“I hoped, going in, that I would be able to see your face.”
They hung upside-down, in a hell of metal and broken glass. The soft things around him were the most dangerous, because crumpled metal hung below his head, littered with tiny glass shards, and the soft portions of his immediate environment offered no traction, nothing to hold onto.
His brother was beside him, but the boy’s features were a cipher. Look at the eye, and the other eye, the nose, the mouth, the hair, and even the shape of the head changed. Look to the hair, and everything else shifted imperceptibly.
There was no memory or detail to be uncovered by coming here and seeing this. Reliving it. He knew agents stored details, but what they chose to store didn’t always make sense. He could reason some of it out, suggest that one person he passed on the street might have had a latent power waiting to be awoken by one bad day. His brother, for whatever reason, hadn’t been a consideration.
So terribly important to him, and a mere prop to his power.
He gripped his seatbelt, one hand at the edge of the window, struggling to hold onto the one rigid, grippable thing there. His arm was tired.
“I’ve been working hard. Trying to stop the kinds of people who got you.”
He reached for his brother and couldn’t manage it.
“Every day, I see people with powers. Every time I see them, I see the agents and their work. Maybe that gives me an edge here. It keeps me awake, because I’m supposed to be unconscious when they take you.”
His arm trembled with the exertion of supporting the weight of his body, his fingers pressing into the ragged edge of the window.
He told himself that yes, he had been unconscious when the event had actually happened, but he was different now. He’d spent decades fighting. Decades giving his all.
So much of that was mental, and the key difference between the him of the past and the him of this dark dream of glass and broken metal was the mind. He had his memories, and he had the skills he’d learned.
He held out.
“The-” he grunted, his breath a little short from the exertion. “They asked me if I’d put my life on the line, and trust the people we’ve been protecting to wake us up. I realized, all at once, that I’d made a mistake. Ever since the world ended, I’ve been telling myself, we need to slay these demons, face down these monsters, stave off this war for another few months.”
His arm almost gave out. He gripped the seatbelt with his other arm and pulled to alleviate the weight, reasserting his grip.
“If everything turned out alright in the end, then they’d forgive us for being elsewhere for the first few years.”
He could hear the commotion outside. People sliding down the hillside by the road, which was mostly gravel and sand.
“It didn’t turn out alright. I’m not sure they’ll forgive us. I’ve been too focused on the monsters, on the horizons.”
The door was opened, and Zach was seized. A knife cut the seatbelt, freeing him, and hands caught him as he dropped.
“If I’d been paying more attention to the unpowered, the victims, would I be able to see your face? Say a proper goodbye? Would it be better codified? Or can I not see you because I moved on?”
He reached for Zach, and failed to reach past the crumpled, obstructing armrest to his brother’s hand.
“I’m sorry, Zach.”
A hand grabbed his wrist, and the calm, detached perspective fell away. For a moment, he was a child again, in a scary, unfamiliar situation.
He twisted around, looking, and saw another snatcher, holding his wrist, pulling on wrist and door simultaneously.
I forgot this happened.
The shock kept him from piecing together any coherent thoughts, and he fought as best as he could in the situation, upside down, no leverage, still trying to keep himself from slumping the wrong way in his seat-
Panic welled as he slid across the seat, the two things in the car that were meant to reduce harm his biggest enemies in the moment. A seatbelt dragging against his neck, pressing hard and strangling breath and blood flow, and the cushions he couldn’t get traction on. Desperately, he grabbed for broken metal, for the window with glass.
Looked to the front seat at his parents- they had faces, but the faces were two-dimensional.
Learned and stored from photographs.
They were still. Dead.
And he was being grabbed, pulled- they were trying to get him through the window.
He felt the darkness creeping in, his hands scrabbling, where every scrabble both hurt and was necessary-
And he came free. No car, no metal, no cushion, no glass, no hand at his wrist.
His fall was from an immense distance, beyond the ability of his human mind to register. It began at a planet that rotated around a star that was simultaneously binary and solitary because of a tear in space that cut through it, transforming it into a double image. The planet traveled a path that, twice per revolution, intersected a hole in space. When that planet intersected the hole, the writhing species that lived on it could move between. Those that could travel could access other layers of that same world. Other possibilities. Food was abundant, and so was breeding. Those that could see and interact with the tears when they passed by had the advantage.
After a thousand thousand such revolutions, a thousand contests, some began to be able to create and work with their own tears, keeping the subatomic particles with them.
The fall began there and it took him through worlds he couldn’t count. Every revolution of his awareness was a cycle, a species wiped out, spaced out by study, by experimentation, by evolution, by statements. Until he stopped on Earth with a suddenness that almost shattered his mind.
He was both participant and observer when the landing happened. When the alien matter came to rest, then settled to watch and study humanity. It began to pull together a golden-skinned body.
That’s right, he thought, because he couldn’t speak aloud.
I triggered then. I saw things. And because every bit of power we use comes from them, some of us, like me, come from places closer to where they hold and store events like this.
I don’t supposed I could ask a question?
He pushed the idea out there, knowing he might be the only one able to ask at this vantage point.
There was nobody and nothing to answer.
A shame. A worry. If somehow humanity decided to forgive parahumans their distance, then he would wake up and he would need to address the last remaining problems.
What had the Titan Fortuna been drilling for? Had she been cutting away? Sabotaging? What did a force that wanted to continue this cycle and preserve all data get out of cutting away portions of that data?
[Question], he insisted, straining with his all, pulling on every instinct and nuance he had picked up from seeing thousands of expressions of agents over the years.
No answer. There was nobody and nothing left to answer.
“Damn it! Damn you!”
The ‘trigger event’ ended, and he fell backwards, his breath stolen away by pain.
His fingers found the grip of a baseball bat, and he realized where he was.
The boy named Relentless stood, using the weapon to help rise to his feet. Where the top end of the baseball bat pressed against floorboards, those floorboards creaked, cracked, and gave way, the bat dropping a few inches until it hit the concrete foundation of the building.
The gangster said something in Spanish, then pointed the gun at him.
Pulled the trigger again.
This shot hit the edge of the cardboard facemask, and bounced off, making the mask rotate a bit. He’d blended it with a welding mask and a one-and-a-half inch steel plate. He’d done much the same with the rest of his armor, including the chestplate he wore.
Fixing the mask, he ran forward.
His shoes were cleats, blended with boots he’d cast out of concrete. His footsteps were heavy, loud, and damaged the floor.
The gangster decided to run. He chased, and the spikes of his shoes dug into the dusty floor, giving him traction the gangster lacked. The shoes the gangster wore were for style, for getting girls. For looking nice. Not for traction.
The gangster turned, ready to fire back behind himself, and there was opportunity in that moment.
Relentless swung his bat, one handed, almost lazy. Smashing the gun, tearing up the gangster’s fingers. The gun came apart in fragments.
The bat was a metal baseball bat, hollow. The other thing he’d blended in had been hollow too- a reinforced concrete tube waiting to be laid in the ground for a drainage ditch. Eight feet in diameter, thirty feet long. To him, the weight and shape of it were that of the metal bat. To things it hit, however…
The man fell, and he stopped, the spikes of his cleats dragging into the wood. Before the man could rise, he brought the boot down on one knee. The man screamed.
“Do you speak English?”
The gangster didn’t seem able to respond.
“Remember this!” he raised his voice. Flecks of spittle hit the clear cardboard mask, from the volume and intensity of his words. “Tell them! Remember the words! Remember the sounds if you don’t know the words! This is for my brother! This is for Zach!”
He brought his boot down again, on the other knee, then ground it side to side, to make sure the damage was done.
Objectively, he knew this was the dream. Objectively, he had moved on from this moment, this feeling.
The rage. The desperation.
He heard running footsteps, and he began running himself.
Another man, wearing clothes even more ostentatious than the last guy. A suit as blue as the ocean, a black satin shirt, a tie.
The man ran, and he was going to get away.
The shoes didn’t matter here. The fact was he’d been going at it too long. His legs were shorter, because he was still only fifteen. He’d chased down too many people, starting from one chance lead, and then following it, because that was the way this worked. Each lead was standalone. Each chance he got might be the last chance. So he had to follow it, catch the person who affiliated with the Snatchers, use that person to find more, to get locations of buildings, or get keys and ID from that person, to break into their homes, scare their families and dog, get their computers or notes, and bring those things back to the captive.
If he slept, if he slipped, the trail went cold, and he had to hope, pressing forward and picking off targets at random until he got a name, until people started hating the Snatchers because some kid in cardboard armor and rugby padding kept taking their gangsters apart and asking about the group.
Now he was here, this person looked important, and he was too tired to give chase.
The problem with a baseball bat was that it couldn’t reach any further than the tip of the bat itself.
So he threw it, with every intention of hitting the man.
The bat went through the wall, and it took out something vital. The wall folded outward, and then began to collapse.
He had to stop, watching, seeing the gangster scramble to get back and away from the falling section of wall and the bits of roof. Dust followed, flooding into the space.
And so did something else. Someone else.
Her skin was light brown, her hair long and straight, and she wore a helmet that covered her entire face. She was one of the few to wear a cape, and her cape was heavy, chainmail or something, rising up from the shoulders, then sweeping down to trace the ground.
She flew at the man in the blue suit, and grabbed him.
Then she looked at Relentless.
From the shock of my trigger event, to the anger.
From anger to the bargain. Would I join her? Would I fight for her cause?
“I thought I’d capture this man, and use that as clout to negotiate with you,” Alexandria spoke.
“Is it you?” he asked. “I know there are ghosts in this alien machine.”
“Yes. Alexandria,” she said.
It was an answer she’d given him a long, long time ago. Out of order of the replies she’d given back then. Was that because this was a dream?
“What was Fortuna drilling for?” he asked.
“Communication,” Alexandria said. Another fragment.
He shook his head.
“Sending a message-” she said. Stopped prematurely. That sentence had been about unity, about the Wards and the idea that he could stop more evil if he were part of an organized group than he could alone, swinging his bat at one particular gang of child-snatchers.
“What was the message?” he asked.
“Answers,” she said.
That particular line, he remembered very well. He had harbored some quiet resentment, that Alexandria had promised him that she and the newly formed Protectorate would offer their full support in finding Zach.
As it happened, those three answers she had just provided had all proven to be lies. Communication? No. She had hidden what she was and where her true allegiances were. Cauldron. She herself had stolen children, he would later discover.
Sending a message? No. It had been about controlling the message, and the PRT had lost control of that when Alexandria had died. The Wardens would fail to send that message at all.
He felt anger, still, but it wasn’t the dream handing him that same anger he had felt as a teenager, fighting this gang. It was anger at himself.
Relentless approached Alexandria as a boy wearing cardboard. He met her eyes in passing, his gaze hard.
Her eyes were pink, and caught his full attention.
No longer her. Should I interpret that to mean I can’t expect any more answers?
Chevalier looked away from her, past the rubble of the damaged wall, and into New Delhi.
In the moment he found himself despairing. Realizing that after a fight like this, they wouldn’t have what it took to fight for another twenty years, maybe not even ten, or five. The first fight against an Endbringer where his plan wasn’t to fight his best and wait for the Triumvirate to handle it. Because the Triumvirate had been broken. It was false.
And he was the one in charge. Chevalier.
“Are the thinkers ready?” he asked, louder than necessary, grabbing people’s attention away from the distant Endbringer.
“Downstairs, right below us.”
All he could do was to keep fighting.
All he’d been doing, ever since that moment, was fight. That was part of the problem.
Downstairs, past capes, past staff.
To face down the villains they’d brought with them.
Lab Rat. String Theory. Black Kaze. Teacher. Glaistig Uaine.
He stood on a mountaintop.
The test. The point where we pushed through it all. Every decision we’d made came home when Scion attacked. We had to find solutions, wherever they came from.
Make our peace with that.
They’d warned the dreams would be bad. On a level, they had been. Seeing Zach. The shock of triggering again. The anger. The betrayal. The despair. The compromise.
He felt as though he could handle it. That it wasn’t the nightmare he’d anticipated. This was…
…It was only part of the story.
Scion’s light lit up the sky.
Chevalier stood on a rooftop, his eyes adjusting as that light dimmed. When it faded, he looked out over the city, and feeling shock, once again. Shock at the responsibility. The scale. The sheer force of the threats arrayed against him.
This was the nightmare. This was what would crush him, he realized.
That it was a cycle.
That he could wake up, find everything back at square one, and be trapped in the loop. Shock, struggling to find his footing, angry, bargaining, despairing, compromising, and finally finding fleeting peace.
Or that he wouldn’t wake up. That he would be left to make his peace with the decisions he’d made. So many good, well-intentioned, or simply necessary in the moment. None what he now realized he needed.
No. There had been no response, right?
He’d touched so very close to their central processing, the core of them, their experiences. He’d reached out there, spoken in their language.
And there had been no response.
Because Fortuna was gone. Defeated.
He eased his eyes open, then winced. He had a headache.
He sat up, grunting as he felt the injuries from recent battle.
“Everything okay?” one of the women by the bedside asked.
“It depends on so much,” he said. He motioned for the tablet.
They handed it over.
The entries were coordinates. A long, long list of names in rectangular bubbles with red backgrounds. Twelve names with beige backgrounds and green checkmarks.
“Who have you woken up?”
“We don’t know. When they gave us the data, they didn’t attach names to it. We can infer, from costumes, some of the people are in jail cells, but…”
He looked around.
He looked down at Hannah, who slept beside him, her expression troubled. This was her room. Her request, that he join her. Unlike him, she had no armor stand, no weapons, no resources. Neither he nor she had posters or memorabilia across their rooms. He moved hair from her forehead before resting his hand there. Feeling the temperature, watching her breathe.
Beside the bed, he could see phantom images. A trace of Hannah as a child, in school, a gun in her lap, covered with her hand.
He stroked her head.
The image dropped away. Another replaced it. She was shooting a gun, and he was beside her.
That would have to do.
The relationship had never worked out, for dating, for holidays, for living together. Their lives each had a trajectory that carried them in different directions. But they would always be close.
Close but so far apart, always.
He also remembered that this tender moment was being watched, and straightened, sitting up. He wore no shirt, but he did have pajama bottoms on. His scars were on display, and the two women seemed intimidated.
He stroked his beard, which had grown quite long over multiple deployments to warzones, other worlds. “Can you wake her up?”
“Not yet. We don’t have the right data, and it has to be done in a specific way.”
“Of course,” he said. He held up the tablet. “Can I keep this?”
One of the women nodded. “We have another.”
“Good,” he said. He stood.
They might have figured out who he was, because they didn’t tell him to slow down or to stop and rest.
Still, he moved very slowly, tablet in one hand, while he picked up a t-shirt from the floor. He verified it was a men’s, one of his, then pulled it on.
The two women moved on.
He paused to pen a note, then left it on the pillow.
“First time I’ve ever seen you sleep, Hannah,” he said.
He put on the flip-flops he wore for the shower, and he made his way upstairs.
But for what seemed like an endless procession of janitorial crews, the place was quiet. There were no capes, no battles.
He kept expecting someone to run by, fly by, hurrying to the next incident. That expectation came from years of that very thing being his reality. Years of a crisis every moment, every day.
The next crisis was imminent. The state of the city. The city’s enemies, poised. The last word they had was that Saint was still working on the Machine Army. Cheit had its armies poised, and those armies weren’t dependent on powers. It was possible they had already started invading.
He was still weak, his chest heavy. He made liberal use of the handrail by the stairs as he ascended.
He had been here before, they all had. They would be here again.
Upstairs was the command center. But before then… coffee.
It was eerie to see the cafeteria as empty as it was. Damaged tables had been moved out of the way and set aside. Only a handful of the building’s staff and residents were sitting… most of the unpowered would be at the canteens downstairs.
Two young women were sitting. He recognized one on sight as Victoria, another from a file he’d seen circulated, years ago, at a meeting where they had been discussing what to do about New Brockton.
He could see their shadows. Victoria’s was in alignment with her. Overlapping her, like an outline tracing her body, only millimeters off target. Tattletale’s power was there too, spidery, reaching out to observe, pick up images from the environment around her. To touch a salt shaker and pick up the image of that shaker. Exploring other data, other research.
They paid him little mind.
“-without powers?” Victoria asked. He hadn’t heard the first part.
“Are we schoolchildren, Victoria?” Tattletale asked, in a derisive tone of voice that would have let Chevalier identify her even if he’d never seen a photo. Hell, if he’d never even met her, and knew her by reputation and association with Victoria Dallon alone, he might have connected the dots. “Are we blabbing away on the playground about what-ifs?”
Tattletale, leaning over her oversized cup of coffee, put her hands on her cheeks, and spoke in a childish voice, “What if you had to fight Legend, Victoria? What would you do?”
“Seriously. Don’t make me fight you every step of the way to keep this conversation going. Lawyer?”
Chevalier couldn’t help but overhear as he found a coffee cup and began filling it up.
“Good god, Antares, you don’t know me at all.”
“I can’t help but notice you have these graduated stages for what you refer to me as. I thought maybe social worker because you seem to care about those kids. Maybe you’d want to look after others.”
“I’m utter shit at caring about others. I care about my kids.”
Tattletale leaned forward. “Talk like that is what gets you labeled as Glory Hole from now to forever, and if you want to push it, I’ll contrive to have it etched on your gravestone.”
Chevalier mixed some cream into his coffee, stirred it, and capped it.
“Come on,” Victoria said. “Engage with me here. If you don’t, I’ll come up with worse and worse answers. Cop.”
“I don’t know. Waitress. Happy?”
“Really. What’s the logic there?”
“What am I good for, without powers? You know where I come from. My family went to shit. I was going to run away no matter what happened. And when you’re down on your luck, it’s hard to get back on your feet. Case in point, this whole damn city. So I would’ve gone to some town that wasn’t Brockton Bay, because my entire reason for going was that it was cape friendly and I was a rookie cape. And I would have found a shit job, found shit boyfriends, and if my parents happened to die, I might get a wad of cash, which I’d promptly blow.”
“That’s morbid,” Victoria said, her chin resting on the heel of her hand, elbow on the table.
Chevalier found his seat, a blueberry muffin in hand, two tables down from the girls. He wasn’t sure how hungry he was, and he did want to ask questions, when there was a break in the conversation. He would eat, see if he wanted more, ask Tattletale the critical questions, then move on.
He wasn’t rushing. He had the tablet. He began scanning the names, logged in to check his messages, and found his inbox nearly empty for the first time he could remember.
He thought back, and remembered he had still been a Ward when he’d been able to finish clearing his inbox. Now it was all filters, sorted by priority and keywords.
Titans gone. An entire box he could archive, along with all contents.
“…you couldn’t even get into University,” Tattletale said. “And there’s no university left.”
“There’s time. We’ll adapt,” Victoria said.
Her tone was so calm, it was jarring him from his thoughts. He wanted to say something, interrupt, give her an order.
The only thing that held him back was that he himself hadn’t figured out where he was going or what he was doing. He didn’t know enough to point her in the right direction or make the right requests.
Twenty-two capes were awake.
He looked over the list, judged the numbers, and was satisfied that his instincts were right.
Virtually everyone was slated to be woken up. There were a few question marks, all the way at the bottom. Two possible K.I.A.s, three other questionable circumstances. Someone who had gone to a place the relief teams couldn’t reach, another who had powers that interfered, and a third that hadn’t left a means of tracing them.
He fired off messages to the situation room, requesting records and names.
“You’re so happy it’s annoying.”
“Not happy. But I’m relieved. I think there’s a road forward.”
He put the tablet down, turning to stare. Tattletale gave him a sidelong look, then looked back to Victoria. “We’re not talking about that stuff.”
“Okay,” Victoria said, shrugging. “What are we talking about? You’re pulling an Etna on me.”
“She’s a great girl, working hard as a heroine, last I heard. But she can’t hold a conversation. I thought my teammates would bite their tongues off, putting up with it.”
“I thought you weren’t going back to Breakthrough.”
“I’m not. But I’ll think of them as teammates forever. I will go to the ends of the known Earths to help them if they need it, and I hope that I’ll have a bit more time to do that.”
Chevalier was interrupted from listening when he noticed more people come in. Some were staff, but one wasn’t. Tall, with silver hair in a messy bun, she wore a jacket for warmth over a light purple shirt with a unicorn on it.
She found his table and sat, without question or invitation. Not that he minded.
“Catch me up,” she said.
“They’re waking everyone up.”
“I know that part,” she said.
He scrolled through messages. He’d gotten distracted. That conversation had sounded like it had been from Earth Aleph, while he was still in Gimel. The ruins of Gimel.
He tried to focus. There was the data on the missing and the killed. Nobody notable killed.
He addressed Narwhal. “Saint is in a holding pattern. He’s disrupted their signals, which is paralyzing key groups and it means the entire Machine Army isn’t moving as a coordinated unit with perfect information sharing. It’s not the takeover or complete shutdown we wanted but it’s a start.”
“Good,” Narwhal said.
“A mobilized attack may give us some ground. It’ll be hard, with capes recovering from the death sleep. There are already soldiers working on it. Bombing crews.”
“Shin had military.”
“Shin might be touchy,” he said. “Which is a whole other thing-”
“The Titans?” Narwhal interrupted.
“Ah. I meant to say,” he said. “The Titans have crumbled. All of them went still simultaneously, then crumbled. No signals passing to or from the network hubs we identified. They’re debating bombing those sites.”
“My cue to leave.”
He turned his head to look. Tattletale was getting to her feet.
“Leave?” he asked. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I can move elsewhere.”
“No, it’s too late, you’ve got my brain going again. I should go look after my team.”
“Are they confirmed gone?” Victoria asked. “Is there anything? I wanted to reach out to Fume Hood and Dauntless. They made multiple sacrifices.”
“I’m sure we can investigate,” he said.
“Yeah. There’s time,” Victoria said.
“I-” he started, stopped.
“There is,” Victoria said. Her hands were wrapped around her mug, and the trace of her agent had its hands around those hands. She turned her head as more capes came in. Many of them were uncostumed. Keith was among them, wearing a blue jacket over a black v-neck shirt, jeans, and boots.
“Why are they all coming here?” Tattletale asked, clearly annoyed.
“I asked, the staff said Chevalier was here,” Narwhal said.
“Same here,” Keith said. He’d rinsed off, and his hair was wet, and the ends of his hair had a blue-white halo. He’d flown hard in the cold with that wet hair. “I flew out, checked. The Titans are gone.”
“I know. We’re getting word,” Chevalier said. “Victoria, while I’ve got your attention, I have a report about your ex-teammate.”
He held up the tablet.
“Chris Elman. He attacked capes, apparently trying to get something from them. He backed off immediately when he realized they were already dosed.”
“He didn’t think people would agree to the plan like they did,” Tattletale said.
“He was affected?” Victoria asked. “Do we have his location?”
“No. I intend to ask Riley Davis, but it’s my understanding he initially planned to help make the device for the death sleep?”
“He did. She walked him through all the steps.”
“Could he create a counteragent?”
“I don’t know,” Victoria said. “I think it might depend on whether he was actually listening to her and entertaining the plan. Can you send out people to find him?”
“We’ll try. We’ll want to secure everyone, cover every base. A dangerous tinker of unknown status is a concern.”
“He’d like to think he’s very good at hiding,” Victoria said. “He’s paranoid. But he overestimates his ability. I hope he’s found, and he realizes what it means, when he is.”
“We’ll need to get organized,” Chevalier said. He was feeling more like himself, with the coffee in him. “There are refugees to manage, there’s other bases to cover. We’ll need a perimeter, we’ll need to reform and consolidate teams…”
There were a lot of people looking, nodding.
He was so proud of them. Like he had before, they recognized the fight they were in, the need to push forward, no matter what.
There was a deep, heavy sadness that came with it.
That this fight went on.
“Any help is appreciated,” he said, to Tattletale and Victoria. To the heroes who had woken up and found their ways here.
“I’m out,” Victoria said.
“Out?” Keith asked.
“I’m thankful you trusted me when it counted. That we got here. But last night, the dream, the people I talked to… I owe them. I have people I need to look after, and one of those people is me.”
He looked at her, and he looked at the group. At Keith, at Narwhal. At Golem, who sat a few tables down. Other capes who had stayed here or decided to come here, because they didn’t have much else.
Others were still making their way in. He smiled at Hannah, Miss Milita. His heart rested easier, seeing her awake, though she looked fatigued.
He thought back to his own dream, and the sadness, the latent frustration.
“Unfortunately,” Narwhal said, “If everyone made that decision, we’d be lost.”
“There’s a middle ground.”
The voice that had stated that was Chevalier’s. He fixed his eyes on the ground.
“Civilians have the key stuff under control,” Victoria said, as if to help him complete the thought. “I think they know they have a power they didn’t.”
“And we know we need to make changes,” he said. “Break the cycles. I have to admit, I’ve been driving us all forward for so long I don’t know how.”
“Not retirement,” Narwhal said.
“No,” Chevalier said. “But they have the key stuff handled. There are no outstanding emergencies. There will be, we’ll need to prepare for that. But for now…”
He was aware of the eyes on him. That, a handful of exceptions like Legend and Narwhal aside, he was the person they were looking to for guidance.
“…I’m going to borrow the kitchen, and I’m going to cook some breakfast. Then, after a lot of thinking and as much relaxation as we can all manage, given circumstances, I want to talk, to stop and think about our next moves, what to bring up when we talk to the citizens of Gimel.”
There was, collectively, an easing of tension. People relaxed, and he realized that they had been holding onto their own lessons, their own fears and realizations from the past evening. They were loyal enough to follow him if he asked, but they hadn’t wanted it.
“Do you want help?” Hannah asked.
“I would love the help and the company,” he told her.
Maybe this could be a change, too. If they weren’t moving in opposite directions, each handling their own things…
That was a silly, almost teenager-ish thought, when he had many, many other things to dwell on.
“I’ll check on the kids,” Tattletale told Victoria. “The first should be waking up.”
“Tattletale,” Chevalier asked. “I feel like I might not get the chance if I don’t ask now.”
“The drilling. Titan Fortuna was working on something. Is it an emergency? A concern?”
“I don’t know enough to tell you,” she said. “I need information to work with. But it wasn’t drilling. It was etching.”
“Etching? In the dream, I asked Alexandria. She said it was an answer, communication, sending a message. Answers.”
“Ah,” Tattletale said.
“What does it mean?”
“It means she found something she thought was important enough to tell all the rest of her kind about. It makes a bit more of her actions make sense. Probably not the whole answer, but… ”
“Is that a concern? A tool we can use?”
“It’s a question for another day. For now, we breathe.”