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One More Trigger (Worm AU)

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

  1. Xilph

    Xilph Well worn.

    Dec 27, 2014
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    Random thought, wasn't there a bounty on the S9? or would it be invalid due to them already having been caught? and wouldn't this just paint a huge target on their back as Dragon should recognise the ships so people will know that they're responsible for freeing part of the nine?
  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Yeah, let's go and claim the bounty. As the people who shot down three PRT choppers, and stole three Dragon craft.

    Let's do that thing. :p
    Alayne likes this.
  3. jcogginsa

    jcogginsa Versed in the lewd.

    Jul 3, 2014
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    Well, legally they couldn't do shit about it when they claim the bounty. Tis how kill orders work
  4. Xilph

    Xilph Well worn.

    Dec 27, 2014
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    They've attacked the PRT and stolen plenty of Dragon craft, why would that matter to their ability to claim the bounty? I mean they just happened to be nearby when they picked up that some of Dragon's ships were being destroyed and wanted to loot them so they wandered over and lo and behold the S9 where there and alive so they took care of them and also looted the ships while they were there as that's what they do. They had nothing to do with the ships going down.
  5. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Except that they've got form for stealing Dragon craft in the past.
  6. Xilph

    Xilph Well worn.

    Dec 27, 2014
    Likes Received:
    So they've stolen Dragon craft in the past and it matters why? They didn't cause it this time, just bullshit an excuse like they used their already known ability to hack tinkertech to figure out that the S9 were involved and thus didn't go near it and they'd like some compensation from having to clean up their mess and stopping them escaping by hacking in and activating the self destructs. Assuming that they can't just say they weren't going to attack than and simply went into scavenge the leftovers as I'm sure they would've before and I suggested.
  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    "Except that not even Dragon knew which craft was carrying which member of the Nine ... and what were you doing in that general area, anyway?"

    "Does it matter? We killed Jack Slash."

    "Good point. Here's your money."

    "Thanks - hey! What's this?"

    "We're arresting you for all the previous times you stole Dragon craft. Pretty sure Dragon will be able to identify her tech in your suits. Don't worry; we'll put your money in a nice high-yield rollover scheme. It'll have built up a lot of interest once you get out."
  8. Xilph

    Xilph Well worn.

    Dec 27, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Doesn't that basically go against the entire point of the kill order system? It's like the endbringer system, if they arrested villains for helping against the really bad stuff what why would villains ever help? And they were monitoring them because they found out they were transporting the S9 with their super secret anti-tinker stuff that they use against Dragon so are totally a real thing and they want them dead as much as the next person and it certainly surpasses their hate of Dragon, I mean it's the S9! They really wanted to see them dead so consequently they were ready incase something went wrong. Plus they figured if something did go wrong they might get rewards for helping but they don't need to mention that to the PRT do they?
  9. doomlord9

    doomlord9 Experienced.

    Jan 15, 2014
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    This is entirely possible, however it is not the choice Saint made.

    As said before, Saint really doesn't make the best choices under pressure.
    Prince Charon likes this.
  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    It's a totally different thing.

    The Endbringer Truce means that while a recognised Endbringer is up and around, villains can help out without fearing arrest or capture.

    However, attempting to take advantage of an Endbringer truce is something that can get you Birdcaged. "Oh, hai, I was robbing these Dragon transports, and we saw these members of the Nine, so we offed them. Reward plz?"
    Snake/Eater and Alayne like this.
  11. steamrick

    steamrick Matter: protons, electrons, neutrons and morons

    Aug 29, 2014
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    Pretty sure that interfering with a prisoner transport to the execution ground in order to get the bounty yourself is a good way to get your own kill order signed...
    Snake/Eater, Ack and Alayne like this.
  12. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Five: Preparations for War

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    One More Trigger

    Part Twenty-Five: Preparations for War

    Brockton Bay
    Barnes Household
    One Day After the Escape

    “You're certain of this?” Alan Barnes looked at Taylor. “That's what you heard?” He got up from his armchair and paced back and forth across the living room.

    “Absolutely,” Taylor assured him. “Someone forced down the transports carrying the Slaughterhouse Nine, and by the time they got to the site, there was nothing there except empty blocks of containment foam.”

    “Christ,” muttered Danny Hebert. “And given the trouncing you gave them the last time they showed up, what's the chance that they'll come back for more?”

    “This is Jack Slash we're talking about,” Emma pointed out. “He doesn't back down, and he doesn't give up.”

    “She's right,” Lisa offered. “He'll be back. And he'll be looking for blood.”

    “So who's with him?” asked Rod Clements. “Do they know that, at least?”

    “Well, last the Director heard, they were still tracking Crawler,” Taylor stated. “He hadn't met up with the others, as far as they knew. They're also pretty sure that Jack Slash, Bonesaw and Mannequin are on the move together.”

    “No word of Manton? The Siberian could be an insurmountable problem in and of herself,” Alan asked.

    Taylor shook her head. “No. In fact, the transport carrying him veered off before the attack, and not even the Director knows where he's gotten to.”

    “Okay,” muttered Danny. “That's just weird. But that's not our main problem. That one's Jack Slash and his buddies.” He looked at Taylor. “How fast can you have the city covered?”

    “I don't have quite enough bugs yet.” She glanced at Amy. “What are the chances of getting some more in a hurry?”

    “That depends,” Amy told her. “How fast do you need them, and how many?”

    “Whoa, hold on a second there,” Lisa chided the two of them. “We take this slow and easy. Last time wiped her out, and nearly cost people their lives. Including Vicky. Remember?”

    Abashed, Taylor nodded. “Sorry. You're right. It's just that I don't have enough booster bugs to cover the city from all angles. I need more. And we have no idea when the Nine -”

    “Well, actually, the Three -” interjected Madison.

    “Don't joke about it,” her father advised. “They might well recruit on the way. You could find yourselves facing people you never expected to.”

    “Which is why we train as hard as we do,” Emma pointed out. “So we're ready for the unexpected.”

    “And I have a solution for the not-enough-bugs problem,” Lisa declared. “At least until Amy's able to crank out some more. At her own pace, mind you.”

    “Okay, so what's the solution?” asked Taylor.

    “Spread them around the perimeter of the city, of course,” Lisa told her. “And don't forget along the waterfront. He may just come in by boat.”

    “Yeah, I can do that,” Taylor agreed. “I'll start moving them around now.”

    “Aren't we worrying for nothing?” asked Rod Clements. “I mean, last time, we nailed them with toxin bugs and glue bugs. These are the ones who went down easily.”

    Danny and Alan both smacked him across the back of the head. “Hey, ow! What's the big idea?”

    “Seriously, going into a situation with the idea that it might be easy?” Alan shook his head.

    "Yeah," added Danny. “What were you thinking?”

    “Oh. Right.” Rod rubbed the back of his head, his expression rueful. “Sorry.”

    “And it might not be that easy, even if Taylor gets bugs on them again,” Amy pointed out.

    “How do you mean?” asked Missy. “A couple of bites and they're down, right?”

    “Not necessarily so,” Amy advised her, expression worried. “Bonesaw's a medical Tinker. If she figured out what toxin we used, and I'd be totally unsurprised if she did, she could maybe figure out a workaround. Or even make herself and Jack Slash immune.”

    “And once Mannequin figures out what we did to him, he might work out a frictionless surface that not even your wonder glue can stick to, Taylor,” Danny agreed.

    “Crap,” muttered Rod. “You guys used your best shot, so now they know about it.”

    “Which doesn't mean that all is lost,” Lisa pointed out. "So what if they're immune to the best venom you can produce, or the best glue? Hit 'em with the second best venom, or the second best glue. Still plenty good enough, right? And I know enough about poisons to know that an antidote against one won't do jack against another."

    Taylor scratched her nose. "Maybe not the absolute second best," she decided. "Bonesaw's tricky as hell. She's likely to have covered her bases. So we look farther afield."

    "You've got ideas?" asked Emma.

    Taylor grinned. "When do I not?"


    Two Days Later

    "How do you feel, Mr Jack?"

    Jack squinted up at her, then slowly sat up, looking around the dingy motel room. "Not the greatest, poppet. Are you sure your implants are doing the job?"

    "Of course, silly." She pointed at the almost-invisible incision scars. "I improved your kidneys to deal with ingested poisons, and I upgraded your lymph system to take injected toxins out of the picture. I've upgraded my own wake-up system, and I'll set you up with one just as soon as I've finished fine-tuning what I've done with you."

    "So this will make me immune to whatever they hit us with, the last time?"

    "Well, I'm about ninety-eight percent sure that it was batrachotoxin laced with ketamine," she explained. "Pure batrachotoxin -"

    "Poppet, I'm still a little woozy," he interrupted. "What's batrachotoxin when it's at home?"

    "South American poison arrow frog toxin," she explained blithely. "So powerful that if the bugs that stung us were carrying the pure stuff, you'd probably be dead, and I'd be in a coma or dead."

    He scratched his beard. "Well, damn."

    "Language, Mr Jack!" she scolded. "There's a child present."

    "Sorry," he replied at once. "I was just impressed. These people aren't playing around. Not many heroes are willing to go that hard to get us."

    "Which reminds me," she pointed out. "Even if Ladybug has a limited amount of frog arrow bugs, she's still got a zillion and one ordinary bugs that she can sic on to us. Some of those are almost as poisonous as the bugs she did bite us with."

    "But we'll still be immune to the effects of the poison, right?"

    She nodded, but held up a finger. "Right, but only up to a point. After that point, the filters are overwhelmed and we start feeling the effects of the poison. Especially if she hits us with several different types of poison at once. Also, she can use bugs as cover if they're thick enough."

    "Visual cover only, surely," he objected.

    "Well, true, but if you don't know where in that mess of bugs Ladybug is hiding, Mr Jack, it may as well not be just visual."

    "Do you have a solution for this?"

    She smiled angelically. "Of course. We take away her bugs."

    Slowly, he smiled back at her. "I like the way you think, poppet. How do you plan on doing that?"

    “Last time, we sealed the bus and killed all the bugs inside,” she pointed out. “This time … I think we should kill every bug that comes close to us.”

    “That has the problem that she'll be able to pinpoint us by where the bugs are dying,” he objected.

    “Not if we set off pyrethrum bombs across the city.”

    He blinked; she looked smug. “That … could actually work.”

    “Of course it'll work,” she replied briskly.

    He scratched at his beard. “How are we going to get the bombs into the city? She found us with her bugs pretty quickly the last time.”

    “Well, it was either luck, which makes it not a problem … “ she began.

    “Let's not try to rely upon luck, poppet,” he suggested.

    “Okay. If it wasn't luck, then she's able to see through her bugs' eyes or something. Which is weird, because bug eyes can't see much. But if she is, then … hmm.” Slowly, she smiled.

    “Hmm what?” he asked.

    “Mr Jack,” she asked, “how do you feel about wearing a disguise?”

    “Huh. Good question. Normally I wouldn't stoop to such a thing, but they cheated with their bugs, so I may as well bend the rules also.”

    “Oh, goody!” She clapped her hands. “I get to make disguises! Now, real human skin is best … “

    “Before we go too far with this,” he cautioned her, “what about the rest of that nauseatingly heroic bunch of teenage delinquents? Panacea doesn't have ranged powers, but that still leaves Sparx, Aerodyne and Vista. Any one of whom could wreck our plans.”

    “You don't want to fight them?” she asked innocently.

    “No, poppet.” He bared his teeth. “I want to destroy them.”

    Her smile, in return, was angelic. “I think I can help you there.”


    Mannequin rarely thought of himself as Alan Gramme any more. Gramme had been weak, ineffectual. He had let himself become distracted by the problems of the world, and had sought to alleviate them. He'd been thus distracted when the Simurgh killed his wife and two lovely daughters. What had gone on from that point had not been truly Alan Gramme, not any more.

    From being the hero Sphere, builder of self-contained Tinkertech habitats, he had reinvented himself. Now he turned his expertise inward, casting off his humanity. The organs and body parts which he no longer needed were discarded; that which was essential for life, he encased in a pristine shell, safe from the world. Forever self-recycling, it would keep him alive far more efficiently than the clumsy organic form. And nothing could touch him. Nothing could hurt him. Not ever again.

    His mistake was clear to him now; he had tried to save the world, and it had destroyed him. Far from building it up, he should tear it down, along with anyone who tried to make it better. They must learn from their mistake, just as he had. And he was happy to show them.

    Brockton Bay held heroes and villains alike, more of the latter than the former. Most were unremarkable, filling the same old niches, carrying out the same old tropes. Villains committed crimes, heroes caught them. But some heroes in Brockton Bay went beyond that; a new team was on the rise. Young, idealistic, effective. Role models. They were capturing the nation's imagination; a group of teenage girls, unaffiliated with the Protectorate or PRT, photogenic, good at what they did. Worse, they were making a difference. And Mannequin couldn't have that.

    And so he had gone into Brockton Bay with the rest of the Nine. Following the death of Chuckles, they needed a new member. Jack had plans for corrupting a member of Team Samaritan, tearing the hero team apart once and for all, while writing another chapter in the blood-spattered history of the Nine. It was a good plan, not unlike others that the charismatic leader of the villain team had successfully pulled off before, and so Mannequin went with him into Brockton Bay.

    And they had walked directly into a trap. Team Samaritan had been waiting for them, and they had allowed themselves to be taken down like amateurs. Like heroes. Mannequin had not even seen the attack coming; one moment he was walking normally, and the next, his joints had frozen. He had toppled over, unable to attack or defend, utterly helpless. It had been humiliating.

    The fact that the rest of the team had been similarly ambushed afforded him no consolation. All he knew about the situation was that Jack, Burnscar and Bonesaw had gone down at the same time as he had, while Hatchet Face had been killed, presumably by Team Samaritan. Of the others, he had no clue.

    Encased in containment foam, he expected to be going to his death, but to his puzzlement, he had been released from the sticky prison by Bonesaw. He didn't know why they had been dumped in a clearing in the forest, nor if anyone of the Nine other than Jack Slash or Bonesaw was even alive any more, but Jack had a plan, and that took precedence over any useless speculation. He intended to go back to Brockton Bay, and take revenge for the defeat that they had suffered at the hands of a bunch of teenage girls.

    Mannequin was just fine with that. He intended to locate the bug-controlling girl, and destroy her, once and for all. Perhaps he would kill all of her friends in front of her, one at a time. However, in the meantime, he had to plan ahead. Simply charging back into the city invited a repeat of the previous debacle; he had to assume that the successful ambush had been planned, and not a matter of mere chance.

    Bonesaw and Jack were also planning, of course; he could hear them, in the next room. They were both immunised against the toxin which had incapacitated them last time, which was good. It wasn't as if he had anything to worry about on that score; or rather, if anything got through his armour, then insect bites were the very least of his worries.

    If Bonesaw managed to rid the city of its bugs, then he had little to worry about being glued solid again. However, on the off-chance, a more frictionless surface on his joint sockets couldn't hurt. He decided to also improve the insulation on the body, so that if Sparx attempted to harm him with her electricity, it would simply travel across the surface of his mechanical carapace without grounding into the interior. Aerodyne couldn't do much to him, he decided; he was too heavy for wind to affect very much, and his shell was sealed against even vacuum.

    Nor was Panacea a factor, not against him. Their newest member, Athena, was apparently a Thinker; he didn't have a line on her speciality, but he knew how to deal with Thinkers, and he had several blades ready for the purpose. Should Glory Girl threaten to interfere, Panacea herself would make a superb hostage; not only had they served together in New Wave, but by all accounts, Glory Girl was very protective of her sister. She would be easy to manipulate.

    Vista was apparently working with Team Samaritan; she was quite powerful in her own right, and Mannequin didn't have anything that would specifically affect her. However, Jack Slash did; no matter how far away the girl seemed to be, his knife-blade effect would reach her.

    They would go back to Brockton Bay. Team Samaritan would fall. The stain on the reputation of the Slaughterhouse Nine would be expunged.

    He was looking forward to this.


    Brockton Bay
    PRT Building

    “Come in, Vista. ”

    The Wards' liaison to the Samaritans entered Piggot's office, closing the door carefully behind her. “Thank you, ma'am.” She stood foursquare before the desk, chin up, hands clasped behind her back. Emily studied her for a moment; she almost looked taller, more confident.

    “How are things with the Samaritans?” the Director asked.

    “Good, ma'am,” Vista replied. “Very good. I'm learning things. They take their training very seriously.”

    Piggot's eyes narrowed. “Are you saying that the Wards do not?”

    Her tone was sharp, but Vista did not seem to be fazed. “Sure they do, but … the Samaritans train more … intensely. They use handicaps and paintballs.” Reflexively, she rubbed her rump. “Very accurate paintballs. They also work hard on teamwork and communication.”

    “Hm.” Piggot clasped her hands before her on the desk. “Perhaps you should tell me why you asked to see me. Do you wish to come back to the Wards?”

    “Uh, not yet, not unless you're ordering me back, ma'am,” Vista told her. “I'm working well with the Samaritans. We get along. We understand each other.” She took a deep breath. “I just … well, I was wondering what it was that came in the other day, when you were reading out Ladybug for her toxin bugs.”

    Not by any flicker of her expression did Emily Piggot betray her thoughts. “Why do you want to know?”

    “Because I'm the liaison to the Samaritans,” Vista explained at once. “If it was that urgent, then it may be important. If it's important, then the Samaritans might need to know.” She paused. “Do they?”

    Her words were innocent, the explanation plausible. However, Emily had to consider all aspects of the situation. “If it were that important, don't you think that I would have informed you by now?”

    “Not necessarily, ma'am.” Vista's gaze was direct, her voice firm. “It may have slipped your mind.”

    The fact of the matter was that it was something that the Samaritans probably did need to know; the remnant of the Slaughterhouse Nine being freed was no laughing matter. There was a better than fair chance, Emily knew, that they would be coming straight back to Brockton Bay, to revenge themselves upon the Samaritans for their defeat.

    But there was another matter, one that concerned her even more. Why is Vista asking me about the matter, instead of waiting for me to inform her of what she needs to know?

    It was only a suspicion, but it was a strong one, growing by the moment. If Ladybug left that bug of hers behind, and it is capable of listening in on conversations, then the Samaritans know about the escape of the Nine. If they want to be able to openly act on the knowledge, then they need to be able to plausibly claim to have acquired the information legitimately.

    She eyed Vista, still standing there, looking as though butter would not melt in her mouth. Is her sympathy to their cause stronger than her loyalty to the Wards?

    For a moment, she was tempted to tell Vista that her duties as a liaison were indeed over, that she was coming back as a Ward. But that would leave the Samaritans without someone to keep an eye on them. And I want someone keeping an eye on them, even if I'm not totally convinced of that person's loyalty. Besides, if she was being honest, she supposed that Vista might see withholding such information from the Samaritans as being a breach of trust on the part of the PRT.

    Fine. I'll tell her, then as soon as she's gone, I'll have the office thoroughly fumigated and searched. If I then find that damned bug, I'll come down on the Samaritans with both feet. That way, they've got no complaint coming.

    Vista was still waiting patiently; Piggot cleared her throat. “Actually, yes, there was something that I did intend to tell you about.” She lowered her brow, giving the girl a hard stare. “You do not spread this around; it is for the Samaritans only.”

    “Of course, ma'am.” Vista's response was crisp.

    “Very well. According to our information, the transports carrying three members of the Nine were forced down. They are still at large. The three people involved are Jack Slash, Bonesaw and Mannequin.” Crawler, she knew, was heading in a different direction. They don't need to know that.


    Missy deliberately widened her eyes slightly behind her visor. “Oh. Oh wow. And … do you think that they might come back to Brockton Bay, ma'am?”

    Piggot compressed her lips together. “It's a distinct possibility,” she admitted. “And given that the Samaritans took them down last time … “

    “ … they might be looking for a rematch.” Missy nodded. “That sounds about right.”

    “As I said, be careful who you spread that around to,” Piggot reminded her. “The Samaritans need to know, but we don't want a general panic.”

    “Of course, ma'am.”

    Piggot gestured toward the door. “You can go now. That's what that message was about.”

    Missy nodded again. “Thank you, ma'am.” Turning, she headed for the door. She used her left hand to open it and close it behind her, because in her loosely-curled right hand was nestled Taylor's booster bug. As she left, Piggot was picking up the phone.

    The bug sat quiescent in her hand until she got outside, whereupon she released it to fly where it would; pulling out her phone, she dialled a number.

    Hi, Vista,” a cheerful voice answered her. “Was I right?”

    “All the way down the line, Lisa,” Missy replied, equally cheerfully. “And yeah, she told me. So now we can get into gear.”

    Excellent. I'll tell the others. See you when you get back.”

    “See you then.” She ended the call and put the phone away. I'm glad the Director told me. I'd hate to have to quit the Wards over something like this.


    Two Days Later

    It was another small town, closer to Brockton Bay, but Jack could almost swear it was the same damn dingy motel room, right down to the faded wallpaper and the slightly out-of-tune TV set. In the bathroom, his poppet was humming a bright little tune over something. Getting up from the uncomfortable chair – something else that he could swear was the same – he rapped on the door. “How are you doing in there?”

    “Just fine, Mr Jack,” she called back cheerfully. “Don't come in, though.”

    “Oh? Why not?”

    “Because I'm mixing up a batch of prions, and if you inhale them, you'll lose your powers.”

    He blinked. “That's a new one.”

    “Yeah, I thought of it last night. The best way to deal with the Samaritans is to shut them down hard. That way, you can play with them all you like. But can I have a couple for my own?”

    “Of course, poppet,” he agreed at once. “There's enough to go around. I hope you're being careful with your prions.”

    “Oh, very careful,” she agreed. “If I lose my powers, I won't be able to make the antidote.”

    “Perhaps you should have done that first,” he advised, a little annoyed.

    “Oh, no,” she replied. “I need some of the prions to make the antidote. So I needed to make the prions first.”

    He let it go; he had never been able to follow her explanations, especially when she got so technical. But she so enjoyed her work that she was a joy to watch. “Well, have fun.”

    “Oh, I will, thank you!”

    Going back to the uncomfortable chair, he tried to watch some more slightly fuzzy TV shows. I hope we're finished here soon, because I'm about ready to kill someone. Like the whole damn town. And that would draw far too much attention.

    That thought spawned another. The Nine's never been drawn down this far since I took over. Damn you, Team Samaritan. I'm going to enjoy dismantling you.


    Brockton Bay
    Hebert Household

    “Well, I've got coverage of the city at last,” Taylor announced. She got up from her chair and went over to where Amy perched on the arm of the armchair where Lisa was sitting. “Thanks to you and your awesome bugs.” Leaning down, she hugged the girl.

    Amy hugged her back. “That's okay. It's definitely worth it.”

    “It surely is.” Taylor turned to the blonde. “And thanks, Lisa, for keeping me in line.”

    Lisa grinned back at her. “Any time.”

    “What I'm worried about,” Alan Barnes remarked from the sofa, “is the fact that the longer the Nine takes in getting here, the more preparations they're likely to be making. We can only anticipate so much.”

    Lisa leaned back in the armchair. “It's okay,” she announced grandly. “I've got everything under control. They're in disguise, so your bugs won't pick 'em up, but that's okay. I know when and where they're likely to attack, and even how. Kind of, anyway. Also, Burnscar will be with 'em.”

    Danny stared. “How in god's name do you know that? I mean, I know you're good, but I didn't know you were that good.”

    “Well, see, there's good, there's really good, and then there's freaking awesome,” Lisa informed him in lordly tones. “I, of course, am the latter. In spades.”

    “Oh god,” Amy remarked in amused tones, “I think the level of smugness in the room just went off the charts. Tell him, or I will.”

    Lisa stuck her tongue out at the biokinetic. “You're no fun.”

    Amy grinned back at her. “And … ?”

    “Okay, fine.” Lisa rolled her eyes. “Have it your own way. Spoilsport.“


    One Day Later
    A Small Town Outside Brockton Bay
    At the Bus Station

    “Hey, isn't that Mimi?”

    Jack turned to look. Bonesaw was pointing, discreetly, but he wasn't sure who she was indicating at first. And then he saw; the young woman with the scarf over her hair, and the makeup that almost masked her telltale cigarette burns. She was studying the bus schedule intently.

    “Why, poppet, I do believe that you are correct.” Smiling, he stood up. “Wait here just a moment. I'll go and say hello.”

    “Okay.” She moved their suitcases just a little closer, then smiled sunnily up at him. “I can't wait to get to Brockton Bay. Can you?”

    “Not at all,” he agreed. Moving toward where the girl was still studying the schedule, he paused behind her and cleared his throat.

    Turning her head, she jumped slightly. “Oh, sorry. Was I in your way?”

    Once more, he had to marvel at the efficacy of the disguises that Bonesaw had whipped up; as she had stated, human skin was the best disguise, and so she had used just that. His disguise was a living thing that clung to his face, altering his hair colour, apparent bone structure and even the colour of his eyes. According to his poppet, it drew nutrients from his skin while he wore it; as far as he could tell, wearing it for a day was the equivalent to the best facial cleansing he had ever enjoyed.

    So of course, Mimi couldn't recognise him.

    “It's me,” he told her quietly. “Jack. Do you know where any of the others are?”

    “J-Jack?” she stammered. Her eyes searched his face, came up a blank. “I – I'm not sure what you mean. I don't know anyone called Jack.”

    “Of course you do, Mimi,” he replied, keeping his voice low. “It's me.”

    The use of her name jolted her, and her eyes centred on his. “I don't -”

    “Good disguise, isn't it?” he asked. “Much better than that tacky foundation cream you're using to hide your burn scars, yes?” He lingered on the two words, almost running them together.

    She bit her lip. “Jack? Really?”

    “The one and only,” he confirmed. “Now, one more time, and if you keep playing dumb, I'm going to get angry. Do you know where any of the others are?”

    Very slightly, she shook her head. “No, I don't know where they are. I don't even know if they're alive. All I know is that we were at the school, then I was in containment foam, then there was an explosion and fire, and I managed to teleport away to another fire. I've been hitch-hiking for days to get here. I didn't even know where I was, at first. What happened?”

    “It's a long story,” he told her. “Where were you planning to go?”

    “South,” she replied. “Maybe New York, maybe farther. Why, where are you going?”

    We are going to Brockton Bay, Mimi,” he informed her. “The Nine have been wronged, and we're going to correct that, once and for all.”

    She didn't even try to argue; his will had been dominating hers for so long that she simply nodded. “Okay. But how are we going to deal with whoever took us down? Because we didn't even see them coming.”

    His expression may have been a smile; at the very least, he showed a lot of teeth. “Why don't you leave that to me.”


    Brockton Bay Bus Terminal

    It was probably just his imagination, but Jack seemed to be seeing a lot of bugs around. He and Bonesaw trooped off of the bus along with the rest of the passengers. As they waited for the luggage to be unpacked, he felt bugs landing on his face and taking off again; a glance sideways at Bonesaw's transformed features – she now had short straight black hair and Asian features, like himself – showed him that she was not being spared.

    “You think we're under surveillance right now?” he murmured.

    “Probably,” she whispered back. “Don't talk about it in case they can understand.” The bugs, she meant.

    It should have scared him, or made him angry. Instead, it gave him a thrill in the pit of his stomach; here was a worthy opponent. Ladybug was the one he wanted in the Nine, perhaps after Bonesaw remade her face into insectile mandibles, so that her mask no longer needed to mimic them. His poppet wanted Panacea on the team, of course; she had spoken of the healer so familiarly that he would have been excused for thinking that they were old friends.

    But to have the bug controller in the Nine … the atrocities that they could wreak. Whether or not Shatterbird was on the loose, it would be a fine thing for the Nine to announce their presence in a city by way of every bug rising up and attacking every human. Turning entire neighbourhoods into a charnel house.

    He felt positively giddy at the thought.

    Their suitcases returned to them, they moved to the nearest rental vehicle counter. There followed a period of negotiation; he wanted a flatbed pickup, not a car, and not every agency had such vehicles on their books. But finally, he found one that did, and paid for it with the credit card that had belonged to the man whose face he was wearing.

    “Thank you very much, Mr Fujiwara,” the lady behind the counter told him. “If you will just go to wait by the western entrance, the vehicle will be delivered there in a few minutes. And welcome to Brockton Bay.”

    “Thank you,” he replied politely. “I am sure that I will enjoy my stay.”


    Barnes Household

    “So it's tomorrow, at Winslow,” Taylor stated. “And it's going to happen whether we're there or not.”

    “Exactly,” Lisa agreed. She had lost her habitual air of smugness; her face was serious for once. “Just remember, you've got to stick to the plan. Otherwise it's likely to all go wrong.”

    “Yeah, but what if they don't stick to the plan?” asked Emma. “We can plan all we like, but if they're working off of a different playbook, then we're in trouble.”

    “Then we do what we do best,” Madison offered. “We adapt and overcome. Seriously, guys. We can do this.”

    “I'll be coming with,” Amy stated, her face drawn.

    “What?” Taylor turned to her. “No, you're too valuable.”

    “And you're not?” Amy stared her down. “No, there's a chance you'll need me. So I'm going.”

    “Let's hope like hell we don't,” Taylor told her. But she crossed the room and gave the biokinetic a squeeze across the shoulders. “Just take care, okay?”

    “Don't worry. I'll be right there with her,” Lisa assured her. “Nothing's gonna happen to her while I'm around.”

    “Yeah, but who's gonna protect you?” asked Emma jokingly.

    Lisa grinned. “You guys, of course.”

    Taylor cleared her throat. “Okay, we're clear on how to deal with Mannequin if the glue bugs don't work this time?”

    “Fuck, I hope they do,” muttered Madison. “Because I do not like Plan B.”

    “It's better than not having a plan at all,” Taylor pointed out.

    Madison rolled her eyes. “Yeah, but only just.”

    “So yeah, ready to kick ass tomorrow?” Emma looked around at the others.

    “Yeah.” Taylor's voice was firm.

    “Yeah.” Despite her earlier enthusiasm, Madison's was less so.

    “You bet.” Lisa's cocky grin was back.

    “Yeah.” Despite the less-than-sure tone in her voice, Amy was in agreement.

    “Good.” Emma held up her open hand. “All for one. And one for all.”

    One by one, they slapped her hand, then slapped each others'. This occasioned some laughter as some slaps went astray.

    As they bedded down on the mattresses provided, Emma could not help a treacherous thought.

    I just hope it's enough.


    The Next Day

    “Okay … back it up a little more … a bit more … yeah, that's it. Stop there. That's fine.”

    The pickup truck stopped at the right point and the guy set the handbrake before getting out. Jumping down from the warehouse loading dock to meet the newcomer, the shift boss approached him with clipboard in hand.

    “Mr Fujiwara, right?” he asked, checking the clipboard a second time.

    “That's me.” The guy nodded to confirm; the shift boss didn't hear any kind of Asian accent, but that didn't mean anything these days.

    “Okay, got one crate for you. It arrived last night. See you're bright and early for the pick up. Been waiting on this one, have you?” He chuckled at his feeble joke.

    “You might say that.” Fujiwara had a really intense stare; the shift boss shifted his feet without knowing why he felt uneasy. He batted away several bugs that had flown past just a moment ago.

    “Lot of bugs around all of a sudden,” he observed, if only for something to say.

    “Must be that time of year,” Fujiwara commented.

    “Not really, that's the funny thing,” the shift boss noted. “Damn things just blew out of nowhere over the last few days.”

    The beeping of the forklift interrupted the conversation, and they both turned to see it approaching the edge of the loading dock. The kid on the forklift was new, and he'd only worked the dock a few times. He had the bad habit of turning left far more than turning right, and tended to swing wide when he did.

    The shift boss could see that he was approaching from a bad angle, and stepped forward to wave him off; the kid saw him, waved back, then went to reverse and turn at the same time. But he hadn't lowered the forks when he picked the crate up, and when he swung wide, the wheels on the right-hand side rode up on to a pallet that some idiot had left there. With the higher than normal centre of gravity, and the kid's panicked spinning of the wheels, the forklift started to go over. To the shift boss, it was as though he was prescient; he could see the accident coming long before it actually went beyond the point of no return.

    “No, you fucking moron!” he yelled. But it was useless; disaster was inevitable.

    Over it went, the crate sliding off the forks, hitting the edge of the loading dock, bouncing, then landing on the concrete below with a solid, shattering crunch. This, however, was overshadowed by the tremendous crash as the toppling forklift landed on the loading dock.

    “Shit fuck!” The shift boss started forward, eyes on the fallen forklift. He better be okay. Because I'm gonna fucking kill him. It took a moment or so to realise that Fujiwara was moving forward with him. “Stay back, sir!” he told the man urgently. “Keep clear, please.” With luck, whatever was in the crate would be okay; if it wasn't, the company would be paying to replace it. In any case, that wasn't his problem. His problem was the idiot kid who'd just rolled a forklift.

    And then, as he got closer, the crate began to shift. He pulled to a halt as wood moved and cracked apart, and something white began to unfold from within. “What the fuck …. ?”

    By the time he recognised Mannequin, he had just enough time to realise that his problem wasn't the idiot kid after all.

    End of Part Twenty-Five

    Part Twenty-Six
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
  13. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

    Feb 5, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Ah... nasty plans by Jack and Bonesaw. Bonesaw Unleashed vs. Ladybug's escalation. I wonder how that will play out.
  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Find out next chapter :p
  15. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka True Evil

    Jul 29, 2014
    Likes Received:
    You're such a tease Ack :D
    Ack likes this.
  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:

    That is all.
  17. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

    Jul 3, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Excellent chapter. I really liked how you brought the S9 to their core, and then let them loose.

    Also, I'm really looking forward to the Escalation.
    Ack likes this.
  18. Selwyn

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

    Dec 15, 2015
    Likes Received:

    First post on QQ!
  19. SwiftRosenthal

    SwiftRosenthal Connoisseur.

    Sep 3, 2014
    Likes Received:
    I never actually kept current with this version of the fic, just SB/SV. Like-bomb deployed.
    Snake/Eater and Ack like this.
  20. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Not sure what you mean by this version. It's the same across all the sites I post it to.
  21. Muroshi9

    Muroshi9 I'm so ronery So ronery So ronery and sadly arone

    Feb 7, 2015
    Likes Received:
    I think he was just adding the likes on this site that he had not before.
    Ack likes this.
  22. SwiftRosenthal

    SwiftRosenthal Connoisseur.

    Sep 3, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Basically. I did the same with Security! a few minutes later.
    Ack likes this.
  23. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Six: Nine, Again

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    One More Trigger

    Part Twenty-Six: Nine, Again

    Emily Piggot's desk phone rang. She typed another few words, during which time it rang a second time, then she picked it up. “Director Piggot.”

    Director, I have an incoming call from Vista. She asked that it be routed through to you.”

    Piggot's head came up. “Yes, of course. Patch her through.”

    She heard a series of muted clicks, followed by the voice of her youngest Ward. “Hello?”

    “Vista,” she said. “Why do I get the feeling that this is not a social call?”

    Because it's not,” Vista replied promptly. “I have some information for you. In return, the Samaritans require two things.”

    Emily's eyebrows drew down at that. Initiative was something they certainly tried to foster in the Wards, but Vista seemed to be gaining somewhat more than her fair share of it. “I'll need to know what those two things are before I agree to anything,” she replied guardedly.

    Vista seemed not at all put out by her lack of immediate agreement. “Certainly. First, that you do not send troops or capes to assist us. Second, that you send buses to help evacuate Winslow High.”

    The Director blinked. “From what you're saying, something significant is happening at Winslow High. What is it?”

    It's where the Nine are going, Director. And it's where we're going to trap them and capture them, once and for all.”

    Emily froze. “You know this for a fact?”

    I believe the information that we've been given.” It wasn't quite the same, but it was close enough.

    The Director took a deep breath. “Where did you get the information, and how long have you known?”

    Uh, we developed the information from an outside source, Director,” Vista informed her. “We've uh, known for a little while.”

    “What outside source, and why did you not inform me earlier?” The plastic of the handset creaked under the pressure of Piggot's grip.

    Director Piggot, when I accepted the position of liaison with the Samaritans, you assured me that I would not be spying on them. It was explained to me that now was the best time to inform you, and I accepted that. Has my job description changed?”

    “It is not spying to keep me apprised of critical information, such as where the Nine are going to be attacking!” snapped the Director. “What reason did they have for keeping me in the dark?” If she doesn't have a good reason, I am going to be very unhappy.

    I was told that if you were informed ahead of time, then the PRT and Protectorate might attempt to intervene, and that could have disastrous consequences,” Vista told her. “There are only four of them, and we have developed plans for taking them all down. If anyone else shows up to the party, they're likely to be forewarned, and things will get very messy.”

    When Piggot next spoke, her tone was tinged with the disbelief that she was feeling. “You're saying that our presence would cause your plans to fail?”

    That's what I was told, Director.”

    Told by whom? But there was something else that Emily's mind had seized upon. “And what do you mean, four? Only three were supposed to have survived. Where are you getting your information from?”

    There was a momentary pause. “Director, I don't have time for this kind of interrogation. Burnscar is the other survivor. We're getting our information from an outside source, one that I don't want to reveal over the phone. That person assured us that we had a far better chance doing this on our own than with your … assistance.” Emily presumed from the slight hesitation before the last word that she had changed her word choice at the last moment. Probably from 'interference' or something similar.

    “So you need buses to evacuate the school, and for the PRT and Protectorate to hold back while you go up against an S-class threat again. When they're ready for you this time.” She managed to keep most of the sarcasm from her voice, but not all.

    Vista, however, seemed not to notice it. “Yes, please, Director. That would be perfect.”

    Emily leaned back in her chair, considering matters. The Samaritans were a very competent team; they had proven that, time and again. They had taken on the Nine, the first time, and thoroughly owned them. But a once-beaten enemy is a forewarned enemy, and Jack Slash was a very tricky customer.

    I would give a great deal to learn the name of whoever gave them the information. But she knew that pressing at this point would do more harm than good. When she spoke again, her voice was a growl. “Requests granted. When this is over, you and I are going to have a very long talk, young lady.”

    I look forward to it, Director. Thank you. Goodbye.” The call ended.

    Emily put the phone down, glowering. Then she turned to the computer, and brought up a list of obscure procedures. Picking up the phone again, she hit a single key; the phone dialled a number.

    Ready room. Lieutenant Cowley speaking.” The voice sounded bored.

    “Lieutenant, this is the Director. Enact S-Class Emergency Evacuation procedures for Winslow High School. Effective immediately. Do you understand me?”

    Cowley was jolted out of his boredom. “Uh, yes, ma'am, immediately, ma'am.”

    “Good. Get to it.” Piggot put the phone down.


    “You've got a problem.”

    Carrie Blackwell stared at the costumed teenager who had stepped into her office without so much as an invitation. Her voice was bright and chirpy.

    “Wait – what – you're Ladybug,” she managed. “What are you doing here?”

    “Informing you that you've got a problem,” Ladybug replied, her voice sounding irritatingly patient. “And I'm about to ask you to evacuate the school.”

    This never happened with Shadow Stalker. Carrie closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. It didn't really help. “Why?”

    “Um.” Ladybug paused. “I'm actually not allowed to tell you. Director Piggot said that it would cause a panic.”

    Carrie blinked. “A panic? What would cause a … oh.” A feeling of dread crystallised in the pit of her stomach. “Villains are attacking the school again, aren't they?”

    “Maybe.” She couldn't see Ladybug's eyes behind the visor, but if she could, she knew they would have been shifting evasively. “But even if they were, I'm not allowed to say who.”

    What villain gang would cause a panic if it was mentioned that they were about to attack the school? Well, any of them would cause concern. But which one would the PRT Director forbid Ladybug from telling me about … oh, no.

    “No.” Carrie was already shaking her head. “No. No. Please don't tell me that they're attacking the school again. Not the … the …” Her throat closed up, and she had to force the word out. “The Nine.”

    “I can't tell you that.” Ladybug's voice was strangely insistent. “Like I said, Director Piggot told us not to. And she's already unhappy enough with us as it is.”

    Which meant that she was telling Carrie, but in a way that she could claim that she hadn't. “I thought they were dead or in custody.”

    “There's a theoretical chance that the surviving members may have escaped custody due to outside factors.” Ladybug's voice was flat. Carrie read the tone perfectly. They got away.

    She swallowed. “Uh … who's 'us'?”

    “Me and the Samaritans,” Ladybug told her. “This is really important. Everyone here is going to be in a lot of danger really soon, so if you could evacuate the school, that would be absolutely awesome.” She paused. “Oh, and all the staff and students need to leave their cars here. So that it looks like we haven't evacuated.”

    “But why would you want it to look like everyone's still here?” Carrie was confused now.

    “Because that way, the people who are coming here still decide to come here.” Ladybug's tone was matter of fact.

    “Wait.” Carrie put both of her hands on the desk. “You want them to come here.”

    A nod. “Yes.”

    The revelation was as blinding as it was unbelievable. “You're setting a trap for them? A trap for the Nine?”

    “Not saying that's who it is, but yeah. If we can pull it off.” There was that chirpiness again.

    “But why my school? Why are you bringing them here?”

    “It's not our idea,” Ladybug explained. “Hypothetically speaking, if it was them, then there's a really good chance that they're coming back here to balance the scales for us beating them the first time. Not that I'm saying it's actually them, of course.” She gave Carrie a wide, ingenuous smile. “But about evacuating the school?”

    “Just give me a moment.” Carrie massaged her temples. "You do realise I can't just take your word for it, right?" Without waiting for Ladybug to answer what had been mostly a rhetorical question, she picked up her desk phone and hit speed-dial.


    Barely had Piggot put her phone down than it rang again. She glanced at it in annoyance. The caller ID read Winslow Blackwell. Her habitual frown deepened. She could guess what it was about, but she didn't want to speak to Carrie Blackwell. But then she grimaced and reached for the handset. I'd better talk to her. I can always hang up.

    “Piggot here,” she stated flatly. “What do you want, Blackwell?” She hadn't forgotten how badly the woman had handled the Shadow Stalker situation, allowing Hess to bully at least one other girl with almost total impunity. For more than a fucking year. My god.

    Director Piggot,” the woman answered, picking her words with care, “if a member of Team Samaritan were to walk into my office and strongly suggest that I evacuate the school, how seriously should I take her?”

    Emily nodded. I thought it was something like that. “Which member is it, and what has she said?”

    Ladybug. She's asked me to evacuate the school. Although she's taken care not to say it specifically, I've gathered that the Slaughterhouse Nine has escaped and may be returning to Brockton Bay. To Winslow. What I want to know is, do I take her seriously?”

    The Director grimaced. She was on the horns of a dilemma; if she answered in the affirmative, then the school would be evacuated in time for the buses to get them out of there. But on the downside, Blackwell would be in possession of the fact that the Nine were on the way. If the knowledge gets out and causes a panic …

    She sighed. There was nothing else she could do.


    Principal Blackwell.” Piggot's voice was clipped. “I strongly suggest that you follow her suggestions in the matter. However, do not under any circumstances even suggest that the Nine may be involved. Call it a fire drill, or a fumigation, or whatever. Send them home for the day, then get out yourself. Do you understand me?”

    Carrie Blackwell felt a chill spreading down her back. She hasn't denied it. In fact, she's all but confirmed it. “I understand perfectly,” she replied. “Good day, Director.”

    Carefully, she placed the phone down and looked at Ladybug. “How long do we have?” she asked flatly.

    “Couple of hours, tops,” the tall girl replied. “After that … if I were you, I wouldn't be here.” She dropped a slip of paper on the desk. “Contact number, in case you need to reach us.”

    Already shaken by Piggot's tone, Carrie didn't question her. Instead, she opened a desk drawer and pulled out a list of emergency-evacuation scripts. Scanning over them, she found the one that seemed to suit her needs. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the button on her phone that patched her into the PA system. Lifting the receiver, she spoke carefully into it.


    Attention, all students and staff. Attention, all students and staff. A gas leak has been detected on the premises. Please evacuate the building in a safe and orderly manner. There is no immediate danger, but it is important that you leave the building via the nearest exit. Gather at your evacuation point. Attention all students and staff …”

    “All right, everyone. You heard the message.” Mr Gladly clapped his hands twice. “Leave your books and bags. I want everyone lined up at the door now. We'll be making our way to the sports field. Come on, hup-hup-hup!”

    Greg Veder stood up with the rest of them, but something didn't sit right with him about this. Gas stinks. The last time we had a gas leak, everyone knew about it before Blackwell told us about it. So what's really going on here?

    As soon as he was out the door, while Mr Gladly was still occupied in counting the students out of the classroom, he ducked off in the opposite direction.

    “Hey, dude.” It was Sparky. “They said get out of the school.”

    “They also said there's no immediate danger,” Greg pointed out. “I gotta take a wicked leak. Cover for me?”

    Sparky considered this, then shrugged. “Sure, whatever, dude.” He headed back to the World Affairs students. Greg patted his pocket to make sure his phone was still there, then moved off. Now to find a hiding place.


    Missy looked up as the ancient PA system crackled out its message. “Gas leak, huh?”

    Sparx grinned. “One way to get 'em all out of here.”

    “So you guys actually go to school here, huh?” asked Athena, her hands in the pockets of her jeans. She looked around at the graffiti-stained walls of the otherwise empty classroom and wrinkled her nose. “Is it just me, or is this place a shithole?”

    Already, the other classroom doors were opening and students streaming out, flooding down the hallway toward the exit doors. Nobody took any notice of the part-opened door.

    “I've heard stories about Winslow,” Panacea offered. “None of them good.”

    “You probably heard the nice ones,” Aerodyne replied. “Trust me when I say that this is indeed a shithole of the very lowest quality.”

    “I have no doubt. Oh, by the way, nice going.” A friendly arm encircled Missy's shoulders in a half-hug. She looked up into Athena's grin. “You did good.”

    “I can't believe I spoke to her like that.” Missy tried not to let her voice quiver too much. “You think she'll bring the troops in anyway?”

    “Nah.” Athena shook her head. “You've told her that would screw our plans up. She's a bit arrogant and dislikes capes on principle, but she's not a moron. So, yeah.” She peered out through the slightly-open door. “Welp, looks like most everyone has gone. So, let's get set up.”


    Jack pushed open the motel room door and looked around. Nothing had changed since he had left to strew pyrethrum bombs around the city. Engineered by Riley, they should be pumping out clouds of almost-invisible fumes, harmless to humans but inimical to bugs of all kinds.

    His poppet was still working at the small desk. Like him, she had been restored to her original appearance. Wearing a disguise was all well and good, but he wanted people to know who was doing this to them.

    Burnscar was lying on one of the beds, staring at the wall. She hadn't moved, either.

    “Ready to go to work, poppet?”

    “Almost, Mr Jack.” Riley finished adjusting the interior of the last spiderbot and snapped the tiny hatch shut. It came to life, dancing in place as all ten legs flexed and tested themselves. “I just need to load up his prion reservoir, and then we can go.”

    “You know, I'm very impressed with these prions of yours, especially if they act as advertised,” Jack observed as she busied herself with that task. “Though it is reversible, right?”

    “Well, you don't have to worry about that, Mr Jack,” she replied over her shoulder. “You're immunised, just like me and Burnscar. It'll never affect you.”

    “I was thinking of how we can collect new recruits,” he told her absently, his mind turning over the possibilities. “Turn their powers off, take them someplace quiet, and have a nice quiet chat with them before we give them the antidote.”

    “I can't guarantee that it'll turn off all power use,” she cautioned him. “Just the conscious uses. If the power is working outside of their deliberate control, it'll probably keep right on doing that.”

    He nodded. “I can see how that could be a problem with some capes. But I'm sure we can work out ways around that, poppet.” He ruffled her blonde ringlets; she giggled.

    “Okay, done.” She stood up; the spider-bot scuttled around in a circle then leaped up to cling to her back, four of its legs moving to lie along her arms. The others had roused as she got up, moving around a little then stopping to wait for her.

    “Now, do you remember the plan?” he asked mock-seriously.

    “Why does there have to be a plan?” she retorted, her tone playful. “I send my spiders in, they use prions on everyone, we walk in afterward without any problem.”

    “Because there always has to be a plan,” he said. “And as good as your spiders are, we can't rely totally on them. Besides, what's the point in doing this if we can't have any fun?”

    She huffed a sigh. “Okay, fine. We drive around the school. My spiders get off and converge on the entrances. Some go to the roof. They work their way through the school.”

    “Which is likely to have been evacuated, if I know my heroes,” he noted. “Go on.”

    “Mannequin goes in with them, to deal with anything that they can't,” she recited in a sing-song tone. “We go in afterward. The spiders will lead us to the heroes. If they haven't already been depowered, we depower or kill them.” She shot him a glare. “And I want at least one of them to play with. Maybe two!”

    He rolled his eyes tolerantly. “Certainly, poppet. Just so long as I get at least one as a recruit. We can share, right?”

    “I want to see if I can put insect mandibles on Ladybug,” Bonesaw decided. “Make her into a real bug. All scary, not cute and fluffy like a ladybug.”

    Jack smiled. “She is kind of skinny, inside her armour,” he noted. “Maybe make her into a praying mantis?”

    The young Tinker's eyes lit up. “Ooh,” she murmured. “Give her bladed forelimbs ….”

    He chuckled and ruffled her hair again. “Let's save that for when we've got them in our hands. After all, we don't know yet which ones we're going to be able to capture and which ones we're going to have to kill.” He walked over to where Burnscar was still lying on the bed. “Come on, Mimi. Time to go to work.”

    She rolled over and sat up. Her eyes held a deep-seated pain. “Do we have to?”

    Yes, Burnscar, we really have to,” he told her firmly. “You know what'll happen if the authorities catch you again. If they catch any of us. There'll be no mercy. No last-minute escapes.”

    Something lit in her eyes, then. A fire, drowning out the pain. Holding up her hand, she watched as flames danced from fingertip to fingertip. “No mercy,” she murmured.

    “That's the spirit,” he encouraged her. “No mercy.” Slapping her on the shoulder, he moved toward the door. Bonesaw followed; after a moment, Burnscar stood up from the bed and walked after them.

    Jack went to the next motel room along and rapped on the door. “Finished in there yet, Alan?” he called out. “We're leaving. Don't want to be left behind.”

    After a long moment, the door opened. Mannequin stood there, slightly hunched over so that his nine-foot height could fit out through the doorway. As silently as ever, he stepped out of the motel room, then carefully closed the door behind him. His 'head' bore no eyes, or even a real face, but his posture managed to impart a quizzical air as he turned toward Jack.

    “Plan's the same as before,” Jack told him. “You've got the pyrethrin dispensers?”

    The silent head nodded; vents slid open in the arms and legs, then closed again. Jack smiled. “Well, then. It looks like we're ready to go.” He gestured at the pickup. “Everyone in.”

    “Dibs window seat!” Bonesaw called out. Burnscar looked at her, then at Jack.

    He shrugged helplessly. “I'm sorry, but Bonesaw called it. You snooze, you lose.”

    Pressing her lips together, Burnscar nodded. “Okay.” She climbed into the pickup.

    At the same time, Mannequin climbed into the back, surrounded by spider-bots, and pulled a tarp up to cover himself and his travelling companions. There was a time to spread terror among the citizens of Brockton Bay, and a time to fly under the radar. The time for terror would be later.


    Greg lurked in the storage closet, clutching his phone so tightly that he was worried that he might break it. This was the way to get real cred with his classmates. Whatever was going to happen in the school today, Greg Veder was going to get the full scoop. I'm gonna be the most popular kid in school.

    It never occurred to him to wonder why the school had been evacuated without a real explanation …


    Carrie Blackwell exited the school, leading the student exodus. She looked toward the parking lot … and beyond, where the first in a line of buses was just pulling up to the bus stop. Ladybug didn't tell me they'd called for buses. What's going on here?

    Moving at a determined pace, she strode across the parking lot to the first bus. Its door opened as she approached, to reveal a regular driver at the wheel, with a man in plain clothes standing next to him.

    “What's going on here?” she demanded. “What's all this?”

    “One-time free bus service, ma'am,” the standing man replied blandly. Before she could ask any more questions, he opened his jacket just far enough for her to see the PRT badge pinned to the inside. “Care to get your kids on board before whatever's coming arrives?”



    Mr Gladly turned to face Principal Blackwell. “Ma'am?”

    “Do you have a proper count of your students?”

    Gladly looked around. Friends had found friends, and people were mixing instead of waiting in neat groups to be counted. This caused the students of Winslow to be spread all over the sporting field. “Uh … one second.” He checked his clipboard. There were only a few names left to be ticked off. “Madison Clements.” Oh, wait. She took a sick day. He put a line through her name. “Uh … Keith Schreiber.” A frown crossed his face. “Ah, right, Sparky.” He raised his voice. “Sparky!”

    The less than impressive visage of the would-be musician appeared. “Here, Mr G.”

    Gladly crossed him off. “Taylor Hebert.” Another pause, as his brain caught up. Oh, right. Also sick. I'm going to have to talk to that girl. A line went through her name. “Greg Veder.”

    “Oh, uh, he left. Said he had to go do something,” Sparky volunteered.

    “So he's out of the school?” Gladly waited impatiently until the question permeated through Schreiber's consciousness.

    “Uh, yeah. Guess so.”

    Gladly frowned. He didn't know Sparky very well, but the kid spent most of his time in a daze or actually asleep. “Do you guess so or know so?”

    He watched as Schreiber tried to think; it was a painful process. “Uh … I guess so?”

    “Well?” That was Blackwell, at his elbow.


    Gladly turned to face her, clipboard held defensively. “All out except for, uh, Greg Veder. I'm not sure about him, ma'am.”

    Carrie took the clipboard and eyed the results. “You marked him out of the classroom, so he was present then,” she observed.

    Gladly nodded. “Uh, yes.”

    She sighed. “I've been checking with the other teachers. We've got ninety percent attendance here. This is better than the last time we held a fire drill. However.” She fixed the dull-looking student with a hard gaze. “Tell me exactly what you know about Greg Veder.”

    The kid wilted after about three seconds. “Said he had to take a wicked leak,” he mumbled.

    “Ah.” Carrie rolled her eyes. “Which means he's probably finished and out here already. But just in case.” She pulled out her phone, then retrieved the slip of paper from her pocket. Carefully, she tapped in the number.

    “You've reached the Samaritans. This is Sparx. How can I help you?” The voice was young, female and brisk.

    “This is Principal Blackwell,” Carrie said carefully. “We think there might be one or more of our students in the bathrooms.”

    “One second.” She heard a muffled conversation, but could not make out the words. Moments later, Sparx spoke to her again. “All bathrooms have been checked. Classrooms and hallways have already been swept, but we'll do it again. No students have yet been found. If we do find any, we'll escort them out immediately.”

    Carrie Blackwell felt a sense of relief wash through her. “Thank you.”

    “Was there anything else?”

    “Uh, no, no, there wasn't.”

    “Well, we're a little busy, so I'm going to hang up now. Have a good day.”

    The call ended; she took deep breaths, feeling just a little light-headed. With the Slaughterhouse Nine on the way, there was no way in hell that she wanted to go back into that school and search for missing students. Some will have wandered off already, or gone home, or whatever. So long as they're not in the damn school.

    Gladly was still looking at her, like a dog expecting a treat. She smiled thinly. “He's not in the school.” With a firm hand and a clear conscience, she drew a line through Greg Veder's name and handed the clipboard back.

    He took it, examining it, then finally nodded. “Yes, Principal Blackwell.”

    She nodded curtly. “All right then.” Raising a loudspeaker to her mouth, she continued in a much louder voice. “Everyone, I would like your attention. Buses have been provided. You will now proceed to the bus stop and board the buses. Move. Move. Move.”

    “Everyone's going?” asked Gladly. “Even you?”

    “Even me,” she confirmed. She watched as he pulled his car keys from his pocket. “Ah, no. Leave your car. You're taking the bus. So am I. Tell the rest of the faculty as well. We leave our cars behind.”


    Gladly had to raise his voice over the noise of the joyous stampede that was the exodus of Winslow's student body. “Leave our cars? Why?”

    “Because I told you so, Mr Gladly.” Blackwell's tone was chilly.

    “But why?”

    She gritted her teeth. “There's a supervillain coming to the school. The heroes are going to trap him there. But he needs to think that nobody knows he's coming. So we pretend not to have evacuated. Now do you understand?”

    Gladly understood, and he didn't like it. “I don't think my insurance covers parahuman damage.”

    She gave him an exasperated look. “You've lived in Brockton Bay for how long?”

    “Look, it just never came up, all right?”

    He winced at the sharp look she gave him. “More like, you never thought it would happen, so you chose to spend the money elsewhere. Am I correct?”

    He hated to admit it, but she was entirely correct. “Maybe. So we leave our cars behind. What guarantee do we have that nothing will happen to them?”

    This time, she shook her head. “Mr Gladly, this is Brockton Bay. It's a cape battle. We've got no guarantee that the school will be there when they're done.”


    The last of the students boarded the bus; Carrie Blackwell stepped up inside last of all. Each of them had been loaded to beyond its legal capacity, with people standing in the aisles, but nobody complained. While no-one had been told about the real reason for evacuation, the air of desperation had communicated itself among them, and they had filed on board obediently.

    Until now. Some of the older teens, looking out the windows, seemed to notice for the first time that all the cars were still in the parking lot. “Wait!” called out one. “Our cars! Why can't we just drive?”

    Carrie frowned; up until now, with the staff chivvying them along, the students had not stopped to think about their personal vehicles. “Because you can't,” she called out. Tapping the driver on the shoulder, she nodded. “Let's go.”

    The door slid shut and the bus lurched forward. Blackwell didn't relax until the school was out of sight.


    Fifteen Minutes Later

    Taylor activated her two-way radio. “Ladybug here. I have a vehicle approaching the school. It appears to be a pickup with something under a tarp in the bed. I've also checked the school and surroundings over. I'm starting to get pyrethrin in the school grounds, but concentrations aren't too high as yet. There are no innocents in the line of fire that I can find. Uh, over.”

    Sparx copies.”

    Aerodyne, roger.”

    Athena, got it.”

    Panacea, understood.”

    Vista, roger.”

    Delta Hotel, understood.”

    Romeo Charlie, message received.”

    Alpha Bravo copies.”

    She took a deep breath, then continued. “Leaf bugs are in position. Sparx, call it.”

    Almost immediately, Emma's voice came back over the radio. “Stage one, go.”


    The pickup made a slow circuit of the school, crunching over ill-maintained garden beds with barely a pause. Riley activated the last pyrethrum bomb and leaned out the window to toss it into the bed of the vehicle, where it began to gush out clouds of almost-invisible vapour. At the same time, the spider-bots launched themselves from the vehicle and scuttled toward the school. Casting the tarp off, Mannequin leaped from the vehicle – causing it to bounce on its springs – and followed them.

    A random bug, flying through the noxious fumes, bounced off of the windshield and slid down to the pickup's hood. Jack grinned cheerfully. “Nicely done, poppet. Taking the bug girl's bugs out of the picture was the right idea.”

    Bonesaw smiled proudly. “I thought it would be. She took us down with them so easily the last time, they probably haven't evolved any new tactics to deal with us. After all, the only other ranged delivery mechanism they've got is Sparx, and she can only deliver electricity.”

    “Which is still dangerous,” he reminded her.

    “Not against Mannequin. And if you or Burnscar sees her first, you can beat her for range.”

    The pickup was almost all the way back around to the parking lot. “There's still cars here,” Bonesaw pointed out brightly. “I thought you said they knew we were coming.”

    Jack had been trying to figure that out himself. “Maybe they didn't know exactly where we were going. Or perhaps they've decided not to warn the school.”

    “Heroes wouldn't do that,” objected Burnscar. “They'd make sure everyone got away.” She lapsed into silence again.

    Jack smiled. “Which means that either our so-called heroes aren't so heroic, or they got the staff and students to leave their cars behind to lure us in. Either way, this just got interesting.”


    The biotinkered spider-bots scuttled up to the roof of the school, climbing the brick wall with ease. More were going to be forcing their way into the fire exits, or just via the front doors, but these ones were going in through the roof access. There was to be no escape for the heroes.

    The first one approached the door, readying a drill-bit designed to bypass the lock mechanism. But as it did so, its sensors detected that the door was wedged open with half a brick. Had it a sense of humour, and the mouth to do so, it would have smiled wryly. Lacking both, it just went for the opening.

    It approached the door and hooked one leg behind it, then braced and pulled the door open wider. As it did so, the first of its brethren scuttled up and over it, making use of the resulting gap.

    There was a thunderous boom, and that spider-bot flew to pieces. The one holding the door tried to leap back, but a second boom sounded and its awareness ended abruptly.

    The door closed again, but was halted by the half-brick. While the spider-bots were programmed with basic self-preservation, they were not permitted to retreat; waving pincers and syringes and spraying prion powder before them, they advanced on the door again. This time, they didn't open it, but instead began to wriggle through the entire length of the gap, all at once.


    Being the union rep for the Dockworkers, Danny had long known, meant rubbing shoulders with less than savoury characters. And not all of these worked in the Mayor's office. Some of the time, such people caused more problems than they were worth. But at other times, having friends in low places really paid off. This was one of those times.

    He racked the slide of his Mossberg pump-action shotgun and blew away the spider-bot at the top of the door. Alan Barnes, by previous agreement, hit the one on the bottom, while Rod Clements shot at the middle of the gap. With the exception of Rod, none of the Dads were very proficient with a shotgun, but at this range it didn't really matter.

    Even with the ear protection, the shotguns were enormously loud in the confined space, but it didn't last long. The last of them made it all the way on to the steps before Alan Barnes blew it apart; Rod Clements racked his slide one last time and aimed at the door, but nothing else seemed to be coming through.

    With Rod and Alan covering the door, Danny pushed the protector off of one ear and took his radio off his hip. “Delta Hotel here. We seem to be in the clear. Status of rooftop, over?”

    A few moments later, Taylor's voice came back. Her voice was high and tinny, probably due to the ringing in his ears. “Ladybug here. There is zero movement, repeat zero movement on the rooftop. Lots of bits and pieces though. Uh, over.”

    Danny chuckled. “I copy that, Ladybug. Sparx, this is Delta Hotel. No casualties. Moving to Stage Two now. Over.”

    Emma's voice came over the radio. “Sparx copies moving to Stage Two, over.”


    Jack's head jerked up. “Was that gunfire?”

    “I think it was,” Bonesaw agreed. “It sure sounded like it. None of Team Samaritan carry guns, do they?”

    “Not that I've seen,” Jack mused. “But if the rumours are correct, they've got at least one ex-villain on the team now, and she might be using a pistol. But that sounded like shotguns, and more than one.”

    “And I've lost contact with my spider-bots on the roof,” complained Bonesaw. “You said they wouldn't cover the roof! You said!”

    Jack sighed. “I said I was reasonably certain that they wouldn't. And I'm still pretty sure that they aren't. Which means they've got minions. With shotguns.”

    Burnscar, flames flickering up and down her arms, looked around at him. “We still gonna go in there?” she asked, gesturing at the front doors that were only about ten yards away now. “Sounds like they're prepared for us.”

    “Mimi, really?” he asked. “A few mooks with shotguns does not an adequate defence make. Sure, they made paste of the poppet's little pets, but Mannequin will have heard that, and he'll be going to check it out. And you know what minions with shotguns are called when Mannequin's around.” He bared his teeth. “Sushi.”

    “What if the rest of Team Samaritan are waiting for him?” Bonesaw wanted to know.

    Jack rolled his eyes. Do I have to think of everything? “If they were with the mooks, then your spiders would've sprayed their prion powder, and they're powerless. But even if they're not, Sparx can't hurt him with her electricity, Ladybug's bugs can't get close to him, and Aerodyne's powers won't do much either. Panacea can't affect him at all, and if it's Tattletale on the team, then what's she gonna do? Think at him really hard?”

    Burnscar frowned. “What about Vista?”


    Bugs tried to swarm around Mannequin as he took the stairs three at a time. The vents in his arms and legs were open now, pyrethrum boiling out in clouds all around him, driving them away. He knew the layout of the school, of course, and this way lay the roof access. Flush with their victory over the spider-bots, whoever had been doing the shooting would be easy prey. One more flight of stairs …

    The steps abruptly distorted, twisting in odd ways, turning into a slide. He lost traction, skidding down backward until he shot one arm out and grabbed the rail, arresting his downward motion. Even as he worked to get his feet under him, shooting his other arm upward to assist in pulling himself to the top of the steps, he looked around for the culprit.

    She wasn't hard to find; stepping up to the side of the stairwell, she looked downward at him. It was Vista, of course. Letting go with one hand, he began to retract that arm, ready to launch a blade at her.

    The first problem came when he realised that the arm wasn't retracting because the chain links were five times as large as they should be. It wasn't an insurmountable problem; he had built launch-blades into his legs for just this contingency. But even as he began to lift his right leg, it shrank dramatically, becoming a misshapen ball attached to his hip. A moment later, he fell to the stairs as his left leg assumed the same proportions.

    Vista looked almost bored as she shrank his arms as well; losing his grip on the rail, he fell backward and skidded down the stair-slide until he hit the landing. She walked down the steps as the distortion on them faded. His arms and legs were useless, the weapons in them impotent against her. She looked down at him for a moment. “Stay.”

    As she trotted down the next flight of stairs, she was pulling a two-way radio off of her hip. “Vista here. Mannequin taken care of. Moving to Stage Two.”

    Mannequin began to get the idea that this was not going to be the walkover that Jack Slash had anticipated.


    Wha? What was that?

    Greg jerked awake from the light doze he had slipped into. It had been so boring, hiding in the storage closet, waiting for something interesting to happen. He had worked it all out; all he had to do was open the closet door just a smidge and let his phone record whatever happened outside. Except that he had failed to take into account the fact that whatever was happening might not happen directly outside the closet. Or even anywhere near it.

    Struggling to his feet, trying not to knock over mops and buckets and whatever else was sharing the closet with him, he cracked the door a little. Nothing was happening out there. Damn it.

    For a moment, he considered waiting in the closet for a while longer, but his curiosity overcame his natural caution. I have to find out what's going on. This is gonna get me more hits than the Protectorate.

    He thought he heard someone running. This is it. Opening the door, he stepped out to film the action. Unfortunately, he turned left instead of right.


    The spider-bots swarmed along the corridor. Most scuttled along the floor, while some chose to skitter along the walls, leaving gouges in the plasterboard with their sharp legs. A few used the ceiling, ripping out chunks as they went, but they neither knew nor cared about that. Insects buzzed around them; these were detected, but they couldn't do much about it.

    Up ahead was a corner; while the spider-bots were still some distance from it, a voice became audible. “Three … two … one.”

    On 'one', a head popped around the corner. The head was adorned with a red and black helmet, as well as a clear visor. It was only in view for a few seconds, but the spider-bots got a good look at it; this matched the image of the Team Samaritan hero known as Ladybug.

    Even as Ladybug let out a frightened-sounding 'eep', the spider-bots were surging forward. Her head vanished, and running footsteps could be heard. Swarming up to the corner, the bugs rounded it and gave chase.


    Taylor didn't bother glancing behind her. The bugs she had on the ceiling told her exactly how far behind her the spider-bots were. The soles of her shoes were high-grip, and she was good at running. Rendezvous with Emma and Madison, meet up, and wipe 'em out.

    She grinned as she sprinted down the hallway; with Mannequin out of the picture, the other three were going to be much easier to deal with. And with the leaf-bugs on each of the other members of the Nine, she could track them even through clouds of pyrethrin. I love it when a plan comes together.


    Emma pelted down the hallway, then took a hard right, her shoes squeaking on the flooring. Behind her, the spider-bots chittered menacingly as they swarmed in pursuit. She heard rapidly approaching footsteps from a hallway to the left; as she passed it, Aerodyne dashed out and joined her. A similar swarm was following her; the spider-bots joined forces but kept up the chase.

    “Where's Ladybug?” panted Emma.

    “Thought she was with you,” gasped Aerodyne.

    Emma put it from her head. They couldn't slow down now. Whatever was going on with Taylor, they hadn't heard a radio transmission and her bugs hadn't given an alarm. They had to trust that she could take care of herself, at least until the spider-bots were taken care of.

    They dashed in through the doorway of the empty classroom that they'd been in before. Immediately, Athena slammed the door shut, leaving only the small window in the door itself – which had had the glass removed from it – as the most accessible entry point. She stepped back then, joining Panacea at the far corner of the room.

    It only took the spider-bots a few seconds to arrive at the door; the first ones were clambering through the inviting hole just a few seconds after that. Clouds of prion dust were sprayed toward the young parahumans … only for a stiff breeze to whip up and blow the noxious material back at the spider-bots.

    “Where's Ladybug?” asked Panacea, even as Emma extended her hair toward the spider-bots. It wrapped around them, enmeshing them even as it flowed onward. They actually made it easy for her, easy to wrap her tendrils around each and every one. If they'd hung back, even a little, she might have missed a few. As it was, that wasn't going to happen.

    Concentrating, she let her power flash out through her tendrils. A sharp smell of ozone sprang up as dozens of pops and crackles sounded from the corridor beyond. The spider-bots convulsed, then fell limp as she cut the current.

    “Oh, shit.” Emma didn't turn to look when Athena spoke. She was too busy trying to see if any of the spider-bots were still moving.

    “What's the matter?” asked Aerodyne. “You're as white as a ghost.”

    “It's Ladybug,” Athena said. “She's -”

    Their radios crackled to life. “Hello? Team Samaritan? This is Jack Slash. I have Ladybug, as well as another hostage. Come out now, or I kill them both. Slowly. You have two minutes.”

    “- been captured,” Athena concluded.

    Emma met Aerodyne's eyes. “Oh, shit,” she agreed.

    “What do we do?” asked Panacea.

    Emma's lips tightened. “We've got no choice. We do what they say.”

    End of Part Twenty-Six

    Part Twenty-Seven
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2017
  24. Bailey Matutine

    Bailey Matutine (Verified Pooka)

    Jan 10, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Greg, you absolute fuckup.
    Ack and Prince Charon like this.
  25. Psyckosama

    Psyckosama Well worn.

    Feb 19, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Maybe they get really really damned lucky and he triggers as something useful.
    Ack likes this.
  26. Christopher Tate

    Christopher Tate Getting some practice in, huh?

    Sep 19, 2015
    Likes Received:
    I don't see how she got captured.
    Ack and Prince Charon like this.
  27. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka True Evil

    Jul 29, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Yeah...except it's Greg. :p
    Ack likes this.
  28. Bailey Matutine

    Bailey Matutine (Verified Pooka)

    Jan 10, 2015
    Likes Received:
    He crashed directly into her.
    Ack likes this.
  29. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

    Feb 20, 2014
    Likes Received:
    I don't see how she failed to detect him, but maybe I'm forgetting something.
    slicedtoad and Ack like this.
  30. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Wow, people are really hung up on this. One offscreen capture of a major character and everyone's "Wow, how could that ever happen?"

    Crossposted from SB and SV:

    Ocean Sailor, Zira, nobodez and 4 others like this.