Loose Ends, Part One: A Minor Oversight

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(June 19th)

Spencer Ecchs leaned back in his floating chair, taking a long sip from the margerita he was holding, and letting his feet dangle into the pool beneath him. “This is the life.” He mused happily, eyes closed.

“It is very nice.” Ada Byron agreed doubtfully. She was floating next to Spencer, a holocomputer spreading out from the twin waterproof projectors on her wrists, wearing a sensible white two-piece labcoat.

Ecchs opened one eye. “But?” He prompted.

Ada frowned over at him. “But I'm slightly concerned that we aren't doing enough to deal with the potential threats to your reign that these rebels represent.” She twitched one hand, pulling up a series of reports, which wavered in the air in front of her.

“Rebels? Really?” Ecchs laughed. “You've been spending too much time with Psiborg, Ada.” He leaned back, closing his eye again. “Look at it this way. It's been six months. Six months of world rule, swelling bank accounts, and taxes. The Americans and the Russians have both made attempts to stop us, and they've failed miserably. Nine superhero teams have tried to thwart us, and four supervillain team have tried to usurp us. They have been defeated and/or killed. As for the so-called Liberation forces that Danger Ace is running…” He trailed off with a second laugh. “Six months, Ada. The only thing that they've accomplished is to kill a few thousand of Ash's drones, which he is replacing at high speed. They're running out of options, and with Ash spreading his new surveillance drones, they're running out of places to hide.”

“They've managed to save several supers that you had targeted for removal. They recovered Weltgeist from our attack in London, in particular.” Ada pointed out. “Spencer, you've worked extremely hard for this. It would be rather a shame for your victory to last six months instead of six decades.”

Ecchs sighed, sitting up. “Alright, fine. We can devote some energy to catching them.” He downed the margurita, then tossed the glass into the pool for his cleaning bots to recover. “Give me a current threat summary, would you?”

“Thank you, Spencer.” Ada smiled, and Ecchs nodded reluctantly, before she became all business. “First, they've organized themselves into seven-person cells, with little communication between them. We're estimating that somewhere between twelve and fifteen cells are operating at the moment. Everyone is in touch with Danger Ace, who coordinates, but we haven't been able to catch her. Ash has kept her on the run so far, and the bounty we've placed on Liberation members has helped, but she's keeping cautious. She's partially shielded from our narrative control by her own abilities; we can't just make treason a common event.”

“Even if we could, that would be a really bad plan.” Ecchs mused. “Don't get me wrong, I like my crew, but I don't really want to give Shivarex or Lord Mayhem a metaphysical imperative to try and overthrow me.” He shook his head. “No, we'll have to stick with tightly-bound loyalty for the time being.”

Ada rolled her eyes. “You're missing the point, Spencer.”

“I am?” He raised his eyebrows.

“Seven-person groups.” Ada emphasized. “From what we can tell, each has a leader, five support, and one designated follower. They're doing it arbitrarily, but consistantly.”

Ecchs considered. “I made that a narrative power point. To support our own group… interesting.” He leaned forwards, and his seat tilted dangerously. “Someone must have figured it out. Maybe I should shift things around.” He tapped his wristwatch, pulling up his own holocomputer, and started making notes. “You think Psiborg would mind being added to designated follower status? One follower per two pillars, with four pillars supporting the leader? We can catch them cold, knock out some of their narrative oomph. They using any other tricks?” He smirked.

“Lots.” Ada said seriously. “They've never pulled a heist on a Tuesday, they wore small green pins for all of May, and none of them have sworn by God in any engagement that we've recorded.”

Ecchs's smiled dropped away. “Oh.” He said after a moment. “That sounds less like deduction and more like spywork.”

“Does it?” Ada said innocently.

“Yes, yes, you were right. Fine.” Ecchs nodded slowly. “If they have an in with our narrative changes, we need to look into that quickly. If they're willing, they can negate almost all of our narrative advantages. With former Alpha Team members fighting alongside them, they can potentially negate that advantage too. And they have the numbers… yeah, okay, looking kind of tricky.” He ran some simulations. “Alright, I have three theories for how they're tracking our changes, and we can test them pretty easily. First possibility – Phil is secretly talking to Nina.”

Ada frowned. “You think he would go behind your back to do that?”

“Hell, yes.” Ecchs answered. “Not to betray me, mind you.” He paused, and thought. “Not to betray me on purpose, anyway. But he's just smart enough to cover up something like that, and just dumb enough to think it would be harmless. And Nina could pump him for intel without much work.”

“Well, it should be easy enough to check that option.” Ada said slowly.

“Exactly. And I think that's it for the leak option. I'm fairly certain that I don't have any real spies in my organization. Second possibility is that the… rebels, you said? I like that. That the rebels have found someone who can scan narrative law, or who can reverse-engineer what I built from scraps I left behind.” Ecchs considered it. “Which seems unlikely, but it's faintly possible that our old friend Jason managed it. He knows our work better than anyone, and with enough access to other pseudoscientists, the Witch Doctor might be able to pull it off.”

“I doubt it.” Ada shook her head. “Jason was never particularly good at non-biological sciences, Spencer. You know that.”

“True. But with help… anyway. It's a thought, and it's distracting me from the third option.” Ecchs said.

“Which is?”

“Which is that we've built a machine that runs on Lucky Lad, and there are two of him in the rebels – neither of whom were supposed to still be alive, so I never checked on what the machine might do to them beyond hijacking their powers.” Ecchs looked away from his screens to find Ada staring flatly at him. “What?”

“You never checked.” Ada said slowly.

“I was very busy.” Ecchs pointed out.

“Six. Months!” Ada kicked at the water with one foot, pushing herself to the side of the pool. “I'll start setting up simulations. We've certainly got enough data on how his powers operate to run some tests.” She shot her husband a glare. “Which I would have done months ago if I'd thought for a moment that you hadn't.”

“It didn't seem important.” Ecchs said plaintively. He pushed at his chair, much less fluidly than his wife had. “Look, I've run the numbers, okay? Even with this edge, these guys just don't have the muscle to track us down, let alone take us on. Once we tie this loose end up, we're good.” He smiled winningly, reaching for the side of the pool. “Trust me.”

Ada considered, then unclipped a tiny pellet from her watch and tossed it into the pool. A fraction of a second later, Ecch's chair was overturned as a massive blast of water erupted from the entry point, capsizing him instantly.

“I'll be in the office.” She said curtly.

Clinging to the side of the pool, soaking wet, Ecchs watched her go. “What a lady.” He sighed happily.

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