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Rebecca Costa-Brown finds a notebook
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PRT Los Angeles has run a paperless office since 1996. Rebecca, only a local Director at the time, pushed against it then; this was in the wake of ReCipher's landmark ISC West presentation on electron memory data reconstruction, when confidence in digital security was at an all-time low. She fell in line eventually, but that record ended up backing her bid for Chief following Rutherford's resignation after the Millennium Tower data breach.

The paperless policy was, of course, never rolled back. It would hardly be practical. They papered the problem over with new encryption and biometric authentication, tightened up need-to-know protocols, and the world turned on. But anyone on the PRT LA Requisitions floor will tell you, in hushed words, as if letting on a great secret—like clockwork, the Chief Director orders to her office every week a 200-sheet spiral-bound notebook.

Documents go in the computer. Notes stay on paper. Rebecca writes to think; when she's done workshopping her thoughts, she folds them back up into her brain and tears them out for the shredder. It's her process, and it's also part of her cover: a real, physical footprint in the world, each day another inch of paper scrap in the clear box on her desk. It's these little stories that ground the illusion of presence, when it's not her at the desk half the time.

Not that it matters now. These days she pens her short-notice absences to her work calendar instead of Elena's handler. She orders her notebooks anyway, and writes in them, and shreds them.

It's a Sunday when she's just flown back from a weekend conference in Houston. She took their Wards out to clean up the nest of self-replicating vine scuttlers in the Midtown sewers, pretended Eidolon hadn't been ignoring her calls, and spent hours being shouted at by men half her tenure who a few weeks ago were scraping to get in her good graces. Before that, she spent all week breaking up the upstart syndicate down in Compton.

She's been waiting for a quiet afternoon to review budget proposals.

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Someone seems to have replaced her usual scratchpad with this high-quality hardbound notebook, its cover printed with lovely purple flowers.


If this is a prank from downstairs, she's not impressed. If they stopped stocking her usual brand and this is what someone arranged in substitute—probably none of her disgruntled colleagues are so petty as to stoop to inflicting mild stationery inconveniences. She walks up to her desk and flips through the book, looking for clues as to where it came from.


It's just a notebook. Good, smooth, faintly purple-tinted paper, ruled with purple-tinted lines. Incompletely removed price sticker on the back.


It's probably a prank or a clerical error. Possibly both.

She doesn't have time to dig into this. And she's not going to call someone up for a replacement notebook over the wrong brand, not on a Sunday when it's going to be just Jessica manning the desk. She'll put in a request for Monday. She can live with it for now.

She boots up her computer and starts on her email inbox. Declines invitations. Declines meetings. She wishes they hadn't fired her secretary. There's a report from Armstrong titled "Irregulars Activity in Providence", dated to yesterday. The short body of the email to which it's attached takes a vaguely accusatory tone. Her jaw tightens as she opens the document and finds it twenty-three pages long. This might take up the rest of her day. She flips open the notebook and titles the page in excruciatingly neat print.

IRRG in PROV 110703

On the right side:


An invisible pen writes in a flowing cusrive hand and shimmering purple ink,
What does that mean?

Rebecca blinks. She checks her memory. That line definitely wrote itself.

Who could do this? Eidolon has done something similar a few times, though he favors a weak auditory hallucination power for most relevant purposes. Inkwell comes to mind, but he's in Europe this year. Loki, Smokescreen, Mastermind, anyone else with general and reasonably precise illusion powers. Except that's not accounting for that this person is interpreting input from the notebook, or at least trying hard to give that impression. It narrows it down. Tinker, perhaps. Why a notebook?

There's the trivial hypothesis that this is someone's unique power expression, but it would be oddly specific.

She hits the panic button under her desk four times. Intruder, not confirmed hostile, not confirmed Master-Stranger.

"My notebook is writing to me," she says aloud.

She locks her computer and holds up the notebook, open on the page she was writing on, to the high-resolution camera in the corner that unshuttered its lens half a second ago.


The intercom crackles. "Acknowledged," it says. "Response team ETA thirty seconds."


Rebecca puts down the notebook and steps away. She thinks as she waits.

It is, actually, not uncommon to receive unconventionally delivered messages as the Chief Director of the PRT. There is only so much one can do to defend a public individual; there's a reason why capes have secret identities. Parahuman powers are asymmetrically offensive. There is no effective categorical defense short of building yourself the Birdcage, and even that is only stochastically secure until someone draws the right power. It's why the PRT focuses instead on making their directors as replaceable as possible. By the standards she herself drew up when designing the organization, Rebecca has consolidated an unreasonable amount of not only power, but importance, in her ten-year tenure as Chief Director. Even so, she'll be out of operations-critical handovers to drag her heels over by the end of the month.

The result is that, every year or two, a letter in a glass bottle will drop out of thin air onto the Chief Director's keyboard, or she'll glance under her desk to find a threat spelled out in bloodstains on the carpet, or the lights will go out and begin flickering in Morse Code, and they move on. Things happen.

This doesn't fit that pattern. If she had to describe why—it's not optimized. The delivery isn't crafted in a way that maximizes any dimension of impact. Something else is afoot.

If the notebook is rigged to do something—explode, deliver a contagion, snatch control of the user's mind—it's not a one-shot effect. It's not something they sneak under the PRT's nose and set off once it's in place. If it's intended for infiltration, why make it visually distinctive, why make it communicate? The way it was positioned to snag her attention, the way it attempted to strike up a conversation...

Her mind jumps to something like Mama Mathers or Teacher. An effect which takes effect over prolonged engagement.


The elevator chimes, down the hallway. Fast footsteps approach until the door slams open. Troopers in light body armor and full-face helmets file in, spreading out and training rifles and sprayers on the desk and notebook on top of it. The last to come in are a man in silver spandex and a black hood, holding a long metal staff tipped with graspers, and an figure in thick winter gear and ski goggles.



Spectro and Aufeis, and the latter means Phlox is their third, out there playing backup. She didn't know Spectro was in town, let alone signed into the rotations, but it's well that he's here.

"I suspect that the notebook is an abstract contagion."

She points at the purple journal to be completely unambiguous what she's talking about. She's slightly regretting showing it to the camera now.

"It was on my desk when I entered my office, replacing my regular notebook order. I spent seven minutes—" No, rewind. "I flipped through it when I found it. It was blank at the time. I spent seven minutes on my computer with it on my desk, then I opened it and began writing. When I paused writing, words appeared on the page in ink, addressing me. I will not repeat what it said."

A pause.

"Sanity check."



"Confirmed," says Aufeis.

The troopers exchange hand signs. One of them loses.

   "Confirmed. Foxtrot Sierra Papa Victor Zulu."


"Juliett Lima Quebec Alfa Yankee Lima."


"November... India Hotel Uniform Bravo Delta," says Aufeis. His face tells Rebecca what he thinks of this dance.

    "Chief Director," says Spectro. "The notebook doesn't have any signature."


Spectro is a Thinker-Trump. He sees active parahuman powers or power expressions. Ice summoned by a cryokinetic, individuals under active influence of a Master or Stranger, areas of effect of a Shaker at work, objects tagged by powers with investment mechanics. Everyone wants him, but he's originally from Santa Clarita, so Rebecca's city gets more use out of him than most. His power isn't foolproof. Third-order and most second-order effects don't qualify. It doesn't work on Simurgh victims. It doesn't work on tinkertech. It doesn't work if—someone is phased in certain ways and dropping mundane ink into ordinary space. Obviously there is a power at work here. But it suggests the notebook isn't an active infohazard.

On the other hand, it might mean the culprit has released the notebook and will manifest in a different vessel or location at any given opportunity.

She forces her shoulders to relax.

"Take it to containment, black box protocol. Get the lab to look at it immediately. Ask Site Security to check the security footage, track down where it came from. Spectro, stay. Everyone else, dismissed."


Two of the troopers produce from their packs a short stick which extends into a grabber, and a flat metal assembly that unfolds into a box. They box up the notebook and take it away. Aufeis nods reassurance at Spectro and takes his leave as well, leaving the cape alone with the Chief Director. He shifts awkwardly on his feet.


"You're not in trouble."

    "I didn't say anything."

"You didn't," she confirms. "But the game's up. If someone comes asking questions about me, this is what you have to do."

A power detector around will simplify things if the perpetrator tries their hand again soon. But she can multitask.





Twenty floors below, and fifty minutes later, a man and a woman badge past two security gates and walk into a steel vault.


"Case 53," says the man.

    The woman scoffs. "Tinkertech. Optic mesh pages and the spine is a holographic projector."

"The Chief Director said ink."

    "How would she tell?"

"Come on, Em, you call tinkertech every time."

    She rolls her eyes. "That's because it is tinkertech every time."

"Not every time."

    "Well, not once has it been a Case 53, so."

The man sighs.

The room is a cramped cubical space, a little larger than an elevator car. The small box sitting in the middle of the floor still looks comically small for all the hassle with which it was acquired. Once the doors of the vault close behind them, they're cut off from the entire world, save the Layer 2 Operator in their own box monitoring the feed. The woman looks up at the camera on the opposite wall and sends whoever it is a thumbs-up. Protocol, not a hello. After four seconds, on the ten-second mark, the red light on it blinks once in acknowledgment.

The man stoops down, glances at the woman.

    "Go," she says.

He feels around the cube. "Audiovisual containment unit appears intact."

    The woman jots it down on her clipboard. "Copy."

"No visual anomalies. No tactile anomalies. No olfactory anomalies." He raps the box. "No auditory anomalies." He unholsters a scanner from his belt and waves it around. It beeps twice and lights green. "No ambient spectral abnormalities. Proceed?"




He opens the box.



"It is, indeed, a notebook, as described."

It does not look like tinkertech. Not all tinkertech does, but combined with Spectro's all-clear, the man is rapidly adjusting his guess towards "whatever was going on with it, it is no longer so on going".

He flips it over.

"This has a price sticker," he reports. "Had."

    "Ominous," says the woman.

"Is it?"

    "...Not really."

"I'm going to open it," he says.

    "Go ahead."

He opens it to the first page.


It has all the same words on it that it previously did.


"There are words here," the man says. "'Irreg in prov. One one oh seven oh three.' To the right, 'one one oh seven oh five.' Probably the Chief Director wrote that? 'Irregularities in...?' I shouldn't be trying to decipher this. Underneath it says 'What does that mean'. Probably what our mystery cape wrote in response."

Is there anything else if he leafs through the rest of the notebook?


There's pages! Two hundred and fifty of them. Nothing written on the rest.


He flips back to the first page and takes a pen out. Clicks it three times.

"I'm going to try writing in it."


He writes, below the notebook's last line on the first page,

hello world

His handwriting is messy but deliberate, almost cursive, if he'd never been taught cursive and just sort of winged it after seeing someone do it once.


Slowly, hesitantly, the invisible pen writes,

Are you the same person who was writing in me before?

The man freezes.

"The notebook wrote back?" he says. He turns the notebook towards her. She blinks at the new writing.

    "I saw," she says uncertainly. "Can I—"

The man hands her the notebook and takes her clipboard for her. She peers at the book from all angles, holding it up to the light. Is there anything weird about the paper? Is it weirdly thick, or bendy, or translucent, say? How heavy is it for what it looks? Does the ink that the man put on the paper look different from the "ink" from the invisible pen?

She will try to roll a page up but will not attempt to actually crease or tear anything.

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