Infrared – 19.7

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Kenzie laughed, and the laugh echoed across a vast, dark plain.

“Jesus,” Rain swore.  “You scared me, doing that.”

“Decadent is putting Chicken Little’s birds on my head and shoulders while I work.  Some of the chicks are so cute!  I laughed because she ran out of places to put them, but then she stuck one of my head-cameras onto my helmet.  Wait, let me fiddle.”

I floated, looking down, my eyes scanning the red crystal.

The cold air from above was seeping into this void, which was more temperature-neutral.  Where the cold air from our world met the neutral air of this world, it formed vapor, that hung over the plain like a fog, and settled onto the crystal as a frost or beads of moisture.

Barely any light from the crack above us.  Most of the illumination came from the crystal itself, like it was all lit by light from a light turned to the lowest possible setting on a dimmer switch, tinted red.  It colored the fog, moisture, and frost.

“Ta da!”

Kenzie had altered her projection, now showing the birds that were perched on her.  The spherical helmet she wore with the large eyed, smiling face etched onto it now had attachments for the hair-buns, which periodically parted like clamshells, to show mechanical eyes that stared out or look around.  More birds perched on those, flapping their wings every time they opened up.  A few took to the air as she swept her arms out and spun in a circle, glitching as they got more than three feet from her.

As she settled down, the birds roosted on her again.

“Very cool,” I said.  “Are you guys getting along okay?”

“Okay,” she said, shrugging.  Birds took off with the motion, and one flew through me, fritzing out as it passed through my forcefield, which I was keeping up for the small impact on warmth and body heat, and in hopes it would find an equilibrium again.

I could feel the forcefield moving, despite my wishes.  Reaching out, heads moving, mouths opening.  The periodic arm was swung, hard enough to audibly cut through the air.

Not as restless as it had been, but this was almost worse.

I tried to ignore it, and scanned the ground, looking at the faint images that popped up.  It felt like we were out in far left field.  I could draw some mental maps between the areas, because the sentiments and ideas that defined one place connected loosely to the neighboring tracts and regions.

From grief to revulsion to losing track of one’s senses in the throes of strong emotion.  Then rage neighbored that.  From rage, we got to anger.  From anger, we made our way to… I wasn’t sure.  The mildest form of anger?  Peevishness?

Even within ‘peevishness’, there were scales and degrees.  People and faces, sure.  Some people bothered me.  Rain’s were cast out in slices like a fistful of knife blades, each ‘blade’ long, thin, and casting a different face.  Connective tissue running back the way we’d come, to anger and loss of control.  The images around Kenzie were fuzzier, because she wasn’t really here, and they shifted at times.  A lot of the faces looked Heartbroken.  One looked like Roman, but much older and grizzled.  Heartbreaker, sneering a little.

I shivered, uncomfortable.

It kind of unnerved me, as I thought on it.  Because she was – or she and the Heartbroken were-  here only in the capacity of observer, not a brain or corona pollentia.

It meant that she was looking, and this alien machine we were crossing was looking back, responding in kind.

It didn’t feel like were anywhere important to the greater system, because we were in a whole section where it wasn’t people.  It was things.  Some I only knew intuitively, as random as they might have looked.

The landscape rumbled.  Images cut out, fading out, returning, and stuttering.  I could see light flash across the terrain, illuminating both the ground and the light fog from the temperature differential.  To my right, an image of jean shorts with pockets extending below the leg of the shorts went dark, and didn’t return.

In the distance, a landmass tilted.  An island surrounded by chasms, leaning over until it came to rest against another, larger tract of ground.

“So,” Kenzie said.  “While I’m talking about stuff in my workshop, I just heard Tattletale explain how the people on the surface are shifting tactics.  Does that count as spying, if I overhear, and if I might be included in the briefing?  I want to stick to the rules.”

“I think it’s fine,” I said.  “What’s the shift?”

“Moving back.  Defending Titans who aren’t part of the Fortuna network.  Apparently Tristan and Sveta are taking a short rest while waiting for portals, because they’re bungling it up and messing up my tech, Dragon’s too busy to un-mess it, which is crazy when she’s a computer, and so it’s overheating while draining power from Dragon’s power cell.  Those things last years!”

“Is Tattletale still there?”

“Yeah, but she has a headache.  Should I bug her?”

“Please,” I told her.  “We had a trail, but it feels like it’s gone cold.  We could use any hints she can offer.”

“Be right back.”

I floated down, because my flying was poor in this place, and was almost slower than walking, letting me keep pace only because Rain slowed down when walking up slopes or taking it easy while scaling down the far sides.  I harbored some hopes that if I let my power ‘rest’, it might have a bit more oomph when I needed it.

I left behind scattered images of racist graffiti, a piss-stain on a wall, an egg in a sandwich, and a blurry image of a guy taking up three bus seats.

We walked into a region where the images were a blinking, obtrusive sign, a square image that lunged up at our feet, with flashing text.  A graphic image of Jesus on a cross near Rain’s feet.  The images overlapped, blurring into one another.  Like the other images, these were clear only if we were looking directly at them, but they had a way of shifting and moving that latched onto my attention whenever I gave it any.

I could see the array of images around Kenzie shift, taking on a different cast.  I was put in mind of a crescent moon.  The ‘crescent’ part of it was blinking lights, indicators, slices of light cutting through darkness and sun peeking through blinds, very bright.  There were square images, maybe screens, showing dramatic changes.

Contained within the crescent and bleeding out into the surrounding area was a storm.  Closing doors, people in a crowd, thrown plates, faces turning, hand movements, cars, signs, store displays, papers moving in the wind from a window…

Five or ten images in the time that the ‘crescent’ showed one, sometimes hard to make out because of the fuzziness and vague edges of it.  Were we still in the data storage for ‘obnoxious things’, respective to each of us?

“Who are you talking to?” I asked Kenzie.  I blinked to bring up the image at my right eye, flicking through to Kenzie perspective, but it wasn’t showing me much.  A bird sitting in front of a keyboard, and the camera’s point of view on a screen.

“She’s talking to someone?” Rain asked.

“One sec,” Kenzie said.

I waited.

“Okay!” she said, sounding pleased.  “Finished filling them in.  Bringing them in, for convenience.  Tattletale says the more information she can pick up, the better the info she can provide.”

There was a pause, and then Tattletale and Imp appeared beside Kenzie.

“Oh wow, motion sickness,” Imp muttered.  Tattletale just looked around.

“Those are settings I can fiddle with,” Kenzie said.

“Don’t bother.  Let’s just have this conversation and then I can take this thing off my head.”

“What do you want?” Tattletale asked, irritated.

Kenzie moved her hand to her mouth, like she was going to whisper, but spoke at normal speaking volume, “Headache.”

“Ignore her.  I’ve got ten people demanding my attention, I need a fifteen minute nap to get this headache to calm down, and I chose to focus on you first.  You’re not getting the full benefit of my power, this is a token effort to pacify a bunch of kids who are going to whine incessantly unless I help you out.”

“I told her she’s one of the smartest people I know,” Kenzie said, “So even if she’s not using her power, she might be able to help.”

“I told her to say that,” Imp said.

“The phrasing had nothing to do with anything,” Tattletale said, hands going to her temples.  “What do you want?”

“Fly with me?” I asked.  I looked at Kenzie.  “You can do that?”


I reached into Kenzie’s hologram, touched the floating camera, and carried it skyward.  The image broke up as I flew.

The flying was so glacially slow, down here.  I felt a little self-conscious as I floated up, slower than even the camera.  It got a bit easier as I got high enough up to see the landscape stretching around us.

“Blaargh,” Imp said.  “Vertical movement does not help.”

“I can change the settings!”

“Bluurgh.  No.  I’ll manage.  I’ve seen that thing you put in people’s eyes.  I don’t want to know what your fiddling does.”

“You’re worse than anyone when it comes to my stuff, y’know.”

“Tattletale,” I said.  “Each area seems to turn up images of a certain kind.  We got flashes in a certain direction when thinking about Contessa, which implies a link.”

“Might be a bit of cheating on the Shard’s part,” Tattletale said.  “Pre-loading data so they’re faster and more ready when it comes to whatever threats or forces are paying attention to them.”

“I think it’s just the way connections are established down here.  A lot of powers reference certain data.  I get more connections when my aura’s on, even if it’s weak down here.”

“Like an accountant needing to check the columns add up.  Checking the most obvious and available data on a given person in your range.”

“Right,” I said.  I pointed to indicate as I talked, “So, just for this area… over there where we dropped in, it’s fear.  We sidelined into… I don’t know.  It was like, authority figures, me and my mom, Rain and the Fallen, Rain and Christine Mathers, but it was like… Kenzie and Ashley, and me and Gallant, me and, ahem, another cape.  Those last two were… not for Kenzie’s eyes.”

“So that’s what the kids were getting goofy about,” Imp said.  “You and wannabe ninja guy.  Hero boy in black leather pants.”

“Can I ask why she’s tuned in?” I asked. “Tattletale?”

Tattletale answered, “Because I won’t be when I end this conversation, and she’ll be watching the kids.  She wants to know what’s going on if she’s making any calls.”

I frowned.

“Well, I guess he wasn’t wearing the leather pants in that scene,” Imp said.

“Ahem,” Kenzie said.  “Just so you know, we covered our eyes and turned the camera away, once we realized what it was.”

“Let’s change the subject,” I said, deeply uncomfortable.  I’d honestly forgotten Kenzie was tuned in.  “I only mentioned that because I was trying to give Tattletale good information.  That region was weirdly proximate to fear, despite things seeming to have a pattern.  It was also our last clear signal where we got a good view of where the connections were going when we tried looking for or scanning for Contessa.  Trying to get to her data banks or… whatever we can get on her, so we can communicate.”

I could hear Tattletale sigh.  “Was it just those two locations?  Where are you now?”

I pointed the way.  “There were others.  We zig-zagged.  From fear to grief.  Grief to something else, I don’t know what.  Moldy sandwiches for me and Kenzie, a certain magazine for Precipice, uh-”

“Move on,” Tattletale said.  “Next?”

I pointed.  “Revulsion or loathing, pretty sure.  Then… losing control emotionally, or being overwhelmed, maybe that was two sections and we didn’t notice a clear divide.  Then anger, then irritation.  We just left… I think it was obnoxious things.  I feel like we’re out in the sticks, so to speak, we’re getting less and less relevant stuff, and no responses when we try to spark a connection to Contessa.”

Tattletale sighed.  “You’re going to make me use my power, aren’t you?

“What’s your instinct, no powers?”

“My instinct is to think back to the second entity.  Scion’s partner.  Alternately called Gaea or Eden, depending on who you ask.  We raided the Cauldron base during Gold Morning, hoping to do something very similar to what you’re doing now, hoping to get answers, and trying to deal with some ongoing obstacles.  For us, it was the person controlling the portals who was out of action.  Anyway, before we got to Gaea-Eden, there was an area with a ton of Cauldron’s vials.  The chemicals they were handing out to give people powers and establish a power base that wasn’t connected to Scion.”

“Right,” I said.  “And what does that have to do with this?”

“Each vial was numbered, I was watching through cameras, I got some glimpses, and my power told me then that the numbers on each individual canister corresponded to coordinates.  Coordinates like the ones you’d find on a map.”

“And… that lines up with what we’ve got here?  You could use your power to draw up a map?”

“I have no fricking idea, Dallon.  My power isn’t that strong, and I strongly doubt what I saw there correlates to what you saw here.  I’m just thinking out loud, and drawing connections.”

I looked around.  In the distance, a caravan of trucks were driving, headlights on, across a crystal plain.  They kicked up moisture and dust that had fallen when reality had cracked.

“Which direction was she?” Tattletale asked.  “Your best guess?”

I extended my arm, pointing.

“Your second best guess?”

“My best guess was my only guess.  It’s just that I don’t want to go too far, and I don’t know if it curves.  It’s easy to get lost down here.”

“Your second best guess, Antares.  Come on.  Assume you just got confirmation you were wrong-”

“Was I?”

“Fricking hell.  No.  But pretend you got it wrong, then point at the place you think it might have pointed.  I need more info to work with.”

I pointed.

“This landscape added up once upon a time,” she said.  “Everything interconnected, it fed more easily.  Now it’s… a hundred hard drives crammed into one computer’s housing.  Each agent lays some claim to real estate, builds their houses.  But when information isn’t flowing freely, and some houses get built on broken or missing ground…”

“Broken triggers,” I said.

“And Titans, when there’s enough support from the system to keep them propped up.  Okay.  I can fill in the gaps.  The first place you didn’t know what it was?  You and your parent, Precipice and Mathers?”


Imp butted in, “Let’s not forget the Antares-Anelace thing.”

“Let’s,” I said, my temper getting shorter.

“Submission,” Tattletale said.

“Ha haaaaaaaaa!” Imp crowed.

“Not like that,” Tattletale said.

“Haaaaa!” Imp stopped hooting and started cackling.  “Oh my god.”

“Cut it out, Imp,” I said.  “Tattletale just said it wasn’t like that.”

“It’s just I so didn’t expect that-” she sounded amused, even as she explained herself.

I shook the camera.

The laughing stopped.

“Blugh!  Please don’t do that again!”

“Listen to your teammate, listen to me, and don’t mock someone for having a healthy fling,” I growled.  “You found a button to press, whatever, fine.  But I’ve been dealing with Cryptid and I’m all out of patience.  Don’t press this button.

“I’m not- no.  Lemme explain-”

“You were laughing about me and Swansong,” Kenzie said, quiet.

“Oh, kid,” Imp said, and I could hear her sobering up.  “No, I really wasn’t.  really.”

“But you are, and I don’t get why it’s funny.  I don’t know why that would fit.”

“Tattletale, babe, help me out, use your power, figure out what I’m thinking and why that’s so funny, and bail me out.”

“You dug your own grave.  If you tick off Lookout that’s going to bode ill for you while you’re babysitting tonight.”

I folded my arms.

“Kid,” I could hear Tattletale, and it didn’t sound like she was facing the microphone.  “Did you ever do a project for her, where she was paying you as a boss?”

“No.  Oh.  That counts?  I said I’d be Swansong’s underling if Breakthrough didn’t work out.  That was what kind of got her to start being my friend, and got her interested in the team.”

I hadn’t really known that.

“So many things I want to add to that,” Imp said.  “Paying someone for service counts, apparently… but I’m being good.”

“You’re really not,” Kenzie said.  I could hear the distant voices of the other Chicken Tenders, chiming in.

“Victoria,” Tattletale said.  “Ignore Imp.  The second spot you couldn’t figure out, I can’t put English words to it.  You could call it a specific flavor of mixed feelings.  Like, ‘I want that and I can’t have it, and ‘I have that and ‘I don’t want it’, at the same time.  The light of the connection to Contessa went there when you pinged her?”

“Yeah.  We could have kept going, but we were hoping there might be clues or something there, so we visited it.  Couldn’t make sense of it.”

“In that case, you’ll want to look for landmarks.  Right now, Precipice went a bit forward, can you make out those images?”

I looked down at Rain.

I could see the images flickering around him, depicted by the crystals.  Ruins.  A treehouse.  A forge.  A girl’s torso, looking through the sleeve to the side of her chest.

“Ha!” Imp barked out the sound.

Rain didn’t seem to hear or notice.

“Can you stop?” Kenzie asked.  “Stop laughing at people when they’re doing nothing wrong.”

“I’m not laughing at.  I’m celebrating the weirdness of humanity.”

Rain just stood there, waiting, hands in his pockets, about two-thirds of his attention paid to that last image.  As he paced a bit, the image shifted.

I reached over for the camera and turned it away.

“He’s going in the right direction,” Tattletale said.

“I’ll say!”

Rain seemed to hear Imp.  He looked up, saw us looking, and looked away, pushing his hood back to run his hand through wet hair that was damp with perspiration.

Tattletale told me, “You want to go from there to… I think you’ll find a cluster of specific images.  Trust your instincts, you probably want to climb the mountain.  If it starts throwing up grief, sadness, weapons, anything like that, try other directions.  Weapons especially, you probably want to right-turn.  Think… images, scans, eyes, things like Lookout focuses on.  It’ll be kind of like paying attention, looking at things, glaring, hostile attention.  Ties into Contessa’s power watching everything.  I can’t speak for the mystery segments, parts that can’t be explained neatly in English or categorized by human minds.  But you should be able to find your way.”

“Thank you.  It’s more of a path than we had.”

“Once you’re there, you’ll see a standalone pillar or island.  Smaller than most.  That’s her.  She’s adjacent to clusters and functions tying into attention and focus.  You’re not far.  I’m… ninety percent sure that’s where you want to be.”

“Thank you, Tattletale.”

“Share any info you get.  This is interesting, it’s just that the timing is…”

She trailed off.

“Terrible?” I volunteered.

“No.  It’s probably a good thing, what you’re doing.  But my gut says you’re not going to get the big answer you want.  She wouldn’t leave a weakness exposed and undefended.”

“I figured she was still recuperating, we had a bit of time-”

“She’s recuperated.  She’s active again.”

The breath I’d been holding back to form words with escaped my lips.

“Be careful.  She’s not the Simurgh, she doesn’t weaponize information quite the same way, but…”


“Like I said, I’m ninety percent sure I’ve pointed you in the right direction.  If it turns out I’m wrong, I’m going to give you rare permission to wake me up, and I’ll see if I can get you where you want to be.  Even if I don’t think you can find a key to beating her, I think this is the right sort of space to be digging in.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Thank you.  I don’t know if I should promise you a favor, dangerous as that seems, or offer to buy you a drink out of professional courtesy… if we can get past all of this…”

I heard a sniff from Tattletale.  “That would be unbearably awkward.  This is unbearably awkward.  The world’s ending, this is my equivalent of putting five chips on you.  That’s all it is.”

“It’s appreciated,” I said.

“I know.”

“We were planning on doing a thing with Vista, inviting Rachel, catching up with people from Brockton Bay, celebrate her turning eighteen.”

“Don’t jinx it,” Imp cut in.

“Shush!” Kenzie chimed in.

“If we get that far, then I’ll be there.  You can buy me a drink, we’ll be even.  How’s that?”


“If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume I was right.  Hanging up now.”

“Bye,” I said.

I backed away from the camera, pulling my forcefield around me.  A part of me was hoping that any resolution, any peace, anything at all might get me back the control that would let me do things, or even to carry that gun, when we went back to the surface.

No such luck.

“C’mon, Lookout,” I said.  “And the rest of you, I assume you’re looking over her shoulder.”

“Sometimes,” Kenzie said.

I landed, the fog and dust parting a bit as I met the ground with both feet.

The fact my foot didn’t hurt reminded me of what happened to my leg.  I felt my stomach do a flip flop, and for a moment, I could sympathize a bit with Imp and her reaction to looking through whatever viewing implement Kenzie had offered.

More than anything, I felt wrong down to my bones.  I was supposedly better, Chris had supposedly healed me, but I felt like I was crammed into my body, nothing in the right order, but the signals to tell me things were off had all been tampered with.

Like looking at myself in a video, seeing my reflection flipped around compared to what I normally saw in the mirror, but being unable to point at anything specific.

From skin to meat to the bone.  I hated it.  Hated it.  Hate.

I sighed.  Then, experimental, I pushed out with my aura, while focusing on my mental image of Contessa.  Seeing if there was a pulse, a clue.  Anything even from my fragile, wretched companion.

I looked at Rain.  He had his mask off and his hood down, and was pale enough in this gloom that old notches and scars on his face stood out.  Other kids his age had circular scars from pimples, and Rain did have a couple of those, but mostly they were lines of pink, or marks in the skin.

More than anything, his eyes were wider.

I wanted to ask, and I didn’t want to ask.  The Scholar strangled the Monster, one fighting the other.

You need to know, Victoria.

“Sorry,” I told Rain.  Noncommittal.  Hoping he’d clarify if my aura was different.

“I’ve dealt with worse,” he said.

I hesitated, and then I asked, “Is it awe, fear, or something else?”

“It’s always been fear.  I’ve never felt your awe, exactly,” he said.  “So maybe it’s the awe?  I don’t know.”

I frowned.  “If you had to give it any label at all, what would you call it?”

“Interest?  Attraction.  Like when I noticed Erin for the first time.”

Of fucking course.  I couldn’t help but grimace.

I nodded.  “Thanks for the clarification.”

“Photos taken,” Kenzie reported from above.

“Come on, then.  Let’s go,” I told Rain.

Our journey took us out of the ’emotion’ spectrum of these crystalline plains, into images and holograms, false faces and representations.  My trading cards, the masks I’d tried on, posters of me, seeing myself on television.

I supposed that worked for ‘images’.

There was more ambiguous territory, where the scenes were more alien, but I couldn’t tell if they were actual aliens and alien memory, images stored for some particular kind of power’s execution, or if they were dreams and nightmares.  Too inconsistent to pin down.

There was another puzzling stretch, and the three of us split up.  The images were too dark, more incomplete than anything, and we were left to make our best guesses for two areas in a row.

Ten minutes had to have passed.  Rain persevered, despite the fact he was the one hiking all of this.  I could default to floating, and Kenzie was here by camera alone.

We almost missed it.  If it weren’t for Tattletale’s directions, we might have skipped past it entirely.

We were deep beneath the cracks, and cracks separated this landscape too.  It was only the fact that Kenzie was floating around, capturing images, that she saw it, and drew our attention to it with a flash in our eye-cameras.

Past a crack, down, there was a landmass, closer to black crystal than to the usual red crystal.  A black island in a blacker abyss, with only the periodic glimmer of a flash of lightning, darting down into the darkness, then leaping up the nearby walls of the chasm, to race off elsewhere.

I floated down, and the further down I got, the worse my flight was.

My boots hit the crystal, and it was like I’d landed on a drum.  The walls of the chasm on either side of me caught the sound and bounced it back, echoing.

There was another boom, as Rain went from a standstill, five feet above the ground, to a landing.

Getting up was going to be a pain, but…

But I could look into the crystal, and I could see scenes with myself and Contessa.  In Teacher’s base.  Making the decision.

Rain saw the same.

“When I-” Rain started, and the echo of his voice was intense enough that it made him pause.  He dropped his volume, “When I sent her the message, I thought to myself, what she did back there, it didn’t make sense.”

Back at Teacher’s base.  Rain’s finger tapped the crystal that jutted out.

“She showed doubt.  She made us make the call.  If she was a… perfect future-telling machine, then she’d just make the call.”

The scenes around us changed, reflected on the canyon walls.

A girl, Rain’s age or younger, wearing a suit, standing in a doorway.

A woman, that must have been Doctor Mother, asleep.

The girl standing in the doorway for a while, before turning and walking away.

Not saying whatever she wanted to say.

“Doubt,” I said.

The scenes showed something similar.  The girl in the suit, now older, walking between standalone cells, not connected to one another.  Each with three walls and a roof.  The front was left open, only paint on the ground.

There were people within.

“Responsive, aren’t you?”  I asked.

The scenes changed.  Her, suit jacket off and slung over the back of a chair, picking up the phone, to make a silent phone call.  I wasn’t sure why, but it felt… momentous, somehow.  Something in her expression.

Kenzie made her approach, extending a hand.  Metal clinked against crystal.

“I want to try hacking in,” Kenzie said.

“If we could do any damage, she wouldn’t let us be here,” I said.

“I know.  But I want to try.  If that’s okay?”

“It’s perfectly okay,” I said.

She knelt down, and the same motion coincided with a sound far sharper and louder than Rain or myself making our landings.

When she stepped away, the box she’d used to communicate with the Capricorn brothers was lying on the ground, camera and three of the camera ‘engines’ attached to it.

“That’s a load off,” she said.  “You might have to carry me back.  I burned a lot of power.”

“No problem,” Rain said.

She wasn’t fiddling, but the machine booted up.  It buzzed, and scenes around us buzzed in kind.  It got louder, the distortion around the scenes increased.

The scenes around us showed us a girl Kenzie’s age, black haired, with light brown skin, wearing clothes I didn’t recognize, with loose cloth and a girdle-style belt that went from under where her breasts would be to her pelvis, wrapped around her trunk.  Her sandals had shin-guards built into them, and her forearms had guards near the wrists.

The machine buzzed, and the buzzes corresponded loosely with where I felt words might start and stop.

Kenzie adjusted settings.  The voices became clearer, unintelligible, but wholly natural.

A child, scared and confused, with none of the cold confidence I associated with Contessa.

“Our enemy?” I asked.  My voice boomed through the canyon.

“Or ally,” Rain said.  His voice did the same.  He raised his head, looking upward.

Boots slammed into the crystal.  Not as hard a landing as mine or Rain’s.

I turned to look, and I saw Sveta.

“Oh, everyone’s here,” Kenzie said, sounding pleased.  “Tristan, Byron, Chris!  Come on down!  You too, number boy!”

But that enthusiasm and joy felt out of place.

Sveta’s expression was so dark… and my first thought was that it was this.  That she was seeing the inner core of the person who had done this to her.  She rubbed one arm, and I saw that, whether it was because we were here, where powers were dampened, or because she’d found a way to assert some control, her tendrils were no longer trying to braid themselves.

She crossed the small island, and as she passed, images changed.  To her right, along the canyon wall, I could see a mechanical Case Fifty-Three, carrying two children.  Again, Kenzie’s age.  I looked back and saw the young Contessa, forlorn, the foreign tongue she spoke overlapping as an adult Contessa, depicted on the canyon wall, reached for one of the children.

“I’ll take it from here.  Return to your cells,” the Contessa in the crystal said.

Sveta didn’t even bat an eyelash as that unfolded around her.

She wrapped her arms around me in a hug, face buried against my shoulder.  I hugged her back, and felt my heart break.  I looked over at Rain, who was wide-eyed once again.

The Number Boy hopped down.  His landing was softer than even Sveta’s.  He carried one end of a cable, which seemed to have been looped around jutting crystals and corners.

Chris made his way down, using a transformed body.  Byron took the longest, relying heavily on the cable that had been threaded for handholds.

When he finally had his boots on solid ground, he pulled off his helmet.  His expression said it all.

I had to ask.


Byron shook his head.

“Ah, man,” Rain said, with more emotion than I’d heard from him in a long while, now.

I looked back at Kenzie, who had frozen, and felt Sveta squeeze me tighter.  Hopefully Kenzie had her people, on her end of the camera.

All around us, scenes played.  Contessa and Hero.  Contessa and Alexandria.  Contessa and Doctor Mother’s body.  There were capes I didn’t recognize.  Words and voices overlapped.

Rain pressed a button.  The box shut off.

It didn’t put the images away, but the lack of sound made it easier to let them pass by without notice.  I ignored the Number Boy, who felt out of place, and Chris who felt even more ‘wrong’, being here, much as my body had felt wrong.

Rain hugged Byron, clumsy, and Byron just looked shell shocked.

All around us, images played, reflecting what we were experiencing.  Death, endings, grief, pain, and regret.

A trove of information about our most dangerous enemy’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as we felt and bore our own.

And we were in no place to use it.

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13 thoughts on “Infrared – 19.7”

  1. -Aw, man, everyone’s reactions when they heard about Tristan’s confirmed death. Especially Rain and Byron…. There is so much love in Rain’s soul for his friends. He was also the one who suffered the most when he found out about Chris’ betrayal :(.

    -Contessa hates the monster she became (literally and metaphorically). Deep down, she isn’t entirely bad and heartless. There is still a chance for her humanity to win over the monster.

    -Imp and her obsession with Victoria’s personal bussinesses, omg :). Imp is that character who can be both annoying but also adorable and you just can’t stay mad at her.

    -Victoria+ Tinker Gun+ Waste Chan+ Lisa is the best poly ship in the history of poly ships.

  2. Victoria’s hatred of Eggs and Jorts, even Alien crystal computers know of this universal truth.

    Victoria; trying to maintain discretion, from Kenzie, while walking through the hall of memories; how did she expect that to work?

    Poor Contessa 🙁

  3. Typo Thread:

    look around > looked around
    Kenzie perspective > Kenzie’s perspective
    she sounded > She sounded
    “Kid,” > “Kid.”
    ‘I want that and I can’t have it, and ‘I have that and ‘I don’t want it’ > ‘I want that and I can’t have it’, and ‘I have that and I don’t want it’
    his volume, > his volume.
    aren’t you?” I asked. (extra space)

    Time to bring back Arbiter so she can translate Fortuna’s language

    1. “It didn’t feel like were anywhere important to the greater system,”

      “they had a way of shifting and moving that latched onto my attention whenever I gave it any.”
      They/it inconsistency.

  4. Agh, it still gets me sometimes how naturally this story interacts with inhuman logic. Like, moving through emotionspace is just the right balance of ‘hidden rules’ and ‘stuff humans need an eldritch informant to get’. It’s good stuff.

    I’m not certain why Eden was called that IC though. I know we did it based on the ‘Zion’ reveal they never got (that i know of) and the word ‘garden’ used to describe her a lot, which would have been less impactful for them… convenient for us, but canonically I’m hurt that they didn’t go with ‘Fuckster’ when Imp was right there…

  5. @Morgan Searle: The day anyone uses a name Imp gives something will be a dark one indeed, because it means either there’s nobody else around to name it or she has to figure out how to take care of a baby.

    …I have a lot of stuff on my mind about this chapter, but it feels weird to share any of it after making a joke like that.

  6. “All around us, scenes played. Contessa and Hero. Contessa and Alexandria. Contessa and Doctor Mother’s body. There were capes I didn’t recognize. Words and voices overlapped.”

    I was really hoping one of those would be “Contessa and Khepri.”

  7. “If you had to give it any label at all, what would you call it?”
    “Interest? Attraction. Like when I noticed Erin for the first time.”
    Of fucking course. I couldn’t help but grimace.

    Because the Vicksexual harem wasn’t big enough.

  8. > Because the Vicksexual harem wasn’t big enough.

    Host attempted reproduction yesterday! Shard is halping!

  9. @grinvader
    > This could be taken as subtle proof that the latter is different somehow (wink wink, nudge nudge).

    Because Contessa doesn’t care about Taylor the way she did about people she worked with for years or decades, or because Contessa didn’t kill any of those people?
    Oh wait, she didn’t kill Taylor, she shot her in a way that fixed her brain damage, cut off her power better than f*ing BONESAW could, and didn’t cause any lasting damage despite putting two bullets in her brain. Because why respect Taylor’s last sacrifice the way all the others were respected?

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