TITANS RETREATING. WILL UPDATE YOU AS SITUATION CHANGES.
One titan mobilizing, the rest retreating. It was practically an invitation to give chase. The problem was that we were being invited to give chase to Fortuna. Contessa.
“Firing positions!” Aunt Sarah called out.
“Coming!” Crystal called out. She turned in the air to look at me. “You too! You’re a flying laser type now!”
“I’ve got to check on my team.”
“We’ll be nearby!”
Immediately, as soon as they were gone, I regretted my decision. If I’d asked them to stay, I would have asked them to make me a parking spot. As it was, it was hard to find a spot to land when carrying a gun the size of a truck with me, not helped by the fact that my fragile alter-ego was different now. I had to dig forcefield fingers into the housing to maintain my grip on it, and that damage made it less sound. End result: I had to fly carefully to avoid dropping it on anyone below, and flying carefully made it harder to fly to a clearing.
Things were complicated more by the fact that our side was jittery. I struggled to pull out a better word for it. Intimidated as all hell, running for cover, running to the enemy. The Titans were still working on recovering from what we’d done, and the ones who had recovered fastest seemed diminished somehow.
People were milling around below me like ants, and I just wanted to get situated so I could get my team members together.
“Coming down!” I shouted, as I saw a spot. I flared my aura a bit, which made some people stop in their tracks. The reaction wasn’t shock and fear like I expected.
I’d have to figure it out later. I called out, “Heads up!”
They scrambled out of the way. Bit of an asshole move, butting in, using my power on friendlies, but there was a real hazard that I’d lose my grip on the gun and drop it on someone.
That, and if I waited around too long, we’d fall behind. Contessa is moving.
I landed, the gun crunching to earth a second later. I focused most of my efforts on making sure the curved housing of the gun didn’t cause a not-so-slapstick swing of the barrel as it settled, braining people nearby.
Sorry for the abuse, gun. You’re doing a good job.
Sveta was sitting with her back to a wall. One of the Harbingers was next to her.
“Everything okay?” I asked her.
“Bit spooked,” she said. “My body’s-”
I looked. Her arms weren’t wholly there. In the gloom, with Kenzie’s partial night vision tech, I could Strands worked to braid together, leaving gaps because they weren’t in their usual spot.
“You can’t settle it down?” I asked.
“I can, but it takes concentration. It didn’t after Mr. Bough worked on me. I’ve been trying to let my guard down and calm down, to see if it goes away, but…”
I could see the fear in her eyes.
“…Panicking,” she said, finishing.
I reached for her hand, and she gripped mine. I could feel twitches.
“Did you change?” the Number Boy asked me.
“Is he legit?” I asked Sveta.
“I think so. A friend, kind of.”
“Okay,” I said. “My forcefield shrank three sizes,” I said.
It really wasn’t the thing capturing most of my attention right now. Back to Sveta, “Should we contact someone, try to get you help?”
“I’ll manage,” she said. “I wanted to stop for five minutes, see if things resolved on their own. Or if calming down helped.”
“Hitting the Titan. Go find him, come back? I could use the rest of those five minutes.”
I could see other Case Fifty-Threes around, like Whippersnap and Chantilly, and I could see Weld wasn’t that far off either. It was surprising to see Weld on the periphery of all of that, but I was pretty sure the weirdness of that situation didn’t extend to the old Irregulars being wholly cool and fair to Sveta again.
A lot of the case fifty-threes were struggling. Weld’s skin was crawling, so to speak, textures shifting. Chantilly had shed some lace. Engel was flaring, bright lights dancing along her skin. Tastes, physical sensations, and smells flooded my mind.
Fuck. I didn’t like taking that in.
“You’re sure?” I asked, worried I might be overheard if I made it clear why I didn’t feel great leaving her behind. Some of those people had been outright hateful in the past.
“Five has my back.”
The Harbinger nodded.
“Alright,” I said. “Okay. Be safe.”
“You too. You weren’t here, but they’re saying the Stranger Titan is insanity-raying anyone who steps out of cover,” Sveta told me. “Stay low.”
Crystal and Aunt Sarah were close enough that I could have flown to join them in ten seconds. Maybe a minute if I went to get my gun and got it operational again.
“Crystal!” I called out, as I flew up, first.
She turned, looking, hand still glowing as the laser was emitted from her fingertips.
“Keep an eye out for Sveta?”
I flew over to get my gun, and took a few seconds to check it over and make sure it wasn’t going to fall apart on me the next time I picked it up.
Using my forcefield hands to pinch metal together, curl ragged edges, and straighten what was bent, I simultaneously figured out the new limits of my forcefield. The reach of the arms, the number and position of them.
My forcefield had long hair. Longer than I was used to. Less arms, less legs. Like it was halfway between where my old forcefield had been and where ‘the Wretch’ had been.
Just gotta get my gun in good enough shape I can shoot if I need to. We might have to go after Titan Fortuna. If she’s anything like her old host, she can do anything perfectly, and get the ideal outcomes. Raises the question: what can she do about a beam that moves the speed of light, fired from the clouds?
I wasn’t being rhetorical, asking myself that. I was genuinely concerned.
But I didn’t have any better ideas.
The metal squealed as I adjusted it. I glanced back Sveta’s way, seeing motion and color out of the corner of my eye. Case fifty-threes, very close to her. Engel was among them. Again, that fucking explosion of mixed senses, more violent than it had been in the past, yet all pleasant, all jarring when I was sweating, smelling my own sweat damp from my own body, my mouth dry, my heart hammering.
I felt the forcefield’s hair slip over a bare forcefield shoulder.
“It’s not perfect.”
“It-” Hard to breathe right, to get sound to where I needed it, like I was sucking liquid in through a straw with a hole in it. “Doesn’t need to be perfect.”
Her hands cupped my face, fingers stroking my cheeks, light brown eyes searching, analytical, studying.
“You fixed the acid burns. I hate to say it, but-”
“You don’t hate to say it,” she said, eyes still looking at proportions, features, trying to measure. Her face took up ninety percent of my vision, the dilapidated house with the flooding damage on the first floor taking up the last ten percent. The place smelled like damp. Freckles took up what seemed like fifty percent of the real estate on her face. “I can feel your body, everything in it.”
“Invasive,” I said.
“You don’t feel invaded either,” she said. “Heart rate normal. You’re uncomfortable but not in a way that’s hurting you. You’re breathing normally. Serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine are close to normal.”
“They can’t be,” I said. “You altered my feelings for you. I feel those feelings right now.”
“…Normal besides that.”
“That’s why I hate to say ‘thank you’.”
“You don’t hate it,” she repeated.
“I don’t know what that means, but I’m sure it’s clever.”
“Master protocols are to handle emotional changes with logic. Hammer past logic warping with raw emotion. Don’t stop fighting, especially if it’s physical puppeteering.”
“You’re such a dork,” she said.
I didn’t reply. I was aware of the physical touch, her hands on my face. I was aware I wasn’t fighting.
I was aware I was failing some test that a younger me had been convinced I would pass.
“I-” Still hard to talk. The hole was bigger. “-want to go home.”
“No you don’t.”
“I should want to go home. I-” I felt he air go out of me. I heaved in a breath. “-should be telling you it’s time to get a second opinion. You’ve compromised me.”
“Can you stop talking for three seconds?” she asked. “I’m concentrating.”
“It’s the protocols, Amy. I’m compromised, you’re suspect. The rules say-”
I found the breath lacking, and for an instant I thought she’d taken my ability to speak. I should have hated her for it.
My jaw worked, mouth moving, words absent.
The protocols were something I’d studied with Dean. In the moment, feeling the horror, feeling the horror go, just as fast, I wanted him with me. I wanted him to hold me and talk to me, and remind me if I was missing any of the Master Protocols.
As much or more than I wanted to be with Amy. Which I shouldn’t have wanted.
“Shhh,” she shushed me.
The hard edges of emotions smoothed away. Thoughts of Dean slipped away like sand between my fingers, and I had no idea if it was her doing it or if losing him in the Endbringer attack had permanently tied him to feelings of desperation and panic.
I found the ability to speak again.
“-The rules say to reach out,” I managed, quietly and diplomatically.
She shifted position, raising herself up a bit, and put forearms around my shoulders, elbows on the shoulders themselves, like she was about to hug me. Instead, she just leaned over me, arms partially around me, and kissed me on the forehead.
Rather than break the kiss, she kept her face there, nose in my hair, and mumbled, “We could.”
“Should,” I said, pulling the sheet up to my collarbone, staring at anything and everything that wasn’t her. I gave a moment’s consideration to following the protocols. Fighting.
Was it logical, to throw her away from me? How hard should I throw? Enough to only get her away? To break something? To destroy her?
Logic felt far away.
“Shhh,” she said, breath hot against my forehead. “We could. Maybe we should. But there’s still work to be done.”
“I’ll deal. Heroes get hurt.”
Not something I believed, but something I felt like I would have said.
“No,” Amy said. “No, Vicky. Maybe before, but when I got my powers, it was to save you from being hurt. You don’t get hurt, not in a way that lasts. You will be a top heroine, a champion, beautiful and awe inspiring, and I will be behind you, keeping you in that fight, keeping you beautiful and perfect.”
I didn’t move. I thought of dad, seeing him hug my mother, able bodied and well. I’d been so pissed when she hadn’t healed him, I’d wanted that, for him to hug my mom and to be whole again, albeit without the emotion as he told her that Amy had run away.
I wanted this, what she described.
“If you want it,” Amy said.
I didn’t know what I wanted. Want was emotion and I didn’t trust emotions. Logically? What was logical? Spending the rest of my life weak?
It was logical, maybe, to reach out, get that second opinion. And if I couldn’t do it from an emotional standpoint because I didn’t want it for me, I could at least want it for Amy, because she wasn’t doing great. She was shaky, and she wasn’t acting like herself. I had the excuse of being compromised, but she seemed almost drunk.
But I really wanted to be a heroine. I really wanted to be okay. I really wanted Amy to hug me, even if I hated that want. Should have hated that want.
Amy’s fingernails combed through my hair, fixing it where it had fallen across my bare shoulder.
Last chance, Victoria, I thought, my eyes closing as I felt the sensation of the fingernails, my head rocking with the contact. Her power didn’t work while she was touching hair. Throw her through the wall. Follow the protocols.
Her hands moved away.
Amy’s fingernails combed through my hair, fixing it where it had grown out, draping another bare shoulder. I turned my head to look at the other head she’d grown. That breathed with the branching windpipe- that hole that had made it so hard to talk before.
I should have felt horrified.
Your real last chance, Victoria, I thought, my eyes half-lidded, watching. My fingers dug into the sheets that covered my upper body.
The words slipped from my lips, in a tumble of logic and emotion. Logic because I was asking her to undo that. Emotion because I wanted what she’d been selling to me. That future. Being a heroine. I’d wanted to be one all my life.
“Please fix me.”
“I thought you’d say that,” she said. And tired as she was, shaky and not entirely herself, she managed a wink.
My hand was a claw, fingernails scratching my cheek with the force I brought it to my face, like I was about to throw up from guilt and shame alone. Hating myself for that guilt and shame because fuck her. Fuck no, on every level.
For long seconds, I didn’t move.
Then I resumed the work I’d paused as I sat awash in freshly unlocked memory. Bend this bit of metal, grab this, grab that…
Heave. Lift. Without my flight factoring in, the weight of it drove the few points of contact that were my forcefield into the ground. Two sets of feet, one hand. Less than I’d once had.
Gun. Safe and new, clean metal and violence far removed from that, unlikely to trip any mental landmines or spark any memories. Good gun.
I flew, and with the flight, the way I was lifting shifted, and the modifications I’d made held. I was almost glad it was all fucked up, because that fucked-up state demanded my attention, my focus.
Didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to go back there, or risk another flashback.
Some doors were best left closed.
I steered clear of Engel, and looked for Tristan. Looked for orange motes in the air.
I found red motes. Red sparks that danced through the air and left lines behind them. Tristan was on the offensive against Titan Ophion, who was slowest to recover. Someone had hit the Titan rather hard.
The red lines solidified, becoming the edges of ruins, destroyed building and a bit of metal fencing, like a damaged building that didn’t have any inherent logic to it, sitting at a forty-five degree slant, a hundred feet tall. It came in waves, the second surge of building thrusting up through the first, destroying it while extending just a bit further. The third wave extended further still, maybe two hundred feet long, punching through the second construction with enough force to send chunks soaring into the Titan.
No, not quite. The construction sagged, and then crumbled, leaving little more than ten feet standing out. Tristan ran up and through the rubble.
Spikes began to appear from the ground. Capes took evasive action, and Aunt Sarah was one of the capes who produced forcefields and other impediments for the spikes, flat and level to the ground so people could run on them.
That wouldn’t have been possible before.
Just what did blowing that up do, even?
I landed in a clear spot beside Tristan, the edge of the gun scraping along road that was seventy-five percent ice before finding traction in the other twenty-five percent.
Then I pulled the trigger.
The beam cut into Ophion, and it did damage, this time. Its head was like chewed gum with spikes and metal contorting its shape, and that gum split and burned. Less than I would have liked, but I was carving into him. The gun shuddered, and the damage I’d fixed and pinched together was pulling further apart now. Handholds became gouges and furrows as I repositioned hands to hold onto the weapon.
Situating myself on the ground meant the ground provided a bit of security, one extra point of contact.
Ophion produced a fence of the pencil-thin black spikes, which absorbed some of the laser. The beam cut through them, but by the time I was through the one portion, a second row appeared. Veiled behind the row of protrusions, he produced a single black spike next to himself. I could only see it because of the limited night vision Kenzie’s tech provided me.
“Shit!” I heard a cape nearby call out.
“What?” someone else asked.
I was gritting my teeth, focusing too much on keeping the beam steady. I was aware I was burning through battery.
Tristan’s red motes solidified, forming another leaning tower of abstract ruined building. A second building emerged from within, then a third, ramming into the fence and knocking down a portion of it.
A nearby cape hurled something. An explosion of wood and stone bowled over the fences Tristan had rammed.
“Shoot it!” the first cape I’d heard called out.
“He’s got something! At the top of the spike!”
I flew forward, bringing the gun with me. Toward the horrifying titan, toward the fallen and broken needle-like spikes that could alter a person on a fundamental level, and turn them into something grosser and bigger than a Titan.
I saw it. At the top of that center spike, traced in the gold outline that Kenzie’s tech provided me, a nugget of something, swelling.
I aimed, and I fired at it.
Yeah, sure enough, the gun wasn’t currently equipped to handle the vibration of its internals with the damage to its externals. Cracks split wider, claw marks opened up, and parts of it began to rattle.
My adjustments to keep hold of the weapon cost me accuracy, and I ended up trying to just take out the base of the spike, toppling it, because I could at least get the left-right aiming down while fucking up the up-down accuracy. Hitting the very tip required both.
I tried to get to a position where I could fire without exposing my flank to any of the insanity beams from the Stranger Titan. That took time, and the time ended up costing us. The nugget fell.
More spikes found their way to that nugget, suspending it where it was. The swelling intensified.
A part of someone’s body, still dripping blood. It might have been a foot.
The foot became more, expanding, branching out, swelling, with flesh ballooning out like an explosion had gone off within it, but then tearing, revealing red meat instead of the smoke and fire residual to an actual explosion.
I focused the beam at center mass, tried to cut it away from the spikes that impaled it.
Arms reached out blindly from the mass, and one of the hands found the toppled black spikes. Again, they seemed to multiply the growth rate.
A face, mouth yawning wide. More arms, more flesh, breasts, a veiny tube of flesh that was attached to the mass at both ends, pulling free to reveal a tooth-encrusted cockhead. Hair-
Bringing me to the cusp of that same flashback I’d just weathered. I kept my aiming on center while twisting my face away so I didn’t have to look.
“On your left!” Crystal called out.
Why? Am I really going to turn suddenly with this thing, and blast you? It’s too heavy for that.
She appeared at my left, hand out, and produced a magenta-red beam, aiming for the same spot I was.
“Give me a platform,” I said the words through grit teeth.
A square of forcefield appeared below me. As gently as I was able, I set the gun down. Let the forcefield absorb some of the shuddering and keep at least the lowest side in place.
It also helped me aim on the up-down axis.
“I have to say, baby cousin, you might be overcompensating for something, hauling that thing around.”
“Don’t, please,” I said the words through grit teeth, and I worried I was drowned out by the whine of the machine and the sound of tens of thousands of pounds of meat and blood pouring out of the point where the lasers were drilling into the expanding blob of flesh.
With the golden light illuminating one side of Crystal’s face, and the red light from her hand shining through her hair as the wind stirred it, I saw her looking at me, studying me in the second or two she took away from aiming.
I could almost see the thoughts connect, as she turned her attention back to what we were shooting. Why I’d have a problem with it.
I wanted to be through this. To have it over and done with, to not stress about it or feel sick or hate anymore.
If someone had offered a parahuman cure for it, I might have taken it. Whatever form that cure took.
If- if someone offered me a deal like I’d had, just after Gold Morning, to let me forget it all, I might have taken it.
I hated this, hated enduring.
Other capes added their firepower to ours. Fire, grenade-like blasts, beams, an aerial strike from a master minion, and a buzzsaw or pinwheel that flew out and began chewing its way into the flesh.
Tristan added his contribution- another pillar of building material, slamming right into the lowest point of the flesh we were shooting. It erupted a second time, sending chunks flying while extending its length, and then toppled. As it fell, it tore.
And even with all of that, the flesh expanded faster than we destroyed it.
Until the toppling construction knocked a few of the pins loose.
Others took the cue, and began knocking out the needles that were feeding into the tumorous lump. A few strikers were right under it, running through a waterfall of gore that flowed from our ongoing attacks, to take the pillars out at their base.
The creation stopped growing and started dying.
I turned my laser toward Ophion. Again, I shot that chewed-gum tumor of a head and chest, the laser cauterizing as it cut.
He’s Fortuna’s, I thought. He’s connected to her, he might as well be an extension of her like my arm is an extension of me.
Except not quite.
They had their individual personalities. More than a group, less than a single entity.
It was easier to imagine them as a group and as a single entity, then to take the worst case scenario of the two, or combine the two worst case scenarios. If he really was an independent entity working to help her… he had all of the strategy and wit of the canny Mr. Bough, who had survived for over a decade as part of Orchard, with good heroes gunning for him.
If he was indistinguishable from Titan Fortuna, an extension of her, then he was taking every action he was taking right this minute for very specific, very dangerous reasons.
He was protecting himself with more needles as he retreated, and the strikers who were clearing the way were having trouble keeping up.
I stopped shooting. I had half of a battery left.
How much of this is Titan Fortuna’s doing?
Crystal kept shooting, but her battery was endless, for all intents and purposes. Aunt Sarah was closer to the scene, helping people with forcefields that went up faster, bigger, and lasted longer than anything Crystal put up.
“Thanks, cousin,” I said.
“You don’t have to babysit me, but-”
“I kinda do,” she interrupted me. Then, a second later, added, “For me, not for you.”
“It’s appreciated, in any event. Feeling shaky.”
“My laser’s different. It’s going to fuck up all my arts and crafts, and making food with my power.”
I lifted up the gun, then tapped it against Crystal’s forcefield, hard. It punched through, and I started descending.
While descending, drifting in Tristan’s direction, I said, “Lookout was saying it’s all falling within the TTSE range.”
“I have no idea what that means.”
I winced, but I didn’t say anything.
Refuge in the scholastic. “They don’t think we suffered any changes that couldn’t have happened on their own. With training, or mood, or meditation, or anything like that.”
I landed near Tristan. He was breathing hard, but he was in one piece.
“How are you managing?”
“I heard you as you floated down,” Tristan said. “The shifted powers. I don’t like my new power. Maybe it’ll change again.”
“Too aggressive?” I asked.
“Too… temporary,” he said. “I’d rather build walls right now. Especially with that Stranger.”
“Yeah,” I said.
The position we were in wasn’t great, when I considered it from the big picture. Titan Fortuna was too far away, Ophion was limping away, so to speak, and the Stranger Titan was behind us, unable to be seen, yet capable of stealing our sanity away from us if it got a good look at us. Possibly permanently, insofar as ‘permanent’ lasted, when most of the affected seemed to take their own lives at the next opportunity.
And the Nemean Titan was too close, hurt too, but fast, and threatening to get at our flanks.
“I’d like to get back to Sveta,” I said. “Regroup.”
“Give me a second,” Crystal said.
She produced her forcefield, bright against the dark sky, angled so its two dimensional shape was almost invisible.
Not for us.
Turned it off, then created it again.
A purple forcefield appeared. The square, which disappeared, then a smaller square below it.
“She’ll be a second,” Crystal said.
“I don’t remember those,” I said.
“You don’t make forcefields.”
I grunted in mild annoyance.
“Let’s go to Sveta,” she said. “She’s mobile again, she told me to go to you.”
And I asked you to stay. Which means she had a more compelling argument. One you agreed with.
Do I really look that shaken?
“So weird,” she said, quiet. “I already said my goodbyes.”
“Your mom?” Tristan asked.
“Yeah,” Crystal said. “I feel shitty even trying to articulate this thought, but… it’s like it would be easier if it was anything else. If she stayed gone, if she was back here in full, or just the human side of her. Not better, necessarily.”
“Easier,” Tristan said.
“Yeah,” Tristan agreed. “An old teammate of mine’s back. Almost all the way back, I think. And it’s undeniably better, a bright point in a really dark time. But it’s not easy.”
“We need a group,” Crystal said. “What do you even call something like that?”
“Un-survivors anonymous,” Tristan said.
“That was fast.”
“I’m not just a pretty face,” he said, with a humor that didn’t reach his voice.
The others were regrouping behind us. There were still defensive lines, but they were more like walls that people were standing guard at than they were front lines in any way.
Sveta was on her feet, standing a good distance away from a cluster of case fifty-threes. Her coat was still damp with ice on it, and her eye glowed teal in the gloom. I recognized most but not all of the cases standing opposite her. Weld stood closer to that group than Sveta did.
She smiled as she saw Tristan and me. A bit of a sad smile.
“Can we trust you?” Weld asked.
“Wow,” Sveta said, voice soft. “Really, Weld?”
I flew over to Sveta’s side and put down my gun. It crunched in the ice and snow. “What’s going on?”
“They want to go after Contessa. We know Chris, somewhat, and we interacted with Contessa so I suggested maybe we’d come.”
“Titan Fortuna,” Weld said.
“Have we confirmed that one hundred percent?” I asked.
“What?” he asked. “That she turned into a Titan taller than any human-made building we know of? Yeah.”
“That there’s nothing of Contessa in there. We made this mistake with Fume Hood. There might be a glimmer of Contessa in the middle of that Titan, trying to communicate in her own way.”
“That’s worse, if anything,” Engel said.
I winced at the sound of her voice, turning my body so the edge of my hood blocked off the worst of the light show.
“We’re going,” Weld said. “I’m coordinating with the Wardens. And the Wardens are saying they would like us to go with people they a-ok.”
“Breakthrough,” Sveta said.
“As a possibility.”
“What’s your plan?” I asked.
“Stopping her,” Weld said. “She has a few weaknesses, we were talking before we deployed here for your mission. Some of those weaknesses may apply. Portals, blind spots, precogs. Her power was already so strong and unfiltered, we don’t think it’s fundamentally different. It’s just… attached to something that is.”
“And if it is different? The weak points paved over?” I asked.
“Then I think there might literally be no way to win,” he told me. “The Wardens are planning to act as if there is a way, because there’s no alternative. Ideal world, we’re getting everyone together who knows this particular enemy. Undersiders, Breakthrough, we’ve got one Number Boy, Faultline’s Crew, who are coming with part of this group anyhow. Legend is on his way. You’re not obligated, of course.”
“We leave in five. Titan Fortuna isn’t fast, but we’d like to get a head start so we can make any necessary preparations.”
“Thanks, Weld,” I said, glancing between him and Sveta. That earlier hostility.
He nodded once, then turned his attention to the case fifty-threes. Slician stood at the edge of that group, and I was left to wonder if the non-case-fifty-three girl in the terminally tight bodysuit was okay. Did she have confidants?
Crystal flew over to Aunt Sarah, who had come back, probably to give her the down-low.
“How’s Lookout?” I asked Tristan and Sveta. “I haven’t heard from her.”
Tristan explained, “She was pulled away to consult. Tattletale is there too. All the thinkers and information gatherers. She sent us a message. She didn’t…”
He indicated me. I shook my head.
“Might have been that you were too busy fighting in that moment.”
Or the flashback. I zoned out for a minute there.
The fighting was renewing. Oberon was fighting Skadi. They were close enough to one of the defensive lines that capes were participating.
I wanted to go and I was exhausted at the same time.
“On the down-low,” Sveta said, leaning in closer, until our heads were almost touching. “Weld is pretending to be mad at me.”
“Pretending why?” I asked. Tristan looked equally curious.
“Heavy stuff that happened once. Information I didn’t pass him, before the Irregulars went bad. It came up in the moment, he acted like it was a surprise. To open a way to communicate with the case fifty-threes. Get them on board, when they might have run for it otherwise.”
“This is, uh, stuff you talked about in group?” Tristan asked.
Sveta nodded. She looked almost sick just with that gesture alone. I couldn’t imagine actually talking it out with Weld.
I couldn’t imagine being where she was now, hearing Weld be actively hostile, when she’d been close enough to have that talk with him and stay together with him after the fact.
“How’s your control?” I asked.
She showed me her arm. The tendrils misaligned, until she put visible concentration into it to pull things together.
“What if we put a bandage or something around it, to keep it right?”
“Bandages are a problem if I need to use my power,” she said.
“Are we doing this? Giving chase? Getting between Cryptid- Lab Rat, and Titan Fortuna?”
Tristan was already nodding. Already planning on it.
Sveta visibly hesitated.
“Yeah,” Sveta said.
I’LL BE RIGHT WITH YOU. The golden text appeared outside the reaches of my ordinary vision. MEETING DONE. CRACKS ARE SET TO SPREAD SOON. IF THEY SPREAD IN THE NEXT TWENTY MINUTES, RAIN IS IN POSITION TO MAYBE DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. HOPEFULLY!
That would be what the powwow with the other thinkers was about, then.
My power still felt shaky, my grip on the gun- fuck. I started fixing it right away. I wasn’t even sure if my other powers didn’t have subtle differences, either.
For all of us, Tristan, Sveta, and myself, the following minute was a quiet one, our minds in overdrive, anticipating this coming situation, trying to find a way through.
I replayed previous conversations with Contessa in my head. The decision she’d posed for us. The fact she’d been unwilling to make it herself. Was there a weakness there? A way past the Titan and to Contessa herself?
The flashback image of Amy’s face crossed my mind, alarming and disconcerting, gross, perplexing. Somehow tied to the former thought.
The portal startled all of us as it ripped into existence.
I think we were all just a little bit surprised when we started moving toward the portal in complete synchronicity. Because none of the others had hesitated, that was a big part of it. But also surprise that we, ourselves, hadn’t hesitated either.
The portal was the way to our next battlefield. It wouldn’t put us in Shin, not when Shin was probably as pissed as they’d ever been. It wouldn’t put us near Arachne. That made a complicated situation worse. Not near Lab Rat, if he was engaged with the Titan.
It would put us outside. In between Titan Fortuna and her goal. The strongest of the Titans with our destruction as her goal.