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One Bad Day (Worm AU fic)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Jun 4, 2016.

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  1. Enochi

    Enochi Making the rounds.

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    Huh well this could go in a very different direction from what I was expecting. You have my curiosity sir.
     
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  2. Darkarma

    Darkarma Not too sore, are you?

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    I'm guessing Lisa hasn't heard of Scapegoat.

    So Amy completely wiped all of Vicky's memories?
     
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  3. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    It was never meant to 'fool' anyone. The suspect is expected to know they might be under observation; they just can't know for sure, nor see who it is or what they're doing.
     
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    In which case it would've simply been tinted glass, with bright light in the interrogation room.

    The fact that they make it mirrored indicates that on some level they're trying to fool people.
    Scapegoat can:
    1) restore sight, because eyes are eyes
    2) heal injuries, because body parts are body parts
    3) bestow or remove mental problems, because brains are brains

    He can't:
    1) fix strictly feminine problems, because he doesn't have the requisite parts
    2) replace personality traits that have been erased, because he doesn't have them to put back

    He doesn't go looking in the brainmeats as Amy or Riley would do; he adds or takes away conceptual 'templates' with no real idea of how it works. This lets him do things that neither one of those can do, and limits him in other ways. If Vicky was suffering from hysterical amnesia, he could take that away, no problem. But this is real amnesia; the personality is gone.

    And no, not all of Vicky's memories; Vicky still remembers a lot of stuff. It's just that the personality that those experiences built has been torn away and the urge to do whatever Amy wants put in its place. If she had perfect memory and perfect patience and the will to do it, she could go through her memories one at a time and use those to rediscover who she is, but she has none of those.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018
  5. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    I....Have no idea where this is going. I'm definitely enjoying the ride though.
    Doubled word.
    It's used more for the psychological effect of not knowing if someone is watching or not.
     
  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Dammit. Will fix (later).

    Once again, a tinted window will do that. Making it mirrored goes to the effort of pretending it's a mirror.
     
  7. Oddboy

    Oddboy Getting sticky.

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    What a marvelous trainwreck this is. It's gonna get worse, isn't it?
     
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  8. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Yes, but tinted glass makes it harder for the people to see when there really is someone on the other side of the glass. Like the person trying to identify someone in a lineup, for example.
     
  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    You don't think there's tinting involved in making a one-way mirror?

    Keep the lights down in the observation room, keep them bright in the room being observed, and there's no real problem. You don't even need a strong degree of tint. Hell, you'll get reflection anyway on a non-mirrored window.
     
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  10. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Actually, there isn't tinting on a good one-way mirror. Yes it darkens the image slightly, but it doesn't distort the colors at all, since the reflective surface is partially reflecting all colors equally.
     
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  11. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    When I think of how to make a window so people can see out but not in, 'one-way mirror' is the first thing that pops into mind. You're assuming that tinted glass is somehow the default and that a one-way mirror represents an additional effort, but that's not necessarily the case.
     
  12. Matherfokker

    Matherfokker Making the rounds.

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    This is glorious. Hell the simurgh is probably just going to barely float down for pretense and head right back up thinking 'easiest run ever'
    Matherfokker rolled 3 die of 6 faces, total: 8
    For: the hell of it
    Rolled on: September-02-2018, 07:42am
    2
    5
    1
     
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  13. Threadmarks: Part Five: Tripling Down
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One Bad Day

    Part Five: Tripling Down



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



    Taylor

    “No, we can't just walk up to your friends and family and ask them to donate their memories of Vicky,” Lisa said patiently. “If Plan B is gonna have a chance of working, we have to set it up before we kick off Plan A. Otherwise, if Plan A fizzles, we're left hanging in the wind.”

    I listened to her with half an ear while I played with my powers. After I lashed out in the bathroom and killed Madison, I'd done my best to shut that power away from my mind. But now, fed and rested and no longer strung out on panic, I'd decided that if I was gonna go down, I'd go down with style. So I reached out for the power again, and it responded. And with it came a surprise. I could control more than bugs.

    “But what if we don't need Plan B?” Amy insisted. “What if they just say yes? That means we won't have to do all this running in circles to get Plan B set up. Everyone agrees, we go to talk to Cranial, and Vicky gets made better.” She glanced across the area we were currently hiding out to where Vicky was sitting and humming a simple tune. Vicky looked up and gave Amy a smile and a wave. “As soon as possible,” she said, more to herself than to Lisa.

    “If we don't need Plan B, we don't need it,” I said. “But it's better to have Plan B and not need it than to not have it and need it.” It was something that Mom used to say, but definitely appropriate in the circumstances.

    Lisa gave me a grateful look. “Exactly. And how much time would we waste if Plan A went sideways and we had to fall back on Plan B, but it wasn't ready to roll?”

    I'd used bugs when I killed Madison because they'd been ready to hand and they were incredibly easy to control. A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million, there was no upper limit to how many I could direct at once. But once I started out playing with bugs, I soon became aware of other minds moving around, far more complex than the tiny sparks of the bugs. The more complicated the mind, the harder it would be for me to affect it, but as I attuned myself to my new-found capabilities, I found that I was even able to detect Lisa, Amy and Vicky as shadowy images to my power.

    Amy set her jaw stubbornly. “I just don't like the idea of just … well, just planning to abduct my friends and family, like we were criminals. What if they get hurt?”

    “That's what having a plan is all about,” Lisa reiterated. I could see a stress wrinkle starting to form between her eyes. “We can cover all the eventualities. And if they get hurt, you can fix them.” She got up from the box she'd been sitting on. “I'm not gonna lie. The longer we take, the harder the odds are against us on this one. The faster we get them where we need them, one way or the other, the easier it'll be to get to the others.” She rubbed her butt. “And we've really got to find a better place to stay. This is just about passable for one night of hiding, but it's got zero modern conveniences. The more we have to sneak out for food, water, going to the bathroom, the more chance we have of being spotted.”

    “I got an idea,” said Aisha. I blinked and tried to hide my start as my brain filled me in on her existence. Again. “Why don't we go to a motel or something and I'll steal the key for one of the rooms? The guy at the front desk will think it's been hired out, and we're golden for a day or so. Then we find another motel, rinse and repeat.”

    “And one of them will call the cops and give a description, and then Carol and Aunt Sarah and Uncle Neil will be all over our case,” Amy said. “It's a bad idea.”

    “Worse than you think,” Lisa retorted. “Coil's tapped into the PRT somehow. If he gets the slightest idea where we are, we're screwed harder than a dollar whore when the Navy's in town. He always guesses right, and he's got mercenaries with serious weaponry. We don't want him on our case.”

    “Coil?” I asked curiously. “I don't think I've heard of him. What's his thing?”

    Lisa shuddered. “He's a tall, skinny drink of water in a skintight outfit, and trust me, once you see him, you'll need brain bleach. He's also the worst type of person to get money or personal power.” She gave me a direct look. “You know the type.”

    I swallowed nervously. If I understood what she was saying correctly, he was meaner than Sophia and more vindictive than Emma. “I think I do. So what's his territory? So we can stay out of it, I mean.”

    “Oh, he doesn't hold much in the way of territory, actually,” Lisa said dismissively. “You're not gonna believe this, but he's actually got this big-ass Bond villain base in the middle of … in the middle of …” Her voice ran down, and she shook her head. “Fuck. Is it that easy? It can't be that easy. Can it?”

    “Lisa, are you all right?” I looked at her with some concern. If she was having some sort of brain meltdown, it would severely hamper any plans we were going to make in the future. I had no faith at all in my own plan-making ability. 'Run and hide' do not a long-term plan make.

    Slowly, a grin spread across her face. “I'm either all right or totally insane. And I can't tell which. But I just had the best idea. How to solve two of our problems at once.”

    Her grin seemed a little on the fixed side, so I wasn't making any sort of bets there. “What problems? And how are we going to fix them?” I hoped I wasn't going to regret asking.

    “Problem one,” Lisa said, her grin never disappearing. “Getting us long-term accommodations. Problem two. Making it so I can get around the city without Coil's goons simply grabbing me. And problem three. Someplace we can put people to keep them on ice if we have to go to Plan B and some get away.”

    Amy frowned. “Um, please don't tell me that this sudden inspiration is not related to what you were talking about earlier. Because if it is—”

    “Holy garlic-flavoured fuckballs!” Aisha burst out and I jumped; more from the sudden exclamation than from the realisation that she existed. “We're gonna steal a supervillain's fucking secret base!”

    “Wait, what?” I asked. “That sounds like—”

    A totally epic idea that we should do right now!” Aisha interrupted, her voice crackling with enthusiasm. “I mean, there's all sorts of shit that's been stolen from everyone, but who else has actually fucking stolen the bad guy's base? I mean, seriously?”

    “Lisa?” Amy's voice was pleading. “Tell me that Aisha's on the wrong track, and that you're not thinking of going through with this insane plan.”

    Lisa looked at me and then at Amy. “It's not insane,” she said firmly. “It's audacious, sure. Unprecedented, almost certainly. But not insane. You don't think it can be done?”

    “Um, no?” I ventured.

    Amy was far more forthright. “Fuck and no!” she burst out. “Seriously, we're four people, none of us really on our best game right now, and he's a supervillain with mercenaries! How in the living hell do you think you'll pull this off?”

    That was when I saw the one expression on Lisa's face that should've had me running for the hills. A slow, toothy smile. It morphed into a grin that would've made me take a step back if I'd been standing up. Even though she was standing up, she steepled her fingers in front of her like every criminal kingpin in every bad supervillain movie everywhere.

    “I'm glad you asked.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    “You can't be serious.” Danny stared at the Director. “Taylor has powers? How does that even happen?”

    “I presume you've heard of trigger events,” she replied firmly. “How capes get powers. But I'm guessing you don't know details. Not many people do, at least those who don't work directly with capes.”

    “I've heard the phrase from time to time,” Danny admitted. “Not the details, no.” He shook his head. “But how is it that my daughter gets powers on the same day that she's accused of stabbing a Ward to death? Is this a coincidence, or are these two events related?”

    Director Piggot leaned back in her chair with her hands clasped in front of her. “It's not impossible that there's a connection between them. However, that raises an entirely different series of questions. You see, trigger events are almost universally linked to situations of extreme distress. And if she'd gone in there intending to do harm to Shadow Stalker, she would've had a certain amount of readiness for the situation. The people who trigger aren't the ones who were mentally prepared for the situation.”

    Danny frowned, puzzling his way through the implications. “So ... you're saying she was subjected to extreme trauma, then she might have killed Shadow Stalker? She was attacked and she was defending herself?”

    “The possibility exists.” The Director took a deep breath. “And the longer I speak to you, the more I'm convinced that your daughter's got extenuating circumstances on her side. The trouble is, she's vanished. Clearing her and finding out what really happened—and possibly getting her signed up for the Wards—is going to be a lot harder if we can't talk to her.”

    Danny spread his hands. “Well, I don't know where she is. I've been in custody since I found out about this whole shitshow.”

    “I know that.” Piggot heaved herself to her feet. “Which is why I'm going to be signing your release form as soon as I get out of here. You're going home, so that if Taylor contacts you, you can contact us. We bring her in, find out exactly what happened from her side, and go from there.”

    “Um ... I guess?” Danny wasn't certain about all of this, but anything that allowed him to get out of here was a good thing. Nor was he fully on board with dropping a dime on Taylor, but he figured he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.

    Director Piggot's smile didn't quite reach her eyes. “Trust me, Mr Hebert. We'll sort this out.”

    <><>​

    Amy

    “You want me to make what?” Amy stared at Lisa. “Now I know you're insane. They'll Birdcage me if I do that. Fuck, they'll give me a kill order!” She could feel her heartbeat in her chest as she tried not to hyperventilate. Could I get a heart attack from just being angry and scared? Vicky gave her a concerned look, and she forced a smile on to her face. The last thing she wanted was to have her damaged sister go battering-ram on Lisa right now, even though the blonde's plan was totally bat-shit insane. “It's all right, Vicky. We're just talking.”

    “All right,” Vicky said cheerfully, and went back to staring into space and humming.

    Amy lowered her tone, but didn't stop glaring at Lisa. “What the fuck are you thinking?”

    Lisa gave her a smirk in return. “I'm thinking that you've never used your powers to their full capacity, and if there was ever a time to start, it's right now. I'm thinking that right now, our backs are to the wall and we're low on other options. I'm thinking that this would be a perfect solution to our immediate problems, and make Operation Make Vicky Whole Again a lot more possible.” Amy wasn't quite sure how she managed to slot those capitals in there, but she did. “And I'm thinking that you're only protesting because secretly you really want to cut loose, but you've been conditioned to keep your power in check, and you want me to convince you otherwise.”

    Amy was reminded of the old saying: Don't let the Thinker talk. Her head was spinning, but Lisa's logic was worming its way into her head. The blonde was right on one count; their backs were up against the wall. Amy was uncomfortably aware that every day of delay made it less likely that they'd be able to fix Vicky properly, and they were starting from zero resources.

    “Oh,” said Lisa sweetly, “and I'm thinking that if I can take over Coil's finances—and I've got most of his passwords already—we'll have all the cash we'll ever need to pay Cranial. No other crimes needed. Hell, taking over his base won't really be a crime. Stealing from criminal assholes isn't really a crime, right?”

    “But you want to murder him,” Amy said desperately. “That's a crime.” She looked at Taylor and Aisha, who were watching the discussion like it was a tennis match. Where Aisha had gotten the popcorn from, she wasn't sure. “Tell her. Murder is wrong.”

    Taylor frowned. “Sure it's wrong, but she did kind of point out how Coil's really dangerous, and if we leave him alive, he'll come after us with everything he's got. And how he already wants to murder Lisa, or do even worse to her.” She pointed at Vicky. “What do you think he'd do with her, once he got his hands on her? She doesn't know right from wrong, and she'll do anything if she thinks it's what you want.”

    “And whatever you think Coil might do with Vicky, he'll do ten times worse.” Lisa's tone was rock-solid sincere, far removed from her previous banter. “A totally compliant teenage girl who can bend steel in her bare hands? He'd cut off his arm to get her under his control. To get all of us under his control. I'm a villain and I consider him too evil to live.”

    Amy looked at Vicky, then shuddered. The images that crowded through her mind made her want to puke. Her eyes went to Taylor, then to Lisa, and her shoulders slumped. “Okay,” she muttered. “You win.” She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “I'm probably gonna regret the fuck out of this, but let's do it. Let's go fuck up a supervillain.”

    “Woo hoo!” whooped Aisha, making Vicky jump. “Hey, it's okay, Vicks. We're all happy here. You happy, girl?”

    Vicky smiled. “I am happy, Most Esteemed Aisha.”

    Amy glared at Aisha, who cheerfully ignored her. She was going to have to do something about that nickname.

    Lisa had that toothy grin back again, the one that sent shivers down Amy's back. “Excellent. Now, what's the most dangerous venom you can make a bug formulate?”

    Amy shrugged. “Umm … I never really thought about it?”

    Lisa sighed. “Aisha, are you up for a little research trip?”

    <><>​

    Circus
    A Bit Later


    I should've held out for five times my usual fee, Circus decided. Every few minutes, she was reminded yet again of why she didn't do teams, and most especially teams with people who weren't hitting on all cylinders. Only the thought of the money kept her from saying 'fuck this shit' and walking away from the Undersiders' more dysfunctional members. She wasn't sure whether it'd been Grue or Tattletale keeping them pointed in the right direction, but whoever it was had to've had the patience of a goddamned saint.

    Contrary to her concerns, it hadn't been too hard to convince them that they were working with, or maybe for, her now. All she'd had to do was march on into their base and wave Coil's name around like a flag. Apparently they hadn't known who he was, but a discreet reminder of how much they were being paid had sufficed to quell Regent's doubts. On the other hand, Bitch had needed a really blunt reminder.

    Fortunately, getting them to come out with her to track down Tattletale hadn't even been that difficult, once she revealed the fact that they'd get paid a bonus to do it. As a villain, she was fully aware of how much her life choices revolved around how much money she'd get for a job; sometimes, it was depressing how little it took for people to throw over their previous friends and teammates. Which was another point in her book against being part of a team.

    Despite being in civvies, Regent—who was surprisingly pretty under the mask—had wanted to bring along his sceptre. Circus had put her foot down and withstood the whining, the arguments, the counter-arguments and the sulking. It was a little weird, though. She was good at figuring out what people were feeling, but even when he was actually pissed off, Regent barely registered as being mildly irritated to her. She'd heard something about him having a flattened emotional response, but this was verging on the ridiculous.

    Bitch pointed at the shuttered building ahead of them, where her dog was snuffling around a window frame. “She went in there.”

    “You're certain about that?” asked Circus. This seemed too easy.

    Bitch glared at her. “My fucking dogs tracked her fucking scent to this fucking location. Yes, I'm fucking certain.”

    “So now we've found her,” Regent interrupted, “can we have our bonus yet?”

    “We get that bonus when Tattletale is in our hands, on the way back to the boss.” Circus was pretty sure she'd made that point already. “Bitch, go around the back of the building and start growing your dogs. Leave me one. Regent, wait out here and stop her if she tries to leave. I'm going in.”

    Bitch gave her a hard look, but obeyed the order anyway. Circus went up to where the dog had been whining and scratching at the boarding over a window. Reaching into her hammerspace, she pulled out her mask and put it on. Then she produced a pry-bar from the same place—those things were so damn handy—and lodged it behind one of the boards. Bracing herself, she heaved ... then nearly fell over backward as the board popped off with suspicious ease, then hung by the nail on the other end.

    Glancing over her shoulder, she looked at Regent, but the pretty-boy was doing a good job at not snickering. Putting the pry-bar away, she pulled the rest of the boards off the window with her bare hands. As soon as the window was free, the dog whined and leaped up to scramble inside. Circus vaulted over the windowsill and followed him inside. She had a knife in each hand as she stalked through the building, but she was pretty sure Tattletale was no longer in residence. The noise she'd made getting in should've been enough to make the runaway Thinker bolt out the back door, right into Bitch's arms. This hadn't happened, so she decided to look around for clues as to where Tattletale might've gone.

    The trouble was, she wasn't any sort of detective. Ironically, Tattletale would've been the ideal person to find the clues she was looking for. She just had to hope that the Thinker hadn't covered her tracks with the same level of capability.

    It was the dog that found what she was looking for. She was examining scuffs in the dust when she heard it whining and scrabbling at something in the corner, under some trash. Lifting a broken board out of the way, she found paydirt. Four Fugly Bob's bags, crumpled up and shoved out of sight. The dog was pawing at them, obviously trying to get at the lingering smell and taste of grease and salt.

    Taking the bags with her, she went outside again. The dog followed her, whining hopefully. Unrolling the bags, she looked in them for clues but only found scraps ... until she located the receipt. Leaning against the building, she sighed. “Okay, guys,” she said. “It's a wash. We're pulling back until we can get more backup on this.”

    “What?” asked Regent. “Why?”

    She held up the receipt. “Because four full-sized meals were eaten in here, at the same time. Tattletale isn't about to eat all that at once, so she's got backup from somewhere. And until we find out what that backup consists of, I've got to assume we're outnumbered. So, we're pulling back.”

    “Fuck,” Regent said. “Does that mean no bonus?”

    Circus rolled her eyes. I am seriously not being paid enough for this.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “I don't believe we're actually doing this,” I grumbled.

    “Doing what?” asked Amy. “Attacking Coil?”

    “No.” Nor could I believe what I was going to say next. “That's logical, to keep us all safe. The only other people who are looking for us are New Wave, and we want them to come to us.” I waved at the motel room we were sitting in. Well, I was sitting in the only chair, while Vicky lay on the bed with Amy. Just to clarify: side by side, not touching each other. “No, what I can't believe is that we're actually using Aisha's plan to stay out of sight. And it's working.”

    Lisa popped her head out of the small bathroom. Like the rest of us, she was only wearing underwear. “You've had the option to shower and wash your clothes. We have running water here. Are you honestly complaining?”

    “Well, no, I'd be an idiot to,” I agreed. “And I know it's only temporary. I just hate …” Again, I waved my hand around the room. “ … not being sure. Not knowing what's going to happen next. If the cops or the PRT are gonna bust down the door any second.” I shook my head. “I really don't know how career criminals do it. I'd go nuts in a day.”

    “Speaking as an ex-career criminal, I usually made sure to have a good hideout,” Lisa informed me with a smirk. “But the good news is, between having Vicky wring the absolute fuck out of them and hanging up with the fan full on them, our clothes should be dry shortly. And then we can go back to not looking like a teen comedy fanservice shot.”

    “Not a moment too fucking soon,” I muttered. I had enough body issues to keep a therapist busy for a week, and that was before I had to take my clothes off in the same room as Glory Girl. My inadequacies had inadequacies.

    “Yeah, well, it's not like we can go shopping for skinny jeans right now,” Lisa reminded me. “Any sign of Aisha yet? She should be getting back sometime soon.”

    This was one of the odd benefits of the current situation. I'd let the others know how I was able to control and sense through bugs most easily, but that even small animals would also work at a pinch. If I concentrated, I could look through a bird's eyes and make it go in a particular direction, but it took more of my attention. I could do bugs en masse with no effort at all, but their senses were crap. In any case, for some reason, my range seemed to be fluctuating from one block to two, depending on how antsy (pun intended) I felt. Which meant there were a lot of birds and rats I had out there, looking for Aisha's return.

    “Not yet,” I said, trying not to feel too concerned. “I've got a bird watching the bus stop, and nobody's got off yet who looks like her.” I knew that meant nothing, but still …

    Lisa and I looked around at the sound of a motorcycle entering the motel parking lot, then we glanced at each other. “Didn't she say something about owning a motorbike?” I asked.

    “She did,” Lisa agreed. “No sense in taking chances, though.” Picking the small pistol up off the writing desk, she went over to the window and peered out through the drapes.

    “Well?” asked Amy. “Is it her or not?”

    In answer, Lisa went to the door and unlocked it. A moment later, it burst open, with a bike-helmeted Aisha framed in the doorway. “What up, beeyatches!” she yelled. Kicking the door shut behind her, she strode into the middle of the room like a conquering hero. In her left hand she held several fast-food bags, while in her right she had a rolled-up piece of paper. “Sorry I took so long. After I went to the library—and let me tell you, some of those funny cat videos are fuckin' hilarious—I decided to go and pick up my ride. And then I wanted some munchies. Who's hungry?”

    “Me!” said Vicky immediately, levitating off the bed and flying across the room to snatch two of the bags out of Aisha's hand. Heading back to the bed, she flopped on to it and handed one of the bags to Amy. “This one is yours,” she said happily. Then she opened her bag and started investigating the contents.

    Lisa sighed and massaged her forehead with finger and thumb, a gesture that I'd seen her use before with Aisha. “Did you at least do the research I asked you to do before watching funny cat videos and getting your motorcycle, and going to Fugly Bob's?” she asked. I could hear the strained patience from where I was.

    “Oh, sure,” Aisha said, tossing me a bag. I caught it out of the air, my mouth already starting to water at the smell of grease and salt emanating from Vicky's and Amy's bags. “Got it right here.” She waved the paper at Lisa. “Knew I'd forget all that shit if I didn't write it down, so I took notes.”

    “Oh, thank you, God,” breathed Lisa. I got the impression she didn't necessarily trust Aisha's research dedication. She grabbed the paper and unrolled it, then winced. Looking over her shoulder, I saw where Aisha had scrawled “SECRET PLANS DO NOT LOOK” at the top of the page. “Really?” she asked. “Really?”

    “What?” Aisha retorted cheekily. “We're gonna take down a supervillain, we need a secret plan. An' we don't want just any asshole looking at them, do we?”

    “There are so many things wrong with that statement, I have no idea where to begin,” she said, a look of pain crossing her face. “Okay, let's see what we've got so far.” Unrolling the paper further, she began to read Aisha's scribbles. Or at least, I hoped she was able to read it. Aisha's penmanship had far more enthusiasm than accuracy going for it.

    I left her to it and opened my fast-food bag. Just as I grabbed my first fries, however, a problem revealed itself to me. “Someone's coming,” I said, pointing at the door. “I think it's the manager.”

    “Because someone rode in loudly on a motorcycle and went straight to our door,” Amy pointed out, proving the absolute clarity of hindsight. She scrambled off the bed, leaving her fast-food bag behind.

    “Hey, not my fault if he's looking out the window!” Aisha protested. “And I gotta be noticed when I'm riding or some assclown will drive right over the fuckin' top of me!”

    I concentrated on the guy coming up to the door. Bugs, I could control all day long. Rats and birds were much more of an effort. People I could sort of influence if I really tried—I'd tried it on Lisa, with her permission—but it was a huge strain, and all I could do was nudge. If they wanted to go somewhere, they went there.

    All the same, I pushed my will at his, trying to urge him to change his mind. This room really wasn't that important after all. He had better things to do.

    For a long moment, he hesitated, and I thought I'd pulled it off. But then he shrugged and pulled his keys off of his waist. I grimaced as I felt the first stirrings of a headache. Maybe I should've stung him with bugs or something.

    We all heard the key enter the lock, and the click as it disengaged. Lisa had her pistol half-raised, and Aisha was digging around in the bag she had slung over her shoulder. As the door swung open, Vicky flashed across the room, grabbed the manager by the front of his shirt and yanked him into the room. Her fist came up, then blurred down in a clubbing blow—

    “No!” shouted Amy. “Vicky, don't!”

    Her order came just in time; Vicky's fist swerved in mid-strike and smashed into the floor instead. I heard the crack of concrete shattering from halfway across the room. Vicky looked up at Amy from where she was kneeling beside the prone manager. “Why not?” she asked. “He would tell people where we are.”

    “Yeah, but we can't just kill him,” I protested. I was fully aware of the hypocrisy of me supporting the eventual death of Coil, but this guy was basically an innocent. We had to find another way to deal with him. “Can we put him out so we can talk?”

    “Okay, sure.” Amy stepped forward and knelt beside the wide-eyed manager. Over forty and overweight, he had a large bald patch on his head and a large wet patch on his pants. Almost casually, she touched him on the side of the face and he collapsed, his eyes rolling back in his head. “What are we gonna do with him? Soon as he wakes up, he'll be blabbing to everyone that he saw Glory Girl in her underwear. If anyone listens to his story, it won't be hard to identify me as well. And as soon as that gets out, New Wave will be on our asses.”

    “Okay, I know you're against fiddling with brains—” Lisa only got so far before Amy stood up abruptly.

    “No!” she shouted. “Absolutely not! I am not touching his brain! Bad things happen when I touch peoples' brains!” She pointed at Vicky. “That happens!” There was a slightly hysterical note to her voice which told me she wouldn't be moved on that topic.

    “You don't have to,” I said, realising what we had to do. “There's ways to cause short-term memory loss with chemicals, right? You don't have to actually use your power on his brain.”

    Lisa blinked and stared at me. “Holy shit, you're right! If we make him the equivalent of blackout drunk, he'll forget the whole thing!” She turned back to Amy. “Do you have any problem with doing this to him?”

    Caught on the spot, Amy grimaced. “I can induce his body to produce a chemical that will stop short-term memory from becoming long-term memory, sure. But I still don't like it.”

    “We're not exactly spoiled for choice right now,” Lisa pointed out. “It's this, let him blab to everyone what he's seen, let Vicky smoosh him, or manually adjust his brain.” She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head. “Your choice.”

    “Fuck it,” said Amy, kneeling beside the guy again. “This is probably gonna be the least harmful thing I do all day.” She put her hand on the guy's forehead. “Okay, his adrenals are now happily producing Rohypnol. I'll let it go on for … okay, that'll be enough to screw with the last five minutes of memory, once it hits his brain. Adrenals are back to normal, and he's gonna be out to it for the next twenty minutes.”

    “Twenty minutes.” Lisa and I looked at each other, then Lisa turned to Amy. “Can't we just … you know, keep him out for a bit longer? I'm kinda used to running water.”

    “No.” Amy folded her arms. “I'm not going to violate this man's rights any more. We're going to leave him on the bed, and we're going to walk out of here in the next twenty minutes.”

    “Fuck,” muttered Lisa. “Where are we going to go now?”

    I cleared my throat. “I … might have an idea.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    I just want a shower, Danny told himself. And then maybe bed for a few hours. After that ... He had no idea what was going to come 'after that'. By now he was seriously regretting the informal 'no cell phone' policy that Annette's death had brought on the family. Just to be able to call Taylor and find out if she was okay would have been a tremendous relief. Or even talk to her and find out what really happened.

    But that wasn't going to be a thing until she showed up, either by contacting him or being brought in by the police. He steadfastly refused to consider any of the less pleasant options. They didn't exist so long as he didn't think about them.

    “Is this the house here, sir?”

    The PRT soldier doing the driving was wearing civilian gear, as were the other two in the car. They were discreetly armed, but all three had been unfailingly polite to him on the trip over. Which didn't detract from the highly irritating awareness that Piggot had put one over on him; the woman hadn't mentioned sending undercover operatives with him until they were ready to go. Apparently, one of the releases he'd signed had given them the wherewithal to do so in legalese that he hadn't quite deciphered before he signed it. Personally, he blamed Piggot's 'good cop' act and his night of crappy sleep.

    Worse, he didn't have any real grounds to deny them access. All the evidence they possessed placed Taylor at the scene of Shadow Stalker's murder, quite possibly with her hand on the knife. A sufficiently vicious prosecutor could easily push the subsequent Empire-based slashing in her direction as well, and Danny's best defence in that case was “I don't think she'd do that”. So all he could hope was that if Taylor did show up, they'd be sufficiently gentle in subduing her.

    Of course, there was the whole 'murdered a girl with bugs' aspect, which meant that 'sufficiently gentle' probably meant tasering then sedating. Piggot had assured him that there was not a kill order out on his daughter—that required quite a bit more lead time, not to mention a whole slew of heinous crimes—so they weren't simply allowed to shoot her on the spot.

    “Yeah, this is it.” Danny nodded toward the driveway, where his car was still parked. “Pull in behind mine.”

    “No, not a great idea.” The driver shook his head. “If she comes home and sees this car in the driveway, it might spook her. I'll just park around the corner.” Suiting action to word, he pulled the car around the bend and came to a halt behind a beat-up old clunker. There was a motorcycle parked in front of the clunker, which made Danny frown slightly. He was fairly familiar with most of the vehicles that got parked around the neighbourhood, and these two were new to him. Of course, they definitely fitted in, and he was tired, so it was probably nothing.

    They got out of the car and walked back the short distance to the house. Danny let them in the side gate, then waved a few flies out of his face. He was aware that he smelled, but surely it wasn't that bad. A bird shrieked discordantly, startling him, then swooped across the back yard and landed on the fence where it perched, watching him with bright eyes.

    “Scared the shit out of me,” muttered one of the PRT soldiers, making Danny feel a little better. He nodded toward the back door. “Got the key?”

    “In my wallet,” Danny said. He'd had his personal effects returned to him, so he dug out his wallet and retrieved the key. His eyes automatically went to the fake stone that concealed the spare key. Had it been moved slightly? He couldn't tell. In that moment, he made the decision not to mention it. No sense in letting these bozos know about the spare. Climbing the steps to the back door, he unlocked it and opened it. “You know, I'll be fine at home alone. If Taylor calls, I'll be sure to get in contact.” He spoke loudly and firmly, making sure his voice echoed into the house.

    “No can do, sir,” the PRT soldier said firmly. “We have our orders.” Which, of course, superseded anything Danny might want. They'd been polite enough to almost let him forget that, but the truth was always there if he really wanted to see it. He wasn't quite their prisoner, but nor were they strictly his guests. “Uh, hold out here a moment. Stafford, stay with Mr Hebert. Zabrinski, with me.”

    Danny's first impulse was irritation: really? You have to search my home before you let me walk in? In what universe is Taylor a danger to me? The second was mild embarrassment: shit, I wish I'd had the chance to clean up first. The third was: fuck, I hope Taylor doesn't do anything rash if she is home.

    “Is this really necessary?” he asked out loud. “I mean, seriously?”

    “Seriously, yes, sir,” said the PRT guy. He reached inside his jacket and produced an automatic pistol. As he did so, Danny noticed a device in a pouch at his belt. Danny couldn’t be sure, but it looked like a stun-gun to him. “Orders are to clear the house before we allow you entry. Remember, two people are dead.”

    “But they attacked Taylor,” Danny insisted. “Even if she was home, she wouldn't see me as a threat.” I can’t say the same about you, he thought but did not say.

    “All the same, sir, orders. Now wait here with Stafford.” The PRT guy entered the house pistol held low, by his side. The one who he'd called Zabrinski followed him in. The door closed behind them, leaving Danny standing on the steps with Stafford.

    If the tension hadn't been so high, it would've been boring. Standing on the back stairs of his own house, hoping against hope that Taylor hadn't come home and that he was mistaken about the placement of the rock. The bird was still on the fence, watching him. As he looked over at it, it squawked again.

    Stafford ignored the bird as he reached up to press the earpiece he was wearing. “Zabrinski, say again?”

    Two more birds landed beside the first, and Danny frowned. They were all looking at him. This wasn't typical bird behaviour, was it? He was sure that Piggot had said Taylor could control bugs, not birds.

    Stafford was now tense. “Zabrinski, come in.” A pause. “Graham, come in.” He took a step away from Danny. “Zabrinski. Graham. Respond immediately or I’m calling in an emergency.”

    “What?” demanded Danny. “What's happening?”

    “Step away from the house, sir,” Stafford said, grabbing Danny by the arm.

    At that moment, the back door opened; Taylor stood there.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    We'd left the hotel manager snoring on the bed, and gotten dressed again in our still-damp clothing. I didn't care about the dampness; being clean was wonderful. Aisha (of course) had suggested we steal his car. Amy only put up a token resistance to the idea, and I had zero fucks to give any more. It turned out that Lisa could drive. This didn't surprise me at all.

    With Aisha trailing behind on her motorcycle, we'd followed my suggestion, which was simple. To go home. Dad should be at work by now, I figured, so we'd be able to sneak in using the spare back door key, and relax for a few hours. When he got in, I figured we'd be able to hide in my room for at least a bit. I honestly didn't know why I hadn't thought of it before.

    The sight of Dad's car in the driveway gave me a bad moment, but there were enough bugs in the house to let me ascertain that he wasn't there. Where he was, I had no idea. I hoped he wasn't wandering the streets on foot, looking for me. Whatever; I was safe, and he was a grown man. I had to trust that he wouldn't do anything stupid.

    The spare key was still in the fake rock beside the back door, and I let us in that way. Once inside, I heaved a sigh of relief and collapsed into one of the kitchen chairs. Of course, about thirty seconds later I spotted a bunch of guys coming in through the side gate. Some flies gave me the impression that the tallest one might be Dad, and I took control of a nearby bird which gave me a good look at him. I didn't know the guys with him, but they didn't look like anyone I knew. He wasn't in handcuffs, but he didn't seem to be very happy with them either.

    I passed this on to Lisa, who immediately worked out the plan of action. It was so useful having someone who could figure out what the enemy was likely to do in any given scenario. I was the ranged Master, so I went with her into the basement. Amy and Vicky went upstairs, while Aisha stayed in the living room (or at least, that was the last place I saw her).

    Waiting under the basement steps with Lisa, I could 'feel' the men moving through the house. One guy went upstairs, and I saw him closing with where Amy and Vicky were hiding; in the bathroom, as far as I could tell. I concentrated on him and tried to direct his attention away from them. If I could distract him for even an instant …

    The scuffle that followed was too fast for me to follow, but it ended with the intruder on the floor—still alive, for which I was grateful—and Vicky and Amy standing over him. The guy in the living room had wandered into the kitchen and was apparently looking at the basement door. Just as I whispered as much to Lisa, the guy convulsed and fell over.

    That was my cue. There was only one guy left, and he was outside with Dad. I took the stairs two at a time as the guy tried to drag Dad down off the back steps. Jumping over the still-twitching guy at the top of the stairs, I opened the back door.

    “Get back, Mr Hebert!” shouted the guy, letting go of Dad’s arm and reaching into his jacket. I didn’t think he was going for a hip flask, but he didn’t know what was coming for him either. As the pistol cleared the holster, my birds hit him from behind. He recoiled as they flapped and beat at his face with their wings, screeching and slashing with their claws.

    I grabbed Dad and hauled him inside, then stepped aside as Vicky came blazing past me. She yanked the guy with the gun back into the house, then Amy put him out. Dad looked down at the two unconscious agents, then at me.

    “Taylor?” his voice was plaintive. “What’s going on?”

    “Hi, Dad,” I said breathlessly. “I can, uh, I can explain?”



    End of Part Five

    Part Six
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2019
    Blastzeg, sainen, Simonbob and 47 others like this.
  14. Loveschach

    Loveschach I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    The worst part is that this is an opportunity that will never be fully exploited. Poor Danny.
     
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  15. Darkarma

    Darkarma Not too sore, are you?

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    For Lisa and Taylor, definitely a good opportunity.

    To get help for Vicky, probably not so much.
     
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  16. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    :(
     
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  17. KrugSmash

    KrugSmash Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    I doubt it's not thinking of Vicky as a person, rather not remembering Aisha exists.
     
  18. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Exactly..
     
  19. HellKing666

    HellKing666 i don't understand any of it

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    Yaaaaay!

    I was expecting a kinda Joker deal from the first chapter, but it's actually getting kinda funny how they are going about trying to fix their problems now.
     
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  20. Threadmarks: Part Six: Preconceptions, Deceptions and Preparations
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One Bad Day

    Part Six: Preconceptions, Deceptions and Preparations


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

    [A/N 2: I will be at Gold Coast Supanova on April 13-14, with Karen Buckeridge, author of Ties That Bind at the Words on Paper (Ink) table (#58) in the Alley. We’ll be glad to chat with anyone who shows up.]



    Thursday, December 23, 2010
    Taylor


    Dad looked at me, then at the two PRT soldiers on the floor. Almost mechanically, he reached out and shut the back door. “Two more,” he said. “There were two more upstairs.”

    “Yeah, we got ‘em,” Amy said. She didn’t sound happy, but that was to be expected. I got the impression she’d spent a lot of her life making sure she lived by the rules she’d set herself. Over the last twenty-four hours, she’d basically broken them all, and now she was dancing on the pieces.

    “Uh huh.” Dad looked at me. “All right, you said you had an explanation. I’d be really interested in hearing it—wait a minute.” He stared at Amy and Vicky. “Aren’t you Panacea and Glory Girl?” His attention switched to Lisa. “And I don’t even know who you are.”

    “It’s all part of the explanation,” I said. “Honest.” Impulsively, I moved in and hugged him. “It’s so good to see you again. I didn’t think I was ever going to.”

    His strong hands patted me on the back. “I know,” he said. “I thought the same thing myself.” He took me by the shoulders and moved me back until he was looking me in the face. “But if we’re going to get through this, you need to tell me everything about what’s going on. I can’t help you if I’m in the dark about important matters.”

    Abruptly, I found myself tearing up. I’d been prepared for disappointment or anger or even rejection. The fact that he was stepping up and listening to me was more precious than gold or gems to me at that moment. He cares. He really cares. Not that I’d ever thought he didn’t, but his behaviour after Mom died had skated pretty close to that line a few times.

    I took a deep breath. “Okay, but first, the PRT’s likely to be expecting these guys to call in some time soon. Lisa?”

    “We’ve got between fifteen and thirty minutes, and I might be able to stretch that to a few hours,” Lisa said. “Long enough to fill your dad in.” She held out her hand to him. “I’m Lisa, by the way. Nice to meet you.”

    “Danny,” he said, automatically shaking her hand. “I’m guessing this is going to be some explanation.”

    “Oh, you ain’t heard the half of it!” Aisha piped up, fading into my awareness yet again. I was actually starting to get used to it now—oh hey, that’s Aisha—but from the way Dad jumped, it was going to take him a while to come to terms with it. “Hey. I’m Aisha. Nice place you got here. Pity about the decor.” She gestured to the PRT soldiers on the floor.

    “Gah!” Dad actually did a double-take, shocked out of his numbed compliance. “Where did you come from?”

    “Well, you know,” Aisha responded cheekily, “when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much—Ow!” She rubbed her ear and gave Lisa a dirty look. “What was that for?”

    “If I have to explain it, you’ll never understand,” Lisa said with a sigh.

    “That’s what I said!” Aisha retorted gleefully.

    Amy shook her head. “Ignore her,” she advised Dad. “We all do. You’re taking this pretty well, considering.”

    “Taylor’s my daughter,” Dad explained succinctly. “I might get mad at her, I might even let her down from time to time, but I’ll never turn my back on her.” He turned to me, his expression serious. “I might yell at you afterward, but right now I’m here and I’m listening. What’s going on?”

    I took a deep breath. “Come into the living room. You’re gonna need to sit down for this one.”

    He followed me through and we sat down on the sofa. I wasn’t sure what solution Lisa was going to work out for dealing with the PRT guys, but it would probably involve Amy, who would hate it but give in and do what Lisa wanted in the end. It seemed to be the ongoing pattern in their relationship.

    “Okay,” said Dad. “They say you stabbed someone inside Winslow. And that you’ve got powers.” He left both statements hanging there, waiting for me to address them.

    “Both those are true,” I said cautiously. “But there’s more to it than that. A lot more.”

    I saw his shoulders slump fractionally at that. I guess some part of him had wanted the PRT to be lying to him. Unless I missed my guess, he would’ve accepted my word over theirs, even if I’d denied everything. That meant more to me than any number of verbal assurances.

    “I’m listening,” he said.

    “Okay, you’ve obviously been talking to the PRT,” I pointed out. “Did they say anything about the bullying?”

    His gaze on me, already intent, sharpened perceptibly. “They said that Emma and her friends may have been victimising you. Is this what was happening?”

    I sighed. “Since I started at Winslow. More or less on a daily basis. Pushing and shoving in the halls, stuff stolen out of my locker, my email inbox filled with hate mail, pushing my books and papers off my desk in class …” I trailed off. Dad was staring at me in dawning horror and anger.

    “That … I had no idea. None at all,” he said flatly. “And I really should have.” His lips were set tightly. “I’m going to presume you asked for help from your other friends, or the teachers …” It was his turn to trail off, probably at the expression on my face. “What?”

    “Emma turned the whole school against me.” It was a relief to finally be able to tell him. I knew full well that just saying those seven words was pulling the pin on a hand grenade that was liable to go off in Emma’s dad’s face, but I didn’t give a shit about that. Not any more. “I had no friends. Emma and her friends made sure of that. And I still can’t tell if the teachers were in on the whole Shadow Stalker thing, or they just didn’t care. No matter what I said, nothing changed.” My voice was bitter by the time I finished.

    “Shadow Stalker.” For a moment I was confused as to why he’d seized on to that particular element, but then he went on. “I was told she’d been murdered. But not by you.”

    I blinked. “No, that’s wrong. I killed her. I stabbed her and she died from it.” Tilting my head, I showed him the bruising on my throat. “She was strangling me at the time.”

    “But where did you get the knife from?” He was understandably confused. “Did you bring it to school? How long have you been carrying one?”

    “I haven’t,” I hastened to explain. “I didn’t. I …” My voice trailed off. “If I tell you where I got it, you can’t tell anyone, okay?” The last thing I wanted was to get Aisha into trouble.

    "I gave it to her!" declared Aisha, popping up in front of us. "I took it off of some Nazi gangbanger and brung it to school."

    "Jeez, Aisha!" I tried to bring my adrenaline-fuelled heart rate back under control. "Don't do that!"

    “Sonofabitch!” Dad was less controlled than me. “Listen, I don’t mind you being here. If you’re friends of Taylor’s, you’re welcome in my house. But I’m not as young as I used to be, and adding me to your body count by giving me a heart attack is not the way to go!”

    “Sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry.” Lisa bustled through from the kitchen and grabbed Aisha by the ear. “Come on, you menace. Let Taylor talk to her dad in peace.”

    Before I had the chance to wonder why Lisa was holding her hand in midair, she twisted her wrist and Aisha faded back into my conscious awareness with a yip of pain. “Ow, hey!” she complained as Lisa implacably led her away toward the kitchen. “I was only trying to explain why Taylor had a knife!”

    “And now he knows. So we’re going to leave them alone.” Lisa gave us a wave from the kitchen door. “Carry on.”

    Dad ran his hand over his forehead. “Damn,” he muttered. “Is it like this all the time?”

    “You get used to it,” I assured him. “Anyway, yeah, Sophia had beat me up pretty good and she was strangling me, and the next thing I knew I was holding a knife …”

    “So you stabbed her.” He patted me on the shoulder. “I would’ve done exactly the same thing.” With his hand on my shoulder, he turned me so I was looking directly in his face. “But you didn’t kill her. Not with that stab wound.”

    I was confused. “But … she’s dead, right? I stabbed her and she was coughing blood, and I dropped the knife, and ran away. And I just kept running, until I found Lisa. And Vicky and Amy found us.”

    “You stabbed her, yes.” I couldn’t believe how calmly Dad was talking about this. “But she made it out of the bathroom, then someone cut her throat and carved a swastika into her back. You didn’t do that, did you?”

    I blinked a few times. “Well, no. I didn’t.” I looked at the kitchen doorway. “Wait, Aisha said she killed Sophia, but I figured that was her taking credit because she gave me the knife or something.” I’d already gotten used to the idea that Sophia was dead. The knowledge that Aisha had finished her off didn’t actually change things all that much.

    Now Dad looked confused. “What did she have against Sophia? Was she bullying her, too?”

    “No,” I said. “Aisha’s brother was a minor supervillain. Sophia murdered him in cold blood as Shadow Stalker.”

    Dad grimaced and looked at the floor. “This goddamn city,” he muttered. “A hero tries to kill you and a villain saves you.”

    “Shadow Stalker was hardly a hero,” I said bitterly. “She helped Emma bully me. It might even have been her idea all along. Her and …” I scrunched up my face as I remembered what I’d done. “And Madison.”

    “Madison?” Dad had obviously caught my tone. “Who’s Madison?”

    “Emma’s other friend.” I turned to look at him, reluctant to meet his eyes but knowing I had to. “She’s the one I did accidentally murder. With my powers.”

    He lifted his arm, then settled it around my shoulders. I leaned into him, feeling a certain amount of remorse that I was able to take comfort from his hug. I should’ve been wracked with guilt over the fact that I’d ended one person’s life and tried to do the same with another, but I wasn’t.

    “Talk to me,” he said softly.

    I took a deep breath. “I—I was eating lunch in the bathrooms,” I said hesitantly. “Emma, Sophia and Madison trapped me in the stall then they tipped a tampon bin over my head and shoved it down over my shoulders. I thought I was going to die.” I shrugged, feeling the weight of his arm over my shoulders. “I don’t know how I got it off, but the next thing I knew, I could feel all the bugs in the school. I threw the bin at Sophia and saw her go to shadow. So I told her I was going to take the whole thing to Blackwell. That was when Sophia started beating the shit out of me.”

    “And you used your powers?” asked Dad.

    I nodded miserably. “I wanted the bugs to attack Sophia, but she kept flickering in and out, so they couldn’t get a grip on her. Emma got out. Madison … didn’t.”

    He didn’t say anything to that. I appreciated his silence. It would’ve been easy for him to give me some platitude about how Sophia had been trying to kill me, so she deserved what she got. Madison had only been guilty of helping bully me. What she’d done had been pretty bad, but it still wasn’t worthy of death.

    “She must be the one the Director said was swarmed with a mass of venomous bugs,” Dad said unexpectedly. “You know, the PRT’s pretty well on top of this. From what Director Piggot told me, they don’t even want to arrest you for murder. They already know about the bullying, and they want to talk to you about what happened.” He gave me a concerned look. “She also said Emma’s already doing her best to paint you as the next candidate for the Slaughterhouse Nine. You really need to get the truth out there before things get out of hand. More out of hand.”

    “I can’t.” I wished I could tell him otherwise, but it was true.

    “If you don’t turn yourself in soon, they’re not going to have much of a choice except to issue an arrest warrant,” he cautioned me. “And then every cop and every hero’s going to be on your case. The longer they have to look for you, the less leeway they’ll be willing to give you.”

    He wasn’t trying to convince me to do it. I could tell that right away. He was just warning me what was likely to happen if I didn’t play ball with the PRT.

    “I get that,” I told him. “But no matter what they said about any sort of amnesty, there’s a chance that if I turn myself in they’ll just arrest me straight up. And even if they’re playing it straight with me, any deal’s likely to involve me going into the Wards in return for them making this go away.”

    “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” asked Dad. “I mean, I’m not thrilled about the idea of you being press-ganged into the Wards, but at least you’d have backup and training for your powers …” He saw the look on my face and trailed off. “No?”

    “No,” I said firmly. “My friends need me now. Amy and Vicky. Lisa and Aisha. We’re a team. They’re my backup and I’m theirs. And if I went into the Wards, I wouldn’t be able to help them do what they’ve got to do.”

    “What’ve they got to do that’s so important?” he asked quietly.

    I shook my head. “I can’t tell you that. All I can say is that it’s life and death. And if anyone found out exactly what was going on, we’d have so many superheroes hounding us we’d never get it done.”

    “Is it anything to do with the two superheroes that are hanging around with your little group?” asked Dad. Well, nobody had ever said he was stupid.

    I wasn’t a good enough bullshitter to pull the wool over Dad’s eyes. No matter which way I tried to play it, he was likely to figure out what I was trying not to say. I only had one real choice in the matter: tell the truth.

    “Yes, but please don’t ask for any details,” I said, trying to convey the urgency of what I was saying with my voice and expression. “This is for us to deal with. It’s a cape thing, and not something that heroes can help with.”

    He sighed. “If it was any other situation, I’d beg you to stay home,” he said, his entire posture slumping. “If it was just you, or I didn’t know you had powers, I’d probably try to make you stay for your own good. But as dangerous as this is likely to be—and don’t try to bullshit me, Taylor, I know it’s going to be dangerous—you’ve got friends backing you up. And I know you. You wouldn’t say this is urgent unless it was. But there is one thing I’m not going to let you do.”

    Shit. I tried to ignore the sinking feeling in my gut. “What’s that?” I asked, as neutrally as I could. I’d hoped that home, at least, would be a refuge for a while.

    “I’m not going to let you leave me to stand on the sidelines,” he said firmly. “I don’t know what’s going on, so I don’t know how I can help. But let me help. Please. I’ve been a shitty father ever since your mom died. Let me make it up to you now.” And maybe, once this is all over, you’ll come home safe to me, he didn’t have to say.

    I took a deep breath. “I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll speak to Lisa. If there’s anything you can do, she’ll know.” The sinking feeling had vanished, replaced by a floating sensation in my chest. It felt weird. I hadn’t experienced hope in a long time.

    <><>​

    Coil

    Even when he wasn’t maximising the chances for his minions to succeed, Calvert found his power to be exceptionally useful. For instance, he could be in the PRT building, being seen and getting paperwork done, while at the same time he could be in his base, checking to make sure everything was running smoothly there. It was amazing how many times he could re-use the same sick day. Flying under the radar made things so much easier.

    A notification popped up on one of the screens in his base. A police report, sent his way by one of his moles in the BBPD. He had a standing order that any incidents of an unusual nature be directed toward him. He clicked on it, and leaned forward to peruse it.

    The manager of the Dew Drop Inn motel had reported his car stolen. He also said that he’d woken up inside one of his rooms with no idea of how he’d gotten there, and there was a hole smashed in the floor near the door that looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to the concrete. Security footage of the incident showed a person in biker gear—petite, possibly a teenage girl—showing up on a motorcycle and presumably entering the room in question, shortly afterward being followed by the manager. She had been carrying several fast-food bags in her left hand and what looked like a rolled-up piece of paper in the right, but no sledgehammer. A large moth had chosen to land on the lens of the camera a couple of minutes later; by the time it flew off, there was nothing to be seen.

    Calvert read the report over again, frowning. The main point of correspondence was the fast food. Apart from that, there was nothing to conclusively nail down this as involving his Tattletale, but he decided to dig farther into it before abandoning it altogether as a possibility. She wasn’t the one in the motorcycle helmet—that one was too short to be Tattletale, and zooming in on her uncovered hand showed that she was black—but there were four bags of fast-food from Fugly Bob’s, just like last time. Also, while crashing in a motel room without the permission of the manager wasn’t something he could see Tattletale doing, it had to be more comfortable than an abandoned shop-front.

    Which meant it was the idea of one of the other three or four people that the fast food was meant for. One of whom was likely a Brute (he discounted the ‘sledgehammer’ theory immediately, and replaced it with ‘fist’) and another a Master who could induce memory loss. Given the moth in front of the camera lens, he tentatively assigned some sort of animal control powers to a hypothetical third cape. What the fourth one could do, he had no idea. Perhaps he or she was a teleporter or a phaser like Shadow Stalker, which would have helped them get into the room (given that the report had indicated no signs of forced entry).

    Reminded of Shadow Stalker, he began to wonder if it wasn’t actually her. The girl had been a vigilante before becoming a member of the Wards, and he’d heard rumours that she wasn’t fitting in well there. Also, she was black, like the motorcycle girl. There’d been something going around the previous day that he hadn’t paid a lot of attention to due to his preoccupation with Tattletale’s betrayal of his trust, but Shadow Stalker’s name had come up.

    He didn’t have unlimited access to the PRT servers from within his base, but his office computer within the building did give him the requisite clearance. He tapped in a basic query, and the answer came up. It wasn’t the answer he’d been looking for, but it was certainly informative.

    Tattletale’s fourth companion wasn’t Shadow Stalker, on account of Shadow Stalker being dead. More interestingly, her demise had not happened while she was in costume. She’d been stabbed in the bathrooms at Winslow High—not an uncommon phrase to be found in police reports, he imagined—then her throat had been cut and a swastika carved into her back.

    Wait a minute. What was that, again?

    Thomas Calvert did not believe in coincidence. Shadow Stalker had killed Grue and carved a swastika into his body to throw off suspicion; that was one thing. It was quite another for her to be brutally murdered and the same emblem to be sliced into her back, three weeks later. He forced himself to consider alternative options. After all, the Empire did maintain a strong presence at the school. There was the off-chance that some of them had cornered her and decided to make an example out of her.

    Except that there was more to the report. There’d been another victim in the bathrooms. This one hadn’t been stabbed; she’d been swarmed to death by bugs. The photo that came up was moderately gruesome, but he could at least determine that she hadn’t been black. Even if the Empire had a cape who could call down a literal plague of Egypt, they wouldn’t have inflicted it on a white girl.

    This added a lot of credence to his supposition that Tattletale was involved in this particular event. The pieces were starting to fall into place. Grue had a younger sister who he wanted kept out of his mother's hands. Calvert had ordered Tattletale not to go after Shadow Stalker directly, but it seemed she'd sought out the sister anyway and given her the information. The sister had worked out Shadow Stalker's secret identity—one Sophia Hess, it seemed—and confronted her at Winslow.

    Even then, it would've gone badly for her, except that someone with bug-controlling powers had gotten involved ... hold on just one second.

    Trigger events happened at times of stress. Learning of the loss of a beloved older brother sounded like an appropriate stress trigger to him. If she had the bug powers, it all added up. The Laborn girl could have distracted Shadow Stalker with the bug control, then stabbed her. The other girl was probably a friend of Stalker's who tried to intervene.

    He looked farther into the reports, searching for anything that might shoot down his theory. The PRT apparently had an idea of who killed Stalker, but their clearance for the names of living capes was slightly higher than that for dead Wards, so he couldn't gain access to that. As such, much of the interview transcript of the culprit's father—he checked and yes, Brian and Aisha Laborn had a living father—had been redacted to remove any hint of his identity. He allowed himself a slight smile for having worked it out without needing the clearance.

    So this was it. Tattletale had manoeuvred Aisha Laborn (now with bug control powers) into murdering Shadow Stalker. To follow up her perfidy, Tattletale had later murdered her team leader and defected from the Undersiders to join forces with Aisha and the mysterious Brute and equally mysterious Master. The motorcycle girl could easily be Aisha, but who were the other two? There were no new villains or rogues in Brockton Bay reported to have those powersets, that he knew of anyway.

    Leaning back from his computer, he steepled his fingers in thought. Depending on the parameters of Aisha Laborn's bug control, she could be very useful indeed. In fact, if he could acquire all four of them, he could fold the other three into a new and revitalised Undersiders, and let Circus stand down again. Tattletale, of course, would go into a cell and thence into Mr Pitter's care, once the man had accepted the offer of employment.

    It was all about grabbing opportunities when they presented themselves.

    <><>​

    Danny

    Slowly, Danny returned to consciousness. “Oww …” he muttered as his hand automatically went to the pain in the middle of his face, and discovered that his nose was swollen to twice its normal size. Blood was crusted around his nostrils. Exploring his mouth, his tongue found a loose tooth.

    “Are you all right, sir?” A hand shook his shoulder and a pair of glasses were pressed into his hands. He put them on, then opened his eyes and looked up at the opaque faceplate of a PRT soldier. “What happened?” asked the trooper.

    “I …” He tried to sit up and found himself leaning against the sofa. “Taylor. Taylor was here.”

    “When you arrived, sir? Taylor was here then? Or did she get here after you got home?” The new speaker was immediately recognisable to him. Miss Militia was very striking, after all.

    He put his hand to his nose again. “Ow. The first one. I … I opened the door, and two of your guys went in.” He looked around. “Are they all right?”

    “They’ve already regained consciousness, sir.” Miss Militia’s tone was reassuring. “They’ve sustained no serious injuries. What happened to them? They can’t recall anything after arriving here.”

    “It all happened so fast.” He shook his head, carefully. In the background, he could hear booted feet upstairs, searching every room. He was willing to bet they were even going to search the roof space. And of course they were going to search the basement. They would leave no stone unturned.

    “I understand.” Miss Militia helped him to his feet so he could sit down on the sofa. “Somebody beat you up pretty good. Do you feel any strong pain anywhere?” Her tone indicated that she couldn’t see that happening.

    “No.” He took a deep breath. “Ribs hurt a bit. Doesn’t feel like anything more than bruises anywhere.” Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the guard prowl around the room before moving the curtain aside to peer out the window. Pulling it shut once more, he moved past Danny and Miss Militia then turned as if avoiding the empty corner of the room.

    “Who beat you up?” asked Miss Militia. “Was it Taylor?”

    “Not Taylor, no,” Danny said. “She had friends with her. I’ve never met them before in my life. They knocked your guys out and dragged me into the house. Taylor was pissed that the PRT came here. I tried to tell her that the Wards would be a good idea. She disagreed.” He touched his nose tenderly. “One of her friends hits really, really hard. I have no idea how long I was unconscious.”

    “Damn it,” the Protectorate hero muttered. “Do you think she’ll be back?”

    Danny shrugged. “She stood by while her friends worked me over. Watched the whole thing. Didn’t even try to make them stop.”

    “ … okay.” Miss Militia stood up. “Can you give us a description of her friends? Any identifying marks? Costumes? Power effects? Anything?”

    “They weren’t wearing costumes,” Danny said slowly. “There were no visible power effects. I wasn’t looking too closely at their faces. They were around Taylor’s age. A couple of blondes, a couple of brunettes.” He gestured at his face. “It was one of the brunettes that did this to me.”

    “Boys? Girls?” Miss Militia’s expression was intent.

    “I think they were all girls?” Danny made it into a question. “I know I didn’t stand a chance against them. None of your guys did.”

    Miss Militia grimaced. “Yes. I’m sorry about that. We thought she might come back to the house. We never expected her to bring friends.

    “Sure as hell surprised me,” Danny noted. “So what happens now?”

    “If you want to press charges against Taylor and her friends for this, we can give you a lift to the precinct house so you can fill out the paperwork,” she said. “In addition, we’re very interested in whatever you can tell us about Taylor’s friends. Did they say anything about their plans in your hearing?”

    “Um, something about going underground?” he hazarded.

    “Well, unless they intend to break into an Endbringer shelter, that’s not the best idea in the world,” she pointed out. “In fact, that’s still not a good idea. I’m going to go with the figurative meaning for the time being.”

    “Yeah,” he agreed. Endbringer shelters were massive affairs; he simply couldn’t see Taylor gaining access to one, even with Lisa’s help.

    Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She reached up and pressed the bluetooth earpiece she wore. “Go for Miss Militia.”

    While she was thus occupied, Danny leaned back in the sofa. His head turned very slightly, so he could glance at the empty corner that the guard had veered away from. Absolutely nothing inhabited it, apart from a couple of spiderwebs and a small population of dust bunnies.

    “All right then,” Miss Militia said. “No sign of the Hebert girl or anyone else nearby? Latest information; two blondes, two brunettes, mid teens.”

    The answer was apparently not to her liking. Her forehead creased in a frown. “Understood. Widen the search. Miss Militia, out.” She pressed the earpiece again then turned to Danny. “We’ve got to go. Do you want us to call you an ambulance?”

    Danny shook his head. “I’ll be fine.” He waved his hand. “Go.”

    “All right then.” She pressed a card into his hand. “If you see or hear from her at all. Don’t antagonise her. Just call us as soon as you can.”

    “Understood.” He watched her walk out, along with the PRT troopers. The last one out closed the back door behind him. Moving stiffly, he got up and walked to the back door and locked it with the key. Then he checked the front door and made sure it was secure as well. A rumble of engine noise indicated the PRT transport starting up and driving off. Another thirty seconds passed. The house creaked as it settled slightly.

    He heard the twang of the side gate as it closed. Going into the kitchen, he glanced out the window, then unlocked the back door again. It opened and Lisa, her hair a rich auburn, entered the kitchen. She put her finger to her lips and began to tiptoe about the house. Danny relocked the back door then went back into the living room, retrieved the remote, and turned the TV on. Sitting down on the sofa, he pretended to watch the screen, but his attention kept drifting to the empty corner.

    After another few minutes, during which Lisa investigated both the basement and the upper floor, she came back into the living room and dusted her hands off. “Okay, place is clear,” she announced. “No listening devices, though they’ve probably got a tap on your phone.”

    It was like an optical illusion. One moment there was nobody in the corner, and the next they’d faded into view. Danny wasn’t sure if it was invisibility or something else, but he knew that while Aisha had her power up, he had a hard time even recalling her existence.

    “Fuckin’ finally,” the dark-skinned teen said, stepping forward and dragging the sheet she’d been holding off the others. “I gotta take a wicked leak.” Dropping the sheet, she bolted up the stairs.

    “Whoa, Dad, that looks even worse than when Amy first did it,” Taylor said, stepping forward to examine his face. “How’s that even possible?”

    “I set up the bruising to develop while they were here,” the biokinetic explained. She put her hand on Danny’s arm, and he felt all the ‘evidence’ of the beating he was supposed to have endured simply fade away. Within minutes, he was back to normal.

    “That doesn’t look any better,” Taylor said critically.

    “Surface discolouration only,” Amy assured her. “If they see him in the next couple of days and he doesn’t look like he’s gone ten rounds with Uncle Neil, they might smell a rat. I had to leave sensitivity in so he’d wince like he was supposed to when they examined him. Same reason I put him out before the other guys woke up. Someone who’s actually unconscious reacts differently to someone who’s faking.”

    “So, are they coming back?” asked Taylor, getting down to the meat of the matter.

    “Not today, and probably not tomorrow,” Lisa decided. “I watched the whole thing happen from down the block. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they bought it.”

    “I’m guessing they did,” Danny allowed. “Miss Militia got a phone call just before. It sounded like they’d found where you dumped their car.”

    “Wouldn’t have been hard,” Lisa said as she flopped on to the sofa. “The thing had a tracking beacon in it. The trick was to drive like I didn’t know that. And getting a taxi back here while pretending nothing was wrong was a little tricky.”

    Danny leaned back on the sofa. “Well, we made it. That should buy you a couple of days. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you want, of course, but I’m pretty sure the PRT will be circling around again once all their other leads dry up.”

    Lisa grinned. “A couple of days should be just about perfect.”

    <><>​

    Director Emily Piggot

    “So by the time you got there, she’d been and gone.”

    Miss Militia, on the far side of the desk, nodded. Emily had made sure her tone wasn’t censorious. It wasn’t the cape’s fault, after all. Unlike some, Miss Militia had an awareness of her duty that matched the flags she wore as part of her costume.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Miss Militia replied. “Sometime in the last twenty-four hours or so, she’s managed to acquire allies, or at least cohorts. Four of them. They subdued the men who went there with Hebert, then she turned on him. Presumably, she thought he’d brought them there willingly. Per his account, they beat him bloody while she watched. Then they stole the vehicle our men went there in. We activated the LoJack as soon as we understood the situation, and located it at the bus depot.”

    “How many buses had left by the time you got there?” asked Emily, knowing she wasn’t going to like the answer.

    “Two,” Miss Militia replied. “One going north, one going south. We’ve got passenger lists and we’re going over them now, as well as security footage.”

    Emily sighed. Things could never go smooth. It was a kind of anti-mantra to her. Something she recited to herself when everything seemed to be working out just fine. “Let me know if anything jumps out. Any idea where her associates came from, or why she turned against her father?”

    “For the first, I don’t know for certain, but there’s usually a few capes floating around who haven’t gotten our attention yet or found a gang they want to be a part of. She’s undeniably powerful. They may have simply encountered one another and decided to form a group of their own. As to why she had her father beaten up …” A movement of the scarf indicated a possible grimace. “… Getting powers is always problematic, psychologically speaking. We both know it can lead to drastic personality shifts, rarely for the good.”

    Say it like it is. Capes are crazy. But Emily knew she was being unfair. Not all capes suffered from problems. Some did; there were a few that made the rest look positively normal by comparison. The trouble was, these weren’t always villains. Shadow Stalker, for example.

    “Any indication of her future plans?” Emily didn’t want to ask the question, but knew she had to. The choice of becoming a hero, a rogue or a villain would impact enormously on any cape’s future career. Taylor’s beginnings had not been particularly auspicious, but there were some heroes who had come back from worse. However, being directly involved with the deaths of two people, then having her own father beaten up, did not bode at all well for her prospects. Or her mental state.

    “Barely anything.” Miss Militia shrugged very slightly. “What little they said in front of Hebert indicated that they intended to fly under the radar for at least a while. Keep their heads down, not make waves.” She paused. “His exact phrasing was ‘go underground’. I’m pretty sure it’s not literal. Unless she intends to take over an Endbringer shelter for her own personal use.” To her credit, she managed to say that without sounding ridiculous.

    On the face of it, Taylor Hebert going dark wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. A cape who was keeping things on the down-low was a cape Emily didn’t have to immediately worry about. She did make a mental note to boost security on the Endbringer shelters, just in case. However, it still meant that the girl was out and about, doing God knew what, without adult oversight. With her level of power, that scenario was potentially terrifying. “Understood. Spread the word, though. If she’s still in the city, if any unusual events start happening with bugs involved, I want to know soonest. I really don’t want to see this girl go into one of the villain gangs; not with the type of power she’s capable of calling on.”

    “Just that she’s a bug manipulator, but leaving her identity out of it?”

    Miss Militia’s question struck to the heart of the matter. The unwritten rules had no legal standing (except where they coincided with actual laws) but there were those who held them in considerable regard. Emily was fully aware that the ‘rules’ served to keep cape violence at street level to a semi-acceptable level. The more powerful cape gangs paid them lip service, but Emily was fully aware that those same gangs would break the rules in a heartbeat if it suited them to do so.

    Sending men back to the house with Danny Hebert had been not quite a breakage of these so-called rules. Taylor had, as Emily had already noted, been instrumental in the deaths of two people, one a Ward. Emily could always state that she’d felt concerned for Hebert’s welfare, and point to his subsequent beating as ex post facto justification for her actions. The plainclothes PRT troopers may have precipitated the tantrum that led to the beating, but there was every chance the Hebert girl would’ve found another reason, even in their absence.

    Now, it seemed, she’d cut all ties with her previous life. She was out in the world, with undeniably powerful capabilities and the will to use them. Emily had been willing—was still willing—to cut her a certain amount of slack, given the horrendous manner in which she’d gotten her powers. But there was a limit to her forbearance, and a very definite limit to how far the PRT would allow the Hebert girl to go before issuing an arrest warrant in her name. The moment Taylor Hebert performed a premeditated crime with her powers, the clock would start ticking. And if one more person died of bug bites, the girl would cross the line from ‘victim’ to ‘dangerous criminal’.

    “We’ll assign her a codename,” Emily said at last. “Something that can be applied to a hero or a villain. We don’t want to prematurely push her over the edge. I’m thinking ‘Swarm’. That name goes out. Her real identity stays under wraps.”

    Miss Militia nodded. “I’ll pass the word on.” She turned and left the office, leaving Emily alone with her thoughts.

    Christ, I hope this doesn’t blow up in our faces.

    It was a thought she’d had all too often since taking up the position of Director.

    <><>​

    Panacea

    Amy studied Lisa carefully. This was the first time she’d ever used her powers in a cosmetic fashion (despite endless wheedling from Vicky), and she still wasn’t sure how she felt about it. Though to be fair, she wasn’t sure how she felt about a lot of what had happened over the last couple of days. “You sure you don’t want me to change your hair colour back?”

    “Nah,” said Lisa. She tossed her hair carelessly. “I kinda like being a redhead. For one thing, Coil won’t ever see me coming like this.”

    “You have a point,” Amy agreed. The hair now framing Lisa’s face was a little longer than the teenage supervillain’s normally messy blonde locks, and fell naturally into a brushed-back style that was quite unlike Lisa’s original hair. “Just let me know if you change your mind.”

    “Sure thing,” Lisa agreed blithely. “You need anything else for your mad science laboratory?”

    Amy sighed. She really wished Lisa wouldn’t refer to it like that. “I’ll be fine. Vicky will be there to help me.”

    “Yes,” said Vicky brightly. “I like to help you, Amy.”

    The first time her sister had spoken in this childlike fashion, Amy had been horrified. Now, each time she got a reminder of her sister’s condition, she died a little more inside. I’ll get this done, she promised herself. I’ll fix Vicky if it kills me. Nobody, and nothing, was going to stand in her way.

    Not Coil, not her own family, not the PRT, not the Triumvirate, not anyone.

    With a determined step, she started down the stairs into the basement. Once Lisa had deemed them safe for the moment, they’d moved on to the next stage of planning. The single yellow bulb illuminated the old workbench, which they’d cleared and wiped down. Taylor leaned against one end of the bench, arms folded and not apparently doing very much.

    Next to her on the bench were several books, sequestered from an old Encyclopedia Americana that Danny had unearthed from somewhere. Aisha’s roll of paper rested on top of the books. Beside the books lay dozens of bugs, separated into ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘oh-god-get-it-away-from-me’. Alongside them were several small birds and a few rats. As Amy watched, another rat scrambled up the leg of the workbench, moved to where its comrades lay, and apparently went to sleep.

    “That enough?” asked Taylor. “There’s more rats and birds out there if you need them.” That she could get more bugs was a given; a few dozen orbited her head as she spoke. Amy knew that Taylor was also keeping watch on all approaches with her feathered minions.

    “No, this should be enough for now.” Amy picked up the roll of paper and unrolled it, absent-mindedly using a couple of rats for paperweights. Then she opened the first book, which happened to be ‘E’, and turned toward the back. “E … X … P … L … O … ah ha,” she murmured, as she found the section she was looking for. Then she picked up a bird and turned back to the book.

    “Okay,” she said. “Let’s see what we can do with this.”



    End of Part Six
     
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  21. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    I really liked the scene with Coil trying to figure out what happened. He gets a lot right, but make a few hilarious mistakes.
     
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  22. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    The mistakes are even completely logical.
     
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  23. Shulta

    Shulta Versed in the lewd.

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    Okay, had to reread... But it was worth it. Story is quite Interesting...

    Wonder what Amy is making with a bird that starts with explo
     
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  24. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I have no idea.

    :D

    Honest.

    :p
     
  25. Rubén Martínez

    Rubén Martínez Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Art, because art is an explosion, un!
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2019
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