I hadn’t wanted my mother to get hurt, being careless with my power and with not trusting her about it, but I’d been willing on a level to leave the door open for it to happen, and that willingness went hand in hand with my relief about Amy being on Earth Shin now. The realization had taken me some time, the process of rationalization comparatively quick to begin. Life was genuinely easier if I let the slate be wiped -or perhaps struck- clean.
I had even related that philosophy to Kenzie. To her parents. Another slate that had been struck relatively clean. After they’d dropped the tidbits they had on Hard Boil, and after the two hundred messes that had followed in succession from that, Kenzie had eventually found her equilibrium. Her being in a kind of limbo right now with her disconnected and distant institutionalized care wasn’t the worst thing in the world, much like how people could use sensory deprivation tanks to center themselves. Kenzie struggled because she hyper-connected, and a disconnected civilian life meant she wouldn’t hyper-connect or get distracted.
She’d even forged a family in a way that didn’t take away from her ordinary life. Regular ‘meals’ with Ashley. A small circle of peers her age that she could connect to, that honed her and refined her. People like Aiden who I was happy to take on a general, arms-length coaching role for.
It was important to strike a balance with powers, to find a niche where their use could be casual, not overbearing, not solely a thing where we went out at night three times a week to be reckless and violent with them. It was important to have the casual little acceptances of power in our lives. For Kenzie, leaving the door open for her to tinker regularly was good for her on that casual acceptance level, and really good for the rest of us on a strategic level.
This was an equilibrium I had effectively trained my whole life to manage. The absorption of one aspect of identity into the whole. I’d had to learn that.
Ashley wasn’t. Ashley was new ground, something I was having to figure out on the fly. Damsel had been… not struck from the slate, because I’d only come up with that terminology recently, but I’d left the door open for her to go. I likened Ashley to a cat, as much as she might be annoyed with the comparison, and a cat couldn’t be approached without caution. Go straight for the vulnerable belly or throat and the claws came out. Metaphorical, in Ashley’s case.
No, for her, every step was about strategy and positioning. Dropping the right hints, as she was imprisoned, the right compliments, getting the invitation to watch her place, moving in, then getting her and Rain out of jail. She’d invited me to stay and she wouldn’t ask me to leave if there wasn’t a graceful way to do it. It wasn’t hard, once she was figured out, to block off her options by making certain actions out to be undignified. Minimize the damage and maximize the gains.
Once I was close, positioning became that much easier. She was just as hungry for someone close as Kenzie was, but the difference was that Ashley had spent years on her own. I talked about leaving doors open, and hers had nearly closed.
This was good, as things stood. Being close to her meant I could impart lessons about morality, encourage heroism. Her being close to me, to us, meant we had a constant, omnipresent reminder that violence was a consideration and an option.
The natural blending of civilian and cape identities had to account for violence, for conflict, and for a careful pruning of external forces and influences. Ashley was very good at pruning, and very easy to prune now that I was close enough.
That was without getting into the various degrees of non-platonic subtext.
On the topic of the non-platonic, I had cheated earlier when I’d commented about Byron to Rain. Byron had talked vaguely about Moonsong over the last few weeks, and I’d seen this coming. I’d considered the value of encouraging the relationship and working to reinforce it solely because a ‘political marriage’ between Breakthrough and the Shepherds could be useful, to use a way overblown term for what their relationship would be, but I’d seen the way Byron had looked at me on that day in group therapy and my vision for the team saw a Capricorn that had both halves working in harmony. Getting to the point where that happened required drawing Byron out of his shell, and I could do that so long as we had a bond or connection. They were two opposites in that. Byron needed to feel like his civilian self wasn’t being ignored or left without options. Tristan needed to feel like his goals as a cape weren’t being stifled.
Once that was done, well, there was a running theme through all of this. With any cape, the civilian side naturally degraded. We were parahuman, not human, and once Byron and Tristan reached the point they were okay, motivated, and roughly on the same page, that natural degradation would leave only those portions of each brother that worked well together. I’d wanted to be a coach and sometimes being a coach meant tearing down, then building back up.
Rain wasn’t someone I’d had to tear down. Life and past experience had done that. He’d needed pushes. A regular nudge. In many places, his natural hesitation and the gravity that pulled at him were at the point where doing nothing was as good as pushing him away. With his low self confidence, a simple reprimand or jab could do a lot to shape the direction he was going. In a way, the things that guided the others all applied to Rain. Maneuvering to get him out of jail and keeping him close enough, keeping an eye on his relationships, managing a balance of civilian and cape with the assumption the former will crumble… and as with Sveta, knowing that he saw himself as a monster, with a deeply regrettable past and a potentially, maybe inevitably regrettable future.
Sveta’s impending breakup. Rain’s doomed cluster. It was a question of managing the damage.
I closed my laptop.
Even Weld breaking up with Sveta was in the fucking diary.
Detailed, deep thoughts in intermittent diary entries, stored in a folder on my computer. The times the entries were made, at a glance, seemed to line up with times I’d been free and active online.
Nothing so actionable that it would be grounds to arrest me. But enough to hurt the team, if they were to read it. I had a thought, on finishing it, and the irony was that the thought had come from a line in group therapy back at the hospital. We judged our own actions based on our intentions, and we judged the actions of others on their actions.
Except this ‘diary’ fucked me at both ends.
Where my actions were damning, the diary portrayed my intentions as questionable, poor, or outright bad. Where my intentions were ambiguous, or even when it came to ideas I’d alluded to or mentioned, they were connected to actions. Desperate, rushed decisions I’d made in reality were rationalized out afterward or hinted at or led into beforehand.
It was self-involved and mission-focused, with passing mention of the others’ injuries, those mentions so fleeting that it suggested I didn’t care, or I cared for the wrong reasons.
And I couldn’t find any holes. A paralysis had crept over my upper chest as I realized I couldn’t find dates that didn’t line up, any actions I had an alibi for.
I couldn’t blame Dragon for looking over my computer. I’d told her to take everything. On a level, having already dealt with Kenzie, I had expected the sweep. I hadn’t expected a trap to be laid.
I couldn’t blame Jessica for doubting me. Reading this, I was starting to doubt my own reality. Because it was close. There were thoughts in there that mirrored thoughts I’d actually had, and lines in there that paralleled things I’d said in reality, if they weren’t those exact same things.
My hands remained on the laptop, even after it was closed, while a sick feeling crept over me. There wasn’t a way to deal with this that didn’t dig me in deeper. My outburst and the use of my aura on Jessica hadn’t helped, but I wasn’t upset I’d done it, because I was pretty sure she wouldn’t have told me what I needed to know without it.
But I’d forced her hand and if she was going to take any action, it was going to happen soon. If this was a trap or a master effect, then I’d forced the enemy’s hand. If there was anything intended to follow up on this, then it might happen soon.
I didn’t know.
We were at our HQ, and Kenzie was sorting through the things she’d left here. Technically she was renting the space from us. Less technically, she was moving regularly between here, her new workshop with her team, and her ‘home’ workshop, which was a space in the building where she lived with the orphans and institutionalized kids, provided by the staff.
I’d asked them to provide the space, because staff members had clued in that Kenzie had powers and there was a danger that the kids at the facility would too. By the diary, I’d done it for reasons of strategy and cape-centric bias.
To Jessica, every conversation and friendly debate I’d had with her over things like cape names and what a healthy life for a parahuman looked like had to have taken on a darker tone, after all of this. The diary struck close to the real, but with a consistent tone throughout that had to be anathema to someone like Jessica, who wanted to heal, find a more human balance, and who had trusted me to help.
Tristan was taking a break from lifting stuff and carting it around for Kenzie to take to her other workshop, making lunch with Rain. He was talking cooking, while Sveta hovered, quite literally, clinging to the nearby door and looming over, looking over their heads.
“This… or this?” Kenzie asked. Her outfit changed. An update of her costume, a little more fashion-focused. It looked like she was hitting the randomize button, for textures and color schemes.
“The second one,” Ashley said.
“Then…” Kenzie tapped on her phone. “This… or this?”
From a vaguely Vista-ish costume with a skirt built into it over textured leggings to a costume with more of a bodysuit look, overalls over a skintight top.
Ashley’s going to pick the first, because it’s got a skirt.
“The first one.”
“Then… this or this?”
The first outfit had an abbreviated jacket, the skirt, and textured leggings, the second was more of a combination bodysuit and dress, skintight up until the fabric formed the dress at the lower body, the shoulders built up with techy paraphernalia.
“The second one.”
“The first one looks really good,” I said. I felt so disheartened that the words felt hollow.
“Ooh, mixed opinions. Those are good.”
“If you let Ashley have too much of a say, then you’re going to end up with an all black costume,” I said.
“Maybe,” Ashley said. “Some white or red details are good.”
“Ashley’s my favorite person, so I don’t mind if that happens,” Kenzie said. “You’re maybe my second or third favorite person, Victoria, so your opinion counts for a lot too. And I want to do good things but I’m working sometimes with villains, we’re being discriminatory with what we do, so something a little darker is okay, I think.”
“Black is striking in bright light, and if you’re out in the light you want to make that statement. At night and in night missions, black will keep you from being seen.”
I rolled my eyes a bit.
“Ooh, I should take notes. I packed up the stuff that would take them for me…”
I couldn’t show her or ask her to take a hand in it, even if she was uniquely qualified to track down where it came from. Because Dragon was also qualified, Dragon was qualified in everything. The apparent Bluestocking of tinkers.
The danger wasn’t that Kenzie’s feelings would be hurt. They would, but that wasn’t the danger as I saw it.
The danger here was that this diary was close enough to home to be seductive. That she was impressionable and some of the worst thinking in the diary would stick if she were to read it.
Was there a good chance of it? I didn’t know. Was it possible to tell her not to read it? Yes. But I worried.
I worried on so many levels.
“Boys, Sveta, tiebreak me! This… or this?”
“I am not the person to ask,” Rain said.
“Please? Gut feeling.”
“I like the first one,” Sveta said.
The one I’d liked. Solidarity.
It all felt so empty, so fragile. The usual fondness wasn’t there. What the hell?
“I like the first one too,” Tristan said.
“Yeah,” Byron said, a moment later. “Yeah. How are you coming up with all of these?”
“I fed my computer a ton of high fashion and costume stuff and put it in a blender, and now I’m extrapolating with human-guided machine learning. It takes its best guesses about what’s working along six different protocols and each time I keep one and discard another it adjusts its guesses and narrows in on something workable.”
“You realize that in another time or climate, you could make a bit of money using that?” Tristan asked.
“Really?” Kenzie asked, eyes wide. She turned to me to confirm.
It meant a lot that she turned to me, except that only rubbed in that horrible, trapped feeling.
“Yeah. Really,” I told her.
“Man, for all the pain in the butt parts of this power, there’s some upsides.”
“Versatility, problem solving, marketability, monetization, but those things make you a desirable and high-priority target.”
“Oh yeah. People showing up at my house to kidnap me or kill me.”
“Be careful,” Sveta said.
“I will,” Kenzie said. “That smells amazing, by the way. Is it going to be done in time? They’re almost here.”
“You can take yours now,” Tristan said. He had the sandwiches grilling in a frying pan, melts inside toasted bread. “Careful, it’s hot.”
Kenzie collected a sandwich with her eyehook, the prehensile tail with the camera and claw on the end.
“Victoria?” he asked. “You’re going with her?”
I grabbed a sandwich, testing first before picking it up. “Gotta ask Tattletale about something, and it’d be good to check out what they’re up to.”
“I have so, so, so much to show you. You can vet Chicken’s costume and Candy’s costume, and I’ve been working on Hookup’s costume, which I know Ashley will really like-”
“Hold up,” I said.
“-Because it’s a dress, and it’s really pretty, and it goes with her mask, which Imp ordered.”
“Reel it back there,” I said. “Go back.”
“Which part? Because once a word leaves my mouth I mostly forget what I was saying.”
“Hookup?” I asked.
“No,” I said. “I don’t recommend it.”
“But-” Kenzie turned around. It was Ashley she turned to for verification this time.
“Nah,” Ashley said.
“But… ugh. All the names like Kindred and Liaison and Network and Cosanguine are taken.”
“Not hookup,” I said. “Connotations. There’s a reason it isn’t taken.”
“Except I think she or her brothers and sisters liked the connotations.”
“It’s bad for the team,” I said.
“Ugghh. Why is this stuff so hard? Okay. They’re finding the street. We should make sure everything’s down there and ready to be loaded in. Tristan, can you lift it, or are you busy?”
“Take over?” Tristan asked.
“I don’t-” Rain started. “Oh, you were asking Sveta.”
“I’ve got it,” Sveta said.
“Don’t add anything. You always add a lot,” Tristan said.
With sandwich in one hand and my laptop packed into my backpack, I helped carry one bag of random components. Tristan didn’t put on his jacket, just boots, as he stepped outside, carrying the heavier things.
Kenzie nearly fell down the fire escape stairs in her enthusiasm to wave at the vehicle that was making its way into the parking lot adjacent to our building.
Darlene hopped out, crossing to where Kenzie was, doing the same thing Chastity had done with Cassie, with the kiss on each cheek. Kenzie was better at rolling with it than Rachel’s henchman had been.
I didn’t get quite why they were suddenly chattering at high speed from the moment they were reunited when they were connected with Darlene’s body-interlinking power and Kenzie’s cameras and microphones for good portions of the day. Kenzie had fixed her microphones first thing as we’d returned from the Wardens HQ.
“Not Hookup?” Darlene asked, her expression and tone somewhere between tragedy and disappointment.
“No,” I said.
The driver was a mercenary, burly with a shaggy beard, with a cold stare. Black outfit with black gloves, a gun at his hip. He didn’t look much like someone I could have a conversation with for the drive. I debated my policy of riding along with team members whenever possible.
“Tattletale says she’ll be at our base for a bit when you get there. Whatever you need to talk about,” Darlene said.
“Thank you. I did get a message from her.”
Darlene nodded. “I can’t believe I can’t use Hookup.”
“You can,” I said. “But it’s a bad idea.”
“Uugh,” Kenzie said. Darlene mimicked the sound, then tackle-hugged Kenzie before the two of them climbed back into the back of the vehicle.
They were getting along in a way that would have been next to impossible if either one of them were unpowered or from different backgrounds. I felt like this was a good thing, pending sufficient supervision, but I could also see how it lined up almost perfectly with the mentality in the diary. By taking this course of action, was I reinforcing the diary, giving Dragon and Jessica more fuel to doubt me?
I settled in the passenger seat, with a nod from the driver.
The pair in the backseat talked nonstop, with seventy-five percent of the talking being Kenzie’s.
Was my input on the name wrong? Was my condoning Tattletale’s part in this fucked up?
Our driver didn’t try to make conversation. I finished my sandwich, being careful with crumbs, then set my head against the window, staring out at the city beyond, and I got lost in my thoughts.
As we entered the yet-unnamed junior team’s headquarters, a chair slowly swiveled one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. Chicken Little sat in it, stroking the pet in his lap. That pet clucked, right on cue. “Welcome back.”
The maneuver prompted an overflow of excitement and praise from the two girls, who charged into the room.
“Stop! You’re going to scare my birds!” he protested, as the girls chattered at him. I had the impression he was the one who was a little overwhelmed at the response, rather than the sedate white chicken he was holding.
All around his ‘office’ were cages with birds, some dangling, others set against the wall. They looked to be categorized roughly by size, scale, and type. No doubt so the big birds wouldn’t eat the little ones.
As the trio each raised their yet-immature voices to higher volumes, each to be overheard by the other two, Tattletale rolled her head back, hands to her temples. She was sitting in a cozy chair off to one side. The headquarters had one central room, with the exit to the south, a space that seemed to be half-lounge, half Candy’s to the west, where Tattletale was, Aiden’s office to the north, and Lookout’s workshop and space to the east.
I walked over to Lookout’s workshop, and dropped off the bag and box I’d brought in. I rubbed at my arm as I walked away from it.
The energy level of the ten and eleven year olds was dialed up to ten, easily.
“I’m going to get a headache, and I haven’t even overdone it with my power yet,” Tattletale said. “Hey, midgets! Volume down.”
They started talking at normal volume, but at the same general velocity, even overlapping one another.
Tattletale was set up with her laptop in front of her. She watched me, wary, as I approached. The lounge half of the space had a few nice chairs, a short table, and a collection of snacks, some of which were the same ones we had back at the Breakthrough headquarters.
There was an adjoining room, connected to both Aiden’s office and Candy’s section of the lounge, that looked like it might be a barracks or medical corner, but I might have been overthinking it. A few beds and some decorations and things that made me think they were Darlene’s.
Tattletale closed her laptop and set it aside, leaning back as she looked up at me.
“Kenzie,” I said.
The chatter stopped. I turned my head and saw the four kids looking my way. A projection of Candy stood by the desk.
“Don’t listen in?”
“Okay,” Kenzie said.
Tattletale’s penetrating stare was a weight. Even opening my mouth to speak and say it was hard. Fuck all of this.
“Help,” I said. Non-sequitur. She wouldn’t know what I meant. “I need help.”
I was going to operate on the assumption that someone as busy as Tattletale couldn’t do something as comprehensive as what I’d read over at the hideout. I was operating on the assumption she wasn’t that subtle.
“Why should I?” she asked.
“Favors, payment, information. Whatever it takes.”
“I could tell you I’m busy. Schedule’s full. Undersiders are trying to get back onto the map, but those of us who are left and sticking around are mostly background players. The status we earn is through deeds, not show, which means I have to deed.”
I couldn’t say I was exceptionally surprised.
“I’d promise to help promote the Undersiders, involve you more in big decisions, but I know it’s pretty shitty to promise visibility. Too many junior heroes get lured onto teams with promises of exposure and next to no pay.”
“I’m not a hero,” Tattletale said. “But yeah, I don’t think we get much if we sell our services to you. You already know what we’re capable of, and you draw a pretty hard moral line in the sand-”
“Not so hard lately,” I told her.
“Fine. But you draw a line. There are very specific circumstances where you’re talking to other teams and you’ll say ‘I have an idea, my fellow white-hats! We’ll call the Undersiders!'”
“You came,” I observed.
“Imp has been hassling me to take on more duties with the junior team, and when you called she was happy for the excuse. She says we need to talk ground rules for the Chicken Tenders.”
“Please tell me we aren’t calling them that.”
Tattletale smiled, her mouth turning up at the corners. “Come up with a better name.”
“There isn’t an iota of curiosity in there?” I asked. “This is a puzzle only you can unravel.”
“I’ve got enough of those.”
Less fun than pulling teeth.
“If this gets out, or if it’s a long-term play, the end result is going to be bad. It affects Lookout, among others, and that affects your kids.”
“I’m getting the gist of it. But maybe that’s a good thing,” Tattletale said. “Because I worry about your kid in that room more than I worry about any of the Heartbroken. I’d be happier if she wasn’t here. If things are that fragile, it could be better if we rip off that overly attached bandage now.”
“I’ve given your kids a benefit of a doubt.”
“Good! They kind of deserve one. When I say Lookout scares me, that’s not me taking a side or being wary because she’s unfamiliar. That’s me saying she’s kinda messed up, and as neat as it would be to have access to her stuff, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
I put my hand on the back of the armchair she was sitting on, and I tilted it back a bit as I leaned in closer. “Don’t.”
“It’s the truth,” Tattletale said, sitting back with her feet no longer touching the ground. If I let go of the armchair, it would crash to the floor.
“You’re talking about her that way in her place. Her territory, when she’s a few rooms away. That’s shitty. You’ve got to be a better person than that.”
Tattletale brought her feet up even higher, than reached up to chop at my arm where my scar was. As I let go, she swung her feet down and her center of gravity forward, so the armchair would thunk to a proper sitting position instead of falling back.
“Huh?” Darlene asked, peering around the corner. “What was that?”
“Antares is bullying me,” Tattletale said.
Darlene stared, looking at each of us in turn, studying posture and context.
“Keep at it,” Darlene said. “She needs someone to remind her to act nice once in a while.”
“Traitor,” Tattletale said.
“Darlene, Darlene, Darleeeeene,” Kenzie’s voice piped.
“Volume!” Tattletale called out.
“Look, look. Are you looking? Bam!”
Darlene, still leaning around the corner, turned to look, and reacted so strongly that she nearly lost her position on the wall and fell over. Aiden and projection-Candy were laughing, and Darlene joined in, almost scrambling to her feet in rejoining the group in the other room, around the corner.
I walked over a few steps, to get a view of what they were doing.
Candy’s projection was in ‘costume’, but it was possibly the most horrific thing I’d ever seen. Vertical, horizontal, and diagonal stripes, dots, and clashing color combinations every step of the way. But even if it had been wiped clear of pattern, the 80’s shoulders, tucked-in top that produced a belly, and puffy pants tucked into high socks were bad.
“It’s what we’d get if we took all the opposite options from my ‘this one or that one’ machine learnings,” Kenzie said, looking far too pleased with herself, eyes glinting.
I mock-shielded my eyes, then retreated back around the corner, to Tattletale.
“I’m nice,” Tattletale said, even though the comment seemed to be a response to Darlene, who was long gone. “But you know as well as anyone, Vic, that trying to help everyone leads to an inevitable disaster. You need rules about who you help, how, and when.”
She’s not talking about me. She’s talking about Amy.
“Yeah. You’re a super nice person.”
She shrugged. “I’m here. I’m backing them up. I’m arranging the protection and ferrying them to the people and the places they need to be, and that includes ensuring your kid has the materials for her workshop. But if you’re telling me I have to fight to keep this little girl that actually kind of scares me around? Maybe I’m not that interested.”
“If you want to talk about helping people, and the who, why, and when, I want to point out that I helped you. That scar you just hit? I got it while helping Sveta to get you away from Cradle.”
“We’re going there?”
“You said,” I told her. “Quid pro quo. You bring up my shit, I can bring up that.”
She arched an eyebrow, still wearing that smirk that she had to know annoyed me.
It was… interesting that Tattletale had apologized by that roundabout way, but that she’d prodded at my wounds like she had, in this past conversation. Was there something else in play? A degree of insecurity? Or, with my discussion regarding Colt so fresh in my mind, I might even consider an element of it to be the wiring of her particular brain.
She didn’t apologize or hold back from poking at weak points because she couldn’t. In which case… this was wholly, entirely fair to do, on my part. She’d told me.
“I said that at a time I was in pain, delirious.”
I didn’t back down. “Any currency I earned there? I want to spend it. On this.”
“You even resorted to physical violence. You really want this. Some financial payment, some favors, and you can play that card,” she said. “You get five minutes of my time.”
“That wasn’t physical violence. Intimidation, maybe.”
But I didn’t waste the time she’d offered me. I got my laptop out of my bag, handing it over. She powered it on.
“The password is-”
She had it typed before I got that far in the sentence.
“You don’t have internet. I can see why you needed my help. That’s a horrific situation to be in.”
“I took out the networking card before I did anything,” I said. “I moved it to a folder on the desktop.”
“A… diary. How cute.”
“This is how you want me to spend the time? Stroke your ego? Am I supposed to start empathizing with you?”
“Read,” I said.
“The brute side of you really comes out when you’re stressed. Where do I start?”
“Huh. Okay, important dates…”
She’d allotted me five minutes.
When ten minutes had passed, I got tired of standing around, and went to check in on the others. The hollow feeling hadn’t left me. I still felt betrayed, and weirdly violated even though it wasn’t my diary being used to judge me.
“Are you leaving?” Kenzie asked. “I didn’t get to show you anything.”
“Not leaving yet. Waiting for Tattletale to read. I might be a little distracted until she’s done. After?”
“After’s good. Aren’t these birds cool?”
Every single bird in Aiden’s ‘office’ stared me down, silent. Not a chirp or tweet.
“Really cool. Intimidating.”
“Aren’t they!?” Kenzie asked, delighted.
“Can I grab one of your snacks from the other room?”
“Yes,” Kenzie said, looking at the others. “Yes? That’s okay? We’re okay with that?”
I got confirmation.
“There was hot chocolate. Want me to make you guys something? It would be microwave hot chocolate, but you-”
I didn’t even need to finish the sentence.
Hot chocolate and snacks. Tattletale made some annoyed sounds with every beep of the microwave, but didn’t otherwise comment.
It made the kids happy, as they all sat around Aiden’s desk, enjoying what looked to be the best aspects of being kid capes with their own hideout. With how nervous I was, the joy wasn’t contagious, but it did make the day less bad.
Tattletale had promised me five minutes and she gave me twenty before she finally closed the laptop, setting it aside, resting atop her own.
I waited another minute to give her room to think before my patience ran out.
“Do I need to explain why I’m concerned?” I asked.
“You wrote a diary before?”
“Very little, while I was in the hospital.”
“But that’s not yours.”
I shook my head.
I did my best not to show just how relieved I was to hear those words, after doubting my own sanity.
“Who did they send it to?”
“Dragon found it, when I was sending her case files. She passed it on to someone important to our group.”
“More than weird,” I told her, quiet.
“No need for money, no need for favors. I wanted cred for the Undersiders, and this will do.”
“It runs deeper, Victoria. I know you think very highly of yourself, but this isn’t about you. Not exactly. Either they chose people they thought would make good targets, they chose randomly, or, they had a methodology like targeting the newest person to join each team.”
“‘They’, you say.”
“They. This isn’t just you, and it took a team. If we’re tackling this, we should start at the fringes. Small groups and groups with very new or tenuous memberships. I don’t know if Dragon found it by an accident that’s lucky for you, or if she found it by design, but… it’s interesting and concerning either way. I’m halfway to wondering if one of the other Undersider contingents has something like this planted on their systems.”
“Yeah. I was wondering about the rest of my team, but I don’t know what that would look like, or how I would look.”
“Come on,” she said. She got to her feet and stretched. “We. Us. Investigate.”