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I'm HALPING! [Worm AU fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Jul 18, 2016.

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  1. Zatch P

    Zatch P Versed in the lewd.

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    Kill orders are very hard to earn, and I don't think Piggot even has the power to just put one out herself (though I could easily be wrong). Even gang leaders like Lung, Kaiser, and Skidmark don't get them. It seems overkill for Piggot to consider one for a guy who has thus far only injured a few people, not even having killed them, no matter how strong he seems to be. Considering putting a kill order on Taylor in this situation feels outright out of character, even if she did decide against it. Perhaps it would be better to change the kill order into something else? Maybe instead make this a normal arrest warrant and a capture squad sent out to take her in, or something? Mentioning a kill order on Taylor just didn't seem to fit at all. Everything else seemed good.
     
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  2. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Nice chapter! I love how Zach dealt with Assault, and the internal strife following the discovery of Sophia was a nice twist.
     
  3. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She's going through the extreme options and working down from there.

    Yes, she'd have to consult with a lot of people to even get a kill order approved, but this is a person who's just severely injured a Ward, and lolnoped three of the tougher Protectorate members. In a school. He may start cutting loose at any moment, and Taylor does seem to be the one giving the orders.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Assault's viewpoint
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    (ricocheting back and forth) 'Wow, he's really resilient. Not moving at all. Welp, time to up the tempo -'

    'is that his fist -'

    "Whooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

    BOUNCE

    'Wait, was that the Rig? Did I just bounce off the Rig? And am I gaining altitude?'

    'Holy crap, how fast am I going?'

    'Whoops, there's a plane. Act natural.' (waves) "Hi-folks-nothing-to-see-here-move-along!" 'Boy, did they look surprised.'

    'I think I can see my house from here.'

    'Oh, good. I'm going down again.' (pause) 'That's what she said! I crack me up.'

    'Is that ... Boston?'

    'Yup, definitely Boston. Wonder what I'm gonna break.'

    'Am I slowing down? I think I'm slowing down. Okay, that guy's officially bullshit.'

    'I think I'm gonna hit the river.'

    'I'm definitely going to hit the river.'

    'Isn't the Charles River one of the most polluted in America?'

    "Oh shiiiiii-"

    SPLASH

    (rescuer) "Are you all right, sir?"

    (spits out water. At least he hopes it's water) "Yeah. Thanks."

    (Rescuer) "Okay, I have to ask. What happened?"

    (broad smile) "I just got punched fifty miles. How's your day going? I'mma just gonna lie down for a bit now."

    (passes out)
     
  5. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    I have to agree with Zatch P. A kill order on Taylor in this situation is WAY outside acceptable bounds, and triggered my SoD as well.

    Taylor is at best a victim, at worst an accomplice. If she's a victim, then Piggot is just covering up the PRT/Protectorate's crimes. If she's an accomplice, Piggot's treating her worse than the rapists and murders working for the various gangs.

    And that's not even mentioning the whole jurisdictional issue. As in, Taylor's a normal, so the PRT has no jurisdiction over Taylor to make the kill-order decision. Even regular gang-bangers involved in parahuman crimes are handed over to the regular police if arrested (the Protectorate is NOT a police force, or at best is a distant offshoot. It would be like an EMT handling a hostage situation).
     
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  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Adjusted slightly.
     
  7. Zatch P

    Zatch P Versed in the lewd.

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    This seems much better. This is a perfectly reasonable reaction for Piggot to have considering what's going on. Thank you.
     
  8. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Thanks for saving me going back and rereading that chunk of the chapter.:D

    I agree, much more reasonable, and entirely realistic, response. SoD restored.

    Though I'd call that first attempt a 'rescue team' rather than a 'capture team'.:p Silly Piggot, changing designations after the fact to suit your needs.:D
     
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  9. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    I'd call that characterization - it shows the kind of person Piggot is, as well as the kind of situations she's used to dealing with (also, with Masters, hostages can be violently reluctant to be rescued).
     
  10. NavigatorNobilis

    NavigatorNobilis Follower of the Second Star

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    This is awesome. Pure, undiluted hilarity, pouring into my twisted little heart like fine wine.

    You're a god of comedy, Ack.
     
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  11. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    MaddTitan likes this.
  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Something like that, yes :p

    His pinball attack would have done interesting things to anyone else. But neither he nor anyone else realised (and they still don't) that he just tried this on an Endbringer.

    So he got bitch-slapped from Brockton Bay to Boston.
     
  13. Threadmarks: Part Four: Shortlisted
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I'm HALPING!

    Part Four: Shortlisted



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

    [A/N 2: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt.]



    Director Piggot paused the playback and ran her fingers up over her scalp. For a moment, she wanted to tear handfuls of hair from her head; she suspected that it would much less painful than watching the replay from Armsmaster's helmet cam. But then she'd still have the rest of the playback to watch anyway.

    For a moment, she eyed the mouse pad. If I put that in front of me on the desk, I could bang my forehead against it without leaving a bruise. It was tempting.

    She already knew the outcome of the encounter, of course. But the foreknowledge didn't make watching the slow-motion trainwreck any easier. It was akin to watching a horror movie and knowing that the friendly, likeable characters would be the first to be eaten.

    I have to watch this. If only so that I know exactly how much of their asses I'm going to have to chew off. Bracing herself, she restarted the playback. Assault's little trick made her blink, but what really got her attention was the fact that Zachary didn't budge an inch while it was happening.

    Pausing the playback, she called up the earlier file and ran it through to a certain point. Slowing it down to half speed, she watched attentively as Armsmaster slammed the haft of his halberd against Zachary's chest; there was a loud POP and the teenage boy was jolted back a step. But in the current file, where Assault was almost certainly hitting him with even more kinetic energy than that, Zachary wasn't moving at all. What does it mean?

    Her phone rang, interrupting her musing. Without looking aside from the replay, she snagged it. “Director's office. Piggot speaking.”

    Emily, hello.”

    She recognised the voice as that of the Director of the Boston contingent of the PRT; pausing the replay, she turned her attention to the phone call. “Armstrong. This is about Assault?”

    It is.” The relief in his voice clued her in. “He's alive, if a bit stunned from the experience. Personally, I'm astonished that he survived the experience at all, even with his powerset, but they say he doesn't even have any broken bones.”

    Emily didn't know how she really felt about that. Assault had just proven himself to be the loosest of loose cannons, but she didn't want the man to die for it. At least, not until she got to strangle him herself. “Good. Keep him there for observation, please. I don't want something unexpected to crop up while he's away from potential medical attention.”

    We can definitely do that. Oh, and we got footage of his arrival, if you're interested.”

    That really got her attention. “Yes, please.”

    Emailing it right now.”

    “Thank you.”

    You're welcome. Is it true a teenage kid did this?”

    “In a manner of speaking. Assault went against orders. He obviously thought he could take him.”

    Well, I'm just glad he survived.”

    He won't be.” Her voice was grim. “That could have gone far, far worse. People could have died. And all so that he could showboat. I do not allow this sort of thing to fly.”

    So to speak.” He chuckled. “Well, I'll leave you to it.”

    “Goodbye.” Emily put the phone down without waiting for an answer. Minimising the window that was playing the helmet camera footage, she opened her secure email server. Nothing had shown up yet, so she clicked up the footage again.

    She watched it until Assault disappeared into the distance, then clicked back a few seconds and ran it through at the lowest speed possible. Even with the impressively high frame-rate of Armsmaster's helmet-camera, the sheer speed of Zachary's arm as it came up made most of the movement into a blur. However, at the point of impact, it was possible to watch the apparent teenager (she was taking nothing for granted about this) almost casually deliver a palm-strike to Assault's sternum. She looked at the numbers scrolling up along the side, where the helmet had locked on to Assault's dwindling form with a rangefinder. Something odd about the progression nagged at her. Picking up the phone, she stabbed a number in it, still watching Assault recede into the distance in slow motion.

    Peterson here,” she heard. “What can I do for you, Director?”

    “I'm going to send you some footage,” she replied. “There's something odd about it. I want you to analyse the movement of everything in the picture.”

    Yes, ma'am,” he said at once. “What's the priority?”

    “High but not urgent,” she decided. “I'd like to know, but don't bump anything life-threatening.”

    Understood, ma'am,” he said. “We'll let you know what we get.”

    “Good.” She put the phone down and set about sending the footage on its way. Just as she clicked SEND, her computer chimed; at the bottom corner of her screen, an alert popped up for an incoming mail.

    She paused to check that she had indeed sent the right footage to Peterson, then opened her inbox. The latest message was tagged as being from Armstrong; to her relief, it had an attachment. With a certain sense of anticipation, she clicked on it.

    Moments later, she was watching footage taken from what seemed to be a shoulder-cam. It was a little shaky, but she was pleased to see that the time-stamp was running smoothly all the way through. The camera looked at an expanse of water, which she assumed was the Charles River, then panned up to the buildings on the other side of the water. There was an indistinct shout from offscreen, and the image blurred unpleasantly for an instant. Then it tilted upward and focused, zooming automatically. A tiny dot resolved into a blurry outline, sharpening more every second. The image stabilised, not growing any larger, though it kept gaining detail. A glance at the top of the screen showed the zoom counter scrolling backward almost faster than the numbers could register. It was definitely Assault; she could identify the costume with ease. He seemed to be trailing streamers of vapour, which she decided to ask about later. Despite her irritation with him, she had to admire his aplomb; he was in the spread-eagle position for skydiving, intended to reduce his terminal velocity by as much as possible. Not that she considered this to be something to be realistically worried about, given that he'd just been punched from Brockton Bay to Boston. Just for an instant, she felt a stab of jealousy; over the last few years, she'd lost count of the number of times she wanted to smack Assault into the next county.

    Abruptly, the image pulled back, bringing the water and the buildings back into view. Assault was a tiny man-shaped dot, now approaching once more with shocking speed. He was also pulling in his arms and legs, leaning forward into a dive. Almost before Emily could blink, he lanced down into the river, sending up a tremendous splash that almost reached the shore. Boats pulled out from the shore before the waves had quieted down, moving toward the epicentre of the water entry. The soldier with the camera was on one of the boats; as the unsteady image moved forward, an arm pointed and the viewpoint swivelled to focus on … Assault. Floating in the water, face-up, arms and legs spread once more, for all the world as if he were taking a morning dip in his costume.

    The boat motored up alongside Assault, who was starting to move a little; a man in a wetsuit went over the side and steadied him in the water. Next, a stretcher was dropped into the water and the diver guided it under Assault, carefully moving his arms and legs on to it. Once he was strapped on, his head and neck immobilised and a breathing mask attached to his face, they began to tow him to shore. He seemed to be responding more now; the camera audio caught snatches of speech. “How are you feeling?” asked a paramedic, leaning over the side of the boat to prod his arms and legs.

    “I just got bitch-slapped fifty miles by a teenager,” replied Assault dreamily. “How's your day been? Tell my wife I'm okay, thanks? If I make her worry, she'll find out how he did it, and do it again. Imma catch a nap now. Kaythanksbye.” Behind the visor, his eyes drifted shut; the paramedic checked his throat pulse and gave a thumbs' up.

    The clip ended there, and Emily immediately ran it again. Like Armsmaster's helmet cam, this one incorporated a rangefinder; again, she frowned as she looked at the progression of the numbers. Something seemed subtly off. Pursing her lips, she sent the footage off to Peterson, with a curt note: Check this too.

    Then she sighed and went back to the job of keeping her corner of the PRT running smoothly. It was an utterly thankless task, but someone had to do it.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    I watched, with just little concern, as Armsmaster reluctantly went into a huddle with the Wards. “What do you think they're talking about?” I asked uneasily.

    “I do not know,” Zach said in his usual cheerful tone. “Armsmaster wishes to take me into custody but does not know how. Part of his strategy may be to separate you from me, before bringing more force into play. I will not allow him to do this.”

    “Good,” I said firmly. So many people had worked at screwing me over ever since Mom died. Zach was the first person who both actually cared for me and was able to do something about it. I didn't care how badly he embarrassed the Protectorate, so long as this trend continued. “Just remember, I don't care if you hurt his feelings, but don't do anything fatal to him, okay?”

    He smiled at me. “I remember that you do not want me to kill people, Taylor. I will not do anything that will kill people, unless that is the only way to prevent them from causing you injury.”

    Hearing him reaffirm that made me feel better. I really hoped that nobody would do anything stupid. Zach was … well, for a normal person, he was pretty damn talented. He said he wasn't a cape, and I believed him. Every instinct also told me that he was just an ordinary person caught in an extraordinary situation, like me. But he'd shown himself able to defend the both of us really effectively.

    Armsmaster was still talking to the Wards; the costumes made it hard to tell body language, but it looked to me that they were arguing. I checked my watch. “Nearly five minutes,” I said to Zach. “If they don't let us go past, please don't hurt the kids. They're only doing what they're told.”

    “Understood,” he said with a nod. “I will not hurt children. However, I do have a way of getting past that does not involve directly engaging with them.”

    I looked at him curiously. “How's that?” He didn't like to bend to someone else's will; that much, I had already gathered. Except mine; how does that even work?

    He smiled brightly at me. “Do you trust me, Taylor?”

    Taken aback, I blinked a little. “Uh … sure. Of course. You've been nothing short of amazing.” A moment later, my natural suspicion kicked in. “Why?”

    His smile widened. “I think I will make it a surprise.”

    Before I could respond, his head came up. “It has been almost five minutes. We will be leaving now.” To my astonishment, he bent and scooped me up in his arms, bridal-style. I muffled my yelp of surprise; of course, he held me with total ease. He had already shown me that he was pretty strong; idly, I wondered if he worked out.

    “Are you ready?” he asked, bending his legs slightly.

    I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to be ready for, but I nodded. “Sure,” I said.

    In the next instant, I found out. He kicked off, and I felt the rush of wind as we rocketed into the sky. Grabbing Zach around the neck, I hung on tight, even though I felt totally secure in his arms. “Woohoo!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. A little more quietly, I gasped out, “You never said you could fly.”

    “I cannot fly, Taylor,” he said. “But I can jump really well. Landing now.” A moment later, there was a slight jar, accompanied by the crunch of gravel. He let me down on to the concrete sidewalk, and I looked around with some amazement.

    “Wow, you can really jump a long way,” I marvelled. “We must be nearly halfway home.”

    “I do not know where your home is,” he admitted. “You will have to show me.”

    It never crossed my mind to worry about showing Zach where I lived. “Sure, no problem,” I said. “I have so got to introduce you to Dad. I mean, I know you're still a teenager, but I'm pretty sure he could get you a job if you wanted.”

    “But I have a job, Taylor,” he said. “Protecting you. There are many harmful things in the world, and I have to make sure nothing hurts you or makes you unhappy.”

    The warm feeling his words caused in my heart overflowed, and I felt the blush mounting my cheeks. “That has got to be the single sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me,” I said softly. “Are you certain that you're not in love with me?”

    “I am certain, Taylor.” He smiled at me; a simple, genuine smile that gave me shivers all the way down to the toes. “Love is irrational. What I feel for you is genuine and rational. You are to be protected and assisted.”

    “You realise I might want to do some things myself,” I pointed out. “I'm not a delicate china doll, after all.”

    “Of course,” he agreed at once. “You are a human being, with all the free will and capacity to use it that implies. I do not intend to take away your ability to exert your free will. I do intend to ensure that nobody else takes it away either. If you say you wish to do something, then I will do my best to ensure that you get the chance to do it.”

    “Right.” I paused. “No threatening or hurting people to make sure I get what I want.”

    He nodded. “I will not threaten or hurt people to make sure you get what you want. Unless there is no other way to achieve that, or your well-being is threatened. After all, you wish to remain healthy and unhurt, correct?”

    “Oh, right.” His example made sense. And he wasn't just blindly following my orders, either, which made me feel better. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

    “That is good.” He gave me the smile again, the one that told me I was the most special person in the world. “Do you wish to walk the rest of the way home, or would you like to essay another jump? I believe that the PRT is close behind us now.”

    Can't they just leave well enough alone? “Yeah, I think I'd like to jump again. Whoop!” This time, I didn't muffle my involuntary exclamation fast enough as he picked me up. “Wow, you're strong.”

    “You are not very heavy, Taylor.” His voice was matter-of-fact. “It is very easy to lift you.”

    Somehow, I knew that he wasn't making fun of how skinny I was. “Thank you, Zach,” I replied, and pointed. “Home's that way, I think.”

    “Brace yourself,” he said. I braced myself. He leaped.

    “Woooooooohoooooooo!”

    <><>​

    “That's my house, there.” I pointed ahead of us as we walked down the street. My estimate of 'halfway home' had been a little generous, and my directions hadn't been exactly precise. It took a dozen jumps, plus three to backtrack, before we got close enough to walk. After all, I didn't think Dad would be very happy if we made a hole in the roof.

    Due to my poor sense of direction, we were coming up on it from the back. I opened the chain-link gate and let us through into the back yard, then closed it behind us. Zach looked at the house with interest as I led the way to the back door. “It is a nice house, Taylor,” he said.

    “Thanks, Zach,” I replied as I took my key from my pocket. Opening the back door, I led the way into the house; as Zach closed the door behind him, I flipped on the lights in the kitchen. “Whoof!” I exclaimed as I sat down on one of the dining chairs. “What a morning.”

    Zach came up behind me. “Are you all right, Taylor?” he asked with concern in his voice.

    “Sure, I'm fine.” I waved him to a chair. “Sit down. I'm just catching my breath. Things've been going way faster than I was ready for.”

    He sat down; just for a moment, the chair creaked alarmingly, but then he shifted position slightly and the creaking ceased. I wondered if it had a rotten leg. Then I looked at Zach; this was the first good look I'd had at him since the cafeteria. At the time, I'd been still a little shocky from the locker. But the food really had done me a lot of good.

    He was a little taller than me, and a bit broader in the shoulders. While he wasn't grotesquely bulky like a bodybuilder, I could definitely appreciate the fact that he had muscles on his muscles, especially since he'd left his shirt behind at Winslow. His hair was straight and black, and looked adorably tousled; under it, his expression was calm and a little solemn. While he didn't have drop-dead gorgeous looks, he was definitely better looking than most guys who went to Winslow, and far better looking than any guy who had ever shown me attention before. In fact, every teenage boy I knew (which, when it came down to it, amounted to Greg Veder) would scream 'unfair' to see his acne-free skin.

    “Okay,” I said. “Your name is Zach. Do you have a surname?”

    He shook his head. “Sophia did not give me one.”

    “Wait.” I frowned at him. “Sophia gave you the name Zachary?”

    “Yes.” His tone was direct and honest. “I did not have a name before that.”

    This was getting more confusing by the second. “What? Why?”

    “Because I did not need one.”

    “How could you not need a name?” I felt like I'd walked into a movie halfway through. Nothing was making any sense.

    “I had not yet been given my current form.”

    I had no idea how to even take that. “Current form? What do you mean, current form?”

    “I was formed to protect you, Taylor.” He looked me dead in the eye as he spoke utter nonsense. “I am an Endbringer.”

    I blinked; the silence was so complete that I literally heard my eyelids hit each other. Zach looked blandly at me, and I stared back in total incomprehension, trying to fit what he'd just said into some logical framework. Then I burst out laughing as I realised what was going on.

    “Oh, god,” I giggled, trying desperately not to fall off of my chair. “Oh, wow, Zach. That was amazing. I can't believe I nearly fell for that. Oh, man, I can't wait to tell Dad that one.” I deepened my voice to somewhere near Zach's level. “I'm really an Endbringer.” Tears ran down my face as I laughed even harder. “And-and you said you-you didn't get humour!” Sliding off the chair, I lay on the floor, giggling helplessly and pounding my fist on the linoleum-covered floorboards. “Oh, god. That's beautiful.”

    “I am pleased that you think so,” Zach said, a small smile crossing his face. “Are you feeling well, Taylor?”

    “Uh huh.” I sat up, still smirking. “I think I really needed that. But don't take this wrong when I say wow, that's the silliest story I ever heard. Really an Endbringer? Oh, man. Who'd ever believe that?” Climbing to my feet, I leaned over and gave him a hug from behind. “Look, I'm gonna go take a shower, and change into something that actually fits me. I'll find one of Dad's shirts for you, too.” Because while I had been able to ignore his extremely masculine chest muscles to this point, I didn't want to forget myself and say or do something embarrassing.

    Zach tilted his head. “You have already showered. Why do you feel the need to perform this task a second time?”

    I took a deep breath, the smile slipping from my face. “Because sometimes you never feel really clean, even if you are. Does that make sense?”

    His expression became more thoughtful. “I will ask my sister about that, but in the meantime, I will take your word for it. Do you require assistance showering or obtaining clothing?”

    “Ah, no,” I told him hastily. “I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself in my own house. You stay down here. Feel free to get a snack from the fridge or watch TV. Or both. I won't be long.”

    He nodded. “I understand, Taylor. I will remain downstairs. Call if you need help.”

    I smirked again. “Don't worry, if the bathroom attacks me, you'll be the first one I'll call.” Chuckling to myself, I went through the living room and up the stairs. Endbringer, indeed. The very idea was ridiculous. Zach was as human as me or Dad. He just had a really weird sense of humour. Which was, to be honest, kind of growing on me. I liked Zach. He wasn't creepy or pushy, and he hadn't stared at my chest even once, which even though I didn't have much of one, still happened around guys.

    The shower was nice. By the time I finished, I felt a bit cleaner and somewhat refreshed. As I got dressed, I could hear the TV playing faintly from below. It sounded like the news, which made me wonder. What were they saying about Zach? Whatever it was, if they asked me, I'd be happy to give them the real story. Complete with Winslow's total screwups when it came to me and the Trio, and the Protectorate's total screwup when it came to me and Zach.

    As I opened the bathroom door, the TV became more audible. “We're here today outside the house of Daniel and Taylor Hebert, where …” Wait, what? There's people outside the house now?

    Even as I registered that bit of information, a figure filled the doorway. I opened my mouth, but before I could call out, a gloved hand slapped over my face. I was pushed back into the bathroom, my wide eyes staring into those of … Miss Militia? She hooked the door closed with her heel without taking her eyes off of me. The noise of the TV was reduced to a dull murmur again.

    “I'm going to take my hand away,” she said, very quietly. “You will not shout. You will not scream. If you try to make any noise at all, I will stun you into silence.” Before my eyes, she waved that elephant-hunting taser again. “Do you understand? Nod if you understand.”

    Carefully, I nodded. I'd been shocked once already today; even if it was non-lethal, I didn't want another try at it.

    “Good.” I couldn't see if she was smiling, but her tone became marginally less tense. “I'm removing my hand now.” Slowly, she took her hand away.

    I took a reflexive breath of air and she tensed, but I didn't try to call out. Why didn't I have Zach standing outside the bathroom door?

    “Okay, then.” Her voice was the barest whisper. “I'm going to ask you some questions. Answer as briefly as you can. Has he hurt you?”

    I shook my head sharply. “No!” I whispered as intensely as I could.

    The skin around her eyes creased, but I wasn't sure what that meant. I was pretty sure she wasn't smiling. “Are you under any kind of duress?”

    “No,” I answered again. “He's been a complete gentleman.”

    From outside the bathroom door, I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. “Taylor,” called Zach. “There are people outside your house. We should go.” He paused. “Taylor, where are you?”

    Miss Militia's gloved hand slapped over my mouth again, while the taser pressed against my side. I didn't struggle; instead, I just raised my eyebrows at the superhero. Your move.

    Despite the scarf over her face, she looked entirely unhappy with the whole situation. All I had to do was make any sort of noise at all, and Zach would be in the bathroom with us, door or no door. I had zero doubt of that. She was obviously thinking the same thing; without taking her hand from my mouth or her weapon from my side, she circled around me until she was at my back, looking past me at the door. Which then opened.

    “Hello, Taylor!” Zach said brightly, now wearing one of Dad's old Boomers t-shirts. “There you are. Hello, Miss Militia. You are a hero, and Taylor does not want me to kill superheroes. But if you do not take your dangerous weapon away from her, I will be forced to hurt you quite a lot. I promise not to kill you, though.”

    I reached up, grabbed her wrist, and pulled her hand away from my mouth. She didn't resist too much. Perhaps she'd realised that the main reason for keeping me quiet was long gone. “Hello, Zach,” I said. “It's good to see you. How many people are around the house?”

    “Two PRT strike squads,” Miss Militia said unexpectedly from behind me. “Plus nearly all the local Protectorate.”

    “So how is Assault?” I asked with a cheeky grin, stepping forward to Zach. He moved aside to let me stand beside him in the doorway.

    “He's well enough,” she replied wearily. “Apparently everyone there wants to buy him a drink.” I heard resignation in her voice. “Knowing him, he'll accept.” She switched her gaze to Zach. “Thank you for not killing him.”

    “I have many options that do not involve killing people,” Zach informed her, still in that cheerful tone of voice. “But I notice you are still pointing your weapon at Taylor.” As he said my name, he … moved. It wasn't a lunge forward so much as he had simply decided to be elsewhere. Before I could even blink, he was standing beside me once more, but now he was holding the taser. “And now you are not.”

    Miss Militia blinked down at her empty hand. She made some sort of weird gesture with it, which apparently achieved exactly nothing. Then she stared at the taser still in Zach's hand. “What … how did you do that?” she demanded.

    “It is as I told Armsmaster,” he explained patiently. “If you threaten Taylor with a weapon, it means that you are not responsible enough to have the weapon, so I will take it away.”

    “But … it's my power.” She stared once more at her hand, then at the taser. “You can't just take it away.” She was almost like a child demanding that her toy be given back.

    “It seems that he can,” I observed, trying not to grin at her bewilderment. Zach did seem to have that effect on people. Personally, I had decided that doing the metaphorical equivalent of sitting back with a bag of popcorn was much more rewarding. If Zach wanted to make the world into a comedy for my benefit, I wasn't averse. Asking how he did stuff just led to really weird answers.

    And then I heard glass breaking from down below.

    Oh, hell no.

    “That's your guys, isn't it?” I asked. “Did they just break the windows to get into my house?” The question was kind of superfluous, as the next thing I heard was boots on the floorboards. “Tell 'em to stop, right now!”

    “Taylor, do you want me to evict the people who have just invaded your house?” Zach was as eager as a terrier going walkies. “I can do that for you, if you want.”

    I tilted my head. Now that I was listening for it, I could also hear incoming helicopter blades. “No. They're the diversion. I was supposed to wait up here while more of them come in the upstairs window and secure me. Right, Miss Militia?” I took a step toward her. “Tell them to go away. All of them. Or Zach just might hurt some of them.”

    Zach leaned out of the door and fired the taser. There was a crackling sound and a cut-off scream. “One down, Taylor. I can make the rest go away, if you want. How many do you want me to hurt?”

    I looked the superhero in the eye. “That's Miss Militia's call. Tell them to pull back, or I tell Zach to use his best judgement. As you can see, he's extremely concerned with my welfare.”

    Miss Militia nodded once, sharply. “Mike-mike here. All units, pull back urgentmost. I say again, all units pull back, over.”

    I didn't hear the reply to her order, but she didn't like it. “Dammit! He's standing right in front of me! We're blown! Pull back before he decides to throw the rest of you to Boston! Over!”

    Zach tilted his head. “I do not think I could throw a normal human to Boston, but I believe that I could reach the PRT building with one. Most of one, anyway.” He sounded vaguely speculative. “If I was careful with my aim, I should be able to hit Director Piggot's window.”

    “Please don't,” I murmured.

    “I will not, unless you ask me to,” he assured me.

    “Good.” I turned to Miss Militia. “Okay, what the crap was all this about? All I wanted was to have a nice quiet day, and you've gone and ruined it for me again.”

    “It was decided,” she said, “that the PRT needed to have a dialogue with your friend Zach.” Her tone made it clear that this was not her idea.

    “So you sneak in and the PRT breaks in, and you think this is a good idea?” I demanded. “You saw what happened to Assault!”

    “I was overruled.” Now she sounded very unhappy. “But orders are orders.”

    “Who gave these orders?” Zach looked intent, which boded well for nobody. “Taylor may have been hurt. I will not allow that.”

    <><>​

    Somewhat Earlier

    Emily Piggot's email inbox pinged. She clicked it open, to find an email from Peterson. That was fast work. However, just as she opened it, the phone rang. With a sigh, she picked up the receiver. “Director Piggot.”

    Hello, Emily.” The voice was almost familiar to her. “Congratulations on screwing up a simple situation so thoroughly. Consider yourself seconded to my command. Effective immediately.”

    “Wait, what now?” She sat bolt upright, ignoring the stab of pain from her lower back. “Identify yourself or get off this line.” Reaching out, she hit the button that set about tracing the call anyway.

    It's Tagg. James Tagg. We met a few years ago. When I heard about your problem, I was able to convince the Chief Director that it needed my touch. The email with your orders should be coming through any minute now.”

    The arrogant tone was coming back to her. That was Tagg, all right. He was as hawkish a PRT officer as it was possible to be; even Emily, with her ingrained dislike of parahumans, considered Tagg to be altogether too reactionary when it came to capes. “The situation here is entirely under control.”

    I see. So one of your capes gets punched from one city to another on a regular occasion? No, Emily, it is not.”

    She shook her head stubbornly. “It's a unique scenario. One that bringing more force into the mix will not solve. Assault proved that.”

    Which just means that you aren't using the right type or amount of force.” Tagg's voice was dismissive. “I'm on a flight up there right now. In the meantime, I'll be opening a command channel and you will relay my orders.”

    “If your orders will kill my men, you can k-” Emily broke off what she was about to say. “I will not relay any orders that will put my men in undue danger.”

    Just goes to show that you haven't got what it takes.” Tagg's voice was a sneer. “I always thought you lost your nerve in Ellisburg.”

    The plastic receiver creaked in Emily's hand. The only thing stopping her from releasing a blistering tirade of invective back down the phone was the certain knowledge that he was recording the call. Tagg wasn't quite the snake that Calvert was, but he was definitely right up there in the asshole stakes. She breathed deeply, trying to regain her cool. “I'll be contacting the Chief Director as soon as possible,” she promised. “This situation will not be improved by outside interference.”

    You go ahead, Emily,” Tagg said mockingly. “But in the meantime, I'm going to need everything you have on the situation.” He paused. “And don't even think of holding anything back.”

    Emily grimaced. Right now, her hands were tied. But she would get control back.

    This is my city, dammit.

    <><>​

    Taylor, Now

    Miss Militia preceded us down the stairs. Zach followed, while I brought up the rear. The heavy taser dangled from his hand; while I still wasn't quite sure how he'd done it, I was very impressed. The front door was open, with a PRT trooper standing outside. We walked into the living room, where two of the three windows had been smashed; twinkling in the light, broken glass lay all over the floor and on the sofa.

    With a quick movement, Zach scooped me off of my feet. “You are not wearing shoes. Your feet will be harmed if you step on broken glass.”

    I was almost getting used to this, and I couldn't fault his logic. “Good point, Zach. Miss Militia, who broke my windows?”

    She hesitated. “I'm not sure. I can ask.”

    “Good. Do that.” I pointed at the windows and the glass lying everywhere. “I want that cleaned up and fixed. Before Dad gets home. Or you get to explain to him who did it, and left dirty boot-prints everywhere.”

    “I'm not entirely sure …” she began.

    Before she got any farther, Zach took a single step. It was just a small one, but he must have hit a sweet spot, because the entire house shuddered and boomed. Dust drifted down from above, and all the loose glass shivered and chattered. “Taylor has asked that you clean up your mess and fix the windows that were broken. Is this so unreasonable?”

    She'd have a crease down the middle of her forehead, with all the frowning she was doing. “Uh … wait one. Mike-mike calling Commander Calvert. I need you in the house immediately, over.” She paused for a moment. “Yes, Commander. Immediately. Now. Mike-mike out.” She touched her ear.

    “And who's Commander Calvert?” I asked blankly.

    “He's the squad commander,” she said with a sigh. “If you want to know who's ultimately responsible for your windows being broken, it's him.”

    “So how did you get in?” I asked. “Did you break any windows?”

    She shook her head. “No. You leave your bedroom window open. That might not be a great idea.”

    “Ah.” I looked at her with some respect. To get up a blank wall and in through that window took serious climbing chops. I'd never even tried it, and I had grown up in the house. “Right. I'll keep that in mind.”

    Bootsteps sounded outside, then a tall man entered the house. Zach and I looked him over; even with the bulk afforded him by the uniform and equipment, he was still really skinny. I saw what looked like a pistol holster on his hip, but he wasn't carrying any other sort of weapon that I could tell. Unlike his men, he wore a light helmet without a concealing faceplate. “I'm Commander Calvert,” he said briskly. “What's going on here?”

    “Hello, Commander Calvert,” Zach replied brightly. “Did you order your men to break Taylor's windows?”

    Calvert blinked. “Are you Zachary?”

    “Yes. Did you order your men to break Taylor's windows?” Zach gestured with the hand holding the taser. “They made a mess in her house. You will repair Taylor's house and leave it clean before her father returns home. Then you will leave her alone.”

    Calvert winced in response to something I didn't see. I figured that his superior officer was yelling in his ear or something. This wasn't something I was worried about.

    “That's not going to happen,” he said smoothly. “The Parahuman Response Teams do not bow to the demands of -”

    “Excuse me, Taylor.” Zach took a step toward the doorway and put me down. Then he moved again, in a way that suggested that he hadn't bothered occupying the intervening space. Or perhaps he had, and my eyes just weren't fast enough to keep up. When he unblurred, he was standing beside Commander Calvert, one hand on the taller man's shoulder, pulling his head down to Zach's level.

    Calvert struggled, but Zach's grip was implacable. “Let me go!” the PRT officer shouted, pawing at his holster.

    Zach tossed the taser in the air; less than a second later, it dissolved into green-black energy, which streamed back toward Miss Militia. He used his now-free hand to clamp on to Calvert's wrist. “You will not draw your weapon in Taylor's presence,” he told Calvert in reproving tones. “Also …” He leaned in close to Calvert and whispered something. I couldn't hear what it was, but it was only a few words. Pulling back, he paused for a moment. I couldn't see his expression, but Calvert seemed to choke for a second, and his face went so white I was surprised that he was still on his feet. His entire body trembled. After a moment, Zach let him go and moved back to my side.

    Calvert straightened up, apparently unharmed, but his face was still amazingly pale as he stared at Zach. His lips twitched a few times. Beside me, Zach shook his head slightly. Calvert looked as though he wanted to throw up. “It's … a reasonable request,” he said, very reluctantly. “I'll give orders to that effect.”

    “And we're free to go?” I pressed. “I don't want anyone getting hurt from a misunderstanding.” I hooked my arm through Zach's. “I feel like going down to the Boardwalk. Are the buses still running?”

    “They will be,” Calvert said, looking as though he were gargling broken glass … or perhaps, that he wished he were. “I'll relay orders that nobody is to impede you.”

    “I am so glad that we could come to an understanding,” Zach said cheerfully. “You see, Taylor? They can be reasoned with.”

    “Oh, good,” I said, equally cheerfully. “I wasn't really looking forward to seeing if Zach really could throw someone through Director Piggot's window from here.” I gave Calvert a meaningful look. You'd be the first pick.

    That time, I got an actual wince from the PRT commander. “That won't be necessary,” he said faintly. “Nobody needs to get hurt today.”

    I rolled my eyes. “That's what I keep saying. Does anyone listen?” I headed for the door, with Zach at my side.

    “Wait.” It was Miss Militia. “I can drive you there, if you want. Ensure that you arrive safely.”

    I was instantly suspicious. “This isn't some kind of trick, is it?”

    “No trick.” She held her hands up, empty; her weapon, now some sort of pistol, was holstered at her hip. “I just want to make sure that nobody else tries anything ill-advised.” A look of irritation crossed her face, and she plucked a small object from her ear. “Anything at all.”

    “Miss Militia.” Calvert studied her closely. “Are you sure that you know what you're doing?”

    “Commander Calvert,” she replied. “I will follow any legal order that I am given. It is my duty to refuse to follow illegal orders.” She shut her mouth then, making me wonder what illegal orders she may have been given. “Let's go.”

    I followed her outside with Zach at my side. There were a lot of PRT troopers here, at least to my untrained eye. Also here were Armsmaster, Velocity, Battery and Dauntless. Hovering over them was the oldest member of the Brockton Bay Protectorate, Challenger. With his arms crossed, clad in red and gold force-fields like a knight of old, he looked down toward Zach and myself. I didn't know why he hadn't been at Winslow, but things may have turned out differently if he had. Or maybe not; I didn't know. Rumour had it that he was considering retirement. If he did, it would tip the balance of power away from the Protectorate. I hoped that they would find a replacement soon.

    Beyond the troopers were at least two news vans, proving that all the information security in the world couldn't stop the news from finding a juicy enough story. I could see the cameras pointing in our direction, with the reporters talking busily into their microphones. I turned to Zach. “Have you ever been on TV?”

    “No, Taylor,” he said. “I have not. But my sister and brothers have. Many times.”

    “You're going to have to tell me about your family sometime,” I replied. “But right now, I feel like getting my fifteen minutes of fame.” Turning, I headed for the news vans.

    “Taylor.” Miss Militia's voice held a tinge of alarm. “Are you certain this is a good idea?”

    “Nope.” I kept walking. “But I've tried all the good ideas. They didn't work. Now I don't give a shit any more. It's time that Brockton Bay found out exactly how big a fuck-up's gone on here, and how hard you're trying to cover it up.”

    “I really think you should re-think this.” Her voice held almost physical pain. “This is going to cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people, some of whom don't deserve it.”

    “And I did?” I stopped, whirling to face her and raising my voice. “Listen. I got shat on for more than a fucking year. The first time that someone actually steps in and does something real for me, you want to arrest him. Then, even when you find out the facts, you keep trying. It seems to me that all you're trying to do is prevent me from getting any kind of justice out of all this. If I want to talk to a reporter and tell him exactly who put me in that goddamn locker, then I will tell him. Let Emma and Sophia know what it's like to be in my place for once.”

    “But this will also out Zach, and what he can do,” she protested.

    “This does not worry me,” Zach assured her. “My family are unlikely to be targeted because of me.”

    “And if anyone tries to hurt me, Zach will stop them.” I was very matter of fact. “I'm not going to be a superhero. I just want to live my life.”

    She tried one more time. “And your father?”

    I looked her in the eye. “Fair warning. If anyone targets Dad, I'll be telling Zach that it's okay to kill them. Feel free to spread that around.”

    “I have not yet met Taylor's father,” Zach put in, “but if she holds him in such regard, I am entirely willing to kill to maintain his welfare.”

    She scrubbed at her forehead with the heel of her hand, avoiding a facepalm by the barest of margins. “Please, please don't talk about killing like that with news cameras just there. The more you do that sort of thing, the harder it is to keep this low-key. Trust me, there are people out there that you don't want to attract to Brockton Bay, and this is exactly what attracts them.”

    Zach turned to me. “Is this true, Taylor? Will people come to Brockton Bay to hurt you?”

    I sighed unhappily as common sense overcame my buzz. I knew it was too good to be true. “Yes. The Slaughterhouse Nine would do it. Especially if you challenged them like that.”

    “That is not a good thing.” He took on a troubled expression. “If the Slaughterhouse Nine threatened you, would it be acceptable for me to kill them?”

    “What's that?” Miss Militia and I turned around, to see that one of the reporters had approached us, with a cameraman in tow. “Are you saying that you could beat the Slaughterhouse Nine?” She was in her late thirties or early forties, with a certain look in her eye that said she would get a scoop or die trying.

    “No!” Miss Militia shot me a desperate glance before turning to the reporter. I read it quite clearly as shut that idiot up before he says something even more stupid. “He was speaking in hypotheticals. Please don't broadcast that.”

    “I'm sorry, Miss Militia.” The reporter smiled for the camera, not looking at all sorry. “We're live at the moment. Who is he, anyway? He doesn't look like any of our local capes. Sir, can I get an interview?”

    Zach ignored her and wandered over to one of the PRT vans. I stuck close to him, curious as to what he was doing. There was a trooper standing next to the van with a containment foam sprayer in his hands, but pointed at the ground. He went to raise it as Zach approached him, but I shook my head.

    “Excuse me,” said Zach, looking at the van, “but is there anyone in your vehicle?”

    The trooper shook his head. “No. Why?”

    Zach ignored the question. “That is good. How much does it cost?”

    “With all the equipment, couple hundred thousand or so,” the trooper said. “Don't try to steal it, kid. I will foam your ass.”

    Zach turned to me. “Taylor, is it acceptable to destroy something worth two hundred thousand dollars to keep you safe?”

    “I … what?” I wasn't keeping up at all. “Destroying that will keep me safe? How?”

    “It will remove a threat on your life.” Zach's voice was entirely serious.

    I shrugged. “Um … my life's pretty damn valuable to me, so … yes?”

    He nodded, smiling happily. “Thank you, Taylor.” Then he turned back to the trooper, who was talking urgently to himself … or rather, to other people on his radio. “Excuse me, but I need your vehicle.” Ignoring the trooper, he stepped past him, knelt alongside the van … and lifted it bodily into the air.

    If there had been anyone not paying attention to him before that, that changed matters. Everyone was watching him now; reporters talking urgently into microphones, and PRT troopers pointing rifles and foam sprayers. The Protectorate members, who had been watching from a discreet distance, began to close in. Challenger swooped in a little closer, but did not attack.

    “Put it down!” shouted the trooper who had been standing by the van. “Put it down right now, and put your hands on your head!” He pointed his foam sprayer.

    “Forget it, soldier,” Armsmaster advised the trooper. “I've seen him tear right through foam like it wasn't there. Zachary!”

    “Yes, Armsmaster?” Balancing the van on his hands, Zach didn't even sound out of breath. He tossed it lightly into the air so that it spun, and caught it as it landed rear end first on his hands. I could hear the sound of breakage happening from within, and wondered how expensive that shattering sound was. In the end, I settled on 'very'.

    “I'm going to need you to put that down, son.” Armsmaster's voice was calm but masterful. I wondered if he was reading from a script. “I don't know what you intend to do with it, but you're making a lot of people very nervous.”

    “I understand, Armsmaster.” Zach turned slightly, leaned back a little … then heaved. There was a shattering crack, and I clapped my hands over my ears. Dazed, I realised that the sound had come from the fast-disappearing van breaking the sound barrier. Zach's next words were harder to hear, but just as clear. “Do not worry. No innocents will be harmed by it.”

    Challenger shaded his eyes as he stared along the path of the now-vanished airborne van. “That's a mighty big call to make, youngster. The speed that thing's going, it's going to make one hell of a crater when it hits.”

    “Yes, I know.” Zach approached Armsmaster and held out his hand. “I need your weapon.”

    Armsmaster shook his head definitively. “You're not having it.”

    Zach nodded. “All right.” I tensed; if Zach took the halberd anyway, there would very likely be a lot of trouble.

    But he didn't. Instead, he wandered over to where a no-parking sign stood lonely at the side of the road. With one hand, he took hold of the sign and heaved it from the ground. Lifting it up, he cleaned the concrete from the lower end by running his other hand down it, with about the same effort that I would use to brush lint from my clothes. Then he casually tore the sign from the top end and tossed it aside.

    “What are you doing?” I asked curiously. After the stunt with the van, most other people weren't getting close enough to ask questions.

    “Removing a threat to your life,” he said seriously. Hefting the pipe in his hand, he turned a little, peering southwest. Then, much as he had done with the van, he reared back and threw. The sonic boom was a lot less impressive, but all I saw of its disappearance was a thin line that drew itself in the sky and disappeared, even more quickly than the van had. At the end, I was almost sure I saw a glow before it disappeared.

    “Excuse me!” It was the reporter again. “Sir! Giselle Barber, Brockton Bay Nightly News! Can you tell our viewers what you're doing?”

    Zach dusted his hands off and turned toward the woman. “Yes. I am removing a threat to the life of Taylor Hebert and to the well-being of Brockton Bay.”

    “Can you explain what you mean by that, sir?” She pressed closer, eyes alight with the zeal of the hunt.

    “Yes.” Zach's voice did not change. “The Slaughterhouse Nine is …”

    <><>​

    Not Far out of Freedom, Oklahoma

    “ … one thousand five hundred forty-one miles to the south-west of Brockton Bay. They constitute a clear and present hazard to the life and emotional well-being of Taylor Hebert,” stated the clean-cut young man on the TV. “I have just killed the five members who would have caused the most problems. They will not threaten Taylor Hebert any more.”

    Crawler stirred from his doze outside the partially demolished roadside motel as the sound of the TV within the one semi-intact room rose in volume. Seated in one of the few chairs still intact after their rampage, Jack Slash was pointing the remote at the set. In the light coming in from outside, the multiple eyes of the most monstrous member of the Nine could make out the continuous flicker of a balisong knife as the leader of the group opened it and closed it, over and over. “That's a challenge if I ever heard one,” Slash observed, muting the TV and looking over his shoulder. “Don't you think so, poppet?”

    Shatterbird was dozing on the bed, while Bonesaw sat on the end of the same bed and braided the Siberian's hair. To make this easier, the tiger-striped woman was seated on the floor.

    Bonesaw's response was high-pitched and sweet. “Oh, yes. Do you think – huh?”

    It took a moment for Crawler to understand the reason for her exclamation. One moment, the Siberian had been sitting on the floor before Bonesaw, and the next she had popped from existence. A vague puzzlement overcame him; he'd seen the Siberian do many impossible things before, but never that one. Then his attention was drawn by a minor ground tremor, followed by a drawn-out ccccrrraaaaaccckkk overlaid by a distant booom, somewhere to the west.

    “You hear that?” several of his mouths asked Mannequin, who was doing some sort of maintenance check beside him. The bone-white head raised, seemed to look at him, and shook a negatory.

    From within the room, Jack Slash's voice rose, sounding urgent. “I think we need to move. Right now.” Dropping the knife, he came to his feet, while Shatterbird sat up and asked what the hell was going on. Still not sure what the fuss was all about, Crawler watched Slash head for the door, dragging the kid by the arm. Then his attention was drawn by a bright light coming in from the northeast. Really bright, really fast.

    The impact was … amazing. Crawler hadn't been hit that hard in forever. Buffeted by shockwaves, seared by flame, he tumbled over and over across the dry ground, flailing his various limbs. When he finally skidded to a halt, he looked around in bewilderment. “What the fuck was that?” he asked out loud, waiting for his ears to heal so he could hear any answers. There were none, but after a while, he did hear a distant groan. Trundling in that direction, he found Hatchet Face, missing an arm and nearly dead, if the amount of blood soaking into the ground was any indication. He waited till his teammate stopped moving, then ventured closer, drooling acid from several mouths. Food was food, after all.

    He never saw the blow coming. Impelled by Hatchet Face's remaining arm, the power-nullifier's axe sheared through several of his legs. Too late, he tried to leap out of the no-power range, but Hatchet Face was already scrambling on to his back. Again and again, the one-armed killer hacked away at him. Crawler tried to throw him off so he could get far enough away to regenerate, but it was to no avail. While he didn't feel pain, he did feel himself getting weaker with every wound.

    When Hatchet Face's axe cleaved into Crawler's braincase, it was almost a mercy. Through dimming eyes, Crawler saw the psychotic axe murderer stagger a few steps, then fall flat on his face. Behind him, in the late morning air, a mushroom cloud made of dust and ash hung over the crater that marked the funeral pyre of the Slaughterhouse Nine.

    Well … Crawler's last thoughts faded away, save for one. Fuck.

    And then that was gone too.

    <><>​

    “ … any more.” Zach smiled at the camera. “That is all I have to say. Please leave me alone now.” He turned away from the reporter; not entirely surprisingly, she did not follow.

    As he rejoined me, Miss Militia was staring at him, not very much to my surprise. She stepped closer and lowered her voice. “Were you serious about all that?”

    “Zach's always serious,” I told her. “He always means exactly what he says. I like that about him.”

    “So … you're saying that you just hit the Nine with that van. From fifteen hundred miles away.”

    “One thousand, five hundred forty-one miles, to be precise,” Zach corrected her. “And one thousand one hundred sixty-two feet, but I did not think that was a necessary detail.”

    She shook her head slightly, a dazed look in her eye. “How did you even know where they were?”

    Zach looked at her ingenuously. “Are you saying that you did not know where they were? It was obvious to me.” He stepped closer to me. “Do you still wish to go to the Boardwalk, Taylor?”

    I grinned at him. “Love to.”

    <><>​

    Thomas Calvert considered his options.

    Facing that teenage boy had been the most terrifying moment of his life, Ellisburg included. When 'Zachary' had leaned in to speak to Calvert and whispered “I know that you are Coil,” it was bad enough. But just before returning to the Hebert girl's side, the boy's eyes had flickered through a series of changes almost too fast to spot. First a burning red, then a glowing green, then pure white. One blink later, the eyes were back to normal, but Calvert knew what he had seen. He knew what that sequence meant. He wished he didn't, but he did.

    It could still have been a massive hoax of some sort. A projection by the Hebert girl, or something similar. Working on that hypothesis, he had tried to kill the girl, only to have that timeline deleted even before it was started. More terrifyingly, 'Zachary' had looked directly at him in the 'safe' timeline and shaken his head.

    And then there was … this.

    All of which added up to one thing.

    Coil wasn't just getting the hell out of Brockton Bay. He was leaving the state.

    And, just to be on the safe side, he was going to move more than one thousand, five hundred forty-one miles away.

    Though he was seriously beginning to wonder just what the hell constituted minimum safe distance from an Endbringer.



    End of Part Four

    Part Five
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2017
  14. DuskAtDawn

    DuskAtDawn Of the Thousand Faces

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    The S9 is at their best when they're being completely trivialized. Great update!

    That said, it's odd that Zack would only kill 5 of the... I think they're at 8 at this point in canon (No Burnscar or Bonesaw abominations would put them at 7, plus Hatchet Face). Does that mean that Cherish, Bonesaw, and Jack pose literally no danger to Taylor, for some reason?
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
    Fayt, Asheram, Dragonin and 3 others like this.
  15. Thief of Words

    Thief of Words Still Broken, but Less Lost Gone for Good

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    Can I just express how much I love Taylor's reaction to this being: "This is my life now."

    Jack's power would be screaming at him to leave her the hell alone. He's survived as long as he has in part by trusting those instincts.
     
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  16. Akuma-Heika

    Akuma-Heika The Devil Exists Within

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    I see you are a fan of Samurai Jack lol.

    I enjoyed the ending. Does Coil know of Dinah yet, or has she not even triggered?

    If Bonesaw is one of the surviving ones, I hope to see Little Sis Riley sometime soon!
     
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  17. Zatch P

    Zatch P Versed in the lewd.

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    They don't always have a full nine. So there might be fewer left. And while the remaining ones might be a danger, they aren't any moreso than any other villains in the world now. Zach only cares if they're likely to hurt Taylor, not if they're capable of hurting her. If the others are the type to say "Y'know what, if that was intended as a challenge, he wins, we'll just keep away from the girl like he wants", then he wouldn't care what else they do.

    It's also possible Zach wasn't counting Crawler, since Hatchet Face did that. We saw a mention of Jack Slash, Bonesaw, Siberian, Crawler, Mannequin, and Hatchet Face. We know for a fact Crawler died. Hatchet Face seems to have died too. Siberian is almost certainly dead. Jack has to be dead, or they'd definitely go after Taylor at some point. And Bonesaw was being held by Jack when the attack landed, so if he's dead she probably is too. That's five, but we know Mannequin was also right there. I guess next to Crawler he's the most likely to survive, and unlike Crawler he keeps that defensive ability even when his powers are gone. So Mannequin might be alive.

    They're the ones mentioned at least. They really are the most dangerous ones. They've also got Shatterbird, who should be alive, and maybe Burnscar. Cherish isn't in the group yet since Hatchet Face is still alive. Was alive. Might also be one or two more members I don't know about who die by the time they show up in canon. In any case, they may not even matter for long.

    Everyone knows exactly where the remnants of the Slaughterhouse are supposed to be now, after all. I'm sure they're all going to check, if only to find out if Zach was telling the truth (and which of the Nine he left alive). And then the living members will likely be captured or killed. After all, the biggest threats are gone. No Siberian to rip through literally everything, no Crawler to survive everything and get stronger, and no Bonesaw to release a few dozen horrible plagues if she or Jack feel the need. As far as anyone knew, you basically couldn't beat Crawler or the Siberian, and Bonesaw could've very easily had a dead man's switch that'd take the rest of the world with her. They're the main reason the Nine are so scary. With them gone, well. Time to clean up the rest of them.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
  18. DuskAtDawn

    DuskAtDawn Of the Thousand Faces

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    I'm fairly sure that there were 7 S9s at this point now that you mentioned Cherish joining after HF died. I'm also fairly sure Jack Slash got himself and Bonesaw out of range before the van hit, which would make them the two left after Zack killed five; I think Zack counted Crawler and Hatchet Face in the five he killed, since he seems to have some sort of precognition.

    I just don't know why he would have left those two in particular alive.

    Alternately, Zack wasn't counting HF and Crawler, and those two were the ones left alive, but then Crawler screwed the pooch and HF is left alive (until he bleeds out, at least). That'd make sense, too.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
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  19. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Great showing there, Zach. Though I wonder if even that demonstration will be enough to bring Tagg to his senses.
     
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  20. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Not necessarily. Zach isn't a parahuman. He doesn't have a shard.
    Coil knows of Dinah. He's also saying "Fuck this, I'm out."

    She isn't.
    There were only seven members (Cherish had not yet killed Hatchet Face).

    The street sign overtook the van and took out Manton.

    Jack, Bonesaw, Mannequin and Shatterbird were at ground zero when a 2-ton PRT van impacted at around 250 times the speed of sound. (I forgot Burnscar, so she was elsewhere). Hatchet Face was somewhere in the vicinity, so he was only severely injured. Crawler survived, only to misjudge Hatchet Face. Hatchet Face fell over and died of blood loss after offing Crawler.
     
  21. Zatch P

    Zatch P Versed in the lewd.

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    I don't know, Jack Slash seems like the one most likely to go after Taylor even after this. I guess he's the leader and therefore the one who ensures they avoid the places they might actually be stopped, so maybe he would be smart enough to just avoid her from then on. On the other hand, if he's still got Bonesaw he's still a pretty big threat. He's also the type to decide that, having mostly lost the game, he might as well ruin it for everyone else. I could see him deciding to have Bonesaw release every plague she's got, aimed right at Brockton if possible. See if Zach can stop a plague from killing Taylor. I mean he might be able to, but can he protect her dad? How about everyone else, Taylor wouldn't be happy about that. Probably would feel very guilty. Zach cares about her mental well-being as well as physical.

    Zach might've counted Crawler (didn't think he wasn't counting Hatchet Face in the first place). Looking again, I do see a mention of Shatterbird. She's sleeping in bed, apparently. So she's dead. The only ones who might be alive are Jack, Bonesaw, and Mannequin, I think. Two of those three must be alive. Mannequin is the most likely one to survive. He's got some strong defenses the others lack. The other two could go either way. With no Bonesaw, Siberian, or Crawler, Jack is not in a good position and could be captured or killed without much difficulty. On the other hand, Bonesaw may be less of a threat without Jack telling her what to do.

    Oh, that works too. Knew about the Cherish thing. So, Zach killed Manton, Jack, Bonesaw, Mannequin, and Shatterbird. Hatchet Face and Crawler lived, but killed each other (this may or may not have been intended by Zack, but he didn't take credit either way). Burnscar lives thanks to a poor memory. That works.

    Hatchet Face and Crawler are probably the lowest threats to Taylor too, which explains why Zach left them alive-ish. No ranged options, Hatchet Face can't effect Zach, and if Crawler somehow managed to get to Brockton Bay and find Taylor without being noticed, Zach could easily punch him into the next timezone or just kill him. And Burnscar is mostly just sticking around because she has no morals when using her powers, and doesn't want to get that kill order carried out without them (by other capes, or likely the Nine themselves for trying to leave). With the Nine gone, she might well surrender and try to get help. She was originally in an asylum willingly, I think.
     
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  22. DuskAtDawn

    DuskAtDawn Of the Thousand Faces

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    Who was Burnscar, again? Wasn't she the fire-breather in Faultline's crew?
     
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  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Nope. She's a pyro whose empathy drops like a rock when she uses her powers.
     
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  24. Zatch P

    Zatch P Versed in the lewd.

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    No, that's Spitfire. Burnscar has high powered and very versatile pyrokinesis, can teleport through flames, and fire makes her go crazy. The more fire there is, the more she loses her impulse control and morals. This tends to build off of itself in a very bad way. She was in an asylum for capes before getting recruited by the Nine. She was probably in the asylum willingly, because it's very hard to contain a teleporter otherwise. Then they broke her out, or she used her powers too much and broke herself out and they found her. By the time she came out of her power-induced crazy, she had a kill order. And at that point she didn't have many options besides sticking with the Nine. And personally I doubt they'd have just let her leave even if she wanted to anyway.
     
  25. Akuma-Heika

    Akuma-Heika The Devil Exists Within

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    Sad that there won't be any kneejerk reactions to Riley T_T
     
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  26. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Actually, the 9 had nothing to do with it. Faultline's crew raided the place in order to extract Ellie, a.k.a. Labyrinth, who also happened to be Mimi (Burnscar)'s only friend in there. The attack generated enough confusion for Burnscar to escape, and caused enough fire for her to want to.
     
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  27. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Raises an interesting possible AU: what if during that fight Labyrinth had managed to quench the fires as she did during the Burnscar interlude, and they had both gone off with Faultline? Hands her an interesting management challenge, with some firepower if she manages it.
     
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  28. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    Alternative Title: Ack is bored writing S9 kill-scenes and gives no shits anymore.
     
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  29. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Yeah, honestly the whole S9 kill seemed... unnecessary, somehow? Like, on a Doylist level, it feels like it's there because "they were significant in canon, so we have to reassure the readers that they won't show up here".

    Which you could do just as easily by just... never showing them. They're just off happily murderhoboing somewhere off-screen, and Jack won't come anywhere near the weird-ass human Endbringer he sees on the news occasionally.
     
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  30. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    It doesn't have to make Tagg come to his senses, it just has to make Costa-Brown decide to order Tagg out.
     
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