“Where the hell do I even start?” Kid Win asked. “I never was much of a teacher. There used to be those school events every couple of months where the top students and most improved students would each get one-on-one hang outs with the Protectorate or the Wards for the day, I dunno how much attention you paid to that stuff.”
“Little superhero obsessed Victoria? A lot. There was actually an issue when I won the one year. I was supposed to partner with Challenger but people thought the girl with superhero parents didn’t need the experience.”
Kid Win snorted. “What happened? I don’t even remember Challenger.”
“I gave up my spot. Then I went home and crieeed.”
“Oh no,” he said.
“In my defense, I was eight or nine.”
“I remember wondering what kind of experience Armsmaster gave the kids,” Kid Win said. “He was always kind of… grumpy.”
“Start out with a ride on the bikes the Protectorate had, including riding on the forcefield bridge out to the island HQ. Visit the workshop with what I have to imagine was a gruff ‘don’t touch anything I don’t say to‘, trying out a bunch of tinkertech gadgets. Then patrol, with another member of the team pre-clearing the route, maybe a crisis point if the kid was old enough and the situation minor enough. Almost always the same formula and routine, but he was good at executing that.”
“I think they were very selective with who they sent his way. Kids they thought he could get to. Serious kids.”
“I have no idea what selection process they used for me. Probably that Clock would be a bad influence, Aegis and Shadow Stalker were jocks, I think. Gallant was more sensitive-”
I looked off to the side.
“-Which I’m not.”
“It’s fine. You were saying?”
Kid Win looked at Vista, who had settled down and sat on a box enclosing a bush of what looked like holly, talking to Dennis. He dropped his eyes back to the ground.
His eyes were strange, and the way he held himself now, he didn’t embrace the strange. There was a focus to him that I didn’t remember him having, but a new weakness too, because he wouldn’t meet my eyes and seemed to keep looking down or away, maybe because he was embarrassed of how he looked. I saw some red-tinted sunglasses in one of his coat breast pockets, but he didn’t wear them here. How much did he change if he had them on? Would he more or less look into my eyes?
He answered me, “I think they picked the kids for Vista’s sake, instead of picking Vista for the kid’s sake. And I got the leftovers. A lot of the weird kids.”
I smiled. “The fact you figured out there was a sorting system means you were capable of seeing what the ‘weird kids’ needed.”
“I dunno,” Kid Win told me. “I wasn’t very good at it. I had the impression Piggot or Armsmaster or Miss Militia wanted to cultivate something in me, for leadership or whatever, but then the leadership changed around, or the city changed, and expectations changed with. Nobody ever had the chance to follow through. Now Valkyrie’s asked me to do this thing, and I don’t know how.”
“Well, you’re kind of touching on it,” I said. The wind had changed direction, so I pulled up the hood of the plush black sweater, where the material of the hood felt like it was an inch and a half thick. “So you remember all that stuff.”
“I think because it’s superhero-adjacent.”
“But you don’t consider yourself very… you?”
He shook his head.
“I want to know who and what we’re up against. I want to know who and what I’m working with. If you’re… closer to the agents? Is that a sore point or touchy subject?”
“More for Clock than it is for me,” Kid Win said.
“Let me know if I get insensitive,” I told him. “What filters through? What doesn’t? What matters?”
“Give me a starting point.”
“Day to day.”
“Day to day activities? I remember daydreaming about tinker stuff in class, the stress of not doing well in my classes. Actual time at school is a haze, but here and there I had some good ideas or epiphanies and I can remember those. I can relate back to the school stuff that I used to inspire tinker work.”
“So you don’t remember, say, Math class?”
“The old me didn’t think of math class as anything except a constant feeling like I was struggling to tread water with weights tied to my ankles.”
“But you remember that feeling.”
“Is it mostly negative?” I asked. “What about good memories?”
“Hazy recollections of returning to the base after a fight we did okay in. Camaraderie. Being promoted. Legend complimenting me. That one’s sharper.”
“Are those all when you were around more parahumans? Stronger parahumans?”
“If you’re trying to gauge by that… Vista kind of skews the results. She was one of the strongest Wards and she was around a lot of the time.”
I nodded. “Fair. Good point.”
“And no. Some of the hazy good memory is around family. We did this one, um, it was a crisis point. No powers involved, but they sent me, Gallant, and Battery to talk to this woman who had been attacked, we were supposed to make sure she was okay, show our faces, give support and make sure no powers were involved. Not pretty but a bit of a softball for two teenage guys and an experienced hero, right?”
“It wasn’t a softball. She was psychotic, vulnerable, broken. People with mental illnesses get preyed on more than they prey on others, and she said a whole bunch of stuff. Got to Gallant, feeling what she felt. Got to me, hearing the things she said, wrestling with what I was wrestling with at the time. Really scary, really sad.”
“This is a happy memory?” I asked. I could remember Gallant bringing that scene up back then. I hadn’t known Kid Win had been there. “That sounds horrible, I’m sorry, Chris.”
“Yeah, so, I was pretty shaken. Battery ended our night early, said she’d do the paperwork. I called home for a ride, and I didn’t sound okay. I was feeling rock-bottom worthless, scared, and felt a bit like there was no future. I couldn’t shake the idea that ending up where she was right then would be far more likely than being okay or living a normal life.”
I nodded. “An unexpected hit, straight to a weak spot, at the worst time.”
“Yup. So my dad picked me up, I freak out a bit in the car on the drive home. We get back to the house and… we talk. Maybe for the first time in my life, my dad was a support, talked to me a like an adult when I started the conversation feeling like such a kid. We talked until it was ridiculously late, I vented about some of the stuff that was getting to me, school stuff. He offered me a beer and I said no, and he accepted that. That’s just the kind of guy he was, the beer thing. He took off work the next day, I took off school. We slept in, went out for lunch at a pub and played pool, we went to an arcade and he showed me his pinball skills. Then I went to the HQ for my evening shift.”
I was a little bit surprised by the strength of my emotional reaction to the little story, especially the late night talk he described. I blinked a few times in rapid succession. “That stuck, huh?”
“Gets a little hazy toward the middle of that day off. What’s your line of thinking?”
“Is it negativity-adjacent?” I asked. “What stays, what goes? Why? What can we pull out, what can we focus on? How does it connect to what we already know of powers? They fluctuate, when we’re in certain mental states, can we use new knowledge to control that fluctuation?”
Kid Win nodded, but I could see the slight changes in his expression, tiny creases, small tensions.
I went on, “I ask because last night, I found a new connection to my power. One I want to hold on to. And if I need to, I want to be able to intuit and deal with other powers, including any situations resembling last night, or… could be it matters for what the thinkers say is coming today.”
“Ah,” Kid Win replied.
Off to the side, not quite in earshot, Dennis said something, and Vista had a giggle fit.
“That okay?” I asked Kid Win.
“I don’t feel as much like an experiment under the microscope if you’re using it for yourself.”
“Using a good part of it for myself. Using more of it to just figure out how this all works. Last night, I was in the midst of it all. Earlier in this conversation, I used the term… what was it? Negativity-adjacent?”
“Sure? Think so.”
“I’m thinking a lot about what’s next to what, how it all maps together. I had glimpses last night and I’m still digesting that. I don’t know if it’s like looking at a lot of fine art or listening to a lot of music and getting an intuitive sense of things… but I leaned pretty heavily into intuition when I became…”
I trailed off, not quite sure about the words I was grasping for.
“The greater connection to your power?” he guessed.
“More like I became Victoria-adjacent. Twice. I was horribly burned, I found a different facet of me inside that vast program of alien biology, and then I was fine. I threw myself off of a cliff, and I just about died on landing, except I shifted to another facet of me.”
“You might be more experienced with this stuff than I am,” Kid Win said.
“Might be,” I said. “But Valkyrie’s been training you guys in this? Talking to you about it?”
“Having us meditate, having us pay close attention to our powers and what they’re telling us. Easier for some than others.”
“I don’t know how long you’ve been back, but I’ve been more or less wrestling with this for the last… four hours, it seems. I’m pretty sure you’ve had more time to digest it.”
Dennis and Vista had stopped chatting and gravitated closer. I was aware they were listening now.
“You said you became Victoria-adjacent.”
“Which isn’t even the right way of putting it. It’s like if Victoria lives at three-four-three tower crescent avenue, and Glory Girl lives at three-four-two, and Antares lives at three-four-five, and there are connections tying one to the other. I’m still me, but the center of who I am is living at a different address.”
“Antares went to that place you describe,” Kid Win said. “You said you changed twice, using the language of that place.”
“How would you put it?”
“Physics, superpositioning, reflections, facets.”
“I’m so glad I missed the first half of this conversation,” Dennis commented.
“Shhh,” Vista shushed him.
Kid Win barely seemed to notice them, as he thought about what I’d said. “Sure. Works. Question is… is the Victoria who went in the same Victoria who left?”
I had to think about it, considering who I was, and the various aspects of that place. Did I feel different?
Yes, but not because of that.
“Up until I entered that room, I didn’t have control, and a huge aspect of this world… felt massive, untouchable, out of reach. I saw a broken trigger where a man described being a small figure at the mouth of a volcano. You can’t beat the volcano. It swallows you up and you have no chance. And sometimes, it’s the next person’s volcano.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t visit you,” Vista said. “After…”
I shook my head.
“You have control now?” Dennis asked me.
“I think so,” I answered. I thought about it some more. “Yeah. Part of what motivated me to go there last night-”
“Interrupting,” Kid Win said, rushing the word, holding up a hand.
“Whatever you say to us is going to be repeated to Valkyrie,” he said. “Full disclosure.”
“Valkyrie might be ticked you said that,” Dennis pointed out. In the moment, he seemed more the somber, almost morose Dennis I’d known.
“Let her,” Kid Win answered.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I wanted to ask her questions. Now I’m asking you, and if you’re her proxy… same end result.”
“I don’t want to betray your friendship with us, or the people we used to be,” Kid Win told me.
I nodded, taking that in. How much of my openness was that? How much was I willing to tell Valkyrie? I wanted to think I’d be open, trust that she might be the most accessible parahuman to me who knew this world, but would I change what I said in the face of the small changes in expression? The particular word choice?
“You’re a good guy, Christopher,” Vista said.
“Mm. I don’t think I am, but thanks.”
“Why don’t you think you are?” Vista asked. “You’ve been a hero as long as I’ve known you, you’re here and you’re being friendly even though it means potentially upsetting the boss. The only dick move you’ve pulled was dying on me.”
“We couldn’t help it,” Dennis said, automatically.
“I’m not saying I’m not good,” Kid Win said. “I’m saying… I’m not sure I’m a guy. Human. Humans have childhood memories. One experience layered onto another, with things emerging from that.”
“What are you now?” Vista asked, quiet.
“An end result. A fabrication. The only lasting impressions from the past are the essential ones that made me into me.”
I thought about that.
The wind picked up. I turned my head so the hood would protect me where it was colder. Vista hunkered down a bit, and Dennis took a step to the side, so the breadth of his upper body blocked the wind for her.
“I feel the same way, I think?” I ventured, not sure of what I was saying as I said it. “I feel like the bad days left their disproportionately deep marks in me and who I am today. Too many days of the past few years are a haze. I’m not going to say it compares, but I don’t think we’re that far apart.”
“I was talking about my dad earlier,” Kid Win told me. “That one good day. I’m supposed to meet him later, you know, but I don’t have all of the memories of him. I don’t remember his face. I don’t remember his voice. Whatever part of me he was trying to support or hold onto that day? I don’t think it’s there.”
“You can salvage it,” Dennis said. “All the data’s there, except…”
“Sorted differently,” I said. “Something else’s filing system. Something else’s priorities.”
“Yeah.” Eyes in a tinted red metal glanced downward, pupils a gold light that emanated from the inside the orb, the tracery of etchings around the pupil bearing a similar effect.
“I’m sorry, Christopher,” I said. “I hope it works out ok and that he’s understanding, and that it’s mostly painless. If nothing else, I can’t imagine he won’t be happy to have you back.”
“A part of me,” Kid Win said. “And I don’t hope it’s painless. Painless means I’m not human enough to care.”
I saw Dennis nod a bit.
“Point conceded,” I said. “Sorry about comparing us. That’s… pretty damn heavy.”
“I’m not looking for concessions,” Kid Win said. “I don’t want to make this a competition. I think we’ve all had to deal with ‘heavy’.
“Dying and coming back,” Dennis said. “Dealing with everyone else dying. And…”
He stopped as he looked at me.
“Family stuff. Yeah,” he said, wrinkling his nose, snorting a bit.
It was meant as a deflection, a little joking acknowledgment, but it felt like a profoundly sad moment, because it wasn’t how the Dennis I knew would have responded. I resisted the urge to look at Vista to see how she’d taken it. She’d talked to him long enough to pick up on it, and she’d known him far better than I had.
“That family stuff?” I spoke up, “it get into that control I was talking about. Having the tools. Having the knowledge to tackle all of this. My entire family consists of control freaks and people who have no control, who get swept up in life and powers and everything else.”
“Ugh,” Vista made a sound. “I can guess your mom’s the control freak. Your dad’s swept up.”
“Amy’s swept up. Crystal’s swept up,” I said. “Distinction being that they’re not totally helpless. They do have choices. Crystal made good choices. My dad’s making pretty neutral ones, or non-choices. And for the record, I’d say my Uncle Mike is a control freak, strict lines and rules, family disappoints, betrays, or seems problematic? He cuts contact.”
“That’s present tense. He’s still around?” Vista asked.
“Alive, retired from cape life. Yeah.”
“Given the choice of control versus derailment, I want the control. I will fight for the control. Because it feels like it’s a choice between being greedy for that control and having none at all. Not just for me, not just for my family. So… I want to move on to asking questions about getting that control, as far as this whole thing goes.”
I saw Kid Win and Dennis exchange glances.
“Is this control motivation why you went where you did last night?” Vista asked.
“Does it mean you’re going back?” Vista asked, quieter.
“If the Wardens allow it. If I go back, it’ll be on terms that help the Wardens and help this city… and I think we have to be ready to handle that stuff.”
“That stance won’t win you any brownie points with the Warden leadership,” Dennis said.
“No,” I replied. I glanced at Vista, who looked noncommittal, but serious.
“But it’ll work for Valkyrie, probably.”
“Good to know,” I said. I was tense, even hearing the answer I’d been kind of hoping to get to.
If Breakthrough continued on this course, we wouldn’t be entirely alone.
Vista abruptly turned, walking away.
There wasn’t any snow, but there was a lot of wind. We were on the ‘third floor’ of the base, but considering the scale of the building, each ‘floor’ had areas with ceilings high enough that buildings could be fit within.
Vista walked up to the edge of the balcony, which had guardrails for the vehicles that might travel up and down it in different circumstances.
“Do you know why she-” I started.
The boys didn’t know. Clear enough on their faces.
“I’ll be back,” I told them.
I walked over to where Missy was, head ducked down so less of her neck was exposed to the cold, wearing her patched jacket, a sweater so dark a blue it was nearly black, that looked like it was cut to show off her shoulders, and rugged, forest green pants with boots. A stark contrast to the light, airy look she had as ‘Vista’. She leaned against the railing facing me, watching as I made my approach. The wind blew wavy blond-brown hair across her face, and she didn’t push it out of the way, instead bringing her hand up to her ear, covering it.
“This okay?” I asked. “Me coming over? Little V?”
“Sure. Big V.” Her expression cracked slightly. A faint smile.
I made my way over, leaning against the same railing she did.
“You walked away all of a sudden, I wasn’t sure, I’m still not sure if you want space,” I said.
“You coming over is better than the alternative,” Vista said.
“What’s the alternative?” I asked.
“You staying over there.”
“Okay…” I said.
“Dennis is weird,” she said.
“A bit. They’re both different.”
“But Dennis in particular. Christopher is, he says he doesn’t remember everything. He looked at me when I first walked up and it was like, he was looking at me and trying to remember the particulars, and maybe he failed, because he looked embarrassed when he saw I saw him looking. He doesn’t remember his dad. He’s quieter, more introspective. But he’s… he feels like someone who could fill in the gaps and become the Christopher I knew.”
“Yeah. I get that. Could be the tinker power is always running, so it picked up a good grounding from a lot of different places and times.”
“Dennis is weird. The inner voice that he had, that looked at this fucked up world of ours and laughed at it and called attention to it, that started everything by questioning the situations we were in, being skeptical of people until they proved themselves, that’s his outer voice now. And his old outer voice, that was cynical and frustrated because he asked those questions, he challenged, and he adapted, he got hurt and tired and heartbroken… that’s the inner voice now. Like there’s something dejected but stubborn at the core of it all, and that’s where the jokey quips and skepticism come from now.”
I remembered what she’d said about Christopher. What she wasn’t elaborating on with Dennis.
“Makes you feel like he might not make his way back to being the Dennis you knew?”
Vista shrugged. “Feels like it. But who knows? Maybe they’re talking among themselves and Dennis is telling Chris how little Missy is different. That I’m bitter, I’m pricklier, I’m more arrogant, I don’t know.”
“People change. I think that happens. But from where I stand, first of all, I think you’re great. I can’t imagine them badmouthing you. You’re too cool for that.”
“I don’t know a single person that doesn’t like you. Rachel Lindt likes you.”
“But I’m different.”
“Yeah,” I said. I inhaled. “We all are.”
“In its way. But I’m optimistic, when it comes to Dennis. I’ve seen the way things are laid out, how things are set up, the information stores they have, the way they store every detail of our lives, sorting it…”
“Yeah. But comprehensive in the midst of that creepiness. The individual pieces are all still there. Give him time to sort it out.”
Vista was very still, staring at a point in the wall above the boys. I might’ve thought she was using her powers, but we were supposed to avoid powers in this building, which was a bit different from Breakthrough being under a general restriction. That, and there was no reason for her to use them.
She didn’t seem very reassured, or even like she was listening.
I waited, because I couldn’t think of a way to speak up or approach her that wouldn’t make me sound uncannily like my mom.
There was a nervous energy to how the boys interacted. Kid Win stretched, and couldn’t stand in one place for long. Dennis talked. Both avoided looking our way.
We’re facing the end of the city, possibly with greater ramifications. We’re ill-equipped. They know it. They’re bearing that burden.
“I’ve worked damn hard.”
I looked in Vista’s direction.
“I meditated, practiced with my power, pushed it to the limit. I did everything the power testers said could make you stronger or more in tune with your ability. It wasn’t just power either. I hit the gym three times a week. I go out for walks. The bosses need a volunteer? I put my hand up.”
“Burns you out,” I said.
“I don’t burn out,” Vista said. “I got into this early, you know. It’s part of how I think, it’s part of how I move. I wake up in the morning and I’m up. Force of habit since I was ten. Girls my age went to dance class or soccer, or they slept in and grumbled. I was finding things to do because home sucked, so I’d train, I’d read up on stuff. Then I was doing it because I had a crush on this guy I knew was too old for me and I wanted to impress him. Then I was doubling down on it because I had teammates, and I didn’t want to be treated like a kid. Then I tripled down on it.”
“Could you stop if you had to?” I asked. “Or is it that ingrained by now?”
“Ingrained. As much a part of me as those mountains on the horizon are a part of this place. Do you know why I was working that hard, toward the end?”
“To make up for the ones who were gone. To ensure you wouldn’t lose more.”
Vista sighed. “I’ve treated you to this rant before, huh?”
“Less of a rant, more of an idle thought. But you mentioned it, asked me questions.”
“I still lost the people. Now I’m here. I almost let myself think the added power and physical training would count for something. And now you’re talking about a completely different playing field.”
I shook my head. “No, Missy. That training matters. The connection to your agent is something you’ve developed, and it one hundred percent applies. The physical training is your connection to you.”
“You feel far away, big V. Like you’re more with them than you’re with me, and you were getting more distant by the second.”
So that was it.
“Come with?” I offered. “I meant what I said. If this stuff ends up mattering, that work you’ve done will put you head, shoulders, and tail above the rest.”
“Can’t. Made myself too essential to too many people.”
“It’s not necessarily one or the other.”
“It might be. Vic, they were talking about reporting to their bosses. I’ve got to report to mine. What do I even say? That you seem eager to dive into this? That I don’t know if you’ll ignore orders?”
“The truth. That I think this is pretty darn important. I have questions I want to ask those guys and I want to piece together some of the puzzle.”
“Important? Do you mean essential? Important feels like too weak a word, and if it’s essential, it implies you’re willing to break the rules to go do what you did last night, again. And if you keep that up, one of the handful of people who I knew before Gold Morning and like might disappear. I might feel like I’m obligated as a Warden to report it, and I really don’t want to do that as a friend.”
She stared down at the ground, lips pressed together, and I was reminded of the girl who’d disappeared around the time Dean had introduced me to his team as his girlfriend. To get a handle on her emotions where nobody would see.
And then she’d marched back, expression controlled, and looked me in the eye. Right now she couldn’t bring herself to look at me, but she had that exact same fierceness combined with the apparent resentment at having to be fierce.
Even then, she’d been working so damn hard to work at becoming a stronger, better person. Now… if it weren’t for a neutered media apparatus, or if we were back in twenty-thirteen without the end of the world on the horizon, I could believe she’d be one of those capes who could alter the state of conversation in a room, just by being there.
And I was disappointing her.
“Not essential. Inevitable,” I told her, quiet.
She looked up at me, gaze level.
“I don’t need to break rules because I think this is coming no matter what we do. It’s happening no matter what we do. So I don’t need to rush to it. It’s coming.”
“A breaking down of the walls? They’re coming through to us, is what the leadership says.”
“A breaking down of everything,” I told her. “They are us, at least in part. They’re rooted throughout the city. There isn’t anything that isn’t touched by them. They’re here. We need to figure out how to deal with them.”
Vista heaved out a sigh.
“Do you think I’m wrong?” I asked her.
“No. I wish I could. You should go talk to them. Get the answers you wanted.”
“Come with. You don’t have to betray your bosses and mentors to come and listen. And you can tell them everything we’ve talked about.”
I only realized after saying it that Vista might have wanted to hang back for the same reason she’d stepped away after Gallant had introduced me to the Wards.
It was too late to take back my offer.
“I need a promise,” she said. “Don’t leave.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“Don’t get so far away or disconnect so much in this… whole complicated mess that I don’t see you again.”
“I’ve got people to look after,” I told her. “Jessica Yamada asked me to look after them. I’m still working on that. I have no plans to go anywhere.”
“You stay Victoria Dallon. You don’t dive so deep into the waters that you emerge out the other side and the inside parts of you are out, and the outside parts of you are in.”
“Dennis is going to be okay, Missy. I really believe it.”
She gave me a glare of a look, a warning.
“I promise. At the end of this all, you can call me Big V, and I’ll call you little V.”
She didn’t look convinced.
“It’s part of what I’m after. I mentioned the volcano. I want to work around it, use it, without losing myself to it. Everything I’m doing right now is to avoid losing to this… phenomenal force we’re up against. I want control of myself and of things in my reach. I don’t want to be Mark or even Crystal, though I think Crystal might be a little less disorganized and lost after today. We’ll see.”
“Will we, though?” Vista asked.
“I don’t want to be Amy,” I said. “I don’t want to be Amy’s monster, either.”
“In the report- I only glanced over it. They said you destroyed Teacher’s crystal, and it was dangerous?”
“I’m pretty sure it was safe. The entire thing was reckless.”
“Then aren’t you contradicting yourself?” Vista asked, hostile now.
“Not doing anything felt more reckless. If Teacher had won, and he was about to, we might have lost control of everything. Forever.”
Vista nodded. She cracked her knuckles.
I watched her.
Saw her nod.
“We good?” I asked, again.
“We’re good. Ninety nine percent of everything else is kind of balls.”
Vista smiled at me, but behind that smile was that faint, vaguely resentful expression. A smile for me, resentment for ‘everything else’.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Hold onto that one percent that isn’t, then.”
“I was,” she muttered. “Until you barged into my room way fucking earlier than I expected.”
I smiled, she looked up at me and smiled a bit too. Not quite so resentful.
I was a bit jealous, that she had something that could alleviate the pressure, distract, and give her a ‘release valve’, as Clockblocker had put it.
The boys were sitting on the same planter box when we rejoined them. Kid Win had a tool in his hand, and was working on something that he’d perched on his knee. He looked up and smiled. “All good?”
“Yeah,” Vista said. “Some background stuff.”
“Where were we?” Kid Win asked.
“What stays, what goes, communication,” I said. “Valkyrie said she talked to you before bringing you back to life.”
“I barely remember,” Dennis said. “I remember the conversation, vaguely. She asked for details about who I was, and I had the impression she saw, but she asked too, and it mattered that I told the truth.”
“Did anything else communicate with you?” I asked. “Teacher had control over agents, in there. I’m not sure if he’s in a state to report on what he was doing, now.”
“We talked to one another. Our agents did, too. It’d be like… being sent as a messenger. Bringing over a share of myself, my memories.”
“Like flashes of lightning?” I asked.
“Yeah. That works. Some were more talkative than others. There’d be stuff like Kid Win- his agent would reach out to me to verify details or see them from another side. Everything forming a giant web.”
“When someone triggered, it’d reach out to everything,” Kid Win said.
“Good, okay,” I said.
“My head’s spinning and I’m not seeing where this is going,” Vista admitted.
“I want to open lines of communication,” I said. “I kind of did, last night. I called for help, and the Wr- my agent answered.”
“And you said you have more control,” Kid Win said.
“I want that for everyone,” I said. “Everyone on our side. Can you tell me anything that would help? Ways to close the communication gap, so we can reach out?”
The boys exchanged looks.
“What?” I asked.
“Equipping you with some more general information and filling in the blanks is one thing,” Kid Win said, quiet. He fixed those red eyes with glowing gold pupils on me, where he’d previously held a posture like he didn’t want to meet anyone’s eyes. “Giving you that kind of information would be… a lot.”
“If that was even a thing,” Dennis cut in.
I didn’t believe him. There was something.
“What can you tell me?” I asked.
“I’m supposed to tell you that you need anchors,” Clockblocker said. “You need things to hold onto. Things from your past. Your family. Yourself.”
“Fuck that,” Vista said.
“The others are striving for control,” Kid Win said. “Teacher’s lost his thrall horde and they apparently took him prisoner, but the tools are out there. It’s a question of the arrangements he made. Your sister-”
Kid Win blithely continued, “She’s up to something, with Lab Rat. It looks like a play for control. We haven’t been briefed on the situation, but leadership looked worried.”
I didn’t want to think about it. On so many fucking levels, I didn’t want to think about it.
“Valkyrie is on the side of humanity,” Dennis said.
I hated to ask, but, “How sure are we? I know you’re biased, but…”
Kid Win answered me. “She had access to monsters like Bakuda and Eidolon. She hasn’t called them out, hasn’t given them bodies.”
“Only heroes. Only the people fighting for the right causes,” Vista picked up on the sentiment.
I nodded to myself.
Kid Win pulled his phone out of his pocket. He showed me. A list of letter and symbol codes, each with three lights marked beside them. Green lights most of the way down. A few yellows. Mostly consistent. A number of lights had black circles in the middle.
Amy was orange.
“Is this tinker data, because I can’t-”
“It’s not,” Vista said. She showed me her phone. The same display. “Contessa, Dinah Alcott, and other thinkers are updating with their best guesses about threat levels.”
“Green is good, I hope.”
“Green is good. Green is saying the threat level is negligible. Icons suggest if a team is currently handling or suppressing them. Can you see the distinction between green and lime?”
I had to tilt the phone to view the shades in more nuance, given the ambient light. “Sort of.”
“Suppressed or temporarily handled. It’s working,” Vista said. “What the Wardens are doing is working.”
Kid Win explained, “Smaller threats like Little Midas and the Machine Army are out there and not handled, but they’re yellow. Your sister is the one big threat we haven’t fully dealt with, and the danger she poses is getting worse over time.”
“Holy shit,” Vista said. She glanced at me. “When?”
“Last half hour,” Kid Win said.
I was tense.
What the fuck, Amy?
“They might want you to help,” Kid Win told me, his voice quiet. “If they can trust you.”
I stared down at the phone.
When so many things seemed okay or manageable, when I finally felt like I had control, I might have to deal with the one person who could so easily make me feel like I’d never have control again?
The notion made me feel vaguely nauseous.
“They sent refugees to her,” I said.
Kid Win nodded. “And something happened in the last half hour that destroyed all trust we had in her. Classified, apparently.”
I was silent, digesting, interpreting.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I almost jumped clean out of my skin.
I pulled it free. Vista peeked.
“That would be it,” Vista said. “Speak of the devil.”
The devil is right, I thought. This would be about Amy.
I took a few steps away before pressing the phone to my ear.
We need their trust if we’re going to handle this whole thing.
If Breakthrough is to get together, if we’ll have the resources we need, and if Valkyrie’s flock is willing to divulge the tools or communication methods Clock and Win hinted at.
Just needed her trust.
“What part of do not associate with other members of your team do you not understand, Antares?”
Narwhal was… pretty notoriously hard-nosed. This was apparently that. I could see Vista wincing, because she could hear the tone, even though she couldn’t hear the words.
“You’ll have to refresh my memory.”
“Capricorn. You and he were in the same place, I hear? He told me one story, I don’t think I believe him. I’m hoping you’ll be more convincing.”
I shut my eyes. What was I even supposed to say?
I caught your subordinate sleeping mostly in the nude with my teammate?
“I thought this would be about Amy Dallon,” I said, trying to deflect.
“In a way it is. Capricorn just lied to me, I think. I could dig out the truth myself, but that takes time and there are bigger things at stake today. Tell me, can we trust you?”
I opened my mouth, then shut it.
This felt like a trap. Or a trick. Or a prank… no. Not a prank.
But it felt aggressive and I felt off-balance, and I hated being off balance.
“No?” I ventured, even though I wasn’t sure why. I just felt like ‘yes’ was the wrong answer, and a delay would be worse than either.
“No?” Narwhal asked. I saw Vista flinch a bit at the tone again.
The thoughts connected. Tristan, Amy, trust. I knew what Tristan had told her and what she was getting at.
“Master-stranger protocols. I warned my team.”
“He didn’t lie about that, at least. Would you be willing to come upstairs, help us with the situation? We’ll work on your master-stranger issue while figuring out how to handle the situation.”
That- it sounded okay?
“I think so,” I said.
“Your mother will be here. We’ll invite your old and current therapists in to vet you.”
Oh. Oh fucking great. That was three people and about ten associated, individual conversations I didn’t want to have, waiting upstairs.
“Will do,” I said, though the wind had gone out of my sails, and my voice felt like it lacked any strength.
“Bring Vista, if you’re still near her. We’ll want everyone ready. The Thinkers think this situation will go critical tonight. We want to be ready when it does.”
“Got it,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said, hanging up as she finished.
Leaving me with what felt like a ringing in my ear, not from her volume, but the sheer stress that I’d taken from that phone.
The thought lingered, as I tried to gather my composure. Vista touched my arm.
“Stuff’s happening. They want you too,” I told her.
We said our brief farewell to the boys. Something in Vista seemed lighter, walking away from the reunion, as heavy as everything else felt.
What are you doing, Amy?
And why the hell does it feel, deep in my gut, like this isn’t the thing we should all be worried about? Are we overlooking something or someone in that long row of green and lime-green lights?