No, they don’t. But they do get crammed together with more and more stuff. New place to live. School. Vigilante activities. Keeping former henchmen / agents of my father hidden and not going on a killing spree. Studying. Wondering why Daph has gotten squirrely and stand-offish. Chatting with the stolen AI avatar of myself that was created by Jason before he knew I wasn’t out to kill him. Meeting with my AEGIS Handler. Exploring the Twilight Grove. Apologizing to a talking robot car person. A date or two with Jason
(And yes, of course he took me to Les Miz, because it’s loud and sappy and subject to lapses in rationality, so a perfect fit for Jason Quill. Also, it makes a lot of money, it has seductively attractive sounds, and is apparently loved by all, so also perfect Jason Quill. Even if I did have “Look Down” as an ear worm for three days, and I have a hell of a time getting rid of ear worms with the number of mental processes they can infect.)
You might notice something missing from that list: what the hell’s happened to the Menagerie?
You remember them, right? The ones with a bright, shiny, new / ancient Faerie Forest pocket dimension base? The ones with a bunch of teen heroes that I intentionally joined just in time to have Jason quit, and then apparently in time to have everyone else to …
… wander off?
… get really busy?
… move on to other things?
I always sort of imagined membership in the Menagerie involving coordinated night patrols, unified defenses against kaiju rising up from the bay, battles royale against teams of super-villains.
Instead, we spend a lot more time together in Study Hall – and actually studying – than out on the streets.
There’s a bit of relief in that after the extended drama of the AltFuture Jason Dystopia (don’t ask), but I’m apparently over that a long time before anyone else is.
(It doesn’t help that my roommate keeps saying, “Oh, no, I’m not a member, I just tried to cover for you guys when you were gone, tee-hee.” Rrg.)
Of course, it’s not like we’re actually needed. The city has gone Young Metahuman Crazy.
In part it’s because of Jason (dammit). He’s finally got his “Quill Initiative” up and running, offering financial and technical and comms support to young super-teams that don’t have fancy corporate sponsors or elder teams keeping them under their wing (e.g., the JHHL to the HHL). That program has gotten a lot of press in the last few weeks, and a lot of new heroes are sort of flooding the street, almost getting in each others’ way.
(The metas thus served are referred to as the Quill Qids by the media – Jason was initially appalled, then decided he liked his ego being stroked that way. Maybe the Quill Qegos would make as much sense. At any rate, he ran to his marketing people, got a logo developed and trademarked, and swag printed up. Because of course he did.)
The collection of Qids is interesting – most are local metas, but a few are from out of town, and Adam even got those three Concordance teens signed up, though he says they still need training.
(Bamapana forfend someone starts calling them the Qoncordance.)
Jason’s farmed much of the coordination and support work for the Qids to the @Ponies, who are now regular workers at the Quill Foundation. This may be seriously impacting coffee shop revenues across the city.
The other destabilizing factor has been the HHL apparently getting back into the heroing game. Well, sort of. They’re trying to set up a New, Improved HHL with all-new talent. And, apparently, the JHHL is not actually the farm team everyone thought it was, because the the parent group isn’t exactly falling all over itself trying to bring in those kids. In fact, the only one they have yet named an interest in is …
… Harry. Our Harry. From the Menagerie.
Yeah, Harry’s been busy since then. But he hasn’t been busy with the Menagerie, or with the HHL for tat matter. He’s been running around helping the other young teams in town, especially the Irregulators – and, apparently, doing it in a way that ticks people off (the young heroes when Mercury runs in and steals “their” kill; the media and Internet picking up on that anger and deciding Mercury’s a glory hog). It’s got Harry getting cranky in return.
So folk have been paying attention to the Menagerie as (perhaps) the farm team for the HHL. Which has started folk wondering if Link is joining the HHL, too. Or maybe Jason. Nobody’s asked me, which is probably just as well, because I might have to hurt them.
And so people have been wondering how to join the Menagerie. But whom do they contact? Leo’s not been answering phone calls (and not many people have his number), so everyone’s been calling Jason, or the Quill Foundation. And he certainly doesn’t have any answers for them …
That leaves me sort of off on my own, beating up muggers and drug dealers and car thieves, and the occasional meta-villain. Parker’s certainly pleased with me, going out of her way to give me attaboys. Which … feels more fulfilling than I think it should. Parker is stiff-necked and far too self-righteous, stubborn and prideful of her moral superority. Yet, somehow, I’ve warmed to her. Perhaps, if I can actually get her respect, it will mean I’ve turned a page of my own.
Oh, and I’ve been on TV. Fortunately, not whilst discussing with my trio of wayward henchfolk why starting a firebombing campaign in Halcyon City would be a bad idea.
* * *
“So I love this place.”
“Yes, it’s charming.”
“They do some great farm-to-table sustainability stuff.”
“I did my research, Jason.”
“Might I recommend the venison bolognese?”
I freeze him with a cold look. “Eating Bambi?”
“Wh-what? I mean, no, it’s --”
“Just kidding. I like the bolognese, but I prefer the duck comfit carbonara.”
“Wait, you’ve been here before?”
I raise an eyebrow. “Jason, I spent several months here in Halcyon. I didn’t eat here every night --” Actually, I ate a shit-tonne of ramen and peanut butter. “-- but sometimes when I, ah, came into extra funding, I’d treat myself.”
“Huh. Sorry we never ran into each other.”
I raise the other eyebrow.
“Wait, what --?”
“LATE SHIFT! EARN YOUR OVERTIME!”
The screams start immediately as black-garbed figures jump the rail into the outdoor dining section of the Rustic Bench, sonic stunners screeching like a bat at a rock concert.
Aiming toward Jason.
This is not the first time he’s been attacked – since the Quill Qid Initiative stuff started, some of the attention he’s drawn has been hostile. Fortunately we anticipated that.
“'Lycia, go!” he shouts.
I scream, loud and shrill. “They’re going to kill us! Run!”
Yes, I know. But it helps me blend in as I run away, vaulting over the rail (and a couple of other restaurant-goers) into the parking lot …
… where the Qdisc is sitting, not under a streetlight. Preparedness is all.
That includes knowing the minimum number of costume elements (mask/goggles, plastron, gloves, belt/holster/bracers) I need to don for minimal protection and to not be recognizable (2% for any casual by stander, 5.8% if we were in video footage that is later analyzed).
I think of folks like Summer or Harry that can handle the costume changes without a hassle, or Jason who doesn’t worry about it, and I grumble under my breath. But I’ve practiced this maneuver (and carefully chose clothing for the evening with it in mind) and make it work.
Time elapsed in the Qdisc, 30 seconds.
At that, it’s still longer than I want. Jason is fending off the mooks decently enough (he still has the nanobots), but he’s not been keeping in training, and I can see the tux-and-top-hatted Professor Midnight doing something with his “magic” wand which will no doubt be dire. (I’ve yet to decide if he’s actually using supernatural powers or just Clarkean high tech; as Clarke himself noted, it utimately makes little difference.)
A baton flung to the back of the head cramps his style for a bit, as I launch myself into the minions.
All’s going pretty well – Jason falls back into total defense mode. (He’s trying to be taken seriously as a business person, which makes super-heroics kind of an embarrassment, like being caught sniffing cocaine in public. America is so weird.) I’m in the midst of the “Late Shift,” too close to all of them to let them fire freely, which doesn’t slow me down a bit.
“We’ll have this taken – care of in a moment – Mr. Quill.”
“Thank you, Charade!” I hope I don’t sound as stilted as he does for anyone still in earshot.
“LATE SHIFT! BREAK TIME!” shouts Professor Midnight in stage-formal tones, and the mooks still on their feet scramble away in a panic, as the magician molds a swirling ball of energy between his hands.
A prismatic light slices down from the darkness above, cutting a line between the Professor / minons and Jason / me.
“EXIT!” the Professor shouts. “PURSUED BY A SUPER-HERO!” He pulls off his hat, which grows to tremendous size, and he steps into it.
Adam flies after the professor, and they both vanish a burst of smoke.
Right. He’s a super-hero. I’m just a thug. Cào nǐ mā …
The remaining mooks go down quickly … just as media folk come running up, having beaten the cops to the scene.
“Any statement for the --?”
“Was this an assassination attempt due to --?”
“Have super-crimee rates risen because of the spread of more super-heroes, Charade?”
I cock an eyebrow. My costume is effective, but the mask and goggles tend to … well, cover up most of my facial expressions. Bothersome.
“Don’t be absurd,” I reply to Suzie McBubblehead, correspondent from WHLN-8 News. “While manic geniuses like Professor Midnight might play games and compete for media access, for most minions and hangers-on, such as this --” I kick one of the mooks still scrabbling for his gun. “-- the motivators and drivers are the profound economic and social injustice still rampant inside --” your “-- this nation, driving otherwise healthy individuals of high potential into both symbolic protest and actual wealth redistribution through a life of crime.”
“Yeah,” mutters one of the mooks, trying to get up off the tiled patio. “Up the Man! Power to the --”
I stomp his face back down into the pavement, and he goes still. “Such crime will only truly stop once the injustice and class-driven poverty of modern American capitalism is curtailed. We, as a society, must take responsibility for such actions, and work to help the most helpless among us.”
I tap my right glove with my left hand, and a grapnel shoots out toward the office building roof across the street, trailing a light cable behind (thanks, Leo!). I nod to Jason. “Citizen,” I say, then reel myself up to the rooftop beyond.
The next day I get a very nice DM on Twitter from Tatanka of the HHL – one of the real “good guys” on that team.
Well done, and well said. It’s good to see a hero speaking out for the common people, even if they have committed crimes. An attitude I will bring to the attention of my peers.
Which makes me feel … actually, pretty good. Though I’m still pissed about missing the carbonara.
* * *
Things get busier and busier over the next several days. Patrolling is taking up more time, meaning I have to break a couple of study dates with Daph, which she gets kind of pissy about.
“I need to talk about something Marion said,” she texts me.
I can’t exactly tell her I’m on a hover-bike in pursuit of a drug-smuggling boat full of machine-gun toting drug smugglers (also, drugs). Then something blows up in the water as one of them starts firing an AGS-30 in my direction, and I end up never answering her at all.
It’s probably not good that I’m letting the professional outweigh the personal. But Parker seems happy. That makes me feel guilty about not telling her about Ramirez & Co., but there are only so many hours in the day I can split all my loyalties and duties. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt me. I hope.
At home (still a very odd phrase), things have been quiet. I’ve actually run into Leslie only twice – our hours just don’t intersect. Our conversations have been over thrilling topics like when the rent is due and which things in the fridge are community property and which aren’t. Which is fine – I’m not looking for another friend.
Though she did leave out some design drawings for car engines the other day. I see some places for potential improvements. Is adding that sort of thing in the sort of thing that house mates do? (My previous boarding and military school experience is surprisingly little help with most such questions.)
I don’t see a lot of Summer, either – probably I run into her more reliably at school than at the house. Which again is fine because that all happened really fast, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do next. Her boss has been keeping her late at Blintzkrieg (typical management mistreatment of labor), so even on the couple of evenings I’m at the house, doing maintenance on the outfit, she’s absent.
* * *
“Ugh. This is awful,” I tell Jason. He’s “subtly” sidled up to me in the cafeteria line.
“If you can call it that. I think this lettuce was chopped last week. And I’m getting tired of oil and vinegar.”
“They’ve got --”
“-- orange glop, white glop, slightly different white glop, pale green glop, and beige glop. There are more emulsifiers in those dressings than in a funeral home.”
“That’s why I avoid rabbit food.”
I glance at his plate. “In favor of chicken fried steak?”
“Breakfast of champions.”
“Ah, that explains why nobody’s in their pajamas.”
I consider punching his arm, but I don’t want him to drop his tray. At least we’re talking together in civil tones these days. I saw Harry and Andi on the front steps this morning, and they did not look like happy campers.
I decide against the “croutons” and head to the drink island. Oh, well – at least there are Oreos in the vending machine for an afternoon snack. There weren’t a few weeks back, but, for reasons anyone actually authorized to order food can explain, the orders for Nabisco Quinoa Qrisps (to go with all the other “healthy” vending snacks) keep changing to Oreos.
I’d also had to screw with the keypad on the vending machine itself, since all the other kids kept selecting Oreos and exhausting the supply before I could get to it.
“Well, dinner was nice last night.”
“Except for the part where we didn’t actually get to eat anything.”
“Yeah, that sucked. I hope nobody comes gunning for me here.”
“If they do, you can throw the chicken fried steak at them and hope they die of a heart attack.”
He snorts, then grins. “That was a hell of a speech to the media after, too.”
“They asked me a question. I gave an honest answer.”
“I expected as much. A bit on the polemical side, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it got cut down for broadcast to just a few words.”
“Of course. Can’t let the truth out to where it might bother people.”
Jason shrugs. “Well, they hit me up after you swooshed off. I like what you’ve done with the grapnel system Leo gave you.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. I have some ideas for further mods, but things have been … busy. So no fiery soap box for the media from you?”
We’re making our way over to a table in the corner. It’s toward the end of second lunch, so there’s plenty of free space. “Nah. They were asking about the merch for the Quill Qids, where the money was going and all that.” He slides onto a bench,
I pull in across from him. “And you told them …?”
“Ale and whores.”
I roll my eyes.
“No, I told them it goes in part to fund the operations for the Qids, and a substantial amount to powers-related charities – St Jude Displaced Family Fund, the Vaughan Home for Runaway Metas, that sort of thing. They seemed to like it.”
“Makes them feel like someone else is doing the hard work, so they don’t have to.”
“So young to be so cynical.”
I pause. It’s a perfect opening for what I’ve wanted to talk with him about. I’d intended to raise it last night, but Professor Midnight had interrupted.
Jason jumps in first, given my hesitation. “See, this is where you say something grimdark like, ‘If not for my cynicism, I’d not have even reached this age,’ and then I look all serious and concerned and I --”
“I need your help. With … funding.”
He stops. One pale eyebrow rises slightly. “Really!”
In for a pfennig … “I need some sort of gainful, productive, socially positive employment for three people.”
He looks confused. Not what he was expecting. “Oookay. There’s probably some things at the Foundation --”
“They’re highly motivated, dedicated, and intelligent individuals. But they should not have access to secure systems.”
His eyes narrow. “I had been thinking of spots in the warehouse, but you amply demonstrated that’s problematic from a security standpoint.”
I consider Ramirez, Nyobé, and Chernikov working in the Quill warehouse. “Yeah, that would be a bad idea.”
“Maybe something – office-related?”
“What part of ‘no access to any Quill secured systems’ was unclear?”
“'Lycia, the entire Foundation is a set of smart buildings. Even our bathrooms are Bluetooth-enable!”
“I know. You’d be amazed what someone could do in your bathroom.”
He raises his eyes to heaven and shakes his head. “Okay, how’s this? I recently acquired franchise ownership of a small FedEx office across town with which you may be familiar.”
“Why would I – oh.”
“Yes, someone’s favorite mail drop.”
“You … bought it?”
“The franchise for that shop, yes.”
“Reasons. Anyway, I assume that will be safe.”
Access to shipping systems has some risks, and I would have preferred something that actually involved social welfare work, but – “It should be.”
“Will they be okay in uniform?”
I snort. “They will definitely be fine with wearing uniforms.”
He cocks his head at me. “Fine. And as an added bonus, I’ll do it with no questions … for 24 hours.”
I rub my hands together. “That should be just enough time …”
I turn a fiendish grin at him, enjoying his briefly worried express.
In reality, I have no plan except getting my problem children into jobs were they can earn some money and keep out of trouble. I have vague ideas of making them a ‘sleeper cell’ that never, ever gets awakened. But one thing at a time.
* * *
I’m at the door to Study Hall when Parker clears her throat from the corner beyond it.
I peer around the corner. She’s leaning against a bank of lockers. “Agent Parker.”
“Miss Chan.” She nods. “Almost three hours ago, your colleague Adam disappeared off satellite coverage of him. He was at Oakland Cemetery, itself a locus of other activities by you and your cohorts. He doesn’t have any teleportation abilities – he simply vanished.”
“All right. Interesting that you’re monitoring him by satellite.”
She rolls her eyes. “He’s detectable from space, Miss Chan. Indeed, we have to explicitly tune him out to allow for other monitoring activities.”
Which is not a denial, but … “All right – I’ll pass it on to the rest of the team.”
“Anything you need, any resources we can provide …”
I cock an eyebrow. “Thanks for the intel.”
“Sorry it took so long.”
I nod, she returns the nod, and then pivots and click-clacks down the hallway in her heels.
Why did she come here in person? Why did she come to me about it, personally? With so much vehement offering of assistance? Is it just my association with Adam, or something more?
I go back and enter the classroom. Everyone else is there – Leo, Aria, Summer off to one side. Jason, chatting with Harry, on the other. Adam’s not there. Nor is Charlotte.
Charlotte’s not an enrolled student, of course. But the past few weeks she’s been “auditing” classes, and showing up for our Study Hall meetings. She doesn’t turn in homework, but she definitely considers all the questions. She’s been very diligent about it.
Oakland Cemetery. That’s where Charlotte “lives.”
“Parker just told me Adam was at Oakland Cemetery and vanished, three hours ago. Has anyone seen Charlotte lately?”
Leo shrugs, with a slight frown. “Adam can take care of himself.”
“Has someone tried asking for Charlotte via shadow?” That’s Summer.
“What about those Concordance folks?” Harry asks. “They’re his people.”
I suddenly feel like someone’s hit me in the head with a small hammer. My vision doubles like my eyes are crossing. Harry’s right. I know he’s right. But … he’s wrong, beause Adam isn’t a Concordance person. Except that he is. And – and –
I realize I have two completely variant facts circling around in my brain. Adam is of the Concordance. Adam is definitely not of the Concordance.
What the bloody --?
Most folk deal with cognitive dissonance by simply not recognizing it. I’m able to spin up another mental process to handle one thought separate from the other.
It’s intensely annoying.
He’s a Concordance agent. No, he has nothing to do with them, except being Earth’s ambassador to them. Guh. Which one is true?
More important than that, why is neither meme giving up in my head, and am I the only one?
I point at Harry. “Is Adam a Concordance agent?”
“Um, yes, he is? Ow!” He winces and puts fingers to each temple. “The hell?”
I want to try another hypergenius. “Leo,” I say, pointing. “Is Adam a Concordance agent?” Even asking the question gives me a headache.
He closes his eyes. “Adam is the Worf of Concordance Agents. Everything they ought to be and everything they’re not.” Then he winces, too, and grunts.
I’m tempted to go around the room – another hypergenius, and two robots – but I simply ask, “Does anyone find that question easy to answer Yes or No?”
Confusion. Concern. More wincing.
Summer frowns, and suggests physical reality is being affected. “Let’s flip a coin for the question and see what happens.”
I’m not so sure. A coin toss is not an random number generator. With training, someone can control a toss – especially a hypergenius, or a robot, or a super-speedster. Which pretty much covers everyone here. Which, in turn, means that it might be a matter of mind control, not reality control. Still …
Summer flips the coin. “Heads, he’s an Agent. Tails, he’s not.”
The coin bounces once, and lands on its edge.
I stare at it. “Well, fuck.”
#Recap #Cutscene (Alycia’s Tale)
author: *** Dave H.