Pitchgiving 2020, Part 1: Teen Titans

Okay, I had a lot of fun last year doing the 12 Days of Pitchmas, pitching 12 films set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So this year I’m doing Pitchgiving for movies set in the DC Extended Universe. My plan at the moment is to do one pitch a week for twelve weeks, posted on Friday. Depending on how this goes, I might also do a Pitchmas, too, but given that that’s 3 months from now I’m not making any promises.

The rules are basically:

No sequels to already established movies/teams

No stories I’m already aware of (it’s possible I’ve missed reporting of a thing, but I’m the one holding me accountable for this)- I may pitch a movie that’s only been titled but that I know nothing about (as I did with Blade last year).

Hopefully you have as much fun with this as I do.

Teen Titans

I’m assuming we’d go with an arc featuring Deathstroke as their big-bad, setting up Terra to get recruited in the first one, then betray the team in the second, for a third-part finale. I’d shoot for a combo of the Johns era team, and the classic team (Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, Starfire and Cyborg); for this one probably add in Superboy and Wonder Girl, reserve Impulse and Aquagirl for the sequel, maybe pull in Speedy and Ms. Martian for the third. I think Batman convinces Robin to attend/run a ‘camp’ for young heroes on the West Coast, one part Heroing 101, one part getting them out of their mentors’ hair while they deal with something big and dangerous. Robin is, at first, a controlling, entitled dick, assuming he’s the only one who knows what he’s doing (to be fair, he is the most experienced- though if we keep JL Cyborg that might be a point of contention- which could be fun). His co-leader is Wonder Girl, who runs the women’s side of things. Yeah, this basically starts as a summer camp thing.

“This is dumb,” Robin says, throwing his tights into a suitcase.

“It’s an opportunity,” Batman says. “To build your own community.”

“A redundant web of superhumans independent of yours, in case the Justice League is ever incapacitated.”

Batman smiles, ever so slightly. “It isn’t just that. The work we do is… unique. There aren’t a lot of people who can understand it- or us. Being understood for who and what we are can make the difficult choices we have to make worthwhile.”

“It’s summer camp.”

“It’s a team building exercise.”

“Two problems with that: we aren’t a team, and I’m not a team player.”

“You’re already an excellent partner; being on a team is just being a good partner to multiple people at once.”

“You’d never have made Dick join a team,” he pouts.

“The Titans were Dick’s team. They helped him become a man- it helped him become his own man.”

“So you’re trying to get rid of me.”

“I didn’t want to get rid of Dick.” Batman sighs. “One of the hardest things about being a father is letting your children go. It was hard, with Dick; we fought, a lot, and there’s still a strain there. I hope I’ve learned from it. But you’re always welcome here, and you’re always welcome as a partner. I want you to have the freedom to be the man you choose- whoever that ends up being.”

I think we do similar scenes, at least with the big 3, setting up that Wonder Girl (Cass) is uncertain about taking on a leadership role, since she’s pretty green. Diana reminds her that she trained with the Amazons, so she knows how to support people, build them up, and strengthen them as a group.

Superboy is worried about getting pushed around by Robin as he and Superman fly to San Francisco. “Tim’s, the current one, is the third Robin. Dick was the first.”

“No, I said a.”

“Language.”

“Jerk, then. Why is everyone in Batman’s entourage a jerk? Is that their organizing principal? An overdeveloped jerk gene?”

“Our ‘family’ are lucky, Connor. We were blessed with extraordinary abilities, and the responsibility to use them to help people. Batman’s people… come from tragedy. They’re trying to put the world right, so what happened to them doesn’t happen to anyone else. Sometimes that makes them tightly wound. But they are good people.”

“Is that why you let Batman push you around?”

“There isn’t anyone I couldn’t push around. But you know what takes more strength? Not letting what you can do overtake what you should do. The world is better off when I work with Batman, so I do.”

“He’s still a jerk. I am not ready to deal with all these jerks.”

Cass and Robin meet first. They share an intellectual connection- both type As who are organized and competent and used to carrying others on their shoulders. Connor bumbles in and he’s a bull in their China shop, but he also sparks Cass’s curiosity. I don’t want a full-blown love triangle, but Robin getting miffed at Connor for being the easy heart-throb of the team can spark the larger conflict between them, that Tim doesn’t seem him as serious, and Connor sees him as overly serious.

We meet the rest of the campers: Starfire, Raven, Terra and Beast Boy. Starfire is an aloof but passionate weirdo warrior princess from beyond the stars. Raven is a haunted, sardonic witch who likes people more than she’s figured out how to articulate. Terra is a bubbly, girl next door with a smile that melts hearts. Beat Boy is the youngest, or at least the youngest at heart, he’s everybody’s goobery little brother who can’t stop making animal/fart jokes. The dynamics are roughly that Raven is jealous of the easy charisma/fitting in of Cass, and Starfire is both the biggest outcast and the least aware of that fact. Terra’s a bit of a tomboy, and she and Beast Boy get along swimmingly. I think Cyborg is there as support personnel, utilizing his tech to cook their meals. He’s also quasi there to keep an eye on them, too, though his instructions were to let them make their own mistakes. We also meet the camp site, a series of small cabins, and a central meeting hall where they dine. There’s also a lake for them to swim at.

I’d probably play most of the story as a coming of age/campground flick, but as things progress, the place goes from spooky to downright malevolent, with an escalating series of ‘accidents’ that nearly hurt them. Robin narrowly prevents Beast Boy from dying in a freak accident as a support beam collapses, nearly hitting him. The beam doesn’t look tampered with- but the odds that the beam fell when it did, that naturally occurring damage eroded it in just the way it did are infinitesimal. He tells Beast Boy that if they’re under siege, the skill, talent and caution of their attacker rivals Batman’s, which of course makes them immediately assume it’s a test. Robin calls Bruce, who is in the middle of a fight with criminals but doesn’t stop talking (or punching) while denying involvement.

So Tim and Cass set up a trap, maybe revolving around them doing a dance. That gives us a chance to pair our characters off, at least in the short term. Cass asks Connor. Starfire asks Tim. Terra asks Beast Boy. And the set up works, and they end up ensnaring Deathstroke in their trap. He monologs, and the Titans get cocky- only for Rose to shoot Deathstroke loose, and provide covering fire. Connor stands in the path of the gunfire, amused. Tim gets hit. At first Connor is flip, while Starfire rushes to his side. “He’s a bat person. They play 9th degree chess and have armor built into their Underoos.” When he doesn’t hear more, his voice trembles when he glances back, “Right?” Tim’s bleeding.

Connor wants to fly him to a hospital, but Tim says he’ll bleed out if they don’t stabilize him first. Tim barks orders, essentially overseeing his own emergency surgery. Cass uses her lasso to tourniquet the leg. He has Connor use x-ray vision to tell him about the shape of the bullet, which pancaked and continues to slice at his femoral artery. He has Raven clamp down on the artery so he doesn’t pass out, then Beast Boy shrinks down and becomes a small creature to block the artery. Wonder Girl goes in after the bullet with her fingers, and manages to pluck it out. “I need a ride to the hospital.” Superboy steps forward. “Not you.” Wonder Girl picks him up. “We aren’t all bulletproof,” Tim says through bloodied teeth as he strips away his mask. Wonder Girl flies off with Tim.

We cut back to the dark dining hall, where Superboy is standing alone. Cyborg enters.

“I screwed up,” Cyborg admits.

“Really? Cause I’m pretty sure I’m the one who let Robin get shot.”

“Batman asked me to come here. Keep an eye on you kids.”

“Us kids?”

“It was on me to keep you safe.”

“I assume you don’t have kids,” Connor says. “Even normal kids get hurt. Put them in tights and tell them to charge a super villain with a gun and- you weren’t here to keep us safe. You were here to make sure we didn’t get each other killed. And I nearly did.”

“Kind of sounds like we both screwed up,” Cyborg says.

“Yeah,” Connor says. “So what are we going to do to make it right?”

The answer is, they track down Deathstroke, using Cyborg’s sensors and Connors senses. They find the cabin at the lake he was staging his attacks out of, and then track him to a base on the edge of the city. Cyborg wants to charge in, to get some payback. “No,” Connor says. “I screwed up last time by not thinking. We need a plan. And we should get backup.”

Back at the hospital, Robin waits until the nurse is done checking his vitals, then hobbles out of his room. The rest of the Titans are in the waiting room, dressed in their civilian clothes; Terra is missing, but don’t draw attention to it. “You shouldn’t be walking,” Starfire says, moving to support him.

“You don’t honestly think that’s the first time I’ve been shot, do you?”

“I kind of want to shoot him right now,” Connor says, before realizing it’s probably too soon. Pan around the room, everyone else looking horrified. “Uh,” Connor’s flailing.

Stop at Tim, and we linger a moment before he bursts out laughing, and slaps Connor on the back. “I’m actually starting to like you. Now lets get out of here before the cops show up.”

We cut to Deathstroke’s base. Cyborg is there, monitoring, until he’s hit from behind by a chunk of rock. Terra enters. She’s shaken up. Whatever the plan was, watching Robin get shot really messed her up. I think I would tweak the Deathstroke/Terra relationship. She’s desperate for a familial connection. She wants a family, and to feel loved. She gets the former from Deathstroke and Rose, but he’s also essentially grooming her at the same time. To my mind, it’s not because he wants her, personally, but because he knows that he needs his hooks in her deep for the betrayal that is to come. I’m sure even this idea is controversial- even for a villain, and I wouldn’t be surprised if DC balked at getting anywhere close to that topic (I mean, I’m not the one who made Deathstroke a statutory rapist- this is, if anything else, a slight modernization of the concept). But the key takeaway is Rose and Deathstroke love-bomb her to make her feel appreciated and cared for, with just enough withholding to keep her seeking approval.

The Titans arrive, with Cyborg rubbing his head. Terra flees, so as not to ruin her cover, getting out just in time. This fight goes differently, with Deathstroke having set traps specific to the Titans all over his base. The traps whittle down the Titans, until it’s just Robin fighting Deathstroke- which might have been a good fight, if he weren’t recently gunshot. Robin’s losing, trying to buy time and keep Deathstroke talking. Deathstroke claims they’re a job- nothing more. Robin’s horrified that the job might be from Batman, and trying to pull that information out of Deathstroke while losing… he doesn’t get confirmation. But he does buy enough time for his team to rally, and take Deathstroke down. At the last minute Rose arrives with a helicopter, dropping a ladder for Deathstroke.

“Flip a coin for who gets to rip it out of the sky?” Superboy asks Cass. The chopper fires a volley of missiles across the bay at San Francisco.

“Shoot them down,” Robin barks, and anyone capable of firing (Cyborg, Starfire, Raven) shoot down as many as they can. It’s not enough. “Flyers!” he yells. Everyone takes flight, with Starfire looping back and picking up Robin. She drops him on a missile that he disables and flips off of, and she catches him after destroying a missile herself. The rest take out missiles, too.

They meet atop a giant T shaped tower. “Deathstroke?” Robin asks. Cyborg scans, Superboy too.

“Must be some high end tech if we can’t find it.”

“Yeah,” Robin says, his eyes narrowing.

Cut to an underground base. Deathstroke is having a video call with Lex Luthor. “And he thinks it was Batman?”

Deathstroke is a little worse for wear, maybe in a sling. “The seed was there without my having to plant it. All I did was give it space to grow.”

Back to the rooftop, Terra lands behind them. “Where were you?” Robin asks, coldly, even for him.

“Sorry,” she says. “Seeing you get shot, I needed to clear my head. I went for a run. Then I saw the fighting,” she drops the remains of a missile, smashed between a pair of rocks, “so I came to help.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Beast Boy says, nuzzling her. “Yeah,” Robin says, as we zoom in on his face, clearly suspicious, “me, too.”

Breed Book 3, Part 44

Drake knocked on Demi’s door, which was ajar enough it creaked open. She was bent over gathering clothes, wearing a matching pair of lacy underthings. “If you wanted a peek, all you had to do was ask, perv,” she teased, standing up slowly, deliberately posing at him.

“And what if I can only get off if I don’t get invited in?” he asked, trying his best to focus his attention out the window.

“That’s extra. Unless it’s a vampire fetish thing- then it’s extra and you pay the dry cleaning costs. You have no idea how hard it is to get fake blood stains out of everything.” She threaded her legs through a pair of jeans, then pulled on a purple top.

“I feel like there’s an interesting story in that.”

“I don’t bite and tell. Well, unless you ask really nicely. And call me mistress.”

“Um, it’s nippy,” he warned awkwardly. “You might want a jacket.”

“And if I’d prefer it if you keep me warm?” she whispered in his ear.

“Iago asked the same,” he deadpanned.  

“Maybe those jeans are just very flattering.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Take my hand.” She reached for him, and for a moment she held it, and they looked at each other, before he transported her to the ICE facility. “Your hands are warm,” he said.

“Yours were cold,” she said, as he pulled away.

“Yeah. I should have brought gloves. Iago took a lot longer than I expected.”

“Dicking around?”

“No more than usual. But actually freezing an engine block takes more doing that I would have guessed.”

“We’ll try and make up some of the lost time, then,” she said, and walked straight to where a power line entered into the building. Electricity arced from either palm into the line, and she closed her eyes. “Your typical electropath could maybe fry a third of the electronics in the place before they tripped the circuit breaker. This, though… it’s feeling your way through their entire system, sort of mapping it, right? I can bridge their breaker, and burn out anything plugged in.”

“Won’t that look… wrong?”

“I thought about that. When we’re done, I’ll hit the line with lightning, send it arcing across the concrete; it’ll leave a telltale scorch mark. From there any appraiser would call it an act of God.”

“And how long until-” all at once the building was filled with lights and sparks, before going dark.

“Not long,” she said, pivoting towards him. “Your hand?” she put hers out and he took it. Then she pointed, without looking, back at the powerline. Lightning crashed into the line, leaving a seared streak along the wall and concrete. “Now take me back to my place so I can get out of these clothes.”

“You are an incorrigible tease.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t invited.”

“No, but you know my day’s spoken for.”

She leaned into him as they teleported. “We’ll just have to find a day where you aren’t spoken for, then,” she said, then gave him a shove, and he stumbled out of her bedroom. She stripped off her shirt and threw it at the door, knocking it closed.

Breed Book 3, Part 43

“You know, it’s been a slow week until tonight,” Laren said. Rox could hear commotion in the background.

“Am I interrupting?” Rox asked.

“I can multitask,” Laren said. “Your friends busted Cris out of detention, and now I’m laying down a false trail to distract Paul Gleeson.”

“The guy from Maniac Cop 3?”

“I honestly can’t decide whether to be proud or scandalized by you knowing that.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the road. We watch a lot of late night cable in seedy motels.”

“Anyway, while your friends are heading in one direction we’re off in another- getting seen enough to pull focus. If we do get pulled over, I might have to go, abruptly.”

“Sounds like you might not be in a position to help us, then.”

“Why? I’m not driving. I can still make phone calls. While texting. I have multiple burners for just that reason.”

“Well, we found where the boy ended up. And it’s where we didn’t want to find him.”

“In West Virginia?”

“In a certain clandestine military base.”

“That’s what I meant; it’s the West Virginia of Canada.”

“That… was not clear at all.”

“Neither is the continued existence of a West Virginia.”

“It broke away from Virginia proper because it didn’t want to join the Confederacy.”

“Then why is it the racist Virginia now?”

“Uh….”

“It was rhetorical. What can you tell me, by way of intel?” Laren asked.

“I thought I was calling you for intel.”

“Knowing as much as I can helps me ask the right questions, as opposed to trying to read the lint in my own belly button.”

“Definitely governmental, with guards posted. They seem to want to stay off grid- hewing to the idea that flying under the radar is a better defense than building an ostentatious fortress.” “Great. So we’re not just going to find the answers Googling. Look, I’ll make a few phone calls, and call you back. Unless I end up in Gitmo. In which case it could be a little while before I can access a phone.”

Breed Book 3, Part 42

“It’s too early,” Iago groaned, covering his head with his comforter. “Wake me when the sun’s come out.”

“Can’t,” Drake said. “Cause there’s a schedule and I’m on the hook for a long day and that day only gets longer the more you bitch and moan and stall. Now put on pants or I’m teleporting you into a women’s studies class in your tighty whities.”

“Not cool.”

“That’s on you; you’re the one in charge of bringing the cool.”

“That was embarrassing. I’m embarrassed for you.”

“Yeah,” Drake said pushing a pair of jeans into Iago’s chest, “be embarrassed walking.”

Iago dropped to a cold concrete parking lot as the wind bit into the skin of his exposed legs. “Damnit,” he muttered, jamming his legs into his pants. “What if they see us?”

“That’s the point of getting up at 4 AM to do this.”

“And their cameras?” he asked, pointing at closed circuit camera mounted to the corner of the building.

“Ryan recorded yesterday’s feed, and will loop those over today. Now the sooner you do your thing, the sooner you can get into a hot bath, or back in bed.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Iago crawled under the nearest ICE vehicle. “How much do you know about engines?”

“They make the wheels on the bus go round and round?”

“I’m not sure how plausibly deniable this is going to be if we just freeze the entire block solid.”

“I think the point is just for it to be deniable enough that they can’t make the case that we fired the first shot.”

“Okay.” He put his hands to either side of the engine, dropping the temperature precipitously. Frost began to form on the metal pieces, then on the plastic pieces. He pushed harder, forcing moisture from his own fingertips that gathered as ice on the exposed components. When he was done the engine was a solid block. “Took a lot of out me,” he said. “D’you bring-”

Drake handed him a sports drink. “And I’ve got a stack of them in the fridge, if you go through that one.”

“I will,” he said. “Takes more moisture to freeze an engine than I would have guessed.” He stopped. “Won’t they know this wasn’t natural?”

“Freeze the ground and their windows. Who are they going to believe? Meteorologists? Or their own eyes.”

Breed Book 3, Part 41

“For a while you made me really self-conscious,” Anita whispered as they made their way through a thick layer of brush. “I’d seen you track a man by the distinct tang of his body odor for thirty miles. I couldn’t imagine hygiene that would be good enough for you.”

“I remember that,” Mai said. “And I remember stopping you.”

“You did,” Anita said, nodding. “You told me the smell of blood from scrubbing away so much of my skin was distracting. You kind of sort of implied it drove you crazy, like you were part Great White or something. In the moment, I had to fight a laugh, because I was about 85% certain you were joking… but then there was a 13% chance you meant it, whether or not it was actually true.”

“That doesn’t add up to 100%,” Rox noted from behind them.

“No,” Anita agreed. “The rest was the possibility she was just sleep-deprived or doped up. They really weren’t all that judicious with the pharmaceuticals. Especially not with her. If she started to get loopy, her body would take over and start dismantling whatever they put in her system. On a good day the techs could ride that line and keep her fuzzy. On a bad day they’d pump her full of enough tranqs to kill a whole herd of tatankas.”

“The trucks?” Rox asked.

“I hate the young,” Mai said.

“Yeah, well at least you still get to look and feel vital. I have to hate the young and feel like I’m sixty.”

“You aren’t?” Mayumi and Rox asked at the same time.

“I hate the young-looking just as much,” Anita amended.

Mayumi held up her hand, and her voice became an even quieter whisper. “There’s the entrance. Guard’s been here for hours.”

Through the brush they could see a small concrete building carved into the side of a stone outcropping, noticeable only because of the man in black paramilitary gear standing out front of it and the squared corners where the concrete met the rock. “How…” Rox started.

Mayumi glared at her. “The surrounding air reeks of his bad breath. And his cologne. It’s a cheap Old Spice knock-off; offensively spiced. From the build-up, given that the wind is pretty mild tonight, he’s been patrolling around this area for hours to waft that much of his stink through the air.”

“You see why I got all crazy about hygiene?” Anita asked.

“Yeah,” Rox said. “I’m beginning to wonder if I put on deodorant this morning, just as a first point of self-consciousness.”

“Not enough,” Mayumi said, “but that’s fine. All of you stink. The human baseline is stink. And most of the time, I just tell my nose to be less acute so I don’t have to drown in it.”

“I guess it makes sense you could do that,” Anita said.” Much more sense than either of us trying to Howard Hughes our way to a good smell.”

“It’s pretty much not possible. Even most smells that are pleasant to the human nose are cloying to mine. It’s like having someone spritz perfume directly up my nose.”

“And the kid’s smell?” Rox asked.

“Weaker. But it ends here. We’re probably lucky, that he’s a pretty rank kid, and that the weather’s been mild, or there might not have been a trace of him.”

“Crap,” Rox said. “That means we need to break in there. Which means I should get in touch with Laren, and see if she can get us any intel on what’s behind that ominous-looking metal door. Could be we need a plan. Might even need to wait for the rest of our team to show.”

“No,” Mayumi said tensely, overlapping with Anita.

“We’re not waiting.”

“Yeah,” Rox said. “I kind of figured you’d both say that. So let me make a phone call, and see what, if anything, we can do to make it so we’re not charging in there completely blind.”

“Isn’t blind luck your thing?”

“I don’t doubt that I will walk out of there relatively unscathed. But it’s not a blanket immunity for everyone who shared a bagel with me. The two of you could take a bullet two steps in; hell, my ability sometimes makes that more likely, if the bullets ricochet away from me. So we’ve got to be smart.”

“I’m not worried,” Mayumi said. “I’m very difficult to kill. And I don’t think either of us would miss her all that much,” she said, nodding towards Anita.

“As the most likely woman to die in a fool-hardy, rushed plan, I’m all for us getting our ducks in a row,” Anita said. “Or for just sending Mayumi in to sort shit out.”

“Now where have I heard that one before,” Mai said, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s not my fault you’re virtually indestructible,” Anita said with a shrug. “If I could shrug off gunshot wounds, regrow limbs and just generally not be bothered by getting the hell kicked out of me, I’d volunteer to go in alone.”

“No you wouldn’t.”

“I wouldn’t, but I am the kind of person who would claim that as a defense mechanism.”

“Okay. I’m making an executive decision,” Rox said, taking out her phone. “I’m calling Laren. You two don’t kill each other until I’m off the phone.”

“Does that mean we can’t start fighting while she’s on the phone, or just no killing blows until then?” Anita asked. “Don’t tempt me,” Mayumi said.

Breed Book 3, Part 40

“I was really looking forward to taking the evening off,” Mikaela said, “soaking in the tub and eating precisely the amount of donut holes that would be decadent but still ladylike.”

“I’ve seen you eat donut holes,” Tucker said with a grin, “it’s all the former with absolutely none of the latter.”

“To be fair, I was eating them off of you, at the time; hard to be dignified when snuffling a donut hole out of your lover’s belly button like an amorous truffle pig.”

“I’m just going to remind everyone that I’m here, a blood relative, then do my best to go into catatonic shock,” Iago said.

“Sorry, little brother,” Tucker said. “I thought she’d take the L, without the tour down Lesbian Lane.”

“That’s what we used to call your-“

Iago jammed his hands over his ears and started loudly practicing his scales.

“That was a little mean,” Demi said.

“But also a little funny,” Drake said. “To me, a good ratio of mean to funny.”

“Can we focus?” Izel asked.

“With this group?” Tucker asked, and shrugged. “But tell them your idea, anyway.”

“Okay. ICE are a bunch of bigoted assholes, right?”

“Are we sure there aren’t good people on both sides?” Drake asked sardonically. “The President did insist that was the case.”

“He also insisted that if his daughter weren’t a blood relative they would definitely be dating,” Demi said. “Which is fucked on every level- all the levels.”

“My point,” Izel asserted, “is that they’re itching for a war. What they want, more than anything, is for an excuse to start shooting- and I don’t think they stop once they startr. They want us to step a toe out of line, so they can kill us indiscriminately, and hide behind either ‘National Security’ or ‘Self Defense.’ So we can’t give them an excuse. Which means we can’t have a direct confrontation. It probably means we need to take a step even further than that, and say that our offensive cannot seem like an offensive.”

“An inoffensive offensive sounds good on paper,” Drake said, “but it’s also linguistic gibberish. What are you actually saying?”

“Deniable operations,” she said, knowingly. “Not just in the sense that we can deny a Breed was involved… but in the sense that we can deny there was an operation at all. So we subtly fuck with their equipment, their logistics- everything.”

“We’ve got some thoughts,” Tucker said. “Ryan and several of the technopaths are already working hard to fuck up their intel streams and communications. The day of, they plan to take down the entire phone grid, to make sure they can’t coordinate or call for back-up.”

“Though the impressive part there is it will be filtered chaos; he thinks they can leave emergency calls intact, and filter out routine conversations.”

“That’s a good start,” Drake said. “Now how can we help.”

“I have some thoughts about that…” Izel said, smiling mischievously.

Breed Book 3, Part 39

“It’s cold,” Mayumi said, her breath visibly hanging in the air.

“That’s Canada for you,” Anita said. “Except that weird freak part that’s warm for some reason. The Savage Land.”

“I think you mean the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.”

“You’re not fooling me. Okanaga is in Japan. I’m pretty sure we ran a mission there once, and crawled from izakaya to izakaya.”

“That was Okinawa and- I can’t do this with you right now. No,” she said, glaring, “I won’t do this with you, ever.”

“Too close to feeling fun?” Anita asked.

“This is weird,” Rox said, turning to Mayumi. “I think you said ten words the entire time we were at school together. And that was, nearly bantering.”

“I’m trying to use my words, instead of my fists,” Mai said. “Anita’s a particular challenge, in that regard.”

“Trust me, I know.” Anita’s mouth dropped open. “But she’s… her heart’s usually in the right place.”

“No,” Mai said. “You’re in the right place. For whatever angle she’s playing.”

Anita stopped, her balled fists shaking. “That’s enough,” she said, louder than she meant to be. She spun around, fast enough she caught even Mai by surprise. “Why are you so goddamned angry at me?”

“Should I?” Rox gestured in the general direction of away.

“No. Because if she makes good on her threats I at least want a witness that I was trying to reason with her. So tell me, Mai. Do you think I had any more idea than you what I was signing up for? Do you think the Canadian government were any more candid with me about the nature of the clandestine, illegal, unethical experimentation they were going to put all of us through? Do you think I was somehow in on the joke that ruined both our lives, or that I was somehow so much less naive than you that I’m responsible for what happened? You were older than me, for Christ’s sake-” her gaze flicked angrily towards Rox, “shut up, I know she’s aging better than I am.” She turned her attention back to Mayumi, and became louder still, “So tell me, aside from being in command of missions slightly more often than you were, what the fuck about me makes you so homicidally pissed off?”

Mai closed her eyes, and took in a long, deep breath, which she held, and continued holding, for what must have been ten seconds. Finally she let it out through grit teeth. She took another, this time shallower. “That’s a fair question,” Mai said. “And maybe you’re right. Maybe why I’m so upset, maybe why I’m training so much of that upset at you, is because you coped a lot better than I did. You joked, you laughed, you found a way to get through the day to day that I couldn’t. Some of that was… me,” she swallowed, “but some of it was what they made me do. They forced me to forget everything. Who I was. What I’d done. How they were able to control my body at the molecular level, or what that felt like- how vulnerable- how violated– that made me feel.” Her voice was hollow, ragged, like a drop of rain would shatter her. “But over time, the process worked worse and worse, like trying to grow scar tissue over an existing scar. It wouldn’t hold. I was remembering more and more, and it was driving me out of my damned mind. And it seemed like the less well I held together, the better you seemed to be coping. Out of all of us, you seemed like you were the one who was functional, if not entirely sane. But I can smell it on you now. See it in the little tremors the stock human eye isn’t sensitive enough to see. You’re a wreck, on the level of the emotional disaster I was then- even now. You’ve just always been better at hiding it.” She took in another deep breath, staring angrily at the ground, before piercing Anita with her eyes. “I don’t like you,” she concluded. “But you’re right. It’s not you I’m angry with. Somehow that doesn’t make me like you more.”

“Still not counting that as a joke.”

“I’ll try harder next time.”

“I feel like I’ve missed something,” Rox said. “Maybe a lot of somethings. But we’re here to track down a kid. So stop sniffing Anita, and see if you-”

“I found him already,” Mai said. “Right where neither of us wanted to find him.” She pointed north by northwest. “Worse, there’s definitely a government installation there.”

“How-”

“Certain supplies. No one would buy them in that combination other than a government purchaser, trying overly hard to get the biggest bang for the public buck. Damn place reeks of government cheese.”

“Is it a brie?” Anita asked. “I’ve got a really nice Okinawan Valley wine that would go great with a brie.”  

“If you kill her, I’m not helping you dig the hole,” Rox said.

“Fine,” Mayumi said, and started in the direction of the boy’s scent.

Breed Book 3, Part 38

“That was good work, everybody,” Tucker said, as people were already filing out of the room. “Right?” she asked, more quietly, of Ryan.

“We got everything we needed, and quickly. Whether or not it ends up being useful is another question entirely; I’m not convinced Drump couldn’t get away with molesting his daughter on live television and get a pass; he’s certainly said he wants to in public without consequence.”

“That’s… an awful thought to have shared.”

“I know, and somehow most Republicans approve of him.” He gave Tucker a sly grin. “But we’ve done what we can. Today’s a win. Tomorrow, as per usual,” he spun his wheelchair in a circle, “is more open ended. Let me know if anything else comes up.”

“Of course. And thanks. I can’t stress how big of a help you’ve been.”

“Sure you could,” he said with a smile, “but we’re both busy, arguably important enough people to have better things to do. Don’t be a stranger.”  

Tucker turned for the door, and didn’t see the woman there until she nearly stepped into her. It was clear from the look on her face she’d been waiting for Tucker.

“Can I…”

“Sure,” Tucker said. “Um, it’s Izel, right?”

“Yeah,” Izel said.

“That’s unique.”

“It is… it actually means unique.”

Tucker smiled. “What’s up?”

“I got hassled by ICE the other day. I was in town and… guy was a real piece of shit. I’ve been carrying copies of all of my documents in my pocket since 2015- you don’t forget a Presidential candidate calling people from your father’s country rapists while announcing his run- it’s all downhill from there. But he still took his sweet as time rifling through my wallet, verifying every piece of information on my ID, my birth certificate and my Social Security card. And, well, I know it’s rude, but I kind of found myself rifling through his head while he was rifling through my wallet.”

“Kind of feel like him hassling you sort of pushes you outside of the realm of social niceties, but to each their own. But what did you rifle upon?”

“Well, my paperwork was rock solid, and since they were obvious duplicates he knew I had originals back at my place. And he didn’t feel the need to push it with me because they’ve got something on the books. There’s an apartment complex off campus. Used to house seasonal workers, before the school blew up and student sprawl happened. Now it rents to some of the poorer students, mostly transplants from other countries. The school’s very thorough with paperwork, so they’ve all got student visas, but the ICE team decided they could kill two birds with one stone: not only getting rid of Breed, but brown kids at the same time. Their plan is to sweep up all the students living there, and burn all of their documents. Some of them could probably get duplicates before deportation orders could get through, but how many of them would even bother fighting to stay after that?”

“That’s awful.”

“Yeah… I thought about making him forget his potty training, but I realized that could tip them off about us knowing. And I think… I think they’re really overconfident. I don’t think they recognize that kids that age, some of whom speak very shakey English as a second language, some of whom come from really unstable home countries… they might not just roll over when they kick the door in.”

“Fuck,” Tucker said. “I hadn’t even considered that. That’s just a complete lose-lose, no matter which way it goes.”

“That’s what I thought. And that’s why I came to you. We have to do something. Right?”

“Absolutely.”

Breed Book 3, Part 37

Oops. I forgot to update yesterday. So I’ll do a Friday post, instead.

Thirty-Seven

Ben was sitting in the front bus, just behind Sonya. She was trying not to let on how anxious she was driving at night. “You’re doing great,” he soothed. “And remember, slow and steady. Right now we’re ahead of where they’re looking for us. So long as we don’t draw attention, we should be fine. You’ve just got to get us there in one piece.”

“Yeah,” she said, wincing, “I’m not entirely sure this drive shaft is in one piece, but I’m trying.”

“You’re doing fine.” His phone rang, and he answered it without checking the ID. “Excuse me. Hello?”

“Hell of a night you kids have had,” Laren said.

“Where are you? We could have used the help.”

“I am helping,” Laren said. “I’m currently in a caravan of buses, heading towards Mexico- making sure we get enough attention to pull focus off of your merry band. There’s another contingent, from Breed Lives Matter, laying a trail west. There’s some silver-hairs going to lay a trail east, if they can get enough of their VW buses actually rolling at the same time. Maybe if you’d given us a little more advanced warning we might have been able to give you more help- but I can’t fault you for compartmentalizing, either.”

“There was a… degree of improvisation involved,” Ben said coyly.  

“Under normal circumstances, I’d probably kick and scream and otherwise make you feel paradoxically small for your house of a man. But your luck seems to be holding- knock on wood. The flack they had covering PR for that ICE facility didn’t drink enough java before they talked to the press and flamed out, hard– couldn’t answer if it was a jail break or if the kids had help, couldn’t stick to the ‘Breed terrorists’ talking points, especially when trying to explain how there weren’t even any injuries amongst the ICE staff. This went from the kind of story that would be sanitized by the time it hit the national press to truly viral, breaking out faster than the speed of federal deception. Still leaves you in an… interesting position. The good news, is you got a lot of people talking. Eyeballs on this means fewer things will slide- that means better treatment, access to medical care, fewer kids getting molested. Yeah, that one’s been happening… The bad is they’re beefing up security- not just here, but everywhere- pulling in enough backup to where I don’t think we’re going to be able to pull off an encore. But again, this is mostly mitigated by the good. People are paying attention to it, now, and in enough numbers, so the worst of it might just sort itself out. The rest… the rest might have to wait for a regime change. Which means November 2020. Unless you’ve got other ideas about that- which I’m not foolhardy enough to discuss without a lot of liquor in me- and as much plausible deniability as I can have- which would not include a fucking cell phone- not even a pair of burners.”

Should you be calling me, under the circumstances?”

“You kidding me? I’ve got a half-dozen technopaths back at the school lighting signal flares you could see from Mars; and one making sure the NSA never hears one solitary peep of this call. CBP are half-bright enough they might find a third of those breadcrumbs we’re choosing to leave, and maybe the operational competence to track half of that. They’re going to be so busy focused where we want them they’re not even going to get a chance to start looking where we don’t want them looking.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Ben asked, concern bleeding into his voice.

“I’d give any two of those kids, plucked out at random, even odds of ending any stand-off, if they managed to find you. They were cowed because they’re kids, because they thought the world was good and fair and their parents would be allowed to come back for them. There’s no cramming that genie back in the bottle. Those ICE dumbfucks were sitting on an atom bomb, jerking off over how superior they think they are- the delusion of which being positive proof of just how inferior they truly are.” She sighed, “But the last thing you need is to hear more from my soapbox. It’s going to be a long night. Take care of yourselves, and those kids. I’m not scared for you; I worry for any fool who would try to hurt those kids while you’re watching out for them. Just… don’t take your shit out on somebody else. They might deserve it, but you’ll be the one who carries it. And you don’t deserve that.” “You take care, too,” Ben said. “And be safe.”

Breed Book 3, Part 36

The duplicate Mikaela checked her watch. It had been fifteen minutes since the original her left the campus, which meant that whatever else happened, this couldn’t be traced back to her and land her in a jail cell. Through the slightly ajar bathroom door she watched as the guard loped slowly down the hall, swinging a few dozen keys at the end of a retractable chain and whistling softly.

Mikaela turned to the version of her in a bunny suit. She was wearing so much makeup her skin had a flaking, otherworldly quality to it. “You are just a nightmare,” she said.

“Thank you… I think. You ready?”

“Waiting on you.”

Bunny shoved the bathroom door open hard enough it clacked loudly into the rubber stopper that kept it from hitting the wall. The guard frowned, turning slowly towards the sudden noise. Bunny just stood there, staring at him.

The guards eyes went wide, and he spun on his heels. “No,” he said, glancing over his shoulder, “nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope…” he said, as he walked briskly away. Bunny gave her a thumbs up before skipping down the hallway after him.

“Huh,” Mikaela said. “Figured he’d chase her, but…” she shrugged, and started down the restricted hallway. She used Liz’s key card on the door, and entered inside. She could hear a radio at the far side of the room, and two men chatting idly. She looked around the room, for things she might be able to use. The room was a series of corridors of server racks, with a strange floor material she suspected was there to prevent static discharge. There was an extinguisher attached to the wall, which in a pinch she could use as a weapon, but she’d never been much of a fighter, and even if she could win against two men, she’d leave a lot of blood and questions in her wake. No, this called for a greater degree of subtlety. There was an empty desk near the wall, just under a fire alarm, and she thought that could work.

She pulled the alarm, and ducked under the desk.

She heard a chair push out from across the room. “It’s probably another false alarm,” one of the men said.

“Or it’s a drill. And then we spend thirty minutes getting yelled at by the ERT captain again. Come on. We can get a mocha from the cart on the way back. And it’s an excuse to stretch our legs on company time. Besides, we’re sitting on our thumbs until those hard drives get here, anyway.”

The other man sighed for a good ten seconds before saying, “Fine. But you’re buying the mochas.”

“And you’re springing for Danishes. That way my husband can’t complain I broke Keto.” Mikaela counted to twenty after the door shut, before crawling out from under the desk. The door she’d come through opened and she froze, still mostly hidden behind the desk as the guard walked through. The opposite door opened. “Need my coat if I’m getting the mochas. Plus it looked like it might rain.”

“We’ve got to evacuate,” the guard said, stress still evident in his voice.

“You okay? You sound…”

“Having a rough morning…” the guard said.

“Come on. I’ll get you a mocha, too. Always find that calms my nerves.” The far door shut again, and Mikaela exhaled.

She waited behind the desk for another thirty seconds, convinced the moment she was finally in the open there would be another intrusion. Eventually, she came out of hiding, and ran over to the chairs the techs had been sitting in. She looked around, trying to find a node or something to tap into. She’d brought a handful of cables, to cover most of her bases, but if there weren’t any connection to the outside world she was going to have serious issues. Plan B then was to grab as many drives as she could and carry them out- but the risks there were a lot greater.

Then she spotted it, an ancient looking desk phone. She turned it over, and discovered it was so old that it connected with a regular phone line. She followed the phone line to the wall, and replaced the cable with a longer one. She was able to find a jack in the nearest server rack, and plugged in. From there, she plugged the phone into the server, then dialed Ryan’s number.

It rang twice before he picked up. “I was beginning to wonder if you needed us to run digital interference,” he said.

“Had to jump through a few hoops, was all,” Mikaela said. “How’s the connection?”

“Not ideal, in that if I had fiber we’d be done already, but 35Mbps is better than dial up- 618 times better, actually. And I’ve had the telepaths and technopaths here all morning. We worked the kinks out of networking our minds together while we were waiting- we’re essentially the world’s most advanced super-computer- but we are writing to a physical server, too, so we have something to share once it’s over.”

“Shouldn’t you get to it, then?” Mikaela asked.

“Oh,” he said with a chuckle, “like DSL, you can use the phone line while you’re downloading. I’m multitasking. We’ve found all the relevant files. We just need a few more minutes to grab them all.”

“Do I have minutes?” she asked. 

“Well, given that Klaus’s cell phone indicates he’s still standing outside, and he said he wanted a mocha once they let them back in, yeah. You should have plenty of time. And if it’s starting to get dicey I’ll crash the credit card reader at the coffee stand.”

“How does it look?”

“It looks like we’ll get a chance to see if Don is actually Teflon, or if there are limits to his ability to warp reality through the power of massive quantities of bullshit. Actually… when you say it like that, you don’t think he’s a Breed, do you?”

“Given how much he hates us- and anyone else even remotely different from himself, probably not. But that is a question that’s going to keep me up with nightmares. So thanks for that.”

“It’s what I’m here for. That and the wire fraud. You can disconnect, by the way. And exit by the north doorway. That guard is circling back around the other way again.”

“GPS?” “Yep. Anyone with a phone in their pocket might as well be yelling their current location and trajectory to me. Anyway, we’ll see you- or at least some version of you- later. Take care.”