I didn’t need the shower, in the sense of getting clean, but I needed it for the static drum of water against my head, the way it was easier to think-not-think in that contained, warm space.
Except I probably needed the shower to get clean. Not in a grossed-out, crawling-out-of-my-skin way, not at all, but in a gonna-be-talking-to-capes-I-respect, don’t-want-to-smell way. I needed to play field goalie in my own head, fending off intrusive thoughts without turning so much attention to those thoughts I left my flanks undefended. Thinking-not-thinking was bad for that.
Maybe I was trying too hard to pull it all together into a neat package that answered why I was presently the way I was. Put in simpler terms, I could sum up my thoughts as: I might probably have been happier if I’d skipped the shower, I couldn’t skip the shower without being crazy with self consciousness, and I felt fucking weird taking my second shower in a matter of hours.
My hands pressed against the wall, my posture like I was pushing against that wall and preparing to push it down, water running down my head and back, face aimed at the swirl of water disappearing down a black void, no doubt to be recycled, because you didn’t have a complex this big, take the trouble to pump water into it, and use that water once.
I’d taken the bandaging off, and my fingernail bed was a glaring red with raw, torn skin at the edges. My left hand.
My right hand had a swirl texture to it, where it had been burned to different degrees. The skin was thicker.
Parts of my body ached in a bruised sort of way, but it wasn’t a bad ache. Credit for that. My heart and body core and my lower belly didn’t feel so cold as they might have, earlier. Human contact did nourish. We needed it as a species, and I was a member of the species. I would have been lying if I said I didn’t feel nourished.
Which wasn’t to say I was hunky dory. Ha ha. Fuck.
The thoughts that danced at the edges of my awareness without being fully realized were pressing in to the point that I could imagine I was sharing this shower stall with two other people. Trying to ignore both of them despite the stall’s confines.
Pay too much attention to the Dean that stood in the corner behind me and to my right, and I’d have to confront real thoughts about why I felt like he’d be disappointed, why I felt more than a bit disappointed in myself. I’d have to confront that self-disappointment, at least, process my expectations, think about whether there was a possibility I could have had any relationship or intimacy at all that wouldn’t have come to this conclusion.
Pay too much attention to her, behind me and to my left, and my skin crawled, everything took on a darker, uglier shade, and I was reminded of how I’d made concessions to her, for the sake of everyone and everything. The longer I dwelt on that, the worse it felt.
I focused on the hands that were planted on the wall. The missing fingernail, the burn, the gouge in my forearm, the gouge in my right arm. The still-healing bruise at my ribs.
My injuries. Mine. Untouched by her.
I knew it wasn’t good to go down that road, to dwell on that, but it was something. Every last one of those injuries had been incurred because I’d acted for the sake of others. That too was mine. What ended up being forty-five minutes with Anelace was mine too.
I hated her, I hated her so fucking much. I hated that she inserted herself into my life and I had to carve out this territory in my own brain, my family, my relationships, team, and a fling.
I wanted her to get it, and I wasn’t sure she could. Going down that line of thought was… deeply unpleasant, but thinking about ways that were strictly counter to what she wanted, they at least kept thoughts from encroaching.
How would she act if I spat in her face? Would that stay with her? Would it play any part in her seemingly unending ability to twist her thoughts around and think there was chance of reconciliation?
What if I just picked up a telephone pole and demolished her legs? Arms too? Spine? Let her spend years in a hospital room, thinking back over all the decisions she’d made to date?
Would she get it then?
What if I used Tattletale? Leaned on a power for some biting, penetrating comments, found the thread of Amy’s argument and pulled on it until it unraveled?
Or Mockument? What would Amy do if I had Damsel’s teammate pull out a monstrous caricature of her? If I forced her to face it?
It would be easier than doing it myself, and I was pretty sure I could do it myself, if it came down to it. Break her psychologically, as much as taking a telephone pole to her spine would break her physiologically.
Given how dependent it would be on finding the right opportunity, and how difficult it would be to get Tattletale to Amy or enlist Mockument’s help, it probably came down to the telephone pole or breaking her down with words.
It would be unkind, it would be barbaric, it would be ugly. There would be ramifications, both in terms of the oversight from other capes, and in terms of what Amy was likely to do. Because someone brought to zero would expend everything they had in a final, desperate attempt to save themselves or restore equilibrium.
I knew because she had brought me to zero. I had experienced moments like that in the hospital.
Fuck me, this whole endeavor had opened doors. Best to stay away from Amy for a bit, because I didn’t want to actually do those things. It wouldn’t help, not in the long run.
Or was it the short term, with a collective gain in the long run? This thing with the giants was so monumentally stupid.
I turned off the water, then took my hands away from the wall.
Toweling off, I squeezed the water out of my hair, dried it, and began to get dressed, simultaneously braiding my hair.
Still there? I asked the void, my arms flat at my side, my hair still in the process of being braided. Good.
Might need you.
Sorry it’s been such a long road to get here.
You’re just a fragment of a fucked up, omnicidal alien who happens to have a symbiotic or parasitic relationship to me. You probably expected a different existence. So did I. We’re in this mess together.
I so didn’t want to go out there, face Amy even through a screen, or deal with the Wardens.
But there was a chance I could help people. A chance I could help my team.
A chance we could help my team.
I pulled on the plush black sweater with the hood, wet a paper towel to wash off a bit of dust from when it had hit the floor, and looked at myself in the mirror.
The braid’s a little messy, I thought. A few strands of hair escaped here and there. I fixed what I could, but I was resigned to looking imperfect, a bit below par. Fuck, it wasn’t like every other hero around here wasn’t already stretched thin and feeling worn out.
I ran into Anelace outside the showers. He’d rinsed off too, and he had a towel around his shoulders, a Gold Morning armband around his bicep, a knife in his hand, chin raised as he used the knife’s edge to shave. I was worried the surprise of seeing me would make him jump and slit his throat.
“Say what you will about Teacher,” he said, chin askew, still whisking away stubble without the benefit of more than touch, “Shitty guy, but he installs good showers.”
“He really does,” I said. I looked down the hall. The only other people nearby were well out of earshot. “You okay? We good?”
“I’m good,” he said, smiling, “I was going to take the ‘no strings’ to an extreme and interpret it as I shouldn’t bring it up until you do. Nice memory, nothing more.”
“That’s fair,” I said.
“Felt like not saying anything at all might be interpreted as rude, though. Thanks for bringing it up. Gives me a chance to say I’d do it again, on the same terms.”
“Dangerous game, that,” I said.
“Won’t deny that.”
“I’d say the same, but…”
He pressed both hands over his heart. “If the follow up to that isn’t ‘no strings attached’, my ego is going to take a beating.”
“No strings attached,” I said. “I’m just not ready for anything. Your ego is fine for the time being.”
He smiled, wiping his knife with a paper towel that had been jutting out of his pocket, capturing the tiny hairs. “Is this the point we make small talk, talk business and cape stuff, or-”
“-Or I bail. Check on my team. My lunatic sister.”
“Good luck,” he said. “We’re trial-running Ratcatcher again. Because, y’know, everything with the city isn’t stressful enough, we gotta give second chances to depraved, hilarious ex-villains with a thing for rodents. Have to pile on enough stuff that we’re all on the brink of second triggering, y’know? That’s the big secret plan.”
“Right, right. I’ll leave you to it. Good luck with your rat girl. Seemed like she had a good heart.”
“She does. I still don’t think it’s going to work out, but Teacher scuttled her first chance, and it won’t feel right until we give her another.”
“Why now?” I asked.
“Because there might not be a chance later, and I don’t want to leave things with regrets.”
He gave me a salute, knife up to his forehead, then away. I raised a hand in farewell. We went our separate ways.
Yeah, it felt like the shadows and dark thoughts that dogged me were nipping at my heels now, clinging to my back, rather than lurking around the next corner. A weight. A constant set of thoughts. Some had to do with Amy, some had to do with me.
Dropping something heavy on her from above. Telephone pole to the spine. Tearing her a new one.
All of that felt fresh, new, and constant, like an oven ring with the flame on the lowest temperature. Saying the intensity was ‘low’ didn’t mean I wanted to hold my hand to the ring.
Anelace had been the right choice. Was he more than a little weird, asking me out on a gore-streaked battlefield? Yeah. But I could kind of get that, though, when we’d seen enough ugliness that we distanced ourselves from it or became inured to it. He was also someone who cared to help out at a physio center, he respected boundaries when a pervier asshole could have taken advantage of the interest of the six or seven interested physiotherapists at the center who’d been keeping their eyes on him. Become the center of a tangle of drama. He hadn’t.
As bad as it sounded, I wasn’t interested in more. Not with him. No dating, no relationship. That was a plus. He was accessible and available. Another plus.
I was going to regret the shit out of this, a week from now, when the dark thoughts were still nipping at my heels because they were way harder to put in the box, and the memories of being close to someone had faded and gone cold again.
Already, as he walked away, I felt a bit lonely again.
I headed back toward the situation room, shoulders hunched forwards, hands in my pockets.
Keep me company, I thought. We need to work on you braiding my hair. What impacts that? Is it you drawing on stored memories of me? Reaching for a crystal where you’ve got some motor memory garbage? Is it drawn from my time in the asylum, or is it my current manual dexterity, with something interfering?
Shit. Half my files I could look stuff up in were packed up. Agent-parahuman relationships, the things that impacted it. Off the top of my head… there was stuff like Vista had talked about. Meditation. Practice. Testing limits. Getting closer to the mindset of the trigger. Facing more high-conflict situations. A few incidental reports about dreams, but those were so ambiguous that it could have been capes pulling ideas out of their ass, or extrapolating from nothing.
Not that I didn’t believe there was something to dreams.
A lot of fucky, not-quite-right power stuff surrounded dreams. Like powers didn’t quite know how to handle them, making the rules a little less firm.
Anelace wanted to handle Ratcatcher before everything goes even more to shit than it currently is, and here I am, with a spark of inspiration and motivation to dig into something, with no opportunity to do so.
The fucking world is going to end again, and I’ll die wishing for the chance to read my notes.
Hands, no powers, I reminded myself, as I got to the situation room door.
Too many unfamiliar faces. I did see Larue and Eric, sitting at the same table as Armstrong, who was back.
I took a seat at the table, two chairs down from Armstrong, so I wouldn’t be bothering him.
One half-screen for the Nursery giantess, wreathed by a pile of her creations, the men giving birth to the flesh trees from anus and urethra, the women mostly doing so with the more conventional route. Fluids pooled and drooled around the mass, with the flesh trees bowing as their ‘fruits’ grew by the second, getting heavier. From baby to adult in a matter of minutes.
The other half of the split screen showed further down the procession line. Naked, slender figures shambling across the cold landscape, almost in single file, except for the ones who seemed to get along well enough to move in groups.
One screen showed the Machine Army. The Nursery-borne giants used raw strength, digging with fingers and stolen material, including the wreckage of robots, to till the earth and overturn its contents, to stomp at rocks and fallen trees and pulverize them. Complete and utter ruin in a widening half-circle around the camp.
One screen for Dauntless, who once again had the Simurgh perched on him, resting on the top edge of the shield he carried.
“Cleared your head?” Eric asked, looking over the top of his laptop.
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“Next time you disappear, do us both a favor and let me know where you are?”
“Does it matter? I’m benched. Your job was to report on me. You’ve done your job.”
“My job was to watch over you.”
Fuck, I shouldn’t have come back.
Where the hell was I supposed to go if I didn’t come back?
I didn’t want to dignify his statement with an answer, and Armstrong was watching us instead of working, so I asked Armstrong, “Any word on Sveta?”
“We have her on camera. I wouldn’t have paired her with Weld, but she wanted to help. They’re trying to get access to Lab Rat’s lab so they can assess what’s going on.”
“Access covertly, or access-”
He turned his own laptop to an angle where I could see it. He hit the key to rotate through the windows, and the one he came to a rest at was a video feed.
“Bureaucratically,” I concluded, seeing the scene. I recognized it as Kenzie’s eye cam.
She was near the Nursery creation. So was Weld. So was Slician.
But the heroes were doing their own thing, holding the line, standing guard at a perimeter that had formed around the… mess of Nursery and her breeders.
Sveta was, I could see as she looked around, in the company of Engel and Egg. Her fleeting glance in Engel’s direction made the computer buzz and the screen flare with colors that extended beyond the frame of the live video footage. I felt the emotional punch of it, and I was not ready for it.
I scooted back from the table with enough force that I almost fell backward, and I would have flown a bit rather than fall.
“You okay?” Eric asked. I wanted to throw something at him.
“She does that,” Armstrong said. “You get used to it.”
“Here,” Larue told me. He spun his laptop around one hundred and eighty degrees and scooted it over my way. “Take it.”
“It’s only a video feed, so I don’t think I’m getting in trouble for giving you acccess. You can control who and what you watch. Lookout gave us the visuals for your team and her kid teammates.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll grab another. It’s fine,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “What if I want to communicate with them?”
“Do it through us,” Eric said.
“Really?” I asked.
“It makes some sense,” Armstrong said. “I wasn’t part of the review, but giving you the ability to exchange messages with them isn’t much different from putting you in command of the team again.”
I made a so-so gesture. “Kind of in command.”
“I know Tristan fancies himself a leader, so I know what you mean. Even so. If they’re concerned, don’t feed those concerns. This will blow over.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Headphones?” Eric asked.
“I have earbuds,” I told him, fishing in my pocket. “Thanks though.”
I plugged in the one bud. Navigating to the right window.
First, I wanted to check everyone was okay.
Kenzie was with her friends, sitting in the center of the back seat, her attention at least partially on a laptop that was placed across her lap. Her legs were crossed, feet up on the seat, hands stabilizing the machine. Her eye darted around, and the camera showed part of her interface, as she highlighted seemingly random words that floated against a backdrop, refocused her vision to look through that assembly of words to the words behind, picked a few characters, then unfocused to pull back two or three more word-clouds to pick out more stuff. The words she chose appeared on the laptop.
“We should finish packing up your headquarters while we’re there,” Tattletale said.
“Can we hold off?” Kenzie asked.
“Are you willing to lose everything you haven’t packed?”
“No,” Darlene said, to Kenzie’s right.
She hit enter with the thumb of the hand that held the laptop’s edge. A box appeared on the screen. Distorted video and audio, loud.
Snuff, driving, cussed. “Turn it down!”
“Sorry! We were listening to music and dancing before we left.” Kenzie held down the volume button for a few seconds, until it was quiet enough that Snuff and Tattletale didn’t look upset anymore.
“Such a carefree existence,” Tattletale said.
“Not carefree at all,” Darlene said. “Right?”
“Right. We’re doing important work,” Kenzie added.
“You are,” Chicken Little added. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“It’s your job to protect us when trouble comes calling,” Kenzie said. She looked to the side, where Candy was slumped down, headphones on, sleeping or trying to sleep. Darlene just past her, by the car door.
“It is absolutely not his job to do that,” Tattletale cut in. “His job, all of your jobs are to run. Get out of trouble, if you find yourselves in any. Understand?”
“Yes,” three of the kids said in chorus.
Kenzie looked to the other side, where Chicken Little sat with his head resting against the window, a small bird in his hands, his eyes on the world beyond. He was smiling.
“I liked the music,” he said.
“It’s one of my favorites,” Darlene said.
Kenzie typed on the keyboard now, putting down lines of code while periodically using a keyboard shortcut to switch between windows. Views of the people I’d intended to check in on. The rest of Breakthrough.
I looked up and left, to a camera in the back corner of the situation room. I resisted the urge to wave.
When I looked across the table, Eric was frowning.
I looked back to the feed. Kenzie was looking down, where a huge-as-shit bird was taking up the entire floor space between the two front seats and the bench seat at the back. Thus the way that Kenzie was sitting.
But she wasn’t looking at that. She was looking at her knee, which was pressed against Chicken Little’s leg.
Kenzie began humming.
“No. No humming,” Tattletale said, her voice overlapping momentarily with Snuff’s grunt of protest.
“But I’m happy,” Kenzie said.
“And I’m thinker headache-y. No humming. Please.”
“Yes ma’am,” Kenzie said, before falling silent.
I switched. I’d seen a picture-in-a-picture glimpse of what was on her laptop, enough to know they weren’t embroiled in fights, but I looked for actual video feeds of my team now.
The next three video feeds were Chicken Little, a view of the inside of what I presumed were Candy’s eyelids, and Darlene’s view.
Rain was with Golem and Cuff, chatting. They were near where Amy was, but the view was so distant Engel didn’t register, which was a relief.
“-trying to set me up with her,” Golem explained
“Ugh,” Cuff made a sound.
“How did it go?” Rain asked.
“Terrible? I mean… what did I have going for me? Fat kid, bad grades, hated everything. No interests. Certainly not sports, like my dad wanted. And she’s… what? Athletic, uh, I’m not going to lie and say she was attractive, because… god, it sounds shitty to say it, but-”
“You don’t have to qualify,” Cuff said. “The racist girl is kind of rat-faced.”
“Reminder: I’m using a camera. I’m micced. We’re probably being watched and listened to by an intern or someone.”
“She was still out of my league,” Golem said. At the same time, words appeared across the camera.
“She was not,” Cuff said. “No. Even discounting the racist stuff…”
“Sure. But as far as I was concerned, then? Zero self esteem?”
VICTORIA IS WATCHING
“Victoria’s watching,” Rain added. “Hi. Hope things are going okay over there. Sorry to interrupt, Golem.”
“It’s fine,” Golem said. He was Byron-like in how soft spoken he was, which was amusing considering he had the kind of height, frame, and physique that would let anyone dominate a room, and the armor only augmented that. “She wasn’t interested, either. I didn’t blame her.”
“Where I grew up, interest didn’t factor in unless you were a good soldier, and then you got some choice,” Rain said.
“She was a good soldier for the Empire.”
“Sure,” Rain said. “Wouldn’t have guaranteed she was safe, though. It’d make sense to pair up a promising soldier with the son of the group’s leader. Scribe would-”
“Rune. She was Rune then.”
“Rune would have been convinced to go along, got a lot of perks. Keeps her close, and gets you involved.”
“Sounds like you’re an expert. You could run a cult yourself if you had a mind to,” Cuff said.
“Ha. As if. People have to like you for that to happen. You learn stuff if you live it.”
I changed the channel, so to speak. Over to Capricorn.
He wasn’t far away either, suggesting most of the team was on the task of Amy. No doubt because we’d dealt with her and Shin before. Nothing seemed to be going beyond the gates, but there were enough other heroes around that I imagined they’d be forming the investigative body. If it came to that. Or they’d attack the morass of Nursery stuff, if it turned hostile.
I could see how Golem’s thing about his dad trying to pair him up with Rune had started. Tristan was with some of the Shepherds. Moonsong was close by but she was busy with another conversation. Rune, Scribe, was closer.
“Hey, Capricorn,” Scribe called out.
“You’re still on video, Scribe. Do you want to say something else that’s going to make you look bad in front of your superiors?”
Tristan sounded so tired.
“Heard you didn’t reconcile with Reconciliation.”
Tristan looked over at her.
Scribe touched her heart, before stating a slightly overdramatic, shaking-her-head-while-speaking, “I’m really sorry. That’s a shame. I know you were close, once.”
“He’s a good guy,” Tristan said. “Deserves everything good.”
“He is,” another Shepherd said. Not one of Scribe’s flock. “I hear good things. I wish he’d stuck with us.”
One of Scribe’s retinue leaned over to his female friend, hand cupped over mouth, whispering something. The friend laughed, and started to pass it on to Scribe.
Tristan got to his feet, and in that same second, the guy cape who’d just whispered the ‘joke’ to his friend took an abrupt step away from the wall, toward Tristan. There was a swagger to his body language, like he expected a fight.
“What are you doing?” Tristan asked.
“What are you doing?” the guy responded, emphasizing the ‘you’.
Tristan stared at him. The guy stared back.
The other Shepherd that had said something kind about Reconciliation stood off to the side, actively not looking at the potential altercation.
“Hey, Pictor?” Tristan asked. “Do me a favor?”
The friendlier Shepherd looked over. “I don’t want to get in the middle of anything.”
I felt such a profound disappointment in the guy. I could almost hear it in Tristan’s voice, too. “Wave me over when the guys inside the station come back with the response from Cryptid? Can you do that?”
The aggressive guy-Shepherd stared at Tristan, silent, as Tristan turned to go.
Tristan shook his head, walking away.
The group laughed behind him.
Tristan put the station entrance behind him, making some movement that saw his arm pass in front of his face, before his armor squeaked, straining.
Sorry about Reconciliation, I thought. He’d been so hopeful. Byron had planned to chime in.
I could relate to the loneliness that seemed to surround him now. No teammates in immediate reach, possibly because the group had been told to keep their distance from one another until further evaluation or checks. No Reconciliation. I had no idea how he got on with his parents, but I remembered it being bad, last I’d heard.
I wanted to talk to him, to encourage him. Even if Vista had been there… I knew she was Byron’s, but she was friendly with Tristan, and he needed a friend.
He stood outside the station, gaze out on the cityscape and horizon.
Turning, he sighted Rain, and began trudging off in Rain’s direction.
Guess you’re not being separated that forcefully, I thought.
Good that you have each other.
I clicked, to change the channel, Tristan still in the back of my mind.
Which took me back to Sveta.
To Engel, still. Even filtered through a screen, the image left me with a feeling running up and down my arms that made me feel like I was smelling a hothouse’s worth of exotic flowers. A caress at the face, a taste at the back of the mouth, like Anelace’s sweat had tasted.
“That’s really distracting.” It took me a second to recognize the voice coming over the earbud. Amy.
“Sorry,” Engel said. The sound didn’t quite match her lip movements. Kenzie cameras, but not Kenzie sound.
“Is it a problem?” Sveta asked. “You said you were in control.”
“It’s not a question of control,” Amy retorted, sounding exceptionally annoyed.
Go, Sveta. Keep her off balance.
“Why did you tell me to be quiet when you were working before, then?” a small voice, high. Dot. “You said it would slow you down.”
“It’s fine,” Amy said, terse. Sveta looked at her, and I winced. Amy was touching a kneeling giant, a tall and slender woman slick with the juices of its recent birth from the ‘tree’. A flap of what looked like loose skin was draped over her shoulder, but it wasn’t skin. Something from the amniotic sac that had encased her.
The woman stood. Amy stepped back while the woman joined the procession line and a male giant knelt beside her.
“If it’s fine, can I talk then?”
“I- sure. I guess.” Amy had trapped herself in a corner.
“Great! Oh gosh! You! You’re so pretty and amazing! I can taste offal and candy by looking at you!”
“Thank you, I think!” Engel exclaimed. “I love your colors!”
Dot leaped over to Engel’s arms, clutching onto cloth, and then practically melted into Engel’s arms. Her leg kicked and her ears twitched as Engel scratched her belly through her clothes.
“Yoo!” Dot cried out. She got enough control over her leg to point it at Sveta. Her tone became accusatory, “You!”
“Me,” Sveta said. She sounded so unimpressed. A lot of these people weren’t her favorites.
“I have to say-!” Dot was adrift in a sea of what had to be wonderful sensations, and sounded almost drunk with it. She came out with a reluctant, “Nice coat.”
Almost an aside. Like she’d been planning to say something, but she’d had to make the concession to the very cool coat I’d shopped for with Sveta.
“Thank you,” Sveta said.
“But!” Dot exclaimed again, “Your arms! When I saw your arms before they were boring!”
“They’re still a bit boring.”
“But you were so pretty before! You were so unique, and then you had colorful arms! I’ve seen pictures! On her computer!” Dot indicated Amy.
“Did you now?” Sveta asked, dry. “Researching the opposition?”
“Making sure I knew who Shin was dealing with, in case they asked,” Amy said, not looking over at Sveta.
“Which isn’t important!” Dot exclaimed. “What’s important is you were colorful and now you’re boring!”
“I’m extra exciting, but it’s only for the people who deserve it,” Sveta said. She altered her hand, but she wasn’t looking at it, so the camera didn’t catch more than a bit of it.”
“But what about the colors?”
“I’m going to add colors. Right from the beginning, I’ve been deciding. See? I have sample pictures on my phone of things I like.”
Dot was reluctant to leave Engel’s arms, but she did eventually rouse. Engel made it a difficult process, nuzzling Dot with her face, which Dot seemed to love. But then she lifted Dot up to her shoulder.
The little goblin leaped over to Sveta’s shoulder, then peered over, her leaf-shaped ear blocking a significant portion of the camera and Sveta’s view. Sveta pulled it down and away, hand resting on Dot’s head. She flipped through a gallery of really cool images. It wasn’t her usual art style, which surprised me. A little darker, a little less nature-themed.
“Everyone should do it,” Dot was whispering, but her mouth was closer to the microphone, so it was distorted in volume. “Fill in the canvas.”
“I kind of agree,” Sveta whispered back.
“My Queen did it.”
“Hm… that’s for her sake. I’d be doing this for mine. But I want colors and art good enough to to keep forever. One day, after everything settles down.”
“Uh huh,” Dot mumbled. Her head flicked left-right-left-right as Sveta dialed through the gallery of pictures, her whole head moving to track the images as they flew by.
“Speaking of,” Sveta said, her voice louder. “How’s your Queen doing? Victoria asked you to keep an eye on her, right?”
I tensed at the mention of my name, at seeing Amy’s head turn ninety degrees.
“Uh huh. She’s okay. I like the giants. They’re something special.”
“She’s taken about ten times longer to work on this giant than she took on the last one, and she took twice as long as normal for that one,” Sveta remarked.
“You’re distracting me,” Amy said.
“I thought you said your control and concentration were good now,” Sveta said.
“But you’re slower?”
“What does it take to get you out of my hair?” Amy asked.
“Again, we want to see the Lab. We want to vet the giants in progress.”
“Lab Rat doesn’t trust you.”
“We don’t trust you!” Sveta exclaimed.
“We don’t even know what your powers do. Would you submit to me touching you to-”
Fuck you, Amy.
“Ha!” Sveta barked. “No. Hell no.”
“Then what?” Amy asked. “Because no, we’re not going to bring a bunch of unknown powers into a sensitive area, especially considering Shin’s perspective on foreign powers.”
“We could demonstrate the powers,” Engel offered. “You’ve seen most of mine. You know Sveta’s.”
Sveta was holding up her phone to her shoulder. A tiny hand pawed through images, caressing the occasional one.
“And his?” Amy asked. “Theirs?”
“I really hope you know Weld’s, because he was around when you were still in Brockton Bay.”
“I wasn’t exactly hanging out with the Wards.”
“Slician slides. More effective movement in tighter spaces. Egg… hatches.”
“Don’t hatch right now,” Engel said, abruptly.
Sveta’s head turned, the phone moving in Dot’s direction, apparently to hold Dot down.
Egg had cracked, head, most of his torso, and one arm demolished into fragments shell, leaking thick yellow yolk. The thing that bulged out of the encasement looked like something between a combination of a morass of worms with hook-legs and a featherless bird, soaked in yolk. The actual configuration was impossible to make up, as it was all curled up into itself.
The giants stirred, restless. Dripping with afterbirth, turning their gaze toward Egg.
Slowly, with lurches and throbs, the pink-black, yolk-slick mass receded. The eggshell exterior closed around it.
Amy didn’t relax until Egg’s head had fully reformed. He did up some clasps that kept the plastic wrapping around his body, and touched the brushing of canary-yellow hair at the top of his head, fixing it.
“Is that you?” Amy asked.
“Nah. She’s herself. So are her sisters.”
“We brought him because we thought Chris would be interested,” Sveta said. “He was nice enough to cooperate.”
“For cloning?” Amy indicated the giants.
“Hell no,” Sveta said. “He’d like it. It’s the kind of thing that always piqued his interest. It’s incentive to talk, and we really want to talk to him.”
I blinked. The black word had appeared on the video feed.
“He doesn’t want to talk to you,” Amy said.
Around the table, Larue, Eric, Armstrong, and others who were looking in hadn’t remarked or reacted.
Nobody else seemed to have spotted it.
DON’T LOOK ALARMED. ONLY YOU CAN SEE THIS TEXT
I flicked through the images, trying to look nonchalant.
I rotated through once, then stopped on the carful of kids.
YEP. IT’S ME. K.
I changed from the view of Kenzie, over to Rain and Tristan.
I nodded at the screen.
YOU TOO, HUH?
Again, I nodded a bit.
“What’s up?” Eric asked.
“Golem and Precipice make a nice pairing.”
He didn’t ask more questions, didn’t elaborate.
WANT TO HELP COORDINATE ON THE D/L?
YOU’LL HAVE TO BE DISCRETE
Discreet, I mentally corrected her.
A bunch of Shin capes, capes from the prison and ones I presumed were originally Shin, had emerged from the building. Rain and Tristan backed off. Amy stopped working. Sveta, Engel, Egg, Weld, and Slician walked off to one side, to get a better view.
My hand had found a natural resting place over the keyboard well before this point. Pressing the keys down as softly as I could wasn’t difficult.
I didn’t hit enter, because it would have taken another movement of my hand.
It didn’t matter.
Immediately, she began sending messages to the others. New patch, anti-Mathers measure. Don’t freak out. The text appeared in their field of view, with the eye cameras they wore. They barely seemed to notice, their attention on the capes. I typed as quietly and unobtrusively as I could, got frustrated, and opened a notepad document. I began taking notes. Rune, other stuff, and in the midst of it typed:
This Amy stuff is taking up too much focus
This might not be the biggest danger
And deleted it.
Kenzie’s reply appeared a few seconds later.
TATTLETALE THINKS SO TOO
I watched the screen, tense, trying to think. I paged through to Kenzie’s video footage, overshot, and ended up on Chicken Little’s. Good enough.
“Tattletale?” Kenzie asked. I wondered if she’d waited for me to get to the right footage, so I could follow along.
“Your voice isn’t exactly dulcet, Lookout. Thinker headache, remember? Before you make it worse, consider that Tattletale-with-headache is going to be crabby. Tattletale-with-no-headache buys you treats.”
“Can I give you an eye camera when we’re at the workshop?”
“I think jamming something that looks like a bunch of forks welded together into my eye is the sort of thing that makes headaches worse.”
“It’s painless,” Kenzie said. “And it’s important.”
There was a pause.
I could imagine that great titanic agent working with crystals, drawing connections, pulling up data.
It’d be a direct, private line between me and Tattletale, then.