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One More Trigger (Worm AU)

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

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  1. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Uh Oh... Greg's really gone and done it. I even sort of hope he pays for it this time. Good tense chapter, but an evil cliffhanger!
     
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  2. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Given that Taylor went to school with these people, the fact that she didn't check the storage closets bothers me.

    EDIT: Not just that it didn't occur to her that someone might be hiding in one (I can easily believe kids going in there to smoke, do other drugs, or make out), but that she didn't think that anyone might have been tied up in one by a bully, or was cutting class to take a nap.
     
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  3. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She checked the toilets. She can't be expected to think of everything.
     
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  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Rewrite done:

     
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  5. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    Dammit, Greg. How can you be smart enough to figure out that there was more than a gas leak going on, but not smart enough to realize that there was probably a very good reason the evacuation was so quick and stealthy? I guess that's the difference between intelligence and wisdom.
     
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  6. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    The fact that Taylor did not check the closets, lockers, and so forth is going to keep bugging me (I can believe Greg being this unwise, but Taylor not checking, or Greg being able to hide from her if she did check, is rather far beyond my SoD - sure, characters should make mistakes, but this isn't one that I can believe), but that's apparently something that won't be changed.
     
  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Seriously, wow? You're hung up on that?

    Okay, several reasons:

    1) It's a big fucking school. Taylor has a (relatively) limited number of bugs on hand (due to pyrethrum bombs driving her bugs into hiding). She can sweep big areas quickly. Every single locker, every single closet, not so much.
    2) Bugs have shit vision. The storage closet has a door that's flush with the wall and painted the same colour as the surrounding walls. The bugs, flying down the middle of the corridor, missed it.
    3) The storage closet has had bleach and insecticide spilled in it. No bugs are living in there. Therefore, Taylor didn't pick it up when he entered.
    4) She's not actively expecting anyone to be so stupid as to hide.
    5) She's not perfect. Everyone can make mistakes. Trust me; I'm a professional security guard. I know.
     
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  8. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Like I said, I can accept people making mistakes, because people do make mistakes. I know this, because I went to high school in Florida. This is not a mistake I find plausible (she went to school with these people, after all, so I would think she'd expect multiple people to be hiding or napping in out of the way locations, otherwise pushing back the bounds of human stupidity, or possibly tied up somewhere by bullies), but I cannot think of a way to make it work, and I have accepted that you are not going to change it (as I said in the post you quoted).
     
  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Hiding in the bathrooms or other normally-human accessible locations (including the roof) is something she swept for.

    Nobody was waylaid by bullies and tied up and left during the actual evacuation.

    People in lockers would be making lots of noise. Her bugs would have picked that up, too.
     
  10. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    ... and this is not what I have a problem with, as I've already said (those were examples, less generalized than 'otherwise pushing back the bounds of human stupidity'). Greg not being found by her bugs bugs my SoD, for reasons I am not going to repeat so as not to continue the derail. I cannot think of a way to fix the issue, and you seem determined to have this happen, so I am done with this conversation. I will most likely read the next part, as it is a good story, and I've not dropped other mostly-good fics that had SoD-straining events in them (you may take it as a credit to your writing skills that I'm willing to do this).
     
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  11. riaantheunissen

    riaantheunissen Know what you're doing yet?

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    Something to think of. There wasn't a bunch of idiots hiding or napping. There was one. One stupid little idiot. The rest were smart enough to get out because it might be dangerous or at least not stupid enough to stay because this meant they got the rest of the day off. Greg was literally the only one.

    Now, was Taylor close enough to Greg, did she know him well enough to know he could be this kind of stupid, when nobody else was? I do not believe it was the case in this or the original story.
     
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  12. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Seven: Three, Two, One ...
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One More Trigger

    Part Twenty-Seven: Three, Two, One …



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



    A Few Moments Before

    Taylor grinned as she sprinted down the hallway. Her bugs, placed at strategic intervals, told her exactly when and where she had to turn in order to meet up with the others. She could smell the pyrethrin in the air, but it wasn't affecting her in any significant way. Bonesaw's spiderbots were still gaining on her, but not fast enough to do them any good. The long hours on the running track out at the training camp had left her fit enough to maintain the necessary lead for the moment.

    Lisa – Athena – had predicted that Jack would want to nullify the battlefield advantage that her bugs brought to the team. This was not a huge surprise; during the training exercises, her father and the other Dads had done their best to do that exact same thing, for similar (if more innocuous) reasons. He had no doubt turned to Bonesaw, the Nine's resident bio-Tinker, for a solution. Pyrethrin was easy to make in bulk and was hard to immunise bugs against, so they hadn't been entirely surprised when the Nine (now the Four) had employed it.

    However, while it was hard to make a 'natural' insect that could survive pyrethrin exposure, Amy was not limited to the natural order of things. For her, evolutionary constraints were merely a polite suggestion, to be shunted aside when they became inconvenient. And so she had combined the best of both worlds; for someone of her capabilities, adding chlorophyll to the wing casings of a bug was simplicity itself. Providing the bug with air sacs and creating a gas-exchange system had only been a little more difficult.

    Further adjustments were required to make it work properly, of course; Taylor had been utterly fascinated by the process, even if she had trouble following Amy's explanation of how the new organism was intended to function. Lisa, as befitted her smartass nature, professed to understand it all without difficulty. The final touch of genius, as suggested by Emma, was to give the bug an active camouflage ability. Given the same effective body shape as a cockroach, the leaf-bug could flatten itself to virtually any surface and use surface chromatophores to adjust its apparent colour and texture to match.

    The end result of all this, of course, was to produce a bug that could choose not to breathe the outside air, and thus was not affected by whatever chemical the Nine brought along to throw at them. When exposed to pyrethrin, the bugs pretended to be affected by it. However, once the villains turned their attention away from the supposedly dead insects, they came back to life again, building into a swarm that was out of sight and out of mind. And one or two, being very sneaky indeed, had emplaced themselves on the villains in hard-to-spot locations, so that Taylor could keep track of them at all times. Likewise, a bug on every spider-bot meant that she knew where they were, as well.

    The tactics they were using had not been decided upon in a moment, or even a day. Entire brainstorming sessions had come and gone before they had all the details hammered out, but between Lisa's intuitions and Dinah phoning in her input, they had planned for nearly every eventuality. And once they'd figured out what the Nine were likely to do, a counter had not been so hard to devise.

    And it was working. Taylor's father and the other Dads had disposed of the initial wave of spider-bots coming in via the roof, and Vista had Mannequin on lockdown. Serves him right for not having anything alive in his limbs. Bonesaw's spider-bots were nasty, especially in large numbers, but the plan allowed for them as well. Once away from their diminutive mistress, they could be decoyed into a trap and disposed of with relative ease.

    A quote from an old TV show went through her mind as she took a corner at speed. I love it when a plan comes together.

    That, of course, was when it all came apart.

    Her bugs had swept the corridor ahead at least four times, so she knew that there was nobody there. But abruptly, too fast for her to react and correct her course, a service closet door opened directly ahead of her, and someone stepped out. Even then, if he had been looking in the right direction, the collision may have been avoided by the simple expedient of stepping back into the closet. But he was looking away from her, and so by the time he registered her warning shout, it was far too late. Even as she collided heavily with them, sending them both sprawling to the ground, she belatedly recognised him. Greg Veder. Why am I not surprised.

    The wind had been knocked out of her by the sudden impact; acutely aware of the danger bearing down on her in the form of the pursuing spider-bots, she struggled to regain her feet. The first of them rounded the corner just as she did so. Still got a few yards on them. I can make it. And then she stood on Greg's arm.

    He shouted with pain and pulled away, rolling her ankle just as she rested her full weight on that foot. A sharp pain shot up her leg and she stumbled once more. The rest of the little arachnoid robots were around the corner now, and the closest one was less than a yard away. I've got to warn the guys!

    She reached for the radio to alert her teammates, but realised too late that it had come loose during her tumble and lay just a few yards down the corridor. Bugs gathered around it, cooperating to push it toward her, even as she lunged for it. Something landed on her legs; after a moment of pressure, there was a sharp pain in her left calf. This was quickly followed by a numbing sensation that spread up her leg and body almost faster than she could think. She scrabbled for the radio, but by the time she got her hand on it, the numbness had reached her shoulders.

    It spread to her arm and head equally quickly, making every motion a supreme effort. She closed her hand around the radio and tried to drag it to her mouth, but already her eyes were drifting shut and her thoughts had started to fragment. By the time the radio came close enough to speak into, she barely recalled why she wanted it. Even as she tried to focus on what she needed to do, the urgency just … slipped away. Her hand slid off the radio and she laid her head down on the nice smooth comfortable floor. She was so tired. If she could just have a little nap …

    <><>​

    Now

    “... as well as another hostage.” The voice filtered through the cotton wool that surrounded Taylor's consciousness. It was smooth and self-satisfied; even before she recognised it, her dislike was automatic. When the name did click into place, it was all she could do to avoid an instinctive flinch of distaste. Jack Slash.

    Apparently unaware that she was now awake, he kept talking. “Come out now, or I kill them both. Slowly. You have two minutes.”

    She kept her eyes closed in an effort to learn everything she could about her situation before anyone realised she was awake. That she was in a bad position she had no doubt; even if Jack Slash had not been right there and talking about killing hostages, she was starting to feel extreme discomfort from her shoulders. More to the point, she was certain her teammates would not deliberately leave her like that.

    From the feel of it, someone was behind her with their arms hooked through hers to hold her more or less upright. Her head lolled to the side, prevented from dropping forwards by a persistent tug on her scalp. Whoever it is has me by the hair, which means ... A moment later, she realised that some of her hair was hanging over her face. That confirmed it; they'd taken her helmet and the attached goggles off, thereby unmasking her.

    For a brief moment, she wondered why her calf muscle felt sore, until she recalled the spider-bot and how it had injected her with the knockout dosage. Okay, time to see what the bugs can tell me. Sending her senses out, she tried to connect with the swarm … and ran into a snag when nothing answered her call. Which was blatantly ridiculous, given that she had booster bugs set up where the pyrethrin couldn't begin to touch them, within easy reach of the school. Even if they've managed to kill off all the bugs in the school, I should be able to reach others elsewhere. But she couldn't. Which meant that one of the team's more painful scenarios had come about. Loss of powers. Crap.

    It wasn't an entirely unexpected development; given that they were facing Bonesaw, Lisa had already flagged it as a distinct possibility. Dinah hadn't predicted it, which only meant it wasn't permanent. However, the Dads had always emphasised physical preparation on the outside chance of one or more of them having their powers neutralised, or even if they found themselves facing a foe against whom their powers simply didn't work. Usually this meant 'run away', for which eventuality they had trained assiduously. But there was always the chance of encountering a situation where running away wasn't an option.

    Despite the pain in her arms, Taylor did her best to stay limp. Assess the situation. At the first opportunity, fight my way free. The others haven't been captured, so they'll be setting up to rescue me. Her first duty, she knew, was to make the others' job easier. So who's holding me? Not Jack, he wasn't behind me. Not Bonesaw, not Mannequin. Ah, Burnscar. The height was about right. But how did she get hold of my hair like that? In that position, it'd be basically impossible. It'd need someone else to …

    “How are you holding up, Burnscar?” It was Jack's voice, altogether too close.

    Ah, of course. He helped her. Taylor fought to keep her body relaxed, to not flinch at all.

    “Okay,” the woman holding her said tonelessly. “She's heavy.”

    When he spoke again, Jack was far too close for her comfort. “Has she woken up yet?”

    “She twitched a little while ago.” Taylor thought she felt a shrug. “But I think she's still asleep.”

    “Hmm.” This time, his voice came from mere inches away, so that she felt his breath on her face. Forewarned, she didn't flinch when someone took hold of her eyelid and lifted it. Instead, she kept her eye rolled up into her head as far as it would go. The urge to look at Jack was almost irresistible, but she held her impulses in check. I could kick him in the groin and break free of Burnscar, but then I've still got to get past Bonesaw with no powers.

    “Damn.” He let her eyelid drop. She heard his footsteps as he moved away; carefully, she let the eye close, then cracked the other one open just a fraction. “Hold on for a bit longer, Burnscar. When Mannequin gets back, I'll have him relieve you. Poppet, how strong was that stuff you used on her?”

    She couldn't see too well without her glasses, but as far as she could tell, he was talking to Bonesaw. When the little girl replied, her voice had a defensive tone to it. “It's not my fault, Mr Jack! She's really skinny, and her body prob'ly can't metabolise it all at once. Plus, I gave her the prions. Maybe she's susceptible to stuff like that without her powers to help her out.”

    Prions. They're what took my powers away. Taylor vaguely recalled reading about prions. Badly folded proteins, or something like that. Bonesaw made some that screw with powers. It didn't surprise her, not at all. Some of the diminutive sociopath's previous exploits had been almost as inventive. Though I'll bet on Amy against her any day.

    “Attention, Samaritans.” Jack was talking into her radio again. “You've got one minute before I start carving up Ladybug and … ”

    “He says his name's Greg, Mr Jack,” offered Bonesaw brightly.

    “... and Greg,” Jack Slash concluded. “Forty-five seconds, now. Better hurry.”

    <><>​

    “ … now. Better hurry.”

    Emma chose not to answer; instead, she turned down her radio. Behind her, the others did the same. Plan A was simple; sneak close enough to rescue Taylor. If that didn't work, there was still Plan B, C and D to work with. Radios had more than one frequency, after all.

    With Madison manipulating air currents to cut down the noise of her footsteps, Emma crept closer. All she needed was one good look at the scene. Movement at the corner of her eye drew her attention. A spider-bot had scuttled into view across the corridor, its beady little eyes fixed on them.

    Oh shit, gotta get rid of it. Her hair lashed out in an attempt to grab the offending little construct, but it leaped back out of the way.

    “There they are, Mr Jack!”

    Emma's head whipped around at the sound of Bonesaw's voice. Well, there goes Plan A. Within seconds, three more spider-bots had come into view, all of them watching Emma and Madison. If we do anything hostile, Jack'll probably kill Taylor. Because he's that much of an asshole.

    “Yeah,” she sighed. “Here we are.” She stepped forward, with Madison following.

    It was a wide area in the corridor between classrooms. Jack Slash stood foursquare, cheerfully triumphant, with his fists planted on his hips. In each hand was a wicked-looking knife. Not far from him, Burnscar supported a limp – and unmasked – Taylor from behind, holding her arms immobilised. In front of Jack was someone whom Emma recognised, and wished that she didn't. Fucking Greg Veder. What's he doing here?

    Greg was kneeling, with his arms bound behind him. A gag was fastened around his face; on each shoulder sat a spider-bot, looking like particularly baroque military decorations. Bonesaw stood beside Greg, her innocently cute expression all the more horrifying when Emma considered the current surroundings.

    “And just in time,” Jack declared. He frowned, tilting his head. “But that's not all of you, is it? Where are the people who had the shotguns in the stairwell? You ruined my poppet's fun.”

    “And you killed all my spider-bots,” Bonesaw put in, looking more than a little unhappy. “I spent ages making those, and you killed them. How could you?”

    Maybe Plan B, then. “Well, it's kind of expected, isn't it?” asked Emma, trying for a sincere tone. “You make them and send them against us, and we destroy them. It's good practice for both of us.” She surveyed the scene, looking for a loophole that she could exploit against the remnants of the Nine. Reluctantly, she abandoned Plan B. Taylor was still in extreme danger if she or Madison attacked now; if she had simply been tied up, a rescue or attack may have been feasible. As it was, Jack Slash specialised in the big fuck-you; if they tried anything overt right now, Taylor would be the first to die. And even if he chose not to, Burnscar could immolate her at a moment's notice. Okay, let's go with Plan C.

    “This is the last time I'm going to remind you who you should be paying attention to,” Jack warned her. One of his knives drifted around almost casually; across the corridor, plaster dust kicked out of a groove in the wall that ended right next to Taylor's face. A trickle of blood ran down her cheek, while a hank of her hair drifted to the ground. “Shotguns. Who?”

    Shit. Sorry, Taylor.

    Taylor jolted in Burnscar's hold, and whimpered in pain. “Uh, what's going on?” She took a deep breath and looked around. “Oh, God. I've lost my powers. Oh, God.” The pleading in her tone was obvious to all.

    To Emma, it was as fake as a three-dollar bill. We've practised scenarios where we don't use our powers at all. The Taylor I know wouldn't panic over this. She's putting it on. Excellent.

    She drew a breath and looked Jack in the eye. “PRT personnel. Director Piggot loaned them to us.” She hoped that he believed her, or at least that he believed that she thought that he believed her. All her reading on Jack Slash, as brain-bleach inducing as it was, had indicated something very specific about him; he was all about the mind games. The man liked to fuck with peoples' heads. Which could lead to him pretending to accept a lie.

    Silver blurred in the air as he spun both knives in his hands. “You know,” he mused lazily, “I'm not so certain that I believe you. PRT would use containment foam. Or, more likely, they'd come in with a big attack instead of letting a bunch of little girls do their job for them.”

    “Fine,” she said tightly. “It's a union rep, a divorce lawyer and an accountant. Taking time out of their busy day to come and shoot skeet. Does that suit you better?” She knew she was treading a razor's edge here, but it was Taylor's life on the line.

    Unexpectedly, he laughed out loud. “Now, that sounds like the beginning of a joke. 'A union rep, a divorce lawyer and an accountant walk into a school'.” He raised his eyebrows, tilting his head with a grin. “Now, if you don't call them up on the radio and tell them that Ladybug's going to meet with a very bad end if they don't come down and give themselves up … well, Ladybug's going to meet with a very bad end.”

    “I can do that,” Emma agreed carefully. “We're using code-names over the radio, in case anyone's listening in. Just so you know.” She took hold of the radio in her pocket and pressed the send button. As she lifted it out of her pocket, she turned it so that this wasn't obvious.

    “That's fine,” Jack said easily. “I'll be listening. And if I hear anything that I don't like, then Ladybug loses an eye, or worse. Just so you know.” The knives did that silver-blur thing again.

    “Understood.” Emma raised the radio to her mouth. “Sparx calling all personnel. Delta Hotel, Alpha Bravo, Papa Charlie, do you copy?” Plan C is a go.

    Danny Hebert's voice came back over the radio almost immediately. “Delta Hotel here. The others are with me. Status?”

    “Ladybug confirmed hostage but not injured,” Emma reported tiredly. “One other hostage also confirmed, a student at the school. Both hostages are under threat. You are to lay down your weapons and give yourselves up immediately. That is an order. Do you understand?” Please understand.

    “Papa Charlie here,” replied Rod Clements. “Surrender? Really?”

    “Confirmed, Papa Charlie,” Emma said firmly. “I meant what I said.” She didn't let any of her elation show on her face. Yes. They got it.

    “That's good enough,” Jack told her. “Now, drop the radio. You too, Aerodyne. Don't want you saying anything untoward.” He gestured with the knife toward Taylor; Emma dropped the radio, hoping that it wouldn't break, but not overly worried. We can get more. Beside her, Madison did the same. Emma noted that the petite brunette was doing a great job of keeping her worry under control and letting her do all the talking, which was exactly what she needed to do.

    “Can I dose them now, Mr Jack?” asked Bonesaw excitedly. “And don't forget, you said I could take my pick.” Emma stole a glance at her; the blonde's eyes were glittering with excitement.

    “Certainly, poppet,” Jack said magnanimously. “You two, hold still. If I see a hair tendril or feel a gust of air out of place, your friend over there will be steak tartare before you can blink.” He sounded almost offensively smug.

    Emma didn't blame him, but then, he didn't have all the facts in hand. On the other hand, 'dosing' them sounded ominous. Taylor's lost her powers. Whatever it is, it'll probably do the same to us. Hopefully, Amy should be able to fix it. She had to believe it.

    At some unseen signal, two of the spider-bots scuttled up to Emma and Madison. Emma did her best not to react in disgust as one of them scaled her body, its metal claws latching on to her costume. She wanted badly to seize it with her hair and immolate the thing, but the twofold threat to Taylor was too great. It reached her face and a small hatch opened; a moment later, it spewed a grey powder directly at her mouth and nose. Instinctively, she held her breath.

    “Mr Jack, they're not breathing it,” complained Bonesaw. “Make them breathe it.” She sounded like a petulant child whose friends weren't playing fair with her. Emma wanted to make her light up like the Fourth of July.

    “Last warning,” Jack said, his knife moving in Taylor's direction again.

    I really am getting sick of the way he keeps using her for leverage. Emma grimaced, then opened her mouth and inhaled. The grey powder tasted liked … well, like dust. She coughed, once. A moment later, she realised that her tendrils had all retracted to her normal hair length. Fuck. I really hope that Amy can fix this shit.

    The spider-bots scuttled down and away; unpowered and helpless, Emma stood before Jack Slash. “What now?” she asked.

    “Now …” he began.

    Before he could get farther than that, he was interrupted by a high-pitched voice. “Hey!”

    All three villains looked around; at the far end of the corridor stood a diminutive figure in teal and green. She waved, then held up something in her hand. “Guess what?”

    Jack began to turn away from Emma, his knife coming up. Emma took one long stride forward, her hand darting into her pocket; it came out with an extendible baton. Snapping it out, she brought it down on Jack's wrist. Bone popped, the knife dropped from that hand, and Jack Slash let out a cry at the unexpected pain.

    Fire sparked from the lighter in Vista's hand; space warped, and the lighter flame leaped up and bathed a fire detector. A second later, it began spraying water, as did all the other sprinkler heads down the hallway. Emma was soaked to the bone in an instant, but she didn't care. Jack Slash turned toward her, his careless facade gone. It had been replaced in an instant by Slash's true face, that of the unrepentant mass murderer.

    Out of the corner of her eye, Emma saw Taylor slam Burnscar against the wall. The tall brunette then brought her head back hard against the pyrokinetic's face. Blood running from her nose, Burnscar tried to generate flame in one hand, but it was defeated by the downpour before it even began. Taylor was taller than the woman holding her, and didn't know the meaning of 'quit'; she slammed Burnscar against the wall again. This time, the grip on her arms loosened, and she pulled free.

    “Bitch!” Jack Slash brought his knife up, but all he cut was Emma's coat. She felt the pressure of his projected blade on her stomach, but the costume that Taylor had woven for her was proof against the knife edge. And then she brought the baton back up, intending to take him under the jaw, but he was too quick. He stepped back, waving the knife in a figure-eight; only her arm, interposed at the last moment, saved her from a slash across the face.

    With an ugly grin, he half-turned toward where Taylor was still struggling with Burnscar. His injured arm was raised to defend himself, and Emma knew that he could attack Taylor before she could disable him …

    “Down!” bellowed her father's voice. She obeyed instantly, dropping to the floor. Shotguns thundered from behind her; Jack Slash staggered, dropping the knife. It bounced on the hard floor, unheard against the ringing in her ears. Danny stepped past her, his face set in pale lines. He fired as fast as he could rack the slide, the muzzle of his weapon barely four feet from Jack's chest. Jack went over backward, striking the floor hard.

    Covering her ears with her hands, Emma turned her head to see what was going on. Across the corridor, Taylor was also crouched on the floor. Above her, a large bloodstain was even now being washed off the wall. Burnscar lay bonelessly on the floor, more blood spreading out from her prone body. Emma's father racked the slide and fired another shot, making absolutely certain that the villain would never get back up again.

    Unwilling to see Burnscar's head sprayed across the wall, Emma switched her eyes forward, to where Jack Slash lay on the ground. One hand held his chest, while the other scrabbled feebly for his dropped knife. Danny Hebert put his booted foot on the villain's throat, then pressed the barrel of his shotgun to the man's left eye. Jack's other eye opened wide, and he opened his mouth to say something. Danny pulled the trigger. The blast didn't make Jack Slash's head disintegrate as Burnscar's had, reinforcing Emma's suspicion that Bonesaw had worked on him, but blood and brain matter spurted up from the ruined socket, to be washed away a moment later.

    Dazed from the repeated gunshots in an enclosed space, Emma watched Danny safe his shotgun and sling it over his shoulder. Gradually, she sat up and looked around. Taylor was just getting to her feet, shaking her head in a way that Emma recognised. She was more or less deaf, too. Moving over to Emma, she offered a hand up; Emma accepted. Wiggling her little finger in her ear didn't accomplish much except getting the inside of her ear wet; the ringing in her ears continued unabated. For a mercy, the fire sprinklers shut down around that time, leaving puddles everywhere.

    Bonesaw was down, but she hadn't been shot. Madison stood over her, with a hand outstretched toward the young mass murderer. If she squinted, Emma could see the vague outline of one of Madison's air fields. From the colour of Bonesaw's face, she thought she had an idea of what was going on. The little girl's lips were cherry red, a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Emma had no idea how long Madison had been asphyxiating the murderous little munchkin, but she had to give the girl props; to pull something like that off under Jack Slash's nose was impressive.

    The four spider-bots around her were equally immobile, while the two that had been on Greg Veder were now in pieces on the floor beyond. Greg himself had his eyes closed; Emma couldn't be sure, but he seemed to be moving his lips in prayer behind his gag. Nor could she be certain that the damp patch spreading over Greg's crotch was all due to the water sprinklers. Mr Clements is a really good shot. Emma knew that he used slugs while the other two were using double-ought buckshot.

    Danny lifted his radio and spoke into it. Emma turned to Taylor and made the hand-sign for You okay? Taylor signed back in the affirmative, and added a thumbs-up. Shortly thereafter, Athena and Panacea emerged from the same corridor, along with Vista. Athena looked at the girls, then pointed at Taylor and said something. Emma got her attention and signed, We're deaf. Athena grinned and replied Sorry, didn't get that. Emma gave her a hand signal that was not in their official repertoire; Athena laughed. Panacea went over to Taylor and held out a hand. Taylor tugged off a glove and gripped it. Moments later, they were done; Panacea signed to Emma, How about you? Emma already had a glove off; she held out her hand for Panacea to grab.

    The first thing that came back was her hearing. The fire-alarm bell assaulted her ears, almost making her wish for deafness again. “How are your powers?” asked Panacea.

    “Uh, I breathed in that powder and they went away,” Emma told her with a frown. “Is that permanent?”

    It was Panacea's turn to frown. “I was worried about that. Bonesaw must have created prions to screw with your powers. I can see the effects in your brain. Ladybug's, too.”

    “What about Aerodyne?” asked Emma worriedly. She turned to Madison. “You breathed them in, too.”

    Madison chuckled but didn't turn away from Bonesaw. “Yeah, but I breathed them straight back out. I control what goes into my lungs, not her.”

    “That's my girl,” Rod Clements said warmly. He looked at Panacea. “So, the brain, huh?”

    “Yeah, the brain.” Panacea looked at the floor.

    Emma knew what they were getting at. The brain was one thing Amy didn't tamper with. She turned to Panacea. “Whatever you choose, I'm good with it,” she said. Almost to her surprise, she realised that it was the truth. It would be a hell of a jar to no longer be an active member of the Samaritans, but there was more than one way to help people. And if she had to go through it with anyone, she was kind of glad it was Taylor. They'd been best friends forever, after all.

    "Me, too," Taylor added immediately. She bent down and picked up her helmet, then retrieved her cut-off hair. "No sense in leaving clues, after all." Carefully, she fitted the helmet back on her head, tucking her hair up under it. The strap had been cut, so she let that dangle free. It was good to have the goggles back in place over her eyes.

    Rod Clements nodded in approval. “Now, what do we do with her?” He pointed at Bonesaw.

    “I know what I'd like to do to her,” said Danny darkly. He took the shotgun from his shoulder and flicked the safety off.

    “We discussed this,” Athena said firmly. “Too much chance that she's left a final fuck-you somewhere in her body.”

    Emma nodded. “I think the best idea is to clean her up, then see what we want to do then.” She wanted to see the last member of the Nine dead as well, but she also knew that doing this wouldn't get her powers back. Catching Panacea's eye, she tilted her head. “You okay with this?”

    Panacea glanced at Athena, who grinned and gave a slight shrug. She turned back to Emma. “Sure. Let's do this.”

    Stepping up to Bonesaw, Panacea reached in through the field and placed her hand on the girl's forehead. “Christ,” she said. “She's full of fucking pathogens. And implants. How the hell did she even install half this stuff?”

    “Fucking Tinkers?” hazarded Emma, making her father give her a sharp glance. She shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “Well, it's true.”

    He sighed. “I wish you weren't right.”

    “Wait a minute,” said Rod Clements, gesturing at the still-bound Greg, whose eyes were now following them around. “Isn't anyone going to untie him?”

    “No.” Taylor's voice was firm. “That idiot hid in a closet when we evacuated the school. He nearly got me killed. He nearly got you guys killed. Let him stay tied up a bit longer.”

    “Well, at least maybe we should ungag him,” Emma's father suggested.

    Emma shook her head, recalling how Greg could blather on. “No, we really shouldn't. Let the PRT untie him.”

    “Screw the PRT,” Danny decided. “Pretty sure that endangering others during a cape attack is a chargeable offence. We're getting the cops in on this.” The look he shot at Greg made the boy flinch back. He stepped closer to the wide-eyed boy, hefting the shotgun. “And if you've got any thoughts about telling anyone, ever, about Ladybug's true identity, just remember what happened to the last guy who threatened her well-being.” He racked the slide for emphasis. “Got me?”

    Greg's eyes rolled back into his head, and he slumped down in a faint. Emma's father nodded with approval. “Well done, Danny. I'm gonna have to remember how you said that, for when Emma starts dating.”

    “Dad!” protested Emma, but her heart wasn't in it. “You wouldn't threaten a boy with a shotgun, would you?”

    “Figure he'd only have to do it once per boy,” Rod Clements put in, then became all business. “Who wants to call the PRT and let them know it's all over?”

    “I'll take care of that,” Vista offered. “I'm the liaison, after all. Who wants to come with me and get Mannequin?” She pointed down the corridor.

    “I'll do that,” offered Emma. “My hair … oh. Crap.”

    Taylor grimaced. “Yeah. Crap. It's weird, not having bugs to call on.”

    “I've got an idea for dealing with that,” Amy said without looking up from Bonesaw's prone body. “I'll see if it works when you get back.”

    <><>​

    Mannequin was still at the bottom of the steps where Vista had left him, his carapace rocking very slightly as he tried to move his vastly reduced arms and legs. As Emma looked down at him, she tried hard not to smile, and failed. She put her foot on the carapace and pushed gently; he slid across the smooth floor with almost no effort. “Frictionless coating,” she noted. “Looks like Athena was right again. I doubt the glue bugs would've done anything at all.”

    “Yeah,” Taylor agreed. She gave him a shove as well; the carapace slid across the floor, stopping only when it struck the wall. “Huh. That's really frictionless.”

    Vista nodded. “Yeah, he slid all the way down the stairs when I did this to him.”

    Emma shared a glance with Taylor. “Are you thinking what I'm thinking?”

    Taylor's eyes lit up behind her goggles. “If you're thinking toboggan, hell yes.”

    Vista looked from one to the other. “You can't be serious. Either of you.”

    “Come on, Vista.” Emma's grin was contagious. “When was the last time you used a supervillain to go tobogganing on?”

    “And it'll get him back there more quickly,” Taylor pointed out. “So it's for a good cause.”

    Vista rolled her eyes behind her visor. “I can't believe I'm younger than you guys.”

    “So, is that a yes or a no?” Taylor sounded hopeful.

    For a long moment, Vista stared at her sternly. Then the facade cracked and she grinned broadly. “Sure. But I get to steer.”

    A few moments later, Vista had elongated the carapace a little, and adjusted the outside shape so that it would be stable. She knelt up at the end that they had decided was the front, which was in fact where his 'head' was, hanging on to his arms in the absence of better handgrips. Behind her crouched Taylor, holding tightly to her waist.

    “Ready?” asked Emma from her place behind the makeshift toboggan.

    “Ready,” chorused Vista and Taylor.

    “Okay, here we go!” Emma took hold of the handles – extensions of what had been Mannequin's feet – that protruded from the 'rear' of the Mannequin carapace and started pushing it, harder and harder. It slid with barely any resistance at all; in seconds, she was running as fast as she could. When she figured she couldn't get it going any faster, she leaped forward, landing on her knees behind Taylor. Vista took over then, raising the floor in a gentle wave to keep them going as fast as she could.

    “Wooohooo!” Taylor started whooping first, but Vista and Emma quickly joined in. Shrieking like banshees, clinging on for dear life as Vista negotiated the corridor turns, the three girls whipped through the school on perhaps the most unconventional mode of transport known to mankind.

    <><>​

    Danny looked around, then stared as the three girls rocketed into view on … something that was white and shaped like a thick toboggan, shouting at the tops of their lungs. As they came near, it slowed a little and the girls tumbled off and lay on their backs, laughing hysterically. The thing they had been riding on continued on until it hit a wall and stopped. He stared at them, then at their conveyance.

    His voice was plaintive. “Do I want to know, or am I going to regret asking?”

    Emma sat up, still giggling madly. “Mannequin tobogganing. It's a once in a lifetime experience. How could we pass it up?”

    “Oh, you didn't.” Athena wandered over to look at what was going on. “Oh, man. You did. You really did. Holy shit, you turned Mannequin into a bobsled. Okay, that's … fuck. That's insane. I love it.” She leaned against the wall and started giggling as well. “I love this team. This sort of shit never happened in the Undersiders.”

    “How long's he going to be helpless like that?” asked Alan practically. “We don't want him suddenly popping back into normal size again.”

    “No, true,” agreed Vista, climbing to her feet. Tears of mirth were trickling down from her visor. “I can hold him indefinitely. Once the PRT gets here, we can just cut off his arms and legs. He's helpless then.” She looked around. “Oh, you covered their faces. That's a lot better. Thanks.”

    Danny shrugged. “I didn't much want to keep looking at them, either.” Jack Slash's shirt, cut and torn in two, had served to cover the faces of the dead villains. “How long till the PRT gets here?”

    Vista shrugged. “Five minutes. The Director agreed to stay back, but not all that far.” Her gaze went to where Panacea was still kneeling by Bonesaw. The blonde's lips were back to their normal colouring. “What's happened with her?”

    “Yeah, that's the current problem.” Athena put her arm over Vista's shoulders. “Panacea got rid of all the diseases, and sterilised everything that came out of her, but she says that Bonesaw's got mental issues all over the place, including a massive case of Stockholm Syndrome.”

    “Oh. Ew.” Vista stared at the child villain. “So she wasn't always like this?”

    Danny shook his head sombrely. “From what we can tell, Jack Slash kidnapped her and twisted her mind to act like he did. That Master effect we speculated on, remember?”

    Vista frowned. “And Panacea doesn't do brains.” Danny could see her mulling it over. While looking up all the resources they could use to train the girls, he and Alan had heard many horror stories of heroes being Mastered and forced to fight against their comrades. If Jack Slash could create such a Master effect over time, then Bonesaw was as much a victim as any of the people she'd killed and maimed. Worse, if the effect lasted after his death, there was no simple way of removing the mental problems that were forcing her into sociopathic behaviour.

    “The trouble,” Amy put in unexpectedly, “is that she's the ultimate surgeon. She could save as many lives as she's taken. If we just kill her, that goes away. Justice is done, but at a cost to the future. On the other hand, we could kill her here and now, with no danger to the public, and nobody would care.” She looked at Danny. “The big question is, should we?”

    Danny found his eyes drifting to the corpse of Jack Slash. The man had been a stone killer and an unrepentant monster. He had not been forced into villainy; from what Danny could tell, he had leaped feet first into it, and revelled in his excesses. Danny didn't regret killing him for one second; if he had to do it again, he would not hesitate.

    But Jack Slash was not Bonesaw. One was a grown man; the other, a little girl. Younger than Taylor, even. One had chosen his path, while the other had been forced into it.

    And yet, she was a monster. A murderer, hundreds of times over.

    He could see no right path.

    “That,” he admitted, “is a … really good question.”



    End of Part Twenty-Seven

    Part Twenty-Eight
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2018
  13. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka True Evil

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    Ah the age old question of Worm.......What to do with Bonesaw?
     
  14. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    And Jack dies the death he deserves. Even got lucky and it was quick, though he might be vexed that he was killed by a non-parahuman with a shotgun, instead of going out in a blaze of glory against the Triumvirate. Now... will Amy break her rule?
     
  15. Hotaru Lind

    Hotaru Lind Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Just caught up on this and quickly weighing in on Greg hiding in the closet and Taylor missing him, it's very possible, as Ack said the door was flush and the same colour as the wall and honestly when you were at high school how often did you remember every closet, nook and cranny in the place especially when you were under a known time limit?
    So yes I can very easily believe Greg managed to hide, although he should be expelled at the very least along with reckless endangerment charges. Criminal stupidity would be good as well.
     
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  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Is criminal stupidity a chargeable offence? :p
     
  17. Sinner_sb

    Sinner_sb Versed in the lewd.

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    Should be, but sadly isn't.
     
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  18. Dr. Mercurious

    Dr. Mercurious Not too sore, are you?

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    It depends; if your stupidity results in, say, driving while drunk then yes, yes it is.
     
  19. Sinner_sb

    Sinner_sb Versed in the lewd.

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    True.
     
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  20. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    Usually falls under negligence, reckless endangerment and/or manslaughter.
     
  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Methinks Greg is going to be charged under reckless endangerment.
     
  22. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    If it's not a chargeable offense, it's not criminal stupidity, now is it? (Well, I suppose non-illegal stupidity committed by people who are criminals would also qualify as 'criminal stupidity'. But that doesn't apply here.)
     
  23. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Eight: A New Challenge
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One More Trigger

    Part Twenty-Eight: A New Challenge

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



    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Danny

    “Bonesaw aside,” Danny stated, “there remains the other problem. Ladybug and Sparx. Specifically, their lack of powers.” He looked at the two girls who'd been sisters in all but name for more than ten years, then at Panacea. “You said you had an idea for fixing it.”

    “I did and I do,” Amy said. “I'm just going to need a sample of the stuff she used to take away your powers.” She looked around at the wreckage of the spider-bots. “... which isn't here,” she said, sounding slightly irritated. “I'm not going to tell you how to do your jobs, but cracking these skittering little assholes open with shotguns then dousing them with water is not the best way to preserve any prions they might be carrying. Just saying.”

    “Upstairs,” Danny said, his mind reaching back to the turkey shoot they'd had in the roof access stairwell. “We blew apart a dozen or more of the suckers. Some of them got inside the door to the roof access. No sprinklers, very little air movement.”

    Panacea smiled. “Perfect. You've got this under control?”

    Danny nodded. “We're going to make a strategic withdrawal so the PRT doesn't have too many headaches to worry about. See you at home?”

    Taylor stepped over to him as Amy headed off down the corridor. “See you at home, Dad,” she said softly, then gave him a hug. “Don't worry. Amy knows what she's doing.”

    "You'll excuse me if I worry anyway," Danny replied firmly. "It's my right and privilege as a father." He gathered in Alan and Rob by eye. "Let's go, guys."

    "I'll walk you guys out," Vista decided. "It'll save a whole heap of trouble if the PRT doesn't end up detaining you on suspicion." She frowned. "And I wouldn't be totally surprised if I found out that we have information leaks. Which, given the number of people this team has handled pretty roughly, might just put targets on your backs. Which nobody wants."

    "I'm about ninety-five percent sure I could name some leakers if you gave me access to your secure employee files, including their financial records," Lisa offered cheerfully. From the smirk on her face, she didn't expect the offer to be taken seriously. However, Danny didn't think she was totally joking.

    Vista snorted. "Yeah, I do that, and about three seconds later the Director kicks me to the curb. No thanks; I like being in the Wards." Humour glinted in her eye. "Not that they'll be totally pleased with me, once I get back to them with my new training ideas." She turned to the three adults. “If you'll come with me, gentlemen?”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Taylor watched them leave, then turned to Lisa. “So, you think Amy's got a chance at fixing our powers?” Reflexively, she once more reached for her bugs, but they just weren't there. The lack was … disconcerting, not unlike being deprived of one of her senses. Which, in a very real way, it was. Her bugs hadn't been the best at giving her visual or audible information, but they were second to none at scouting out remote areas and telling her exactly what was in them.

    Emma, on the other hand, kept glancing up toward her hairline and grimacing very slightly. Nobody but Taylor and probably Lisa would even have been able to tell, but Lisa was stupidly perceptive for stuff like that, and Taylor had known Emma since forever.

    With a side-glance at Emma, Lisa gave Taylor a very slight nod. Yeah, she's feeling weird too. “She definitely thinks so. I mean, I'm not the Tinker Bonesaw is, and I've only got a moderate handle on Amy's powers, but I think she can do it.”

    Moderate, hah. Taylor would've bet a large amount of money that Lisa had a better understanding of Amy's powers than anyone except Amy herself, and even Amy wasn't a guarantee. Heading over to Emma, Taylor put her arm around her best friend's shoulders and pulled her in close for a one-armed hug. “Hey, you hear that?” she asked. “If Lisa and Amy both think there's a good chance of this working, it's pretty well a given, yeah?”

    “Yeah, I heard.” Emma gave her a wan smile, then snaked her arm around Taylor and squeezed her in return. “It just feels weird, you know? I've had these powers for ages now, and it feels like I've just lost a limb.”

    Taylor nodded sympathetically. “I know what you mean. For me it's a whole sense, like I just went deaf or blind or something.” She leaned her head against Emma's. “That was the scariest thing for me. Not wondering if you were gonna save me, but the possibility of never being part of the team again.”

    A pair of arms encircled them both from behind. “Well, I have faith in Amy,” Lisa said firmly. “If anyone can fix this, she can. And if it can be fixed without messing with your brains, she can do that, too.”

    It was weird that Taylor trusted Lisa implicitly in this. The girl had been a member of a villain team not so long ago, after all. Of course, they had helped capture her asshole boss and bring her around to the side of light. Or rather, she'd defected to the side of light and they'd aided and abetted her efforts. This hadn't earned them any brownie points from Director Piggot, but Vista seemed to get along with the girl, so there was that.

    Interestingly enough, the team member Lisa got along best with was Amy. Taylor and Emma had reached an unspoken accord to watch the pair in case Lisa upset the healer in any way, but the ex-villain seemed to be genuinely supportive of Amy's emotional needs. Amy was definitely more confident these days, anyway. Though perhaps some of that was due to the training sessions the Dad Brigade still put the team through on a regular occasion.

    “Oh, God, never mention those again,” Lisa groaned. “I'm still sore from the last time Mr Clements peppered my butt with those paintballs.”

    Taylor looked at her sharply. “I never said a word,” she pointed out. “How did you know what I was thinking?” Then she shook her head as Lisa began to grin. “Okay, never mind. My bad. Do you mind not doing that? It's very disconcerting.”

    “But it's funny as hell when I do it to the bad guys,” Lisa reminded her. “And I don't recall you complaining when I figured out what Jack Slash was up to, and that Burnscar was going to be with him.”

    “Figured out, hah,” Emma retorted. “I know what you did there. You're good, but not even you can read the future. You called Dinah Alcott, and she told you what to expect.” She smirked as Lisa stuck her tongue out at her.

    “So that's how you did it,” Madison said in tones of enlightenment. “I was wondering.” Giving Lisa a mock glare, she wrinkled her nose at the blonde. “And here I thought you'd pulled off some bullshit stunt of power-trickery.”

    “It was a bullshit stunt of power-trickery,” Lisa protested. “My power told me that she'd be able to help us, and it even filled me in on the questions I needed to ask. She's got a limited number of answers per day she can give, you know.”

    “Huh,” mused Taylor. “It was pretty cool, I guess.” She looked around as Vista stepped back into the room. “Everything good?”

    “They're away safely,” Vista confirmed. “PRT will be here in just a minute.” The sound of running shoes scuffing on stairs echoed down the corridor. “And that would be Amy.”

    “Oh, good,” Emma said with evident relief. “I really don't want the PRT to see me like this.”

    “You just like to freak them out with your tentacle hair monster impression,” Lisa deadpanned, startling a snort of amusement from Emma.

    “Mayybe?” the redhead replied, but she was obviously a little more relaxed about the whole thing. Taylor chalked another win up to the ex-villain's perceptiveness.

    “Yeah, well, that's why I went with the theme I did for my costume,” Taylor said. “I'd be way too scary if I wore something that made me look all dark and brooding.”

    “Yes, yes, you would,” agreed Vista, a grin lurking on her face. “You're scary enough as you are. Trust me, you don't need the help.”

    Taylor was still searching for a proper response to that when Amy rejoined them. “Oh, hey,” Emma greeted the biokinetic. “How'd it go?”

    “Not great,” Amy said, her expression downcast. “I found enough prions to fix one of you, but not both.” She grimaced. “Sorry.”

    Without hesitation, Taylor pointed at Emma. “Her,” she said. With a certain sense of bemusement, she realised that Emma was pointing back in her direction, and had said exactly the same thing. It hurt to do it—knowing she could get her powers back, but only at the expense of Emma's powers—but she opened her mouth to insist that Emma be the one to receive the treatment.

    Only for Amy's face to contort and break into a broad grin. “I'm kidding,” she said. “Wow, geez. Do you two need to get a room or something?”

    The sense of shock that washed through Taylor's chest and stomach had an almost physical impact to it. Her face tingled with the relief that followed hard on its heels. “What the … Amy, you … you …” She stared at Lisa accusingly. “You knew! Why didn't you tell us she was pulling our legs?”

    Lisa smirked. “Because it was funny,” she said, obviously holding back laughter. “The looks on your faces when she pulled the reveal … that was classic.”

    “Asshole.” Taylor rolled her eyes, then turned to Amy. “Maybe you're the one who needs glasses. Emma and me are like sisters, and that's it.”

    Amy's reply was cut short by the sounds of boots coming along the corridor. Shedding the humour as if it had never happened, she cleared her throat and stepped toward Taylor and Emma. Licking her finger, she held it out. “The cure's in my saliva,” she said quietly.

    Before she could think too hard about what she was doing, Taylor swiped her finger across Amy's and put it in her mouth. A moment later, Emma did the same. “You're sure this'll work …” began Emma, then stopped. “Whoa …” she breathed, as her hair began to grow out again.

    Whoa indeed. Taylor felt an unfolding in her brain as the presence of the bugs began to impinge on her sensorium once more. First one, then ten, then a thousand, then all of the millions and millions of bugs of all kinds in Brockton Bay. Every single one of them was within her purview, under her control. Those created or enhanced by Amy had a certain spark to them, but the rest were just as clear to her.

    She wiped the growing smile off of her face as Vista returned. Her bugs had already warned her that the younger girl wasn't alone, and from the messages her bugs were sending back, it wasn't hard to tell who was there. A moment later, Armsmaster stepped around the corner, followed by several PRT troopers. The troopers were all armed with both containment foam sprayers and rifles. Taylor's bugs confirmed her suspicion that there were a lot more troopers, and people who seemed to be in costume rather than ordinary clothes or uniforms around the perimeter of the school.

    “Hi, Armsmaster,” Emma greeted the local head of the Protectorate. “Jack Slash and Burnscar didn't give us a real choice, so they died. Bonesaw, we managed to take alive. They're all yours.”

    “Sparx,” the armoured hero noted, giving her a polite nod. “Ladybug. Aerodyne. Panacea. Athena. You're all well?”

    Taylor shrugged. “I had a knife at my throat for a bit, but …” She trailed off as Armsmaster stopped paying attention to her. Going over to the bodies, he used the tip of his halberd to move the remains of Jack Slash's shirt aside from their ruined faces. When he looked back at her, his lips were compressed tightly together. "What?" she asked.

    “What did this?” asked Armsmaster, his voice somewhat harder. He leaned closer, examining the wrecked eyesocket and the shotgun wounds Danny had left in the serial killer's chest and stomach. The Dad Brigade had of course policed up their spent shells while she and the others had been collecting Mannequin. It was just another way to keep the PRT guessing. “This is not indicative of any of your powers. In fact, I would strongly suspect that he's been shot multiple times at close range. Twelve-gauge shotgun, double-ought buck.”

    Emma leaned against the wall, crossing one leg over the other and folding her arms loosely. At this extremely obvious silent message—I'm not telling you shit—Taylor hid a smile. “Well, you're the expert in firearms. I've never owned one in my life.” Which was absolutely true. Her father owned the shotgun, not Emma.

    Armsmaster's tightened a little more as he turned to Taylor. “Ladybug, who shot Jack Slash and Burnscar?”

    Taylor shrugged. “Does it matter? They're dead.” She indicated the still-bound Greg Veder. “Instead of talking about the patently obvious, how about you deal with this moron? He's the one who decided to sneak back into the school, and damn near upset the whole operation.”

    “Yes, Vista told us about him. In some detail.” From the tone of Armsmaster's voice, Vista had been particularly insistent that they do something about Greg. The armoured cape turned to look down at the unconscious teen. “What did you do to him?”

    “Nothing.” Taylor thought about shrugging again, but decided against it. “I think he fainted when he realised how badly he screwed up.” She took a step forward. “Because of him, I was captured and held hostage by Jack Slash. If we hadn't had a contingency plan for just this possibility, things may have turned out very badly for everyone involved.” She stared directly into the opaque visor. “I'm told there are laws on the books for people who interfere in operations like this. I expect the PRT to prosecute him to the full extent of the law, if only because a Ward was involved and thereby placed in danger.”

    As she spoke, he'd been opening his mouth, but shut it again at the mention of Vista. After a moment, he nodded. “I'll brief the Director accordingly.”

    “Brief me about what?” Director Piggot limped into sight, followed by several PRT troopers. “Hello, Sparx, Ladybug, Aerodyne.” A general nod in the direction of Lisa and Amy was the remainder of her greeting.

    “Director Piggot, you agreed to stay back out of the school.” Armsmaster's voice was neutral, though Taylor thought she picked up a reproving tone.

    “Until it was cleared,” she retorted. “It's been cleared. Between the Samaritans, you, Velocity and our own troops, this school is as secure as anything can get.” She looked dispassionately down at Greg. “This is the idiot who ran into a combat zone and put people in danger?”

    Emma straightened up from the wall and stepped forward. “That's him. We were just telling Armsmaster that he could've gotten Ladybug, or even everyone on the team, killed. Can we count on the PRT to see him prosecuted, or are we going to have to do it ourselves?”

    Piggot shook her head, a scowl twisting her face. “This sort of thing gets troopers killed. The PRT holds a low opinion of it. Mine is even lower. Do you know his name?”

    “Veder, ma'am,” Taylor supplied. “Greg Veder. He's a student here at Winslow.”

    “Very well.” Piggot turned to one of the troopers. “Benchwell, take the young man into custody. Have someone consult with Legal to determine the charges that will be brought against him. In the meantime, untie him and give him any medical attention that he needs.” She shot a sharp glance toward Amy. “I assume he's been checked over. Why is he unconscious?”

    “He's fully healthy, apart from apparently lacking anything resembling common sense,” Amy replied snarkily. “He just fainted a few minutes ago when he realised how angry we were with him.”

    “He's waking up now,” Lisa interjected. “It was only a minor shock to the system, after all.” She gave the Director a cheeky grin. “If you want to have the fun of giving him the good news, feel free.”

    As Benchwell knelt down behind Greg and began to free his hands, the teen opened his eyes and looked around. “Oh, God,” he groaned. “Where am I? What's going on?”

    For a moment, Taylor thought the Director was going to stay back out of the way, but the heavy-set woman stepped forward. “Mr Veder,” she said bluntly. “You're in the custody of the PRT until we can contact your next of kin and inform them of the charges that we will be laying against you.”

    “Charges?” Greg's voice was faint. “What charges?”

    “Criminal charges accruing from your deliberate interference in a sanctioned cape operation against an S-class threat.” Piggot's voice was flat. “Interference that led to the endangerment of a Protectorate-affiliated team, as well as a Ward liaison to that team. Both are serious crimes.”

    With another groan, Greg's eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped to the floor once more. Amy crossed the distance between them and knelt beside him. “He's fine,” she reported after laying a couple of fingers on his neck. “He's just feeling a little fragile right now, is all.”

    “Good.” Piggot turned away from Greg, apparently dismissing him from her mind. Next, she bore down on Bonesaw, who was being covered by two troopers with rifles, despite being both unconscious and bound. “Why is she still alive?”

    Well, that's definitely to the point. “I, uh, I was able to take her down nonlethally,” Madison said. “We don't actually like killing.”

    “Which I suppose is a relief when it comes to a team as effective as yours.” For all the emotion in Piggot's voice, she may as well have been talking about the weather. “PRT regulations forbid the execution of a helpless prisoner, save under carefully monitored conditions. We've got to keep their rights in mind, after all.” Her mouth twisted in distaste.

    Taylor got the message loud and clear; it would've made things a lot smoother if they'd just done the deed before the PRT showed up. “Actually …” she ventured. “We talked about that. Is there any chance she can be rehabilitated?”

    Armsmaster, Director Piggot and all the PRT troopers turned their heads to stare at her incredulously. Of course, the Director's face was the only one she could see the expression on, but it was incredulous enough to make up for the ones she couldn't see. Piggot spoke for them all. “You can not be serious.”

    “Actually, she is,” Amy said, stepping forward. “I've seen the mess that's been made of Bonesaw's brain. She's got a case of Stockholm Syndrome that should really make the record books. From what we could tell, Jack Slash was a low-level Master who could literally force people to subscribe to his point of view, and to take it on as their own. Whether this Master effect will wear off after his death … that part I don't know.” She gave the Director an appealing look. “But if it does, if it's possible to bring her back from wherever she is now, she'd make an amazing surgeon who could probably save as many—”

    “If you're about to say 'lives', let me stop you right there.” Piggot leaned forward slightly. “I'll make myself perfectly clear. There is no way on God's green Earth I'm ever going authorise that girl to perform so much as an ear piercing on a living human being. No matter how much therapy she undergoes.”

    “But if she was Mastered—” began Taylor.

    “Child psychopath or Master victim, it doesn't really matter.” The Director chopped the air with her hand. “The fact remains that she's insanely dangerous, even within solitary confinement. We literally can't ever trust her again, no matter how many people declare her sane. If she's like a Simurgh victim, and the way you're describing seems to denote several similarities, the safest thing in the world is to presume that she's a ticking time bomb and never, ever give her a chance to go off where she can hurt someone.” She raised her chin. “On the other hand, you have my profound gratitude for destroying the Nine once and for all. We'll be contacting you very soon through Vista regarding the bounties. I understand you've got a bank account set up for such monies to be paid into?”

    “We do,” confirmed Emma. As they spoke, photos had been taken of the bodies. Body-bags were unrolled and the corpses were zipped into them. The bags seemed to be more robust than the norm, but she supposed that bodies with dangerous properties were the PRT's stock in trade. Bonesaw was also bundled into such a bag which had been half-filled with containment foam, then a sprayer nozzle was inserted and the bag was filled all the way before it was sealed. “So what are you going to do with them?” She indicated Bonesaw and Mannequin's disabled carapace.

    Piggot's expression was sour. “Normally I wouldn't discuss this beforehand, but we owe you a debt of gratitude for capturing them twice, when nobody else has even succeeded in doing so once. To be honest, I don't recall the last time we had people with kill orders get captured, escape custody, then be recaptured without dying in the process. I'm going to have to consult on this one, but I think the consensus will be execution for the both of them, as soon as we can schedule it. Perhaps the Birdcage for Bonesaw, but I doubt it.”

    “Right.” Emma nodded. “Well, you seem to have this all under control. Has Vista warned you about the prion danger?”

    “She has,” Armsmaster confirmed. “We have troops sanitising all of the spider-bot remains as we speak.”

    “Uh, just so you know?” Lisa raised a finger. “The temptation to analyse the stuff and try to use it to make more would be pretty strong. After all, being able to negate the powers of any capes you decide don't deserve them? Yeah, that sounds like a dream come true, but it's probably not a good idea, because we know you've got access to it.” She grinned her fox-like grin. “We will be keeping an eye on you.”

    Piggot's lips thinned. “Noted.”

    Taylor got the impression she was irritated at more than just being spoken to so chidingly. Shit, she really intended to try to reproduce that stuff. Good call, Lisa. “So what happens now?”

    “There's still the matter of your rewards and the Veder matter to deal with,” the Director stated. “Come in to the PRT building at any time, and I'll make sure there's someone available to take your statements and deal with the banking information.” She checked her watch. “I've got many demands on my time, so I can't stay long.” Something resembling a smile crossed her face; Taylor got the impression they didn't happen often. “For now, good work. You've done the city a great service today.” Turning, she limped toward the exit.

    Armsmaster lingered. “I'd still like to know who shot Burnscar and Jack Slash. You understand, they wouldn't be in trouble. Are you hiring minions now?”

    Madison snorted, which didn't surprise Taylor. The look on her dad's face—on any of their faces—on being described as a 'minion' would be … impressive. “As if,” she said dismissively. “No minions involved here.”

    For just a moment, Armsmaster looked as though he was going to pursue the matter, but then he shook his head. “Have it your way,” he said, sounding less than thrilled. “You'll see your own way out?”

    “Count on it,” Emma assured him.

    They watched him stride away down the corridor, halberd now racked on his back. While there were still PRT troopers moving around, the six of them were temporarily left alone. Emma tilted her head toward the exit. “Come on, let's go.”

    <><>​

    Madison

    Outside the building, the PRT had set up a cordon. Obviously forewarned, the troopers waved them through. Nobody was close enough to overhear as they walked away from the school, but Madison put up a privacy shield anyway. The words that were burning to be said escaped her as soon as she had it up and running. “Wow, holy shit. Ungrateful much?”

    “Actually, not really,” mused Vista, giving Madison a quick side-hug. “Piggot's always been a cast-iron hardass, and Armsmaster's extremely … focused.” She shrugged. “I thought it went really well, actually.”

    “You realise they're almost certainly going to execute Bonesaw,” Amy pointed out. “Mannequin too, but he was a villain before he met Jack Slash. I'm pretty sure Bonesaw wasn't. I mean, aren't second chances supposed to be a thing?”

    Emma cleared her throat, looking uncomfortable. “When we first captured Bonesaw, I had a chat with her and she floated that exact same idea to me. I'm not quite sure what to think about it. On the one hand, she is by definition an absolutely top-notch surgeon. The trouble is, she's also got a long record of using those surgical skills to maim and kill people just for laughs.”

    “Or rather, for Jack Slash's laughs,” Amy interjected. “He was the influence behind the Nine for over twenty years. Now that he's dead and gone, she should be able to get out from under his shadow.” She looked at each of them in turn. “I can't affect brains, but I can tell from someone's thought patterns how they're likely to act. If Bonesaw was made safe and went through therapy, I'd be able to tell if she was still interested in Frankensteining people.”

    “Oh, I believe you,” Lisa said, hanging her arm around Amy's shoulders. “That would totally work, except for one tiny problem. They'd be willing to accept all the healing off of you but no matter what you told them, they'd refuse to accept your word on Bonesaw. And you know, to be fair, she has maimed or killed enough people to fill a small town. It's asking a lot for people to ignore all of that, you know?”

    Emma nodded. “And I have to admit, I can understand that point of view. Letting Bonesaw operate on you deliberately …” She shuddered. “Nope. Just nope.”

    “I know,” muttered Amy. “It just sucks, is all. Before I met you guys, I was …” She trailed off. “Never mind.”

    “You were what?” asked Lisa. “You know the rules we set. If you start saying something, you're expected to finish it. That way, nothing stays bottled up.”

    “Yeah, yeah.” Amy sighed. “Before I met you guys, I was scared I was going to go down the villain path sooner or later. Because I'm pretty sure my dad was a villain, and I'm trying to be a proper hero, but I was getting to the point where I was tempted to screw up healing people just so they didn't expect so much from me in the future.” She glanced at the other members of the team, as if expecting them to reject her for the admission. “I don't feel like that now, of course. But I did then.”

    “Hey, it's okay,” Emma encouraged her. “You're a valued member of the team, and we're never going to tell you what you can and can't do.”

    “And I appreciate it,” Amy said with a wan smile. “Lisa's been helping me so much, too. Anyway, I feel like I was given a second chance. I was going down a dark path, and you guys pulled me back before anything bad actually happened. The way I see it, Bonesaw got dragged down that path by Jack Slash. Doesn't she deserve a second chance too?”

    “There's something else,” Madison said, surprising herself. “Something you're not telling us. There's any number of people out there every day who'd benefit from a second chance. Most of them aren't looking at execution or the Birdcage. Why are you focusing on her in particular?”

    Lisa grinned at her. “Nicely spotted. I wasn't going to say anything, but it's up to Amy if she wants to.”

    From the look on Amy's face, she didn't want to. Which wasn't altogether surprising. As far as Madison could tell, the biokinetic was an intensely private person. Lisa had begun the work of getting her to open up and share, but there was a long way to go as yet before she was as chatty as, say, Taylor. Though that prank she played on them earlier is definitely a good sign.

    The silence hung on for a long moment, then Amy nodded. “Okay, fine,” she grumbled, though Madison got the impression she was glad to have the excuse to vent. “You all suck. I want to give Bonesaw a second chance so I can maybe take a total holiday from healing for a bit. Walk away from it altogether without feeling guilty. There's not much I can do that she can't, after all.”

    Emma blinked. “Well, I wasn't actually expecting that,” she admitted. “To become a productive member of society, sure. But not to actually take over what you do, not something I anticipated.”

    “Yeah, well, I was half-expecting her to ask us to offer Bonesaw a place on the team,” Taylor revealed. She chuckled and shrugged sheepishly as everyone stared at her. “Hey, so I got it wrong. Before you take me out the back and shoot me for even thinking it, we've already let one villain into the team so far.”

    Ex-villlain,” Lisa corrected Taylor, mock-primly. “Those days are far behind me.”

    Amy elbowed her gently in the ribs. “All of a week and a half behind you, you mean,” she said with a grin. “You make it sound like you just collected your twelve-months-without-crime pin or something.”

    Madison chuckled at the idea. “Do you think people would go for a Villain's Anonymous?” she said to Amy. “Where they sit around and talk about the crimes they've managed to avoid committing?”

    Emma burst out laughing. “Mein namen ist Kaiser,” she proclaimed in a horrific mangling of a German accent, holding one finger under her nose, and the other hand up in a straight-armed salute. “I am ein supervillain, undt I am also ein Nazi asshole.”

    “I'm sorry, Kaiser,” Taylor said with a giggle of her own. “Nazi Assholes Anonymous is down the hall.”

    “Look for … the door … with the … swastika on it,” gasped Vista, before she leaned against Madison, helpless with laughter.

    Madison grinned broadly, though she managed to avoid laughing. “You guys are idiots,” she said fondly.

    “Nope,” Lisa snarked. “We're Samaritans. Says so, right on the tin.”

    Meeting Amy's eyes over Vista's shoulder, Madison shared a wry glance with her. In unison, they rolled their eyes. For some reason, this made Lisa burst out laughing as well.

    <><>​

    Half an Hour Later

    Barnes Household

    Taylor

    “Well, that was a thing.” Taylor, now bereft of her costume, lounged back in a comfortable armchair. Emma perched on the arm of the same chair, while Amy and Lisa shared one of the two sofas and Madison sat on the arm of Missy's chair. She didn't want to move, ever again. The weariness she felt was entirely psychological, she knew; since they'd gotten back, Amy had checked them over again. But despite what she knew intellectually, she was still mentally exhausted. Losing one's powers and then regaining them tended to take it out of a person, she guessed. Which led her thoughts to the other person who had lost powers. “How you doing there, Ems?”

    “Absolutely shattered,” Emma replied. “All I want to do is take a nice long hot shower then fall into bed for about two days.”

    “Yeah, you and me both,” Taylor agreed, holding up her hand. Emma's warm fingers closed around it and they shared a companionable squeeze. It was good to be home, for a given definition of 'home', with all her friends. Alive and well, when it could've easily gone the other way.

    “And that's gonna happen just as soon as we finish the debrief,” Danny said. He'd changed out of the wet clothing as they all had, but he still had a slightly ragged look around the eyes. Killing someone in cold blood, Taylor decided, couldn't be easy. Beside him, Alan Barnes shared the same look, while Rod Clements had a subdued air.

    “Correct.” Alan Barnes pulled up a kitchen chair and sat down on it. “So, where did we go wrong?” It was an old formula, but it helped get their minds into the right attitude.

    This one, Taylor decided, was on her. “I fucked up,” she said tiredly. “They called Emma, and she asked me if there were any students left in the school. I checked classrooms, corridors and bathrooms, but I didn't check things like roof spaces and storage closets.” Letting her head drop back against the chair, she closed her eyes. “Even though I know the locks around Winslow are for crap.”

    “How much extra time would it have taken to search all that extra area?” asked Rod Clements practically.

    Taylor considered the question, visualising the interior spaces of Winslow. “Maybe another five minutes,” she conceded. “Ten at the outside.”

    “Why so long?” asked Danny. “Surely they aren't that big, compared to the rest of the school.”

    “They aren't,” Taylor agreed. “But unlike a corridor, where a single bug can look down the entire length and see that there's no movement, every storage closet needs to have one or two bugs wriggle in past the door and then scout it out. And there are a lot of storage closets.”

    “Makes sense,” said Alan Barnes. “Is there anything else you should've done differently?”

    “Not swung so close to the wall when I took the corner,” Taylor said immediately. “Of course, Greg probably would've been captured anyway, so this goes back to the fact that I should've located him from the beginning. And if I'd had my radio in my hand, I might've been able to keep hold of it when I fell over. Also, I stood on Greg's arm and twisted my ankle, so that didn't help either.”

    “All of this is starting to sound like shit happening,” Rod Clements remarked. “Apart from not locating Greg when they reported him missing, I'm not hearing anything that sounds like a failure of judgement. And just looking in the places where he shouldn't have been might've cut too much into our time anyway.” He looked at the other five girls. “Anyone else got anything?”

    Tentatively, Emma raised her hand. “I didn't disable Jack Slash on the first hit?” she ventured.

    Danny fielded that one. “I would've been pleased and surprised if you had, but we were on the way. At worst, you were a distraction, and that you pulled off in spades.”

    “All right, then,” Alan Barnes noted. “How about what we did right?”

    Madison put her arm around Missy and squeezed her tight. “Missy here pulled off the fire-sprinkler thing perfectly. Nobody saw me start to asphyxiate Bonesaw, and the sprinklers gave me cover to pull most of the oxygen from around Burnscar, so the water was able to keep her fire down.”

    Missy blushed and ducked her head at the round of approving glances she got. “I was just doing my bit,” she said. “Emma and Taylor were amazing. Taylor was kicking Burnscar's ass, and Emma was touching up Jack Slash pretty well too.”

    “And, of course, Madison locked Bonesaw and Burnscar down like a boss,” Taylor added with a grin. “I was wondering why she wasn't able to make more fire, even with the water.”

    “And let's not forget the Dad Brigade,” Lisa put in cheerfully. “Providing artillery support at just the right moment. Twice, even. Also, Amy provided awesome after-action care, sorting out Taylor's and Emma's powers.” She ruffled Amy's hair fondly. “That's something none of the rest of us could've done.”

    Amy ducked her head and blushed. “Just doing my job,” she mumbled, but she sounded pleased all the same.

    “And doing it damn well,” Emma noted. “Then there was the way Missy solo'd Mannequin without getting out of breath. That was pretty impressive, too.” She tilted her head. “How's that going with you not there to keep his arms and legs shrunk, anyway?”

    Missy shrugged. “They had bolt-cutters out in the transports. So I pulled the arms and legs out, and they snipped the chain links. Right now, he's bolted into the most high-tech baby's cradle you ever saw, inside a Faraday cage, just in case.”

    “Cool.” Madison turned to Lisa. “Just saying, you did pretty damn good with the early stages, too. Your power kept us coordinated, and you managed to get the information who, where and when. So don't feel too left out.”

    “Oh, I don't feel left out,” Lisa said brightly. “In case you hadn't noticed, me and Amy aren't exactly combat types. We're force multipliers. We take the force you can apply, and we help you make it more devastating.” She leaned back in the sofa with a broad grin. “It's so damn satisfying to watch you guys work together so effectively, and to know I'm a part of it. No second-guessing, no backbiting, and no Coil waiting to pop me in the back of the head if I don't perform as expected.” She ran her hands through her hair, leaving it even messier than it had been before. “And oh god, not having to worry about what stunts Regent and Bitch were going to pull on any given day.”

    “Which reminds me,” Madison said to Missy. “Any word on how Coil's doing?”

    Missy shrugged. “Even if I knew, I probably wouldn't be allowed to talk to you about it. Unless he escapes, of course. Then they'd tell me. I hope.”

    “Yeah, let's not go there,” Amy said with a shudder. “I mean, I know he'd had time to prepare the last time we encountered him, but if what Lisa says about his power is true, he could still be nasty one-on-one.” She paused. “And on a totally different subject, can we address the elephant in the room?”

    Danny blinked, obviously unsure of what she was referring to. “I suppose. What is it?”

    Emma shook her head, but Amy was already talking. “Bonesaw. Remember how I saw the state of her brain when I was working on her?” She leaned forward, talking faster, as the expressions on everyone's faces changed. “No, hear me out. She's hurting. She's been forced into the mold she's in by Jack Slash. I've got experience at being affected over time by other peoples' powers, and I can tell you that breaking free of it, even a little bit, is the greatest relief in the world.”

    Rod Clements frowned. “Okay, but even assuming you're reading the situation totally correctly …”

    “She is,” Lisa said. “My power agrees with hers, absolutely.”

    “Okay, granted.” Rod paused to collect his thoughts, then went on. “Assuming that … well, we've got to deal with the Director to release her into our custody, and I'm pretty sure we shot our bolt with that, bringing Lisa into the team.”

    “Maybe not,” Alan Barnes said thoughtfully. “Lisa has definitely proven herself to be a valuable member of the team. And she was directly instrumental in figuring out what was going on with the Nine, both times. If I can pitch that just right to Piggot, maybe I can make a case that we're good at rehabilitating criminal capes.”

    “Dad, what?” Emma stared at him. “Do you even hear what you're saying? That's Bonesaw! She's a murderer! Amy raised the idea with Director Piggot after you left, and got shot down hard!”

    Taylor raised her hand. “Don't think I'm fully on board with this idea, because I'm still on the fence about it, but I'm pretty sure the Director doesn't really understand how good Amy and Lisa are at what they do. If they think Bonesaw can be brought around to the side of good … I think maybe it can actually work.”

    “There's another problem on top of all that,” Danny noted. “Even if she were mostly converted to the side of good and light—and before anyone jumps down my throat from either side, let me continue,” he added hastily, as both Emma and Amy opened their mouths at the same time. He waited until they subsided, then went on. “I'm aware that people can be rehabilitated. It's a long, tough process. Even if they're fully willing—which is the only way it'll ever work, really—there's always the chance of backsliding, and there's almost always some remnant of the old behaviour left behind. However, the point I was about to make is that I'd be astonished if any member of the public would be okay with the Samaritans taking on Bonesaw as a member.”

    Amy nodded slowly. “That's a good point. But what if she didn't look like Bonesaw? She could be a brunette, or a redhead. Her facial features wouldn't even be a challenge.”

    “And what if we didn't even let her use her powers to begin with?” suggested Lisa. “Amy, I'm pretty sure you can recreate the original prions she used, yeah? Dose her with them, and we work at bringing her around without the danger of her building a city-killer in the basement. Once me, Amy and Dinah are in agreement that she's not gonna go apocalypse on us, then we give her her powers back.”

    “Huh,” mused Rod Clements. “That … could actually work.” He looked at Amy. “And you can do this? I mean, it doesn't need you to affect her brain?”

    “Not directly,” she assured him. “Prions can enter the bloodstream anywhere. What they do once they get to the brain is up to them.”

    “ … um, did I just hear right?” Missy raised her eyebrows slightly. “Amy, are you saying you have a way to shut peoples' powers down permanently now?”

    Amy sighed. “It's complicated, but the short answer is 'effectively, yes'. But I can already shut people down at a touch. The prions don't actually alter things very much.”

    “When she's right, she's right,” added Lisa cheerfully. Her grin morphed into a more serious expression as she went on. “Okay, do we have any other objections to the idea of making Bonesaw into a good guy?”

    “Before anyone says anything,” Alan Barnes noted, “we're not going to go forward with this if everyone isn't in agreement. This sort of thing is far too volatile to not have everyone on the same page. Anyone not getting that?” He looked around the room. “Okay, good. Now, as I understand it, we're not talking about actively recruiting Bonesaw—which is something I never thought I'd be thinking about in any serious sense—but rather just turning her into someone who's got a reasonable chance of atoning for her many sins, and seeing what goes from there.” His eyes fell on Amy and Lisa. “Is that about right?”

    Amy nodded. Lisa grinned. “Yup.”

    “Well then.” Alan took a deep breath. “Objections?”

    “Yeah.” Emma was already on her feet. Her hair was spread out in a halo around her, sparks crackling from one tendril-tip to another. “I'm not even sure how we can be considering this. Bonesaw is a murderer. She's done horrific things. Giving her a chance to escape her punishment is … well, wrong.”

    Amy opened her mouth to speak, but Lisa waved her to silence and stood up. “I'd like to address those points, your honour.” Her cheeky grin belied her words.

    Alan gave an indulgent wave. “Proceed.”

    With a snicker, Lisa kept talking. “Okay, first things first. It's been pretty well established in courts of law that an individual isn't responsible for any actions taken under the influence of a Master.”

    “Well, yeah,” conceded Emma. “But … do we know Jack Slash was a Master?”

    “Yeah,” Lisa responded immediately. “Best proof? He didn't get murdered in his sleep by the couple dozen stone killers he gathered around him over the last twenty-something years. I think it was some kind of subtle influence thing that made capes act the way he wanted. And maybe he got ideas about how they were going to act around him, as well. So a terrified six-year-old, with exactly one chance of surviving in a team of utter psychopaths? She would've been putty in his hands. First few times, she would've been following orders. After that? She'd learn to enjoy it. What little kid doesn't enjoy breaking things? Even if those things turn out to be people?”

    Emma grimaced. “Well, yeah, but …” She shook her head. “Okay, I'll accept he was a Master. I still don't think she should be totally excused for what she's done, but yeah, that's a thing. What's your other point?”

    Graciously, Lisa inclined her head. “My other point is that murderers are people, too. Anyone who's been in a warzone may well have killed someone. Three of you guys have killed. Two of the Undersiders are wanted for murder. I think the charges are bogus, but Regent actually killed someone on the orders of a Master. The fact he doesn't do that these days … well, that should mean something. Especially since that particular Master is a lot stronger than Jack was.”

    “Really?” asked Danny. “Who?”

    Lisa waved the question off. “Not important. Maybe later. Anyway, the act of killing doesn't physically change you. Mentally and emotionally, it can take a toll, yes.” She gave Danny, Alan and Emma a sympathetic look. “I've never been there myself but I've seen what it does to people who have.” She leaned forward. “Now, answer me this. When she finally shakes off the last of Jack Slash's influence and realises just how much of a monster he made her into … would you prefer that she be alone to deal with it, or have help? Or more to the point, how much help do you think the PRT will be giving her?”

    Rod Clements grimaced. “Son of a bitch.”

    Emma was silent. Taylor, craning her neck around, could see that her best friend's expression was conflicted. “You okay there?” she asked.

    “No.” Emma punctuated the word by shaking her head, her spread hair-tendrils swaying back and forth with the motion. “I mean, I know beyond any doubt that letting Bonesaw near us again is likely to be disastrous. And that's even if the Director lets us have her. Which, if she has any sense, she won't. But you're making too much sense. It's twisting my head around. I can't decide what I want.”

    “Yeah, well, they do say 'never let the Thinker talk',” Madison agreed sympathetically. “I mean, personally I think she's making a good case. But it's your call. If you say no, it's no.”

    Emma's head turned sharply. “Call!” She pointed at Lisa. “Call Dinah. Ask her two questions. One: is the Director even likely to give us custody? And two: what's the fallout going to be like if she does?”

    “Ooh, nice one.” Lisa grinned and pulled out her phone. “I should've thought of this earlier.”

    “I doubt it,” Amy said dryly. “I've noticed that you never take a chance on anything that's not something you can predict. For a risk-taker, you're very conservative.”

    Lisa stuck her tongue out at the biokinetic, then dialled the number. “Hey, yeah, it's me,” she said briskly, tapping the phone to put it on speaker.

    Hello, Athena,” a young girl replied blandly. “Yes, it's nice to hear from you, too. Why, I've been lovely, thank you for asking. How have you been?”

    Lisa sighed, pointedly ignoring Taylor's chuckle. “I'm fine, but we've got a problem we need to resolve. Two questions, to be specific. What are the chances of the Director giving us custody of Bonesaw if we take her powers away for the duration, and what are the chances of something drastically going wrong if we do take her and try to rehabilitate her?”

    In the case of taking Bonesaw minus her powers, you have a sixty-two point nine four three percent chance of convincing the Director to hand her over,” Dinah said promptly. “There's a four point seven one six one percent chance of her returning to her criminal habits once her powers are returned to her. And to answer the question you didn't ask, there's a fifty-one point six five four percent chance of two or more of your team dying in the next two months if you don't do this."

    Lisa blinked, as though not even she had expected those numbers. “Well. Wow. Uh, thanks, Dinah.”

    Not a problem. I was actually hoping you were joking about Bonesaw. I really don't think I want to know. Good night.” Without further ado, the call cut off.

    Danny clapped his hands together softly. “Well, then. I think that's all the information in, and all the arguments made, including some unexpected information from Dinah. I think we should sleep on it, then get back together tomorrow morning and make our final decision."

    "Good idea," agreed Alan Barnes. "I'll be staying up for a while, to go over the books and see if there's any other levers I can use to get Director Piggot to let her go into our custody, if the vote goes that way."

    “Don't you mean our custody, Mr Barnes?” asked Taylor. “I mean, we're the Samaritans. Your faces aren't known to the PRT.”

    Just for a moment, Danny's eyes met Alan's, then he turned back to Taylor. “I'm pretty sure that she'd be happier releasing Bonesaw into the custody of a bunch of adults rather than teens. No matter how good those teens are at taking down villains.”

    “He's right,” Alan agreed. “We'll be masked, of course.” He rubbed his hands together, something he only usually did before commencing a difficult case. “We're going to have to bring our A-game to this one.”

    “We haven't had our final show of hands,” Danny reminded him. “Tomorrow morning, back here?”

    “First thing,” agreed Alan. “Okay, that's settled. Any other business before we crash for the night?”

    “Yeah,” Emma piped up. "What about that Case 53 girl, Noelle? What's happened with her? Did they ever get you to heal her, Amy?”

    Before Amy could speak, Lisa shook her head. “I found notes,” she said. “They boiled down to 'do not let Panacea anywhere near her'.”

    “Huh,” Amy said. “So that's why nobody contacted me about it.”

    “Well, I don't know anything official,” Missy said carefully. “But … well, there's a grapevine, and my power does let me listen in on conversations sometimes if I'm careful, so I hear things. This doesn't go outside this room, okay?”

    Danny looked from side to side. “I'm pretty sure nobody's going to say anything.” Not entirely by accident, as far as Taylor could tell, his gaze ended up on Lisa. “Are they?”

    She had the grace to blush. “Nope, not a word,” she said, then wrinkled her nose. “Spoilsport.”

    “Doubtless,” Danny agreed blandly. “Missy?”

    Missy leaned forward on the sofa and lowered her voice slightly. “Well, you know how they were going to execute the Nine before the escape? What they had planned for Crawler was pretty thorough. Since they haven't managed to recapture him yet, and Noelle has actually requested execution, they're using that for her.”

    “Requested.” Alan Barnes' voice was flat. “You're serious.”

    “Deadly.” Missy nodded. “She's apparently responsible for dozens of deaths, but it's all her powers going crazy on her. Apparently, she's attempted suicide more than once. With the PRT's assistance, she can make it stick.”

    “How are the rest of the Travellers taking it?” asked Taylor. “I can't see them being thrilled about it.”

    Missy shrugged. “I have no idea. Nobody was talking about it.”

    “Hey,” Amy said to Lisa. “You okay?”

    “ … kinda,” Lisa replied, her voice quiet. “I don't like talk about suicide. It was … ” She trailed off, her arms wrapped around herself.

    “Hey, you know our rules,” Amy chided her gently. “We don't stop talking about stuff halfway.”

    Lisa tried to give her a stern glare. “You suck, you know that?”

    “As Mr Hebert says, doubtless.” Amy grinned. “Stop trying to change the subject.”

    Fine.” Lisa sighed. “It was my brother. His name was Rex …”

    <><>​

    A Remote Granite Massif

    Noelle Meinhardt

    It was cold down here, but at least they'd given her a proper jacket to wear. No expense spared for the condemned woman. They'd also gotten her other request right; a Big Mac, heavy on the pickles, and a chocolate shake. She hadn't had a good shake in months. Her lower body had ingested several cow carcasses and seemed sated for the moment.

    The granite walls rose on all sides of her. Far above, where the shaft ended and the sky began, she thought the deep blue was beginning to darken. In each of the four corners of the chamber into which she'd been lowered, a metal cylinder crouched. She'd half-expected a baleful red LED countdown, but nothing of the sort was showing. For all she knew, they were fancy garbage disposals.

    Attached to the rough-hewn wall itself was a large plasma-screen TV screen. At the moment, it was playing soft pastoral music, with a sequence of landscapes providing a gorgeous background. This was actually quite pleasant to listen to.

    Abruptly, the screen flickered, the picture changing to a severe-looking woman with Hispanic looks. “Good evening,” she said. “I'm not aware if you know me, but I am Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown of the Parahuman Response Teams. Your name is Noelle Meinhardt, correct?”

    “Yes, that's correct,” Noelle said. “I've seen you on TV. Is it time?”

    Almost,” the Chief Director said gently. “Your friends have requested the chance to say goodbye, and I see no reason not to grant it. Is this acceptable to you?”

    For a long moment, she almost decided to say no. It had been hard enough to make the decision to do this in the first place. But if I do it this way, it's not fair on them. With a sigh, she nodded. “Okay.”

    Director Costa-Brown didn't make any signal that Noelle saw, but the TV signal changed again, the image of the Hispanic woman retreating to the upper left corner. The rest of it became a picture of the other Travellers, wearing PRT prison gear. Well, almost all of them. She frowned. “Where's Krouse?”

    Mars grimaced. “He said something about 'not a fucking hope in hell' and went off to sulk in his quarters or something. Told us we were all ghouls for doing this.” She looked better than when they'd first been captured, though she didn't look happy, for obvious reasons.

    Hey.” That was Jess, waving from her wheelchair. It looked like the PRT had given her back the one from Coil's lair. “They treating you all right? I mean, apart from … you know.”

    “Oh yeah.” Mustering a smile, Noelle tugged at the lapels of the jacket she wore, to show it off. “Check it out. I'm properly warm for the first time in forever. And yeah, this is what I want. Nothing else has worked, so … yeah.”

    Nice jacket.” Luke gave her a thumbs up. “Anything you want me to tell jerkface when he finally pulls his head out of his ass?”

    Noelle thought about that. “I guess …” She paused, then went on. “I was going to say to tell him that he was an ass for not wanting to talk to me, but I really can't blame him for this. So tell him that I'm happy with my decision. This is my right, and it's really the only option I've got left.” She scanned the faces of her friends, and picked out the only one who hadn't spoken yet. “Oliver? You okay?”

    Hunching his shoulders, Oliver looked at the floor. “No,” he said, then turned his face toward the camera. “You're my friend. Everyone's standing around pretending to be happy, but I don't want you to die.” Tears were standing in his eyes.

    Noelle bit her lip. “I'm sorry it had to be this way,” she said softly. “But I couldn't let anyone else be hurt. I couldn't let you guys be hurt any more because of me. I'm not just a burden on you. I'm a burden that eats people. Well, I'm done. It's over. I want you to remember me, but not as a monster. Remember me as someone who paid the ultimate price to kill the monster.”

    In the corner of the screen, the Chief Director cleared her throat. “I'm sorry, but that's all the time we have. Noelle Meinhardt, by the power invested in me as the Chief Director of the Parahuman Response Teams, as per the Kill Order requested by yourself and approved by an appropriately convened quorum of judiciaries, I hereby—”

    “No!” The call came from above. Noelle, startled for the first time since she'd been placed in the shaft, looked up. There was a thin scream, then a human form plummeted to the floor of the shaft, smashing into the granite with horrific force.

    Noelle stared at the mangled form. Was that—did Krouse just—

    And then the corpse vanished, and Krouse was standing there, wearing the same PRT gear as the others had. Distantly, she heard alarms begin to wail, echoing down the length of the shaft. He turned, saw Noelle, and ran toward her. “Come on!” he shouted. “Let's get out of here!”

    “What?” she asked. “No! Krouse, you get out of here! I chose this! This is what I want!”

    Ignoring her words, he dodged past a half-hearted snap by one of her monster heads, and scrambled up on to her broad body. She told her power not to absorb him, and it didn't. “No, they've turned your head around,” he insisted. “You can dig through granite, I know you can. Or you can climb up this shaft. But you don't have to just stand around waiting to die!”

    She took his hands as he came up to her. It felt weird, to be only waist-high to him. “I love you too,” she said softly, answering the words he hadn't used. “But there's no good way out of this. This way, you and the others can go on with your lives, and I don't endanger anyone any more, ever again.” She pulled him down to a kneeling position, and kissed him. The tears on his face and hers made the kiss salty, but she didn't care. “Don't you see? Every day that I go on, I deprive you of being able to live your life to the full.”

    His arms went around her, and he kissed her in return. “I can't go on,” he said brokenly. “You are my life. If I can't be with you, I don't want to go on.” Putting his face next to hers, he whispered, “Please. Escape with me. We can be together.”

    The insidious temptation tugged at her, but she shook her head. “No. I've made up my mind.” Holding him tightly, she kissed him again. “It really sucks, you know? If I had my choice for powers, I would've picked being able to fly.”

    “Yeah, well.” His eyes were sad. “We don't always get what we want.”

    “Well, this is what I want.” Letting him go, she gave him a gentle shove. “Go on. Get out of here.”

    He shook his head. “Sorry. Killed a man getting down here. Burned my bridges either way. So we're together to the end of the line.”

    The realisation that he was going to die as well should have torn her heart in two, but instead she felt a bittersweet relief that she didn't have to spend her last moment alone. “To the end of the line, then,” she whispered, and pulled him in for another kiss. This time, behind his back, she gave a thumbs-up to the camera.

    As their lips melded together, the bombs went off. Her enhanced physique withstood the damage for a split second, and in that time …

    … she soared.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “Is she gonna be okay?” asked Taylor.

    “Yeah,” Amy said, holding Lisa close to her. The blonde ex-villain's eyes were closed, but the tracks of tears were still visible on her face. “She hasn't talked this out with anyone for ages, but she's feeling better about herself now.” She gave Taylor a wan smile. “You gonna be heading home now?”

    “Taylor can stay if she wants,” Danny answered for her. “Me, I'm going to go home and get plastered. And maybe tomorrow, I won't remember pulling the trigger quite so vividly.”

    “I can understand that,” Rod Clements agreed. “We'll catch up with you guys back here in the morning for the show of hands. See you then.”

    “See you then,” Taylor agreed, getting up from the chair and giving Madison a hug. “We did real good today, didn't we?”

    “Yeah.” Madison accepted the hug, then gave one to Emma as well. “That's what the Samaritans are all about.”

    “Damn right.” Taylor held up her hand, and the other two gave her a three-way high-five. “Here's to heroism.”

    “Here's to kicking ass and righting wrongs,” added Emma with a grin.

    “Hell yes,” Missy said. “Can I get a lift with you and Madison, Mr Clements?”

    “Sure thing,” Rod told her. “You know we've always got a spare bed for you.”

    After another round of hugs, Taylor watched her father head out the door with the other three. Realising how tired she was, she stretched and yawned. But first, other priorities took precedence. “Shower time,” she decided.

    “I'll get the towels and the robes,” Emma agreed. She nodded to Amy and Lisa. “When you're ready, I'll have more laid out for you.”

    “Thanks,” Amy said. “We'll be along in a moment.”

    Taylor followed Emma toward the bathroom. It was quiet right now, time for rest and reflection. Tomorrow would almost certainly bring more challenges; they had to make their final decision about Bonesaw, after all.

    Tomorrow, everything would be happening. But tomorrow was another day.



    End of Part Twenty-Eight
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
  24. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    You continue to be very good at this.
     
    Dukem, Ack and Starfox5 like this.
  25. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Very nice "wrap up chapter". Krouse died as he lived - with good intentions and bad executions. Dinah's last unsolicited information should be a clincher, but Emma's apprehension runs deep. Nicely woven plots there. Looking forward to the reception the adults will get.
     
  26. FreshwaterPlimpie

    FreshwaterPlimpie Know what you're doing yet?

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    Hey, now that Amy has access to a power disabling prion and its antidote, could she add an artificial organ in Lisa that could synthesize either, under voluntary control?
    No need for additional nerve connections, it could be tied to some muscle controls and activate only on a movement that people normally never do.
    It'd be a good way to avoid headaches, and it would allow her to date people if she wants.
     
  27. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Well, the problem with that is that prions actually cause (minor) brain damage. Constantly rewriting the way her brain works would be ... problematic.
     
  28. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    By looking at your post count and join date, I can tell that you've only joined QQ recently, but we have rules about thread necromancy here on this site. Specifically, you shouldn't bump a thread that's gone more than one month without a post unless you ask the author's permission.

    This thread has been dormant for over a year.

    For more information, check here: https://forum.questionablequesting.com/threads/rules.1/
     
  29. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Nine: Director Piggot is Unhappy (It Must Be Tuesday)
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One More Trigger
    Part Twenty-Nine: Director Piggot is Unhappy (It Must Be Tuesday)

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

    April 26, 2011
    PRT ENE
    Office of Director Piggot


    Things were looking up for Emily Piggot. For a given definition of ‘looking up’, that is.

    On the one hand, the Nine were gone, once and for all. It was a weird feeling to know that the first actual extermination of an S-class threat had taken place in her city, on her watch. It hadn’t been exactly at her direction, but she was willing to ignore that piddly little detail.

    She’d felt even more rattled when they were defeated and captured the first time around, which seemed counter-intuitive. Now, she supposed, she was used to the idea. Then? It had never been done before. Nobody had even come close. And for it not to be the PRT, not the Protectorate, not even one of the big-name glory-hound teams out there, but a bunch of relative newcomers who’d pulled it off … she hadn’t known what to feel.

    Of course, the Samaritans had also poached a Thinker out of an established team of villains after slamming the door on an attempted bank robbery, uncovered the shitshow that was Thomas Calvert’s career as Coil and apparently recruited Panacea and Glory Girl out of New Wave. This winning streak merely served to prove that their victory against the Nine was as far from the definition of ‘fluke’ as it was possible to get in the English language.

    Make that ‘victories’. Plural. Jack Slash’s return and attempt at payback had not been unanticipated, but all of Emily’s preparation had gone by the wayside when the Samaritans had politely requested (through Vista) that the PRT stand down so they didn’t get in the way. Emily had gone with her gut and done as she was asked, and the Samaritans had delivered.

    Now, she had Mannequin and Bonesaw as live prisoners, and Burnscar and Jack Slash on slabs in the morgue. Or rather, in steel cages in the morgue, under twenty-four-seven armed guard, with life sign monitors hooked up to the bodies, until the green light could be given to immolate them once and for all. She wouldn’t be satisfied until the remaining members of the Slaughterhouse Nine were reduced to ash, and the ash sealed in the same sort of glass plugs that nuclear waste was stored in.

    When it came to S-class threats, there was no such thing as too much paranoia.

    Her phone rang. She picked it up. “Piggot.”

    “Ma’am, you have a call,” her secretary said. “It’s Sparx, of the Samaritans.”

    Her mind raced. While she had nothing personally against the red-haired leader (inasmuch as they had one) of the Samaritans, she couldn’t think of anything that might have cause the girl to contact her directly. Vista, after all, was their liaison (and doing a bang-up job of it) and such things were her duty. The problem was, only one potential topic for the call sprang to mind.

    Is this about the Nine?

    She didn’t want it to be, because if Sparx was calling her it was important if not urgent, and as she currently had the Nine in the best possible position she could have them in—captured or dead—it meant something was about to change. For the worse.

    But she hadn’t hung on to her position as Director for ten years by hiding from unpleasant revelations. “Put her through.”

    “Good afternoon, Director.” Sparx’s voice was brisk but not urgent. Emily let go the tightest edge of her tension. While she was absolutely certain this was not a social call, it didn’t sound like a life-and-death situation. “I have an unusual request to make of you, but first I’m going to put Vista on the line.”

    Before she could say more than “What req-”, the phone was apparently passed over to the Ward who was currently acting as liaison to the Samaritans.

    “Director, this is Vista.” The girl’s voice was oddly formal, and Emily’s instincts notched back up a level of alertness. “Would you like me to give you the code of the day, or are you satisfied that it’s me?”

    Emily had spoken to Vista enough times that she would’ve recognised the youngest Ward’s voice anywhere, but that wasn’t the issue. “We’ll skip it this time, I think,” she said easily. Which was of course code for I need a covert code. “How are they treating you?” Translation: Are you under duress right now?

    “It could be a lot worse,”
    Vista replied without the slightest hesitation. This was the best possible answer: she was not under duress or being made to do anything else against her will. “Director, the reason we’re calling is that Sparx needs to make a request of you, as she said.” She took a deep breath. “I have personally witnessed an information exchange that has convinced me that she is entirely justified in making the request, and before you hear it, I urge you to give it your full and unbiased consideration.”

    It wasn’t hard to unpack the meaning behind her statement. Whatever the request was, it held a great deal of importance to the Samaritans. Moreover, they had communicated that urgency to Vista, who also believed in it. But at the same time, they were of the opinion (probably based on information given to them by their rebranded supposedly-ex-villainous teammate ‘Athena’) that if they simply sprang the request on her out of the blue, she’d turn it down out of hand.

    In addition, the ‘information exchange’ clearly referred to a Thinker insight. As Athena was the only Thinker on the team, her prior allegiances rendered whatever intelligence she’d passed on to them more than a little dubious, in Emily’s personal judgement.

    For a villain who claims to have rebranded to the side of light, Tattletale certainly enjoys rubbing who she used to be in everyone’s faces. What’s she trying to talk them into doing now?

    “You understand, I can’t base a lot of weight on revelations from an ex-villain, no matter how convincing they sound to you,” she said, doing her best to soften the blow for her inevitable refusal. If they thought she was likely to refuse a request even when it didn’t supposedly come from Tattletale, what did they think she would say when she knew it did?

    “Director, you don’t understand. This isn’t coming from Athena.” It wasn’t? That was news. “It’s from an outside source, one that we trust implicitly.”

    Emily frowned. She’d had hints before that the Samaritans had access to a Thinker who wasn’t officially on the team, but this was the first time that Vista had directly referred to such a person. This required her to rethink her automatic stance on the matter. “Are you at liberty to inform me who it is? In fact, do you know who it is?”

    “Yes, I know who it is. They would rather not divulge their identity to the PRT just yet. Not until every single gang-related leak is plugged. I just know that they’re very good at what they do. And if they say something’s likely to happen, I would lay odds on it happening.”

    “… hmm. Okay.” Emily nodded, though Vista had no way of seeing the gesture. “Put Sparx on. I’ll give her a fair hearing.” It burned just a little that their undisclosed source didn’t trust the PRT’s information security, but as much as she hated to admit it, information was somehow getting out to the ABB and Empire Eighty-Eight. Either gang would go a long way toward getting access to a powerful Thinker, and neither one was a stranger to atrocities.

    “Hello again, Director.” It was Sparx again. “Thank you for agreeing to listen to my request.”

    “I’ll give it a fair hearing,” Emily said cautiously. “I’ve made no other promises.”

    “I’ll take what I can get.” Sparx took a deep breath, audible over the phone. “Director Piggot, we both know you know who Athena was before she joined the Samaritans. Are you aware of any criminal activity by her since she took on the name Athena?”

    Emily frowned. This could not be the request. She looked at the question from several angles before answering. “I haven’t been at her side twenty-four-seven, but I will admit that I’ve received no reports of any such activity on her part.”

    “I doubt you’ll get any,” Sparx predicted confidently. “She seems to be positively enjoying life as a superhero. And in fact, her involvement was what ensured our clashes against the Nine, both times, ended so positively.”

    “Once again, I wasn’t there, but I can understand how such a thing may have happened. Also, her enjoyment of the situation may end up working against you. If you get into a situation which sours her toward heroism, you may well end up facing against a criminal Thinker once more, one who knows all of your secrets intimately.” Emily allowed herself a tight smile. Capes were useful to the PRT as muscle against other capes, but she didn’t like them and she had a hard time trusting them.

    “Even in that case, it’ll be our problem and not yours.” Sparx spoke in a pragmatic tone. “But I wasn’t trying to sell you on the idea of Athena being permanently on the side of good now; just that rebranding a former villain, and giving them a chance to redeem their previous actions, is not an impossible goal. Would you admit that this is possible and even plausible, and if successful would be an active plus for society as a whole?”

    "Let me cut you off right there," Emily said. "Yes, I am aware that your team has taken on one minor villain and succeeded so far in keeping her on the straight and narrow. We've allowed this mainly because it would have been too problematic to extricate her from your roster, partly because she's shown the capability to be a productive member of cape society while on your team, and partly because some of us are interested in seeing what happens next. For the record, I am not one of the latter." She paused to gather her thoughts. “Now, I’m not entirely certain why you’re bringing this up now in conjunction with—”

    She paused, eyes opening wide at the connection her brain had just made. It was insane, but it was the only one that made any kind of sense. For a distinctly twisted definition of 'sense'.

    “No,” she snapped. “Not a chance in hell. Not happening.” Sparx had to have known there was no way she'd ever sign off on handing over a member of the Nine.

    “What’s not happening, Director?” At least Sparx was smart enough not to push straight back. The days when Emily had been susceptible to being wheedled into something she didn’t want to do were long gone. “At least tell me what you’re saying no to. It might not even be what you think.”

    Emily huffed a sigh. “Fine, but keep T—Athena off the line. I’ve agreed to talk to you, not her.” It was a simple mantra: Never let the Thinker talk. They were almost as bad as Masters, in their own way.

    “Absolutely,” Sparx agreed, so readily that Emily got the impression she’d made that decision before picking up the phone. “So what are you saying no to?”

    “You want me to release Bonesaw into your custody.” Emily couldn’t believe she was saying it out loud. “And I’m telling you it’s not going to happen.”

    “Well, it’s true that I was calling up to ask you for that.” Sparx sounded quite matter-of-fact about the situation. “May I ask you why you’re against this?”

    Emily snorted derisively. “You mean, apart from the fact that I represent a law enforcement agency, and that I’m sworn to uphold my oath, which involves not allowing people like that little menace downstairs to ever see the light of day again?”

    “For a hypothetical, let’s say apart from that, yes,” agreed Sparx blandly.

    “Okay, then. For a hypothetical.” Emily tried not to sneer the word. “She’s dangerous. That one girl is responsible for more death and suffering than any normal serial killer in history. They don’t hand out Kill Orders for nothing. If you had chosen to end her on site, we wouldn’t have cared in the slightest. As it is, if she gives us the slightest bit of trouble while in custody, we’re not just authorised but advised to perform a summary execution. Does that answer your question?”

    “It does.” Sparx still wasn’t pushing the issue, which had Emily feeling oddly off-balance. “Is it okay if I ask some more questions? Seeing as you told Vista you’d give me a fair hearing, I mean.”

    She had said that, hadn’t she. “Go ahead.”

    “Thank you. You were an officer in the PRT before they made you Director, right? So you went through boot camp?”

    Emily wasn’t sure where this was going. “We all did,” she confirmed cautiously.

    “Pretty rough there, wasn’t it? Did you ever think they were being too hard on you?”

    The drills had made things precisely as tough as they’d needed to. Ellisburg had proven that. “It was rough, yes, but it was necessary. You don’t make people into soldiers by coddling them. Why are you asking this?”

    “It’ll be clear in a minute. So, it’s safe to say that you came out the other side with skills and attitudes that you didn’t go in with?”

    “Well, of course.” Emily shook her head. “Nobody goes through boot without being changed. Get to the point.”

    “I’ve got another hypothetical for you. Suppose parahumans were like the 'mutants' in those old comic books. Everyone hates them, they’ve got to be kept under control. Now, in that world, someone just like you joins the local version of the PRT. Not to kill mutants, but to keep ordinary people safe. But during boot, they realise this person—you—is an absolute prodigy when it comes to being a soldier. So they decide to train 'you' to kill mercilessly, whoever they point you at. Mutants, even ones who haven’t done anything, normal humans who are hiding them, maybe people just suspected of being mutants or hiding them. They want you to be their attack dog. Kill on command.”

    Emily felt a shiver down her spine, but she steeled herself so it didn’t come through to her voice. “I’d drop out of boot. Walk away.”

    “Assume that’s not an option.” Sparx' voice was smooth, relentless. “They have drill sergeants on you twenty-four seven. You can’t get a moment to yourself. When you’re sleeping, when you’re eating. Everyone else is doing normal training, but you’re on punishment details and eating crap food, sleeping about two hours at a time. You can’t handle the pressure anymore, so you agree to take the training, just to get a moment’s respite. And just like that, they’re off your back. You get extra privileges. The other recruits salute you. Everyone praises you. The more training you accept, the better they treat you. And then you start going on missions. It’s easy. One shot, one hit, one kill. It’s emphasised to you, over and over, they’re not really people, just … things. Targets. And for every one you take out, you get recognition and rewards. So my first question is: under this scenario, how long would it take for you to start enjoying the work?”

    For a long moment, Emily sat with her mouth open, wanting to claim that she would never become something like that, that people weren’t like that. But then, slowly, she closed it. There were some people she’d known in boot ...

    “Not long,” she admitted quietly. “A year, maybe less.”

    “Mm-hmm. Now, let’s suppose that instead of eighteen, they start you on that training at age six. When you just don’t have the mental or emotional resources to push back. And let’s say the drill sergeant in charge has a talent for getting inside your head and figuring out exactly which buttons to press, to get you to do what he wants. You become that killer. You even begin to enjoy it. Now, this is my last question.” She paused for a few seconds. “Can you truly be held responsible for what you’ve done?”

    With those last words, the trap closed around Emily. She’d been aware that this would come around to Bonesaw in the end, but she’d been expecting another 'how long would it take to enjoy it’ query. Slowly, she closed her eyes. God damn it.

    “Director?”
    asked Sparx. “Are you still there?”

    “You’ve made your point,” Emily gritted. “But I can’t just release her into your custody.”

    “Why not?” Sparx somehow made it sound like a simple question with a simple answer. “You’re literally the highest-ranking member of the PRT in the east-north-east region. We both know you have a wide range of latitude for how you carry out your duties. You could hand her over, and the only way it would be illegal would be if you failed to report the chain of custody to the Chief Director.”

    She was correct … again … but Emily refused to accept that it could be just that easy. There was more to it than just ‘because I say so’. “She’s dangerous. Both in what she can do, and what she’s got implanted in her own body.”

    “Panacea already disarmed her of everything that could be used to hurt someone,” Sparx reminded her. “And with both Athena and Panacea keeping an eye on her, how far do you think she’d get with any shenanigans? Plus, I have it on good authority that she’ll behave herself. There’s a less than five percent chance that she’ll try reoffending if she joins us.”

    This was not going the way Emily had imagined it. “I can’t just, well, hand her over to a bunch of teenagers. You’re only a few years older than her. There’s not an adult among you.”

    “We have three adults who were involved with the formation of the team from the beginning. They’re willing to take responsibility for her.”

    While that actually addressed a few questions that had been sitting in the back of Emily’s mind about the Samaritans, it didn’t make her feel any better that Sparx had anticipated the question. “Why are you so determined to have me hand her over? It’s not like you’re lacking in capability.”

    The tone of Sparx’s voice was frank and open. “To be honest, Director, I was in your camp. I wanted nothing to do with her. Right up until I found out that unless we get her on our team, we’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of losing two or more members from the Samaritans in the next few months. And yes, ‘losing’ as in ‘being killed’. I don’t want to lose any of my friends, which is why I’m talking to you. Our outside source is scary good.”

    Scary was right. If Emily’s surmise was correct, their source was the reason they’d pulled off the coup against the Nine. And probably a few other things that she hadn’t become aware of yet. Which triggered another thought. “Wait a minute … did your source make a prediction about you asking me about Bonesaw?”

    “I’m going to opt not to answer that one, Director.” Sparx kept her voice level, keeping Emily from reading anything from the tone. “I like to believe in free will, and I suspect you do too. I know if I was given a prediction stating what my behaviour would be in a specific circumstance, I’d likely do the exact opposite to prove that I can’t be predicted. Basic human nature. So, I’m neither going to confirm nor deny that anyone said anything about how you’re going to act.”

    Which meant that a prediction had been made, and Sparx didn’t want to lie to Emily. Which actually suited her; if she didn’t know the number, she could pretend it had never been made. Still, she didn’t like this at all.

    “Even with all that, I’m disinclined to give her the slightest chance to break out,” she reiterated. “We both know how dangerous she is, no matter how harmless she looks …”

    “What if we use that prion powder to take away her powers for the duration?” Sparx said it artlessly, but she’d kept it back until now, undoubtedly to use as a trump card. “Until we’re certain she’s over whatever influence Jack Slash left on her. Until Athena’s had the chance to undo the horror that’s been done to her mind.”

    “Wouldn’t she be immune to her own creation?” This was the only thing that had been holding Emily back from bathing the little shit in the stuff.

    “Not if Panacea says she isn’t.”

    Which put the whole affair into a totally new light. Bonesaw without her power and her implants was … a young girl. A girl who’d been severely traumatised by a total psychopath into becoming a serial killer but still, just a girl. With Panacea and Athena to monitor her, and her powers removed for the duration, the harm she could do was minimal. “And you’re certain you need her on your team to avoid having two members die.”

    “As sure as I could be without actually going and finding out for myself, yes.” Sparx chuckled. “And one more thing, in case you think Bonesaw isn’t going to be sufficiently punished.”

    Emily frowned. She’d just been thinking that. “Yes?”

    “She gets Athena’s close and personal attention for the next few months. Think about that for a moment.”

    That brought a shudder. “I’d rather not, thank you. Very well; you’ve made your points. Give me a day to think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”

    “Thank you, Director. I’ll await your call.”

    Emily hung up the phone and turned her chair so that she could look out through the reinforced-polycarbonate window at the skyline of Brockton Bay. Already, she was figuring out the most efficacious way of explaining to Chief Director Costa-Brown exactly why she’d chosen to transfer Bonesaw into the Samaritans’ custody. They’d already worked miracles; if they could get one-tenth the heroic effort from her that she’d put into hurting people, that would be good.

    Another shudder went through her body. Having Athena looking over my shoulder, twenty-four seven? I think I’d opt for execution, myself.

    <><>​

    Danny

    “She’s going to go for it?” He waited for Lisa’s nod before he clapped Emma on the shoulder. “Nicely done.”

    Emma ducked her head, pleased at the praise. “Lisa gave me the roadmap. I just followed it.”

    “Don’t sell yourself short,” Lisa advised her from the armchair she was sharing with Amy. “I can tell people how to do this stuff until I’m blue in the face. The number of people who actually listen instead of deciding they know a better way … well, let’s just say, they’re few and far between.”

    “And that’s why Emma’s the leader of the Samaritans,” Taylor noted.

    “I’m not the leader!” Emma protested, looking around. “We’re a team, not a … a leader and the rest of you guys!”

    “Well, you’re the best leader we don’t have,” Taylor amended with a grin. “What I was about to say is that you’re good at what Mr Barnes says a leader should always be able to do.”

    “Giving orders and taking suggestions,” Madison filled in. “Honestly, Ems, I’m not sure why you’re so worried about it. We’re gonna treat you the same whether you’re the leader or not. It’s just that the public thinks you are, so we might as well pretend it’s official.”

    Emma rolled her eyes. “Fine.” She glared around at the others, who were concealing grins; or, in the case of Taylor, not even bothering to try. “You all suck.”

    “Trust me, I understand your position here,” Danny advised her. “Being in charge is a thankless job. But you are good at seeing the big picture and figuring out what to do next, even if it’s to tell Taylor or Madison to do what they do best. I suggest you roll with it, and delegate as much as possible. It’s how I get by.”

    “Yeah, yeah,” sighed Emma, pushing her hair back from her face. “I guess … the idea of bringing Bonesaw onto the team, even with all the precautions we’re going to be taking, has got me running in circles inside my own head screaming ‘I don’t want to be in charge!’.

    “Hey.” Amy got up from the armchair and wrapped Emma in a hug. “None of us wants this to go bad, and if we all work together it won’t.” Pulling Emma around in front of her, she pressed her forehead against the redhead’s. “But even if it does, I trust you to make the right calls. You’re good at what you do, which is something a lot of capes in this city can’t say.” She chuckled knowingly. “Trust me on that.”

    “Goddamn it.” Emma’s voice was rough as she pulled Amy into another hug. “I though we were supposed to be trying to keep your confidence up, not the other way around.”

    Amy smirked at Lisa as she rubbed gentle circles on Emma’s back. Lisa nodded in reply and gave the healer a thumb’s up. “Hey, you’ve all been awesome to me. This is me giving some of that back.”

    “Well, I appreciate it,” Emma assured her. “Even if I’m a bit grouchy right now, at being press-ganged like this.”

    “Well, who else should it be?” asked Taylor cheerfully. “Vista’s got years of experience, but she’s the liaison.”

    “Uh huh,” Vista agreed. “If I didn’t have the Wards, I’d be joining you guys in a shot.”

    “And if you did, we’d be nominating you for leader,” Taylor segued without missing a beat. Ignoring the way Vista’s eyes widened, she went on. “I’m pretty sure Amy’s not leader material …?”

    “Amy is definitely not leader material,” Amy agreed firmly as she stood back out of the hug. “Amy prefers to stand back and award points for style.”

    “Exactly.” Taylor gestured toward Lisa, who snickered at a joke only she could detect. “I mean, we could put Lisa up for team leader, but …”

    “But I’m pretty sure Emma would volunteer for the position, just to save the team from me,” Lisa said with another snicker. “I’m good at handling people, just so long as I never have to see them again. Team members, not so well.”

    “Which leaves me and Madison,” Taylor said. “And I suppose I could step up if I had to, but I feel more comfortable with you in charge. You’re more confident, I mean.”

    “Pfft, shows how much you know me.” Emma shook her head firmly. “Half the time, I’m trying not to panic. The other half of the time, I’m wondering if I should panic.”

    “Which describes the position of leader very adequately indeed,” Danny observed. “Alan and Rod are satisfied with you running the show for the moment. But if you’re really set against it, we can have a talk about that.”

    Slowly, Emma shook her head. “No,” she decided. “It’s okay. I was just grousing about not being part of the decision-making process. But I can handle it.”

    Danny squeezed Emma’s shoulder again, putting all the supportiveness he could into the gesture. “I know you can.”

    <><>​

    The Next Day

    Bonesaw


    “What, really?” Riley stared through the Perspex at the overweight Director. How I could rebuild her, the almost-constant impulse in the back of her head suggested. Make her into a living tank. Rocket thrusters for legs. By the time I was finished with her—

    “Yes, really.” Piggot glared back at her with a sour expression that suggested the woman had an idea what had been going through her mind. “It’s been suggested to me that giving the Samaritans the chance to rehabilitate you bears a slightly higher chance of working for the public good than executing you out of hand. And of course, the Kill Order can always be reinstated. So there’s that.” She sounded pleased at the prospect.

    “Yes, please,” Riley said sweetly. “Do keep reminding me that you have my life in your hands at every opportunity. I’ve never been in that situation before. Ever.” She batted her eyelashes at the Director, wishing Panacea hadn’t found and removed the dart launchers.

    They would’ve executed her if she still had them and tried to use them on anyone, of course. Along with her offensive implants, that irritating biokinetic had removed all of her defensive modifications as well. As a result, she was now several pounds lighter and no harder to kill than any other twelve-year-old girl. Which was utterly unfair, in her opinion. What right did Panacea have to remove all the things she’d so painstakingly implanted into herself? Hadn’t she ever heard of the Second Amendment? Or the Fourth?

    Piggot bit back whatever she was going to say next. She took a deep breath then spoke in a dangerously calm tone. “When they contacted me, my first impulse was to say no. In fact, I did say no, several times. But then they made a few arguments which convinced me of their side of the matter. So, you are going to be placed with the Samaritans on a purely probationary status. This can be revoked at any time by either myself or any member of the Samaritans. Note that they seem to believe that there is something worth saving in you, and I’m giving them the chance to find it. Is there anything about this that you don’t understand?”

    There were several things Riley didn’t understand. Primary among those was the fact that she’d never expected them to actually take her up on the suggestion to rehabilitate her, or for Piggot to sign off on it. But unless this was Piggot’s idea of a cruel April Fool’s joke, four weeks late—and she’d lay long odds on the obese woman to have had her sense of humour surgically removed long since—it seemed she really was going to be turned over to the Samaritans. Where all she had to do was bide her time until she could whip something up that would let her escape. Just because they said Mr Jack was dead—there was a sudden lurch inside her, which she tried to ignore—didn’t mean she couldn’t be Bonesaw anymore.

    “No, it all seems clear,” she said sweetly, lying through her teeth. That wasn’t really what a good girl did, but it seemed to be a small thing. “So how many PRT soldiers are you going to have stationed with the Samaritans to keep an eye on one little girl?”

    Piggot eyed her suspiciously—well, more suspiciously—and shook her head slightly. “None. Vista has been embedded with the Samaritans as a liaison and will be our representative on site. If she gives you an order, you may presume it comes from me. That’s not to say you are not to take direction from any of the Samaritans; they all have authority over you. Any attempt to escape will result in revocation of your probationary status.” Her voice was flat, as though she didn’t quite believe she was saying this. As she leaned in toward the Perspex, her voice dropped to a growl. “I am required by law to make sure that you understand everything I’ve told you, though I really don’t give a damn if you do or not. If the Samaritans decided tomorrow that you were too much of a danger and executed you on the spot, I would fill out the paperwork with a song in my heart. Is that absolutely understood by you?”

    Her intensity really shouldn’t have bothered Riley. Mr Jack had been capable of making threats in a light-hearted way, and he’d always smiled when slaughtering innocents. It was kind of his thing. Crawler didn’t really make threats; he just ate people. The Siberian did the same, but she was somehow a lot scarier when she did it. Not to Riley, of course. To Riley, she’d been a mommy figure who could never be hurt and would never go away. And who would tear through a small town so that she could lay bodies at Riley’s feet, to be experimented on and incorporated into her spider-bots.

    But here, in front of her, was a woman who managed to be intimidating without powers. Riley figured it was the fact that she was currently vulnerable, and that Piggot gave off the very distinct impression that she wanted to order the Perspex opened up so that she could take a pistol and blow Riley’s head off. Not for fun, or because she wanted to see the blood splatter, or because she liked killing, but because she specifically hated Riley and all she stood for.

    “Yes.” Riley did her best not to let the quaver into her voice, but she suddenly realised she didn’t want to give Director Piggot the excuse to do just that. “I understand, Director Piggot.” It really sucked being under the power of someone who despised you and was willing to hold over your head everything you’d been doing over the last six years, just because she could.

    “Good.” The smile wasn’t any more pleasant than the scowl. “You will be wearing light restraints while you are being transported to the Samaritans. This is regulation. Any attempt to escape will be met with severe penalties.” The phrase go ahead, make our day floated in the air without ever quite needing to be spoken.

    “I understand.” She probably didn’t have to say it again, but it was undoubtedly a good idea not to provoke the woman who could kill her with a word.

    From there it went relatively quickly. She was given a neutral coverall to replace the kid-sized prison fatigues she’d been wearing. These were, she noted, double-bagged and then placed into an incinerator sack. While she hadn’t actually been able to do anything to booby-trap them, she had to admit their precautions were adequate for if she had. Likewise, the coverall was almost certainly bugged six ways from Sunday. If she managed to escape, she’d have to ditch it fast … along with the electronic cuff they fitted around her ankle, which she was going to need tools to remove, or take her foot off. Something she was prepared to do, in the event. Getting another one wouldn’t be too hard. Not in a city this size.

    Doing her best to project harmlessness, she went along with all the preparations without even a murmur of protest. Two of the PRT goons joked about an explosive collar … oh. They weren’t joking. There was actually one in inventory, but as she was going outside of PRT custody, it wasn’t permitted by regulations.

    Now, an explosive collar, that could be problematic, especially since she’d had the potential ability to remove her own head taken away. Right now, decapitation meant dead. She was going to need access to a full lab to fix that little problem, and she suspected she wasn’t going to get that any time soon. So it was probably a good thing she wasn’t getting the collar.

    The transportation was taken care of by an unmarked van, with no windows. If she hadn’t enhanced her vestibular system years ago, she might have felt motion sickness, but all she felt were the changes in acceleration and direction. Four PRT soldiers in full armour, two with heavy-duty tasers and two with containment foam sprayers, watched her at all times. She couldn’t help but feel obscurely pleased at the implied fear in which they held her. Mr Jack had always said that fear was as good as respect, and both was better.

    The van came to a halt and the two PRT soldiers next to the rear doors opened them and got out. One beckoned to her. “End of the line, kid.”

    Were they going to execute her after all? Those words could be taken several ways. But then, beyond the soldiers, against the brightness of the day, she saw familiar figures. Sparx, her hair extended and waving around her head. Ladybug, surrounded by a swarm of bugs. Disbelief overrode her worries and she awkwardly scrambled out of the van. They were outside the city, next to what appeared to be a maze made up of movable panels, with a set of walkways above. What it was for, she had no idea.

    Neither was she concerned. Raising both hands, she pointed them at Sparx and Ladybug accusingly. “You can’t have your powers back! My prions should’ve taken them away until I gave them back!”

    “Yeah, about that.” The voice caught Riley’s attention and she looked around.

    Panacea stepped forward, pulling back her hood. In her eyes, there was a level of surety that Riley had never seen before in the pictures she’d studied of the healer. Mr Jack had once suggested that she could bring Panacea into the team as a new member, but now she wasn’t so sure. Even if Mr Jack hadn’t been killed, which she still wasn’t convinced about. Oh, they’d said he was dead, but she found that hard to believe, given the upgrades she’d given him.

    “Did you do that?” Looking at Panacea, Riley gestured toward Sparx and Ladybug. “That’s very rude, you know.”

    “Oh, you haven’t seen rude yet.” Panacea stepped forward, holding out her hand. “Open wide.”

    Riley focused on the grey powder coating the healer’s finger. “What? No! No way!” She’d built the prion powder so it wouldn’t affect her, but there was no sense in taking chances. One step at a time, she began to back away from Panacea.

    Bright red hair tendrils snaked about her arms and legs, fixing her in place. “Uh-uh,” Sparx said reprovingly. “What Panacea says, goes.”

    “Let me go!” demanded Riley, struggling vainly against the unbreakable bonds. As Panacea neared her, she clamped her mouth shut and twisted her head away.

    “Yeah, that’s going to happen,” the healer said, reaching out and taking hold of Riley’s shoulder. Riley felt her body lose its tension, her head turning to face Panacea and her mouth opening obediently. “Time for you to take your medicine.”

    She strained to do something, anything, but her body refused to obey. I should have installed that berserker mode. The finger, covered in grey powder, approached her mouth. She tried to bite, but her jaw was slack. So not fair.

    The finger touched her tongue. She felt the sensation spread through her mouth, heading for her brain. I'm immune, I’m immune, I’m immune.

    “In case you were wondering, you’re not immune,” murmured Panacea.

    And that was when Riley felt her power slipping away. As she desperately tried to hold on to it, it faded away until nothing was left. The insights, the urges, all gone.

    Panacea took her finger out of Riley’s mouth and stepped back, breaking contact. “You can let her go now. She’s been depowered.”

    Riley glared at her. “That’s not fair.”

    Sparx smirked and folded her arms. “No. But it’s so damn satisfying.”


    End of Part Twenty-Nine
     
  30. SwiftRosenthal

    SwiftRosenthal Connoisseur.

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    This Bonesaw clearly does not want to be rehabilitated, so I'm hoping for the prophecy twist: the predicted deaths aren't averted by Bonesaw healing those people, but by some circumstance where the Samaritans are forced to put her down (instead of the PRT doing it).

    E: It's just like the Purity situation. Even if she's turned coat, even if she wasn't fully in control of herself, even if she was underage, she still did all those crimes.
     
    Ack and Blackshard like this.
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