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Gravitas [Worm Crossover Fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, May 17, 2018.

  1. Threadmarks: Index

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Just when Taylor feels she's getting in over her head with Lung, a strange visitor from another world changes everything ...

    A few notes:
    a) This fic is a crossover of Worm and my own novel-series-in-the-making, Utopian Dreams (the first book of which, Welcome to Utopia, is in stores now). Jericho Hansen is the main character in said novel series.
    b) If it seems as though the fic makes obscure references to past events, this is because those events occur in the novels, which would make them spoilers. Don't worry; these are not necessary to understand what's going on in the fic.
    c) Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken or adapted from Gestation 1.6. This is because Armsmaster probably has a script he works off of.

    1) This story is set mainly in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it. It's also set partially in the world of Utopian Dreams, which is my own original creation.
    2) I will follow Worm canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
    3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion.

    Part One: Arrival (below)
    Part Two: Finding a Place to Be
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2020
    Dacraun, Snake/Eater, preier and 3 others like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Part One: Arrival

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:

    A Utopian Dreams/Worm Crossover
    Part One: Arrival
    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    Just when Taylor feels she's getting in over her head with Lung, a strange visitor from another world changes everything ...
    A few notes:
    a) This fic is a crossover of Worm and my own novel-series-in-the-making, Utopian Dreams (the first book of which, Welcome to Utopia, is in stores now). Jericho Hansen is the main character in said novel series.
    b) If it seems as though the fic makes obscure references to past events, this is because those events occur in the novels, which would make them spoilers. Don't worry; these are not necessary to understand what's going on in the fic.
    c) Some of the dialogue in this chapter is taken or adapted from Gestation 1.6. This is because Armsmaster probably has a script he works off of.
    1) This story is set mainly in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it. It's also set partially in the world of Utopian Dreams, which is my own original creation.
    2) I will follow Worm canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
    3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion.

    Part One: Arrival

    Savannah, Georgia
    Not Earth Bet
    April 7, 2018

    The machine lay innocently in a shallow crater in the middle of the road, surrounded by small mounds of dirt and some broken asphalt. It was maybe five feet long by three feet wide, and had digging or drilling equipment attached to one end; between this, the dirt adhering to it and the crater it was lying in, Jericho Hansen figured it had dug itself up from underground. Much more worrying was the sinister DI logo on the side. Even nineteen years after the presumed death of Doc Iridium (and four years after his actual death), everyone knew that logo.

    From three stories up, he had a good view of the police cordon. The cops were doing it right for once, not assuming that just because the Artificer device was inert that it was harmless or even dead. However, there was a problem anyway; specifically, Pickup was on the scene. At the moment, the battlesuited hero was arguing with the cop in charge of the cordon, probably so he could get a closer look at the device.

    With a sigh, Jericho adjusted his personal gravity and leaned forward to let himself fall off the edge of the roof. Most fliers and a few Enabled with jumping abilities liked to land in a classic knee-and-fist kneeling stance. It looked dramatic as hell but as far as Jericho was concerned, if the landing didn't crack concrete, it was just posing. His idea of a dramatic entrance was a little different; falling at one-tenth of a gee, he had plenty of time to play around. Even without his flight harness (it was recharging back home, at the moment) he was still well able to take care of himself.

    Curling forward into a somersault, he spread his arms. The elastic cloth that stretched from his wrists to his knees caught the air, speeding up the maneuver. Someone noticed him three seconds into the fall, when he was halfway down. Fingers pointed and faces turned toward him. He took that as his cue to angle his shoulders back with his arms still spread, so that he slid at an angle through the air instead of simply falling straight down. A second and a half later, he landed on the pavement, bending his knees slightly to absorb the shock of the impact.

    Pickup came stomping forward past the cops who were gathered around, each footfall shaking the sidewalk. “What're you doin' here, G-Man?” he demanded. “Nobody called you.” This close to him, Jericho could hear the pistons working to move his suit of power armor, along with the rumbling diesel that powered the pistons. Over each of the suit's shoulders, chromed exhaust pipes vented fumes into the air. All in all, it would've been an impressive sight, if not for the Confederate flag painted boldly across the front of the armor. Jericho had never been enamored with the history of that particular flag, but he was willing to ignore how some used it as decoration, so long as their politics didn't follow suit. For Pickup, it wasn't decoration; it was an advertisement.

    While the looming bulk of the artificer's armor might have been intimidating to others—it was twenty feet tall, not counting the exhaust pipes—Jericho had faced off against foes who were legitimately more terrifying, and lived to tell the tale. The disdain with which the asshat was addressing him had only intensified since Jericho's early days as a hero, six years ago. The difference was that now, Jericho didn't care. More to the point, where before the cops may have backed up Pickup, now they were silently ceding the situation to Jericho. Being recognized—however reluctantly—as a nationally-famous hero did that.

    He raised his eyebrows behind the swashbuckler-style cloth mask that covered his face from the cheekbones upward. “I wasn't aware I needed an invitation,” he observed coolly. He actually had been tipped off by one of his contacts in the police switch room, but Pickup didn't need to know that. “I hope you're not gonna mess with that thing before the bomb squad gets here. Because we both know that'd be a bad idea.”

    The only thing worse than a racist asshat, Jericho figured, was a racist asshat who was also a poor loser. They'd clashed twice before, prior to the Utopia mess. The first time was when Jericho defended a black protest meeting against Pickup's attempt to break it up by force. While Jericho had been the one to eventually withdraw, he'd only done so after thoroughly disabling Pickup's vehicle. The second occasion hadn't gone so much Jericho's way, but Pickup still hadn't said two words to him since then. Any hope that the artificer had decided to forgive and forget went by the wayside with Pickup's next words.

    “You don't fuckin' tell me what to do.” The clunky power armor stepped forward, crowding Jericho's personal space. From here, he could smell the diesel fumes and hear the engine turning over. “I'm a cog, just like Iridium. He put it together, I can take it apart. 'Cause that's what heroes do.”

    The sheer blatant wrongness of the statement blindsided Jericho for a second. “What? No, seriously. You are not an artificer just like Doc Iridium. I met the man, and he was a genius. A raving psycho, sure, but a genius all the same. He was a high-end artificer, too. You're nowhere near—hey! Get away from that!”

    The problem with talking to asshats was that they were just as likely to walk away as to argue. Case in point: just as Jericho was hitting his stride speech-wise, Pickup simply turned and walked through the police tape surrounding Doc Iridium's fuck-you device. At least, that was what Jericho presumed it to be. Before he died for real, Doc Iridium had been all about the fuck-you devices; he'd even tried to wreck the world with one when he was cornered. Of course, he'd died shortly afterward anyway, but that was hardly due to a lack of planning on his part. And the people of Manhattan, Kansas could bear mute witness to the fact that he cared not at all about killing tens of thousands to advance his plans. Jericho couldn't recall offhand the population of Savannah, but he didn't want history to repeat itself.

    Diving forward through the now-snapped police tape, he caught up with Pickup before the guy got halfway to the device. He didn't want to use his powers against a fellow hero, but it didn't look like the asshat was going to listen to reason. Pickup lifted his left foot, bringing it forward. Jericho took his chance and began to throw glue-tags at that foot as fast as he could create them. The tennis-ball sized balls of compacted gravity, visible only by the rainbow effect of distorted light, whipped from his hands and dissolved into their target; left, right, left, right, left, right. Pickup, with his limited range of view, never even saw him doing this. “What the hell do you think you're doing?” Jericho demanded. “I just got done explaining why you're not qualified to deal with this thing!”

    “You don't know shit,” was Pickup's intelligent reminder as he put his left foot down again; Jericho added two more glue-tags to it, just because he could. This had worked last time. With one foot stuck, Pickup would be a lot easier to trip over on to his back. Then, maybe, Jericho could keep him down until the cops could talk sense into him. Stepping forward with his right foot, Pickup went to lift his left foot. To Jericho's relief, it didn't move. “What the shit? You little fuck!”

    “It's for your own good,” Jericho explained tiredly. He was just glad that the majority of Pickup's power went into just moving the repurposed pickup truck that he used as a powersuit. “If it's a bomb and you set it off, a lot of people are gonna die. You might've rebuilt your truck into power armor, but that doesn't mean you'll even have the faintest idea of what Doc Iridium's tech can do.” He switched to push-tags, targeting the back of Pickup's armor. These looked identical to the glue-tags, but instead of forming a gravitational attachment to whatever the armor was touching, each of these added a certain amount of force in the direction of Jericho's choice; in this case, directly away from the apocalypse-themed artificer's device.

    “F … uck … y … ou,” grunted Pickup, trying to lean forward and pull his foot free of the gravitational quagmire Jericho had tangled it in, while hampered in this effort by the hundred or so pounds of kinetic energy doing its best to push the armor backward. Within the armor, Jericho could hear the engine beginning to rev, and the volume of smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe got thicker.

    “Don't!” shouted Jericho, worried that Pickup might blow a radiator valve or something. There was a lot that could go wrong with a pickup truck, and none of it was good if it was next to the pilot. The last time they'd fought, Jericho's G-tags had held until he managed to put the powersuit on the ground. If he could repeat the trick, it might be possible to end this without someone getting hurt. However, a tiny worry niggled at his mind. If Pickup had figured out a way to defeat the G-tags, this could go badly. He prepared to throw a couple more glue-tags at Pickup's knees; if he could freeze the suit's joints, the fight would more or less be over.

    Before he could put this plan into action, there was a crunching, rending sound as a chunk of asphalt tore away from the road, adhering to the bottom of Pickup's left foot. Oh, right. That's the difference from the last fight. We were on concrete.

    He didn't have any more time for subtlety. Reducing his personal gravity to ten percent again, he leaped up with the aim of landing on Pickup's back. With a flick of each wrist, a pair of glue-tags got there first, allowing him to cling effortlessly to the smooth metal. It was hot, but not painfully so. In any case, he didn't intend to be there long. He hadn't wanted to do this again, but he was rapidly running out of options.

    “Oh, no, you fucking did not!” bellowed Pickup as Jericho exerted the one power he really had to be careful with; between one second and the next, Pickup's armor began to experience all the effects of being in a ten-gee field.

    Jericho, by contrast only affected by one-tenth of normal gravity, kicked off hard and soared backward in a spectacular double somersault before coming neatly down on his feet. He skidded to a halt and ran forward again, just as Pickup began to topple forward. The instant he judged the power armor had hit the point of no return, he cancelled the multi-gravity field. This wouldn't save Pickup from an embarrassing pratfall, but it would save him from impacting the inside of his suit at car-accident speeds. And from having to rebuild the thing from the ground up, like the first time they'd clashed.

    The impact sounded like a ton of scrap metal had been haphazardly dropped on the asphalt. Before Pickup could start to get up, Jericho was on top of him. A moment later, he re-established the multi-gravity state on the armor. It wouldn't be as reliable a method of pinning the asshat down as if the suit was on its back, but he suspected Pickup wouldn't cooperate if Jericho asked him to roll over. Instead, he had another way of making sure Pickup didn't get up. It wouldn't be fun for the guy in the power armor, but it would be safe.

    “Let me up, you fuckin' cocksucker!” bellowed Pickup, his engine changing gears and revving full out. Both arms came up, the large metal hands pressing against the asphalt and sinking into it slightly. Jericho heard pistons creaking and groaning to lift the suit against ten times its rated weight.

    “I swear,” he muttered. Glancing around, he ensured that nobody else was within twenty feet of him, then mentally took hold of the gravity field in that radius … and shook it. Pebbles and twigs in the immediate area juddered and danced on the road, and the engine stuttered then spat black smoke into the air. Below Jericho, Pickup stopped trying to get up. Jericho wasn't surprised, given that his power had just tap-danced all over the asshat's inner ears. This particular ability wasn't exactly dangerous, but it could be amazingly effective. “You gonna be good now?”

    Hello, Jericho.”

    Jericho's head whipped around as a familiar voice emanated from the device. Above it, a head-and-shoulders hologram had formed. The features of the man who'd been perhaps the world's premier artificer smiled faux-benignly back at him. He stared at the image, cursing himself for being all sorts of overconfident fool. Of course the thing was keyed to go off when it detected his power being used.

    If you're seeing this, then I'm dead and you had something to do with it,” Doc Iridium went on. “Therefore, I wish to say 'bravo' for pulling it off. But I'm still going to punish you, because what sort of a world would it be if people didn't get punished for their misdeeds?”

    Still Jericho didn't speak, his mind whirling over the possibilities. Tampering with the device was a sure-fire way of triggering whatever Iridium had planned for him. But if he reversed the heavy-field on Pickup, they could possibly get out of range of whatever the machine had been programmed to do.

    No begging for mercy?” Iridium sounded pleased. “At least you have character, unlike some of the weak-gutted fools out there. But even character's not going to save you now.”

    “So stop goddamn talking and do it,” gritted Jericho, without even realizing that he'd done it. “Kill me already.”

    Oh, I'm not going to kill you.” Jericho felt he should've been at least a little startled that it was responding to his words, but then, this was Doc Iridium's work. He hoped Pickup was taking this in. It might be the last lesson the redneck asshat ever learned, but it was better than nothing. “I'm going to do worse than that. I'm going to send you away, so that you spend the rest of your days worrying about what my other booby-traps are doing to the world in your absence.”

    Well, that was a kicker. Of course, the more Iridium talked, the more of a chance Jericho had of getting out of this situation. Without even thinking about it, he reversed the weight treatment on Pickup; rolling off the massive powersuit, he slapped the metal shoulder loudly. “Go!” he shouted. Fortunately, Pickup had actually been paying attention for once, and the diesel engine roared as the armor came off the ground like a rocket. At the same time, Jericho launched himself in a separate direction, using every bit of traction he could garner to get away from ground zero.

    A wave of energy overtook him from behind, searing straight through him. In the next instant, day had turned to night and the asphalt under his feet was the gravel of a rooftop. But before he could begin to assimilate the changes, a wave of flame swept at him from nowhere.


    Brockton Bay

    April 10, 2011

    Taylor huddled on the rooftop as Lung stalked toward her, limping slightly and with a hand covering one eye. He couldn't see her, but that didn't make much difference when he could hear her moving from across the street. Another wave of fire swept over the rooftop and she clutched her hands over her head in an attempt to protect her hair from the flames. Her costume seemed to be holding up so far, but she really didn't think that state of affairs was going to continue much longer.

    "Whoaa!” The voice was accompanied by the sound of someone skidding on gravel. Lung never hesitated; the swathe of flame swept sideways, toward where the noise had come from. Taylor drew a welcome breath of air that wasn't super-heated, even as she watched a black-clad guy—who hadn't been there five seconds ago—leap up and do an impossible backflip over the blast of flame Lung was sending his way. It seemed to her that he hung in the air altogether too long, before touching down on the other side of the blast.

    The instant he landed, Lung fired again, targeting the flame toward the almost imperceptible crunch of gravel. This time, the guy ducked low while throwing—something?—at Lung as he did so. Taylor wasn't sure what it was, except that it was ball-shaped and it did weird things to the light as it passed by. Some sort of Blaster power, she guessed. It hit Lung's hand, which jerked upward, sending the stream of flame into the air; the guy dived through the gap thus presented and rolled to his feet. Lung pulled his arm back down, but the guy threw some more of the rainbow balls. This time, Taylor saw the movement clearly. There was obviously a throwing motion, but the weird ball-shaped attack moved in a straight line that ignored mere aspects like gravity and air resistance. They struck, and this time both of Lung's arms were pulled upward.

    “Motherfucker!” Lung's bellow was pure rage. “I'll kill you!” He wrenched his arms downward with pure brute force, but he seemed to be having trouble keeping them there.

    “I'm guessing you're a bad guy then,” the newcomer said, sounding almost clinical about it, though Taylor heard a distinct Southern accent to his voice. “And you're a ranged brick with a damage aura.” He sighed. “Well, sucks to be both of us.” Before Taylor could even wonder what he meant, he darted forward and jumped over Lung; on the way, he clapped his hands—hard—over the metal-scaled parahuman's ears, eliciting a shout of pain from Lung. Once again, he seemed to almost hang in the air between jumping and landing; he touched down next to the roof edge, on the far side of Lung to Taylor. “Hey!” he shouted. “Over here, asshat!”

    That got Lung's attention; Lung whirled toward his tormentor. “Big mistake,” promised the leader of the ABB. Stretching out his arms toward the black-clad cape, he sent another billow of flame washing over the rooftop. “You're fucking dead!”

    Taylor couldn't see what had happened to the newcomer. For a moment, she thought Lung might have gotten him, until he popped his head and shoulders up over the edge of the roof during a lull in the bursts of flame. “Gonna have to do better than that,” he called out in a sing-song, taunting tone. Taylor wasn't at all sure how he was holding on, especially given that his arms and hands were in plain view.

    Lung, on the other hand, wasn't thinking at all now. Cursing vilely, he started toward where the black-clad cape was, clawed hands outstretched to rend and tear. Once again, there was a strange flickering in the air as the newcomer stood his ground, hitting Lung repeatedly with his Blaster ability to no apparent effect. Taylor's breath caught in her throat as Lung closed with him.

    And then, two things happened in quick succession. The first was that Lung tried to slow down, apparently realizing that he was getting close to the edge of the roof. The second was that the guy in black dropped back below the edge of the roof and vanished from sight. There came a bellow of dismay from Lung as his feet skidded on the rooftop. Even with both heels dug in and spraying gravel everywhere, he wasn't appreciably slowing down. He hit the edge of the roof and took a header off of it, disappearing with a roar of baffled rage. The sound of him hitting the street below jolted her out of the state of frozen shock, and she climbed to her feet.

    “You okay?” It was the newcomer's voice; she stared as she watched him flip back over the edge of the roof, like a film shown in reverse. Landing on his feet, he dusted his hands off. “Please tell me that he really was a bad guy and you two weren't just sparring for fun.”

    “I-I'm okay, I think,” she stammered. She didn't seem to be on fire, so that was a bonus. Though she had to wonder; which rock had he been living under, that he didn't know Lung? “Um, yeah, Lung's a bad guy. But he's not that easy to put down. He's a regenerator.” Nervously, she began to edge toward the fire escape. “We should get out of here.”

    “Oh, really?” Now he sounded intrigued. “It's been a while since I fought one of those. But he can take a hit, yeah?”

    She stared at him, finally beginning to take in his appearance. His costume was at odds with his attitude; it seemed mainly to have been assembled from common materials, except for the professionally-applied logo on the front of his jacket, an hexagonal-shaped angular G in white, with a chevron above and below it.

    Apart from the logo, black was the dominant color; black cloth mask covering his head from the cheekbones upward, black jacket and gloves, black jeans and black zip-up boots. His hair (dark brown) had been pulled through a hole at the rear of the mask to hang down in a ponytail. Around his waist, fastened over the jacket, was one of his few pieces of real cape gear; a classic utility belt.

    His eyes were brown, she noted. He was taller than her by at least six inches, but gave the impression of whipcord muscle rather than bulky power. His face was clean-shaven and he looked to be in his late twenties, with a mouth—one of the few visible parts of him—that seemed more ready to smile than frown. “Uh, yeah,” she said belatedly. “He can take a hit.”

    “Good,” he said obscurely, then turned toward the edge of the roof. “Ah, he's going for it.” As he spoke, Lung rose into view. He'd grown a foot or more, and apparently gotten powerful enough to leap on to the roof in a single bound. Except that he seemed to have misjudged the jump, given that he was fifteen feet away from the edge of the roof, and moving farther away. Bemused, Taylor watched him fall back out of sight with a roar of anger.

    “How did you do that?” she asked as Lung crashed into the street below for a second time. “Was it those weird ball-things?”

    “Got it in one,” he said, stepping over to the edge of the roof. “I call them G-tags. Push-tags, to be exact. He's got enough of them affecting him to make it an absolute pain to jump this high. Any chance he's gonna give up and go home?”

    Push-tags. Right. Because they push things. “Not a hope in hell,” she decided. “He fought Leviathan and didn't back down.” Something made her add, “You do know about that, right?”

    He flicked her a glance. “Not offhand but from context, that makes him a badass. Right. Big guns it is.”

    Wait. Is he saying he doesn't know about Lung fighting Leviathan, or that he doesn't know about Leviathan? How can someone not know about that? Taylor was still struggling with the implications of that when Lung bellowed triumphantly from below. A second or so later, a loud crunch heralded the villain's arrival at the edge of the roof, his hands hooked over the brickwork.

    The black-clad cape didn't hesitate. Leaping forward, he drew up his legs and delivered a powerful double kick to Lung's face. The impact drove him backward again; with a perfectly executed backflip, he landed on his feet beside Taylor once more. Taylor's heart plummeted toward her feet as she realized that the otherwise impressive-looking kick had done absolutely nothing at all to Lung.

    And then the ABB cape's eyes opened wide and he disappeared once more amid the sound of shattering brickwork. Where he'd been holding on, two great chunks of masonry had been torn bodily from the wall. From below came a thunderous crash, louder than both of the previous two impacts put together. Then … silence.

    The black-clad cape stood on one foot to examine the sole of the other. “Blech. I hate the smell of burnt rubber.” Putting his foot down, he nodded toward the edge of the roof. “Let's see how tall, metallic and fiery went.”

    Not at all sure that she shouldn't be taking advantage of the respite to make a run for the fire escape, Taylor followed him anyway. Leaning over, she looked down to see … Lung. Lying in a crater that had to be a foot deep and ten feet wide. Even now, she could see him shrinking in size, the metal retracting back into his skin. “Holy crap,” she murmured. “How did you even do that?”

    With a self-deprecatory grin, he tapped the logo on his chest. “I'm guessing you don't know who I am either?”

    She looked at the logo, then shook her head doubtfully. “The way you handled Lung, I'm pretty sure I should've.”

    “Well, that settles it. I'm definitely not in Savannah any more.” As obscure as the statement was, he didn't seem to be pleased by it. “They call me G-Man. I manipulate gravity. Lung—am I saying it right? Dragon-guy down there found out what it's like to fall twenty feet under ten gees of acceleration.”

    Taylor blinked. While she hadn't taken the elective Physics class, she'd read enough science fiction to understand the basics of what G-Man seemed to be talking about. Twenty feet at ten gees would've made Lung hit the ground like he fell two hundred feet. She wasn't surprised he was out like a light. In fact, I'll be astonished if the impact didn't break most of the bones in his body.

    A distant sound caught her attention; a motorcycle engine, rapidly coming closer. There weren't many people in Brockton Bay who would drive toward an ongoing cape fight, and fewer still who would do that and also owned motorbikes. She tilted her head toward the noise. “I think we've got company. Hopefully, it's the heroes.”

    G-Man nodded. “Got it. I'm going down to meet them. Want to come with, or stay up here? Your choice.” He held out his hand, as courteously as if he were asking her to dance.

    Once again, part of her strongly considered staying on the roof. She was only just starting to replenish her diminished swarm, after all. But if a fight started, she suspected G-Man could hold his own long enough for her to make a run for it. Whatever else he was, he wasn't a novice with his powers. Reaching out, she took his hand.

    “Now, I could be an asshat and give you a heart attack by dragging you off the roof just to show off,” he went on. “But that would be unkind to you. So I'm letting you know that gravity's got one-tenth of its normal effect on you. Like this.” Letting go her hand, he dived off the roof, spreading his arms to reveal some sort of elastic cloth stitched between his arms and sides. Curling forward, he pulled off a ridiculously unrealistic somersault as he fell slowly toward the pavement below.

    Taylor stared, then bounced experimentally on her toes. To her astonishment, she found herself actually lifting a few inches into the air before floating down again. “Well, crap,” she said out loud. “Okay, then.” Before she could talk herself out of it, she hopped forward, easily clearing the parapet.

    Falling at one-tenth of a gravity was weird. She didn't have G-Man's cloth inserts in her costume, but she found that simply spreading her arms let her guide her fall to a certain extent. Downward she drifted in slow motion, gradually gaining speed but not fast enough to concern her. It had to be more than three seconds before she hit the cracked concrete. G-Man was crouching by Lung with a hand on the ABB leader's neck; as she touched down, he looked around at her and gave an approving nod. In the next instant, she felt her full weight return.

    “Well, he's alive anyway,” he said with satisfaction, standing up. “But he won't be getting up until they can bring in whatever containment measures they use for people like him.” Closer to, it appeared Lung had been literally driven into the concrete by the fall; around and under him, the durable surface had been reduced to powder in some places.

    “So can you do that to anyone?” she asked. “I mean, make them fall over at ten times normal gravity?” It was a little rude of her, she knew, but the question had been niggling at her since she saw him make Lung fall.

    “Yeah, but I've got to touch them,” he said cheerfully. “The G-tags are ranged, but that trick's touch only.” He grinned, suddenly looking like a teenager. “Fortunately, the ones I most need to use it on are the type who want to get into hand to hand anyway.”

    She considered that. It did seem to be a very effective anti-Brute measure. And the inverse, making himself ultra-light, had also shown its combat utility. “So I guess you never have to worry about falling?”

    “Not as such, no.” He seemed about to say something else, but at that moment the motorbike engine rose to a roar as the vehicle itself swept around the corner. “Okay, now I'm impressed.”

    Taylor was a lot more than just 'impressed'. There was no mistaking the motorcycle or its rider; Armsmaster was an icon not only in Brockton Bay, but for quite some distance outside it. Meeting Lung on her first outing had nearly scuttled her career before it began, but the prospect of meeting Armsmaster went a long way toward making up for that.

    Armsmaster stopped the bike a prudent distance away from them, then stepped off it with no wasted motions. Reaching behind his back, he produced his Halberd, arguably the most famous Tinker-created weapon on the east coast; with a series of clicks, it unfolded to its full length. Moving forward with the weapon in a guard stance, he seemed to be eyeing them up and down.

    “You gonna fight me?” he asked, stopping about four yards away. To his credit, he didn't seem overly concerned about fighting two capes at once, even capes with unknown powers.

    “Depends,” G-Man said bluntly. “Hero or villain?”

    His words totally derailed Taylor's intended defensive statement to the effect that they were good guys. Armsmaster seemed to be taken aback by the question as well. “I'm a hero,” he snapped. “I'm Armsmaster. Surely you've heard of me.”

    Beside her, G-Man shrugged slightly. “Can't be too careful,” he said almost casually. “We're heroes, both of us. That's the villain down there.” With his right hand, he pointed at where Lung was still lying in the impact crater.

    Taking another step closer, Armsmaster tilted his head slightly. “You don't look like heroes.”

    His words stung, but G-Man laughed out loud. “Seriously? What does a hero even look like? Villains don't have a monopoly on dark colors.”

    Armsmaster's lips thinned at that. Taylor guessed his pronouncements didn't get challenged very often. It wasn't as if she'd been about to contradict him. Even though Purity wore white and Alexandria wore black.

    “I wasn't talking about the color scheme,” the armored hero said tightly. “I was talking about her appearance. The bug theme. It's … menacing. People won't like it.”

    Taylor wasn't looking at G-Man, but from the sound of his voice, he was rolling his eyes. “By which you mean you don't like it. It's not the costume or the look that's heroic. It's what you do with it. Anyway, animal themes are classic. Pop culture's full of them. Judgmental much?”

    While Taylor didn't want to contradict her rescuer, she supposed Armsmaster had a point. The only animal-themed capes she knew of were Lung and Hookwolf and Stormtiger … well, there was Dragon, in Canada, and of course Narwhal too. Maybe G-Man's got a point as well.

    Armsmaster frowned at that, but seemed to think it wasn't worth pursuing. “Well, you're telling the truth about being heroes, anyway,” he conceded. Taylor wondered how he knew that with such certainty, but didn't want to draw attention to herself by asking. “You've both been fighting Lung. Either of you need a hospital?”

    G-Man shrugged. “I'm good. A few burns, but it's only minor stuff. I'll be fine by morning. But I think I might need to get my boots re-soled.” He turned to Taylor. “How about you? Your hair's a bit scorched there. Did he get you anywhere?”

    It threw Taylor a little to hear him describing burns as 'minor stuff', but that wasn't the strangest thing she'd heard him say, so she focused on the question. “Uh, no. I don't think so.”

    “Good,” Armsmaster said. “You're both new faces. What are you calling yourselves?”

    “I'm G-Man,” said the newcomer boldly. “That's capital G, with a hyphen. And before you ask, I've got no connection with the FBI. The only thing I've got in common with them is that we both take down bad guys.”

    “So noted,” Armsmaster replied, just a little dryly. Then he turned to Taylor. “And you?”

    Ah. This wasn't where she wanted to be. “I, uh, I never actually got around to choosing a name. You know how hard it is to find a bug-themed name that doesn’t make me sound like a supervillain or a complete dork?”

    Armsmaster chuckled warmly. “I wouldn’t know. I got into the game early enough that I didn’t have to worry about missing out on all of the good names.”

    “It took me about a week to settle on mine,” G-Man offered. “Some people laughed, at first. The ones who paid attention, anyway. And then I got better at kicking ass, and they stopped laughing.” He gave Taylor a serious look. “I'm willing to bet we can brainstorm you a name that's worthy of that costume. Because the costume is seriously very impressive. What's it made of, anyway?”

    “Black widow dragline silk,” Taylor explained, gratified that someone had finally asked. “It's the second-toughest spider silk in the world.” Part of her wanted to keep talking and tell them how she'd looked up books on weaving to figure out how to make her spiders construct her costume, but she made herself shut up.

    “We're always looking for new capes to join the Protectorate and the Wards,” Armsmaster said unexpectedly. “Whatever the toughest spider silk in the world comes from, we could get it for you.” He gestured at the signs of fire damage, and the still-unconscious Lung in the crater. “And as you can see, it's dangerous out here if you don't have backup.” He looked from G-Man to Taylor. “At first I thought you two were a team, but you aren't, are you?”

    G-Man shook his head. “No. When I arrived on the scene, I saw she was in trouble, so I stepped in.” He shrugged. “The guy's tough, but tough is usually easier to beat than smart.”

    “True, but you only have to be unlucky once.” Armsmaster turned to Taylor. “You're obviously motivated and smart. You'd go far in the Wards.”

    The Wards were cool in theory, but Taylor had no desire to throw herself into yet another mess of teen drama with possibly-spotty adult oversight. Before she could figure out how to politely turn him down, G-Man did it for her. “I learned something a long time ago,” he said casually. “If someone wants you to join them, it's a good idea to figure out what they get out of the deal before committing yourself. Superhero teams are definitely included in that.” He gave Armsmaster a polite smile. “Sorry, but I think I'll be taking the lay of the land before I consider any offers.”

    “I, uh, yeah, I think I'll be doing that too,” Taylor said hastily. “Consider my options and all that.”

    Armsmaster managed to hide his reaction well; only the corner of his mouth twitched downward for a moment. “Suit yourselves,” he said. “I'll just be taking Lung, then.” He turned to look at the prone cape. “I'm actually surprised he's still down, to be honest. What did you hit him with?”

    “The pavement,” G-Man said, his words truthful if a little misleading. “Repeatedly.”

    Lung chose that moment to groan and try to move his arm. In what had to be a practiced move, Armsmaster twirled the Halberd, then jabbed him in the bicep with the tip of the weapon. There was a hiss as (Taylor suspected) something was injected. Armsmaster watched him for a moment, then nodded. “That should hold him,” he decided, before turning his attention back to G-Man. “So you're a Brute, then?”

    “Cousin Serena called me that one time when we were just kids,” G-Man said with a grin. “Don't think anyone's done it since.”

    Oh, shit. He doesn't know what Armsmaster means. Taylor was starting to get an idea that wherever G-Man was from, it wasn't anyplace she knew about. He was a superhero, with powers, but knew nothing about Lung or Leviathan, and he hadn't recognized Armsmaster. “He's not a Brute,” she said hastily. “He's got Striker and Blaster powers. I'm a Master, with control over any bug you'd care to name.” She knew she was giving away more information than she was comfortable with telling Armsmaster, but if it helped turn official attention away from the guy who'd saved her life, it was worth it.

    It worked; Armsmaster looked at her sharply. “Just bugs? Nothing more than that?”

    Taylor shrugged. “Just bugs. And earthworms too, for some reason. It's how I thought I could stop Lung, right up until he lit himself on fire.”

    “Hmm.” Armsmaster looked at G-Man again, then back to Taylor. “So, moving forward. Who gets the credit for Lung?”

    Taylor was caught off guard by the question. G-Man started to speak, but Armsmaster held up his hand. “Hear me out. What you’ve done tonight is spectacular. You played a part in getting a major villain into custody. You just need to consider the consequences.”

    “Consequences,” Taylor muttered, even as the word spectacular rang in her ears. Armsmaster thinks I was spectacular.

    Armsmaster's tone was almost professorial now. “Lung has an extensive gang throughout Brockton Bay and neighboring cities. More than that, he has two superpowered flunkies. Oni Lee and Bakuda.” The inference was obvious. Taking credit is more trouble than it's worth.

    Taylor caught G-Man's gaze narrowing slightly, and wondered what he was thinking. In the meantime, she had her own observation to make. “I know about Oni Lee, but I've never heard of Bakuda.”

    “Not surprising,” agreed Armsmaster. “She’s new. What we know about her is limited. She made her first appearance and demonstration of her powers by way of a drawn out terrorism campaign against Cornell University. Lung apparently recruited her and brought her to Brockton Bay after her plans were foiled by the New York Protectorate. This is… something of a concern.”

    “I'm more concerned by the fact that a whole team couldn't catch her,” G-Man interjected. “What's her power rating?”

    “Her classification is Tinker,” the armoured hero said. “You're aware of what that means?”

    G-Man almost certainly wasn't, so Taylor jumped in again. “That, uh, that covers anyone with powers that give them an advanced grasp of science, right? It lets them make technology years ahead of its time. Ray guns, ice blasters, mechanized suits of armor, advanced computers, stuff like that.”

    Beside her, G-Man muttered something that sounded like 'artifice', but Armsmaster was speaking again.

    “Close enough,” he said. Taylor belatedly realized that unless he got his armor and Halberd from someone else, he himself was probably a Tinker as well. “Most Tinkers have a specialty or a special trick. Something they’re particularly good at or something that they can do, which other Tinkers can’t. Bakuda’s specialty is bombs.”

    That … was definitely a real concern. A woman with the ability to make technologically advanced bombs? Taylor couldn't even begin to figure out what such a device might do. Ordinary bombs were plenty bad enough.

    “Now I want you to consider the danger involved in taking the credit for Lung’s capture,” Armsmaster went on smoothly. “Without a doubt, Oni Lee and Bakuda will be looking to accomplish two goals. Freeing their boss and getting vengeance on the one responsible. I suspect you’re now aware … these are scary people. Scarier in some ways than their boss.”

    Taylor was starting to feel distinctly worried by now. Armsmaster was making some extremely valid points, and she was beginning to feel rather unsure as to which way she should jump on the matter. Then G-Man cleared his throat, a grin creasing his face. “You almost had me,” he said. “Not bad. I give it a six out of ten. But then you had to go and overdo it.”

    Brought to a metaphorical screeching halt, Armsmaster's helmet whipped around toward G-Man. “Excuse me?” he demanded. “What are you even talking about?”

    “You twitched just as you were talking about the 'extensive gang',” G-Man clarified. “He's got fewer than a hundred guys working for him, doesn't he? Maybe one or two out of towners, but not a huge gang. Nothing that would make either one of us break a sweat.”

    Taylor's eyebrows rose inside her mask. She hadn't even noticed whatever 'twitch' G-Man had spotted. Armsmaster was lying to us? The idea was … breathtaking. And deeply worrying.

    “He's still got Bakuda and Oni Lee,” Armsmaster argued. “They're dangerous and they don't mind hurting people.” Taylor noted that he hadn't debated G-Man's point. “Unless you've got serious backing, your best option is to fly under the radar and not take the credit for this one. It's for your own good.”

    G-Man shook his head. “You're trying too hard. You want either me and her working for your team, or the credit for this. Or both, probably. Am I warm?” Armsmaster's lips compressed slightly, and G-Man nodded his head. “Gotcha. So, this is how it's gonna go. She and I will share the credit. We'll contact you with whatever name she's gonna be using for the press release, and we go from there. Also, I'll be needing whatever you've got on Bakuda and Oni Lee.”

    Armsmaster's head came up at that. “What do you want that for? I'm not about to release classified Protectorate files on some random cape's say-so.”

    A flash of annoyance crossed G-Man's face but when he spoke, his voice was calm and controlled. “So I can bring them in, of course. If they're such a danger to the public, they need to be in custody. Also, making life safer for me and her at the same time.” He glanced at Taylor. “You in? Your choice.”

    Taylor blinked. “Uh … can I think about it?” While teaming up with G-Man seemed a little better than being drafted into the Wards, there was a lot about him she didn't know, up to and including where he was really from.

    “Certainly.” He gave her a grin. “I doubt I'll get those files immediately, anyway.”

    “I doubt you'll get them at all.” Armsmaster's voice held annoyance. “We've had people like you in town before. Come to Brockton Bay and immediately decide that you can rid us of all our villains. Take a hint before you end up decorating a slab.”

    “So just because it's hard, you'd rather not try. Got it.” G-Man seemed about to say more, then he visibly stopped himself. “Sorry, I was out of line. I am new in town, and I haven't had time to see how you do things. But I've been around the block once or twice, and I've seen the results of letting things slide. It's never pretty.” He gave Armsmaster a tight smile. “We will be taking credit for Lung's capture, though.”

    “Suit yourself.” Despite the apology, Armsmaster didn't seem to be mollified. “I'll need a name for you though,” he added, looking at Taylor. “The press release goes out in the morning.”

    “Uh,” she said, floundering. “Um.” All the names that she'd considered and rejected whirled in her head.

    “How about Mandible, for the mask?” suggested G-Man. He turned to Armsmaster. “How permanent are these names?”

    “As permanent as the public decides they are,” the Tinker replied bluntly. “If they seize on to a name, that's usually it. The only way to change after that is to rebrand with a new costume and announce yourself as a totally new cape on the scene. And even then, if you slip and reveal the connection, they just might hit you with the old name anyway.”

    Taylor wasn't very attached to 'Mandible', but she didn't hate it either. It was honestly better than Vermin, Maggot, Chrysalis or some of the more villainous-sounding names she'd tried out. Actually, Chrysalis didn't sound too bad when spoken out loud, but it did give the impression that she was about to break open at any moment and release a horde of insects. Eugh, no thanks. “I can go with Mandible for the moment,” she allowed, then stopped as another name occurred to her. “Actually, is Stinger taken?”

    Armsmaster tilted his head slightly. “One moment.” He paused for a few seconds, then shook his head. “It's taken. A missile Tinker on the west coast.”

    G-Man let out what sounded like a chuckle, but overrode it with a cough. Armsmaster looked at him suspiciously. G-Man shook his head, apparently trying not to smile. “Nothing. So, it's settled? Mandible and G-Man get the credit for bringing in Lung. Oh, and what happens to him from here? Jail time? I'm thinking supermax. From the way he fights, he's killed people before.”

    “He has.” Armsmaster's tone suggested that G-Man and Taylor would've been better off letting the professionals—that is, him—deal with the matter. “He's had his three strikes. This time it'll be the Birdcage.”

    Taylor caught the sideways glance G-Man flicked at her, and she nodded very slightly. As horrific as going to the Birdcage sounded—and it sounded pretty bad—she couldn't think of a better place for Lung.

    “Sure, sounds legitimate to me,” the black-clad cape said cheerfully. “You need a hand with him, or are you good?”

    “I'll be fine,” grunted Armsmaster as he folded his Halberd and stored it on his back. Stepping up next to Lung, he leaned down and hoisted the unconscious cape limply over one shoulder. Taylor could hear the servos in his armor whining, but that was only because she had some bugs sitting on the joints. Step by step, he moved toward his motorcycle.

    “Wait a moment.” G-Man pointed at Lung's naked butt, which was now pointing at the sky right next to Armsmaster's face. Taylor was averting her eyes, because Lung's groin was right there as well; she already knew far too much about it from covering it with her bugs during the fight. “There's some reddening here. A rash of some sort. Does your knockout dose cause allergic reactions?”

    “It's been tested to be ninety-nine point nine percent hypo-allergenic,” Armsmaster replied bluntly. “Whatever that is, it's not from the tranquillizer.” He kept moving.

    Taylor raised her hand tentatively. “Uh, that might be from the bugs I bit him with.”

    “Really?” G-Man turned to look at her; after a moment, Armsmaster followed suit. “What did you hit him with, and how many?” He sounded interested and amused, rather than accusing.

    She took a deep breath anyway, to steady herself and make sure her voice didn't shake. Dealing with two veteran heroes—she knew Armsmaster was a longtime hero in good standing, and G-Man certainly gave that impression as well—was nerve-wracking as all hell. Even if G-Man seemed determined to treat her as an equal. “Uh, black widows, wasps, bees, hornets, brown recluses, fire ants and some others. As many as I could get on him, to be honest.”

    G-Man chuckled. “'All the bullets we had,'” he quoted. “Got it.” He tilted his head toward Lung. “And you attacked his junk because just hearing about it will make every male villain in the vicinity reflexively cross his legs, or did you have another reason?”

    “Um, most of him was covered in scales by that point,” she ventured. “He hadn't set himself on fire yet, but I couldn't reach his skin in most places. So I had them sting and bite him there.”

    “And there's a lot of blood vessels close to the surface there,” mused G-Man. Taylor saw his eyebrows raise under his mask as he looked at Lung once more. “Well, the man's tough, I'll give him that. I don't know anyone who could keep fighting after getting stung on the junk by that many bugs.” He pursed his lips slightly. “Might want to see about getting a blood tox screening once you get him to the hospital,” he said to Armsmaster. “Brown recluses can lead to people losing limbs. Just to be on the safe side, you know?”

    “He's a regenerator,” Armsmaster said, sounding irritated. “He'll be fine.”

    “A regenerator who's been hit with enough bug venom to wipe out your average gridiron team, been dropped off a building multiple times and shot up with enough happy-juice to give an entire psych ward the giggles,” G-Man pointed out. “If I was you, I'd get him checked out. Just in case, you know.”

    “I'll take all due care with him.” Armsmaster reached his cycle and Taylor watched as a cage unfolded from what would normally have been the back seat. Lung was unceremoniously dumped into it, and the bars locked into place. He climbed on to the bike, then looked back over his shoulder. “Keep your noses clean. I'll be keeping an eye on you.”

    The motorcycle started with a subdued roar, then moved off with far too much acceleration for something of that size. G-Man watched it go, and let out a heartfelt sigh. “Be still, my beating heart.”

    Inside her mask, Taylor rolled her eyes. Boys and their toys. “That went … well, I guess?”

    G-Man snorted and shook his head slightly. “As well as could be expected. The guy's a glory hound of the highest order. He's an artificer trying to fill the role of a dynamic, and he's upset because a couple of actual dynamics stole his thunder.”

    “A what trying to fill the role of a what?” Taylor stared at him, a little confused.

    “Artificers build things. You call them Tinkers, right?” G-Man waited till she nodded. “And dynamics are those of us who have actual superhuman powers. You control bugs, I control gravity. Yeah?”

    “Uh, yeah, but why do you use two different names?” Taylor decided to bite the bullet and ask the sixty-four million dollar question. “Where are you from, anyway? Earth Aleph?”

    “Where I'm from, we just call it 'Earth',” he clarified. “No extra names. I was sent here because … well, let's just say, someone had a grudge.”

    She waited, but he didn't seem willing to expand on the topic. “Uh, so,” she ventured. “We call dynamics 'capes' here, or 'parahumans'. And Tinkers are just another type of cape.”

    “Weird,” he muttered. “We use the term 'cape' too, but it's a kind of derogatory term, like 'cog' for artificer, or 'cowl' for prodigy. Or ethnic slurs.”

    Taylor wondered what a 'prodigy' was where he came from, but decided not to get into that. “So, uh, do you have any idea how you're going to get back home?”

    “Only the vaguest outline of a plan at the moment,” he admitted. “You've got artificers, or whatever you call them here, so there's a chance someone will be able to build what I need. I just need to find the right person and figure out what they need to convince them to build it. And in the meantime, I'm gonna need to find someplace to stay, and a job to keep a roof over my head and food inside me. Which is where I'm totally blanking. My ID won't do crap for me, and the only way I can think of earning money right now is to find the criminal element and mug them.” He gave her a hopeful look. “You wouldn't happen to know where I could find cheap accommodation and legal work where they won't look too closely at my ID, would you?”

    Taylor blinked. “Um … I could show you the nearest YMCA, if you want. And …” She paused, thinking. He'd said 'legal', which left out ninety percent of the Empire and Merchant based work in the city. “Well, if you turned up at the Dockworkers' Association and asked for casual work, they might or might not have a place for you.”

    He pulled a notebook from one of his belt pouches and scribbled in it with the stub of a pencil. “Got it. In the meantime, does this money look okay to you?” Stowing the notebook and pencil away, he opened another pouch and pulled out some folded banknotes.

    She looked them over carefully. Apart from the ones and twos, they looked fine. “We use coins for these, but the rest are okay,” she said. Carrying money's a great idea. I wish I'd thought of it.

    “Excellent.” He stashed the currency away again. “So, if you wanted to team up, how would we get in touch with each other? I'm not going to ask your home address, and I'm not going to have a fixed address for a while, and I'm pretty sure my mobile is out of service right now.”

    That was a tough one. She liked G-Man; he was competent, and treated her like an adult. And he hadn't stared at her chest or butt even once. But how to get in contact with him? “We could send messages on PHO,” she suggested. At his blank look, she elaborated. “ParaHumans Online. Message boards. I'll make an account as Mandible, you make one as G-Man and we can send PMs to each other.”

    “Oh, good idea,” he agreed. “Now, why did we never do that?” A moment later, his expression of enlightenment was replaced with a frown. “Of course, it might be a little while before I can get regular access to a computer.”

    “Ugh.” Taylor frowned. “Okay, how about this. Once you get hold of a city map, locate the northern ferry terminal. It's out of use, so nobody goes there. We'll leave messages on the roof.” With his powers, she was sure, he could easily jump on to the roof of the terminal.

    He had the notebook out again. “That's something I can definitely do,” he agreed. “So, about that YMCA?”

    She grinned. “Sure. Can we use your low-gravity thing? That was awesome.”

    “Certainly.” Reaching out, he tapped her on the shoulder. “Tag.” Then he was gone, leaping upward in a backward somersault that ended on top of the roof behind them. Laughing, she gathered herself and jumped, soaring upward in a way that almost made her think she could fly.

    The night, she decided, had turned out far better than she'd expected.



    As the two leaped away over the rooftops, Brian turned to Lisa. “So, what the hell just happened?”

    She shook her head. “I've never heard of or seen that guy before. He's got gravity powers, and he knows how to use them to their full effect. Plus, it looks like they're teaming up. No way in hell we're gonna recruit her now.”

    “Good.” That was Rachel. “We don't need new members.”

    Lisa frowned. “No, not good. The boss said to recruit her if we could. With her powers, she could've given us a real boost. Now we've got this guy to deal with, and he's a flat-out heroic type.”

    “Who bounced Lung off the street like a rubber ball,” Alec reminded them. “No way I'm messing with someone like that. Unless you've figured out his secret weakness or something.”

    “Oh, I've got something,” Lisa said, her fox-like grin returning in full force. “He's gay. And I'm pretty sure Brian's his type.” She batted her eyelids at Brian. “So, how do you feel about taking one for the team?”

    “Screw you,” Brian retorted.

    “Oh, I'm not the one who's interested in you,” Lisa riposted. Alec laughed out loud.

    Still bickering, the Undersiders rode away into the night.

    End of Part One
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2020
  3. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

    Feb 20, 2013
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    Well, looks good so far. Interesting take on the Armsmaster scene - I've seen plenty of fics where Taylor (or someone else) calls him on his 'for your own good' argument being self-serving, but I think this is the first where he was outright deceiving his audience.
    january1may, SamueLewis and Ack like this.
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Well, I seem to recall a WoG where the ABB was noted as having 60 or so members. This clashes with Armsmaster's contention of them being a huge gang. G-Man has trained himself in picking up body language (Prodigy is basically the super-power of being Batman) so he was able to call him on it.

    (Personally, I suspect WB didn't recall the original quote by Armsmaster when he later decided the ABB wasn't all that big).
    january1may and Prince Charon like this.
  5. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

    Feb 20, 2013
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    Another option is that, well, we know exactly how little threat 60-odd gangbangers with guns are to Skitter, but that doesn't mean Armsmaster did.
    january1may, Ack and Prince Charon like this.
  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Either way, he was deliberately trying to steer her away from taking credit.
    Prince Charon likes this.
  7. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

    Feb 20, 2013
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    Well, yes. That's the point of making a persuasive argument. The relevant questions are: did he genuinely believe she would be better off not taking credit? And did he misrepresent facts in order to convince her?
    Cailin, Ack and ShadowStepper1300 like this.
  8. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    He believed that he'd be better off taking credit, and that superseded any need of hers to take credit.

    Also, he might even have convinced himself that it was in her best interests, whether this was true or not.

    And finally, the final numbers for the Merchants do not fit his description here. So I'm thinking he exaggerated for effect.

    Did he lie? He may not have even thought so, himself. This is the man who convinced himself it was worth it to sacrifice a number of villains (plus one or two heroes) in order to get the glory of taking down Leviathan. (Note that he specifically tried to set it up so Taylor would die, because she'd embarrassed him and made it harder for him to hold on to the leadership position. Which shows where his priorities are at the moment).
  9. Threadmarks: Part Two: Finding a Place to Be

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Part Two: Finding a Place to Be

    [A/N 1: This fanfic, as has previously been noted, is a crossover from the universe of Utopian Dreams. The first novel of that series, Welcome to Utopia, has since been published and can be found here or here.

    [A/N 2: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    [A/N 3: Several racial slurs will be employed from the point of view of an Empire Eighty-Eight character within this chapter. The author does not share these views.]

    [A/N 4: After a discussion with Wildbow over previously unrevealed aspects of the canon Worm character Trainwreck, the character who was originally introduced as Locomotive in the previous chapter has since been rewritten (here and in the novel) as Pickup. His role in the story has not changed.]

    [A/N 5: I’m also serialising the novel (one chapter per week) here.]

    Danny Hebert looked up from his morning paper as his secretary leaned in through the office doorway. “Excuse me, Mr. Hebert,” she said. “A Mr. Hansen to see you.”

    “Send him in,” Danny said. It wasn’t as though the news was going to change in the next ten minutes, and he’d already read all the details about Lung’s capture. He folded the paper and stood up from behind the desk as the young man entered the office.

    Nearly as tall as Danny himself and almost as skinny, Hansen had shoulder-length brown hair tied back in a ponytail. He was wearing all black; shirt, jeans and zip-up leather boots. Clean-shaven, there was a certain intensity to his gaze that belied his apparent youth; as far as Danny could tell, he seemed to be in his mid to late twenties. Over his shoulder was slung a black nylon satchel.

    “Thank you for seeing me, sir,” he said, with a hint of a drawl that put his origins at somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.

    “Don’t thank me yet,” Danny said. “And the name’s Danny, or Mr. Hebert if we’re being formal. You are?” He held out his hand across the desk.

    Hansen shook it, his grip stronger than Danny would’ve expected. “Jericho. Jericho Hansen. Someone told me that I might be able to find work that’s both casual and legal at the Dockworkers’ Association, so I came here to see for myself.”

    Danny made a mental note of the fact that Hansen had made a point of specifying legal work. Also, that the unnamed informant had told Hansen that the Association was a potential source of such work. “Well, take a seat,” he said. “I can’t guarantee you any work, but I will say that I’m pleased you came to me instead of taking up with one of the gangs.” He sat down again and moved the paperwork on his desk to one side, replacing it with a pad.

    “I once knew some folk who were forced to steal just to live, because of circumstances,” Hansen replied as he sat down. The satchel went on the floor beside him. “They got out of it, but it wasn’t a good time for them. I don’t want to go there if I can possibly help it.”

    “Commendable,” Danny noted. “I’ll admit to being a little curious about you specifying that you’re looking for casual work rather than part-time or even full-time employment. Is there any particular reason for that?”

    Hansen’s arms, which had to that point been lying in his lap, twitched and then settled again. Danny wondered if he’d been about to fold them. Then he wondered what the younger man had to be defensive about.

    “Here’s where everything goes south on me,” Hansen said; his voice was still steady, but Danny noted a certain tension in his shoulders. “I’m a mite stranded at the moment. No ID that’ll help any, no access to my bank accounts, nobody I can contact. I’m fixing to stretch the money in my pocket out to a week or more if I can handle it, but after that, my options don’t look good nohow.” He waved a hand to gesture around at the Dockworkers Association building. “This here, looking for casual work, looks about my best option. Unless you can point out some other legal work where the lack of viable ID isn’t an instant deal-breaker.”

    Danny suppressed the urge to raise his eyebrows. On the face of it, the younger man’s problems seemed a little far-fetched. Even lacking proper ID, an American citizen (which Jericho Hansen certainly sounded like) should face few problems in re-establishing their identity. Entire government departments existed for the sole purpose of ensuring that nobody slipped through the cracks. They weren’t infallible (few bureaucracies were) but it took effort to end up so far off the grid that it was impossible to get back on.

    As a manager of men and women, Danny was reasonably good at reading body language and posture. He could spot bullshit a mile away, and could usually pick what flavor it was going to be before the bullshitter had finished spinning the line. In this case, it was easy to tell that while Hansen wasn’t giving him all the facts, what he was saying had the ring of truth about it.

    He made the conscious decision not to pry, unless it got into legal matters. Turning to a fresh page on the pad, he picked up a pen and clicked it. “Is that Hansen with an e or an o?”

    “E,” Jericho replied equably. It was probably a question he got asked a lot.

    “Right.” Jericho Hansen, he wrote. “Hmm. Are you in a union of any kind?”

    “No,” said Jericho immediately. “But I’d be willing to join, once I could afford the membership fee.”

    Right. Lacking in funds. “I’m sure we can work something out,” Danny decided. “Do you have any heavy-machinery tickets?”

    Jericho shook his head. “I could learn,” he offered. “I’m a quick study.”

    That remained to be seen. In Danny’s experience, most people who boasted of being fast learners really weren’t. “Mm-hmm,” he said, making another note. “How about menial labor? Digging ditches, or night watchman?”

    “Sure,” Jericho said readily enough. “I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, and I’m a night owl by preference anyway.”

    Well, at least he wasn’t turning up his nose at the idea of handling a shovel, or standing around being bored for long hours of the night. Danny had done that himself once or twice when his father was a big name in the Dockworkers Association hierarchy; supposedly to help him ‘build character’. What it had built was a firm determination to never do that again.

    He made a few more notes, then looked up at Jericho again. “Okay, this last one’s not for everybody. We sometimes hire guys out to do security on big events. I’ve vetted my guys for this, and I know who’s just a brawler and who can actually handle themselves in a fight. More to the point, I need guys who can take someone down without doing permanent damage. Proper security training is a definite plus. Do you have any experience with that sort of thing?”

    Far from the ‘no, but I can learn’ that he expected, Hansen nodded firmly. “I don’t have formal security training, but I have been doing informal security work for about six years now. Everyone I’ve helped out has been pleased with my work.”

    Danny blinked. “Alright, then. Come with me, please.” He stood up from behind the desk, recalling where he’d last seen Kurt. Back of the office. Right. “You understand, I can’t just take you at your word for that.”

    “Well, no,” said Jericho. “Of course not. You gotta do what you gotta do.”

    Danny made a mental note that the guy was amazingly agreeable for someone who was about one week away from begging on the streets. He’d known people who were just ‘going through a rough patch’ (whatever their personal definition for that was) who’d been stressed out, screaming at people and punching walls. If this guy was any more chill, his breath would’ve been puffing water vapor in the air.

    They got to the back area of the office, where Kurt was in the process of pulling down a forklift to see why it was running rough. He looked up as Danny came out the door, with Jericho following behind. “Hey, Danny,” he said, then focused on Jericho. “Oh, hey. New hire?”

    “Looking into it, yeah.” Danny gestured to Kurt. “Jericho, meet Kurt. Kurt, this is Jericho. I need you to evaluate him for security duties.”

    “Security, huh?” Kurt looked Jericho up and down. Most people tended to lean back out of the way when the big guy did that; about Danny’s height, Kurt was more than a little broader in the shoulders.

    Jericho stood firm and returned the appraising look. “I’ve done it before,” he said mildly. “No formal training, but I’ve done martial arts and I’m pretty good at the compliance holds.”

    “All right then.” Kurt took up a rag and wiped the majority of the oil from his hands. Discarding it on to the seat of the forklift, he stepped away to a clear area. “Show me what you’ve got. Escort me to that door you just came out of.”

    One corner of Jericho’s mouth quirked upward at that, though Danny had no idea why. He wasn’t laughing at Kurt; in fact, the remainder of his expression was dead serious. He stepped up to Kurt, but stopped just outside of arms’ reach. “Excuse me, sir,” he said firmly. “You’re going to have to leave the premises.”

    Kurt grinned and dropped easily into the role of belligerent drunk. “Make me, wimp.” He raised his arms slightly, flexing his hands. Danny could tell he was deliberately making it difficult.

    Jericho sighed, flicked the fingers on his left hand slightly, drawing both Danny’s and Kurt’s attention, then moved. Almost in the blink of an eye, he went from casually relaxed to explosive speed, darting in at Kurt’s left side and taking hold of his arm in a controlled blur of action. Tucked in behind Kurt’s shoulder, he lifted and turned, locking Kurt’s wrist in under his armpit.

    Danny blinked as he watched one of the toughest guys he knew being frog-marched across the yard to the door by a guy about half his heft. Kurt wasn’t playing along either; even in his heavy work boots, he was right up on his toes and there was a strained look on his face that told Danny he wasn’t enjoying the experience.

    They stopped just short of the door and Jericho released Kurt, then stepped away. The deferential expression was back, as if he’d never held any other. “How’s your arm?” he asked, slightly apologetically. “You looked like you were getting ready for me, so I had to rush it a mite.”

    “Son of a bitch.” Kurt shook out his arm vigorously. “I thought I was ready for you. What the hell was that?”

    “Uh, Krav Maga,” Jericho explained almost apologetically. “You’ve done boxing and wrestling, by your stance. I couldn’t let you get set, otherwise that would’ve been a sight harder.”

    Kurt blinked and turned on Danny. “You brought a goddamned ringer in to try me out.” He shook his head, still working his arm around. “Yeah, we can test him on the other security stuff later, but he knows his moves.” He snorted, flexing his fingers. “And he knows my moves too, apparently.”

    “Okay, then.” Danny caught Jericho’s eye and gestured toward the door. “We’ll leave you to make up suitable excuses for Lacey.” He ignored the less-than-polite reply as he led the way back inside. Once they were back in his office, he closed the door and leaned against the desk. “Okay,” he said. “Spill.”

    Jericho had been relaxed all the way outside—except when he’d demonstrated his skill on Kurt—and back in again, but now the tension came back into his shoulders. “Uh … spill what?” The flicker his eyes made—door, then window—showed that he knew exactly what Danny wanted him to ‘spill’ about.

    A grim smile on his face, Danny shook his head. The decision not to pry had just gone out the window. “You know what I mean. What the hell was that outside? You could’ve just told us you had training in Krav Maga, instead of soft-soaping it as ‘martial arts’. And you can tell what training other people have had, just from watching them? Were you in the special forces or something? Or are you on the run from some organization? Is that why you can’t use any ID, and why you’re holding back details like that?”

    Instead of immediately answering, Jericho stooped and picked up his satchel. With it firmly in hand, he turned to Danny. “I told you the truth, earlier. I’m not on the run from anyone.” He seemed to be about to say more, then took a deep breath instead. “If you don’t think I’m a good fit, just say so. I’ll get out of your hair.”

    “Sit your ass down.” Danny pointed at the chair. “This interview’s not over ’til I say it’s over. The reason I was asking all that is because Brockton Bay’s already got all the trouble it can handle, plus a bit more.” He moved around behind the desk and took his own seat. “Now, if I hired you on and gave you work, what are the odds that some shapeshifting cyber-ninja cape assassin will come busting in through the wall looking for you?”

    He caught the same tiny quirk of a smile from Jericho, shortly before the enigmatic younger man replied. “The chance of someone like that coming to kill me would be effectively zero.” His tone was authoritative; he implicitly believed what he was saying.

    “Hmm.” Danny picked up the pen and swung it between his fingers, thinking. There was no doubt that the guy was skilled. It was just that there were gaps in what he was saying, things he was careful to elide around without ever actually lying. Normally, Danny would’ve given him the flick for not being up-front about everything, but once more, he hadn’t actually lied. And then there was the guy’s financial situation to consider.

    “I’ve got a question,” he said in the end. “You said you weren’t about to go to the gangs because you want legal work, yeah?”

    Jericho nodded; his expression wary. “That’s correct, yes. Why?”

    This was something Danny had never done before, but there was always a first time. “There’s no work going with the Association right this second, but I’ll put you on the books. Do you have a cellphone?”

    “Not a working one, but I can check in on a daily basis.”

    Danny nodded. “Good. In the meantime … would you object to working for known criminals, so long as the actual work you did was one hundred percent legal and legitimate?”

    It was Jericho’s turn to blink in confusion. “I … it would depend. On the exact circumstances, I mean.”

    “Good answer.” Danny put both hands flat on his desk. “You see, there’s a nightclub called Palanquin, which just happens to be run by a group called Faultline’s Crew. Every source I have tells me that the club itself is entirely legitimate and honest. No illegal drugs happen there, nobody gets hurt, and everybody has a good time. The owner, Faultline, runs a bunch of cape mercenaries who only take jobs out of state. They’re always in the market for good nightclub security, and somehow I suspect your lack of real ID won’t be a problem for them.”

    “Oh. Right.” Jericho frowned. “They’re known to commit crimes out of state? And the cops don’t come after them here?”

    Danny spread his hands. “Welcome to Brockton Bay. They don’t cause trouble here, and they bring in a lot of revenue to the city, so the cops and the PRT manage not to notice the goddamn nightclub run by supervillains.” The sarcasm he brought to bear on the latter half of the sentence should by rights have scorched the wallpaper.

    “I see.” Jericho closed his eyes and rubbed fingers and thumb across his forehead. Danny wasn’t certain what was passing through his mind right then, but the grimace spoke volumes. The guy didn’t want to work for supervillains, but he was being backed into a corner. Out loud, he said, “Well, I guess I’ll go and talk to them. Thanks, Mr. Hebert. I appreciate it.”

    “You’re welcome.” Danny stood up and offered his hand again. “Be safe. And whatever the rest of your story is, I’d love to hear it sometime.”

    Jericho chuckled as he shook Danny’s hand. “Must be something in the water around these parts. Mama’s from up New York way, and she says that very same thing.”

    With a snort, Danny shook his head. “No, it’s just part of being a parent. You pick up pretty quickly when someone’s not telling you everything.”

    Something plucked at his memory. Taylor had been getting more and more evasive of late, even worse than before the locker incident. He hadn’t been paying much attention then, but he was now. Should I say something to her, or let her choose to come to me? A teenager’s investment in personal privacy could be frightening in its intensity, usually because the teenage years were the first time when such things actually became important. What if she thinks I’m prying? What if I push her away? It was a dilemma, one that he didn’t have the time right then to apply his full mental faculties to unravelling.

    Oblivious to Danny’s internal monologue, Jericho shifted the satchel strap on to his shoulder. “Well, thanks anyway.” He left the office with a jaunty step.

    Settling back into his chair, Danny made a few more notes, then put the pad aside. That had been a welcome diversion, but the pile of paperwork wasn’t going to get any smaller; no matter how much he ignored it. Before he got too distracted, he made a mental note to speak to Taylor that night, personal space or no personal space.



    Some days, Justin decided, it just wasn’t worth the effort of getting out of bed.

    The day had started pretty well. He’d gotten up early, and figured it was a good opportunity to take his Stingray convertible out for a spin, tunes blasting out of the speakers. Besides, what was the good in owning a true American sports car if you couldn’t show it off to the admiring public? Bright red—of course—the ’Vette wore custom Confederate-flag license plates like a badge of pride. He’d had the big V8 engine tuned and upgraded until people turned their heads when they heard the rumble of his exhaust, coming down the road, overlaid by the backbeat of whatever he was listening to at the moment.

    And then he heard a real rumble. With a sound like distant thunder, an oversized pickup truck painted in red, white and blue slid up alongside him at the traffic lights. Twin chromed exhaust pipes stood up behind the cab, letting out a haze of diesel exhaust; a lightbar with enough spotlights and floodlights on it to illuminate a medium-sized football stadium graced the top of the cab itself. Even at an idle, the thing had a power to it that made his windows rattle. Justin wasn’t much more than a shade-tree mechanic at the best of times, but he could just about tell that the truck had once been a Dodge before someone had seriously gone to town on it.

    There was just enough tint on the windows that he couldn’t easily see inside, but when he stretched upward a bit he could just barely make out the edge of a massive Confederate flag that looked like it stretched right across the hood. Waving to attract the driver’s attention, he gave the guy’s silhouette a grin and a thumb’s up. Props to the guy for driving a real American muscle vehicle, with a real American paint job to match.

    The light turned green and he floored it as the truck’s engine roared next to him; the Dodge had plenty of get up and go, but its power to weight ratio just couldn’t measure up to the Stingray. He laughed out loud as he speared across the intersection and wove through traffic, changing gears with speed and precision. The next song up was an oldie but a goodie.

    “Born down in a dead man's town/The first kick I took was when I hit the ground …”

    He sang along with the Boss as he searched for a place to pull in and grab his breakfast coffee and roll. A likely looking place caught his eye and he indicated then swung across two lanes of traffic to hit the driveway just so, ignoring the honks of outraged drivers. What were they worried about, anyway? Nobody got hit, nobody got hurt. He slowed down as he went through the gutter so the ’Vette wouldn’t crunch its suspension too hard going in, then he pulled into the first available parking space. The music died as he killed the engine and pulled the ignition key; popping his seatbelt, he opened the door and stepped out of the car, still riding the high from driving such a perfect piece of American engineering.

    The diner was nicely set up. Looking around, he decided that he’d have to come back here sometime. Not least because the waitstaff were all cute young things, probably college students earning an honest wage between classes. Justin being Justin, he flirted with the girl behind the counter and got a laugh out of her. As she handed him his change, he noted that she’d written a phone number on the receipt. Being a gentleman, he didn’t immediately fist-pump to let the whole shop know, but he gave her an extra-special smile that made her blush. Score.

    Sliding the change into his pocket, he took up the coffee and pastries and left the shop. When he walked out through the sliding doors, what got his immediate attention was the pickup from the traffic lights, parked on the side of the road just a little ways down. It was big enough that it would probably have trouble maneuvering through the parking lot without bumping into something, so the driver had probably parked there so he could walk in and drink his coffee in peace. From this angle, he could see a lot more of the paint job across the hood, and he turned his head to admire it. Someone had definitely gone all-out; it was the best depiction of the Stars and Bars that he’d ever seen. For a moment, he considered going over and asking the driver where he’d gotten it done, but he dismissed the thought; any really good paint shop could probably do something just as good.

    Then he turned his attention back to his own car, which was where things started going shitty. Because parked on either side of the Stingray, looking like mangy stray dogs next to a purebred greyhound, were a couple of beat-up sedans. Normally, that would’ve been no real hassle. Despite his distaste for allowing anyone to park next to his pride and joy, due to the chance of scraping the paintwork, it wasn’t actually illegal to do so. What made it a hassle were the guys leaning against the cars. They wore red and green colors, which made them ABB. And just like the red and green dragon decals on the sedans that proclaimed their allegiance, they’d apparently spotted the Confederate-flag license plates which made his own political leanings clear.

    Oh, shit. This had the potential to get very bad, very quickly. He couldn’t see any weapons in their hands, but that only meant that no weapons were visible. His ghosts, if he manifested them here and now, would be unarmed, but they could still toss these guys around like rag dolls. Unfortunately, this would out him hard, and Max would yell at him. Maybe even kick him off the team.

    In most any other circumstance, he wouldn’t have even considered the diplomatic angle, but right now it was seven against one. He couldn’t think of any other way of getting him and his pride and joy out of this situation without using his powers, and that was a big no-no. If I see these little slant-eyed pricks later, I am gonna kick their asses so hard.

    Taking a deep breath, he plastered a smile across his face. “Hey, guys,” he said in as friendly a tone as he could manage. “How’s it going?”

    They stared back at him with hard, flat eyes. He was pretty sure they hadn’t made him as Crusader, but that didn’t make them any less hostile. Two of them traded a comment in some chink language, then one spoke in accented American. “It’s going alright. This your car?”

    Fuck. Do whatever I gotta do to get out of here in one piece. “Uh, no, actually. Loaner from a friend of mine. So I gotta be careful not to scratch it or he’ll take it out of my hide. You know how it goes, right?”

    Another comment passed between them, and he gritted his teeth—speak American, goddamn it—but managed to keep his expression somewhere between neutral and friendly. “Yeah, we know how it goes.” The guy moved aside about two inches. “You want to be careful who your friends are, around here. People might get the wrong idea.” With a head-tilt toward Justin’s beloved Stingray, the guy managed to convey the point that they were fully aware that ‘whoever’ the owner of the car was, that person was at least sympathetic toward the Empire Eighty-Eight. And that they were about seventy-five percent sure that he was lying through his teeth. So why aren’t they kicking my ass?

    That was when he noticed that two of the guys were looking at his hair. He liked his hair and took care of it … but that wasn’t the point. They weren’t admiring his coiffure; they were taking note of the fact that he wasn’t clean-shaven up there or wearing obvious Empire colors or ink. This was because he didn’t need to bother doing that sort of shit to prove his devotion to the cause. Costuming up and putting the hurt on illegals who should never have come to America to take the jobs of hard-working white folks was all he needed to do, and he was quite happy to do that all day.

    Doing his best to fix their faces in his mind, despite the fact that they all looked the same to him, he slid past the one guy and got into the car. The coffee went into the center console and he put the key in the ignition. Turning it, he started the car, already mentally rehearsing the reversal out of the parking spot and the drive out onto the road. If these assholes decided to follow him someplace so they could boost the car where it was more private, he’d show ’em exactly how a Stingray performed in traffic. And if they caught up where it was really private … he’d show them why it was a terminally bad idea to piss off Crusader.

    The key turned and the engine roared to life; as did the stereo. The last song he’d been playing blared out in all its glory.

    “—off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man—”

    He jabbed at the stereo and shut the song off, but it was far too late. The look in their eyes went from contempt to anger in about half a heartbeat. They were reaching for weapons. There was absolutely no way he’d be able to peel on out of the parking lot before they shot him—and his car—full of holes. He was a good driver, but that sort of flying escape required a level of skill he’d never bothered learning. Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit—

    stomp Stomp STOMP

    “What the hell do y’all think you’re doin’?”

    He froze, hand on the stick shift, ready to try and make a getaway anyway. But the booming, crackling voice had come from behind and above him. All the Asian assholes froze in the act of pulling weapons out, and turned to look. Inching his eyes up to the rearview mirror, he saw a pair of mechanical … legs?

    At that moment, he couldn’t not look around. So he did: at the twenty fucking foot tall robot that was menacing the Asian gang members. Three details caught his eye; the Confederate flag emblazoned across the chest region of the robot, the twin chromed exhaust pipes jutting up behind the shoulders … and the lightbar covering both shoulders. I’ve seen all that before. Glancing down at the roadside parking, he noted a distinct lack of a certain pickup truck with a unique paint-job.

    Leaning forward, the robot reached out with one massively oversized hand toward the nearest ABB member. That was the last straw. They broke and ran from the parking lot, abandoning their cars and pelting off down the sidewalk. Not one of them even seemed to consider the concept of shooting at the robot, which he chalked up to the one brain cell they probably shared between all of them.

    Watching them go, Justin sagged back in his seat and let out a heartfelt sigh. He was still going to kick their asses if he ever saw them again, but maybe he’d let some of them live. That had been way too close.

    “You okay there, buddy?”

    He twisted his head around. The robot was still standing there. If he had to make a guess, it was looking at him.

    “Uh, yeah. Thanks. That was great.” He paused. He knew that Kaiser had been grumbling for days about even the ABB getting a Tinker while the Empire—the largest cape team in the city, bar none—still didn’t have one. He wasn’t authorized to try recruiting new capes, but this was a golden opportunity. “Uh, hey, I haven’t seen you around before. New in town? Nice paint job. I like the flag.”

    “Uh, yeah, thanks. I like your car, too. Goes like a bat out of hell. Listen, you think you could help me out with something, buddy?”

    Justin preened at the ‘bat out of hell’ comment, then nodded. “Sure thing. Whatever. You just saved my ass, guaranteed. Those ABB fucks would’a screwed me up nine ways from Sunday.”

    “Yeah … um … mind telling me what was going on with that? An’ where I am? Because I am seriously, seriously lost here. I got no fuckin’ idea about what’s goin’ on with any of this shit.”

    Oh, holy shit. This is amazing. Justin could almost feel his eyes light up with the glee that washed through him. “Come on. Follow me. Let’s go someplace we can talk, and I’ll fill you in on everything you need to know.”

    As he backed out of the parking spot, he was already rehearsing in his mind what he was going to say.

    Max is gonna love me forever.



    It was the first time Jericho had ever been interviewed by a woman wearing a welder’s mask, but compared to his initial interview with Force Majeure back in the day, it was positively normal. Faultline didn’t even come across as a supervillain; more like a slightly harassed CEO.

    “So you don’t have any ID, or even access to your bank accounts.” Her tone was matter-of-fact. “That’s okay. We can get around that. Of course, if you could give me your real name and incidentals such as date of birth, I know people who could dive into the bureaucracy and gin you up the appropriate documents anyway, if you wanted …?” With a tilt of the head, she left the suggestion hanging.

    “It wouldn’t be worth the effort.” Even a half-lie like that went against his nature, but he didn’t want to chance telling her the full and unvarnished truth and seeing where that went. “I’ll be happy with however you want to pay me. Strictly nightclub security work, correct? Nothing on the other side of things?”

    Her chuckle was briefly amused. “Hm. No. We don’t employ non-capes for our outside work. This position will be strictly involved in keeping our patrons safe and making sure nothing untoward happens on the premises.”

    “I can definitely do that.” He felt safe in making that statement.

    “Good.” She made a note on a piece of paper. “You’ll be paid in cash, and will sign a receipt for same, until you can arrange a bank account for yourself. Your tryout shift starts at six-thirty PM, the day after tomorrow. Wednesday the thirteenth. Be here at five-thirty.” She stood up, indicating that the interview was over.

    “Yes, ma’am. And thank you for the opportunity.” He stood as well, offering his hand to shake.

    She did so, revealing once more that her grip was stronger than that of some men he knew. “You’ve got the job, Mr. Hansen. It’s up to you to keep it. Send Gregor in, please.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” he said again. As he left the office, he encountered the two guys who had escorted him up to the office. He wasn’t the type to hold someone’s appearance against them, but if they were in any way typical of the Enabled he was going to find in Brockton Bay, it was surely going to be an interesting time. Nodding to the larger one with the shell-like growths on his translucent skin, he gestured back into the office. “Gregor? She said she wanted to talk to you.”

    “Thank you.” Gregor headed into the office, while Newter turned to Jericho.

    “Looks like it’s me and you, partner,” said the blue-haired guy with the orange skin and long whippy tail. Crouching on the wall, he gestured toward the door out of the waiting room. “So, you got someplace to be, or would you like to take the grand tour now?”

    Jericho shrugged. It wasn’t as though he had any pressing appointments to attend. “We can do the grand tour, if you want.”

    “Cool beans.” Newter skittered over to the door and poured himself around the doorframe in a way that Jericho knew he’d be hard put to emulate on his very best day. It honestly seemed as though the orange-skinned guy was faster and more agile when clinging to the wall or ceiling than standing on the floor. Between that, and the fact that his skin oozed hallucinogenic compounds (they’d warned Jericho of this when he went to shake hands), he would be an absolute nightmare to fight. Jericho sincerely hoped it would never come to that. “Okay, this way. I’ll show you the top floor, then work down.”

    “Sounds good to me.” Jericho lengthened his stride to keep up, and followed on.



    Pete Smith was very, very confused.

    He’d done well as Savannah’s only superhero after G-Man joined Force Majeure and all that shit went down, but that was mostly because he knew his hometown like the back of his hand, and everyone there knew him. Pickup was the hero everyone looked up to, the one the cops went to first and the one the bad guys bolted from.

    It had pissed him off to find that G-Man was back in town like he’d never left. Well, except that now the black-clad Enabled was a name to be reckoned with, and he was nearly certain that some of the cops were Gordoning him with information on crimes they needed help solving. Which was why, when he’d heard about the thing that had dug itself up from underground, he’d gone straight out there. He was a cog, what the big brains called an artificer, and G-Man wasn’t. If anyone could deal with something left behind by Doc Iridium, it was him. And once he’d dealt with the device, they’d realize how short-sighted they’d been in giving G-Man all the attention.

    Of course, shit had gone sideways. He still wasn’t sure whether this was G-Man’s fault, or whether the thing had been programmed to activated by someone getting too close. His memory of what it had said wasn’t too clear, mainly due to the fact that he’d been doing his best not to puke inside the cockpit of his robot after G-Man hit him with that goddamn bullshit shake effect. But he’d been ready to go when G-Man gave him the opening, and he thought for a moment he’d made a clean getaway.

    Until he looked around at the buildings, and at the city skyline, and realized that not only was it night-time, but he had no fucking idea where he’d ended up. Where he’d thought he came from was out of a solid brick wall. Worse, his GPS was on the fritz and his phone wasn’t returning any kind of signal. Which was total bullshit, because this was a city, and cellphone reception was right up there in the Bill of Rights next to the right to bear arms. Or if it wasn’t, it should be.

    Seeing how he didn’t know which city he was in, and not wanting to step on any toes, he’d gotten on the police-band radio and tried to contact the local cops to let them know he was in their city. They’d yelled at him for improper use of police channels and told him to cease and desist immediately. Which was weird as fuck, because the Savannah cops had never had a problem with it.

    But hey, if they wanted to get a stick up their ass about it, see if he’d fuckin’ help them keep the crime down in their special snowflake of a city ’til he got his bearings and figured out which way to go to get to Savannah. He already had an idea it would be south of where he was, given that it was chillier than he was used to, so that was a start. Boston, maybe. The cop who yelled at him had kinda sounded like he had a Boston accent. He’d never been to Boston before, and he wasn’t about to hang about if this was the reception he got from these assholes.

    Still, to keep a low profile, he’d shifted his ride down into the truck form and gone cruising, nice and slow, to see if he could get his bearings. He found the waterfront pretty quickly, though he wasn’t at all certain that Boston had any kind of offshore construction with a forcefield over it. Maybe he was in Chicago, and Team Power had decided to move Power Plaza into Lake Michigan? Wherever he was, he figured it was gonna be one helluva long haul before he saw Savannah again. It made sense to conserve his energy and fuel, so he pulled into a quiet side-road, set the truck’s defenses to alert him if anyone tried to break in, and reclined the seat to catch some sleep. Maybe he’d figure out something by the time he woke up.

    He actually got some sleep in, but not as much as he would’ve liked. When the sun was well and truly up, he got the truck moving again, looking around for a police station, or some other official-type place he could stop and ask for directions from. A gas station would do just as well, he figured.

    Wherever this place was, it had a serious rush hour. Coming out of a side-street, he’d found himself enmeshed in morning traffic, forcing him to split his attention. His total lack of familiarity with the city didn’t help him in the slightest, and he had the sinking feeling he was just getting himself more and more lost.

    Then he saw the Corvette Stingray. A twenty-ten model, he judged, with a flawless paint job and Confederate-flag license plates. He grinned to see that; whoever the driver was, he decided, the guy was a man after his own heart. Pulling up alongside the convertible, he looked it over. It was definitely well cared for, with a deep polish to the paintwork that gleamed in the morning sun.

    Then the guy turned to look at him, or maybe just at his truck. Lifting himself up in the car seat slightly, the Corvette’s driver waved and gave him a thumb’s up. Shit, Pete thought. Does this guy know me? He’s acting like a fan. It wouldn’t have been the first time a good ol’ boy had shown up who just wanted to get a selfie with the famous Pickup. With those license plates, it seemed downright likely. Which was perfect; the guy couldn’t have turned up at a better time.

    When the light changed, Pete blinked to see the Corvette take off like a scalded cat. Then a smile spread across his face. Some guys just couldn’t resist showing off just how good their rides were. And as someone with a Cog rating, he was as well placed to appreciate good vehicular engineering as anyone.

    He was already moving forward; giving the go-pedal a bit of a nudge, he accelerated down the road in pursuit of the bright red Corvette. The guy in the other car might be quick off the mark, but he’d find that Pickup was no slouch either.

    A quarter-mile passed under his drumming wheels before he spotted the Corvette parked outside a diner. That worked for him; he pulled over and swung the truck into a roadside carpark, but he kept the engine running. He wasn’t quite sure whether the guy was going to come talk to him once he had his order, or if he was expected to go inside so they could chat in semi-privacy. Understandably reluctant to part ways with his ride in a strange city, he decided to put off the decision until he could get a hint one way or the other.

    A few moments later, the door to the diner opened again and the guy came out with a coffee and a paper bag, and he knew he’d made the right call. The guy even stopped and looked directly at him. But then he continued on toward the Corvette, leaving Pete wondering exactly what the fuck was going on.

    Then he stopped wondering, because the asshole Asians parked either side of the Corvette were giving the guy a hard time, or at least that was what it looked like. There was definitely no love lost there, from the way they were staring each other down. Pete sat up in the driver’s seat and snapped the five-point harness into place, then began to engage the change option. He left off pulling the last lever until something happened, one way or the other. He didn’t need people like that screwing things up.

    Just for a bit, it seemed like the guy was gonna talk his way past the Asians. He even climbed into the car and got it started. But something triggered them, and they started reaching for weapons. Pete wasted no time in yanking the final lever. The control mechanisms for the robot form closed in around his legs and arms and clicked onto his helmet as the robot rose to its full height. He lost direct view of the situation as the hood of the truck came up to cover the windshield, but that was okay; cameras in the ‘head’ of the robot were now relaying imagery to the HUD inside his helmet. He tromped forward into the parking lot.

    When he challenged them, the Asians froze. That lasted until he went to grab up one of them and repeat the question. They bolted, leaving their cars behind. As soon as he was sure they weren’t coming back in a hurry, he checked that the guy in the Corvette was okay, then prepared to ask for directions. The answer he got back was partly encouraging—the guy was definitely willing to help out—but also confusing. What was this ABB thing he was talking about, exactly? The more answers he got, the more questions they raised.

    He shifted his ride down into its truck form and followed the Corvette when it left the parking lot. The resultant drive had gotten them out of the city and up to the top of a modest mountain called (according to the signage) Captain’s Hill. Pulling into the otherwise-empty parking lot, the guy got out. After a long moment of hesitation, Pete did the same.

    “Hey,” said the guy, holding his hand out. “Name’s Justin. Put ’er there, buddy. You sure as hell saved my ass back there.” He eyed Pete’s jumpsuit and visored helmet with a certain amount of understandable curiosity.

    Well, he had to start by trusting somebody. And Justin seemed pretty genuine. Reaching out, he shook Justin’s hand. “I go by Pickup, but you can call me Pete,” he said. “So what was that there all about, anyways? Seemed to me like they was fixin’ to do you a mischief afore I stepped in.” He waved around at the skyline; at the city below, the ocean in the distance and the force-field covered installation in the bay. “And where the hell am I, anyways?”

    “Well, to answer your last question first, Pete, you’re in Brockton Bay.” Justin snorted. “The premier shithole of the Northeast, and no mistake. Those chink sons-of-bitches you saved me from are all part of a gang of degenerates and criminals called the Azn Bad Boys, or the ABB. You can tell ’em by the red and green colors they wear.”

    Pete shook his head in confusion. “A bunch of ’em, jes’ accosting upright citizens like you an’ me in broad daylight? Goin’ around wearin’ gang colors? Ain’t they beggin’ for the cops to bust ’em?” He didn’t make a comment on the ethnic slur Justin had just used, because why the hell should he care about the fine feelings of a bunch of criminal lowlives?

    “Cops, pfft.” Justin rolled his eyes. “They don’t do shit. Even the PRT treats the ABB like they should be wrapped in cotton wool, because political correctness.” The tone he gave that phrase made it sound less appealing than dogshit. Before Pete could ask what the PRT was, he went on. “And you know, they’ve got a cape leader. Lung, the fucking rage dragon of Brockton Bay. I’ve even heard that they grab girls off the street, teenagers and younger, and send them off to be sex slaves in brothels. But everyone from the Mayor’s office on down shits their panties any time there’s a push to do something about the ABB, because they think Lung might get offended and come burn half the city down. Everyone knows it’s just an excuse to do nothing, because he never does.” The bitterness in Justin’s voice was testament to just how pissed he was at the current situation.

    “Wow, fuck.” This Lung asshole sounded like major bad news. Justin had called him a cape and a rage dragon, which made for a nasty picture. “Pyrokinetic, huh?”

    “That’s the one.” Justin looked at him oddly, then nodded. “And then there’s the Merchants. A bunch of drug-fucked drug pushers, with a nigger in charge. Skidmark’s his name, and that’s the least fucked-up thing about him. And of course, the cops are scared to bust him because he’s got his girlfriend Squealer building big-ass tanks for him. As for the PRT … well, personally, I think they leave the Merchants alone as an excuse for why they don’t move on the ABB.”

    “Jesus fuck.” Pete shook his head. Justin’s language seemed a little rough around the edges, but it was hardly surprising given the situation he was living in. But he was also throwing out the names of Enabled villains Pete had never heard before … wait a minute. That other thing he said. “The, uh, PTR? Why don’t they do more? Aren’t they strong enough?” It sounded like some sort of local team, maybe?

    “PRT? Parahuman Response Teams?” Justin snorted. “They’re fucking national. Sure they’re strong enough. But they aren’t there to bring supervillains in. They’re just there to keep the status quo exactly as it is and keep pulling a government paycheck. Half the cops are on the take, and the other half don’t give a shit. Which means that someone else has to step up and do what needs to be done.”

    Pete was starting to get an idea what had happened. He hadn’t just been moved in space. He’d been sent elsewhere. To a place where the wrong people had powers, and were keeping good honest American folk in fear, attacking them on the streets. A place where the government had stopped caring enough to do even the minimum necessary to keep the population safe. A place that was crying out for an upstanding hero, someone who wasn’t afraid to do the right thing.

    “Someone else?” he asked. He was pretty sure Justin hadn’t said that at random.

    “Yeah,” Justin said. “I belong to a group. A team, you might say. Right-thinking people who are willing to buck the corrupt administration to keep the degenerates and illegals in check, and make sure they don’t go bothering good honest hard-working American people. But it’s a hard job, and we need all the help we can get.” He nodded toward Pete’s ride. “Can you make more things than that?”

    Pete nodded firmly. “I surely can.” His heart was swelling in his chest with pride and anticipation. He’d always had the secret fantasy of being the lone hero, standing firm against the encroaching darkness, defeating it through sheer force of will. And now he’d lucked into a world where he could be that hero, albeit standing alongside like-minded comrades, saving society from its own innate depravity whether it wanted to be saved or not. “You gimme the materials an’ I’ll build whatever you damn well please.”

    “I think we can manage that.” Justin held out his hand. “So, you in?”

    Pete clasped it. “I’m in.”

    “Good.” Justin clapped Pete on the shoulder. “Let’s go. Time to meet the others.”

    As they started down off Captain’s Hill, Pete looked up at the sun, now high in the sky. The symbolism was unmistakable. It was a brand-new day, for him and for Brockton Bay.

    “Y’all better watch out,” he said out loud, addressing the city in general. “There’s about to be a new sheriff in town.”

    End of Part Two
  10. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Inkling

    Jul 17, 2016
    Likes Received:
    Yeah this is going to get right messy real quick.
    Prince Charon and Ack like this.
  11. Death by Chains

    Death by Chains За родину и свободу!

    Feb 17, 2015
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    I feel kind'a bad for Pickup, here. I haven't read the original novel yet (sorry, Ack), but so far he strikes me as... he's not coming across as a bad guy, really, just a little too eager to make the world a better place for God-fearin' honest-folk to actually stop and put a critical ear to what Crusader's feeding him. Not too mention having a little too much of the out-to-make-his-mark-kid "you're not my Dad, don't tell me what to do!" attitude for his own good.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2020
    Mrt9001, Ack and Simonbob like this.
  12. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

    Jan 3, 2014
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    The E88 are kinda obvious, when you get to meet them. It might take bit, but he is going to get it.

    I wonder how deep he'll be, when he gets it?
  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    His motivations aren't explored this much in the original novel, but you've basically hit the nail on the head.

    He's a redneck with a certain amount of racism going on; not enough to incite him to commit crimes against minorities out of the blue, but enough to make him be biased against them in a situation where it could go either way.

    The thing is, his attitudes used to be worse, until he clashed fairly disastrously with Jericho early in the latter's career. That required him to rebuild his ride almost from scratch, and caused him to tone things down a mite. Now he thinks he isn't racist at all, just pragmatic about the world.

    Let's just say, it'll be interesting.