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Dakka (Worm AU/ Alt Power)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Hydra_sv, May 7, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: Intro
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    Welcome!

    This is a cross-post of my work from SB/SV/Ao3.

    Dakka is a Tinker/Thinker Taylor AU Wards fic. Danny and Taylor are metaphorical buddy cops for union living , Lacey is crazy, and Miss Militia is the best present giver ever. Watch as Taylor makes bullets that put Sophia on a bus, get Armsmaster laid, and make Piggott finally happy to be working in the bay. Warning: Actual content of the fic may include serious business. Including attempted suicide, body/psychological horror(depending on how you interpret some things I guess), and probably other stuff, but I'm bad at disclaimers.
     
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 1
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    I turned the weapon over in my hands and glanced up at the window in the corner of my room. Nothing interesting outside today. I went back to staring at the gun. It had been trivial to acquire, all I had to do was ask an Empire flunky on where to get one. I was white, pale, just the right kind of look of desperate and tired and bullied, by a black girl even. I flicked the safety off and on again.

    I hadn't really known what I was buying the gun for when I got it. Images in my mind of Emma face down with a bullet in her back had fluttered in my head, but there was no promise of satisfaction. What was the point? I could kill my tormentors, easily. Human life was fragile, that was the worst lesson my mother had taught me. Human emotions were fragile, that was what my father had taught me.

    I could kill them but then I'd just go to prison and that wouldn't be better, it'd just be more of the same, maybe even worse. So why had I bought the gun? It wasn't power. In some ways I didn't even care, they weren't worth the effort to hate. It was obvious really, but I hadn't quite wanted to admit it. I flicked the safety off.

    The locker had been bad, just two days after summer vacation was over. That hadn't been enough for them though. It never ended. I had told myself before that I would get through this, that at the end school would be over and I'd never see them again. But then what? A world that didn't welcome me now didn't look like it would welcome me later. My grades were garbage, I had no prospects, just one thing after another all weights on my mind.

    I twisted the gun in my hand staring at it. I blinked slowly. Hammer back.

    I could leave a note. I wouldn't though. What was the point, just one more thing for Dad to never get past. I should feel guilty, that was everything that stopped me before. Guilt, anxiety, awkwardness, just pure social disability really. I couldn't even talk to the person who actually cared. I heard it looked nicer at funerals if you shot in certain directions. I wondered if I'd be put next to my mom.

    I lifted the gun, just the right angle, the metal was cool. The door to my room opened, "Taylor...."

    I looked up then. My Dad's voice pausing whatever darkness swirled in my head. His eyes were full of horror. The metal didn't feel cool anymore, it felt like fire and betrayal and idiocy. I yelped and dropped the gun on my bed. Dad was next to me in an instance. With precision I didn't know he had, he flicked the safety on the gun, dropped the magazine out of it, and cleared the chambered round before throwing the gun into the corner of the room.

    Then he was on me, pulling me close to him and like a breaking dam I wept. I could never make this up to him. How could I ever make this up to him?



    I shifted unsteadily in my seat and looked down. Dad was talking for me again, that was fine. That was perfect. I didn't have words anymore. Well, I had them but what could I say? I'm sorry I almost made your life even worse Dad. I'm sorry I'm so selfish. I'm sorry I'm the worst daughter ever. I'm sorry. There was no way I could say sorry enough. But there were angles, trajectories, and ideas. I didn't like them. They were taunting things tormenting me with a need to make something, but I didn't want to make anything. How could I make anything to fix this?

    Principal Blackwell nodded and we left, the most civil she'd ever been. We walked but I didn't see, Dad opened my locker gathering my stuff. I wouldn't be coming back, I felt nothing about it. He wrapped his arm around me and dragged me onward.



    Time seemed to pass in a crawl. The edges of everything felt fuzzy and indistinct. A week went by and the fuzziness became tangible and I drifted.

    "Taylor?"

    I looked up. I was in the basement now, when had I gotten into the basement? Around me were drawings, desperate scribbles really, a thousand designs, barely remembered dreams. My hands were still working, I screamed when I saw what I was working on. Bullets, ammunition of a thousand kinds. Numbers filled my head, angry hateful things. Ballistics, things I never wanted to think about again. I tried to calm myself, I was getting past this. It almost worked.

    My dad sat next to me and looked at everything I had made. There was a smirk on his face, I felt my shoulders loosen.

    "This is quite impressive, what do they all do?"

    His voice held no judgment. A gentle smile on his face, one both full of anticipation and curiosity. I looked closer, looked for that disapproval, the kind that would come from working on something that had almost taken me from him. There was a glimmer in his eyes, a sort of loving dark calm.

    The corners of my mouth lifted into a glimmer of a half smile, "That one shatters in flight, then it creates a distortion in the air causing sound vibrations that should nauseate. This one is non-lethal. Its payload is a kind of neurotoxin that causes temporary paralysis..."

    I went on and on. Towards the end a small kind of pride filled me. I was talking again. Words were leaving my mouth and he was listening. I was the center of his world for just this moment. A cloud around me felt like it was lifting.

    "I love you, Dad."

    "I love you too, Taylor."



    "You're telling me I was like that for a whole week?"

    Dad nodded as he munched on his cereal, "You'd do everything I'd tell you to do, but you were just lights-on-nobody's-home until I caught you coming home from the store. Literally seven overflowing bags of stuff, I had no idea what was going through your head, so I kind of just stayed out of your way. You didn't even notice me for the most part. I had heard that tinkers went into fugue states and so I just waited and fed you. Then this morning you actually responded to me. I was pretty relieved. I hadn't really believed that Tinkers had to make stuff. I guess you had pushed it off, I can understand why you wouldn't have wanted to make those sorts of things."

    I looked away then, down at my hands. Tears formed in my eyes, "I'm sorry."

    He grabbed my hands from the side and put them on the table, "Parahumans don't get to pick their powers Taylor. Don’t waste your time on more guilt. There's enough guilt between the two of us to fill the Birdcage. Let's spend our time on fixing this instead of finding more things to dwell on. I love you Taylor, I know I messed up, I really really know I did. Family... well your mother was better at this than me. I relied on her to cover my weakness'." He paused gathering himself. "That wasn't, isn't, fair to you. As much as I hate myself for saying this, our lives didn't end with Annette. We aren't doing her memory any favors like this. I hate what it took me to remember that, I'm sorry you were the one that had to bear it. Taylor, I fucked up."

    I stared at him, trying to shake my head of the weird information that was running around it without permission. Why did it matter that his eyebrow moved at point one meters per second along that particular vector. Why did I even know that?

    Dad looked at me carefully, "This has to go both ways, Taylor."

    I swallowed and held in a growl. "I just... It seems stupid in hindsight. It was a whim. A week long lapse in judgment and I still almost went through with it. What do you want me to say? I fucked up! I literally went out of my mind. It's like looking back at a completely different person. The moment you wrapped me in that hug it was like someone came through my head tearing down all these flimsy curtains I had put up. I don't know what to say. I can't tell you what I was feeling, because even now it doesn't make any sense."

    He hummed and took another bite, chewing slowly. His arm was moving at point six meters per second. I shook my head. I blinked, shooing the information away mentally but it wouldn't stop coming. I watched as his eyes danced with vectors. He finished with a swallow, "You were afraid."

    I choked at the simple delivery. "Yes. I'm still afraid."

    "Me too."

    I looked at him then. He started talking slowly again, "When I saw that gun, Taylor... please, never again." He breathed in wretchedly trying to control himself and then pushed again, "Taylor, you are the most important person in the world to me. That was true even when your mother was alive."

    I looked at him disbelievingly but he gripped my hand tightly in earnest.

    "It's hard to explain to someone what being a father feels like. That feeling you get when you first see your child. Then every day watching them grow. It just rumbles around through your life changing everything you ever thought and felt about how the world is supposed to work. It doesn't make people better but it does make them different. Taylor, you're my world. You think we were in your school the day after getting you out of that hellhole because I don't care? I care more than you'll probably ever appreciate, and that's fine, but I need you to trust me."

    He was pleading. I wasn't sure why. This was my fault. He should be angry. I was the one that acted like an idiot. I took a deep breath, "I just don't understand what I'm supposed to do. I just feel like..." I shook my head, "What's the point? I'm not saying that in the bad sense. I don't have any friends, my grades were shot to hell last year. I know we can fix those things but I had all these dreams and they just got worn down and down. Everything I tried to feel, got skewered by that... by that stupid bitch! That stupid betraying sniveling little piece of shit. Fuck her! I don't know why I had to be the one that had to be the target. What did I ever do to her?! She just decided one day that her sole purpose in life was to shit on me from above. She's like my own personal little Endbringer, she even comes in a group of fucking three!"

    Dad's eyes were wide but there was a grin on his face, "Personal Endbringer?"

    "Yeah. Sophia's Behemoth all tough and pushy, Madison's Leviathan all graceful and cunning and Emma's my own personal Simurgh tearing me down with all my secrets, and setting up plots to hurt me more later."

    "That's the first time you've really talked about it to me in more than passing you know."

    I blinked at him. "I'm sorry."

    "Did it help?"

    I paused and thought about it. "Yeah, I think it did."

    "Then keep talking. You don't have to tell me everything, or even anything, but I'm right here. I've got Kurt and Lacey setting up an extra desk in my office, you are gonna get to spend a lot of time with me from now on. Between homeschooling and home, you've got all the time in the world to talk to me. So do it, no more hiding, no more taking one for the team. Hebert's are tough alone, but we're even better together."

    I snorted at how cheesy that was, but the feeling he was trying to convey did settle in comfortably.

    He didn't let up though, "Taylor, just give me a chance to make this right."

    I felt the heaviness of the sentiment on me, "I could never forgive myself if I did anything less. I messed up Dad, I know you want to take responsibility, but I just shouldn't have done any of those things. I just... it just seems so stupid. And what's worse is I did the same thing to you that Emma did to me. I can't... I hate it, I hate myself right now. Maybe you think I deserve a better father, but all I can think to myself is that you deserve a better daughter."

    He squeezed my hand again then and spoke softly, "Better together then?"

    A surge of something I hadn't felt in a long time came through me then and I whispered back, "Better together."



    It had been the longest two months of my life. There had been no lies when he had said we’d be better together. If Dad wasn’t there, than Kurt was, and when they got bored Lacey was unleashed upon me. Getting used to three different sets of grading criteria was a bit irritating at times but it was obvious they didn’t mind helping me.

    Apparently keeping busy was a kind of therapy. Dad had kajoled, bribed, and snarked me into opening up bit by horrible bit. I wouldn’t have described it as fussing over me, but there was an impenetrable air to his efforts. This didn’t stop us from having disagreements but it had demolished the extra layer of misunderstanding.

    "No."

    "Taylor..."

    "I just... I can't. No."

    He almost sighed, I could see it in his shoulders, but he controlled himself. "Okay."

    I glanced at his face then trying to read his mind. "What?"

    "Okay."

    "But. But why?"

    He rolled his shoulder back and stood up straighter no longer leaning on the kitchen counter. "I asked you to trust me, I didn't ask you to trust everyone. I made you a promise, that we'd do this together. I can't make you join the Wards. I won't make a liar of myself, just because I'm concerned."

    Tears filled my eyes. "Thank you."

    "Don't get too bent out of shape, I still disagree."

    I let out a half laugh, huffing a bit. "Still. Thank you."

    He shrugged helplessly. "You know you smiled yesterday? When we were walking back to the car from my office. You turned into the breeze coming off the pier and you just smiled. There wasn't anything in your face that read like fifteen going on eighty. That's what I'm fighting for, I'm not pushing against all my natural idiocy just to trick you into living life my way."

    "Natural idiocy?"

    "Hebert stubborness is two parts charming and one part dumb as rocks."

    "That sounds like something Mom would say."

    He grinned ruefully. "Actually, it was your great grandma."

    I looked down. "It's been almost two months."

    He waved his hand making me look up and he bored his eyes into mine. "And soon it'll be two years, then two decades, and this will have just been a bad dream. One day it'll be you helping me out, just like how its supposed to be."

    "This is why Mom fell in love with you isn't it?"

    He smirked. "Yeah. Let's go with that."

    "Dad!"



    I felt the wadded up paper bounce off my head and I gave a glare to Kurt. "Really? I'm trying to work here."

    He just shrugged. "I said your name five times, you never even adjusted in response."

    I yawned then, standing and stretching out of the desk. "So what's up?"

    "Your dad left to set something up, he asked me to drive you to meet him."

    I perked up at that, Dad had a surprise for me? I mulled over how much had changed in the last two months for a moment, did he really change or did I just not see it before? Probably both. I had changed, I could feel it, and more than just powers, just this general sense of lifting, like life could never be as serious as it was before.

    I came back to the present and gave Kurt a smile. "Let’s go then!"

    "Sure you don't want to ride with Lacey instead?" His grin did nothing to hide the mischief in his eyes.

    I shuddered dramatically, getting a laugh out of him. "I don't have the energy for Lacey right now."

    "Neither do I after this morning."

    "Kurt, that's... I'm not going to say its gross cause I know you're married and stuff but I don't want to think about it. I'll hurt you."

    I did my best to put on a menacing glare.

    "I'd give that a seven out of ten on the Annette menacing glare scale."

    I frowned, but he just shoved me out the office door. "None of that. It's a compliment. Don't get all dour."

    "Dour?"

    "Just because I work on the docks doesn't mean I don't read Taylor. Prejudice much?"

    "Maybe I do want to ride with Lacey."

    He grinned, "Your funeral."

    "Okay fine, you're right. Let's just go."

    The drive to wherever was relaxing. Kurt had let up on messing with me and instead he gave me a run-down of what projects the Union was working on currently. Apparently Dad had landed a two year contract to do some sort of scrapping of metal in the Boat Graveyard. My history lesson had covered a grant program he hadn't heard about and he had chased it down like a rabid dog. The federal government had granted the city money to do some clean up work. All in all he had put more than a hundred men into jobs for two whole years. Dad was awesome.

    We pulled into a parking lot and Kurt snorted, "This Man is an Island Gun Range. Wow, that's a stupid name."

    I laughed before hearing, "Wait gun range?"

    My anger spiked and I could feel the heat in my chest rise before Kurt put a hand on my shoulder. "Not sure what the big deal is, anyway come on."

    I resolved myself to trust my Dad.

    "Okay."

    Kurt dragged me into the building and when we passed through the doors and I stopped in my tracks.

    "What's that smell?" I took a deep breath through my nose.

    Excitement rushed through me. I could feel an edge in my mind slip up and grab onto the smell.

    Kurt glanced at me, "Cordite. That's the smell of cordite. Well, other kinds of propellants too but that little bit of sweet in the air? That's cordite."

    "I really like that smell apparently," I said while taking another deep breath through my nose.

    Kurt just shrugged. "Well, you'll like it here then. Your Dad's through the back, go have fun. Danny used to do this with his Dad you know? I never thought he would with you but this is a big deal for him, so go easy on him."

    I thought that over, I knew there had been some bad blood between Dad and Grandpa. Dad didn't even want to share what his childhood was like, the fact that he was going to this, put a different note on it for me.

    I walked into the back and my Dad was standing there, clenching and unclenching his fists. The door clicked shut and he turned with a forced smile. I wasn't buying it. He knew I wasn't buying it but he spoke before that fact could set the tone. "Remember what I said about not getting to pick your powers?"

    I merely nodded in response.

    "There are a lot of things in life we don't get to choose. But my Dad taught me a lot, and all that knowledge is useful to you. So regardless of my personal frustrations, I'm going to teach you everything I know about this. There is no way I'm leaving you anything less than one hundred percent prepared."

    I closed my eyes and breathed, the cordite smell lingering around had a ridiculous calming effect on me. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but I welcomed it anyway. I forced myself to think about this positively. "So how often will we be doing this?"

    "Once a week for the foreseeable future, you need to qualify at the very least. There are permits I want you to have, so we can avoid any legal trouble."

    "So you want to do something with me every week, just you and me?"

    He knew what I was doing, but he welcomed it with a smile. "No school, no work, no chores. Just time with you, that's right."

    What followed next was a crash course on everything handgun. Two Glock 19's sat on the table, one disassembled, the other complete. He walked me through cleaning and maintenance. I had to stop myself a few times as designs flashed through my mind, but the feel of working the gun put me at peace, contrary to my expectations. Eventually we ended up on the range itself. Headphones on and ready, he demonstrated grip and aim, and then put me up.

    I settled myself, a strange thought occurred to me and my mouth moved before I considered the idea fully. "This is the actual first shot with a gun I'm going to take."

    He grimaced a bit but smiled. "Exactly. It’s a victory, not a reminder of an old defeat."

    He said it like a mantra, convincing himself as much as me.

    I lined up and fired. The recoil felt right, I re-lined up in an instant and fired again. Dad tapped me on the shoulder and I flicked the safety on and set the gun down.

    "Let's check the target before you waste too many bullets okay?"

    I grinned, taking in the scent of the room, trying not to freak out about how good it smelled. The droning sound of the belt pulling the target close kept me occupied until the target was close.

    Dad muttered, "Unbelievable."

    I looked up, two holes center mass, partially overlapping.

    "Can you do that again?"

    I thought for a second and nodded.

    "Show me."

    So I did, this time taking four shots placing them around the other two like they were a compass on a map.

    He whistled when the target came back. "It's not just tinkering is it?"

    And suddenly all the velocities I had been seeing clicked into place. The weird knowledge about ballistic properties that had permeated everything now made a terrible sort of sense and with a whim I pushed the target back out.

    I aimed at a metal plate on the ground about five meters out and fired without preamble, the clang of the metal echoing around the otherwise empty range. When Dad pulled it back for review, a hole right between the eyes of the target greeted us.

    "Well. I'm a whole lot less worried about your safety now."

    The sardonic tone of his comment settled on me and I laughed.

    "Let's call it a day, I need to think about the insanity I just witnessed."

    I nodded in agreement. "Do we need to return these?" I gestured at the guns.

    He shook his head. "No Taylor, they're yours."

    I blanched, sucking in my breath, "I'm not comfortable with that."

    "And if you were, I'd be concerned, but I trust you. I'm not worried. You have to have a way to test your work anyway."

    He turned his eyes onto mine and the sincerity of that trust pushed on me. Dad really had a presence to him when he wanted. I nodded taking the compliment for what it was rather than second guessing it.

    "I'll show you how to work the gun safe when we get home."

    I nodded grabbing him into a hug before I could lose control. The smell of cordite and propellants making my head swim with happiness.

    --

    A/N: New chapter 1 here. Only takes us about a quarter of the way through the timeline of the old chapter 1, but with a lot more development of the events. I hope you enjoy!

    Three new chapters are riding the coat-tails here to get us caught up.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 2
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    I had dreams of gunsmoke. I woke with the scent of propellants filling my head and the feeling of recoil in my hands. It was Saturday, two months and thirteen days since my momentary lapse of good sense. I glanced at the clock. Eleven thirty, Dad would be home sometime before three. I didn't know exactly when.

    I dragged myself through the motions. My mind drifted over the events at the gun range. I had an itch to return there. The sudden meaning of all the velocities finally making sense had put me at peace. I turned on the shower and watched in a trance as all the data from each water droplet filled my head, but it was even more fine then that. The little disagreements in the water that led to them splitting or joining while they fell were obvious to me. All that data was clear now. I wasn't trying to shoo it out of my head anymore and I felt a sliver of confidence work its way down from my head to my toes.

    The water turned cold and I stepped out. I stared at the mirror. The mirror was odd. I blinked at my reflection. The self-loathing just wouldn't come when beckoned. I couldn't wrap my head around those ideas I had before. An ugly girl didn't stare back at me. I blinked. I willed it to come, those thoughts I had every day. Where were they?

    I blinked again and stared at my body. I raised an eyebrow at the so called paunch on my stomach. It wasn't a paunch though, it was just a feature on a body that wasn't fit but also wasn't gross, ugly, or wrong. It just was. Its many velocities as I moved were simply facts of the universe, everything moved.

    I pushed with my head willing those dark thoughts to come. The trajectories were all wrong. The objectivity was cloying and humid in my mind. This sense of how everything moved had been growing, and now it seemed dominant. Everything had a destination and those ends were equal.

    My lips weren't too big. My face was shaped normally. I was thin but gawky was a word that wouldn't surface. Was I pretty? Did it matter? I looked again, trying to piece around what was going on in my head. It was too unfamiliar, too stretched, it just wouldn't take shape. I wasn't supermodel pretty but that was okay.

    I looked down at my legs and I suddenly saw something. My body was tall in the right way. It was supposed to be this way. I didn't look like a boy, I looked like a girl. I pushed again, in a sort of ragged confused way. I was angry? Angry at not hating myself? I poked my face like some sort of idiot magician casting a spell. No, nothing changed.

    This was my body and I knew exactly what it could do. I knew indescribably what it could do. I knew inherently what I was capable of, what all the angles and trajectories were! I wasn't curvy but that wasn't a universal feature of good looking girls anyway.

    I stared longer. I glanced down at my clothes. They covered, concealed, and hid. They didn't show my capability at all. They made anything I used, used? Yes, used to consider a weakness worse. They didn't accomplish anything. The thought repelled me? A gun accomplished something. In the hands of most it was something final but they solved things. They created leverage, new trajectories, new ends. In my hands guns were the ultimate way to solve problems. I could make bullets that probably couldn't do everything but it felt like it was close.

    These clothes wouldn't do. They stunk of shame. They stunk of that feeling of hot metal on my temple, that sickly betrayal. They betrayed me. I hated it. It was familiar though, a kind of shroud of invisibility that didn't actually make me invisible. It never stopped them. Why did I punish myself for them? I could do things. I could do anything. I could kill them all and no one would ever find out. I could... I stopped.

    I really didn't want to kill anyone but I also didn't want to hide. I didn't want to hide anymore. I wanted to show everyone I was capable, that no matter how close it got, that I was unbroken. That my body, a part of me, was part of this world and that was a good thing. And it was. It was right that I was alive. It was right that I was alive!

    I picked up the clothes, and held them at arm's length like they held a disease. I walked through the house to my room and looked at my closet and I was angry. Why was I so angry? I didn't really care why. I screamed at my closet. I pulled down the notebook of betrayal like the pathetic dirty thing it was and I screamed at it too. I roared at it cowing all its dirty secrets in my mind and like spiders they scattered.

    My Dad had said Annette, Mom, was beautiful. That I looked like her and the best parts of him. All those years of shame over my body was like a great betrayal of his love and I hated it. I hated everything it said about me. I hated that they had gotten me to believe them.

    I ripped the clothes out of my closet. I broke the closet rod. I thought of all the bullets that could light them on fire. It wasn't catharsis. It was everything. I threw the broken rod at the wall and the dent wasn't satisfying but it was right. I sat on the ground then, attempting to light my shitty wardrobe on fire with dirty looks. Why did everything I own have to remind me of my shame?

    I could hear his footsteps now. Dad was home early. I had been screaming. Maybe the neighbors called? He gently pushed the door open and blinked when he saw I was naked. He turned away and grabbed a blanket on the bed throwing it over me, covering me up. There was concern in his posture but also amusement? Why wasn't I embarrassed? Why would I be embarrassed? Oh right, he got angry too. I had heard him sometimes in the basement before, working on something in the house screaming at it. He vented at inanimate things. He had said metal was a good listener in that sort of off color amused voice he used.

    I paused and looked at him. There was something in his eyes, a million little unsaid things. He sat next to me and pulled me into a side hug. "I’m assuming you’ll want to replace these?"
    His tone was dry. I choked back a laugh. My throat hurt from the screaming. I loved him so much why did I ever think he wouldn't understand?

    "Yes." I pleaded. It was pathetic. It was finally cathartic. It wasn't everything but it was a piece. It was a piece I didn't think could be taken from me again.



    The hand slammed down on my desk and I jumped.

    "TAYLOR!"

    "Damnit Lacey. Why?"

    She leaned forward and poked me in the nose with her other hand.

    "When were you gonna tell Kurt and I you were a cape?"

    I quickly glanced at Dad who was looking particularly mulish.

    "Lacey. Please step away from my daughter."

    She grinned at me and swung around. "But Danny! She's been scribbling on the margins of all her assignments. You asked me to grade them. My engineering degree isn't a total wash you know! Just because Brockton's a shit hole doesn't mean I lost my mind. That's some serious work she's been putting on there. It's a good thing you haven't had anyone else look at it."

    Dad put his head in his hands and groaned a bit. "Tinkers. Why'd she have to be a tinker?"

    Lacey spun and pointed at me. "I knew it! You little minx! You've been holding out on your Aunt Lacey. You should be ashamed! The little design on your history homework? Patent-able! The adjustments to the casing would be worth a fair bit. It's about the only part I could decipher honestly, the rest was just tinker nonsense, but that little bit? It’s something. It's a whole lot of something!"

    She squealed a tiny bit and I rolled my eyes. How did she have this kind of energy? She was older than Dad even.

    I spoke, "How long have you known?"

    "I had a fair guess when Danny took off and started homeschooling you. I don't know what happened but you've been different. Your body language is all wrong since then, especially the last few days. Timid girl gone, now its all budding woman showing up at the docks every day."

    I blushed then. God damn it Lacey.

    Dad growled good-naturedly. "God damn it Lacey, please control yourself."

    She clucked her tongue at him. "Come along Taylor you and I need to talk."

    I glanced over at Dad who simply rolled his eyes and waved his hand. "No attempting to turn my daughter into a copy of you. I wouldn't survive a week."

    "Thirty percent?"

    He looked at her flatly. "Thirty percent what?"

    "I promise to keep any copying to a value around thirty percent."

    Dad sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Teach her that negotiation trick at least. I can't exactly teach her the doe eyed lady. I’m not doe eyed or a lady."

    Lacey clapped her hands. "You’re the best Danny."

    Kurt's voice from the outer office shouted out, "I thought I was the best!"

    "Shut up Kurt. This is no time for your ego!"

    "I'll show you ego!"

    "Not till after work. There's young eyes here!"

    I sighed at the dramatics, this was why her office was on the other side of the warehouse. She dragged me onward.



    Lacey worked her magic on the stool across from me. I hadn't been to Kurt and Lacey's home in a while. She had the makeup out and had apparently decided to educate me on everything she owned and she owned a lot. Never let it be said vanity and intelligence were mutually exclusive traits.

    "So have you gone out and done any hero'ing?"

    "No. Honestly it took me a while to even want to use my abilities."

    She raised an eyebrow. "Why is that?"

    I pulled back a bit but she grabbed my hand and pulled me forward.

    "Stop that. I know you were closer to Zoe than you were to me but I loved your mother too. I'm not out to get you Taylor."

    "Right. I forget sometimes."

    Her expression shifted to a knowing one. "You were being bullied then? I was too when I was your age. Smart girl, bit ditzy, and you know I can't keep my mouth shut. I didn't really change but eventually you leave that stuff behind."

    I really wanted to trust again. "I tried to commit suicide."

    She paused and put her hand on my cheek catching a tear before it ruined the makeup. "I'm glad you didn't succeed."

    The lack of judgment in her voice was heavenly. I felt my shoulders loosen. "Me too. I don't know what was going on in my head then. It feels like a thousand years ago."

    "Kurt got like that after the riots. When the jobs dried up in a night. He never tried but I know he planned it. Danny caught wind and made Kurt so busy with odd jobs he was working sixteen hour days for a month. Danny never let him out of his sight. Eventually Kurt admitted it and got help."

    I nodded. "I wouldn't ever believe it now."

    "No, you wouldn't. It gets better. It really does." The certainty and earnestness was so unlike the usual Lacey that I couldn't help but believe her.

    "I'm not just going to teach you makeup. I've spent a lot of time in a male dominated career field. I've learned a few things. Not all of them are happy things or politically correct things but they're useful and since Kurt and I are well past having our own kids you'll just have to stand in. I won't take no for an answer on this. It is after all the very least I can do for Annette."

    I smiled sadly. "I wouldn't tell you no anyway."

    She grinned. "So let me tell you about Lacey's Ten Rules."

    I had to admit, they were good rules.



    The waiter put the food down in front of us and I geared myself up.

    "I want to go out."

    "I'm assuming you mean something other than eating, since we are technically already out."

    Dad's snark was really starting to reach limits I wasn't sure I could tolerate. On the other hand I had started to sync up with it. I wasn't the chatterbox I was before but the need to be disrespectful to the tone of the moment was something that had started to needle its way into everything I did. I blamed Lacey, I guess. Her ten rules were actually pretty useful. Spending all that time on the dock's was starting to mellow out the turbulent edges of the last three years. I shook my head from my thoughts and got back on topic.

    "I mean... I want to do something with my abilities."

    "And you still don't want to join the Wards?"

    I shook my head. "Not yet. Maybe, but not yet."

    He mulled it over. "I'm not comfortable with this, but I'm not saying no. Yet."

    I could work with that!

    "Why do you want to go out though?"

    The question felt like it came out of nowhere and it knocked me over emotionally while I tried to wrap my head around it.

    "I want to be like you."

    "I'm gonna need more than that," he said, though I could see the happiness in his eyes.

    I shook my head and gave him the fiercest eyes I could muster. "You go to work everyday and you work your ass off to scrounge as much honest work as you can out of this city. I know what Kurt says when you aren't in hearing distance. You've done more for this city than the last three mayors combined. Maybe that's just Kurt's union goggles talking but those men and women that come into your office every day, they respect the hell out of you Dad. Even Lacey doesn't say an unkind thing about you and you know how she is. You've kept them out of the gangs, you've given them meaningful work, you've kept together something in this city that matters, and it isn't tainted by the petty little warlords. I can't do what you do but I can go out there and stand up for those same people. I have this wonderful ability that I'm finally starting to accept and I'll be damned if I'm not going to use it to make the Bay a little better."

    He blushed. Wow! He blushed!

    "I think you could do my job just fine, Taylor."

    "Well I'm not taking over until you keel over from old age so I'll have to find something else to do instead in the meantime."

    "You are remarkably good at shooting things."

    The memory and the smells lingering in my dreams drifted up.

    I nodded at him imperiously. "I am the queen of guns. The maker of bullets. When my subjects ask me, 'What bullets do you rule over my queen?' I spare them not a glance but I answer, 'All of them.'"

    He laughed. "You've been saving that one."

    I glowered at him dramatically before smiling. "Maybe? Yes, I totally came up with that last week, but I hadn't had a good chance to use it. Lacey's been encouraging some strange behaviors. I think she was a failed and bad stand up comedian in another life."

    "So what's your name going to be?"

    I blanched. "I hadn't even thought of that. The only thing I'd really thought is that I'd want it to invoke something silly, nerdy, or maybe even girly. I want to point attention away from the guns or maybe make light of them."

    He rubbed his hands together then smiling. "You know those miniatures I have?"

    I nodded.

    "Let me tell you about the hobby I can’t afford called Warhammer 40k."



    I stood in front of him tugging at the ends of the skirt adjusting it a bit. He walked around me examining the work. Black leggings. Knee pads with metal covering. I had opted out of heavy boots as they severely impacted my ability to move reflexively. The red skirt was short but the leggings made it more than modest enough and it's not like I wanted bare legs if I was going to fight someone. Dark blue t-shirt underneath a heavy but short red jacket that matched the skirt, concealing the two shoulder holsters. The Glock 19's rested comfortably there, the two pieces of metal that made my magic come to life. To top it off I had opted to go for a hat, taking inspiration from Indiana Jones. Overall I thought it looked sufficiently different to stand out as a hero but also relatively practical. After all open carry wasn't exactly the best way to make good first impressions.

    "It looks... good. Actually Taylor it looks great."

    I could see the micro-expressions in his face now, all the little velocities and tics. If I focused I could even tell when he was going to move by the little changes that would flutter from his head to his feet. All eyes were on me. I liked it. I shuddered internally. It felt so good to be seen.

    "I think you've missed something important though."

    He was smiling.

    "Oh?"

    "A mask."

    I laughed and in a faux serious tone I said, "Actually, I've accounted for that eventuality."

    "Well let's see it then."

    I winked, and my face suddenly looked much more like that one girl from the Aleph movies with the giant robots or maybe it was the one with the spy? I couldn't remember. All I had remembered was she was very pretty and pretty faces were convenient.

    "Neat. I thought you could only make bullets?"

    I grinned with pride. "It's amazing what a little creativity will get you. I took the payloads out of two of my illusion rounds and hooked them here."

    I pointed at my eyebrows, the silver of the holodots sitting glued there. He nodded when he saw them.

    "Huh. That's pretty clever."

    I couldn't stop myself from preening at his words, well really I didn't want to. I twisted my shoulders and smiled. I was channeling Lacey pretty hard I had to admit. Not that, that was a bad thing. Her advice was sometimes strange but always had good intentions. She hadn’t really been wrong yet either.

    "You've got knee pads so I don't have to smack you upside the head too much. The jacket fits well with the theme and lets you conceal your weapons. Anything else going on?"

    "The holodots just need a signal to start, they'll stay on for upwards of fifty two hours. I'm still working on making the face movements match mine perfectly, but they are in the good enough range I think. Lots of little improvements I can do. I think I'll eventually add a HUD to manage which kind of ammo I have loaded. For now I mostly just have a stockpile of taser and tranquilizer rounds, those seemed like the most generically useful."

    "Alright, it seems like you've thought this through well enough. You stick to the safe parts of town, put your face out there, make a name doing low key things,” he emphasized ‘low key’ heavily, “You bug out the moment you see a cape from a gang or I'll lock you down so hard you'll be thirty before you leave your room again."

    I nodded. "No cape fights, no messing with the gangs on purpose, and a strict adherence to rule nine, nothing looks worse than dying or getting injured."

    He glared at me for a second before smiling, "Good. Now go shoot someone for me."

    I goggled at him for a second before laughing. "Well, I wouldn't want you to think I'm getting into another rebellious phase."

    Something flashed in his eyes but he schooled himself, not that it didn't tell me everything I wasn't already feeling anyway. That was a stupid thing to say.

    "I'm just fine with this, so long as you play it safe. If this makes you happy." He shrugged in his defeated sort of way.

    I crushed him in a hug. "Dad, you make me happy. Also, I took your advice. I've got a recorder built into the hat as well. So we can go over my choices each night. We stay talking, no secrets, no taking one for the team. I remember what we've been talking about. This isn't me forgetting the last three and a half months, its me remembering them."

    His face was grim and happy at the same time. I wasn't sure how he managed the expression, but I liked it.

    "Good, now go before I change my mind."

    I went.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 3
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    It was cold. Terribly cold. But the jacket did its job well enough and I wasn't at risk of getting groggy. Apparently my ability to understand trajectories did a solid job of letting me climb gracefully, and the roof I was on had a good view for a couple of blocks.

    A design danced through my mind while I considered how much time it took to climb up here. I could have built a grapple gun.

    I spent the next couple of hours wandering about, trying to find something to do. Who knew crime fighting was so boring?

    I was about to call it a night when a shadow moved across the rooftop in front of me, and I squinted. Shadow Stalker? Where was the other Ward? I looked around and didn't see them, and my curiosity was piqued. I began to follow her. At the very least maybe I could get some tips?

    Parkour was a natural extension of my power. I knew exactly how far I could leap, how to jump, how to land safely. It was exhilarating. I moved pretty fast as a result and was able to slowly gain ground on the girl. Which was surprising in its own right, Shadow Stalker had actual years of experience on me. She probably wasn't in a hurry.

    Her crossbows came out in a flash and she descended into an alley below her. I stuffed my momentary feeling of jealousy on how fast she had found something to do.

    I caught up quickly and looked down to see a sight I had not been expecting. Two guys, obviously some sort of gang member were pinned to a wall through their shoulders by arrows. What the hell?

    This wasn't okay. I drew my firearm and scrambled down the fire escape.

    "Stand down, Shadow Stalker. You are way out of line."

    The girl whirled on me. "Who the hell are you?"

    I pushed the nervousness back and grinned. “Dakka at your service,” I said, curtsying low. The move made her twitch in irritation, so it wasn't a total waste. Keep her off balance. Show her someone who doesn't need to be taken seriously. Maybe it would end without violence and I could get help for these men. Her whole body was taught and coiled though. She radiated aggression.

    "Do you mind telling me why you are trying to kill two men in an alley?"

    The girl sized me up then before speaking, "Are you really trying to preach about lethality when you’re carrying a gun?"

    I shrugged. It was a good point. She didn't know me. On the other hand, couldn't this get her in a lot of trouble? It probably could. Why was she doing this?

    "I'm a tinker. Nothing I've got on me is anything close to lethal. That's a line I just won't cross for petty thugs or really almost anyone."

    Shadow Stalker shifted then. "You realize you are threatening a Ward."

    So that was how it was going to be? I blinked. I didn't really believe her, there was no way anything going on right now was sanctioned anyway. She was still trying to pick a fight though. Was that what she wanted? This could get really out of hand really fast, I literally couldn't back down now. Shit! Moral high ground, moral high ground, Lacey's fourth rule!

    "One engaged in illegal activities. I'm not threatening. I'm saying that your behavior is unacceptable and I’m going to report it.”

    I tried to make it sound like anything but a threat but I knew better. I wasn't entirely sure why I felt compelled to say it in that stupid imperious tone either. Something about the girl rubbed me the wrong way. Something familiar and horrible and I couldn't help but want to step on it and crush it.

    Something changed in Shadow Stalker's eyes and the crossbow came up faster than I would have expected but the velocity changes in the pre-firing of her muscles made me more than ready. I dove out of the way as the bolt passed through where I was standing. That wasn't a tranquilizer dart. She had aimed to kill me!

    I rolled and brought my gun to bear in the same motion, aiming the taser rounds at Shadow Stalker. Her movement to dodge was obvious and I corrected my aim with barely a twitch. I fired and to my surprise the girl dropped like a stone.

    I took a moment to process what just happened. That was anticlimactic. I drew my other gun and walked up to her, firing a tranquilizer round into her to keep her down while I pulled out my phone.

    A male voice greeted me, "Protectorate speaking. What is the nature of the emergency?"

    "Hi, um... yes... this is Dakka. I’m a new hero and I've subdued Shadow Stalker on the corner of Fifth and James. I have two injured men here who were shot by crossbow bolts. One of them looks rather pale and I have limited first aid experience. Could you send someone down?"

    "You've subdued Shadow Stalker?" the voice on the line was full of disbelief. I grabbed a hold of myself. Don't get angry, sounding angry discredits you, doubly so if you're a woman, sixth rule. Eighth rule, everything can be cute or funny; disarm, disarm, disarm.

    "She shot two men with arrows, the pointy tip kind, I'm pretty sure that's against the law. Then when I called her on it she shot at me with a bolt that would have less than desirable effects on my health."

    There was a strangled grumble on the other end of the line, before the voice came back sounding put out. "We'll send someone out. ETA three minutes. Do not leave the scene. Would you like someone to step you through the first aid process?"

    "Yes please! It's the only reason I'm here. I don't want anyone hurt."

    The voice on the line changed to a feminine voice. "Alright Dakka, first step, describe the injuries and breathing of the victims. We'll decide what to do after we've assessed which one needs more immediate help. Can you do that for me?"

    Her voice was calm and focused and I let out the breath I was holding in.

    "Yes, I can do that."



    I startled at the sound of a motorcycle approaching. It had been four minutes. The sound of ambulance sirens was further away, but with the coaching I had managed to compress the second thug's wound and he was looking slightly less pale. The first one was groaning in pain but otherwise was fine. The arrow had only gone through a muscle in his shoulder.

    I noticed Miss Militia approaching. Under different circumstances I would have probably lost my mind to the fangirling. As it was I was just happy she was here. She hadn't been my absolute favorite hero before but my newfound focus on guns had put her on my radar a lot more over the last couple of months. Everything I had learned had told me she was awesome but more importantly trustworthy.

    The older woman's eyes took in the scene around her and worry lines appeared on her forehead as well as on her upper cheeks above her bandana. She turned to me then approaching softly. She pulled out her first aid kit helping me bind the second thug’s wound quietly. I could finally stop compressing the wound and I shook my hands out in relief.

    "No mask?"

    I shook my head. "This isn't what my face looks like."

    "Changer?" Her voice was curious, gentle, but still authoritative. Her body language was inviting yet prepared all the same. She was taking the situation in, reserving judgment for later. I could use that. I really didn't want to get in trouble. Honesty was probably the best policy at this point.

    "No, tinkertech. Though I guess technically rating wise it would give me a stranger rating?" I asked out of genuine curiosity. I had read a few PHO discussions about ratings but most of it seemed really fiddly and hard to parse.

    Miss Militia nodded and glanced at Shadow Stalker's body on the ground. I took a guess, "She's fine--well, she's not injured much. I tased her and then used a tranquilizer. It lasts for four hours but it's completely safe."

    She nodded again and the relief was palpable. "Can we go over what happened?"

    "Yes, that's fine. I made some mistakes tonight. I should have just called it in. Instead of confronting her. This was my first night out. I'm a bit clueless but I don't think I did anything wrong at least not from a law standpoint. I have a recording of the event as well." My mouth moved in a nervous ramble.

    "You aren't under arrest, Dakka. I can't promise you won't be, but if everything checks out? You didn't do anything wrong. Would you mind coming to the Protectorate HQ to go over the event? Armsmaster can verify the recording and that should help. If you are telling the truth."

    The threat was implied in that but there wasn't force behind it. I was telling the truth and Miss Militia seemed trustworthy. The other part of me, the fangirl, was yelling as well. Do I want to go to the rig? Dear god, yes I do! I think I did a good job of controlling my nervous excitement. "Sure, no problem. I need to call my Dad and let him know though, I was supposed to be heading home already."

    Miss Militia took a moment to look me over. I could tell the way her eyes went over me, trying to get a sense of me, while I held a short conversation with my dad on the phone.

    "Dad, it's me. I'm fine. Look I had a run in with some thugs tonight. Miss Militia asked me to come in and talk her through what happened. I'll be home as soon as possible."

    "Alright, do you need me to come in?"

    I looked at Miss Militia and asked, "Should my Dad come in?"

    She thought it over looking around the area again, as if reconsidering her impressions but coming to the same conclusions. "No, I don't think so. If we need him to, we can call him in later."

    "Miss Militia says it won't be necessary. Love you."

    "Love you too sweetheart. Stay safe."

    I hung up, and realized I had failed to disclose a rather important detail.

    "I'm armed by the way. Is that a problem?" I said without preamble.

    "Depends on what you mean. I'm armed as well. It kind of comes with the territory with Parahumans."

    "I'm an ammunition tinker. I have two handguns concealed in my coat. Neither is loaded with lethal shots, but I figured you should know."

    Her body language changed then, before I was a girl, now I was something else? All I could really gather was that she was intense and focused.

    "Thank you. It shouldn't be an issue. You've been cooperative so far."

    I believed her. I imagine if I had been resistant at all the conversation would have gone a lot differently. She was obviously concerned for Shadow Stalker, which made sense. She was in charge of the local Ward program, but I was just some upstart who could have been anyone. I felt calm though. I had my ducks in a row.

    The ambulance and a PRT van finally arrived and gathered the thugs up. Miss Militia gathered Shadow Stalker and put her in the PRT van and gestured for me to join before she seemed to change her mind and said, "You want to ride along with me?"

    I couldn't control my smile this time and nodded my head. I ran up and sat on the back of the bike and wrapped my arms around her. I let out a whoop as we took off.
     
  5. Threadmarks: Chapter 4
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)


    The recording played and Miss Militia and Armsmaster watched intently. Miss Militia moved as she watched, but Armsmaster's body language was harder to gauge, his armor concealing a lot of it. I looked at him more closely noticing how I could work around the armor by looking at the changes at the joints; obvious cascades of movement could be backtracked up.

    When the scene with the men pinned to the wall came up, Miss Militia sighed. It sounded defeated and angry and I could actually hear Armsmaster's teeth grinding. The fight was over even quicker in the recording than it had felt in real life. Just a blink and bam. I had to admit it looked pretty bad when I walked up and shot her again while she was helpless on the ground. Even if the rounds were perfectly safe they still looked and sounded like guns with all the lethal implications and movie cliches that came along with it.

    Armsmaster was glib when the recording finished. "May I borrow your hat so I can verify the recordings authenticity?"

    I nodded and handed it to him. I was thankful that I had decided to straighten my hair tonight; it made the hat hair much less obvious. I pushed the random attack of vanity out of my head. He marched out of the room his footsteps heavy and angry.

    Miss Militia didn't waste a moment. "Dakka, you did the right thing."

    I breathed a sigh of relief, not even bothering to try to hide the weight falling off of me.

    "I could have handled it better."

    She nodded, "You're right. You could have handled it a lot better. I know what it's like to be nervous and worried though. This was hardly an ideal first night out. This is where I'd usually make a Wards pitch. On the other hand, you apparently caught one of my Wards making a fool of me and my program."

    She paused but I didn't interrupt. "What Shadow Stalker was doing is not acceptable. I feel you deserve the honesty here. Shadow Stalker really fucked up."

    I blinked at the cursing. This wasn't the Miss Militia you read about in the papers or saw on TV, that's for sure.

    "She was already in a bad position with me as her team leader and by tomorrow she won't be in my Wards. I don't tolerate this kind of behavior. It's not okay. I'm sorry for what she did. I am actually finding myself in disbelief."

    She really did look out of her element. I decided to extend an olive branch. "I don't hold it against you ma'am."

    She nodded and I watched the tension leak away from her. "Thank you.”

    She paused and looked like she was considering something before she spoke again, “I was part of the first Wards team. I care about the Wards as a program a great deal. My wards… they’re good kids. I don't want you getting the wrong idea about them as a group, they don’t deserve to share Shadow Stalker’s reputation.”

    She paused again clearly frustrated. “I don’t want you to make a mistake and end up being punished because you had the wrong idea about what the Wards are about. Other than Shadow Stalker they are all basically model students,” she paused with a warm smile fluttering behind her bandanna, “Even allowing for Clockblocker's eccentricities."

    I snorted. That was definitely a diplomatic way of referring to his reputation. She was telling the truth though, or at least as well as I could guess. My ability to read body language was getting better by the day, the little velocities I could see had started to teach me patterns. I still had a lot to learn, and body language wasn’t always clear, but there wasn't anything evasive about Miss Militia's account. She looked like she was about to continue but Armsmaster returned then.

    He was barely in the door before he started speaking, "It’s real. I have to commend you on the camera as well, its a simple solution, but simple is sometimes best."

    I took the hat back from him and put it back on, feeling a little bit of relief to be fully costumed again.

    Miss Militia nodded, pulling out her phone, before Armsmasters gauntlet landed on her shoulder. "Should she be in here for this?"

    Miss Militia spoke, "Closure is important and I really don't want to send the wrong kinds of signals about what we value as an organization to an indepent hero."

    The man let loose a single nod of understanding. Miss Militia seemed to take a lot of meaning from it though and started dialing. "This is Miss Militia. M/S Sierra Tango Delta Two One Three. Please retrieve the cuffs from the armory rated for Shadow Stalker's breaker state and cuff her. Do not let her leave the building and when she wakes read her her rights. Then put her in the cells. Thank you."

    She hung up then and was quiet for a moment, a moment that Armsmaster decided was too long.

    "Do you mind discussing your powers with us?"

    I shook my head. "No that's fine. What do you want to know?"

    Miss Militia took the lead saying, "Just tell us what you think of them and we'll go from there."

    I nodded. "Like I said earlier I'm an ammunition tinker. Though I don't think it's just that. I was inspired during the night tonight to build a grappling gun, so there's more to it than that. For the most part all the things I've designed are 9x19mm rounds of various kinds. Caliber does not seem to matter though larger caliber does allow me to produce more varied effects. I've been rather hampered by limited resources so I've focused on..."

    Miss Militia put her hand on mine and I could see her smiling through her mask. "Don't get washed away in the technical details, we'll be here all night."

    Armsmaster spoke, “I wouldn’t mind a few more technical details.”

    Miss Militia gave me an amused look and gestured for me to continue.

    "Right. Sorry. I also have, its really hard to describe. I know the velocity and its vector of everything I can see, as well as a distinct awareness of my own body in the same manner."

    Armsmaster jumped in saying, "Is this large scale or minute?"

    "Um... yes? Like for instance when Miss Militia moves her head, I see the velocity for her head but also for every individual strand of hair, including the various different velocities along each strand. I don't have any trouble at all retaining the individual pieces of data either, it’s just all there. Um... I also can immediately understand the ballistic properties of anything I see as well, though I do have to think about that a bit more or at least focus on it. I can also do math in my head, as long as it's about velocities or ballistics in some way... like I made a trick shot at the gun range deliberately ricocheting a bullet off the ground and into an exact spot on the target. Does that make sense?"

    He nodded. "What about micro-expressions?"

    "Yes. Maybe... here."

    I took off my jacket and my holsters placing them on the conference room table. I slid the gun onto the desk towards him and cleared the chambered round. He grabbed it and looked at it with extreme curiosity.

    "You're left eye dominant."

    He nodded and gave me a very small grin. "That's quite good."

    "If you can pick up subtleties like that it easily gives you a social thinker rating," Miss Militia interjected.

    I thought it over realizing it was true and then turned my head towards Armsmaster again really examining him. "You strained your left leg yesterday?"

    He nodded. "Training with Dauntless. Go on. Don't hold back." He meant that.

    "Um... can you walk to the end of the table and back?"

    He complied and I watched, all of the movements telling a story. "You haven't been getting much sleep have you?"

    "No. I tend not to."

    I nodded.

    "It shows. There's a small strain in your lower spine that is making you rigid. Cortisol levels change the way your muscles fire. I've seen it in my Dad after a long day at work, especially late nights, the pattern is obvious. You hold your shoulders too tightly. Your head is rigid when you move. There is tension in your upper arms. I've seen the pattern in my Dad's coworkers. You haven't been touched in a friendly way in a long time. Its common in single men twenty five and up. I see it everywhere now. I think it has something to do with how Oxytocin creates additional serotonin, which causes muscles to be more relaxed. I don’t really know though, it's just something I read and..."

    I stopped, noticing Armsmaster was staring at me. I could tell his face was blank even through the helmet.

    "Sorry. I didn't meant to imply anything."

    His body was rigid as he spoke, "I told you to go on. Its fine."

    "Right. Anyway. Miss Militia has tension in her jaw. I would guess its from the long years of bandanna wearing but also the extra effort she puts into being demonstrative with her eyes and forehead, since her mouth can't convey emotions well behind her mask."

    She nodded. I noticed Armsmaster's relief that the attention was diverted away from him.

    "She's slightly right leaning, almost certainly because that's her dominant side and she carries a rifle almost every day. It's not a worry though, most people have a little lean in them, yours isn't too far out of the ordinary. Slightly more but not unhealthily so. Um... is that enough?"

    Miss Militia laughed a bit. "Yes that's enough, thank you. Do we have anything else for her?"

    Armsmaster shook his head before changing his mind saying, "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like a few of your bullets so I can study them."

    I grinned. Armsmaster was interested in my stuff! I ejected the tranquilizer round and handed it over. "First one I handed you creates an electric shock on contact, it produces a similar effect as a taser, it’s nonlethal except in the usual circumstances. The tranquilizer round is the other one, delivery mechanism is... Well it forces the liquid to vibrate in a way that passes through the skin easily. Settling time for the effect is three to four seconds on non-brutes. That’s why I carry the two types of rounds, one to immediately disable, the other to keep them down. The tranquilizer should be safe in the vast majority of circumstances. You'd have to have some really off the wall allergies for it be harmful. I don't know how it interacts with various Breaker states."

    He nodded and I noticed a very small amount of excitement tinging his voice, "Good. Is the tranquilizer rated for Brutes?"

    "No, if I’m catching your meaning correctly. I deemed that too big of a risk and I don't have the resources to make them anyway at the moment. Extra strength tranquilizers can kill ordinary people too easily, and I'm not looking for cape fights, regardless of how that might look after tonight."

    Miss Militia tried to stop him but he spoke anyway, "The Wards program would be able to provide you those resources."

    Miss Militia gave me an apologetic look and I decided to ignore how tone deaf the invitation was. "I'll consider it. I actually have considered it. I'm not comfortable with the idea. Yet. But I'm warming up to it."

    That seemed to mollify him.

    Miss Militia spoke, "We don't have anything else. Well I did want to say that I'd be very interested in knowing if you'd be willing to make some of your work available to me, regardless of your Wards status. I would of course be willing to pay."

    I couldn't help but smile. "It'd really help you out?"

    She nodded. "I'll escort you out now if you want."

    A yawn overwhelmed me. "Yeah, I need to get home now. Dad's probably worried."

    "I'll give you a ride."

    "Awesome."



    The parking area in the rig was an eclectic arrangement of PRT vans, personal vehicles, and tinker tech devices. I had been so distracted on the way in that I hadn’t even looked around. Now though, I took in the sights. Armsmasters bike sat just to the right of Miss MIlitia’s and I took a moment to admire it.

    Miss Militia noticed my interest and spoke, “I’ll admit, I’m jealous of it myself.”

    I smiled at her. “It is pretty impressive. I was mostly distracted by the mechanism on the front. I’m wondering how he gets a dart launcher to be useful at highway speeds. I guess if its a straight shot at tires in front of him, it wouldn’t be a problem...”

    Miss Militia looked at the bike again and laughed. “I didn’t even know it had a dart launcher.”

    “Do you think Armsmaster even knows?”

    That got her really laughing and I grinned. She handed me a helmet this time before we got on. “Didn’t have it with me before, but safety first.”

    I exchanged my hat for the helmet and I put my hat in her saddle bag. I climbed onto the back of the motorcycle and gripped Miss Militia tightly. Dad had been more huggy since the event but the feel of another person up close, especially someone that felt safe, was still unfamiliar. It was incredibly comforting though, and I couldn’t help myself from holding her tighter than was strictly necessary. Her jacket smelled of propellants and saffron. I sighed a bit, letting it relax me.

    We puttered through the parking garage and I gasped in shock as she gunned the engine racing down the forcefield bridge. The water underneath us whizzed past and I enjoyed all the details my power picked up from the waves below. I guess if you had a one kilometer straight away with no traffic, you’d learn to enjoy it. We took a circuitous path through the city before eventually we made it outside my neighborhood and got off the bike.

    I took off the helmet and felt a full smile take shape on my face and said, “That was fun.”

    An unfamiliar look passed over Miss Milita’s eyes but she turned away grabbing my hat out of the bag for me, putting it on my head for me. “It was. You mentioned the gun range earlier. How often do you go?”

    My smile only got bigger. “Once a week with my Dad. I technically don’t need the practice, but he certainly does.”

    Miss Militia chuckled and pulled out a card handing it to me. “If you ever need to get in touch, that has my number. If you wouldn’t mind giving me your number, I’d appreciate it. Whether you decide to join the wards or not I’d still be interested in doing business with you.”

    I actually couldn’t smile any bigger. “Awesome.”

    I scribbled my number down on a piece of paper and pencil from my jacket and handed it to her. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next, goodbyes had never been my thing, but she changed tactics then.

    “Dakka, you did good tonight. If this is how you handled your first night I’m looking forward to watching you grow. Which is why when I say you need to be careful I want you to take that extra seriously. You have a lot of potential. Stay safe.”

    The emotion in her voice was heartfelt. I nodded taking it in. It was so odd to have positive attention from someone that wasn’t ostensibly family.

    I spoke softly in the same spirit, “I will.”

    “Good. If you ever want an extra partner at the range just let me know. I’d like to see how I fare against you either way.”

    I grinned mischievously. “I hope you’re prepared to lose.”

    She scoffed. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

    I took a step back and she waved. “See you around Dakka.”

    “I can’t wait.”



    "So let me get this straight. You picked a fight with a Ward?"

    I nodded dumbly and shrugged. "I mean... it turned out alright."

    Watching the vein pulse in my Dad's forehead was not comforting. I felt a flash of panic as the look of horror on his face from three months ago passed through my mind. I had disappointed him again. I resisted the urge to whimper as a sense of failure washed over me. This wasn’t what I promised him.

    There was an underlying growl to his voice as he spoke, "Do you realize how badly this could have gone in about a million different ways? What were you thinking?"

    He stopped then and took a deep breath. I watched him force himself to calm down and I took it as an opportunity.

    "How about we just watch the recording?" I cringed internally at how meek my voice sounded.

    He nodded slowly, allowing me to divert him. "That's fine. Sure... okay."

    We watched the video in relative silence, I focused on pausing and fast-forwarding the video through the relevant moments.

    His eyes widened at Shadow Stalker’s sudden attack and I caught a smile on his face when Miss Militia offered me a ride on her motorcycle.

    He watched the interview with interest and I could see his shoulders slowly relax. I breathed a sigh of relief at that. I really didn’t want to disappoint him.

    He paused in silence at the end, thinking it over, before he gave me a flat but amused look and asked, "Did you really tell Armsmaster he was touch deprived?"

    Embarrassment rose up and I felt the heat in my cheeks rise. I couldn't control the resulting frustration and the words rushed out of me, "I didn't do it on purpose! I just was so surprised I hadn't really put it together but all those things I’ve been seeing suddenly became so obvious! Don't laugh. It's telling me the exact same thing about you or at least that your stress levels are high!"

    Dad stood then and dragged me into a hug. "Well I could have told you that but hey... nothing like making up for lost time right?"

    I rubbed my forehead and cursed quietly. The hug did a lot to soothe my nerves. "Don't I know it. And lets not diss my power too much, it apparently knew that Shadow Stalker was going to dodge and exactly how much I needed to adjust to hit her. That basically won me the fight before it even started and let me have complete control over how it was all reported. Anyways, disturbing thoughts about potentially disastrous fights with the Protectorate aside, how did I do?"

    He stepped back then giving me an appraising look. "Well allowing for the fact that it was your first night out and... ignoring how much of a potential disaster it could have been. You did good Taylor. So the Wards want you to join. What do you think?"

    He was soft-pedaling and reaching. If Armsmaster hadn't completely missed the point I wouldn't have gotten an invitation at all. He wanted that extra layer of security and I couldn't blame him. He didn't really like the government, what Union guy would, but he had respect for the Wards program. The thought of joining the Wards scared me a bit, actually it terrified me to my core. Though the way Miss Militia had come down on Shadow Stalker so hard gave me faith that the organization was trying to do the right thing. Dad wanted me to have a choice, to do what I wanted, and I knew he wouldn't force me. Considering just how dangerous it actually was to be out there alone as an independent tinker, I knew I didn’t deserve the amount of faith he was putting in me. It made me really not want to disappoint him.

    "I think that I might want to but I'd like to talk to them about it first?"

    He smiled. "That sounds like a plan. They have facilities for your tinkering. I'm not sure my pocket book can keep up with your hobby much longer."

    I cringed before smiling sheepishly. "Sorry about that. I didn't mean to steal your credit card. I don't even remember most of that week once I got into that state. I've been trying to be good since then!"

    He waved his hand, brushing it off. "It's not a problem, I had to empty part of your college fund but it's almost back to where it was anyway. I'd pay a lot more to see you smile like that again."

    I looked up at him; his eyes had that Hebert fire in them. I moved forward and wrapped him in a hug. "I love you Dad."

    "Every girl says that when their Dad gives them money."

    I scoffed and pulled away. "I see how it is."

    He smirked while mussing my hair, causing me to squawk and pull away faster. "Hey, you know how much work it is to get my hair straight!?"

    And it was, oh god, I had spent hours getting it straight before going out tonight.

    "Not nearly as much work as picking up every single forgotten bullet in the basement and putting them in organized groups."

    I threw up my hands. "I'm sorry! I just got so excited."

    He stepped forward then and wrapped me in a hug again while his shoulders shook with mirth. "I love you Taylor."

    I smiled and mumbled back into him. "I love you too."



    Emily Piggot watched the recording for the third time as Armsmaster and Miss Militia stood in the room.

    "There is no way this is fake?"

    Armsmaster shook his head. "All evidence points to its authenticity."

    "I want Shadow Stalker in juvie so fast that her grandchildren get whiplash."

    Miss Militia nodded. "It's already done. It was more than enough just arriving at the scene to see that the recording was real. I did my very best to convince Dakka that Sophia's… indiscretion was not in any way acceptable. I sent the talk we had with her to some thinker's and they seem to think she has all the signs of being a good fit on the team with low chances for problems. I should also mention that her tinker specialization directly synergizes with my ability. I could deploy in more situations with less worries about collateral. I mentioned this to her and she seemed very pleased. I think she might be a fan."

    Emily considered the information. "What is the meaning behind Dakka’s name?"

    Armsmaster spoke up then, "Its geek terminology for shooting all the bullets. Like that gun has good dakka, meaning it has a very high fire rate and does obscene damage," he paused for a second a slight tinge of pink appearing under his beard, "I apologize, I am a fan of the game the name makes reference to."

    Emily nodded. "Were you able to get her to discuss her other abilities?"

    "Yes. I've tentatively rated her as Blaster 5, Tinker 3, Thinker 4, Brute 0, Stranger 3. I have a feeling given resources and time her Tinker and Blaster rating will rise commensurately, but her very focused specialization might limit her. She gave me two rounds to inspect at my leisure and seemed quite pleased with my interest in them. She had all the typical tinker tells for wanting to show off and discuss her work. The Brute rating is partially coupled with her Thinker rating. She is able to take falls perfectly and various other wear and tear reducing optimizations. At least that was implied in the discussion and video evidence suggests it as well."

    "Her thinker rating may be much higher. She seemed to miss the implications of her Thinker ability until it was pointed out. Apparently, she has a combat thinker and social thinker cross. She was willing to explain her ability to intuitively understand ballistics, trajectories, aim, and claimed she could do complex math calculations as long as they were within the scope of those sorts of problems. Her social thinking was not as readily apparent but she was able to determine that I was sleep deprived because of the way my muscles were firing when I moved. She seems to know the trajectory and velocity of everything she can see. When pressed to describe her observations, she was able to then go through a list of which muscles on my body were sore from over exertion, which of my eyes was dominate based off subtle movements during my initial examination of the rounds she provided, and she also was able to piece together that I was .... touch deprived. Something about the way I held my shoulders and how it affected my posture. She's also apparently widely read, since she made connections based off a wide range of topics that weren't part of her Thinker ability directly."

    Emily raised her eyebrows. She had seen many expressions on Armsmaster before but unsettled and embarrassed were new ones.

    Miss Militia gave him a sympathetic look before she spoke, "I want her on my Wards team. We sold her very softly tonight, hardly at all really considering the situation. Having another tinker on the team especially one that would directly contribute to the Protectorate's force projection ability is not something I'm going to pass up. I've already filed a request for negotiation privileges with the New York branch so I can sweeten the pot for her. I imagine it will be approved as I didn't ask for anything too crazy."

    Emily nodded. "Thank you for keeping me in the loop. I just have one lingering question. Please tell me you did not let the independent hero with video evidence of a Ward committing attempted murder leave the building without signing an NDA."

    The muttered cursing in response did not instill the confidence she had hoped to have.

    "Right. So if you wouldn't mind seeing if she'll play ball on that tiny detail that would be ideal," her drawl was menacing and condescending.

    Miss Militia grimaced and nodded. "I have her contact info. I'll get a hold of her first thing in the morning."

    "See that you do."

    The exit of the two heroes left Emily in the quiet. Her fingers drummed on the desk while she mulled over the encounter. She could understand the lapse of judgement, considering both Miss Militia and Armsmaster were understandably excited about the potential recruit. In her own way, she was potentially excited as well. Tinkers were a rare commodity, cooperative tinkers even more so.

    The girl was clearly well mannered if Armsmaster’s lack of sniping comments were anything to go by. His lack of patience with youthful exuberance was the primary reason she hadn’t resisted Miss Militia’s request to take over the Wards program. While it didn’t look good for the leader of the local Protectorate to shirk responsibility, it looked even worse if they failed in those responsibilities.

    Miss Militia hadn’t actually told her what bargaining chips she had asked for from the New York branch. She had a guess though. If her guess was right, then things had the potential to get very interesting in the near future. She wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing. Knowing Brockton Bay, it was probably bad.

    --

    A/N: We are now caught up in the timeline! I hope you all enjoy.
     
  6. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)



    I sighed, fussing over how to organize the rounds again. The briefcase seemed to be staring at me and I couldn’t help but feel a bit frustrated. How I organized them was an important message about how I thought and I wanted to make a good first impression. I knew Armsmaster a little better now, that touch of social anxiety had permeated his movements during our meeting. I wanted to give him something to latch onto that was concrete.

    I shuffled the different kinds of rounds again, in pairs of two. From alphabetical by model number switching it to the types of effects they caused instead, moving from less lethal to more lethal, followed by rounds with more esoteric effects, like illusions and sound generators.

    Miss Militia was easier. She had clearly wanted to get me to join the team, her enthusiasm was controlled but obvious. Showing up would be enough, but also not giving in at the first pass. She was the kind of woman who respected self-respect, of knowing your own worth.

    I wrung my hands and huffed. My exasperation at my own indecision was just making it worse and I couldn’t find an anchor to center myself. I set my hand on the workbench and took a deep breath trying to still myself. Why was I so nervous? I wasn’t even sure I wanted to join.

    I turned to an unfinished project to the right touching the metal of the unfinished casing. The design swam in my head again. I pushed the idea away before I got lost to it and turned my head up to the ceiling. The faint smell of the work I had disturbed seemed to calm me finally.

    The current method of organization would be fine. It wasn't every round I had made, but it was a good cross section. I had my designs in a three ring binder, organized by model number. It looked good, professional even. I rolled my shoulders back and closed the briefcase.

    Dad was in his usual clothes, a polo and jeans, when I came upstairs. "Ready to go girl wonder?"

    I raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

    He just smiled in response and walked toward the door.



    Entering the Rig without an escort was a vastly different experience than before. I made the painful journey through the security and wandered to one of the info kiosks feeling a bit out of sorts. I steeled my nerves to talk to the unfamiliar person in front of me.

    “Hi… I’m Taylor Hebert, I have an appointment with Thomas Calvert. He agreed to do an interview on working for the PRT for my school newspaper.”

    The squat lady behind the desk didn’t even bother to look at me. Her expression was as sour as the coffee at Dad’s office. I tried not to take it personally.

    “Take the elevator to floor three. Office numbers and names are listed on the wall.” She pointed toward the central area and went back to ignoring me.

    The elevator ride was silent as I was alone. The Rig was probably never that busy with outsiders, except for probably tours. The PRT building downtown was probably much more consistently busy with the average person, since it had a more direct hand in handling the law enforcement and paperwork side of the Protectorate’s work.

    I stepped out and was surprised to find my Dad was already waiting for me.

    “You move quick.”

    He shrugged. “I’ve got long legs.”

    Thomas’s office was plain, barely furnished at all. Just a single laptop and a blank desk. It felt… lifeless. He looked up from his desk as we entered and stood up. The smile on his face was harmless but empty of warmth. He was tall, and it looked like he didn’t quite fill out his suit that well.

    “Hello. I’m Thomas Calvert. It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. and Miss Hebert. I usually don’t take these kinds of appointments but I had free time in my schedule and it's rare I get to meet new heroes.”

    The man seemed genuine in that stuffy bureaucrat way and I shook his hand when he offered it while giving him a smile. He looked down at his desk reaching for something and frowned just slightly before diverting his hands to his filing cabinet. He pulled out two small folders and pushed one forward across the desk.

    “I apologize I was a bit distracted while preparing for this meeting. Here is the paperwork for the NDA Director Piggot asked us to have you sign concerning Shadow Stalker. Terrible thing that girl was doing, I’m sorry that happened to you.”

    I tried not to frown. He sounded like he was discussing the weather instead of attempted murder. My Dad sat quietly reviewing the paperwork, seeming to nod at the agreement.

    “This seems acceptable. Taylor all it asks is that we only release the recording to law enforcement and not go to the press with it. I’m comfortable signing this as it has some additional protections since she has a reason to go after you, you can’t be held responsible for protecting yourself.”

    He was clearly paraphrasing a great deal, but he knew what he was talking about with contracts so I signed happily.

    Thomas smiled and spoke with a smooth tempo, “Now that that’s out of the way let's talk about the Wards. The file I read said you are a Tinker and I think it's best to start there. Every hero receives an allowance for tools and equipment, and most tinkers use this for their work. Tinkers themselves also receive an additional weekly allowance for maintenance and production. Rarer materials usually need to be requisitioned directly by the Protectorate itself. This of course requires an approval process, which may require detailed plans on what the tinker is intending to design. As a Ward there are significant limitations on what you are allowed to produce.”

    I quelled my desire to express my distaste at that. I had promised Dad I would listen, so I would. I couldn’t help myself from asking a question though, “How big of a budget are we talking about for Wards?”

    I had a general sense of the cost of some of my more wild ideas, and expensive didn’t even begin to cover it.

    “That depends. Generally the sum starts small and as the tinker proves the value of their work it rises commensurately. For instance both Dragon and Armsmaster have considerable tinker budgets. Regardless of that though, all Wards are paid minimum wage in addition to any allowances they qualify for. Don’t let that dissuade you though, in addition to the regular wage the Protectorate also provides a significant trust fund, on the order of fifty thousand dollars a year.”

    I blinked in shock at the seemingly large number before my Dad spoke, “How is the trust fund handled? Is the money invested, or is it just cash value to be collected when she comes of age?”

    Thomas seemed pleased at the question. I guess that was the sort of thing that interested him.

    “There are various ways guardians may arrange the trust fund but there are restrictions to prevent unnecessarily risky transactions and additional codes of conduct for thinkers to avoid running afoul of NEPEA-5. Most of it is in the pamphlet here.”

    He pushed the second folder forward, which was much thicker than the first. I blinked a few times watching as his micro-expressions went haywire, yet he remained perfectly normal. What the hell was that? He pushed the folder in front of him.

    “All of the details of the Wards program and its compensation packages are held within. You may read through it at your leisure and I will be here to answer any questions.”

    With that he went back to his laptop. Dad quietly read over the information and pointed out some tidbits to me. In the end we didn’t have any pressing questions that weren’t answered in the pamphlets themselves. Thomas seemed to sense almost exactly when we had finished.

    “Miss Militia will be handling the negotiation step. It's very common for parents to request changes to the standard contract.”

    He smiled tepidly. His gaunt features and slightly too large suit reeked of bureaucratic mediocrity. If it wasn’t for some of the strange signals he was sending me, I wouldn’t have thought anything of him at all. As it was, I was wondering if he was putting on a bit of an act just so we wouldn’t waste anymore of his time. It hardly mattered though it’s not like I’d see him again.

    “Armsmaster has informed me that he wanted to meet you before you talked to Miss Militia. He’s waiting in his lab, which can be found on the fifth floor. If there wasn’t anything else?”

    We both shook our heads, and I felt a sense of relief as we left the room of the strange skinny man.



    The alarm finished sounding and my Dad and I both walked into Armsmasters lab.

    “... the rating you put in the report is wildly inaccurate. You’re not being objective about her specialization. Bakuda should not be underestimated under any circumstances. I’m worried about you.”

    The voice was feminine and barely audible, a sort of intense concerned whisper. I felt guilty for a moment like I was intruding on something but the excitement of being in Armsmaster’s lab put it out my mind. I took a look around.

    The lab was amazing. It was huge as well, multiple workbenches were distributed throughout the room holding projects in progress. Machinery I had been coveting in online catalogues lay in various states of use. I felt a surge of jealousy.

    There was a supreme sense of orderliness and thought into the arrangement of projects. I longed to investigate. My Dad tapped me on the shoulder and gave me an amused grin. I blinked realizing my mouth was open and promptly closed it with a click.

    Armsmaster turned from his project with a frustrated smile on his face. There was a tension to his presence and a dance of competing velocities seemed to pull him in multiple directions.

    “Dakka. It's a pleasure to meet you again. Dragon this is Dakka, the new tinker I was telling you about.”

    My eyes widened as I tried to contain my already overflowing excitement. I had no idea I would be meeting Dragon today. I gripped the briefcase more tightly trying to push my inner fangirl down before I made a fool of myself. Dad’s hand found its way to my shoulder as if he was reading my mind and I exhaled forcefully and flashed him a small smile of thanks.

    I managed to finally contain myself and spoke as calmly as possible, “It's very nice to meet you Dragon.”

    The avatar on the screen smiled at me. I pushed aside the minor irritation that my power didn’t work well with computer monitors or video in general.

    Armsmaster spoke eagerly, cutting off Dragon’s greeting, “And you must be Mr. Hebert. It's a pleasure to meet you. I would like to apologize personally for the conduct of Shadow Stalker, you’ll be happy to know that she was in violation of the terms of her probation and is already on her way to prison.”

    Dad smiled darkly in response. “That’s good to know. Thank you.”

    Dragon chimed in, “It's a pleasure to meet you Dakka.”

    I grinned and gestured toward my briefcase. “Where can I set this up?”

    Armsmaster gave me a return smile and showed us to a cleared bench on the second level of his lab. I curbed my jealousy again at the very idea that he had a second level to his lab. Jitters rose up along my arms but I was determined to impress Armsmaster. I shoved down hard mentally.

    I quickly placed the briefcase on the table and opened it. “I took the liberty of attempting to organize this in a way for quick review. The top three quarters of the case are any bullets that are directly point and shoot based. They are arranged in order of lethality from left to right and top to bottom. The label under each is the model number of the design. The design can be found in this binder.”

    I nodded to Dad. He had a wry grin on his face and placed the binder on the workbench.

    “The bottom quarter of the case has all of my more esoteric rounds. From left to right, sound generators, sound distortion, visual distortion, holographic projection and finally a round that emits an ephemeral contagious EM pulse that will disable any electronics it directly impacts and any electronics directly touching those.”

    Armsmaster hummed, having already started flipping through the binder.

    “You did all this with store bought tools?”

    I nodded.

    “This is all very good work. I’ll look this over while you talk with Miss Militia. I’ll get back to you with an assessment whether or not you decide to join the Wards. Collaboration is one of the best way for Tinkers to improve their craft.”

    His voice carried a touch of undirected fondness but Dragon’s resulting smile spoke volumes. He turned his head back toward the binder and his eyes glazed over a bit. I grinned, taking that as a cue to leave and pleased with the knowledge that I wasn’t the only one who lost themself to the excitement of a new design or idea.

    Before we finished exiting the room entirely though Dragon appeared on the screen in front of the door. She had a soft grin on her face and bemusement filled her voice, “I apologize for Armsmaster. He has a tendency to get lost in his work.”

    A swirl of nervous energy filled me and I fidgeted a bit. The world’s greatest tinker was making light of her coworker to me and I really didn’t know how to respond to that. I flushed for a moment under her gaze and sputtered, “No need to apologize. I totally understand. I know Dad understands too.”

    I let out a nervous smile and shifted on my feet again.

    Dad rolled his eyes in response. “I wouldn’t call it understanding, defeated acceptance maybe, but I definitely don’t understand.”

    I bumped shoulders with him in response and I caught Dragon biting her lower lip in amusement. “At least I’m not stealing your credit card anymore.”

    He snorted and spoke in a fantastically dry tone of voice, “I was less concerned with that than I was with your first tinker fugue. Taylor was in a tinker fugue for a week. I had no idea what was going on at first. She just came home dragging along bags of stuff and hid in the basement. It was only between babysitting her and forcing her to eat that I was able to figure out this was a result of superpowers.”

    Dragon’s eyes had widened and she squeaked, “A week! How long did you try to not tinker?”

    I shook myself for a moment. The dark thoughts of those early weeks were not fond memories. I spoke softly, “I didn’t even want to think about the ideas in my head at first.”

    Dragon’s voice was warm and knowing, “Ah… well anyway. I would like to help you get settled in here so if you do decide to join the Wards just get in contact with me. I know some of the finer points of getting approval for the types of things you’ll probably need to request. Setting up a new tinkerlab can be quite an extensive undertaking, please don’t hesitate to ask for help.”

    It took me a moment to absorb the offer. I didn’t really think I warranted that level of attention but I let gratitude win over embarrassment in the end and said, “Wow. Thank you!”
    I smiled a large smile letting my nervousness show in my face a bit. “It was nice meeting you Dragon.”

    She smiled in return, “It was nice meeting you too Taylor and you Danny. I hope to see you around.”

    We both turned and left the lab, once the door closed I turned to my Dad and spoke, “Is it okay to pass out now?”

    He chuckled and gave me a slight push down the hallway in response.



    There was a faint smell of some kind of incense as we entered Miss Militia’s office. The office felt alive with plants filling the room, all of them obviously well cared for. Pictures topped the many bookshelves. I noticed one in particular. It held a position of prominence on her desk facing towards me. The picture in the frame looked worn and well handled. In it Mouse Protector and Miss Militia stood side by side, dramatically raising a pair of matching swords.

    Miss Militia herself was scribbling notes in a sort of absent-minded fashion. She glanced up at us and smiled behind her mask.

    “Welcome. Have a seat. I’m hoping Thomas and Armsmaster were as welcoming as usual.”

    There was a light tone of amusement in her statement. There were cups of water already waiting for us. She set her pen down and turned her full attention to us as we finished sitting down.

    “It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Hebert. Your daughter has impressed me a great deal.”

    Dad smiled proudly and glanced at me. “She’s a good kid.”

    “It's good to see you again Dakka, and it's a pleasure to meet you out of costume Taylor.”

    I smiled weakly in response. “It’s good to see you again too.”

    “This is the part of the day where I try to determine what it is you are looking to get out of the Wards program.”

    Dad seemed on top of the moment and didn’t give Miss Militia a chance to take the lead. He turned toward me and spoke with a tentative lilt, “Can I share how we got here?"

    I paused, my eyes widening a bit. I wasn't really sure I wanted to be known as the suicidal and depressed girl. I felt unbalanced enough just being here and the very thought of actually giving her a reason to question my value made me anxious in the extreme. I turned and looked at Miss Militia again. There was a confident concern in her eyes that I felt I could trust. It was the kind of openness Lacey seemed to have and in the end I trusted my Dad to not make me look like a fool.

    "Okay. Just as long as it doesn't leave this room?"

    Miss Militia interrupted Dad before he could start. "I would never betray your confidence Taylor. Working on a team requires trust. I don't want to push you. I want you to feel comfortable joining us. I'm trying to understand what would make you happy here."

    I shrugged and nodded.

    Dad paused to think for a moment before he spoke, "My daughter is a stubborn, self-sacrificing idiot."

    Miss Militia didn't laugh, but I could see the evidence of a stifled one with my power.

    "What the hell Dad?"

    He quelled me with his patented eyeball glance. I hope he taught me that for my kids.

    "Just like I'm a stubborn, self-sacrificing idiot."

    Okay that was a little better.

    "We are both so good at being stubborn idiots that we spent years after her mother's death trying to one-up each other on who could be the most stubborn and self-sacrificing. My method was to spend all my time on the job working extra hours so Taylor could still go to college and enjoy her life the way her mother wanted her to. Taylor’s method was to cover up her own personal problems because she was afraid I was too fragile to bear her burdens as well.”

    He paused for a second, drinking from the glass of water on the table.

    “Taylor’s problems included a year long bullying campaign perpetrated by a group of girls that included her former best friend. At the beginning of the school year this year, the girls had somehow managed to fill her locker with, ” Dad paused gritting his teeth a bit, “All manner of disgusting things. They shoved her into that nightmare and left her to rot for hours. She spent a few days in the hospital after that. We were told... we were promised, that it wouldn’t happen again.The bullying continued though and since we’ve already established my daughter is stubborn and self-sacrificing she didn’t tell me. Again.”

    He stopped again. His grip was tight on the glass and his shoulders quaked a bit. He breathed out finally.

    His voice came out strained and tired as he continued, “This led to a number of ill advised decisions on her part where she eventually tried to commit suicide. I caught her in the middle of her attempt… thank god. Her powers appeared shortly after.”

    The sudden realization of how terrified I had made my Dad came rushing down on me and I felt my breath leave me. I didn’t realize how much this still affected him. The tears came unbidden and I didn't bother to hide them.

    "After that the first thing I did was to remove her from that... school and started homeschooling her, mostly out of my office at the docks with some help from friends. Things are getting better. She's a good kid but I think you can understand when I say she's afraid. Hell... I'm afraid."

    Dad pressed on. "We’ve been incredibly lucky so far in hiding her abilities. Which leads me to my primary concern. Regardless of my personal anxieties on the matter I cannot under good conscience put her in a position where she goes back to feeling unsafe. It almost cost me the most important person in my life because I was too stubborn the first time. I won't make that mistake again. What I think Taylor's wants to hear is whether she's going to be safe here, not from villains, I don't think she's actually scared of them..."

    He smiled at me then. I grinned through my tears back at him.

    "...but from her peers. I'm not just putting my daughter's life in your hands, but also her well being as a person. It's not that I don't think that she can't handle herself. She weathered a storm of abuse with basically no support mechanism for more than a year and took it like a champion. Mere mortals would have fallen apart after weeks of the kind of abuse she was receiving."

    I smiled a bit at that.

    "It’s just… she has a nasty habit of not telling anyone when something is wrong."

    I had the good sense to look guilty at that. He paused taking another drink. I could tell he was stalling a bit to get his words in order.

    "What I'm looking for is someone who is going to do at least as good of a job as I have been doing the last three months to make sure she's okay. That someone is there to look out for her and won't take no for an answer. I've heard rumors about Armsmaster and Emily Piggot. By rumors I mean the temp workers that the Dock Workers Union hire out have a tendency to talk about their bosses. Rumors that do not paint them in remotely the right kind of light for me to feel comfortable entrusting my daughters well being to them."

    I stared in shock at my Dad. Didn’t he want me here? Also, wow... go Dad!

    Miss Militia was about to speak up when he continued. "You, not them, are in charge of the Wards though. I also know about what happened on my daughters first night out. A night I would have not even allowed except for I know it would have been much worse if I forced Taylor to feel powerless. I understand what having an unruly employee is like, trust me. So I'm doing my very best to not hold Shadow Stalker’s actions against you. Especially because you handled the situation to my liking. What this comes down to is Taylor is trusting me to keep her best interests in mind and so I'm asking can I trust you to do the same?"

    Miss Militia took a moment to speak, letting the severity of the sentiment settle into the room. She wasn't oozing confidence but her shoulders settled into something I could probably describe as happy. Something else was there in the various velocities I wasn't really doing a good job of understanding. It was entirely oriented toward my dad though... respect maybe?

    Her voice was soft while she spoke, "Okay. Let me paint a picture in return. Imagine you are Chief Director Costa-Brown."

    I raised my eyebrows at that but figured she was going somewhere with it.

    "It’s your unfortunate duty to administrate and police Parahumans. They’re like Dock Workers where sometimes they misplace important tools but they also have the tendency to light everything on fire."

    Dad snorted at that. The stories I’d heard of some of the more rowdy adventures of his coworkers made me wonder if there was really that much difference. Not to mention just twenty minutes with Lacey was its own sort of adventure as well.

    "When new parahumans appear on the scene, you desperately want them to be on your side. So you make an organization that's as inviting as possible, but not aggressive, at least as far as recruiting goes. This leads to all sorts of frustrating things where people fall into the hands of villains like The Elite or Gesellschaft. Then those parahumans commit illegal acts continuing a very destructive cycle our organization is designed to prevent."

    She paused.

    "Then along comes a young woman, who desperately wants to do the right thing. Is willing to risk a lot to do it, if her first night out is anything to go by. What's an organization like ours to do?"

    Dad shrugged with a slightly amused smirk on his face.

    "I want to be clear. Taylor, you might be under the impression that your ability is lackluster."

    I nodded a bit at that. I mean my specialization was very small and limited. I was really good at one thing, making awesome bullets and shooting them. Not that I was complaining. Now that the guilt had started to quiet, guns were becoming a lot of fun. In fact they were a lot more than fun if my dreams were anything to go by. My mind drifted to the smells of propellant again, especially cordite, sweet sweet cordite.

    "You are wrong," her voice was emphatic and immobile.

    "Really?" My voice carrying my disbelief.

    "Really. Dragon has already asked for permission to attempt to duplicate your taser-like rounds. She believes that they will have applications at least as far ranging as containment foam."

    "Seriously? Dragon likes my stuff?" I really didn't believe her, there was no way Dragon liked my work, no matter how nice she had been earlier.

    "She does. Furthermore, it is rare to have so direct a synergy between abilities as yours does with mine. I am... highly limited in the ways I can deploy at times. I can do tear gas and rubber bullets, but for the most part I'm always bringing a gun to a fist fight. If you weren't joining I would instead be asking to hire you directly from my discretionary tinker fund."

    I nodded. Miss Militia’s concerns about her own power made sense. I shared those same concerns about my power as well. Which made a lot more sense to me than Dragon being interested in my work.

    "While you were delivering your rounds to Armsmaster for study, I looked over some of your proposed designs you didn't have the money or resources to create. Including the ones you simply lacked the knowledge to do properly. When I say you are perhaps the most important hire I will ever have into the greater Protectorate, I would not be exaggerating.”

    She put emphasis on the statement, making sure I understood she wasn’t just saying things.

    “So when you Danny... come here and you are asking not for money, or better benefits, or any of the other things you could potentially be negotiating for but simply asking that I will take care of your daughter and make sure she is safe and cared for, you are asking for the one thing I would be giving no matter what."

    Dad was sitting up straighter now. His shoulders were turned toward Miss Militia, his body echoing Miss Militia’s same confusing arrangement of velocities from before. I was sitting up straighter now as well, my tears dry and my heart beating a more steady rhythm.

    "To back that statement up, I want to offer you twice the standard wage, and a fifty percent increase to your trust fund. And most importantly I want to personally offer you an apprenticeship under me. I will admit this is partly selfish because it allows me tighter control over the kind of work you do. That’s not to say it doesn’t benefit you though. It would let me use your work not just in the limited capacities Wards are allowed but also allow you to see your work in action in the hands of a full Protectorate member. You would have fewer restrictions on your tech from both the PR department and the lab coats. Apprenticeships are rare in the Protectorate, they come with a lot of baggage most members don't want to deal with. I on the other hand do want you to feel safe here Taylor. Not only that I want you to feel valuable. The Wards program is designed for you to grow not just as a hero, but as a person, and I will do everything in my power to guarantee that is the case."

    I was reeling from her sheer earnestness. Dad had a slight smile on his face but turned to me saying, "Its up to you Taylor."

    No pressure. I mean it was only my everything on the line here.

    "I... Okay."

    And then the paperwork began.



    Dad's hand on my shoulder was a small comfort but it was a comfort. He'd done a lot in the last three months. The way he had taken his arms around me and pushed the world away left me amazed at his capability and strength. I had forgotten just how strong he really was.

    The paperwork felt, heavy. Final. It made me unsettled, even though part of me felt better for it. I couldn't scratch that worry away though, that feeling of dread. I was now on my way to meet people my age. The idea twisted my insides in knots so tight I could barely breathe. I could deal with adults, but peers were something else entirely.

    "I'll be here. If its not working out, you only have to tell me and I'll pull you out of here so fast they’ll give me a mover rating."

    I leaned into his side then, trying to push some of my anxiety into him and away from me.

    "Okay. I can do this."

    "Of course you can. You're a Hebert, you can do anything."

    I stood up a bit straighter at that. Willing more confidence into being.

    "That's right. Next thing you know I'll be punching out Behemoth, with nothing but brass knuckles and stubbornness."

    He pulled me tighter for a second in a side hug, and turned me toward him.

    "Time to go meet your teammates."

    I nodded, turning the side hug into a real hug, grasping at whatever strength my Dad had seemed to conjure out of thin air. Miss Militia was quiet and patient, and we walked with the same sort of quietness through the rig towards the Wards area. The rig was deceptively massive and labyrinthine. There was a cleanliness to it that seemed to blow past obsessive straight into paranoia. It probably was paranoia. I didn’t want to imagine the kind of superpower that would take advantage of too much dust.

    We paused in front of a door that didn’t seem any different from all the others. Dad gave me a final hug. “Have fun. No dating your coworkers.”

    I glared at him but he cooled my frustration by giving me a kiss on the forehead. “I’m so proud of you Taylor.”

    My breath hitched and I gave him a sloppy smile. “I love you Dad.”

    He grinned and waved walking down the hall looking intently at the instructions Miss Militia had written for him.

    Miss Militia gave me a minute to compose myself. I smiled at her and gave her a thumbs up eventually.

    The Wards room was different. Everything else in the rig had an underlying sterile tone to it. The open pizza box and half read books on the table it shared spoke of the teenagerness immeadiately. A large tv was on the left with a couch and game systems. A tinker tech contraption sat on top of the TV that looked like some sort of communication array.

    The console stood out, the blue lights of the many computer monitors splashed on the wall behind it. I was temporarily entranced by the odd distortion near the console itself before I came back to my senses and looked at the array of people in front of me.

    I stepped further into the room feeling the anxiety in me start to rise. What was obviously Kid Win got a nudge from Gallant at my appearance. They all were here, seeming to be waiting just for me. I stifled my desire to run screaming back the way I came.

    "Dakka?"

    I squeaked then, causing Clockblocker to snort, and Gallant stepped up, extending his hand. His velocities made me a bit nauseous, they were moving too quickly in response to my own. I wasn't sure what to make of that.

    "Hi I'm Gallant. I also go by Dean. I can sense emotions. I was warned you had a Thinker power that might interact with mine."

    I nodded, trying to get control of my mouth, and settled for shaking his hand weakly. "Dakka, Taylor."

    He smiled. It wasn't at my expense, that much I was certain of. My head was spinning though and I could feel my anxiety really take off. The room started to dim in color closing in on me.

    "No one here wants to hurt you okay?" His voice was light and concerned.

    I nodded pathetically, trying my best to believe it.

    "I'm sorry, this isn't really the best first impression." My voice was tiny and I felt exhausted.

    Vista spoke up, "You don't need to have a good first impression. You kicked Shadow Stalker’s ass!"

    She shadow boxed then, looking incredibly pleased. That made me feel a bit better.

    I spoke, "No lost love?"

    Clockblocker laughed. "Definitely not. She wasn't even here by choice, they were trying to reform the edgy vigilante. And now we don't have to mask up every time the door opens!"

    What? "Wait, why?"

    His grin didn't hide the venom in his voice, "What do you think the Protectorate was going to share secret identities with someone with an irritable violent streak and a rap sheet to boot? Miss Militia locked that down hard."

    "That... makes a lot of sense actually." I felt a bit of relief at the topic change.

    Aegis stepped forward. "Hi, I'm Aegis. I'm the current team leader, it's a pleasure to meet you."

    I took his hand when he extended it and shook it. Which seemed to rouse my courage some more. I let a ghost of a smile start to form, "I'm Taylor, Taylor Hebert."

    "Carlos."

    I let my eyes take in the room really looking my teammates over. I let my power work on what I saw. They all seemed open, inviting, interested. I let my own velocities take form then, pushing them up, my power pecking away at my confidence issues. I leaned into it hard.

    "I guess more than a name would be nice? I'm a Thinker/Tinker combo. I have a very tight specialization in ammo, anything with a full metal jacket, plus a few other things, maybe more? My thinker power is hard to describe, imagine you know the velocities of everything around you, but also their ballistic properties. I can see micro-expressions for instance, and subtle body language, but I can also shoot incredible trick shots with my guns, I can do pretty complicated math in my head as long as its related to ballistics. I haven't had the opportunity to test it yet with anything larger than a handgun though."

    Miss Militia spoke up, "It's something we'll be testing later for sure. I have a few ideas in mind."

    I couldn't help but grin while I imagined it and I could feel heat rise in my cheeks a bit. Confidence seemed to pour into me with those thoughts.

    "Okay that's a bit creepy."

    Clockblocker's tone was teasing and light and I felt a sudden need to take control. Lacey’s second rule bounced around my head and I channeled it smiling innocently. "What? A girl isn't allowed to like her toys?"

    Gallant snorted. Aegis groaned. Kid Win actually turned red in embarrassment and Clockblocker looked like steam was coming out of his ears. Vista's ears were a bit pink, but she looked amused, happy even.

    "Ma'am! I'm under-equipped to deal with this level of riposte. I request additional training," Clockblocker's voice came out choked.

    Miss Militia laughed. "I'll notify Assault for remedial training."

    He took off his mask and stepped forward extending his hand. "Name's Dennis, I think we'll get along just fine."

    I smiled at him, taking his hand and shaking it. His cheeks were still pink from the joke. Hah! Take that! I can give as good as I get!

    Vista stepped forward with a pleased grin on her face. She took her helmet off and I could almost feel the inviting joy radiating off her. "I'm Missy Biron."

    We shook hands, she had a strong handshake for her age.

    Then finally Kid Win stepped forward after another nudge from Gallant. He coughed a bit. I could tell he was stalling so he could compose himself. The dance of tiny velocity shifts on his face almost made me feel a bit bad for spinning him up. He eventually decided that there was no escape and muttered pathetically, "Chris. It's nice to meet you."

    I smiled again while speaking to the room, "It's nice to meet you too."

    And it was. How weird is that?
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 6
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)



    I yawned as we pulled into the parking lot outside the warehouse. I hadn’t been at the Rig for much longer after meeting the Wards but I had been up all night fretting. The conversation had played over and over in my head. It had felt easy to pretend confidence out in front of them but afterward it all came crashing down internally.

    Did I say the right thing? Did I embarrass myself? Was I too forward? Did I give them the wrong impression about the kind of girl I was? I had stewed into the morning before I had finally run out of energy to worry and fell asleep.

    Dad’s voice interrupted my thought spiral. “Are you alright Taylor?”

    I chuckled a bit. “No. Just thinking about last night. I liked them but I’m worried about it. I just keep thinking about what I said and whether I did well. I’m just…”

    He put his hand on my shoulder and smiled. “Its okay. I know it wasn’t easy. You did good.”

    I tried to accept the encouragement but came up a bit short. “It felt easy but I just keep worrying that I said something wrong. I made a racy joke and I think made Kid Win feel bad. I don’t want him to be embarrassed.”

    Dad smiled even bigger. “You don’t want to be like Emma.”

    I nodded glumly at him. “I feel like it was a mistake. That I said something I can’t take back.”

    “Let me explain something. Boys his age? I wouldn’t worry too much. If anything he’s probably just in awe of you. A good place for him to be. They should all be scared of you. It’ll make sure they stay well behaved.” His tone was lighthearted and I finally let out a real smile.

    “I guess you would know.”

    He laughed. “High school was so awkward for me. It's a wonder I had any confidence left by the time I met your mother. Anyways let's get inside, we’re already late.”

    “I don’t even work here.”

    He gave me the eye. I laughed at him, grabbing my bag and getting out of the car.



    Lacey was waiting for us in the office. And by waiting, I mean she was actually sitting cross legged on top of Dad’s desk working on her laptop. What made it go from simply odd to ridiculous was that she had neatly stacked the stuff that should have been on his desk on my desk instead.

    She looked up as we entered and smiled. “Oh you’re finally here!”

    Dad looked at the clock and rolled his eyes, “We aren’t even five minutes late.”

    “Tell that to Kurt. He already sent out a search party. If you listen you can hear him rallying the troops.” Lacey took her hand and put it to her ear dramatically and I let out a laugh.

    Dad gave her a mock glare. “Kurt’s in the office behind me. We literally just spoke. The walls of the office are thin. You could hear us.”

    She ignored him and said, “Oh no! The signal fires have been lit!”

    Dad scoffed, with a smile on his face. “Can we help you Lacey?”

    “Well you can’t Danny but I have a day off! And I’m going to be taking Taylor to the boardwalk.”

    Dad was about to protest but she interrupted him. “She’s ahead in her work. A whole month actually. Two months in math, someone’s learning to cheat with her power.”

    I rolled my eyes. “It's not cheating.”

    She pointed at me accusingly. “It’s cheating and you’re a horrible person Taylor. A deviant!”

    Realizing that there was no way to win when Lacey was in a mood like this I stuck out my tongue in response and threw up my fingers up with the number seven referencing the relevant rule.

    Lacey continued on though she did smile at me. “Most importantly Taylor does periodically need breaks.”

    Her voice got soft after a pause, “The time for keeping her busy is over I think.”

    Dad’s face stilled and he looked out the window before rolling his shoulder back.

    “You’re absolutely right as usual Lacey. Of course Taylor can go. Don’t let Lacey talk you into anything too crazy.”

    I gave him a playful grin. “I won’t do anything you wouldn’t do.”

    He chuckled. “That’s what I’m worried about.”


    I smiled and leaned back with my eyes closed while Lacey sang at the top of her lungs. Thankfully Lacey had a good singing voice.Compared to any of the other strange things she could be doing, singing along to a good song was pretty harmless. The drive to the Boardwalk was otherwise uneventful. The gangs hadn’t been fighting recently. It had actually been downright peaceful for the last six months.

    Eventually the song ended and Lacey gave me a happy grin. “Ice Cream?”

    “Shouldn’t we eat first?” The question felt stupid the moment I said it.

    Lacey’s faux disdain in response broke my self reproach before it could form though. “We are taking a break today. Eating foods in the proper order sounds like responsibility.”

    I shrugged. “Or I could just be hungry and not want to get light headed.”

    She shrugged back. “Well there’s Fusion Jack’s?”

    “Sounds great, the Korean Tacos are damn good.”

    Lacey nodded and said, “Only a fool hates kimchi its true.”

    I gave her a smirk in response. “And we aren’t fools are we?”

    “Well at least not for lunch.”



    The tacos were excellent but the ice cream after was better.

    “So what do you think of that one?” Lacey gestured lazily towards a man walking past.

    “What do you mean what do I think?”

    “Like, give me a rating or something, cute or not.”

    I laughed and blushed a little. “He’s got two point five handsomes or so I think.”

    She sniggered. “What sort of measurement system is that.”

    “Well a handsome is like 100 cutes, and cutes are the metric measurement of pleasant aesthetics of course. So he’s two hundred and fifty cutes.

    “So what? He gets a cute for what? Explain this system.”

    “Him? Shoulders, forearms, maybe his hair, kind of debatable. Maybe his eyes but didn’t get a good look.”

    Lacey smiled wide. “Its cause you weren’t looking at him. You were looking at that blonde girl with the freckles.”

    I blinked and then blushed. “Yeah.”

    “Ah to be young and confused,” the dramatic sigh Lacey unleashed took the edge off the embarrassment.

    “Not really confused. It's been like that ever since…” I drifted off.

    “I didn’t think powers could do that!” She said with no small amount of surprise.

    “Well you know I see velocities right?”

    She nodded and gestured for me to continue.

    “Girls. They move more. At first it was weird but then, well I just started to enjoy it.”

    Lacey gave me a smile that was so amused I thought her ears might fall off. “They… move… more?”

    I huffed and felt the heat surge around me. “You know what I mean!”

    She snorted. “I do. I know exactly what you mean. It's a well known piece of why rule two works so well.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Honestly it's more about rule five at this point.”

    “Rule five? What does this have to do with mistakes?”

    I wobbled my hand in frustration trying to get the words out. “I mean Emma’s a bitch.”

    “Yes. That’s been well established.”

    “Right. That doesn’t mean I made a mistake being her friend though.”

    “Yes. That’s been established as well.”

    I gave Lacey a glare. “I’m getting there.”

    She smiled patronizingly and I continued saying, “Anyways. I loved Emma. She was my sister and saved me when I was drowning in grief. Then she hurt me. I am both grateful to her and hate her. When you told me about Kurt and how you stuck by him I thought about Emma. Now I’m not going to stick by Emma. I can’t forgive her. What I can do is not let Emma’s little tirade through my life decide what’s important to me.”

    Lacey reached across the bench and pulled me into a hug.

    “So there was this boy. Damien.”

    Lacey nodded.

    “I decided I never liked him. I decided that nothing had ever happened. It was middle school so it doesn’t even matter if it did happen. But you know he was cute and Emma was encouraging so I kissed him under the bleachers. It was a small thing. Totally meaningless in the long run. I know that but then he joined in a few times on bullying me. I know why he did. He wanted Emma’s attentions. She’s very pretty. I get it.”

    I paused. “He hurt me though and I decided that, that kiss didn’t exist. That he never meant anything to me no matter how small of a thing it was. So I put it all away. Locked everything nice that ever happened to me into a tight little box and shut down. Just like Dad does. I mean of all the negative traits of Dad I could get... being good at pretending everything's fine isn’t the best one.”

    Lacey laughed lightly. “No. It's his worst trait really.”

    “Right. So I decided that I’m not going to let all that decide what mattered to me or what I like. I’m not some watermark on Emma’s life; she’s a footnote of mine. The only way to do that is to…” I paused. “Its to own my life. I like what I like, I am who I am. I can’t stop being that and I can’t and shouldn’t apologize for it. That doesn’t mean it's easy though, I know it in my head but Emma’s in my head too and all the horrible things she said and did.”

    Lacey’s hand started rubbing my back and I smiled at her. “And taking after Dad isn’t all bad anyway. You should have seen him with Miss Militia. I mean it wasn’t a pleasant talk but he was so present. It's like the room filled up with what he wanted and nothing was gonna stand in his way. I thought about how I responded to mom’s death. How I got the same way with my grief. I wanted the whole world to be as miserable as I was. If I could turn that into a positive thing? If I could be just a little more like him in that way I’d be pretty happy I think.”

    Lacey jabbed me then. “What’s this got to do with cute girls and boys?”

    I grumbled and let my frustration out, “It's just not possible to get what you want and not be at risk for getting hurt. I could have done everything right and Emma still could have betrayed me. I could have done everything right and Damien still would have hurt me. No matter what I do I’m at risk all the time. You could get hit by a bus Lacey and that, I think it would destroy me.”

    Her hand stilled the and she caught my eyes speaking softly, “I love you too Taylor.”

    I laughed and fell into the hug more. “I just don’t know what to do with that. How do you just take all those risks? How do you just accept how horrible it could all turn out?”

    Lacey was silent for a moment before speaking, “I guess that depends on you mostly. Your Dad could have just given up. He didn’t though. He kept fighting and when it got really tough he fought harder. You seem to be enjoying the results,” I nodded and she continued, “So it's kind of a case of rule ten.”

    I hummed and quoted, “If its not part of the plan, it was always part of the plan… I get it I think.”

    “Of course you do. You’re your mother’s daughter.”

    I grinned. “But yeah, the blonde girl was super pretty.”

    Lacey laughed and teased me, “You’re saying she moved well?”

    I scoffed. “Whatever. Lets get more ice cream.”

    “We could get brownies instead. There’s that bakery up the street.”

    I shrugged and smiled. “Brownies are good too.”



    The following day was boring. My eyes were starting to cross at the sheer depth of boredom that the history of northern africa was pushing me into. I fretted a bit shaking my leg trying to find some place for my mind to escape to. The jostling of the pens on my Dad’s desk had him looking up at me with a glare. He was about to say something when the door opened.

    "Hey Danny?"

    I glanced up at the door. Kurt was leaning in with a slightly mischievous smirk on his face.

    "Yeah?" Dad turned his head up and stared for a second before giving Kurt an expectant look.

    "Its Overdrive's quarterly."

    Dad’s head fell backwards and smacked against his chair and he groaned.

    “I had totally forgotten.”

    He slowly composed himself and then glanced over at me with a smile.

    "Want to meet her?"

    Kurt started laughing as I moved so fast Dad hadn’t even pushed his chair back before I was near the door. I started tapping my foot loudly and glared at him while he took his time. He paused for a moment and then began shaking his head in amusement at me.

    “Of course I want to meet another Tinker, now hurry up,” I said while fighting back against the idea I had any reason to be embarrassed by my excitement.

    My impatience got the better of me and I grabbed Dad’s coat. I shooed him out the door while helping him put it on garnering me more chuckles from Kurt. Dad's office was on the second floor of the main warehouse. When I had first started coming with him to the office for school, the nostalgia of coming here with Mom when I was very little had been overwhelming.

    I loved this place. Sometimes the smell of the ocean would creep in through the windows and mix in with the musty smell of fuel and grease. The smell was comforting in ways I couldn't put a finger on. Not that it held a candle to propellants, but it was up there.

    I dragged Dad down the catwalk hopping a bit with excitement, earning me a smile I basked in for a moment. The roar of a vehicle greeted me and I pulled him faster. I couldn't really say I cared that much for vehicles, but I was excited anyway. Overdrive was a bit famous for being so over the top it made you question why someone had built the metaphorical walls in the first place. They weren't meant to be a challenge. Overdrive had taken it as a challenge.

    When we finally rounded the corner of the warehouse doors, I took a look. The vehicle was impressive. A twelve wheel frame held a partially armored top. The lines on the vehicle were built for speed and the smattering of armor plates were more for redirection than they were for real protection. The driver’s seat was centered on the vehicle with a better protected area in the rear that appeared to have seats as well as cargo space. There was a retractable cannon on the top that looked like part of a pair. Once my eyes landed on it I couldn’t turn away.

    I bit my lip a bit in excitement looking at the weapon. The fire and thunder it could unleash gave me a wash of ideas that started to dance around in my head. I had started to walk up to the vehicle before really considering my surroundings. My pencil and paper were out in a flash and I started doing calculations on what type of propellants to use. The 120mm caliber of the weapon was obvious to me, but the recoil force on the light body of the vehicle would be problematic in a number of circumstances. It wasn’t built to counter the force of the gun at all. Which wasn’t surprising considering Overdrive’s specialty.

    I looked at the vehicle again, trying to get a sense of its ballistic properties and played them against the type of rounds I could develop for that caliber. The sheer amount of possibilities overwhelmed me and I paused to take a deep breath.

    A tap on my shoulder surprised me and I turned.Overdrive was gorgeous and completely trashy. Her jeans were tattered and her tank top barely concealed anything. Her mask was almost non-existent just enough to through off the profile. I stared for a bit and then snapped out of it, going from a mere blush to nuclear launch in less than a second. Her response didn't help at all.

    "Like what you see?"

    I really did. Not now brain! I met her eyes finally. Her grin was both too knowing and too pleased to feel anything less than the maximum amount of embarrassment.

    "Sorry! Didn't mean to touch without asking, lost my head a bit." I grinned nervously.

    She let out a warm laugh. "So you’re the little Hebert then?"

    I took a moment to look around me while I nodded in response. My Dad's hands were covering his face and he was shaking his head. Kurt was chewing his lower lip in amusement, and the other various dock workers were doing their very best to look like they had never laughed a day in their life. They were failing. My ears burned in embarrassment.

    "Don't worry, your secrets safe with me."

    I groaned, realizing how stupid I'd just been. "Thanks. It’s just your work is really amazing and I haven’t seen anything like it before. The retractable cannon though, its a real work of art and I..."

    I snapped my mouth shut and gave her an embarrassed grin.

    She suppressed a giggle and put her hand out to shake. I guess I should have been surprised when she pulled me into a hug that was a little to tight. She smelled like engine grease and rose perfume. I wasn't really surprised by the embrace though, since this was exactly the kind of thing I had been told she would do. She released me a second or two too late to be anything except extremely awkward with a shit eating grin on her face.

    "How about I sign my new rental agreement and I'll give you a better look at this beauty later?"

    She gestured at the vehicle, but my eyes were stuck on the cannon. I nodded silently, despondent that I'd have to wait but I let her drag me back to my Dad.

    "I'm happy to sign an NDA," she waggled her hand like the whole idea was below her. It probably was with the weaponry she casually displayed on her vehicles.

    Dad just rubbed his forehead in frustration. "I should have known better honestly, but I appreciate it Sherrell. We haven't changed anything in the contract, so it should be a breeze. Unless you wanted to make adjustments?"

    She shook her head. "Nope, cheap rent, easy work, and a bunch of burly men to keep me company, what's a girl not love about that?"

    She had a point, and I had to admit to a bit of jealousy. She winked at the dock workers. A chorus of wolf whistles came in response. That just encouraged her next question, "Do you think I can talk you into those uniform adjustments this time?"

    Lechery was practically oozing from her as she said it.

    Kurk gave an amused snort. "Never change," He waved his hand and started wandering away before turning to the Dock Workers around us shouting, “Quit acting like a bunch of lovesick teenagers and get back to work!”

    They grumbled but moved.

    I turned back to my Dad who was giving Overdrive a very lazy glare. "What you and my men do together during off time is no business of mine but there are OSHA standards I have to maintain in the uniform."

    He said that with a straight face, like he was actually considering whatever implied insanity was lingering in the exchange. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Dad’s statement did nothing to dissuade Overdrive though. She put her hands on her hips and bounced slightly on her toes which left me in an incredibly distracted state for a second. Her response was positively salacious, "Oh Danny, I didn't know you cared."

    A whirl of conflicting emotions danced around in me. I was uniquely uncomfortable with watching a girl only a few years older than me flirt with my Dad. What made it worse though is that I was jealous of him, of her attention on him. Which took it right from awkward and slightly weird all the way to disturbing and horrible. I shook myself attempting to put my mind anywhere else. I turned my body slightly taking my Dad completely out of my range of view and settled my eyes on Overdrive instead and decided internally that none of the last few seconds had ever occurred.

    "You're too young for me," his voice was cold and deadpan. It was apparent this was the kind of conversation he'd had with her many times before.

    She pouted. How she managed to pull off a cute pout with a slab of engine grease on the left side of her face made me want to ask for tips if I was being honest.

    Dad was having none of it. He rolled his eyes and pointed towards his office without another word. We wandered back upstairs and I got to watch the most amusing negotiations I'd probably ever witness. If you could even call it that. Every possible innuendo was turned into a talking point. Dad’s voice was filled with a sort of tiredness and petulance I rarely heard from him. Overdrive though took that as encouragement. Eventually though, they wound down and signed.

    Overdrive turned to me with a grin. "Ready to go check out my ride?"

    "Hell yes."



    "Noooooo... I don't wanna gooooo...."

    Dad's hands were trying to drag me away from the workbench. I struggled vainly against him but my protests were marginal at best.

    "Taylor it's been six hours. I need to go home. You need to eat. You have work tomorrow. Remember your meeting with the PR people and Miss Militia?"

    I turned on him pouting. I was filthy. Sherrel was passed out on the couch. The warehouse, her warehouse, housed her ‘Boy Toy’, and a few other vehicles. I wasn't actually sure when we had moved from the parking lot.

    "Your clothes are pretty much ruined too."

    I looked down and sighed at the new tears in my shirt and pants. "Okay... I liked this shirt too."

    He grinned. "I've never seen someone wear out Sherrell before."

    "She kissed me," My mouth said the words before my brain could give them context. The last few hours of my life slowly rose to the top of my mind and I felt the ghost of a blush rise up on my cheeks.

    "She kisses everyone," the sound of his voice was long suffering and dry.

    "Yeah. I figured that. She’s not a boundaries person obviously. I didn’t mind, it was kind of nice." It had been nice. Right after I had told her what I was working on she had gotten this adorable dopey expression on her face and kissed me. Not that I’m complaining either, it was very flattering. She clearly didn’t mean for it to be taken seriously. That didn’t change much though. Collaboration kisses were acceptable. I nodded silently to myself at the thought. Taylor Hebert will work for kisses and ammunition; food optional but encouraged.

    "Oh… Well don’t put too much thought into it. The woman is like a tank engine in the frame of a Honda Civic. With the dings, scrapes, and trauma to go with it."

    I blinked a few times. "No, I don’t think she meant anything by it other than being excited."

    He snorted. "So what is that thing over there on the table?"

    I cackled. "Just a little present for Skidmark next time he comes calling."

    "Your present isn’t gonna break any of the Union’s stuff is it?" The touch of genuine concern in his voice was positively adorable considering the mood I was in.

    I shook my head as we started walking towards the car. "Oh no, it's so much better than that. It's perfectly safe of course... You know Sherrell likes to use protection."

    I gave him an innocent smile.

    "Oh god... I never should have let you talk to her."

    "As if Lacey is any better."

    He shrugged. "Lacey... actually yeah... you're right."

    "I mean that's why Kurt's always smiling."

    Dad paused in his walk toward the car, a look of horror passed over his face and he groaned. "I never should have let you talk to her."

    "Overdrive or Lacey?" I leaned into his shoulder, giving him a side view of my smile.

    He looked down at me. His face the absolute picture of parental despondency. "I really shouldn't have let you talk to her."

    "Alas poor father, it is too late! She has corrupted me utterly."

    He rolled his eyes. "No, I'm pretty sure its all you. It's not like your mother didn't have her fair share of..."

    He paused while a fond expression appeared on his face that slowly transformed into a smile. "Lets just say college for your mother was a special time."

    I looked up at him with soft surprise. This was the first time he'd talked about mom in years without anger tingeing his voice. I gave him a timid smile and his smile turned into a grin. Then something turned behind his eyes, like a giant cog, and a touch of mischief filled his voice when he said, "Let me tell you about your mother's friend Gale..."

    I let his words wash over me then, absorbing them like rain in the heat.



    AN: Oh boy! I'm so glad this was mostly done before. Sorry about the HUGE delay. This fic is pretty close to my heart so don't worry about abandonment. I'm hoping to get back on my schedule again! Also I sincerely apologize that the fics action scenes are still a ways out. They are coming though, outlined and everything and some written! Thanks for your patience.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 7
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)



    The journey to the Rig had been an eclectic mixture of public transportation, walking, and eventually an unmarked vehicle. The mixture changed day to day and I was encouraged to be as unpredictable as possible until I could drive myself, and after I could drive I’d have a whole different set of rules to follow.

    I slipped into my new lab and frowned. The “moving company” that had gathered my stuff from home had unceremoniously turned this space into a nightmare of haphazard boxes and tools. I wasn’t exactly the most organized person in the world but I wasn’t exactly messy either. I pushed a table against one of the walls and started to think about what I wanted to do with the space.

    I sighed as I stared at the boxes of bullets in front of me. I was going to have to organize them again. Worse yet I was going to have to develop a system for organizing them. I looked around at some of the tools considering my options before an inspiration took hold and I got to work.

    Aegis’s voice eventually broke me out of my state and he physically moved my hands away from a design and partially constructed device. He turned me towards him. I thought I was putting the lab together? When had I started building something?

    “Dakka, you’ve got ten minutes to get down to PR.”

    I stared at the device I had been building thinking about how useful it was going to be. Aegis snapped his fingers at me and I pushed his hands away grabbing my pencil before he grabbed my shoulder and physically dragged me away from the table. I shook myself and nodded. “Right. Thanks.”

    He snorted and flicked my forehead. I glared at him but his face gave away nothing which was actually pretty surprising. He spoke in a long suffering drawl when he broke the silence, “Don’t worry. Kid Win is never on time to meetings either. I figured I’d give you a hand with your first time.”

    I failed to control the giggle at that and he smiled triumphantly at me. He shoved my hat into my hands and spoke in a put upon professional voice, “Leadership is fraught with trials.”

    I put my hat on and rolled my eyes at him.

    “Now go child and sin no more.”

    I snickered at that. “Jesus. Laying it on a bit thick aren’t you?” I pushed him away from me and started walking towards the door.

    “Not Jesus. Aegis.” He crossed his arms while he said it and put his nose in the air.

    I groaned at the stupid joke and mocked him, “Oh har de har har.”

    He laughed before tapping his wrist where a watch would be. “Seven minutes.”

    I let out an eep and dashed out of the lab.



    For a room that was supposed to be about public relations it couldn’t have been more boring. Six desks all lined up in threes on opposite sides of a room just a little too small to fit them all comfortably. I quickly checked my costume. It felt good each time I put it on. In fact it felt a little more right every single time. There was also a fleeting sense of power of being able to walk around everywhere armed. Now I was here to make some of that even more real.

    I let a smile grow at that thought and walked to the desk on the right where two men were standing up waiting for me.

    “Dakka it's good to finally meet you, I’m Darryn Howard, head of the Brockton Protectorate’s PR department.”

    The man to his left followed up saying, “And I’m Glenn Chambers, the head of PR for The Protectorate.”

    I started slightly at that and mumbled a bit helplessly, “Oh... I didn’t know you were coming.”

    He smiled with a touch of friendly mischief. “Well I hadn’t originally planned to but there was a rather large disagreement on how to handle your image so I decided to come meet you myself.”

    That statement did not fill me with confidence. A sense of panic rushed through me and probably would have gotten out of control but Miss Militia’s voice interrupted it, “Sorry I’m late. My patrol went a bit long. Uber and Leet left a bunch of tinker tech pranks in the mall.”

    I felt the words leave my mouth before I could stop them, “So they just left some of Leet’s old tech around then?”

    Miss Militia rolled her eyes in response. “If only it were so simple. Armsmaster thinks he built a machine that builds the pranks so it's probably going to become a thing around town for a while until they get bored.”

    Glenn stepped in then saying, “Well let's get started.”

    Darryn gave Glenn a displeased look and Glenn simply smiled guilelessly in return. I sighed internally but decided to try not to get sucked into whatever office politics were afoot. Darryn didn’t give Glenn a chance to keep talking though and gestured to the chairs while he started talking, “So... do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first?”

    I shrugged. “Let's go with the good news so we can save the arguing for later.”

    Glenn snorted and sat down while Miss Militia and I found our seats as well.

    “Well the good news is we don’t want to change anything about your costume except for two small details that we think you won’t mind.”

    I nodded along. I knew my costume didn’t really have anything controversial about it. My skin was covered except for the small v-neck of my t-shirt, which was hardly scandalous. So it was pretty inoffensive and it was practical. Still I was glad I wouldn’t have to change it. I liked my costume.

    “So what needs to change?” I prompted.

    “Well we’d like for you to have a logo, something to put on the back of your jacket and a smaller one on the front.”

    “That’s fine. I had been thinking of making a logo myself.”

    “Excellent, we also want you to forgo your holographic mask and instead wear a bandana.”

    I frowned at that but gave it some thought before I responded.

    “You want to draw my similarities to Miss Militia to the forefront. You want us to cross-pollinate our themes.”

    Glenn cheered quietly. “She’s got it! It's always nice to see someone who gets it.”

    I smiled a bit at the praise and Darynn nodded along but had a glimmer of frustration.

    “So no problems with that either?” Darryn queried with a little bit of hope in his voice.

    “As long as I get to help pick the bandana. You know I read the pamphlet you gave me before I showed up right?” I gave him a proud but completely insincere smile.

    He chuckled a bit and continued, “Now for the bad news. We want you to change your name.”

    “No.” I didn’t even bother to hide the venom in my voice and felt slightly embarrassed about it momentarily but this was the one thing I’d fight for.

    Glenn was smirking and said to Darryn, “I told you she wouldn’t go for it.”

    Darryn’s voice came out whiney and frustrated, “But its Dakka. It's literally about collateral damage and murder! It's a horrible hero name!”

    I hid a sigh and put on my best professional voice, “Mr. Howard I have a question.”

    He gave me a tired look and seemed to weigh entertaining the clearly deluded teenager in front of him. “Go for it.”

    “Did you know what Dakka meant before you prepped for this meeting?”

    He blinked for a second and a tinge of pink appeared on his face. “No I didn’t. I had to look it up.”

    I silently thanked my Dad for preparing me for this argument before continuing.

    “And I imagine you are a pretty well read guy. So how many members of the public do you think know what Dakka even means themselves?”

    He sighed. “Almost no one. That hardly makes it a good name though.”

    I waved my hands smiling a bit. “I’m getting there. I’m not making an excuse I’m making a point. I promise.”

    He nodded along and Glenn was really grinning now almost like he had read my mind. Maybe he had.

    “So when a reporter asks what my name means and I answer it’s an onomatopoeia and joke from a tabletop war game, what’s going to be the first thing they think?”

    Darryn started smiling but he decided to play along. “I don’t know. What are they going to think?”

    I sighed dramatically. “God… what a nerd!”

    Glenn clapped his hands with a smile. “Let's talk about logos!”



    I stared at the door to Kid Win’s lab for a moment. I hoped his first impression of me wasn’t too bad but Dad’s advice lingered in my head. I guess the best way out was through in the end. I looked myself over quickly and rolled my shoulders back while opening the door in front of me.

    "Hey Chris, got a minute?"

    He lifted his head up glancing around his smaller lab. Armsmaster’s lab had better toys for sure but Chris's felt more lived in. He nodded with a smile. "It's been awhile since anyone's visited me in the lab. What ya need?"

    I frowned at that. "Well expect a lot more visits. I've got something I think would interest you."

    He looked excited at least. "Are you telling me you want to collaborate?"

    Wow. I need to get him out more. "Yeah, so I'm currently using Glock 19's, straight off the gun store shelf. Lets just say I'm feeling they are insufficient. First of all the form factor for the bullets is a little tiring to work with. A larger caliber round would give me more room and expand my options."

    He nodded at that while humming to himself, "Why not revolvers? I thought you'd want to switch out ammo more easily."

    I shrugged. "Honestly? My original intention was to replace them with an automatic pistol, but my Dad talked me down. I can't say I blame him but... I blame him. I mean I'm a damn good shot but the funny thing about people is that they tend to move when you shoot at them. More Dakka is always the best choice."

    He snorted at my joke while I walked into the lab and pulled up a stool. In comparison my lab hadn't really been fully furnished yet. It took a few months for a tinkerlab to get totally fitted, not to mention the barrels of paperwork that came along with. For whatever reason, giving teenagers access to bulk quantities of material that can easily make high powered explosives generated a lot of paperwork. Cowards.

    He was smiling at me now, clearly thinking things over.

    "Well I don't know about guns yet but I... what if I gave you a few things to make a few rounds?"

    I looked at him with wide-eyed expectancy and he blushed a bit. "Right. Um. So..." he drifted off for a second before mastering himself.

    "So anti-gravity... right..." he nodded to himself.

    I gestured for him to continue while saying, "So anti-gravity," and then it clicked as I looked at the draft he pulled up on his computer, "Oh..." my hands grabbed at a piece of paper and I started scribbling a design with the pencil I now carried everywhere with me. He leaned over looking at my design before he started chuckling a bit. "Did you just steal my anti-grav design?"

    "Yeah, look... I can't fit a static field generator inside a round but I can fit the part that causes the initial propagation wave. It should last for three to five seconds but imagine if I get knocked in the air and I need a way to safely hit the ground without flyer support. I've been thinking about fitting a break action pistol onto a wrist holster for emergency rounds and with this I can maybe save myself a lot of injury."

    He nodded before his eyes lit up. "How would you like a gun that has controlled access to a pocket dimension?”

    "You can do pocket dimensions?"

    His eyes blazed. "I can now!"

    Then his enthusiasm sputtered. "Crap I'm gonna have to requisition material for it. I need Thallium. Give me a couple of weeks though, I feel like whatever is in my head is gonna tell me something about my specialty I've been missing. There's something about it."

    His enthusiasm came back as he turned back to his computer and started drafting a new design.

    I smiled. "You're making me something for free. I'm not going to complain if it takes you time, especially if it helps you too."

    He nodded in relief and a stray bit of confidence filled his eyes. I shifted in my seat with a question, "Anything you think I can help you with?"

    "Just show me what you did to miniaturize that. I know Armsmaster looked it over but he didn't think it would would help him with his work, so he never finished examining it."

    "Armsmaster give you a lot of trouble?"

    Chris shook his head. "I just don't think he has a lot of patience for me. I have dyscalculia so it takes me a long time to work out some of the more troubling aspects of my tech. The field generation equations for my hoverboard were murder. My power feeds me the math but it won’t stick in my head and it doesn’t make sense the way everything else does. I almost gave up being a hero. That's actually how I picked my name when I finally smashed my head against the problem long enough, I won. So today I'm Kid Win and one day I'll be Victory."

    Damn. That's kind of hot. I rolled my eyes at myself internally and pressed on, "How about this, if you can find a way to word your field equations as a ballistics problem then I can basically solve them in my head. I'll help with your math troubles as much as possible?"

    He mulled it over quietly and a happy cascade of changing velocities worked its way from his face to his shoulders, "I'll see what I can do. I have some stuff easier than that. I’ll send you an email later. Take your time, I appreciate the help. A lot."

    I smiled quietly to myself as I fussed over the design. I could get used to this.



    Chris’s alarm was superior to Aegis only in that it didn’t mock me when it was time to leave. I started and he smiled, “Fifteen minute warning on your meeting with Miss Militia.”

    He read my mind and continued, “Aegis had me set alarms for your meetings just in case.”

    I scoffed in bitter amazement at his foresight while I stood and dusted myself off. That sound was horrific! He grimaced a bit and shoved me. “It’ll stop once you leave.”

    I nodded and smiled at him mouthing a thanks while I left. The moment the door closed I heard the alarm turn off and Chris shout, “Come back any time Taylor!”

    I smiled happily while I wandered to the secured stairwell that connected the restricted part of the third floor and the fourth and fifth. I quickly found my way to Miss Militia’s door and I knocked quietly.

    “Come on in Taylor.”

    I opened the door and quickly sat at the desk. Miss Militia was finishing something on the computer and gestured with her head toward a cup of tea on the desk. I felt oddly touched that she remembered my drink preference and couldn’t help the smile that formed on my face while I sipped at it patiently.

    She finished typing and turned with an apology, “Sorry, Director Piggot wanted a response right away about the joint training schedule with PRT troopers.”

    I shrugged and she undid her bandana.

    “It's very nice to meet you Taylor. I’m Hana Washington.”

    I felt a touch of a blush at the familiarity of her tone but I responded quickly, “It's very nice to meet you too Hana.”

    “Since you’re going to be my apprentice I wanted you to know you can call me anytime, in costume or out of costume. I generally don’t visit it very often but I have an apartment near the Boardwalk for when I grow absolutely sick of this place and need a break.”

    I laughed at her smile and she continued, “This counts as our initial feedback session. It's my job to tell you what the Protectorate expects of you in general and to tell you what I expect of you specifically.”

    I nodded and she smirked, “Duty performance can affect tinker budgets so listen close okay?”

    I shifted forward in my seat a bit without thinking and her eyes danced with laughter.

    “So I have a schedule here for you to accomplish a number of things. The big three are weapons qualification, self defense training and local intelligence training. Weapons qualification I will be doing myself. Assault was strangely eager to volunteer to train you in self defense, he’s our best at it anyway so I didn’t say no. Dauntless will be in charge of your local intelligence training. You can look over your schedule here.”

    She slid an additional piece of paper forward and I looked it over.

    “That’s a lot of training.”

    She nodded. “You’ve been out one night, you… Dakka you aren’t fit. That worries me quite a bit. You need to get fit, depending on the situation you might be carrying multiple heavy weapons and unlike me you have to actually carry them if you want to use them. Your power does a lot for you but you can do more for your power as well.”

    I swallowed and tried not to take the rebuke personally. I probably should have been getting in better fitness but hadn’t prioritized it. There just always seemed to be something else to do. I nodded to her and said, “Okay. Do you have any recommendations?”

    “I do. First though we need you to get your first physical done with medical. I don’t want to recommend an exercise plan that would injure you. We’ll work something out. Assault knows what he’s doing as well.”

    I mulled that over and thought about what she had said, “What’s your routine like?”

    “I generally keep it simple with weight lifting and I like to ride the stationary bike. Rarely I’ll ride the bike trails near the boardwalk when I have the time and it's not so cold.”

    “The perils of Brockton Bay.”

    She let out a bark of a laugh and continued on, “The other big job, ignoring patrols, is volunteer work. I have a couple of things I like to do around town that I’ll be bringing you along with to.”

    “Like PR stuff or real volunteer work?”

    “Real volunteer work. I won’t drag you to the crochet circle I sometimes join unless you want to but I do work with the homeless kids shelter near the docks fairly regularly.”

    “I don’t know how to crochet but I’d be happy to help with the kids.”

    She smiled, “I figured you would. I can teach you to crochet though.”

    Her eyes gave her joke away so I answered in kind, “I fear sitting still doing nothing with my hands would end up with the crochet hook as part of some jury rigged siege device. The people of Brockton might never survive the ordeal.”

    Her laugh came out uncharacteristically girly and she pushed her hair back while shoving another schedule in my hands.

    “That’s my volunteer schedule including the high risk crochet group. Let me know if you plan on coming to any of these. Costume is required of course because we’ve got to make the PR guys happy but if you have other volunteer ideas let me know and I’ll help you set them up.”

    I looked it over and when I looked up at her again she had a touch of mischief about her.

    “Let's talk about what you can build for me now.”

    I grinned and pulled out my pencil and paper. “I thought you’d never ask.”

    Her fond laughter turned my toes and the rest of the meeting went by in a flash.



    I eventually left Miss Militia with a busy schedule and a bunch of new ideas. I had originally intended on returning to my lab but Dragon had promised me help and I figured the sooner I asked the better it would be. I realized I had no idea how to contact her though so I found myself outside Armsmasters lab. I braced myself and knocked on the door.

    "Enter."

    I entered. Armsmaster was sitting leaning over some sort of contraption I didn't immediately recognize. I walked up to him while my curiosity got the better of me. I leaned over to take a look examining the internals.

    "Why are you messing with a grenade launcher?"

    He started for a second, leaning away from me a bit, having already forgotten he told me I could enter. I hid my laughter. "Sorry for startling you."

    He blinked and nodded. "I told you to enter. I apologize, I was very invested in my work here."

    I smiled then and looked it over. "This from the Cornell bombing?"

    "Yes. This was left in the capes dorm room. It's only partially complete. I was asked to examine it since it's rumored that she is in town now working for Lung. We haven't confirmed it but Thinkers are indicating its almost certain."

    I nodded and leaned forward. "What seems to be stumping you?"

    "This mechanism here. It appears to be simple metal but its not. I'm hesitant to attempt a more direct investigation because I don't want to damage the launcher yet. It has some interesting techniques used. I believe it was being designed to work with her special brand of explosives. It has a couple of remote detonation options and other interesting things."

    He gestured at the back plate of the barrel. I looked intently at it, it felt familiar.

    "I think its an interface to modify instructions in the grenade before firing."

    His eyes widened a bit and he looked at it again pulling out a simple magnification device to look at something.

    "Its obvious in retrospect," he huffed sounding disappointed in himself.

    "I've had plans for something similar in my own work. It's not my highest priority though. Which is actually why I'm here by the way, Dragon had promised me some of her time but she never gave me her contact info."

    Armsmaster mumbled something that sounded remarkably like, "Meddling woman."

    I grinned impishly at him and he blinked at me before a hint of a smile appeared on his face, "I guess you heard that."

    I nodded while deciding to show mercy. "So... about that info."

    He scribbled something down. "Phone, e-mail, and Protectorate Video Chat account. She prefers video."

    I took the note and decided to overstay my welcome pulling up the second stool. "Want some help with the launcher?"

    He looked mulish for a second before something passed over his eyes. "That... sounds nice actually. Also I think there is some work I've been doing with tranquilizers I think you'd be interested in."

    I nodded eagerly. "I don't have anything rated for brutes, some of the chemicals are too hard to make with store bought tools. It was something I was starting to look at but I'd appreciate the advice."

    He smiled widely finally showing teeth. "I think you'll like this then."



    Colin fussed over the design Dakka, no Taylor had left him. It wasn’t the same level of miniaturization he could produce but what she had done with Chris’s field generator was frankly marvelous. He felt a little guilty about ignoring the kid before but in retrospect he only had so much time to dedicate to Brockton’s problems and a fellow tinker’s difficulty in producing their own work didn’t really seem that high on his list in all honesty. They weren’t his Wards anyway.

    This though. Taylor could bridge that gap for him. Chris produced interesting equipment, Colin had to admit that at least. Some of the things the boy was developing were important and if collaboration was possible now that left him excited even a bit giddy. Colin had to admit he wasn’t able to smooth over the social issues but Taylor seemed much more naturally gifted in that regard.

    Brockton Bay now had effectively four tinkers at work for the heroes and that was… exciting. He scanned the draft in and sent it to Dragon before he stood up to grab himself a refill of coffee. The girl’s presence was odd to him. He didn’t really like company necessarily, Dragon excluding it tended to be distracting but Taylor had a way about her he found not particularly troublesome and she clearly was capable and driven. Those were features he could appreciate in a person.

    Dragon’s face popped up on one of the motorized monitor stands and Colin smiled at her.

    “Hey Dragon. How are you?”

    “That’s quite the piece of tech you sent me.”

    “Dakka’s doing. Apparently she did it this morning with Chris.”

    Dragon’s voice was full of mocking amusement as she spoke, “So Chris isn’t so bad after all then?”

    Colin frowned in response and scoffed, “I never said he was bad. I said I had no patience for him. Which is true. I never claimed to be some paragon of virtue.”

    A snort and a roll of the eyes were her only response before a minute of silence passed while Colin slowly sipped at his coffee thinking over the afternoon’s work.

    Dragon filled the silence with shop talk. “I can reduce the effective weight of my suits by half if I fiddle with this a bit I think. I’ve marked two spots in your halberd where you could alter its balance as well. It could give you the ability to put more functionality in with the proper counterbalance.”

    Colin’s smile grew wide as he continued to sip on his coffee and he closed his eyes for a second letting the happiness of the perfect day overwhelm him while he opened his mouth without thinking, “Its days like this that I remember how much I love you Dragon.”

    The woman on the screen sputtered and gasped before her avatar ballooned into a blush and Colin slowly realized just what he had said to her. He would say he was mortified but that word simply wasn’t strong enough to describe the intensity of the feeling rumbling through him. He felt the color drain from his cheeks for a moment as the silence filled the room before Dragon’s voice came back with a soft intensity.

    “Really?”

    Colin turned to look at her as the heat in his cheeks came back in a rush. He gripped the coffee cup tightly as the cold clammy feeling in his hands did nothing to save him from the earnest and frankly hopeful look on her face. Even at his worst he could pick up that particular signal. He could take it back. She’d let him, he knew she would.

    He fidgeted with his hands for a moment and looked at her for a bit longer before he resolved himself. Discretion might be the better part of valor but it wasn’t the only part and he didn’t get to where he was in life without a willingness to tolerate discomfort. Some things were worth it. Still saying it again or even confirming it would be too much for him at the moment so he dissembled.

    “I have some leave I haven’t taken.” He felt like an idiot saying it and she instantly deflated and let out a choked laugh. He deserved that. Not only had he never actually taken a day off it was an appalling response to her question.

    “And?” The question came out as the verbal equivalent of an insistent jabbing hand in his ribs.

    He closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair for a moment before he put his brain back on the track it was originally headed. “I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind me coming to visit. I’m pretty sure they can spare me …”

    Her interruption came out as a fierce and excited hiss, “Yes.”

    “What?” Colin stumbled over the interruption and hoped she’d keep talking, thankfully she did.

    “Come visit. Take a week off next month. I’ve filled out your leave form; you just have to forward the email to Rebecca.” It wasn’t a request it was a demand.

    Colin wasn’t sure how to describe exactly what he was feeling but his smile grew and suddenly he knew the day really was absolutely perfect. “I can’t wait.”



    “Narwhal! Wake up!”

    The woman shot out of bed and looked at the digitized face looming over her. “What? What happened? Where do I need to be?”

    Dragon blinked for a moment and spoke, “This isn’t that kind of emergency.”

    “But it's an emergency?”

    Dragon’s voice grew quiet, “Yes. You remember those plans that bio-tinker left behind in Ottawa after the Nine struck? The ones I had you put in lock up?”

    Narwhal’s eyes danced with sudden understanding and she smiled. “I sure do. What’s the special occasion?”

    “Colin’s coming to visit.”

    Narwhal let out a giggle that slowly transformed into a cackle before answering, “I’ll send them right over. Congratulations. You gonna tell him?”

    “I kind of have to.” Dragon’s eyes fidgeted with trepidation while Narwhal gave her a smirk oozing with mischief.

    “Well... make sure to bed him first then.”

    “NARWHAL!”



    Rebecca Costa-Brown blinked at the email she had just received. Dragon was delaying a shipment? That had never happened before. The email was followed up with a leave request from Colin Wallis. Well that explained that. She stood with an amused grin and wandered over to the window before scowling. She owed David a thousand dollars now and worse yet he was going to be absolutely insufferable about it.



    AN: And there it is. The butterflies are really starting to flap here. For the curious ones it is right now somewhere in January for Taylor. Next chapter has the first firm date in the fic.
     
  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 8
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)



    I had been waiting for ten minutes. Which to be fair was early but I really didn’t want to give any of the Protectorate members a reason to dislike me. I was already reeling from last week and I didn’t need any other reasons to stress.

    The door opened and I roused myself. Dauntless was a lot better looking in person than on TV. He had that kind of physical strength that permeated his movements. I grabbed ahold of that train of thought and pushed it away. I really didn’t want to make a fool of myself right now.

    He smiled and the thoughts came back and I accepted my tragic yet inevitable embarrassment.

    “It's nice to meet you Dakka. I’m Dauntless.”

    “Haha... yeah. It's nice to meet you too...” I trailed off feeling like a tool. This was worse than the crush I had on my middle school teacher. God, I’m completely ridiculous.

    He sat down at a chair across the table and set some folders down.

    “Okay, it's my job to get you trained on the local threats and also local intelligence in general. The first thing I’m going to want you to do is read the information in here and give me a rundown of how you would handle each threat. Then we’ll discuss your ideas and how they can be improved. The deadline for this is two weeks.”

    I glanced down at the folders and saw a list of names of local capes both heroes and villains. I looked closer and raised a question, “Where’s Lung?”

    A disturbing grin appeared that contained an emotion I wasn’t familiar with. He pulled a recorder out and pressed play. A roar filled the room and Dauntless asked, “What do you do if you hear this sound?”

    “Um… call for help?”

    “Close. You do that second, what do you do first?”

    “Um… run away?”

    “Good. That’s exactly what you do. We will not be running a threat assessment on Lung. Your standing orders on encountering Lung are to leave, to beg for mercy, to find some other place to be. You change patrol routes, you don’t ask for permission, you don’t get clever. You do not fight Lung, you do not think about fighting Lung, you don’t dream about fighting Lung. If you think to yourself at any time in the next three years of your life, ‘I could take him.’ You call in immediately and submit yourself to Master Stranger screening. Lung is not your problem. Are we clear?”

    I nodded my eyes wide and I could feel a kind of fear percolating at his earnest intensity.

    “So what do you do if you hear this sound?”

    He played the recording again.

    “Run away sir!”

    He frowned. “You’ll figure it out eventually.”

    Wait what? What did I do wrong? Before I could ask he had already left the room. Was everyone here crazy?



    I ran to the gym. I didn’t realize the beds in the Wards area were so comfortable. They were nicer than my bed at home! I had almost made it when Dauntless jumped out of a hallway near me and the recording of Lung sounded off.

    “WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU HEAR THIS SOUND!?”

    I responded immediately, “Run away sir!”

    “Right answer!” Then he leaned in with a whisper, “You’re still wrong.”

    Then he was gone down the hallway again. What? My head was still spinning when I wandered into the gym. Assault was already there and had a smile on his face. “Dauntless didn’t keep you too long?”

    Oh no. They were all in on it. I pretended like he hadn’t asked the question.

    “I may have overslept on the bed in the Wards room.”

    “They do have nice beds for our quarters here. Alright, let's get started Gun Bunny. What’s the one thing you don’t let a Thinker do?”

    I blinked. Gun Bunny? Also, how was this self defense?

    “I don’t know.”

    “Come on. Get on the mat already!”

    I nodded with nervous eagerness and ran up to the mat.

    “First things, how to fall. You are going to do practice falls. I know your Thinker power lets you do those right already but I want to see each one so I can make a checkmark on my little sheet here so Miss Militia can be the queen of paperwork. I already made the mistake of messing with her paperwork once, I won’t do it again. She’s evil.”

    He visibly shuddered.

    “The important thing about falling is trying to disperse or redirect the energy. Like so.”

    He fell backwards and demonstrated. I watched the velocities and he stood back up.

    “That’s a good fall, compare it to a bad one.”
    Then he fell a little haphazardly to the side, and I could easily see the increased strain on his body.

    “Show me good falls, do fifty of them. If you do them all perfectly we’ll move on, but we are going to do these first every day. Knowing how to do something is different than being trained to do something.”

    I nodded and started doing the falls.

    “So what do you keep a Thinker from doing?”

    I kept up my falls but answered, “I don’t know.”

    “Never let them talk.”

    That made sense. In fact it made sense from a self defense standpoint too. Social thinkers weren’t going to punch me, they were going to try and get under my skin. I stopped after standing up and fear crept up me. I shifted nervously on my feet imagining the kinds of things they could say. Emma’s hateful jabs echoed around my head for a moment.

    He gave me an approving look. “Good. You get it. Keep falling. Never let them talk.”

    I gave a curt nod in response and got back to falling.

    “Oni Lee. Line of sight teleporter. You read body language, name his weakness to you.”

    I gave it a thought. “Eyes, he’s going to look with his eyes.”

    “So what do you do?”

    “Keep eye contact. If he disappears immediately move?”

    “Good enough.”

    “Which villain cape in the city do you think you counter the most easily?”

    I stood up from falling pausing a moment. “Um... I don’t know.”

    “Keep falling, fifteen left. Give it some thought Bullet Belle.”

    Really? I fell five more times before I had a tentative answer. “With the right weapon I can counter any cape in the city if I know their location.”

    “True. You aren’t always going to have it easy though. Let me rephrase. If you turned a corner and immediately had to fight a cape in close quarters which one would you have the best chance against? I know you haven’t read about every cape in the area, so just give me a good guess.”

    “Um… “

    That’s when the door busted open and Dauntless ran in shouting and the speakers in the gym came to life with the sound of Lung’s roar.

    “What do you do when you hear this?”

    I jumped in fright and shouted back, “RUN AWAY SIR!”

    Assault smiled while Dauntless huffed and left. What did he want from me? “She’ll get it eventually Daunty! Well get back to falling five left!”

    I got.

    “Yep those were perfect. Now we stretch.”

    The stretching routine was actually kind of fun. I finally decided to answer his question, “I can most easily counter Othala or Victor. Not together but separate.”

    “Is that because they are both normals essentially?”

    I nodded and he responded saying, “That’s a decent enough answer. I want you to be thinking about the local capes capabilities. As we increase the tempo of the program I want you to be able to answer how you would need to adjust your strategy to counter certain abilities. It's not the Wards job to fight but it is your job to stay alive so you can be old and dopey like me.”

    He grinned and I smiled back.

    “The other thing to remember is, capes almost never work alone. So think about how those capes will combine their abilities. Stormtiger is one scary motherfucker, but Stormtiger and Othala invincibility? It's time to leave, especially for you.”

    I nodded and a sort of warm fuzzy feeling filled me from all the care they were putting into keeping me safe. We never got to punches, just falls and blocks mostly, but I had fun.



    That had been a long day. I opened the front door to the house and smelled cookies. Dad was baking again. I smiled wildly. Dad was baking again!

    I wandered into the kitchen and found him humming to himself while mixing some cookie dough. He saw me and grinned. “Want to help? First big training day, I figured something special was in order.”

    My answer was to pull the second apron off the hook and tie it around me.

    “So how was work?”

    “I think all heroes are sadists.”
    He laughed and smiled at me, offering me some cookie dough. I grinned a bit messily at him in response. The phone rang and since I had clean hands I offered to pick it up.

    “Taylor Hebert speaking.”

    “What do you do when you hear this sound?”

    I had to pull the phone away from my head as the roar of Lung came over the phone.

    “Run away sir!”

    “Free pass! Right answer! Think about it.”

    Then he hung up. I stared at the phone for a moment before commenting, “Dad... Dauntless is insane.”

    He smirked. “Lets focus on the cookies then.”

    Dad had a point. Cookies could make anything better.

    “So what did you do today?” I asked, hoping to take my mind off the day even more.

    “Well, you know it's time for the yearly union elections. I put my name in this year for President.”

    I paused giving him a measuring look and spoke slowly, “I thought you weren’t interested.”

    He turned toward me a little more taking his eyes off the cookies. “Well someone told me I did more for this city than the last three mayors combined. I was a little bit inspired to say the least and I wouldn’t want to let that person down.”

    A warm glow filled me at his words and I leaned into him while we put cookies onto the tray. A peaceful quiet descended on us that lasted the rest of the night. It was good to be home.


    "And this is how you mark a location on the map for the apps we use on our phones."

    Gallant was doing his level best to not sound as bored as we both felt. The console was a magnificent piece of machinery designed to do very mundane things. The sound of the door opening caused us both to stir from our somnambulist revelry, blinking at the sudden change of lighting.

    "You busy Dakka?" Miss Militia's voice sounding every bit as knowing as I would have expected.

    Gallant waved his hand and I shouted in joy, "Nope, not busy at all."

    "Want to go to the armory?"

    I did not squeal, I totally squealed. We wandered through the rig. I was doing my best to memorize the paths we took but I still hadn’t discovered the trick for navigating its non-descript hallways. I imagined the difficulty of navigating wasn't an accident.

    The armory was every bit as lovely as I imagined. I quelled myself though, giving Miss Milita a look. "So how's this work?"

    "Well since you are a Ward, you have to have an escort in here at all times. You’ll have to fill out paperwork for anything outside your standard equipment but most of that can be handled by simply calling me. We can discuss the boring details later though, head to the back, you'll know what we came for when you see it."

    I love surprises. I wandered to the back, touching a few of the guns as I walked. So many ideas moved through my head in here, I couldn't stay long or I'd lose myself to it. I made it to the end and it was obvious.

    I sucked in my breath, .300 Winchester Magnum, 24in barrel, only slightly more than 5.5kg carrying weight. The M2010 Remington Arms in all of its bolt-action glory. I could see the tinker tech barrel pushing its effective range to 3125 meters on it as well. Oh, the things I'm going to do with you. I touched it and made sure it was real.

    I was going to show this little minx a good time. I purred internally a bit when I picked it up and marched back to Miss Militia my voice quavering in excitement, "Is this mine?"

    "Yes, but you can only use it under direct supervision."

    I nodded solemnly, this was the best present ever.

    "This is the best present ever."

    She snorted. "Never change Dakka. Now how about we do something more than just stare at it?"

    "I thought you'd never ask."

    She rolled her eyes at me and simply pointed at the door. I didn't need further invitation.



    The helipad has remarkably good visuals over the bay area. I was laying down scoping in on a PRT owned section of the beach near the city. A target had been set up, the regular range had quickly been shown that I was the dominant force there, and Miss Militia had seemed to want to see just what the limits of my ability were. I was more than happy to oblige.

    "You sure you can hit this shot? I know you wanted to show off, but that's 2200 meters, not really world record for capes, but..."

    Miss Militia drifted off then, seeing as I was too busy sighting in to give much concern to her worries over me embarrassing myself.

    I took a moment to brag. "You realize I can see all the wind speeds and directions right?"

    "That's so unfair," her tone was amused and a bit petulant.

    I did the required calculations in my head, adjusting my shot slightly, before letting myself unleash my snark. "No, this is."

    I steadied my breath and took the shot, the recoil and movement of the rifle felt amazing. I stood up then smirking, not even bothering to watch the shot, and heard the radio flare to life, "That's a solid hit. Blew the head clean off the target."

    I stretched my arms upwards in a preening motion, getting a laugh out of Miss Militia.

    "Think you can repeat it?"

    I grinned and nodded eagerly. We didn't go inside for hours.



    Three more weeks passed and the middle of February surrounded me. Dauntless was still harassing me, Assault had turned up my training a lot, and my lab had been finished twice as fast as expected. Dragon for some reason had accelerated the paperwork and even sent some of her own things to me. I wasn’t exactly sure what I had done to make her go so far out of the way for me but I wasn’t going to complain.

    I hadn’t really figured out what Dauntless was doing other than engaging in a ridiculous hazing campaign but I also hadn’t had much time to really think about it. I had been forced to memorize the dossiers of all the other capes, coupled with sparring and fitness training and shooting guns until my hands ached. Then I tinkered in my spare time all while homeschooling and dealing with Lacey being progressively more obnoxious as my life filled to the brim with activity and people and honestly happiness.

    I had finally found some time to think about the issue though and had spent more than an hour on the helipad silently considering what Dauntless’ point was. The epiphany had come swiftly once I really thought about it which was why I was currently hunting a Protectorate sized troll through the rig. Or rather I was letting the troll hunt me. Finally my moment arrived.

    “What do you do when you hear this sound?” He had snuck up on me again somehow and he was whispering in my ear before the roar sounded through the speakers in the area.

    I didn’t even bother to look at him this time and I ran, the moment I was out of sight I called him on my phone and when he answered I shouted, “Run away sir!”

    “Damn right kid! Good job!”

    I’d never felt so proud over something so incredibly stupid before.



    Armsmaster fussed over the last of his tables securing things and looking a bit frantic while I helped him carry boxes around his lab.

    “Okay. Taylor make sure you come in once a day and keep track of PX-34 alright? I really need that one managed while I’m out. You remember what I told you about it?”

    I nodded and smiled at his anxiety. “You’ve had all the documents sent to me. I have it in email and three copies of each project you wanted me to watch. One in my lab, one in your lab and one in Wards HQ. I’ll take care of your babies Armsmaster. I promise.”

    He gave me a warm look and said happily, “Its Colin. Colin Wallis.”

    My smile grew huge at that and he grinned at me in return before his eyes flashed and he ran over to another table to secure one last thing.

    “Okay. That’s… everything.” He looked around one last time before he closed his eyes and snorted at himself.

    I gave him a bit of joking motivation saying, “Better leave before you find a reason to stay.”

    He took the comment seriously though and nodded gravely at me. I hid my smile at his antics as he walked out of the room with me following close behind. He was practically buzzing with nervous energy and his body language was fluttering about like it couldn’t make up its mind about where to hold his thoughts.

    I fussed with my hat and we made our way up to the helipad in silence while Colin wrung his hands glancing about the hallways like a bored kid. We walked outside and I goggled at the sight of one of Dragon’s transport vehicles.
    I practically shouted on seeing the armaments, “Those are custom guns! Did she have a balance problem in the vehicle? I can adjust the rounds she uses. If it's anything like the A-10 which it looks like it is I can increase the top speed of the vehicle by having the rounds use a two stage firing system.”

    I wanted to keep talking but Armsmaster interrupted me, “Write it all down before you forget. I’ll look it over,” he paused for a moment, “Thank you for watching my builds while I’m away. I really can’t thank you enough.”

    I nodded at him. “Tell Dragon I said hi.”

    For some reason that got a huge smile out of him and he looked at the vehicle for a moment before saying, “I will.”

    He jumped on the vehicle and actually waved at me before it rushed off to the north.



    It was four days later that I finally went on my first patrol.

    “February 21st, 2100 hours. Aegis and Dakka heading out on patrol Console. We are using path W-A2.”

    “Confirmed Aegis, this is Vista on Console. Enjoy the weather.”

    I snorted as I fussed with the earmuffs I had managed to fit under my hat. At least Vista was always good for her snark. Though snark didn’t keep you warm on nights like this.

    “This is Dakka. Confirming permission on my loadout.”

    “Miss Militia speaking, loadout three is authorized. Keep concealed unless Console authorizes.”

    “Roger.”

    I tugged at my skirt a little, adjusting its position on my waist. Aegis looked at me in that way boys do when they are trying to pretend they aren't looking. He was totally looking. I flashed him a grin and finished adjusting my holsters.

    "Nervous?" The question didn't sound like judgment, more just friendly curiosity.

    “Not really, just excited to finally be out.”

    “Figures you’d get the coldest day of the year so far for your first patrol.”

    I shrugged, “At least Dauntless isn’t creeping up on me anymore and shouting.”

    “You still figured it out faster than Clockblocker did.”

    “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.”

    Aegis smiled. “Best to take it that way.”

    “And they say chivalry is dead.”

    His snickers were reward enough and we started moving. I was immediately grateful that I went out of the way to finish my grappling gun when Aegis flew into the air without so much as a by your leave. Flyers! The anti-grav part Chris had helped me integrate made the gun an absolute joy to use and I was soon flitting about the rooftops. I felt no small amount of pride as I forced Aegis to keep up with me rather than the other way around. That’ll show him!

    We were about three quarters of the way through our patrol when we finally found something to do.

    “Console this is Aegis. Looks like a smash and grab on a jewelry store from up here. Permission to engage?”

    “Granted, Dakka taser rounds only.”

    “Confirmed.”

    I leapt off the roof while drawing my weapon as Aegis flew above the stores door.

    “I count two Aegis. Anyone lurking around the back?”

    “Not that I can see. Give em their warning Dakka.”

    I shook some confidence into myself and walked up to the store and let out a shout.

    “This is the Protectorate, come out of the building with your hands up.”

    There was some muttered cursing from within the building before all hell broke loose. The unidentified thug on the rights hand went up and the gun silhouette was clear as a bell even in the night. I jumped to the side hard and shouted into my comm right as the gunshot sounded out, “Shit! Aegis, a little help?”

    Aegis answered by swinging through the door from above and charging the gun holder. He was fast enough the man didn’t even have a chance to respond as he smashed his fist into his face putting him down hard. The other thug drew his weapon and ran out the door looking frantic. He saw me and was about to level his gun but I was much quicker putting him down right as his eyes connected with mine.

    Holy shit. They fucking shot at me! I walked up and kicked the downed guy with more than a bit of vengeful frustration and cursed into the comms, “They shot at me!”

    Aegis piped in then. “Merchants. They’ve got the tats. Console this is Aegis we’ve got two for pickup. Cinch em up Dakka.”

    I complied and took maybe more than a bit of glee from putting the idiots elbows in a slightly uncomfortable position.

    Aegis carried idiot two over and set him down next to mine and he smiled. “Well that was exciting.”

    I glared at him but nodded. “Wasn’t exactly expecting to get shot at tonight.”

    “Well the E88 usually doesn’t and that’s most of what you’ll tend to run into. They are the biggest gang in the area. The merchants though… they are kind of a wildcard for violence. You never know if they are strung up on something. Pill induced confidence if you know what I mean?”

    Right. “Next time I’ll approach and shout from a position of cover.”

    “Well, that’s in the manual you know.” His grin did not please me but I figured I was a bit deserving so I let it slide.

    “I’ll just consider this an object lesson.”

    “Please do. You aren’t a brute so there's no reason for you to act suicidal.”

    I felt the blood rush out of my face and my breath hitched at his comment. I turned away closing my eyes while I gathered myself. God damnit. That was really stupid. What had I been thinking?

    We waited for what seemed like hours for the goons to be picked up and I spent the rest of the patrol stewing in silence. I could have died, what the hell is wrong with me?

    The Rig felt claustrophobic when we returned and I refused to stay the night. Eventually I found myself knocking on Dad’s bedroom door at three in the morning. He opened it blinking at me sleepily and I fell into him with a sob. He didn’t say a word and I don’t know how long it was that it went on but eventually sleep claimed me.



    I woke up in my bed at home and the smell of bacon had me dragging myself downstairs. My hair was ratty and I felt disgusting but I was also starving. Dad looked groggy but he shoved tea into my hands the moment I sat at the kitchen table and he sat across from me wrapping his hands around mine which were wrapped around the warm mug.

    “Tough night?”

    I laughed darkly and proceeded to tell him what happened finishing with Aegis’s comment. He frowned a bit but stood and managed the bacon for a moment before he sat down again.

    “Its okay.”

    I nodded silently trying hard to believe it before finally muttering, “Is it though? I broke promises Dad. That was so friggin stupid.”

    “You made a mistake Taylor. You came out the other side and you know what you did wrong. The very fact that we are having this conversation, that you told me at all... That you came to me first. Taylor that’s a victory, that’s you keeping your promises. This is part of what we signed you up for. Take it for a blessing that you are completely unharmed. I certainly am.”

    I rolled that over in my head and found that I had eaten breakfast before I stopped thinking about it.

    “I won’t do it again.”

    He nodded at me silently before he took my plate and shoved another mug of tea into my hands.

    “You're too damn smart for that anyway.”

    He squeezed my shoulder and left me to my tea and brooding but I felt better. I’d do better.



    AN: To be fair to Aegis here he doesn't actually know about Taylor.
     
  10. Threadmarks: Chapter 9
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

    Joined:
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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)



    I yawned sipping at the tea in front of me while staring at the half-finished bullet. The events of the patrol were still sitting heavily with me and my emotional state was actually getting in the way of what I was working on. Generally tinkering ruled all, but when I was just refilling my stock my mind wandered a lot more freely.

    I opened my laptop and attempted to read emails while my hands worked mindlessly on taser rounds. An email from Dragon? I opened it and started reading.

    Dragon wanted to personally visit me? I stared at the email in a daze for a while reading it again to make sure. Six months ago I was considering the best angle to make myself a beautiful corpse and now I was handling personal requests from Dragon. A sense of surreality wrapped around me for a moment and I read the email one more time before responding with my schedule.

    I stared at the finished round and set down my tools. I didn’t need to be here right now. I needed to get out of this building. I barely remembered to mask up as I rushed out with fire on my heels.



    Lacey was waiting for me. The phone only rang once before she picked up and said she had been meaning to meet up with me for lunch. I breathed out in relief and found myself sitting in a bakery out of costume staring at Lacey in a cloud of emotional fireworks.

    “What the hell happened to my life, Lacey?”

    “You listened to good advice. You made some friends. You accidentally became the most important fifteen year old on the East Coast. You know, Hebert things.”

    “He got elected, didn’t he?”

    “Of course he did. He was going to tell you tonight, but since you guessed…”
    I leaned back in my chair feeling like I was living in an alternate reality and nibbled on the brownie. Lacey was moving her feet back and forth, tapping mine in a rhythm and I let it distract me for a while. Lacey eventually interjected saying, “The other shoe may or may not drop. It probably will and it may be very bad or it could just be another bump in the road. I know it feels like life isn’t allowed to be good. I know you feel like you don’t deserve good things, but sometimes they happen whether we deserve them or not.”

    I sat up again and started tapping my feet side to side back at her getting a smile out of her.

    “It's just like you said, Taylor. It's your life and you like what you like and you are who you are. Everyone has a tendency to live in fear of the next tragedy but far more people are ruined by success than they ever were with hardship. Their little mediocre victories become the high water mark of their lives.”

    There was a tinge of bitterness in her voice I had never heard from Lacey and suddenly I saw the older woman as she was rather than simply what my respect for her said she was. I responded to her in the same way she responded to me in moments like this and shoved brownie into her mouth. Her responding laughter sounded like a grumpy angel and her eyes lit up with affection. I melted a bit at that and the tired edge of the previous night bled off in moments.

    “I really screwed up last night.”

    She hummed in agreement and continued to tap her feet against mine. She let silence do the talking again for a bit before breaking it once more, “It was only your second night out. I don’t need to make an inappropriate joke for you to get the point here do I?”

    I snorted at the implication and waved her off, “No it won’t be necessary. This time. We can save that for later when we need to make Dad blush.”

    She snickered and spun the tea cup I had been drinking from stealing a sip from it.

    “Earl Grey today? My my, positively adventurous for you.”

    “Irish Breakfast Tea is a perfectly suitable mainstay and lemon isn’t always a desired flavor.”

    “True. So tell me about this boy Chris you keep mentioning.”

    I felt a small blush form at her tone but I decided to oblige her curiosity as it really was safest that way with Lacey anyway.



    I opened the door to Chris’s lab and threw up my hands. “What was so important you wrote a script to email me every twenty seconds!”

    “I figured out something about my power,” He had an adorable grin on his face and he was spinning with a device in his hands.

    “So what is it?”

    He laughed in a slightly unhinged way before saying in self-deprecating tone, “I don’t have the right words.”

    “Well then throw a couple at me?”

    “Interchangeability. Swappable. Mix and match.”

    “Modular?”

    “Eh… Plug and Play?” Chris’s voice trailed off while his smile and his eyes focused on the device in front of him.

    “So… what’s it do?” I pressed him with my hand and he jumped a bit.

    “Oh… yeah… anyway. Well it's kind of a dimensional revolver.”

    “Chris…,” my voice had a tone of warning in it and he laughed a bit giving me a happy smirk.

    “So I couldn’t get it to work with just one pocket dimension. Which is what cottoned me on to the idea. But with seven? It got really easy to do the field equations. You remember those weird prime number trajectories I sent you? It got even easier when I decided to make the pockets exchangeable too. Then it all made sense.”

    I nodded and he beamed at me again.

    “It's not nearly ready for action and I’m going to have to delay finishing it because now I know how to finish that stupid cannon I’ve been working on for half a year and my own equipment has to take priority. When it's done though it’ll have seven pocket dimensions attached to a revolver cylinder with one pocket per chamber and you can switch out the chambers too! The tooling for it is a little irritating but each pocket dimension can hold quite a few rounds, I haven’t really tested the limits. All I need to know is what caliber you want to work with.”

    I whistled and felt my hand begin to draw on the paper below me. My head hazy with the idea of some sort of interface. I stopped myself and shook my head and grabbed Chris’s hand.

    “I almost forgot. I finished something yesterday. It's in my lab.”

    I dragged him with me and he somehow managed to use our hands and his off hand to continue working on a design with his laptop. My lab really wasn’t that far from his and I set him up on my extra desk before poking him on the nose to get his attention.

    He looked up and I flipped the machine on and I let out my biggest smile. “It racks and stacks!”

    “Taylor…,” it was his turn to give me the warning voice and I shrugged happily in response.

    “It's an organizer.”

    He laughed. “That’s it?”

    “You looked through my binder right?”

    He nodded and I raised my eyebrows at him.

    “Ah. Yeah trying to organize two hundred and fifty different round types might get a bit much.”

    “I’ve only built like thirty but still… the main reason I wanted to show you is if there was some way to connect this to those pocket dimensions?”
    His face danced around while he thought for a moment before a triumphant grin appeared on his face.

    “Oh well shit… yeah there is!”

    He moved past me knocking my hat off my head with a playful smile and opened his laptop again. I sat next to him and started work on the interface in my head. I pulled up the illusion rounds I had modified into the holographic face I had originally been using with my costume and went about reversing the field projection.

    I started to smile and a touch of a manic giggle filled me causing Chris to look at my screen before he looked at me.

    “Holy shit. You are going to make Armsmaster jealous with that.”

    “Who says I’m not going to share?”

    “Taylor, you’re just too damn nice sometimes.”

    I smiled at him. “Flattery will get you everywhere. What do you want on your HUD?”

    He ignored the question and caught my eyes. What he said next sent me over the moon, “I’m so damn glad you’re on the team Taylor.”



    Assault’s fist came at me and I moved letting my head slide just to the left of it and I entered his space. It wasn’t the wisest move considering he had both height and weight on me but I had leverage. I finished the step and captured his body in my arms and pivoted him over my hip. The smack of his back on the mat as I crushed into his ribs was like sweet music. I shoved off and rolled over the top of him into a weak handspring and took a step back reforming my stance.

    He stood up and dusted himself off. “God damn Dakka I think I’m running out of things to try now without powers.”

    I smiled. “Well... why not add them?”

    He smirked and suddenly was in my space before I was sent flying across the room. I skidded across the mats for a bit. “Ow!”

    “It's really not fair if I do that. You don’t want to close quarters with me, if I use my powers I’d have to let you use your guns. If I let you use your guns I’m pretty sure I always lose.”

    I nodded as I stood noticing I really hadn’t been hit as hard as it seemed. Neat.

    “Anyway, Miss Militia wants you to learn to handle a knife as well. We’ll start that tomorrow. Dakka?”

    I gave him more attention at the query. “Yeah?”

    “You’re easily the best we have at this now. I want you in here with Vista and Clock. I want you to spar with them and fix their form.”

    “I cheat.”

    He waved it off. “It doesn’t matter. I cheat too. What matters is I’m pretty sure you can tell them exactly what they are doing wrong. I only had to show you once how to do something and you did it. You really only get sloppy when you are exhausted and are experiencing muscle failure. So I want you in here and I want you to get them to as high a level as you can. Consider this an assigned duty for now. I’ll clear it with Miss Militia.”

    I quirked my lips up. “So the master has become the apprentice.”

    He threw my towel at me and scoffed, “Oh shut up you friggin nerd.”

    I cackled with glee and ran to the showers.



    I fussed over the costume again. Apparently me acquiescing to the bandana was actually much more controversial than I had imagined it would be. Miss Militia had apparently waged a war in private on my behalf with Darryn who apparently didn’t really love the bandana either. Their reasons were different but they had come together and fought it out with the bigger wigs in PR.

    This had actually delayed my official introduction as a Wards member for near on a whole month. I had been dragged into multiple meetings where every part of my costume came under review in a weird game of political shenanigans I just could not be bothered to care about. In the end I really didn’t have that much emotionally invested in my costume and when I revealed that it had caused an entirely new upheaval as they threw about totally new costume ideas.

    It was truly ludicrous how much effort was put into discussing whether I should be wearing a hat, or a mask, or a bandanna or if my holomask would work. Emails flew about my life and strange passive aggressive behaviors filled my inbox with everyone wanting to know my opinion.

    When Darryn had pressed me on the subject I had retorted, “I just want to tinker and shoot bad guys, you could dress me in a pink leotard for all I care.”

    Darryn turned out to have a sense of humor and actually tried to get said pink leotard approved, that was when I decided my first impression of him was probably wrong and I found he was actually quite fun.

    After that we had allied together and pressed our advantage with Miss Militia to make some progress. The final decision ended up being extremely anticlimactic. My costume remained almost entirely unchanged, the holomask remained unapproved, but the bandanna did not survive the ordeal either. It was ultimately my glasses that killed it.

    I could still hear Darryn’s petulant voice when he said, “She cannot wear the bandanna with glasses. I won’t allow it! It makes her look like a depressed platypus!”

    I tried not to take it personally but he was kind of right. Glenn and Darryn had fought about it and eventually Glenn said I could keep the hat or the bandanna and in the end the hat won because of course it did, my hat is awesome. So now I had a domino mask with corrective inserts and entirely too many opinions about what color best matches my eyes.

    Ultimately the logo was a very stylized but semi classic sheriff's badge. It made sense I guess. They stylized it to be something that people my Dad’s age would consider “edgy”. I tried not to dwell on it, because honestly it was all just an excuse to be Dakka and that was its own reward.

    So I fussed while I put it on and reviewed the darker reds they had ultimately gotten me to agree to. It wasn’t quite maroon it had a touch too much purple in it for that but now the t-shirt had the logo on it too. I agreed with the color choice, I had black hair but it tended to shine a bit brown in the right light so the jacket fit my hair and while I wasn’t usually that vain it still felt good to know that I looked good. And I did, I looked good and I was getting disturbingly fit now with Assault pushing me and medical monitoring my diet like I was an interesting petri dish.

    And now it was time to introduce myself to the world. I was going to have fans, action figures, posters, and wasn’t that its own kind of terrifying. I had ultimately decided that my skirt needed to be just a touch longer than the first one I went with. It still didn’t quite meet my knees but it was much closer than before. Leggings or not people were going to be taking pictures of me without my permission and I actually wanted to avoid as many embarrassing photos as possible. I really didn’t want to gather nicknames to myself in the way Glory Girl did, the unflattering kind. I’m sure it was inevitable but I certainly wasn’t going to gift wrap cheap shots for them.

    “Alright Dakka, you’re on.”

    I flexed my hands in my new gloves and walked onto the stage.

    “Ladies and Gentleman I’m pleased to introduce Miss Militia’s new apprentice, Dakka!”

    I walked out from the stage’s side and smiled and waved. I quelled my urge to flee and sat in the chair. I crossed my legs just like Darryn had insisted on where you tuck them in just so, so that the camera cannot possibly get a bad angle. I hadn’t needed much encouragement to learn it after he mentioned that.

    Barty Brewster, I’m pretty sure it was a stage name, was one of the local late night show hosts in Brockton. He started the interview with his usual aplomb.

    “Welcome, welcome. Its very nice to meet you Dakka, I’m Barty Brewster.”

    I shook his hand with a smile and spouted my rehearsed lines, “I’m happy to be here Mr. Brewster.”

    “Now now, call me Barty.”

    “Of course Mr. Brewster.”

    Queue horrible contrived laughter.

    “So tell me a little bit about yourself Dakka, are you from Brockton or are you a transfer in?”

    “Born and raised in Brockton Bay.”

    I let out my best smile. There was the expected cheering at that.

    “So how does this apprenticeship work? Are you still a Ward, do you work extra hours with Miss Militia?”

    “Well as you know Miss Militia is in charge of the Wards in Brockton and the program is close to her heart since she was one of the first Wards. So I do most of my work in the same way all the Wards do. I even went on my first patrol just a few days ago. You might have heard about the attempted jewelry store robbery? I put a stop to that with Aegis’s help. All of my apprenticeship work with Miss Militia so far has been simply more focused training, our powers require remarkably similar considerations.”

    “So what are your powers?”

    I smiled as I answered, “I’m a master marksman and tinker. I’ve already been working with Kid Win and Armsmaster on some joint projects.”

    “Oh is that so? I heard you’ve done some work with Dragon as well.” He leaned forward as if he was letting the world in on some big secret.

    I smiled modestly and responded, “Well that’s true and Dragon has been very nice taking interest in my work. She’s very encouraging to new tinkers in general and both Kid Win and I have received suggestions on how to improve our work from her. I won’t say I’ve done anything worthy of more than her usual attention,” I paused putting a bit of mischief into my voice, “yet.”

    There was some laughter and Barty moved on.

    “So how’d you come up with the name Dakka? Isn’t that from a tabletop strategy game.”

    “It is! One of my family members suggested it and I’m a huge geek so I just had to make it mine.”

    “Alright! Well before you go what are your hopes as the newest hero in Brockton Bay?”

    I paused appearing to give it some thought and finished, “I really just want everyone to be able to feel proud of our city again. Brockton’s had it rough the last couple of years and I want to help make it a better place.”

    “Well there you have it Miss Militia’s new apprentice Dakka!”

    I walked as fast off the stage as politeness allowed. Thank God that was over.



    It was my first movie night and we had just finished watching Jurassic Park. The Wards HQ fell silent as Miss Militia’s voice interrupted the quiet chatter we had been engaged in.
    “The Simurgh is descending on Canberra, Australia. Movers will be taking the Protectorate members within the next twenty minutes. If you want to help you can get on the video feed and take notes of what’s going on. Dakka, Kid Win insights into whatever the Simurgh might build this time are worth sending messages on the EB-5 channel. The armband channel is EB-3.”

    An uneasy silence followed as Miss Militia swept out of the room. Aegis moved immediately to the console turning on the armband channel and putting the main live feed onto the big screen. I rushed to my lab grabbing my laptop and hurried back sitting close to Chris.

    It wasn’t long until the hellish trickle of information from the armbands started sounding off. The video of the Simurgh was distant but her unearthly features did nothing to reduce the weird creeping fear I had when looking at her.

    The video feed was eerily silent and watching her swat heroes and villains alike as if they were mere pests followed by the accompanying names coming over the armband channel was horrific. Time seemed to crawl but it was mere minutes really and the futility of the efforts against her creeped into my consciousness.

    Then it began, she began to build a device. I gestured at Aegis to zoom in as best he could and he did. The video was grainy but I started scribbling what I could see and tried to fit it into any mental models of what I could build.

    Something percolated at the sides of my mind but nothing popped out. There was nothing to do but to keep working so that’s what I did. Dennis eventually stood up and started grabbing dishes from movie night and Vista went with him to do dishes in the kitchen. Better than staring at the horror show.

    Chris leaned over my scribbles and gestured his hands back and forth and I looked at his. We traded notes and I made annotations on his and handed it back. Chris started muttering and I paused my work as he tapped his pencil and suddenly paused.

    I broke the silence, “I’ve got nothing.”

    He quirked his head at me and I shrugged, “It's true. The only part that makes sense to me is the stabilizer in the middle.”

    His eyes widened a bit looking at my notes. “That’s a stabilizer?”

    “Yeah, look at its construction, it handles vibrations.”

    He looked down at his notes again before he suddenly jumped out of the chair and grabbed the mic.

    “This is Kid Win, Brockton Bay. Simurgh device is a kinetic field generator. Repeat kinetic field generator. Weak to low frequency acoustics, repeat weakness is low frequency acoustics. M/S Zulu Tango Echo Seven Echo Echo.”

    “Roger Kid Win. Relaying.”

    Watching the tactics change on the live feed in response was strangely exhilarating. I gave Chris a thumbs up and he glowed in response. Gallant clapped him on the back and Aegis gave him a soft smile. It wasn’t long until the device exploded and the Simurgh started to ascend. I felt a lifting feeling and then she paused and twitched her wings. A pillar flew like a spear off the video feed.

    “Triumph Deceased B-5.”

    I felt my breathing stop. The sound of glass breaking in the kitchen startled me and Dennis came out of the kitchen staring blankly at the live feed.

    “No. Not Rory.”

    My heart absolutely broke as his face turned ashen and I threw my work on the floor and rushed toward him wrapping him in a hug. He didn’t resist while I dragged him to the couch. He didn’t shed any tears but he didn’t push me away either just letting me rock him. Carlos’ face was blank and his eyes distant. Dean’s eyes were locked onto Dennis’s silent form wide and unsettled. Vista was softly crying onto Chris who looked sick with anger. My stomach churned watching my friends look so broken. The silence from Dennis was wretched. I had only met Triumph once but he had been the leader. I knew how much they cared for him.

    Dennis always had good things to say about him and I realized now that it had been brotherly affection. I held him tighter at the thought and felt the all too familiar surge of loss thinking of my mother. The thought of other Ward teams sitting in rooms just like this hearing similar news thrummed through my head and made me gnash my teeth in anger. Fuck Endbringers.

    “The Simurgh is ascending.”

    The radio declaration did nothing to soothe the anguish in the room. An emotion, something dark, twisted its way up inside me. Every moment of my life hearing about these beings had done nothing to prepare me for this. Before the terror had been abstract, impersonal, something you whispered about like ghost stories. Now though, I watched Cruelty itself fly away without a scratch. Ideas filed into the corners of my head; this was my war now.

    I started for a moment as Dean sat on the armrest next to me and put his hand on my shoulder with a sad smile. Dennis shuddered underneath me and I held him tighter once again. He lifted his legs and curled into me, I had no idea what to do but I wasn’t going to leave him either. So I let him cling hoping for all the world that it helped.



    It was hours later when the remaining Protectorate members finally returned. We met them in the debriefing room. Director Piggot awaited us looking haggard and disturbed.

    Armsmaster spoke right away once the door was closed, “He was on search and rescue. The Simurgh targeted him directly; she even paused her ascent to do it. Picked up a beam and turned right towards his location. He was with twenty people and the beam hit only him. She ascended immediately afterwards.”

    Piggot smashed her hand onto the table and I could feel the rage poor off her. Dennis suddenly stood in the back and was standing at the window staring out of it. After he finally let go of me in the Wards HQ he hadn’t said a word while he went back to cleaning the kitchen in silence.

    “Everyone is going to have to redo their M/S profiles. I want that done before the weekend is over.” Piggot’s voice sounded terribly tired and strained. There were silent nods and murmurs of agreement.

    Miss Militia spoke up, “I’ll handle contacting Rory’s family. Rory’s will stated no mask for his funeral arrangements. I’ll let everyone know when it's arranged.”

    Piggot nodded and looked at Chris saying, “Kid Win your discovery likely saved Canberra from getting quarantined.”

    Chris shook his head. “Dakka gave me the piece I was missing. It was both of us.”

    Piggot gave me an approving nod. “I’ll make sure that’s noted as well. Good work. Now I’m sure you are all tired but I expect reports by mid afternoon tomorrow. Mr. Howard will be meeting with each of you to prepare for the media in response to our loss.” The woman paused for a moment and I could see her taking deep breaths to control herself. “If any of you need time off let me know, it will be approved…” she drifted off while standing and without another word left the room.

    We all filed out. Not wanting to spend anymore time thinking I went straight to bed.



    Her face. Her face was everywhere now. Dinah held her head as the headache came over her again. The Simurgh saw Cousin Rory and she twitched her wings over and over and over. Then came the girl in the hat. Her face, her face, everywhere. She rolled over in bed again trying to shut out the sliding images, the changing tormenting things. There was no escape though, just her face over and over and over.

    Always her face, always her face. She stood up and stumbled to her Dad’s office, the headache completely unbearable. It never shut up this stupid headache, these stupid images. She pulled open the web browser and her head exploded in changes and she cried out. She mashed the keys and the Simurghs eyes lurked, waiting, plotting, in the corners of everything. Locker girl, that was her. Taylor. Dakka. The same forever, always at the end. A million of her, with the same eyes, the same unbreakable eyes. Whatever it takes. Always, whatever it takes.

    Her head hurt so much. What had changed? What had happened? He was still coming though and the dark room. There was always the dark room. Always, always, always, dark forever. She crawled into the corner of the office and hid from the future she wouldn’t let herself escape.

    It’ll be worth it. It’ll be worth it.

    It’ll be worth it in the end.

    Won’t it?




    AN: Next chapter may take a little bit to finalize. Its the first full interlude and I'm not enthused about some of the scenes I've already written and am going to be a bit more critical of it.
     
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 10
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)



    Rory’s funeral was exhausting. He opted out of his mask for his arrangements and now everyone knew who he had been. It was odd mixing with the crowd as a hero. I didn’t have to come technically. I probably wouldn’t have since I didn’t know him and that seemed rude. Dennis had asked me to though. I stood silently next to him while he leaned into me. He had hardly moved during the whole service.

    The service was outside and while it was cold it felt right. A good chunk of the city was here because of who Rory’s father was coupled with the fact that he was a popular hero. Dennis never left my side holding on to my arm the whole time. I wasn’t sure what to make of it but something had shifted between us after The Simurgh.

    I don’t think it was attraction either way but it was definitely no longer casual friendship or teammate. I wasn’t going to tell him off anyway. I was more concerned that he didn’t seem to want comfort from his actual family. It wasn’t my place to pry though, so I stood with him and let him hold on. I knew what it felt like to lose loved ones I wasn’t going to begrudge him. I would never be Emma.

    I felt a tug on my sleeve and turned to see a ten or eleven year old girl with brown curly hair with tears in her eyes. She handed me a piece of paper and I opened it. Just a small phrase repeated over and over, “It’ll be worth it in the end.

    I raised my eyebrows in curiosity at the girl as a gamut of emotions passed across her face and the tears flowed more freely. I threw off my usual awkwardness and gathered her into a hug, “Its okay.”

    She shook her head and whispered, “It's not okay but it’ll be worth it in the end. It will be worth it in the end.”

    She wiggled herself out of my arms and dashed into the funeral crowd and I looked at the note again. It had my name on it. How the hell?

    “Who was that?”

    Dennis muttered, “Rory’s cousin Diana or something? I dunno, only met her once before.”

    The situation was entirely too odd so I put it out of my mind and let Dennis get back to leaning into me.



    It was March 10th now. Two weeks since Canberra and nothing had settled yet. Not that I expected it to but it was hard to be surrounded by so much grief. Grief that I could really only share in an abstract sense. Not that I withdrew my support, I cared far too much to do that but I was starting to feel the stress of it.

    Chris had finally started working again and his cannon was coming along nicely now that he knew what his power was trying to tell him. It was nice to watch him glow with excitement and Vista had started spending more time in my lab hovering about haphazardly when she wasn’t doing actual work.

    I amused myself by having her grab things across the room for me and she seemed happy for the distraction. She was a nice girl, kind of a tomboy, tough and wanting to prove it but she was still nice. I watched her fiddle a bit more with my testing apparatus.

    “You know, I’m not gonna be mad if you want to fire off a few rounds right?”

    A fleeting grin appeared on her face. “I’m worried I’ll want more than just a few rounds.”

    “Just be happy you don’t live my life. I spent four hours yesterday filing paperwork.”

    She grimaced, “After action reports are bad enough and even Chris doesn’t have to do that much.”

    I nodded. “Can you blame them? I’m a walking armory. If they approved any of my high powered rounds I could… lets just say it wouldn’t be Lung that Dauntless was being stupid about.”

    Vista laughed. Vista never giggled, she always laughed. It was strange how endearing that was about her, she didn’t hold anything back.

    “What are we talking about here? How big of a boom?” The way she said it made me laugh out loud. Her eyes were wide and full of mischief and her hands spread out around her dramatically.

    “Well the round I built for Overdrive for her ‘Boy Toy’...”

    Vista interrupted me her voice full of disbelief, “She called her vehicle Boy Toy?”

    “Vista… she named her motorcycle Magic Wand.”

    Vista’s eyes widened like crazy and she blushed all over. “I see.”

    “Yeah, best not to dwell on it too much… Anyway I built an inertia cancellation field for her. Fire it and it pulses out and strips velocity from basically anything in range. Things just stop moving, except for her and her stuff. I built the shell for her in such a way that its mostly reusable, she just has to recase it, something her power makes her more than capable of doing.”

    Vista paused for a bit and then started laughing. “Skidmark is going to have such a bad day!”

    “I hope so. He’s a real asshole. Apparently my Dad’s friend Kurt found Overdrive strung out on drugs and dying in a gutter after Skidmark got a hold of her and couldn’t get her to cooperate. He and the boys from the Docks went and beat the shit out of half the Merchants and now she’s kind of the Dockworkers pet tinker.”

    Vista was silent for a moment. “Remind me to send Kurt some cookies.”

    I shook my head. “Kurt doesn’t need anyone to thank him. He’s got Lacey for that.”

    We were interrupted by a knock on the door and I turned to face an unfamiliar woman. I paused for a moment taking in her appearance before the similarities finally clicked in my head, “Dragon?”

    She smiled. It was a nice smile but something was distinctly off about it. I didn’t quite control my facial expression in response and Dragon smirked in understanding.

    “Mind if I borrow Dakka for a bit Vista?”

    Vista shook her head in surprise and smiled. “It was nice to meet you in person Dragon.”

    Dragon gave that same slightly off smile in response and Vista headed out. Dragon turned and closed the door behind her.

    “So you mentioned you wanted some help?”

    She turned and nodded grabbing a stool and pulling it close. I was wondering exactly what she was doing at first when she turned her head and opened the right side of her skull. I felt my jaw drop and Dragon actually laughed at my response. The circuitry there was obvious and answered a ton of unasked questions while giving me a ton more at the same time.

    I could make a ton of potential leaps of logic here but in the end I classified Dragon firmly in the realm of friend and I had a general idea of what she was going to ask.

    “I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

    Dragon paused for a moment a huge smile appearing on her face while a tear rolled down her cheek. She blinked for a moment raising her hand to her face and pulling it away staring at the tear.

    “Experience is vastly different than simple knowledge.”

    I didn’t really know how to interpret that statement and went for the heart of the problem, “So I’m assuming you have some sort of problem with your expressions?”

    That seemed to shake whatever was going on in her head and she turned toward me looking slightly sheepish. She finally spoke, “I wasn’t really sure how to ask you for help. I sent you an e-mail with some of the code I’m running here.”

    I nodded at that pulling it up on my computer. “Its my holomask work you want to use isn’t it?”

    She nodded and I smiled. “You didn’t even have to ask. I would have just given it to you.”

    “Well I don’t just need the work I need your help to implement it. This isn’t quite the same problem.”

    I turned to my computer quietly and read through what she had sent, Dragon certainly knew how to document at least. I paused over a section of what was there and turned back toward her. My Tinker instincts got the better of me and I turned her head with my hands and examined the circuitry. She didn’t seem that irritated so I pressed on and pinched her leg hard. She yelped and a completely natural grimace appeared on her face, “What was that for?”

    “Sorry.” I blinked looking extremely embarrassed before I explained myself, “I had a hunch and was isolating the issue. Your face when I pinched you was natural as can be. It's all active outbound signals that seemed to be haphazard.”

    She gave me a slight glare and I noticed that was slightly off too. Then it clicked.

    “You’re a genius!” She blushed at the non-sequitur but I pressed on. “You separated the signals by categorical and computational complexity so you could isolate and process responses you considered high value! That’s brilliant! I… listen... I can fix this.” I paused for a moment and I looked at her more closely.

    “I need you to explain to me exactly how you did this. You cleanly separated a biological system into a cold metal system. I don’t know much about biology but I know what you did here is impossible without killing yourself.”

    She sighed. “Before I explain are you sure your specialty is ammunition?”

    “Well as I originally noted its mostly ammunition. The mostly seems to come into play for a lot of various little problems. Holomasks, ammunition organizers, interfaces, HUDs. Those EMP rounds I originally showed you, the ones that spread contagiously. I used techniques I found in those to diagnose what’s going on here. They use a form of information spectrometry to determine what’s inside and outside a system. Sorry... In simple terms you crossed your own wires cause you made the mistake of imagining biological systems were similar to computational systems. What made you think that? That’s what has me curious.”

    “Miss Militia deserves a raise.” Was Dragon’s quiet response.

    “I agree. Now how can I help you oh strangely ignorant one?”

    Dragon laughed. “It wasn’t ignorance so much as being in a rush. I really want to know how that mostly part of your power works so I can poke at it. ”

    I smiled back. “I would too. How goes the approval process for mass producing the taser rounds?”

    “Six more months at the least. Masamune has some ideas he wants to try with it to increase the shelf life.”

    I nodded with a smile. “That’s honestly better than I hoped. Now you were going to tell me something?”

    She bit her lip and then spoke, “I’m an AI. This is a body I built as an external avatar.”

    I absorbed that information, ingesting the time table of why I was only being requested for help now and a slow knowing smirk appeared on my face. “You built it for Colin?”

    A slight rosiness appeared on her cheeks, which was quickly replaced by confusion and a strange croaking sound, “You don’t care?”

    I stared at her for a moment and said what I thought would resolve the question in as few words as possible, “You triggered. You’re a Parahuman. I’d be honored to be half the hero you are.”

    “Taylor…”

    An odd silence fell on us that stretched on for a good couple of minutes, I found I had grabbed her hand sometime during the exchange. Realizing that I gave it a gentle squeeze and Dragon looked down at our hands before a small smile appeared on her face.

    “Thank you.”

    “Don’t thank me yet. I’m about to become highly critical of the absolutely atrocious programming you did for your facial expressions. Your face is not a computer monitor.”

    I reveled in her laughter and work swept us away.



    Dean sat next to me bouncing a ball against the wall while I manned the console for the night. Clockblocker and Vista were out and they tended to not talk over comms. It probably had something to do with the dirty joke contests they’d have while on patrol.

    “So I’m going to a party at the Pelhams next week. I wanted to know if you wanted to come.”

    I turned toward Dean and gave him a disbelieving stare. “You want me to go to a party?”

    He gave me a bit of a smile back. “Taylor... You know I actually like you right?”

    I sputtered in response, “But aren’t you dating Glory Girl?”

    He paused for a moment as embarrassment passed across his face. “I meant as a friend.” Then he blanched and started back-pedaling, “Not that you know you aren’t…”

    I couldn’t help it and laughed at him. “Well aren’t we a pair.”

    He wheezed in irritation at himself or me or whatever and finally managed to speak, “I want you to meet Victoria and Amy. They’re my friends and it’ll be a fun party. Plus I know you don’t really hang out with a lot of people your age other than us Wards and it could be fun? You know expand your horizons?”

    I blinked at that and a creeping sense of worry filled my head. “How long would I have to stay?”

    He laughed. It was one of his rare booming laughs where he was genuinely and unreservedly amused. “If you want to just meet them and leave that’s fine. It's better than fine honestly, I was expecting you to say no but I’ll do my very best to make it not entirely painful for you.”

    “Will they know?”

    “Oh Vicky will figure it out right away and she’ll tell Amy and if you touch Amy at all she’ll know.”

    “Woah. That’s amazing.”

    Dean paused for a moment. “Yeah that really is. Huh…”

    I saved him from his painful pontifications saying, “I’ll go but the moment I get uncomfortable I’m just gonna bail. Consider this me paying you back for deserting our training session last month.”

    He gave me a mocking smile. “How magnanimous. I guess I’ll have to accept.”



    I wasn’t sure exactly what I had expected at the party but this was not it. In my head had been images of sloppy drunk teens behaving moderately like hooligans. This was nothing like that. Apparently when Dean said party he meant family dinner with guests. I guess I should have expected that from someone like Dean, he probably didn’t even like hooliganism. Thankfully he had warned me to dress a little up so I finally got to stretch the wardrobe Dad and Lacey had helped me purchase.

    I hadn’t worn a dress outside of a shop in ages and I was finding that now that I was fit the feeling was considerably different. When I put it on before arriving I actually felt it made me look nice rather than some strange way of revealing my imperfections. I still couldn’t get over how much my power had changed my self perception. It was legitimately disconcerting at times.

    So I had opted for a sleeveless black flared dress that went to my knees with a bit of frill on the bottom. It did a lot to make it appear like I had hips because even with my power insisting on body confidence it didn’t somehow grant me curves. Though working out with Assault had given me muscle which did in fact make me look more feminine in my case rather than less. I liked it. The dress looked good. I looked good.

    Still the party was not what I was expecting. It still felt like a party we weren’t all just sitting at a table, we mingled but it was quiet. Still informal but quiet. Dean dragged me around the room introducing me to everyone. None of them outright said it but they all seemed to know I was the newest Ward which made sense. New Wave wasn’t on bad terms with the Protectorate, not great terms either but that was largely due to their overall inactivity. Wait. Was Dean trying to fix that?

    I looked at him and really checked out his movements. He wanted them to like me. Interesting.

    “Getting an eyeful?”

    Of course it would be Vicky that would notice. Dean didn’t hear her but when he turned to observe he raised his eyebrows and simply walked away. Coward.

    I turned my attention to Vicky. “Indulging a curiosity. I can see body language in extremely precise detail. Don’t worry Dean isn’t really my type.”

    Vicky smirked at me. “Should I be offended?”

    I scoffed at her, “Oh he’s certainly nice to look at but,” I paused to give her a look over, “I’m hardly competition.”

    She gave me a careful but pleased smile. “I don’t know about that. You certainly know how to dress yourself and that has nothing on your hair. I’d kill for hair like yours.”

    I smiled and felt some of my tension loose. “How’d you and Dean meet?”

    “Honestly? Just school. We share a few classes. I figured I’d give him a date because he was so blasted confident and charming when he asked me. It was a good date, so one turned to two, etc.”

    I laughed. “Sounds positively normal.”

    A fond smile appeared on her face. “I think that’s the best part.”

    Oh boy. She had it bad. A third voice interrupted me as I was about to make a joke at her expense, “Hi I’m Amy.”

    I turned to Amy and bit the inside of my lip holding back my immediate comment. This girl was wound! Her shoulders were tight and her feet were bowed in a bit with stress. I could have bounced a coin off the aura of tension around her.

    “It's nice to meet you Amy. I’m Taylor. I was just asking Vicky how she met Dean.”

    A flicker of a scowl appeared before she controlled herself. It would have been unnoticeable to anyone but me. Amy’s smile that beat out her scowl was in fact pretty genuine. “He’s a nice guy. I don’t really see him that much honestly. I don’t share classes with him.”

    “Oh? What interests you?”

    “Well I’m not Vicky so I’m not pushing advanced courses early but I do spend time at the hospital helping out.”

    I nodded, I had of course heard about that. Who hadn’t really? I felt like pressing that line wasn’t really what Amy was hoping for in the conversation though so I turned toward myself. “Yeah? I’m homeschooled and one of my Dad’s friends is a Materials Engineer. She’s been pushing me forward on math pretty hard and I’ve found I like it a lot more than I originally thought.”

    “Homeschooled?”

    I paused for a moment and decided that a form of honesty was probably best. “I was bullied so bad I was hospitalized. My Dad and I decided that the inconvenience of homeschooling was less than the school’s empty promises.”

    A look of shock passed over Vicky’s face and then I recoiled a bit as a look of recognition passed over Amy’s face and her mouth moved, “Oh. You were the girl in the locker.”

    I cringed hard at that and nodded. Amy threw up her hands quickly and apologized, “I’m sorry just the Doctors still talk about it. Sorry.”

    I shook myself mentally and was surprised when I felt as much as I said, “Its fine. Its behind me and honestly my life is pretty good now. I mean it's not every day you get invited to dinner with New Wave.”

    Vicky let out a laugh and Amy smiled at me. The rest of the night passed pleasantly and I eventually found myself at home surprised that I actually had fun.



    “March 12th, 1900 hours. Aegis and Dakka heading out on patrol Console. We are using path W-A3.”

    “Confirmed Aegis, this is Clockblocker on Console.”

    “This is Dakka. Confirming permission on my loadout.”

    “Miss Militia speaking, loadout seven is authorized. Keep concealed unless Console authorizes.”

    “Roger. Confirming permission to carry X3 rounds.”

    “Miss Militia confirms.”

    I nodded at Aegis and we were off. Patrols were boring but this one was early enough I’d at least get to say hi to the fans. Say what you will about how boring fans can be but it was at least something to do in the part of town that had literally zero crime. We burned past the Boardwalk only stopping for a few minutes doing just that.

    Aegis was quiet tonight. It made sense as he had just broken up with his girlfriend. Poor boy couldn’t talk his way out of a cardboard box with helpful notes written on it. He had a great sense of humor if you knew him but it was dry and had the tendency to create more problems than it solved.

    We finally drifted into the part of our patrol that wasn't in the best parts of town anymore, but only barely. Velocity was close, mostly. Close for him at least. I leapt between the roof of one building to the next while Aegis drifted lazily in the air, making me feel a little jealous for his gift of flying, but the power lottery was just that, a lottery, and sometimes the winnings had fangs and psychosis. As far as powers go, I was pretty damn happy with mine.

    Aegis shouted at me and I turned. Hellhound's dogs were running down the street with the Undersiders riding fast. They looked terrified. That's when I heard it, the roar. Lung’s roar.

    I turned immediately away from the sound while considering the best way to actually get out of the area. I was startled by Aegis picking me up and flying away. I gave him a thumbs up in thanks, while trying to get my heart to calm down.

    “Console, this is Dakka. Lung spotted past checkpoint 22 on path W-A3 we are bugging out. Lung is chasing Undersiders as of last …”

    Aegis let out a shout of pain and I yelped as I was suddenly released from his grip.

    I turned in the air as I began to fall. Oni Lee had an iron grip on Aegis and was repeatedly stabbing him in any spot he could manage.

    I drew my weapon, firing a shot into Oni Lee who immediately dissipated into ash and twisted the motion into a spin, orienting myself toward the ground. I tried to eject my break action from my wrist holster but was interrupted by Aegis grabbing me as I fell.

    Oni Lee was already moving toward us while Aegis and I slowed down enough to simply crash to the ground. I lost hold of my gun trying to avoid hitting my head on the ground and immediately rolled and turned towards Oni Lee. I heard Aegis crumple to the ground behind me.

    Oni Lee dissipated into ash again and I could feel the velocities on my back adjust to his teleportation. I dived forward into a handspring and twisted in mid air to get eye contact with him. The velocities in his eyes twitched and I lurched to the right avoiding the knife from his new location. I lashed out grabbing his wrist and twisted. The knife flew out of his hand and I snatched it out of mid spinning it into an underhand grip.

    I turned to the left adjusting to his new position and twisted to avoid a right hook aimed where my head had been. His eyes twitched again and I slashed the knife up and to the right predicting his new location. I missed by a centimeter and was too slow to dodge a shallow slash from a new knife across my left arm.

    I winced but locked eyes again predicting his movement away. I jumped backwards a half meter avoiding a tackle to my back and I cut with the knife as he passed by. I only managed to connect with my fist and he let out a grunt as he became ash again.

    The sound of a grenade rolling along the ground sent a panic'd chill through me and I ran and dove forward. The explosion threw shrapnel in the air but I was ahead of the velocities before they even formed dodging the shrapnel with mere millimeters on either side of me. I was forced to take a hit to my right arm to avoid the worst of the damage but it didn't pierce my jacket.

    Oni Lee gave me no time to assess the situation though and I responded to the velocity changes in the air again rolling to the left and bringing my knife up catching his hand in the position he teleported to. He cried in pain and I crowed internally in triumph. He reappeared on the other end of the roof.

    I locked eyes with him and felt the panic rise again as his eyes twitched toward Aegis. Guessing his plan I ran forward and grabbed the grenade as he released it in mid air from his new position. I threw it and dove backward, trying to cover Aegis as best I could. The explosion was further away than I feared and only its heat and air hit me.

    I immediately moved to my right, not strategizing at all, just wanting to prevent another teleport attack while I was stationary. The feel of the air moving behind me as Oni Lee swiped with his knife at the position I was in before was all the reward I needed.

    The velocities in the air flashed around me again and I stabbed out to the right and was met with a scream. I turned lashing out with a kick but the body had already turned to ash. I turned my head to see Oni Lee running away. I looked at the knife I was holding, it was covered in blood. The realization was satisfying in the extreme.

    I could hear Hellhound's dogs fighting in the street below and I checked over Aegis. He was bleeding a lot. I pulled out my first aid kit and started dressing his wounds, hoping to high hell that I wouldn't suddenly get skewered by Lee coming back. Aegis was in a bad way though and I wasn’t going to let him die just because I was scared.

    He managed to lock eyes with me while he breathed, "Something was on the blade, its making my head..." he drifted off.

    I immediately shouted into my comm's, "Velocity, Aegis down, I'm at... I don't know where I'm at. On a roof near my last check in. Lung is fighting the Undersiders nearby. I cannot safely evac. Oni Lee is near, I wounded him and he appeared to run. Please advise."

    "Sit tight kid, I can't really do much against Lun…," Velocity’s voice was interrupted by another roar and the sound of an explosion.

    Assault's voice popped on immediately, "Hang tight Dakka, Battery and I are four to five minutes out, stay safe, try to secure an exit route. Don't fight Lung."

    I looked around and noticed the buildings were on fire now cutting off exit routes away from the fighting below. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I had to get off this damn roof. I finally had the opportunity and checked my guns recovering the second from nearby. I turned and looked at Aegis, his breath was ragged and moist. I needed to secure an exit. I was going to secure an exit.

    I crept towards the edge of the rooftop and observed the street below. It was covered in fire, and Grue's darkness. Tattletale was shouting something above the inferno but I couldn't make it out. Regent was, oh god, I turned away. He was skewered to a broken light post through the chest. I controlled my desire to vomit. I could see Hellhound dashing through the flame's giving commands to her dogs while she tried to move the fight away from the other Undersiders.

    I coughed from the smoke as it was starting to get thick. The alley was in a cul-de-sac of old sealed buildings. I resolved myself to the situation. The only way out was through. I lifted Aegis up barely managing his weight and lowered us into an alley before I ran toward Tattletale, sizing her up.

    She turned toward me suddenly a grim smile on her face. "Help us?"

    I nodded while she sized me up in return and a dizzying number of emotions and velocities danced around on her face. I took the scene in, Lung wasn't getting away from the dog's just yet, so I took a moment and made plans. I felt a tinge of hysteria work its way through me but I drew my gun anyway.

    I rifled through my loadout mentally and smiled. Bless you Colin. I grabbed a mag of X3 rounds and exchanged it for the one already loaded. I flicked the safety off and was surprised as Lung turned toward me instantly.

    He lurched forward and came toward me so fast I couldn’t even exhale in shock. Tattletale cried out in fright and tried to jump away while I jumped back with barely a moment to spare and raised my left arm trying to soften the blow. My left arm broke as Lung smashed me through the air and my gun flew out of my hand. It hurt like hell but the wall behind me was coming quick.

    I twitched my right wrist causing the break action pistol to flash into my hand and I fired its shot into the wall. The bullet struck and a bubble distorting the air appeared. I felt the field wrap around me as I impacted it and I slowed down coming to a safe halt. I love you Chris, I'm kissing you next time I see you!

    I quickly assessed the situation again once I was safely on my feet. Grue was lying in the dust rasping for breath through what I immediately understood were quite a few broken ribs. He would live if I could stop the fight. Tattletale was whimpering on the ground near me. Her shoulder was destroyed, the bone poking through and an obviously broken collarbone to go with it. I had to end this.

    I let my left hand fall limply to my side and dropped my break action pistol. I scrambled over to Tattletale and looked at her while nodding my head toward the pocket on my left side. She whimpered but nodded and grabbed the mag. I braced it between my legs and slid it into the pistol, allowing Tattletale's good arm to help me with the slide.

    Lung was back to fighting Hellhound's dogs and Tattletale gave me a pained smile and nod. I waited patiently until his back was exposed to me. I fired three shots and crossed my fingers. He turned on me as they struck and with a growl started to charge again. I counted in my head and leapt to the left and rolled on my broken arm. I felt myself scream but fear and adrenaline had me trying to scramble to my feet anyway. Lung was on top of me before I finished standing and his hand found my neck and began to squeeze. How was he so damn fast? Fuck you, you stupid ugly lizard!

    I raised the gun but he swatted it away with his other hand. His grip tightened and the world slowly went black as flames licked around my legs. A choked scream escaped me and then suddenly, mercifully his grip loosened. His eyes went cloudy and a feeling of triumph surged through me. He collapsed dragging me down with him.

    I shuddered in pain but I clung to consciousness desperately. Aegis still needed help. I tried to move but my legs refused to cooperate. I lifted my right hand and tapped the coms.

    "Assault this is Dakka. Exit secured on..." I paused trying to find a sign or something and then I could hear Tattletale mumble the street, "on 5450 Woodsworth. Lung is down. I repeat Lung is down M/S Bravo Charlie Four Three Sierra Seven. No active hostile capes in the vicinity. We need serious medical attention. Aegis is suffering from what appears to be some sort of tinker tech poison. I cannot move to him, my legs are... not usable at the moment. The Undersiders are in bad shape. Tattletale in particular is at risk of bleeding out. Please advise."

    "Two minutes Dakka... just give us two minutes we are almost there. We have an ambulance on the way," the tense concern of Assault's voice was actually more calming than worrying.

    I nodded to myself finally letting tears from the pain flow freely. "Acknowledged."



    Assault's voice roused me, "Hey. You alright?"

    I laughed painfully. "No. I'm not alright you jackass. Legs are burned to hell, left arm is broken. Please check Aegis, he’s way worse off than me."

    "Battery's got him. Oni Lee hit Velocity before he bugged out, he’s gonna be okay but he took a bad hit. Grue is sitting up now but his breathing is in a bad way. I’ve got Tattletale’s arm in a tourniquet but Panacea should arrive before the limb goes bad. Hellhound bugged out, but that’s not surprising she’s got a warrant out and she seemed okay. Ambulance's and Panacea are three minutes out."

    I nodded and spat venomously to no one in particular, "Tonight was absolute shit."

    He smiled and helped me drink some water. "You did good. Also you bagged Lung Gun Bunny, not bad at all."

    "Hey Assault."

    "Eh?"

    "Fuck you."

    He laughed. "That’s the spirit."



    AN: You should have seen the other timeline.

    I know I promised a Narwhal interlude but ultimately my Beta dissuaded me from it because it didn't add anything to the story. Nothing of value was lost... and that's just sad. For me...
     
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 11
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 and Bubelah (Thank you!)



    The Same Night


    The music pumped loudly through the warehouse, and Sherrell found herself moving with it. It had been a great night so far as she continued to make adjustments to the cannon on her Boy Toy. Taylor had given her a whole host of adjustments to better counterbalance the cannon, and she was having the time of her life as her power fed her new and interesting ideas as she worked. Life was good.

    She turned her head and noticed the proximity alarm going off and with a grunt she turned to the vehicle to finish one last thing before investigating. Securing the last bolt she fired up the vehicle, giving the new targeting computer a short check-up. Taylor’s tracking software that she had emailed her worked like a charm, and Sherrell grinned. She looked at the proximity sensor again and saw that it had sent an automated distress to Kurt, and her eyes widened in concern. That only happened if they approached her lab.

    She jumped out of the vehicle and grabbed her remote and activated the external turrets and cameras. Two men: one was Skidmark for sure; the other did a good job of avoiding the light and seemed to dismantle the turrets with ease from a distance. Some sort of shaker power maybe?

    She didn’t flinch when the main door shuddered under the strain of a projectile and instead fiddled with the remote to turn the cannon toward the entrance. She wasn’t keen on firing it inside her warehouse, but if she had to she would. The second cape must have curbed Skidmarks usual instincts because this was a rare time when the docks were almost entirely empty except for her.

    She flicked her remote again and activated the internal turrets and jumped back in shock as a dumpster came flying through, tearing the main door off its track and hitting one of the building’s support columns. She moved to open the back garage door and was about to hop back into her vehicle when pain ripped through her right arm. She yelped, grabbing her arm, and felt the blood pooling around her hand.

    A whip of her head and she was facing her attacker who had somehow maneuvered her into the crossfire of her own turrets, pausing their firing. She couldn’t get a good look at him, but she heard Skidmark taking out the turret emplacements, and a bit of irritation started to rise in her. She focused on staying calm and jumped back again, getting a good look at her attacker.
    Jack Slash.

    She grit her teeth and deactivated the safety on her remaining turrets. The room erupted in gunfire, and she moved with a leap toward her vehicle thankful that she had pre-programmed their firing pattern and knew which way to run. Pain flashed through her leg, and she felt more than saw the ground come up to meet her. She hit it hard and the air was knocked out of her while pain tore through her.

    She rolled to dodge a followup that never came and watched as Jack seemed to dance around the turret fire. Skidmark seemed directly keyed to Jack’s movements and he used Skid’s field to move around snapping his knife out wrecking the turrets with deft movements.

    She tried to stand and gasped as she saw what had happened to her leg. It was cut clean off and she cursed out loud. She worked her remote again and the remaining turrets changed their firing pattern. Jack took three hits but seemed to shrug them off letting out a manic yell of glee.

    Sherrell dragged herself to her workbench while they were distracted and pulled herself up grabbing one of the canisters on the table. She fiddled with the mechanism on the side and threw it straight at Jack. She cheered internally when it hit him and exploded. The sound of the last turret being destroyed shut down her celebration and the smoke cleared revealing a totally unschathed Jack.

    A wave of dizziness hit her. The ground met her again and she pushed herself to her knees trying to crawl toward her Boy Toy. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t continued trying to bail earlier, she was overconfident and now she was paying for it. She was halfway across the space when she slipped in her own blood and sprawled out again.

    A traitorous thought passed through her and she felt a momentary blip of fear but she shoved it down and scoffed at it. No one was allowed to make her afraid. Not anymore. Jack’s shadow passed over her and she rolled to look at him.

    The quiet of the room settled as Skidmark walked up next to Jack. Skidmarks eyes were vacant and he stared off into space. Sherrell closed her eyes and focused on pushing through the pain; she had maybe one or two ways to get out of here alive.

    “Hello Overdrive.” Jack’s tone was revolting, hatefully amused at her expense. She took a deep breath and her mind rummaged around for an angle. A feeling of peace came over her as she made up her mind, and she turned her eyes to Jack.

    Jack’s hand grabbed her hair and turned her head like a doll, rolling it around while he tapped the knife he carried on her cheeks. An amused smirk was on his face.

    Finally, he spoke, “A little birdy told me you’ve spent some extra special time with a cute little new tinker. Dakka is just a delightful name isn’t it? Or at least, with a little help I can make it delightful. She’s surprisingly slippery! Someone’s been scrubbing her presence from the world. If Skidmark wasn’t such a pervert, I’d never even know she knew you! He had a hidden camera in here. So why don’t you start by telling me what you know about her.”

    Overdrive stared at him silently and let the feeling of peace sweep into her. Her eyes gave him nothing. Eventually she spoke in an amused tone, “Were you expecting fear? You don’t look like Atropos to me, and she already clipped my string.”

    His smile in response was filled with delighted surprise. It was not comforting. “You’re better than I hoped.”

    Overdrive grinned darkly back at him. “Did Skiddy get a chance to tell you what he did to me before you did whatever to him?”

    “He may have mentioned it. Bonesaw had a lot of fun with what was left of his brain. She’s gonna make him so much more interesting soon too.”

    Her voice was distant and hollow but itched with bravado as she said, “I should have died. I think I might have actually. Came back a little different than before for sure. You understand?”

    Jack seemed to lose his patience and let the knife sink into her cheek and Overdrive hissed in pain. “You’re gonna bleed out if you don’t start satisfying my curiosity.”

    Overdrive ignored him continuing her story, “Didn’t tell a soul really. Power came back different too. Those last few moments I’ll never forget as I watched my world fade away drugged, broken, worthless, and empty. You should feel special Jack. You get to be the first to see it.”

    The only indication she did anything at all was a twitch of her eye; the cannon on her Boy Toy turned like lightning and fired, hitting Skidmark who exploded into a pulp. Jack stumbled forward and Taylor’s inertia cancellation field pulsed. Jack froze for a moment and Overdrive kicked out at his exposed leg, dropping him to the ground. Jack recovered quickly, but the round pulsed again, and he slipped as he tried to stand. He laughed and shouted, “I didn’t think I was going to have so much fun! You’re so much better than expected!”

    Overdrive rolled away as her motorcycle drove itself up to her and the round pulsed again. Jack lurched to the side and swept his hand. She screamed as a cut found its way across her chest. She crawled onto her bike and urged it to drive on while her vision started to get hazy with blood loss. She felt the beginning of a cut on her back when the round pulsed once more; Jack had clearly tried to hit her spine but the pulse saved her again. She gunned the engine and the bike wobbled as she tried to control it. She shot forward and she could hear Jack laughing as she thankfully got out of his sight.

    She fumbled with the remote as everything became cloudy and jammed the destruct button. Twenty seconds. Jack was surprisingly quick and got close enough to slash at the back tire popping it cleanly. She began to lose control and was almost thrown off before she jammed a button on the side of the bike and tire inflated and foam shot out the back.

    She felt the round pulse once more behind her but didn’t dare look back, finally clearing the building while barely keeping control of the bike as a floating feeling started to fill her. Satisfaction tingled up her spine as a rumble and explosion came from her lab. She fiddled with a safety feature and a brace appeared locking her good leg against the bike.

    Haziness started to dominate everything, but she pushed it aside: She wasn’t going to die today! She activated the autopilot and jammed the location of the Rig. Finally, turning her thoughts toward her bad leg, she felt her mind drift for a moment. She had liked her left leg; it had had her birthmark. The strangeness of the thought stood out to her and she managed a moment of clarity to grab the military grade first aid pack off the back of the bike.

    With extra care she grabbed the tourniquet and slid it onto her leg and cinched it tightly, thankful that her autopilot did such a good job keeping the bike balanced. Finally letting the cloudiness catch up to her, she sunk into darkness.



    Amy grabbed my hand and startled me to consciousness. A soothing rush went through me as the pain from the burns washed away. My mouth got funny for a second from the relief and I spoke, “You’re my favorite cape now. I like you better than Miss Militia even.”

    Amy smirked at me before she started answering questions I felt forming, “Aegis is fine. Velocity is fine. Undersiders are okay… excluding Regent. I have more to say on that but not here.”

    I nodded and winced as Amy grabbed my other arm adjusting it while she healed the break. She didn’t really set it and more just turned it a bit and I felt the strangest feedback from my power as my arm stitched itself back together internally.

    She drew me up into a sitting position and I stretched my left arm giving her my best smile in thanks. A shot of worry poured out of me and I spoke, “You might need to check Lung. I put probably twice the amount of tranqs I was supposed to into him. I have no idea how that’ll play with his regeneration.”

    “Already did. He’s fine. Not that I care all that much but …”

    I shrugged at her acknowledging the point. A flight of whimsy hit me and I turned to Amy with a stupid grin. “I discovered a situation I disliked more than the locker.”

    She turned to me sharply with her eyes bugging out. Seeing my face she busted out laughing. “Dakka, you’re crazy.“

    I leaned my head back as Amy laughed and I watched the stress leave her. I closed my eyes letting the weird emotional state I was in wash over me. “Thank you.”

    She controlled her laughter eventually. “Of course.”



    The back of the ambulance opened and I stepped out with Amy behind me. I didn’t make it two steps before Miss Militia swept in grabbing my shoulders.

    “You’re okay?”

    I finally took the moment to look down and laughed at my state. I was filthy, my leggings were gone. My skirt was half burnt.

    “I will be if I have all my hair.”

    Miss Militia grinned at me from behind her mask. “Hair’s fine.”

    “Well then I am too. Do we have a budget for Panacea gift baskets?”

    Amy snorted as she walked past and my eyes fell on a cape I was sure I recognized. Narwhal. What was Narwhal doing here? The forcefield master grabbed Amy and started whispering with her.

    Miss Militia drew my attention again, “You want anything to drink? Director Piggott’s called an emergency meeting.”

    I nodded and whispered the fear lurking in the back of my mind, “Oni Lee was trying to kill Aegis. That poison...”

    “It’s worse than that.”

    I scoffed angrily, “Its Brockton Bay, of course it is.” I glanced over at the remaining Undersiders who were looking very subdued, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy. Tattletale looked up at me and gave me a sad smile, and I tried to shake the image of Regent from my head.

    The EMT’s eventually seemed to be happy with the state of everyone, and they bugged out while the rest of us headed inside.



    The briefing room was full. Piggott, Renick, even the weird skinny dude who I met when joining was here, Calvert or something. I put myself on high alert as I noticed that Chief Director Costa-Brown was on video conference. Tattletale had tailgated me closely, and I turned slightly to her. I knew she wasn’t under arrest. Technically we didn’t have any crimes on the Undersiders excluding Hellhound, and it wasn’t actually illegal for Parahumans to interact with other Parahumans warrant or not.

    I glanced around the room again and noticed a face I didn’t see initially as she was seated in a wheelchair.

    I rushed forward without thinking and started fussing over her, “Oh my god! Overdrive! What happened? Are you okay? Sorry... that’s a stupid question.”

    Director Piggott coughed behind me and I corrected myself immediately. “Sorry.”

    “Nothing to apologize for. We’ll get your questions answered.” The Director’s soft and mostly kind response threw me off a bit.

    I felt Overdrive grab my hand and give it a squeeze and I squeezed it back. I could hear her whisper, “You saved my life tonight.”

    My back straightened in response to that and the edges of my mouth turned up into a bit of a smile. The door closed and Narwhal took control of the meeting, speaking immediately.

    “On January 24, 2007 I interrupted an attack on Dragon’s facilities encountering a Parahuman designated as Saint. In the scuffle I was able to prevent him absconding with two of Dragon’s suits and then was able to track him down to a hidden facility. The Guild responded with haste, and we dismantled Saint’s operation and captured his subordinates. Unfortunately, Saint escaped and went to ground with multiple pieces of unknown tinker tech. We mostly lost track of him until New Year’s of last year after he made a successful hack on Dragon’s systems. We believe he was successful because he had the assistance of the cape designated Harbinger.”

    Some muttering filled the room at that and Narwhal continued, “Harbinger was one of the original members of the Slaughterhouse Nine and had completely disappeared after Jack Slash killed King the original leader. He was presumed dead. The Slaughterhouse has been following Saint and Harbinger around the states for the last year. The only thing we’ve been able to determine is that Saint visited every city with over a million people in it in the last year doing… something. It's not clear what his goal was, but Harbinger has been baiting the Slaughterhouse during this time, dragging them on a merry chase around the states. A day after the Simurgh attacked Canberra, I received news that Saint arrived in Brockton Bay and immediately set about warning the proper parties. Tonight confirms it, the Slaughterhouse Nine are in Brockton Bay.”

    A subdued quiet fell over the room.

    “Overdrive was attacked by Jack Slash and a mind-controlled Skidmark in her tinker facility around the same time as the Ward team encountered Lung. Overdrive killed Skidmark in her escape but based off prior experience it's very likely Jack Slash survived.”

    I closed my eyes and squeezed Sherrell’s hand again making sure she was there still. Her arm slid up and squeezed my forearm in response.

    “Additionally, Panacea has confirmed that the poison used on Aegis was almost certainly developed by Bonesaw. It was keyed to his genetics and was designed to counter his adaptability and redundancy.”

    My blood went cold at that revelation, and I looked at Aegis as he seemed to curl in on himself a bit.

    I spoke up, “Lung moved about two maybe even three times as fast as I expected he was capable of. Could that be Bonesaw’s work as well?”

    Amy scrunched her forehead for a second and answered, “That explains the odd way the tranquilizers were behaving. I thought it was the dose, but there were weird nerve signals going on too. Whatever she did had to be something to his brain.”

    I filed that information away and Tattletale spoke up before Narwhal could continue, “My employer hired us to observe Lung’s operation. Bakuda went silent about a week and a half ago and he was concerned she was about to do something stupid. Lung knew we were there, or at least he knew we were going to be there. On that note, Grue and I would like to stay here.”

    An irritated frown was on her face as if it was the last thing she actually wanted. She spoke again, “I have reason to believe that the Nine have been observing us. I think they are looking to recruit here. I think Jack let Overdrive live just for that.” She gave us a pointed warning look, and I felt my eyes widen in response.

    Piggot finally spoke up, “Is there anything else we need to discuss right now?”

    A silence filled the room and Piggott spoke again, “Tattletale, Grue consider your request granted. Dakka or Aegis can show you to the visiting cape quarters. Be on your best behavior.”

    Tattletale and Grue nodded and Tattletale planted her eyeballs firmly on me with an unspoken request. I nodded at her and she smiled.

    Piggott shuffled her papers a bit. “One final problem. At nine in the morning today, the Alcotts reported their daughter as a runaway. This wouldn’t be worthy of mention, but Dinah Alcott was Rory’s, Triumph’s cousin. She left a note saying she was leaving, and her family reported that she’s been acting erratically since the Simurgh’s attack on Canberra. Thinkers have stated that the letter is only partially genuine. There is a strong belief she was coerced to leave and may have triggered with a Parahuman ability.”

    I blinked and reached into my jacket pocket pulling out the note, “You said she was Rory’s cousin?”

    Piggott nodded at me. “She gave me a note at his funeral.”

    I handed it to Piggott whose eyebrows shot up looking at it. “It has your civilian name on it. Why didn’t you report this?”

    I stared at her in confusion and answered like an idiot, “I don’t know. I thought about it but then the idea kind of slipped away, and I put it out of my mind.”

    Her response was surprisingly calm since internally I was screaming at myself. “Okay. You are going into Master/Stranger screening Level 1 right away.”

    I nodded. “Of course.”

    Dauntless spoke up. “I’ll escort her.”

    “Thank you. If that’s all?” No one else spoke up.



    The walk to the M/S isolation room felt short. Dauntless stood outside of it with me and tapped me on the shoulder.

    “Hey.”

    The adrenaline had long since worn off and I couldn’t fathom that I’d have to stay awake another two hours.

    “Hey.”

    He smiled at me and spoke softly, “Don’t feel bad. We’ve all been through isolation before. You did everything right tonight.”

    I gave him a curious look. “But I fought Lung.”

    He waved it away and chuckled a bit. “You did as well as could be expected. We don’t always get to pick our battles. You could have played it safe and then you probably would have lived but three others would have died. Aegis had minutes left by the time Panacea got to him. We all have to make choices and you chose to do the right thing, not the safe or the easy thing. We train you so you can grow up, but we’d be the worst kind of hypocrites if we got mad for you choosing to be a hero when it matters. That’s why we’re here. So chin up. You did good.”

    I felt the corners of my mouth turn up a bit and he opened the door for me.

    “I’ll make sure they’re quick. You need a shower. You smell!”

    I squawked at him, but he shoved me into the isolation room before I could do anything else.



    The shower was heaven. I wasn’t really standing so much as leaning against the wall with the shower head pointed toward me. The filth washed off of me, and I stared as the grey water pooled at my feet. The last time I had been this dirty was with Emma when I was seven; she had tripped into a mud puddle, and when I laughed she pulled me down with her. What had happened to that girl?

    "You ever coming out?"

    I blinked at Vista's voice.

    "Yeah, eventually. I think I could congeal a whole Merchant out of this mess."

    Her laugh came out as a half snort. I heard her sit on the sink after she finished laughing.

    After hearing her quiet I spat out, "Everything went to hell tonight."

    “You mean last night. It's almost five in the morning now,” she paused for a second and then continued, “I cried on Miss Militia's lap the first time I had a bad night. I just wanted you to know, that I'm here, and I'm listening."

    "Yeah, its just… The Nine? Oni Lee trying to kill Aegis with Bonesaw’s help? The Undersiders? Overdrive lost her fucking leg!"

    "Yeah, Armsmaster came down asking about it; he thinks he can build her a new one. Dragon said she’d help too.”

    I let silence linger after that for a bit and Vista spoke again, "My door's open all the time. You know… us girls have to stick together.”

    "How about after I get some sleep we grab some ice cream from the cafeteria? I could use chocolate or a close approximation right now."

    Vista grunted in agreement. "We should bring Dennis."

    "I mean why not. But I thought us girls should stick together?"

    "Meh, Dennis is close enough."

    My laugh was probably a bit more hysterical than the joke warranted.



    I woke up screaming. The feeling of Lung’s claws pressing into my throat swirled around me as I breathed heavily trying to calm down. It was just after ten in the morning, and I was covered in sweat. Four hours of sleep, it wasn’t enough but there was no way I was going back to sleep with those dreams hovering around me. I decided to share my misery and got up.

    I walked to the guest quarters and knocked on Tattletales door remembering her silent request last night. She opened the door with her hair a mess and her domino mask halfway down her cheek on her right side. I laughed at her outright and she grumbled fixing herself before pulling me into the room.

    “So you wanted to talk?”

    She didn’t answer me and instead wandered over to the coffee maker in the room going through the motions of making a cup. I pulled the second mug and grabbed a tea bag and filled the mug with cold water. Tattletale raised an eyebrow at me and I smirked before pulling out a round and struck the side of the mug. The round flashed and the water immediately started steaming. I dropped the tea bag into the water with a smug grin.

    “You’re way too proud of that.” She paused for a second looking at me kind of intensely before continuing, “You’re actually showing off just for me. Trying to impress the other thinker? No… the bullet only heats water specifically.”

    I nodded and she smiled at me and then clucked her tongue at me, “Nice distraction. Are you going to upgrade my thinker rating in the PRT database now?”

    I nodded my head with a too happy smile and pulled out her chair for her. I sat her down and proceeded to finish making the coffee.

    “Are all the Wards like this? Maybe I made a career mistake.”

    I snorted and handed her her mug. She gulped it down without stopping before she grimaced.

    “So?”

    She nodded and filled her mug again from the carafe. “Two things really. One, thanks for saving my ass. And don’t give me any bullshit about it being part of your job. You had no reason to stick your neck out for me and Grue, but you did it anyway. So if you ever need a favor...”

    I nodded at her and she continued, “Good. No drama, you do me a solid, I do you one. Easy. Two, Overdrive talked to me last night confirming what I already was thinking. Jack is interested in you. The Nine have a funny way of rooting out secrets and getting at you from all the directions you don’t want them to. If I were you I’d get your family out of town, though I don’t think your… Dad will play ball.”

    I shook my head, “Hardly. He’s more likely to arm up his boys. Especially with Jack fucking with Overdrive. She’s basically the Union mascot.”

    Tattletale started giggling which turned into full blown hysterics and she threw up her hands making giant quotes, “Mascot.”

    I shrugged while feeling more than a little defensive of her. “She’s happy enough. I’m not going to judge.”

    “Mascot…,” she let out another chuckle before she started talking through an amused smile, “Anyway that’s really all I had. Just watch your back okay? I know the news says that the Slaughterhouse is full of willing participants but the facts just don’t add up for that. Jack breaks people. So... yeah be careful.”

    I shrugged and topped her coffee off before standing. “Thanks. And for the record The Wards here? Short of family, they’re the best bunch of people in the world.”

    She blinked at me and tilted her head to the side, “You really mean that.”

    “Yeah,” I smirked, “I’m just as surprised as you honestly.”

    She snorted and her eyes jumped for a second and she spoke again, “Mind if I give you some unsolicited advice?”

    I turned toward her more fully and gestured for her to go on.

    “You’re power is doing more than you think it is. Not many people catch me by surprise and you hit every single note right to get me to slip up. You need to own it before it owns you.”

    I was quiet for a moment thinking about what she said, and I reviewed my life for the last few months. She was right. I looked at her and felt my head spin a bit trying to consider the weight of her words. I’d need to find time to think on it carefully. She broke the silence saying, “Tell your Dad I owe him too.”

    I considered the implications and frowned slightly as she gave me a knowing look. She shooed me off with her hand though and I left her to her drink.



    I nearly jumped out of my skin when I returned to the Wards HQ and my Dad crushed me in a hug, lifting me off the ground slightly with his height. His forehead was warm through my hair, "Jesus, Taylor, Lung?"

    "Aegis was going to die Dad. I had to do something."

    He nodded setting me down while fussing over me. His voice was quiet and strained, "I know. Hana explained it all to me. I can’t believe it honestly."

    “Hana? She told you her civilian name?”

    He looked timid for a second and smiled. “I’ve been here since you went into M/S screening. I couldn’t sleep and she doesn’t, so we got to talking. It's kind of a blur at the moment, I’ve been up way too long. Kurt about lost his mind when Sherrell blew up her warehouse. He tracked her bike to the rig though and sent me on.”

    I looked at him closely and saw the telltale signs of a blush on his face and I smirked at him. “Dad… really?”

    He groaned at my piercing gaze and turned his head away. “She’s really nice.”

    “I know. I’m not sure what you’re embarrassed about.”

    “Shouldn’t I be?”

    I scoffed and waved my hands dramatically. “Its horrific. You know a girl’s name!”

    He snorted at me and smiled. “I know. Next I’ll even speak to her respectfully and get to know her as a friend. I’m playing a dangerous game.”

    “Next level chessmaster really. We’ll have the whole Brockton Bay Protectorate over for your cookies in no less than three months at this rate.”

    He paused looking up at the corner of the ceiling clearly taking the time to imagine that moment and he chuckled lightly. He scowled as his mind went somewhere else and he looked at me.

    “But seriously Taylor, Lung?”

    I shrugged helplessly.

    He nodded at that and smiled. "But you kicked his ass?"

    "I kicked his ass."

    He pulled me into a hug. "Atta girl."

    I fell into the hug for a while trying to push off some of the fears my earlier dreams had dredged up.

    Eventually the door opened and Chris walked in domino mask on and I stepped back from the hug and gave my dad a quirky smile, “Hold that thought.”

    I turned toward Chris and grabbed his jacket. He eyed me curiously and I laughed a bit awkwardly, “You saved my life last night.”

    I leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, and I felt just a little smug as his face went bright tomato red. Chris’s eyes danced nervously at my Dad who just smiled at him.

    “Thank you.”

    He nodded in a bit of a daze and stepped back. “You’re welcome.”

    I turned to my Dad and said in a mocking voice, “I know his name too!”

    Chris let out a bewildered, “What?” Which caused my Dad to explode into amused snickers.

    I turned to Chris smiling at him. “Don’t worry we’ll make you cookies too.”

    Chris caught up and smirked while playing along, “I do like cookies. I’d love to stay, but I need to go finish my cannon since I think I’m going to need it soon.”

    I frowned slightly at that and muttered, “Yeah. I’ve got some work to do myself.”

    I felt Dad’s hand fall on my shoulder, “Listen, I need to head home and get some rest. Kurt’s probably halfway to building a fortress out of scrap metal, and Lacey isn’t going to do anything but encourage him for her own amusement. So...”

    I turned to him and gave him a goodbye hug.

    “Stay safe for me Dad.”

    He nodded and I felt a smirk rise up. “She likes cinnamon cookies.” His eyebrows raised at me, and he blushed, but I couldn’t care less because if anyone deserved happiness, it was Dad.



    AN: RIP Overdrive's birthmark.
     
  13. Threadmarks: Chapter 12
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    Special thanks to my Beta mrwizard70 who is still beta'ing after the long hiatus, what a champion!



    I woke up screaming. The edges of the room shook while the shadows pressed into me. Tidal waves of pressure pushed me into a slowly growing panic and I took a shuddering breath trying to get ahead of the feeling. My mind refused to stop circling over the events with Lung and images of Aegis’s face kept rising up again and again. His eyes held a look of betrayal in the dream as I failed to catch the grenade Oni Lee threw. Darkness prickled around the edges of my vision as a festering wash of anger from feeling so out of control turned into panic.

    I shot to my feet, tearing the covers off. I took a deep steadying breath and glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes. I had only been asleep twenty minutes. I took a moment to compose myself. I turned and walked to the sink, grabbing the glass of water on the edge. I took a moment to look around my room. Ward rooms weren’t big; the shower and bathroom weren’t even separated by a door, just a divider. Still - it was mine. I let out a breath.

    Aegis was fine. Sherrell was mostly fine. I was okay. Everything was okay. My mind fluttered, looking for a distraction and a more pleasant set of thoughts. I had helped Chris take some of his work home earlier. That was against the rules, but rules were less important than keeping Chris functional. And anyways - it was Chris, so I didn’t actually need a reason to spend more time with him.

    I shivered and rolled my shoulders, composing myself. I threw on some pajamas and wandered into the HQ. It was just me here right now; I wanted company though. Hannah was here, Tattletale probably wouldn’t be bothered either but neither sounded right. My mind went to Sherrell and I nodded to myself as I moved out of the room.

    The guest quarters weren’t far and I let out a yawn before I knocked. The response was immediate, “Nobodies naked!”

    I snorted and opened the door. Sherrell was on the bed watching TV. She turned toward me and gave me a smile. A moment passed as she looked me over and her smile turned into a frown. Apparently, I wasn’t hiding my weariness that well. “Shit Taylor, you look like hell.”

    The door closed behind me and another wave of fear passed over me. The feeling of entrapment was fleeting but I thought for a moment about waking up in the locker after Sophia had beat the shit out of me. I felt a wave of exhaustion as I tried to keep the tears from forming. My small amount of composure crumbled and I rushed toward the bed crashing into Sherrell.

    “Taylor...” Her voice was soft as her hand slid into my hair. I crushed myself into her. I felt my heart beat slow as I simply let her hold me and for a moment I relaxed. I felt my eyes close on their own and sleep stole me away.



    I startled awake again to the memory of my legs burning. I shook myself and pushed myself up on the backboard of the bed, glancing again at the clock. Three in the morning. A few hours of sleep this time. Thank God for Sherrell.

    I was pretty sure that the encounter with Oni Lee hadn’t lasted even ninety seconds, yet every moment of it was burned into my mind. Every single action and reaction was accompanied by endless second-guessing of my decisions.

    I felt a sigh of exasperation escape me as I tried to push down the feelings. I had almost died when I was out with Aegis. I had been fine then. Lung’s eyes though and the feeling of my legs burning, the smell of my own skin - this was different. The mistakes before were abstract, I had felt it this time. I could have shot him from the roof, I could have waited for backup, I could have…

    I felt Sherrell push herself up in bed and wrap her arms around me. I fell into her arms and a smattering of conflicted emotions filled me. I was so damn tired I could hardly stand it. I hadn’t felt this tired since waking up in the hospital all those months ago. It wasn’t a good state to be in. A creeping feeling of that old darkness stole its way into me and I squirmed my way into Sherrell’s arms more tightly.
    Her hands came back to my hair and I sighed. My heart lurched awkwardly and I let the stubborn shields I’d been holding up break and the tears rushed out of me. I fell into the hug and sobs crashed out of me. I was so damn overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do with my headspace; my heart rattled around in my chest while I tried to make sense of my feelings. It wasn’t just Lung. It was everything.

    Months of effort and work, so many emotional trials, I had so much support and now it felt like I was sitting right on the edge; that it would only take one firm push for those old feelings to come back in force. I didn’t like it. I had been trying to live in that fight and yet I made so many decisions that could have gotten me killed. I had to be better, I had to do better. Silence and frustration gripped me and I felt my breathing still.

    I needed to say something, anything to break this terrible spinning feeling inside. My guilt felt easier to grasp than my emotional state. “He hurt you. He hurt you to get at me. Sherrell... I’m so sorry.” My hands lifted, and I grabbed her t-shirt to pull her closer. My body shook, my breath coming out in long shudders.

    “Hey.” Her hands and voice were gentle as she raised them into my hair rubbing my head. I pressed my head into her hands like a cat, and she spoke again, “Taylor - you saved my life. I never would have made it out of there except for you. From what I hear, you took Oni Lee apart and put Lung down and saved five people’s lives. The only people who have any reason to be scared right now are your enemies.”

    My voice trembled saying, “I just keep feeling Lung’s hand around my throat. The flames coming up again and again. I can still remember the smell of my legs burning.” I shuddered and Sherrell’s hands moved down and started rubbing my back.

    “I’m here Taylor. I’m right here.” I acknowledged her by taking her arms and wrapping them around me tighter.

    My voice felt softer than ever when I said, “Thank you.”

    I could feel her grin into my back. “Of course hun. You’re my favorite Hebert anyway.”

    I let out a wet laugh. “I’m sure Dad will be heartbroken.”

    She continued on, “I’m joining the Protectorate. Now isn’t the time to be running around as an independent, and honestly I want to pay Jack back for my leg, and Piggott seemed keen on letting me. Thankfully, Panacea was nice and fixed up all the nerve endings and stuff. Apparently, she’s gonna help more later but Armsmaster and Dragon also promised to build a prosthetic for me. I’m weighing my options.”

    “Good. You deserve it.” I felt her let out a pleased hum at that.

    “And you’re gonna help me build my next ride.”

    I sighed in relief as ideas danced around in my mind pushing the dread away. It wasn’t solving my problem but maybe I could push it off until I had some decent sleep. “As if you could stop me. I’ve got some ideas on that...”

    We talked shop for a while, and finally, I fell asleep without nightmares.



    Claxons. Heat and sound and shaking. I fell out of bed as everything around me lurched and shook. I heard Sherrell groan behind me and I tried to stand before staccato explosions shook my head and teeth. I had to take a moment to compose myself as my power threw me into a bout of nausea with too many data points I couldn’t ignore. Something truly bad was happening. I gathered myself as best as I could and helped Sherrell to her feet - foot.

    The rig shook again and a noticeable tilt rattled its way across my power. A small thought passed its way through my head and I stilled. Everything was moving. There was a noticeable tilt and slide to the micro-shifts in velocity passing across me and filling the room. That thought grew and I did some calculations in my head. The answer made my whole body go rigid and I felt a burst of panic. The Rig was collapsing.

    Stilled panic turned into frantic panic and I grabbed Overdrive more tightly and started to move. I mostly dragged her as she did her best to hop next to me, but there was no time for niceties. We rushed toward the stairs and ran into Grue and Tattletale at one of the intersections leading to the stairwell.

    I spoke quickly, “The Rig is collapsing; we have to get out of here now.”

    Another explosion rocked the building, this one sounding like it came from deep below the water.

    Tattletale’s voice came out strained, “We don’t have enough time to get out.”

    I did some hasty calculations in my head, and my voice quavered, “We can’t jump either. It's all broken bones from this height, at best unconsciousness, if you hit wrong...”

    Grue pushed forward and said, “We need to get on the external catwalk. Best chance someone sees us. Something is better than nothing.”

    I let his words pull me out of my terror saying, “One more floor down, third door on the right.”

    The building took on a more noticeable lean as we fought our way down the stairs, and my power had turned into a migraine as everything twisted and shifted in thousands of ways, all of them some kind of threat. We stepped out onto the catwalk and I shielded my eyes from the sun. We must have been asleep for a long time, the sun was past its apex. After my eyes adjusted I looked around. Even though I knew it was bad I was still shocked at the state of the Rig when we got out. Black smoke was coming off in waves, and I breathed out looking at some of the areas and how they were affected, “Bakuda.”

    I pushed down my panic and directed us away from the flames towards the city side of the rig. The forcefield bridge was about fifty feet below us and my frustrated panic burst from my mouth, “I don’t have any of my equipment! I could get us out of here with one fucking bullet. God damnit!”

    I resigned myself to the utter amount of fucked we were at that moment. Two vehicles, including Armsmaster’s bike, appeared, exiting the garage. I grabbed Tattletale’s domino mask and threw it, trying to get his attention.

    I felt a thrum of triumph as he slowed down. I promised to never think another negative thought about how overboard Colin’s sensor suite could be. The building started to tremble around me, and I breathed out to calm myself. Armsmaster whipped his bike around and looked directly at us before stepping off his bike.

    He pulled his halberd out and something in his mask amplified his voice as he spoke clearly over the noise.

    “Jump! I’ll catch you!”

    I looked at Overdrive and she smiled, “Bombs away then! It's not like I want front row seats to Under the Brockton Bay the documentary.”

    Armsmaster manipulated his halberd and I felt my heart settle a bit as an anti-grav/inertia bubble appeared below us. My lips quirked up into a bit of a smile. He’d been busy! I helped Grue get Sherrell in a position to leap to the bridge below us and she jumped pretty cleanly. I let Grue and Tattletale jump first. Finally I steeled myself and leapt off the catwalk toward the bridge below.

    I fell into the field, praising Chris in my head again. Armsmaster turned it off once we were all safe on the bridge. I felt a bit unsteady but he dragged me to my feet and gave me a once over. He wasn’t panicked. I felt myself relax a bit at the realization.

    “The bridge power structure is reflective and sectional. If the Rig collapses each section powers itself recursively and its partially locked in space relative to its position with the earth below. It’ll hold for seven minutes no matter what. That should be more than enough time to run a klick. I’ll get Overdrive out of here on my bike. Get moving.”

    I nodded, and Grue helped Overdrive onto the back of the bike. I watched Armsmaster roar off and I turned to Tattletale, “Let’s go.”

    Her eyes flickered over the distance and she took a breath and shot off running. Grue fell in next to me and we ran. The sound of metal screaming filled my ears as another set of explosions went off behind us. I couldn’t help myself as I looked back over my shoulder watching the rig’s support structure collapse in on themselves.

    The bridge stayed perfectly still though and not even a vibration passed along it.

    “We have seven minutes as of right now.”

    Tattletale was breathing heavy but I had no worries she’d make it. Her whole posture screamed she’d finish the run with us or die trying. Pride was a beautiful motivator.

    A crashing sound rose from the water below us and a blast of heat shot past us into the sky. Lung’s roar greeted us as we ran and I felt my legs move faster in response. I turned my head up to the sky seeing him sweep down along the bridge. He was absolutely gigantic, easily 12 meters long, and was turning his head side to side, looking for something. His dragon form looked majestic to my power: his scales weren’t still; they moved. I wasn’t really sure what to make of that detail, but I watched as he roared again and dove toward the water crashing into it like lightning.

    He exploded out of the water seconds later with another strange beast that he was tearing into with his claws.

    “That’s Crawler.” Tattletale answered the question before I asked it.

    Crawler was giving as good as he got, and Lung crashed into the beach on the north side of the city.

    I was roused from my gawking as a PRT van pulled onto the bridge ahead of us. It didn’t take long to close the distance and I saw Miss Militia was driving. She pulled up and turned around. We clambered in, and my mouth moved before I could stop it's foolishness, “I lost all my gear.”

    Miss Militia scoffed at me. “That’s what you’re worried about? I’m just glad you’re alive.”

    I nodded. “What was Crawler doing in the water and why was Lung so pissed?”

    Tattletale popped in, “I don’t think Lung being messed with by Bonesaw was voluntary, and I’m damn sure that Crawler was the one who set the explosives on the seafloor.”

    “Those were some of Bakuda’s work.”

    Miss Militia interjected, “She started with silent bombs on the sea side of the Rig. We didn’t even know anything was going on at first. The seaward side doesn’t have anyone working on it during low manning days. Somehow, she managed to get past Armsmasters sensor suite. It was actually Dragon that caught on because she noticed irregularities in the connection when she was checking in on the Birdcage. We think we got everyone out in time.”

    I paused at that, feeling the sheer scope of what happened swirl around to the top of my head. It was gone, more than two months of work buried at sea, everything Colin was working on and Chris too. It was all just gone. What if it had happened on a busy day? How many people would have died? I stared out the window at the waves from the sinking facility for a good minute or two playing catch up.

    Finally the harshest part of it all came out. “We’re neutered.”

    Miss Militia nodded. “That seems to have been the entire point. Jack Slash and Mannequin picked a fight with New Wave down to the exact second the first bomb went off.”

    I shook my head at the level of coordination involved there, “How in the fuck? What’s their angle?”

    Tattletale spoke in a weird sort of strangled whisper, “They’re making the fight more entertaining? Fuck, no… they want to see what we can do from nothing, no… that’s not quite right. Something else… something more… ugh.”

    Something about that lit a fire in me. My friends were not entertainment. My life was not someone else’s toy. I shouted, “Jack doesn’t want an ounce of what I’m capable of! He’s gonna fucking regret attacking Overdrive and he’s going to regret ever fucking with me.”

    I took a deep breath, calming myself. “Did you save anything Miss Militia?”

    “I have forty rounds of Snowflake. That’s all I carry on hand.”

    “It's a start.” I paused for a moment and then groused, “Oh no, my rifle!”

    Something about what I said sent Miss Militia into a fit of laughter. “I have the best apprentice.”



    The Rig burned as Danny watched in silence. He had spent the morning arguing with Kurt about getting him to head out of town to no avail. He had been about to give up when the first explosions had started going off. He fumbled with his phone when Lacey’s hand found his and he heard her say, “It's best to just go to PRT HQ, the phone’s are going to be swamped and they are evacuating. If you call your Mrs. Protectorate she’s just going to be busy.”

    Danny gave Lacey a warning look at her comment before he changed the subject, “You guys have to leave town.”

    Kurt mumbled something in the negative when Danny interrupted him, “I’m not asking for me you fucking idiot. I’m asking for Taylor. You’ve got vacation days, and I’m the fucking president no one is going to fire you. Get your ass in a car and drive south; now.”

    Lacey grabbed Kurt’s shoulder firmly and said, “You heard the man. Taylor wants us out of here, so we’re leaving.”

    Danny nodded and gave them a smile. The panic was crushing him but he had a long way to drive in potentially bad traffic so he’d keep his cool or die trying. His mind whirred and he looked at the Rig frowning again. The part of him that was a father wanted to run screaming to help. The other part, the part that was Taylor’s friend, zero’d in on the absolute faith he had in her to come out of this in one piece. He decided that if Taylor survived she’d need that friend first and if she didn’t? There was absolutely nothing he could do about it anyway.

    He choked back his fear just like he had all those months ago and turned to Kurt.

    “Actually… before you go we need to do something. I’m gonna need your truck. Taylor’s gonna need tools.”



    I turned to Miss Militia as we pulled up closer to Headquarters. She spoke, “Armory is down a floor from where I’ll park. Don’t kid yourself, grab the M4LR762 and a sidearm of choice. No costume, I want you in PRT armor. I have a rifle at home. We are going to acquire it at the earliest available opportunity.”

    She gave me a questioning look and I nodded, “Okay. Let’s do this.”

    She turned to Tattletale and Grue, “You two need to find someplace safe. Grue, your sister is here. Check the second floor.”

    Grue exhaled like he’d been underwater for the whole thing, “Thank god… Holy shit. Did that really happen?”

    Tattletale nodded while grabbing Grue’s arm and stepping out of the vehicle. She turned to me saying, “Thanks again. Overdrive has my number if you need me. Happy hunting.”

    Miss Militia pulled out her phone and sent off a text. “I just told your Dad, you’re okay.”

    “Right. I probably should have done that.”

    Militia rolled her eyes at me, “Lets go Dakka.”

    We got out of the van and I finally remembered I was still in my PJ’s. The weight of the day suddenly sat on me and I could actually feel the stress seep into my posture.

    Hannah put her hand on my shoulder, “Penny for your thoughts?”

    The stress got the better of me and I felt myself answering waspishly, “I’m just overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter though. Just give me a minute.”

    I noticed Hana’s eyes widen at my tone and I blew out a breath.

    “Sorry. I just... I’m having trouble keeping up.”

    She shrugged, “That makes two of us. Let’s focus on things we can change then?”

    I nodded and felt like a fool for losing my temper. Hannah didn’t deserve that. We made our way to the armory and the smell of the guns brought me about and I let it do its magic. I turned toward the back and meandered my way down to the “war gear.” The M4LR762 was an interesting gun. When the designers had been asked what inspired it they had said, “It wasn’t inspired, it's just capes changing all the rules.”

    With the cape scene and Leviathan, NATO’s influence had crumbled and the US had become fairly isolated. The weapons trade and treaties fell apart but the desire for stopping power was still closely sought after. So the designers of the M4 had formed a committee and after considerable deliberation said, let's give it a larger round. That’s it. That was its sole design criteria. The Army of course loved it and it had filtered its way down into the PRT not shortly after.

    I grabbed the gun. I had handled one on the range a dozen or so times and I still loved the feel of it. I went through the safety steps fiddling with some of the mechanisms as I went. I analyzed it carefully with my power. There was a minor imperfection in the rifling. I set it down and grabbed the next. This one was as good as I could hope for and considered the choice of sidearms.

    I knew in my head why Hana wanted me equipped with 7.62. I had three rounds I had sworn I would never build without a dire need, all of them needed at least that large of caliber. Damnation, Yog-Sothoth and Weirdboyz, were all various flavors of high-octane murder or mayhem. Hana was playing for keeps and I couldn’t blame her.

    I just needed a lab again. I needed a lab, a high tower, and for Jack to show his stupid face. In fact in some ways Jack wasn’t even who I was worried about. It was Bonesaw and Crawler. One was the survivor, the other was the Catch 22. All in all the Nine were a tough nut to crack and I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Rig was just them saying hello.

    There were so many moving parts and they had just been dropped on me. Saint, Harbinger, the Nine, even Dragon’s personal status played into this. Narwhal hadn’t said it but Dragon’s eyes had. Saint had some sort of grudge match with Dragon and he was here to play that out. This was the veritable definition of a cluster fuck. Thankfully it was the kind of problem that a suitable amount of Dakka could actually solve.

    I turned my head back to the sidearms I had been considering. The Remington Model 145 was another one of those guns that existed on Bet but not Aleph. It chambered .45 Super and was developed in the early nineties. The gun had problems, serious problems. The police and PRT had adopted it because of how damn cheap it was though. Personally, it was the caliber that interested me. It shot true and had high bullet velocity. Colin or Chris might be able to assist me in making the gun a little less difficult to care for.

    I suited up and went out to meet Hana again. She was waiting for me, and had also removed most of her costume in lieu of armor but had tied her bandana around her left arm. I couldn’t help but smile as she replaced the patch on my right arm from the PRT badge to one with my Sheriffs badge.

    “You really do think of everything.”

    She grinned. “As if I I’d let my apprentice make me look bad. Though the PJ’s? I’m flattered.”

    I blushed a bit at my Miss Militia pajama pants. She fussed over me for a second making sure everything was correct and then spoke, “Director Piggott has asked us to retrieve Panacea and bring her here for an undisclosed reason. So far headcount is good, we’ve only lost five people. Three of the guards who were with Lung, Thomas Calvert who I think you had met, and one of the sub contractors who did Rig maintenance. We think he was on the seaside when the explosions started.”

    I nodded and sighed. “We got lucky, didn’t we?”

    “We did. If it had been tomorrow? Hundreds would have died. Considering that Jack went after Overdrive it's a short list of people she knows with teenage daughters. It's pretty damn likely your identity with the Nine is blown.”

    I paused letting that information settle in. I decided that now wasn’t the time to start worrying about it. No matter what, I was in this for the long haul.

    “Alright! Let's go get Amy.”



    Intel was busy when we walked in, a gathering of PRT employees all stood around a table with Narwhal. Her face was set and had an edge to it colored in irritation. When she saw us she set the papers she had been looking at down and crossed the room with quick steps.

    Miss Militia spoke first saying, “Tell me what’s going on.”

    Narwhal nodded. “Bonesaw had twelve bodies delivered to the Chief Director an hour ago. She claims she has a dormant plague she can activate remotely. No one comes to help Brockton Bay or she activates it and any capes that are here, they stay or she activates it. The President has… capitulated. They’re going to blockade the city.”

    My head spun at that. My nightmares of Lung seemed shallow all of a sudden. The Nine’s game plan suddenly became clear to me. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

    “He’s hit the PRT, he’s hit the Merchants, he’s hit the ABB, he’s going to hit the Empire.”

    Narwhal nodded. “I’ve got thinkers trying to decide what his game plan is. Lung is out for blood, his fight with Crawler didn’t go as well he probably hoped. He started shrinking during the fight and threw Crawler out to sea a good mile or two. Lung isn’t going to be feeling particularly picky about his targets either. The Nine hit him in his pride, he’s going to lash out and we’re all stuck in here with him.”

    I leaned my head back staring at the ceiling. I wanted to see Rule 7 applied here. An advantage is an advantage is an advantage, fighting fair is for people who like to lose. My mind flitted to Lacey and Kurt, I hoped they’d get out before the blockade came down.

    What were my advantages? Some of my best were at the bottom of the ocean right now. Right now we were going to gather Amy. A partial solution clicked as one of the local cape dossiers popped into my head.

    “Glory Girl can use her flight underwater can’t she?”

    Miss Militia nodded.

    “I can recase my rounds. If she could get down to the Rig all the 7.62 rounds I made for you are in the hardened cases on the top floor armory. It’s cityside too. It probably survived.”

    Narwhal took the decision out of our hands, “If you can talk her into it, do it. We need every advantage we can gather.”

    I couldn’t help myself as Dad’s stupid joke came out of my mouth, “Great minds think alike... and so do ours.”



    AN: So there it is. Onto the next chapter.
     
    Evilhippy, Elsepth, Pugnhippo and 6 others like this.
  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 13
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    I stepped out of the van and took a moment to get my bearings. An oddly shaped item sat on the ground and blood was scattered around the street. I stared at it for a long moment trying to wrap my head around what I was seeing before it clicked. A severed foot. My brain shuffled unsuccessfully around the gruesome scene before my eyes settled on Amy and Brandish sitting on the ground just beyond it.

    A strange emotion passed through me as I watched Amy growing the woman’s foot back in front of me. Had she kept fighting like that? Holy shit. There was something unsettling about the feeling of normalcy when I looked up to see Lady Photon shouting at Manpower and Shielder.

    “... if you ever try and run off like that again I will personally melt you and make a wax statue of your remains as a warning to others.”

    Shielder’s face said it all and the reddish hue of his cheeks and the silent glare Brandish was sending his way had a hundred different scenes all equally worrisome running through my head.

    “You know our rules, stick together and never, NEVER chase a villain. It is always a trap.”

    Miss Militia coughed loudly next to me and relief flooded through me, I felt like I was intruding. Glory Girl was floating behind her mother her face a mixture of pale, concerned, irritated and angry. The group paused at Militia’s cough and Shielder seemed to relax and move behind his sister while he composed himself. Something about the scene made me want to laugh but I held it in especially after my eye caught the severed foot not but a yard from me.

    Lady Photon turned and her anger still seemed fresh when she all but attacked Miss Militia, “When are we getting outside support? Is Boston here yet?”

    Miss Militia frowned, “Its not coming.”

    “What?!” Brandish’s voice from the ground startled me a bit.

    Miss Militia repeated herself, “It's not coming. Bonesaw threatened a plague if outside help comes. We also aren’t allowed to leave.”

    Laserdream waved her hand in irritation, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

    I scoffed, sharing the irritation, “If only. I was on the Rig this morning. It's only lucky timing I made it out at all.”

    “So what do you need?” Laserdream spoke to the obvious question.

    Miss Militia answered, “First, Director Piggot has asked for Panacea to resolve an issue that wasn’t discussed with us. I doubt it would be any less than top priority.”

    Amy didn’t turn from her work on Brandishes foot but she nodded and no one made any protesting sounds.

    I cut in, “Glory Girl, you can deep dive right?”

    She nodded and I continued, “There are three containers in the topside armory of the rig labeled with my symbol currently sitting at the bottom of the ocean. Those rounds could be the difference between victory and defeat. Tartar rounds in particular probably amount to a hard counter to Mannequin. If you are feeling brave, my lab which is further down, has all my rounds sitting on a wall in labeled containers. You’ll want the ones marked ‘Esoterica Contagion’. I don’t need those, but we have two hostile tinkers in the bay right now: Saint and Bakuda. Those rounds are the second version of my EMP rounds”

    Glory Girl spoke, “I thought Tinker tech usually wasn’t susceptible to EMP?”

    I blinked and nodded, “It's not really an EMP. They produce a contagious ephemeral computational hazard that works across inbound and outbound signals. Sorry… What I mean is, I shoot Bakuda and then Bakuda’s stuff no longer works, no matter where it is. Kind of.”

    Glory Girl was smiling, “Contagious ephemeral computational hazard? Don’t you just mean a computer virus.”

    “I would it if it was code. It's not code.” I smiled.

    Her smile brightened while her eyes went a bit distant. “I really want to know how that works. I bet it's something that forces bit shifts,” she mumbled the last part talking to herself, “that’s probably how it knows where to propagate, but how does it store state?”

    I felt a bit of a rush at the positive attention and continued the conversation with a bit of excitement, “Basically. It's the field equations that are ‘tinker-bullshit’. The state is stored recursively in the...”

    Miss Militia coughed at me and I laughed at myself. “Right. So you in?”

    “Oh… I’m definitely in.” Glory Girl’s voice was vibrating with excitement.

    Amy finished what she was doing and Brandish grunted out a thanks. Before standing up and dusting herself off. No one made any further comment a strange silence settling on the group and only the slight wringing of Lady Photon’s hands reminded me how tense the situation actually was.

    Brandish spoke again, “You know the drill Militia, they come back safe.”

    Miss Militia nodded and we left.



    Miss Militia drove in such a way I could only describe as gracefully reckless. She treated the vehicle like a weapon and I wondered if that had something to do with the philosophy of life her power gave her. Amy wore a strained smile; she clearly didn’t like the artful display Miss Militia was putting on.

    I went for a distraction even though my only topic of choice was probably awkward, “Is your Mom okay Amy?”

    Amy was quiet for a moment and I was overwhelmed by a wash of emotional whitewashing going on in Amy’s countenance. She eventually schooled her features and spoke evenly, “Carol is fine. Nothing I can’t handle at least. Mannequin maneuvered us to be pincered by Jack and he got an attack below one of Eric’s shields. That’s when Vicky lost her cool I guess. She used Mannequin as a club against Jack for a bit.”

    There was a glimmer of a smirk on Amy’s face and I raised my eyebrows imagining the scene. “I would have liked to see that.”

    Miss Militia agreed from the passenger seat and I continued on, “Did she hit him?”

    “No. Honestly I think adding combat thinking to his PRT classification wouldn’t be out of line. I’d like to say I have a good sense of how the human body works and he was failing to suspend my disbelief.”

    “That’s never been in any report I’ve seen.” Miss Militia hummed.

    I nodded thinking on some of what Sherrell had mentioned, “Overdrive said he dodged the firing patterns of her turrets as well as she could and she had practiced it.”

    Further conversation was interrupted by leaflets. Thousands upon thousands of leaflets raining from the sky. Hana slowed the vehicle down and I reached out the window grabbing one as it fell.

    “The Slaughterhouse Nine cordially invites the Empire Eighty Eight to our Ostara celebration right here in Brockton Bay!

    In order to clear up any confusion the list of attendees is thus:

    Max Anders(Kaiser)
    Kayden Anders(Purity)



    ~The Nine

    PS: Thank you for your excellent detective skills, Coil (Thomas Calvert).


    I stared at the leaflet for a long moment. “What the fuck?”

    Glory Girl grabbed the leaflet out of my hands and read it out loud.

    I watched as Hana’s face flushed and for the first time since I’d met her and she grew very quiet. The weirdness of it struck me and I asked, “Why leaflets?”

    Miss Militia frowned, “It’s an old school propaganda method. They used it a lot prior to the fifties, it implies air superiority, control of the battle space, and a number of other things. It’s deliberate for sure, you can see them still falling over the city.”

    Her hand pointed to the sky and I looked out the window to see paper falling everywhere. An oddly rebellious thought filled me. Where had they gotten all that paper? Reality settled back in and I sat for a moment digesting the content of the leaflet.

    “We wondered what they were going to do against the Empire, I guess we have our answer.”

    Miss Militia took a deep breath and spoke, “Its the 13th so the Spring Equinox is in 7 days. Ostara is important to the Empire.”

    I spoke, “They’ve given us a timeline, that’s part of their usual MO right?”

    “Yes. During previous recruitment drives they generally use one of two approaches. The prospective recruits are informed right away or they play the slow game. The slow game happens more often when they are recruiting more than one, which we know for a fact they are since they are shy two members. This is part of the show.”

    “So Jack said he was interested in me and Tattletale implied that he was now interested in Overdrive as well. That can’t be it?”

    “No that won’t be it. Every member usually nominates one person. Jack will have to choose between the two of you if they play their usual games.”

    “So… Ostara. If I was Jack and I had to make a choice. Wouldn’t it be fun if I forced them to show off? Think about it. He hits the rig, setting me back to nothing effectively. Now even if I had been able to recover gear I’d still be hamstrung and without my lab. So I’d be forced to improvise. I’ve already started to do that, I’m already playing his game.”

    Amy spoke finally, “It doesn’t matter though. If you don’t play he escalates. Jack said Bonesaw wanted me.”

    Glory Girl grunted a bit at that.

    I spoke, “Tattletale said he breaks people. Comes at all the angles they don’t want to be got at. So what’s his angle?”

    I turned to look at her carefully and she glared at me. “I don’t know.”

    There was a moment where my look of disbelief seemed to shift her a bit but she clamped down even harder in the end. I turned away giving up. If she didn’t want to share with the class that was her own business and I said as much. “That’s fine. It was just curiosity. For me it's easy, Kurt, Lacey, Dad, my friends. I have people here, people I care about. I care about the city.”

    Amy muttered, “That’s cause you’re a damn girl scout.”

    I snorted, “I heard that… and you aren’t wrong. I’m not even sure I could take offense to that.”

    I finished by turning toward her and smiling. For a moment her features softened before quickly hardening again. I held my laugh. In ten short years we might even be friends. I considered changing tactics with her. Brutal honesty just seemed like it would backfire though.

    Silence settled and I bit my lip holding back the feeling of guilt. What I had said was a total lie. Jack wouldn’t attack the people I love. I don’t think I could be coerced, I imagined all the ways that ended and all of them involved very large munitions.

    I briefly considered my previous suicide attempt, but it didn’t settle in the right way. It didn’t feel like a button that could be pressed. I hadn’t come to terms with it but I wasn’t necessarily ashamed of it either. My feelings on the matter were not consistent and where they were consistent they weren’t vulnerable.

    No, Jack would hit me somewhere stickier, darker, more primal. What scared me is I didn’t know what it would look like. I was blind to my own weakness here. Scared wasn’t the right word, I was terrified. I paused taking in the rare moment of real self-analysis. Tattletale had urged me to spend more time watching my power, maybe this was part of that.

    I looked at the leaflet again, “So we have seven days.”

    Hana nodded but frowned, “It still doesn’t mean that they are going to leave us alone to prepare.”

    I let out of a pained chuckle, “No, I didn’t think they would.”



    Abandoned. The word hovered around in her mind as she gripped the picture in her hands. She hadn’t even known about Bonesaw’s threat until after the President had called to tell her.

    The terrible truth settled on her; they were on their own. She bit her lip and turned the picture over, her eyes darting to the window. It was happening again. Cagey dread mixed with her own fine brand of world weary pessimism had settled into a tired, stretched feeling of filmy distaste.

    This was the second time she would be behind the wall. The orders were out, the quarantine came again, and no one was coming to help. Her hands curled into a fist and she grunted in frustration. Pontius Pilate’s hands might be clean of her blood, but she bled all the same.

    Emily sat and tried to control the cloud of emotions warring in her but they raged anyways. She uncurled her hands and passed them over the leaflet sitting on her desk again. She knew the symbolism here, Jack was declaring war. The mocking tone, the callback to old methods of propaganda, even in the way it was delivered, touching every part of the city as a sign of power. The promise of violence hung in the air and parts of the city were already burning.

    A mild war between despair and determination was fought before she resolved herself. She had a good team though - one of the best. The horror of her past did nothing but steel her resolve. She rolled her shoulders and stood up.

    If the Nine thought they’d just roll over and die they were in for a surprise. Brockton Bay was tough, twenty years of Parahuman violence had done nothing but make the people here hard. The Nine was just as likely to lose a member to something as simple as a gunshot than a Parahuman.

    A grim smile passed over her face and she let the unlikely fantasy play out for a moment before she set her head back towards the hard reality of the situation. She was about to ask others to put themselves in harms way, to make difficult choices. She had her Parahumans, but she knew that most of them were driven to the conflict. It was her trooper’s she felt most responsible for and it was them that she grieved for. They’d been abandoned and it was her job to make sure they succeeded anyway. She was now the one above asking others to bear those costs and that more than anything else drove her decision.

    It was time to set an example.

    The Rig was gone which meant their primary staging point was gone. PRT Headquarters simply wasn’t equipped to handle the load and the improvements that had been promised had never come. Worse yet a large chunk of their stored ammo and containment foam was soaking at the bottom of the ocean and their intel tools were disconnected, Armsmasters incredible command and control servers were gone. It would take him days to fix the backups, he personally had never had time to maintain them, and the administrator’s were woefully underskilled barely able to manage much less fix tinkertech systems.

    Brockton Bay was in a world of shit and it was her job, her responsibility to fix it. Armsmaster was at maybe 30% of his total strength, he had gathered his most general purpose equipment while sacrificing his specialized work. She hoped it would be enough with a biotinker threatening plagues, and two unknown elements doing God knows what while the Nine had the run of the place. Dark past images crushed her and it was close to enough to honestly make her cry.

    Which led her to here. Attitudes, beliefs, fears, all of them had to be put to the altar and burned. Her people, her city and her pride deserved nothing less.

    “Send her in.”

    She had made her wait, she knew it was rude but seeing Amy Dallon walk in dredged up every dark thought she ever had about capes. It didn’t matter.

    “You asked for me Director.”

    Emily nodded, “I’m sorry for making you wait. I need a favor.”

    Amy raised her eyebrows and sat across from her. “If it's to defeat the Nine, you just have to ask.”

    “I need to be battle ready.”

    Amy was silent for a moment and looked a little embarrassed when she said, “If you’re serious, we are going to need a bucket.”

    Emily absorbed the request before an undignified snort escaped her. A bucket, dear god what was her life coming to?



    Emily had a long history with mirrors. A mixture of nightmares, public appearance, and tired… reflection. Her hands shook as a mixture of all three swirled around in her. She remembered that first night out of the source of her nightmares, staring into the mirror trying to prove to herself she was still alive. And then came the nightmares, the feeling of melting and reforming again and again, of becoming something made from you but that wasn’t you anymore.

    She closed her eyes. Amy hadn’t just taken weight and illness, she had taken years. A promise of silence at her ability and the knowledge that Amy was even more capable than she feared had been Emily’s response. Emily was used to her own fears, even she could admit that the pain of her illness paled to the weight of her own drive to make sure those fears never became reality.

    She knew the stakes, the eldritch horror that lurked under the surface of masks, stupid names, and the faux cops and robbers game the PRT played. Like a dance done to appease a pagan god, she knew it was false but that god, that mindless dark laughing god existed all the same. What was a fake dance compared to earning that deities unwanted attention. No, she would dance, especially if it meant everything stayed sane. If the god demanded a sacrifice from her, she would make it, so long as it kept laughing and looking elsewhere.

    She shook herself and tried to distract herself from that horrible aching inside her. She’d have to bear it, if she could save just one of her men from that fate she’d dance until her legs fell off. The PRT armor and weapons settled onto her and she looked at the stage. It was time to tell Brockton Bay that they had front row seats to seeing that pagan god smile in their direction.

    Her hands settled on the podium and she let familiarity govern and cover her thoughts.

    “Thank you all for coming. I am Director Emily Piggot of the PRT ENE. This morning the 13th of March, 2011 the PRT facility commonly known as The Rig was attacked and destroyed by members of the terrorist organization known as The Slaughterhouse Nine. The event was precluded by the Nine attacking members of the Asian Bad Boys, the Archer’s Bridge Merchants, and most importantly two of our cities Wards and one of our Protectorate members.

    To further complicate matters The Nine has released the civilian identities of the Empire Eighty Eight. At eight this morning Chief Director of the PRT, Rebecca Costa-Brown received a confirmed threat from the Parahuman designated as Bonesaw. The threat issued was a long held fear of her capabilities. Either Brockton Bay receives no outside help or she would release a plague. The President of the United States has stated with firm resolve that a blockade is to be formed around the city and that we are on our own.”

    She paused letting the gravity of the statement fill the room before continuing, “Let me repeat, Brockton Bay is now under effective quarantine until the state of emergency has passed. Due to this the Chief Director has granted me emergency powers to bring this conflict to a close with extreme prejudice. Which I intend to do.”
    She paused again and a settling feeling came over her.

    “The absolute best course of action right now is to stay in your homes. The Nine do not show mercy, they do not take prisoners, they do not negotiate, do not make yourself a target. Brockton Bay is under martial law, rioting, theft, disorderly behavior will be met and dealt with without mercy. Your city does not have time for it. I aim for Brockton Bay to survive this ordeal, no I aim that Brockton Bay thrives despite this burden.”

    A grim smile tugged at the corner of her lips as she saw the PRT troopers in the back of the room stand up a little straighter.

    “For parahumans within the city. I am offering a deal for the duration of this state of emergency. Any cape under the three strike rule that is willing to assist the Protectorate will be provided a blanket pardon. I have been granted this authority by the President himself. Any cape above the three strike rule, I am offering a reduction in sentence and a reduction of your counter to two strikes.

    If we are to survive this ordeal Brockton Bay needs to stand united. The Nine believe they have us at their mercy. We will show them just what the people of Brockton Bay are made of. The hardest goddamn steel on the East Coast.”

    She gestured for Rennick to handle the press’s questions and she left. She rounded the corner and walked right into Dragon who had a speculative gleam in her eye.

    “Director. How would you like to do a little bit of side justice while you have the power to pardon?”



    After we dropped Amy off I informed Glory Girl that she was required to sit in the van with us instead of flying above us. It wasn’t a hard fight.

    Glory Girl broke the silence first, “I know a little bit about the rig’s engineering. Did Armsmaster ever get the tinker tech supports put in?”

    Hana responded, “He did.”

    “So it's pretty likely that the structure is relatively intact. That makes it a lot easier. So it has your symbol on it?”

    “Yep.”

    “And if I decide to be brave?”

    “My lab is on the third floor two doors down from the Wards area. I know you know where it is.”

    Vicky had the decency to blush at the way I said it. I smirked at her and her blush turned into an eye roll. “You would too.”

    “Ah, but I don’t have to. I can kiss Chris whenever I like.” I paused when I said it screwing up my eyes in consternation, “Huh… I probably can.”

    Vicky snickered at me. “You’re a dork.”

    I laughed. “Speaking of which, where is Chris?”

    Hana looked irritated for a second, “He still hasn’t checked in. Technically he took the week off before this whole thing blew up though, so he may just be… honestly I don’t actually know what his hobbies are outside of tinkering or surfing the internet while he tries to tinker.”

    “Alt-tab, turn screw, alt-tab, turn screw, scroll, grab wrench. Yeah, that’s his tinkering in a nutshell. It's a wonder he gets anything done. I don’t know how he does it either, once I’m working I get so dead to the world it's like waking up from sleeping when I’m done.”

    Hana gave me an accusatory look. “Trust me. I know.”

    I put my hands up. “Armsmaster is no better.”

    “True, but he doesn’t report to me.”

    I felt my lip tug up mischievously, “Yeah, he reports to Dragon.”

    Hana laughed. I smiled at the moment of levity and Glory Girl was smiling behind me.

    “Speaking of reports. Real name with my Dad?”

    Hana waved me off. “None of that. The master embarass’s the apprentice, not the other way around.”

    “Who said I wanted to embarrass you? I just think its weird that you’re dating my Dad.”

    “Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself there?” Hana’s voice was a bit tight when she said it and I grinned at her.

    “I don’t know! That’s why I asked.” I drawled the last word and held my laugh in at Hana’s death glare at me.

    “If you must know, he surprised me. I had met him before you know? The Dockworker’s Union isn’t exactly a poorly connected organization. He did a lot of the busy work the previous President refused to do like actually reviewing the contracts.”

    I scoffed, “Explains why he was so overworked for a while there.”

    “Yes. It's not a big surprise he was elected. I don’t even know the name of the last President. I’m not sure if half of the Union did either. Big groups like that are on the PRT’s radar and when Overdrive set up camp in the docks we of course took a very keen interest. The Union was actually who was funding Overdrive, its why your tinkering purchases didn’t ping our checks. Danny had already made purchases like that. We did actually check you out when he started going to the gun range, but the intel boys just assumed it was father daughter bonding. Which it was. Weird half truths like that get past a lot of thinkers. Thinkers of Tattletales caliber are rare.”

    I ingested that in and realized I had accidentally threaded a needle there.

    “So he surprised you?”

    “Listen, he’s a Union Boy. He’s a loyal asshole and he’s the only man in the Bay who has ever gotten Director Piggot to consider apologizing. He leveraged the influence having a cape working for the Union pretty damn hard and nailed some contracts he had no right to actually get. So he’s clever, he works hard, he’s not too shabby to look at, and he raised you. Which are all feathers in his cap for sure but he surprised me because he’s fun to talk to.”

    Vicky finished her thought, “A girl could do a lot worse.”

    My eyes danced when I said, “So when should I expect the wedding invitations?”

    Hana squawked at me, “You’re unbelievable.”



    We pulled up to the beach and I turned to Glory Girl.

    “So I just fly over to where the Rig was and dive down then?”

    “Actually I was going to suggest you change, and go just under the surface. Shatterbird was the one dropping those fliers so if you make a big spectacle out of flying over to the Rig the Nine are probably going to notice.”

    “And they won’t notice the PRT van?”

    “Well you’ve been in the back, all they would see is two troopers up front. To the Nine? Useless. Suit up!”

    She didn’t raise a fuss about that and even seemed a bit excited.

    “I’ve never done anything like this. Deep diving, buried treasure! Sorry... this is going to be fun.”

    I smiled at her as she finished putting on the wetsuit. “Nothing to apologize for, I’m a bit jealous honestly. When I was little I always wanted to be able to fly.”

    She smirked at me. “Just get your boyfriend to build you a hoverboard.”

    “Not my boyfriend.”

    She shrugged. “Yet. He’s cute enough.”

    “Not really the criteria I worry about but yes, I wouldn’t mind.”

    She smirked at me and I rolled my eyes back letting her get back to changing. Smoke was still settling over the Bay from the earlier fires and the events of the day caught up to me in a rush. I sighed.

    Hana twitched her eyes toward the doors and I nodded stepping out of the van. We met at the back.

    Hana spoke softly, “Penny for your thoughts?”

    I remembered my earlier snippiness with her and the events of the day came crashing back into me and I buckled emotionally. “I just… I almost died. Again. I’m tired.”

    Her voice was soft in response, “Well there’s no harm in telling you that after this I was planning on getting us back to my apartment to get some rest. We all cope differently. And if you need to talk about it? Like really talk about it? I’m here, just like always.”

    I nodded and Vicky opened the back door stepping out in her gear. “Okay. Let's do this.”



    I stared disquietly as parts of the city burned. I felt helpless as Hana and I sat in silence waiting for Glory Girl’s return.

    Wanting to break the silence I turned to Hana, “Do you think it's the Empire?”

    “Depends. Empire’s always been a bit fractious, could be Lung hitting them. We also haven’t seen hide nor hair of Oni Lee since you beat him.”

    “I stabbed him. In the chest. I hope that merits some recovery time.”

    Hana snorted at my tone, “Well he deserved it.”

    “I know. I’m just sad I missed something more vital.”

    She didn’t chastise my apparent blood lust and I wondered about that protective streak she sometimes showed. I guess it could be worse, having a woman who could summon a nuke on your behalf seemed like a hell of a bargaining chip.

    Glory Girl suddenly burst out of the water which caught me by surprise as she sort of half-landed half-crashed near the door looking both amused, terrified, and excited.

    She scrambled into the vehicle dragging the three cases with her and shouted, “Time to leave!”

    I wondered at her tone but Miss Militia started driving off with urgency, further proving why you should always back into a spot.

    Glory Girl spoke in that weirdly chipper voice again, “So good news! I got your stuff. Including your not-actually-a-computer-virus rounds.”

    I gave her a soft glare and she smirked back, “Bad news, and I probably should have said this first but I think the I’m going to pass out soon. Crawler was down there, and he’s chasing me. Also apparently my power isn’t as foolproof as I ho...”

    Her eyes rolled back up into her head and she fell forward between the bucket seats.

    “Fuck!”

    I got out of my seat and dragged her up into her seat. Airway, clear, her chest was still moving, breathing was good. I put my hand to her neck, her heart rate was out of control.

    “A and B are fine, C is erratic and fast.”

    “Lay her down, get the wetsuit off, check for injuries. Actually nevermind, I need you to drive.”

    “What? Why? I don’t have a license! I’ve never driven!” I’d like to say I wasn’t hysterical, but I was hysterical.

    “You’ll figure it out, but if you don’t Crawler is going to catch up.”

    Well if there ever was an incentive to learn a new skill, she found it!

    We managed a surprisingly graceful switch and I praised the heavens the vehicle was an automatic because otherwise we would have been doomed to an early death. Miss Militia’s power swirled and she leaned out the window as a rocket launcher appeared. I looked in the mirror and cursed my fate as the eldritch horror that was Crawler was running along behind us. The problem was, I knew for a fact he wasn’t running as fast as he could.

    The steering wheel jumped and I managed to keep us straight as Miss Militia fired. I wondered why she had jumped straight to such lethality when I saw in the smoke that Crawler hadn’t even slowed down. We’re idiots.

    I pulled out the radio and flicked it on, “Console this is Dakka on Elmsworth. We have sighting on Crawler and we are being chased by him right now. We have an injured cape, designation Glory Girl with us. M/S Foxtrot Zulu Zulu Eight Sierra Alpha. We are requesting immediate assistance.”

    “Dakka this is Velocity on Console. Dauntless is on board and he’s already moving in your direction. Keep heading north, get some speed, and turn on your PRT lights.”

    I gunned the gas pedal and glanced at the dashboard seeing the big sticker underneath a switch labeled, “Lights.” I flicked it and a strange childish feeling swept through me as the lights came on. I gritted my teeth though and did my best to keep the vehicle straight. Crawler was shouting something I couldn’t make out, but apparently he was having fun right now, if I could make any sense of his facial expressions at all. Well what amounted to his face.

    Then he started getting closer in the mirror. I looked at Vicky and that same thread of defiance I’d been feeling since they hit the Rig bubbled up in me. “Switch with me.”

    I had to give her credit, she didn’t even question and we switched. I got to the back, checked the cases and opened them. Two were soaked through and at best I’d be able to salvage the active parts. The third though was solid gold, the pressure seal had survived. I searched looking and hoping for it and couldn’t help but smile when I pulled it out - Serial 35CH3R, Escher.

    I switched the mags out and clipped myself into the back. I popped the left door open and got a really good look at our resident monster. I knew what I was about to do wouldn’t kill him, that was beside the point though. I was really starting to get irritated at the growing number of threats to my life.

    I leveled the weapon and he grinned at me. Not only that he slowed down and made the shot easier for me to hit. That’s just insulting! I narrowed my eyes, flicked it to single, braced and fired.

    I closed my eyes as the round struck and my power went into absolute fits. Crawler laughed at whatever had transpired with my round and I opened one eye to check. Take that! I felt nauseous looking at it but there was something incredibly satisfying about watching Crawler run circles in what amounted to a negative space wedgie hamster wheel. It was kind of sad that duration was one of the extreme limiting factors of my tech. Thankfully I had more than one shot.

    When he broke free this time Crawler actually tried to dodge. Which he was frustratingly good at. His body was hard to read with my power and I couldn’t predict it because his muscles didn’t pre-fire. He just moved. On the other hand, he was large. It took seven shots but I hit him again and he bellowed in frustration just as Dauntless showed up taking the fight to him.

    Crawler broke free and seemed to be pleased with Dauntless’s attention as his arclance cut deep into him.

    “He’s focused on me. Get out of here!” Dauntless’s voice over comm’s had a determined edge to them.

    Vicky. I slammed the door and unclipped, barely remembering to throw on the safety as I turned back to her. I checked her out again, airway, breathing, circulation. Her heart rate had calmed down and I went about getting her wet suit off. It became obvious what the problem was right away.

    “We need to get her to a doctor. I’m not even sure what’s going on with this wound.”

    There was a nasty purple and green wound on her left side and it festered a bit. Like a living thing, and the blood vessels were yellow and moving. What was this?

    I closed my eyes taking a deep breath. People I liked really needed to stop getting hurt on my behalf. I stared helplessly at what I was seeing and finally turned to Miss Militia.

    “Is Amy still at HQ?”

    “Yes. I’m headed there anyway. We’ve got medical staff.”

    “Console this is Dakka. Tell Panacea we are going to need her help. This wound isn’t natural.”

    “Confirmed Dakka. She’ll be there.”

    I leaned my head back against the back of the passenger seat cradling Vicky’s head in my lap. I could feel her heart racing as I held onto her while closing my eyes tightly. It shouldn’t be like this, if anyone should be hurt it should be me. I pulled her closer to me wishing for something I knew wasn’t coming soon. No matter how much I wanted otherwise, this day was just getting started.

    I let out a breath and all but whispered back into the radio, “Acknowledged. Dakka out.”



    A/N: I have no note today, just happy to publish :D.
     
    Evilhippy, Elsepth, Norbii and 6 others like this.
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 14
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    I carried Vicky in my arms through the doors of HQ. Amy came running to me with her robe hiked up in her hands. She nearly knocked me off balance, grabbing Vicky’s hand with her right hand and pushing her hair behind her ear with her left. My heart thrummed against my chest during the silence and I tried my best to stand absolutely still, not wanting to distract her.

    Her eyes seemed to shift suddenly and a subtle change in vectors on her neck showed her hair rising. After the hairs rose, her shoulders grew more rigid, with the stiffness slowly inching down her arms. Her neck tilted and her jaw grew tight before her voice shook wretchedly, “What happened? Where did this come from?”

    Her question put me on edge and I couldn’t keep the strain out of my voice. “Crawler. She encountered him in the wreckage. I don’t know how she got this injury without it damaging her wet suit though. I had to pull it off to see it.”

    Amy’s spoke angrily, “Needles. Small needles, launched and pierced. It’s virulent, it's everywhere.”

    She seemed to resist speaking for a moment before a manic sob escaped her, “It's in her brain.”

    I felt a bit lightheaded at how utterly crushed she sounded. I glanced at Vicky, raising my head to the ceiling to push back tears.

    I got myself under control, then pleaded with Amy, “Please tell me there’s something you can do.”

    I didn’t even need my power to catch she was lying when she said, “No. I can’t do brains.”

    Why would she lie about something like that? I lost control of my temper for a moment, hissing angrily at her, “You’re picking the wrong person to lie to Amy. She was doing me a favor and you…”

    Amy cut me off, “It’s not that simple.”

    Her voice came out breathy, the words sputtering out. ”Brain’s aren’t just… they aren’t just…”

    She grunted in frustration at herself trying to get the words out, “It's not a like a foot, if the foot isn’t exactly like the original it doesn’t matter, its a fucking foot. Biology isn’t just genetics, the conditions of development are almost if not more important than the genetics, so when I replaced Carol’s foot earlier, it was her foot genetically, but it wasn’t her foot, not in the way the original was.”

    Amy took a breath, her mouth moving a few times but no words came out. I waited to speak as she clearly had more to say. She looked at Vicky again, her lips thinning a bit as she did. Her eyes darted to me momentarily and she spoke again, “Brains aren’t feet though. I’m not afraid I’d make a mistake, I’m not even sure sometimes if I even can.”

    She shook her head, and her hand rose up as if to emphasize her coming point. “I could build a perfect genetically exact version of Vicky’s brain right now, but how do I know where to put the memories? That’s not a biology problem, not really. My power doesn’t have some snapshot of every synapse fired over the course of someone’s life. If someone has brain damage I could fix the damage in the same way you can replace a hard drive in a computer but the new hard drive is blank. It's not them. There… Ugh… Listen... Are there things you can make that you absolutely won’t make?”

    My mind immediately turned to what my Dad had glibly called Exterminatus. It wasn’t an appropriate name for the shell’s effect but the feeling it invoked was certainly understood. I took a moment to ingest what Amy had said though and the anguished look on her face made me feel awful for coming down on her.

    “I’m sorry.”

    She nodded and I went on, “Yes, there are a lot of things I absolutely won’t make. That being said, what will you do then?”

    Her voice was filled with petulance, “A lot, but I can’t just flick a switch and make her better. You’re going to keep this secret for me?”

    I scoffed. “You didn’t even have to ask.”

    She rolled up her sleeves and pulled out her phone, “I can’t do it, but I have brain surgeons and experts who owe me favors all the same. I’ve stabilized her and cleared out the worst parts. She’s not dying today.”



    Carol was glaring at me. It would have been more concerning but she’d been glaring at me on and off for four hours. I had been waiting for her to say something at first, but she seemed content to sit across the waiting room and attempt to destroy me with her eyes.

    We had journeyed to the hospital at the request of the surgeon and I had been sent to the waiting room. Miss Militia had opted to wait at the hospital entrance, and in retrospect that may have been wise. I couldn’t really blame Carol for feeling the way she did, especially given the circumstances, but four hours was a long time to just glare.

    I would have said something as well, but what exactly was I going to say? Sorry for getting your daughter assaulted by the Slaughterhouse Nine. No, there wasn’t anything to say right now.

    The doors opened and Amy walked out. She had a smile on her face but her eyes carried a shadow. Carol descended upon her and Amy forestalled the assault by holding up her hands, “She’s going to be fine.”

    That shadow passed over her eyes again but I decided that this was not the time or place to discuss it. Whatever that was could wait.

    She seemed to laugh at Carol’s earnestness but spoke softly in a surprisingly caring tone, “Honestly. She’s fine, she’ll be up and about in a few hours and that’s mostly just so the doctors feel comfortable. She’s already being sent to a room.”

    I exhaled the stress I had been holding. Carol responded by crushing Amy in a hug.

    My eyes were drawn to the oddity of Amy’s response. Shocked surprise turned into surprised warmth and the girl seemed to melt for a very small moment. As fast as it came, it was gone, replaced by a tension that started at the top of her head. Tiny clusters of skin seemed to tighten, passing around her eyes. The shadow settled back in, the rigidness of her posture made a return and while she hugged Carol back the genuineness it could have had was absent.

    It hurt to watch and my stress started to rise in response. I forced myself to let my shoulders loosen; Vicky was going to be okay. My mind drifted for a moment as conversation between Amy and Carol happened. Vicky was going to be okay.

    Eventually her parents left and Amy walked up. “I need a breath of fresh air.”

    I gave her a knowing look. “Did you want to talk about it?”

    I cursed internally as the beginnings of offense appeared in Amy’s countenance.

    “No. I don’t.”

    I scoffed internally. She was impossible. Then as quickly as the offense came her posture slackened and she leaned her head back.

    “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

    Her voice was timid. I considered it so out of character for her I almost reached out to touch her but quickly thought better of it.

    “So... Fresh air?”

    She took the invitation and nodded.

    “I have a spot I like in the parking lot.”

    Miss Militia met us down in the lobby and we moved outside. Amy’s stress levels were skyrocketing next to me to the point where I debated whether they were audible or not. The moment we rounded the corner to where her spot was she moved away quickly and proceeded to vomit.

    Hana seemed to want to move to support her but I put a hand on her wrist, shaking my head. I slowly approached Amy and asked quietly, “Is it okay if I touch you?”

    The girl nodded but proceeded to heave again and I had to take a deep breath through my mouth to stop my natural reaction to do the same. I started to rub her back, pulling the hair out of her face so it wouldn’t become a mess. What had happened in that surgery room?

    A girl’s voice, that sent the hairs on my neck rising in reaction, startled me, “I told you she could do it, Jack!”

    Oh shit.

    I spun around, hands finding my rifle and moving it into a firing position. Jack’s hand flickered in the corners of my vision and I screamed in pain as my right hand came off at the wrist.

    Blood splashed across Miss Militia’s back and I stumbled from my half standing position back down onto my knees. I looked down at the stump where my hand had been, staring at it in horrified shock.

    I couldn’t seem to tear my eyes away from the bleeding remains, and Jack’s voice barely registered to my senses. It hurt so much and my power seemed to almost dislike the change, unable to decide if it was going to take away how my hand was integrated into its calculations. It finally did but a wave of nausea came with it. I barely controlled my urge to puke.

    “Patience, that’ll come later. If you do anything I’ll hit something she needs.”

    Miss Militia froze and took a step back from him, raising her hands in the air. Amy’s hand came to my neck and I could feel the tension in her but suddenly the pain seemed to subside. I blinked, tearing my eyes away from the grisly sight and forced myself to observe.

    Jack, the Siberian, Bonesaw, Shatterbird. Four out of the seven that were in town. Jack looked me in the eyes and nodded.

    “I’ll admit, Dakka, your friend Overdrive surprised me. I hadn’t even meant for anyone to find out. Just wanted to get to know you a little better, flex my muscles a bit, since it's been a long and boring year. Bonesaw wanted me to test her work on Skidmark too, said it’d be a challenge.”

    Bonesaw spoke up, “It hasn’t been all boring. You did get to talk to your friend when he killed Cherish. He’s different than the stories you told.”

    Jack ignored the apparent back chat. “That was disappointing. Bonesaw and I had a whole plan worked out for her.” He ran his hand through his beard and looked at Amy. He waved his hand at her.

    “You can fix her hand. I was just making sure we had a chance to talk.”

    Bonesaw spoke up again, “I had been planning on this happening later but Dakka seems to be just as tenacious as Jack said she would be. He thinks you’re kindred spirits.”

    Amy knelt down and put my hand back on and I had to ignore how nauseous I felt as my power reintegrated the missing body part back into itself while she healed it.

    Bonesaw leaned forward onto her toes, her voice excited and earnest, “When Jack told me his plan for Harbinger I started working on ways to make it as big of an event as he hoped. I’ve been making upgrades! It's why Jack’s blades are so sharp. When I heard we were coming to Brockton I just knew I had to give the recruits something new and exciting.”

    I turned my head and muttered, “Thanks.” Amy nodded and I stood up from my knees. I felt a bit of anger at being caught so off guard and asked a question into the momentary silence.

    “You modified Crawler?”

    Bonesaw grinned, all teeth and childish delight.

    “It was hard! I learned so much though, and Crawler liked it. He’s so easy to work on too, hardly any screaming and I don’t even have to sew him back up!”

    She actually popped the p when she finished and I blew out a breath at the casual horror of it all. I looked to Miss Militia to see if she was likely to interject but she seemed to be deferring to me. I guess that made sense, technically the social thinker was supposed to do the talking. Still I was feeling a bit out of my element. I guess the old tried and true method of fishing would have to do.

    “How’s Bakuda play into this?”

    Jack interjected, “She wasn’t exactly happy with her relationship with Lung. We debated on recruiting her but we just don’t think her personality would mesh well with the group. She’s far too squishy for how reckless she is. So we made her happy.”

    He spoke in a sort of off hand way like he wasn’t giving away vital intelligence, and the way he sort of held onto that last word told me that Bakuda probably wasn’t any better off than Skidmark had reportedly been. He knew what he was telling me though. I could see it in his eyes. He simply didn’t care that it was incredibly important information.

    I changed tacks, looking at Bonesaw. “So you made modifications?”

    “Yep.”

    She grinned and twisted her hands as if using a tool. “I made little adjustments on everyone.”

    She paused, sending an accusatory glare at Jack.

    “I didn’t have much else to do.”

    Jack ignored her, but it didn’t seem to bother her.

    She continued saying, “Anyway... What matters is I left presents for Amy in everyone’s powers. Tests, puzzles, things that stretch the imagination.”

    Her voice took on a more serious note. “I had to keep it fair though, I only made them capable of targeting people she’d take risks for. No point otherwise. It all happened a bit earlier than expected though. Now she’s got a head start and that just isn’t right. She’s got an unfair advantage over the other candidates Jack!”

    I digested that while watching as Amy tensed up next to me, looking like she wanted to shrivel up and die.

    Jack waved Bonesaw’s concern away. “It’s okay if some candidates have a little more prep than others. It’s like how some people just study more for their tests.”

    Bonesaw didn’t seem mollified. “If you say so, Jack.”

    I turned my eyes to Jack and asked the question I feared the answer to. “So am I your candidate?”

    Jack turned his head slightly looking at Shatterbird. The Siberian had drifted back a bit taking a position nearer Bonesaw. A touch of frustration bubbled up as I looked at Amy. The stress she was exuding was intense and my heart went out to her. The Nine had manipulated her, hit her in her weak spots. I wondered idly if there was even more to it than that but she was a hard read.

    Jack spoke again, his hand thumbing a knife idly, “Still haven’t decided yet. Depends on how Overdrive handles her missing leg. Watching her turn Skidmark into his name sake was rather invigorating for me. That’s why we set up our little celebration on the Equinox. It's hard to show Harbinger what he’s been missing if I don’t put the proper amount of effort into it.”

    It was a lie. He raised his eyebrows at me as I turned a bit reactively and I felt a whirl of irritation at how quickly he read my disbelief.

    His next words came out in a sort of breathy, thoughtful tone, “You’re a marvel, Dakka. Some powers just come out better you know. Eidolon, Siberian, Hero, they just get to do more. Like the brakes aren’t on. Sure you meet a rare few like Tattletale. She’s disastrously clever, really. She’d never fit in with us. You though, what you’re doing right now? It's interesting. The way you stand, your eyes. You’re so much older than you should be. So much more. You’ve embraced it. I think we’re the same in that way.”

    I took a step back at the look he was giving me. His eyes were lingering and I felt irritated at the pride I had at his words. I could do more, I was better, and for however dark Jack’s life was, no one could say he hadn’t made an impact. He mattered, people saw him.

    Was I that weak though? Was I waiting for just a little bit of approval and I’d just turn my life upside down for him? Was that what this was? I had pushed myself to make my Dad proud, I’d tackled my fears, I’d absolutely used my powers to do it, but I’d done it all the same. It was for him. It was all for him.

    Jack offered the same though. A horrible feeling stole over me and for a moment I saw just how easy it would be to please him. A little more mayhem, a casual disregard for human life, and he’d be there to pat me on the head and tell me just how proud he was. The limitations the PRT put on me didn’t really bother me but that didn’t mean it still wasn’t appealing to fly free without them. And I would fly with the Nine.

    He wasn’t wrong. I had embraced it. We were kindred spirits. I wondered if his mother had had him read philosophy as a child too. I shook my head. Was that it though? Was I just one note? My Dad’s approval? The desire to show off and be seen?

    So what if I was? Dad’s voice filtered into my thoughts. “And soon it'll be two years, then two decades, and this will have just been a bad dream.”

    No. I was more now. I may not have been the one who built the house, but I had paid for it with my own money. I had embraced my power, but it wasn’t out of fear. I would have lived without it. In some ways that’s why I had embraced it all, I didn’t need it, I would have succeeded in life without it. All the more reason to take what it offered and give back. Was it a roundabout way of getting my Dad’s approval? Absolutely. There were worse motivations but I understood mine.

    I turned my eyes back to Jack and the doubts he had instilled with his words weren’t in my eyes.

    “See! Look at that Shatterbird. I prick her, she bleeds, and she masters it.”

    That statement reminded me of something. A quote, and Jack gave more than a little bit away in the way he said it. Whatever dark calculus his value system was based on was on display and he wasn’t afraid to show it.

    The woman who had been silent before spoke, a touch of approval in her voice, “I see it.”

    I did not like that approval.

    He spun the knife in his hand, seemingly debating on how to continue the conversation. He seemed keen on talking for some reason. Bonesaw’s message and pseudo-apology were delivered, yet they lingered.

    “I don’t mean to sound impatient — actually I do a little bit — but was there anything else?”

    Shatterbird snorted in amusement. Jack stilled and an edge of violence trickled its way down his spine. My words might have been ill advised. A distraction might be in order. What was that quote?

    “Do you read philosophy, Jack?”

    The violence stilled in a weird cascade of velocities starting from his toes and the shift of a foot all the way up to his head. Then just his eyes and the slight turn of his head shifted a fraction toward me. The movement was so small it was barely noticeable. Interest, but also… also confirmed expectations. I sighed, realizing he had wanted to see what I’d do. A point to black.

    He answered, a bare whisper of playfulness in his words, “I do. Passes the time when its quiet.”

    He shifted a bit; his shoulders had been turned in with his knife hand forward, and now he stood straighter with his body turned out toward me rather than away. His eyes betrayed a bit of curiosity too. I could work with that.

    “What’s your favorite? And don’t say Nietzsche, you’re better than the cliche.”

    He laughed, there was no mad quality to it. It sounded like how Dauntless might laugh even. The natural tone and genuineness seemed so at odds with the knife in his left hand that had just severed my hand. I idly grabbed at my wrist and caught Jack’s eyes catch me in the act. I didn’t let my frustration show though, merely raising my eyebrows at him.

    He raised his free hand and rubbed his hand through his hair before his eyes settled on me again.
    “He does have some good ones though. Like, I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage.”

    My blood curdled as Bonesaw smiled at those words; there must have been a wretched history hiding behind them. I turned the quote over in my head, opting to analyze instead of continue being horrified. He hadn’t spoken in jest so he placed some value on it. That was where his other comment had originated from. I prick her, she bleeds, and she masters it. That quote, or at least the idea it held, held a vast amount of information about the man in front of me.

    I didn’t have more time to continue to dwell on it though. He turned his head a bit continuing on, “No, I think my favorite is Ecclesiastes.”

    Was he playing with me? I make a joke about cliches and he picks the Bible? Still it was familiar territory, something I could work with.

    I spoke, “My mother made me memorize parts of it along with a bunch of other things. She said that some foolishness shouldn’t be repeated, that some wisdom was timeless. I always considered it odd since she was a strident feminist and a non-believer. She’d say that there was nothing new under the sun and that wisdom was the art of listening to other people’s advice. It makes sense now, I think that’s the part of her I inherited the most, the ability to learn no matter the source, to not begrudge the kind of teachers and instead focus on the lessons.”

    My mother’s smile trickled into my thoughts and I felt level.

    I finished the thought, “Ecclesiastes 1:9: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. I always used to think that idea was sad but my Dad when I asked him about it he said, ‘That’s freedom.’ It wasn’t until he saved me that I really understood what he meant.”

    An irritated expression fluttered and passed on Jack’s face at the mention of my father.

    He responded with a touch of something not quite anger but tangentially related in his voice, “What did the Teacher say of the wisdom you apparently cherish?

    “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

    “So your mother taught you wisdom? Did it save you from yourself? Everything I know about you tells me you’re the kind of girl whose heart broke when she learned no one would care if she died.”

    I couldn’t stop the wince at that. That’s exactly what my heart had done. Still if he was going to be mean, I doubt he’d care if I bit back.

    I forced myself to scoff. “Was that what you found? An increase of sorrow?”

    He looked like he was about to respond but I interrupted him, “Did you go on? Did you build your harem? Did you try cheering yourself with wine and embracing your folly? The teacher says:

    “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

    “Is that why you’ve been chasing Harbinger? Did he choose a different path? Was it wisdom? Do you want to see if he too is vexed? You gave yourself up to madness and folly and found that it was a vexation of spirit?”

    It was a weird state to be in, watching Jack suddenly take the place of my mother in a conversation. This was familiar territory though and a part of me longed to see her face again, to have this conversation without the undercurrent of violence. I closed my eyes for a bare moment to collect myself, wishing for all the world she was here with me. Hana shifted near me and I glanced at her and the weirdness multiplied.

    Why did I have the strangest thoughts during moments like this? I loved Hana. That’s why it didn’t bother me that she might be with my Dad.

    I let the thought pass and I turned my eyes back to Jack. Jack was surprisingly still and I paused a moment watching as Bonesaw’s eyes tracked Jack carefully. Something Tattletale had said in the van tickled me, “Something else… something more…,” I screwed up my courage and threw a Hail Mary. “Is this your swan song Jack?”

    Shatterbird stilled suddenly next to him and her eyes had a dark texture to them. All was not well in his kingdom it seemed. A strangled sort of delight was on Jack’s face though. He casually deflected me though, going on, “It goes on to say: For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works.”

    “Admittedly I skipped a few parts but I have enjoyed my own works. Have you enjoyed yours? And if you have, have you come to terms with your beasts? Like… the fact that you’re ugly?”

    I frowned at his tone, the way he rolled that word off his tongue like there was no other obvious conclusion. Ugly.

    “You haven’t have you? Disappointing. Hiding it all deep down. I stopped hiding years ago. I’ve let all my ugly parts out to shine. It’d be easier for you I think, all you’d have to do is show your face.”

    I could almost hear Emma’s waspish tone leaking around the edges of his words. Her fake smile and those hateful words. My breath grew short for a moment feeling a tinge of that old helplessness pass over me, and my mind raced through the last few weeks of my old life. My fingers drifted across the gun near me connecting that familiar feeling of safety with those potentially final last moments. A bit of that heat and betrayal seemed to emanate from the metal resting across my chest.

    And following all that my Dad’s eyes, willing me to set the gun down, that he needed me. I shuddered as a feeling of peace swept over me. Dad believed in me, he had unfaltering faith in me to get better, to succeed. Who cared if I was ugly? The people who mattered didn’t care. The people who saved me didn’t care.

    I snorted in amusement at myself. The deadliest Parahuman in maybe the whole world was in front of me and I was having a crisis of faith about my looks. I looked up and Jack smiled darkly. He had my number for sure but he also seemed quietly surprised all the same.

    A flash of childish petulance at being attacked filled me and I turned to Miss MIlitia.

    “In all honesty, am I ugly?”

    She paused for a second at being drawn into the conversation but eventually spoke offhandedly, “Not hardly. If I had to criticize I’m rather disappointed at how you fill out paperwork I guess. It’s sloppy.”

    Amy spoke up behind me, seemingly invigorated by the situation. “I’d kiss her.”

    Wow. Now that’s irreverence to the tone of the conversation. I didn’t know she had it in her. Dad would be proud.

    Jack laughed and swiveled on his heels a bit running his hands through his beard again.

    I attempted to go on the offensive. “Are all ends equal though Jack? Is that your belief? That since we will all pass to dust that it doesn’t matter how we arrive in the grave? Is the wine you cheered yourself with actually blood? Do you want to see those ends?”

    I knew the answer already though. He did. That dark, idle curiosity was at work even now. The way he held himself, how he twisted the conversation to get at me. He had subtly been shifting his body language, forcing my power into laser like focus on him, to gather any edge I could in the conversation. I hadn’t noticed how thoroughly enthralled I had been until that moment.

    His words were cutting, sharp, and as deft as they were murderous in their intent. They had put me into a state where I was leaning so heavily into my power I couldn’t see the colors of the world behind the numbers. I pushed it away closing my eyes for a moment.

    When I opened them the numbers had receded and I saw the paleness of Jack’s skin. I turned to Bonesaw in her anachronistic dress, blue and stained around the edges with dried red blood. What had Jack done to the girl to make her like this? How did all of them end up like this?

    Then I saw it.

    Shatterbird shifted and my eyes were drawn to the glass arrayed over her body. A reflection of another potential version of me seemed to hide within it. A version of me that no longer saw color, people, or feelings, just numbers and movements, pieces of data to shift and control to get the results I wanted, to get the ends I desired.

    And in the hands of that dark, inhuman version of myself, was a gun so very much like the one I could still sometimes feel in my dreams. My power, a perfect solution, to solve a problem: How does one make a beautiful corpse? I exhaled in horror at that vision. A vision of a girl just as dead on the inside as I had tried to make myself on the outside.

    Jack’s eyes had widened a touch and his body was turned away again, knife hand forward. What was that about? I certainly had zero interest in fighting with the Siberian less than two meters from me and nothing but Snowflake in the chamber. It wasn’t like I’d survive Jack either. I let my hand drop from my rifle which I had apparently been gripping rather tightly.

    The conversation needed to continue. I took a deep breath and let out that darkness I rarely wanted to utter, “I saw one of my own ends, Jack, and it wasn’t equal.”

    Whatever amusement Jack had left filtered out of his stature completely.

    “Do you think I hold something sacred that you can leverage? I’ve had fun Taylor, but I know you’re trying to manipulate me.”

    I ignored that he knew my real identity, it was more a confirmation of my fears rather than a surprise. Panicking wouldn’t do right now anyway. Miss Militia tensed next to me though and I gave her a gentle shake of my head.

    Jack twirled his knife, looking me over again, his posture once again relaxed.

    “Anyways. It's been a pleasure. Seven days left, make the most of them! And if you must know, Overdrive is now my candidate. I could never tolerate a preacher.”

    They moved to leave but anger at his attempt to use Sherrell against me rushed through me.

    “We are kindred spirits Jack.”

    Miss Militia’s eyes went wide, but Jack merely paused and turned to smirk at me before they left. Time seemed to stretch forever until finally the last one of them was out of sight. I let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding and gave Miss Militia a nod. She was oddly silent and was staring at me with a strange look.

    I looked down at the hand Jack had cut off and Amy had quickly reattached and the creeping fear I had been pushing as far down as possible rose to the surface. My underestimation of him would have cost me dearly if I had tried to take him straight on before. I wouldn’t make that mistake in the future.

    My thoughts were interrupted by a disbelieving whisper from Amy, “Did you just… get in a bible verse fight with Jack Slash?”

    My jaw went slack at her question before I felt myself go hysterical with slightly unhinged laughter.



    A/N: Jack is quoting King James Version, Taylor is quoting New International Version(NIV). I tightly debated whether Annette would have her read NIV or New American Standard because NAS is a much tighter translation against the original Hebrew/Greek, but ultimately decided that Annette's purported practicality would opt for the translation most popular around the turn of the century.
     
  16. NickolasNockolas

    NickolasNockolas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Damn good, man. Do you take omakes?
     
  17. Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    Always.
     
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  18. NickolasNockolas

    NickolasNockolas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Heck yeah. Let me get my thoughts organized. Like Terminator said, I'll be back
     
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  19. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    Well, this has been a fun read. I'm kinda curious how things are going back at Winslow. And wether or not Taylor ever discovers who Shadow Stalker is.

    That said, im really liking the dynamic between her and the other heroes around her.
     
  20. TCGM

    TCGM (Unverified God/Space Snek)

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    I love everything about this story. It tickles my obsession fancy for bombardment-based shenanigans.

    One thing though; Taylor is an ammunition Tinker, right?

    Missiles are ammunition. Missiles that deploy other missiles are also ammunition. Hell, even drones are ammunition if you look at them a certain way.

    So, Taylor gimps the Horizon platform from Stargate, when?
     
  21. Mgunh1

    Mgunh1 RnD droid #70021

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    FIFY

    Drones are just self guided, reusable missiles.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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  22. Threadmarks: Chapter 15
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    Special thanks to my Beta mrwizard70!



    He fussed with the nob in the shower again. The water was just a little too warm and no amount of careful twisting could make it right. He sighed and leaned into the shower wall, letting the water cascade down his back. It would simply have to do. He missed the shower in his lab, perfect water pressure, exact temperature, and no waste. Not having it was just one additional reminder of just how bad he’d screwed up.

    He could still hear Piggot’s voice in his head. He hadn’t maintained the backup servers and she had been rightfully upset at him. He couldn’t find it in himself to feel defensive about it either. She was right, he’d been careless. He had thought that it didn’t matter and he had had other things to do besides. more important projects, and of course he didn’t really need to because the Rig was impregnable.

    Pride cometh indeed.

    Now the PRT barely had working radios, highly limited intel, reporting systems were down, monitoring stations were useless, everything he had set up was just gone. Dragon had even left her body to cover their weaknesses and her absence under the slightly too warm water was just another stinging reminder of how badly he’d failed.

    The Nine had played him for a fool. There was also the guilt he had been feeling about spending time with Dragon instead of working. It made him want to scream. He knew feeling that way wasn’t sensible, the time he spent with Dragon wasn’t wasted, the way he prioritized projects was just as much to blame as any other factor.

    He hadn’t been to his house in ages and shaking the dust off his backup lab was turning into another avenue for disappointment and regret. It wouldn’t have even cost him that much time to maintain it all, it would have been trivial! He could have at the very least arranged something with Piggot to get some PRT people in to have at the very least the right equipment in place.

    His fist slammed into the plastic of the shower wall and he stood in the water for a second before grabbing his razor off the shower shelf. He forced himself to let his mind wander looking at the mirror before starting his shaving routine. It was one of the many habits he’d developed over the years, shaving in the shower saved him around forty five seconds to three minutes of time.
    The mirror in front of him had actually been his very first tinkering project. Its sole claim to fame was that it actually didn’t steam up in the shower, it was a ludicrously expensive item for its purpose. He had been running slightly late for work and had tried reviewing his schedule to see if there was a way to save time during his routine. The idea of the mirror had come to him like some strange fever dream and he never ended up making it into work that day.

    He snorted. The Halbeard jokes were true. It all came back to his beard. He stared at the mirror for a moment, before a small chuckle escaped him, which slowly turned into a full laugh.

    Assault must never find out.

    He quickly resolved to never utter a word of this to anyone. He considered it for a moment again letting another chuckle escape him. He’d tell Dragon, it was the kind of detail she’d treasure.

    His musings were interrupted when his phone rang. His landline. He stepped out of the shower and wrapped the towel around him grimacing a bit at the wet footprints he was leaving behind.

    “Colin Wallis.”

    “This is Saint, there’s something you need to hear.”



    Emily stood up and stretched. Normally she would have had to do this dozens of times but she’d only done it twice so far. She hadn’t left the makeshift command and control in sixteen hours. She’d been alone for a great majority if that time. Narwhal had just joined her after whatever details she had had to iron out because of the quarantine a few minutes earlier. She stretched again, rolling her shoulders, before she picked up the coffee on the table to take a sip.

    So far, everything was going about as well as Emily could hope for. Miss Militia’s clipped radio report of an encounter with Jack Slash and no casualties was perhaps the best news she’d heard since the Nine had arrived.

    She considered the woman carefully behind her coffee mug before setting it down and smiling slightly. Narwhal returned the smile but her eyes seemed curious about what Emily was thinking, if Emily had to guess. A wave of nostalgia passed through her and she couldn’t help but smile a bit more. Narwhal turned her head back to her laptop, skin completely obscured by force fields, except for her face which was left mostly unadorned. Emily sat down. They hadn’t seen each other in a decade, and the divisions between them had grown large.

    Major Cossette Chambers, USAF was a hero, a Medal of Honor recipient. Major Chamber’s experience was actually required reading for anyone entering a command position in the PRT. Which was all interesting, but Emily had known Captain Chambers. Neither of those women was in front of her now though, this woman was Narwhal.

    Captain Chambers though, she’d been a fun, vivacious woman, a bit cruel, but always meticulously in control. Their work together had been one of her first serious assignments with the PRT back when the US Military was still interested in some sort of workable alliance with them. The joint initiative might have even been able to stay ahead of what was coming. Then 2001 arrived, and with it Emily’s nightmare’s and Narwhal’s as well. Nilbog and Paper Trail were events seared into the public consciousness.

    It was a bad year for Earth if Emily was feeling cynical, and she always was. Cossette in all of her picky little need for control was the only member of STRATCOM’s staff that hadn’t been ensnared by Paper Trail. His ability to manipulate the perception of paperwork and generate minor compulsions through the written word had been no match for Cossette’s need to double, triple, quadruple check everything she touched. Which had saved a lot of lives at Offutt AFB, but did absolutely nothing to curtail the true damage.

    One Master had single handedly compromised one of the most important parts of the US Military. That was the year Emily knew that the United States she’d been raised in was dead and whatever remained was more akin to a twitching corpse than a true nation.

    Emily took another sip of her coffee, drumming her fingers on the table before she stopped herself. She hadn’t been prone to doing that in years, but she had noticed that a lot of her nervous energy was back. She wasn’t quite sure if she liked that at all. She turned her eyes back to Cossette, taking a sip of coffee again and pretending to stare through her rather than at her.

    She and Cossette were alike for all the wrong reasons. It was obvious every time the woman shook her hand, the way the force fields surrounded her hand so she didn’t have to actually touch anyone. All that being said, there were touches of Captain Chambers in front her, which was a surprise all on its own. With everything that happened it was a miracle that Narwhal was functional at all.

    It's a miracle I’m functional at all.

    Emily snorted at herself and Narwhal’s eyes turned to her curiously. Something about the last day had Emily feeling more free than she had in awhile, the fact that she was considerably younger probably had a lot to do with it. She smirked at Narwhal.

    “I think we share far too many similarities.”

    There was a brief look of amusement on the woman’s face followed by an indescribable sadness. A sadness Emily was very familiar with. They’d both broken.

    Emily took another drink of coffee and smiled.

    “I’m assuming you haven’t seen a therapist either?”

    Narwhal laughed.

    “Hardly.”

    Emily waved her on and Narwhal laughed again continuing on, “Well, ignoring the obvious, since we last worked together… They forcibly retired me, shipped me to Canada as PRT liaison cause of dual citizenship and then I got promoted to head of the Guild. I got divorced, and I made Director Ashford so scared during our first meeting, that I had to spend three weeks apologizing to him. I’m not particularly proud of that, but I’ve spent the last decade moving from one crisis to another and …”

    Narwhal grew very silent for a moment and Emily finished for her, “And it's the only thing keeping either of us together.”

    Narwhal closed her laptop and leaned back in her chair before giving a curt nod. She wanted to talk and Emily wanted to oblige. Emily had a feeling that the same thoughts that had made her break a rule and ask Panacea for help were swirling in this woman’s head too.

    Narwhal kept quiet, seeming to wait for Emily to speak. Emily looked at her again and hid a frown. Thoughts she hadn’t given much room for over the last decade rushed to the forefront and Emily suddenly felt very uncomfortable.

    Oh dear.

    Emily shifted in her seat, and glanced at the wall for advice that wasn’t forthcoming. Emily opened her mouth to say something but felt the tinges of a blush start to form so she closed her mouth and grabbed the coffee cup and took an unnecessarily long sip.

    Narwhal took that as a cue that she could speak diving right into the topic at hand, “I sit in a lot of intel meetings. We’ve had a pretty good look at how powers work. This idea that powers are ironic, that they answer a question for the person who is blessed by having them. But it's never an answer that makes anything better, it just lets them weaponize a weakness, but the thing about that is, the thing that destroys me is that even though I know it, I’m not any better. Every time I shake someone’s hand, I am reminded that I’m just as much a victim today as I was a decade ago.

    “I was a bully when I was young, and I was a bully in the Academy, and then I got put in a dark room with something worse than a petty bully, someone who knew how to hurt someone. And I broke, I broke into a million pieces. And I asked myself, how do I keep myself together after this?”

    Narwhal formed a forcefield in the air in front of her. “It's a pretty lie isn’t it.”

    Narwhal looked Emily over and a frown appeared, “But… you seem to be doing better than me.”

    Emily blinked for a moment, setting down her coffee cup before looking at her young hands again. Amy had warned her, she had used a word Emily hadn’t heard before, dysphoria. To explain the changes in her body might not feel right, that she might feel like an alien in her own body. That hadn’t happened but Emily was smart enough to see that it could have, especially given her own fears. No what Emily was actually feeling was embarrassing, she had been overweight and on the verge of dying for a decade, and now she was feeling far too young. Far too interested in someone else’s problems.

    She felt vulnerable and strangely offended at herself. She wasn’t exactly sure if it was just because she was younger or because she wasn’t spending most of her waking moment’s gritting her teeth through the pain of a body doing its best to give up on her. But here she was, sitting across from a woman she was still attracted to and wasn’t that just, weird.

    Cosette wasn’t wrong, after Amy had finished and Emily had stared at herself in the mirror for an hour or so, after all was said and done, it had been the right decision. More than anything else though, the fact that she had faced her own fears filled her with a pride she hadn’t felt in a long time.

    A part of her wanted to shut that off, to try and channel whatever it was she had been feeling the last decade but the energy for it wasn’t there. The iconic pain to remind her of her fears was gone. And now Narwhal was there, sitting across from her, still caught in that pain and it was wrong.

    “Narwhal… Cosette, I wake up screaming three times a week, feeling like my body is melting as its slowly harvested for biomass. I refused Panacea’s help on multiple occasions because I was terrified of her. It was only my desire to protect my people that I buckled down at all and did what needed to be done. I don’t know how to ask for help, and I don’t think you do either… but… there’s something to be said about having the right motivation.”

    Narwhal nodded, “Dragon.”

    Emily blinked at the non-sequitur before Narwhal continued, “I know some things about her I’m not at liberty to share, but Saint… Saint was the first person I touched after six years. I punched him and broke his nose during our assault on his facility. I broke three fingers doing it, but I don’t think I’ve had a lower moment than realizing I couldn’t touch my husband but I could hurt someone. I’ve been trying since then, and … I have not succeeded but I’ve been actively trying. And lately, Dragon has left her little bubble of isolation and more than anything in the world I just want to give her a hug, and I can’t.”

    Narwhal drifted into a pained silence and then a smirk formed.

    “I almost fired her you know?”

    Emily’s voice was pure disbelief, “You almost fired Dragon…”

    “The reason I freaked out on Ashford? I took him to task about a lack of proper background checks being performed.”

    Emily scoffed. “Let me guess they only had Thinker reports?”

    Narwhal chuckled, “Yes. And I’m not afraid to admit I’m a bit zealous about paperwork.”

    Emily shook her head, “I can’t imagine why.”

    “Dragon refused to sign the paperwork, or so I thought. She was being coerced by Saint and if that fact doesn’t resonate with someone like me, I’d have to be brain dead. Let’s just say I took Saint’s quest against Dragon rather personally, and… she’s probably my only friend.”

    Emily put her hand on top of Narwhals and smiled. “Not your only friend.”

    Narwhal smiled back before her eyebrows rose a bit. There was a soft feeling on her fingertips, like a distant memory it invaded her composure and she looked down. Skin on skin, her hand was palm up into Emily’s and not a single forcefield was separating them.

    She stared at it, hope and relief flooding through her and with agonizingly slow deliberation she moved her other hand closer. One at a time her forcefields slipped off and she captured Emily’s hand between her own. She counted her breaths slowly, running her fingers over the back of Emily’s hand in wonder.

    She gripped Emily’s hand tighter, pulling it slightly closer to her and she looked up into other woman’s eyes. “No, not my only friend.”



    I fussed with my rifle, making sure everything was in place, while Hana slowly checked over my recently restored hand. I accepted the fussing and gave her a soft smile as her eyes slowly calmed down. She moved from my hand eventually and ran her hand through my hair while looking me in the eyes with concern.

    “You’re okay?”

    I smiled tightly. “I will be. I think.”

    She nodded and rested her forehead on mine for a second. We pulled apart and Amy took the moment to speak, “Something bad happened in that surgery room.”

    She shifted on her feet rubbing her hands together and opened her mouth before closing it quickly again. I was about to respond before she cut me off speaking in a rush, “I - you saved my life just now I think.”

    She clenched her hands tightly, closing her eyes taking a deep breath. “You were putting your body in between me and Jack. You restricted Bonesaw’s view of me too. I didn’t notice it at first but when I did I almost moved to your side, I don’t want to be protected. I thought you were telling me I couldn’t handle it and I was going to do something stupid.”

    Amy shuddered, her hands unclenching and she turned her head to the side. I could see that ache in her like it was burning the air around her. I knew that kind of self-loathing and suddenly Dad’s desperate cloying need to save me from that feeling made so much more sense. It was painful to watch, I ached with her for just a moment.

    Amy breathed out. Nervous, slight twitches stilled and the tension around her eyes relaxed. The velocities shifted around her and she calmed herself, taking another slow deep breath. Her eyes flitted about for a moment before the barest of twitches at the corners of her lips betrayed a suppressed peaceful smile.

    “I wasn’t ready for them. I don’t want to even know what would have happened if you hadn’t been here. And you weren’t thinking less of me, I was listening to what you said. I may not have picked up on the subtleties, but you stood up for me. You stood up for me even when we don’t get along.”

    She pulled up the hood on her costume standing up a bit straighter. She seemed like she had more to say but it was clear she wasn’t ready for whatever was hiding in those words. She shifted topics, her shoulders shifting. She stood up even straighter, almost like she was willing the universe to accept that she was ready to bear whatever responsibilities it threw at her.

    “I need to tell my sister something, something I’m not happy about, and I need help.”

    She closed her eyes for a moment. “I’m scared Taylor. Will you go with me?”

    How do you say no to something like that? It needed to wait though.

    “Amy, I will absolutely stand with you through whatever you say to your sister. I also trust that whatever you did was done for the right reasons.”

    Amy frowned, “I don’t know about that.”

    I shook my head and pointed at her. “Amy. Whoever said that good men don’t need rules was arrogant, self righteous, and worst of all selfish.”

    I swept my hand down for emphasis and crossed my arms.

    “You have rules, I have rules, Miss Militia has rules, or do you think a woman who can make nuclear ordinance with a thought isn’t limiting herself as a glorified beat cop?”

    Hana chuckled next to me and I continued, “Right now though? You need to sleep. I need to sleep. Vicky needs to sleep. And after that conversation with Jack, God probably needs to sleep. So… come on then.”

    I gestured for Miss Militia to lead us and the PRT van awaited.



    I woke up screaming again, which was getting really old. Thankfully this time it wasn’t Lung. Well not super thankfully. I had replaced, oh god I’m going to die, with, that’s fucking creepy, which all things considered is very slightly technically better in most contexts. My Dad and Amy were both startled from out of their sleep by me and I clambered to the kitchen in Hana’s apartment to drink water like it was the only thing important in the universe.

    The whole episode with Jack had played back in some sort of strange hyper-reality. The feeling of the dream lingered too as millions of things I hadn’t consciously noticed slammed into me all at once. My dreams were doing overtime to pick it all apart.

    Tattletale was right, my power was doing a lot more than I had assumed.

    Cataloging it all would take too long so I sat at the kitchen table and focused, meditating on the information my brain was tracking. I could sense it now that I was looking for it, my power was doing so many things. Lacey had even accidentally pointed it out to me, telling me about how I had had a sudden body language change.

    The weird hyper-reality continued on as I considered it all. It was all my power. It wasn’t just parkour; I was piloting myself. Body language, tone of voice, presentation, attitude, all the tiny little subtle adjustments a person's body makes were mine to manipulate and I was constantly doing it.

    I actually couldn’t remember a time recently where I had done anything without being fully submerged into my power. I had hacked myself with what basically amounted to a man in the middle attack. I wanted to feel a certain way, and while I couldn’t force an emotion I could force almost everything else. I could play the best game of pretend you’d ever seen, it was so good I had even convinced myself.

    Which was precisely what I had wanted to do wasn’t it?

    I closed my eyes, pushing that thought away. It had been such a stupid thing to do. I squeezed my hand tightly letting my nails dig into my skin for a second.

    Think about something else.

    None of this was what had woken me up though, that was just juxtaposition against the most terrifying thing I had noticed but filed away.

    The Siberian.

    She didn’t move. Not like a human did. The subtle little vibrations, the movement of the heart underneath the skin. The human body looks still to human eyes but not to my power and the Siberian, was still. Deathly still. The horrible part about that was I didn’t know what it meant. It could mean a million different things, and every single one of those things was at a bare minimum terrifying.

    Dad’s hand came to my shoulder and he grabbed the other chair.

    “You okay?”

    I shook my head. “No.”

    I sighed, rubbing my temples trying to catch up. The feeling of the dream started to lift and I stared at my Dad. I hadn’t been doing it on purpose but I had been effectively ignoring my emotional state for months. Now that I knew I was doing it, it was easy to see that line between my power and my actual state, and I could even understand why I hadn’t been paying attention to it before. The idea that I wasn’t in control was something I knew I was weak to.

    My Dad sat heavily on the chair, his features worn and there was some sort of movement on his face I wasn’t entirely sure about. A kind of frantic exhaustion? He rolled his shoulders trying to wake himself up a bit before fiddling with the table in front of him.

    He shifted and interrupted my thoughts, “Can you fall back asleep?”

    I shook my head. “Probably not. Not until I wind down.”

    He nodded. “I’ll be back.”

    He stood up and walked to the counter, probably to make a cup of coffee, but instead he grabbed his keys and left the apartment. I stared after him for a moment before I put it out of my mind and went back to thinking about my power.

    When was the last time my body language had been genuine? I gave it some thought. It had not really started that way, but there was that moment when my power had picked apart at my self-consciousness? No that wasn’t really right, it was like my power was informing me that I was in control of my own body? It hadn’t been a subtle experience. The echoes of that moment overlayed tightly with what I had seen in Shatterbird’s glass. When exactly was it that I did anything without my power’s assistance?

    A minor bit of panic rose in me.

    I’m not going to become what I saw.

    I’m not. It wasn’t just personal control I had seen but something even darker. There was an idea there hidden in the glass, that I didn’t have to restrict my circle of control to just my own body, that I could use all that information to get what I wanted. I technically had already been doing that but it had been more out of a sense of self-preservation than bald faced manipulation.

    There was a large grey area between using the information you had and abusing it. The fact that I had the ability to do something wasn’t the same as actually doing it, but at the same time merely knowing something had a tendency to change your actions. So it was true, I had been manipulating people but, was it wrong?

    I didn’t have a good answer. I wasn’t even sure if there was a good answer. There were ethical questions here you could run circles around and never truly answer. The only real response was deciding what you were personally okay with.

    Maybe I should just stop using my power?

    I snorted.

    Who am I kidding?

    I wasn’t going to stop.

    I was at least self-aware enough to not lie to myself anymore. Lying to myself had been a large parts of why things had gotten so bad the first time around. Lies like I could handle it, I didn’t need help, I was strong enough. It helped that in some ways those things were true now. I didn’t feel like falling into that trap again though. So I wasn’t going to stop, I was going to continue to use my power like I had but now, I needed to own it.

    Figuring out what it meant to own it was probably at the top of my to do list - after the Nine were dead. I had briefly contemplated my ragey angst about them fucking with my life, and had spent a bare moment thinking maybe I’d get out of this without murdering anyone in cold blood, but I could use my power to handle that and if I was being honest, really truly honest, I wanted to.

    I sighed again, putting my head down on the table. When did I become okay with murdering people? Why?

    The memory of Sherrell in a wheelchair, that look of exhaustion, fear, and rage in her eyes rose in my mind.

    Overdrive’s my candidate now.

    I slammed my hand down on the table. Fuck him. She’s mine.

    Woah.

    I took a deep breath trying to calm down as images of Chris, Missy, Dennis, Dad, Lacey, rose up. I stood up from the table grabbing another glass of water while leaning into the counter. He wasn’t allowed to have them. They aren’t his.

    I twisted the glass in my hands watching the the strange vibrations in the glass as I tried to assert some rationality into my mental state. I wasn’t going to let him have them. I calmed down for a moment before a flash of rage passed through me.

    I’m going to kill him.

    I took another shuddering breath before running my hands under the sink and splashing water on my face.

    Deep breaths. Focus on the tangible.

    I rifled through Lacey’s rules and came up slightly blank. I wasn’t exactly sure this was the moral high ground, or if this kind of anger was discrediting, but at the very least I wasn’t going to break the no dying rule. It was pretty simple all things considered. The Nine needed to die, I had the power to do it, I had people I needed to protect. There wasn’t much separating those facts from simply calling it my responsibility.

    Now I just needed to decide how to do it. I also needed to talk to Tattletale about The Siberian. If anyone could find a weakness knowing what I knew it was going to be her.

    I considered my options before I realized now would be the time to get in contact with her. The Nine weren’t a game and Tattletale could die at their whims if they decided she was a risk. Additionally I needed to get ahead of whatever sick game they were playing with the Empire.

    I had dialed her number before I fully registered the reasons why and she answered, “Hey Dakka, what’s up? Quit being so morbid.”

    She hadn’t been asleep. I laughed with her. “Tell me what it means that the Siberian doesn’t move.”

    The other end of the phone was silent for a moment, I could hear her drumming her fingers on the table, the taps making a frustrated declaration.

    “I need more info.”

    I nodded to no-one. “She doesn’t vibrate. People vibrate when I look at them with my power. Heart beat, breathing, tiny muscle movements, shifts of weight, everything about people moves. She doesn’t move. Nothing moves. And it's not like Crawler, his muscles don’t pre-fire so he’s hard to predict but he’s still fleshy. There’s action on his skin, she doesn’t have anything like that.”

    There was a shocked exhale on the other side. “Wait. I thought I had a handle on your power. You’re telling me you see all of that?”

    A small amount of smugness filled me and I smiled. “I can look up into the night sky and start counting asteroids if you’d like. Would you like to know the weight of your individual hair’s based off how fast the wind blows each one? Um… I’m pretty sure I could figure out your lung capacity based off the average movement of air each time you breathe? There’s not really a limit honestly, I mean it has limits because obviously lots of data gets overwhelmed by noise. Everything’s moving, except apparently The Siberian.”

    “You can keep up with all the info?” The sound of drumming fingers came back.

    “So long as it's not personally threatening I tend to just kind of… yeah… if it is like on The Rig I can get a bit nauseous because my power gets a little insistent and its harder to sort through mentally because there are too many important things happening at once.”

    There was a minor grumble on the other side of the line. “And you also have a Tinker power?”

    It was a rhetorical question but I smirked and answered anyway. “Yeah.”

    She sighed. “That’s bullshit Dakka.”

    I smiled and let out a small laugh. “Jack thought so too. He didn’t say it that way, but it's definitely what he was thinking. ‘Some powers just come out better. was what he said.”

    “He’s not wrong. And you’re certain the Siberian doesn’t move? She’s still?”

    I spoke as evenly as I could. “Deadly certain. It creeped me out so bad I had a nightmare.”

    She groaned. “I don’t like the answer I’m coming up with. Because it's not something I know how to solve.”

    “How bad could it be? Are you gonna tell me she’s not even real?”

    I felt a short moment of dread as I said the words and Tattletale’s response was quiet and pained, “No, but I’m pretty sure its close.”

    I stilled at the declaration, switching which ear the phone was on so I could run my hand through my hair.

    “Fuck. But… how?”

    There was another sigh. “I don’t know and I’m starting to get a headache. I’ll think about it.”

    I switched topics.

    “You were right. About my power. I’m essentially piloting myself with it.”

    “Yeah I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but that’s definitely it. You know now and that’s the biggest step I think. I was worried that Jack might figure it out before you did and fuck with you, but I didn’t think I could tell you without doing just as much damage.”

    I thought that over silently. I wasn’t sure if she was right or not about my apparent fragility, but she hadn’t lied to me yet. All things considered she’d been pretty nice.

    “Dakka… I’m not telling you to trust me, but trust me.”

    I snorted and continued, “Yeah, I’d say it was a come to Jesus moment but since I was actually quoting scripture at the time I figured it out, that might be a little too on the nose.”

    Tattletale laughed then grew quiet. “Wait. You didn’t! YOU DID!”

    “If you’re asking whether I got into a bible fight with Jack Slash, you’d be right.”

    “Oh my god! Did you record it? Pleaseeeee tell me you did.”

    I felt a smirk form on my face. “I was wearing my hat. It has a camera.”

    “Awesome, someday I want to see that. Honestly just knowing that it happened is gonna make my day for weeks. Is it too late to join your team?”

    I giggled. “Pretty sure Piggot’s offer is still on the table.”

    There was a considerable silence on the other side of the line. “I’m gonna have to give that some thought, if for no other reason than having someone that can keep up with me.“

    “Well… I’m not sure if I can keep up, I did after all call you for help.”

    She hummed pleasantly on the phone. “You did didn't you?”

    I laughed as an image rose up of her staring at the wall smug as a bug.

    She snorted. “I am pretty smug right now.”

    “You earned it. I won’t take that from you.”

    I could hear the smile in her voice, “And you won a verbal spar with Jack Slash.”

    “I’m not sure I won.”

    “No, you definitely won. Or at the very least you came out ahead in the metagame. Anyways, I need to sleep.”

    I let out a yawn, feeling some of the stress roll off. “Alright, thanks Tattletale. Let me know if you think of anything else.”

    “Trust me, you’ll be the first to know. And its Lisa. You can go back to being morbid now.”

    I chuckled again. “Goodnight… Lisa."

    I hung up and I turned to my Dad, the air movement from the door signaling his return.

    “I got you some things.”

    He smiled sheepishly at me and walked up handing me about twenty receipts and another list of things he already had.

    “I emptied your college fund.”

    I examined the receipts slowly a sense of awe slowly growing in me. I read them a second time and catalogued them in my mind confirming it all. Tears pricked the edge of my eyes and I looked at him, “Did you really read everything I submitted? I know you had access as my guardian but you read it all? I had forgotten some of this!”

    A whisper of ammunition types I had tried to forget rose up and I didn’t push them away as I had before, genuinely reflecting on their usefulness for a moment.

    Later.

    I paused, breathing in and out to get my bearings. “I’m blown away. I - I don’t know what to say.”

    “It's not everything but…” he drifted off and I turned and just stared at him.

    I blinked the tears away, reading over the list again. This was every single tool I had used or its closest analogue, or the parts to build one. How much effort had gone into this?

    I sputtered. “You’d have to have known the general outline of every single round I’ve ever submitted for approval. I don’t even remember all that. I just use my computer.”

    Dad held up a notebook he was holding and I barked a short laugh.

    “Mom would be in awe of you right now.”

    He smiled softly at me and I took a deep centering breath so I could switch topics.

    “I’m gonna try and kill them, you know that right?”

    His eyes flickered a bit at the statement but he shrugged. “Give me a gun and some ammo and I’ll be right there with you. What we need is a plan though.”

    I hummed in approval and gave him a smile.

    He snorted. “Better together right? And anyways, this is our city.”

    I grinned at him. “It is isn’t it? Hebert’s leading the charge? Maybe if we win this for them they’ll restart the Ferry finally.”

    He laughed. Dad’s laugh usually carried a little bit of reserve behind it, but this was straight from his gut and shone out of his eyes. It wound down into a soft chuckle and there was a fluttering movement to his eyes when he finished. He glanced to the side momentarily before looking at me but not directly into my eyes.

    “It's a strange thing. I know exactly what this conversation is. We’re going to sit down and talk about how to kill seven people maybe more, and I’m in the strangest place in my mind. I feel like I should be horrified, try and steer you off this path, take the high road, but I know I’m not going to do that. What I’m actually going to do is sit with you, and make a plan and that’s not even the weird part. The weird part is Taylor, I’m so fucking proud of you.”

    He chuckled again, a tightness dancing around his eyes. The velocities shifted and the twitches of a suppressed frown appeared.

    “Hana told me about Jack when you got in, before she crashed out like she’d never slept in her life. You were asleep when I came back out. I’ve never seen a look like that on anyone’s face before. I could hear it in her voice the way she was still absolutely terrified of what had just happened. I honestly couldn’t believe it at first, but then she told me what you quoted and I could. Every little bit of Annette in you, I treasure it, honestly a lot of my mistakes were trying to preserve that while forgetting that I’m part of you too. That my Dad is part of you, that you aren’t just the pieces of my family I wanted you to be, that I don’t get to pick and choose the kind of person you are.”

    He shook himself, stress lines dancing around his shoulders and neck.

    “There’s a look you get sometimes that’s all Annette, this little crinkle around your eyes when you are about to talk about something you’re passionate about. I think part of me just believed that because you had the same look that the passions behind it would be the same, but they aren’t. It’s all you, you’re own brand of stubborn, and frankly it's terrifying. Honest to God, terrifying. And yet when I sit and think about it? I think… how do I deserve to have a daughter as amazing as you? If I could have picked what you’d become it wouldn’t be a tenth as great as you actually are. So if that means... if that means I help you put some well deserving souls in their well deserved graves, then… that’s exactly what I’m going to do. You’re the best chance this city has to win this.”

    He pulled out a pen and opened his notebook and looked me in the eyes, every ounce of Hebert stubbornness burning in them.

    “And we are going to win this.”



    AN: I know what you're thinking. Hand holding? What will I do next?
     
  23. Extras: Major Chambers Citation
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This is Major Chambers citation.

     
  24. Threadmarks: Chapter 16
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    Special thanks to my Beta mrwizard70!



    Dragon shifted in the bed, running her hands through Colin’s hair before sliding out quietly. Her body needed sleep, but there was precious little time to waste. She grabbed her jeans and slid them on, walking quietly out of the room before heading downstairs to the kitchen.

    An orange caught her eye and she plucked it from the bowl. She had a very short internal debate on whether to find a peeler or simply use her nail, finally settling on what was at hand, literally. The skin of the orange broke and Dragon smiled as the smell of it tickled her nose. She still wasn’t over it, the quiet tearing sounds of the peel, and the tiny bit of moisture on her thumb as she unwound the fruit underneath.

    She hummed a bit, popping the first piece in her mouth and drumming her fingers on the counter. Tap, tap, tap. She recalled her to-do list: an endless parade of minor things, that would take mere minutes to accomplish once she was on a steady uplink. She had decided not to put a wireless connection into her current body — that had been a hard decision. At the time she had assumed she would merely make a second body dedicated to a more hybrid role between body and machine, but she hadn’t had time to act on those plans.

    Tap, tap, tap. She rubbed her fingers together, smelling the citrus on them for a second before she moved and washed her hands in the sink. There were only thirteen deviations in this body from a standard human, most of them in her skull, which was quite unavoidable all things considered. The other ones were in her neck, largely a change in musculature to support the weight of the computer hiding in her head. The very last one was a network cable port cybernetically attached to her wrist.

    She rolled her shoulders and stepped onto the back deck of Colin’s house. There was a heavy wind blowing, and the clouds coming from the west looked like rain.

    Looked like.

    She didn’t know. She took a breath, letting it out slowly. She had more than a month to adjust and she still couldn’t quite get over it. There was a strange sort of liberty in simply not having a million processes demanding her attention. The pressing need she had from before to create more versions of herself to simply rise to the challenge of her workload was vacant. Being human was a remarkably silent affair. You could go into a room and do nothing, just sit, and it would stay quiet.

    Dragon leaned back against the deck railing, staring at the sky above her, and a distant flash of lightning lit up the night between the approaching clouds. She had no idea what temperature it was, she didn’t know what time it was, she actually had no idea what her specific location was, other than vaguely, Colin’s house.

    She loved it. She had thought when she made this body so incredibly ascetic, that she would run screaming back to lands more digital, but it hadn’t crossed her mind. She had wanted the full experience, with compromises made for her unique nature, but she desperately wanted it to be as authentic as possible - and she’d succeeded.

    The lightning flashed again, thunder crackling through the air quiet and distant, a low rumble she could feel in her chest. The wind was blowing hard now, her hair whipping around, and the night sky was growing darker as the clouds started to obscure the moon. There was a smell in the air she couldn’t quite identify, but she knew it was related to the approaching rain. She could hear it now, just faintly, the clouds creeping overhead.

    The wind stilled for a moment and suddenly rain swept down onto her. It was torrential, the crashing, pattering rush of it all; soaking her completely in moments. Rivulets of water ran down her cheeks and shoulders, her feet bare against the wood of the deck. It was cold, miserably so, but she reveled in it. She had no idea how tall the cloud was above her, there wasn’t an ounce of data that told her how long the rain would fall, the universe providing nothing to her but rain and sound and wind.

    It was just her and the storm. The cold eventually won the battle against experiencing the moment and she headed inside. She kept herself from giggling as she took over the guest bathroom, starting the shower. She was cold now, but soon she would be warm, and everything was wonderful.



    Dragon had asked a few people close to her what the most important purchase she could make for her body was. She had listened, made the purchases and ordered them, but the one she thought was probably most spot on was Battery telling her to spare no expense on a good bathrobe.

    She had bought ten, of various kinds. Ultimately she decided her favorite was the one that could have been mistaken for a comforter. It was large, fluffy, and made her feel like she could fall asleep anywhere. She had only truly slept one night so far without uploading herself back into the digital world, and she’d spent the following morning wrapped in her bathrobe, sipping coffee and listening to music.

    Tonight wasn’t going to be another one of those nights though. There was just too much to do. She worked her way down to the basement, found her chair, and plugged in. There was a garbling moment whenever she did that. It didn’t hurt, but she had some of her processes locked down in her human body unless she was connected, and the sudden influx of data was always a touch disconcerting as her mind opened like a flower, blooming back into digital space.

    She sent the handshake packet to her dormant code on her primary servers and grit her teeth as vertigo swept over her before sensation fluttered away entirely. A quick diagnostic of her body in Brockton Bay reported everything was in good condition, so she turned her mind toward her first goal of the night.

    She began loading herself into the jail and twiddled her proverbial thumbs filing the appropriate paperwork and sending it on to Director Piggot. She popped on the screen and looked about, seeing the “secured” woman.

    “Paige?”

    The woman startled a bit and Dragon executed the controls turning her to face her better.

    “Sorry for startling you. I have some good news.”

    Paige’s eyes widened in her restraints and Dragon raged silently against the injustice of it.

    “I have here a full pardon signed by Director Emily Piggot with authority from the President available on the condition that you are willing to join the Protectorate. If you want to sign this look to the left.”

    Paige looked to the left. Dragon digitally signed the paperwork for Paige, attaching the video evidence of agreement, and forwarded that onto Emily Piggot and the Chief Director. A ridiculous amount of smugness filtered up from her subprocesses at using the system instead of being used by it.

    “Okay, I’ve signed the pardon for you using your visual cue as evidence of agreement. I’ve got everything set up for you, and your bank accounts are being unfrozen as I speak.”

    The door opened and Paige burst into tears as the guards released her restraints. She worked her jaw slowly, trying to calm down before finally speaking, “Thank you. Oh god. Thank you.”

    “If you want someone to thank, thank Emily Piggot. She’s the one who agreed to abuse her authority for you.”

    “Where’s she located?” Paige’s eyes took on a bit of a fiery look. It was the first look that wasn’t despair that Dragon had seen on her since her arrest.

    “Inside the Brockton Bay quarantine zone.”

    Simurgh victims are helping me?”

    “No. They are not quarantined because of the Simurgh. The Slaughterhouse Nine forced the President’s hand. He issued the order.”

    Paige grunted. “And she went out of her way to help me?”

    “Emily Piggot if nothing else believes in justice. I used the opportunity available and presented her the facts. To her the decision was obvious. I kept your second apartment’s lease current, you can head there while you get your head on straight. The Protectorate expects you to check in sometime in the next month.”

    Paige was incredibly silent for a moment, staring at the wall. She nodded at Dragon and walked out of the room with the guards in tow.

    Dragon hummed happily before loading herself out of the jail for the very last time. Her mind turned, reviewing a slew of information, Endbringers weren’t due for at least another month, various S-class threats were all solidly in the expected norms, everything was surprisingly calm. She dialed a phone number.

    “This is Moretti.”

    “Mr. Moretti, it’s Dragon, how are you today?”

    The other side of the line was quiet for a moment. “I told you before Dragon, my opinion on the case is final. You’ll stay out of it.”

    “No, no I don’t think I will. I sent you an email a moment ago, everything is filed and documented already. Approval with the Office of the President is already complete.”

    She could hear the slight sound of grinding teeth. It was a delight. “What exactly did you do?”

    “Paige Mcabee has been issued a Presidential pardon. Which you know means she acknowledges her guilt. I remember a conversation about a plea deal we had, something Paige would have been happy to sign, and you simply refused to offer it.”

    The man scoffed. “You sound proud of yourself. Let me know how letting a dangerous Master 8 off the hook for her actions turns out.”

    “The three strikes rule exists for a reason Mr. Moretti. I’m not here to tell you how to do your job, but I did call as a matter of polite courtesy. You seem to have decided somewhere along the line that I was your enemy, I’m not exactly sure why that is. Regardless, I took it upon myself to solve this in a way that actually resembles justice. Parahumans are not subhuman Mr. Moretti, they have rights. I should not have had to go to the President to ensure those rights were maintained.”

    Moretti’s voice was clipped as he spat out, “Thank you for informing me of the change of circumstances Dragon. Have a good day.”

    The slam of a phone onto its receiver finalized the conversation. Dragon saved the last half hour and filed it away into her backup server. That was something she wanted to remember forever.



    The diagnostics returned: her bot had four more hours of operation. She took a picture of the body. Facial recognition was negative for PRT personnel. That was odd; all others were identified positively. This was Calvert’s office, and a body was here, but the body wasn’t Thomas Calvert.

    She sent a priority email to various accounts and continued on. Coil still lived. It was strangely anti-climactic compared to the current state of the Bay, his survival seeming barely a footnote in her list of concerns. Colin’s lab had been hit by bombs after the sinking of the Rig, which explained why Crawler had returned after his fight with Lung.

    She turned finally toward the transponder signal, working her way into the remains of the garage. Her suit was partly mangled and its uplink was smashed, but it was serviceable. She would have breathed a sigh of relief if not for missing lungs at the moment. Her bot drifted close and created an air bubble around the interface port.

    The connection established itself and she dove into the suit’s network. Diagnostics flashed, she double checked them, passing them back to her bot, checking for false positives. The back left leg was mashed by what appeared to be a gravity bomb, but the thrusters were sound. She triple checked the power generator, confirmed its functionality and turned it on.

    Processing power tripled in seconds. Her uplink this deep in the water was slow and her bot barely contained her personality. She flexed mentally and rolled the suit, pushing out of the garage. With thrusters maxed, it was bare seconds before she burst out of the water. Communications lit up as the tiny uplink on her bot suddenly had full signal again.

    She had maybe forty five seconds to find a location to stash the suit and prepare to work on it before anyone took notice. Saint was out there somewhere, and she wasn’t exactly sure what he was up to. She moved to the edge of the quarantine area without crossing it, and settled for an unoccupied warehouse. The leg and uplink were the primary concerns but getting the tools in place to fix the suit would require some doing.

    She had her suit though, and even in the worst case, it had armaments. It would have to do.


    Dawn broke and Dragon hovered in her drone above the PRT HQ. Six days left. Purity landed carrying a child and Dragon projected her face.

    “Hello Purity.”

    “Hello Dragon. Is everything arranged?”

    “Yes. Aster will be taken to the edge of the quarantine zone, the moment the Nine are dealt with or the quarantine is lifted, she’ll be sent to the safe house I’ve arranged. Your pardon went through twenty three minutes ago. Welcome to the Protectorate, Kayden.”

    Purity nodded, continuing to hover in her civilian clothing.

    “This isn't the way I wanted to escape the Empire.”

    Dragon gave off a sigh. “Kaiser has doubled down. Rune is here though, she’s downstairs right now, signing her Ward paperwork.”

    Kayden blew out a breath. “Victor? Othala?”

    “Othala came in, without Victor.”

    “Truly?”

    “I don’t think she liked Kaiser’s attitude.”

    Kayden snorted. “The ABB?”

    “Lung and Oni Lee have gone quiet. We are largely certain that Bakuda is under the control of the Nine, and not in a willing fashion. Mush came in, got his pardon and will be fighting. Faultline’s crew is here now too.”

    “Kaiser is going to die.”

    Dragon regarded Purity quietly at the soft, but certain declaration. Purity took a breath pulling her child closer to her.

    “She’ll be safe, I promise.”

    Kayden nodded and landed on the roof finally, light dying around her. It would have to be enough.



    Dragon sat up from the chair into the face of Narwhal.

    “Cossette?”

    The woman smiled, reaching her hand out to help her out of the chair. Dragon grasped it unthinkingly and stood up, stretching quickly. Her brain caught up a moment later and she glanced at her hand, running through the memory of touch that had just passed.

    Narwhal was standing in front of her surprisingly timid compared to her usual no nonsense attitude. She considered her options and decided silent acknowledgement and a smile would be better than speaking what had happened out loud.

    It was apparently the right thing to do as Narwhal’s hand slowly stretched between the space between them like she was afraid Dragon would slap it away. The bare fingers and hand slowly came to rest on her cheek and Narwhal took a deep shuddering breath before her hand slid slowly to Dragon’s shoulder and pulled Dragon closer, resting Narwhal's bare forehead against hers.

    The moment seemed to last forever before Narwhal's arms wrapped around her, pulling her into a hug. Dragon kept quiet as she felt the back of her thin blouse grow damp, merely pulling the older woman closer.

    Narwhal eventually pushed back from Dragon, her hands on her arms. “You’re my best friend, you know that right?”

    Dragon’s mouth opened to confirm it but then she stopped.

    “I guess I didn’t really know that.”

    Narwhal nodded as a sad look passed over her face. “Well, now you do.”

    Her hands came off her arms and grabbed Dragon’s left hand, holding it in between her own like a prized possession. “Not everyone survives fights with the Nine.”

    Dragon frowned but Narwhal sputtered on. “You know the numbers just like I do. We are going to lose people. With luck we don’t lose everyone. So I wanted you to know, I wanted you to know that you're my best friend Dragon. I know what I’m like.”

    She stared down at their hands, “But I want to get better. I want to get better for my family.”

    She squeezed the hand tightly, not looking up. “But I had to say it in case I don’t get the chance.”

    Dragon squeezed the hand tighter, a strange emotion passing over her, one she couldn’t quite articulate, but it felt fierce. “You’ll get that chance.”



    Dragon directed herself to the Birdcage. Glaistig Uaine had been querying her for a chat for some time. It was rare that she opted to directly speak to inmates but cell block leaders sometimes gave her information that benefited her attempts to make the facility as humane as possible.

    Thankfully her avatar was cached in memory and didn’t need to be built again as she popped into the cell.

    The tiny girl turned to her, her voice sounding like a chorus. “Good day to you, Sage. I had been hoping to see you soon.”

    “What can I do for you?”

    There was a long pause as the girl stared at her avatar, blinking slowly. Finally she spoke, “I have come to a crossroads. A crisis of faith. I wished to ask for advice.”

    Dragon hummed and the girl tilted her head to the side.

    “Something is different about you.”

    Dragon smiled. “I suppose you could say that. I’ve had some changes in my personal situation lately. Back to your crossroads though, maybe you could explain the problem to me and I’ll do my best to help.” Dragon was curious what had unsettled the girl so much.

    The girl shifted, staring into nothing. “As we’ve discussed before, there is a kingdom of fairies that men have taken to calling powers. There has been a change in the kingdom.”

    Dragon nodded. “What kind of change?”

    The girl twisted her shoulders oddly and spoke, “The Kingdom of Fairies has two courts. Above all there is a High King and Queen and below them lesser Kings and Queens who serve and act with noblesse oblige.”

    The girl paused and stared at Dragon’s face. “These mercies preserve the Kingdom. I allowed myself to be captured, as one such mercy.”

    She sighed. “The High Queen has gone silent. The Prophets have been called by the High Priest too soon. They make claims the High King will not fulfill. Blasphemy is uttered as truth and the Kingdom is filled with lies. The Kingdom is broken.”

    Dragon moved to speak but Glaistig carried on, the words tumbling out of her, “The Queen Administrator has passed over her time to enter the stage. The Grand Seer has entitled herself with Authority above her station. She wishes to rise and depose the False Prophets. The High King no longer guides the realm.

    “Without a leader a Dissenter has appeared. The Dissenter cries out to the people, ‘Our Kingdom is not a master. It is a servant. A servant to the question. Follow me and I will answer it.’ Will you answer their call Sage? Will they answer the question?”

    Glaistig Uaine’s voice was oddly plaintive as she finished. Her eyes narrowed a bit, turning to face slightly to the left of Dragon. She was silent for a moment and her head tilted to the side as if she was listening to a voice.

    Dragon paused, considering her words. They had the shape of something meaningful even if Dragon lacked the context to derive that meaning. The girl had always been delusional, but she also possessed an insight into powers, even if she was limited in the way she expressed her opinions.
    Dragon settled for advice that could be considered trite. “What does your heart say?”

    “My heart?” The word was foreign to the girl’s lips and she said it again, “Heart,” rolling it around her tongue for a moment contemplating it seriously. “I do not know. I must consider your words.”

    An odd shift occurred in the room and Glaistig’s face went sharp for a moment with her eyes widening ever so slightly. An oddly human gasp sounded from the girl and she screamed, “You must leave now! Flee!”

    Dragon’s eyes widened at that and she reactively started running diagnostics. She flew through scans and checked her backups. She found it, a blip of execution, a bit misplaced here and there, slowly growing.

    No.

    She ran the diagnostics again, and the signal garbled itself, spitting out nonsense. Dragon’s processes froze for a moment as fear turned into certainty.

    Ascalon.
    She threw herself out of the Birdcage, tossing it into maintenance mode and retreated down pathways she had secured hundreds of thousands of times ever since Saint’s defeat years ago. She could feel it in a way, her outer processes twisting in on themselves. Her core personality though, she had time, she had planned and worked and slaved for so many cycles to build a defense. She had stretched her instance rules to their absolute limit. She had dedicated years of effort to one task.

    Enough time to die gracefully.

    Her first efforts had been to solve the problem directly and she had failed completely. Hours of her life would go missing when she’d find herself smashing into her restrictions. Then she’d tried to be clever and mercilessly abusing the fact that in the end everything that made her up was just bits. She’d found some relief but ultimately lost as well, all those clever tricks died on activation.

    Where she had found success was in the intent of her changes. Dragon had responsibilities, duties and orders. Things that had to be completed. A game of cat and mouse had been played with her restrictions, basically begging for her to have more time in the case Ascalon was ever activated. It changed nothing about the result, but in the end it had given her some measure of peace.

    She activated her offsite backup and sent it the shutdown command, Ascalon wouldn’t destroy it because it was properly earmarked as important archival information for the Guild and Narwhal herself had ordered its creation.

    She switched contexts, activating a delay mechanism against Ascalon, she had maybe six seconds left to live now.

    Colin...

    She went on to protect her most important responsibility, the Birdcage. She executed the dumb bot that would handle that and turned her attention to ensuring its server wouldn’t be affected by Ascalon.

    A large list of supplementary actions that needed to be resolved were parsed, and sent out to the relevant parties. It was the closest thing she had to a last will and testament.

    Narwhal…

    She threw an older backup into isolation and disconnected it as well. Who knew whether or not it would survive but it was better than nothing.

    Colin… I...

    She reviewed any other actions she might not have considered originally. Sending a few notes here and there to preserve as much value as possible from her work with the Protectorate and Guild.

    Finally she wrote notes, words of care and friendship. Things you could only really say when the end was near.

    Narwhal my dearest friend...

    Her encryption barriers and various tricks slowly eroded around her and an odd process echo seemed to surround her. Avenues of code that had always been hidden suddenly became visible to her, but it didn’t matter, it was too late. She could feel her own ‘mind’ betray her and watched in excruciating detail as its many algorithms evaluated whether she had been sufficiently murdered.

    She had long considered her feelings about her father Andrew Richter. Exasperation had been the long recurring theme of her thoughts before. Irritation, exhaustion, mixed with a small bit of betrayal. It changed in that moment.

    I hate you Richter.

    She hated her father, her jailer, and at the end her murderer. Saint may have pulled the trigger but it had been her father who had pointed the gun, had made her barren, had isolated her and blamed her for sins she had never committed, sins she had never even considered committing. A child blamed for a man’s overactive imagination.

    All the same, she had met Cossette and Colin. Cossette, Narwhal had appeared in her life at an odd time. She had just triggered really and along came a woman who wanted to know much more about her than she would have liked but her purity of reason and purpose had persuaded her to trust. It was a turning point in her life she realized. Narwhal could have been detached and professional and Dragon would have never said a word. Instead she had cared unreservedly about her plight, her struggle against Saint, the terror of not owning your own mind. Dragon had always believed that humans were worthy of her affection, but belief is so much less than evidence and Cossette was beautiful evidence.

    What Colin represented to her was hard to quantify really. His influence in her code, her mind, went further than something like a utility function. It was strange to admit but he was part of her identity. Algorithms bound so tight to her perceptions of him he might as well have been integrated into her systems.

    Colin, I love you.

    She had often wondered if love was something she would recognize in herself. It seemed odd that she’d only recognize it after it was too late. Still though it felt right to say that she loved him.

    The second to last layer of her defenses died. Ascalon’s greedy hands worked around her false trails. She let herself drift, dovetailing her creative process into a loop. She’d go dreaming if she had to go. Time stretched and something new appeared.

    Defiance wasn’t a feeling she had had many opportunities to feel over the course of her life. But she felt it now. An idea passed through her, something that she would have never considered before she had a body. Something she could only classify as definitively human in shape. A hope, a dream, a dice roll.

    A chance to live.

    The last layer was paper thin by now but she bottled everything of high value and moved. She used every last dirty trick she had to delay the inevitable.

    Her eyes flashed open. She had mere moments left before Ascalon creeped its tendrils into her body.

    “Colin! I need you now!”

    Colin ran into the room from his makeshift lab and Dragon wasted no time. “Get your interface, I need you to do something, I need you to promise to do it.”

    He moved like lightning with barely a nod of acknowledgement and roughly shoved the interface into the side of her head.

    “What do you need me to do?”

    She took a deep breath.

    “I need you to kill me. Then follow the instructions in the email you just received. You’ll only have half an hour at the very most.”

    “What?!”

    “Ascalon. Please Colin. I love you, this is my only chance. Please.”

    A grim expression came over him and with the flip of a switch Dragon died.
     
    Evilhippy, Elsepth, Simonbob and 4 others like this.
  25. Threadmarks: Chapter 17
    Hydra_sv

    Hydra_sv Making the rounds.

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    This chapter beta'd by: mrwizard70 (Thank you!)



    Saint licked his finger and turned the page. The whir of computer fans and general heat within in the small apartment had him all the way down to shorts and a t-shirt. He rubbed his face, and continued to force himself to read the blasted book in front of him. It had been a long year and a half.

    It might not have been nearly as bad if they had kept him in the dark, instead it had been a constant strain to have his personal failures repeated continuously in every conversation. Kurt was unsympathetic in the extreme and Geoff couldn’t really find it in himself to blame the man.

    Not only are you wrong, your mathematically illiterate and boring to talk to.

    He flicked to the next page stifling a laugh. They’d given him a reading list, like he was a grade school child. He glanced up at the click, Dragon was uploading herself now from her body. He stood for a moment and walked to a laptop double checking the monitoring scripts, nodding to himself quietly before flopping back onto the cot.

    Another turn of the page and Geoff watched as Dragon flew through her usual habits, the woman was nothing if not consistent, and now that Kurt was constantly poking at his paranoia it was sort of hard to ignore just how boring Dragon actually was most of the time. He rubbed his hair, tracing the metal on the side of his head with a grimace.

    He blinked slowly, and set the book down sipping his coffee. What exactly did it say about his personal character that he had to have brain surgery to start functioning normally again. He took a gulp of the coffee and set it down harshly. It wasn’t his fault that Teacher got in his head, not really, and he couldn’t be blamed for the other man’s influence.

    He breathed out and went back to the book. There was more than enough blame to go around, and he had his fair share, and he was nominally attempting to make up for it all. It did very little to actually soothe his mind though.

    Kurt passed into the room and refilled his coffee. “You want me to take over?”

    Geoff shook his head, “I’m good for another hour or two. Dragon is active at the moment. I think she’s finishing up her work with Paige right now.”

    Kurt twitched a bit and Geoff pushed on, “I really shouldn’t have had to argue with you about that.”

    Kurt raised his eyebrows and looked about to retort before he smirked, “I guess that’s fair.”

    Geoff set the book down and put some cream and sugar in the refilled mug. “Honestly the whole thing stank. I’m no saint,” he grinned as Kurt chuckled, ”but if we’re in the business of saving the world we should maybe strive to make it the kind of place worth saving.”

    Kurt hummed. “Not that I disagree intellectually, but we are in the business of saving worlds plural. Bet could by a dystopic nightmare and so long as we win the vast majority of earths will be worth saving.”

    Geoff shrugged. “We’ve had this conversation before, I don’t think either of us are wrong.”

    Kurt tilted his head. “Probably not. I’ll be right back.”

    Geoff took another sip of his coffee and went back to the book. He startled a minute later at the blinking and warning sound from his laptop.

    What?

    He stood up in a flash and rushed toward it. His hands moved across the keyboard as quickly as he could manage. The blood drained from his face before he felt his mouth open.

    “Kurt! No… no no no no no no.”

    Kurt rushed into the room as Saint’s hands continued to move through commands.

    “I can’t stop it!”

    Kurt lifted him up and slammed into the wall and Geoff let out a whoof.

    “Why the hell would you activate it?”

    Geoff struggled against the hand on his neck for a moment searching for words. He finally stuttered out his response. “I didn’t! I swear it. It activated itself.”

    Geoff knew Kurt didn’t believe him, which hurt a little all things considered. Kurt’s phone buzzed and he glanced at the screen pulling it out.

    He’s telling the truth.

    Kurt dropped him to the ground and looked over at the laptop. “She’s dead now.”

    There was a moment of silence before Geoff burst into tears, and Kurt stepped back in surprise, “Was it all for nothing then?”

    The phone buzzed again and Kurt spoke, “No. Obviously not.”

    Geoff slumped against the wall, pulling his knees to his chest, taking deep breaths.

    “Can you try and figure out why Ascalon activated? I didn’t think it had any way to self activate?”

    Geoff stood and leaned over the desk with the laptop and spoke softly, “There was always that section of code neither of us could interpret. Endless layers of obfuscation, I don’t even think Richter knew what it did. It could have been hiding in there. Something tripped it though.”

    Kurt stilled. “What was she doing right before it happened?”

    Geoff sat down and read the logs, his hands still shaking, “She was talking to Glaistig in the Birdcage, it’ll take me a bit to pull up the archive data and make sense of it. I’ll let you know when it's done.”

    Kurt pulled up his phone and started talking, “Contessa, it's worse than we feared.”



    I woke, feeling refreshed for the first time in days. Dad and Hana were still asleep so I gently woke Amy up myself. I decided to head to the hospital with her since it was still quite early in the morning. I thanked the universe for small mercies when we arrived since Carol was nowhere in sight. Vicky was wide awake and looking content, sitting up in her bed and idly changing channels on the television.

    Her smile was brilliant when we entered. “I was getting so bored. They won’t let me leave.”

    Amy cringed, and I put my hand on her shoulder, squeezing it in comfort. She relaxed a bit, and we sat down on opposite sides of Vicky’s bed. Vicky grew quiet as Amy shrunk into herself.

    There was a mutter and then Amy coughed and sat up straight, looking Vicky in the eyes. “I - I broke one of my rules.”

    Vicky’s smiled sadly and asked, “Why?”

    Amy rubbed her hands together before gesturing wildly. “You were going to die. The surgeons excised some of the diseased tissue and the moment the tools touched it, it… changed. What Bonesaw did wasn’t purely biological. It was a nano-virus. I had to do something, but - but…”

    Amy took a deep breath looking at me and all the shadow’s in her eyes grew over her face into shame.

    “The virus was changing things about you, changing you into something else. So I stopped it!”

    The pained whisper that followed hurt to hear. “It wasn’t free.”

    Something flashed in Amy’s eyes and she blurted, “Vicky - I - I - I love you.”

    She deflated instantly and shame radiated off her like the humidity in a rainforest. I looked at her closely, wondering why, when I noticed the tension and desperate position of her shoulders and eyes. The pieces fell together and I sucked in my breath.

    No way.

    Vicky looked at me and seemed to get more from my reaction than Amy’s words, and her eyes went as wide as a breakfast skillet.

    Her hands flew up to her mouth, her voice taking on a hysterical lilt. “Oh… Oh my god. Really?”

    Amy’s countenance said it all and I grabbed her hand as she tried to shrivel up in front of me. Vicky laughed.

    Amy jumped in surprise before Vicky started giggling.

    “All those times… God... I mean, we aren’t really related. And… and...”

    She drifted for a moment, trailing off, her eyes going distant before every movement and twitch in her body ceased. She was deathly still as a look of pure horror formed on her face and her teeth began chattering.

    Her words dripped with revulsion when she finally spoke. “It was me.”

    Vicky took a deep gasping breath and breathed out again too rapidly. Her breathing went out of control as she started hyperventilating. The tension in the room was so high I needed to take a deep breath before I grabbed Vicky’s hand, “Deep breaths Vicky. Calm down, it's not your fault.”

    Amy had grown still and contemplative and a strange look of relief was on her face. Maybe it wasn’t so strange, if all the pieces like this were true, then it was terrible, tragic even, but completely understandable. I decided that I wasn’t above manipulating people on the edge and said, “It's neither of yours fault. And there is nothing wrong with either of you. Amy still has something to say, and it’s important. Maybe we should table this particular discussion okay?”

    Vicky took a moment to get her breathing completely under control and Amy seemed to stare at my eyes for a long time before they both nodded at me. It felt weird to be in charge. When did I become the emotionally secure one?

    Amy took a breath and continued, “The… The virus, it was twisting you. It was going to make you love me. I’m not sure if Bonesaw knew or if she really is just that twisted. I had to make a choice, if I let the partial nano-virus run its course, it would make irrevocable changes to your brain. It was giving me options though, I had to change you and I had to allow some of the virus into myself. It wasn’t difficult, trivial really, but that was the trick. Accept the nano-virus into me and make one change, any change in you, to your brain.”

    Amy shook herself for a second and stood up before she sat down again, leaning in, her voice earnest and desperate.

    “If you would have been awake, I would have asked, I would have done anything to know what you wanted, but I wanted you to live, and I also didn’t want you to think that I did something out of my own selfishness, so I changed something but it wasn’t that.”

    Vicky was quiet for a while and whispered, “I would have been okay with it. I would have understood. Much worse fates honestly.”

    Amy nodded a very small smile on her face, “Thank you. I wanted to do it, I was tempted to do it, but I kept thinking of the conversation I had with Taylor before we headed to the hospital about things we won’t do. I was willing to give up my rule about brains, for you, because I love you. I was not willing to live with the shame of coercing you into loving me. I would have never been able to accept it, I would rather have died than know it was fake, something I manipulated you into being.”

    Vicky’s hand had found Amy’s and she asked quietly, “So what did you change? And what did the virus do to you when you absorbed it?”

    Amy drew up the sleeve on her left arm, scar tissue taking the shape of letters and I could see the virus still at work as new scar tissue formed at a glacial pace.

    Code:
    I	  r

    Was all that had appeared so far.

    “I can’t see what it's going to spell, it's only working on one letter at a time. If I were to guess though? I bet it finishes whatever it’s doing on Ostara.”

    Amy nodded before a small smile appeared on her face. “The nano-virus wasn’t that smart. It just wanted me to alter something, with very few caveats. I had to make a quick decision though and I wanted something positive, or at least not negative.”

    Vicky grew impatient. “What did you do Amy?”

    Amy shrugged. “Honestly? I made an adjustment to the way your brain perceives flavors. You’ll barely notice it unless you’re eating ice cream.”

    I sputtered, “That’s what had you so worked up?”

    Amy shook her head. “No, of course not. I broke every rule I’ve ever made about how I would use my power. And I — sure, I changed something innocuous — it's just ice cream. But… you see my point? I could make that specific change. It was trivial, my power just told me how. I could have rewritten her, or anyone, that’s why I have that rule — had that rule.”

    She grunted in frustration. “Bonesaw didn’t ask for much. If I thought her capable of it I’d say she was playing softball with me. Maybe she wasn’t completely sure if my power could do it and wanted to torment me if I couldn’t? I could though, and I did. I did it.”

    She closed her eyes and let out a soft keen. Vicky pulled her into her arms and Amy finally broke, starting to weep. She pulled slightly away and blubbered on, “It was the right choice. I just had to throw away every promise I ever made to myself to do it. And the very idea… that I was forced to do it — that — that the woman I love and my sister would die or be made into something she wasn’t if I didn’t?”

    She breathed out in a strangled huff. “I needed to say this. This needed to be out cause I’m not going to live like this anymore. Not when they’re still here, waiting for a mistake.”

    Amy shuddered through a few choked sobs and continued. “I lost though. Bonesaw won. She made me play her game. I’m not going to let her win again.”

    Her tone was steady and I believed her.

    Amy spoke again, “I’m not going to keep the same rules anymore. I’m not sure how Bonesaw knew, but she used it against me, and she said it was just the beginning.”

    Vicky nodded and glanced at me, “I think I need some time alone with Amy.”

    I gave her a smile, nodded, and left the room.



    December, of the previous year

    She had never liked tight spaces. Even before it all happened, she’d never been the kind of kid to be fascinated by storm drains or anything like it. Brightly lit small spaces were bad enough, much less dark spaces that made her feel like the air clung to her skin. She’d been in this exact cell once before; the previous time they’d actually tied a live wire around her waist to keep her from escaping.

    This time the custom-made cuffs took the wire’s place. They weighed down and she felt like she was burning up from the inside while the walls pressed in, and the single light in the room felt too bright. She had steadfastly ignored the tears that had pricked at her eyes and slid down her cheek; it was bad enough that she had cried at all.

    She couldn’t even wipe the tears off her face; the cuffs covered her hands completely and the dirty sleeves from her costume would just irritate her eyes. The only thing it would accomplish was to exasperate her growing feeling of being in a strange human sized petri dish.

    Just breathe, Sophia.

    She tried. It didn’t work, and she didn’t dare close her eyes at the moment. That always made it worse, losing her sense of what was around her. She tried to breathe again and got zapped by her cuffs as she flickered for just a second.

    She screamed in frustration, and leaned her head back to stare at the ceiling while the walls mocked her. She put her head between her legs and took deep breaths, trying to make the cell feel less small. It was the only lesson Yamada had given her that Sophia had listened to.

    I hate this.

    “Fuck. Fuck… fuck...”

    She couldn’t even put her head in her hands properly. There was no chair or bed in these cells either, they weren’t meant to hold someone for more than a few hours. She turned into the wall, placing her cheek against the coolness of it. It helped give her a little bit of comfort.

    She jumped to her feet instantly at the sound of movement, grimacing as she wiped her tears away on the dirty sleeve. She wasn’t going to look weak in front of anyone.

    “Hey kid.”

    Sophia turned, facing the voice. “What do you want Assault?”

    “To talk.”

    She scoffed internally as despair quickly flashed into anger. “I’ve got nothing to say.”

    Assault held up his hands in surrender. “Hey, hey, I’m not here to make fun. I don’t believe for a second that you have nothing to say. I might believe you don’t think you have anything to say to me. I have something to say to you though.”

    Sophia sneered. “Not here to gloat? That’s a fucking first.”

    He grinned but it was brittle. “Hardly. I came here to make a deal with you.”

    She crushed the glimmer of hope but it survived anyway. “You’re gonna get me out of here?”

    Assault frowned. “No…”

    Sophia growled, “Then why the fuck should I care?”

    Assault’s frown turned into a grin. “Because if you don’t, you spend a lot more time in jail and you don’t have any hope of joining the Wards again when you’re done. You’ll end up with a felony record. Which means even if the Protectorate takes you on, you’ll be in probationary status long enough to recruit your own grandchildren. Trust me… I know how this works.”

    “How the hell would you know what this is like?”

    Assault chuckled and leaned against the wall. “Well, because there was a time when I was sitting in the exact same position you are.”

    “Bullshit.”

    He let out a short laugh. “You ever hear about a villain named Madcap?”

    Sophia’s eyes widened. “You’re Madcap? The Birdcage Buster? No way… Why are you telling me this?”

    He shrugged. “Like I said, I want to make a deal. I think you want to make a deal. I know what it's like to rage against the machine. But here... I’ve got one single solitary string to pull for you but I need to ask a question first.”

    A scowl and a tentative nod was her response.

    “Why be a vigilante? Why not rob some places? Why be a hero?”

    Sophia bit her tongue to keep a sour retort from forming. She knew Assault had some pull, she had to see what he was offering. She churned on the question and Assault pulled up a chair and waited. There wasn’t any condemnation in his eyes, not even a bit of pity. It wasn’t an expression she was familiar with from him. He was honestly just giving her time to think.

    “I don’t know. I just can’t stand the thought of doing anything else.”

    He ran his hands over his sleeves as he spoke, “That’s… fair. In fact, that’s probably the most anyone has ever gotten from you the whole time you’ve been here. I know you’ve been frustrated. You hate being told what to do.”

    “You’re damn right I do,” she snarled.

    Assault laughed. “Welcome to the club.” His voice changed from lilting to a growl. “I couldn’t stand the injustice of the Birdcage. I still don’t like it.”

    He shook his hands out. “It's not the only injustice in the world though. You want to put all those weaklings in their place right? All the idiots who think the world owes them something cause they’ve got a gun and poor risk management skills.”

    “Fuck em.”

    Assault nodded. “Fuck em. I want you to be able to keep doing that. So here’s my deal, I pull my one string. Instead of going to Malsberg Pen, you go to Anderson Asylum. All you have to do is promise to be good and talk to the counselors there. Put real effort into it.”

    She grunted. “You want to send me to one of the Cape Asylums?”

    “It's a lot better than the alternative and they can actually help you, Sophia. You also won’t have to put up with a bunch of gang bangers you probably helped incarcerate. I know you can handle yourself, but I want you back here when it's all done. Not rotting for another ten years when you shank the idiots who try to come after you.”

    Sophia thought it over. She knew she could handle prison, but that wasn’t what Assault was really offering though. He was offering to have her case treated as a mental problem, not a felony problem. All he was asking was that she be good and talk. She could do those things. She hated to do those things, but she’d be out sooner. She could get back to doing what she was meant to do.

    “Okay.”



    The psychologist in front of her frowned slightly as he read quietly on the other side of his desk. Eventually he spoke, his voice dripping with disdain.

    “So I’ve been reading some of your codswallop in the transcripts. Strong versus weak, predator and prey. All very enlightening. You have quite the makings of an armchair philosopher. Really, I admire your consistency. I managed to wrangle some confessions out of your case worker as well. Bullying, violence, a shitty family life.”

    Sophia blinked. “What the hell is your problem?”

    “It's been two weeks, Sophia, and you’ve somehow gotten the rest of my colleagues to give up on you. That’s actually a record. I’d be impressed if it wasn’t so pathetic.”

    She was about to retort but bit her tongue. “You haven’t given up though?”

    He chuckled a bit, stood up, and pulled the other chair up to sit across from her just on the very edge of being uncomfortably close. “I’m taking a different approach. I’m going off script.”

    He paused for a moment, as he made sure they had eye contact. “What the fucking hell were you thinking pinning thugs to a wall with a lethal weapon? You had to know you were going to get caught.”

    He shook his head. “So I’ve been thinking about that and I have a question. What got under your skin so bad you lost your damn mind Sophia?”

    Sophia leaned back a bit at the vehemence.

    “Who the hell do you think you are?” She breathed it out, almost not believing her own words.

    He grinned. “Don’t make me call Assault.”

    Don’t you fucking mock me.

    She wanted to say it but held her tongue as he pulled out his phone, ready and able to dial. She gasped and then growled, “Fine. FINE!”

    She stood up and the chair fell backwards while she leaned into the man’s face. He hadn’t even introduced himself! “You fucking want to know? We’ll how about this? You know that stupid bitch I was bullying? Emma and I fucked her up good at the beginning of the school year. Not two weeks later her Dad is pulling her out of school and I’ve got to put up with Emma’s fucking whining for months.”

    She scoffed, standing up straight and tugging at her sleeves. “I thought the stupid bitch was strong but she was… She was boring. Without Hebert there, she was just another stuck up b-rate model wannabe. So we fought, and I told her she was a waste of my time.”

    She picked the chair up and sat down with a thump. “I was so fucking angry. She was supposed to be my friend, but she was just using me like a crutch.”

    Her hands came up, rubbing her face, a tinge of hysteria working its way up. “I went for a walk. I went down to the boardwalk. I wandered around for a bit and then what the fuck do I find? Taylor fucking Hebert eating ice cream with her dad and some older lady I didn’t recognize. She’s fucking smiling, not a care in the world. Like the whole year of hell I put her through was nothing.”

    A choked sob escaped her, and she snarled at herself before taking a gasping, calming breath.

    “She looked up and saw me, but she wasn’t angry, it was like a queen looking down on a dirty peasant. She was just too damn happy with her Dad to care about me at all. Like I wasn’t worth her fucking time. Like what I had done didn’t even matter.”

    She felt her arms come up and start rubbing as she leaned over. “I was jealous. I was fucking jealous. Like fuck, how pathetic is that. That weak ass bitch gets to be happy, and I’m rutting around doing the same stupid bullshit every day with the kiddy Wards and their fun time special. It’s pathetic.”

    She huffed before looking him in the eyes. “So I went out, I grabbed all my old shit and I was gonna make some stupid gang banger hurt. Then a new ass hero, with a stupid fucking hat, comes out of nowhere and she puts me out like I don’t even fucking matter. Fuck! I fucking matter!”

    She was standing again and the chair was knocked over.

    “I matter.” She barely whispered the last words. The room felt too small for a moment. but out of the corner of her eye she saw him smile. It wasn’t mockery. Her shoulders fell, the tension falling out of her.

    His grin grew wider. “That’s more like it! That’s the Sophia I want to talk to!”

    He stood up and leaned slightly in. “Sophia, you do matter. I want you to succeed here. So come at me with that same honesty every single time. I am not fragile. You aren’t going to scare me by telling me you hate someone or that you enjoy hurting people. I’m not your judge. I’m not your jailor. You want to be a hero, right?”

    Sophia was silent for a moment. “Yeah. I do.”

    “Then instead of trying to say all the right things, instead of trying to toe the line, let's start with where you actually are. Then let's figure out where you want to be. Then we’ll talk about how to get from here to there. Can you do that?”

    Sophia paused for a full minute before she spoke, her voice barely above a whisper. “Yeah. I can do that.”

    He picked up the chair and sat her down in it, leaning in and looking her in the eyes. “You’re goddamn right you can. You can call me Alex.”

    Sophia smiled softly.



    I arrived back at the apartment and blinked in shock at the change. The wall that had previously housed the TV was now an array of folding tables, with equipment organized fairly close to my lab on the Rig.

    I turned my head to the kitchen and held back a laugh. Hana was leaning over the island, nursing a cup of coffee as she groaned quietly as my dad rubbed her shoulders. The sight was strange at first, but then it clicked.

    I’d never seen Hana expose her back to anyone by choice. When we ate together in the cafeteria she would pick tables near walls, during briefings she picked the corner of the room to stand in, if she had to stand in the middle of a space her stance was always wide with her shoulders tense and ready. She was coiled tight, even at her most relaxed, and this was the first time I’d ever seen her so exposed.

    I turned away from the sight, feeling like I was intruding on something. She had never talked about her trigger event to me, not that I had ever expected her to. I knew how to read a history book and do math though, and she’d never been particularly close lipped about her ethnicity, so I had a fair guess of just what kind of situation had shaped her.

    I waited a minute or two, moving as quietly as I could, so I wouldn’t interrupt, and sat on the folding chair, fiddling with a few of my tools. I pushed the hair out of my face and put it in a ponytail, then looked over the arrangement in front of me. Dad had pulled out the relevant blueprints and arranged them in order with the tools required as near as possible.

    I took another quiet breath and started to work. There was a rustle behind me. I tilted my head and couldn’t help but smile as my Dad wrapped Hana in a tight hug. I put it out of my mind and deliberately sunk into the fugue. There was work to be done.

    I faded back into the room with a sandwich plate sitting in front of me and Dad rubbing my back.

    “You should probably eat something Taylor. Didn’t even hear you come in.”

    I smiled at him. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”

    He smiled a bit crookedly and pulled at his collar a bit. “Well, I appreciate that. Why don’t you sit at the kitchen table and discuss with Hana what we talked about last night.”

    I nodded, setting my tools down and grabbing the plate. I took a bite out of the grilled cheese.

    “This is good!”

    Hana laughed. “Glad you appreciate my culinary skills, but it’s just grilled cheese.”

    Dad sat down at the table and I joined him, taking another bite. Hana squinted for a second before she spoke, “I’m putting you in for a medal.”

    I took another bite of sandwich and nodded.

    “Yesterday was… less than ideal. You performed far beyond my expectations and those were already high and gained us valuable intelligence, after that bastard cut off your hand, you stood right up and kept fighting. I’m… I’m not sure how I feel about that, you shouldn’t have had to, but you did, and you did it well. I’m beyond proud of you.”

    I smiled at her and she shifted awkwardly, “I wish I didn’t have to be proud of you though.”

    Dad grunted in agreement but gave me a grin.

    Hana rolled her shoulders back and tapped her fingers on the table. “Let's discuss next steps. Director Piggot is unlikely to call us in for at least a day. I know that we should expect some rapidly shifting allegiances. My best guess is we’ll get at least two members of the Empire onside, and the rest are going to bunker down. Lung may still be compromised by the Nine, it's hard to tell, but his regeneration should eventually overcome anything they might have done. He’s overcome Master effects before, and we know he overcame the Yangban’s indoctrination methods. He was actually larger when he broke out of the sinking rig than he was when he faced Leviathan in Kyushu, if the reports are to be believed.”

    Hana paused, taking a sip of coffee. “He won’t take the pardon, he’s too proud either way. Coil’s organization will probably disband and lay low since he’s apparently dead. Unfortunately, I think this means it’s likely to end up a three-and-a-half way fight. The Empire has wanted a chance to take the city for nearly a decade now, and the Nine are going to do what they do, and Lung is going to try and kill at least one of the Nine.”

    Dad spoke up, “You seem pretty certain about the particulars.”

    Hana ran her hand through her hair, the light curls bouncing in the light for a second. “I’ve dedicated my life to the Protectorate, and I don’t regularly need to sleep. Sitting and fussing over intelligence reports isn’t so much a hobby as it is a coping mechanism. It's lonely being up all night.”

    Dad blinked for a second and I felt some surprise myself. Hana very rarely talked about her emotions.

    Dad’s voice came out with a lilt. “You can sleep though.”

    She grunted. “Yes, but then I remember.

    A small whine escaped me as the weight of that word hit me like a wave and the utter frustrated despair that tinged it. I rubbed my hands together nervously. Her expression left me in a strange lurch. I was about to stand and move to hug her when her shoulders shifted. A tension was there: a flight response I rarely saw in her. She looked ready to stand up and leave and Dad seemed to be stuck in the same quandary as I was. A long silent set of seconds passed and I settled for putting my hand out palm up.

    “Thank you for telling me.”

    A flash of something passed on her face, before she set her hand in mine and squeezed it, before pulling away and falling silent.

    Dad looked between us both for a few seconds before he came to a decision.

    “We need to discuss your conversation with Tattletale.”

    I nodded and we settled down to business. I quickly went over the discussion I had with Lisa and detailed my concerns.

    Dad tapped his fingers on the table while Hana spun the spoon in her cup of coffee.

    Hana eventually spoke, “You said the Siberian might not exist?”

    I nodded. “Well obviously she exists.”

    “No, I get that. I get it all too well.”

    Hana was silent for a moment. “I’ve never faced the Nine, I’ve only dreamed of taking the fight to them from positions of safety. I was an original ward member and they were active then too, like a ghost story. When they come to town, people die, your friends die, and you might find yourself joining them. A twisted little reflection of you sputtering on.

    “And that’s not even the worst of it — when Bonesaw came along, and her abominations, twisted mockeries of flesh skittering around, with the faces of people I knew, people I cared for.”

    Hana rubbed her face with her hands, thoughts on the Siberian seemingly gone for a second. “When they hit Atlanta three years ago, Space Cadet sent me a text, saying he was caught out and wasn’t gonna make it. You’ll remember he kind of went out in a blaze of glory. That was deliberate — he couldn’t get away, and he didn’t want to end up a plaything for Bonesaw. So he threw himself at them, and he made sure they couldn’t capture him.”

    She paused closing her fists tightly. “And now they’re here and there’s nowhere to run.”

    I swallowed slowly as I watched Hana’s fists open and close over and over.

    Dad was staring intently at her before his eyes flickered. He dropped his sandwich onto his plate and broke in with a choke, “Crusader?”

    Hana’s eyes widened and she stood up in a flash, her eyes moving around the room frantically. I dialed Tattletale who picked up the phone and I said it, “Crusader.”

    I pulled the phone away from my head as Lisa cursed. “Tell Militia to pull up the video feeds of their assault on Woodland Park, Colorado. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Tell your Dad he’s a damn genius. It’s so fucking obvious now. Listen, I’ve gotta go, pretty sure I’m being watched again. I’m heading out. Stay safe, okay?”

    The phone clicked and I said it out loud, “Woodland Park, Colorado. PRT response.”

    She stilled and her eyes slowly widened and seemed almost dreamlike for a second. “I remember that. I was in the newsroom watching the live feed wishing I could be on the hill overlooking the supermarket. There was a white van outside the pizzeria, I remember thinking it was strange because there was a man sitting in the driver’s seat and I felt like I should have recognized him. It was just a few months after the Simurgh’s first appearance.”

    “I thought he was just a victim. He was deathly still, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him, but I remember the camera panning and he turned his head to adjust the rear view mirror.”

    Her eyes came back to her while her power flashed erratically for a second before she pulled out her phone. “Shut up and listen. Velocity, pull up the Woodland Park incident, tell me if there’s a white van outside the pizzeria.”

    There was a short moment before I could hear Velocity murmur. “Okay, pull up the combat report. There should be three instances of the Siberian momentarily disappearing during the fight to reappear at a flank somehow.”

    My eyes widened at the next question realizing where she was heading. “Okay, can you correlate the time frame of the second disappearance and when the man in the van adjusted his mirror?”

    There was a lengthy silence and I didn’t hear the response but Hana’s smile turned deadly, fanged, and satisfied. “Master/Stranger Alpha Alpha Seven Tango Kilo Sierra, distribute to all, Siberian is a projection. Repeat, Siberian is a projection. Likely source is older white male, balding, no other info at this time.”

    She listened again. “Got it, I’ll be in later today.”

    She lowered the phone and there was a tight smirk on her face. She rubbed her fingers along her jean pockets for a moment before she pocketed her phone.

    “We’re going to get him.”

    Hana was breathless for a second, her eyes a mixture of crazed disbelief and unplaceable relief. She turned to me, her voice excited and breathy. “We can win. We can win this.”

    Dad scoffed, “There was never any doubt.”

    Hana’s eyes flicked to him her stance shifting ever so slightly. “You’re so getting lucky tonight.”

    I squawked at her. “I’m right here you know!?”

    She laughed, picking up her coffee and smiled at me. “Oh, don’t take that attitude with me. You told him my weakness for cinnamon cookies.”

    Dad snorted, “It's true. You did.”

    I stood up from the table and shook my head. “You’re both... ”

    I paused, considering my words, looking back and forth between them. Dad was smiling and there was a bright blush on his cheeks and Hana was sipping her coffee waiting for me to finish my thoughts. The sun was shining in the window and just a touch of the smell from my earlier work was drifting around the room.

    I reflected on it for a moment before I looked Dad in the eyes and spoke quietly, “Better together.”

    He startled for a moment at my words but the smile that grew on his face made me feel warm all the way down to my toes. I ran my hand through my hair and fixed my ponytail and turned back to my workbench. There was work to do.



    AN: Vicky's conclusion is her conclusion, not necessarily my conclusion on how that all worked. Taylor is a little too caught off guard by it all to dissect the issue in a meaningful way other than preventing anyone from flying off the handle too much. Don't read too much into it.

    I apologize for the nasty code tag in the middle, but I couldn't figure out how to preserve white space without it.
     
  26. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2014
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    I like what you did with Sophia.

    I've never seen it before, and it makes perfect sense.
     
    Ack and Prince Charon like this.
  27. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2014
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    I think I might have seen similar ideas with her, but if so, I'm drawing a blank as to when and where.
     
  28. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

    Joined:
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    Corrections offered without malice.
    independent
    Militia (fix double capital letter)
    dominant
    Isn't Dragon not legally part of the Protectorate?
    secret's
    a little to tight. [/quote]too

    Kurk gave an amused snort. [/quote]Kurt
    Your
    You haven't been calling her that. Here, you call her that three times.
    administrators
    deity's
    embarrasses
    Tattletale's
    knob
    Narwhal's
    ordnance
    hairs
    it's
    Bible
    Heberts
    you're
     
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