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Wake

Chapter Text

Erin stepped away from the conversation. Grabbing a marker from the packet, she wrote her name at the top corner of her whiteboard.

Below that, she wrote, ‘names’, then paused for a few moments before writing ‘Whiteknuckle’, ‘Rebuke’, and ‘Clutch’.

I approached, looking.

“No homework?” I asked.

“Saving it. It’s one of the few valid excuses I have to dodge being put in charge of my siblings, so I take advantage of that.”

I nodded. “Sounds like you have a system then. If you ever need help with studying, I’m happy to lend a hand.”

“Like you said, I have a system. I’m fine.” Her tone was light, but the rebuke, appropriately enough, was evident.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. Besides, I’m starting to wonder if it’s even worth the effort at this point.”

“You’d be surprised at how education comes into play,” I said.

“Sure. I can make sure I have a very well-researched quote picked out for my tombstone.”

“Because of your cluster?”

“Because capes- because people don’t tend to live long these days. Because Golden Morning wasn’t a victory, it was just- a respite. I mean, if nothing else the Endbringers are still out there and if that isn’t a good enough reason I don’t know what is.”

“There’s heroes. People stopping those things. Maybe you’ll be one of them. People die- it sucks but not all of them die. Not all of us.”

“Has to be somebody, right?” she said. “I’m not asking for a pep talk, Victoria. I know where I’m at, I know where things are at. I have other things to focus on. Like a name.”

That was my signal to back off, clearer and more explicit than the earlier one. Fine.

“Clutch is a fairly decent name. Could work with the right costume. I’m not sure it feels right with the blaster power.”

“I was thinking of holding something, grasping something, but it doesn’t really work with any power except the tinker… Ugh. No teasing, please. I regret ever making fun of capes for their names.”

“I’m not going to make fun,” I said. “I have no idea what I’m going to call myself when I get back to the costumed heroics.”

“Glory Girl’s retired?”

I nodded.

“Can’t say I blame you, yeah. I’m thinking along the lines of… resistance, pushing back, that kind of thing, because it covers the mover and blaster. The other two don’t quite fit with that, though.”

“Rebuke’s taken, by the way,” I said. “I’m not sure of the others.”

She reached down to the pile of stuff at the foot of her board and picked up one of her tinker devices, the same prosthetic thumb I’d seen back at our training session. This time, though, I was able to get a better idea of its purpose, as she strapped it onto her hand on the opposite side of the palm. She bit her lip, then activated something on the device with a wince. 

“Hurts?” I asked

“Very small needle, gives it direct access to the nerves, but I can’t get the alignment quite perfect without worrying I’m going to throw everything else out in the process.”

“You might be better than you think.”

“I am exactly as good and bad as I think, don’t worry. When it comes to my estimation of myself, the problem is the second half, not the first. My power is about as useful as shoulder-charging someone - a mild annoyance 90% of the time, unless things line up just wrong and I end up breaking their neck and killing them, which I am still erring on the side of not doing.”

“Okay,” I said. “The mover power, it lets you…”

“Slide, kind of.”

She stepped back, then jogged a few steps before jumping. When she hit the ground, her feet seemed to stick slightly, and her momentum carried her across the ground, like she was wearing socks on freshly-waxed hardwood.

“Any limitations? Does it work on rougher surfaces?”

“Rougher, yes, more uneven, no. Has to be flat enough that the entire bottom of my foot maintains contact with the ground. Or at least something close enough to the entire thing to be academic. It does last for as long as I have momentum, though, so I can use it to bleed off a decent amount of speed as long as I keep my balance.”

She seemed to read something in my expression, because she had further criticisms, “It’s pretty mediocre. It lasts but once I stop it has a long downtime, and it’s not really something I can build an identity around, not that I’d want to anyway. Same goes for the emotion power - it’s basically just a ‘mildly stressed’ field, no visual component to work with.”

“A few of the multi-triggers I’m aware of tend to have more… I’m not sure what the word is. Esoteric or abstract names. The one villain in my town was Circus. The solution to a disparate set of powers is to just create something more out there that has its own identity, and then fit your powers to match, instead of trying to fit your identity to a random set of powers.”

“Identity like a character?”

“Like… if you’re standing back and using your blaster power, maybe something like a warlock aesthetic. You could have a robe, you have the strange hands, you’ve got your ‘magic’, both with the blaster power and the emotion one.”

“Nah,” she said after a moment’s consideration. “Not me, I think, and I don’t want someone mistaking me for Rune.”

I frowned. She was right, in that the aesthetic was similar to the ex-E88 member, but it was a very specific, very out-of-left-field comparison to bring up, even for a cape geek. 

“Okay,” I said. I folded my arms, looking at the names she’d put down. “You like sci-fi, right? Is there an aesthetic or character or something you could tap into?”

“I’d be worried about choosing something I get tired of a month from now.”

“Just…” I started, trying to think of a good argument. “Just as a starting point, to get you thinking.”

“Hm. There was a space opera, a bit ago, something to escape into. Chris, what were the… the little drone things called? The ones that they were hacking to assassinate people with?”

“Kits, and also, spoilers.”

Erin nodded to herself, ignoring the second part, then looked at the board.

She started to write something down. She got as far as ‘Ki’ when I said, “Kit and Kitout are both taken.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, then sighed, deflated. “Yeah, that seems about right.”

-----

It was Sveta who said it, not Erin. “If they go inside, we’re going to lose track of what they’re saying.”

“Have they said anything yet?” I asked.

“No,” Erin said. “The woman doesn’t talk so it would be a one-sided conversation. If they’re here, they’re here for something. I have to know what.”

“Anything you guys do risks blowing your surveillance,” I said. “You might gain more information if you leave it alone. Just saying.”

“I need all the information I can get,” Erin said.

“You might,” I said. “It’s really up to you guys. If you need help, I’ll back you up.”

Tristan walked forward, and half-sat on the desk, head turned so he could keep one eye on the image. “Hypothetically, if we did act on this, what would we be doing? Picking a fight?”

“We could,” Ashley said. “Erin said they were injured and needed maintenance. It would be timely, it would keep them injured and out of the picture.”

“On their turf?” Tristan asked. “With who knows how many villains in the immediate area?”

“And it would blow our surveillance, like Victoria said,” Sveta said.

“You’ve been quiet on why they’re after you, Erin,” Chris said. “You never talked about your trigger event.”

“As a rule, it’s not good to ask people about their trigger events,” Sveta said.

“As a rule,” Chris said, “It’s vital information about who we’re fighting and why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

“Chris,” Sveta said.

“Sveta,” Chris said. “Detach from your emotions, focus more on their emotions. Are they passionate? Driven? Is it personal? If any or all of the above are true, it changes the rules of how they act. They might act even if they are injured or needing to do some maintenance.”

“People don’t act by rules,” Tristan said.

“Some people do,” Chris said. “Byron does, or did, based on what you said. They might. But we need more of what Erin knows about who and what they are and where they come from to know that.”

Kenzie turned around in her seat. “I was just telling Victoria I didn’t like the idea of her prying into my past or where I come from. It would feel pretty gross and unfair if we pushed Erin to do it now, when she obviously doesn’t want to.”

“Hypocritical might be the word you’re looking for,” I said.

“I’m learning so many words today,” Kenzie said.

“Regardless of what ‘we’ decide,” Erin said, tone making it clear what she thought of that ‘we’, “do we actually have any way of listening in? They’re close to where Prancer was - can we work with that?” 

So now you’re fine with ‘we’.

“I could rig something,” Kenzie said. “But it would be fragile and iffy.”

“I can’t help but notice we’re changing the subject,” Chris said.

Chris.” Just that, nothing else, but it seemed to work. “My life is on the line here. Tristan knows some, Sveta knows a little less, if they think they can explain without spilling everything, they can try, but I need to be making preparations, I am making preparations, and every bit of information is going to make them more effective.”

-----

“But I do think Chris may be right. If the group is extending a hand to you and you’re not extending trust back, that may not be fair. You should share something.”

She took a deep, frustrated breath, but nodded.

Kenzie spun around. She grabbed one of her flying eyes and pried open the side, pulling out a black rectangle. She swapped it with a spare.

“It’s not Kiss/Kill,” Erin said. “Not… shard manipulations or something more esoteric, it’s very much a mundane, human sort of thing. The dreams probably aren’t helping, maybe there’s some bleedthrough, but it’s not artificial.”

I listened, my expression still, arms folded, mostly watching what Kenzie did while Erin talked. I was going to have to deploy this thing.

Kenzie popped open the jewellery case with the camera she’d put in Ashley’s eye, then tore off the section under the lens. She flicked at parts with her fingers to get them spinning and then held onto others, unscrewing them in the process.

“They blame me for how our trigger went down. Not fully justifiably, but not completely unjustifiably either. Sveta knows this part - we see everyone’s perspectives before the trigger on their night, but for mine at least, it’s selective, highlighting certain things and minimising others. Making me out to be a worse person than I am.”

“I don’t think you’re a bad person at all,” Tristan said.

She sighed. “Tristan, I appreciate it, but I’m not going to pretend I’m a good person either. I’ve… done the things I’ve had to in order to survive, and some of it is justified by that but not all of it is, not all of it should be. And I’m just trying to survive but I’m just exhausted while they keep getting angrier and more focused and I keep thinking that it’s all draining out of me and into them, and-”

“What happened?” Ashley asked.

“I fucked up. I had so many chances to save them, to stop things, but I just ended up making things worse,” Erin said.

I looked away from where Kenzie was spinning things to screw in the eye-camera beneath the major lens of the flying eye, looked at Erin, and saw how on-edge she was.

“How does Rain fit in?” Sveta asked.

“He doesn’t. He knows the story but hasn’t seen the dreams, which… good. I don’t know whether it would change his view of me or not, I don’t even know which one I’d want to happen.”

“And ‘take five?'” Chris asked.

I turned my head.

“My username, online,” Erin explained. “My old PHO username was... embarrassing, and like I said to Victoria, I used to think the fifth room was another member who died before the first night. Made sense at the time, plus..." she waggled her fingers. "Five, y'know?"

"I've heard worse," Chris said.

-----

“It’s not kiss-kill,” Erin said again. “Or, like Victoria said a few days ago, it’s kiss-kill with good cover. I’m weaker than them, and the dreams give them a reason to hate me. The situation gives them a reason to hate me.”

“I’m good to go?” I asked.

“I think so. Thanks for doing this,” Sveta said.

I gave her a pat on the shoulder as I passed.

“Thank you,” Erin said, startlingly sincere.

-----

“I don’t like phones, where I can’t see faces or reactions,” Ashley said. “I’m fine. This is good.”

“Same about the phones,” Erin said. “The good, not so much.”

-----

“You really want this kid to suffer.”

“We want her to understand exactly what she’s done to us,” Snag said. “But if we have to pick between that and dead, we’ll take dead. Ideally with suffering, understanding, in the process, but dead.”

“If you’re paying, we can satisf-”

The message cut off as Kenzie hit a key. She looked back at me, shooting me what might’ve been an attempt at a reassuring smile. Not so reassuring.

“We’ll figure something out,” I said, to myself as much as them.