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Abaddon Born(e)

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

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  1. Threadmarks: Blueprint 3.x (Interlude: Medhu, Dauntless)
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Blueprint 3.x (Interlude: Medhu, Dauntless)

    Medhu came to with a mouthful of blood and a chest full of pain. He stilled as he waited for the beeping of his watch, but it did not come. Trying to open his eyes, and only managing one, the other felt sticky, swollen shut. He looked around. He was seated on a chair, strapped in by the feel of it, the restraints digging uncomfortably into his wrists and ankles informing him that he had been divested of his standard dress shirt and slacks, left in his undershirt and underwear.

    Well, this isn’t optimal he thought as he took in the room around him. He’d expected to be in some dark and dank basement, but the place he was in had an almost clinical look: well lit, clean white walls, and the faint odor of disinfectant barely discernable over the metallic tang of blood. Shifting, the chair appeared to be bolted to the floor, and padded, oddly enough.

    His musings were cut off as the steel door leading out opened, a rough looking man walking in with his beeping watch. Medhu looked at him. White, blond, though if you looked closely you could tell he colored it, clean shaven, but with a couple of minor scars. Edging up, barely visible, was the top of a tattoo. Normally that wouldn’t be enough, but he’d done his research, and that particular piece of body modification was unfortunately common om this city. What could only be a member of the Empire Eighty-Eight addressed Medhu, unfazed by his injuries, asking only “How do I turn off the alarm. Tell me, or I’ll break it.”

    Medhu smiled, or tried to. It felt like one of his teeth was loose. That probably explained the blood. “Press the button by the six twice,” he instructed, trying not to hiss in pain. Yes, one of his ribs was probably broken, and while it hadn’t pierced anything, it made breathing too deeply. . . interesting. The Neo-Nazi did so, checking his phone afterwards before nodding and putting both watch and phone away as he walked out. From the glimpse Medhu had of his captor’s phone, it was running a frequency tracker.

    That was smart, he mused as the racist left. If that had been a distress signal, they would have noticed, and this room may be shielded. I hate dealing with intelligent foes. What was far more interesting had been the identification badge the guard had been wearing. It appeared he was being held within the Medhall building itself, which was apparently in league with the E88. Well, that explains why it’s doing so well. Probably should sell my stocks though.

    With that in mind, he let go of his power, the world fading out in blurs of black and silver, which was still something he was getting used to. Returning back to his breakfast, twelve hours before his capture, Medhu glanced at the clock, seeing only a minute had passed. He made a note to cancel his meeting with the new client today, taking a sip of his coffee to wash away the phantom taste of blood that hadn’t been spilled just yet.

    The man took a deep breath, the memory of the pain such an action would have entailed in twelve hours dispelled by the act. Sighing, he looked over his possible futures. Laid out in front of him like this he only got vague impressions, enough to gain an emotional sense, but glean no true information, which he apparently needed now more than ever before.

    Ever since the day that the. . . merging had happened, his life had become more interesting, in the Chinese sense. It was hard to believe that it was less than a week ago when he’d rushed from place to place, barely even using his powers as he was awash in memories that where not his own, another flavoring his own that had changed how he viewed things, how he did things, and, unfortunately, still did. If he went down to his office as normal, he ended up hurt, a ten second dive into that possibility bringing him back to that secluded room in the Medhall building, though his tooth wasn’t loose, and he had what felt like a lightly broken arm.

    Looking down the path of if he stayed and worked from his penthouse, doing the best job he could, for the third day this week, the sense of bored safety expanded. His surroundings faded out in black and silver, which itself was also different. Normally everything faded in deep ochres and reds, the colors Medhu had always associated with his powers, though he wasn’t sure why. Now it was black and silver, and feeling the metallic color instead of the grey his eyes saw was an odd sensation, and he had to put it down to his other sets of memories, Jack’s memories, affecting his powers, though he wasn’t sure if there were other effects, which bothered him greatly.

    Seeing himself uninjured and at his desk, he looked down at the list in his hands which gave an overview of the day’s events. It was a habit that he’d carefully cultivated, as his power only let him choose general paths, letting his normal habits take root and guide him between needed events. As such, he’d made it a habit to, always, between eight and ten past eight, have written a list of the important events of the day to better review what had happened. He had a pad of flash paper at both his home and office desks specifically for that purpose, burning it afterwards and claiming it to be a “mind clearing exercise” to his assistant. Staring at a piece of paper for ten minutes was terribly boring, but his power gave him a twelve-hour view into the future, exactly, and doing these dives took time, so he needed to do the boring chore to make sure he was looking at it when he peered down the periscope of fate.

    Focusing on his list, he had apparently approved a few new hires and negotiated with the new construction company, a Fortress Construction, to rebuild his shop across from the Medhall building, having asked for additional surveillance and security options. The additions, once again, validating his first dive, unpleasant as it was, as the information gained from one shaped all the others. He prioritized the unpleasant ones first, making any passing discomfort from them worth the effort, so as to choose one that avoided them for real.

    Third on the list, with the star symbolizing an outside event, was the robbing of Bay Central at one in the afternoon. The participants listed were three names. The first was The Wards, though why you’d send children to stop a bank robbery baffled him, but also stirred a faint feeling of moral outrage that he wouldn’t have had . . . before. The Second group, The Undersiders, might have explained the first, as they apparently sent children to fight children. Once again, the ironic humor was tinged with a disgust born from another life, one that Medhu hadn’t lived.

    The Third?

    It exemplified the problem he’d been grappling with. It was completely unreadable, the letters shifting, growing, shrinking, and blinking out entirely as he looked down at the page, completely unable to be read.

    That meant it must have been his son, no, Jack’s son, who had apparently taken the identity of the hero Vejovis, that was there. It hadn’t taken that much effort to put together, after all, as he’d identified the young man that his new memories had tagged as Lee Rycroft as the source the corruption of his power. And shortly after that, he becomes unable to see the actions that this new hero ‘Vejovis’ took. That and the e-mail that the hero had sent him, which spelled out his name in the margin, helped.

    He turned his focus back to the list he was looking at, as his power did have a timed aspect to be mindful of, and if he stayed lost in thought too long this version of himself would torch the list before he finished reading it. It was something he’d done before. Fourth down on the list was a fight between the E88 and a new parahuman pair calling themselves “Boojack and Jackhammer”, with “Black Supremacist?” written immediately after.

    Fifth was the kidnapping of the mayor’s niece, which he didn’t care about, though, again, part of him wanted to do something to stop it. He squashed that impulse, one he hadn’t felt in years, as doing so would have outed him as a precognitive, and as one he wouldn’t be able to avoid notice, which was his first, and best, defense.

    Deciding to go with this fate, Medhu activated his power, dropping back to the present, his body started finishing his breakfast, his mind in the passenger’s seat. He’d continue on with his power like this, able to think freely and observe what was going on without disturbing what he did as he made the vision he’d seen a reality. If something went wrong, or if he saw a possibility that he hadn’t considered, he could take over his body again, aborting that fate. He wouldn’t have the pre-prepared list to review, but sometimes, occasionally, it was worth doing. What it did allow him was a great deal of time to think and plan while the boring details of the day were taken care of. As his body finished eating and started doing the dishes, Medhu’s mind considered the e-mail.

    He hadn’t responded to it, as every future that he did was borderline impossible to see, shifting and glitching into uselessness. Part of him, the newer part, wanted to track down his son, if only to get answers as to just what was going on. The rest of him, what he wanted to think of as his original self, wanted to do no such thing. His power was what kept him safe from harm, from kidnapping, from death itself, and if he were to meet his- no, Jack’s son, he’d be doing so completely blind. He wanted to keep that other set of memories, that other personality, separate from his own, but they were settling into him, changing him, and quite frankly he found that terrifying.

    To contact Vejovis, Lee, whomever this person was, would be something that Jack would do in an instant, and was thus something he was avoiding as hard as he could, though some part of him, part of the him that was originally him, knew that struggle was futile.

    That struggle was also, he considered, the source of his current. . . difficulties. After that first day, his following of the source of the interference with his powers, and his momentary mercy, so out of character for him, made him of interest to the Empire. Arriving at his Medhall shop, and dismissing the workers to try to keep them safe before the miniature gang war blew through, had attracted the attention of no less than Kaiser himself.

    Two days later his power had shown him that the new client he was to meet had been with the leader of the Empire, who had come to him with an offer: Turn over the mole he obviously had in their organization, and he’d be compensated for helping them close a hole in their security. He’d been given twenty-four hours to consider their offer, but it was a matter of time before they found out he didn’t have anyone, and after that he’d have an angry blade generator to contend with.

    Aborting that timeline, he’d cancelled the meeting, citing a flu, which just made things more tenuous. His new self, the one with Jack’s memories, had wanted to try a third option, to fight and call for help, but he, his old self, the division was easier then, overruled himself somehow, he wasn’t sure how anymore. The next day he dodged another meeting, and he’d received a message from the gang-leader directly via e-mail with a new offer. Turn over the name of the mole, or the name of the precognitive that he had on staff, or they’d kill him.

    After that at least one path, per day, resulted in his death or capture, and it was really wearing on Medhu. As long as he could continue avoiding them, he was fine, and the fact that he used a fake identity when renting his current abode was surely paying off now. He, his new, merged self, reminded the old that his powers were all about information gathering, and it was only a matter of time until he needed help, and if he just reached out to his son, he’d have the help he needed. That if he had listened to himself before, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into this situation in the first place. Medhu, the old Medhu, though that distinction was slowly becoming irrelevant, shut down his own thoughts as his body sat down to go over his e-mails for the day. ‘I told you so’s’ after the fact where of no use to him right now.

    After all, anyone could be a post-cog.



    <AB>


    As he walked towards the meeting room, Dauntless rotated his shoulder, working the stiffness that lingered from his fight this morning, if you could call it that. Against the new pair of capes that had been killing the members of the Empire Eighty-Eight, they’d been practically useless. They’d arrived to a scene of carnage, some thugs unconscious, some maimed, and some little more than crushed bodies under the feet of the one who kept changing into animals. Rhinoceroses, elephants, even a giraffe once, but all stronger than they should have been, and by the time his team had arrived the fight had turned deadly at what seemed like a shapeshifting, barnyard version of Lung. They now had Crusader in custody, though not the new parahumans, as they had run after clashing with the Protectorate, though it didn’t feel like a victory to the hero.

    Entering, he nodded to Velocity, who was writing up his report at super speed, and Battery, who was doing the same at a more sedate pace while Assault joked and tried to get her to laugh. “I’m just sayin’, we didn’t really need to get in the middle of it. There weren’t any innocents involved, and the situation was pretty black and white!” he smiled, Battery putting down her pen to hold her face in her hands.

    “I cannot believe you just said that,” she groaned, mouth twitching minutely as she forced herself not to smile.

    Dauntless walked to his normal seat, giving the Wards a nod as well. His team had been sent to support them, when the impromptu gang war had diverted them to a higher-priority threat, and while the report the man had read had said that they succeeded in securing the hostages, they didn’t have the air of a group who’d won either. “How’s the arm?” Velocity asked the newcomer, not looking up.

    He shrugged experimentally. “Not that bad,” the item-enhancer responded. “Boojack was stronger than he looked, but my shield took most of it.”

    Velocity nodded, still writing his report, “And faster. Even with my power I’ve picked up a few bruises.”

    Dauntless’ eyebrows rose at that. The suited cape hadn’t been that fast when he’d fought him. Was he holding back? he thought. Why? Triumph came in, taking his seat on Dauntless’ other side, no longer limping like he’d been when they’d gotten back to the Rig. He was about to ask the younger man about his take when Miss Militia and Armsmaster walked in, followed closely by Director Piggot and a PRT tech, who plugged in his laptop, typing away as everyone else took their seats as usual. The Director didn’t, always insisting on standing at these meetings.

    It was probably a power move, but Dauntless didn’t mind. She was the director of the Brockton PRT branch, and, as a member of the Protectorate, he ultimately answered to her.

    She looked around the table, gaze dispassionate and disapproving, though she usually wore that expression when talking to them, so he wasn’t sure if that was just how she looked normally. “I’m sure you’ve known why I’ve called you here, but in case some of you haven’t been reading your reports,” her eyes flicked over to the Wards, and Dauntless wondered if something had happened at the bank, “we’ve had at least seven new parahumans appear in almost as many days, and while most of them are presenting themselves as heroes, events have transpired such that we need to consolidate our resources and brief you formally.”

    “The first,” she stated, as the tech turned on the table, the image of a shakily taken camera video playing. “Has no official name. For now we are calling him Spectrum, given his eyes.” The clip of a man in a white hoodie with an embroidered red lion on his bank having a confrontation with Lung played, the man dodging blows before hitting his foe, knocking the Yakuza villain back and forth, immune to the flames the man-dragon was giving off. Flashing a thumbs up to the camera, the image stilled, showing two glowing eyes set against the unnatural shadows the hoodie cast across his face, the orbs prismatic in their coloration.

    The video resumed as the cape was taken off his feet by Lungs tail, fire obscuring what happened next as Lung was sent flying out, impacting the store across the boardwalk, Spectrum and a dark-skinned man covered in soot with a canary yellow jacket wrapped around his head ran out of the flames seemingly unharmed, taking off at almost inhuman speeds as Lung started to pursue and the clip restarted from the beginning. “As for the other individual, we have no evidence of powers, other than his resistance to fire. What is of note is that Spectrum’s clothing seemed unharmed, both by flames and Lung’s claws.” The video played slowed down clips of the cape getting hit by claws that could tear steel, the cloth merely depressing. “We’re giving him a preliminary rating him Brute 5, Mover 3, given his bursts of speed in the video. He or his friend may be one of the others that have shown up recently, but we cannot be certain.”

    “Second of all is the hero Vejovis,” she continued, and Armsmaster gave a dismissive snort, drawing Dauntless attention. Had they had met? Director Piggot paused, annoyed, before continuing, the screen showing security camera footage of a man in a white and blood red bodysuit. “We first heard of him when he walked inside our office, asking to register his independent team.” Her statement was met with expressions of shock and surprise. Dauntless himself thought of his own recruitment into the Protectorate, working on his own as an independent hero before meeting Miss Militia on patrol.

    “Who does that?” asked Assault acerbically. “There’s no flair to that at all; it’s just so boring!

    The Director raised an eyebrow at the jokester. “When informed that he couldn’t name his group Twilight Protectors, he changed it to Penumbral Defenders.” Assault snorted. “Yes, it was only after the name was officially approved that someone pointed out the acronym issue.” It took Dauntless a second, but he saw it as well. What naming yourself the PD meant for the parahuman’s intentions, he wasn’t sure. “His abilities appear to be a mosaic power expression, though our experts say that the other factors involved are not present. He possesses an Alexandria package similar to Glory Girl’s, though thankfully lacking in her shaker power. He possesses a healing power similar to Panacea’s, though again, weaker than hers. His unique power appeared to be insect control,” Clockblocker shuddered, and Dauntless was now sure that something had happened at the bank, “But one of the other new parahumans appears to have that as her power as well.”

    “Ma’am?” Gallant asked, voice thick with thought. “I’ve studied parahuman science with Glory Girl, it would fit if he had insect control, and the other controller had some other power but patterned the one we saw of his. There are cases of that happening, but no one has more than three powers.”

    Director Piggot nodded. “That is one of our theories, another is Tinkertech. Please keep your comments to yourself until the briefing is over, Gallant.” The boy apologized, and the image changed to a still shot of Vejovis as he was lifting off the ground. “He has been labelled a Mover, Brute, Striker, Master, though as usual no values are assigned until he proves himself to be a threat.” Armsmaster shifted unhappily, obviously disagreeing with that assessment without words.

    “The other two members are a pair of African American brothers, going by Break and Enter, both are claimed to become stronger as they fight in a similar manner to Lung. Enter is able to turn into dinosaurs.” Assault looked incredulous, but the Wards looked unsurprised.

    The image changed to a familiar man in a suit with pitch black skin, clear mask on his face next to larger man wearing working clothes, skin leathery and almost grey. “Another pair of Parahumans, that we became aware of today, go by Boojack and Jackhammer,” she continued, ignoring Assault as he tried to say something. “Who we know are separate, as they were seen the same time as Break and Enter, and the fact that Jackhammer seems to only be able to turn into mammals confirms it. The two pairs are almost certainly cluster triggers, though we don’t know the circumstances, or even their identities. Break and Boojack are Brute 4’s, Enter and Jackhammer and Brute 4’s and Changer 6’s”

    “The only female in the group,” Piggot pressed on, “is an insect controller who goes by The Lady, Bug. From what we can tell she’s a recent Trigger, and is a probationary member of the Vejovis’s team.” The image shifted again, showing the entrance to the PRT building again, at a later hour, Vejovis and a girl completely covered in black and grey armor, except for her chestnut brown hair and wasp yellow lenses. She-“

    “That’s her!” Clockblocker said, “The one at the bank!”

    Director Piggot regarded him coolly. “Are you saying you can make a positive identification. That you saw her clearly, or have evidence that she was there? Because that’s what the Defender’s lawyers are requiring before they will cooperate.”

    “Um, no, but I saw that yellow, and they had all of those bugs!” he defended.

    “Seein’ a color and getting hit by insects’ not enough kid,” Assault responded before the Director could, “Not when there might be a third one that controls creepy crawlers around, even if it does bug you.”

    “She is considered a Master, though she may have other powers, as stated.” Piggot rolled on, with the tiniest of nods to Gallant. “Lastly we have ‘Boardwalk’, who has been active at night, targeting the Merchants.” The screen changed to a drawing showing a man in drawing studded leather, hood, and mask, different colored spots across his form, feet completely white. “Mover, Breaker, Blaster, and Brute, Gallant and Shadow Stalker made contact last night. He gave his name, and provided them with thumb drives which contained coded information on drug trafficking. What is of note is that he knew Shadow Stalkers civilian identity.”

    “That glowing asshole unmasked me!” the Ward in question yelled. “Fucker needs to die!

    Gallant sighed. “No, he didn’t Shadow Stalker, he used the first syllable of your first name, and he was doing so as a joke. His emotions were anger and humor, and he wasn’t loud enough for anyone else to hear.”

    “But he knew who you were?” Triumph asked, sitting up.

    Gallant nodded, “Definitely, and his powers interacted oddly with hers. To me he was dark, like Stalker, but with different colors that moved across his body. Whenever he flew his feet turned bright white. To her he apparently was always glowing like Purity, which is why she missed when she tried to shoot him.”

    Director Piggot turned to the recalcitrant Ward. “You did not mention that you attacked him in your report.”

    She shrugged, indifferent. “Didn’t hit the fucker, who unmasked me, so who cares?”

    “I do,” was the response. “That brings us to today’s events. Boojack and Jackhammer attacked the E88, and displayed a level of violence such that they should only be approached with overwhelming force unless we find out more. While that was happening, Dinah Alcott, the mayor’s niece was kidnapped. At the same time, the villain group known as the Undersiders attempted to rob Bay Central Bank. At least two of these events are related, if not all three, so all parties involved are wanted for questioning.”

    “What about the Defenders?” asked Aegis.

    “Not at this time,” Director Piggot told him, Armsmaster scowling next to her. “I’ll be reviewing your individual reports tonight, but in short, what occurred?”

    The Wards, except for the pouting Shadow Stalker, shared a look. “We received the call at school,” Aegis started, “And headed towards the Bank with Glory Girl.”

    “And your handler approved this?” Director Piggot asked leadingly.

    Aegis shook his head. “No Mam, he didn’t respond when we tried to contact our support. We chose to continue as time is of the essence in a robbery.”

    Her eyebrow rose. “I’ll have to review the logs. You know that, by bringing Glory Girl along, you were responsible for her actions, correct?”

    He nodded curtly. “Yes Mam. I believed her capabilities outweighed the risks. When we arrived, the windows were blacked out with Grue’s power. He said he was going to send the hostages out, extending the smoke, but we were attacked by insects, the Undersiders engaging us immediately after. Sometime during the encounter Break and Enter, um, entered the conflict, fighting both us and the Undersiders. We were incapacitated, as was Break, and the Undersiders fled with the money they stole. Vejovis, who was inside with the hostages, was injured, and Panacea and Glory Girl were able to get the hostages to safety. We met Vejovis, who was healed by Panacea, before he, Break, and Enter left. We were not in a state to detain them, and we were not aware of the legality of such as an action, as our handler could not be reached.”

    She looked at the Ward, studying him, but he held fast under her gaze. “Is that all?” she asked. She knows something Dauntless realized as Aegis nodded. “You had no other plans, such as switching costumes with Clockblocker to attempt to fool your opponents into making a tactical error?” What? Dauntless thought. He could see how that might work, especially with Clockblocker’s power, but the risks!

    Aegis paled. “I,” he started, apparently caught in a lie. “I did not believe that would be of interest to the group as a whole. It won’t happen again.”

    “See that it won’t,” she informed him coldly. “If your handler was indeed absent, he shares some of the blame. I’m sure you’re wondering how I knew about your deception attempt. It is one of the reason the Penumbral Defenders are, regrettably, hands-off right now.” She leaned back, eyes dark and arms crossed as the display flickered back to life, showing a video of, what Dauntless realized, the bank robbery.

    The camera angles weren’t great, and one of the cameras was partially obscured by what looked like a beetle covering part of the lens. The darkness that Aegis described was indeed covering the front of the bank, blacking out the windows in a wall of impenetrable shadow. The sound was of low quality, but they could hear Grue call out that they were sending out hostages, only for the darkness to billow out, an almost biblical swarm of insects pouring out of those black mists, attacking the Wards as three monstrous creatures, presumably Hellhound’s dogs, leapt out, going directly for Clockblocker, actually Aegis. They knew Dauntless realized, the disguised Aegis getting knocked over as they ran over him, not worried about Clockblocker’s neutralizing touch. Hellhound emerged from the darkness, quickly re-orienting herself and going for the downed form of the Ward’s leader, only to be hit by a blue ball of energy from Gallant.

    As she screamed in rage Gallant explained from his seat, “I hit her with a calming blast. Sometimes they don’t work, but I haven’t seen a reaction that bad.” The Director nodded, but said nothing as they all watched. The new member, Browbeat engaged Grue as the villain shed darkness around himself, quickly obscuring the fight. Kid Win pulled something off his back, what appeared to a backpack folding out into a floating cannon.

    The thing was almost three times as big as he was, floating and glowing ominously. Climbing aboard, he pulled a lever, and sheet of lightning spreading out, bridging between raindrops and frying the swarm in front of him. Swiveling it he fired one shot from the cannon itself, blasting a dog off Aegis. Firing again, he hit it midair before his head snapped over, obviously seeing something beyond the camera’s view.

    Kid Win smiled broadly as he turned the cannon and pressed something, the cannon firing out a beam nearly twice the size of the previous shots into the bank, the camera angle changing to show the glowing beam firing into the darkness. The video paused.

    “Now,” the Director’s voice practically boiled, simmering with anger and disgust, “I know I might have missed that particular piece of paperwork. I am, after all, human. But I’d hope that I’d recognize seeing the form detailing that. What is the name that particular piece of Tinkertech, Kid Win, to help jog my memory.”

    “I-It’s. Um,” the boy stuttered. You didn’t, Dauntless thought, stomach sinking. Even though he could have argued that his empowered equipment didn’t need the testing, he still made sure to get all of his pieces checked out every month. It only took a few hours, helped him quantify his increase in power, and avoided problems. “It’s my Alternator Cannon, I just finished it.”

    “You mean you just finished getting it tested, correct?” She asked, tone now icier than the arctic. “Because you know that using untested equipment in the field means that you not only will be up for disciplinary review, but possibly criminal charges as well.”

    Kid Win paled. Probably didn’t even think about it, Dauntless thought pityingly. “I. I built it to take down A-class threats and-”

    “And you decided to use it in a hostage situation, against an unknown foe, when you had no confirmation that they did not-in fact-have hostages in the battlefield.” She cut him off, practically hissing as she glared at the quaking Tinker. “According to Panacea’s report, your blast would have sent shards of flying glass into the hostages, had not she and Vejovis gotten them out of the line of your fire. Your second blast nearly killed everyone inside, villain and hero alike, and it’s only due to sheer luck that no one died. Luckily those who could do so are not pressing criminal charges, which is yet another reason the Penumbral Defenders are hands off. I cannot charge you directly, but the damages done, and they are extensive will come out of the pay of all of the Wards on-site when this fiasco occurred. Am. I. understood?” she snapped.

    It looked like Aegis and Clockblocker wanted to say something, but they kept their mouths shut. “Y-Yes mam!” Kid Win stuttered, looking like he wanted to bolt, but Director Piggot wasn’t done.

    “Furthermore, you are to turn over every piece of equipment for re-review, are on Monitor Duty for the next 3 months, only allowed to return to active service after you have finished the training you will receive to make sure something like this will never happen again.” She gave him a moment to understand what she said, turning back to the display after he broke himself out of his shock to nod frantically.

    The video picked up where it left off, the image of Kid Win still smiling as he swiveled the cannon back around, sighting in on another dog as a roar of anger rang out, distorted by the Grue’s darkness, but deep and masculine. From the shadows a large man in an odd combination of black formal suit, purple sneakers, and purple metal gauntlets practically flew at Kid Win, who tried to swivel the cannon to hit the new threat.

    A second even larger man came out of the darkness, dark skin oddly shiny, eyes obscured by shades, dressed head to toe in what looked like alligator skin. Jacket, shirt, pants, boots, all of it was the same material, though only the jacket and boots matched in pattern. The second man leapt with a speed that spoke of powers, pushing the first man, and launching him farther upwards, twisting himself to avoid the blast from the cannon that missed him by what looked like inches.

    The first man, still flying, was pointed towards the fight Gallant was having with Hellhound as he started his decent, but ended up twisting to land on the cannon fist first, the entire thing buckling under the impact, hitting the ground as whatever let it hover was overloaded.

    Kid Win drew a pistol to hit the man who’d hit his cannon, but was interrupted as the first man rolled off the piece of artillery, grabbing the Ward by the face and taking him to the ground. Dauntless noted that man seemed careful to make sure that his opponent didn’t hit the ground head first, but flat on his back, the man’s weight impacting Kid Win’s chest, knocking the wind out of him and probably bruising his ribs.

    The care that the first man, who Dauntless assumed was Break, displayed was not shared by Enter. That man, after dodging the cannon blast, had hit the ground, form shifting into what he was pretty sure was a velociraptor, and tore off so quickly he almost left a path in the rain, covering the distance towards his new target in an instant.

    A bark from one of the dogs gave Hellhound a half second’s warning to duck as Enter’s fist, having shifted to human form, passed right where the back of her head had been. She sidestepped her attacker, trying once again to go after Gallant, only to get caught by the back of her jacket by Enter, who threw her back, stepping between the two.

    Hellhound gave a guttural growl as she glared at the interloper, sound carrying clearly over the rain. Enter tipped his glasses down and growled back, a deeper but infinitely more menacing sound. They stared each other down before Hellhound lowered her gaze, turning to go fight Aegis, while Gallant shot Enter in the back with a blue blast, drawing looks from those assembled.

    “I was aiming a blast at Regent, and he changed my aim. I hadn’t thought that he’d seen me,” the Master/Blaster explained a little defensively. The tech backed the video up, and you could see Gallant’s arm twitching to face Enter’s back at the last moment, while at the corner of the screen Regent’s arm twitched as well in a similar motion.

    After being hit, Enter’s aggressive posture slackened as he turned to face Gallant, head tilting in confusion, or disbelief, before the large man shrugged and calmly stalked towards the Ward who appeared to have just shot him in the back.

    Dodging several more blasts with an almost casual air, Enter reached out an open hand and casually smacked the Ward in the side of the head, sending the teen stumbling away from the force. As Gallant tried to come back with another blast, Enter struck the Ward’s arm, sending it wild, before smacking the other side of his head, sending him stumbling off again. It dawned on Dauntless, he’s playing with him.

    “It worked,” Gallant told them, having a couple of glances sent his way. “It wasn’t like Hellhound, he calmed down, and was just having fun with me. He was strong enough that he could’ve done a lot worse.” The back and forth that was going on, with Enter completely controlling the fight, batting the smaller grey armored figure back and forth, brought up unpleasant parallels to one of his ex-girlfriend’s cats, whenever it caught a mouse.

    At this time Break had gotten up from Kid Win, who was flat on his back gasping for breath, the Tinker coughing as he inhaled water, and the older man charged the confrontation between a downed Aegis, two of Hellhound’s dogs, and the villainess herself. However, instead of taking down Aegis like Dauntless expected, Break ran to one of the dogs, giving it a brutal kick to the ribs, lifting it up and sending it flying almost a meter away, what must’ve been half a ton of flesh landing with a crash as it impacted a parked car.

    With the unexpected support, Aegis was able to get to his feet using his flight, chest bleeding freely from bite wounds that would have been deadly on anyone else. Hellhound turned on Break, throwing a wild punch which he grabbed, twisting her around and lifting her into the air before landing in a move that looked like Aleph professional wrestling, yelling “Steiner Bomb!” as he did so to the surprised looks of those assembled to watch.

    The dog that had been sent flying leapt at Aegis’ back, only to twist down unnaturally mid-jump and crash face-first into the ground at speed, the space it had been passing through warped. From the cloud of darkness Browbeat came running, moving towards for Vista, who had been busy keeping Hellhound’s third dog away from herself.

    Instead of tackling the hound however, he turned and punched the young girl in the jaw, sending her backwards, a look of betrayed surprise visible on her face, the camera angle showing it easily. As the heroes started to look at Browbeat, the theoretical Ward started emitting darkness, obscuring his form completely.

    The video paused as Director Piggot addressed the Wards. “And this is why you need our permission for new tactics. If you do something, they will do it right back, and you need to be prepared for the backlash of your actions. From what we’ve seen, the leader of that group can see through the darkness he makes, which means he probably knows Browbeat’s face, but as long as he doesn’t say anything, we can’t do anything to him in response.”

    She gave them another cross look before continuing the video. Break, getting up from Hellhounds moaning form, glanced over and saw Kid Win had gotten up and was getting the cannon back online. Charging him, Break dodged the Tinker’s sidearm, lasers twisting randomly as they were fired, encountering areas of Vista’s twisted space and missing, though Break’s dodging also encountered them, slipping and throwing him down into the street, up into the air, and into cars as he tried to close on the Tinker.

    Watching it from a remove like he was, Dauntless could make out the twists in space by the changed trajectories of falling rain, but from experience he knew those details slipped by in the haze of battle. By the time that Break was close to Kid Win, the Alternator Cannon was back online. As it turned to face him, Break dodged backwards, his path twisting to be thrown in front of the bank.

    The Ward followed his target and lined up the shot, while Break looked behind himself, a frightened shout of “Watch out!” immediately drowned out by the sound of the weapon firing a blast several times larger than the first. Launching himself upwards, the beam passed right under the older an, impacting something in the darkness covering the front of the bank, the blast sending Break spinning off into the shadowed section of street. The Tinker tried to turn the cannon to follow him, probably to shoot him again like he’d done to the hound, not seeing Regent coming at him from behind.

    The Undersider’s scepter sparked as it was jammed into the back of the Ward’s neck, sending him into spasms and falling to the street below, the darkness growing forward to cover both hero and villain.

    Enter finished playing and knocked Gallant out, casually striding to where Aegis was fending off all three hounds. The man casually backhanded one of the dogs, sending it flying away, before grabbing Aegis’ arm and pulling him out of the way of monstrous snapping jaws from another. The help was short lived, as Enter used Aegis as a cudgel to smack another dog, dropping the stunned hero as he glared at the third, who stopped trying to rejoin the fight, instead turning tail and running, retreating back to Hellhound, helping her to her feet and carrying her into the darkness.

    From a side bank of Grue’s dark mist, which covering part of the street, flew something small, which crossed the road and flew into the slowly dissipating blackness covering the front of the bank. A loud boom and flash of light came from within, the burning white brilliance barely shining through the wall of shadows.

    As he stood over Aegis, watching this happen, Enter was hit by Clockblocker, who had stumbled out of the darkness a moment earlier. Instead of freezing in place the man gave a scream of pain, form flickering before exploding in a shower of gore that shocked the viewers.

    “Holy shit!” yelled Assault as Clockblocker shuddered. Onscreen, Clockblocker froze in horror at what he’d done. A saurian roar was heard as Enter, alive and undamaged, ran in from an alley, turning into something that looked like a small T-rex, spinning to tail-whip Clockblocker into the side of building, where he slumped down, unconscious.

    Grue’s darkness quickly cleared, the Undersiders no-where to be seen, and Enter the only one still standing in soaked street. Vejovis, twin crimson trails of blood from his ears running down his mutilated neck, stumbled out from the ruins of the bank lobby, speaking far too loud. The cameras easily caught his words, as well as Aegis’ demands that he identify himself, and Panacea accusing him of covering the villains escape. They watched the rest of the conversation, Vejovis echoing the Director’s sentiments, the video ending as the cameras started to fly up towards the retreating group.

    “And that is why the Penumbral Defenders are hands off,” Director Piggot reiterated to those assembled, teeth clenched. “While they have not released this to the public, they are using it to blackmail us into not holding them responsible for their actions. Unless you catch them committing a crime, have proof that will stand up in court, and only then if I give the command, you are not to work against them. This is not the first encounter we have had with them.” That statement got looks of surprise from everyone. Dauntless searched his memory for anyone he’d heard of whom had the power the Break, Enter, and Vejovis displayed, but couldn’t come up with a single name. “Armsmaster, your report.” Piggot spat, her dislike of the position she’d been forced into clear from her tone.

    The leader of the Brockton Bay Protectorate stood, addressing the heroes. “Three days ago, I was contacted by a young woman, the parahuman who would later identify herself as The Lady, Bug. She asked about joining the Wards, but had my personal number, which was my first clue that something was amiss. She asked to meet in an abandoned lot off Canal street, and I agreed. After scouting the area, I met with her, but it quickly became clear that she had no intention of joining. From there I was ambushed by Break and Enter, with Vejovis likely prepared to stop me if I attempted to escape. I found that Enter was able to resist Brute-level tranquilizers, as well as electrical currents of several thousand volts, and temperatures of several hundred degrees Fahrenheit. They subdued me, before stealing my suit, my weapon, and my transport, finding and disabling the trackers within. I believe they are working with or for either a Tinker, or the Toybox themselves, and in my report suggested they be brought in with extreme prejudice, before they ambush any other heroes.”

    The bastards! Dauntless thought. They’d looked almost heroic, well, Vejovis and Break had, but that was obviously just a show for the rest of the heroes. If it weren’t for what was obviously a setup, they probably would have stolen Gallant’s suit, and Kid Win’s equipment as well. Assault voiced Dauntless’ thoughts: “So they were just playing for the cameras. Assholes.”

    “Funny you should mention cameras,” Director Piggot remarked, voice humorless. “Today’s video isn’t the only one the Penumbral Defenders have sent us.” Armsmaster’s head snapped over to look at her. “Sit down, Armsmaster. I’m sure you’ll find this video enlightening. I know it showed me something I’d hoped I’d never see.”

    The tech started another video, the camera angles much better, depicting The Lady, Bug standing in an empty lot. The differences in composition where completely different, almost cinematic. They prepared for this one, Dauntless realized. The other was a spur of the moment thing.

    They saw Armsmaster arrive on his motorcycle, approach and engage the girl in conversation, voice easily audible. Finding out that that girl was the one who had taken down Lung was a shock, and it wasn’t the only one. Assault was the first one to start glaring at their leader, but after a minute into the video he wasn’t the only one. “It’s obviously falsified.” Armsmaster tried to say, talking over himself.

    The video paused as the Director responded, not even turning to look at him. “Video is a lot harder to fake then reports, as you know. Our experts however, concluded that this valid, barring unknown Tinkertech. Now, be quiet and don’t interrupt.” The video rewound and played, the part that Armsmaster had tried to talk over showing why Lung had almost died. Did he do that on purpose? Dauntless thought, his image of his leader crumbling before him. Of course he did, this is Armsmaster, and, from Dauntless’s experience working with the man, he never left anything to chance if he could help it.

    Disheartened, Dauntless continued to watch as, verbally backed into a corner, Armsmaster chose to attack what was probably a scared teenage girl instead. The video froze on a ball that shot electricity, destroying the swarm the girl had summoned to defender herself, as the Director spoke. “You seem to have something in common with Kid Win, Armsmaster. I don’t believe I’ve seen the plans for that weapon either.”

    The video continued as Break and Enter charged Armsmaster, Vejovis swooping in to pick Lady Bug up, pressing a hand to the back of her head. Healing her he realized, small electrical burns closing up visibly in the gaps where her costume had been burned away. The fight, if you could even call it that, continued, the two men surprising the Tinker and keeping him off balance as he tried to retreat. When he started to flee, it was Enter who followed, not Vejovis as Armsmaster claimed, though given the magnitude of his lies that was a relatively minor point.

    As he watched Armsmaster hit the ground, he had to wince at the impact, but the hero’s killing of Enter took them all by surprise, the girl as well by her cry of distress. Her bugs started to swarm before settling, her conversation with Vejovis clearly audible. After the reborn cape had rendered Armsmaster unconscious, they stripped him and rendered all of his hard work to scrap, a fact that Armsmaster hadn’t known about, given the Tinker’s pained expression, looking as if he had been kicked in the most vulnerable of places with each land of Enter’s mace-like tail.

    Their parting words were captured as they left, the video ending immediately afterwards. “If this was the only video they sent us, I could have worked around it to make sure they could be contained, but after today, that’s not the case. Armsmaster!” the Director’s voice held the whip-crack of command. “You are to turn over all of your remaining equipment for testing. You are not to go on patrol. You are not to serve monitor duty. You are not to leave the Rig unless I personally give you permission. You are relieved of command, and the only reason you are not confined to your quarters is for the sake of public appearances. Publicly you were injured in the confrontation with Boojack and Jackhammer and are currently convalescing. Miss Militia, you are now in charge of the Protectorate, with all the duties such a position entails. Am. I. Understood?”

    Miss Militia looked like she wanted to object, but responded with a meek, “Yes Ma’am.” Armsmaster sat there, not responding.

    “I said am I understood Armsmaster?” Piggot reiterated.

    Yes,” he ground out.

    “Good. All of you are dismissed.” The director glared at them all. “You’ve put the PRT in the kind of position that I do not like to be, and rendered us unable to respond to this,” she waved at the video in disgust. “See that you don’t make it any worse.”

    The assembled parahumans quickly and quietly left, Armsmaster sitting there for a moment before stomping out, Clockblocker jumping out of his way. Dauntless took his time, lingering at the door. “Can I help you Dauntless?” Piggot asked, with a tone that hinted that what he said needed to be important, or else.

    “Ma’am,” he started, pausing to pick his words. “As far as we know, have the Defenders done anything illegal?”

    The Director, having turned to the tech’s computer, informed him “We haven’t caught them. Yet. That is all you need to worry about.”

    She seemed to be reviewing the second video, pausing it at points as Enter struck Armsmaster. She froze on one shot of him being punched in the face, lip split and blood flying. The woman seemed to be looking at this part in particular, playing and rewinding back to the strike, slowing it down frame by bloody frame. “Do you see something, Ma’am?” Dauntless couldn’t help but ask.

    “Yes,” she announced with a cruel smirk and a click of the mouse. “My new wallpaper.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  2. ChiChi

    ChiChi I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    piss off the
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    older man?
     
  3. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.1
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Impediment 4.1

    I flew in a roundabout route around downtown as the sun fully set, idly hoping to spot some crime to stop. A dark part of me wanted to find some gang scum and take what I was feeling out on them. I could even make an entirely new persona. Cobble together Grue’s darkness and Stormtiger’s claws, hide my form and use Cricket’s sound control to make me sound female and no one would trace what I did as. . . Kurai Kaze. I’d drop on the Nazis and rip them to shreds with wind claws belonging to one of their own, darkness filling the area, amplifying their screams, the only sounds in that cloying darkness, leaving nothing but cleanly cut corpses in my wake.

    I shook my head, no, as horrifically amusing as the thought was, it wasn’t the right thing to do. I was a hero, damnit, and I’d take my failure as it was instead of striking out at others like a child. Focusing on that ideal, I checked my phone, and seeing that Taylor had left me a message, played it.

    “Hi Lee, thanks for being there, I wasn’t sure you were gonna be and when I knew you, I, um, so, are you okay?” she asked. “Your neck was bleeding when we left, even though it wasn’t getting on your costume, it still looked bad. I made it back to school, so I had an alibi, and then I met up with the Undersiders again. Tattletale kept asking questions about you, but then not letting me talk and she kept getting a headache. We’re off to meet up with Bitch, she’s been lying low with the, um, stuff we got on our . . . trip. Can you call me when you get this? Thanks. Um. Bye.”

    I stopped in midair, mind working frantically. If they were meeting her today. . . Shit. Pouring on the speed I dialed Herb as fast as I could. “What’s up man?” he asked, picking up on the third ring. “Your date go well? You kiss her goodnight?”

    Fuck you!” I hissed, I did not have time for this shit right now. “The Bakuda fight’s tonight! Get ready to go!”

    “Fuck!” was his surprised response, “I-” On his end an alarm started to ring as I saw, far in the distance, in the trainyard, a momentary bright spot, almost lost glare of sun on metal as the last sliver of day slowly vanished.

    “Get to Taylor, make sure she’s safe!” I commanded, hanging up as I piled on the speed. Calling her number, maybe I could give her some help over the phone, do something, I don’t know, I thought, feeling helpless. Her phone rang twice, before it went to voicemail. Re-dialing sent me straight back there. Fuck! Turning my sound powers up I could barely hear distant explosions, and something that sounded like an anti-explosion, air sucking somewhere ahead of me. Pushing my flight as much as it could go, I wanted to call on my Lightform, but I needed to come in and blindside the bitch to get my teammate out, and I couldn’t do that if I was shining like a lighthouse.

    Wracking my brain, I reached to the air control I had been considering, using it to try to shunt the air out from in front of me and reduce the resistance. It worked, though it made it hard to breathe, but I didn’t give a shit about that right now. With my enhanced speed, it was still about a minute to get to the railyard, and the explosions had stopped before I’d figured out where exactly I needed to go.

    I hung there, far above, darting all over the place, looking for Taylor, for the Undersiders, for anything. Spotting destroyed storage lockers, I flew down, looking around and but there was nothing but wreckage and the fading wisps of Grue’s power. Bringing out my copy of his power they turned translucent, and I could feel their presence everywhere. He’d spread it so far around I couldn’t get a feel for where he was now. He’d laid false trails as they ran, but now those spread out streaks were making it hard for me to find them as well. Dropping his power I took back to the air, trying to find them.

    I could hear people screaming and guns firing, but the structure of this place bounced the sounds around oddly, and the lack of any conventional explosions meant I had no light to follow. Swerving back and forth as I moved across the miles of railyard and warehouses, I narrowed down the direction when a burst of white caught the edge of my vision.

    Shoving the air out of the way, I was there and looking around in an instant, but when I arrived at the twenty-foot-tall spire of ice I couldn’t find them, trying not to focus on the several people frozen solid, red ice arcing in bright crystals from the corpses of dead ABB.

    Asians of all types were running back and forth in a panic, but I didn’t give a shit about them. Flying around, trying to find the Undersiders, my eye caught on a bright red pool. Diving near it, a horrific smell assaulted my nose as I saw it was a puddle of something, my memory oh so helpfully reminded me of one of Bakuda’s bombs, one she’d planted inside a kid that liquified him as an example to the others.

    If this was the starting point, and the spire was the middle. . . I took off, Bug sense and Grue’s powers both out and searching for something. Grue’s caught something in the distance, a bit of fading power, and I pushed that way as I heard another of those odd explosions, combined with the sounds of people shrieking in pain. One voice in particular screamed in a way I’d hoped it never would.

    Pushing as hard as I could, I flew up and over, trying to find Taylor with my bug sense, but getting nothing in return. NO I raged, You don’t get to die, not while I’m here! Going back and forth, pushing as hard as I could, I finally felt her presence barely kindle to life in my mind, the blaze that should be her presence weak and guttering, but enough of a signal fire for me to home in on.

    Arrowing over the maze towards her, I saw what had to be Bakuda in some stupid costume haul back to kick Taylor in the face, lying down in a pool of her own blood and my thoughts turned red with rage, blasting past conscious thought into a single thought of Fuck. You.

    Diving down at the pair I was dimly aware of my arms moving out, holding onto the air in an iron grip and shoving it down and across. Bakuda’s form was yanked backwards like a thrown puppet, crashing into the wall across the street.

    I’d kill her later, I needed to get to Taylor.

    Bringing myself down, I picked her up and took off at as fast as I could, not touching the ground, dissolving my glove to press against the back of her head, her hair dripping with her blood. I focused on her, not knowing what to do and forced to just pour my general ‘get better’ manifestation of healing into her as hard as I could, hoping that did more good than harm. She clutched feebly at my arms, breathing weak as I took off, dodging a grenade from the Tinker which erupted into a firestorm at my back, not bothering me in the slightest as I darted away from it.

    Watching her with the insects all around us, Bakuda raised her launcher to fire again when I saw a dark shape slip down the street, two legged but inhuman. The Tinker saw it too, turning to fire at it, a green mist enveloping it and quickly shrinking, trapping the monster, but obscuring its form.

    Turning back to me, she never saw the other one coming up behind her.

    It clipped her hip as it passed her, blood spurting as a single vicious looking claw on its foot tore through her armor like paper. The creature darted back into the maze of buildings, and in that moment I got the sense of claws, scales, and a long lizard tail, but my focus was split between the scene before me and the hopefully not dying girl in my arms.

    Something else darted back around as a tearing noise grabbed her attention, the first creature she caught having escaped its bonds and slipping into the shadows of the building around us. The crazed Tinker looked back and forth, bleeding heavily, before looking up at me.

    “Help me or he dies!” she screeched in an odd monotone, through her mask’s synthesizer, pointing her launcher at Grue, who was tied down by the same goo that she used on the first monster.

    Maybe it was because I was distracted healing, maybe it was because I was pretty sure I knew what the pair of monsters were, maybe it was because I just didn’t give two shits about the dumbass leader of the Undersiders, who’d walked my teammate into a trap, but I just floated there, watching her flail. If she shot another grenade at me, my wind would make her eat it, so I was just an audience to the Breaking of Bakuda.

    “Don’t you care about his pathetic life!?” she demanded as I remained silent, watching.

    After all, I thought, the parts of me that might worry about Grue or feel bad for this psychopath were focused on healing Taylor, and, as I noted the pair of dark shapes on the rooftop below me, what kind of audience would I be if I interrupted this performance. She moved to fire, but one of the raptors darted down, clawing her arm and throwing off her aim, the projectile going wide and landing a few blocks away, the sound of steel loud as blades impacted rocks, wood, and flesh rang out, a bomb likely based on Kaiser’s ability skewering everything in sight like an iron sea-urchin going off.

    Before she could see what hit her, the shape was out of her sight again, both of them circling the rooftops around her, waiting for an opening. The darker one jumped forward with a screech, and Bakuda spun, shooting it dead center in the chest with a grenade, the air around it turning white as the temperature plummeted around it, the ice riming it and outlining the form of the black velociraptor. It landed easily, and stood there, grinning, unaffected as it started to stalk forward almost lazily.

    “What the fuck!” she cried out as she stumbled back her launcher cycling something different to lob at the slowly advancing threat. What it was going to be, I never found out as the other raptor leapt at her from the side, feet tearing at her armor as its jaws clenched on her arm, a sharp cracking sound ringing out as she cried in pain, dropping the weapon.

    Whatever the protective suit she was wearing was made of, it didn’t hold up against the onslaught, coming loose with a tearing sound that turned wet. The brown velociraptor disemboweled the Tinker, and was soon joined by the pure black one that ripped into her as well, her screams quickly fading off into monotone wet gurgles, then nothing. Part of me realized I should be horrified by what I just saw, the vicious death of the woman below me, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.

    Taylor’s breathing finally levelled out, and checking her I saw that she’d fallen asleep, costume soaked with blood, though my healing should have gotten her taken care of for blood loss concerns. I hoped. Flying down, I landed a dozen feet from the feasting raptors.

    “Break.” I called. Bakuda was unquestionably dead, and at this point what they were doing was pointless. They continued unabated, snouts snapping and ripping flesh, swallowing it greedily. Stepping forward I called again, harsher. “Break!”

    The brown one’s head whipped up hissing at me. “HERB!” I ordered. “ENOUGH!” I stared at my friend as it glared at me, before it backed off, and, shaking his head, ran off down an alley. My friend walked out in his villain costume a moment later.

    “Sorry,” he offered quietly at my unyielding, questioning gaze, hand subconsciously wiping at his mouth over his mask. “Didn’t realize that I got their instincts when I changed.”

    I considered his words. He’d had limited practice time, and probably didn’t account for a pack hunter’s response to seeing one of its own attacked, and it wasn’t like I wasn’t going to kill her myself. “Fine,” I said simply, understanding and forgiving, as long as it didn’t happen again, turning back to Grue, who was staring at us in what I assumed was horror from behind his helmet as the distant sounds of screaming and an explosion that almost sounded jagged rang in the distance. “Brian,” I commanded, getting him to jump in shock, before moaning in pain. “Can you move?”

    He just stared as I strode over, noting that he was stuck to the wall as he uselessly struggled against the dried ropes of goop holding him to the ground. With a thought I had my bugs grab a fallen knife, probably Taylor’s from the empty sheathe on her thigh, and flew it over to Grue handle first. Glancing between me and the blade, he only took it as I nodded, pushing it towards him.

    While I may not be the most tactful, I knew approaching the injured villain with a knife in my hands was not the smartest idea.

    And besides, I was busy holding Taylor, and keeping her stable with my healing.

    He cut himself free, standing up with a grunt of pain. I glanced over at Herb, but he looked subdued, probably realizing how bad things could have gotten if he’d lost control to his instincts on something important. Letting him handle that, I motioned for Grue to go first, jerking my chin in the direction I could hear what sounded like Regent swearing a blue streak. “You go get them; we’ll follow in a moment.”

    Grue looked at me, head dipping a fraction as he looked at Taylor, before nodding and tried to take off at a run, but had to slow down as he almost fell, unsteady as he jogged. Looking around, I tried to find Enter, a flash of black catching my eye as he turned into what looked like a crocodile scaled up to ridiculous proportions. A swift couple of bites, and a few unsettling crunches, and Bakuda was gone, nothing more than a red spot on the ground and a little bit of unidentifiable flesh on the ground, the Stand having finished off the corpse while I’d been looking elsewhere.

    It grinned at me as the launcher she’d dropped beeped once, Enter glancing at it and trying to jump away before it exploded into what felt like a miniature star. I could feel the heat from that ball of plasma in my turned face, but my own power negated it, for both Herb and myself. I flexed my Aerokinesis to keep Taylor shielded from the blast by our bodies and a cocoon of air, the superheated gasses streaking past us in every direction. It was with a slightly detached feeling that I noted that it had expanded to a set point and then stopped, setting the ground around it on fire in every direction, the metal near it no more than slag, the ground where it laid a concave dome bubbling like black lava.

    I glanced over at Herb, who had looked back after the flash and was staring at the hole open mouthed, his Stand getting up from where it had been thrown, molten metal streaming from its back. It changed back to human form, the asphalt depressing around its feet as it walked around the blast zone. My friend gave me a shrug, which I returned, glad that we could no-sell her deadman’s (deadwoman’s?) trap.

    Keeping a stream of healing going towards the girl in my arms, we left the blast-zone. I gave a snort as I realized that it was true, Herb, the coolest of us, was the only one who hadn’t looked at the explosion as we walked away.


    <AB>



    As we were about to meet up with the others, I could hear the Undersiders arguing. “I don’t care why, Lisa, I need to know who the hell they are, now!” Grue demanded.

    “It doesn’t matter anymore!” she yelled back. “That was a fucking sun! Taylor’s dead! They all are!”

    Turning the corner, I saw the two arguing as Regent cut himself free of yet more goo, an impression in the substance probably where Tattletale had been. For a Tinker who was all about trying different things, she used that a lot. At least this one is blue, I wonder if that matters? I pondered a little absently. I had Taylor, and she was as safe as I could make her, while everyone still in the area was a gang member or a Villain, so I no longer had a dog in this fight.

    I’d still help, but there was no longer any urgency to my thoughts or movements.

    Regent saw the four of us approaching, eyes going wide as he redoubled his efforts to cut himself free. “Um, guys?” he tried to interrupt Grue’s response of, “Then you could tell me what the hell is going on!” only to be told off by the darkness generator.

    Some leader, I thought, smiling at Regent. You’re arguing in a combat zone and dismissing someone trying to get your attention. I’d never do that. I glanced over at Herb. The dismissing part at least. There was the sound of distant screaming before the almost exaggerated sound of something wet tearing from a couple of blocks away.

    “They’re dead and we need to get out of here!” Tattletale told her Grue. “She must’ve had something that started setting off bombs when she died. We need to get away now!”

    “Guys?” Regent tried again, freeing one leg and working on another. “You really should-”

    “Not now, Alec!” Tattletale interrupted, “we need to. . . fuck me,” she whispered, looking past Brian and right at us.

    “Sorry, you’re far too young for me young lady,” I responded with a wide smile. “You’re probably correct about Bakuda though.” There was another scream and the sound of a lightning strike, but in reverse, then the correct way. “And we need to have a chat, so let’s get out of here, and not back to your base in the Docks either.”

    That got me frightened glances. Good. These kids needed to start thinking tactically or they were going to die.

    “Think!” I urged them. “If she found your stash here, she might’ve found your base. I wouldn’t put it past her to’ve put a bomb there in case you get away to tell herself she planned to let you escape the entire time. She was crazy like that. Let’s go downtown, I’ll get us a suite and we can lie low for a bit. If it helps, we aren’t going to our base either.”

    I’d had Herb check my phone on the walk over, the ABB were running scared everywhere, and several had run by our base in the thirty seconds he’d watched. It wasn’t a good idea to go there now, not if we wanted to keep it secret, keep it safe.

    “I’m not so sure that’s such a great idea,” their team lead contended cagily.

    I rolled my eyes. “Oh drop the tough guy shtick, Grue, we’ll put you up and out of harms way. You can even call Aisha to have her lie low with us, if you want to keep an eye on her,” I entreated.

    He froze. “How?

    “Long story, can’t tell it right now, involves a precog, let’s get out of here,” I responded blandly, looking over at Tattletale. “We’re not a threat to you guys, right Tattletale?”

    She glared back. “You, I don’t know, but he won’t, he’ll just-. You what!?” she yelped, taking a step back. “You didn’t just kill her you-”

    Herb winced as I felt a twinge of irritation, interrupting the chatty Kathy. “New power problems, nothing you need to worry about as long as you’re an ally. In the meantime, Enter, can we get transport for them?” The Stand gave me a ‘do I have to look’, and I nodded. It shifted to a, well, I’m not sure. It looked like an ankylosaurs’ more effeminate cousin, the bone spike just bumps, and its body was much thinner. “So kids, who wants to ride a dinosaur?”

    Regent raised his hand, to the betrayed looks of Grue and Tattletale. “What?” he responded guilelessly, “You saying you didn’t want to when you were little?”


    <AB>


    With the Undersiders onboard, Herb jogging alongside as I flew, we headed south. Holding Taylor with my copy of Vicky’s forcefields to free up a hand, I grabbed my phone and selected one of the numbers from Number Man’s guide that I’d spent a couple hours reading. Calling for a discrete evac to pick us up, I also got us a suite of rooms at a place called the Emerald Echo Suites. The price of both hurt, using my old sense of money.

    With my current earning strategy, it was nothing, but still, four hundred for what might be a three-mile ride, at most? They’d better be worth it, I grumbled as I looked up, seeing all three of the Undersiders staring at me as they held onto Enter’s back. “What?”

    “Um, is that healthy?” Regent asked, motioning towards Taylor. I glanced over at her, supporting her with my power cradling her via my hold on the back of her head, her body lying on air like a magician’s levitating trick.

    “Yeah,” I reassured them. “It’s power bullshit, just go with it.”

    Turning a corner, we almost ran over a group of ABB, this group was unarmed and looked terrified. We both stopped, looking at each other, when an older man in the back held his head screaming in pain.

    “Get away from him!” I commanded, still remembering the scene where the kid got liquified. Half the group scattered as Herb and Enter leapt backwards effortlessly and I flew after them.

    Most of the runners got away as the screaming man turned to glass, the effect shooting outward and overtaking those who just stood there staring, either at him or us.

    The wave killed a few runners, changing one man’s foot as he almost left the blast radius. He screamed as it shattered, broken glass sticking out of the wound as blood poured from the stump. I flew over, opening a finger on my free hand and pressing it to his skin, my general healing enough to stop the bleeding, but I hesitated to do anything else, not sure what I could do, and with my own priorities.

    Looking back towards the scene of frozen horror I heard something, barely on the edge of perception even with my sound abilities as I noticed the glass start to vibrate. Realizing what was about to happen, having almost been killed by this sort of thing earlier that very day, and, with no better plan to protect that many people, I said screw it to subtlety and dropped a wall of drastically increased air pressure between us and the glass, along with a sound bubble around all of us to mute the ultrasonic spectrum as I rose up in the air.

    A moment later, the first victim shattered, throwing razor sharp glass shards in every direction as the effect spread down the transmuted area, filling the air with deadly slivers. The ABB that ran in the other directions, but stopped when they thought themselves safe, were cut down by the flying glass, our side spared as the silica shards hit the wall and ground to a stop. After a few seconds of cacophonous shattering, it was over, the Undersiders and the surviving ABB all staring at me, floating in the air with Taylor held in one hand, the other outstretched, a hanging wall of translucent death before me.

    “Um.” I said eruditely, trying to think of an excuse and finding nothing underneath those stares. I defaulted to blunt honesty, which, honestly, seemed to work out more often than not. “That happened. I just saved your lives so don’t mention that this happened and we’re square.” Turning to the ABB around us, I added, “Also, you need to find a doctor as soon as possible, because it looks like she’s setting the bombs she put in your heads off randomly. So. . . yeah.”

    I dismissed the air pressure wall in front of me, the glass projectiles, having spent their momentum trying to pierce nearly solid air, dropped in a tinkling clatter. The noise shocked those assembled out of their stupor, a couple nodding, one kid, must have been in middle school, actually gave me a bow, and they quickly left, without the blind panic they’d been in before.

    I looked back at the Undersiders, who were still staring. “What?” I asked, “It doesn’t stop bullets, but it should’ve been enough for slower things, and was.”

    Making Air Armor, while cool in theory, was not that practical, since while I could increase air pressure until I could stand on it, moving it was another matter entirely, and thus I had to give up my idea of riding around on a cloud, Dragonball style.

    It took a moment to realize I needed to cover my bases with them as well. “Oh, right,” I said, remembering that I hadn’t yet recruited them before throwing up another sound bubble. “What I said to them, don’t blab about my powers, anything you could have on me, I have more on you, blah blah blah. Just know that whatever you think my powers are, you’re wrong.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.2
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Impediment 4.2

    With the Undersiders hopefully suitably cowed, Regent and Tattletale both white and shaking, probably more due to their recently averted deaths than anything I’d said, I looked over at Herb who was holding a piece of glass, his metal gauntlets gripping it gingerly.

    Floating over to see what it was, I realized that it was the face of a young man, maybe in his teens, maybe early twenties. It was one of the runners, frozen in a rictus of pain as he probably had a half second to feel his body turning to glass before he fell, shattering across the ground, pieces skittering over to us before I put up the barrier, and into the bubble of sound cancellation that’d stopped it from splintering like a grenade.

    “Dude,” I said gently, coming down next to him, making it so only he could hear me. “We gotta go; we need to get them to safety.”

    He looked at me, expression haunted in a way even accidentally eating a person hadn’t managed. “Dude,” he nearly whispered, voice hoarse, not from use, but emotion. “This is messed up.”

    I snorted. “Welcome to Worm, it’s a modern Westeros, with less sex and violence.”

    “But, superpowers,” he reasoned.

    “Yeah, mostly created when people’s minds are about to break,” I pointed out. “There’s a reason I’ve been working so hard to fix things.”

    His gaze slid past me to the three teens hanging onto the dino behind me. “This is what you went into when you broke?” he questioned quietly to himself, his words only reaching me because I amplified them. “This is how you live your life? The shit you do? The life you’re stuck in?

    His eyes, usually full of energy and good humor dimmed in the realization of just what having a group of teenage supervillains meant. How many people had to fail you for that to happen. For me, it was obvious, but it looked like he only understood the ramifications when he could see them, scared and clutching onto Enter’s back, trying their best to put up a brave front. “No,” he said, focusing back on me. “I’m, I’m sorry,” he apologized, voice thick with regret.

    “For what?” I asked confused. I’d already forgiven him for going all feral, so I really didn’t see what he had left to apologize for.

    “This,” he started cut off by a scream and an explosion, from somewhere close. He winced before continuing, “This was like a playground for me,” he professed. “This was fun, with us being here, havin’ powers, but, it’s not for them.” Looking back at the face in his hands, forever frozen in fear and agony. “We have to save them all,” he informed me.

    “We can’t,” I informed him, trying to be nice. “We can only save so many right now.”

    He shook his head, not conveying what he meant. “No dude, we have to save them all, like, from themselves, from everyone else, from so much.”

    I shrugged. “Not possible man, but we’ll get as much as we can.”

    He gave a mirthless chuckle. “Reach for the stars, get gutted, right?”

    “Um, I think it’s reach for the stars, fall and get a face full of mud, but it doesn’t matter. Who’s everyone? Kids? Capes? Kid capes?” I questioned. “You need to be a bit more specific.”

    “As many as possible, but these poor kids, man,” he frowned at the ground. “They’re pushed and broken into this, it’s not right.”

    I shrugged again. Did he not understand the implications of the setting? I thought. “Take it up with your bosses. They’re ultimately the ones who’re doing it.”

    His head snapped up. “What.

    “Capes aren’t made from happy families, and it’s easier to get kids to trigger than adults,” I informed him incredulously, wondering how he missed this. “Big C needs as many paras as possible to try to fight Goldenrod, and that means letting things get bad enough they suffer and almost die, without actually kicking it. There’s a shitload of reasons I didn’t go Conspirator, even though it’d let me get infinite money and transport. I was surprised when you did, but I figured you’d try and subvert ‘em from the inside.”

    “Um guys, w- Ow! What the hell Lisa?” Regent asked from behind us. “We can’t hear them so-“

    “Shut up!” she hissed. Looking back I saw that she was staring at Herb in consternation.

    Turning back to my friend, he finished stowing the glass into his pocket carefully before stating, “We need to go.”

    Rolling my eyes, I dropped the bubble. “Dude, we were waiting on you,” before flying to the front of our group and leading Enter out of here.


    <AB>

    We’d almost made it out when we turned a corner, only to run into yet more ABB, grouped together and talking in a language I didn’t know. These guys were armed and in gang colors, so I assumed they weren’t your standard conscripts, though as they turned and raised their guns, I saw that only a third of them actually had weapons, the others shrinking back away from conflict. “Who are you!” the leader called, assault rifle held aloft.

    “Vejovis, Hero of the Penumbral Defenders,” I called back without fear. If they opened fire I’d cover Taylor with my body, drop another pressure wall and let go with air claws. I wasn’t strong enough to take them all down nonlethally right now, and as badly as I would feel about hurting the unwilling conscripts, corrupt as they were, the police and the PRT could have taken down the ABB if the people who lived there had done more than turn a blind eye when it hadn’t hurt them specifically. They were civilians, but except for the kids, they weren’t innocents either.

    “Who?” the ABB gangster called, barrel swinging between me and the dinosaur behind me uncertainly. I tried not to be annoyed at the lack of brand recognition, it had only been a few days after all.

    “New team, we were going after Merchants in the area when we heard the explosions,” I lied easily. “When we got here members of your gang where exploding, and not normally. The group started looking uneasy. “Is it a new Merchant cape we should be concerned about? If it is, they look pretty indiscriminate, and you should get to cover. We are.”

    One of the others said something to the leader in another language and Tattletale’s indrawn breath meant it probably wasn’t a good thing. “Who’re they?” the leader asked, using his gun to indicate the teens.

    “People are dying!” Herb tried to argue. “We all need to get to safety!”

    “I’m asking the questions here!” the leader yelled, gun waving in a way I’m sure he thought was threatening. “Who are they?”

    “Another team we met up with, might join ours. Break’s got a point, we need to get out of here,” I urged, trying not to have to kill them, even though I was sure that several of them likely deserved it.

    “You lie!” he declared, a nasty grin on his face. Technically, I didn’t about that, I thought, but it was academic at this point. I got ready to unleash hell. “They’re the one’s Bakuda wants! Turn them over and we won’t kill you!”

    As I was about to eviscerate these dumbasses, the conscripts having moved back far enough that I wouldn’t hit them by accident, a young girl, no more than twelve, started screaming. Hating what I had to do, I yanked on her with my air control, picking her up and throwing her to the middle of the thugs, who had turned to look at her. Enter moved backwards as Herb tried to dive forward, face desperate.

    I caught him by the back of the collar with my free hand, dragging backwards as he struggled yelling “No! I have to save her!” He tried to twist out of my grip, but I wouldn’t let go, slamming down a wall of air pressure between us and the poor girl. I felt of something try and shove its way through the air and the gang members around her started screaming again, tearing at their skin as they visibly aged, the oldest in the group dropping first, bodies withering away as time continued to ravage their corpses. After what was probably only thirty seconds, but felt a lot longer, it was over. The girl was a wizened crone, sobbing and surrounded by corpses. Herb moved to help her, but was stopped by the wall of air in his way as her crying petered out and she fell over, dead.

    My friend turned on his heel, punching me straight in the face. A distant part of me took note of the time it took for my shield to recharge, as I calmly blocked his next two punches on autopilot. Halfway through the bomb’s effects my mind had stalled, effectively rebooting in safe mode, the horror of it popping a mental breaker and suppressing my emotions until I could handle the effects. “Herb,” I placidly told him. “Stop.”

    “I could have saved her!” he cried as he ripped off his mask, wiping away tears. “I could have stopped that!”

    “How?” I asked simply. “Your powerset couldn’t have helped, and neither could mine. You know that. I told you, we can’t save everyone.”

    “But you!” he accused, taking another swing, which I turned aside. “You just tossed her like she was nothing to take out those guys.”

    “I pulled her away from the civilians,” I disagreed. “You know me Herb, I never have one reason for doing anything. She was dead no matter what. The only one who could have saved her was Panacea, possibly, and even then it was probably too late.” Moving Taylor behind me to make room I grabbed his wild blow, forcing him by his wrist to twist and look in the direction of that atrocity. “Look Herb, not at the dead, but those alive. If I hadn’t moved that girl, they would be dead instead of those who threatened to kill us and the children we seek to protect. Look at them, and know that I saved them.”

    He elbowed me in the face, draining my newly restored shield, but I let him go, point made. “The way you’re talking, it’s like you don’t care, it’s like. . . oh,” he realized, slumping. “This is fucking you up too. That’s why you’re. . .”

    I raised an eyebrow in numbed exasperation. “What was your first clue, dumbass, now get with the kids we can save.”

    He looked at me, before nodding, letting out a breath, and retreating back to Enter, still laden with Undersiders.

    I looked past him at the others, letting the pressure wall fade, the scent of death, age, and stale air blowing into my face. I suppressed a gag as I addressed the still surviving civilians, “Any of you who got knocked out have a bomb in their heads, get to a doctor to get it out as soon as possible, or it will go off. Bakuda’s traps are detonating randomly, and the only thing that will save you is moving quickly.”

    The shocked conscripts reacted: some screamed, some ran, some did both. I didn’t care, I’d warned them, and now I was getting the hell away from them. Turning back, I flew over to the Undersiders, ignore their gazes as we continued to escape this maze.


    <AB>


    It was twenty minutes later when we found our way out. I called our pickup and gave them our location, answering their question that we weren’t currently under fire. We heard the sound of an engine running at high performance minute later, a large black windowless van pulling up to us with a muted screech of tires.

    Glancing over the guy riding shotgun had an automatic one in his lap, looking past us, eyes searching. The side door opened and a man clad in black with an assault rifle opened the door, stepping out and waving us inside, not even blinking at the dinosaur.

    The kids jumped off Enter’s back, legs unsteady as they supported each other. Enter disappeared, causing Regent and Grue to jump, a quick glance of power sight showing him back to hiding on Herb’s coat. The teens climbed inside, followed by Herb, before I finally I maneuvered Taylor in, the guy closing the door behind us.

    “Dropoff the same?” the driver asked through a metal grate separating us from the driver’s compartment. At my nod the man outside jumped in, sliding the door shut, taking a position near what, from the inside, I realized was a one-way window, a slot in the door set to open, theoretically so that he could fire out of it.

    As the driver sped off, Regent looked at all the hardware and whistled. “Your guys run quite an operation.”

    I glanced over at Herb. He was better with the quippage, but he looked reticent, so I responded. “Just friends in odd places. This is costing us a bit, but you guys can’t fly and we needed to get you all out asap.”

    Tattletale looked at me at that, eyes narrowing before blinking in pain and looking away. I turned to the man here with us, who was very obviously not looking at us. “Can you tell us what’s going on in the city? Nothing confidential, just general info.”

    He glanced back at us before returning to his job. “Explosions every which way, an’ weird shit. Other team down south had tentacles comin’ out a fuckin’ buildin’. Had to skip a street ‘cause it turnt ya around the way you came. Bodies there were turnt inside out. Din’t notice till it turnt us around.” He shivered. “Ya know anythin’?”

    I glanced around. “ABB has a Tinker that specializes in bombs, named Bakuda. We ran into her. She’s apparently had her thugs knock people out and put bombs in their head, but something went wrong and they’re going off. If you see someone start screaming and hold their head, get clear, fast. The ones we’ve seen give a few seconds, but with Tinkers? That’s no guarantee.”

    He nodded, “Thanks mate, ya hear that Bernie?” The man in the passenger seat nodded, pulling out a phone and texting while driving down side-streets at sixty miles an hour. We drove for another several minutes, the van swerving back and forth at times before there was a bump and it drove down an incline, slowing down and pulling to a stop.

    The gunman opened the door and stepped out, checking the area with his gun up before waving us over. Moving to a service entrance, he motioned towards a key-code. Typing in the code I’d gotten from the hotel, it sprang open, revealing a man in a suit, the side bulging where he carried a sidearm.

    “Client 3482?” he asked, and at my response he showed us all to an elevator which led to our sweet of rooms. Shepherding the shell-shocked teens inside, the man said he’d send the hotel doctor up for the young lady, and promptly left.

    After a quick check of the rooms, I laid Taylor down on one of the double beds. Checking the bureau, I saw that it held a number of clothes in a number of sizes, and the question the hotel had asked for the gender and sizes of our guests made more sense. As did the cost.

    No, this was still an obscene amount of money, but the several thousand I was paying for a secure location was still money well spent. I looked down at her, hoping I’d made the right call. I’d been flooding her with my general “Get Better” power for almost an hour, trying to heal her using Biokinesis without actually directing it to do anything specific, but I had no idea if that had been the right call.

    Stepping out of Taylor’s room, I addressed the Undersiders, “Everyone, there’s a change of clothes in the bureau, Tattletale, get Taylor out of her costume before the doc gets here, Grue, call if you want to, call your sister. It looks like Bakuda’s left bombs everywhere, so it’ll be safer if she’s here. This place will have checked for that.”

    “What about me?” Regent asked, seeming almost bored.

    “You have anyone you need to make sure is okay?” I asked flatly, knowing the answer.

    He shrugged. “I might.” Under my stare he relented. “Not really, but you never know.” Doing my best not to argue with him, he was probably just as nervous as the rest under his façade of nonchalance, I shifted my costume to jeans and a t-shirt, ignoring his whistle of appreciation at the trick from the body-controlling boy as I plopped down in my seat, trying not to listen in as Grue argued with his sister.

    Herb tiredly sat down next to me, taking out the face in his pocket to stare at it. That probably wasn’t healthy, but I’d deal with that later. Grue hung up. “She’s coming, but I want to go get her. Can I?” he asked, businesslike.

    I nodded as Tattletale walked out in civvies, domino mask in place. “Yes, and you being there might be a good Idea,” I responded. “Your power might smother energy-based explosives, or at least attenuate them. Take Break & Enter, and pick up Bitch on the way back, but have her drop off her dogs in her kennel. Tattletale, where did the odd couple stash her?”

    She looked startled that I addressed her. “Um, docks,” she stated, rattling off an address. “How did you?”

    Ignoring her I turned back to them. “Break, if you see a bomb, have Enter minimize casualties. He can survive death; you can’t.”

    Ignoring Tattletale’s complaint of “How does that even work!?” Herb nodded, getting up. From the window we heard the sound of several explosions, layered on top of each other and Tattletale shot me an accusatory look, as if to say ‘this is your fault’. Herb caught it and gave a derisive snort, getting her attention. “What?” she demanded, sounding offended.

    “You didn’t do much better without us,” he said, taking her aback as her power flared, likely filling her in on what happened originally as her eyes widened. He motioned for Grue to follow and the two of them walked out to gather up their wayward members.

    The rest of us sat there in awkward silence for a few minutes, Tattletale looking scared and introspective, while Regent just looked bored. He broke the silence, asking, “Mind if I?” as he grabbed the remote. Turning on the tv, he flipped to a news channel, which was detailing the bombings.

    Energy bombs, Transmutation bombs, Spatial Distortion bombs, even a few literal Time bombs had gone off, though not the time bubble grenade Miss Militia would end up using on Leviathan. Instead they all had temporary effects, speeding up, slowing down, or skipping forward and backward in time, which wouldn’t be that bad if the effect didn’t happen in bands, slicing people apart.

    Regent laughed as they reported one that turned everything in four meters to vanilla pudding, including two cars and four and a half people. He stopped laughing when they flashed an image, the off-white stained red.

    I checked my phone, hoping that our base was still intact, and while a couple of the cameras now saw blast zones outside, one looking at a pool of acid while another saw a sphere carved out of the area, digging out of the ground and the walls, but leaving everything else untouched, the base was intact, and there wasn’t anyone nearby.

    Looking over I saw that Tattletale was also clicking away at her phone. “Checking your base cameras?” I inquired.

    She looked up, blinking. “What?” she finally asked, hand twitching upwards.

    I rolled my eyes, “One, stop using your power on me, it’s just going to leave you with a headache and no answers. Two, the cameras you have around your base, are you checking them? If you have ABB try to break in, it should tell you if they’re planting or retrieving a bomb.”

    “Cameras?” she repeated before putting her face in her hands. “Why didn’t I think of that?” she moaned.

    I shrugged as Regent looked on, amused by the byplay. “Your power gives you info about things, but it’s entirely uncreative. You need to cultivate that yourself to use it to its fullest.”

    “How?” she questioned, frustrated, before wincing and holding her head.

    I sighed. “You need to learn to control your power. You’re probably halfway there, but it’ll let you shepherd it for when you really need it. Try meditation, it might help.”

    She glared at me before turning back to her phone, probably not trying my suggestion specifically because I suggested it. Ah, the pleasures of working with teenagers.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.3
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Impediment 4.3

    The doctor came by, checking up on Taylor, whose face was covered with bruises to the point that it looked like she had a splotchy yellow complexion. After checking her over, including taking what looked like a piece of Tinkertech out of a locked box and passing it over the girl’s body, he informed me that she appeared to have suffered blunt force trauma across her entire body, bruising her skin, muscles, organs, and even bones. She had also suffered a moderate concussion, though it, like the extreme bruising, seemed to have been healing well in the past week, as had the microfractures in her bones. Leaving a small bag of pills for her to take twice a day, I tipped him a hundred and thanked him as he left.

    “A week ago?” Tattletale asked me in the suite’s entryway after he left. “How?” She wrinkled her brow as she stared at Taylor’s supine form. I watched her mounting frustration with ill-hidden amusement. Apparently not only could she not read me directly, she couldn’t read me at a single remove like this. Abaddon you magnificent bastard, I mused before stopping her. “Don’t bother, you can’t figure it out since you’re still trying to read me through her,” I told the Thinker. At least, that’s what I think is happening.

    “I’m a healer,” I told her. “But for anything complicated I need a mental model. I can do general healing though.”

    “That makes no sense,” she told herself, brow knitting. “Unless. . . Can you apply the general healing to a specific area?” she asked suddenly. I shrugged. She gestured towards Taylor, either trying to tell me to do so or indicating that I already had and should fess up, but either way I shook my head no.

    “I’m not trying anything on her if I don’t have to; if you want me to experiment on you or Regent, sure.”

    She shot me an indecipherable look, before Regent yelled from the suite’s common room, “Wait, you’re a healer? Can you do me?” having listened in.

    We walked back in as he held up an elbow with a wince. “My arm’s messed up; can you make it not?”

    Giving another shrug, caring a lot less if I screwed something up with him, as he was by no means a hero, I reached over and touched his hand. “Not sure if I can heal power overuse, but I’ll give it a shot.” Focusing I tried to heal just his arm, not giving Panacea’s power any particular instruction other than ‘make this better’.

    “How’d you kn-oooh, that’s the stuff,” he sighed, his arm going limp, an angry bruise across his knuckles slowly cycling through several shades. Before lightening to his pale skin tone.

    “Oh that’s such bullshit!” Tattletale cried. “I can see it happening but, Ugh!”

    Glaring at Regent’s arm, she held her head. “You want me to take care of your headache?” I offered, only for her to shift her glare towards me.

    “No,” she snapped, when the small girl’s angry look didn’t bother me in the slightest, “I don’t want you or your, blankness, anywhere near me!”

    I held up my hands in a pacifying gesture as I moved back to my seat. “Fine, no need to bite my head off about it, just wanted to help.” She shifted her attention back to Regent’s arm, much to his amusement as he stretched it back and forth before turning back to the television, watching the news covering the ongoing bombing spree. “If your power gives you nothing Tattletale, don’t rely on it. You’re smart without the shard, use your own brain instead.”

    Her head snapped over. “Shard?” she asked intently. “What’s-Argh!” she cried out, holding her head. I mentally facepalmed. I hadn’t meant to mention them, for fear that something like this might happen, but fuck it, teaching experience.

    “There’s certain things your power not only will not give you information on, like me, but will actively try to stop you from thinking about. I need you to take a breath and clear your mind, okay? If it helps, focus on the sound of my voice. I’ll give you a null result, which is better than a negative response,” I instructed patiently, falling into professor mode.

    “Is this like one of those hypnotism things?” Regent asked, eyebrow raised.

    “Closer to autohypnosis,” I corrected. “And it’s really more a metacognitive skill then a subconscious programming device.” At his blank look I simplified. “It’s a way of thinking about thinking instead of hypnosis.” Ignoring his “Oh” I focused on the girl in pain in front of me. “Are you focused on me?” I asked.

    “Yes, you fucking blank,” she spat. Okay, some issues there I wasn’t gonna touch. “Okay, now you need to feel whatever part is giving you that blank, and try to shut it off.” If it was giving her the same result every time, I reasoned, then it should be easier for her to focus on the power itself without it distracting her with a rush of new information.

    I sat there for a minute before she commanded, “Keep talking!” through gritted teeth.

    “Oh, um, okay,” I responded. “I suppose, since you’ve closed your eyes, that focusing on a single sensory stream would help isolate the sixth sense that is your power, possible eighth sense if you count balance and proprioception, but you get the point.”

    “Are you a college professor or something?” Regent asked as I drew breath.

    “Or something,” I responded over her growls of annoyance. “I’m not actually versed in parahuman studies as you know it, to be honest half of this is stuff I’m throwing together from my pre-existing knowledge of a whole bunch of things, but I’m tweaking my plans as I get responses, thus closing in on the truth of the matter all the time. It’s annoyingly similar to having a math problem and the result, but needing to figure out all the steps between. Reverse engineering is always easier than the regular kind.”

    Tattletale held up a hand. “Think I got it,” she said, opening her eyes. “Fuck!” she swore, closing them again.

    “Only have it if you aren’t seeing things?” I guessed, and received an angry nod in response. “You’ve turned it back off?” Another nod. “Okay, the one thing you need to know, and sharing it will piss off the Simurgh, so you know, don’t, is that shards are powers. The actual name the tiny crystal that lodges itself in your brain when you Trigger calls itself.”

    The blonde girl growled in pain and irritation.

    Why? Oh. . . whups. “Yes, there are all sorts of implications that go with the name, and a lot of them are spot on,” I told her. “They’re morally neutral, but using a power that gives you knowledge on the thing that gives you knowledge doesn’t just cause a recursive error, it sets off security protocols. That’s why, amongst a whole host of other reasons, you need to use your own intelligence instead of leaning on your shard’s, because it isn’t you, and thus has some things that are restricting it that aren’t restricting you.”

    “What about my s-” Regent started to ask before stopping as I slashed my hand in the air. “What?”

    “Don’t refer to them by name, or at all if you can help it. The same thing that has your partner’s power slide off me lets me talk about this stuff, but if you talk about it directly, even to me, I’m not sure you’ll get the same protections.”

    He looked offended. “What, you can talk about it but I can’t that’s n-“

    “Unfair?” I asked. “Bullshit? Yes. You can hijack people’s nervous systems, how is that not complete bullshit compared to a normal human. Not all powers are created equal. Deal.

    Tattletale pointed at me, eyes still shut tight. “When you say piss off the- Her,” she stated, catching herself. “What do you mean.”

    “Someone in the Birdcage figured out what I just told you, tried to tell the people monitoring that super-illegal prison, and the bird wonder changed course in orbit, specifically because the same hardware that monitors it monitors her, and the priority message unflagged the vital intel due to a glitch in the coding. If you’re not a Blindspot, fighting precogs blows.”

    Tattletale groaned, putting her face in her hands. “Now I have even more questions!”

    I couldn’t help but grin, “Save it for the team meeting we’ll have when our compatriots return!”

    “I hate you,” was her only response as she opened her eyes just to glare at me. “Are you even human?” she finally demanded.

    I grinned. “Just as much as you are, Sarah.”

    “Who’s Sarah?” Regent asked looking at her.

    “We all have fake names Jean-Paul,” I informed him.

    A slight widening of the eyes the only reaction he gave to his real name before shrugging, commenting, “Yeah, fair.”

    “Then what’s your name!” she demanded. “Since you know ours.”

    I shrugged, not really seeing the entire point of the pseudonym game at this stage. “Lee.”

    “Lee?” she asked, looking down at the jeans I was wearing. “Like Le-vi. Lee Vejovis? You’re an ass!” she declared. “If you’re not gonna tell me your name, don’t make something that obviously fake up!”

    I shrugged again. If she didn’t want to accept the truth, it wasn’t my job to correct her.

    She sat there, still glaring. “At least tell me why I can’t read you. You said you were a ‘Blindspot’, but what does that even mean?”

    “It means that I am one of the few people out there that precognition just doesn’t work on,” I told her, wondering if she’d connect the dots.

    She didn’t. “But I’m not a precog, so why does that stop me?”

    “You’re a Pericog, It’s apparently close enough.”

    Tattletale, apparently a glass cannon when it came to intellectual cat and mouse games, threw her hands up in anger. “What does that even mean!?

    “It means you know around things, your power fills in missing details, but it needs something to work on first. When you get things wrong? It’s because you’ve given your power faulty information to anchor against,” I explained, trying to help.

    She growled at me. It was adorable. “But how do you know that?”

    I grinned unrepentantly. “Precogs.”

    That isn’t an answer!” she yelled, getting up and marching out the door to Taylor’s room where she totally wasn’t going to sulk.

    “It is and it isn’t!” I yelled back before she slammed the door closed.

    I exchanged a look with Regent before I turned to perusing my Base Manual on my phone, as I only had about four hundred pages left. The door slammed open, and Sarah strode back over to sit back down, still glaring at me. “You didn’t win.” She informed me.

    Yes I did, I thought, replying, “If you say so.”

    As she growled Regent tried to play peacemaker, though it might have just been so he could watch tv in peace. “Just leave him alone Tats, can’t you see he’s one those stoic heroes, sitting there, ignoring us as he reads his book on how to control us all.” He’s trying to tease me? Two can play at that game.

    “Left that one back at base,” I commented. “This one’s on corrupting the Wards.”

    “Wait, you have one?” he asked, interested, Tattletale giving him a look that said she doubted his sanity. “I mean, with the ride here and this place, he might,” he defended to his teammate.

    “I don’t need one for you, all I need to do is kill your dad,” I stated simply.

    “What?” the two cried in unison. “Like, people say they’re going to all the time,” Regent clarified. “But no one ever does.”

    “Wait. You’re okay with that?” Tattletale sputtered. “Oh. You are, because he’s, holy shit.”

    I ignored the sputtering Thinker. “His power’s line of sight, his eyes aren’t as good as mine, and being a flier means I’m never wanting for a sniper’s ideal elevation. He’s an asshole, and the only reason he doesn’t have a kill order is the ones that issue them can’t do math, so I’ll shoot him from a thousand yards away, or six.”

    “Um,” he said, obviously not sure how to take that, finally just shrugging. “Okay, good luck.”

    I turned back to my manual as Regent turned back to watch TV, glancing over at me every few minutes. As fun as they were to mess with, I didn’t trust either of them at all, and the sooner Taylor was better the sooner I could get back to the mission.


    <AB>


    It was another forty minutes before Herb got back. Regent tried to make conversation with his teammate, only to get flipped off with the explanation that she “needed to think” before going back to what I was pretty sure was meditation. I was tempted to point out that I had suggested she try that before she got a migraine, but I was the adult here and that would be petty. I was still tempted though. Regent gave up and turned back to the tv, which led her to retreat to Taylor’s room, claiming the other bed in that room while muttering to herself about how the news anchor was cheating on both her husband and her taxes.

    As Herb opened the door, I grabbed my pistol from where it was hidden in the pocket on my back, ready for anything. The sound of a female teenage voice announcing, “This is swanky as shit bro!” caused me to relax. A familiar looking black girl ran into the room and flopping onto an empty loveseat.

    Grue walked in after her, gruffly telling her, “Aisha behave. I brought you here to keep you safe.”

    Looking at her, my eyes itched and my Power Sight activated. I hadn’t realized it before, but Aisha’d already Triggered. Looking at her I saw a Black and Purple flame of Direct Cognitive Masking, spreading out similar colored smoke in a translucent ghostly miasma around her. Her power flashed for a second, the fire igniting the miasma as I looked at a power that had no source which let me focus on the source which let me see Aisha as her power flared and I looked at a power that had no source which let me focus on the source which let me see Aisha as her power flared and I looked at a power that had no source which let me focus on the source which let me see Aisha as her power flared and I looked at a power which- My head hurt as my eyes BURNED, my vision clearing as I saw a power which had no source which my brain told me was Aisha.

    “You okay man?” Herb asked, looking at me. “You’ve been staring at her for five minutes.”

    “Yeah,” the bodiless flame commented from her position on the arm of the chair her brother was sitting in. “It’s super fucking creepy! How are you even doing that?” as Grue asked “Looking at who? He’s not looking at anyone.”

    I blinked, hard, holding back profanities at the pain I felt, thought it started to fade. I was trying to appear at least a little mature and swearing a blue streak right now wouldn’t help. “Okay, that’s how I deal with Strangers.” I commented, as it felt like someone had maced me. Or at least what I assumed being maced was like. Either way, it wasn’t fun.

    “Strangers?” Tattletale asked, sitting up straight. “Where?” Herb and I both pointed at Aisha, as I got the sense the fire was waving to the Thinker, though I couldn’t say why, stupid Stranger powers. “I, what? Invisible? No.” the Thinker said, struggling as her headache came back. Bitch looked down at a Rottweiler at her feet which was looking in Aisha’s direction, ears back, but not growling. “Brutus smells her,” the canine-empath stated, looking in the general direction of the girl.

    I glanced at Herb. “Wasn’t she gonna drop off all her dogs?”

    He shrugged, “She wouldn’t leave him, and I didn’t want to fight her on it when we were in a hurry.”

    Looking at the group, I decided I’d handle one problem at a time, motioning them towards the couch Regent and Tattletale were sitting on. “This’ll help. Group photo everyone. Grue, Bitch, stand behind that couch. Aisha, sit next to Regent.” Herb shot me a grin which I ignored. When everyone was in place, I took out my base phone, the camera showing Aisha just fine, and the pressure on my eyes faded a bit more. I snapped the photo, then turned the phone around to show everyone.

    “The fuck?” Tattletale yelled, looking at the photo. Grue told himself, “Right, sis’s here, why’d I forget?” as Regent reached to the left and tried to touch her, my brain telling me he accidentally copped a feel and was slapped for it as my eyes and ears said he touched nothing, and there was no sound made.

    “Why does my face hurt?” he asked to himself as Aisha jumped off the couch to take a seat off to the side.

    “Right,” I told everyone. “Before we begin, Grue’s little sister, who goes by Imp, triggered as a decently powerful Stranger.”

    “Imp?” the girl in question said. “Didn’t have a name, but that works. I’m all mischievous n’ shit, and I don’t know, mess people up. Imps do that, right?”

    I nodded. “They do, and it’s the name you’d eventually pick.”

    “Holy shit! Can you see the future? Do you know lottery numbers? Do I make it big? Oh! Do I get big tits? ‘Cause they’re pretty fuckin’ descent for my age, which means they should be real nice later!” she asked in a torrent of questions.

    I pinched the bridge of my nose as Herb laughed and the rest of the Undersiders looked at us in confusion. “In order,” I responded, trying to remember all her inquiries, while unable to remember hearing the words themselves. “Sort of, no, as much as you can with your power, and I have no clue, that’s not something that was focused on a great deal, but they tend to be genetic, so you’d know more than I would.”

    Regent held up a hand. “Um, Lee? Who are you talking to?”

    I sighed. “So, Grue’s little sister, the Stranger, is the sixth member of the Undersiders that none of you can remember because, unless she suppresses her power, you don’t realize she’s there. I showed them the camera picture again. “See her in the photo, she’s sitting in that chair over there. Suppress your power and say hi Aisha.”

    My eyes registered what my brain knew as she waved to the group, saying “Hi Aisha!” before disappearing again.

    “And now you know enough that her power probably won’t erase her from your mind, just whatever she’s doing at this time.” I explained.

    “But that doesn’t explain why my face hurts.” Regent pointed out.

    I looked at him incredulously. “Think of where you put your hand to try to feel where she was, now figure out where you would have touched her if she’d been sitting next to you.”

    He considered this, as Grue’s helmet tilted down at him, the older boy probably glaring. “Fair enough,” Regent admitted, “Though I should at least be able to remember what I got slapped for.”

    “That’s my sister,” Grue groused.

    “You can grab one of my sisters if you want,” Regent responded blandly.

    “My thirteen-year-old sister,” he practically growled.

    “And?” Regent asked, confused.

    Tattletale and Bitch were staring at him now, though Tattletale decided to copy me, sighing and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Let’s just say he had a messed-up home life, I’m eventually going to kill his dad, and he’s totally okay with that,” I told the group getting their attention.

    “Aren’t you a hero?” Bitch glared.

    “And rabid dogs need to be put down.” I declared. “Not misunderstood ones, or mis-trained ones. Mad ones.”

    She held my gaze before nodding, then looking down and away.

    “What he said, now let’s order dinner!” Herb declared into the awkward silence, holding up a menu.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.4
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Impediment 4.4

    Once we were properly fed and watered, and Aisha got over having people she could talk to, we settled down to business. Sitting down in the lounge area, most of the group had un-masked to eat, Regent commenting, “You already know who we are, so what’s the point?” and they never put them back on. Herb’s vampire teeth had gotten a few comments, and while Lisa and I had both not removed our domino masks, no-one remarked on it.

    “First of all,” I started. “Tattletale, I need you to call Taylor’s dad and tell him that she was out with friends, got caught at the edge of a blast, and got thrown by it. She’s a bit banged up, your mom looked her over, she’s staying at your place until things calm down, and she’s sleeping, but okay.” The girl thankfully nodded after a second of thought and stepped away, pulling out her phone. As we’d had dinner the rate of detonations had slowed, but hadn’t stopped, and there was now one every thirty minutes or so according to the news.

    Leaning back in my chair, I dropped a sound bubble between Herb and I. “So, time for your recruitment pitch.”

    He looked back, a little confused. “You’re better at speechifying than I am.”

    “Yeah, but the Undersiders are your project.” I pointed out. “I’m willing to give them a chance, which is a hell of a lot more than anyone else has, but I’m not spending the effort I’m giving to Pan & Taylor. You want to convince them thoroughly, you convince them.” I dropped the bubble and got up, helping Bitch collect the plates, though she didn’t say anything, the others having remained silent as my friend and I seemed to silently talk to each other.

    The Undersiders had spread out across the lounge, and looked at me as I sat. I turned and looked at Herb pointedly, who took a deep breath, stepping forward as he began: “I don’t mean to insult you by callin’ you kids, so I won’t, but you’ve got so much shit on your shoulders. You have no idea what. The sheer fact that we know what it is makes it unfair, the sheer fact that we can’t tell you makes it more unfair. Welcome to your world, sorry it sucks,” he informed them sadly as I realized that I hadn’t heard Herb give that many speeches before.

    He just usually interrupted mine.

    I wanted to help him present his argument better, as what he’d just said didn’t make a ton of sense, but I’d said this one was all him and I meant it, choosing instead to tune him out, checking my phone, looking at the base security and typing up a message to Boojack to tell him what had happened with Bakuda.

    “But, what you didn’t have before you have now,” he continued. “Two people, who want to make it better. Not gonna make it perfect, not gonna stop a lot of the big things from happening, and I can’t even tell you about the big things because, oh my god,” he lamented. “So much I can’t tell you, cause if I tell you, it changes everything, and I don’t want things to change right now. So much so, that I let you be accomplices to a kidnapping.” He sighed. “Yes, look at me, I made you kidnap a child. I’m sorry.”

    The ringing silence that statement created pulled my attention back as I tried to go over what he’d just said. “Wait, what?” I asked, attempting to reel back the half-heard conversation and coming up with nothing. “What’d you just say?”

    “Oh,” my friend said, looking back at me. “Oh, you oh,” he responded, surprise flashing across his face. “You did forget.”

    Wow, that was helpful, I thought. “Forget what?”

    “Diana?” he supplied.

    I trolled through my memory, trying to remember a character called Diana, getting nothing. The only Diana I could think of was not of this universe. “Wonder Woman?” I hazarded. His expression didn’t change. “Who?”

    “You know,” he said in a manner that suggested I really should. “The wicked good precog.” There’s no precog named Diana in this world, I thought as he continued “Who can see multip-“

    Oh, he must mean, “Dinah Alco-OH FUCK!” I swore, shocking the group of teens. “HOW THE FUCK DID I FORGET ABOUT DINAH! Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” I dropped my phone, hands springing to my head in horror.

    “Sorry,” Herb commented, a little surprised, but not nearly as upset as he should have been. Did he realize it when he picked up Bitch and Imp? I thought. He must’ve, no way would he- “I thought you were just going along. I’m sorry bro.” He sounded like he forgot to grab his wallet when we went out to see a movie, not condemned a girl to drug addiction and torture!

    “It’s been like a year man,” I tried to reason, more with myself than him. “I kind of. . . Fuck,” I finished not even able to say aloud that I’d forgotten the bank job was a distraction for kidnapping a preteen cape. Grabbing my phone from the ground and searching online, there it was, bold as fucking brass: ‘Mayor’s Niece, Aged Ten, Kidnapped by Armed Gunmen!’ I wanted to throw the damn thing against the wall, but that wouldn’t help anything. Springing to my feet I began to pace, company forgotten. “Okay, now she’s with Coil,” set the situation, figure out what we can do. “But we don’t know where and they’ve probably started working on her by know.”

    “She kinda needs to be there right now,” my . . . teammate advised.

    No!” I retorted, “She really doesn’t need to be!” No location means no op. I can’t save someone if I don’t know where I need to go to do it. I can’t do anything to save her until I find that out first, and the only way to get that right now is through the Undersiders, who are. . . right. Glancing over at them, most were eyeing me cautiously. Tattletale’s eyes were wide, with fear, guilt, maybe shock? Fuck it I don’t really care right now. I stalked back over to my seat, plopping down in it, trying to search my memory of what I knew about Coil’s base. It was underground, had a parking lot, which these kids ended up confronting the Slaughterhouse 9 in, and was near construction or under it, though all of that info came after the bombing and after Leviathan wrecked half the place, which told me nothing right now.

    Seeing that I’d sat down, Herb turned back to the Undersiders. “So, you guys are accomplices to a serious issue. Kidnapping.”

    Seeing their wariness shift to confusion I explained, “The bank job was a distraction-”

    “To kidnap one of the most powerful precogs out there-,” he interrupted.

    “Who is the mayor’s niece,” I finished. “Fuuuuuuuuck,” I added to myself, still unable to understand how I’d missed this. If I was being honest, I had an idea. I’d started reading this stupid story about a year ago, and I’d been so focused on helping Taylor and Panacea in the past few days I’d had a serious case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for a lot of the secondary characters, like Brandish.

    “Did you know?” Grue asked Tattletale accusatorily when it became clear I wasn’t going to continue.

    No!” she practically shouted. “I knew it was a distraction, we were hitting a bank in the middle of the day, of course we were a distraction; it’s why he was paying us so much. I didn’t know it was for that! I’d have turned him down if I knew! I . . .” she trailed off, looking as horrified as I felt.

    Regent looked on, face blank, as Bitch leaned against a wall, unhappy.

    “You get him the drugs too?” Break asked her pitilessly, her eyes going wide as she looked at him. “Cause their pumping her full of them right now.”

    “What drugs?” Grue asked, looking between the two.

    “That’s not fair man,” I interceded. “She wouldn’t’ve been involved, or she’d’ve figured it out if she had been. Dinah’s precog gives her odds of the likelihood of any event, but doing so hurts her,” I disclosed to the others. “Once a day or so and she’s fine, but past that it results in a feedback effect that gets worse the more she uses it, like when Tattletale overuses her powers, but much faster. Coil, your boss, is getting her addicted to opioids: it both blunts the pain she gets from powers overuse, and lets him use her withdrawal symptoms to convince her to use her powers for him, a metaphorical stick, the carrot here being her ‘candy’. Fuck.”

    “Jesus Tats,” Brian muttered, Aisha adding, “That’s fucked up!”

    “I didn’t know!” Tattletale pleaded.

    “Now here’s my thing for you guys,” my teammate told the group, getting their attention once more. “The reason I let that happen, and yes, I let that happen. Knew exactly what was going to happen, I’m a dick, yes, hate me all you want.”

    Well, I guess this wasn’t something he just realized. I’d assumed with how he’d reacted to the bombing, he’d forgotten about it too. Not that he’d planned this since day one. “We are going to have words later,” I coldly informed him.

    He waved at me dismissively, “Yes, we will.” He turned his focus back on the teens. “It’s because I needed you to understand that, yes, you were makin’ money, yes, you were doin’ this amazing thing, but the boss you’re working for is a complete and utter ass who constantly rapes one of your best friends.”

    WHAT?” yelled Bitch, Aisha, and Grue, Regent’s eyebrows shooting up in surprise.

    “And forces drugs on children,” he continued, “after he kidnaps them. There’s a reason why he does this, but it’s best if we just, I don’t know, kill him, but he’s really protective and his power makes him a bitch to off.”

    “I have a plan to kill the asshole,” I told the group, “But I need to know where he is first.”

    “And we don’t,” he added. “And hey, what do ya know, he sidesteps things. Quite well.”

    I elucidated, as Herb was being so obscure that it was borderline malicious. “Coil has time power bullshit. Calls it fate control, but he splits the timeline, aware of what happens in both futures as they happen, and closes the one he doesn’t want. It lets him ask any question, do anything, and then close out the timeline with the knowledge of what happens in the other one while nothing’s happened in this one. He’s fond of, after a meeting is successfully concluded, going with whatever timeline gave him the best result, splitting it again, and having the person who he just finished talking to tortured in one timeline for information while in the other they leave peacefully.”

    Grimacing, I continued, “He then goes with the peaceful timeline with all the information he’s gained from the torture timeline. To kill him I’ll need to know where he’ll be, and a day. I set a pre-set time, not in reaction to anything, but of my own will, and put it a day or so in the future as he splits and chooses lines pretty quickly, so in twenty-four hour he’s guaranteed to do so at least once, locking in the timeline. Then I hit him at the set time, so no matter what decision he splits, I’ll hit him in both timelines. Once he dies in one, he’s forced into the other so if the attacks aren’t at the same time, he’ll use the knowledge he gained from the first time I killed him, split time again, and try two different tactics, going with whichever works best, or doesn’t make him die, same thing really.” I told them, finding comfort in explanation.

    “This is why we picked you guys,” Break informed them. “Because you’re basically decent people and you’re reacting in the way you should. You’re going ‘Oh no! this is horrible!’ and you’re right. You know what else is horrible?” he asked, pulling out the glass face from his pocket, the sharp edges of it scraping against the metal of his gauntlets, “This. Know what else is horrible? Your lives. Know what else is horrible? All of it. All of it, just this entire thing and we want to help make it better.” He put the face back, commenting, “While having a little fun, less at the expense of other people, but still fun.” He turned back to them. “But with less people dying, wouldn’t it be nicer?” He smiled at them, nearly chirping. “So, recruitment speech, yay!”

    The Undersiders looked at his sudden change in mood with no small amount of horror as he finished. “Join, stop all the bad shit that’s comin’ into your life. I can’t tell you what it is yet, but we can save you, and you don’t have to go through all of it. Some of it,” he corrected. “You really don’t want to go through all of it.” He looked at their leader. “Especially you Grue, really important for you to join us. It’ll save you, up here,” he tapped his forehead. “So,” Break told them all, “You can sleep on it if you want, but killin’ people and stuff? Really deserves a good plan.” He looked around at them. “Questions? I’ll give answers, as much as I can.”

    There was a moment of silence as we all looked at him. That’s it? I thought. Vague threats and ‘things will go well for you if you join’? Really you dick?

    The teens looked at each other, silently trying to decide who should go first. Grue stepped forward, warily. “Why me?”

    “Pain. Suffering of immense proportions that you won’t have to go through.” My teammate told him, which really didn’t answer the boy’s questions. “And if you think you think you know what I’m talking about, crank it up a lot.”

    I couldn’t leave it at that. “Do you know what Second Triggering is?” I asked him, getting a head shake of no in response. “Look it up. You’ll understand.”

    “You do it,” Break told him, deciding to throw subtlety out the window. “Regent, because eventually you’ll be happy. Very, honestly, happy.”

    “Um, yay?” the teen responded. “You too?” Yeah, he’s not sure what Herb just said.

    “Aisha,” my teammate continued, addressing her not-presence on the arm of the couch. “Yeah, pretty much the same thing. You handle all the shit well, but I want you to be happy.” She didn’t say anything. At least, I think she didn’t.

    “Bitch,” he plowed on. “You’re wicked awesome, you really are. You just need people to understand and I’ve probably said way too many words for you to even care. Join. That’s it.”

    “And Tattletale,” he addressed the shell-shocked girl, who was taking his words worse than anyone, probably because she could see everything he meant underneath what he was saying in more detail than she liked. “You can read me like a book, so me compadre, when I speak, I don’t hold much back. I’m kinda an emotional individual. I ate someone today.”

    “The fuck?” Aisha asked, falling off her perch in shock.

    “It wasn’t my proudest moment,” he agreed, not breaking eye contact with Tattletale. “Stuff I need to work on.”

    “He killed the bitc-cunt who tried to kill your brother,” I explained to the thirteen-year-old, not used to having to censor that word that way.

    Break continued, staring at the Thinker, “You know, just by readin’ and listenin’ to me that I’m not a bullshit person. I’m a fun person, I love to hang around things, but this?” he indicated the pocket holding the glass face. “Is bullshit. And I don’t like bullshit, it’s messy, and you guys are stuck in a bullshit situation, and you guys are gonna end up doing some bullshit things. But I don’t want you to, so help us out. Join our group, and enjoy the perks of being the better bad guys.”

    I felt compelled to define, “We’re Heroes of the mythic variety, not the modern cops and robbers types that plays games that ruin civilian lives.”

    “I love you guys,” Break addressed them, as if I hadn’t said anything. “And I don’t want any of this bullshit to happen to you. You don’t know why I love ya, but I do. Kay? You’re, like, important to me. So join, and don’t be bitches about it.” He was met with silence.

    I stood up. “Right, good speech, you guys need to get to bed and I need to have words with my. . . teammate.”

    “I’m going to the principal’s office,” the man in question snarked. “I’ll be okay.”

    “Dude,” I told him, not looking at him. “Just shut the fuck up right now.” I continued addressing the teens, “Each of these rooms has two twin beds. Tattletale, can you take the one with Taylor so she has someone if she needs anything?” The Thinker nodded and got up as well, happy to have an out. “Bitch, Imp, you guys can take another room.”

    “Why?” Imp’s not-voice asked petulantly, an underlying tone of fear running through that single word.

    “Because you’re both girls, and your power means that you have to actively try to annoy her, and you know better. if I stick Bitch with Regent, she’ll hurt him, and if I stick you with Regent, Grue’ll hurt him.”

    “Sounds about right,” Regent added, “Sorry about earlier,” he apologized to Imp, looking in the wrong direction.

    “Grue and Regent, you’re the last room, for obvious reasons.” They all looked at me, Tattletale near the door to her room, but the rest all just sitting there, staring. “Leave. Now,” I growled. And they were gone.

    I turned back to the man that I had considered my best friend and confidant, my voice cold with anger. “Herb. Buddy. Pal.

    “Compadre!” he added, a tremor of apprehension in his voice. Good.

    Shut the fuck up.” I hissed. “When, exactly, did you remember the Bank job was a distraction for the kidnapping and torture of a ten-year-old girl?” I wanted to believe that he, like me, had completely blanked on it and was talking a big game for the teens, that maybe he’d realized after the fact, and it wasn’t until today that it was all real, but I wasn’t nearly as sure as I wanted to be.

    “When we got here?” he responded simply, confirming my initial fears.

    “And by here, you don’t mean this hotel, do you?” I asked with a deep sinking sensation in my chest.

    “Nope.”

    He must have had a good reason though, something that excused this. “And the reason you did not see fit to remind me of this at any point in the past, I don’t know, five days was what, exactly?” He motioned towards the rooms the Undersiders were now in. “You do that like it excuses something.” I bit off the beginning of an unpleasant laugh.

    “Extra incentive for them to join,” he explained, as if that made any sense at all.

    “They didn’t need that when their boss is planning to kill them all!” I wouldn’t shout, that wouldn’t solve anything.

    He had the temerity to shrug. “Yeah, but, stuff.”

    “Oh, stuff, of course, the most extensive of rebuttals.” I took a deep breath. “No, not stuff, we had Boojack as our distraction, we could have just as easily sent him to stop Coil’s men, or start the fight earlier and led the fight there, stopping the kidnapping from happening. I could figure out a way to make it all work if I’d known,” I proposed, but it didn’t matter, because I hadn’t known. Because I hadn’t been told. “The fuck is wrong with you?”

    “Well, while we’re talking, we’re running out of time. We need to go save a girl before she gets totally hooked on some drugs she doesn’t need.” He countered, as if this was somehow all part of a larger master plan, as if that was any way relevant to our current discussion.

    “Okay, cool, I’ll go get her right now.” I retorted, calling his bluff.

    “Again, why we need them,” he said, motioning towards the rooms again. Like that meant something.

    Yes, he really doesn’t get it, I thought. “You do realize,” I informed him, voice controlled, “That with proper medical care, or improper as it were, she’ll be addicted in days, if not hours.”

    “I know,” he affirmed nonchalantly.

    “And it’s going to take them weeks before they could tell us where his base is.”

    “I know.” Again, in the same tone of voice.

    I would not punch him in the face, no matter how punchable it looked right now. “So you’re not saving her from anything, are you?” My voice had gone cold again, but I didn’t care.

    “Not right away, no,” the asshole agreed.

    I had to know, “What, conceivable, part of you thought this was a good plan?” I wondered aloud.

    “Ya know, when you think about it,” he observed.

    “Yes?”

    “And it’s a concept,” he continued unabated. “And you don’t really put actual things behind it.”

    “Like Reality?” I offered.

    He nodded. “True. You go with it. And then. . . oops.”

    I sighed. I would not hurt my friend unless I had a good reason, and relieving my frustration with his complete lack of thought wouldn’t help him. It would be like kicking a dog the day after it did something, it wouldn’t link the pain to the act emotionally, and he’d just gone on about how emotional he was. “Oops is, I counted the hours wrong and overpaid an employee. Oops is, I stubbed my toe getting out of bed this morning. Oops is not getting a ten-year-old girl taken by a sociopath, and hooked on FUCKING OXY!”

    He nodded sagely. “You’re right, but, silver lining-“

    “It better be fucking Mithril.” I sneered.

    He hedged, “Probably not, maybe gold.”

    “What?”

    “Yeah, Gold,” he decided.

    What the fuck is it?” I demanded.

    He held up a hand. “When we save her, she’ll be highly indebted to us and we can probably get her on our side once you, or Panacea, do your healing shit on her.”

    I just blinked at him, boiling ice in my veins. “One,” I bit out. “That’s not how debts work. You can’t let someone get in danger, just to make yourself look better when you save them. Second of all, in case you’ve forgotten, ya fuckin’ moron, I’m immune to precognition, which means that she can’t help us on anything that I’m even slightly involved in.”

    “God, I keep forgetting about that,” he responded, still with a voice lacking any human empathy or concern, but I wasn’t going to respond to that. It was a distraction, and I started to wonder how many of them he’d used on me these past few days.

    “Third, her power doesn’t give you a vision, it gives you probabilities,” I explained, like I was talking to a small child, only small children were empathetic. “Which, again, when you throw me into the mix-”

    “Doesn’t count,” he completed, like I’d corrected his math on a restaurant bill’s tip.

    “Yes, ruins everything. Fourth! If her power hurts her to use, and is going to be fucking useless there was no reason for her to go through any of this fucking shit.”

    He just nodded. “Yep.”

    I waited for him to say something, anything else but he just stared at me, waiting for me to continue. I obliged. “So here’s what’s going to happen,” I asserted quietly.

    “We wait a week, we’re-” he started.

    I silenced him with my power, the words dying in his throat. “No, we’ve seen what happens when you just talk. Now you listen. If you remember anything that I seem to have forgotten or not mentioned you are going to tell me,” I instructed calmly, so far past the point of anger and just sick of his nonsensical shit that I reached a higher plane of not giving a single fuck.

    He held up a hand and I dismissed the bubble of null sound around his throat. “Should I tell you now?” the older man questioned.

    Good, start a beneficial habit. I nodded, “What did I forget?”

    “I don’t know, what did you forget?” he asked smiling, trying to make a joke out of this entire clusterfuck.

    “I don’t know,” I responded, not taking the bait. “Is there something that I haven’t mentioned that you believe to be important, like the enslaving of a small child, that I could go fix?”

    “Right now? Hmmm,” he responded, pantomiming thinking.

    I waited a few beats, but he just continued his act. “Alright then,” I stated icily. “If you think of it, or think of something in the future, you are to tell me. Immediately. And not attempt this cloak and dagger shit, because, as we’ve seen, you suck at it.”

    “I never said I was good at it,” he observed placidly.

    “I’m glad we are in agreement then.” I responded pleasantly. “Though I wonder, if you knew you were bad, you did it at all.”

    He finally tried to defend himself, stating, “I thought eventually, you’d, like, remember.”

    I smiled at him, and his attempt to make his lies my fault. “You know me, I get focused on shit.” He nodded in agreement. “Regardless, you think of something, you tell me, just to double check,” I told him in conspiratorial voice. “That way this shit doesn’t happen again.” I waited, but he didn’t respond, though he tried to say something as I started talking, and I plowed on through. “Because if it does, I will beat you bloody, heal you, and repeat, for as long as it takes for you to learn to not play games with the lives of children.”

    “But again,” he countered, motioning towards the bedrooms. “It gave them extra incentive.”

    Really I raged internally. FUCKING REALLY. YOU THINK THAT MAKES IT OKAY!? But I had a realization, that I just had to share. “Oh, so, thought. When Dinah can no longer reliably predict the future because of the actions that I take, and her powers seem faulty, there’s a not insignificant chance that Coil will decide she’s not worth the trouble, and put a bullet in her brain.” I looked at him as his eyes widened, and he froze, though he controlled the rest of his reactions. “Didn’t think of that, did ya?” I asked in a stage whisper.

    “Nah, wasn’t up there,” he responded in an uncaring tone, as if I’d pointed out that his shirt and pants didn’t match.

    “Yeah,” I agreed, trying to match his unconcerned tone. “Yeah. This, this is why you need to run shit by me man.” He mm’d in agreement. “You’ve got the breadth of ideas, I have the depth.”

    “Construction site, underground, tunnel,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was thinking out loud, or if this was yet more of his pseudo-cryptic bullshit meant to put me on my back foot, as my attention was forced away from him and on to decoding his sentence fragments, and what they represented.

    “While that does narrow it down,” I agreed, and he gave no reaction whatsoever to my words, the lack of which was obviously a controlled response, so it was probably the latter. Damnit man, I raged, keeping my expression calm, friends don’t play these fucking mind games with each other! “We don’t know which base he’ll be in, if he even has more than one, whether it’s a current construction site or one that’s been delayed, or one that’s started after the storm hits.”

    “No,” he disagreed. “It’s current.”

    “If that’s true, and I have nothing other than your word that it is, that narrows it down, but not nearly enough.”

    “Tattletale actually knows where it is,” he responded in a thoughtful tone.

    I quirked an eyebrow. “Right now?”

    “Yes.”

    “No, she doesn’t,” I disagreed easily, remembering this much of the story. “He’s keeping her as far away from his main operation as possible. It’s only after it happens that she gets allowed that close, given the amount of work she has to do for his organization, but that’s not for another few weeks.”

    He stopped, thought, and then agreed. “You’re right, he met her in a different place.” Not even a hint of remorse at the fact that he’d asserted and reasserted facts that I was supposed to take as gospel to plan around, not coaching them in any kind of ‘maybe’ or ‘I think’ language.

    Again, I wondered where else I’d been mislead by his insistence of fact on what was merely hazy recollection.

    Finishing this tangent and returning to my point, I reiterated. “So, if I seem to be forgetting something, mention it. I might have already accounted for it in my plans, but you mentioning it gets us both on the same page, and avoids the kind of FUBAR that you’ve led us into. Okay?”

    He didn’t respond. “Ohhh-Kay?” I repeated.

    “Not everything,” he disagreed.

    Like. What?” My voice lost its pleasant façade in an instant.

    He didn’t seem concerned. “Stuff I’m not sure about yet,” he replied absentmindedly. Like he hadn’t just done that thing. Like mentioning maybes for me to check wasn’t in direct violation of the spirit of my request, while giving himself a loophole he could put a highway through.

    Run it by me just in case,” I whispered.

    “Mmm, I’ll think about,” he responded instantly.

    I started twitching, wondering if I was going to need to beat my best friend to a pulp right now. I didn’t want to do it, and I’d heal him, but he needed to understand that I wasn’t fucking around. “If it results in another child being tortured-”

    He cut me off, “I don’t think there’s anymore child torturing, maybe child dying, but not torturing.”

    I stared at him for a minute, as he waited for my response. “If it results in a situation like this, you will hurt for it,” I promised softly. “You’re my friend, so I won’t kill you, but this is not okay.”

    He sighed. “I know, I get it, and come on, duh, of course it isn’t.” I wanted to point out that it apparently wasn’t ‘duh’ considering that at the start of our little. . . dialog he had been defending his position. His insinuating that he always thought it was unacceptable was a tacit lie, and I hated it when my friends lied to me, but he looked like he had more to say, so I waited. “It’s ‘so not okay’, that I get,” he responded, mocking my statements through his tone of voice, and through the drastic oversimplification of his sins.

    “Then why did you do it in the first place?” I asked him, mocking his mockery, trying to keep calm.

    “Again,” he responded, dropping the affectation. “Certain things have ta kinda just happen.”

    No they don’t!” I shot back. What did he mean by ’again’? He’d never brought up this point before, because it was made of stupid. “We don’t have to hit the Stations of Fucking Canon. We don’t want to hit every single important point, and the points that we’re going to hit, like the storm, and the visitors from out of town, we can’t fucking stop! They’re external threats, but everything else we can stop, or fucking change, we do, because we really should!” Wait, I thought. Is this why he wanted Taylor in the Undersiders? Just because it happened in canon? I want to ask, but if that’s true, I will hurt him, and I really don’t want to do that right now.

    “Can I ask you a small question thought?” he asked. “If she doesn’t get kidnapped, how do we find him?”

    “Well, if the ten-year-old girl wasn’t kidnapped and enslaved with narcotics, after the storm hits, Lisa will still get brought in to help streamline his operations in stage two of his plan.” Herb made a noncommittal noise, like I was somehow wrong, without even bothering to use fucking words. “Yes, it would be simpler this way because he’d drop his guard, but no I wouldn’t want a child to suffer to make our jobs just a little easier!”

    He nodded in agreement. “Understandable,” he said like, like, fuck I don’t know. Like we were discussing something unimportant!

    “Okay,” I said, settling the matter. “Fuck man, just. . . fuck.” I sighed, feigning more relaxation than I felt, body still taut and simmering with rage, at him, at me for trusting him, and this entire fucking situation, but he’d head to bed and I’d have time to cool off. I pointed at the last bedroom. “That room’s yours, it’s like midnight, go and get some sleep. I’m gonna stay here and, I don’t know, keep fucking watch.”

    “For what?” he asked confused.

    “Fuck, I don’t know,” I said, truly wishing he would just leave for the first time in my life.

    “‘Cause with what’s going on, people are slightly preoccupied,” he explained.

    It hurt to say it, but I replied honestly. “Maybe I just don’t want to look at you right now.”

    He laughed, like he hadn’t just fucked me over and tried to stain my goddamned soul with his thoughtless, misguided actions. “Okay lovebutton, I’ll see you,” he told me as he left, closing the door behind him.

    I snapped a sound bubble around the room as I roared FUUUUUUUUUCK!” The air around me whipping in my useless rage, air claws ready to strike, to tear, to rend. Whatever the fuck I’d felt after failing with Panacea, this was fucking immeasurably worse. I’d fucking trusted that motherfucker to have my back, and he’d been treating it like a fucking game, even now that he’d claimed to realize just how ‘messed up’ the situation fucking was. I’d work with him, and have him back me in a fight, but never again when it came to planning, to leading, to doing the fucking right thing. He was the first true friend I’d had in over a decade, and fucking this was how I learned I couldn’t really trust him to be honest with me, like I’d always tried to be honest with him. He’d planned to let a child be tortured from the very beginning, and didn’t even feel bad about it, the fucking bastard. I flipped a chair upright with wind and sank into as the tears came for the first time in years, as, just like when I was a kid, just as it seemed I always was, I was truly alone.
     
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  7. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.5
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Impediment 4.5

    An indeterminate amount of time later, I pulled myself together, feeling drained.

    Okay, it’s just me, and I need to save the world.

    As I walked around, picking up the furniture that I’d blown over with my accidental wind blast I could almost physically feel the weight settling on my shoulders. Lovely. I needed to work on my powers, but I had no one to heal, and hitting myself to drain my shields would probably be taken badly by the kids if they saw it.

    Hitting and healing Break might help with both, my mind supplied, but I wasn’t going to do that. For my current persona’s set all I had left was bug control. . . hmm. Tapping into it I felt Taylor’s presence, which seemed to direct its attention onto me, full of muted and confused feelings of fear, pain, and oddly enough, muted hope.

    Keeping that running, I noticed we’d attracted some insects outside the window, and quickly sent the growing swarm on their way. With that done I kept the connection open, sending back feelings of safety and protection to her, trying to screen out my own rage at Break, loneliness, and my concern over the state of her injuries.

    As I felt her relax I tried to focus on individual insects, seeing through their eyes to check up on everyone subtly, but it felt. . . off. Taylor’s own power felt like it was mimicking me, connecting to every bug I tried to directly control, so I gave that up until I could talk to her about what was going on with her powers.

    With my known abilities, as far as I could train them right now, I was stuck. The downside of only being able to copy with physical effects meant I couldn’t practice them subtly, as they all had a certain level of flash that I didn’t want the teens to see. Explaining why I had Shadow Stalker’s or Grue’s powers was not something I wanted to deal with right now, as while I was a Blindspot, Tattletale could still try to figure me out with her own intellect, so I settled on reading.

    Odd sounds still filtered in through the window from time to time, what I assumed were the bombs continuing to go off.

    I finally found how to turn on the low-level base A.I., buried as it was on page one thousand, two hundred and twenty-seven out of one thousand, five hundred and fifty-three. Looking at the way it was written, I started flipping back through the manual, finally putting together something that had been bugging me the entire time.

    Mentally reviewing what I read, I rearranged the chapters in my head, and suddenly they made a lot more sense. It looked as if someone had taken this document and cut and pasted the chapters together in a nonsensical mishmash, disabling the search function, and I still hadn’t found what should’ve been the introductory section of this manual.

    Wondering what the hell Break had done at his meeting with Cauldron, I turned on the AI, and finished sending Boojack a message explaining what was going on, telling him to lie low. I toyed with the idea of asking him if he’d known what his creator had been planning with Dinah, but BJ seemed lacking in personal agency, probably due to all the weed he smoked, so asking him would do nothing other than further upset me. After that it was back to reading. I wanted to go out and do something, save some people, hit some bases, train, something, but I needed to guard my teammates while they slept, just in case we had massively overestimated the Undersiders. It wouldn’t do to continue onwards, only to find that Regent had hijacked them while I was gone.

    It was with an internal sigh of disappointment that I saw Tattletale sneak out of Taylor’s room, creeping towards Herb’s door. I dropped a sound bubble over the common room where I sat, clearing my throat. She yelped as she jumped, looking at me in fright. “What are you doing, Sarah?” I asked tiredly.

    “Nothing!” was her immediate reply. Riiiight.

    I sighed, pointing at a chair as I got up. “Have a seat, you want anything to drink?”

    She complied, and after I got us both a glass of water I sat, looking at her. “What were you doing?”

    She took a drink, glancing at me. “I wanted to talk to you.”

    I raised an eyebrow, finding that highly unlikely, prompting her, “Okay, talk.”

    I waited, as she looked at me, trying to see something in me, “Did you know?” she finally asked, subdued.

    “About your Trigger event? Yeah,” I nodded. “It wasn’t your fault.”

    She gave a shocked look, before she shook her head “No, about Dinah.”

    My expression must have darkened, given how she flinched. “Sorry,” I sighed. “No, I didn’t know. If you’d asked me about her during the bank heist, I could’ve told you about it, but I was worrying about Taylor, and Panacea, and to a lesser extent your team, and I forgot. If Break had mentioned it, I would’ve made sure she was never taken, but he didn’t. Not even once.” Which, now that I thought about it, meant it was probably pre-meditated, and he wasn’t lying this time about having lied to me in the past, which had been a distinct possibility. Fuck. “It’s not your fault either, though it’s both of our responsibilities to try to save her.”

    “I’m not a hero!” she shot back, defensively.

    “Are you saying that if you could save her, you wouldn’t?” I asked, giving the girl a measuring gaze. “I’m not asking you to storm Coil’s base with me, but if you knew where she was being held, and telling me wouldn’t definitely get you killed, would you risk it to save a ten-year-girl who wanted her parents to be happy so hard she Triggered to try to find a way to fix their marriage, and make them a family again?”

    Sarah looked down at her drink. “That isn’t fair.”

    I gave a hollow laugh, “Life isn’t fair. Fairness is a human construct that we impose upon the universe because we wish it to be so. It’s up to us to make life fair, or as much as we can, because reality doesn’t care about fairness, equality, or even morality. It’s only by our actions that we can do our best to stop injustice, and without our efforts, all we have is entropy and decay, moral, intellectual, and physical.”

    She stared at me. “Sorry,” I apologized. “I just hate it when people use that phrase that way. Like by saying it that means they’re excused from doing anything. Still, you didn’t answer. If it put you at some risk, and all life is risk, would you help me save her?”

    “Why do I need to be the one to do something?” she demanded, still not answering.

    “If not you, who? You have the capability, the power to do something about it. I’m not asking that you sacrifice yourself for everyone, especially because they wouldn’t return the favor but,” I hesitated. The best example would be to point out that someone could have done something to save her brother, but that would be too personal right now, so I went down a less . . . raw route. “But if someone could have stepped in when Coil’s men grabbed you. If Velocity was on patrol and saw you being taken, wouldn’t you want him to step in?”

    She immediately objected, “But he’s a hero, that’s his job!”

    “No,” I disagreed. “His job is working for the Protectorate, doing what they tell him. What he is, is a hero, as far as I can tell. You’re working as a villain Sarah, and only under direct threat of death, but what are you?”

    She said nothing, not looking at me, so I turned back to reading the base manual, reading up on the features of the basic AI. It was nothing on Dragon, more like a high-powered Alexa, though the features it was supposed to take care of, everything from running cleaning bots to firearms ranges, were all things that our base didn’t have, so why were they in the manual. I continued reading for half an hour before Tattletale spoke again. “Aren’t you tired?” she questioned, staring at me.

    “I don’t need to sleep,” I informed her, continuing to read.

    “How? Are you even human?” she muttered to herself, but loud enough for me to hear.

    I responded without thinking, still puzzling over the AI conundrum. Holding up my arm, I mentally commanded my costume to pull back, revealing my skin. “Would you like to feel?” I offered.

    “Wh-What!?” she sputtered. “You don’t just say things like that!”

    I looked up at her confused. “Why not? If I’m a human I should have a pulse. I’m assuming you have basic medical training, it’s dead useful to know, pardon the pun. If I’m human and not some kind of Tinker android or something I should have a pulse. Ergo,” I indicated my raised arm, pointing at my wrist with the hand still holding my phone. “Plus, synthetic skin is usually hard to get just right in sci-fi, so there’s that as well.” She looked at me in disbelief. “Why? What did you think I meant?”

    “I-you-argh!” she articulated, which didn’t explain anything. “You’re insane!”

    Not knowing where that came from, I still wouldn’t let such an obvious straight-line pass. “This coming from the girl who listens to the voices in her head? Go to bed Tattletale, there’s a lot to do, and not enough time to do it in.”

    “This isn’t over!” she promised, going back to bed. I suppressed a smile until her door closed. Her parallels to Panacea were amusing, and as I washed her glass and put it away, I finally realized what she’d thought I meant.

    “Teenagers,” I rolled my eyes. “Everything’s an innuendo.” I took comfort in the fact that I wasn’t that bad when I was her age, though I did have a completely different mess of problems, so that’s probably why.

    <AB>

    I was just finishing up the AI section, which was actually closer to a Virtual Intelligence, reading about all the features that I couldn’t use, when I knew the door opened, and Aisha had crept in, moving next to me and reading over my shoulder. Glancing over I saw she’d left the door open a crack, and made a note to talk to her later about the mechanics of proper stealth, leaving things as they were so you left no trace of your passage. After a minute, and a muttered “The fuck is that?” from behind me that I didn’t actually hear, she left to go into the small kitchen, rummaging around the cabinets.

    “Would you like me to get you something to eat, Aisha?” I asked, causing her to jump, silverware clattering on the hardwood floor as she yelped “Holy shitballs!”

    I got up, walking over to where I knew she had backed up against the counter. “Remember, Break and I can see you, now,” I told her, quickly taking stock of the pre-loaded kitchen, “peanut butter and fluff work for you?”

    “What?” she asked, eyes lighting up as showed her the jar of marshmallow creme that had been on one of the higher shelves. “That’s a thing? Hell to the Fuck Yes!” she practically shouted, before covering her mouth in fear. I cocked an eyebrow at her. “If your friend can hear me, I don’t want to wake his ass up,” she whispered.

    “He’s a deep sleeper,” I reassured her, “Just don’t yell a lot more and you’ll be fine.” Making two of them, and getting us both a glass of milk, I sat down at the table with her. We ate in silence before she asked, “So the kidnapping thing?”

    “Didn’t know, would’ve stopped it if I could.” I said, after I finished my bite of the sticky concoction.

    “Good,” she nodded, taking another bite. “Gebbing a kib hoobed on drugs, fugged up,” she said around the sandwich.

    “Aisha, don’t speak with your mouth full. It makes you look stupid and makes it hard to understand what you’re saying,” I gently rebuked.

    “Sowwy,” she responded, finishing and reiterating “Getting a kid on drugs is fucked up.”

    I nodded, “Yeah, when it comes to adults, I don’t really care. As long as they know what they’re taking, and are doing of it of their own free will, it’s not my business. Kids aren’t old enough to make those kinds of decisions, and haven’t finished developing, so might get messed up either bodily or in the head by it. Voodoo Pharmacology is bullshit though.”

    She looked at me in confusion. “What? Magic drugs? That a thing? I mean, I didn’t know they made this awesome shit,” she indicated her sandwich, “So fuck me, right?”

    I laughed. “No, Voodoo Pharmacology is the ‘the drugs made me do it’ defense. That you aren’t responsible for what you do when you’re drunk or high. They fuck with your head, sure, but at your core you’re still you, and still responsible for what you do when you’re on them. You might not like what you did, but you still did it.”

    She gave me considering look, “So, you don’t care if grown-ups do shit, but what about if they have a kid?”

    I shrugged. “Then we’re back to the Voodoo Pharmacology. If you get drunk and don’t take care of your child, then I’d judge you just as harshly as if you did the same sober. Child Protective Services is a thing for a reason, though, like a lot of bureaucracies, they run into problems of corruption and limitations from outside that disallow them from working effectively.”

    She looked at me. “Um, in English?”

    “Which part?” I asked, reminding myself I needed to drop my vocabulary a bit.

    “The CPS part. Burau-whatever, that’s like, the man, right?” she asked.

    I smiled encouragingly. “Pretty much, Aisha. So, because of the way government stuff works, ‘the man’, you get people that don’t do their job because nothing bad happens to them if they don’t. Also, you get people yelling and complaining, probably lying to try to get something, so that people who are trying to do their jobs can’t do the thing that the place they’re working for was made to do because they’re afraid their bosses will throw them under the bus instead of doing their jobs. So, you have a group that’s supposed to look out for kids, but you get stuff where they don’t do their jobs, and leave kids in horrible shit, or they do things they’re not supposed to, because they’re the ones in power so they couldn’t possibly be in the wrong and they mess up kids lives when everything was cool. If parents can use drugs and still be good parents, fine, but most can’t, and I’d say they’re bad because they’re bad parents, not because of the drugs.”

    She nodded. “Okay, I feel ya. But,” she hedged, “What if they’re like, pregnant. Should they get high then?”

    Ah, I thought, What you really want to know. I looked at her, feigning confusion. “If I don’t think kids should do drugs until they’re adults, why would I think they should do drugs before they’re even born?

    “Yeah,” she said, more to herself than me. “That’s fucked up.”

    We finished eating, and I took the dishes to go clean up. “Hey, Lee?” she asked, continuing as I turned around. “You’re okay. You’re friend’s a fucking asshole though.”

    I sighed, “Not gonna argue with you on that one,” I affirmed. “Go get some sleep Aisha, I’ll make breakfast at eight.”

    “Not gonna turn down that shit! Can you make pancakes?” she pleaded.

    I shrugged, we had milk, eggs, and Bisquick, so why not. I smiled, “Sure.”

    She fist pumped. “Fuck yeah!” she crowed, practically skipping back to her door. “Haven’t had someone make me breakfast in weeks!”

    My smile became a bit fixed as I was reminded just how bad her situation was. I considered canon before realizing that there was actually no reason for her to go back to her fucked up home. Grue was so concerned with getting her to be able to move in with him legally, but what was the point when her power made people ignore her very presence? I rolled my eyes as I sat down, opening up the guide, marking it down as yet one more strike against letting the leader of the Undersiders plan anything.

    <AB>


    Another two hours, and hundred pages, later I heard a door open again. Looking up I saw Bitch walk out, permascowl in place, dog at her heels. She matched my gaze, glaring at me. “It’s not even dawn, do you need something?” I asked.

    She didn’t break eye contact as she took a few steps forward. “You and Break, who’s in charge?”

    I wanted to glance over at the door to my teammate’s room, but stopped myself. She thinks in dog terms, I thought. Which means dominance games. Yay. “I am.”

    She snorted, a sound rich with disbelief. “Then why didn’t you do something. He betrayed you, but all you did was talk.”

    “I talked,” I informed her, “Because hurting him wouldn’t do anything. If you’d asked me who the leader was yesterday, I’d say we’re partners.” Keep it short. “Now I don’t.”

    “He said he wanted to help us. Do you?” she asked, getting to the point. I nodded in response. “Why?”

    She still hadn’t broken eye contact, so neither did I. I had noticed that her dog had moved away, and increasing my hearing, I detected it moving behind me. What’s your game? “Because I think you’re a good person, and the people who were supposed to help you as a kid, didn’t, so I will.”

    Her eyes narrowed. “You don’t fucking know me,” she stated, as the sounds of the dog’s breathing deepened, probably growing under her power.

    I shrugged, standing and putting my phone away, expression carefully neutral, not breaking eye contact. “I know your Trigger event. The dog, Roll, Rex, whatever his name was, didn’t deserve to die, and it wasn’t your fault.”

    She got in my face, growling. “You’re all talk, just like her!” I stood, not reacting, ready for whatever she did. “You think you’re fucking strong?”

    “Yes.”

    She swung at me, a right hook aimed at my face, but her form was atrocious. I leaned back, dodging the telegraphed blow, stepping around her as I grabbed her wrist, viciously twisting it backwards and behind her, making sure not to use my powers. The dog, now the size of a small horse, leapt for me, jaws open. Yanking her in the path of the dog, it broke off its attack, coming up short. She tried to elbow me with her free arm, which I also grabbed, twisting it behind her.

    The dog tried to dart around her, knocking over a couch, but I twisted her to use her as a shield. It backed off whining. Switching my grip to hold her with one hand, I grabbed the girl firmly by the throat with the other, twisting her backwards. “Just because I talk doesn’t mean I won’t act, Bitch,” I growled in her ear. “And if we’re talking strength here, you’re the one who’s weak, relying on your dogs to do your fighting. Get better, and you won’t need them to save you.”

    Shoving her towards her companion, I calmly waited for her response. I didn’t want to kill her dog, but if she was stupid enough to have it try to kill me, I’d return the favor. It took a few steps forward before she commanded, “Brutus, come.” It immediately stopped, returning to her side, flesh sloughing off as she got it a bowl of water and returned to her room, not looking at me as she did so.

    I sat down while she moved, taking my phone out and pretending to ignore her, not relaxing until she closed the door. “I hate dominance games,” I lamented to no one in particular, walking over and grabbing some of the matter that Brutus had shed, examining it. As I turned the flesh over in my hands, it ever so slowly shrank. Using a wind claw, which I carefully controlled, taking the time to try to recreate it as a single blade instead of the triple slash I’d copied from Stormtiger, I tried to cut it. After a couple tries, I managed it, the smaller section shrinking, dissipating into nothingness as the larger shank still shrunk. Well, I guess Bitch isn’t going to revitalize the Korean restaurant industry in Brockton Bay. Is that racist? I mused.

    Tossing the not-meat to the side, I continued reading, interrupted, yet again, less than an hour later. I heard my teammate getting up, and sighed, putting away my phone. Despite the shit he pulled, he was still my friend, and he’d have my back without blinking.

    I turned to look as he opened the door and practically slinked out, looking around. It was awfully early for him to be up though. “Hey Break,” I called tiredly. “What’s up?”

    His head snapped to me, and he gave a wide smile, his body language all wrong. “Oh no,” he told me, voice smooth to the point of almost being slimy. “I ain’t that kiddy pimp.”

    I looked at him in confusion. Did he just call Herb a pimp who specialized in children, or a child who is also a pimp. Either way, eww. But he wasn’t done. “I’m Curtis baby,” he said, lazily snapping his fingers, a humanoid leopard coalescing behind him. “And that’s my boy, The Hurt.”
     
  8. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.6
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    I looked at the two of them, oozing malice, before I made the connection. “Oh, you’re the new replicant, cool,” I observed, outwardly relaxing.

    Curtis went still as the jaguar-man growled. The replicant turned, addressing it. “Oh, he hurt you,” he turned back to me, motions languid. “You want to be the first of our. . . encounters?” the man inquired, smiling nastily.

    I looked at this display and sighed internally. Of. Fucking. Course. This day hasn’t sucked enough, now I’m going to need to kill a monster wearing my friend’s face. When we get back to base, we’re having a talk and maybe getting him a counselor. I wonder if I could hire Yamada. I felt nothing but disappointment looking at this dark reflection of what my friend could have been, prepping Stormtiger’s claws. It was a trick Break hadn’t seen me practice, and if Curtis, like Boojack, had his progenitor’s memories up till his creation, it’d be something I could use to catch him off guard. Outwardly I sighed. “Okay, I’m not sure what deviation of. . . Herb’s base personality you are, but know that unlike him, if I have to, I will fucking kill you in an instant. Understood?”

    Curtis took a swaying step forwards, hands flexing in anticipation as he practically purred, “Challenge. . . Accepted.” Fuck. “This is gonna be,” he announced, flesh shifting and changing, sprouting black fur. “Nice.” A pure black tiger stood before me, growling as it leapt for me, claws outstretched. I didn’t bother getting out of my seat, lifting my arm up, sending a single air blade to gut him, chin to groin, in the blink of an eye. The added force of the cutting wind knocked him off course, the leopard-man Stand winking out of existence as Curtis died in an instant, his corpse landing with a heavy thunk at my feet.

    I sighed.

    What the fuck was I going to do with a pure black tiger, whose entrails were probably staining the carpet even now? A motion out of the corner of my eye got my attention, another air blade ready. Grue opened his door took a step inside, and froze, looking between me and the corpse in front of me. “Go back to your room Brian, I’ll take care of this. Do your exercises next to Regent.”

    “How. . .?” he asked, not looking away from the dead melanistic tiger.

    "With your physique, you have a daily exercise regimen.”

    He made no motion for a moment, before backing up and starting to close the door, not turning around. “Okay.”

    I just stared at the corpse for a minute, checking that the sound bubble was still in place before I couldn’t suppress my laughter any longer.

    It was not a happy sound.

    After all of this, all this bullshit, I got attacked by fucking not-Herb as a black fucking tiger of all things. Once that petered out, and I once again felt drained, I walked over to the landline calling up the hotel’s assistance.

    “Hi, yeah,” I told them. “Through a complete unexpected series of events, I have a dead black tiger in my room, and it’s bled all over the lounge rug, could you send someone to take care of it?”

    They were confused, but said they’d send someone up. A few minutes later a very apprehensive young woman was at my door with a trolley. She was quite helpful, and I helped her maneuver the corpse, as well as lay down a new rug, tipping her a hundred. Her last question took me aback.

    “What do I want you to do with it? Um. . . can you have it made into a rug?” I asked. Maybe Curtis would think twice of trying to kill me with a reminder of how I’d swatted him like an errant fly the first time at his feet. “As for the rest,” I shrugged. “Whatever you want? Thanks!” I gave her my PO box number and wished her a good day.

    Sitting back down, I was at a loss on what I should do next. It was still too early to start making breakfast, and I couldn’t focus on the manual. It’s just one thing after another, I groaned internally. I leaned back and relaxed, setting an alarm for an hour later, and tried to meditate. Clear my mind, and all that shit. Bakuda was dead. Couldn’t have happened to nicer psychopath. Break had apparently planned on Dinah getting taken in some twisted ‘it happened in the book, so it has to happen now’ deterministic bullshit, so I couldn’t lean on him for support anymore. When it came to minor characters, like Purity, he seemed to have no problem mucking about with canon, but I couldn’t trust his actions on the protagonists and secondary characters. I’ll deal with that later. I went through my breathing exercises, and subsumed myself in them until my alarm went off.

    Muting it, I dropped the sound bubble and got started on pancakes, eggs, bacon, the works. Yesterday sucked, so hopefully a nice breakfast would make this day go better, or something. Turning on the TV as I worked, I saw the bombings had continued, without seeming rhyme or reason, though vague reports about Asians with bombs in their heads made me roll my eyes, wondering if the E88 owned the local news station. Like that won’t cause mass panic, and get racial tensions ratcheted up, I mused, flipping pancakes, adding chocolate chips to the batter on a whim. Focusing on my task, I jumped, blades ready when I heard a voice from my elbow comment, “Chocolate? Fuck, Is it my birthday or somethin’?”

    Glancing over I didn’t see Aisha as she leaned over the plate of flapjacks, sniffing. She reached for one, and reacting on instinct I lightly smacked her hand away, internally confused at how I was able to do that when I couldn’t actually see her hand. “Those are for breakfast for everyone. Take a shower and grab some clothes from the dresser, I can smell you from here. Your power doesn’t cover that up.”

    “Fuck, it doesn’t?” she asked. “Hadn’t noticed it at home, Mom- Yeah. . .” trailing off, she sniffed herself. “Shit! Ya, I’m kinda fuckin’ ripe. Don’t start without me!” she called, bounding back to her room.

    Rolling my eyes, I finished up, knocking on everyone’s doors to get them up. Tattletale answered immediately. Taylor had woken up during the night, but was out of it, and had fallen back asleep soon after. Grue had been waiting in his room, and Regent asked for five more minutes. Shrugging, I moved on. Bitch got up, giving a small nod when I told her I wasn’t sure what she wanted Brutus to eat, so hadn’t made him anything. Break woke up blearily, looking around himself. “Where’s my next replicant?” he asked, confused.

    “He tried to kill me,” I informed him. “I returned the favor. I’m better at it than he was.”

    He had the decency to wince. “Oh, that night kept getting better, huh?”

    Apparently. I made pancakes.”

    He perked up at that. “Fuck yeah, I’ll be up in a few.”

    Going back to Regent’s room, I poked my head in. “It’s been five minutes Jean-Paul, time to get up.”

    He groaned, rolling out of bed. “Whatever, mom,” he grouched.

    Smiling, I quipped back, “Just don’t call me dad,” closing the door to block the pillow that he threw at my head.

    The Undersiders sat down with us, eating in a scene that was downright domestic. I tried not to preen under the praise of my cooking from the teens. It was sadly, not to last. Regent used his power to twitch my arm, laughing as I got maple syrup in my face from a flying bit of pancake. My own power activated without me meaning to, lashing out, coping his power, the ‘physical effects’ restriction satisfied by my own body being controlled by such a margin I didn’t get a choice in the matter. I sighed, now I had a human Master power, and things were going so well, but I guess I needed to get this done.

    “Regent,” I addressed him coldly and quietly, the jovial atmosphere disappearing in an instant. “I despise human Masters. That was your one. I could say that if you do that to me or anyone else on my team without their express permission I will hunt you down and have insects consume you slowly over the course of hours, my knowledge of anatomy allowing me to extract maximum pain as I eat you alive for as long as your mind will hold out, as my range far exceeds yours, but I won’t, because I’m a Hero. Instead, I’ll just do what I’m planning to do to your father, since you’ll have decided to stoop to his level, which is shoot you in the head at extreme range with a sniper rifle. Remember, being able to fly means I never have to worry about finding an optimal position. And if I am Mastered to the point that you can pull my metaphorical strings, I have contingencies that will take care of it for me, and at least one of them is immune to your power.”

    The Master in question looked back cockily, hand waving dismissively, though it appeared a bit forced, and opened his mouth to respond, cut off as something wet hit his shoulder. Confused, he looked up into a pair of meter wide jaws, opened on either side of his head, Enter having manifested and shifted to a smaller, but still prehistorically large, crocodile, jaws ready to snap shut. Regent shakily put his hand down and looked back at me.

    “So, we aren’t going to have an issue. Agreed?” I asked.

    “Agreed!” he squeaked, flinching as Enter disappeared into nothingness.

    “Good,” I smiled widely, glad that was taken care of. We continued, though the teens did glance at me occasionally, and the atmosphere didn’t truly return.

    Break, probably trying to make up for last night, offered to get the dishes. As he passed by Bitch, he almost absently reached out and scratched the back of her neck. She growled, turning to glare at him. “Stop molesting the newbies,” I chided him, not really caring if he got himself in trouble at this point, but offering a token rebuke out of duty.

    He shrugged. “Just showin’ some love.” Everyone stopped and stared at him at this declaration. “What?” he defended. “You don’t like hugs and shit. Are y’all that damaged?”

    “Dude,” I commented. “Phrasing.”

    He rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry Le-“

    “No,” I cut him off. “Whatever you’re gonna say, no. Shush.”

    “But, come on!” he whined. “Hugs, team-building, spreading that positivity!”

    Regent held up a hand, “Can I not be on this team?”

    “None of you are on the team yet,” I informed him.

    “Think of this,” Break addressed the body controller. “You’ll be able to touch all the hot chicks, I mean you’ll also have to touch the nasty ones, and some dudes, but anyways, hot chicks in there somewhere.”

    He was waved off. “Pass, done that already.”

    I felt compelled to add. “Yeah, I’m not going to make a comment on the hotness levels of our underage not really team members.”

    Break looked at me, confused. “What? Not them. If we’re spreading the love we’re gonna need to hug everybody.”

    I shot back, “I know you just want to hug Purity.”

    “The Nazi?” Tattletale asked, looking at him. “Oh, eww, that’s just wrong.”

    He nodded unrepentantly. “Oh definitely her, I want to give the big circle-”

    “I’m gonna go check on Taylor” I told the teens, talking over my friend.

    “-and the really tight hug,” Herb continued unabated. “And the hug that just caresses you all-“

    I closed the door behind me, muting his words as I walked to where Taylor was still sleeping, sitting on the other bed and using my bug sense to prod her into walking up. She stirred, blinking wearily, accepting her glasses as she sat up with a groan of pain. I grabbed a cup from her room’s bathroom, filling it with water and handing it to her, along with the one of the pills the doctor had left. She took them and I sat down, waiting for her to talk.

    “What. . . What happened?” she asked. “I remember the bombs, and running, and pain, and you weren’t there,” she accused, weariness blunting her anger. “You said you’d be there, and you weren’t!”

    “Taylor,” I told her calmly, “I was on the other side of the city, and dealing with something delicate, and I was there in twenty minutes.”

    “You were?” she asked, more to herself. “Thought that was a dream, like when you’re about to die and everything seems nice. But I’m not. Pain means I’m not, unless,” her emotions were a chaotic mess over our shared sense, vacillating wildly between depression, hope, confusion, anger, and more.

    “I was,” I asserted. “I tried to call you back, remember?”

    “Oh, the phone!” she cried, suddenly alert, and I threw a sound bubble up to keep us from being interrupted. “I broke your phone, I’m so sorry, it was really nice, and really expensive, and you were kinda an ass when you gave it to me, but you weren’t wrong which just made it worse!” she babbled. “But we were running and then there was a bomb and it vacuumed everything and, and I dropped it when I had to grab onto that sign to keep from getting dragged in too and, and now it’s gone and there’s no way I can pay for it and stop laughing I’m serious!”

    I couldn’t help myself, my guffawing laughter derailing her panic attack. I held up a hand, as I got myself under control, the utter ridiculousness of her statement just striking me as weirdly hilarious after the last few hours, though also incredibly sad. “Taylor, your being safe is worth more to me than any stupid phone,” I informed her. “I’ll get you another one, I’m just glad you’re okay.”

    At this, she suddenly broke into tears, which made no sense whatsoever. Her emotions were mostly happy, but still mired in that chaotic mess, so it was probably the lingering aftereffects of the concussion, though the doctor had said the dangerous period had passed. I wondered if I should do something, or just let it pass. Choosing the second, I got her some tissues, handing them over as she collected herself.

    “I’m sorry for being mad at you,” she apologized. I shrugged, not taking offense to it in the first place. With her abandonment issues, if she thought I had turned my back on her, it was only understandable she’d be pissed. “I remember pain, worse than anything, and then everything felt better, and there was screaming, but it wasn’t me.”

    “Oh, that was Bakuda,” I explained. At her look I kept going. “Herb killed her as I was getting you out of there and healing you. For specific things I need detailed info, but I have a general healing application which I used. The doctor said you’d been healing for a week after I’d been using it for an hour on you.”

    She winced. “You mean I feel this bad after a week, that-wait. Killed? He killed her?” she was aghast.

    I didn’t really see the problem. “If he hadn’t, I was going to, but I was busy making sure you were safe.” She looked at me horrified. “Neither of us take kindly to seeing someone we care about hurt.”

    “Did, did you kill her because she hurt me?” she questioned quietly, sounding scared of the answer.

    I sighed, looking at her. “Well, if we’re being honest, she wasn’t going to just hurt you, she was going to torture your teammates in front of you, then torture you, before finally giving you to Oni Lee to be repeatedly raped, and for that, yes, unquestionably yes, I would kill her. But that’s only just yet another reason why we were going to kill her to begin with.”

    Putting a hand on my teammate’s shoulder, I spoke kindly, but with surety. “She was insane, Taylor. You saw that yourself. That kid that got liquified, the bombs she planted in people’s heads? That’s another reason she had to die. We did it for a lot of reasons, her targeting you just made it an immediate thing instead of a planned strike later. She’s bombed the entire city, and now that she’s dead her remaining bombs seem to be going off randomly.”

    Almost on que, the sound of a distant explosion was heard through the closed window, a plume of yellowish-green flame rising up over downtown. “Oh god,” Taylor whispered, voice thick with guilt, “this is all my fault!”

    “What?” I asked, completely confused. “Fucking how?”

    “If I wasn’t there, none of this never would have happened,” she stated with dread. “If I wasn’t on your team, you wouldn’t’ve killed her. Everyone that died is my fault!”

    I blinked at her, a bit taken aback. “Holy shit Taylor, I didn’t realize you were a precog, why didn’t you say so earlier?”

    “Huh?” was her reply at what must have been, to her, a complete non-sequitor.

    “Well, you’d have to be, to know that all of this was going to happen just from you joining, and for you take sole responsibility for it. Anything else would be the height of arrogance. You must also be a powerful Master, making Bakuda implant all those bombs in the people her gang was supposed to protect. And making her program in a deadman’s switch. And making her ambush your teammate to capture you. And to make the Undersiders go looking for Bitch. And to make us come to help you. And to make Herb kill her.”

    I shook my head in mock amazement. “Wow Taylor, what is free will in the face of such awesome power? I say that, of course, because unless you are directly controlling their actions, there’s no logical way you could be responsible for the actions of others.” I gave her an unimpressed look, as she gaped back at me. “Besides, the bombing was going to happen no matter what, it was a distraction to break Lung out of PRT holding, the revolving door that that is, only now the following detonations are random instead of tactical, and most of their conscripts are busy fleeing and trying to get medical help instead of following the ABB’s orders.”

    “Wait, Lung’s free?” she asked, scared.

    “Really?” I asked in disbelief. “After all that, that’s what you focus on?”

    “He’s going to try to kill me for what I did to him!” she responded, trying to dodge the question. I rolled my eyes. Fine, but we’re having this discussion later.

    “He’s really not that big a deal,” I commented, getting a disbelieving look of my own. “No, really, if we hadn’t messed with the timeline, you’d have taken him down in about a week and a half pretty much on your own, after taking down Oni Lee with the help of a sniper team. For Herb or I, if we really went at it? No contest.”

    “How?” she finally demanded, after processing my declaration.

    “You or us?” I tried to clarify.

    “Yes!”

    “Well, for Oni Lee, you know how he seems to teleport, leaving behind an ash clone?” I asked, continuing at her nod. “Well, you hit him with a swarm, like ya do, but notice that when he teleports the bugs travel with him, immediately letting you know where he is. With the help of a sniper team that you’re working with, you can immediately tell them where the real version is. He’s used to taking a second to survey the area before teleporting back in with no-one knowing where he is. In that second, you ID him and they snipe him.”

    “And Lung?

    “Well, at the time the villains had made a truce to take down the ABB, since the threat to the city they posed was getting extreme and they were making a bid to take it all over, so you were working with Newter,” I explained. “He’s a Case 53, a real one, and he’s an anthropomorphic newt who secretes hallucinogenic slime. Lung was going all rage dragon, and had scaled up, but mucus membranes are mucus membranes and you covered your bugs in Newter’s slime. It would kill them in minutes, but you had them divebomb his face, crawling up his nose and against his tear ducts. Enough got through and you dropped him, but he was going to be back up in minutes. After calling Lisa and checking that he could regrow anything, you tore out his eyes.”

    “I wouldn’t do that!” she practically shrieked, before suddenly getting introspectively worried. “Would I?”

    “Well,” I reasoned. “You had him down, but he was going to be back up before the PRT could secure him, and you knew he’d regrow anything you take off of him. He was still covered in steel scales and extraordinarily hot to touch at the time, and trying to heal from the venom in his nostrils. How would stop him from getting up and killing you, Newter, who’s injured and unconscious, and Bitch, who’s also injured?”

    “Oh god, I would,” she whispered to herself. “What kind of hero am I?”

    “The kind that’s willing to do what’s necessary to protect people. The kind that’s willing to match your foe’s brutality. The kind that I am,” I said simply.

    She looked at me, the chaotic mess of emotions on her end of the bug sense settling a bit as she did so. “Okay, anything else I should know?” she questioned with forced calm.

    “Um, well, I had Lisa call your dad to-”

    “You what?” she cut me off, panicking once again.

    I rebuked her gently. “Taylor, you were seriously injured, and we were laying low. I had her call him and say you were out with friends when you got caught by the edge of blast, but you were okay. He knows you’re staying with friends, and you getting back late makes perfect sense because they’ve stopped the busses because they found bombs on them, so-”

    “What!?” she interrupted again.

    “They only found three more bombs after the first exploded, and only a few people died, so it could have been way worse. Either way though, the bus system is down,” I finished explaining. We sat there, her looking at me, completely at a loss for words. “So. . . school’s out. So there’s that. . . are you okay?”

    Her emotions over the connection spiked at my question and she started laughing and crying uncontrollably. “Yes, No, I don’t know! I’d just robbed a bank and everything was okay, and I met Emma and I didn’t care for the first time in forever, and then I realized I was friends with villains, and then we went to find Bitch and I thought I was going to die, and then we won, but we didn’t because we were idiots, and then I knew I was going to die, and then you were there and it didn’t hurt anymore, and you were there, all hot with your muscles, and then I woke up and I was safe, and now the cities being bombed, I don’t know what’s going on anymore!” she finished.

    “Um. Wait. What?” I asked, wondering if I heard what I thought I’d heard.

    A flash of panic came across the connection. “I don’t know what’s going on.” She shrugged helplessly, after pausing a second too long. “It’s just too much.”

    “No,” I clarified, “right before that.”

    She went bright red, sputtering. “I, I didn’t say you were hot. Or your muscles were.”

    An awkward silence spread between us. “Well,” I finally pronounced,Since we’ve established that, me and my muscles are gonna go. There’s clothing in the dresser, find something that fits you, and get changed.”

    I dropped the sound bubble and was out of the room in a flash, not wanting to deal with any of that for as long as I could. Until she was eighteen, at the very least.

    Closing the door behind me, my teammate was still going on about hugs. “and really, hugs almost saved the world. Coke almost had it with that hands across the world thing but if it were hugs, if it were hugs, how could you say no? Like, you get a Palestinian to hug an Israeli, and yeah, both thinks the other’s gonna stab them in the back, but when they don’t, and they didn’t do it to you, which they probably would, but if they didn’t either, then that’s something good, and you can spread it all over!”

    “Has he been doing this the entire time?” I asked, walking over and making some more coffee.

    “Yes!” was the response from Lisa, Brian, and Aisha.

    Regent nodded, obviously not as sick of Herb’s antics as the rest. “Man’s got some good points.”

    “I have a new messiah.” The man in question grinned at me.

    “Does that make Regent the king of kings?” I mused. “Nevermind.”

    “Wait, I like that!” the villain in question objected, to the groans of the rest.

    We lounged a bit, Bitch was getting a bit restless, but the rest were willing to watch the developing situation on TV. The Protectorate appeared not to be doing anything. As usual. It was a bit later that the door opened and Taylor started to walk out, freezing as she saw us all hanging out, mostly unmasked. “Hi?” she offered to the collective stares, looking to me for help.

    I shrugged, “Long story short, they know you’re working with us, they’re cool with it, and might join the team at a later date.”

    Lisa added smugly, “I knew you were really working for them the entire time.”

    I ruined her all knowing image by leaning over and tousled the Thinker’s hair, to her great annoyance. “Sure ya did. So, Taylor, you’re still going home and resting for a few days.” She started to protest, but I cut her off. “You’ll be back on your feet faster than you would normally, but you still need to go home and rest for three days at least, and take three of these a day,” I instructed, picking up the bottle the doctor had left. “It’ll make your dad feel better as well. Give me a call when it’s been a few days and you’re ready to go back into the field. Okay?” She hung her head and agreed, and I continued “Good, Brian and Lisa will make sure you get home okay.”

    Taylor glared at me petulantly. “I can make it back okay.”

    “Possibly, but one, you’re still concussed, even if it’s healed, and that’s about the same as being a bit drunk, or so I’m told. Second of all, someone needs to drop you off, and given how you’ve been hurt if you ever want your dad to let you hang out with your friends again they need to go talk to him, and Herb and I can’t be the ones that do it.”

    The man added, only somewhat helpfully, “Yeah he’ll be all like ‘What did you do to my daughter,’ and I’ll be all like, ‘Nothing, I don’t have a dungeon, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’”

    I gave him a confused look, “You don’t have a dungeon.”

    “That you know of,” he sniffed.

    “We live in the same secret base!” I retorted. “Ugh, anyways, Tattletale, you and Grue take her home, give her dad a comforting lie, and, if you want to, I can check your base for bombs with my bugs with Regent and Bitch. Taylor could theoretically do it, but in her unfocused state she might miss something.”

    “I’d rather you didn’t,” the Thinker grumbled.

    I shrugged. While I didn’t want anything to happen to them, Taylor would be safe, and they should be fine.

    My teammate wasn’t so laissez-faire, prompting, “Wait, so, you want to die? You’re perfectly fine going home, chilling, eating some pizza, going to your separate rooms, lying down in bed and then when you’re asleep that’s the trigger and the bombs go off and you’re dead.” He looked to me for help.

    “No one on our team will be in the blast radius, even if I don’t want them hurt, I’m not gonna press them on it,” I contested, though he had a point.

    I’m gonna fuckin’ press them on it,” he asserted. “‘Cause they’re being moronic kids!”

    Lisa looked between the two of us, “What?”

    “If I can work with you to both help you and society, I will, but at this stage, I only care about you a bit.” I explained. “The ‘go out of my way to help you’ kind of care, not the ‘possibly alienate you because I care more about your safety then how you feel’ kind. You want to work with us? Great, I’ll help. You don’t want to and end up dead because of it. That’s unfortunate, and I would be saddened by your deaths, but I’ll focus my efforts on people that want to be helped.” Mind you, I was still going to check their base even if they told me not to, but I wasn’t going to tell them that. Herb was right, though I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of agreeing with him after his. . . revelation only hours ago.

    “Me, on the other hand,” Herb countered, “I understand that you’re still children sometimes, and your brain development, though altered by shards, ain’t done yet.”

    “That isn’t to say you’re stupid,” I added, “just your lacking in experience to see all angles of a problem and may overestimate your own tactical abilities, see last night’s debacle.”

    Herb furthered his argument, “And when I was your age I was all like ‘Hey, I know it all’ and I don’t care if I sound like your god-damn father but if I have to pull you over my goddamn knee and smack ya ass, I’m gonna do it ‘cause you’re gonna do the right shit!”

    I looked at him in the wake of his comment. “That sounds a bit pervy man.”

    Herb waved me off, “I’d be a perv if I used a spike paddle and they were strapped to a horse.”

    I wanted to argue the point, but I noticed that his comment had short-circuited the kids’ indignation at being treated like, well, kids, so I went along with it. “Wherever you choose to draw the line is up to you, but I’m pretty sure you’re just debating degrees of perv by that point, but right, rah, father-figure, whatever.”

    “Yeah, Whatever,” he firmly agreed, turning back to them. “You’re gonna motherfuckin’ get your shit swept, ya gonna do it so ya don’t die from somethin’ stupid as ‘I don’t wanna’! Are ya done? Any Questions? Good? Then let’s do this! God-dammnit people.” He finished, mostly to himself.

    With the blank looks he was receiving, I stood up, taking my role as the leader. “Not to give you guys orders, but here are your orders: Grue, Tattletale, get Lady Bug home safe. Regent, Bitch, show me exactly where your base is so I can double check it. Imp, honestly do whatever you think is best but watch out for bombs. They don’t need to see you to kill you. I’d prefer you stay with Grue, but there’s no way I can make you, or even check with him to see if you did. Herb, you get Enter and check our base for surprises. Okay, let’s go.”

    My partner nodded, spreading his arms wide, “And hugs? Anyone for hugs. ‘cause I do love ya, like you’re my kids, but I love ya.” There were no takers “Must be the shards,” he commented, “makes ‘em have an aversion to hugs.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Right, it’s the shards, whatever, let’s go.”

    Grue held up a questioning hand. “What’s a shard?”

    “A discussion for another day,” Herb told him. “Let’s go!
     
  9. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.7
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    We all broke into different groups as we left the hotel, Herb turning into a velociraptor and taking off, Brian flagging down the taxi I called for Taylor as Lisa hid her mask under a large pair of shades, refusing to unmask to me. After they left, I shifted my costume into full Vejovis gear, walking with the other two.

    We took off down the fairly empty street, casually walking, Brutus unleashed but keeping pace with Bitch. After a couple minutes Regent spoke up. “So, walking with us, doesn’t that mess up your image, associating with known villains and all that?”

    I shrugged. “What villains? You’re not in costume. You’re just two teens that got caught in the edge of a blast, and I’m making sure you get home safe, since I’m not doing anything else and haven’t been contacted by anyone to help.”

    He nodded his head, “So, between us, Taylor, and apparently Panacea if Tats was tellin’ the truth, you sure are hangin’ out with a lot of teenagers. Makes ya think.”

    I ignored his implications, playing the question straight. “Before this I was a teacher, which means I’m used to teens.”

    He perked up, “What’d ya teach?”

    “Unofficially, Not Foreign languages.”

    “That’s not what you teach, that’s what you don’t,” he informed me, confused.

    I shrugged. “Same thing. High school subjects aren’t that hard unless you teach advance placement, and even then, not really. I’ve got a teaching cert, and was working on another, but for. . . reasons, it’s no longer valid. Do you have your GED?”

    He shook his head. “Pops wasn’t big on, well, anything that wasn’t him, and it wasn’t like we ever got truant officers. Every day was Ferris’s for us. Saw what was on it when Brian was working on his, didn’t look that hard.”

    “Get it,” I told him, “Then you’re qualified to be a substitute teacher.”

    His stride paused a second, before he continued on, asking mildly, “That’s it?”

    “Yep.”

    He gave a snort, “No wonder high school sucks.”

    I matched his with one of my own. “Like you ever went.”

    “I’ve seen TV,” he defended.

    “That’s usually exaggerated for effect.” He gave me a look, “Though not always,” I acceded, “see Lady Bug.”

    “You both talk too much.” Bitch growled.

    I rolled my eyes, stopping, the other two stopping with me. I turned to face her, looking her in the eye. She started to turn away, so I put my hand on her shoulders, tightly. “I treat you the way you understand, same for him. You’re different. You treat all your dogs the same?”

    She didn’t say anything, just glared. “I asked you a question.” I reiterated calmly.

    “No,” she spat.

    “Exactly,” I told her, letting go and continuing to walk as if nothing had happened.

    Regent tried not to laugh as he kept pace, not quite managing it, which was probably on purpose. We’d made it into the docks when he spoke up again. “So about the, you know?”

    I tried to think of all the things it could be, finally responding, “I really don’t”

    “You know,” he said leadingly, adding when I didn’t get it, “The S-word.”

    “Oh, shards, what about them?”

    “What are they, you know, of?” he pried.

    I shook my head. “Not gonna tell you.”

    “Oh come on, please?” he begged.

    “No.”

    “I’ll be your friend,” he promised.

    “I’m good.”

    “Pleeease?” I didn’t respond. “Pleeeeeeeeease?”

    “I threatened to cover Tattletale’s mouth with skin with my healing ability if she didn’t stop pushing me. All it takes is skin to skin contact,” I informed him, pulling my glove off, “Don’t make me do it to you.”

    He feigned indignance, “You wouldn’t!”

    My hand flashed out, hitting him lightly in the back of the head. His eyes went wide as his hands went to his mouth, sighing in relief that it was still there. He glared at me as Bitch chuckled, and didn’t say anything else for the rest of the trip.

    Getting there, I had to give Coil props for base design at least. If I hadn’t known this was their base, I never would have guessed that someone lived in this seemingly abandoned warehouse. Reaching out with my bug sense, I got a response from a large amount of spiders. Directing them, along with everything else in the area, I swept them through the place, getting a three-dimensional image of the location, peering through their eyes whenever I found something I couldn’t ID from shape alone. Regent yelped, stepping back from the entrance as he saw the swarm flowing through his house, quickly retreating back to my side. It took a few minutes, but by the end I was sure Bakuda didn’t leave a bomb, informing them as much.

    Pulling out most of the bugs, leaving only a small population, completely harmless, and only there to keep worse things out. I pooled most into a swarm a few yards down the street. “That’s a whole lot of nope,” Regent commented, staring at the gathering.

    “Yeah, side effect of Bug Control, you forget they can be dangerous, since you control everything they do,” I explained as I figured it out, understanding the disconnect as I toggled the power, letting go and reaffirming my control on the group. “Thing is, if she’s not there, they go back to their instincts. It’s why she didn’t see a problem with having twenty-seven black widows in the empty area your loft didn’t take up.”

    “That’s. . . a lot,” he commented mildly. “And she really doesn’t get squicked? Huh. ‘Cause I saw a couple beetles in her hair, and yeah, I’m good.”

    “Precisely. Powers, especially Thinker powers or anything with sensory feedback, attenuate their user’s brains to maximize use.”

    “What’s that mean?” Bitch asked, surprising us both.

    “Powers change how you think. Yours help you understand dogs, Lady Bug’s make her comfortable with bugs.”

    “Wait,” Regent asked, holding up a hand. “Do my powers screw with my head?”

    I looked him in the eye, asking calmly, “Are you saying some part of you doesn’t see everyone walking around as flesh puppets, just waiting for you to pull their strings?”

    He blinked, before smiling weakly. “Noooo?”

    I rolled my eyes, taking off, calling back to him “There’s your answer!”

    <AB>

    Taking a roundabout route back, the city, while not in chaos, was certainly in a state of emergency. Checking before we’d left the hotel, there had been no statement from the PRT other than a “stay in your homes” and “do not panic”, which was so boilerplate it probably did more harm than help. I honestly didn’t like them, but more info might save lives, so I bit the metaphorical bullet and gave them a call, only to get a “please hold on” and elevator music. After five minutes of this, I changed my route and flew towards the PRT building, half a dozen guards out front pointing their sprayers at me.

    “Hello good sirs!” I called, amused. With my speed they’d never hit. “I have intel that your superiors would probably like to know, but I’m on hold on my phone. Could I just tell one of you, and go on with my day?”

    One of them called something on his radio, the guards all lowering their weapons as the one on the radio, presumably their leader, waved me over. “What is it, sir?” he asked, earning brownie points for politeness.

    “One of my contacts heard Bakuda, the ABB’s bomb tinker, bragging that she’d gone on a recruiting spree, by kidnapping people and surgically inserting special bombs into her head. Something happened, and now they’re going off randomly.”

    He nodded. “Thank you, anything else?”

    I stopped and thought for a second. “Before the bombs go off, they seem to cause pain to the subject, though with Tinkertech that might not be reliable. If the Protectorate are willing to risk it, you could cut down on problems by having the doctor that’s removing them team up with Clockblocker, so if the bomb started to go off, he could freeze the victim and get the doctor to safety. You wouldn’t be able to save the person, but it would let you remove the implanted bombs with minimal risk to your surgeons.”

    There was silence for a moment, the full-face mask of the PRT troopers masking any response. “That. Would that work?” he asked.

    I shrugged, “When he freezes someone, he freezes everything they’re wearing, so that should also freeze the bomb. Easy way to check, have him freeze someone and try to move their clothing. If you can’t, it’s frozen too, and if something that loosely connected is frozen, something implanted should definitely be frozen as well. Power are tools, not just weapons. Your sprayers could probably put out fires, even if that’s now what you use them for.”

    The PRT officer nodded slowly. “Thank you, sir, I’ll pass that on. Anything else?”

    “That’s all I’ve got officer, have a nice day.” I gave him a friendly nod, which he returned, and I walked away before taking off, pleased at this positive interaction.

    After moving out of eyesight, I headed back towards base, the area around it clear, but a couple of police cordons set up around bomb blast sites a few blocks over, though there wasn’t anyone manning them. Landing lightly and walking inside, I found Herb in the computer room, reading news stories. “Hey,” I called, and he nodded, closing what he was reading.

    “Hey,” he called back, turning to face me. “So, we need to train. I need to get better, and you’ve got the fighting shit down better than I do. Help me Obi-Lee Vejovis, you’re my only hope!” he declared, grinning.

    My first response would have been ‘of course, let’s go do this!’, but I hesitated. I didn’t understand exactly how Herb’s cloning worked, other than they gained his memories at the time of their creation, but what happened when they died? Did they get a new dump of information when they reformed? Herb didn’t get their memories, Shadow Clone style, when they died, or he’d have known Curtis had tried to kill me, but if they got his, the better to ‘help’ him, any training I gave him, I’d be giving Curtis, who I had no guarantees wouldn’t try to kill me next time. I didn’t hold his clones attempts to take me out against him, though we needed to have a talk about that later, but it was too much of a risk. “No.”

    His face fell. “Dude. I know I messed up, but, I want to fix it!” he pleaded.

    I wanted to lie and tell him some BS about him needing to train on his own, and figure out some things on his own so he wouldn’t just do what I thought he could, but he was my friend, still, and deserved my honesty. “Herb, when Curtis reforms, will he get the training I give you?”

    “I don’t know,” he replied unhelpfully. “But, you’re like the GI Joe crew of superheroes. Aren’t you a teacher? I’d be a great student. I’d be that urban child you could reach out to and teach me! Get all Michelle Phifer on me!”

    I looked at him, not knowing what the hell he meant, but considered the problem before me. Curtis seemed like an ambush fighter, so what I was considering should be advice he couldn’t use. “Okay, here’s something to consider. You get stronger the longer you fight. Once you reach a certain level of strength, you can use it to move quickly as well. Look into a style that’s heavy in movement and strong blows. You’ll need to be able to dodge blows at the start of the fight, and that speed will, once you get stronger, let you hit in a way that most super strong capes don’t seem to, since they prefer to just slug things out, moving slowly even when they don’t have to. If you can, get Boojack to help, so you learn how to dodge a brawler. I’ll heal your bruises when you’re done. Sound good?”

    He smiled. “Thanks man. Again, sorry about everything.”

    I waved off his apology. “For whatever reason, your clones aren’t really you. I don’t hold them against you.” I knew he meant more than that, but that wasn’t something I was ready to forgive. Herb left to go harass his replicant and I checked my e-mail, finding a request to meet with my lawyers as they’d found a few clients for me to use my Fleshsculpting on, even with the state of emergency. Arranging to meet them that afternoon, I killed time working on air claws.

    Making just one came pretty quickly, but anything more than that, or creating them in any direction other than from my hand was impossible. Sighing, I tried to pull apart the mechanics of the creation, feeling out with the power to understand how the constructs functioned. Creating one and holding in place was difficult, like holding back a hiccup, interrupting what almost felt like a natural process. Once I got that in place, picking it apart was a finicky process, like watching your hand move and trying to figure out all the little muscle twitches that made it function. As far as I could tell the shard created a wedge of vastly heightened air pressure, using the power to keep it from dispersing. From there the hardened air pressure was pushed forward, moving air around it and creating the blowing effect.

    Finding the mental command that moved hardened air pressure, I immediately tried to reform my flying platform idea, but even focusing entirely on it, pushing it as fast as I could, it moved at a walking pace, creating great gusts of wind as it did so.

    Sighing, I dispersed it.

    The cutting edge of the claws were tiny, and while I could make them long, creating a blade with a bit of effort, it was still so miniscule that imperial measurements were insufficient, its width and depth maybe measured in micrometers, even if it was a meter long. Visions of calling it “Invisible Air” just toscrew with people amused me as my phone’s alarm went off, telling me it was time for my meeting with Quinn Calle. I shook my head, dismissing the invisible sword. I could never pull off an armored dress anyways.

    <AB>

    Making sure to fly low on my way out, I left the base, heading towards the office of Eldington, Raul, & Calle, waving hello to the secretary, whose name I should probably learn at some point. He led me to a meeting room, where I only sat for a minute before my lawyer walked in. “Good afternoon, Mr. Calle,” I greeted, standing to shake his hand. “What do you have for me today?”

    He shook it firmly. “Good afternoon Vejovis. Given your. . . demonstration, we have some clients who have facial scarring. Standard plastic surgery can reduce the scarring, but rarely removes it entirely. From what we’ve determined, your method does, and leaves no trace. This has interested quite a few people but given the current state of the city, many are leery of coming here.” His tone dropped to just above a whisper. “Also, thank you. My wife and children are on vacation, and one of the busses she regularly takes is one where they found a. . . device.”

    I smiled, dropping a sound bubble between us. “You’re welcome. This’ll continue for about a week before the villains get sick of this and work together to take down the ABB, and I’m going to see if I can help them. After that thing are supposed to calm down, but a ‘storm’ is coming in the middle of May. Whatever it is, it sounds bad, worse than the bombings.”

    He, to his credit, controlled his reactions, paling slightly. “Should I be here for-“

    I shook my head. “No. Not if you can help it. People who should know will be informed when I get better intel, but right now it’s vague warnings.”

    Quinn took a deep breath, letting it out with a sigh. “Again, thank you. After this maybe my wife will listen to me more often,” he joked, mouth quirking in a smile.

    “One can only hope,” I agreed. “So, patients to see, money to make, right?”

    He nodded, motioning for me to sit, leading in an older woman with a healed knife wound, the line faint, but still there, breaking the curve of her cheek with the indentation. It took all of ten seconds to heal, and I added a couple seconds of the “Get Better” treatment, just as an extra.

    The bags under her eyes healed up a bit and she sat straighter, taking out a mirror and smiling experimentally, hand feeling the unblemished skin. From its placement, I realized, smiling probably pulled at it. She thanked me and walked out, a bit of a spring in her step. More followed, each one fairly minor, each one happy with the treatment. After only half an hour, Quinn came back in without anyone.

    “That went a lot faster than I thought. There’s one more, and do what you can, but,” he paused. “Are you familiar with the villain Acidbath?”

    “Not really?” I remembered him as being Birdcaged, and hurting Scion a little, but being a general asshole. “I assume with a name like that, he burned people with acid?”

    “Indiscriminately,” I was informed. “I have a contact who was part of the group who originally tried to arrest him. Just, do as much as you can. Thank you.” He turned and left, coming back with a man with a covered face, who sat down and hesitantly removed the bandana covering his face. I controlled my reaction as I looked upon a visage from a horror movie. Face almost completely melted, part of his chin having dropped down and bonded with his shoulder, one eye covered by distended, runny looking skin.

    Barely any facial tissue was unmarred, and I winced, having to ask. “I’m sorry, but do you have a picture before you were attacked? I need an image to work with.” Both men, who had looked disappointed but accepting what they probably thought was my apology for not being able to help, brightened a bit at my question. The man pulled out a phone, gloved fingers bringing up a photo of a man smiling with a decently attractive brunette. Looking at him I could see, barely, the resemblance between the photo and the ghoulish figure before me. Taking a breath and concentrating, I laid a hand on his cheek, choosing to start on his shoulder. Focusing on the seam where chin and clavicle seemed to connect, I carefully had the skin separate, pulling it back and unfusing it. Even moving slowly, I occasionally pulled wrong, opening up the flesh to muscle, which I healed, continuing the process.

    Once I’d separated it, the flesh hanging loosely, I focused on pulling it back, glad that while acid ruined skin, it had apparently left the bones and musculature intact. “This is honestly a job for Panacea, and if you can, get her to double check this. She’s got a full diagnostic suite, while I’m working blind.”

    The man who I’d been working on, who had been staring at himself in a mirror Quinn had set up, bit out an unhappy laugh. “I don’t have that kind of money, or that kind of pull. Even this is. . . It’s worth it, even if you stopped here though.” I paused. “Please don’t,” he begged, panicked.

    “Calm down man, I’m going to keep going, but Mr. Calle, don’t charge me for this one.” I told the lawyer. “I don’t normally do charity, too much ‘you did it for him, why not me’ bull, so let’s call this a teaching experience for my powers. Okay?”

    The lawyer looked at me, surprised, nodding. “We’ve had requests for you to heal people, especially with the bombings. Does that mean you won’t?”

    I considered the problem. “Demand I get paid like a top tier surgeon, and I won’t do it without Panacea to check my work. Hell, I’d honestly be assisting her, so if you can get them to agree, take 2/3rds of what I get paid and put it in an account for her once she reaches adulthood. She might think working for free all the time is noble, but all it does is make people devalue you.”

    “She doesn’t get paid?” the man I was working on asked. “But, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to be seen by her!”

    I continued pulling back the skin, bringing it around his face in an amorphous blob, glancing between the photo and the man as I pressed my powers in general terms to conform to the picture, slowly, making sure I didn’t mess anything up. “Which would be news to her. I worked a shift with her, and the hospital refused to even pay for our lunch, there’s a video of the confrontation online.”

    I’d uncovered his left eye, milky with damage, as he said, “That’s bullshit! She-what?” he cut himself off as I copied his right eye onto his left. My power emplacing the design without me understanding it in the slightest. I copied all the fiddly bit as well, tear ducts, eyelid, eyebrows, the works, just mirroring it to try for symmetry. “I can see,” he breathed, his mouth still slack, lips malformed, but I’d get to those next.

    “Well, that’s the point of having an eye. Kinda useless otherwise,” I quipped, leaning back, glancing over at the clock. I’d been at it for longer than I’d helped everyone else combined, but I was learning a great deal. “Could I have a glass of water or something?”

    Quinn, jumped up, returning back a moment later with a bottle. I accepted it gladly, taking a deep drink before continuing. Working on his mouth, it was a bit finnicky, a lot of soft tissues, and I muddled my way through it, happy with my work after 15 minutes of molding. The rest of the face was much easier, tightening, smoothing, shaping, and sculpting it with increasing ease. He had very little hair left, but it was enough to try to reseed, the black box that was my power letting me just go ‘more of this’ all across his scalp. After two hours of work, start to finish, I looked between the picture and the man before me, and they were pretty much the same, though the luster of his eyes were all off. It took me a second to realize the man was holding back tears.

    Glancing, I saw his neck was scarred, and by this point that only took a few seconds. “So, do you have more or was it just your face? Because I’ve got time, and we might as well make a clean sweep of this.” He looked at me in disbelief before haltingly taking off his jacket. Arms and hands scarred, several of his fingers stuck together at points. His chest had less burns, lessening down to just above his beltline, which was untouched.

    Taking another drink, I started on his hands, unsticking and smoothing them out as I went, working up one arm, then another, working ever faster. His chest was easier still, taking care of more skin in a few minutes then I’d worked on in hours. Giving him his chest hair back, I blasted a few seconds of my general health setting and leaned back, stretching, spine cracking. “So,” I smiled, “Better?” He sniffed, staring at himself, wiping at his face. “Ah, allergies,” I nodded, “heard they get bad this time of ye-”

    I was cut off as he lunged forward, grabbing me in a hug, saying “Thank you,” over and over again. I patted the somewhat sweaty man on the back awkwardly, waiting for him to be done. After a bit he let go, apologizing.

    I waved him off. “Don’t worry, I understand. Not personally, but metacognitively.” Sitting back, sipping my water, I waited for Quinn to show the man, who I realized I’d never gotten the name of, out, promising to meet him for dinner. The lawyer returned, sitting down, letting out a breath that visibly surprised him.

    “That,” he observed. “was impressive. You’d said you could,” he defended to my raised eyebrow, “but seeing it. Thank you.”

    I shrugged. “It was the right thing to do, just tell him not to mention that I waved my fee. Even doing so once is enough to get people begging for you to do it for them, and then getting angry at you when you don’t. Doesn’t matter if it’s special circumstances, everyone believes they’re special, and it’s enough to bait the social reality types.”

    He looked like he wanted to ask what I meant, but changed the topic. “With what you’ve done, are you comfortable doing vanity cosmetic surgery?”

    “Yes?” I asked, confused. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

    “Some people, when they’ve really helped someone, wouldn’t want to do so for what they would deem lesser reasons,” he elucidated carefully.

    I snorted. “I’m doing this to make money. I might help someone occasionally, but I’m planning on using this to keep the lights on and free up time to go do general heroics. How much did I make today?”

    He checked his tablet. “Just over fifteen thousand, though you’ll make more per person now that you’re a proven commodity.”

    I nodded, “Exactly, that kind of money will fund myself and my team, and I can do a lot more than just scar removal, though that last job was a learning experience.”

    He passed me a paper, with a list of plastic surgeries. “Which of these would you be comfortable with?” he asked.

    Looking over it I commented. “So, I probably won’t be able to actually do a face lift as I think it’s normally done, but I can do pretty much the same thing. Same for the other lifts. Arm lift? That’s a thing? Oh well. Okay, Rhinoplasty, that can’t be what it sounds like,” I told him.

    “It’s more commonly known as a nosejob,” he commented, amused.

    I shrugged. “Then why don’t they call it that? I can do that though. Otoplasty?”

    “Ear.”

    “Easy,” I retorted. “Only thing I’m not sure about is Lipo. I don’t create mass, just move it around, so I have no idea how I’d make that work. Also, Labiaplasty? No. Just no. Also, not doing the male version, which yes, I might be able to do, but I’m not gonna.”

    I looked at him meaningfully, and the interest that had glimmered in his eyes disappeared as he shrugged. “Whatever you’re comfortable with. That alone will be more than enough. I have to ask though, you healed Acer’s eye, could you do others?”

    “Could I? Probably, but anything internal I’m working blind on. He didn’t expect it back, and if all I’d been able to do was just appear normal without actually restoring sight, he still would’ve been happy,” I revealed. “I could do more, but unless I study a hell of a lot more, I can’t make any guarantees that it’ll work, and maybe even not then. Have him gloss over that too, the eye couldn’t see because it was covered or something.”

    Quinn nodded, standing up as I did as well, shaking my hand. “Thank you for what you’ve done. I’ll contact you when you have more clients ready, would you be available on the 20th?”

    I thought about my plans, and nothing I knew of happened that day. “Barring an emergency, I’ll see you then.”

    I walked out with a spring in my step, waving happily at Acer on my way out, glad that I’d done something unequivocally positive.
     
  10. JustMonika

    JustMonika Getting sticky.

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    Wow what a roller coaster. Fuck Herb though seriously what the fuck? He threw a fit over the 12 yr old with a bomb in her and went all "I could have saved her" but he shafts Dinah cause canon. You are a lot more forgiving than I am cause he's a liabilty at this point and his shit is wearing thin. Would have dropped him asap.
     
  11. Wivk

    Wivk Getting sticky.

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    Some of those latest chapters didn't get threadmarked. 253 just dropped hooray!
     
  12. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    It just went up on ff, you should be able to see it now. I also said tomorrow, like, 26 hours ago, but I appreciate the fact that you're looking forward to it that much.
     
    Wivk likes this.
  13. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.8
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    I sighed, reading medical texts as I tried to keep an air blade formed without concentrating on it. Getting home, I’d healed Herb and Boojack of their bruises, had dinner with them, and settled down after they’d both headed to bed. I could make the blade, and mentally treat it like a sword, moving it as I moved my hand, but as soon as my attention was drawn to something else it destabilized, blowing wind in every direction as the air pressure equalized.

    Because of this I was working on keeping it stable while working on something that demanded my attention. If I could understand a piece of biology, I could theoretically recreate it. I wasn’t going to start playing around with it until I could get Panacea to check what I was doing, my efforts equivalent to cave-painting next to her Botticelli. Regardless, it was worth spending time working on, if only to learn how to learn how to do it, and I thought it was coming along pretty well. After several hours, I could manifest, hold, and dismiss the blade at a thought, and had grown to understand quite a bit about the structure of a number of body parts, human and otherwise.

    Dawn broke, and my partner rose, sitting down with me to eat the breakfast I’d made. Getting an air blade stable enough to cut vegetables for an omelet being a kind of training all its own, though we might need a new cutting board. Shooting down his offers to help him train, he accepted them easily, adding, “Can’t blame a guy for tryin’.”

    Stretching, and heading to a different area then the spot Herb & Boojack were sparring, I manifested the sword, going after an abandoned train car, the rusted steel parting with little difficulty under my strikes, the shimmer of the condensed air the only clue of the blade’s existence. I focused on the edge, trying to thin it while keeping it stable, succeeding slightly, but short of some laboratory tech, I couldn’t say how well I did. After the thinning though, a couple of my cuts were fine enough that my targets seemed to remain intact until I pushed them, coming apart easily. “I am the anime now,” I quipped to no one in particular, amused at what I’d developed.

    Considering my weapon, I tapped into my forcefield power that I’d copied from Glory Girl. I’d learned how to use it to reinforce weapons, if blunt their edges, and now I’d learned to create a weapon. It was only common sense to combine the two, but I let go of both immediately as my hand seemed to catch fire.

    Tamping down my panic and reminding myself that I was immune to fire, I took a deep breath. Manifesting the blade again, I carefully started to cover it in a force field, the area I’d covered catching fire in the deep purples and bloody reds that were the colors of my power. I slowly extended the field down the blade, outlining the nigh-invisible air construct in unnatural ghostly flames, the heatless blaze flickering next to me. I stared at it, giving it a few experimental swings. The air around me rippled as it swung, blowing the gravel about, and just looked absolutely freaking cool on top of everything else.

    Taking a stance, I swung down at the side of the cut-up boxcar as hard I could with a shout. The blade cut into the side, but not smoothly, the force of the blow draining the field covering it with the sound of a muffled cannon. The blow pushed me back slightly as it flung the multi-ton piece of steel off the rusted rail it sat on, air gusting away in every direction from the impact, the train car crashing into another two dozen feet away, crushing it with the force of the blow, an ungodly screeching of metal nearly deafening me, ringing through the railyard as the impact was well outside of the sound bubble I’d set up for training. My sword’s flames dimmed, becoming a shifting red and purple outline, though the flickers of incandescence started to appear as I felt the field gain in strength again, ethereal but undeniable, the light of them glimmering off the broken glass around me.

    I looked at the destroyed mass of steel, the cut I’d made standing out starkly, an open wound in the metal clearly made by some kind of strike. Dropping a sound bubble around it I pulled out Purity’s Lightform, blasting it repeatedly, until all was left was an unidentifiable mess. Barely feeling the beginning of a drop in that power’s reserves, I let it fade, flying away before anyone came calling.


    <AB>



    Back at base, reading more medical texts, my phone rang. Surprised to see it was Panacea, I answered immediately. “Good,” I checked the time, “morning Panacea, how are you?”

    “I don’t like being blackmailed,” was her curt reply.

    “Um, neither do I?” I agreed, concerned. “Who’s blackmailing you?”

    “You are!”

    “Um, no I’m not?” I disagreed slowly, wondering what the hell she was talking about.

    Yes, you are!” she insisted, leaving it at that.

    I sighed, lamenting the communication skills of the average American teenager. “Panacea, why do you think I’m blackmailing you?”

    She gave a harsh laugh. “You said you wouldn’t heal anyone unless I was there. If you wanted to talk you could have just asked! I thought you were better than that!”

    I sighed, harder. “Panacea, in case it slipped your mind, I don’t have your diagnostic power. I, quite frankly, have no faith that if I worked with anyone else, and they made a mistake in their diagnosis, they wouldn’t throw me under the bus and blame me when I healed something wrong because they gave me bad intel. I know you, and know you never would do that to me, but I’ve worked in exactly one hospital after getting my powers, and it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence in their morality. Add to that all the weird stuff I’m sure they’re trying to heal, and the possibilities of getting stabbed in the back are more than I’m willing to risk.”

    “Oh,” was her subdued response. “Well, if you wanted to help, I’m at Good Samaritan. They’re the ones that told me about what you said.”

    “I’ll be there in a few minutes,” I promised.

    “Thanks,” was her response before hanging up.

    On my way out, I ran into Boojack and Herb, both battered, both smiling. “Hey man, could we get some heals?” my teammate asked. “And did you hear that crash? We think it was a bomb.”

    Healing both their bruised bodies, I told them, “That was me. I’ll explain later. I’m going to go heal people with Panacea.”

    Herb laughed, “Have fun with your girlfriend then! Tell her I said hi!”

    I glared. “Do you want me to heal you again, because it’s kinda sounding like ‘Hey Lee, you don’t need to help heal my training injuries, the pain’ll help me think more clearly!’”

    Boojack laughed at his creator as he backpedaled. “No dude,” the man said quickly. “I know you don’t want to bang her when she’s 16. But 18? You’re planting that seed.”

    “Can we not talk about me planting seeds. At all. Ever?” I replied firmly, walking out, and taking off, trying to scrub that conversation from my memory. Focusing on my task, I was grateful for modern technology. The satellite view of Google maps was so useful for finding places while flying, and a few minutes later I landed in the commercial district, walking in the front door of my destination. I was quickly led through a maze of corridors until I saw a familiar white and red cloak. The nurse that showed me the way left, and I waited for my friend to finish healing the sleeping woman, before speaking up. “Hello Panacea, how can I help.”

    She looked up with an expression of, happiness? Annoyance? I wasn’t sure what, and it passed by too fast for me to identify. “Follow me, they’ve set up a circuit.” She looked around and seeing whatever she was looking for, and approached me a bit closer than was exactly comfortable, especially with such a determined expression on her face. “But before we start. What happened that night? I don’t want to talk about it. Okay?”

    I shrugged. It was only the night before last, no need to be this weird about it, and if she didn’t want to talk about it, I’d respect her wishes. “Okay.” I looked at her, noting the slight bags under her eyes, obvious now that she was this close. “I’m good for ten hours, then we both need to go get some rest. I was up late getting kids out of danger, and it looks like you were pushing yourself as well. We’ll both stop at,” I stepped back, checking my phone. “Nine-thirty, get some dinner, and you’re going home to sleep. I’m willing to put in another shift tomorrow, but we have no idea how long this is going to keep going and need to pace ourselves.”

    “But, but what if someone needs my help while I’m not here?” she argued.

    I shot that down, parrying with, “Then they’d be in the same position as if you’d worked yourself to the point of exhaustion and passed out, only this way the hospital staff can plan around it.” I put a hand on her shoulder to try to get her to understand the importance of my point, something I’d been trying to figure out how to bring up. “Any healing you do is a net positive, and you’re being a person with needs of your own isn’t a negative thing. We don’t judge the Wards for not running themselves ragged patrolling, or for doctors having time off, you shouldn’t hold yourself to a standard that literally no one else is held to.”

    “Hell,” I scoffed, “Miss Militia doesn’t even need to sleep, but she’s not working twenty-four seven. If you have to view it that way, think of the extra people you’ll be able to heal by getting me to help, and the numbers should even out a bit. So, ten hours, we’ll only take twenty minutes for lunch if it makes you feel better, and we’ll heal a ton of people, more if we’re talking metric instead of metaphorical. Okay?”

    She looked conflicted, before holding out her hand. “Tell me you’re being honest.”

    I smiled, taking her the offered limb in a gloved hand of my own. “Panacea, making me take a lie detector test all the time? The lack of trust wounds me deep.” I pressed her fingers to my bare cheek so she could read me. “I’m being honest Panacea, I didn’t want to heal without you because you’re the one I trust to have my back here. I think you’re being foolish about pushing yourself too far, but understand why, and want what’s best for you. I didn’t mean to blackmail you, didn’t think of it that way, and if I had thought you would I would have said something specifically about that. Now, let’s go be heroes, and heal people, okay?”

    She pulled her hand back, walking past me, pulling her scarf up around her face. I fell into step with her, and spent the next several hours wading through some of the strangest injuries I’ve ever seen. We worked through them all, the only words passed were her instructions on how to heal my next patient. One man, early forties, had lost a leg to shrapnel that grew and crystallized what it hit, his limb a quartz sculpture. I looked at Panacea, knowing this was well in her wheelhouse, able to regrow the limb completely, but she shook her head sadly, not wanting to reveal the extent of her abilities.

    I was tempted to do it myself. Pulling bugs for biomatter I could copy the other, undamaged limb, flip it, and create it, having her take care of all the fiddly bits. If I pretended this was an aspect in which my power outpaced hers, it would work. That was something that I needed to talk to her about though, not do in the middle of a shift, so instead we removed the stone limb and kept him from bleeding out by sealing the stump immediately.

    Moving on, she helped me sidestep some problems, such as when one patient, a teenage girl, had been impaled by a spike of cement, but her internal organs were flipped in positioning, something that apparently sometimes happened but wasn’t on her chart. That let me heal her correctly, instead of, well, it would’ve been bad.

    We worked as night fell, only once being pulled away from our circuit as a bomb went off that burned people pretty badly. Panacea’s diagnostics identified they had phosphorous flakes still imbedded in their skin from the blast. Any attempts to remove these flakes would ignite them, further burning the victim, and the natural healing process would try to push the foreign substances out, which would, again, ignite, burning the victim. After the first patient was treated by staff, only to burst into flame and die, the rest were sent to us. In the face of her power though, the substance was quickly converted and subsumed, reinforcing the victim’s bones and teeth instead, dumping the excess, bonded so as to no longer be pyrophoric, into the bladder.

    As Panacea cursed Bakuda, I had to admire the dead Tinker’s ingenuity, the same way one might appreciate the inventive applications of chemistry involved in the creation of mustard gas. Finishing off by repairing the burned skin, we worked through the baker’s dozen of surviving victims before moving on.

    It was almost ten thirty when we finished, handling a few cases that couldn’t wait until tomorrow. Stepping out I sighed, glad my costume was auto-cleaning. “So,” I addressed my tired co-healer. “What do you want to eat?”

    She looked up, surprised. “You don’t have to.” At my unyielding stare she shrugged. “Not Asian?”

    I laughed, looking up places that were still open. “Steakhouse it is.” She started to say something, but I cut her off. “Nope, you said not Asian, so that’s what we’re doing. Take my hand.”

    She hesitantly reached out, squawking in surprise as we lifted off into the air in defiance of physics. “How?”

    I train to find new uses for my powers. Not to say you don’t, but from what I’ve seen, very few people bother experimenting with their abilities.” We’d risen above the level of the buildings as I headed towards the restaurant. “I mean, at least you think about it.”

    She tore her gaze away from the city, our positioning giving her a sense of flight that being carried by her sister probably didn’t inspire. “You mean you know about. . .?”

    I shrugged. “No specifics, but the things you could do with microbes alone would be damned impressive. Original timeline you only really started cutting loose when you were fighting a Tinker-plague, and you stopped yourself before you got really impressive because you weren’t in a good headspace. You never even came close to achieving your full potential, but even then, you came farther than a lot of people who were in much better positions. Name a hero, and I could probably tell you a number of ways they could at least try to improve themselves.”

    She looked thoughtful as we started our descent, not saying anything as we walked in, and were immediately given a seat, which caused a few people to complain, but the others told them to shut up. We ordered our food, and finally she lost whatever inner argument she was having and said, “Glory Girl,” staring intently at me.

    “So,” I started, dropping a sound bubble, “Her main power’s force-fields, right, so-“

    “What?” she interrupted. “No it isn’t, it’s an Alexandria pack-” She stopped herself. “No, you said you saw everything. Forcefields?”

    I nodded. “Did she ever go through power testing?” Panacea shook her head. “It’s probably a bud from Manpower’s shard.” That got me another look. “Okay, as powers develop and learn new ways of using their base abilities, they bud off and look for new hosts to learn from. The children of capes are around danger more than most, so are likely to Trigger for a whole host of reasons, and if they Trigger, they normally get a bud from their parents or close family.”

    I waved a negating hand, “There’s more to it, like shards pulling from other nearby shards when they Trigger for secondary abilities, but that’s going off into territory I’m not so sure about. Her emotion-based abilities are probably because Gallant was at the game she Triggered at, which is also why he’s immune to her Aura.”

    She took a moment to process that. “So, your powers, you triggered near me?”

    I shook my head. “If anyone asks, yes, but really, no. It’s complicated, and I’ll tell you later, but for now it’s something that isn’t terribly important. So, Glory Girl, her forcefields are what carry her, letting her fly, create kinetic energy for her to create the illusion of super strength, and take impacts for her. It takes a few seconds to recharge after taking a hit or hitting something else. It’s why her weakness is double-tapping, or any kind of automatic weaponry, which she’s been fortunate to avoid so far.”

    “Thing is, repeatedly draining the field may increase its strength, like a muscle being used. Also, while it’s invisible, she could probably extend it to others, to carry,” I motioned towards Panacea, “or to use as weaponry. I won’t demonstrate that, because we’re in a restaurant, but covering an item could let her hit harder than she already does. There’s also the entire ‘always hitting things at full strength’ problem. A lesser strike might not drain her shields, leaving her no longer vulnerable to counter-hits.”

    She looked thoughtful as she considered her response. “Velocity.”

    “He’s limited in how he effects the rest of the world?” I asked rhetorically. “Get Dragon to whip up some containment-foam grenades. He runs past at super-speed, pulling the pins and dropping them. They start moving at normal speed after he drops them, and explode, neutralizing his target after he’s already moved on.”

    “Armsmaster?”

    I paused. “Well, he’s a jerk, so don’t tell him, but he’s a miniaturization specialist? Have him outfit his bike with tech instead of working so hard on his halberd. He’s so focused on making that one piece of kit the best it could be, he’s hit the point of diminishing returns a while ago. Just think of the number of things he could put in his bike, armor, maybe a secondary ranged weapon? Or, idea, just pair him with the other Tinkers in the Protectorate and all of a sudden their unwieldy or impractical ideas are suddenly doable.”

    “How much time have you thought about this?” she demanded.

    “Glory Girl, an afternoon for the ideas, the other two I’m just spitballin’,” I admitted. “But the fact that they’re so focused on quantification of observable affects instead of exploration of base causes and new applications from that, really limits them. Same thing’s happened to most of the Social Sciences, but that’s . . . hmm.” I trailed off.

    “Maybe it’s a factor of our increasingly technological society?” I questioned. “Our focus on software instead of hardware limiting the populace to think about what to do with what they have, instead of trying completely new things?” At her confused look, I shrugged, a bit chagrined. “Sorry, tangent. What I’m doing isn’t that hard. Hell, if the PRT paid attention to PHO they might find some new uses all their own. Not all of them would be exactly PR friendly, like making Clockblocker a trap-based assassin, but hey, ideas are ideas.”

    “I’m sorry, what?” she asked. “He’s-” she cut herself off, our food arriving, continuing at a whisper once the server left. “How could he be an assassin. I’ve met him! He stops people, but he wouldn’t kill them!”

    I took a bite of my filet mignon, appreciating it, even if the price would’ve made me blanch without my current revenue streams. I waited for her to take a bite of hers, obviously not responding until she did so. “You’ve seen the video of the truck that hit the paper he froze?” She nodded, chewing. “Now imagine a person running into time-stopped fishing line.” She froze, paling. “Or, if he can freeze an object, but not a person it’s touching, then something he can throw and wrap around someone, like adding a weight like a yo-yo, so it hits a person and wraps around them, then he freezes it, and they now have thin lines with absolutely no give to them holding them in. The first idea someone else came up with, the other is, again, just a thought, no idea if it would work.” I took another bite. “This is really good.”

    “How?” she demanded. “How can you just sit there and talk about this? That’s horrible!

    I quirked an eyebrow. “You’ve really got to get over this thinking the worst of people thing. Just because he could doesn’t mean he would, but it’s better to have tools you never need to use instead of not having the tools you do. I’m not suggesting he does that to street-level thugs, but isn’t there like a bio-tinker that specializes in plant monsters? Blaster, Blister, Boldo? Doesn’t matter,” I said shaking my head.

    Gesturing with my fork, I made a stabbing motion. “Using lethal force against killer plant monsters is just kinda common sense. Also, if they’d tested his powers extensively, the entire truck paper thing would’ve never happened. There’s a difference between thinking about something and doing it, and any morality system that judges a person by nothing more than their thoughts, is one that can’t work unless you can read people’s minds. Otherwise, only the honest people get in trouble, as the dishonest ones just lie about what they’re thinking.” I considered the problem. “Also, anyone who judges you by your thoughts is probably a massive hypocrite, projection being a thing and all. Thoughts do contextualize actions, yes, but it’s by your actions that you truly judge a person, not what they think. Though, with enough actions, you can usually determine someone’s thoughts, and they’re usually not what they claim their thoughts are either.”

    She really didn’t have anything to say to that, and quietly ate. After we were done, she asked, “You don’t do casual, do you?”

    I shrugged. “I don’t lie to people I like, so, maybe?” She looked at me, visibly tired, as I realized I’d done it again. “Sorry, if you want me not to talk about stuff like that, please say so. Um, so, we did really well today? Have you even seen half of what we ran into before?”

    She gave me a thankful smile, shaking her head no, and we chatted about healing, the methods to handle problems, and generally talked shop over dessert. We were told the owners comped our meal, and when I offered to pay anyways, I was turned down. We left, flying back to her house, the lights still on inside even though it was close to midnight. “Thanks for helping,” she said as we landed. “Will you be back tomorrow?”

    I smiled. “I said I was going to, and I do my best to keep my word. An hour to get to bed, eight for sleep, and one to get up and ready,” I measured. “See you there at ten? And do you need a lift getting there?”

    She smiled back. “Ten it is, and Vicky’ll probably want to take me. I’ll call you if she doesn’t. Good night Vejovis,” she said, giving me a quick hug before turning and walking to her house.

    “Good night Panacea, I’ll see you tomorrow,” I called back, taking off into the ocean of obsidian that was the night sky.


    <AB>


    I flew back, spirit high, swooping down and landing with barely a whisper as I entered the base. Herb was there, reading what actually appeared to be the base manual. Good on him. He looked at me, starting to say something before visibly stopping himself, asking instead. “So, date went well?”

    I sighed, my good dimming. “I healed a lot of people working with Panacea, made a bit of money, but the PR gains were probably much larger.”

    He smirked at that for some reason, the ass. “You said that that noise was you?”

    I blanked for a second, grinning. “Right! So, Stormtiger’s air claws, once you deconstruct it, is pretty much just a shitty air blade. Because of that, I built a sword,” I manifested it, the air shimmering where the blade existed, but little else was apparent. It still got a whistle of appreciation from Herb who, once I concentrated on seeing his powers, was borrowing my own Power Sight to view it clearly. “But then I thought, I could use Glory Girl’s forcefields to cover weapons, and thus,” I activated the power, ghostly flames slowly dancing down the length of my weapon.

    “Holy fuckin’ shit that’s awesome,” he exclaimed. “That’s what did that to the traincars?”

    I swung it through the air, the force of its passage creating a breeze that ruffled his clothing. “Yep.”

    He gazed at it in awe. “It’s complete bullshit that I can’t copy your copied powers; I hope you know that, because I want one.”

    “Sorry,” I replied unrepentantly, heading past him to grab some supplies from the workshop and back out to the area of the trainyard we’d set up to train. After putting together some targets, I worked on creating, not the air claws which dug out furrows when they hit a target, but blades like my sword that cut a thin line. It took a few hours, but I was able to get them to form and fly at my target, the damage less visible than their original use, but far deeper, cutting a full foot into concrete before they lost cohesion, instead of the four-inch-deep and wide furrows.

    After that I started working on the next weakness of the technique. My attacks all originated from me, but there was no actual need for them to do so. The mental maneuvering to make that happen was another thing altogether though, and despite working until dawn, all I managed was creating them a few feet away to my left or right, blades arrowing in on my target, but I had to relearn how to aim them in that manner every time I pushed them a bit further away. I started to get annoyed at my slow progress, but soothed my ego, as in a few hours I’d done more with Stormtiger’s power than he’d probably done in a year.

    Heading back inside, and making breakfast, I grabbed one of the base’s flashlights, adding a few things to the outer housing, effectively bejeweling it, tinker style. Finishing that I flicked it on, the bulb gone and instead the batteries lighting up the outside LEDs. It looked like Tinkertech, and when I manifested my sword, covering it with my shield, the flaming blade seemed to emit from the flashlight completing the illusion. Satisfied, I stowed it in a pocket and headed out, ready to practice flying as I ‘patrolled’, though if I saw any actual crimes, I’d be shocked.

    Out for a while, I was getting a handle on my acceleration and deceleration, turning, and all of the things I’d need to be able to do at speed to really utilize the power when a bright white light caught my attention.

    Even in the day Purity was blinding, my own powers dampening her incandescence as she flew right for me. I stopped, readied for an attack, but instead she came to a hard stop a dozen feet away, calling to me, “Vejovis, we need to talk.”
     
  14. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.9
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Normally when a woman says ‘we need to talk’, like Purity had just informed me, I’d either been dating them or working for them, and wasn’t that an uncomfortable realization, so I was thoroughly confused at what she wanted. “Okay, what about?”

    “Are you going to change things, for the better?” she demanded.

    That’s out of left field. “Yes? I’m a hero, that’s kind of in the job description.”

    “And you think I could be one too?” she pressed.

    As was that. “Unless you’ve joined back up with the E88, I’m pretty sure you already are. Stopping crime and protecting people and so on,” I contested, really not seeing where this was going.

    That took her aback, for some reason. “You said you were recruiting. Are you still? I’ve had other offers.”

    I responded without thinking, “Yeah, but Kaiser’s a controlling dick.”

    “How do you know it’s Kaiser? Have you been stalking me!?” she demanded, looking panicked.

    “Well, you’re not Asian, and you don’t look like a complete dumbass, so it can’t be the ABB or Merchants,” I remarked. It seemed stunningly obvious to me, so I really didn’t understand her response. “The Protectorate is led by self-righteous assholes, so they wouldn’t recognize actual repentance if it filed the proper paperwork and slapped them in the face with it, and you’re not a complete waste of potential, so you wouldn’t join Uber and L33t. Pretty much leaves one group.” I paused, waiting for a response, but just getting shocked silence. “And yeah, still recruiting heroes if you’re interested.”

    Purity visibly steeled herself, her emotions so open and honest it hurt. “I do. Vejovis, I want to join the Penumbral Defenders,” she professed, looking at me pleadingly.

    I floated to her holding my hand out. “Glad to have you on the team.” She hesitantly took it, firmly grasping it and giving it a shake as I wrapped us in a sound bubble. “Break, the other member of our team, and I currently don’t have any operations in the works, and with Kaiser putting the word not to talk to you, I know you probably don’t have any yourself.”

    Her grip tightened, expression strained.

    “We have a contact scouting out locations, and when we have a lead we’ll give you a call,” I continued, not commenting on her tense state. “If you need anything, give me a call. You’re part of the team Kayden, and we don’t let our teammates suffer if we can help it.” She looked at me with wide eyes. I shrugged. “Yeah, I know who you are, but I wasn’t going to say anything about it. My name is Lee Elric, and I wasn’t going to use my knowledge about you to try to pressure you to join. It would’ve been wrong.”

    I clasped her hand with both of mine. “So, if you need something, don’t hesitate to ask. I might not be able to do whatever it is, but I won’t play quid pro quo bullshit games. In the meantime, if we find an ABB target, how should I get ahold of you?” Letting her go I let her dart backwards a few feet and get control of her breathing, which had quickened as I talked.

    “I,” she started, shakily. “I don’t know. Do you know where. . .?”

    I shook my head. “No, I don’t know where you live. I could probably find it if you want me to, but you’re a hero, so I didn’t see the need. If you have a cell-phone, just call me, and I’ll have your number.”

    “I’ll do that,” She agreed, “Thank you.” And with that she was off like a shot, a trail of light arcing into the distance. I wonder if Herb is going to be annoyed that I talked to Purity again without telling him. I mentally shrugged. Whatever.


    <AB>


    Finishing my flight practice, at least with Glory Girl’s method, I landed at Good Samaritan, ready for another shift. Panacea was surprised to see me, which was odd, but I let it go. Her pleased smile, though quickly hidden, reassured me that she was in a better place than in canon, and I matched it with one of my own. We worked throughout the day, getting off just before nine, heading for Italian instead, having made the reservation over lunch. “This place looks expensive,” she prevaricated as we landed. “I’m not sure I could pay for this.”

    I rolled my eyes, leading her in. “With how much we’re making, we’re good.”

    “I’m doing this for free. Are you getting paid?” she asked after we were seated, a hint of accusation in her tone.

    “Yes?” I asked, feigning confusion. This was something that she’d have to get over, and I may as well lay the foundations. “Just like any other surgeon would. In fact, I made sure that’s the pay rate I’d get, no more, no less.”

    “But,” she responded, stopping as she had to form an argument. “What if they can’t pay?”

    I shook my head. “I checked, this is coming out of a government disaster relief fund, just like the pay for all of the other nurses and doctors.” She looked like she had an objection ready to go, but I could guess the general thrust, and thus pre-empted it. “Volunteering is nice, but if you want reliable, regular work you need to pay people. The only reason you can volunteer your time as much as you do is because someone else pays for all of your expenses like food, housing, clothing, medical care. If you were twenty and had moved out of your parents’ house, you couldn’t help at the hospital like you want to, because you’d have to work a different job where you wouldn’t be as effective to pay for food and shelter. It’s basic economics. Now, I will happily debate this with you, and would like to later, but would you prefer to do that or just relax after a difficult shift with your co-worker?”

    She struggled with herself, sighing as she admitted, “I’d rather just relax.”

    I smiled, “I’m not going to lie to you Panacea, which means if you ask me difficult questions, I’m going to give you my answer, not a comforting falsehood. That being said, let’s put that aside. Those patients that were turning into grass, you told me how to fix it, but how did it happen in the first place?”

    After paying the bill, and hiding it from Panacea to her resigned acceptance, we headed out. The people with cameras that had gathered outside were annoying, but we ignored them as we flew off, landing and arranging to do it all over again the next day.

    That night I took an hour to figure out our finances. If we were going to have actual members, using a single account probably wasn’t the best. Futzing around, I found that Bay Central Bank had actually filed my paperwork and the Penumbral Defenders had their own account. Making a sub-account for Vejovis, Break, Enter, Purity, and The Lady, Bug, I dumped 5k in each, further increasing our debt to Cauldron, but we’d already more made this month’s minimum payment from my efforts, and then there was the 30k Herb had made ‘consulting’ for ‘Witch’s Brew Security’. Subtle.

    After that hum-drum bit of logistics was taken care of, I got to the fun stuff and worked on seeing if I could add any other powers to my ‘sword’. It wasn’t stable enough to add Speed Zones to, and shifting to Shadow or Lightforms disrupted the blade, bringing the forcefield with them, but leaving the condensed air behind, the forcefield then collapsing as it had nothing to hold onto.

    What was interesting, was that using Grue’s Shadow Propagation on the blade clad it in darkness, but no other effect seemed present. Shifting my free arm into Shadowform though, remembering that Shadow Stalker’s power didn’t play well with his, revealed that the blade could touch me even in that state. Past that I practiced more with the unclad blades, forming invisible edges farther and farther away, and flinging them at ever more acute angles compared to myself.

    I realized that I kept focusing on my sword to the exclusion of all else, and wasn’t that a thought full of Freudian meaning, but it would let me use some of my extra powers under the guise of Tinkertech. Thinking of Zelda, and anime in general, I paired my sword with my ever-increasing speed in creating wind blades to create a seeming ‘pressure wave’ or something equally ridiculous.

    Forming a blade on top of the shielded wind blade of my sword, moving both as one, I let the top one fly on a ballistic course as I swung the base layer like the weapon it appeared to be. Several hours of practice later let me form and release them with a thought, the sun rising on metal targets that looked like they’d been put through a woodchipper. Happy with my progress I headed inside with the gathered scrap, right into Herb who had cooked breakfast, a big grin and puppy dog eyes lying in wait.

    “Look, I got you some breakfast, and I know you’re always busy, but how about you and I train?” I groaned looking at him. I may have been thinking of certain techniques that he could learn that I could counter easily, but someone else would have problems with. He looked so hopeful, like a puppy afraid of being kicked, and while I wouldn’t let any moral decisions up to him, he’d always had my back martially.

    “Fine,” I ground out, his previous actions, terribly as they be, not mattering to how well he fought. “After breakfast.”


    <AB>


    Moving out to a different abandoned area, I stood opposite of my friend. “Okay, power training. Your natural powerset lends itself to a more intellectual fighter, which sadly you aren’t.”

    “What’d ya mean?” he asked. “I’m no Einstein. Taking other people’s powers and beating them with ‘em doesn’t sound that snooty.”

    “Okay,” I challenged, “you have Hookwolf’s power. Now how do you out Hookwolf, Hookwolf?”

    “Well, I’d turn into a rolling thing of sawblades and tank him!” he declared. “Panzer bitch!”

    “So, roll into a ball and hit him. Really?” I questioned, raising an eyebrow.

    He shrugged, giving no other response.

    I shook my head. “Ironically, I would probably do better with your choice, and vice versa. If you’re going to rely on it in battle, you need to do a lot of research, constantly asking yourself ‘If I had this guy’s, or girl’s, power, what would I do with that? How would I use that power to defeat the person who’s had that power for years?’ While your Abaddon shard may give you a more powerful version of their power, letting you win a straight power vs power, Harry Potter vs Voldemort connected wands kind of fight, anyone who isn’t a moron isn’t going to keep that going head on until they lose. They’ll run, move, and strike you where you’re vulnerable. Quick question, your power, does it tell you where the powers you’re copying are coming from?”

    “Not a clue,” he responded, shrugging, “haven’t really worked on it.”

    I thought for a second, nodding to myself. Floating into the air, I told him, “Close your eyes and point at me. As I fly around, I want you to focus on my power and keep pointing at me.” He pointed at me, eyes closed, and I took off, slowly rotating around him. He didn’t move at first, slowly pointing in my general direction, sometimes right at me, sometimes just in my general direction, but only once in the wrong direction. He lost track of me over and over, but after thirty seconds he’d get my general location again. Wrapping him in a bubble of silence, he jumped, eyes opening as he said something. I dropped the bubble saying, “You were actually doing pretty well, but we need to eliminate as many senses as we can to isolate the one that is only yours. Give it a try again.”

    This time though, he had much greater difficulty. Still able to point in my general direction, but with almost a full minute between reacquisitions. I let sound return to him, his furrowed brow indicating he’d found something out. “Dude,” he complained, “it’s like tracking a ghost in a field of fog.”

    “You found me,” I disagreed, “but with the time and effort it required, it’s not something you want to use in battle. Not yet. Maybe if you were in a Stranger fight, and if you train it more, but right now? No.” I informed him, to his disappointment. “So, homework for later, look up the major players and do the ‘if I had their powers’ game, and maybe browse the Parahumans Online forums for ideas. Second power, cloning. Theoretically that makes you a one-man team, but yours are different enough it’s more like, well, a supervillain organization actually, with specialized members. The lead time is hurting us here, waiting for the rest to arrive, so, that leaves your Peak Condition, which just lets you skip the training montage, and avoid spending the hour or three a day you’d need to keep you, to borrow my little brother’s term, SWOL. Then there’s your Stand. Summon him and keep him near you please.”

    He complied, and I looked at the man’s connection to the not-a-person with my Power Sight, the power of Herbert’s Abaddon shard making the ethereal flames of his power appear almost real as he copied his Stand’s powerset, and sometimes more than real. I continued, “Right, this is how you’re going to get the majority of your reliable powers. Immunity is a passive power, so not something you can use with skill, and you’ve been training your hand to hand to best use your Vampirism, that get stronger as you fight power of yours, right?”

    He nodded.

    “Okay,” I said, taking a stance. “You were supposed to work on dodging, so dodge.” Running forward, I threw a punch, telegraphing the hell out of it. He dodged easily, and the pattern continued. I pulled my punches that impacted, and his return blows didn’t heal him in the slightest, only draining my shields when they got through. I’d instructed him to dodge only, but I rolled with it, keeping my speed at the edge of what he could handle, increasing mine as his power increased his.

    Kicks were thrown, dodged, and caught, punches and elbows aplenty shot out, and his conservative fighting style let him dodge more than I expected him to, though the one time I clipped him in the ear, he went full berserker, training forgotten until I dodged long enough for him to get a handle on himself, going back to his normal style once more. As we kept going his style tightened a bit, but as he got stronger, and I matched it, even my pulled punches were getting dangerously strong. I backed off, using my flight to escape whistling blow, his grin showing he thought he won.

    “Pretty good, right?” he prompted eagerly, smiling smugly.

    “Not bad,” I agreed, the lead time before it was useful long enough to leave me worried. “We never really sparred before, but from what you’d told me, you’re not just the berserker you used to be. When I clipped you, is that how you used to be?”

    He nodded, chagrined. “Yeah, sorry, got a bit dazed and kinda just reacted.”

    “It happens,” I said, but tempered the excuse, stating, “But that’s what training’s for, so even dazed you can fight how you want. I do have one question, does your Vampirism fade if you get a bit distance, but are still fighting?”

    He shook his head no. “As long as I’m still in a fight it works, yeah?”

    I shrugged, “Just wondering why you didn’t use your Mover power.”

    He snorted in disgust. “Dude, doing the whole Hulk thing out here is really gonna mess up our secret training.”

    I raised an eyebrow, flying back a good distance, landing in the gravel. Making sure I wasn’t flying, I pulled on the Super Strength aspect of my shields, channeling it through my legs as I crouched, leaning forward. With a grunt I launched myself forward in a spray of gravel, my shields draining as they spent their energy. Flying in a flat parabolic arc I closed the distance in an instant, landing right in front of him, fist out and missing him by inches as I swept past him, skipping awkwardly to bleed of the momentum I hadn’t spent in a strike.

    Floating back to him, his eyes wide, I landed, shields back to full.

    “Now take a swing,” I instructed, and as soon as he started to I pushed off with super strength, backwards this time, opening the space between us, landing and skidding in the gravel a little as I stopped. Walking back once again I instructed, “Leaping is in whatever direction you can push off, not just up. Getting the direction just right will probably take some work, as will landing, but it’ll let you choose the pace of the fight.” Left unsaid, was that this strategy would be utterly useless against my Air Blades. Getting in close, fast, and hard would result in nothing but getting cut to ribbons against a threat that you couldn’t see and could appear in the blink of an eye.

    As far as I could tell, every major threat had a love of theatre and dick waving that I found downright idiotic, but it meant that Herb would be fine. Against the S9, that kind of weakness could get him hurt, but that was months away. I hated pulling this Machiavellian bullshit, teaching him with obvious weakness I could make use of, but I couldn’t trust him on this, and until I could I had to play it safe.

    Putting him through his paces, running him back and forth for several hours, working on landing from leaps and blows that utilized the momentum from the jump before calling it quits, and leading the sore parahuman back inside. We both drank heavily from the water dispenser on the fridge, rehydrating, as I healed him as best I could.

    “Okay Herb,” I addressed him, taking a seat. “I need to know what happened with Cauldron. I was letting it go, but something happened, and you gotta tell me before it bites us both in the ass.” That, and I can’t trust your judgement anymore, I thought, but didn’t say, So I can’t trust that you have that avenue of attack covered.

    “Well,” he said, looking thoughtful as he started cooking. “I went in, we talked, and then I went out.”

    Fucking really? “I’m going to need more than that Herb,” I responded, deadpan. I wanted to be angry, but I was really just disappointed.

    He sighed. “Okay, honestly? I went in, and they were all sittin’ around the table, all ‘we’re so awesome and we’re so powerful and we control the world’s destiny!’” he continued in mocking tones. “And I was just like, ‘oh, I so want to just shit on your table’.”

    “Please tell me you didn’t actually shit on their table,” I begged. He gave me a disbelieving look. “It was our Worst Day Ever, and we were being pushed to make the worst choices possible. Let’s be honest, with you, nothing is guaranteed.”

    He shrugged, taking it as the compliment it wasn’t. “Fair enough, I was tempted, but then the doctor opened her mouth and was all like ‘you’re a new cape and blahblahblah and we’re gonna need your help, savin’ the world and all that shit’.” He gave a dismissive snort. “And I’m sittin’ there and we’re talkin’ about savin’ the world and I’m like ‘more than happy to’, and they’re all ‘awww’.” I looked at him, doubting heavily that Doctor Mother, Numberman, or Contessa would ever go ‘awww’. He continued unabated, “And then I pissed people off, like I normally do, sometimes, if they’re too serious.”

    “That does seem to be a talent of yours, yes,” I agreed dryly.

    “So, they gave me bottles, the stuff we wanted, then I left. Yay! Oh!” he exclaimed. “We really should think about distributing them eventually.”

    I sighed, as I had the distinct feeling that he was leaving something out, but I was in a ‘but you never asked’ bullshit devil scenario, and I hated those, so I just addressed the current issue: “Find some candidates and we’ll look them over. This isn’t the kind of thing you can undo man. We’re giving them Triumvirate level powers,”

    “Which is kinda cool,” he agreed, excited by the prospect.

    “But requires us to be careful,” I prodded.

    Yeah, definitely not givin’ one to Taylor’s dad. He’s not-“

    “We’ve had that discussion, I agree,” I cut him off. “There’s no need to be rude.”

    “I’m just sayin’ he’s a broken guy,” Herb hedged, doing the very thing I just asked him not to. It’s like he doesn’t even care. “I’m not mad at him, he’s just broke. But. Yeah. I already. Yeah. Hmm.” He started several times, going nowhere. “Hmm.” He paused. “Hmmmm.” He paused longer. “Hmmmmmmmmmm.”

    I growled, “What.

    “Okay, so, I’m just thinking,” he proposed immediately, like he’d been waiting for me to ask. Which he might have. “Mine, which are awesome, or at least one of mine needs to go to someone who is highly devoted to me. I think I may have screwed that up.” He looked at me in silence for several seconds. I started to worry exactly what he may have done, but realized that worrying over it wouldn’t help in the slightest. We sat there. In silence. For a minute.

    I finally broke, “Would you like to share with the class?” I inquired, using my best teacher voice.

    “Oh, oh, okay,” he said immediately, again. “The Undersiders, they’re upset.”

    “I wonder why,” I mused. “Besides, they all have powers, so you couldn’t give them one anyways.”

    “That’s not what I wanted to do,” he defended. “But, I mean, Taylor wasn’t there for it. Yay. But there are a couple people around them that are highly susceptible to me giving. . . interesting information to. Ala, bottle.” He laughed, and I really didn’t see why. Nerves? “Um. But. When.” Definitely nerves. “But when I’m getting bad stuff said about me constantly, nobody’s gonna want to trust me,” he whined.

    “Don’t,” I started, thinking, Don’t pull this shit and maybe that won’t be an issue again, but I had another thought. “Did you think you were going to get people on your side that were friends with the Undersiders?

    “It was an idea,” he admitted. And we’ve seen how well your ideas go.

    “One, I don’t think they have any unpowered friends at this point. Second of all, you shit in that pond pretty effectively when you told them you set them up to condemn Dinah to her canon fate.”

    “Taylor does,” he argued, and it took me a second before I realized he was trying to refute my first point. “Tattletale has a bunch of people under her that are really-“

    “Not at this point, no,” I argued.

    “Not now,” he dismissed scornfully. “But eventually.”

    If that’s what you were thinking, why did you use present tense dumbass, I noted, as he obviously covered his mistake only slightly better than my little brother when he was in his ‘I knew that’ phase. “Maybe, though we want to make sure anyone we bring in is more loyal to us than Tattletale, as we’re going to be using her to vet people.”

    “Of course!” he exclaimed, “that she will! Good idea! This why you’re, like. . .” he trailed off.

    I resisted the urge to ask ‘I’m the what?’ voicing my surprise to his ill-hidden surprise at my idea, “You didn’t think about using the rule sixty-three’d Sherlock Holmes to find out if the people we want to give superpowers-, okay, wow. This. This is why I need you to run shit by me man.”

    He gave a self-deprecating, and obviously forced laugh, “Well, you know, I was just thinkin’ about a couple years down the road or somethin’, us havin’ children and jokin’ about that. I’ve got my Purity, that’s all I need.”

    What does that statement have to do with anything we were just talking about? I mentally raged at his complete non-sequitur. “When we have kids, if we have kids.” I corrected. “Assuming Goldenrod doesn’t completely obliterate us, our kids will probably trigger easily, maybe even be Abaddon Triggers, I have no idea how any of that works. Our shards will eventually bud, and maybe they’ll get variants of our powers?” I hadn’t the foggiest of ideas what was going to happen on that front, and Herb seemed lost in thought.

    I waited, and was starting to debate poking him when he shook himself. “I’m sorry, I was caught up in, ya know, Purity. I was thinking flowers, chocolates, silk sheets. No! Those eight thousand count ones. Either way, definitely red.”

    I figured that was my cue to end this particular conversation. “Please don’t sexually harass any of our prospective teammates. I want no part of this, I hope you know.”

    “I know, but thanks for the training,” he offered, changing the topic, again. “I didn’t think of half this stuff.”

    I shrugged. “We’re getting into serious fight time, you need to not suck, because it might get you actually killed.”

    He nodded. “Yeah, going up and eatin’ things is not the best way.” Which wasn’t exactly your strategy before. What is he talking about? I thought.

    “Yeah,” I agreed, shooting him a look. “That was Curtis’s strategy. Now he’s a rug.”

    He gave me a ‘sorry?’ look. “Either way, thanks. What’re ya doin’ next?”

    “A hospital shift with Panacea,” I replied calmly, waiting for his inevitable response.

    He laughed. “Have fun with your,” he paused at my stare, “totally non-romantic fellow healer who only happens to be teenaged and a member of the opposite sex?”

    I nodded, “Thank you, I will,” and left him to his own devices.


    <AB>



    The rest of the day was spent with Amelia, who was increasing distracted by something. She didn’t say anything, and I finally brought it up over dinner. “Panacea, what’s up?”

    “Huh?” she asked, looking up from her Pescado Vallarta. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”

    “You’ve barely said anything since we’ve got here, what’s up?” I pressed.

    “Why,” she stopped, thinking. “What is this?”

    I looked around, unsure exactly what she meant. “Um, well, that’s fish in mango sauce, we’re in a Mexican restaurant, and we’re getting dinner before I drop you back home and we both hope they find Bakuda’s lair and stop the bombing so we don’t have to do this all again tomorrow.” She looked at me like I was being obtuse. I sighed. “You’re going to have to be more specific Panacea.”

    “This,” she motioned between us, “What is this, you’re coming to help me every day and then we go out to dinner, and Vicky can’t decide between getting upset and protective and. . . something else, and I don’t even know how to feel about this. Why? Why do you care?”

    I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. It was probably best to just handle that last question. “Do you want the simple answer or the more complete answer?”

    “Simple,” she decided after a moment. “Simple is best.”

    “To put it simply, I want to help heroes. The Protectorate has been giving me the cold shoulder, and I don’t even know where to begin on asking around to find Bakuda’s lair, which leaves me with trying to help with the aftermath, ergo healing. I enjoy working with you, and you are a great help in developing my powers, and even at one-third surgeon pay, it’s still a decent amount of money to be made. I know you, and how you like to push yourself with no regard for yourself, which can be just as bad as it is good, so by working with you instead of trying to be a stupid authority figure and dictating what you should and shouldn’t do I can help keep you from burnout.”

    I motioned to the restaurant. “This is part of that, a place where you can relax, away from stressing influences, be it your sister’s accidental Aura exposure or you adopted mother’s cold indifference. Furthermore, this makes sure you get at least one good meal, as I’m pretty sure if left to your own devices you’d make yourself something basic, like peanut butter and jelly, and sack out. I know you skimp on lunch, I do too because we’re busy, and I’m pretty sure you do so on breakfast as well, so this is enough to keep you going, not to mention the psychological aspects of eating good food. You are worthy of care Panacea, because of who you are, and if that means working at a hospital and going out to dinner with my co-worker, that’s a burden I’ll shoulder gladly,” I finished, smiling.

    “You. But. what do you mean one third pay?” she finally asked, latching onto the emotionally safest part of what I’d said.

    I shrugged. “Well, I know you won’t take pay for what you do right now, so I’m taking my pay and splitting in three. One share goes to me, and one to you, since we’re partners in this, and the third also goes to you, since you’re the senior healer here, and you’re teaching me. It’s held in escrow until you control your own finances, so until you’re eighteen unless you choose to be an emancipated minor. What you do with it is up to you, whether you give it to charity, use it to help someone else, or accept it as the just reward for your hard work which is essentially what all pay from a job is on a basic level.”

    “You,” she sputtered. “You can’t just do that!”

    “Pretty sure I just did,” I responded blandly. “You can’t touch it until you’re older, and if you still feel that way about it, just donate it back to the hospital. At the very least it’ll give you a nice tax credit, which is just the government rewarding you for doing what they want you to with your own money.”

    She glared at me, not continuing the conversation, having obviously recognized that I was right and unable to come up with an argument that would work. It was just like Taylor being undercover, I’d challenged her to come up with an actual argument against her placement on the Undersiders, and she hadn’t brought it up since then. That or she forgot, which was doubtful. I didn’t bring Taylor up though, just because it might be seen as gloating, and wouldn’t really help anything.

    Amelia’s rancor was blunted by the food, and by the end of the meal she’d gone down from angry to generally annoyed, which made sense since she’d lost. Very few people lost arguments gracefully when they were teens, and I’d be understanding, given her age. Flying her back, she started to not quite stomp to the door, stopping halfway there as she sighed. “See you tomorrow? I’d understand if you don’t want to.”

    I held back a laugh. “See you tomorrow Panacea.” She sighed, harder, shaking her head as she strode inside and closed the door. Taking off into the night, I thought about doing more power training, but between my meeting with Purity and my conversation with Panacea I needed to start looking for an ABB stronghold to go after. It would make a good team building exercise at the least, as there was nothing like combat to help the ex-nazi get over the fact that Break and Enter were both black.

    Landing in a dark alley, I switched from Vejovis to Boardwalk, giving a tough sounding “What?” to no one in particular, to get in character. Covering my forearm in a Speed Zone, I used it to ride the wall to the roof, turning to shadow to move rooftop to rooftop through ABB territory. With Bakuda neutralized the ABB’s ‘recruitment drive’ had stalled pretty hard, a sizable number of the conscripts running to try to get the bombs out of their heads.

    Confusingly, a majority had apparently stayed with the gang, maybe believing that Lung could stop them from exploding, maybe out of fear of what happened if they ran, which was silly given they had an unstable bomb in their heads, or maybe they were just weak-willed sheeple. Whatever the reason, Lung had a larger army at his beck and call and was pressing the Merchants and the E88 for more territory, though not nearly as well as they had in canon.

    That being said, there were apparently a few more triggers running around, of note was a new member of the Protectorate, an Asian woman who could turn into shadow and build things from it. The Merchants apparently had someone new, but casual eavesdropping didn’t give me any info. Flitting across rooftops I found a building that showed some promise, with the watcher in the only open window, the rest blacked out.

    Watching it for a bit, the front door opening to let in an ABB group without them knocking was a dead giveaway. Launching myself across the street, I landed on the roof, taking cover in the shadow of an air vent as I sat down, cross-legged, and started connecting with everything that creeped or crawled within. Building an idea of the location, it was an ad-hoc armory. Definitely a place to hit, though I’d need to make sure that Kayden stayed at a distance. I wasn’t sure that her Lightform, while possibly tougher than normal, would be up to concentrated small arms fire.

    Watching the general patterns of everyone inside, someone knocked on the door, another ABB most likely, though by the movement of the guard he was surprised. I started to turn some bugs to see who when something happened, and the world shifted, like a moment of real-life lag.

    The world seemed to skip as I got the sense of fire and my eyes burned, whatever the power was passing past me too fast to see. Checking inside through my insects, everyone was down, the guns gone, the safe open, and every door in the place wide open. I found the one of the walls now had an image, but bug eyes were not meant for seeing clearly in a hurry.

    Dropping down through the roof, and hurrying past gang members all clutching the backs of their necks, I turned the corner and saw it. Emblazoned in fine calligraphy was one word, ÆONIC, the O a clock set to midnight. Slipping out my phone, I called the raid in to the local cops as I started to leave, the responder telling me that authorities were already on their way as flashing red and blue light pulled around the corner. With response time that good, I’d realized I must have been caught in some serious time power bullshit, and the cops practically fell out of their cars to pull their guns on me, shouting at me to get down.

    I dropped into shadow as I stowed the phone, calling back “Um, this wasn’t me. I just got here. Some dude named Æonic hit it first.”

    “We’re taking you in for questioning anyways! Get on your knees and put your hands behind your head!” one of them yelled harshly.

    “I’m literally standing here, telling you it wasn’t me. There’s an entire safehouse filled with ABB back there, shouldn’t you worry about them?” I asked. Intellectually, I knew they were trained to handle everyone as a threat, but when you had people that could literally sneeze lava, maybe the battle lines drawn, guns at the ready, hollering at the obvious parahuman response wasn’t the best?

    “I said get on the ground and put your hands on your head asshole, this is your last warning!” the same idiot screamed. Maybe it was the costume, and they were reacting to me being black. Theme, not skin color, I internally amended, though that might be it.

    Boardwalk’s general setup screamed villain or vigilante, on purpose, but that appeared to be backfiring right now. With Acoustokinesis I could hear someone suggesting they not point guns at me to him, as I might be a hero, good on that guy, but Officer Screechy McBellowsalot told him to not question his orders and put his gun back on me or he’d be up for insubordination. Ahh, corruption and abuse of power of Law Enforcement, the meat and potatoes of any crime-ridden city.

    Looking through the lights shining at my mask, eyes adjusting, I could barely make out the guy in charge; he was Asian, older, and pissed. Not sure what his problem was, but fuck it, the golden rule was a thing for a reason, and I’d respond to his unfairness with my own. Time to sow some dissension. “Fuck you,” I told him, flicking him off, “Just because I’m taking down the guys that pay your fuckin’ bribes doesn’t mean you should have ta be a fuckin’ bitch about it.”

    His gun fired, but the round passed harmlessly through me as I fell backwards, flicking him off with both hands, laughing as I fell through the pavement, disappearing from sight as several others opened fire. My arm tingled as I passed near a power line, twisting out of the way, dropping into the cool darkness of underground, flying away, wondering Who the hell is Æonic?
     
  15. Uncle Red Hood

    Uncle Red Hood That thing. Your Lewd Soul, hand it over.

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    So, how long will it take for you to post the old story? I'm simply dying to know what happens after the whole
    Bonesaw torture session
     
  16. Threadmarks: Impediment 4.x (Herbert)
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Impediment 4.x (Interlude: Herb)

    Herb sat down in the abandoned house, thinking to himself about his first day in Brockton Bay, which had only now come to a close. This day has been an emotional roll coaster trip on acid. At least I’ll get Chinese, unless, who knows? he sighed internally. We’re definitely in Worm, and Lee is going to take this so fuckin’ serious. His friend took everything seriously, so Herb, thinking about it, made an affirmation. I’m gonna need to be the fun-time guy or he’s gunna fuckin snap. He’s gonna try to save the word, which needs to be saved, and so much shit is going to go down, and it needs go down. I need to make sure I save the Undersiders. Lee’s gonna be focused on at least Taylor, so, what do I do?

    He leaned back, musing: The bank, it all starts at the bank. That poor girl. So, plan time. I really should’ve finished the story faster, what the hell was happening when I stopped? He searched his memory. Right, the S-9000, that fuckin’ shit show. Okay. Undersides need to be saved, but to get to them, and to get to Coil, I have to sacrifice a little girl. Shit. Fuckin’ shit.

    Dear Lord, he prayed, hoping for something. None of his prayers had ever been answered, but fuck, maybe here, now, he’d get something to help. I’m about to be a demon amongst angels. Please give me strength to come back from this, for I am truly sorry for what I am about to do.

    He thought about Lee, how he worked, and had a sinking realization. I can’t speak her name. he realized. If I mention Dinah, even once, he’ll latch onto that shit, and act, and he can’t if this is gonna work.

    He took a deep centering breath, needing to show nothing by the time Lee got back. Okay. I’m here. Let’s have some fun. Getting up, he grabbed the first aid-kit he’d found, busting it open and hoping nothing had expired, applying the wound cream he’d found to what was left of his injuries. Beating the living shit out of the Nazis had pretty much healed any real injury he’d had, and this’d take care of the rest.

    Looking at the surprisingly well stocked kit, all he could think was, Dear god this world is full of so much fucking violence if this is a standard medical kit. Fuck it, just channel my dad and enjoy this shit. Relaxing, he’d thought about his day with that view, a necessary evil. For a supposed ‘Worst Day Ever’ it had turned out not half bad. They’d gone space diving without a suit, let alone a parachute, and fought every single gang in the city. Despite what Lee said, the PRT didn’t count, they were like cops, but more so. Dangerous, yeah, but not quite gangs. You could negotiate with gangs after all.

    They’d kicked ass all over the city, tickled the dragon, and while yeah, they hadn’t been able to save Taylor, it was probably for the best that she got her powers. He even fucked up those bitches that fucked with Taylor. No, he thought, immediately repelled by what he’d done. I hit little girls. That’s fucked up! Taking another breath, he submerged himself in his father’s view of the world again. They disrespected Taylor and got what they fucking deserved. The fact that this place didn’t have power really sucked though.

    Herb twiddled his thumbs, waiting for his bro to get back when a point of light appeared in the air, lengthening first into a bar, and then into a rectangle. On the other side stood a guy in green and white skintight suit, with cape, hood, and sleeves, the hood and sleeves lit up, as well as the mask. Looking him down and back up, the muscles were obviously fake, like those skinny dudes who wanted muscle, but not enough to work for it. The guy spoke with a deep, calm voice, like he was trying to be a white Morgan Freeman. “I need your help, to save the world,” he intoned in a way that he probably thought was dramatic or something.

    It clicked for Herb who this was, and he voiced his displeasure. “Oh they sent you, you stupid fuck! All right, let’s go.” He stood up, pushing past the guy whose idiocy and glory-hound dumbassery had unveiled Cauldron when he tried to one v one Echidna.

    “E-Excuse me?” the moron in question asked, confused, his mind probably not used to someone who wasn’t fallin’ over themselves to suck his dick.

    On the other side of the Portal, Herb looked around, the white walls, floor, and ceiling with fluorescent lighting just rubbing him the wrong way. One would never’ve thought they did experiments here that woulda made the Nazis blush. “Gotta admit,” he told the guy who won the superpower lottery and did jack-all with it. “Much cleaner than I thought it would be. I mean, ya know, anyway. It’s really weird. And clinical.”

    The flying fuckup led him down several passageways, not saying a word, floating ‘cause he was apparently too good to walk, which might be why he had to pad his suit. Eidolon opened the door and led Herb into a conference room. Seated to his left was Number-man in the nerdiest of office wear. Herb had never seen someone who had actually worn a pocket protector, at least not since he’d watched Revenge of the Nerds, but this was a day of firsts after all. Contessa was seated to the left, looking all hot n’ shit in her fedora/suit combo. Doctor Mother stood, because of course the only unpowered person here would feel the need to take a power pose, holding a clipboard and in a white jacket and skirt.

    “Uhhh,” he groaned. “Okay, you want to recruit me, you want me to do stuff, you’re all dumb motherfuckers tryin’ to kill Zion, which is his actual name, idiots.” He informed those gathered. “Um, yeah, sure, I’ll help.” He shrugged. “Where’s my shit?”

    Silence greeted his, let’s be honest, perfectly reasonable statement. Dr. Mother took the lead, because of course she did. “We have your power vials, what else do you require?”

    “Money and a place to live, would be nice too,” he told them. Really, for a secret organization, they were surprisingly dumb.

    She nodded. “I’m sure Number Man can provide you with what you need. He looked over and the guy was tapping away at a tablet, and actually hadn’t stopped since Herb had walked in, which was really fuckin’ rude. The dude was looking right at Herb, but just kept tap, tap, tapping away.

    “Kay, little man,” Herb asked, trying to be nice. “Can you please stop typing? It’s literally annoying while people are talking.”

    “I’m doing what you asked,” was the emotionless, almost robotic response from Poindexter.

    “You can pause, for just a moment, listen to the conversation, be part of the class,” Herb shot back, the lack of any emotional response from the nerd pissing him off. “Or are you the dick who sits at the back of the class and knows everything and just is a dick?”

    He didn’t stop typing.

    “You’re a dick,” Herb concluded. “Jesus.” The dick shot a glance at Contessa, still typing, who shook her head, relying on someone else to get shit done for him, another strike, if he needed one. “Oh, you’re expecting her to know everything? She doesn’t,” he informed the typing tyrant. “She knows enough, but not enough. She’s dumber than shit in hell when it comes to the golden guy in the sky. Can, okay, so,” he started, getting his thoughts in order. “You guys suck, you guys suck bad. You’re fucking pieces of shit. All those Case 53’s all that experimenting? Dumb on you. So stupid,” he finished, shaking his head in disgust.

    Eidolon spoke up, finally. “How do you know all of this?”

    That was easy. “Because I’m better than you. Period. That’s why you called me to help, am I not right Miss Contessa?” Herb asked, addressing the only person not to have said a goddamn word. “By the way, you’re hot.”

    With that, the rest of those assembled looked at the precog, who gazed back at them. “With him, the path shortens by twenty-seven steps,” she responded simply.

    “Twenty-seven? That’s not enough, but ooh,” he remarked, getting an idea. “Contessa, can I ask you somethin’? Just a little, quick thing? Are you sometimes coming up blank when you think about me?”

    “No?” she asked, genuinely confused. The first emotion she’d shown since he walked in. Thinking, before a look of surprise flashed across her stunning features. “Sometimes. How?”

    He just smiled back at her enigmatically. “Oh yeah, not just twenty-seven steps. Give me the Vials, I’ll be amazing, and all y’all fuckers can just, not get in my way?”

    There was more silence, except for the fucking tappin’ from Numberman, who asked like he didn’t have a care in the fuckin’ world. “You need an identity. What is your villain name?”

    “Hmm,” Herb thought, tapping his chin. “Ya know what? ‘cause what I’m about to do, I’m gonna be called Break. And Enter.” He added, remembering his Stand. “Break and Enter, sounds like a tag-team. Like Wrestling! Oh I’m so gonna have fun. This is gonna be the greatest life ever!” he said, hating all the shit he’d have to wade through to get there. Not like this group had any room to talk though.

    Eidolon sounded like he was grimacing behind his mask, which just made everything better, as he intoned “Saving the world is not about fun.”

    Herb scoffed. “Yeah, look who’s talkin’ and helpin’ destroy it.” Eidolon took a step forward, but backed off when Contessa’s hand rose, staving him off, the little bitch. “Look guys,” he addressed the Cauldron agents. “Could you show me more of the base at least? I mean so far it’s nice, clinical, wooo so white. But isn’t it supposed to be like, scary and literally, well, I’d like to have more fun. I’d like to see what you got goin’ on.”

    Doctor Mother opened her mouth to speak, brow furrowing, probably to try to tell him off but Contessa beat her to the punch. “In return, you will give us twelve hours warning on the next Endbringer attack.” Her fellow agents looked at her in shock, her calm expression betraying nothing.

    “Wait. What?” sputtered Eidolon, voice still deep, but sounding like a person instead of a movie trailer.

    “Twelve hours?” Herb asked back, considering. Lee probably remembered the exact day, his memory was weird like that, so it shouldn’t be that hard. “Sounds fair,” he acceded. “Which one?”

    The collective stares were turned on him as Contessa clarified, “The next one.”

    Herb nodded. “Will do, and don’t worry, it’s not the Simurgh.”

    Contessa moved towards the door, Herb obviously supposed to follow, so he had to throw out one last tweak. “So, where’s your competent member?”

    “Alexandria is busy,” Eidolon bristled.

    Guess I know which one’s his fave Herb mused. Prolly ‘cause he wants to fuck her, don’t see why myself. “Nah, I mean Legend,” he clarified. “That bitch dies like a chump,”

    “How?” Alexandria’s cunt-hair cling-on demanded. No, that’s not fair. To Alexandria. That suggests she’d let this pissant prissy motherfucker get that close.

    “Like you care,” Herb scoffed, practically getting pushed out the door by Contessa.

    “My dear, so hands on, and we’ve barely met,” he teased the South American beauty. “So spicy.”

    “It’s the next step,” she told him simply, and boy did that kill the mood.

    “Just,” he started, trying to think of some advice to give her, ‘cause she was a good person, just with her power. . . “Don’t be so stupid,” he told her kindly. She didn’t seem to respond, because of course she didn’t.

    He tried to make small talk as she led him through corridor after corridor. At some point he passed by someone invisible, the power to make mostly insubstantial clones offered up to him. He ignored it to continue makin’ on this cutie that he was all alone with, to sadly little effect, but she was obviously one of those chicks who held her emotions close, so he had to just keep trying. After a few identical passages they turned a corner and entered a hallway with glass walls, monstrous looking beings in cells all the way down.

    Walking with her, passing by the humans mutated by Eden’s power, their powers offering themselves up for his use as he passed. He couldn’t help but comment, “So these are your Case 53’s, your experiments, your slap at humanity.”

    “These are people that would have died without our intervention,” Contessa countered. “They owe us their lives, and even though they won’t remember it, they pay off that debt by helping us help others.”

    “Admirable,” he agreed. From that perspective, he could understand why they were doing it, and even if it was wrong, he knew he wasn’t going to be convince her. “I wasn’t lying before,” he informed her, diverting the conversation. “You are cute. Like, really cute. Hotter than I thought you’d be.” He considered her. She made that suit work. Probably had it tailored for maneuverability, but that didn’t stop her from looking fine. “Old enough too,” he mused to himself, looking at her. She looked back, and was that a hint of challenge in her eyes?

    “While you’re here, if you could help us with identification, that would be of great importance,” she proposed, using her feminine wiles to get him to help her.

    Hell, why not. It’s amusing when they think they’re playing you, he mused, nodding and looking in the nearest cell. Inside was what looked like a humanoid alligator, the power to move instantly through water begging to be used. “Water teleporter,” he informed her, moving on as she made a note. “Implants suggestions, but needs to do so through another medium. If she touches other’s hair with her own she can control it, all hair, kinky. Shape change, but only through regeneration. Can manipulate electricity, but only above a certain voltage, and needs line of sight. All around vision, but can still see through his eyeballs if he detaches them, prolly why he has so many. Literally feels the pain of others, which has gotta suck. Is made of and can manipulate dust at like thirty feet. Is that dude made of. . . eww. Um, if he covers someone in his. . . substance he can puppet them, but only pre-pubescent boys, because of course. Wonder if he’s Catholic. Becomes the element he touches, boring. Grows crystals on what she touches that can explode. Controls internal Parasites. Really? A werewolf chick whose power is proportional to the phases of the moon? Unoriginal much? Makes minions out of the clay he’s made of, and can regrow it by eating earth. Is just a person with wings, how is that a real superpower? Eats dreams to gain people’s memories. Boar dude gains super momentum when he charges. Slight probability manipulation, so, you know, flight risk. Cat chick releases pheromones that puts mammals into heat, that’s gonna get her in trouble. Just straight up is a griffon. Can explode, and reforms an hour later. This dude is just made of cloth. That’s it. Ugh, how many more of these are there? Is a humanoid insect. Can breathe poisonous gas, but not like, out, just it doesn’t affect him. Heat vision, but it’s pretty weak. Creates air, but only when there isn’t enough. This asshole makes a field which blocks out sensory powers. She-“

    “Subject 2601?” Contessa interrupted, narrowing her eyes. “Yes, that is bad.”

    “Could you give them names?” he asked, hoping that she’d see why calling them by numbers was a bad thing. “They had names. They were people before you screwed them up. They deserve names.”

    “They decide their own names upon their release. What is better, a name given to you by your captors, or the name you choose for yourself?”

    Herb sighed, “Then how about lettin’ em decide now.”

    Contessa frowned, and even that was cute. “But their memories are erased before they are released. If they remembered that, they’d remember us, and compromise our security.”

    Herb had to laugh, like that was going to be the thing that compromised them. “You’ll learn some other day,” he promised her. It was fun playing around with her, but with her damn power, he couldn’t be sure if he was talking to Contessa or just what Contessa’s Power told her to say, which was a cryin’ shame.

    “Thank you for your assistance,” she told him, bowing her head in thanks.

    “Any time you need some ass-istance, I’ll be right there for you,” he replied with a wink. Even if this was all some power shit, at least he’d enjoy himself. She led him back out, through more identically boring hallways. “We should go out on a date someday,” he offered. “I’ll treat you nice, we’ll go out, with like, flowers, wine, Barry Manilow. Nothing ruins a mood like Barry Manilow.”

    “We’ll see where our Paths take us,” She responded, with maybe the hint of a smile.

    “It will happen in the future,” he promised. “You just don’t know it yet. You might see a lot of things, but our love, is just budding.” Herb paused, considering his plans. “Not sure how my wife is gonna deal with that though.”

    “You’re married?”

    “Not yet, no,” he reassured her. “But Purity will marry me.”

    Contessa’s sure steps paused for a second, resuming with no trace of hesitation. “The Neo-Nazi?”

    Herb smiled, looking forward to the challenge. “Yeah.” Walking next to Contessa, he almost wished her Path to Victory said, ‘you must have wild passionate sex with this incredibly handsome man in front of you’, but that’d be too easy. The power was right there, waiting to be used. Hell, he could feel it offer a Path to Contessa Falling in Love with You, sixty-eight steps, like it’d been offering suggestions in the back of his head the entire time, but he ignored it. If he was going to do something, he’d be the one fuckin’ doin’ it damnit.

    He figured they were almost back, so he tried for that brass ring, something nice to part on. “If I slapped your ass, would you be mad?” he asked, smiling.

    She looked back, and simply said, “No.”

    “You wouldn’t,” he groused. Contessa was a good person, but the reliance on the power offered up to him he just didn’t get. “That’s just stupid. Can you think for yourself? Fine, let’s go.” He said, opening the door back to the conference room.

    In it Eidolon and Doctor Mother stood, Numberman was still tapping away, but on the table was a very large silver suitcase and a bag containing a suit, gauntlets, and holy crap are those what I think they are!

    Grabbing the costume and heading to the attached bathroom with a barely repressed squee of glee, he changed into a ballin’ supervillain outfit. The dark suit was nice, a tag mentioning how it was bullet and knife resistant, and made of ‘smart fibers’, whatever the hell those were. The royal purple undershirt was awesome, and the gold tie really brought it together. The clear mask, patterned with scales was really nice, and managed to hide his teeth and features pretty effectively. The gauntlets fit him like, well, a glove, but the shoes, the shoes! He’d never been a sneakerhead, but ever since he’d seen those commercials all those years ago he’d wanted a pair. Laced up and ready to rock, he took a step out, thinking that these Cauldron guys might not be so bad, only for Eidolon to comment, “Are you done being childish?” and for Numberman to still be typing.

    Herb sighed, even when he wanted to be nice, he couldn’t. “You know I don’t know much about you four eyes,” he told the geek to end all geeks as he walked towards the conference room door, “Dickcheese over here,” he jerked a finger towards the green goblin, “is an ass. Big time ass. A selfish, self-centered-”

    “I’m standing right here,” Eidolon interrupted, patience obviously at an end. Which made two of us.

    “Oh,” Herb said, not caring. He could feel the guys power’s the catalogue of abilities available to him, and with that much power the world was in trouble? Fuck that guy, and the high horse he rode in on before sticking it up his ass to keep the stick company. “Like I was trying to hide the fact that you’re an ass, from the other, smaller ass. I’d offer you toilet paper to wipe your-“

    “Door me to Break’s previous location,” Contessa politely intoned, a portal appearing in the hallway as Eidolon advanced on him. Like he could do anything. Turning his back on the father of the giant fucktards, he saw the portal led to a dark room, an odd purple glow coming from something there. As he neared the Door a hard to see figure stood up, the purple glow coming from a strip down it’s arm, levelled at him.

    “Stop! Who the fuck are you?” Lee’s voice called.

    Glad to be rid of these assholes, barring Contessa, Herb stepped through the portal, telling his bro “Dude, it’s me! Look at this baller costume! And check this out! Adidas Superstars!” Holding up his foot to show off their magnificence, and seeing the uncomprehending look on Lee’s face, he explained “I’ve always wanted a pair!”

    Lee obviously still didn’t understand, but he was happy that Herb was happy, which was sweet. “Your case,” he heard Eidolon call from behind him.

    Turning around, mildly distracted, he asked, “What?”

    “Your vials you idiot,” the moronic master who couldn’t even use his powers correctly called back.

    “Oh right!” Herb told him, his own happy tone underlying how much of a soppin’ wet pussy rag he knew Eidolon was. Contessa, the darling, tossed Herb the case, her throw perfect, of course, passing right through the portal, the weight of the thing surprising him as he stumbled. Lee, jumpy as he was, and the day we’d had Herb couldn’t really blame him, dropped something on his arm, and Herb barely had enough time to notice it was a knife as it blurred into a blurred streak, passing right by him. Glancing over his shoulder he saw a steak-knife buried to the hilt in the green blunder’s shoulder, the don’t-care-bear going down like a bitch.

    The look on Contessa’s face though, was priceless. The shock, fear, and general dumping of her ass out of her bubble was delicious as she cried “WHAT? That wasn’t supposed to happen!”

    “Clairvoyant, who else is there?” Doctor Mother snapped, having completely lost control of the situation, something she better get used to. If Herb knew Lee would make things this fun, he would’ve brought him to the meeting in the first place.

    Another voice, a new one, weak, like from lack of use, called back “There isn’t anyone else in there just. . . Chinese?”

    “Doormaker, close the damn door!” the woman in charge practically shrieked as she lost control of a situation she never had in the first place, the portal closing to nothing.

    Herb stared at me friend, a wide-ass smile on my face. Shit like this is why he loved him. Lee probably had some complex plan to handle all sorts of shit, but in the end almost killed Eidolon and scared the crap out of Cauldron. Good man.

    His best friend stared back, panic and embarrassment written across his face, wooden spoon held at the ready on some weird ass probably super inventive use of powers. “Um. Oops?”
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2021
  17. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    I'm gonna try to upload an arc a week going forward, as it takes me ~1 hr per chapter to do basic copy-editing for grammar, and there's over two hundred chapters, so it's gonna be a little bit. On the bright side, when we get to the new section, it'll be ~10 chapters a week for you until we get to the current point in the story.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Spoiler 5.1
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Spoiler 5.1

    Returning home from my. . . less than optimal outing as Boardwalk, I found Herb still training with Boojack, figuring out low-altitude three-dimensional movement. He and his Stand were jumping back and forth, trying hit and run tactics on BJ and his Stand, Jackhammer, Herb getting out of range of his Stand and unable to double-jump, inadvertently body slammed a train car.

    Only stopping for a second to patch them up, I headed straight for a computer to try and see if I could find information on Æonic. ParaHumans Online only provided a couple threads on him, but nothing certain could be gleaned. Opinion on the cape was mixed, as he apparently had taken to saving people from bomb blasts by freezing time in a bubble and moving everyone around.

    He then would hand out cards with his number in case they wanted to join his supervillain gang.

    It was confusing a lot of people to say the least. Thinking about it, that’s probably what hit me while I scouted out the base, though he must’ve had at least a twenty-five-foot range to get me stuck in time from his was at the front door. If he had found me, I would have been defenseless.

    I growled in annoyance, time-based powers were such bullshit. He apparently wore a Victorian suit and had a clock for a head. I hoped they meant as a helmet, but this was Worm, so who knew. Making a note to snipe anyone I fought if they wore a suit and vest combo, I closed the window before heading to a different part of the trainyard, switching to my Vejovis costume, setting up my gun firing contraption, and settling in for a night of tanking pistol rounds while trying to get through the base manual.

    The only thing I found that was useful was the section on how to use the base’s kitchen. The drawer under the oven was a warming drawer, instead of just storage, apparently. I was tempted to use my sword while getting shot, but if I accidentally drained my shields while getting shot in the chest, well, I’d probably be okay, but there was no need to risk it.

    Some time before dawn, both of my shields were about ready to split, at the stage the first one was earlier that week. Intrigued, I tried to focus on holding one together as I alternated shots, a mental sensation to trying to hold, not quite water, but that slimy toy stuff. Gak? Gooze? Something like that.

    As my shields grew in strength, straining, the one I was ignoring split into two, both stronger than when I’d first started, but not by much. The one I held onto though, that one grew in power, strengthening, straining, and as I brought it to the front, taking hit after hit, I got the sense of crystallization as it settled, stronger, tougher, better.

    Turning to take the shots on one of my new shields, I tried to focus on this new development. Moving the crystalline was a ponderous affair, easily taking several times longer than before, and equivalently more focus, but it was doable. Moving back to take hits on it, I blocked a bullet, only for the shield to remain untouched. Frowning, I took another, then another. Finally walking up to the pistol, I took it out of the device, and emptied the remaining magazine into the crystallized shield on my right hand, one shot after another, until it clicked empty.

    Grabbing another of the magazines I’d had my insects load, I laid a Speed Zone down the gun barrel, taking aim and firing. Still nothing. Another Zone was laid down. Nothing. A third. Nada. A Fourth? That did it, the sensation of the shield cracking and shattering.

    I had a moment of doubt. Did I just break it, like, for good?

    But, a couple seconds later, I could feel it starting to reform. It took longer than the other, more malleable shields I had, but once it restructured, it felt measurably stronger, tighter built, more settled. Shooting it again it shattered, but not as completely. Over the course of the next hour the rebuilding time shrank by ten seconds, until my enhanced bullets weren’t enough.

    Layering a fifth layer, what my earlier calculations indicated would have been equivalent to a fifty caliber Anti-material round, I shot once, having to grip tightly to not have the pistol tear itself out of my hand.

    The shield shattered, taking five minutes to rebuild itself, still with that feeling of incremental improvement. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or impressed that it took that level of firepower to drain my shield, though with that amount of recharge time, the actual threshold where I could take shots without it draining was far, far less. The Speed Zones weren’t quite exponential, but they were close enough that the difference between four and five layers of enhancement meant I’d probably have to either try a lot of different guns, or a whole lot of math to maximize the training time. Shrugging, I shifted it to protect my head, resuming practice getting shot, which just sounded wrong.

    Continuing on until dawn had fully broke, I’d made some more progress, but I just felt drained. Half a pot of coffee and some breakfast helped, and now I had a forcefield I could designate for my sword alone, so overall a win. As I got ready to go back at it my phone rang the chorus to ‘You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid’. “Is it your girlfriend?” Herb asked from his place at the table.

    “It’s Taylor, and Panacea isn’t my girlfriend. She’s underage!” I shot back as I took it out of my pocket.

    “Right, your mistress,” he nodded.

    “Fucking how does that work?” I demanded as it rang again.

    He grinned. “Well, she’s the villain, so she’s obviously the mis-”

    I shut him up as I dropped a silence bubble on his head with a snap of my fingers. He grinned wider as I answered the phone. “Hey Taylor, what’s up?”

    “Hi, um, I’m feeling better, and the. . . my other friends told me what happened,” she responded before hesitating. “You said that if I needed training, I just needed to ask.” She paused, waiting. I waited as well. If she wanted something, she needed to learn to go for it. “This. This is me asking.”

    I smiled, voice warm, “Then we’ll train. How well healed are you?”

    “I’m fine,” she responded far too quickly.

    “Not what I asked,” I rebuked gently. “Are you completely uninjured, sore as if from overexertion, sore from bruising, or does just lying down and not doing anything still hurt? We’re going to train no matter what, but I need to know exactly how we’re going to train.”

    “Oh,” she muttered. “Bruised, I guess.”

    I nodded in thought. “Okay, we’ll do it tomorrow. If you could meet me at the abandoned northern ferry station at dawn tomorrow, we’ll begin your training.” She started to object but I cut her off, “In the meantime I want you to move around and see if you’re still hurt, but haven’t noticed it yet. I want you to think about your power, and all the uses of it you can think of, get a notebook or something if that will help. Don’t worry about testing, we’ll do that tomorrow. Most of all I want you to practice emoting. Put on your mask and practice displaying emotions in the mirror.”

    “But, why?” she complained.

    “Because I have a couple techniques I can help you learn, but you need to be able to display emotions if you want people to think you’re a hero, Taylor. Armsdick can get away with it because he already has fame and public opinion behind him, but if you want people to like you and think of you as something other than someone to be wary of, you need to be human, and that means displaying emotion.” I emphasized.

    “But. . . I’ll feel silly,” she groused.

    I let that statement hang for a moment. “Taylor, I fly around in a skintight outfit, you think I don’t feel silly sometimes. I’d rather go with armor, full kit, enclosed helmet, and at least three different weapons, but I have to settle for a single utility belt, because that’s what people want to see.” She mumbled something that the phone didn’t quite pick up. “What?”

    “Nothing!” she squeaked.

    It had sounded like something, and her response further indicated that, but I let it go. “Right, do those three things, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning for training. Okay?”

    “Okay,” she responded, sounding a little disappointed, probably because I didn’t drop everything to go help her train right this moment. Still a teenager, I reminded myself.

    Hanging up, I looked over at Herb, who had moved to hear the conversation, but hadn’t said a word. Dispelling the now useless bubble of silence I gave him an expectant look. “So, are you still gonna go heal with Panacea tomorrow?” he asked.

    I looked back in confusion. “Yeah, I’ll train with Taylor for a few hours, and give her something to work on while I go help heal people. I scheduled it specifically so I could do both.”

    He nodded sagely. “Right, don’t want the wife to know you’re cheatin’ on her with some villainess, good idea.”

    Whelp, I walked into that. Taking the high road, I flicked him off and walked out the door.


    <AB>



    After a bit more flight practice, buzzing rooftops and only running into one, I landed at the hospital early. I refused to heal anyone until Panacea showed up, but casual inquiry revealed that there were a few people with superficial but disfiguring injuries recuperating. Taking a minute to check with Quinn that it would be covered by my agreement with the hospital, charging an hour’s worth of pay per patient, I promptly did the rounds, fixing burns, scars, and other skin-deep injuries to kill time. I refused to do vanity adjustments on principal, though I did give out my Lawyer’s number if they were interested in paying for such things instead of having the taxpayer do so. I’d finished, and was twiddling my thumbs, having to point out to one insistent young man that everything he was badgering me to do I could do the opposite of and may be inclined to do so if he continued to harass me.

    It was there that Panacea found me, walking in and giving me a questioning look. “What?” I asked, standing up.

    “Why am I hearing about you doing plastic surgery?” she asked slowly.

    I shrugged. “I was bored and it’s the one thing I can do without your help. It was mostly things that’d scar pretty badly, and was covered by the fund. You ready for another day of healing?”

    She looked like she wanted to say something, but stopped herself, nodding and walking past me to the circuit the medical staff had set up. Things progressed pretty well after that. Apparently, Oni Lee had gotten a hold of four of Bakuda’s grenades and had been using them to great, or horrible, effect. Burned by fire, cold, electricity, and acid, those that weren’t outright killed we were able to save, working through last night’s backlog for hours until we were down to the trickle coming in from the still constant low-level bombing. When we’d not had anyone that needed our specific level of help for an hour, I convinced her to hit up the oncology ward, Panacea’s walking of me through the process hopefully helping alleviate the boredom I knew she felt dealing with that particular malady.

    We finished our shift, had a nice dinner, though several times she started to say something, expression serious, before she stopped herself. I wanted to ask what she wanted to say, but we had time, and it was probably best if she came to it herself. At least I could wait until after the bombings were over and the general tension pervading the city had relaxed. I was about to leave when she said, “Wait.”

    Landing I looked at her expectantly. She stood in front of her house, visibly struggling with herself, and after a minute she steeled herself, and inquired, “Why haven’t you asked?” I looked at her, waiting for her to expand on that. “What happened that night, with Vicky, you haven’t said anything about that. Not even once!”

    I responded simply, somewhat perplexed, “Because you asked me not to?” I thought it was obvious, really, but apparently not. “You know I’m willing to help if you need it, and the situation isn’t spiraling out of your control anymore, so if you don’t want to talk about it for a few weeks. . .” I shrugged. “Okay.”

    She looked at me uncomprehending, and I sighed. “Panacea, you are one of the few people who I respect. If you tell me something, especially in private, I’ll assume you’re being honest. I hate those ‘I said one thing, but I really meant something entirely different, and it’s your fault that I wasn’t honest, that I didn’t have the spine to say what I really meant, and you didn’t somehow read my mind’ people. It’s a coward’s tactic where someone wants to get what they want without having to take responsibility for wanting it, and they keep the option open to change their mind retroactively to claim they never wanted it, because they didn’t technically ask for it, and if it turns out worse than they expected, they can blame the person who gave them what they originally wanted.”

    Grimacing at the overlong explanation I’d just delivered, I apologized. “Sorry, but I can’t stand that shit. Too many of my problems have come from people needlessly lying to protect their own fragile egos and delusions. So, you asked me not to talk about it, so I assumed you needed time to figure things out yourself and trusted you to come to me when you did want to talk about it. Was I wrong?”

    “No,” was her immediate reply. “It’s just, I kept expecting you to, and you didn’t so. . .”

    “So you were wondering why I hadn’t,” I smirked. “You should know by now, I’m not like most people Panacea.” I paused. “Wow, that sounded arrogant, but you know what I mean. I’m not normal, never have been, though if I were the norm things might be a lot better, which I know is arrogant as all hell, but not exactly wrong. I’m not normal, so general social expectations don’t really apply consistently. Honestly, due to the nature of powers, let alone the Triggering process, I’d be surprised to find that more than half of parahumans are what people consider ‘normal.’ You’re not, I’m not, Glory Girl seems to be, but I don’t know her well enough to make that call. Brandish sure as hell isn’t, your adopted father is depressed enough that he isn’t, though without that he might be, and the . . . intel I received didn’t really cover your Aunt’s family, so I’ve got nothing there.” I shrugged.

    She looked a little lost. “But, isn’t being normal a good thing?”

    I snorted, “Yeah, says the normal people. Seriously though, it’s through our differences that we tend to push boundaries and find out what’s best in every sense. Honestly, I could talk for an hour about that, but it’s late, and you need to head to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

    She nodded, giving a soft, “Thanks, see you,” before heading inside. Looking over I could see Glory Girl staring at me from the second story window, though she closed the curtain when I waved at her. Shaking my head, I took off, headed for home.


    <AB>


    Settling in, I considered Taylor’s training tomorrow. I wanted to believe that she’d do what I’d asked, but there was a good chance she wouldn’t. Either way, if I was going to teach her how to make bug clones and speak through them, I needed to figure out how to do it myself. After a pass over the trainyard to grab a swarm, I settled in and tried to recreate arguable the most inhuman use of power she displayed in canon.

    Bug clones, or at least the rough version, took three hours, a quarter of that was spent looking at videos of army and fire ants to figure out the intricacies of making bug structures without crushing the ones at the bottom. Getting those with wings to provide lift helped as well, but coordinating the entire thing gave me a bit of a headache, both creating and looking through their eyes requiring my utmost attention. It got easier as I practiced, but the stress of trying to control that many at once, even in just a general sense, not directly puppeting them, still hurt to try to manage.

    Relaxing my control, and getting a snack, I attempted my second task, swarm communication. Playing around with the noises my swarm could make, I was able to raise and lower the sound, and took separate insects, making them make all the noises they could. Eventually I compiled what I got into a mental library of sounds I could attempt.

    Experimenting, seated so I could focus, I was able to create somewhat recognizable sounds, but trying to make actual speech was well beyond my capabilities. The muddled mess was only understandable to me because I already knew what I was trying to get the swarm to say. With a pounding migraine, and dawn an hour away, I stopped there, letting the swarm disperse, sending them all back to where I’d gathered them.

    As I got up, body feeling heavy, I thought about the other way that Taylor had used her power, the technique that had truly made her Skitter, the unfeeling villainess that would do anything to achieve victory. It was a trick I was probably never going to teach her. Connecting to the insects around me, I hesitated before I dumped the pain, the anger, the frustration, every single negative feeling I had out into the ambient swarm. The emotions drained out of me, agitating the insects but leaving me feeling an almost supernatural sense of calm and peace.

    As fast as I could I reversed the process, taking them back into me, shivering and feeling wrong. That, that, had been dangerously easy. An easy out to any negative overwhelming emotion I might feel, but it wasn’t me, wasn’t right, on a deep and visceral level. As much as I hated feeling that way, negative emotions had a source, and it was by the presence of those emotions that I could identify the source, and deal with that shit. This was the reason I’d never really liked harder drugs, or even excessive use of the softer ones.

    Keeping yourself from feeling for longer than just the duration of an emergency or a single night was playing with fire, the longer you didn’t feel, the harder it was to go back. I’d flirted with that before when I was younger, but it was an evil, a sweet poison that killed those who indulged, slowly and by degrees until who they were before was dead. Realizing exactly what the effect was, and looking at Taylor’s actions in canon, paired with this ability to outright get rid of unwanted emotions, her decisions suddenly made a disturbing amount of sense. After a quick shower, I headed off to the meeting site. Hopefully, with my support, not only would Taylor never be Khepri, but she’d also never truly become Skitter either.
     
  19. Threadmarks: Spoiler 5.2
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Spoiler 5.2

    The fact that Taylor was early really shouldn’t have surprised me, I was giving her training after all. Opening my Bug Sense I immediately pinged off of her network, following the threads of power to where she was hiding in an alley. Dropping down into it, I saw her looking back, expression relieved and nervous. She was in exercise clothes, the bulging backpack she picked up probably containing her costume. “You’re early,” I commented, turning my back to her. “Change into your costume and we’ll head to where we’re training.”

    “Right here?” she sputtered, confusion and embarrassment coloring her voice.

    I looked through the bug on either end of the alley. At this hour, and in ABB territory, even if only a few blocks in, no one was around. “Unless you want people to see Vejovis flying about with Taylor Hebert, yes. If you want to go public, I’ll support you, but I’d assumed that you wanted to keep your identity a secret.”

    “Right,” she rebuked herself, needlessly commanding “Don’t look,” as I heard the backpack’s zipper and the rustling of cloth and silk. A few moments later she announced, “I’m done.” Turning back, she continued, in costume, “Okay, let’s go get training!” raising a fist in determination a half second after she finished her declaration. It looked awkward, and a bit forced, but was still better than she’d been earlier.

    I smiled, offering my hand. “You’ve been practicing displaying emotions, good.”

    She took it, responding, “You said I needed to do it, and you wouldn’t show me some stuff if I didn’t.”

    Lifting off, taking a slightly wavering flight path to conceal our destination, we headed towards the area I’d cleared, along with some supplies we might need. “I know, but I can still be happy you did so. I assume Grue still gave you the basics of street boxing this time around?”

    “Yeah, but he’s a lot better than I am. I’m not sure I’ll ever be as good as he is,” she professed, making no motions other than talking.

    “Nod when you agree with something, and shake your head if you disagree,” I instructed, coming in sight of our landing. “And if you’re unsure about something, shrug. If you can add hand gestures without affecting what you’re doing, do so. And you’ll never be able to beat him in an unpowered boxing match, but by the time you’re fully trained, you will be able to beat him in hand to hand.”

    She looked at me in surprise as we landed, obviously wanting to question that, but holding her tongue. “So,” I gestured towards our section of trainyard as I enclosed us in a sound bubble, “This is where you’ll be training until I can find something better. We’d be doing it at our base, but Herb has a ‘no bugs’ policy, and it’s technically his place, so that rules out training there. Now-”

    “You’re the railyard wrecker!” she exclaimed, completely derailing my speech.

    I blinked, “I’m sorry, what?”

    She gestured to the trainyard, “For the past week something has been tearing up the railyard at night. PHO has a thread on it. They’ve found piles of spent ammo and bullets smushed flat, but no one’s heard a shot. People have seen things moving, and a couple days ago something wrecked a train car with enough force to smash it into scrap, and everyone heard it, but it was the only time they heard something.” At my look she paused, before shrugging, “I’ve been at home, and bored, what did you expect me to do? That was you, right?”

    “Most of it,” I admitted. “The shapes might’ve been Break and Enter, but most of it’s probably me.”

    “But how did you destroy that train car, are you that strong? And how’d you keep people from hearing the gunshots?” she queried, confused.

    We were completely sidetracked by this point, so I asked instead, “Do you want to talk about this, or do you want me to start training you?”

    She started to say something, before stopping herself, considering. “If I ask, will you still train me?”

    “Yeah,” I nodded, “But we’ll have less time. We need to stop before ten, since I’m working at Good Samaritan healing people injured by the bombs. That and of course, I don’t want you to share what I tell you, as if the wrong people knew things could get. . . bad. But I won’t lie to you, and if I can answer, I will.”

    “Then I want to know,” she declared. “How did you do that?”

    “Like this,” I told her, pulling out the pistol from the pouch at my back, dropping a sound bubble over it and firing it twice at a train car forty feet away, dropping a sound bubble over that as well between shots.

    Holstering my weapon and dismissing the bubbles I was about to explain it as a secondary power, which was technically true, when she beat me to the punch, excitedly declaring, “You’re a power copier!”

    I froze, and I felt a spike of fear from her as I did so, her words coming out in a torrent, “I’m sorry, it’s just that no-one’s supposed to have more than three powers, and you already do, and that looked like, sounded like, sound control, or maybe something to do with air pressure, and Lisa told me about how you stopped them from getting killed by glass that night, and about how you said your powers weren’t what they looked like, and about how you probably stopped us from getting hit in the bank too, even though you still got hit, which she said means you’re limited in use, but that means you have to have at least four, which everyone online says you can’t, but if you could copy other powers then you’d only have one, and that would explain why you have my power, because even when people have similar powers they never have the same power and I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything!!!”

    Well, I knew she was smart, I chided myself, pissed that I’d slipped up and given her more than I was ready to at this time. It’s the reason, okay, the third reason, I recruited her. I walked over to her, and she froze, terrified. “Taylor,” I said gently. “Why are you scared?”

    “I just guessed your secret, and then you went all cold, and you looked angry. Aren’t you upset? Y-you feel upset!” she stammered.

    “Taylor,” I tried again. “I’m not upset with you. You’re smart, it’s one of the reasons I recruited you, I just didn’t want to let that particular cat out of the bag just yet, even to my teammates. Yes, I can copy powers, not all of them, and if I want to do anything other than monkey see, monkey do level repetition I need to train and experiment on my own. I don’t want people to know because if they think they know what Vejovis’s powers are, they’ll plan on how to counter them, and if things get bad I can bust out an extra power and play it off like I was hiding my true power the entire time. Also, people with powers tend to get a bit prissy when you copy theirs.”

    “I don’t mind!” she protested. “Wait, you said Vejovis. Does that mean you have more than one identity? Are you Æonic?” she pressed, now that she knew I wasn’t going to react badly and, I don’t know, kick her from the team or something.

    I shook my head, “No, I don’t have any time-based powers. Yet. Why did you think that?”

    She shrugged. “Well, he saves people and then gives them a business card.” She dug into one of her belt pouches, taking out the card I’d given her. “Seems like something you’d do.” She looked at me, pausing before bringing up a hand to point accusingly. “If you aren’t Æonic, who are you?”

    I took a breath, shifting my costume, my domino mask growing as the material around my collar extended up to cover my head, darkening as it did so. Shifting mindsets, I puffed my chest out a little, crooked my arms and legs a little, and shifted my balance so I was leaning slightly to one side. Giving that chin-jerk, I roughened my voice as I said, with the hint of a sneer, “Hey Bug Chick, name’s Boardwalk. You one of those goody-two shoes bitches, or do you actually get shit done like me?

    She staggered back. “What the hell, you, you changed!”

    I dropped the persona, straightening up again. “Well, yeah, it’d be a poor disguise if I was identifiable.”

    She walked closer, shaking her head as she looked me over. “No, I mean, you kept your, my power on when you did that, and you changed, like you felt like a completely different person!”

    “Just refer to it as my power, not yours, it’ll keep you from slipping up in the field. And, um, yes?” I more asked than said, not getting her confusion. “Boardwalk is a mental construct that I built to slip into for things I can’t have Vejovis linked to. Vejovis will try to recruit Boardwalk, and while they will work together, he’ll never join, his dislike of authority enough that he’ll balk even if Vejovis seems on the up and up, or will until I no longer have need of a deniable asset.” I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. “It’s just acting. Both my parents were professional actors, and I spent a lot of time in the theatre. It’s not that hard, people do it all the time, I just do it on purpose, and with more skill than most, though I’ll admit that might just be hubris.”

    “But then,” she started, debating with herself, “Which one is you? Have I been talking to you, or just you playing a part?” The unsurety and vulnerability in her voice and over the connection was borderline painful.

    I dismissed my mask, pulling back my hood as I looked her in the eye, putting my hands on her shoulders. “Taylor, they’re both me, just different facets with different traits exaggerated. Vejovis is me with my more traditionally heroic traits turned up, more likely to work within the system and lead from the front. Boardwalk is me with my more, to be a bit crude, ‘fuck the police’ traits turned up. He’s the borderline vigilante who’s pissed that he’s the one that has to bust his ass to go shut down the, ahem, ‘motherfuckers fuckin’ up the streets, struttin’ around like they own it, ‘cause the police ain’t doin’ shit’, or something to that effect.” I paused, trying to find the correct words.

    “Think of how I act when it’s just people I respect, like when we were eating the take-out from Fugly Bob’s, versus in public when we were in the restaurant ordering said food. One was me, Lee, just relaxing with friends, the other was Vejovis, putting on a show of casual heroics, humanizing our superhero identities in a way that the Protectorate would never bother with, possibly because they actually think they’re better than everyone else. I don’t lie to people I respect, though I also expect them not to lie to me in return. You are my friend, don’t doubt that, ever.”

    She gave me a hesitant nod, her emotions an utter mess over the connection. I took a step back, shifting to jeans and a t-shirt, giving her a moment to collect herself before I continued and gave her something to focus on. “You were right, I nabbed Cricket’s sound control, which is what lets me silence things. I also have Stormtiger’s air control, and dear god is that guy a failure when it comes to living up to his potential.”

    “How?” she asked, voice still strained, but I didn’t comment on it.

    “Well, you’ve probably read up how he has ‘air claws’, right?” I prompted, waiting for her nod before continuing. Turning to a nearby train car I demonstrated, using the motion that I copied, sending out three unstable ribbons which cut into the car with a loud tearing sound before exploding as the destabilized.

    She jumped, looking around, “Should you be that loud?”

    I looked back, grinning. “Why should I be worried?”

    “Someone will’ve. . .” She trailed off, thinking. “You’ve silenced us, haven’t you, like you did your gun?”

    I nodded. “Exactly, if you go more than fifty feet in any direction you’ll pass the barrier. Sounds can get in, but not escape, so look at this damage. Nasty right?” She looked at it, gulping, and nodded.

    I couldn’t help but grin as I gave into the urge to show off. “Come stand behind me,” I instructed, sitting down on a thin sheet of hardened air. She stared for a second as I sat on nothing before coming to stand right behind me, looking over my head at the train car. Reaching over I had her put her hands on my shoulders, explaining, “I need to know exactly where you are. This is a work in progress.” Covering her with one of my shields, just in case I completely screwed this up, I started manifesting blades in front of me and to my sides, one after another, until the air practically shimmered. I could feel her look at them through the changing pressure on my shoulders and the feedback my shield provided, but she kept her hands planted. “By your command,” I quipped.

    “What?” she asked, distracted.

    “Say fire when ready,” I dictated.

    “Oh. Fire?” she asked.

    I hmmfed. “Say it like you’re the captain of a starship, about to unleash hell upon your opponents. Come on, have fun with it,” I teased.

    She gathered herself before imperiously ordering “Fire!”

    As one I shoved the blades forward and into the damaged traincar, forcing them through steel, detonating them in explosive blasts of wind, the structuring tearing and cracking as the cuts were forced open and pieces were propelled in every direction, large chunks of metal skidding past us as I deflected them around us and the pile of supplies I’d set up. After half a minute all that was left was cut up scrap, torn and scattered in every direction. “Holy fuck,” she quailed, gazing upon my handiwork. “Stormtiger could do that!?

    I laughed, pleased by her reaction. Holding back all the time was annoying, and having an audience to play to was highly amusing. I could see why so many capes went full theatrical, but you never went full theatrical. There was a great difference between the stage and the battlefield; ‘all the world’s a stage’ being one of those sophistic statements which got misapplied all the time. “If he wasn’t such a dumbass, yeah. But then again, if he wasn’t such a dumbass, he wouldn’t have teamed up with literal Nazis.”

    I stood up, hand Lighting, as I used my air control to replicate crude telekinesis, gathering the scrap up into one large pile. It was inefficient, and noisy as all hell as I kept dropping pieces, but it did the job. “But having giant piles of cut up scrap is a bit of a tell for powers that I’m not supposed to have, so blasting it to an indistinct mess with Purity’s power is required.” A few blasts of Light later, using sound control to provide hearing protection for both of us, the pile of cut scrap was a crushed together mass, parts of it glowing orange from the heat generated by the repeated tearing and crushing.

    Taylor stared dumbly at the result as I led her over to a cleared off portion of ground. “You need a moment?” She shook her head, focusing on me, and I moved forward with the lesson. “So, hand to hand speech, female version. People like to say men and women are equal, or that they are the same. On a mental field, nature versus nurture muddies everything, as well as psychology being more art than science, the brain being the device which modifies itself, but the nature of sentient beings to self-improve means that it’s probably possible, though usually not true in the current western setup. On a physical level though, they are different, and saying anything else is not only a bold-faced lie it’s a downright dangerous one.”

    Looking her in the eye, I stated with conviction, “Women are physically weaker than men, full stop. One of the world’s strongest unpowered woman went to a bar and arm-wrestled the regular joes there and lost, hard. Yes, the strongest women are stronger than the weakest men, but she’s not going to be fighting the weakest men, and mistaking a technically true theoretical for commonplace reality is a good way to get killed. Some people will tout women as having higher stamina but not only does that not matter in combat, since most fights never last more than a minute, but if you had an average man holding back to using the same amount of force as an average woman going as hard as she could, they’d be at best even, at worst he’d still last longer.”

    “With this in mind, straight up power techniques are not going to help you at all, and while teaching you the basics of fighting was good, Grure was teaching you to fight like a man, which wouldn’t help you in the long run. Honestly, if he got a spine, Greg Veder could kick your ass in a fair fight. With that being said, he doesn’t, and you should avoid those kinds of fights if you can. To quote, honestly I don’t remember, ‘If you’re in a fair fight, someone fucked up’.”

    I started pacing. “Don’t block when you can dodge, don’t grab when you can strike, and always, always, be aware what happens if you lose. If it’s a friendly spar, there’s a certain threshold you shouldn’t pass. If you’ll get captured, but your opponents are honorable, there’s a certain threshold you shouldn’t pass. If you’re fighting, and the price of failure is torture, rape, and/or death, there is no threshold you shouldn’t pass. Serious, do or die fighting isn’t romantic, it isn’t heroic, it’s dirty, and risky, and if you can avoid it, by all means do so, unless the consequences for doing so are worse.”

    Shaking my head, I told her, “If you’ve heard about how ‘you learn to fight so you don’t have to’, that’s because once you understand what is actually involved in fighting, you’ll understand what’s on the line, but also why that’s only kind of true, but that’s philosophical ground we don’t have time to tread today, and we need to focus on the basics. You are no stronger or tougher than the average human, and while I have plans to rectify that, that’s at least six months in the works, and a whole lotta shit is going to hit the fan before then. Your competence in fighting will be from your speed and flexibility, not your strength and durability. Take out your baton.”

    She stared at me for a second before shaking herself, taking out her weapon, extending it. “Now, weak points, regular fights you’ll go for the nose, temple, back of the head, chin, kidney, and ribs. Wrists if you want them to drop something, though that’s getting into the realm of trick shots, and back or sides of the knees if you want them to go down, but with your height you’ll have to drop down to hit that unless you’re fighting someone really big, in which case you’re already at a massive disadvantage. If you’re in a serious fight, add in eyes and throat, but blinding or killing someone should only be done if they would do the same to you.”

    “Not the chest?” she asked. “or the groin?”

    I shook my head. “Punching verses swinging gives different avenues of attack, and the solar plexus is one of the targets that you can hit easily in a straight on thrust, but if you’re swinging and dodging you’ll want targets you can get the most leverage on, or strike at when your opponent’s not directly squared up in front of you. As for Groin, you run into the Women’s Magazine problem.”

    “What’s that?” she asked hesitantly.

    “There’s a sizable percentage of the female population that believes they’re smarter than men, and thus tell each other things about men without ever actually checking with one, or if they do it’s usually with a man that wants to sleep with them, so the man agrees to whatever stupid thing they come up with to try and get into the woman’s pants. Fifty years ago, you had a similar problem on the other side of the gender divide, with some men thinking women were lesser and inferior, and certain things were ‘women’s work’ and below the attention of the ‘superior sex’, but with time, while the misogynistic population were rightly judged for their bullshit and shrank, the misandristic population was given a pass and grew. Hell, most people don’t even think misandrist is even a word, while almost everyone knows what a misogynist is. That’s why you get those ’20 things that’ll drive men wild’ articles, which if you actually read, make you wonder if the writer has ever talked to a man. “

    “Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with fighting?” I asked, but instead of nodding, Taylor just looked thoughtful, so I pressed on. “Because of this you get a lot of ‘common knowledge’ things that a sizable portion of women take as gospel, but are actually either completely baseless, or only true a small percent of the time. Groin shots are one of those things. The average guy will probably fold, but unless the guy has a pair big enough to be its own power, it’s a harder target to hit then you’d think. Most of the times it does get hit by women, the man doesn’t even know he’s in combat, and thus isn’t prepared for the pain, which presents all sorts of moral problems, and makes those ‘victories’ less than useless for telling other women how to handle actual combat scenarios.”

    “Thing is, you’re not going to be fighting office workers, at best you’ll be fighting thugs, at worst monsters in questionably human form,” I warned. “These are the sorts of people who live combat, so they’ll never truly let their guard down if they even suspect you’re a threat. They’ll be able to shrug it off, and while they might be hurt, they’ll stop playing around. Capes seem to love the theatre of their own importance, playing with their foes if they think they’re winning, and while that gives you time to formulate a strategy to take them down, it’s a time you only have because they let you have it. Hitting there is a dishonorable move, as you are essentially attacking them in a sexual manner, even if you don’t see it that way, and they don’t consciously think of it that way.”

    “Because of that,” I stressed, “unless you’re ready to incapacitate or kill them in the next few seconds, if you don’t know that strike will work, don’t try it. It gets mentioned by military training because their objective is to kill, but as a hero you’re held to different standards.”

    I tried to think of a suitable comparison. “Imagine you were in a fight with L33t and he tried to take you down by trying to shove his fist down there.” She shuddered as I felt her sick horror over the connection of our shared power. “Yeah, that sense of disgust and violation, how you’d think of him for doing that, that’s generally what guys feel about getting struck in the groin. They don’t display it because they’ve been trained practically since birth not to, and to not think that badly of women in general, usually to the point that it never hits the level of conscious thought, and that’s not even touching all the programming they get about never showing weakness from both genders, so they laugh at the pain instead, or just get uncomfortable for reasons they find hard to put into words. If the alternative is torture, rape, or death, then of course, go for it, but by that point you should be ready to kill them. Because by even attempting that, you’ve now escalated the fight to the point someone that’d let you go is now going to make you pay.

    I took a few steps away from her. “With that lovely topic out of the way, temple, nose, chin, eyes, throat, back of the head, ribs, kidneys, and back of the knees. I want you to try to avoid my strikes while trying to hit me in turn. I’m protected by Glory Girl’s forcefields, so you won’t hurt me, and I’ll keep my strength to human levels while starting slow. It’ll take a serious hit to drop them, so don’t worry. Ready?”

    She nodded, taking a position with her Baton as I started walking towards her. She didn’t move as I approached, and she ducked out of the way as I swung a lazy punch for her head. I took another swing and she dodged again, staying out of my reach. Is she doing that stupid thing, I pondered as a third blow was dodged with no counter, reminded of a female friend of mine who wanted to spar, wanted to learn how to fight, but never would attack, turning the entire thing into a protracted dodging exercise. She never gave me anything other than a silly ‘I don’t want to hurt you’ BS excuse, despite the entire point was to learn so she could handle herself against someone she did want to hurt. Taking another swing, overextending myself, my fears were put to rest as Taylor ducked under my arm, baton striking my ribs enough that it might smart if it’d gotten through, only for her to spin, a second blow to the back of the head, hard enough that it might have dropped my regular shields as she put her entire body into the blow, the crystalline barrier holding firm.

    I spun on my heel, smiling, leg up in a kick, but she pushed herself backwards and missed it by inches. “Good!” I beamed. “Now let’s see how fast you can go!” I called to her, upping my speed as she dodged, on the edge of panic, but keeping it under control as she hit me in the back, putting her entire body into the blow, draining one of my shields as she did so, but unable to dodge my follow up, taking the strike, but moving with it, hitting the ground but lashing out with a vicious kick at my knee, which I dodged, laughing.



    <AB>


    An hour later I called our spar over, Taylor collapsing with an, “Ohthankgod. I think my bruises have bruises!”

    I smiled as I walked over to the supplies, grabbing the cooler and carrying it over. Sitting down on air, I popped it open, handing her a bottle of water and a fried egg and bacon sandwich as she removed her mask. She gulped down the water greedily before tearing into lunch. Looking at her, I saw a couple of bruises forming on her face, and internally winced. I’d known we’d been going pretty hard as we progressed, but I was glad that I was a healer.

    “You want me to patch you up?” I offered. She touched her jaw, where she’d almost dodged an elbow, and winced before nodded. As I leaned over and reached for her face she leaned back, confused and wary. “Taylor, I need skin contact and your gloves aren’t made to come off easily. I’ll either need to touch your face, or you’ll need to take off your costume if you want me to heal you.”

    She froze, before nodding to herself, “Panacea’s power, right.” Closing her eyes she leant towards me, and I had to move my hand so I didn’t accidentally poke her in the eye. Giving her the “Get Better” treatment she sighed as the bruises on her face shifted colors and disappeared, her hesitance disappearing into a cat-like contentment. After a minute I pulled my hand back, and she started to lean to follow before pulling herself back, blinking and turning back to her sandwich. “That. That was good. Thanks.”

    I shrugged. “I probably should’ve started with that, so you could spar in top condition. We went a bit harder than you really should normally, but I’m a healer and going that intense helps you pick things up faster. You’ve gone from, ‘can probably take down a thug’ to ‘can take down your average streetfighter’,” I guessed, my experience spotty from trying to avoid such people in my old life, mostly successfully. “Anyone with serious training could take you down if they took you seriously from the start, but most Villains don’t. Don’t try hand to hand with anyone who has a Brute rating though, stay the hell away from them and use your powers. Well, more than you already were.”

    “What do you mean?” she asked innocently.

    I grabbed control of the bugs she’d stuck to my arms and legs, flying them over to dance in a circle around her bottle. She dismissed them, blushing. “This is why your power pushes you to conflict,” I explained, “because through it you come up with things like that. You did last time around, but it was farther down the road. It took you twenty minutes, but you started inventing new techniques to keep up with, which lets us skip that lesson.”

    “You kept getting faster as we fought,” she interjected. “I thought I had you, then you’d spin or dodge or something and it was like I was back to where I started. How fast are you?”

    Biting back a snarky comment equating to ‘faster than you’, I instead offered her a hand up. Taking it, I pulled her up, grabbing her bottle and resting it on my seat, pulling her to a clear spot. “Okay, go after me, like usual, but I’m just going to push you, open handed, so you’ll get a sense of my unpowered maximum speed. Or at least as fast as I can go without hurting you.” She looked hesitant, and I wondered if it was the fact that we were doing this unmasked, or if she was worried about getting hurt, despite what I’d said. “I’ll heal you again afterwards,” I promised, and she made up her mind, nodding, so definitely the second.

    She took a step forward, but I dashed in before she could start to close on me herself and set the pace, dodging under a blow to whip a hand to her shoulder, pausing for just an instant to lessen the blow as I made contact, before pushing her, hard.

    She stumbled, but turned on her foot, the other lashing up in a kick. Lightly catching it, I pushed it to the side, spinning her around in the opposite direction before placing both hands on her back, shoving her away again. She turned as she stumbled, baton coming up, the bugs on my limbs helping her track me, but I tapped the bottom of her arm, lifting the blow up before pressing a hand to her side, sending her flying once more.

    The trick here, was not going ‘I am attacking now’, but merely having a goal and moving, practically without thought, which would just get in the way. I had to admit I was impressed with how she was keeping her balance, as I kept pushing, several times lifting her off the ground entirely. Her emotions, however, had spiked into panic after a minute and she was starting to lose cohesion of techniques, her calculated reposts devolving into wild swings. Diverting a blow while settling the swarm she was pulling at, I tripped her, catching her before she hit the ground letting her down softly as I took a step back, letting her collect herself.

    She shakily got to her feet. “That was not cool.” She declared, trying to head back to where we’d sat, flinching as I caught her when she swayed losing her balance. She glared as she hung onto me, directing her to a seat of air. “You said you weren’t going to use your powers.” I looked placidly back at her. “Bullshit.”

    “Skill,” I countered, “Combined with a male body at Peak Condition. I’m honestly strong enough I probably deserve a level one Brute rating, two or three with my costume on, but while I’m at the top end of human capability, I’m still on the scale.”

    She frowned, looking a bit green around the gills, relaxing a bit as I healed her. “The way you said that, is that one of your powers? Who did you take that from?”

    I shook my head. “It’s one of mine, but I didn’t copy it. It’s one of my original set.”

    “That is so unfair,” Taylor complained, “I had to do so much running. Wait, what did you look like before?”

    I looked down at myself. “A third of the muscle mass, heavyset, and I needed glasses.”

    “Your power fixed your vision? Why couldn’t mine,” she grumped.

    I rolled my eyes. “I work with Panacea, I’m pretty sure she’d fix your eyesight if you want me to ask. Then you could Clark Kent it up, though you’d need a lot more acting training to pull that off.” I smiled at her, only to get a blank look. “It would be a thing that could help hide your identity. After all The Lady Bug could never be Taylor Hebert, Taylor Hebert wears glasses!” The look continued unabated. “It’s an alternate universe thing,” I finally sighed, pulling my hand away, having healed any damage I’d done with my demonstration. Her look of annoyance told me she didn’t appreciate inside jokes she couldn’t get, but oh well. “So, power use. Can you get your notebook?”

    That got her attention, as she jumped up, rummaging in her backpack, returning with a notebook and a pen, looking at where she had sat with trepidation, cautiously lowering herself until she rested on the invisible surface. “Okay,” she started, looking over her list. “I was thinking, to start with, I could make, like, human shaped swarms that might distract my opponents, like Grue did with his darkness.”

    “You mean like this?” I asked, grabbing a collection from nearby and forming them into one of the bug clones I spent time working on last night.

    She looked at it, eyes narrowing, prodding at it with her own power, riding my connection to them which felt. . . uncomfortably intimate. She looked down, hair obscuring her face as she mumbled to herself. “Oh, that makes sense, so, maybe.” She called another swarm, building it like mine, before she started tweaking it, making improvements here and there which my own power gladly copied.

    When I made an improvement of my own, she quickly copied it as well, though my improvements were much less frequent and less impressive than hers. I grabbed a few moths, turning them into the whites of pseudo-eyes if you didn’t look too closely, which she copied, figuring out the positioning, which was helped when I took out my phone, turning on the front facing camera and holding it in front of her, allowing her to work on creating expressions, a technique which I in turn copied, and tweaked where I could.

    We went back and forth, working on the power for the better part of an hour, until we had what looked like honest-to-goodness people made of bugs. A bit disturbing if you looked closely, but definitely passable as a Case 53 at a casual glance if you could get them clothes. Or just find the right colored insects.

    Taylor was practically vibrating with excitement as I sat back, impressed. This level of progress, even with my level of dedication, would’ve taken me weeks to get right. I wished I’d nabbed Kingmaker, just so I could give Taylor other powers, and let her loose on designing improvements to them.

    “Next!” She declared, happily crossing off something from her list. “I’d tried to see through their eyes before, but it never made sense. I was wondering if you knew how?” she turned to me, puppy eyes only magnified by her glasses.

    “Give it a shot now,” I tried, a sneaking suspicion on what was happening.

    She looked a little unsure, “But, aren’t you going to tell me how?” I motioned to the two swarm clones. “Ok, so, I, what!?” she sputtered, connection to her construct twisting and shaping as she raised one hand, then the other, before turning her head back to me, eyes unfocused. My own power lazily reaching out and copying her improved method of insect sight, which built the gestalt picture I normally had to build one at a time, all at once. “How did you know I could do that?” she demanded. “How can I do that?”

    I bopped her on the nose. “Look at me with your eyes if you can Taylor, anything else is rude.” She blushed, eyes focusing as she dropped, no, lessened her focus, the insects in her clone still looking at me, but not as intently. “When you were out of it back at the hotel, I was checking in on everyone through the insects in the room and your power piggybacked onto mine. I think your power learns when it sees me trying a new trick, and vice versa. Those clones, the basic ones, took me an hour to figure out, and you figured out how to do so in seconds, so-“

    “I’m sorry!” she interjected. I looked at her, confused. “You spent all that time working on it and I just copied it in -hey!” she complained as I bopped her nose again.

    “You’re being stupid. You’re not stupid, so stop being stupid,” I chided, smiling. “I worked on them so you could copy them, and you doing so that fast is impressive not offensive. Besides,” I waved at the clones, forcing mine to wave back at us. “You’ve improved them so much, I feel like I should be the one apologizing for copying your work.”

    “You helped!” she countered. “No, really, I was just trying to make them person-ish, you’re the ones who gave them eyes!”

    Rolling my own, I kept the conversation moving. “Either way, powers with sensory components probably let their users learn techniques from other users, so I shouldn’t use my air control near Stormtiger, or do this,” I manifested a humanoid expression of Grue’s power, “In front of the Undersiders, in addition to all the questions I’d have to tell them I wasn’t going to answer. You think Tattletale’s bad now?” I asked, shivering, to her laughter. I checked my watch. “We’ve got about forty-five minutes left. Then you can travel with me to the hospital if you want to, and I’ll ask Panacea to fix your eyes, but in the meantime there’s something else I want your input on.” I set a timer, in case we lost track of time again. “We’ll do emoting lessons later. You’ve progressed enough that I think I can trust you with this,” I hesitated. Should I? I debated. Yes, she’s shown she’ll listen.

    “Before we start though, there’s one thing I’m going to tell you that you can do, that you’ve already started doing, but that you need to get a hold of, and only do in crisis situations, as it’s one of the major things that gets you branded a Villain.” Turning to look at her, her eyes were wide with worry, and I pressed on. “You’ve been shunting your emotions into your insects, Taylor, and you need to stop.”

    “I don’t, well, not really,” she hedged. “Why is that bad? It helps me keep in control. It’s stopped me from- It’s helped me not reveal I had powers!”

    Feeling out her connection to the swarm I focused on it in a way that I hadn’t before, picking apart the details, the nuances of its ebb and flow. It was hard to see at first, but now that I was actively looking, the use of the technique was obvious. She was doing it even now, probably having done it so much she didn’t realize she was doing it anymore, though it explained how she was able to go months without going out, even with her power constantly pushing her towards conflict. Inspecting it as I looked at her, she was forcing out her anger, her guilt, her nervousness, her crippling depression, the emotional slurry thick as sludge and just as cloying now that I’d noticed it. Not wanting to think what might’ve happened to me if I’d opened my emotions to the swarm when she’d been around instead of just pushing emotions across it to her, I considered my response deeply.

    Sighing, moving so that I was kneeling in front of her, I put my hands on her shoulders for maximum effect. She needed to understand before it destroyed her, so I looked her in the eyes, stating slowly “And if that’s the only time you did so, we wouldn’t necessarily be having this conversation, but I’ve seen how things go, Taylor. Things are going to get bad. The bombings? The bank job? Those are easy to deal with compared to what’s coming down the line. It’ll settle down in July, but the next few months are going to be one horrible situation after another. I’m working to ameliorate the problems as much as I can, but I’m not going to be strong enough to stop them by the time they’ll hit. Tattletale told you about Dinah Alcott?” She cast her gaze down, nodding sadly, eyes suddenly bright, the emotions of hurt, guilt, and self-hatred pouring into the swarm.

    I kicked myself for not having recognized how bad things were, when I was easily able to read her feelings but she only could when I hit an extreme level of emotion. “Taylor, look at me. That wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know what was going on. I’m partially to blame. I was so focused on making sure you and Panacea were okay I forgot about it, which isn’t your fault either. Herb’s more at fault, for knowing about it but not telling me because of some deterministic bullshit, but ultimately that was Coil’s doing. He gave the order. He is the one perpetuating the situation. He is the one profiting from it. He is the one I’ll kill for doing so. But think about how you feel about that situation, and how easy it would be to dump all those feelings into the swarm, leaving behind what feels like calm determination, but it’s not, it’s emotional numbness.”

    Sighing, I addressed the elephant in the room, not braking eye contact. “You’re doing it right now, though you probably only notice when you get rid of everything. At first you’ll dump your emotions when things get really bad, when you get blindsided by complications, or in the middle of fights to help you plan, but as more and more of your life gets bad, without any end in sight, without anyone you feel you could trust, you’ll do it more and more until you can barely feel them at all. It lets you do some pretty objectively brave things, Taylor, but it’s not bravery, it’s sociopathy. I know it’s tempting, I did it when I figured out the trick, but it’s wrong. Our emotions, good and bad, are what make us human. Getting rid of them, no matter the reason, makes you something less. Master your emotions instead, Taylor, control them, like you control the swarm, don’t run from them because you’re afraid. You’re a Hero, and that doesn’t mean being fearless, it means doing what you think is right despite the fear. Okay?”

    She nodded, the flow from her into the swarm cutting off in fits and spurts as her expression suddenly twisted up and she lurched forward and hugging me around the neck, burying her face in my shoulder as she repeated, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, it just hurts so much,” over and over again.
     
  20. Threadmarks: Spoiler 5.3
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Spoiler 5.3

    I scooped up the crying girl from my kneeling position, her holding onto me like a limpet, arms locked tightly around my neck, and sat back down with her in my lap, patting her on the back and letting her get it out of her system. Seriously, almost half the time I have a conversation with this girl I end up making her cry. Thinking about it though, maybe I should have advocated she pull back on it slowly, instead of her facing it full blast like this. I opened my mouth to say something, but thought better of it. Going from dumping half of your emotions somewhere else to taking them on all at once, It’s the emotional version of going cold turkey, no wonder she flipped so fast, and it’ll help in the long run, but it’s got to suck right now.

    I waited for her to calm down a bit before continuing, “Dumping your emotions isn’t necessarily always bad, in combat scenarios or when dealing in high-pressure situations I’d advocate it if you can’t control yourself, but it should be a tool, training wheels to get used to those things and handling those situations on your own, not a crutch you rely on. For now, if you’re in combat, or dealing with enemies directly, go for it, but when you’re alone, or relaxing, or with me, I don’t want you to. Okay?”

    She nodded, not letting go. I sighed, trying to think of something that would help distract her. God knows that when I was depressed all those people who left me alone to somehow pull myself out of it on my own did far more harm than good. “So, want to learn something else cool? Like the clones?” she nodded again. “So, you can also hear through the bugs, though I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m pretty sure you could figure it out. What I have been working on, with limited success, is making the swarm talk.”

    Taylor stilled, and paying attention to her over the bug sense I could feel her confusion and interest. Making my clone walk over, which took a lot of concentration, I implemented the technique I’d been working on, making my construct talk, but it came out “ella aylrrr, I ann rry allinng iss wwayy, ull I’m ass al ill!” I sighed. “Still working on hard consonants, I was going for ‘Hello Taylor, I can try talking this way, but I’m bad at it!’ It needs work, but you’re better on improving stuff than I am.”

    She didn’t move from her position, but her Swarm Clone walked over, and made a number of noises. I sat there until she herself quietly asked, “Can you try some more words?” her voice hesitant and fearful.

    “Of course,” I responded warmly, trying various things, getting a laugh from her when I attempted to make it sing, badly. She figured out T’s getting an insect to hiss in a manner which somewhat replicated the sound, which helped things a lot. We continued on in this manner, her attention focused on the task at hand until my alarm went off, causing her to jump in my arms. I dismissed my swarm back to where I’d gathered them, Taylor following suit.

    “We need to go,” I told her, “I have to go do a shift at the hospital.” She shook her head, not letting go. “People need me to keep them from dying, and Panacea needs me to keep her from overworking herself.” She shook her head again, though not as strongly. “Taylor, Panacea needs my help, just like you do. If she told me not to help you I’d do it anyways, though she hasn’t. Now get back into costume and I’ll see about her healing your eyes, okay?”

    She got up, not saying anything, putting her helmet on and facing me. “If you want to get rid of some of your emotions when you meet Panacea, I’ll understand. While she isn’t your enemy, she isn’t your friend either, and I understand that. Just don’t do it all the time.”

    She took a deep breath, and I felt her once again dump some of her emotions into the swarm. “Thanks,” she said, voice steady. “It, it hurts, and I didn’t realize that I was doing so much of it. I don’t want to stop doing it, but I will.” She looked up at me, voice skeptical. “Are you sure about Panacea? She did try to hit me with a fire extinguisher.”

    I shrugged. “She was panicking, and I might’ve just finished shaking the foundations of her worldview.” I could practically feel my teammate’s stare. “Yeah, I know, it’s a bad habit of mine, but hey, I don’t hold you trying to swarm Herb and I with bugs when we first met against you,-“

    “Sorry,” she interrupted.

    “Don’t worry,” I waved off. “But by that token, you shouldn’t really hold it against the healer for trying to non-lethally neutralize you to get some answers. I’m not saying she’ll apologize, but all that means is you’re more mature than she is.”

    She nodded, happy with that, taking my hand as we took off, flying above the city. “The emotion thing, is that why you wanted me to show more?”

    I shook my head. “No, I hadn’t realized it was as bad as it was until I brought it up and really looked. It was because once you can see, hear, talk, and generally interact with people through your bugs you’d naturally stop emoting entirely, which makes you seem inhuman. It happens because you start treating the swarm as an extension of your own body, but it meant that you displayed almost no emotion from your real body, though I suppose there was another reason for that happening. Add to that if your clones emote instead of just standing in place and talking, people will treat them as more human, and yes, I know they’re not, but people naturally personify things,” I defended at her look. “If your clones emote, people will like them, and thus you, more. So teaching you how to emote will help the entire not-a-villain thing.”

    We flew in silence for a minute, starting the descent when a flash of white, red, and gold caught my eye. Glory Girl, carrying Panacea, landed a dozen feet away, seconds after we did. “Hello Glory Girl, Panacea, how are you?”

    Glory Girl flinched, a blip of Awe starting to seep out before it disappeared, Panacea staring at The Lady, Bug. “Been better,” the girl in white and gold called back, stiffening a bit as I walked over to them, Taylor trailing behind me, dumping nervousness into the local insect population. “Um, Vej, isn’t she a villain?” she asked, pointing at the girl behind me.

    Vej? “Please, call me Vejovis,” I responded. “And The Lady, Bug is a probationary member of my team. If you have any proof that she was involved of any criminal activities I would be interested, but short of that please don’t slander my teammate.” Glancing around at the people watching I dropped a sound bubble, miming a yawn. “Ask Panacea about her current mission, just for the love of god don’t tell anyone if you ever want to be included in anything that I plan in the future.” Dropping the bubble I turned to Panacea, “Panacea, if I could ask a personal favor, my teammate was injured in one of the bomb blasts, and you are a better healer than I. If you could heal her, especially restore her eyes to correct working order, I would be most grateful.”

    She looked at me for a second before nodding, walking over to Taylor, and I dropped a sound bubble around them to keep anyone from hearing. “About that night,” Glory Girl started, stopping at my raised hand.

    “Don’t worry about it, I don’t need a public apology,” I told her, “and as long as it doesn’t happen again there shouldn’t be an issue.”

    She looked at me, before glancing around at the crowd, phones out, and nodded. “It won’t, thanks. Um, would you have time later? To talk?”

    I thought about everything that was going to happen, the Somer’s Rock meeting in three days, and winced. “Can it wait until the entire bombing thing is over, or at least next week? My sources say things are going to start happening soon, and I need to get ready for it.”

    “What’s going on? Can I come?” she asked as I tried to imagine the villain meeting with Glory Girl in attendance, and my mental model blue-screened.

    No,” I responded, getting a pout in return. “That doesn’t work on me Glory Girl, and if I told you, then it wouldn’t exactly be secret, would it,” I motioned to the cameras. “Come on, operational security is a thing.”

    Panacea and Lady Bug walked back, the healer drolly commenting, “Your teammates eyes are healed, anything else you’d like me to do?”

    I shook my head, “No, let’s go save some lives. Lady Bug, I’ll see you the same time in two days.”

    “Not tomorrow?” she asked, disappointed.

    Tomorrow was the day Curtis was going to reform, and I didn’t want her anywhere near that clusterfuck. “I’ll be busy,” I told her. “The twenty-second.” She nodded, shoulders slumping a little as she turned to leave. “Remember to practice” I called, which caused her to perk up a little as Panacea and I headed inside, Glory Girl waving goodbye to her sister.

    Inside Panacea shot me a look. “What?” I asked.

    “Her system was a mess. What did you do?” the healer demanded.

    “It wasn’t me,” I defended automatically, amending at her glare, “She’s been using her powers to keep herself from feeling unwanted emotions, I showed her why that was a bad idea, and the backlash from stopping doing so did a number on her. Thank you.”

    Panacea looked away, muttering, “Don’t worry about it.” We were led to the beginning of the circuit, and fell into the rhythm of healing, our particular brand of wound repair particularly useful in healing the energy damage done by Oni Lee. Maybe it was just the repeating pattern of healing, but a couple of times I lost focus, only snapping back when Panacea poked me. “Are you okay?” she asked after the third time. “Have you been sleeping enough?”

    “I’ve been getting the rest I need,” I reassured her, glad that I didn’t need to sleep. She didn’t look convinced, but let it go, and I forced myself to focus between healings to not mentally drift off. After I dropped her off, after our shift, I swung by Quinn’s office, ready to make a lot more money.

    Striding inside, I was led past several conference rooms that sounded full of people, to a small chamber, a chair sitting next to one of those old-style psychologist beds, a desk at the back. Quinn popped in a minute later, giving me the procedure. “You’ll stay here, with myself and an aide as a witnesses to prevent potential. . . problems, and,” he pointed at the corner of a room, indicating a security camera, “Everything will be recorded, only to be viewed in the case of an allegation of misconduct. My aide will send the clients in one at a time, whereupon I will provide you with a written description of the desired outcome, as well as a picture for reference. Please only change them in accordance to what is written, as that is what they paid for, and after each consultation, my aide will walk the client back, whereupon she will bring the next client. Of note, do not call the clients patients, as with how the laws currently read, this is not a medical procedure, and thus allows my firm to sidestep a large number of regulations, saving us time, and you money. Any questions?”

    I took off one of my gloves, placing it on the desk and sitting down. “When do we start?”

    He smiled, and poked his head out the door, calling for his aide to get started. A minute later two middle aged women walked in, a brunette in her late thirties and a red head in her early forties. Quinn passed me a folder, indicating that the older woman wished an arm, body, and breast lift. “Not easing me into this, are you?” I quipped.

    He looked back, one eyebrow raised. “There is a reason we have two witnesses.”

    Rolling my eyes, I instructed, “Please disrobe, you can leave shoes and jewelry on if you wish.”

    “What?” the pa-client asked, suddenly unsure, the other woman looking scandalized.

    I started to talk, but Quinn cut me off. “Mr. Vejovis can heal, but for best results must be able to observe the effects. This is why he insists on working with Panacea while healing, as she can perform flawless diagnostics with a touch. For more external procedures, like the kind you have paid for, he does not require her assistance, which is how we were able to contract his services.”

    She nodded, hesitantly disrobing as I looked at the reference images, fixing them in my mind. “Your hand please,” I requested.

    “You don’t need to touch. . .?” she inquired.

    I shook my head, “Any skin-to-skin contact is enough.” She placed her hand in mine and I got to work, looking at her anatomy and comparing it to the reference material, superimposing one over the other and making all the changes necessary. I required her to turn around, continuing, my work, and before two minutes had passed we were done, giving her a shot of the Get Better treatment to finish it off.

    She looked at herself disbelievingly in the mirror as she redressed, commenting “I look ten years younger!” her still silent companion nodding in agreement.

    Once again, Quinn beat me to the punch. “The changes are permanent, but please remember that you are not, actually, younger, and will still age.” Could I? I considered. After a certain point most aging was merely telomere degradation after all, so it was possible.

    She huffed. “I know that, but still, let a woman have her delusions,” her wide grin belying any offense.

    As the Aide led both women out, Quinn asked me quietly, “Can you?”

    Turning my head away from the camera and throwing up a bubble I responded. “Probably. Panacea would be the one to talk to, but I don’t really see why not.”

    Quinn blew out a breath as I dismissed the silencing effect. “Something to think about later. Much later. It is my professional option that you do not mention the possibility to anyone. While your capabilities are generating interest, I’d rather not have my children taken hostage over the possibility of eternal youth.”

    “No such thing,” I scoffed, “after all my power is only skin deep without help, and even then, it’s only healing.”

    He nodded in return. “Good, I’m glad that’s settled.” From there I handled a procession of people, men and women, for a large number of tweaks, changes, and low-level reshaping. A couple of times a client sprung an additional request on me, for Quinn to shoot them down, and only once did they take it badly, and older man who at first tried cajoling, then whining, and when he moved on to threatening to sue for not doing what he asked was security called and he was escorted out of the building.

    “I could’ve handled that,” I pointed out after he was dragged out.

    Quinn shook his head, “Then he could claim assault, and even with ample evidence, it would waste time and money dealing with his spurious accusations. Our security firm is trained to handle such situations, and has a working relationship with Law Enforcement that you, to be blunt, do not.”

    I nodded, accepting the point. Looking at my portion of today’s work, I let out a low whistle. “So, we both did well for ourselves Mr. Calle.”

    He nodded. “Yes, I believe you’re going to be bumping me up a tax bracket. Or three. Not that I’m complaining. When would work for you?”

    “Is that still recording?” I asked, pointing at the camera. He turned to the desks’ computer, shaking his head in my direction after a minute. “Word is the Villains are going to start to move, with the ABB stirring up enough trouble to get the military involved if it keeps up. I’m planning on helping them out, spirit of cooperation and so on,” I told him, dropping a sound bubble before I started, just to be sure. “Which will let me sound out any members that wish to no longer be employed in . . . extra-legal organizations. I’ll be somewhat busy, but by May 4th, after nightfall, things should have calmed down, or at least have died down enough. I may need to reschedule, but it should be free.”

    Quinn stood up, offering to shake my hand, “Good to know. May 4th it is. See you then.”

    Shaking his hand, I dropped the bubble and retrieved my glove, heading out the door. It was almost eleven as I flew off, dropping down into an alley and sinking into the ground, changing my costume to Boardwalk before emerging down the street, almost coming up in a building but nudging myself over as I started to poke my head into a kitchen. “Fucking rats!” someone called, the sound coming out a thin window on the other side of the wall as I emerged. Slapping a Speed Zone on my arm and riding up to the roof, I started patrolling.

    Hearing gunfire I darted off to it, and found myself watching a fight between a bunch of E88 and ABB, the second group attacking the first, the building the Neo-Nazis were defending on fire, but the Asians weren’t able to make much progress. I called it in to the police, and was told they were aware of the confrontation. Ten minutes of sustained fire with no police lead me to believe that they weren’t coming. With no police to try to protect I noted the location for a later date and left the two criminal groups to have fun killing each other. I was trying to find somewhere I could take down with Herb and Purity.


    <AB>

    A couple hours later, it was the dead of the night and I was deep in ABB territory, finally with a possible target. The first two had been an apartment building where the group I was following all lived, and a group visiting their family who were holed up respectively, but this one looked promising. The group I’d been tracking had entered the front door, followed by another squad a few minutes later. My tracking bugs had shown they’d gone inside and started moving about, doing something.

    From the opposite building I started building a picture, much easier with the imaging trick I’d picked up from Taylor. It was a three-story apartment building, the bottom guarded, the people there not quite on alert, but more aware then guards not expecting action normally were. The third floor had been cleared out and possessed quite a few beds, and almost looked like an ad-hoc barracks, several gang-members asleep, though most of the beds were empty.

    The middle floor though, was much more interesting. In addition to weapons, there were maps of the city set up, the gang territories outlined, along with thumbtacks holding up possible targets. Taking a minute to look them over, I saw the building the ABB had hit earlier as one of the points of interest. Noting the others, I looked around, seeing two of the group I’d been tracking talking to someone, making notes on another map, the other three reloading magazines.

    Holy shit, I realized. This must be an operations center. There was even a guy with almost a dozen cell phones, calling people and getting information on things. Damn, I wish I understood Japanese, I lamented, not being able to make heads or tails of the garbled speech my insectile spies picked up. Unfortunately, it looked like Lung wasn’t a complete dumbass, as while the map detailed E88 and Merchant positions, along with Protectorate patrol routes, there was nothing on other ABB bases.

    I was getting ready to move on, maybe find another base as a backup, when a windowless van pulled up into the alley next to the building, six people in full body armor and guns piling out and moving on the front doors. They’re going to steal my kill! was my first reaction, stepping on a Speed Zone to launch myself across the street, landing softly on the rooftop. Well, not my kill, but I was here first! I amended as I heard a flashbang go off below me, followed by gunfire.

    Dropping through the roof, I landed as the sleeping gang-members woke, scrambling for weapons. I took the first one down with a punch to the temple, grabbing and dropping him on a Speed Zone to trip another gang member with a shotgun, riding the same Zone to him to knock him out as he tried to aim at me from the ground before leaping over a bunk bed to hit a third foe, all while gunfire rang out below.

    Clearing one half of the floor in a few more seconds, the walls between several apartments having been knocked down to form one long room, I approached the door, as they had left the central hallway intact. I emerged into that passage in full Shadow, a salvo of fire passing through me from the waiting ABB. Running down the hallway, the gang-bangers increasingly panicked fire doing jack-all, I was among them in an instant, shifting hands, feet, elbows, and knees to Light as I attacked them from within their formation, one idiot killing two of his fellows by trying to open fire that close.

    With them down I jumped down the stairs, a baseball bat passing through my Shadowed head as the girl hiding at the bottom of the stairs tried to take me down, only for me to yank it from her hands with glowing fingers and thrust the butt into her nose, dropping her. The group around the set of stairs going to the first-floor opened fire as I dropped fully into Shadow, except for one foot that kicked the girl out of the way, the tangible limb taking a bullet they fired at me and dissipating a shield.

    Their distraction was their undoing as a grenade flew up among them, bouncing off a crouched gunman’s head before detonating and shredding the guards, my own air control saving the phone station and the girl. Footsteps pounded up the stairs, the lead attacker turning the corner and opening fire, the bullets impacting the wall behind me.

    He stopped, looking down at his gun as I stood there, arms crossed.

    The person behind him tried as well, to no effect, and a third person, a woman, shot me in the head with a pistol. “If the first two couldn’t hurt me, what makes you think you could. Pattern recognition, ya fuckin’ morons,” I taunted. “Get some.”

    The second guy looked down and away, in the direction of the parked van. “Um, it’s a dark dude in black. We shot him, but the bullets went straight through ‘im,” he reported back.

    Noticing they all had ear-pieces, I grabbed the sound from one, bringing it to my ear and enhancing it, the voice distorted and tinny, “You sure it’s a guy?”

    I looked at the gunmen, all were in bulky body armor, the image of a clock set to midnight painted on the front, the letters F W over it and B T below. The guns they were armed with looked to be the same type that I’d seen in the ABB armory. The lead guy spoke, not taking his eyes off me, his gun lowered but ready. “Oh yeah, dark, but parts of him are glowing, all sorts of colors, and the glow moves.”

    “That’s Boardwalk,” The voice responded. “He’s hit the Merchants, not sure if he’s a hero.”

    I walked over to a chair, all of them training their guns on me, a woman from below calling, “Ya boys need help?”

    The lead guy shouted back, “We’re good, Brenda.”

    “Don’t mind me,” I commented, shifting out of Shadow, but ready to drop back into it if I needed to. “I’m just takin’ a seat while you sort this out. Also, if her name isn’t Brenda, good on you, if it is, use fuckin’ codenames. It’s just common fuckin’ sense.”

    They didn’t really know how to handle that. “He’s right,” their handler commented. “We’ll talk about it when we get back to base.”

    “Um, are you Boardwalk?” the second guy asked, not sure what to do with his gun, pointing it at me and then thinking better of it, only to think better of that and point it back at me, starting the cycle all over again.

    I shot him an unimpressed look. “Yep.”

    “Um,” he asked, the leader letting him handle this. “You a hero?”

    My look didn’t abate. “Yep.”

    “Um,” he repeated his favorite word. “Shouldn’t you be, like, trying to take us down or something?”

    “Are you villains?” I asked, wondering how deep he was willing to dig this particular hole.

    “Um, we work for one!” he bragged.

    “Dammnit Carl!” another person downstairs called.

    I sighed, standing up. “I’m assuming you work for Æonic?”

    “Yeah!” he boasted. “We’re part of Bell Tolls!”

    The leader corrected, with the air of someone who’d had to do this several times before, possibly today, “For Whom the Bell Tolls, we’re part of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Carl.”

    “Ah, it tolls for thee!” I responded, understanding the name.

    “FUCKING FINALLY!” Their handler shouted, causing the gang members before me to wince in unison, the speaker probably Æonic himself. “Someone finally fucking gets it!”

    “Nice, very ominous, but a better fuckin’ overarching message than most gangs when you consider it in the full fuckin’ context.” I added, appreciating the artistry but trying not to break character. “So, I took out the top level, you took the bottom, and we both got this one. Share the intel and split the loot fifty-fifty?”

    “No way!” Carl objected. “There’s like six of us and one of you!”

    I laughed, “Or what, you’ll shoot me? Ya already tried that dumbass. I took out the reinforcements, and distracted the guys who had you pinned. It’s fair.”

    “We could,-” he started, stopping as Æonic interrupted him saying “Shut up Carl, do it.”

    Smug with my win, I was surprised as all three gang members went white, the lead yelling “OH SHIT!” Turning I saw, standing just inside of the window, the dark body suit, demon mask, and washed out grey and red flames of power of the Asian Bad Boyz assassin, Oni Lee, finger hooked on the pin of a grenade.
     
  21. Threadmarks: Spoiler 5.4
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Spoiler 5.4

    “IT’S ONI L-” the leader of Æonic’s strike team shouted, both myself and Oni Lee staggering as I saw a flash of Sand and Bright Blue Flame, the sounds and light changing as if someone flipped the channel on a television, the dark calm suddenly riotous with sirens and the flashing red and blue of reflected police lights. Time seemed to crawl as we both moved. I grabbed a fistful of Light, sending a concussive blast towards him while dodging the streak of Flame he hurled my way, Oni Lee pulling the pin right before my blast tore into him, blood arcing from him as he impacted the window, grenade exploding and sending shrapnel in every direction, my air control deflecting any from hitting me. The blood turned to ash, as I heard a pin drop from behind me.

    Pushing Glory Girl’s flight as I leapt forward, turning, another Oni Lee was behind me, one grenade primed on his bandolier of six, each one different. I’d only started to gather another shot when it detonated in an eruption of high explosives, sending me flying through the wall, my shields draining as I was hurled, impacting back first on the building across the street with a gasp, cop cars all over the road below me. A streak of Flame heralded Oni Lee’s appearance right in front of me, another streak as what I realized was the real him left, the clone pulling the pin on a grenade he’d ripped from his bandolier, this canister white with a blue snowflake on it.

    Hitting the clone with the Light I’d gathered, he flew back into the building, dusting, but the fucker dropped the grenade right before I hit him, the cylinder twisting in the air as I panicked, kickstarting Purity’s flight as I started to rise. It wasn’t fast enough as the Tinkertech went off, the temperature dropping so fast it hit absolute zero and bounced, the solidified gasses closing in on me as I rocketed upwards, insanely glad I’d taken temperature Immunity.

    Lifting above the street he appeared again, uzi pointed at my head, teleporting away as I hit the gun, sending it firing off to the side, my other hand striking him in the throat, the clone clutching its crushed trachea as it dusted. Fire, Acid, Lightning, Cold I thought, remembering the countless people he’d maimed with his bombs. Along with High Explosive and Frag, that’s his loadout, and only electricity can really hurt me. I was so glad we’d killed Bakuda before she could give him time grenades.

    Grabbing Light with one hand, I felt the displaced air as he appeared behind me. Turning and blasting him back, he let go of another grenade, red with a fire symbol, but I was ready. My other hand slapped the orphaned ordinance to the side, which erupted into a firestorm a second later. I could feel the heat, but it wasn’t in the you need powers to survive this zone, and this time I’d followed the fucker’s teleportation. Seeing him looking up at me from a nearby rooftop, I Saw the Flame of his power streak towards me, turning to follow it as it flew past, blasting the clone that’d appeared with the lightning grenade as I pulled out of its range, but he’d already gone. Why each one in turn? I thought, eyes following the stream of power that was him down to a rooftop, charging both hands with Light.

    He appeared, this time over me, with the acid grenade, dark green with a lime yellow water drop. I almost blasted that one, until I realized what he was doing. They’re highly visible on purpose. Bakuda uses them to inspire fear, but Oni Lee? Fucker’s testing me, seeing what I try to dodge. Out of all four of his special grenades, the acid did the most damage, raining down on everything below him. I was currently over a rooftop, so I tanked it, grabbing onto it so he couldn’t let go, the caustic cloud covering us both, melting the clone’s costume and flesh before it turned to wet dust, the acid that rained down on the rooftop only eating away cement before dissipating in ash itself.

    Following the path of his power to a water tower, I spotted him hanging onto its supports before teleporting right in front of me, knife out. His power left immediately as the clone swung at me in midair, and as I dodged it, kicking the copy to the side and letting it fall to its death, and I threw Light at his new position on the ledge of a building. The double helix trailing blast of incandescence slammed into his position, detonating with a flash, a streak of power flitting out as it exploded. My second blast hit his new position almost as soon as he appeared, his power streaking out simultaneous to the explosion. My third, fourth, fifth, and sixths strikes followed suit, his teleportations ever faster, but my ability to grasp and deploy my attacks quickly was picking up as well.

    With a trail of crisscrossing power he darted across the rooftops, clone after clone appearing and being blown to ash as he streaked towards me. Oni Lee appeared facing me, but I was ready with a blast. I’d hit the bastard at least once, his bodysuit torn and one of the horns of his mask broken off. My Light hit him as his power streaked by me, blood blasting out from the impact, and I felt a series of hammering blows to the back of my head the instant I blasted the clone before me, not enough to crack the crystalline shield protecting that part of me. Turning I saw another of him, Uzi now leveled at my face, smoking. I blasted him, but he was long gone, the clone’s blood turning to ash. How? I questioned as his power bounced back and forth like a demented pinball across the rooftops.

    I opened up my air and bug control to try to get some feedback as I tracked him, but he was moving too fast to tag with anything less than a full swarm. He didn’t have time to turn around to hit me that fast, so- but my thoughts were cut off as three of him coalesced almost simultaneously, all facing me, two in front, the displaced air from the one behind me the only warning of the third. All three swung at me with knives, targeting my neck, my back, and my stomach.

    If we were land-based, I’d have been hard pressed to dodge all three, but with three dimensions to move in I twisted in mid-air, body parallel to the ground, dodging two while striking the third, flying even higher as a fourth appeared below me to swing at my stomach. I need to get away, I need to fight him on my terms. Purity’s blasts, while powerful, were nowhere near fast enough to hit the assassin.

    I pushed Purity’s flight to try and work how I wanted, but it refused to do more than send me hurtling along, almost out of control. Cursing my lack of practice with it, another Oni Lee appeared in my path, explosive grenade pulled. Spinning myself in the air I blasted my flight downwards, having to change direction again as his power streaked by, another Oni Lee in my way, frag grenade this time, pulling the pin as he turned his head to look at me.

    Every time I tried to pull away, he was there.

    I pushed downwards, dropping into full Shadow, my momentum slowing as it ways did when I went fully incorporeal, and he was there, electrical grenade in hand. I was barely able to shift back to Light to get away as it exploded, muscles spasming as one foot was caught at the edge.

    Trying to escape into a building just had him appear where I was headed, setting off a grenade and killing anyone inside. I tried shifting to full Shadow again, but every time I did he pulled that fucking electrical grenade. He knows I realized, a sinking feeling in my gut. He knows Shadow Stalker can’t ignore lightning, and that form slows me down too much to escape if I’m flying!

    Trying to get away, I pushed full bore towards the ground, hoping to turn to Shadow right before I hit. My chosen spot was thick with cops, guns at the ready, and I hoped one of those dumb shits could pull their heads out of their asses and quit gawking long enough to shoot him before he pulled the damn grenade. He appeared within their ranks, both hands pulling the pins on all four of his special canisters, the police too busy looking surprised by his arrival to do anything. I pulled up, pushing both my modes of flight to get away from the blast, the screaming behind me telling me what happened.

    The blast wave hit me, sending me spinning as I could feel myself on the edge of panic. He appeared again, and I blasted him away, dodging his knife as the air filled with bullets from the police below. I had to get away, I couldn’t win this fight. Worst of all, my power was at the back of my head, whispering, pushing me to just take his power for my own. Show this emotionless killer how to really use his power to its fullest potential, and it was really fucking distracting.

    I flew up above the buildings, and six of them appeared in a ring, each one pulling a different pin. Another ring appeared above and below me, all doing the same thing. I panicked in that column of suicide bombers, mind working frantically. No matter which way I flew wouldn’t be fast enough to get out, and I could only push four, six max away before they exploded, killing me. In that panic, that reaching for any solution. My brain obliged, something that had been bugging me about my flight clicked into place. Glory Glory’s flight was Aristotelian in nature, an ‘I want to go this way, so I do, and that’s it’ method of flight. Completely intuitive, and not how flight actually worked at all.

    Purity’s however, was Newtonian, ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’, was the name of the game, momentum was a thing, and I had to push something away from me to move. I’d been trying to fly a rocket like a broomstick, no wonder I was having problems. More importantly though, that meant when I flew, I was pushing something away, and the only reason I was only using my feet to fly is because I was being a fuckin’ moron.

    Snapping my hands out, I grasped the Light, pushing it out like I did with my feet, but moreso, a torrent instead of the thin stream I subconsciously used. It was almost akin to the beam I’d used to write my name in that Merchant safehouse, but a firehose instead of a faucet. Blasting similarly from my feet, I spun, spiraling out light in every direction, ascending on a column of Light high in the air.

    I could feel my reserves draining, but it brought me up, even as he grew the column again, and again, over a dozen of him popping into existence directly above me to stop my rise, all primed to blow as I brought my hands up, the spirals of light blasting into them, cutting through them, his power barely escaping down and out as they detonated into a firestorm I pierced, twitching but whole. I could do this, I could win, I thought as I heard the screams hundreds of feet below, as he detonated more grenades, killing the police far underneath me.

    I was tempted to just leave. I beat Oni Lee, he moved onto easier prey, and I knew I could kill him if I tried hard enough. I could take the win, leave and get home safe, eliminating him later on when I was better prepared. The persona I wore pushed for that, hard. Boardwalk hated fuckin’ cops, taking the power, the pay, the prestige and doing nothing while criminals ran rampant, officers happy to harass people for shit they said online while rape gangs acted with impunity. The fact that cops targeted vigilantes, who they knew wouldn’t shoot to kill them because of their morals, while ignoring the criminals the vigilantes targeted out of the pigs’ cowardly fear, breaking their oaths without punishment, enraged him.

    But, as I told Taylor, while Boardwalk was a facet of me, he wasn’t me, and while some of the cops dying below were assuredly crooked, and others were just as bad, looking the other way because it was easier, there were those that were still trying to do the right thing, even if they knew they’d get passed over for accolades and promotions, because it was the right thing to do, and they were the ones I’d risk my own life to protect. Hanging there, I knew what I was going to do, even if I didn’t like it. “Fuuuck,” I sighed, a resigned calm settling on me as I cut my flight, toppling backwards to start falling back towards the small war being waged below me.

    Pulling once more on the Light, I blasted downwards, distantly noting the presence of something small floating in the air as I passed it, but I focused on the task at hand. I saw my target popping back and forth, almost exclusively using acid grenades, the monster, raining caustic death and disfiguration on the police as most ran, but some stayed and fought. Those were the ones he targeted, the ones with a spine that fought so their brothers in arms could escape, the ones I needed to save.

    Remembering my own pistol, I pulled it out, layering the barrel with Speed Zone after Speed Zone. I only had six bullets, never reloading it after my demonstration that morning, and I had to make them count.

    He appeared in front of a young woman, probably just out of the academy, and she immediately shot him in the head. She, however, missed the second clone right behind her, Uzi leveled at her head. I didn’t, and my gun bucked, almost at the edge of my strength to hold, the bullet hitting the clone hard enough to throw it backwards like I’d punched it at full strength, its chest dissolving into blood, then ash. “Run!” I yelled to her, enhancing the sound, “I’ll fight him! Get to safety! Break sight lines!”

    She staggered, having turned in time to see me pulp the clone, then looked up at me, nodding as she bolted, running for the cover of a nearby alley. Following the chain of clones, I saw three in a row all about to toss acid grenades down into a street full of cops. I shot the grenade of the middle one, the device exploding prematurely as it tore his hand off, the burst of gas fouling the throws of the other two. Another appeared on a car in front of four officers, one older officer who’d lost his helmet being almost carried by another two as the last checked for clones in the wrong direction. My bullet almost caught the fucker as he started to pull the pin on the acid, but his power streaked out as it hit, a cloud of acid spewing towards the officers. A gust of wind was sent to push the cloud away from them as I turned to follow the trail of power, blasting with Light, almost catching him, only for that clone to crumble in the blast, the streak of power obscured in it, and I realized I’d lost track of him. Three appeared around me, all reaching for acid. I shot one of his cold grenades as I rocketed upwards, freezing all three as I rode the cold front, the cops below me dodging the sudden ice storm instead of acid rain.

    As he appeared in front of me, pulling yet another acid, police below in range to get rained on, my remaining calm shattering as I fucking snapped. “That doesn’t work on me you fucking moron!” I thundered, ripping it from his hand with one hand while I pistol whipped his mask, shattering it, shoving the stupid fucking thing down his stupid fucking throat, breaking his teeth in the process as it exploded around my hand, his body melting before turning into ash, sparing the cops below me.

    Spotting him appear I snapped a shot as he stopped and turned, but his power moved right as his head snapped back, brains turning into ash in the air. His power rippling through the air above him, leaving half a dozen clones that turned their Uzis on me, hosing me down with bullets, which hurt like a bitch but couldn’t do real damage, unable to get through the impenetrable ‘leather’ I wore.

    Reading the patterns in the air, I zig-zagged through the onslaught, using air control to force a path open as I followed the real him across the street, starting to keep up with him as he moved, pushing my flight faster and tighter with every second, and even though I was dropping below half on my reservoir of Light, he needed to die.

    Chasing him across the streets, his clones started pulling grenades and tossing them at me as fast as they could. Good. Fucker’s scared. Weaving around the haphazard throws, I got a line on him, and shot at him with Light, almost hitting him, but that was never my plan. Rocketing past the streak of his power as he dodged, I cut my connection to the Light, falling as he turned to try to find me now that I wasn’t glowing like a small sun. Before he could spot me I fired my last fucking bullet into that fucking acid grenade.

    I pulled on the Light, taking flight and avoiding a rooftop as the grenade exploded, but it did so a half-second before he teleported, the clones he left behind easily trackable as a series of acidic clouds. Stopping a couple dozen clones later he turned, harness partially eaten, the green grenade nothing but the top assembly hanging uselessly. His power shot forward and there were eight of them, all with knives swinging towards me, but I blasted forward, stowing my gun as I shoulder checked one of my attackers, ripping the clone’s Uzis from its belt, shooting the others as they reached for their guns, and hitting a few more copies before the weapon came apart in my hands.

    I’ve got this! I mentally crowed, buzzing another, and stealing his gun to kill three more, Oni Lee now moving away from me with every teleportation. “Run, ya fuckin Robot!” I taunted as I chased him across the streets. The cops had taken cover and he was denied his soft targets, it was just him and me, and he’d seen how that ended up for the last hundred attempts. Ducking into a building, I followed him, plowing through a window with a fistful of Light, blasting him as he made another clone and escaped, but not for long. I couldn’t do this forever, but I didn’t need to do this forever, I only needed to hit him once.

    Crashing through another building, following through several apartments, laughing like a madman, I was almost on him, my blast about to hit him and end this, when a blue beam lanced out, knocking into him and out of the path of my shot, the blast detonating on a far building. Before I could track the shot my flight suddenly plowed me face-first into the ground, shifting myself to Shadow at the last second. Pulling back out and flying high, I spotted Oni Lee teleporting towards a figure in steel armor, while a smaller blonde girl in white and green made motions with her hands. No! I thought. I fucking HAD HIM! But as I saw him teleport next to the two, hand reflexively pulling at his ruined acid grenade to no effect, dissolving to ash as he realized what happened and reaching too late for his electrical grenade, my priorities shifted.

    I could get him, I could kill Oni Lee, but the assassin was not playing around right now. If I didn’t get there ASAP, those kids were going to die, and out of all of them, Dean and Missy were the two I didn’t want hurt. Seeing the Ward’s powers flaring, I arced towards them, but suddenly my path was disrupted, throwing me further up in the air. What the fuck? I thought as my tendril of red and purple incandescence lashed out at Vista’s green and yellow twisting spires of Flame, ripping off a portion for myself. I saw what was happening as I felt a new power come online. The girl below me was panicking and laying down twisted space all around their position on the rooftop. Against any other foe it might be an effective tactic, but against a sight-based teleporter, all it did was trap them as they cut off any avenue for help or escape.

    With her power shooting through me, I read the space like a map, plunging into it and riding the streams ever closer as I saw Oni Lee pause, glancing at me before turning his attention back on the children before him as he slowly unsheathed his long knife. Blasting hard, I twisted around, through, and down, Gallant’s blasts towards me pulled off course as I blitzed the pair of teens, reaching them right as two Oni Lees with knives out, each pulling the pins on HE grenades, appeared ready to kill the distracted Wards. I plowed into the clones, breaking my momentum on their faces as their necks snapped, unleashing my gathered Light to blast them backwards. They hit Vista’s power as they detonated, the flames of their ordinance highlighting the shaped space in twisting ropes of destruction.

    I dropped my flight to use my training in ground combat, as the situation was quickly devolving into one where I needed to fight more on instinct then planning. Gallant turned to blast me in the face, but I saw Oni Lee’s power streaking in and grabbed the teen’s arm, twisting it roughly to hit the newly forming clone, the ninja streaking out untouched, Oni Lee not spending any more time in close quarters than he had to, which I’d realized was a hundredth of a fucking second. Gallant’s power knocked the copy backwards as it exploded into fire and I tagged the two Wards with bugs.

    I tracked Vista as she moved to strike me, twisting out of the way as Oni Lee streaked back in, creating a clone with Uzi drawn. Pushing Vista into Gallant as he tried to take a swing, unbalancing the older hero, I grabbed the Uzi’s magazine, jerking it in an arc towards myself as the copy pulled the trigger, blowing away the Oni Lee in quickly ashing brains, bone, and blood. Another Oni Lee formed behind Gallant, Uzi at the ready, and I used a blast of Light to flip myself directly over the armored hero, bracing my hands against his shoulders as I swung out a flying heel drop hard enough to snap the clone’s neck. Pushing off him and blocking a haymaker from Gallant as I landed, I had enough.

    “I’m on your side, dumbass!” I yelled, seeing his power flare as he tried to fire another blast, while I tracked Oni Lee. Kicking Vista out of the way of a clone with a knife, I yanked on Gallant’s arm to shoot the clone as it pulled a pin. I need more reach I thought, trying to maneuver around the two heroes.

    “You were killing people!” Vista yelled back as the blasted clone erupted into lightning, and I realized she was utterly useless in this fight. If the girl had a fucking knife she could do something, but right now she was just a target.

    “That was Oni Lee, Missy!” I shouted back, grabbing the back of her costume and using her as a counterweight as I twisted, kicking another clone away, glancing as it flew upwards and exploded. I was surprised to notice we were only a few blocks away from the Medhall building. How far did he run?

    “What!?” she cried out as I spun her the other way, putting myself in-between her and Oni Lee as twelve of the assholes opened up with Uzis. The bullets pinged off Gallants armors and quickly overwhelmed my bodily shields, hurting like a bitch as I fired a Light blast over my shoulder into the gathered gunmen, disrupting the firing line.

    “He was never this bad before!” Gallant called, as I tossed Vista at him, he caught her as I shoved a glowing hand right next to his head, blasting another Oni Lee behind him. Two more appeared and I got one, but the other exploded as I punched him, fragments blasting outwards. Sound control countered some of the overpressure, but fragments stilled drilled into me as I rocked back, hurting something fierce.

    “He was never losing before!” I growled, needing more reach as the clones started appearing further apart. I’d wanted to save it for Vejovis, but I needed it NOW. Moving on autopilot, I retrieved my TinkerTech flashlight, flicking the switch as I manifested my sword at the same time three copies appeared in a triangle in front of me, the front one pulling a knife while the back two pulled pins. I swung the sword with a roar, the ghostly flaming weapon impacting fully into the lead clone with a cannon blast of sound, reducing him to a bloody pulp in an instant, the force of what was left of him blasting the other two back as Vista swore.

    Following the power, I didn’t bother waiting, decapitating a clone as it formed, the next three clones sporting identical bloody slices on the sides of their necks. Yes! I tried keeping my sword in his power as it flowed past me, but it stuttered, dropping him behind the point of my compressed air blade before it moved on, the clone looking surprised as it darted forward, impaling itself, but that was a bust. The same thing that kept Oni Lee from telefragging others meant I couldn’t do the same to him.

    The flames started dancing along my sword as the shield recharged, and I knew we needed to leave as I cut down three more clones, all trying to dodge the blade with increasing success. Infinite mobile attacker versus perishable static defense? We lost unless I could surprise him again. He’d wear us down as I spent myself protecting these two fuckin’ children, but there was no way in fuck was I going to leave them to die. I was down to maybe fifteen percent Lightform reserves, but that would be more than enough to get us to safety.

    “Gallant,” I barked. “Call the Rig, have them drop the shields, we’re getting the fuck out of there. Missy, make a corridor from here to there, we need to outpace his line-of-sight teleportation, which means we need to move stupid fast.”

    Gallant yelled into his comms to do just that as two dozen Oni Lee’s appeared around us in a wide circle. I couldn’t spiral with the two of them here, so I moved as fast as I could, cutting one down and using it’s Uzi to mow down several more. Gallant blasted two, and Missy even shoved one into warped space, sending him falling over the edge of the rooftop as it sliced her arm with its knife, but the last one got its grenade off.

    Gallant shoved Missy forward as the clone exploded behind him, shielding her from the blast as gouts of electricity poured out, grounding themselves through the Hero as he screamed. The lights in his armor shorted out as he fell, and she rushed to him as more clones appeared to do it all again. The last of my shits now fully spent, I jumped over Gallant and Vista, spinning as I let the Light pour off in cords from my hands, elbow, knees, feet, spiraling in every direction but below me, ripping into the clones and destroying the roof around us, as well as the buildings nearby.

    “Can’t move,” Gallant bit out as the building shuttered and started to come apart below us, “Too heavy.” That tore it, we were evaccing now.

    “Missy, hold onto Gallant,” I ordered, picking him up as I stowed my sword. She clung to him and I wrapped him, and by extension her, in my shield, blasting off in a pillar of Light, manifesting invisible air blades in the glare, the rooftop becoming a kill zone as I cut the remaining clones to pieces, Tinkertech detonating as containment was breached.

    As I rocketed upwards, Oni Lees appeared one after another, but I must’ve done something right, as every single one was distanced by me as soon as they appeared, unable to do more than stare as his power struggled to keep up, the eye-watering brightness of my Light throwing off his ability to place himself as close to me as he obviously wanted to.

    We flew high above the city, the base of the Protectorate an apple sized sphere far below our feet as Oni Lee streaked towards us, the oversaturation of the structure’s colors dropping as the shields fell. Space Warping less effective with more people? I thought, only the four of us anywhere within close to a mile in the air. This should be perfect. “Missy! Tunnel to the Rig! NOW!”

    The space in front of me twisted, as I changed my grip, hands reaching around to hold Missy tight as we sandwiched the injured Dean between us. I reached into my connection to the Light, using the same thrust I’d used from my hands and feet and pushed that connection across my shoulder blades, down my legs, and covering the planes of my back, the pressure inside building to unbearable levels as I forced open the connection.

    Oni Lees appeared all around us, pulling every pin they had, all ready to blow.

    The world shuddered as I let go of the pressure and Light crashed out from behind me in a tide as the world around us seemed to darken, vision warping as we crossed the city in seconds, a roaring in my ears as I followed the tunnel of space right down to the front of the Rig, turning and burning Light in the other direction to slow us down as we landed in an entrance bay, all three of us sliding across the floor as I let them go, Vista on top of Gallant skidding further in as I turned, hands Lighting as I lay there, ready in case Oni Lee followed.

    Looking back the night had turned to day, a small sun over the city, a path of slowly fading radiance leading down from it to our current location, the floor I’d slid across scored and twisted. Medical Personnel and PRT troopers poured in as the door out slammed shut, the heavy steel stopping Oni Lee from ever trying to blast his way in. I relaxed, and it was only then that I noticed that Vista was bleeding heavily, from her left leg and arm, chest, and head, and Dean’s armor was streaked with blood as well, slowly dripping out of the joints.

    As I thought that I should go help, the troopers formed a line separating us, pointing a line of foam sprayers at me as medics rushed over with stretchers, having to pry Vista off of Gallant to load them up and carry them away. I stared at the door they’d been carried out of as I was nearly overwhelmed by my emotions.

    Seeing the two of them limp and injured hammered in how narrowly they’d escaped death. Gallant at least had been fully armored, but Missy had, what? A visor, a partial breastplate, along with shitty greaves and vambraces? From what little I’d seen, she obviously didn’t know how to use her armor to enhance her blows or deflect weapons.

    I felt concerned, disgusted, and outraged, though it was all muted by an oppressive feeling of fatigue. They’d put a fucking thirteen-year-old kid out on patrol with almost no training while a gang war was raging, the monsters. I’d bet that pseudo-dress she wore wasn’t even fucking Kevlar.

    I was broken from my thoughts when Miss Militia came striding out, ever present gun at the ready. My power sight kicked in. It was a Projection, limited to Weaponry the User Could Carry and with a block on Tinkertech. Big surprise. Before I could think to restrain it, my own power copied it, the physical manifestation requirement satisfied as it flowed from an assault rifle to a small taser pistol in her hand.

    Part of me had to laugh at the stupidity of such a move. Straight electricity would mess me up if I went Shadow, but the prongs of her weapon would find no purchase on my armor until then. “Boardwalk,” She called stiffly. “You are under arrest and will submit to questioning for your attack on Law Enforcement officers, and your part in the injuring of the Wards Gallant and Vista.”

    I blinked, sure I’d heard wrong, taking care to frame my response as Boardwalk, having lapsed back to Lee as I sat there and saw the two members of the Wards I cared the most about hurt. Reverting to my base as I’d sat there, tired and numb. This, though, sparked both of me back to life, though I wasn’t exactly sure that was a good thing.

    “I’m fuckin’ sorry, I must have hearing damage or something, because I know you didn’t just say you’re fuckin’ arresting me for killing cops, when I just risked my goddamned life saving the assholes.” I tried to rise unsteadily to my feet, stumbling and falling as the PRT forces stood there, watching. My second attempt was marginally better, wincing at the pain in my ribs. I’d never cracked one before I got here, but if I had, it’d probably feel like that.

    My legs were shot through with pain as well. Fuck, now that the battle high had faded, everything was sore, except maybe my head, but that was throbbing for an entirely different reason, as her expression didn’t change and the PRT goons tightened their grips on their sprayers. My last hope that I had actually just misheard them disappeared like one of the dozen Oni Lees I’d just killed. And yeah, I killed them. Over, and over, and over again, until it was almost boring. Even if they were going to come apart seconds later, I knew how his power worked, each of those clones, however short lived, had been him, so if I wasn’t a killer before, I sure as hell was now.

    I looked at the cowards in front of me, willing to abuse their position and use violence against those who wanted nothing more than fuckin’ help. To fuck over potential allies all because a paranoid idiot commanded them to. My dislike of authority, the cornerstone of Boardwalk’s construction, deepened as I saw everything I hated in front of me, and I felt myself sinking deeper into the persona. If they’d asked me to come with them to help patch me up, they could’ve tried to hold me while putting on a good face, and this might’ve gone differently, but straight to imprisonment? Fuckin’ amateur hour up in this bitch.

    Yep, this is how they’re playin’ it, I told myself, even my own internal voice reverberating with Boardwalk’s growl now. This shit never would’ve happened in New York. Legend would’ve handled this shit like an actual hero. “You can’t be sayin’ that, because otherwise you’d be fuckin’ blamin’ me for the fuckin’ cops stupidity in surrounding a building where fuckin’ Oni Lee, armed with fuckin’ Tinkertech Ordinance, was stuck in fuckin’ time with no other plan then ‘shoot him a lot’, which, yeah, was fuckin’ my plan too, but I’m livin’ goddamned artillery and can take a bomb or thirty-seven and only someone who was completely fuckin’ retarded would reward the guy who risked his goddamn fuckin’ neck saving your fuckin’ child soldiers when they got in over their fuckin’ heads with this shit!”

    She flinched at that last comment. Good. It wasn’t mine clearing, but playing storybook hero against real killers had ‘bout the same fuckin’ survival chances. It was only because Oni Lee was bound to Lung that things hadn’t gone to fuckin’ shit before, and he seemed to have slipped that fuckin’ leash tonight. A part of me wanted to yell at them, scream at them how they weren’t even doing their fucked-up job right. Sending kids out to fight actual criminals, especially without an adult to back them was fuckin’ stupid.

    To do so in a borderline conflict zone was past negligent and right in the middle of what the fuck is wrong with you lake, at a depth of were you dropped on your head as a child?

    But that kind of rhetoric was Lee, maybe with a dash of Boardwalk. I’d settled into Full Boardwalk, who took to heart a few lessons I’d been presented with while getting the shit kicked out of me by life even if Lee didn’t like it. Apologize for nothing that wasn’t your fault, take what was owed you, and let them dig their own graves.

    “Your claims will be reviewed while you are in custody,” Miss Militia replied, who looked like she wanted to believe what she was sayin’, but knew it was bullshit. She was getting orders from someone up the chain, probably Piggy, but I didn’t give a shit by this point. I looked at the door to the outside, and the fuckin’ submissive militia warned me “That door is electrified, they all are. If you try to phase through it, you won’t like what happens.”

    I laughed, loud, long and harsh. “So this is the Protectorate, sock puppets of the PRT. Must be why you wear the bandanna, so no one can see Piggot’s hand tickling your tonsils. I get blindsided by two fuckin’ supervillains, do my best to save cops, save your junior squaddies, but as soon as you think you’ve got me in a fuckin’ corner, out come the threats. What heroes you are. I hope you’re proud. At least some of the villains got some fuckin’ honor.”

    “Like Marquis,” I said, rambling, trying to get the room to stop spinning. “Too bad he got his ass Caged, but fuck it, who knows how long that shit’ll last.” I wanted to say a number of other things, but those were more Vejovis than Boardwalk, though that did give me an idea. “Vejovis was fuckin’ wrong, you’re worse than the fuckin’ pigs. I was a fuckin’ dumbass for ever thinkin’ I could join you.” I laughed again, disappointed that even without Armsmaster present to fuck things up, they were just as bad as I’d feared, the pain of my emotions making my voice raw, as the pain in my body was making me cough uncontrollably.

    Recovering, I glared at the assembled forces facin’ me. “Not only that, you aren’t paying any goddamned attention. I’m not a knife in the dark, like Sophia. That little bitch would’ve peed herself and ran for cover, leavin’ everyone else to die, spinnin’ a line about those that die bein’ ‘weak prey’ while ignoring her own cowardly ass because she’s so used to hiding in the dark she’s allergic to the Light of Truth.”

    I grinned behind my mask, “Me, I’m not a fuckin’ blade in the dark, I’m a goddamned shadowed Sun, and while you can hide and shade yourself from it, you can’t cage the Light, you submissive cunt.” I pulled Light from my reservoir, the pain of my injuries fading. I barely had any left, but I had enough.

    The sheepdog fired her taser, and if I was insubstantial enough for the wires to fly through me it might’ve worked, but she’d shown her hand as a threat, and lost the surprise needed for it to work. I turned my back on the Protectorate, in every sense of the word.

    I could feel the sprayers activate, the containment foam reaching out to encircle, trap, and contain me, but I let the Light shimmer across my back, pushing the tide backwards, and on itself. A sprayer above me tried the same thing, but another glimmer of Light from my head shoved that back, covering the nozzle in its own mess.

    Reaching deeper into the Light I gathered it to me, unstable and dangerous, but bending to my will. I’d shaped it once into a breaching charge, this wasn’t much difference, except scale. I needed to breach the barrier in front of me, a full three feet or so thick from the markings on the wall when they’d closed it. I paused, the blast needed to break through that would kill everyone in here, which meant I didn’t need a blast I needed something else.

    Fuck it, I thought. I managed to get myself trapped in this goddamned mess trying to help those kids, and they were safely gone. If everyone here but me died. It would suck, but I’d make it work. With that in mind, and wondering if this was the last actions of Boardwalk before I was forced to retire the identity, I busted everything out. The light would blast, but I needed something more, something better.

    I needed to cut, to dig, to focus my efforts for maximum effect.

    I was aware of people moving behind me, but I didn’t care, the mass of Light in front of me blinding to anyone not of the Light. Using air control, I manifested a blade, then twisted it, broadening it, solidifying it with the crystallized shield from my head. I looked at the shape in front of me, pulsing with power, and started to spin it, slowly at first, then faster, and faster, wisps of errant light spiraling off it and bathing the area in radiance.

    “You think you can cage me, with your threats, your corruption, your traps? Fuck all ya’ll!” I yelled, enhancing the sound of my own voice to let everyone hear what I had to say, charging forward, my footsteps shimmering with Light as they ate away at the floor. I rammed my construct into the door with a scream of tortured metal, and it started to dig, but barely.

    I let loose the Light, the explosive substance pushed out the tip, hitting the door and blasting a hole which the shaped blade widened, over and over again. The wisps of exotic matter not consumed but channeled down the ridged drill, further eating away at the obstacle before me. “My Light cannot be contained, for it is the sun,” I ranted, delirious with pain, and tiredness, and just being done with this stupid fucking place, “and my sun will burn through anything that seeks to hold it, you motherfuckers pretending to be heroes.”

    The door continued to give, and I felt impacts against my back. Not sure if they were shooting me with beanbags, or straight up bullets. The radiance from my back lessened any blow I took. Now I was a foot in, and picking up speed as I went. I was halfway out of what Light I’d gathered, but it should be enough. It had to be enough.

    “Look upon a true hero, and quail in fear like the pussy bitches you are.” I taunted, passing the three-foot mark and still going, the door thicker than I thought it was. Fuck it, either this would work or it wouldn’t. If it didn’t. . . fuck these clowns, I was going to drop them all into darkness and take out ever motherfucker who got in my way.

    This? This was me being nice.

    I jerked as something hit me hard, almost draining my crystalline shield and slamming into me like a hammerblow, followed by another, then another, but I wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop. With a jerk I felt the leading edge give, Light escaping in a plume before I contained it, my construct having drilled through to the other side, and I smiled. Stepping back, enough Light left for one hell of a flashbang, I declared, “My Light is unquenchable, for mine is the Light that will pierce anything in my way!

    Wrapping myself in a shell of air and sound I twisted the construct, inverting to spread out the Light as much as I could, mixing with the air and reacting all at once into a massive explosion, which tore the hole even wider, metal glowing as I dashed out, the Rig’s shield an unpassable barrier in front of me, but not an electrified one.

    Resolved that I’d never step back here in any identity I leapt out over the waves, turning to face the hole I’d bore through their impassible door. Two turrets with cameras turned on me, spewing foam, but it was fuckin’ useless. I used the last of my Light, not enough for even a single blast, to cover the backs of my hands, flipping off both cameras as I plummeted, the Light deflecting foam back on the turrets as it accelerated me towards the ocean far below.

    The last of my Light faded as I hit the water with what would have been bone-crushing force, had I been anything but a Shadow.
     
  22. JustMonika

    JustMonika Getting sticky.

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    well shit, Piggy and Miss I was just following orders fucked the pooch.

    Also I'm not sure if it was supposed to be like this but you have MC call Vista Missy several times while she's in costume but he refers to Gallant as Gallant at the same time rather than Dean if MC was not realizing what he was saying.
     
    SixthRanger and Leecifer like this.
  23. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    When I was writing this, I made that mistake the entire chapter, and just went 'Screw it, he's stressed, so he messed up and did that' on review.
     
  24. Threadmarks: Spoiler 5.5
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Spoiler 5.5

    As I sped through the water, all I felt was tired. Switching to my Vejovis garb, my enhanced eyes barely spotted the shore moments before I plunged into it. I stopped, still made of insubstantial shadows, before shrugging, guessing the location of our base and heading that way. After a bit I noticed that apparently, I didn’t need to breathe when in Shadowform, which was a nice plus, though the lack of sensory feedback was annoying. Tapping into my bug sense and using them to scout, and using them to figure out my own position, I found I was a couple blocks away from Winslow, way off base from my target. Rising up out of an alley, careful to avoid powerlines, I solidified, leaning against the wall as I took a deep breath and collected myself.

    Jumping as my phone rang, and biting back a swear at the pain the movement sent shooting through my chest, I fumbled it, catching it with Aerokinesis. Plucking it out of the air I answered it as I dropped a sound bubble over me. “Hey Taylor, not a good time,” I wheezed. The pain in my chest had lessened, but whatever struck me in the back felt like it broke a rib. Or three. Maybe five.

    “Oh god, are you okay!? I’ve been calling for the past half an hour, but you weren’t picking up! I thought you were dead!Probably not that much reception underground, I reasoned.

    “I’m fine,” I coughed, correcting, “I’ll be fine. Protip, never step foot on The Rig unless you have a plan to escape.”

    What!? What happened?” she demanded.

    “I got Gallant and Vista to safety from Oni Lee, and the Protectorate tried to arrest me, attacking me when I um, informed them of their failings that led to the situation in question and expressed my discontent with their response,” I explained, which was technically correct, if leaving out the entire cussing them out stuff, and the part where I used the F word in a similar manner to a valley girl using the word ‘like’.

    “Is that why you blew a hole in the door and jumped out?” she asked equal parts horrified and saddened.

    “I, I’m sorry, what? How did you know I did that?” I asked, slumping back against the alley wall, which also hurt, but hurt less.

    “Uber and L33t recorded your fight and streamed it,” she told me. “I was. . . studying when it started. I’m on their mailing list, research the opposition and stuff, not that they really count.”

    I thought back to the thing I’d passed when I’d dropped out of the sky to save the police. “Oh, that must’ve been one of their camera drones.”

    That’s all you have to say?” she demanded.

    “Um,” I responded, taking a breath to respond before hissing in pain.

    “Are you okay? No, you already said you weren’t. Do you need to go to the hospital? Can you go to the hospital? Is there anything I can do?” she asked, concerned but obviously feeling helpless.

    “I should be fine,” I responded, trying to mask the pain in my voice. “Have a power for that. Honestly, the worst injury I have is when Miss Militia kept shooting me in the back. I think they might’ve been RPGs.”

    “MISS MILITIA SHOT YOU IN THE BACK WITH AN RPG!!!” she shouted.

    I shrugged, which also hurt. “I’m not sure, I was kinda distracted. Don’t shout, you don’t want to wake your dad,” I admonished, taking to the air, Glory Girl’s shield carrying me up weightlessly as I started to fly towards home, easing some of the pressure on my back. “I got a copy of her power, so I kinda want to return the favor, but I won’t, ‘cause Hero.

    “What happened?” she asked quietly. “I saw the fight from when the explosions started, but how did you end up trapped in time with Oni Lee?”

    In time? I thought, but, with how everything had changed all at once, that tracked.

    “Right, so I’ve recruited Purity, who hasn’t been a Neo-Nazi for two years after she divorced Kaiser,” I informed her, talking over her objections. “And I was looking for an ABB safehouse to hit with Herb and her, a teambuilding exercise to get her over the fact that he’s, you know, black, and I found a communication center. . . thing. But while I was watching, a strike team bust in the front door, and I figured since I was there first, I’d go in through the roof as Boardwalk and we’d split the take, share intel, all that. Turns out they were part of Æonic’s gang, For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

    “It tolls for thee,” she finished. “Better than the ABB at least. So he’s a villain? People aren’t sure online.”

    “Yeah, but maybe in the ‘villain that robs villains’ Robin Hood vein? Either way, we were talking about how to split the take, when Oni Lee showed up. How did L33t know to film it?” I asked, interested in something to distract me from the low-level pain even flying didn’t completely stop.

    “I don’t know. People think someone called the cops instead of the PRT, or that it was a trap for them. No one knew you were in there. I. I didn’t like finding out that way,” she told me.

    “You’re in the Undersiders, and until you’re fully on the team there’s a lot I can’t tell you.” I countered. “Besides, this was a scouting mission gone wrong; I didn’t plan to fight Oni Lee. If you saw the fight, you saw me trying to get away.”

    “You were?” she asked, confused. “I thought you were faking. Why didn’t you just use Brian’s darkness to hide and get away? Lisa said Oni Lee’s power was line of sight.”

    “I. . .” I had to stop in mid-air. “I didn’t even think about it. It wasn’t one of Boardwalk’s assigned powers, so I didn’t even-God I’m an idiot!”

    “You’re not!” she protested, which was nice of her. “You just, um, got too focused. Makes me feel better actually. Not that you got hurt!” she corrected. “That you make mistakes too, you know?”

    I groaned. “I’m not perfect Taylor, no one is.” I spotted Herb, but not, leaning casually against the doorway into the base. “I need to go take care of something. I’ll be fine, see you tomorrow. It’s almost dawn, go to bed.”

    “Oh, okay. Um, Bye. Please stay safe!” she responded, before hanging up.

    I stowed the phone, Seeing Curtis and following the strand of his power that pulled off to find The Hurt on a nearby rooftop. A single air blade ended the Stand’s life. A second made sure, and countered the effects of the Fake Death power it had, the Stand having been playing possum, actually killing it with that one. “Curtis,” I said, landing several meters away, a not-insignificant part of me wanting to decapitate him and deal with him in a week.

    Manifesting an array of blades, I dictated, “Here’s how this is going to go. You’re going to answer my questions. If I like your answers, you live. If I don’t, you die. If you summon The Hurt, you die. If you threaten those I care about, you die. If you hurt those I care about, you’ll die, and continue dying for a year straight until we revisit this issue again. Understood?”

    He held up his hands, smiling that oily smile, not reaching his eyes. “Cool your roll, hot stuff. No need to get all serious. I feel you.”

    “When you die, what happens?”

    “Nothin’” he replied with a languid shrug. At my unimpressed stare he continued. “Nah man, a whole lotta nothin’. Hangin’ out in nothin’. Waitin’s only thing a cat can do. That, and think ‘bout what I’ll lay down when it’s my time to shine.”

    “What do you want?”

    “A challenge,” he smiled, all teeth. I manifested another blade. “Not you, man. It’ll be a while ‘fore I’m on your level. Maybe a tussel now and then, but no claws, I promise. I want to hunt,” he laughed. “I’ve seen Boardwalk, you know what I mean. There’s no point if there’s no thrill, and I want the most dangerous of game.”

    “Capes,” I replied, unimpressed with what I saw before me. What decision would lead Herb to become. . . this? The Replicant smiled again, but it was cold. After tonight though, I could see the use of an assassin, but he needed to be leashed. I didn’t have a way to do that yet, but I’d have to treat him like Herb had wanted to handle Bakuda: give him an outlet.

    I looked him in the eye, mouth quirking into a smile that matched his. “Ever been to Vegas?”


    <AB>

    With Curtis gone, and having made sure he’d gone, him and his Stand turning into cheetahs before dashing off as I tracked their path from high above, I finally relaxed. I’d sculpted him to his specifications, a mix of a young Eriq La Salle and young Michael Jackson, the Jheri Curls he asked for apparently normally needed chemicals, but whatever. I’d been surprised when he asked for Tiger eyes, and my warning that there was a fifty-fifty chance I’d screw up and blind him by accident only seemed to excite him. It’d worked, though they were actually just housecat eyes, but whatever.

    Looking online from my phone, Taylor was right, L33t had tasked a drone with filming the fight, though it was barely able to keep up with me. It was oddly hard to focus on, and watching the confrontation Boardwalk looked a lot more impressive than I felt. The fact the video lacked of ability to see that washed out streak of Red and Grey power I’d tracked giving Boardwalk the appearance of almost precognitively good reflexes, and the music accompaniment was a nice touch. Helped drown out the screaming at least.

    Interestingly, as the fight progressed the trails of light my blasts left changed, moving from the white double-helix of Purity’s power to a solid trail of multicolored light. The leading edge of my blasts were still pure Light, but the trails almost looked prismatic, color further saturating the attacks the more I used them.

    The fight with the Wards made me wince though. I’d done what I had to, to keep them alive, but I hadn’t realized how hard I’d had to be with them. The frag grenade I’d gotten hit with in the face was the first thing that had really done a number on the kids. I’d been so focused on moving as fast I hadn’t thought to divert the shrapnel from them, and I could see Vista get hit, but the entire thing was a blur.

    The escape, up and out, was impressive, L33t commenting that it looked like whatever the cold grenade used, it was flammable, however that worked, which combined with the fire grenade made something like a fuel-air bomb, which had in turn blown out the windows of the Medhall building, which was just a cryin’ fuckin’ shame my inner Boardwalk commented.

    The video continued, with L33t talking about the tech of the grenades and guessing at my sword. Shaped exotic matter from my power kept in place with a magnetic field? I thought. It’s not a lightsaber, it looked like it was on fire dumbass, a thought echoed in the comments. What was interesting was when The Rig lit up with alarms, the camera focusing on the door as it started to glow red and bulge outwards, the light of my drill almost blinding it. The explosion from outside was a lot more impressive than I though it’d be, and they captured my jumping out and giving both barrels to the turrets before disappearing into the waves, comments arguing if Boardwalk was dead, and what had happened.

    Good. Fuckers deserved the PR black eye this was going to bring down on them.

    Lowering myself down to the ground, landing on shaky feet, I shifted to casual clothing as I dismissed my flight, making me feel even heavier than when I’d dealt with Curtis. I took a step towards the door, but my legs weren’t quite up to full yet. I staggered as I identified myself, undoing the lock, which I’d made sure not to key Curtis in.

    I was looking forward to breakfast, and maybe reading for an hour or two before going out and making an appearance as Vejovis as the edges of my vision fluttered. Frantically looking around for whoever was attacking me, everything started tilting crazily as I lost my balance, darkness closing in around me.


    <AB>


    “He’s coming around, and should be up in a moment. He said he was getting enough sleep!” a girl said, the voice familiar.

    I felt someone put their hand on my head and I reacted without thinking, grabbing and twisting, as the person over me squeaked in fright, pulling them to me as I grabbed them tightly by the throat. I immobilized their hands with one of mine while the other was ready to choke, holding them fast against me and facing them away, my body moving smoothly without any input from my sluggish thoughts.

    “I told ya not to do that when he was wakin’ up,” Herb commented blandly.

    I opened my eyes, blinking at the brightness.

    Glancing around I determined that I was laying on the couch in our base’s lounge, Herb sitting in one of the chairs looking at me smugly. Looking down, I saw that my hostage was a very annoyed looking Panacea in civilian clothing.

    “Um. . . hi,” I said, not really sure what to do at this point. “Fancy meeting you here.”

    Let me up!” she hissed back, and I released her, giving her a bit of the Get Better healing so she didn’t have any. . . interesting bruises to explain to her family. I’d already had that conversation enough times already with previous female friends, thank you very much, because no one believed I was actually teaching them how to fight, which involved sparring.

    “I, wait, what did you, no, not important, why did you lie to me!?” she yelled down at me once she got to her feet, somewhere between hurt and pissed, though the two might’ve just amplified each other with my luck. “You said you never would!”

    I held up a hand. “Um, I just woke up, so can you give me a sec. Also, pretty sure I haven’t.”

    “Yes you have!” she insisted. “You said you were getting enough sleep, but you had so many fatigue poisons you should’ve slept for days, you fucking hypocrite!

    That hurt. “I’m not a hypocrite; I don’t need to sleep!

    Everyone needs to sleep!” she countered.

    “Miss Militia doesn’t,” I reposted, not sure if the term Noctis Cape was an actual thing, or one of those WoG, would provoke negative reaction if used by the wrong people, phrases.

    She looked livid. “YES SHE DOES! EVERYONE DOES!” Herb, the asshole, sat back in his chair and looked like he wanted fucking popcorn.

    “Wait, really?” I asked, mind waking up at this new intel. I didn’t think she needed to, but Panacea was the medical expert here. “You’ve seen her biology?”

    YES, SHE-” she started to yell, catching herself “You thought she didn’t sleep at all?”

    I shrugged, as this was news to me, but the story didn’t really focus much on her. “No, I thought that was just an excuse so assholes wouldn’t demand she works twenty-four seven.”

    The healer pinched the bridge of her nose as I tried to sit up, only for her to push me back down. “Stay, you still need to rest. I cleaned your body but your brain is still feeling the stress. Miss Militia doesn’t need to sleep but she needs to rest, which you haven’t been doing. Hypocrite.”

    I sighed, not really liking having to talk to her with my current height disadvantage. “I’m not a hypocrite,” I countered. “I thought I was getting enough rest, you knew you weren’t getting enough. But I feel that I’m unfairly excluding my partner from this delightful conversation. Break, why did you bring Panacea to our secret base before she joined the team?”

    Herb snorted. “Yeah, no, I’m sorry. I found my passed-out friend right outside the door and thought, ‘Ya know what? I’m not gonna bring the person who he needs the most, who can heal him, because, I don’t know, he might be dying of some weird shit to some random hotel.’ I thought, ‘No, bring in my best friend, make sure he’s comfortable, check his vitals, and run and get the most important person out there!’”

    “But, operation security you moro-” I started to object, cut off by Panacea.

    Hey! Your friend was worried about you! Don’t speak to him like that!” she chided.

    I goggled at the thought of Panacea defending Herb, the self-avowed villain who’d allowed Dinah to. . . Ugh! The asshole in question chimed in, “Yeah, don’t speak to me like that. I am concerned!”

    Panacea waved to him, behind her, not able to see the shit-eating grin he was sporting. “See!”

    There were so many things I wanted to say, but whatever, she was here now and apparently I need to rest occasionally, giving up with an, “Okay.”

    Boojack chose that moment to come out of his room, reeking of weed. He took in the situation, before looking over at me, asking “Who’s the kid?”

    I sighed. “That’s Panacea, Boojack.”

    He nodded to himself. “No shit? You healed me. Thanks.” Turning to me he proceeded with what he obviously actually wanted to ask: “Do you have any more weed?”

    I look at him. There was no way he’d gone through all of it already. “I gave you a duffle bag full!” I exclaimed.

    He shrugged unrepentantly, “Yeah, but it’s been like two weeks.”

    “I gave you two!” I reminded him.

    He started to respond, an expression of deep thought gracing his features, before brightening. “Oh, right, I hid the other one! Can’t remember why.” And with that he moseyed on back to his room.

    Panacea looked between me and the now closed door, disbelieving, finally asking, “What the hell, you gave him weed? Are you a drug dealer?”

    I looked at her, offended at the implication. “In exchange for beating up Nazis? Yeah.”

    This, apparently, was not the answer she was expecting. “Wait, what? Isn’t he a hero?” she asked plaintively.

    Right, she’s still touchy about the entire ‘villain’ thing “. . . Ummm. . . Not really?” I finally hedged, not wanting to lie to her.

    Herb however, took this as an opportunity, springing to his feet and taking a strongman pose. “No, we are proudly villains!” he declared.

    Panacea, if anything, looked more confused.

    “They. . . okay. He,” I tried to explain, pointing in Boojack’s direction, “Just wants to be left alone, but will fight for weed, so has been working on the team, though not really part of it, and he,” I pointed to Herb, who was cycling through strongman poses like he was in a competition, something undercut by his wearing a formal suit, “Is one of those self-described villains that doesn’t actually do anything evil that I told you about. I’ve learned not to fight him on it.”

    Herb, still posing, retorted, “Yeah, you don’t fight me because you know I’m a villain!” He shifted again, turning his back to us as he showed off, I don’t know, his biceps or something? Again, his suit jacket obscured most of his muscles. “I am no Shredder, but I’m sure as hell Michel Knight.”

    I looked at Panacea, who didn’t seem to understand him either. She took the initiative on this one asking, “Shredder, you mean the cartoon with the turtle ninjas from Earth Aleph?”

    He turned back to face us, nodding, “Yeah, he’s a dick, I’m not Shredder.”

    Panacea and I shared another glance, this time I bit the bullet, asking, “Who’s Michel Knight?”

    He looked between us, incredulous, “Knight Rider? He’s actually a villain.”

    “Really?” I asked, only knowing he had a smart car named Kit or something.

    Herb responded earnestly, “Oh yeah, Michel Knight is actually a villain. He’s wanted by, like, sooo many people.”

    That didn’t sound like it gelled with what I’d heard about the plot of the show. “But doesn’t he save people and shit?”

    He nodded, “Yep.”

    Like a bolt from the blue, it hit me, and I had to check to see if the cause of so much friction between us could be something so stupid. “Oh god, is that why you think you’re a villain? Early eighties television? If it is, it explains so much.”

    He nodded again, like it was obvious, “Yeah, we’re like the A-team!”

    “The A-team were not villains!” I objected, Panacea just looked confused.

    Herb shook a finger at us in negation, “They were considered villains though, by all of society.”

    “No, they . . .” I paused, dimly recalling the opening theme, on those channels that ran old shows. “’Sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit, they promptly escaped to the LA underground. Still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one can help, if you can find them, you can hire, the A-tea- Damnit, you’re right!”

    “Yeah, and then there’s Airhawk!” he laughed.

    “I’ve never even heard of that one, but fine, I believe you.” I gave holding up a hand in defeat. “What was with the eighties?” I started to muse, pausing, “It was the eighties and not the seventies, right?” He nodded, so I continued. “What was with the eighties and all of the vigilante heroes?” Panacea looked at me, shrugging helplessly, but the answer filtered in through my tired mind. “Oh, right there was a crime wave or something and the cops weren’t doing anything, so we wanted someone that would.”

    Panacea looked between us. “What are you guys talking about?”

    I responded quickly, not wanting to get into the alternate dimension thing, “Things from before either of us were born.”

    “Fall Guy! Fall Guy was the shit,” Herb added unhelpfully, off in his own nostalgic little world.

    “Anyways,” I pressed, trying to move the conversation along. “Panacea. I’m okay, I’ll meditate or something.”

    “Why don’t you just sleep?” she asked, eyebrow raised.

    I shook my head, “That takes eight hours, and there’s too many things I need to do.”

    “Dude, you need actual sleep right now,” Herb chimed in.

    Sighing, I looked up at him, “I think I dropped at dawn, how long was I out?”

    “Four hours,” my teammate informed me.

    Shrugging, I started to get up. “Good enough.”

    Panacea pressed me back down, insisting, “No, you’re still exhausted. You need to rest. I’ve taken care of your body, but your brain needs to recover as well!”

    I looked back at her, trying for a more emotional argument, since she wasn’t listening to logic. “But, but I have to go with you to heal people in an hour. And then dinner, which I enjoy. And then try find Bakuda’s Lair. Just a lot of shit to do in not enough time to do it in.”

    “You don’t need to heal with me, you need sleep,” she insisted, smiling.

    Well, at least she wasn’t angry at me anymore. “But I-

    Reeeeest,” Herb interrupted, moving to stand behind Panacea. “Listen, the healer,” he started, pausing to mouth the words ‘your girlfriend’, “says to sleep.”

    “Dude,” I said, in warning tones. Giving me shit was one thing, but saying that kind of thing in front of Panacea would turn our working relationship nine kinds of awkward, and I was already apparently dealing with that sort of problem from Taylor. I really didn’t need it from her either.

    Panacea shook her head, thankfully missing the subtext, insisting “No, he’s right.” I glared at him as he gave her a significant look, and mouthed ‘I know you want to fuuuuuu,’ punctuated with a pelvic thrust. Panacea, unaware, continued, “You need to listen to your friend.”

    Herb was having a field day with this shit, adding, “Yeah, and honestly,” mouthing ‘the love of your life’, “Really has important stuff for you to listen to. Get some sleep. Remember, she really knows what’s going on in you.” He finished patting her on the head with his gauntlet like one would child, adding in another pelvic thrust between pats.

    “Okay,” I said as I glared at him, manifesting an air blade behind Panacea, slowly moving it upwards. Herb, with my Power Sight, saw the rising edge and removed his hand from her head, still grinning. “I’ll get some more rest, but I’ll still meet you for dinner, okay?” I gave in to her, dismissing the Aerokinetic weapon.

    She nodded, smiling again, before looking around. “Sure, do you feel a breeze?”

    “Someone must’ve left a window open,” I commented drolly. “Do you need me to give you a lift to the hospital?”

    Herb shook his head “Don’t worry, she can ride me.” I glared, that one wasn’t even subtle and he was over twice her age. Not even the kind of thing you should joke about. “Have you ever rode a dinosaur lizard thingy? It’s quite awesome.”

    Panacea gave me a questioning look, obviously not really sure what he meant, or if she should be offended. “He can turn into Dinosaurs. It’s one of his powers,” I informed her blandly.

    “How does that work?”

    I shrugged, “Powers?”

    “You could find out as I do it,” Herb added, as he turned and walked out the door.

    “See you tonight!” Panacea waved, starting to follow, “Get some rest!”

    A moment later I heard her surprised voice calling, “How do you get that big?

    I laid there, considering that comment. I hope he’s actually turning into a dinosaur, or I’m going to beat the crap out of him. A moment later I heard a saurian trill.

    Oh thank god.
     
  25. JustMonika

    JustMonika Getting sticky.

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    lol that works pretty well with the shit he had to deal with so its a pretty happy accident, although if you want a cop out for MC when Vista inevitably blabs missy is also a way to refer to a young girl. though with how that ended I don't think MC cares much at this point.
     
    SixthRanger and Leecifer like this.
  26. Threadmarks: Spoiler 5.6
    Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Spoiler 5.6

    Laying there, trying to do nothing while my brain healed, was boring. Explosions were still going off, and time was slowly ticking down to the inevitable Endbringer attack. Thinking of the things I could be doing was frustrating, because I knew that probably didn’t count as ‘rest’, but I literally couldn’t stop. I considered playing around with Aerokinesis or my newly acquired Space Warping, but Panacea had been clear, I needed to rest both my body and my mind.

    Ugh.

    Getting up from the couch I headed towards my room. Other than walking through it to use the shower, I hadn’t had any cause to be in here, and I looked over at the bed, which looked comfortable enough. The small wave of dust that came off it when I flopped down the sheets was a bit much, I groused internally as I laid on top of the covers, trying to relax and meditate, finding my center and all that fun stuff.

    I stayed there, focusing on trying to not focus, body relaxed, as I lost track of time, keeping my breathing slow and steady. A noise rang out and I jumped as my phone rang the instrumental of ‘Sharp Dressed Man’. My thoughts were sluggish, but quickly picking up, leaving me feeling oddly refreshed. “Good,” I checked the bedside clock, surprised to see it was three p.m., “afternoon Mr. Calle, what can I do for you?”

    “I’ve been contacted by the PRT,” he started. My stomach sank, did they figure out that I was related to Boardwalk? “They’ve decided to reach out to everyone they can, given last night. . . events. Would you be interested in helping them in their efforts, and if so do you have a preferred role?”

    I sighed in relief. “About time. I believe that both myself and The Lady, Bug would be quite proficient in bomb detection, and disarmament, provided we were furnished with someone to walk us through the process.”

    “But how. . . Ah, yes, I’d forgotten your other abilities, my apologies. You can control insects that well? In that case you should definitely be of use, and paid commensurate with your use of course. From what I’ve seen The Lady, Bug appears to be young. Do you wish to set up a similar situation as you did with Miss Panacea?”

    I nodded, then stopped, remembering he couldn’t see me. My brain wasn’t quite up to one hundred percent yet. “Yes, but with the ratios reversed as she is the junior partner.”

    “Of course,” he responded smoothly, a couple of questions following confirming my availability.

    Not even five minutes later I got an e-mail, asking for me to show up at the PRT office in half an hour to start working. I called Taylor, who answered it on the first ring. “The Lady, Bug, would you be available to assist me in finding where Bakuda has hidden her bombs? From a safe distance of course.”

    “You mean going out during the day with you?” she asked, suddenly nervous. “But what about the entire undercover thing? Won’t us both going out doing hero things ruin that?”

    “With the Truce coming, all it will do is make you look ahead of the curve,” I started to tell her, interrupted by her question of “What truce?” I stopped and thought, this week was just kind of skipped over by the time skips that happened in Worm cutting down on my foreknowledge, though I wondered how much last night’s fight had thrown off everything.

    “The villain groups are all meeting the day after next to discuss a truce,” I revealed, “putting aside their personal problems to eliminate the ABB before the National Guard comes in. Brockton Bay is worse than most cities when it comes to gang-fighting, but it’s gotten to the point the national government is going to get involved soon, well, soon for the government, but even then that’s two or three months before the Bay is put under martial law, which would be bad for all the villains.”

    “Oh,” she responded. “Yeah, the video has over a hundred million views already.”

    I winced, oh yeah, that’s going to affect things. “So maybe sooner. Regardless, can you be in costume and meet me at the edge of the commercial district in fifteen?”

    With her affirmation, I started to go talk to Herb, but hesitated. He’d be of more use with the rest of the regular heroes, but knowing him that’s exactly where I didn’t want him. Not only would they not take his “I’m a villain!” performance well, the chance that he’d say the wrong thing, if only to needle them, was far too high. Leaving a note that I was going out and would be back tonight, I grabbed some cold pizza from the fridge and wolfed it down before flying out the door in Vejovis guise.

    From the air I scanned the insect population, drawing out the gnats from below me in a grey cloud that struggled to keep up with my moderate pace. Spotting Taylor suited up, I swooped down, smirking, and grabbed the hand she was waving, pulling her up with me. She gave a strangled squeak as I did so, shifting her to be flying parallel with me. She reached over and smacked me with her free hand. “Don’t do that!” she rebuked, voice softening. “I’m glad you’re alright Lee. Do you have a self-healing power too? Who’d you get it from? It couldn’t be her, everyone says Panacea can’t heal herself.”

    I shook my head. “No, Panacea’s the one who patched me up.”

    “Oh,” she responded, “Um, so finding bombs? Is that why you have the swarm, Lee?” Her power overlaid mine, taking control of the gathered insects in much finer detail, smoothing out the flight patterns and doing something that let them move together faster after a few seconds, which I gratefully copied.

    I nodded as we flew, getting a few looks from below. “We’re using them for identification of devices, and we can grab some beetles for manipulation if we need to. Remember, Taylor, from here out I’m Vejovis, and you’re The Lady, Bug.” She apologized, and we continued on, slowly flying over the city, the swarm growing at a slow trickle until it was several thousand strong, enough that I could maybe fit them all in a van if needed. As we entered Downtown I remembered what I’d grabbed on my way out, handing her a new cell phone. “Here you go, since Bakuda anti-blew up the last one.” She gave an embarrassed, “Thanks,” as she stowed it.

    While we descended in front of the PRT building a few minutes later I compressed the swarm, keeping them a hundred feet above the street as we touched down. The officer at the front nodded to me as I walked up. “Vejovis, Lady Bug, if you’ll come with us.” He looked upwards at the dark cloud hanging in the air, the sound of buzzing barely perceptible, but still perceptible. “Please leave your. . .” he paused, “Insects outside.” I smiled and nodded.

    The Rig might’ve been quite difficult to break out of, but this building? I wouldn’t even need to break character. Taylor looked to me, concerned as she hesitantly started to release her nervousness into the swarm. I nodded to her, trying to convey that we’d both be fine, and I understood why she was leaning on her swarm to manage her emotions. If all I had was insect control, and no insects, I’d be nervous too.

    Following the officer inside, we were led to a meeting room where we were left alone. Taylor started to say something, but I shook my head, mouthing ‘wait’. It was another few minutes when a different PRT officer in full combat gear walked in. “Sorry,” he said perfunctorily. “You’re early. I’ve been told you can help us find bombs?”

    I nodded, “It’ll look like a biblical plague, unfortunately, but we both can perceive the insects we control in three dimensions, so by having them carpet an area, we can see in all the nooks and crannies, finding anything that would normally be hidden or hard to see, as long as it’s not borderline airtight. We can also control beetles to try to defuse things if someone can tell us what to do.”

    He stood there, black helmet masking his facial expression. Whoever thought that was a good idea obviously never read the Evil Overlord List. “That would be very effective,” he replied after a moment. “I’ll get the team. How long can you do this?”

    “Till nine tonight, and dawn until nine in the morning tomorrow,” I responded. “After that it’ll depend on how things develop.” Taylor nodded behind me. The officer, who I realized didn’t even have a name tag, just a tag that read PRT ENE, told us he’d go assemble a team, leaving without saying anything else. A few seconds later another officer opened the door, leading us back outside. Minutes later a team of six came out, the lead one probably the one who said he’d get a team.

    Is it to stop villains from identifying individual members and hunting them down? I mused, looking at the team of six, along with the four door guards. Other than height and slight differences in build they were nearly identical.

    We stood there, looking at each other for a minute, before the leader, who sounded like the same person, though the mask muffled his voice, asked, “Are you going to begin?”

    I looked around. “Right here? Sure.” I glanced at the crowd, jerking a thumb towards them. “But shouldn’t we warn them first?” The trooper gave me a blank look, or, well, just didn’t say anything. I sighed turning to those assembled.

    “Greeting good citizens!” I boomed, calling on what my little brother had called my ‘teacher voice’. I winced, thinking about how I’d probably never see him or my mother ever again. Or any of my family outside of maybe my father, now that I really thought about it. I must’ve been projecting my emotions, since I felt Taylor’s concern, but waved a hand to her that it wasn’t important.

    “I, Vejovis, and my teammate, The Lady, Bug, are working with the Parahuman Response Teams to help track down un-activated TinkerTech devices that may have been hidden in the area. As such, we shall be utilizing our insect control to attempt to feel out the surrounding area. They are harmless, but if you’d rather not be touched by a hundred gnats, please head inside until we have moved on with our search. Thank you for your cooperation!” I lowered the swarm, not expanding the mass to make my point. Quite quickly the street emptied, except for a brave few souls, phones out.

    I took the swarm, and directed them, the mass moving like a slow grey explosion as they covered everything in front of us, building a mental picture. Extending them out in every direction for about a hundred feet, I blinked as I felt something with wires and metal. Feeling it out, I felt an inscription in part of it which read “Bakuda” with a little picture of a cartoon bomb, circle with a line out of the top, the top of the line with slashes not touching surrounding it. I put my face in my hands as Taylor commented, “Really?”

    “What is it?” the PRT goon practically barked.

    “Found one,” I shrugged, sighing as all ten started looking around, as if it were easily visible. “This way,” I commented walking down the street, crossing the crosswalk, then walking over and down and alley, pointing at a cardboard box halfway down. “In that.”

    The officer looked back, maybe incredulously? His body language was generally unhappy and hostile, but I wasn’t the best at determining that sort of thing, and unlike Taylor he didn’t try and display it at all, so I had no clue. He didn’t even say anything, so I couldn’t even go on that. I thought about offering to have some insects remove the top of the box, there weren’t any connections from the bomb to the box, as far as I could tell, but if he was going to be a jerk about it, I wasn’t going to offer more help than was asked for.

    At least I’m getting paid, I comforted myself, and Vejovis happily and actively working with the PRT after Boardwalk told them to sit and spin would help separate their identities. With this kind of treatment, I might’ve said screw this and just gone and done this on my own. Which might be the point, I realized. The PRT worked against capes. With the exception of the Protectorate, who reported to them. They might’ve been trained to see parahumans as the enemy. Lovely.

    He checked, yelling “Shit!” when he found it. Really hurt by the lack of confidence. He spoke into his comms, which the gnats picked up as “Burrows, ge- -er he-!” My powers copied Taylor’s as she listened in, clearing up the communication, and I gave her a thankful nod. ‘Burrows’ knelt down over it, talking to someone over comms, she walked him thro-Holy Shit is that Dragon? Yeah, listening in it was. Cool.

    Dragon walked the officer through the disarmament process, which took a few minutes. Deploying the swarm, keeping them within a hundred or so feet of me at all times. Underselling my powers to potential foes? Just common sense. Did the PRT count? Absolutely. As both of them walked back, calling in a pickup of the device, I cheerfully asked, “Ready for the next one?”

    Both men froze, Burrows asking uncertainly, “Next one?”

    I nodded. “Yeah, it’s in the undercarriage of a car the next street over, parked close to the intersection.”

    The commander, who never gave me his name, grunted. “Two, four, five, go with Vejovis. Three, six, you’re with me, while ladybug shows us the bomb.

    I blinked. I’m sorry, you give me the metaphorical stink-eye, lead me to have to come up with a policy on what to do on the spot, and then after I’ve shown you how you haven’t even done a cursory search around your main building you think to both give me orders and try to separate me from what is effectively my sidekick? You sir, can go fuck yourself! What I said instead was, “Ah, No. The Lady, Bug and I work together. We shall listen to you, of course, as you are the relevant authorities, but we shall not be splitting up.”

    His stance became aggressive. Well, more aggressive. “Are you questioning my orders?” he growled.

    I smiled coldly. “Are you presuming to give me orders, officer? I was under the impression that we were working as outside consultants, to better help you and the city, not sworn officers under your command.” Even when I’m trying to be fuckin’ helpful, they’re pricks.

    “Sir,” one of the other officers spoke up. “The briefing.”

    The commander stiffened in anger, before leaning back. “Fine, consultants, what do you suggest we do?”

    Must’ve been one hell of a briefing, I pondered. He wasn’t getting off that easily though. “As long as it does not split us up, put us in danger, or would put us in a position where. . . misunderstandings might happen, I’m more than willing to follow whatever procedures you might have. You, or whoever you were talking to on comms, is the bomb expert here,” I smiled coldly.

    The leader struggled with himself, before snapping out, “Show us the bomb, find the next, if there is another, then wait for us.”

    Smile not moving an inch on my face, I nodded and then strode past him, Taylor on my heels. We pointed out the next device as the swarm spread out, keeping clear of sidewalks and roads after giving them a once over. There wasn’t another one in range, so I started walking down the sidewalk, Burrows and the one who spoke up left behind to defuse it.

    After a block I found something affixed to the bottom of a fire escape, turning down and pointing at it when it was in visual range. The commander looked like he wanted to say something, but held it in. Waiting for Burrows to come back, I scanned the area, finding nothing else, so worked on forming words with bugs on the roof. ~Sorry about this,~ I spelled with a bit of effort. ~I expected them to be nicer. At least we can get some practice in like this.~

    Taylor looked at me and I smiled widely, and fakely, to everyone. “Well, this is quite the experience, isn’t it!” I chirped, irritating of the commander who was watching me like a hawk. The bugs formed words under her control. ~It is okay,~ she spelled out in return. ~This is not your fault. We are just trying to help. Are they always like this?~

    ~No, the last time I talked to the PRT they were rather nice and respectful. I assume that just like regular police, or, for example, teachers, you have some bad apples that spoil the barrel.~ I had to stop my head from tilting when I tried to make italics.

    I got a sense of sad discontentment from Taylor as her bugs spelled. ~That blows. I thought, since they worked with the Protectorate, they’d be better.~

    Thinking in three dimensions was a bit difficult, but was becoming easier in time. I made a hand with the index finger extended, waving in a chiding motion, causing her to giggle. “Something funny?” The commander growled.

    “Someone on the next street wasn’t looking and walked straight into the insects. He didn’t react well,” I lied easily.

    Again, I got the sense he wanted to say something, but held himself back. ~You should know that just because they work for the government doesn’t mean they’re good people,~ I formed in gnats. ~Dauntless and Battery are probably nice, but don’t trust Miss Militia or Assault.~

    ~I can’t believe she shot Boardwalk! ヽ(ಠ_ಠ)ノ Who does that? :mad:~ she wrote in return.

    I rolled my eyes, teens and their emoticons. Technically I’d started it, but still. ~She’ll follow effectively any order her superiors give her. They say to arrest the person that saved the Wards from dying? She does it. They say to stop him from leaving, no matter what? After a taser and bullets don’t work, time to bust out the RPG and hope it doesn’t instantly kill, and if it does, she was just following orders, which is amusing, because she doesn’t look like a Nazi.~ After a second I dismissed the wall of text gnats. ~Sorry, still annoyed.~

    She responded ~RPG! I’d be more than just annoyed. How can you work with them the very next day? I wasn’t even there and I want to swarm these Jerky McJerkfaces!~

    ~Jerky McJerkfaces. Really?~ I critiqued, keeping her formation and building off of it. Feeling her rightful embarrassment at such a weak insult, I continued, ~A) Their leadership is the problem, not necessarily the rank and file.~ I dismissed that point and made another, trying not to congregate too many bugs in one place, in case someone was watching. ~B) Boardwalk has a beef with them. I, Vejovis do not, and even if I was trying to recruit him, he hasn’t joined the team so I don’t have grounds to be outraged on his behalf.~ ~C) While we do have to deal with these assholic evil minion rejects who have the personality of a statue, except for their leader who is like one covered in pigeon droppings, the bombs we find save lives.~ ~D) we’re getting paid to do this. Yes, that includes you, no, you can’t get to it until you’re in control of your own finances for legal reasons.~

    ~Can’t you give it to me now, just under the table? ~ she pleaded.

    I sighed without meaning to. “Waiting for the other two to come back,” I informed the commander. ~No! Bad Lady Bug! That way lies villainy! Besides, if you need something, ask. You have a discretionary budget for heroing-related needs.~

    ~Wait, I do!!?!~ she wrote, pushing excitement into the swarm to keep her body language neutral. ~Can I get some Darwin’s Bark Spiders, they ha~ was as far as she got before I took control of the swarm.

    ~Yes. Thank you for reminding me, I was going to get some so you could have them weave some silk and have Parian, the cloth Rogue, help you design a suit that’s more PR friendly for things like this.~

    I struggled not be affected as Taylor practically dumped giddy happiness into the swarm, spelling out in five-foot-tall letters ~THANK YOU!~ Her happiness, practically infectious, helped the time pass quickly until we called it a day, finding over fifty bombs as we meandered across downtown.

    Dropping her off in the commercial district, I sent her new phone the pictures I’d taken of useful contacts, as well as forwarding her the account information for her budget. “How much can I spend?” she asked.

    I shrugged, “There’s five grand in there, but if you need more just ask. I trust you not to waste it.”

    Her eyes went wide, “That’s more than I got from the Undersiders for helping fight Lung!”

    “Yeah, but it’s not that much when you start hitting and clearing safehouses.” She stared at me, with just a hint of accusation. “I wasn’t in danger. Anyways, you could deposit the money they gave you into that account. Money from villains is spoils of war for heroes, just walk-oh right, you robbed the bank. Hmmm. Use the five grand for personal purchases, and I’ll handle the finances until the entire undercover thing comes out. Yeah, that’ll work.” She was still staring. “Are you okay?”

    She shook herself, giving me a quick hug. “Thank you so much. I couldn’t say anything there but, just, thanks.

    I patted her helmet. “Don’t worry about it. You’re my teammate, and I take care of my friends.” With a wave I flew off, heading towards Good Samaritan to make Panacea got a decent meal and someone she could talk healing with, letting her de-stress after the clusterfuck of injuries my last fight had probably generated.

    Landing on time, and looking around she was nowhere to be found, so I waited. After ten minutes I finally went inside, asking the front desk for her they said she was almost done. Half an hour later, she walked into the lobby, yawning. Seeing me she straightened, striding over, stating, “We need to talk.”

    After a moment of Déjà vu, and wondering if there was a class or something that all women attended, I motioned for her to go ahead. “In private,” she clarified.

    We left, her taking my arm as had become habit and I took off. High above the city I turned so her back was towards the PRT HQ and the Rig, and dropped a sound bubble. “What?” I asked when she seemed to be second-guessing herself.

    She took a deep breath, looked me in the eye, and informed me: “I know you’re Boardwalk.”






    AN: Darwin Bark Spiders are ridiculous.
     
  27. fireball900

    fireball900 World Conqueror (not Overlord)

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    Was it ever actually explictly stated why the PRT turned on Boardwalk, and what the protectorate thought about that?
    I know Cauldron thought he was a precog blocker, but IIRC that was after this point?
     
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  28. Leecifer

    Leecifer (Fan)Fiction Writer

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    Considering his actions were throwing off the PtV, as most of the world's precogs thought nothing was happening in Brockton Bay at this time despite it being live streamed globally, that's enough for Alexandria to order capture/kill. This is the moment that Cauldron realized there was a Precog Blocker in Brockton Bay, it's only that we, the reader, find out about it much later.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2022
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  29. lancelot

    lancelot Grand High Poobah

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    So I just finished 18.7 and I have to ask a few questions. Now Lee has made sure no one in cauldron has any idea Lee is a precog blocker. As far as they KNOW he is a powerful brick with two extra powers tacked on. Nothing he can do as far as they know makes him effective against Ziz any more then anyone else. What they do think they know is that he could be one of the variables that cause a endbringer to go all out, which would just have Ziz's flatten DC and the heroes like a pancake.

    Instead he Lee takes it like they know he is a hard counter to Ziz and don't want him anyways. Which makes me wonder what the plan Vijovis pla. Would be to counter Ziz without Ziz obviously not being able to see him attack? I don't know if anyone has brought this up yet, but unless I missed something the reaction comes across as a kind of petty tantrum.

    Also in 17-x Coil is killed, but if 18.6 Lee talks as if Coil is alive when he should know he is dead. Did I miss something here as well?
     
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  30. lancelot

    lancelot Grand High Poobah

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    Found another problem that needs an edit in 19.5.

    The problem with this is that you already told the two of them that you copy powers. When Vicky found out her master powers spiked as she freaked out and Lee almost killed her before Gallant shot her with Calm. You also told Vicky in the same scene that Amy is a biokinetic to which she didn't give a fuck.

    The problem with massive stories like this is that keeping track of all the characters and what each of them know is a complete bitch.

    19.9

    Earlier in the story Lee literally asked to copy Mouse's power, now she doesn't know again. Also was there watching Lee's fight with clone hive in the underground until his eyes we're gouged out.

    I really don't get the near contempt Lee is feeling for Amy now, not like she couldn't be a bit traumatized after that whole PRT thing which seems to be when she all but stopped showing up in the story.

    I'm honestly surprised that no one has clued in that Lee is getting mind fucked into an Entity.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2022
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