There was a growing feeling of satisfaction as people got underway with their days and messages started coming in. Steelmasons were starting patrols near the devastated old Wardens HQ. Auzure was resuming business as normal, but as they got things done they hoped to be able to spare their people. Shorewatch was just setting up at their HQ- they’d been on a break since the portal attack and were just getting into the swing of things.
Shorewatch’s situation wasn’t so dissimilar from us. We’d taken a break to reel, to attend to our individual group members. Sveta, Tristan and I were in headquarters early in the day, the place was clean, and the whiteboards that had been wiped clean were filling up again.
More messages, and it was a two-for-one this time. Rushdown and Royale were reporting in. They weren’t a team so much as they were a pair, but they operated from the same area of the city as Houndstooth’s Kings. They’d emailed a report they were starting their day closer to noon, with the intent of going after some people who had been trying to stir up riots. There was an outside chance those people were Cheit’s provocateurs. They also included a report on behalf of the Kings of the Hill.
Houndstooth hadn’t mentioned that he’d be doing that, but I could understand it, kind of. One degree of separation. Lookout couldn’t hack people. This enabled his team to communicate with us without discomfort.
I saw the first message from people that hadn’t been at the meeting. They hadn’t used the email format I’d requested, and they called themselves The Major Malfunctions. There were also several glaring typos, to the point I was suspicious that non-capes or villains had found our word-of-mouth setup and were toying with us.
A painfully slow search online brought up some images of kid heroes with terrible costumes. They’d been small timers before Gold Morning, small town ‘heroes’ who’d rotated between three middle-of-nowhere towns in North Dakota looking for villains or criminals. Four years of activity and they hadn’t found any.
It would have been easy to dismiss them, or to disparage them. They had dropped out of school to be heroes and had no wins. The lack of education was clear in the spelling errors. It worried me a bit that their referral had come from ‘Super Magic Dream Parade’, the loopy team from Boston, who had apparently heard about what we were doing and passed on word.
The Major Malfunctions were teenagers now and they’d been kids when they’d triggered. They’d stayed heroes across six years, and they’d stayed together.
That had to count for something.
I took a minute to fix the errors and formatting, then dragged the email over to the tracking program. It was the same program the Patrol Block had used, but I’d filed off the serial numbers and gone into the code to change the names of some labels.
I sent them a reply. We’d use their help if they were free.
I wasn’t even done with looking over the next entry when the Majors replied, excited and incomprehensible.
“How’s it going?” Tristan asked. He stood by a whiteboard. It looked like he was sketching out the prison complex. He’d worn the non-armor part of his costume beneath his jacket, and now had the skintight top and jeans. It wasn’t the textured pattern of the usual under-the-armor bodysuit, which would allow the texture to peek through the gaps between armor. It was just black.
He’d painted his hair again, though. Orange-red. Stiff rolls, curls and waves locked in place with glue-like hair product.
“We’re getting responses. People are talking about what they’re doing, they’ll fill us in if they get answers and they’ll open it up to the rest of us if they end up with questions. Do you know these kids, uh, Major Malfunctions?”
“No,” he said.
“Sveta?” I asked.
“Hm?” she looked up from her computer.
She looked nice. Beaded necklaces were looped around and below the more rigid part of the collar that was her neck. Her top was a very summery sort, a hooded crop-top that was torn, not cut, at the neck and sleeves. Tan with a bold blue-green lizard on it. Her pants were a little less loose and casual than her usual. Her wig was brushed and her tattoo at her cheek was left uncovered by makeup.
She’d gone shopping. A selfish part of me felt left out- I would’ve wanted to take her shopping, do that as a thing together, but Tristan had prodded her to talk about what was making her feel awkward, and clothes and body were apparently off the table.
Just business and safe topics then. “I wanted to ask if you were familiar with Major Malfunctions? They’re a team.”
“I don’t know them.”
“Okay. They’re hard to get a read on. Zero experience despite putting in the years. Odd histories.”
“Yeah, heard from an old acquaintance, that’s all,” Sveta said, giving me a tight smile. She had to work her fingers into the right position before hitting the key combination to take her computer to the log-in screen. She shut the computer.
Not yeah, I thought.
“We can talk about it if you want.”
“Let me digest it first,” she said. “Catch me up?”
She and I both walked over to the point roughly between my setup and Tristan’s.
“I’m thinking about the prison,” Tristan said. He stabbed a marker at the series of squares and lines that depicted the prison. “To get there, you have to travel to one portal, which is about twenty-five minutes away from the city, and then you have to travel for another twenty minutes to get to the next portal. That one’s where the guards and security are. That’s without the time it takes to reach the first portal. It’s deliberately set out of reach. What are our options?”
I folded my arms. “The obvious option is that we enable Kenzie because she’s exactly what we need in this situation, we exacerbate her issues and ignore problematic behavior, and we regret it down the road.”
“Obvious but not ideal,” Sveta said.
“We have reason to believe they’re watching- which would be hard, or they infiltrated the prison with the aim of going after Goddess- we assumed staff.”
“They have more ability to communicate with the outside world than prisoners do,” Sveta said. “Though they did let Rain and Ash have laptops and phone access.”
“Limited,” Tristan added, “And monitored.”
“Code?” Sveta asked.
“Could be,” I said. “But staff seems more likely. Staff can drug, make promises, open doors, manipulate.”
Sveta nodded, her eyes widening. “It’s scary to think about. Remember how vulnerable people were at the hospital? If someone had caught me at the wrong time with a few kind words, I could have believed anything. I think some of the Irregulars fell into that trap.”
“Okay,” Tristan said. “We keep an eye on the staff?”
I shook my head.
“The question isn’t whether we do. I think it makes sense. The question is if we can do it while keeping Kenzie out of trouble. We need to do this surveillance without handing a ridiculous amount of work to an eleven year old that’s already prone to overworking herself.”
“Agreed,” Sveta said. “Did we make any contacts that might be able to help with thinker powers?”
“I can’t think of any big ones from the people who replied already, but we’re getting a lot of responses and it’s only, what, nine?” I got a nod of confirmation and carried on, “The prison being isolated is a double-edged sword. The staff need to sleep, they have families, homes to go back to, and they have commutes.”
“If they’re out of reach at the prison, we get them when they’re elsewhere,” Tristan said. “See if they arrange any meetings.”
I smiled a little. “Yeah.”
“It’s a lot of people,” Sveta said. “And you want to do it without Kenzie?”
“If we’re going to make her happy or find a safe way for her to hero, for both workload and this frontline role she really wants, I don’t think it’ll involve her maintaining a thousand surveillance operations.”
“So we have a thousand surveillance operations to manage some other way?” Tristan asked.
I couldn’t help but notice the way he’d asked it. Was he disappointed that I was trying to steer us away from leaning on our tinker?
“We’ve got some responses. We can whittle down the list, rule some people out.”
“Who do we have?” he asked.
I led them over to my computer, showing them the program and the responses.
One of the most powerful parahumans we know of on one side, a hostile and nebulous force on the other, and a prison filled with some of the most irredeemable and unfortunate of us in the middle.
I went over the people I’d already seen the responses from, from the Steelmasons to the Major Malfunctions, and I was just getting into the message from Dream Parade when the fire escape rattled.
Our kid team members. They were noisy as they let themselves in, because they were mid-argument. Natalie was a short distance behind them. She ducked her head in a kind of greeting-apology, lingering at the door.
Kenzie’s hair wasn’t in the two buns, but was instead parted to one side, glossy and still with the pin. Today was a blue heart day, it seemed. She wore a blue sweater-dress with a glittery texture, pink tights, and a pink shirt with a folded collar that poked through the collar of her sweater.
Chris, by contrast, looked a little worse for wear, with circles under his eyes. Under his jacket, he wore a horizontally-striped shirt of black and green. He wore torn jeans and a leather fanny pack. It was the kind of nice fanny pack that suggested maybe a nod toward fashion or a kind of effort, but it was a fanny pack. They were never going to be cool.
Where Kenzie had adjusted her hair, Chris was in usual form – the external rigging for his braces, and the headphones with the bar of the headphones pushing the hair at the top of his head flat against his scalp, so the curls only really went wild at the back. Pockets were full, the fanny pack was full, and he carried a bag heavy enough that his usual slouch was worse.
Natalie, meanwhile, wore the jacket I’d seen her in before, as well as a black button-up under a gray business jacket, with black slacks. If the belt hadn’t also been black, it would’ve worked nicely. Her forehead creased in worry.
I beckoned for her to come in. She had to edge past the two younger members of the group.
“You can do the costume thing!” Kenzie was saying. “Not just stealing my camo. I have to recharge that stuff.”
“The costume thing you’re talking about would be exactly the same.”
“But it would be your costume, not my camo.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Chris said. To us, he said. “She doesn’t make sense.”
“I don’t make sense? Do you want to share with the class what you told me when I had to go looking for you at the train station?”
“We were late,” Chris said. “I had a health issue. I don’t know what her excuse is.”
“The people who are looking after me hogged the bathroom! I didn’t even get to do my hair!”
“I can talk to them,” Natalie said.
“It’s fine, mostly. I could deal if I could just adjust, but it’s different people or mixes of people with different ways of doing stuff,” Kenzie said. “You can’t talk to them about that. It’s just the way it is.”
“I’ll talk to them about mixing schedules,” Natalie said. “This is solvable.”
“Your hair looks nice,” I said.
“Thank you. It makes me feel anxious. Anyway! I got to the station late and he was off in my direction, so we were going to catch the train together, but he wasn’t there. And he comes out of the bathroom and-”
“You asked if I wanted to share with the class, and I can’t get five words out before the digressions and you start telling the story for me.”
“You weren’t telling! And, um, if you’re not comfortable telling, that’s okay. But if you are and you’re slinging mud at me instead, I’m just going to tell it.”
“I’ll tell it,” he said. “Apparently taking on a form with a thousand and five hundred angry foetal grubs crammed inside it gets messy. I changed back to normal, but I guess the foetal grubs didn’t all vacate. I had a slurry of their bits in my guts.”
I could see Natalie visibly pale.
“That’s a good reason to not use that form again,” Capricorn said. “That was horrifying.”
“It’d be fine if I’d evacuated while I was still Brooding Anger,” Chris said, giving me a look. “But I was told not to. By someone who isn’t really official leader.”
I was careful as I articulated myself, “A thousand grubs inside you. They had fangs and claws-”
“Technically they were part human, part grub. I think.”
“You said they were nonlethal,” I said. I frowned. “Chris, I don’t believe you.”
“They would have listened to me, after,” Chris said. “I think? Instinctual listening.”
I shook my head. “No.”
“No sounds good,” Natalie echoed me, her voice soft.
“Let’s not terrorize people too much,” Tristan said. “That thing was horrifying.”
“That thing was me. Anyway, I’m done talking about this.”
He tossed his bag onto the table by his favorite chair, then removed the fanny pack. It joined the bag.
He gave me a hard look when we made eye contact. With everyone going to their workstations, only Sveta and I lingering, I opted not to bug Chris.
I headed over to talk to Kenzie. Natalie followed, because safeguarding Kenzie was her job. It seemed like a conflict of interest, given our prior arrangement, but I imagined the pool of people who could be told Kenzie’s identity as Lookout was narrow, and the system was overloaded.
“Sorry to hear your caretakers left you frazzled,” I said.
“They’re super nice, and I trust them,” Kenzie said. “I think whenever hero stuff comes up, they don’t know what to do, so they give up. It’s like in books when a girl says she has woman troubles and the adult guy gets flustered and gives her whatever she wants, except I don’t think that happens in real life. How do you end up forty and not know basic stuff?”
“Uh huh,” I said. “There was a seventeen year old in my Patrol Block who didn’t know the ordering of the alphabet after T. You’d be surprised.”
“Well, it seems problematic to not know how hero and villain stuff works,” Kenzie said.
“I don’t think anyone knows,” Natalie said.
“The basics, though,” Kenzie said, as she typed at her keyboard. “Is it okay if I bring Rain and Ash over here?”
“Bring?” Natalie asked.
“Projections,” Kenzie said. “Basically a prettied up video call. It lets them be here, even though they’re really over there looking at their laptops.”
“It’s fine,” I said.
Kenzie nodded enthusiastically. She began working.
Two cameras came to life. They floated to different heights above the ground. Then the dark sides of the big projector box came to life, and the images appeared, frozen in space.
“When you said projections, I thought they’d be see-through or flickering,” Natalie said. “They look real.”
“Almost,” Kenzie said. “Calling.”
There was a beep, and Rain’s projection started moving. The physical movements below the neck were fairly generic, but the faces seemed true to life.
“I wish I had a better idea of what my body was doing,” Rain said.
“Welcome to my life,” Sveta said.
“I can’t tell if you’re joking. If you’re not, I’m really sorry.”
“I’m joking, don’t worry,” she said. “Dark joke, but hey.”
Ashley’s projection took on a semblance of life. She looked around.
Tristan was the one who started us off. “People are interested. We’re lining up help, and what we’re thinking is we’ll use that help to track prison staff when they’re outside of the prison- especially those who are making suspicious movements. Any clues you can give us help.
“This kind of tracking sounds extreme,” Natalie said.
I answered, “Standard cop-style surveillance. Lots of waiting. No peeking in windows, no trespassing on property. If they go for a drive late at night, we have a flier or speedster track them. Maybe thinkers poke their heads in.”
“Okay,” Natalie said. She considered for a moment. “How do you enforce this if it’s hired help?”
“If they screw around or bend the rules, we cut them off,” Ashley said.
“That,” I said. “We have reason to think the prison is compromised. The big heroes know about it, but we’re in an awkward position. It’s like trying to deal with someone planning on crashing a plane. It’s a lot harder to get them when they’re out of reach. If we can get them on the ground, though-”
“You fly,” Rain said.
“It’s an allegory, Rain,” Sveta said. “I’d punch you in the arm if you were here.”
“Anything you guys can give us helps,” I said. “Starting points, ways to narrow down who we’re looking at.”
“I talked to Crystalclear,” Rain said. “I tried, anyway, he wasn’t down for it. I said I knew you, and you’d fought together at the community center, but he didn’t believe me.”
“Makes sense,” Chris said. “You could be a thinker. Or an anything. If he was a hero, he might have enemies.”
“Yeah,” Rain said.
I mused for a second before saying, “I visited Fume Hood at the hospital, Tempera and Crystalclear were there. Later that night, I had Tempera help me with a kid in crisis – she would have told Crystalclear. The kid ended up going to Europe. He should be able to confirm where we’re at, then see what he has to say.”
“Got it,” Rain said.
“I have something too,” Ashley said. “Goddess is interested in the prison. Did you read her messages?”
“No,” Tristan said. “There’s no written record. She’s doing it through her people, who call or visit, because her actually showing up would be as good as an act of war. There are some notes here and there, for paperwork, and we can see emails going out asking for arbitration or help. She’s been interested since before the portal debacle, and she’s been getting impatient.”
“I got part of it,” Ashley said. “I had words with Monokeros. She mentioned this woman – must we call her Goddess?”
“We mustn’t,” Sveta said. “The woman in blue. The Dictator of Shin.”
“Calling her a dictator would be giving her too much respect. This blue woman reached out to Monokeros. It’s part of why she wants to come here. She wants her, and she wants some specific others- all of us, I’m sure, if she can get us, but she was apparently asking if the Mathers bitch was at this prison.”
“Shit,” Rain said. “No. Mama Mathers?”
“Yes,” Ashley said.
“She wants mind controllers?” I asked.
“She might not have control over Shin,” Sveta said. “She has this power that makes capes willing to serve her-”
“One of her many powers,” I added.
“But she was pulled out of her world just like everyone else. Her lieutenants were pulled out of her world. No more capes to control things – we don’t know how the population reacted.”
“Riots,” Chris said. “It’d have to be.”
“She can’t go back until she has the means of seizing control. She hasn’t come after Gimel to take that because…” Sveta trailed off.
“She’s missing something,” I said. “Or she was injured in the final fight, or… there’s some stipulation on how her powers work or how she maintains a balance where she’s a multitrigger like Rain but with top tier powers across the board.”
“Or,” Capricorn said. “She knows it would mean war between her world and ours, and we have more capes. Her civilians might outnumber our civilians, but they hate her. There’s no loyalty. She took over her world and it was a hostile occupation.”
“I was wearing the eye camera,” Ashley said. “I talked to Monokeros after I said goodnight to Kenzie. You didn’t watch?”
“No,” Kenzie said. “Should I have?”
“Don’t,” Ashley said. “Pretend it doesn’t exist, as a favor to me. Someone else in the group should watch it. Sveta, I trust you. Victoria. But not Chris or Kenzie.”
“I’m being lumped in as one of the kids now?” Chris asked. “If I hadn’t been strongarmed into keeping my womb to myself last night, I’d have kids. Probably. I think some of the hardier ones would have lasted.”
I saw Natalie suppress a shiver.
“It’s private, and I’m saying no.”
“I don’t like being left out,” Kenzie was quiet as she said it.
“Please. I’ll make it up to you,” Ashley said.
“Make it up to me by getting out of prison sooner,” Kenzie said.
“Okay. I’ll try.”
“Keep doing what you’re doing, guys,” Tristan said. “Twist Crystalclear’s ear, Rain. Ashley, we’ll watch your video. Victoria was showing us a list of the people who’ve showed interest lately.”
“I think the other heroes are discouraged and frustrated too,” Sveta said. “It’s been a long time since we didn’t have the PRT or the Wardens as a thing we could turn to. They want a way to fill that void.”
“We’re not a replacement for the Wardens and we’re definitely not a replacement for the Protectorate,” I said, firm. “I don’t want to be that. It would be a complete and utter disaster. I want to change the rules we’re playing by.”
“We’ll try it,” Tristan said. “I’ve got, hm, nineteen minutes before I need to switch out. We divvy up people and groups and give them direction, Lookout- Kenzie, can you queue up the video for Rain, Sveta, Victoria and me? Then maybe use that program we had in Hollow Point. Not listening in on anyone directly, but tracking keywords and phrases.”
“Goddess, prison?” Kenzie asked.
“What do you think?” Tristan asked Natalie.
“I feel nervous saying yes to several things in a row,” Natalie said.
“Are we reasonably sound here?”
“Let me look at the list of words you come up with after.”
“Great. Chris? Take it easy, we’ll have you running errands later. And if you have to go, find a discreet place in nature to do it. I don’t want you destroying our toilet by filling it with tiny bones or whatever.”
“I can feel the love,” Chris said.
“I like you fine,” Tristan replied. “I like our security deposit too.”
“Everyone has their tasks,” Ashley said.
“Mine’s apparently to not shit in the toilet,” Chris said.
“Yours is to wait, conserve energy, be ready to change to something convenient so you can go talk to people or run recon, and stop being a nuisance,” Ashley said.
“Yeah, alright,” Chris said. “I’m going to go for a walk to find a spot of nature so I won’t have any distractions later. Maybe it’ll get me closer to normal sooner.”
“Good luck,” Kenzie said.
As the group broke apart, there was immediate decision-making to be had. Sveta wanted to go talk to the misfits, individuals, and the ones who seemed more like the ‘true blue’ types. It seemed like a fair balance, difficult misfits and easier heroes.
For Capricorn and I, it was a question of who we thought we could get along with or communicate with more easily. Some consideration was given to the fact I could fly and Capricorn had to travel a route on foot.
Kenzie had found the footage of Monokeros. As she moved through different areas of the apartment and Ashley’s activities therin, there were glimpses. Black haired, pretty, with numerous tattoos, with the most prominent being a bold triangle at her forehead.
The image stopped at a short-haired Ashley looking in the mirror, hands resting on the table just beneath that mirror.
“That’s fine,” I heard Ashley tell Kenzie.
“I’m going to go get stuff together,” Kenzie said. “Keep me company?”
Sveta and Tristan put down what they were doing to approach Kenzie’s workstation. The image of Rain was already nearby. I hit the spacebar.
Audio levels fluctuated as Ashley went from being on pause to moving.
The rooms were basic, built without much flourish and with basic materials. They had to be new, yet the floorboards creaked as Ashley walked. Her other half was in the kitchen, standing by two cups of tea- styrofoam cups, teabags still in.
She took her tea with a simple “thank you” and carried it out to the balcony.
I appreciated the view the eye-camera gave us. A glimpse of the prison from a higher point of view. I hadn’t been able to go up by the visitation rules. No thinker 1 power for me.
Ashley’s head turned. She looked down at the next balcony – a floor below, as close to the corner of the building as it could be without turning a right angle.
Monokeros. As glimpsed in the rewind.
“You tested me, Monokeros,” Ashley said.
“Monokeros,” the woman replied. “It’s always Monokeros. You can call me Kathlee.”
“I’m not going to do that.”
“You could even win points if you called me Unicorn.”
“I’m not interested in your points, Monokeros. You know what you did. Another person might report you to the authorities for the use of your power.”
Monokeros snickered. “You’d be a rat. That gets you in trouble with Llorona. It puts you on the bad side of everyone here. No, you have to be smarter than that.”
“I know. I have acquaintances, and I have very poor impulse control. You should know that every time you get close to me, there’s a chance I’ll come for you. From now on, if we’re in the yard, you keep your distance from me. If I come near you, you’ll scramble to get out of the way. If you’re sitting, you’ll stand and walk away.”
“If you try anything, you’ll hurt more than I do,” Monokeros said.
“If I try anything, your existence will end. You’re a child killer, Monokeros. You have no clout.”
“Don’t they say that if someone lives on in our hearts, they’re still with us? They say it when a family member dies, but when you use my diplomatic pull ability, draw them in, take them apart with delicacy, never sullying them, but working with an eye for beauty… and then watch the light go out of their eyes, slowly, slowly, slowly,” Monokeros luxuriated in her own words. “Mm. If you hold that moment more dear in your heart than any parent could hold onto the memories of their child, no, you’re a murderer. It’s death this time, the idea of holding onto memories is some kind of falsehood all of a sudden because the child is gone. Hypocrisy.”
“You call it diplomatic pull? No, Monokeros. You’re pathetic in every sense of the word.”
“I could do it to you now, if the monitor wouldn’t blow up,” Monokeros said. She backed away and shook one foot. “You’d adore me. I’d see glimpses of you as a person, more as time passed, until I understood you fundamentally. And even if you managed to push away the feeling of adoration for long enough to do something… you can’t touch me.”
“It’s an inane name, it doesn’t fit your theme.”
“Someone else disagrees, you know. I’ve had brief exchanges with her. Promises were made. She would make me something better, housemate. Higher class, wealthy, and she promised me an infinite supply of my drug of choice.”
“I don’t believe you. Communications don’t come and go that freely.”
Monokeros made an amused sound.
“Keep your fictional Goddess close then, and scramble to stay out of my way.”
“She’ll save you too. She’ll save all of us. Those who served her before she had that control will live lives of luxury.”
“You’d be her slaves. That’s her power.”
“I’d be her slave and I’d be beautiful beyond compare. She has a lieutenant who creates pods. Sensory deprivation and plastic surgery in one. She ran a whole world, and she’ll run it again. I could go anywhere, any country or city, and enjoy the sights, party, be waited on hand and foot.”
“And your victims? You pretended to set up a hero team and baited young heroes and heroines in, only to kill them.”
“They aren’t truly dead if they live on in our hearts, or in my heart. Haven’t you been listening?”
Ashley was silent for a long time.
“I like you, Ashley the second.”
“Swansong, if you must distinguish.”
“Ah, I have a fondness of using ‘the second’, ‘the third’, ‘the fourth’. I was the fourth Unicorn. There was a boy who applied to join my team. My second Paul. It’s like a way of keeping count as everything marches on.”
The view bobbed as Ashley nodded.
“As I said, I like you. It’s my habit to jab and cut when I like something, that’s all. Your friend? She’s not in any danger from me.”
“You’re a known liar, Monokeros. A deceiver. You were a spider drawing others into your web.”
“I was a unicorn, that every young child wants a few fleeting moments with. Wonder, awe, and the fantastical. And when they tell those stories in the children’s books, that’s so often where the story ends. Sometimes a quest, sometimes a moralizing about beauty or the nature of innocence, but most often it’s an end to that section and set of descriptions. Nobody writes an epic about the life lived after the unicorn is befriended. It’s the moment that matters.”
Ashley was silent.
“I don’t want your friend because she isn’t beautiful. I’m sorry, but she’s scuffed, and it’s on the face. I saw it when I got a glimpse of her. I can accept other scars, but I draw the line at the face.”
“The lines are showing in your own face, Monokeros,” Ashley said.
“Unkind,” Monokeros said, but there was a note of emotion in it.
“I might deal with that pod maker before he can fix those lines around the eyes. Maybe that would be fitting punishment for using your power on my friend.”
“There’s no need to make something so monumental over something so scuffed and small,” Monokeros said. She sounded irritated. “I’m saying I don’t want her. Ask any parent if they’d adopt her or the girl without the blemish. Ask any boy if he’d date a girl with a scar or one without. A toy unboxed and scratched is worth a tiny fraction of what it would be if left intact. Worth is objective. This is not complicated.”
“You have no eye for true beauty and worth, Monokeros,” Ashley said. “I can tell you that. I’d have her as a subordinate, teammate, or friend before I had anyone else. You’re blind.”
“Such cutting insults. I’d say it’s been a pleasure to chat, but I’d be lying. This whole conversation has been so tiresome,” Monokeros said. She retreated inside. Her voice was faint. “My kingdom, my kingdom, my kingdom, for a decent housemate.”
“You’ll have no kingdom if I can help it,” Ashley said, but she said it to herself. She turned away, and the view went dark as she reached up for the eye camera with clumsy hands.
Tristan hit the spacebar. The video froze.
“That’s a pretty good indicator of what we’re up against, then,” he said.
“There were hints,” Ashley said. In the background, Kenzie was with Natalie, drawing something on the whiteboard. Ashley’s projection had come our way. “Monokeros’ attitude, she seemed cavalier, she doesn’t keep secrets, she likes to tease, hint, bait. It led me to think she had an escape route.”
“Goddess,” I said.
“Yes,” Ashley said. There was a pause. “Kenzie.”
I turned to look. Sveta and Capricorn did too.
I saw Kenzie smiling.
“She listened- I didn’t realize until it was too late. My view isn’t as good as real eyes, like this.”
“I don’t get it,” Tristan said.
I made eye contact with Ashley- or with her projection.
“Watch her,” Ashley said to us, to me in particular. “My gut feeling is it wouldn’t take much.”
“I’ll try,” I said.