The only thing Awful really doesn't like is being predictable. It's so frustrating, it could make her scream. That's why she moved out of town as soon as she could, really. As long as she's in town, everyone starts to think they know what she's up to, but if she keeps moving–
She takes Torquil's advice, and studies theatre. It's not that she particularly likes theatre – well. The rush of backstage, with everyone panicked-controlled, full of excitement and weird serenity, especially during previews, is pretty fun. But he's right, it teaches her how to do the same thing over and over again without breaking down, because there's enough difference every time to almost count. And nobody ever really gets to figure out who you are unless you try.
When she's done with theatre, she studies computer science, because it seems important, and Hathaway has talked to her about the value of being a first mover. And, well, the tech company Howard and Ginger Hind put together is finally profitable and getting more so by the day so he up and pays for her education. She'd be mad, but he never expects her to be grateful, so it's kind of all right. And she's still Torquil's muse, sometimes, when he decides he needs one, and she loves the push and pull between the two worlds – between building order (or causing chaos) as the internet starts to take shape, and pretending to be a whole host of people on and off the stage.
For the most boring six months of her life, Awful's married to this American guy named Max Fourneau. Her whole family hates it (especially Howard, and especially Erskine. He's incoherent with it. Her mom kind of likes him but he collects rare instruments, so she would). He's 30 years older than her and knows a bunch of things, is responsible for building a lot of the architecture of the 'net, and he's boring enough that it's hard to get him to talk to her without being married to him. She finds it kind of delightful how upset everyone is about it.
But even with a rich brother, and even with Torquil getting her into hilarious parties all over the world when he remembers to call her up, her marriage is the first time she's really been able to brush shoulders with the actually influential, and she's honestly frustrated at how stupid they usually are. It's one of the things she holds onto, after she drops Max.
So when Erskine offers to farm the world with her, she tells him she has a way better idea. Keeping a world running is difficult, and boring, and full of paperwork. Getting back at people who are doing it wrong...
(The first person she blackmails is her brother -- she doesn't care how many times Erskine complains that all Howard wanted was an excuse to keep an eye on them, Erskine has no idea the amount of dirt she has on Howard. And it works, so.)
Anthea Sykes is six foot tall without her four-inch heels, with golden hair that falls past her shoulders in big, loose curls. She laughs, and leans against the wall as she listens to her target's wife share details of their latest holiday trip. Her target, Victor Chadwick, is across the room, apparently fetching his pregnant wife a glass of something non-alcoholic and some hors d'oeuvres, and getting very distracted by someone flirting with him.
All Anthea needs is to get close enough to scan his RFID chip. At forty, she's at least fifteen years outside of his usual age range, but he can't just leave his wife here forever – can he?
Howard ducks into the room, and Anthea winces, looking away before she can swear. Last she knew he was still in London, a whole ocean away. He's going to screw everything up.
"—fucking asshole," Melanie says, suddenly. Anthea stares at her for a moment in assumption that it's about her brother. Then she looks back across the room to her target, who's running his hand down the back of the woman he'd been talking to as he walks with her towards the garden. "I can't believe I thought he'd –"
"Here," Anthea says, handing Melanie her glass of wine. "I'll handle it."
Melanie holds onto it with an iron grip, eyes tearing up angrily.
"Seriously," Anthea adds. She strides across the room, ignoring Howard's sudden attention, and grins.
"Oy, Chadwick!" she yells, years of theatre practice amplifying her already-loud voice. The man turns, eyes widening, as she stops, kicks off her shoe, and grabs it as it flies upwards. She hooks it under his tie, elbowing the young woman ("hey!") out of the way, and uses his sudden horrified distraction as she jerks it up to scan his pocket with her watch. It buzzes, sending the information to Erskine, who's hopefully still waiting in his van. (He likes parties, but no-one associates with you when your date is a Goon. Anyway, it's her turn to check out canapés. It's been her turn the last three times, but that's one of the side-benefits of being awful.)
"You've got a pregnant wife back there," she says to Chadwick, and raises her eyebrows at the girl, who makes a horrified noise. It's a little forced, a little saving face, but whatever. It works. "You're going to go back and apologize. Aren't you?"
"Help," he wheezes, swallowing the h, and she raises the stiletto a little higher, adjusting her balance on the remaining one.
"Anthea," Howard says, around the same time Victor Chadwick nods. She unhooks the stiletto, slips her foot back into it, and turns around with a brilliant smile. She doesn't even try to hide that it's faked.
"It's so lovely to see you," she says. Over her shoulder: "Victor?"
He lurches, very suddenly, in the direction of his wife.
"I was just checking into something for a friend," she said, and Howard's eyebrows narrowed.
"And this has nothing to do with Chadwick's multi-billion dollar company."
Awful rolls her eyes, now that Chadwick's far enough away. "I wish you'd just let me live my life."
Howard makes a face, clearly suppressing a sarcastic comment. Dad would applaud that at least one of them has learned some manners, if he could handle being around anything half this fancy. Howard sighs, and neatens his hair, looking to the crowd.
She shrugs. "I'm going to grab some canapés and run before the host throws me out. You might want to vamoose, yourself – don't want to give people the impression you know me. Might be bad for sales."
"Yeah," Howard says, and smirks, looking back across the room. He's richer than anyone else in this room. Really, she knew he'd be invited, she just didn't think he'd come. "Pretty sure that's not going to be a problem."
She hates him, sometimes, for being right.
Three hours later, Awful's in fuzzy socks, one of Erskine's t-shirts, and a pair of ancient jeans pretty close to falling apart. She's sitting in front of the computer, legs tucked back to rest her ankles on the back bar, while she sifts through Victor Chadwick's data.
"Pretty convenient," Erskine says, coming back with another order of take-out. "Venturus being there."
"He thought I was up to something." Awful says around chewing on one of the curls that hadn't made it into her ponytail.
Erskine mutters something that Awful takes a moment to descramble as are up to something.
She shrugs, and absently thanks Erskine when he pushes a takeout container into her hands a couple minutes later. "What do you think of the security system?"
He's quiet, and doesn't reply until she looks over to him. He doesn't look happy, but his expression is one she knows to be deeply thoughtful. "He's paranoid," Erskine says. "Can't imagine people don't want to be him. Dangerous. After tonight... probably more."
"I shouldn't have threatened him," she suggests, and Erskine laughs around a mouthful of pad thai, trying not to choke.
After he's swallowed: "Didn't say that. Saw it on the cameras – couldn't wear those shoes. Couldn't balance on one."
"I guess we'll have to get to him some other way," she says, hiding her pleasure at the unspoken compliment in another big bite of food.
Three months later, Victor Chadwick's company has entirely restructured their supply chain so it no longer involves relying on suppliers that clear-cut rainforests. Full implementation is to be rolled out within the year, and there are murmurs of starting a fund to support sustainable industry in the Amazon. Awful reads about it in a restaurant with wifi, grinning.
"Something funny?" Torquil asks, squeezing lemons onto the fish he'd ordered. He's wearing a vibrant blue tunic, the same color as the sea lapping nearby, with little sea turtles embroidered all over it.
"Yeah," she says. "I won an argument."
Torquil smiles, teeth flashing in the sunlight. "I'd hope so."
Awful doesn't actually hate people who want to farm the world. Sometimes she wants to farm the world. She'd be better at it than most.
There lies the problem: she's not good enough at everything to farm the whole world, and no one is – no one's even good enough to be allowed responsibility for a large fraction of it. So it makes her angry when people farm it wrong – in ways that hurt the people supporting them, or show a lack of basic understanding of how ecosystems work.
Before you try to control something, you should at least understand it. Even she knows that much.