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Realignment

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Reaction 3.2

Amy

 

I sat in the car with crossed arms and a scowl, channeling my anxiety into anger at the world around me.

 

Of course everything had to go to shit. Of fucking course! As soon as things started to get better, as soon as the universe noticed me having fun, of course it had to sic Carol on me! Can’t let monstrous, evil Amy enjoy herself, no! That would be totally and utterly unacceptable!

 

Oh, Amy actually got friends for once in her miserable life? Well shit, gotta go yell at her! Can’t have that be happening!

 

Oh, Amy went with them to unwind at the arcade? Crank the glare dial all the way up! And spare some for the toy — it must be evil somehow!

 

Oh, Amy used her power and it was not to heal somebody? And she liked it? Heresy! Time to ruin everything, because goddamn reasons!

 

Fuck this joke of an existence with a rake. Why di-

 

I flinched as a hand softly pressed against my shoulder. “Hey,” I heard from my right. Her voice was but a whisper.

 

What? ” I hissed at Vicky, my heart still beating a mile a minute. Even when not looking straight at her, I could see the soft glow coming from her phone. Was she not entertained enough by her boy toy?

 

“Whoa, Ames, no need to get so snippy.” The words carried amusement, but there was some hurt in there as well.

 

Still, I didn’t deign to respond, continuing my vigil by the window. Yet more fucking rain… How on-theme.

 

“You can’t ignore me all day, y’know.” Was that a challenge? “Amyyy…”

 

…And now she was shaking me. God damnit. With a sigh, I looked at her, glaring through my hair.

 

Right after my head turned, the concern on her face had retreated; just a bit. The corners of her lips rose upwards. “Told ya.”

 

I rolled my eyes.

 

“What’s with the brooding, sis?” She asked, still speaking quietly. “Aren’t you excited to see them again?” Usually, I would be, but…

 

Ugh, this felt like being driven to my execution. If any of us slipped up somehow, gave Carol more reason to dig deeper, how many days would I have until the inevitable reveal? And what would happen then? Her going ballistic would be pretty realistic.

 

Heh, that one rhymed.

 

God, I was so fucked.

 

Vicky was waving a hand now, right in front of my face.

 

“Stop that,” I ordered. She stopped, but the worry was still there…

 

I really needed to say something.

 

“It’s nothing.” Eh, too short. Clipped. “Don’t worry about it.” Better.

 

“Liar.” She tilted her head. “What’s the matter, Ames? Tell me?” Oh, if only…

 

Hm. How would Vicky react to me joining another team behind her back? Playing around with my powers in ways that would give Carol an aneurysm?

 

Well, the latter she’d most likely be okay with — I still remembered her giggles from the time when we messed around with a stray cat. That was a month or two after my trigger, before I got signed up for hospital duty, and Carol had obviously spotted the glow right away, yelling at me to revert it. But Vicky was still on my side, annoyed by the ban on experimentation. Had she learned of my exploits, she’d probably support me.

 

What of the former, though…

 

Betrayed. She’d feel betrayed. Betrayed, left out, abandoned. I didn’t want that to happen — she was still getting over Dean leaving. Maybe I’d tell her, someday, but definitely not today. A week? A month? A year away from now? This was a thing left for future Amy to worry about.

 

Provided I survived today’s ordeal, of course. And that meant I needed an exc-

 

“Did you have a fight with them or something?” …Eh?

 

“What? Where’d you get that from?” I asked while still trying to think of a proper reply.

 

In response, Vicky crossed her arms; playfully, unlike me. “You’re not giving me much to go by here.” A pause. “So it’s not them?”

 

I shook my head. “No.”

 

“So you are excited.”

 

“...Yes.”

 

“And there is something else that’s smothering my lovely little sister’s excitement?”

 

“N- What?” I mean, she wasn’t wrong.

 

A glance at Carol showed her still talking to Mark.

 

Huh, we were halfway there.

 

“Was it something at the hospital..?” Victoria continued.

 

“No, Vicky, stop. I’m- I’m just tired.” Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t a lie — I was, indeed, exhausted, and would rather curl up under a blanket. The only reason for why I hadn’t dozed off completely was my blood being suffused by caffeine and dread.

 

Thankfully, Vicky listened, but I didn’t think she believed me. She watched my face intently for a few more seconds before nodding, probably hoping that I’d reconsider my answer. A chime from the phone in her lap drew her attention, though, redirecting it from me.

 

I let out a silent breath. Dean actually being useful was not something I expected to happen.

 

I returned my gaze to the window, watching other cars pass by us until we stopped. The fallen raindrops glowed red, courtesy of yet another traffic light. So far, it wasn’t dark out, but the clouds still made things gloomier, highlighting the color as I stared at it; mind empty. Only by resuming the approach to Taylor’s household did the movement snap me out of my trance.

 

Taking a page out of my sister’s book, I extracted my phone from my jeans and unlocked it.

 

  EyeSea: Ames, help, we’ve created a monster.

  EyeSea: Taylor doesn’t want to switch off Animal Planet.

  EyeSea: It’s a 24 hour marathon, Amy, this is torture of the highest degree.

  PetitHibou: Why are you sitting in here instead of watching? Look at those fangs! Look at them!

  EyeSea: Oh god.

  PetitHibou: Amy would like this too, I think.

  EyeSea: Amy, please don’t agree with her.

  PetitHibou: Hey!

  PetitHibou: This is useful, you know! I got a bunch of new ideas already.

  EyeSea: That’s precisely the problem, Tay. Your ideas are *terrifying*.

  EyeSea: Aaand ad break’s over.

  EyeSea: Welp. (send help)

 

…How the hell did I miss that?

 

Slowly blinking, I started typing up some messages of my own.

 

  TwistedBriar: I’m just gonna ignore that

  TwistedBriar: we’re on the way

  TwistedBriar: almost there

 

Lisa, of course, answered almost immediately.

 

  EyeSea: Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

  EyeSea: We’re ready, I think.

  EyeSea: You?

 

Absolutely not.

 

  EyeSea: I assume that’s a ‘no’..?

  TwistedBriar: are you kidding?

  TwistedBriar: obviously

  TwistedBriar: not, I mean

  TwistedBriar: obviously mot

  TwistedBriar: fguckl

 

My hands were shaking again. I took a deep breath, then another, trying to make it stop. Shit, we were already here- almost, but still. Fuck! Why the hell did Danny decide to invite her in the first place?!

 

Another message appeared.

 

  EyeSea: Everything will be ok.

 

Yeah, right.

 

  PetitHibou: We’ll be there too, Amy!

 

And probably catch a lightsaber to the face.

 

  PetitHibou: Oh, I see your car.

 

Shit!

 

“We’re here,” Carol announced.

 

 

“Hello!” Danny greeted us at the door, shuffling off to the side. “Come on in — the pork is almost done.” Not wanting to stay in the rain more than necessary, we took him up on the offer.

 

“Smoked?” Mark asked him, shaking off his umbrella.

 

Danny nodded. “Loin, yes.” He proffered a hand, which was met. “Daniel Hebert- oh, but please, call me Danny.”

 

I turned my attention to Carol.

 

Her lawyer face was on, with that fake polite smile to boot, analyzing Danny while stealing glances at her surroundings. The strip lights caught her attention, if her raised eyebrow was anything to go by; still, she didn’t comment on them, nodding and contributing to the introductions as they stretched on. So far, I could spot nothing out of the ordinary in her behavior, but I knew that it could change at any moment on a dime. All I could do was pray that Lisa had some kind of plan — diverting Carol’s attention, stalling until it was late, literally anything else…

 

…Where was Lisa, anyway? And Taylor, come to think of it.

 

Judging that I wasn’t needed, I slipped away to the kitchen; my sister left behind, distracted by some family pictures.

 

Huh, weird. Neither of them was here. The kitchen table was set, though, with silverware, plates, empty glasses and a salad bowl. The table itself was expanded as well — a second one was dragged in, placed flush against the first. Two people could fit at each side now.

 

The back door opening caught me off guard, making me flinch, but I relaxed a little after seeing who it was: Lisa sauntered in, wearing a simple green blouse and a skirt; her hair was done up in a bun, except for two locks framing her face from both sides. I waved and tried to smile, stepping closer to her, but judging by Lisa’s expression all I could manage was a grimace.

 

I stiffened for a moment as she closed the distance and hugged me, staying utterly silent and just standing there… breathing. That lavender scent of hers filled my lungs again, soothing my fraying nerves as I tried to ignore the voices from the front hall. All too soon, though, the hug was finally broken. Lisa took a step back, looking at me with a faint smile.

 

“Like I said, Amy, everything will be fine,” she reiterated, her eyes probing into mine. “And yes, I got a plan — you were there, remember?”

 

“But what if it won’t work?” I whispered, still nervous. Carol was too paranoid. “What if she still finds out?”

 

Lisa took a slow breath, leaning against the doorframe. “If it won’t work, that’s what the contingencies are for. Not like we’d just let her take everything out on you.”

 

With a short hum of acknowledgement I glanced behind me, just in case. Everyone else had moved into the living room, and I could hear someone opening drawers. Danny, probably.

 

As I turned back to Lisa, I found the Thinker frowning. “You were at the hospital again,” she stated, disappointment coloring her voice.

 

“Well, yeah..?” I needed to. I had to. What would people say if Panacea didn’t show up?

 

Lisa crossed her arms under her chest, still gazing at me. “Three- no, four hours today, five hours yesterda- seven and a half?! And- what the hell, Amy?! You can’t just replace breaks with coffee!” Wincing and annoyed, I opened my mouth to respond; yet, she continued, thankfully not loud enough for the others to hear. “Yes, yes, I know, pot meets kettle. Still! What would Taylor say if she were to analyze you? You’re barely standing!”

 

And, to add insult to injury, my stomach rumbled as well. Traitor.

 

Lisa sighed and shook her head. “Damnit, Amy.”

 

I huffed, crossing my arms too. “And what do you want me to do? Apologize? ‘Sorry for doing my job?’ Please.”

 

“I want you to actually look after yourself for once!” She hissed. “What you’re doing isn’t healthy!”

 

“Sure, Miss Aspirin Addict, go tell that to Carol!”

 

“Maybe I will!”

 

“G-” Uh. “Okay, um, wait. Maybe not?” I backpedaled. “She might take it badly.” I wasn’t forfeiting, just… thinking and acting logically!

 

“Hmm… Probably.” Lisa conceded. “Yeah, she would. Fuck.” She hummed in annoyance, her calculating look back in full force, tapping her cheek with her fingers as she thought. A handful of seconds later she seemed to have found a solution, nodding to herself and meeting my eyes with hers. “Look, how about this: we get the whole dinner thing over with, not get skewered by Lightsaber Lass-” I snorted. “-and I use the info I collect from her to try and find a way to help you. Sound good?” A pause. “Not now, obviously. Later.” She added with a wave of a hand.

 

“Wasn’t the info thing planned anyway?” I deadpanned, eyebrows raised. She’d probably add Carol to her conspiracy board after this.

 

“I’m me, so yes,” she confirmed with a grin. “Juicy secrets are juicy.”

 

“Right.” I sighed, then leaned against a nearby chair.

 

Remembering the way she had described her power to me, I wondered how she’d use it in her quest to right Carol’s wrongs: talk to her in private, drowning her in facts? Going loud and public, exposing her failings to the world? Resorting to blackmail, strong-arming her into submission? Manipulating from the shadows; somehow unseen yet victorious?

 

Oh. Victoria. Shit, she’d be affected too. Whatever Lisa’d come up with, she better not hurt her in the process.

 

“I’ll only go nuclear as a last resort,” Lisa answered before the request left my lips. I stifled a sigh, knowing full well that she was in for another migraine. “This is a tricky situation no matter how you spin it — you are her sister, after all. Whatever affects you is likely to affect her as well, so her getting caught up in it is pretty damn likely.”

 

“She didn’t notice all the bullshit you picked up on,” I pointed out, my voice bitter. That was, as always, a conflicting, annoying thought. On one hand, Vicky didn’t notice any of my feelings towards her, for which I was grateful because she’d never let me near her otherwise; on the other, it hurt quite a bit, knowing that she was so oblivious to not notice how Carol treated me. She might’ve had her own problems to focus on, I could understand that, but still.

 

“She’s not a Thinker, Amy. Also, she’s a happy-go-lucky teenager,” Lisa retorted. “Or, well, trying to still be one.”

 

I frowned. “‘Trying’?”

 

“Trying. Trying to still act cheerful after one of her fixtures all but disappeared.” Oh. “She’s still glued to her phone, right?”

 

“Uh, yeah.” The car ride to here was a perfect example.

 

“Case in point.” Lisa nodded. “Were she to lose contact with Dean completely, she’d either shut down or try punching her problems away. The cracks are there if you look hard enough.” Shit, should I try to talk to her or something? And did Lisa get all that from just the Arcade? “Either way, I’d prefer not to hurt her,” Lisa said with a nonchalant shrug. “I’d like to think of her as a potential friend, y’know?” She grinned. “How things change…”

 

Hesitantly, I nodded, still processing the information. “Okay,” I agreed. If anything, we could discuss more details later. “Where’s Taylor, by the way? She wasn’t with Danny, last I checked.”

 

I ignored Vicky’s doting “Aww!” from the living room.

 

“Oh, she’s out there. Keeping an eye on the food.” Lisa moved away from the doorframe, glancing at her phone. “I think it’s time. C’mon.” She opened the door to the backyard, still wet from the rain, stepping onto a small, roofed deck.

 

“Lisa, where’d you go? I sent you on a mission!”

 

Lisa cursed. “The plate!”

 

“Yes, Lisa. The plate,” Taylor deadpanned.

 

I chuckled as she sighed, watching Lisa run back inside, inhaling the scent of smoked meat and ignoring the void in my stomach.

 

“Hey, Amy.” Taylor waved from her perch near the smoker, tiredly. “Sorry, I was a bit busy. Food’s pretty much ready, so…” She trailed off with an apologetic expression.

 

“Nah, it’s whatever,” I waved her off and stepped closer, coughing into my fist due to the smoke coming out of the tube thing.

 

Inadvertently, my eyes were drawn to her legs, revealed to the world thanks to a nice blue-yellow sundress — something I didn’t expect Taylor to wear. She shifted under my gaze, clearly uncomfortable at the attention, tugging at a familiar coat that was draped across her shoulders.

 

“I’m underdressed, huh,” I stated, still staring.

 

“It is a bit much, isn’t it?” She said with an awkward smile, peeking into the smoker in an effort to avoid my eyes. “Lisa said we needed to dress up properly…”

 

I shook my head. “No! More like I’m not much. Or, uh… am less?” I reached out to poke her in the side. “Help, you’re the wordy one.”

 

“Wasn’t that supposed to be Lisa?” Her smile grew a bit.

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

“Yeah, I do. I still think you look good, though.” …Why? I was literally wearing the same stuff from yesterday. Well, a different shirt, but still.

 

I crossed my arms in defiance. “And so do I. Deal with it.” Boom. There. And she better not complain!

 

She sighed theatrically and leaned against the railing. “Oh no, whatever shall I do.”

 

A few beats of silence passed.

 

“What do you wanna bet on Lisa getting caught in Hurricane Victoria?” I asked.

 

Taylor snorted. “She’ll have to enjoy munching on coals instead of meat, then.”

 

The door, miraculously, opened. “I’m back, I’m back, shut up.”

 

“Oh wow, you didn’t even get lost this time,” I snarked.

 

“Shush, you,” Lisa muttered. The panting blonde handed Taylor the dish, and soon the meal was relocated onto it.

 

Of course, when we started walking back to the door, the thing opened again, spitting out another blonde. “Oh my gosh, Tay, you looked so cute when you were little!” My sister cooed in delight. You could practically see the stars in her eyes.

 

…Tiny Taylor did sound cute, I had to admit. As one would expect, though, Taylor herself didn’t seem to agree.

 

“Wh- Ugh! Damnit, dad!” She sputtered.

 

We quickly followed the flustered girl inside.

 

 

I took another bite. God damn was this meat delicious. So far, I could simply enjoy it — no dangerous topics were broached. Sure, I was obviously still on edge — still secretly terrified that Carol would notice something — but food and reassuring glances from my friends have kept me grounded.

 

Yesterday, Danny was understandably caught off-guard by our reaction. I didn’t really know what he was thinking at that point — maybe that the Dallons were a perfectly functional family due to being heroes? Well, tough luck. We weren’t, not by a long shot. Regardless, Lisa explained to him our main hang-up with the visit — Carol being paranoid, and thus destined to be cautious of her. Surprisingly, it was Danny who came up with the best cover story in the end, suggesting that Lisa’s parents were on a business trip, hence her stay at the Heberts’.

 

Given that the house and its occupants were still intact, Carol had bought the fake story completely.

 

Of course, Lisa looking drastically different from her costumed appearance had also helped dispel Carol’s possibly-correct suspicions. And no, it wasn’t really a stretch for her to suspect the connection, in my opinion — the Armsmaster visit to our home was merely two days ago. She’d probably be actively wary of blonde teenage girls for another few weeks or so.

 

I took a long sip of soda.

 

“...Okay. And what about you, Amy?”

 

“Huh?” Shit, everyone was staring at me. Did I miss something important? 

 

Danny repeated his question: “What are your thoughts on Arcadia?”

 

“Oh. Uhm.” I gave him a shrug. “It’s good, I guess?” Not like I had anything else to compare to, other than what little Taylor told me of Winslow.

 

Danny blinked. “Well, yes, I would hope so.” A pause. “And the teachers?”

 

“I told you, dad, they’re fine,” Taylor whined. She was still embarrassed by the photos from earlier.

 

I just pointed at her. “What she said,” I stated. Why do they want me to talk? God, this was annoying. Uhh, let’s see… Right, stalling was good. I’d do that, then. “The worst I can think of is Mrs. Dukes, but she’s just strict. Fair, not mean.”

 

My sister nodded. “Yeah, she’s nice!” …Vicky, everyone’s nice to you.

 

Well, except for the nazis, but seriously, fuck those guys.

 

Danny furrowed his eyebrows as he nodded and looked at Taylor. “That’s the math teacher, right?”

 

“Yup.” She bit into some salad.

 

“I see.” He twirled his fork a bit. “Good.”

 

“Mr. Padilla could be better,” Taylor commented further, “but he’s okay too, I guess. And, before you ask — Computer class.” She shrugged. “I preferred Mrs. Knott.”

 

“Ah, I assume she’s from Winslow?” Carol asked.

 

“Yes, but… I’d rather not talk about it.”

 

I saw Lisa pat Taylor’s knee under the table while the others returned to their meals.

 

The awkward silence lasted a handful of seconds, only disrupted by the soft sounds of chewing and drinking. I grabbed a bit more pork, but didn’t eat more yet, just studying the reactions of Carol and Mark. Mark was, well, Mark — subdued, as always, and happy to stay in the quiet. Kinda like me, I supposed. Carol, though… She was currently thinking of something else to say, her stoic face slightly tinged by confusion, looking like she was trying to solve a difficult puzzle.

 

Finally, she turned to Lisa. “And what sort of school do you go to?” Carol asked.

 

“None, I got my GED,” Lisa answered while smiling politely. It was mildly amusing to see her act this way.

 

“Oh? When, if you don’t mind me asking?”

 

Lisa waved her hand. “About a year ago.”

 

“Impressive.”

 

Carol looked like she wanted to ask something else, but Mark was somehow faster. “What sort of hobbies do you girls have?”

 

Now that was a difficult one. I knew that he wasn’t asking me, just Lisa and Taylor, but all of us were too busy with cape stuff to have other hobbies. Saying that they had none would make them suspicious as hell. We did brainstorm a bit on this in private, suggesting and discarding potential answers, but I was still worried that it wouldn’t be enough. Especially if Carol prodded further than we’d prepared for.

 

Oh well, at least we didn’t stray far from the truth.

 

“I like reading,” Taylor answered quietly. “Classics, mostly.” Heh. Dork. “Also, um. Documentaries? And insects are cool as well.” They kinda were, if creepy. Those, and marine creatures — the deep ones were especially odd, almost alien. And I wasn’t even talking about stuff like the blobfish — they looked perfectly normal when you didn’t yank them out of their habitat like an idiot. Anglerfish, on the other hand… Yeah, they were freaky, but cool. Cuttlefish were adorable, and so were aquatic isopods. Octopuses… Octopi? Whatever, those too. And all the glowing critters were simply mesmerizing.

 

“...And sometimes I just wander around on Wikipedia for fun,” I heard Lisa say. Seems like I tuned out yet again. Way to go, me. “Oh, and shopping. Naturally.” She smiled a little wider.

 

Vicky all but jumped out of her seat. “And you didn’t tell me?! My god, Lisa, we gotta go together sometime!” Welp. She was certainly excited to have another friend to discuss her obsession with.

 

Taylor’s tired eyes met mine. Yeah.

 

She then looked at the table, and the nearly-empty dish. Most of the others at this point were done with their food, leaning back. I quietly snorted as she raised up her hand, suggesting dessert like she was still sitting in class. Everyone agreed, the adults began discussing work again, and Vicky and I left our seats to help Taylor and Lisa.

 

Eventually, we settled back. Our dessert? Cookies, cheesecake and tea. While I wasn’t stuffed before, I was certainly gonna be by the end of this. The lull in conversation lasted one heavenly minute or two before Carol decided to open her mouth yet again.

 

“Say, Taylor,” she queried, “How did you meet Amy?”

 

She nervously looked at me. “At school.” Then, my sister. “Victoria was there, too. She, um, showed me around the place.” I nodded, just in case.

 

Carol looked at Vicky, who gave her a nod as well, and then turned to me. “I assume you met Lisa through Taylor?” Shit, was she suspecting something?! Fuck, okay, okay, I could do this. We were doing fine so far, me fucking things up wouldn’t help at all.

 

I nodded. Again. I didn’t trust my voice at the moment. Lisa confirmed with a “Yes,” and yet another nod came from Taylor.

 

“And Victoria?” Carol probed. Fuck, this was like an interrogation. I hated everything about this, and felt through my power that Lisa agreed.

 

Oh, and she was beginning to have that migraine again. Great. Fantastic. Perfect. Just what we fucking needed.

 

“All four of us went to Mobius’ on Friday, remember?” Vicky asked.

 

“Right, the arcade. That’s where you first met, then?”

 

“Yup!” My sister chirped.

 

“I see.” Carol swirled the teaspoon in her cup. “What about you two?” Who..? Oh. Oh fuck.

 

Lisa’s heartbeat quickened, but she still looked composed on the outside. A corner of her mouth had quirked upwards for barely a moment. “We met online,” she lied, “About a year and a half ago.”

 

Taylor hummed in confirmation while sipping on her tea.

 

“And me living pretty close from here made it trivial to meet in person,” Lisa continued with a shrug. It was impressive how good she was at lying. On the spot, no less.

 

Please buy it, please buy it…

 

“How did you meet Mark?” Lisa asked, her eyes on a cookie. That worked too, I supposed — she was seizing control of the conversation.

 

“Oh.” Carol stopped what she was doing and took a look at her husband. “It’s… complicated.”

 

“Is it?” Mark asked.

 

Carol looked like she bit a lemon. Heh.

 

“Okay, it kind of is,” he agreed with a nod, “But the gist of it was that Carol joined the Brockton Bay Brigade, back in the old days.” He took a sip. “I was part of it already, and we hit it off pretty quickly.”

 

Carol just sighed. “Yes, that’s… accurate. Though he was pretty insufferable at the start.”

 

Danny chuckled, and so did Lisa.

 

Speaking of whom, the Thinker was apparently still not done with her questions. “Fair, fair. Oh, is it true that you’re the ones who crushed the Marche?” A bit random, but what did I know?

 

Carol cringed, looking at Lisa, then me, then Lisa again. “Indirectly, but I suppose so.” She nodded, as if to herself. “Yes. Yes, we did. We cut off the head of the snake by finally dealing with Marquis.” Her face turned to one of distaste, an expression I was far too familiar with. “Evil, that man. Pure evil. I’m glad that he’s gone for good.” Sheesh. What had he ever done to her? She always avoided that topic…

 

I could feel Lisa fighting herself not to grin, which… okay? If anything, she’d tell me later, so I ignored that for now. I also saw Danny frown, but he didn’t say anything, just kept eating. And Taylor looked confused, silently copying her dad.

 

Lisa nodded politely — which was still a weird thing to witness — and finished her tea, setting the cup onto a small plate. “Did you work with the PRT back then? …Wait, no, they weren’t a thing yet. What about when they were formed? Or, more accurately, when the ENE branch was created?”

 

…She was definitely fishing for information, huh. Welp, good luck with that. Though the innocent angle did seem to work so far…

 

“Not at first, but eventually, yes. And since we’re affiliates nowadays, we help out even more than before.” Carol paused for a bit. “Hopefully the new Director will be more agreeable than Piggot…” Oh yeah, that happened. He seemed sorta charismatic in today’s interview. Definitely better than Piggy.

 

“...New Director?” Lisa asked. Wait, she didn’t know?

 

“Yes, Director Calvert. He had a press conference earlier today.”

 

“Huh. Haven’t heard of him.” Lie. Uh oh. She looked at a guilty Taylor. “And a certain bespectacled dork was hogging the TV all day.” Animal Planet. Right.

 

“Sorry,” Taylor half-whispered, blushing.

 

“Well,” Carol continued, “He didn’t really say much of import. The usual PR speech about making the city better, defeating villains, and so on. I’m still unsure on whether or not he’s actually good, but time will tell, I suppose.”

 

“...Noted.” What the fuck was with her emotions? Her cortisol spiked yet again!

 

I couldn’t yet get an answer, so I just sat with the remains of my cheesecake.

 

 

“Lisa, what’s the problem?” I whispered as we went to the living room. The girl was still tense throughout the rest of the dinner, which only made me more curious as time went by.

 

“Calvert, he’s a Coil mole. Ex-military, too. His was one of the names that were associated with the organization, and he was a tactical advisor for the PRT before this bombshell of an announcement.” Shit, this was worse than I expected.

 

“And what about the PRT servers?” Taylor asked, her face pensive. “Did they not mention Dire- I mean, uh, Piggot? Her leaving?”

 

“No! That’s what’s so fucking annoying — they kept everything off the records until the last minute! Maybe they have something new now, but… Ugh.”

 

“Would things really be different had we known about this ahead of time?” I queried. “Not like we’d go crusading through their headquarters.” I hated that I was even considering it, but fuck. Who knew that the PRT was this infested?

 

Other than Lisa, obviously. Or Coil himself.

 

“No, but still.” She slowly shook her head in exasperation. “I don’t like being blindsided like this. Every surprise is like a reminder that I didn't prepare well enough.”

 

Taylor led her to the couch, Lisa taking a seat between us.

 

“Can’t we, like, tip someone off?” I suggested. Armsmaster, maybe..? Or Assault?

 

Lisa hummed out a negative. “Another point of failure. It’s part of why I don’t want Victoria in on this — just a single conversation is enough to screw us over.”

 

Damn. “It’s only us, then.”

 

“Yup.” A sigh.

 

“We can do this,” Taylor stated, and I smiled lightly at her naivete. It was a wonder she still had blind faith in her after all the things she’d been through.

 

“I st-” Lisa began saying something else, but stopped herself when we heard footsteps.

 

My sister entered the room with the grace of an elephant in a China shop, practically skipping towards us before taking a seat at my other side. “So, Lisa, about that shopping trip…”

 

I suppressed a groan, and I wasn’t the only one.

 

“I hope you don’t want to go now,” Lisa deadpanned. Mentally, I agreed — right now I was in the mood for lying about and attempting to sleep. Especially because it was like, what, nine already? Somewhere along those lines. I should be at the hospital, but taking one day off didn’t sound too bad…

 

“Duh,” Vicky said. “Of course not. But we can go tomorrow?”

 

“Can you not at least wait until Friday?” I whined, knowing that complaining was useless.

 

“Come on, Ames, you know we have time after school!” You, maybe. Not me.  “And what do you mean, ‘you’? I was thinking we could all go!”

 

This time I did groan, which was punctuated by Taylor’s resigned sigh. Lisa was trying not to lose it, her smirk twitching as she watched us both.

 

I glared at her.

 

“Wednesday, maybe?” The all-knowing blonde counter-offered, taking the glare in stride.

 

Vicky thought it over. “Sure!”

 

“Did you ask your mom for permission?” Lisa grinned.

 

“Do I really need it, though?”

 

“She’ll be annoyed at us both if you don’t,” I pointed out. And yes, I was going along with Lisa’s distraction scheme. It was obvious to anyone with a brain.

 

“Point.” Vicky nodded, then ruffled my hair and stood up. “Be right back!”

 

And just like that, she was gone.

 

Lisa let out a breath. “God, she needs to work on her timing.”

 

“She also never knocks,” I grumbled. “Even when you ask her to.”

 

“Yeah, that sounds about right.” Lisa said, reaching over for the TV remote. “Now, let’s hope there’s a rerun. Maybe I can get something useful out of it.”

 

“What do you think Coil will make him do?” Taylor asked, watching Lisa intently. I did so as well.

 

The blonde thought about it for a few seconds as she flicked through the channels, still searching for a rerun. “He’ll need to be careful,” she said, “But his goals would likely include expanding his territory. Extrapolating from that, he’d go for the other gangs. With a puppet Director, he now has the… ability…”

 

She trailed off as she found what she wanted — footage of Calvert’s debut, being discussed by two semi-bored news anchors. Lisa frowned and unmuted the sound as the anchors played a segment of the new Director’s speech. Then, she froze. Her remote hand went limp. I felt blood draining from her face, and her breathing became shallow and ragged.

 

Both me and Taylor noticed, and we looked at our Thinker with worry.

 

“It's him,” Lisa whispered. “That is Coil.”

 

…Why did the universe hate us?