This time of year, the temperature usually only got up to the mid-eighties in New Brockton. This year had been an insufferable one-two punch of mid-nineties weather and oppressive humidity. It made it hard to focus, to do anything outside of a place that had air conditioning. Sadly, there was work to be done.
Had it been a movie, the three of them would be walking in slow motion to some sort of dramatic music, as if they were getting ready to walk into battle. The reality was that they didn’t have much to say at the moment. Everybody knew what they were supposed to be doing, and how they were supposed to be doing it. For one in particular, small talk would simply be irritating and eventually make matters worse.
The third, Stuart, just wanted to go home. A gangly man despite not being tall, with one hell of an underbite, he was dressed differently than the other two of them. Unlike the nice suits worn, he was dressed in a nice pair of jeans and a blue polo. Quite possibly, the nicest clothes he owned. People in his line of work had little need of business suits. Plus, he was already sweating hard enough with the heavy case he carried.
Still, she wasn’t complaining. It was almost 4:30 by her watch, and even this part of the city was a hub of activity. It made the city feel alive, like a living, breathing entity. Her city. It may not have been with her own two hands, but she’d built it and done everything in her power to ensure that it was the hub of the western hemisphere, dwarfing even New York Bet in power. And now, it might get a little more powerful.
As they reached their destination, she stepped forward to ring the doorbell. The doors were unlocked, she knew it, but it was all part of their game. Children and their games… She knew that she’d once been so young, but it felt like a lifetime ago. Like she’d been a completely different person. She still understood the importance of the necessary pomp and circumstance, but she was adept at turning it on its head now.
The young woman appeared on the other side of the glass doors quickly, opening them with a friendly smile. “Mr. Munteanu,” she said in a professional tone. “Miss Wilborn.”
Shoulders too far back, standing too straight — afraid. Afraid of failure. The pressure is getting to her.
Direct eye contact without hesitation, used to being the point of contact in professional settings. Welcomes it. Makes her feel useful when compared to her siblings. Ignores Stuart, has already identified that he is here in an ancillary role. Sharp.
Suit cut to make her modest bustline seem more impressive, subtle vertical stripes. Insecure about her body and appearance. Knows people find the bit of bulk she carries to be attractive, a sign of being able to eat well, but wishes that she were a bit firmer and that the padding were redistributed. Working out produces little results beyond stamina — subconscious use of her power in limited degrees prevents her from burning fat or building very much muscle.
Quick to motion to come inside rather than shake hands. Eager to get this started, wary of heat. Worried about sweating.
Broken multiple limbs in the past, only one within the last decade, all fully healed. Accidents in power use.
Tattletale smiled as she deactivated her power. “Miss Abrams.” The three of them stepped inside. Sarah was a good sign of the way that powers had begun to break after Scion’s death — under the old rules, there would be few people who received her degree of strength without also increasing their durability.
The slightly younger man was waiting, a pleasant smile on his face as he crossed the foyer to shake her hand.
Smile comes naturally. Creases around mouth already. Smiling is default expression no matter the mood.
Moves easily, though with constant microadjustments. Right ear deeply nicked, numerous scars on face, neck and hands, too old to have been from mercenary work. Heavy training, dangerous training. Easy movements indicate high degree of familiarity with how to use his body, how to compensate for old wounds without thinking about it.
Heavy damage to cartilage in right knee, healed via powers, powers didn’t heal completely. Broken ribs from over a decade ago that were never treated. Bone spurs developing in shoulders and left knee, left knee from compensation microinjuries; torn bicep long since healed to almost perfect condition; separating sternum; first stages of mild arthritis; repeated microfractures of shins, elbows, and hands, all on purpose to strengthen the bones; broken arm from under a decade ago that was completely healed…
No, she knew all of this already and didn’t care to re-learn the entire list of battle scars the boy had. She took the hand with a knowing smile. “Mr. Jordan. It’s good to see you again.” She tapped her power again.
Firm shake, relaxed eyes. Not nervous in the slightest. Complete confidence.
Puffed out chest, back straight, suit has shoulder pads. Draws attention to himself. Not for the sake of attention; subtle subconscious warning not to mess with, conscious decision to appear larger than life. Heroic.
Out of his element here. Willing to take a background role. Here for moral support; his presence will increase the confidence of his siblings.
Jordan tilted his head, that smile never slipping. “I’m sorry, but have we met before?”
She flashed him a vulpine grin. “Met? No. But I was in the restaurant when you talked to Melissa. She probably would have let you walk away had I not been there.” Ah, there it was. That flash of fear, of worry in their eyes. Just by being at the right place at the right time, she could inspire this.
But she also felt Munteanu bristling ever so slightly behind her. It was best not to get him riled up — it would make everything more difficult later.
“Nice show, by the way.” She smiled a little, cocking her head to the side. “I was impressed with the performance, and the way that you two were communicating. You completely threw her off her game; she wasn’t sure how to react at all. Are you two used to non-verbal communication?”
“Y-yes,” he stammered. “Mostly hand signals, but we’ve got some other methods, too.”
She nodded. “Impressive. Military signals?”
“Some,” he said, relaxing. They were on a subject that he was comfortable with. “I trained under a former SEAL, as well as a couple of mercenaries that used to work for you, back in the day.”
“Really?” She wasn’t surprised. Given their performance, she’d done some checking on the three. While she had no idea which ones had trained him, or in what, it was rather believable that he’d sought them out. But that checking had also resulted in a promise to treat him well, no matter how all this turned out. Best to put him at ease. Which… wasn’t a skill that she was the best at. “That’s terrific. I don’t get to talk to many people who leave my employ. Perhaps, after all this is done, we could talk and you could fill me in on how they’re doing?”
If his smile would have gotten any larger, she could have counted all his teeth. “I’d like that. But Sarah is better at that sort of thing than I am.” The young woman’s face barely changed, but Tattletale didn’t need to use her powers to know what that was about — she wished Jordan wouldn’t be so easy with information.
“That’s fine, Jordan. The three of you can come. I can only imagine the stories you all have.” She was surprised to find that she actually was looking forward to it. Her reasons were selfish and partially business-motivated, sure, but sometimes mixing business and pleasure lead to the best results. “However, for now, let’s focus on the task at hand.”
“This way, please.” Sarah lead the five of them through the spartan office space and into the warehouse proper. Tattletale was a little disappointed by that; the office had air conditioning, while the warehouse didn’t.
A young man turned to greet them. By the looks of him, he was probably sixteen or seventeen. No doubt, the tinker brother. Behind him was a sturdy table, almost a shelf, covered in laminate. On top of that sat two connected glass cylinders, two buckets, and a few glass jars.
Wide smile, excited eyes, suppressed demeanor. Stance is professional, restrained. Energetic, eager to act out, but tempered with responsibility. Prefers a casual tone, but able to restrain himself for the duration. Would rather be discussing this in a casual setting, perhaps over a meal. Likes to cook. Likes to have people laughing and talking over a meal. Hates quiet meals.
Chose this location to present everything due to the lighting. Drawing attention to the table. Showman, could easily turn this into a big production, but is restraining himself. Others advised to keep it simple.
Best suit out of the three. Was willing to drop the most cash on it while the other two were more concerned about cost. Well-off, but doesn’t care about money. Would willingly pay off brother’s debt if asked. Slightly put-off by the fact that he hasn’t been asked. Never mentions it.
Relaxes when brother is present. Sees brother as a comforting figure. Displeased with brother and sister taking a more combative lifestyle. Never had a taste for combat. Does enjoy watching sparring quite a bit.
She cut her power off. She was getting off track. “Mr. Abrams.”
“Miss Wilborn.” He shook her offered hand, giving it a quick but firm shake. “Thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for constructing this on such short notice. I was expecting a much longer wait.”
His smile grew a little bit. “Some of my equipment is modular, which saved us a great deal of time.”
“I can imagine.” She looked to the apparatus. “Shall we get right to it?”
He nodded and moved to the table. Jordan moved with him, moving to one of the buckets.
“The process itself is a very simple one to use,” Chris said in a businesslike tone. “The process is three-staged. The first stage is to prepare the biomatter. This is done by particulation and suspending it in water. While the particulation isn’t necessary, the more that the biomatter is broken down, the more efficient the process.”
“Like how things that are cut thin cook faster.”
The boy smiled and nodded. “Effectively, yes. This process, however, mainly works on the outer surface. While some of that outer layer will be broken up by the process, more solid pieces of biomatter won’t be processed completely no matter what. As a general rule, the more even the slurry of water and biomatter, the better the results will be.
“For our demonstration, we’ve had oats soaking overnight, stirring them occasionally.” He looked to Jordan, who hefted the small bucket and poured it into a funnel. The slop came to rest between two sheets of pearlescent fabric. As soon as the bucket was empty, Jordan removed the funnel and put a stopper in place.
“The fabric itself is, under most circumstances, nonpermeable. It will only allow certain things to pass through it, and only while under an electrical charge. Initially, it required four killowats per hour for this apparatus. This was unacceptable for the city. It took some work, but eventually my passenger revealed a refined method that allows this particular demonstration to operate with only 24 kilojoules. In more simple terms, it consumes only six thousandths of a kilowatt hour.”
Tattletale was briefly surprised by the fact that Chris understood the relationship between a passenger and tinkers, but it passed almost immediately. Her research showed that Jordan had taken every course on parahuman studies available to him, in addition to his heavy science, math, and engineering courses. No doubt he’d shared at least an outline of what he’d learned with his siblings, at least in how it applied to them.
Chris glanced to Jordan, who finally contributed. “That’s for this particular demonstration. We’ve approximated that a setup to make the most efficient use of New Brockton’s sewage would require around…” He paused, trying to remember. “53 kilowatt hours, after adjusting for the increased resistance due to size differences. But that’s just an estimate at this point; it would depend on the final design.”
Chris retrieved a potato and connected it to two leads. Cute. But it did serve the point about how much energy was required, better than the whole kilowatt thing, and Tattletale didn’t want to use her power to do the math. The two pieces of fabric immediately clamped against each other with a soft hum. After only a second, fluid started to drip from it.
Breaking down chemical bonds and rebuilding them into a crude state. Fabric works on a nanomolecular level. Fabric is stable and nonreactive to chemicals or radiation while powered on; acids will slowly damage it while no power is supplied.
Will work on any organic material; possible use as a weapon. Poor use as a weapon, would take too long to kill a person. Possible use as a torture device.
Produces crude oil and natural gas.
Tattletale’s eyebrows shot up. “You didn’t say anything about the natural gas before.”
Chis chuckled weakly. “So much for that part of the demonstration.” He shook his head, his game face coming back fast. “That’s because I didn’t know, not really. Not until we tested it. I could have done some redesigns to try and eliminate it, but we thought that you’d find it beneficial.”
Sarah chimed in. “We know that New Brockton is trying to increase its power production. With the teleporters causing such a large drain, it can cause problems for household power consumption in the winter. According to my brothers, this product won’t create enough natural gas to heat all the homes and businesses in New Brockton, but it would allow for a sizable power plant to be built. This allows you to scale back the consumption of coal by a considerable degree, protecting the environment.”
“Which would, in turn, prevent us from developing London Fog.” Tattletale nodded slowly. She’d read about the caustic fog that London had developed during the industrial revolution. Their coal power plant was efficient, but natural gas produced far less pollution. “Good.”
As the drops turned into a fast trickle, Chris began speaking again. “For a sample this size, the process will take five minutes or so. It’s comparable to thermal depolymerization, but far more efficient on all factors. The main factor in how long it takes is how broken up everything is.
“In order to make the most effective use of the process, you would have to improve the current system you have for breaking down your sewage. By also using your landfill waste you’d be able to improve the output, but would have to further improve the method that everything is broken up. It would also need people to help sort through the waste to make sure that metals were kept out, to help prevent tearing of the fabric.”
“That’s fine.” She crossed her arms. “We could have used you thirty years ago. It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.”
Jordan chimed in. “Given the propensity of Endbringer to attack people who were making a sizable difference, this project alone would most likely have drawn the attention of Behemoth or Simurgh. I think it’s better now that they’re being passive.”
He was right. She hated to admit it, but he was right. “Regardless, we should be able to hire the people necessary. Now tell me, what’s the quality of this oil?”
Chris frowned a moment before shaking his head. “I can’t tell you. We… don’t actually know enough to be able to make that determination.”
“Then I’m glad that I brought Mr. Pot here to test it.” Her power had told her that these kids were no experts. Jordan had a strong background in chemistry, judging by his class list, but that didn’t mean that he knew much about oil. Even people with powers weren’t omnidisciniplary scientists. “Is it alright if he sets up?”
Chris nodded and the man moved around to the other side of the table, the only place with enough space to set up the equipment he’d brought.
It only took a few more minutes for the trickle to trail off into drips again. Chris disconnected the potato as Jordan moved to work hand bellows that were attached by a tube. “This was going to be part of the demonstration of the natural gas byproduct, but it’s still better to contain as much of it as we can. I’d rather not have the gas free flowing in here.”
Valves were worked quickly, allowing Chris to pour the fluid from a spigot. Due to the pressure inside the chamber, it came out fast. Tattletale was hit with wifts of a pungent smell as the jar was handed to Stuart. As the man got back to work, the boy turned back to her.
“This third stage of the process is one that can technically be skipped, though it wouldn’t be wise to do so.” Chris nodded to Jordan, who removed the slide between the fabric and the tube connecting the two chambers. Immediately, the leftover sludge began to flow through the tube between the two chambers. To help it along, Jordan poured in more water.
“All of this is seawater,” the boy continued. “Taken directly from the bay. A good portion of what’s left over from the second stage is activated carbon particles that can be easily shaped for a variety of needs, but there are toxic substances as well. The composition of these depends on what biomatter was used, but I can’t in all good conscience allow the same mistakes of previous generations and let toxic sludge back into the water table.
“Besides, this is so much more useful.” He connected the potato to another one, then to two other leads. Immediately, the water gushed through the more stiff fabric. After a moment, he used the spigot to fill a jar with water. He immediately offered it to her, a pleased smile on his face.
Tattletale took a cautious sip, then smiled a little. “That’s better than the water that comes out of my tap.”
Chris was all smiles. “Completely pure. No contaminants, no protazoa or viruses. The only thing besides water in it is a bit extra oxygen, for flavor. Any contaminants that would be gained would be from your own waterworks.” Sarah coughed a little, causing him to jump a little. “Oh, right. We know that one major export of New Brockton is salt. We know that this process currently relies on either air drying of seawater, or boiling it down. We’ve worked out a two-screen method to assist in that. The first screen would filter contaminants, allowing only pure salt water to pass through, while the second screen would be much the same as this one, only allowing the fresh water to filter. You could, in theory, even add iodine to it before the second filter for easy production of iodized salt.”
Tattletale grinned a little. Even she hadn’t been as good with finances when she was their age, not without using her powers; she’d hired people to help her, even after she moved away from using the Numbers Man. These kids didn’t have her advantages, though, and they were still doing good business. It was sad, in a way. They had to grow up so fast. Once upon a time, she wouldn’t have been surprised if they were in their thirties.
“How long would it take for the salt to crystallize?”
Jordan spoke up. “You’d want to keep some traditional methods, as the faster it crystallization results in smaller crystals. That affects the flavor of the salt. The smaller crystals would be best for curing and industrial application, while traditional methods would be better for cooking.”
“I didn’t bring an example of that proposed system,” Chris said, a small frown on his lips. “I’ve never made one before, and I didn’t have the materials necessary after making this.”
“That’s understandable. The fact that you’ve gotten so much done with so few resources is impressive in and of itself.” She was laying it on a little thick, but that didn’t make it any less true. Her teleportation grids allowed for much better movement of goods, but they needed a receiver, and not every community had the power to provide one. Until the Niagara Falls Bet generators were successfully repaired, or the generators built in Gimmel, that wasn’t likely to change. Even then, establishing a power grid to supply those communities was going to be expensive, let alone maintaining them.
They lived in Burlington, and while it theoretically had enough power to support a receiver, it was expensive. Even more annoyingly, there weren’t many places anymore that produced industrial chemicals. Many industries had sadly died out within five years of Gold Morning.
She’d been foolish her first few years, not even thinking about how everything would collapse without the people to maintain it. Even with the resources Cauldron had squirreled away for just such an occasion, getting humanity back on track was a struggle. As current circumstances illustrated far too easily.
“How much do you think that we could produce with your system?”
Chris shrugged. “Hard to say, really. It would depend on a lot of factors that I don’t know. More than enough to resume shipments to the Sons of Bitch, while still selling enough to make a profit. More than enough.”
“He’s right,” Stuart said, looking up from his work. “This has a bit of water in it, but it’s still high-grade. Fifty-fifty mix of oil and gasoline. We could get this refined pretty fast, with oil left over for other projects. With how much was produced from that bucket of oats, we’re looking at a pretty good yield.”
“Thank you, Mr. Pot.” Tattletale looked back at the kids. “Shall we get down to business?”
The three of them lead the way back into the offices, into a meeting room. Her people had done good work at providing everything necessary to set them up here. Quincy took the head of the table, and while she was tempted to take the other end, she already knew that it would irritate him enough to make her job harder.
As soon as the six of them had settled, Quincy began. “So, we’re looking at a oil production system and a water purification system, with the possibility of a secondary system that would allow for the mass production of salt and more water purification. Mr. Abrams would be responsible for ensuring that Miss Wilborn would have a necessary supply of this material to ensure proper upkeep, while she would be responsible for the maintenance of any facilities constructed. Are we all agreed on this so far?”
Both Tattletale and Chris nodded, and Quincy returned the nod. “Good. Now, there was a verbal agreement that there would be assistance in locating the necessary materials for Mr. Abrams to work.”
“We have two possibilities, but I’d rather go into that later.” She looked to Chris. “I like your oil refinement system, and agree with your design philosophies. I’m prepared to give you ten thousand dollars for the initial materials, and an extra thousand dollars a year for continued support.”
Sarah shook her head. “No. New Brockton stands to most likely make at least a hundred thousand barrels of oil a year from sewage alone. Ballpark estimates put it at more likely three to six times that much. At pre-shortage prices, that would mean that New Brockton would stand to make a minimum of $250,000 a year, and that’s before taking into account that normally you can only get 12 gallons of diesel and 19 gallons of gasoline per 44 gallon barrel. With a 50/50 mix, that would be higher profits for you. And then there’s the fresh water component or the natural gas. You would stand to make back your initial investment in less than a month with that deal.”
Where had they pulled those numbers from? Tattletale’s powers told her that Jordan was the most likely source, with assistance from outside. Crafty, but she also had expected her first offer to be denied. “I suppose you have a counter-offer?”
“Full assistance in securing the materials, including transport. All waste comes to Chris, transport once again paid by yourself. $510,000 for the two filters large enough to handle your average daily sewage, plus replacement materials for maintenance for the next decade, New Brockton coin, paid out over five years. We retain the right to sell to others.”
Tattletale did some quick math. That came to about $8,500 a month. “I think that you’re forgetting that I’d have to construct a brand new facility to make use of this, as well as personnel costs and refinement costs. Construction wouldn’t even begin until next year. There’s also the issue of market flooding driving the price down.”
She paused. “$60,000 paid out over five years, we assist you with securing the necessary materials, transport of materials and waste is covered by yourselves, and we retain exclusive rights for one year after the facility is operational.”
Chris tilted his head at that. She offered him a small smile. “I have contacts in Europe who would be interested in what you have to offer. New Brockton isn’t the only city in the world. We can’t get the world back on track without resources, and this would be invaluable. I won’t deny them those resources, but I’d ask that you wait for me to make back what I’ve put into it.”
“Noble,” Sarah said, “but we won’t write off on that. We’ll see your additional terms, except you still cover transport. $250,000 over five years, effective immediately, plus five percent of the profits you make over the next twenty years.”
Oh, nice. Tattletale felt herself grinning over that. This was legitimately fun. “Two percent profits, $80,000 over five years…” She looked to Jordan, her grin turning wicked. “And a full day’s worth of questions with Dinah Alcott, refunding the money that you’ve already put down.”
The boy let out a gasping breath, his mouth agape. He began to shake slightly, his eyes jerking to and fro as he tried to make sense of it. His siblings had almost as big of a reaction. Dinah was charging $1,500 per question on the open market, and was up to 47 questions a day without straining herself. Chris, meanwhile, looked about ready to swallow his tongue.
“Unacceptable,” Quincy said flatly. Everybody at the table turned to look at him. “It benefits only one of them. Christopher stands to gain little from it, nor does Sarah. With two percent of the profits, they could afford to ask two questions a year, minimum. Unacceptable.”
The kids hesitated, but her powers told her that they weren’t going to counter the man. Damn. She’d hoped for that one. She hadn’t expected it, but she’d hoped.
Sarah swallowed, spending a moment before trying again. “Four percent profits, $200,000 over five years, and the full day of questions.”
“Unacceptable,” Quincy said again. “On the open market, a full day worth of questions is worth $70,500, removing the ability for either Miss Wilborn or the Wardens to call upon Miss Alcott for assistance. This makes the value at over $270,000, more than your previous offer.”
Not that he was saying that both she and the Wardens received the questions for free. Still, it was nice to see that he was doing his stated job. “I’ll remove the questions from the table for now, then. I think I have a good read on what you three are looking for.” Chris just didn’t want to get screwed, Sarah wanted the best possible deal, and Jordan just wanted everybody to walk away happy.
“For the oil system: $150,000 over six years, with three percent profit for twenty years. Monthly payments, first payment begins as soon as I clear it with the bank. Assistance in securing the materials to make it, plus transport of the materials. The establishment of a teleportation receiver in Burlington for monthly deliveries of all waste from both systems, and so we can receive replacement materials. Negotiation for transport from Burlington for anything outside of this deal using the receiver would be up to your community, but I believe they would be receptive. You would be responsible for power and maintenance of the receiver. One year exclusive rights after the facility comes online. For the next twenty years, we receive your materials for repairs as needed without cost. After that, we renegotiate.
“For the salt system, $50,000 over six years, no percentage of the profits. We handle the cost of the transport of waste.” Which, with the receiver, would be cheaper than hiring a wagon and mercenaries. “You provide the replacement screens should they become damaged or lose effectiveness during that time. First payment begins upon receipt of the screens.”
“The salt filters won’t be as big as the oil filters,” Sarah said quickly.
“But production will be higher, so I’m willing to accept that.” She smirked at them. “Does that sound about right?” She already knew the answer.
They wanted those questions. They all but desperately needed those questions. But Sarah looked to Quincy, who nodded once. He was alright with this deal.
“Alright,” she said slowly. “I’m okay with it… if you have a lead on those chemicals we need.”
“Of course,” she said with a chipper tone. Information was her specialty, after all. “There’s two possibilities.” She retrieved a piece of paper, sliding it across the table towards them. “This is the first possibility. Twenty different cities to secure what Jordan said you’d need, and it would take two months minimum in order to secure it all. Probably longer, with the possibility of some of it being lost should the ship encounter bad weather.”
Chris craned his neck to look as Sarah examined the list. Just securing all of those would be expensive in and of itself, a little more than hiring Earl Ford to make another receiver.
Finally, the tinker looked at her. “And the second option?”
“Faster, but more dangerous. Everything that you need, in the space of one city, but you’d have to go yourselves to collect it. We teleport you close to it, six days travel, the time to collect it all, and then six days back. There’s the possibility of you making a tidy profit in the process, and I would request that you do a few things for me while you’re there. With compensation, of course.”
“Alright,” Sarah said, a hint of irritation in her voice. “Where?”
“Saint Louis Bet.”
“No,” Quincy said immediately, echoed by Chris half a heartbeat later.
Sarah, though, turned to look at Jordan. His mind was racing a mile a minute, almost faster than Tattletale’s power could keep up.
“Yes, it would be from Twain,” she said in response to questions that hadn’t formed on his lips yet. “Yes, I would provide two wagons and mercenaries. They’d stay outside the city with defenses, ready to transport yourselves and anything you bring back. Yes, I’m willing to help equip you for that journey.” She paused. He was only partially convinced. She’d have to help push him over the edge. “I’ve run it by Dinah, and she says that you and your sister have an 81% chance of successfully retrieving the materials with the both of you returning alive if you go into the city alone. 90% chance of at least one of you returning. These numbers go down drastically if you wait more than five days before leaving Twain.”
It was technically true, but only in the way that all the best lies were true. The numbers themselves were the lie; they weren’t nearly so high as what she’d stated. However, they did drop considerably if the longer that the two waited.
“And what do you want?” Sarah asked quickly.
“A survey of everywhere you can see and learn while there,” Tattletale said with a grin. “After that, you discuss it with myself and representatives from the Wardens and Dragon’s Teeth. That’s all.” That was far from all, but Dinah said they had an 84% chance of figuring it out on their own. If she mentioned it, though, they’d make even more extravagant demands.
“As far as compensation goes, for that I’d be willing to offer the full day’s questions.”
Sarah looked to her brother. “Jordan?”
“Numbers are solid,” he muttered. “Dinah doesn’t lie. Insanely good numbers. Two-person crew reduces our overall profile. Our armor will help. We’d need things.”
“Your helmet,” Chris said softly.
Jordan shook his head. “Day home, probably take you more than one day to modify it, day back. We need time to adjust to Bet. We’d be pushing it, and I want those numbers to remain solid. No. I can manage.”
The boy took a breath, his eyes distant. He was focused in thought, trying to plan for contingencies that he wasn’t sure of. “Fireworks, explosives, I’d say a light machine gun but I don’t think we can carry one and everything else. Especially not with the ammo we’d need. Sugar or honey, plus supplements. I’d want you to carry a gun for me to use as backup.”
He looked to Tattletale. “It’s far enough from Iowa, right?”
She nodded. “People have been working to clean up the fallout from Scion’s pass over the IAAP.” They’d had radioactive materials in the ammunition plant. The materials themselves hadn’t blown, but the rest of the plant had, throwing radioactive dust all over. “Reports say that everything’s clear.”
Jordan looked to Sarah. “I think we could go for it.”
“You understand how dangerous this is,” Quincy asked firmly. “Those are your chances of survival, not your chances for coming back unharmed.”
Sarah nodded. “We know.” She shot a dirty look at Tattletale. The girl knew just how much they were being used, and that there was more to it than what was being said aloud. That the entire negotiation had been a sham; Tattletale knew in advance just how to press their buttons, to manipulate the situation. But with a golden carrot like that being waved under their noses, there was no way they could resist. “But I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Be fine. An ambiguous term. Quincy had made a good point; not even Tattletale was sure what sort of physical or mental condition they’d be in when they returned. But they were resourceful kids. How many times had she faced certain death at their age? The ABB, Leviathan, the Slaughterhouse 9, the Teeth… So many that she couldn’t even begin to put names to all of them.
“Well.” Tattletale stood. “Within the next two hours, my people will contact you at the hotel with the contracts for you to sign, and the necessary information for your trip to Saint Louis. When you know what you need, dial…” She paused as Quincy got out a piece of paper and a pen. “00143. Barring any unusual requests, we should be able to have you in Twain by the end of tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” Jordan said softly, a weak smile on his face.
“No, thank you.”
Quincy was standing, closing his briefcase and leaving the paper on the table. Without giving them another look, she turned on her heel and walked for the door. All that went surprisingly well. Easier than she’d anticipated; even when you have an ironclad plan, always assume that things weren’t going to go smoothly.
They hadn’t even made it a block when Quincy spoke. “Be careful in future dealings with them. They’re going to be on their guard.” He paused, and when she didn’t reply, he tried again. “Should one of them die, expect the others to crucify you.”
“I’m well aware,” she said flatly. “I’m sure your little mercenaries will be fine. I have full faith in them.”
He made a noise, flat enough to let her know that he was far from pleased with her. That was fine. She had that effect on people.
“Fucking insane,” Stuart mused, mostly to himself. “Kids like that to Saint Louis. Fucking. Insane.”
People warned her that she had a tendency to throw the young at impossible situations. That her youthly activities had been special, that she couldn’t expect them to compete. That she was going to, and had, get people killed doing that. But she was convinced that the only way for them to succeed as a species was through extraordinary people, and you didn’t make extraordinary people by playing it safe.
She needed people who were outside of the established system, ready to do what they needed to. Sometimes for selfish reasons, but for noble ones as well. If they survived this journey, she was sure that she could nudge them down the paths she needed. Between herself and Dinah, she was positive she’d be able to. Nexus had once been her most viable candidate, but the nature of his powers had caused hers to make the wrong leaps of logic. He still remained an option, but their working relationship was strained now.
Yes, she was throwing the kids into the lion’s den. But the odds were good, and if they survived, they’d be legendary. Other people were making names for themselves, but not enough people were becoming icons. Household names. If she could make these kids into legendary people, then they could help pave the way to getting the world back on track.
She was right in this. She was sure of it, with every fiber of her being. The tinker who could help communities bolster themselves and arm the others. The social one, who could handle their interactions and many problems that came their way while providing firepower. The tactician, who could plot and plan, see the need and the grander picture.
A wry grin crossed Tattletale’s face. She may not be able to make another set of Undersiders, but she was sure she could make the next best thing.