Beacon – 8.9

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I hurried over to my computer.  The setup I’d put together wasn’t really set up for a PR crisis, especially one revolving around us.  Some people had put in requests for info, with stuff wedged into the wrong fields.  Others had emailed us directly.

I shut my laptop.  That particular mutant could be tackled later.

“Kenzie-” I said.

“I didn’t do it,” Kenzie said, her eyes wide.  “I’ve been good.”

“I can count ten things you did that aren’t ‘good’ in the last week, and that’s without trying,” Chris said.

“I did?”

“Breaking into secured systems, watching people, tapping into phone lines…”

I glanced at Natalie.

“Oh.  That.  I was thinking more about the personal, relationship stuff,” Kenzie said.

“I’d be much more concerned with breaking the law,” Natalie said.  “I need to get caught up, apparently.  How much of this did you get permission for?  What secured systems?”

“I might be a little too frazzled to remember all of them,” Kenzie said.

“No documentation?” Chris asked.  “On top of having no timestamps?”

“Ease up,” Ashley told him, stern. “Not the time.”

“Sure.”

“Nobody’s given me a number, or even a ballpark estimate, for these breaches,” Natalie said, with a bit more incredulity in her voice.  “Someone explain.  Please.”

“It was in the interest of tracking the Cheit attackers and maintaining lines of communication with Ashley and Rain,” I said.  “We talked about some of this.”

Some was pretty concerning.  I was on the fence about that some,” Natalie said.  “If there was more than some, I’d have put my foot down.”

“Come, use my laptop,” I said.  “Look at my notes.”

I had to pause to open my laptop, a little annoyed that Natalie was making this a point now.  Too much to juggle, to then have her demanding attention and focus.

I appreciated it on a level, but still.

I lowered my voice, aware I was missing conversation between Kenzie and Ashley in the background as Natalie and I leaned over my computer.  I kept my voice quieter, “I detailed it as best I could here.  This is where we’re at, these are the justifications and issues.  Open-bracket-N-closed-bracket for Natalie, where we consulted.  Our peek into the prison’s inner workings is the worst breach, it caught us by surprise, but we consulted you after, we’re punishing her by restricting visits, and the Wardens and the Guild have signed off on the general thrust of this.”

“I’ll read,” Natalie said, terse.

I nodded, standing straight and looking back at the group, my computer and Natalie behind me.

“How does this affect us, if it’s the breaches, monitoring, and whatever?” Tristan asked.

“We can deal with it,” I said.  “We got ahead of the portal thing- we didn’t stop it entirely, but we kept it from being worse.  A lot of people were hooked into that.  The public would forgive the approach if we could prove results, I think, especially given Kenzie’s age and the bigger situation.”

“That’s optimistic,” Rain said.

“The number one priority-” I started.

“Is Kenzie,” Ashley cut in.

“Is- Yes,” I finished.  “Laws are vague, we’re helping.  They’re not going to burn her at the stake.  At worst, it’s a headache.”

“I’ll grudgingly agree with that,” Tristan said.  “Total agreement on the headache part.”

“We’ll help you, Kenzie,” I said.  “And I think if it’s that, we can deal.  If we get ahead of it and show we can do basic PR and that it won’t bounce back on anyone who interacts with us, the others will relax.

She smiled and nodded.

“Because it needs to be said, there are second, third priorities.  This situation with Goddess is explosive and dangerous.  Cheit is dangerous.  We absolutely cannot afford for this to tie our hands or we end up with an international incident, a prison break, or a potential enemy of Gimel recruiting a mess of our most dangerous and depraved parahumans to use against us.”

“Or all of the above,” Rain said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” Kenzie said.

“You don’t even know what crime or incident you’re apologizing for,” Chris said.  “Do we know what it is?”

“Yeah.  I’m sorry.  What am I sorry for?” Kenzie asked.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Tristan said.  He’d just dialed a number on his phone and was holding it to his ear.  “But your parents are in on it.”

“Oh,” she said.  She looked at me.

“How many things does that narrow it down to?” Chris asked.

“A few,” Kenzie answered, before giving a short laugh and smiling. “I’m kind of caught off guard.  Um.  The most obvious one is the… parental blackmail?  Is that the right word?”

“Extortion,” I said.

“Oh, a crime they might go after you for,” Chris said.

Kenzie looked at me.  “Is it?”

I winced.  “Harder to dismiss than the breaches, depending.”

“I’ve noticed how Kenzie asks Victoria for input on it being a problem instead of trusting me,” Chris was quiet.

“Feeling left out?” Kenzie asked, the smile dropping from her face as she took on a more serious, somber expression.  “I trust you, and I’m touched that you want to help.”

“Uh huh.  Regretting I said anything now.”  Much like how Tristan was on the phone, having retreated to the far corner of the room, blocking out our conversation with one hand on his other ear, Chris was turning to his laptop.

“I could go to jail,” Kenzie said it as if it was just dawning on her.  She sat back in her chair, the adjustable metal parts shaking audibly with the force of the movement.  Her eyes widened, and she turned to look at Ashley’s projection.

“No,” Ashley said, pre-emptively.

Kenzie’s eyes widened.  “I could go to your jail.”

“Oh geez,” Rain said.

“No,” Ashley repeated.  “It’s not worth it.”

“Silver linings, though.”

“You’d be put in another area, on another schedule.  You’d be close but probably wouldn’t ever interact.  And that’s if they put someone as young as you in that prison,” I said.  “I think they put most minors in the Wardens HQ, like Bonesaw.”

“Aww.  But it’s not there anymore, so maybe-”

“We’ll do everything we can to keep you out of jail,” Ashley said.  To the rest of the group, she said, “Victoria and I talked about this being something the Martins might do.”

I shook my head.  “It seemed like something that would come up as part of the tribunal.  It’s pretty easy to dodge being put away if you can come up with any excuses or reasonable doubt.  But they went with it.  When they didn’t, I figured they wouldn’t.”

“Maybe it’s something else?” Kenzie asked.  “I didn’t really talk about what I was doing with them, and they didn’t ask.  It’s not like they could go in my room without me knowing and find notes or anything to use against me, either.”

“I have no idea,” I said.  My eyes roved over the whiteboards.  “We’ll wait for Tristan to finish his call.  If it doesn’t pan out, I’ll call some people.”

“I’m looking into stuff too,” Chris said.

Kenzie smiled.  “Okay.  Thanks guys.”

I frowned.  “Do you want to step outside?  Chat in private?  Or ask something?  Do you need anything?”

“I’m good,” she said, smiling lightly.  “It’s stupid.”

“What’s stupid?” Ashley asked.

“Like, surprise, parents!  And I feel exactly like I’m eight years old again and I hear the car door close outside, and… afternoon cartoons are done.  Cool babysitter goes home.  I’d go to my room to do homework and stay out of the way.  And then, you know- I talked about this in the group, but then I end up either trying to be perfect or I’m not perfect and I’m anxious about it, but it’s never a good feeling.  I wasn’t perfect here.”

“Nope,” Chris cut in, his focus on his computer.

Kenzie gave him the finger, but he didn’t see.

“Perfect is a pretty high standard,” I said.

“Yeah,” she answered, nodding.  “Normally I’m okay, and I was okay before when I knew I had a say and they were scared, but…”

She trailed off.

“Victoria,” Ashley said, her voice soft.  “Make those calls you were talking about.  Get answers, because it doesn’t look like Tristan’s having any luck.  I’ll talk with Kenzie.  It’s all I’m good for right now.”

I glanced at Kenzie, and saw her nod.

Okay.

“We’ll reach out to everyone we already talked to or were scheduled to talk to, same way we divided it up beforehand,” I said.  “If they’re out, find out why, get details.  If they’re still in, we might need their help.  Eyes on the scene, looking out for Cheit.”

“Makes sense,” Ashley said.

“Let Tristan know, let Sveta know in case I don’t run into her.  I’m stepping outside.”

“Good luck,” Rain said.

I stepped out onto the fire escape, letting the door close behind me.

Between Natalie and the other members of the group, it was too much to balance.  We’d figure out what was going on and we’d tackle it, but a conversation with that many people in it wasn’t a good place for me to get my thoughts in order, even when some were quiet.

I could have pulled out my phone and made a call, but I didn’t.  The sky was dark overhead, the angle of the sun in the late afternoon made it so it didn’t peek through in fleeting slats and beams as it had earlier.  The wind was only moderate, if insistent, and the city was eerily quiet for the daylight hours.  If there was construction ongoing, the wind consumed the sound.

How many heroes were out there?  How many teams were doing what the Major Malfunctions were doing, settling into a territory where jurisdiction wasn’t contested and just subsisting?  No interest or willingness to join other teams, no clues about where the villains were, no information with which to equip or empower themselves.

I’d pushed for this network because it made a fundamental sense to me.  I knew it was an uphill fight to get it established.  I knew there were outright nightmares coming, when groups with views and perspectives as opposed as the Shepherds and Advance Guard ended up butting heads.  I knew that.  I was wholly aware, both from real life experience and from parahuman studies, that any grouping of capes was going to be a dramafest at best, an implosion most of the time, and an implosion with collateral damage at worst.

But I’d wanted to try.

Fucking damn it.

Five minutes.  Five minutes to get my thoughts in order, and center myself.  I checked my phone for the time, so I could measure out those minutes.

Three missed calls.  The cell coverage was so spotty my phone couldn’t seem to decide if I had a connection to the greater network or not.  I didn’t check the missed calls, and instead focused on the signal.

Up.  Away from things, to a point where I could see more of the city.

Not that long ago, I’d mused on how I needed to stay connected, because flying could mislead.  This was me seeking out the disconnection.

I let the five minutes pass, and I checked my missed calls.

A press of the button dialed the number and initiated the call.  I took a minute to fish out the earbud and plug it in.

“Victoria,” my mom said.

“You called?”

“I had a chat with Tristan on the phone.  I was worried by how I left things, I gave perfunctory answers, because he clearly wanted to move on and call other people to confirm.  Given how tense things have been between us-”

She didn’t finish the sentence.  Was it meant to be a question, without the inflection?  Asking if things were tense?

“Yeah,” I said.

“I hope you know that dad and I saying we don’t want to cooperate until this is resolved isn’t because of you.”

“Do you know what this is?”

“Allegations against your youngest team member.  They’re doing a news segment tonight.  The people involved are buzzing- they were asking some others for input on the legality.  Protecting identities, not divulging enough that someone could find out her civilian details.  But they’re bringing the parents in.  The news crews took cameras to the holding prison to record footage or testimony.”

“You told this to Capricorn?” I asked.  He’d said something about the segment, and the involvement of the parents.    Was it from my mom?

“Ninety percent of it.  The rest is inconsequential.  Can I help?”

“Without putting your own necks on the line, rep-wise?” I asked.

“If you ask me to, I will.  Your father will.  But only if you need it.  Are you upset?”

I understood the dynamic they labored under- they were part of a disparate team, but if they crossed the line or went against the vast majority, there was a chance they’d be kicked out.

And I’d be asking them to do it for what?  A bit of firepower, when we didn’t have an active enemy to aim it at?

“No.  I’m not upset.  It makes sense.”

“Good.  I liked Tristan’s questions and approach.  He has a good mind for the PR stuff.  He’s attractive, stylish, clever about some of these things.  Keep him close, Victoria.  He’s an asset.”

“He’s a friend.  If that last bit was you trying to subtly maneuver us into dating, think again.  That’s not going to happen.”

“It wasn’t.  I see merit, there.  Nothing more, nothing less.”

I nodded, annoyed and restless.

“We had a similar experience, back in the beginning.  A team with all the promise in the world, people were talking about us, the public was supportive, the law, the heroes…”

“And then Auntie Jess died.  Murdered.  New Wave lost its momentum.”

“It lost what it initially had.  I’d like to believe that if things had been left alone, if we hadn’t had to deal with the horror that came with Leviathan or after, we might have found our way back to prominence.  All it would take would be the right event, all of us coordinated in how we’d approached it.  Ideally, you would have all been over eighteen, and we could have gone all out in the public eye.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond.  It wasn’t that like my mom to be so impractical and out there, talking hypothetical situations.

Had Leviathan been that right event, with all of us not coordinated enough?  Too many of us had died.

I suppressed a sigh.  I wondered how my mother’s mind worked and I didn’t want to know, at the same time.

I could barely remember Auntie Jess.  The memory was occluded by the very clear distinction of a sniveling kid in a courtyard- someone who’d been looking to earn his stripes as a member of our local racist troupe.  He’d cried, begged, and asked for his dad to save him when the pronouncement had come from the court.  I could remember seeing him and being disgustedly disappointed in him.  That someone as awesome as my aunt had been killed by someone as far from awesome as him.

No- no.  That hadn’t been my opinion.  It had been something my mom had said that had struck so close to home that it felt like my own idea.

My opinion had been a quiet certainty that his craven behavior in court would at least ensure that he didn’t get what he wanted.  He wouldn’t get his initiation into the gang if he acted like that.  And I’d been wrong.  He was young, he hadn’t been tried as an adult, and he’d gotten out in short order.  He’d gone straight to Empire Eighty-Eight and been welcomed with open arms.

Auntie Jess- she hadn’t been a true aunt- Uncle Mike hadn’t gotten around to marrying her.  She was a pretty, dark-haired woman in the photographs we had too few of – good straight-on images of her face being rare.  She was foggy memories amid holidays and other focuses.  I could remember bedtime stories with- with Amy and me on either side of her.  My most recent memory of her was all of us in the backyard, Eric, Amy and I trying to do a thing chaining water dart guns together, like Eric had seen in a video.  He’d been insistent we’d make it work, and his dad was to be the victim of the barrage.  Auntie Jess had saved us by grabbing one of the water dart guns and starting a war.

There’d been a break in the conversation, but it lingered in a way that made me think my mom was lost in memory too.

I was trying to formulate a response when she spoke up again.  “The media hounded us, after Fleur died.  We had a lot of discussions on how New Wave should handle it.  We were disheartened, heartbroken, tired.  We decided to let the news cycle roll over while we mourned.  It made sense.  By the books, it was how we were supposed to handle the public relations side of it.  As a family, we needed to take care of each other.”

“Yeah.  It makes sense.”

“All the sense in the world,” she said, in a different tone.  Wistful.

I sighed.

“I heard that,” she said.

“Things were coming together.  I’m worried about timing.  It’s occupying us at a time when we really have bigger things to worry about.”

“I remember you mentioning some of those things.  Is it a distraction?  When masterminds are in play, you can’t assume it’s a coincidence.  If you’re doing something big and there’s a wrench in the works…”

She left the statement at that, open ended, inviting a response.

“It’s not out of the question.”

“Who do you know that would employ that kind of distraction?”

“Everyone?  Any major player?  Tattletale?  If it’s a distraction, we could ignore it.  Let it go, like how you guys ignored the media and focused on mourning.”

I was putting it forward as a hypothetical.  I didn’t believe it, myself.  We couldn’t ignore it, when it was potentially character assassination of a child.

There was a pause on the phone.

“Did I lose you?” I asked.

“I’m wrestling with a thought.  Do you have others to call?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“You can hang up, and we’ll update you the moment we have any information that could help,” my mother said.

“I’m curious what that thought of yours was,” I said.

“I don’t want to butt my head in where it isn’t wanted.  Unsolicited advice?”

I thought about it.

“I’ll take whatever advice I can get,” I said.

Below me, Sveta had arrived.  I would have waved, but she wouldn’t have seen me.  She pulled herself up to the fire escape, metal limbs clanging on metal slats, and then let herself inside.

“Don’t make the same mistake we did.  If you’re trying to build something, defend the turf it’s founded on.  Don’t let others decide what the narrative is.  Don’t fight it- that’s the path of cowards and tyrants, and you don’t want to appear to be either of those things.”

“Ignore the rules?  Go on the offensive?”

“Don’t give them ammunition.  Do show you won’t fold.”

“It’s dangerous to do that, given the current climate.”

I expected argument, retort, elaboration.

“Yes,” she said.  “It is.”

Only confirmation.

“Good luck,” she said.  “We’re available if you need us.”

“Would you be willing to help with something that isn’t in the public eye?  No backsplash if this all goes wrong.”

“What something?”

“Surveillance,” I said.  “And for the record, it feels really weird to ask for my mom to conduct surveillance.”

“It felt weird to tell my fourteen year old daughter to break a man’s arm, once upon a time,” she said.  “We adapt.  I’ll do it, invite your dad, we’ll swap shifts.”

“I’ll email you the particulars,” I said.

We left it at that.  The wind whipped at my hair and hood as I floated in the air.

I called the Paint Fumes team, not that that was their real name, but I had to call them something.  Tempera was out.  Fume Hood was in.

The Major Malfunctions were in.  They had no idea that there was even a welling PR issue, and when I explained it, they seemed to have some difficulty understanding why it would change anything for them.

I wasn’t sure if I should send Fume Hood with their group for the extra backup or split things up.  It was a weird combination to imagine.

I landed on the fire escape, then opened the door.

All conversation stopped.  In the corner of my vision, Kenzie hit a key, and an image disappeared from the wall.

“You’re back,” Rain said.  “That was fast.”

They’d thought I was gone?  That I’d flown off to talk to people in person, maybe?

“I went up, not away,” I said.  I couldn’t help but notice the awkwardness in the air, the lingering silence.  “Is there a problem?”

“No problem,” Chris said.

I looked at Sveta.  She gave me an uneasy smile.

“You’re all acting weird.  Paranoia makes me think it’s a stranger effect?”

“No,” Rain said.  “If it was, Ashley and I wouldn’t be affected.”

I nodded.

The cape geek in me wanted to say probably not.  But there were stranger effects that were able to be passed on with recordings and written words.  Rare, but they existed.  Blindside from the community center attack, I was pretty sure, could turn cameras away or black them out.  There were hypnotic singers who transmitted their effect through digital devices.

People were looking between each other.  There seemed to be a consensus as just about all eyes turned to Sveta.

Not Natalie’s, for one thing.  She looked about as confused as I felt.

But it seemed Sveta had been decided by unspoken agreement to be the one to handle this.

“It’s mundane,” Sveta said.  “Kind of.  Can we change the subject?”

“The sudden change or lack of subject is why I’m confused,” I said, wary.

“Please?” she asked.  “Don’t make a big deal of this?  Count it as coming from me, speaking as a friend?”

“Does it tie into Kenzie’s situation, Cheit, Goddess, or any of the things we’re trying to juggle here?”

“Not in a way that impacts our mission, I’m pretty sure,” she said.  She had to look to others for confirmation.

I swallowed hard.

It looked like she genuinely didn’t know what to say or do.

Chris was staring me down, eyebrows furrowed.  Tristan- he looked almost casual, thumbs hooked into his pockets, hands flat against the sides of his thighs.  Kenzie- hard to read.  No smiles, at least.  Rain kept glancing at the blank spot on the wall where the projected screen had been.  Ashley looked like she was busy thinking.

No, Ashley was impatient.  it was hard to tell when her body wasn’t giving the right body language, just default poses and stances.  Her face, though.  Irritated?  Agitated?  Restless?

“Okay,” I said.

“Just like that?” Chris asked.

“My parents will handle some surveillance.  Fume Hood and the Malfunctions will as well, but they’re novices when it comes to that.”

“That’s reassuring,” Tristan said.

“We can get others,” I said.  “Tap the teams, figure out who doesn’t care about PR.”

“The good ones do,” Tristan said.  “I called, on your suggestion.  They told me your idea of how we move forward, so I reached out.  I only got one of my four teams to agree, and they aren’t totally committed.”

I nodded.  I’d somehow figured mine would be more loyal – not because I was anything special, but because there was a lot more personal investment in it.  I outlined the next step in my greater plan, “We’ll scratch together something to hold down the fort, and then we handle the current PR crisis.  Once it’s handled, those who flew the coop should come back to roost.”

“You’re going to let this go?” Chris asked.

“Hm?” I made a sound.

“I don’t think you’re sincere, saying you’re going to ignore this whole thing here, just because Sveta asked nicely.”

“We have other things to focus on.”

“We do,” Tristan said.  “Don’t cause trouble, Chris.”

“I only kinda-sorta agreed to this because I thought she wouldn’t go for it.”

Ashley looked away.

I was noting Ashley’s silence.  She seemed annoyed.  Chris… he was baffled, if I had to put my finger on it, which was a very different thing from Natalie’s confusion.

Those were the three who looked more bothered by this scene.

“I trust Sveta,” I said.  “And I trust you guys as a group.  Whatever the other teams are reporting- you’re keeping it from me.  Okay.  Because I trust you guys, I’ll trust you’re doing it for the right reasons.”

“It’s weird,” Chris said.

Chris,” Tristan said.

“It is, but I’m going to go with it,” I told Chris.  “Because I trust them.  There was someone in the past who told me something.  I ignored them, I gave them a hug.  Everything fell apart.  My best friend tells me not to pry?  Fine.  I’ll listen.”

“Best friend.  That’s so sweet,” Kenzie said.

Sveta didn’t look like she was super happy.  Guilty?  Something else?

I put it out of mind.  My concern was more in the realm that I really wanted to talk to Sveta about other things, and now it might seem like I was trying to butter her up with gifts or attention.  It was just so hard to actually sit her down and have a conversation.  We kept getting interrupted or distracted.

“First problem is the PR issue,” Tristan said.  “If we can’t fix that, it’s impossible to do anything else.”

“We get out ahead of it,” I said.

“Solving one quasi-illegal or illegal issue with more extortion,” Ashley said, her tone dry.  “Naturally.”

“Nobody said extortion,” Chris answered.  “That’s really interesting, that you immediately think of that.”

“It’s sarcasm, you oaf.  Figure out a form that helps you figure it out and spend a month or two in it.  You have a lot of catching up to do.”

There was an insult in the first sentence and a harsh phrasing throughout, but Chris didn’t seem to mind.  He even smiled a little.

“I have some info,” Chris said.  “I did some searching.”

“It’s really interesting to see which times get you most into things,” Rain said.  “They tend to be the worst times.”

Intriguing times,” Chris said.  “Which are some of the worst because powers are both intriguing and they’re fountains of suck.”

“What info?” I asked.

He looked at his computer.  “One of the TV studios owned by a Mr. Buckner is handling this whole thing.  It’s going out on the radio first and then depending on whether it’s a success or not, they’ll televise a continuation.  People drive home from work in the late hour, they catch it, they listen, and then they get home and turn on the television.”

“How did you get this?” I asked.

“I have like, forty online accounts.  A lot are connected, but if I’m careful not to post too often, I can build up a persona and people accept me into their communities.  I have something like four accounts in four very different sub-communities.”

“Because you deceive people about who you are?” Sveta asked.

“Sure,” Chris said.  “It works.  The television studio had employees doing research on Parahumans Online.  I ask Lookout and… she confirmed it.”

Which was code for ‘she broke in and stole info’. Natalie didn’t seem to have been fooled by it.

“Why forty accounts?” I asked.

“Fog of war.  It confuses investigators online, makes my trail harder to follow.  Algorithms track everything you do, so I break it all up.  One set of names for one site, another for another site.  It lets me narrow down what came from who, if I get an email to one account or another.”

“Seems unnecessarily complicated,” Tristan said.

“Don’t know what to tell you,” Chris said.  “Except that it worked for us in this instance, so stop getting on my case.”

“It’s good,” Tristan said.  “Question is, what do we do about it?  Mug ’em?  Tell them to leave it alone?  Ignore them?  I should stress that if we’re doing anything in costume, you’re going to have Byron as a tagalong, not me.”

“We shouldn’t ignore them,” I said.  “If they’re intending to spread lies-”

“They could spread inconvenient truths and it would be bad,” Ashley said.

“Urg,” Kenzie said.

“All the more reason,” I said.  “When is the show?”

“Three hours,” Chris said.

“We could try getting on the show.”

“I asked,” Tristan said.  “They don’t want us.  That’s our big issue.  It’s a hit piece, probably aimed at Kenzie by her parents, and it’s going to be organized so they can leverage the fear or whatever that they play up.  Kenzie’s parents get to discredit the primary witness against them, and there’s no competing viewpoint to screw with that or muddy the waters.”

“Spooky,” Kenzie said.

Sveta rubbed Kenzie’s shoulder with a prosthetic hand.

“Stupid that preys on fears gets a lot of traction,” Rain said.  “If you want airtime, you need to offer something stupider or more nonthreatening than what they’ve got in line.”

“No,” I said  “I refuse to believe that.  That’s not what this ecosystem is about.”

“Post Gold Morning?” Rain asked.  “I might have been interacting with a biased pool of people, but I feel like it weighs pretty heavy on us.  It breaks people a bit.  People are so overwhelmed by the end of the world and an entirely new universe that they can’t even think straight.  Someone tells them how to think?  They jump on it.”

I frowned.

“I’ve seen that fear and anger,” Sveta said.  “Against case fifty-threes.   By them.”

Fear and anger.  I spoke, “I want to go on the show with our most stylish, best PR people on the team.  If we offer the right thing, maybe we can swing it… like if we take the next two hours to ask the other teams if it’s okay, and then we put ourselves forward as the sacrificial goats.”

“The goats?” Tristan asked.

“We can’t reach everyone,” Sveta said.

“No,” I agreed.  “But at this stage, if someone comes to us and they’re angry about us talking about things they wanted to leave alone… let them be angry.  If they don’t matter, we deal.  If they do matter, we tell them the truth.  That there’s too much at stake these days, and they need to step up or get out of the way.  A small convenience isn’t worth everyone being in the dark.”

“You’re putting out a fire by dropping a bonfire on it,” Rain said.

I glanced at the blank spot on the wall.

Yeah, I didn’t want to give up.  I didn’t want this team to be an idea that existed for a fleeting moment, then existed as a haunting echo thereafter.  Good moments?  Sure.  Some celebrity, some success, money, whatever.  But the momentum had been lost.

I wanted to keep the momentum.  There was a need among people, and capes were aching for unity and collaboration.  They wanted security.  That could be granted.  If we were going to go up against giants, we had to swing big and swing high.

I nodded slowly.  I clenched my fist and rubbed momentarily at the spot on my arm where the bullet had gone through.  “Bonfire.  Yeah, I like that analogy.  If they want to burn us, let’s show them just how bright we can get.”

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78 thoughts on “Beacon – 8.9”

  1. Typo thread?

    “And I think if it’s that, we can deal. If we get ahead of it and show we can do basic PR and that it won’t bounce back on anyone who interacts with us, the others will relax.

    Missing endquote.

    1. “And then Auntie Jean died. Murdered. New Wave lost its momentum.”

      But then

      I could barely remember Auntie Jess.

      So which one is it?

      1. Likely she doesn’t have many good memories of Jess, but from after the fact she knows it cost New Wave momentum for her to be murdered.

      2. Her name was Jean. Jess was a nickname. Like the name I use most online is Earl of Purple, but on forums people call me Earl or EoP, even though it’s still the long version. Like everyone called Beast of Burden ‘Bob’.

    2. “All it would take would be the right event, all of us coordinated in how we approawe’dched it.” It looks like some word-frag happened there at the end.

      “’Victoria,’ Ashley said, her voice soft.j” There is an extra j loitering around.

      1. Victoria’s on the phone, right?

        I keep doing half the nonverbal gestures even while on the phone, so I forgive her.

    3. “involvement of the parents. Was it from”
      Extra spacing.

      “They told me your idea of how we move forward, so I reached out.”
      Feels like something’s missing here.

  2. We didn’t start the fire
    It was always burning
    Since the world’s been turning
    We didn’t start the fire
    No we didn’t light it
    But we tried to fight it

    So, it’s time to earn some PR for the team with Joe Q Public, and establish a Reputation.

    Interesting how a crisis is what makes Carol act more like a mother and less like a smother. Or maybe it’s about Victoria being more accommodating of any help she can get?

    One way or another, a lot of the team’s future hinges on how exactly Victoria and Tristan are going to crash that TV show, eh?

    (But also, “Paint Fumes”? That’s a ship name, Victoria, not a team name! What did you just do!)

    1. I think it’s clear what she just did. She inadvertently started a ship. First we’ve got people declaring the Major Malfunctions a OT3. Now we’ve got a ship name for Tempura and Fume Hood. Next up? She’s going to try and find Ratcatcher a boyfriend. Very important he not mind small furry mammals. Or if I understand her description right, larger furry mammals.

      Helps this is a crisis that doesn’t lend itself to Carol trying to force a reconciliation between Victoria and Amy. Granted Amy might be a bit of a PR nightmare herself… Or maybe she’s finally figured out trying to get that part of the family back together is just forcing them apart.

      Now what can Vicky and Capricorn throw out there? Depending on how good the other sides intel is. Both Victoria and Tristan have some stuff in their background that wouldn’t help the cause if it came to light.

  3. Huh some truth about GM will finally be revealed to the public,… on a talk show.

    Weird.

    Or are they talking about powers weirdness? I’m not entirely sure on what they plan on revealing.

    1. What else does she have that would overwhelm “Eleven Yeard Old Parahuman Holds Parents As Unwilling Slaves In Own Home”?

      “Bullied Girl Bullied A God To Death”?
      “Powers Actually Forefront Of Alien Invasion”?
      “We’re Pretty Sure Anyone Who Has Powers Is Insane At Least A Little Bit”?

      1. “Mass Abductions And Human Experimentation – An Inside Look At Cauldron”
        “Canadian Superheroine Revealed To Be Rogue AI”
        “‘Not A Consideration’ – An Alternate Take On Scion”

        Of course, if this really is a distraction, then Teacher’s actual plan was always to reveal deep and buried cape secrets, and Breakthrough’s “fight fire with fire” strategy is only going to help him.

        1. Of course that was always true, and never you mind that Breakthroughs revalations caused [forthecoming setbacks to Teacher’s organization].

        2. Outing Dragon’s true nature would probably trump anything in any news cycle, considering the (arguably justifiable) policy of auto-classifying self-propagating AI as S-class. I sincerely doubt anyone who knows the truth about her (excluding Teacher) would dream of doing so, but it *would* overshadow pretty much anything else, I think.

    2. Well, I don’t think she’s fully aware of how essential conflict generation is to the shards, so the worst should be avoided, but she might reveal that terrible things are part of the cape territory and should be properly weighted against domestic violence and attempted murder.

  4. So…. Sveta and Weld domestic troubles? Or did Sveta accidentally murdersquid someone? Or have Sveta amd Weld formally adopted Riley?

    Also, the ending lost me. Thank you previous posters for helping to clarify a bit.

      1. I kept thinking Amy too, but Sveta was saying before that “an old friend” contacted her. Not only do they not know each other, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t consider Amy a friend.

        1. Ashley was the one that told Vicky to go quietly. Maybe because she wanted to discuss something with the group privately first. Maybe Amy is in the prison and Kenzie had shots of her on screen from the cams?

          Alternatively it’s Tattletale helping or maybe her of other Undersiders asking in on the Breakthroughs networking, which isn’t out of the question considering the immunity. But yeah, something they might want to discuss more among themselves before letting V know… heck maybe they were asked NOT to let them know.

          I could imagine Nat being confused by either Amy or the Undersiders as an issue if she didn’t know their history

          1. I don’t think the group would be cool with letting the Undersiders in on their hero network considering 1. the Undersiders are criminals and 2. the Undersiders set Rain up to be tortured to death.

          2. Fume hood was once poison apple. And the “Undersiders” didn’t set Rain up, Tattletale did.

            And let’s not forget Rain’s crimes and Ashley’s own criminal history, let alone her recent murder.

        2. Tattletale. Sveta knows how Vicky and the Undersiders have a less than swell background, but Sveta dealt with Taylor literally giving her a hand when she needed it. Vicky’s first thought on “who would do this to me” to us is Tt, not someone she’s likely to accept a helping hand from.

          1. Yeah, I was just thinking that this was both something that Tattletale could do… and something that she could stop.

            In fact, she might engineer this to get a favor from Victoria, but that’s not really TT’s style unless she has a specific use for the favor.

      2. Amy involvement seems like the only thing Sveta would discuss with the rest of the team but not Vicky. Maybe news about Valkyrie’s necromancy experiments.

    1. My guess is that the team discovered the Wretch, but decided to not let Victoria know they know about it. Except that Chris would have preferred to talk about it — the weird body-horror element gives them something in common. When Victoria asked if it was relevant to the current situation, it could have occurred to Sveta that if anyone else knows about the wretch, maybe it could be used as ammunition against them when they try to help Kenzie, so she wasn’t certain and had to glance at the team to see what they thought. Ashley wouldn’t see what the problem with having an intimidating forcefield-self is, so the whole “issue” would just be an annoying distraction to her. And Natalie probably just missed the conversation entirely because she was busy catching up on Kenzie’s misadventures.

      1. I support Wretch version of Sveta hush-hush with a team.
        1) Sveta touches Wretch “hand” in 8.5 and could understand it’s form.
        “A tendril wrapped itself around my hand. It squeezed, and it squeezed against my forcefield. The forcefield didn’t break, but I was aware of the strain.”
        This is about first time Sveta could discuss this with rest of Breakthrough.
        2) Kenzie is probably recorded Wretch by some of her camera, so the picture on the wall.
        3) Chris was first to say “No problem” – for him such form is not an issue.
        4) For team it is an indication, that Victoria is not cured entirely and so also somehow a part of “team therapy”. But they understand that she does not want to discuss it at all.

  5. Oh, hey, it’s Victoria, the Princess of Escalation.

    I mean, it’s not like this is a new thing. Someone’s robbing a store?
    Break their body! They didn’t break? Ramp up the aura! Break the buildings instead!

    Taylor’s the kind of person who, during a high-stakes game of poker, would behave in meticulous manners to craft the perception of her she wants in the other players, leverage that, abuse and discard it when it’s profitable, and after many rounds go all-in even if it might be absolutely insane to do so.

    Victoria in Worm is the kind of person who goes all-in on the first hand of the game, and then goes all-in on every hand after that until she either loses or wins.

    Therefore, the true story of Ward is about Victoria learning how to appropriately play poker so she doesn’t lose more often than she wins. Or something.

  6. So, it’s possibly something involving Sveta, OR they looked to Sveta because they all judged her to be the person best to handle telling Victoria to butt out.

    It *does* connect to Cheit, or Goddess, or Kenzie’s situation, or some ongoing problem, but not in a way which is immediately harmful.

    The entire rest of the team know about it, including Rain and Ashley. They were okay with Natalie seeing it too.

    The single defining equation points to it being something to do with Victoria herself, not it being Sveta. If it were a Sveta problem which is somehow critical, why would it be important for the entire team to know, but for Victoria herself to be removed from the loop?

    Nah. If you’re discussing information within a superhero team, and you are specifically keeping one team mate out of the closed loop, it’s because that information is either about that team mate, or because that team mate won’t respond well to that information, in which case…it’s about that team mate.

    Logic suggests that this is something to do with Victoria, in her past, her actions, her ties, or her trauma. If it were about some super fucking dark secret which the rest of the team knows but she doesn’t, then they’d have had to kick out Natalie too.

    1. If it involves Victoria and the team didn’t want her to know just yet, I’m gettin. It involves her sister. And if it involves her sister and Sveta, then it probably involves a new body. We know Panacea can rebuild bodies and mess with powers (Victoria/Kephri) so why wouldn’t she be able to build Sveta a new, easier to control and more human body?

      1. I think word of god on the subject is that even if Amy did try to fix a Case 53’s body, the shard would force it to go back to the nonhuman state.

    2. Look at how everyone reacted. I’m saying it was probably Amy.

      Tristan, Rain, and Kenzie were all more-or-less good with the situation, which makes me think it’s an issue to do with family. They’re used to messed up families, so they’re somewhat comfortable in this sort of situation.

      Having someone that betrayed Victoria contacting the team behind her back would remind Ashley of J, hence the anger and impatience. Ashley doesn’t want what happened to her at Boston to happen to Victoria.

      Chris doesn’t understand it. Victoria’s already set Amy as a huge boundary with him (IE yelled at him for bringing her up), and he’s super big about boundaries. It’d be like someone looking through his room while he’s out, and then his teammates keeping quiet about it.

      Natalie doesn’t understand what’s going on. To her it just seems like Victoria’s sister called to see if everything’s alright. Natalie know Victoria isn’t exactly on speaking terms with her parents, but no one’s brought up Amy with her.

      1. Natalie also probably knows Amy if she works/worked with their mom. That would make Vicky just “love” her even more.

        1. I don’t think that Natalie worked that closely with Carol. She was just a random employee that wasn’t super busy, right? Not close enough to get an invite to meet Amy, and I doubt she was working on anything that would put them into contact professionally. Amy’s the crazy person they put up with because of the super rare healing power, I doubt she meets many new people that aren’t bleeding out.

  7. I can’t decide if they were talking to Amy or not.

    On one hand, of course they wouldn’t tell Victoria they were in communique with the sole source of her trauma.

    On the other hand, Natalie works for Brandish. She would absolutely know they weren’t on speaking terms. So why she was confused is beyond me.

  8. I’m not falling into the typical Wild bow trap of, but wait things seem to be getting better! Maybe they can handle this problem! It’s NOT getting better they CAN’T handle it and if they begin handling it I fully expect an eldritch horror to come crashing into that recording studio!

    Or maybe for Chris to go into labor on the spot. That would do it. Can that happen with his power?

      1. “I’m sorry, but the Simurgh is giving an exclusive interview, and we just can’t pass up this opportunity!”

        Also I wasn’t Taylor and the Chicago Ward’s apperence on a morning show cut short because the Smurf was attacking a jet? So that’d be the answer.

        1. No, it was cut off by the first appearance of Khonsu. They got to stay in the studio and watch a live feed for the first half-hour at least.

  9. Wow, it’s surprising to see how well victoria and her mom are interacting, considering how badly they got along in the early chapters!

    also, Paintfumes is the best ship name tbh

      1. Maybe? I would expect that between the Mullen Brothers, the Four, “Digger’s Bikers”, and the rest of the miscreants gathered for that meeting, at least one was a serious PHO contributor. Is some editor really going to roll back one of their edits? It’s probably the first thing people find out when they go to FH’s page…

  10. This may be me projecting… but Tattletale would be the best person to handle this.

    Damaging secrets is literally her super power and the control of info has been her job for years.

    1. Tattletale doesn’t owe them nearly enough to deal with the nightmare that is Kenzie’s many crimes. They’d have to pay her, and they don’t have the cash for that.

  11. Oh I think I should mention i love Ashley telling Kenzie “No. Do not go to prison on purpose, hoping to be near me. It won’t work anyways.” Kenzie really is a kid.

  12. Ok but what friends does Sveta even have? Pretty sure she went from no memories to killing a bunch of people to the asylum to the irregulars. If it’s an old friend, I’d bet it’s someone from the irregulars.

    1. Taylor has very little to do with Victoria for her to be a secret worth keeping away from Vic?? Taylor’s never coming back bud

      1. Oh no. Probably just to explain good morning or something. I have no clue what the secret is, I’m just now certain Taylor will return.

        Thx 4 the chapter WB!

  13. My suspicion is that this weird conversation thing will tie back into our Wolf/Chicken/Grain problem. Sveta, being the least suspicious person in the party, is a prime contender for secretly being our Wolf.

    1. We’re all going to feel pretty silly when Yamada gets back and says she was worried that Rain was trying to get close to vulnerable capes to convert to the Fallen. Our defenses will have been up this whole time for nothing!

  14. For some reason, the “you’re posting too quickly” filter is really weird on this particular page. It has eaten a longish-although-not-really-long comment of mine several times now. Could it be because my name, “Jess”, appears so many times in the text and comments?

    1. Same thing just happened to me. Fortunately, it only happened once and the actual content of my post was still in the comment box after it rejected the first attempted submission.

  15. Could we have like a check box somewhere on the site with a lil’ X on it if we’re getting a Thursday chapter? If there is a wayto check, it’s way too well hidden.

    I don’t mind there not being a new chapter every Thursday, but I do find myself wondering on occasion if there would be one and that leads to me coming to the site a few times every to check. That checking raises my expectations and then makes me get a bit annoyed annoyed and disappointed when there isn’t one.

    If I could definitely find out, preferably a few days ahead of time, that’d save my nerves some.

  16. Hi Wildbow, I’m your new reader and I just want to express my sincere appreciation of your work. Sir, well done, this masterpiece is fricking awesome! I think you deserve more recognition, other than SB, SV or communities like that. I wish I have known of your works sooner.
    This is like DC or Marvel with plausible explanation and a realistic touch to it. It’s even better in my opinion.
    Sorry, english is not my native language. Please keep it up, I wish you the best!

  17. I’m convinced Amy contacted Sveta, creepily knowing that Sveta was Victoria’s ‘best’ friend, in order to get Sveta to convince Victoria to let Amy help out with Breakthrough’s efforts. Why else would Ashley tell Victoria to go quietly? And Chris’ reaction deserves some attention, as well.

    1. Chris is an asshole in general, but I’m fairly convinced that his special vitriol for Victoria is mostly an act. He has a lot of stuff to process, but eventually I think she holds a very special place in his heart: not as a “love interest” but as a mother figure. No one else on the team went to his house. It pissed him off at the time, but he’ll feel different looking back on that episode.

      1. Eh…what Victoria did was genuinely pushy and a bit self righteous. There was a boundary there, she consciously bounced right up to it and put both feet over it, and showed not even the slightest bit of (remorse? contrition?). I’m not inclined to cut her slack on the grounds that she meant well. Self righteous boundary pushing is always the result of someone meaning well.

        How that is relevant to Chris is that Chris has spent years surrounded by people who mean well, and he’s generally not been overly impressed. The only adults he’s been shown to get along with are the ones who see his boundaries, respect them, and communicate with him about them.

        Literally the only thing Victoria has going for her in this regard is that she’s a fellow parahuman, and Chris don’t care.

  18. There’s a lot of chatter about it probably being Amy that the team was talking about, which it could totally be. But it could also have to do with laserdream. Maybe weld got some info and told sveta and they are worried Vic won’t be able to handle it. Or (and this is a longer shot) contessa is back and specifically told them to keep Vic out of the loop. It’s probably not that though

  19. I’m inclined to agree that Amy might get some involvement soon, considering the secrecy pulled between the group and Victoria. Though who knows, Wildbow could always throw the rug out from underneath us again.

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