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One More Trigger (Worm AU)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Dec 21, 2014.

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  1. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Oh, I know it was the caffeine.

    But there is no soft drink (carbonated soda) that is good for you, and they're all actually pretty bad for you.

    Coke leads the pack, though. They took out the sugar and put in corn syrup, which is worse than sugar.

    I'm far better off now.
     
  2. Aleh

    Aleh Destroyer of Faith in Humanity

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    Something of an oversimplification, but generally true.

    Not really. There's no real evidence for that.
     
  3. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Whether there is or not, the fact remains that they put the equivalent of something like twenty-two teaspoons of sugar in a can, and then use phosphoric acid to disguise the taste, so that we don't immediately throw up from the insane levels of sweetness. So they trick us into drinking, in a single can, a month's worth of sugar intake.

    The caffeine kicks in straight away, giving us the boost. And when that wears off, the sugar's right there to keep us going a while longer. So then, when we crash from the sugar high and the caffeine rush, we're thirsty (due to the diuretic effect of caffeine) and we're craving the rush again ... so we pop another can of Coke.

    Inducing us to drink another can of carbonated fucking sugar.

    In no way is that good for you.
     
  4. Aleh

    Aleh Destroyer of Faith in Humanity

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    Oversimplified, again... but doesn't address that the point about HFCS being worse than sugar is based more on hearsay and lack of understanding rather than actual science.

    You'll notice my statement that Coke being bad for you is oversimplified but essentially true. In general, any statement that something is "good for you" or "bad for you" is, at best, oversimplified, as even the most simple analysis of the effects of something in your diet needs to get into things like contextual factors and the old adage that the dose makes the poison.

    In the case of soda, it's a perfectly valid source of energy for people with certain medical conditions (although they generally prefer the non-caffeinated versions), can act as an emergency source of sugar for someone going into insulin shock or the like (as can candy, although injectable sources are generally better), and so on. It's also generally carbonated, which helps with some conditions (although doctors generally recommend seltzer water for that sort of use). The harms are also generally minimal if you don't overdo it (which, to be fair, often isn't the case).

    The cycle you describe certainly does exist, however, and people in modern societies do generally get far too much sugar in their diets (in large part as a result of historical dietary "health" fads, related pseudoscientific beliefs, and their ongoing effect on the food industry).
     
  5. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I will admit that the corn syrup thing that I quoted is basically hearsay (I personally have not witnessed the science behind it), but regardless, I will never drink another can of Coke if I can possibly help it.

    But this debate has nothing to do with this thread topic. I'd like to put it to bed.
     
    Slayer Anderson likes this.
  6. cyberswordsmen

    cyberswordsmen I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Everything you just said applies to all other soda's.

    Pretty much everything has corn syrup in it. If it is processed and doesn't say there isn't corn syrup in it in large letters it has corn syrup in it.

    The scientific evidence over whether corn syrup is any different than regular sugar is a bit ambiguous (even to the scientists it is far from proven either way). The more reliable ones that support it being harmful suggest it may make you feel less full than regular sugar resulting in easier overeating.

    EDIT: Sorry missed that last post.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Two: Suddenly, the Nine
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One More Trigger

    Part Twenty-Two: Suddenly, the Nine


    "Yes, I'm calling on behalf of Amy Dallon. She's not feeling well, and she's staying home for the day."

    Danny Hebert paused, holding the phone to his ear. "Yes, I'm aware who she is. I know that she doesn't get sick. It's not that sort of feeling unwell, Ms Howell. It's the other sort. Yes, that sort of feeling unwell. No, I haven't enquired too closely. Thank you, ma'am. Yes, I'll convey your good wishes. Yes, ma'am, you have a good day too."

    Hanging the phone up, Danny turned to Amy, who was sitting at the kitchen table with Lisa. "Well, I don't know if she bought it entirely, but she didn't protest too hard," he reported. "I hesitate to ask, but do you even get that ... ?"

    "Yeah, she does," Lisa answered, giving Amy a sideways glance. "But her power minimises any discomfort. Which is totally unfair, if you ask me."

    "Just a little bit," Amy protested. "It's not like I can actually affect my own body. Anyway, can we get off the topic?"

    "Fine," agreed Danny, sitting down at the table. "So what, exactly, is it that you're doing with my best salad bowl?"

    His question had a point; Amy was sitting with her fingers over the lip of the bowl Danny was referring to. Bugs of various types were crawling out of the goop with which the bowl was filled, shaking their wings free, and fluttering out through the open window. Amy herself was looking somewhat run-down; her eyes were red-rimmed, and she had several empty coffee cups at her elbow.

    "They're booster bugs," she explained, then yawned. "With ... with various other abilities, because it would be stupid to make them with just one. They're sensitive to the booster effect in others, so they fly away from it until they're a certain distance away, but they'll keep in contact.”

    “A certain distance?” asked Danny.

    “About seventy to eighty percent of the maximum range of the booster effect,” explained Amy. “When Taylor comes into contact with one of them, she'll be in contact with all of them. If one moves, they'll all move to keep the network intact.”

    “Christ,” he muttered. “And how long have you been at this?”

    Amy yawned again. “All night. Lisa's been keeping me company.”

    Lisa rolled her bottle-green eyes. “Lisa,” she replied to Danny's silent query, “has been napping on the sofa and fetching more garbage when Amy ran out. Also, brewing coffee.”

    “And it's been greatly appreciated,” Amy told her. “Really, it has.”

    Lisa mustered a grin. “Hey. Friends, right?” She put her arm around Amy's shoulders and gave her a squeeze, careful not to dislodge Amy's fingers from the goop in the bowl.

    “Wait, wait,” Danny interjected with a frown. “Garbage? And what is that stuff in the bowl?”

    “This is a bio-organic slurry,” Amy informed him. “It's basically alive, which is why I'm able to affect it. I'm using it to form booster bugs. It's composed of organic matter, and it breaks down anything organic dropped into it, turns it into itself. Like garbage.”

    “Yeah,” Lisa confirmed. “Your neighbours for four houses in all directions can thank us later. I'm just glad it was trash night. Otherwise I would have borrowed your shears and gone pruning hedges.”

    “So how many bugs do you have out there now?” asked Danny.

    Amy yawned again. “I have absolutely no idea,” she confessed. “I've just been sending them out. Lost count hours ago.”

    “Fourteen thousand, six hundred and fifty-three, assuming we don't refill the bowl,” Lisa recited crisply.

    Danny's jaw slowly dropped open. “Fourteen thousand?”

    Amy shrugged helplessly. “I didn't know how many we'd need. So I just kept making them. Taylor took a bunch when she went to school. All different types.”

    She had her hand near the bottom of the bowl now. It was starting to thicken a little; without being asked, Lisa poured some water in, from a pitcher on the table. As Danny watched in fascination, the goop transformed into more and more bugs, until there was just a thin smear on the bottom of the bowl.

    The last of the bugs perched on her hand for a moment, then flew out the window. She turned to Lisa. “Should we keep going?”

    Lisa shook her head, and helped her to her feet. “That'll be enough for the moment. You need to get some sleep now.”

    “No, I'm ...” Amy staggered slightly. “Okay, I'll get some sleep. The sofa will be fine.”

    “The sofa will not be fine,” Lisa scolded her. “The sofa is hard and lumpy. Trust me, I know this. You're going to sleep in the spare room upstairs.”

    Still mumbling protests, Amy allowed Lisa to steer her up the stairs and along the corridor; when Lisa came back down, Danny was scrubbing out the salad bowl in the sink. He looked up as she entered the kitchen. “She okay?”

    “Out like a light as soon as her head hit the pillow,” Lisa flashed her trademark grin. “She pushed herself really hard to get all those bugs out there.”

    “Will they be enough?” He looked at her with worry. “The Nine … “

    “Currently have in their number at least two very distinctive individuals,” Lisa reminded him as she took the bowl from him and began to dry it. “Even if Shatterbird refrains from using glass, Crawler and Mannequin cannot be mistaken for anything else. Taylor finds them, we bring the boom down on them, hard.”

    He looked at her curiously. “Why haven't you crashed like Amy?”

    “Oh, she freshened me up a couple of hours ago. It's like mainlining caffeine; I feel like I could go for days.”

    “Hm. Better not try.” He paused. “So, have you told the Undersiders yet?”

    She turned to look at him; he was observing her, expression expectant.

    “What makes you think I'd tell them?” she ventured. “I'm in a hero team now.”

    “Which means that you've already told them,” he concluded.

    Her expression was chagrined. “Damn it, I'm supposed to be the Thinker here.”

    “I'm the father of a teenage girl,” he reminded her, a corner of his mouth quirking a smile. “I don't need Thinker powers to tell when you're shading the truth.”

    She rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine, I already told them. They see anything, they call me.”

    Danny nodded. “Excellent.”

    She blinked. “Really?”

    “Of course. We need every advantage we can get.” He went to the fridge and got out some orange juice. “Any progress on ideas as to how the Nine would draw the Samaritans out?”

    “It'll be something big and splashy,” Lisa told him, holding out a glass so that he could pour. “Something that will draw a lot of attention, and let them destroy us publicly. Show us up. Kill us in horrible ways, while tying our hands so we can't hit them as hard as we might.” She blinked. “Hostage situation. Big one. Helpless hostages. A school.” She went pale, and her hand shook so badly that the orange juice sloshed over her fingers. “Winslow.”

    <><>​

    Winslow High

    Taylor was sitting in first period, which happened to be math, when one of the network of booster bugs she had around the school suddenly linked into another booster bug. This one was linked to others, and those were linked to others and …

    “Oh my god,” she whispered, her eyes widening.

    Mr Quinlan raised his head questioningly. “Yes, Ms Hebert? Did you have a question?”

    Taylor shook her head. “No, sir. I'm good, sir.” She let some of her attention remain on the lesson in progress, which happened to be algebra, while the rest of her mind went out to quest through the link that had just opened up to her.

    It was like standing inside a vast and echoing auditorium, and then having someone turn the lights on. She could feel her booster bugs as tiny sparks in the massed swarms of bugs around the school. More booster bugs, farther out, each of them offering improved sight and hearing, as much as any bug could have good sight or hearing.

    She was aware of the awareness spreading even farther; the bugs released by Amy were working their way outward until they reached equilibrium, which had not yet happened. Her little patch of awareness around Winslow was in the process of being absorbed, subsumed, by the vast invisible tide of a much greater ocean of awareness. Amy, you're awesome.

    The number of bugs she now had access to numbered not in the hundreds of thousands, or even the millions. Tens of millions of tiny bug brains were now part of her network, her swarm, and she set to work using them to sweep the city for the Nine.

    Even then, having access to every bug, every mite, every fly, every wasp and bee and hornet and spider, it was not a swift process. Bug senses, as she had complained to Emma and Madison more than once, were mediocre to crappy. Amy could sharpen these, but only with the bugs she worked on. And for Amy to fix every single bug in Brockton Bay, just so that Taylor could see properly when she wasn't on site, would literally take longer than any human lifetime.

    Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She didn't know who it was from, and her little outburst before had gotten her on to Quinlan's radar, so that she couldn't just pull it out and check.

    “Uh, sir?” she ventured. “May I go to the bathroom?”

    Quinlan looked irritated, and well he might. “Young lady, it's the first period. Surely you can hold it for a little while.”

    Taylor shook her head. “I'm sorry, sir. I really can't.”

    With a put-upon sigh, he waved at the door. “Go, then.”

    “Thank you, sir.” She got up and hurried out the door; once in the corridor, she pulled out her phone. It told her that she'd missed a call from her father. She was just about to ring him back, when it vibrated again.

    “Yeah, Dad?” she asked, while heading for the stairs. She'd given the excuse to go to the bathroom, so it was probably a good idea to at least pretend to go.

    Just at that moment, her bugs registered a large motor-coach pulling into the school parking lot. Inside … there weren't any bugs. None whatsoever. That's really weird.

    Taylor,” his voice sounded in her ear. “Lisa has just told me that the Nine is most likely to attempt a hostage scenario in order to draw you out.”

    She was at the stairs now. “Does she know where?”

    She thinks it'll be a school. Most likely Winslow.”

    Taylor's eyes widened. “Oh shit.”

    Exactly. So keep your eyes open for anyone suspicious -”

    “No, I meant 'oh shit, they're here',” she panted, now taking the steps two at a time. “They just drove into the parking lot. Do Emma and Madison know?”

    Lisa's already been on to Alan and Rod. They'd be calling them right now.”

    “Good. I'm separated from my costume, but I'm going to play this one safe. I'll be hiding in the girls' bathrooms, third floor. But don't worry. My bugs will come to the party anyway.”

    As she spoke, bugs crawled out of her hair and buzzed back down the stairwell.

    Good luck. Stay safe. Kick ass.”

    “Will do, Dad. Love you.”

    Love you too. I'll call you back when we've got the conference call set up.” The line went dead as he hung up.

    I really hate not being there for them, but I can't very well duck back and grab my costume. Time to act like a Master and stand back while my minions do the work.

    She had bugs ready to go, both speciality and regular. Time to do my thing.

    <><>​

    Outside the PRT Building

    A bus had just pulled up at the stop when the pavement began cracking and heaving. The bus stop itself rose six inches, causing people to yell in surprise and vacate the immediate area. With a horrendous crunching sound, a large slab of concrete rose up and fell away, revealing the grotesque form of Crawler, hauling himself up out of a sewer line; a stench arose with him.

    Within the PRT building, the guards were on the ball; they saw the supervillain and hit the panic button. The doors snapped shut and locked solid. The elevator doors opened, and the people inside the lobby were herded into them. The last thing they saw before the doors interleaved shut was the sight of the Slaughterhouse Nine member hurling himself against the outer doors.

    Crawler backed up and tried again; this time, he burst through into the lobby, the Tinker-created toughened glass spraying around him in fragments. The PRT guards were waiting for him; their foam sprayers belched white globules of the yellowish-white substance, striking him, engulfing him, adhering to him. Still, he lunged forward, catching one unlucky guard off balance. The man's scream – and life – ended abruptly.

    But the snapping jaws also burst the man's containment foam tank; Crawler's head was abruptly engulfed by the sticky mass. The remaining three guards backed up from the oncoming bulk of foam, being pushed forward by Crawler's straining legs. As sticky as it was, it was not preventing him from moving.

    <><>​

    Protectorate Base

    “Sir, look at the outside screens!”

    Armsmaster turned and looked. There, hovering in mid-air, was the shape of a woman, clad in layers of glass, with great stained-glass wings on either side of her. He knew who she was. They all did.

    “Christ, that's Shatterbird.”

    The PRT techs stared at him. “Orders, sir?”

    He slapped the button that connected him to the entire base via PA system. “Shatterbird alert. Shatterbird alert. Protect your eyes. Take off your glasses. Get rid of your phones, your electronic items, now.”

    And then, just as he had begun to hope that he'd warned them in good time, she opened her mouth and screamed.

    Everything around him shook; he saw all the computer monitors blow out, random electronics and other silicates simply exploding with varying level of force. The lights went out; he triggered the night vision in his helmet visor.

    He had, of course, spent the time to harden his armour's electronics against just this sort of thing, and to replacing glass with synthetics. Taking on the Nine, defeating them, bringing them down, was something he dreamed of doing.

    The room was a mess. Techs lay here and there, some moving, others ominously still. All were wounded.

    Pulling himself up out of his seat, he took stock. His armour's systems had held up, but nothing else in the room had. He chinned a control; LEDs on the surface of his armour flared to life, offering a weak illumination for the room. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. People were starting to groan and move. He moved to the side of the closest person who seemed badly injured, and started to examine him. At the same time, he activated his radio.

    “This is Armsmaster … “

    <><>​

    PRT Building

    Piggot's intercom buzzed. She slapped the button. “Report.”

    Ma'am, we have Crawler slowed down in the lobby. He's not fully contained, but he's not going anywhere fast. Civilians and support staff have been evacuated via the underground garage. One casualty so far; Kendrick.”

    Her lips thinned. “Damn it. How long can you hold?”

    As long as it takes, ma'am. How long till the capes get here?”

    “I'm not putting the Wards against Crawler, not without Protectorate backup.” She paused; other lights, blinking red with urgency, were now showing up. “I'll get back to you; someone else wants me.”

    Not waiting for his response, she hit the second button. “Piggot.”

    The voice was scratchy and barely readable, but she recognised it. “Director, this is Armsmaster. The Protectorate base has just been hit by Shatterbird. We've lost most of our electronics, and we have multiple casualties.”

    Her fist hit the desk. “Fuck! Status of Protectorate assets on board? Location of Shatterbird?”

    I do not know, ma'am. Velocity was supposed to be on patrol, but I don't have the range to contact him. Everyone else was on base, as far as I know. And we lost our eyes and ears when she screamed; I have no idea where she might be.”

    “Well, just for your information, we have Crawler in the lobby of my building,” Piggot snapped. “So once you get yourselves sorted out over there, any assistance would be greatly appreciated.”

    She cut the connection and put her face in her hands. And that's just two of them. Where are the rest? Fuck.

    <><>​

    Winslow High School

    The doors up toward the front of the motor-coach hissed open, and Jack Slash alighted. He held out his hand, and Bonesaw took hold of it, happily skipping alongside him. Behind them came the Siberian, imperiously naked, then Burnscar and Mannequin. Last out of the coach was Hatchet Face, his scarred, brutal features impassive as he followed the rest of the team.

    “Look at this, will you?” Jack observed, gesturing at the school before them. “A melting pot of all that is horrific and despicable about humanity. Shoving all those delightful little victims – I mean children, of course – into close proximity with one another, letting them kick and shove and brutalise one another during their most impressible formative years. Is it any wonder that the world is such a depressing place?”

    Bonesaw giggled light-heartedly; no-one else showed much in the way of emotion. “Mr Jack,” she asked, “did you ever go to school?”

    “Not at a place like this, no.” He pushed open the doors, and they entered Winslow High School. “I was … let us say, home-schooled. But I would have liked to have come to a place like this.”

    “Do you think I could come to school sometime?” the blonde girl asked next. “Just to … well, you know, see what it's like?”

    “Really?” he responded, raising an eyebrow. “You would trade our life for the humdrum existence of a student?”

    “Of course not,” she assured him. “Just every now and again. I could experiment on their brains, see if I could make them learn faster.”

    He chuckled, ruffling her hair fondly. “Ah, poppet, I do like the way you think. But I think my way is better.”

    “What way is that?” she asked, as they proceeded along the echoing halls of academia.

    “Why, I teach the class, and every three months I hold a sudden-death examination. The half of the class that got the lower marks is executed. I assure you, at the end of the year, those students I had left would be very fast learners indeed.”

    “I suppose,” she mused, “but … “

    He waited for the remainder of her statement, but it was not forthcoming. “Poppet?”

    Her hand went slack in his, and he looked down with some surprise as she crumpled to the ground. “What the hell?”

    Immediately, his knife was in his hand, and he sliced at the air; once, twice, three times. Tiny objects, caught by his blade, fluttered to the ground. As he did so, Burnscar fell over. And then he felt the tiny sting at the back of his neck. He slapped at the spot, but already he was feeling the lassitude. The Siberian took hold of his arm, picked him up, slung him over her shoulder. She bent to grab Bonesaw; through dimming eyesight, he saw Mannequin topple and crash to the ground.

    Wait, his mind tried to tell him. That isn't right.

    And then everything just faded away.

    <><>​

    Hebert House

    Okay.” Taylor's voice was tense. “I got Bonesaw and Jack Slash and Burnscar with the toxin bugs. Mannequin seems to be down and out of it with the glue bugs. But Hatchet Face is too tough for the bugs to take out, and Siberian is carrying Bonesaw and Jack Slash out of the school.”

    “That's good,” Danny praised her. “That's really good. You've hit them and you've hurt them. See if you can get a bug inside Hatchet Face's mouth; the tissues there might be softer.”

    If I can stay outside his nullification range,” Emma suggested, “I could maybe zap him into next week.”

    Better for you and Aerodyne to work together, Sparx,” Rod Clements suggested. “You hold him while she takes his air away.”

    Yeah, but what do we do about Siberian?” Taylor wanted to know. “I hit her with my best shot, and she ignored it. Didn't even notice.”

    Ah, something else you need to worry about,” Alan Barnes put in. “I'm listening to the police channel, and Shatterbird just hit the Protectorate base, and Crawler's attacking the PRT building. So you aren't going to get any cape backup in a hurry.”

    Didn't Amy say she could put Crawler's lights out, given a chance?” asked Taylor.

    “Uh, Amy's asleep,” Danny confessed. “Pushed herself way too hard to put together your bug network. I could wake her up and get here there, but it'll take time. Time that he can use to cause a lot more damage.”

    “That's okay,” Lisa told him. She pulled out her phone. “I got this.”

    <><>​

    Winslow High

    Hatchet Face stomped through the school corridors. His memories of attending higher education were faded, but they were not fond ones. Bullying those below him, being bullied by those above. Kicking and clawing his way up the pecking order. Being the bigger bastard.

    Now, he was one of the biggest bastards out there. He was a member of the Nine, and people spoke his name in the same breath as that of Jack Slash.

    He rolled his eyes. Slash had gone down, just like the little murder-girl, and the fire-girl. Hatchet Face wasn't sure how they'd gone down, or why. But they had, which proved that they were weak, and he was strong. Though Mannequin had also gone down, which was really puzzling. He didn't know how the man had fit himself into that shiny white armour, but he was pretty sure it was sealed against everything.

    His brutally scarred features creased in what might have been mistaken for a smile. The naked bitch had taken Slash and Bonesaw back, probably to the motor-coach so that they'd recover. That left him alone, in a school full of the same little pricks who had laughed at him and taunted him, and made him want to smash all their faces in.

    And, of course, the cape or whatever it was that had taken out all but him and Siberian. But whatever that cape had, it didn't affect him. So he didn't have to worry.

    Now to make all the little piggies come out to play …

    He hefted the massive cleaver that he carried in his right hand, and reached for a fire alarm tab.

    <><>​

    Over Brockton Bay

    Shatterbird arrowed through the air, toward Winslow High. She had done her job, and now she was required by Jack to join him once more. The Protectorate in this city was neutered, blinded, deafened. With the brute taking up the attention of the PRT, there were few heroes left to face them …

    She barely registered the incoming form in time to put up a barrier. And even then, the impact was tremendous; glass shattered and she tumbled in the air. Catching herself, she looked around for her attacker; saw the lithe form arrowing around for another strike. A white costume, gold highlights, tiara – she's just a girl!

    But a girl who, nonetheless, was daring to attack her; her, Shatterbird of the Slaughterhouse Nine. She formed her armour around her, leaving enough glass over to create a razor-edged sword. This was for the girl to see; what she couldn't see were the glass shards, equally sharp darts, hovering behind her back.

    Attack me, will you?

    As Glory Girl bored in for the attack, Shatterbird waited for her, and smiled cruelly.

    <><>​

    PRT Building

    Crawler heaved and thrashed and bellowed discordantly, and spilled copious amounts of acid from his open mouth. This dissolved the containment foam where it touched, and more was eaten away every second. He dug his clawed feet into the floor and drove himself forward once more, trailing remnants and shreds of the yellow-white foam. The reception counter was destroyed; the PRT guards fell back, shooting more of the foam, but his acidic saliva dissolved it as fast as they shot it.

    And then something latched on to his rear end. His eyes in that direction were mostly obscured by foam, but he caught a glimpse of a monstrous dog/dinosaur fusion. And then another one grabbed hold of him. His forward progress halted, and he actually began to slide backward. He dug in his claws, shredding carpet and ripping up chunks of concrete, but he still kept moving backward. These dogs were dragging him from the PRT building, where Jack had told him to attack.

    And then he realised; they were attacking him. He had every excuse in the world to attack them in return. So he stopped resisting.

    <><>​

    “Tell me again how this is a good idea,” Regent muttered, as Crawler emerged from the frontage of the PRT building, flanked by three very large snarling mutant dog-monsters.

    “We help the PRT, they don't hunt our asses down so hard,” Grue supplied. “Plus, it's a favour to Lisa.”

    After she helped take down our meal ticket,” Regent griped.

    “Coil was an asshole,” Grue reminded him. “We both know that.”

    “I don't so much mind assholes, so long as they leave me the fuck alone,” Regent argued.

    “Like your dad?”

    Regent sneered. “Fuck you, Grue. Okay, let's get this show on the road. Holy fuck, does he have a nervous system or a bowl of spaghetti in there?”

    “You're the guy who fucks with people. Fuck with him.”

    Regent shook his head. “Christ. This guy's nervous system is so redundant, it's not funny. Okay, let's see what happens if I pull a string.”

    Down on the street, responding to Bitch's whistles, the dogs were playing keep-away. Only those behind Crawler were actually attacking him; the one in front was distracting him, but leaping away when Crawler tried to close with it. Chunks were being ripped out of even the monster's armoured hide, but not large bits, and the holes were being replaced by new armour, tougher, harder, even as they watched. But then he lunged at a dog – and face-planted in the street, instead. Or chin-planted, given that he didn't really have a face any more. Coming to his multiple feet, he went to leap at another dog, and charged a street-lamp instead. The street-lamp promptly fell on him.

    “Nicely done,” Grue commented.

    “Yeah, it would be, if I'd intended for that to happen,” Regent muttered. “I'm pressing buttons at random, here.”

    “Well, keep pressing 'em,” Grue urged. “You're doing great.”

    Regent shook his head. “You're buying the painkillers. I'm gonna have such a migraine, after this.”

    “We'll bill the PRT.”

    Now you're talking.”

    Down below, Crawler tried to turn a somersault. It didn't really work.

    <><>​

    Winslow High

    “Hey.”

    His fingers inches from the fire alarm tab, Hatchet Face turned to face the two girls who had just rounded the corner. They were immediately recognisable, as Sparx and Aerodyne, of the Samaritans. The bitches that the Nine had come to this stinking pit of a hellhole to kill or co-opt. He grinned broadly, showing jagged and broken teeth. Kill it is, then.

    The redhead, Sparx, shook her head. “Seriously, do not do that. It is not a good expression for you.” She sounded almost serious, as if she were chiding him for a misdemeanour.

    “Fuck. You.” He spat the words out, and started toward them, breaking into a run almost immediately.

    Or attempting to do so. Something wrapped around his ankles, and he failed to make that first step. Measuring his length on the floor, he felt the cleaver skid free from his hand, and skitter across the floor. The petite one with lots of flowing cloth on her costume, stopped it with her foot.

    Enraged, he snarled and leaped to his feet. That was when the tendril of hair that was still wrapped around his ankle sent a large jolt of electricity through him.

    He staggered, but kept coming. More jolts hit him; he shrugged them off. And then, the smaller one raised her hands, and he felt himself struck by an irresistible force, slammed backward into the wall.

    He pushed himself out of the shallow dent he had made, and started forward again.

    <><>​

    Guys, move, now. Siberian's on her way back in.”

    “Roger that, Ladybug.” Emma grabbed Aerodyne by the arm. “Let's go.” Her hair formed a square of tightly-woven carpeting under their feet.

    “Dammit, I nearly had him!” But despite her protest, Aerodyne did not hesitate. Wind blasted under the 'carpet' – not much larger than a hearthrug – and lifted them, conveying them forward at somewhat better than running speed.

    Which was a good thing, because the Siberian arrived just seconds later, also travelling at somewhat better than running speed. She and Hatchet Face followed the fleeing heroes; every time they took a corner, she smashed through the corner, cutting the lead significantly.

    Guys, get out of there!”

    “We can't do that,” Emma replied grimly. “We leave, they go back to Plan A, being a hostage situation. We have to stay close enough that they think they have a chance of catching us.”

    You can't keep that up forever.” That was Rod Clements.

    Wait a minute.” Taylor. “I might have something.”

    “What?” asked Aerodyne. She was starting to feel the strain; normally, she pulled in air from all around her, and these corridors were stifling her capabilities.

    Just keep ahead of them for just a little longer.”

    “Yipe!” Emma snagged a corner with her hair and pulled them around it, just in time to avoid a charging pounce by the Siberian. “I think she's done playing.”

    “Yeah,” agreed Aerodyne. “Where's Hatchet Face?”

    He got ahead of you, guys. You're heading into an ambush. I'm bothering him as best I can, but it's not a great amount.”

    “It'll have to be enough,” Emma decided. “We can't face the Siberian. Whatever you've got planned, do it.”

    Just … hold … on … “

    <><>​

    Moments ago, something had gotten Taylor's attention. When she had set the bugs of Brockton Bay to sweeping for the Nine, she had not told them to stop. And as the villains had begun their pursuit of her friends, the bugs had turned up something interesting. Unusual, even.

    There was a van, parked at the side of the road, about half a mile away from Winslow High. The driver was doing nothing; just staring fixedly in the direction of Winslow.

    On a hunch, Taylor sent a booster bug in his direction. It took a few moments for it to get there, which was what occasioned the delay. It perched on the dashboard and took a good hard look at the driver, using its Amy-enhanced visual senses.

    The face looked familiar, from the extensive research she had done; Taylor frowned. Could it be?

    The idea that one of the leading lights of parahuman research, long thought dead, was alive and well, and in the vicinity of the Slaughterhouse Nine, was so far beyond being a coincidence that it was ludicrous.

    “Dad,” she stated. “I think I've got eyes on Doctor William Manton, you know, the parahuman researcher? He's sitting in a van, not a mile from Winslow, looking that way.”

    What, do you think he's somehow connected with them?”

    And then another voice broke in; Lisa's. “Take him out! Take him out now! He's a projector! Projecting the Siberian!”

    Taylor didn't hesitate. She already had two toxin-bugs on hand. Manton didn't even notice when they landed on his skin. The bugs injected their venom.

    Batrachotoxin, otherwise obtained from the 'poison arrow frog' of South America, is so deadly that an amount equivalent to two grains of salt will have a fifty percent chance of killing a healthy adult. The toxin bugs Amy had created bore a modified variant of that; one sting would cause grogginess or unconsciousness, depending on the size and health of the recipient. Two stings would cause unconsciousness or death. Three would bring death to all but the largest and toughest of victims. Taylor used two bugs; she wanted to give him a chance to survive, but not a chance to stay awake.

    <><>​

    They had almost avoided the ambush. Almost, but not quite.

    Hatchet Face had gotten too close, too quickly. Emma's summoned hair had disintegrated under them, as had Aerodyne's wave of air. They had been travelling too fast, had no time to re-establish their flying carpet. Aerodyne was winded, unable to focus. The Siberian was stalking toward them, murderous intent in every line of her being. Behind her, Hatchet Face was following along.

    Emma shielded Aerodyne with her body, for what good it would do. She lashed out against the Siberian with her hair; it crumpled, disintegrated against that tiger-striped body. Defiantly, she looked death in the face. The sharp-nailed fingers reached for her -

    - and the Siberian popped like a soap bubble.

    Emma reacted before Hatchet Face could. Her hair lashed out, covered the distance to him, wrapped around his arms and legs. And then she gave him every volt she could muster. Her hair crackled and fluoresced, and she lit him up like the Fourth of July.

    He screamed.

    <><>​

    Over Brockton Bay

    Glory Girl was still flying, but she didn't know how. Blood ran down her face from a scalp wound; more stained her once-white costume from cuts shallow and deep alike. She pulled a glass dart from her arm and tried to hurl it at her opponent. With insulting ease, Shatterbird caught it with her power, brought it to her, and then licked the blood off of it, slowly and lingeringly.

    “You can't beat me,” she taunted the teen hero. “You won't run. What are you going to do?”

    “Hold on,” Glory Girl panted. “Hold on … “

    “Until what happens?” Shatterbird sneered. “Your wounds miraculously heal, and you gain the powers of Eidolon?”

    Glory Girl shook her head, holding her ribs. She was fairly sure that some of them were broken. “No.”

    Shatterbird rolled her eyes. “What, then?”

    The three blasts hit her in the back, at almost exactly the same time. Her eyes opened wide, just as a blackened hole burst open in her chest, the three lasers blasting straight through her body.

    She half-turned as the life left her, to see Lady Photon hovering there, flanked by Laserdream and Shielder. The teenage boy blew imaginary smoke off of his raised index finger.

    “That,” Glory Girl managed, as Shatterbird began her long fall toward the ground. Then she passed out, and began to fall herself.

    <><>​

    PRT Building

    Vicky opened her eyes. She sat up, looking around. Amy, looking remarkably tired, sat nearby, with a familiar-looking blonde girl kneeling beside her, an arm around her shoulders. As she watched, Amy leaned into the blonde girl for support. She felt a stab of jealousy; Amy had always depended on her for support, before.

    Off to the side was … Crawler, of the Nine. He didn't seem to be doing much, however, just standing there, slowly drooling acid which was eating away at the asphalt. PRT techs, flanked by guards with oversized containment foam guns, were crating him up for transport. Slowly, Vicky climbed to her feet, staring in fascination.

    “Hey,” she heard from behind her. “You feeling all right?”

    Turning, she saw Danny Hebert, standing next to Sarah Pelham. Vista, in full costume, stood next to them. Sarah stepped forward and hugged Vicky; she still had smears of blood on her costume that no doubt matched those on Vicky's.

    “Yeah, I am now,” Vicky confirmed. “Thanks for the save. She had me on the ropes, once she figured out the one-two punch.”

    Sarah nodded. “I thought as much. I'm just glad you're alive.”

    Vicky tilted her head toward where Amy was leaning against the blonde. Fairly certain that's Tattletale. At that moment, the girl looked up, directly into her eyes. A fox-like grin made that identification certain. She looked away.

    “Thanks to Amy, I take it?” she asked, somewhat belatedly.

    Danny nodded. “Thanks to Amy. I got on to Vista, and she was giving us the express route into the city so that Amy could deal with Crawler, when Sarah called up. I answered, and Sarah dropped out of the sky, carrying you. You were in a pretty bad way.”

    Vicky nodded. “I remember. The rest of the Nine?”

    He smiled, very slightly. “They attacked Winslow. They're now in custody, or dead.”

    Sarah nodded. “I'm not proud of what I had to do. What we had to do. But if we'd given Shatterbird a fair chance, she would have taken us all down.”

    Vicky nodded. “I get that. Not arguing."

    Vista stepped forward. "It's a big choice, to take a life. But in any case, they would have done the same. They were an S-class threat."

    Vicky swallowed. "Did ... did many people die?"

    Vista nodded. "A dozen or so, on the Protectorate base. One PRT guard was killed here."

    Vicky's shoulders slumped. "Damn."

    Sarah gave Vicky a squeeze. "It could have been a lot worse."

    Vista shaded her eyes as she watched the techs box up Crawler. "It's kind of funny, in a macabre sort of way.”

    “What is?” asked Danny.

    She smiled grimly. “They came to Brockton Bay to take out the Samaritans. It really didn't go well for them.”

    Danny nodded. “Ain't that the truth.”

    Sarah turned to Danny. "Which begs the question."

    "Yeah?"

    "Does this make the Samaritans an S-class team?"


    End of Part Twenty-Two

    Part Twenty-Three
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2015
  8. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    Well, villains will probably react in one of three ways to this development: One, "Okay, that's interesting I guess, but it's not like it's going to affect me over here." Two, "Okay, I am staying away from Brockton Bay. Place is WAY too dangerous." Three, "Challenge Accepted" or "Meh, I/we can take them".

    Random idea: Ladybug has Amy create a bunch of upgraded ladybugs to show the flag and openly interact with civilians. (With the listening, seeing, and talking actually done by other bugs but with the ladybugs as a symbol) In addition to that, however, are more subtle bugs to watch where they're pretending they aren't paying attention to and only "coincidentally" taking advantage of the information gained from these stealth teams.


    Mildly surprising that Crawler didn't manage to injure a single person other than Kendrick. What's especially surprising is that, of what was shown on-age, Shatterbird and Crawler were the only ones who actually injured anyone (though I wouldn't be surprised if the Siberian went through a few people while travelling the school). Shatterbird probably killed a lot of people and injured a lot more, but at least she didn't manage to pull off a city-wide scream.

    A worrying fact: Jack Slash is still alive and capable of talking to people, and those involved are not currently aware that he really should have a Trump rating (sub Thinker and Master). He could be exceptionally dangerous, still, even with the Nine nominally dismantled.
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2015
  9. pheonix89

    pheonix89 Wanna be game dev

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    Nope. He's within Skitter's range, and she has Amelia on tap and making stuff that works on Bonesaw. He isn't gonna be regaining consciousness anytime soon.
     
  10. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    If the PRT is feeling paranoid, sure. However, there's a decent chance that somebody will want to interrogate him, and several good reasons for that desire. I'm not counting Jack Slash out until he's been entirely neutralized, whether that's having him thoroughly Mastered, dead, or whatever they have in mind.
     
  11. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Ending rewritten slightly.
     
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  12. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Good chapter. Nice fighting the S9 - and a good punchline at the end. Loved the way Shatterbird went down, and Manton was discovered. Slash was as creepy as ever.
     
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  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    aka: the ones who never get on their radar.

    Well, it is.

    And they were never heard from again :p

    You do realise the booster bugs all have enhanced visual and auditory cortexes, right? So if Taylor wants to listen in on something, all she has to do is move a booster bug into the area. (She can do it a little already, but not much).

    Crawler's job was to tie up the PRT. He did a pretty good job of that. Shatterbird actually got some confirmed kills from her attack on the Protectorate base, but the Siberian and Hatchet Face were chasing Aerodyne and Sparx, not bothering with civilians (who were mostly unaware that there was a super-battle happening in the school).

    Now, if Hatchet Face had chosen to pull that fire alarm, there would have been a LOT more casualties.

    He's good at talking to capes. Also, he's a lot better at negotiating from a position of strength. He's not going to be convincing anyone to release him in a hurry.

    And of course, the Samaritans will be passing on their conclusions regarding his secondary powers. Which, given that they owned him, will be duly noted.
     
  14. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    Booster bugs are exactly the insects that Taylor doesn't want to be targeted. Losing one wipes out a notable sphere of influence. As such, she should try to avoid drawing attention to them as much as possible. Anyway, having a reputation as ludicrously powerful but with known (false) limitations is a great position to be in. If they think she's "only" scouting in a dozen places at once all around the city instead of basically everywhere people probably won't take the kinds of precautions actually needed to avoid her.

    I was thinking less "convince anyone to release him" and more "manipulate one or more of the capes sent to observe him to go kill people or otherwise spread havoc". Jack Slash talking is dangerous, though this is primarily a factor to capes and space whales. Still, better than even odds that he'll be at least semi-properly managed and the worst prevented.


    And a belated "Thank you for the chapter" to Ack.
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2015
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  15. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Oh, she'll basically be spreading the impression (if anyone asks) that she can see through all the bugs, all the time :p

    Which, to be honest, she can.

    "Bug Sister is watching you." :p

    But the idea of bugs for people to actually see ... that's not a bad idea.

    EDIT: just one thing; all bugs that Amy makes or modifies will have the 'booster' circuit in their brain. It's only common sense.
     
  16. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    Depends entirely on how many resources in the bug it uses up. If it's a small modification, sure, but at least some stories have it be a notable fraction of an insect's mass (for the smaller ones, at least) and thus it demands other tradeoffs. And she'd probably want the others to not have an auto-spread instinct.

    Not entirely sure why she wants to be overestimated, though; is that additional degree of intimidation really worth the costs in information acquired, PR loss, and increase in priority of anti-Ladybug countermeasures?
     
  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    If there's any note of this in canon, I'd like a citation, otherwise it's fanon, and I am not in any way obliged to follow it.

    Why not? If there's something to worry about, she'll bring them together, but if there's not, she wants to covering as much area as possible.

    ... yeah, see, people have been trying to kill off bugs for centuries. Hasn't really worked.

    And it's not really overestimation when what she's misleading them with is the scale of how much she can see and hear, as opposed to the fact that she can see and hear them.

    And if people think all bugs are her snitches, instead of certain bugs (and specifically, if they remain unaware that some bugs are special) then they won't target the special bugs. (Putting obvious bugs out there will cause some people to kill them, and when the information flow is uninterrupted, they'll realise that it was all a scam.)

    In short? She won't make it readily known that she's got the city covered. But she'll have it covered anyway.
     
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  18. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    I wasn't saying it was canon, just that it only makes sense to put that modification in everywhere if it's consuming few resources, which it evidently is in this story.

    There are numerous potential problems with having them automatically spread all the time. For one, it can push a great many of them to their deaths if survival instincts don't trump it properly, it massively decreases their redundancies without being actively managed (and she could just spread them out deliberately anyway for the same amount of effort as preventing it), that kind of instinctive behaviour could allow for a Thinker to figure out where the others probably are in order to fight them more effectively... most of all, it's not the behaviour you'd generally want when Ladybug isn't available. In this particular situation is made perfect sense, with them needing to cover the city ASAP and Ladybug not available to spread them manually. However, an instinct to move towards where they remember the control ranges existing whenever they get cut off from the network would probably be more effective. This behaviour would lead to network holes tending to be filled back up as the outer parts pull back until they're inside their maximum range. (Not saying it's even close to the best instinct to give, but it's probably better)




    "Killing off all the bugs" isn't what is actually required. It's not conveying useful information in places and ways that Ladybug can pick up. This could be done by wiping out all insects in an area, or only communicating via text displays with inputs inside of suits or outside of the state or whatever. Or talking in a language other than English. Probably plenty of others.

    The actual trick I was thinking of, for Ladybug, was letting people think they've won. If they kill off the special bugs in an area then she pretends her information gathering abilities are disabled and they can speak/act freely. The group pretends they don't have access to information while they still take advantage of it. For example, if a place is going to be attacked, they're coincidentally less than a block away at that time and come roaring in. Or they use what they've picked up in order to direct their searches for information they will admit to having. Or any number of other ways to take advantage of information you have to pretend you don't actually have.

    Give people an obvious weakness and they generally won't look for more. It doesn't need to be easy by any means (and rooting out every single "special" insect would be rather difficult) but as long as it's easier than actually investigating new solutions, trying them out, and determining whether they actually helped or not they'll generally just stick with what's "known to work". Especially when she's not even close to the only problem they have to deal with.

    After all, the goal is "let the people we're spying on feel safe enough that they'll give us useful information without compromising our ability to oppose them", yes? As such, it is very important that they're kept away from the actual solutions that will work to prevent her from getting much from them.

    Partial solution to people talking in languages that Taylor doesn't understand (or writing in them, or sign language, or whatever): Output bugs. Whether it's "printing" on paper, interfacing with a computer, creating sounds from those bugs, or whatever, ones that can directly mimic sounds, words, pictures, etc without requiring that Taylor actually understands them and can replicate them. These become even better if she has some that can record the more raw data and store it until there's an interpreter available.


    Another potential trick: Amy makes a bunch of those bugs, but has each "batch" have differing resistances that are highly specialized. These ones will resist smoke significantly better, these ones are highly-resistant to these common pesticides, etc. Almost all of the insects will still die when those strike and those remain wouldn't be good enough to fight with... but they can play dead and spy on them anyway. This one will definitely be seen through eventually, as it "only" requires somebody paying enough attention to notice that they're not actually dead. This could be a good thing, though, as it probably isn't sufficient to push most people into investigating new methods to avoid the Ladybug Intelligence Network. Instead, they'd probably invest even more into trying to kill all of the special bugs more reliably, likely using multiple methods instead of just one or escalating how much they use beyond even the tolerances Amy can give them. And your opponents wasting more resources is generally a very good thing, especially if you can figure out some way to make it completely ineffective anyway.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
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  19. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Okay, the bugs do have the instinct to stay within booster range of each other, but they have leeway (seventy to eighty percent). this does not trump survival instinct (because that would be stupid) They're also finding hiding places and nesting in that area. Taylor will have other bugs clustering around those bugs, shielding them from predators, etc. She can also override their instincts when she needs to.

    She won't be broadcasting that she can watch over the whole city. Sure, people will suspect, and there will be wild theories, but so long as she doesn't muster all of BB's bugs in one giant swarm, she should be good. And if there's no evidence to the contrary, people tend to relax their vigilance after a while.

    The reason the bugs have that instinct is that Amy wanted to get them out there and spread out while Taylor was asleep (so that Taylor didn't have to be awake to keep them spreading out). To alter the instinct would require her recalling all fourteen thousand plus bugs, and changing them, one at a time. Or they can keep them, and work with it. It's not a crippling problem.

    There's perfect, and then there's good enough. What they have is good enough, for now.
     
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  20. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    I was talking about the new bugs, not the old ones. When Panacea makes more special bugs that particular bit of instinct would probably be good to be revised or omitted entirely. NOT talking about modifying those currently existing.

    And as far as "trump survival instinct", sure it would be a bad move to do consciously. However, for a rush job (and in something she has basically no experience) it might be a natural consequence for having, say, made use of a fear instinct to get them to move far enough apart.

    Anyway, "isn't known to have a range of the entire city" isn't a particularly comforting limitation, especially when you're trying to plan around them. How do you identify whether or not she's in range? You can watch her body and try to figure out what her actual range is, of course, but this is precisely the sort of behaviour that Ladybug would want them to avoid. It's dangerous to her. What do you do in order to render your planning safe? What people do would be more likely to be genuinely effective as they'd be trying different things and those who seem successful would be replicated. And it's also a limitation that she'd probably be a lot more willing to show evidence isn't true. For example, if she's known to be in this particular part of the city for whatever reason and she spots, say, a rape attempt... is she really going to just watch it happen?


    Another instinct problem: There are going to be multiple control radii overlapping with each bug. Odds are, trying to stay within the 70-80% range of all of them would lead to them killing themselves, leaving areas uncontrolled entirely, or other undesired behaviour. Emergent behaviour is often not particularly convenient, and working with AI is rather tricky.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  21. PineTreeq

    PineTreeq Know what you're doing yet?

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    Is it really AI? It's more like just I.
     
  22. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    *Shrugs* Whether or not the new kind of insects technically count as AI or not, most of the same problems remain. Panacea might be really, really good at writing the "code" that they'll follow, but a lot of what insects do is highly dependant upon emergent behaviour. And that's a lot harder to predict, especially in circumstances you haven't deliberately created for that purpose.


    I hope I haven't been coming off as pushy or anything; I don't intend to, but I seem to convey lots of things I don't intend.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2015
  23. tilkau

    tilkau Not too sore, are you?

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    Eh?
    Florence, for example, is organic, and is classed as an AI (correctly IMO).

    AFAIK AI just implies that the intelligence is designed rather than evolved, not that it runs on a digital substrate.
     
  24. PineTreeq

    PineTreeq Know what you're doing yet?

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    It, was supposed to be a joke. I guess I should have specified.
     
  25. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    they would tend to fall into a hexagonal pattern. Each of them keeps connection with at least one other bug, and the maximum number you can stay at a set range of would be three others.

    EDIT: Sorry, triangular pattern (I was thinking of a hexagon, without considering the one in the middle)

    Keeping contact with up to six others.
     
  26. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    The patterns isn't going to be regular, though, as "be in this mathematically precise location" isn't the highest priority. And every single "ring" out will be progressively less ordered. At some point these irregularities will lead to there being zero areas where the preferred rings all overlap each other in the proper point. Even before that point, though, the bugs will have less and less area to select a living space in. And, of course, some of them are going to end up dead no matter what instincts they're programmed with or what Ladybug does. Given the situation they were in that instinct was a very good idea.

    Anyway, given that the entire point of the instincts for these bugs is "standard behaviour when Ladybug isn't in range for whatever reason" that instinct does not seem to lead to a particularly useful effect anymore. Having their instinct be to hide and, if possible, compel other insects to feed them would probably be better for ensuring that her network survives as well as possible until she's back.

    Otherwise, once she's built up the kinds of large swarms that she likes, her going away somewhere (friendly teleporter, perhaps?) would lead to her insects all spreading out and probably covering a huge swath of the countryside... while moving even more every single time any of the booster bugs dies and the network shudders. And every single time they move they burn through resources (and probably lifespan) and expose themselves to even more danger trying to get to a new location. She'd probably lose a huge fraction of her swarm every time she left the radius and have the rest largely exhausted and out of position by the time she was back.
     
  27. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She'd rather not have them swarming over the countryside when she's not around anyway. these are effectively a new species. Introducing a new species without checking to see how they affect the environment = bad.
     
  28. Navrin

    Navrin Experienced.

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    Indeed. Though as long as they have no mating instinct, not much of a problem, really. ... she did make sure not to give them a mating instinct, right? Anyway, that's yet another reason to have future booster bug generations not include a spreading instinct.
     
  29. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Three: Winding Down
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One More Trigger

    Part Twenty-Three: Winding Down


    Emily

    Director Piggot moved the mouse and clicked the 'Accept' button, allowing the last picture to bloom into existence on her monitor. Four of them, all looking back at her, via the webcam perched atop her monitor like a malevolent one-eyed vulture. She carefully avoided looking at it, preferring instead to observe the faces of her fellow Directors.

    Okay, Emily, you got us into this meeting. What's the problem?”

    That was West; his face stared back at her from his quarter of the screen. A tough man, heavy set, with close cropped greying hair. Regional Director of the DC contingent under Costa-Brown, he had a tough act to follow; the rumour was that the Chief Director never forgot a name, a face or a detail. Figures that he's the one to start pushing.

    “One of my problems,” she enunciated carefully, “is the Samaritans.”

    The Samaritans?” That was Hearthrow, over in Chicago. “I'm not familiar with them.”

    New team in Brockton Bay,” offered Armstrong, in Boston. “From what I hear, they've been making waves.”

    Weren't they called Team Samaritan?” interjected Wilkins, from the New York office. “Pretty sure that's what I heard.”

    “I've been advised by our team liaison that they prefer to be called 'the Samaritans',” Piggot told them. “But I didn't call you up to debate the name. I'm concerned about the waves they are making.”

    Wait, you gave them a team liaison?” Armstrong looked surprised. “They're that effective?”

    “They're that worrying,” Emily corrected him.

    West cleared his throat. “Is this something we should be concerned about?” By which he meant 'should I get the Chief Director in on this?'

    “I don't know,” Emily told him. “That's what I called this meeting to discuss.”

    So fill us in,” invited Hearthrow. “I do remember hearing about them now, but details escape me.”

    Bunch of teenagers, right?” asked Armstrong. “Started with three girls?”

    “Originally, yes,” agreed Piggot. “But now they have a fourth member, as well as two liaisons. Plus another one who's already helped them out a couple of times.”

    Wilkins held up a hand. “Whoa, hang on, back it up a little. A fourth member? Two liaisons? Names and details would be handy.”

    Emily sighed. They should have gotten this material already. “Okay, they stopped a bank robbery and captured one of the members of the gang, but instead of handing her over to the authorities, they instead inducted her into the group -”

    Four voices stopped her, all shouting at once. She badly wanted to close her eyes and rub her forehead, but she restrained herself. This is going about as well as I expected.

    <><>​

    Riley

    Bonesaw's eyes flicked open, then immediately shut again.

    She kept her mind clear for the moment, assessing her surroundings.

    Face down, lying on concrete, hands secured behind back. Ankles fastened together. Not rope, not twine, not handcuffs … plastic zip-ties. Doable.

    Carefully, she rolled her head very slightly to one side, slitted an eye open. Blue sky, but not in direct sunlight. Outside but under cover.

    Question one: am I the only prisoner? Question two: who captured me? Question three: where am I?


    Deliberately, now, she allowed memory to cascade, from her last five minutes of consciousness.

    Pulling into the school parking lot in the RV.

    If she rolled her eye a little and moved her head just a little more, she could see the rough asphalt of the parking lot. And that would be the back end of the RV. Right. I'm there. Outside the school. Top of the steps. Under cover, still air around me. I can work with that.

    Okay, so what happened after that?

    Walking into the school, hand in hand with Mr Jack. Looking around to see what we could see. Leaving the spider-bots to guard the RV.

    Tiny sting in side of neck. Reaching up to rub it. Realising that something was wrong, too late.

    Everything going dark.

    Mr Jack.

    What happened to Mr Jack?


    <><>​

    Emily

    You set them up to go after Coil?” West's tone was disbelieving. “As bait? With a Ward along?”

    Emily's patience was fraying. “Have you seen the footage of the Weymouth incident? Those three girls, with no prior field experience, took down a gang of criminal capes with no casualties among either themselves or the bystanders. And then, when the bank they were in got robbed, they took control of the situation, got the bystanders out of the way, engaged the Undersiders, and beat them. Decisively. That's one of the reasons I had Vista assigned to them as a liaison. They're good at what they do.”

    But now you're wondering if they're too good.” That was Wilkins. “Which, I have to say, is a valid concern. Given their almost prescient capability against the Nine.”

    Wait, wait,” protested Hearthrow. “You're unhappy because they actually succeeded, and took the Nine out of the picture?”

    It wasn't just them,” Armstrong pointed out. “New Wave and the Undersiders participated as well, if my information is correct.”

    “Yes,” Piggot replied. “Exactly. They coordinated this. The Undersiders are the gang that Tattletale used to belong to; she called them in on this.”

    Which was a good thing, right?” asked Hearthrow. “Surely it saved lives.”

    “Yes,” sighed Emily. “But it leaves us in debt to them. The PRT and Protectorate were blind, crippled, hardly able to react. The Samaritans stepped up and dealt with the problem. A bunch of teenagers dealt with the problem before it even had a chance to become a problem.”

    The problem being that the Slaughterhouse Nine were an S-class threat,” West replied slowly. “Now that the Samaritans have been shown eminently capable of taking them down, how much capability are they still hiding, and should they be considered such a threat, in and of themselves?”

    Before we really get into that,” Wilkins decided, “maybe we should look into the methods they used to take down the Nine. How did they even do it? Jack Slash is one slippery customer.”

    Emily nodded. “Jack Slash, Bonesaw, and Burnscar were all taken down with an exotic venom delivered by bug sting,” she reported. “Mannequin, at the same time, had all his moving parts seized up when glue was injected into the sockets of his carapace limbs. The Siberian was also taken down; I don't yet have the exact details on how that happened.” She paused, allowing comment, but no-one seemed to have anything to say. “Hatchet Face was electrocuted by Sparx. He did not survive. Shatterbird was engaged and killed by four members of New Wave; Glory Girl, Lady Photon, Laserdream and Shielder. And Crawler was engaged by the Undersiders and subdued by Panacea. Who is currently the New Wave liaison with the Samaritans.”

    Armstrong looked intrigued. “Tell us more about these bugs. I'm presuming the bug girl – Ladybug – was controlling them. Where did she get them from? Is she able to shape them to her needs?”

    “No, as it happens,” Piggot told them. “This is to be kept strictly between us, by request. It turns out that Panacea is capable of more than just healing. According to Vista's report, she's able to take insects and modify them so totally that they're effectively an entirely new species.”

    And what about larger creatures, such as humans?” Wilkins looked unhappy. “And why did she keep it a secret for so long?”

    “Personal choice, apparently.” Piggot frowned slightly. “I wasn't any happier to hear about it than you are. As for larger creatures, she's able to heal injuries and cure diseases in humans. There's no indication that she's able to do anything more than repair the results of old injuries and correct genetic deformities. It might be actually related to the size and complexity of the human brain; she's unable to affect that in any way.”

    So she says,” growled West; his tone was distinctly dubious. “If she'll lie about one thing, she'll lie about another.”

    “If you'll recall,” Emily snapped, her temper getting the better of her, “Panacea has put herself out there and shown up to the aftermath of every Endbringer battle since she gained her powers. She has already healed countless people of every conceivable injury, save those of the brain, and any disease you can care to name. I believe that she's earned a certain amount of leeway.”

    Fine,” conceded West. “What's this exotic venom? And how did Mannequin get glued up? I doubt he would have allowed people to get next to him.”

    “Believe it or not,” Emily told him, “it's called 'poison arrow frog' venom … “

    <><>​

    Riley

    Bonesaw could see her captors now; two teenage girls, in costume. One had long, flowing red hair that moved by itself, and the other was a brunette with a costume made of layers of a diaphanous material. Sparx and Aerodyne. Poop. We've been captured by the Samaritans.

    It must have been Ladybug who got me. A bug of some sort, loaded with … hm. Not curare, or I'd be paralysed.
    In seconds, her mind went through dozens, hundreds of poisons, cataloguing her lingering symptoms, comparing. Huh. Batrachotoxin. Tricky. Loaded into insects somehow – ah, of course. Panacea. She joined as a liaison. She modified the bugs. Probably modified other bugs to do other things. Wow. I am so jealous. They get to do all the fun things.

    Sternly, she brought that line of thought to an end. The girls were looking the other way momentarily, so she rolled her head to the right, risked a glance, then rolled it back. The one glance was all she needed. Mr Jack. Unconscious or faking it, tied up.

    No, if he was conscious, he'd be talking. Trying to talk his way out of this, to get the upper hand. He's real good at that.
    She'd seen it many times before.

    She bit her lip. I really should have given him the treatment that let him neutralise toxins like I do. I'll do it, as soon as we're out of here. The bite signalled the catalysts buried deep in her lungs to start converting nitrogen and carbon dioxide to nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide; in effect, she was exhaling laughing gas. She, of course, was immune to it. Mr Jack would ignore the effects; he found everything to be a giant joke anyway.

    Not much air movement. The gas will linger. If they breathe it for awhile, it'll put them off their game, lower their guard. Give Mr Jack time to come around. In the meantime, I can work on these zip-ties. If I'm lucky, I can nail one or both of them, wake Mr Jack up myself.

    It was a plan. She flexed the fingers of her left hand; acid started seeping out from under the nails. Bending her wrist farther than it really should be able to go – she'd spent an idle afternoon redesigning it to do just this – she started brushing the acid on to the plastic ties.

    Of course, she didn't want them paying too much attention to her. Her spider-bots were all down, most major systems fried, but she could make them wriggle just a bit. A distraction at the right time is all I need.

    <><>​

    Emma

    Hatchet Face lay a little apart from the live captives; Emma had gotten a tablecloth from the RV to cover his face. She didn't like to look at him, at the twisted expression that his violent death had bequeathed him. That she had done to him.

    The fact that she hadn't had much of a choice, that he had literally been just seconds away from hacking them both to pieces, wasn't much of a comfort. She suspected that she would have nightmares about this day.

    Something caught her eye, distracting her. "Did you see that?"

    Madison glanced back at her. "See what?"

    "Spider-bots just moved. Go check it out."

    Madison didn't move from where she was sitting on the steps, leaning against the rail. "Don't feel like it. You do it."

    The corpses of the spider-bots lay in a tangled heap; when they had opened up the RV, the 'bots had come leaping at them, but Emma had practised for just such an occasion, and apparently the 'bots were quite vulnerable to electricity. Still, they were creepy as all fuck. Still are. She was sure that one of them had just shifted.

    "No, you do it," Emma told her. "Team leader, remember."

    "Don't care," Madison told her lazily.

    Emma eyed the pile of 'bots again. Maybe I imagined it. Eh, who cares.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “Wow, Taylor, you missed everything!”

    Taylor blinked and looked around as she descended the stairs once more. With the exodus of Sophia's cronies – following Sophia's own exit, somewhat beaten and battered – from Winslow, while the rest of the student body hadn't exactly clustered around her, some had tentatively extended offers of friendship. Offers which, due to her improved self-esteem – being a well-known superhero was great for that – she had accepted. Now, she wouldn't say she was one of the popular kids, but she wasn't so unpopular either. Emma was one of the more popular girls, and her known friendship with Taylor hadn't hurt matters either.

    “Oh, hey, Charlotte,” she greeted the dark-haired girl. Charlotte was also one of the few, apart from Emma, who had been willing to speak to her – albeit rarely – before Sophia's expulsion, so Taylor held her in a certain level of regard. “What'd I miss?” She looked around at the excited, jostling crowds where the halls should have been empty. “What's happening?”

    “Oh, nothing much,” Charlotte told her airily. “Except, you know, we got attacked by the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

    Taylor shook her head. “Nope. No way. You're not getting me with that one.”

    “No, seriously, we did.” Charlotte's voice was earnest.

    Taylor shook her head again, putting on an amused look. “I'm calling bullshit. That shit does not happen while I'm in the bathroom.”

    Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Taylor. The world does not revolve around you.”

    “Granted,” agreed Taylor, “but I am going to continue to call bullshit on the Slaughterhouse Nine. What's really happening?”

    Greg Veder bounced up to them in his typical bumbling fashion. “Hey, Taylor!” he greeted her. “How awesome was that? I saw the whole thing!”

    Which, Taylor noted, was bullshit. Greg hadn't been anywhere near the action. Which was lucky for him, for reasons of not being killed in one of several gruesome ways.

    “Saw what whole thing?” She leaned in close to Greg. “And if you say 'Slaughterhouse Nine', I am going to smack you.”

    “But it's true!” he protested. “They were here! Tell her, Charlotte!”

    “Oh, for god's sake,” protested Taylor, enjoying herself immensely, “if the Nine really were here, how come the school's still standing? How come we're all still alive? How come we still have windows? I mean, there isn't even any damage.”

    “Fine; you want damage, I'll show you damage,” Charlotte told her. “Come on.” Brooking no resistance, she captured Taylor's hand and towed her down the corridor and around the corner. There, surrounded by gaping students, a chunk of the next corner had been removed, as if something unstoppable had simply smashed on through instead of going all the way around.

    Taylor knew who had done this – Siberian, of course – but she goggled all the same. “Holy shit,” she gasped. “What did that?”

    “Crawler,” Greg stated authoritatively.

    Charlotte shook her head. “The Siberian.”

    “Fuck.” Taylor shook her head. “You weren't kidding. Who stopped them? Where did they go?”

    “It was Team Samaritan who stopped them,” Charlotte supplied. “Sparx and Aerodyne, I think. I saw them carrying Mannequin and Hatchet Face outside. They're waiting for the PRT.”

    Which were inbound, Taylor knew. Helicopters for fast response, trucks and armoured vehicles for heavier firepower. Which, hopefully, would not be required for this particular encounter with the Nine.

    She frowned. “Wait. You said the Siberian made that hole, but you didn't see her being carried out?” Don't show that I know more than I should.

    Charlotte shrugged. “They probably made a trip while I was still hiding.”

    “No, no, see, the Siberian's a teleporter,” Greg told them self-importantly. “I read it on the PHO boards. When she saw the way it was going, she probably just left.”

    Taylor and Charlotte stared at him. Charlotte managed to speak first. “Seriously? Have you joined the Merchants?” In Winslow, this was equivalent to asking What the hell are you smoking? “That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard.”

    “Yeah,” agreed Taylor. “The Siberian doesn't leave. She kills everyone first, who hasn't already run away. No-one's ever managed to beat her. She even killed Hero.” She looked at Charlotte. “So how did the Samaritans manage to beat her?” She paused. “I mean, they're cool, and I so want to get Aerodyne's autograph, but … how the fuck?”

    Team Samaritan,” Charlotte corrected her. “And they beat the Siberian by being fucking awesome. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.”

    “Maybe they signed her up on the team,” offered Greg. When they turned to him, both beginning to speak at the same time, he rushed on. “Hey, there's precedent. Everyone on the PHO boards knows that they've already signed up Tattletale after beating the Undersiders at that bank robbery, and then taking down Coil.”

    Charlotte looked blank. “Who's Tattletale?”

    Taylor shrugged. “Search me. Sounds like someone Greg made up off the top of his head.”

    Greg was beginning to look frustrated. “She's real, dammit. Look on the PHO boards. She's posting as All Seeing Eye. This was just about the time that Vista was made a liaison to the team.”

    “Wow, Greg,” Charlotte commented, “you sure know a lot about the business of Team Samaritan. Are you sure you're not a member?”

    Taylor shook her head. “Can't be. Last I heard, they were all girls. Unless there's something you're not telling us, Greg?”

    Greg's cheeks were flaming now; Charlotte raised an eyebrow. “You know, Ladybug wears that bulky armour. She's pretty tall too. She could easily be Greg. What about it, Greg? Cross-dressing for justice?”

    “I'm right,” insisted Greg. “You'll see. I'm right.” He stalked off; after he was out of earshot, Charlotte and Taylor burst out laughing.

    “That was kind of mean,” Taylor told her friend. “Maybe we shouldn't tease him quite so much.”

    Charlotte sighed. “Yeah. There was what happened to you. Okay, I'll go easy on him. But geez, he makes it easy.”

    “That's what Sophia thought about me,” Taylor pointed out in a quiet voice.

    Charlotte looked a little taken aback. “Oh. Right. Point taken. I'll go apologise for the both of us then.”

    Taylor smiled. “Thanks. I'll catch up with you later.”

    She watched as Charlotte hurried off, and wandered in the opposite direction. At that moment, the asthmatic PA system crackled to life.

    All students … this is Principal Blackwell speaking … please return to your classrooms … I have been assured that the danger is over … please return to your classrooms … “

    Taylor snorted. Yeah, that's gonna happen. When something like this happened, kids were going to rubberneck. She didn't see any of the afternoon classes getting by with anything near full attendance. Especially when some of the kids called their parents about the supervillain attack.

    Finding a quiet corner, she pulled out her phone and dialled Emma's number.

    <><>​

    Emma

    Just as Emma was considering sitting down as well, her phone rang. She hooked it out, noting the number, and answered with a whimsical grin on her face.

    “You've reached the Samaritans. This is Sparx speaking. Who's calling, please?”

    There was a rude noise in Emma's ear. “You know who this is.”

    Emma chuckled. “Yeah, I know. But it was funny.”

    Hah. Funny is some of the rumours that are circulating about what just happened. I've managed to put on a pretty good bewildered-Taylor act, so no-one connects me with anything.”

    Emma's hair checked up on Jack Slash's bindings, as she checked his pulse with her fingertips. It was strong, and even if he was awake again – not that she thought he was – he hadn't managed to compromise the zip-ties. “You put on that act pretty good even with us.”

    Oh, ha ha. Meany.”

    Emma chuckled. “You just can't take a joke.”

    There was a pause. “Can you put the phone on speaker, get Aerodyne over to you?”

    “Sure thing, sister from another mister.” Emma giggled; she thought that was hilarious. “Hey, Aerodyne. The Lady of the Bugs wants to conference.”

    Madison climbed to her feet and stepped over. “Whassup, o mistress of bugs great and small?”

    “Good one, A-dyne,” Emma told her, and they high-fived.

    Aerodyne, I need you to clear the air.”

    “Why, did you fart?” Both girls thought that was hilarious.

    You're making inappropriate jokes. Not taking things seriously enough. I think you might've been drugged.”

    “Wow,” Emma observed. “We've been drugged? Wouldn't that be a gas?” She started laughing almost uncontrollably.

    Aerodyne. Do it now now now.” Taylor's voice was sharp, sharp enough to get Madison's attention. The 'now now now' command was one they'd practised responding to immediately.

    Emma could feel Aerodyne's power as kicked in; the brushing of air all around her, flickering against her widespread tendrils. A sharp breeze sprang up, kicking up dust and bringing in cool air from elsewhere. She took a breath of the clean air, and another, flushing her lungs with it. The feeling of carelessness, of almost giddy happiness, began to ease away, leaving her cool and clear-headed. And realising just what had happened. “Bonesaw.” She's awake, and she just pulled something. Figures that she'd have herself fixed up to recover faster from toxins.

    Her tendrils checked the child's bindings, and to her shock, she found the zip-ties almost corroded away. The tendrils themselves now encircled the small wrists, settling into place. She could feel fingernails scraping against the faux hairs, depositing something on them.

    “Won't work,” she informed the kid. “My hair stood up against Lung's fire. Acid, or whatever you're using … nope. And I'd advise you to stop releasing whatever gas you're using. We've got it neutralised.”

    The thin shoulders slumped slightly. “Poop.”

    Emma's lips twitched in real amusement, this time. “'Poop'? Really?”

    Bonesaw wriggled around; the zip-ties parted, but the tendrils tightened slightly. She turned her head toward Emma; blue-eyed, pretty, hair framed by mussed blonde ringlets, she looked adorable. “I watch my language. It's something I've got to do.” She wriggled around a bit farther.

    “Sparx, watch out!”

    Madison's warning came just in time. Bonesaw's right index finger pointed; now that she could see, she could aim. Emma's hair swept across, making a screen. The fingernail hinged back; something shot from the fingertip, impacted the screen. Reflexively, Emma sent a charge through the tendrils holding Bonesaw's wrists; not enough to kill or even stun, just enough to sting. Bonesaw hunched, grunting, then relaxed again when the current let up. “Gosh darn it to heck. That hurt.

    “Okay, that's it.” Emma sent her tendrils out, wrapping the murderous little munchkin up from head to toe; she was visible from the eyes upward, but that was about it. “From now on, we treat her like anything she could possible attack us with, she will.”

    What's going on?”

    With a jolt of surprise, Emma realised that she was still holding the phone, with Taylor on the other end. “Bonesaw's a lot sneakier than I expected. She's built crap into her own body. Some sort of gas designed to make us let down our guard gradually, acid under the fingernails, and a dart-shooter in the fingertip. At least.”

    Christ. Are you all right?”

    “So far. Aerodyne's refreshing my air as we speak. I've got her wrapped up like a very cute mummy.”

    Want me to dose her again?”

    Emma considered that. “No, hold off. It's probably lost all effectiveness on her, and she might just fake it to put us off guard.”

    Yeah, you're probably right.”

    She took the phone off of speaker, held it to her ear. “How's the other guy?”

    Still out. I've got the space surrounding him filled with bugs. Pretty sure he's unconscious, and if he forms the Siberian anywhere near himself, I'll zap him again.”

    “Good.” Emma tilted her head. “I think I hear the sirens now. PRT's almost here.”

    Excellent. I'm gonna go be a good little student in class now.”

    “You do that. We'll keep a eye on things here.” She put the phone away and glanced at Madison. “Aerodyne, how's Mannequin doing?”

    “I'm getting subsonic vibrations,” Madison reported. “Like he's running servos to try to break the glue.”

    “Nothing's shaking free?”

    Madison shook her head. “Not so far.”

    “Good. Keep an eye on him. And me too, just in case Bonesaw tries something else that gets through to me.” She thought about telling Mannequin just how strong the glue holding his limbs in place really was – in the region of five tons per square inch – but she thought better of it. He who gloats, gives away valuable information.

    Madison nodded. “Will do.”

    “Mffmmwffm.”

    The noise had come from Bonesaw. It didn't sound like she was suffocating, so Emma ignored it.

    “Fffmwfmffm.”

    She's going to keep doing this, I know it.

    “Aerodyne, I'm going to talk to Bonesaw. Watch me. Don't let me breathe her air.”

    “Watching.”

    She reduced the tangle of 'hair' over Bonesaw's mouth to a minimum, while making sure the kid's face was not aimed directly at her. I wouldn't put it past her to have something to spit. “Yes? You had something to say?”

    “You don't have to hand me over to the PRT.”

    Emma blinked. That was as direct as it came. “Actually, yes, we do.”

    “No, you really don't. I can help you.”

    “Like you just tried to help me with a poisoned dart just now? And did you really build dart launchers into your fingertips?”

    A sigh. “Yeah, I did. You don't blame me for trying, right?”

    “Nope. Just like you don't blame me for not believing a word you're saying.”

    “But I can help you. I'm an awesome doctor. In fact, I'm the awesome doctor.”

    Emma sighed. She was feeling a little tired, possibly the after-effects of the gas she'd inadvertently inhaled. “You also spend your time hurting, maiming and killing innocent people. That's more or less exactly what we don't do.”

    “I don't have to do that. It's just what Mr Jack likes.”

    The voice was so earnest, so matter-of-fact, that Emma was almost convinced, despite herself. She shook her head. “Yeah, no. You've been doing what 'Mr Jack' likes for six years. I'm guessing that even if you didn't like it from the start, you've certainly gotten a taste for it now.”

    Bonesaw shook her head. “I'm not like that, really. I want to meet you guys. I want to meet Panacea. That would be so awesome. I -”

    “You can stop talking now.” Emma built up the tendril-gag over her face and stepped away a little, extending the 'hair' as she did so. “Christ,” she muttered.

    Aerodyne stepped closer. “What?”

    “She's so damn convincing. Just a kid. Gotta be younger than Vista. That innocent act … if I didn't know what she's been doing for years, if I hadn't read the file, I'd be tempted to give her a second chance.”

    Aerodyne's hand squeezed her shoulder. “They're not all hulking thugs, you know. Sometimes it's harder to tell who the bad guys are, just from looking.”

    Emma grimaced. “Yeah, I know. But I think she just wants to meet Amy.”

    Aerodyne shuddered. “Bonesaw, getting a hold over Panacea? No, fuck that.”

    The sirens were louder, and there was a helicopter overhead. It began to descend toward the playing field at the side of Winslow. Emma turned to Madison. “You go talk to them; I'll keep an eye on things here.”

    Madison nodded. “Just don't breathe the air.”

    “Yeah, no crap,” Emma agreed. “I believe that I'll be standing upwind.”

    They high-fived one another before Aerodyne went off to speak to the PRT; Sparx continued to watch the captured criminals.

    I can't wait to get them off my hands.

    <><>​

    Emily

    “ … well,” concluded Wilkins. “I can kind of see why you're less than thrilled. Just the Ladybug/Panacea interaction is enough to make me twitchy. With Tattletale in the mix, as well as whoever's training these kids to professional levels, the Samaritans are definitely more than your average starting super-team.”

    In addition,” West put in, “they've forged ties to New Wave, plus the Wards, and they've got connections to at least one criminal gang.” He paused. “Right now, if you set out to take them down, who do you think would stand with them, who'd be on your side, and who'd win?”

    Emily paused to think about that. “If Vista gave us all the information she knows about them, and we managed to pull off a surprise strike, I think we could take them. If they knew we were coming, and if New Wave and the Undersiders stood alongside them … I'm less sure.”

    Wait a minute,” protested Armstrong. “Are we honestly considering pre-emptive strikes against a bunch of teenage girls who've done nothing wrong, just because they're kicking ass smarter and better than we are? Is this us being careful or being jealous?”

    That jarred Emily just a little. “I … no, we're not considering a strike. In any case, even if the Undersiders managed to get too much influence over them, Panacea would withdraw, and New Wave would stand on our side.” I hope.

    Well, you've definitely alerted us to the potential problem,” Wilkins noted. “Send any additional material you've got through as you get it. I'll be interested to read it. If there's nothing more … ?”

    “Wait,” Emily told them, even as they were preparing to shut down the links. “There is the other problem that I wanted to bring up.”

    West made an impatient gesture. “Well, what is it?”

    “When Coil was taken down,” Piggot told him, “they found a Case 53 in the base, under lock and key. Quite monstrous. Wilkins, Armstrong, I believe that it might have visited Boston and New York at one time or another, maybe recently. Looks like a teenage girl with a very bulky inhuman lower body. Eats people.”

    All four Directors were staring at her now. “It's … there?” demanded Wilkins. “In Brockton Bay?”

    Emily nodded. “And I'd like your advice on how to properly deal with it.”

    <><>​

    Victoria

    "So where – ungh – is Crawler being shipped off to? And why can't they just cement these chunks of street back into place?"

    Glory Girl heaved one of the aforementioned 'chunks of street' – large enough that it would otherwise have required the attentions of a forklift – on to the back of a flatbed truck, then stood back and dusted her hands off as Browbeat assisted Manpower with another one. The teen Ward was ludicrously over-muscled, almost as wide as he was tall, but Vicky knew that his personal skin-level TK field was doing most of the work.

    "Crawler's destination is classified," Armsmaster informed her. "It's best that as few people as possible know about it."

    "Probably going to dump him down a really deep hole somewhere," Manpower offered as all three of the heavy lifters set themselves up around a bigger than normal chunk. "Fill it in, and concrete it over."

    "Filling it in would be a mistake," Browbeat put in seriously. "If the sides of the hole are steep enough, he won't be able to get enough traction to climb out. But he's strong enough to dig his way up through rubble."

    "Wherever they take him, they've got about eight hours before he starts to wake up," Amy put in from where she was sitting on the passenger seat of the truck, legs dangling out of the door. She sipped at the hot cup of tea in her hands. "Eighteen before he's fully aware again."

    Lisa, leaning against the truck cab beside her, smiled. "Oh, I'm pretty sure they've got a place in mind. Right, Armsy?"

    Armsmaster cleared his throat. "Tattletale, I'm aware of your significant contributions toward the public good since you joined the Samaritans. I'm also aware that it was your old team, at your instigation, who got Crawler out of the PRT building, and held him long enough that Panacea could subdue him. But there are matters that you are not cleared to know, and the location that Crawler is being taken to is one of them. So kindly cease hinting and probing into the matter."

    Lisa wrinkled her nose at him. “Sorry, wrong cape name. I'm going with 'Athena' for now. Good guy, see?” She gestured at the blue jeans and Alexandria T-shirt she wore, along with the black domino mask.

    “We'll see,” he grunted.

    Behind her mask, Lisa rolled her eyes, then leaned over to murmur something in Amy's ear. The biokinetic snorted in amusement, then hid her smile behind the cup of tea, though her eyes still sparkled with humour. Armsmaster gave them both a suspicious glance, then quite obviously chose to ignore them.

    "One ... two ... three ... Heave," grunted Manpower, drawing Vicky's attention back to the task at hand. She hovered over the hole as she lifted; the other two were standing on solid ground. The chunk of rubble rose off of the ground anyway, and they moved it over toward the truck. The small crowd of onlookers took photos, and she grinned despite the strain. This has got to be the best part of being a superhero. Using powers and looking awesome.

    The truck springs creaked and sagged as the new chunk of concrete joined the others, then Manpower pointed down into the hole. "In case you're still wondering, Vicky, that's why we can't just concrete everything back into place."

    Vicky hovered over the hole and looked down. There was still a reasonable amount of rubble to move, but it was all small stuff, nothing she couldn't handle by herself. Amy slid off of the truck seat and came over, with Lisa – Athena – strolling casually behind.

    It took Vicky a few moments to figure what he was pointing at, but when she saw it, it was obvious. "Electrical cables and ... what are those?" The cables were easy to recognise, sticking out of the broken surface of the concrete, but the other, like a fine bundle of silvery hairs ...

    "Optical fibres," Lisa informed her, an instant before Manpower stated exactly the same thing. "Looks like they're gonna have to move the bus stop until all this gets fixed."

    Manpower – Uncle Neil – placed both hands into the small of his back and leaned backward, eliciting a cracking sound. "Well, now that we've moved the big stuff, we can let the workmen in to handle that sort of thing." He looked around, at the activity that was already surrounding the damaged frontage of the PRT building. "You did good, kids. All of you. This could've been a lot worse."

    "It was worse, on the Protectorate base," Armsmaster reminded him. "We lost people, and we have wounded." He paused, letting the silence stretch out.

    Vicky found her eyes wandering to Amy. Normally, her sister would have been stepping forward by now ...

    "Oh!" Lisa's voice evinced surprise, although her eyes were bright and her mouth was quirking with far too much amusement for it to be genuine, "Are you trying to hint to Amy that it's time for her to go be everyone's Panacea again?"

    Armsmaster was temporarily lost for words. "I, ah ... "

    Lisa slid an arm around Amy's shoulders. Mischief danced in her eyes. "Amy and I have been talking. It's amazing how much we've had to talk about. And how long it took me to convince her that she really doesn't need to be at your beck and call, every moment of every day."

    "But people are hurt," objected Armsmaster.

    Amy cleared her throat. "Is there anyone who'll die if I don't help them? Anyone the doctors just can't help?"

    Reluctantly, the armoured hero shook his head. "No, but some of them are likely to lose their eyesight."

    "Then I'll look at them later," Amy told him. "When I feel more like it. Just ... not right now."

    Lisa's smile became ever so slightly more fox-like, and Vicky saw her squeeze Amy's shoulders.

    "I ... " Armsmaster stopped, then began again. "I'll let the Director know."

    Manpower was looking at Amy, an odd expression on his face. She stared back. "What?"

    "Uh ... nothing."

    Nothing, hell, thought Vicky. She was about to say something, but Manpower intervened. "Can I get a lift home, Vicky?"

    Vicky held Amy's eyes for a long moment, then looked away. "Sure thing." She gestured at her torn and bloodstained costume. "I need to get home and change anyway. See you later, Ames."

    Amy smiled and raised her hand in a little wave. "See you around, sis."

    Rising into the air, Vicky grasped her uncle's arms, and lifted him upward. As they took to the sky, the cityscape dropping away, she looked down at him.

    “I'm not sure if I like the way Amy's acting around Tattletale,” she commented. “She's a bad influence.”

    “I'm not so sure,” he replied thoughtfully. “And it's Athena now, apparently. I think it's good that Amy's asserting herself.”

    “Asserting herself, or saying that she's not going to go and heal someone?” Vicky let the concern she was feeling show in her voice. “Because that sets a bit of a precedent.”

    “She said she wasn't going to go and heal them right now,” Neil Pelham corrected her gently. “And yes, it does set a precedent. Maybe even a good one. It's important that she not be taken for granted. And this is the happiest, most relaxed, I've seen her in a long while.”

    Vicky went to answer, then rethought what she had been going to say. Amy had looked happy. She had smiled, laughed at whatever joke Lisa had made. There was a subtle tension that had been a part of her for so long that it was only notable by its absence. It hadn't gone away, not altogether, but it was somewhat diminished, leaving behind a subtly different person.

    Maybe I've been too close to her all this time, Vicky considered. Now that she's hanging with a different crowd, I might finally get to see the person behind the facade.

    It was something to think about.


    End of Part Twenty-Three

    Part Twenty-Four
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2015
  30. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Good chapter. Riley's point of view is cute-creepy - I wonder if she'll survive, or get killed. Nice power play there, in the PRT, and with Amy.
     
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