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Amelia, Worm AU

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

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  1. Threadmarks: Chapter Index
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    [​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. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 80- Taylor
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Amelia, Ch 80- Taylor


    "Okay, ladies, open up!" Came a voice from outside the door. I already knew it was Lisa, of course. Anyone else would have knocked instead of waiting a few minutes and then yelling at us.


    I looked down. Amelia was starting to wake up from her spot on my shoulder. The door opened at her mental command, to reveal Minerva in full costume.


    She paused and looked at us. "Damn it, Taylor! Damn it, Amelia!" She moved her hands up in exasperation, and then immediately pulled them back down. Right, the injuries from before. Sure, they were Crystal's fault, but I still felt bad. Amelia was so humiliated that she sucked herself into the tree to escape. I, on the other hand, had escaped by dropping my connection to my changeling. A cute little feature that Riley installed to let me at least select between the ones I wanted to use, since I couldn't control more than one humanoid body.


    We'd all been afraid that Amelia was going to die thanks to Lisa's fucking stunt. Took six of the zerglings to break through the Yggdrasil and pull it back enough to get her out, and by the time we'd gotten to her, she'd suffered some hypoxia. She buried herself alive out of humiliation. Crystal forgot the strength amplification in her armor, and the rest was an accident.


    Minerva just stood there, watching us, as neither Amelia nor I spoke for a bit. WorryApologeticUpset.


    "I tried," Amelia responded, sitting.


    "It's not going to happen," I stood, using my 'command voice'. "I convinced her it stays." ReliefGratitudeSafe


    She looked back and forth between us, and smiled. "I see. I bet Amelia really enjoyed being convinced." Dammit, Lisa, leave well enough alone. I prepared myself for the emotional rush of the feedback. It didn't come. AnnoyedHappyProud. A strong emotion, sure, but not self feeding. There was no feedback loop unless we resisted the feelings. Don't fight, embrace. AcceptanceConfidence.


    I smiled. "Well, looks like we've found a solution to the feedback loops." It would be a little weird for me. I'd spent the last few years of my life repressing my every emotion I could think to name. Now I had to do the exact opposite. Probably should have done that, anyway, if everything pop culture pretended to know about psychology was right. I doubt I ever would have... but now, for her, I have to.


    For the first time since I've known her, Lisa looked sad when she smiled. "Yeah, looks like you have." I started to speak, but she kept going. "Well, I have unrelated news. Remember how I said Vista was our top priority recruit?"


    ConfusedCurious. I nodded, Amelia spoke. "Of course," she said. "Her power's insane. A match for ours in terms of sheer potential. Did they get a new recruit?"


    "Nope," Lisa said. "I just got into Flechette's files. And I have so many ideas."


    "She's not in the school, so that kind of makes it hard for us to meet her in civies," I informed Lisa.


    "I know," Lisa replied. "My money is that she's already eighteen and they're faking her younger, but they keep those records separate, and I'm not snooping for identities, just powers. We do have at least one 'in', however."


    "You mean Parian," I said dryly. "I am not going to use their relationship as a tool." AgreementDistaste.


    "How about using the shitty nature of the PRT as a tool? Parian's happy with us, after all. Flechette is not happy in the Wards. Plus, I have this!" She held up a sheet of paper and handed it to me.


    "Lisa... did you hack Piggot's email?" ShockExcitementWorry. Well, looks like Amelia approves. Kinda. "Okay... they're transferring her to Florida?"


    "That's what it looks like," Lisa agreed. "Seems there are other directors who see us as a good excuse for poaching. Sure, they have excuses like 'needed elsewhere' and 'risk of compromise by Pantheon', but it all ultimately boils down to a half dozen heroes that they could claim for themselves. Coil and I... might also have had something to do with it..."


    "Assault and Battery" AnnoyanceDisgust "have already agreed to a transfer, they're just figuring out 'where'. Miss Militia and Triumph are going to be it for Protectorate members until they find someone that's a proper combination of 'powerful' and 'loyal' to trust around us. The Wards are going to be sending Weld to Chicago, Flechette to Florida, and they're sending Crucible to New York. The other heroes they were planning to send this way to help with the Leviathan aftermath have been canceled. They might still send Clay, but he's kinda meh."


    "No idea who that is," Amelia replied.


    "Shaker," she answered. "Basically does a shitty version of what you can do, but the opposite side of the Manton Effect. They'd be using him for construction efforts. It'll take him all of five minutes to completely rebuild about a mile of streets."


    SmugHappyAmused. "So, the Protectorate is imitating us, now?" I concluded.


    "Yup," Lisa all but sang. "Turns out, they've learned that repair efforts are a really good way to drum up massive amounts of PR. He won't be staying permanently, of course, but it'll speed up the city's recovery by years and gives the PRT a chance to claim 'in part thanks to our efforts' when talking about BB's rapid recovery from Leviathan."


    "That's fine," Amelia replied. "We started this to fix the city, not take credit for it." I sent a wash of pride and confirmation into the link. It rebounded with her affirmation.


    "I know," Lisa confirmed. "But we're digressing. What's important is that we need to get Flechette out, and we need to do it right now. I have a plan, and it will be every kind of epic."


    "What about Vista?"


    "She's local, her family would need to move. This might help with as with our efforts to recruit her as well. Now you girls get dressed, they'll be here in five minutes." Lisa turned and rushed from the room.


    "Giggity!" Zach shouted from the other room.


    "Shut up Za-" AnnoyedEmbarrassedDesire. I stumbled on my words. Then looked toward Amelia. ShockShameRegretFear. She moved to run from the room, but she didn't have my reflexes. I grabbed her hand. "It's fine," I insisted. "I'm not bothered." I pushed assurances into the link. EmbarrassedGratefulNervous.


    I smiled. That was better. To my surprise, it really didn't bother me. Knowing someone found me attractive was nice. Something that Brian never- ConcernCaution.


    "Sorry," I said. "My mind started to wander. We should suit up now. Still have to pretend this 'secret identity' stuff has any actual meaning."


    She didn't say anything as I left to find my costume, once again on one of my dolls. Mine was one of the harder outfits to put on, since I insisted on staying true to 'Skitter' when designing my costume. Sure, this one had brighter colors and was much higher in quality than my earliest designs. I took my time, used it to think. I could feel Amelia through the link. Trepidation sang through both sides of the connection, even as we mixed it with more calming and pleasant feelings.


    Lisa was wrong. Maybe it was, in a way, 'addictive'. But it was a good kind of addiction. It was trust. It was friendship. It was the ability to actually be close to another human being. This wasn't a drug. It was an oasis, a shelter. For both of us. Now that we understood the pitfalls of the emotional overload, we could counter that. The only problem is that it would make it harder for me to put on my 'intimidation' act, since I could no longer use the swarm to offload my emotions.


    I would have to agree that sometimes it was a little uncomfortable. Right now, for example. Amelia's attraction to me was an elephant in the room and would need to be addressed with better than 'it doesn't bother me'. It was difficult enough figuring out my own feelings most of the time. Trying to figure out hers as well was just that much harder. Maybe it would be better to break the link, at least for the time being.


    No. No, that was not an option. I was happy, now. Maybe for the first time in years. I might have to give up on Skitter's persona, but that was fine. I didn't need to hide behind it anymore. I knew for a fact that the person who knew me best in the world still trusted and respected and accepted me. She didn't see a victim like Emma. She didn't see a pity case like Lisa. She saw an ally and a protector. I was her friend, her General, her partner.


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

    A/N- They're still broken girls. But don't all the pieces fit so nicely together? In a disturbing, disturbing way that I'm quite proud to have achieve.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2015
  3. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 81
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Amelia, Ch 81


    I watched Taylor rush out to find her costume, while avoiding actually looking at her. It helped that her choice of day to day clothing was dark and baggy, leaving no real figure for me to observe. Though every time I made physical contact with her, I got a pretty thorough idea of her body. Then again, I've used my power on thousands by now, and even with Victoria it never crossed my mind to think of it as sexual. Maybe because of how it wasn't so much 'me' as it was my Passenger.


    My outfit was far easier to put on than Khepri's. I simply stepped on the mass left in a pile in the corner to my room, and it wrapped its way around me. I managed to exit the room only a few seconds after Taylor.


    I'd thoroughly humiliated myself and I didn't even have the excuse of Tattletale for this one. If Taylor hadn't stopped me, calmed us, it could have been another feedback loop. Now I was reading a complex mess of concern, apprehension, doubts, and offers of reassurances directed toward me. She believed it when she said it didn't bother her, but that didn't stop her from feeling all kinds of things that worried me.


    I caught up with Lisa. "Hey," I said. "Sorry I overreacted earlier."


    "Is breaking your link with Taylor on the table as an apology?"


    I frowned. "There's more to it than you're letting on, isn't there?"


    "Yes," Lisa admitted. "Maybe. I'm not sure. The biggest problem is that if you found out, it would only encourage you that much more."


    "Not really selling your argument here, Lisa. You know that, right?" I put my hand on hers, then expanded my power into her. Patching up the damage. Light fracture of one floating rib, plenty of bruising. Nothing that took a lot of effort. Based on my guess, she was shoved. Shoved very hard, mind, but that was the limit. She didn't thank me, but then I didn't expect her to. She didn't pull away at least.


    "I suppose not," she replied, looking down. "Hopefully it won't come to that. Hopefully, our guests might just solve the problem another way."


    SadnessResolutionWorryDeterminationApprehension. I almost gasped at that one. What was going through my partner's head right now? I have to find out later.


    ....


    I was shocked to discover it was already evening outside. Had Taylor and I really spent that long asleep? Together? In my bed? ConfusedWorryAssurance.


    Flechette and Parian arrived together, from the direction of the refugee camps where Parian lived. The pair's relationship was secret to exactly no one in the camps or online. That news was currently the single most active thread in Pantheon's sub board.


    Both girls were in costume. Flechette in her ninja-like outfit, Parian with her new high tech costume. Some kind of nanoweave that Riley designed. Tougher than Skitter's armor by three, though only slightly heavier. It was the same material used in most of our armors, but Parian's was special. It interacted with her power better than any standard cloth could. Her current costume would let her fight most of Pantheon to a standstill.


    It would require the acid moths to get through. Maybe the new 'microwave cannon' built into Crystal's armor could bypass it well enough. That's what it was meant for, after all. A way to basically ignore armor and hit the person beneath.


    Meanwhile, we fanned ourselves out. Khepri and I in the middle, with Eki and Aceso to my left. On Taylor's side we had Osiris and Theo. Still needed to get him an official name. As nice as he was, it would be a really good idea to put him out there as one of the spokespeople for the group. At least Blasto finally picked one. Yum Kaax, a god of wild plants and animals. Worked well enough for me. Minerva was in front of all of us. This was her show, we were just watching for now.


    Flechette spoke first. "Okay, whats the emergency. You've got Sa- Parian scared half to death. I know she owes you for a lot of things, but that doesn't give you the right to fuck with either of us. If this isn't worth it, I can and will shoot you."


    Parian didn't speak up. I didn't know her all that well, but you'd think she was the youngest person here instead of the oldest.


    "Oh, I know," Minerva replied, holding out a sheet of paper. "It's what I'm counting on."


    Flechette's eyes narrows as she grabbed and read it. "How did you get this?"


    "Not by doing anything legal, I assure you," Tattletale responded. "And to answer your next questions: Yes it's real, yes we're trying to convert the Protectorate and Wards over to us, yes I would do it dishonestly if they'd let me, and no they won't let me."


    "What is it, Flechette?" Parian asked. She was handed the paper.


    "If it's true, then I've already resigned, don't worry about it," Flechette responded.


    Parian nodded, then looked at us. "If this is fake, then you can consider our business relationship over."


    "It's true," Lisa insisted. "But please at least give it a bit of time before you try to prove it, one way or the other. If you ask them, then it puts us at risk, and they could just lie and say they never had any intention of transferring you, despite everyone else they're shuffling around. You can give us that much benefit of the doubt, can't you?"


    Fletchette looked over at Parian, who nodded. "I suppose," she agreed. "Now, is that all?"


    "Not quite," Lisa admitted. "We've been examining your power. I think it's more a lot more valuable than anyone realizes."


    Flechette didn't say anything. Lisa continued. "You enhance weapons, making them far more lethal than they have any right to be."


    "That's not exactly news," Flechette responded.


    "Yes. But the question is 'how'," Tattletale smiled. "If it works how I think it works... then you are Triumvirate tier. Maybe better."


    She scoffed. "Wow, didn't think Pantheon offered ass kissing in its recruitment package."


    "Fine, example time," she said. "Theo, mind creating a metal staff and giving it to Osiris?"


    "No problem, ma'am," Theo replied, and formed the weapon. Zach took it.


    "You've seen how his power works, right? Restoring something to a saved point in time. Go ahead and cut it in half. You can easily make your bolts pass through just about anything, right?"


    She drew a bolt from her arbalest. "This isn't exactly new, either," she said. But she did comply and cut the staff in half.


    Lisa rubbed her finger on the edge of the now severed pole. "Just as I thought," she smiled. "Can I look at the bolt, too?" Flechette handed it over. "Not even a scratch on it, or any bits of metal left behind."


    "And?"


    "And that means your power can insulate an object from damage and make it melt through other things. A hole in reality" RealizationShock "which denies all opposition. We've seen a power like that before: The Siberian."


    That, finally, stunned Flechette.


    "That's right," Lisa smiled. "Oh, Osiris, would you mind restoring the staff for us now?"


    The staff flickered and reformed in his hand, then the bottom half dropped to the ground. "The fuck!?" Respawn exclaimed.


    "Not only does your power cut through things. It cuts through all possible iterations of that thing. Every reality, every dimension, simultaneously. Also not too different from The Siberian. Look at Alexandria, whose eye was never able to be healed despite her being one of the most famous and respected heroes in the world. If nothing else, she could ask Eidolon to do it. What's more likely: she wanted to keep a mutilated face that could never be shown again in public... or the wounds simply could not be healed by powers?"


    Flechette just continued to be stunned. "Fuck," she offered a short laugh. "You're actually starting to sell me on this."


    "Here's a question," Lisa continued. "What happens if you really want to kill someone. Like, say, the Slaughterhouse Nine if they were still walking around. What if you just used your power on the ground under their feet."


    Flechette stopped for a moment. "My power doesn't work that well at range. But if I could, they'd look like they fell into the ground like it was water, and there'd be nothing left of them."


    "Exactly," Lisa replied. "And that's just the beginning. I have a couple more tricks up your sleeve, if you wanna wait a bit."


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


    A/N- Spoiler alert: there's foreshadowing in this chapter.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  4. Threadmarks: Amelia Ch 82
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Amelia Ch 82


    "For your next trick," Lisa smiled, and I could imagine the combination of annoyance and curiosity in Flechette's mind. Or was it Taylor imagining it and me picking up on that? This bond is still so new. "We need to test your power against a defensive ability that actually exceeds Endbringer flesh. Theo's power allows him to create a sort of multidimensional super metal, existing simultaneously both 'here' and 'everywhere' and 'nowhere', not unlike weapons influenced by your power."


    "Okay?" she asked.


    "I want to see if your powers will combine," Lisa replied. "Can you augment his weaponry?"


    Theo formed a long spear, about eight feet. In theory, given that it was entirely metal, it should be pretty heavy, but Theo's power meant they had no weight. To him, at least. His main limitation was conceptual- lacking the multitasking powers of Taylor, or even Lisa and myself. He could only 'pay attention' to a finite amount of material at one time.


    Flechette made contact, and then frowned. "Nope," she said immediately. "I need to actually touch something to influence it, and I can't make contact long enough. It's like it vanishes and replaces itself faster than I can react."


    "Not so different than what happens when Osiris and Gaea's powers interact," Lisa concludes.


    "So you're showing off that my power's not quite so perfect, now?" Flechette didn't hide the scorn in her voice. "Kind of a cult tactic, the whole break down, build up thing."


    "No, though I guess that might be a side effect," Lisa replied. "I'm hoping to achieve something specific, and if it works with you and Theo, that makes my life about a hundred times less complicated. One last test. Theo, I need you to deactivate your power except for the spear."


    'Yes ma'am," Theo excitedly replied. We'd all gotten sucked up in Tattletale's game now. Even, perhaps especially, Flechette. Most of Theo's armor simply melted off, except his helmet of course, which went from a shimmering mirror silver to a still metallic silver, but without the visual tricks. The spear, of course, remained reflective.


    Fletchette cut through it with her bolt like it wasn't even there. And about a foot in either direction of the bolt simply dissolved and vanished.


    Lisa sighed. "Damn. So close. I actually was right, but it didn't hold together. Too many permutations in one place, or too small a hole, I can't decide which. But we're not done yet! The next set of guests are arriving. And with it, the source of my migraines for at least the next month."


    She was right. I felt them before I saw them, the cars driving onto the Yggdrasil paths that had been established for vehicles. They were more like exoskeleton growths than anything a standard road might be, but they did the job. The vehicle came to a stop not far from us. Faultline stepped out, along with Gregor, Newter, Labyrinth and Spitfire. The whole crew, it seems. And another vehicle- this one I recognized as one of Coil's. She invited the Travelers as well?


    "Glad you could make it on such short notice," Lisa smiled.


    Faultline just raised her eyebrow. "Okay, could you not do your impression of a poorly written detective novel today? I know you have a plan. I know it's going to wow the metaphorical pants off of everyone here, and I know you're going to talk me into going along with it simply to see if it works. So let's say all that already happened so we can move on to the part where I accuse you of not paying me enough and then go home to punish my liver until I forget this ever happened? Is that acceptable?"


    "Aww," Tattletale pouted, complete with puppy dog eyes. "Fiiine. I know how much you hate 'fun', after all."


    "Lady," Flechette said. "I have no idea who you are, but you just made my list of top five favorite people ever."


    AnnoyedRelievedAmused. I smiled. Yeah, me too.


    The Travelers had arrived in time to hear the end of that. Noelle was polite enough to not say anything about it, but she probably agreed as well. Tattletale was a very hard person to like. Still haven't figured out how Taylor manages it.


    "Fine, now that everyone's here... we're going to punch a hole through reality itself!" Minerva announced.


    ShockConfusionWorry. What? "What?" I asked.


    "You heard me. We're already standing in the perfect spot for it, just in case it turns out the door can't be closed."


    "Okay, Gaea, what are the odds I can talk you into hooking me up with a new liver or three? I'm going to need them," Faultline muttered.


    "We'll need Labyrinth to build a construct. Preferably one that's just a large wall. Two dimensional as possible, maybe about thirty feet tall and the same width would be ideal."


    I gaped. This... this is insane...


    "Do it," Khepri instructed. "We can send the Travelers home like we promised. We can establish colonies on other worlds. If necessary, we can even evacuate Bet entirely. Abandon it to the Endbringers if we have to and maybe make a fresh start."


    Flechette spoke. "She's right. This can save millions of lives. We do it."


    Labyrinth looked at Faultline. "You can do it, right Elle?" The girl nodded. Faultline looked back toward us. "One rule: no inhabited worlds. Only realities where humans either never evolved, or are already extinct. I will not be responsible for Endbringers finding their way to billions of new victims or help start an interdimensional war."


    "Good points all around," Taylor agreed. "No worlds with people on them, after a brief stop in Aleph."


    "Agreed," I backed her up. GratitudeSafety. Flechette nodded.


    "We'll really be able to go home?" Sundancer asked.


    "If you want," Lisa stated. "You're welcome to stay here, we'd be more than happy to keep you. And you don't have to decide right now. You can go home, pack your things, maybe trade off any currency you have here for things to take with you. I highly recommend a vehicle and some new clothes. Maybe some samples of replicable tinker tech to sell off. A few patents, life of luxury."


    "Not me, however," Noelle spoke. She sounded sad. "I can't go back. Everything I've seen. Everything I've done. The risk that I might relapse. I won't make the rest of you stay with me. I don't want you to. You've done that too long, already. You deserve to go home. Have normal lives. Have everything that the Simurgh tried to steal from us. It's the best thing you can do for me, now."


    SympathyApproval. Note to self: hire her to write some of our speeches, she has a talent for it. Meanwhile, I reshaped the matter under the space Labyrinth was reshaping. Reinforcing the tree to handle the sudden increase in weight of her manifestations.


    "I'm staying," Trickster said with certainty. "Noelle, you said you wanted us to live our lives? Well, in case you hadn't noticed, you are my life. My home is wherever you are."


    "Consider going home to be my final order as your commander," Noelle told the others. Trickster put his arm around her, and she looked at him. "Wherever that home might be."


    "I'm going home," Oliver stated. I hadn't dealt with him much. Riley took the standard blood same and questions about his powers. Which, it turned out, would barely rate a one as a changer. Did the PRT ratings go down to zero? He was shy, intimidated by us.


    Noelle moved to him and gave him a hug. "Would you mind doing me a favor when you get back? Deliver a message to my parents."


    "I can do that," Oliver agreed.


    Genesis and Sundancer stood aside in the exchange thus far. "I don't know," Sundancer replied. "I... somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking of Aleph as 'home'. It feels like it was so long ago when we came here. I wouldn't know how to live a normal life, anymore."


    "You don't have to decide right now," Taylor reminded them. "Like Minerva said... if this works, we can do it again whenever we like in the future. Just because a door is closed doesn't mean we can't open it again later."


    "I'll stay for now," Oliver replied. "You're right, it can't hurt to take care of the loose ends and maybe pack a few things."


    We watched the wall finish its development. It would have been great dramatic timing if their conversation ended with the wall's completion. But no, we had to wait several more minutes.


    "Okay, everyone away from the target," Minerva instructed. We complied. "Flechette, it's your show now!"


    The girl raised her arbalest, and fired at the wall. Then there was no wall. There was no anything. A blank place where there was only 'nothing'. Air started rushing inward toward the hole. It wasn't incredibly windy, no more than a gusty day. No risk of any of us.


    AweTerrorWonder. "My bugs are being destroyed as they touch the boundary," Taylor informed us. "There's nothing there, no 'other side'. It's an empty place and everything which contacts it simply ceases to be."


    "It's shrinking at a rate of approximately two centimeters a minute, growing in speed exponentially," Aceso spoke. "It'll collapse in less than an hour." She looked at us. "Missy's been teaching me geometry," she stated as if that explained everything.


    "At least we know they can be closed!" Lisa declared happily. "Okay, Labyrinth. Can you still alter the empty spot."


    "I... I can!" Labyrinth said with surprise. "There are places there. Ones I didn't create myself. Countless, endless worlds."


    "Good. Look at the closer ones. You should be able to see that it's been crossed over before, recently."


    "There are two like that," the girl informed us.


    WorryRealization. I figured it out as well. Someone else also has dimension crossing abilities.


    "Try the most recent one," Lisa suggested. The blank spot became a window, looking over a primitive world. A village of wood, clay and brick. Dirt roads. Little by way of metal construction. A cart pulled by a small buffalo. People in clothing that looked to be wool and leather. Some pointed at us. We couldn't hear what they said.


    "Not that one, I'm sure," Faultline stated. "Change it, Elle."


    "Okay," the girl answered. The scene shifted to a city not unlike Brockton Bay. Or, at least, a Brockton Bay that wasn't torn assunder and patched back together repeatedly. A healthy city. DesireNostalgia.


    I could see ships in the ports from here. I could see why the others would want to go back. I wanted to go there. To see what a world without Endbringers looked like. CertaintyDetermination.


    "We'll make our Brockton Bay look like that, some day," Taylor stated. I smiled and clasped her hand, adding my support to her resolve and letting hers feed mine. This is a feedback I can enjoy.


    "Look for an empty world, now," Lisa instructed Labyrinth. "One without people."


    On impulse, I interrupted. "One without any life at all."


    They looked at me, and I suddenly felt very self conscious. SupportProtectTrust. I drew strength from the link. "I want a planet that's truly empty. A place I can use my power to its fullest."


    Minerva smiled. "I see... yes, that's perfect! No one can object to us claiming a wasteland as our own! A dead world for us to revive and use."


    The portal shifted, and I saw the world that Labyrinth had found. Red and brown dust covered the landscape. A desert world. I noted that the sun seemed larger than ours. The ocean was still visible from our position, although the shoreline was more distant.


    "There's oxygen," Taylor spoke up. "Not a lot... or there's also a poison. Something is making the insects tired. The weakest are already starting to die."


    "On it!" Aceso sang, and then hopped through the portal. "Oxygen levels around twelve percent. Unusually high carbon dioxide. Nothing immediately deadly, but can't support human life." She knelt down and picking up some dirt beneath her. That she then licked. "Radioactive residue. Water. No complex hydrocarbons."


    "A nuclear war?" Faultline asked, no doubt responding to the 'radiation' part.


    "Not unless it was between really enthusiastic dinosaurs," Aceso responded. "This is old damage and too complete to be artificial. I'd say a celestial event, powerful enough to strike the entire planet. A pulsar or the like, occurring millions of years ago."


    "Why did that earth get such a thing, and no others?" Faultline asked.


    "How am I suppose to know that?" Aceso asked.


    A warm planet? No life. Water supply. "It's perfect," I smiled. AnticipationExcitementConfidence.


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


    A/N- A certain part of this chapter makes me sad.

    Also- they have that planet for a long time before ever getting around to naming it. I note that's a pattern in my writing. But it's a pattern I kinda like.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  5. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 83
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 83


    I'd covered the portal in an Yggdrasil construct, of course. In part because we really didn't want people to know we just cut a hole through dimensions until we were ready to let them find out. And in part because there was still an unhealthy amount of radioactivity in that world.


    Nothing that could be considered a threat to the Yggdrasil, though not good for people by any stretch of the imagination. Riley estimated that it would be lethal within six years for the vast majority, even before having too little oxygen for human tolerance. So, yeah, when I asked for a dead world, I got a dead world. On the plus side, it actually made that Earth more ideal for Yggdrasil than anywhere on Bet.


    Minerva was still negotiating terms with/between Faultline and Flechette when I went inside. For a while there, it was looking like Faultline was going to recruit Flechette and hold the monopoly on the dimension-access insanity that we'd seen today.


    It turns out, Flechette was sold, not on money, but on the opportunity to really cut loose in a fight. A promise of a bioaugment armor that would improve on her powers. Not terribly different than the ones we gave Crystal, Parian and most of Faultline's crew. Contingent upon an attempt from the PRT to transfer Flechette, she would be a permanent, though 'reserve', member of Pantheon.


    We really need to work out an official model for how we were handling our peripheral members, like Parian and Dinah. They might be part of the organization, but weren't really part of the "team" like we were. We were collecting them, would collect many more, as time went on. An option for rogues and independent heroes alike that didn't involve surrendering autonomy to the government. We were pushing that appeal.


    Lisa was suppose to handle that, but she had too much to do already. Maybe I should go easier on her. We did learn a lot from her about the nature of our empathic link, after all. Even if she was a bitch about it and wouldn't even tell us why it really bothered her so much.


    I was beginning to suspect she was jealous. Did she have romantic feelings for Taylor? And what would I do if she did? Turn off the empathy when they went out on dates, at the very least.


    "Penny for your thoughts," Taylor said from her place on the couch in what amounted to our living room. Zach and Theo were playing some game on the TV. "I'm being absolutely serious here, I will pay you money to explain what I'm reading from you right now."


    "I guess I already owe you a house. Or at least rent," I smiled, plopping down next to her. "I was just thinking about the most horrible thing imaginable. I might have to apologize to Lisa."


    "Ah," she smiled back. "Well, it's that or your homework. I picked it up for you after classes, by the way."


    "You mean the homework I could have gone to school and handled myself if she didn't feel the need to fuck with us," I replied.


    "One and the same."


    "Suddenly, I'm not in the mood to apologize."


    "C'mon, I'll help you study," Taylor said, sitting up.


    "Study, huh? Is that what you old folks call it?" Respawn joked.


    "Yes, I suppose actually passing a class would be a new-" ApprehensionWorryDetermination. I stopped speaking and looked at Taylor, who had stood up by now. "Know what? Doesn't even matter. After Tattletale's stunt last night, there's nothing you can say that's going to get to me."


    "Once again, Lisa spoils my fun," Respawn moaned. Then the sound of an explosion came from the television. "Dude! That is so not fair!"


    "Are you going to study in your costume?" I asked as we left for the area where I'd built my bedroom. It was more or less right next to the kitchen. I probably should sit down and design an actual 'floor plan' or make more rooms. We had access to a couple square miles worth of overall space under here, we might as well use it.


    "It's comfortable," she answered. "So much nicer on the skin than the old Skitter costume. Why, don't you like it?"


    "No, it's not that, it's just..." How in the hell could I tell her that she was essentially wearing a silk body stocking? Eh, may as well just dive right into it. "Pretty much the exact opposite, actually."


    HappyNervousCertain. "Oh, don't worry about that," she insisted. "I told you, I don't mind."


    "It's... kinda distracting, though," I smiled.


    "Really?" she smiled back. "Guess I'll have to change, then."


    Was... was she teasing me?


    "Oh, could you ask Blasto to bring up those memory restoration devices Riley worked out?" Taylor asked me. "I'd tell him myself, but your tree keeps eating my bugs down there."


    "It's a sterilization function," I replied. "The lab needs to stay clean for their sensitive experiments. You'll just have to cope with having exactly one blind spot in an entire city."


    "And you'll just have to deal with delivering messages for me while I'm changing," she countered.


    The labs were actually the furthest trip from the rest of the building. For everyone other than me. I simply reshaped the floor and sank down into one of the pillars in the lab. I stuck my head out of the wall. "Hey, Rey."


    "Gah!" he jumped. "Why the hell can't you use the stairs!"


    "That's for mortals," I replied. "I'm supposed to have you take the memory restorer up to Faultline."


    "Why me?" he asked.


    "Because you're the only Tinker we can admit to having."


    "Yeah, I know," he agreed. "Mind giving me the elevator up?"


    "Sure," I agreed, leaving the hollow structure in the wall when I went back up. I could sense when he stepped in, and moved him to the surface. The memory repair equipment was a new one. It could basically be called an intelligence booster as well, since what it did was encourage the brain to rapidly build new neural pathways.


    I had hoped we might use it to cure the others of this whole "passenger block", but Lisa said it wouldn't. Apparently they could sabotage Riley and the other tinkers so they couldn't even build something that might undo the block.


    In fact, she insisted we didn't so much as touch it. That it might undo whatever 'damage' we did to the controls that blocked our memories.


    Minor mission accomplished, I went back to my room, where Taylor was waiting. I paused. Turns out, she looked really good in the form fitting blue t-shirt she had selected. I didn't even know she owned such a thing. "Are you wearing a shirt that's not black?"


    "What?" she responded. "I'm allowed to wear other colors!" AnnoyedAmusedPleased.


    "I'm not so sure you are," I responded. "Dear diary. Today I watched two teenage girls punch a hole through the side of reality. Today I considered actually apologizing to Tattletale. Today I witnessed Taylor Hebert wearing bright colors. We're lucky we have a new universe now, because this one's clearly broken."


    "Would you kindly make some pillows so I can chuck them at your head?" Taylor asked with exaggerated, sarcastic sweetness.


    I leaned against the wall. "Why would I do that?"


    "Because I need to throw something at your face right now, and I don't want to break my school books."


    For the next hour, we spent our time studying. Computer science was never really my strong subject, and that didn't appear to have changed in the last couple months.


    It didn't help that I kept sneaking peeks at Taylor, and I was now entirely convinced she was actively encouraging me to do so. Even I wasn't quite that oblivious. Or, more likely, I was that oblivious, but having a direct window into her psyche removed any ambiguity. I resolved to ask her about it this weekend.


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


    A/N- Man. I love knowing what comes next. Especially for THIS part of the story.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  6. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 84- Taylor
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 84- Taylor


    I opted to play dress up for school that morning. My experiment with the shirt had proven a thrilling success, Amelia couldn't take her eyes off me, and I luxuriated in it. Today I was hoping for more of the same. I picked out an outfit that Lisa had sworn up and down would be amazing on me, and forced me to buy.


    I didn't believe her then, and I really didn't now. The jeans clung too tightly to my legs, and the shirt I would have been happier with if it were three sizes larger. But she was right about the blue shirt that I used yesterday, so I trusted her on this as well.


    I was conspicuously aware of the eyes upon me as I opened my locker in the morning. I found myself torn between being slightly annoyed at the disrespect of them checking me out, slightly annoyed that more people weren't, and slightly annoyed that I even cared. All factions decided upon a truce in order to be extremely annoyed that Emma was getting more attention than I was. Not that I expected she wouldn't, but it would have been really, really nice.


    I felt it when Amelia saw me. The rush of attraction and nervousness, her trying not to look at me and failing. It was wonderful. I wore this outfit for exactly one person, and she only had eyes for me. Literally, she was watching so intently that she walked face first into one of the other students, knocking both their sets of books from their hands. SurpriseShockWorryHumiliation. I immediately moved over to help her and the boy. I was pretty sure he was one of the new kids that had just started today. I certainly didn't recognize him.


    "I'm so sorry!" Amelia said. "I should have been paying better attention."


    "Nah, it's cool," the boy insisted. "I wasn't looking at where I was going. Trying to find the art class," he held up one of those shitty paper maps of the school.


    "I'll show you," I volunteered. "Pretty much next door to my first class anyway. See you in third period, Amelia."


    "Right," she replied. GratitudeHumiliation. Didn't stop her from staring at me as I walked away.


    Emma was watching as I left. Near as I could tell, she was still doing everything possible to avoid me. Something that mattered less to me than how I was quite certain she was dating Clockblocker, now. Not a real shocker, as far as surprise revelations go, but it would make it more difficult if we ever tried to recruit him. And we really did want to recruit him. However, he wasn't a priority the way Vista and, as we recently learned, Flechette were.


    I pointed the boy off to the art class, and was still smiling when I made it to my spot in the computer lab. Theo was already there, sitting next to Chris. The pair of them seemed to get along really well, actually. It also saved me the effort of needing to focus on small talk. Something that it would surprise no one to learn I really sucked at. Instead, I focused on everything. Everyone.


    Amelia was in Algebra, I'd pass her on the way there for my next class. I was still smiling lightly. Amelia was still on edge due to the incident in the hallway. For amusement sake, I landed a ladybug on top of the page she was studying. She stopped for a second, as I had it look right at her. Bug vision is crap, so it couldn't even actually see her, and I sure as hell couldn't, but it was a message sent.


    ComfortEmbarrassment. I sent back some signals of comfort. We were getting very good at using this bond. Maybe with time we can actually work out a language with it.


    I sent the ladybug on its way.


    ....


    I shared my algebra class with Dennis, although we really didn't interact at all. I still kept my eye on the others. Missy and Clarice were busy in their chemistry class. Near as I could tell, the pair had managed to line up their entire class schedule to be identical, with an exception for gym.


    We put in the minor effort to get Clarice an exception from that class. We were at least pretending we didn't want her identity blown. I was starting to worry that when it was, and it was 'when', not 'if', Vista's identity would follow almost immediately. I'd have to mention that to Theo or Chris during lunch.


    ....


    Social Sciences was the one I got to spend with Amy. Weld was there, as well. I'd have to make an effort to recruit him as well, his power put him on the top notch for durability, and he was really popular in the general public. The way they were shunting Wards away from the city meant if we didn't get him soon, we probably never would. I looked at Amelia and felt her disappointment as she realized what I had planned. I was disappointed as well, when I sat down next to him. I sent assurances through the link. SadAgreement.


    He looked over at me. "Me, too, huh?"


    I almost fell back on Skitter at that. Or is this the usual 'Taylor' routine of hiding away? Instead, I fell back on my link with Amelia. Her confidence and trust in me. I don't need to hide, and I don't need to be feared in order to be strong.


    "Pretty much," I admitted. "We seem to have a real hero complex, trying to help everyone we can."


    "Help, huh?" he didn't see to buy it. "And you think I need help?"


    "Doesn't everyone?" Okay, Taylor, dial it back. Vague answers only work when you want to be annoying. "But yes, we have a few things we're working on that might help you. Or you might be able to help us with. I'm sorry I have to be so vague. The best I can tell you right now is that we're finding ways to undo what's happened to the Case 53s."


    He froze, clearly sorting through potential responses. "I'll make contact."


    He didn't say anything about how or when, and I didn't press him for it. Class began, and I put my efforts into actually paying attention, this time. Along with studying all my other school books. Pain in the ass finding copies of all of them in braille. For that matter, it was a pain in the ass to use braille, which I'd only barely started to learn, but it didn't take me any more mental effort than sitting and listening in class already took.


    At the moment I was also having six distinct conversations, and running the test routine of the next wave of zerglings. They were a lot better than before, at least. Still not something I could comfortably control in large batches, but significantly easier to handle a dozen of them than even one humanoid puppet. A fact I told Rey and Riley about with my changeling, which was currently spending most of its time slumped in one of the chairs in the lab just so I could talk to them. Stupid Yggdrasil always eating my bugs.


    ....


    After class, we headed for lunch. Weld ignored me, and I couldn't just wait and walk alongside Amelia without it being suspicious, much as I'd have liked to. I did manage to stay just a little bit in front of her. I could feel her eyes on me the whole way. WistfulDesire.


    It brought a smile, and a bit of a blush, to my face. And yet, I still couldn't spend time with her. She had her group amongst the popular girls, and I had mine amongst the geeks and loners. Even though she was more of the loner type, herself. Victoria's legacy and all.


    I spent my time hanging out with Theo and Chris. They were mainly complaining about math. A class that neither of them seem to enjoy. I finally interjected about halfway through the period. "I think we should have a conversation with Missy and Clarice."


    "What's wrong," Theo asked.


    "Well... at this rate, their identities are going to be exposed," I answered. "I don't think it'll happen soon, but it's a real risk. Clarice has already shown off her thinker abilities in basically every class. She attracts attention for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is how she's openly friendly with Amelia. She's going to be found out. If she hasn't, already, and that might put eyes on her other friends.


    "Does she even have friends at school except Missy and Amelia?" Theo asked.


    "No, she really doesn't," I replied. "She seems to be trusting Missy to be in charge during school, and Amelia with everything else. It's fine, not like she's lacking in a support base."


    "But it makes anyone around her look extra conspicuous," Chris concluded. "Are you going to tell her the bad news? Because she wouldn't listen to me if I tried."


    I figured as much. It was smart of him, really. If they had to be the deliverers of the news that took Missy away from her new friend, it could hurt their team on a number of levels. Even if they didn't see it as us finding yet another angle to try to break Vista away for ourselves. Of course, they weren't wrong, it was what we were doing.


    "I'll do it," Theo volunteered. "She'll probably listen to me better, anyway. I have the same last class as Amelia, so I'll mention it to her first. That way Clarice doesn't argue with me."


    "Good idea," I agreed.


    Chris didn't say anything to agree or disagree, and eventually the conversation changed to movies.


    ...


    With a minor tip to Riley via my changeling, Theo managed to catch up with Clarice and Missy at the end of classes. I trusted him to handle the situation about as well as anyone. I, on the other hand, had snuck about a block away from school, to be picked up by one of our drivers outside of visual of the school. Zach and Amy were already in the vehicle.


    ApologyResignation. I didn't need to question that emotion. It was disappointing for me as well.


    "Sorry I didn't get to work with you in class," I said as I sat next to Amelia.


    "It's okay," she said. "Probably smart if we're a little less obvious. Don't want your identity being revealed like that."


    "Obvious is a word for what happened in the hallway," Zach interrupted with a smile.


    EmbarrasmentAnnoyanceWorry.


    "Don't worry about it," I replied. "It wasn't that big a deal."


    "Thanks," she replied. "I'd feel terrible if..." she trailed off.


    "If you want, I can bribe kids to just step out in front of you at random," Zach offered. "I'm already known for playing pranks on people. Speaking of which, you have class with Clockblocker first thing tomorrow morning, right?"


    "Yeah," Amelia answered. "Why?"


    Zach lifted up a math book that wasn't there before. "Tell him that next time, it'll be his pants."


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


    A/N- In retrospect, I kinda wish I stayed on the "school" arc longer. There was lots of goodies to be used here that I just never did.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  7. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 85- Riley
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 85- Riley


    Music class is boring. I thought it was suppose to be fun with singing and instruments and stuff, but instead we were learning about dead musicians. I didn't even get to play school with Missy because she had a gym class. So I was stuck with dumb boys who snickered every time the teacher said 'pianist'. And dumb girls who pretended to find that funny because their dumb hormones wanted them to make dumb babies with the dumb boys.


    I assigned one of my peripheral brain enhancements to half pay attention to the class, while I was analyzing the sample we indirectly took from Cauldron.


    "It's human cells, as if they were made from the ground up by Amelia with no frame of reference," I muttered as I examined the material. We had already cloned the tissue. I didn't wait for a response from Rey. Tinker fugue was in full effect for him. "No genetic code for reproduction, no separate genetics for the mitochondria, no useless genetic material from countless mutations both obsolete and never functional in the first place. No chromosomes because there's not enough actual DNA to need them. It's not much different from the Yggdrasil or the base zerglings before the selective rebreeding program. Artificial. Too perfectly efficient to exist in nature."


    I continued my analysis on a more fundamental level. "In many ways, it resembles the N-1 and N-3 tissue samples we extracted from Noelle. It appears identical to the c-cells we acquired from the Travelers and Word. That, more than anything, is confusing. There is no difference between the active ingredient in this vial, and the residue from what gave them their powers, and it works simply by drinking? There is an agency behind this that I do not comprehend. If my Big Sister is correct about the Taboo theory, then I cannot comprehend it because the power that grants my power will not allow it."


    "Save recording, CV twelve."


    "Error, CV twelve already exists. Recorded twenty seven minutes ago," my computer responded.


    Darn it! Must have happened again. "Save new recording as CV thirteen. Identify CV twelve as Taboo nine." I would have Minerva screen the other and tell me if I missed anything important.


    Since she and my Big Sister are the only ones who can comprehend what our group had taken to shorthanding as 'Taboo', after some game Rey remembered from his childhood. The idea that I was constantly losing the most important piece of data imaginable was incredibly frustrating to me as a scientist.


    Meanwhile, class had come to an end. I managed to remember not to flip over my desk this time. I still don't get why, but the teachers and Missy and my Sister all told me not to do that. Maybe it's because my skirt fell during the handstand and everyone saw my underwear last time? Stupid boys, again.


    I rushed to the entrance, to meet up with Missy and Theo. I didn't know exactly why he wanted to meet up, but I bet it was so he could spend more time with Missy. Good, they're so perfect together.


    Missy was there first, of course. The underclassmen got out a bit earlier, after all. I saw her and waved. She rolled her eyes and smiled as she walked. I noted that she was subtly using her power to move faster, indicating how eager she really was. She always acted so proper. She reminded me a lot of Shatterbird, actually.


    Jack always said that her serious act just meant she didn't want to admit how lonely she was. My Sister didn't like me talking about Jack, but he was smart and we were trying to recruit Vista almost the same way as he recruited her, after all.


    "How was gym?" I asked, even as I analyzed everything her biosignature was giving off. Minor and full body exercise, no real muscle damage.


    "Dodgeball would be more fun if I could cheat," she complained.


    "I wish I could play," I responded. "My Sister wouldn't let me take gym."


    She laughed. "That's because we could put the entire school up against you and you'd win. Unless I was allowed to cheat."


    "That's true," I agreed. "Oh, we have to wait for Theo. He has to talk to us about something."


    Missy hid her reaction well, but it was a combination of enthusiasm and distrust. "Why?"


    "I dunno," I answered. "Probably kinda important, or they wouldn't bother like this. But not too important, or they'd tell me right away."


    "Huh," she said. I could almost hear her wondering if this was some kind of ploy.


    Theo was finally out of the school and approached us. "Hi Theo!" I yelled and waved. He smiled and waved back. He had a really good smile, and I wanted to be sure Missy saw it.


    "Hey, Clarice," he said once he got close. "Hello, Missy."


    "Maybe we should walk and talk," he said, looking at the others who had started to pour out of the school.


    "Okay!" I agreed. "There's gotta be an icecream place somewhere nearby, right?" I smiled broadly.


    "Umm, sure," Theo agreed.


    Missy managed to work up a smile and nod. I could see the bit of blush and shyness she had toward the boy. Subtle, she was good at hiding her autonomic responses, but she couldn't make them lie. I was an expert on that subject, amongst my many others. I could tell she liked him and really didn't want to show it or admit it.


    "Okay!" I said, as we started on our walk. The icecream place was new, and already pretty popular, so we had to cover the 'work' on the walk. "So, what's the news?"


    "Umm..." he looked down. "I... I wanted to warn you to be careful," he said.


    "With what?" I asked.


    "Well," he said. "We're pretty sure Clarice's identity as Aceso's been compromised. It hasn't come out yet, but it probably will in a week or so."


    "Oh," I said. "I don't mind that at all!" In fact, wasn't that supposed to be the plan?


    "I know," he said. "We're worried about Missy. When your identity goes public, people are going to look at your friends. Everyone already knows Amelia is Gaea. So that leaves only Missy left over."


    "What about Taylor?" Missy asked. Drat. "She's at risk, being around Amelia."


    Theo shrugged. "I have my own ideas about that," he admitted. "But I can't share them. It's not that I don't trust you, it's that it's not right to talk about people behind their backs. Especially my friends and team mates. Any more than you'd talk about yours."


    She nodded. "Yeah, you're right. It was stupid of me to ask."


    "Not stupid," he said. "Just being alert and cautious. It's a sign of a good hero."


    And Theo wins all the relationship points, I thought happily. He wouldn't make pianist jokes.


    "I... I owe you an apology, then," she said, looking down. Ooh, heartfelt confession time! Like the best romantic movies! Only better because it was real life! There was a bit of a blush. A nervousness and expectation of anger. I didn't even need the dozen odd exotic senses built into Clarice to see this. I did, however, turn off the recording function. "After our... after the party last week, I sorta told them about everything that happened."


    "I figured that would happen," Theo replied without losing a beat. "It's not like we did anything to be ashamed of. Err... maybe I should have found a better way to phrase that. Sorry."


    "It's fine," Missy replied. "Just don't repeat it around Clockblocker and we'll be good."


    "Or Zach," Theo added.


    "He stole Clockblocker's math book, by the way," I said.


    "Why would he do that?" Theo asked.


    "Umm..." Missy started. "I think he might be getting revenge for a bathroom door being frozen with him trapped inside. Clock's gonna get in a lot of trouble for that one if Piggot finds out."


    "Oh, wow..." Theo laughed. "She won't hear anything from us. Be sure and let her know that Zach is almost certainly equally at fault for anything that's going on. If she needs punishment suggestions, I recommend we lock them both in the same cell overnight."


    Missy chuckled. "Yeah," she agreed. "With orders that they kiss and make up. Literally."


    We were still laughing when we got to the icecream place.


    "Okay, Theo, I want a banana split!" I was looking forward to see if the upgraded taste system was fully functional. I was annoyed that the combat model was still in detox from the radioactive materials, since it had all my best features installed.


    "Why am I paying for your icecream?" he asked, still smiling. "Doesn't Amelia give you an allowance?"


    "Yeah," I admitted. "But you're the boy. It's in the rules. Especially when you're out with two pretty girls. Also, you're a billionaire."


    Theo looked around, then whispered. "Clarice, you're not suppose to blurt stuff like that out in public."


    "Oh," I said. "Why not? Is it because of your dad?"


    "It's just not polite," he said. "When you talk about money, it upsets some people. It's like bragging."


    I didn't really get the problem, but whatever. "Okay, I'll not bring it up anymore."


    He looked over at Missy. "Sorry. I suppose Chris told you about my family."


    "No, not really," Missy replied.


    "Well, I'm sure your bosses already know," he said. "My father was the CEO of Medhall. After his death, well, most of the assets were unfrozen and are in trusts for my sister and I."


    "You're kidding," she whispered, her eyes growing wide. "You're Kaiser's son?"


    "Not something I'm exactly pleased about," he said. "I take pride saying that if you asked most of his men, they'd voice doubts about my parentage."


    "Yeah," she offered a smile. "It's fine, I get it. My home life isn't exactly amazing, either."


    "You can't help where you come from," Theo agreed. "Only where you go."


    I smiled and nodded. That's what my Big Sister keeps telling me. Nothing can change what I've done, only what I do from now on. And now I'd set the perfect stage for Missy to have the perfect boyfriend to satisfy all her reproductive evolutionary needs. Powerful, dependable, physically attractive, quite intelligent for someone without powers to improve upon it, able to provide for offspring, and intimidating to potential threats. That was simple, why do adults make it sound so complicated?


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


    A/N- All the foreshadowing. All of it. Ever. Of all time.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  8. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 86- Lisa
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 86- Lisa


    Too sycophantic, rephrase. 'Appreciation', 'dedication to'.


    I made the edits to the letter. It was hard to say 'we're already doing more than everything you're asking' without sounding like arrogant jackasses. I needed them to be able to say they achieved something without making it look like we gave anything up.


    A flagged file popped up on the screen. Ah, another of Riley's Taboos. I will need to review that immediately. If she was obeying protocol on the subject, she'd switch to a different research project while waiting for me to review the data. No sense in accidentally repeating the exact same experiment more than necessary. Damn, both recordings were twenty minutes long. I'd need to talk to her about remembering to stick to ten minute intervals. Rey as well, although he did it less because his research rarely crossed into the subject of the Passengers themselves.


    I was still writing up the report on the Taboo file, turns out Riley made a breakthrough on cloning the c-cells. No way of knowing if that would allow us to replicate Cauldron's power-formula. But if we could... the possibilities were almost incalculable. The Taboo was her speculation that the opposite of Noelle was occurring. That a Passenger had attempted to construct its own human body. Then, of course, she forgot the train of thought. I'd mention it to Amelia.


    Human hosts, no evolutionary purpose as Passengers are not natural parasites. Side function. Using humans as proxies for their experimentation. Human form avatar for Passenger. Nonhuman avatar for Passengers? Endbringers. No. Endbringers are something different. Experiment to better bond with host species? Unnecessary. Precognitive abilities render practice wasteful. Need avatar to actively interact with humans. Perhaps to...


    I lost the train of thought. Damn. Even though my mind had broken around the main barricade, my power was still held back by certain roadblocks. At least now I knew they existed, I didn't forget, I just didn't progress. I included the point up until I went blank for Amelia to look at. She was truly unfettered, not the twilight state I was in.


    I still had not made progress on actually tracking Cauldron down, myself. Even Dinah wasn't any help. Meaning that either Cauldron had an incredibly powerful Trump on their side, or a precog just shy of the Simurgh in bullshit. I had even made allusions to payment and alliances to entice them. Any more than this would be overly aggressive and might prompt a retaliation. They had dozens of high level political and military leaders in their pockets, plus similar influence throughout Europe. We would lose any confrontation, direct or otherwise.


    I set the Cauldron Project aside as a dead end for now. If they wanted to speak with us, they'd have to initiate it.


    I looked at the clock. It wouldn't be long before the kids got home from school. The biocameras, which Rey and Riley somehow made in a way that they could vat-clone, confirmed that was indeed the case. Hmm, no Theo or Clarice.


    Message delivered. Theo stayed after. Riley chose to use as opportunity to recruit. Attempting to place Theo and Missy in a romantic relationship. Perceived extra layer of security. Seeking to build a strong bond of trust. Needs that trust. Might be planning to reveal herself to the girl. Lonely.


    Well, shit. I added that to the note for Amelia. Riley sure as hell wouldn't listen to me. Seems like no one did, these days.


    "Hey, Lisa!" Taylor exclaimed when she got inside. "Enough work, I need your help shopping."


    Nervous, feigning confidence. Feigning confidence well enough to trick herself? No, insecure and and actively seeking... affirmation... using the link with Amelia. Using Amelia's attraction. Dependent upon Amelia's approval for developing sense of attractiveness to others.


    I focused my attentions on Amelia herself, now.


    Worried about Taylor's new behavior. Enjoying new behavior, but confused over what it means. Well, that's both good and bad, their minds are still independent of one another. Needs to feel safe and protected, dependent upon Taylor to defend her. Not willing to confront Taylor, for fear of losing that protection.


    Nothing I didn't already know. Ever since Amelia asked Taylor to be her 'General', that was plain for anyone to see. They had both put a lot of the basis of their relationship on clearly defined and highly important roles. It was a negotiation of sorts. Combining and sharing of power. They really would have made a great couple, if nature had allowed it.


    "Okay," I agreed, forcing a smile. "I'll get my things."


    "Me, too," Amelia agreed. Then froze. "Oh."


    Responding to link. Taylor doesn't want her to come with. Planning something.


    Taylor hugged her from behind. "Sorry. I promise I won't be gone too long." She whispered something that I couldn't hear. "Besides, you still have studying to do."


    "And a Riley to have a chat with," I informed Amelia.


    "Okay," she reluctantly agreed. "Bring back something nice for Riley, too."


    "It's a promise," Taylor said, still draped around Amelia. Both their eyes fluttered.


    Responding to link and shared sensations. Intentionally generating mild feedback loops. Worse than I thought. Don't mind showing affection in front of others. Shared confidence emotion loop.


    "Well, I'm basically ready right now," I said, interrupting them. "Just gotta grab my purse."


    "Me, too," Crystal exclaimed.


    I went back in my office, trying to figure out how to approach this. They, specifically Taylor, now willing to show affection in full public. In front of both Zach and Crystal.


    Act of defiance. Daring us to say something. Equates relationship with Amelia as act of rebellion against teasing. Equates teasing with previous experiences as a victim of bullying. Only made that psychological connection recently. Sees relationship with Amelia as source of happiness. Sees teasing as bullying as attempt to take away that happiness. Sees my disapproval as possible betrayal. Sees me as possible bully. Sees my attack on Emma as an act of unnecessary cruelty.


    I froze. Shit. Coulda used that information a week ago. Association did not exist at that point.


    ....


    Fortunately, we were easy walking distance from downtown. Technically, we were in downtown, only a few miles from basically everywhere important. Although the nature of repairs, the establishment of the ferry, and changing economies was redefining what constituted the shape of our town.


    We did an awful lot of window shopping, making small talk as Taylor bought pretty much everything I promised look good on her.


    She stopped at one place, looking at a dark blue evening dress on one of the mannequins. "Do you think Amelia would like that?" she asked. It was the first time she openly admitted she was doing this for Amelia.


    "I think she'd probably rather die than be caught dead in something like that," Crystal replied.


    Knows what Taylor meant, trying to force Taylor to say it out loud.


    Taylor sighed. "You know what I mean. Would she like it if I wore it for her?"


    "Then she'd die for completely different reasons," Crystal responded. "The poor girl's not going to know what hit her."


    "Good," she said cheerfully as we entered the shop.


    Taylor went straight for her dress of choice, while Crystal browsed. She found a somewhat more conservative green number. "Amy's going to love this one," Crystal insisted.


    "Can't Amelia just make her own dress with her power?" Taylor asked.


    "Just means we don't need to worry about the sizes and can buy this one for her to copy," Crystal replied. "It wouldn't be right to steal the design. As good shoppers, if we're going to build our own copies, we still have to own an original. Besides, you guys could buy this whole store, don't act like you can't afford one dress."


    "Technically, I already have," I admitted.


    "Really?" Crystal laughed. "Now you have no choice."


    We left the store with both dresses. And a cute little pink and white sun dress for Riley.


    ....


    We arrived at an outdoor fast food joint and had ourselves a distinctly unhealthy combination of foods. Crystal didn't strike me as the chili cheese fries type, but that was her pick. The rest of us had burgers and fries.


    "So, why the sudden interest in my cousin?" Crystal asked. "You were constantly on about how you're not into girls before."


    "I... I'm not... I just..." Taylor muttered, looking away.


    "It's their whole psychic bond," I stated, glad for the excuse. "She really likes the thoughts she's getting from Amelia."


    "I'm not giving this up," Taylor insisted. My power confirmed her words. "Nothing you say will make me. Why do you keep trying?"


    Crystal nodded. "Yeah, I get it. But that isn't..."


    Taylor shook her head. "She cares about me, and I care about her, and I'm allowed to like knowing that there's finally someone out there that cares about me."


    Crystal frowned. "How can you say that? You're one of the most famous heroes on the east coast right now. You..."


    "That's Khepri," Taylor interrupted. "Or Skitter or a target or a charity case or a battlefield asset. You've been a cape long enough that I know you know the difference."


    Charity case. Is aware of, and resents, my attempt to save her from her issues. Views it as pity. Sees my awareness of her emotional vulnerabilities as a power I have over her. Resents that imbalance in power. Sees it as a personal weakness. Hates the idea of being weak. Sees relationship to Amelia as truly equal. Sees Amelia's willingness to make herself vulnerable as a sign of trust and love. Exaggerates significance due to her own issues with being vulnerable.


    "Fuck, you people teased so much and tried so hard to get us together..." she sighed.


    "You're right," I said. "I wanted you two in a relationship. Maybe not romantic, per se, but yes. You were both hurting over so many things. Both ready to..." I paused. How to approach this?


    Crystal watched. Taylor waited.


    Be direct. Will view honesty as a sign of respect. Needs to feel respected, sees the lack thereof as one of the worst possible insults.


    "Remember when this started? The pair of you were ready to storm the Protectorate and flay Piggot alive, along with everything that got in the way. That was the sum total of your plan. Why Amelia let Riley live."


    Crystal gasped. I wondered how she felt, learning her 'Amy' was ready to go that far. I didn't bother sending my power that way. Crystal was in too deep to act on any second thoughts, and so the fallout would be a minor thing at worst.


    "I wanted you to build a relationship with her, yes. Because you needed it. You needed someone else to care about, because neither of you care about yourselves. I wasn't joking when I said I was there to keep you from getting yourselves killed by Eidolon. What I didn't say is that it's because I knew you were planning a suicide mission."


    Crystal chuckled. It wasn't a happy sound. "Jesus Christ," she muttered. "First I figure out that you're just like Amy," she gestured at Taylor.


    "And you," she gestured at me. "Are basically me."


    "I think I'm missing a context, here," Taylor said.


    "She loves you," Crystal said. "Not like that! She's watching you do something she thinks is going to destroy you... and she's staying. Knowing the risks. Knowing where this can end. Knowing that she might drive you to hate her while trying to save you. That's not a friend, Taylor. That's family."


    Taylor looked at me. "Why?"


    Fuck. Well, now or never. "Which part?" I asked. "Why would I want to save you? Crystal's right, you are family, the only family I have. Why do I think you're family? You saved me more times than I care to count, from fates that range from death to horrible death to worse than death. I trust you, I respect you, I admire you. And, yes, I even love you. Would it kill you to let me be the one to save you for once?"


    "Save me from what?" Taylor asked.


    "Taboo," I replied.


    Taylor's eyes narrowed. "It's the bond. You know something."


    "I... suspect... a lot of things," I reluctantly admitted. "You have a connection you can't begin to understand. It's going to change you. It's already changed you."


    "So what?" Taylor countered. "You know better than anyone how little I liked myself. Like you said, we were prepared to destroy ourselves and take a lot of people with us. Compared to that... let's be melodramatic as fuck for a minute. Consider this me saying goodbye to who I was. A symbolic suicide in lieu of a real one."


    "What a weighted choice of words," I sighed. "Taken to its final conclusion... I can't stand to lose you." Time for the final step. "Not like I lost Rex."


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


    A/N- Oh, yes, this chapter. I is warm and fuzzy inside from it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  9. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 87- Taylor
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 87- Taylor


    I listened to Lisa's story in silence, and once again was grateful that I had parents who loved me. Fuck, what kind of people looked at their own children as tools to be exploited? I would have repressed the emotions that brought up, but the link made that dangerous. Don't fight, accept and push through.


    Her brother's suicide... well, that explained me, at least. I tried not to be insulted by the comparison. The part where Lisa saved me as a stand-in for a loved one she could not. I thought back to Amelia. Was I a replacement for what she she lost? No... I was nothing like Glory Girl at all. I didn't have her looks, I didn't have her powers, and I sure as hell didn't have her personality.


    Amelia and Victoria were sisters. I wasn't Amelia's sister. If anyone was the stand-in-sibling, then it was Riley. I was Amelia's partner. She was mine. Neither of us had an equivalent relationship to compare it to.


    I sent a pulse of emotion, just to let her know I was thinking of her. She was in the lab area, which limited my senses solely to her bracelet. Which had no senses beyond its attunement to her, and function as a portable relay. Probably spending time with Riley. ContentCalmFocus. She must be actively using her power on something, judging by all of that.


    Lisa sighed when she was done. "After that? Well, spent some time on the streets using my power to be a petty thief. Then Coil found me. Gang-pressed supervillain and all that jazz. Which you saved me from, just like you saved Dinah."


    "Amelia had more to do with that than I did," I replied.


    "Nah," Lisa denied. "Sure, her powers did the heavy lifting. But she wouldn't have known, much less done anything, without you. And if she hadn't been there to help, we would have figured out some other way to stop him. Might not have been as easy, but it would have happened."


    I shrugged. "Maybe."


    "Uh..." Crystal started. "I just wanted to apologize. I didn't realize..."


    "I know," Lisa offered a small smile. "The biosuit. Responds to your emotional system, what your body's telling it, not your mind or some kind of real control system. You were pissed, it thought 'combat', and suddenly a light shove turns into trip across the room. Not the first time running my mouth has landed me in trouble. Won't be the last, either."


    "You really should work on that," I told her. "Speaking as a friend."


    "There's a lot of things we should really do," Lisa smiled. "At least my consequences can be easily fixed by our resident miracle worker."


    I grabbed her and pulled her into a hug. She went rigid. I didn't let go. "There, now you're trapped and I'm not letting go," I squeezed. "How do you fix this one?" I asked.


    "I have to pee," she replied. I let go.


    ....


    We had a couple hours of daylight when we got back, if only thanks to it being mid summer. I put on one of the new outfits I'd picked out and headed toward Amelia's room. The door opened before I could knock.


    She looked toward me as I walked in. "Hey Tay-" she paused. ShockDesire. "Taylor, is that a skirt?"


    "Is this going to be a repeat of yesterday?" I asked, smiling. "Or can we skip to the part where you tell me I look amazing and then I'll help you pass your computer homework, since that's your first class in the morning." AmusedHappyDesire. I didn't need our link to see how much she liked it. It was quite conservative, as far as skirts went, covering as far down as the knees. And I'd never be caught wearing it outside. But none of that mattered here.


    "It should be," she smiled. "But I really do need help with that homework. You look amazing."


    Neither of us stopped smiling until I retired to my bedroom.


    ....


    School the next day started normally, with Amelia showing proper appreciation for my new outfit, this time without colliding with any random students. It was Friday, which meant no one was paying any kind of attention to the teachers. Except Clarice of course, who sat in rapt attention absorbing every bit of information she could.


    I managed to get to third period without anything eventful happening, and was busy spying upon Amelia and Clarice. The latter because I had to, the former because I wanted to. Why Amelia chose to take AP biology... well, easy credit, I guess. We had wisely forbade Riley from taking any bio classes. Frankly, her chem class was pushing it.


    Speaking of which, the girl was rapidly earning herself a reputation as, well... insane, basically. I envied her, actually. It seems the key to being both weird and popular is to embrace it so thoroughly no one can make up anything that beats reality. Everyone wanted to be around her just to see what she did or said, and speculate on how much of it was serious, and how much was her just messing with people.


    She was at the most crowded table in the lunchroom, right next to Missy, who had apparently decided that she didn't care about her close association with the girl, and the suspicion that might result in. I didn't care, either. We gave her a fair warning, the rest was her choice. Honestly, Vista's identity being compromised would probably work in our favor, and couldn't really work against us in any way.


    I frowned as there was shouting in the lunch room. Another fight. We'd had an average of two or three a day thus far. Security handled most, and I'd interrupted more than one with a swarm-clone. Shit, this is one of the bad ones. A weapon. One boy had pinned the other against a table, pressing the tip of a knife against his throat.


    I had a handful of the tranq mosquitoes available, but if I used one of those... well, the fact that they exist at all would be revealed to the world, and that would be a pain in the ass. More importantly, however, he'd fall on top of the other boy knife first.


    I couldn't hear anything. Or, more specifically, I heard too much. All the noise did not help the bugs, who couldn't distinguish one set of terrified shouts from another.


    Clarice walked up to the kid. Strange... he didn't seem to react... Oh. She used the stealth function. Wait? She used the stealth function? That was built into the skin. She'd have to be...


    I gathered together my bugs.


    The boy screamed in shock, not pain, when Clarice grabbed the hand with the knife, pulling it back. The strength gap between an obsolete changeling and Valefor was enough to be insurmountable. Some fourteen or fifteen year old boy didn't have much hope at all against a new model. No one quite knew what to make of the kid suddenly raising his arm up and dropping the weapon, only for it to be caught mid air, but the other boy had the presence of mind to scramble away.


    Clarice walked him over to one of the security officers and set the knife on the table. People were following her with their heads, now. Ah, she still has socks on. She went back over to her table and got dressed in full view of everyone before turning off the invisibility.


    The other students started clapping, cheering and hooting at her. She waited a moment, then curtsied and sat down to finish her meal like nothing happened. So much for keeping her identity under wraps.


    ....


    "Y'know, you're suppose to at least pretend you care about keeping your identity secret," Amelia said as we went home. AnnoyedConcern.


    I was riding with Theo in a different vehicle, but I could listen in to pretty much anyone in the city right now. Speaking of, I made a phone call to the Commissioner. "Hello, Khepri," the man said. He sounded cheerful. He should, when talking to me. After all, we'd basically eliminated most forms of organized crime in the last few weeks, while he got to enjoy much of the credit. "Got another one?"


    "Yes," I confirmed. "Condemned warehouse. Current inhabitants are out. I'd say it's mostly cocaine based on how the bugs are reacting."


    Due to Pantheon's association with police, I should need a warrant simply to look for drugs. Warrants I couldn't get. Which meant no real arrests could be made since any half competent lawyer would get it thrown out in minutes. But that was fine. It's amazing how quickly the suppliers decide to abandon ship when the police get to every stash in under six hours. Just because they couldn't arrest anyone, didn't mean they couldn't walk away with the product


    "Thank you for your service, miss," he said after I'd given him all the basics.


    "Just happy to keep that stuff off the street," I replied before hanging up. I'd have to ask, confidentially of course, just how much we were getting off the street. The busts were so common at this point that they'd stopped making it on the news. We still kept the fact that I could do more than just 'touch' with my bugs a secret, of course. But we'd stopped bothering to hide my range.


    ....


    I hugged Amelia once I got inside. ComfortSafeHappy. She smiled. "So, anything interesting happen today?" It was the first time we really got to talk today.


    "No, not really," I said. "TGIF is in full effect, however."


    "Yeah," she agreed. "So, I know you're planning something. Dish."


    "Sure," I said. "Time for me to show you your present."


    "Okay?" she smiled. AnticipationAmusement.


    I handed her the package, complete with wrapping paper. "Go ahead, try it on."


    "Alright," she said as she went to her bedroom. I went to mine to change as well. SurpriseAnticipation. And that's my partner opening her gift.


    My dress was really nice. Went down to my ankles, but had one of those leg slits on the side. Dark blue contrasting with my pale skin. Something that I really used to hate about myself, actually, but Lisa and Crystal assured me that it was a good feature to have.


    "Okay, I'm ready," she said. I rushed to her door, if only to avoid anyone else seeing me. Not that I really needed to worry, I could tell where they were. Crystal was at her late college class. Lisa in the office. Theo on the phone. Zach on his computer. Riley and Blasto in the lab. No one else actually ever stayed in the building.


    I peaked my head in. She did look nice in the green dress. Elegant, even. Turns out Crystal did know Amelia's size. "It's lovely," she said, smiling at me. GratitudeNervousness. "Thank you. Uh oh."


    I smiled. "Yeah, you caught me," I said, as I stepped into her room, letting her see me. "Your dress isn't the real present."


    DesireShockJoy. I let the feelings wash over me, boosting my confidence for the next part. "I was thinking, since we didn't actually get to enjoy the dance last week, thanks to all kinds of reasons, we should try it again. Can you do the floor lighting in here?"


    "Uh... umm... sure," she said, stammering the words. AnticipationFocus. The floor started to glow subtly as the harsher light faded out. "N-now what?"


    "Well, you can turn on some music," I suggested. "It's even the same music."


    "Yeah, we still have to 'thank' our nosy friends for that, don't we?" Amelia laughed, then went over to her computer and started the music. A sweet, soft song that I didn't recognize. Amelia seemed to have a taste for softer music. She did, in fact, actually have Sinatra in the mix. I wasn't complaining.


    "You still haven't made any taser bees for me," I reminded her. "We could test drive those."


    "Sorry," she said. "Still haven't worked out how to pack enough power into something so small and still let it function as a bee."


    "Oh well," I fake pouted. "Our revenge is foiled yet again." I moved over and put my arms around her.


    ElatedNervous. That's all I needed. We danced through several songs. Talking about nothing important, like classwork and Riley's antics. And even a few serious things like new ideas for the Zerglings, and how we finally had space to start our Ultralisk tests, once we established legal rights to our dead world. And speculating on names for it. I was leaning toward 'Elysia', myself. None of that really stuck in my memory, though.


    What I focused on was the girl I was holding. She smiled radiantly, and her feelings radiated through our link in waves. It was wonderful. It gave me the strength and confidence I needed to take the next step. I moved a hand up, brushing the hair away from her face and cupping her cheek. Then I leaned in and kissed her.


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


    A/N- In addition to Sinatra, Amelia has the original version of Killing Me Softly, and Time After Time in the mix.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  10. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 88
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 88


    Taylor held me as we danced, and it was wonderful. The taller girl was confident and self assured, but still gentle. Neither of us were exactly good dancers, but we really didn't need to be. The music and the atmosphere were perfect. I suppose I should think that, since it was all designed to perfectly match my own tastes. In short, I was having a wonderful time.


    CertaintyResolve. Hmm, what was that? I looked up, and Taylor brushed my cheek. I melted into her as she leaned forward and kissed me. My first real kiss, and with someone I... DiscomfortResolve.


    I ignored the feeling for a couple more seconds. Please don't take this away from me. It was her idea, maybe she'll... but the mood was already ruined. I pushed away from her, stepping back. A quick mental impulse activated the normal lighting of my room.


    ConfusionWorry.


    "I... I'm sorry, we... I can't." HurtRejectionFearAlone.


    I didn't need the link, I could see everything in the look on her face. "Why... what did I do wrong?" she asked. PainFearInadequate.


    I rushed in and pulled her into a hug. "I'm so sorry!" I wept. ConfusionWorry. "It's not right."


    She hesitated, but put her arm around me anyway. "I thought it's what you wanted," she said. HurtConfused.


    "It is," I agreed. "I do!"


    "Then why?"


    "Because you don't," I managed to blurt out.


    "That's not..." she hesitated. "That's not important."


    Oh. Oh wow. "Taylor... I..."


    "I already said I was okay with it," Taylor insisted, her wet eyes looking into mine. ResolveApprehension. "I feel you through our bond. I know how much you want me. And I want to give that to you. It's only fair."


    "Our bond goes both ways," I countered. "You know that feeling coming off me right now, while telling you 'no'?"


    "You mean a mix of quiet despair and grim resolve?" she replied. "Well, at least I know you really don't want to stop this."


    "That's basically what I was getting from the bond the whole time we were kissing," I sighed, then offered what I hoped was a good smile. "Well, except maybe the 'despair' part. It didn't upset or disgust you or anything."


    "It doesn't," Taylor insisted.


    "If it had been any other reason," I continued. "Love, desire, maybe even simple curiosity... I might have accepted 'nothing better to do' if you phrased it in a way that didn't feel like an insult. But it reads like you're doing a chore. Out of a sense of obligation. It's really not something that puts me in 'the mood', you might imagine."


    She offered a half smile. "Okay," she agreed. ResolveHope. "If you want to try again, we could cut the link for an hour or two."


    My eyes went wide and my stomach... and the rest of my lower abdomen... tingled. I hugged her just a little tighter for a second. "An hour or..." I managed to gasp. "Taylor... what did you expect we were going to do tonight?"


    HumiliationTrapped. "I..." she mumbled, her face turning beat red. I wanted to kiss her so badly.


    "Sorry," I said. "I couldn't hear that."


    "Anything you wanted us to do," she admitted. So hot. No! Focus on something else.


    "On a first date?" was the first thing my brain stumbled across that didn't involve thinking about how good her skin felt on mine. Or, for that matter, how nice the dresses felt where they rubbed together.


    ShockRealizationShame. "When you put it that way, it sounds really bad, doesn't it?"


    "Kinda, yeah," I agreed. "But you already know it's not like I don't want to..."


    "But you're not going to," she finished for me.


    "No, I'm not," I confirmed. I broke our hug, but didn't let go of her hand, leading her over to the bed where I sat. She took the implied invite and sat next to me. "Seriously, Taylor. Even if you were, well, interested. I..."


    I hesitated. ConcernTenderSupport.


    "I'm not exactly ready for a relationship, either," I admitted. "In my entire life, there are exactly two people I've ever been attracted to. I don't even know if I'm suppose to be gay or what."


    WorrySadness. She offered a small laugh. "Well, if it turns out you're not, please don't tell me. I have problems with my body image already. I'm not sure how I'd handle finding out the girl who I've basically been seducing is really into guys."


    "I don't like it when you insult yourself," I insisted.


    "Sorry," she looked away. "You were saying?"


    "We know it was Victoria's power that made me fixate on her," I replied. "If it wasn't for that, there's no way to know what my natural tendencies would be. Or if I'd even have any at all."


    "Why wouldn't you?" ConcernConfusionEmpathy.


    "I'm still a bio-Thinker, even when not using my powers actively," I explained. "When we kissed... you felt the kiss, and my emotional state through our bond."


    "Which was really nice, for a moment or two," she insisted. CertaintyConvictionFearRejection.


    "It was..." I agreed. "But I also felt everything else. The hundred trillion or so bacterial cells living inside you. I could imagine that, if left for nature to run its course, my power would get in the way of sex, like Lisa's does."


    "Hundred trillion?"


    "It's all really tiny," I said. "In total, rarely more than three pounds in any given person. But it's something I'm constantly aware of, when touching someone."


    "I'm aware of about that many bugs," Taylor insisted. "And I'm still capable of... well..." she blushed.


    "Yeah," I agreed. "And maybe I'd have worked the same way. Nature, nurture, and the blurry lines between. There's no way of knowing what I would have been. Or what I will become as I recover from the aftermath of years of mind altering powers. I'd ask Riley to run a few tests, but..."


    "Bonesaw poking around in your brain," Taylor muttered. FearRevulsionHate. Another subject between us that can't be easily approached.


    "I was thinking more along the lines of 'she's ten', myself," I admitted.


    "Oh, sorry," she said. RegretWorryIndecision.


    "It's fine," I sighed, then leaned my head onto her shoulder, snuggling a bit closer. CalmingSafe. "I know it's asking a lot for you to tolerate her presence."


    She wrapped an arm around me. "It's fine. You were right to keep her. I can't pretend I'd have turned out any less of a monster if I got my powers that young, and then a psycho like Jack spent the next half decade making me his protege. It's not like I'm free of sin. If nothing else, she saved your life. That's worth an awful lot to me."


    I smiled, nuzzling against her. "Thanks," I pushed the gratitude into our link. I opened my eyes and realized I was in a perfect angle to see down her dress. I blushed and looked away.


    She was kind enough to not admit she noticed, although the link sang her part of the reaction. HappyAmusedProtectiveAnxious.


    "So..." she said. "What does this make us, then?" ConcernHope.


    "Friends," I said, looking up at her. "Partners. Close ones, clearly. We're just not romantically involved."


    "Really close," Taylor agreed. She smiled down at me. "I should probably stop teasing you, then." RegretDisappointment.


    "Hey," I smiled back, "Let's not talk crazy, here. We've already established that we both like that. And the talks. And the cuddling. We can keep doing that."


    "Really?" She asked. HappyConcerned. "What about, well, if one of us maybe finds someone to date. This might be a bit much for someone to accept."


    I shrugged, still gazing up at her. "Did you have someone in mind?"


    FlusteredFoolish. "Okay, you have a point," she admitted.


    "Like Lisa and the others have made painfully clear: everyone's already under the impression that we're together," I stated. AnnoyanceAgreement. "I'm not interested in romance with anyone right now. And, frankly, this would probably be a selling point for your preferred demographic."


    "Okay, you have a lot of points," she agreed. "So I can keep playing dressup?"


    "I'd be disappointed if you stopped," I stated. I knew the link would back me up. RelievedHappyApprehensive.


    "So, the question becomes," she continued. "What exactly are you okay with doing?"


    "To throw your own words back at you," I smiled impishly. "Anything you want us to do."


    SheepishThrilledProtective. She hugged me tight, even kissing my forehead. And this time, she did it because she wanted to.


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


    A/N- To quote one of my favorite webcomics: "Once again, personal growth and maturity have gotten in the way of a good time."
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  11. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 89
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 89


    For two people who aren't dating, I thought while looking at the sleeping girl beside me. I didn't bother actually completing the mental sentence. Taylor's dress had shifted in a way that basically exposed her entire leg to me. She has really really nice legs. Must be all that running. I'd probably have to start exercising more, myself. Not looking forward to that. Then again... more eye candy.


    I nudged Taylor's shoulder. "Hey, I think it's time for you to wake up."


    "Huh?" ConfusionRecognitionRealizationEmbarrassment. "What time is it?"


    "Around sunrise," I said. "I can feel it through the tree."


    She smiled. "Since when do you wake up before noon?"


    "Probably something to do with not wanting to wake you up after you fell asleep," I said. HappyConcern. Knowing Taylor's responses gave me a level of confidence. Otherwise, I never would have followed that line up. "I should have you stay in bed with me more often."


    EmbarrassedDelighted. She turned scarlet at the suggestion. "I... uh..."


    "You're adorable when you're flustered," I informed her. More of the same series of feelings.


    "That was cruel," she managed to stutter out.


    "Would you like me to stop?" Rhetorical Questions for a thousand, Alex.


    "No," she reluctantly admitted. "I... uh... should probably go get changed. I don't think these dresses were really meant to be used as nightgowns."


    "Probably not," I agreed.


    She got out of the bed and straightened out her dress, looking kissably shy the whole time. She looked at me, eyes half shut as we just enjoyed the various flavors of the empathic bond.


    I signaled the door to open for her. Still hadn't worked out an auto open-close for them that didn't have a dozen or more flaws. Everyone else had to push a button.


    She walked out, and immediately clapping and even a couple 'whoops' came from the living room. All from one person. Taylor offered a death glare in that direction. "No, not the bees!" Respawn shouted, scrambling behind the couch and collapsing into a fit of laughter. I'm getting pretty good at sensing where people are on the Yggdrasil.


    Taylor hadn't actually called on her power, except the usual stuff I was coming to think of as background noise. DefiancePride. That floored me. Pride. She was proud of this. Of us. I fed on that strength and sent it right back to her. This is an emotion we'd be getting a lot of mileage of, I can tell. Taylor simply walked to her room, not letting Zach's antics get to her.


    ....


    No one else had anything to say about it the rest of the day. As far as everyone else was concerned, we were now officially a couple. As far as we were concerned, it didn't matter what they thought. What we did or did not do with our time together was our concern and no others. Don't fight, accept and push through.


    Our weekend went back to a productive routine. Taylor, Zach, Theo, and Clarice spent much of their time training with and teaching our first batch of police officers how to operate the M4s. Lisa did... whatever it was Lisa did. Plotting, mostly. Consulting Dinah occasionally. All superheroes should have their own pet evil mastermind. Life is infinitely more simple this way.


    Crystal, Rey and I worked on the first ever hostile environment variant of my Yggdrasil. Rey piloted one of the modified M4s through the other side of the gate. The goal was to go in, take analysis and samples, and bring them to a segregated variant of the Yggdrasil. Followed by what was essentially a million years of forced evolution condensed into mere hours.


    Crystal was doing scouting flights around the area, in the best bioarmor suit we'd built thus far. She was our flagship fighter, after all. The first suit we'd given an actual name: "Radiant". Technically 'V1Radiant'. V2 was the standard for Eki at the moment, with more combat options and a stronger forcefield. We didn't use it in scouting because we didn't want to have it irradiated.


    V3 would be ready in time for Behemoth, Riley insisted. She was currently more interested in obsessing over the new 'Azrael' model meant for Flechette. To use Riley's own words: 'she could solo the Triumvirate with this'. I didn't know if I believed her, but she was very clearly enthusiastic about the idea.


    By the time Sunday night came around, we'd done everything we could do. The M4P project had progressed to primarily 'self' training. These were trained professionals, after all. They were merely learning new equipment, not being retrained into something else. We had them on a week of playing various physical sports. Mainly Basketball, since Riley considered that the most perfect choice for learning the nuanced fine controls of the system and updating the automatic reactions of the M4s. Her prediction was they'd be ready by next Monday.


    My hostile adaptation Yggdrasil had already started spreading. The entire planet would be completely terraformed in two years, left to its own devices. With active help, and you could be damn sure we were going to actively help, less than six months.


    Our priority, now that Flechette was functionally a 'sure thing', was back on Vista. Using her power on this basically dead world would be huge.


    ....


    I rode to school with Clarice and Zach. Those of us supposedly without a secret identity. Clarice was busy admiring a handkerchief. It was an astonishing combination of woven fabrics, with a blue lace pattern that met with a deep red heart in the middle.


    "That's really pretty," I told her. "Where'd you get it?"


    "I had Parian make it for me," she answered. "Don't worry, I paid for it from my share of her profits."


    Much of the tech in Parian's workshop was designed by Riley, she was given a cut for it. "Okay," I said. "So what's it for?"


    "My boyfriends," Riley said. ShockConcern. Ah, right, Taylor was still listening in, even if she couldn't be here. I sent the loose emotional equivalent of a 'hug' through.


    Zach coughed. For real.


    "First," I said sternly. "You're not allowed to date. Second, even if you were allowed to date, you're not allowed to have plural boyfriends."


    "Third," Zach interrupted, having recovered by disintegrating himself. "The kind of boys that would appreciate silk handkerchiefs are already dating each other."


    "I know," Riley agreed. "I kept telling them and they wouldn't listen. So I made it a challenge. Anyone who takes this from me gets a date." She tucked it into her shirt pocket, half dangling out.


    "Where did you get an idea like that?" I exclaimed.


    "Zach," she answered with the same smile as always. AnnoyanceResignation.


    I glared in his direction. "What?" he laughed. "I said I saw something like that in a show, not that I thought she should do it."


    "Why am I not surprised?" I muttered. "Remember rule number six?"


    "If it's Zach's idea, it's probably a bad one?"


    "Yeah, that," I confirmed.


    "But this is actually a really good idea," Riley insisted. "It's good practice for controlling the automatic responses of the doll that I can apply to future models. Plus, anyone who succeeds is either a parahuman or insanely capable. People we might want to recruit. It also draws attention to Clarice, which is sort of one of our goals."


    She had a point. A lot of points, actually. RealizationAgreement. Didn't quite like the way it was being implemented, but it's not like I really needed to worry about protecting Clarice from anything. "Okay," I finally agreed. "Play your game, but if it causes problems in class, it's over."


    "Okay," she agreed. "Now, when are you getting married?"


    I sighed. Zach smiled. I focused on the link, taking refuge in the strength. PrideComfortCertainty. "Not any time soon," I replied. "We have more important things to worry about. Like the Endbringers. I'll worry about getting married when cities aren't being destroyed every three months. Not before."


    Clarice nodded. "Okay," she said in the voice of someone with a mission. Her smile was that of someone inordinately pleased with herself. Oh god, what did I just promise? WorryAmusementResignation.


    Zach chuckled. "To be fair, it would be the most badass wedding ever. Of all time. I can see it now... we can hold the ceremony inside Behemoth's corpse. Wedding dresses made of Simurgh feathers. Alexandria will be one of the bridesmaids and would have to settle for a tacky blue Leviathan hide dress. Endbringer teeth tied to the back of the car. Party of the fucking Eon."


    "Language!" Clarice smacked him.


    "Ow! Sorry!" Then he paused. "The fuck?" Another smack. "OWW! That actually hurts! How did you do that without tripping my restore?"


    "World's best biotinker," Clarice responded.


    "Fucking bul- OW!" Zach ducked back, bringing his arms up to defend himself. "Okay, I get it!"


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


    A/N- That's right. They've started naming the bioarmor. That's clearly the most important piece of information in this chapter. Seriously, though. Radiant and Azrael are going to be fun.

    Also: they've weaponized the power of Riley's platonic Yandere toward Endbringer slaying.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  12. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 90
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 90


    As it turns out, it wasn't even Clarice who got outed first. It was Taylor. We managed a full week, at least. A week of living a normal enough school life. Spending lunch together, sometimes with Chris or Theo or both. I introduced her to Victoria's friend group, and they were suitably understanding of her less than outgoing nature. Much as she was far more confident, now, she still wasn't the type to enjoy socializing. Another way in which we were alike.


    It was Thursday afternoon, in Social Sciences, that things started coming apart. The teacher set up our group project assignment for the week, due next Friday. A political map of how the world would look today if it were Asia, instead of Europe, which colonized the Americas. Complete with citations of historical points and why we believed the lines would be drawn in which areas.


    "You should ask Weld over," Taylor suggested.


    "Why can't you?"


    "Better if you do it," she answered. "Less suspicious for the cape to ask the other cape."


    I sighed. "Fine," I agreed, getting up and heading over to the boy. Seriously, Taylor, I have no idea how to approach people.


    "Another recruit attempt?" Weld asked.


    "We're supposed to be in groups of three," I answered. "At least this way you won't have to deal with stupid questions about life as a cape."


    He smiled. "Sure," he replied, getting up. He took one of the desks abandoned in the shuffle, sliding it up next to ours. "So, I was thinking a focus on the Oirats, and frame the premise around Oirat expansion eastward. Prompting a land grab between them and China..."


    "We need a discovery in the New World worth the fight," Taylor answered. "A gold rush, perhaps? The Rockies are full of the stuff."


    I felt a flicker through our link. My eyes when where Taylor's took hers. She was looking at Weld's arm. InterestDesire. Oh. Oh! I didn't listen as intently as I might have, instead focusing on the sensation. Was this what Taylor felt whenever I 'looked' at her? No wonder she doesn't mind. I couldn't blame her for checking out Weld, either. The boy's was pretty much the statue of a god.


    She'll never look at me that way, a traitorous part of myself thought.


    Taylor's head snapped toward me. ConcernFearWorry. "Is something wrong?" she asked.


    "No," I answered. DoubtConcern. "At least, nothing that matters right now."


    Taylor reached over and grabbed my hand. It was comforting, in its way. Weld said nothing, and instead went back to focusing on the assignment. Eventually class ended, as it is want to do. Taylor and I went to lunch. There was no pretense, anymore. She kept hold of my hand the entire way, except when we had to break off to put our books away, and then we met up before going to the lunch room. PrideSupport.


    We opted to go outside for lunch, finding a shady corner. "So, wanna share what that was about?" she asked.


    "Just something stupid," I replied.


    "Jealousy?" Taylor asked.


    "More like envy," I answered. "Someone else who has something I want. Like I said, it's stupid."


    "Okay," she answered, leaning against me a little. The bond made it clear she wanted me to explain further. I didn't. We spent a little while like that before Taylor muttered. "Oh god damn it. Smile for the cameras."


    She pointed at an area across the parking lot from the school. A blue car, I wasn't enough of a car expert to know one model from another. Sure enough, I saw the camera pointed at us. "Are you going to stop them?" I asked.


    "Nope," she answered. "There are four others waiting around for their opportunity. Probably ready to ambush students for interviews the moment school is out. The secret is officially dead, we may as well accept it. Honestly, I'm shocked it stayed secret this long."


    "Don't fight, accept and push through?" I smiled. It seemed to have become our mantra. How we handled our mood swings, whether bond or natural. How we dealt with problems like the PRT and the various power plays. We don't need to be untouchable, merely unstoppable.


    "Exactly," she said with a smile. CalmRelief. "I thought I'd feel worse about my identity being revealed. Helps that everyone who matters enough for me to even pretend to care what they think already knows. Besides, you've been doing it for years."


    I shrugged. "True," I agreed. "Before I got my powers, even. The assumption was always 'when', not 'if', I became a cape."


    "I just told Blasto what happened," Taylor informed me. "Lisa will know in a minute. Are you certain you can't build a better way for me to communicate. Or at least not let the Yggdrasil eat most of my bugs?"


    "They're bugs, Taylor," I replied. "I would rather they not be in my home."


    "Fiiine," she whined. "Can we get more of those hugbugs and make them so I can control their speech?"


    "That might work," I said. "But then everyone would be hugging you all the time instead of just me."


    AmusedMischievous.


    "Uh... Taylor... what are you planning?" I asked.


    "To butter you up and either make Minerva happy or give her ulcers," she smiled broadly as she wrapped an arm around me.


    "Oh, this'll good," I said, smiling back.


    She leaned in and gave me a kiss on the cheek.


    "Aww," I fake pouted. "Is that all?"


    "Well, I didn't want to force you to turn off the link," she replied. "Besides, I think this school might have some kind of PDA policy. Wouldn't wanna get caught breaking any rules." She paused for a second and then started chuckling, then laughing.


    "Okay, what's so funny," I asked.


    "Nothing," she said. "Just remembering this classmate of mine. Next time I see him I'll have to tell him that my pretend girlfriend is better than his."


    "Oh, is that all I am to you?" I acted offended. "Someone to show off in front of the cameras?"


    "Yup," she chirped. "There's absolutely no one I'd rather be caught cuddling with by the paparazzi."


    I leaned in and nuzzled into her neck, giving her a tight hug. "Me, too."


    The bell rang not long after, and we went to our respective final classes. At the very least, our normalcy would last until school was out.


    =========


    A/N- Introduction of NEW DRAMATIC TWISTS! Also, Greg gets briefly mentioned. You wouldn't think I'd forgotten about Greg, right?
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  13. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 91
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 91


    "No, not a problem," Lisa said on the phone. "You've gotta do your job. A tip, though... send your investigators after Winslow."


    "Yeah, that's the one," she nodded despite it not being any kind of video call. "Names of interest: Emma Barnes, Sophia Hess, Gladys Knott. Take a real, hard look at Hess. She's got some powerful associates that covered up the near homicide of a fifteen year old girl."


    "Got it in one," she confirmed. "Are you sure you're not a thinker?"


    "Then you'd better think carefully on who you give this one to."


    Lisa's really going all out on this one, I realized. Not that it surprised me for a second. She was preparing for this ever since we started going back to school. Meanwhile, the rest of us were watching the news.


    "She was a nice girl," Greg said. "Quiet and shy. Really smart. Always thought she and I would, y'know, end up together. Though she never really seemed interested in me, or anyone else really."


    He shrugged and smiled whistfully. "Oh well, guess I know why, now. Congratulations, Amelia, you got one of the good ones."​


    AnnoyanceDisgust. "Yeah, Greg, because a girl would have to be gay to not be interested in you," Taylor scoffed at the television.


    "Don't be too hard on the weirdo," Minerva smiled. "He just accidentally handed us a PR jackpot. Pretty soon all your former classmates are going to color everything they remember about you with this. I assume your bullies went with the old cliché of questioning your sexuality, at least occasionally."


    DisgustPainImpotence. "Yeah," Taylor admitted, looking down. I reached over and gripped her hand. "When they didn't have anything more 'creative' available."


    I put my arm around her and offered what compassion and support I could through our link. It worked some, at least. She looked at me and smiled. I heard a quiet sigh from Riley as she looked at us. AmusementResignation.


    "Perfect," Tattletale smiled. "Your classmates will remember those comments, and they'll think up other bits of 'evidence' that fits this new worldview. Retroactive memory, confirmation bias, whatever the fuck it they call it. Now the trio don't just look like evil bitches. They look like evil bitches that commit hate crimes."


    "Leaving me to die in a locker full of human waste wasn't enough 'hate', already? There is so much wrong with that..." Taylor muttered. She had a point. Why should it be 'more bad' because of her supposed sexual orientation?


    "Don't mean to be insensitive, but you did agree to this plan," Tattletale reminded her.

    "...big sister," Clarice stated for the reporter lady.


    "And how do you feel about her dating Taylor?"


    "I'm not allowed to talk about secret identities," Clarice said emphatically. "Amelia and Zach and Crystal are okay because they don't have one."


    "Okay," the woman doing the interview agreed. "How do you feel about her dating Khepri?"


    "It's wonderful!" Clarice insisted. "She's smart and nice and has cool powers and we're going to kill all the Endbringers so they can get married."

    AnnoyedMortifiedDefiantPride. Exactly, I thought, as I buried my face in my hands. I looked over at Riley, who was smiling away at the television. I have to talk to her later.

    "I'm afraid I don't follow," the woman offered a nice, if somewhat condescending and confused, smile. "What does them getting married have to do with Endbringers?"


    "That's what my big sister said," Clarice explained. "They won't get married while cities were still being destroyed every three months. So the Endbringers have to go. And then they can get married and have lots of babies and I'll be the cool auntie that they all love the most."


    "They're both girls, how do you think they'll have babies together?" Okay, note to self, don't invite that particular condescending bitch to any press conferences.


    "Oh, that's really simple," Clarice started. "All you have to do is introduce a-"


    "There you are!" Zach interrupted, running into the camera's view. "What did we tell you about talking to strangers?"


    "Try not to rip any more faces off?"


    "Not power strangers," Zach clarified. "People you don't know strangers."


    "Oh," Clarice nodded. "Don't talk to them unless someone I know says it's okay. And if they try to touch me, I'm not allowed to break their limbs more than twice each."


    "It's okay," the woman assured them. "We're not strangers, we're reporters."


    "Lady," Zach looked right into the camera with a deadpan voice. "No one is stranger than the press. Not even that one dude at the park who talks to himself while feeding the pigeons."


    He paused for a beat. "To his cats."


    Then he put a hand on Clarice's shoulder. "Now come on, ya little mushroom, it's time to go back to the magic tree fort. Your flying pony needs her exercise."

    "Riley," Tattletale muttered after the scene swapped over to a couple of Glory Girl's friends who were talking about Taylor being really nice, if a bit quiet. "You are an absolute fucking genius and I would hug you right now, if not for those PTSD flashbacks I still get."


    Riley glared at Tattletale, and neither Taylor nor I were feeling especially generous right now. If for different reasons.


    "It's absolutely perfect," she insisted. "We have the Endbringer fights and Clarice in the realm of public speculation. They can't really do much investigating of our top secret weaponry and all that, but they can certainly poke around into her history, which leads up to the almost certain exposure of Amelia's actual parentage. Operation: Pork Roast is well on its way to completion!"


    "I still say we should have called it Operation: FTP- Ow!" Zach looked over at Clarice. "I didn't do anything wrong that time!"


    "I am aware of what the 'F' stands for," Riley stated with a disapproving glare.


    "Why don't you ever slap Lisa around?" Zach gestured at her. "She swears more than the rest of us combined!"


    "Riley and I have an understanding," Lisa stated.


    "How the fu-udge did you pull that off?" UncertaintyCuriosity. No one bothered to answer him. I made a note to ask Taylor about it later, she might be able to figure it out. Or I'd just to ask Riley, that would probably be simplest.


    Sometimes, I did not like the kinds of secrets that Lisa kept. I didn't doubt her loyalty, if only to Taylor. And Taylor was a certainty in my mind, so Lisa would be loyal to Pantheon. Even without the threat of the Passengers and Dinah's Prophecy hanging over our heads. But still, this was something I should take the time to focus on.


    "Fine," Zach muttered. "So, in slightly different news, who do you think spilled the beans?"


    "Coulda been anyone," I supplied. "We weren't subtle. We didn't even want to be subtle." SuspicionAnger. "Of course, Taylor already has an idea."


    "Emma didn't come to school today," she pointed out.


    "I don't think she'd do this," Zach responded. "Much as she's a bitch, she's not stupid. This? This would be stupid. This would be the kind of stupid that normally follows 'hey, bubba, watch this'. I don't see it. Not unless she wants to get lynched."


    "Neither do I," Minerva agreed. "She'd have to know that she and Sophia would be exposed during this. Legitimate coincidence. More likely it was some kid who mentioned it to a parent or someone else who thought they could make a few bucks selling us out to the press."


    "Or Greg," Taylor admitted. "He gets attention, gets to imply we were 'friends' in a way I can't really refute without looking like a bitch. Maybe even a kind of revenge on me never showing him any interest. And it's not like he was Emma's biggest fan to begin with. Lots to gain, nothing to lose."


    "It really doesn't matter," Minerva dismissed the speculation. "What's important is that it wasn't us and it can't be traced back to us. What comes next needs to be started by other people."


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


    A/N- Riley continues to be adorrifying. No, seriously. Love Riley in this chapter.

    Zach gets some great lines, too. Can't forget those.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  14. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 92- Stan Vickery
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 92- Stan Vickery


    I made the phone call to Minerva, she picked up on the first ring. "So, you guys got the info, too?"


    "Second hand," I reluctantly admitted. She'd have figured it out and mocked me for it if I had tried to hide it. "The tipster informed a handful of stations."


    The word spread quickly, of course, but 'quickly' usually meant 'the other guys got all the good stuff already'. The news industry was funny like that, a constant balancing act between bragging about your every success, and jealously hiding every secret.


    "Pity, I'd have loved to guess who it was," I could picture her foxlike grin.


    "I've already made a habit of not learning who sources are until after we've hung up," I retorted. This had become something of a game between us. Thirty years of experience versus one of the most capable thinkers I've ever heard of.


    "Aww," she let a pouty whine into her voice. "You're going to make me cry."


    "Crocodile tears for your crocodile grin?" I smiled as I heard a chuckle out of her. "We do, of course, have to air the story." The implication in us doing so without having bothered showing up to gather information from the source of course meant a certain trust and expectation of an inside story from her.


    "No, not a problem," she agreed, as we both knew she would. She danced this dance as well as the veterans. "You've gotta do your job. A tip, though... send your investigators after Winslow."


    I smiled broadly. This is the part of our game where things paid off. The jokes were a pleasant diversion, but ultimately we were both here to handle business. "Crapsack school, prime recruiting zone for the Merchants and ABB?"


    "Yeah, that's the one," she agreed readily. "Names of interest: Emma Barnes, Sophia Hess, Gladys Knott. Take a real, hard look at Hess. She's got some powerful associates that covered up the near homicide of a fifteen year old girl."


    Oh. This was going to be good. "She's a Ward, isn't she?" It didn't take a lot to extrapolate. The ability to make a police investigation vanish meant either Government or E88 corruption. The latter would be something Pantheon would reveal personally instead of through proxy. Clearly a female name. Hess... German? Vista? Nah, there are reports of an association that might be friendship between Vista and Aceso, Minerva wouldn't give me her name. "Shadow Stalker?"


    "Got it in one," she confirmed.


    "This is going to tie into the 'other' information you've been holding back on the PRT, isn't it?"


    "Are you sure you're not a thinker?" she asked. I smiled. Not an answer, but not a denial. Part of our game. An outsider might call it seduction, and in many ways it was. The teasing and positioning. Myself playing the 'male' role and seeking out something I clearly want but cannot simply come out and demand. Her playing the 'female' role, withholding something she clearly wishes to offer me, but waiting to gauge that I'm suitably worthy and appreciative of her gifts. Making me earn it.


    "I hope not," I chuckled. "Hate to think it was anything other than my brains, good looks, winning personality and hard work that contributed to my success in life. If this is as valuable as you're implying, it could make the careers of whomever I assign."


    "Then you'd better think carefully on who you give this one to."


    "It's been a delight as always, Minerva," I replied with absolute honesty, before hanging up. We didn't bother with 'goodbyes', we never did, and I was already dialing the next number.


    "Hayes," I said the moment the phone picked up. "It's Vickery. Yup. I have some names for you. Rush job, tonight if possible. I'll pay you triple if you get it done by seven."


    ....


    "Commissioner Micheals speaking," the older man's voice came through clearly.


    "Yes, this is Stan Vickery," I answered. "Sorry for such a late call, but I need to ask an important favor." I already knew I had it in the bag, though I was loathe to do this without knowing for certain the value I'd get for it.


    "Go on," he replied, not hiding his suspicion. Pity, that. It was so much easier for everyone involved when there was trust in these mutually beneficial arrangements.


    "We're looking into details relating to a cold case from Winslow," I informed him. That wouldn't cause anyone to blink an eye. If anything, police loved giving away info on cold cases. "It relates to minors, both victim and almost certainly the perps." That was the 'favor' part.


    "I'm afraid I'd need to know more details, first," he replied, still cautious.


    "Closed for lack of evidence. Evidence that my team recently came into possession of. And I believe there was political corruption from well above your department's influence that would have made it impossible for your men to solve," I stated.


    That would probably be enough to convince him to cooperate. Offering a solved case and someone else was to blame for the failure is about as sweet a deal as anyone could hope for, but I had one more incentive. "The victim was a Miss Taylor Hebert, AKA: Khepri."


    ....


    "Winslow is a hotbed of gang activity, increasing the difficulties of any investigation," the officer informed Erin, my interviewer for this part of the investigation. "It's an unfortunate reality that being seen speaking to police could invite violence against them. This understandably makes witnesses unwilling to come forward."​


    "What would you normally do in a situation such as that?" Erin asked. Miss Vaught was one of my preferred interviewers for relaxed situations, where everyone wants to cooperate fully and there's no need for maneuvering. She was too 'nice' to handle the more cutthroat aspects of field investigation or hard journalism, but she might one day make for an excellent talkshow host for minor celebrities and the like. Which was fine, I'd treat her as well as I could and wish her luck in her future career when she made that step away from human interest stories to morning shows.​


    "Typically, we might make calls to parents to see if they could convince their children to provide statements privately," he answered. "However, the principal of the school refused to give names of students that had lockers near the scene of the attack. We were unable to conduct a full investigation due to this and other interference. For example, the teachers neglected to informed us that this was the latest and most egregious example of a pattern of bullying that had extended for over a year even at that point."​


    "I see," Erin nodded, accepting his claim without hesitation.​


    As I said, too nice. A real reporter would have torn him to shreds on sheer failure to do the job right. On another day, for another case, I might have been in that interview box, making a suitably meaty story of this and costing a cop or two his badge.


    No doubt, others would come along later and teach the police proper chagrin for their incompetence shown here. However, the police could always be counted upon to screw something up eventually. A low hanging fruit that was easy to pluck, lacking in any real value.


    ....


    "It's okay, Mrs. Knotts," I offered her my best comforting smile, and I had very good smiles. "We promise your complete confidentiality. No one will be able to identify you. We just want to know how such a complete abuse of power could occur, and to see to it that those who covered up this crime are exposed. We already know who Sophia Hess is, how she tormented Taylor. We already know that Blackwell was willing to interfere with a police investigation to protect her. We know she threatened your jobs." Actually, we really knew less than half of that. I was giving her outs, plausible excuses for her failures.


    She looked at me, then away. The woman probably wasn't used to talking to attractive men in general, especially ones as understanding as I was being. Still, it wasn't quite enough to convince her on its own. Time to play to her guilt. "We're trying to help Taylor," I insisted. "The system already let her down once. Now's your chance to make things right for her. Surely it's time for her to have justice and closure?"


    "Okay," she agreed. "I'll help." Jackpot.


    ....


    Speaking with parents of a victim is always a crapshoot. So many possible things could go wrong, so many personalities just didn't belong on television. The usual costs of all interviews, with only those rare exceptions that make all the others worth the effort.


    Daniel Hebert was one of those exceptions. It helped that I asked Minerva to get him on board ahead of time. Whether she handled it herself, or had his daughter do so, I didn't ask.


    He described with a clear confidence the combination of negligences that allowed his daughter's abuse to continue as long as it had. The school's offer to pay for Taylor's medical expenses was a mistake. Granted, the Heberts accepting the offer was a greater mistake, but I glossed that over easily enough. What the public would see is that the school was admitting a failure on their part. It wasn't that valuable alone, but coupled with the rest of the material I had, it looked like bribery.


    Then I moved on to the more personal questions. He wasn't as businesslike during that portion of the interview. He came across as a supportive and caring father who was quite proud of Taylor's accomplishments, but not afraid to admit that he was out of his depth dealing with her power and fame. The audience would love every minute of it.


    ....


    Speaking with the parents of an attacker, on the other hand, is incredibly predictable: you don't. They almost never cooperate, and it's better that way. Someone willing to admit to their crimes in a candid and apologetic manner is what I assign Erin to handle. A swift and clean resolution better left to feel good talkshows. It kills a news story. There's no drama, there's no excitement, there's no hooks or speculation to allow you to take fifteen minutes of facts and use it to fill a week of air time.


    Fortunately, that didn't happen here. Barnes was filmed threatening to file a lawsuit if we so much as looked at his daughter. An empty threat, but a great clip. We had no interest in harassing a teenage girl. Whatever she might be guilty of, it would just make us look bad. Putting her father in the public eye was more than enough. A face to go with the name, a pressure on her and her family that might yield something more later. Or it might not, but we were hardly suffering for a lack of sound bites.


    Hess was more interesting. Screaming and profanity and a flying beer bottle that managed to break the news van's window. I've seen better on air ranting breakdowns over the years, but the cameraman handled himself admirably and it was all clear enough for all the viewers to see. I made a note for my secretary to get his name for me, and give him a small bonus. Most of them didn't get paid nearly enough, and he (or she, for that matter) was one of the ones with talent.


    A bit of inquiry revealed Mrs. Hess had a long, long history of less than successful relationships with men. None of her three children had the same father. No less than five of her former live in boyfriends were serving time in prison for crimes ranging from robbery to assault to drug trafficking. A real piece of work that left plenty of possible pop psych bullshit excuses for why the girl turned out psychotic.


    I didn't really care. That was yet another hook for smaller fish to nibble upon. At most, I'd use the obviously unstable home life as further evidence of the PRT's failures.


    Political corruption and coverups of criminal abuse by Protectorate members? That was, as I had told Minerva some days prior, the kind of thing that could make careers. And it was the only thing I cared about. This story was going to be huge and it was going to be my team that broke it to the nation. That was no exaggeration. With the proper work, this story could easily go nation wide.


    I noticed a message in my private email that I didn't recognize. It slipped past the spam filters and identified itself as an 'anonymous whistle blower'. I started the video. And then I started laughing.


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


    A/N- Rereading this chapter, I feel like Vickery is one of the characters that deserves his own spinoff series.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  15. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 93- Piggot
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Amelia, Ch 93- Piggot


    So, Khepri's identity was compromised, I thought to myself. It wasn't a major concern, really. At worst, it gives her an opportunity to play the 'home grown hero' angle. Nothing they didn't already have via the Dallon and Pelham girls. Yet another wouldn't be of much use to them. If we were lucky, it might give us an extortion angle, or something to spin into an attack on her character. I'll have someone look into that.


    I pressed a couple buttons on the intercom. "Yes, Director?" the man spoke.


    "Jones," I instructed. "I need you to dig up everything you can on Taylor Hebert." I observed the photographs they had of her at Arcadia. She wasn't a particularly noteworthy girl. Her height, if it were on someone who knew how to leverage it, could give her a great deal of presence. Her relationship with Miss Dallon would, of course, be used as a tool by their resident thinker for considerable effect on the populace level... but that was a transient kind of popularity. And a vulnerable one. I doubted they'd rely upon it, and there was nothing for me to fear if they did.


    I could hear him typing through the com. "Understood, ma-" he froze. "Pardon me, Director," he said. "It appears we already ran an investigation on her, a few months ago."


    "What for?" I asked.


    "It's... related to the Shadow Stalker incident," he answered. "Seems Taylor Hebert was the girl that Shadow Stalker systemically bullied and abused for close to two years before Hijack revealed her crimes."


    I fought to keep from gasping as my gut clenched, sending hot pain through my side from old injuries. "I want everything you can find out about Taylor Hebert."


    This is a disaster.


    ....


    I offered a somewhat forced, but amiable smile for the interviewer. One of our more sympathetic news stations, of course. I was tired, and had been giving interviews and press conferences almost daily for the last two weeks.


    "Yes, it is unfortunate what happened to Miss Hebert," I agreed with the host. An older and portly man who we used when we wanted to present a friendlier and more harmless image forward. It wasn't without some distaste that I knew we used him so that my own less than photogenic appearance wouldn't seen so bad in comparison.


    "We entrusted the school to monitor Miss Hess and ensure she was upholding her duties as a Ward," I explained. "And, quite frankly, as a human being. Clearly, our faith was misplaced." I let the anger and frustration of the last few days bleed into the last sentence.


    "What of Sophia's personal life?" the man asked. "There are allegations she may have been abused by her guardians."


    I tried to soften my tone, as much as possible. "The Wards exist to provide a safe and sympathetic environment for adolescent parahumans coming to terms with their powers, and the responsibilities of both that and their approaching adulthood," I answered. "We cannot, nor should we, spy into the homes of children. We offer support, and would not hesitate to protect our Wards- or any other child, for that matter- from abuse. If Sophia was being abused, and I remind you that is merely speculation at this point, then she chose not to tell us or her therapist."


    ....


    "Pantheon's allegations that the PRT conspired to kill villains during the conflict with the Slaughterhouse Nine are entirely untrue," I stated for the press conference. "The PRT knows the necessity of being united against Class S threats."


    "What of their claims that you refused to assist the Undersiders and other groups aligned against the Nine?"


    "Misconstrued," I stated. "The Protectorate and PRT had a carefully planned operation ready to use against the Nine. A plan that, I remind you, was successful in eliminating Crawler and would no doubt have worked against all other members. We took every reasonable measure to dissuade the villains from taking any action against the Nine, for fear of disrupting our plan before it could be implemented. They were responsible for their own actions, and their deaths a result of their failure to cooperate with us."


    ....


    Some woman of some morning news show I didn't know the name of, was on the screen. Miss Militia insisted I needed to see this, and I trusted her judgment.

    "Our guest today is Doctor Eric Dale. Respected developmental psychologist and professor of parahuman studies at Berkely University."


    "Happy to be here, Janet," their guest spoke. Damn shrinks. "Although I wish it were under better circumstances."


    "Perhaps we should start by playing the recording," she offered.


    "The Wards exist to provide a safe and sympathetic environment for adolescent parahumans coming to terms with their powers, and the responsibilities of both that and their approaching adulthood."


    A clip from an interview I only half remembered. Had it only been three days? Nothing there of import.


    "Ma'am," a woman's voice- Miss Militia- spoke. Clearly from a different recording entirely. "We need to discuss Shadow Stalker. I don't believe she is fit for the Wards."


    "I saw your report," my voice was stern and unfriendly. In the comfort of my chair, I squirmed, feeling a wave of dread. "It doesn't matter. We need bodies on the street to deter threats like Kaiser and Lung."


    "We've had her for barely over a month," Miss Milita insisted. "And already [VISTA] is refusing to go on patrols with her." Vista's name was clearly edited in over an erasure of the actual name spoken.


    "Kindly explain to [VISTA] what 'insubordination is," I instructed Miss Militia. "[SHADOW STALKER] may be abrasive, but that's no excuse to disobey orders. Unless [VISTA] wants to file a formal complaint with justifiable concerns, she can cope."


    The clip ended, and the news anchor spoke. "We apologize for the editing. Rest assured, there was no alteration to the content, other than to protect the civilian identities of the parahumans involved. The complete recording, as well as other physical evidence, is in police custody."
    Where did they get this recording? I gaped at the screen.

    "It might just be me," she said with that practiced false neutrality hammered into anchors. "But that doesn't sound like a 'safe and sympathetic environment' to me."

    "I agree fully, Janet," the damn shrink agreed all too happily. "What I find most troubling is the implications of Wards being mentioned as a possible deterrent against gangs of powerful parahumans. The use of children to supplement police action has been a constant and unfortunate pattern..."​


    I suppressed an urge to scream at the screen. Why couldn't people understand that it's a fucking war out there!


    ....


    Vista, Flechette and Chariot barged into my office. "We quit," Vista opened, tossing her costume on my desk.


    "What do you mean you quit?" I growled.


    "Just what it sounds like," Flechette responded. "I don't really like being treated like... oh, what was that one headline?"


    "Kiddie Cannon Fodder?" Chariot suggestion.


    "Yeah," Flechette agreed dryly. "That."


    I looked at the three of them. Vista didn't seem to want to meet my gaze. She still did, just like the other two children, but she wasn't as confident. A link that could be broken. I'd start with weakening it. "Was this your idea, mister Medina?"


    "Nope," he said with a confident smile. "Oh, and I know what you're about to say. That I'm a spy from Coil? It's true. I confessed to the others a couple days ago. I admit I was a little surprised that they weren't at all surprised."


    "Vista..." I started.


    "Stuff it, pig," she finally spoke. Where Flechette was a kind of hot anger, and Chariot was a smug rebelliousness. Vista's the one that shook me. That was the voice of barely contained rage and disgust. I'd heard it often enough to know.


    I saw the telltale bending of light, like heat waves off a road in the summer, as she activated her power. My chair disintegrated beneath me, shattered by tidal pressure. She's been training in secret, I realized before my thoughts were interrupted by my scream of pain. My bulk and my old injuries did not take well to slamming to the ground.


    I gasped for air, keeping my face from betraying too much of my thoughts.


    "Remind me to never get on your bad side," Chariot laughed. "That looked uncomfortable."


    Vista didn't look away from me. "She can cope."


    Then they vanished from the room.


    ....


    The video phone alerted me that I had a call. I read the ID. Costa-Brown. I frowned at my no doubt unpleasant appearance. The last two weeks had certainly not been kind to me. I had occasionally delayed my dialysis, and I hadn't gotten more than five hours of sleep per night since the day after Khepri was exposed. The constant stress was taking a harsh toll. No part of me doubted that Pantheon was responsible for this. There was nothing I could do to prove it.


    I pressed the button nonetheless. "Chief Director," I acknowledged.


    "Director Piggot," she responded. Cold and clearly displeased. "I trust you know the reason for this call."


    "I do," I agreed. "It's unfortunate, but I promise it'll blow over."


    She frowned. "No, I don't think it will, Director. You clearly haven't heard the latest news."


    I paled. Somehow even more than my usual sickly color of late. "What?" I managed to ask, my hands trembling visibly. My stomach sank. I had thought, had deluded myself into believing, that this was everything they had. That Pantheon had fired their salvos, and all I had to do was keep going and stay strong until the storm blew over. Looking into Costa-Brown's hard face, I knew better.


    This is how Pantheon operates. Their pattern, what every thinker we pointed in their direction said to expect from them.


    First they gather their forces on one target. Then they scout and learn the terrain, whether literal or metaphorical, it didn't matter. Then they establish complete control of the field. Without their opponents even knowing they're there, when at all possible. And finally, they struck so swiftly and decisively that by the time anyone else even knew what was happening, they'd already won. Securing the objective and making sure there was nothing left standing that could try to stop them.


    In a way, it as an elegantly simple system. In practice, it was anything but. The biggest flaw with such a method is that you had to do it perfectly, every time. A single flaw, a single mistake, one moment of vulnerability, and it all comes apart at the seams. Ruling by strength and will, ruling as if a god from on high, none of this was a new idea. Sometimes done well, sometimes poorly. Sometimes by idealists, and sometimes by despots. The one thing all comers shared was that they always failed, in the end. A lesson learned by the Romans and the Mongols and plenty of others.


    That's why Democracy and Law was so important. To create a real, lasting, peace. A peace that would survive the death of the leaders and the dreamers that birthed it in the first place. Pantheon would fall, one way or another, since it was built on the desires of a few people of power. The PRT would endure, because it was built on the desires of the people of the United States of America.


    Or, at least, that's what I told myself. I already knew my career was over. Whatever it the Chief Director had to say, it would be worse than everything that came before.


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


    A/N- Sucks to be Piggot.

    Vista is badass. Vista will always be a badass.

    And Pantheon really is not subtle, like, at all.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  16. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 95- Taylor
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Amelia, Ch 95- Taylor


    At least I didn't have to go to school in a different vehicle, now. I thought. Of course, that came with a price.


    We drove through the hoard paparazzi type reporters. Less literally than I'd have liked, if we were being honest. AnnoyanceExasperation.


    The media storm would die, eventually. They would decide they had enough photos of Amelia and I together. Everything would go back to whatever passed for 'normal' in our lives. Or, at least, that's what I kept telling myself.


    Amelia and I got out of the small limo that we now went to school in. With exception to Theo, all our identities were in the open. Naturally, Emma never came back. As Zach so eloquently put it, she'd have been lynched. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, honestly. A bit of satisfaction, I suppose. She turned a school against me, and I endured it for years. Same thing happens to her and she runs immediately.


    Amelia got out first, and then offered me her hand. "Now look who's showing off," I joked as I accepted it and got out of the car.


    "Hey," she joked back. "Gotta send the proper 'back off, she's mine' message to all the other girls."


    Our summer school would be over soon. I hadn't quite decided if I'd be going back in the month and a half or so when the new year started. Zach, Theo and Clarice all would, of course. Clarice had friends now, even if Missy was the only one who was a legitimate friend, and enough experience that we didn't need to watch her the whole time. I still would, of course, but my range meant I didn't need to be here to do it. Thus far, Clarice's scarf had gone unclaimed by the few people dumb enough to try.


    Amelia's locker was in a different section, since she was a senior and I was still a sophomore. Even if most of the classes I took were meant for juniors and seniors. We split at the doors and wouldn't see each other again today until lunch. But we always had our link.


    ....


    Classes were peaceful enough, as always. These teachers had dealt with parahumans for years, usually, and they seemed to like the fact that I was one of the quiet ones that wanted to be left alone. Lunch was, as always, the pain in the ass.


    "Taylor!" a girl shouted. I sighed, being rude would only hurt us in the long run. I turned. One of Amelia's 'friends' through Victoria, flanked by a couple others. They were nice enough people, I suppose. Reminded me uncomfortably of Emma and her friends, and that colored my interactions with them. If I wasn't famous, would they even look my way? Doubtful. Certainly they wouldn't have come to my aid if I were still being bullied.


    "We just heard," she said. "Did you really stab Leviathan in the ass?"


    Who the fuck did they interview this time? "Uh... I don't think Endbringers have asses," I said. It was the first thing I could think of. "Just sort of an area where their legs meet their backs."


    She laughed an exaggeratedly happy laugh. "You did!" she exclaimed. "You totally did!"


    Another girl cut in. "Ohmygod! Weren't you scared? You don't even have powers that could help you against him."


    "Terrified," I answered. It was the truth. "And pissed. Mostly pissed." Well, that cements my reputation for life, I thought to myself. No matter what the future holds, I will always be known as the girl who stabbed Leviathan in the ass.


    The girls escorted me to lunch, asking all kinds of other questions. "Were you really undercover as a villain?"


    "Yes," I stated. I opted to leave out the part where I changed my mind about that.


    "Did you really decapitate Mannequin?"


    "Yes, but it really didn't matter since he kept his brain in his chest cavity."


    "How does that even work?"


    "He rebuilt himself as a cyborg."


    "No, that makes a weird kinda sense," she responded. "How did he remove his own brain? Shouldn't that have killed him?"


    I paused. "That's a really good question," I admitted. For that matter, Riley did the same thing with her whole head. "I never thought to ask."


    Amelia pushed her way through. "There you are," she said, smiling. "Were you avoiding me?"


    "Not at all," I replied, all the while trying my best to convey 'help me get out of here' via my expression and our bond.


    "Sorry, Ana," she smiled at the leader of this particular gaggle. "Gotta talk business, y'know."


    Thank you so much, I thought at Amelia.


    "That's code for 'makeout session', isn't it?" Ana laughed. A couple of the other girls giggled.


    "We can do both," I responded. HappyDesire. Amelia grabbed my hand and started walking away.


    "Try not to do anything that gets you suspended!" Ana shouted at us. EmbarrassedPleased. "Not when there's only three days left!"


    "Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you so much."


    "I was telling the truth," Amelia stated. "Dragon's about to make her move."


    "So soon?" I asked. "I thought they were waiting for the weekend."


    "Last minute consultation with Dinah," Amelia informed me.


    I nodded. That was explanation enough for me.


    "So," she smiled, putting her head against my shoulder. "About that makeout session?" I blushed.


    ....


    Amelia had made a new room in the Yggdrasil for us to use as a sort of meeting hall so we could watch this news together. And by 'we', I mean 'almost all of Pantheon and its peripherals'.


    Vista and the other Wards we'd recently acquired clustered together, along with Clarice, Theo and Zach. Except Flechette, who was with Parian in their own corner.


    Yum Kaax, and I was finally getting used to thinking of him as that instead of Blasto, was with Rapture. Amelia and I together. Everyone else scattered about.


    "The scene in Montreal this afternoon as a white fog descended upon the city," the unseen reporter spoke. They showed a video clip of what looked like cropdusting. Several small planes, obviously tinker designed, flew across the city and surrounding areas. Most of us in Pantheon already knew that similar dustings would be taking place across many cities southeastern Canada.


    The scene, and narration, switched. "The Guild raided the mansion of Niko Vasil, also known as Heartbreaker, at 2:58 eastern time." The home in question was badly damaged, alongside everything around it.


    We were treated to watching Heartbreaker, wearing nothing more than boxer shorts, being escorted by a tall man in full body armor. Defiant, I knew. His armor had changed to be a deep bronze color, instead of the silver of before. He had what was no doubt a flight system, and his halberd had been replaced by a pair of spearlike weapons that crossed his back.


    They had Dragon, Narwhal and Legend there to be interviewed at the mansion. Whomever was in charge opted to blur Narwhal's figure in some areas, apparently deciding her forcefields weren't a valid enough outfit for their news station.


    "Up until now, the Guild has been hesitant to target Heartbreaker," the reporter stated. "Why the sudden change of policy?"


    "Heartbreaker has always been a priority target," Narwal stated. "We were only held back by what was, functionally, a mass hostage situation. That has recently changed. Dragon, would you mind explaining the details?"

    I remembered that. Once during my childhood, before they realized how powerful he was, he was arrested. A massacre followed. Over fifty highly public terror attacks across dozens of Canadian cities, all from people who'd been mentally influenced by Heartbreaker over the years. The message was sent, quite clearly. Going after him meant costing hundreds of people their lives. No one liked letting him live, but he was good at not pressing his luck enough to make himself worth what would undoubtedly be a staggering price.


    "We've recently acquired a new technology, which I personally thank the hero groups of Pantheon and Haven for developing and perfecting." Dragon informed the camera. "The exact inner workings must, of course, be kept classified for fear of others developing a counter for it. The important detail is that it removes the influence of Master powers, and grants temporary immunity to them."


    "That is remarkable," the reporter commented. "Will this work on victims of the Simurgh?"


    "We hope that one day it might," Dragon stated. "We are still refining and improving the technology."​


    "A bit of a lie, that," Rapture stated. She was right, of course. We couldn't apply the drug to the Simurgh's power.


    "Unless Dragon knows something we don't," Missy suggested hopefully.


    "We should be expecting a public ass-kissing from the Prime Minister of Canada shortly," Lisa informed us.


    "Halo's going to love every second of it," Rapture chuckled. "Thanks for having them use group names instead of individuals. I'm not really that... comfortable... with fame."


    "Me, neither," I agreed. "I just wasn't given much of a choice in the matter."


    "As I said during my resignation," Legend was busy talking to the reporter now. "I have no intentions of just sitting on my hands. I don't belong in the Protectorate, and I don't deserve to be a leader. That doesn't mean I can shirk my duties. If anything, I must work that much harder to attone for past failures. Working for heroes such as Narwhal and Dragon, stopping unrepentant monsters like Heartbreaker, and preparing for the next Endbringer battle. That is how I'll prove that my apology is more than just words."​


    My attention to the television was interrupted by the approach of a parahuman. Specifically, I felt my bugs dying around her. Cold based powers.


    "We've got company," I told them. "Doesn't seem hostile. Doing the swarm voice."


    "I'll take point," Zach volunteered, moving toward the entrance, going through the first couple of our security layers. If anyone broke through, they'd have to fight him, and a complex layer of traps designed by our resident biomanipulators. Coupled with everyone else in this room right now? Whomever it was had better hope for her sake that she was friendly.


    Lisa switched the camera over. The girl was solid blue and crystalline. Fog came off of her like she was made of dry ice. She wore those extra large sunglasses, and they too had frosted over. "Case 53? Breaker state?" I asked.


    "Not sure," she answered. "Both, neither."


    Meanwhile, I formed a bug decoy near the unknown woman. "Normally, our guests call first," I informed her. It was probably less friendly sounding than I meant it.


    "Sorry," she said. "You probably wouldn't accept my calls anyway."


    I froze. I'd gotten fairly good at distinguishing voices through the swarm. I was certain I recognized this one.


    I stood and moved, walking briskly toward the door. Fighting down my anger. ConcernAlertDanger?


    Fuck, that was stupid, I thought. Don't repress, accept. "Sorry," I said. "I'm going up to talk to her." I left our meeting room and ran up the stairs.


    Zach looked at me, puzzled, as I stormed toward him at the entrance. "I've got it," I told him. I didn't bother hiding the outrage in my voice.


    She was shorter than me, with a much fuller figure. The ice had started to 'melt' off her, revealing red hair that faded to frosted blue around halfway down. I stood there, staring at her, unable to come up with the proper words to express my incredulity. "Emma?"


    "Fuck!" Zach exclaimed. He did not sound happy.


    She managed to smile slightly, causing flakes of snow to fall away from her face as she took off her glasses. Her eyes had changed. They lacked pupils or other distinguishing features. Solid sheets of ice blue. They even glowed faintly of blue light.


    ComfortAid?Worry. My hands were clenched into fists so tightly that my arms were shaking. Don't resist. Accept and push through.


    "Hey, Taylor," she said. "It's been a wh-"
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  17. Threadmarks: Amelia, ch 96- Emma
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, ch 96- Emma


    I walked toward Pantheon's base. My skin shifted, radiating cold as my eyes adjusted. Dancing patterns, reaching out from a layer of reality that my senses could not follow. Her signal, Taylor's power. It was omnipresent. Awe inspiring, really. Gaea's Yggdrasil carrying the waveform across the entire city. Strong enough to shatter a continent. No, I was wrong. That... it's... at least two or three quantum powers. More. What are they doing in there? I turned off that sense, before I started experiencing the headaches. I was strong, now. They were stronger still.


    I was already in full 'frost' mode, at least. It would start melting almost immediately, but I had a couple minutes before the warm summer afternoon got through the water and carbon dioxide that solidified on my skin. The blue tone to my eyes, skin and hair would stay until I changed states again.


    A swarm of bugs pulled itself together and spoke. "Normally, our guests call first." It was magnificent. I longed to see it at work through my new eyes.


    "Sorry," I replied. "You probably wouldn't accept my calls anyway."


    I waited at their door. I didn't mind that, I'd know if they activated the Yggdrasil. It might be nice to be inside before the ice completely came off, though. I wasn't one of the capes who could have a secret identity, really, but I'd like to keep a bit of anonymity right now.


    The door opened. Khepri, full costume. It, too, was beautiful. Designed by two biotinkers and assembled on the genetic level. "Emma?" She still recognizes me? I'm glad.


    "Fuck!" Zach, too? I smiled. I missed him, too.


    "Hello, Taylor," I said as I took off the glasses that would hide the most obviously unnatural part of me. Let her see what I've become. "It's been a wh-"


    Her fist interrupted me. I was off my feet before I knew what happened, and hit the ground hard. The waveform pulsed, and I was buried in living muck. My nose is broken, I thought idly. Maybe even the cheek bone.


    I was dropped into an empty, dark, room. Taylor's voice spoke through the walls. "Explain. Everything."


    ....


    "Oh, and Emma?" Minerva said, her voice full of malice and condescending certainty. "You deserved this." Those words rang in my ears as I ran crying from Pantheon.


    They were powerful, and smart, and strong. I'd convinced myself that they'd want me, the way Sophia wanted me. That I could be useful to them. I wasn't. Minerva was one of the girls from Winslow. Probably someone I treated like shit. Which was pretty much everyone except a few of the other popular girls. Fuck, she was right, I do deserve this, for being weak and stupid.


    I fell to the ground. Running in heels, what was I thinking?


    "Are you okay?"


    Who? I looked up. Clockblocker. "Uh... umm... yeah." I answered. I didn't really believe it.


    "Doesn't seem like you are," he replied. "Here, let me help you up."


    He held out a hand, and I accepted. He was nice enough to not freeze me in place. "So, wanna tell me why you ran off like that?"


    I looked away. "I did something really bad and they knew about it," I admitted. "Minerva..."


    "Is kind of a colossal bitch," Clockblocker responded. "She kinda has a history of making people cry."


    She's not the only one. "I deserved it," I answered. Someone as strong as they are think I deserve it. That means I deserve it.


    ....


    "Why didn't you come to our party?" Aceso asked me over the phone. "I wanted to see you."


    My stomach dipped and I fought back the tears. What Minerva said, how Zach abandoned me. I still had trouble breathing if I thought of it. If I revealed who I am to Aceso, now, she'll never speak to me again. I didn't have many friends left, certainly no real friends that actually cared about anything more than my looks or popularity. Aceso was stronger and smarter than me on every level. She was stronger than Sophia had ever been. I couldn't let her know I didn't deserve to even speak with her.


    "I... I was there," I said. I didn't want to lie to her. I was pretty sure she'd know. "You were so busy having fun with Vista and all your other friends." Like Zach. "I didn't want to bother you."


    "I wouldn't have been bothered," she insisted. "I could have introduced you to everyone and you could have met Bella."


    "Sorry," I apologized. "Maybe we'll be able to meet some other time. Not for a little while, though. So what were you saying about Cauldron?" Change of topic, that'll help.


    "They're a great big conspiracy that makes monster capes and manipulates governments and can even sell people powers," the girl said excitedly.


    "That's... kinda scary," I admitted.


    "I know!" she was way too excited about this. "I wish I could see it in action. How the serum works on people!"


    My heart jumped. This is the chance I needed. I can make myself worthy. I can be strong. I can matter. "What..." I swallowed. "What if you had someone who was willing to test it for you?"


    ....


    The first day of school. I already had a few friends picked out for my entourage for the day, along with Dennis. He was a nice guy. Bit of a smartass, but he treated me well enough. A lot like Zach, actually.


    I froze. Taylor. Of course she'd be here, in school. Why wouldn't I think she was?


    "Umm, guys?" I said. "Go on ahead, I have to take care of something."


    Dennis looked concerned. "Do you want me to-"


    "No!" I exclaimed. "Sorry. No. This is something I have to take care of on my own."


    He eyed me warily. "If you're certain."


    "I am," I said. And I was. I turned and walked back. Taylor noticed me and froze. Not her usual way of ducking back and hiding. The opposite, really. Tall, focused, ready for a fight. I got within a few feet.


    Then I recognized her. The real her. Spending as much time as I had with Shadow Stalker, I'd gotten used to reading people through masks. Or reading masks through people. The slender, almost runway-model figure, the rich dark hair, the height. Taylor is Khepri.


    Taylor was Skitter.


    I'd been bullying Skitter.


    "The fuck do you want, Emma?" Taylor asked. The cold voice... yeah, that was the voice of one of the scariest fucking supervillains I'd ever heard of. The one that destroyed Sophia on every level, turned her into a weakling. The one that killed Siberian. The only reason I am still alive right now is because she hadn't bothered to kill me.


    I'm sorry I was such a bitch, Taylor. I tried to speak. I failed. I choked. I couldn't look at her, I couldn't speak to her. I turned and ran. I always fucking run. Because I'm weak.


    ....


    "What do you want, Emma?" Terry asked. I frowned, I thought he'd be less impolite about it.


    "I need a favor, Terry," I said, batting my eyes. I felt cheap and a little dirty. "It's really important."


    "After the shit with Sophia?" he said. "Why shouldn't I tell you to go jump in a fire?"


    Oh well, looks like flirting's not going to work. I could try harder, but eww, no. "Five hundred dollars," I stated, my voice firm and businesslike.


    "For what?" his eyes narrowed.


    "Need you to drive me somewhere," I said. "About two hours, round trip. Another hour or two there, while you go off and find something else to do until I call you. Hundred to take me, four hundred to bring me back. Deal?"


    ....


    "Very well, Sophia," the woman said, leading me through the sterile halls. "Tell me, why do you want powers?"


    "Does it matter?" I asked.


    "It does," the woman replied. "We've learned that the second most important factor in how powers manifest themselves, beyond the purity and stability of the formula itself, is the mental state of the recipient when they take it."


    I'll have to remember to tell Clarice about that, I thought. "I... I f-messed something up," I answered. "A lot of somethings. I need to be able to fix my mistakes."


    "I see," she answered. "Now, let's talk about costs."


    I nodded. I knew all about the costs.


    ....


    I entered the abandoned warehouse near the docks. I wasn't afraid walking the street at night. Thanks to Pantheon, our city was the safest place with more than three people in the same zipcode. What I'd actually find in the warehouse, that's what terrified me. I was smiling my best model smile.


    Remember, whatever you do, don't stop smiling, Clarice had instructed me earlier. It was the only chance I had of surviving this.


    I noticed the smell, first. Rancid enough to bring water to my eyes. It was too dark for me to see, thankfully. No matter what horror my imagination came up with, the truth was so much worse.


    I walked calmly, slowly, deeper into the warehouse. No sudden movements. Never stop smiling. Don't turn your head toward the sounds of metal scraping concrete. Don't speak, don't scream, don't cry, don't look, don't turn, don't run. For the love of god don't stop smiling.


    The thing moved out into my view. It was... somehow smaller than I'd expected. Only coming up to a little above my knees. Its ten robotic limbs scuttling like an insect as it moved toward me. I didn't look away, however much I desperately wanted to. I didn't turn my eyes from the bits of flesh covering it. The pieces of clothing that dangled from its limbs, as if only there to make certain I couldn't pretend away what kind of flesh it was covered with.


    Clarice never said anything about pissing my pants. But even through that humiliation, I did not stop smiling.


    "Hello, Kitten," I said in the softest, most soothing voice I could muster. "Mamma's busy and sent me to take care of you."


    It tilted its head. I sighed in relief. Its head snapped back forward and it started moving toward me. I almost screamed. Instead I kept smiling. "Hello, Kitten," I said again. Hysteria creeping into my voice. "Mamma's busy and sent me to take care of you."


    It stopped, and its head tilted again. I reached for the thing slowly, my hand shaking and my vision blurred with tears. I put my hand on its head. It was sticky with blood, and I could feel things moving in that rancid fluid. I stroked my fingers through the rotted mess, stirring up angry flies. Three hard strokes, just behind what would be its left ear, if it had ears. I knelt to the ground in front of it.


    It made a low, metallic and wet, rumbling noise, moving its body as if to lean into my hand. I reached under the thing's neck with my other hand. That hand bumped into a dangling piece of wetness wrapped around something hard and sharp. Bone. I ignored it. I found the spot. A switch. I pushed it. It didn't budge. Why? I felt around in the gunk that was once a person, maybe more than one person.


    Something was clogging the switch. I kept petting the thing, even as I tugged on the mass. It was stringy and tough, like the gristly part of a steak.


    I will never eat steak again in my life.


    I kept smiling.


    I yanked, hard, and it popped out. Fluid filled with living things spattered all over my hand. I almost, just almost, stopped smiling. But I forced myself to reach up and push on the switch again. It resisted, but with a sickening crunch, it moved.


    The robot spider's eyes slowly closed, and it curled up in a ball. It was asleep now.


    I finally stopped smiling. I started to scream, but was interrupted as the contents of my stomach came out. All over the robot, my hands, my arms, my hair, my lap. It didn't matter. It was cleaner than I was, right now. It even made the air smell better.


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


    A/N- That adorifying little girl hanging out in the basement? The one that calls Amelia her Big Sister and is just the darlingest little thing? She builds things like that!!!

    Seriously, though. Coming back to this chapter however many months later? Is intense. I love it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  18. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 97- Emma
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 97- Emma


    "How about I trade you one of Bonesaw's spider-robots?" I asked.


    "Sorry," she said. "While Cauldron is often willing to purchase property, I'm afraid-"


    "It's still alive," I interrupted her.


    "Pardon?"


    "I've looked into their value," I informed her. "The dead ones are worth millions, if you got one that was destroyed before it self destructed, just so someone can cut them open and guess how they might have worked. This one is still alive and fully functional. Loaded up with whatever Bonesaw puts in them."


    "Where did you manage to-"


    "Does it matter?" I interrupted again. I had to fake confidence, of course. But I was always good at faking it, and after my last few days there wasn't much left that could scare me.


    "No," the woman agreed. "I suppose not."


    ....


    "So I have to choose between price, power level, reliability, and side effects," I summarized.


    "Succinctly put," the Doctor agreed.


    "Don't care about the side effects," I stated. "If it turns me into a freak of nature, as long as I can still move around and talk, I'm good."


    She looked at me and raised an eyebrow.


    "When I said I fucked up, I meant it," I replied. "Power level first, reliability second. The rest doesn't matter."


    "There is a certain risk that you'll lose your memories, if the formula goes wrong in your brain."


    I paused. That was frightening. This was worth it. "Can you make sure I get found by a specific person? She'll know what to do."


    The woman simply nodded.


    ....


    "Y'know," I said to Clarice. "Taylor's going to be exposed as Khepri if she and Amelia don't hide their relationship better. They're acting like lovestruck children." Dammit, Taylor, why couldn't you be that strong years ago? This wouldn't have happened in the first place.


    "I know," she said cheerfully as always. "Isn't it romantic?"


    "But... her secret identity?"


    "They don't care about that," the girl laughed. "We're starting to worry that it's taking too long."


    "Taking too long?"


    "Yeah, for them to be discovered," she answered. "Why hasn't anyone spoken up, yet?"


    "Maybe... maybe they think they're not suppose to?" I suggested. It was true. Most of the people in the school were one of two groups. The wealthier families, like mine, who could afford to move out either before or during the nightmare months. And the poorer students who had stayed through that hell. The poorer ones won the culture war.


    Kids who had left were learning to shut their mouths or risk being attacked. Khepri had saved at least two students' lives, already. Clarice saved one. And Amelia had to fix a broken arm. Every student saved: one of the rich kids who didn't realize that they couldn't get away with running their mouths anymore.


    The rest of us? We learned not to cause trouble. That you minded your own business, and you brought weapons to school.


    "Makes sense," Clarice agreed. "Sucks, though."


    "I..." I hesitated. If this happens, I can never go back to that school. Khepri was a hero to those kids. Not some famous cape like the Protectorate. But a straight up, personal, hero. One of the people who brought food to their families. One of the ones that saved them or someone they loved from being raped or murdered or dragged off to god only knows what fate. Someone they owed personally. When they learn who she is, and what I did to her...


    Then again, that would probably happen anyway, sooner or later. At least this way it's my decision. "I'll do it."


    "Really? That's awesome!" she said happily.


    "Anything you need me for," I replied, smiling for the first time since the spider. She is grateful. To me. I am important. "Speaking of, I learned a few things about Cauldron from that first meeting."


    ....


    "So, we finally meet," I said, looking at Clarice. "Are you worried about who I really am?"


    "No, I figured that out a while ago," she said, opening up a small briefcase. "Voice recognition software and perfect memory."


    "Yeah," I chuckled nervously. Software? Must have a wire or something. "So how did you know about that spider bot and how to turn it off?"


    "You mean Kitten?" she asked. "I built her."


    My heart stopped. "Oh my fucking god, you're Bonesaw."


    "I don't use that name anymore," She said with a cheerful smile. "I told you that you were smart. Are you going to tell anyone?"


    This is Bonesaw. Aceso. Clarice. Bonesaw. Was Clarice even her real name? Why was I thinking about that? I coughed a little. Was I going to tell anyone? Could I tell anyone? Who'd even believe me, after what I'd done? "Do... do you still need my help?" I asked.


    "Yes," she answered, reaching around in her bag.


    I smiled, if shakily. I still mattered. "Like I said before. Anything you need me for."


    "Yay!" she clapped happily. She then handed me a CD in a jewel case. It had one word on it: Taboo. "I want you to study this every day. There's two and a half hours of information, most of it in ten minute or less bits. Every file, every day. Since you can't go to school anymore, this is your homework."


    "O-okay," I agreed. "What's this for?"


    "It's everything we aren't suppose to know about powers," she answered. "I'm hoping that if it's part of your memories before you get them, you'll still remember everything after. If not, maybe this will help." She pulled out a helmet.


    "What's that do?"


    "It's a memory copying device," she replied. "If your memories are lost, this should let us restore them to full. Well, up until the last update, of course. I'll want you to do another scan right before you go to get your vial."


    I hesitated before asking the question. "Can... can you remove a memory?"


    "From the recording? Sure," she answered. "You'll just have to concentrate really hard on it while I work. From you? Not without pretty extensive brain surgery, and my Big Sister doesn't want me doing that anymore."


    "I... I see." There goes that idea. I wouldn't mind them being gone, but having to relive that. Being weak, being helpless, seeing my father helpless... it was easier just to not think about. "Nevermind, then."


    "Now, I need you to strip," she instructed. "I want to record every detail. And you're still ready for the 'prep' treatment, right?"


    "Yes," I agreed without hesitation, as I started shedding my clothes. It isn't weird if it's for a doctor, right? And Clarice's power means she is the best doctor the world has ever seen. If she believed she had a way to boost the formula even further, I believed her, and I was more than willing to participate.


    "This is a retroviral reactant," she said as she handed me a small inhaler. "You need to take one dose a day, right before going to bed. You'll wake up sore, but otherwise there will be no side effects. It has exactly ten doses. One for the next five days. The rest? Take it all two hours before using the power drug. The closer to exactly that mark you can achieve, the more it should help counter the negative effects of the vial."


    "Okay," I nodded. "Once per day, the rest two hours before the vial." Whatever the hell a 'retroviral reactant' means.


    "And now for the real power booster part," she smiled, holding up a large metal chamber connected to a thinner metal tube. "We're going to have to get you pregnant."


    "What!?" I shouted, jumping back.


    "Not for real," she replied. "This is an imitation trigger event. And trigger events respond to other nearby parahumans. The more, the better your powers will be. It'll also serve to guide your powers to manifest exactly the type we want them to. I've got genetic material from the seven parahumans that best fit our end goal, grown into cell sacks that resembles and mimics the corona pollentia."


    "I... I'm afraid I don't really know what that is," I said nervously.


    "The part of the brain that gives powers," she answered. "Basically, when you trigger, it'll be with a massive head start."


    "I... I see," I said as I got into the chair. I've already been through way worse than this. A little bit more pain, a little bit more power. It was an easy decision. "Will this have any side effects?"


    "Just the early effects of pregnancy," she said dismissively. "Morning sickness, possible swelling and soreness you won't be able to distinguish from the retrovirus. After about a month, your body will reject the pseudo-fetuses, you'll experience minor pain and an unusually difficult menstrual cycle, and everything will go back to normal."


    "I... I can deal with that," I agreed, spreading my legs for the child-doctor-supervillain.


    The next couple hours were uncomfortable at best.


    ....


    "Have you experienced any illness recently?" the doctor asked, handing me the vial.


    "Umm... not really," I answered. "A bit sore from my new exercise routine. Will that be a problem?" I opted not to mention the other sources of soreness. At this moment, pretty much my entire body ached. Even my teeth and hair seemed to hurt. I glanced at the clock. An hour and twenty minutes from the final dose of the drug.


    "None at all," he answered. "If anything, it's beneficial. The serum has minor rejuvinative effects."


    "Oh, okay," I agreed. I held the serum. This was the key to everything. How I could fix my mistakes. How I could matter. What would make the hell of the last month of my life worth it.


    "Most people seem to think the fluid is extremely unpleasant tasting," the doctor told me. "As you've surely been informed of before, and I will make sure you know now, you must drink the whole vial all at once. Not doing so can cause potentially lethal side effects. The faster you finish, the more pleasant the process will be."


    I nodded, looking at the vial. This is my chance. I waited. The closer I get to two hours, the better.


    "Is there a problem?" The doctor asked.


    "Just a little nervous," I dismissed.


    "If you're having second thoughts, I'm afraid you can't get a refund. Each vial is specially formulated to the customer's request. The resources to make the drug cannot be reclaimed."


    "No... no," I responded. "I want it, I just. It's hard to fathom, y'know?"


    "I'm afraid not," he responded, sounding a little impatient. "I was selected for this job specifically because I'm not interested in becoming a parahuman."


    "Yeah, I can see where that' be an asset," I smiled. I need a way to buy another half hour. What could I do that'd convince the doctor to let me wait that long? I couldn't think of anything that was likely to work.


    He didn't deign to answer the comment, simply watching me. I finally uncorked the vial, and after a deep sigh I chugged the whole thing.


    Pain immediately lanced through my body as I stared up at a sky that was no longer there. The idea of sky no longer existed, dwarfed by possibility itself. Two monolithic beings, ancient and powerful beyond all human comprehension danced through dimensions as a human might switch between channels on a television. No, not that. That was mechanical and separate. This is... this is a singer changing pitch.


    They spiraled and they split, raining fragments down upon a world. Many worlds. A million million copies of earth seeded.


    One slipped, somehow, and collided with the worlds. Six earths died instantly in the impact. Another three damaged. They... they were...


    I awoke on the floor. I retained the vision! The 'taboo'. I know what the Passengers are!


    ....


    "I got my powers from Cauldron," I informed them. "You know who they are, right?"


    "We're aware," Taylor said. "Also, you can stop hiding it. Minerva's power still works on you."


    "Then she already knows what I did," I said. "And why I did it. I can help you. I still know about 'Taboo', because I knew before I had powers."


    "You... fuck!" Minerva cursed. "You know everything. Cauldron. The Entities. Fucking Riley."


    Riley? Oh, that must be her real name. I nodded even though I wasn't sure if they could see me. "I know. I knew. And I have powers that can help."


    "What," Taylor said, her voice dripping with anger. "Exactly are your your powers?"


    "I can see energy," I answered. "Can kinda see some powers the same way. It doesn't tell me that it's a power at work, or what that power does exactly, that's stuff I have to guess at. Some powers are more obvious than others that way. Turn things cold... but that's more of like a side effect. Something that just happens when I'm really using my energy sense at high levels. I'm probably immune to a lot of energy attacks, too. I think." I paused for a second. Dramatic effect and all.


    "All those are kinda secondary. My real power is that I'm a Tinker. Specialized in energy manipulation and transfer. And, most importantly, I know how to work 'wet'." I smiled. Maybe I wasn't able to be strong on my own. But I could make others stronger. I mattered.


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


    A/N- Cauldron: "We're halping!"
    Pantheon: "STOP HELPING!"

    And Emma is seriously fucked up i the head, isn't she?

    Also- that "delaying for time" wasn't in the original version of this story. Making this the most edited chapter in this project thus far.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  19. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 98; Canon Omake: The Devil You Know
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 98


    I was shaking when we were done hearing Emma's story, just thanks to the waves of emotion coming off Taylor. Zach was sitting in the corner muttering 'fuck' over and over again. Riley- actual Riley, not the Clarice doll- was on the other side of the room looking for all intents like a puppy that knew it was about to get kicked, but didn't understand why. Lisa was just staring at the screen we'd used to talk through. I turned off the feed.


    "Every kind of fuck," Zach concluded. Riley looked over at him, then her eyes darted to me before going back to the floor.


    Lisa was the first one to say anything useful. "Okay," she sighed. "We do this one step at a time. The easy stuff first. We have to go back out to where the rest of our guests are waiting, and give them the really really sanitized version of what just happened. No Cauldron. No Bonesaw."


    Riley flinched at the way Lisa spit the word.


    I nodded, reaching over and putting my hand on Taylor's shoulder. "Okay," I said. "You guys go out and start the ball rolling. We'll be out in a moment."


    Everyone else left. Except Riley, who sat quietly in the corner. "Are you going to be okay?" I asked Taylor, pushing every positive emotion I could into the link. I couldn't come up with many.


    "Yeah," she said. FocusDetermination. She stood up and grabbed my hand. "Yeah. It helps to focus on a goal. Right now, that goal is letting the others know everything's okay."


    The others looked at us we came out.


    "Alright, now that everyone's gathered up," Minerva said. "First... that was Emma. Yes, that Emma. Now she has powers and wants to join the team."


    "Fuck," Kid Win muttered. "And she came right up to your door? You'd think she'd at least have a sense of self preservation."


    "Well, that explains why you hit her," Rapture replied. "Halo would probably say something about turning the other cheek and all that... but, honestly, after what she put you through, I can't say I blame you. So, what are you going to do about this?"


    I didn't have an answer to that question. Neither did Taylor.


    "I know I may be a junior member or whatever," Flechette spoke up. "But I don't think I'm comfortable working with a bigot. If there's a vote in this, I'm voting we kick her to the curb. And if there's not a vote? Well, I left the Protectorate specifically because I didn't appreciate being treated like a tool without any concern for who I am and what I want."


    "She's not a bigot," Taylor responded. "For what little credit it adds up to. I don't know why she did everything she did, but me being gay wasn't a part of it."


    "How can you be so sure?" Flechette asked.


    "Because she's not a lesbian, or even bisexual," Rapture answered. We all looked toward her. "Sorry, it's something my powers can't help but notice. And you were going to tell them, anyway."


    AnnoyanceRelief. "Yeah, pretty much all of that," Taylor agreed.


    "But... you and Amelia?" Parian spoke up.


    "Are complicated," I responded, putting my arm around Taylor and drawing her close. AppreciationSafe. It's times like this I wish I were taller. It's tough being the protective one when the other person is taller than you by at least a few inches. "It's hard to explain, and no one's business but ours."


    Flechette looked at Parian, and then at us. "Well, whatever works for you," she finally concluded.


    "We should sleep on it," Crystal suggested. "It's getting late, already. Everyone goes home, goes to bed, and we worry about the crazy shit in the morning."


    "You're not planning to keep Emma here overnight, are you?" Rapture asked. There was an edge of warning in her voice. "I like you kids, but considering what your powers are, and your history with this girl. You see where I'm coming from, right? We have to make sure she's unharmed, and getting a certain level of treatment after her trigger event."


    "She's fine," Missy stated. "Or at least alive and upright and walking around."


    "How do you know that?" I asked.


    "A trick with my power," she answered. "I can sense my own spacial distortions. And my power can't distort people or animals, or within a half inch or so of them. Your plants may as well be transparent."


    Rapture coughed. "She didn't have a trigger event?"


    AlarmWorry. Vista knows Clarice is a fake. Rapture just figured out... fuck!


    Zach laughed. The first sound he'd made since leaving the ad-hoc interrogation room. "Is there anyone in this city with powers that aren't complete bullshit?" No one bothered answering.


    "Where did she get her powers?" Rapture asked. The others were looking at me and Taylor and Lisa expectantly. God damn it.


    "This can't leave this room," I told them. "There's a group we're investigating. Have been for a while. They've found a way to make a serum that we think forces trigger events. We do know it grants powers."


    "That... you're certain?" Rapture asked.


    "How does that even work?" Kid Win, that time.


    "We're not sure," Minerva responded. "We have sort of taken a 'wait and see' with the group. We know they're responsible for the Case 53s. That's what happens when a batch goes wrong. For whatever definition of 'batch' applies. Part of their testing and refinement process."


    "And you haven't reported this to the whole world?" Rapture asked.


    "It would do more harm than good," Minerva insisted. "They seem mostly benign. The experiments, the Case 53s, they seem to have been volunteers. I'm sure their process wasn't all that moral... they probably went up to terminal cancer patients and said something along the lines of the drug being able to save their lives and giving them powers. At the cost that, if they were unlucky, they'd wind up looking like Gregor the Snail. But if they were lucky, they'd be the next Alexandria or something. Either way, they'd no longer be dying.


    "Not filling me with confidence," Rapture responded.


    "I've done some investigating," she continued. "There are at least thirty heroes that got their powers from Cauldron in New England. If we reveal this, it means we lose those heroes and however many others are across the world. Probably thousands of them. What does the Protectorate look like after that? What do the Endbringer battles look like? They're not on the side of the angels, certainly. But everything I've been able to divine about them says they're trying to help hold this world together. Even if only out of enlightened self interest."


    Rapture was frowning. "So trying to stop them is basically us shooting ourselves in the foot?"


    "Pretty much," Minerva agreed. "For now, at least. We're still digging."


    "And this girl, she got her powers from them?"


    "Complete with Case-53 mutations," Minerva confirmed. "If relatively minor ones."


    "I'll want to be there when we ask her about all this," she said, her voice hard.


    "So that's taken care of for now?" Minerva asked, looking throughout the room at our new recruits, and the old ones that weren't in the know. There were nods all around, even if most of them were reluctant.


    "Okay, let's go give Emma a checkup," I relented.


    "I'll sit this one out," Zach replied.


    "Me, too," Taylor agreed. "Minerva... save breaking her mind in half for the time being. It didn't work so well last time you did it." AnnoyanceDistaste.


    ....


    I opened the passage to where I'd put Emma. Flanked by Rapture, Blasto and Minerva, we entered the room.


    "First thing's first," Rapture stated. "Are you under the influence of any mind altering substances?"


    "I don't think so," she answered.


    "How long have you had your powers?"


    "About six hours," she replied. She seemed to be trying to look past us into the hall. A pulse of thought and I sealed the passage.


    "Cauldron sold you them?"


    "Yes," Emma answered. Short, terse answers. Enough to be honest, not enough to give away anything.


    "I'm going to check on your health," I answered.


    "Uh, okay," she agreed, reaching out her hand to me. I touched it.


    Mending her broken nose was the easy part, and I undid much of the bruising. She'd still have a black eye, but not as bad as it could have been. "Oh! I'm... I'm sorry."


    "About?" She asked, fidgeting.


    "It seems your insides are more different than your outsides," I answered. "I'm having trouble making sense of it. Your power's interfering with mine."


    "Oh, yeah," she responded. "I noticed some of that already. I don't feel pain anymore, or even have much of a sense of touch at all." Emma's body started shifting slightly as I continued to maintain contact. The blue tones changed over to earthy brown tones. She could almost pass for a normal, if unusually dark skinned black girl this way. But for the solid black eyes that now radiated darkness. "My reproductive system's disabled and my physiology has been reoptimized for neurological efficiency..."


    "Fucking hell," Minerva laughed. "You have different powers based on different breaker states. You're a fucking Trump."


    "Does that mean I'm on the team?" she asked hopefully. More than that. I was still in contact and even with the interference, I was getting very good at reading people with my power thanks to my link with Taylor. This isn't hope. This is desperation. This is... there are no words for what this was. This is a lot like what Riley feels like.


    "Do your parents know about this?" Rapture asked.


    "No," she admitted.


    "Then that gets taken care of, first," she replied with a voice that reminded me very much of Carol. "I am going to take you home. We are going to talk to your parents. And we'll sort out everything else tomorrow. Like exactly what your powers are, and who's going to do what with you."


    Emma looked at me, as if seeking an answer. I nodded. "Umm, okay ma'am," she answered. I opened the series of paths that would take them outside, and then left the room. I needed to talk to Taylor.


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

    A/N- Oh wow. This chapter has more foreshadowing in it than I ever realized. About Lily. About Taylor. Rapture. Emma. More Lily. I can see so much of what chapters ~300 are from this one here.




    Canon Omake by Slayer Anderson (That I failed to put in during the 'port... because 1 mistake in 180 posts...)


    The Devil You Know:
    *~*~*~*

    "Fuck. My. Life." Taylor groaned aloud as she collapsed onto the bed.

    -ComfortIrritationDesire-

    "Sorry," Amelia blushed as she sat down next to her...girlfriend? In practically every way that mattered, she supposed.

    Despite the fact that she was blushing as well, Taylor shrugged off the errant comment and, wrapping her arms around Amelia's waist, pulled her down to lie next to her. "I told you," Taylor remonstrated lightly, burying her face into Amelia's neck, "I don't mind."

    Amelia sighed, taking in the scent of her...partner. Her partner. The strong associations the human brain built into the olfactory sense was already equating the scent of Taylor's shampoo with 'safe.'
    "We need to talk about it," Amelia eventually broached, sighing as she did so. It was a decision made from obligation, not her choice in the matter.

    Taylor groaned again, cuddling up against Amelia in a way that was definitely meant to distract the older girl. "Please? Can't I have this one thing? Just this once? Can't I stay angry at her? I'm allowed that much, aren't I?"

    "'Fraid not."

    Amelia admirably refrained from cursing as Lisa stepped into what was rapidly becoming 'their' room, that was, hers and Taylor's.

    "Oh, don't get up on my account," Lisa grinned, dropping into a chair and setting a bag on the table. "I'll just have to eat all this triple fudge, rocky road ice cream all by myself."

    There was a moment of silence.

    Lisa's grin faded slightly. "Oh, come on. I'm trying to be 'nice' here. You know how hard that is for me. Either we talk it out now or I'll just go off and get some overcomplicated plan in order that you two will bitch at me for later. Can we get the bitching out of the way first, for once? Then I can give myself a migraine untangling this clusterfuck and go straight to bed."

    "Fine," Taylor and Amelia chorused, slowly moving off the bed and towards the large, organic sofa opposite the chair and table Lisa had taken.

    As the ice cream was dispensed, Taylor sighed. "Why would someone do something like that? I mean, Jesus Fuck, Emma went to disable one of Bonesaw's spider-bots. She knew what she was getting into! How crazy do you have to be to agree to a plan where that is 'step one.'?!"

    "Pretty crazy," Lisa agreed. "It's almost like she was trying to commit suicide."

    Taylor's spoon dropped to the floor with a clatter before all was abruptly silent.

    "What?" Lisa asked, licking her spoon clean. "You think she was honestly expecting to get out of all of this alive? Well, hoping maybe. She wasn't actively planning to kill herself, but then again...neither were you."

    "Fuck," Amelia spat quietly, pouring support through the bond to wash away the blank shock that covered Taylor's emotions at the moment. "Why would...but she outed herself as Taylor's bully! She had to know what would happen!"

    "She did," Lisa confirmed with practiced blase. "See, the thing is? Remember what Flechette said about cults and brainwashing? We kind of, accidentally, mind you, did that on Emma."

    Taylor worked at her eyes tiredly, "Damnit. Yeah, I can see it. Sophia left, she fixated on Zach as a 'boyfriend' and Aceso through the PHO forums. They talked to her, built her back up when she needed it the most...and then the party."

    "Yep," Lisa nodded, popping the 'p' in a way which would have had Accord cutting out her tongue. "So, when I put bitch-mode into overdrive, I tore her down, yeah...but, because of the way her mind works, since we're 'strong' she thinks she is, or was, obviously weak enough to deserve what I, we, did to her and since we did it, we're the only ones who can teach her to be 'strong' again. I think she tried getting her fix from Clockblocker, but with the way the Protectorate's rep was just gutted and the fact that...well, Emma's always been fixated on Taylor, from what I can tell, at least to a certain extent. When she found out Taylor was Kephri was Skitter? Well, I learned most of my psycho-babble from daytime tv and 100-level college courses. I don't know the term for it, but 'obsession' doesn't quite do it justice."

    "So she took advice from an obviously mentally unstable ten-year-old on how to disable a bio-mechanical spider-bot from the darkest nightmares of a serial killer...then she let said aforementioned serial killer, who is, again, ten years old and mentally unstable operate on her, prescribe her drugs she didn't even understand the descriptions of, made contact with a shadowy conspiracy that controls entire governments, again on the advice of said ten-year-old mentally unstable parahuman supervillain, and took a vial of an unknown substance almost guaranteed to have horrible side-effects beyond granting her powers in conjunction with interacting with the unknown drugs and implants that the ten-year-old supervillain had put inside her?" Taylor looked at Lisa in vacant disbelief. "She did all of that just so...what?"


    "She wants you to accept her," Lisa explained, rubbing at her temples. "She doesn't know exactly what she wants, but, her ideal scenario ends you acknowledging her as a strong person and...maaaaybe becoming friends again?"

    Taylor blinked, her eyes dilating as they fixed themselves on some far-off point of understanding that was just dawning.

    "She did all that, so we could be friends again?" Taylor asked the ceiling vacantly. "I can't-I mean, that's...that's horrifying, terrible, and makes me so angry I-"

    "-want to hate her, but you can't, because the fact that she's that desperate for your approval would be pathetic and adorable if that kind of responsibility didn't scare the living fuck out you," Amelia finished quietly.

    A beat of silence echoed loudly.

    "I guess that's why the mix of emotions seemed so familiar," Taylor mumbled. Turning to her partner, she frowned, "That's really how you feel about-"

    "-about Riley? Pretty much," Amelia sighed, leaning her head on Taylor's shoulder. "Fuck, this is messed up."

    "You think that's bad?" Lisa sighed. "We still haven't gotten to whether or not we're accepting her on the team."

    Taylor groaned again, an aggravated sound that rose from the back of her throat and sounded like a wounded animal. "Please?" She asked desperately. "Lisa, isn't there any way we can just-"

    "No," Lisa cut her off. Amelia frowned in shared irritation. "Putting aside your moral dilemma of condemning Emma to the same type of persecution you had to go through as most of the rest of us aren't really good enough people for that to bother us, there's also the fact that Emma quite literally knows every. single. fucking. detail. about Pantheon that matters at this point. If we cut her loose, she'll be squealing to the Protectorate in a week, dead or taken captive for her tinker abilities in that same time, or she'll try to go it alone. In case you don't understand, by the way, that's possibly the worst of any of these options given what she knows and the damage she could do without her powers."

    "Shit." Taylor groaned. "There's no good choice to this, is there?"

    "Think of it this way," Amelia offered. "We're getting a new cape, one who should be extremely useful, all for the low price of an extra basement room that you never have to go near."

    "Sorry," Lisa shook her head. "Emma is fixated on Taylor. Zach would be a good distraction, if he was willing, but Emma is going to follow you around like the little sociopathic puppy Sophia trained her to be. Keep her on a short leash and don't leave her and Riley alone together too long."

    Taylor froze.

    -TrepidationPanic-

    Amelia froze.

    Lisa cursed, "I told Crystal to watch them!"


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

    Reader's Note- Slayer Anderson is awesome.

    The last few lines aren't actually canon, however. But they are hilarious.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  20. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 99- Ruth
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Amelia, Ch 99- Ruth


    I observed the teen girl riding in my car. It was relatively easy to do so while still watching the streets. Her eyes were darting back and forth, with a sense of confusion and dissonance. "Emma? Is something bothering you?" I asked. Using names was a low level trick, as far as social manipulation went, but sometimes, it's a classic because it works. Besides, I wasn't comfortable with what I could really do here, to someone as damaged as this girl.


    "Oh!" she answered. "Sorry, it's just... kinda weird, y'know." I did, of course, know. Tinkers, they telegraph their fugues so hard that almost anyone can spot it.


    "Which part?" I asked. Again, the most generic of psychological tactics. You can get away with almost anything if you just ask the right questions.


    "I was just thinking," she hesitated. She was clearly afraid of angering me. Submissive posture, as had been her behavior all night, but faking confidence at a level that made me believe she had years of practice at it. Almost any ordinary person would be fooled. Someone like Minerva or myself? I'd known her for a sum total of ten minutes, and there were so many ways I could break her down and rebuild her into anything I wanted. Her desperate need to be valued would be so easy to exploit.


    ....


    "Sorry, pumpkin, I have to go."


    "But Daddy!"


    "Someone has to put food on the table," he smiled, ruffling my hair.


    Mommy let out an exasperated sigh and walked out of the room.


    They were fighting again. They were using me in their fights again.


    ....


    "Yes?"


    She was continuing to look for a way to phrase it that would make her sound knowledgeable and capable, without insulting me. "It's kinda funny to see a Tinker with armor like yours driving a completely unmodified Buick."


    I chuckled. It's not offensive if the person you say it to laughs. "Oh, that," I smiled. Rey always appreciates how I wear my heart on my sleeve. Most people did. That's why I did it. "I didn't really read the rental agreement that well, but I think rebuilding their vehicles is frowned upon."


    "Oh, sorry," she smiled back. Still nervous. Her eyes and skin shifted from the brown she'd been in to yellow. "Your armor is beautiful, by the way. Every system interlocks, nothing is wasted. It's flawless."


    "Thanks," I replied. She can really see the inner workings of my equipment? Of course, she's wrong. The armor's actually rather inefficient. Dozens of backup systems, second rate flight system that was cannibalized from another project. Young tinker, she'd learn. "A lot of it's actually Dragon's technology."


    Her eyes widened. Of course they would, Dragon was a celebrity even in the non-cape world. A newly minted Tinker wouldn't be able to help but be impressed.


    "Do you think I'll ever be able to work with Dragon?" she asked, not bothering to hide the awe.


    "Probably," I answered. "She's really very friendly."


    "So how did you meet?"


    "Oh, that's not much of a story," I lied expertly. "I wish I could say it was something cool like an Endbringer battle, but it wasn't all that special."


    ....


    "Hegemon," the machine intoned. "You've already lost."


    I ran down my list of options. Dragon didn't kill, as near as I could tell she couldn't kill. Or, at least, the robots she sent after me couldn't. They were autonomous AI, that I knew for certain, because nothing human thought like they thought. Even a remote controlled puppet was still reliant on a person, still left the behavioral cues I could pick up on. Dragon's suits were insanely advanced, but not alive, not human. Not something I can influence. My standard method was a bust, but I had other options.


    A white hot lance of energy struck the suit in the side, shattering whatever shields the thing had, and then melting through chunks of armor. The equipment dropped. And then exploded into a pulse of magnetic energy. The city went dark.


    Something collided with me, knocking me to the ground. My slaves turned to protect me, but they were as lost and confused as I was. My tech had been improved significantly from the early days, but it was still technology that kept them bound to me. And that technology had just been disabled. In a minute, they'd 'wake up' and realize what I'd done to them. Didn't need my powers to know what would follow. I closed my eyes and waited for my life to end a second time.


    ....


    "So, you bought your powers?"


    "Uh..." she hesitated. "I'm not suppose to talk about that. They like their privacy."


    I smiled. "Oh, I'm sure they do," I agreed. "But I already know about Cauldron." I didn't a few minutes ago, but she doesn't need to know that. "Where did you get the money for something like that?"


    "I... I really can't talk about that..." she said, looking away. Dial back, you're losing your connection. She stared out the window. She was deeply disturbed by what she did. Yet, somehow, proud. It was like a rite of passage to her. Painful, terrifying, horrifically disgusting. Even vaguely sexual, but only vaguely. There was no shame or anger or sense of being cheapened by the experience. I ruled out prostitution easily enough. She was too psychologically connected to the idea of social value. She wouldn't be able to ignore that psychological stigma, not enough to hide it from me at least. That, and the extreme unlikelihood of making the kind of money needed to purchase superpowers through sex.


    ....


    "Becky!" Mommy shouted, pulling the blanket up to cover her.


    "Mom?!" I gasped. "Mister Reynolds?" I turned and ran, tears streaming from my eyes.


    ....


    "It's not your secret to share," I concluded. Her reaction said it all. Someone helped her. Someone probably risked a great deal to help her. I didn't know how, or who, or why, or even what happened. But it bound Emma to the other party. This would be someone she considered a protector. A savior. I would not be able to get her to speak on the subject.


    "It's not," she answered with the certainty I was expecting. And a gratitude that I had said it so she wouldn't have to. She didn't want to turn me against her.


    "What are you planning to do with your powers?" I asked. That's a safer subject. She was less afraid of her own secrets.

    "I fu- messed up," she answered, covering the almost-profanity. I chuckled. The whole 'golden cross' thing made people think I was a prude. Oh well. "I messed up a lot of things, really badly. I'm going to use my powers to fix everything. To prove I'm worthy."


    ....


    I screamed, clinging to my father. "No! You can't go! You can't!"


    Mom didn't say a thing, simply glaring at him. He glared back, ignoring me.


    "I don't have a choice, pumpkin," he pulled me tight. Didn't have a choice. Mom's fault.


    "Then take me with you!"


    "That's not an option, sweetheart," he said. "I promise I'll call."


    "No!" I screamed. "You can't! I'll fix it, I'll make it better, I promise!"


    "Rebecca," he consoled. "You can't fix this. No one can."


    Something broke inside me. I collapsed. By the time I was coming to, my parents were both holding me again. Worried about me. They were together again, but it wouldn't last. Not unless I force them to. I know how to force them.


    ....


    "That's why you bought powers?" I said, forming it as a question.


    "Yes," she said, that same look of pride and pain. I'd seen that look on more than a few natural triggers. Myself included. Whatever else was going on in her life, she felt that she earned her abilities. She didn't see herself as having purchased them. She saw herself as having suffered for them.


    "And the... changes... to your body? You're okay with that?"


    She shrugged. "Worth it," she answered. "The old me was weak, stupid and useless. The new me is smart and powerful. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat." She offered a smile. "But I'd wear gloves next time."


    I smiled back. I didn't know why she felt gloves were significant, but that was fine. "So, it's a way of reinventing yourself?"


    "Yeah," she agreed. "I hadn't thought of it like that, before, but yes. I've been reinvented."


    ....


    "Given any thought to your new name?" Halo asked.


    "I'm thinking 'Ruth'," I answered.


    "That's a lovely name," he agreed. "Symbolic. It suits you. But I was thinking of your name in costume."


    "Oh," I looked away, and felt bad for doing so. Pretending to be bashful was a stupid habit I'd picked up, and it never seemed to fool him anyway. "Rapture."


    He smiled. "I see," he agreed. "That suits you as well."


    "It does," I agreed.


    ....


    I was already certain her parents were not in any way involved in this mess, but still I had to ask about them as I pulled into her driveway. There was the possibility, if slight, of abuse. "So, have you thought about how to tell your mom and dad? Would you like me to come in and help? Haven may not have any real influence this far north, but we're still pretty well known and mostly respected. I could help smooth things over."


    "No," she answered. "It won't be bad. Mom and dad are pretty cool. Supportive of whatever I want to do, really. I'm not going to say how I got my powers, of course. Accident, just like everyone else, right?"


    They're 'cool', but that's a problem. She loves them, and they've not hurt her. But they're a disappointment. They failed her at a time when she needed them most. She's picked other outlets to seek validation. Clearly not healthy outlets, based on her actions toward Taylor. I'd seen this enough times in my life.


    "Don't call powers an 'accident' in front of others," I advised. "People have to go through hell to get powers. Some will be a lot more upset than others. And don't mention how you got yours in front of others. Capes, and those who deal with capes, will accept 'I don't talk about it' as an answer."


    "Thanks," she said, looking away again. She was once again in her submissive state, afraid that she'd said something to upset me. Blaming herself for her perceived 'mistake'. What happened to this girl?


    "You'll be there, tomorrow morning?" I asked.


    "Wouldn't miss it for the world," she answered as she got out of my vehicle.


    ....


    "How long are you going to keep me here?" I snapped, slamming against the bars of my prison. I hissed in pain, reminded of the broken rib and shoulder I'd briefly forgotten.


    "As long as necessary," Halo answered. "You need time to heal."


    He doesn't just mean physically, I realized. He's bought the same tripe he's been selling.


    "Oh, is that what it is?" I countered. "Or do you just have a kick for keeping beautiful women in your basement? Start a harem of your own? Lots of those guys you pretend are somehow holy are pretty fond of that sorta thing."


    He shrugged. "I was told you had a mean streak," he answered. "You're also not someone who can be lied to." The man sat down on one of those fold out metal chairs.


    "We all have our crosses to bear," he continued. "Yours must be worse than most. Knowing everyone's secrets. Their lusts and their shames. Their failures and their fears. Every flaw and every fault. In a way, you know more about what God experiences than most people ever will."


    "Oh, is that your plan?" I asked, even though I knew it wasn't. At least, it wasn't on a conscious level. Subconscious motivations were more difficult to gauge. "Talk about how divine my power is?"


    "Divine?" he asked. "Oh, no. It is quite the opposite of divine. Adam and Eve took one bite of the fruit of knowledge, and while they gained knowledge, they lost peace and safety and innocence. You, through no fault of your own, have been given a second helping, and with it lost your ability to see the good in people. I can't pretend to know what that's like."


    "Yet here you are pretending," I replied.


    He offered a sad smile. "Maybe," he agreed. "I'm only human, after all. Still, even if I can't understand, I want to help you at least see there's better out there. If you won't accept that it's for your own sake, then at least believe I want to protect others."


    "You want to convince me to undo some of the more permanent effects of my technology," I laughed. "Of course you do."


    He sighed. "Okay, fine," he started. "Full honesty, everything out in the open. I haven't told a lie, of any sort, to any one, since my junior year of highschool. Yes, I do think you're physically attractive. No, that's not why I'm doing this, and I swear on my honor before God that I will never act on that attraction. I do want to save everyone you've influenced. I want you to want to save them. I want to save you. I want to save everyone. I know I can't. That's arrogance speaking. You can use that to manipulate me, no doubt. Or, you can use that remarkable power of yours and realize that everything I've said is genuine. That I'm someone who actually cares about you, for no other reason than because you're a human being and it's the right thing to do."


    He means every word of it, I realized.


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


    A/N- This particular chapter earned me some honest to goodness hate (as opposed to the usual dislike of a given character/chapter) from silly, silly people who feel I portrayed Christianity too positively in this chapter.

    ... Yeah, you heard me...
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  21. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 100
    TanaNari

    TanaNari Verified Dick

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    Amelia, Ch 100


    I woke up with hair covering my face. Oh, right, Taylor stayed the night again. I smiled, even as I pushed the tangles away from my eyes and mouth. She mumbled in her sleep. Nothing I could understand. "Think it's time to wake up," I whispered in her ear.


    She moaned and pressed back against me. Our link was vague and muted, as it always was when one of us was asleep, but offered indications of pleasure. I closed my eyes and fought off that particular temptation. I scooted back from her, in part for that reason. In part to wake her up.


    "Huh," she said, waking up. "How late is it, this time?"


    "Pretty early," I answered. "We've still got school, and the alarm hasn't gone off."


    "Oh, joy," she muttered. "Wanna join me on a jog?"


    I smiled, not even bothering to hide my thoughts on watching Taylor going through her exercise routine in the already warm summer morning. ShyPleased. "I could be convinced," I answered.


    "I'll go get changed," she replied. "No, you can't watch."


    "Can I watch after we're done?"


    "Only if you can keep up," she offered. Oh, I am so going to keep up.


    Fifteen minutes later, it was abundantly clear that I could not keep up. I gasped and wheezed as I sat down on a chair outside. That I created, of course.


    "Come on," Taylor encouraged, still jogging in place. "You haven't even broken a sweat yet."


    "Lungs burn," I croaked.


    "They're suppose to," she answered. "You'll be fine. Just gotta keep moving. Another five minutes won't be that bad, right?"


    "Sadist," I complained.


    "Look at it this way," she teased. "If I don't break a sweat, I won't need to take a shower."


    "You're a horrible person," I moaned, forcing myself to my feet. Of course I knew she'd need to take a shower anyway. Hair like hers didn't leave much choice in that matter, especially since I probably drooled into it. Must remember to ask Riley about the progress with the Roid Ray.


    We got back, eventually. Taylor was still smiling. "Not bad," she said.


    "You're a terrible liar," I groaned.


    "No, really," she insisted. "Much better than my first time out. You'll do better next time."


    "What makes you think there's going to be a next time?" I asked.


    "Because I know how much you like the view," she smiled, then she gave me a peck on the cheek.


    I blushed. Okay, there was definitely going to be a next time.


    ....


    By the time we'd gotten home from school, they were ready for us. Rey, Rapture, and Lisa. The ones who had run Emma's tests. DreadResolve. I gripped Taylor's hand. The message was clear, link or no link. Whatever came of this, we did it together.


    Zach was with us, and Clarice was off with Vista. While having Riley's input on Emma's powers was something I would have liked, we really didn't need to risk her around Rapture too much. The woman had near Tattletale levels of perception, sometimes, and was a lot better at hiding what she knew than Lisa was. Even I wasn't so oblivious to miss the security risk.


    We went straight for our meeting room.


    Minerva, for once, didn't have a smile. "Alright, we'll start with the less complicated part. Her powers."


    I nodded, sitting down with Taylor. "Okay," my partner agreed. "What, exactly, is she capable of?"


    Rey spoke up. "Based on our analysis? She's either a Tinker three, thinker two, breaker and striker two. Or she's up to a Tinker and Thinker five to seven."


    AnnoyanceDread. And this is the simple part?


    "It's hard to quantify," Rapture supplied. "She has breaker states. Once she enters one, she doesn't leave it until she chooses another. Basically, she no longer has a 'default human' mode. Red is for thermodynamics, letting her sense and tinker with heat and cold. Yellow state is much the same for a sense and a tinker ability directed toward electricity and magnetism. Orange state for light, maybe the whole radiation spectrum. White for sonic. Black works for bioanalysis. Blue is a hybrid state of sorts, letting her harness all her powers at once."


    "That form seems to use up a lot of energy," Minerva supplied. "All her powersets at once, she can keep it going for a maximum of maybe five minutes in an hour before she starts seeing serious health risks."


    "She stayed in that form most of the time she was here last time," Taylor pointed out.


    "Only cosmetically," Minerva responed. "Once the ice started melting, her power was off."


    "And why does that mess with her ratings so much?" I asked.


    "She's a grab-bag cape," Minerva explained. "Like Circus, maybe a little like Flechette. Only a tinker. Lots of minor powers that add up to something better than the sum of its parts."


    "She's a low end tinker," Rapture supplied. "But she's a low end tinker in a number of disciplines, and it's a wide enough distribution that she can work with and improve upon almost any other tinker's technology. Simply by having so many different possible options that they don't have. But, individually, she's not that good. If she built using just one of her specialties, she'd only rank a two, maybe a three. If she builds using all of her specialties, she's closer to a six or seven. A six or seven that you'd think was was actually three or four people."


    "Her effective specialty, if you want something that's easy to explain quickly," Minerva said. "Is more like an integration tinker. One whose main advantage lies in making other tinker tech work well together. Plus she's still a middling tier energy tinker in her own right."


    DreadResignation. "In short," Taylor muttered. "The more tinkers you have, or the more varied their specialties are, the more effective she is."


    "Basically," Minerva answered.


    "And we have a pretty wide variety of tinkers and tinker tech," she muttered, rubbing her hand over her eyes. I put my arm around her. "Especially now that Chariot's official, and Kid Win's at least considering joining."


    "God damn it," Zach muttered. "If she had a shitty power..."


    "Oh, no, we haven't even gotten to the bad part yet," Minerva chuckled. "Rapture's got a lot to say about the psych exam. Some of it, we already know. Borderline suicidal behavior is just the tip of this particular iceberg."


    "Not my place to share all the details," Rapture stated. "The fact that she gave me permission to is hardly a strong justification, given that her psychological state is so fragile that she's not truly competent to give that permission. Due to... something in her past. Yes, I know. No, I won't share." She gave a rather unfriendly look at Minerva.


    Tattletale raised her hands up. "Hey, this is all you. I can keep a secret."


    DoubtAnnoyance. I squeezed Taylor just a little harder. Lisa keeping secrets. Sure.


    "Right," Rapture said dryly. "Thanks to that, Emma's worldview was broken, destructively. A belief that she was betrayed by those she trusted most." AngerDisgust. "More specifically, she feels she was failed by those who were suppose to protect her and help her, and sees that failure as abandonment. Not the most rational of reactions, but you can hardly expect young teens to be rational in the face of extremely traumatic events."


    "So she," Taylor's voice dripped malice. "She turns on me to do what? Revenge by proxy?"


    "Not uncommon for victims to turn around and victimize," Rapture didn't meet any of our gazes. "But that's not quite Emma's story. She felt alone and abandoned, all sense of self worth and faith in others broken. And then she met someone who gave her a... different... set of values to follow."


    "Basically," Tattletale summarized. "She got traumatized. Then met some complete fucking psychopath who filled her head with crazy bullshit. Think Junior Jack Slash."


    RealizationNausea. It took me a second to realize part of that was my own reaction. I've been on the receiving end of that kind of attention.


    "Arguably, worse," Rapture replied. "This was someone who protected her at her most vulnerable. Gave her a new sense of purpose."


    "Even better," Minerva added. "Someone that the Protectorate, in its infinite bullshit, made into a hero. At least when Jack came along, everyone knew he was a fucking monster."


    "Someone that we removed from the picture," Taylor muttered.


    "Exactly," Rapture replied. "If not for a few events. Zach being one of them. Knowledge of Cauldron being another. I have little doubt she'd have attempted suicide in the near future. As it stands... that's functionally what she's done. Attempted suicide, but without the goodbyes."


    FearConcern. I looked at Taylor. No, that wasn't directed at Emma. It was for Lisa. She looked at me. PatientDiscretion. Ah, she wanted me to keep that quiet for now. I could do that.


    "Yeah," Minerva agreed. "Already covered that a bit last night. The powers, the shit she went through to get them. That's not something a person who wants to live does."


    "She's fixated on Pantheon, on being what she thinks a 'real hero' is, in order to provide herself a sense of self worth," Rapture explained.


    "Are you trying to say we should let her join?" Zach asked, sounding very much against that idea.


    "God, no," Rapture corrected. "What you should do is force her into therapy. Let actual professionals try to break her of this obsession with power and give her a sense of purpose that doesn't involve her building a sense of self worth based on violence."


    "But," Taylor supplied.


    "But that's not going to happen," she confirmed. "She knows some important secrets about your team, and everything my power is telling me screams that you can't afford to reveal them. You have to either keep her here of her own free will, or you would have to kill her." There was an unspoken 'and me' at the end of that sentence.


    She continued after that brief pause. "All of that is before starting the quagmire that is parahuman psychology. Parahumans universally have exaggerated responses to emotional stimuli. Highs are higher, lows are lower. Therapy guided toward normal people is only barely effective, and shows diminishing results with time. If anything, parahumans have an opposite response toward aggression and violence than the baseline human norm. It's often a calming mechanism that fosters pleasurable emotions."


    The Passengers, I realized. Nothing we didn't already know.


    "We're stuck with her because we can't give her to anyone else," Minerva stated. "And we have to put her abilities to use or it'll just drive her even more insane. And that's not even the most fucked up part."


    "She volunteered to let me use my specialty," Rapture finished. "No surprise she figured it out. She was willing to let me rewrite her memories and personality to be, as she put it, 'more useful'."


    RealizationDiscomfort. My eyes meant Taylor's. Her hand moved over and gripped mine. We were both conspicuously aware of the bracer on my arm.


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


    A/N- Seriously though, Emma's fucked in the head.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2015
  22. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 101
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 101


    "So, we're keeping her? No choice in the matter?" Zach muttered. Fuck, and he's suppose to be the untouchable one. "Brain rewrite is still off the table?"


    HorrorDisgust. "No." It was a single word that allowed no argument. Taylor's stance was absolute, and I agreed with her. "We are not unmaking someone just so we can keep a puppet with their face. A minor alteration, maybe, and then only if it was essential. But we're not rewriting three years of her memories just to... what would it even accomplish? We'd still remember everything she's done, and she wouldn't even know what or why we hated her for it."


    "She's right," I agreed. "Sounds like a Twilight Zone episode. And those never end well for anyone."


    "It really does," Taylor nodded. "She gets to undo all the shit she's been through. Then her new, innocent, copy gets to live with the aftermath. It's more a punishment for us than her. No. Emma lives with what she's done. Hopefully remorsefully."


    "That's a bit much to hope for," Minerva stated. "She knows what she's done was wrong, in the same way a puppy knows it's in trouble. She doesn't get the 'why'. Too caught up in her own personal problems to stop and consider the problems of others."


    "Fine," Taylor muttered. AngerVindictiveDistaste. "Not like I'd have believed her even if she was sincere."


    "Satisfied that they're not going to go all revenge fest the moment you leave?" Minerva asked Rapture.


    She nodded. "I am now," she agreed. "Them, at least. As long as they promise to keep you from doing anything. You're one of those people who takes it more personally when someone you care about is hurt than when you're hurt. It makes you a much bigger problem than they are, in some situations."


    "Pretty sure everyone here knows that," Tattletale responded back. ResignationAnnoyance. I nodded in agreement.


    "They do," she countered. "You don't. Not really."


    "Pointing your power at me?" Tattletale smiled. "We can both play that game, you know."


    "There was a time..." She sighed, standing. "But that's not important. When was the last time you used your power on yourself?"


    Lisa just stared, disbelievingly, at Rapture's back as she walked away.


    "I... uh... probably don't need to be there for when you talk to Emma," Rey said, looking between us and Rapture. "I just work here and all that, y'know."


    "It's fine," I said, not sensing any disagreement from Taylor. And not caring what Lisa thought, if she was thinking anything at all right now. "But if she just broke our thinker, I'm going to have to ask her to get us a new one of equal or greater value."


    He rushed after her, and I looked over at the eerily quiet blond. Holy shit, someone actually shut Tattletale up.


    WorryConfusion "Lisa?" Taylor asked. "Are you still in there?"


    "Uh... yeah," she muttered. "Yeah. She wasn't bluffing. She actually does use her power on herself."


    "That probably means more to you than us," I said. A bit dismissive, probably, but we had other things to worry about. "Taylor and I are going to go deal with our errant tinkers."


    "Yeah," Lisa muttered. "You guys go do that. If you need me, I'm gonna be in my room."


    ....


    "Okay," I sighed. FocusResolve. "They're waiting." I clasped Taylor's hand and made the room open. They were currently shoulder to shoulder over a workbench, covered in gunk.


    "Or not," Taylor muttered.


    "You're suppose to be in trouble, Riley," I told her. "Not playing with your new project."


    "But we're making some really cool breakthroughs!" Emma insisted, turning to face us. She was so covered in gunk that I identified her 'mode' by eyes radiating black. "I solved your energy transfer needs for the ultralisks. Even improved on the zerglings. And we've almost completed an organic copy of Chariot's antigrav tech. In a couple more weeks, we can build living things that do antigravity."


    "It's true," Riley agreed. "Emma's helped me with so many things. We might even be able to build a way around the Taboo."


    I froze. Oh god damn it. That would solve so many problems, and yet this precedent was a bad one. "Riley," I said. "You are not going to bribe us into forgetting what's happened here. I set down rules when you first got here. About using your powers without my permission. Emma may have volunteered, but that's beside the point. You made a promise. You broke that promise. You lied to me. And you know what that means."


    Riley stood there, also covered in goo. Her eyes started watering. "You... I..."


    "It was my idea!" Emma interrupted. "I wanted powers. I needed them. All she did was make sure it went as well as possible. Punish me for it, if you have to."


    "She gave you money," Taylor said dryly. "Plus that fucking spider bot. God only knows what they can do with that thing. She's as responsible for it as anyone."


    "Do you even know what I was going to do?" I asked. "What I told her the first day. That I'd take away her powers for something like this."


    Emma froze. "Y-you can do that?" she asked.


    "Not even difficult," I answered. "Might not work on you, but it'll work on any natural parahuman."


    "But you need her! You need both of us!" she insisted. "I know what the Passengers are. How they work. I might even be able to figure out how to find them, if you give me a chance. You have to! We worked so hard for this! She did it because she loves you." IncredulityAngerBetrayal.


    I looked at the little girl. The monster that happily impaled Mark and drove me to the brink of insanity. Looking up at me with desperation and fear. Every so often, I even forgot that about her. What she was, what she'd done. I'd even come to think of her as a kind of family. But I never thought there was love between us.


    Taylor's arm wrapped around me. ConcernSupport.


    Emma's right. Riley does love me. The feeling was not any kind of mutual, at best I was concerned about her and terrified of her, but I didn't love her.


    Taylor spoke, taking command. I felt the emotional backlash as she fell back on 'Skitter', pushing negative emotions into our bond. I focused on pushing through. If she needed to use me as a crutch right now, then that's what I'd be. "You want to be a part of this? Fine. Your conditions are as follows. Everything you do that involves people goes through us for approval. That rule goes for both of you." They nodded.


    "Riley, you keep in mind that you're suppose to be a good girl. Emma is not a good person, and listening to her ideas is only going to get you in trouble." Riley nodded, Emma looked away.


    "And Emma?" She looked back. "You give a full confession and apology." Emma went to start speaking. "Not to me. I honestly don't care that much, even if I believed you in the first place. Your confession will be public. Spontaneous if you like, or write a speech, get help with it, whatever you need to do. I don't even care if you mean a single word of it. You manipulated people against me for years. You manipulated Riley against Amelia. Now use that skill for something useful for a change."


    "Okay," she nodded. "I can do that, Taylor."


    "And then it's the last time," she continued. "You want to convince me you've changed? Then you might want to actually feel bad about what you've done. And stop doing it. That goes for both of you."


    Taylor turned and left the room. I looked at them both, even as I could finally relax thanks to the emotional pressure Taylor was putting out started to fade a little. She anger and sadness was still there, but Taylor was accepting it instead of hiding it in our link.


    "She's right, Riley," I said. "You need to learn to be better than this. You should have told me what you were doing. Lying to me and hurting Taylor are things Bonesaw would do. You can't be someone who does those things anymore."


    I turned and chased after Taylor. Hopefully some of that would get through to them.


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


    A/N- No one ever noted that I had Emma use Rapture's little empathy manipulation here.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  23. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 103
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 103


    The last day of school was a formality. Class, such as it was, existed only to give us an ad-hoc report card that was more or less to pretend we'd learned anything. Three weeks of classes we were graded as if it were an entire year. Sure, I suppose a few classes mattered. A refesher on math probably helped for next year. If there even was a next year. A chance to say goodbye to friends, swap numbers if we hadn't already. Schools were being reopened elsewhere soon enough that everything would be back to as close to normal as could be expected in a post-Leviathan city.


    "So," I said slowly as I leaned against Taylor under what we had basically claimed as 'our tree'. "Given any thought about school next year? Or month, as the case may be?"


    "Kinda," she admitted. "It's nice to have things be normal again. I was always good at school, and now I'm like a dozen times better."


    "Cheaty powers," I smiled up at her. "So unfair."


    "Well," she smiled back. "I can't turn a dead world green in a matter of weeks, so I have to get by any way I can."


    "It's only most of North America so far. And you're as essential to the terraforming project as any of us," I nuzzled against her. "After all, you're the one who sets the spore birds on their way."


    "Schoolgirl by day, superhero by night, world's worst girlfriend in the evening, and glorified cropduster pilot once every couple days," she joked.


    "Oh, that's not true," I laughed. "There's gotta be, like, at least three girlfriends out there worse than you."


    "Speaking of which," she said. "We're not going to stop the exercise routine just because school's out. I expect you up at the same time tomorrow for our jog."


    My lungs hurt just thinking about it. "Great," I muttered.


    "Don't complain," she laughed. "You're getting better at an incredible rate. We almost hit a mile today, and we started less than a week ago." RealizationWorryRegret. "Umm... must be all the fresh air you get in that tree."


    I'm in such good shape because my lower half was blown off and replaced, I thought. "No sense in letting it go to waste," I agreed, avoiding the topic. Something we could avoid thinking about, so we did.


    Instead, I changed the subject. "So, any thoughts on our first meeting with the new PRT director? Or our response to Emma's apology when it finally goes up. They still haven't dug all the way into mine and Clarice's backgrounds."


    She offered a bit of a smile. "That's mostly Lisa's job. I prefer to wing it. More natural that way. The Director's going to be with PRT and Protectorate capes, not the general public. I doubt I'll be wowed speechless by Emma, when we get around to that. And I already know about you and Clarice. I still think you should announce that last one yourself. Girls go crazy for that whole 'dark past' thing."


    "Speaking from personal experience, huh?"


    EmbarrassedNostalgia. "Seems to work on you," she answered. "Also Missy. She's been spending a lot of time with Theo."


    "Easily the most adorable couple ever," I agreed.


    "Oh, and in other news, I think my dad's dating your aunt," she told me.


    My mind went blank for a moment. "You're not kidding."


    "Nope," she looked up. "I don't think either of them have figured it out, either."


    "How does that even work?"


    "My dad's pretty oblivious in general," she answered. "And I think Sarah isn't quite ready to look for a new relationship. I mean, sure, the 'cape' life forces you to cope with some really fucked up shit, but it hasn't even been three months. For right now, though, they seem to enjoy each others' company."


    "Just don't mention this to Clarice," I warned. "After us, and Theo and Missy, I think she's come to the conclusion that she's an expert matchmaker and might try to 'speed things along'." DreadDisturbed.


    "Yeah. We'll put that on the list of things that can never be allowed to happen," Taylor agreed. "Right alongside the chicken flavored crickets idea."


    I shuddered.


    "Looks like Dennis wants something," she said, pointing out the redhead that was Clockblocker. He looked a bit sheepish.


    "Hey, umm," he said after approaching us. "Do you know where Zach-"


    "Girls locker room," Taylor answered. AmusementSympathy. "You're better off just writing them off as a lost cause."


    "Fuck," he muttered, leaving.


    "So, do I even want to know?" I asked.


    "Zach stole his underwear," she answered.


    I buried my face in my hands. "Okay," I muttered. "New plan based on the chicken crickets. We forcefeed Zach some normal flavored crickets. How's that sound?"


    "How about grasshoppers?" she asked. "Those fly and it'll be easier to catch him off guard."


    ....


    "Why'd she have to go?" Zach asked.


    "Other work to do," Rey sighed. "I knew she couldn't stay forever. We're going to stay in touch, see each other when we can. It's only a few hours away from Montreal."


    "What's she doing up there?" Crystal asked.


    "Heartbreaker's children," Lisa answered. UnderstandingWorry. "Lots of them have already triggered, almost all with master powers of one sort or another. Others probably will. They've all been exposed to varying degrees of master effects for pretty much their entire lives. There's literally no one more qualified on the planet to deal with this kind of thing than Rapture, and the second place belongs to Dragon. Who, being Dragon, is already inhumanly busy."


    "That's it in a nutshell," Rey answered. "She stayed around about as long as she could get away with."


    "But, we're not a priority," Taylor replied. "We've settled down into a 'known element'. Powerful, but not a threat. Haven's had its look at us, and doesn't have enough of an issue to consider it necessary to keep her here watching us."


    "It helped that Rapture's been convinced we're not taking the whole 'divinity' thing seriously," he supplied. "They were worried about that. So we're in the realm of 'bad taste', instead of 'dangerous egomaniacs with way too much power'."


    "I'll remember to try harder next time," Lisa commented.


    "And when Dragon personally requested her help," Rey continued. "Well, it's kinda hard for anyone, especially a tinker, to turn down Dragon."


    "So we're back to playing without the adult supervision?" Zach smiled. "I'll go find out what kegs cost these days."


    "Do it, and I'll ask Vista and Riley to find a way to stuff you inside it," Crystal threatened.


    "Yes mom," Zach whined.


    "Also, why does your breath smell like grasshopper?" SurpriseAmusementShock. I smiled. My cousin always did know how to go along with a joke.


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

    A/N- The grasshoppers become a running joke for a while. But that tapers off eventually. Kinda like pranks in real life.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  24. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 104- Coi- Calvert
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 104- Coi- Calvert


    "Thank you for meeting with us on such short notice," I said politely to the members that Pantheon had chosen to be their representatives. Minerva, Gaea, Khepri and their newest recruit, the supervillain Blasto.


    I, meanwhile, had Triumph and Miss Militia flanking me. Truly a pity, honestly, that the rest of the PRT was trying to remove our members. A logical move, but one that merely put me in charge of PRT soldiers, instead of in control of proper parahumans. Now that Assault and Battery were moving to New York to make up for Legend's absence, this left me with two Protectorate heroes and four Wards. Granted, it also left me with nothing to use them for.


    "We should be the ones thanking you," Minerva responded expertly. "I empathize with how difficult it must be, cleaning up your predecessor's mistakes."


    "Yes," I said with a practiced neutral demeanor, breaking timelines. There was no real purpose in using different lines. We were both going off of a script, if a somewhat ad-libbed one. We would be polite, negotiating without making any promises or concessions. Something of critical value that I could present to the other Directors. "I apologize on behalf of the PRT for your troubles. I worked with Director Piggot many times over the years, without realizing how unstable she was."


    "I must apologize as well," Miss Militia interjected. I had suggested she should, when we had the opportunity. Putting more blame on Piggot, and of course allowing Pantheon to be suitably gracious.


    I really shouldn't have underestimated Tattletale when I had her under my control. Or Skitter, for that matter. Truly, my first real mistake was being so forceful in my recruiting practices. Followed by letting them know about Dinah. Some days, I wondered if I should have kept the other path that day. In which the Travelers and Undersiders all survived, at the expense of Jack Slash, Bonesaw, and Siberian escaping. I wasn't even certain what differences I caused that created such a massive divergence. To call it frustrating would be an understatement.


    "It's really not your fault," Gaea answered. "Either of you. It's just good to have everything in the open so something like this doesn't happen in the future."


    "It may yet prove to be a master effect," Minerva responded, though we all knew better. "And thus not truly Director Piggot's fault. Still, I feel it highlights a flaw in the PRT's regulations that a single unhinged individual could cause such trouble. And that the parahumans that worked closest to her didn't feel comfortable reporting their concerns. If Legend or any member of the Protectorate under her command had someone to go to with their misgiving, we might have avoided this disaster outright."


    "I'll mention your thoughts to the other Directors," I offered. Again, part of the plan.


    ....


    "They want us to grant more autonomy to the Protectorate?" Tagg scoffed. "Dictating terms to us."


    I remained my usual passive self. My other self started with the possibility of M4s for our own forces, and this one with their request first and then leading into the offer. Psychologically, the responses would be significantly different despite containing all of the same information. Conventional wisdom was often split on whether to lead with the bad or the good in a negotiation, and both had merit. I had the advantage of testing both.


    "As I understood it," Costa-Brown mused. "They didn't dictate a thing. They simply stated a source of trouble and their opinions on how to fix it. I must say, Director Calvert, you've managed to repair relations with Pantheon and the rest of Brockton Bay in record time. I had feared it would take years to regain goodwill in the region. At this rate, it may only take months."


    "Thank you, Chief Director," I said. With a modicum of surprise. "More than that, Minerva's suggestion is for the heads of the Protectorate to have functionally equal rank to the PRT Director of a region."


    "That defies the whole function of having a Protectorate," Tagg countered.


    "I am aware of that," I answered. "I've also seen their remote control soldiers in action."


    "Did they impress you enough to believe it's worth the loss of control over the Protectorate?" Armstrong asked.


    "More," I answered. "It is my belief that a mere two hundred per major city would be enough to render the Protectorate nearly redundant."


    "Excuse me?" Costa-Brown asked. "Our intel didn't indicate they had that kind of ability. In terms of the effectiveness of the M4s, or their ability to mass produce them."


    "Their current M4s do not," I confirmed. "They've acquired a new tinker, she has helped design an upgrade they're calling the 'M6'. Their capabilities are significantly better, to the point that they are individually superior to many parahumans. If we had them during Elisburg, we would have won the encounter."


    ....


    "This is Emma," Minerva supplied, gesturing to the new girl. Solid red coloration, including glowing eyes. A case 53? I had no knowledge of her. Tattletale didn't brief me, wanted to disrupt me, for nothing more than her own amusement. That frustrating b-. It was actually not a bad tactic. I didn't have to feign surprise if I actually was surprised, and there's no reason I should know about this girl. I must have stood there not saying anything for too long, because Minerva spoke up again. "Yes, that Emma, from the news."


    Ah, her. That gave me a basis to respond. "And you accepted her into your organization?" The question was directed mainly at Khepri, of course.


    "She wants to atone for her mistakes," Khepri stated. "She'll be issuing a formal, public apology at some point in the near future. For now, she's our foremost expert in upgrading our biotechnology to anti-Endbringer status. Go ahead, Emma, explain the new designs."


    "First," the girl said in an energetic, teenager voice. "The power system has been greatly improved. Allowing us to add greater customization to the armor. Stealth systems, superior sensory abilities, even flight capability in the near future. That advancement is why we scrapped the M5s and moved onto the M6 without releasing the prior design."


    "We've also designed portable suit building systems," Khepri added. "Right now, you can take them anywhere, set them up, and they'll grow M4s as matter is fed into them. Once the M6 is designed, we'll be able to distribute seeds that the growth pods will absorb and start growing the new designs. An average landfill should be able to provide at least a hundred of them. More as you supply heavier elements. If any are damaged, simply throw them back into the feed system and they'll be digested and replaced."


    ....


    "They allowed one of the individuals who tortured Khepri into a Trigger Event on the team?" Gutierrez asked incredulously. "Are we sure the Emma story isn't a fabrication? Some kind of media stunt?"


    "Unlikely," I answered. I was aware of some of Skitter's school history before the information became public. "It appears Miss Barnes triggered due to stress from the story coming out. She's locked in a permanent breaker state of a sort, which my analysts believe might be a psychological fear of being seen in her natural form. I find it unlikely they have the wherewithal to fabricate that."


    "Fits their psych profiles," Costa-Brown agreed. "Pantheon has a predictable pattern. They treat their enemies with merciless brutality, and their allies with what might be considered excessive generosity. A similar pattern to what was shown by the Undersiders. The most obvious conclusion is that this is Khepri's influence."


    "Much like the divinity they took as their theme," Armstrong agreed. "As long as people are complying with their desires, they're magnanimous. When not, they range from actively hostile, to a kind of passive aggressiveness that might even be more devastating than a straightforward attack."


    I frowned. It was, essentially, what they'd done to me. I opposed them. They destroyed me. Then they recruited me and gave me almost everything I wanted, as long as I promoted their goals. It had cost me my grip on the underworld of Brockton Bay, if only because there no longer was an underworld. It cost me Dinah Alcott. But, indeed, I was in position as a PRT Director. With my power and Pantheon's support, I could easily become one of the most influential Directors. So long as I was subor- partnered with them.


    "Speaking of passive aggressive attacks," Niles frowned. "They have us over a metaphorical barrel."


    Tagg's voice didn't hide a small amount of scorn, which everyone chose to ignore. "Care to share your thoughts?"


    "These new machines, if they're a match for even moderate ranked parahumans, could render the PRT entirely obsolete. A city typically has an active police officer per four hundred to one thousand people, depending on a number of factors. The largest cities can easily have over ten thousand police. If they can provide enough M6s to give every officer their own."


    "It would render us obsolete," Costa-Brown concluded. "Even the M4s are valid in combat against most capes, with enough numbers. A large city could potentially field thousands of them."


    "And police officers face fewer restrictions than the PRT," Tagg concluded. "They can enforce standard crime and if they happen to encounter a cape in the process, even one out of costume, then there's no repercussions beyond what that parahuman can inflict. Which is, at worst, the destruction of something that's grown out of compost and scrap metal."


    "Or respond with lethal force against villains without need for a kill order," Niles added. "Resisting arrest during a crime is all it truly requires to justify lethal force in many parts of the United States."


    Costa-Brown interrupted. "I find it suspicious that Pantheon's... request... comes so soon after Dragon made her own ultimatum about cleaning house, as she put it. It seems likely that Pantheon and the Guild have coordinated this between them."


    I hid my surprise. I wasn't aware of that. Was Pantheon? If so, why didn't they tell me? Did they want me to look st-. They must not have known. I would inform them later. "Possibly," I answered. "Dragon did have a private communication with Pantheon near the end of June. As well, Pantheon is providing protection and other assistance to the precog Dinah Alcott."


    "So they're blackmailing us," Tagg said darkly. "And it sounds like you're going to give into it."


    The Chief Director frowned. "We can hardly call it blackmail," she said. "Closer to bribery, with an implicit threat that if we won't accept their terms, they'll find someone else who will. This might cost us some discretionary funding in the overhaul, tie our hands with how we handle the Protectorate, but ultimately it sounds like it might be worth it."


    "I agree," Gutierrez stated. "I think that simply the agents we lose in battle with parahumans is enough of a motivator. Hundreds of men and women each year. Even without considering the superhuman capabilities of the M4 or M6, their value as disposable targets cannot be overstated."


    "The morale and public relations value is nothing to ignore, either," I offered. "Capturing or killing a parahuman at the cost of even one of our men is a tragedy that taints the victory and makes it much harder to convince the public that it's worth the effort. We could sacrifice a thousand M6s on a mission and still call it a complete success as long as we achieve our objective."


    Niles chimed in next. "We can pull funding out of our other costs, as well. Combat pay, injury costs and medical leave for example. Probably make recruitment drives easier as well. There's little downside to this, aside allowing more parahuman autonomy. Which isn't as problematic as it could be, as our entire field model would change. The PRT would be able to lead in the field, with the Protectorate as our backup, instead of the other way around."


    "All things well worth considering. I think we should at least hear the full extent of what Pantheon and Dragon are asking for," Costa-Brown replied. "It costs us nothing to listen, except our time. Niles, I'd like you to head a committee to determine where we can pull funding from. Director Calvert, thank you for your contribution thus far. I trust you're up to the task of engaging Pantheon on this topic in the future?"


    "Yes, ma'am," I responded. I was being all but handed a victory here. If only it was really mine instead of th- ours. A shared success. "It may be some time before they're ready to commit, however. They seem to be devoting most of their attention to the Endbringers."


    "An understandable priority," Costa-Brown nodded.


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


    A/N- This chapter is one of my personal favorites. I feel it captures the sort of 'the more you think about it, the less comfortable you feel' vibe I go for in this fic.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  25. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 105- Taylor
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 105- Taylor


    To the concerned citizens of the Youth Guard.​

    I would like to thank you for the advice you have provided on the handling of young parahumans. The list of regulations you have negotiated on behalf of the Wards over the years has been an unpleasant enlightenment as to the disturbing risks of abuse and neglect that other organizations have shown in the past. Hopefully the information herein will show we take the lessons of the past to heart.​

    To begin with, Pantheon would like to make it clear that we are not a military or police organization. We are not government funded, and we have no legal authority beyond that of any other recognized independent hero team. All members of our organization are volunteers. There are no contracts or obligations binding our members to us, and they are free to refuse any request or to leave permanently at their own volition.​

    We encourage our members to avoid the traditional superhero lifestyle. Instead preferring to champion such examples as Parian and Dinah Alcott, who use their talents for peaceful and lucrative businesses that they manage themselves. We discourage vigilantism and have taken highly publicized steps to remove the need for young superheroes, or indeed anyone, to risk their lives against such things as mere street crime.​

    For all Pantheon members who desire 'field' experience, we recognize the excitement and romanticism some feel for the vigilante tradition. Furthermore, we have nothing but respect and admiration for those who step forward and provide aid during the Endbringer conflicts. For these members, we still consider safety our highest priority. As such we have standard protocols applying to our members during hazardous situations.​

    Unless rendered meaningless by their powers, all members are provided hermetically sealed full coverage armor. This generic outfit compares to other tinker armor at a value greater than two hundred thousand dollars, and provides at least partial protection against most forms of attack. In addition, we often customize armor for specific parahumans, such as Khepri's Matriarch, Eki's Radiant, Gaea's Dryad, and my own Huntress. Use of this equipment in the field is non negotiable.​

    Our commitment to encouraging the student members of our organization to excel in school will take time to demonstrate fully. We believe the decision of our own leadership to return to school proves our intentions. A decision which resulted in Khepri's civilian identity being compromised. Despite the media circus that ensued, she chose to finish the school year. In this, as with everything, Pantheon strives to be the leading example of how things could and should be.​

    Sincerely,​
    Minerva.​


    ....


    "I can offer no defense for my actions against Taylor," Emma stated for the reporters. "I would like to make it clear that her sexuality wasn't the reason I targeted her. I didn't know she was gay. I, I have problems. Blaming others for my own failures is just one of them. Even now I find myself wanting to blame Sophia for encouraging me and protecting me from the consequences of my actions until it was far, far too late to turn back."


    She paused for a moment. She may not be blaming Sophia, but some people would. And they'd blame the Protectorate through her. Or at least Piggot, since the PRT threw her under the bus.


    "The simple fact is, Taylor was someone I saw as an easy target, someone I could hurt without fear of repercussions. Someone the teachers didn't care enough about to protect. That was the reason I chose her, and if I hadn't, I would have targeted someone else, instead."


    I stood watching her. Amelia stood beside me. SupportConcernLove. I'd already read this speech of Emma's. Knowing it was coming, that helped. Having Amelia here, that helped more. And, if I was honest with myself, my test run of the new, fully functional Ultralisks was a high I was riding on for all it was worth.


    The new variants were almost thirty feet tall. Granted, Behemoth was our next fight and he had that beat by half again, but I had two of them and if the fight was 'on schedule', I'd have five more by then. The idea of fighting side by side with Alexandria on the front lines was a thrill. Especially compared to my virtual helplessness against Leviathan.


    "It was sick and wrong and I have no excuses," Emma continued in the foreground, putting all her skill at faking sincerity to use. "I see that now. I see a lot of things differently, now. I'm not asking for forgiveness because I don't deserve it. I'm not asking for understanding because I don't think I could explain it if I tried. All I'm asking for is a chance to fix things. To make things right again. That is why I'm here today, and why I am joining Pantheon. So that I can help, and I can try to make up for the things that I've done."


    CalmSupport. Oh, I'd been letting it get to me again. I focused on our mantra. Accept and push through. After all, it was that or break the bond. I wasn't about to accept that as an option. Emma stepped back, not bothering to answer questions. That, that would be my job. Our job, I amended, looking at Amelia.


    We stepped up to the podium.


    "I'm sure you have lots of questions," I started. "We'll see if I can answer them preemptively. Yes, I am accepting her apology, and her offer to help. I've done no small amount of wrongs in my life. I robbed a bank using deadly spiders as a threat to terrify innocent people. I helped attack a party that at least some people in this audience attended. Acts of terror and violence, not unlike what I'd suffered at the hands of my attackers. To claim my motives were better is hollow at best. I could hardly ask for others to forgive me if I can't do the same in their shoes. And I owe a great deal to the forgiveness of at least one of my victims."


    I reached over and grabbed Amelia's hand. As it stood, I really was touched deeply by her forgiveness. Even if it didn't quite extend to Tattletale, yet. Then again, mine didn't extend to Riley, either. Amelia was getting there, that would have to be enough for now.


    "There's a story going around that she hit you with a fire extinguisher when you first met," One of the reporters asked. "Is that true?"


    Oh god, that story. "It's true," Amelia answered. "And I'll do it again if she gets too uppity." That earned a few chuckles. When did she start telling jokes like that? "But of course it's true that I've forgiven her for that. I hope others can do the same."


    "Do you extend the same forgiveness to Legend?" one of the reporters asked. Expected question, if not an expected path to get there.


    "Of course," I answered. "One of the unfortunate flaws in any military system is a fear of contradicting a superior officer. Legend has otherwise proven nothing but honorable and steadfast in fighting the good fight. One mistake shouldn't be allowed to destroy that legacy."


    "Dragon credited you with helping develop the anti-master drug," another asked. "How does it work, and are you planning to develop it further?"


    Amelia's question to answer. "I can't share how it works," she answered first. "Security reasons. I would rather avoid others designing an antidote to our antidote, as I'm sure you can understand. Further development of the treatment is on hold for the time being, although it is a project we will visit again in the future. For now, we are dedicating all our efforts to the coming Endbringer battle."


    "So Pantheon does still intend to show for that fight?"


    Amelia looked at me and nodded. EncouragementYield. She preferred that I handle this. "Yes," I answered. "We have a number of new weapons and strategies prepared for the next attack. M4s intended to assist search and rescue. New variants on insect life that I will be able to use to fight the monsters more directly. When Behemoth appears, we will be ready for him."


    "Care to share any of these weapons?"


    "Absolutely," I answered. "But only one for now, we'd be here all day otherwise."


    The ground shifted and opened, a tunnel to our zergling pits. I selected one of the variants and let it up the path. "This is a shadowcat," I informed them as they got a good look at the six legged tiger-like creature. Or, it would be like a tiger if it wasn't hairless and covered in black chitin. "With a top running speed of almost sixty miles an hour, and a fifty foot vertical leap, it's an effective mover. It is also a powerful combatant that ranks a brute five. In addition, it can track tremors in the ground to follow Behemoth's path, and the sails absorb radiation."


    Blue winglike membranes snapped out from near the shoulders and hips of the creature. "I can't demonstrate for you, as the effect would disrupt your camera equipment. When activated, it creates a powerful electromagnetic field that consumes almost all energy directed through the area, and uses it to boost the Shadowcat's speed and strength. Against Behemoth, it means the safety of all nearby capes. In addition, it will draw Behemoth's electrical attacks. We don't honestly expect they can survive a direct hit from Behemoth. We do expect that sacrificing an easily replaceable decoy to save a human life is an obviously correct decision. Especially as we're likely to have three times as many shadowcats on the field as there will be capes."


    Chances are, the reporters wouldn't be as interested in this as the capes who saw this broadcast. And that was fine; we didn't need reporters to show up for the Endbringers. I did have the thing do its leap- thirty feet was actually a very accurate number. We would be attempting to swarm Behemoth with these things, perhaps draining enough energy from around him to lock him down entirely. Probably not, but they weren't the real weapon anyway.


    ========


    A/N- That formal letter in the beginning of this chapter sucked to write. Worth the effort. But it was a lot of effort.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  26. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 106
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 106


    "They're late," Crystal muttered.


    "I'm having a real hard time finding a problem with that," Taylor said. "Parahuman violence is always lower in the week or so leading up to an Endbringer, and we're producing a new Gargant every day. I'm okay with having fifteen of them instead of the eight we expected. Another couple hundred shadow and frostcats don't hurt, either."


    "I meant Flechette, Parian, and Vista," Crystal corrected.


    "Oh, right," Taylor responded. SheepishConcerned. "Sorry, my head's elsewhere."


    "Why can't we call them Ultralisks and zerglings?" Zach complained.


    "Because that's been taken," Crystal responded. "So when are they suppose to be here? I wanna open our Christmas presents."


    "Vista's mom is still mad at her for leaving the Wards," Clarice stated darkly. "She has to sneak out."


    DistasteConcern. I frowned. I hadn't considered what this recruitment meant to the home lives of our recruits. Vista, especially, given her age. That and it was starting to annoy Riley. I wasn't sure what, if anything, she'd do about that. But she was only slightly less protective of Missy than she was of me.


    "I'll have a talk with her," Lisa volunteered. "I was kinda hoping the Endbringer fight would have happened first. Then we'd have better chips on the table."


    I wasn't so certain about Lisa, lately, either. She'd been different ever since Rapture left. Quieter, less brash. It was nice, but concerning.


    "How about if I talk to her?" Theo volunteered.


    "Probably better," Lisa agreed. "If all else fails, let the part where you're heir to a billion dollar estate slip. That'll get you in her good books all by itself."


    Oh. Well that's just lovely, I thought. Theo didn't look like he was happy hearing that, either.


    "I've managed to sneak Vista out of her house," Taylor informed us. "She'll be here in... okay, nevermind, she's here. I just sent her to grab the lovebirds. So let's get this party started."


    We went to our lab subbasement. The one that was used for most of our group projects. It was separated from the rest of the labs by a membrane wall that, at this point, only our 'main' members could access. While Kid Win and Chariot had been extremely helpful, we couldn't trust them with the secret that was Bonesaw. Not yet, perhaps not ever. She stayed in other parts of the labs, and I had taken to staying with her, since she could no longer move freely about our home.


    By the time we got there, Vista was already waiting above, so I opened the passage that would let them simply go from the surface down to us, without need to enter the top part of our building. Emma was already in the lab, alongside Chariot and Kid Win.


    "Now that we're all here, let's see the new toys," Crystal announced. "I get to go first since you held us up enough already."


    Emma was glowing with excitement. Literally, as the case was, casting red light from her eyes like a couple bright torches. "That one's my personal favorite," she agreed. "Radiant Variant Four."


    "What happened to the V3?" Crystal asked.


    "It sort of caught on fire, then melted, then exploded," Emma admitted. "Don't worry, that won't happen again. We tried. Go ahead, try it on. Same method as usual."


    Crystal floated up and put her feet into the neck of the suit. It opened up and she lowered down into it, looking disturbingly like she was being swallowed by a bizarre snake. Once she had gotten fully inside, what resembled a hood moved up and encased her face, finishing the process. "Fits like normal. So, what's the new features?"


    "First, the forcefield interaction has been optimized, coming to a sum total of a nine hundred percent increase in your shield strength," Emma announced. "It does take time to fully established. You'll have normal strength for about the first thirty second, and the old max in approximately a minute. Five minutes is required for full insulation. The shields will lose power as they take hits, but at our current estimate you should be able to trade punches with Leviathan for a couple minutes with no real risks."


    "Nice," Crystal said appreciatively. "What else do you have for me?"


    "Improved energy generation and manipulation," Emma replied. "Same anti-behemoth tech in the zerglings."


    She gave an almost pleading glance at Zach. He ignored it. "It also serves to hone your attacks, reducing their target surface area to a tenth of before. More damage for the same power output, and you can now use full power to charge the weapons, without problem."


    Crystal nodded.


    "I tossed in a movement boosting system based on readings of Vista's powers," Chariot replied. "You should gave about triple flight speed, although it will drain the suit's energy supply some."


    "And last, but not least," Kid win added. "A whole array of new weapons. You can trade out battlestaves at will, and we have six of them. Hold out your hand and say 'laser lance'."


    "Okay," Crystal complied, reaching out. "Laser lance." A staff appeared in her hand, but fell away and vanished.


    "Yeah, you have to catch it," he suggested. "If they fall more than a foot away from the suit, they disappear back into their pocket space."


    "Laser lance," this time, Crystal caught it.


    "At full power, that weapon can slice through a building," Emma informed. "They're all at full charge, and your HUD shows the list in the corner. The active one is highlighted and shows its battery power."


    "Oh, cool," Crystal stated. She dropped the staff, and it vanished. "Frost lance." She caught the new weapon. "This one only has a lethal setting."


    "That's my favorite," Emma smiled even more broadly. "Chris and I spent forever designing it. When fired, it targets a specific point and shunts all heat in that region into a pocket reality. Reducing approximately a cubic meter of space to absolute zero. There's no other possible setting, so only use it when you don't want the target to survive. Vertigo's your best bet for nonlethal combat, going from painful and nausea inducing to high intensity sonic bursts."


    "This is insane," Crystal muttered. I could see the suit starting to swell a bit and change color as Crystal charged the system. "I'm practically a match for Legend like this."


    "You might hit harder, actually," Emma corrected. "Don't have his speed, or his durability, or his versatility. But in terms of pure stopping power, you might have him beat."


    "Okay, you've had your fun, let the rest of us have a turn," Missy smiled.


    "I got this one!" Clarice insisted, grabbing Missy and pulling her over to one of the alcoves that held the suits. "This one's the Singularity."


    Missy touched the green and white armor that wasn't too different from her own costume. "So how do I put it on?"


    "Lean forward onto it," Taylor instructed. "It works like my Matriarch."


    "Okay," she agreed, stepping into the alcove. The armor basically sucked her in, and sealed behind her. "Okay, that's the weirdest thing I have ever felt." she stepped backward out of the alcove. "So how's it work?"


    "Use your power on it," Clarice instructed.


    "What?... Wow..." Vista muttered.


    "That's why we called it Singularity," Clarice stated proudly. "It reacts to and amplifies your space folding abilities, directing it along specific channels. Anything trying to get through that inch thick suit is going to have to travel the equivalent of at least twenty miles before making it through to hit you."


    "Twenty miles where it will intersect with itself every twenty subjective feet," Emma added. "I based the pattern off an infinitely repeating fractal helix I saw once. We believe that the design will disrupt, potentially even blind, all thinker powers. We already know it works on Minerva and Dinah. If we're lucky, you might even be immune to the Simurgh, but no promises. As it stands, no other precog or thinker should be able to see through that armor when it's active."


    "And I thought my armor was nuts," Crystal chuckled. "I got the anti-Behemoth, you got the anti-Simurgh. I... might be jealous..."


    "We're not done yet!" Kid Win interrupted. "There's also a weapon built into it. The Point Singularity Projector. Right arm has a bracing system with the weapon loaded in. Charge it with your power, aim with your arm, and fire. It concentrates the wave and then it hits hard enough to destroy almost anything."


    "Basically, you get to shoot miniature black holes at people," Emma explained. "Different settings have different damage outputs. The lowest setting is painful, but only life threatening if you hit the brain, but each new step up is an exponential increase. Stage two is bone breaking force. Stage three is like being in the middle of a head on collision between two unbreakable semi trucks. Five should be equivalent to Crystal's, and on par with Legend or Alexandria in stopping power. It's the strongest we can make the weapon without it exploding."


    "And none of the Endbringers have shown gravity or space manipulation powers, so you're safe to fire on any of them without a problem," Clarice added cheerfully. "Plus, with your abilities you can aim it around walls like Legend does. Only you can see people through walls so it's even better! What do you think?"


    Vista was still looking at her arm. "Theo? I might be thinking about breaking up with you and marrying my costume."


    "I don't blame you," he replied.


    "Told you it'd be worth the wait," Clarice sang cheerfully. "So who's next?"


    "I've already seen my armor," Taylor said. "It's nice, but all my real upgrades are in the form of gigantic bug monsters. Which is more than fine by me."


    "Tapestry next," Clarice decided. "That's Kid Win's project."


    "This one's for Parian," he said, opening the next alcove. Parian's armor was the largest displayed thus far, and in the form of a beautiful cloth doll, wrapped in blue ribbon. "We've improved on the old fabric design, allowing your outfit even more durability. Same as your current suit, but greatly improved upon. We've built systems to harness the pressurized telekinesis inside, allowing you high end flight, and a weapon similar to the Singularity made with a concentrated telekinetic beam, instead."


    "It's not quite as destructive," Emma replied. "Still limited to the Manton Effect. But the nature of your power means you can, essentially, 'stick' a target with a beam. Infusing their clothing or equipment instantly and from range, giving you telekinetic control or destroying it utterly, without risking harm to the person wearing it."


    "So you've given her the nudity gun?" Zach joked.


    "Yes, yes we did," Emma agreed cheerfully as she looked at Zach. His smile vanished. She fell quiet as well.


    Chariot continued for her. "Tapestry also has six ribbon sails that'll respond to your power, giving you a reach of fifty feet, at approximately two and a half tons of strength each. The material itself is energy absorbent, refractive and self mending, making Tapestry the second most durable suit we've designed. Also the physically strongest, from a brute measure. And the fastest, with the potential to break the sound barrier in flight."


    "You really didn't hold back on this," Parian said, admiring the armor even as it formed itself around her. "I was afraid you might, since I'm not one of the ones who goes out fighting and stuff. Thank you."


    "It also uses the same fractal system as the Singularity," Emma added. "It's harder to do with yours, so you should be similarly resistant to precogs, but some other thinkers can get through."


    Parian was all smiles in her new costume, especially as she had about as much control over it as I had over my Dryad. Speed of thought response is something that none of the others would have in theirs. She hugged Flechette and kissed her happily. I couldn't quite ignore my envy.


    "So, last and nowhere near least, Flechette's system," Emma announced. "Azrael."


    "Angel of Death?" Flechette asked, as the alcove lit up to show the solid black body suit. It had four wings extending from its back, though they more closely resembled a pterodactyl than a bird or bat. It looked positively demonic in nature.


    "In many ways," Emma continued. "The most boring suit. Good antigrav flight capabilities, average durability. Better than average sensor system to take advantage of your power's trajectory senses for improved combat efficiency. We couldn't cram much more into it."


    Flechette frowned. "But that's all worth it," Clarice stepped in. They practiced this show together, I realized. "For the nanothread system. Azrael has an incredibly complex monomolecular fiber weave layered in its skin. Allowing you to use your power on the whole armor at once. When charged by your power, the Azrael is indestructible, and can destroy everything it touches. Only you, and the Azrael itself, are immune."


    Her eyes widened. I could imagine why.


    "Please don't do that inside," Zach requested.


    "Each wing also houses a copy of your arbalest's projectile generator," Kid Win added. "Linked up to the nanofiber system so you can charge and fire the bolts. Approximately two shots per second per wing. They travel faster than your old weapon, so you may need some practice figuring out the differences. The system can also add a powerful sedative on command. We thought of adding Crawler's acid as an option, but didn't have enough space. It's not like you need it anyway."


    "You're... this is meant to be an Endbringer slayer, isn't it?" Flechette's voice trembled.


    "We certainly hope so," Minerva responded. "Can't know until we try, but we have another weapon to try that we think has a better chance. We also think you're going to like your new names."


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


    A/N- Tech porn chapter. I'm kinda glad there are so few of them. They're a fun "sometimes" food, but I wouldn't want them too often.

    Also: Riley REALLY wants to be a flower girl. Unless she's the maid of honor. In which case, Missy can be the flower girl.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  27. Threadmarks: Amelia, ch 107
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, ch 107


    I woke to someone shoving my arm. "Get up!" Riley shouted. "We just got the alert. It's Behemoth."


    My eyes snapped open. Costume. I thought, running over to the closet. My standard outfit simply slid onto me as it is meant to. Really, it's nothing more than a thirty pound mass of specially modified Yggdrasil. I almost laughed at how awake I was. Adrenaline is one hell of a drug.


    "What about everyone else?" I asked.


    "Khepri's on it," she answered. Fair enough. I reached for the link. TerrorExhilaration. I smiled. Yeah, that's my General in action.


    "Bringing anti-Behemoth units to the surface," I stated. She'd hear me, now, thanks to the modifications to the bracer. Over eight hundred of the various cats, and a couple hundred Raptors started flowing from underground. Our full set of forces. Except the Gargants- those we kept on the other side of the portal. A thousand units, each a match for any average parahuman. All under Khepri's command. I promised my partner an army, and I delivered on that promise.


    Plus another five hundred suppression pods. We were ready. I ran through the halls to the outdoors, followed by Riley.


    "Dragon's sending our pickup," Minerva informed me, only half enveloped in her armor. "Two minutes ETA."


    I got outside, carrying Riley thanks to the power of augmented Yggdrasil muscles. I leapt onto my Dryad, to be swallowed up. My costume merged with the armor. Riley was shifted into her place in the new design. It was the only real way we could bring Clarice with us.


    Missy arrived next. Clarice held up her armor. "Climb in," she instructed. Parian and Flechette arrived next, already in costume.


    A number of people were gawking at the swarm of monsters, already. Bugs got in the way, warding them back.


    "An Endbringer is attacking," I stated, alerting everyone with the amplified voice function of my armor. The flood of panicked looks made me cringe. Could have phrased that so much better. "Somewhere else, we're waiting for pickup."


    "Can you handle this all in one trip?" I asked, looking at Chariot.


    "Uh... sure. I think. Maybe we can split it up a bit?"


    "Okay," I said. "We'll set the first signal for the front lines with Gargants and icecats. Then the Raptors, then the search and rescue. We'll make sure the right groups have the right equipment."


    "Got it," he teleported over to the monsters. They wouldn't really function without Taylor. The Gargants, at least, would kind of. They'd been built with instincts that could be summed up as 'that's an Endbringer, first you run toward it, then you try to kill it'. Icecats were meant to be offensive backup. The shadowcats were defensive, meant for search and rescue purposes. Each had been programmed and reprogrammed, bred for their functions. Even without Taylor in command, they would obey orders. Smarter, in some ways, than a well trained dog. In almost all others ways, they were incapable of thought at all.


    Taylor dropped down in her Matriarch armor. Damn that outfit makes her look incredible. FlatteredProudExhilarated.


    "So, it's time for us to kill a fucking Endbringer," she announced to the gathered group. "You all know your jobs."


    "Transport the monster brigade," Vista stated. "Then it's secret weapon duty."


    "Right," Taylor confirmed. "Sorry that you can't really test out your armor, but we're only going to be able to use this weapon once. The Endbringers are fucking smart. If this works, it will only work once. We make it count."


    "It's Behemoth, so Theo, you stay with the Moirai," she ordered. "Also, get a code name."


    "Yes, ma'am," Theo answered.


    "I'll go with Chariot and Vista," said Osiris. He was wearing a cowboy hat in addition to the rest of his outfit. For some reason. Held on by strings, no less. "Gotta get the last bits sorted out. I don't have a thinker job, y'know."


    "Okay," I answered. I noticed the Dragon suit. "Time to get to go." Chariot vanished, along with Vista, Zach, Flechette and Parian. And with that, the giant mass of monsters vanished from sight, one section at a time.


    We waited for the dragon transportation. The five of us that would be traveling this way. Taylor and I, Minerva, Crystal and Clarice. Complete with Riley inside the Dryad with me. The others had their own way, but they'd need us in place first. It was a relatively quick jump before we landed the first time.


    Alexandria, Eidolon, and Legend stood together off to the side. He wasn't a member of the Protectorate, anymore, but they would never stop being the Triumvirate.


    Minerva walked straight up to them. Alexandria stepped forward. They locked eyes. They didn't speak, they didn't blink. The dark haired amazonian beauty, and the small blond smartass. Locked in their contest of... what? Wills? Intellect? They still weren't saying or doing anything but stand there.


    "Holy shit," Crystal muttered. "They're doing a Taylia."


    "A what?" I asked. RecognitionConfusion.


    "Oh, yeah," Crystal answered. "That's what we call it when you and Taylor do your weird psychic conversations thing. You both just sorta zone out while focusing on each other. Of course, with you two, there's more smiling and acting like lovestruck schoolgirls. This looks more like Alexandria's about to assign her a pop quiz."


    Do Taylor and I really look like that? Huh. How did Taylor's identity stay secret as long as it had?


    "Okay," Alexandria said. The first words either had spoken. She took the small signaling device that Lisa had handed her. "I'll be recommending your status be upgraded to thinker nine when we get done here, by the way."


    "Flattery will get you everywhere," Tattletale responded. She was still smiling as she turned and walked back to us.


    "So, what was that about?" Taylor asked, with a smile.


    "If I'm a nine, then Alexandria's a ten," Minerva stated. "Or, well, not really. She's a thinker like Emma's a tinker. A bunch of different relatively minor powers that all stack together into something really scary. If I'd met her before Rapture, I'd probably hate her instinctively, just out of jealousy. Either way, she's definitely part of Cauldron and she knows that I know. We've... kinda got a meeting arranged later. Probably a couple weeks after the Behemoth fight, depending on what happens here. No need to focus my power on it until later, just the way she planned."


    "But you didn't say anything," I contested.


    "Didn't need to," she responded.


    Some of us had others to talk to. Flechette found the Wards team from New York, and seemed intent on introducing Parian to all of them. Emma had caught a ride with what remained of our own Wards team, which was with the Boston team. Probably closer to Clockblocker than us when the alert came through. We still hadn't made much progress with him or Weld. Who had chosen to stay with the Protectorate, believing he could do more good there.


    Dozens of other Dragon transports were scattered across the area. "Return to the vehicles. Behemoth's target has been narrowed to the Indian subcontinent."


    We climbed into 'our' vehicle. It didn't appear special compared to any of the others. I don't know why I expected it to.


    The next couple hours were nerve wracking. Taylor and I cuddled as best we could in our combat armors. Our reserve team had it worse, they didn't even have the news feeds from Dragon. Not that the feeds told us much of value. They'd narrowed down Behemoth's target zone to New Delhi, but the monster had not surfaced. He hadn't surfaced even as we landed in the city. The fuck was going on here?


    We started getting out of the ships. The sun was setting on an already overcast and humid day. A rumble of thunder and minor flashes of lightning heralded the arrival of the storm. It was atmosphere like this that might lead one to suspect Endbringers had a sense of drama. "I need to make an announcement," Taylor told Dragon. "To everyone."


    "Very well, I'll patch you through to all the armbands," Dragon replied. Her actual body, and Defiant, were on a different vessel. The one with Legend, I expected. But she was managing communications between a thousand different factors. Multitasking possibly on par with Taylor's own.


    DreadAnticipationWorry. "You'll be amazing," I told her.


    FocusDetermination. Khepri walked forward. Her Matriarch armor was the 'official' name for the 'Queen of Blades' design. Our best flier, combining a bit of Vista's power with a potent set of layered antigravity technology. Not our best 'top speed' suit, but easily our most agile one. It would take someone with superhuman awareness to pilot the thing, which is why only Taylor had that suit. Maybe we'd trade off the design to Dragon.


    "Go ahead," the armband spoke to her. "You're set to transmit to everyone. I've set a subroutine to translate your speech to Hindi where needed."


    She took a deep breath. "This is Khepri speaking. A number of monsters are going to appear across the city shortly. Do not be alarmed. They are mine to command, and Pantheon's front line force. The gigantic ones are gargants, and they will engage Behemoth directly. Let them. Remember that every hit they take means that a cape didn't have to. They will hold the line and buy you time. Use it."


    Alexandria had flown off toward the front line position, and had activated the signal. Within seconds, the Gargants and icecats had started appearing. I could only imagine what the locals thought. The ones that likely had never even heard of Pantheon.


    She took another breath before continuing. "The tiger like creatures are there as mounts. Everyone without mover abilities is encouraged to ride one. Turn their heads like you might a motorcycle, and they'll turn that direction. Everyone who is capable of fighting inside Behemoth's kill aura, the blue ones are the icecats, and they're for you. The black ones are shadowcats. They're for search and rescue. Unless you have better mover powers, take one. They will save your lives, and the lives of those around you." Shadowcats were Aceso's domain. She was leading the search and rescue ops, at least for our team. Clarice's senses, Riley's medical expertise. No one could be more qualified.


    "The giant wasplike creatures are Raptors," Khepri kept instructing. Her emotional state got more confident and intense as she fell deeper into the roll of the commander. My General, the thought still gave me goosebumps. "They are meant for blasters who don't have flight or other movement powers. Wave at them if you want one."


    Eki pressed her button, and the creatures manifested in the air. They were only around eight foot long, but the antigrav tech kept them in the air. They weren't heavy, really. They were, however, pretty fast. It wasn't long before most had descended to pick up riders.


    "You'll also notice the giant flower buds near the front lines. Those are suppression pods. They should counter almost all of Behemoth's attacks past the range of his kill aura. Alexandria package capes, spread them out at intervals of about a hundred meters. That's their effective range. With even a modicum of luck, we can make this the most successful Endbringer battle in history. Khepri, out."


    She sighed. DreadExhilaration. "You're not going to mention your other weapon?" Alexandria asked us over the com.


    "Better for morale this way," Minerva replied. "We're pretty certain it will work, and if it does I'm sure no one will complain about us keeping it a secret. If it turns out to be less impressive than we hope..." she trailed off, but the point was obvious.


    "Understood," Alexandria responded. "And the best of luck to you."


    Minerva went to the command center. Taylor and I to medical. Her medical skills would be useful enough there, and she was already in command of over a thousand troops. She was on every line simultaneously. We were ready. I pressed the button that signaled the final jump. Parian, Flechette and Vista appeared next to me. Along with several tons of raw Yggdrasil mass that I expanded across the roof, allowing it to flow down the sides. Dozens of Yggdrasil-spreading creatures traversed the sewers, distributing the spores as rapidly as I could assimilate them into the whole. What took days to achieve in Brockton Bay, I would do here in minutes.


    "Chariot wanted me to let you know that the Yggdrasil already has a strong footing across our earth's Europe and Africa," Vista informed me. "As well as most of Asia. He estimates a couple weeks until full coverage of the surface area."


    "That's really good to know," I replied. "ETA on the world being habitable?"


    "Dunno," she answered. "But we can make a quick trip home safely when we're done here, easily."


    "Behemoth sighted, DA-5" the armbands announced. From our position on the hospital, I could see it myself. The ground cracked and spewed forth magma and smoke. Behemoth had chosen a hill from which to emerge, giving those of us with any elevation a good view.


    The creature's head appeared, then it stopped moving, turning its face to suvey the area. A face that Minerva had assured me was meaningless. It did not need eyes to see, nor ears to hear. The Endbringers, despite their loosely humanoid shapes, were less human than my Yggdrasil. However they sensed, it wasn't through any organ as we understood the concept. They were not animals. They were not alive. They were incredibly powerful and bizarre machinery from an unknown maker.


    Still, Behemoth's gigantic head made a very good impression of a person surveying the landscape of New Delhi. A city armed with parahumans and Dragon suits and a thousand disposable shock troop designed solely to kill it and controlled by a single mind. His head turned around, presumably along with the rest of his body, but that couldn't be seen. He submerged.


    "Behemoth is withdrawing," the bracelet communicated to us. "Repeat, Behemoth is withdrawing."


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


    A/N- This was a remarkably controversial chapter.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  28. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 108 (formerly 116)- Sarah and Danny
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 108 (formerly 116)- Sarah and Danny


    "You don't have to go," I pleaded. I wasn't too proud to beg, not when it came to this. "They don't need you for this."


    "Sorry, Mom," Crystal answered, already in her body armor. "We've had this conversation. I'm going, and we're going to kill the son of a bitch. Then the rest of those fuckers."


    "Then I'm coming with," I insisted.


    "No," she responded, determined and focused. "We haven't built a suit for you. I'm on par with Legend in this gear. Maybe even better than he is. I can survive anything Behemoth throws against me. You'll get hurt. Or you'll get me hurt because I'm too worried about you to focus on the fight."


    "When did you grow up into such a wonderful young woman?" I was already tearing up when I embraced her. It wasn't quite the same, with the armor in the way, but if that armor brought Crystal back home to me, then I would give it all the hugs in the world.


    "Okay, mom," she said, hugging me back. "That's enough being sappy. I've gotta go now."


    She went out the door and took off. She was never that fast before, I thought. Must be more of the tech she has in that armor. Was Amy telling the truth? Would Neil and Eric still be alive if she was allowed to fully flex her powers? Today would answer that question, one way or another. Either Crystal doesn't come home, or I have proof that my husband and son didn't need to die. Either way... I, I just couldn't bring myself to face this alone. I called my sister.


    The phone rang a few times before Carol answered. "Did you hear?" I asked.


    "What?" she said. She sounded tired.


    "Behemoth just moved," I told her. "He's set to appear somewhere in Africa, according to Dragon's new tracking system."


    "And?" Carol responded.


    "And your daughter's going to be out there fighting that thing," I repressed the urge to scream at my sister, reminding myself that things were not good in her life right now.


    "Amelia," Carol practically spit the name. "Made it pretty clear she's not my daughter. No surprise, I don't think she ever thought of me as a mother, and I never really saw her as my daughter." We'd had this argument before, more than once. In some ways, she was more angry at me than she was at Amy. After all, I was the one who insisted she adopt the little girl. I should have been the one to take care of her. Things would have been so much better if I had.


    "Okay," I sighed. "If you've given up on Amy, then fine. My daughter is going to be out there fighting as well. Your niece, Crystal, in case you've forgotten. Or are you going to disown her, too? So help me, I will personally come over there and kick your ass if you dare suggest something like that."


    "I..." Carol took a breath. "No. Sorry, you're right, it's just, things aren't in a good place right now for me and Mark. You're inviting him, too, aren't you?"


    In her question was a hope that I wouldn't. I had to disappoint her. "The whole family," I insisted. "We should all be here for this, no matter what happens."


    "Okay," she replied. She didn't hide her disappointment. "I'll be there soon."


    She hung up, and I started dialing the next number.


    -----


    "You remember to stay safe," I insisted to Taylor yet again.


    "Dad," she rolled her eyes while removing the material covering her suit. Some kind of plant that heals and recharges the thing. Any other time, I'd be yelling at her for leaving the dried pieces on the floor. Not today, however. If the only thing I could do to help her was clean up dry leaves on her floor, I could do that.


    "I've already fought one Endbringer, and I did it with bugs," she assured me. "This time I have a whole monster army that exists for the sole purpose of fighting them. Behemoth doesn't stand a chance. I'll be home in a few hours, but don't worry about cooking anything. It's a long trip and by the time we get back, the Mayor or someone is going to invite us to a fancy dinner somewhere. Pick out a suit and get ready for free food and thorough ass kissings."


    Ah, the confidence of teenagers. I hugged her before she climbed into the creepy looking body armor. I wasn't so sure I approved of how overly 'feminine' the design was, either. Why did she have high heels built into it? She's tall enough already. "You're just like your mother," I told her. It was true, of course. "You both find a cause and throw your whole heart into it, heedless of the risks and costs. I hated that about her almost as much as I loved it."


    "Thanks, dad, love you too," she paused for a second. "So, do you think they'll let us keep Behemoth's head after we kill him? Halloween's coming up, and that'd be the best jack-o-lantern ever."


    I chuckled. The joke wasn't funny, really, but this was her way of getting back to less emotional topics. "Long as you have somewhere else to put it. I don't want that thing in my house."


    She broke the hug and stepped into the suit, casually allowing it to split and grow around her, then she hovered her way to the door. I smiled. She wanted the power to fly ever since she was a little girl, I thought to myself. I guess I should have known, even then, that she'd become a superhero.


    Not long after she left, the phone range. Sarah's home phone. "Hello?" I asked.


    "Hi, Danny," she said, unable to hide the tremble of fear in her voice. "I wanted to invite you over. Have the whole extended family together when, y'know..."


    "Yeah," I answered. "I'd like that. Just give me a few minutes to get things sorted out, here."


    Crystal was surely going with the others, so she was as terrified as I was. Not a lot of people could understand what it felt like to watch their children running off to slay a monster. Of all the things I worried about when I learned I was going to be a father, this was never one of them. I was expecting diapers and skinned knees, while dreading boys and broken hearts and college expenses. Well, I suppose I dodged the bullet with the boys, at least.


    My next phone call was to work. "Hey, Frank, I need to call off today," I told him.


    "Sick?" he asked. The man was kind of a hard ass. Honestly, at this point, I could probably quit the job. I'd made a reasonable enough nest egg just off the paid interviews. Interviews that I only agreed to because Taylor insisted that it was important for me to do at least a few, for whatever plan the girls had cooked up. The part where I made a few extra bucks was just a bonus.


    "No," I answered. "They spotted Behemoth. Set to hit Africa, somewhere."


    "Shit," Frank muttered. "Take the day off. Tomorrow, too, if you need it. If it was my kid, I know I wouldn't be able to think about anything else."


    "Thanks, Frank," I said, then I hung up the phone. I swept up the dead leaf-stuff from Taylor's room. I had just grabbed the keys when there was another phone call. I considered ignoring it for a minute, but it could be important. I looked at the ID, which said it was Kurt's number.


    "Hey, man," I said when I answered. "I was almost out the door."


    "I just heard the news," he said. "Figure you're blowing off work today, anyway. Wanted to see if you needed some company."


    "Oh," I responded. "That sounds good, but I was already invited over to Sarah's." He already knew who I meant, of course.


    "Yeah, I get it," he replied. "So, what's your daughter think about you dating her future in-law, anyway?"


    "We're not dating, Kurt," I told him. "She's just helping me out with this whole 'superhero parenting' thing, that's all."


    "Danny," Kurt sighed. "Let me ask you a question. How long were you and Annette together before you managed to figured it out?"


    "This is an entirely different situation," I insisted.


    "She's too busy for you, she's too good for you, she's smarter than you, she'd never be interested in you and it'd be a messy situation, right?" Kurt listed off. "Danny, by what possible definition is that not exactly the same situation as it was with Annette?"


    "Try the part where her husband died a few months ago," I answered. "It's too soon, Kurt."


    "Daniel Hebert," Kurt chuckled. "Picking up beautiful women left and right. But only when he doesn't realize it."


    "Oh, fuck you, Kurt," I smiled. "I've gotta go now."


    "Take care, buddy," he responded. "And make sure to hold off on the marriage until after Taylor's." The line disconnected before I had a chance to offer a retort.


    =====


    A/N- This chapter, and the other "parent interlude" chapters are out of order... I had originally written them a few days after the Endbringer fight. And immediately regretted not having them aligned with the actual battle.

    And now they are in "proper" order.

    I left the original chapter titles in, for purposes of consideration by readers.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  29. Threadmarks: Amelia, Ch 109 (former 117)- Marquis
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, Ch 109 (former 117)- Marquis


    I watched on of the few televisions that still worked in this place. It was the first time I'd actually have a chance to get a look at my daughter's handiwork. She had promised to fight the Endbringer. She had promised to kill them. It was hard for me to imagine the sweet little girl from so long ago being capable of such a thing, but I believed in her in a way that only a father could.


    "Thanks to the early warning system developed by the esteemed tinker Dragon, New Delhi has been almost completely evacuated. Cameras have been set up to catch what is hopefully the most complete footage of an Endbringer battle on record. Behemoth is often called the 'hero killer'. Parahuman casualties against Behemoth are, statistically, much greater than the conflicts with either of the other Endbringers, despite Leviathan and Simurgh often having greater overall casualties and other losses."​


    Lung stood beside me, impassively. Teacher was there as well, along with the unfortunate once known as Valefor. One of my men approached, silently. They knew not to interrupt the broadcast. He held out a cigarette. For any other block, it would have cost more. Part of the arrangement. "Valerie, go with him," Teacher instructed, and Valefor followed the man who had taken his arm.


    The cameras weren't manned, so they switched between cameras to get better views, instead of adjusting camera angles. It was also clear none of the news footage was filmed for an English speaking audience, as all words and notations were in Hindi. The next scene displayed a view of the gathering first wave of capes. The Triumvirate was highly visible in the skies of New Delhi, ready to hold the line against the beast. A handful of Indian capes, in garishly flashy colors even compared to the Protectorate heroes they were mixed with, gathered together in clusters.​


    I still wasn't quite certain how Valefor, crippled and powerless, blinded and mute, was sent here. His crimes, much like his partner Eligos, were certainly of a nature that deserved the Birdcage. The well known bias against Master type villains was also evident in the decision, as the man was entirely harmless at this point. They could store him in any ordinary prison safely enough.


    Both ended up in my cell block. An act that, in retrospect, leads me to believe Dragon felt a need to guarantee the death of both. Teacher offered to purchase Valefor almost immediately after his arrival, which I of course expressed a tentative interest in. It never hurt to hear an offer, after all, and Teacher went out of his way to be fair and honest in his dealings.


    Valefor wasn't of any use to me directly, but the supply shipments were divided based upon the number of inhabitants per block. Giving up the additional resources, I was rather loath to do. However, both he and Eligos both proved... uncooperative... as members of my cell block. To the point where the latter had attacked me and Lung.


    We made an example of the man. A very bloody and very public example. Out of respect, I offered the beast that was my closest companion these last few months first dibs for executing the madman, but Lung declined. Seems he didn't like killing helpless victims unless it was truly personal. So it fell to me, as I had hoped it would. Court was held, and I butchered him in the most horrific way I had managed to develop over the years. Functionally taking control of his skeleton, if crudely, and forcing his bones to peal the flesh off like climbing out of a jumpsuit.


    Too difficult to do in a combat situation. In fact, the prepwork took almost an hour to make it seem convincing to others that I could do it in combat, but it was the kind of psychological message that kept others from challenging my position. As with all my executions, I bequeathed his 'fairy' to Glaistig Uaine. She would have taken it anyway, and none could stop her. Offering it as a gift kept her disposition toward me kindly, and that too was a form of intimidation. Others would not risk the ire of the Fairy Queen lightly, even if her insanity made her unreliable as an ally.


    Now, I regretted not keeping him alive longer.


    Teacher had learned some fascinating details about Valefor, which he of course shared with me. In part because of our agreed upon conditions, and in part a way to cultivate a pleasant relationship between us. As it turns out, Valefor had an interesting history in Brockton Bay. He had attacked a new group of heroes by the name of 'Pantheon'. I had already heard of them, of course. News reached us about their slaying of the Slaughterhouse Nine, but not their civilian names.


    When I first heard, I had dismissed the news as satisfying, but unimportant. Now it filled me with pride. Thanks to Valefor, I knew that Pantheon was led by my daughter. Amelia had kept her name, and was apparently a true biokinetic, with absolute control of any living thing she touched. She had achieved what her father could not, and killed Jack Slash.


    Valefor's compelled honesty forced him to describe his attack on Pantheon. Controlling Khepri's adopted children and their nanny, and using them as suicide bombers. Teacher had, quite rightfully, offered to 'sell back' Valefor. At no cost but a refund of the price he had been bought for in the first place. If he was merely a murderer of women and children, I might have accepted that offer. But I wasn't feeling so merciful. I simply requested that Teacher do something 'special' for the man who had angered me like none before in this life.


    Teacher's power to control his thralls is incredibly varied and customizable. He could modify their memories and feelings, not unlike Heartbreaker. Often so subtly so that no one would realize they were controlled at all. Or he could control them more mechanically. Force them to follow a specific set of behaviors, while still having full awareness. Yet no ability to exert their will. This is what I had him inflict upon Valefor, trapped in a body he could not control, but knowing and feeling everything that happened to it.


    In a show that I am certain amused Lustrum to no end, he castrated himself publicly. I didn't pretend the act would earn me any personal favors from the militant feminist, but something like this was better done with approval from multiple block leaders. Her approval added legitimacy, in as much as such a thing existed here. And that was as much support as I needed from her that day.


    Teacher's surgeons did their work, and Teacher himself modified his Valefor's power, making him generate an effect through touch that caused others to perceive him as an attractive woman, the exact details of which changed to suit the desires of the viewer. He now existed to service any of the men that might want to pay for the privilege. It was a satisfactory enough punishment for the man who had tried to murder my daughter. That it also served to cement peaceable relationships between a few of the more difficult cellblock leaders, and taught everyone to fear what I would do if someone truly angered me was mere side effects.


    A thunderclap drew me from my thoughts of Valefor's punishment, and back to the television.



    A huge monster appeared in front of the assembled capes. It was clearly armor plated and had four thick, powerful legs. As well as a pair of equally thick arms, with wickedly curved talons extending from several joints on its body. Several more of the beasts popped into existence.​


    "In a startling new development, several creatures are appearing on the battlefield. Our crews are looking for better footage of them. The mysterious new arrivals don't appear hostile. They are positioning themselves ahead of the defenders. Information from local crews indicate that these monsters are controlled by heroes and meant to contribute to the fight."​


    I remained impassive, watching the display, but I was impressed beyond words. No others chose to speak up, either. Teacher because we were much alike in our desire to hide our reactions. Others because they were afraid to interrupt as I watched my daughter display her power.


    Nilbog was relatively fresh in the public memory when I was captured, one of the powers that caused terror across the eastern half of the United States. Amelia, and I knew it had to be her, was wielding that same kind of power, openly and without reservation. She was hailed as a hero for it. How the world must have changed for such a thing to be possible.


    Dozens of other, horse sized catlike beasts with six legs and fanlike wings started appearing across the field as well. Some capes climbed on their backs. And yet another type appeared in the air. They looked like nothing so much as horse sized mixtures between a dragonfly and a hornet. "It seems this organization wanted to make a strong show-" the reporter woman paused. "There's yet another development."​


    The camera swapped to an image of a large hospital building, if the large blue 'plus sign' above the entrance was any indication. A large mass of blue green vines were growing their way down the sides of the building at speeds that gave the impression of a banner being unfurled. It rapidly and completely shielded the building. Several people were on the roof, too far away to be identified visually. A dome rose up out of the mass and covered the roof, protecting those inside.

    "We have confirmation that the strange plant, as well as the unidentified monsters, are from the Brockton Bay hero group known as Pantheon," the reporter supplied. "Led by Gaea and Khepri, the team has claimed to have developed weapons for the sole purpose of fighting Endbringers. It appears that these monsters are the weapons they spoke of."


    They cut to a clip of the plant, called Yggdrasil, consuming portions of the boat graveyard.


    So they cleaned that up as well, I thought. I also considered the incredible amount of skill and control it had to take Amelia to perform these feats. Clearly, she had a team with her. Someone to teleport these beasts onto the field, at the very least. If Valefor's information was correct- and it might not be, all I could know is what he believed was true- then her partner as the leader of Pantheon could control bugs. Did that mean she was also able to control these gigantic buglike monsters? An amazing power synergy.


    "The group has made bold claims as to their ability to fight and kill the Endbringers," the reporter continued. "Gaea and Khepri vowing to postpone their future marriage until after the death of the monsters that have terrorized the world for decades."

    The video footage switched to an obviously old recording of a young hispanic teenager.


    "That's what my big sister said," the girl explained. "They won't get married while cities were still being destroyed every three months. So the Endbringers have to go. And then they can get married and have lots of babies and I'll be the cool auntie that they all love the most."

    Big sister? I thought. I doubted a real biological relationship. Did the Dallons have another child? No, both of them were clearly very Caucasian. E88 ideal Caucasian, no less. Perhaps they got divorced and this was the product of a new spouse? I had no way of knowing from in here.


    In their effort to fill in time before Behemoth's arrival, the news chose to display a few other scenes showing the girls, always together whether in costume and out. Including a few truly heartwarming shots of them sitting together under a tree at school. I recognized my daughter instantly. She had grown up beautifully, a fine blending of my features and her mother's. She also, I noted with a smile, inherited her father's taste in women.


    "We have just received word!" the reporter woman spoke excitedly. "Behemoth has been sighted." The scene shifted back to New Delhi, showing the ground splitting and smoke billowing into the air. The massive face of the Endbringer showing itself before the heroes.​


    I held my breath. This was it, I realized. The Endbringers play for keeps. If my little Amelia is half as powerful as she claims to be, then it truly is a matter of having to kill the monster. No matter what, by the end of this, either my daughter would be dead, or she'll have slain the herokiller.


    Then the monster turned and dived into the ground.


    He fled. Behemoth had run away.


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


    A/N- And there you have it. A day in the life of Marquis. Proud papa, Cellblock leader, classy villain, and sadistic son of a bitch when you press the 'protective father' button.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
  30. Threadmarks: Amelia, ch 110 (former 108)- Taylor
    TanaNari

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    Amelia, ch 110 (former 108)- Taylor


    I saw Behemoth turn through the eyes of my army. Felt him leaving through the infravision of the shadowcats and the tremorsenses of the frostcats. I held my breath as he sank lower into the earth, too deep for my senses to go. Even then, I still couldn't believe it.


    ConfusionAnticipationVictory? I looked over at Amelia. "No," I said. It was an absolute. "The fucker has something planned. I just don't know what it is."


    DreadTrustConfidence. I smiled. Amelia believed me, and believed in me. I could handle this. I would not disappoint her.


    That seemed to be the general consensus amongst the other capes. Only a small handful got off their respective mounts. There were no cheers. No celebrations. The field was silent, aside from the occasional chirp of the armbands, informing us of Behemoth's progress toward the Earth's core. We waited, tensed with adrenaline and fear. As Bakuda had once told me, it was a matter of fears. There was the the fear of the unknown, a fleeting and relative minor terror, as it only happened once. Then it was known, and that fear was gone.


    Then there was the fear of certainty. Knowing what was coming, and knowing it would be horrible. The Endbringers were always that latter type of fear. They were the inevitable, the unstoppable. For almost two decades, they had taught us this fact. None of us believed that changed today. And so we continued to wait. For the next hour, and then the anticipatory terror started to abate. Rarely did Endbringer battles last this long. For better or for worse, the fate of the battle was decided early. If only thanks to the Golden Idiot's arrival.


    I stayed vigilant, even as others started to relax. Then the last sliver of the sun vanished behind the horizon.


    "Alert!" The armband chirped. "Simurgh sighted at SN-6. Sim-". She had dropped like a comet from the heavens, piercing the thick layer of stormclouds fast enough that wisps of vapor followed her down. Landing hard atop Dragon's flagship, shields burst in the collision and her she pierced the hull to the knees as the ship rocked to its side.


    "Defiant down, SN-6," the armband felt the need to inform us. Simurgh bent down, straightening her fingers on her left hand like a knife, before punching through the armored plating. "Dragon down, SN-6." Simurgh leapt upward, kicking off of the damaged ship and sending it careening to the ground. An entirely meaningless gesture. In her left hand, she clutched the limp form of Dragon like a child with a rag doll.


    Only then did the singing start. Endbringers love their drama.


    I could feel the movement of my team. Each suit, alive. Each one I could track and even speak through. "Osiris, your job hasn't changed."/"Eki, laser then thermal, alternate between them. Don't waste time with other settings."/"Lachesis, can you get a lock on her?"


    "Trying," Missy's voice answered back. "She's the fucking queen of precogs. Give me some time."


    "Will do," I promised. I fanned out the Raptors, giving me hundreds of angles to view the Simurgh at. The capes fired with wild abandon, catching her with minor strikes as she casually evaded anything powerful enough to do any real damage.


    "For 'murica!!!" Osiris shouted as he rushed in on his heavily customized variant of the Raptor. A kamikaze attack. One of the Simurgh's wings moved to block the impact and rapidly blossomed into ice crystals. Most of that ice was made from carbon dioxide. "Osiris deceased, SN-6"


    I distributed the shadowcats outward. Simurgh wasn't like the other two, and I couldn't afford to treat her the same way. Spread out and keep moving, give her as many separate variables to track as possible. Her mental powers were frightening, but they weren't infinite. Like any precog, you just had to hit them with enough variables at once, and their effectiveness would plummet.


    Alexandria rushed in, amid a chain of shots from Legend and Eidolon. A method they'd obviously used before, given the absolute perfect timing they executed. Simurgh use the ice shell on her wing to soak most of the attacks, then wing-slapped Alexandria upward into the sky. Where she was struck by lightning. Not a matter of powered attacks, simple natural lightning from the storm. Not enough to even phase the hero that gave the name to flying tanks.


    "She's showboating," Amelia spoke from beside me. HorrorAngerFear. "That bitch is showing off."


    "Osiris, go in for a hit from behind." "Eki, hold fire for my mark."


    I sent a dozen of my unclaimed Raptors in for close range. They opened fire with a kaleidoscope of energy blasts, etching small lines of damage in her skin. Her frozen wing swept out, launching pieces of ice crystal. My raptors avoided most of them. But most is not all. "Flare deceased, RN-6. Screech down, RN-5. Plus six of my unmanned raptors. One peeled off from the attack to dive and catch Screech. He was still alive, and I dropped him down for one of the Shadowcats to bring to our hospital position. Even as the others kept up the attacks.


    Another plume of ice blossomed, this time out of Simurgh's back. It laced around and between the joints of her body and wings. "Everything, now!" I told Eki.


    The white hot stream of laser light struck out, catching Simurgh in the chest. It didn't stop there, this was the full fire mode. The beam cut a trail down her stomach to her hip before the reserve of power finally ran out. Enough power to melt a city block. Enough power to burn away one of the Simurgh's breasts.


    "That's okay, they're probably fake anyway," Atropos joked.


    ShockAmused. I even smiled, myself. It wouldn't show from through the costume, thankfully.


    "Switch to sonic," Emma instructed over our private com system. It was only directed to Eki, but I heard anyway. She probably saw something I could not.


    "Vertigo lance," Eki stated, swapping out for her other charged weapon.


    Osiris came in for another strike, which Ziz evaded, slapping him way. I took direct control of the raptor and had it twist into her at the last second. It caught her leg, and then spread to the other.


    "Everyone fall back," Emma told everyone on the armbands. "This is going to be big."


    Eki rocketed upward, even as I pulled away all my flying units. Ziz rapidly started moving, evading like an expert dogfighter while trying to find cover from what was coming. Eidolon flashed a bright red-orange color, and the Simurgh was frozen in place by an aura of the same colors. Telekinesis? Time manipulation? Some kind of momentum nullifier? I didn't know, and now wasn't the time to speculate. It held her still just long enough for the sonic disruptor to go all out.


    The area around her exploded, shattering glass even a mile from the epicenter of the attack. As it stood, the block she was above, and every block bordering it, splintered and collapsed. It was far more destructive than I'd expected. The names of dead and wounded started pouring through the com. Most of them were foreign. Indian or east European capes. Maybe African. None in languages I'd recognize or remember. Twelve wounded, eight dead.


    The smoke cleared, revealing a Simurgh that looked like an ancient statue. Most of her surface had chipped and pealed off, exposing her deeper layers. The composition didn't look any different than her surface. Still the perfectly formed ivory coloration. But this was more damage than we achieved against Leviathan in Brockton Bay. Half a second later, Ziz was hammered into the ground by countless blaster attacks.


    "Can you do that again?" Alexandria asked Eki over the armband.


    "Needs time to recharge," Crystal answered. "Five minutes. More if I have to do anything else."


    "Endbringers are comprised of crystalline material," Emma's voice came over the com. "Keep layering on the cold and sonic attacks. Eidolon, if you can spare a few minutes, I think I can show you how to kill the bitch."


    Alexandria plummeted into the streams of energy attacks, landing atop Ziz and forcing her right back into the ground.


    Energy blasts and missiles streamed across the city, slamming down into the defenders of the city. I did what I could to evade the attacks, but in more scenarios than not, ther was nothing that could be done.


    "Apex down CM-3, Archon deceased ST-2..." I tuned out the rest. I already knew what happened. Mental commands were issued, sending the Shadowcats into full retreat, and the Raptors with them. I slammed the com. "The Dragon suits are compromised! The Simurgh has taken control of the Dragon suits!"


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


    A/N- Simmie's my favorite Endbringer. For reasons.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2015
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