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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. Malcanthet

    Malcanthet Shy Adorable Arachne

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    Isn't his death the only way to get Tagg come to anything resembling common sense? That said Zach could probably dismantle the entirety of the ENE Protectorate HQ single handedly while only killing Tagg ...
     
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  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    As Miss Militia pointed out, saying "I will protect Taylor Hebert by killing anyone who tries to harm her" on live TV is asking for the Nine to pay attention. So he removed the threat in his usual manner; that is, with whimsy overlaying a pants-shittingly terrifying level of power. The story moves on.

    Otherwise, people would've been speculating about the Nine from here till Doomsday. So that's dealt with, too.
     
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  3. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    They were identified as a major threat. It makes sense that he'll kill them to scare off others - notably the PRT, who hasn't been able to kill them so far.
     
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  4. dasstan

    dasstan :)

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    Hey, Taylor-by-way-of-Zach just got rich.

    Has Ack addressed the super-plagues?
     
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  5. DuskAtDawn

    DuskAtDawn Of the Thousand Faces

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    The ones that presumably got released by Zach killing off Bonesaw? No, he didn't, so either she was bluffing (or hadn't had time to put that stuff in place, I don't know when she joined the S9) or a whole lot of people are about to have a really, really bad day.

    Also, it got mostly overlooked b/c of the way the chapter ended, but I find it interesting that Zach is still in contact with Simurgh, if not all three of his siblings. He mentions his family a couple of times in this chapter.
     
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  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Bonesaw was at ground zero when the 2-ton van hit the roadhouse at around about 250 times the speed of sound. Someone over on SV calculated the energy release at being about 10% of the Hiroshima bomb.

    Let's just say, the area is kind of sterile.

    Really, really sterile.

    :p
     
  7. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Hang on a minute. Mach 250 is 85.75 km/s. Earth escape velocity is only 11.186 km/s. How did he hit a target over the horizon?
     
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  8. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm also reasonably sure that an object can't maintain that much kinetic energy flying through air; Newton's equation takes them out after only a small multiple of their length.

    The most obvious explanation is that Zachbringer can continually control the object's motion all the way to the target.
     
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  9. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    More specifically, it will punch through a column of air weighing approximately as much as itself. Which, for a metal van, is many times its own length, but still not enough.
     
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  10. dasstan

    dasstan :)

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    Neatly foreshadowed by Piggot noticing something off about the footage of Assault's Tea Party moment.
     
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  11. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    I'd assumed that the Simurgh helped out, actually. Not sure why my mind went there first.
     
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  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Basically, yes. He bent the trajectory. And slowed the van enough that the resultant explosion wouldn't also take out the small town about ten miles away.

    Also protected the van from air friction enough that it was still more or less a solid mass by the time it arrived.

    Exactly correct.

    Nah, he just asked her for targeting data. Otherwise he would've had to do ranging shots, and he'd only asked Taylor if he could destroy one van.
     
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  13. Asheram

    Asheram Know what you're doing yet?

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    Violence has not worked. Threats hasn't worked.
    Time to call in the protector of all children!
    Da mouse is in da house!

    No having to deal with Murder Rat banzai!
     
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  14. Malcanthet

    Malcanthet Shy Adorable Arachne

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    Why do I have this giddy feeling that Piggot is going to explain to Taylor and Zach that all actions from after the Wards was Tagg forcibly taking over control of the Cities PRT?
     
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  15. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    That's a possibility.
     
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  16. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    I'm sort of wondering what Cauldron's long-term goal is with deliberately stirring the pot, here. This isn't like post-Leviathan Brockton Bay, half in ruins and overtaken by criminal warlords; it's not the kind of situation you can't make worse by handing the reigns of the PRT to a combative meathead. They're clearly hoping to gain something by pushing Zach to further, more drastic actions.
     
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  17. MrHam31

    MrHam31 Getting sticky.

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    Well, he's in Contessa and every other precog's blindspot isn't he? Seems to me as if they are trying to find out more about him, what he can really do. And actually going about it the wrong way, thanks to their shards.

    Do they actually know if he is an Endbringer? Or do they think he's Eidolon 2.0?
     
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  18. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    They're not sure wtf he is (Contessa gets a 'divide by zero' error) and Tagg has not only noticed the situation but offered himself forward to deal with it. They are now treating it like a black-box situation; Tagg is a stimulus, and they'll analyse the reaction for more data on what Zach is & what he's likely to do in a given situation.
     
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  19. Threadmarks: Part Five: Eclectic Boogaloo
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I'm HALPING!

    Part Five: Eclectic Boogaloo



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



    I grinned at Zach. The Boardwalk sounded great, right at that moment. “Love to.” With that settled, I turned to Miss Militia. “So, are you still okay with … wait, what's going on over there?” 'Over there' was where I could hear shouted orders and the honking of a car horn. A somewhat familiar-sounding horn.

    “I don't know.” With a very large revolver suddenly filling her right hand, Miss Militia turned toward the disturbance. “Stay here. I'll check it out.” Holding the pistol low at her side, she moved in that direction.

    The horn sounded again, and I tilted my head. “You know something? That sounds like Dad's car. He must've seen what was happening on the news and come home to see what's going on. What do you think?” Zach was easy to talk to. He actually listened to what I was saying, and said what I needed to hear, rather than what he thought I wanted to hear.

    “I think that if you think it is your father's car, you may very well be correct. It would make sense for him to be concerned about your welfare. I have not yet met him. I would like to do so.” He gestured in the direction that Miss Militia had gone. “Shall we go and see if it is him?”

    Pretending to consider the question, I rubbed my chin. “Well, she did tell us to stay here for our own protection …” While my words said one thing, my tone said quite another. Hell yes, I want to see. This wasn't just me being contrary; I wanted to see how well Zach picked up on nonverbal cues.

    “There is nothing in the immediate vicinity that can harm you in a way that I cannot prevent.” His voice was firm. “You will be no less safe over there than you are right here.” His tone held no bravado. As always, this was just Zach stating a plain fact.

    I also noted that he made no mention about 'if they let us through'. It seemed that the only person whom Zach considered worth listening to was me. Which was, I couldn't deny, a little bit of a rush. I wasn't quite sure how he pulled off the stuff he did, but he'd kept me perfectly safe since we met, and that was good enough for me. Also, throwing a van fifteen hundred miles to turn Jack Slash into street pizza? That, on its own, was way cool.

    “Thank you, Zach.” Linking my arm through his, I grinned up at him. “I think that's a great idea.” Suiting action to word, we headed for the bunch of PRT soldiers who'd gathered around the car. I noticed that Zach was making sure to keep just a little ahead of me, which I didn't mind at all. A deeply cynical part of my mind noted how people got out of his way with some alacrity when he asked them to, whereas I would've had to step around them. Of course, he was fairly polite about it, which was good; after all, I figured that some of these people were in need of a reminder that manners were important. He'd even been nice about asking that Commander Calvert guy to clean up the mess they made when they busted their way into the house. Which he totally didn't have to be, but it seemed to be Zach's standard operating procedure, and who was I to argue with that? I decided that I needed more friends like him. I wonder if he'd introduce me to his family. They sound interesting.

    When we got closer, I began to hear the sound of an ongoing argument. On the one side, there was a PRT soldier telling someone that they couldn't drive down the street, but on the other … “Zach,” I said. “That's my dad. I can hear him.” It was Dad all right, insisting that he lived in that house right there and let him through so he could see his daughter, dammit!

    “Dad!” I called out. “I'm right here! I'm all right!” All the soldiers in front of us turned to look as I stepped up beside Zach, confident that nobody would mess with me while I was with him.

    To my secret amusement, from inside the helmet of the nearest guy, I heard a faint voice saying, “Oh, shit. Back off, guys.” Even before whoever it was finished speaking, they'd collectively taken a step away from us. The ones who were up against the car moved sideways instead, but every helmet faceplate was directed straight at the teenage boy by my side. Nobody raised a gun or even looked like they were reaching for one; in fact, they seemed to be taking great pains in making it obvious that they weren't making any hostile moves.

    “Thank you.” Zach was smiling as he said it. Of course, he'd been smiling exactly the same way when he picked up the van and threw it. I was pretty sure that nobody there mistook his friendliness for weakness. “Please move away from the car. Taylor wishes to speak with her father.” He stepped forward with me beside him, and the area cleared so fast that I wondered if some of the troopers didn't have secret Mover ratings. I got the distinct impression that they didn't want to see if he'd really try to hit Director Piggot's office window from here with one of them. Not that I thought he would, unless someone did something really stupid, but the possibility was there.

    “Taylor.” Miss Militia was the closest person to us now, and even she was taking care to maintain her distance. The massive revolver had become a baton tucked into her belt. “I thought I told you to keep back.” The frustration in her voice was echoed in the creases around her eyes. I thought about ignoring her but she'd been polite to me, so I decided to return the favour.

    “Nope.” I gave her a grin. “You asked me to keep back, but I decided not to do it. Anyway, it's only Dad.” I gave her a little wave. “I'll let you know if we need anything, thanks.” As I turned back to the car, I wondered if I'd been a little abrupt, but she had pointed that damn great taser at me, so fair was fair.

    “Taylor?” This time it was Dad, just now getting out of the driver's seat of the car. “Are you all right? The news-” He didn't get any further, because I threw my arms around him and hung on as tightly as I could. I felt his arms wrap around me in a hug that I never wanted to end.

    “Don't worry about me, Dad.” My voice was muffled against his chest, but I didn't care. “Are you okay? They were getting pretty rude to you, there.”

    “Yeah, I'm fine.” He squeezed me tightly enough to make my ribs creak—I did my best to return the favour—then he held me at arms' length. “I'm worried about you. I saw on the news that some supervillain had holed up in the house with you as a hostage, so I came right over.” I could hear the echo of fear in his voice, but the tension in his body was leaching out, second by second. “Is it over? Did they get the guy?”

    I giggled and pulled far enough back so he could see as I rolled my eyes. “Dad, no. Zach's not a supervillain. He's a regular kid, just like me.” After a moment, I decided to amend that. “Well, almost like me.” Turning, I beckoned to Zach. “Come on, I want you to meet my Dad.” As Zach came around the car—I was glad he didn't just shove it aside, because Dad might take that badly—I looked from one to the other. I really hope Dad likes him.

    Stepping up beside me, Zach gave Dad a look of interest, then held out his hand. “How do you do, Mr Hebert? My name is Zachary, but you may call me Zach. I am here to protect your daughter from all harm and to ensure her happiness. I hope this meets with your approval?” Sincerity rang through every syllable; when Zach decided do something, he went right ahead and did it. It was one of the many things I appreciated about him. I also enjoyed his up-front honesty about everything, such as the way he'd always told me the exact truth about himself. Well, except when he told me that joke about being an Endbringer. That had been hilarious.

    Dad blinked and shook the proffered hand in a dazed fashion. “Well, I'm her father. Of course it meets with my approval. But how do you intend to do that? Brockton Bay is a dangerous place, after all. And what's this about a supervillain?” He put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed gently; I leaned into him.

    His concern was obvious, but of course misplaced. I chuckled and shook my head. “Oh, Dad. Zach's not a villain. He saved me from the bullies in school, and hurt a couple of them in the process, so someone called the PRT.” I sighed and rolled my eyes again. “Totally over-reacting, if you ask me.”

    Dad frowned. “He … hurt … them?” His eyes went to Zach—to be fair, Zach's muscles had muscles on them, but he was no Manpower—and then to the PRT soldiers, all of whom were still giving us a conspicuously wide berth. “How badly, and why isn't he under arrest? I mean, I know how this goes.” He paused for a second. “And why is the PRT involved? Young man, are you a parahuman?”

    “No, sir.” Zach shook his head firmly. “I am not a parahuman. I am just very good at what I do.” Which was so obviously true that it wasn't even up for debate. Dad still looked puzzled, so Zach elaborated. “When the three girls locked Taylor in her locker with the smelly waste, I went to let her out. The girls got in my way, so I put them out of my way without killing them. Then I opened up the locker and took Taylor to get cleaned up and to have something to eat. Because food is good for shock.” The way he told it made it sound almost innocent, like anyone could have done it.

    “I don't think they were hurt too badly,” I added. “I mean, Zach didn't kill them. That's good, right?” I wasn't overly worried about anyone coming after Zach for hurting Emma and her friends. The problem was that if they kept trying to arrest him, he'd probably end up injuring some of them sooner or later, and I didn't want that either.

    Dad frowned. “Killing is never good.” His expression was dubious as he looked at Zach. “The fact that you're even talking about killing people is worrisome. You're what, sixteen?” There was a certain tone in his voice that I'd never heard before. After a moment, I had it figured out from context: no boy is good enough for my daughter.

    “Taylor has said that she will be unhappy if I kill people,” Zach said. “I do not want to make her unhappy. I am glad that she let me make an exception for the Slaughterhouse Nine, though.” His voice was just as cheerful and polite as ever. It may have seemed incongruous, except that Zach always spoke in that fashion. He never actually seemed to get angry; or at least, not in any way I could really make out.

    “The … Slaughterhouse Nine?” Dad blinked, then swung to look at me. “What … Taylor, what's he talking about?” His expression of bewilderment almost made me giggle. The impulse grew stronger when I imagined his reaction to being told about it.

    “Uh, it happened just before you got here.” I pointed into the sky, toward the southwest. “While you were on the way, did you hear a couple of really loud booms, from that direction?” The TV news probably hadn't made the radio, I guessed. However Dad had gotten the news about the house being surrounded, he'd left it to come here, so he knew nothing about the ongoing situation.

    “Yes.” Now he was looking even more dubious. “I figured it was some sort of cape shenanigans. Probably someone breaking the sound barrier inside city limits.” He folded his arms and gave Zach a hard stare. I had to admire his fortitude, under the circumstances. But then again, he'd grown up in Brockton Bay and lived through a previous visit of the Nine to the city. “Did you have something to do with that?”

    “Yes, sir.” Zach's reply was prompt and up front. “The Slaughterhouse Nine were a clear and present danger to Taylor's happiness and physical welfare, so I decided to remove them from consideration. It was not hard to find items of sufficient mass with which to accomplish this. My sister assisted me with targeting, and my oldest brother helped achieve a suitable kinetic event upon impact. The Slaughterhouse Nine were destroyed, and no innocents were hurt. Unfortunately, several people were badly frightened, but they were not harmed, so I am satisfied with how it turned out.” He sounded very pleased with himself. I didn't blame him for feeling that way; I thought it was kind of awesome myself. He'd destroyed the Slaughterhouse Nine just to make me happy! I'd like to see any other girl get a present like that from a guy friend. Though now I wanted to hear more about his sister and brothers.

    Dad rubbed at his forehead with thumb and forefinger, as if to ward off an impending headache. “I'm probably going to regret asking this, but …. what 'objects of sufficient mass' are you talking about, exactly, here?” He was taking this better than I'd feared, but we still weren't out of the woods yet. Some people seemed to have more trouble than others when it came to accepting what Zach could do. “And you have a brother and a sister? Uh, are they here?”

    I decided to help Zach out. “Uh, he threw a PRT van and the pole from that street sign there.” I indicated the ragged hole in the pavement, with the torn-off sign lying forlornly nearby. “He did ask me if it was okay first.” It wasn't as though he'd just picked the van up and tossed it without making sure that there was nobody inside first. And Armsmaster wasn't even angry about it, which meant that it was okay. Didn't it? “And I haven't met his brother or sister yet. I'm looking forward to it, though.”

    My answer didn't seem to make Dad much happier. “And he's not even a parahuman,” he muttered. “I swear, the world is getting stranger every day.” He took a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh. “And you're certain you killed the Nine?” The question was directed toward Zach. Not even Dad, it seemed, had a problem with killing when the victims in question were the Nine.

    “Oh, yes.” Zach's expression was guileless. “My first strike eliminated the Siberian. The rest died either in the second strike or shortly afterward. It was actually easier than it sounds. There were no innocents nearby to avoid. Even though I had to go kind of close to an airliner and really close to a helicopter, nobody got hurt.” For which I would be eternally grateful. I didn't know what would be worse; knowing that Zach had killed innocents in the process of taking out the Nine, or knowing that he'd spared them to save innocents.

    “Well, that's good, I suppose.” Dad managed to muster a crooked half-smile. “But why are they being so standoffish about it? Not crowding around and offering congratulations?” His gesture took in the PRT soldiers and Protectorate capes who were still watching us cautiously. Miss Militia was closer than most, but she kept her hand protectively on the baton in her belt.

    I didn't work very hard to hold back from smirking. “Uh, that's because Assault tried to stop us from leaving the school. Zach kinda had to … smack some sense into him.” My smirk became a chuckle, which segued into helpless laughter as my sides began to heave and tears came to my eyes. After all, it was funny as hell.

    Another frown came over Dad's face as he scanned the area. “Assault tried to stop you? Where is he?” I wasn't sure whether Dad wanted to ask Assault what had happened, or tell him off for getting in my way. Either way, he was out of luck.

    “Assault is unharmed.” Zach came to the rescue, mainly because I was physically incapable of coherent speech right then. “He landed in the Charles River, in Boston, after I caromed him off the Protectorate Base force field.” Even helpless with laughter, I had to admire the aplomb with which he delivered lines like that.

    However, Dad seemed to be recovering from his initial shock fairly well. “The Charles River, huh? Good aim.” He looked Zach up and down. “You said you're good at what you do. What is that, exactly?” As I recovered from my fit of laughter, I decided I was very impressed with Dad. He'd obviously accepted the idea of Zach being able to take out the Nine from half the country away. And if Zach could do that, smacking Assault into the next state was no big deal.

    “Protecting Taylor, sir.” Zach's tone was straightforward. “Helping her, and making sure that she does not become unhappy. It is what I am here to do.”

    “I … see.” Dad appeared to be more than a little bemused. “So you consider that to be your job now?” He looked from Zach to me and back again. “I mean, not that I disapprove as such given what you've already done for Taylor, but don't you have a life? Friends? Family? School, even?”

    “Taylor is my friend.” Zach's voice was firm. “My family knows what I am doing. I will be attending school with Taylor, to make sure that nobody attempts to hurt her.” He gave me a smile. “Do not worry, Taylor. I will try not to hurt anyone.”

    “Well, if they keep trying after what happened to Emma and her friends, they deserve whatever happens to them.” I didn't realise what I'd said until I saw Dad's eyes widen. Oh, shit. I never told him it was happening, or that Emma was behind it. My mind raced, trying to figure out what to say next. Alan Barnes was a good friend of Dad's, but he was also a lawyer. If Mr Barnes decided that I had something to do with Emma getting hurt …

    “Taylor.” Dad's voice was calm and controlled. “Is there another Emma at Winslow I should know about? And what do you mean, 'after what happened to them'?” No longer bemused, his whole attitude was laser-focused on what I'd just said. I wasn't scared of him—I'd never be scared of Dad—but I knew that I wasn't going to get out of this without telling him what he wanted to know.

    “No,” I admitted unhappily. “I've been getting bullied at school, a lot. Mainly, it's been Emma and a few of her friends. She … after I came back from summer camp, she'd changed. New hairstyle, new friends. She didn't want to know me. But it got worse, after we went to Winslow. It was like she wanted to destroy every good memory we had together.” I blinked, realising that what I'd just said fitted in with Emma's actions almost perfectly. The big question was why, of course, but that could wait till later. For now, I was too taken up with the realisation that what I'd thought was a throwaway line had hit the mark dead centre. “Holy shit,” I muttered. “It really was.”

    Dad's face had set in hard lines. “I'm gonna need to talk to Alan,” he said. I figured he was thinking out loud, rather than speaking to me. “If Emma's been pulling shit like that, I need to talk to him as soon as damn possible.” His fists clenched, but I wasn't sure if he was aware of this. I knew he had a temper, but I also knew that he kept it under control. “Taylor.” His attention was abruptly back on me. “Why didn't you tell me?”

    “At first I thought it was just a thing,” I confessed. “I mean, I still saw Emma as a friend, then. I figured maybe she was being a bit mean to look good to her other friends, but she'd get tired of it and move on.” My voice trailed off as I recalled how she'd proven over and over that she wasn't getting tired of it. The taunting, the escalating incidents, one thing piled on another until I was almost suffocating under the burden.

    “But she didn't.” Dad didn't phrase it as a question. I could see the whiteness of the skin over his knuckles. Even if he was trying not to show it, he was majorly pissed right now.

    I shook my head briefly, almost redundantly. “No. She didn't.” I couldn't recall exactly when I had realised that no matter what I wanted to think, Emma was no longer my friend. Or, for that matter, exactly when I had begun to hate and fear her.

    “I'm pulling you out of Winslow,” he said abruptly. “Whatever else happens, I'm not letting you stay in that shithole of a school for one second longer than necessary. If she can get away with picking on you for that long and not one goddamn teacher does a thing about it, it says to me that something's seriously wrong.” He looked like he wanted to punch someone; had Blackwell or even Gladly been in the vicinity right then, I suspected he'd have done just that. As much as we didn't need a lawsuit on top of everything else, I couldn't quite convince myself that I wouldn't watch with a certain amount of glee.

    “I'm fine with that.” I gave him a beaming smile to prove it. “Of course, they'll just have to accept that Zach comes along with the deal. Won't they, Zach?” As far as I was concerned, it was a done deal. The Brockton Bay educational system had failed me utterly and completely; I'd had enough of projects ruined and teachers looking past what was being done to me. Zach was the only person to ever step up and do something about it, so wherever I went, he came too. Assuming, of course, he was on board with that.

    “Of course they will, Taylor.” His steady smile reassured me, not that I'd ever had much of a doubt in the matter. “I can be a good student. I learn quickly.” There was no boastfulness or swagger in his tone. All I heard was a rock-solid certainty that he could do the work. Which, considering that he'd learned how to tell jokes in the short time I'd known him, I wasn't about to doubt.

    “I'm willing to give it a damn good try.” Dad's voice was firm. “In the meantime …” His voice trailed off as he stared at the house. “What the hell's going on? What happened?” I didn't have to look too far to figure out what he was referring to; as we watched, a PRT soldier emerged from the house and came down the front steps. Not just any PRT soldier, either; from the height and build, this was Commander Calvert himself. He was carrying what looked like a cardboard box. It might even have been the one that had been sitting beside the trash can in the kitchen, waiting to get thrown out. He began to descend the front steps, and I realised all too late that he didn't know the bottom one was almost rotted through.

    “Oh, shit,” I muttered, my eyes going wide. “He's going to -”

    It happened almost in slow motion. Dad and I usually went into the house via the back stairs; if I used the front door at all, I made sure to step over that one tread. It was just one more job that Dad was going to do once he got the time. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, time had run out. Calvert wasn't the heaviest of men, but the weight of the armour and other gear he was wearing made all the difference; as his boot came down on the step, there was a rending crack, and his foot just kept on going down. Given the fact that the rest of him was travelling forward at the time, this was likely to be problematic.

    'Problematic', in this case, meant that Commander Calvert ended up sprawled face-down, with the cardboard box upended before him. From it, broken glass was strewn far and wide on the path before him, almost all the way out to the sidewalk. Dad and I stared as the spilled glass twinkled in the sunlight.

    “Well,” I said, not really able to tear my eyes from the scene. “Shit.”

    Dad was made of sterner stuff. “Okay, two questions. Three. Why were the PRT in my damn house? Why was someone taking broken glass out of my house? And who's going to pay for my damn front step?” I had to admire his moxie; in less than twenty seconds, he'd gone from puzzlement to being on the attack. And it didn't matter that we both knew the step had been rotten for quite some time; the PRT had broken the step, so it was on them.

    I glanced around and found Armsmaster, who was watching us. Or rather, while I couldn't see his eyes, I was certain he was watching Zach, who was standing alongside me, observing the show with that same cheerful smile. Trying not to grin too broadly, I raised my hand and beckoned the armoured hero over. While I would've preferred to work with Miss Militia, Armsmaster was the ranking Protectorate hero, so I supposed he'd be the one to talk to under these circumstances.

    Before he approached us, Armsmaster folded and racked his halberd, possibly to reduce the chance of Zach taking it from his hands. I couldn't see all that much of his face, but he wasn't smiling as he came over. Then again, I didn't really blame him for being pissed. “Can I help you, Miss Hebert?” he asked brusquely.

    “You can help my dad,” I said cheerfully. “Care to explain why the PRT is carting broken glass out the front door, and who's gonna be paying for that step?” I knew I was tweaking him, hard. Zach's presence beside me would prevent any retaliation, and getting a little petty payback was fun as fuck. His helmet twitched sideways, as if he were shooting a sharp glance at me. Unfortunately for his intimidation factor, I couldn't see his eyes. I smiled blandly back at him, pretending obliviousness.

    After a moment, he turned his helmet toward Dad. It sounded as though his words were being dragged from him; one kicking, screaming syllable at a time. “When we initially thought that uh, Zachary was holding your daughter hostage in the house, the PRT staged a dynamic entry to capture him. In the process, several windows were broken. Your daughter has since prevailed upon the strike team commander to clean up the mess he made.” He stopped speaking, his jaw tightening. I would've let it go after that, except that he'd missed something out.

    “And the step?” I asked sweetly. “We all saw it. Commander Calvert broke it. Who pays?” I was being a little unfair on Armsmaster, but then again, the entire Protectorate had been massively unfair to Zach, right up until the point where he took out the Slaughterhouse Nine for them. Well, for me, but they got to reap the benefits.

    He took a deep breath and spoke rapidly. “That step gave way too easily -”

    “Uh, uh.” I held up a finger, and Zach moved forward half a step. That was all it took to shut Armsmaster up. “Care to go again?”

    “I really do think that it is only fair that the Protectorate reimburses Taylor and her father for the cost of the broken step, and the windows that the soldiers broke.” Zach could've been commenting on the weather for all the force he put into the statement, but Armsmaster flinched anyway. By now, Calvert had gotten up and was brushing himself off. I hoped that there would be footage of his pratfall online at some point.

    “It's not my call,” Armsmaster said reluctantly, then seemed to brighten. “However, once the reward money for the Nine clears, there'll be more than enough -”

    “Nope.” Belatedly, I realised that I'd interrupted him twice in thirty seconds. Ah, fuck it. You only live once. “You guys broke it, you guys pay for it. Whatever reward Zach's earned goes to him. How much is it, anyway?” In retrospect, asking that question was a mistake. After all, I knew the Nine had been racking up a body count—and a bounty—for longer than I'd been alive. I just didn't register exactly what that meant until Armsmaster spoke.

    Which he did. “The reward adds up to thirty-four point one million dollars -”

    My world wavered. I shook my head, blinking hard. “Excuse me, what again?” Thirty-four … thirty-four point … thirty-four point one … My brain had trouble encompassing the whole number, especially the world 'million' at the end. It was outside all my experience. I'd never seen a million of anything. “That's what Zach gets for … for taking out the Nine?” Holy crap.

    With a vague sense of relief, I became aware that he was shaking his head. “No,” he said. “You didn't let me finish. That's just the reward for Jack Slash. It appears that there were a lot of people who really wanted him dead.” There was no amusement in his tone, or even any self-satisfaction. He was just relating facts to me. “The rest of the Nine, not having been active for as long, adds up to another sixty-five point three million dollars. Ninety-nine point four million in total.” Yeah, just relating facts. Some damn facts.

    The world went fuzzy, and I swayed again. I found that I could, in fact, imagine ninety-nine point four million dollars; I just couldn't imagine it going to someone I knew. To my relief, I felt Zach's arms steadying me. He didn't seem to be fazed in the slightest. Dad, on the other hand, was leaning kind of hard on the car. “That's nearly a hundred million dollars!” I blurted. “Holy shit, is Zach worth nearly a hundred million dollars now?” And all for tossing a van fifteen hundred miles That's sixty thousand dollars per mile. Can you get frequent flyer points for that? I wanted to giggle, but I stopped myself in case I broke down into hysterical laughter.

    “That would be the case, yes.” Armsmaster nodded soberly. He hadn't even cracked a smile. “The money is being held in escrow. Due to the nature of most bounty claimants, it can be transferred on to a card which, uh, Zachary, can then use to move the funds into whatever banking arrangement he uses, outside of our purview.” Most of that went over my head, due partly to my current state of sheer bogglement over how much money Zach now had to play with right now. “All he has to do is wait until the deaths are independently verified, then come in to the PRT building and claim the reward.”

    The confusion was beginning to clear from my brain at this point, to be immediately replaced by suspicion. “Uh, wait a minute. You guys still want to arrest him. What's stopping you from just grabbing him when he comes in to pick up his card?” I gave Armsmaster a hard stare. I'm on to you.

    Now he cracked a smile, or at least one corner of his mouth twitched upward. “Miss Hebert, I am not at all certain that we have anything that can contain your friend, at least not on hand. Nor are we likely to start a fight with a cape of his versatility inside the PRT building. And last, but most important, anyone picking up the reward for a kill order is automatically under truce while that's happening.” His voice conveyed a matter of fact tone which reassured me more than any number of promises on bended knee. I didn't like Armsmaster, but I didn't think he could lie all that easily.

    Dad slapped Zachary on the shoulder. “Well done, kid. You're now independently wealthy.” And wasn't that the understatement of the year. “How's that feel?” To his credit, all I heard in his voice was genuine admiration.

    “I do not know, Mr Hebert,” Zach replied. With anyone else, I would've decided that they were putting on an act for sure. After all, who wouldn't go gaga over the idea of getting ninety-nine-point-something million dollars? But this was Zach's way; I didn't think for an instant that he was acting. To be honest, I didn't think he knew how to act. “I have never had money before. I do not need money.” He turned to me. “Taylor, I am giving this money to you.”

    My ears rang, and I became aware that my jaw was hanging open. “I … wha … bwah?” The largest monetary gift I'd ever gotten (apart from my allowance, from Dad) was a fifty that Mr Barnes had slipped to me for my thirteenth birthday. Zach had just offered to make me a millionaire … nearly a hundred times over. How do I even react to that? “Zach … you can't. I can't take that.” Seconds after the words were out of my mouth, my brain rebelled. No, not that way. The correct answer was 'Yes, please.' You idiot. But I'd said it, and I couldn't take it back.

    He stared at me, apparently puzzled. “Taylor does it not make you happy to have money? I want to make you happy.” I felt a huge twinge of guilt at the look in his eyes. He'd had something that he wanted to give to me, and I'd thrown it back in his face. Did he think he'd hurt my feelings?

    “No, no, it's not that,” I hastened to explain, ruthlessly booting my brain into gear. “It's just that … it's very sweet, Zach, but I'm fifteen. I'm far too young to be responsible for that sort of money.” I'm throwing away a hundred million dollars … My brain gibbered for a bit before I wrenched it back on track. “Thank you for offering, though. I really appreciate it.” Putting my arms around him, I hugged him as tightly as I knew how. “It's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me.”

    I felt the comforting pressure of his arms as he hugged me back. “I think I understand, Taylor.” It was just typical. We were having a special moment, and he was still talking. To be honest, I couldn't really blame him; he was just a teensy bit oblivious when it came to things like that.

    Armsmaster cleared his throat. “If you truly do not need the money …” I heard a muffled clunk; when I looked over, Miss Militia was rubbing her elbow and glaring up at the armoured hero. “I was going to say, we could put it into a trust fund to be administered for you,” he concluded hastily.

    “I have a better idea.” Zach sounded happy once more. “I do not need a trust fund, so I will give it to Taylor's father. He is old enough to be responsible with it. And with it, he can buy Taylor nice things.”

    I was still hugging him, so I had to pull back to look at his face. The smile on his face didn't tell me much, but we hadn't covered 'psych!' yet in jokes, so it probably wasn't a prank. Besides, I strongly doubted that he'd do something as mean-spirited as that. Then I turned to look at Dad's face, just as the full realisation of what Zach had said sank home. I would forever regret not having a camera handy; he looked even more stunned than when Armsmaster had revealed the size of the reward.

    “You're … giving it to me?” His voice rose at the end. “Just like that? A hundred million dollars?” He swayed on his feet, then reached out to steady himself on the car. “I—I don't know what to say.” I wasn't sure what I could see in his eyes. Disbelief, for certain. Also, what looked a little like panic. I couldn't blame him. Having this sort of thing dumped on you out of the blue was amazingly like being deluged with ice water from nowhere. I knew exactly what that felt like, courtesy of Emma and Sophia, and it was never pleasant.

    “Say yes, Dad,” I urged him. “We can sort it all out later. Or give it back, if you want. Or, you know, get the ferry running again.” That got his attention. For years, he'd been doing his best to help keep the Dockworkers Association running on a shoestring budget. Now, with a hundred million to play with, he had so many more options. I saw his focus sharpen as he stared at Zach.

    “You mean it?” His voice was firm, every word radiating purpose. “You'll give this money to me? You're certain about it?” He was in control of himself once more, on top of the situation.

    “Yes, sir.” Zach was equally serious. “I do not need money. I know that you will be able to use it wisely.” He looked at me. “Is that good, Taylor?” His expression was earnest, as if he honestly needed me to tell him the right thing to do.

    Then again, he has no problem with killing people, so maybe it's a good idea that I'm here to tell him what to do. “It's good,” I assured him. “You did a really good thing here. Twice, even. And I'm sure that if you do ever need anything, Dad'll buy it for you.” I looked over at Armsmaster. “Your helmet's recording everything, isn't it?” Given Armsmaster's reputation as Brockton Bay's premier Tinker, I would've been astonished if it wasn't.

    He hesitated for only a moment. “Yes, Miss Hebert. Sound and video both. Why?” But I could tell from the tone of his voice that he'd already worked out the answer to that question. “You want me to be a witness if necessary.” Well, nobody ever said he was stupid. A dick, yes. Stupid, no.

    “You and Miss Militia both.” I looked from him to the flag-adorned woman. “You're both reputable heroes. If anyone wants to query Zach giving Dad that money, I expect you to set them straight. I don't want Dad getting in trouble just because Zach felt like being nice.” Not that I really thought that was going to happen—after all, who in his right mind would consider Dad being able to force Zach into doing anything?—but I was fully aware that there were many mean-spirited people in the world, and the lure of a hundred million dollars was a huge temptation.

    “If anyone says that I may not give Mr Hebert the money, then I will explain that they are wrong.” Zach's tone was deceptively calm. “The only person who can tell me not to do something is Taylor. Did you record that, Armsmaster?” He was now looking at the Tinker with his usual smile.

    “It's on record.” Armsmaster's voice was matter of fact. “Do you mind if I ask you a question about that?” His posture and tone were still guarded, but I also heard curiosity there. Miss Militia looked a little wary, as if worried about what he might say.

    “I do not mind if you ask questions.” Zach's expression was as open and friendly as his voice. “If I do not know the answer, I can not answer it. If I do not like the question, I will not answer it.” As he spoke, I leaned against him and put my arm around his waist in silent support. Facing off against two superheroes was kind of a unique experience for me. Or, at least it had been before this day. And, for a mercy, they were listening instead of attacking.

    Armsmaster nodded, as if verifying something. “Why do you only do what Taylor Hebert says? Are you under some kind of Master compulsion from her?” The way he phrased it caught me by surprise, especially with the kick in the teeth at the end. What didn't surprise me was that it was him saying it. He'd already proven himself to be a dick that way.

    Zach wasn't even fazed by the question. “No. Taylor Hebert is not a parahuman, and Master powers would not work on me even if she was. I do what she says because it is what I am here for. After all, you cannot say that she did not need help when I met her.” He looked directly at Armsmaster as he said it, with none of the hesitation most people showed when they couldn't see the eyes of the person they were addressing.

    “You can't be certain of either of those statements.” Armsmaster sounded absolutely sure of himself. “It takes a thorough medical examination merely to determine whether someone may be a parahuman, and those under Master influence are always the last to realise it. Also, nobody ever thinks they can be Mastered, until they are.” I suddenly realised what he was doing; unable to beat Zach physically, Armsmaster was trying to make him doubt himself. The trouble was, I didn't know how to protest what he was doing without sounding like I was confirming what he was saying. 'Of course I'm not Mastering him' was exactly what a Master would say, after all.

    Zach surprised me, and I think everyone else, by laughing. I'd never heard him laugh before, and it sounded just a little like he was trying it out for the first time. The laughter died away in a chuckle, and he smiled once more at Armsmaster. “As my sister might say, that was almost cute. I suggest that you stick to being a Tinker. You are better at that.” He nodded toward Dad, even as Miss Militia made a noise suspiciously like a snort. “Now, I have already stated that Mr Hebert is to receive the reward for the Slaughterhouse Nine. Please make sure that happens. I would be very unhappy if it did not.” He left unspoken what would happen if he became unhappy. Given that he'd only stopped smiling a few times since I'd met him, I wasn't quite sure what this would be like. I suspected that 'unpleasant' would be a good starting point.

    Miss Militia stepped forward. “Mr Hebert will get the reward. We'll make sure of it.” I got the distinct impression that she didn't want to see what Zach did when he was unhappy. She probably didn't have as much faith as I did that he wouldn't kill anyone without my say-so. Or possibly she thought that if they stiffed us on the reward, I might order Zach to go on a killing spree. Some people might do that; as I'd already noted, a hundred million dollars was quite the incentive for bad behaviour. I wasn't one of them, but she couldn't know that.

    “Good,” said Zach. “I trust you.” And that was that. “But I believe that we were going to be going down to the Boardwalk. Are we still going there? I was looking forward to seeing it.” That was Zach all over. Once a subject was done with, he left it alone. Also, he was kind of single-minded. It was a trait I could definitely admire.

    “Oh, sure.” I looked at Dad. “Is it okay if we go? I kinda wanna get away from here for a bit. Miss Militia said she'd drive us.” Then I turned to Armsmaster. “Is that still okay? I mean, do you need her for anything?” I knew very well that I was putting him between a rock and a hard place. The very last thing Armsmaster wanted to do, as far as I could tell, was leave me and Zach to our own devices. If someone tried to hurt me, Zach was likely to roll them into a ball and bounce them down the street. More to the point, he was perfectly able to do just that. Armsmaster didn't want that happening, so I was more or less blackmailing him into sending Miss Militia with us. I personally didn't care if idiots got hurt, but if it meant I got bothered less, I was all for the idea.

    “Yeah.” Dad was eyeing the house, his expression intent. “I need to stay and make sure these morons leave everything exactly the way they found it.” Turning, he looked at Zach and me. “Zach? Keep Taylor safe, but don't punt anyone into orbit unless she okays it first, all right?” His tone was almost joking, but I caught the undertone of seriousness. I didn't think he really considered it possible for Zach to literally punt someone into orbit. Personally, I was keeping an open mind.

    Zach nodded seriously. “Yes, Mr Hebert. I will not punt anyone into orbit unless Taylor says I can.” Dad might've considered what he said to be a joke, but Zach definitely didn't. I grabbed Zach's hand and squeezed. I knew that I probably wouldn't have to try too hard to stop him, seeing that putting someone in orbit was pretty well an automatic death sentence.

    As far as I was aware, that is. Uncomfortably, I began to wonder if Zach had a way of putting someone into orbit without killing them. Oh, well. He did say he'd check with me first.

    “Now that's settled, I think it's time we went to the Boardwalk.” Miss Militia's tone was also cheerful, but I detected an odd note of tension. I glanced around to see what I was missing, but nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Certainly nothing to cause her to be on edge. She was barely even looking at us; most of her attention appeared to be on the southern sky.

    “Sure thing,” I said, watching her closely. “Let's go.” At my words, she seemed to relax just a little, which made me wonder. What's going on here? It couldn't be an ambush; she'd tried and it had blown up in her face, in no uncertain terms. Which meant that it wasn't that she wanted to get us to a particular place, so much as that she wanted to get us away from here. But why?

    We climbed into one of the remaining PRT vans. It was definitely well worth the two hundred thousand price tag, given that the bench seat in front allowed all three of us to sit side by side in comfort. “I might get Dad to spring for a replacement for the one that Zach threw at the Nine,” I commented as I put my seatbelt on. Zach, sitting in the middle, didn't bother.

    “While the gesture would be appreciated, it wouldn't really be necessary,” she replied with a chuckle. Turning the key elicited a deep rumbling engine noise that sounded like it could drive the van straight up a vertical cliff face. She let the clutch in and put the vehicle in gear. “We have a budget for just this sort of thing. And considering the resources that have gone into killing members of the Nine before, one van is relatively cheap.” We trundled off down the road in the general direction of the Boardwalk. “So where would you like to go? And do you mind if I ask Zachary some questions while we drive?”

    Is this why she was so anxious to get going? So she could interrogate Zach? “Uh, somewhere near Fugly Bob's, I guess. I'm getting hungry again, and I'm pretty sure I could do with some grease and salt. And it's up to Zach if he wants to answer questions.” I gave him a sideways glance. “Despite what he seems to think, I'm not his lord and master.” My left hand found his right, and I squeezed it to show that I wasn't upset with him or anything. The whole 'there to make me happy' thing managed to weird me out and strike me as amazingly cool, all at once.

    “Of course you are not, Taylor.” He squeezed my hand reassuringly. “You are simply the reason for my existence. I am here to help you be happy.” Which wasn't exactly news to me, except for the 'reason for my existence' bit. I would've brushed it off as male hype, but Zach didn't really do male hype. Maybe it was another one of his jokes, only a little more obscure? “If you wish to ask me questions, Miss Militia, I will answer them unless I decide that I do not want to.” That was plain enough.

    “Fair enough.” She was silent for a moment, the distant thunder of the engine filling the cab. When she spoke, her voice was thoughtful. “You've mentioned a brother and a sister. Are they capes as well? And why are you here to help Taylor?” She didn't look around as she wrestled the large wheel from one side to the other, but I could tell she was paying close attention to Zach all the same.

    <><>​

    Danny

    Danny watched the van roll out of sight, then turned to Armsmaster. “Okay, what happens now?” He could see that the PRT troopers were starting to pack gear back into their vans. Now that the 'dangerous parahuman' was no longer on site, the Protectorate forces were also starting to disperse. However, the armoured hero didn't seem to be in any hurry to move.

    “We wait,” Armsmaster said bluntly. “For the cleanup and repair on your house, and for one other thing.” He gestured to the south. “The Director is on the way.” Which struck Danny as odd. Why would Director Piggot attend a situation like this in person? After all, it was more or less all said and done.

    “Why?” Danny could be blunt, too. “She doesn't need to come here to give me the reward. I can just as easily collect it from the PRT building.” In fact, he was reasonably sure that there would be a certain amount of paperwork to complete before the reward was safe in his bank account. Reward? Holy crap. Windfall! He'd managed to successfully forget the specifics of the reward for a few moments, but now it was coming back again. When he had a moment of privacy, he was going to be making a cup of coffee with a good slug of Jameson's whiskey in it. Or maybe two.

    “Director Piggot has been … overridden,” Armsmaster stated, his lips thinning slightly. “Director Tagg is coming in from Washington to take over the … situation.” He didn't like it, Danny could tell. But he'd see this situation before; Armsmaster was a loyal company man who'd follow orders to the end, no matter his personal thoughts on the matter.

    “You mean, this situation with Zachary and Taylor.” Danny saw Armsmaster twitch. Bingo. “Well, I wish him the best of luck. Between the two of them, I can't see anyone making them do anything they don't want to do.” He tried not to smile, but it wasn't easy. Taylor had been deriving an unseemly amount of amusement from the PRT's apparent collective inability to find their backsides with two maps and a compass, and he could see why. With Zach at her side, she could tell them to take a long walk off of a short pier, and had been doing almost exactly that ever since this situation had begun.

    Armsmaster shaded his eyes with his hand. Danny could see nothing, but he thought he heard helicopter rotors. In a few moments, this became a certainty. As the aircraft came into view, Armsmaster turned to Danny. “One more thing. Director Tagg is a little reactionary. I would advise discretion when talking to him.” He turned away, leaving a sudden sinking feeling simmering in Danny's guts.

    Did he just call his commanding officer a loose cannon? It wasn't a comfortable thought at all.

    The PRT soldiers, apparently following unheard orders, moved their vans up and down the road until there was a clear space in which to land the helicopter. Danny watched, holding up a hand to protect his face from flying pebbles, kicked up by the downwash. It came in for a fast, slick landing, leaving Danny to ponder that the pilot had possibly done this in combat situations before now. But he didn't have too much time to think about it, because the side door slammed open and a uniformed man climbed out. The newcomer was dressed in what looked more like a military uniform than the PRT troopers had on, for all that he had the PRT emblem on his lapels. He also had medal ribbons on his chest; Danny had no idea what they meant, but he had a lot of them. He also looked pissed, or perhaps that was just his natural expression.

    Armsmaster stood to attention as the uniformed man approached. Neither of them saluted, but the newcomer looked Armsmaster up and down. “Armsmaster.” Danny read TAGG on the man's nametag, which only confirmed what Armsmaster had said.

    That got a nod. “Director Tagg.” Armsmaster didn't sound happy, or sad. Or anything, really. His voice was absolutely neutral.

    “I'll be taking over this scene. What's going on, and why is this civilian not back beyond the perimeter?” Tagg stared at Danny as if at a speck of dirt on his immaculately polished brass. Danny felt his temper rising, but restrained himself. The PRT might not shoot him for slugging this asshole, but he didn't want to chance it.

    “I'm Danny Hebert,” he said before Armsmaster could say a word. I can do some things for myself. “My daughter's the one who was victimised before Zachary saved her.” He held out his hand to shake. “I'm pleased to meet you, Director Tagg.” No sense in not being polite to the new guy.

    Tagg's glare didn't abate in the slightest. Ignoring the proffered hand, he pointed at Danny and addressed the nearest PRT soldiers. “Place this man under arrest. The charges are aiding and abetting, accessory to attempted murder, and whatever else we find when I start digging.”

    “Wait, what?” Tagg's instant judgement shocked Danny out of the feeling of mild complacency he'd let himself drift into. “No, you idiot! My daughter's the victim! We had it all sorted out!” He saw the PRT troopers glancing at one another, as if unsure of what to do.

    Tagg ignored Danny's words, just as he'd ignored his hand. “You and you.” The newcomer gestured at the two nearest troopers. “Arrest this civilian, or you're on a charge. That's an order. Now, goddamn it!”

    That jolted them into action. They stepped forward and efficiently grabbed Danny's arms. He was too shocked at the sudden turn of events to resist meaningfully. “This is bullshit! Armsmaster! Tell him!”

    “Director -” began Armsmaster.

    Tagg held up a hand to stop him. “Not another word. You're obviously compromised. Report to the PRT building for Master/Stranger screening.” Armsmaster began to speak again; Tagg held up his hand once more. “That's a direct order, mister.”

    Seething, his hands cuffed behind his back, Danny watched as Armsmaster walked off stiffly toward his motorbike. Nor did he miss the gleam in Tagg's eye. The man obviously enjoyed throwing his weight around.

    I should've decked him when I had the chance.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “I have two brothers and one sister,” Zach said cheerfully. “They are all older than me. They are not capes, but you may even have met them.” He tilted his head to one side. “Yes, my sister says that you have met them all.” Blithely, he changed subjects. “As for helping Taylor -”

    “Wait.” Miss Militia cut him off. “Get back to your brothers and sister. I've met them? And you're communicating with them right now? Who are they?” Her voice held a certain amount of tension, which wasn't exactly surprising under the circumstances. This was something I'd been curious about as well.

    Zach looked at her with a certain amount of puzzlement. If it was feigned, he was really good at putting it on. “You mean that you have not figured it out? My sister is the Simurgh, and my brothers are Behemoth and Leviathan. I was created to protect Taylor Hebert and keep her safe.”

    Miss Militia jammed on the brakes of the van. I felt them lock up and the vehicle began to screech to a halt; as it did so, I was thrown forward on to the seat belt with some force. Horns blared behind us, then a car swerved around the van, missing us by inches. Zach didn't shift at all in his seat; he placed his hand on my arm, and I found myself sitting comfortably as the van came to a complete stop in the middle of the street, just short of an intersection. Even as the vehicle rocked to a halt, Miss Militia turned to face us. “Say that again, please?” If I'd thought her voice was tense before, now you could've carved it with a chainsaw.

    “Do you really wish to talk about this right now?” Zach seemed more intent than normal. “There are more important matters you might be interested to know about.” His demeanour had me puzzled; normally, he was extremely outgoing with anything he had to say. The mention of 'more important matters' got my attention, especially seeing as what he'd just said to her was just an extension of his 'I am an Endbringer' joke.

    But Miss Militia didn't see it that way. She probably wouldn't, not until I explained the punchline to her anyway. “Let's talk about what you just said,” she stated quietly. “I'd rather hear about that first.”

    “Of course,” Zach said brightly. I began to grin. “My sister -”

    For the second time in less than a minute, he was interrupted. This time, it was by Hookwolf as he bowled through the intersection, not twenty feet in front of us, followed by a blast of fire.

    That got everyone's attention.



    End of Part Five

    Part Six
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2017
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  20. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Tag's gonna tagg... "You arrested the father of an Endbringer-Master?" will make a nice question he cannot answer.
     
  21. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    And this is what just about everyone thinks in this situation, lol.

    And I'd change that period into a "!".
    Obviously Tagg didn't get the message:
    He done fucked up.

    OTOH, Tagg's all set to repeat his fate from canon.
     
  22. LastStandZiggy

    LastStandZiggy Lost... But not unhappy...

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    Director Tagg... Dropping gasoline and nitroglycerine by plane on a forest fire... :oops:
     
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  23. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Sadly, this sort of idiocy is totally in-character for 'Total Warfare' Tagg.
     
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  24. NavigatorNobilis

    NavigatorNobilis Follower of the Second Star

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    Tagg
    verb
    past tense: tagged; past participle: tagged.
    To provoke someone far more powerful and/or influential than oneself; to act belligerently, aggressively and/or insultingly against an unknown factor.
    "Sarge managed to tagg the only recruit with a black belt in Judo."
    synonyms: ask for it, bring it upon oneself, misjudge, miscalculate, bungle, blunder, screw up, provoke, self-inflicted cranio-rectal inversion.
     
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  25. Threadmarks: Part Six: A Bumpy Ride
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I'm HALPING!

    Part Six: A Bumpy Ride



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



    “Oh, crap.” Miss Militia peered into the rear-vision mirror and started to reverse. There was the honk of a horn behind us and she hit the brakes again. Too late; something went crunch into the van from the rear, and we were jolted forward a couple of feet. The engine stalled and died. Somewhere off in the distance, I heard an explosion, though I was pretty sure that had nothing to do with the engine dying.

    “Crap, crap, crap.” Even as Miss Militia tried to restart the van, she grabbed up the microphone to the two-way radio and held it next to her mouth. “Control, this is PRT one niner four, Miss Militia plus two civs. We're at the intersection of Bakersfield and Phoenix, and there's an ongoing cape fight here. I make it as Hookwolf versus Lung. Casualties unknown as yet. Requesting urgent backup, over.” Letting her thumb off the button, she turned her head fractionally toward me. “Don't worry, Miss Hebert. I'll get us out of this.” There was another explosion in the distance. Was Lung setting cars on fire to explode the fuel tanks?

    The van's engine burst into life with a roar, but when she put it into gear, the engine whined and we went exactly nowhere. “Um, it feels like we're stuck,” I said, more from a need to show that I knew what was going on than to state the obvious. Then I had an inspiration. “Zach, you're strong. Could you untangle us from whatever we're stuck to? Without hurting anyone?” That was just in case the driver of the car behind got upset at him. I didn't think he'd lash out if he was insulted, but I didn't want to take the chance, for the other guy's sake.

    “Yes, Taylor, I can.” Zach was already unfastening his seatbelt as he spoke. “But there are more parahumans on site than just Hookwolf and Lung. Oni Lee and Cricket are also in the vicinity, and people have been hurt. Some are trapped in rubble. Do you wish to help them?”

    “No!” snapped Miss Militia. “My primary goal is to get Taylor to safety. Then we'll see what we can do about stopping the fight, or at least establish a perimeter until backup can arrive.” She jerked her head toward the rear of the van. “If you can get us unstuck, that'd be very useful.”

    The radio crackled. “Control to Miss Militia. Do not engage. Return to site of last incident. The Director wishes to speak to you, over.”

    With a less than pleased expression, she went to speak on the radio again. I caught Zach's eye and pointed toward the back of the van. “Better do what she says,” I whispered. Leaning back, I found that there was enough room in the front for Zach to climb out past me along the bench seat without any real awkwardness. To make it easier for him, I opened the door to let him get out. After his feet hit the ground, he closed the door behind him. About that time, I heard another explosion.

    “Miss Militia to Control.” Her voice was low and steady, showing only the faintest signs of the stress she had to be under at this point. “Update on the fight situation. I've been reliably informed that Oni Lee and Cricket are on site as well. Also, there are civilian casualties and people trapped by debris. Please let the Director know that this is an ongoing crisis situation and whatever he wants to talk to me about can wait. Send backup urgentmost. Over.”

    The van lurched and I heard the tearing of metal. I leaned forward to try to see if I could spot Zach in the rear-vision mirror. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something appear in front of the van, so I turned my head to look.

    It was Oni Lee.

    As I watched, frozen, he rolled two round objects under the front of our van. Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit. I knew exactly what they were: Oni Lee was infamous for using grenades. What I didn't know was how well-armoured PRT vans were. Either way, I was pretty sure that two grenades would leave a mark.

    Shit!” Miss Militia screamed the word. In one fluid movement (it was almost as if she'd practised it, though I couldn't imagine that it was a common situation) she undid her seatbelt and flung herself across to cover me. At the same time, she fired three rapid shots through the windshield with the high-powered pistol she was holding in her left hand. The bullet-holes crazed the windshield, sending it instantly opaque so I couldn't see Oni Lee any more. Worse, I couldn't hear anything at all; the three shots had echoed horrifically inside the closed van, leaving me with a loud ringing in my ears.

    Abruptly, the entire van lurched, or maybe that was my sense of balance going, along with my hearing. I had no idea which way was up; it felt like I was lying on the back of my seat rather than sitting on the cushion. Distantly, I felt the heavy thump of a concussion. The grenades, I decided fuzzily. I didn't know why we weren't dead, but I was glad of that fact.

    The van tilted crazily again, then all of a sudden up was up once more. I felt the van bounce heavily on its wheels. Moments later, Zach opened the door that he'd gotten out by. “Miss Militia!” he said brightly. “Are you well?”

    “I think so,” she said. Weirdly enough, while his voice had cut cleanly through the ringing in my ears, hers was still muffled to my hearing. “What just happened?” Letting me go, she sat up in her seat and rubbed at her ears.

    “The grenades would have hurt Taylor, so I lifted the van out of the way,” he replied cheerfully. “But I think the van is damaged now. And there are more people who need help.”

    “Rule number one of dealing with Lung and Hookwolf,” Miss Militia mumbled—at least, it sounded like a mumble to me. “They don't hold back. We can't go in there to rescue civilians until we have someone engaging them.” She pressed the heel of her hand against her ear. “And I'm not up to engaging them right now.”

    “I will engage them so that you may rescue people,” Zach offered happily. “Taylor, am I allowed to kill them?”

    I was so glad I was looking at Miss Militia's face right then, because it's not often that you get to see a picture-perfect jaw-drop. Even when it's concealed by a scarf.

    “ … engage all four of them?” she sputtered, once she'd regained the power of speech. “You can't be … uhh …” It was obvious, as her voice wound down, that she'd just recalled Zach's previous exploits.

    “Serious?” I finished for her with a grin. “Zach can get real serious when he needs to. Is he allowed to kill them? I think it would make life a lot easier for everyone without them.”

    “Shit.” Miss Militia grimaced and reached for the radio microphone. “I can't make that decision in the field.” Holding it to her mouth, she pressed the button. “Miss Militia to Control. Requesting permission to use lethal force against hostile capes Lung, Hookwolf, Cricket and Oni Lee, over.” There was no answer. She leaned closer to look at the radio. “Dammit. The explosions must've wrecked the electrics.” Heaving a sigh, she turned to Zach. “Okay, if you can take them down non-lethally, do it, but if they threaten lives, use all the force you need.”

    Zach didn't move. I looked at him quizzically, then realised he was waiting on my confirmation. “Oh. Right. Zach, do what she said, okay?”

    “Okay!” he responded cheerfully, and tore the door off the van. Turning, he threw it like a frisbee. Unfortunately, because the windshield was opaque due to Miss Militia's shots, I didn't see who he was throwing it at. I did, however, hear the crunch as it impacted. “It is now safe to get out and help people. I will engage the other parahumans.”

    Miss Militia opened her door and got out of the van. I did the same on the passenger side, without having to open the door first of course. Zach was trotting toward where the sounds of battle were starting to filter through my still-ringing ears.

    “Every time I look at him, I see a kid in over his head,” she said, setting out for where a telephone pole had fallen over a car. “It's only when I think about it for a few seconds that I remember just how stupidly powerful he is. Why is that?”

    I shrugged. “I dunno. I don't have that problem. He's sweet and a bit clueless, but he wouldn't hurt a fly unless it threatened to harm me. And he has the weirdest sense of humour.” I chuckled. “Like the Endbringer thing. Isn't that hilarious?” Leaning down, I looked through the car window. “Hi, mister. Are you hurt?”

    The car's driver, a youngish man who looked to be somewhat shocked, tentatively shook his head. “No,” he managed. “But my door won't open. And the other door …” He gestured expressively at where the pole had crunched the door down to about one foot high.

    “So I see,” said Miss Militia. “Just hold still, sir.” She held out her hand, and a bizarre amalgam of sword and crowbar formed in it. Wedging one of the random-looking points into where the door met the car, she heaved. Metal creaked, then gave way. All of a sudden, the door sprang open. The guy climbed out, appearing more than a little shaky.

    “Thanks,” he said fervently. “Uh, do you need help doing that?”

    “No,” Miss Militia told him. “Get to safety. Now.” The tone of her voice allowed for no argument.

    As he took off running, I looked at her in surprise. “What'd you do that for? He could've helped.”

    “And gotten himself hurt in the process,” she pointed out. “I can take care of myself, and I strongly suspect Zachary will prioritise saving you over everything else. That guy didn't have either advantage.”

    “Huh.” I guess she has a point. It just sounded weird having her put it like that. “What is that thing, anyway?” I gestured at the thing she was holding.

    She chuckled. “Do you know, I never actually learned its name. But I saw a picture of it once. Apparently it was designed to rip open plate armour to get at the man inside. It also seems to work well on car doors.” She made a disapproving noise in her throat as we headed toward a pile of rubble where the front of a building had been blown out. “Dammit, can't those assholes pick an empty field to have their dick-measuring contests in?”

    Despite the danger, I couldn't help but find that amusing. The more time I spent with Miss Militia, the more I liked her. “And remove every property developer's reason to live?” I asked, not at all seriously. Bending down, I picked up a length of rebar to match Miss Militia's crowbar/sword thingy. “Okay, he said there were people trapped – shit!”

    At that moment, several things happened in very quick succession. Firstly, Oni Lee appeared in front of us … again. In each hand, he held a grenade … again. In a bizarre case of deja vu, these appeared to be the same two grenades he'd thrown under the van. Miss Militia said something in a language I didn't recognise (but the savagery almost certainly made it a swear-word) as she changed her sword into a pistol. Eyes wide, I froze.

    But before anything else happened, Zach blurred into view. He stopped with his hand up under Oni Lee's demon mask, apparently wrapped around the man's throat. “Hello, Oni Lee!” His tone was as carefree as ever. “This is the second time that you have threatened Taylor's life! I will not allow you to do it a third time!”

    If I wasn't so frozen with fear, I could've told Zach what was going to happen next. Were I a soulless serial killer like Oni Lee, it was what I would've done. And sure enough, Oni Lee did it. He dropped the grenades, more or less right at our feet.

    The next few seconds were a blur. Zach's arm was around my waist, and I had the impression of moving really, really fast. Then I was standing on my feet again, shaking my head to clear the dizziness from it as Zach let go of me. Miss Militia was only a foot or two away from me, and I realised that Zach had grabbed her with his other arm. Zach disappeared from behind me while I was still finding my balance, then returned with a struggling Oni Lee, holding him by the throat at arm's length. Then the two grenades exploded, about a hundred feet away.

    “Taylor, Oni Lee has tried to kill you twice now,” he said. He wasn't smiling any more. Oni Lee reached for a grenade on his bandoleer, but Zach slapped his hand away, accompanied by the sound of a breaking bone. It seemed he was done with being gentle. “What should I do with him?”

    I wasn't exactly the number one member of the Oni Lee fan club at the moment. I watched as the killer tried to reach for the pistol at his hip with his other hand, only for Zach to break that hand too. Dad's words came back to me. “Zach, can you punt him into orbit?”

    It seemed I'd said exactly what he wanted to hear, for a broad smile spread across Zach's face. “Of course, Taylor. I thought you would never ask.”

    Oni Lee was twitching oddly in Zach's grasp. As I kept my eyes on him, I saw bits of ash drifting down from his body, but he wasn't collapsing into a mass of it, as I'd heard he could do. He kicked futilely at Zach, with as little effect as a child kicking a brick wall.

    In return, Zach brought back his leg, then swung it forward with eye-defying speed. There was a loud CRACK, coming perhaps a fraction of a second before his foot actually made contact. The odd thing was, it didn't impair my hearing in the same way that Miss Militia's pistol shots had. On impact, the black-clad villain disappeared upward faster than my eyes could focus; in much less than a second, he was out of sight. Wait—did his foot just break the sound barrier?

    Miss Militia winced, holding her hand over her ear. I realised the noise had nearly deafened her again, even though it hadn't affected me. “Zach.” Her voice was loud, and a little nasal. “Did you actually just punt him into orbit? Really?”

    “Yes, Miss Militia,” Zach answered happily. “That is what Taylor told me to do.” He looked and sounded very pleased with himself. “That was fun.”

    “So … you just killed him.” Miss Militia wriggled her finger in her ear. It didn't seem to help very much. “He was a defeated enemy, and you killed him.”

    “Oh, no, I did not kill him at all,” Zach explained. “Taylor did not say that I could. My sister is already taking care of him for me. Although she finds him a little dull, and cannot see the point in keeping him alive.” He brightened again. “Is she allowed to kill him?”

    Miss Militia caught my eye and shook her head slightly. “I guess not,” I said, not without a certain amount of regret; the grenades were still very fresh in my memory. Shading my eyes, I stared upward in the vague hope of seeing Zach's sister, but there was nothing but the blue dome of the sky, with a few clouds as artistic decorations. “So, I'm guessing your sister is as talented as you are.” Zach could be pretty damn effective when he wanted to be. I wouldn't have put it past the rest of his family to be just as formidable.

    “Well, yes.” He gave me an approving nod. “I have already told you who she is.”

    “You have?” I frowned, until I recalled what he'd said about his family. “Ah. Heh. Good one, Zach. Wow, you really know how to milk a joke, don't you?” Of course, it was still very funny.

    Miss Militia frowned. “I'm … not sure I'm getting the humour here.”

    I rolled my eyes in her direction. “I taught Zach how to make jokes, so he told me one about how he's really an Endbringer, and that Behemoth is his big brother. Following that train of logic, that makes the Simurgh his sister. So when he says his sister's taking care of Oni Lee, we're supposed to think the Simurgh's got hold of him. He's just carrying on the joke a bit further. Get it?”

    “Oh, right,” she said, her face clearing. “Thanks for explaining that to me. I might not have gotten it without saying something embarrassing.”

    "Yeah," I agreed with a wry grin. "I guess it'll take us actually meeting his family to get past that particular joke."

    "Mm," said Miss Militia thoughtfully. "I mean, it's a good joke, but all it'd take is one person taking it seriously and raising a panic to screw it for everyone else." She watched as Zach trotted down the street and around the corner.

    “He does only mean it in fun,” I assured her. “If it looked like going bad, he'd make sure everyone knew the truth. Zach's pretty responsible that way.” I cupped my hand around my ear. My hearing was only just beginning to come back again, but even I could hear noises of battle from the direction Zach had gone. No explosions though; I figured the earlier ones must've been from Oni Lee's grenades. He'd certainly been tossing them out freely enough.

    "Come on," suggested Miss Militia. "Let's go save some people."

    On our trek back toward the pile of rubble where Oni Lee had attacked us, I saw something that made me pause. “Hey, over there!” I pointed at where I could see a pair of legs sticking out from a car's shattered windshield.

    Miss Militia nodded approvingly. “Good eye, Taylor. Let's see what happened here.” Reforming the crowbar-sword weapon in her hand, she led the way over.

    “Is it just me,” I asked when we got a bit closer, “or does that door look kind of familiar?” The door I was referring to was stuck in the same windshield, directly above the legs. Its paint job was the same pale purple and black that marked all PRT vehicles, and it looked amazingly like the one Zach had ripped off the van just a little while ago. Right down to the finger-marks he'd pressed into it while doing the ripping.

    “It does indeed,” she said. “Okay, so who did he throw the door at, and why?” She approached the car cautiously, weapon shifting back to a pistol. “He wouldn't throw it at an innocent … would he?”

    “No!” I shook my head violently. “He knows I'd be unhappy about that. You've seen how he bends over backward to make me happy.” I thought back to the earlier conversation in the van. “He did say that Cricket and Oni Lee were on site as well. We saw him deal with Oni Lee. What if this is Cricket?”

    “I'd say well done to him,” she replied. “I've tangled with Cricket more than once. She's very slippery and hard to hit. I've seen her dodge bullets, and she screws with your perceptions while you're trying to shoot at her.” Waving for me to stay back with the hand holding the pistol, she leaned forward and opened the car door.

    Inside was … well, Cricket. I could tell by the bent metal cage around her head. She was folded around the PRT van door in what looked like a very uncomfortable position. Also, she looked extremely unconscious, or perhaps dead; I wasn't sure which. “Um …” I grimaced. “Is she still alive?” For all my cavalier talk about killing villains earlier, I discovered I still wasn't totally on board with the idea of wily-nilly executions.

    Miss Militia cautiously reached into the car and checked Cricket's pulse. “Huh. Either she's tougher than she looks, or Zach's really good at what he does. Pulse is strong and steady. Good. She gets to spend time behind bars. Also, in physiotherapy; that can't be good for her spine.”

    “How do we even get her out?” I asked. “I can't see how to do it in a way that won't hurt her.”

    “We don't,” she decided. “That's a job for dedicated rescue crews. Right now, we need to search for innocent victims.”

    Just at that moment, I thought I heard Zach whisper my name. Wondering how he'd snuck up on us, I turned my head. But he wasn't where I thought he'd be. It took me a second to find him, all the way down the far end of the street. Even though it was at least three blocks away, I could see him clearly as he stepped in between Hookwolf and Lung. I held my breath as the Empire Eighty-Eight enforcer lunged for him, only to release it when Zach responded with a casual backhand. It might've been my imagination, but I thought I felt the concussion from where I was. I certainly heard it well enough.

    So did Miss Militia; she turned her head just in time to see Hookwolf fly past the car—past us—on his way down the street in a flat ballistic arc. As he went by, I watched him shed pieces of steel like dandruff. Or like one of those cartoon characters that's just been punched out of his socks and shoes. A block further on, he hit the back of a van that was parked on the side of the road; after smashing through the rear doors, he came to rest half in and half out of the vehicle. Above the hole he'd made was the logo of the organisation that owned the vehicle: BROCKTON BAY DOG CATCHING SERVICE.

    Miss Militia made an amused sound in her throat. “Fitting,” she chuckled, looking across at me. “Zach does have a flair for the dramatic.” A concerned look came over her face. “But I'm not sure how he's going to do against Lung.”

    I snorted. “I think you'd be better off worrying how Lung's going to go against him. Remember how he took out the Nine?” In my mind, there was not a shred of a doubt that Zach would prevail.

    “Right!” Miss Militia exclaimed in enlightened tones. Her hand rose toward her face, then fell away in what I suspected was an aborted face-palm. “How did I forget about that?”

    “Or how he bitch-slapped Assault all the way to Boston,” I supplied helpfully. “He's not totally incapable, you know.”

    This time, Miss Militia did face-palm. “This is ridiculous,” she muttered. “I don't forget stuff like this. How is it even happening? Does he have a Stranger power?”

    “Uh, no, how can he?” I spread my hands. “He's not a parahuman, remember?”

    “Oh. Right. Huh.” Miss Militia rubbed the back of her head. “Sorry, it slipped my mind. Stupid of me.”

    “That's okay. Ooh, Lung's going for him.” At that moment, I wished I had popcorn. Three blocks away, Lung gathered himself. Ten feet tall, covered in metal scales and wreathed in flames, the leader of the ABB looked terrifying even from where I was. He crouched, his draconic tail whipping from side to side, then leaped. Miss Militia gasped; just for a second, I felt the tiniest stab of fear for Zach.

    But of course, Zach knew what he was doing. He blurred out of the way, instants before Lung's claws would have made contact. When he became visible again, he was holding Lung by the tail. Bracing himself, he heaved up and over. As Lung was lifted off his feet, he went over Zach's head and was smashed into the asphalt on the other side of where Zach was standing. And then again, and again. Over and over, Zach used Lung's tail as a lever to pummel the draconic cape into the roadway like a rag doll being thrown around by a petulant child.

    Over the sound of the repeated impacts, I heard the noise of a shutter clicking. Miss Militia, I saw, had a small camera to her eye, taking picture after picture with it. I decided I was going to be asking her for a copy or three, once we were done here. Watching Zach make Lung eat asphalt like that was never going to get old.

    Then Lung roared, rattling the windows of the car we were standing next to. I couldn't be sure from the distance, but it looked like he was maybe twice as tall as Zach now. Grabbing the crushed roadway with three clawed appendages—two feet and one hand—he reached for my protector with the fourth. In response, Zach took a fresh grip on Lung's tail with both hands and hauled him into the air. Using the resultant momentum, he started swinging the dragon cape around his head like an Olympic hammer throw competitor.

    “Wait one goddamn minute.” Despite the disbelieving tone to her voice, Miss Militia never stopped taking photos as she spoke. “Okay, he's strong. But there's no goddamn way he's got the leverage to do that!” I would've agreed with her, except that even now, Lung's form had blurred into a horizontal metallic disc over Zach's head.

    Shading my eyes, I peered more closely. “Uh, now he's doing it with one hand.” Without my glasses, I would've been short-sighted. With them, I had normal vision, but even then I shouldn't have been able to see that sort of detail at three hundred yards. With a mental shrug, I dismissed the thought; it was much cooler watching Zach take Lung down if I didn't worry about that sort of thing.

    At the last minute, Zach put an upward angle on the spin, then released him like a hammer-thrower. Lung cleared the nearest building by mere feet. The last I saw of the ABB leader, he was hurtling head-first through the air in the general direction of the Boardwalk. His roar dopplered into the distance until I couldn't hear it at all.

    Slowly, Miss Militia lowered the camera. “I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it,” she breathed. “Who is Zach? What is he?”

    I smirked. “If you want to go along with the joke, you can say he's an Endbringer.” The smirk morphed into a chuckle.

    Miss Militia snorted. “Yes, well, that would fit, wouldn't it?” Slowly, she shook her head. “That has to be the shortest time on record that Lung's stood up to anyone. And that includes Endbringers.”

    Somehow, this didn't surprise me. “Well, this is Zach.” I looked over to where the boy in question was jogging toward us. While he didn't appear to be moving all that fast, the speed with which he arrived alongside us made me rethink my preconceptions.

    “It is safe now,” he informed us proudly. “The villains are either gone or disabled.”

    “I see,” Miss Militia noted. “So where did you put Lung?”

    “There is an island ten miles offshore,” Zach said. “He landed there a moment ago. I do not think that he will try to swim back unaided.”

    Miss Militia grimaced. “Doesn't really help, kid. If we send a boat out, he'll overcome whoever goes. Especially if he has a chance to ramp up first.”

    “Oh, that will not be a problem,” Zach told her happily. “His powers have been neutralised for the next twenty-four hours. I believe you should be able to have him in custody by then?”

    “I … right,” responded Miss Militia faintly. “Of course.” She rolled her eyes briefly. “Well, now that's sorted, we've got injured and trapped civilians to rescue. Can you help us with this?”

    Unusually for him, Zach looked pensive. “I would like to, but there is an issue that Taylor would probably like to resolve first.” He looked at me. “I am sorry for not telling you this earlier, but more people may have been harmed with the battle, and you would not have been happy for that to happen.”

    I frowned warily. “Zach, stopping these guys was pretty damn important. So's rescuing the innocents. What's the other issue?”

    Zach looked me straight in the eye. “Your father has been put under arrest by the PRT Director.”

    I stared at him. “Wait … what? Why? How come you didn't tell me?” Dad's under arrest? What the fuck?

    “Taylor, your father is unharmed. At worst, he is angry at the Director.” Zach's voice was soothing. “He has been placed under arrest on suspicion of being an accessory to my actions. I did not tell you until now because you were placing a high importance on stopping the villains. Now that that has been drawn to a conclusion, we have the wherewithal to focus all your energy toward the new problem.”

    I didn't know whether it was the logic of his explanation or the sincere way in which he expressed it, but I felt myself calming down. “ … right. Okay, so how do we get there? Miss Militia, is the van running?”

    The flag-clad hero shook her head. “After the beating it took, I'm not so sure. Zach, can you get her where she needs to go? I need to stay and help.”

    “Yes, Miss Militia,” declared Zach. “I can get her there quickly and safely.”

    I felt a surge of guilt. “I want to stay and help too, but it's my Dad.”

    “No, you have to go.” Miss Militia patted me on the shoulder. “Family is very important; I know that for a fact. Go and help your father.”

    “Okay, sure. And thanks.” I turned to Zach. “Are we going to be jumping again? Jumping's fun.”

    “We will not be jumping,” Zach replied. “I know the way now, so we will be running. Are you ready?”

    “Sure,” I said. This time I was prepared as he scooped me up in his arms. I was quite proud of the fact that I didn't even let out a squeak of surprise. “So, uh, running. How fa—“

    BLUR–

    I blinked as my eyes came back into focus. My words stuttered on my lips. “—st, uh, are you … holy shit.” In the back of my mind, I had the memory of a montage of streets and buildings going by at a frankly impossible speed. Where I'd been on a battle-torn street with Miss Militia, Zach was now letting me down on to the road outside my house. The PRT helicopter was new. Zach had literally gotten me there in less time than it took to say a single word. Ironically, that word was 'fast'.

    My knees were a little wobbly, but Zach was right there to lean against. “Wow,” I muttered. “Warn a girl next time, will you?”

    “Yes, Taylor,” he agreed. “I will warn you the next time we are going to exceed the speed of sound.”

    “Good,” I said, just before what he'd said caught up with me. “Wait, what now? And why is there a helicopter on my street?”

    “It is not important,” he advised me. “This man is important.”

    'This man', as indicated by Zach, was one I had not met before. He was tall and rangy, with greying hair and a thousand-yard stare. His uniform looked more military than the standard PRT trooper armour, and he had a lot of colourful ribbons on his chest. At that moment, he was striding toward me with a dozen PRT troopers flanking him.

    Well, flashy medal ribbons or not, if this guy was the important one, he was the one I'd be asking the questions of. “Hey!” I called out to him. “Are you the idiot who just arrested my dad? Because I'm gonna be wanting him back. As in, right fucking now.”

    He ignored my question. “Taylor Hebert?” he asked as he got within twenty feet of me. I could see the nametag on his uniform by now; it read TAGG. His voice was a harsh smoker's rasp.

    “Yeah, that's me,” I said. “But you didn't answer -”

    “Place both these individuals under arrest,” he interrupted. “Now!”

    Two of the PRT troopers moved forward with alacrity, while the others hung back. I wasn't totally surprised; they'd seen what Zach could do, first-hand. The two moving in on me, I guessed, were new on the scene.

    “Uh, you really don't wanna do that,” I cautioned them as they came up to us.

    “Yeah, we'll be the judge of that, kid.” The trooper sounded bored as he pulled my wrists behind me. “You got the right to remain silent -”

    I rolled my eyes. “Zach, don't hurt them, okay? They don't know what they're doing.”

    “I will not hurt them,” Zach confirmed. He turned to the guy who was trying to cuff him and shoved him so hard that the trooper fell over and skidded fifty feet down the road, the metal accoutrements on his armour striking sparks off the asphalt. Then Zach turned to the guy on me. “Release her at once, or I will make you release her.”

    “Holy crap!” The trooper leaped away from us, leaving handcuffs dangling from one of my wrists. “Cape! Fuckin' Brute!” He unslung his rifle and pointed it at Zach. “Down on the ground now! Hands behind your head!”

    “No.” Zach moved toward him. “Lower your weapon. You are endangering Taylor Hebert. I will not allow this.”

    The trooper backed off with slow, steady steps. Bringing his rifle to his shoulder, he aimed at Zach's head. “Do not take one more step! I will kill you!”

    “No. You will not.” Zach took a step forward. The rifle went off. At the same moment, Zach moved, ending up alongside the trooper. With a single fluid move, he plucked the rifle from the man's hand. “You are not responsible enough to possess this weapon,” he noted, passing the expended bullet back to the now thoroughly rattled trooper. Then, with as much apparent effort as I would've used to crumple up a piece of paper, he compressed the rifle into a ball of metal about four inches across. When he dropped it on the ground, it went clunk.

    “Troopers!” That was the man called Tagg. “Take aim!”

    I saw the helmets of the PRT troopers turn towards him, then at me and Zach. I looked back at them and shook my head slightly. The trooper facing Zach was retreating slowly, his empty hands carefully held out to the sides. The other troopers carefully kept their gun muzzles down, very explicitly not pointing them in our direction.

    “Uh, no, sir.” I didn't know who it was that had spoken, but the voice only quivered slightly.

    “What the hell kind of show is this?” bellowed Tagg. “You will follow your goddamn orders! That is a dangerous cape, and that girl is an accessory before and after the fact! You will take aim or face charges for mutiny in the face of the enemy!”

    “No, sir.” The voice was steadier now. “Sir, I just saw that kid throw a van fifteen hundred miles to wipe out the Nine. He says he can hit Director Piggot's office window from here, with one of us. I don't want to be that one.”

    He tried to kill me!” screamed Tagg, flipping open his pistol holster. “You will subdue both of them and take them into custody immediately, on the charges of attempted murder, assault on a PRT trooper, and destruction of PRT equipment!” The gun came out of the holster and he moved toward me, pointing it in my direction. “Anyone not obeying my orders will face a court-martial on charges of mutiny and sedition in the ranks! Now do your du-”

    It still amazed me how fast Zach could move when he wanted to. Between one eyeblink and the next, he was standing beside Tagg, one hand on the pistol and the other covering Tagg's mouth. “Please be quiet, sir,” Zach said reproachfully. “If you keep talking, one of your men might try to harm Taylor, and then I will be very angry.” I didn't miss how he directed his words partly toward the PRT troopers, or how half of them sidled back a few steps when he said the words 'very angry'. “The van I threw missed your helicopter by at least fifty yards. If I had aimed to hit your helicopter, then you would not be here. Do you understand?”

    When he took his hand away from Tagg's mouth, Tagg gave me a glare of pure loathing. “Tell your pet cape here to let me go, now, and I'll go easy on you and your father,” he said. “If you don't, arrest and charging will be the least of your problems, girl.”

    “Fuck you and fuck your threats,” I retorted. “Where's my Dad?”

    “Your father is in the PRT van to your left,” Zach said helpfully. “Do you wish me to let him out?”

    “If you could, please?” It was nice to have Zach around. I'd gone so long without having anyone to back me up in any way.

    “Of course, Taylor.” Zach walked over to the van in question, leaving Tagg where he was. Ignoring the officer, I moved toward the van as well.

    I was about halfway there when I spotted Tagg coming at me from the side. It wasn't exactly a smart move on his part, but then he hadn't struck me as someone who was being totally rational at that moment.

    “Sir!” yelled one of the troopers. “Don't!” It was probably said for Tagg's benefit rather than mine, but still it made me feel happy inside.

    The warning went by the wayside. A second later, Tagg had me with his arm around my neck. The cold circle of his gun muzzle pressed against the back of my skull. I kept still, mainly so that anyone trying to shoot this idiot would have a clear target.

    “All right then,” he snapped, his gravelly voice even harsher than before. “This futile little charade is over. Zach, if that's your name, down on your knees with your hands behind your head. You will surrender to the PRT right now. The rest of you, you're relieved of duty. Report for Master/Stranger screening as soon as you return to base. And you, girl -”

    “You really don't understand what's going on here, do you?” I turned my head to look up at him, feeling the gun muzzle track down to the hollow of my throat as I did so. “You can't shoot me, and you should be happy for it. Because if you did, and you hurt me, Zach would shred you. I'm not talking figuratively, am I, Zach?”

    “No, Taylor. You are not.” Zach was standing right beside us again. “Director Tagg, unless you withdraw the threat to harm Taylor immediately, I will be forced to hurt you.”

    “What the fuck is going through your brains?” demanded Tagg. “I can pull this trigger before you can finish disarming me. Whatever you do to me, she'll be dead, and you'll have a Kill Order for the murder of a PRT Director.”

    “Except that pulling the trigger won't do a damn thing,” I told him. “Zach had his hand on your gun after you pointed it at me. The only reason he let you keep it after that is that it's useless now.”

    “I am very impressed, Taylor.” Zach smiled at me. “I did not think anyone saw that.”

    “I didn't,” I admitted with a shrug. “I just know how you think. Oh, and talking about that. I notice he still hasn't let me go. Try not to break any bones.”

    There was another blur of motion, followed by a now-familiar feeling of displacement. In the instants that followed, I heard a sickening pop and a high-pitched scream. Now I was standing next to the van which held Dad, and Tagg was lying on the ground a few yards away. The asshole was screaming and holding his shoulder, which looked kind of funny; I guessed that Zach had dislocated it. Smartass. Just because I said not to break bones.

    Zach moved over to the van and pulled open the back doors. Nobody moved to stop him, even when the shriek of tearing metal was audible to all. Inside, lying on the rough metal flooring with his hands cuffed behind his back, Dad blinked back at us. “Hi,” I said cheerfully. “Wanna blow this popsicle stand?”

    “Uh, sure,” he replied. “I've got a little bit of a handcuff problem, though.”

    “Eh, so do I,” I pointed out, waving my single-cuffed wrist around. “Pretty sure Zach is a one-size-fits-all lockpick, though.”

    “So I see,” murmured Dad, as Zach reached in and made short work of his cuffs. Dad climbed out of the van, rubbing his wrists. As he squinted into the glare, Zach broke the cuff that was around my wrist.

    “This isn't over.” The voice was Tagg's; he was sitting up, holding his dislocated arm awkwardly across his chest. “You've poked the beehive now. It doesn't matter how far you run or how tough your pet cape is -”

    “Oh, be quiet, Tagg.” I turned at the new voice, as did Zach and Dad. Stepping out of an egg-shaped force-field bubble was a woman of Hispanic appearance, somewhere between a mature twenty and a well-preserved forty in age. She was tall, beautiful and imperious. I would've recognised her even without the uniform which she wore like a second skin.

    Rebecca Costa-Brown, Chief Director of the Parahuman Response Teams.

    Beside her was a figure who was arguably even more famous; the hooded cloak with the green glow coming from within was an international icon. Eidolon, in the absence of Scion, was the most powerful cape in the world.

    “I gave you your chance to bring this situation into line,” Costa-Brown went on bluntly. “It seems that you've instead managed to screw it up in no uncertain terms. Mr Hebert, Miss Hebert, Zachary -”

    The mention of his name brought Zach out of his apparent daze. “Hello!” he greeted the two newcomers with every appearance of delight. “Hello, Alexandria! Hello, Father! It is so good to meet you both at last!”

    What.



    End of Part Six

    Part Seven
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2017
    saugo, ~[]~, A Simurgh Plot and 63 others like this.
  26. MrBTXz

    MrBTXz Know what you're doing yet?

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    Quite possibly the most awesome thing in this story.
     
  27. Alexcorvin

    Alexcorvin Ran All Out Of Fucks To Give

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    lmao
    Zach is Super Kami Guru level of Troll.

    Question, Ack, will Taylor be knocking boots with Zach?
     
  28. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Great chapter, but the last line takes cake. Zach seems to have a strong stranger effect as well as Miss Militia shows.
     
  29. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Not for another few years, if ever.

    Currently, while his physical makeup gives him the muscles that Taylor likes, his Stranger field slots him into her worldview as "safe friend". He doesn't have the mannerisms or the pheromones (yes, humans have them too) to make her libido sit up and take notice; this may change, but I have no plans for it.
     
  30. doomlord9

    doomlord9 Experienced.

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    You're looking at it the wrong way.

    The real question to ask is "will railing Taylor into a cross-eyed drooling puddle of pleasured girl be more harmful to her than not doing so?"

    Obviously the answer is that not doing so is quite harmful to her. Don't you know how dangerous stress can be? The sheer amount of damage it can place on the body without the person knowing is immense! Obviously he really must save her from herself and own body's attempts to harm her!
     
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