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Abaddon Born(e)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Leecifer, Jun 28, 2021.

  1. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.2

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.2

    Armsdick was almost five minutes late, of course, and we were safely sequestered in a nearby alley as his motorcycle pulled into the empty lot. I’d tapped into a few beetles and placed them to get a better, if still blurry, view of what was going on.

    “Damn, I wish we could see this. It’s gonna be good,” Herb laughed.

    I shook my head. “Can’t risk him spotting them if they’re broadcasting. Listening to Taylor will have to do. Also, Taylor, don’t respond to us. Even if you’re quiet, he might be able to pick up your responses to us.”

    I saw her start to nod before catching herself, luckily it looked like Armsdick had turned his back so he didn’t notice.

    He strode over, halberd in hand, stopping a good ten feet away from her. “You said you wanted to meet and talk. Talk,” he commanded, voice thick with annoyance, sounding like he was doing her a favor she didn’t deserve.

    “He’s not gonna tell her he’s recording this?” Herb asked.

    “No, makes more of a psychological impact to tell them after they’ve been talking so they have to mentally go back and make sure they haven’t said anything damning, and even then they might be worried that they forgot something. It’s a good one-off tactics that completely poisons any further interactions with that person for a win in the moment. Against a Villain you’re planning to arrest, useful, against a possible ally, it’s stupid and toxic. Classic Armsmaster,” I responded. Taylor stiffened at this, “You need to respond to his question,” I told her, as Armsmaster said “Well?” impatiently.

    “I’ve,” she started, finding her feet. “The Undersiders sent me a message. They want to talk, and I think they want to recruit me. I was thinking that I could join them, find out about them, then turn the info over to the Protectorate.” I winced. If she’d said turn it over to him he might’ve gone with it but now. “They’ve ment-“

    “Absolutely not,” he cut her off gruffly. “Your irresponsibility has been proven, and you couldn’t be trusted with something as difficult as-“

    “Wait, what irresponsibility?” she interrupted, outraged, her voice a little saddened. I felt for her. It was one thing to be told your heroes weren’t heroic, but it was entire different thing to see it for yourself. “I took down Lung with just a little help!”

    “Don’t interrupt!” he admonished.

    “Didn’t he interrupt her first?” Herb asked, smiling.

    “Yeah, but he’s both an adult and knows better,” I responded, tone dripping with sarcasm, “the hypocrite.” I listened to hear what Armsdick was telling her, my bugs seeing he’d taken a few steps closer, so that he was looming over her. Real mature I thought, physically intimidate the girl who asked for help. God, I hate the Protectorate.

    “Your reckless use of your powers nearly killed Lung, if I hadn’t gotten him medical help you would have killed him, and there’d be an order out for your arrest!” he told her, betraying nothing of the whopper of a lie he’d just dropped. Not necessarily a lie as some would understand, it, but a willful misinterpretation of the truth. Technically, any technique strong enough to drop a person nearly killed them, so that was technically a truth, and if Lung hadn’t gotten medical attention the dragon might have died, but only because of what the ‘hero’ had done. And then, if Lung had died, and Armsdick lied, there would be an order out for Taylor’s arrest, but because of the Protectorate team lead’s lies, not because of anything that Taylor had actually done. If I hadn’t told Taylor to expect this, she’d probably be on the back foot, but we’d nixed that play already.

    “Why did that happen?” Taylor asked, feign confusion, knowing why but laying a trap to see if he’d hang himself, given enough rope, “He was fine when you got to him!” The hurt in her voice could have easily been worry, and Mini-Man obliged.

    “Are you trained in parahuman toxicology?” he asked, as if he was, and like that even mattered to the argument, though the response of ‘no’ would have given him an opening, which Taylor didn’t take, forcing him to respond by turning his question back on him.

    “Are you?” Taylor shot back. Herb high-fived me as we listened.

    “You are responsible for the effects of your powers, even if they look ‘fine’!” he retorted, getting more upset, trying to take the position of the superior rightfully stripping down one of his charges. And, again, what he was saying was true if taken out of all context, but the implications, that it had been Taylor’s actions that had caused the problems, were outright lies. And even if he hadn’t been lying, mind you, he wasn’t doing anything else that a superior officer was supposed to do, like council the people under his command, which Taylor wasn’t. No, he was just doing the things he wanted in order to cover his ass.

    Herb frowned, “He ducked the fucking question, right?”

    “Yep, and he’s pretending like he didn’t do anything either, probably hoping she’ll forget about the tranq,” I responded.

    Taylor gave a start, probably having done just that. “Wait, what about the tranquilizer you gave him, maybe it was that?”

    He crossed his arms, and if the tilt of his head was correct, he was literally looking down his nose at her. “My tranquilizer was specially designed for his biology and checked by experts. Your venom is what rotted his flesh,” he pronounced like that was all that mattered, the infallible word of God that could not be questioned.

    Taylor though, was all over that. “So it was designed for him healthy? I told you I had my spiders bite him, you knew he was poisoned! You knew that would’ve thrown it off if, you were an expert on ‘parahuman toxicology’!” she finished, throwing his assumed title back in his face.

    “Point, Taylor,” I grinned, looking over at Herb, who was shaking his head. “What? She’s right!”

    “Nah, she backed him down,” he told both of us, Enter manifesting behind him, a vicious smile on its crocodile face, at odds to Herb’s worried expression. “He’s gettin’ ready to fight!”

    “If it wasn’t for your reckless use of powers that wouldn’t have been a problem!” He practically roared.

    She flinched backwards, swarm massing behind her. I tapped into my bug control and tried to send her feelings of support and confidence, not sure if it helped. “He said he was gonna kill kids!” She shot back, just as heated, but controlled in volume.

    Armsdick snorted, contempt dripping from his tone. “He was going after villains, and now you want to run off and join them. Tell yourself that you’re doing it to help people, but that’s not going to happen. I have software in my helmet that tells me when people lie. I should arrest you right now, assuming the people you poisoned last night haven’t died, then it might be the Birdcage.”

    I could feel her emotions, the self-doubt, the panic, the overwhelming fear as she stood her ground, not speaking, but not running like she felt like she should with every fiber of her being. Yes, I thought. This strength, this is why I’m recruiting her. “He’s lying,” Herb said. “Fucktard!”

    “Worse, he’s making unrelated, misleadingly-true statements,” I overruled. “Like a mobster saying you have a nice shop and it’d be a pity if something happened to it. Both are true, but not what’s implied. He has software that does predicts if a statement is ‘true’, and he’s obviously trained to throw it off himself, but it’s not perfect, especially with you, Taylor, and the software doesn’t do shit for future predictions, despite him implying it does. He’s leaving out all the context, to make even a selfless and heroic act sound cowardly. It’s not that hard a game, and one easily uncovered if you know what he’s talking about, but he leaves it vague to fuck with you.”

    “Taylor,” I stressed, “he’s trying to make you scared. He wants you to panic so he can take you down, so he can hurt you, and shut you up. Then he’ll make up a stupid story to tell the authorities, who like him, so they’ll believe him over some nobody they don’t care about without a second thought, without checking to see if it’s true, just punishing people because he said so, just like Emma.” I finished, practically hissing the last part in anger as the connections were made in my mind, flowing forth like tumblers falling into place, unlocking terrible understanding.

    How had I not seen the parallels before? I thought. He’s popular, and in authority, using it for petty ends. For him it’s making the world a better place, he’s stopping people he’s deemed villains before they can hurt anyone, even if he breaks the rules he himself hides behind. For Ms. Barnes it was trying to get Taylor to lash out, she’s trying to get her to prove herself strong like Emma did before Sophia would bother to save her, even if it means torturing someone she called a friend. For both of them though, it’s perverted its original purpose, moving from misguided help to vicious self-aggrandizement. I swear to god if I didn’t know he had a chance of being redeemed, I’d kill him myself!

    Herb looked at me in concern, my intentions probably written across my face. ‘You good?’ he mouthed. I nodded back sharply, mouthing ‘get ready to move’, jerking my head in the direction of the confrontation. He nodded, still looking at me in concern, as Taylor’s voice came over the comms, seething with the rage I felt. “You. You asshole!” she bit out. “I tried to save kids, and now you’re threatening me with the Birdcage? I checked the laws, I was in the right! I-”

    “Like someone your age knows the laws,” the false-hero scoffed, so full of prideful dismissal, so sure that he had complete control of the situation. He was wrong, and if, no, when he stepped over the line, as he would when he didn’t ‘win’, he’d pay for his arrogance. “I have access to them right now and I-”

    Are. Lying!” She spat, the swarm agitating around her. “Arclight, 94. He fought the Red-Gaters when he thought they’d taken a school bus hostage, and a couple of them died. He was cleared of charges because they’d said they were going to kill their hostages, even though it was a bluff! I’m trying to be a Hero and-“

    “You are too dangerous to be allowed to go free. You obviously can’t control your powers and are a danger to those around you,” His tone of voice was odd, his haughtiness and twisted anger mostly suppressed, almost clinical. The disconnect confused us all for a second. It was like he wasn’t talking to her anymore. Like he was speaking to the camera almost.

    “Taylor, run!” Herb shouted into the comms, figuring it out moments before I did. “He’s gonna-“ but the man who claimed the title of hero had already taken something from his belt and tossed it at her, the bugs I had watching him blinded by a white light as the crackle of lightning sounded from the empty lot. The comms captured her cry of pain as the presence of the swarm around her vanished in a moment of shock and twitching death. A cold wash of panic flooded me as I felt Taylor’s power dim like an ill-snuffed flame, barely embers remaining.

    Herb was off like a shot, Enter right behind him. I flew up to come in from above. As I crested the roof, I saw Enter barrel into Armsmaster who was turning to face him in surprise, Taylor prone and unmoving, the ground dark around her, hopefully with insects, not blood. The Stand dodged around the halberd’s blade, planting a haymaker across the ‘hero’s’ face. Herb followed his Stand as Armsmaster stumbled backwards, slamming his fist into Armsmaster’s breastplate, sending his foe backwards as Herb pulled his hand back in pain. The broken finger’s on my friend’s hand quickly righted as his Stand’s copied power of vampirism healed him slightly, in accordance with the damage done to Armsmaster.

    Swooping towards Taylor I pulled the costume off of my finger to heal her if I needed to. Coming down kneeling next to her, I smelled burnt hair and fried insects, but not the distinct metallic scent of blood. The ground crunched under me as I picked her up, checking her for injuries. There was electrical scoring on the chitin plates, but the grey silk that made up the majority of her suit was unblemished. Right I thought, spider silk, like at the Gala, good insulator.

    Her hair was frazzled, and bit of her ends were burnt, but I couldn’t find any more obvious injuries. As I held her, she started moaning in pain, her presence in my bug sense brightening as she woke up. I reached with my uncovered hand and pressed my finger to her scalp, willing my healing power to do the general ‘Get Better’ package, hopefully healing the damage I couldn’t see. “What?” she asked, starting to struggle, weakly at first but gaining strength.

    “Break and Enter are taking care of Armsmaster, you okay?” I asked, standing and letting her up.

    “Yeah, what was-“ she asked, cut off by the sound of electricity. Both our heads snapped over to see Armsmaster throw a ball at Enter, similar to the one that had fallen next to Taylor, lightning striking out from it like it was an overactive tesla coil.

    Enter caught the baseball sized device, arcs playing over the Stand’s body to no effect as it gave the Tinker a saurian smile, it’s Second Trigger Immunity power negating the electricity. It crushed the device as bolts scored the cement dozens of feet away, tossing the sparking device negligently back at its creator, Armsmaster rolling away as it exploded. Enter pursued him through the explosion, Herb running to the side to cut off his escape.

    Taylor started to form a swarm, but I stopped her from sending the gathering to help, pulling them back. Her head whipped around to look at me, a shocked expression probably on her face under her mask. “Let Break and Enter take care of this,” I told her, watching the fight. “You getting involved will let him claim that you ‘attacked him’, whereas this is us defending someone who was attacked for no legal reason. We’re registered heroes, and we can say we heard you scream in pain, to find Armsdick attacking a girl in an empty lot, who, as of now, has no charges against her.” Taylor wasn’t happy, bristling at being denied over the Bug Control sense we shared, but she kept quiet as we watched the fight.

    Armsmaster had done something, and the blade of his halberd had shifted ninety degrees and started spinning like a demented circular saw, the disk blade warding off Herb. Taking two steps back he shifted his grip and the blade reset itself, launching away from the fight to plant itself in the wall of a nearby building, pulling himself up and away as Herb charged, grasping hand missing the Tinker by inches. Enter leaped upwards, form molding and shifting into the leathery wings of a Pteranodon as it gave a single powerful flap, accelerating towards Armsmaster in a dark blur.

    The Tinker reached the top, using his weapon to leverage himself up to the rooftop in a smooth, practiced jump, armor cracked and blackened but still intact. His leap, however, sent him on a parabolic arc which Enter arrowed in on, shifting back to human form as he reached his target, momentum conserved as the Stand flew above the escaping cape, fist impacting the back of Armsmaster’s helmet. The Protectorate goon was dropped, his head to impact the ledge, and fell the forty feet back to earth. The armored figure impacted the ground, back first, with a metallic crunch, frantically reaching for his halberd as Enter descended, aiming to impact Armsmaster. His halberd grasped, the Tinker twisted something in the handle and pointed it straight up.

    The halberd gave the whine of something powering up and the blade glowed with a crackle of plasma, before the it was launched at high speed, catching Enter straight in the head, bisecting it into a burned bloody mess as the body impacted Armsmaster, the murderous Tinker giving an ‘oof’ on impact.

    Taylor gave a shout of fright, and tried to send the swarms down at him, only to be pulled back by me again. “Don’t you care!” she yelled in my face. “He just killed your teammate!”

    “Did he?” I asked, as Enter, reformed, ran in from an alley, catching up to Herb as they ran towards Armsmaster, who had pushed the corpse off of himself and was struggling to his feet. They both reared back and kicked him in the chest, lifting him up as they knocked him back, Herb grabbing and tossing the halberd away as Enter landed on his chest, pounding away at Armsmaster’s head. The ‘hero’ struggled under the blows, electricity arcing up over Enter, doing nothing, followed by several darts, a white gas, and then a burst of fire, all useless. The blows rained down as Armsmaster’s struggles got weaker and weaker, stopping entirely.

    “Enough” I called, striding forward. Enter gave the armored poor excuse for a man one more punch before standing up, spitting on his killer as he ambled away. I walked over to the Tinker’s downed form, using the bugs with me to swarm him, getting a sense of his armor in three dimensions. Motioning Enter over, I had him help me pry the armor apart, the Stand growing claws to help him pry open the crushed metal.

    Armsmaster’s armor opened like a high-tech can and we pulled him out in his under-suit, dragging him over so I could put my unarmored hand on him, giving him the “Get Better” treatment enough to stop his bleeding, no more. No sense to have him die on us when we meant to humiliate the shit vigilante with good PR.

    Enter moved past me with Herb, the two grabbing his motorcycle and dragging it across the empty lot. Dropping it next to the broken armor, Herb shot his Stand a look, who morphed into something large and armored, the reptile slamming its clubbed tail into the bike over and over again, various defenses going off and doing absolutely nothing as the high precision vehicle powered by tinkertech was reduced to a heaping pile of scrap, as well as the remains of the armor. Flipping over the pile, Enter smashed that as well, repeating the process several more times, the pile seeming to grow in size each time, which made no sense. Fucking Tinkers.

    I walked over to Herb glancing at Taylor before glaring at the downed Protectorate Leader. I shot Break a look. “He’s certainly being thorough,” I commented dryly.

    “Fucker tried to kill Enter!” my friend responded hotly. “Hero my ass!”

    I shrugged, using the collected bugs to retrieve my cameras, stopping the recordings and storing them. “Luckily for us, Enter’s hard to kill.” The Stand snorted in agreement.

    We looked down at the bloody body of the leader of the Protectorate and I Knew him. Primary power was the mess of locked knowledge that indicated a Tinker, specializing in the Miniaturization of other tech, with a barrier to the integration of Tinker-made Tech. Secondary Power, Spatial Warping, with a range limit, subconsciously controlled, and limited to non-biological material in the warped space. I had no qualms as my power reached out and took the second one, adding it to my roster.

    Looking down at his unconscious form, Herb said, “You know, I’m gonna need to recycle this, because it’s wrong to litter trash all over the place. Don’t worry, we’ll clean up your mess.” Enter rolled the wreckage over to an alley, stuffing it in the cans. “We’ll call an ambulance for you, maybe.”

    With that Herb turned on his heel and walked off, the three of us following him, indifferent to the last piece of trash we left behind.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  2. Drakken666

    Drakken666 L̷e̵t̶ ̷T̵h̵e̴ ̵M̴a̸d̶n̸e̸s̵s̸ ̵B̸e̷g̶i̷n̴!̸

    Jul 4, 2019
    Likes Received:
    It feels so weird to see how Lee talks now compared to later, he’s so much weaker but feels happier and more confident.
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2022
  3. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    He's confident, but naïve, not realizing how fucked up the world is, thinking it was just a handful of well-placed bad-apples. He also fully trusts Herb, and hasn't had anything that traumatic happen to him, his Worst Day Ever more deeply unpleasant than psychologically damaging.
    ExpWarlock likes this.
  4. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.3

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.3

    Following Herb through the streets, Enter dissipated in the third alleyway we cut through, causing Taylor to jump in surprise. “He’ll be back when he’s needed,” Herb told her, smiling mysteriously. “It’s his way.”

    I rolled my eyes. “I think we’re far enough away. We need to talk,” I stated, turning to face Taylor, who took a step back, suddenly nervous. I stopped seeing her reaction. “No, calm down Taylor, not that way. Shut up Herb.” I groused at my friend, who was trying to suppress giggles.

    “I’m sorry, but,” the rest was lost in immature laughter.

    I rolled my eyes. “Right. On point, Taylor, we need you to make a decision. Do you want to join our team, or not? If you want to be a hero, we need to get you registered with the PRT before Armsdick regains consciousness and sets up things against you. Right now, we can walk right in and get you registered, but if we wait too long, they’d probably try to arrest you for ‘questioning’, where you’d end up conscripted in the Wards, or sent to jail.”

    “But, not the Birdcage?” she asked fearfully.

    “What?” I asked, confused, things clicking together as I thought about her question.

    “Honey, he wasn’t gonna actually do it,” Herb told her, having stopped laughing. “That was just to rustle your feathers. ‘sides, even if he somehow did, you’d never get there. We’d break you out on the way! And if you somehow got there, we’d break you out!”

    “But,” she asked in tones of disbelief, “No one’s broken out of the Birdcage.”

    Herb countered easily, “Only ‘cause we haven’t had a reason to do it yet.”

    “Either way, it’s nothing to worry about,” I told her, focusing on the pressing issue. “So, do you want to sign up as a Hero of the Penumbral Defenders?”

    “Buuuuuut,” Herb interjected. “If you don’t there’s a great group of Undersiders who are looking for a teammate. You and them would work really well together, and I’m always gonna be that shadow that’s there for you.” Damnit Herb, can’t you even let her answer? I thought, annoyed. I could work with a no!

    I smacked him in the arm. “I’d help her too dumbass, even if she didn’t sign up with us officially. Don’t make it sound like you’re the only one that would.”

    “Of course you would,” he shrugged. “But you still gotta be the Hero, which means you might not be able to help.”

    “Hero-ish,” I corrected. “My definition, not theirs. Hero, of an In-De-Pen-Dent Team!” I stressed.

    He rolled his eyes before smacking me back with a loose wrist and pronounced lisp, “Fine, he-ro.”

    “Dude, please don’t be gay, like right now. I’m trying to be serious,” I asked, likely fruitlessly.

    “He-roooo,” he repeated, sounding like a geisha. I looked at him pleadingly as he turned to our hopefully new recruit, all seriousness gone from the moment. “Taylor shouldn’t care,” he said, glancing as he also addressed her, a hint of a lisp still in his voice. “’cause she’s gonna learn that true masculinity is a show of self-confidence in yourself.” He reached over and started stroking my arm. “That means even if you act gay-”

    “Please stop petting me,” I requested, knowing that getting upset would only make him worse.

    “I know I want the pootangy,” he continued as if I hadn’t said anything, “I don’t need the pole.”

    “Really?” I asked, “Do you have to be so vulgar in front of the fifteen-year-old girl?

    “Sorry,” he said unrepentantly, all accent gone. “I would like the vagina over the penis.”

    “Somehow that’s worse. Complaint retracted.”

    “Thank you,” he replied magnanimously.

    “So, right, the point of what we were talking about,” I redirected, trying to salvage the momentum of the moment. “I can get you on my independent hero team, or you can join the Undersiders. You stay a free agent, you’re going to get taken down by Armsmaster. He can’t beat us, but you humiliated him, and he’s not going to let that go. Hell, I might be able to get you on after you join them, but it would be an order of magnitude harder to pull off.”

    “Again, the Undersiders, they kinda need you,” Herb argued. “They need you more than the heroes do, in every way, shape and form.”

    I just looked at him. “Why you gotta be like that man?” I asked. “You’re not wrong, but why you gotta be like that?”

    “Because,” he answered smugly. “I’m an emotional person, I may do some fucked up shit, and money is fun to mess with, but it’s all about the emotions for me.”

    “Not logic, apparently,” I retorted.

    He waved away my point. “Logic is relative.”

    “No it isn’t!” I protested. “That’s the point of logic! It’s objective!

    “To you,” he snorted as I couldn’t help but sigh, Taylor looking between the two of us like following a tennis match. “I’m from ‘murica, and you know what I care about? Well, we’re in New Hampshire, so probably not much, just sayin’, But I know that I care about Taylor, her wellbeing, her future self’s wellbeing-“

    “Can ya stop suggesting that I don’t?” I asked, getting a little annoyed. “I mean, I don’t really give a shit about most of the Undersiders to be honest.”

    “I do though,” he sighed, knowing our goals diverged here.

    “Why?” came the question from Taylor, stopping us both in the tracks. “Why do you care about me so much? I’m. . . I’m not worth it.”

    At this both of us stopped and sighed in unison. I walked further down the alley, motioning them to follow, cranking up my Acoustokinesis to check for anyone hiding. Getting nothing more than the heartbeats of a few rats, I wrapped the sound around us so no-one else could hear. I looked to Herb, asking with my eyes if I could take this one, to which he nodded. “Taylor, take off your mask for a sec,” I requested.


    “Because I’m going to as well and it’s only polite,” I told her, which was one reason. The other is that without the mask, Taylor was much more likely to take what I said to heart, and what I said would make a much greater impression.

    She went utterly still for a moment, muttering to herself “They already know who you are.” Words that I wouldn’t have caught had I not been using my power, before reaching up and taking off her mask, fishing a pair of glasses from a belt pouch.

    I put my hand to my domino mask, willing it off and catching it, holding it in my hand as I looked at her straight in the eye. As her green eyes met my prismatic ones, she gave a start and diverted her gaze, taking a step back, her agitation thrumming through her bugs. I was confused for a second before I realized why she was treating me like Medusa. “It’s not a master power,” I told her, exasperated. “The only one I have that falls under that classification is bug control, like you. Do you remember hearing about case 53’s?” I asked.

    “The monster capes?” She asked, still not looking at me. “The ones who don’t have memories? You seem to still have yours!” she responded accusatorily.

    I rolled my eyes as Herb just watched, amused. “Yeah, they’re the extreme examples. Sometimes powers change you a little bit. I got these eyes, Herb got Vampire teeth.” She looked at him, as he took off his mask, smiling. She stared, a combination of scared and intrigued, before looking me in the eye once more, rallying herself.

    “You were going to tell me why you cared?” she asked, trying to go on the offensive.

    I held her gaze as I told her with honest sincerity. “Because I know you Taylor Anne Hebert, just as I know a handful of others in this city. I know who you are, who you were, and who you could become. I know the things that you hate about yourself, that you think you hide from everyone; your secret hopes and fears. I know your strengths, and I know your weaknesses, and I accept them all. You are worthy of care, not because of your age, your gender, your race, or even your powers, but because you are you. I may disagree with you, may even work at odds to you, but I will never abandon you, even if you fall, for you are worth saving. Do you understand?”

    She gave me a terrified, deer in the headlights look that my moments of pure honesty sometimes inspired, finally letting at a tenuous “No?” I closed my eyes sighing, this had been a mistake. I started to turn away as Herb laughed, his humor at my failure salt in the wound. “Wait,” she called. “Maybe? It’s just. . . a lot.” She looked over at Herb, “What’s funny.”

    “It’s just doing that is so. . . him,” He chuckled. “You’ve got to work up to that shit, but he just goes and says it. He totally means it too,” he told her seriously. “He hates lying to people he respects.”

    “But I,-“ she started.

    “Have earned his respect,” he interrupted. “From me too. Fuck, at your age I would have fucked those bitches up hard, especially if I’d had your powers. They’d have woken up covered in ‘em every single morning.”

    “But, I’d have been arrested!” she started, stopping at my snort. “I would have been!”

    “That’s what you told yourself,” I said, looking her in the eye again. “But you’re intelligent and creative, a devastating combination. A swarm would get you caught, but something as simple as lice? You know how that can spread among friends, and would it be that unlikely they’d ‘spread’ them to each other?” I asked using air quotes. “They might spread to a few other girls, but those are the bitches that support the terrible trio, so why should you care? Or you could give their homes roaches, along with a few random other houses so as not to attract suspicion. Have a single wasp go after one of them, that happens sometimes.”

    I opened my arms, to indicate the possibilities. “You could just strip out the beneficial bugs from their house, or have a bee chew a hole into the attic and set up a hive. Hell, if you really got vindictive you could give them crabs. You didn’t do it because you’d get arrested Taylor, you did it because you’re a good person and you want to be a hero.” I saw her look of dawning comprehension and pressed on. “You believe that using your powers for personal vengeance would sully them, and sully you, so instead you took another several months of bullying and abuse rather than use your powers for that. That, and things like that, are why we’re here to help.”

    Herb nodded, “He’s right, even if he’s being too fuckin’ long winded. It’s why we believe in you, and the fact that you question yourself is your best and worst trait, because it keeps you honest”

    “I,” she started. “I don’t,”

    “Don’t worry about it,” I told her, putting my mask back on. “I might’ve overdid it on the frank truths.” I ignored Herb’s snort of “You’re like an emotional sledgehammer to the face”, “But you asked a question, and I gave you my honest answer. All you need to worry about now is a name.”

    “Nova,” Herb declared. “It just sounds great. Hopi for chasing butterflies, but it doesn’t give away your powers. They expect explosions, then you hit them with bugs!”

    “Or,” I retorted. “You could go with ‘The Lady, Bug’. Sounds regal, bit of a pun, and makes you sound mature, like Lady Photon.”

    She looked down at herself, her costume a study in greys and blacks. “I don’t look much like a Nova or a Lady.”

    “In your stealth costume? Not really,” I observed, getting her attention. “But your formal costume? Definitely.”

    “We gonna hook you up, girl!” Herb crowed, putting his mask back on. “We gonna get you set up with a cape designer and you are gonna look fan-tab-u-lous!” The last word accompanied by finger snaps.

    “Then, I think I’m gonna go with ‘The Lady, Bug’,” she decided, ducking her head down to put on her mask. As she did so I shot Herb a questioning look about my efforts, and he nodded back, smiling broadly.

    “So, Registered Hero or Undercover Hero?” I asked. Two could play the false dichotomy game. Besides, she was going to be a hero no matter what.

    “You’ll be a good hero,” Herb told her, “You are a hero, but the Undersiders need you the most.”

    It was subtle, but Herb’s proclamation that she was a hero, already, especially coming from a self-professed villain, seemed to take her aback. I pushed the point home, “Don’t doubt you’re a hero Taylor, you fought fucking Lung, someone you believed to be way above your weight class, the leader of one of the cities gangs on your first night out. You didn’t do it because you wanted to test yourself, or you thought you could take him, or any of that bullshit. You did it because you thought that he was going to kill kids, and you had to stop that from happening, even scared shitless, even thinking you might die! You fought someone you believed was so far above your weight class it wasn’t even funny.

    Herb chimed in, “If anything, you’re above him. You don’t know how kinda awesome you are, and by kinda I mean really.” He waved me to go on.

    “Right, you fought Lung just because it was the right thing to do.” I jerked a thumb in the direction of the scene of our fight against the overbearing tinker. “Armsdick back there? If he wasn’t sure he could take Lung down with his first strike, he would’ve left kids to die, even if it hadn’t been the Undersiders, but actually fucking innocent kids. He would’ve called in support, and twiddled his thumbs until he could get a team to lead in with overwhelming force, so chances would be he wouldn’t be hurt in the slightest.”

    “Some twelve-year olds are burned to death?” I asked. “Whelp, he was just following procedure. No one could blame him for that. Mind you, nothing in procedure said he was supposed to, or even allowed to try to take you down, but he only cares about that when it helps him avoid responsibility as a hero, hiding behind rules to cover his own cowardice.” I took a deep breath, calming myself. “Authority figures who reap the benefits of their position while neglecting their duties are the reason I don’t work for the Protectorate, nor would I ask you to. Independent teams though, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game.”

    “Ah-men!” Herb chimed in with a southern accent. “He is quite the smart dude, and a bit more preachy. I’m just more fun.” I’m not preachy! I thought, shooting him a glance. Why is he being such a dick and undercutting the points we agreed on?

    She considered the problem looking like she might end up choosing Herb’s option. I could give her fame, recognition, and help her do the right thing, but he was offering her friends. Not only that, but friends that needed her. With how she was right now, the chance she’d choose straight hero-ing was a coin-flip at best. My mind scrabbled for a few seconds before I found a possible work-around. “Best of both worlds,” I told them, startling them both, though only Taylor really showed it.

    “I sign you up as ‘probationary’ member of my team,” I offered, “if you get caught doing a bunch of really hinky shit, please don’t get caught doing a bunch of really hinky shit, I can be all ‘I’m reconsidering her probationary status’,” I said in a bad posh British accent. “‘And am considering her versatility and utility in my organization as opposed to the difficulties involved in possible rehabilitation, if you have evidence that it really is her that is,’ and other shit like that until you can either redeem them, find enough evidence to put them away if they’re irredeemable, as well as their boss who’s a freaking sociopath, or decide to quit their team and go legit. As long as you don’t do anything worth getting Birdcaged over, and don’t get successfully framed by villains or ‘heroes’ for that level of stuff either, you should be good.” I finished.

    Herb nodded, clapping a hand on my shoulder. “See!” he proclaimed. “I told you, he’s the smartest. He knows how to work the system.”

    I shrugged, uncomfortable with the praise. “I fucking hate the system and would tear it down if I thought it wouldn’t do more harm than good, but yeah. I can kinda do the dance of perception management.”

    “Like I said, he knows how to work it. Me,” he told her, putting a hand to his chest, “not so good at that.” I snorted in response. When it came to people, he was naturally better than I was by a country mile.

    “So,” I said, starting to walk out of the alley. “If we’re going to do this we need to get moving before he gets conscious. Do you want to go with our probationary hero plan?” I asked. Taylor looked between the two of us before slowly nodding, her control of her bugs thrumming with nervous apprehension. “Okay then,” I smiled, holding out a hand. “We need to get there in a hurry. Would you like to fly?”

    Taylor nodded again, this time a bit more confident as she reached out and tentatively took my hand. I used the forcefield I’d copied from Glory Girl and extended it past me to surround Taylor as well, who gave a strangled shriek as we both smoothly lifted up several inches. “Basic Superman rules apply,” I told her. She stared at me for a second before cocking her head to the side in confusion. “Right, Earth Aleph thing. I can make you fly by touching you, so don’t let go. I can catch you, but it won’t be nearly as fun as flying.” I turned us both in the air to face Herb. “You want to come with or do you want to ride your brother home.”

    Herb blinked, nonplussed at my phrasing before shaking his head. “We’ll just walk home,” he stated, manifesting his Stand to walk beside him as he started to leave the alley.

    “Was he there the entire time?” asked Taylor nervously.

    “Yes and no,” I responded. At her look I explained, slowly levitating us. “It’s his power. You want to know the specifics about the mechanics, ask him. Functionally, just know that wherever Break is, Enter is probably somewhere nearby.” She started to nod, immediately realizing how high she was and started to let go in surprise. I held on as she immediately realized what she was doing and grabbed on with both hands, a swarm of flies, wasps, beetles, and other flying insects swarming up toward us. Reaching out with my own power, I pushed all of them but a few back down.

    She turned her head to look at me in what I assumed was an accusatory fashion as I drew her up and away, starting to move over the city. “We’re going to PRT HQ,” I told her. “Bringing an army of insects when we do so sends the wrong message. Also, I get how you like the full helmet, it’s good protection, hides your identity, except your hair, and looks intimidating, but unless you’re going for the inhuman terrifying persona of a really good villain, you need to be more expressive. I can’t tell if you’re glaring at me, want an answer, or are gazing at me lovingly behind that thing.”

    That got a reaction. “What!? No, I was, I mean, I wanted to know about the bugs. I wasn’t, you wouldn’t, wait, inhuman?” she demanded in a rush, shock forcing her into a stream of consciousness.

    I nodded, dropping the acoustokinetic bubble, causing her to jump as the sound of the city came back, keeping a direct connection so we could still hear each other over the wind. “You’re always concentrating on the bugs, and your. . . experiences tamped down your body language as a defense mechanism, so people would have to listen to you talk or see your face to pick up your emotions. If you don’t talk and cover your face, it gets a lot harder for normal people to pick them up, and you are subconsciously expressing your emotions through your insects, so you seem emotionless, and without a visible face, inhuman.” I tapped my domino mask. “It’s why most heroes try to leave at least part of their face exposed, even if they don’t have brute powers. The public relations and interpersonal gains are worth the lack of protection.”

    We flew over the city as I slowly dispersed all the bugs flying around us, leaving the ones on Taylor alone. “What are you thinking?” I prodded.

    “My helmet. It’s not a hero’s, is it?” she asked softly, sounding depressed.

    I looked over at her, concentrating on her, feeling a sense of mistake, failure, defeat, from my sense of her through my borrowed bug control. I shrugged, getting her attention. “It could be, the color scheme is kinda villain-y, but as an armored stealth suit for missions it’s pretty good. With the helmet, you just need to learn to, damn it I can’t remember the word. You need to show your emotions more.”

    “Expressive?” she offered, trying to help.

    “Maybe, I can’t remember,” I responded, slowing down as we landed in front of the entrance, the guards inside putting their hands on their foam sprayers, but doing nothing else. “You need to show your emotions more. There’s some tricks I can teach you which are really effective uses of your power, but they’ll exacerbate the problem if you aren’t already vocally expressive.”

    Walking inside I saw the guard who had given me directions to the hospital on-duty inside the lobby. “Hey, you!” I called with good cheer. “It didn’t work out, but thanks for the directions!” He looked distinctly uncomfortable, but I was just being nice, so whatever. Walking over to the front desk, Taylor in tow, I smiled at the receptionist, a younger woman this time. “Hello, my name is Vejovis, leader of the independent hero team, the Penumbral Defenders, and I’m here to register our new probationary member; The Lady, Bug. Is there a form to fill out for this, or are we going to have to go through that entire hassle again?” I tried to keep my tone jovial, but my annoyance must have crept in as her answering smile got a little forced.

    “I,” she started, drawing out the sound, stalling for time. “I don’t believe we do. What information are you willing to share about Ladybug?”

    “Can I have a piece of paper?” I asked, getting one after a moment. “To start with her name is The Lady, Bug, or Lady Bug, like Lady Photon,” I told her, writing it down. “Not Ladybug, minor but important difference. Obviously female, Caucasian, and her power is insect control, like mine, less range but greater finesse.”

    I felt Taylor’s agitation behind me as I casually told them her power. I made a subtle ‘calm down’ motion with my hand as I tried to send feelings of confidence back to her as the woman behind the desk asked, “What is her range?” causing the feelings from her to spike as I responded, “A block and a half, about four-hundred fifty, five hundred feet,” the agitation calming into confusion and interest. “It shifts a bit, we’re not sure why yet.” I continued, titling the page “Probationary member, Penumbral Defenders”, listing her powers and details, understating everything as I did so.

    “Is there anything else you need to know?” I asked as the phone rang. Took you long enough I thought, reaching through the bugs to look inside, finding less then there were yesterday, but still enough to serve as spies. People were moving around quickly, though less panicked than last time, which was progress, I supposed.

    Looking around, I couldn’t find Piggot, the director. Guess she’s on the Rig, I mused. Wouldn’t have guessed she’d work right next to the capes, given her position on ‘em, but it’s a better tactical location, and she’s distinctly militantly minded. The receptionist took the call, asking me “The Director-“ before wincing as the person on the other end snapped something loud enough for the act to be heard by us, though not the content. “My boss,” she amended. “Wants to know how you found Lady Bug.”

    “We ran into each other on patrol,” I replied easily. “She was independent, and, well, you know the survivability of new independent heroes, so I offered her a probationary position on my team.”

    What could only have been Piggot relayed another question. I was tempted to use Acoustokinesis to listen in, but if I heard something before it was relayed, my expression might give me away, and I wanted to avoid that if possible, so waited for the question to be relayed. “Where did you meet her?” was the next one.

    I smiled, showing a bit of teeth. “I’m afraid I won’t relay information that may result in the unmasking of my team members. Next question please.”

    Another relay. “Sh- My boss says you need to answer the question.”

    “I really don’t. This is a courtesy, and I have committed no crimes. Have a nice day.” I turned on my heel and started to walk away, the guards moving to hold their sprayers, but not point them at us.

    I could hear Piggot yelling something from the phone. “Last question!” The woman called. “What do you mean probationary?”

    I didn’t break stride. “Break and Enter have my full trust, everyone else has to earn it!”

    Stepping outside I offered Taylor an arm, which she hooked hers through, and we took off, leaving the nervous guards behind.

    Flying through the air, I turned to Taylor, “Where and when are you meeting the Undersiders?”

    “What, um, where I fought Lung, and at 4, so, what time is it?” she asked, worried, when she should be able to just look at any bug below us that was in range of a clock.

    For a girl who could multitask like a supercomputer, she seemed oddly distracted. “What’s up Lady Bug?”

    “Nothing. Nothing’s up,” she responded quickly. I sighed, and then stared at her, slowing down slightly. “It’s just, you said everyone had to earn your trust, and I haven’t done anyth-“

    I sighed harder, pinching the bridge of my nose with my free hand as I slowed us to a stop, hanging mid-air. “Lady Bug, while I don’t lie to people that I respect. Do you really think I respect people who demand answers from someone coming in as a courtesy, let alone all the other shit the PRT pulls? Like having Armsmaster as team lead of the Protectorate?”

    I got the distinct impression that if I could see her face, she would be red as my connection to her thrummed with embarrassment. “No,” she finally replied, when it was obvious I was waiting for an answer.

    “That part wasn’t a lie, but don’t take everything I tell other people at face value. Those who would be our enemies peddle in false-hoods and double talk, so I only see it fair that I reply in kind. I don’t trust people who haven’t earned it, but you have already, so calm down. So,” I continued, looking away as she felt even more embarrassed for some reason, fishing my phone out of a pouch, not able to use her bugs to see through them yet. “We have twenty minutes, there’s some things you need to know about the group you’re going to go get recruited by,” I commented, starting to move again.

    “I know at least one of the Undersiders isn’t there by choice,” I told her, “and you need to see if the rest are working for Coil through threat of force, dangling the thing they need in front of them and making them believe he’s the only way to get it, or because they have no-where else to go,” I explained. “Also, don’t reveal you know that Coil is their boss, as that’s supposed to be a secret.”

    “They’re forced to be villains?” she asked, aghast.

    I shook my head. “Don’t be naïve Lady Bug, you’ve heard of people being forced into gangs at school. If you didn’t have a combat oriented power, what protection would a person have against doing the same thing to you? Their boss, Coil, you probably won’t meet him, but you need to make sure you’re never alone with him okay?”

    Her grip on my arm tightened. “Why, is he a Master?”

    I shook my head just once, looking her in the eye, or at least eye-plate, once more. “No, he’s just a sociopathic sadist whose power lets him indulge in his tastes without consequence. The blonde, Tattletale, has super-intuition, so I can’t tell you everything until your undercover stint is over. Sorry,” I shrugged to her feelings of betrayal. “So, powers, they sometimes effect how your brain works to optimize your powers,” I threw out, distracting her.

    “Wait, did that happen to me?” she asked, concerned, issue forgotten, or at least put on the backburner.

    “A little, if I had to guess it was more your brain’s own plasticity adapting to better handle your power,” I told her. “You’re multitasking has gotten unreal, but is natural as far as I can tell, and will only improve with time and use. You’re way better than me at it, and Break isn’t even close. I’m mentioning this because their heavy hitter, Bitch, is an extreme example of that. Someone being messed with by their power, not multitasking.”

    “The one with the monster dogs?” she asked, looking down at the city as we lazily flew above it while still obviously paying attention to everything I said.

    “Like most things, sorta,” I explained, slipping into teacher mode. “She can encase dogs in a larger meat-suit they control for a bit, but they’re still regular dogs in the center, and she can’t control them like you can your bugs. Instead, her brain got shifted so she has a near supernatural ability to understand and train them. Unfortunately, when it was programming in canine social systems it overwrote a lot of the human ones she had, and she’s from an abusive foster-home so that wasn’t a lot to begin with. She intellectually knows about human social patterns, but hasn’t really studied them in depth to fake normality, as dogs aren’t big on book learning. To her, too much talking registers as excessive barking, smiling is just baring your teeth, and every group works like a pack. Regardless of what the others want, she’ll probably try to establish dominance over you. Don’t let her, or she’ll never respect you.”

    “What?!” Taylor demanded, shocked and a little scared. “How?"

    I shrugged, “That’s for you to handle. None of them are really a threat to you.”

    She looked at me, and her tone indicated she doubted my sanity. “They’re an entire team of supervillains, how are they not a threat?”

    “Bug control, it’s battlefield control on a ridiculous scale. Grue, the guy in leather and a skull mask, creates darkness that acts like impenetrable smoke to everyone but him. It stops all light, and mutes sound, heat, and radiation. It doesn’t stop your connection to your bugs. Tag him with a few to keep track of him, and swarm him if you have to. Regent can take over a person’s nervous system and puppet them, but it takes hours of sustained effort to really pull it off, and normally he can just make you trip, but too much has a feedback effect on him. Doesn’t affect your swarm, so swarm him. Bitch has dogs. Swarm them hard, blocking airways if you have to, but know it’ll kill them and make her your enemy for life. Tattletale claims to be psychic, but like I said she just has super-intuition. She’ll immediately read that you know their powers from little things like word choice, intonation, body language, so on, and will try to de-escalate the situation now the element of surprise is gone. Might even read info about me, but again that’s why Break and I haven’t told you that much yet, and can’t tell you certain things until she’s joined up, has left the city, or is dead.”

    Dead?” Taylor echoed, fear creeping into her tone.

    “Won’t be from our hands,” I reassured her. “The options are in order of preference. If she won’t join, I’ll get her into a safehouse somewhere that the people that would hunt her down and enslave her for her Thinker power wouldn’t find her, but that she’d hopefully be happy in.”

    I landed on the docks, a few blocks away from the meeting place. “You’re smart, resourceful, and tough, Lady Bug. You can do this. You have our cards if you want to hang out, get some training, vent, need help, or are about to do something really stupid and need the option of calling in the cavalry.”

    “Don’t you realize something’s stupid after you do it?” she asked, obviously hurt by the implication that she’d do something stupid in the first place. I considered bringing up her location for the Armsmaster meet, but she’d take it the wrong way. Natural Triggers were so damn touchy, though I knew why.

    I visibly winced. “Bad phrasing. If everyone else is going to do something really stupid, like robbing a bank in broad daylight, and you’re going to have to go with them to keep your cover, call us with the when and where and we’ll be there to cover you and keep things from getting too bad. Hell, depending on what you’re doing, we might just straight up help. At the very least I’ll be able to spin it to make any ‘heroes’ who cross the line look villainous, and you to look downright heroic with your restraint.

    She gave me a nod as she let go of my arm, looking in the direction of her next confrontation. I dropped into the alley and flew off, staying low so I didn’t get spotted by Tattletale.

    Good I thought, I didn’t fuck that one up. One down, two to go.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  5. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.4

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.4

    Landing back at Base, I walked in to rap blasting, Herb singing tonelessly along with it. Striding over to the computers I turned it off right as he hit a high note, and I feared for the safety of the glassware in the kitchen. Turning around he demanded, “What the hell man?”

    “Dude,” I shot back, “That’s way too loud. This is supposed to be an abandoned train depot.”

    “It’s my base, I do what I want!” he sassed, before getting serious. “How did it go?”

    “Good, we got her registered, and dropped off with a warning about Tattletale and Bitch, along with a quick rundown of their powers. She’s got this,” I reassured him.

    “Won’t telling her that change how thing play out?” he asked, concerned.

    I shook my head. “Nah man, that was gonna happen no matter what. She’s still got the marks on her armor from that Tesla sphere, which Lisa will pick up instantly. Taylor’s also got us supporting her, so that’ll change how she acts anyways. Speaking of support, what the hell was that with Taylor? She needs to be on our team so we can help her, why were you trying to convince her not to be?”

    He shook his head. “You got it all wrong. Taylor isn’t a hero, she just thinks she is. I’m just giving her options to find her true self.”

    I looked at my friend in disbelief. “Are you high? Of course she’s a hero; every time she’s given power she uses it to help other people! That’s, like, the definition of hero!”

    “The heroes keep fuckin’ her over, so she obviously isn’t” he retorted.

    I growled, frustration percolating deep in my throat. “I don’t give a shit what the government stooges think. I know what a Hero is, I know I am one, Taylor is, and you are, even if you’re convinced you’re not, but if you want to label yourself as a villain as that’s the role you’re playing, I haven’t been commenting on it. You are an intrinsically good person, and trying to make the world a good place. You want a Villain, look at Boojack. He doesn’t have that innate need to help that we do, and if he declared himself a villain, I’d believe it.”

    I paused for breath, quickly pressing on before Herb could get his stupid, illogical rebuttal in. “Boojack isn’t a Supervillain, but he’d be on call for one, and would only answer like half the time. You, you’re different, and I’m respecting your self-delusion, but don’t spread that shit to Taylor. She’s still figuring herself out, and doesn’t need you messing with her head that way. The Undersiders? Villains all, but I’d still try to recruit Grue and Tattletale. The rest can hang for all I care, but those two are villains that can be redeemed! I know you’re trying to help, but for once I’ve got a better read on the situation than you do here so back off on the villain shit. Okay?

    His expression had gotten increasingly apprehensive. “Jesus Christ man, fine, I’ll stop talking about her being a villain! What’s your problem?”

    The honest confusion ground my anger like a lightning rod. “Dude,” I sighed, “You might not remember but at the start of the book? She was in a pretty delicate headspace. You joking and shit with Weaver? Confuse the hell out of her, but she’d adapt and the two of you would get along decently, both villains trying to do the right thing. Thing is, she isn’t even Skitter yet, and with luck never will be. I won’t hamstring her like the PRT would, and I’m giving her a different, better option. You’ve got that Villains are cool shit goin’ on, and understand implicitly how that and bein’ good aren’t mutually exclusive by the common linguistic conventions, but she’s, she’s like I used to be.”

    Frowning, I remembered the place I’d been in before, before I’d become friends with Herb. “She’s been burned so many times by people her feelings told her were okay that she tends to go by overt communication, what they say, instead of implicit shit, what they really mean. Just like me. Your words say Villain, but you mean Rebel, but that’s not what other people mean. Hell, it’s not what most mean, and the type of ‘villain’ you represent is the exception not the rule. You convince her to be a ‘villain’ and she’ll be what she thinks a villain is, not what you actually mean. She’d learn in time, but I don’t want her to go through all the shit that I went through to be able to understand you, and we don’t have time to teach her the right way. You’re normally all up in this shit that I thought you were doing it on purpose. Sorry,” I finished lamely.

    “Fuuuck,” Herb replied in realization. “She is isn’t she. Yeah, I’ll cut back on that shit, but I’m still trash talkin’ the Protectorate,’ he warned me.

    I snorted, “Pffft, go ahead, they deserve it. I’ll help.” I grabbed a laptop and headed for my room, turning the music back on, but turning it down. “Thanks man, good talk,” I told him as I left. He nodded, back to singing about drifting on memory bliss, whatever that meant.


    Killing time, I went over the responses I’d gotten from my Lawyer search, looking up the positive responders online. I finished up going with Eldington, Raul, & Calle, lawyers specializing in dealing with capes, though they had positive reviews from both heroes and villains. I faxed them the contract, forwarded their retainer, and asked how soon they were ready to start. A few minutes later I got a response of, “As soon as you need us.”

    With that heartening reply, I wrote up an edited description of what happened, leaving out everyone’s names and the specifics of our powers, but enough for them to work with. Attached to that were the video files all eight of my cameras recorded, along with the audio file from our comms, cutting out our use of names with a beep, only then realizing I’d never asked for my comm-piece back from Taylor, just turned them off.

    Shrugging I sent it all, with the request that they present what happened to Director Piggot, minus the portion about going undercover, since Armsmaster’s actions did not seem befitting as the head of a branch of the Protectorate, using what appeared to be untested Tinkertech, but not to release it to the media, just to use the threat of which to keep her from trying anything too hasty. Leaning back and stretching, I considered my current power set. I’d gotten better with the Aerokinesis, but I needed to work on something else as I was getting a bit bored with it, and the next step would have involved someone throwing things at me. I didn’t trust Herb, or god forbid Boojack, to do it consistently without fucking with me, and couldn’t let Taylor know I had four powers, as some online research showed that the hard maximum anyone had found a cape to have was three. That would have raised too many questions, and I honestly didn’t feel like building something to do it for me.

    As my mind wandered, I turned my focus to Armsmaster’s secondary power, the one I’d snatched. Turning anything into a bag of holding sounded nifty, but he’d not been using it overtly, so I didn’t have a repertoire of pre-developed tricks to work with like Stormtiger or Glory Girl. Playing around with it for a few hours was seriously disappointing, which I should’ve expected from Armsdick.

    I wasn’t exempt from the ‘No Biological Matter’ limitation like I’d thought I might be, so it was less ‘bag of holding’ and more ‘complex machinery that massed a fraction of what it should’. If I could’ve taken his Miniaturization Tinkerness, it would have had ridiculous synergy, and the fact that he went with a set of low-tier power armor, a single weapon, and a bike he never used in combat cemented my contempt for the man. He was useless as a hero, and even as someone with super-powers he was an utter failure, in the same tier as Skidmark in terms of utilizing his capability.

    I mean, he was good friends with Dragon, or as much as that AI had friends, who SPECIALIZED in mech suits. If he could get over himself and collaborate? They did a bit in canon, eventually, but with a bit more creativity, he might be able to go toe to toe with an Endbringer that wasn’t just playing with its food. Fully outfitted, he might be able to bloody Scion’s nose!

    Considering that, I sighed, visions of miniaturized railguns better suited to naval battleships which used the kinetic recoil to power energy weapons dancing in my mind, along with dozens of other concepts. If I could trust Armsmaster, I could quite easily give him all the fame and respect he’d wanted with a few suggestions, but then again, if I could trust Armsmaster, the plot of Worm would have been much different. I gave a mirthless chuckle. It’s the hallmark of good vs. evil; evil might be more powerful individually, but good can cooperate without reservation, which carries the day. As I mused philosophical my phone rang.

    Not recognizing the number, I asked, “Vejovis of the Penumbral Defenders, do you need a Hero?” That works better I thought.

    It was Taylor, who promptly yelled, “I’M NOT JOINING THESE ASSHOLES!”


    Herb and I met her a couple blocks away from Fugly Bob’s, because, honestly, it was the only restaurant that I actually knew about that she would as well, that also served comfort food. Herb and I landed in front of Taylor, still suited up like I’d asked, literally buzzing with irritation.

    “I’m not go-“ she started angrily, only to be cut off by my upraised hand.

    I commanded, “Stop! Have you eaten since I dropped you off?”

    “What?” she asked, confused. “No, but-“

    “Then we’re not going to talk about this until we get something to eat!” I told her. “We have-“ Herb looked away uncomfortably. “I haven’t eaten either, and I can get a bit irritable if I’m hungry, so we’re gonna get some food, eat it, and only then are we going to talk about the difficulties a hero would have being sounded out by a team of teenage villains. I will listen to what you say, and if by the end you still don’t want to, I won’t press you to go back, but we’re going to eat first. Now, can you eat in your helmet or do you need to take it off?”

    I could practically taste her stubbornness and desire to tell me off, but her grumbling stomach, along with my own grumbling stomach, which I may have made a teensy bit louder than was natural, gave her enough time to reply honestly instead of instinctually responding, even if it was just a mulish shake of her head.

    Walking into the restaurant, leaving her swarm in the alley, all eyes immediately turned to us, and the conversation died. An older waitress approached us, trying to put on a brave front as the younger waitstaff froze like spooked rabbits. “Party of 3?” she asked hopefully.

    I smiled and waved her off. “Actually, I was wondering if we could get our order to go.” Looking over I saw someone, probably thinking they were subtle, film us with a phone camera. I loved those things so much, they made for free publicity for actual Heroes. “We’re the Penumbral Defenders. We’re new in Brockton Bay and we heard Fugly Bob’s was practically an institution, so I thought we’d get some food from here for a team meeting. Would that be okay?”

    The waitress blinked, nonplussed for a moment, before nodding and grabbing three menus for us. I heard Taylor’s intake of breath as she moved to wave off the menu, probably to give her order and smoothly pushed it into her hands, talking over her. “Lady Bug,” I admonished kindly, making sure to put a pause between the two words. “I know you’re trying to watch your figure, but please at least look at the menu, before you make a decision. I know this wasn’t your first choice, but humor me.” Feeling her confusion, I opened it for her and put it right in front of her, so it at least looked like she was looking at it behind her one-way lenses.

    Turning to Herb I asked. “Break, any idea what Enter would want?”

    He considered the menu for a second before responding. “Knowing him, a Challenger. Shit, I’ll have one too.”

    I nodded, “Sounds good to me as well.”

    The waitress looked at us. “Um, they’re only free if you eat them here.”

    I laughed kindly, getting a look from Herb and turning down the good humor before I went full Alex Louis Armstrong. “We’ll pay the full price. We’re capes, so we burn more energy than normal. The challenge wouldn’t be fair, and we have the money.”

    “I’ll have a cheeseburger and a coke,” Taylor added, handing back the menu.

    “It’ll be a few minutes,” she told us, making her retreat.

    I smiled at her retreating form, motioning for the three of us to stand off to the side to let people walk in and out. The sense of confusion and curiosity from Taylor was like a beacon, so I turned, presenting my back to the cameras and moved my head next to hers, whispering in her ear “If you don’t need to look at the menu, that means you’ve been here before, and I’m trying to obscure your possible identity.”

    Her confusion changed to shock, realization, and a little bit of fear, none of it expressed in her body language as she kept still. “But, I could have looked it up online, or figured that this place would serve cheeseburgers. What you said meant you could’ve been here,” she replied, trying to find a way to excuse her almost-mistake.

    I shook my head, keeping the sounds of our conversation from leaving a bubble around us. “But that’s not what people would think. Managing perception is not about what could be, but what probably is. I led with hearing about this place, and The Challenger is on their marketing. Also, by ordering one to go, I can come here and as long as I don’t order one, it obviously isn’t me. After all,” I laughed quietly. “I payed full price for the Challenger without blinking, suggesting that I could eat it in one sitting easily. A regular burger would be a snack in comparison for someone like that. Now, we’re being filmed, so pretend to laugh quietly and nod your head when I step away.” I gave her a second to process before stepping back, smiling broadly as I turned to face the restaurant, dropping the bubble as she chuckled and nodded. Herb gave me questioning look as I waved a hand at him. “I’ll tell you the joke when we get back,” causing him to nod.

    “You’re jokes aren’t that funny man, not like mine!” he declared. And this is why we work so well together I thought.

    “Pffft,” I waved him off, “Lady Bug thinks my jokes are funny, don’t you?” I asked turning to her.

    “Umm,” she responded, not sure how to respond. “Kinda?”

    I put a hand to my chest in mock hurt. “But you laughed? Were you just humoring me? Alas, such is my lot in life!” turning my back to the two of them, smiling as I huffed.

    “No, wait, um, they were funny!” she tried, obviously confused.

    “No, no, it’s too late, you’ve made your thoughts clear!” I turned back to the two of them, Herb repressing his laughter at Taylor’s struggling to keep up with what was going on. “Just kidding Lady, I know you think I’m funny.”

    She looked between the two of us before crossing her arms. “That wasn’t funny.” She told us, the feelings of betrayal and hurt coming from her strongly over the bug control.

    I patted her on the shoulder, sending back feelings of apology and feeling bad for something done wrong accidentally, “Lady, it’s just joking around. Maybe in poor taste, but relax.”

    Herb nodded, “Oh my darling, please relax, life’s too short!”

    She glanced between us, probably glaring, but I couldn’t tell with her helmet. “Fine. Where’s our food.”

    A few minutes later, I paid our order with a pilfered hundred from the Merchants, telling her to keep the change, handed the bag to Herb, and the three of us walked out, thanking the waitress as we left. Outside there was a group of people, watching and filming us. Ah, the paparazzi I thought as I offered my arm to Herb and Taylor, waiting for both of them to link theirs through mine before taking off and heading southeast towards the commercial sector. Alighting on the rooftop of an office building, I blanketed the top with insects for a minute, feeling out the two security cameras and obscuring them, buzzing slightly to mess with sound while I wrapped us all in the acoustic bubble I was quickly becoming proficient with. I motioned for everyone to sit and handed out the food, looking at the frankly massive burgers Herb and I had gotten. Shrugging I got started only to be interrupted by Taylor’s indignant question of “What was that about?” From the tone she’d been stewing on it the entire flight here.

    I finished my bite. “You’re gonna have to be more specific.” I looked up, seeing her mask still on. “I’ve blocked the security cameras, you’ll be fine.”

    “You, with the plans, and then you’re joking and making fun of me. What was going on?” she demanded as she took off her mask, her eyes oddly shiny.

    Herb looked at me. “This is all you,” he unhelpfully told me before taking another bite as he reclined against an air vent. “Damn this is good.”

    I looked at her and repressed an instinct to go give her a hug. She looked like she needed one, and given she’d probably had two serious fights already, she was probably drained, and not up for the back and forth yet. Yep I thought. Too much too fast, she’s not used to dealing with the concept of personality masks and all that shit.

    I motioned for her to take a bite, and waited for her to do so before continuing. “I plan, it’s what I do, and growing up I . . . had problems with people. Understanding them, relating to them, the whole deal. So, I started studying them, and it took me the better part of two decades, but I’ve broken down interactions to what they are, and like any science, once you understand it you can work with it.”

    “Sounds like a freakin’ supervillain when he explains it, doesn’t he?” Herb asked between bites, getting a tenuous nod from Taylor.

    I sighed, putting down my burger as I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Damnit Herb, you do the same thing, you just picked up the skills naturally. Most people do to some extent, but psychological trauma retards that process, stopping it completely sometimes, but like anything the use of intelligent thought can overcome those problems. It might not work in the same manner, but it has the same results. I was explaining to Taylor that if she ordered without looking at the menu, it made her look like a regular, which would hint at her identity as a native, as well as my rationale for having us all order Challengers, letting us come back later without suspicion as long as we didn’t order those. Isn’t that why you did that?” I asked.

    He laughed. “Nah, I just wanted to see if I could eat that big-ass burger, but that works too!” He looked at her, “But he’s right about lookin’ at the menu. Leave no signals. And as for the joking around, didn’t mean anything by it. Darlin’, you’ve really got to maintain.”

    “But it sounded like. . .” she responded, looking down at her food, trailing off as I felt the emotional hurt from her.

    “Like something the bitches that tormented you might do?” I asked gently. She didn’t look up, just nodded. “I won’t go into it right now, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with social manipulation. I thought that for a bit and lost all my friends, not realizing that everyone does it all the time without realizing. It, like all things, is flavored by the intent, but again, not the point,” I stated.

    “And he doesn’t do it to his friends,” Herb added. “We just get the bad jokes.”

    “What?” I asked confused. “Duh! Well, I’m honest about it. It’s only common courtesy. They’re honest with me and trust me so how could I be anything but the same in return? That’s-“ I cut myself off with a facepalm, my own stupidity slapping me in the face like an errant trout. “Right, emotional damage due to betrayal not healed, compounded by the falling of an idol and the death of a dream, finding new friends, and probably two separate combat encounters, one without backup, on top of the normal feminine conditioning package. I’m a fucking moron.”

    I stood up and walked over to her, gently taking her food and putting it off to the side before sitting down next to her and putting an arm around her shoulder, letting her lean against me. It was a bit of an intimate gesture, but people needed human contact, and, if I had to guess, she had been severely lacking in that. “I won’t betray you, nor will Herb, and if he does I’ll kick his ass. I’m. . . not exactly normal.” I glanced at Herb waiting for the joke, but it never came. “I know that, but when I don’t have to put up a performance for those that would mean us ill, and I’ll do my best to be as clear as possible. I know this has been a hell of a day, and while most of them won’t be this bad, some of them will be. You’ll get stronger from this though, to the point that you can press on and be there.”

    From the look she gave me, she didn’t believe me, so I tried to connect it to something she knew. “Think of it like jogging. Today you ran a marathon. You’re used to having to do the occasional sprints at school because of your tormentors, but otherwise not that much. There are days that will be this bad, hell, I can’t promise some of them won’t be worse, but you’ll be stronger, and you won’t be doing it alone. We’ll be there for you, okay? We have goals we can’t tell you yet, and things we can’t tell you either, but that’s because of your current mission. It’s the best way to save the Undersiders, but again, if by the end of tonight you don’t want to, Herb and I’ll figure out another way to do it.”

    I sighed, carefully not paying attention to her face, not paying attention to her feelings through the connection, not wanting to intrude while she was vulnerable, feeling her hesitantly press against me, looking for comfort. “I will do my damndest to never lie to you, and any manipulations will be to help. Seeing that your friend isn’t feeling good, so you talk to them and distract them from whatever’s bugging them? That’s a manipulation, but one done from kindness, not malignance. Herb and I both have problems because we use words in the way that we’ve come to understand them, not necessarily the popular conception, though we both try not to do so around people that don’t understand. So, I manipulate people, so does everyone, but I would never do so to hurt you, and if you were to ever ask why I was doing something, I’ll tell you, or at least tell you why I can’t tell you. I promise, and I do my damndest not break promises I give my friends.”

    “He doesn’t,” my friend added, watching us both with a smirk for some reason. “Even if it sounds fuckin’ stupid.”

    “Thank you, Herb,” I responded rolling my eyes. “So, you okay?” I felt her nod. “Do you want me to let go?” A shake no this time. “Okay, let’s eat, calm down, and you can tell us about your meeting the villain. It sounds like it might’ve gone worse than I thought, but let’s discuss it after we’ve clogged our arteries and give our enhanced physiology a run for its money.” That earned a choked laugh and I considered it a win.

    I had Herb pass me my burger and worked on it one handed, getting three-fourths of the way through it before putting it down. Putting myself in a food coma when my teammate needed me wouldn’t be ok.

    I waited for her to finish and pull away from me, rubbing at her face before I went to talk, interrupted by an impressive belch from my friend. Looking over at him, I couldn’t help to ask, “Dear lord man, did you actually eat the whole thing?”

    He shrugged, smiling and unrepentant. “Sooo fuckin’ good man, but I’m full.”

    “Wait, when you were talking about parahumans needing more energy, that was true?” Taylor asked, eyes wide.

    I wiggled my hand in a ‘kinda’ gesture. “Have you seen any fat capes that weren’t fat because of their powers? When you get your powers, you get a tune-up, healing terminal conditions, fixing you up, so on. Part of that seems to be a higher energy consumption, so you might still be able to get fat, but not without concerted effort.”

    “But. . .?” she asked, hand touching her glasses self-consciously.

    I shrugged. “Not sure why it doesn’t fix that. Maybe because you don’t need to see to use your powers? Who knows. I’ve got a plan to fix that, but not for at least a month,” I replied offhandedly.

    “Wait, what?” she asked, shocked.

    “Dude, enough!” Herb groaned from behind me. “Let her talk or we’ll be here forever!” He turned to address her. “Taylor, darling, we’ve a lot of plans to help you, maybe other people, but why am I here to meet you? Other than that delicious Burger,” he added as an afterthought.

    “Sorry,” I replied chagrined. “So, you met the Undersiders, which, despite their various hang-ups, are good people. Honestly if it wasn’t for Herb’s desire to take this subtly, I’d’ve gone for a straight recruitment pitch. I don’t trust them like I do you or Herb, but we could do good work together.”

    “Nah man,” my friend told us. “Not right now, they’re too loyal.”

    I looked at him confused, “Really?”

    He nodded to himself, explaining, “I think the only one who isn’t loyal, is Tattletale.” After a moment of thought I nodded in agreement as Taylor cast a questioning glance that looked confused as I had first felt.

    “They don’t seem that loyal to anyone,” she informed him.

    “Grue is loyal because of Aisha,” he explained.

    “Who?” she asked, glaring at us tiredly as we both laughed. “What? What’s so funny?”

    “You’ll get the joke when she Triggers,” I explained. “But I see your point, Regent wants to keep a low profile because of the villain looking for him, who, just saying, I’m gonna snipe him.” Taylor looked horrified, but I just shook my head. “Not gonna say who, because you might give it away, but the only reason he doesn’t have a Kill Order on his head is the chaos it would cause, the damage of which would be less than he’s doing long term. But hey, governments, no one wants to take responsibility when they can kick the can down the street. Or roll the snowball down the hill for a more apt metaphor.”

    Herb nodded, “Hell yeah, no way I’m getting close to him.” He turned to Taylor, “How did things go with Bitch?”

    “Um,” she started nervously. “I think I established dominance?”

    “How? Herb inquired.

    “Well,” she started, shrinking in on herself.

    “You kicked her ass, didn’t you?” he grinned evilly.

    Taylor blinked, looking between the two of us. “You knew that would happen?” she asked, trying to get upset, but only managing moderate annoyance.

    “Are you injured?” I asked, dodging the question.

    “Uh, no? Should I be?”

    “Original timeline? Yeah,” I responded guilelessly. “But we’re here now, so the ripple effects have started. Even if you had been, I could’ve healed you up easily. What happened?”

    “Well, I kept what you said in mind,” she started, looking down. “So, when the dogs came in and attacked me, I hit them in the face, muzzle, with my Baton, and did again when they got up and went for me, and then asked Bitch what she was doing, and smiled, like you told me, with teeth, and she tried to hit me for hurting her dogs when they fucking attacked me!” She was getting incensed, anger burning away tiredness as she clenched her fists, while I kept the insects over the cameras instead of the mindless rage she was trying to spur them into unconsciously.

    “So I hit her in the face with my baton,” Taylor recounted, “and then she tried to call her dogs on me so I hit her again, and then the dogs come on anyways and who does that when they’re trying to recruit someone, and then Grue did that darkness, thanks for the heads up, and then I decided fuck that because even if you said they’re good,” she shot us an accusing glare, “I’d never normally hang out with people that attack strangers but it all sorta worked out and she apologized and we might be okay?” she finished weakly, her torrent of words trickling down, as her energy crashed, leaving her more wrung out looking than she had before. “Are you sure these are good people?”

    “For measures of good,” I hedged. “They’re honorable, and loyal if you do right by them, and at worst they deserve juvenile detention and some serious counseling.” She looked incredulous. “No really, the only villains in town that are worth turning to the side of the angels are the Undersiders, Faultline’s Crew, and they barely count as villains, Purity, Night, Fog, Rune and maybe Othala.

    “Ah, Purity,” Herb mumbled into his fries, not able to help himself as he ate a bit more.

    “Of them, the Undersiders are the surest for turning good,” I continued, ignoring my partner and regaining her attention. “As they did turn good, will do so, might do so, future tenses are weird.”

    Taylor slowly turned her gaze to Herb. “Aren’t some of them E88? Wouldn’t having them join with Herb be. . . bad?”

    “Oh, so bad, but such a challenge,” Herb reassured her, to little effect.

    “Purity left E88, though she’s still a racist, but it’s more of a worldview, one that’s reinforced by dealing with the ABB, instead of a full-on religion. Night & Fog are heavily brainwashed to be living weapons, which is both fucked up and means we might be able to help them. Rune became a Neo-Nazi after her parents, who escaped E88, left her to rot in juvenile detention where she was put in solitary confinement so long she triggered, which is illegal by the way. She suffered a slow torture to your few hours of bio-hell. Either way her parents abandoned her, so she joined the group they hated, which is such classic teenage rebellion that it hurts, but that shit makes for a weak foundation. Othala, I don’t know that much about, but I’d like to meet her once just to get a feel for her.”

    “What about Cricket?” Herb asked. “You forgot her.”

    I rolled my eyes. “No Herb, I didn’t, she’s not gonna join willingly.” I ignored both his hmmph of “defeatist,” and Taylor’s horrified expression in order to continue. I mentally thanked Herb for breaking the building tension, one I hadn’t realized had been present until it was gone. “That’s for the villains. We can discuss the rest when you’ve had more rest.” I looked her in the eye. “The Undersiders are rough around the edges, but they’re worth saving. If you don’t want to, we’ll find another way to do it. I’m not gonna pull that ‘well I gave you a choice and you made your decision’ bullshit about this. I trust you to think about it and be honest, and I’ll respect that. For tomorrow at least, can you keep going with your undercover op? It’s harder than you thought, but we’re here to support you.”

    She took a deep breath before nodding. “I can,” she stated, turning around to get her mask, murmuring to herself, my sound control kicking in automatically to hear her tell herself “Was gonna do it on my own, I just have frie- teammates now.” I wanted to correct her, but that would result in me outing my power, so I let the comment pass, thinking about the implications.

    “So Herb,” I addressed him instead. “You okay with me dropping you off near the docks while I take Taylor home before her dad gets home?”

    He nodded slyly, laughing to himself. “I’ll be fine, fly the girl home.”

    I rolled my eyes as I offered my arm to her, taking off into the night sky.


    I left Herb as we sped towards her house. “It’s. . .” she started, before turning to look at me. “It’s this way. Do you know where I live?” she tiredly asked me, sounding miffed. I rolled my eyes. “Yes Taylor, I know your dad’s name and have access to the white pages and a map. I know where you live.”

    “White pages?”

    “It’s like the yellow pages for people. You didn’t know what it was? Really?” I shot a look back at her.

    “How old are you?” she asked. “I think you’re younger than Herb, but. . .?”

    “I’m in my mid-twenties.”

    “Oh. Okay,” was all the response I got.

    I wanted to press her on that, but the last thing I needed was for her to be so surprised and tired that she let go and fell. Looking down at what I thought was her house I saw a car pulling into the driveway. “Um, Taylor, is that your dad?” I queried with trepidation.

    She looked down as well, stiffening. “Oh no,” she breathed. “I’m in so much trouble.”

    I looked at the situation and weighed it. Calling the risk as acceptable I told her. “I’ve got a way to get you in, but I need you to close your eyes, and don’t open them until two seconds after you hit your bed. Okay?”

    She looked at me, interest warring with tiredness. “Do you have a fourth power? No one has four.”

    “Can’t tell you because of Tattletale,” I stated. “Decision time, yay or nay?”

    “Yes,” she said, “eyes closed, do it.”

    With that I poured on the speed, shifting to Shadowform as I barreled through the sky, skimming low over rooftops. She stiffened as the world faded, but said nothing, not reacting as I took us straight through the window into her room. I turned and dropped her, her body shifting from the full color she was tome when I took her with me to the desaturated view of the rest of the world as I passed back out the window. Her father was already in her kitchen, so I flicked out with Aerokinesis to ring the doorbell, the sound of it hopefully covering the impact of Taylor hitting her bed. I flew up and out as a man answered the door, looking around his yard, before closing it, shaking his head. Drop-off complete I headed back out, happy with how things had turned out.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  6. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.5

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.5

    Walking into the base, I nodded to Boojack, who was munching down on the extra Challenger. “Thanks man! You’re the best, I was getting the munchies hardcore!” He told me, and I laughed, giving him a thumbs up as I walked over to the computer room to grab a laptop to work on.

    “So, walk your girlfriend home?” Herb asked, not looking up from his computer as he worked on something.

    “Okay, one, not my girlfriend. She’s like, fifteen, I think. Well past the acceptable limits of the creepy rule of dating. Two, yeah, we got there right as her dad was getting home,” ignoring his snort of laughter, “but I managed to drop her off while distracting Danny by ding, dong, ditching him,” I defended. “Only thing on the docket right now is the bank heist, and that’s not for a couple of days at the very least, maybe a week. I can’t remember. You have any plans?”

    “Fuck bitches, get money!” was his immediate reply.

    I just stared at him. “That sounds like a reference, but I don’t get it. Any actual goals?”

    He shrugged, “Not really. Ya’ need me for anything?”

    “Not really, but if something comes up I’ll call you. I’m planning on meeting our lawyers, setting up PR, doing some patrols, and maybe hitting up a gang business to make some money to pay off our debt. You know, team upkeep things.”

    “Yeah, that’s why you’re the lead,” he said, looking over at me. “I don’t want to deal with any of that shit.”

    Nodding I told him, “Thanks for helping me back there. I didn’t realize how we were piling up everything on her like that.”

    “No big, she’s more like you than me, but she ain’t used to this shit,” he replied, confirming my own thoughts. “She didn’t choose the cape life, the cape life chose her, but she needs time. Also- nevermind.”

    “What?” I asked.

    He thought, obviously choosing his words carefully. “You’re kinda. . . intense. I’m used to it, so’s Boo ‘cause he’s made from me, just, be careful, ‘kay?”

    “Um, okay?” I replied, not really knowing what the hell he was referring to.

    “You’ll figure it out,” he waved me off, turning back to. . . was that porn? Nope, not gonna ask, I thought as I turned around and left, laptop in hand as I looked up on how to make a low-tech pitching machine, putting it together outside so I could call on my insectile handymen to help.

    After a few hours of power practice, I wandered inside, grabbing my leftovers and noting that everyone had long since gone to sleep. I considered joining them. I didn’t need to sleep, but it had been a while. Shaking my head, I went back out and continued deflecting projectiles, maybe later.


    It took nearly eight straight hours, pushing through boredom and distraction, but I was able to finally get a handle on Stormtiger’s projectile deflection to the point I could use it automatically, like a muscle I could stretch, a bit distracting to keep going, but something that would do better with time. By the end I’d built something to fire a gun I’d pulled from some Merchants, and used it to fire bullets at me, deflecting them wildly at first, but making the margin closer and closer as I worked, using Glory Girl’s shield to tank the shots I didn’t quite deflect. All of this was while I wrapped in an acoustic bubble to keep the sound from gathering attention.

    Finishing up, I was collecting the small hill of spent brass when I had an idea. Taking the gun, focusing on it, I wrapped it in a sound bubble, and pointed it at the wall I’d pock-marked with hundreds of bullets. Picking a part that made a pattern, I concentrated on the gun and fired, nudging the bullet midflight to hit my target with the very air it travelled through. I was a bit off, but could get the sense of feedback, which caused me to smile, the only sound from attempt being the sound of the impact. This, I decided, was something to work on later.

    Making breakfast for the crew, leaving the pancakes in the warming drawer and a note on the table, I left for my lawyer’s office, which was set to open pretty soon. Flying over, stopping an early morning mugging, and saving an actual cat from a tree (apparently a thing that actually happened), I made it right at the time on the website listed, walking in to be greeted by an elderly man behind a desk. A few minutes later I was seated in a meeting room with a cup of coffee, one of the senior partners on the way.

    I shrugged and pulled out my phone, seeing that I still hadn’t received a response from the Rogue that was probably my father, I sent another, this one making oblique references to his origin, and computer support, his job before we were all dragged to this place. Sending it off, the door opened and a man walked in with the bearing of a professional. Mid-30’s, dark hair, Latino, what struck me immediately was the thin burn scar across half his face.

    “You!” I called, pointing at him as I finally realized why this law firm sounded so familiar. This was the guy who tried to help Taylor when she turned herself in!

    The man in question froze, just for a second. “Me?” he asked, walking further in and setting down his briefcase. “Have we met before?” If he was nervous, he didn’t show it.

    Shaking my head, I apologized. “Sorry, I just remembered why this law firm sounded familiar. I don’t actually remember your name, sorry, but I’ve heard good things.”

    He nodded in response. “I’m glad we have that reputation. My name is Quinn Calle, of Eldington, Raul, & Calle, and I assume you’re the hero that dropped that bomb on us yesterday? Vejovis?”

    I smiled in return. “Yeah, I was planning on doing it myself, but I don’t know parahuman law, or how to deal with the PRT in a, in that way so I figured I might as well contact professionals. Did you enjoy the videos?”

    “The multiple camera angles were a nice touch,” he acceded. “Though if you had been the one to instigate violence, it would have spoken of pre-meditation. Who was the person in black, if you don’t mind me asking?”

    “The Lady, Bug.” I told him, “She’s a probationary member of the team for- Do we have lawyer client privilege?” I broke off, double checking.

    He smiled. “Yes we do, and thank you for asking.”

    “Good,” I wrapped us a sound bubble. “As I was saying, she’s currently going forward with her plan to infiltrate the Undersiders, a teenage villain team, with us for support. Their boss has an agent in the PRT and I’d rather not clue him in. She’d survive, but it wouldn’t be pleasant. We know enough that we could probably strike once we locate his base, but we’re trying to flip the lower-level villains first.”

    He let out a breath, expression inscrutable. “That’s. . . interesting. I was going to tell you that you might not need our firm’s services directly, but it appears I was in error. Anything else you think I need to know?” he asked with a grin.

    Never one to miss a straight line, I didn’t miss a beat. “I’m a healer, and managed to get kicked out of Brockton Memorial for the temerity of assuming they’d at least pay for my lunch when I healed close to a hundred patients for free. The video is out there somewhere of the confrontation, and if you think you have a case to sue them, by all means go ahead. Of note is that I’m in contact with a paranoid precog who occasionally gives me information on where to go or warns of upcoming danger, but never in a way that’s actually helpful in stopping it. Something about time paradoxes and the rending of space-time. Only thing I have right now is that you probably shouldn’t go anywhere near ABB territory for a couple of weeks, starting in a few days. No idea why, other than ‘It’ll get suddenly weird, repeatedly’.”

    I smiled at the look on his face. “Well,” he responded, voice neutral. “All right then. You seem like the kind of client that will make my firm a good deal of money. You do have enough money to pay for the hours we will undoubtable accrue, correct?”

    I shrugged. “If I don’t, the Merchants, ABB, & E88 will. Though my healing ability will help there, as I was planning to use that in a manner similar to a Rogue. Basic trauma I can handle, but I need Panacea to double check my work for anything internal as she has diagnostic capabilities I lack. Ironically though, I’ve discovered that my abilities for minor plastic surgery are quite strong. Do you mind if I demonstrate?”

    I saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes, quickly restrained as he appeared to think about it before giving a single, professional nod. Pulling off my glove, I looked at the side of his face which was unblemished, fixing it in my mind. I could have just touched his hand, but I couldn’t help but go for the flare of the dramatic as I drolly told him, “There’s something on your face, let me get that for you.” Reaching up I made a brushing motion, trying to do it in stages, but it all changed at once. Nevertheless I finished the motion before taking my hand back stating, “That’s better,” as I put my glove back on.

    He smoothly took out his phone, turning on the camera, a slight quiver in his hand the only thing betraying his state of mind. Turning it on, he stilled, before turning his head back and forth, raising one hand to brush his new, unblemished cheek. “How long will this last?” he asked carefully.

    I shrugged. “As long as skin would normally last, I copied the design of your other cheek and mirrored it. It’s less healing and more bio-kinesis, which is why I’m careful with injuries. Sealing the skin, and thus an infection within, could kill someone if I’m not careful, and the nightmarish things I could do if I didn’t care about human life would, well, the Slaughterhouse 9 may consider recruitment. Hence I call it healing, for PR reasons.”

    He looked up at me. “Is Panacea like you?”

    I gave him a cool stare. “No, she’s much better, but a healer, nothing more, and someone I would quite dislike being slandered with any untoward accusations, understood?” I smiled, with teeth.

    “Of course. And you wish for us to arrange this. . . Healing?” he smiled back, friendly grin showing he understood.

    I nodded. “I’m free most nights, though may need to cancel. If I do, I’ll probably give you a warning to lay low. If I tell you to leave the city, get your family and do so. Trust me, sometimes I only get a few hours warning, but you’d not want to be stuck somewhere like Canberra.”

    “You mean you,-“ he started.

    “Wasn’t there, but my contact should be able to predict things of that magnitude, though not reliably.” I cut him off. “But, and this is important, you can get you and yours out, but do not tell others. You are, no offence, a minor enough player that it won’t change that much, but if your actions from my warning disrupt the future enough, people will die, and that will be the last warning you get. I’m sorry I have to be like this, but I’m taking a risk giving you even that.”

    He leaned back, letting out a deep sigh. “Can I tell the other partners?”

    “Will they tell ‘just a few more’ people, or actually stop it there?” I shot back.

    He nodded. “Just Raul then. Damn.” He shook his head. “Thank you, you are being most helpful. Unusually helpful,” he mused. “I must say, if this a recruitment pitch, I’m going to have to turn you down. I am a lawyer, nothing more.”

    I laughed. “Of course, it’s not, you’re already working with me, in a very defined way and I wouldn’t be so silly as to try any of those ‘offer you can’t refuse’ traps for more with a lawyer. You’re trained to wriggle out of contracts, and make them wriggle proof. You’re the one who’d draft contracts others would sign, it would be the height of stupidity to try to abuse you.” I stood up, extending my gloved hand to shake. “I hope this is the beginning of a profitable endeavor, please e-mail me when you have clients ready. I trust you’ll do right by me, and I will return the favor.”

    Shaking my hand, he responded. “Yes, I think it will be.” He paused, mulling something over. “Forgive me if this offends, but you do actually seem like some of my regular clients.”

    I considered the statement, understanding that it was not meant with malice, merely as an observation and question of intent. “That might be true,” I finally told him. “But villains don’t save the world.”


    I left the office behind, with a request for them to look into a PR agency I could use. As I flew around downtown, relaxing as I made my way back towards base in an ambling manner, I spotted a flash of white around where the northern ferry station was located. Moving in closer, I saw something that almost hurt to look at: a woman, outlined in white.

    My Sight kicked in and I saw what could only be Purity, her light dampening as the fire of her power bloomed to the point that I could see her face, which was less attractive than I thought, and twisted in rage. Her power collected and concentrated light, shifting her in a manner similar to Shadow Stalker, only tuned differently. However, the shift somehow cost light from an internal reservoir itself to manifest, as did pulling matter from that dimension, which she was using to attack the gangbangers below her, shooting up at her.

    It was hard to keep a bead on her as she flew back and forth, dodging and weaving around the buildings, but a bird’s eye view let me track her as I copied her power. It burned in my chest, wanting to activate, but I clamped down on it, as it would have been way too obvious. Instead, I flew down to ground level, following her trail of destruction, stopping at a few of the more injured gang members to stop them from bleeding out. She darted over me, sending a blast downwards, my Power Sight the only thing giving me warning, the fire collecting around her hands and flaring as she let the projectile go, double helix trails passing right by my head.

    Tossing the thug who had been coughing up blood to the side, I ascended, nudging the second projectile out of the way as I rolled past it, coming up to her level, though several dozen feet away, my hands in the air. “Pax!” I called. “Peace! I don’t want to fight!”

    “Then what were you doing?” she countered, thankfully willing to use words. Is it ‘cause I’m white, or because I’m wearing white? My inner comic snarked.

    “Making sure the scum didn’t die,” I responded honestly. “You were going at it pretty hard.”

    Her face had a moment of worry, and it was apparent that she hadn’t realized how much damage she was laying down, but more than that, the open honesty of her face told me she wasn’t used to dealing with people reading her expression, likely because they couldn’t see her face. If that was a personal habit that carried over into her normal life, no wonder Kaiser could play her. “And if they did die, so what? They’re barbarians!” she defended hotly. I laughed, raising her hackles. “What? They are!”

    I held up a hand. “Sorry, it’s just, that’s what they call us, like, all the time. I appreciate the irony. Also, I hate bringing race into it, but I thought you quit the E88?”

    Her power pulsed with her anger. “I have!”

    “Then why do you only go after the Asians?” I asked, pointing out the obvious.

    “As opposed to who, the Empire? They know who I am, I can’t exactly go against them!” she shot back with the speed of practice of someone who had been asked that question, if only by themselves.

    “I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized you were a part of the Merchants as well,” I replied, voice thick with sarcasm. The shocked look on her face was priceless. “Hit them occasionally, and you can throw it in the face of anyone who cries racism.” I advised. “So, is this a random patrol, or do you have a lead? And if so, can I help?”

    “I,” she started, looking at me, and my exposed face, probably my white skin. “I don’t have anything. Do you? Who are you anyways?”

    I grabbed a couple of beetles from below, bringing them up and using them to carry over my card. “I’m Vejovis, of the Penumbral Defenders, new hero team, and looking for new members, though this isn’t a recruitment pitch.”

    “Is it because I used to be part of the Empire?” she demanded. “Don’t want to taint yourself?”

    I reeled back as if struck, “Dear god woman calm down! No, it’s because you seem kinda upset and I don’t like doing the whole ‘an offer you can’t refuse’, ‘once you’ve joined I own you’ BS. I was gonna say if you wanted help or wanted to join, call me later once you’ve had time to think. I don’t give a shit even if you were a major part of that gesundheit group back in Germany, if you want to join, be a hero, and not screw us over, then you’d probably be welcome!”

    I flew a bit closer, trusting in my shield to tank the first shot if she attacked. “Have you had any support since you left E88? Because if you’ve been doing this alone, that must’ve been bad.”

    She looked at me suspiciously. “You said you weren’t recruiting.”

    I threw my hands in the air. “I’m not, I just have empathy! From your expression, you look like you need some help, and, overenthusiastic patrols aside, you don’t seem like a horrible person, so I was trying to help.”

    “I look. . .” she echoed, eyes suddenly going wide. “You can see my face!” she exclaimed, backing away.

    “Yes, and?” I responded. “I’m not gonna unmask you or anything, I’m not a villain!” But I was talking to air as she took off, faster than I could follow with my standard flight. “Dammnit!” I swore at the empty air.


    Landing back at base, I walked back in the door only to see him step out of a glowing rectangle, dirty and blood splattered. “Oh, hey man!” he greeted me. “Cauldron needed some shit done, so yeah. How’s your day been?”

    I walked up to him, the doorway snapping shut behind him as a voice called, “You said it was empty!”

    I looked at him questioningly. “Contessa can’t see you,” he laughed. “So, some of what she said was off. It was pretty funny.”

    “Are you injured?” I asked, checking him over.

    “Nah, I nabbed Enter’s power and healed by bustin’ some Russians up!” he practically cheered. “And I got paid! I’m now only kinda in absolutely crippling debt if I didn’t have powers.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Sounds like fun, I met with our lawyers. You know the one that defended Taylor from Tagg? It’s him, so I fixed his face.” I shrugged, “He deserved it.”

    Herb whistled, “Damn, so, he’s gonna like you.”

    I nodded, “Yeah, I think we went well. Wanna know who else I met?” I asked, grinning.

    “Don’t keep me in suspense man!” he called, as I activated Purity’s power, the world around me lighting up, seeming to oversaturate, the inverse of my Shadowform.

    Herb staggering backwards, shielding his eyes! “What the mother pickle fucking Farquhar is going on with . . . You motherfucker! You met Purity without me!” he groused.

    I stood there, grinning, “You snooze you loose, man, besides, I only talked with her for minute ‘fore she ran away.”

    “You-“ he cut himself off, tone serious. “Dude, stop with the light, it’s getting annoying.”

    “Use my Power Sight to look at me,” I told him.

    “I can’t, you’re too. Oh,” he said looking at me. “I’ve still only got your powers, not hers, but I can see you. Why?”

    I shrugged. “No clue, just a quirk of the power. I gave her my card, but may have let slip that I could see her face and she bugged out.”

    Dude, why did you do that?” he asked, confused.

    “It was a mistake,” I acknowledged. “I was kind of doing the entire ‘I’m not recruiting you, but I’m giving you all the reasons why you should join, but not actually asking you to join so when you do you’re more likely to stick with it’ thing, while trash talking Kaiser’s methods. I made a comment about how she looked like she was having a tough time, and then she asked if I could see her, so I said I could, ‘cause I could, and started to explain how that wasn’t a big deal, but she flew the coop before I could finish.”

    Herb groaned, placing his face in his palm. “That shit only works if they’re willing to listen,” he told me. “Let me handle her next time.”

    I grimaced. “Hate to break it to you, but I think she was only willing to give me the time of day because I’m white.”

    He waved away my response as he headed for his room. Stripping off his dirty costume. “That just makes it more fun!”

    I rolled my eyes as I played around with Purity’s power, glowing and levitating, not blasting anything because I liked this base. Combining my Light and Shadowform made for an interesting combination, as radiance and darkness played across my body, turning a variety of colors. I tried to put my hand on a table and it went through, but when I tried to bring it back up, my hand thunked into it.


    Concentrating on the powers I realized I could move the light around my body, and only the lit portions were tangible. It took some time, figuring out how to move the lit portions, forming patters and changing setups. Filing that away, I heard my phone ringing, an odd, distorted sound.

    Dropping both powers, the sound cleared up, and I answered the phone, for Taylor to answer. “Hi,” she asked, “could we meet?”

    “We can be there in a couple minutes. Where, and formal or casual?” I asked. Getting a response and turning to get Herb, I saw that he’d pulled up a chair at the table and had been watching me practice. “Um,” I told him eruditely. “That was Taylor. . . how long have you been sitting there?”

    “Like five minutes,” he shrugged. “You’ve been at it for hours dude, I was gonna say something, but you looked like you’re having fun playing with yourself. That Boardwalk?”

    “If you add Speed Zones, yeah. It’s kinda overkill, with three high mobility powers, but I’m still going with it,” I responded absently. “Hours, really?”

    “Yeah, you looked super into it, so we didn’t bug you,” he told me. “Where we going?”

    Looking at the clock, it wasn’t one in the afternoon like I thought, but almost five o’clock in the evening. Something seemed just off about that, but that was something to worry about later. Taylor needed us, and I’d probably lost track of time playing around with a new power. I shook myself, turning a grin to my best friend, “We’re going to Panera!”

    “Yay?” he inquired, enthusiasm fading, “Panera ain’t that great.” I gave him a shocked look. “White people,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “Sandwiches. Yay.”
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  7. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.6

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.6

    Giving him a lift, we made it there in a few minutes, walking out an alley in civilian gear. Herb was in cargo shorts and a grey hoodie, while I had had my costume set to look like I was wearing jeans and an unbuttoned red dress shirt, the black t-shirt underneath stating ‘This t-shirt was tested on animals. It didn’t fit,’ and shades to hide my eyes.

    I could feel Taylor on the street, so leading Herb we met her and headed inside. After getting our food and heading back into the quiet room that these places always seemed to have, I wrapped us in a sound bubble before nodding to her. “We won’t be overheard, what’s up?”

    “Yeah, how was your day at school, my little Chiquita?” Herb asked with exaggerated interest.

    She looked down in embarrassment. “I. I didn’t go,” she said, sounding ashamed. “I spent it with the Undersiders instead.” She looked up at me, as if waiting for a response, and afraid of it at the same time.

    “Um. Okay?” I shrugged, not seeing the problem. “How did it go?”

    She narrowed her eyes in confusion. “You’re not mad?”

    I matched her confusion with my own. “Should I be? It’s not like you were learning anything that important. When things calm down, I could tutor you and you could get your GED in, like, a month. Less if you want to cheat.”

    Herb looked at me, as confused as Taylor was, “Dude, you’re a teacher, shouldn’t you be wanting her to go to school?”

    I gazed back, “Do you want her to go back to Winslow?”

    Fuck no,” was his immediate response, “I just thought. . .”

    I waved away his comment, half formed as it was. “If she went to Arcadia then yeah, maybe she should go, but she goes to Winslow. The only reason for her to stick around in that hellhole would be if she had friends in there, and she doesn’t. After the tsunami of suck that’s gonna hit this town passes, I’ll want her to get her GED, just to avoid truancy officers accidentally discovering her identity or something silly like that, but with her abilities, a high-school diploma’s not gonna mean that much.”

    “Wait, what’s gonna happen?” Taylor asked intently.

    I shook my head. “Sorry. Tattletale.”

    “Right, her,” she frowned, “Tattletale knew about you, but she didn’t,” she told us. At my confused look she elucidated, “She knew I’d been contacted by another team, and when I told them I was just using you- sorry!” she apologized as I waved for her to continue, not worried in the slightest. “She knew a bit about you Herb, but. . . Wait, what’s your name?” she asked, shocked.

    “Um, what?” I asked.

    “You’ve never told me your name! How come I didn’t realize that?” she said to herself before turning to face me with an almost laser-focus. “What is it?”

    I smiled as I took off my glasses. “Sorry, I was busy and forgot to introduce myself. I’m going by Lee Elric here, but my actual name is Lee Rycroft. It is a pleasure to formally meet you, Taylor Hebert.”

    I smirked at her expression until Herb smacked me in the arm. “What?”

    “Taking girls home and they don’t even know your name. For shame man, for shame,” he lamented.

    Rolling my eyes, I got her back on topic. “So, Lisa was having trouble with me? Good. Means I haven’t let enough slip for her to get a read.”

    “Yeah, Lee,” she stressed, still a bit miffed, “She got a bunch of things wrong, like your age, but got that you were Vejovis, which pissed them off, but then Lisa told them a bit about the fight with Armsmaster, and then we were cool. How did she know about that?”

    “Super Intuition.” I replied. “I told you this. If you can see the details it’s not that hard to figure out, she just is really, really good but on a subconscious level.”

    “But how?” she asked. “I didn’t tell her anything about it and she just knew!”

    I leaned back, steepling my fingers as I thought about it. “Your armor had electrical scoring coming from a central point from where Armsdick tossed his lightning generator at you. There aren’t any electrical capes in the city, as far as I know, so damage from pure electricity like that had to be Tinkertech, and, unless you got in a fight with the Merchants, which would have resulted in a lot more blunt force trauma and broken armor panels, that meant you fought the Wards or the Protectorate. You were unsure about the entire hero/villain thing the last time she saw you, so there’s no reason why you should have met Kid Win, which just leaves Armsmaster, who they know you met with as they probably saw you talk to him as they escaped. The electrical damage would have fried your bugs, and she may or may not have figured out the reason you aren’t in custody right now was your spider-silk insulated jumpsuit, us, or a combination of both. Either way, you weren’t acting like someone out on the edge without any help, ergo, you have someone backing you up.”

    I leaned forward, “The problem with her power is that it’s really scattershot, and can give her incorrect information with just as much surety as it does hidden truths, but she can use the reactions to bad guesses to make better ones, provided she has someone to work with. Either way, you got in a fight with Armsmaster, and got out okay, but still don’t hold yourself with the confidence such a feat would engender if you won alone, so, once again, you had to have had help. I’ve already made news in this town with my confrontation at the hospital, so I’m known, and if she could read you to know that a hero helped her, that meant either the Protectorate, which wouldn’t protect you from their leader, New Wave, who wouldn’t have stepped in against the PRT for anyone who isn’t one of them, or some third option, which right now is just me. She guesses, you respond, even slightly, and she sees you respond to her guess, thus confirming it. This is why there’s some things we can’t tell you yet.”

    “. . . Yep, supervillain!” Herb declared, breaking my air of calm intelligence as Taylor just stared.

    “What, it just makes sense!” I defended. “Besides, I’m working backwards because I know what actually happened. It’s a lot harder guessing correctly, which is why she doesn’t half the time.” Taylor’s stare did not lessen. “Enough about her, what about the rest?”

    “They’re,” she paused thinking. “They’re not as bad as I thought. They really didn’t know that Rachel was gonna do that,” she acknowledged. “Brian’s nice.”

    “Hunky, isn’t he?” Herb asked with an over the top conspiratorial leer.

    What? I. No!” Taylor stammered. “He’s just. . .”

    “He’s a good Lieutenant, and good backup, but not a leader,” I informed her. “Impressive physique aside -Shut up Herb, she knows we’re both straight- he can’t keep his teammates on task. He’s good to have in a fight, and can respond quickly, but he’s not someone you can rely on for plans or ideas of any inventiveness or complexity. Also, the guy’s got no confidence in his own people. There’s a lot of reasons you ended up taking over, originally, even when you desperately didn’t want to. He’ll be useful if we can flip him to our side, and he’ll be happier for it, but I don’t have any plans that depend on him for several reasons.”

    She nodded sadly as Herb shot me an indecipherable look. “Recruiting them. . . Not Bitch, but him, I can kinda understand. Last night.” She hesitated. “Last night you said you wanted to recruit heroes too, that it wouldn’t just be villains. Who?”

    I looked back at her, “Heroes joining the team. . . sorry if I gave the impression if it was going to just be reformed villains. Also, sorry, about laying all that stuff on you last night, I sometimes get caught up in the moment.” I looked at Herb for a second as I dredged up my mental list, “I can probably convince Parian and this Neutral Party guy to work with us, or at least for us if we pay them for their services. For heroes that are actually deserving of the title? There’s you for one, obviously.” I pretended not to notice the pleased embarrassment I felt from her over our shared Arthropod Control power. “Panacea, Vista, Clockblocker, though he needs a bit of work, and Gallant definitely. Probably Battery. What little I saw of her didn’t disgust me.”

    Taylor looked at me in silence, before finally asking. “And?”

    “And what?” I replied.

    “Think she’s expecting more,” Herb supplied.

    I snorted. “Well Armsdick’s a nope, for what I hope are obvious reasons, ‘I was just following orders’ didn’t work for the Nazis and it doesn’t work for Miss Militia, Triumph’s a coward, and Assault is the biggest fucking hypocrite of the bunch. Dude used to be a villain named Madcap that intercepted vans bringing villains to the Birdcage because he thought it was wrong. I mean he was right, and it’s so illegal on so many levels it isn’t even funny, I mean at least Guantanamo Bay isn’t on American Soil, but-.”

    “Wait, what?” asked Taylor, cutting me off. “What’s that.”

    I stopped, mentally facepalming. I started to relax and forgot I had to keep secrets. “Another different universe thing,” I tried to pass off casually.

    Unfortunately, that last hint was enough. “You’re, you’re, it’s not that you’re talking about things from other dimensions, fuck you’re not from this dimension, are you!?” she demanded, jumping back and knocking over her chair and sending her empty drink spilling over the side of the table, scattering ice everywhere.

    I sighed putting my head in my ha/nds as Herb shook his head at the situation. “Can’t go one goddamned day without fucking up, can I.” I looked at Taylor, gesturing for her to sit down. She hesitated, and I sighed, entreating, “Taylor, we’re not a threat, and if we were, running wouldn’t help, and neither would attacking us, and doing so would unmask you. Please, just have a seat.”

    She picked up her chair but just put it down between us, my sense of her overflowing with betrayal, anger, and hurt, tightly controlled. “Talk,” she demanded.

    “Before you do your thing, can you choose your words a little better please?” Herb asked, looking at me in sad concern, before indicating Taylor. “This sweet young thing is just tryin’ to do the best she can, and is feelin’ a bit out of place.”

    I looked at him. There was obviously some kind of subtext there, but I’d be damned if I got it. Leaning back, running my hand through my hair I tried to do as he asked. “Let’s just put this on the list of things I can’t fully explain right now for good reason. Yes, we’re probably from another dimension. No, I don’t know the specifics. No, we don’t want to do anything evil. Shut up Herb. We’ve seen one possible future for this place, it sucks giant sweaty donkey balls, and we were unexpectedly given the chance to save it. Trust me, when it won’t screw you over, I’ll tell you how the original timeline went. A LOT of people died. Does that make what we’re doing any less real? No. Does it make us Aliens? Only so much as someone from Earth Aleph, or one of the others, are and there are dozens of them running around, most of whom just want to go home. Is there any reason whatsoever to be afraid of us? Maybe, I don’t know, but if there is that’s not it.” I blew out a long breath. “Fuck I suck at keeping secrets.”

    Herb laughed, “Only from people that you trust.” That shocked Taylor out of whatever she was going to say. She debated internally for a few seconds before she retook her seat and made a ‘go on’ gesture, the negative feelings coming off of her lessened, but still dominant.

    I gave a groan before burying my face in my hands. “Okay, our Earth, let’s call it Earth Omega. There are no capes, it’s several years in the future, and terrorism is a thing. New York got hit. The president at the time set up a detainment camp in Cuba that’s nine kinds of illegal, but everyone was so scared of terrorist attacks that they went along with it. It’s like the Birdcage, without the underlying racism in its creation, and way more military. I really wish I could tell you everything Taylor, I really do, but I can’t.” I looked up at her pleading, and her anger died down enough for her to give me a single nod.

    Taking it as, well, I wasn’t sure what, I continued. “Back to my original point, Assault, then Madcap, hit the Birdcage transports because what they were doing was so illegal the people who passed the legislation could actually be charged with treason for violating the Constitution itself, obstruction of justice, and a whole host of other things with a good chance of conviction. He got caught and joined the Protectorate, where he’s done jack all to try and reform the system from the inside. Also, after his wife dies to a villain so bad they have a standing kill order, he takes out his anger on the Undersiders, and you in particular. He can’t control his emotions so takes them out on people who did nothing to deserve it. The fact that for him it’s anger, while for people advocating Birdcaging it’s primarily fear doesn’t really mean that much to me. It’s the exact same thought process he railed against, but when he’s the aggrieved party that makes it okay. It’s just a different flavor of Armsdick with the law.”

    “Okay,” Taylor said, obviously following my thought process, but not agreeing or disagreeing. “The rest of the Wards?”

    “Aegis and Browbeat weren’t featured that heavily in the future we got to see, so I’m withholding judgement until I see more of them,”

    She noticed I was leaving one person out. “But what Kid Win?”

    “Really?” I asked deadpan. “Hey fellow Wards?” I asked in a cheery, high pitched voice like a demented children’s show host. “Wanna what’s the bestest of best ideas? Let’s take this new untested, unapproved of laser cannon,” I stressed, dropping my voice to normal for emphasis, “And use it in a hostage situation against unknown foes. I’m sure I won’t accidently murder someone with its somehow explosive beam, rip them to shreds with explosions of flying glass, or bring the entire building down, squashing them smaller than my ability to think past my own selfish desires to show off my new tech! That totally makes me a hero!”

    I gave the disturbed teen a level look, “Most Tinkers are shit heroes because of what their power does to their minds. There are exceptions, like Dragon and Hero, but they are exceptions in a very small field. There’s a reason the Protectorate has to check and certify all Tinkertech before it’s deployed, and that bullshit is exactly why. If that beam had hit anyone without a Brute rating or some unusually effective armor, there’s a good chance they might have died. And remember, this is in a god-damned hostage situation. The public would have reacted badly if anyone had, because while Masters and Strangers terrify them the most, unstable Tinkers are a close third, and just like that Kid Win gets Birdcaged because he couldn’t stop thinking with his techno-dick.”

    She made a face. “Techno-dick, really?”

    “That is a little X-rated man,” Herb reprimanded.

    “Yeah, you don’t get to talk about obscene,” I shot back at him. “And do you have a better metaphor?” I asked her. “It’s somewhat uncontrollable, effects their thought process, and can result in at best a slight mess, at worst a lifetime of problems if not handled correctly.”

    “I was giving you shit before,” Herb said, “But that’s actually getting messed up.”

    “But am I wrong?” I pressed.

    He winced. “Nooooo?” he gave. “Not really, it’s just. . .”

    “You didn’t think when I called him Armsdick, I meant it literally?” I asked with a grin. I hadn’t, but it made the name apropos.

    “He does love to handle his pole. . . arm,” he responded, collapsing into giggles. “It’s so true though!”

    Taylor, by this time, was turning bright red. “Oh, god,” she muttered to himself, negative feelings dispelled. “I’ll never be able to look a Tinker in the eye. Oh, god, is that why all the female tinkers have a guy they work for, so they can handle their. . . ewwwwww!”

    Herb started to laugh so hard he was having trouble sitting up as I waved to get her attention. “Don’t think about it too hard,” which sent him off into paroxysms of laughter, falling to the ground as he gasped out “HARD!” only to start laughing again.

    I sighed. “Right, phrasing. Just focus on the. . . Practically speaking this means that while Tinkers can be useful, and the tech they create pivotal in battle, they’re not someone you want on the front lines without a handle-. . . Without someone to keep a. . . without oversight.” I finished lamely. “Never as leaders. Brutes have the same thing happen to a lesser extent if they’re not careful. Aegis is a good hero, but not the leader material he thinks he is as he forgets how squishy everyone else is. Gallant or Vista would be the best leaders for the Wards. Whether the fact that I think the thirteen-year-old would be a good choice of leader says good things about her, or bad things about the rest of them is up to you and god damnit Herb shut up it’s not that funny!


    We cleaned up, heading out and started to part ways, when I remembered something. “Taylor!” I called, jogging back over to her as she turned around. “This is for you,” I stated, slipping one of the Base phones out of a pocket and handing it to her. “It’s secure, and will let you contact us without having to search for a payphone.”

    She looked at the cell phone in her outstretched hand, indecision on her face. “I’ve never had one. I-“ she glanced up, seeing my pained expression. “What?”

    “Do you want me to be nice or blunt?” I asked.

    She thought about it, visibly preparing herself. “Blunt.” She told me.

    I covered the hand holding the cell phone my own. “It wasn’t a cell-phone that killed your mother, anymore than it was the car she was driving. It was inattentiveness, and an overestimation of her ability to multitask,” I informed her flatly, ignoring the “Jesus!” of Herb behind me. I tipped my glasses down to lock eyes with her, the hurt visible, but also the glimmer of terrible understanding. “Neither of which are your problem. Yours is that you’ve been burned so often, you’re afraid to lean on others, dreading that their support is just an illusion of your own desperate self-delusion. Remember this Taylor, we’re there for you, and honestly, if given the chance to head back to our dimension right now, I’d pass it up. There’s too many people who need us here for us to leave.”

    Stepping back, I pushed my glasses back, turning on my heel and heading towards an alley calling over my shoulder. “Get a good night’s sleep my friend, trust me, you’ll need it soon enough!” Feeling suitably badass and that the situation had been rectified. I could have sworn that one of the options we all got was to keep anyone from finding out this was a fictional universe. Then again, I mused. When have the rules truly applied to Taylor. Besides, alternate dimension isn’t the same as fictional world, so technically it’s still working.

    Herb said something to Taylor before catching up to me, saying “Ya know, just wait bro, we’ve gotta talk.”

    I shot him a questioning look, but at the shake of his head just shrugged, assuming it was mission planning. We flew back in relative quiet, enjoying the bird’s eye view of the city before swooping low, making it to our base undetected.

    Once inside and in the kitchen, which was becoming our de-facto meeting room, despite having an actual meeting room down the hall, I turned to him. “So, what’s up?”

    He didn’t say anything as he pulled some kind of pastry out from the fridge. “So?” I asked again. “What’s up?”

    He sighed. “I get you, my friend, I get you, I really do. I love you to death for it,” It? “But, ya, ya gotta be that shotgun to the face, you can’t be that trauma to the heart especially when it comes to young girls.”

    I sighed in return, having slowly come to the conclusion that the bit at the end might have been a bit much, but it was a necessary evil. “Dude, I asked if she wanted the blunt truth. She’s strong enough to take it, and we only have so much time to do so much. I mean, she barely survived in canon, and I’m not sure how things’ll go, so she needs to be able to get ahold of us quickly. She’s not like most teenage girls, and, let’s be honest, if she was, we wouldn’t recruit her.”

    He looked at me for a moment, expression once again indecipherable, before taking a bit out of his pastry, consider both me and it. “You’re right, she isn’t,” he admitted. “but you can send her down the slide instead of pushing her off a cliff.”

    “Not if I need her to fly, and am there to catch her if she falls. Things are getting so bad they break lesser heroes, and she can’t afford to be one,” I responded, seeing his point, even if I disagreed with it.

    “But does she, does she break?” he asked. “She never does, which is why we’re recruiting her first.”

    At first glance it sounded like he was completely agreeing with me, but his tone was all wrong for that. Thinking it over, as he left me to do so while consuming his pastry. It took a couple passes but I thought I got it. “So. What you’re saying is I don’t need to worry about her doing ok, because she was okay in the books? But, we weren’t in the books man, you can’t know that!”

    He gave me a look that just seemed to scream ‘don’t I’?

    I groaned, walking over and taking one of his pastries, so I’d get something positive from this. “Fine,” I grumbled. “I’ll go easier on her. She has the phone now, so if she needs our help, she can get it.” Unspoken was that just because I was going to go easier on Taylor I wouldn’t on the others who needed my help.

    He smirked, smug in his victory. “Look, one thing she never had in the book was seriously dependable friends. That’s all,” before turning and walking off to his room.

    After he left, I ate the pastry, which was apparently filled with apple pieces & raisins, which worked somehow. I wanted to work on my Bug Control, but for some reason my heart wasn’t really in it, so I settled for trying to merge my Light and Shadowforms, with limited success, dawn of the next day coming far too early.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  8. Pheonix14

    Pheonix14 Know what you're doing yet?

    Oct 2, 2018
    Likes Received:
    This line hurts considering, well nearly everything that happens with herb later.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
    pa$$word, Aravae, Yuhabahha and 4 others like this.
  9. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.7

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.7

    “Lee, you knew this was going to happen!” Were the first words I heard when I answered Taylor’s call.

    “And a good afternoon to you Taylor, I assume that Lisa has informed you of her boss’ plans? Did she call you out for knowing about it ahead of time?”

    “Everyone was pretty freaked out, I don’t think she noticed,” she dismissed, focusing on what she obviously thought was important. “Lee. Did you know?”

    “That the Undersiders were going to hit Bay Central at 3 in the afternoon? With how Herb and I have been making waves, I downgraded it to highly probable. As for Lisa, the chance that she missed something bottoms out at 50 percent, but the fact she didn’t say anything bodes well.” I replied smoothly.

    “It’s at 1, not 3,” was her only retort.

    “Noted. Did they give you a rundown on the Wards?” I asked

    Taylor was not happy with me. “Yes, he made sure to tell me what I should expect!”

    I rolled my eyes. “And he’s not running a delicate operation with his people in contact with ingenue Sherlock Holmes. Besides, his plan is a hot mess that would have failed if you weren’t there,” I rebuked.

    “He obviously was planning on having me there to help!” she shot back.

    Which one of us has seen the future?” I asked. “Also, look up the Halo Effect, it’ll explain why you think the hunky beefcake is a paragon of strategic planning because of his muscles.”

    “Like you have room to talk!” she exclaimed.

    I took a deep breath. Scion’s Shards push conflict, let it go. “I’ll have you know that despite how muscular Herb is, I know he sucks at planning. Definitely more a seat of his pants kind of guy, even if he sometimes gets his ass kicked for it. Now, was there anything you wanted to know that I might be able to tell you?”

    I could practically hear the bugs buzzing on the other end of the line. “Is there anything else I should know?”

    I honestly couldn’t help myself. “Don’t drop a spider on anyone with freckles.”

    “What the hell does that mean!” she exploded.

    I suppressed my laughter. “I’ll tell you when you’re not getting read like an open book every day, Taylor, and I do appreciate you doing this for us. I’ll be there to help, in my way, as will Herb. All of you will get away, and we’ll stop the heroes from doing anything stupid. The original raid was a dumpster-fire of fail, a complete pyrrhic victory in the long run. This one’ll go a lot better, and not screw over everyone involved. Okay?”

    “Okay,” she grumbled. “Thanks.”

    “Anytime, teammate. I need to start the ball rolling, see you tomorrow? I’ll be suppressing my bug control, so you don’t give it away by accident if Lisa glances your way at the wrong moment and messes it up. And don’t worry, you got this.”

    I thought she might have hung up, before I heard her mumbled, “See you,” and the click of the call ending. Checking my contacts, I called up Panacea, getting her voice mail. “Hi, Panacea? This is Vejovis. You’re probably in school but when you get out, I was wondering if you could help me with something. I wanted to open a bank account at Bay Central, but I have no idea how to do so for my cape identity, and was wondering if you could help me with that this afternoon. Thanks!”

    Hopefully with her help I could get an account, and then come in tomorrow with questions in time to be there for the raid. I had a couple plans on how to handle it, depending on how everything played out. I gave a snort of disdain as I thought of Grue’s plan. You never had just one plan after all, and his escape method was just ‘run like hell’.

    Walking over to Herb’s room I roused him as he blearily answered the door. “What is it?” he sleepily asked. “It’s. . . noon?” he commented, looking back at his clock. “Okay,” he conceded. “I’ll get ready.”

    A few minutes later he emerged, suited up and raring to go “Okay, what are we doing? Messin’ up the Merchants? Asskickin’ the Azn Bad Boys? Explodin’ the Empire?”

    I looked up from my bagel and lox. “Um, no? We’re just gonna talk about what we’re doing tomorrow.”

    He looked quite disappointed about the fact that we weren’t going to be enacting violence today, demanding, “Then why are you all dressed?”

    Looking down I realized I was still in my Vejovis costume, having not changed out of it. “Because it’s comfortable?” I remarked, mentally shifting it to civilian clothing. “We can do something today if you want to, my schedule’s pretty clear.”

    “Whatever,” he grumbled, raiding the fridge. “So, what’s up?”

    “Coil’s paying the Undersiders to hit Bay Central Bank tomorrow, and we’re gonna go make sure that the everything goes off better than canon. What?” I asked at his disbelieving stare.

    “How the fuck do you think you’re a Hero if you’re robbin’ a fuckin’ bank!” he exclaimed.

    “Well, obviously I’m going to try to stop it, but sadly due to the irresponsible interference of the Wards and Glory Girl, I’ll be too busy trying to save the hostages to stop them,” I replied guilelessly.

    “Fuckin’ Supervillain,” he muttered. “So, you got a plan, right?”

    I nodded, thinking about them. “I’ve got a couple. Current idea is to go the bank today with Panacea and set up an account as Vejovis, only to come back the next day at 12:40 with some questions, happening to just be on site when everything goes down, hopefully keeping Amy out of it so It’s just the Wards. When Kid Win unveils his laser cannon, you and Enter jump him for not caring about friendly fire. The Wards fight back, as they’re not going to be thinking and just assume you’re with the Undersiders, despite your obvious age, and after that you defend yourself while I secure the hostages and the villains get away. I come out and take them to task, and in their confusion, we leave. You have any suggestions?”

    Herb held up his hands, “I’m gonna go with you on this. I do things subtle, and nothing about this is gonna be subtle. I’m not Boojack.”

    “Fuckin’ right!” came Boojack’s voice through the doorway. Apparently, he was listening in.

    “Hey Boojack?” I called back. “Wanna punch some Nazis in the face?”

    A loud thump was heard as he ran down the hall, skidding in front of the doorway. “You’re gonna let me fight? Fuck yeah, what’ya want? I’m bored as shit!”

    “Herb and I are gonna go fuck up the fuck up of a bank Robbery, and this is the perfect time to establish you as your own cape, and divert some heroes. At 1 tomorrow I want you to start some shit in E88 territory. Don’t kill anyone who hasn’t tried to kill you first-“

    “Or Purity! Or Cricket!” Herb added.

    “Or Rune or Othala,” I amended, “But feel fry to take down the dudes.” I paused. “Damn that’s sexist, but we have reasons. Anyways, just try to avoid killing any Neo-Nazis unless you have to, beating them until they need their super-powered healer to avoid a several month-long hospital stay is totally ok and ties up their resources. Either way, keep going until you need to run, or it’s been half an hour. If the heroes show, fight, but don’t maim or kill, and retreat. Sound good?”

    He snorted. “Ah fuck, restrictions. Eh, it’ll let me show those bitch-ass motherfuckers how much stronger I am!”

    “Hell yeah!” Herb agreed, high fiving his replicant.

    I turned back to Herb. “Okay, so, I need to get a pair of blackout shades to cover my eyes enough that I can wear my mask underneath it, and some clothes to wear over my costume.” Herb gave me the ‘you’re an idiot’ look. “What?”

    “Your costume can take any shape, right?” he asked.

    “Yeah.” We’d been over this. “It’s what let me make my costume turn into clothes.”

    “And it can turn into regular clothes?” he asked again, trying to use the Socratic method and failing horribly.

    “Yeah, it’s how I made this,” I told him, tugging on red and gold t-shirt I was currently wearing. What was his point?

    He looked at me as if I was a colossal moron who’d just told him that huffing paint was a great hobby, you couldn’t get a girl pregnant if she was on top, or that professional wrestling was all real.

    Use your costume to make both!” he almost yelled.

    But that wouldn’t work because. . . I facepalmed as I changed my outfit to what I needed, Boojack laughing as he left to go back to getting high.


    Happy with my progress replicating with Stormtiger’s deflection from the ground up, I focused on Glory Girl’s shields. Working with it was. . . slippery. It was present, and I could feel the strength of the shield, but the lack of any visual feedback made everything more difficult. Coating an item with my power let me use it as a weapon, but trying it with a knife just made it a baton, since the field appeared to be curved slightly. Interestingly, the more I worked on it the more I could control how much a blow took out of the shield, the more I put into the blow, the harder it hit, but after a certain point the shield broke, and needed to recharge.

    Is this why Glory Girl was having control problems with her strength, I pondered. Is she pulling a Midoriya and putting her all in every punch? Working with it, the feeling was hard to quantify, similar to pointing Speed Zones in any direction but parallel to the ground. As I worked, depleting and refilling my shield, I realized that my shield’s strength was, ever so slowly, increasing. Testing a theory, I set up my rock throwing machine up and pelted myself with them. A solid hit still drained it entirely, but as I worked through the day, the threshold that trigged a drain slowly rose, rendering glancing blows inert without drain.

    It was hours later when a call of, “Dude! What’re ya doin’?” broke my focus. Looking over I saw that it was later than I thought, probably early evening, the sun low in the sky, highlighting the trainyard, turning the rusting steel to brilliant bronze. “Dude!” came the call again, and I turned to see Herb standing there in his plainclothes, waving at me.

    “What?” I responded, dropping the sound bubble and using aerokinesis to stop the machine from slinging more rocks from the reservoir.

    “Dude, it’s been all day, what’ve you been doing?” he asked, ambling over. I gave him a look that said, ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ as I gestured to the machine.

    “I’m getting stoned!” I responded, smiling as he groaned. “I’m training my powers. Get this, throw rocks at me!” I told him, gesturing to the gravel which covered the ground.

    “You sure?” he asked, grabbing a golf ball sized rock. I nodded, pulling on my air control to deflect projectiles. He shrugged before pitching it at my chest, only for it to veer off and fly under my arm. He narrowed his eyes, grabbing a couple more and throwing them at me as hard as he could. Each one missed without fail. “Okay, you can’t get stoned, knew that already ya square, but they aren’t throwing rocks, they’re shooting bullets!”

    I smirked. “Really? I asked, pulling the pistol from the back of my costume.

    His eyes went wide. “Dude, I’m not gonna shoot you!” he said, backing up.

    I rolled my eyes. “Just do it one at a time. If you do hit me, my shield can tank it, and we’ll have to wait for it to reload, which takes like 10 seconds.”

    He still looked unsure, so I took the gun, silenced it, and shot my hand with it. The kickback was more than I thought, and it took longer for my shield to recharge than it normally took for a pistol shot. Frowning, ignoring Herb’s call of “Holy Shit Man!”, I tossed him the flattened bullet I’d caught and checked the gun, unloading it and opening the slide, only to find one of my Speed Zones sitting innocuously in the barrel.

    Right I thought. I’d added it to my gun to give it a bit extra kick and promptly forgotten about it. That could have gone badly. Tapping into Skidmark’s power, I now felt the presence of the Zone, but it was a faint thing, the inch-long strip’s profile was barely at the edge of perception. Dismissing it, I reloaded the gun and tossed it at him, safety on, of course.

    He swore as he caught it, trying not to drop it as he looked at me in concern. “Dude, I fuckin’ believed you, you didn’t need to shoot yourself!”

    I shrugged. “I’d never tell you to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself,” I blithely commented. “So, one at a time, but go for it.”

    He looked trepidations, but lifted the gun anyways, his stance all wrong. At least it isn’t sideways. Is that racist? Either way, he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger, the bullet needing no nudging to pass several feet to my left and hitting the rusted train car behind me. “Dude, open your eyes and look down the iron sights. One shot isn’t going to hurt me,” I admonished.

    He winced, opening his eyes and moved the barrel to actually point at me. Wincing as he jerked the trigger, he was still on target enough to hit me. Barely. A little nudge and it missed, pinging again off the train behind me.

    He shook his head, lowering the gun. “I’m sorry man, I can’t do this,” he admitted, sounding ashamed.

    “No!” I contested. “That one was going to hit me before I deflected it. I can show you how to shoot properly later, but you’ve got the basics. We’re at point blank range, even someone who doesn’t have any training has a chance of hitting!”

    Looking back at me in confusion, he shook his head, muttering “Fuckin’ white people, what’s wrong with you?”

    “I’m someone who wants to train with their powers?” I contended. “I mean, haven’t you been training with yours?”

    “Doin’ what?” Herb shot back, verbally. “My body’s somethin’ I already know, I can’t exactly control my cloning, I already know how to summon Enter, and I can’t exactly practice copying when no one around me has powers I can practice copying can I?” he practically yelled.

    I cocked my head in confusion. “Yes, you can!” I challenged. “You really didn’t notice?”

    “Notice what?” he exclaimed. “BJ has all my powers already, and I can’t copy your copied powers, just that I can copy others, which I lose the second you get out of range!” I rolled my eyes, ignoring his “What!?”

    Apparently, he’d been getting more frustrated about this than I thought. I walked over to my projectile machine, unhooking the pistol from the assembly and loading a bullet into it. Turning around I commanded “Summon Enter.” He looked at me, summoning his Stand, who smiled at me. I got the distinct feeling that Enter knew what I was doing, even if Herb didn’t. That was. . . odd. I nodded to it, and it promptly turned into the thing that crushed Armsdick’s cycle, an Ankylosaurus, having researched it when we’d gotten home. Herb jumped, looking at his summon in confusion before looking back to me, a question in his face.

    “I’m going to shoot you,” I informed him. “And unless you turn into that, it’ll hit you as a human, and it’s gonna hurt like a bitch until I heal it, which I won’t until you can transform.” I smiled evilly, selling it. Mind you, I’d nudge the bullet to just graze him, but he didn’t know that.

    “Woah, woah dude, let’s not be too hasty about this, I’ll just, um, it’s kinda hard to concentrate when you’re doing that so could you just, like, put the gun down, please?” he asked, the last bit a squeak as I raised the pistol and pointed it right between his eyes.

    “You have until the count of three,” I informed him. Bringing over three brightly colored beetles to hang in the air right in front of him. “One,” the first dropped to the ground.

    “Dude, I get you’re trying to help, but can’t we just talk about this normally.”

    “You’re the one who says I’m too long winded, I’m just following your advice. Two,” the second one followed suit as his eyes grew wide.

    “I didn’t mean it like that man, you know that!” he practically whimpered. Closing his eyes and muttering under his breathe. “I don’t wanna get shot! Change. Change. Change. Change!”

    “Three,” I said, dropping the third one, pulling the trigger as it hit the ground, but Herb’s form was already a swarm of color as he changed into another Ankylosaur, I nudged the bullet up and to the left to impact at an oblique angle off one of his head plates. The shocked dinosaur, and that was something I never thought I’d see, stood there looking at me in disbelief before turning back to his base, Enter staying in his form, smugness radiating from every scale.

    “You fuckin’ shot me!” he yelled. “I can’t believe you fuckin’ shot me! We’re friends, then you goin’ all evil and fuckin’ shoot me you goddamn supervillain fuck!” Herb reiterated, not believing it.

    I tossed the empty pistol back towards my machine, striding over. “Don’t be such a baby.”

    “I’ll be one if that means you won’t shoot me. You don’t shoot babies, wouldn’t you?” he asked, suddenly unsure.

    I shrugged, “Depends on the baby, but generally no, now turn back dumbass.”

    Nodding, he threw out: “Might be safer, bein’ armored if you’re goin’ around shooting people, mindin’ their own business,” before turning back.

    Walking up to him, I put a finger on where I’d shot him. “Now turn back” I instructed. He shifted back to human. It was interesting that the shift pivoted on where his head was, the majority of his body shrinking backwards around that point.

    Herb, human again, looked at where I’d kept my finger in place, a couple inches to the left of his head, over his shoulder. He looked back at me, equal parts impressed and pissed. “Motherfucker.” He shook his head. “You weren’t actually gonna shoot me, where you?”

    I looked back at him as if he were crazy. “Not without damn good reason,” I told him. “Besides, you needed to get out of your comfort zone to think outside the box. That did it.” I waved to his Stand. “You’ve got someone with their own powers you can copy at any time. Hell, dude can go nearly microscopic if need be. Just have him turn into a water bear and have him hitch a ride. He’ll be hanging on to you and always be in range, so you could have all his powers to copy at any time.”

    “Water bear?” Herb asked, only for Enter to launch himself in a way I’m pretty sure that breed of dinosaur never could, jumping above us, and disappearing as Herb gave a terrified shriek and the sun was blotted out by Enter’s shadow. Herb looked around, before turning his attention back to me. “I can feel his powers, but where the hell is he?”

    Using Power Sight, I followed the tendril of Herb’s power that connected him to his Stand, following it to his collar. Looking down I couldn’t see it, merely where the power went to. Pointing at the point I said “There, somewhere, you’ll probably need a microscope to see it. If I remember right the Second Trigger animal form lets you do everything but micro-organisms, which water bears are just above in classification, but still almost impossible to see.”

    “That’s so goddamn broken,” Herb murmured, mind filling with possibilities.

    “That’s the point,” I reminded him. “I can leave a sound bubble up here if you want to practice, but if you’re doin’ anything destructive, go to the Boat Graveyard. It’s practically tradition.”

    He nodded, practically vibrating with happiness, before hugging me, turning into a velociraptor, and darting off into the sunset. Shaking my head, I headed inside to get something to eat before my patrol.


    Night had fallen as I tracked a group of Merchants in my Boardwalk persona, getting practice using Speed Zones to travel roof to roof, and dismissing the Zones slowly, causing them to glow instead of flash as they dissipated. I’d been spotted half a dozen times by civilians looking up at the flash when I started, but I’d had gotten the hang of it. If I tried to fly with Lightform, I needed to have at least one part of myself glowing at full blast, which kinda negated the entire ‘stealth’ thing I was going for, so I held my Lightform in reserve.

    This group I’d been tracking for the better part of two hours and my patience was running low. Following them back to their base of operations would make a raid do far more damage, and net me more in return, but letting them lead me around the same four blocks like this was just so boring! The threesome chatted, and these guys only commonality was their poor hygiene and obvious drug use. They talked about the price of smack, one of their colleagues overdosing which wasn’t that surprising, a video the E88 had made when they busted up an ABB whorehouse, and how their boss was pissed that no-one had found the pair of and I quote,“Gay Ass Buttsniffers” who’d crashed his party.

    I assumed the last one was us, but I couldn’t find myself to care. I’d already taken Skidmark’s power, I couldn’t take Squealer’s, and you couldn’t pay me to take Mush’s given what it did to him, so they had nothing left for me other than to take them down. Maybe when Herb decided to be an actual villain and started taking territory I’d help there, but that didn’t look like it was going to happen anytime soon. As I watched them sell some weed to yet more high-schoolers I pondered taking them down and just beating the information out of them, but they’d probably just lie about it. I lazily made and dismissed another Speed Zone, the glow not reaching past the ledge I leaned against.

    I reflexively went full shadow as a frankly terrifying roar echoed across the city, coming from the boat graveyard. The Merchants below looked at each other, one saying, “Uh, Derek, I think we’ve sold enough for tonight, yeah?”

    The leader, probably Spanish, nodded, responding. “Yeah, let’s go chill somewhere else. Big Pat’s?”

    The first one shook his head, “Nah Man, Big P got hit by some new guy, called himself Boardwalk.” Yes! Brand recognition! “Looked like Shadow Stalkers big brother, nearly killed Ed with some broken glass. Let’s head to Khan’s, no one’d mess with him!”

    Khan? I thought. Either Genghis, or this druggie’s a trekkie. I smirked as I followed them roof to roof, that would be amusing. A flicker of motion caught my eye as I followed, a streak passing by a couple of streets over, my eyes catching it before my brain could. Planar Shift: Time Dilation, flickered across my consciousness, a flicker of bright red Flame burning far too quickly that dissipated in an instant. The sound of his running no louder than a person jogging, just run together in a way that, while distinct, was not that noticeable. I searched my memory for who that could have been.

    Velocity I decided, disappointed that I hadn’t had time to grab his power before he left. That would have been a nice power to have. Shrugging I turned my attention back to the idiots I was tailing, who hadn’t noticed a thing. Where they high? Probably, I decided, as I followed them down to what looked to be a pizza place. Closing my eyes, I tried to focus on the senses of my insects, seeing through their eyes, which were so unlike my own. The Merchants took the back entrance, the bugs I’d tagged them with showing a staircase to the apartments above, an actual armed guard on the third floor, who looked them over before they entered, nodding and opening the door.

    This place, I saw, looking through the eyes of the bugs, was cleaner and better put together. Just as the first time, all but one of them sat down in the lounge with a bunch of others while the leader went on ahead. Unlike last time, the place was packed. I counted at least twenty in the lounge, with a couple asleep, and a few in the safe room. The door to that space had been barred, and the windows as well.

    Like that’s gonna stop me I thought, considering the problem. Taking time and coming out into the real world, I sat, meditating on the rooftop across the building. Tapping into the network of life that represented the invertebrate population in the area, I narrowed my focus on the building in front of me, tapping into their senses, a few at a time, to build a picture of the structure. Feel was the easiest to understand, the sense of touch and relative distance building a framework that I used their eyes to fill in. Translating from compound to single lens input was difficult, but I took my time, putting together a picture.

    The basement was accessible through the restaurant, and had freezers, as well as quite a few bugs. To their credit, there were no cockroaches, so go them I guess. The pizza place was the first level, the kitchen extending backwards, exiting into the lower stairwell that led to the alley. The second floor was an apartment, currently uninhabited, probably where the owners of the pizza place lived. The third and final floor had the guard outside. Watching him carefully, he was nervous, shifting places every so often, a submachine gun sitting uncomfortable in his pocket, poking him in the gut. Inside was the lounge, bathroom, and a heavy door leading to what was probably two bedrooms.

    One still was, with a nice bed and desk inside, but the other had been reinforced into the more secure room. Inside the barred door was a decently furnished room, what looked to be like mail cabinets set up with individual bags of drugs in each cubbyhole. The windows were barred, both vertically and horizontally, the bars drilled into the frame securely. In this room was another guard, and who I assumed was Khan, sitting at a desk playing some kind of first person shooter, wearing headphones and talking. It took a full twenty minutes to hook into all of the insects individually, getting their perspectives and building a mental map of my target.

    Standing up I double checked my costume. I was covered head to toe in black studded leather, fake coat-tails obscuring my belt pouches, a hood covering my head, a mask over my face, not a single inch of skin visible, my eyes safely hidden away. Taking a step on a Speed Zone I launched myself across the way, the reduces gravity of my Shadowform allowing me to touch down silently.

    I considered my approach.

    I could take all of them directly, and as long as I kept most of my body in shadow, bullets would pass right through me, my shield allowing me to take an occasional round on whatever part was tangible. However, this persona was all about fear and darkness, and casually walking in and taking them on was just too, too Vejovis. He was the flying brick, I was more a knife in the dark, a glowing knife mind you, but that just made you feel worse when you got stabbed by it.

    What I really would have liked was Grue’s power, which I could have said was part of my Shadowform, but sadly getting close to him would mean getting close to Tattletale and fuck that. As I stood there I facepalmed. I had bugs everywhere, which included the power breakers. Gathering the ones in the basement together, I opened it up, seeing all the switches. Getting ready, I partially shifted into Light, my hands and feet glowing a brilliant white as I sharply rose up, off balance for a second as Purity’s flying mechanic was very different from Glory Girl’s when used for more than levitating, but that was something to practice later.

    Someone in the lounge had noticed the light.

    Rather than take them out one at a time, I slammed the basement bugs into all the switches, turning them all off as I reached out into the light, grabbing something like I’d seen Purity do, body moving on autopilot as I sent it spiraling downwards into the roof right above the unoccupied bathroom. The bug inside saw no breach, so I slammed it again and again until the bug died as the roof caved in.

    Letting go of the light on my feet and dropping down, I slammed a blast point blank into the door, blasting it off its hinges and catching one thug in the process, taking him down with a solid thump not a worrying crunch. I jumped in, keeping the light on my knuckles, but letting it play across the rest of my body, the harsh white radiance shifting into a riot of colors as I launched myself across the room, slammed a punch into the temple of one thug, let another’s punch pass harmlessly through my gut before stepping through him, feelt a slight shock from something, probably his phone, before I slammed him in the back of the head with a hammerfist.

    My Sight let me see clearly as everyone else scrambled for cover, shots going wild as most of them weren’t even aiming at me. The big-screen television died for the crime of reflecting my light, distracting one idiot with a shotgun. He was next, a flying knee catching him in the jaw, the Speed Zone that propelled me dismissed in a flash, drawing fire.

    The ‘front’ door burst open and the guard looked in, pulling his Uzi out and firing it in an arc across the room, apparently not giving a shit if he hit his friends. For that, he was going to visit the hospital, I decided, using the air to nudge the bullets up to hit the walls and ceiling instead of the cowering Merchants.

    Taking a step back and bouncing off a speed zone on the wall, I launched myself at him like a psychedelic missile, breaking my momentum on his chest, breaking his ribs as I grabbed his gun arm, shifting my weight around and down throwing him into the lounge, but keeping a hold of his wrist, shattering it with a sickening Crack. The Merchants, realizing that I was out from among them, opened fire, and I was harshly forced to come to terms with the fact that blocking bullets from one source was far easier than a proverbial hail of them.

    Shifting fast, most of the bullets passed through me, but one that would have hit me in the head caught on my shield, another catching me in the arm right after. That’s gonna bruise I thought as the pain flared and I dropped on a Zone, flying back into the middle of the room where the possibility of friendly fire would temper their shots. The rest of the fight was a messy mayhem of melee and gunfire, my shield and costume taking blows that might have seriously injured me.

    The last one, Derek, went down as he made a run for it. I didn’t save him for last, it’s just he wasn’t actively shooting at me, so I used a chokehold to put him down gently. Through the entire fight the guard and Khan had stood ready in their secure room, the leader behind his desk with a bulky pistol while the guard stood in a corner, what felt like an automatic Shotgun at the ready, a flashlight pointed towards the door the only light in the room.

    I’d say it’s overkill, but it’s not gonna help, I thought, considering the problem. I could just blast down the door, but it lacked that screw you style and subtly sideways thinking Boardwalk was meant to display. Well, as subtle as a guy could get with explosions. I could go to the outside windows and blast my way in, but in their defensive positioning both targets were right next to a window, and I hadn’t played around with the one-setting light blasts I had enough to know just how deadly they could be, especially if used as breaching charges against metal bars. I sighed, grabbing and tossing unconscious and moaning thugs out of the way. There was obviously only one way to do it.

    With a clear area, I lined up on the most likely unarmored wall as both my hands glowed, fingers instinctually grasping on the slippery not-vapor energy that existed in the light dimension Purity slipped into. Tagging the ends of both my foe’s guns with bugs to keep track of them, I reached out with my hands simultaneously, letting loose with both barrels, blasts instantly crossing the space in double-helixed spirals to blow apart the wall, the pressure from the destruction knocking my targets over. Flying in I was on the guard, knocking him out with a strong cross, letting just a little of my strength into the blow, sending him down senseless.

    Khan slid out from behind his plaster-covered desk, gun at the ready, and opened fire. The pistol, apparently automatic, spat a torrent of bullets as I ducked in front of the guard, only having to deflect a couple shots as his aim went wide before running out with a pronounced click. I smoothly stood as he struggled with an extra magazine, taking a swinging step to kick the gun, breaking his fingers, before coming back and kicking him in the side of the head, dropping him.

    After checking that he was still breathing, I turned to the room, spotting the safe in the corner. Looking at it, electronic in construction, I considered it before realizing that it probably wasn’t all electric. Turning my arm to shadow and reaching straight through the top, pulling out the money inside as I did so. I filled up the duffel bags I’d brought for that exact purpose, though they had a few new bullet holes.

    After taking all the money from the safe, all the ammo, and a bag full of weed to bribe Boojack with eventually, I groped around the safe and found a few thumb drives. Grabbing a baggie and dumping out the pills, I bagged the drives to take with me as well. Before leaving I had a thought, and carefully tried to reach and grab just a little bit of the power needed to fire those light explosives, trying to tease it out in a tiny trickle instead of a single handful.

    It wasn’t anything close to an even flow, but aiming it I created a low-level concussive beam. Moving to the mostly undamaged far wall, I tried my hand at sprucing up the place, writing BOARDWALK with it before nodding to myself at the effect. It was crude, and uneven, but the irregular bursts of explosive light gave it an odd style all its own. Walking out, I spotted someone playing possum, but when I visibly turned my back on him, and he relaxed instead of attacking, I mentally shrugged. If he doesn’t want to fight me, I’ll return the favor I thought, heading for the bathroom, back up, and out.

    As I lifted up, hands and feet alight I spotted a figure in full plate on a rooftop across from me, watching me, glove aglow with blue light. Lighting up my own with a readied beam, I waved at them, watching their confused reaction as the armored person waved back. Dismissing the readied attack, but keeping my hands aglow. I slowly flew over, landing a few meters away, spotting a cloaked figure which stood out oddly to my eyes, the black of their cloak not desaturated like everything else I saw. They crouched on an adjacent rooftop, holding what looked like a hand crossbow cocked and pointed at me, though the person’s face, covered with a hockey mask, was pointed away.

    Sophia, I thought, keeping my reaction from seeing her out of my voice as I addressed the figure. “Sup?” I asked, internally wincing at the slang. “You Gallant?” I asked, keeping my voice deep and relaxed, forcing myself to relax in turn.

    He nodded as he inquired “I am, you are?”

    I gave that odd chin-thrust that I’d seen black kids do when they wanted to look tough. “Names Boardwalk. New. We gonna have a problem if I hit a Merchant drug den?” I asked, pointing a thumb back at the place I came from, the lights flickering on as someone from the restaurant reset the breakers, the shattered windows in the lounge showing the place littered with bodies, one guy getting up. He looked out, and seeing me seeing him, he dropped back to the ground, feigning unconsciousness, causing me to laugh. Seriously dude? I thought. I left, just fucking run. I’m not gonna chase you.

    “Are any of them dead?” Gallant asked cautiously, peering into the room.

    I shrugged. “If they are, ain’t from me. One asshat tried to spray’n’pray with an Uzi, didn’t hit me, but he might’ve ‘accidentally’ broken his wrist and ribs. Heard recoil’s nasty on those.” I mused, pissed that he’d ignored the lives of the damn people he’d been tasked to protect. I hadn’t killed him, but I’d been tempted to.

    Gallant nodded understandingly. “And the bags?” he asked pointing to the several duffle bags I’d slung across my back.

    “Loot. Got it more legally than they did,” I asserted, not sure where he was going with this. I’d checked the laws, and goods claimed in the process of busting up criminals was a legal grey zone where the heroes got all they could carry, but it wasn’t exactly officially endorsed.

    “Most heroes don’t bring bags,” he calmly pointed out, hands careful held at his hands.

    Another shrug. “Most heroes are dumbasses,” was my poignant reply. “Oh!” I added, reaching into a belt pouch and digging out the thumb drives, mildly surprised he didn’t try something when I reached into my belt. “Found these in the safe, you might like’em, not sure what I’d do with them.” I remarked, tossing it to him underhand.

    There, good deed for the day done, I thought. Gallant seems pretty cool, I hope he doesn’t die this time, but I’m gonna have my hands full keeping my own team alive. I turned to leave, and saw Sophia Hess, Shadow Stalker lying prone, weapon pointed in my general direction, and face turned away. I wonder why she’s doing that? I thought, before getting an idea. An awful idea. A wonderful, awful idea.

    I got ready to fly, preparing for a full burst pushing me off to the west towards Winslow, and waved to her, calling out “Hi Soph, see you later!” before blasting off like a rocket, her loosed bolt missing me by a mile, her terrified cry of “What The FUCK!” sweet nectar to my ears.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  10. Yuhabahha

    Yuhabahha Horni!

    Aug 3, 2019
    Likes Received:
    ..Holy shit! Just caught up over at ffn, and well..
    First off all awesome as expected, second my backlog is now gone, reduced to ashes! fuck!
    And third, well.. i believe this picture can adequately express what the last few chapters felt like, and we don't even know what their repercussions will be yet.:eek:

    Well, that happened.
    Someone, probably cauldron, yoinked Bonesaw. That means that they now know who Lee is and what he can do. At least what the little mad scientist managed to gleam.
    Or might soon enough. And yet, if that is the case. The very fact they've been quiet those months Lee was recuperating is..worrying.

    The nine went the way of the Dodo.

    Space Daddy is not angry, just..disappointed. But very well son, here, have a mulligan and attempt to save your brother in all but blood.
    I worry for Herb, what was the price of that bargain. Cause no way its something as "simple" as a second trigger and some cosmetic mutations. There were mentions of 'nearly too much power to contain'.
    Reduced lifespan, for him or his shard/s, or both? Burning twice as bright and all that?

    And Lee being a baby human entity confirmed, hell he even got to experience the power giving part:D
    Still needs to work on recalling the shards back thoug-- oh crapbaskets.

    Baby entity + farmable powers from Bonesaw + Lee not being an idiot and working to acquire/create useful powers..
    Cauldron what are you doin, cauldron stahp!

    Yeah, Lee will have his work cut out for him in the coming weeks. If he thought he was in crunch mode before...

    Oh and Ziz was surprisingly human..ish in her interactions. Are you quite certain that your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate didn't also fill out the Cyoa?:p

    Can't wait to see where this wild train goes! Have to say though, the chapter's end reminded me of this
  11. Autocorruptor

    Autocorruptor Corrupting Innocent Grammar

    Sep 1, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Apologies for the late reply, I literally just found this on qq. I’ve heard that rumor before, but I haven’t seen any proof. Do you happen to have a link to that?

    In regards to the story itself, I haven’t read most of it. I read some of the later chapters on ff.net a few months ago, and I recently read the first two chapters here on QQ. The writing quality is fairly decent on a technical level. However, the story doesn’t really interest me, and one million words is too intimidating for me to read.
  12. Wivk

    Wivk Getting sticky.

    Apr 28, 2021
    Likes Received:
    Just read the s9 arc on ff and it was alright. I was pretty worried it would really drag and was very glad it hit the right notes and got on with it. Prefer reading it here, but couldn't wait till you caught up.

    That's not the sort of link i save, and i wouldn't post it in the thread after the author politely asked me not to even if i had it laying around. I do have an infraction on my record for "abusing the report feature" against it, but the text of my report and the story post i reported are not included in it.
  13. ChiChi

    ChiChi I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Mar 8, 2018
    Likes Received:
  14. Jorin

    Jorin Mostly A Lurker

    Feb 22, 2017
    Likes Received:
    So when's the rest of the chapters going to be put on here as well?
    Leecifer likes this.
  15. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Next couple of days I'll upload another Arc. I'm copy-editing (grammar) as I go, so each chapter takes an hour.
    Aravis, Muyyd, pa$$word and 5 others like this.
  16. Jorin

    Jorin Mostly A Lurker

    Feb 22, 2017
    Likes Received:
    Aravis likes this.
  17. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.8

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.8

    Landing home, I was still giggling about what I’d done. The bitch had messed with Taylor’s head for years, see how she liked it. Checking my phone, I still hadn’t gotten a call back from Panacea. Should I call again, or would that seem needy? I worried. Is this one of those, I don’t want to talk to you so I’m just not going to return you calls instead of being an adult and just saying so things? I mean, she’s like fifteen or sixteen, so not technically an adult, but still, is it that? Deciding to just deal with it tomorrow, like a true adult, I headed inside, only to find Herb, Enter, and Boojack all sitting at the kitchen table, eating steaks.

    As all three heads turned to me Boojack asked, “Who the fuck’re you?”

    I mentally retracted my mask, grinning. “Sup Boojack! This is Boardwalk, my secondary hero identity who is definitely not the love child of Skidmark and Purity,” I manifested a Speed Zone and caused my palm to glow, “and not related to Shadow Stalker in the slightest!” I finished, turning my other palm to shadow.

    The Replicant laughed. “Nice, want a steak?” he asked, jerking his chin towards a pack of them on the counter.

    "Sure!” I happily responded, nodding to BJ’s Stand as it manifested. It gave me a lazy nod back and turned to start cooking. It had grey leathery skin instead of black scales, and seemed a bit broader and more muscular than Enter, but was otherwise the same. Shrugging, I dropped off my ill-gotten gains and, returning to the table, I accepted the plate from the Stand, “Thanks. . . I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,” I said, indirectly asking Boojack.
    The Stand gave a bovine snort before grunting, “Jackhammer,” To both Herb’s and my shock.

    “Well then thanks Jack.” He turned a gimlet eye my way. “. . . hammer,” I finished, making a note to call him by his full name.

    “Why the hell don’t you talk?” Herb asked his Stand incredulously. “I thought you couldn’t but, what the fuck?”

    His Stand smirked back, tearing into his steak with the air of a satisfied predator. “I think he hasn’t because he hasn’t felt like he needed to,” I guessed. The Stand’s smirk stretched into an evil smile. “Yeah, like that,” I added. Trying the steak, it was really good, and I voiced my opinion to that effect, getting another snort and a nod from Jackhammer.

    “So, how’d your night go?” I asked Herb. “I head you from halfway across the city.”

    Herb grinned happily back. “Being a dinosaur is so fuckin’ awesome. You wouldn’t even believe! I was tryin’ out shit and some Merchants tried to jump me!” Enter gave him a raised eyebrow. “Okay, they may have just been in the area, but same thing, so I turned into a T-Rex and roared, and they both passed out in fear, the pussies!”

    “I saw Velocity on his way there,” I replied, hoping my friend hadn’t thrown down with the hero, “how did that go?”

    He shrugged. “Didn’t. I stole their wallets, turned into a Pterodactyl, and took off.”

    I cocked my head, “How did you hold onto their wallets as a bird?”

    He grinned harder. “Didn’t have to, when I change, I change the stuff with me!” He paused, his eyes going wide, “Shit! I need to turn back to get them.”

    “Wait,” I said, realizing what it meant if he didn’t have them on him, holding up a hand at this insanity. “Are you telling me you took their wallets, as a T-Rex?”

    “Yeah, there was a security camera, so I thought I’d fuck with it!” he crowed. “It was harder with tiny arms, but worth it. How ‘bout you?”

    “Hit another Merchant safehouse,” I bragged, informing them of my raid, finishing with my parting shot.

    “I’m surprised you didn’t fuck her up,” Boojack contributed.

    I sent him an offended look. “Not with Gallant right there. Boardwalk is supposed to be a bit more gritty than Vejovis, but he wouldn’t attack a hero unless they started it, and with him there that wasn’t gonna happen!” I smirked. “Besides, with the Bank Job tomorrow, I want them to act as close to canon as possible, so we can counter them. Getting into a scuffle might make Gallant more cautious, and if we’re gonna keep Taylor’s reputation salvageable, we need the Wards to mess up on camera.”

    Boojack raised an eyebrow. “How are you gettin’ ‘em on tape?”

    I shrugged, “I was gonna drop the cameras off that morning.”

    He shook his head. “Fuckin’ Idiot.” I sent him a look of confusion. “If they’re there, like you knew, could use your bugs.”

    I thought, deciphering his statement, and was forced to agree with him. “Yeah, that’s better. I can claim to always have them on me because of how I’ve seen the ‘heroes’ here acting, and set them up as soon as things started to go bad. That way it isn’t obvious I knew what was going to happen.”

    Plan tweaked and dinner finished, the rest headed to bed while I stayed up, strengthening my force fields. I found that extending it over an item made it count as ‘me’ for the purposes of tanking damage. With this new information, I casually shot a 2x4 I’d covered with a variety of weapons, finding out that the forcefield was particularly weak to Speed Zone accelerated buckshot, as it gave each pellet enough force to take down the field individually, letting the rest shred the wood.

    Glad I’d been testing it out on something other than my own body, I went back to using an enhanced pistol while I read up on the base’s defenses, nearing the halfway point of the manual. Turning the defensive grid on was easy enough, though I’d not be able to slide into base in Shadowform anymore, but keeping Sophia from doing the same thing was worth it.

    This process continued monotonously, using a variety of weapons on the shield until I felt the oddest feeling of expansion and reformation, as if something had shifted, or a soap bubble had split into two, still sharing a side but separate. After nothing else happened, I shrugged and shot my current target (my eighth 2x4), but only the shield on the piece of wood to drop. I still felt protected, somehow. Looking at it and then at my own body, I reinforced the glove of my costume with armor, then shot it. The second shield then dropped, the one on my body started recharging, but the one on the wood coming back online first.

    Letting go of the ad-hoc target, I felt the completed shield shift back to me, and, while difficult, I was able to shift it across my body, the other shield covering the rest. I used the first shield to protect my hand, heart, and head in turn, the second shield coming back and covering the rest. As I shifted and stretched it, I felt, but couldn’t see, it getting thinner and thicker as I did so.

    Grabbing the structured stick again, I shifted the zone to a 3-inch circle of the plank facing me, the field thickening quite a bit. Following this intuition, I dismissed the Speed Zone on my pistol and sighted down, hitting the target easily, nearly dropping it in shock.

    The 9mm pistol round didn’t drain the shield.

    Widening the target to 6 inches, I shot it again, feeling the field straining but holding. Widening it to cover a full foot I shot It a third time, feeling the field drop, my second shot punching through the board easily, stopping in the middle of the wood where it hit the second shield covering the rest of the plank and stopped, draining that one as well.

    I considered this.

    Moving the shields took time. Taking out my phone and using a stopwatch app, I clocked it in at two minutes twelve seconds to drag the second shield and use it to cover my head, just in case. I tried to see if I could double layer the shield for maximum protection, but they didn’t seem to want to do that, moving one pushing the other out of the way.

    Shelving that plan I shrugged, extending my body shield over the plank and picking up where I left off, enhancing my gun to drain my shield more effectively, glancing over at the bugs I had counting money while I worked, trying to split my focus to fully handle three tasks at once, to limited success, bringing in my equipment when it started to rain, and having to count the money by hand, since I was trying to be good about bring bugs in the base.


    The next morning I’d had some success, having to switch off fields covering my target as only the one I drained gained in strength, for some reason, despite both coming from the same power. Making breakfast I checked my phone again, still nothing from Panacea. Oh well, I’ll deal with that after the bank, I thought, making breakfast for everyone as the gentle impacts of rain made the villain base seem almost. . . homey.

    The smell of waffles, coffee, and bacon roused my friends, Herb coming in first, followed by Boojack who still smelled faintly of weed. “So,” I told them cheerily. “Today’s the day we help rob a bank, you guys ready?”

    “Ready to go punch some Nazis,” BJ grunted, crunching on bacon. “Ready every day, but didn’t want to fuck up your plans.”

    “Yeah, and getting jacked up had nothing to do with that,” Herb snarked.

    I cut in before the Replicant could respond, “Well I appreciate the thought Boojack!” I insisted. “So-“ I was cut off by the sound of my phone ringing, checking it I saw that it was Panacea calling. But it’s almost ten, I thought. Shouldn’t she be in school? I answered it, “Good morning Panacea, how are you?”

    “Hi,” responded the healer, sounding much better than she had before. “Just got your message. I’ve been sick, and mom called me out of school, again. I’m better, and you said you needed help?”

    “Yes,” I told her, smiling, making a ‘be quiet’ motion to the others. Herb oh so helpfully made kissy faces in reply. Turning around I continued, “I wanted to set up a bank account at Bay Central for my hero identity, but I’ve heard that can go badly. I was wondering if you could help me out, vouch for me as it were, so they didn’t call the PRT as soon as I walked in the door.”

    She made general sounds of thought, before shifting to agreement. “I can do that. Needed to go there anyways. Meet you there at 12:30?”

    That was far too close to canon for my liking, statements made last night be damned. “I’m free right now, I could pick you up and get it done in time for lunch.” Does that sound needy? I think it does.

    She laughed, a tired but happy sound. “I remember last time you wanted lunch. I’ve got some other things to do, 12:30 really is best.”

    Well, Shit, I thought. If I push for earlier again, she’ll get suspicious. Better just play it by ear. That’s what half your plans end up as anyways, Lee. “12:30 will be fine. Should I come in full regalia, or cover it with plainclothes so I don’t attract attention.”

    I could practically hear her shrug. “Whatever you think works best. See you then.” She hung up, and I turned to see Herb smirking at me.

    “As close to canon as you can?” he asked smugly.

    “Shut up Herb!” I snapped. This was not how I’d wanted this to play out. “For that, you’re doing dishes.”

    “Worth it,” was his only response.


    Herb and I walked down the street, both of us holding umbrellas, him wearing his full costume, attracting some looks while I covered my skintight getup with a created dress shirt and slacks. “You ready for this?” I asked as we strolled, approaching the bank ten minutes early.

    “Definitely,” was his immediate response. “It’s the next thing that’s gonna suck.”

    I looked at him, waiting for him to elucidate.

    “Bakuda’s bitch fit. That’s gonna be an asshole fight for both of us.”

    That phrasing made absolutely no sense to me. “Okay. Define ‘asshole fight’.”

    He leaned slightly back, one hand raising into what I was quickly designating his ‘explanation pose’. “So Bakuda, being mentally unstable as shit, still creates some of the most interesting bombs. Bombs that could still fuck us up!

    I nodded. “If we’re not careful, yeah. She likes the terror thing a bit too much so if we’re fast enough, and pay attention, we should be able to dodge the worst ones. You always have a chance to get away from them. I can fly, and super-strength translates into super-speed if you’re creative enough, thank you Deku. So as long as you’ve been fighting, you’re good. You have Enter on you?” I asked, continuing when he nodded, pointing at his breast pocket. “It’ll still be a knock-down, drag out, let’s fuck some shit up, fight. Question is, do we step in and save the Undersiders?”

    “Yes!” he responded without hesitation. “That’s where we become something more than just the outsiders to them.”

    I nodded, seeing his plan. “More than just actors on the periphery. It’s when we take the first step to co-opt them. I think that happening on the fifteenth. That’s tomorrow night.

    “I’ll have Boojack and Curtis with me for that one,” he reasoned.

    I did the math in my head and winced. “I’m assuming Curtis is your next replicant, in which case: Boojack yeah, Curtis no. it takes a week to recharge, so you’ll get him the day after this happens.”

    “Fuck, you’re right,” he swore. “Stupid asshole ‘Worst Day Ever’, throwin’ off my fuckin’ rhythm.”

    I shrugged, countering, “The points’ll be worth it in the long run.”

    He nodded, acceding the point. “Doesn’t mean I have’ta like it. Your date’s here,” he commented, pointing at a girl wrapped in a heavy raincoat, standing outside of the bank.

    I rolled my eyes. “Dude, don’t be creepy. You know the plan? Stay low-“

    “-until Kid Win blows his little canon, then beat his ass before he gets another load going,” he finished.

    My judging stare met his innocent expression. “Phrasing man, Jesus,” I admonished, shaking my head as he walked away. Waiting for the signal, I crossed the street and approached her. “Panacea?” I inquired.

    She was looking in the opposite direction, and shook her head. “Sorry, waiting for someone.” She responded, glancing at me, before double taking. “Vejovis?”

    I took off my large sunglasses, revealing my thin domino mask hiding underneath. “In the flesh, you’re early.” Does that mean something? I thought. Why am I second guessing myself here, I didn’t with Taylor.

    The corner of her mouth quirked, “So are you,” she reposted.

    “Touché,” I conceded. “Either way, let’s head inside.” Stepping past her I opened the door, indicating she should go in.

    She nodded and entered, with me following as we approached a bank representative’s desk. Introducing myself and tipping my shades, the older woman started to panic until Panacea introduced herself, defusing the situation. I sat down with her, surprised that doing this had started to go badly, as I’d just used it as an excuse to talk to Panacea, and had personally thought there’d be no problem.

    After answering a few questions, the pause I gave when asked if we were opening a joint account got me a sidelong glance from Amelia. As the person escorted us to a private office and went to go get the paperwork, or more likely find out what paperwork they needed to get first as, apparently, “Capes never come down in person!”, I gave Panacea a look. “What was the stink eye for?” I asked, smiling.

    “Joint account?” she inquired dryly.

    I shrugged. “It surprised me. We literally explained why you were here. Some people just don’t listen. Makes me wonder if it’s worth it opening an account for the Penumbral Defenders.”

    She leaned back in her chair, regarding me. “How does that work?” she finally asked. “I’m part of New Wave, but I’ve never done anything with them.”

    Probably because your adopted mother thinks you’ll stick a knife in her back the second you get the opportunity. I wonder if it’s projection, I pondered. “I’m still figuring it out to be honest,” I admitted. “Though it helps if you consider the reason I made it. The PD,” her eyebrow raised, “Yes, I get it, police department, I didn’t notice it until my friend pointed it out. My original name was Twilight Protectors, but the PRT nixed that, saying it was too close to Protectorate. Either way, my purpose was to help find people who were truly heroes and help them, no matter what others claimed they were.”

    She looked at me with suspicion, but didn’t say anything, so I continued. “Take the other founding member, Break, and tell me if this sounds like a hero or villain. You have a person who doesn’t respect authority, likes the thrill of combat, but restricts their bloodlust to those deserving, the criminals, be they super-powered, or the pimp who’s forcing women to work for him under threat of death. Is that a Hero or Villain?

    “Do they break the law?” she asked right back, not missing a beat, probably seeing where this was going.

    Everyone breaks the law,” I retorted just as fast. “People speed, people litter, people jaywalk, what matters to what extent do they break the law. Let’s say this person has not broken any of the really hard laws, hasn’t stolen, as the law defines it, hasn’t murdered, as the law defines it, and hasn’t attacked anyone that cape law hasn’t already defined as a fair target. Are they a villain, or a hero?”

    “The law’s the law,” she responded simply. “And they like hurting people. They’re a villain.”

    I put a hand to my chest, “How could you say such a thing? I can’t believe you just called Brandish a villain!”

    “What?” she sputtered, losing her cool. Really, I thought. No one’s tried that trick with you? “She’s not-“

    “She’s a lawyer, and no one who respects authority becomes a lawyer.” I interrupted. “The law? Possibly, but never authority.” I ticked off one figure. “After I met her, I looked her up. The videos of her fighting? If that sword of hers was real she’d have killed a lot of people, and her expression was one of righteous bloodlust. My friend has the same thing going on, as do a lot of heroes, it’s not inherently a bad thing.” Two fingers.

    “As far as I know she’s restricted herself to criminals, but I might be wrong, nor has she stolen, killed, or attacked someone illegally, as far as I know,” I stressed, “but she’s human, so she’s broken at least one law, hell, anyone who flies is probably breaking some set of laws about air traffic. Just because no one calls you out on breaking a rule, doesn’t mean it isn’t broken. It’s why I respect those with personal codes they don’t break, because they’re usually the type of people whose word is actually worth something.” I held up three fingers, deciding not to go for the ‘three strikes’ comment. It would be especially effective against a lawyer, but lost on Panacea.

    “Mind you, everything I’ve outlined probably applies to my friend, a quarter of the Wards, most of the Protectorate, and most heroes in general,” I admitted. “The problem is, public perception matters far too much to people than actual facts. Let’s go extreme, and take Oni Lee of the ABB for example, his pseudo-suicide bombing sprees terrify people, and with good reason, but let’s look at his power. It’s teleportation that leaves behind a body that quickly degrades. Compare that to Brandish who uses plasma weapons. I know she keeps them constrained to blunt instruments against most, but that doesn’t stop them from being what they are. What are weapons made from the same stuff as the sun against mere teleportation when weighed on the ‘should I be afraid of this person’ scale? And that leads to some thinking that bad powers equals bad people. Thing is though, that’s not what happens, because it’s what people think about you that matters most. That’s why Brandish is seen as a Hero, because she uses her superpowers responsibly, while Oni Lee is seen as the Villain he actually is.”

    Panacea watched me explain with a guarded expression. “What, am I supposed to turn on Victoria now because everything is relative?”

    I looked back at her, confused. “What? No, Glory Girl’s definitely on the side of the angels.” I bobbed my head in a thinking gesture. “Mind you, as someone with super strength I know how much work it takes to control that, and she doesn’t seem to move like someone with that level of caution.” I tactfully ignored the healer’s wince. “But yeah, definitely a good person at heart. My point is that there are some people who are either labelled, or consider themselves to be, villains, that really aren’t.”

    “For example,” I put forward, “say you’ve got a teenage kid who hasn’t learned to swim, so his asshole step dad decides that he needs to learn, so takes him to a lake, walks him down the pier, and tosses him in, sink or swim style, ignoring of course that sinking is an option, and that option means death. The kid is trying his best to stay above water but is panicking, trying to get back to the pier, but every time he struggles over to it his dad pushes him back out.” Panacea leaned forward, raptly following the story, a look of concern on her features. “The lake is ice cold, the kid has inhaled a lot of water, is losing feeling and energy, and thinks he’s going to die, and Triggers, but powers are weird.”

    “If they made sense, he’d get water control and save himself, but they don’t,” I stressed. “Say instead he gets a breaker/blaster power that lets him turn into a high-velocity fireball, which he uses to get to shore. However, in his panic, he goes in the direction he’s been trying for the past half an hour, and hits shore by going through the dock, burning and exploding it along the way, killing his stepdad in the process. Now the kid’s convinced he’s a murderer for killing his father, and decides he’s a villain. If someone calls themselves a Hero, everyone questions them unless they have someone in authority backing them up, just look at what just happened.” I gestured towards where the teller had gone, getting a reluctant nod.

    “But if someone calls themselves a villain, even if they’re just scared or confused, people tend to believe them. It’s like people are just looking for a reason to think badly of people with powers,” I sighed. “So, back to my example, say he goes and tells somebody what happened. If they’re an intrinsically good person they’ll see past the kid’s panicked explanation to understand what actually happened. They’ll contact the PRT and ask for help, and, if the person who shows up does their job, he’ll get help. But if the person he talks to, or the PRT officer that gets called in doesn’t care about the circumstances, assuming they listen at all, and they just hear ‘I killed someone with my power’, when any fair court would not only not charge him, but probably press negligence charges against the mom for letting her new husband’s attempted murder of her son go on without trying to stop it.”

    “But,” I held up a finger, “the kid doesn’t get a fair hearing, hell, he probably doesn’t get a hearing at all, just people calling him, and treating him like, a monster and saying how he’s going to go to prison forever for his crime of trying not to die when someone was trying to kill him, maybe even the Birdcage. I’ve heard a member of the Protectorate threaten a new hero with that when she didn’t do anything wrong, just to bully her into doing what he wanted.”

    Amelia looked like she wanted to object, but I kept going. “So, this kid who’s not even a teenager yet, is being threatened with jail, and maybe they may go into graphic detail about the abuse, maybe even the violent rape he’ll suffer there, convincing themselves that by making this parahuman, this criminal they’ve convicted with no evidence in the court of their own mind, this other suffer, they’re morally righteous,” I scowled, trying not to dwell on my memories. Nothing that bad, but when it came to those things, it was a matter of degrees. “Those are the ‘villains’ I seek to redeem, and I only say redeem because that’s how a lot of them think, not that they have always done something requiring redemption.”

    “But, but that doesn’t happen!” she insisted, pale. “And I don’t believe you about the Protectorate, they wouldn’t do that!”

    “There’s at least three in this city alone with that kind of history,” I responded calmly. “Rune, Bitch, and the provisional member of our team, The Lady, Bug, who was the one personally heard threatened.”

    Panacea blinked at me, focusing on the first name. “The white supremacist?”

    I waggled my hand in a so-so gesture. “By socialization and upbringing, not religion like the really bad ones. What do you know about her?”

    The healer shrugged, “Just that she’s a Neo-Nazi, what do you know about her.” She froze. “Wait, do you know who she really is?

    I nodded, but before I could explain, the bank representative came back. I calmly filled out some paperwork, feeling Panacea stare a hole in the back of my skull as I waited until the representative left once more, before wrapping us in a sound bubble, mentally berating myself for forgetting to do so the first time.

    “So, Rune, who’s real name I don’t actually know,” I told Panacea, “was the daughter of a group that splintered of from the Empire Eighty-Eight, family name starts with an H, not important. Still white supremacists, but more of a ‘Let us set up our own enclaves in the country and leave us alone’ type. So young Rune, before she is Rune, hits teenage rebellion, like a large percentage of teens do, and seeks out an uncle who was more of the mainline faction of Neo-Nazi, the ‘Whites are superior and should rule over all’ type, which makes no sense but again isn’t important right now.”

    “So, he takes her along,” I explained, having looked up a few of the characters while I was originally reading Worm, some of the backstories sticking out to me from the sheer injustice of them. “And eventually they both get caught doing something illegal, but she’s arrested while he gets away. Her parents want nothing to do with her for ‘betraying’ them and working with the main line E88, so disown her, but don’t have enough class to tell her. I know, Neo-Nazis, I shouldn’t expect them to, but still. So, all she knows is that they never showed up to her trial. She’s put in prison, not sure what for, and has a hard time dealing with the mixed population, having been raised on a steady stream of white supremacist bigotry.”

    I frowned, “However, instead of getting her counseling, like they’re supposed to with juvenile offenders, they throw her in solitary confinement instead and just ‘neglect’ to ever let her out, because it’s not worth the hassle to them.” I saw her look of dawning horror. “Yeah, that’s several kinds of illegal and the warden himself should have been jailed for it if it could be proven that he knew it was going on. Not even the Birdcage is solitary, and you can talk about gender equality all you want, solitary confinement is far harder on women than it is on men, and harder on teens then on full adults. So, she’s effectively left to be tortured with isolation until she goes insane, and starts to do so, but Triggers first.”

    Smiling grimly, I prompted, “Remember how I said powers always help, but are weird? Her power lets her break out of her cell and escape. If she’d known her family had abandoned her, she probably would have developed a Master power instead, but she most likely thought that if she could just get out, she could go rejoin her family. Thing is, she does get out and finds out her parents have abandoned her, and in her desperation, turns to her Uncle, the only other person she has in the world, even though he’s really the reason she was in prison in the first place. Uncle sees her, not as a person, but as a way to get prestige in the E88 by giving them an asset. He likely convinces her that her family was inferior, and couldn’t recognize ‘the truth’ or some BS like that, but the mainline E88, they’ll be her family, they’ll take care of her like her family didn’t. And there you go, someone who has been raised badly, and screwed over by those in power, and then blamed when they react badly.”

    Panacea just stared. “How do you know all that?” she asked weakly. “That’s, that’s, how?”

    I smiled. “That my dear, is not something that can be shared in a crowded bank, but later, if you really want to know, I’ll tell you. Either way, I’m trying to help those who’ve never been truly helped, and could do good if given even a first chance. It’ll be hard, I mean, Break is black, so getting Rune to join won’t be easy, but it might be worth it. The amount of good she could do in search and rescue, let alone straight construction is quite impressive, it’s just getting her to that point that’s the issue, along with seeing if she is savable, or a lost cause like Alabaster.”

    Shrugging, I explained, “Thing is, I’m only trying to save the ill-treated, and the damaged, like Bitch a.k.a. Hellhound. Long story short her power lets her enhance dogs, not control them. When she Triggered she enhanced one, it got attacked because it looked downright monstrous, it attacked back and killed a number of people, including her abusive foster-mother. Crimes the recently Triggered commit are supposed to be considered as done by someone in a state of temporary insanity, given what makes people Trigger, but for whatever reason, maybe because she was a problem foster child because her foster parents were criminally negligent and abusive, but who cares about that, so someone determined she was bad, so the crime that she shouldn’t be held accountable for stuck.”

    Waving a hand, I stated, “Now she’s on the lamb, so obviously a villain, as there’s no possible reason a scared teen would ever run away from something horrible, and she’s treated as evil even when all she wanted was to be left alone and to care for her dogs, which are actually just normal dogs when not empowered. Is it any wonder she got recruited by someone who was actually evil?”

    I shook my head sadly before continuing, Panacea watching me, mouth agape. “Oni Lee on the other hand, is broken, and I will not hesitate to match force for force. He tries to kill me, and that’s the only thing he ever does to people anymore, and I’ll try to kill him right back, as I am within my full legal rights to do. It’s all a matter of degrees,” I sighed. “

    The true villains, those among us who are actually evil love to hide behind the ‘unwritten rules,’” I told her, making finger quotes.“Don’t use lethal force, don’t rape, don’t use mind control, and so on. Thing is, whenever they think they can get away with it they do so anyways. One of the ABB’s main income streams is whorehouses, and Lung has been known to ‘test new merchandise’, so unless you think ‘don’t rape’ just means ‘don’t rape capes’, and I don’t, that’s him down right there.”

    I almost growled at it, the sheer hypocricy of the situation galling me on a deep level. “If any of the gangs acquired a Master, they’d be using them with impunity, and don’t kill? Are you serious. The only gang that doesn’t have at least member that tries to kill their opponents straight away is, maybe, the Merchants, and that’s probably from lack of applicable powers rather than lack of desire. If they held to their rules the entire villain community would turn on Oni Lee, Lung, Hookwolf, Cricket, Stormtiger, Alabaster, and a lot more, and that’s just in this city alone.”

    Sighing, I waved in the direction of downtown, “The only well-known group that has the capability, but not the inclination, in Brockton Bay would be Uber and L33t, and I’ve seen the videos. For their GTA one alone they should have gone to jail for years, but I wouldn’t use lethal force against them unless they initiated it.” I leaned back. “That’s two main ideals of the Penumbral Defenders, help those heroes and potential heroes who deserve it, and fight the true villains on their terms.”

    “But doesn’t that make you just as bad as they are?” Amelia asked, with a speed that had to be a canned answer, and made about as much sense those gotchya soundbites the thoughtless loved. The fact that it was coming from Panacea, who’d always seemed so thoughtful in canon, even if she was working with incomplete knowledge, surprised me. The fact that it was such a simplistically wrong thing made it all worse, as I’d dealt with people like that all through high school and college, high off their own self-righteousness, and expected her to be better than that.

    I looked at her scornfully, oddly hurt. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware I was dealing with an idiot. Do you think soldiers are murderers, because both groups ‘kill people’, and cops are criminals because they sometimes use violence to stop lawbreakers? Leave your primary school philosophy at the door Panacea, I know you’re smarter than that, and if you think about your answers instead of just regurgitating what you likely just learned as a child you’d see why what you’re saying makes no sense. I’m not the one who would choose to try to kill people who’ve done nothing wrong, to kidnap them, torture them, rape them, and I wouldn’t torture or rape my opponents, I’d try to redeem them, or turn them over to stand trial, and if I’m sadly not strong enough to capture them, I’d put them down like the mad dogs they are.”

    She looked outraged at my response. “What do you mean, ‘sadly not strong enough’? You don’t sound that sorry about it!”

    Why wasn’t she listening to what I said? “Mercy is the gift of the strong Panacea, for it means that not only can you take someone down, but you are also prepared to do so again on a battlefield of their choice. If I could capture Alabaster, I’d have him stand trial for his crimes, but Kaiser? I’m not strong enough to lock him down and keep him from killing others, and if we fought, I’d kill him, just as surely as he’d try to kill me without a second thought, for if I let him get away when I had a chance to stop him, I’d a least be partially responsible for what he did after that!”

    She stood up, flush with anger. “Then maybe you aren’t the hero you claim to be!”

    I was up in an instant as well. Disappointed that, despite what I thought, she was a blithering idiot, only listening to the parts that she wanted to hear, ignoring the context and reasoning entirely like so many others and was about to respond when I was reminded of where I was, who I was dealing with, and what pressures were in place, so bit back my retort. “Fucking Scion shards,” I muttered under my breath as I calmly sat back down. Simply telling her, in as a matter of fact way as possible, “I absolutely, positively, fucking hate mind control.”

    She stood there, not sure what to do, watching as I took a deep breathe. “What, are you saying you’ve been Mastered? That doesn’t make your opinions right!”

    I took another breath, sighing, catching sight of the employee at the door, looking in and seeing us argue. I held up a hand, mouthing ‘5 minutes’. The bank employee nodded, looking a little frightened, but left us alone. “There are two main ways to get powers, most people Trigger, but some are given theirs, bought for money and favors.”

    She stood there, blinking at the non-sequitor. “What?”

    “Those who Trigger, like you, have one type of power source. It helps your power evolve, change, adapt, and grow in power. However, it also pushes you to conflict, as powers are usually used in fights, and in new and interesting applications, which is ultimately what the powers want. Almost every power is a combat power in some way, and that is not an accident. That means that you are pushed, ever so slightly, by your power, by your. . . passenger, to get upset, to fight, to not think when you could react and then use your power in new ways.”

    Chuckling without humor, I noted, “I’m sure you were thinking about how you could take me down, given that my only exposed skin is my head and neck, giving me an advantage. It does not matter that all I had done was say some things you didn’t like, your reaction, when pushed, and I apologize for doing so, it’s one of my less favorable habits, was to use your powers against me in a physical confrontation. Coma, paralysis, or simple sleep?” I inquired politely. “I’d prefer sleep, but that’s just me.”

    She looked at me with wide eyes, before turning her eyes down at her own shaking hands. “I, I, oh god.” She said as she slumped down into her chair. “What’s going on? Are you a Thinker? How do you know this!?” she demanded.

    Looking at her as I only now realized I was casually shaking the foundations of her world, I wanted to give her a hug, but it was safer to stay out of touch range. “Again, I can tell you later, but not now. Your powers aren’t evil Panacea, just morally neutral, like any tool. To use them responsible is a burden placed solely on us humans, but it’s one I shoulder gladly, for it means that I am a good person because I am a good person. The problem is that it makes talking with Natural Triggers much harder. Pro-tip, if you are dealing with a parahuman known for their cool head, there’s a 60% chance they’ve bought their powers, and a 25% chance they’re actually insane. 15% are actually that controlled, usually having a non-standard moral code they follow, as the rules of society we learn as children don’t count for super strength or laser vision, so one has to create their own hard limits.” Like you I added mentally, glancing at the clock on the table, displaying the time as 12:59. Running out of time.

    “So, take a deep breath and think about what I’ve said. I don’t harm innocents, and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I believe that mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent. Now, I know it’s not exactly going to help with the entire ‘I’m not a villain, I’m just a different kind of hero’ thing, but, well, remember how I mentioned there were three people that I was trying to help?” I asked.

    She looked up at me, eyes blank. “The third one was the provisional member of my team, The Lady, Bug. Not enough time to go into it, but before I met her she wanted to infiltrate the Undersiders, like an undercover cop, so she could get info on the truly bad ones and turn them over to the Protectorate. The Undersiders are a teenage villain team, by the way, of which Bitch is a member, and their boss is, unknown to them, a violent sociopath who has killed and likely raped children, but used his power to make sure no one ever found out. Thing is, he almost never leaves his base, so Lady Bug offered to go undercover could find the Intel I needed to bring him to justice. Understand?”

    She looked at me in horror, before nodding once, this new predicament pushing aside the implications of the previous revelation, possibly with the help of her passenger.

    “I say that because they’re going to hit this building in about thirty seconds, and I need your help to make sure no one gets hurt by them, or, more likely, the heroes who are going to come charging in to stop them, unthinking of their collateral damage.” I dropped the sound bubble as I stood up, the sound of frightened screams and someone yelling in the lobby coming through the closed door. “So, ever been in a bank robbery?”
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2021
  18. fireball900

    fireball900 World Conqueror (not Overlord)

    Jan 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    "Yes, this is the third time this year. I'm getting tired of them by now."
  19. Pheonix14

    Pheonix14 Know what you're doing yet?

    Oct 2, 2018
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    So something I'm curious about, would you by any chance be willing or be planning on making an informational post on what powers lee has access to once you've finished crossposting all the chapters here?
    I know there was an informational post that had all of Lee's available powers after the Leviathan arc, but alot has changed about the powers Lee has access to since then (and is probably going to change alot more once the [insert spoilers for the most recent arc here] situation is taken care of)
  20. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
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    Sure. I have a grid I'm using for internal reference, so it'd be easy to throw it up. It just won't be as detailed as the Leviathan Arc one, where every sub-use is detailed, because that thing took hours.
    pa$$word and Pheonix14 like this.
  21. Mastigos2

    Mastigos2 I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Jan 13, 2015
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    Comments like these really ruin the story for new readers (aka me).

    As in, I've gone from "ooh a Leecifer story I haven't read yet." to "dropping this because unwanted knowledge of a future plot point has been repeatedly brought up and elaborated on to the point where it taints my first impression of each and every scene"
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
  22. Pheonix14

    Pheonix14 Know what you're doing yet?

    Oct 2, 2018
    Likes Received:
    Sorry about that, when I made that comment I didn't think about how that might affect the experience of new readers.
    Mastigos2 likes this.
  23. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
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    Maybe edit it to have a spoiler box?

    Like this?
    Mastigos2 and Pheonix14 like this.
  24. Pheonix14

    Pheonix14 Know what you're doing yet?

    Oct 2, 2018
    Likes Received:
    I was actually just working on that , when I received the alert for your reply.
    though I'm uncertain on how far into the story I should mention the spoilers apply to considering
    that Herb keeps up on fucking up until he second triggers, and I'm uncertain about whether it's only a matter of time (and opportunity) until he fucks up really badly again
    Leecifer likes this.
  25. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    A good rule of thumb would be to spoiler anything that hasn't been covered in the story so far. Yeah, that can be a bit of the pain in the but, and I'll try to make sure I update a few chapters a week. The issue is that there are a lot of them, and each one takes a bit to copy edit, which I need to do before I cringe myself into an early grave over how bad my first attempts at writing were.
  26. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.9

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.9

    “NO!” was Panacea’s response to my question.

    I shrugged. “Didn’t think you’d been in a bank robbery before, it was more of a rhetorical question.”

    She shook her head, hand swinging out in negation. “No, I mean I’m not going to help you rob a bank!”

    I stared at her in confusion, bringing the sound bubble back up. “I’m not asking for your help in robbing a bank, I’m asking for your help making sure the hostages are okay, specifically from the Wards. The Undersiders haven’t hurt civilians, so have a vested interest in not letting them get hurt as it lessens the official response to them, but the Wards could justify it by blaming the villains if they’re not careful.”

    “They wouldn’t do that!” she shot back, standing up in anger.

    “Shadow Stalker would in a heartbeat, but she’s not coming. Kid Win though, is bringing an untested laser cannon, among other things, that could kill regular people, if he’s not careful, and he’s too excited about using his new tech to check his targets. If I don’t help, a whole lot of bad things are gonna happen.”

    She glared at me. “How do you know that? What? Are you a Precog too?”

    “No,” I answered honestly. “I-“ breaking off I wrapped a much tighter sound bubble around us, just in case there was something in the room itself that was listening in. “I got a pretty detailed look at what would happen if Break and I never came here. We both did. It’s why I’m pressing so on hard on things instead of taking it slow, because we literally don’t have time. I’m trying to save as many people as possible, and I refuse to do that ‘I’ve been given a glimpse of the future, so now I’ll let all these horrible things happen, so I’m prepared down the road’ bullshit, which means I need to work hard and fast to derail as many horrible events as possible. I know a lot of personal things about a lot of people.”

    She went pale. “You mean you know. . .”

    “About your love for your adopted sister, yeah. I also know why you feel that way, and it’s something I both don’t judge you for, and would have brought up gently, at a later date. but we’ve got, like, two minutes before everything goes to shit right now, so if you’re not going to help, please just stay safe and out of the way.” I started to turn towards the door.

    “Wait,” she said suddenly. “Is this why you wanted me here, to help you with this robbery? Is this all some plan to use me and make me a villain? Because from where I’m standing, you’re not a hero!”

    I facepalmed, frustration growling in the back of my throat as I swiveled back to face her. “Okay, last thing and then I’m heading out there, with or without you. One: if you’ll engage your brain instead of your emotions you’ll remember I wanted your help to get the bank account set up yesterday, and then earlier this morning because I didn’t want you here for this. You are the one who specified the time. Yes that means I knew about it in advance, but if I’d told someone then my plan to take down the reclusive child murdering rapist supervillain wouldn’t have worked. Two: I’m not asking for you to help with the robbery, just keep the heroes from accidentally killing people. And Three: I. Am. A. Hero.”

    “I don’t go after law abiding citizens!” I practically yelled, not getting what was making it so hard to see I was trying to help people. “I try and save those that need saving, not for praise but because it’s the right goddamn thing to do! I don’t nor do I have any desire to rape! I’m trying to make the world a better place, and even if I have to get my hands dirty to do so, I refuse to stain my soul like those dumbass ‘Antiheroes’ you have here! Now I’m going to go out there, pretend to be a hostage, help manage things so that they’re okay, and stop this from going as horribly as it originally did. Now, are you going to charge in there, accomplishing nothing other than putting yourself and the hostages at risk, hide here and stay safe, or help me protect those people!?”

    When she just stared at me, I dismissed the tighter bubble as I turned my back on her, ready to dodge if she lunged for me, and was at the door before she bit out. “Fine! I’ll help you, but this isn’t over! You need to explain yourself!”

    I opened the door, nodding before I crouched and peered out. “Agreed. Now stay low and follow me.”

    “Your glasses!” she called, right as I was about to dismiss the second bubble. Looking back, she tossed me my shades from where I’d left them on the desk. I slipped them on, nodded, and dropped the bubble, heading out.


    As I left the room, I knew that Taylor was here, what with the swarm of insects flying about the lobby. Taylor and Bitch were counting money while her dogs stood at the ready, monstrous things that looked more like flesh-warped tigers than anything canine. As her insects impacted me, I took out my own Bug Control, co-opting them and keeping them from attacking as the girl started to react to me. Taylor’s presence in the power sang with nervousness, fear, and self-hate, though they all relaxed a bit as I integrated into her network, the tension eased from her as she felt my power nearby.

    Tapping into the network I saw the back door was still open, and took a few cameras from my belt. Turning them on I grabbed some of her swarm, using it to take the recording equipment out and set them up with a view of the street outside, though aligning them with only bug vision to double check was iffy, compound eyes not the same as singular lenses.

    Seeing Panacea’s look as she stared at my belt, where I’d pulled the very-obviously-spy cameras from, I whispered. “There’s no evidence like video evidence. Just because I want the robbery to go off, doesn’t mean I don’t want justice.” She stared at me hard, before slowly nodding. Now that I could feel Taylor working, I realized that without being able to feel the emotions of the person I was talking to, and vice versa, this entire ‘hey, I have radically different ideas that you are used to, but I’m right!’ thing was much harder that I thought.

    The other hostages looked over at us as we crept closer, panic in their eyes, the person who had been helping us with the paperwork looking at us with hope. Working our way subtly over to them, I felt through my bug sense and yes, Taylor had still gone through with the Black Widow plan. I took control and moved them off the hostage’s necks, putting a housefly in their place.

    The hostages whimpered as they probably felt the spiders moving, but it couldn’t be helped. I moved to use the bugs to tell them it was going to be okay, only to realize that, while I knew it was possible, I hadn’t actually figured out how to do that yet.


    Thinking, I used my Acoustokinesis instead, linking my voice to their ears, adding in the sound of bugs to make something that should be close enough. “This is Vejovis, of the Penumbral Defenders, Independent Hero Team. The Wards are incoming, but I’m here to make sure everyone gets out of this unharmed. I also have insect control, and have taken over the insects on your necks. If you’ll move back and away from the windows, Panacea and I will be able to better protect you.”

    The crowd stilled at first, before starting to murmur happily. “Please stay quiet,” I told them with urgency. “If I’m revealed, it will make keeping everyone safe much harder. Thank you for keeping calm in this stressful situation.”

    The hostages quieted down, looking around. A couple pointed me out, and I tipped down my glasses, revealing the mask underneath. Waving them over I directed an area in the back corner, and Panacea went to ask me something but was interrupted by the Undersiders striding out of the vault. I Saw them and Knew them.

    The man shrouded in darkness was obviously Grue, the Flames of his power a Grey and Black mix just like Shadowstalker, but the patterns of the Flames were all different, licking outwards instead of contained column. His power was another Dimensional Shift, just like hers, but while she shifted herself into that other place, he just brought it closer to him, causing sound, light, and energy in general to fade into that dimension, leaving matter behind.

    He walked up to the front of the bank, which I only then realized was a flickering wall of darkness, having been using Taylor’s swarm to see, and the lights still on in the lobby. With his power physically manifesting in front of me I quickly copied it, moving on to the next person.

    The butch girl in the fake dog mask was obviously Bitch, empowered with Bodily Enhancement targeted towards Canines, and a Thinker power that gave her the ability to understand them. Her power was a rich Brown and Yellow, the Flames appearing to be almost like fur or hair. I considered her power for a moment, but without the Thinker power, the Shaper power was almost useless.

    Next was Regent, standing there, a few feet back, watching his teammates argue. His power was Bodily Control via Nervous System Manipulation, Porcelain Flames slowly shifting around what looked like living tissue. I honestly had no clue if I even could copy that, as he wasn’t using it, so I had nothing to latch onto to check, and the way his power appeared was slightly disturbing.


    Looking over I Saw a blonde girl in purple and black, who’s fire was a many tentacled thing, washing over everything she looked at. The Black and Purple incandescence burned brightly, but the flames seemed almost insubstantial with Pericognition: The ability to know around things by filling in the gaps of knowledge with what was most likely given the evidence, which itself was gathered via supernatural means.

    Definitely something I both couldn’t copy, and something I wanted to stay the hell away from.

    As I came out of my thoughts, I’d realized it’d taken me a bit to process it all. Listening in I could hear Bitch growl, “We have hostages. If they come in here, we take out one of them.”

    The hostages, as a group, turned to look at me at her announcement. “That’s not going to happen, now sit tight, and move as quickly and silently as you can only when I tell you to move,” I told them quietly, meeting Panacea’s glare. “The girl’s mentally damaged, and expects to be treated that way by everyone else. She doesn’t get why that’s bad. It’s why she needs help, and only if that doesn’t work, then jail.”

    Taylor, bless her, came back with, “We do that, they’ll be here immediately, and they’ll be trying to kill us. Right now, they’re not, so we need to keep them off guard, but not by doing anything stupid. You’re all about the getaway, right?” she asked, waiting for the Undersider’s nods. “Then we change gears, we get in their face and fight them where they don’t have time to think!”

    Turning back to Panacea, I tried to give Taylor a thumbs up over our shared bug sense. “See?” I whispered to my prickly partner for this situation, as the Undersiders grouped up to plan, not paying any attention to the hostages, while I made sure said hostages didn’t hear us. “She’s got it under control.”

    “Yes, she’s got the bank robbery under control while acting like a psycho!” the healer hissed back.

    I looked at her disapprovingly. “Okay, first of all, do you think all undercover cops are psychos as well, because she’s doing pretty much the same thing. Sec-.”

    “Stop with that stupid undercover thing!” she interrupted, even more incensed. “It’s not the same thing!”

    I spread my hands. “Okay then. How?”

    That confused her. “What?”

    “You say it’s different; I’m asking how?” I glanced over at the Undersiders. Grue was motioning towards us, but Taylor shook her head, her explanation causing Regent to nod.

    Panacea rallied. “Well,” she started. “Undercover cops are trained!”

    “So are Doctors, do you have a medical degree? By that logic, all of New Wave should have had PRT training, let alone regular police training. Do they all have police training? If not, then why aren’t you telling them how they shouldn’t be doing the jobs of trained professionals. Next.”

    “Undercover cops have support!” she tried. I motioned towards myself. “Official support!” she clarified.

    “I am officially registered as the head of the independent team known as the Penumbral Defenders. Lady Bug is a probationary member, officially, and like undercover cops is lying to the criminals she’s infiltrating.”

    “That’s not good enough!” she doubled down, when she couldn’t make a point that didn’t exist.

    I just looked at her. Maybe this recruitment thing was a mistake, I thought. I’d assumed she was smart enough to figure it out, but for some reason she wasn’t doing so. But why? She obviously doesn’t have a good reason, or she’d have mentioned it, which leaves emotion shit. Lovely. Okay, with that theory what could it be. I stopped and looked at her, not with the expression of mild confusion and disdain I was wearing to show how I thought that her argument was self-evidently wrong, but really just looked at her.

    She was in a sweatshirt and jeans, crouched down across from me. She was flush with anger, her gaze hot as she glared at me, but there was a small twitch, as she glanced at something else. Using Taylor’s bugs I tried to figure out what she was looking at, but all that was there were the Undersiders. They were getting ready to head out, Grue explaining something while Taylor nodded, Panacea’s eyes flicking towards her as she starting to pull bugs towards her. It’s Taylor, but why?

    If only I could feel Panacea’s emotions this would be so much easier, but I had to guess. She was angry, but the exact type I couldn’t really get a hold of. She had this entire moral high ground thing going, which was one of those things that really pissed me off when it was baseless, though that might be solely targeted towards me.

    Is it because Taylor’s a hero, but is still doing something villainous, even in pursuit of a greater good? I wondered. I knew that there were going to be people that wouldn’t be able to mentally handle that, but I never expected Panacea to be one of them. Why would she be reacting this way? I thought as the girl in question demanded, “Well? Do you have anything better?”, as if she was forgetting the fact that I’d already stated that it was her responsibility to make the point that I was wrong, and was waiting for her reasons.

    And again, the glance towards Taylor.

    Wait, is she jealous? I almost wanted to facepalm over it. Of course she is! This was Panacea, who held herself to an impossible standard of heroism in this world to prove she wasn’t a villain, and Taylor was standing over there, someone I called a hero doing blatantly villainous things bold as brass. Context didn’t matter to emotions, just that Taylor got to do things she couldn’t and was being openly supported.

    Panacea worked herself into the ground to prove to her mother that she was a hero, probably in a desire born in childhood to get Brandish to love her, and she got nothing, while Taylor did everything Panacea stopped herself from doing it and got praised for it. “I-“ I started, about to explain that she had no need to be jealous of Lady Bug, that I knew she was a hero, but reconsidered it, hearing Herb in my head shaking his head, saying ‘too much, too fast man.’ I recollected my thoughts and responded, making sure to tamp down my first, admittedly, confrontational statement so she had nothing to jump on, trusting that she wouldn’t take the confrontation physical and risk the hostages.

    “I am a member of a recognized independent hero team, just like dozens across this country,” I stated quietly, and firmly. “What I’m trying to do is something that has been done, successfully, many times before. My actions aren’t morally cut and dry, but anyone who thinks crimefighting is hasn’t been doing it long.” I felt Taylor send some of her swarm out the front door, Grue following it with his darkness, shadows pouring off of him and out the door. “Every single criticism you have given has been stated before, and been responded to in kind, but the fighting’s about to start and we need to protect these people.”

    Taylor stopped Bitch from going out, probably telling her about Grue’s planned costume switch. “Afterwards, go look it up. If you have an honest argument I can’t shoot down, I’ll pull her from the Undersiders, but ‘that’s not good enough’ isn’t an argument, it’s just a statement that you don’t like mine, and isn’t something I will use on your arguments either. Now I need you to go and help me corral the hostages to keep them out of the line of fire. Okay?”

    She glared at me, eyes hard, as she gave a single sharp nod. “This isn’t over,” she promised, turning and heading back to the hostages that had given us a bit of space as I dropped the bubble between us. Tattletale looked up from the computer she was working at, eyes narrowing as she scanned the hostages. I held my breath as she looked at me, and then promptly kept looking over us, shrugging before going back to her typing.

    Grue yelled, “We’re sending out the Hostages!” before the majority of the swarm poured out the front doors, Grue, Regent, Bitch, and her dogs creeping out into the darkness right after.

    I connected to the hostages, adding in a buzz “They’ve headed out, the fighting is going to start, let’s head towards the back. Keep low and move slowly.”

    As the group moved past me, clustering against the back wall, I asked those gathered if there was a meeting room in the back. One middle aged woman raised her hand and approached me when I waved her over. “It’s just through the doors and down the hall,” she whispered.

    “Open the door quietly and take them there” I told her as the sound of high-tech gunfire, powers firing, and monstrous howling echoed from across the bank, oddly distorted by Grue’s darkness. “Quickly now.”

    The door opened, and the hostages got themselves out with a minimum of pushing. I dropped a one-way sound bubble over the door, not allowing noises into the lobby. Following them out, I heard one person arguing, “We could make a break for it!”

    “Unless they choose that direction to run, in which case the battle will move right over wherever you are,” I responded, pitching my voice low, the crowd turning to look at me. “Let’s get to the room, is this everyone?”

    They filed in without a problem, which was a pleasant surprise. Once they were in, I stood in the doorway, addressing them. “Stay here and you should be fine. If-” The sound of something loud firing interrupted me, the sound of glass shattering and impacting stone immediately after. A deep roar echoed immediately afterwards. “If you stay out of the way you should avoid stray fire, like that.”

    “Shouldn’t you be out there helping?” an older woman asked, not harshly, but worried about the heroes fighting the Undersiders.

    “I’m more concerned with keeping everyone safe than the glory of battle,” I responded calmly, “Now Panacea and I-” I broke off, not seeing the recalcitrant healer. “Where’s Panacea?”

    “She went back inside,” the woman I first met told me, pointing in the direction of the lobby.

    “Of course she did,” I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. “New plan. Stay here, I’m going to go make sure she’s okay.”

    “What about us?” a young man demanded.

    I looked at him, my expression hard. “Panacea’s a hero, and doing what she thinks is best, despite having powers that heal instead of hurt. I’m going to make sure that her heart doesn’t outpace her head, and that she’s okay. So, close the door an-” Another impact sounded, almost like someone had just blown open a wall. “Don’t leave or I can’t protect you. Keep it closed and stay safe. Gotta go.”
  27. Mastigos2

    Mastigos2 I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Jan 13, 2015
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    It's more than any one post by any one person. There's even a few spots where you're the one to post the spoilers amusingly enough. So de-spoilering the thread may or may not be more effort than it's worth for you.
  28. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.10

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
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    Blueprint 3.10

    Entering the lobby, I was confronted a scene straight from the book, with one difference. Taylor hadn’t taken Panacea hostage with a knife, but with a baton pressed across her throat. Still potentially deadly, but not as overtly, though Panacea was treating it as the threat that it was. Tattletale was doing her entire ‘I’m psychic, Bua-ha-ha!’ villain monologue, and Glory Girl was floating there, dusted with plaster, alternating between glaring at my teammate and arguing with the Pericog, which was only digging her in deeper. The sense of awe I felt for Victoria as she played into the hands of the villainess was really annoying, feeling her power pull artificially at my emotions.

    Shit. I thought, as Tattletale smugly pronounced, “Scholars want me to be wrong.” If I let this go as normal, everything I’ve been trying to help Panacea with is going to be overwritten. But if I go out there, Tattletale might spill my plans just because she can. Fuck it. “Their res-”

    “I leave you alone for thirty freaking seconds and you do the one thing you said you weren’t going to do!” I boomed, striding in, getting everyone’s attention. “Panacea, you have very little heroic combat potential that doesn’t involve skin to skin contact, what did you do that got you captured by the cape wearing head to toe armor?”

    “She tried to kill me with a fire extinguisher!” Taylor told me, holding Panacea fast.

    I gave Panacea a level look. “Why?” I inquired, confused.

    Tattletale turned to look at me, her eyes unfocusing as her brows knitted. Oh shit, she knows, I thought, And the stupid girl is going to say something in front of the two people I’m trying to recruit, just to prove she’s smarter.

    “None of your business!” Panacea spat. “Some hero you are, you were helping them!”

    “What?” Asked Glory Girl confused. “What are you talking about? Vej’s a hero!”

    I stared at Tattletale who stared back, hand reflexively twitching upwards a bit, almost like she was getting a headache and wanted to press her hand to her temple to stave it off. I don’t get it. She should at the very least know that I’m a physical power copier who’s taken the sister’s abilities. That combined with my trying to be a hero should give her enough to turn both of them against me, but she’s saying nothing.

    “He-mmph!” Panacea tried to accuse as Taylor put a hand over the healer’s mouth.

    She can’t, I realized. Pericognition is close enough to Precognition that I’m a Blindspot to her, and she’s stressing her power, trying to read what it says doesn’t exist.

    I suppressed a smile as I rolled my eyes. “I was more concerned with keeping the hostages safe then taking down the villains, yes, but,” I paused, seeing Panacea pull at Taylor’s hands. “Lady Bug, you don’t need to gag her, even if she is trying to start a fight between heroes in the middle of a hostage situation. Let her go, I’m sure she’s not going to try to hurt you a second time.”

    Tattletale looked back at Taylor as she let Panacea go after a second, taking a step back as the healer tried to whip around and hit my teammate, Amelia losing her balance doing so, obviously not used to hand-to-hand combat. Tattletale smirked, of course, she could read the obviously off-balance girl, finding her feet as the know-it-all sighted in on her emotionally vulnerable target. “Oh that’s rich! Miss perfect little hero healer’s trying to hurt someone with words, when she should know that they’re her weak-MMF!” was as far as she got as I closed the gap, covering her mouth with my hand, mirroring Taylor and Panacea’s position of a moment earlier.

    “Keeping her quiet, on the other hand,” I told the group nonchalantly, “Is not only a good idea if we want to talk about anything constructive, it’s downright required.” Whispering to the villainess I continued. “Sarah, while I’m sure you understand how destructive secrets can be, given what happened to your brother, you should also know that malicious truths are weapons of mass psychological destruction, so maybe you should check to see if you’re in the blast zone and think before you piss of the unstable biokinetic.”

    At my words she went rigid, and I could feel her turn her attention and freeze, staring at Panacea. “Who, you’re right, would normally never do anything bad, but under extraordinary circumstances, like the outing of her deepest darkest desires to her sister, may be pushed to extraordinary responses.” I stopped whispering as I let her go. “Now shut up, or I’ll cover your mouth with your own skin. You’ll still be able to breathe, but if you can’t be trusted with the most powerful weapon of all, I’ll revoke your ability to use it easily.”

    She was pale and shaking as I turned to look at the wide eyes of the three heroes in front of me. “Sorry about that, had to defuse a metaphorical bomb.” I nodded to Glory Girl, “She’s not actually psychic, but she might as well be. Her power is effectively super-intuition, like having Sherlock Holmes in the back of your head, reading tiny details to gain a lot of information. Problem is, she uses it like an Brute with a testosterone problem, feeling like they have to constantly prove their dominance in every circumstance, even if it hurts them.”

    Glory Girl looked from Taylor, who was nodding in agreement, to Tattletale, who was looking at me horrified, to her sister, who was glaring at both Taylor and I, before finally exploding. “What the hell is going on!?”

    A beam of laser shot through a window, breaking it before hitting the far wall, blasting off stone and plaster. I wrapped us all in a sound bubble, might as well. “Short version, I’m here to help make sure no one innocent gets hurt, but your sister insisted on being here at this time despite my attempts to dissuade her, and doesn’t like the fact that I support someone who is pretending to be a villain, like an undercover cop, to get to her,” I jerked a thumb at Tattletale, “boss. A boss who hired her at gunpoint, and due to the nature of her boss’s power has killed, probably raped, and very possible raped her to death, several times, only to undo that timeline with his power.”

    “What!?” Tattletale called out, horrified, clapping her hands to her mouth when I turned to look at her.

    “Yeah, sorry. By the way,” I told her, somewhat sympathetic to her plight, but pressed for time. “If you have any secrets that you want to keep, be prepared to die for them, since he likes to torture you for them after a meeting full of you backtalking him. His notes make for. . . unpleasant reading.” Turning back to the paling heroines, feeling Taylor’s horror from a dozen feet away, singing over our insectile connection, I pressed on.

    “So, yeah, The Lady Bug’s working undercover, which involves this bank heist where no one innocent gets hurt and the villains get away. I try not to lie to people I respect, so I explained why, but Panacea took it badly. Oh,” I focused on the sisters. “And, while I hate to do this, if you share my secrets, I’ll share yours. Panacea knows hers, but Glory Girl, there’s a simple way for any two-bit thug to kill you, which I wouldn’t want to share with other people, given that you are trying your best to be a true hero, but it’s a bargaining chip, so yeah. Sorry,” I shrugged.

    “Watch out!” called Herb’s voice from the other side of the darkness, full of fear.

    Reflexively jumping back and grabbing Tattletale mid-air, I pushed her down as she shrieked, covering her physically as Glory Girl did the same thing for Panacea, Taylor ducking as well. I flexed my Aerokinesis to try to cover all three groups at once as a thick beam of light shot through Grue’s dissipating wall of darkness, blowing out another window. High velocity broken glass shot towards us like flechettes, and I felt my air control strain to cover all of us under the onslaught.

    Having to prioritize, I tried to block the ones coming towards me last.

    Impacts riddled my back, but I held steady, both my head and body shields overloaded and drained. Not as bad as a gunshot, since I’d been training using them, they still felt like getting pummeled by a heavyweight boxer with tiny fists, my costume not letting them penetrate but letting the blunt force impact through just fine.

    Ow,” I bit out, standing up and carrying Tattletale back to her feet, setting her down and brushing her off, her eyes wide as she looked from me to the pile of broken glass behind me. Stretching, my head aching, I couldn’t help but comment. “Fucking Tinkers, never worrying about friendly fire.” Looking over at her shocked expression I asked, “What?”

    “You, you saved me?” she asked, confused and unsure.

    “. . . Yeah,” I stated a little unsure myself over her confusion. “Just because you’re too free with other’s secrets doesn’t mean I want you dead.” Turning as Taylor and the sisters got back up, all standing up on their own. “Everyone okay?” I asked.

    Taylor nodded yes, looking at Tattletale. “I got her,” I told her, getting a nod of thanks, the difference slight, but meaningful. Panacea was already healing Glory Girl, blood having stained her now cut uniform, but they were all superficial, the best I’d managed to do to deflect the worst of it. Taylor’s costume had held fast, but the way she was moving she was definitely bruised, and I tapped into the bugs to get a sense of what was going on.

    Almost all the heroes were down in the street outside, Enter in a three way fight with Aegis and Bitch’s dogs as Clockblocker pulled himself free of a cage of frozen rubble. Herb was down but seemed to be feigning unconsciousness, and there was a big guy carrying a smaller guy heading back towards us. Kid Win was down next to a pile of scrap that was probably once his cannon, struggling to sit up as he twitched and grabbing at his belt.

    The building itself groaned above us, the beam that broke the glass having also taken out a not insignificant part of the back wall of the lobby. “That sounded structural,” I commented lightly as Grue’s darkness continued to dissipate, giving the impression that something was beyond the wall, but not what. “Glory Girl, Panacea, go get the hostages and please escort them out the back.”

    “You think we’re just gonna let them go!” Panacea said, though she was just bluffing. She knew I held the cards, and obviously hated it. I hated it, to be honest, acting like this, but if rational discussion wasn’t going to carry the day, blackmail and extortion would at least get me to the mid-afternoon.

    “If the building collapses, Glory Girl can protect the hostages, and I want you safe, so you stay with her. I’ll deal with the villains, who are an undercover hero and someone who’s forced to work at gunpoint, even if she isn’t that pleasant right now,” I reasoned.

    Panacea looked like she was going to respond, but Glory Girl’s hand on her shoulder shut her up. “Let’s go save the people, and I want you to be safe too, Ames,” she coerced, unknowingly playing into her sister’s weakness, who just glared back at me as she let herself be led away.

    “We’re talking, later!” the healer commanded.

    I nodded, “I agreed to do so the last time you said that.”

    Kid Win was still struggling with something on his belt as Enter, the Stand, fought Hero and Dog, allowing neither to get the upper hand. What was it? I thought, trying to remember of the details of the bank fight from when I’d read this section almost a year ago. Right, stupidly powerful flashbang! I realized, as I flew several feet away from Taylor and Tattletale, Grue’s darkness wall further dissipating.

    “When you see the grenade hit, Tattletale, yell flashbang and both of you cover your eyes and ears,” I told them, taking a combative position facing them. The darkness faded to a grey haze, revealing the street, darkness still covering half the combat zone as I felt Kid Win within that darkness throw his grenade, his arm twitching oddly at the last second, slipping from soaked fingers, sending it off target. A bit of applied wind sent it careening off into the bank lobby.

    “I won’t allow you to get away villainesses!” I called, hamming it up a little, “For Vejovis, wil-” I started as the projectile sailed in front of me.

    Tattletale yelled “Flashbang!” obligingly, turning to the side and covering her ears as she did so, Taylor following suit near instantly. I tried to do so as well a half second later, but it went off not five feet in front of me. Both my shields overloaded, and the sound so overwhelming that all I could hear was a loud ringing as my ears hurt in a way they never had before.

    I stood there, holding my head with one hand as I felt like I’d been stabbed in the ears, watching both girls start to stumble away. Taylor looked back at me, concern radiating from the connection. I returned with feelings that it was okay, and waved her away with a hand by my side, shielding it from view from the street, and my cameras. She ran after Tattletale, leaving me to look around, not even the smallest of spots in my vision.

    Must be Power Sight protecting my eyes. Nifty.

    I stumbled around, pretending to be blind for a good half a minute, giving them more than enough time to escape.


    As I staggered outside, the downpour drenched me, my temperature immunity inuring me to the chill spring rain. However, as I looked around at the destruction the Wards had inflicted, I realized that my hearing wasn’t coming back. Well, that wasn’t good, though I could probably convince Panacea to heal me, if only so that I could hear her questions in order to answer them.

    Looking around, I noted the Undersiders had left, the heroes moaning on the ground, Enter standing over Aegis as Herb struggled to his feet. He said something, I wasn’t really sure what, all I could hear was that constant ringing.

    Turning to him I called back, “I appear to be deaf! Some idiot dropped some kind of Tinker flashbang in front of me! Are you okay?” He said something, before stopping and giving me a thumbs up as he moved to my side. “Wonderful!” I replied, looking back at the damaged bank, the last of the darkness covering part of the street quickly dissipating.

    Aegis was getting back up, groaning as Enter returned to Herb’s side, the lizard-man smugly satisfied. Herb punched his Stand in the shoulder, hard, probably trying to recover from his wounds, and the Projection just chuckled as it did nothing. The Ward looked over at us, frowning at me as he said something.

    “Hello!” I called cheerily. “My name is Vejovis, of the Penumbral Defenders! I seem to have been deafened by some kind of extreme flashbang, I hope it isn’t permanent, so I can’t answer any of your questions until it returns, or Panacea can heal me!”

    He said something else, angrily pointing at Herb and Enter. “Sorry, still can’t hear you!” I told him, smiling. “Did it get you too?” He took a step forward, hands coming up in a combat stance. “There’s no need for violence,” I replied waving in a slow, exaggerated motion, “I’m sure that they wouldn’t have gotten involved unless they were needed!”

    Herb tapped my shoulder, pointing to my neck. Now that I focused on it, it did feel odd. I brushed against it, willing my costume not to auto-clean. Examining my hand, I found my fingers red with blood. Shit, my eardrums must’ve burst. If I didn’t know of, like, three ways to get my hearing back, I’d be seriously tempted to kill Kid Win. Another Ward that was getting up, the armored figure of the Gallant, looked sharply at me. “Hello Gallant! I’ve been deafened by a Tinkertech Flashbang, so I can’t hear you if you’re talking!”

    I had had my hearing destroyed by these idiots, and I was going to milk it for all it was worth. The fact that it unequivocally put them in the wrong also helped. Looking over, Vista was struggling to her feet, an ugly bruise on her jaw. “Is Vista alright? I am a healer, if that will help! Ironically, I cannot heal myself, or I’d be able to hear what you are saying! I assume you are talking, though none of your costumes have visible mouths, so I may just be talking to myself. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing!” I felt both of my ears, both were bloody. I really hated god-damned Tinkers. Hero wasn’t this bad, so maybe it was only the Scion Tinkers that couldn’t control themselves. Aegis looked like he was still saying something, one of the few with his mouth showing in his costume, not that it helped.

    To Vista, I pantomimed touching, then motioned to my jaw, and something shrinking, then gave the Wards’ leader a thumbs up. “I could heal her if you’d like!” He watched my interpretive dance, only shaking his head after I talked. Yeah, he wasn’t deaf. Redundant Asshole. Looking around at the Wards I realized that almost none of them had powers I could copy as I Saw them.

    Clockblocker, walking over in Aegis’ outfit, locked the Fourth Dimensional Position of things, with an exception to keep them geo-synchronous, for a duration effected by a whole host of factors. Possibly copyable, but he’d have to freeze something while I was watching first. The Grey and White Flames of his power appeared to be flickering in stop-motion, which looked pretty cool.

    Aegis had Flight and Redundant Advanced Biology, the Rust Red of his Flames lined with bright Silver. Vista, looking around at everyone, had Space Manipulation, Biologically Limited, and Green and Light-Yellow Flames, twisting constantly in interesting patterns. Someone I didn’t really recognize was limping over to the rest of the group, had Blue and Tan fire, tightly controlled against his body with Telekinesis and Biokinesis, both limited to himself. Potentially very powerful, but I’d probably need to see him action to copy it.

    Lastly, Gallant, who had Emotional Manipulation via Concussive Blasts, was different. Instead of a fire, his Red and Blue power instead hung in an Aura around him, outlining his form, reaching out equidistant from every point on his body. Not flickering, not exploring, just. . . there.

    So that’s what a Cauldron Cape looks like I mused. I blinked as Herb waved a hand in my face, getting my attention. “Still deaf!” I told him. I allowed some of the worry I would have felt had I not had superpowers creep into my tone. “I don’t think I’m getting better!”

    The Wards winced around me. Aegis had gone to get Kid Win. Looking at him, I saw the Yellow and Red of his power flickering, a Tinker power focusing on Modular Design, not that I was ever going to tell him that. “I think the flashbang was from him, do you suppose he has something that fixes hearing damage, since he was using something that created it?” Again, the winces. Good. “Probably not though!” I continued sadly. “I hope Panacea and Glory Girl got the hostages out okay, since I went through the risk of protecting them!”

    The Wards, except for Kid Win were standing there looking at us, obviously not sure what to do, when Herb tapped me on the shoulder, pointing down the street. Looking I saw Glory Gir,l carrying Panacea, flying towards us. “Hello Glory Girl and Panacea! I believe that one of Kid Win’s flashbangs has ruptured my eardrums, rendering me deaf!”

    Glory Girl landed, Panacea saying something, probably biting given how the Wards turned to look at her in surprise. “I’m sure that was derogatory in some manner, and I apologize for not attacking the villains in the bank, or letting you do so, but my priority was protecting the hostages!” I waved towards the gutted lobby of the bank. “If they had stayed where they were, they would at least be injured, possibly killed by whoever was shooting that large laser!”

    She started talking again but I interrupted her, clarifying, “I can’t actually hear you; I was just assuming!” Trusting Herb to get me out if she messed with me, copying her power from her to undo the damage before we left, I took off a glove. “If you could be so kind as to heal me, I could listen to your insults for real instead of just guessing!”

    She said something else, a disbelieving look on her face as she grabbed my hand, the sneer changing to open shock as she probably too stock of my injuries. The ringing receded, being replaced with the sound of distant sirens and her yelling, “-say you had glass in your skull!”

    I blinked. “I’M-” I stopped. “Sorry, I must have been shouting, what was that about glass?”

    She looked at me, not letting go of my hand. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d been hit in the head by the glass from the window. I would’ve healed you then. You almost tore an artery!”

    Oh, that explained the headache. Having an un-pierceable costume didn’t mean much if you only wore a domino mask. Whoopsie. “I was kind of busy at the time making sure everyone else was okay,” I answered honestly. “I didn’t really notice. Thank you, that would’ve been unpleasant to remove myself.”

    Why was she holding my hand in a death grip? Right, I realized. Full diagnostic means instant lie detection. What a lovely double-edged weapon she’s wielding. “I meant what I said before, I’m a hero, and one of my main priorities is helping those who deserve it!” I told her, smiling, my honesty being confirmed by her powers, providing undeniable truth of, if not my words, then my belief in them, which was the same thing in this case.

    She let go of my hand as if burned, looking me in the eye searchingly. “So now that I can hear,” I stated, turning to Clockblocker, dressed up in Aegis’ costume, “you’re Aegis right? The leader?”

    “Um, No, that’s him,” he told me, pointing at Aegis in Clockblocker’s armor.

    I looked between the two as I realized just what that meant. Seeing their power, I realized that Aegis was at least a Brute 5, while Clockblocker was a standard human with a Striker power that could be used defensively, and suddenly realized the problem that I’d missed when reading the source material. If they had been fighting anyone with fast projectiles, Clockblocker would have been a dead man, as a fifty caliber bullet that would’ve moderately injured Aegis would have been instantly lethal to the time-stopper. “No, that’s Clockblocker,” I told Clockblocker slowly, pointing to Aegis. “You can tell ‘cause his costume is covered in stopped clocks, like his name. What are you trying to pull?”

    “No, he’s right, I’m Aegis. We switched costumes,” the Wards’ leader disagreed. I stared at him as another thought occurred to me, while Herb stood back, grinning. The Wards were supposed to have someone managing the team back at base, they would’ve had to ok this plan and they wouldn’t have had the excuse of being kids.

    “I’m sorry, what?” I asked, tone icy, causing Clockblocker, who had been standing close, possibly to freeze me if he needed to, to twitch before taking a step back. The only sounds in the street were the steady beat of rain and the distant peal of sirens as I gathered my thoughts as the implications of the depths of the stupidity of their plan. “Are you telling me you had one of your team, who is known to have a decently high Brute rating, switch costumes with someone with no special defenses unless he could catch it? Who the hell okayed that plan? All it would take is a single gun, and of course they wouldn’t worry about shooting Aegis, after all, he’s got redundant biology, it’ll just slow him down a little. Hell, he could probably survive a headshot and only be annoyed! Wouldn’t they just be absolutely surprised when the cape in the highly recognizable costume suddenly hits the ground screaming, possibly as he bleeds out, if the shot wasn’t just outright lethal!

    The teens froze, the time-stopper glancing to the Brute, the ways this could’ve gone wrong only just now occurring to him.

    I sighed, muttering, “They’re just kids, this is why they have oversight,” under my breath in a carrying manner. Herb patted me on the back. I ignored Clockblocker, who’s exposed skin around his eyes had turned white, and focused on the sisters. “Did the hostages get away okay?”

    Glory Girl nodded. “Yep, dropped them off with the cops and flew back here in case you needed help!”

    I gave them both a smile of thanks as I stepped back, putting my hand on Herb and Enter’s shoulders, making sure to make skin contact with Herb’s neck, subvocalizing to him “Check me over with Panacea’s power.”

    He gave the tiniest of nods as I said, “Well, while the villains got away and the bank probably needs several times what was stolen in remodeling, no one was hurt. I’ll call that a win!”

    “Wait!” Aegis said taking a step forward. “Those two attacked us; we’re going to need to take them in for questioning!”

    I smiled, or bared my teeth, you could argue for either. “Only after you fired a cannon where you knew hostages to be. By your logic, I should be taking you all in, given that if I hadn’t moved the hostages, you would have killed them. None of the Undersiders have explosive powers or tech, and if it weren’t for Panacea, I would’ve been permanently deafened by the careless use of your weapons. We were doing our best to keep the situation from turning dangerous, would you like us to stop?”

    I felt Glory Girl’s Aura kick into overdrive, having been at the back of my mind, annoying me, but my conscience was clean, so all I felt was unearned awe. I lifted off, taking Herb and Enter with me, calling on my bugs to collect my cameras and put them away, moving away from the Wards. Herb said goodbye for me, given that my focus was split. “Remember Kids!” he called, “Public safety is of paramount importance!”
  29. Greased

    Greased Not too sore, are you?

    Jun 5, 2018
    Likes Received:
    This was hilarious. You should be deafened more often.
  30. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.11

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

    May 11, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Blueprint 3.11

    Once out of sight, Herb dismissed Enter, commenting, “Ya know, that was fun, ya gotta admit it was, but damn that was reckless. Even for me.”

    “Getting into the middle of a fight and taking on everyone?” I tried to clarify.

    He shook his head. “Not on my part. Me and Enter were pretty bad-ass, but dude. We’ve been doing this for,” he paused to think, “a week?”

    “Not even,” I corrected. “Six days.”

    “And why are we better than a team that’s been practicing for months?”

    “Um,” I replied, considering it. “We’re not led by Armsmaster?” I hazarded. “We have proper oversight, even if it’s just us. We don’t have a boss thinking we’re all human timebombs, the list goes on man.”

    “Nah, man,” he disagreed. “That’s just dangerous. I don’t want to work with any of ‘em”

    I sighed, “Look, if we recruited them we’d put them through training before we did shit like that.”

    He groaned, “That just seems like so much work!”

    “Dude, you do know I’d be handling almost all of it,” I informed him. “I like teaching.”

    But you know they’d come to Uncle Herb,” he countered, grinning, “For like, the goofy stories and midnight ice cream.”

    “Um,” I stared at him, wondering what fight he’d been in, and how he of all people hadn’t noticed how twitchy the Wards had been about him and his Stand. “Dude? You kinda scared the shit out of them out there, so I don’t think they would. And if they did join up, you know you’d fuckin’ love it. Ya giant fuckin’ teddy bear.”

    He grinned in admission, “Yeah, you’re right. Lookin’ at me I look all Grrrr, but I’m really all,” he made a sound that was, if I had to name it, reminiscent of a particularly retarded moose.

    “Um, what?” I asked, nonplussed.

    “Ya know, like a grizzly!” he explained, the second noise he’d made definitely not a bear’s. “When they’re mad they’re all Grrrr, but when they’re playfighting they’re all,” and then he made the sound. Again. If pressed to spell it out, maybe it would be an OOoOOoh, but there was a quality of intonation to it that I just couldn’t put into words.

    Seeing my confusion, he tried to explain, “It’s like that show, Grizzly Adams.” I just stared at him. Occasionally, I’d be reminded that my friend was just over a decade older than I was, and this apparently was one of those times. “Oh, man,” he commented sadly, “I hate your youth sometimes.” Right back at ya, old man, I thought. “So, premise is, there’s this guy who lives in the woods, has a bear as a friend, I’m gonna have to say it was a female, so he was pro’lly havin’ sex with it.”

    “I’m sorry, what!?” I sputtered.

    “Well, it’s implied,” he clarified, like bestiality was just one of those things that just happened, and not a big deal in the slightest. “The bear loves him, and stays with him, so yeah, they’re doing it.” He nodded to himself. “‘Cause if it was a male it’d fight for dominance, so it’s gotta be a female, so yeah, he’s in the woods-sexin’-”

    “Can we just back the fuck up to the fact there’s apparently a kids show that featured human-bear relations?” I asked.

    “Shows nowadays are just as bad,” he waved off. “My niece was watching this show, lazy-something. And yeah, the main guy, sporty, he’s totally a pedo considering how they tried to sex up that girl. So- just let me get to the point,” he overrode me as I was gonna say, I don’t know, something about this freaking conversation. “So they’re in the Ozarks, and when there’s danger the grizzly’s all Grrrr, but when they’re just play fightin’, and pretty much makin’ out, she’s all like,” and there it was again, that retarded moose sound, which I had a niggling suspicion was going to haunt my nightmares. “And then it gets worse and then, ya know what? My childhood sucked.”

    “I’m like, ninety-five percent sure none of that actually happened,” I responded.

    He shrugged. “Watch Grizzly Adams, it’s a female bear. They’re doin’ it. Lookin’ back on it, eighties tv was, daaaamn. Implied, but still there, just like the Brady-“

    “One, that explains so much about you, two, oh hey, look our base!” I stated loudly, before he could ruin a show that I’d actually seen, and it was only as we started to descend that I remembered what I originally wanted to ask. “When you were checking me with Panacea’s power, did she leave any time-bombs?”

    He shook his head. “Nah, you’re good. And I must say, you are a physical specimen-” We were only about twenty-five feet above the ground, so I dropped him.

    I landed as he picked himself up off the dusty ground, and after I opened the door Herb asked, “Did you really get glass in your skull? I saw something pushin’ its way out, but I thought you practiced getting shot to stop that shit!”

    Shaking my head I followed him in. “I was trying to protect Glory Girl, Panacea, and Taylor at the same time, while shielding Tattletale with my body. I focused more on the sisters, since Taylor and I had armor.”

    Herb just looked at me before laughing and walking away. “What?” I asked, but all I got was more laughter in return. Checking the TV room, it was, once again, thick with weed smoke. Boojack relaxed, a giant grin on his face, the sleeves of his shirt stained with blood. “Have fun?” I asked.

    “Fuck yeah,” was his blissed response. “Fuckin’ Nazis went down like bitches. Hookwolf’s an asshole.”

    I nodded. “That he is, you need healing?” He shook his head, waving me off as he smiled at the offer. “Okay, good work!” I told him, closing the door and letting him back to his cannabis consumption.

    I stripped my costume and took, what I realized, was my first shower in a week. While I didn’t need it, as my costume was self-cleaning, which I turned back on with a mental command, there’s something psychological about the act of taking a bath or shower that I’d realized I missed.

    Lazily getting a snack, I dropped with a sigh at my desk, connecting one camera after another to it, downloading all video files, watching through them, and editing them to avoid any part where they got a clear image of Taylor. One fourth of the cameras I’d set up were unusable, most of the footage not centered well, but with bug eyes there was only so much I could do.

    I reviewed Herb’s portion of the battle, which I had only barely heard through Grue’s wall of darkness, and the man could kick ass, that was sure. Suitably impressed, I forwarded the files to my Lawyers, with a request to send an edited version to Piggot, telling her in essence that she needed to get her Tinkers under control, and point out the foolishness of making your opponents think you were supernaturally durable when you weren’t, as well as the care that needed to be taken when using emotion manipulation on unstable capes. That the Penumbral Defenders not going to the media with this being an olive branch, but if she set it on fire, then everyone would get burned as we beat her with it. Sending that off, I couldn’t help but smile.

    Piggot, the anti-cape bigot, had a military bent and a gang-leader’s mindset, thinking of all capes as potential enemies and more focused on image than results, or even her stated duty. She was prepared to face villains pulling the strings and heroes in name only, and so my being nice and using an intermediary would hopefully render her usual responses of threatening violence, blackmail, and extortion toothless. For all of her flaws though, I would do my best to work with her, knowing full well that she held herself not to rules, but what she could get away with, because the alternative was worse.

    Emily Piggot was a woman whose morality was externally enforced, and her word was worthless if she didn’t have a sword of Damocles over her head. With that being said, she was better than Tagg, who, if he managed to get himself appointed, was going to get sniped in the head with an aerokinesis guided, speed zone enhanced, .50 caliber bullet. Murder? Yes. Required? Yes. Would I feel bad about it in the slightest?

    . . . Maybe a little.

    Sighing, I considered my position. If I had any hope that the Protectorate would do what they were supposed to, and not follow illegal orders, then I would probably be more uncomfortable with just mercing him. It always bugged me that the military themed Miss Militia didn’t follow anything like the Uniform Code of Military Justice, though, before, I could’ve explained that away as the writer not knowing what it was. However, now that it was all real, that excuse didn’t work, which left behind some very unfortunate implications.

    While I myself didn’t know the UCMJ at all, having never served in the military myself, I was pretty sure her actions, or more likely inactions, violated it several times over. Faced with the government zealot that was Tagg, she folded like a cheap table, and she was one of many heroes who should have done something. With Alexandria, as the Director of the PRT, pushing to let him do whatever he wanted, any lawful way to work with the borderline fascist were blocked, even if they broke their own rules in the process of fucking us over. So, with legitimate avenues of problem solving fixed, I didn’t mind taking that level of response. As I told Panacea, I’d meet the villains at their level, and Tagg, like Alexandria, was no hero.

    Breaking me from my thoughts, my phone rang. Glancing down, I saw that it was Amelia, and quickly answered it. “Hello Panacea, I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon. I just finished sending the movie files from the fight off on their way to Director Piggot of the PRT, so she has a video record of her Wards’ actions. How can I help you?”

    “You can-“ she started, my words stopping her. “Wait, you’re not sending them to the news?”

    I replied with confusion. “Why would I do that? It would be a massive black eye for the Protectorate, the Wards in particular, and they’re kids. I mean, most of them are old enough to know better, but still, if they had training and a proper handler they wouldn’t have almost killed the hostages. The fact that the hostages were fine, and no one was that badly hurt, thank you again for the healing by the way, means I hold no true ill will towards them. Mind you, if Kid Win deafens anyone like he did me again I’m going to break his nose, but I’m pretty sure that’s a training problem, not a moral one.” I paused. “Mind you if Director Piggot did something malicious like try to pin the failure of her team on Break, Enter, and Myself, I would of course have to publish the footage, if only to counter the smear campaign she would be enacting against the Penumbral Defenders, but I’m perfectly willing to work in good faith if she is.”

    “You! That’s!” the girl started to yell, controlling herself. “I want to talk to you. Tonight at 9. alone.”

    I laughed, “Well, that sounds like a trap, and isn’t a school night?” she started to say something offended, but I talked over her. “Done. I promised you answers, and you’ll get them.” She huffed and gave me the address before hanging up.

    I sighed as I stretched. Walking over to my partner’s room, I knocked and stuck my head in when invited. “Hey Herb, Panacea wants to talk to me at 9 about the things I told her.”

    He looked at me before shaking his head. “Dude, ya gotta stop meeting up with teenage girls in the middle of the night. It just looks wrong, and now you’re telling them ‘things’? Ya got a problem man.”

    “Um what?” That made no sense. “She’s the one who set the time.” I shook my head, getting back to the point. “We were talking at the bank, and things got kinda hectic, and she was getting unreasonably pissed, taking everything way worse than Taylor ever did. Either way, I realized it was her Shard pushing her, so I told her about them, and the fact that I knew about the future, so now I need to go talk to her to make sure she doesn’t do something stupid. Okay?”

    Herb had put his face in his hands and just laughed. “Only you,” he told himself. “Okay, you’re gonna go talk to Panacea about your futures together, what else?”

    I made a face, as I thought she was older than Taylor, but again, way too young for me, and definitely not in the headspace one should be when starting a relationship. “Don’t put it that way man. That’s creepy. I’m meeting her at nine so If I don’t call you by ten, something bad has happened and I need you to contact our lawyers before heading over to Brandish’s house to see if they’ve done something stupid.”

    “Well, you could start by making sure she can’t touch you,” he offered.

    “How would I. . .” I started before realizing what he meant. Concentrating, I extended my costume up from my neck, covering me completely but keeping it invisible. “Like this?” I asked, stepping in his bathroom and checking myself out in the mirror, seeing no difference from my normal costume.

    “I was actually talking about a helmet or something, but that works too.” He walked over peering at my face, poking it. “Textures off,” he nodded.

    “If she can tell, she’ll have already tried something and I can get away,” I told him, turning the bug into a feature. “The only way she could affect me now is if she touched the inside of my mouth.” Herb opened his mouth to make some smartass comment, but I cut him off. “Don’t, dude. Just no.” He settled for a knowing smirk.

    Rolling my eyes, I continued, “I’ll call you when I’m done. I’m gonna go mess around Grue’s power until it’s time.”

    As I walked out, he called. “At least this time you’re playing around with a teenage guy. . . ‘s power!”

    Ignoring him I headed to the workshop. Unlike my other powers, this would be easily visible from the air, so I needed to stay indoors to practice. Taking his power out, I extruded it, feeling it invisibly roil off my form, though I couldn’t see it. Annoyed at yet another power that gave me nothing visual to work with, I looked over to the laptop and webcam I’d started using for my Aerokinesis practice. Startlingly, I could easily see the screen, but on it I was just a humanoid shape of shadows and darkness, the positioning of the dark smoke matching what I felt in my head. Pulling on my experience with my bug sense, I was able to direct the darkness back and forth, double checking with the camera I moved it to double check. It was a slippery power, hard to make any solid ships with, but it slowly became easier to work with the more I experimented with it.

    Playing around, I remembered that Shadow Stalker had mentioned that Grue’s power messed with hers, so I carefully shifted to Shadowform while keeping the darkness going. I didn’t feel any pain as I slowly shifted to full shadow, but I didn’t feel the lightness that my Shadowform usually gave me either. Testing a theory, I walked over to a rack of material, still in Grue’s cloud, and gently tried to pass my hand through it, the hand that should have been intangible bumping into the cool metal. I grabbed a chair and thought about it, still in full Shadowform and venting shadows around me as I sat on it instead of through it, playing with the darkness.

    Grue’s power brought the dimension that Shadow Stalker partially shifted to closer, bringing it out with himself as a focus like Purity did, but a lot less explosive. Maybe because the area of his darkness was already partially in that shadow land, then when she shifted, her body, which was displaced there, got dumped back into our dimension? Yeah, that could make for a nasty surprise if you weren’t ready for it, and Grue could probably see her just fine, which also messed with her assassin, strike from the shadows, never-see-me-coming style of fighting. Ironic that a girl who espoused rule of the strongest hid in the shadows like a coward, but I never claimed Sophia was wise.

    Looking at the Darkness, I messed with it, making humanoid figures. They were very crude looking, just limbs, a torso, and a head, but they had the same appearance in the camera as I currently did, so that might be doable as a distraction technique, once I could make them without having to concentrate fully on keeping everything together.

    Glancing over at the clock, I’d been at it for a couple hours, and it was almost time to meet Panacea.

    Flooding the area with darkness, I was impressed with how quickly it spread, pulling it just short of leaving the workshop. I concentrated and it all dissipated at once, whereupon I promptly fell through the chair I was sitting on, still insubstantial in my Shadowform.

    Checking it after I got up, the laptop camera feed showed nothing but complete blackness, only for it to evaporate into the image of myself, cloaked in darkness, which looked badass.

    Except for the part where I then squawked like a chicken and fell through the floor.

    Happy with my progress, I dropped back into reality and headed out for the totally not a trap with the angry flesh-sculptor.


    Overlooking the area I was supposed to meet Panacea from high above, cloaked in shadow against the night sky, I scanned the small park. Focusing on my Power Sight I say the Flame of her power, it’s lightless blaze a beacon in the night.

    To my complete and utter lack of surprise, I also picked out the White and Gold of Glory Girl on a rooftop overlooking the area, hidden behind a ledge as she watched her sister, normally freely blazing fire constricted and lessened. Was it because she’s concerned? Point for her, negative point for forgetting that I was a flier like her, and so I would probably favor an airborne entry. It was probably because I didn’t fly constantly, like her, that she probably pegged me as land bound.

    I didn’t disabuse them of their notion, landing in a nearby alley before de-cloaking and striding out into the park, approaching Panacea. She turned around as I make sure to walk with noise, my boots thumping on the pathway. “You’re early,” she told me without expression.

    “So are you, and I’ve come alone, like you asked,” I replied. “I told you I’d answer questions when we didn’t have to save hostages from the well-intentioned danger of Kid Win.” I spread my arms. “What do you want to know?”

    “You told me you knew about powers and Triggers!” she demanded. “I looked up what you said, and no one’s heard anything like that!”

    I looped a sound bubble around all three of our heads. If they had any recording devices on them, this wasn’t making it to them. “I hope you weren’t foolish enough to search for ‘purchase superpowers’ or anything silly like that,” I stated drolly.

    By her expression, she’d done exactly that.


    I sighed, “In the future, please resist doing anything like that. If you do too much you’ll be visited by the people who sell them, and they are not good people. And don’t mention it on PHO, as the AI that runs it is watched as well. And- Dear God Glory Girl, learn to control your goddamn power!” I growled as a wave of sourceless Awe hit me, only succeeding in annoying me further.

    The Awe promptly cut out, and I looked up at her as she sheepishly flew down, moving the sound bubble with her. “So, ‘come alone’?” I asked Panacea sardonically. “If I hadn’t expected this, I would be walking away right now.”

    Panacea looked at her sister, shock and betrayal warring over her face. “You followed me?” she demanded, offended.

    The Awe crept back in a little, as the flier replied defensively, “You were going on about how Vejovis was some insane villain who knew things he couldn’t possibly know, then you disappeared. Of course I followed you, Ames! I was worried.”

    The artificial feelings grated, as did the manipulation via powers as Panacea’s expression softened faster than they should’ve from what I knew of the girl, who turned back to me. “These people that sell powers, who are they?”

    I shook my head. “That I’m not going to explain, because you’ll try to find them, succeed, and, at best get blackmailed into silence. Besides, that’s not what you wanted to ask.”

    She looked conflicted, probably trying to pick just one topic. “You know things, private things, how?”

    I went with the explanation I’d been preparing for Taylor. “Both my partner, Break, and myself got a comprehensive read on what the future would have been if we’d never arrived, focusing on certain crucial people in detail. I have a month to help fix a lot of things before things in Brockton Bay get really bad, and warning people won’t help for reasons I won’t tell you, because you’ll try to help in ways that will hurt everyone without meaning to. After that there’s about a month and a half of horribleness until things back off to workable levels, but everything is still pretty shit. However, everything slowly gets worse everywhere unless I can stop a lot of bad things from happening.”

    “Bullshit,” Panacea responded instantly. “Precognition doesn’t work like that, right?” she asked her sister, who nodded, though without the healer’s certainty.

    I sighed. There was no way I was going to get her to listen unless I was able to use her power to show that I was being honest. God, I hope this doesn’t go badly. “Panacea, when you asked me that question after you healed me, you were checking my autonomic responses to see if I was lying, right?” Glory Girl shot Panacea a surprised look, her sister not saying anything. “Right?” I asked again. “With your diagnostic abilities that should be doable.”

    “Ames?” Glory Girl asked, a tone of warning in her voice, but mostly just prodding her sister.

    Panacea nodded jerkily. “Thought so,” I sighed. “So, given that, like you, my powers don’t work on myself, if I willingly put myself under your power do I have your word that all you’ll do is check my responses? It is only because I know that you have a code that you follow, no matter what, that I’m willing to trust your word if you give it.”

    Panacea looked at me, conflicted. “If you can tell if he’s telling the truth, then why not do it?” Glory Girl asked.

    “If I could mess with him, he could mess with me,” she responded, eyes widening as she made a connection. “It’s almost like we have the same power, just like he has yours, and the bug girl’s as well.”

    “I have not, nor will I, use my Biokinesis against either of you in an offensive manner,” I promised. “I would probably never use it offensively ever, but I don’t know what will happen when I change the timeline, and am doing my best not to lie to either of you.”

    Panacea looked at her sister, who looked back at her imploringly. “Fine,” the biokinetic said, holding out her hand.

    I didn’t move. “Do I have your word you won’t use your power on me while I am doing this other than to check my responses. I need to hear you say it.”

    She grimaced, whether because she was planning to slip out of her agreement, that she forgot to give it, or that I was being difficult about it, I wasn’t sure. “You have my word.” I didn’t move, just raising an eyebrow. “That I won’t use my power on you,” she added.

    “Until I have time to withdraw,” I insisted.

    “Until you have time to withdraw,” she repeated, starting to get upset.

    I nodded, stripping off my left glove, stating formally, “Then I will take your word, and trust in it.” I stepped forward, taking her hand, holding it firm. “I have read the future as it originally played out. It is bad. Both you and your sister end up psychologically scarred, and your father, Shielder, and his father are all dead, as is Gallant, before June is over. I’m doing what I can to prevent that, but the fact that the Shards that give you Natural Triggers your powers push you towards conflict, so you can use your powers in new and interesting ways, makes it all that much harder. I never meant for you to be in the bank this afternoon, and couldn’t think of a way that let me get you away without raising your suspicions.” I felt her stiffen, trying to pull back, but I held onto her hand as I pressed on. “There’s more I can tell you, I want to tell you, but the more I tell you, the bigger the target on your back, and if you know too much, you’ll have to contend with the Simurgh herself, who I am prepared to fight if need be.”

    The healer’s hand went slack as Glory Girl whispered, “Holy shit. Is that true Ames?” The girl only nodded in mute horror.

    “I’m immune to her power, as is one other I know of, but if you tell anyone of what I’m telling you here tonight, you are risking not only your life, but theirs as well, and increasing the chance of an Endbringer attack on Brockton Bay. She can read the future and past as easily as you would skip forward or back in a book, and if she sees crucial information getting out, she will stop it. You eventually figure out crucial information, and she takes steps to make sure it never is heard. The only reason I can tell you is that she can’t see me, and I’m making sure that if you are recording this, the recording gets nothing.”

    Panacea jumped, looking at me. “How?” she demanded.

    I shrugged. “It’s what I’d do.” I looked between the two of them, “What’s im-” unexpectedly, my phone rang. Without letting go of her hand I checked it. Taylor was calling, but it should be something I could get to later, as her run in with Bakuda wouldn’t happen until tomorrow. Muting it, I slipped it back in my pocket.

    “Should you’ve got that?” hesitantly asked Glory Girl.

    I shook my head. “It was The Lady, Bug. This is more important.” The girls shared an indecipherable look. “What I was saying is that the future I saw, it gave me an insight into both of your characters. Panacea, you are a hero, no matter what you may think, and I don’t give people that title lightly. Your sister, she’s halfway there, but definitely hero-ish,” I told her with a grin.

    Glory Girl, who had been practically hanging off my words, startled, taking offense. “Hey, I’m so totally a hero! I totes fight crime and everything!”

    “While there might be things I won’t tell you, for good reason, I’ll try to do my damndest never to lie to either of you,” I looked them both in the eye, smiling as I ignored Glory Girls’ outrage, trying to break the tension, knowing I was going to make it worse again. “And since I’m here, one last thing to mention. Panacea, medical question.” That got her attention, probably because it was the one thing that she could get a handle on. “Emotion altering powers effect brain chemistry, right?”

    She nodded. “Haven’t seen it myself, but yeah, most do.”

    “And I know you don’t do brains,” I continued, “for damn good reasons that I totally understand, but you can still see them, right?” She nodded. “In that case I’ll be your Guinea pig, Glory Girl, if you could raise and lower your aura?”

    She did so, and my smile became a bit forced as I felt waves of baseless Awe surge through me, fading only to come back, something in me twisting in anger at being forced to feel things that weren’t real. Hearing Panacea gasp I told her sister, “Okay, that’s enough,” before turning back to the healer.

    “Is that why?” she asked, horrified.

    “I believe so, it’s downright Pavlovian, and just as artificial.” I responded comfortingly.

    “What is?” Glory Girl demanded, aura rising again.

    I turned to look at her, the portion of me in Awe of the teenager who had done very little to deserve it sectioned off, trying to keep it from corrupting the rest of me. “I don’t tell her all of your secrets Glory Girl, and I won’t tell you hers, just reign in your aura please.”

    She gave me an annoyed look, turning to her sister, demanding “Ames what is it?”, only for her sister to shake her head no in response.

    As the aura bumped up a notch, I let go of Panacea’s hand, causing her to look at me as I put my glove back on. “It is her secret to tell. Control your power Glory Girl, no one likes mind control,” I informed her stiffly, keeping my voice polite as I held back mounting irritation.

    Her aura increased further. “It’s not mind control, It’s a Shaker power,” the girl giving us fake emotions defended righteously, as I called her out.

    “Shaker refers to area of effect, and you damn well know that,” I told the heroine, getting severely annoyed. “I thought you studied parahumans, power classifications are day one, and I’d thank you not to try to mislead me when I am trying my best to be honest with you, so would you please turn it down.” She looked momentarily guilty, before almost visibly shifting that self-recrimination into a more offensive emotion.

    “It’s not mind control!” the teenage icon told me as I felt the pressure on my mind grow. “Just nudging emotions!”

    “Your emotions are part of your mind!” I informed her a growl creeping into my tone despite her not really deserving it. Is she even realizing she’s doing it? I wondered. She has to, she’s a professional hero so of course she would, no one I’d respect would mess with me that wa-. Oh. Oh hell no. “The only reason you aren’t viewed in a similar manner to Heartbreaker and his kids, Glory Girl, is that it only has two settings, and the fact that you don’t consciously control it, though that’s becoming less of an excuse as you get older.”

    She looked back at me, upset, letting her power run rampant. She might not be able to consciously control it directly, but she wasn’t even trying to restrain it, I realized, feeling betrayed for a reason I couldn’t define. As I felt the weight of it pushing down on me, I realized that I had to tell her what she was doing. She deserved to know the truth, about my plans, about Leviathan, about everything, but later, as this was the most pressing issue.

    “Glory Girl, listen, please,” I almost begged, but doing so rankled me deeply. “Your studies should have shown you that some people react badly to having their mind messed with, with reactions ranging from annoyance to a desire to kill the mind controller as soon as their able.” It clicked in my head why I wanted to praise her, but at the same time take Stormtiger’s claws and gut this paragon of heroes everywhere. “That being said, would you kindly reign in your fucking power!” I outright growled, seeing the dreamy look on Panacea’s face and despising it. The beautiful parahuman floating in front of me practically demanding my respect with her majesty, above such pathetic concerns like the brainwashing of her sister.

    The demi-goddess defended herself “Don’t tell me what to do!” she commanded, and she was right to do so but she was also false, wrong, everything about this was fake! My emotions made sense, they always had a basis in something, even if I didn’t like it, I’d put in so much time and effort to make them make sense, to stop the pain, but now they didn’t as this false goddess demanded I fall to my knees in praise. As I stepped forward to kill this image of divinity something in me snapped, a Line I Would Not Cross, so I chose a non-lethal take down, to better decide her fate once I’d had some time to think and make it truly hurt.

    I sped forward in a flash, stepping on a Speed Zone to cover the distance in an instant, my first blow catching her in the stomach, dissipating both of our shields, though the one on my head remained. My second blow came, a backhanded slap, my musculature alone giving the strike enough strength to knock her down. Oh how I wanted to coax just a bit of power to create claws and destroy that glorious visage that stared, shocked, back at me before that second blow hit, but again, it was a Line I Would Not Cross, though I had no idea why.

    My hand connected with the harsh crunch of something breaking, a spray of crimson blood arcing from the perfect nose I’d broken with my heretical hand, liquid rubies falling on unworthy soil. The celestial being fell, and as she hit the ground, like an angel thrown from heaven itself, though sadly not squished like the bug on a windshield that she should be, clarity hit me like truck, dousing my thoughts in a torrent of cold reality.

    I looked at Glory Girl, the teen who thought herself a hero, on the ground, moaning as she clutched her broken nose, and took a deep shuddering breath. “Okay, I’m not immune to mind control. Good to know,” I commented to no one in particular. “Maybe pointing out what her power does to her sister while she was still off-balance was a mistake.”

    Hearing Panacea cry of, “Vicky!” and her footsteps as she started to run to her sister, I made a split-second decision. Flying to Panacea I picked her up and carried her several dozen feet away, still close enough to see Glory Girl, but not enough to be hit by her aura if it flared again. “I need to help her! She’s hurt!” Panacea cried in anguish.

    I held her fast, simply saying, “No.”

    She looked at me as she struggled, mindless fear and fury across her face as her hand whipped out like a viper, touching my cheek. Her shocked look a moment later had me thanking Herb in my head. “What?” she asked dumbly.

    “Panacea, think! Don’t feel!” I implored. “Your sister kept pushing her power farther, and I kept on asking her to stop, but she didn’t, even after she saw how badly it was effecting me. Think now that your Pavlovian love response isn’t making you insane.”

    Her struggles stopped as her eyes cleared. “What, what was that?” she asked numbly. “It’s, she’s, that’s never happened before.”

    I sighed, letting her go, ready to grab her if she ran. “I’m not sure what the hell that was. Maybe she’s never had anyone not relent like that when she’s used her power to manipulate them.”

    Panacea looked at me in confusion. “Vicky wouldn’t do that.”

    A mirthless chuckle was my response. “Her power is subconsciously controlled, for her to ratchet it up that hard that fast, that’s an emotional response, and it makes perfect sense.” I shook my head, not sure if I was talking to the healer or myself. “It’s the kind of power that every teen would want, and should never have. If someone is mad at her for a legitimate reason? Turn up the aura, and she’s so awesome that it isn’t that big a deal. and it gets dropped. Someone being unfair? Turn up the aura, they immediately feel guilty for what they’re doing, and it gets dropped.”

    “She wouldn’t. . . ,” Panacea started, trailing off as she looked over her own memories, which almost certainly proved me right.

    I blew out a long breath as I let go of the healer and stepped back, hands shaking with the memory of how much I’d Loved and Hated Glory Girl a moment ago. “I just told you guys that I know her power’s weakness. Right now, one good hit drops her shield, leaving her vulnerable to one-two combos, or just double tapping with a pistol.” I reached behind myself, pulling out my gun.

    “I’m glad I didn’t remember that I had this,” I told her as she went pale, before stowing the weapon. “Fuck me running, this shit is why I called you a hero, and her half of one.” I told Amelia, sitting on a nearby park bench, and motioning for her to sit down next to me in the darkening twilight. She glanced at her sister, who was still moaning on the ground. “I just broke her nose, she’ll be fine, though it might be the most pain she’s ever felt. You can heal her in an instant, but let her deal with it for a few minutes. What she did was not okay.”

    Panacea sat on the edge of the bench, looking at me. “Did you know she was going to. . . ?” she motioned to us.

    Nope. Her aura was never all that effective in the future I saw,” I admitted. “Didn’t know it could get that bad. I’m honestly figuring out the deeper details like this as I go, sometimes a moment too late it seems, but I was talking of heroism. You have the mentality and attitude of a Hero, a bit too black and white, but if you don’t fall you’ll pick that up with time. You’re too self-sacrificing, and I know why but you aren’t ready to hear it. With a support network that actually helps you, you’d learn to temper that, but Glory Girl?

    I sighed. “She has so much power, but uses it so irresponsibly, relying on those around her to fix her mistakes, which her power encourages others to do. I know how she uses you to un-injure criminals she gets careless with instead of learning to control her strength, and if she uses her Aura to get help covering things up with you, she probably does it with others. Panacea, she throws temper tantrums with mind control and the only reason she hasn’t been Birdcaged is that she’s popular, connected, and her Master power is weak, though that last one apparently isn’t true any longer.”

    Looking at Amelia, and waiting until she looked back at me, I continued, “Panacea, you saw what slight exposure was doing to my brain, and you could probably check the effects on a few other people, and whip up a prion or something that’ll let you reverse the damage without breaking your rule about interfacing the brain directly.” I let out another breath, reaching over and putting a hand on her shoulder. “You know I wasn’t lying when I said one of the two things I do is help heroes. If you need someone to talk to, help in a bad situation, hell, maybe just a place to stay that isn’t in range of your sister’s aura just call and I can set you up with a hotel room somewhere or something. If you want help on a hospital shift, call me and I’ll come down if I’m free. Just. . . Just be careful, okay?”

    She didn’t respond, so I told her in tones of complete seriousness, “Right now, through no one’s direct fault, your drug is your sister’s aura, she doses everyone near her, and you are severely addicted. At the worst, right there before I knocked her down, her aura made me want to get down and worship the ground she flew over. For you it must have been. . .”

    The poor girl looked heartbroken. “Like falling in love all over again,” she whispered, tears streaming down her face.

    I couldn’t help myself, I leaned over and hugged her with one arm. “And now you know it’s not real. I’m sorry you had to find out, but it had to happen.”

    “Why?” she cried, collapsing in on herself. “Why did you make me face this! I didn’t want to!”

    “Because the alternative was so much worse,” I explained, having to make her understand. “You broke your rule, for reasons you couldn’t control, and then you saw her, and you reached out without thinking and without thinking you made her love you as much as you love her, but just like me she didn’t react like she was supposed to. She hated you instead and it broke you, and when the, when everything happened, it turned out bad. I know it hurts, but you don’t heal a wound by sealing it up, it needs to get cleaned completely and be repaired from the bottom up.”

    I let her go, sitting back on the bench. “So, Panacea, you have some options. If you want to, we can leave right now.” Her eyes went to her sister. “After healing Glory Girl,” I added. “It’s just a broken nose, I could do it if you want. We could leave, and give you time away from her to get your head cleared, or you could get her home and do that. Or,” I paused wincing. I have to be fair I thought. “Or you could go back to her, knowing how everything is, and try to make the best of it. Knowing that your feelings are fake, and having to constantly deal with it. I’d really prefer you didn’t, but I told you I’d be honest, and that is an option.”

    She looked at me wearily. “I, I know my feelings towards her aren’t real,” she admitted, “but what I felt, before she became Glory Girl, back when she was just Vicky, are. She’s my sister, and I love her, and she needs my help.” She smiled sadly as she stood up. “I know you’re just trying to help, and you know all of this, but I just met you, and this is too much.” Her words, similar configurations of which I’ve heard many times before, hurt, but I understood.

    “Just,” I hesitated, trying to find the right words, “just make sure you’re alright too, okay?” I asked, feeling oddly hollow.

    She nodded. “Thanks for caring, it’s nice to know that someone other than Vicky does.” She turned and slowly walked back to her sister. I watched her go, feeling heavy. I flew up into the night, watching from afar as she knelt down, putting her hands on her sister’s arm, Glory Girl’s tense form relaxing as she was healed.

    I turned, and left in defeat.