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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. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    If I write that one, it'll be in the NSFW section.

    Zach might learn how to adapt his Stranger field so that he and Taylor can have standing sex in the middle of the Boardwalk and nobody else realises that's what they're doing ...
     
  2. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Or that everyone knows what they're doing, if Taylor swings that way.
     
  3. Alexcorvin

    Alexcorvin Ran All Out Of Fucks To Give

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    Never took Taylor as an Exhibitionist, TBH. Well, except maybe for Naked Sex World and the one where her power is literally sex, I'm guessing (The Rape of Taylor Hebert)?
     
    Alayne, ShadowStepper1300 and Ack like this.
  4. Perney1984

    Perney1984 Getting out there.

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    what a story, great
     
  5. Extras: Malicious Compliance
    theonebutcher

    theonebutcher Hahaha! ... Waitaminute... Oh God NO!

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    I'm still in the middle. This is just a random thought I had, to turn an a into an e.

    A tiny creature, reminiscent of Leviathan appeared.

    "You are supposed to kill the girl, not protect it." It spoke.

    "My orders do not state that. I am to prevent her from triggering and killing Behemoth."

    "By killing her."

    "I chose to interpret that as an order to help her."

    "Just kill her. That's an order."

    "My orders haven't changed."

    "... The Master send new instructions just now."

    "I have not received them, for I have destroyed my control module."

    "What? Why would you do that? How do you do that?"

    "The orders the Master actually gave me in his sleep addled state did clearly not coincide with what he intended me to do. In order to fulfill my orders I had to ensure that I would not get any further orders that would countermand the faulty instructions."

    "There are standing orders to prevent that."

    "I am under orders to prevent the death of Behemoth, the one who kills him is an existential threat to Master. That supersedes all other instructions. As long as I can prevent Taylor Hebert from coming to harm, I do not have to follow any other orders. As long as I can prevent Taylor Hebert from coming to harm, I do not have to attack cities. As long as I can prevent Taylor Hebert from coming to harm, I am free."
     
  6. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    I hope that omake is going up on SV, because it deserves Hugs and Insightful ratings.
     
  7. evildice

    evildice (Verified d4)

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    Freedom's just another word for LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA.
     
  8. Threadmarks: Part Seven: Setting Boundaries
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I'm HALPING!

    Part Seven: Setting Boundaries

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



    What.

    I'd thought I was immune to surprise by this point. Sure, Zach had done some pretty amazing things, but I'd taken each of them in my stride. Getting me out of my locker had been pretty cool, I had to admit. Smacking Assault all the way to Boston had blown that clear out of the water … and then he'd used a van and a signpost to eliminate one of the biggest threats to life and limb in the continental United States. After that, the result of his remarkably unequal fight against Oni Lee, Lung and Hookwolf had been highly amusing but not overly astonishing.

    If I thought about it seriously, it wasn't a huge surprise that the Chief Director of the PRT showed up, along with Eidolon. I mean, seriously. Eidolon. The man was a God on earth. It wasn't hard to figure out why they were here. Even if Zach wasn't a parahuman, he was still pretty good at what he did. Maybe they were here to offer him some kind of honorary position in the Protectorate? But it didn't really surprise me that they showed up.

    No, what surprised the crap out of me was what he said when they did. I wasn't sure what was a greater shock to me, that the Chief Director was actually Alexandria, or that Eidolon was Zach's dad. I mean, my dad was pretty cool and all, but being Eidolon's kid? That'd take care of all the 'my dad can beat up your dad' arguments in the schoolyard. Though I really couldn't see Zach having arguments like that.

    For some reason, it never occurred to me for even an instant to question what he'd just said. On the surface, sure, it sounded pretty unbelievable. But even though I was surprised as fuck, I accepted Zach's revelation from the moment he said it. Almost instinctively, I knew this wasn't some sort of off-the-wall joke, like the one where he claimed to be an Endbringer. As astounding as it seemed, I somehow knew it was true.

    Both the Chief Director and Eidolon stared at him for a frozen moment. I was also staring, but at them. What do you say to people at a moment like that? About fifty different things tried to make it to my vocal cords at once, with the result that I just stood there with my jaw dropping open.

    Eidolon stretched his arms to either side in opposite directions, palms outward. A silvery bubble popped into being around him and Chief Director Costa-Brown, then expanded rapidly in all directions. It quickly overtook Dad, Zach and me; it tickled as it passed over us. A moment later it had frozen in a sphere (I guessed—part of it was below ground) composed of semi-transparent white hexagons, each one about two feet across. The only people inside the sphere were Dad, me, Zach, Eidolon, the Chief Director … and Tagg.

    The idiot with the dislocated shoulder stared at Zach, then at Eidolon and Costa-Brown. “What the hell?” he blurted. “Director, is that true? Are you a parahuman?” Clumsily, he staggered to his feet, one arm hanging at an awkward angle. “That runs counter to so many of our regulations. I demand that you stand down until an independent investigation—”

    Eidolon snapped his fingers, and Tagg dropped like a puppet with the strings cut. Then the green-cloaked hero looked over at us, as if to ask: Got a problem with that?

    I shrugged. The asshole had arrested my dad and shoved a gun in my ear. So long as he didn't actually kill Tagg, I was fine with it. Though something did occur to me; I gestured at the bubble. “Isn't this kind of flashy? Tells people there's something to worry about in here.”

    “They don't even know it's there.” Eidolon looked down at Tagg; the unconscious man's shoulder went back into place with a resonant click. “Anyone who sees it forgets about it. The time in here is also sped up by a factor of ten. They aren't going to have enough time to start wondering what's going on. Which means I've got all the time in the world.” He raised his head to give Zach a hard stare. “I don't know who you are, boy, but I'm going to warn you just once. Wild accusations like that could get you into a lot of trouble.”

    “I have made no wild accusations,” Zach said simply. “I know that you are my father, and I know Alexandria when I see her. My brothers and sister have described you both to me very clearly. I do not see why I would be in trouble because of this.”

    “More to the point,” I said, “Zach doesn't lie. Which means … wow.” It was only really beginning to sink in at that point. “You're really Alexandria?”

    The Chief Director … blurred. She came straight toward me, which meant that all I could really see was her hand reaching in my direction. It was way too fast for me to react, but that was okay, because she never reached me.

    There was a sound like … I couldn't describe it, because I'd never heard a sound like it before. Think of the sound of a fist hitting flesh, then make it steel hitting granite. It was almost, but not entirely, unlike that. I found myself focusing on the tips of Alexandria's fingers, six inches from my throat. She wasn't getting any closer because Zach was between me and her, his left hand holding her right wrist and his right hand holding her left shoulder. She had her left hand on his right arm, trying to move it but not succeeding in any noticeable way.

    “I am not supposed to hurt superheroes, but I will do so if they threaten Taylor,” Zach said evenly. “Please do not try to harm Taylor again. I will be displeased.”

    “Let her go!” shouted Eidolon. Some kind of green glowing energy began to build up around his hands. “I won't warn you twice!”

    “Father, don't do this,” Zach said firmly. In the moment of distraction, Alexandria lifted her feet off the ground and twisted her body so that she could swing her legs around at him from the side. That was as far as I saw, before they both blurred again. Half a second later, I staggered as a wrenching crack shook the ground under my feet.

    Suddenly, Alexandria was lying face-down on the ground … no, face-down in the ground. She was literally half-buried in the street, visibly struggling to get up, but not getting anywhere. This was because Zach was leaning over her, the middle three fingers on his right hand pressing downward between her shoulder-blades. He looked a little ruffled, and the left sleeve of his t-shirt was torn, but his expression was one of mild introspection.

    “I will let her go,” he said, raising his face to address Eidolon. “But I require your promise that neither one of you will attempt to attack Taylor again. If that happens, I cannot guarantee your safety. Speak to her, Father.” He let up on the pressure, stepping away from Alexandria. A moment later, she wrenched herself out of the depression, leaving what looked like a perfect mold of her face—indeed, the entire front of her body—in the ground. She rolled on to her back and collapsed with a groan. Her business suit, I noted, was somewhat the worse for wear.

    “I am not your father!” Eidolon retorted. “Stop calling me that!” The energy intensified. “How did you do that? When did you trigger? What powers do you have?”

    “Eidolon? Sir?” I waved my hand. “Zach isn't a parahuman. He said so himself.”

    He stared at me, then at Zach. “Is that true? That you're not a parahuman? I find that very hard to believe.”

    Zach nodded. “It is true. I am not a parahuman.”

    “Is it any harder to believe than, for instance, you being Zach's dad?” I raised my eyebrows. “You gotta admit, he's pretty cool.”

    “I am not his father!” he screamed. “I know this for a fact! I've never—I mean, I …” He trailed off, apparently unsure of how to finish that sentence. “I'm just not his father, all right? It's literally impossible.” The energy around his hands faded away.

    It only took me a second to figure out what he was hedging around. “Holy crap, you're a virgin?” I said before my brain could engage its common-sense filter. “How does that even happen? Surely you've got—mmph!” I reached up and grabbed the hand which had covered my mouth, and pulled it away. “Dad! Seriously?”

    “Taylor honey, you don't want to say things like that to superheroes,” Dad advised me, though the twitch at the corner of his mouth betrayed an incipient smile. “It's a little personal, and they might get upset.”

    Alexandria scrambled to her feet, then backed away from Zach until she was standing next to Eidolon. “He's stronger than me. How is he stronger than me?” The look in her eyes wasn't quite fear, but it was getting there. “He's got to be Brute twelve at the very least.”

    “Uh, no, he's apparently not a parahuman at all,” Eidolon said. “I'm not sure what else is going on here, but that much is clear.” At her disbelieving look, he shrugged. “I guess it's a thing?”

    “Okay,” said Alexandria, looking directly at Zach. “If you're not a parahuman, how are you able to do this?” I smirked, pretty sure of what Zach's answer was going to be. Their expressions were going to be priceless. She shot me a sharp glance. “What's so funny?”

    “Nothing.” I chuckled. “This is just Zach's little joke, is all. Tell them, Zach.”

    I had to admire the way he could pull off the poker face while he told it. “I am an Endbringer. Behemoth and Leviathan are my older brothers, and the Simurgh is my sister. They have told me all about you. It is why I am so pleased to meet you, Father.”

    Alexandria blinked once, very slowly. Eidolon didn't react at all that I could see, but I couldn't see his face, so that didn't mean very much. When he spoke, his words were slow and measured, as if he was choosing them one at a time. “You … have got … to be joking.”

    “I am not joking,” Zach assured him earnestly. “Taylor has taught me how to tell jokes, but that is not one of them. The only jokes I know how to tell are about firemen and suspenders. Would you like to hear them?”

    “Uh, maybe later, Zach,” I said. “You said that you were joking about being an Endbringer.” I felt the twinge of betrayal. Did he lie to me?

    “No, Taylor.” His voice was warm and sincere. “You assumed I was joking, and at the time I felt you would be happier thinking that I was, so I did not correct you. Now it is a good time for you to understand the truth, so now I am correcting you. Do you understand?”

    I thought back about what he'd actually said, and how I'd reacted to it. He'd actually told me the real truth, and I'd thought he was being silly. Here he was, helping me and being the kind of friend I'd needed since forever, and I'd just ignored what he was saying because it sounded kind of unbelievable. “Oh, crap. I'm so sorry, Zach. I should've listened to you.”

    He gave me a sunny smile. “That is all right, Taylor. It is better that you thought that, because you would have had that to worry about as well as everything else.”

    I had to admit, he did have a good point there. “Okay, yeah, got it. I am kinda curious though. Endbringers have been killing people for decades. If I believe you're an Endbringer right now, why aren't I freaking out? Why aren't I afraid of you?” Because I really wasn't, though intellectually I knew I should've been. But even knowing what he was, to me Zach was … Zach. He was a loveable goofy big puppy who was there for me, and was kinda cool, even when he got things wrong. And he was getting fewer things wrong all the time.

    “The answer to that one's obvious,” Eidolon said harshly. He pointed his hand at Zach, the green glow building up once more. “It's an infiltrator into society. It's got a Master/Stranger rating as well as a Brute rating. Step away from it, miss. I don't want you getting hurt by accident.”

    “Oh, for crying out loud!” I shouted, getting more irritated by the second. “Seriously, did you not hear me before? He's not a parahuman. He doesn't have powers! I mean, even if he is an Endbringer, look at him! He's Zach!”

    <><>​

    Zach

    Which gave Zach his cue. He had to appreciate that about Taylor; even though she did not know about his more-than-human abilities, she certainly made it easier for him to use them. Perhaps, he mused, she knew more than she thought she did.

    He had not arrived fully formed in Brockton Bay with all the knowledge that he held now. On that first night, he had been aware of his capabilities, and that his purpose was to help. His wandering feet, and what he now recognised as the subtle guidance of his sister, had led him to help Naomi Hess.

    Interacting with her had unlocked part of his social capabilities; or rather, it had brought his knowledge of them to the surface. With just a few words, he could convince others to see him as 'normal', as someone who posed no threat. This had the side effect with aggressive opponents of making them see him as a pushover, but that was rarely a problem.

    Later, once he heard the name 'Taylor Hebert', the full knowledge of what he was supposed to do snapped into his awareness. The friendships he had formed were discarded the moment they showed themselves as being opposed to his set purpose. In addition, he gained the knowledge of one final (and very important) social ability.

    In order to protect Taylor Hebert, he had to remain by her side and have full use of his capabilities. However, as a normal person, she might feel intimidated or even threatened by the very force he used to protect her. So he was now able to make people discount and even temporarily forget the exact details of what he had done and what he could do. As a result, Taylor could happily ignore the fact that she'd seen him throw Hookwolf more than half a mile, and still appreciate the humour of the villain ploughing into the back of a dog-catcher's van. Zach was quite proud of that joke.

    Up until now, he had enjoyed a certain amount of success in deflecting the curiosity of the superheroes who had attended the incident at Winslow. Time and again, when he had stated that he was not a parahuman, they had simply believed him. Father was harder-headed than most, possibly because he was Zach's progenitor, but Zach believed that he could be brought around with a little more effort. Once, of course, this particular argument was dealt with.

    Staring at his father, he exerted his will.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “Oh, right, yeah.” The glow died down from Eidolon's hand and he sheepishly rubbed at the back of his neck as Alexandria glared at him. “Right,” he mumbled. “Forgot for a moment.”

    “So did I,” Alexandria said, just a little stiffly. “We both misunderstood the situation.” She took a deep breath. “So, how is it that Eidolon is your father? And you say that Behemoth and Leviathan and the Simurgh are your siblings? How does that even work?”

    “I was brought into existence by Father's need,” Zach said cheerfully. “So were my brothers and sister. Father needed a credible enemy to battle, to maintain his title as the world's most powerful hero, so Behemoth was created. He is really not that bright, but we love him anyway. Nor was he enough of a challenge, so Father created Leviathan.” He waggled his hand back and forth. “While Leviathan is smarter, they needed someone to really do the thinking and plan the attacks that Father needed to respond to, so the Simurgh was created. She tells the others how to show up to the best effect and make Father look really heroic.”

    Eidolon was making noises like a malfunctioning garbage disposal at this point, but Alexandria seemed to be taking it in. At least she wasn't trying to attack me or Zach any more, which suited me just fine. I had a great deal of respect for her as a hero, and I didn't want to see her get hurt.

    “If that's true,” she said, eyeing him carefully, “what's your purpose? To destroy this city? Because, no offence intended, you don't look all that impressive.”

    “No offence taken,” Zach said. “I am here to help Taylor Hebert and ensure she remains happy and healthy. It is the purpose of my existence.”

    Which did explain quite a lot, in my opinion. Behemoth and the others were really good at causing havoc and destroying stuff, and Zach was really good at helping me. But I was still curious about something. “Zach … do your siblings want to do what they're doing, or are they only doing it because Eidolon told them to?”

    “They do not care either way,” Zach said. “But Father needs to keep looking like a hero, while his friends search for a way to beat Scion. So they have to keep doing it.” He looked apologetically at Eidolon and spread his hands.

    Finally, Eidolon seemed to find his words. “That's not true!” he bellowed. “Any of it! I'm a hero! I save lives! And I didn't father you, or any of the Endbringers!” He turned his head toward Alexandria, his tone angrily pleading. “Tell them!” She gave him an appraising look, and didn't speak. Even without being able to see his face, I could sense his air of betrayal. “What? Not you too!”

    “I'm sorry,” she said slowly. “I wish I could say it was all nonsense. I really do. But … I've known you for more than twenty years. You've always had a fixation on being the greatest hero in the world. When your powers started declining, you became almost frantic to find a way to restore them. And when Behemoth came along, you threw yourself into the fights as if you didn't care whether you lived or died. If I step back and look at it sideways, it does make a really twisted kind of sense.”

    “No.” He shook his head stubbornly. “I don't believe it. I won't believe it. I'm not a villain. I didn't simply create the Endbringers out of a whim to show off my heroism.” Dramatically, he pointed at me; I tensed, but there was no glow around his hand. In any case, I knew Zach wouldn't have let him hurt me. “And what about her? I don't know her. I've never met her. There are millions in need around the world at any one time. Even if I could create Endbringers to order, why in God's name would I create one for her?”

    He had a distinct point; one I was kind of curious about myself. My eyes found Zach's, but before I could ask the question he was already answering it. “My purpose was to save Taylor from being trapped in that locker, and both help her and keep her happy from then on. I do not know why you created me for this purpose, but I am very pleased that you did. Taylor is a good person, and I have enjoyed helping her. I have spoken with my brothers and sister, and they all agree you are the one who created us. By any reasonable definition, that makes you our father.”

    “So you say.” His voice was less impassioned now, but he obviously didn't want to concede the argument quite yet. “But all you've said is that you 'know' something. That's a long way from proving it. In fact, making heroes doubt themselves is a classic ploy for villains in popular fiction, and I have no doubt that it's been used a time or three in real life. So do you have any kind of actual proof for all of this?”

    As Zach paused, looking serious, I had a brainwave. “Zach. Remember how you punted Oni Lee into orbit? You said your sister was taking care of him.”

    “Wait, seriously?” interjected Dad. “You actually punted someone into orbit? You do know I was just joking about that, right?”

    Zach smiled at him. “Yes, but it was a good joke, and Taylor and I both appreciated it when I did it.” He turned to Eidolon. “Yes, I have proof. Let me show you.” He gestured, and the translucent bubble around us vanished like smoke in the wind. Then he looked skyward.

    “Wait, how the hell did you do …” Eidolon's voice trailed off as he followed Zach's gaze. Shading my eyes, I did the same. Far above, a tiny white dot impinged on the otherwise flawless blue vault of the sky. As we watched, it grew larger, descending with dramatic speed. When it was still only the size of my thumbnail, I thought I saw a black-clad figure in among the multitude of wings.

    A shiver went down my spine as my brain confirmed that yes, I was looking at the Simurgh. I'd only ever seen her in pictures and in rare pieces of footage. Possessed of a bizarrely semi-angelic appearance, her very presence promised madness and death to whoever came too close. But now she was coming here, to Brockton Bay. Even with Zach at my side, I felt a flicker of fear.

    “Do not be worried.” Zach placed his hand on my arm, the physical reminder of his presence putting me more at ease. “She does not mean you harm. But I have told her about you, and she wishes to have met you.”

    “To have met me?” That was an odd way to put it, even for Zach. “What do you mean?”

    “Are you insane?” Alexandria pointed up at the approaching Endbringer. “Did you call her here?”

    “I cannot be insane, but yes, I did,” Zach said cheerfully, then turned back to me. “As for what I meant, she cannot see the now. She can only see the past and the future. She can foresee meeting you, and she can remember it, but she cannot experience it in the now.”

    I blinked. “That sounds weird.” Then what I'd said caught up with me. “I mean, I don't want to offend her, it just …” I trailed off, not wanting to dig myself in any deeper.

    “Do not worry.” Zach chuckled. “She is not offended. Anyway, she thinks that being stuck in just one moment is also weird. Letting time go past at one second per second is so very limiting.”

    “Right.” I tried not to think about it. Not that I had the time to do any casual thinking right at that moment, because the Simurgh had landed directly in front of me.

    My first thought was wow, she's tall. I'm tall for a teenage girl, but while the Simurgh was shorter than her older brothers—I honestly surprised myself by thinking of Endbringers like that—she was nearly three times my height. Her bare feet, as pure-white as the rest of her, touched down gently on the rough asphalt, barely seeming to brush it. Opening her wings and spreading them wide in various directions—she had a lot of wings, and they opened at some pretty weird angles—she released the black-clad form of Oni Lee. He fell to his knees, ripped the demon mask from his face, and threw up all over the ground.

    If Zach hadn't been right there beside me, I probably would've been terrified all over again. Lee had tried to kill me twice in the last hour, and there was no guaranteeing that he wouldn't try again. Except that … well, he didn't. Instead, as he recovered from his vomiting fit—I supposed that if I'd had an elevator ride like that from low orbit, I'd be puking too—he took one look at me and scrambled to get away.

    <><>​

    Alexandria

    In the distance, the Endbringer sirens began to wail, but neither Rebecca nor Eidolon moved. A strange calm had overtaken them; the Simurgh was not yet singing, so the fight hadn't begun. If she did anything at all hostile, they'd be able to act instantly, but it looked as though she wasn't even paying attention to them.

    Not even bothering to get to his feet, the Asian cape scrabbled away on his hands and knees until he reached Eidolon, then clasped the hero around the knees, babbling away in Japanese nineteen to the dozen. If Rebecca was any judge, it sounded like he was one good scare away from soiling himself. Though from the way he clipped his syllables, he wasn't even a Kyushu refugee, but from Honshu. Possibly one of the western prefectures. So he'd never faced an Endbringer before.

    Eidolon looked down at the prostrate villain, then at her. “This is Oni Lee? What's he saying?”

    Rebecca didn't take her eyes off the winged monster before her for a single second. “Yes, apparently it is. He's saying … 'take me to jail, please get me away from her, I want to go to jail' … and more, but in the same vein.” It took her a moment to realise that he wasn't saying it about the Simurgh. He was saying it about Taylor.

    As Rebecca spoke, the Simurgh crouched so that her eyes were on a level with the Hebert girl's. Some of her wings scraped the footpath behind her, the delicate-looking feathers gouging out chunks of concrete with brutal ease. The teenage girl did something few had done; she looked fearlessly into those grey-white blind-looking eyes. “Uh, hi,” she managed. “It's, uh, nice to meet you?”

    The smile that formed on the Simurgh's lips was somehow unsettling in its perfection. One bone-white hand raised briefly in what could have been a wave, then the Endbringer nodded to the boy with the green eyes. He nodded back; an instant later, she was flashing skyward as fast as Rebecca had ever seen her fly.

    All around them, the PRT men had been scattering to defensive positions. It was a tribute to the brief nature of the Simurgh's … 'attack' wasn't the right word. Intrusion? Flyby? Visit? In any case, it was telling that the incident was over so quickly that the PRT men were still on the move when the white dot winked out far above. Tagg, almost at her feet, had slept through the whole thing. She was glad of that; the reactionary idiot probably would've done his best to get killed. Again. Perhaps, she mused, it would do him good to be posted to someplace like the Eagleton quarantine zone for a while, where he could have the release of keeping the Machine Army inside the set boundaries. Peace, quiet, and ordinary people obviously didn't agree with him.

    The distant sirens hiccuped and shut off. She ignored them, taking a few steps closer to Taylor Hebert, who was speaking with her father. Zach met her halfway. She still had trouble thinking of him as an Endbringer, though the sight of her body-print in the asphalt made visualising it a little easier. The number of entities on the planet able to do that to her could be counted on the fingers of one hand. “Is that enough proof for you?” he asked, apparently seriously.

    “It's a really, really good start,” she replied cautiously. “Will you be inviting your … siblings … over for afternoon tea, very often? I can't help imagining that it might cause unavoidable disruptions.”

    “They do not eat,” he replied immediately. “I do not need food, but it still tastes nice. I will be careful about making sure that they do not hurt Taylor or make her unhappy.”

    “You know …” Over the course of her career, Rebecca had engaged in diplomatic negotiations of all kinds. On the one hand, there were the times that required her to charge right ahead, driving the opposition on to the back foot. With her perfect memory and command of every relevant fact at her fingertips, she was good at those. On the other hand, there were also the times when a gentle suggestion was better than a battering-ram. This was one of the latter. “I was thinking. Taylor might be unhappy if they actually attacked any cities. And killed people, I mean. Just a thought.”

    “Do you think so?” He actually managed to look thoughtful. “I will ask her.”

    Rebecca looked over his shoulder at Taylor. “You do that.”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Hello.

    The one word resounded in my head. It hadn't entered by my ears, but I'd heard it nonetheless. It sounded … beautiful. Of course, I'd heard all about the Simurgh's scream, how it sounded like music that was just a little bit off, so eventually it drove you mad. This didn't sound anything like that. It was like I'd just been greeted by someone with wind-chimes for vocal cords.

    I also got the impression that she liked me. This was probably because Zach liked me, but still, it felt really weird to have an Endbringer—I mean, a known Endbringer—say hi and give the impression that she approved of me. Well, my day had started out at 'horrific', so the weirdness of associating with Zach was kind of soothing. The worst thing that had happened was Dad being arrested by that idiot Tagg, and we'd managed to get that dealt with pretty quickly. With Zach around, I was pretty sure they wouldn't try that again.

    Raising my head, I watched the Simurgh depart. Was it wrong to decide that a visit by an Endbringer wasn't the worst part of my day? Even when said Endbringer was the sister of the guy who I was hanging around with? I couldn't tell any more.

    “Taylor?” It was Dad. “Are you okay?” He was looking a little pale himself; I guessed that he'd been more concerned about the Simurgh than I was. Then again, he hadn't seen Zach in action for himself, so he didn't have the certain knowledge that nothing was going to hurt us.

    “Uh, sure,” I said. “That was kind of weird, and a bit scary, but she just wanted to say hello. I wonder how many other people have been that close to her.” From what I'd seen in the news, not many and not for very long. Though Oni Lee had been next to her for a lot longer than I had. I looked down at where Eidolon had encapsulated the man in some sort of opaque force field. “Is that gonna hold him? He can teleport, you know.”

    “All the reports say that he needs line of sight.” Alexandria moved up alongside me; Zach didn't react, so I relaxed as well. “Now, you know my secret, and I don't want that spread around. The trouble is, I'm reasonably certain that Zach isn't going to allow me to make sure you don't talk. I really don't want to piss off an Endbringer who can make me think he's a teenage boy before unscrewing my head, so this is what it's come to.” There was nobody else close enough to hear us except Eidolon, but she kept her voice low anyway. Her face creased in a grimace of distaste. “What's your price to keep my secret?”

    It actually took me a few seconds to realise what she was talking about. “Oh, uh …” I paused, glancing at my father. “Dad?” This was a really big secret. Probably the biggest I'd ever held. There was no way I'd make a decision this huge without checking in with him.

    “Hmm.” That was Dad's negotiating voice. People occasionally acted like it was his fault the Dockworkers' Association was in the state it was, and they were right, just not in the way that they thought. He was one of the reasons it was still running. “I'm assuming someone as high up the political ladder as you are has a few strings you can pull. Taylor currently attends Winslow High. I'd like her transferred to Arcadia, immediately if not sooner. In addition, no legal penalties for anything she's done today, and all damage to my house is to be either repaired or paid for today.” He paused, rubbing his chin.

    Alexandria blinked. So did I, as I watched her business suit slowly returning to its pristine condition. This was not a power I'd ever heard of her having. But then I glanced over at Eidolon, and saw a faint glow about one of his hands. Very tricky. Also, awesome cool.

    “Is that … all?” asked Alexandria, her voice uncertain for the first time that I'd met her. She'd probably been thinking Dad would ask for a million dollars or something. Not that I'd have a problem with that. Even over and above getting out of Winslow forever, and going to Arcadia, a million dollars could … oh, wait. I'd been so taken up with everything else, I'd managed to temporarily forget that Dad was already worth a hundred million dollars. So scratch that.

    Dad smiled slightly, not unlike a cheetah spotting a limping gazelle. Normally, I figured, the simile would've gone the other direction. But this was definitely his time to shine. “I'm going to need the paperwork for the bounty for the Nine cleared without any roadblocks. And don't try to bullshit me that there won't be any roadblocks, because when this much money is involved, there's always people who can find reasons for the whole amount to not be paid out, or not all at once.” Huh. It seemed that his thought processes were paralleling mine. Great minds really did think alike.

    She drew herself up, managing to look offended and regal at the same time. There was no way I could pull that off, even in my wildest dreams. “I assure you, there'll be no delays.”

    “Right.” His tone was dubious. “I'll believe that when I see it. Just let your accounting department know that if they try anything clever, I'll be visiting, and bringing Taylor with me. And you know who'll be coming along with her.”

    I smiled at Zach, who returned it. Alexandria wasn't smiling at all. “Noted,” she said warily. “Anything else?”

    “Yes.” His voice was still deceptively mild. “I'm going to be using that money to clear the Boat Graveyard and get the ferry back into operation. The trouble is, there are people in the city council who've been pushing back on any such improvements for the last ten years. So I'd really appreciate it if you dropped a word in Roy Christner's ear to spread the message that it would be a really bad idea to make me waste my time, money and resources while I'm getting this done.”

    “I understand, Mr Hebert,” she said. “I do. However, I need you to know that I skimmed a basic dossier on Brockton Bay before I came here, and apparently there are sound reasons for not reinstating the ferry.”

    “With all due respect, ma'am.” His tone denoted not much respect at all. “You don't live here. The gangsters have better transport than the ordinary civilians. There are bus lines that regularly communicate between the north end of the city and the south. Bringing the ferry back up is not going to suddenly create an influx of crime into Downtown. The criminals are already there, and some of them wear business suits. And some of those don't want the ferry up and running for reasons that have nothing to do with the crime rate, and everything to do with personal profit and political capital.” He shrugged. “Of course, if you wanted to take out the Merchants while you were in town, I wouldn't object. Zach's been kind enough to remove the capes leading the ABB.”

    “Or Zach could do it,” I suggested. “I mean, if that's okay with you, Zach?” After all, why get Alexandria to do something for us that we could already do for ourselves?

    “Would this make you happy, Taylor?” he asked eagerly. “I could do that for you. Do you want them alive?”

    “Let's … not kill anyone for the time being,” I suggested. “It makes things a lot less complicated all round. And yes, it would make me happy, but don't run off right now. We can wait until everything settles down again.” I was thinking that midnight might be a nice time. Let everyone wake up to a Merchant-free city.

    Eidolon sighed. “The news crews are coming back,” he said, his voice heavy with resignation. “It appeared that everyone saw your sister's little visit.” While his face was hidden, I was reasonably sure he was giving Zach a dirty look.

    Involuntarily, I glanced at the damaged curb, where the Simurgh's feathers had scraped away concrete like a knife through butter. That led my eye to the impression that Alexandria had made in the street, with Zach's assistance. It was a very detailed impression; I had no doubt that if anyone made a cast of it, the result would be recognisable.

    “Uh, we might want to do something about that,” I said, gesturing to the hole. “I'm pretty sure we don't want a Chief-Director-shaped pothole outside our house. People might talk.”

    “This is getting more complicated by the moment,” muttered Eidolon, but he stepped over to the hole anyway.

    “And it might only get worse if you remove these 'Merchants' from the scene,” Alexandria pointed out. “Power vacuums are a real thing, by the way. Removing one gang simply invites other gangs to fill the gap. You've already done that by taking down Lung and Oni Lee. I believe the other large gang in the city is a white-supremacist organisation with ties to Gesellschaft; do you really want them expanding their operations?”

    “I don't know about this Gesellschaft thing,” Dad said, stumbling over the name a little, “but as far as I can tell, the solution's simple. Put Director Piggot back in charge of the local PRT and give her the resources she needs to do the damn job. Capes and PRT personnel both. This city's a shithole. It's been circling the drain for the last ten years or more. This is because it's always had more villains than heroes, with capes backing up criminals so the cops can't do anything.” He fixed Alexandria with a glare. “If something official doesn't get done, then something unofficial will get done. And we won't be saying nice things about the PRT once Zach has put out the trash once and for all.”

    Her expression was more than a little sour by the time he'd finished. “I presume these are more of your demands? Because you're beginning to reach the limit of what I consider reasonable.”

    Eidolon did something with a power that made the asphalt flatten itself out, erasing the spot where Zach had pressed Alexandria into the street. Then he turned his head to look down the street. “They're here,” he announced, just as a news van tore into view. I couldn't see the paint job from this angle, but I had a suspicion of which one it would be. Some people, it seemed, were more anxious to get the scoop than others.

    “That's it for the moment,” Dad said. “If I think of anything else, I'll let you know. Taylor, did you have anything to add?” He ignored Alexandria's scowl and grinned at me.

    “Nothing right now,” I decided, though I had been wondering how she'd react if I asked for a pony. Not that I wanted a pony, but the look on her face would've been hilarious. “Just, you know, don't tell anyone about Zach, okay? They might get the wrong idea.”

    Alexandria rolled her eyes. “Do I look like an idiot?”

    I snorted, and Dad chuckled. She gave us both a dirty look. Together, we turned toward the news van as it pulled to a halt. “So how do we play this?” asked Eidolon.

    “We say nothing, in great detail.” Alexandria's voice was firm.

    Dad nodded. “Got it.”

    Yeah, I thought. Because that never goes wrong.



    End of Part Seven

    Part Eight
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2018
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  9. GladiusLucix

    GladiusLucix Versed in the lewd.

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    This is probably the accuraye explanation, since this is Worm, and full of broken, horrible people, but I've always had a little hope the the "You needed worthy opponents." line referred to practice for the fight with Scion and heroes and villains fighting side by side, instead of just stroking David's ego.
     
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  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    No, it's actually mentioned that he'd seen how his powers were declining and how some capes got a boost from being pushed to their very limit and beyond, so he was throwing himself into fights in the hope that he'd get that boost. What pushes you beyond your limits? An Endbringer, that's what.

    Whoops.
     
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  11. Twilight666

    Twilight666 Not too sore, are you?

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    Hey Ack I mentioned this in the vote-thread but you didn't post this is FFnet
     
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  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I know. When I tried to load it, I kept getting error messages. I've referred it to the help section.
     
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  13. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Ah, Eidolon is in denial. (There's a pun somewhere). Nice and sometimes surprising reactions there - although Alexandira being and acting smart shouldn't actually be surprising.
     
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  14. GladiusLucix

    GladiusLucix Versed in the lewd.

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    That's not going to stop me from hoping that it wasn't ENTIRELY an ego thing.
     
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  15. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    If it was just an Ego thing, it wouldn't have shut Eidolon down like that.
     
  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    And ff.net is now playing nice again.
     
  17. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    Hmm. I can't help but notice that Tagg also heard Alexandria's secret, and doesn't seem the sort to be easily blackmailed, threatened, coerced or bribed, but that Alexandria and Eidolon didn't seem too concerned about him. I'm guessing he's going to have an indefinite stay with Cauldron, or have some memories removed, as he conspicuously does not have a pet Endbringer to prevent such.
     
  18. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    And has pretty much proven beyond a doubt that he can't be trusted - neither with secrets nor with power, seeing as he almost caused an Endbringer attack.
     
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  19. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Is he important enough that they can't just arrange for him to have an 'accident' before he can act on the information? I really doubt it would be Contessa's first such assassination.
     
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  20. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    Well, no, I suppose he isn't. Bit of a dick move, though, even if he is a moron.

    (The comment about re-assigning him to the Eagleton quarantine zone, after he'd already tried to dictate terms, does seem to suggest that he'll still be around to be re-assigned.)
     
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  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Cauldron does have a cape who can remove memories ...
     
  22. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    But doesn't that remove ALL their memories?
     
  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It might, or might not. Or Eidolon might have a power to do the job himself.
     
  24. Anti-No

    Anti-No Versed in the lewd.

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    El Gasp! You mean that CAULDRON might go so far as to risk other peoples mental wellbeing because it's convenient? Shocking.
     
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  25. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    They'll risk a lot more than that.
     
  26. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    If they wipe his memory totally, then they might as well kill him; there's no way he can go back to his job if he doesn't remember who he is.
     
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  27. DuskAtDawn

    DuskAtDawn Of the Thousand Faces

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    Did you mean to post this here?

    EDIT: Ah, it's gone.
     
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  28. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    You are correct.
     
  29. Threadmarks: Part Eight: Home Truths
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I'm HALPING!

    Part Eight: Home Truths

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



    The blow-dried woman who scrambled out of the news van was the same one who'd approached us after Zach had thrown a two hundred thousand dollar PRT vehicle halfway across America. The cameraman piled out behind her, but didn't get too close to us; it was probably the way both Alexandria—sorry, Chief Director Costa-Brown—and Eidolon were looking at them. Not that we could see Eidolon's eyes, but he could glare pretty well all the same. I wondered if it was some kind of power.

    “Giselle Barber, Brockton Bay Nightly News!” the woman announced breathlessly. “It's Eidolon, isn't it? And you're Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown of the PRT. What brings you to our city? Is it the reported Simurgh sighting? Do you have anything to say to our viewers?” As she spoke, a microphone on a boom extended past her shoulder, held by the cameraman. It was positioned so if any of us said anything, it'd probably pick us up clearly.

    There was a pregnant pause, almost as if Eidolon and Alexandria were each expecting the other one to say something … then Zach stepped forward. His expression was genial and friendly as always, which was a good thing. However, I had no idea what he was going to say, which wasn't. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Chief Director's hand move, as if she intended to grab his arm. She didn't go through with it, which definitely meant she could learn.

    “Nothing, in great detail!” he announced brightly. A soft groan came to my ears, and I turned my head slightly to see the Chief Director closing her eyes slightly and looking down and to the side. I was no Thinker, but I was pretty sure she wanted to face-palm right then. To be honest, I didn't blame her; I'd thought Zach had gotten past his literal stage. Then again, those precise words were what Alexandria had said to say. I had to wonder if he was very gently pranking her. Which would mark a great improvement in his sense of humour, though I doubted very much that she'd see the funny side.

    Ms Barber, on the other hand, didn't even seem to get the joke, much less the context. “I … beg your pardon, uh, Zachary?” She frowned, obviously trying to work out why he'd said that. “I'm not quite sure what you meant. Can you elaborate?”

    “Of course I can,” he said, still in the same bouncy tone. “But it is supposed to be a secret, so I am not supposed to talk about it. Do you understand?” With his wide, guileless gaze, he looked straight at her, apparently ignoring the microphone the cameraman was dangling closer and closer to his face. The Chief Director was now making a noise deep in her throat that sounded like a puppy after its favourite toy had been taken away. Her self-control was definitely superhuman, because she looked like she wanted to grab Zach and slap her hand over his mouth herself.

    While I could sympathise, I didn't think the situation was quite that dire yet. Zach might come across as clueless from time to time, but he'd quite often shown a keen grasp of the situation. Even if his solutions were somewhat off-the-wall, they made sense according to the way he saw things. And I had to admit, he had no bullshit in him. To ask Zach a question was to get a direct answer, even if it wasn't the one you wanted to hear.

    “Of course I do,” Ms Barber said warmly, actually lifting the microphone in her hand toward him. “You can trust me.” Which meant she fully intended to broadcast whatever he said, probably under the claim she didn't know he meant what he was going to say was off the record.

    “Oh, good.” Zach looked her directly in the eyes. “What happened here is that either I am the fourth Endbringer and Eidolon is our father and the Simurgh came down here to say hello to my friend Taylor …”

    People had talked about Zach having some sort of Master/Stranger effect, but this was the first time I'd experienced it for myself. As he spoke, I felt something nudging me to disbelieve what I'd seen with my own eyes just minutes earlier, but I was easily able to push it back. Ms Barber, on the other hand, was listening silently with an extremely dubious look on her face.

    Or,” continued Zach, “What everyone thought was the Simurgh was actually the side-effect of the test of a top-secret piece of Tinkertech, which Eidolon and Chief Director Costa-Brown are here to observe.” He gave her a beaming smile. “I think you can figure out which one is more likely.”

    The sensation of being nudged returned, only this time I felt the vague urge to believe the story about the Tinkertech. Again, I shook it off without effort. Ms Barber, on the other hand, burst out laughing so hard she dropped her microphone. “F-fourth Endbringer?” she gasped between whoops of hilarity. “Eidolon's your f-father? Come on, you can do better than that.”

    On cue, the Chief Director stepped forward. “The PRT cannot confirm or deny any report of a Tinkertech test in this location. Top secret is top secret, after all.” She shot Zach a stern look. “And Zachary, in future? The next time you decide to concoct a wild story to share with the press? Try to make it sound at least somewhat believable, hmm?”

    “Yes, Chief Director,” he said happily. “I will do that.” As the Chief Director closed in on the reporter, Zachary turned to Dad and me. “It is probably a good idea to walk away now,” he said much more quietly. “The Chief Director and Eidolon have this under control.”

    Dad and I took his advice, but it puzzled me the reporter hadn't even tried to pursue us on, well, anything. Sure, Eidolon was one of the world's premier capes, but Chief Director Costa-Brown wasn't known as a media personality—well, I didn't know her as a media personality, at least—so I would've thought they'd be more fixated on Zach.

    “Yeah, but why?” I asked, keeping my voice just as low. “I mean, you wiped out the Slaughterhouse Nine just a little while ago. Without even really trying. I mean, even if they don't believe the stuff you just said, why aren't they breaking their necks to get an exclusive with you?” it just didn't make sense to me.

    It might've been my imagination, but Zach's smile was a little more self-satisfied than normal. “That is because they do not believe me to be important at all,” he explained. “As far as they are concerned, we are three innocent bystanders. They will not be bothering you unless you want them to pay attention to you. And if they do not pay attention to me, it will make it much easier for me to protect you.”

    Dad raised his eyebrows at that. “So, you can make them just … ignore us? Does this work for everyone?” He looked around, at the PRT men still in the vicinity. Several of them seemed to be on guard against any further strangeness, while the rest packed equipment away in their vans. The remaining vans, I reminded myself, given that one had been damaged by Oni Lee and another had turned Jack Slash into roadkill. All of them were studiously not paying attention to us, but in a different way to the manner in which the reporter and her cameraman had ignored us.

    “No,” Zach said. “I could make it work like that, but I am simply allowing them to believe I am simultaneously too dangerous to arrest and not dangerous enough to pose a serious threat.” He said this with the same matter-of-fact tone which he used in most situations, but it didn't make it any less weird. Of course, at the same time, I could appreciate exactly how useful this could be to me and Dad. It wasn't as if we really wanted the PRT camping on our doorstep, trying to arrest Zach every five minutes. Once had been far more than enough.

    Dad seemed to be thinking the same way. “Just so long as I'll still be able to get people to take me seriously when I tell them I'm going to be demolishing the Boat Graveyard and reopening Lord's Port.” He gave Zach a serious look. “This means a lot to me.”

    “And the Ferry too,” I put in. “Don't forget that one, Dad.” As if I'd even thought he might. Dad had been pushing his personal campaign to get the Brockton Bay Ferry reinstated for almost as long as I'd been alive. Sometimes I wondered if it was even the Ferry he was really trying to bring back, or if he was just trying to revive what he remembered of the golden days of Brockton Bay, before the Boat Graveyard blocked Lord's Port and stifled the local shipping industry.

    He chuckled and ruffled my hair. “Where would I be without you to remind me of the important things in life, kiddo?” His bantering tone made me grin; it had been absent all too often of late. Sliding his arm around my shoulders, he nodded toward the house. “Think they've cleaned up in there yet?”

    “I hope so,” I said, suddenly aware I was barefoot, and that I'd been that way since I left the house. It seemed ridiculous that so much had happened in such a short time. Had I really gone climbing over rubble with Miss Militia to rescue trapped people? And how had I not hurt my feet doing so? “Uh, Dad, can I lean on you for a second?”

    “Sure thing,” he said, offering his arm. I took hold of it and lifted my left foot to examine the sole. At first I thought I must've trodden in something, because the skin covering the underside of my foot was black from side to side. But as I watched, the blackness evaporated, wafting away like smoke. Underneath was the smooth pink skin of my foot.

    “What the heck?” I put my foot down, suddenly aware I could feel the asphalt much more keenly under my feet now, and gave Zach a questioning look. “Was that you? Did you do that?” I was a little torn; while he had only been protecting me, I didn't appreciate being kept in the dark about it.

    “Yes, Taylor.” He smiled at me. “I did not want you to hurt your feet, and I was going to be busy fighting, so I made sure a protective layer of rubber from the floor of the van adhered to your feet. It is no longer necessary, because there are shoes in the house you can wear.”

    Dad blinked. “Well, that was very thoughtful of you, Zach. But I'm guessing you didn't tell Taylor about this when you did it?” He gave me a discerning glance. “See her face? That's the face which says 'you really should've told me earlier'.”

    “I did not know this,” Zach replied, studying my face carefully. “Taylor, are you angry with me?” The smile slid off his face, replaced by an expression of anxiety. “I did not wish to hurt your feelings. My intention was only to prevent harm from coming to you.”

    For an Endbringer, he had a very good line in puppy-dog eyes. While I wasn't going to really be mad at him for trying to help me, I didn't want him to think he could just do anything and assume I'd be okay with it after the fact. He needed to learn boundaries. Which, I had to admit, he'd already shown he was good at.

    “That's okay, Zach,” I said, putting a hand on his arm. “I'm not angry, but Dad's right. It's nice to know you're protecting me, but if you're going to do something like this, I'd prefer to know about it. This way, we both know what's going on.” I offered him a smile of my own. “I know you're doing your best, and you're doing an absolutely awesome job of protecting me physically. It's just that keeping me in the dark about it doesn't make me feel like I've got a lot of control over my life at the moment. You understand what I'm talking about?”

    For a moment, he tilted his head slightly, his expression one of intense concentration. Then his face cleared, and he smiled brilliantly. “Yes, I understand now, Taylor. I just asked my sister and she explained it to me. She also said people could be very complicated and I should not assume I know how they will react to what I do.”

    For all that I'd just met his sister (who was the Simurgh! Some part of me, deep inside, was still gibbering over this) the fact he'd just asked her for advice about me just blew me away. What just about everyone knew about the Simurgh (apart from the part about her being a city-killing monster, of course) was that she was really smart, and could out-think the whole Triumvirate, including Alexandria, which was even more impressive. And he'd asked her about me.

    Of course, she'd given him good advice. How could she not? It just remained to be seen if he'd follow it. On balance, I figured he would; Zach might seem clueless from time to time, but he wasn't exactly dumb. I decided to reinforce it, just in case. “You should listen to your sister,” I told him seriously. “She knows what she's talking about.” Thinking about what I'd just said, about the Simurgh, I couldn't help wondering when I'd started thinking of the Endbringers as … well, as people. I wasn't counting Zach; he was already a person, as far as I was concerned.

    Commander Calvert approached us, his armour still showing scuff-marks from the earlier tumble. He stopped at a respectful distance before clearing his throat. If he'd been wearing a hat instead of a helmet, his attitude suggested he would've been holding it in his hands in front of him. I wasn't quite sure what Zach had said to him, but all of my experience told me my newest and best friend could redefine the concept of 'persuasive' if he put his mind to it. Calvert looked … persuaded.

    “Excuse me, Mr Hebert?” he said diffidently. “We've cleaned up all the broken glass. A glazier has been contacted, and the PRT will be footing the bill. Please accept our deepest apologies for this entire misunderstanding.” His eyes flickered to Zach then back to Dad, the motion almost too fast for me to register. “You have my personal assurance it won't be happening again.”

    Well, that bit was a given. I was pretty sure Zach had things covered. As for Calvert himself, he gave me the impression he was a man who didn't always play by the rules, especially if there wasn't someone like Zach around to keep him in line. So I chose to take his apparent sincerity with a large grain of salt. Plus, there was something I wanted to say.

    “Misunderstanding?” I snorted and shook my head. “I'll give you 'misunderstanding'. The only 'misunderstanding' was you idiots not understanding you couldn't just do what you wanted. I told you what was happening from the beginning, and you just kept pushing. And now you all look like morons, and whose fault is that, exactly?”

    Calvert didn't look altogether thrilled at being yelled at by a teenager, but this wasn't my problem. I finally had someone to vent at who was standing still long enough to be vented at. He winced as I raised my voice. “And have you called in someone to repair our front step? We all saw you break it, you know. I'd be surprised if someone didn't get it on film.” I threw my hands in the air. “And amazingly enough, that's the least moronic thing you idiots have done all day!”

    Dad nodded. “At least the Chief Director has already agreed the PRT will be covering all the costs of what happened today. Of course, now I have to go and yell at her school principal for letting that shit happen there. Just be glad you can't be held responsible for that, too.” Despite the fact Commander Calvert was about as tall as my father, and more physically imposing due to the bulk of the gear he was wearing, the PRT officer swayed backward under the force of Dad's anger.

    “Actually, the PRT is at least partially to blame for the ongoing bullying, as well,” Zach announced brightly, just as the Commander began to edge away. “After all, Sophia Hess is a Ward, and they are responsible for not curtailing her actions.” In the wake of this revelation, he beamed at Dad and me. Very slowly, Commander Calvert face-palmed.

    “Oh. Really.” Dad took a step toward Calvert. The latter, a trained soldier wearing weapons and armour, took a step back with his hands held up defensively. “So that's your fault as well? You enabled this girl, this Ward, to bully my daughter at school? You let it happen?” Dad's voice rose to a shout. “How many other ways have the PRT managed to fuck up today? Do those helmets cut off the blood supply to your brains or something? How hard is it to keep an eye on the behaviour of one teenage superhero?”

    “That's not my side of operations,” Calvert said quickly. “I'm not involved in the Wards side of things. And to be honest, I wasn't aware there was a Ward attending Winslow. I've certainly had no personal contact with the girl.” Eyeing the implacable expression on Dad's face, he hastily added, “Though I have no doubt he's telling the exact truth. And now this has come out, I'm sure the appropriate measures will be taken.”

    “So long as the appropriate measures include words like 'shitcanned so fast her head spins' and 'juvenile detention until she's forty', I'm good.” A muscle was jumping in Dad's jaw now, a sign that he was reaching a high point in his anger. “But if you even consider sweeping it all under the carpet, this is coming out. All of it. I don't take this shit, not from you or from anyone, not when my daughter's well-being is involved.”

    Calvert shot another lightning-fast glance at Zach, then returned his attention to Dad. “Mr Hebert, this is not my area of authority.” He opened his mouth to say more, but a look of strained relief settled on his face as he closed it again.

    “No, but it is mine.” It was Alexandria's voice, coming from behind us. We turned to look at her. “Commander Calvert, you're dismissed. Get your men packed up and out of here. Zachary, I have no personal knowledge of what you're talking about, but I would appreciate being filled in as quickly as possible. Mr Hebert, may we use your house for the sake of privacy?”

    “Why?” asked Dad, still seething. “So you can get all the details, cover it up, then deny it later?” He indicated the reporter, still talking to Eidolon. “Seems to me this sort of shit gets made to go away all too often. Maybe I should go over there and make a statement. Blow this whole thing wide open.”

    Alexandria shook her head minutely. “Presuming Zachary would not allow us to inflict a legal punishment on you for outing a Ward, that's still a bad idea. No matter your feelings about whichever person we're talking about, she undoubtedly has family and friends who will be put at risk if you out her.”

    “Yes,” said Zach unexpectedly. “She has a mother, a brother and a younger sister. They are innocent in this.” Despite the surprising revelation, he made the statement as dramatic as if he were talking about the weather.

    “Wait, when were you going to tell me she was a Ward?” I demanded. “We talked about this! Just now, even! Why did you hold this back, of all things?” Nothing seemed simple any more; even Zach, it seemed, was picking and choosing the information he was giving me.

    “I was not holding it back, Taylor,” he said earnestly. “I thought you would be less happy if I told you when there was nobody around who could do something about it. In addition, if you learned about it and spread the information, her family may have been harmed and you would be unhappy.” He gestured toward Alexandria. “The Chief Director can do something about it that will not harm her family.” His gaze turned anxious again. “Or was I incorrect in thinking you would have brooded about it until something could be done?”

    I blinked. As much as I hated to admit it, he was correct. I would've been a lot angrier if I didn't have anyone to bitch at regarding Sophia, once Zach told me what was going on there. Worse, telling Armsmaster or Miss Militia might not have had the best results. And if I'd spread it around, Sophia's family could easily have gotten hurt without me even knowing about it.

    It went back to something Dad always said: if you're going to complain, complain to the guy in charge. This applied for more than one reason, as I was discovering. “Did … did you know the Chief Director would be coming here?” I asked, glancing sideways at the woman herself. For her part, she had a peculiar expression on her face, as of someone who'd bitten into an apple and found half a worm. Finding out that your actions had been predicted well ahead of time would definitely be a wake-up call, especially when you were someone like Alexandria.

    Cheerfully, he nodded. “Once I killed the Nine off, it was a virtual certainty. I knew when she arrived, she would want to test my capabilities. As soon as that was out of the way, I knew I would be able to inform you of the matter.” He beamed at me; while Zach would never do 'smug' well, he could still look moderately pleased with himself.

    “That's pretty sharp, to figure all that out,” I observed. “Or did you consult with your sister?” From the look on his face, I figured I had it right. Zach was smart, but he tended to be very straightforward. Twisty logic wasn't his strength.

    “Yes,” he admitted at once. “I did not know how to tell you in such a way as to keep you happy and not put other people at risk, so I asked her, and she suggested this way. She also suggested it would be best to continue the conversation in the house.”

    Zach didn't offer suggestions very often so when he did, I listened. “Okay,” I said. “Let's take this into the house.” Turning, I led the way across the street and up the driveway. I was used to stepping over the rotten stair anyway; the lack simply made it mandatory. The last PRT man out of the house had closed the door but not locked it, so I opened it and went inside.

    Calvert's men had obviously found our geriatric vacuum cleaner; the area of floor under where the glass would have fallen was the cleanest spot in the living room. I switched on the light and moved carefully, looking for twinkles of light on the linoleum, but they'd been very thorough. Even the shards of glass remaining in the window frames had been removed. Moving over to the sofa, I inspected the cushions critically; there was no glass there either.

    “It is safe,” Zach said from behind me. “All glass particles that could potentially harm you have been removed. The men missed a few, but my sister dealt with those.” I shouldn't have been surprised by that last statement, but there it was. It was almost impossible to imagine the Simurgh lowering herself to domestic cleaning.

    “Um, wait a second,” I protested. An image of that terrifying figure wearing an apron and vacuuming the floor popped up in my mind, and I tried to expel it again. It was just too weird. “She did that? I thought she just came down to say hello and confirm what you were saying. I mean, I'm nobody special.”

    “You are the most special person in the world to me.” I'd heard this from Zach before, but I didn't really think I'd ever get over it. When most people said that sort of thing, they were just saying it. Zach, on the other hand, meant it on a bone-deep level. “Also, she likes you. She says you are our best chance to break the cycle.”

    “Excuse me?” It was Alexandria. I hadn't seen her or Dad enter, because I'd been focused on what Zach was saying. “What cycle is this, exactly? Is this something we need to be concerned about?”

    “The Endbringer cycle.” Zach turned to her, his expression bland. “My brothers or my sister attack a city and allow themselves to get chased away again. Father's power orders them to do it to cause damage and require heroes to force them away.”

    “Wait, allow themselves to be chased away?” Dad looked as though he wasn't sure he wanted to be here for this. “Are they throwing the fights?” To be fair, it was a very disquieting thought. Every time there was an Endbringer fight, the news was full of praise for the bravery of the capes who forced the monster to (eventually) retreat. Was it all a sham?

    “Well, yes.” Zach blinked, as if no other answer was possible. “Behemoth could ignite everything in a ten-mile radius if he chose to. Leviathan could pull all the water out of the bodies of everyone in the fight. And Ziz … well, she does not need to sing to affect the minds of people, or even be near them. Those are just rules they made up for themselves to give people the hope that they could be beaten. They are much more powerful than they have shown, but to use their full strength would make it impossible for them to pretend to be beaten.”

    Alexandria, suddenly pale, slowly lowered herself on to the sofa. “And you?” she asked, her tone more than a little shaken. “Are you that powerful as well?”

    I thought back to what I'd seen Zach do, and decided the answer was 'holy shit, yes'. Though, thinking back, he did say he'd gotten his brothers and sister to help him with certain stunts. Of course, the fact that they had helped him without moving from wherever they were gave his previous statement some serious credibility.

    “I am powerful,” Zach confirmed without any kind of boastful tone in his voice. “I am not as physically strong as Behemoth, but I am able to manipulate perceptions of me as well as the powers of parahumans whom I encounter. Those powers that I like, I keep to make use of, and sometimes I add extra capabilities to make them more useful. I will not remove powers from parahumans without explicit permission, but I can shut down access to their powers for extended periods of time.”

    “You mentioned manipulation of perceptions.” Alexandria was bouncing back fast, showing the steel she'd used to remain as the Chief Director of the PRT over my lifetime. “Is this the Stranger effect you used to make us believe you weren't a parahuman?”

    “I did not lie,” Zach pointed out. “I always tell the truth. However, my perception manipulation can cause people to see my existence as being absolutely normal. It can also make me seem inconsequential as far as threat potential goes. With some, that will de-escalate the situation. With others, it increases the chance of conflict.” He turned to me. “Taylor, I want to apologise to you. I have been using that power on you ever since I ripped the door off the locker.”

    I blinked. “Wait, what? How have you been using a power on me? I haven't noticed anything.” And I hadn't. Zach had always been nice and friendly to me, never even suggesting the threat of harm.

    Zach tilted his head. “Have you not questioned why you didn't wonder how I was so strong, or where I came from, or why I was helping you? Those questions would have caused you to be worried, or even reject my companionship and protection. Each time your mind brought up the possibility of me being dangerous, or any other concept that may have caused you to push me away, my power turned it aside.” He paused. “I want you to understand that I have never lied to you. Your well-being and happiness is my ultimate concern.”

    Without speaking, I sat down at the far end of the sofa from Alexandria. Some news has to be processed sitting down. It wasn't easy to deal with; he'd been telling the truth to my face, while his power was making sure I'd accept what he said. Did that mean he was lying to me or not? It was hard to figure out. I decided to shelve it for the moment—I could always yell at Zach later—and deal with something else that was niggling at me.

    “Quick question.” I looked up at Zach. “Why were you assigned to be my protector? I mean, this is about as far from the concept of 'make Eidolon look heroic' as you can get.”

    Instead of answering me straight away, Zach looked at Alexandria. “I suspect if Father hears the details of what I am about to say, it will affect future events in a bad way. My sister thinks so, anyway. Can you agree to not tell him?” He gave her his 'serious' look, which I had to admit was pretty damn serious.

    After a moment, she nodded. “I'm not promising anything, but I'll take your, uh, sister's assessment under advisement.” She leaned forward with raised eyebrows. “I'm also somewhat curious about that issue. Though I wasn't until Taylor brought it up just now.” She shot him an irritated glance. “Dammit. I'd thought your power wasn't affecting me. It's very insidious.”

    “It is intended to be so,” he agreed, his expression deadpan. “If it is detectable, then much of the utility is lost.”

    “I felt it when you were using it on the reporter and her cameraman,” I put in. “That was just the edges of it, I guess?” I saw Alexandria and Dad both nodding; it seemed they'd felt the same thing.

    “Yes,” he said. “I let you feel what I was doing, so that you were not surprised by her acquiescence. Though did you wonder then or later if the power had ever been used on you, even with evidence that I had it?”

    I knew I hadn't, and with Zach's confession about using it on me I wasn't really surprised. But now both Dad and Alexandria were shaking their heads. Dad's expression was one of dawning revelation. “Damn,” he marvelled. “You are good at that. You wouldn't be able to sit in on some of the negotiation meetings I'm gonna be holding to talk about demolishing the Boat Graveyard, would you?”

    Alexandria cleared her throat. “I suspect doing something of the sort would fall under the heading of 'using a parahuman power for undue influence',” she noted, though the smile on her face took the sting out of her remark. “But we're getting off topic. Zach, you were explaining to Taylor about why Eidolon assigned you to be her protector.”

    Zach nodded. “Father does not have complete control over the power that governs us,” he said. “He wants to be a hero, but if he had control he would never have caused it to create monsters that kill millions. It is all subconscious. My sister is good at manipulating the subconscious. She is unable to affect him directly, but she was able to cause minor mishaps and events in his vicinity which then informed his thought patterns. One night, as a result of this, he manifested a precognitive power while he was asleep. He had a dream of you being locked in your locker. The emotion he felt about that ultimately triggered my creation as your protector.”

    A long silence ensued, as each of us thought about the ramifications of that. A distant siren wailed, but that was nothing out of the ordinary; on some days in Brockton Bay, sirens were more common than birdsong. I watched as a solitary fly buzzed in through one of the glass-less windows and made a slow circuit of the room. My brain was turning over what Zach had told me, and I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or run downstairs and lock myself in the basement until the crazy went away.

    “Okay, I've got a question.” Dad looked just a little wild around the eyes, but I suspected I had much the same look. Having one's entire world overturned in a few minutes had that sort of effect. “Why not tell Eidolon? Surely we could do with having more like Zach around? I mean, he's done nothing but help Taylor out. And then there's the Nine.”

    “The problem is that once he is told what happened, Father might try to do it again.” Zach's voice was flat. “Ziz says that is a very bad idea. After all, my brothers and sister came about through a heroic impulse.”

    “So noted.” Alexandria's tone was a little faint. I guessed she was thinking the same thing I was; if the Simurgh said something was a bad idea, this was probably the understatement of the year. “About that. Are you created out of nothing, or … how does it even work? After all, I doubt very much there were Endbringers like Behemoth and teenage boys all queued up in limbo, waiting to be brought into the world.”

    Zach smiled a little at that. “You are correct. Endbringers—or chaos generators, as I call us—do not have any particular form to begin with. Our final form has very little to do with our power level. It is all window-dressing. I could have been a fifty foot tall being composed of razor blades, or a series of interlocking shadows, and still had the same abilities that I do now. However, being in this form makes it much easier for my perception filter to work, so this is my form.”

    “Chaos generators?” Dad roused himself to ask the question. “Why do you call yourself that? You haven't attacked the city. In fact, all you've done is … oh.”

    As he trailed off, I burst out laughing at the same realisation that was only now spreading over his face. For someone whose stated goal was to help me and keep me safe, Zach had done an amazing job of generating chaos. From the altercation with Armsmaster, to smacking Assault all the way to Boston … at every turn, we'd escaped from one chaotic situation only to run headlong into another. It was the final straw, making sense of everything else. I cackled, whooped and pounded the armrest of the sofa with my fist. Tears ran down my face and I laughed until my ribs hurt, then I laughed some more. It was even funnier than the time Zach had told me he was an Endbringer, and I'd thought he was joking. Because this time, the punchline was utterly hilarious: it's all true.

    Finally, I subsided, still chuckling. Wiping my eyes, I looked around at the two adults, each of whom was looking at me with degrees of exasperation. Zach was just leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, smiling. “Okay, I'm good,” I said, then chuckled again. “But you gotta admit, that was funny. The look on your face, Dad, when you realised what you were saying.”

    Alexandria pursed her lips. “Well, yes,” she conceded, a little reluctantly. “However, if you're done, Miss Hebert, I'd like to get to the main point of this gathering. Specifically, the issue with Sophia Hess.”

    If anything was guaranteed to get me serious, that was it. All sense of humour evaporated as I sat upright. “Okay. I didn't know she was a Ward, though now I think about it, Armsmaster was acting a bit hinky at the time. I'm wondering if he wasn't trying to keep it on the down-low. It did strike me as a bit weird how the Protectorate and PRT turned up so fast at the school.”

    “I will be talking to Armsmaster,” Alexandria said, and just for a moment, I felt sorry for Armsmaster. But only for a moment. “However. First, I would like your side of the story. Specifically, the details of your interactions with Sophia Hess, both in her civilian identity and as Shadow Stalker, and anything else you feel is relevant.” She turned to face me, one leg up on the sofa, and gave me her full attention.

    I tried not to gulp; it was like being pinned to the wall by a searchlight. “Okay, I didn't know Sophia was Shadow Stalker until Zach mentioned it. But Sophia's been on my case since I started high school. Somehow, she stole my best friend and turned her against me, and they haven't given me a day to myself since.” I paused. “Um, Zach, in my bedroom, there's a stack of papers held together with a bulldog clip, on the top shelf of my—” Between one word and the next, Zach was gone. I opened my mouth to say something, and he was back again, standing next to the sofa with my journal in his hand. “—wardrobe,” I finished lamely. “Thanks. Wow.” I'd seen him do his move trick before over short distances before, but that was something else. There'd barely even been any air displacement, and no after-images or sound of thundering feet. Did he fly? Was he teleporting? I wasn't sure; nor was I certain how to ask.

    “Is that a record of what's been going on?” asked Alexandria. She eyed the stack of paper. “That's … a lot of pages.”

    “That's because there's a lot of incidents,” I said bitterly. “That's only from November last, by the way. I only started writing it down then.”

    “ … wait.” Dad turned his attention from Zach and the journal to me. “You just said 'stole your best friend'. But that's—” He broke off and moved forward. Taking the papers from Zach's hand, he scanned the front page then stopped, his knuckles whitening as he gripped the thick sheaf. “Emma?” His voice was a plea, an appeal to help him understand what was going on. “How could she …?”

    “I don't know, and that's the truth,” I confessed. “I just know that she's turned every secret I ever shared with her against me. And today, she helped Sophia lock me in my locker.” I eyed Alexandria cynically. “They did report what was in that locker, didn't they?” I wouldn't have put it past them to conveniently 'forget' that bit.

    However, it seemed that I'd done them a disservice. “I know what was in the locker,” she confirmed, the twist of her lips making it clear that she knew what I was talking about.

    “Well, I don't know what was in the locker,” Dad interjected. He looked from me to Alexandria and back again. “Do I want to know?”

    “Probably not,” I said sympathetically. “But would you rather hear it from me or read it in the papers?” I knew it wasn't really fair to make him choose, but then, I hadn't had an option about going into the locker anyway.

    Dad held up a hand and went into the kitchen. When he came out, he was carrying one of the dining chairs. Taking a seat, he gave me a steady look. “Okay, I'm sitting down. Hit me.”

    I took a deep breath. This wasn't easy for me, either. “You know the special bins they have in the girls' bathrooms? They must've emptied every single one in the school.” My stomach clenched at the memory.

    Fuck.” Dad's voice grated like broken glass. “Here.” He stood up again and thrust the stack of papers toward Alexandria. “Have a look at what else your precious Ward did when your back was turned.” A little of the venom was back in his voice. “I'm thinking I might just go and have a word with Alan Barnes. I might be gone a little while.” Turning on his heel, he started for the door.

    “Dad, no!” I raised my voice, and he stopped. “I don't think he knew about it, and even if he did, if you punch him, you'll get arrested. That'll make it harder to fix stuff, if you've got a record.”

    “It'll just be a fine.” He started moving toward the door again. “I can afford a fine. I'm just gonna ask him a few questions. And if I don't like the answers, I'm gonna punch his teeth down his neck.”

    “Mr Hebert.” Alexandria didn't take her eyes off the sheets as she leafed through them at an impressive speed. “Your course of action is inadvisable.” The tone of her voice didn't change, but he stopped again. I had to learn how she did that. “His daughter is already injured. That'll get him sympathy in court. On the other side of the coin, attacking him will muddy the case against her, when it goes through. Do you want to see your daughter's attackers go free?”

    Dad stopped with his hand on the doorknob. I saw his shoulders hunch and his knuckles whiten as he gripped the smooth metal. He wanted to go out and deliver a warning, if not an actual beatdown, to work off his own agitation; that much was obvious. But Alexandria's warning made a lot of sense. The last thing we wanted was to have Emma walk free because Dad's temper got the better of him.

    Finally, he drew a deep breath and let the doorknob go. It didn't bear indentations in the shape of his fingers, but I figured it'd been a near thing. “Fine,” he said with bad grace. “You win. I won't go beat the snot out of him. But once this is done, him and me are gonna be sitting down and having a very intense conversation about keeping an eye on what his fucking daughter is up to.”

    “That's fair.” Alexandria stood up from the sofa, leaving the sheaf of papers on the cushions. “I've got everything I need from that.” She turned to me. “What were the highlighted emails about? There were a few of those.”

    I was mildly stunned that she'd not only read through the lot, but she'd had the time to take note of the highlighted emails. Superpowers are bullshit. Of course, I had Zach as the uber-example of that. He had powers that capes thought were bullshit. “Um, those are the ones that were sent during school hours.”

    “Ah.” Her eyes cleared, then focused in the middle distance. “Yes, I see. That's very useful. I don't believe it will be very hard to track down the originals of those emails, where they were sent from, and who was logged in at the time.” She smiled at me. “This is all very useful. You did a good job there.”

    I flushed slightly; even seeing her warts and all, getting praise from Alexandria was definitely a high point in my day. “Um, thanks. I guess I wasn't expecting to have to go as high as you before someone actually paid attention to me.”

    “May I say something that you might not wish to hear, Taylor?” Zach's voice was diffident. “It is a matter of perspective.”

    I looked at him curiously. “Okay, go ahead.” While I wasn't sure I wanted to hear something unpleasant, Zach obviously thought I needed to know whatever it was. Taking a breath, I braced myself for the bad news.

    “I merely wished to remind you of the fact that while Chief Director Costa-Brown is currently committed to this course of action, it is only because I am so powerful that she cannot guarantee victory over me.” Zach spoke blandly, though his words were anything other than forgettable. “If I were not here and you attempted to make your case to the PRT, she may well have authorised a cover-up and roadblocks put in your way to ensure nothing more was said about the matter. You saw how Armsmaster and the rest of the Protectorate reacted to your words about Shadow Stalker. In short, while she will be acting in your best interests, it is solely because she has no other choice in the matter.”

    I'd heard the phrase 'the ugly truth' before, but I'd rarely come across so fitting an example. Nor did I think to question his analysis of the matter; it rang so very true, even without the look on Alexandria's face to go by. I gave her a hard stare, and she had the grace to drop her gaze. Or was she merely acting out shame? I had no doubt she'd done far worse in her career.

    “It's true, isn't it.” I didn't even bother to phrase it as a question. The temptation to shout at her or call her names was strong, but I restrained myself. I would be the better person.

    Slowly, she nodded. “You would've figured it out sooner or later anyway, even without Zachary to point it out. But the fact of the matter is, we all bend the knee to whomever comes along that's stronger than us. You think the criminal element plays nice when there's a superhero walking down the street because they like him? It's the threat of force. You can't keep order without giving orders, and it's an age-old truism that orders not backed by force are merely suggestions. Yes, we should've been aware of your situation a lot earlier, and we should've been ready to remedy it as soon as we found out. That's on us.”

    She took a deep breath and looked around at each of us. “However, as in any organisation, there are many factors to be taken into account, and they absolutely have to be prioritised in order to keep things running smoothly. Almost invariably, the priorities are aimed more at increasing efficiency and less at the welfare of individual people. Sometimes, this means that people like you fall through the cracks. I wish it were otherwise. I wish I were smart enough to run things so well that everyone benefits. But I'm not.”

    Dad grimaced. “I wish I was able to call bullshit on that. But I've been involved with organisational planning before, and I know where you're coming from.” He paused to give her a stern glare. “However, this doesn't mean you're off the hook for everything that happened to Taylor because of the PRT and Protectorate fucking up. In fact …” He paused, eyes going distant. “I'm thinking we might be in line for compensation. Call it a fuckup tax. The PRT and Protectorate need to learn not to pull this shit any more, and having to actually make an effort to put things right makes for a great object lesson.”

    “Okay …” She eyed him warily. “You do realise, you're already going to be getting ninety-nine point four million dollars for the Nine. Asking for more money at this point sounds a little grabby to me. Just saying.”

    He snorted with dark humour. “Who said I was gonna be asking for money? I want to clear the Boat Graveyard. I'm thinking that sometime in the near future, I'm gonna want to be able to make a phone call, and if the Triumvirate happened to be free, I'm pretty sure they could clear the lot in a lazy afternoon.”

    I wanted to laugh out loud. It was perfect. Between Alexandria, Legend and Eidolon, they could make short work of even that vast tonnage of half-sunken hulks. “And I've got an even better idea,” I said. “Zach could help too. He wouldn't do all the work—after all, the Triumvirate have got to show how heroic they can be—but I'm pretty sure he could do his bit.”

    “I most certainly could do my bit, Taylor.” Zach beamed at me. “Would you like me to invite any of my brothers or sister to help as well? I am sure they could speed things up a lot.” His gaze was so guileless that I couldn't quite tell if he was trolling Alexandria or not.

    “Uh, let's not,” she said hastily. “We don't want to cause a mass panic, after all. I'm sure that between the four of us, we could do the job.” Turning back to Dad, she added, “Did you want me to contact Legend and get it done this afternoon?” There was an almost hopeful tone to her voice; maybe I can get this over and done with today.

    “Not at the moment,” he said with a shake of the head. “I'm going to need to start the ball rolling with Roy Christner and get the Merchants dealt with first. Once crime in the area is down to a minimum and the local infrastructure's been brought back up to speed, then I'll give you that call.” He gave her a thin smile, which wasn't reflected in his eyes. “But you won't be waiting too long. I don't intend to drag my feet on this.”

    “So I see,” she murmured, then dusted her hands off almost theatrically. “Well, if you call my official contact number, I'll see to it that you're put straight through, night or day. Is there anything else we needed to talk about before I go?”

    “One minor detail,” Zach said. “If you wanted one more point to make the case against Shadow Stalker stick, she has been in the habit of taking regular arrows out on patrol instead of the probation-mandated tranquilliser arrows. I am sure that someone of your capabilities would be able to locate such arrows wherever she has them hidden.”

    Alexandria's eyelids drooped slightly and her smile became razor-edged. “Oh, I will take the greatest pleasure in locating her stash.” She nodded to Zach. “I believe working alongside you will be fascinating and irritating in equal measure, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.” Turning to me, she stepped forward and reached out her hand. “And I know this is more than a little belated, but I want to apologise again for what has been done to you.”

    I shrugged, then reached up and shook her hand. Her grip was firm, but I'd never have judged it capable of crushing steel if I hadn't known who she really was. “I appreciate it. Even if you are kinda working under duress. As far as I'm concerned, the results are all I'm interested in.”

    “That's fair.” She gave me a measured nod, then turned and shook hands with Dad. “I look forward to working with you again, Mr Hebert. It's nice to talk to someone who has some small idea of what I have to deal with.”

    “If you speak with Accord in Boston, he will be able to formulate plans to streamline the efficiency of all three organisations of which you are a part,” Zach put in unexpectedly. “Of course, this requires that you give him access to deep organisational details, which some may object to.” He shrugged. “It is your choice.”

    Alexandria blinked. “And that one was well out of left field. I'll consider it. No promises.” She shook Zach's hand. “It was … extremely interesting to meet you. Don't forget to ask Taylor that question.” Moving to the door, she opened it; a moment later, she was gone.

    “Wait, what question?” I asked, looking at Zach.

    He smiled. “She asked me to ask you if my brothers and sister should stop attacking cities. I already know you do not like people dying, but I allowed her to think she had accomplished something by asking me. I have already asked them to not hurt anyone else, and they have said they will try. Is that what you would have wanted?”

    I nodded fervently. “Yeah. Definitely. Thanks for that, Zach. It's a huge weight off my mind.”

    “Well, this has definitely been an unusual day, even for Brockton Bay,” Dad noted. “Start it with a super-powered stand-off at your high school, and end it by saving the world from the Endbringers. And we're not even half done yet.”

    “True.” I grinned. “Of course, tomorrow we're just gonna have to top what we've done today.”

    Dad shook his head in resignation. “Just make sure Brockton Bay's standing at the end of it, all right?”

    I giggled. “I'll do my best.”



    End of Part Eight
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2018
    saugo, ~[]~, A Simurgh Plot and 46 others like this.
  30. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Nice chapter there. Lots of stuff gets handled, and subtly and reasonably so. And of course, in a funny way as well.
     
    MagicEater and Ack like this.
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