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Collateral Damage [Worm AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, May 30, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Interlude One: Taylor
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Collateral Damage

    Interlude One: Taylor

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]


    On a world known to its inhabitants as Earth Bet, another year has just dawned.

    In a medium-small city on the northeast corner of one particular nation on one particular continent (yeah, this is Brockton Bay) children have returned to school. There has been laughter, fun, frivolity.

    There was also screaming.

    Three girls, dominant in their year, chose to lock a fourth away in a steel box, along with items that did not belong in the immediate vicinity of a teenage girl.

    They, and their hangers-on, were the ones doing the laughing. She was the one doing the screaming.

    This was all a very bad mistake.

    They will come to regret it, some quite briefly.

    <><>​

    Behold, a moment frozen in time.

    The mechanics of a Trigger Event are a classic black-box incidence. It’s possible to see what goes in (a traumatised human) and what comes out (a human with powers) but nobody has ever managed to truly observe what goes on during. No, not even Bonesaw.

    In order to get all the data from this situation, it will be necessary to frame it in metaphorical terms.

    Welcome to the Shard Bar.

    <><>​

    Across the front doors is strung a banner: ‘Closed, Due to Trigger Event’. There are only two shards inside, as well as the bartender, who has a peculiarly golden tan. One of the shards is rather pretentious; her mode of dress involves diaphanous swirls of cloth that seem almost to pass through one another. On a leash, she has a vicious attack dog. The dog is currently licking its own butt.

    The second shard is looking critically at a large beetle—at least a foot long—which is lying on its back on the bar, legs twitching feebly. At the same time, she’s playing Tetris on one phone and texting on another, while talking to the bartender. The one in diaphanous swirls is doing her best to ignore her.

    “Okay, I get it,” says the multitasking shard. “Bug control. It’s pretty classic, and if she’s at all on the ball—”

    “She is,” interjects the bartender. “I checked.”

    “Okay, fine.” It’s clear the multitasking shard dislikes being interrupted. “But you do realise she’s going to be useless for the longest time, yeah? It’s going to take her forever to start interacting with reality again, and even longer before she starts using me in any significant fashion. Because that one over there—” She gestures at the other shard.

    “Hey, don’t look at me,” says the one with the attack dog, holding her hands up defensively. “I just made a few suggestions. Not my fault that my host took them and ran with them.”

    “Conflict is the name of the game,” observes the bartender. He begins to polish a metaphorical glass.

    “Well, we’re not going to get any out of this one for the foreseeable future,” says the multitasking shard. She prods the beetle, eliciting a sound not unlike urk. “I mean, look at her. You’ve hamstrung her. I like a challenge, but this is ridiculous. Either detect or control bugs? She’s currently stuck on ‘detect’ with no way to know that she can flip to ‘control’. And just detecting them is overloading her.”

    “All right, I get it, I get it.” The bartender huffs and pours a drink. “You want a second trigger. Here you go. Happy now?”

    The shard somehow manages to empty the glass without dropping either phone. When she puts the glass down, she looks brighter and more cheerful. The beetle has managed to roll itself over and is now wandering around on top of the counter.

    “It’s a start,” she says. “But check this out.”

    “Oh, for the love of— what now?” demands the shard with the attack dog. “How long is this gonna take? I’ve got places to be. My host has a conflict requirement too, you know. Heads need to be kicked.” Leaning down, she scratches the attack dog’s ears. “Who’s a good little psychopath? You are, that’s who.”

    “I just did a projection,” says the multitasking shard. “Even with full access to her powers, she’s been so traumatised—” She shoots an evil glare at the shard with the dog, who loftily ignores her. “—that it’s going to take her more than three months to get around to doing anything significant. How do I kick-start this? I want conflict straight out of the gate.”

    “Hey, don’t look at me,” says the shard with the attack dog. “I offered you a ping and you wouldn’t take it. No backsies.”

    “Or from me,” the bartender says. “You only get one second trigger. It’s all up to you now.”

    “I don’t want extra power,” says the shard with the beetle. “I just want something to make her more active than reactive.”

    “Oh, that’s easy.” The diaphanous-clad shard smiles widely. “Ramp up her aggression. It’s what I did with mine. She was a pushover before, and now she can’t stand to lose.”

    “Well, you do get a lot of conflict.” The multitasking shard frowns a moment. “Okay, so how did you pull that off?”

    “I adjusted the hormone levels in the brain, like so.” The shard with the dog takes out a phone and fiddles with it, to show a series of slider bars. She hands it over to the shard with the beetle. “Just shove them across a little way, and you’ll have all the conflict you want.”

    “Oh, okay. Cool.” Using sleight of hand only possible in a metaphorical scenario, the shard with the beetle takes the phone and nudges the sliders across a little. The bars begin to change hue from deep green to a more yellowish shade.

    With a tremendous smash, an imposing figure erupts through the side-wall of the bar. Taller and broader (in a metaphorical sense) than the other shards, it is composed of metal, with actinic violet light glaring through the joints. Snatching the phone from the bug shard, it swipes its hand across the screen, slamming all the sliders into violent, flashing red. Then it crushes the phone into powder.

    DESTROY!” it booms, then lunges toward the closed doors. Normally impervious to all forces metaphorical and otherwise (just as the wall was supposed to have been), the doors burst outward. Seconds later, the intruder is gone.

    The shard with the dog stares at the one with the bug. “What the hell …?” she begins, but then breaks off to stare at the beetle. As they watch, it starts to glow and vibrate slightly. Then its wing cases fall away, to be replaced by something a lot sleeker, metallic and more dangerous. Piece by piece, it transforms from a happy, fat bumbling insect into a form akin to a stealth fighter. Its eyes are a deep red, and it’s hovering a few inches over the bar, without using its wings.

    “Who the hell was that?” demands the shard with the dog.

    “My host’s progenitor’s shard,” says the multitasking shard. “I wonder what ….”

    As if in response to the statement, the ex-beetle ignites rocket thrusters and accelerates around the room, out through the wreckage of the open doors, then vanishes into the middle distance. While the bartender and the shard with the dog stare in shocked surprise, the multitasking shard runs after the representation of her host. “Wait for me!” she calls. “Wait for me!”

    There’s a distant crash, and the attack dog starts barking and straining on the leash. The bartender blinks. “Well, on the upside, we’re definitely going to get conflict now.”

    In a moment of inattention, the leash slips through the diaphanously-clad shard’s hand. The dog runs out the door, barking ferociously. The shard runs after it. There’s another crash.

    With a sigh, the bartender takes a toolbox out from under the counter and starts repairing the hole in the wall. These ridiculously overpowered shards, he decides, are making a mockery of the whole thing.


    End of Interlude
     
  2. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Tentacle Slime

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    Oh this is beautiful. Two shards walk into an interlude bar.
     
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  3. Xyshuryn

    Xyshuryn Holder of Hands

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    I'm reminded of Emiril Legasse thanks to this. "Let's kick it up a notch! BAM!"

    With a hint of Kool-Aid man of course.

    And a dash of Plus ULTRA!

    This... This can only be a good thing. Unless your name is Sophia Hess, Emma Barns, or Lolita McJailbait Madison Clements. Then it might suck a little.
     
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  4. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    Sophia: "Hah! My horrible untimely demise won't escape me that easily! I've worked hard for the destruction of everything I know and love, it's not getting away now!"
     
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  5. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Despite the fact that they came from close proximity to teenage girls...

    And now I've made myself nauseous...
     
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  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    At that state in their decay, they don't belong in close proximity to human beings ... full stop.

    (I would have said 'period', but that would be on the nose.)

    (Just like the contents of the Locker.)

    (I'll stop now.)
     
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  7. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    I think you want "Trigger Events are classic black-box phenomena", as "incident" is too concrete and "incidence" seems like not what you meant to say.
     
  8. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I dunno. "The act of something happening;" is pretty well what I was after. Trigger Events happen. It's just that nobody can observe exactly what happens.
     
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  9. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    That is on there. I normally only see it used under "frequency" or "impact" meanings.

    The sentence "Trigger Events are a black-box incidence" still feels clunky because of the plural-are-singular issue, which is what led me to think "wait, did he mean incidents? No, that doesn't sound good to me, either (due to the article)".
     
  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    The sentence reads "The mechanics of a Trigger Event are a black-box incidence."

    It's an event that takes place (Trigger Event) during which one or more things happen (the mechanics thereof). These cannot be directly observed; only the aftermath can. Thus, the entire result is viewed as a single thing; the outcome of an incidence.

    Kind of like an event (college graduation) during which several things take place (lining up, reception of diplomas, applause) but after it's all over, you've graduated. It was a thing that happened. People say "How was your graduation ceremony?" rather than "Hey, the way people clapped, that was pretty cool, right?"
     
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  11. Threadmarks: Part Three: Outburst
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Collateral Damage

    Part Three: Outburst

    [A/N: this chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]



    Legend was still talking, but Danny had stopped listening. He turned his head, calculating distances and directions. Technically, it would be possible to walk to the hospital, or perhaps drive there …

    No, not drive, given the mess he’d made of the car when he blew up the house. He hadn’t thought twice about it, which suggested to him that he’d subconsciously known that his time as meek, mild Danny Hebert was at an end.

    Up until now, he’d subsumed his darker side so completely into his civilian identity that sometimes he’d managed to ignore that that aspect of his life for days or even weeks at a time. But that time was over. His hand had been forced.

    While it wasn’t the first time this had happened, he’d done his best to leave those in power in no doubt as to how dire the repercussions would be if they ever attacked him or his again. And they’d not only allowed Taylor to be attacked, but they’d refused to accept responsibility after the fact. Enough was enough. It was time to act.

    The only reason Brockton Bay was standing—in fact, the only reason he hadn’t yet set about obliterating the entire eastern seaboard—was that Taylor was still alive. Now, he had to make sure she stayed alive; once he started reminding the world why nobody screwed with Ragnarok, at least one idiot would insist on targeting her. The sooner he got to her and made sure she was able to gruesomely murder anyone who tried to step on her, the better.

    Resting the loaded shotgun over his shoulder, he entered coordinates by eye, and triggered the teleport. The last thing he saw before the swirling indigo energy took him away was the look of shock on Legend’s face.

    The shockwave he created on arrival in the parking lot of Brockton Bay General Hospital was a minor one by comparison; only three cars were wrecked and two more overturned. Turning his head, he looked back toward the even bigger mushroom cloud just now climbing into the air over where his neighbourhood had once been. A few seconds later, the rolling boom reached his ears. He wondered idly if the surveillance teams had gotten out. If they’d had any sense, they would’ve started executing emergency bug-out procedures the instant Legend knocked on his front door.

    Scratch that; if they’d had any sense, they would’ve flat-out refused orders to be on the surveillance teams in the first place.

    Another explosion reached his ears and he turned to look up at the seventh floor of the hospital. He knew it was the seventh, because that had been the floor Taylor’s ward was on. Now, several windows and a chunk of wall were tumbling in shards and flames toward the asphalt below; smoke was beginning to roil upward from the newly made hole. Danny Hebert wasn’t a huge believer in coincidence, but he wasn’t quite sure what the connection was here. Then his eye fell on a PRT van parked inconspicuously on the far side of the lot, and it all fell into place. Somewhere up there, some idiot had tried to strongarm his daughter, and she’d responded appropriately. That’s my girl.

    Sighting on the now-open side of the hospital, he triggered the teleport again. As with the last jump, he made sure to leave most of the damage behind. It would create a crater in the parking lot and destroy a bunch of cars, but that wasn’t his problem. People were messing with him and his, and he was about to make that their problem.

    “… and stay the fuck out of my way!”

    Lights were flickering and sparking as he arrived at his destination. The structure was creaking and groaning, which made him suspect that more bits were going to fall off, but his main focus was on the high-pitched scream. That was Taylor, but sounding angrier than he’d ever heard her before. As angry as he felt right then, in fact.

    Good. It’s healthy to express a bit of anger every now and again.

    Moving forward, he noted something interesting; intense indigo glowing points of light, made much more visible by the intermittent lighting, flying to and fro like fireflies on steroids. Still, it wasn’t his problem. “Taylor!” he boomed, his armour taking the word and amplifying it. “It’s Dad! Are you all right?”

    “… Dad?” She still sounded angry, but not at the level of tear-the-city-down rage. A door creaked open, then gave up the ghost and fell off its hinges to land on the floor. His little girl stepped through, fists clenched, wearing the clothing he’d left for her on his first visit. More of those indigo fireflies were orbiting her.

    Lots more.

    “That’s me, honey.” He slung the shotgun and stepped forward. With a gesture at the surrounding area, he tilted his head. “You do all this? Nice work.”

    “Wait … what? Dad, you’re Ragnarok?” Just like a typical teenager, she managed to sound curious and pissed-off, all at the same time. “What the fuck, Dad? Why did you never tell me? Why did you never do anything about all this shit? You could’ve blown the whole fucking school up, and I would’ve fucking cheered!

    “Yeah, that’s my bad.” He sighed. “I kind’ve said I’d retire after China. After your mom. I guess I should’ve been more alert. But I thought they’d do what they goddamn well said they’d do, and make sure nobody bothered you.”

    “Well, no duh, Dad!” She turned her head, and screamed, “I said, fuck off!” With a gesture, a dozen of the orbiting fireflies zoomed off through the open doorway and disappeared. A moment later, a rolling boom echoed through the hospital. As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, she turned back to him. “Wait, Mom? I thought she died in a car accident! China had something to do with that? That’s why you wiped out the CUI?”

    Inside the helmet, he grimaced. “Yeah, basically. Nobody fucks with a Hebert.” Reaching into a pouch, he pulled out a linked-metal necklace with a tiny glowing indigo gem at its centre. “Here, put this on. I made it for your mom, but they managed to bypass it to get to her anyway. So I improved it. I’ve been meaning to give it to you for the last year, but it never seemed the right time.”

    Taking the necklace, she frowned. “What does it do?”

    “Same thing the one built into my watch and my chest-piece does. Incoming attacks are returned to sender, with interest.” Danny nodded impatiently. “Put it on.”

    “Yeah, yeah, keep your shirt on.” She was doing a fairly good job at maintaining control over what seemed to be a vast pit of rage. He could see the anger simmering inside her. It was what he saw in the mirror most days. Up until now, he’d kept it securely locked away. No more. It was time to let the monster out to play.

    Monsters. Plural.

    The necklace clicked into place, and the gem flared briefly. She bared her teeth as she looked up at him. “Okay, Dad. I’m Ragnarok’s daughter. Kind of explains the exploding bugs. Why the fuck am I not freaking out more than I am, right now?”

    He cracked a feral grin. “Because if you’re anything like me, you’re too pissed off to be freaked out. Exploding bugs, huh?”

    “Yeah.” One of the little indigo fireflies buzzed ominously past him, then settled on an undamaged section of wall. With a loud crack it detonated, blowing a fist-sized chunk out of the wall. “I can see and hear through them, and I can make them go bang.” She shook her head. “I had no fuckin’ idea what was going on ’til just a little while ago, when the PRT guys showed up and started harassing me. So I got mad, and this shit happened. Turns out they don’t much like bugs going bang.”

    Danny smiled proudly. “That’s my girl.” He looked out through the hole in the wall. Even over the creaking and groaning, and the crackling of flames, sirens could be heard getting closer. “You said something about blowing up Winslow. Still want to go do that thing?”

    She grinned broadly, and he was pretty sure he could see an indigo glow in her eyes. “Oh, fuck yes.”

    “Good. So, first things first. That necklace of yours? Doesn’t stop anything that’s blunt and slow, just sharp or fast-moving. Like so.” Stepping in next to her, he grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and back of the pants, and threw her out through the hole.

    “What the fuuu …” Her voice rose in a shriek as she vanished from sight; a moment later, it was drowned out by a detonation from ground level.

    Laughing harshly, he stepped to the edge of the hole and jumped. A couple of seconds later, he collided with the ground; or at least, his protective field did. There was a moderately large explosion, and he found himself standing in a crater. About ten yards away, Taylor was climbing to her feet in the middle of another crater. She’d landed on a car, which had not survived the experience. “Seriously?” she shouted. “You threw me out of the fucking building?”

    “Got your attention, didn’t I?” He paused as an indigo firefly zipped in toward him, then detonated. He barely felt the shockwave as his protective field funnelled it back toward Taylor. The resultant blast blew her ten yards backward, through another couple of cars. Debris flew everywhere, but she got to her feet unharmed once more. “Maybe you don’t remember me saying that anything you send my way gets sent right back. Just be glad I gave you the necklace first.

    “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Dear diary, my dad’s a kickass supervillain. Just my luck he’s a raging asshole too.”

    “Damn right I am, and don’t you forget it.”

    “So why the fuck didn’t my shield shoot back at you?” she demanded, pushing her hair out of her eyes.

    He snorted derisively as he climbed up out of his crater and headed in her direction. Each time he reached a piece of rubble, he kicked it, sending it flying into the middle distance. “I designed the tech. You think I’d leave a loophole like that in?” Without bothering to give her time to answer, he went on. “So, you ready to go make a shithole into a smoking crater?”

    “What part of ‘fuck yes’ did you not get, the first time around?” She came to meet him, her eyes still glowing that eerie indigo hue. “Might take me awhile, though. Bugs are great, but they’re one use only.”

    “Bugs, pfft.” He took the kinetic sledgehammer from his waist and handed it over to her. “This’ll work better than any bug bomb.”

    The look she gave him was pained. “Bug bomb? Seriously? Your dad jokes are worse than your fucking powers.” She hefted the hammer with a grunt, holding it with both hands. “What’s it do, anyway?”

    “You’ll see.” He looked around as police cars screeched to a halt on the undamaged areas of the parking lot. “Well, they’re a day late and a dollar short.”

    “Fuck ’em.” Taylor began to stalk toward them, swinging the hammer back and forth. “I’ve been itching to fuck someone up since I got my powers, and they just volunteered.”

    Danny rolled his eyes. While it would be entertaining to watch Taylor smack around members of Brockton Bay’s finest, it would also be an immense waste of time. Quick strides caught him up with her, and he grabbed hold of her shoulder. As soon as he had a firm grip, he triggered the teleport.

    “What the fuck, seriously?” As they emerged in front of Winslow High School in a blaze of indigo light and a moderate explosion, she pulled her shoulder free from his grasp. “Fuckin’ warn a girl, why don’t you?”

    “You couldn’t wait even half a second, could you?” yelled Danny right back. “You had to go after the most unsatisfying target in the fucking city!” He pointed. “That’s the place you want to hit, right there!”

    Taylor’s head swivelled, and she stared at the school frontage. “Oh … fucking … yes!” she crowed. Apparently forgetting the entire argument, she headed for the front doors of the school. Half a dozen glowing bugs zoomed in before she even got to the top of the steps; the doors disintegrated in splinters of wood and shards of glass.

    Stepping past the rubble, Taylor entered Winslow like an avenging angel on a mission of total destruction. Which, all things considered, was a reasonably accurate summation of the situation.

    Barely had she gone out of sight when the explosions started.



    End of Part Three
     
  12. Finis_Omnium

    Finis_Omnium Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Beautiful.

    Absolutly Beautiful.
     
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  13. bryanfran36

    bryanfran36 Versed in the lewd.

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    Aw hell no!

    You update this then we wait for another couple of months again!

    Please do make another update if you could. :)
     
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  14. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    You know not 2 days ago, I stumbled across this, and said "Taylor must never hear this story."



    And then you posted this chapter... guess the cat's outta the bag on that one, lol.
     
  15. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    The [figurative] orgies of destruction are fun to watch from the outside.
    Minor typo:
    kind of
     
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  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    He ran it together. It's a contraction. And you can't write it 'kind'f'.
     
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  17. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    It's not how I'd write it, since it looks wrong to me (as "kind have" contracted), but I agree that "kind'f" is awkward and prone to misreading, and "kinda" and "kind o'" are a different pronunciation entirely.

    It's your work and you get to do what you wish with it. :) Thank you for taking the time to respond, as usual.
     
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  18. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Oh, I'm fully aware that it looks like 'kind have'.

    And yet there are people who think 'would've' is short for 'would of'.

    Because idiots :p
     
  19. Threadmarks: Part Four: Payback
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Collateral Damage

    Part Four: Payback

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]



    “Oh, Emm-mmaa,” sang Taylor, dragging the hammer behind her by its handle. It danced and skipped over the vinyl flooring, every tiny impact sending traceries of cracks spreading out in all directions. “Come out and plaa-aay …”

    Cold fury roiled in her guts and arced out to the bugs that surrounded her on all sides, converting more and more every second to tiny glowing sparks of pure destruction. She couldn’t believe how long she’d just rolled over and let Emma and her toxic little coterie push her into the dirt. But now, that was done. Now, she was back. She was pissed. And payback was gonna be an absolute cast-iron bitch from hell.

    Taking up the hammer, she tested the weight thoughtfully. Emma wasn’t in the classroom beside her, but she knew who was. If she hadn’t been in the hospital, she would’ve been in this room. Learning absolutely nothing useful from Mr Gladly, while he played up to the popular kids and ignored the rest.

    She’d already used the hammer to blow in a few walls of empty classrooms, just to get the feel of its heft, so she was pretty sure that people knew she was there. But there were no students clogging the hallways, which meant they were trying to lie low rather than get away. Which wasn’t surprising, given that every single attempt at an evacuation drill had led to utter chaos, wasting half the day.

    Bringing the hammer up and around, she hit the wall just beside the door. The wall blew in, along with the door, leaving a hole several yards across.

    “Heeere’s Taylor!” she carolled as she stepped over the rubble of the wall and what had once been a desk. Her eyes, burning indigo, searched the students huddled on the far side of the room and stopped on one pair. “Oh, hey, Madison. Julia. Long time no murder. Guess what. I woke up with powers, and I’ve got absolutely no reason not to get me some serious payback. So, you want it fast or slow?” She began to swing the hammer back and forth, back and forth.

    “Y—you can’t do this!” shouted Madison. “It’s murder! They’ll send you to the Birdcage!”

    Taylor started to laugh. It wasn’t the fun, friendly sort of laughter, or even the mirth that comes about when one hears a good joke. It was the sort of laughter that accompanies a good solid dose of schadenfreude. “Oh, Madison. You ignorant little twerp. You really don’t know, do you?”

    “Taylor?” It was Mr Gladly. “You don’t really want to do this … do you?” He approached her; hands held out to the sides in an attempt to appear harmless. “Think about it. Once you do this, you can’t go back.”

    “Great little speech, Mr. G,” she snarled. “Love the sentiment. But you’re saying it to the wrong person, and you’re saying it about twelve months too late.” She rested the hammer on the floor and pointed at Madison with her free hand. “She really did want to do it, her and her friends. She did do it. And you’re right. There is no coming back from what they did.”

    “Look, even if they did do something to you,” he tried, patting the air between them. “If you take revenge now, you won’t be any better than you see them to be.”

    He was close enough now to try to make a grab for the hammer. Taylor saw the intent in his eyes, clear as day. She had to admire his guts in trying to defend his favoured students, but she wasn’t going to let that fly. So to speak.

    “You’re assuming that matters to me,” she shot back. “Now, fuck off.” As he lunged for the haft of the hammer, she met him halfway with a palm-strike to the chest. The gem on her necklace glowed momentarily; with a thunderous crack and a burst of indigo light, he was blasted backward through the air until he hit the window. The glass shattered but the bars beyond held with a metallic thunngg. Slowly, he fell forward to the floor.

    Amid the screams from the others, Taylor turned to look at Madison and Julie. “Now that the useless adult is out of the way, let’s see about you two.”

    “Y—you don’t dare touch us!” shouted Julie. “They’ll Birdcage you for sure!”

    “Birdcage, Birdcage, Birdcage,” Taylor retorted, rolling her eyes. “Everyone keeps saying that like I should be scared of it. But do you know why I’m not?” She lifted the hammer in two hands, and took a practice swing.

    “Kill order!” shouted Madison. “If they can’t Birdcage you, they’ll put a kill order on your head!”

    Taylor snorted. “Like fuck they will.” She pulled the hammer back and sighted on her target. Madison and Julie, belying their brave words, were huddled at the far side of the classroom. The rest of the students, showing a remarkable sense of self-preservation, had managed to sidle well clear of the pair. Taylor was pretty sure more than one had pissed themselves. “Because if they even try, much less succeed, my dad’s gonna be real pissed. As it is, with what you already managed to pull on me, he ain’t happy. And when he’s not happy, the Protectorate finds a hole and pulls it in on themselves.”

    “So who the fuck’s your father that he can tell the Protectorate to step off?” asked Madison. “I can’t see the Dockworkers’ Association having any sort of pull there.”

    A thoroughly evil grin crossed Taylor’s face. “Oh, the Association’s got nothing to do with it. Turns out my dad’s a cape. You may have heard of him.” Her expression hardened. “Ragnarok.

    The penny dropped with an almighty thud for every kid in the room at once. Just observing the expressions of pure enlightened terror was almost worth all the crap she’d gone through. Julia went dead white, and she looked like she wanted to faint. Madison’s eyes opened wider than Taylor had ever seen them before, even when she was putting on the innocent act for the teachers. “Fuck,” she whimpered. “Fuck, fuck, fuuuuck.”

    “Language, language, language,” Taylor said, showing her teeth again in what might have otherwise been a smile. “Madison, Julia … as of this moment, you’re expelled.

    Five desks separated Taylor from the pair. Pausing just for a moment, she swung the hammer at the first one, putting everything she had into it. The head of the hammer, already glowing indigo, struck the desk like a Mach 5 homing missile. With a BOOM that echoed through the building, the desk exploded into a myriad of tiny shards that blasted away from Taylor at transonic speeds. The attendant kinetic shockwave that accompanied them hit the second desk, demolishing it in a fraction of a second. In pieces scarcely larger than those of the first desk, it hit the third desk along with the ongoing kinetic wave of destruction. That one came apart as well, and it just kept going from there.

    Madison and Julia didn’t even have time to scream.

    When the dust and smoke cleared, there was a broad swathe of destruction right across the classroom, and a hole had been smashed out through the wall. Pieces of the desks were embedded in the wall around the hole, which had taken out part of the floor. Of the two girls, there was no sign.

    Humming to herself, Taylor hoisted the hammer on to her shoulder and strolled out into the corridor through the hole she’d entered by. Now, if she remembered correctly, Emma was attending English class just down—

    “Hold it right there!”

    Casually, Taylor turned around, hammer still over her shoulder. A hooded figure stood twenty feet away, aiming a crossbow at her. The figure was female, black, about her height, and was wearing gym clothing along with a mask portraying a stern-faced woman. “Help you with something?”

    “You’re gonna stand right there or I am gonna put an arrow through your eye,” the hooded girl continued, ignoring her words. “Put the hammer down. Slowly.”

    “Fuck off,” Taylor said carelessly. “No, I mean it, Shadow Stalker. Fuck off. You’re not even a real hero. You’re a second-rate vigilante turned edgelord Ward, and you’re since not the one I’m looking for, do yourself a favour and take your skanky ass back to gym class before someone misses you. Or before I don’t.”

    “I can’t do tha …” Shadow Stalker blinked as her voice trailed off. She leaned forward, staring at Taylor. “Hebert? Holy fuck, is that you?”

    “I dunno who told you my name, but I’m not interested.” Taylor deliberately turned her back on Shadow Stalker. “You can fuck off or you can die. Those are your choices.”

    She’d taken two steps down the corridor before she heard the twang of the crossbow. The gem in the necklace flared briefly and she heard the scream of pain from behind her. Turning her head, she saw Shadow Stalker lying on the ground, her right arm missing from about halfway between shoulder and elbow. Gore was sprayed over the corridor behind her, revealing where the missing limb had gotten to. As the vigilante thrashed in agony, her mask came off and rolled across the corridor, revealing her face.

    “Well, fuck.” Taylor came to a halt and turned around again. Unbidden, the hammer came off her shoulder; she bounced it up and down in her hand a couple of times as she took in the sight before her. “So Shadow Stalker is Sophia fucking Hess. And you’re a back-shooting coward. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

    By now, Sophia had more control over herself, and was wrapping her cloak around the stump of her arm to curtail the bleeding. “I wasn’t … shooting you … in the back …” she managed through gritted teeth. “Disarming … shot … only.”

    The sound that came out of Taylor’s throat was almost but not entirely unlike laughter. “Disarming shot. Right.” She looked down at Sophia and wondered why she’d ever been scared of someone so small, so utterly pathetic. “You’ll keep, Lefty. I gotta go find Emma.”

    This time, as she walked away, she tagged Sophia with a couple of her non-explosive bugs. If the idiot even survived the attempt to shoot her from behind, Taylor didn’t want to have to waste too much time or effort hunting her down.

    It didn’t take her too long to find Emma’s classroom, but just as she was coming up to it, some of her roaming bugs found another person sneaking toward a fire exit. She couldn’t be certain, but they seemed to think the person had reddish hair and was about Emma’s height. Briefly, she formed a large arrow from bugs outside the school, pointing in toward the fire exit in question. Then she hustled.

    She got around the corner just as Emma arrived at the fire exit. Taylor almost had to hand it to her; if it weren’t for the warning from the bugs, her ex-best friend might even have gotten away. Or at least, made it much harder to catch up with her.

    Emma hit the escape bar and pushed the door open, only to stop and look up at Ragnarok as he stepped into the opening.

    Tall and imposing in the leather and metal armour, with the indigo sphere in the chest-piece spinning and fluctuating in an unsettling manner, Taylor’s father would’ve been a scary figure even if he hadn’t been the cape who had been asked not to show up to Endbringer fights.

    Not that the remaining Endbringers attacked anywhere except Perth, Australia anymore. The city was more or less abandoned by now, along with the surrounding communities. Taylor didn’t know of any capes who even bothered to show up anymore, except for Eidolon.

    “Going somewhere?” asked Danny. He placed one hand on the door and stopped it from opening any farther.

    “M—Mr. Hebert?” squeaked Emma. Apparently, she hadn’t gotten the memo until now. No doubt Sophia had messaged her, but Sophia didn’t know about Ragnarok. “Is that you?”

    “No.” Taylor had never heard anyone else compress quite so much menace into a single syllable. “Not anymore. Not since you hurt my daughter.” He looked over her head toward where Taylor was advancing down the corridor and nodded. Then he pushed the door shut once more.

    The interlude had been useful, in its way. It had given Taylor time to think about what she was going to do next. Her swarm of explosive bugs rolled forward, enveloping Emma as she turned around. The redhead’s shriek of realisation that Taylor was right there hit an entirely new peak of terror when the bugs settled all over her, covering her in a soft glow of indigo light.

    “T—Taylor!” she yelped. “Y—you have to understand! I was doing it all for you!”

    Setting the hammer down and placing one foot possessively on the head, Taylor leaned against the wall and folded her arms. “Oh, this ought to be good,” she said, raising her eyebrows expectantly.

    “It was all about making you strong,” Emma babbled, apparently emboldened by Taylor’s attitude. “We were pushing you to fight back, to stand up for yourself. And now look at yourself! You’re strong again! It worked! We can be friends again!”

    Mentally, Taylor ran through half a dozen situations where she’d tried fighting back or standing up for herself, none of which had turned out well for her. “Well, you’re right about one thing,” she drawled, straightening up from the wall. “I’m strong. The rest of it … not so much.” Picking up the hammer, she rested it over her shoulder. “I’m not strong because of you. I’m strong despite you. I’m not sure if you comprehend just how fucked this makes you.”

    “But why are you taking this personally?” whined Emma. “It was all for your own good! You were weak and now you’re strong!”

    Taylor shook her head. “You fucked with me, sunshine, and now you have to wear the consequences. You see those bugs I’ve got on you? The glowing ones? They explode. Not a big explosion; just about enough to take a finger off. But here’s something I’ve found out. If I have more than one on a target, the force of the explosion’s not additive. It’s exponential. Two bugs explode like four bugs. Three bugs explode like nine bugs. On you … I have one thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven bugs. Feel free to do the math in your head.” Unless Emma had suddenly become a mathematical prodigy in the last couple of years, that wasn’t going to happen. “Oh, and if you try to sweep them off, crush them, make loud noises, move violently, or basically do anything to disturb them … they explode, and you die.”

    There was a little more to it than that. The bugs could also direct the explosive force in any way Taylor saw fit. Half of these ones would direct the blast inward, while the other half would explode in all directions at once. Emma would become the epitome of ‘pink mist’ while the rest of the explosion would do a lot of damage to the structure of the school around her.

    Emma bit off a sob, apparently only just now getting exactly how far up shit creek she was, with no paddles in sight. “So you’re just gonna straight-up murder me? Give me no chances at all?”

    Taylor barked out a laugh. “Like the non-existent chances you gave me? Dream on, bitch.”

    “But we never tried to kill you!”

    Taylor considered that for half a second. “True. So, tell you what. I’m leaving Winslow once I get back to Sophia and finish fucking her day up. Once I’m out of range, these bugs will go back to normal. It’ll take about an hour. If you don’t move, speak or otherwise disturb them in that time, you get to live. Got it?”

    “O—okay,” the redhead whimpered. “I’ve done six-hour model shoots. I can do this.”

    “Bye, Emma.” Taylor didn’t look back as she walked away. At the same time, she relaxed the control over the bugs on Emma. They couldn’t leave the girl’s body, but now they were free to roam wherever they liked. At the same time, Taylor set the explosion requirement to ‘only if disturbed’. It was out of her hands now.

    Emma lasted longer than Taylor had thought. She was almost back to where she’d left Sophia when Emma broke and started frantically trying to evacuate the various bugs from under her clothing and in her hair where they’d been exploring. She must’ve realised her fatal error when they all started heating up at once. There was time for one brief scream before the bugs all detonated at once.

    Taylor weathered the shockwave and looked around with interest at the massive cloud of dust and smoke that billowed down the corridor. There was a distant—and not so distant—rumble as stuff started collapsing. Good. She had no further use for Winslow, or anyone in it.

    Now people started evacuating. Or rather, herding frantically down the corridors in search of a way out. Taylor ignored them; anyone who bumped into her was thrown bodily across the corridor in a burst of indigo light, so they soon learned not to bump into her. The bugs she’d left on Sophia were still in the school, but one floor up.

    Taylor took the stairs two at a time, ignoring the way students who jostled her were shoved brutally aside or even (in extreme cases) hurled over the rail. They’d get down to ground level one way or another, and she really didn’t give a shit about any broken bones. They’d messed with her, or they’d allowed Emma to mess with her, for over a year. Everyone in the building was complicit, even if only by inaction.

    She tracked Sophia down to a supply closet. As she closed in, she heard the girl’s voice, obviously speaking to someone over the phone.

    “—gone kill-crazy! She’s tearing the fucking school apart! Send your biggest guns! Send the Triumvirate! Send fucking everyone! I dunno how many people she’s killed so far, but you’ve got to take this bitch down hard!” She sounded close to hysteria.

    Taylor paused outside the closet. Sophia didn’t speak for a moment, then resumed, clearly in an answer to the person on the other end. “Yeah, I got a name. Hebert. Taylor fucking Hebert. The biggest loser in the school. And now she’s got some power, she’s … what? No, don’t fuckin’ say that. Do not say that. Why can’t you send anyone?”

    There was another pause. Taylor put her hand on the door handle.

    When Sophia spoke next, her voice was hushed. “Oh, no. No. Fuck me, no. Not him. He can’t be her father. Tell me you’re joking.”

    She wouldn’t get a better entrance line than that. Pulling open the closet door, Taylor gave Sophia a crooked grin. “They’re not joking.”

    Sophia screamed in pure terror and dropped the phone. She kicked off from the floor of the closet, going shadow at the same time. Taylor watched as she vanished through the back wall; unlimbering the hammer, she brought it around to smash into the wall. The resultant shockwave blasted a huge hole in the wall, revealing a classroom beyond as well as the corridor above. The bugs she had on Sophia blinked back into being, another floor up.

    Standing on her tiptoes, Taylor clustered bugs under her feet and then set them off, directing all the force upward toward her. The floor beneath her was obliterated from the blowback, but she was propelled upward and forward, on to the next level of the building.

    She started running, zeroing in on Sophia. Any time a wall or a door got in the way, she smashed her way through with the hammer, leaving a trail of utter devastation behind her. When Sophia tried going up again, Taylor was ready for her. Under the impetus of more explosive bugs, she burst out onto the roof in a cloud of dust and smoke, making a small crater where she landed.

    Winslow was more than half collapsed by now. It appeared that setting off multiple explosive blasts in confined areas in an already-unsafe building hadn’t gone well for it. The section of roof upon which she currently stood wasn’t very large.

    Sophia huddled near the roof edge, the makeshift bandage around her arm stump soaked through with blood. In her shaking left hand, she held a crossbow, pointed at Taylor. Tellingly, she didn’t shoot. It appeared that she could learn.

    “You killed the others, didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question.

    Taylor nodded briefly as she paced toward Sophia. A distant rumble signalled another part of the structure deciding that enough was enough. “They fucked with me. You fucked with me. Guess what. You all fucked up.”

    Sophia eyed the hammer, then her eyes slid up to Taylor’s face. “You’re gonna kill me, too.”

    The grin that stretched Taylor’s face made her lips hurt. “You tell me, bitch.” She hefted the hammer, raising it to shoulder level. “How do you want this? Fast or slow?”

    Sophia stood up, her eyes on Taylor. “Fuck you. You do not get to kill me.”

    Taylor’s grin never left her face. “Like you’re gonna stop me on your best day.”

    “Watch me!” screamed Sophia, and for a moment, Taylor thought she was going to shoot the crossbow anyway. But instead she tucked it up under her own chin and pulled the trigger. The string didn’t even have a chance to go twang as the razor-edged arrow lodged itself up inside her brain.

    Slowly, Sophia tottered backward and fell off the roof. A second or so later, there was a dull thud, three stories below.

    “Well, fuck.” Taylor snorted. It was one thing to kill her enemies. When they committed suicide rather than face her wrath? That was another thing altogether. Stepping forward, she looked over the edge of the roof. Sophia lay sprawled untidily in death, the shattered crossbow lying near her left hand.

    With a shrug, Taylor looked around. Picking a spot on the corner of the roof, she braced herself and swung, hard. The hammer impacted with the wall, sending a shockwave down through it, spreading out in all directions. She felt the collapse beginning, the final demise of the institution that had once called itself Winslow High School. As the roof subsided, she rode it down, then stepped off the pile of rubble that had become Sophia Hess’ impromptu burial mound. Would they even bother retrieving the body? She didn’t know, and didn’t care.

    Her father came to meet her, his shotgun resting on his shoulder. “Nicely done, honey. Got any more business here?”

    “Nope.” Taylor smirked and held out the hammer. “Thanks for the loaner. It was fun. What are we doing now?”

    “Keep it for the moment,” he said. “Now that the minor annoyances are out of the way, it’s time to go deal with the bigger fish.” Slinging his shotgun over his shoulder, he cracked his knuckles. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”

    She cast a sideways glance at what remained of Winslow. “Pretty sure that’s already been achieved.”

    He rolled his eyes. “Now who’s pulling the dad jokes?”

    Taylor’s smirk widened. “I learned from the best.”



    End of Part Four
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2020
  20. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Making the rounds.

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    I'm sure Taylor's performance at Winslow was a real smash.
    They certainly went out with a bang.

    About the only possible criticism is that Taylor's revenge was too short. Granted, both Emma and Sophia pretty much chose to end it early, so I guess that's on them, spoiling Taylor's fun one last time.
     
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  21. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Tentacle Slime

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    Well that was a sufficiently screwed up situation. Taylor definitely got her revenge. And she can say that she was not responsible for Sophia's death.
     
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  22. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    PRT: "You're wanted for the murder of Shadow Stalker."

    Taylor: "Nope. I wish I had killed Sophia, but the cowardly bitch offed herself before I got the chance!"
     
  23. One-who-reads

    One-who-reads Know what you're doing yet?

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    Alternate chapter title: "Taylor Goes Turbo Carrie"
     
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  24. Threadmarks: Part Five: Accidentally (Danny)
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Collateral Damage

    Part Five: Accidentally (Danny)

    [A/N 1: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
    [A/N 2: This chapter is part one of a two-parter, showing how power can destroy even without meaning to.]
    [A/N 3: Trigger warning: this chapter references suicide.]



    As a mushroom cloud began to rise over the ruins of Winslow High School and the somewhat traumatised survivors of same (nearly everyone had made it out, some through large holes in the walls which hadn’t been there at the beginning of the day) a smaller explosion echoed from the frontage of the Brockton Bay PRT building.

    Cars swerved, horns honked and alarms went off. Standing in a small crater (hardly there at all, really, more of an extremely scorched and slightly depressed section of sidewalk) the armoured form of Ragnarok looked around to get his bearings, then uttered two phrases which have caused more worry and regret than nearly any other in the English language.

    “All right, then,” he said briskly. “Let’s do this.”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    I looked dubiously up at the PRT building. “Big fish?” I asked. “Here?” I couldn’t think of anyone in the PRT who might have pissed Dad or me off. Well, there was whoever had been supposedly in charge of Sophia as a Ward. But she hadn’t attacked me as a Ward; she’d done it out of costume. Reluctantly, I decided to give them a pass on that.

    “Oh, there’s nobody in there that I’d normally consider wasting a moment of time on.” Dad’s voice was definite. “But I want to see if Legend did what I told him to do. And they probably have information on people I do want to deal with.” Unspoken was the clear assumption that they’d share that information with him. I couldn’t see it going any other way.

    Still, it sounded boring as batshit. I hadn’t had my powers for long, but already there was a fizzing sensation in my head. I wanted to get out and do shit. Break something. See if I could goad some suicidal fuckwit into mugging me. Being cooped up inside that building was not a good idea for new and improved Taylor. I’d probably end up launching the coffee machine into orbit through the roof or something. Which would be amazing, but Dad might get pissed if he didn’t get the information he was after.

    “That sounds cool and all, but is it okay if I just wander for a bit?” I asked. I pointed east down the street. “I’ll be down at the Boardwalk. If you want to find me, just blow something up.”

    “I’m sure I can manage something,” he said dryly. “Did you want to take the hammer with you? People might notice.” He tilted his head. “Or did you want people to notice?”

    “Nah, I’ll be fine without it.” I handed the heavy implement over. “It’s too heavy to go on a serious walk with, anyway. I don’t know anyone else in Brockton Bay I want to kill right now, so I’ll probably be fine without it.”

    He nodded, then gestured at my face. A moment later, I realised he was indicating my eyes. “You’ve got a glow going on there. Just so you know.”

    “Ah.” That was a sucky detail I hadn’t known about. I thought about it, then relinquished control over the explosive bugs I still had hanging around. They stopped glowing, and a subtle coloured overlay on my vision went away. “Is it gone?”

    Dad nodded. “It is.” He patted me on the shoulder just as the front doors to the PRT building opened, and armoured soldiers poured out. I had no doubt that more were emerging from other exits and spreading out to capture the culprit responsible for setting off the explosion. Well, that would be their intention, right up until they saw Dad.

    “Have fun,” I said with a smirk. Turning, I headed off down the pavement. It was about three blocks to the waterfront, but I could definitely handle it. After getting my powers and destroying Winslow, I felt full of energy. It was a brand new day. And once Dad got the information he wanted, we could go and lay down some well-deserved smackdowns (the type that came with mushroom clouds and the occasional glowing crater) on the sort of people who wiped their asses with Santa’s Naughty list.

    I couldn’t wait.

    <><>​

    Deputy Director Renick, PRT ENE

    “What’s the latest news from Winslow?” Paul Renick hated the desperate tone in his voice. He’d just been catapulted into the hot seat in the PRT building at the worst possible time; right when Ragnarok decided to emerge into the public scene once more. The fact that one event had everything to do with the other did amazingly little to either console him or amuse him with life’s little ironies.

    So far, the body count was remarkably low. One of the surveillance teams at the Hebert house had failed to make it out in time, though the other five had gotten clear. Half a dozen people were injured, a couple critically, at Brockton General. He didn’t know if they’d pull through without cape assistance, but he’d issued a directive that Panacea be kept away from the hospital just in case Ragnarok and his daughter decided to return and level the place, as opposed to merely causing extensive damage to one wing. The last thing he wanted was for New Wave’s golden child—well, their other golden child—to be accidentally obliterated by the man who had managed to out-monster Behemoth. For the same reason, he’d given orders for her to be also kept away from Winslow until they knew more.

    He had no reason to believe that Ragnarok would do anything of the sort, but he didn’t know that the man wouldn’t, either.

    “Emergency services have confirmed that they’re gone,” Miss Militia reported, eyes unfocused as she concentrated on the radio earpiece. “They’re moving in now. Winslow is … Winslow is gone. Collapsed. It’s a pile of rubble. There’s … there’s students. Survivors. They’re saying that they’re seeing survivors.”

    Renick let out a quiet sigh. “Thank God,” he murmured. Any survivors was a good thing, where Ragnarok was concerned. “Do they see Shadow Stalker?” He’d already listened to a recording of her last known phone call, including a scream that he would be hearing in his nightmares for some time to come, and he had a horrible presentiment that the answer would be in the negative.

    “They’re not saying so,” Miss Militia said. “Still, she might not have had time to costume up.”

    The translation was horribly easy: She’s dead and we both know it.

    This time, Renick’s sigh was unhappy. “I suppose …”

    Whatever he supposed was lost to posterity when the phone on his desk rang. He jumped violently and put it on speaker. “Dep-, uh Director Renick,” he said, stumbling over his brand-new promotion. “What is it?”

    “Sir, it’s Stephenson down in the lobby.” He recognised the voice. Lieutenant Stephenson was a devoted family man, a health nut who maintained a rigorous fitness regime, a veteran of innumerable skirmishes against villainous capes, and as fearless a man as could be found in the ranks of the PRT. Right now, his voice was shaking. “Ragnarok’s here. Right here, right now. He wants to come up and talk to you.”

    Renick froze, hand clenched around the receiver. A tiny whimper climbed out of his throat. With a heroic effort, he prevented his bladder from releasing its contents. Eyes wide, he met Miss Militia’s gaze over the desk. She had to be as terrified as him, but the bandanna concealed many of her facial tics and gave her an unfair advantage.

    There was really only one answer to give. If Ragnarok wanted him dead, he would’ve already been part of yet another mushroom cloud decorating the Brockton Bay skyline. The man was as harsh and unforgiving as any other force of nature, but he didn’t lie and he didn’t prevaricate. If he said he wanted to talk with Renick, then they would talk.

    What about, he had absolutely no idea. Topics favoured by people sporting an eight-figure body count and a Do Not Engage standing order were not his area of expertise.

    “S—send him up,” he croaked. He didn’t even bother asking what Ragnarok wanted to talk about; the chance that the man would assume he was being delayed and simply obliterate Stephenson and the guard force was too great.

    “Yes, sir.” Stephenson’s voice was still shaking, but he didn’t query the order, which probably saved his life. Renick barely heard him, as he was scrambling to his feet and heading for the tiny en-suite that was built on to the office.

    “Where are you going?” asked Miss Militia curiously.

    “If he gets here before I’m finished, tell him I’ll be right out!” Renick shut the bathroom door in her face, then faced up to the toilet. He unzipped just in time, did what he had to, then fixed his clothing and washed his hands as briefly as he dared. Hearing voices in the office beyond, he hastily dabbed his hands dry and opened the door.

    Ragnarok stood there, looming over Miss Militia even though he was half the office away from her. She stood with her hands at her sides, empty. On his desk, several feet away from her, was her trademark weapon. Currently, it was a pump-action shotgun. Mentally, Renick commended her for her forethought.

    “I apologise for the delay,” Renick said, as briskly as he could manage. “Call of nature. You know how it is. How can I help you?”

    Ragnarok nodded briefly, though whether he was acknowledging the comment about the call of nature or Renick’s offer of assistance, Renick had no idea. “Shadow Stalker,” he said bluntly. “She’s one of the people who put my daughter in the hospital.”

    Right then, Renick died a little inside. He was intensely thankful that he’d already drained his bladder; that news would have easily emptied it on the spot. We are so, very, intensely fucked.

    “I—I’ll arrange for punishment, juvenile detention—” He was so eager to avert what he saw as an impending catastrophe that he would have happily sentenced that stupid fucking ignorant child to the Birdcage if the slightest hint to do so had been made.

    “She’s dead.” Ragnarok’s voice cut him off at the knees. “So are her accomplices.” He took two steps forward and loomed over Renick’s desk at him. “What I want is your black file.”

    Renick blinked. “My … what?” He knew what Ragnarok meant, of course. ‘Black file’ was informal PRT code for any collection of unactionable data about capes; usually villains, but it sometimes included heroes with a question mark over them. Potential identities, family members, cold cases that were suspected but not proven to be their work, all the hunches and half-assed guesses and speculations that could be gathered. These were focused on the big names, the ones that could do real damage if they stepped over the line and went rampant on the population. The black file was there for if they ever had to pull out all the stops on a particular cape. What he hadn’t been aware of was the fact that such an obscure part of PRT internal culture had made it out into the world.

    “Black. File.” Ragnarok tapped the desk twice with his fingertip. Tiny cracks spread across the veneer from each impact point. “You know what I mean. There is no way you would not have one. Hand it over now.” The words ‘or else’ hung in the air in imaginary neon colours. Renick didn’t want to face the ‘else’.

    The trouble was, he didn’t know if Piggot had kept one. If she had, he’d never seen it. Black files weren’t spoken about in any but the most roundabout of terms, and data was only shared between them in the most dire of circumstances. And if she had, he didn’t know if it included anything on Ragnarok.

    There was only one way to find out. Reaching for the phone, he dialled a number from memory. It was the number of his old office.

    “Deputy Director Emily Piggot. What do you want, sir?” No, she wasn’t bitter about the sudden demotion. At all.

    He took a deep breath. “Emily, I need access to your black file. Effective immediately.”

    Her breath hitched, audible even over the phone. “Sir, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. We have a dossier on the Blackwell woman from Winslow High School—”

    Renick’s heart rate increased dramatically. “Cut the crap, Emily. I have Ragnarok standing in my office, demanding access to my black file. If you don’t have one, we’re the only facility our size anywhere that doesn’t. Besides, I know you. If you don’t have a file on every non-Protectorate cape in town, I will be greatly surprised.” And, knowing her, every Protectorate cape as well.

    There was a long pause. “I used to have one. When I was demoted, I erased it. It’s gone.”

    She almost sounded convincing, but Renick shook his head. “No. No, no, no. One more time, Emily. Ragnarok is standing in my office. If he chose to, he could snuff out every life in this building. You were the one who taught me to always keep an offsite backup. Is it worth dying, is it worth sacrificing the lives of everyone in this building, to keep that information from him?”

    When Emily Piggot spoke next, she sounded defeated. “Is that a direct order, sir?”

    This was going to rebound on him in so many ways. “Yes, Deputy Director Piggot. It is.”

    “Very well, sir. I will be mailing the file to your inbox. Do with it what you will.”

    He felt a huge flood of relief. “Thank you, Emily. There will be no repercussions for this, I guarantee you.”

    “If you say so, sir. I, Emily Piggot, hereby tender my resignation from the Parahuman Response Teams, citing irreconcilable differences between my stated duties and the orders given to me by my superior officer. Effective immediately. That is all.” She hung up.

    Oh, shit. That was a consequence that he hadn’t foreseen. But he couldn’t follow it up, couldn’t call her back and urge her to reconsider her position, not with Ragnarok in the room.

    There was a musical note as his inbox registered a new message. He clicked it open, and found a PDF labelled ‘Accounting Backup 2008-2009’.” Double-clicking on that, he watched it unfold into something that certainly wasn’t an accounting backup. Facts, figures and pictures; they were all there. Emily had been busy.

    Just as he hit the button to send the file to the printer, a distant shot sounded. He turned his head. “What was that?”

    “I’ll go see.” Miss Militia was out the door in seconds; her weapon flickered and vanished a moment later.

    Renick glanced at Ragnarok, but the armoured man didn’t seem concerned at her absence. He had other worries to deal with; mainly, that his previous office was in the direction he’d heard the shot from. A growing suspicion turned into a queasy certainty. Emily was an old warhorse, whose dislike for capes in general would have found a laser-focus in someone like Ragnarok. Being first demoted and then forced to hand over valuable data to someone she absolutely despised … he didn’t know how he would’ve taken it, and he didn’t have her issues.

    But as much as he wanted to go to her office and check for himself, he couldn’t. He dared not. As Ragnarok looked on impassively, all he could do was watch and wait while the sheets of paper slid out of the printer.

    In the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but wonder if Emily had taken the easy way out or the hard way out.



    End of Part Five
     
  25. One-who-reads

    One-who-reads Know what you're doing yet?

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    Theres no threadmark.

    Also, i'm imagining Alucard's report about brazil in Hellsing Abridged.

    "The last one pussed out like a bitch"
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2020
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  26. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Not really.

    Piggot did everything in her power to prevent that file falling into Ragnarok's hands, but when she was faced with the fact that he'd likely destroy the building and kill everyone in it, she capitulated. She handed over the file under protest. Renick assured her that she'd suffer no consequence, and she believed him, but she couldn't live with herself after that. So she resigned her position in protest (as she'd lost faith in the PRT and in Renick to back her up in any meaningful way) and then ... well, she had nothing left. Her health was ruined and her career was gone.

    So she took matters into her own hands,
     
  27. Scopas

    Scopas Getting out there.

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    Well, despite everything, I can certainly respect her willingness to act on her beliefs, and to deny Ragnarok any further token of her own personal submission.
     
  28. One-who-reads

    One-who-reads Know what you're doing yet?

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    I'm not saying she did, just that that was where my mind went.

    And as for the thing about her health. I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for people letting bigotry get in the way of their own best interests.
     
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  29. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    I suggest that it was as much paranoia as bigotry, if not more. Paranoia flavored by bigotry might even by more accurate (and absent said paranoia, she isn't nearly as bigoted as fanon claims, I think).
     
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  30. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I suspect it's a situation of "I will never put my life in the hands of any cape, ever again."

    In any case, you can't blame her in this fic for failing to do what she refused to do in canon.
     
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