Shortcut.  If they needed help- even if they were hit by something and fell, I was ready to fly to them.  They’d wanted to do this alone, they apparently felt capable.

They were evading, distracting, forcing Prancer’s hires to deal with them.  The trucks were disabled and the animals were within.  The villains’ prize.

Thoughts flickered through my head.  Of my mom telling me how that greed was a weakness.  One of many lessons.  Some, I felt, had contradicted others.  I was divided on whether that was because they had, or if it was because I’d been too young to properly digest, and what hadn’t digested had warped slightly with time.  What was right and what was wrong when hurting others.  What school was supposed to be for me, given my inevitable career and lifestyle.  Greed was a weakness and if the villains had something they prized then a lot could be done from standing between them and that prize.

That was what Spright and Shortcut were doing.

There were other thoughts.  In trying to get my parents to talk about Amy, the Wretch had typed out one word, asking for the story we’d never really gotten to hear in full.

M-A-R-Q-U-I-S.

My dad had told the tale.  Somewhere in there he’d said something about Marquis’ prize- Amy.  I remembered because anything to do with Amy had been something to fixate on, back then.  I remembered because there was something to the story that connected with what my mom had said, about the villains and their treasures.  Connecting those dots had helped bring the already vivid mental picture of the scene to life.

Fuck me, why was it that a memory about clarity and communication left me so painfully uneasy?  Beyond the fact that it was the Wretch in the scene, that the momentary peace I’d felt only highlighted how brainwashed I was.

It was the communication itself -not the thing being communicated or the context- that gnawed at me and made me want to hit something and destroy it.

Kenzie’s voice made me jump, and I was already on alert, watching to see if Spright or Shortcut got hurt.

“You’ve got a Cryptid inbound.  Don’t freak,” Kenzie said, over the phone.

“Don’t freak?” I asked.  “He actually made it here?”

“He flew.  Then he switched forms- he warned me it was an awkward form, in case I saw on camera.  And he yelled at me a lot about not watching him change, even though I wouldn’t ever do something that invades his privacy as badly as that.”

“Lookout.  This form?  I’m trying to keep control over this mess.  I need all the details you can give me, and I need to know if we need to turn Cryptid away before he engages.”

“He doesn’t usually use it because it’s screwed up,” she told me.  “That’s all I know.”

That wasn’t helpful.

Way off in the distance, barely distinguishable from the spots in my vision, I could make out Sveta’s unnaturally pale face.

On the roof of the residential building, I saw what had to be Cryptid’s form.

A face -one reminiscent of a certain teenage boy-was cast in a hard white, shell-like substance, face twisted in anger, with lines drawn deeper and bumps drawn out as ridges.  It was also, I had to notice, larger across than an unfolded umbrella.A metal ring that reminded me of the external headwear for his braces stuck out of the mask and plunged into the side of his head, almost as if it was fixing the mask in place.  Where his curly hair was usually pushed back by headphones, so hair was very close to head between brow and headphone band, the head of the form was striated slightly.

Definitely him.

He was big, built like a truncated caterpillar or tardigrade.  His skin was translucent, but given the lighting, with only the loading bay below really lit, the translucence mostly meant that the inside seemed very dark and only the edges that had more material to catch the light really appeared as pale as they were.

With flight and an eye for timing things to avoid revealing myself to the people on the ground, I skipped about two hundred feet to get from my building to Cryptid’s.

A caterpillar with a giant head, some shell, and short limbs that I could now see were bristling with weapons.  Claws and growths like barnacles surrounded the lower limbs, giving them a great deal of character compared to the expanses of translucent flesh.

He raised a clawed,  barnacle-crested hand in greetings.

Discs mounted on his two frontmost shoulders flickered on.

Projections of Ashley and Rain.

Here with us in spirit?  Or would they struggle through bad latency and being outside of Kenzie’s service area?

A masked Swansong walked with her hands clasped behind her back to get to the rooftop’s edge.  Depending on how the light hit her, her hologram nature would be more or less apparent.

Precipice, short-haired and only wearing a machine mask over his face, stepped back and looked up at Cryptid.

“You’re one weird guy,” Precipice said.

Cryptid put a clawed hand out.  It waggled in a so-so gesture.

“Cryptid,” I said.  “You’re weird as fuck.”

He shook his head, made the gesture again.

“It’s not the weird part,” Precipice said.  “He’s saying… iffy on the one?  Or on the guy part.”

That last one got an affirmative nod from Cryptid.

Cryptid stretched, craning his body to one side.  Translucent body distended, and insides pushed up against the skin.

In those insides, with the dim light, I could faintly make out dark shapes.  Misshapen skulls with almost circular mask-like faces at the front filled whole tracts of his insides.  Some had rings running through them like the greater form did, but at different angles and in different places.  As I looked, the skulls moved.

Tiny hands pressed up against the sides of his tardigrade body.  Dozens of them.

I found myself squirming, just seeing it.  They were sharp fingers, too.  They pushed at his flesh and the points threatened to cut through, spilling out the contents.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Precipice said.  “No.  No, sorry.  Call me if you need me.”

With that, the projection winked out of existence.  The camera that had been floating where the head was returned to Cryptid’s shoulder.

“Cryptid,” I said.  “This form-”

“Heads up!” Kenzie reported.  I heard a voice in the background.  “Okay, no, not you.  My team!  Heads up!  Capricorn is just now arriving and he’s wanting to blitz right away.  Give him reasons not to or he’s going to jump in.”

There was no reason not to let him jump in.  He knew well enough not to attack Error, with the risk.

I was ready to fly in- my feet momentarily left the ground, before finding it again.  I turned to Cryptid.

“Do not, under any, any circumstance, give birth to whatever those things are.  Not on this battlefield.”

He bristled, puffing up.

“We need this to go well,” I said.  “Please.”

He shifted position, bringing his rear end forward, settling down into the slouching kind of sit that some dogs and cats managed, when their construction didn’t normally allow for that degree of slouch.

Settling in to do nothing, it seemed.

I left it at that, because I had to.  I gave Swansong a small smile as I passed her.

I saw Etna reacting with a measure of panic as the heroes came in.  She backed up toward the loading bay door where there was more cover, separating herself from the other villains and their mooks.

There were guns, but guns drew attention.  It was attention from Fume Hood, who gassed the heaviest concentrations, attention from me.

Calm, collected.  If we were going to pull this off-

We had to do this right.

I hated how much I sounded like my mother in my own head, when I thought that.

The effect on the scene was little different from the old cowboy movies, when the convoy passed through a valley, only for the valley entrances and exits to be blocked, rocks pushed over.  In those scenes, the attackers appeared at the fringes, on either side of the valley, attacking from established, fortified positions.

So it was here.  Attacks from alleys and from rooftops.  They were surrounded.

Cleat balled up into a mass of spiked armor, then moved all at once, with a speed that surprised me.

Not him.  It wasn’t his power.

The path he traveled had a logic to it- it wasn’t a straight line.  It was a curve.

Nearly invisible in the gloom, with no lights shining on that specific area, Trial had thrown chain to Cleat, and now Cleat was his wrecking ball.

Massive, crushing swings raked through building faces and toward the good guy capes.

Cleat came around again, whipcrack fast.

This time I was the focus of the strike.  It came at me, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to run.

In that same moment, Error hit me.

Even an accidental deflect could send that wrecking ball into ten or more people, with how Error’s power worked.

I tried to fly out of the way, and I knew I couldn’t.

A hand at my shoulder adjusted my flight path.  A yank pulled me away from the human-sized flail.  I landed on my back, the impact traveling through my arm to the bullet wound.  Concrete below me, Sveta knelt above me.  the sky was dark, and it smelled like violence.  People approached, coming after me.

Fume Hood lurked nearby, her hands out, three shiny spheres the size of billiard balls floating around her hands.  She let them fly their courses, each one rocketing into a dense collection of the villains before detonating into a cloud of gas.

Error was focused on someone else again, no heavy pressure settling around me.  It freed me to deal with Cleat.  Foxtrot was closing in around Trial, but her ability to appear at random or at strategic points close by her target didn’t really jibe with the fact that Trial was swinging his teammate around him, clearing a forty-foot radius around himself of anyone with any measure of self preservation.

I rose up into the air, ready to meet it.

I had one shot, for best effectiveness.  I watched as the wrecking ball made its rotation, hit a wall, and then bounced off with almost more momentum than before.

He was manipulating the chain to make it so Cleat could be swung, keeping it out of my reach.

Foxtrot closed in on him, narrowing her range for harassment.  One appearance to his left, ducking beneath the swinging chain.  She kicked him in the back of the leg, then the small of his back.  She had a weapon in hand-

She was elsewhere.  Swinging-

And stopping.  Errors influence, no doubt.  Foxtrot couldn’t follow through without danger.

Balance found, back now straight, he swung the Cleat-ball in one rotation, counter-clockwise.  A second rotation.  A thir-

Cleat hurtled toward me as Trial used other chains to lunge in my direction, putting the flail on course to hit me.

This time my timing was right- no confusing changes in direction.  Just hitting that cape-turned-weapon with everything I had, aura-wise.

Cleat uncurled, yet still flew toward me.  He’d lost his grip on the chain.  He’d carry forward, bounce off of things, and maim or kill everyone he contacted.

I threw up the wretch, and I caught him, full-bodied, the Wretch’s arms, the Wretch’s chest and faces.  The impact made a sound that was almost enough to deafen me.  The spikes scraped against my armor on their way down.

He hit the ground, tried to rise up, and then stumbled, landing on hands and knees.

Etna, having retreated, was now faced with a huge numbers disadvantage, with no help from her peers.  A surrender.

Crested was a mix of offense and defense, but he was up against capes who were pure offense or pure defense.  Fume Hood blasted him, and as our guys backed away to safer ground that was free of the noxious gas, Crested had no such option.

But Trial and Error- that was a team that was tough to crack.

People closed in, but we had dealt some damage to ourselves, thanks to Error.  Nobody wanted to be the next to hurt a friend or alienate a potential ally with an attack turned the wrong way.

“We had this,” Shortcut said, behind me.

“You still have it,” I said, watching Error and Trial.  “It’s yours.”

“We might not be able to beat them, but they’ll have a hell of a time fighting us,” Shortcut said.  “They go to any contacts, any place they think is safe, we’re on them.  They want to go home?  We’ll be after them.  We will win because they- because crime does not have a place in this world.

I felt that crime as a whole was taking root too easily to be so easily dismissed.  That we couldn’t deal with Trial and Error was another problem.

We had the power, but not the means to use it.

“Cryptid is saying he could climb to a point above them and unload his cargo on their heads.  Nonlethal,” Kenzie reported, over coms.

“Let’s not,” Capricorn said, within earshot of me.

Sveta joined us.

Above us, Cryptid crawled along rooftops, peering down.  Beside us, Spright was talking to Shortcut.

We had them cornered, but there was no way to follow through.  Not when Error could turn a simple action like an execution-style shot, into something more risky for someone in the area.

I glanced at the damaged residential buildings.  Not a soul, no lights, all dark.  It looked like we’d evacuated fine – the contents of rooms exposed to the world looked fairly fine.

“Just take the vans away and they lose,” I said.

At my statement, some people headed to the overlong vans, climbing into the driver’s seats.

If they won’t fight alongside us, we’ll take away the rewards and satisfaction.

One of the trucks started up.

Trial rose up, using chains to climb.  Sveta grabbed two.  Capricorn created his motes.  Chris- he burbled, I supposed.

I checked the coast was clear, and then I brought the Wretch out.

The associated emotions were heavy, a weight on my shoulders.  But he lashed out and I deflected.  I felt Error’s power take hold of me and dodged instead of fighting back, and I felt a measure of triumph as someone else took my place on the defensive line.

We were working more as a collective now.  Trading off, being aggressive, being different, without judgment.  This was what I wanted this organization to be.  It would take tuning.

I slowly turned up my aura while I stared down Trial.  Error was in the background, ready to act, but she wasn’t sticking anything on me because I wasn’t doing anything.  Not as far as she could tell- my aura didn’t reach her.

I stared down Trial.  The second truck started up.  Both started to make their limping way away from the scene.  Trial wore a metal mask that covered the upper half of his face and some of his chin.  It exposed enough that I could see his expression change, as his prize drove away.

He could fight us and do okay at it, but it was mostly a stalemate, as long as he and Error were the tag team they were supposed to be.   Like this, however, he got nothing.

People like him would get nothing.

“Fine,” he said.  “You win.”

“Thank you,” I replied, as coldly as I was able.  The audience watched with careful eyes.  One or two might have had phones out to gather evidence, now switched to video mode to track anything particular.

“You got the cargo.  Let us go.”

“Not going to happen,” Capricorn answered.

“You can’t beat us, not without paying a price,” Trial growled.

“If you want to pull an all-nighter,” Shortcut said, “I think we’ll have more friends turning up than you will.  You lost already.  Anything more is theater.”

“Oh, but I do like theater,” Spright said.

Shortcut and Spright were taking point now.  It was technically their arrest, and I didn’t care about jurisdiction.  I cared about word of mouth.

“This is what you’re wanting to do more regularly?” Sveta asked me, her voice quiet.  “It’s not bad, but…”

“This.  But more,” I said.  “Bigger targets, bigger numbers, more focus.”

I saw her nod.

“Which part are you nodding at?”

“Targets,” she said.  “Focus.  Mainly targets.  There are too many dangerous people out there who need to be put down or dealt with.”

Others who’d been lurking at the periphery were making their appearances.  We had our own cheats there.  Our two projections.  Chris.  The perimeter guard was now working to pressure the villains.

They had nowhere to go.  They were outnumbered ten to one.  They could fight and they could make the arrests hurt, but there would be costs.

We’d won.  They would cave before anything else.  I’d use my power again in a moment.

For now, we’d let them be stubborn.

“You want bigger?” Capricorn asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“‘Bigger’ can mean different things,” Rain said.

“In this case?” I asked.  I lowered my voice until it was barely audible.  “We might need enough in the way of power, people, resources, and tools to defeat a Goddess.”

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53 thoughts on “Beacon – 8.6”

  1. Fun cape fight. Even when the heroes have the advantage, there are a lot of tense moments.

    Do we know what Kite does?

  2. “I gestured, and she thrwe out a hand, which I had to fly over to intercept and catch.”
    ”thrwe” –> threw.

    1. I gave them a wary look as they made their way to the ground, then around to what would be the ‘front’ the residential complex,
      -‘front’ of the

      It was also, I had to notice, larger across than an unfolded umbrella.A metal ring that
      -space

      “We might not be able to beat them, but they’ll have a hell of a time fighting us,” Shortcut said. “They go to any contacts, any place they think is safe, we’re on them. They want to go home? We’ll be after them. We will win because they- because crime does not have a place in this world.
      -unquote

    2. The phrase “Our two projections” is used near the end – after Rain/Precipice bows out. Is he recalled off-screen (from Victoria’s perspective)?

    3. “…and stopping. Errors influence…”
      -Error’s.

      “It looked like we’d evacuated fine – the contents of rooms exposed to the world looked fairly fine.”
      -Repetition of fine sounds slightly clunky.

  3. We need to see the skull-babies in action, very soon. Cryptid’s form this episode seemed similar to Crawler’s? Does the similarity really not bother Antares? She seems eager to mention other things that bother her.

  4. Oh. Chris. What a delightful form. Reminds me of sunshine and happiness. Please never use that form again.

    On a different note, it seems like Antares is really cracking against the prison assault and who Goddess could possibly want from the prison. Which is potentially very dangerous considering that we have definitely several notable threats from within the prison itself. We have Cradle/Love Lost (I can’t remember which one is in the prison), who is gunning after Rain and wants him to suffer, not to mention Seir and irredeemable Fallen who are none too happy with Rain’s little coup against them. We also have Monokeros who is going to be one happy mommy to get her hands on Chris or Kenzie, then promptly murder them. Ankle bombs are all over the prison, meaning we could have a feet all over the place. Other Ashley’s allegiances aren’t necessarily in line with Swansong, so problems might arise there. All in all, one wrong move can lead to a giant clusterfuck of shit happening. Something is going to go horrifically wrong with Prison Break Assault and it’s only a matter of what the hell happens.

    1. Goddess wants the WHOLE prison cape population. Her whole bit is using her power to take over a population of capes that she then uses for world domination. I’m certain that’s what the paper Victoria snatched from the cabin with Kingdom Come was about. The list of cape concentrations was either information that could be used to predict her targets so that she could be captured/taken out or she is the mastermind behind all of this and the information is for her direct use.

      1. So I’m thinking that Leon/Taz Durbin’s under-the-table tenant was Goddess, then? Good call by Antares on the unusual development of the corona pollentia: definitely a master.

        1. Perception / filter for perception — I mean, it’s imprecise, but it doesn’t sound very master (Unless she perceives their)

          IDK I reckon that was a flunky.

          1. If that’s not what we’re supposed to conclude, I don’t know why this is in that passage:

            “Yeah,” I said. I still considered for a moment longer. “What if she’s a master, and that’s… whatever control system she needs to manage her minions? See, hear, coordinate?”

        2. You don’t go around being a planetary ruler calling yourself Goddess and do that sort of thing personally. If the operation was hers she’d have sent her minions, and I’m still inclined to suspect the whole operation was by Teacher. Firstly because he’s known to have access to Tinker powers relating to portals, and secondly because the portal attack would’ve scattered and possibly killed a bunch of powerful capes fairly indiscriminately. She’d want to seize control of them, and if she was clearing the way for that she’d want to preferentially target Valkryie and other high-power capes with abilities that let them resist Masters.

    2. Don’t think Monokeros would be interested in Chris. The children she killed were heroines between eight and fifteen years old, because she wanted to take… Something from them. Success or beauty, she thinks.

      1. Way I read it, they wanted to join her “team” that she was rumored to be starting up. She saw them as competition and removed them.

        1. I think the team was bait; she spread the rumors to draw in her preferred targets so she could kill them more easily.

  5. It feels like Victoria is carrying some remnant of Khepri with her. Same theme; “If only we could just work together instead of all this stupid division.”

    Of course, Taylor simply wasn’t the kind of person who could make that happen for real – she could only use her power.

    Maybe Victoria is? Or maybe this story is, in part, about her becoming that person.

    1. “Of course, Taylor simply wasn’t the kind of person who could make that happen for real – she could only use her power.”

      Taylor did a half decent job of getting more heroes to fight the S9K. It wasn’t a lot, definitely not on Victoria’s level, but she did convert Mockshow and she got the Undersiders to help out. It could have gone better, but at the same time it could have gone a lot worse too.

  6. Foxtrot’s power is awesome. Do all the Kings of the Hill have a canid motif?

    And Cryptid was awesome, too. Even if we didn’t see his murder babies. I think that shape’s a Fear one, like Mad Anxiety. Based solely on the fact it’s got a massive face. I wonder what he calls it, and what its Happy version is. I hope he’s not too badly hurt by the double transformation, though.

      1. I don’t think so. Fear and Happy are both core shapes, with others branching off. Mad Anxiety is on the Fear branch, and Wan Indulgence and that Peace one are ‘Happy’. Fear seems to feature big faces, hence my speculation, and Happy are mostly humanoid, if odd.

  7. So what was the plan with the holos of Swansong and Precipice? Confusion via force in numbers?

    Also, countdown to when the Chekhov’s Nightmare Fuel of Cryptid’s Skull Minions Form will be fired?

    1. I’m sure that was part of it, but the main motivation was probably to boost Ashley and Rain’s morale by helping them feel involved. Plus having them riding along with Cryptid means they can be his voice, particularly if he spooks a friendly who doesn’t know him and assumes he’s an enemy.

  8. The shards are coded for conflict, but they *are* part of a greater whole. Perhaps theres a cooperation drive as well as a conflict drive? That would help explain Kiss/Kill.

    1. From what I remember, the worms were pretty much locked in a constant loop of dimensional-worldwide civil war due to overpopulation and ressource starvation before they agreed on transgalactic diaspora as better odds of propagation, and consuming each other so they survive the explosive process.
      The whole species has a kiss/kill thing.

  9. “In trying to get my parents to talk about Amy, the Wretch had typed out one word, asking for the story we’d never really gotten to hear in full.”

    I just realized that the Wretch is Vic externalizing the part of her that Amy modified… not just the physical, but the mental and emotional, too. The Wretch is the part of her in love with Amy.

  10. I’m just sitting here waiting for the CRYPTID BABY DUMP. BOOYAAAaaaah…oh. They’re actually kind of cuDEAR LORD WHERE DID THAT GUY’S FACE GO!?!?

  11. Wow, Cryptid is fucking scary.

    I know what their theme could be: Toeing the line between hero and horrible monster. For most people those are, far far apart, but for them its one small slip.

    Victoria: Needs to use the wretch, but not have it tear anyone’s head off. Also must avoid accidentally brainwashing anyone. Again.
    Chris: He has an Echidna-lite form. I think we’re done here.
    Tress: If she takes too much damage she turns into a ball of murder-death.
    Lookout: Unable to see the line between acceptable phone use and going full 1984. This was before she had her powers.
    Ashley: Has a powerful urge to murder people. Also she can’t control her insanely deadly power.
    Rain: Seriously, he already kinda-killed a guy on accident. I suspect he’ll have bigger problems after he gets the Goddess treatment.

    Recommendation for Villains fighting Breakthrough: Their main weakness is accidentally atrocity potential. Run. Run very, very fast. Maybe set something on fire as you go for distraction purposes. If that doesn’t work surrender.

  12. Shortcut making his weirdly idealistic comment about crime doesn’t pay…huh, is this a side to him we just haven’t seen because he latched onto Victoria and decided she was his enemy? Is it a black/white thing?

  13. I honestly thought this chapter was going to end up with the heroes flat out killing Trial and Error and co. for their willingness to kill civilians as part of their getaway plan.

    I know it’s probably not in line with the whole warrior monk ethos that V is working on but just taking the trucks back and arresting them seems like the opposite of the vibe I was getting from the last chapter.

    1. I think the main thing was showing that if you violate the unwritten rules all avaliable capes come down on you like a ton of bricks. It’s been maybe an hour and they’re facing triple the cape count they’d been last chapter. If they’d cut and run rather than threatening civilians they’d be consoling themselves with beer by now.

      1. And in some ways that’s even scarier than being killed. “Oh you think you can be tough by breaking the rules? That you warrant us disregarding them to stop you? Sorry but we can destroy you without breaking the rules. You are to small to warrant us comprimising our morals.”

  14. I like this chapter. We had some classic superheroing, and it felt like a good blow against the villains. Plus, Chris, who might have my favorite power in all of the Wormverse.

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