1. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. For a trial period of one week, allowed avatar size has been increased to 256kb, up from 51.2kb. During this time, if the forum seems to be loading slow, drop by the topic in the Announcements & Rules sub to let me know.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. QQ will be down for upgrades starting at 2030 EDT. Please be prepared and save any work.
    Dismiss Notice
  5. A small reminder that our moderators can't change usernames. You need to directly contact an admin for that, and tehelgee is the jobless one so bug him about it.
    Dismiss Notice
  6. To the many new members following Mr Zoat to our forum, I would suggest a quick read of our Rules. Don't worry, it's not a long post. Pay special attention to Rule 8. We are deadly serious about it.
    Dismiss Notice
  7. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice

Amelia, Worm AU

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by TanaNari, Jan 10, 2015.

Tags:
Loading...
  1. Threadmarks: Chapter Index
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Thanks to Flukes for the artwork seen above.

    http://archiveofourown.org/works/3998737/chapters/8979811 - Thanks to Insignia33 for creating an AO3 of the story.​

    And for those who are just recently discovering this story? Feel free to send me a PM, let me know who sent you?

    Also feel free to check out my original fiction

    https://pricestory.wordpress.com
    175- Riley
    176
    177
    178- Taylor
    179
    180
    181
    182
    183
    Omake: New Identity
    184- Victoria
    185- Victoria
    186
    187
    188- Victoria
    189- Theo
    190- Taylor
    191- Victoria
    192- Victoria
    193
    Omake: Soon I Will be Incorrigible
    194
    195- Missy
    196
    197- Trevor
    198- Rey
    199- Emma
    200- Crystal
    201- Lisa
    202- Lily
    203- Riley
    204- Victoria
    205- Theo
    206- Geoff
    207- Geoff
    208- Riley
    209- Victoria
    Canon Omake: Zach's Close Call
    210- Lily
    211- Ariana
    212
    213
    214
    215- Taylor
    216
    217
    Fan Art: Emma
    218
    219
    220
    221
    222
    Canon Omake: Crazy PHO
    223- Melanie
    224- Melanie
    225- Riley
    226- Riley
    227
    228
    229
    230
    Omake: Pantheon Twelve Days of Christmas
    231
    232
    233
    234
    234.5- Lisa
    235- Victoria
    236- Lily
    237- Victoria
    238- Sabah
    239- Becky
    240- Taylor
    241- Missy
    Pretty Much Canon Omake: Alternate Questions
    242- Emma
    243- Riley
    244- Theo
    245
    246
    247
    248
    Canon Omake: Colonists
    Canon Omake: Sane PHO
    249- Avalon Constitution
    250
    251
    252
    253- Victoria
    254- Taylor
    255
    256- Emma
    257- Rune
    258- Missy
    259- Theo
    260- Victoria
    261- Riley
    262- Zach
    263- Crystal
    264- Sabah
    265- Trevor
    266- Lisa
    Omake: Choice of Words
    267- Sveta
    268
    269
    270
    271- Tamara
    272
    273- Taylor
    274
    275- Beth
    276- Victoria
    277- Ruth
    278- Missy
    279- Riley
    Omake: Pawns on the Oceans of Eternity
    280
    281
    282- Danny
    Omake: The What If Machine, part 1
    283- Trevor
    284- Trevor
    285- Lily
    286- Sabah
    287- Beth
    Canon Omake: Behind Smug Eyes
    288- Lisa
    289- Janet
    290- Victoria
    291- Taylor
    292- Crystal
    293- Emma
    294- Taylor
    295- Victoria
    296- Sveta
    297- Lily
    298- Eric
    299- Nelson
    300- Theo
    301- Missy
    302
    303- Zach
    304- Hannah
    305- Taylor
    306
    307- Glen
    308- Riley
    309- Dinah
    310- Elena
    311- Lisa
    312- Victoria
    313- Lily
    Omake: Personal Ads
    314- Sabah
    315- Crystal
    316- Calvert
    317
    318
    319- Rebecca
    320
    321- Missy
    322- Missy
    323- Missy
    324- Missy
    325- Crystal
    326- Beth
    327- Sabah
    328- Ciara
    329- Liam
    330- Nelson
    331- Emma
    332- Emma
    333- Lisa
    334- Taylor
    335- Taylor
    336- Victoria
    337- Victoria
    338
    339- Crystal
    340
    341- Taylor
    342
    343- Rebecca
    344- Lisa
    345- Beth
    346- Lisa
    Omake: Xmas In July
    347- Rebecca
    348- Sabah
    349- Lily
    350
    351
    352
    Omake: Just Deserts
    353- Nelson
    354
    355- Taylor
    I Wish It Could Be Canon Omake: Bonds


    After this point, the threadmarks system is in place for the entire story.


    =======================

    And a special thanks to Ultima333 for the above index. ​
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2017
  2. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    About Amelia as a story:

    Straightforward premise. Amy Dallon is pushed by the S9, hard enough to actually *fight back*. From there, things diverge from canon.

    This story is a "fix fic", where I rework the story and change the things I feel Wildbow gets wrong. In that he only shows the main characters going through hell, an it numbs the audience. I, on the other hand, will show you them at their happiest... that way, when they go through hell, you readers will feel it all the more completely.

    Because that's how I feel you can improve upon Worm as a story.

    And in the process, I get a whole bunch of other stuff wrong!

    It's accurate call this story "schizophrenic". The mood and emotions present in the fic will change regularly and often without warning. It will have its disturbing moments and its heartwarming. Angst and Waff. Sometimes in cycles, sometimes in random spurts.

    In other words... don't expect a theme here. Although the main tone of the story is going to be 'slice of life' in nature, Although the lives in question are all horribly emotionally damaged teenagers with enough power to rebuild the world in their image. So there is that.

    You won't see a lot of epic struggles between gods, because that's not what I write. You will see emotional and philosophical questions being asked and answered. Badly.

    You will see children being simultaneously brilliant and idiotic. You will see the characters both beautiful and broken.

    Or... well, you will if I do my job as a writer. No promises!
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2015
    Rtiands, Dvm999, Dudedude123 and 69 others like this.
  3. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    NAMES:

    A lot of characters have been renamed. They are listed here as follows.

    Cape name (Old cape name)- Name (New name)

    Gaea (Panacea)- Amy Dallon (Amelia Claire Lavere)
    Khepri (Skitter)- Taylor
    Minerva (Tattletale)- Sara Livsey (Lisa Wilbourn)
    Aceso (Bonesaw)- Riley (Clarice)
    Osiris (Respawn)- Zach
    Eki (Laserdream)- Crystal Pelham
    Yum Kaax (Blasto)- Rey
    Horus (Golem)- Theo Anders
    Lachesis (Vista)- Missy Biron
    Clotho (Parian)- Sabah
    Atropos (Flechette)- Lily
    Tir (Chariot)- Trevor
    Hecate- Emma
    Victoria (Glory Girl)- Victoria
    Janus- Eric/Arianna
    Sveta
    Anima- Beth (it actually is 'Beth', not short for Elizabeth or Bethany)
    Dubstep- Derek
    Genius Loci- Glen Murry
    Boost-

    Artificial Lifeforms with names:

    Fluffy- Cuddlebug #2, spider
    Zerg- Cuddlebug #1, ladybug
    Bella- Pegasus #1, Riley's
    Calysta- Pegasus #2, Missy's
    Macula- Pegasus #3, Theo's
    Typha- Gryphon #1, Dinah's

    Named Weapons and Armor:

    Dryad- Amelia's
    Matriarch- Taylor's
    Huntress- Lisa's changeling.
    Radiant- Crystal's armor. Sarah uses an older model of the same.
    Clarice/Aceso- Riley's changeling
    Azrael- Lily's armor
    Tapestry- Sabah's armor
    Singularity- Missy's armor
    Echo- Dubstep's armor
    Fractal- Glen's armor
    Ancile- Victoria's armor
    Harpe- Victoria's sword
    Caliburn- Chevalier's sword
    Priwen- Chevalier's armor

    By the way. Warning: Spoilers.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2015
  4. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Official Timeline: AKA- so people know when the hell shit is going on.

    June
    12- The deaths of Siberian, Crawler, Jack Slash, Glory Girl, Browbeat, and a whole bunch of other people.
    13- Taylor and Amelia officially register Pantheon at the PRT. Drop off a bunch of S9 corpses.
    14- Debut, cleanup, Amelia's first meeting with Faultline
    17- Coil gets his ass handed to him with a side order of parasitic worms. Dinah Alcott goes home.
    18- Genesis healed. Bunch of failures to fix Noelle.
    19- Big reveal and the birth of the Magic Treehouse. Cherish has a bad day.
    20- Confrontation with New Wave, Zach is recruited, Crystal starts moonlighting.
    21- Hookwolf has a bad day. Cricket and Stormtiger are also there.
    22- Lisa humiliates Miss Militia, Hookwolf is carted off because he's a nazi sack of shit. Purity has a bad day. Crusader, Night and Fog are also there.
    23- Piggot has a slightly less bad day. The rest of the nazis are handed over to the PRT.
    24- Blasto is recruited by Adorrifying Mushroom Riley, Parian is recruited by textile supplier Khepri, Danny learns about his daughter's new full time job.
    25- Valefor is a complete and utter sack of shit, a bunch of kids blow up.
    26- Valefor has an incredibly bad day
    27- Blasto finds the love of his life, Pantheon plots with Dragon
    28- Yggdrasil eats the Boat Graveyard, M4s are introduced, Danny and Sarah meet
    29- Amelia and Taylor meet up with 'Marketing', to buy memory tech from Cranial
    30- Aster is returned to Purity. Theo decides that he'd rather hang out in a magic treehouse full of cute girls. No one blames him.

    July

    2- Vista rides a flying pony. Noelle is finally cured. Turns out, Cranial really wanted Amelia's "special treatment".
    4- Dinah's kinda bitchy. Vista has a good day. Emma is punched in the psyche. Taylor and Amelia use the powers of a magic treehouse and insectoid abominations to fill them with the powers of friendship!
    5- CPS lady shows up, bunch of my readers bitch about it
    8- School happens. Riley continues to be adorrifying. Emma continues to have a really bad month.
    9- Lisa is bored, so she has two strangers punch a hole in the side of the universe for her. Taylor Hebert wears bright colors.
    11- Taylor and Amelia finally kiss. But it's not very good so they decide to be 'just friends'... who sleep in the same bed a lot...
    21- Taylor's identity as Khepri is revealed
    23- Sophia's identity as Shadow Stalker is revealed. Valefor and Eligos arrive in the Birdcage, but no one really cares.
    24- Chernobog meets Clarice.
    25- Emma continues to have a really bad month
    26- Eligos' life gets better. Valefor's life gets worse.
    28- Armsmaster's crimes are revealed, Legend resigns, Piggot is suspended.
    29- Thomas Calvert is sworn in as PRT Director for Brockton Bay

    August

    2- Heartbreaker has a bad day. Emma gets punched in the face. Surprisingly her life gets better.
    3- Emma now spends most of her time in a Basement with Bonesaw. Her life is now significantly better. Valefor's life gets a whole lot worse.
    5- Summer school is finally over. Taylor and Amelia still spend a lot of time sleeping together.
    6- Director Calvert meets with Pantheon for the first time.
    10- Badass armor suits are shown off. Moirai cannon is prepped.
    15- Simurgh gets exploded. India's life gets an awful lot worse. Danny's life gets better.
    16- Crystal's day gets awkward as hell.
    18- Lisa meets with Accord again.
    19- Pantheon moves on Chicago. Pantheon leaves Chicago with a bunch of parahuman criminals. Pantheon gives criminals to Dragon.
    20- Eidolon visits Pantheon.
    21- Carol visits, shopping spree, DRAMA!!!
    22- Theo is awesome, Riley has proof.
    23- Pantheon still practices unfair concentration of firepower like it's a religion. Brian has a bad night.
    24- Taylor and Amelia chat with their parents.
    25- PLOTTING!
    26- The Butcher
    28- Wakeup Call
    30- Victoria's wakeup

    September

    6- Back to school!
    7- Dream Girl goes for a swim.
    9- Birthday Party for Bonesaw
    15- Family Gathering
    28- Eidolon is Super Jesus, Glory Girl returns

    October

    8- Victoria Smash puny testicles!
    15- Chevalier plays with his simmietar.
    22- Indianapolis
    29- Behemoth

    November

    11- Amelia's now legal. Sadly, Taylor still is not. Oh, right, Avalon recognized as a nation.
    19- The start of Victoria and Fautline's European Tour

    December

    3- The Queen of Phyrexia meets the Goblin King. Sadly, they do not have a dance battle.
    18 to 21- Khonsu
    25 Christmas party

    Jan 2012

    3- Riley has a threesome!
    5- Reclamation of Ellisburg.

    Feb 2012

    1- Announcement of the interdimensional gateways. Start of the Exodus.
    8- Announcement of Avalon to the world.
    11- Tohu and Bohu
    17- Amelia restored from backup.
    28- 75% of a double date, Zach wakes up sticky

    March 2012

    7- Wendigo
    9- Super Thinker League Meeting, Parent Trap gets populated
    12- Future Family Albums
    23- Lily and Sabah break up

    April 2012

    12- Leviathan
    16- Negotiations with the Emperor
    22- The Experiment

    May 2012

    9- Beelzebub
    10- Sabah brings home a girlfriend after getting dismembered. What a playa.
    14- Meet Liam.
    15- New Recruits
    25- Vicky gets a date!
    27- Anima goes boom. Genius Loci is killed. Lisa "resigns".

    June 2012

    7- Quetzalcoatl (aka- Rainbow Dragonfly)
    12- Taylor's Birthday!
    14- Earth Khyber cut off from Bet
    20- Earth Kumari portal attacked
    28- Lily is now a princess. Earth Nippon portal created and attacked. Tour of the Endbringer Research Facility.

    July 2012

    7- Request to access Khyber via Endbringer rejected
    15- Taylor loses her head.
    19- Amelia gets offered head. Twice!
    20- Girl cuddle time!
    30- Dragon Liberation project

    August 2012

    19- Surprise birthday party!
    25- Sophia gets the finger

    Feb 2013

    8- Marriage!

    March 2014

    1- The Beginning of the End
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2015
    rick1497, Noelemahc, Twei and 64 others like this.
  5. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Announcement: All chapters before 175 have been edited from their SB days for far superior quality.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016
  6. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, 1.1:


    Amy ran like she'd never run before. With a determined sense of purpose more at home on the face of a soldier than a teenage girl. With as many liberties as had been taken with her physiology, she really wasn't capable of any other expression. Her body was well beyond human ability right now. She could have fought most parahumans. If not to victory, then at least she could have forced them to work for it. If it were any other opponent, she would have turned and fought.


    But she wasn't 'most parahumans'. She was running from the Siberian. Not something one could actually fight against. Even powerhouses like the Triumvirate could do little more than slow her down and retreat. Amy was a lot of things packed into a small package right now. She was not the Triumvirate. It would be insane to believe she could win. She wasn't trying to. She was trying to flee. A goal that was looking less and less likely as the fight continued.


    Still, she had a few advantages to let her at least try to escape. Brute... three, maybe? With a healthy amount of Mover. Even a bit of Stranger, in the form of stealth camouflage not terribly different than that of certain species of Cephalopods. She needed every advantage that could be wedged into a human body. And more.


    Siberian lunged, passing through the concrete wall of a building like it was little more than tissue paper. Amy rolled to the side before leaping hard. She had boosted senses, too, of a sort. Probably worth Thinker 2. Not enough for this fight, as Siberian grasped her ankle, arresting her movement. Then tugging down- not even pulling, simple an effortless wrist motion that slammed Amy to the ground. The madwoman smiled at the girl who struggled to break the grip. If you could call the hungry look on her face a smile.


    It was an exercise in futility, really, her attempts to break Siberian's grip. To imagine such a thing was possible would have been insanity. Siberian held the girl by the arm. Amy was already missing two fingers. She held her hand almost gently as she pried the middle finger straight, using the same casual, absolute strength that allowed her to walk through buildings with no difficulty.


    Amy snarled- and it was a snarl. Animalistic and enraged. No longer human. She started punching Siberian in the side of the head repeatedly with her free hand. Bonelike protrusions extended from her knuckles, sharper than shark teeth. Enough force to shatter bone. To crack concrete. Perhaps even leave dents in steel. Not enough to make the monster let go. Or even distract her a little.


    The nude woman slowly parted her lips and took Amy's middle finger into her mouth. It was an almost sensual movement. The actions of someone savoring a delicacy. It could have been mistaken for erotic, even, had the circumstances been different. Very different. She bit down on the finger, severing it.


    The flesh carried a deadly organic compound that had never even been named. A poison that likely never existed on earth naturally, although it did have some similarity to Botulinum. The Siberian just swallowed enough to kill every nonpowered human being on the planet twice over.


    Then she simply paused and let Amy go. It wasn't because of the poison. No, I thought. That would be too damn easy. It was part of her fucking game. A twisted form of cat and mouse. Three captures so far, and absolutely no way of knowing how many more until the bitch just killed her for failing the test. She leapt up again while the monster simply stood and watched. If it were anything like the last times, she'd have thirty seconds before the chase began again. She used that time to get to the top of the small office complex.


    Her lungs were far superior to anything human, but they were struggling to pull in enough oxygen to keep her body moving at this speed. She even breathed through her skin. A fun little mod stolen from Aegis. Most of her physiology was at least indirectly copied from the bizarre twist of an Alexandria package. Amy wasn't tired. Could go for days without getting tired. But, then, so could her pursuer. And even if Amy wasn't tired, her body was losing efficiency. Organic systems, however close to perfect they might be, had limits. Siberian seemingly did not.


    She watched as her pursuer started climbing up the building after her. Not flying, I decided. That's a good sign. Not in any real rush, I added. That's a bad sign. At least if the bitch seemed to be in a hurry, it would suggest they were near the time limit for this test. How long until they decided she'd won this match?


    Siberian paused on a ledge, crouching, even shifting her hips like a cat as she looked straight up at Amy's position atop the building. Then she leapt, clearing several stories in seconds.


    Amy was saved only by superhuman reflexive instincts built into her, falling away from Siberian and leaping off the roof backwards- traveling horizontally. Only to be followed a half second later. Then Amy's shirt exploded into ribbons as a pair of pterodactyl like wings spread out and allowed her to veer off course. Siberian might even have been slightly annoyed at having to spend several seconds traveling the wrong direction before she slammed into the side of an abandoned warehouse.


    Of course, that was probably just wishful thinking.


    Amy didn't have much time to worry about it. Or consider her (lack of) modesty, for that matter. Not that there'd be anything to consider immodest. Her body was basically sexless. Every organ or gland that wasn't necessary had been removed. That mass and area instead being used for the vastly more important function of staying alive as long as possible in this fight.


    She flapped the wings a few times, angling toward another roof. Her body was still inhibited by the laws of physics, if not the conventions of biochemistry. And winged flight just wasn't possible for something the size of a human. Especially one who happened to weight about 300 pounds after everything was factored. At best, they were useful to help control her fall.


    And then the rocks started coming. She avoided most of the barrage, but Siberian was simply digging her hands into the concrete and flinging chunks of it at her. The first one that hit tore through her left wing, leaving her more or less screwed as she plummeted. The wing was already restitching itself. Some others collided with the layer of scales which functioned as her organic body armor. Easily bulletproof. But these rocks were a lot heavier than most bullets, and traveling just as fast. They left dents, even actual cracks, in the protection.


    Siberian moved toward her. With the damage that had been done to her body, she had no chance of evading the unstoppable force masquerading as a woman. She resigned herself to losing another finger- it's not like she could feel pain right now. And put her effort into repairing as much damage to her important parts instead.


    And then the cloud formed around her, blanketing the area. Except... too dark to be a cloud. And it moved, was alive... bugs? Skitter is here!? Amy's camouflage kicked in, mottled blacks and browns and grays. Blending with the swarm.


    In spite of myself, I smiled.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2015
  7. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, 1.2:

    With the benefits of Skitter's swarm, Amy stood an actual chance of winning this. Which was as much a curse as it was a blessing. She isn't intended to win. But, I decided. It would serve my purpose as much as anything else would. Siberian crossed the distance absurdly fast, diving into the bugs. Amy had already dived off the side, having grabbed a few bugs to stuff into her pants pockets. Something to allow Skitter to track her.


    Skitter wasn't exactly my best friend. In fact, the girl was my second least favorite person that wasn't actively trying to kill me. But this was Siberian. Probably the most dangerous of the Slaughterhouse Nine. Other than Bonesaw, of course. I was willing to work with her on this.


    Amy had dropped down into the building itself- exploiting the cover of bugs, and simply disolving a hole in the roof. Siberian would no doubt find it, soon enough. But Skitter was running excellent interference. She'd covered the roof with insects that hid the tunnel she'd made. And even tricked Siberian into leaving the roof to chase something.


    Amy had no way of knowing how that was accomplished. She rushed down the stairs of the building. Like most of this part of town, abandoned. Even on the second floor there was water damage, a reminder of Leviathan's visit. As if such a monster would ever be forgotten.


    The building rumbled around Amy. Shuddered. How? Why? A question answered as quickly as I thought to ask it. The Siberian stepped into view, dragging her hand through the stone wall. She's going after the supports, I realized.


    Amy bolted for a window, and dived. Only to be stopped cold. Siberian had stopped moving. Smiling. Amy was trapped in the building by whatever power Siberian used to make things invulnerable.


    Such a damned unfair power.


    Amy didn't speak. Couldn't speak, actually. That was another system sacrificed for superior combat applications. Not that it made the least bit of difference against her.


    Amy simply shrugged, making eye contact with the monster standing at the only valid entrance. And walked toward her. It was a slow walk, a walk calculated to buy just a little more time. But a walk, nonetheless. Her body mending. The spine she'd broken colliding with the impervious glass slowly patched itself back together. She stopped, only a foot or so away from the much taller woman and held out her hand.


    Siberian seemed almost surprised by the action. Tilting her head sideways while maintaining the unblinking eye contact with Amy's face. This might even be a first for her, I thought.


    Of her many, many victims, she'd no doubt seen surrender. A victim simply give up and accept death. But this wasn't that. Amy wasn't giving up. wasn't going to stop fighting. But this "round" was lost and they both knew it. She'd trapped herself. Siberian blocked the only way out, and made it impossible to create another one.


    Siberian watched her. Amy watched back. Neither blink. Neither moved, not even to breathe, like two statues. More and more of Skitter's bugs started climbing on them. Testing, probing, probably trying to figure out just what the ever loving hell was going on here.


    And then Siberian accepted the proffered hand. She didn't grasp Amy's wrist this time, and Amy didn't resist. Siberian was faster than her, stronger than basically anyone, and they were in close quarters... she knew she couldn't escape. Siberian bit off her pointer finger, then stepped aside, allowing Amy to climb through the person shaped hole left in the wall.


    Taking to the air hadn't helped. Hiding in buildings definitely wouldn't work. So Amy ran on foot. Behind her, the chemical chain reaction started.


    Siberian vomited liquid flame seconds later. A thermite bomb going off inside her stomach. Basic chemistry, really. It was mostly made of iron, a chemical found in abundance in most animals. Converting it to weapon form was far easier than keeping it from igniting prematurely. Amy didn't look back, didn't check to see if she'd succeeded as she weaved between buildings.


    A cloud of black formed an arrow pointing her to the left, into an alleyway. Skitter? Did bug girl have a plan? Amy's goal was to buy time. Make this fight take as long as possible. Skitter, on the other hand, fought to *win*. No matter what it took. The idea of actually winning against Siberian was absurd, of course... but if this plot worked to buy even a few more seconds, it was worth it.


    Amy turned, running as fast as she could- which, she guessed, was around 40 miles an hour. She slowed down when she realized she was outracing the swarm... she didn't want to lose the camouflage, especially as bug copies of herself were being sent out in all kinds of directions.


    Siberian smashed through one, a couple blocks away, moving faster than she'd yet revealed she could. And proving that steel melting levels of heat inside her own stomach were no threat. A thrown rock passed through another. Siberian's plan was obvious, at least. Every cloud she confirmed was a cloud, she didn't have to run after.


    The bugs formed an arrow down. Unfortunately, it wasn't in time, as a stone slammed into Amy's back and sent her rolling. So much for superhuman reflexes. It meant the Siberian found her as well.


    Amy pushed herself up as Siberian got close, planting her feet in the woman's face and launching herself away. Siberian couldn't be moved. But her momentum could be added to Amy's. Even if the impact force broke one of her legs. Wings helped stabilize and keep her moving. She was, at least for a few seconds, actually faster than the Siberian.


    Then she was plunged into darkness. The whole area was. And she collapsed.


    The darkness opened around her, and she sat up. Grue spoke. "Listen, we don't have a lot of time. We discovered Siberian is a projection. Like Crusader's ghosts. We're trying to find her creator. Should be nearby. Are you okay?"


    That was interesting information to have. Of course, the question was stupid, and Amy couldn't even answer it. She opened her mouth, patted her throat, and then shook her head. She didn't know sign language. Then again, Grue probably didn't either.


    "Fuck, she can't talk," he said. Into a radio?


    "Siberian's coming back. Get out of there!" Was the reply back. Grue's darkness started to spread out again as he reached for Amy. She leapt straight up. Avoiding his hand, avoiding his power that somehow rendered her inactive. The enhanced hearing had saved her. At least her leg had mended, but she couldn't be caught in the dark field again. She bounced off one building, then another, gaining height. She even made it to the roof before Siberian landed next to her.


    She'd lost four fingers already. The fifth would probably be the last. No more time to buy.


    Enough adrenaline to kill a bull elephant flooded into Amy's system. Coupled with drugs that would have made the Merchants nervous. Variants on meth, PCP, and stuff that didn't even have names. She moved. Fast. Ducking under the Siberian's blows and getting a few in, herself. A blow to the kidney that would have been lethal to a normal person.


    She had to jump and back flipped over Siberian's retaliating sweep. It was a startling revelation. But Siberian didn't actually know how to fight. For all her speed, all her strength, she was sloppy. Untrained. Amy, at least, had the benefits of some self defense. One of Victoria's ideas... started before they even had powers... but that wasn't something to dwell on right now.


    And under these circumstances, Amy's body pushed this far. Suicidally far, there would be no surviving whether or not Siberian got to her. Amy was a faster. Smarter. More efficient. If it were any other, it would be a curb stomp. Siberian lunged. Overextended. No strategy, no style, no control. Amy stepped aside, struck her in the base of the skull with enough force to shatter concrete.


    Siberian twisted, Amy kicked her in the back of the knee. Either blow would have dropped almost anybody else. The cloud of bugs got thicker and thicker- probably to give Amy a chance to retreat. But there was no point, it was already a suicide mission. Still, it blinded Siberian. It didn't blind Amy.


    Siberian lashed out with her claws, only to catch air and insects. A chunk of concrete collided with her face. And disintegrated. No longer playing softball, her head moved forward, melting the stone. And Amy's hand.


    Amy moved back, but she was already tiring. Ligaments had torn. Muscle had started bleeding internally. Her body was a wreck. It was a small miracle that only one of her hearts had stopped beating.


    She collapsed. Siberian stalked forward, observing the fallen girl. She'd won. She KNEW she'd won. The Undersiders had, apparently, saw fit to retreat as the bug clouds started to dissipate. Abandoning the fight. And Amy with it. Well, it wasn't anything I hadn't expected.


    Amy looked up at the woman. The unkillable projection. Who knelt down and grabbed her neck. No... not grabbed... just touched. Two fingers. She... was checking her pulse? She looked... disappointed? Sad?


    One last attempt, then. Amy's body exploded with enough electrical power to overload a city block. It ripped through her- even though she had optimized organ systems to conduct the power. Lancing through her arm, and into Siberian's leg. The bleedoff cooking what few organs still functioned. Siberian, at least, survived. Amy did not.


    Below. Far below. I groaned as I forced myself out of the cocoon. The system still needed muscle feedback, and I was now regretting how out of shape I was.


    I hesitated for a second, slipping my feet into my filthy, wet, and now cold sneakers. I made it worse shortly thereafter, stepping down into the sewer system. Sinking into the muck, surrounded by the smells, it was all I could do not to vomit. But I needed the skin contact to alter biomass. And I'd need a lot of biomass. Besides, I reminded myself. I belong down here in the filth.


    I sloshed forward, leaving modified life with each step. Seeding it into the sewage. It would grow. I was dimly aware that what I was doing violated everything I had promised Carol and Mark. That thought seemed so insignificant to me, now.


    "Goodbye, Amy," I whispered to no one in particular. "I'm sorry. I can't pretend to be you any longer."
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2015
  8. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, 1.3: Victoria Interlude.


    "Glory Girl?"


    "Yeah!" I said, my head snapping up. I'd been drifting again.


    "You understand the plan, right?" Legend. The Legend. And he sounded a little annoyed at me. A week ago, that would have meant something to me. Now? All I could think about was her. And trying not to think about her.


    "We distract the S9 until the bombs are dropped. Clock and Cache keep us alive. Then we pray like hell that shit you got from Bakuda can stop Crawler," I didn't bother hiding the annoyance in my voice, however.


    Legend just looked at me. I looked right back. I could tell he wanted to say more. I wanted him to. Scold me. Yell at me. Give me a reason to yell back. I pleaded in my head. Anything to distract me. Please?


    He didn't. He looked like he wanted to, the concern on his face reminded me of my father. When I was younger. When he was having a good day, and I wasn't. Well, thanks to that bitch that had the gall to call herself my sister, there'd be a LOT of days like that in the future.


    "It's time to go," Legend replied. "Make sure you're fully suited up."


    I just nodded. I wasn't part of the Wards. Not really. Although as badly damaged as New Wave was... it was pretty much a certainty that I'd be joining, and Crystal would join the Protectorate. Mom and Dad hadn't given official permission, yet. In fact, Mom had flipped out in response. But they would concede to it in the end. They'd have to. I needed it and they knew that.


    I pulled the hood up over my head. The protective suit was fireproof. And deliberately designed to make it impossible for the Nine to tell us from one another. Didn't make any difference in my case. I was one of the locals. But it means Legend and his team could participate fully in the fight, and that was worth almost any discomfort.


    And it was a lot of discomfort. My forcefield rubbing against the suit made it shift and bunch up in strange ways. If I tightened it as much as I'd like to, it would break when I activated my powers. And if I kept it loose to account for the shield, then it was floppy and ill fitted.


    The inside of the suit smelled of rubber and plastic and the aroma of not terribly clean person. That person, I was aware, was myself. I hadn't slept well in a while. It had been a couple days since I took a shower. Everything reminded me of her. Every time I closed my eyes I saw her face. Even seeing my own nude form made me think of how much I wanted...


    FUCK DAMMIT NO!!!


    Have to focus. Something else. Anything else. How she betrayed me. Violated me. My trust. My love. Turned it into this mess. I clenched my fist and cursed the suit yet again. I couldn't even dig my fingernails into my palm. Pain was one of the few things that didn't remind me of her. There was one blessing of this damn suit... I couldn't feel the wind brushing across my skin. Now, even that made my thoughts drift... there. Couldn't let me have any pleasure left in my life, could you, sister?


    We rushed off toward the battle zone. One of the more damaged parts of the city. "Dolltown" as it was now being referred to. Parian's territory.


    All of us were movers, though I had to go slowly all considered. Other than Legend, I was the fastest here.


    How much easier it would be to run off. Go in early. I could take on Jack. Or Mannequin. Or Bonesaw. Crawler would be a bit much. And the less I thought about what Siberian could do, the better. But I could avoid them. Tear up the others. I'd never killed before... never wanted to. Even if I had wanted to, I'd have been too scared to. But now? Now I really, really wanted to. I could rip someone apart, one limb at a time, and love every second of it.


    And if it were one of them? I could do it on live national television and be applauded as a hero.


    Legend was first to spot the wrecked van, surrounded by people in costume. I focused through blurry eyes. Grue. Tattletale. Skitter. Two I didn't know. The Undersiders. I watched as Legend pointed toward them. And I hoped he would just wipe them out. They deserved it. Especially Tattletale. She knew this would happen. That's how her goddamn power works.


    Alas, it didn't happen. Words formed. Made of bugs. Fucking creepy ass Skitter... I had nightmares about her power. How her bugs tore into me. Now I relished in the memory. The pain and fear were distractions.


    It took me a second to register the words. 'SIBERIAN DEAD'. I was the only one who didn't gasp. Siberian took on the Triumvirate, all of them, and won. Some barely significant group of thieves managed to kill her? How!?!


    I was glad the concealing visor hid my smirk. Well, at least now I don't have to feel bad about losing to them.


    Legend turned to drop down, followed by the rest of the team. This was a story they had to hear.


    Their group was near the vehicle. There was sign of fire nearby, even some molten asphalt. The vehicle seemed undamaged, save for the part where it had run into the side of a building.


    Grue had a hand on Skitter's shoulder. She was looking at the ground. Shaking. The unknowns, in their red and black costumes, were standing near one another off to the side. They didn't seem comfortable getting involved, either way. Not part of the team. Even up close, I didn't recognize them. Mercenaries, perhaps? Bounty hunters? The Nine had quite a price on their heads. Millions of dollars per confirmed kill. Nationwide fame. Some people were crazy enough to try. Maybe they had the power that killed Siberian. Sobering thought.


    Tattletale stepped forward, of course. Always the mouthpiece. I activated the com. "She's tricky. Can get into your head. Pull out your darkest secrets using nothing but body language or quirks in your voice or expression. Don't give her any clues. Probably already figured out who we are and what I told you."


    Legend responded back, of course. "Right. Everyone else hold back. I'll do the talking. I'm used to dealing with powerful Thinkers."


    I landed, lining up with the others, a few feet behind Legend. He walked forward.


    Tattletale smiled at me. I wanted to break her face. I... wow, that is one hell of a scar. Wonder how that happened. An image flashed unbidden, of Amy's delicate fingers caressing Tattletale's face. Removing the damage. A dozen emotions pushed to the surface. Love. Desire. Jealousy. And I crushed them down again. Rage, indignation, disgust. One simple slip of concentration was all it took. Had to stay angry, had to stay focused.


    They'd been talking. We were of course listening, neither was being quiet, and Legend left his com on.


    "... like Crusader. Or, as I'm sure you've already figured out, Genesis." Tattletale finished.


    "You're certain?" Legend asked.


    "Of course," Tattletale replied. "If I had any doubt, we'd have hidden the body. Or had Sundancer destroy it. The fact that we're here, letting you know, proves we're certain. Besides, whatever you want to say about us, we wouldn't violate a Class-S truce like that."


    I saw Battery tense. And if I saw it, Tattletale probably just learned half of her life's story.


    "I'd like to see the body," Legend replied, with a studied, even wooden, level of control. Smart, probably. He doesn't think he could trick her, so he didn't even try.


    "It's in bad shape," Tattletale warned, but she didn't try to stop him. He opened the door and paused for a minute.


    "Cause of death?" He asked.


    Skitter spoke up. She had obviously been crying. Her voice was raw. "I... I didn't have any choice. H... he." She collapsed into Grue's chest. Crying openly. Was this the same girl that had seemed so ruthless at the bank? That had stood up to the full force of my aura and threatened dozens of of people with fucking black widows? She seemed so fragile. So vulnerable. Like Am... NO!


    "I've never killed before," she finished. I only heard her due to the com link. Really good tech, probably tinker.


    Legend let down his guard when he spoke. Genuine sympathy. "No one doubts that you did the right thing," he said. "Siberian is one of the most dangerous beings on the planet. I know that's not much comfort. You're not the only one who's been through something like this."


    "His power didn't work on himself," Tattletale interrupted. "Skitter identified the vehicle and got several wasps and spiders into the van before she started shielding it. Siberian had to choose between blocking Sundancer's power, or stopping the insects. And, no, I don't know why this person who's obviously male created a female projection. I would rather not speculate."


    Legend was examining the evidence. Cameras were built into the suits, recording everything.


    "How did you come to this conclusion that Siberian was a projection?" Legend asked. Back to business mode. Not a wooden as before. Commanding.


    "Cherish. You already know we captured her. She's been quite talkative."


    "Torture?" Legend's voice didn't sound all that unhappy. Though there was no hint of approval, either.


    "No, actually," Tattletale responded. "She likes playing mind games. And has let stuff slip. That and she legitimately wants us to stop the rest of the Nine."


    "Do you mean she was forced to join their team?"


    "Not even a little bit. Cherish is every bit as twisted and fucked up as her father, Heartbreaker. Probably more. But she is absolutely terrified that Jack is angry at her, and that he'll let Bonesaw have her. She wants us to win. For her own self preservation."


    "I'll admit. Your story sounds believable," Legend stated.


    "But..." Tattletale responded.


    "But," Legend agreed. He didn't go into greater detail.


    "You'll have half the thinkers in the Protectorate crawling all over the recordings you've been taking. Want to hold a debriefing. Whole nine yards. We can discuss specifics after the rest of the Nine are gone."


    "Of course, we have more pressing concerns," Legend agreed. "We're heading toward Crawler and, presumably, the rest of the Nine right now. I'll send some PRT troops to secure this location. We can talk in detail later."


    Tattletale nodded as Legend started to lift off.


    She looked toward me. "Wait!" she shouted.


    I paused. I want to hit her so bad.


    "You deserve to know. When we found Siberian, she was hunting Amy," Tattletale continued. Every muscle in my body went rigid, and the protective suit was being strained by my shield. My aura even bled through, effecting Tattletale, forcing her to look away. Serves the bitch right. "We couldn't save her in time."


    I fought down every emotion. Every memory. I couldn't stop myself from shaking. I couldn't stop the water running from my eyes. It took all of my efforts, all of my strength, to choke out a single, cold, word. "Good."


    And then I rocketed off toward the battlefield, fighting to see through my tears. Struggling to convince myself that I wasn't lying.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2015
  9. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, 1.4:


    It had been a couple hours as I slogged through the mess. Oh, who the fuck am I kidding? It was sewage. Raw. Filth of a hundred different descriptions. And I could feel every last germ that touched my skin. I grabbed each one. Shaped them. Reshaped them. I could have left it at that, let the organic compounds control themselves. Except that would be too slow. I needed incredible amounts of mass for this. And that's what I would get.


    The vinelike organism I made combined some of the best traits of every species I could think of. Left on its own, each tendril could grow over a hundred feet in a day, in an optimum environment. And it could produce a LOT of tendrils from each main vine. Like a jellyfish, it was both a collection of small organisms, and a single organism all at the same time. As long as a cluster more than five cells large continued to survive, it would regrow.


    It could eat just about anything organic, and even consume a number of inorganic substances. It was photosynthetic, chemosynthetic, thermosynthetic, even electrosynthetic (actually, that was probably a name for something else now that I thought of it) and... well, whatever you call a plant that can use radiation and sound instead of light. It could eat most forms of stone. Some forms of metal. Any kind of plastic or petroleum product. Literally every organic substance on the planet. And whenever it encountered another of its own species? It fused together, joining the two into one shared lifeform that could trade nutrients and energy between them at remarkable rates. And it even made leaves that were edible and incredibly nutritious. Just... don't think too hard about what it ate.


    It helped to focus on that. Kept my mind off the smell.


    And then I felt, more than heard, the explosion. I was miles away, but started in that direction nonetheless. I was feeling pretty good, actually. I'd taken on Siberian and... well, 'won' would be overly generous, I supposed. But I tricked her completely. She believed I was dead. The Nine would believe I was dead. I could go on hiding. I could be safe.


    Only problem? Well... 'fuck that noise'.


    I fought the fucking Siberian. I came away, not only alive, but knowing two of her weaknesses. First- she was shit in a fight. Two years of self defense classes that ended three years ago was all it took to fight against her indefinitely. I only needed enhanced physical abilities because she had enhanced physical abilities. If were were both base-normal girls? I'd have ground that bitch under my heel. Didn't matter that she was probably a foot and a half taller than me, and had the second nicest body I'd ever seen in my life.


    Her second weakness... explained the first weakness. She was a projection. Not alive. Not real. A murderous life sized barbie doll. Huh. Sounds like the kind of shitty horror movie that Vicky would have dragged me to along with whatever boy she was trying to hook me up with that week. There was a time I'd have done ANYTHING to avoid that.


    Careful what you wish for, right? Thanks for the advice, dead person who's smarter than I am.


    I'd make it up to her. I'd stop the rest of the Nine. Fix the damage they, and Leviathan, had done to her city. Fix her, even if it was against her will. Then leave. Find somewhere else to live. Maybe be a one-woman disaster relief in the wake of the other Endbringer attacks. This organism I was using here could do so much. Especially in the areas left uninhabitable by Behemoth. Other, modified, strains could do even more.


    I'd prove to her I could be a hero. And if I had to make Nilbog look like a second rate hack in the process? Fuck it, the worst they could do would be to kill me and drag my name through the dirt. Both fates were far better than I deserved.


    It took me over an hour to make it near where the explosion took place. I wrapped myself in biomaterial that had, minutes ago, mostly consisted of water, dead animals, and human fecal material. Now it was a solid ton of combat armor in an apelike form.


    ... If I were in a better mood, I could probably laugh at that. I was riding around inside a giant shit gorilla. Dennis must never know. I made it push up the large manhole cover, and then forced it to shapeshift itself through. It was far too massive to make it out any other way.


    I stayed calm as I was pulled out. And that's really what it was, almost like being sucked up through a giant straw.


    The area was still burning when I took the opportunity to observe my surroundings. But that wasn't the first thing I noticed.


    The giant, crystalline statue of Crawler? That was the first thing I noticed. It was, in its own terrifying way, beautiful. Face turned toward the sky in what looked to be a triumphant roar. Five of his arms outstretched, reaching toward the sky as if welcoming the arrival of God Himself. Flawlessly crafted and surrounded on all sides by devastation. I almost felt ashamed that I noticed the dead second.


    The people in the area, third. Dozens of PRT troopers went through the area, examining the damage. Setting up warning tape and keeping the gawkers back. I was earning quite a bit of attention on that front.


    I was probably safe if they attacked. Containment foam only works on something that's not capable of turning itself into digestive enzymes.


    The parahumans moving toward me were another subject. Most wearing some weird hazmat suit looking costumes that I'd never seen before. The only one I could get a look at was a boy made of metal that I didn't recognize. I stopped to appreciate him for a moment. Damn, if Victoria had set me up with THAT. And that's all it took. The moment was gone.


    One approached and spoke. "Do you have a name?" Now I recognized her. Battery. I'd met her a few times, saved her life a couple times. She was always nice enough. A little overly serious. Most of the Protectorate were. Except her boyfriend, who was almost as bad as Clockblocker. I never asked, but it was pretty clear that he was the one who came up with their names. I knew because it was stupid and bordered on the offensive.


    "Are you able to speak?" She asked again. I'd zoned out. I hesitated. I don't have a name to give her, I realized. Not any longer. But still, I didn't want to upset them. And I needed to know what was happening in there.


    The suit started shifting, opening up in the middle. Slowly, of course. Its pectoral muscles melting back more like clay than any mechanical certainty. It was enough to reveal my face. I probably looked like what I'd been wading in for the last three hours or so. I knew I smelled like it.


    "Panacea?" She asked, seeming a little stunned.


    "Yes and no," I replied. "I'm not with New Wave anymore. Am thinking on a new identity," I answered as the body armor settled onto its knees, and I could step out onto the ground.


    "Oh," she replied. "I'm sorry. I... Tattletale told us you were killed by Siberian."


    I fooled Tattletale? Unlikely. Bitch read me like a magazine cover last time. Probably lied to them, for some reason. "Yeah, that's what I wanted Siberian to think. Can you let me in?" I asked. "I'd like to see what I can do to help."


    Battery hesitated. She couldn't quite keep eye contact. "Please trust me. You really shouldn't."


    My blood ran cold. "Why? What happened?"


    She inhaled deeply and slowly. The air quality here was a nightmare. Hot, sulfurous smells coming off the remnants of the fire. Chemicals used to put out fires that water couldn't. It was bad, even compared to the sewage I just waded through. That suit must be completely sealed.


    "I hate having to be the one to tell you this. Glory Girl... she... didn't make it."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2015
  10. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2013
    Messages:
    3,307
    Likes Received:
    13,368
    Neat to see this here, and best wishes.

    I've fallen behind reading new updates of late, due to my own frailty, but perhaps with it being on a forum I frequent more I'll catch up.
     
    tertius, roninnomis and Cu Roi like this.
  11. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 5


    I blinked. My eyes were already watering from the caustic air released from the chemical fires. No. Not like this. Not before I could undo my mistake. I hadn't hoped for forgiveness. I hadn't hoped for her to stop hating me. I didn't deserve either of those things. But for the love of all that is holy, couldn't I fix just this one thing?


    Panacea. Universal cure. Such bullshit. I could have named myself GOD and it would have been less pretentious.


    I didn't say anything. I simply stood up, walked back over to the armor, which I left envelope me, and I walked up to the PRT cordon. I kept the front of the suit clear, so they could see me. So I could see out with my own eyes instead of the jury rigged bio camera thing I'd put together. It... wasn't all that good, actually. Indistinct. Black and white only. It was good enough to fight Siberian. It wasn't how I wanted to see my sister's face.


    No one stopped me. My reputation was pretty strong, here. Maybe they hoped I'd be healing the wounded. Maybe they didn't want to stop me from seeing my sister.


    The area was annihilated. Fires had scoured the area, hot enough that there weren't even bodies to identify. Lumps that may have been people, or may have been garbage cans. Some that were probably cars. Impossible to tell. And then... the statues. Only five, including Crawler. "Only" four people and a monster. Three contained in the same full concealing costume I'd come to associate with this whole nightmare.


    Two were only identifiable as crystalized from rips in their costume that looked to be claws. The third was leaning over one of the wounded. Held in place forever. Around the openings was a spread of patterns that looked a lot like ice crystals forming on the edges of a window. It took me a few moment to realize that it must have been blood. Turned to... this material.


    "What... but... how?"


    "One of Bakuda's bombs. Only way we could stop Crawler," Battery replied.


    I spotted Victoria. And wished I hadn't. A portion of her costume had been torn away. And more of it had melted off her. Almost nothing left on her, leaving everything to be viewed. There... wasn't enough of her left for it to be indecent. Her chest had been melted to the point where bone was clearly visible. Her stomach... organs were exposed, but most of them too damaged for me to recognize. Her right leg had no flesh remaining between the knee and the ankle. Her left, most of the damage was her inner thigh. Her hands had all but melted off... I had to guess from her trying to claw at the acid on the rest of her.


    It had to be an acid.


    My body, my mind, they were both numb. I had defaulted to analysis... a behavior I've heard is common for people with Thinker powers, like mine, but had never experienced for myself. I forced myself to look at my sister's once beautiful face.


    The left half of was completely melted off. Hair missing. Skull exposed. The jawbone had disconnected from the skull on that side. And, good god, that wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was the side that was still intact. Contorted in pain and horror. She was still alive. Still conscious. When the glass-bomb hit.


    I couldn't even delude myself into imagining death came swiftly for her. That she was murdered early, and the acid had nothing but a corpse to inflict its horror on. No. Even that would be too much to hope for. I had to live with the knowledge that the last minutes of her life was spent screaming. In pain that I couldn't even imagine.


    I turned away, an act that the biofeedback system interpreted as combative. Twisting the organic machine and its arms and legs into a fighting stance. I screamed inside the suit, venting my frustration and rage and guilt the only way I could.


    One of two ways, at least. I caught sight of Crawler's body. The suit's muscles clenched, responding to my subconscious body language. It knew what it was told. What my body wanted, even if my mind was unable to articulate.


    It wanted violence. It wanted to inflict pain. I was more than willing to act on that impulse.


    I charged Crawler's frozen body, and struck with all the power the bioarmor had to offer. The fist collided with forces normally reserved for an enraged elephant. It was a bit of a disappointment, not being able to use my own hands, my own strength. But my power was my strength. My blessing. My curse. And I used it to full effect here.


    The initial blow had splintered several of the supporting bone growths, and pulverized most of the musculature in the hand and wrist. Ordinarily, it would take a great deal of effort to mend that kind of tissue damage... but this machine was built with me in mind. More plant than animal. More fungus than plant. It was a perfect cellular machine, and I could patch it back together in heartbeats.


    The crystaline body shifted slightly under the force, and even left minor cracks. The followup right handed blow took off one of the monster's smaller arms. And left the suit's other limb damaged. But that was fine, the first had been repaired. Another blow to the center, expanding the spiderweb splintering into the frozen heart of the beast.


    Another pair of strikes. Mending. And another. More mending. I was exhausting the suit of all reserves even as I was expanding the damage into Crawler. It was a question of which of us gave way first. It was a close match. But I won. Barely. The suit had what could only be compare to a heart attack. Or a full-body aneurysm. Analogy falls short when trying to apply "death by exhaustion" to a tree.


    At least it was still meant to be opened even in death. My power- I've never used it like this before. Or this long continuously. And I still hadn't reached a limit. If anything, I could call it invigorating. For all the suffering I'd been through, all my pain, all my failures and mistakes. My power itself was none of those things. It worked perfectly every time. Forever reliable. Forever mine.


    And I would use it. Some of the Nine still remained. Shatterbird, I believed I could beat with effort and planning. And Bonesaw. And Jack Slash. Especially Jack Slash. I would hunt him to the ends of the fucking earth if I that's what it took to end him. It's not like I have anything else left to live for.


    I pressed my feet against the "window" of the suit, forcing it out. And then dropped the couple feet to the ground.


    Battery and the others had started to approach me. My dead suit. And the shattered remains of Crawler.


    I spoke. My voice came out ragged. Raw. That's right, I remembered. I had been screaming the whole time. Of course I hurt my throat. I was going to try again, but was interrupted by a startled shout, and pointing. A pink fog was rising from the ground, in the more densely populated part of the city. And spreading in all directions.


    "The hell is that?" One of the other hazmat suits asked. One of the civilians screamed, which was followed by more screaming and panic as the water in the streets started turning an oily reddish color, racing through the streets like fire spreading across a trail of kerosene. Someone else might mistake it for blood. My eye was a little more expert than most.


    I turned to the biosuit. Reaching toward it, I noticed that the shell was covered in strange growths. It took me a minute to realize they were mushrooms. Shaped differently. Wrongly. Looking like nothing so much as tiny, repeating iterations of human hands and limbs and faces. I hesitated to touch the microsized forest of body parts.


    In spite of its "death", it had started restoring itself to "life" quite readily. It's hard to make a fungus stay dead. I drew from the raw materials, shaped it.


    I created a quick-and-dirty variant of my sewer-vine. Which really needed a better name. I'd have to work on that. Alongside my own name. It snaked its way toward a nearby storm drain, finding more of its own already there. Good, it was spreading more quickly than I'd dared to hope. Probably covered close to half the city at this time. Much of it was already in the fog. I created what was, functionally, a model of the human body within one of the larger tendrils. It was a "blank slate", but it was fully, functionally, human. Suitable for organ harvesting, even. Yet still it was part of the root.


    Then I had the plant flood the body with that red material. And I observed. Watching as the... were those prions? Three reactions hit me at once. Who I was before... Panacea, Amy... was horrified with the knowledge of what these things would do. Cutting away memories. Faces. Isolating everyone. She would have recoiled in horror.


    The new me, was absolutely pissed. That twisted, evil little monster that pretends to be a child was going to murder a city! Possibly half the state unless she had some mechanism to shut this down. I know, considering the history of the Slaughterhouse Nine, that should have come as exactly zero shock at all to anyone ever. But seeing what she was willing to do, watching it happen. That made it all the more real.


    Then there was the third. The part I was coming to think of as my power, itself. It... was almost contemptuous. Between the disgust and the rage, there was the part of me that thought 'it would require a child to see this as impressive'.


    In that period of three or four seconds, I had already constructed an antidote, and modified the vines to release it into the atmosphere. Bonesaw's disgusting, sadistic, and pathetic little stunt... I shut it down less than five minutes after it had begun.


    Next, I would shut her down.


    "Find Skitter," I demanded to the Protectorate heroes near me. There was no room for debate. "It's time to end this."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2015
  12. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 6


    Battery looked at me. I glared back, wrapping my arm around my vine. Still need a name for this thing. I was drawing up more mass through the central... well, the "animal" part of the construct... basically a bloodstream. While most of the material was more plant than anything, the resource demands were higher than any natural plant, so it needed efficient access to energy. And for that, you had to go animal.


    I was encouraging growth throughout the network, forcing its metabolism into an unsustainable level, and using my power to sustain it. My plant, for all its features, was nowhere near as complex as a human body. It was easy to work with. Natural biology was full of redundancies and inefficiencies. This vine had none of that getting in the way. It served whatever purpose I shaped it to. And it could quickly change that purpose if I so desired.


    Granted, this was its own weakness. A strain of bacteria or a mold or something would no doubt come into being that could infect it simply from dumb random chance. And when that happened, it would die. It had no defense. Except me, of course.


    As I considered this, the mass gelled around me, creating another psuedo-cocoon. I would need my interactive system for this to work. My power alone could achieve a great deal. But it had a great many limits as well.


    "I... got Tattletale on the line," Battery told me. "She insisted on knowing what this was about before letting us speak to Skitter.


    I grit my teeth. "Fine. I'll talk to her."


    I snatched the phone away. "We both know I don't like you. And we both know there's not time enough for this shit. I need Skitter to help me find the rest of the Nine. You guys can handle Jack. I want a rematch with Siberian."


    I could almost hear Tattletale's smile. "There's a lot of things you missed out on while playing dead, Amy."


    "Not my name," I responded. I didn't bother hiding my emotions. What would be the point? Tattletale would see right through them.


    "Good to know. Panacea? No, you dropped that, too," Tattletale continued. Good fucking god, does she realize how much she sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon villain when she talks like this? "To start with. Most of the Nine are gone. Siberian's dead. So is half our team."


    My heart sank. "Is Skitter..."


    "She's healthy. I wouldn't say 'fine'. But healthy."


    "Then get her on the phone. I'd argue it's for the 'greater good', but I doubt that'd motivate you," I probably snarled that last word. "So fuck 'good', or 'justice' or 'heroism'. What I want is revenge against the bastards who killed my sister. And if you cared at all about your teammates, you'll help."


    Tattletale sounded far, far too pleased with herself when she responded. "Oh, this I have got to see. We were already on speaker phone, so just explain the plan."


    "I can hurt the Nine. Those that remain, at least. And I can reach them anywhere. What I can't do is find them. Skitter's power could let her search the city in minutes. And I can extend her range over the entire city."


    "H... how," Skitter spoke. Her voice cracked- not out of hesitation, but from overuse.


    "When I used your power against you at the bank. I got a good look at how it works. I can create... beacons. Relays. Extend your range. As much as you can handle, I can give you."


    "And when we get Bonesaw and Jack?" Tattletale responded.


    Really? She is going to negotiate now? I paused for a second. Huh. That actually works out in my favor. "I'm willing to discuss something more long term. After."


    Battery actually gasped at that. Apparently she doesn't like little-miss-healer playing with villains. Well, fuck her, then. Still, this was going to be a problem.


    Tattletale agreed, apparently. "We should find a better way to talk. Can you get to us quickly?"


    "Not as such, no," I replied. "Skitter... look for a rope in the sewer or storm drain system with your bugs. It'll feel leathery. The insects will probably be instinctively afraid to..."


    "Found it," she responded quietly. Damn, that was fast.


    "Have some of them start chewing on it. And then go to the sewer at the spot you do the chewing." I kept my senses extended. They actually weren't that far away. Only about a mile. Where the insects had started biting, I had the vine absorb one. Partially. I made note of its brain pattern, and how it responded to Skitter's will. I also formed a tumor of sorts. Turns out they did select the storm drain. Good choice. Wish I'd had that option, but I really needed access to the biomass more than I needed my comfort.


    "I'll have your relays ready soon. Call me back when you've found them." A lie. But whatever. I handed Battery her phone and had my cocoon envelop me completely. I created the screen that would let me see through the eyes, hear through the ears, of the blob I was turning into a face.


    It took almost ten minutes. But then, it took them almost that much time to reach me. I'd managed to painstakingly assemble what was little more than lungs with a mouth. I didn't even try to make it look like a head. Or a face. There wasn't a point, and I was still forcing the plant to grow rapidly. I wasn't even giving it a real chance to grow via metabolism. It was more like having it swallow masses of material, then I would take control over every living thing and leave the dead for digestion. Subsume, not consume.


    Skitter climbed down into the drain. I could tell by her dark costume and the lanky figure, moving in that awkward teenager phase way. I had to admit a bit of jealousy- that girl would have the body of a supermodel when she grew up. My power knows these kinds of things- specifically, what an incomplete system is going to look like when it is finished. She would some day be called 'statuesque'. I, if I was lucky, would be regarded as a 'cute' kind of 'mousy' for my entire life.


    Others came with her, but they didn't follow her into the hole, instead opting to stay above. Three if the construct's senses were as good as I thought they were. She leaned against a wall, looking at the thing I had grown. She didn't seem surprised by it at all. Oh, right, the bugs. I hadn't wasted the time to build a sense of touch into this thing.


    "Okay," my half-made avatar spoke up. "We're going to have to trust each other for this to work. Set bugs on the vines at your maximum range. Try to keep them as spread as possible, please."


    "Before we do this, there's something important that you need to know." Skitter started, although her bugs were already starting to find spots to bite. She had an impressive range for a power propagated through the air like that. Several city blocks, total. I had the vine start to eat... well, subsume them, really. Tie its own primitive neurons into the insects', imitating such lifeforms as the angler fish.


    It's not that I couldn't construct a new "brain" from whole cloth for her to use. But this was faster by several minutes. And even with these relays built, it would only extend her range to about a total of a square mile. And I'd need twice as many for the next series of relays. Plus I was worried about doing too much and overtaxing her.


    "Our team... they weren't killed by the Nine..." she stated. "We were betrayed by the Protectorate."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2015
  13. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 7


    "What?" Yeah, there's my patented wit in all its glory. Although, in my defense, I was violating life as the planet earth knew it right now. It was distracting.


    "The so-called fucking 'heroes'. We had to go after the Nine by ourselves. We captured two of their members and the Protectorate still wouldn't help us! We found their hideout. Rescued people that they would have left to fucking die. And even after all of that..."


    I just listened. I was impressed by her multitasking. The next line of insects had started their chewing while she was speaking.


    "Their trap for Crawler... they were happy to just let us come in and fight. Didn't warn us about the bombs. Didn't try to help us even though we risked our lives by fighting to help them. Time and time again. While they did fucking nothing."


    I finally spoke up. "They lost people, too, in that fight."


    "I know. I saw the statues. The second bomb. That's their little 'fuck you' to themselves. If they hadn't firebombed us... they'd have had Bitch's dogs to keep Crawler from attacking people. And Trickster's teleportation to get the wounded to safety. The fuckers couldn't even betray us intelligently. They had to do it at the time they needed our help the absolute most."


    In my cocoon, I dug my fingernails into my palms. It... they... no. I calmed myself by breathing slowly and adding the next layer of relays. Skitter's range was well over a two mile wide circle at this point.


    "You'll forgive me if I take that with a grain of salt," my dummy responded. It couldn't inflect emotion of any sort, of course. It was flat, a tool meant to emulate speech. Not something that could actually speak.


    "Fine," Skitter agreed. "But it's still the fucking truth. They betrayed us during a Class S truce. And they'll betray you, too, if they think you're doing their job better than they can."


    She... I didn't necessarily believe her. But I didn't not believe her. As cynical as I'd become, I'd like to think my experiences have taught me to recognize the very few who were being sincere. Besides, she didn't need to convince me that the Protectorate would be coming after me. I had crossed far too many lines to turn back now. At best, they'd put me in a cell somewhere after installing a bomb in my brain like Bakuda. They'd already shown how much they loved her ideas, after all.


    That or they'd toss me in the Birdcage. I ran down what I'd already revealed. Striker? Probably go up a couple levels, now that they knew how completely I could rewrite organics. Master? Oh, at least a four for my dopplegangers... and if they ever realized what I'd done to Victoria... fuck, what did they rank Heartbreaker as? Or Nilbog for that matter? I could do everything they did, but better. Probably get a Trump rating from this thing I was doing with Skitter.


    "Let's say I believe you..." I said, pulling my thoughts into something coherent. "What are you planning to do about it? Your evidence?" Huh. Maybe living with Carol DID teach me one thing of value. Maybe.


    "We have footage. Tattletale was setting up to become a sort of 'mission control' and stay off the front lines of the battlefield. Squishy Thinker kept safely away from the actual fighting."


    I smiled. Or smirked, more likely. Either way, it wouldn't transfer to the dummy. "Yeah... I can see why she'd want to stay as far as humanly possible away from anyone she might be talking to."


    "I... I know I've said this before, but I'm sorry. For everything I put you and Glory Girl through," the girl said. It struck me how... vulnerable... she was.


    "I believe you," I replied. "But it's not you who should be sorry. I do have a question for you, however. You said you wanted to be a hero. But how can you be a hero when you work with people like her? And how the hell are you still with them AFTER your secret came out?"


    "At first, I wanted to find their boss. Turns out he's the supervillain known as Coil. The Undersiders were a project of his, not the only one either. He owns the Travelers and has spies in the Merchants and the Protectorate and probably E88 as well. They were basically just thieves, y'know. I'm not saying that's okay, but... they helped me. A lot. First by saving me from Lung. I had wanted to break up their team by taking down Coil. But... now... Dinah Alcott."


    "The mayor's niece?" I'd heard of that kidnapping of course. How could I not have? Same day as the bank... oh. Oh fuck. "You were a distraction."


    "We didn't know that at the time!" She insisted defensively. "We found out later. She's a precog. Scary powerful. He's keeping her drugged and forces her to use her powers to help him. He'll never let her go. And coupled with his own power... he's probably unstoppable. And it's all my fucking fault."


    That gave me pause. Dinah was young- I wasn't sure if she was even a teenager, yet. If she was, it was just barely. And he was drugging her and keeping her like that? I couldn't even begin to imagine what kind of a sick bastard would do that.


    I hadn't stopped working during the conversation. Neither had Skitter, actually. She was adapting more quickly to the new relays than I could add them, all while holding an emotional conversation. Her range was well over five miles, now. Well, except where we hit the ocean of course. I was beginning to wonder where her limits ended.


    For that matter, where do mine end? Everything I was doing right now was less difficult than dealing with a single gunshot wound. And I could do stuff like that all day. Maybe that's why I feel invigorated instead of tired, using my power like this... because it was just less difficult? No... I felt it when I fought Siberian, too. And my Amy puppet was a hundred times more difficult to build than a merely human body. Part of why I needed the pod- it was the only way I could build a system that allowed her to act without me controlling her directly. I had that 'program' stored within the roots. The next puppet would be so much easier.


    Speaking of... the heroes were starting to get a little too close for comfort. Even without factoring what Skitter just told me. The tendril that was feeding my control pod extended itself toward my armor. God, I needed to get actual names for these things. And myself.


    During all this, I was still listening to Skitter- really, thinking about how our powers worked was taking more of my concentration than using it. I'd expanded the relays another layer. Hell, I'd begun to see the pattern, and was growing artificial relays out of the roots. They took way longer than the bug versions, but didn't need to wait for a bug to start working. Also, they seemed to have a little less range. Definitely better to stick with the first form, right now.


    "So you're saying you don't have a choice?" I asked. "What exactly can he do?"


    "He... passes it off as a kind of luck control. Altering fate. But it's something both more and less than that," she explained. "He can create alternate realities. The only thing that changes is him. He can give one order to attack and another to retreat. And choose the result he likes best. We can't attack him, because if we do, he'll end that reality and take the one where he's somewhere else entirely. And he'll know everything we did and we will have no memory of it."


    I hesitated... did I dare do this? Yes. Yes I did. "Your team is pretty much finished, right?"


    She snorted. "We lost Regent. Thankfully we lost Shatterbird at the same time. He was keeping her controlled. If she'd gotten free..."


    I didn't really want to think about how badly that could have gone. That was one of the Nine I didn't think I had a counter for. Not without a LOT of prep time.


    "I don't see Grue coming back from this. He was doing all this to help his sister. She was caught in the bombing. Bitch, too, and she was our only real source of muscle. It's basically just me and Tattletale. The Travelers lost Ballistic, too.


    I sighed. My impromptu com device did nothing but wait until I spoke. "So... I'm not making any promises. But your power has a synergy with mine in ways that make it stupid not to ask. If I help you save Dinah. And I make a team of my own. Will you be on it?"


    She looked a little uncertain. So I took the opportunity to continue. "I can do a lot with my power. What I lack is your instantaneous control. Even the things I'm touching respond with a bit of a delay. Not much, less than the delay in trying to drive a car. But that's slow compared to what you're capable of. I'm proposing a partnership. I won't lie. What I'm planning will get us a lot of enemies. Not the least of which: the Protectorate. But, if you're willing to be my general, I will give you an army."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2015
  14. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 8- Jack Slash


    It had been a bad day for me, I had to admit it. Skitter, that delightfully terrifying bug girl. She promised me that Brockton Bay "had its share of badasses". They did not disappoint.


    Ah, if I'd known then what I know now, I would have nominated her. My candidate turned out to be such a disappointment. Skitter, on the other hand, was fascinating. Such a ball of deceptive viciousness, and clearly the leader of the Undersiders. Even more interesting, they didn't know it. She turned a group of second rate thieves into the terrors of a city that had reduced the Slaughterhouse Nine to two people hiding in an Endbringer shelter.


    It would have been fascinating to see what she could have done with my team. I might even have given her the leadership. Not even forcing her to take it from me. A few years of mentoring her, and she would be even more feared than the Endbringers. A true protégé. Perhaps then I would challenge her to reclaim my throne. If I couldn't find a worthy foe, then I might be able to build one.


    Speaking of protégées. "Bonesaw, dear, how long until you're ready?"


    The girl was arms deep in bodies. "Still working on it. I can't just change these on the fly, you know. Or I could, but she'd just counter it again. I need something that adapts faster than she can. Or kills before she has a chance to stop it."


    "Panacea turned out to be rather more impressive than we thought, too, didn't she?" I agreed. Internally, I blamed Cherish. The girl was nothing but a series of disasters, and not the fun kind, from the beginning. When we got out of this, I'd have to go visit her father and have a nice, long discussion about parental responsibility.


    "She's amazing, isn't she," Bonesaw said, while forcing open the ribcage of a still very much alive woman. "She really is the perfect Big Sister. Beating my best work so easily, and showing me a dozen new ideas all at the same time. Promise me we'll come back for her, please?"


    "What about your new weapon?" I frowned. If she used anything less than her best work for this because she was scared of killing the girl...


    "Oh, that won't matter for her," Bonesaw answered with a happy sigh. "Her power is always protecting her. I could inject every plague in the world, including all the ones of my own design, right into her spine and her power would convert it all to something completely harmless. Probably some kind of easily metabolized nutrient mix, but I'd have to observe it in action to know for certain."


    "I see..." I had learned to recognize her tinker-ramblings as they got started. There was nothing I could do to stop them, but I could harness them. It was a challenge, of course, that's what made her so fun. "So... this new plague you're devising, how will it get around her counters?"


    "Same way every cold virus in history gets around the immune system," she replied, going happily back to task. "It's impossible to win the war, so you don't even try. You simply adapt and move on. Only dialed up to the greatest extreme. The retrovirus is designed to collect genetic material from everything it infects, and randomly shuffles its own genetic pattern. It'll mutate so quickly that by the time it spreads to three people, it'll be like twelve completely different diseases. My big sister can beat any one of them, easy. But can she beat them faster than they're born?"


    And that's when I heard the tapping sound. Someone else was here.


    "Oh, I think could find a way," came a voice. Female, but it sounded wrong. It was... hollow... devoid of emotion in a way that made it sound more like a script being read by the world's worst actress.


    "Amelia Claire Lavere," I said with a smile as she stepped into the dim lights running on the shelter's emergency batteries. "I am truly impressed."


    That was not a lie. Her power was incredible. So versatile. This body-double of hers... it was beautiful on every level. A sleek black armor encased her, shimmering a metallic purple where it caught the light. It moved with a fluid grace I had only ever seen from the Siberian. The finest features of both woman and great cat. It was a perfect machine.


    I opted to let her know she hadn't fooled me, however. "Pity you're not actually here in the flesh."


    "She's not?" Bonesaw asked, taking a more appraising eye of the construct. "You're not! Oh my god! It's so beautiful! The armor, it's chitin, isn't it? You put it together using insects and I can't see a single flaw anywhere in the design and how are you controlling it so well? And the face..."


    "Please, Bonesaw," I interrupted. "Let her have a chance to speak." Yes. Let her talk. That body of hers was dangerous, probably meant to be immune to my knife- and even if I did destroy it, that meant nothing. She built this in a couple hours at most. And judging from the insects moving around on the ground, she had Skitter as backup. They couldn't be that far away... so the trick would be keeping her from attacking before I figured out where their real bodies were.


    "Insects bodies, mostly," Amelia replied. There was a flaw, in the voice. But was it even a flaw? Its eyes were sharp and alert. It responded with feedback that was clearly two way and interactive on a level that even Siberian didn't quite match. If she'd wanted it to copy her vocal tones, there was no doubt it could have. Either she felt it was too much effort... or it was a design feature. If it didn't show emotion, then she wouldn't have to worry about hiding her emotions. So... design flaw... or intentional feature... the part that interested me most is that I couldn't tell.


    "Skitter helped with the raw materials. And, no, Bonesaw, the insecticides you're using won't work."


    "Oh... don't worry, I know!" she agreed far, far too eagerly. I'd have to have a talk with the girl about showing her emotions to the enemy so readily. "Great minds do think alike. I've done something very similar with myself and Jack. We're a lot alike!"


    She paused. Okay, so the construct didn't have emotion. But the girl behind it did... and that could still be an angle to attack from...


    "Not really," she responded.


    “We could be! Haven’t you ever wanted to start over? I could make you younger! We’d be the same age! And wear matching outfits! Oh! I could make us into twins!”


    "I think about it," Somehow the emotionless construct managed to sound sarcastic. "Did you do that to yourself? Make yourself young?”


    “No.” I replied “Rest assured, Bonesaw’s immaturity is genuine. Both an asset in how it makes her that much more creative, free in her ways. A detriment in other ways.”


    "Interesting how you need to belittle your own people in front of them like that, Jack."


    "Well, that brings back memories," I laughed. Genuinely. This is exciting. Trapped here in this shelter with a woman who was anything but predictable, being observed by someone else who was an equal amount of surprise. "Your father said much the same thing to me, once upon a time."


    "Yeah, I know the score. Marquis."


    "Imagine my surprise when I found out. I met the man. I must tell you, Amelia, he was a very interesting character. Marquis was a man of honor. He decided on the rules he would play by and he stuck to them. He put his life at risk to try to keep me from killing women and children, and I decided to see if I could use that to break him. I admit I failed.”


    “What about Allfather’s daughter?” Good. I have her attention. She wanted to know about her father... I could use that.


    "Marquis would not have killed her. That was one of his rules. If it were possible to make him break it, I'd have made him do it.”


    “Allfather put a contract on my head before he died, because of what Marquis did.”


    “I doubt it. What gave you that idea?”


    "A letter Dragon sent to Carol... my... adoptive... mother."


    "Ah, Brandish? I wonder. I suspect Marquis was lying. Making up a story that Dragon felt was credible enough to contact you and offer a warning."


    "Why?"


    "Oh, that's easy," Jack replied. "Marquis was old fashioned. Predictable. He would want you to know he was still thinking about you. He'd want you thinking about him. His own dream of immortality."


    Bonesaw piped up. “That’s stupid. Why do something like that when someone like me could make you immortal for real?”


    “Shush, now. Let your big sister and I talk.”


    “Okay,” Bonesaw said.


    Amelia didn't bother to correct my presumption. It was frustrating how little I could read her like this.


    “You are much like your father. Both of you are chained by the rules you've imposed on yourselves. His rules defined his demeanor, the boundaries he worked within, the goals he sought to achieve and how he achieved them. They were his armor as much as his power was." I continued. I had to play to that. Let her imagine she could be like her father- a name that was STILL both feared and respected in this town.


    "Your rules did the opposite. Rather than give you strength, they leave you trapped and alone," I offered. It was pop psychology at best, but what works, works. "That's because you did it the wrong way. Marquis accepted himself, who and what he was, and made his rules to be a frame on which he could grow. Just as I accept myself. Your rules are the opposite. They're made to deny your true nature and be what they tell you to be, instead of who you really are."


    She paused. Not her normal 'not acting' pause. The construct wasn't moving at all. No feedback. The interaction required concentration. THAT was a weakness I could exploit! I couldn't touch her body. But her mind- her soul, if you believed such tripe- was ripe for the taking.


    "I can give that to you. Help you find your true nature, the way I've found mine, and helped so many other damage people find theirs."


    Amelia looked toward me. "You're right. I've fought against my nature time and time again, and it's done nothing but make me miserable. I've lost my family. My sister. Everything I ever loved. In a span of mere days. And yet, somehow, I'm happier than I've ever been. And it's because I've been ignoring everything I've been raised to believe. I'll join the Nine."


    I couldn't believe it. Actually, I didn't believe it. "There is still a matter of your tests," I reminded her.


    "I've passed them," she responded. "There is nothing you can demand of me that is worse than what I've already been through. I not only escaped Siberian, I distracted her in combat long enough for my allies to kill her. Mannequin demands you give up something precious and personal? How about my sister, my life, even my name? And I shut Bonesaw's little stunt down in minutes. I will flense anyone who dares to claim I haven't earned my position in the Nine."


    I stepped back. "I stand corrected," I agreed. "You've earned your place."


    "Really!?!" Bonesaw shouted, running toward the construct and embracing it. "Congratulations, Amelia, I knew you could do it!"


    I could see where the skin on Bonesaw cheek parted in thin lines, where she'd brushed up against the armor. She put her hand on the little girl's blood soaked curls. "Go pack up your things. You won't need your plague today.


    "Okay," she agreed far too readily, not even looking toward me for confirmation.


    Amelia, on the other hand, never stopped looking at me. "Jack Slash. I am challenging you for leadership of the Nine."


    She was moving at me before I even had time to register her words. Damn she is fast. My blade launched forward, colliding with her face. The knife did penetrate the eye socket, but the body didn't slow down. My blade caught against the back of the skull and was wrenched out of my hand. It reverted to standard size instantly.


    I tried to pull one of my backups while dodging a swipe from Amelia's claws. She was fast. A match, maybe more, for Siberian. But she was so much less human than Siberian. I couldn't figure read her, couldn't predict her steps. She kicked outward and I leapt back, but several bits of green goo hit my chest and started burning. It ate my armor, then skin, then started working on Bonesaw's reinforced mesh.


    And it burned. I knew what pain was like because I had never let Bonesaw disable mine. Without the risk of pain and even death, combat was without challenge or thrill.


    "Like that, Jack?" Came another voice. The insects. There were a lot more than I'd realized. And they spoke in a gravelly, buzzing manner. They carried a thousand times more emotions than Amelia's automoton. I could guess what would come next from them, as they swirled around. They wanted to attack- their controller wanted nothing more to destroy me in the most horrific ways she could imagine. But she was being held back by someone else. Amelia? Had to be.


    "I was asked to let you know... it's the same acid that Crawler uses. Amy-" They paused a half second. "Amelia says it's the most horrible poison she's ever seen. Wants you to know that you'll die how her sister died. And because of Bonesaw's improvements, it'll be even slower and more painful for you than it was for her. Keep struggling, that just makes it spread faster."


    Meanwhile, I was still dodging. I had lashed out with another knife, to trip my attacker. Only to have my arm pulled back. How? Spider silk?


    Amelia caught my arm and squeezed, twisting and bending it. Broken at the elbow. More acid left behind. Her foot slammed into my knee. More of the same. I dropped, and she stepped on my remaining good hand. No acid, she simply ground down. Sharp. Heavy. Micro thin razors lined her armor, and this thing had to weigh three hundred pounds.


    "Bonesaw! Help..." I managed to gasp out. It was hard to breath, as the acid had already destroyed most of my abdominal muscles.


    "Sorry, Jack," she said with her usual cheerfulness. "I'm a good girl, and good girls don't break the rules."


    So she held a grudge, I realized. How did I not see that before?


    Amelia's other leg came into my vision, as she moved between me and Bonesaw. The bugs started covering me, but didn't attack. A peculiar kind of sensory deprivation. I was blinded.


    I heard Amelia speak. "So, little sister, what am I going to do with you?"


    Then the insect mass was too thick, and I was denied the ability to hear anything except my own screams.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2015
  15. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 9


    I, or the body I was using at the moment, marched straight up to the Protectorate's visitor reception area. I was wearing my 'Dryad' model. It was, for the most part, the least human looking armor I had constructed at that point. A superior version of the "tree gorilla" outfit I had used before. It stood approximately seven and a half feet tall and was covered in bark.


    Next to me was Skitter- or, again, her double. Hers was the much smaller 'Changeling' model. A perfect emulation of a human being, with exactly zero mammalian features other than mere cosmetics.


    Much like I had made for the fight against Siberian. Only less utilitarian. Barely better than human... not even that, really. Capable of competing on the level of an olympic athlete... but probably wouldn't take home a medal. But it could compete in every sport at that level.


    Skitter... Taylor's... version of the suit was different than mine. My remote control system was modeled after her power. I was, frankly, playing copycat. She just had a model tuned to her frequency. No control cocoon for her. Her suit was pretty close to her actual features, though modified. It was still obviously 'Skitter'- but there was brighter coloration to it. Gone were the dull grays, replaced by shimmering metallic blues and greens. Reminiscent of many colorful species of beetle. Only her eye lenses were true to their old yellow color. Which was fine.


    It was far tougher than it looked. As durable as her real costume, and most of it was still the silk. Just from more common spiders that were easier to manipulate to produce the colorful patterns. A rush job. Fake armor for a fake body. The worst anyone could do to us is kill our dolls.


    We both carried some sealed bags- hers smaller than mine. But both quite large.


    And basically everyone was staring. It had been two days since the Nine were annihilated. Took that long for us to get all our plans in order. We knew what we wanted to achieve, Skitter and I. Or at least the basics. And that started here.


    The receptionist was probably used to seeing people like Armsmaster and whoever. Compared to that, we weren't all that impressive. She eyed Taylor for a moment. No doubt figuring out who she was.


    "We're here to apply as an independent hero team," Taylor stated after a moment. Lisa was giving us cues. Watching through the cameras we'd set up. Another piggyback off Taylor's power, I could access the eyes of any of my constructs, and put them on the nice little screen I built for those on the team who didn't have unfair sensory powers. It still wasn't good. We'd managed to get it to show color, at least.


    The woman, whose nametag identified her as 'Michelle', slowly reached down and opened a drawer, pulling out a small set of forms. She was an attractive woman. Large in the amazonian sense. Blonde, angular face. Probably a stunner once upon a time, and still very attractive in her late thirties. "Is it going to be just the two of you?"


    Lisa's voice came over the perfectly ordinary headset I was wearing inside my functionally soundproof cocoon. "She hit a silent alarm. Is now stalling and fishing for information, as we predicted. Keep them speculating. Any clear answers"


    I shrugged inside the suit. "We'll want an extra copy. We can print more of our own if we need to." I replied. Oh god, if they only knew. They would scour this city from the planet to stop us. Right now, we were playing the most delicate game. We needed them to believe we were going to play ball. That the asinine 'cops and robbers' thing that Tattletale had described was still how it worked.


    We were relying pretty heavy on my reputation. On Panacea. On them being shellshocked from the Nine. Mourning their losses. We also timed this for Legend being temporarily out of the building.


    "We'll also need information on your disaster relief efforts. Our main efforts will be there instead of on the field." True. And so very, very, misleading.


    "I'll see what I can get for you," the woman agreed.


    "Miss Militia, to your right," Taylor spoke up through the headset. I was again in envy of her multitasking. Miles of control area. It's said there's more bugs in a square mile than there are people on the planet. Taylor was currently managing that... almost a hundred times over. If we measured it just on pure mass alone, there was more of 'her' in the city than there was 'everyone else combined'. Well, except for me. Turns out, there's a lot of sewer/stormdrain in a city. And basically everything that was flushed into it had been consumed and converted by now. My Yggdrasil had just about completed its growth through the system. Everything else would need to be done above ground.


    I turned to look at the dark skinned woman and her very 'patriotic' outfit. The cynic in me sometimes wondered if they put her in this city solely to annoy Empire Eighty Eight. Not that they'd be a problem in... oh... a few days. "Greetings, ma'am," I said.


    Her weapon was currently in "shapeshifter" mode, as if trying to figure out the best way to hurt us. Which would have been something along the lines of 'be approximately seven and a half miles away from here', not that she knew that. "You're new?" she asked.


    "Already knows better," Lisa informed us. "Wants to see if you'll lie to her. Threat assessment."


    "She's one of the good ones," Taylor added in. "Patriotic to a fault, though."


    "Makes her the worst we'll ever have to deal with," Lisa concluded. "We might have been able to get her to turn if she wasn't so insistent on protecting a corrupt system. And if she were corrupt, we could at use her or hurt her without much problem. Instead she's an idealist who hasn't recognized her own cause betrayed her."


    "Not new," I replied. "But a new chapter in our lives. The look and name changes are part of that. Think we can get a room to handle to sit down and fill out the paperwork?" There. Absolutely true. Even volunteering more information than necessary and invited her to stick around. We were being upfront and open as a means of hiding just how incredibly frightening we were.


    "Then you're aware of how dangerous it is to be independent heroes, instead of joining the Protectorate," she said, even as leading us to one of the nearby conference rooms. A small one, but nicely decorated. A flag in the corner. Hanging pictures of a handful of national landmarks. A sturdy table, probably oak though I wasn't exactly an expert on that. It suggested wealth without suggesting opulence or waste. Patriotism without looking like propaganda. Even if, of course, it was both things. I could see them bringing aspiring heroes here.


    "Not a problem," I answered. "Our powers are better oriented for indirect use. We'll mostly be handling infrastructure and support tasks."


    "Such as..."


    "I control insects and arachnids," Taylor told them. That wasn't anything we could pretend was a different power. Sure, I could give her monsters and she could claim those as her own. But 'bugs' was comparatively less threatening. "I can go through the refugee camps. The hospitals. Clear out cockroaches. Rodents. Lice. Dangerous spiders. Bedbugs and ticks and numerous other disease carriers in both people and pets. We'd be here all day if I had to list every last creepy crawly and everywhere we might want to remove them from."


    That was our sell on her, at least.


    "And your power?" She asked me.


    "Botanical control," I answered. Again, not a lie. Just not even the barest fraction of the truth. "I'll be helping with cleanup on a number of levels. Possibly rebuilding. It's basically a shaker power. I can clear out rubble. Set up support beams for unstable buildings. Provide fruit trees set to overproduce."


    "Team name?" she asked. We'd filled out that part of the paperwork, already.


    "Pantheon," I replied. I saw her eyes narrow. Pretentious? Yes. Begging for trouble? Oh, absolutely. Could we live up to it? Not a doubt in my mind.


    "Are you sure about this? There are a lot of dangerous villains. You won't be able to back down from this. Especially with a moniker like that." She was was warning us. Warning me. And not just about the indie-hero thing.


    I laughed. It transfered to the puppet. And I pulled one of the bags out of the sack. A body bag. Then another, much smaller, bag. Then a small package. Taylor had one of her own. "Oh, I think we can take care of ourselves."


    Miss Militia managed to keep her poker face reasonably well. I had to wonder if maybe they had a tinker scanner that identified that we had brought a total of three full human corpses in with us.


    "These are the bodies of the Siberian's controller, Bonesaw, and Burnscar," I informed her. "Alongside the head of Jack Slash. I apologize for the condition of his and Bonesaw's remains... had to improvise to get past the modifications made to their physiology. Using Crawler's venom."


    "We'll have to get those verified," She stated. "In case someone might attempt to... construct a forgery."


    That was expected. And not even unfair, really. I probably could build fakes. Of Manton, at least. All the weird mechanical bullshit that Bonesaw inserted into their bodies was entirely beyond my power, and they knew it. I simply nodded. "Of course. Just so it's made clear, we have a detailed incident report of the deaths of all four individuals, with some details removed to protect identities. Pantheon is claiming full credit for Jack and Bonesaw. Partial credit for Siberian, with the other half going to individuals who wish to remain uncredited. And Burnscar goes to a party that also wishes to remain anonymous. There's account information for all of us included."


    She buzzed for someone- several, in fact- to collect the bodies and the paperwork. She left with them.


    We didn't speak. Not in front of them at least. As we finished all the details.


    "Still can't believe you're going with this theme," Lisa goaded.


    "Oh, whatever," I responded. "You were so happy with yours that you're probably going to start using it as your civilian name."


    "Not while you're in earshot," she all but sang back. "But while we're on the subject of names. Ohhh, Taaaaayloooor... is this gonna be one of those things where you let the heroes name you instead of picking one of your own, again?"


    "No," she responded back. "I thought of one. I'm not sure I like it, though..."
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2015
  16. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 10


    "No, nope, never, not happening, ALL the no," Tattletale insisted. "Every fucking 'nope' in the world!"


    "Hey! Don't swear!" Came the little girl voice in the corner. I could hear the tapping noises as the spider-like robotic limbs were moving around the 'operating table'... or, as I liked to think of it, 'that nice coffee table we will now have to throw away'. The fact that she could detach her own head from her body was both disturbing, and incredibly useful. How the living hell does someone perform a surgery like that on themselves? Tinkers were bullshit.


    She was currently surgically attaching herself to the new body I had made for her. A copy of her own DNA. A bunch of work with the plants. I'd complete the process of making it a living animal AFTER she had properly "linked up". Even with her tools and skills, keeping a headless corpse... would it count as a corpse? Anyway, keeping it alive would be a lot harder if it were animal.


    Tattletale glared at the disembodied girl. "Every FUCKING nope. In fact, I mean that literally. The Nopes have all gotten together in one giant fuckball, and are currently reproducing so fast that they've been registered as a Class S threat!"


    I had to admit. It was worth the price of admission for this scene. I had my first genuine laugh since before Leviathan. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.


    "And YOU!" She pointed at Skitter. "How could you, knowing everything she's capable of, possibly be okay with this!?!"


    She looked at Tattletale with a kind of quiet desperation. We were all, more or less, out of costume. Or, at least, not wearing our masks. Tattletale still wore hers, but that was to be expected. "I... I know what she's done. But."


    "But," she kept glaring at Bonesaw. "Fucking. NOTHING. She tortured Grue. Doesn't that mean ANYTHING to you?"


    I... I must have seen something of myself in Skitter, and something of Victoria in Tattletale, at that moment. Being dominated by a stronger personality like that. Even if that personality is trying to help. I believed Tattletale meant well- in this one, specific, isolated instance, at least. But I wasn't going to watch this happen in front of me.


    I stood. "You're free to leave at any time, you know. I won't even pretend I want to keep you here."


    She turned on me and started to open her mouth. I didn't let her.


    "Skitter and I have an agreement. A partnership. This is why you are here, speaking your mind. Instead of trying to find a way out of this dimension simply on the chance that I might, maybe, want to 'thank' you for the bank. Or did you forget that? Because I haven't. You are my compromise for her. She wants you to be part of this. Bonesaw is her compromise for me. I NEED her abilities. More importantly, I need her research."


    Tattletale paused. I could see her lips moving as she talked through her power silently. I simply waited. It'd be easier to let her power do its thing than explain it with words. Also. It would sound insane if I said it. "Powers. You know something about where powers come from, don't you?"


    I nodded grimly. "I was afraid to touch brains before. I... I even suspect I know why now. Sure, part of it was my own hangups. But there's more to it. A lot more."


    "You're not going to tell me." It wasn't a question.


    "Not yet, at least. Too new. Not sure. Far too many other things to deal with, first. But yes, I'm pretty sure I know where they come from. I got some idea when I examined Riley's brain."


    "Bonesaw," Tattletale stated. "Riley is a person's name."


    "Whatever. Her. Skitter, too. Even got a look at Ja-"


    "You let her touch you?!" Tattletale said in shock, looking over at Taylor.


    "Uh... yeah... why wouldn't I?" She responded. "She fixed up a few things, and even fixed my vision."


    I had to smile a little at that. My new partner was a creature of dualities. Skitter was a nightmare. Even now that I was getting a feel for what my power truly was... she frightened me. I knew she couldn't win against me in a straight fight. But something about her just made me nervous. Like she could find a way to win against anything, no matter how powerful. It was disquieting, really. It was also thrilling to know she was on my side.


    Taylor, on the other hand. Taylor was too nice. She seemed smaller than Skitter by a foot. Frail. Afraid, even. It bordered on split personalities, how utterly she could compartmentalize. Was this... was this her 'passenger' at work? Riley had told me some of what she believed. I'd have called it crazy, but I could see them, now. Or see the imprint they left in their wake, at least.


    The one I could not see? Was my own. What did my power do to me? The sheer pleasure I got from flexing my powers... I could recognize response conditioning when I saw it. The exhaustion I got working as a healer... in spite of using nowhere near the same amount of power as I'd used in the last day or so. Was that its doing? And if so... where did it end, and where did I begin?


    While I contemplated this, Taylor and Tattletale continued their argument. It seemed to be coming to a close.


    "There is nothing I can do to talk you out of this, is there?" Tattletale said with a defeated look on her face.


    "Unless you know another way for me to save this city," Taylor insisted. "And not just the city! With this power, we could save the whole world. I could enter the next Endbringer fight with thousands of monsters that make Bitch's dogs look harmless. They could rescue the wounded. Draw fire. Maybe even kill these fuckers."


    "Taylor," she replied tiredly. "Listen to me. There's a fine line between 'too scary to fuck with', 'too scary to live'. This... this crosses that line, comes out the other side, goes all the way back around, and then STILL has enough momentum left to lap Nilbog. You'll be lucky if all they do is put burn this city to the ground."


    "I have to," Taylor responded, pleading. "Please, Lisa. This is how we can beat Coil. How we can save Dinah. I am everywhere in the city right now. Our power, working together like this... we can beat him no matter what his plans might be. If he has the power to change fate. Then we just have to be so overwhelming that there can be no doubt. Absolute, total, control. I can't give this up. I won't. Not even for you."


    "Fuck," Tattletale- Lisa, apparently, sighed. "Fine. I'm in. I assume you have some conditions."


    I nodded. "A few. First, the same thing I told Bonesaw. If I catch you, even once, using your power in a way I find unacceptable. I will end you. There will be no warning. There will be no second chance. I'll break you. And then I'll do things to you that are horrific beyond imagination. And I know just how good your imagination can be."


    Her eyes narrowed.


    "Second. If you want out, at any time. You're free to go. I'll help alter your appearance. Whatever you need. I will not conscript people against their will."


    "What about her," Tattletale asked.


    "Same thing. She's free to go if she wants. Although in her case, I'll strip her of her powers first. I want to be fair, but that would be insane."


    "You can do that?" She asked.


    "Sure... all I have to do is kill two relatively tiny parts of the brain that aren't even found in normal people. They're right there at the top, too. Easiest part to work with, really. You could probably do the surgery with a handgun, if your aim was good enough."


    "And the third rule? There's always three, in situations like this."


    "The third is that we are a community. I won't be settling for just a small team. Every parahuman that wants, and can agree to peaceful coexistence, is welcome. Normal people, too. We'll worry about details later... create our own legal system... one without the corruption and abuse."


    She looked at me. Then looked back at Taylor. "This was your idea, wasn't it?"


    "Some of it."

    "Alright," she sighed. "Someone's gotta keep you deranged idealists from getting yourselves dead-by-Eidolon. As long as you promise you'll listen to me. Actually take what I'm saying into account before you jump into the deep end."


    I smiled as I held out my hand. "I'm Amelia Claire Lavere. Gaea, when on the job. Welcome to Pantheon."


    She regarded me for a second, then reached out to shake my hand.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2015
  17. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 11


    Our debut as Pantheon was both impressive, and anticlimactic. We hadn't lied when I said most of our work would be in "cleanup"... it was just a matter of how we were doing it. And on the scale.


    I had called ahead to the hospitals and shelters. Explained to them what we were going to do. They were understandably resistant to the idea. Most people were quite aware of Skitter's reputation- which was not all that pretty.


    I, as Amy, had sworn to them that the parahuman in question was a hero named Khepri, part of a new independent group called Pantheon. And she had official Protectorate documentation saying as much. Really, that was all it took. They were pretty damn desperate. Taylor's changeling (and official recognition paperwork) had gone to every hospital, shelter and camp in the city. At first alone- and then with Triumph, who had opted to follow her on his patrol.


    According to her, he did a remarkable job of pretending he had no idea who she was. When Assault showed up later, it was rather the opposite. Turns out, he was a villain of some repute, before changing sides for... whatever reason. Something of a surprise to me. I had to wonder if Battery knew. I suppose she had to, given that her boyfriend was willing to just blurt that information out to some girl half his age and all.


    We held back. We held back a lot. Taylor- the actual Taylor- was in what she had called 'her territory' near the docks. She and Lisa had not left Coil's employ when they joined. Even though the Undersiders were no longer a team. Grue had left... hadn't even bothered to explain to his team that he was leaving. Let alone where. It wasn't my place. I was going to make damn certain such a thing as the PRT murdering people who were trying to help could never happen again. But I wasn't part of his team or his family.


    Taylor had told me a bit about their relationship... her attraction to him. His lack of interest in her. One more thing we have in common, I suppose. She also said that there was no way in hell he'd be joining Pantheon. Not while Bonesaw was with us. I didn't know a lot about second Triggers, but I was given to understand they were even worse than the first time.


    That is what Bonesaw had done to him.


    And here she was. Currently taking a shower in my bathroom. “Bug hug! I, J, K, L!”


    Correction: she was singing children's cartoon songs while showering in my bathroom.


    Well, Skitter's bathroom, technically. She'd bought one of the houses near what was coming to be known as 'Crater Lake'. I tried to talk her out of it. Insisted that, honestly, I could live just about anywhere. Hell, I could find a place somewhere in the sewer or subway systems and be quite content. Frankly, thanks to my Yggdrasil's work... Brockton Bay's sewers were cleaner than the average kitchen. You could eat off the ground in them.


    More than that. You could eat the ground itself in them.


    But the girl had insisted. So I became the resident of a small duplex. Half a duplex, at least. The bottom of the building was, basically, unlivable. My power had cleaned things up, reinforced the whole layout, but that was about it.


    Would have been more suspicious if I hadn't been doing the same thing to multiple dozens of buildings the last few days. Most of the Yggdrasil's mass was being used to produce lumber and firewood. It wasn't quality wood- that would be impossible without wasting the iron supplies that I needed for more important projects- but it was at least as good as pine, and people seemed to be able to make do with it.


    I had suited up and went into our 'basement'. We had agreed that, in the case of me using my puppets, I would hide in the sewer system. I got too distracted by the system and was more or less a sitting duck. Having Riley to guard me didn't fill me with much confidence. Granted, there was approximately a metric ton worth of insects nearby that could come to my rescue, but Taylor's abilities did have their limits. Blind spots. Mannequin had proven that.


    Besides, she couldn't communicate through her bugs, except to write. And couldn't hear at all. And she was busy.


    The three of us who could be seen without resulting in an immediate kill order were all hard at work. Taylor was playing nice with the heroes. Currently on patrol with Weld, the metallic boy I'd seen before. There'd probably be at least one of the Protectorate heroes with them. Tattletale was feeling out the Travelers. She wasn't quite sure all the details about their 'hidden member', Noelle- who may be some kind of Case 53. But Coil had something else they wanted. She was trying to see if they'd be willing to save her, even with the off chance that they'd never get the other thing.


    And here I am, visiting the Palanquin, at nine in the evening. Having a hero walk in the front door probably wouldn't do our reputation, or Faultline's for that matter, any good. So I was in civilian guise. Well... except that I looked about six years older, had purple hair, and had spent half an hour online, perfecting the look of someone with natural beauty, who then spent a lot of effort building on what nature granted. Judging by the looks I was getting from the people in the line, I was very successful.


    Minerva picked the outfit. Told me I didn't want to know when I asked the price. It would make me scared to hurt the thing. I was beginning to see why so many people were so willing to be villains. They threw around money like it grew on my trees. Then again, I probably could make trees that did that.


    No one was suspicious when the bouncer let me skip the lines and walk right in. And, channeling Victoria's attitude of entitlement, I walked in without so much as glancing at the people who weren't considered attractive enough to get such preferential treatment.


    It helped that I was piloting a fake. They couldn't see how much this was the last place I wanted to be.


    I turned left and went for the back rooms as quickly as possible. I didn't like this kind of place at any point in my life, and now it was a living reminder of Victoria's attitude toward the party lifestyle. More than that... with all the nightmarish things going on in this city, I wanted to scream at them all for being here instead of doing something, anything, to make things better.


    I knew it was irrational. After what I've done, I reminded myself, I have no right to judge them. I swallowed my anger, and dialed back the emotional feedback interface on the system. One of Bonesaw's improvements- now the fully equipped changelings could mimic any range of emotion, regardless of what the pilot was feeling.


    I was met by a woman who was a few years older than myself. Black, wavy hair. I idly wondered if that was natural. "You would be Gaea?" she asked.


    "A representative," I replied. It was the pseudo-truth that we had decided upon when using avatars that didn't look like ourselves. "Pantheon's quite busy, for a number of reasons, but I'm authorized to make almost any deal."


    "Tattletale told us you had information we would be interested in," she replied. The way she said 'Tattletale' indicated that she wasn't a fan. "As well as the possibility of aiding our friends with their disabilities."


    "Hopefully she didn't make any promises about the help. Gaea's dealt with Case 53s before, and they have a habit of, functionally, regenerating back into their nonhuman state."


    She frowned. We were providing all the bad news upfront as a sort of psychological tactic. Minerva's plan, of course. "The fact of the matter is that while they turned in Bonesaw's body, they kept her notes and research materials. She has a drug that can temporarily suppress powers. It can last weeks, or with the antidote they can recover in minutes."


    "So... your theory is that a Case 53 won't revert if their powers are disabled? And you'll be charging how much for these drugs?" Faultline's eyes narrowed.


    "Nothing," I answered. "Pantheon doesn't believe in profiting from the misfortunes of others."


    "I've heard that line before, you'll forgive me for being skeptical," she replied.


    "Would you believe we don't need it? That we have a number of ways to acquire functionally limitless wealth? And that's not including a full half of the bounty placed on the Slaughterhouse Nine."


    "So, the rumors are true? You guys got Jack, Bonesaw, and Siberian?" She kept a measured tone, but the emotion reader built into the changeling indicated she was nervous.


    "Technically, Siberian was killed by the Undersiders, which I believe are now defunct. The member credited for the kill is now a part of Pantheon," I answered. "Gaea got the other two."


    For a certain value of 'got', I thought to myself.


    There was a pause for a moment before I continued. "In fact, that brings us to the other subject," I continued, pulling a folder out of the expensive handbag that matched my dress. "This is yours, no obligations. It's new information we've acquired about Cauldron."


    She snatched the folder from my hand and pulled it open. In it were a couple dozen photos of Manton. And a bunch of handwritten notes we'd photocopied. Including the upside down 'omega' tattooed on his hand.


    "Who is this?" She asked insistently. My changeling kindly informed me of the combination of anticipation and suspicion her body language expressed. I was glad it did, I wouldn't have noticed.


    "Doctor Manton. The very same that named the Manton Effect," I answered. "But, far more importantly. The man who made and controlled the Siberian, and we believe he was working for Cauldron as a researcher."


    "That... is pretty serious... and you're just giving us this information?"


    "We have a vested interest in learning more about Cauldron. You are investigating them. We want to hire you to do a job you're already doing, essentially. We can provide certain resources. Healing. Even some tinker equipment and physical enhancements. All you have to do is report to us whatever details you've learned in your investigations. Our thinkers will of course give you anything they can pull from that data."


    "I'll have to discuss this with the client that hired us in the first place," she replied. My display kindly informed me that this was, at most, a half truth. Not unlike the dozens I have already told during this conversation.


    "Of course," I answered. "Please don't forget to mention our desires to aid the Case 53s, if they're interested."


    "I promise you, they'll hear about it," she answered. Another half truth, they probably already knew.


    "And... if you would please turn off any recording devices you might have... I have another piece of information that we don't want to leave this room. A warning."


    She hesitated a second, then nodded. "Okay. What is it?"


    I made my avatar lean in close. "The papers you have list several individuals with serious political and military power that are probably involved with Cauldron. This is a conspiracy that goes all the way up to the top. More frightening is the one detail we didn't put on paper. Legend recognized the body. The symbol. At least one member of the Triumvirate knows exactly what Cauldron is. And is actively aiding them."


    "Well... fuck..."
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2015
  18. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 12


    Taylor and I, ourselves this time, not some replicant, sat outside the Alcott home. Costumed, of course. I had to hand it to Coil- he had great tastes in vehicles. This limo was luxurious. We wouldn't be keeping it, of course. Nice of Lisa to provide one of her people as a driver. Very professional. Polite. Alert. Took it all in stride when we told him which streets to avoid and how to get here with the least trouble possible. Then again, he worked with Minerva. He had to be used to psychic teen girls by now.


    The Alcott's lived in the affluent part of town, no more than maybe a mile from my... from where Carol and Mark lived. The preadolescent girl, Dinah, was shaking as Taylor carried her, bridal style. I'd done what I could. Except for her insistence that I do not treat her withdrawal symptoms. Purging the drugs and healing as much damage as I could, yes, but she wanted to go through withdrawal.


    It seems there was a nearly 70% chance of relapse, had I 'cured' her completely. Less than a 10% if I let her suffer through it. She was a brave, brave child. I couldn't help but admire her. She was strong. Even as she shook so hard I was afraid she'd damage something, clinging weakly to Taylor.


    It had been decided that I would be the one leave the vehicle and knock. Dinah was scared, and Taylor was doing everything to comfort her. Stockholm's syndrome? No, not quite. It reminded me of stories about people who survived the concentration camps. How, after they were liberated, many of them were afraid to leave. They'd become so accustomed to horrors they witnessed... that the outside world had become more alien and frightening to them than the hell they had lived through.


    That, and I was one of the most capable healers in the world. Even if my bedside manner was comparable to Doctor Frankenstein. Chances were high that Dinah's parents would listen to me more readily than to a known supervillain.


    I tried the doorbell. There was no sound. Or lights. They were home- if they weren't, Taylor would have known before we even left. So I simply knocked on the door.


    It took a minute, and I was about to knock again when a man opened the door. I recognized him, vaguely at least. Older man, heavy set. Dinah got her brown hair from him, even if his was thinning out and going gray.


    "Mister Alcott," I started. He wouldn't recognize me in my new costume. "I'm Gaea. Better known as Panacea." Although that's going to change quickly.


    He hesitated. "Uh... of course... what brings you here?"


    "We found Dinah," I answered. Not entirely untrue. I, at least, had met her exactly once- under an hour ago.


    Not turning away from me, he shouted, “Anna!”


    His wife appeared in the doorway to one of their interior rooms, peering out into the hallway toward me. She reacted as she saw me. “Please,” the mom said. “Where is she?”


    “Before that,” I said, steeling myself for this, and cursing Coil with every word. “She was kept as a prisoner by a supervillain. As far as I could tell, she wasn't molested. She was kept drugged. To control her. I've done what I can to help her, but she'll need time to withdraw, and then she'll need to recover from partial malnutrition. On top of that... the psychological effects of the drugs will remain. She should be kept away from narcotics or tranquilizers under any circumstance, or she risks a relapse."


    Mrs Alcott whimpered in distress.


    “She’s an addict?” the dad asked.


    “Yes. There's nothing that can be done about that. She also needs to be watched in case others will try to abuse her power.”


    “She has abilities, then?” the dad asked.


    “Precognition,” I answered. "One of the most powerful I've ever heard of. Do everything you can to hide just how powerful she is. There are people who would stop at nothing to have that kind of power. And that includes the Protectorate. Keep in mind that it'll be at least a week before she's physically well enough to use her powers again at all. And I'm not going to begin to guess how long it will be until she recovers emotionally. Keep her safe. Let her know she's loved. And don't let anyone talk to her about her power until she wants them to."


    "What about the man who already kidnapped her once?"


    "No longer a threat," I answered. "Please don't make me elaborate."


    “I... I understand,” he replied. No, you really don't, I thought.


    Taylor already knew, of course, that this conversation had come as far as it was going to.


    She stepped out of the car, carrying a mumbling Dinah. I was too far away to hear the words. Which earned a brief moment of annoyance: in my Changeling, I could have heard it with ease. But I knew better than to rely too heavily upon them. Even more now that Riley had taken to upgrading the things.


    Mrs. Alcott made a noise somewhere between a moan and a cry as she pushed past her husband and I. Rushing to take Dinah out of Taylor's arms. The little girl was instantly clinging to the mother she'd spent so long without. Her father only a step behind, wrapped his arms around them both. A family reunited. For a moment, they'd forgotten everything in the world, including us.


    Taylor stepped back, giving them space as I had.


    I moved to walk through the lawn toward the car. They didn't need us here, and I was glad for that.


    "Wait," the dad called out. "Is there anything we can do to thank you?"


    Words I'd heard often enough, as Panacea. This is the first time in years they actually meant more than just words to me. And it was the first time I was going to actually make good on that offer. I pulled a card from a pocket in the green robe that was my new costume. "This is in case you need any help protecting Dinah. And, there's no way to say this without it sounding selfish, but could you see that the mayor gets the number and calls us? Without telling anyone about it. It's important."


    "I..." he looked at me. I had to hand it to the man, that he kept enough of a head on his shoulders to try and calculate what our angle was. I wasn't insulted, given it was both justified and true, to an extent. "Okay, I can do that much."


    I had to wonder if that would cause some friction in the family. Hopefully once they knew the full story they'd agree that this was justified.


    Skitter was already in the limo when I climbed in. I sat on the other side, facing toward her. She looked as miserable as I felt.


    "Are you okay, over there?" She asked.


    "Not really. I know what we did was a good thing, returning her to her family, but then I feel like shit for using it to advance our own agenda."


    "I... was more caught up in how we're throwing away access to one of the most powerful resources on the planet. How tempted I was to fabricate an excuse to keep her. Wouldn't be all that difficult, y'know? The way she clung to me, it wouldn't have been difficult to convince her to stay with us."


    "But, you didn't," I said. "You're a better person than you give yourself credit for."


    "I guess," she responded, removing her face mask. "I'm just... seeing Dinah's parents like that. A family that, at least for a moment, was legitimately happy? I couldn't help but think of how much pain I must be putting my father through right now."


    I lost it. I didn't whimper. Didn't sob. I don't think my expression even changed. But the tears came just the same.


    Her eyes widened. "Oh god! I didn't think! I was so caught up in my own problems that I forgot!"


    She basically jumped across the gap to sit next to me.


    "God, I am such a bitch." She said as she pulled me against her, resting my head on her shoulder and holding my hair in her hand. I could smell Dinah on her. Weird how that's what I noticed. "You were trying to make me feel better and I didn't even think about what you must be going through."


    "It's okay," I mumbled into her, I didn't lift my head.


    "So, still think I'm a good person?" She asked after a couple minutes.


    I gave a half hearted laugh. The tears, at least had stopped. "Yeah. I also think you give really good hugs."


    She returned the half laugh. "I got it from my mother," she responded.


    We stayed like that, silently, for the rest of the ride. If our driver thought anything of the scene going on in the back of the vehicle, he made no indication of it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2015
  19. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Preemptive author's note. Those with weak stomachs might not want to read the third to last paragraph. When you get to that point, just skip to the next line. Refer to the A/Ns for a more pleasant summary.

    ====================


    Amelia, Ch 13- Coil Interlude


    "Good morning, my pet," I said as I entered Dinah's room. She'd taken to remaining dressed when she went to bed. A matter of not wanting to be caught changing when I came in to ask her questions. That is a good sign- it means the drugs are keeping her controlled, while still leaving her self aware. Much better than some of the early formulas that left her bedridden and in need of diapers.


    "My usual questions, pet,"


    “Sixty seven point three percent chance there’s any problems here in the next hour. One hundred percent chance there’s any problems before lunchtime.”


    She frowned. "One hundred percent chance there's any problems in the next hour."


    What changed the numbers so suddenly?


    "Twelve percent chance there's any problems in the next hour. Seventy three point four percent chance there will..."


    This was going nowhere. Some kind of anti-precog? We had confirmed that Dinah simply could not use her powers to view Scion, Endbringers, and Eidolon. There was no reason not to believe there might be other, less known, powers with a similar ability. "Chances I'll survive and be able to continue my grand plan?"


    "Ninety nine point six six percent."


    That was good news, at least.


    "Sir, we have a problem," came the voice of one of my men over the intercom.

    //

    I had just finished breakfast. Ordinarily, I might have closed the other timeline just then. But I needed to learn what the trouble was, first. Someone attacking at my base was either extremely confident in their power, or entirely suicidal.


    And then the shouts came from outside. Three of my men were under attack. Exact same moment as the attack to my base. Maybe they had learned my patterns. A thinker of their own? Precogs were notoriously bad at predicting other precogs, even if Dinah seemed unphased by most.


    Two women. They had dispatched my men with ease. I looked at them. Skitter- Khepri- her costume looked similar in terms of design, but was colored of metallic blue and gold. And Tattletale. Wearing themed leather armor that was feminized a bit too much to look historical, but not enough to look trashy. I only recognized her by her face. I hadn't known she'd joined Pantheon. I hadn't known she was still alive. The Travelers told me she died. Those traitors!

    //

    Two women. They were decimating my ranks. Khepri walked casually, shrugging off bullets. Climbing to her feet when she was taken down by one. My men didn't even have a chance to scream before they dropped. Except the unfortunates in the biohazard suits. She had a bug that was literally slicing the protection in half and allowing the swarm inside.


    The other, Panacea. Gaea. Her costume- the brown body suit and green toga style dress that- was alive and doing most of the work. She was fast and strong enough to give most Brutes a run for their money. She could dodge bullets, though clearly didn't need to. Her costume lashing out with vine whips that carried enough force to break bones and fine enough control to pull weapons out of peoples' hands. Most frightening: she was able to melt through steel walls with a touch. Bypassing every defense. I would be heading for the escape tunnels. Except that I couldn't.


    Two more women already stood there waiting. Another Khepri, watching passively with dead eyes. The other, I didn't recognize, she had a grin far too cheerful and innocent for the cleaver-like weapon she carried. Another Brute of some power, that weapon was comically oversized and must have weighed over fifty pounds, and yet was being carried like it was nothing. They only waited by the exit.


    Then Khepri and Gaea were at my chamber.

    //

    They were in my kitchen. Khepri watched from the door, the same dull expression as her other two copies. Strangely, there was no alert from the base. Meaning they had not attacked it. How did they know?


    Tattletale smiled a far, far too self satisfied smile. "How's the other timeline, Coil?" She asked.


    "You don't already know?" Well, that was interesting.


    "That badly, huh? Tell me, have your men at least fought back well enough to force them to call on the reinforcements? No? Well that's a shame. I'd have loved to see your reaction to plan 'B'. And plan 'C'. Especially plan 'C'."


    I considered collapsing this timeline, just so I wouldn't have to deal with her.

    //

    Gaea extracted a cell phone and set it down on the desk in my chamber. There was a flicker, and a lifesized 3D hologram of Tattletale, in costume, appeared. "Hey, Coil, how's the other timeline?"


    She paused. "Oh... I already did that one. And the backup plans. Dammit, I am so inconsiderate to myself."


    So much for escape via alts. I glanced at the dead-eyed Khepri.


    "Ah, you're wondering about her. We're trying to build up a way for Our Lady of Orwell and Kafka's Nightmares to maintain multiple humanoid bodies. Unfortunately, we haven't managed to work the bugs out. Haha! Get it? Bugs."


    Oh god. Kill me now.

    //

    Another cell phone- or was it the same one?- had been set on my table, showing a hologram of Gaea.


    "I just told the bug joke, didn't I? I did! Oh, that is so fucking cool!"


    A child's voice could be heard yelling in the background of the phone. "Hey, stop swearing! It's crude!"


    "Later, third scariest thing in the room with me. I'm having an alt-reality conversation with myself! Hi me!"


    Indeed, she was. In the other timeline, she'd just responded. /"Hiya! So what do you want to talk about?"/


    "Umm... I dunno... this is, like, a historical first. It has to be something truly special." /"I have an idea," Her 'other' voice dropped into something low and sultry. "What color underwear are you wearing?"/


    Tattletale- the one in front of me, this time, giggled. "Ooh, you are dirty. But don't go starting that. We both know how Coilcast likes to drop calls."


    I growled. "Okay, you've proven your point. Get on with it already!"


    /I growled. "Okay, you've proven your point. Get on with it already!"/


    "Very well," both Gaeas said at nearly the same time. "Thomas Calvert. Coil. You are guilty of crimes ranging from kidnapping a child to abuse her parahuman abilities, to murder, to treason. You have one of two choices to make, and no you may not make them both. The first: surrender and agree to work for us. In light of the dangerous nature of your power, you will accept a surgical implant that will prevent you from betraying Pantheon or any of our interests. If you accept, you will be allowed to continue much as you always have been, but supervised by Pantheon."


    "It's going to be so cool working with a power like yours!" The child voice shouted- in both timelines again. "I can create a system to read the subprocesses in your ner-"


    "Your other option, available at any time," Gaea continued, interrupting the girl. "You may reject our offer of work leniency and be free to leave. However, due to the nature of your crimes and lack of remorse, you will be stripped of your powers permanently."


    She took a breath. "In both cases, your gains will be examined and potentially confiscated. Specific details will be discussed later."/


    In my kitchen, the Gaea hologram continued. "We'll be keeping this timeline. You have five seconds to collapse the other, or you'll discover what plan 'C' is."


    "Goodbye, Me," Tattletale shouted. "I'll remember our love forever!"


    /"I'll cherish you for the next two seconds!"/


    I resolved to keep the 'base' timeline active through whatever they attempted. They weren't alert, and I had my hidden gun. It should-


    Then I started screaming. In both timelines. I didn't care about the lack of dignity. I didn't care that I had started to vomit, that my fingernails dug deep enough to peel skin as I scratched at my arms. THEY were growing inside me! Thousands of them! Horrific albino pale worms in every possible part of my body. They had burst forth, sending white hot agony throughout my body. From my tongue and my throat and my hands and my arms and my face and my... oh god, they're still in there! Able to come out at any time like they had in the collapsed timeline. I don't know how they got them in me, but they had to have been breeding.


    The little girl let out an excited squee. "Oh wow, I'm so glad you didn't listen! Think of all the valuable data I'll be able to collect on you power interacts with your neurochemistry from this!"


    All I could do was whimper and beg the three girls. "Take them out, please, I'll do anything. Just take them out of me."

    ======================

    A/N- Guinea Worms. Only very slightly modified. Because why settle for bug armies when you can have bug infiltrators? Also- do not google the nightmares. *shudder*
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2015
  20. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 13 b


    "Okay, babies, dinner is served," Bonesaw sang cheerfully. 'Babies' in this case were tiger mosquitoes. 'Dinner' was a petri dish of synthetic blood infused with modified Guinea Worm lavae. Or... well, a lifeform based on my memories after I'd treated a few cases. I doubt they'd fool an expert.
    Then they were modified further by Bonesaw to have a wider range of senses and a crude sort of telepathic link to one another. I included a modification that ensured only one could reach the adult stage and produce eggs. And even it was less than a quarter the size of the real thing. The rest... would reach only a bit more than an inch long. But there would be several thousand of them when they reached critical mass in two days. Then they'd stop reproducing until the population dropped.


    "I can't feel them," Taylor informed us, even as she made the mosquitoes drink from the blood.


    "You're not suppose to be able to," Bonesaw replied cheerfully. "I've been studying your power." She pointed excitedly to one of the several computer screens she had set up. "You're like a radio reciever. Or, maybe more like an eye. You can pick up a pretty wide range of signals, but there are others which there's no reason you can't see, except that you can't see them. Like skin mites. There are millions of them on every human being. Well, except for my big sister, of course."


    She looked at me with what could only be described as adoration. I cringed. Really wish she'd stop with that. But being the one person alive that she wouldn't take apart and reassemble like a lego set was probably worth the discomfort. Keeping her from doing that very thing with others was more worth it.


    "Okay," Taylor was now in thought. "So... why can't I sense those? It would be really helpful if I could."


    "Dunno. Yet." Bonesaw continued, as her eyes went back to the pitri dish. "Maybe you just can't. Like humans can't see microwaves. Anyway, thanks to the changelings I've been toying with, I figured out how to set to a third frequency. Outside your range and different from the one they're using. But still able to piggyback off the relays Gaea set up to extend your power through the city. And they're tied up to my computer system, which will record every physiological and neurological detail here."
    She tapped one of the screens and it powered on, showing a bunch of numbers and symbols. "Convert it to a 3D map here. She tapped another, which showed a wire model of a human body. Create datapoints over here. A third screen, a series of screens resembling an ECG or seismic reader. This is a sound translator that'll let me interpret everything he's saying. And over here we have..."


    "All kinds of other tinker toys," Tattletale spoke up, interrupting the child monster's explanation. "But back up a second. Are you saying these things can hear?"


    "No, not at all," Bonesaw corrected. "They can feel every movement of his lungs, diaphragm, throat and mouth and translate it into a moving 3D model. From there, it's really easy."


    ....


    "You have to come see this!" Riley shouted. At six in the morning. She had rushed into my room and was literally started jumping on my bed. I muttered something, and immediately forgot what. "It's really really important!"


    I forced myself out of bed and walked to her lab. Tattletale was already there, looking an awful lot like I felt. She had taken to staying with me and Riley. Pretending she was dead meant she couldn't really go outside. Until after Coil was dealt with.


    "Why does Taylor get to sleep in?" She whined when she saw me.


    "Nope, I'm here," One of the Taylor changelings stumbled into the room. "Too early for this."


    "I keep telling you that you should let me install the no-sleep upgrade into all of you. Jack said it's my best- oh, sorry. I shouldn't talk about him."


    "Doesn't matter," I interrupted. "So, what was so important."


    "I got one! A recording of a full alt timeline!"


    That woke Tattletale up at least. "No fucking way! How did you pull that off?"


    She beamed like Christmas had just come early- entirely forgetting to notice Tattletale's casual profanity. "See, right here?" She pointed at a computer chart I couldn't hope to interpret, sitting next to a wire model of a brain. "There's a spike in activity when he activates his power. I wasn't sure at first, but it was followed by a series of anomalous emotional responses and neural activity.


    "Which means?" Lisa prompted. We had discussed it earlier, and I had been warned to NOT reveal to Riley when I didn't know what she was doing. The girl was building me up the way she'd built up Jack. A god. More than a god. A parent as seen through the eyes of a five year old. The responsibility was terrifying. So Lisa and Taylor would play the 'ones who don't get it' for me, whenever possible. It helped that they really, legitimately, didn't get it. And I at least sometimes did.


    "It means he feels everything happening in his alternate timeline! Every emotional event carries over and influences subconscious and physiological responses in both!"


    "Okay, that's something we can definitely use," Lisa answered.


    "The emotional information crosses over instantly. But, it's weird. The memory centers of the brain wait until much later, only responding after the alt timeline collapses."


    "So... we know how the timelines work well enough to predict and potentially counter," Taylor concluded, having woken up enough to really participate. I, however, was still wondering if it was possible to create an organism in my own stomach that did nothing but produce caffeine.


    "More than that," Lisa said with her foxlike grin. "I know how we can throw him off balance and force him into following our script. But first! I need to write a script!"


    ....


    "That's strange," Minerva muttered, watching the screen. I looked up from the book I was reading on theoretical alien ecosystems. Some of the stuff in these was great for ideas. "Riley, come look at this!"


    The little girl shouted back. "But I'm working on the fabrication pod!"


    Another of our joint projects. Functionally like a biomechanical womb to mass produce whatever we needed. I'd still have to construct the original, but afterward, the pod would be able to scan it and build biologically identical copies at our leisure. It'd be really nice not to have to have to waste two hours every time Taylor managed to get one of her copies damaged beyond what I could mend. How does one person manage to lose limbs so easily?


    "That can wait, I can't figure this out!"


    "Oh, fiiiine, but you owe me an icecream!" Bonesaw whined.


    "And you owe me a total of twenty seven hours of sleep!"


    Riley walked in, looking an awful lot like the first time I met her, in child sized surgical scrubs and an apron. Only, this time the spatters of fluid on her clothes and in her hair were varying shades of green instead of red. She leaned over Lisa's shoulder. Lisa visibly cringed when some of the goop fell out of Riley's hair and landed on her shoulder. It proceeded to ooze its way down her back.


    "Huh. That is strange. Adrenaline, endorphin spike, testosterone, looks like..." Riley paused and then managed to look sheepish as she whispered. "I think he was having ess-ee-ex."


    Not something I really needed to know.


    "Oh," Lisa responded, then paused. "No. My power's telling me that's not it. Similar. See the peaked aggression. And I've been around him. There's no one in the building that he's indicated that kind of... familiarity... with. And he collapsed timelines too recently to have brought someone in."


    "Oh god, I can't believe I have to be the one to say this," I groaned. "But there doesn't necessarily need to be someone in the room with him to explain that."


    "I..." Lisa frowned. "Still don't think so. This seems more like... an addiction?"


    Riley grabbed the mouse and started moving things. She was now pretty much dangling on Lisa's shoulder. "That would fit most of the data."


    Time for me to volunteer again. "Maybe he has drugs he only takes in timelines he ends, so he can enjoy the high without suffering the consequences? I could imagine someone doing that with Coil's power."


    Lisa continued frowning. "I don't... know what? It really doesn't matter. What does matter is we know just how closely tied the two bodies are, in spite of separate timelines. Now all we need to do is make him upset and frustrated in both, and I'll be able to figure out what my alternate self is currently up to."


    "In other words, you plan on doing what you do best."


    "Not only that. I plan on doing it twice at the same time while metaphorically blindfolded from miles away," She laughed. "It shall be the highlight of my career."


    ....


    "Okay, everyone's in position," Taylor told us. We were all sitting in the sewer-basement. She was the only one who wasn't wearing the newest iteration in what had stopped being a cocoon and become more like a virtual reality suit. Tattletale also had a couple computer screen interfaces that were designed to show us the important information about Coil's body. That, plus what information she could acquire from her own puppet, and the hologram tinker video phone thing we'd purchased, meant she was poised to watch Coil from on multiple levels.


    Taylor muttered to us. "You know I'm going to mostly useless split three ways like this. I have to manage every movement of these puppets manually when using them like this. It's a royal pain in the ass."


    "How do you think I feel? I have to fix the things after you break them."


    "Okay, he's now asking Dinah questions in his other timeline..." Minerva said, interrupting us. "Oh, shit, she predicted us! Operation's ab... nevermind, she changed it, we can... and it's changed again..."


    "Too late now," Taylor said, her voice going cold. She'd switched to 'Skitter mode'. "We're already committed, we attack now."


    I felt a cold thrill run down my spine. This was going to be epic.


    ....


    As it turns out, 'committed' in this case meant Riley and I sat around doing nothing for a while. Minerva went full Tattletale on Coil. I read him his rights, such as they were. And it was all quite boring.


    Minerva assured us that the other timeline was a complete and total curb stomp. I didn't even need to use my Yggdrasil for the battle. Though Coil was stupid enough to let plan 'C' happen in spite of the warning.


    Riley spent the next four hours studying everything.


    ....


    "So, Coil, how are you feeling?" I asked. I felt kinda stupid asking that, but it had been a weird day. We'd delivered Dinah home. Coil had given the orders to let us do so. His men didn't seem happy about the whole affair- but they didn't do anything about it. Of course, it helped that we made it clear just how utterly they'd lose by having Khepri use her new tranquilizer mosquitoes on many of the guards. Harmless enough, all considered. And fun to watch. They knew they were were hopelessly outclassed.


    "I feel well enough," he answered. Rigid. Calculating. We hadn't stripped him of free will. For the most part. I had a hand on his his arm. It was one of the three lie detectors we had focused on him right now. On top of a system that meant he couldn't lie to any acknowledged Pantheon member.


    "Do you feel about giving up Dinah?"


    "I... would have preferred to keep her. But I believe cooperation with you will prove far more effective and profitable in the long term."


    Good enough, I suppose. The man was as unrepentant as Riley, and didn't have any of her excuses. His choice of a serpent as his theme was entirely appropriate.


    "What about betraying Pantheon's goals?"


    "I wou..." He paused and his face scrunched up. I saw all the signs of confusion. "I apologize. It seems I forgot the question."


    Holy hell. Riley not only implanted a system that would keep him from betraying us... it would keep him from even being able to think of betraying us, or realizing that we'd done so. Well played. A horrific violation of free will, but incredibly well played.


    I soothed my conscience by remembering that every year we would deactivate the device and present the same choice as today- he can stay in a position of working with us. Or he can surrender his powers and be free to leave.


    But, honestly, his goals mostly coincided with our own. He was intent on taking leadership of the PRT and creating a sort of parahuman golden age. We were intent on seeing the corruption purged from the PRT and Protectorate, and justice done for those who warranted it. Motives differed. But I could live with that.


    I could live with a lot of things, these days.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2015
  21. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 15


    With Coil 'dealt with', we were free to act openly. Our main fear was he'd leave the state. More for his sake than ours, as we'd gotten those horrific parasites in him within the second day. There were at most four healers on the continent that could have saved his life once they went active. Two of them were on our team. Granted, they'd never be able to breed or jump to a new host- but they would have destroyed him.


    "I really think we should focus on Noelle first," Trickster said as we walked down the hall. Coil's guards eyed us as we moved, but took no action to stop us. We pretty much had free run of the facility, now.


    "Krouse," the small blond girl with us said with a disapproving voice. "We know we can fix Jess. Noelle is still an unknown."


    The man muttered something I couldn't hear- again the annoyance of a natural body, as opposed to the constructs that were fast becoming more Riley's project than my own.


    We reached the 'wing' that had the Travelers' quarters. The blond, Sundancer, knocked. "Hey, Jess, we've brought her."


    She looked up at me. I could tell she'd been a paraplegic for a while- that kind of complete atrophy takes time to occur. Most of her life, at least.


    "Hey," she said as she smiled at me. Aside the legs, she was a rather unremarkable looking girl. "Gaea, was it?"


    "You can call me Amelia," I replied.


    "I'm Jessie," she answered back. "So, how does this work?"


    I smiled at the girl, even if my thoughts had drifted. "Well, have to ask one question first. Is your disability related to your powers? It happens sometimes, and that is a lot more difficult to repair."


    "No," she responded. "I was born like this.


    "The other question is, how much do you want me to repair? I can give you use of your legs easily enough, but the years of atrophy... either I alter your metabolism and you can regain strength naturally. Or I can fix it wholesale, but it'll require a lot of raw biomass, and it'll hurt like hell as everything is forcefully reshaped. And I can't simply turn off your pain receptors. Not for something like this, where your body doesn't already know what 'healthy' looks like."


    She looked me dead in the eyes. "I've endured enough surgeries to write my own medical textbook. Trust me, I know what pain is. Hit me with everything you've got, I'll be fine."


    "Okay. One step at a time, though," I put my hand on her arm and reached out with my power. I didn't do much healing anymore, but I dipped into her brain as I'd begun doing with every parahuman. Something happened to me, I was certain of it now. Something broke inside me. Or, more appropriately, something was fixed. With everything that happened after Victoria died. It altered me on a fundamental level. And that change freed me from some of my Passenger's power over me. They were... alive. Dormant. Sleeping. But alive nonetheless. I could see them now, though my powers could not touch them. And I knew I wasn't suppose to have that knowledge. They were afraid. Didn't want us to see beyond our petri dish.


    I was a mistake. And they, for whatever reason, hadn't realized something went wrong with me. But talking about it with the others was useless. It was like what Riley had done to Coil. They simply couldn't think about it. Just as I used to be unable to scan into brains- I made excuses about it, invented reasons why I wouldn't. Much as Coil was inventing reasons why he was okay with what we had done, and were doing. Convinced by Riley's Tinkering that it was all part of what he wanted, instead of what we wanted.


    And now I was looking at Jess. Genesis. Every part of her neurology, including the source of her powers. The Corona Pollentia. And... what?


    "You're a Case 53?" I asked, before realizing what I'd said.


    "What? No. Why would you think that?" The girl's emotions spiked. Fear? Not quite. Paranoia. I was getting good at this emotion reading thing.


    "Your powers are..." I frowned, how to explain this. "They're... different than most. They're similar to the Case 53s that I've examined. Was there something unusual about how you obtained them?"


    Trickster answered. "No. Sure, something went wrong with Noelle's power. But that doesn't..."


    "Seriously, Krouse?" Sundancer interrupted. "Considering what she's doing for us? We might as well just come clean about the serum."


    I froze, and then spoke. "Of course. Cauldron."


    "You know about them?" Jess asked, shocked.


    "Not a lot. They're responsible for the monster capes. And they've been selling powers in a vial. Or so it seems."


    Sundancer sighed even as Krouse muttered something that I'm sure was a curse. "I guess that explains what Noelle is. One of the monster capes."


    "It would explain the existence of the case 53s. Selling powers makes sense. Up until now, we weren't sure the point of Case 53s. They might, like Noelle, be accidents of some sort."


    Jess nodded. "The stuff we took had a seven digit price tag. And it came with a warning that it might cause mutations."


    "Usually they've had their memories erased, somehow. I take it that's not the case with Noelle."


    "No," Trickster answered. "But we sort of... we weren't who the vials were meant for."


    The girl whose arm I was touching just had an emotional peak. Not a lie, but there was something about her teammate's answer that she felt wasn't quite true. "I... see. Know how I said we weren't going to expect a payment? That's changing. After I get done here, you're going to get together with Tattletale and answer every possible question she can think to ask. We've been looking into Cauldron since before Pantheon was even formed. That is acceptable, right?"


    Jess nodded her head and Sundancer answered with a "We can do that, right Krouse?"


    "If it means Noelle is fixed, I'll do anything," Krouse responded. "Besides. It's their poison that did this to her in the first place."


    There was that emotional jump again. Something left unsaid. And... anger? No... disgust. Contempt.


    "Well, I've figured out the basics. This will only take a few minutes. Sundancer, Trickster. I'll need you to hold her down."


    My costume's vines wrapped around Jess and moved her to the bed, as her teammates moved to either side. Most of the toga-like outer layer of my costume started pealing off as they wrapped around her legs. It was enough mass to bring her up to a healthy- though definitely not athletic- mass and density. They were, of course, made from the same Yggdrasil as everything else I was using of late.


    They wrapped tight around her atrophied legs, and then started piercing into her flesh and pumping their mass into her. Making them, by whatever bizarre definition my passenger was using, a single lifeform so my power could interact with them both. Jess had a remarkable tolerance for pain. But this was the easy part.


    My cloak-cum-symbiote was quickly converted into some semblance of human flesh, and I began binding it, inch by inch, into her existing bone, muscle, circulatory system, skin, and nerves.


    That's when she started to scream.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2015
  22. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 16


    By the time we had made it to a very well fed Noelle's chamber, Jess was walking on her own, if poorly. She leaned on the rather smaller Sundancer to help her balance. Her new legs were more than reasonably strong, but she had never used them before. It would be some time before she made up the skill.


    I was already prepared for Noelle to be a monster, when the smaller reinforced door was opened. But I wasn't prepared for just what that meant. Her lower body looked like nothing more than some freakish sandworm monster. Gnarled, misshapen flesh, eyes randomly parsed across her body. Multiple mouths, also without any rhyme or reason. She was massive- easily larger than Crawler, which she uncomfortably resembled. Larger than Leviathan. Maybe even Behemoth.


    She wasn't nearly as intimidating as the Endbringers, however. Her body was less like a god's personal killing machine, and more a piteous thing from some movie about post apocalyptic mutants. On top of all this was a girl. Hooked into the rest like a centaur of sorts.


    And Riley. Who had somehow climbed up the monstrous mass. She was currently sitting next to Noelle on the top, and had handed her an oxygen mask to hold while she set everything else up. Noelle's mass would make the rest of this kinda difficult. And Riley knew more about this than I did.


    We'd altered her appearance- or at least that of her changelings. Black straight hair, now. Adjusted to appear as a teenager, of some combination of racial characteristics that'd make it hard to decide if she was Asian or Hispanic. It's not that we didn't trust the Travelers. But we really did not trust anyone when it came to this. 'Hey, we have a pet Bonesaw in our basement. You don't mind that we're sheltering one of the most notorious and dangerous serial killers in the country, right?' Yeah, that'd go over real well.


    "Be careful down there," she shouted to us. "The flowers have teeth."


    I hadn't noticed them before, but there were a number of plants sitting in pools of random goo distributed near Noelle. I move a little closer and one of them hissed at me.


    I quickly stepped back.


    "I've never seen her power do that before," Trickster replied. "She copies people and animals, as I explained. But plants? That's new."


    "It... that's probably our fault," I answered. "She's using a sort of remote controlled puppet I made. It's made of vegetable matter, mostly. We thought it was safer that way. Fewer people who could get hurt."


    Trickster shrugged. "That's a good idea. Marissa, would you mind clearing them out?"


    The miniature sun that was Sundancer's claim to fame flickered into existence near the plants, and I watched them shrivel, die, and then promptly burst into flames. "If only it were that easy every time," she muttered sadly.


    I looked at Noelle. "I don't know if they told you what this would require."


    "My powers are going to be taken away, of course," she replied. "Good. I don't want them. I never wanted them."


    "That, yes," I responded. "And possibly more. I won't know until I try."


    She sighed. Through all of her mouths. The already rancid stink in the air got worse, bad enough to bring tears to my eyes. "If you can't fix me, then I want you to kill me."


    Trickster moved past me, "Noelle, please! You're not thinking straight."


    "SHUT UP, KROUSE!" The mouths shouted. It worked. He stumbled back. "I... I've given this a lot of thought. I've had years to think about it. This is my last, best, chance. Clarice says her anesthetic will probably only work on me once. I want it clear. I either wake up normal, or I don't want to wake up at all. Can you do that for me?"


    I hesitated. For everything I'd done... killing someone... sure, it would be simplistic. Even with her mass, it would probably only take seconds. "I..." ultimately it was easier for me to lie. I was good at lying. "You won't wake up a monster."


    Riley, or Clarice, if you preferred to use her new fake name, finished setting up all of her equipment. "Okay, just remember to breathe really deeply and count backward from ten," one monster instructed the other.

    Noelle started counting, and Riley took a running leap off the side of her body, spreading her arms and legs out and landing belly flop style on the concrete. She climbed to her feet. "Durability stress testing," she stated, as if that explained everything.


    I placed my hand on the already unconscious girl's body. Everyone tensed, ready to destroy a clone if one appeared. But that didn't occur. Whatever Riley did, it worked. I expanded my senses into Noelle. And almost screamed.


    Her body wasn't trying to become an Endbringer, like the Travelers suspected. It was trying to become a Passenger. Or... trying to become a Passenger... that was trying to become a person? I didn't know for certain, it was so very alien. Following biological rules I hadn't realized could exist. Drawing mass from other dimensions to construct itself. Or, I had to guess that's what it was doing. The mass was coming from somewhere, and it wasn't just her diet.


    She had no less than two Corona Pollentias. And one had grown to twice the mass of a normal human brain. It was contained somewhere below one of the constructs in her lower body that superficially resembled a stomach. It was rendered inactive by Riley's chemicals.


    I got my first true look at it. Not too different from an ordinary human brain. It even had the cerebellum structure in the Gemma, although it was a single mass instead of a pair of lobes. And it didn't behave like a normal brain behaved. It was closer to the nerve bundles I used to control my puppets.


    I started separating Noelle from the monster beneath her. she'd have to live with not having legs for at least a little while. The corrupted tissue beneath was not something I was willing to use to rebuild her. It was... I wasn't certain what it was. Like some kind of sapient tumor.


    And then it moved on its own. Riley's drugs had rendered Noelle unconscious, but not the monster beneath. One of its limbs swung toward me- too fast for me to avoid. I felt a tug and was thrown back, out of reach. Riley had pulled me out of the way, only to be batted hard enough to fly into the concrete wall twenty or so feet away. She dropped, the impact force was enough to kill even a changeling.


    Fortunately, it was just a changeling. Taylor went through them all the time. But *I* was actually here in this room with that monster.


    "Noelle?" Trickster shouted at the rampaging thing. "Please! You have to calm down."


    She's not in there, I thought. That thing, the Passenger, that was all that was. Riley's concoction had backfired. It would have worked on a case 53. It would have worked on a parahuman. It only make things worse for Noelle.


    I was moving even as she approached Trickster and the other two. Jess had fallen and was trying to crawl away with Sundancer's help. They wouldn't make it in time, and Krouse was too stupid to even try.


    It was distracted. And that's what Noelle had become, an it. I had to convince myself of that for at least the next three seconds. I made contact and reached out. My power... I had never used it like this, but now I didn't have much choice. I couldn't afford to be picky or specific. I didn't bother trying to create. I simply destroyed. Her nervous system, converted instantly to barely organic goo. She was paralyzed, but regenerating. The circulatory system, I replaced with digestive enzymes and acids. Regenerating. Nervous system again, converted to tree fibers, if only to block the regeneration. It worked for all of five seconds.


    Which was enough time for me to target the Corona Pollentia. I shredded it entirely. Down to the last cell. Cutting off whatever part of its nature allowed the Passenger to reach through into this world and grant powers.


    And with that, Noelle was no more. I slumped to the floor, covered in the goo that was once a monster that was once a girl.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  23. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia Ch 17


    "Why did I ever agree to this?" Taylor moaned beside me.


    "Because it was Minerva's idea, and you do absolutely everything she says because you're hopelessly in love with her?" I replied.


    Next to me, Riley snickered.


    "If she did everything I said, we would be several hundred miles away from Brockton Bay at this moment," Lisa muttered.


    And above us, our doubles were the guests of honor at an outdoor press conference. It had been eight days. Eight days since Victoria died. Eight days since Taylor and I formed our alliance. Eight days since I became a premeditated murderer and had added one of America's most terrifying parahumans to our team, alongside the person I hated most in the world. And in the last week, we'd committed a horrifying violation of human rights and set ourselves up to be entirely capable of being more dangerous than Heartbreaker and Nilbog combined.


    The good we'd done. Rescuing Dinah, harnessing Coil, curbing the activities of E-88, the fact that my murder was Jack Slash... did all of that balance out the bad? I couldn't say. I was still frustrated by our continuing failures to cure Noelle. I didn't even have the benefit of knowing exactly what I'd done wrong. But at least she never knew. We'd try again later.


    But I would see justice done for my sister. The PRT's crimes would be publicly exposed. We would protect this city, and we would do it in spite of those claiming to be heroes. Really, it was becoming far more than that. Dinah's predictions of the End of the World meant we had a planet to save. But that was more than a decade away from us.


    Today we were being honored as heroes on a hastily set up stage right next to Crater Lake. Not very far from my new apartment, actually. I'd learned that Coil and Lisa had purchased almost all the land surrounding the hole already, in anticipation of it later being far more valuable. In... oh, about an hour.


    "So, tell me how you managed to make this happened?" I asked Lisa.


    "Well, rescuing his niece made him pretty willing to hear us out," she responded. "But, truthfully? There's an election coming up and, after all the hell this city's been through, he has to look damn good or he'll never have a political career again in his life. Voters are willing to forgive acts of god and/or satan. What they're not willing to forgive is a leader looking weak and ineffectual."


    "So he's using us to win a popularity contest," Taylor muttered unhappily. "Like fucking high school all over again."


    "Swearing!" Bonesaw snapped quickly. At least she's getting better about it.


    "That statement alone qualifies you for a bachelor's degree in political science," Lisa continued. "On the plus side this means all we have to do is smile, let the mayor's spin doctors make us look amazing, and let Coil's influence carry us forward after he forgets about us for whatever keeps his backers happy next week.."


    I sighed. I was with Taylor on this one. That was... depressing would be too kind a word. This 'use and be used' mentality was not okay. I'd have said something, but now was our time to play our parts in the sad world known as politics.


    "So it is my honor to introduce Pantheon," the mayor said with a smile that might even be genuine. We were saving his career, after all.


    We stepped up, smiling. "Thank you," I said as I took the podium. "It's no secret that I'm pretty terrible at public speaking," I said to the audience. I even got a couple chuckles. Panacea had always been the absolutely least approachable member of New Wave, when it came to the media. "As such, I believe it would be easiest to start by allowing my team to introduce themselves and briefly explain their powers. Starting with myself. Gaea, biological modification."


    I stepped aside and Taylor took the mike. "Khepri," she started. "I can control bugs. Which, it turns out, is not as lame as it sounds."


    She even did it without the swarm-voice. Our powers were already scary beyond all reason. Didn't need to add that dehumanizing element. She handed the mike off to Lisa and stepped off to the right, next to me, as the other two girls moved closer to the podium.


    "Minerva," Lisa replied. Of all of us, she was the one most comfortable with the stage. "I have the ability to be lucky at guesswork. I'll spend most of my time playing dispatch for the others, so be sure and take a lot of pictures. They'll have to last you for a while."


    She handed off to the final member of our current quartet. Riley's safe-to-be-outside changeling. "I'm Aceso," she started. "Mid level brute package coupled with a form of combat precognition and a few other minor tricks."


    Yes. That was the closest we could get to making Riley sound safe, while still being true. Sorta. Turns out, the whole martial arts myth about being able to kill someone with a tap to the arm is damn close to true when you're a biotinker. That, and she'd done so many things to her personalized changeling that there was almost nothing left of my work inside it. It was more machine than anything, and qualified as a pretty impressive brute in its own right.


    She handed the mike back over to me. Now we had functionally surrounded the podium, giving the reporters a chance to capture us all together.


    "We'll be taking questions now," I said after they'd had a few moments to get their fill. It helped that none of us were actually on the stage. It helped that Lisa was telling us how to play to the camera from while we were all nice and safe. I pointed at one of the ones in the front row, at Lisa's instruction. She knew which reporters we should pick from better than I did.


    "What do you call that vine thing that you have been using?"


    Ah, the easy one. Thank you Lisa, for letting that start us off. "I call it the Yggdrasil. I've already provided all the documentation to the government about its function, but it is perfectly safe and unable to survive without me."


    I picked another, second row this time. "Yggdrasil is a Norse icon, right? Are you worried about being associated with, or provoking, Empire Eighty Eight."


    "They don't exactly have a copyright claim on ancient mythology," I replied. "Besides, E88 would already hate us." I gestured over to where our 'obviously ethnic' Aceso stood next to Minerva. She waved daintily toward the crowd and their cameras.


    Minerva spoke up. "It's true. I'm actually Jewish."


    That earned a few chuckles. 'You are not,' The real me stated.


    'You can't prove that, and neither can they,' Lisa replied.


    'Whatever, moving on.' Above, I picked out another reporter.


    "It's something of an open secret that you are Panacea, of New Wave. Did you have a second trigger? These new powers seem to suggest you have."


    Ah, was expecting that one. "No. I have the same powers and weaknesses I've always had," I responded. "If you examine the records of the cases I've dealt with, it's always been known that I can manipulate life other than human. I just hadn't really considered how useful plants could be until recently."


    "What about New Wave, aren't they a family team? Why did you choose to leave?"


    Well, ouch. "I disagree with some of New Wave's policies," I answered. "And due to recent events, including the loss of my sister. It's... it's time for me to move on. Follow my own direction, instead of one set for me by others. I respect what New Wave tried to accomplish. And wish them the best in the future. But I believe Pantheon will prove better for me."


    Pointing to another. "This is for Khepri. Much like Gaea, it's an open secret that you were Skitter, a member of the Undersides, a villain group. Why the change of heart? And do you expect that you'll be granted leniency for your previous activities?"


    'What the fuck, Lisa?' Taylor hissed. 'I thought we were going to get the easy questions.' Her changeling simply paused for a second.


    'We'll have to answer it sooner or later, and this is the friendliest group of reporters we will ever encounter,' she said back.


    Khepri stepped forward, taking the mic and letting me move to the side. "Yes. I was a villain. I hurt some and terrorized far more... and I am sorry. I won't try to offer any excuses, and I hope my actions in the future will prove I'm sincere. The name I chose for myself is a symbol of rebirth. And Pantheon is that for me, a chance to be reborn."


    I came to her defense, of course. "Part of what Pantheon stands for is second chances. We've all done our fair share of wrongs." Mine worse than most. "The fact is that Khepri is here, trying to do the right thing, is enough to give her that chance. Speaking as someone who was on the receiving end of her actions as Skitter, and seeing what she's done to make up for it. I've already forgiven her." Strangely enough, it was actually true. I hadn't quite managed to forgive Lisa, mainly because I didn't think she was actually sorry about anything she'd done, but Taylor had been nothing but remorseful.


    Beside me, the Mayor reached out. "If I may?" I handed him the microphone. "I have to agree with Gaea. It would be easy for me to hold a grudge, after the Undersiders crashed my last dinner party, but seeing what these girls have achieved in the wake of Leviathan and the Slaughterhouse Nine. As well as what they have planned for the future, I can forgive her as well. What our city needs now is to come together and work for the future as a community, not sink to petty recriminations."


    There was some applause from the audience.


    'That was his plan all along, wasn't it, coming to our rescue, right after throwing us at the bus like that?' Taylor whispered.


    'Yup, pretty much,' Lisa responded. 'Had to let him do it. Too good a plan to let go to waste.'


    The applause died and I was handed back the microphone. The reporter who asked that question of Taylor looked entirely too pleased with himself. Oh well. I returned the mic to Taylor. 'You should be the one to announce the next part,' I told her.


    "Part of that atonement," she said after a moment. "Is the reward money and bounties for the death of members of the Slaughterhouse Nine. As one of the Undersiders, I have partial credit for Burnscar and Shatterbird. I have individual credit for the Siberian. And as part of Pantheon I have partial credit for Jack Slash and Bonesaw."


    That earned some whispered conversation. Thanks to the construct's senses, I could hear them. None of it was very interesting, almost all speculation on how the 'bug girl' could kill someone that had literally punched Alexandria's eye out. "It comes to a large amount of money. All of which I plan to use in the rebuilding and recovery efforts. I didn't fight the Nine for a profit. I did it to be a hero."


    "Speaking of, most of Pantheon's work has been pretty below the radar when it comes to heroics. Is that going to change?"


    "Yes, on both accounts," I nodded. "In spite of our ostentatious name, we believe in doing what helps people, not what makes headlines." We also believe in not attracting attention to the fact that we're S-class threats before we're ready. "I have used my Yggdrasil to clear out blockages and clean up hazardous materials. Restoring the sewer system to working order and undoing the damage which Leviathan had inflicted. Khepri has been using her control of insects to clear the camps and hospitals of disease carrying vermin. Minerva has been helping us by sending us where we're most needed, and planning our future steps. It's not the things that usually gets noticed, but it's what saves the most lives."


    I paused. "Still, we're about to step up and start doing things on a more visible level. The first involves setting up a legitimate base of operations. The city has been kind enough to donate a small area for us to set up a home of our own."


    "Where at?" One of the reporters asked.


    "You're looking at it," I said, gesturing at the huge sinkhole. "You'll have to forgive me for letting my team handle the rest of the questions, but my power is touch range only, after all."


    My changeling stepped off the podium as everyone watched, and walked over to the water's edge. Meanwhile, underneath, I was extending my control across my plants. I had tens of thousands of tons of raw mass to work with, but this hole was massive. Without the relay system, Taylor could not have influenced bugs on opposite sides of the shore at once. A testament to just how powerful Leviathan was. And how we were going to upstage him.


    My copy stepped into the water, and the Yggdrasil poured out. It wasn't elegant at all, there really was no time for it to be. Ninety percent of the material I controlled was functionally vomited onto the water, flowing over it and forming root systems to reach the bottom. A dome of branches and roots formed near the center, creating a stout, wide building. Two stories high, a full city block in width. It wasn't the prettiest thing in the world, true, but it was ours. Trees sprouted up at intervals near the edge of the crater, blossoming and forming fruit almost immediately. Underneath the carpet of greenery, the Yggdrasil drank heavily of the water of the lake. It would be a while, but eventually at whole underground would be filled with the plant's mass. Give or take a few deep level basements for Riley to work.


    During the fifteen minute process, no one had spoken. There was the occasional gasp, and the reporters had of course moved to get the best view possible. I was exhausted. For the first time since I had started legitimately using my power, I had tired myself out. I hadn't even set up relays for Taylor in the base. She'd need one near the center. Probably two, actually.


    Speaking of Taylor, she took the lead when it became clear I was done for the day. "As you can see," she said to the silenced reporters. "We are ready for business. The city already has the details they need, but on top of working as our base, we will be setting up a number of facilities. Notably, near the northeast end, we will be providing an area for repair and sanitation crews to dump their refuse. There will be a patch of special Yggdrasil which is capable of breaking down almost any material and will serve to reduce travel time for disposal. Near the south end, we will be establishing an area to serve as another temporary camp. The trees near the perimeter produce edible fruit. Feel free to try them out, they taste similar to how they look. And thank you for your time."


    It took us eight days. Eight days for Pantheon to become the single most visible group in the city. Possibly on the eastern seaboard, once my stunt really got into the news and other stations got in on the action. Tomorrow, and for the next few days, we'd worry about all of that. But tonight? Tonight I needed to be physically carried to bed. I wouldn't be doing something like that again for a long time.


    ============

    A/N- Yes, they did indeed use the Coil reset button. I'm a troll like that. I promise to never use this, or any other "it was just a dream/etc" scenarios ever again. While Coil's certainly doing his thing, events shown in story from this point on only come from the real timeline.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  24. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 18


    As it turns out, my 'tomorrow' was spent bedridden. With a headache the likes of which I wasn't aware could be survived. It wasn't until well into the afternoon that I had recovered. I got up, eventually, to use the bathroom and brush my teeth. I was sticky, and I smelled bad. Not things I was normally familiar with, as my power typically dealt with hygiene for me. Well, for the most part at least.


    "Welcome to the wonderful world of thinker migraines," Lisa announced when I managed to wander out of my room. "Your complimentary t-shirt and bottle of pills will be delivered in six to twelve business days."


    "Great," I muttered. "I'll be sure and wear it every time I do something stupid."


    "Hey, don't sell yourself short," Lisa replied. "You regularly scan every blood vessel in the human body simultaneously. If you stretched all that out end to end, it'd wrap around the world two and a half times. And that's just the blood vessels. It takes a pretty strong thinker power, to track all that."


    "Good to know. Can I use it to find coffee?"


    "Nah, but I got that covered," she smiled. "Oh, by the way, 'Clarice' wanted to let you know she can surgically upgrade your brain so you don't have to worry about that anymore. I told her I'd deliver the message, but she should probably worry about getting Taylor another fully equipped changeling."


    Glad Lisa chased her off, I thought. The way my head feels, I'd probably have accepted. "Again? What did she do this time?"


    "Night and Fog."


    "Well, at least it wasn't another Hookwolf. Why does she keep doing this?"


    "I dunno, let's ask her..."


    At that point, Taylor came around the corner holding a couple styrofoam cups. I could smell the coffee scent from here. Also, how the hell does Lisa do that? "Ask me what?"


    "About your playdate with E88 last night," Lisa smiled.


    "I keep telling you. It's a perfectly valid tactic," Taylor sighed with exasperation, handing me the beverage that I had come to love and need. "I keep them off balance without making them feel like they're losing. It means they can't really advance, but also don't feel the need to come after us hard until we're ready for it."


    "We don't care about them advancing," Lisa countered. "They can take this whole city and we'd be able to take it back in under an hour. We WANT them to win. At least temporarily."


    "I know," she agreed. "But I'm getting restless. I want to actually do something, all this waiting sucks." She paused. "Umm... Amy... you might want to finish that coffee fast. I think your family's headed this way. You've got about five minutes."


    "Already?"


    "Already."


    I skipped the shower, using my power to self clean my skin pretty effectively while combing my hair and brushing my teeth. It'd be my first step into the public eye after that press conference, and I couldn't afford to be anything but perfect.


    We took the sewer path, regardless. It wasn't really any slower, and it had the benefit of keeping my house off the radar. My identity was entirely public, and I would compromise Taylor and Lisa's identities if they were seen with me out of costume. Thanks a lot, Carol.


    We emerged near the edge of my Yggdrasil, right where the sewer line entered the crater. It was a simple enough matter to form a staircase from the layers of root and biomass. My favorite part of dealing with my construct was that it lacked any kind of centralized system. Cut it to shreds and each piece was still just as alive as it was as one singular organism. I could twist and shape it any way I liked, and it would not be harmed. So much easier to work with than human beings.


    The remnants of New Wave were already there when I came out to meet them. Mark and Sarah were flanking Carol. Crystal was a bit off to the side, looking decidedly uncomfortable. Her eyes darting from me to Khepri and back more than once. A number of people had started to gather around, to see the spectacle in the time before we arrived.


    A swarm of bugs were kind enough to convince them to step back. And, for added measure, I stepped out of my sandals- best part of my costume design, really- and placed my bare feet onto the ground. Seconds later, we were surrounded by a six foot privacy hedge.


    I smiled as my supposed family looked around, more than a little startled by the casual display of power. That's right, weak little Amy can do all this.


    "Thanks," Carol finally spoke up. "It's better to have this conversation in private. Amongst family." Her eyes had focused over to where my partners stood. She locked them down in a stare. As if trying to demand they leave. Had to give it to her, she was good at intimidating people. Even people who could, one way or another, destroy her entirely. She couldn't do much to stop Khepri. And god help her if Minerva went after her. But this was my fight, not theirs.


    I could feel the pressure where Taylor started to turn to leave. Lisa didn't, of course, but whether that was due to her lack of sensitivity, or predicting what I was about to say, I couldn't know. "So we're agreed, then. They belong here."


    Carol's lips drew together in that disapproving way she was so good at. "I see," she said coldly. "Very well. We can do this in front of your friends."


    Was that really some kind of power play? Now.


    "Amy," she started.


    "Amelia," I interrupted, my voice every bit as frigid as hers. "My name is Amelia Claire Lavere. I would thank you to keep that in mind."


    She didn't bother arguing the point. "Imagine how shocked we were to discover you were leaving the team, from a newspaper? Couldn't you have shown the courtesy of informing us in person?"


    "Mark didn't tell you?" I asked. "What about Victoria? I made it clear to them that I had no intention of returning to New Wave. And that was almost two weeks ago."


    "Mark said you were upset, after everything Bonesaw had done. And Victoria refused to speak about it," she looked around. "If she saw what you were doing here, I could see why she was disturbed. Amy-"


    "Amelia," I corrected again.


    Sarah moved up and put a hand on Carol's shoulder. It was enough to quiet her. "Amelia, fine," Sarah spoke up. "You have to know how dangerous this is. What you're doing is going to frighten people. And rightfully so. It'll set back the parahuman rights movement. Destroy everything that New Wave has been working toward. Please. I know you're upset, but this isn't going to help. It'll just make things worse for all of us."


    She was right, of course. Why couldn't she have taken me in, instead of Carol? I could have had actual parents. Victoria wouldn't have been my sister. Not that cousin was a great deal better. But that really wasn't the problem...


    "Right," I managed to bite out. "How could I forget when it was hammered into my head since I was thirteen years old? My power would scare people. I can't let people realize just how powerful I am. That fear, and don't think I didn't pick up on it, that I'd turn out like my father."


    Carol stepped back like she'd been slapped. Sarah looked down.


    Mark spoke up. "Amy, please, I know I haven't been the best father. I tried, not that that's an excuse. "


    I sighed. "No, you're right. You, at least, did try. I can't blame you for that. But I can blame her." I locked eyes with Carol. Years of frustration and repression boiled to the surface. I couldn't control it if I wanted to, and I definitely didn't want to.


    "I probably couldn't have helped you, not until Bonesaw forced me past my own mental blocks. But if it weren't for Carol... then Victoria would still be alive."


    There. I said it. And it felt amazing. And I wasn't about to stop. "Maybe even Eric and Uncle Neil."


    "You can't know-" Carol snapped back.


    "Can't I? I fought the fucking Siberian to a god damn standstill, something even the Triumvirate never accomplished. I made sure Jack Slash died screaming. I did all that with only a day of preparation. I built this in a week." I gestured to the ground beneath our feet. "I could do it again in another month, at the rate we're going. Imagine what I could have accomplished in three years! If you'd encouraged me to use my power. Instead you force fed me horror stories about Nilbog! Made a little girl terrified of herself!"


    "Maybe I couldn't have stopped Leviathan. My ego's not so big as to believe I'm a match for an Endbringer. But my Yggdrasil would have easily held back the ocean. Got people to safety. Let Eidolon focus on offense instead of defense. We'll never know the lives I could have saved in that fight. Neil and Eric may have been amongst them. Make of that as you will." I breathed slowly, calming myself enough to continue speaking. "There is, however, no possible doubt that I could have ended the Slaughterhouse Nine, all of them, the day they stepped into Brockton Bay. Every life lost to them, including Victoria's, is on my hands. And yours. I want you to know this."


    Carol actually broke. She sobbed. I'd made her cry. "Please, Amy, we're your family."


    I felt guilty, then. But I was still angry, and I was angry that I felt guilty. "You are not my family. Victoria was my family. You are the people who kidnapped me. Now leave before I make you leave."


    I let the privacy wall collapse, joining the mass of the rest of the Yggdrasil's mass. It would even itself out naturally, without any direction on my part. I didn't wait for them to respond, I simply turned and headed toward what was becoming our command center. I felt them lift off and leave.


    Somehow I held myself back until I was alone. I let go of my self control and my anger. I slid down against a wall and pulled my legs up to my chest and allowed myself, for the first time since we started this, to be Amy again. I was still crying when Clarice found me. She said nothing. Simply sat down next to me and waited in silence until I was finished.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  25. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 19- Cherish Interlude


    I was having a very bad week. Not as bad as when I joined the Slaughterhouse Nine. But close. For the last few days I'd been trapped on this abandoned ship. What kind of city just leaves abandoned ships sticking out of the ocean?


    I had spent a lot of time alone with little more than my own thoughts and the view of a city. I'd even started wondering if they'd forgotten about me. I wasn't, strictly, trapped here. If I was willing to swim a couple miles in frigid choppy waters full of sharp objects while wearing around thirty pounds worth of metal on my arms and legs... I could escape.


    Still, all my leverage died when Amy fucking Dallon manage to kill Jack Slash. How the hell did that happen?


    I wasn't sure, but it did. Now the entire Slaughterhouse Nine was quite dead. Except for two. Myself, and the little nightmare girl coming to greet me in my captivity.


    I'd given up on the idea of influencing her. Or, at least, of it mattering. I could make the child love me desperately, and she would still be capable of killing me without feeling or remorse. And people call me fucked up.


    She scaled up the side of the barge with ease. She must have upgraded her body even more- she wasn't that strong before. Or that tall. As she reached the top, I got a good look at her. She had added almost a foot to her height and changed her features. Gone was the cute little Aryan ideal child, and in its place some unidentifiable ethnic soup young teenager. Still cute. Not that I was concerned about her race or attractiveness.


    I was far, far too busy thinking about everything she could do to me, everything she'd done to others.


    "Bonesaw," I said as she got to her feet.


    "Hey, Cherish," she said cheerfully. "My name's Clarice now. Or Aceso. Either's fine."


    Ah-kee-so? Didn't recognize that one. Okay, ignore it. "Huh, didn't know you were a fan of that movie."


    There was no twinge of recognition, only a little confusion. "Oh, you didn't pick it from there. Huh."


    "What movie?" she ask.


    "Silence of the Lambs? Serial killer went around skinning girls? You've never seen it."


    "Nope," she answered. "I'm not allowed to watch scary movies."


    ... "What?" I started laughing. I couldn't help it. This was Bonesaw. The living embodiment of the horror genre. The monster that kept other monsters up at night in fear. And she's not allowed to watch scary movies?


    She waited for me to stop. "Y'know, it's not nice to laugh at people."


    "No, but I'm not a nice person. And neither are you."


    She shrugged. "That's okay, I have my big sister now. She'll help me be better. She says everyone deserves a second chance." She said it with such disturbing conviction. I had to wonder if I ever felt that way about my family. No, probably not. I only had myself, after all.


    "She's not your sister. Won't ever be your sister. HER sister is dead, and no matter what you do, you won't be able to replace her. Face facts, she's just using you." There. Those were the emotional spikes. Genuine ones, she could tell the difference between those and my power at work.


    "You're part of the Slaughterhouse Nine, Bonesaw. There's no turning back. You can't just leave. And we're all that's left. We have to escape before they decide we're no longer useful and kill us both."


    "Amelia did. She took leadership from Jack. And since she's the leader, she gets to make the rules."


    Amelia... oh... "Hah. So that's where you got the name from. Claire. Clarice. Jesus Christ, you've gone full stalker, haven't you?"


    She didn't deign to answer.


    "So, why are you here, 'Clarice'?" I asked. "Is it to offer me the same deal you got? Or what you did to Coil? Yeah, I know about that. Join you or have my powers stripped from me? Well, guess what, the second option's a death sentence for me. How is that fair?"


    "No," she said. "Jack was right about you. You'll betray us at earliest opportunity. He thought it was fun. He said it was part of the game. But Amelia doesn't like that kind of game. She's not very good at it. You'd hurt her. And I won't let you."


    "What? I don't get a second chance? She does after mind raping her own sister? You do after enough atrocities to fill a concentration camp? Where does your 'big sister' get off, being my judge and jury?"


    "She doesn't know about this." Bonesaw's voice was cold. Strange. In all the time I'd ever known her, she's never been cold. Always energetic. Always cheerful. This is the first time I'd ever seen her act any other way.


    "She will find out!" my stomach clenched at the certainty of what was coming. She was going to kill me. "You can't hide this from Tattletale or Coil. They'll know. And then she'll know. And she'll never forgive you."


    She paused. Her emotions went into flux. I tried to influence them, but of course failed. Still, if she was confused, it gave me a chance.


    And then she moved. Faster than I had thought possible for someone without speedster powers. Something hit my gut and then pierced it. Finding every flaw in the protective mesh and slipping through, shredding my insides. Why did that surprise me? Bonesaw's work. She'd know better than anyone how to beat it.


    "If that keeps her safe."
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  26. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 20- Crystal Interlude


    I followed my mother home, leaving Amy behind with her new team. And what a team it was.


    Amy and Skitter? I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around it. I'd spent enough time playing chauffer for the bug girl during the Endbringer fight. She was smart. Scary smart, really. I don't know if she really saved all that many people, but she risked her life, was willing to try and fight Leviathan head on with zero protective or offensive powers.


    I... I could admit to myself that I wasn't that brave. Blasting him from afar? Sure. I could do that. Search and rescue? Absolutely. Literally shoving a stick up his ass and hoping for the best? No, that was more than I could see myself doing. The part where she used Armsmaster's own dismembered hand to do it? That was fucked up. Sure, it made sense. But it was still fucked up.


    I had seen how torn up Amy was after the bank heist. Victoria, too, but Vic answered that in her usual 'find something, kick its ass' way. Amy was always the opposite. Running. Hiding. Something happened then. I knew I wasn't that close to my cousin. We were part of the same team. But Amy never really was 'part of' the team. She got the most useful power. But it was also the least flashy one. Well, unless she wanted to go Nilbog. And now it really did look like she was going to go Nilbog.


    I couldn't imagine Skitter would hesitate... in the very short time I'd spoken with her... well, she didn't strike me as the type who understood 'restraint'. A lot like Victoria, that way. Was that what this was? Amy finding someone to replace Victoria? It would explain a lot.


    Well, fuck.


    I slowed down. "Mom, I'm going back."


    "Why?" She didn't sound like she really cared that much. But, well, you try losing a husband and a son in the same day and see what kind of mood you're in. Compounded with what happened with Victoria and Amy and the fact that New Wave was functionally dead now.


    I thought about lying to her. Briefly. But no, she was one of the few family members I had remaining. "I want to try to talk to Amy again."


    "I think 'Amelia' made her position pretty clear," she said back. She had turned and we were hovering.


    "I know. But. Well, you know what Aunt Carol's like. Trying to assert her authority over everyone the way she does. Well, except you, you're the only one she listens to."


    She offered a sad smile. "Yeah. I always could talk her into anything. Even things that she knew were really bad ideas."


    "You should probably talk to her again. After today, I think she needs it. And I think Amy needs it, too."


    She chuckled. "Well. You got your father's way with people. Go ahead, if you think you can help. I'll see what I can do to get through to Carol. Probably should have done it years ago."


    "Thanks, mom, you're the best," I hugged her and then turned and went back. It didn't really surprise me when a black arrow formed out of nowhere when I was still blocks away, although it did still creep me out.


    Skitter's range was at least three times better than what it had been when I carried her during the Leviathan fight. I followed the arrows, since they were still taking me more or less the right direction. Although they had me fly out of my way a bit and enter their... the hell do you call that thing, anyway? Giant mutant tree house? Territory? Base?


    Yeah, it was a base, sure, whatever.


    The arrows, finally, led me right in the door. Or one of the door, this place had a few of them. I landed in front of one, and then it opened itself. A lot like one of those bead curtain doors you see in old hippie movies. I walked in. The place was actually rather well lit. I remembered Amy playing with bioluminescence when we were younger, when she first got her powers. I made her make my Lily's fur glow. That poor cat was miserable all night. The next morning, mom made her undo that.


    The arrows, smaller now at least, led me to a side room where Amy was sitting on a chair that had grown out of the ground. There was another girl nearby, their fourth member, near as I could tell. She was smiling, but it seemed more like that was her default state than any actual amusement or happiness. Something about her made me really, really uneasy.


    Judging by the redness in her eyes, Amy had been crying.


    "Hey, Ames,"


    "So, here to try and get me to change my mind?"


    "I... well, kinda," I admitted. She wouldn't believe me if I said 'no'. Besides, it was true, I did want her to change her mind. "But that's not all of it. I just want to understand why."


    "Because I should have done it years ago," Amy answered. "I bottled everything up. Hid from it. Lied to myself. I can't keep doing it. It hurts too much. Carol was never a mother to me. And Mark, I try to be understanding of his condition, but he wasn't much of a father, either."


    "Yeah, I can see that," I agreed. It was true, after all. "I never spoke up, but I wasn't exactly Aunt Carol's biggest fan, either. Always thought she was kind of a bitch. Cold, distant. It's not like it was just toward you. She's like that with everyone except mom."


    "And Victoria," Amy added.


    "Yeah, and Victoria. I get why you left New Wave. It was always 'our parents, plus Victoria'. She was the media darling, the presumed leader of the next generation. I hate speaking badly about her. But putting her in charge of a team would be a disaster."


    Amy managed to smile. It was nice.


    "It really should have been you," I continued.


    "Me? ...Really..." She didn't seem to buy it.


    "Eric was too worried about girls. I... really don't do well with that kind of responsibility. I can't even handle being in charge of a group project at school. And Victoria called herself Glory Girl," I added with a smirk. "You were the one who always took on all the responsibility. The one of us that was the thinker, and I don't mean that in the parahuman way. The worrier. Especially the worrier."


    "Yeah," she agreed. "I guess I see your point."


    "Good. So I'm not going to try to defend Aunt Carol. She'll have to do that herself. But regardless of what you think. We're still your family and we love you."


    "It's not that simple," Amy responded. "Over a decade of living with someone who acted like you were something between a bad memory and a ticking timebomb doesn't get erased with a few words. Even the kids Victoria brought over for slumber parties were treated more warmly than I was."


    I sighed. Well, I did my best, I suppose. "Alright, can you at least accept that I wasn't a part of that? I was a child back then, too. If you say we're not family... that hurts, but I guess I have no choice in the matter. So can we at least be friends?"


    She looked at me, really looked for the first time since the conversation started. "Y-yeah, I think I'd like that."


    "Good," I answered. "So as your friend, I'm going to have to join your team now."


    "Wh- what?"


    "Yup," I smiled. "You guys keep saying anyone can join. No backsies."


    "Fiiine," she moaned. "But I'm not the one who has to explain this to your mom."


    God damn it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  27. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 21- Taylor


    Amelia had just walked off, leaving Tattletale. Correction: Minerva and I to face New Wave. The didn't say anything, although Brandish was staring me down like I'd just eloped with her daughter. I didn't really stare back. In fact, I barely opened my eyes. I was currently training myself to rely more on my insects' senses. Right now I had touch range contact with the entire city. But I still couldn't hear or see through them in any way that my brain could parse into usable details. It was something I was working to change.


    Eventually, Brandish turned and left, not saying a word to us. Shortly followed by the rest of the team. Lady Photon and Laserdream took off moments after they all left the Yggdrasil for normal soil.


    "Kidnapping?" I asked Lisa as we watched them walk away.


    "Not as far as the law's concerned," she responded. "But if someone broke into your house, stabbed your dad, and took you away to live with them... would it matter to you if it was all legal or not?"


    "They..." I stared hard at the backs of New Wave. What. The. Fuck.


    "Umm..." She interrupted. "Don't go all avenging angel here, okay? It... it's not as bad as I just made it sound. They were stuck in a messy situation, and there wasn't going to be a happy ending. They made a lot of dumb mistakes. They aren't bad people. They're just... not smart people..."


    I sighed. This whole scenario made me think of my father. For all the problems I'd had in life, I at least knew my parents loved me. Was I hurting my father the way Amelia was hurt by hers parents? The way she just hurt them? That needed to change. "Fine, I'll go talk to Amelia."


    Minera spoke up. "Not yet. We have the press to deal with."


    "God damn it."


    "And you're second in command, so it's your job to talk with them."


    "I hate you. Hate you so much."


    And sure enough, there they were. Not wearing anything identifying them as reporters, of course. A woman, and she'd have to be an adult to do that job, who was smaller than I was. Significantly smaller, I'd have mistaken her for thirteen based on her height and figure. Although her face structure, complete with several piercings, suggested older. She was currently pointing the camera at New Wave, while her partners went ahead toward us.


    She moved to catch up after she got her footage. I almost felt sorry for her- that was a big camera and she had very short legs compared to her much larger, male, partners. One of whom was clearly the reporter- a slightly older gentleman, with the laugh lines that said he smiled for a living. And a younger, larger man, probably only ninteen or twenty carried a box that with other equipment.


    "Good afternoon, ladies," the man said. I had to admit, he had the voice for it as well. "I'm Stan Vickery, with channel twelve news, would you mind answering a few questions?"


    "We're rather busy at the moment," I answered.


    "I understand," he said in a way that left no doubt that it wasn't going to slow him down. "But it shouldn't take too long."


    I felt Minerva tense, with the bugs I had on her. I could almost hear her swearing, although she wisely said nothing with the recording equipment pointed our way. She stepped forward, smiling widely. "You're probably right," she said, throwing him off his script. "Mind if I tell you something confidentially, first? I can trust your journalistic integrity, right?"


    Oh boy. She was going to go full Tattletale. "Sure, absolutely." He waved his hand at his partners and they set down their gear.


    "So. Got a tip from the Protectorate, or was it someone else?"


    "Lips are sealed, you know that."


    "PRT." It wasn't a question. "Don't worry, your source already knows what I can do. She probably won't hold it against you. No? No, she'll definitely hold it against you. She's just hoping I piss you off enough that you run a negative story on us."


    He didn't lose his composure, I had to give him credit for that, but his partners didn't have nearly the same confidence. They looked decidedly nervous, and they knew their boss had lost control of the situation. Was he their boss? I didn't know. I wasn't an expert on the hierarchy of news organizations.


    "Thing is, Mister Vickory, I think she underestimated both of us," Minerva continued. "You're a man who truly believes in what you're doing. You wouldn't portray us in a way you believe is untrue, even for revenge. You may use tactics some people would consider sleazy, but you're still a real journalist, not some trash tabloid reporter. Your 'source' doesn't realize that. She also doesn't realize that I can respect people who do what they believe in, and I generally don't try and ruin people I respect."


    He nodded. "Alright. You're every bit as insightful as your namesake. So, how much of what I was going to ask are you willing to answer?"


    "Right now?" Minerva continued smoothly, "Nothing. Although, later, I'll be doing a lot of talking. We are still off the record, of course. You and I both know that the Protectorate's looking to preemptively trash our reputations, without making it look like that's what they're trying to do. A lot of that is because they don't want another hero team in town. Especially one like ours."


    She stopped and smiled.


    "Well, miss," he smiled back. "Consider me intrigued. Why especially yours?"


    "We're competition," she said casually. "Most other hero groups don't have the resources to be truly big time without the Protectorate backing them. And most of the ones that do are villains. It's a matter of monopoly. They like to be the only big name in town, because they're afraid of what it'll look like if someone comes along and makes them look bad. Beats them at their own game. Makes the taxpayers wonder if they're worth keeping around."


    "You believe you're capable of all that?"


    "Well, yes. But it's not about what I believe. It's about what they believe. And it's about competition and monopolies," She'd started walking, and we all followed. She owned this conversation, and everyone here knew it.

    "Take the PRT, for example." She continued. "They have tens of thousands of reporters across the continent, all clamoring for their attention and favor. As of right now, we have none. The Protectorate believes us capable of being a threat to their establishment and are willing to outright lie to hurt us. We have no one willing to tell the world the truth. They have secrets they want to hide. We know at least some of those secrets, and have no one to share them with."


    "Which means the reporter who does hear your story has, as you put it, a monopoly," he concluded.


    "Exactly," she responded. "Let us pretend you had that monopoly. I doubt you'd want to give it up. So, really, I can't blame the Protectorate for trying to get in our way. But I'm not going to let that, or for that matter them, stop us."


    Meanwhile, I had noticed that Laserdream had turned around and headed back our direction. I put a warning up for Amelia to read, and sent a few arrows to guide her around. Didn't need any more footage of New Wave today. Amelia can handle her cousin, I decided. And if not, well, Clarice was with her.


    "I'd say you'd make a good politician," the man chuckled. "But I wouldn't want to insult your intelligence. And journalism's out because I don't want the competition. It's really refreshing to see young people who get it. I guess my questions can wait for another day. How about you ladies show us a tour of your operations?"


    Minerva smiled her biggest smile. "Happily. But Khepri and Gaea are in charge. My job is just to make their jobs easier."


    Easier my ass. You're throwing me to the wolves, here. I don't care if you just housebroke them in front of me. I telepathically shouted at my supposed best friend. She pretended not to hear me, but I knew better.


    "That's actually a really nice soundbite," he said. "Mind repeating that with the cameras on, some day?"


    "Oh, absolutely. We'll have plenty of time to discuss the future," Minerva all but sang. "Now I'd better get back to making your life easier while staying out of the way of the cameras."


    Go die in every fire. Nope. Still couldn't telepathically erase her brain. I'd need to work on that.


    Seriously. Lisa. Fuck you.


    The camera crew got their stuff together, and Stan stood next to me facing them. "This is Stan Vickory on location at Pantheon's new headquarters in the heart of Brockton Bay. This new superhero team has been granted use of what was formerly known as Crater Lake for their own purposes, and they have renovated it to astonishing effect in very short time."


    "I am speaking with Khepri, one of the founding members of Pantheon. " he continued. "The first question, of course, is what your role is within your new team."


    "I'm..." I said. Oh, jeez, what a question that was. "That's hard to narrow down. Pantheon is too small to have narrowly defined roles. Gaea and I lead the team and make most of the decisions on what we do in the future together. In addition, I'm the one with the most combat experience, so I'm going to handle field tactics if and when we need them."


    "Yes. Speaking of which, you have sole credit for killing the Siberian," he continued. "I'm curious, how much was the bounty for her?"


    I smiled. "Actually, I'm still not certain."
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
    rick1497, Yla, BengelHa and 94 others like this.
  28. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 22- Taylor


    "Care to explain that?" Stan said with a smile.


    "The bodies were turned over to PRT custody, as is law in situations like this," I answered. "They will, of course, need to take some time to verify and assign appropriate bounties."


    "I see," he responded. "So the refugee camp you've established?"


    "Is mostly our own money, yes," I answered. "Along with a portion of the disaster relief that would be intended to repair the sewer lines and other infrastructure. City hall is in full agreement with us that using those to rebuild homes and restore electricity is a much more prudent use of resources. The Yddrasil can easily handle waste disposal for the near future."


    "How long will 'near future' be?"


    "As long as it's needed," I answered. "You'll have to talk with FEMA and city planning about that. We'll be here to support our community for as long as they need us to." Of course, that means forever. Of course, it won't take long before the politicians decide it's easier to keep the Yggdrasil and spend the whatever millions of dollars it costs to manage a city's sewers on something far more fun to talk about than plumbing. Vickory was savvy enough to realize that. But he didn't bring it up.


    "That is remarkably generous of you," he replied.


    "It's what heroes do, after all," I answered. "Pantheon's about finding ways for parahumans to use their powers for more than just showing off for the cameras and getting into stupid fights. We'll have a website and a fully detailed mission statement sooner or later. Maybe hire a secretary or two, but that's low on our list of priorities right now."


    We spent the next hour or so doing the full tour. Including the thirty foot deep pit that the cleanup crews were dumping their garbage into. We couldn't get too close for safety reasons, and Vickory was content with getting distant shots. Apparently, closeups of dump trucks full of rubble weren't what news organizations considered desirable footage.


    We were just closing up when a kid started running toward us. Well, he probably my age, but shorter than me by a few inches. Then again, most boys my age were. Stupid growth spurts. He had light brown hair and looked like he was in pretty good shape, for his age. Great arm definition, that's for certain.


    He was gasping and wheezing by the time he got to us. "Hey... I... wanna be... on your... team..." he managed to gasp out. I quickly changed my opinion of how 'in shape' he was.


    I glanced over at Stan, and the crew that still had the camera rolling. Eh, screw it, might as well get this out of the way for everyone. "Well, if you're here to volunteer, you can go check with the people setting up the refugee camp. They can probably use the help."


    He smiled with far too much boyish charm for someone who looked like he was about to have a heart attack. "Nah... I have powers. I wanna join you for missions and shit."


    "Uh... huh..." God damn it, couldn't be an easy one, could it? I activated the camera in my helmet and had a few mosquitoes buzz in Lisa's face, then spelled 'my video' on the wall. She'd get to it soon enough. "We try to avoid putting untrained individuals in combat. We'll accept any parahuman that doesn't belong in the birdcage." And at least one that does. "But we're not going to use you for, as you put it, 'missions', unless we're absolutely certain you can take care of yourself."


    "Oh... believe me... I can totally do that," he was still wheezing. Then he pulled out a knife. God damn crazies, I thought as I took a combat position and reached for my baton. And then he stabbed himself in the throat.


    The camera girl gasped. The rest of us had better composure, at least, but we were all at least a little shaken by the event.


    The boy collapsed into dust, only for there to be an identical looking boy standing right behind him. "See, that's my power," he said without a trace of difficulty in his breathing. "Every time I get hurt or sick or even fall asleep. Poof. Full restoration." He smiled and held his arms out for the camera.


    He's like Alabaster, I realized. He also likes being in front of cameras.


    "So, what are you calling yourself?" I asked, taking the safest route.


    "Ah, right," he said with his boyish grin. "I was thinkin' about calling myself 'Respawn' and joining up with Uber and Leet. Or maybe 'Decoy Boy' and joining the Wards. But now I wanna be in Pantheon."


    "Interesting decision," Vickory spoke up, taking an opportunity while I was still figuring out how to approach this kid. "Would you mind telling our viewers why you'd rather join Pantheon instead of the Wards?"


    Clever man. 'New hero chooses Pantheon over Protectorate' . Two stories for the price of one.


    "Because they're boring. I mean Clockblocker's awesome and all but everyone else is a stick in the mud. And Pantheon kicked the S9's asses and besides they have all the hot girls- no offense Vista, you're a total babe and if you're watching this and wanna call me up I'd love that but I'm sure you get that all the time from the guys on your team so I get it if you're not interested that's gotta suck being around nothing but dudes all the time..." I watched in amazement as he just kept talking. It was all one sentence. How? "... and Uber an' Leet are the same thing just with video games no thanks you can keep the sausage fest I'm signing up fo-"


    Then he spontaneously turned into dust and reappeared again. "Oh. Hate it when that happens."


    "Did... did you literally just talk yourself to death?" I couldn't hide my incredulity. Even Vickory, who had managed to stay collected through Tattletale, showed an expression of surprise and maybe some concern.


    "What? Oh, naw. I've had asthma since I was like three. Every time I have an attack, I reset. No big deal, really," he said with that same smile. "That's not my only power, either. Watch."


    "Born sickly, lifetime of frailty, trigger likely related to illness, overcompensating. Serious self worth issues. Desperate need to prove himself." Lisa's voice came over the com for only me to hear.


    He tossed his knife away. It turned into dust and reappeared in his hand. "I can respawn other things, too. Gimme a gun and I won't ever run out of ammo. Or any other weapon."


    "Holy shit, he's like Oni Lee," Lisa gasped. "I'd put him at Breaker four. Shaker two. Possibly up to six. More if his power works on tinker tech."


    .Well then. "Alright. You've convinced me that you're not likely to get hurt in a fight, that's a start." And an understatement. Could not be killed. Beaten, sure, I could think of a dozen ways off the top of my head. But unkillable.


    "So I'm on the team?"


    "Well... like I said. We won't turn anyone away who wants to help. As for the team that deals with super villains? I'm willing to give you a chance," I answered. "You still have a lot to learn before you're ready to go out in the field, even if you have a power that'll keep you safe. We can't have you accidentally endangering the team."


    "Ah, no, I get it, that's cool," he replied. "I'm ready to learn, Sensei."


    "Also... your parents, do they know?" I asked. He wasn't wearing a mask. Or even a costume. But still, have to ask.


    "Parents are dead," he said, finally dropping the hyperactive thing he was doing. "Siberian. Please tell me you made that bitch suffer before you killed her."


    I thought back reflexively. Yeah, 'suffer' would be a word for it. I hadn't managed to get many insects on Manton before Siberian started protecting the van. I had to rely on a mere handful of Black Widows and wasps for the first few minutes or so, before he was too ill to maintain the projection. It was an ugly and painful way to die. I wouldn't have wished it on anyone. And I'd inflicted it on someone.


    "We'll talk about that in private," I answered darkly. My mood had shifted. I'd never killed before, and I'd be damned if I felt bad about Siberian. But the way he screamed and cried and begged and soiled himself as I assaulted him with far too few insects to make a quick death of it... I'd never stop having nightmares.


    Vickory, at least, caught on. "I understand," he said amiably. "Hero business and all that. We've got more than enough footage to work with. Here," he handed me a card. "So Minerva has my number. No sense in wasting her time or powers finding it another way."


    I took it. "Thanks," I responded. Then I turned back to 'Respawn'. "Okay, I'll take you to meet the rest of the team. Figure things out from there."


    "Fucking sweet."


    "Okay, Lisa," I muttered into my mouthpiece, "Please show the kid mercy."
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2015
  29. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 23


    "What do you mean, 'no'?" Crystal hissed at Taylor, standing from her chair.


    "I mean, I'm voting against adding you to our combat team," she answered.


    "Amy-" She started.


    "Amelia-" I corrected.


    "Is not the only person in this partnership," Taylor. No, she was being Skitter, now. Continued.


    "What about the others," she said, gesturing toward Aceso and Minerva. Don't they get a vote?"


    "Uh..." I started. "We... never really figured out how we were doing that sorta thing."


    Crystal looked at me. "Really? You guys are going to be attracting a lot of parahumans. I'll help you sort that out," she turned back toward Khepri. "After you put me on the team."


    "You're too flashy, too visible, and too vulnerable. We don't fight like New Wave or the Protectorate fight." Skitter insisted.


    "Near as I can tell, you haven't fought at all since starting this group," Crystal stepped toward Skitter menacingly. "Amy-"


    "Amelia," I interrupted again.


    "Took down the last of the S9 and has been doing all the heavy lifting. What have YOU done?" Crystal yelled at the bug girl. Who stood her ground admirably, especially for someone who was making eye contact with an angry girl who could blast her hard enough that I couldn't put the pieces back together.


    "Exactly," Khepri replied. "We keep our combat ops secret. Hit from stealth. And if you do it right, your enemies are down before they even know you're there. Your power, your theme, your looks. They make you great for a more visible position. Public Relations shit. It makes you a liability in the field."


    Crystal looked like she'd been slapped and was going to hit back.


    I stood up. "Okay, Khepri, I want her on the team. She's my friend. She's smart. And she has more field experience and training than the rest of us combined."


    "The rest of us have powers that can work through the changelings," Khepri countered, then looked over at Respawn. "Or don't need them. If she's out on the field, she'll be the only one who can die. And that changes the nature of the game. The amount of risk we can afford to take. Right now, we can't really lose, the worst that happens is we don't win. She changes that. Do you want her out there where she can get killed?"


    I hesitated. Crystal spoke up. "I don't care. I've risked my life against fucking Leviathan! And spent a lot of that dragging your heavy ass around so you could play glorified tracking device with an Endbringer. You don't get to decide which risks I take!"


    "If you're on this team, then yes I decide the risks!" Skitter yelled back. "I make the strategy, and when people die, it's my fault!" She all but screeched the last two words.


    Her voice cracked. "I... I've gotten enough of my friends killed already." She looked down, fought to keep from crying.


    Oh god. Has that been on her conscience the whole time? I got up and moved to her. Pulled her into a hug. Crystal and Minerva looked like they wanted to say something, but didn't. Clarice just watched. She'd gotten quiet and contemplative after the 'incident' with Coil. I was worried about her. But for right now, I didn't know how to handle the problem. Didn't know how to handle Taylor, either.


    It was Respawn that broke the moment.


    "Uh... I know I'm the new guy and all," Respawn spoke up. "But I might be able to help with that whole 'death' thing."


    We all looked at him.


    "Well," he hesitated for a second. "The thing is, I think I can 'tag' her with my power, and it'll work like with the knife."


    "What's the limit?" Minerva asked.


    "Anything I can deadlift," he replied. "Literally. Ever since I got my powers, I've been working out. Y'know, gotta look like a hero and all. Helps that my power heals me up really fast. As I get stronger, my power can handle heavier things." He extended an arm and flexed it, showing off his biceps.


    I had to admit, he was in good shape. Even if he was also weird as hell.


    "I've never tried it on a person before," he said. "But it should work."


    "Powers are..." I still couldn't think of how to explain it to them. "They have weird, seemingly arbitrary rules that don't make sense from a human point of view. Just because it 'should' work doesn't mean it 'will'. This needs to be tested thoroughly."


    "No better time than the present," Khepri replied. "Okay, 'tag' her and let's see how this works out."


    He smiled widely and walked up to my cousin. "You may want to take off the glove," he stated.


    "Uh, why?" Crystal's eyes narrowed.


    "Because you are a lady, and I am a gentleman. And I need skin contact to make this work. So unless you wanna put this off in favor of a couple dates, first..." he kept smiling the whole time.


    I suppressed a snicker. Sure, he could have just touched her elbow or something. But the expression on her face was priceless. Like she couldn't tell if she wanted to blush or punch him.


    I had the feeling he got that reaction from a lot of people.


    "Okay," she said after finding her voice again. She grabbed her glove and in one fluid motion pulled it off and held her hand out.


    "Aww, and I know this great place, too..." he said with a pout. Then he smiled. "Oh well," and smacked her palm with his.


    Skitter pulled her knife and walked over to Crystal.


    "The hell's that for?" Crystal asked.


    "We have to know if his power heals, or just teleports," she answered. "If it doesn't work, Amelia can repair the injury easily enough."


    "That..." Crystal glanced over at Respawn. "Okay, fine, you have a point." She took the knife. And, in a single swift motion, split open her palm. "Okay, let's do this." Her eyes never left Taylor's.


    A second later she vanished. The knife, and Laserdream's costume, fell to the floor.


    Crystal shrieked and bolted from the room, at full flight speed.


    "You knew this would happen!" She yelled from the other room. I moved away from Taylor and rushed to pick up the costume to take to my now disrobed cousin.


    "How could I have known? My clothes come with me!" Respawn countered.


    Crystal grabbed her clothing and peaked around the corner. She looked pissed. "Not you! You're an idiot! HER!"


    And that is when Minerva started laughing. "Oh god! That was the funniest thing I've ever seen." She fell out of her chair. Then Taylor and Clarice joined in. Little snickers at first, but then full on laughter.


    I was next. I couldn't help myself, it was pretty funny. "Et tu, Amy?" Crystal looked at me like she was going to cry.


    "I'm sorry. But. It isn't even..." I struggled to both find a way to explain it, and hold in my laughter. "It... it's not that funny, but we've been nothing but business for the last week. I don't think any of us have even told a joke since we started the team. Except Minerva, and her jokes are only good if you're into schadenfreude."


    Minerva's hand came up from her position on the ground. "I'd be insulted, but it's true." Then she was back to giggling.


    Crystal's face softened. "Fine, I guess it's a little funny. I'm going to get changed now."


    We'd managed to stop by the time Laserdream was back in costume. And then, looking at her, we all started laughing again. "You do realize that my power means I can literally make your heads explode, right?" She deadpanned. That just made us laugh harder. At least she wasn't upset anymore.


    Except Respawn. He hadn't laughed at this at all.


    "I'm sorry about that," he said sincerely. "If I'd realized, I wouldn't have suggested it."


    "No, it's fine," Crystal replied. She even offered him a genuine smile. "You couldn't have known. Besides, as humiliated as it was, it worked. My hand is healed. In the grand scheme of things, being embarrassed is so much better than being dead."


    "Thanks," he smiled back. "And I'm not saying I saw anything. But hypothetically speaking, if I did, I'd have to inform you that you have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. You clearly put a lot of effort into staying fit."


    Her smile left her face. "Aaaand moment lost. I almost thought you were a genuine human being for a minute there."


    He shrugged. "One step forward, two steps back. It's how I move. Besides, I'd feel bad if I gave you the wrong impression." The way he said that was way too smooth for me to believe he hadn't said it before.


    Taylor was the first one to recover. She addressed Respawn. "Okay, we'll have to do more testing with your power," she glanced toward Crystal. "With dummies this time. We know your power can restore people. Now we need to know range, time, and concentration limits. Amongst other things."


    "Speaking of power demonstration... I have a question of my own," he said. "When are you ladies gonna go 'Queen of the Zerg', anyway?"


    Taylor looked at him. "Umm... what's a 'zerg'?"


    =========

    A/N- Ah, yes, I had fun with this chapter. Also, more epic foreshadowing.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2015
  30. TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    6,113
    Likes Received:
    84,863
    Amelia, Ch 24


    Our first idea, of course, was to have me use my power on Respawn. If we could increase his strength, well, the implications were obvious. That didn't work out as planned. Turns out, his power makes him functionally immune to mine.


    Or, more specifically, every time I tried to use my power, he disintegrated. I didn't even get a chance to look at his biology before he was no longer in contact.


    "Damn," Taylor muttered. I agreed. It would have been so nice. Still, even his limited ability got Crystal past Taylor's argument, and made my General feel a lot more comfortable about fights overall. I tried to imagine how that'd feel. As someone else who was used to putting all the world's weight on her shoulders, I could empathize to a degree. All those I couldn't save, all those times I wasn't fast or mentally focused enough after Endbringer fights. That was always devastating. But to be the one who gave the orders that got people killed? I couldn't imagine what that felt like.


    Our power tests continued. As it turned out, Respawn didn't have a range limit. At least, not one we were able to test easily. Well over ten miles, at least. The mass limit was, as he had said, his lifting capacity. A bit over two hundred pounds at this point. There didn't seem to be a limit to how many object he could 'hold', he managed to do almost a hundred pounds of Khepri's bugs at once. But that was still only one or two people of mass at best. His 'recall' time was at most twenty minutes, although things started getting unreliable after seventeen. Minerva guessed that it was a mental component on his part.


    Taylor nodded. "That's an acceptable window. If we still haven't managed to end a fight in fifteen minutes, we're either hopelessly outclassed and should run, or it's an Endbringer. In which case that's still true, but we'll be staying anyway."


    "Looks like I'm on the team, then," Crystal smiled at me.


    "Just need a new name," I agreed. It would be nice to have her around. She's right, what happened to me wasn't her fault, and I know she has my back. Maybe she was a bit too protective, but I could live with that.


    "I know!" Respawn volunteered. "I'm thinking Isis. And I can be Osiris."


    "I don't know anything about mythology," Crystal replied. "But somehow every fiber in my being says 'no'."


    "Harsh."


    "Egyptian god," Minerva offered. "Life, death, and reincarnation. It's as good a fit as any. Isis would be his wife."


    "That would explain that feeling," Crystal agreed.


    "Also his sister," Minerva continued. "Plus her powers are nothing like yours."


    "Eww," Crystal concluded. "How about you go with 'Osiris', and I pick a different goddess? Maybe one from the exact opposite side of the world?"


    "Friend zoned already?" Respawn pouted. "Such a tragedy."


    Aceso replied. "That would be the middle of the pacific ocean. East of New Zealand, south of Hawaii. Maybe Pele? Hawaiian goddess of wind, lightning and volcanoes."


    "I think I'll pass on anything involving volcanoes," Crystal answered. It was no surprise, really, almost no one went with that association, in spite of the powerful imagery. Because Behemoth. So few people used anything which implied fire. Even those who actually controlled fire tried to avoid it.


    "How did you know all that?" Minerva asked. "Did you upload wikipedia?"


    "Nope," Aceso replied. "I have full internet access. Wired it into-"


    "Don't want to know!" Minerva interrupted. "I'd avoid pacific deities anyway. Most of those religions are still being practiced, and some people might think of that as cultural insensitivity. Let's stick to dead religions that no one can get pissy about."


    I nodded. She had a point. People got offended pretty easily over these things. I'd been accused of being some kind of 'demon' before, thanks to my healing powers. Then again, some people get just as offended over soccer games. Or, for that matter, whether it was called 'soccer' or 'football'. We were already pushing enough buttons, better not get into religious quagmires.


    By this time Respawn had moved over to Clarice. "Hi, I don't think we've really been introduced," he said with a smile. "I'm Respawn, or Osiris now. Zach when not being a superhero and all. So you're a tech geek, huh? I'd like to look at your gear."


    He managed to make that sound slightly dirty. Meanwhile, I was stunned. Bonesaw. I am watching someone hit on Bonesaw. And I was too flabbergasted to do anything about it.


    She smiled broadly, in that faux-innocent way of hers that I kept hoping was an act, because the alternative was far more disturbing. "I'm Aceso. Clarice. I'd be happy to. No one seems to want to see my art, or cuddle with me." She pouted. "Not even my big sister."


    "Oh, that's too bad. I'd love to see your art. And afterwards we can-"


    "She's ten," Minerva interjected.


    "... play video games," Respawn finished. He looked over Minerva with an incredulous look on his face. 'Really' he mouthed. Lisa gave a single slow nod.


    I could understand his reaction. The 'Clarice' body would be considered tall by most standards at 5'6, and while it was a slender figure, it wasn't entirely lacking in curves. Especially for the Asian heritage that her features hinted at. She could be mistaken for an underdeveloped sixteen year old. Or a very well developed ten year old.


    Crystal fidgeted uncomfortably, glancing between me and Clarice. Oh god damn it, she figured it out.


    Respawn went to speak again and Minerva interrupted. "I'm a high end thinker whose skills revolve around putting together information from subtle hints. I know things about you that you have forgotten. Like that kitten your parents wouldn't let you have when you were ten. Give me a few minutes, and I can figure out which month it was and the name you had picked out for it. Try anything on me and I will shut you down so hard you'll cry in front of us."


    Wow, I felt that one. Tattletale could be brutal, as I knew first hand. But she was right, we really did need to get him to, y'know, stop trying to flirt with us. Wait a minute. It wasn't 'us'. Just 'them'.


    "Uh... yes ma'am," the kid said, some color draining from his face. "Message received."


    I actually felt a little bit hurt. I mean, it's not that I was attracted to him. Maybe I would have been if I were normal. I was self aware enough to know I was incredibly messed up in that regard. Then again, I had a hard time believing I would go for Respawn- Zach- even if I had a healthy sexuality. But he had, in the course of an hour, managed to hit on every female he'd met, plus Vista by proxy.


    Except for me and Taylor. Probably stupid worrying about that, since Crystal almost certainly suspected that our 'Clarice, brute combat thinker' was really 'Bonesaw, nightmare bio-tinker and last living member of the Slaughterhouse Nine'. Yet, for some reason, the part of me that was a woman was deeply offended by this.


    "So... why haven't you asked me or Khepri out yet?" I asked. I immediately regretted it when all eyes turned my way.


    "Uh..." he stammered while everyone else just looked at me like I was insane for asking.


    "Actually," Taylor added. "I kinda want to hear this, myself."


    "Self preservation," he replied. "Hitting on your boss just isn't a good idea. Hitting on your boss when her girlfriend, who's your other boss, is in the same room? I am both insane and immortal. But that sounds suicidal, even to me."


    What. "What?"


    Taylor mirrored me. "What?"


    "You don't have to hide it. Legend made it cool like two decades ago." he insisted. "You two have great chemistry together. You're both 'sweet and shy' types normally, only to go 'badass action babe' whenever we have to worry about serious shit?"


    We both just stared at him. Lisa started snickering. Crystal and Clarice were just watching us.


    "We're... uh... not dating," Taylor said first.


    "No? Seriously?" he asked. "I coulda swore it was either that or you were sisters, but I think I'd have heard if you were part of New Wave."


    "Well, Amy was adopted," Lisa teased. Earning death glares from Taylor and I.


    "Oh, is that what it is? Whole long lost sister thing? That's kinda cool, too."


    "Also not what happened," I said. "We're not related. We're not dating. Up until a week ago we weren't friends."


    "What about all the hugging?"


    "First, it was just one hug," that you saw, I admitted to myself. "Second. We're girls. We're allowed to hug anyone we want and it doesn't mean anything. It... it's like guys shaking hands!"


    "That is true," Crystal agreed. "It's in chapter 3 of the girls handbook."


    Thank you, cuz, I thought.


    "Of course, when you cross the ten second mark... it's more like guys holding hands." she added while smirking at me.


    Traitor.


    "Wow. I totally misread that everything, didn't I?" Respawn replied.


    "Yes, yes you did," Taylor insisted. I nodded my head in agreement. While glaring at Crystal, daring her to speak up.


    "Alright. So. Since I already have my foot this far down my throat, would you girls like to come with me over to Clarice's place and play video games?" He asked with a smile. A very suggestive smile. "I promise I'll show you those zerg I mentioned."


    I was stunned to silence. And Taylor was no help. She simply put her face in her hands and shook her head.


    =========================

    'Pele' is pronounced paylay. Originally I had it written with the phonic version in the story and corrected it here.

    Also- this chapter marks the start of my love affair with teasing my characters.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015
Loading...