Reboot 5.1/1.1

Author’s Note: So, this need a little bit of an introduction before you read this update. The beginning of Knave has always made me cringe because of how terrible it is in a lot of respects and it’s hard to build a serial on a weak foundation. I had planned to rewrite it but reading it over again, it needs something more than a rewrite to fix. Which brings us to the title, Reboot. This is essentially a reboot but I’m not quite sure if I want to start all over again.

The next arc will basically be a rebooted version of Knave, if you and I both prefer this version to the original, then it’ll become the ‘canon’ version and I’ll continue this version and we’ll all quietly forget the other one exists. If this new version doesn’t work out, we’ll pretend this arc happens in an alternate universe and quietly go back to the version of Cameron and pal you’re already familiar with.

Very sorry for the suddenness of this but I think it’s necessary and perfect timing, story-wise, with the end of the arc and the introduction of alternate universes. Your feedback will be especially appreciated, now more than ever.

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It was too nice of a day to spend it chasing after supervillains.

Cameron stood on the rooftop of UltimateTech Industries’ corporate headquarters, the tallest building in Avocet. She was so close to the edge a strong enough gust might send her falling to her death.

It did give her a very nice view of the ongoing chase happening down below. A bright red blur sped through the empty streets. In the air following the blur’s trail was a ship, a tiny bird-like thing, a sphere in the center, two wings sticking out of it, and a sharp, pointed beak on the front. You’d think something so stupid looking might at least be fast to make up for it but the ship wasn’t even close to catching up to the blur, and Cameron was being charitable here.

“Point Blank, do you have eyes on the target?” Agent Hayes said, speaking on comms.

He was the boss, the Man, the agent in charge of coordinating Avocet’s superheroes. Her boss.

She tapped the side of her helmet three times with her first two fingers. “Yeah, I see him,” she said. “You’re sucking really hard right now Ionic.”

Ionic, the pilot of the ship, didn’t bother to reply.

“Can you take him out?” Agent Hayes questioned, harsh and demanding.

Her eyes tracked the blur in spite of the speed it moved at. It was pretty easy to do once she had time to get a feel for how fast it was going then she could predict where it would be fairly accurately. It came with her intuitive knowledge of an object’s position, as long as she could see it with her own eyes.

“If I can’t, we’re kind of fucked aren’t we?”

“That’s not an answer.”

Cameron smirked, hidden by the helmet she wore, and he wouldn’t be able to see it anyway, sitting in his office at the base, watching and listening.

She drew her laser gun from its holster. There was no scope attached. With her thumb, she turned the dial on the side to three. That would be enough power to hurt their little blur without killing him even if she got him in the head but it would do some damage.

She took aim.

“I’ll give it a shot,” Cameron said.

No one reacted to her stellar pun, not even a small chuckle or an acknowledgement. Geez, what was the point of being a superhero if no one appreciated a good joke?

If she wanted to, Cameron was pretty damn sure she could knock him off his ride, stopping him dead in his tracks. She didn’t want to.

Cameron pulled the trigger and a laser beam faster than the human eye could see came out of the barrel. The blur spun in place before righting itself and going on its merry way, at about half the speed. Still too fast for Ionic in her ship to compete with.

The blur slid out of the area they had blocked off, escaping into traffic.

It was too dangerous for them to try and capture him now. Forcing him to stop by hitting the other wheel of his motorcycle would send him crashing into another vehicle and at the speed he was going, it wouldn’t bode well for whoever was in the car. They would be the ones who got blamed too. As dangerous as it might seem, a motorcycle driving down the streets faster than some jets, its driver took care to not damage property or cause any harm at all.

He was still breaking the law and people wanted him caught and arrested but they would be quick to turn on their superpowered civil servants.

“Damn,” Cameron said.

“Ionic, Point Blank, come back to base. Go immediately to the debriefing room, the rest of the team will be waiting for you there,” Agent Hayes ordered, sounding tired.

“Roger,”Ionic replied and Cameron saw her ship turn and fly in the opposite direction. They had worked together for long enough now for Ionic to know Cameron never wanted a ride back unless she physically was unable to get there on her own. Ships were great and all but they took too long to get where they were going for Cameron’s liking.

From where she stood, Cameron could practically see everything if she looked hard enough, including the people down on the streets going about their business. It took her a second to spot the SAA, short for Superhuman Affairs Agency, base. It was situated downtown, surrounded by shops and restaurants with superhero themes. It was a tourist hotspot, the entire city was.

She teleported, appearing on top of the base in an instant. There was a helipad on the roof for ships and other flying vehicles to safely land on and a door leading down to the rest of the building.

She hopped off the pad and walked to the door. The tiny LED light beside it turned from red to green as she approached. Her costume automatically sent a signal to the door to unlock it or something. Ionic was the main science person, not her.

It’d take Ionic a couple of minutes to get here. She would have teleported Ionic and the ship straight to base and save them all time if her power worked on other superhumans.

Cameron strolled down the stairs and to the debriefing room. The top floors of the building were reserved for superheroes, lower level agents weren’t allowed up here for security reasons. Some of them had secret identities to protect.

The debriefing room consisted of a long rectangular table, far more chairs than there were superheroes in the city, a big screen TV on the wall playing the news, and potted plants in every corner. Agent Hayes sat at one end, silent, glaring at the TV across from him. Not all of Cameron’s teammates were here, they were rarely all gathered together. If there was no need for them to be here, they didn’t come.

Other than Agent Hayes, Tyler and Kate were here, sitting on opposite sides of the table, both of them surrounded by empty chairs. Tyler was a precog, he had told Agent Hayes their speedy friend would be taking another ride around town today and Agent Hayes had decided today was the perfect time to try and take him in. Kate was the team’s other science person, she had helped Ionic build the ship.

They were in civvies. They didn’t need costumes, considering they both weren’t field agents.

Cameron sat down beside Kate and took off her helmet. She rested her feet on the table and leaned back in the chair. Agent Hayes was too distracted by other things to yell at her.

They waited in silence.

Ionic came in and claimed the seat on the other end of the table.

“That was horrible,” Agent Hayes said, shaking his head. “This was our second attempt at capturing one of them and we failed again. From what we can tell so far, the Speed Fiends are just a bunch of thrill seekers. A gang of stupid teenagers and we fail. All we needed to do was capture one and convince them to tell us who their leader is, the one using his power to make them move so fast.”

We’re kind of a gang of stupid teenagers,” Cameron said.

Avocet’s superhero team was made up of almost exclusively teenagers. Their adult members hadn’t been as lucky as they were. Well, it wasn’t luck, exactly. Each generation of superhumans were more powerful than the last. The older members simply were as strong as they were.

“We’ll do better next time, sir,” Ionic said, her voice was altered by her helmet, making it sound more mechanical, more robot than human. “We’ll upgrade the ship.”

“I have some ideas of what we can do to improve,” Kate chimed in.

Agent Hayes sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “That’s fine. You’re all dismissed, don’t forget to write up your reports.”

Ionic was the first person out the door. In a rush to finish her report and get back to working on the ship, no doubt. Kate followed. It wasn’t easy trying to keep up with Ionic’s work ethic. The girl literally had no life outside of superheroing.

Tyler and Agent Hayes were still sitting when Cameron left.

Tyler hardly ever talked to anyone on the team but he and Agent Hayes got along swimmingly, she assumed from all the time they seemed to spend in each other’s company.

Agent Hayes was desperate for a win. All the deaths on his team looked terrible on his record and she bet that if he didn’t shape up soon he would have to go looking for a new job. It was hard to score a win when their opponents, the Speed Fiends excepted, were so well organized while they had never bounced back from the events that led to the death of their older, more experienced members. Cameron hadn’t been a superhero back then but some of the others had and they talked about it maybe once or twice in the entire time Cameron had been with the SAA. It was a touchy subject for them.

Avocet had two major villain groups, the Automatons and Creed’s organization. It didn’t have a name for whatever reason. The Automatons and Creed were peaceful, as far as criminals went, and stopped other villains from setting up shop here. They were basically matched when it came to strength so the city was equally divided in half. Their team wasn’t good enough to take out either one at this point and they weren’t a big enough problem to call in backup from other cities.

Cameron went to her room, located on the same floor as the debriefing room. It was decently sized, mostly undecorated, and furnished with nothing but a bed, a nightstand, and a mannequin for her to hang her costume up on. At one point, during her early days of being a superhero, Cameron had lived in this room but now it served the purpose it was supposed to, she took naps here sometimes if she was dead tired after training or a mission and stored her costume and weapons here.

She changed into some clothes she had left in the closet.

Other than the report and mandatory training sessions, Cameron was free to do whatever she wanted with her time unless called upon to do a mission. Very rarely did superheroes go on patrol because the chances of actually stumbling on a crime worthy of their powers was pretty damn low. The police could handle muggings and getting cats out of trees. Superheroes only tended to go on patrol to let the public see them out and about, so they felt safe and protected.

Her car was parked in a special section of the garage, only superheroes or high level agents were allowed access. It had a secret tunnel that led to a parking garage down the street so heroes could enter and leave the building without having their identities compromised.

It was kind of a pain in the ass for Cameron. It added an extra five minutes whenever Cameron was coming or going.

It probably meant she was going to be late in meeting up with her friend, Ian.

Of course he didn’t have to attend debriefings.

They had scheduled this ahead of time, she was going to meet with him at this cheap burger joint on the other side of town. Ian was strapped for cash most of the time and he definitely wouldn’t be able to afford anything too expensive now that she damaged his motorcycle with her laser gun earlier.

Cameron smirked. Ian was going to be pissed.

And the glare he gave her as she slid into the other side of the booth confirmed her suspicions.

“That’s the last time I ever do you any favors,” he huffed, running a hand through his dark, messy curls.

Cameron was still smirking. “Had to make it look good, you know? Don’t want them to start thinking I suck ass.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Ian said. “You’ve whined about what happens if they do before. Can we go back to talking about the motorcycle?

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll pay for it, but first, I’m going to need another favor from you.”

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Buyer’s Remorse 4.3

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With the hard drive in his hand like that, there was no way he wouldn’t notice if she teleported it. Teleporting it would be too overt, anyway. If Michael was already working against her and Creed, he would know instantly who she was if she did that.

It would need to be taken through force. With the element of surprise on her side, Cameron felt confident she could knock him to the ground and rip the hard drive from his hands. That would draw the attention of everybody here and she wouldn’t be able to escape without teleporting, which again, wasn’t good for the secret identity.

Cameron stayed back, watched him. Tyler came to stand by her, shaking his head.

“Yeah,” Cameron said. “And I know where it is too. Over there, boot guy.” She titled her head in the direction of Michael.

Tyler turned. “I see it. Any ideas?”

She thought about it. “Not any smart ones,” she admitted.

He took too long to respond. “Your unsmart plan might be all we got. It’s reckless but not that bad,” he said, as if it pained him to say it.

Tyler had looked into the future to when she had explained her idea, saving her from having to explain it. At least he wasn’t trying to claim credit for this one. It wasn’t a good enough plan to steal, anyway.

“Executing it is going to be a bitch,” she said. “Unless you’re hiding something in that jacket of yours.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t see this happening, couldn’t plan for it.” The idea had barely formed in her head when he rubbed his chin, the cloth covering his chin anyway, and nodded. “Don’t think it’ll work out as well as we want but yeah, let’s do it.”

Her plan was a pretty simple one. They would wait until Michael decided to leave and then they’d go after him, attack him, and take the hard drive. As long as they didn’t start the fight here, inside where the Automatons and everybody else would be obligated to stop them, they might have a chance.

Michael knew how to take care of himself but his power wasn’t really combat-focused. He created illusions, which would have been useful if she wasn’t capable of seeing through them. He would have brought protection with him, and they would have powers good in a fight.

She wished she had her laser gun with her.

“If it comes down to it, how helpful are you going to be?” Cameron asked, quiet.

“Barely any. I’m not a fighter,” he answered.

Cameron would have laughed, if it didn’t draw attention from those nearby. It was the answer she expected but still, she had hoped he wouldn’t be completely useless. As confident as she tended to be – used to be? – going up against an unknown number of superhumans with unknown powers would be hard enough already, without thinking about how she was going to do that without any obvious uses of her power.

A challenge. Challengers were fun, in their own way, if it hit the middle ground of being hard enough to take some effort to solve but not too much effort. She doubted this challenge would.

“How’s the future look?” she said.

This close up, she saw his mask shift, a grin. “I don’t think I can without wreaking whatever chance we have.”

“It’s already wrecked, though. I mean, the other side has a precog, probably.”

“Very possible but telling you what I saw won’t help you, or me,” Tyler said. “We’ve got a good amount of time before he leaves. Why don’t you go chat to that friend of yours?”

“And lose the enjoyment of your company? Never.” Cameron grinned.

“Okay, let me be less subtle. Go talk to him. I’ll keep an eye on things.” He was pushing this pretty hard. Was it a future thing or did he need a minute to think by himself? Either way, there was no point in sticking around if she wasn’t wanted. She gave him a sloppy salute and headed off to find where Creed went.

It wasn’t hard to find him in a space like this. He was talking to the silver and gold Automaton. They parted ways just as Cameron reached him, the Automaton going off to chat with more guests.

“Did you sort everything out with the gentleman you were looking for?” Creed asked. Everything, from the way he stood and talked, made it seem casual. She would have been fooled if she didn’t know him as well as she did. He was the curious type, liked to know things. Something out of the ordinary like this? Yeah, he’d be dying to know. Not that he would ever admit to anything of the sort.

“Not yet. We’re thinking of talking to him later, privately,” she replied.

He nodded, knowingly. “I would advise you to talk to the shortest one first. Element of surprise will be key. He’s not so good when caught unaware. Everything will go a lot smoother if you convince him early on.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Cameron said. “Hey, earlier, you said you wanted to get in touch with the Detective?”

“I did, yes. I think I understand what you’re about to ask. The answer would be yes.”

His power really made conversations go faster. She smiled. That was useful information to have. Maybe not right this moment, but it was a clue. There had to be a reason beyond what Tyler had said for picking her to help him and for him getting her to come with him in some alternate universe where he didn’t know about the hard drive. “Okay.”

Tyler came up to her, then. He gave Creed a glance and a nod. Creed returned it. “We should get going, now.”

“Sorry, looks like I’ve got to run off again,” Cameron said, to Creed.

“Best of luck in your endeavor.”

Cameron saw Michael holding some kind of miniature cannon on their way out. Once they got settled into the car, she turned to Tyler. “So?”

“He should be out in a few minutes,” he said. He buckled his seat belt. Cameron didn’t. “I wasn’t joking earlier, when I said these outfits are tougher than they look, but I wouldn’t rely too much on them.” Tyler paused. “And… thanks.”

She pulled out her gun and flicked off the safety. “I’m going to take that as a sign that things go really fucking badly.”

“Maybe. Having second thoughts?”

“No.” She had already went to the trouble of agreeing and coming here with him, might as well go all the way. “But just tell me one thing, since you and I might die and all. Why do you even care so much about what happens? What makes you do this?” She gestured at the building they had just left. “What’s worth risking your life for?”

He didn’t think about it. “People.”

“Do you really care more about the lives of strangers than your own?”

“I do. We were given these powers and it’s our duty to do something with them. To do something good with them, because most can’t do what we can.” It was odd to see him so passionate, sincere. Most of the time he seemed to hover between being smug or annoyed.

“Most people wouldn’t if they could.”

“You don’t know that,” Tyler said. “They – He’s coming out.”

Cameron whipped her head around to the entrance. Michael and three other guys walked out the door. Michael seemed to be in a good mood, his hands moving rapidly as he spoke. The shortest one in their group was in the lead, his head turned as he looked over all the other cars, settling on theirs for a brief second.

They kept walking, hopping into a nondescript white van and driving off, fast. The short one and Michael had sat in the back. The other two sat in the front.

Tyler waited a moment before going after them. There was no other traffic at this time of night, in this part of town. It was pretty damn obvious they were following Michael’s group. They were waiting for Tyler and her to make the first move, she was betting. When they did, Michael would order his goons to take out their guns and demolish Tyler and his car.

“Is this car bulletproof?” she asked.

“Not as much as I’d like it to be,” Tyler answered.

“You don’t have to stick around, you know. You’re not going to be much help either way.”

“I’ll stay,” he said. “I’ll be more help than you think. The headset works as a comm unit too. I’ll talk to you through it, tell you anything important I see.”

She frowned. Did that mean he heard everything she said to Creed? It would explain why he wanted her to talk with Creed so badly. Irritating to get outplayed like that, she should have realized it sooner.

“Whatever you’re doing, do it now, I think we’re far enough away from everyone else,” Tyler said, interrupting her train of thought.

Cameron pulled out her knife, holding it in a reverse grip, held tightly at a spot below her knee. She aimed her gun at the floor. “Try not to die.” She swore she saw him smile in the briefest moment before she teleported onto the roof of the white van.

Her hat fell off and flew away.

In its new location, the knife cut into the roof. Her grip on it sufficient to keep her from flying off and hitting the pavement. Cameron had appeared above where she remembered the short guy sitting. She squeezed the trigger, twice. The bullets made a dent but didn’t go through.

Stupid, to think their van wasn’t bulletproof.

She teleported the gun so the barrel went through the roof, displacing the material already there. Another two shots and she was gone, crouching above the driver’s seat, knife and gun both poking through the roof. This time, when she pulled the trigger, she knew she had hit her target.

Flecks of blood hit the windows.

She had killed before but it was different this time. It energized her, a rush of adrenaline that made her feel unstoppable, a force of nature.

Cameron took out the driver’s friend in the same manner.

She pulled the gun out, carelessly tossing it back into a pocket, and inched toward the door on the driver’s side. It was dangerous to move around at the speed the van was going. One wrong move and bye bye Cameron Pierce. She stuck her hand in the hole her knife made earlier and then pulled the knife out, putting it away too. The gloves helped, stopped the material of the van from digging and cutting into her skin.

She got into position and slammed her feet against the window. She broke it on her first try. She felt something sharp and pointy press against her legs but it didn’t cut her. Tyler hadn’t been lying, after all.

Her foot fumbled around a bit until she got them securely under the body of the driver, using his weight to help hold her in place. She let go and climbed inside.

It was cramped, between her and the body. She hit her head more than once on her way in.

She barely felt it.

Cameron teleported driver onto his buddy, to get him out of the way. She slammed the brakes. Once the van came to a complete stop, she hopped out.

Tyler was a keeping a safe distance away. It’d take him maybe half a minute to close the distance, at the rate he was going.

Cameron retrieved the gun and knife. Only one person would have gotten hit, and there was no guarantee she actually got them. She didn’t hear any movement inside as she walked to the back of the van. She shot the tires on her way, to get rid of their only mode of transportation.

Tyler skidded to stop just as Cameron reached the back.

The door swung open, smacking her in the face and off her feet.

This she felt perfectly fine. Her head throbbed where it hit the road and her vision blurred. There was something wet on her lips. Blood. Broken nose, she was pretty sure.

The short guy hopped out of the van and immediately took aim and fired at Tyler with a machine gun. Cracks appeared in the windshield.

Still lying on the ground, Cameron raised her arm and shot at the short guy. Either she missed or the form-fitting armor he wore was a lot tougher than it looked. He stopped firing and turned to face her. She teleported just as he pulled the trigger and sent a barrage of bullets where she laid less than a second ago.

Some teleporters were capable of perfect, split-second teleports. Cameron was not one of them.

She landed on the ground, her back joining a growing list of body parts in pain.

Cameron climbed to her feet. It took her a second to realize where she had ended up. She was behind him, on the sidewalk beside the road. She dropped the gun, whipping out the baton instead. She charged at him.

By the time he spun around, she had closed the distance, and knocked the weapon out of his hand. He caught her second swing and lashed out with his foot, kicking her in the stomach. She stumbled backwards, hunched over, the wind knocked out of her. He moved to get closer and she swung the knife to ward him off.

He backed up, her baton held in his hand, not any worse off than he was at the start.

The laser gun would have been real fucking useful in this situation.

He didn’t try and attack, giving Cameron time to recover. The hand that had the baton was red, covered in blood. Fingerless gloves, the guy was actually wearing fingerless gloves. Unbelievable, she was getting her ass kicked by a guy wearing fingerless gloves.

“I’ll give you a chance to leave, while you still can,” he said. His voice carried a different kind of chill than Allison with her helmet on, than Gladwell when she killed, than Cameron‘s when she first saw her mother’s body in the bathtub, motionless. It was laced with grim finality. The odd thing about it though, was she got the distinct impression he was pleading with her, begging her to leave so he wouldn’t be forced to kill her.

He hadn’t extended the same mercy to Tyler.

And Cameron Pierce didn’t run from anybody or anything.

“You got a name? Or a codename?” Cameron asked, standing up straight.

“Phantom.”

“Well, Phantom, since you were so nice, I’m going to give you the same option. Get the fuck out of here.”

He tossed the baton to her and she caught it. Phantom pulled out a pair of metal escrima sticks. He twirled them with casual ease. He sighed so hard his shoulders slumped. “Go ahead, I’ll let you make the first move.”

Very polite of him.

Cameron wished she could take off the mask and wipe some of the blood off her face. It was starting to irritate by flowing into her mouth.

So far, Phantom hadn’t done anything that was obviously beyond human capability. His power had to be good if he was so sure of his victory. She shouldn’t use her teleportation abilities more than she already had. At this point, Phantom hadn’t seen enough for him to confidently say she was a teleporter. She wanted it to stay that way but when it came to close combat, she was pretty sure he was better than her. It might her only option if she wanted to win and if she was going to do it anyway, might as well do it now.

Cameron could always kill Phantom and Michael, to protect her identity.

It was the smart thing to do, wasn’t it? Saved her the trouble of having to kill Michael later, if and when Creed succeeded in taking over the True Gods.

Had she always been so quick to go straight to killing or was this the result of Gladwell messing with her head?

Phantom stood by all the while, patiently watching her, relaxed. As if he would be comfortable standing here all night as she figured out what to do next. What the hell was up with him? It was hard for her to get a good read on the guy.

Fuck it, she wouldn’t let Gladwell win.

“Nice of you to offer but I’ll pass,” Cameron said, knife and baton at the ready. There wasn’t really any good move for her to make in this situation. Despite being shorter than everyone else in his group, he was still taller and bigger than her, probably stronger and more experienced. Might as well let him make the first move and see if he made a mistake.

He shrugged then threw the stick in his left hand at her. She stepped to the side, out of the way, instead of swatting it out of the air. Before it could land on the ground, it went into reverse, pulled back into Phantom’s hand.

Keeping his distance. It was smart tactic, with her gun on the ground somewhere behind her and two close ranged weapons in her hands.

She avoided the next five throws and he retrieved them in the same way. They were walking in a circle.

A stalemate.

Phantom threw both sticks at the same time and charged. Taking time to get out of the way gave him time to get close. She swung at him and he took a step back, fell into a crouch, and spun, one leg out to hit both of hers. Seamless. The thought went through her mind as she was swept off her feet.

He tried to follow up with a kick to the face but she rolled out away and back into a standing position.

He threw his stick again and this time, when it moved back towards him after she dodged, she caught it mid-air. She had to drop the baton to do it. The force pulling on the stick wasn’t too strong. Cameron threw the knife and let go of the stick at the same time. It wasn’t meant to hurt but to distract.

She went for the machine gun he dropped earlier.

No bullets came out when she pulled the trigger. Out of ammo, great.

He came at her, swinging his escrima stick at her, aiming for her face. She ducked under it.

The telltale sound of gunshots. The timing of it was too good, he had to have been waiting for it this entire time.

Phantom stumbled backwards. His armor was tough enough to handle a few bullets but it still hurt like a bitch, apparently. Using the gun as a club, Cameron hit him over the head.

He fell.

Tyler came running up to them, a gun in his hand. He stood a good distance away with his gun aimed at the fallen Phantom.

“You couldn’t tell me?” Cameron asked, between pants.

Always the worst part, the pain and exhaustion that came when the adrenaline started wearing off.

“Nope,” Tyler said, looking fresh as a daisy. “Go get it and let’s get out of here.”

Cameron jogged to the van and hopped in. There was a lot of blood on the inside, smeared on the floor. Michael was lying on the ground, his shirt had been torn open, a blood-stained bandage covered his shoulder. Phantom must have patched him up after Cameron shot him.

It took her a second to find the hard drive, tucked away under the seat.

Tyler was already in the car when Cameron stepped out of the van, headlights on, engine revving. Cameron joined him, hard drive in hand. Phantom didn’t try to get up as they drove off.

“There’s a laptop and wire in the backseat,” he said.

“Aren’t you an eager beaver,” Cameron commented. It was kind of hard to see a black laptop on a black seat at night but she manage to find it. The USB wire was already attached. It was on so they didn’t have to wait for it to load up.

She plugged the other end of the wire into the hard drive.

A window popped up almost instantly. Some non-English language. Russian, maybe? Cameron didn’t need to read it to know what the blinking line and empty white box meant.

It made a lot of sense, honestly, for the hard drive to be password protected.

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Buyer’s Remorse 4.2

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By the time Cameron got to her apartment, Tyler was already there, leaning against the wall, looking annoyed. He glanced at his watch and his frowned deepened. “You’re six minutes and forty-three seconds late,” Tyler said, crossing his arms.

“I never said I’d be here on time,” Cameron retorted. She lightly kicked the duffel bag sitting on the ground beside his feet. “That mine?”

“Yeah,” he said. “My stuff’s in there too.”

She took out her key, unlocking the door with it and the hidden fingerprint scanner in the doorknob. She opened it up wide and let Tyler go in first. He picked up the bag and walked in, giving the apartment only a cursory glance. He dropped it onto the kitchen table then unzipped it.

The logo on the clothes he pulled out earned him an eyebrow raise from Cameron.

He didn’t turn around. “Save it,” he said. “I already know what you’re going to say and it’s not nearly as funny as you think it is.”

The logo, a white simplistic magnifying glass inside a circle on a black background, was one she saw at the beginning of her superhero career.

The Detective.

Case closed. That was one mystery solved. Sort of.

“You work for the Detective?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’s how I got myself a ticket tonight.” He gestured at the pile of clothes he had just taken out. “Get dressed, I don’t want to be late.”

She rolled her eyes, grabbed the heap, taking it with her to the bathroom.

The outfit consisted of a black jacket ending at her knees, the logo plastered on the shoulders and back, black pants, gloves, and shirt, a white mask with black domino mask painted on it, and a fedora hat, also black.

It didn’t seem like it’d offer much protection at all. Maybe that was the point, make their hosts think they weren’t here to start a fight. Maybe she was overestimating Tyler’s intelligence. Allison had warned her.

“Hey,” she said, stepping out of the bathroom. “I’m going to haunt you so hard if I die because this can’t handle a bullet or two.”

Tyler wore an identical outfit. His face was covered by his mask, like hers was, but somehow she knew he was smirking. “Don’t worry about it, tougher than it looks.”

“I’m going to take that as permission to use you as a body shield if push comes to shove,” Cameron said. “Are you going to tell me what we might end up stealing or is it going to be another one of those ‘wait and see’ you’re so fond of?”

He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded up piece of paper. She teleported it out of his hand and into hers just as he was about to hand it to her. He let his arm drop to his sides. Hopefully he enjoyed that as much as she enjoyed his company.

Unlike the well-done drawing she saw earlier today, Tyler’s preferred medium was words. Cameron was willing to bet he had no other option, having no artistic talent and still requiring a way to get down as much information he could from his visions of the future or however his type of precognition worked, before it faded from his mind.

It’s been shoved into a corner, a back table they don’t expect anyone to spend a lot of time in front of. It looks like a hard drive, white. It’s eye-catching because of it, sandwiched between black guns and armor. Someone walks by, confident, as if he knows exactly where he’s going and what he’s looking for.

He picks it up without reading the holographic screen floating above it and goes to purchase it.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to him or it. The time frame is roughly 9:30 to 9:50. It’s Cameron that tells me about it after. She makes a comment, implying she knows him and that whatever he’s up to, it can’t be good for either of us.

We leave later, without incident, getting what I came here for. Information, not weapons unlike nearly everyone else. I check out what Cameron told me, looking into the future. It’s not good. The perfect window to stop him would have been earlier. I’ve failed, horribly. Whatever the future was, it has left me feeling devastated. I make it worse, so a past version of me sees this and can do something about it.

The weight of the world crushes me and I call Mom, even though I know she will not answer. It makes me feel worse when I get her voice-mail but this is more important than me.

Cameron wasn’t sure she wanted to know most of this stuff. The thing about the hard drive, yeah but the other stuff just gave her more questions she wouldn’t get an answer to anytime soon. The part about his mom she could have definitely done without. Cameron knew all about having a shitty mom, had one herself. It made him a little harder to hate, knowing they came from similar places. It was the whole point of leaving it in, or fabricating it, if she wanted to be paranoid. He had access to her file, her history, everyone seemed to. She passed the paper back to him.

“I was worried there you were going to ask me to sneak out a tank or something,” Cameron said. “A hard drive shouldn’t be a problem.”

He nodded. “Teleport us down to the street, the car’s parked out front.”

“It doesn’t work – ”

“Yeah, I know. I’m decent at controlling power resistance, it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, interrupting her again. It was becoming an annoying habit.

Whatever, even if he wasn’t as good as he thought he was there was no harm in trying. She walked over to the window and he followed, after grabbing the duffel bag. She got a better view of the roof of the building beside them than the street. She grabbed his wrist and teleported there.

It didn’t come as easily as it normally did, the transition less smooth. They didn’t appear in the locations Cameron had meant them to, two steps to the left away. The next teleport brought them to the sidewalk near the car. She had wanted to drop them off right beside the car door.

No one lost an arm so it wasn’t too bad.

They climbed into the car, Tyler taking the wheel. Cameron would have preferred to drive them to their destination but she didn’t need to be a precog to know the answer Tyler would give.

She fiddled with the radio, switching from station to station, much to Tyler’s obvious annoyance. He swatted at her hands to keep them away from the radio. He jerked a thumb at the duffel bag he tossed in the backseat. “If you really have to do something, look through that. The weapons are in there, you can hide them in the inside pockets of your jackets.”

Cameron teleported it to her lap.

The weapons Tyler brought were pretty low-tech. Gun, taser, knife, baton, and a canister of pepper spray. She tucked them inside her jacket. The only items left was a headset and a metal rod, the size of a pencil. She held it up to her face to get a better look. There was a little LED light near one of the ends of the rod, the other end had was pushable.

“Voice modifier,” Tyler said, before she could ask. He pointed at the rod. “Put the headset on and push that to turn it on.”

She nodded.

They went right through the bad side of town and into the only area in Avocet worse off. The same tragedy that left many powers dead had also tore up a sizable chunk of Avocet. UltimateTech Industries bought up most of the property and was slowly fixing everything. The rubble had been cleared but many of the buildings looked ready to collapse at a moment’s notice. They parked behind a building near the heart of the area.

The building stood alone, whatever buildings had stood beside it had been destroyed and taken away. A big sign, as long as the building itself, hung above the door. In golden, flowery script was the store’s name, Canary Florists. The last time she had been here was more than a decade ago. Probably. Dad bought flowers for her mom from Canary Florists on their anniversary, or maybe a birthday. Some celebration. It didn’t matter much now. Their relationship and this shop were both long gone.

On either side of the front door was a window, where their best and prettiest flowers would be on display. Both windows had been smashed and shards of glass still littered the ground around it, joining dead petals left behind and forgotten as they were devoured by insects.

It was dark inside, no sound except their own breathing.

“You sure this is the right place?” Cameron asked.

Tyler strode forward, putting on his headset as he walked, and went in through the gaping hole in the window, ignoring the jagged edges.

He disappeared, gone the second he had passed the threshold.

A hologram?

Cameron went after him. She hesitated more than he had. Despite his assurance, what she wore seemed like they’d be no help against the sharp point of the glass. It didn’t cut when she hopped through.

The light stung her eye,  too bright compared to the darkness she saw a moment ago.

The abandoned flower shop went away with the darkness. Cameron stood on an expensive looking red carpet. A chandelier hung above her head, oak tables with all sorts of gear on them were strategically placed throughout the available space as to not have any one table too close to another, and paintings were on the walls, depicting some really old people that may have been famous historical figures.

History never really interested her.

People stood at the tables, dressed in costumes, their weapons openly displayed. People who maybe didn’t normally wear costumes still had masks on but wore suits or dresses.

Tyler tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. She gave him a nod.

He walked past the crowd, heading straight for a man in lightweight armor, an Automaton. Cameron stayed a step behind him at all times. It gave the impression that out of the two of them, he was in charge, which she supposed he was. Anyone approaching them would talk to him. It was better if they did, less chance for Cameron to mess up and make it obvious she wasn’t really working for the Detective by saying something someone in her position should know.

This Automaton looked to be more of an entertainer than the the Automatons stationed throughout with heavy armor and heavy weapons, helmets turning left and right, on the lookout for any trouble that might arise. Like his friends, his armor was made to look similar to old school robots, block-y, buttons and switches on his chest, antennas sticking out of the side of his helmet. His in particular was painted gold and silver, flashy compared to the black and grey of his associates.

“Welcome,” he said, voice sounding normal and not at all robotic. “Thanks for coming.”

Tyler reached into his jacket and with an audible click, he activated his voice modifier. “Thank you, for having us here. We appreciate you inviting us here.” His voice came out much deeper than his usual, but not to the point where it was unnatural or fake sounding.

“I can hardly say no to the Detective or to her associates,” the Automaton said. “Not when she’s such a useful ally to have.”

“Having her as an ally also has its costs,” Tyler replied, holding out his hand.

“Of course, of course.” The Automaton pulled out an USB stick and dropped it on Tyler’s palm. “This should satisfy her. Give her my regards if and when you see her.”

Tyler nodded. “I will. Thank you.”

“Stay as long as you like, enjoy yourselves. If you’ll excuse me, I have some other guests to entertain.” He didn’t wait for an answer and headed to talk to a group of people, all wearing bright red clothes.

That would be the information Tyler had originally came for. Now that that was taken care of, there was nothing left for them to do but find the white hard drive before this other person could. It could be a good idea to split up. She could go look for this person, someone she knows apparently, and distract them while Tyler went to get the hard drive, buying it before anyone else could.

“Let’s split up. You go distract and I’ll get it,” Tyler said.

Cameron frowned. Did he just look far enough into the future to experience her telling him her plan then tried to steal it, pretend he was the one that came up with it?

“What a brilliant idea. Almost as if I came up with it,” she said, evenly.

“Weird.” He shrugged. “Let’s get to it. Come on, we don’t have time to waste.”

That wasn’t true either. They had a solid twenty minutes to do this. It shouldn’t be too hard, considering their opponent would act the same as he did in the future Tyler saw, unless he was a precog too or worked with a preocg.

They split up, Cameron going in one direction, Tyler in the other.

The number of people she knew who could be at an event like this was small. Creed was one, maybe a few of his trusted lackeys, and…

Michael. Michael had the connections to score himself an invitation. She doubted that if Creed had been the one to find and pick up the hard drive, she would have told any version of Tyler that whatever he was planning was bad for the both of them. Michael, on the other hand, was a completely different story. She considered him a friend but in time, circumstance would force them to come in conflict. It was inevitable.

Maybe Testament knew and had asked Michael to collect the hard drive for him, a weapon he planned on using against Creed. If Michael had come here at Testament’s command, maybe they weren’t in as good shape as Cameron had assumed.

Cameron combed through the crowds, looking for someone with Michael’s build or height.

There were more than a few and checking out any one might lead to Michael slipping out of her grasp.

“It’s unexpected, seeing you here.”

She recognized the voice before she turned around to face Creed. He wore a black suit and tie, a mask with a stylized ‘C’ concealed his identity. The suit was deceptive, made his shoulders seem broader than they were, made him look taller and skinner. His suit, she knew, would be able to take more than a bullet or two, despite it looking like it offered no protection at all.

“How is the Detective, these days?” Creed continued, without missing a beat. No mistaking it, he knew.

Cameron reached into her jacket, fumbling a little as she tried to remember which pocket she put the rod into. She found it and clicked it, turning her voice modifier on. “She’s great,” Cameron said.

“Wonderful to hear,” he said. “I don’t suppose there’s any way I could help her, is there? I’ve been meaning to talk to her for awhile now, and it would serve as a good gesture to help out one of her associates, wouldn’t it?”

“Not really. Well, there is one thing. Have you seen someone around here, a guy, he’s been known to hang around you, not so much recently but – ”

“I know who you’re referring to,” Creed said. “I talked to him just a few minutes ago. You’ll find him to my right, the one in red, looking at a table full of jetpacks and hover-boots.”

She spotted him, holding up a metal boot. “Thanks, I’ve got to go.”

“Yes, don’t let me keep you if you have better places to be. I would like to talk to you later, if you have the time.”

Cameron nodded and headed off to confront Michael.

Distracting him without him realizing who she really was might be more difficult than she wanted to deal with right now. Michael was smart, smart and knowledgeable.

As she got closer, she saw what he had in his other hand, a white hard drive.

Stealing it is, then.

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Buyer’s Remorse 4.1

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A statement like that, it was supposed to shock her. She felt mildly surprised, at best. Maybe this whole Gladwell fucking with her head wasn’t so bad. Her mind was focused, cold, and swift, a weapon forged and refined.

Tyler had come alone. If he intended to tell anyone, he would have already, and if he had, he would have come with backup to protect him and subdue her. He came with another purpose in mind. Blackmail, it was the only thing that made sense.

“A whole week? Wow,” Cameron said. “I don’t even know what I’m going to wear tomorrow.”

“I’ve seen it,” Tyler said, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. “It looks good.”

She raised a single brow and pointedly glanced at the shut door. “I really hope, for your sake, that’s not part of the reason you’re here.”

He ignored the insinuation. “I need help and you’re going to give it to me. You can figure out what happens if you don’t.”

“I’m going to bet this thing you need help with involves illegal stuff,” Cameron said.

“It does,” he admitted. “But I doubt it’d make you lose any sleep.”

A week from now, he had said. Did that mean sometime this week Creed was going to finally give her something concrete to do? She would have been lying if she said she wasn’t the least bit curious about Creed’s plans to take over the True Gods.

“I’m going to need some more information, Fore. You can’t expect to blackmail me into doing whatever with something I may or may not do.”

“Sorry, it’d affect the future,” he said, smiling in a way that showed he wasn’t sorry at all. He enjoyed being an asshole. She could respect that, in the past she liked to rile people up too.

Still did, probably.

“Knowing about your relationship with Creed is more than enough blackmail material,” Tyler said, quiet. The chances of them being overheard was low but playing it safe never hurt, she supposed, even if it was boring.

She eyed the utility belt in her closet, holstered there was the gun Allison made her. In an instant, it could be in her hands and one shot would definitely kill him. “So, talking hypothetically, what stops me from killing you right now and making a break for it?”

“Nothing,” he said. He stood with his shoulders squared, arms crossed, expression even, eyes meeting hers without a hint of fear. He saw the future and knew she wouldn’t go through with it. It wasn’t for moral reasons, she had killed before. Killing him would only make escape harder for her. Agents and heroes sent after her would look harder, be less forgiving, lethally so. The SAA wasn’t kind to those who took out one of their own.

“I could still just leave, it’s not like you could stop me.”

“You could,” he agreed. “I think you’ll realize doing this favor for me is your best option.”

Cameron stood up from the bed and strode toward Tyler, invading his personal space. “And I think you’ll realize I’m not some little bitch you can push around. Give me something concrete, or I’m gone. Whoosh.” She appeared behind him, position adjusted so she faced his back instead of the door.

He didn’t look around the room, momentarily confused. Tyler turned to face her, as if he had been waiting for this to happen the entire time.

Irritating. Theatrics wasn’t as fun when there wasn’t that shock factor.

“Alright, I can give you something concrete. Tomorrow morning, Creed’s going to contact you, asking to meet right away, and you will but when you get there, he’s nowhere to be found. Instead, you find an envelope, with your initials on it. You’ll open it up, read what’s inside, I’d tell you what it says but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.” He was back to smirking at her again.

“And what’s inside is going to change my mind?”

“Oh, it will, I’ve already seen it,” Tyler said. “I’ll be back tomorrow, after you’ve read it.”

He turned and had opened the door when Cameron spoke up. “You know, the future’s not set in stone.”

“I hope so,” he said, voice barely above a whisper.

He left.

Well, she’d be damned, Tyler was right.

When she got the text message in the morning, like he said, she knew he wasn’t completely full of shit but the idea of a few sheets of paper inside an envelope changing her mind to the extent she was willing to let Tyler win so easily, it just didn’t seem likely. Past or present, Cameron hated to lose. Losing to someone so sure of themselves was even worse. It fed their ego, reinforced the idea that they were better than her.

It felt weird to feel so strongly about something with no clue why she did.

She didn’t dwell on it.

No point in doing so, when there were other things she had to do. First, convincing the agent designated to drive her to school that she’d find her own way to school. The guy, no doubt about it, knew she was lying and going to blow off another day of school to do whatever teenagers did but didn’t seem to care that much. She wouldn’t either if she spent years training and preparing to become an agent only to be asked to drive a teenager around, like some kind of limo driver.

Cameron took a bus to get to the same diner she met Creed at last time. Her new popularity still hadn’t changed Hayes’ mind about giving her access to a vehicle and it’d be awhile until she saved up enough to buy her own.

Creed wasn’t there when she arrived, just as Tyler predicted.

A waiter spotted her and handed over an envelope, on the front were her initials written in Creed’s curvy handwriting.

She brought it out to the parking lot before she tore it open. The envelope held four pieces of paper, three were pictures, one was a note. The pictures were hand drawn, done in pencil. Each picture depicted a scene, the first looked an awful lot like her apartment with a body on the ground near her open safe, a heavily shaded in puddle surrounding the body, covering it in some parts. The drawing of her apartment was really detailed, getting the small stuff right like the damaged zipper of a jacket she owned, hanging on the back of a chair. Maybe to contrast, the body lacked any significant detail, a human-shaped blob. Cameron couldn’t tell if that was intentional or the artist got lazy.

The second picture was her, in her Point Blank costume, drawn with the same attention to detail her apartment got. In one hand was her laser gun, the other held a handgun, bullets coming out of it. Her helmet had a huge crack in it, bits and pieces of her costume had been torn off, exposing flesh, and right leg was bent in a funny way.

The third picture took a nosedive in quality compared to the first two. It looked like a quick sketch, each line was jagged and didn’t properly connect with each other. The background was non-existent, just an empty expanse of white. In the middle of the page was a person, from the general shape of the body and the hair tied in a ponytail she assumed it was a girl, on their knees with a black rectangle pointed at her head. A gun?

Cameron realized what these pictures were before she took a look at the note.

I have recently received these from one of my employees. They were drawn yesterday night, so as far as I am aware, they are accurate, for now at least. Her co-workers should be getting back to me soon with more information.

If there’s something you’ve done or decided to do last night, I advise you to alter it as much as you can before we stumble into an unfortunate future.

I’ll contact you again, soon.

Burn everything.

Some part of her didn’t want to believe, wanted to think this was all staged by Tyler. It wasn’t likely, though, that he could perfectly replicate Creed’s handwriting, get his hands on Creed’s phone, and know the location of their last meeting.

She had to be missing some pieces of information here, something Creed may have expected her to know. Precog stuff could get complicated, looking into the future would then change it, maybe making it so the events seen never come to past depending on the actions the precog takes and how those actions alter the actions of others. Why did Creed think it would be her actions that’d make the future depicted in the drawings happen? The precog Creed got these from could be more specialized than a regular one, she supposed. Had she and this employee of his met before?

It sounded plausible, but it was mostly guesswork. Fuck Gladwell, why would she even take that memory? Cameron couldn’t ask Creed either, without cluing him in on the fact Gladwell messed with her head. Things would change if he knew. She wouldn’t just be Cameron anymore, she’d become a ticking time bomb. He liked order and a bomb was the last thing he needed when he already had to worry about the rest of the True Gods.

Cameron shoved the sheets back into the envelope. She checked her pockets for a lighter. Sometimes she stashed things in her pockets and forgot about them, only remembering she left them there after she did laundry. She had more than a few soggy bills drying up on her desk. Nothing.

She folded the envelope until it fit in her jacket pocket. She could deal with it later, after she had another chat with Tyler.

After that, well, she would need to dig up some dirt on Tyler. Outside of developing the ability to wipe minds, finding good blackmail material on your blackmailer was one of the smartest ways to get out of being blackmailed. Mutually assured destruction, it wasn’t pretty but it got the job done.

The trip back to HQ felt a lot shorter, despite taking roughly the same amount of time. Tyler was sitting on the ground beside her door, playing a game involving numbers on his phone. He looked up at her, frowning. “You’re two minutes late.”

“Good,” Cameron said, punching in a code to unlock the door. She went in once the lock beeped affirmatively, leaving the door open. Tyler followed and closed the door. “So, I found the envelope.”

“And you’ve changed your mind?” Tyler asked, smug.

“Depends on what the hell you want me to do.” If his favor seemed like more trouble than it was worth, she’d take her chances with whatever future was in store for her.

“I need you to be my bodyguard, and maybe a thief, it depends on how it goes. You know about the Automaton showcase?”

The Automatons were a gang of inventors. They made a huge chunk of their money from selling weapons. Most of the crimes they committed was done to advertise their gear. Every once and awhile, they invited rich buyers from all over to come to their base in Avocet to check out and purchase their newest and best stuff. Creed always went. His organization and the Automatons were rivals, both of them trying to be the alpha dog in town, but it was a friendly rivalry, as friendly as supervillains could be.

“How the hell did you manage to score an invite?”

He shrugged. “You’ll figure it out, soon.” Tyler pulled out his phone, to look at the time, before tucking it back into his pocket. “One of the weapons they’re selling can’t fall into the wrong hands. I’ll try to buy it but if that doesn’t work, you’re going to need to steal it for me.”

Cameron sat down in her computer chair. “Starting trouble in a place like that, everyone’s going to be shooting at you. Me, I’m good at making quick exits. You, on the other hand, I’m guessing, are not. And it’s bound to make some enemies, for the both of us.”

“I don’t expect you to walk in as Point Blank,” Tyler said. “I’ll get you another costume to wear but the rest is up to you.”

Which meant she had to avoid overt uses of her power. There were plenty of other teleporters in the world but very few resided in Avocet. This was something very doable though, within her comfort zone, something she had experience with.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” Cameron said, begrudgingly. “When?”

He didn’t look at all surprised. “Tonight, nine.”

Cameron whistled. “Pretty short notice there, pal. What if I had said no?”

“I would have gone with my second choice but she’d be a lot harder to work with than you.”

“Anyone I know?”

“Spoilers,” he said. “I have to go, got other things to deal with first. Meet me at your apartment, at eight. Don’t worry about getting weapons either, I’ll handle it.”

“Shit,” she said, grinning in spite of herself. “What don’t you know?”

Cameron saw the barest hint of a frown on his face before he turned his back to her and made his exit. No fanfare, no goodbye.

It was still pretty early in the day, which gave her several hours to find out more about Tyler. Too bad she didn’t have the clearance to access personnel files, like the other members of the team did.

Creed could be able to help, probably, but she didn’t want to go running to Creed every time she got stuck. She needed to be able to handle her own shit.

The others on the team would know more about Tyler than she did, working with him for months, at least. It gave her a place to start. Out of everyone she had met, Allison seemed like her best bet. She would be easy to find, too.

As always, Allison was in her workshop, opening the door a minute after Cameron knocked. Cameron wouldn’t have waited that long if she hadn’t heard the sounds of metal on metal coming from behind the closed door. “Do you need something?” Allison asked. Her voice was as even as it always was, as was her posture and expression, yet Cameron could just tell Allison was itching to get rid of her. It was a gut feeling but her gut feelings tended to be right.

“I met Tyler,” she said. “Kind of an asshole.”

Allison nodded, in understanding. “And you want to know more about him.”

“What gave you that idea?”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked.” She opened the door wider and retreated back into her workshop. Cameron walked in, finding it much the same as it was last time except a new project was occupying space on Allison’s worktable. She gestured to a bunch of stools and Cameron sat down in one. “What do you want to know?” she asked, putting on a pair of safety glasses.

Cameron adopted a thinking pose, rubbing her chin with one arm crossed. “Hmm. Well, how long has he been with the SAA?”

“Fours years, no time spent in the field.”

“You guys very friendly?”

Allison smiled, amused. “We co-exist.”

Hard to think of questions that wouldn’t seem too suspicious. Asking about his personal life was out of the question. “What about him and the others?”

“Not that I know of. He spends most of his time here with Agent Hayes.”

“Guess that means you don’t deal with his brand of annoying a lot?”

“You’ll have to figure out your own way of dealing with it.” Allison paused. “Don’t let him fool you, he’s much easier to trick than he thinks, or makes you think.”

Cameron smiled and stood up. “Thanks for the advice, A. I’ll see you.”

“Close the door on your way out,” she said, returning to her work.

Cameron did then headed back to her room.

What had Tyler said?

Second choice. Spoilers.

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The Hunt is On 3.7

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Sometimes, Cameron hated technology. Sure, she grew up with it, in a world where everyone had a phone, and thus a camera, in their pockets but never before had it dramatically affected her life.

The Italian restaurant had multiple cameras stationed all over the restaurant, the ones in the kitchen and basement had captured her – and later, Reckoning’s – fight with Gladwell. The cameras were set to automatically upload all footage to an online database. The restaurant owner agreed to sell it to the SAA at a very low price and signed a contract, promising to delete their copy of the video and not to give it to anybody else. In exchange, the SAA probably wouldn’t give them much trouble for threatening a superhero or possibly knowingly housing a dangerous supervillain.

They probably wouldn’t have had it so easy if it wasn’t blindingly obvious the restaurant was run by the Automatons. The Automatons were a group of technology themed criminals and along with Creed’s group, they ran Avocet’s underworld, kept it relatively peaceful.

The PR team, spotting a good opportunity, edited the not so wonderful parts of the video out and put it online for everyone to see. The public loved it and the video got millions of views within days. It made Cameron popular, going from brand-new superhero no one knew to the newest rising star in the superhero scene.

She supposed she could see why people were excited. The SAA had made a statement saying that yes, Gladwell was still alive despite what was seen in the video but it had made her seem less invincible. It showed the public that heroes were protecting them from the scary monsters out there and they were competent. The monsters were beatable.

Some guy from the PR team told her everything would die down when her fifteen minutes of fame ran out but the publicity was great for Avocet, it’d attract more tourists.

Her newfound popularity did save her from getting in trouble for breaking out of her room, knocking out a couple of agents, and going to fight Gladwell without backup.

Oh, sure, it was bad when they arrived on the scene and found her lying in an alley and there was a lot of talk of sending her to prison for violating her probation before the PR team got their hands on the video but things were mostly okay now. Agent Camelo wasn’t happy she disobeyed orders but he got over it when some power came in from another city to check her, see if she was being influenced or controlled by Gladwell.

The power cleared her. Cameron didn’t end up meeting him though, so she didn’t know how they were so sure.  They didn’t even tell her his codename or powers. Not that she was complaining, as long as she was still allowed to roam freely, more or less.

Agent Camelo and his team had left a few days after, when it looked like Gladwell was gone from Avocet for good.

On her ride to school, Cameron checked her work phone. There was some information about the interview she was scheduled for this afternoon. The PR team had included a PDF with tips, things she could and couldn’t say. They expected her to read it before they talked to her later, to make sure she was prepared. It was her first interview as a superhero.

The interview didn’t sound fun at all. They created a sort of fake personality for her, a kid friendly version of herself.

She sighed and glanced out the window. At least the weather was kind of nice, hardly a cloud in the sky, unusual for this time of year. There was something other than a cloud up there, she realized, after taking a closer look. It was dark, vaguely human sized, and it was flying in the air, alongside the car. It did look like a small cloud – or smoke, maybe.

Oh, one of those two powers that came to their rescue during their initial fight with Gladwell had looked kinda like that, hadn’t he? It was probably him, on his way out of town now that Gladwell was gone. With his mission done, there was no more point in staying.

“Hey, do you see that?” Cameron asked, pointing up at the human cloud thing.

The agent driving glanced at her then in the direction she was pointing. “Yeah. I’ll report it to HQ but as long as it doesn’t cause any trouble, it’s likely we’ll leave it alone.”

She shrugged and leaned back in her chair. She fiddled with the radio the rest of the trip to school. Her usual dread of sitting through another long school day wasn’t there, replaced by apathy.

“Nervous?” Agent Brown asked, as someone adjusted her helmet, adding a microphone or something, Cameron didn’t really care. “It’s okay to be nervous, most people are.”

Cameron rolled her eyes. They were in a changing room the studio had provided. Agents had already swept the room to ensure they didn’t place any bugs or cameras. She wore her costume, minus the helmet. “I’m not scared of public speaking.” Or anything.

“You don’t have to be, to be nervous about the interview. I’m sure it’s not easy pretending to be someone else?”

“Maybe for my squeaky clean teammates, sure, but what I was doing before, lying was kind of essential tool of the trade.” The smirk came easily, even if she wasn’t feeling it. That sort of comment needed a smirk for full effect, regardless of her emotions, or lack of.

Tech support walked over to her and handed her the helmet before Agent Brown replied. Great timing, she sensed a speech coming about how she could leave her old life behind her if she chose to let go of it.

Cameron put the helmet on.

“Right, let’s do this thing,” she said.

Tech support held the door open as she and Agent Brown walked out. Brown escorted her all the way to the stage, offering unnecessary words of encouragement.

She rolled her eyes hard at that. Agent Brown was probably about as close as she would ever come to having an embarrassing parent.

Cameron sat in the chair beside the host’s desk, reserved for guests, when the crew told her to. The host, Katie Ward, was already behind her desk, smiling at the camera. Her makeup was done to highlight her features, enhancing her natural beauty. She was dressed casually, in t-shirt and jeans, to make her seem more like a regular person, like the audience was, except much prettier.

That, along with her dorky persona, made her one of the most popular talk show hosts on TV.

She smiled so brightly her eyes shined. “I’m so glad you’re here, I’ve been waiting all week for this, literally. Ask anyone here, they’re all sick of me talking about this. I think they were thinking about gagging me but gosh, I can’t help it. I love talking to superheroes, you guys are always so interesting and wonderful.”

Her show had a live studio audience, many of them smiled at Katie’s short ramble.

All of them watched her, soaking up every detail. When the show actually aired on TV, late at night, there would be discussion on forums analyzing small things like the words she chose, the way she sat. Superheroes were big and people rarely had an opportunity to see a superhero in this setting. It was a chance for the public to learn what the hero was like, instead of just knowing how much ass they could kick.

Some people might shrink away from the spotlight, feeling self-conscious. Cameron thought of it as a fun challenge, basking in the attention. It made her feel better, in a way she couldn’t quite describe.

Cameron smiled and the smiley popped up on the front of her helmet, earning her a ooh from the audience and look of amazement on Katie’s face. “Trust me, you wouldn’t think we were so wonderful if you saw us without our masks.” She pointed to her helmet. “I have acne like you wouldn’t believe.”

A small lie to endear herself to them. People loved shit like that, according to the PR people.

Lying was second nature to her and sometimes she lied without intending to. Today wasn’t an exception, it was the opposite really. Today had been a non-stop stream of lies, saying and doings things that didn’t quite feel natural anymore.

Going through the motions.

“Beauty is on the inside, though, right guys?” Katie said, turning to the audience. They cheered. Once it had died down, she continued. “Well, since they’re being so nice tonight, I think I’ll start off with the questions our lovely audience and viewers have submitted.” She made a big show of opening up a drawer and pulling out a pink slip. She cleared her thought. “Let’s see. This is from Lisa, sixteen years old. Dear Point Blank, what’s your backstory?”

“Dead parents,” Cameron said, solemn. Her helmet changed the pitch of her voice but the tone was unaffected. She waited a second for it to sink in before shaking her head and laughing. “Sorry, that was mean. It was a joke.”

Katie wagged a finger at her, mock disappointed. “One more joke like that miss and I’m going to give you the boot.”

The boot was some running joke on the show. They told her not to be alarmed if Katie suddenly threw a yellow rubber boot at her head.

This question was asked nearly every time a superhero was interviewed. Cameron had the company line memorized. “I wish I had something interesting to tell you guys but I don’t. My childhood was kind of ordinary, minus the whole superpower thing.”

“So your parents aren’t dead?”

“They’re as alive as you or me,” Cameron lied.

Cameron was left alone, most of the time. There was training, checkups with Dr. Klein, sessions with Agent Brown, but otherwise she could choose to spend her time doing whatever she wanted.

She wished they hadn’t.

The lights of the amusement park were bright, blocking out the stars above. Another hour and they’d close, the lights would shut off and darkness would reclaim the space stolen from it, the noise made by rides or people would be silenced, everyone would leave.

It’d be empty.

She sat on a bench, eating a big, greasy, overpriced hot dog covered in ketchup and mustard.

People passed her by, smiling and laughing, enjoying the company of their friends, family, or significant other. Happy, at least for a little while.

God help her, for a moment she understood. It wasn’t fair, everyone around her got to be happy, got to have family and friends. Bitter, angry, with too much power in her hands, lashing out, forcing everyone else to join her in her misery, it sounded appealing, better than sitting here feeling sorry for herself.

She took another bite out of the hot dog.

Fatty foods were supposed to make you happier. Right now it wasn’t but fuck it, she already paid for it, might as well eat the damn thing. Wasting food never sat right with her, never growing out of the habits ingrained by years of wondering whether they could afford to eat tomorrow.

They.

It was the question that had brought her here, in search of comfort food.

There were holes in her memories, she was almost positive. Things she couldn’t quite remember, like a word on the tip of your tongue.

If it had been just that, Cameron would have ignored it and moved on.

Gladwell won. It had just taken her awhile to realize it.

She finished up and dumped the wrapper in the nearest garbage can. There was still time left for her to grab something to drink. She was in the mood for something cavity-inducing and tongue-coloring.

There wasn’t a line at the slushie stand. It looked like they were just about to turn off the machines and close for the night. The blue and red machines were already down. She bought a pure green one. She preferred to her slushies to be a mix of different colors but this was a minor annoyance compared to everything else.

Cameron left after that, called and paid for a cab. She could have walked or teleported but goddamn, she was tired. She wanted to sit down and do nothing but enjoy the sugary drink she purchased.

At night, there weren’t as many agents roaming the hallways. Still, she wasn’t in the mood to be around other people, to pretend and return pleasantries. Cameron teleported straight into her bedroom once she got a good look at the open window of her bedroom. The lights were on.

Someone stood in the doorway to her bedroom, his arms crossed over his chest. A teenage boy, short and thin, pimples all over his face, and Asian. His eyes were hard when they landed on her. It reminded her of a veteran, someone who had seen some horrible, awful things and came out of it serious and a bit haunted.

“Can I help you? Or is this some misguided attempt at flirting?” Cameron said, returning the favor, stare for stare.

“Tempted,” he replied, dry. “I’m Tyler. I’m also Foresight.”

She remembered Hayes mention a Foresight, once. A precog, almost definitely.

Cameron sat down on her bed, breaking eye contact, and took off her shoes. “And?”

His lips curled into a smile, smug, confident. The look of someone who knew he had won and was waiting for the moment his opponent realized it. He lived for that moment, probably, thrived on the satisfaction that came from proving your superiority.

“I know who you are, Cameron, who you’re working for, what you joined to do, what you’re going to do, a week from now.”

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