I had been trying to build connections for weeks now. It had started at Hollow Point, inviting teams to come in, putting ideas like taking credit second to letting other people have their share of the glory. We had shared and asked for favors, and that we had asked wasn’t that bad a thing, because people tended to like helping, and they felt stronger in knowing they could call in a chit and have some extra powers on their sides.
We’d put our necks on the line for the Fallen fight. Some ups, some downs. We had earned some nods by getting ahead of the portal thing and keeping it from being quite as bad as it would have otherwise been. We’d done the neck-to-line thing again by going on television. Then the prison.
None of it had gone perfectly. Three team members lost along the way, two partially recovered. Raised eyebrows and questions about the television program. Others had questions about the prison thing, but they weren’t going so far as to ask those questions and we weren’t offering details.
Now? Consolidation. Reinforcing our team’s ties to one another was only one part of the consolidation. Reaching out to other teams and doing something more formal with our relationships to them was the other half of it.
I stood in the center of the open floor of our headquarters, surrounded by whiteboards that were littered with notes and personal details. My arms were folded, my still-burned and bandaged hand resting against my bicep, where the bullet had passed through. My costume top was in the laundry, so I only wore a sleeveless black undershirt with my costume bottoms.
My eyes were on a projected screen on the wall. Most projector images didn’t really have black as a thing, which meant they didn’t work so well in areas with lots of windows or light. Kenzie’s cameras projected black, making the text distinct.
Three names, white text on the black background: ‘Mapwright (AG)’, ‘Gong (AG)’, and ‘Bullhorn (IV)’.
Chris’s old whiteboard was in the back corner, furthest from Kenzie’s workstation, across from the bathroom and by the technical front door of the headquarters that we never used, because we always came and went from the fire escape, if we weren’t using the building’s laundry unit or heading into the basement to flip the breakers if Kenzie didn’t stagger out the startup processes of her tech enough. It wasn’t Chris’ whiteboard anymore. Byron had taken it over.
Icons blinked on the screen. I could have gone to the computer and used the mouse to click one, or tried my hand at the voice recognition program and asked the computer nicely. One icon to bring up a map and show where in the city this was happening. Another to bring up pertinent details on each of the people – many ‘details’ were blank, filling in only as fast as people found time to spare. There would still be some misinformation.
I left it alone, my attention split three ways, between looking around the headquarters, watching the unchanging text on the screen, and hoping. It was nine in the morning, hardly prime time for villainy.
The text on the screen changed, so quickly it almost tricked my eyes. Two new lines. ‘Assist: Withdrawal (MjMf)’, ‘Assist: Finale (MjMf)’.
“Hey guys,” I whispered the words. I was alone in the headquarters, but saying it at full volume felt like it would have been an entirely different thing.
I hadn’t expected them. I hadn’t known if anyone at all would show up, but them least of all.
In a way, I almost felt like the Major Malfunctions wanted what I wanted more than anyone else. Breakthrough had their own diverse needs and wants. They had since the beginning. My parents and my mom in particular? Way off in left field there. The big teams had their ideological divides, with strong views on how everything should be handled, not just the cape stuff. Most of the little teams had their own individual focuses.
The Major Malfunctions wanted to help. They wanted to work with others. They wanted to get up to speed. That they were involved made just about every emotion I was feeling go up two notches on the dials. My hands gripped my upper arms.
“Come on,” I whispered.
Again, the screen change. I’d been staring at it for so long that the text lingered in my vision after the point it had disappeared.
Two man Advance Guard patrol against independent villain Bullhorn, Major Malfunctions assisting for goodwill. Capture and arrest, custody pending.
I punched the air. “Yes!”
Two weeks of lead-in for this. The fight hadn’t been a hard one. Gong might have been able to handle it on his own. Advance Guard might have intentionally gone out early to pick a fight they knew they could win, which skewed the results.
We’d told other teams that we’d have our system online this morning, and Kenzie had set it up to go online at ten. Advance Guard had multiple members out on patrol at the time the imaginary starting pistol had fired.
That was just who they were.
But it was a win. So long as I didn’t look too much into it, investigating the particulars of the fight, how the public tied into it, whether there was property damage, it was a clean, cooperative, perfect win.
I would, of course. I’d get the details further down the line. This was an experiment, and it would be for nothing if I closed my eyes to everything that took away from my desired result.
I flew across the room to make a note on my whiteboard, because I would’ve been risking a Kenzie-like happy skip or bouncy walk if I was using my feet to travel.
Already, another Advance Guard team was reporting to the network that they were entering an area with known villains. Spright and Flapper against Eclipse Arc.
To them, being first and being on top were things that mattered. I wasn’t going to complain.
My skin prickled with goosebumps as the door to the fire escape opened, cold air flooding the space. Alternate-identity Rain and Tristan. They both set to kicking snow from their boots and shoes, respectively.
“Did I miss the start?” Tristan asked. “Did we win?”
To him, being first and being on top were things that mattered. I smiled.
“You missed it, and we won. Advance Guard, Majors assisting. Bullhorn.”
“That sounds one-sided,” Rain said.
“That’s part of the idea,” I said, turning to look at the screen. Spright and Flapper had already retreated from the scene. They were putting out a call for assistance. If they hadn’t been way out on the end of the city closer to Brockton Bay, I might have flown out.
I went to my computer and opened the page, adding in details on the fly because it looked like people were looking up the particulars. Eclipse Arc were serious, as villains went. Good costumes, good powers. There were ‘heroes’ out there who got themselves labeled Vigilantes because they crossed lines or shrugged off law and convention in their pursuit of the bad guys. Eclipse Arc were the opposite, a pair of villains walking a ‘Robin Hood’ line where they really only preyed on those who deserved it. They supported convention rather than flouting it, tending to go after villains where possible, and among those villains, going after those that had broken the unwritten rules first.
They were big time enough to warrant being a serious target of heroes, but by walking the line they did, they made it very easy for others to gloss over them or leave them alone in favor of other targets. Too big for Prancer’s old group of B-list villains, too small to be important. Too villainous to be worth reaching out to, too noble to be a target people could feel especially good about dealing with.
Except the unwritten rules had broken down and Eclipse Arc were out being assholes, robbing people who didn’t deserve it. Hopefully Advance Guard would steer them back onto their old path.
“Are you going?” Tristan asked.
“They’re closer to Boston. No. The fight will be over before I was out the door.”
Rain walked up until he was beside me, double-tapping and removing the necklace that powered his identity, and setting the backpack with its heavy battery onto the table by the door as the second ‘skin’ fell away. Now his ordinary scruffy self, he ran fingers through his snow-damp hair. Odd, to see him with no visible scrapes or scuffs, no lines under his eyes. He looked simultaneously younger and older. He also, I noted, had a bit of stubble, and it wasn’t sixteen year old wannabe stubble. His jacket was lighter than the weather warranted, but he wore multiple layers- a mix of clothes I’d seen him in before and new ones. He met my eyes.
“You look less tired than before,” I said.
“I’m really tired,” he said. “Always am. The daylight hours aren’t as harrowing now, but the dreams haven’t stopped, won’t stop. Love Lost was restless last night. Angrier for some reason. I honestly wouldn’t be shocked to see her gang on that screen.”
I looked at the screen. A few new encounters had appeared. Eclipse Arc had apparently run for it, and somehow Spright and Flapper and two members of the Lone Wolf Pack hadn’t been able to give chase. I’d have to know more before I chalked it up as a draw or as a win.
“Is it going okay?” Rain asked. “I know Kenz was upset that she was going to be away and offline when this test run went online.”
“Tech-wise, I think we’re okay. The map wasn’t working that smoothly when I last looked, and the surveillance options are just showing black screens. I don’t want to touch it in case it’s more tinker than tech. In terms of our early encounters and victories…”
Four patrols were active. In addition to that, one non-parahuman incident of crime had been foiled, Eclipse Arc had been scared away, and Bullhorn was now in the hands of the authorities.
“We should be out there,” Tristan said. He’d taken off his coat and shoes and now carried his luggage bag of armor. “It’s going to look bad if we’re absent.”
“Soon,” I said. “If we went out now, it would be a fishing expedition.”
“Fishing is fine,” Tristan said.
“We can do more later, when we’re organized,” I said. I floated over to my keyboard and opened my image folder. Images from last night.
Our IT person was both eleven and a tinker, so things had a way of getting weird or inconsistent if she wasn’t around and keeping everything upright. I tried my hand at using the ‘second monitor’ function with her temporary projector box, and was glad to see it worked.
The images were surveillance images of Tattletale and her gang. Their group was gathered by the back of Tattletale’s rented vehicle with the trunk open – on the one side, guarding the open trunk, it was Tattletale, Imp, the crowd of Heartbroken kids, Chicken Little, and Tattletale’s bodyguard Snuff.
They were with a group of ten people who were standing as a loosely organized group. For most of the ten, there was something in pose and posture that made it absolutely clear what their backgrounds were. Feet were planted a certain distance apart, many had arms folded or behind their backs, their backs ramrod straight. Most were exceedingly fit, or had the builds of people who had once been exceedingly fit and had slipped one way or the other with Gimel’s food stores and quality being what it was. A lot of them looked like they shopped at the same stores, but a few broke the mold.
The pictures I’d saved didn’t include the image that we’d gotten of the trunk’s contents before Chicken Little’s birds had chased Kenzie’s one working camera drone away. A plastic tote of guns, heavy enough that the back end of the truck had been heavy- Rain’s note.
Tattletale had fled Brockton Bay with the other Brockton-Bay Undersiders, namely Imp and Imp’s gang, they’d stopped at one place to regroup and wait for the stragglers, and then had immediately set to getting themselves prepared. Hired mercenaries, bought not with cash, but with a store of weapons. From there, they’d met up with Parian and Foil, retiring for the night, all packing up together in a manufacturing area for Parian’s clothing line.
They weren’t bad clothes, either. I had a sweatshirt dress with a watercolor-style image of Brockton Bay on the front that was by her, and another regular t-shirt with the watercolor image in negative, on a black fabric. She had similar designs for most of the major cities. I’d bought some out of a kind of solidarity, and because they were actually kinda nice.
“Question is, what is she up to today?” Tristan asked.
“Yeah. That’s a question,” I said.
In my images, I’d omitted the shots where Tattletale had been making repeated and pointed looks at cameras and other surveillance. She knew, fine. I’d known she would know from the time she’d caught Kenzie’s camera tracking our conversation while it was a mere speck in the sky.
There was still nothing she could do about it. We could keep tabs on her, and all she could really do was have Chicken Little send birds flying after our cameras. I suspected it annoyed her, but that was fine by me. She was on our turf now.
Things might get harder if she decided to have Foil take shots at the cameras, but sending that kind of projectile flying out over a populated area didn’t seem like the kind of thing the Flechette or Lily I’d known would do.
“Another win,” Tristan’s voice pulled me away from my musings.
“Parahuman or civilian?” I asked, walking back to the pair.
“Non-powered. The Grower’s Court?” Tristan asked.
“Sounds vaguely familiar.”
“Farming collective kind of like what the Fallen had,” Rain said. “They decided they wanted to keep everything they grew, they didn’t want to pay taxes or give a share to the city, didn’t want anything from the city-”
“-Ignoring that the city gave them the seeds, machinery, and tools, built the roads, and provided material for the homes.” Tristan said.
“Sure,” Rain said. “Yeah, I guess so, didn’t hear that end of it, but it’d have to be the case, right?”
“It was,” Tristan said.
“Them deciding to hoard was a thing last spring, after the long winter. They holed up, everyone with a rifle, and city eventually said it wasn’t worth it. Then this summer, in the middle of a lot of the craziness, they blocked off a section of road, raided a truck, and took the stuff back to the Grower’s Court.”
“And?” I asked.
“And a month and a half later, the Shepherds got enough people behind them to deal with it,” Rain said.
“They’re civilians, but that’s a win that might go in the papers,” Tristan said. A smile crept across his face. “We could reach out to the papers. Promote what we’re doing.”
“Shepherd’s win, their choice what to do with it. But you could let them know.”
“Uh, Rain can. While Moonsong is in charge, I’m leaving the Shepherds alone,” Tristan said. “In the meantime, I’ll get changed, and we’ll plan to go after your nemesis, instead?”
“No on both counts,” I said.
“No?” Tristan asked, hefting his bag, stepping toward the bathroom. “There’s a sign on the door that says ‘death’, with really awesome drawing of a skull.”
I heard a shout of greeting from within the bathroom.
“Sveta’s in there,” I said. “She wanted to rinse off and clean her stuff.. She’ll be out soon. Like I said, no on both counts. No changing, and no, we aren’t going after Tattletale.”
“You’re paying attention to her.”
“Damn fucking straight I am,” I said. “She’s not someone you ignore, but she’s not someone we pick a fight with either. That’s a whole two squads of trained soldiers that are trading off shifts to support and guard her team around the clock. She also has twice as many parahumans on her team as we have on the full Breakthrough roster, if we pretend Chris is still on the team and we include Damsel.”
“She’s not, you know,” Rain said. “Damsel won’t join.”
“She’s tertiary. If someone comes after Breakthrough as a whole, they’ll have to account for her.”
Rain seemed to consider that. “Yeah, sure.”
“We’re not going after Tattletale. The Undersiders held their own for years. We can’t pick a fight with that.”
“We can try,” Tristan said. “Get some people together.”
“Nah,” I said. I thought about it. “Fuck no. There are other ways.”
Kenzie was done with her classes. Ashley was through with her appointments. I felt bad that we’d dragged them straight from that into an extended road trip.
Kenzie had her parents’ van, black, sleek, and sturdy enough to carry what she could bring from her workshop. Some of the components that we’d strapped into place were serving as desks, Rain and Sveta leaning over papers as they sketched out loose ideas. Ashley was in the back, sitting opposite me, while Kenzie sat next to her with her feet propped up on a case, laptop on her lap in a way that let them both see the screen. Here and there, the remnants of lunches and snacks from the fill-up station littered the area.
Byron drove, because he was just a bit more secure driving on ice than Tristan was. I had the passenger seat, though I was twisted around to watch the others. My own laptop sat closed on my lap, still warm from when I’d had it on. I didn’t have a power cable that plugged into the car, and that last twenty percent of battery was more valuable than having an easy way to fill the time.
Listening to the idle chatter was kind of nice on its own. Sveta and Rain collaborating.
“What kind of scale?”
“Um, I have to lift it with my own strength, right? Not that big. Not giant mech big.”
“Good. Because I don’t have the materials for a giant Svetamech.”
“Mecha-Sveta!” Kenzie chirped.
“I’m already mecha-Sveta.”
“Double size? Triple?” Rain asked.
“I had a friend who was larger than usual when I was with the Irregulars. The square cube law is a thing, isn’t it?”
“Less a thing if you’re working with tinkertech. It’s part of why mechs are doable. Double sounds like an okay starting point, though. How do you want to sketch this out?”
“What if we start really broad-stroke, and do this?”
“That’s calligraphy broad-stroke. Really broad-stroke.”
“For the shape. See? Top-heavy, hourglass…”
Ashley talking to Kenzie in a quiet voice.
“They went into my room. They went through my things. Some were tinker things, but I don’t think they realized.”
“Off with their heads.”
“I wish I could take their heads off. I don’t usually get mad, but I had a nice house and a nice workshop, and now I have to be there, and the people who should be protecting my things when I’m not there aren’t.”
“If you can’t take their heads, why not scare them?”
“Ashley,” I used a warning tone.
They seemed to leave it at that.
In the distance, past a light but constant snowfall that was stirred into violent flurries by the existence of nearby portals, I could see the skyline of the New Brockton area of the city. Intervening buildings spoiled the view a bit, as did the mountain range to the west of the area.
“Didn’t you tell Tristan that you thought the Undersiders would win in a fight?”
“In a fight?” I asked. “I don’t know. I don’t think it ever comes straight down to a fight, though. There’s other stuff. Information, misinformation, money, resources, having reinforcements, and protecting yourself. Those are the things that decide a fight before it even happens, or that cause horrible, long-term damage to you or places you care about, in a win-the-fight, lose-the-war way.”
“Things our team isn’t great at,” Byron said.
“They’re better than us at it, but they were at this for six years. It’s where they specialize and it’s where they’ve been developing their skills and abilities since Kenzie was half the age she is now. Robbing casinos, stealing tech patents to ransom back, robbing stores and flying under the radar the entire time. Then they recruited a new member to kidnap that thinker I mentioned before, and sparked off two wars with parahuman gangs while using her, another local crime-boss thinker, and Tattletale to get enough of an edge and come out consistently ahead. Some people think the Endbringer attack was because of all that conflict.”
“Jesus,” Byron said.
“That’s pretty darn close to what Weld described,” Sveta said, behind me.
“In fairness, we did compare notes and sit in on some of the same meetings,” I said.
“Fair,” Sveta said.
I turned back to Byron. “That was only the start of it. They’re villains, and while I’m talking fairness? They aren’t. They don’t play fair. Tristan suggested picking a fight, and I think it’s a bad idea, because we could get every hero in our coalition to go after them and the Undersiders might find a way to make the fight unfair in their favor.”
“The reason I brought it up is that I have to wonder if we’ve collectively lost it, because as strong as they are, they ran. We’re heading towards what they ran from.”
“We won’t enter the New Brockton area specifically,” I said. “How are we doing on your end, Kenzie?”
“I’m still getting the occasional blip. We’re on the right road.”
“What if we get this far and there’s nothing?” Sveta asked.
“Then we spent some time driving around and talking. But going by what Kenz reported with the timeline-”
“They went somewhere,” Kenzie said.
I opened my laptop.
9:41 PM, two vehicles with Undersiders inside are seen at the New Brockton area limits, leaving.
9:55 PM, two more vehicles are tracked leaving.
10:24 PM, all four vehicles are seen moving together. Judging by speed limits and where they are spotted, they were not traveling for the full duration.
“Tell us when we’re close,” I said.
“Oh, we’re close. Five more minutes.”
“Gear up,” I said, folding up my laptop, sliding it between the seat and drink holder.
I had washed and laundered my costume, but my costume was fabric with decorations that Weld had fashioned for me before he’d left, a higher quality than nearly anything I could have had made for a reasonable cost. I’d removed the pieces to wash it all, and there were still some to replace on the costume. My hood had a thin length of metal running through the edge of the hood to keep it from slumping off to one side, and I did have to thread that through.
Two minutes of work, to do that, don the ten finger- and thumb-rings that had spikes sweeping back, resting against the backs of my hands, and fix the decorations at my shoulders so they were straight, connecting them to the armor, because designing the costume so the metal hung off the cloth would have had it pull down and drape weird.
The van pulled to a stop. We all opened our respective doors.
A truck rest stop. Dirt road, shoulder-high concrete barriers to guide any errant or out of control trucks, and a fair amount of open space. There were a pair of portable toilets with bright yellow sides in the corner, and a diner-style restaurant a two minute walk away, but as I turned to Kenzie and pointed at the diner, she shook her head.
“Did she con us?” Sveta asked.
I held out a hand, telling them to stay put, and then I floated up and over the battlefield. It was still early afternoon, and the light was good. I could see where boots had scuffed the frost-hard dirt, and I could see spots of blood.
“Blood,” I reported.
“Truck stop? I bet guys bleed here all the time,” Rain said.
“More blood,” I pointed out. I indicated points on the ground. “Something hard hit the ground here. Hard enough to break the frozen ground. And… a blast.”
“Come on, take a look for yourselves. I wanted to keep the ground reasonably pristine for a first-look, in case there was anything. No need now- I’m pretty sure some trucks came through today.”
The group fanned out, searching the perimeter. Once they got far enough, I showed them where the ground had been gouged by something. The gouging clustered in areas.
“I found bullet casings,” Ashley said. She’d veered furthest from the group. Way off to the side, where the dirt gave way to the still-new, pavement of the highway, she’d found the casings. Bending down, long skirt blowing against her bare calves, she used a finger to prod one casing.
“Careful you don’t taint the evidence,” Rain said. “Victoria’s right.”
Ashley stood straight, her chin rising in that imperious way. She approached Rain at a slow walk.
“Hee,” Kenzie made a happy sound.
“I’m missing something,” Rain said.
Ashley nodded, holding up a hand.
“I’m… fuck. I’m the prosthetics tinker, and I forgot about your hands. You have no fingerprints, no skin oil.”
“There we go,” she said, smiling. Her left shoulder brushed his as she walked past him, then brushed against his shoulderblades as she walked around behind him.
“That is the fucking smuggest I’ve seen you, Ashley,” Tristan said. He and Byron had apparently swapped out to share notes as they’d done their own walk of the scene. “That’s cat with the canary smug.”
“Nuh uh! She’s not smug, she’s happy.”
“Same thing,” Ashley said. “I’m happy my hands are this good.”
“Food particles, though?” Rain asked, turning around to face her, a little obstinate now. “We just ate, and we didn’t wash our hands.”
Ashley let her power flicker around her hands, making a sound like a snarl as it washed over the prosthetic limb. “I cleaned it earlier.”
Rain sighed. “You win.”
“As it should be.”
One vehicle with a crate of guns, to later be used to purchase or barter for the services of mercenaries. depending on timing, the Undersiders would have had two vehicles worth of people here, or they would have had four.
Assuming they were running, the attackers would have come from the northeast. The Undersiders would have been fleeing the southwest. The bullet casing came from the Undersider’s end of the scene.
“I think we’re ready,” I said. “we should get going before we get in trouble for camping out at a truck stop.”
“Awesome!” Kenzie said. She drew her phone, then selected the program.
The van bucked visibly as the machinery in the back kicked to life.
“I was able to speed things up just a bit, because having everything in the van meant I was able to bring extra batteries, and I could box it up a bit.”
“Box it up?” Sveta asked.
“I do two things. Like a tinker who does jets and does, I dunno, radiation. They can make jets or they can make radiation, but radiation-powered jets are their best work. For me, it’s cameras and boxes. Box-cameras are best.”
“Inconveniently sized boxes,” Rain said.
“I made this camera inconveniently big for regular carrying. Let’s give this a shot.”
“Let’s be careful not to put images in the middle of the highway,” I said, indicating the cars that were flying past us on the other side of the concrete barrier.
The past-camera kicked into life. All around us, the space began to fill out with dots of color. If she was going to be aware of when we watched her in the present, we would shift our focus from her to her past.
The snow did make things more difficult, each flake becoming a lone thread, with threads joining together into an opaque curtain that marked the wild commonalities in how the air moved, reacting to the passage of cars on the other side of the divider, and the constant outflow from the portal.
Then, much as they’d started to appear and get drawn out, the snowflakes were undone, each trail disappearing one by one. All of the rest of the images started to come together, each one a caterpillar, a long blur that traced the paths the individuals had traveled. The passage of vehicles were like the strokes of fat, crude brushes that crossed out whole sections of the picture.
“I’ve got some data on the Undersiders already,” Kenzie said. “We can narrow this down. I’ll pick some images to lock down by the points in space.”
Tattletale was first. At the Southwestern end of the clearing. Ducking down. She was wearing a coat and earmuffs, alongside her mask and costume. Slowly, the figure right behind her began to fill in. Snuff, standing right behind her, shielding her with his body, one hand extended toward the source of whatever he was shielding her from.
The car was next, filling in. Door open, as Tattletale ducked inside.
All around us, figures were appearing. The kids with dense black waves and curls of hair, most dressed in black, all with masks of their own. Heartbroken.
Imp, stumbling as she tried to shield the kids. One of her arms was gone.
“Any loose arms, Kenz?”
I pointed at Imp.
“Eew. I’ll try searching for it. Can’t be too hard to find.”
The rest of the group was so quiet that it was almost grim. There were so many people.
Not far from the Undersiders, with an armored vehicle of their own, three people. The shooter responsible for the gun casing, a man, and a woman.
The red-haired shooter would be Shamrock. The man was Gregor. The woman, though she wasn’t fully drawn yet, and though her dark costume was concealing enough to muddy things further, was likely Faultline.
How desperate were you, that you went to her? I thought, looking at the image of a retreating Tattletale. The Undersiders had met with the Palanquin mercenaries, despite the fact that Tattletale’s feud with Faultline was common knowledge. I’d heard it had something to do with Tattletale getting beaten out by Faultline on an early job, and then never really getting an opportunity to even the score after. I wasn’t sure if that had been pure speculation from Crystal.
“Getting a whole lot of mess while I’m looking for the arm. Hold on,” Kenzie said. “Lots of power effects to fill in, and they’re messier than people.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “This is really good, Kenz.”
I saw her bob her head in an excited way, pacing around as she held up her phone. Here and there, she erased progress or shifted something so it was loading a figure at a different point.
This wasn’t a moment in time. It was well over a dozen things being captured at critical moments.
At Snuff’s left hand, a black-gray blob, taller than he was, the air distorting at the edges.
At one point in the ground, a plume of dirt and pavement.
In the air, Imp’s arm. A silvery thread connected to it, and that silvery thread traced its way to the attackers.
“Sorry,” I whispered, whispering because it was a kind of tacit acknowledgement that she couldn’t and wouldn’t hear me.
I did feel sympathy, but I didn’t feel bad, exactly. They’d brought a mess down on their own heads somehow. They’d made enemies and they’d answered for it. I had no idea what we’d do or how we would handle it if it came down to it. I couldn’t see us standing by and letting cape fights happen, but it didn’t feel right to take the Undersiders’ side either.
“Sveta,” I said.
“Mmm?” she asked. She was standing near the still images of Faultline’s crew.
“The Undersiders played a part in saving the world?”
“Yeah,” she said.
Still didn’t feel right to intervene on their behalf, but by the rules, at least, by the unwritten laws? Maybe.
Snow blew around us. I was aware of cars on the road that had slowed to see what we were doing. Standing in the middle of a firefight that made no logistical sense, as each piece of the puzzle was frozen at a different time and place than the others. Powers were flying, bullets in the air, people mid-motion, and none of it jibed. Jibing would have to be puzzled out in another way at another place. That was if there were clues to be gathered there.
“It’s going to be another few minutes. These people are all packed in together, and I can do things like take a snapshot of EM levels, or brainwaves, or DNA, but I keep getting cross-signals. I’m having trouble pulling them apart. But we will! We will figure out who you all are, mysterious attackers!”
“I know who one of them is,” Tristan said.
“We know them,” Rain said.
“You- you saw enough details to do a visual? You must have a power if you did, because my onboard camera isn’t getting a good lock.”
“Not a power,” Rain said. “Passing familiarity.”
“Do tell,” Ashley said.
“That right there?” he indicated the people who were gathered as a mass. “That’s messy because it’s a cluster. And right beside it?”
“What?” Kenzie asked.
“Another cluster,” Rain said.
“There’s another,” Tristan said. He indicated the gouges in the ground with the earth spewing from them. “I know this one. He wasn’t at the Fallen fight, but there’s some old history.”
“Paris?” Rain asked, his head snapping around.
Tristan nodded. “Or one of his cluster. But that silhouette looks right.”
“Oh,” Kenzie said, hurrying to type out a word on her phone. She aimed at the center of the back, and an image flickered across the spaces she was aiming at, its head trying fifty different orientations before finding something suitable. “Then this is-”
“March,” I said, an instant before the image of her ‘hare’ mask and the brimmed hat with the masks’ ears poking out the front came into solid, crystal-clear focus.
“She recruited,” Ashley observed.
“Yeah,” Rain said.
“She didn’t try to recruit you?” Sveta asked.
“I was in jail. Maybe she tried?”
The Undersiders hadn’t gone running to Parian and Foil for refuge. Or maybe they had, but it wasn’t necessarily the primary focus. They’d gone there to protect them.