The Aftermath Academy - CH9 (Olivia)

Krieg finds me at one of my favorite places, hovering above a cloud. I’m absentmindedly reaching towards the sun, wondering if I could crush it beneath my Pride. A silly thought, I’m way too small, even if from here it looks like it could fit in the palm of my hand.

“One of these days someone’s going to see you,” Krieg says through his speaker. The wind here tries to whip away his words, but he’s close enough I can just make them out. His combat suit wraps sleekly around him. I know that he could set it to blend entirely into the background, and probably did on the way up, but he knows I don’t like it when he tries to speak to me while invisible.

“Let them,” I say. “I can’t spend all of my time below ground. I need…this.” I wave to the open space around us. “And not just in some virtual world.” I know Krieg doesn’t understand. He’s never spent time trapped at the center of the Earth and it’s not like any of us are high on inherent empathy. But he just nods and sets his anti-gravity panels to float over next to me, taking my hand, careful not to assert enough pressure to accidentally disintegrate his suit. Even if we can’t always understand one another, our little group has come to accept each other’s neuroses.

“The plan worked,” he said. “My drones interfaced with their system and downloaded the schematics undetected. We now know the inner blueprints of Hope’s Bastion.”

“Doesn’t Hope’s Bastion change its design?” I ask. Ever since The Plague attacked Hope’s Bastion, the city implemented incredibly beefed up security, including a constantly shifting layout for its most secure areas. “How does knowing what it looks like now help us?”

“Because I made the algorithms used in the spatial warping designs. When it’s time to act, I’ll be able to predict what they’ve changed it to. All we needed was the starting point.”

“And you couldn’t just hack into their system from our couch?” I ask him. Krieg chuckles at that. “Most systems, yes. But the only systems that maintain updated layouts for Hope’s Bastion are the Hero’s Network and Blue Skies’ database. Both of those groups have Robert Hacker’s A.I. protecting them. I can get past her, but not remotely. Even using the drones, there’s a risk she’ll figure out what we were after. But I’m hoping the results of our little cover heist distract the program long enough for the viruses I uploaded to completely cover our tracks. It’s a bit of a gamble, Mr. Hacker was far beyond me when it came to programming and it’d be counterproductive to leave something nasty enough to damage Hacker’s A.I. We might need her help later and it’d piss off the A.I. Albion.”

It’s rare for me to hear Krieg admit that anyone is better than him at anything requiring intellect. Just Dr. Sedrick when it came to bio-tech, who offed himself after The Plague’s assault on Hope’s Bastion. Old President Hargrave might be better at pure stats and strategy, but these days he spends most of his time trying to piece together Giftings and psych profiles to try and find a pattern to mass casualty events and stop them prior to occurrence. The results have been…controversial, and at best mildly effective.

“The heroes… were they ok?” I ask. I stare upwards toward the sun, listening to a wind whip around me that I can’t feel, clouds stretching out around my feet.

“Everyone made full recoveries once Emerson was back in action and absorbed the damage,” Krieg said. “May has no cause to dedicate more resources to tracking us.”

Right, that’s why I was wondering, just making sure Untouchables won’t come breath down our necks more. Not like I’d be upset if those silly heroes got hurt or anything.

“Do you think we’ll always be the bad guys?” I ask Krieg suddenly. “You’ve helped save the world before. I sa… well, why do men like you and Graveminder get the title Crime Lord while Patrick Williams gets a cool code name like Nova and called a Hero?”

“You know why,” Krieg responded. “You wrote an award winning paper on it, as I recall. And you know how we stop being the so called bad guys.”

The technical answer is longer. But what it boils down to is we’re not heroes because we kill. We’re not controlled by the military or Executioners so the world doesn’t view us as legitimate that way either. So we’re criminals potentially useful enough that no one’s actively trying to kill us, which would change if they knew our plans or about Lilith or Abe’s mere existence because we’re not powerful enough to be Untouchables and transcend labels of good and bad unless the Untouchables stronger than us say they won’t touch us. An uphill battle given Krieg’s history with Jared.

But I don’t think I’m asking about the technical answer. What I wanted to know is whether the world will ever see us as anything but monsters, whether we ever become Untouchables or not. And if I think too hard about that one I don’t think I’ll like the answer.

“I suppose we should go back,” I say sighing. “I’m hungry.” It’s not a physical hunger like you might feel hunger, more like a lack of satiation, an empty void in my insides that may dissipate slightly while filling my mouth with food for a while as my powers obliterate and consume.

“Good, we have tacos, assuming Abe hasn’t eaten them all. I can go grab more if we need to.” My face lights up with delight. “From Torches?!” I ask in excitement. Krieg nods, his face visor dipping slightly, sun glinting off the dark glass. I suddenly get suspicious, realizing he just offered to go do something mundane. “Wait, what’s the occasion?”

Krieg is still and I suspect I’m not going to like what he says next. “Well, the next part of the plan, I guess you could say it requires you to go undercover.” I narrow my eyes at him.

“As who?” I ask, sure I already know the answer and not liking it one bit. These had better be some damn good tacos. Tons of tacos. All the tacos ever. It might be hard to burn away enough of my Pride away to thoroughly taste them, but with my powers I can eat unlimited tacos and there’d better be dozens at least.

“As yourself,” he says.

Dammit, I think as my worst fears are confirmed. I hate being me.

“If it makes you feel any better,” he continues. “I think you’ll get to stay in a penthouse.” “Penthouse plus tacos, equals me not punching you in that dumb helmet of yours,” I say sulkily, squeezing his hand way harder than I should. “But there better be shrimp tacos or I’m going to reconsider. Like a hundred of them.” Krieg’s gulp is audible through the speaker.

“I’ll make sure there are shrimp tacos,” he says, then his suit fades into the background as we prepare to head down.