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Faraday [Worm AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by JMHthe3rd, May 27, 2015.

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  1. GiftofLove

    GiftofLove A Gift From The Heart

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    Or the Janitor is lazy, and intalled one stall wrong, but couldn't be fucked to fix it.

    I like that one the best, because then it's just like my old high school!
     
  2. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.5
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.5
    Taylor's coffee felt warm in my hand. The hallway wasn't yet crowded, but there were a few students who'd stopped to watch us. Good.

    "I know it doesn't make up for everything, but . . . here. We want you to have this."

    Madison handed Taylor the small silver bag and quickly stepped back beside Julia, Christine and the three jocks. Taylor stared at the bag, then at them, then at me and then back at the bag again. She seemed so lost as to almost be frozen, but after a few moments she dug a slender hand into the tissues and drew out a ceramic mug stuffed with packages of cocoa and marshmallows. A little plush koala was hugging the handle, and taped to the side was a card with a photo of a chihuahua puppy snuggling a kitten. Emblazoned across were the words, 'I'm sorry!'

    Taylor flashed me a split-second look of, Really? I tried not to cringe. But at least inside was a $250 gift card to a bookstore. We'd all chipped in, but Madison had picked it out, her logic being: Taylor was a nerd; nerds like to read. Which was accurate enough.

    The three football players gave her a teddy bear and a spa gift basket. None of them had wanted to tie her to that telephone pole; it'd been only through the combined bitching of me and Sophia that they'd reluctantly agreed. Out of them, I think André felt the worst afterwards. Charlotte told me he went back for Taylor later in the evening, but by then she'd already been rescued.

    André's blush was obvious even through his brown skin. He hung his head as he spoke.

    "We're really, really sorry. We're never going to do anything like that ever again."

    "None of us are," said Madison. "We've learned our lesson.

    "Just don't do anything to hurt yourself," added Julia.

    I wrapped an arm across Taylor's back and gave her a squeeze through her hooded sweatshirt. "And if anyone bothers you, you let us know, okay?"

    Taylor looked over the presents in her hands. Behind her glasses, her dark eyes blinked wetly.

    "Th . . . Thank you?" she croaked.

    Madison hugged her first, and Julia and Christine joined in. Taylor's lips trembled into a confused, overwhelmed smile, and the tears fell. She wasn't used to people being nice to her, and that was terrible. I embraced my best friend tight and cried. I nearly spilled her coffee.

    "Thank you," Taylor repeated.

    I heard someone say, 'Aww,' but it sounded sarcastic. There was some hushed snickering down the hall. It didn't matter. Our message was clear: Taylor's off limits.

    Our group hug broke up, and we walked down the hall, Taylor and I with arms linked.

    "I'm glad Sophia's gone," Madison said. "I don't think anyone ever liked her. You should have seen it, Taylor. Emma was just talking to her, telling her to lay off you, and then Sophia just flipped out and grabbed her and rammed her face into the locker. And then Emma was on the floor, blood gushing out her nose, and Sophia kicked her and started screaming, 'Fucking Hebert! I'm gonna make her pay!' And Emma was all like, 'You leave Taylor alone, you fucking bitch!'"

    That was more or less the version I'd told Taylor. It was so well known now it might as well be true.

    "I wouldn't worry about Sophia," I said. "She's already facing assault charges, and right now she has to wear an ankle bracelet that tracks her movements. If she goes anywhere near us, she'll get thrown straight into juvie."

    "Which is where she belongs," Julia muttered.

    "And even if she does try something, Emma's learning kickboxing!" said Madison, punching the air and kicking for emphasis. "Soon, she'll be able to kick Sophia's ass!"

    "That, I'd like to see," Taylor said. And as the group laughed, she sipped her coffee and we exchanged grins. Any fight between Sophia and me would be like a mosquito versus a bug zapper.

    We separated for our different classes. I was a little worried for Taylor, since on Mondays we only shared one period together, but I'd recruited several friends to keep an eye on her. If anyone gave her trouble, I would ruin their lives.

    ***​

    Taylor sat with us during lunch. She was hunched forward a little, and the round ears poking through her black curls gave her a vulnerable look. Drinking tea from her new mug, she watched the others with reserved caution. I hugged an arm across her shoulders.

    When Greg Veder sat at the table behind us, Taylor gave him a polite, "Hello." I groaned inside, but restrained myself. Greg was an obnoxious nerd, but he'd untied her from that telephone pole, which meant he'd been an infinitely better friend to her than I had.

    "Hey, Taylor," Madison said as she chewed her salad, "you ever thought of changing your look? Not that there's anything wrong with it, but you could do with some clothes that aren't so gloomy. Unless you're going for gloomy, but then you could do that better than with what you're wearing now."

    "I . . . I wouldn't know what to buy," said Taylor. "I don't really put a lot of thought into my clothes."

    Julia smirked condescendingly, but said, "You're tall and skinny and have really long legs, so you can pull off the elegant fashion model look better than any of us."

    "I think she'd look good in a mini skirt dress," Madison said. "Maybe turquoise with a low slung belt."

    I shook my head. "Mads, you and your retro shit. Taylor doesn't want to dress like Kelly Bundy."

    "Yeah, your denim skirt's already tacky enough," said Julia. "What's next, leg warmers and feathered hair?"

    "Whatever, the eighties are in style!"

    Julia snorted. "Only for you."

    "No, she's right," Greg said. "The eighties are back."

    All of us--even Taylor--turned and stared at Greg as if he'd grown a second head.

    "What the hell are you talking about, Veder?" Julia demanded.

    "Everyone's doing eighties stuff now. Look at the last Uber and Leet video, the one where they do Grand Theft Auto: Vice City."

    Taylor frowned. "I saw that. It didn't have anything to do with the eighties. It was just them being dicks."

    Greg poked at his phone. "No, you're thinking of the one where they did GTA 3. They did a sequel for Vice City. Here, I'll show you."

    He held out his phone, and as Taylor reached across for it I winced when I saw the red scars crisscrossing her palm and fingers. But they didn't look deep. I could give her a cream to help them fade.

    We all huddled around to watch the Youtube video, which was only a short 'trailer.' Swagging in cheesy pastel blazers, the supervillain duo entered a somehow unreal-looking Ferrari and tore down the street while awful synthesizer music blared in the background. The quick montage showed them either posing dramatically with over-sized nickel-plated pistols or spraying the air with bullets. At the end, they used baseball bats on a couple of Asian girls in very revealing clothes. Giggling like maniacs, they grabbed the unconscious girls' purses and ran off the screen. Fade to black, followed by the white text: Coming Soon. Rated 'A' for Awesome!

    "They're despicable," Taylor said flatly.

    "They're not that bad!" Greg protested. "Those weren't real bullets. And the bats were holograms. They have an electrical field that acts like a taser."

    "So, they were tasing two innocent girls."

    "Innocent?" Greg said. "They're . . . they're hookers. ABB hookers!"

    "Which just makes it worse," Taylor said with disgust. "The ABB's prostitutes come from human trafficking."

    "Trafficking?" Greg asked, confused.

    "Slavery," I said and shuddered a little. "They have 'farms' outside the city." And one day, I would find and shut every one of them down.

    Taylor nodded. "Those girls' lives are already hell; the last thing they need is for a couple of assholes to beat them up and steal their stuff because it's what some characters did in a video game. People treat Uber and Leet as though they're a couple of bumbling losers, but they're worse than that: they're bullies who hurt others with their stupid pranks."

    There was an awkward pause. Madison stared down at her salad, her lips pursed pensively. Julie was looking away, chewing the inside of her mouth.

    "You're right," Madison said finally. "Uber and Leet are dicks."

    "Yeah," Julia agreed. "They're like nerds, but evil."

    Taylor smiled appreciatively. "Like I said: despicable."

    ***​

    After school, I met Taylor outside by the front doors. Her eyes were red from crying. I ran forward and put an arm around her.

    "What happened? Did someone do something? Tell me. I'll take care of it."

    She wiped at her eyes. "It . . . it was just Bernadette."

    "Who?"

    "Heavyset girl. Really goth."

    "Oh, her. I'll make sure she won't bother you ever again." A few calls, and I could turn the whole school against Gothapotamus.

    "No, don't do anything," Taylor said. "I think she was just concerned for me. It's just that she was puling up bad memories. And she can be a little . . . confrontational."

    "I've noticed," I said dryly. "Do you want me to talk to her?"

    She shook her head. "She . . . she thinks you're full of shit, Emma. She said you're luring me into a trap."

    "Taylor . . . I'm . . . I'm not."

    "I know that. Hell, I know it better than you do. But it's not like I can tell her how I know this."

    We linked arms and walked across the school lawn. "Who cares what she thinks, right?" I asked.

    "I don't, but it made me think about how weird this must seem to everyone. I assumed you'd end up being shunned for being my friend again, but what you've done today, how you've got people to accept me and treat me like a person, I didn't think it was possible. It doesn't make everything all right, but it . . . helps. Thank you. It's nice not to be hated."

    I didn't reply. I was glad she was happy, but her gratitude made me feel terrible. It was as if she were thanking me for not shoving her down the stairs.

    On the other hand, what I'd accomplished was remarkable. I'd been too stupid to realize it, but I'd been strong all along. I was beautiful, intelligent and charismatic. People liked me. They listened to me.

    I'd abused these gifts, but I was no longer Sophia's protege. I was strong, but I was not a predator. I was a human being. And humans protect their own.

    "Come home with me," I said. "I have a surprise for you."

    When we got on the bus, Taylor soon dozed off and ended up leaning against the window. Sitting next to her, I thought I felt her ghost's presence, and that was confirmed when her stuffed koala 'climbed' out of her backpack and 'waved' at me.

    My giggling hurt my nose. "Taylor! Someone's going to see!"

    The koala put its paws over its eyes, then pulled them away. Peek-a-boo! said the voice in my head.

    I grabbed up the little bear, kissed it and spent the rest of the ride finger-wrestling with it in my lap.

    ***​

    When Taylor and I entered through my front door, my mom hugged Taylor and kissed her on the cheek. My dad gave her a pat on the shoulder. I knew this was awkward for them. My mom especially was upset over how I'd treated Taylor, and though she was glad I was trying to make things up to her, she was still bothered that I'd been capable of doing those things in the first place.

    I made Taylor a mug of tea, and as we went upstairs, I nodded at my parents. They'd helped pay, but I wanted this moment to be between me and Taylor.

    In my room, I pulled the gift-wrapped box from under my dresser and handed it to Taylor. Given the size, shape and weight, she could probably guess what it was, but she only gaped at the package with naked bewilderment.

    "Go on, open it," I urged gently.

    She placed it on the bed tore away the ribbon and paper to reveal the hard, black leather beneath. I stood beside and just behind her, and I leaned forward a little to catch as her eyes widened. She unclasped the case's latches and slowly raised the lid.

    She drew in a breath.

    "How?" she asked quietly.

    We'd feared it was hopeless. Brockton Bay's instrument repair shops dealt with minor dents and creases or the tarnish that might accumulate on an antique. They couldn't fix the gross, twisted vandalism that had been inflicted on Taylor's mother's flute. But they'd recommended someone who could.

    "There's a low-rated rogue tinker out in Manchester," I said. "She specializes in jewelry, fine metalwork, that sort of stuff. There's a video online of how she fixed it. It's . . . it's pretty amazing." And her services hadn't come cheap. My savings were gone, and I still owed my parents over a thousand dollars.

    Taylor lifted the fully restored silver instrument out of the felt indentation. On the inside of the lid we'd mounted a small portrait of her mother, from her college days. I tugged loose some sheets folded into a pouch.

    "We included some songs your mom used to play. Or at least ones my mom remembers her playing." A lot of them were by composers I never heard of, though I recognized Beethoven and Mozart. "Here's 'Forever Autumn,' by that Moody Blues guy. I remember her playing that a lot when I was at your house. It . . . it's a beautiful song, but sad."

    Taylor nodded stiffly, blinking as she stared at the flute, turning it over in her hands. She rubbed her fingers along the engraving of her mother's name.

    "If you want, I've set some money aside for lessons. We could take them together. I . . . I've been wanting to learn to play." Which wasn't exactly true, but I'd do it for her.

    She sniffled and trembled a little. When she didn't say anything I began to get worried. I put a hand on her shoulder.

    "Are you all right, Taylor? I'm . . . I'm sorry for . . ."

    Carefully, she put the flute back in the case and turned to face me. Her brown eyes were so dark as to be nearly black, and now they glistened like wet obsidian. Her lips quivered. She wrapped me in a hug, her long, thin arms drawing me close, squeezing me tight.

    She didn't say anything. She didn't need to. We held each other. My tears rubbed into her thick raven hair, and through the lump in my throat I whispered, "Thank you for saving me."

    I'd been a horrible idiot, but I now saw that things were not irreparable: I could earn back what I'd thrown away. We could move on. Our friendship could rebuild and grow stronger than before.

    ***​

    Later, we sat together on the bed, our backs to the wall. It reminded me of the weird dream-room we shared this morning, though Taylor's wide, contented smile was now humanly proportioned.

    She leaned forward and snatched up the dream journal from the nightstand. She sipped her tea as she flipped through the pages of costume doodles.

    "So . . . you're going to be independent, right?" she asked.

    "I'm sure as hell not joining the Wards. Sophia may be in trouble, but she's still there."

    She made a face at the mention of Sophia. "Are you interested in a partner?"

    I threw an arm around her. "You know I am."

    "A secret partner," she stressed. "No cape name, no costume. I don't want anyone even knowing I exist. But I'll be good for scouting, spying, sabotage . . . My powers could do a lot behind the scenes."

    "You could also use your 'dream-master' powers, give the supervillains the 'Christmas Carol' treatment."

    "I'll have to be careful with that," Taylor said, wincing a little. "By the way, what are your powers? I get that it's an electrical purple haze that can make my ghost visible and knock down doors, but that's kind of vague. How far does the gas extend from you? What can you use it for? How much damage can it do?"

    I frowned. "I hadn't really had a chance to figure all that out. I can stretch it I guess about six or seven feet around me. I can use it to lift things and I guess tase people. Oh, and I can hot-wire cars. I can also explode bricks--though I think I could do bigger things."

    "Can your purple act as a shield?"

    "It protected me from pieces of flying cinder blocks. I'm not sure how strong it is."

    Taylor sighed. "If you're going to fight gang members and supervillains, that's the sort of thing you need to know."

    ***​

    My dad had to meet with a client, and my mom left for a girls' night with her friends. So, that evening Taylor and I had the house to ourselves.

    In the garage, on the rubber mat, we faced each other. Taylor held a broomstick as if it were a quarterstaff. I stood with hands on my hips, my stance defenseless and unconcerned.

    "Taylor, that's not going to even touch me. I have a crossbow we can try--shooting just at the cloud, I mean, not me, of course. And my dad has a pistol, though I'm not even sure how to load--"

    She swung at my thighs. I scarcely had to think before my purple rushed out to block the blow and then swept out to envelop me in a thick, glowing mist. The stick had absorbed slightly into the gas, which gripped the wood as Taylor yanked it free.

    "See, I told you--"

    She struck at my arm, my chest, my head. She was neither strong nor coordinated, but what she lacked in skill she made up for with wild determination. She still didn't get through.

    "It's like hitting jello," she observed.

    "Maybe you could throw bricks at me. I've gotten pretty good at--"

    She rammed the broomstick into my midsection. The blunt tip stopped about three inches from my belly. She tightened her grip and--

    "Taylor, this really isn't--"

    --braced her sneakers and pushed. The tip punched into me. I doubled over, my breath wheezing out, and fell into the punching bag hanging behind me. Sitting on the mat, I rubbed my stomach through my blouse.

    "That's cheating!" I cried.

    Taylor examined the stick's end as if it were a pool cue. "The slow blade penetrates the shield."

    "What?"

    "Nothing. But I don't think you're ready to take on guys with knives and guns."

    How disappointing. But then, I hadn't even started on my costume. "Well, how long until I am?"

    Taylor stood over me, grinning. She held out a hand.

    "As long as it takes."

    ***

    I'd like to thank Racheakt for his invaluable help in writing this.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2015
  3. Skitzyfrenic

    Skitzyfrenic Umu! and Padoru!

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    All of my yes.
     
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    So much d'awwww.
     
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  5. GiftofLove

    GiftofLove A Gift From The Heart

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    Good, good. Now kiss.

    In all seriousness, this was very well written, continuing the trend of this story as one of the best thought out and put together 'redemption' fics I've read. Good job!
     
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  6. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Heh heh heh.

    Emma's Redemption Score for the day: B-. Decent enough, but she really needs to stop planning to ruin people's lives. <_<
     
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  7. Dr. Mercurious

    Dr. Mercurious Not too sore, are you?

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    This is one of my favorite fics, and continues to climb in the rankings. Awesome job all around!
     
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  8. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Yeah, there is kind of a shippy quality to there, though they're both het.

    Thanks! I'm glad you like it!

    Right now, I'm going to be working on Faraday's next chapter, a Taylor interlude (the end of the Ideation Arc). After that, Chapter Nine of 'Weaver and Jinx.'

    And after that, I'm planning on starting my very first quest thread. Nothing too high concept. Nutshell: You are the recently triggered little sister of Oni Lee. You're fifteen, and you like skateboards, girls and playing the guitar. What do you do?

    The power is something like Oni Lee, except instead of teleportation it's a breaker/brute power where you turn into a white carbon statue which can also change into a white ash cloud. I'm not sure whether to post it in SB, SV or here.
     
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  9. Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    Post here. Less restrictions that way.
     
  10. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    I think I will, though I'll probably post it in the normal Q&RP forum, not the NSFW one. But though I have no intention of including sex scenes in the quest, the main character is a lesbian and the SV and SB mods are very strict and very weird when it comes to underage characters. I'd like to avoid their banhammer.
     
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  11. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.y (Interlude: Taylor)
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.y (Interlude: Taylor)
    Taylor awoke in darkness, her heart pounding. The memories swept through her like a thunderstorm, but she withstood the panic and remembered what her therapist told her.

    I'm safe. It was just a dream. My brain's just being stupid.

    Trembling, she sat up and pulled herself to the edge of the bed. She filled her lungs, counted slowly to ten and let it all out. Her sweat-damp pajama shirt clung clammily to her back.

    Above, a small pink and purple cloud glowed into existence.

    "Taylor?" said Emma behind her. "It's all right. It's--" A hand touched Taylor's shoulder.

    "I'm fine!" Taylor snapped harsher than she intended. The hand withdrew.

    She slipped on her glasses and navigated her bedroom under the soft magenta light. By the door--recently replaced--the carpet still bore the scorch marks from Emma's rescue three weeks earlier. The melted fibers rubbed like a weak sandpaper on Taylor's bare feet.

    "I'm going out for some fresh air," Taylor said, gentler this time.

    "Okay." They'd gone through this enough that Emma knew Taylor needed to be alone.

    Taylor went downstairs and out the back door and sat on a wooden bench overlooking her yard. She hugged herself. The foggy night gave her bare legs goosebumps, but she found a strange comfort in the chill.

    She mostly blamed herself for this one. She hadn't had a nightmare for four days. The prazosin had been working. But tonight, she didn't take her medication. She'd tried something new.

    Whispering into her own brain had been disorienting at first, and every utterance had been a repeating, distorting echo. But over the last couple of weeks she'd learned to adjust her 'voice' and minimize the feedback. Now, she was not limited to giving Emma dreams like a parent reading a story to a child, but she could indulge in the same dreams herself. Most nights they spent at either her house or Emma's, sleeping beside each other as Taylor's ghost floated above with its spectral hands embedded inside their skulls.

    But tonight Taylor had dug deeper and tried to put to rest the haunting demon. But the echoing had returned, and her ghost popped. And once again she found herself thrown into the darkness with the bugs and the smell and the loneliness . . .

    She shuddered. It was her own fault. She should have just taken the prazosin. But of course, she wouldn't have to deal with this shit if she hadn't had a traitorous bitch as a best friend.

    She'd forgiven Emma. They were friends again. And Emma had done so much to make up for everything. But a year and a half of hell was hard to forget.

    Sometimes--especially after a nightmare--Taylor wanted to hurt her. Not hit her, not scream at her, but just say spiteful things, things all the more painful for being half-true: You disgust me. I've tasted your true self; you're a weak, miserable coward. Every memory we share is tainted because I know you were always one bad day from betraying me. Our friendship wasn't worth it. I wish we never met.

    It'd feel cathartic, seeing Emma cry again, but it'd also be petty and cruel, something a bully would do. Taylor wouldn't sink to that level. And besides, it may not have been Emma's fault. Not really.

    Zoe's brain had tasted ordinary enough, but Alan's was unsettlingly similar to how Emma's had been, with the same sort of bitter textures and buried flavors of guilt and fear. It was an ugly, unhappy mind, but the patterns were close enough that even if she'd never met Alan before, she'd guess just by his brain that he was related to Emma. Taylor didn't know much about genetics or neuroscience, but could Emma have just been dealt a bad hand?

    The back door opened, and she caught a whiff of hot coffee.

    "Are you okay?" Taylor's dad asked.

    "I'm fine."

    His slippers shuffled past her on the wood porch. She didn't look up as he sat next to her, his bathrobe a warm presence by her side. Through the touch of wool she could faintly sense his concern.

    "Another bad dream?" When she didn't answer, he added, "It's a little cold out here."

    Taylor shrugged.

    "I need to go to the office early. You still want me to make breakfast?"

    "No, Emma and I'll make something later."

    "I'm glad you two are friends again. You're . . . not having any trouble with the bullies, are you?"

    "No."

    "Because if you are, you know you can tell me. Or Emma. We're always here to help."

    She gave him a tired smile that wasn't too forced. "Emma's been great. School's a lot better, now."

    He sipped his mug and returned the grin. His thick glasses made his wide eyes seem somehow bewildered. "That's good. I don't know how he did it, but Alan said he'd take care of everything. He sounded really worried."

    Yeah, worried he was going to get sued. Taylor felt an irrational anger at her dad, even though she never told him and hadn't wanted him to know. He still should have figured it out though. Now, things were just awkward.

    The door opened again.

    "Taylor, I--oh, hi Mr. Hebert. Taylor, um, you've been out here a while."

    Emma's red hair looked rusty brown in the dim moonlight. She met Taylor's eyes with concerned sheepishness. Taylor stood and looked up at the night sky which had lightened from charcoal to indigo. Alone-time was over. She stepped into Emma's waiting arms and through the physical touch reveled in the subtle tickle of little emotions.

    Though not as harsh or repressed as before that night, Emma still had her guilt and insecurity. Her fear had been replaced with anger, and she'd kept her vicious bent. But over all that Taylor could feel her love. The Emma she wanted to hurt had died on that bathroom floor. This Emma was not that Emma. This was the Emma she'd saved. Sometimes Taylor just needed a reminder.

    "Come on, you two," her dad said, smiling from the bench, "let's go inside."

    As they entered and crossed the kitchen, Emma seemed too realize Taylor needed some cheering up. She gave her a squeeze. "How about I make you some hot cocoa?"

    Taylor grinned. "With your powers?"

    "Of course."

    Taylor's dad hesitated. "Last time, things got a little . . . messy."

    "Oh, I've gotten a lot better since then, Mr. Hebert. Taylor's helping me practice."

    He didn't seem very reassured. They'd had to wipe down the ceiling. He took a carton from the fridge. "At least let me pour the milk this time."

    After he poured and stepped back (by the fire extinguisher, Taylor noted), purple flowed from Emma's hand in a smoky anaconda which snatched up one of the packets Madison had given Taylor. Her blue eyes tight with concentration, Emma used her mist to float the packet over the mug, tear it open and dump the powder and marshmallows into the milk. The purple then enveloped the mug and lifted it from the counter top.

    It took about a minute as dozens of sashaying lightning veins licked around the white ceramic. The effect looked like a hovering plasma globe unconstrained by glass. When Emma was done, she guided the mug to Taylor's open hand. Taylor sipped the cocoa. It wasn't as hot as she'd liked, but the light show more than made up for that.

    ***​

    Slipping on his coat, Taylor's dad passed them on the sofa. "I know you said you want to wait, but I think you still should reconsider joining the Wards."

    "I . . . I want to get school out of the way before I get into the superhero thing," said Emma, sitting next to Taylor. "I haven't even told my parents yet."

    "We could be there to help you break the good news."

    "That's . . . that's all right, Mr. Hebert."

    "Just think about it," he said. "And call me Danny."

    When he said goodbye and left for work, it was still dark, though the sun would rise any minute. Ordinarily, Taylor and Emma would be getting ready for school right now, but between the teacher conference at Winslow and Presidents Day Monday, they had a full four day weekend to look forward to.

    Out of apparent boredom, Emma misted out a beach ball sized nebula to twist and rotate slowly in front of them. Blue and red stars twinkled within. Emma seemed almost addicted to watching her own powers, and Taylor had to admit the sight was beautiful.

    Taylor sipped her cocoa. "Are you ever going to tell them?"

    "Not unless I have to. They'd probably push for joining the Wards too."

    "And fuck that."

    "Fuck that," Emma agreed. "Later, you want to go to the spa?"

    Taylor smiled. She'd discovered she liked spas, especially aromatherapy sessions. And hot tubs. And massages.

    "Sure, but this would be, what, the third time this week? Can you afford that? I know you said you want to do nice things for me. You don't have to, but if it helps you work through your guilt, okay. But I don't want you to make yourself broke."

    Emma shrugged nonchalantly--too nonchalantly, Taylor thought. "I owe my parents money, but I'm making some through eBay. And I have a modeling shoot coming next week. That's three hundred right there. And besides, once I go out as a cape, I can take money off the gang members."

    "I'm pretty sure that's illegal," Taylor deadpanned.

    "Pfft! Like I'm going to hand suitcases full of cash over to the PRT. If we're beating up the bad guys, it's ours!"

    Taylor wasn't sure she liked that, but these would be criminals they'd be stealing from. And what did she owe the PRT anyway? They sure as hell didn't do anything to stop Sophia. And anyway, spas weren't free.

    "All right," Taylor said. "But we can worry about that later. I want to spend this weekend training. With your parents out of town, that gives us the perfect opportunity to try stuff we couldn't otherwise."

    "Okay. I was going to go running in a bit. You want to come along? I'll keep pace with you. Your doctor said exercise will help you stay awake, right?"

    Taylor sighed. It was true, but getting up the energy to run would take a lot out of her. She put her empty mug on the coffee table. "It's still dark out. Let me take a little nap first."

    "Want to dream together?"

    "Not right now. I need my rest." It wasn't quite a lie, but shared-dreaming was taxing.

    "Okay. Nighty-night, Tay."

    She didn't remember falling asleep, but soon she found herself a ghost above her slumped body. Emma sat beside her, an arm around Taylor's shoulders as she continued to watch her own purple.

    It'd been a couple of days since Taylor had peeked on her new friends--who until a few weeks ago had been her enemies. It was late enough in the morning that they'd soon wake, but she still had time to visit one.

    She decided on Madison. After passing through first the ceiling, then her dad's bedroom and then the attic and roof, she climbed in altitude and headed south. She'd visited Madison's house once with Emma, and since then had flown there a couple of times, but it was still somewhat disorienting navigating the deep twilight sky hundreds of feet above the rooftops. She didn't mind. The cold air felt good tickling through her ethereal form. And she was flying. That made everything worthwhile.

    She soared higher and higher until Brockton Bay below was just a sprawling gray cityscape quilt crowded against the dark blue ocean. Arms outstretched like wings, she stood hovering in place and took in the view.

    Her ghost had a range of about twenty or so miles before lag broke the connection; she could fly practically anywhere in the city. She wasn't very strong, but she was getting good at moving objects. Even without Emma, she could do a lot of good in this city. She could be a secret hero.

    But there probably wasn't much crime taking place at five in the morning. Maybe later, then. She dived down in a swoop.

    Though she moved only about as fast as someone on a bicycle, it didn't take long to get there. Madison lived in an upper-class neighborhood not far from Emma's, though her house wasn't much more than a less-rundown version of than Taylor's. Taylor passed through a window into a girlish bedroom full of pink and lace.

    Madison was asleep in her bed, tucked under her comforter. Snuggled by her side was Oreo, her pet Chihuahua-Dachshund mix. The little 'Chiweenie' raised its head and looked at Taylor suspiciously. Taylor wasn't sure whether animals could see, hear or smell her ghost, but they were usually aware of her presence and were never happy about it.

    Before Oreo could raise the alarm, Taylor reached into its head and touched its tiny mind. *Safety, contentment, sleepy.* She didn't bother with whispers: the dog wouldn't understand. But the projected emotions worked. It yawned, lowered its head and closed its eyes, no longer concerned with the human-shaped smoke-thing lurking around its mistress.

    Taylor floated above Madison and watched her snore gently into her pillow. Behind her closed lids, her pupils danced with REM.

    Carefully, Taylor eased long ghostly fingers into the sleeping girl's brain. As always, it tasted . . . sweet, soft. There was a fair mixture of negative emotions, of course, but for someone who'd helped torment Taylor for so long, she was a surprisingly 'good' person. More so than Julia or Christina, neither of whom Taylor would classify as particularly 'bad.'

    Taylor guessed that before Emma convinced them to accept her, they probably didn't see her as a real person but only as a prop, something to abuse and feel superior to. It was stupid, but if Taylor could forgive Emma, she could forgive 'stupid' easily enough. In fact, she liked Madison. And she was here to make sure Madison kept liking her back.

    ~Tell me where you are. Tell me what you are doing.

    Taylor sent a subliminal signal that allowed Madison to subvocalize while she slept. It was a technique Taylor had long practiced, but it still took concentration to decipher the 'speech' through the finger inside Madison's throat.

    "We're at . . . field trip . . . Kitty Cat Zoo . . . kitty cats escaped . . . laying eggs . . . it's Halloween Wednesday . . ."

    If Taylor had been in her body, she would have laughed. Typical dream. After pumping Madison for a few more details, she said, ~Taylor is with you at the zoo.

    The whisper of her name brought out in Madison a spike of happy recognition salted with guilt. Madison was still her friend. Good. But a little positive reinforcement couldn't hurt.

    ~Taylor just got back from the nineteen eighties, and for her Halloween costume she's dressed like Marty McFly. Sure, why not? She's helping you look for the escaped kittens. There's chocolate in their eggs. See the long grass at your feet? Siamese cats are hiding in there. Hear their loud meows! You and Taylor fall into the grass and play with all the kitties!

    Chances were Madison wouldn't remember the dream when she awoke, but the emotions would nestle in her subconscious. Taylor drew her fingers from Madison's brain and if her ghost had a face, would have smiled at the girl. Later, she would text her a funny cat picture.

    Sometimes Taylor felt as if she were crossing a line, manipulating her new friends like this. But if she'd been told a year and a half ago that Emma was going to backstab her, she'd never have believed it. Sometimes friends turn bad, and if Taylor could see the betrayal coming, she could prevent it.

    Not wanting to waste time flying back, Taylor popped her ghost and woke up on the sofa. Beside her, Emma had dozed off and was resting her head on Taylor's shoulder. Staring into the mess of ginger hair inches from her nose, Taylor thought it over before deciding she was up to it. She shut her eyes, fell back asleep and spawned a second ghost.

    With an invisible hand into both their brains, she whispered, ~Describe where you are, what you're doing.

    With concentration, Taylor relayed Emma's subvocalizations into her own brain and then whispered back into Emma's, so that there was a constant stream of subliminal speech cycling between them. The dream formulated inside Taylor like an oil landscape assembling from swirling paint. The living room, the sofa and the two sleeping bodies faded away as she fell inside her own head.

    She floated in outer space filtered faintly purple. Emma drifted close by in a white nightgown that flapped gently as if by undersea currents. Emma failed to notice Taylor, however, because she was busy plucking planets from the surrounding sky and eating them as though they were fruit. One the size of an apple looked like Mars. Three bites, and the red planet was gone. Next, she grabbed a cantaloupe-sized Jupiter.

    "Emma! Stop eating the Solar System!"

    Emma turned and looked at her blankly, her blue eyes like big round buttons. She chewed slowly, Jovian juices running down her chin.

    "Taylor?"

    "You're dreaming, Emma."

    "I am?"

    "Remember what I said. Do a reality check."

    Emma looked over the planets and stars with childish suspicion. She scrutinized the half-eaten gas giant in her hand. "Oh. I guess I am. I thought you needed your rest?"

    Taylor shrugged. "I took a nap. Want to race?"

    "Race with what?"

    Taylor waved an arm. Two winged horses appeared. They neighed and stamped on void.

    "Unicorns!"

    Taylor chuckled. "No, Pegasuses. Or . . . 'Pegusi'? They're from Greek mythology."

    Emma squinted. A single spiraled horn sprouted from each of the horses' heads. "Now, they're unicorns."

    "Fair enough," Taylor said.

    They climbed into the saddles. In front of Taylor's stirrups, the giant, feathery wings flapped in preparation, blasting Taylor with wind.

    "Hope you enjoy this, because we have a long weekend ahead of us."

    "Whatev. Where are we racing too?"

    Taylor reared up her Pegasus and pointed at a faraway twinkle. "Second star to the right, and straight on till we wake up."

    ***

    AN: Next up, 1.z, another Taylor interlude, which will wrap up the Ideation Arc.

    Special thanks to Rackeakt, who's advice has proved invaluable.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2015
  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Not a phrase you hear very often. :D

    So much d'awwwwwwww.

    Also, typos:

    snatched
    members
     
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  13. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Amusing.

    Taylor: Dream Voyeur. Not the best possible of things, but I suppose there are worse things she could get up to.
     
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  14. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Eventually, she's going to walk in on the sort of dream she shouldn't, though.
     
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  15. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    I actually had a dream similar to that once. I accidentally 'stole' Jupiter and Neptune from their orbits, and NASA filed a lawsuit against me. After the cops started pounding on the door, I panicked and flushed the two gas giants down the toilet.

    Good catch.

    Taylor's kind of a benevolent, non-exploitative Heartbreaker. If fiddling with their dreams is going to make her friend like her more, then that's what she's going to do.

    Yes, that would indeed be very awkward.
     
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  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    "Billy! What have I told you about taking planets that aren't yours? You put them back right now and tell those nice NASA men that you're sorry!"

    - the home life of a young demigod.

    No, 'awkward' is when she stumbles into a dream where someone's having that sort of fantasy about her.
     
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  17. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    I thought about that, specifically that 'someone' being Emma, but despite my predilection for lesbian protagonists in my original work, I've decided I want keep the characters as close to canon as possible (though to be fair, we don't know Emma's orientation). So, they're heterosexual life partners with Taylor having mind-fuck benefits. Neither of them want to stick their tongues in each other's vaginas.

    Hmm . . . but I wouldn't be adverse to Faraday Taylor/Emma lesbian omakes--provided that they're relatively in-character and are posted in the NSFW forum if they're NSFW. And of course, it's understood that they're very much not Faraday canon.

    But yeah, anyone who wants to, feel free to omake away.

    Anyway, here's a post from SB. It delves into Emma and Alan's similar-tasting brains.

    For clarity's sake, here's Mossbach81's original post (I always appreciate his commentary).

    Part of it's frustration. She wants someone to vent at, but restrains herself because lashing out at Emma's pointless. It'd just be making Emma feel bad so she could feel better about herself, which is exactly what the old Emma did.

    A little bit of both. Very few girls in Emma's shoes would betrayed their best friend that drastically, not even with Sophia filling their head with bullshit (and I think it goes without saying that Taylor wouldn't have done this to Emma). I can easily see the attack in the alley causing a falling out between Emma and Taylor as Sophia becomes Emma's new BFF, but to turn on Taylor so completely? To bully her so cruelly and obsessively? That's . . . abnormal.

    And look at Alan. Unless he literally thinks Taylor was making everything up (and he knows the locker incident happened--a 'prank' that implies the use of Sophia's powers), then he had to pretty much know Emma and Sophia were bullying the daughter of his best friend. But not only did he protect them from suffering any consequences, but did absolutely nothing to curtail the bullying. His attitude is:You can't prove anything. You're fucked, Taylor. He even blackmails her and Danny by saying he'll bankrupt them by pressing charges about the mall incident. He even admits his lawsuit would be bullshit (right in front of Blackwell, no less!) but his attitude is: But we're rich and you're not. Ha ha!

    If Taylor had kept going to Winslow, the bullying would continue, and Alan knew it.

    Even by asshole lawyer standards, this is . . . abnormal.

    The traumatic experience with the ABB is not much of an excuse. As Gothapotamus said in 1.4, lots of people go through much worse things and don't turn into monsters. So, why are Alan and Emma like this? The meta-reason, of course, is Windbow hates bullies and made Emma and Alan practically caricatures, but examining them as if they were real and considering how alike Alan and Emma are, I'm led to think that perhaps they just plain aren't good people. Personality traits can be inherited, and while they're not outright sociopaths, they both have a predisposition towards self-deception, selfishness, moral cowardice and repressing/compartmentalizing their conscience.

    Emma was a good friend to Taylor before the alley because her life to that point was that of a cushy rich girl. The hardest thing Emma had to endure through was Taylor's mom dying. It's easy to be a good BFF when everything goes your way.

    Some people have an inner strength that comes out in a crisis. Emma did not. So when the alley happened, she broke and all those latent flaws cracked to the surface(1). The trauma exacerbated her predisposition. A lot. Ditto for Alan.

    Reading Emma's interlude, you catch glimpses of her repressed guilt, but she lacks the strength of character to face it. If she hadn't died (probably by suicide), that buried guilt would turned her into a miserable shell of a woman, though on the outside she'd still be the same charming alpha bitch.

    TL;DR version: Emma was born with scumbag lawyer genes.

    Yeah, canon Taylor would have disagreed more vehemently. This Taylor lacks that 'must be a hero to escape hellish life' drive.

    This Taylor is different from canon, but she still has a need to be in control. If that means pulling strings in her new friends' subconscious, then so be it. Better that than: "We decided you're not our friend anymore, Taylor! We're going to ruin your life for no reason at all!" Which to Taylor is a thing that actually happens.

    Emma's betrayal has left Taylor with huge trust issues, and her ability to peek in and meddle in minds is good crutch for dealing with that. It doesn't help that Taylor knows that without her Christmas Carol Therapy (and a shard meddling in Emma's brain, though Taylor doesn't know about those) Emma would never have made the redemption journey on her own. Taylor practically had to drag Emma's conscience kicking and screaming out of the darkness. For Taylor, this reinforces the idea that giving people scarybad nightmares is okay as long as it's for their own good. The PRT are likely to disagree.

    Heh, Taylor likes playing dream master.

    Thanks. I wanted to give them a sort of 'master/blaster' dynamic (with Taylor's powers being mostly subtle and mental, whereas Emma's are shiny and physical) while at the same time not being too OP. Both are also very versatile, however, and Taylor's very good at munchkining.

    It's worth noting that Emma had 'friends' (she mentions a Chris/Christine in Interlude 19) whereas Taylor only had Emma as a friend. Though their friendship was genuine, I think Emma always saw Taylor as her social inferior, as her sort of 'nerd BFF' sidekick (and of course, Mr. Hebert was daddy's 'poor' friend). This attitude wasn't overt, but it was something always present. Emma was there Taylor when Annette died, and this was genuine kindness, but there may have been a condescending sense of Emma taking care of 'poor little Taylor.'

    After the alley, Emma feared the dynamic had changed: Emma would be the mopey one, and Taylor would be the strong one trying to cheer her up. This terrified her, and with Sophia's bullshit, well . . . cue the most cowardly, selfish betrayal ever.
     
  18. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Okay, this is now my official headcanon. :D
     
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  19. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    VolantRedX on SV elaborated that Alan and Emma might have Borderline Personality Disorder:

     
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  20. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    ... wow.

    That fits. So very well.
     
  21. Threadmarks: Ideation 1.z (Interlude: Taylor)
    JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    1.z (Interlude: Taylor)
    Taylor's spectral hand slapped the plastic bottle off the card table and into Emma's purple where it bobbed in place amid the rest of the debris. She then lifted a plastic sword---something she remembered from when Emma and her were young--and tossed it so the blunt tip struck and sank into the mist. She concentrated as she lifted an old, water-damaged dictionary and heaved it with all of her ghost's meager might. The tome flopped open on impact, ripping but staying afloat.

    Emma grinned defiantly with her hands on her hips, her magenta cloud tinting her hair blue and her skin neon pink. Sparks buzzed around both her and the clutter of trash, small toys and other hovering odds and ends Taylor had thrown at her. Taylor couldn't penetrate Emma's barrier this way, but she could overburden it. Emma tended to fumble when levitating too many objects, but so far she'd kept control, which was all the more impressive because she'd just spent thirty minutes kickboxing a canvas sack. She still wore the bicycle shorts and sweaty tank top.

    "You have to be getting tired," Taylor said through her body sleeping on a mat a few feet behind Emma. It was a trick she recently taught herself, though it made her speech slow and monotone.

    "A little," Emma admitted. "I can't believe you threw that freaking book. I didn't realize your ghost was that strong."

    Taylor shrugged, which was silly because she was invisible. "I'm working out my ectoplasm."

    "Ha ha. Now it's your turn to play catch."

    Carefully, Emma piled the floating junk neatly to the side and looked at the six cheap kitchen knives arrayed at her feet. They rose in her purple until they were chest-level. Crackling with sparks, their points wobbled slightly as they aimed at Taylor's ghost floating behind the card table.

    "Ready?" Emma asked.

    Taylor glanced at her body. The broomstick was hidden beside the mat. "Go ahead."

    The first knife shot from the purple like a crossbow bolt, passing through Taylor's midsection and penetrating a sheet of particleboard behind her. The rest sprang out in rapid succession. She slowed down three of them, causing them to strike sideways. The fifth deflected through her hand and leg and clattered to the concrete floor. The sixth fumbled through her smoky fingers, but she managed to catch the knife before it fell. She flipped and caught it and waved it in the air victoriously before resting it on the table. She then popped her ghost and woke on the mat. She breathed in the ozone smell of the garage air, but didn't move.

    "Not bad," Emma said. "You said you could stretch if you concentrate. Have you tried widening your body into like a giant catcher's mitt?"

    Taylor wrapped her fingers around the broomstick and sat up. Emma was about eight feet away, facing where she thought the ghost was. Slowly, silently, Taylor stood and took a single step closer.

    "Taylor?"

    Taylor lunged, stabbed. The purple resisted like gelatin as the blunt tip penetrated towards the small of Emma's back. But Emma turned around, and the two feet of embedded shaft disintegrated in a small burst of lightning and charred splinters.

    "Taylor! That's sneaky!"

    "Bad guys with knives can be sneaky too."

    "With knives, they'd have to get close, and I'd zap them."

    "What if they're like you, immune to electricity?"

    "I don't know I'm immune, just resistant. I mean, I only tested a taser on myself."

    Taylor held up a hand. "It doesn't matter. Your purple doesn't block slow attacks unless you concentrate. So, what if you're distracted? What if there's multiple slow attacks? We need to practice more. Maybe you could wear a blindfold . . ."

    Emma rolled her eyes, and her purple evaporated around her, reverting her skin from pink to pale, her hair from blue to red. She gestured for Taylor to follow and they left the garage through the kitchen door. On the counter were piled empty pizza boxes from Madison and Julia's sleepover last night. Baby Bear, the Barnes' corgi, trotted across the linoleum and rolled on his back. Emma knelt to rub his belly.

    "What about you?" she asked. "You should be practicing your Christmas Carol nightmares. Find some abusive assholes and teach them a lesson."

    "Emma, I don't want to use that power lightly."

    Emma had taken a bottle of flavored water from the fridge. She stopped as she unscrewed the cap. "I didn't say you should. But you have a lot more potential than I do. All I can do is beat up bad people. You can make those bad people good. Look at me: I was a monster, and you made me myself again. You could do that to others."

    Taylor sighed and sat on a stool by the counter. She'd been dreading talking about this. Those three nights had been a desperate gambit that had just happened to pay off. It wasn't something she wanted to dwell on, much less repeat.

    She stared at her bare, bony feet as she spoke. "When I first flew into your bedroom, I wasn't even sure what I'd find. Part of me was afraid the old you would be gone, that only 'Emma-the-bitch' would be left. But I tasted you, and you were there: scared, miserable and asleep in a pit in your brain. You were just as trapped as I was. You were sick. I decided then that I needed to save you, no matter what. Because you were my friend.

    "I had to hold back. If I pushed too hard, you might kill yourself when you woke up or go catatonic or even die of a heart attack. So I was very careful. And there was more going on than just those . . . dreams. I was whispering to you, deep down. I was tugging at you, urging you to wake up and climb out of the pit."

    Taylor paused, remembering when Emma revealed the ruined flute from under the sink. She'd lost control then and raged with grief until Emma triggered and metamorphosed into this . . . new Emma who now was sitting on a stool beside her, smiling with awe, her blue eyes brimming with tears. Had getting her powers affected Emma's mind as well? Had that been part of the cure?

    "And . . . it worked," Taylor said finally. "But it worked because I know you, Emma. Because I love you. How could I reach someone like Lung or Kaiser? You say you were a monster, but they're far worse than you ever were. There might not be any good inside them. And even if there is and I try to draw it out, I might destroy them trying to save them."

    From the slight curdle of Emma's mouth, she clearly didn't think killing Lung with nightmares would be anything to cry over. On the other hand, Emma wouldn't be the one having to taste his terror.

    Emma took Taylor's hand and held it in both of hers as though she were going to read her fortune. The scars from the locker still crisscrossed her palm, but after a couple of weeks of using Emma's cream, they were now faded to nearly invisible creases.

    "I trust you, Taylor. Whatever you choose, I know it'll be right."

    Emma's grip felt warm. Taylor found her wide-eyed devotion unsettling.

    "I'll . . . I'll do my best," Taylor said.

    ***​

    That night she flew her ghost north towards the Docks. She wasn't sure why. She certainly didn't intend to inflict evil-doers with nightmares like what Emma wanted--not without good reason--but if nothing else, she could uncover on some of the ABB's hideouts and maybe learn the location of their human trafficking 'farms.' And now that she was getting good at moving objects, sabotage was an option. Taylor had to admit, being a poltergeist was fun.

    She wondered whether she would come across any Ward patrols, maybe even Shadow Stalker. She was supposed to be grounded, but given how badly the PRT had dropped the ball before, Taylor wouldn't be exactly shocked if she saw her. The temptation to mess with her would be unbearable.

    Taylor was about two hundred feet above the downtown pier when she heard the muffled scream. The beach looked vacant, but as Taylor dived she spotted movement along the edge of the boardwalk. She phased through the wooden planks to the trash-strewn sandy ground beneath and with her ghostly vision easily saw in the darkness the three figures by a support column.

    They were about her age, two boys with a drunk-looking girl braced between them. The girl's blouse was torn, and an angry red bruise was swelling shut her left eye. One of the boys--the one with a pinched face an a shaved head--held a hand over her mouth. She struggled weakly against their grip until the skinhead tossed her to the sand. She flopped and mewled. The skinhead kicked her in the side.

    "We don't have to kill her afterwards," said the other boy. He was shorter and stockier than the skinhead and had a buzz cut dyed closer to yellow than blonde.

    "You fagging out?" said the skinhead with disgust. He was already unfastening his belt.

    "No way!" said buzz cut. "But with that shit you gave her, it's not like she's going to remember this. And wouldn't it be funnier to see her at school and act all sympathetic, like, 'What's the matter, heeb? You look upset. Did something happen?'"

    Taylor was floating between them now, and she paused at what sounded like an abbreviation of her last name. No, 'heeb' had to be short for 'Hebrew.' It was pretty obvious these guys were with Empire Eighty-Eight.

    "I think it'll be more fun to slit her throat," said the skinhead, pulling down his cargo pants as he stood over her. "I just want to see her eyes when I do it."

    They were standing a few feet apart, but Taylor elongated her arms and planted a hand in each of their brains. Buzz cut was an ugly, weak mind, similar in broad strokes to how Emma's had been. The skinhead tasted . . . rancid, yet somehow empty. He was anger, hunger and scarcely anything else. There was no scared little boy inside him. Either way, Taylor had no time for Christmas Caroling.

    *Fear!* Taylor projected, and the two boys hesitated and jerked their heads around in sudden bitter-tasting panic, buzz cut more so than the skinhead. Off a spur of the moment inspiration, she whispered, ~The ground is covered with angry fire ants! Feel their tiny legs! Feel their tiny bites!

    She then drew out of their skulls and then slithered around in a low figure eight as she swept her ghostly fingers along their thighs.

    "Ahh!" said buzz cut, scratching and clawing at his jeans.

    Skinhead slapped at his bare skin and bent over, squinting. It was too dark for him to tell for sure. "Shit!" he said, more out of annoyance than anything.

    Taylor reached one hand into buzz cut's head. Her other she pressed through the denim covering his crotch.

    ~Ants in your pants! Ants in your pants! Hungry, hungry ants! Her fingers pinched him, again and again.

    Buzz cut screamed like a little girl and danced in panic as he yanked down his jeans and boxers. "Get them off! Get them off! Oh god! They're eating me!"

    "Shut up, assfaggot! I . . . I think it's just our imagination. I mean, I . . . I don't see any--"

    Taylor touched the skinhead's mind. He was afraid, but he wasn't showing it. She ran a hand up his thigh, making him squirm.

    ~The ants are real. There are millions of them below your feet. Run now or you'll both be skeletons in the morning!

    The skinhead shook his head and pulled up his pants. "Fuck it. Let's get out of here. Leave the Jew for the ants."

    Buzz cut didn't need to be told twice. Together they sprinted for the beach, buzz cut naked from the waist down. Taylor floated beside the half-conscious girl. Her one open eye rolled around in confusion. She had an olive complexion and curly black hair that could have been a match for Taylor's own. Taylor pressed her fingers into her brain. The clouded fear had a sour, pungent flavor that reminded Taylor of liquorice. Taylor hated liquorice.

    *Safety, calm.* ~Don't worry. They're gone now. I won't let them hurt you.

    ". . . ants?"
    the girl subvocialized.

    ~There are no ants. At least none that I know of. I'm going to go get help.

    "Who are you?"

    Taylor ignored the question, and instead focused on her body lying miles south in Emma's bed. Her body spoke aloud, "Emma! Emma! Don't wake me up! I need you to call the police. Use my phone, so it can't be traced."

    With her physical body asleep, she had to concentrate to 'hear' Emma's reply, though the words came seemingly half-imagined in her mind.

    "Wait . . . what? Where . . . where are you, Taylor? I mean, where's your gho--?"

    "Just do it, Emma! Tell them there's a girl who's been drugged under the pier by the south ferry station. There's two teenage boys nearby, one without any pants."

    "Oh! . . . Um, okay, okay, I'm calling . . ."

    Two police cruisers and an ambulance showed up within five minutes. Offering the officers subliminal 'hunches' and a few instances of, 'did-you-hear-that?' Taylor led them to the girl, as well as to the two boys hiding in the shadow of a dock a short ways down the beach. Taylor tripped the skinhead as he ran; he tried to get up again but got tased for his efforts. With a little applied *fear!* and *guilt!* the handcuffed, half-naked buzz cut quickly confessed what they'd intended to do. The enraged skinhead spat curses.

    Later, as Taylor floated above the beach and watched the vehicles drive away, she said, "I saved her life."

    "I'm proud of you,"
    Emma said.

    Taylor popped her ghost and opened her eyes. A small purple star glowed dimly along the bedroom's ceiling, half-eclipsed by Emma's face staring down at her. Emma brushed hair from Taylor's eyes.

    "It feels good," Taylor admitted. "Being a hero."

    Emma's smirk was nearly lost in shadow. "I'm jealous. I want to join the fun."

    She'd like for Emma to come along too, but unlike herself, Emma would be in actual danger.

    "Let's run some more tests, first."

    Emma groaned.

    ***​

    "Stop that," Taylor said.

    Floating in mist, Emma drifted in lazy circles a foot above the garage floor. Tiny streaks of lightning crackled along her skin and her shorts and tanktop. Her blue hair waved around her head in slow, snakelike motions as if submerged in water.

    "It looks dramatic," Emma said. "Bad guys will shit themselves."

    "Or shoot you." Taylor motioned at Alan's unloaded handgun laying beside the trash bag on the card table. "Levitating makes you tired, and you're already sore from all that digging. Anyway, your powers look like a deep space electrical storm: I think you have 'dramatic' covered."

    "It sucks 'Nebula' has already been taken. 'Tesla' too. Both would have really fit, don't you think? There really aren't any good electricity or space-themed names left. What am I going to go with, 'Lightning Girl'?"

    "'Stardust' is available."

    "Too soon. He only died a few months ago"

    "'Purple Haze'? She's been dead a decade."

    Emma shook her head. "That name's cheesy. I don't want people to think I listen to hippy music."

    "How about 'Faraday'?"

    "What, like a Faraday cage?"

    "Well, your power sort of looks like the effects of a Faraday cage. Without the cage."

    Emma drifted down until her bare feet touched the concrete. She frowned thoughtfully. "Hmm, maybe."

    "Come on," Taylor said. "Let's get this started."

    Emma wirelessly connected her phone to a set of large speakers in the corner. After a few screen taps, hip hop music blared through the garage so loud that it made the air tremble. Cringing, Taylor twisted foam plugs into her ears and handed Emma a pair. It scarcely blocked the noise, but the booming sounds would drown out any gunshots the neighbors might hear.

    Taylor lifted the pistol and magazine and backed a couple of yards from the table. Emma stood by her side.

    Pointing the weapon downward and keeping her finger away from the trigger, Taylor slid in the magazine and pulled back on the slide to chamber a round. She didn't know much about guns, but from her research online, she knew this was a nine millimeter semi-automatic. The caliber wasn't particularly powerful, but this at least would give them an idea of how bulletproof Emma's powers could be.

    Taylor had to shout to be heard. "Ready? Start at your default strength."

    Emma nodded and conjured a beach ball-sized orb of pinkish-magenta in front of the trash bag on the card table. The double-thick black plastic was half-filled with soil from the Barnes' backyard. Taylor had helped dig but had soon grown dizzy with exertion, and so Emma had to finish on her own. To her credit, she hadn't complained too much. They'd had to use a wheelbarrow to get the bag in the garage, and together had just managed to lift and flop it onto the tabletop.

    Taylor raised the gun in the two-handed grip she'd practiced from a Youtube video. Lining up the rear and forward sights, she aimed for the center of the glowing orb. She waited, and Emma cast another mist that enveloped both her and Taylor completely except for the pistol poking through its barrier. It was a shield against ricochets.

    Slipping her finger over the trigger, Taylor breathed in the ozone that surrounded her. Translucent pink tinted her vision. The mist tickled like static across her skin. She squeezed the trigger gently.

    Even through her earplugs and the pounding of music, the gunshot's 'pop' still made Taylor jump. The firearm bucked slightly in her hands.

    "Shit, I felt it slip through!" Emma exclaimed, her voice barely audible. She pointed: dark brown dirt bled from a dime-sized hole in the trash bag.

    "Make it a little denser," Taylor said.

    The magenta of the target darkened into a lavender shade. Taylor fired again. This time the bullet struck lower, punching through the cheap wood where the table met the bag.

    "I almost had it," Emma said. "I know I slowed it down."

    "A little more," said Taylor.

    The lavender deepened into a rich purple. When Taylor fired this time, hair-thin lightning writhed within the orb before fading away. The cloudy ball was too thick to see through clearly, but it then spat out something small like a pebble which arced neatly into Emma's outstretched palm.

    "Ah! Hot!" Emma flailed her hand, but her protective mist caught a hold of the falling bullet and made it rotate slowly in place. Smiling smugly at Taylor, she reached for her phone and turned off the music.

    The sudden silence was more of a relief than Taylor would have expected. She tugged out her earplugs.

    "Impressive, but you have to concentrate to make your mist that dense. And then it slows you down, right?"

    Emma collapsed the cloud, dispelling the pink tint and the ozone smell. The suspended bullet dropped and clattered on the floor.

    "I can't run when it's that thick," Emma admitted. "It's like trying to move while underwater."

    "So you have to concentrate to be bulletproof, and when you're bulletproof, you lose mobility. In that case, we'll want look into finding you some body armor. Relying just on your purple could get you killed."

    "But . . . do you think I'm ready?"

    Taylor stepped over to the table and slid out the magazine from the pistol. Carefully, she pulled back the slide and turned the weapon until the round in the chamber fell out of the ejection port and rolled along the tabletop.

    "Almost," she said, though she felt silly saying that, as if she were a qualified judge. "But first I'm going to do some scouting while I'm on my ghost-patrols. Let me find a good place for us to hit. Maybe one of the ABB's 'farms'?"

    "Oh, I'd like that!" Emma said excitedly. "And in the meantime, I can work on my costume."

    Taylor snatched the dropped bullet off the floor and began searching for the spent brass casings behind boxes of old paperbacks. "You're going to lose the metal mask, right? I admit Shadow Stalker's costume has style, but I still don't want you copying her that closely. How about a helmet, instead? That'd be more sensible, anyway."

    "Okay, fine. But you think I should keep the longcoat, right?"

    Taylor picked up a casing and grinned. "Of course. The longcoat's badass."
    ***

    AN: This is the end of Arc 1. Arc 2 will be called 'Candescence.' I'm going to take a brief break from the story to focus on my other writing projects, including 'Weaver and Jinx.' I also plan on starting my first Quest thread on SB.

    Anyway, I'd like to thank Racheakt for is his advice and creative input.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
  22. Lazurman

    Lazurman That Others May Fap

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    A quest by JMH? Would this happen to resemble that thing you were doing so long ago? If so, all my yes!
     
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  23. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    No, afraid not, but it has time travel (as well as world-jumping). Premise: You and your three siblings inherit your crazy grandpa's mansion. Your little sister finds a stone tunnel in the cellar. Shenanigans ensue.
     
  24. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    This confused me for a bit, because as far as I know, a Faraday cage is entirely visually undramatic; it's a metal cage that just sits there. Then I googled it, and half the images that come back are of people standing inside a Faraday cage beating off the arc from a Tesla coil. Which is dramatic, but the visual effects are all from the coil; a Faraday cage is still doing its thing without any lightning around.

    This is, of course, entirely inconsequential to the story, as not only is it a ridiculous nitpick, but it's entirely reasonable that Taylor IC not know this. But. (I guess I was only confused because I first think of a Faraday cage with respect to radio transmissions, not lightning strikes.)
     
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  25. Ragnarok

    Ragnarok Well worn.

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    Surprised Sophia hasn't suggested Master/Stranger protocols. Emma does a complete 180 overnight, and the entire school instantly switches from ignoring Taylor to liking her while Sophia is instantly ostracized? Few things are more worthy of a Master/Stranger alert.

    Eh, but it's popular to throw Sophia under the bus, so I'm not surprised. After all, a bully is irredeemable, but a mass murderer is a-ok. A thug is many times worse than a traitor.
     
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  26. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Yeah, Taylor's mistaking a Tesla coil's effects on a Faraday cage with the cage itself, but then it's unbelievable that 'Tesla' wouldn't have already been taken as a name. If I could go back, I'd probably name the fic, 'Nebula,' since that seems to fit her power better.

    I might fiddle with the lines later.

    I'm sure Sophia thinks something's fishy. But it depends on how close the PRT looks. The official story is:
    • Taylor was thrown into the locker, hospitalized.
    • A few weeks later she attempts suicide, calls her former best friend, Emma. Emma saves her life, feels guilty about the bullying.
    • Her and her friend Madison confess to the bullying that Sophia was involved with. Given the nature of the locker 'prank', that sort of thing implies the use of Sophia's powers.
    • So, there are two witnesses to Sophia's involvement with the bullying. Three if we include Taylor. Also, more if the PRT interviews any random student at Winslow. After all, it was basically public knowledge.
    • Sophia, being Sophia, attacks Emma in front of a bunch of witnesses. Breaks her nose. Allegedly says she's going to make Taylor pay.
    A former friend having a change of heart after a suicide attempt isn't exactly something to enact master/stranger protocols over. And the evidence for the bullying is pretty solid. I mean, what's Sophia going to say? 'Hebert mastered Emma! Why else would she feel guilty? Hebert's weak and deserves to die! No, I didn't break Emma's nose. I just pushed her and she fell into the locker on purpose. All the eye witnesses are lying!'

    If this were happening to Vista or Gallant, I can see the PRT looking at this closely, but with Sophia it just looks like her viscous bullying is coming to light.

    Also, it's not really the 'whole school.' Just Emma's social circle. Most of Winslow knows of the 'locker girl' and probably even know what Taylor looks like, but it's not as if Taylor was literally being bullied by thousands of students.

    For what it's worth, I consider canon-Sophia a better person than canon-Emma. At least Sophia has the drive to be a hero (though this was hampered by her stupid worldview). With Emma, her worldview was entirely self-serving.

    But yeah, 'Sophia exits, stage right' tends to happen a lot in fics. She's not out of this story yet, though.
     
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  27. Ragnarok

    Ragnarok Well worn.

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    That worries me almost as much as hearing that Sophia is gone for good. Hear me out. While it sounds like I'm being impossible to please, it looks like if you do keep Sophia around you're just setting her up to be curbstomped by Emma. Not only does Emma gain the perfect counter to Sophia, she is also taking self-defense classes, and says that any fight between her and Sophia will be like "a bug versus a fly swatter." I realize that you've stated that Taylor's mindrape powers are basically skipping the entire healing process, which is a good in-universe explanation, but to the readers it leaves something lacking. Right now I don't feel much character-based conflict at all. Maybe you could have Taylor, while inside Emma's mind, realize that Emma actually hasn't changed all that much, she's just stopped attacking Taylor specifically. She still instantly turned against Sophia and manipulated her groupies into saying that Sophia was always crazy, and when she heard about "Gothopotamus" supposedly making Taylor cry, her first thought is to consider destroying the girl's entire life.
     
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  28. JMHthe3rd

    JMHthe3rd Not too sore, are you?

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    Curbstomps are boring.

    Emma is better but not necessarily good. Her worldview is essentially just a more evolved tribalism version of Sophia's (i.e. 'humans take care of their own'). Even Taylor recognized a vicious streak in her, but right now she's just happy she's 'saved' Emma. She doesn't know about Sophia's railroading, only the official story.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
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  29. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Spelling nitpick: I think you mean vicious, rather than viscous.
     
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  30. IchibanSamurai

    IchibanSamurai Making the rounds.

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    No, I'm pretty sure JMH meant to say that she flows rapidly from one group to another. Except viscous means the opposite. I think we need an antonym here.
     
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