When I woke up, I could tell something was different. My head felt clear, clearer than it had for a few weeks now. I felt awake, for once, with none of the exhaustion that had been creeping in of late. I sat up and pushed the covers off of myself, then put the back of one hand to my forehead to confirm that the hypothermia was gone.
Normal temperature. Good.
I looked over and confirmed that Sean was still asleep. Standing as quietly as I could manage, I crept out of the room. I had a few errands to run before I clocked in for the day.
I entered the store, unsure where to look to find what I wanted. Racks of climbing harnesses, hiking boots, and tents covered the walls.
“Can I help you?” asked a cheerful staff member who had poked her head out from behind a display.
“Yeah. I’m looking for a rope,” I said, continuing to look around the shop.
“What do you want to do with it? We have a lot of those,” she said, stepping out and making a sweeping gesture around the store with both arms.
“I want something pretty lightweight, actually,” I said, dodging her question. “Thin, but sturdy, and as long as possible.”
“Oh, we have spools we can cut any length off of.” She bounced up and down, excited at the prospect. “Static or dynamic?”
“Not a climber, are you?” she asked with a grin. “Does it need to be able to stretch on impact? Dynamic ropes can take a fall a lot better.”
“That doesn’t matter, I don’t think. It shouldn’t be taking any-” I paused. “No, scratch that, it will almost definitely be taking impacts, unless I’m really lucky, but weight is more important. It needs to be really easy to carry around.”
She cocked her head. “A more specialized application, then,” she said without a pause. “Sounds like you need paracord. As long as you’re not going to be doing any heavy lifting with it, it should work.”
She walked over to a coil of slender strands hanging on a hook and pulled a length of it free. It was maybe half a centimeter thick.
There’s no way that can hold any weight, I thought. But then, it won’t really need to.
“This is 1.1k cord,” she said, as if responding to my thought. “That means it has a breaking strength of 1100 pounds. ”
“No way,” I said with disbelief, once more betraying my lack of experience in the field of rope. “That looks like string.”
She grinned at my reaction. “It was designed by a military tinker to replace the old 550 cord. Only just became available to the general public.”
I grinned. “Does it come in black?”
After settling on a length of 25 feet, which I estimated to be as much as I could carry without it being obvious, I reached for my wallet and pulled out the card my dad had given me; the same one I’d used for the undercover gig with Blackwell.
I hesitated. This is my dad’s old account. All this money is stolen, or payment for even less legal things. Do I really want to use this? I thought for a moment, then came to a decision. What better use for it?
I swiped the card and signed the word “green” with the stylus on the card reader to confirm the payment.
“You want a bag?” She asked me, proffering the aforementioned bag.
“Nah,” I said, and she handed me the rope. I stuffed the coil into a pocket as I left the store.
That’s one down.
I uncoiled the paracord and ran it through my hand, covering it inch by inch. As it passed my fingers, the color darkened until it looked like a slice taken out of the universe. Once I had covered the entire length, I tried teleporting it into various shapes. It was as easy as teleporting myself- easier, even. I tried tying and untying knots into it, to find that I could do so easily, assuming I knew the knot.
After some experimentation, I braided the cord into a wide strip which I wrapped around my upper arm, under my sleeve. This way, as much of it was touching skin as possible, so I could cover it at a moment’s notice. I let the darkness on it fade, then covered it again and teleported it to my hand, uncoiled, then back into its braid.
“Cool,” I said, inspecting the new armband.
Next order of business.
I rooted around for my Warden communicator. While most of the Wardens’ equipment had either been repossessed by the government or sold to recoup losses from the destroyed vans, Dr. Mind had managed to abscond with a large portion of what he had personally built. He said he’d “gotten into the habit of leaving things off the inventory list.” I called Dr. Mind.
“Shadow? What do you need?”
“I have a problem,” I said, using my power to shift my voice. “You know how air passes right through me?”
“Yes. It’s a very interesting phenomenon- I’m very curious what happens when-” Dr. Mind stopped himself. “But what am I saying? You wanted help. Continue.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I have a problem with the cold. I think I even gave myself hypothermia yesterday.”
“Oh, interesting. And I’m sure warm clothes wouldn’t quite cut it. I’ll see what I can do. For now, just be careful. Can you go outside still?”
“I can, but not in-costume,” I said. One of the small perks of my powers, I could turn it off.
“Good. Go meet Savage by the Convention Center. Out of costume. Well, Jamisson said to wear a suit, but I think he meant dress clothes.”
“I can do that,” I confirmed. “But why a suit?”
“He didn’t say,” Dr. Mind said. “I think he’s trying to maintain some plausible deniability that he’s not still running the team.”
I showed up to the meeting point thoroughly confused. I was wearing my suit and tie, as requested, and saw Savage, or who I assumed was Savage, leaning on a wall. I’d never actually seen him completely human before.
The dark fur that had obscured his features before was now a distinguished-looking black beard. While his facial structure was still odd, with jutting cheekbones and a protruding jaw, it just made him look foreign. His yellow eye still looked unusual, but I was too distracted by the eyepatch he wore over his other, empty, eye socket to pay it much need. Over the eyepatch, he wore a pair of light, gold-rimmed glasses.
He’s out of costume too, I thought. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
“Mr. Knight. Glad to see you dressed for the occasion,” said Savage. The news didn’t seem to fit anymore- he looked cultured, sophisticated. “You’re my nephew for tonight. Adopted, for obvious reasons. Pick a first name, I don’t care what that is. Mine’s Gregor.”
“Gregor Knight? You’re…” I racked my brain, trying to remember where I’d heard the name before, when suddenly it clicked. “You’re a banker?”
He gave a small smile. “Paragon never believed in the secret identity, but I’ve found it useful. You have no idea how easy it is to uncover corruption when people just let me look at their books.”
I chuckled at the idea, then asked, “So what is the occasion?”
“After the revelation about our branch of Virtue, the national branch scheduled an event to reassure the people of their integrity,” said Savage- or rather, said Gregor. “Pierce Honnete himself is going to speak, presumably to denounce the actions of their more radical members.” He paused and gestured to follow him as he started walking. “We need to be fashionably late -I want to show up while there’s already a crowd- but not conspicuously late.”
Gregor continued to talk. “Our goal here is just to get information. We need to know whether Honnete knew what the Collswell branch was planning. If we can get that, we could shut down the whole leadership of Virtue for conspiracy.”
“Any plan on how to do that?” I asked.
“Not really. You can improvise.”
“I? Not we?” I didn’t let the detail slip by.
Gregor grinned at me over his shoulder. “I have a reputation to uphold,” he said, tone serious, then laughed. “I’ll be plying information out of the other guests, you, just try to shake Mr. Honnete’s hand. If what James has told me about your abilities is true, that should be all we need.”
I wanted to say that it sounded easy, but I didn’t want to tempt fate. Instead, I said only, “It should.”