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Panacea Quest Archive and Story Thread

Discussion in 'Quest Archive' started by WyldCard4, Feb 11, 2014.

  1. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Panacea Quest has been removed from SpaceBattles.

    It is to be restarted here.

    For new readers, Panacea Quest always welcomes new voters and commentators. I welcome new voices and opinions. This thread is largely to facilitate the entrance of new readers.

    For those coming here from SpaceBattles, note that I never intended to violate SB rules, but do not contest any ruling. A move to Questionable Questing was suggested early on. To any involved readers, I apologize for crossing the line and having to move. I did attempt to keep the story within all rules I was aware of.

    This is a repository of story posts for new readers. Please do not post in this thread. This is a resource for easy quoting, searching, and editing of Panacea Quest in the case of locked threads. Panacea Quest is linked in my signature.

    Worm is owned by wildbow. I claim no ownership of any ideas used in Panacea Quest.

    Worm and information about Worm may be found here: http://parahumans.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/1-1/

    The power rating system of Panacea Quest is being written with this in mind. This guide will be subject to change and revision, but it is a good guideline for how to think about power classification ratings when they come up.

    Information about Worm can be found in the active discussion, ideas, and recommendations thread first post, which is updated as things change.

    Here are the rules of Panacea Quest:

    Rules:

    Rule #1: Ignoring these rules or the voting instructions gets you ignored.

    Rule #2: No contingent or "split" votes are allowed.

    Rule #3: This may be an AU. While the world appears as Panacea saw it as of Interlude 3 (Gallant) changes may be made at my own discretion.

    Rule #4: Unless specifically stated, write-ins must be different from other options and not combinations of them.

    Rule #5: This quest is based on the character of Panacea. Votes are filtered through her perspective. Write in votes may be ignored or altered at my discretion to reflect my interpretation of the character.

    Rule #6: If a write in should not be counted with other write ins or votes provided, the opening word and sentence should be different from all other votes in the current round, though obvious mistakes or coincidences due to lag or people not seeing other votes while writing their own will be treated rationally.

    Rule # 7: If a write in should be counted with another vote, but you want to modify it, it must be an -[X] underneath the vote. Direct suggested changes to the wording of the original vote should be included in an the -[X] with a comment saying that you are doing this.
     
  2. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Let It Snow

    The Garden stretches out before you. Swan curves of necks, pale gray faces, endless eyes after endless eyes, all flesh and every possible body part in every possible combination stretches out before you. You float above the Garden lost in peace. Below you is the most important thing in the world. You are swept up in the grandeur of this scene. Edging into your mind, slow, creeping horror as you see it die. You scream and scream and scream, blasting at the Garden, desperately trying to keep it alive, intact. Nothing works. Something is too wrong for even you to fix. You howl in frustration and grief before screaming again and again, thoughtlessly casting a piece of yourself you tried to use to save her out into the dark...

    You wake up, the dream rapidly fading as it always does. When you were younger you tried to write it down, but you could never capture the feelings, so like so many things you let it go. You always have it after your worst days. The days when you really have to think about...

    Damn Tattletale.

    That is easy. Easy is good. Angry is good. Keep being mad at Tattletale. No one has a right to know those kinds of secrets. That kind of secret, anyone you tell it to is a professional. You like professionals, and should probably see more of them.

    The dream has faded, leaving other, more confusing problems. You try to focus on the ones you could solve as it creeps up on you. You think about a nightmare from yesterday, seeing a corpse stuck underwater in a flooded school, gnawed on by children. It was an execution. You try to remember the details, some demon in the school, control, rules that anyone would break...

    It was too close to it.

    You get up and go to your bathroom. You turn on the hot water tap and only the hot water tap, putting your hand underneath the water as it turns hot. Stupid, Victoria might notice if your hands are that red. You pull your hand out and jab your thumbnail into your finger tip, leaving an indentation. You don't need a lot of pain, just something, anything else to feel.

    You begin to pace. With your free hand you grab a music player and briefly let go of the pain to place earbuds in your ears. The player is on shuffle, hitting some popstar's idea of Let It Snow. You shuffle in a circle in your room, moving rather fast, your hands contorted in a painful position. You consider eating something...

    You have done this before. You could have a roast out, popping something delicious into your mouth whenever you swallow while you move and it wouldn't help. When you get like this, sometimes after watching a movie or hours of TV with Victoria, it doesn't always matter what you do to make yourself happy, or just think less about it.

    You stand, focusing, thinking.

    It is getting late. In the kitchen Mark framed your official dispensation from school, signed by the Director of the local PRT and the chairman of the Brockton Bay School Board. All you have tomorrow is twelve hours of, God, they were bringing in a group with cerebral palsy, or maybe it was cystic fibrosis? You could heal them without sleeping, you'd done it before, choking down energy drinks and talking with the nurses who brought the bastards through.

    [X] You could go for a walk. Get out of your room. Feel fresh air on your face. Maybe go to, someone? You need to be moving, seeing something active. You do see someone. Maybe a professional, maybe ask Dean again, maybe force yourself back to the hospital so you don't have to think anymore. You can go where your feet take you.

    [X] You would feel better with Victoria. She's sleeping right now, unless something woke her up. You can picture her sleeping softly in her pajamas. Your sister would always be willing to make the time. You have to see her, and you just can't stand being alone right now.

    [X] Your eyes scan the wall and you laugh softly to yourself. On one wall of your room runs a long, low bookshelf. In the easiest place to reach, a place of honor, is Flowers in the Attic. The rest of the series rests in order after the first. Hours of reading, of doing nothing else, would calm you down. Your life was not so far from theirs, anyway.


    You move quickly and quietly, stepping through the house. Carol is moving around in her bedroom, and Mark is fast asleep on the couch. He’d probably taken more sleeping pills than he should have again, barely sleeping with fewer than three. Even if Mark remembers you he’d think it was a dream, if he even bothered.

    You can’t help but put an ear to Victoria’s door as you pass. Nothing. Victoria was either fast asleep or she had snuck out to…

    You almost run out the door. It wouldn’t be Dean’s house tonight. That is not something you could stand to walk in on ever again.

    Damn Dean. Dam Tattletale. Damn Amy.

    The night is cool and refreshing. You jump when a bug lands on your hand, but no, Skitter wasn’t controlling it. You pause, smiling, wondering about messing up the bug and leaving it to surprise her. Maybe you could keep a bunch of bugs like that at home, in the hospital, PRT headquarters. Maybe if you did it right you could make them breed.

    That comforting idea distracts you for a while as your mind is idle. The brain and nervous system of the insect, bug, needed to be made considerably larger and more twisted in order to produce the effect. It was wasted mass that needed to be supported. You would probably have to wipe out the competitors to give the species a chance, maybe a flash plague to get rid of the city’s fireflies?

    You would need to talk to someone in the PRT about the idea. Messing with ecology had messed up Bogotá pretty badly. You place the bug you are working on thoughtfully in your pocket.

    You don’t want to go to your aunt’s. It was hard to even look at Crystal, sometimes, and the older girl had always seemed to take her presence as something of an imposition. Eric, how could Eric help? Maybe if you presented it as a problem with Dean, or that you just needed to go somewhere after the bank.

    Who else was there? Carlos, Chris, Dennis, Missy? None of those could be even remotely appealing. Maybe if there were girls your age in the Wards you could have a girlfriend to call at times like this, but of course Brockton Bay has to be the only team of Wards mostly that is mostly male in the country.

    Damn, Tattletale.

    You pause very suddenly. The bug in your hand is receiving signals from Skitter. Why, is…

    “Don’t fucking move.” You don’t know if you want to grimace or cry. Twice in two days is more than enough for a lifetime. The voice sounds very tired, and very, very pissed.

    “I don’t care what you think of me, or why, but she’s dying, I think.” The voice keeps the exhaustion, the angry, but there’s also desperation now. This is a very, very bad sign. Tattletale moved into your view, as you are not moving, keeping a gun pointed at you. Grue, the tall villain with darkness powers moves next to her, carrying Skitter.

    The bug girl has a broken arm. No, it’s more than that. It’s like her entire left side was pulverized, starting with the arm. You’re kind of amazed she’s still breathing, and she’s not breathing well.

    “It was Bakuda. ABB. She's’ nuts.” You remember, vaguely, hearing about her something huge down, somewhere. You were too exhausted to really care, outside of a couple dozen more people in the ICU than normal.

    Tattletale’s voice calms just a bit. “Please. I won’t tell. Just don’t let her fucking die on me. Then you can go have whatever masochistic thing you want with Glory Hole.”

    You stare down at the bleeding, broken villainess. Your choice is clear.

    [X] She’d threatened innocent lives, and worked with the bitch in front of you. The moment you healed her Tattletale would have no further need of you and might just shoot your head in anyway. You raise your head catching Tattletale’s eyes, and your hand in your pocket hits a panic button with a line straight to Victoria. Dean had given it to them just yesterday, after hearing about her broken phone. At this distance it would be one minute before your Glory Girl would arrive.

    [X] You do not want to provoke two or three very dangerous villains. You can keep control of the situation. You move your hand down to where Skitter’s armor was torn loose by the trauma, and slowly begin piecing the villainess back together. You aren’t stupid. Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease, an incredibly rare, incurable disease, literally one in a million, weeks or months before the onset, plenty of time to catch it. Well one cure, exactly. What is she going to do, shoot you? Not if she wants Skitter to stay alive.

    [X] Your hand brushes the hair of the girl. The mask is creepy, but you don’t feel the world by sight, or even touch, not really. Your power spreads through the body warmly and evenly. She is just another patient. You almost don’t think about it as you start to heal her. Really, how could you not heal her? She is just another person needing help. “I’m sorry.” You whisper, and you are no longer talking to the villains.

    Your power spreads through Skitter. Your eyeball assessment had been dangerously inaccurate. The strike had actually come from the lower end of the body, shattering one leg, breaking another repeatedly, and doing severe damage to the pelvis. The arm is badly mangled, but it is the lower parts of the body that would seriously mess up Skitter. Without you she probably would never be able to walk, to have children, control her bladder, and that was if the massive internal bleeding could be stopped, and you don't see how it would be. The entire digestive track is broken beyond repair. That was just the lower body. What kind of bomb had Bakuda even made? It looked less like a bomb and more like someone had smashed several tons of rock into Skitter.

    "She's lucky. Bitch is dead." The psychic speaks to you, breaking your concentration. "Bakuda was trying for something worse, at least she said she was, but it killed her pretty quickly when her organs were space warped.

    "Let me focus!" You snap. Tattletale shuts up for now.

    No brain injuries, a small mercy for you. You don't know what you would have done if Tattletale wanted you to fix that. You seal up all the bleeding you can, forcing all the blood loose in Skitter's body into blood vessels. That will keep her from dying right away, if nothing else. The spine comes next, the hardest part for anyone else to fix, most of the time. You seal up the bleeding. You pause when examining the ovaries. Skitter isn't infertile, naturally, but she would have trouble conceiving even without the blow. You remember the knife against your flesh, and your thoughts trace back to your own house. You wouldn't be helping with that.

    You move your power through Skitter, triaging as best as possible. She definitely wouldn't be dying anytime soon.

    "Thank you." Tattletale doesn't move the gun, but her voice is far, far calmer. "I really didn't have..."

    "Shut up." You tell her. Then you make an effort she doesn't deserve and soften it. "I'm not done." Now it was a rejection of the situation and not her. Maybe that would help, well...

    The only reason you do not use the F-Word in relation to Tattletale in your mind is a nagging concern that she'd be able to twist it into something less than an insult.

    She does look like someone who had just seen friends be brutally injured and killed. You know the look. It's almost as bad as when they brought people in from a Behemoth attack.

    No, a villain like that doesn't deserve that kind of dignity.

    Your fingers trace over the exposed flesh. Something in you wants so badly to see her as beautiful. You are achingly aware of every cell in her body.

    Skitter's disgusting. Colonies of microbes and small animals thrive all through her. Swarms of dim, non-sentient life calls her home, more than on you, or Dean, and definitely Victoria. Her body is in shape, but an uneven, uneducated training had left her weaker than she has to be. A hundred little imperfections claw at your brain.

    You break contact with a shudder, leaving Skitter in, if not the best shape of her life, as good as you could manage under the circumstances, which is pretty damn good.

    "Is it over?" You ask Tattletale. She gives you a long, hard look, peering into depths she really shouldn't be able to penetrate.

    "Is it? She asks quietly. "I'm not asking you for anything else, but if you need our help, mine, we owe you a lot. I didn't think this would work, I just couldn't think of anywhere else to go."

    [X] "It's over." You say it forcefully. "Never tell anyone, never come near me or Victoria again. I'd ask you to just turn yourself in, but I don't think you're that grateful." You're starting to feel sick about all of this. You could even see it as betraying your family, aiding villains, abetting sworn enemies.

    [X] You consider your answer very carefully. "Go, but if I ever need you, I'll be in touch." This felt right to you, a code of the street. Tit for tat. You help them, and someday they help you.

    [X] You're almost ready to say no, but you can't help yourself. "Yes, there is something. Something I can't do. Something you can help me with, if you mean it." Write in. Suggest things that Amy might think Tattletale could help her with, especially relating to her major issues. Write in votes for possible favors to ask will be subject to all rules relating to write ins, and different suggestions may end up combined depending on popularity and discretion.


    Tattletale mutters a swear word under her breath, runs her fingers through her hair, and closes her eyes.

    "Yes. I can do that, but I need something to work with." She sounds distant, distracted. Maybe it's part of her powers, maybe the day she's been having.

    "What do you need?" You ask a bit cautiously.

    "Just tell me what's wrong. I know, but the way you say it helps."

    You think back, and start telling the story you told Dean.

    You give a stressed, stuttering version of the speech you gave Dean yesterday, or two days ago, damn midnight.

    You start. “I never wanted these powers. I never wanted powers, period.” Tattletale cuts you off.

    "Your trigger event was late. Hm, did you start your period late? No you didn't. It's not about biology. Messed up family, isolated, you should have triggered younger." She pauses. "Keep going, Guts."

    “But I got them anyways, and I got international attention over it. The healer. The girl who could cure cancer with a touch, make someone ten years younger, regrow lost limbs. I’m forced to be a hero. Burdened with this obligation. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t use this power. It’s such an opportunity, to save lives.”

    "Victoria was with you at first." Tattletale says, and you nod. "I bet it felt great at first, saving lives, healing people. All kinds of acclaim, doing something new and different, maybe not having to go to school." She is nodding. "And then it started to get repetitive, harsh, stressful. No, it didn't have to be about the time she left, not a direct correlation, but close enough. Think back. All the times you were out of school, relaxing, having fun, special, anything positive was usually with Glory Girl." You're starting to get offended, heat rising to your face.

    "You can go fuck yourselves." She cuts you off before you can tell them to go.

    "Every night and twice on Tuesdays, darling. But no, this is important. Glory Girl's power, it hits your brain, makes you think she is awesome, admirable, worthy of respect. She triggered younger than you, interesting. She probably delayed your trigger with all the warm gooey shit flying out her ass." Tattletale takes a deep breath, looking pained. "It hit your brain chemistry. Your brain's been developing so most of the time you were happy it was with her. I bet when you were happy when you weren't with her there was a connection. Gifts she gave you, things that remind you of her. I bet she even gave you your copy of Flowers in the Attic."

    "It was Crystal." You're not sure if you should be relieved or scared that she got a detail wrong.

    "So a girl who looks just like her." Tattletale snorts. "I'm not certain about this, but I make very good guesses. Your brain chemistry is fucked to hell. Things feel better than they are with Victoria, and worse without her. It's going to be fucking hard to be happy if she's not frying what's left of her brain with her roofie aura." You start shaking. You almost consider reaching out and grabbing her, but she does still have her gun. You had so many good ideas at the bank for what to do to her.

    "Oh, now that wouldn't help." Her smile is pained, but it's back. "You actually do care about being a hero. You're sick to death of it all, but taking a vacation, acting out, being selfish, that wouldn't help in the slightest. You'd feel too guilty to enjoy it. People dying on your watch while you're off in Mexico shopping for a bikini? You'd never live with yourself and come back feeling twice as bad. Proving to yourself that you can be a bad person won't make you feel the slightest bit better. Gallant is an idiot. Hurting me, you'd always wonder if that's how your father started out." You don't really know what to think.

    "You need to live for someone else, fight for someone else. That's in your powers, or blood, or upbringing, something. You won't find your life worth living if you run from who you are, and you'll break if you keep running in place." Tattletale sounds thoughtful, pondering. Hm, not sure if there's medication that would help. Ooh, no, you don't have good experiences with medication, was, hm, do I call Flashbang your father? They probably don't have medicine or therapy that could cure all that's wrong with you. Maybe you could have a baby, those always make things better. There's a Tinker, Cranial, a Case 53, who specializes in neurology. It might help to just ask Victoria to stay with you while you heal people. Yep, the calming influence of someone with her rage issues while bringing a disability Girl Scout Troop through will definitely lead to good things." Tattletale looks like she desperately needs to sit down at this point, and maybe cry.

    "Give me something that helps," you snarl.

    "Oh, let me think!" She snaps. "You need worthy opponents." She mutters.

    "What?"

    "I don't know. Leave. Take Victoria with you. Get out of this town. All the world is made for love. Be yourself. I've never done this before, and last time I tried I nearly got her killed." She waves her hand at the still sleeping Skitter. She starts to calm down a fraction. "Don't try to fight conflict. It'll boil over. We aren't built not to fight. Just choose what you fight." She puts her face in her hands. "Everything's coming in wrong. Break one of your issues, and another one gets stronger. Try to get help and you expose your secrets, don't get help and go crazy." She sucks in a deep breath. "If you tell your sister, do it soon. It's better if you do it than if someone else does, or if you need to explain it after you make a mistake."

    "I would never..." You feel like leaving right now.

    "Sure, we all say that, but we're all crazy. I think your powers are meant for mind rape. You can't hold it in forever."

    That is the point of no return.

    "Never come near me or my family again."

    "Alright. I'll delete the email that would have gone to Glory Hole if I hadn't come back, too. Just because I'm that kind of person."

    [X] Throughout the conversation your mind was half on the conversation, half on the microbes on your hand. At first it had just been a precaution, but as the conversation went on you became increasingly sure that this was the right call. They should last just long enough for Grue and Tattletale to fall asleep, and die out before they infected anyone else. The last line clinches the deal. If this is her idea of helping there's no way she could be trusted not to keep coming back with worse and worse threats. Tattletale tries to move and leans on Grue for support. Grue is almost asleep himself. "Fuck, you..." Mutters Tattletale as she fumbles with the gun, no longer sure how it works. Your hand goes to your pocket. Not the best phone, but it would work until you got a better one. It is time to call the police, and your sister.

    [X] You let them go, sitting stunned in the dirt. Things are bad, even worse than you thought. You sit quietly in the dark for maybe half an hour before getting up. You're dressed for the walk, and have your wallet. You're heading to the airport. It is time to visit Cranial.

    [X] Grue helps you get up. You help heave the sleeping Skitter into his arms. You're going home. If Tattletale was even half right you need to talk to Victoria. Maybe not about everything, but you can't keep all of it a secret. Maybe you just need someone to talk to.


    You turn to Tattletale. "Um, thank you-" She cuts you off.

    "Oh my God I remind you of your mother. That's just fucked up." She shakes her head. "Don't give me any of this battered wife shit. "Come on, Grue, let her have her peace." Grue follows along silently. You wonder why he never talks.

    You begin the march home. It's fairly short, and your mind is spinning by the time you get there. Mark is watching TV on mute, and doesn't even seem to notice as you walk by him. Carol seems to have stopped moving. You need to gather yourself before you face this.

    You go into your room, turn on your computer, and type down everything you can remember Tattletale said. At least, everything you can face writing down. You save the document and email it to yourself just to be sure.

    You kind of hate yourself as you check your face in the bathroom mirror. It doesn’t matter how you look. You tell yourself how stupid lipstick is as you put it on. At least you had a good excuse for the stupid double date you never went to. The only good thing about that day was not having to make the effort for, well, he wasn’t actually a loser. Whatever you say about Dean, he would have chosen a charming, attractive sixteen year old millionaire of impeccable moral character.

    You can’t even blame him for not arranging an attractive sixteen year old millionaire of impeccable moral character of the gender you are attracted to. You aren’t out and you don’t want to be out. It might not even help. Dean had even asked you, privately.

    You finish all the stupid unhelpful little rituals for just checking on Victoria and sit back in your chair, unwilling to move down the hall.

    You have procrastinated for long enough...

    You sit there and cry just a little.

    "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." You mutter. You can barely stop.

    You bolt out of your chair, moving far too quickly down the hall, stopping yourself right before you fling open the door. Maybe it woke someone up, but who cares?

    You put your ear to her door. You are soft, gentle, listening in. No sound of TV or movement. She’s either fast asleep, or…

    You can’t think about her sneaking off to Dean’s at a time like this. If she did that you don’t know what you’d do. You open the door, dreading…

    Her bed is not empty. You actually thank God for that, though He hasn’t given you many favors before. Or maybe He had. Now that is a scary thought. If your life is blessed, what would it be without that blessing?

    You walk carefully, barefoot, over to Victoria’s bed. Sleeping softly, beautifully, like sleeping beauty.

    “Victoria!” You try to whisper, but you can’t keep your mouth closed in this chain of thought. She jerks awake suddenly. “Jesus, Amy, what are you…” She focuses her eyes and sweeps you into a hug with a speed she would probably not have attempted if she wasn’t half asleep. Physically it was not particularly comforting.

    "I was out. I met, I met Tattletale again." Victoria looks over you quickly, seeing your state. She looks curious for a second, and then furious.

    "I am going to kill her."

    "She said she reminds me of Carol." Victoria actually smiles at that.

    "Me too." She admits, and then you both laugh. Victoria pats you on the back, looking less murderous since you look okay.

    "She had a teammate who was dying, and a gun." Victoria starts to softly whisper ways to make her pay into your ear as you keep talking. "She was dying. I had to help. Tattletale, she talked. She said she was trying to help, repay me. I don't know how much, any of it was true. I think she was just afraid I'd give the bug girl cancer, or try something worse." Your sister nods smoothly, keeping up the comforting monologue of death, torture, and mutilation. "She said things. I can't discount them."

    "She's a crazy cunt." She assures you, pulling back from your ear and making eye contact. "A rotten, sadistic..."

    You cut her off with...

    [X] The last few days have been terrible. Far, far too terrible. "I love you." You say it with just the right inflection, the right movement, that she has to know what you mean. The two of you sit there in silence. You are very still.

    [X] "She said your aura fucked me up." You pause, and shudder. "I, or we, need to see a psychiatrist. Maybe she's wrong, but I hope she isn't. She gave me a name, a tinker in neurology, Cranial. We should check her out, see what she can find."

    [X] "You're right. Tomorrow, we are going to catch the Undersiders." Victoria looks like she has never loved you more.


    The two of you sit there for a minute, weighing, well, everything. Victoria plays with your hair absent mindedly.

    "We're leaving today, if you really want go go. You turn around, resting your head on her lap as she continues playing with your hair. "I don't like this. She's a miserable little shit who just wants us out of the city. But if you believe it, or can't let it go, I will go with you to Cranial. Otherwise I'd always wonder." Victoria is quiet for a moment. "What exactly did she say I did?"

    "It sounded a lot like clinical depression when I'm not around you. Different specifics, but it did sound a lot like Mark. I got so used to being happy with your aura that I can't tell the difference. So I am just miserable at the hospital."

    "I know you're miserable there." Victoria says quietly. "I know you have to go, but if there's anything I can do, if this doesn't work out..." You need to shut down your imagination at those words.

    You had to do it soon, but you couldn't do it right now. Now stretched out like this. Would she ever touch you as a sister again? Would she ever just stroke your hair lying in bed like this? You need this more than anything else right now.

    "I haven't slept all night." Victoria sighs.

    "Is that related? I guess a slumber party wouldn't be too bad. I don't think the house has any rooms big enough to share, but I guess we could move. I'll never understand what Dad likes so much about the house." She sounds a bit sleepy, but it's a good, relaxed kind of sleepy.

    "I think he just could never face going through moving." You answer. "Moving, a change of life, is hard. If he was happy he didn't want to bring himself down, and if he was sad he couldn't move." You feel Victoria's head nodding.

    "So, what do you know about Cranial, anyway?"
    ___

    Victoria wakes you up when the plane lands in Albany. It really is scary what Carol can do when it comes to getting you out of her life for a while. You had talked with the PRT agents about your encounter with Tattletale while healing in the hospital today. Armsmaster and Director Piggot had nearly called in a teleporter to get you here faster, but you had talked them out of it. This seemed like the least guilty vacation you could possibly get.

    Victoria had brought some light reading for the trip, the PRT files on Cranial and the Undersiders.

    "There doesn't seem to be a connection, but no one knows much about Tattletale. It isn't raising any alarms in the PRT, but Cranial is a rogue. She could be rustling up a client. Cranial is fascinated by healers. She's in Albany to visit one of your cute little knockoffs. Ichy or something."

    You kind of jump in your seat. "Do you mean Ichor?"

    "Yeah, that sounds right. Black girl, regenerator, her blood causes people to grow her body parts over wounds?"

    You're actually a bit excited at this. The plane attaches to the gate quickly. You leave before Victoria as the aisle sheets shuffle off before the window seats. Ichor is one of the best healers. Keep the blood flowing and people could regenerate limbs, and naturally defective organs could be replaced by her healthy ones. Of course all of her spare parts are identical, and many people couldn't use them, and she couldn't do anything about the more subtle or global illnesses, but it might be fun to talk shop with her if you get the chance.

    Several immaculately dressed PRT agents are waiting for you and Victoria. So is a short kid, maybe 13, dressed in a red robe, a white mesh mask, and white spandex covering the extremities.

    "How did you get that costume past your people?" Victoria laughs. "You sure you're a hero?" She jokes. He laughs.

    "My sister thought it made me look like Eidolon, but it turned out grim reaper." He gives an exaggerated bow to you and Victoria. "I will be your tour guide and body guard to Albany."

    "You?" Victoria raises an eyebrow. "Didn't they have any grownups?"

    "Fuck you, I fought Simurgh in Australia. It's not like Albany has a lot of heroes to go around." You see his mask display a shadow that looks like a grin, probably an electronic projection like Clockblocker's costume.

    "Ooh, he thinks he's spunky." Victoria giggles.

    "Try to keep up. You couldn't handle my spunk." The PRT agents really do not look like they want to be observing a dominance battle between teenage capes. You take pity on them.

    "Victoria, please, we need to get going." Victoria pouts as you are waved through security to the jealous glares of less fortunate passengers. You ponder the Ward as you walk. He twitches constantly, jerking the angle of his head. Some kind of nervous tick, or a clue about his power? Practically it might have been a good idea to read up on the Albany Capes before you came, but you were dead on your feet when you got on the plane.

    "This isn't just us being stupid." The Ward tells you when you are in the black PRT van, the three heroes in the back seat and the agents in the front. "There are villains here, and some might think they can get something, credit or healing or whatever, by pulling something."

    "Oh, now I get it." Victoria laughs. "This is a celebrity freakout. He's got a poster of me up in his room. He's trying to look all badass and grownup to impress me." You put a hand over Victoria's.

    "Stop being a bitch." You tell her.

    The kid launches into some story about how New Wave are his heroes and about a signed baseball mitt from Shielder that you tune out, resting your head on Victoria's shoulder. You're saved by his pager beeping and a burst of profanity that causes Victoria to smile.

    "Something's happening. Some villain's blowing up SUNY. It's not that far. Um. It sounds serious, and we're the closest people..." He sounds embarrassed. He clearly doesn't want to ask for you and Victoria to help in a random cape fight.

    Victoria looks excited. She probably wishes she'd worn her costume, but it would have been uncomfortable under street clothes for the plane ride.

    [X] "You go on ahead. I can handle this meeting by myself. Hurry back, please." You kiss Victoria on the forehead. She looks a bit conflicted, but whoops when the Ward throws himself out of the moving car, rising up into the sky. She bolts after him, doing her best to copy the move and only skidding on the ground for a second before she rises up. You sigh and close the door beyond them.

    [X] You think calmly for a moment. "We barely have the information to do this and are going up against unknown capes. We should let the local Protectorate handle this. If we smash in we're likely to get more people hurt." Victoria looks disappointed, but nods.

    [X] You need worthy opponents. You suck in your breath. If you've come here on her advice, no reason to stop listening to Tattletale now. "You're right. We can help." Victoria looks puzzled. "I think I'm going to try something different this time. I need some combat experience." Victoria is clearly worried, and takes your hand.

    "I trust you know what you're doing."


    "I trust you know what you're doing." Victoria tells you. You nod. This is dangerous, but also exciting.

    While you drive the kid starts giving a very brief, slightly inconsistent account of his powers. Something about super speed and flight. He's using terms you don't quite get about microscopic teleportation and kinetic energy manipulation. Victoria actually looks a bit excited at this for some reason.

    The car pulls you into a long circle. People are moving quickly from all directions, though they aren't that dense. There's definitely villains here.

    The Ward starts to give updates. "There's one we managed to ID. A mercenary, a little kid, ten years old, named August Prince. If you get in his range you can't hurt him. There's also a normal looking man who looks like he's in charge. There's another one, with a red streak dyed into her dark hair, dressed in street clothes with no ID so far, ring any bells?" You and Victoria shake your heads. "We're running through the last one, her lips had been painted black and she has white hair, if that helps.

    "Sounds familiar, but no." Victoria says, looking thoughtful. "Maybe when I see her."

    Currently a building is collapsing. Victoria crouches, reading to move, but the Ward who still doesn't have a name stops her. "Nobody's inside. Witch, the team Thinker, said so. I don't think they're here to kill civilians, they're here to cause a scene.

    The Ward glares at his emergency pager. Things seem slightly less organized here than back home, at least that's your impression. "It's the white haired woman who is bringing the building down. We have a minute or two before she hits a building with people inside. Anyone have a plan?"

    "I run in and grab one of them, force a stalemate?" Victoria sounds unsure. She's never been a team leader. Suddenly the two are looking at you as if you have a plan.

    [X] Write in. Give a quick plan of attack.


    You touch Glory Girl's arm tenderly, spreading a wave of anti-bodies to protect her against your new weapon.

    "Sleeping organisms, limited life cycle, you'll be immune." You offer your hand to the Ward. He mutters something under his breath. "Can't take off the body suit easily. This is easier." He opens the mask an inch and you trace your fingers along a surprisingly rough, acne scarred face.

    "Stay safe, both of you." Victoria gives you a quick hug and bounces off towards the villains.

    The Ward displays the same projected grin along the mesh of his mask. "They've got nothin' on me." He stands still for another second. "It's Blur. I forgot to tell you at the airport."

    Blur is off fast. He's way ahead of Glory Girl even as she's charging forward at top speed. As you move forward, spreading your sleeping sickness, you hear shouts of female pain that definitely is not Glory Girl. The building collapse seems to be slowing down, though not stopping. It might be structural damage letting it continue to fall apart naturally.

    The white haired woman is unconscious with her face crisscrossed with several deep cuts, with her cheek ripped entirely open showing teeth. Glory Girl is holding her with one arm, the other raised and ready to strike someone. She is flying up pretty high, but why...

    Blur is on the ground shaking. The dark haired girl with red streaks is looking at him with a look of mocking pity on her face, ten feet away from him. A very big knife or a short sword with blood on it rests at his feet.

    "Why, that wasn't even a challenge. Don't take on Eidolon garb if you can't back it up." She raises her eyes and grins. "Ooh, now isn't this nice." Her eyes flick between you and Victoria. "Out of town help? I feel honored. Then again, this is a crap town." She shakes her head. "Now dear, unless you want to end up like the boy here I suggest you be nice and surrender. Even if you win do you want to be in therapy for the next six years?" She suddenly grins a lot wider. "Ooh, maybe you will no matter what I do." She appraises you with something like glee. "Sometimes you do get a lucky break." She is talking to you, but not about you.

    You get a sick feeling in your gut. One Tattletale was bad enough. Was this another person who could read your deepest darkest secrets?

    August Prince begins to march forward towards you while the still unidentified man and the dark haired girl stand next to each other. He holds his scepter like mace, or mace like scepter, and he looks like he is quite willing to use it on you.

    [X] You rush August Prince, hoping to expose him to your sleeping agents as quickly as possible and get rid of another threat.

    [X] You try to run around him towards the two active unidentified villains, hoping to get your sleeping agents as close to them as possible. She has to be bluffing about the years of therapy.

    [X] You keep your distance from everyone, covering as much ground as you can while spreading sleep inducing organisms. That way you buy time for them to start working.


    August Prince is rather fast. You're out of shape. You haven't really exercised much in the last two years. August Prince is a mercenary. You're older, but you can barely keep away from him.

    The Tattletale knockoff laughs. "Ooh, this is fun. She starts a brisk walk with the unidentified man at her side, walling you off from much of the campus if you don't get near her.

    "You know, we're not really hear to do anything wrong. We're reuniting a girl with her loving aunt. I've met the woman. She's a nice lady, loves crossword puzzles. She's much more able to take care of the girl than the girl's older sister. Even if we fail someone else will take the bounty. Off in the distance you see a large car that is either carrying a cape or a crazy person who wants to run against the villains. "I bet that's here now."

    While she's looking at the car, Glory Girl drops the white haired woman on her from a great distance above. Tattletale Two howls in pain. "That's it you incestuous freak!" She shouts. Your heart hammers inside your chest, though the fact that she seems to be shouting at Victoria gives you hope that she's just using the most hurtful words that come to mind. The white haired woman looks relatively okay. Cherish is bleeding from the side of her head.

    August Prince uses the distraction to close distance. Victoria lands to your side and gives him an aura filled glare. It doesn't seem to work.

    "How much longer." She asks through clenched teeth.

    "He should be down by now. I think the other two will take a minute if they stay where they are. Less if they get closer." You whisper.

    August Prince has reached you and starts beating Victoria as hard as he can. He's strong for a ten year old, but his hits aren't enough to break down the shield.

    "Hey kid. I like your mace." Glory Girl changes tactics. He doesn't change his assault. "Seriously, you've got a great name and costume. Who made it for you?" Victoria gives him her most winning smile. You wince as he smashes his mace against it in an attempt to break her teeth. Fortunately it doesn't work. "What is a kid like you doing with jerks like them?" August Prince gives up and tries to get past Victoria to beat you up. Victoria moves quickly to either side, keeping herself between you and him.

    "Any time now. Please." You wonder why it isn't working. What is keeping the sleeping sickness from effecting August Prince?

    The unnamed and un-costumed villains have extracted themselves from the tangle of the white woman and are advancing on you again. The Not-Tattletale has a murderous gleam in her eye.

    Victoria pauses, takes a hold of August Prince, and lifts him experimentally. She tosses him gentle from hand to hand. He gives her an adorably angry glare.

    "Okay. Either I grab you and we run, or I toss the bus at them. He might be immune to the sleeping agent, but they might not be. I'm kind of afraid they'd just die if I threw a whole bus at them, but you're here, and I really don't like these jerks."

    [X] "August Prince probably just has some extra power we didn't hear about. They'll be down in a minute, and if not we can circle back and help the locals. Let's move."

    [X] You remember the glare in the young woman's eyes. If there's even a chance if she could catch you, or keep talking, that's too much. "Throw the bus."

    [X] Write in. Got a better idea?


    Your Glory Girl flips back over the bus. You hear a grunt of shrieking metal, and she throws the entire bus over your head at the oncoming supervillains. You hear a shocked scream cut terribly short from the man, and all is silent.

    Victoria moves forward a few seconds later, hovering a few feet off the ground. She pecks your cheek. "Be back in a sec." She moves forward with inhuman speed.

    You see her bend over, retching violently. Given the work you've seen her give people it has to be really bad.

    Or the woman can make her vomit at will. You muffled, rasped words too faint to make out, especially as you're feeling faint. Victoria bends over, howling like a mad woman.

    It turns out that throwing a bus at someone is not inherently lethal. At least not for this particular parahuman.

    The Albany capes arrive. A twelve year old girl in a costume that is disturbingly revealing, a woman with a pale face frozen in sorrow, a girl with a strangely shaped head in a pure white body suit, a woman with her face covered in an aviatrix cap with long blonde hair. You barely notice them as you stare at your sister weeping uncontrollably. Victoria pounds her fists against the ground, miserable and angry.

    The cunt had said something about six years of therapy.

    Then, softly, the woman with the fixed face puts her hand on your shoulder. "It's safe to go forward now. She's asleep. What you did worked. It just needed a little time."

    You run to Victoria. She grabs you in a hug that will actually leave bruises, sobbing into your shoulder.

    "Fucking. Save. Them." She says into your ear far too loudly.

    You survey the damage. The man's arm is ripped off and his chest is horribly compressed. He'll die in seconds. The woman, a girl really, is lying back, bleeding from the scalp, her legs pulverized by the impact, unconscious, with a smell of feces rising from her ruptured gut. She has maybe a few more seconds.

    [X] "I'll try." You put your hand on the man, preventing him from dying. You aren't really thinking straight, your eyes on Victoria as she continues to howl with a kind of grief you've never seen before. You take your time, and suddenly throw up all over him as you realize you're letting the woman die for hurting your sister. You start sobbing too. You saved one. That has to be enough. Victoria is standing there, and gives you a betrayed, horrified expression, and rockets high up into the sky.

    [X] You put your hands on both of them. You struggle to keep them alive, circulating oxygen to their brains and beating their hearts through your own power. You shudder, holding yourself together, trying to make sense of things. As you knit them back together you feel a sudden, strange, almost irresistible idea enter into your head. You see the recent memories of the woman clouded by a mild concussion. If she knows, if that's what she told Victoria, she can't ever say it. You could have resisted the urge, you really could have, if Victoria didn't suddenly grab onto you in an awkward hug. In the burst of shock you lose control, not sure if you even meant to do it, and Cherish's last 15 minutes of memory are vanished to the world.

    [X] You stand perfectly still, staring at the dying villains. You want to help them. You have to help them. But if you rush in like this, you can't let your sister, what are you even thinking? You grab Victoria by the hand and pull her into an awkward hug. "WHAT DID SHE TELL YOU!" You hadn't even planned on asking but it spills out. Maybe the girl isn't as asleep as you thought, or can use her powers in your sleep. Victoria keeps crying. "I need to know! I can't help them unless you tell me what's going on!" You kick off your shoes, and you aren't wearing any socks. You'll touch them, save them, but right now nothing else is mo0re important than knowing what Victoria heard.


    You broke your biggest rule. Bigger than do not harm, bigger than not fucking Victoria, bigger than saving lives or helping children.

    The girl with the frozen face wraps a towel around you after they're fixed, physically. She looks exhausted. The other new heroes, what look like the Albany Wards, are all nodding off as well.

    Now it works. You, um, counter plague or something. You're not really paying attention. Something about a counter virus that will die out later.

    Victoria doesn't let go of you as you make your way to, um, you don't know where they're actually leading you to. You focus on the twelve year old with the creepy costume briefly touching each of the unconscious villains. Maybe she is a Striker who needs skin contact? That makes sense to you. Good, they won't be up for a while, if that's what she did? You should have read up on the local heroes.

    PRT agents try and fail to spray containment foam at August Prince, missing completely. Finally the woman in the aviatrix cap and a girl you recognize as Ichor start hovering around him preventing his movement.

    The battle is over. At least your part of the fight is over. There's emergency services around and no one's asking you to do anything. That's good.

    You fall asleep in an ambulance and you're not even sure why you're there. The last thing you remember before you drift off to sleep is Victoria whispering to you.

    "I love you, Amy."
    ___

    You wake up in an unfamiliar room. It's either an actual hotel room that the local PRT uses to store visitors or something similar in their headquarters. You start missing Victoria as soon as you wake up. She's not here. Why didn't she wait for you? You would have waited for her to wake up after something like that.

    You curl up in the strange sheets, lonely and still tired. You feel like sleeping for a week. Did you screw up your sleeping organisms? Wait, no, you only had slept for three hours in the last two days. You grudgingly get up and look for a clock, eventually finding one that says it's 10:14. Based on it being dark it's presumably at night.

    You yawn and stretch. You've had three of the scariest and most violent encounters in your life over the last four days. Some vacation this was turning out to be.

    You wonder if you would eventually get used to throwing yourself into heightened states of conflict or if it would always be like this for you.

    You explore the room. Two beds, so you're probably sharing with Victoria, unless this was just the easiest room to store you. Several sets of street clothes and a few bathrobes, with sizes matching you and Victoria. There's even a pretty nice shower.

    You sit back on your bed and start crying again. This room is what you imagine a home with Victoria would be like. Some small apartment, just enough space for the both of you. It's all you really want. Houses always seemed too cluttered, too big.

    You hear a knocking on the door. The knocking is definitely not hard enough to be Victoria, and she wouldn't knock anyway.

    You really don't want to talk to anyone right now, but you don't really have a good excuse not to. You get up and open the door. There's a pair of armored PRT agents and a woman in a nearly solid black costume with a few lines of blue and white along the edges. Her mask is clearly Tinker work or at least high end electronics, taking over the bottom half of her face with some very peculiar piece of gear that seems designed to do something with her voice. At least that's your impression.

    "Hello. I am Truth. That is my cape name." Her voice strikes you as kind. "I heard that you have been through a lot recently. I want to personally thank you. For security reasons I will not say what my relationship with her is, but I have one with the Ward who the mercenaries who came to kidnap. She has the cape name of Trick. I have good reason to believe they would have been successful if you and your sister had not helped us. I requested to stand guard here and to greet you when you woke up."

    Something about this whole thing makes you feel much better. Everything seems a bit less horrible and pointless, hearing from someone who you helped today.

    "Where is Victoria?" You manage to sound calmer about the question than you feel."

    "Glory Girl is still being questioned and evaluated by some of our best people. She was deeply distraught by the ordeal, and the person you went up against is an emotional manipulator. We do not believe any permanent damage was done, but we want to hold her for observation for a while." She puts a hand on your shoulder. "As family you have the right to visit her, but I do advice that you don't. Based on experience with the cape we believe that it would be best not to expose her to any strong emotional stimulus until after she has slept. This is especially critical given her powers, as a single moment of low self control could be devastating."

    You nod at this. The idea that you might not see her again until the morning, staying awake for it all with your sleep schedule so messed up, is starting to fill you with a kind of dread.

    A single moment of low self control could be devastating. You won't cry in front of this stranger, nice as she is, but you feel like it.

    "Now, there are several ways this could go. You could ignore our advice and see your sister. We could also get you to see Cranial now, while you are well rested. Cranial does not have a human sleep schedule, she rests parts of her brains in shifts, and she would be most willing to see you between now and 4 AM today. If you would rather have Victoria with you when you visit Cranial, but don't want to just sit around this room, we could take you to a hospital here and have a debriefing on what happened while you heal people. I do understand if you don't feel up to it after such a violent encounter, especially as we were told you're visiting Albany due to some issues with your brain chemistry."

    You sit back on your bed, thinking hard.

    [X] "I need to see Victoria." You really can't let this go any longer. You need each other. Doesn't she need you just as much as you need her? She was acting like it before you fell asleep. You have to know if that horrible girl had told her anything disconcerting.

    [X] "Cranial." You decide. The longer you put this off the more likely it is that you'll have some kind of accident. You already had a pretty terrible one, even if nobody else would know about it. The longer you put this off the worse it will be.

    [X] "I can go to the hospital." You sigh. You should "rest" and collect yourself before doing anything major. You might clear your head. "I want to know more about what happened today. This situation sounds serious. You can tell me about it while I'm there, right?" Truth nods.


    "Alright. I will drive you." Truth assures you. She keeps a hand on your shoulder as you walk out, her full g;loves preventing you from getting a glimpse of her biology.

    The drive is cold, maybe 40 degrees by, um, the real system. Missing a few years of high school may be having more impact than you thought.

    "So, do you know Cranial?" You ask, hoping to keep your mind off of the pit in your stomach.

    "Not really. She doesn't live here. She's just here to poke around Ichor. She has always been fascinated by healing powers. More so than mind affecting powers for some reason. She seems to believe that the next stage in her research will be found in healers. I suspect she will be fascinated by you. They say you don't do brains?"

    "No." You don't clarify, though you feel a little sick.

    "Well, she only does brains. Mostly. Neurology is her focus, but she can cover a lot of things. Complex systems, details, comprehensive understanding of her environment. She might be one of the best Tinkers since Hero." She laughs. "I hope you don't take exception to that, coming from Armsmaster's city and all." You really don't. It doesn't even make sense to you. Dragon is the best Tinker.

    Truth just keeps talking. It's starting to get annoying. She talks about your powers and how amazing they are. She talks about her own powers, which are fucking terrifying. If she focuses she can tell people in her range something and they will believe it's true. She apparently talked shop with Cranial a bit and learned about all kinds of weird mental disorders that her powers could replicate.

    "...I thought about naming myself Anosognosia, but Repulse, the leader of this Protectorate, said it was too obscure. I think Truth does pretty well, don't you?" She finishes. You're almost finished driving.

    "Why don't they keep you in an interrogation room somewhere talking villains into joining the Protectorate?" You ask. You're actually a bit scared to be in the same car as her.

    "Oh, I thought I told you. I wear off in a few hours. Not like Trick. That's probably the reason they were after her. What she does sticks with you." She sounds proud.

    "And what does she do?" You have a feeling of trepidation."

    "Why, I'm not the only person who has a relationship with her. Everyone does if they stand too close to her. Best friend, girlfriend, sister, daughter, her choice." She laughs. "I'd say mine is real, but really, who could tell?" You're starting to feel sick again. No wonder the villains had wanted her...

    No, they hadn't wanted her dead. They'd wanted her for themselves. Someone like that in the hands of a lunatic like Lung, or Tattletale, or Jack Slash is one of the scariest things you've thought about since you heard of the Gray Boy.

    "Well, here we are. I hope you find what you need here." She lets you out. "I'd wait in the car, but come on, if I did that we both know you'd find me dead in my seat with an ambush prepared when you get back." You both get out. You're not exactly reassured by anything she's said. The two of you walk up to a small condo and ring the doorbell.

    "Come in." Says a smooth, middle aged voice on the intercom. "The door's unlocked."

    You do, and the first thing you notice are the large print outs decorating the wall.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    At that point you deliberately stop looking at the pictures on the wall. Truth gives you a look and sighs.

    "If you can't stand that, what are you going to do about the real thing?"

    Oh, right, Case 53. The walls have to be some kind of test. Some kind of, um, is that a picture of a woman biting a baby's head? You deliberately look away.

    "Didn't you read about Cranial before you arrived?" She asks curiously. You shake your head. "I wish I could have prepared you, but you came all this way. Please don't be alarmed.

    Then Cranial opens a door and moves into view. You're suddenly, incomprehensibly grateful for the pictures. Otherwise you would have screamed.

    Cranial is something out of Hell. Dangling like a woman’s hair are eyeballs and nerves hanging loosely and swaying as she moves towards you. The chest bones, all ribs and lungs, are expanded hideously for such a small body. She, she is floating above the floor using some Tinker mechanism, as her legs have become long and hideous scythes that remind you of raptors from Jurassic Park. You see the hands are changed into strange, branching limbs like trees constantly in motion building something, braided with or holding devices of all kinds. The face has contracted into nothing but a horrible bat like mouth open to scream on top of an overly long neck.

    The only thing you want to do is run. Run, run to Victoria and sleep in her bed and braid her hair and act like you're seven year old girls. The gray skin rasps in something, breathing or laughing or speaking you don't know and you don't care and whoever made someone into this deserves to go to Hell.

    "Hello, Amy." The same calm, middle aged voice you heard on the intercom. It doesn't come from the mouth, but a device being manipulated by dozens of the terrible limbs of Cranial. "I am so glad to meet you. I have wanted to meet you since I first heard of your remarkable talents. I would offer you a hand to shake, but such a move would be pointless in many ways." She opens a door into a spacious room with several very comfortable looking easy chairs. You collapse into one. "I know you're underage, but I find that a drink is very helpful for people who have not yet gotten used to me."

    Someone getting used to Cranial is like someone getting used to the death of a loved one. Maybe it helps, but that doesn't stop you from wanting to prevent it in the first place.

    You keep being drawn between a horrible urge to stare and not being able to stay looking at her. With so many eyes, and you're sure they're functional eyes, and apparently the ability to comprehend details, she has to know just how hard it is for you to be in a room with her, and how guilty you are that you feel this way.

    "I, I, my sisters powers fucked me up." It seems so petty when sitting across from someone so fucked up by her own powers.

    "Yes, your mother's email explained this. Apparently she has the ability to cause her friends and allies to love and respect her with an almost religious awe. Do to a number of life circumstances your brain chemistry is severely messed up." You nod. "I must say this now, I suspect there are no easy solutions to your problem. Your dependency is very likely to be a natural part of your body. The brain is a gloriously complex system. Any changes I make will have a price. You will become less yourself, or you will need the hole in your heart, being metaphorical, filled. I can definitely help you, but in the end it is possible that all you will gain from me is the choice to continue your dependency on your sister's aura." You sit in the chair, silent and a bit numb. Well, you were here on the advice of Tattletale. Did you expect this to end well?

    "Um, what can you do for me, ma'am?" You mutter.

    "Quite a lot. I might be able to rig your endorphin system to trigger at other stimulus, though letting you run it yourself would leave you an addicted vegetable. I could make it so you feel a similar feeling to when your sister is around when you are healing people, or replace your natural reward systems to respond as another girl your age, a healthy and happy one. That is not even close to the limit of what I am willing to offer. I can give you the memories of anyone who I have ever worked on. I could give you a significant base in any of hundreds of important life skills. I could give you 40 years of human memory and you could still live to 200 before you began to have problems. Of course I am a rogue, not a hero. Nothing is free in my workshops."

    "What do you want?" You practically whisper it.

    "Your memories, first of all. Every single one. I will copy them into my computers, and I may use them for whatever purpose I see fit. As a professional courtesy to you I will not ask for money, but there is something I want. There is a very important favor I want of you. This favor will mean almost as much to me as curing your issues would mean to you."

    "What is it?" You ask.

    "Well, you might call it two favors. I firmly believe that I can vastly expand my abilities by studying certain parahuman powers. Particularly, the powers of healers. Mr. Storkfish, Ichor, Fodder, Scapegoat, all of the greats of a power that is rarely blessed upon the world. I have studied with several, and each time I have learned something precious. You are the best healer. Your name is Panacea." The voice becomes excited, though given how it is produced this might be a sales pitch instead of emotion. "I also believe that if I got to work with a number of healers at once, observing their powers at work, I will be able to gather irreplaceable data. Seeing the interactions of the healers I believe I could expand my focus far beyond neurology. With that, I hope to be able to save countless lives, as well as make myself the world's greatest Tinker."

    You wonder if she's crazy, lying, or actually believes what she is saying. Does it matter?

    "What I want is a convention of healers. I wish for every healer in the world, but I know that is impossible. However, the great Panacea agreeing to come would surely bring capes who would otherwise stay silent. I have spoken with the Dragon about this, and she would provide security. This is my price. Five days at a convention, and sixteen hours of testing your abilities alone and alongside others. I believe my price is more than competitive with a lifetime of therapy and psychiatric medication." You nod. Truth walks back into the room. You hadn't noticed she was gone. She hands you a glass of whiskey and you wonder what took her so long and why she's doing it and oh who cares. You down it in one gulp.

    "Um, sounds..."

    "Do not make any decisions yet. I do not wish for any parahuman to feel pressure or that she is cheated. Call me tomorrow with your decision. Ideally I think we could have the convention as early as June.

    "When can you, um, fix me?"

    "It will take my computers some time to break down the scan of your brain once it is made. That is the nature of my technology. Depending on luck I would be able to complete the decoding in two months. After that I could perform any edits in minutes. If you consult with my past clients you will find that all of them will report that I am trustworthy." There's no way in wherever she's from you won't be making a lot of calls, and checking for anything that suggests their satisfaction was manufactured.

    "You said I don't have to decide now?"

    "Of course not. You have been through a lot in the last several days. You are in no emotional state to make a life altering decision. Think it over. Talk to your family and any mentors or friends you believe would be helpful. I truly believe that I can help you in almost any way you wish to define help. I look forward to hearing from you, Amy."

    Truth helps you out through the hall of evil pictures. You kind of fall into the car. You doubt you'll dream of anything but what you saw in there tonight.

    "I really am sorry. I thought you knew what she was like. I would offer to make you feel better, but most people find the offer offensive." Truth looks at you with concern.

    Damn Tattletale.

    ___

    Interlude:

    [X] Vista.
    [X] Siberian
    [X] Blur
    Interlude 1 (Vista)

    Under ordinary circumstances Wards rarely pull late night shifts on a Sunday night. In a city like Brockton Bay with an even balance between Protectorate and Ward membership it only happens in crisis situations.

    The current situation is one that I am willing to call a crisis situation. Aegis, Armsmaster, and Piggot have all stated that it is a crisis situation and I see no reason to doubt it. A tinker specializing in bombs taking people from their homes and forcing them to be soldiers in a gang war is a crisis. The excuse for Missy Biron not going to school tomorrow is that her mother is overly worried about the threat of Bakuda bombing Arcadia High in an attempt to murder the Wards. I am not entirely sure that the excuse Shadow Stalker suggested is a bad one. I am relieved to not be going to school tomorrow.

    A girl called Missy is personally quite happy to be spending time with a boy named Dean. That’s the other side of this coin. Sitting in the back of a PRT van smelling the fake leather seats and the oil in Gallant’s armor is the most pleasant way to spend the night I can think of.

    "I made a huge mistake." Gallant stares at the monitor, waiting for the inevitable emergency signal that will indicate Bakuda's next attack.

    "You're telling me this?" I’ve been ignoring my Criminal Justice textbook for the past hour and a half. "Why me in particular?"

    "Honestly, you're a girl, and I kind of want a girl's perspective on if this is as terrible as I think it is. This really isn't a problem I can talk about with Victoria or my mother." I perk up. This is interesting. Being mentioned in the same breath as Glory Girl, and being able to help with a problem she couldn’t solve, sounds like a step up from the kid sister role.

    "What exactly do you think you did wrong?" I keep my voice intentionally even. I don’t know enough yet to figure out if it’s alright to tease him about it.

    "I presented a serious problem I could not deal with to an adult authority figure I trust." Gallant starts it very seriously, but he can't help but start laughing at the end of it. "Really, it's serious, but I just never thought it could go like this."

    "Armsmaster can't help?" I’m surprised. The leader of the Brockton Bay Protectorate always seemed capable of anything.

    "Oh, he can help. He seems to believe he completely solved our problem. He is immensely satisfied and proud of his solution." The young hero shakes his head.

    "Alright, you have to stop being vague if you want my help. What exactly happened?" I’m not sure I should be amused or worried.

    "I can't say everything for privacy reasons. But, um..." Dean trails off. What follows sounds calculated, maybe rehearsed."Panacea's a lesbian." There’s something off about the statement. I’m not entirely sure he’s telling the whole truth.

    It is kind of a shock. Everyone thinks Amy has a crush on Dean. It’s kind of a relief to think you have slightly less competiton.

    "How is that a problem?" I ask carefully. Know real way to know what his feelings on the topic are. Amy is pretty gross, so maybe it kind of makes sense that she’s into girls. I never really put much thought into lesbians, but that feels right. I really don’t remember Amy ever having a boyfriend.

    "It's not. Well, her being a lesbian is not. She's an unhappy lesbian. Really unhappy. There's other things I can't talk about. She scares me. I think she was seriously considering murdering me yesterday after the Undersiders. The Undersiders also have a Thinker who Panacea thinks knows the same private things I do." Gallant bites his lip. "I thought Armsmaster might be able to give me some advice."

    "What went wrong?" I am starting to adjust to the revelation and the pride that Gallant had come to me is starting to take dominance. I would have to provide the best advice possible.

    "He's, um, a very practical person. I gave him a problem, and he set out to fix it." Dean’s voice full of the same calculated tone he used when he called Amy a lesbo. “Armsmaster probably did have his heart in the right place, after all. I told him that a critical asset is unhappy. He went out and searched PRT psychological files for a single lesbian Ward at about the right age."

    "Only one?" You just can’t help but make the joke.

    "Unattached single, not single as in an individual." Gallant is starting to look uncomfortable. He’s actually blushing! "I am really not sure if he acquired this information legally. But he found one that he thought would be a good match. With the Bakuda situation he was calling for reinforcements anyway. He requested her specifically." Dean sighs. "He wants me to set them up."

    I can no longer help from giggling. "What advice are you looking for?"

    "Amy's Panacea. She's my girlfriend's sister. He placed the psychological health of a person I care about on my shoulders, and has put me in the position that if I fail to successfully arrange a lesbian match up and something goes wrong I will feel guilty about it for the rest of my life." Dean groans. "I haven't actually done this before. I think Armsmaster just assumes that if you put two lesbians in proximity you just need to provide moving vans and cats." Dean blushes again. Once again you feel a flash of pride that Dean had forgotten how young you are for just a moment.

    "You're right. It is fucked up." Dean sighs. He doesn’t like it when I swear. But really, if I don’t swear he’ll start thinking of me as a little girl again. "What if they get together and are unhappy? Or have a bad breakup? This is not something he should ask you to do." I frown in thought. "Do you think they'd be a cute couple?"

    "Sure, I guess. Her name's Flechette. Cape name, obviously. Ward from New York City. I don't actually know her. He seems to assume that being good with people translates into magically setting people up regardless of any experience with them. He's planning on placing Flechette as Panacea's guard in the hospital until Bakuda is captured. She has the powers for it." There’s a trace of bitterness in Dean's tone. What could that mean?

    "I think you are right. But what are you going to do, tell Piggot about it?" I kick back a bit in my chair. "Between the two of them I'd still trust Armsmaster to give the better guidance."

    "Yeah. He's not usually this bad. He seems distracted lately. I like him, Vista. He actually is great. He offered to help maintain my armor, and that's saved lives. I like talking to him. I don't actually have that many friends." I feel a sudden thrill at Gallant's sharing these pieces of information. Maybe it means she he’s starting to see me as a teenager instead of a kid. File it away for later. I’m not going to be dating him until long after we’re both in the Protectorate unless we get swept away to a mysterious island by some fucked up trigger event. "It's just that sometimes he's an idiot. Usually my power helps to get what he means. That might be why he likes having me around. But, Vista, this is weird. I really am not comfortable with any of this."

    The signal is given. Bakuda just set off a bomb at a retirement home. It is time to move.

    Despite not really liking Amy, it would be great if Panacea was back soon. It’s really not good to have a mad bomber loose in Brockton Bay without Panacea to patch people up.
     
  3. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Sticks and Stones


    Truth drives you back. You're starting to calm down from the nightmare that is Cranial.

    You kind of desperately want to get back to Victoria. You've made it this far, so you should probably let the doctors do their work. It won't be too bad for the hours and hours it takes Victoria to calm down and sleep. Okay, it will. It strikes you as just barely possible that your dependency to Victoria might have become much more conscious and severe since you started recognizing it. Power of suggestion and all of that.

    Then you fully process that Truth had offered to make you feel better. Her powers could last for hours. She could tell you that you didn't need Victoria to be happy. She could let you believe you are happy without Victoria. The possibility is...

    [X] ...tempting. You look at the pretty young member of the Protectorate next to you. Having someone else mess with your brain is the entire reason you came here. "Hey, can I ask you a huge favor?"

    [X] ...revolting. It actually feels like cheating on Victoria, as stupid as that is. You've never actually kissed anyone because of those kinds of feelings, much less gone beyond that. It would break your heart to become addicted to the powers of someone else. "I'm sorry. I need to see Victoria. I know it's dangerous, but I really can't think straight without her."

    [X] ...terrifying. You suddenly can't stand to be in the car with this woman. She is kind, polite, and grateful, but the idea that she could do anything to you is too much. "I know this sounds crazy, but could you drop me off here? I need to go for a walk. Get some time to think."
    Truth nods. "I understand. This is a good decision. We have a few Wards who would like to meet you hanging out around there right now. No one's going home after those mercenaries attacked. We aren't sure it's safe to get off of high alert."

    Meeting a bunch of Wards who want to brag about meeting a celebrity strikes you as less than desirable, but it should keep your mind off of things.

    "Sure. Which ones?"

    "Ichor, Witch, and Blur are in the building. Briar is sleeping, she's new to this, but she's also in the room she gets to sleep in for times like this. Trick's in the building, but she's in her safe room to make sure no one gets her and she doesn't have any accidents." The two of you are driving back to where you came from. The return trip seems like it could be even more depressing than coming out. "This may make me sound like an idiot, but can you cure trigger event mutations?" You sigh. This again.

    "Sometimes, but it's usually temporary. Same with Case 53s. Some I can't do at all, like if they're not entirely biological or completely inhuman. Others I can't do much because their brains are built to work with inhuman biology. Those I can help return to normal after a while. Something about their powers thinks it is the right way for them to be. We estimated it would take 24 trips a year to keep one in check, and all the time spent letting them live slightly more normal lives would use up time I could be fixing life long problems. It's similar with surgery, but even worse. Something about their mutations is incredibly persistent. Even the ones you think should be easy to restore never are. There was this one person who was severely intersex. Seemed like the biology would be easy, just redo hormones and remove the breasts. They grew back within days. He had never displayed that kind of regeneration before, but it seemed to kick start something in his body. He's been more powerful ever since."

    Truth sighs. "I'm sorry I asked. It's just Witch, her trigger messed up her face pretty badly. She has great powers, but all of her flesh is weird. It's closer to the consistency of rock. I was hoping you could help, but I guess it makes sense. Nothing is ever easy."

    You continue in slightly more companionable silence for a few more miles. You have a question you also want to ask.

    "What's it like, messing with minds? What is it like to have that power?" The one thing you never trusted of yourself. It would be nice to know, from a practical perspective.

    "It's great." Truth giggles. "Like, I have a code. Never do it without permission outside of work. But it's actually kind of funny. Like, there's this nasty group of bank robbers with assault rifles and a villain who can summon dead rats into your longs. All I need to do is tell them that they aren't going to hurt anyone and the fight is done. There's no risk anymore. Repulse had high blood pressure before I graduated to the Protectorate, and it went away after my second mission. I love my powers. We barely even need to send people through a therapist anymore. Well, Briar doesn't like it, but she let Trick warp into her best friend so I don't know what it is with her. Albany capes have the cleanest bill of mental health around, and some of the lowest injury and escape rates outside of Vegas." She seems very proud. "We only have three people in our Protectorate, so we really need me. Plenty of people have nightmares about me, but what I do is a lot safer than bullets or containment foam."

    It does sound tempting. It also sounds terrifying and so open to abuse that you suspect she's lying about something.

    You turn in to the parking lot for Albany's joint Protectorate/Wards HQ. The two of you hurry inside. There's plenty of sleepy and slightly disgruntled looking PRT soldiers in the halls drinking an enormous amount of coffee and popping slightly suspicious looking pills. A wing of the first floor is walled off for a medical jail cell to hold the four prisoners. August Prince is methodically pressing against a barricade that looks far too heavy for him to move. The mercenary gives you and Truth a glare as you pass. You can't help but wave at him as you pass by.

    Finally you arrive in a room. On a large flat screen monitor you see Victoria pacing inside her containment room with Blur standing in the room's corner. In the fairly cute waiting room Witch and Ichor sit on opposite sides. Ichor is closer, and she must be playing her headphones really loud as you can hear the song she's playing.

    Sticks and Stones won't break my soul/get out of the way I'm invincible...

    Witch is reading Wuthering Heights. Her eyes don't rise to meet you, but you get the impression that it's not being unfriendly, something to do with her Thinker powers or something. She probably already knows you're here.

    [X] You stare at the screen to see if you can figure out how Victoria is doing. If she's about to do something crazy it would be better to be prepared.

    [X] You sit down next to Ichor. She is another healer. Talking shop with her, and maybe bringing up the convention idea, seems like a good idea.

    [X] You decide that talking to Witch is a good idea. You're curious about what is happening with Trick and the abduction attempt, and you're under the impression that Witch is the leader of the Wards here. At the very least Witch was nice to you earlier.[/quote]
    Your mind kind of breaks a little more when you see Victoria on the screen.

    "What's wrong with her?" You stare at the screen. She seems normal enough. She's agitated, but who wouldn't be?

    "She's fine." Truth assures you. "I told you already, they just want her to sleep it off after her encounter with Cherie, an emotion manipulator. Her powers are not long lasting or permanent, but they're real and tangible. Cherie hit your sister with something horrible. We think she was trying to manipulate her into getting Cherie healing as she was dying. It was grief. She may also have said some things to mess with her head, but Victoria wasn't really clear on that when I was talking to her. Cherie senses emotions as well as manipulates them. We think she threatened or lied about you. Victoria never seemed at all angry at you. In fact it was extremely difficult to get her to leave you. She insisted on making sure you were comfortable in bed before she came with us."

    Your eyes never leave the screen as Truth talks.

    "Tell me everything you know about what she said." Truth looks very uncomfortable.

    "I think the words 'I'm not F-ing my sister' came up while talking to Blur. He never insinuated that she was so it was notable. She also has been ranting a lot about the villain Tattletale. Also, does the name Sylvia Likens mean anything to you?"

    "No." You'd rather not miss anything while shaking your head.

    "It came up when she was talking about Tattletale."

    Suddenly you remember and smile.

    "Oh, that. It was something Gallant's Criminal Justice class read about. Some awful murder in the 1970s. She didn't mention a glass coke bottle did she?"

    "Why?" Truth's voice is a bit concerned.

    "Um, it's just her venting about Tattletale. She likes an audience. She covered a lot of the same basics when she brought me a black kid that Rune messed up a few months ago. It's easier for her to be angry than to be grieving, so she's channeling her emotions at someone we hate." It's not that you would give anything to be listening to your sister rant about Tattletale, but you're not entirely sure you wouldn't cut off your left foot for the opportunity. You feel a wave of jealousy towards Blur not unlike the jealousy you direct at Dean every time he touches Victoria. Venting about people that piss her off is something she's supposed to do with you. To think you resisted Truth messing with your head to come back to...

    You sit down with a thud, turning your eyes away from the screen. Ichor hasn't taken her headphones out, but you suspect she turned them off and is listening to you and pretending not to. Witch has always been paying attention to you, probably before you arrived.

    "Does she look sleepy?" You ask the room in general.

    "She's probably going to go to sleep in a couple hours and wake up seven hours after that." Witch tells you. So she's a precog, or something much like it.

    Nine hours without Victoria. No, nine more hours without Victoria.

    It's all Tattletale's fault. You wouldn't be surprised if she was the one who paid the mercenaries. Imagine what a telepath could do with someone like Trick. Together they'd be a nightmare.

    [X] "Give me something to do. Anything." Sitting here watching the screen would not expose you to your sister's aura. It won't help. You need to be working. At least then you could save lives or something.

    [X] Fuck this. You march straight to the door of the room with Victoria. I'm not fucking my sister. Cherish had said something close to the truth.

    [X] "Knock me out. Preferably painlessly. Anyone here who can do that?" You'll just be miserable until you see Victoria, and it would be selfish and stupid to see her right now. Things will only get worse until she can bring you back to normal.
    "Um..." Truth looks more than a bit worried.

    "We have a hospital." Ichor suggests. "We could go there."

    "Maybe." Objectively, yes, you should go. On the other hand, there's all the sitting around and angsting like a proper drama queen you could do. "Sure." You desperately try to think of a way out of it.

    "Forty three people would be saved vast amounts of pain and inconvenience. Two would live, if you go now and start helping at the hospital until Victoria and Blur are let out and sent over to meet you." Witch says. Arguing against that is difficult, to say the least.

    "So, I guess I'm going there. Um, you know the way." You walk over to Ichor. "I bet you'd like to talk shop. Healing and..." Your voice trails off as Victoria and Blur laugh on the screen.

    "I'd love to." Ichor takes your hand and does something that is not quite dragging you out of the room. "You are the best healer. Everyone says so. I'm just spare parts, but you change the lives of everyone you help." Your head bobs up and down as you muster up the enthusiasm for a conversation.

    "So, doesn't it hurt, having people stick tubes in you whenever you're healing someone?" She smiles.

    "Like Hell, but I honestly like it. In interviews I have to go all pure, suffering, saint like martyr, but fuck, ever since I triggered I've enjoyed pain. It's a relief. Makes me feel human. No idea what I'd do without it."

    "What was your trigger?" You instantly regret the question. It's one of the least polite questions you could ask. Ichor doesn't seem to mind, though.

    "Some pre-teen nutcase grabbed me on my way home from school, cut off my limbs, and rigged wires into my brain to try and get a trigger. Well, it worked. She tried to lobotomize me, didn't work, put restraints in me, didn't work, burned me alive, didn't work. She had to run before she finished the job. Four years later here I am." Ichor sounds remarkably cheerful about it for that. "What's yours?"

    You feel embarrassed. "Um, second gen. I, um, nothing on yours." Ichor looks at you expectantly. "I found a used condom in a trashcan." Victoria's trashcan. It was one of the worst days of your life, though you still hold out the faint hope that Mark and Carol were just doing something unbelievably weird. You've had a long time to rationalize it. Ichor's howls of laughter fill the hall as you pass August Prince again, still pushing against the barricade, expression unchanged.

    "I guess we all eventually have to come to terms with the fact that our parents have sex." Ichor then turns to a PRT agent and asks him to arrange for a car to take the two of you to a hospital.

    "I guess we do." You kind of suspect that Mark and Carol are considerably less sexually active than Victoria, but it's kind of hard to check these things. You also really don't want to know a lot of the details.

    "So, healing. Talk. What's it like for you, conscious healing?" You consider how to answer.

    "Hard. Frustrating. Depressing. Sure, it's easy to do it, individually, but there's so much to do. It never stops. There's always someone I need to fix, and I can't let my mind wander too much or it just gets slow. People react differently. Some are weeping, grateful, one offered to leave me an island in her will." You smile. You actually considered it. She was old. Maybe it was inefficient to cure old people, but I could easily add ten years to a life for some of them. Even with your help she would never be able to enjoy a vacation there again, and her children had died in Newfoundland. You talked for a while as other patients had moved through. She really did describe it as beautiful. You wanted that island. But if you were on an island those gentle green buses the Guild setup would hardly be able to shuffle people through as efficiently. Even Brockton Bay wasn’t optimal, and people talk about moving you to Chicago or some other center of transportation.

    "Others are just so stressed that they're quiet. Some are angry, sullen, or lost other things in their accidents. Like, they still deserve it, but it's hard to feel good about helping someone when she's sitting there worrying about the house that just burned down. Before I collapsed today I'd only slept for three hours, and that was on the plane trip over here. I can go for days without sleeping. Too many sleeping pills and I slow down the next day. I'll come home wired because I just spent twelve hours around sick people, angry people, and employees on 72 hour shifts. Then I'll just sit there and read a book I've read once a month for the last five years. When I do sleep I'll dream about something fucked up I saw, like babies with hearts outside their chests or people so ugly they need me to even begin to have a normal life. People talk about how I could get rid of malaria by making something that kills it off. So then I feel guilty about not doing that, but I'm terrified that if I try it will jump to humans or something and then I'll have made something even worse. People have compared what I could do to Nilbog, and being Nilbog is just, I can't take that kind of risk with all the other stuff I have to do."

    You kind of didn't notice getting into the car, you were so wrapped up in talking about it. Ichor puts a hand on your shoulder. "I get it. I don't deal with all of that, but I deal with a lot of it, and some shit you don't. If there's anything you need I'm here. I think pretty much anything is justified if it keeps us going. Eat nothing but Burger King and get lipo every six months, shoot heroin, hire a nice prostitute. As long as you're doing your best to heal people it really doesn't matter if what you're doing is healthy. Just keep going."

    "I don't want to just keep going." You shake your head. "I want to be good. I want to love everyone I help. I want to be a saint ethically. I want to never want to do something wrong. I want a chaste, courtly love affair, happy children, a white picket fence and four adorable daughters. I don't want to be angry at people like Cherie and Tattletale and Kaiser. I want to forgive them."

    Ichor shakes her head in sympathy. "That's so beautifully fucked up. I don't get that. But if you don't think being wild will make you happy, well, what do you think will make you happy?"

    You frown. This is someone you might never see much of again, and who would believe her if you said something crazy?

    [X] "Can you keep a big secret?" Maybe, just maybe, testing your confession about Victoria on someone else would be a great first step.

    [X] "I think I want to hurt people." You admit it cautiously. "I get so angry. I just want to, I don't know, fight. Do something else to make me feel like a good person. Catch people like the lunatic who caused your trigger, or the Three Blasphemies, or something like that. Maybe I'm stupid, but it feels like I would be solving problems instead of damage control."

    [X] "I think I'd be happiest just heading to the hospital." It's a lie, but you've already dumped way too much of your shit on this poor girl. "Thank you. I'm sorry if this wasn't the conversation you expected."
    "Sure? How bad could it be? If I really freak out about it I'll get my memory wiped." Ichor seems pretty blase about it. You suck in your breath.

    You close your eyes. What is it you want?

    "I don't have entirely normal sisterly affection for Victoria." Clinical, distant terms are good. "I want to, well..." You try to process things. "It feels romantic. I want to live with her for the rest of my life, have children with her. I want to kiss her. I don't know if..."

    The sudden horrible swerving and breaking of the van, and the sounds of other swerves and breaking behind you cuts off anything else. Could the PRT agents have heard you? Ichor looks incredibly sick as well.

    That did not go well.

    You do something very stupid. You have to continue this confession. "I think it's the aura, now, which is a huge relief. My feelings are, well, I think they're sexual, but a bit twisted on that subject. Random things feel like cheating because I really focus and care about the small things." You feel terror rising in your chest. "For years I thought I was just fucked up. I was, I think a supervillain from the Bad Old Days was my father, or maybe mother. I thought it was something wrong in my blood. I'm so scared and confused..." Ichor vomits. You start to cry.

    "It's not you!" Ichor shouts suddenly. "I'm grossed out, but that was vomiting in terror. We're under attack!"

    "Oh."

    "Don't fuck your sister, okay? Um, that's basic advice. I'm sure you'll regret it if you try." The terror is rapidly increasing. Two well dressed young men are walking with intention towards your car. One of them wraps on the window pane of the car.

    "I love her. I can't let her leave me! I'm sad and scared all the time!"

    "Oh just shut up and grow up!" Ichor shouts. She groans. "Okay, it's not just fear. It's stress. We're both acting stupid. I'm sorry. Let's handle this later. Um, I'm sure Vicks will forgive you and maybe be into it. I don't know. Let's handle the obvious supervillains outside the car."

    [X] "Let's see what they want." They aren't pointing guns at you, so they're already making a better impression than Tattletale and Skitter. "Maybe they'll be reasonable.

    [X] "Don't worry. I've got this." The same sleeping organism that worked on Cherie and the other one. You could release that, and it'd work a lot faster at this range.

    [X] "Call your friends. Let's run and meet back up with them." You don't trust yourself with the organism in this state, and it didn't work well last time. Better to regroup with more forces and a better frame of mind.
    You roll your window down. Love the wind but hate the sound...

    The older one speaks. "Hello my dear. We're the Vasils. We're here for our sister." He gives you a smile. "We have been looking for her for quite a while. I hardly believe you have much reason to protect our dear Cherie." So, Cherie has brothers. There's something clawing at the back of your mind about the name Vasil.

    "Hello." The younger man, maybe your age, offers you his hand. You take it cautiously. No reason to be impolite to a pair of unknown villains who have already displayed the power to take down the van. They seem to have gone easy on you, so they probably have a reason. You can tell from the touch that he's definitely related to Cherie, and probably her half brother. "My name is Guillaume Vasil." He offers. "I also go by Voyeur." That really does not sound good. "My brother is Nicholas, or Holdup."

    Nicholas gives you a brief, short bow. "I have withheld my power from you as a courtesy. You are the great Panacea." There is absolutely no mockery in his voice. "We are not here to hurt anyone. We merely wish to bring our sister home. She has been up to some truly appalling things since she left us. I doubt she could go anywhere but the Birdcage if she is caught by the authorities. We have the power to ensure she lives a mostly normal life and never hurts anyone again." It strikes you as interesting that he did not say that is how they would use their power, merely that they have it.

    "You're endangering people." You point out. "You crashed the car. People could be hurt or killed."

    "I assure you they are not." Nicholas informs you. "I would know. We require your assistance breaking our sister out. If you are willing to help us than that is great. If not, then you will assist us anyway."

    This definitely seems like the time to start preparing a weapon. The sleeping agent would work fine. Nicholas smiles.

    "You will help us because you are too afraid of what the consequences would be if you did not. We are Heartbreakers children." Oh crap. Vasil. Emotion manipulation. "If you oppose us than you might win. Cherie may end up in the Birdcage. I might end up there too. If that happens than our father will blame you and your sister, as the most public faces of the attack. Let me remind you that his powers are permanent.

    "My family's more dangerous." Your voice is starting to shake a little. "New Wave would win."

    "Would it? Perhaps it would destroy what empire Father has." Nicholas looks you in the eye. "Is it worth the risk? I suspect your appearance would not appeal to Father, but, Gloria is it? She quite possibly would. Also that lovely woman, Laserdream if I recall correctly, could be hit."

    "Victoria." You focus. It's time to be brave. To be brave, be mad. Victoria taught you that. They're threatening your sister. They're threatening Victoria. "She's not Gloria. That would be stupid."

    "Ah, my mistake." Nicholas gives you a glare and, um, you actually pee yourself just a bit as a wave of overwhelming terror hits you. "I should get to know the name if she may be my future stepmother."

    "You still leave a better impression than some of the villains who trap me and make speeches." Guillaume smiles.

    "Please forgive my brother. He lacks the full range of approaches that characterize success. I do not say that his threats are idle, but I am sure they are likely to make you want to hurt us more than help us. I would vastly prefer that we come to a mutually beneficial agreement." So, they're good cop bad copping you. "Also, there is the small matter of my powers. I can sense anything through anyone I have touched for a very long time. Oh crap! "That is how I found the car." So, one of the PRT agents, right? "Also, making out with strangers in nightclubs can prove to be risky even without anything that could spread STDs.

    "Fuck." You look over at Ichor, who has been strangely silent this whole time, and instantly feel guilt that you hadn't noticed that she's been silent in fear. Probably Nicholas's power keeping her like this.

    "We do work for Heartbreaker. I assure you that he could correct your problem far faster than Cranial, whether you wish to remove your feelings or..."

    "Shut the fuck up." You snarl, before falling back as Nicholas sends another wave of terror through your brain. You muster up more courage. "You assholes talk too much. I hate people who talk too much."

    "I see." Guillaume looks sadly at Nicholas. "If you please, brother."

    "Always a pleasure." He turns his attention to you, and you loose more bowel control as the waves of terror start. Before too long you'll obey out of fear.

    It is probably a remarkably good thing that you've been working on releasing something good from your hands this whole time.

    [X] Sleeping agent. Worked on Cherie, should work on her brothers.

    [X] This calls for something with a bit more punch to it. They've actually threatened Victoria with rape. You can release something targeted to their father's DNA that will screw them up too much to escape, or be useful in a fight if they do. If their family is going to go after yours you can't let Heartbreaker have any more soldiers. It'll be infectious, but only to other Vasils.

    [X] Any bugs you release could take too long if Nicholas can break people with his terror waves. You need to agree to do what he wants, get close, and hit him directly with your power. You're afraid he might be good enough to break you into reversing whatever you do.
    You spread the disease through the air. You can't figure out a way to make people carriers without risk of mutation or infection, but if the other Vasils get in contact with those two it will be bad.

    Bacteria are way too mutation prone. It's how they're designed. Idiots, thinking that a counter plague is something easy to make. You'd need to rip up half a person's microbiology to make sure broad spectrum health would last...

    Nicholas looks just a bit worried. "You're scared, but you're not hopeless. Why is that?"

    "She's a striker. She needs skin contact. As long as we don't touch her we're safe. You can hit her long before she gets close." Guillaume frowns. "I suggest you work harder."

    "If we want someone usable this takes time." Nicholas keeps his eyes focused on you. "I need to implant such a fear in her conscious and subconscious mind of disobeying me that she can't ever fight back. This is hard. It'll take minutes." You slump down in relief. You don't need minutes to incapacitate these thugs. Maybe 15 more seconds...

    "She's up to something." Nicholas says. "I don't know what, but she is." He's starting to look sick.

    "Well then. I suppose we're doomed if she doesn't reverse it." Guillaume smiles and pulls a gun from his jacket pocket. "My dear, you are going to reverse whatever it is you are doing, or you are going to be shot in the knees. Then you will reverse it or be shot in the other foot. Then your hands..." He vomits. "Now."

    "Working on it." You lie.

    "She's lying." Nicholas says.

    Guillaume shoots you in the knee. He might have been going for the foot, but the vertigo is starting to take over.

    "Do it you incestuous freak!" One of them screams. You're not really sure which one, as you're more preoccupied with the agonizing pain.

    Then Ichor is off like a dark comet, smashing into the two of them with an amazing savagery as Nicholas becomes incapable of fighting. She hits as hard as Aegis could. There's splintering bones and blood hits your face as she beats them into unconsciousness.

    "Silence is everything. Talking to the villains, bad idea." She looks down at the defeated villains with nothing but contempt. "Birdcage, yeah. That seems appropriate for these freaks. I hope it goes through." She reminds you of Victoria in that moment, covered in blood and righteous fury.

    "Thank you, Ichor." You tell her.

    [X] "Let's wait for the PRT." You look down at your ruined knee. "While we're at it, can I get some of your blood? This could take months the normal way.

    [X] You stare at the bastards. They're not worth the time that this is taking. "Hey, can your blood repair my knee? We have a hospital to get to."

    [X] She does look, well, nothing like Victoria. That might be a good thing. Another healer. Nice, and there's not many secrets to keep from her. You owe it to Victoria to try at least once. "Hey, this is, um, are you single? And..."
    The microbes definitely won't hurt anyone besides the Vasils. They won't even survive for long outside of Heartbreaker's children, and even then some of them might be immune.

    You're having trouble finding words to describe just how much you hate these boys as you heal them up. If they were girls there's always the old standby of cunt, but this? Monstrous, sadistic, rapist, all the words you can think up seem to pale in comparison to what they were threatening. Even Tattletale only threatened to ruin your life and your family.

    Impotence, constant bowel problems, something a lot like cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, pretty much everything you can think of to make sure they'll never be able to hurt anyone ever again. You're not even sure that you'd fix them if the PRT demanded it. Honestly, going to juvie for a while could be a nice break, and they'd be nuts to give the Panacea anything worse.

    Ichor sits next to you and pulls out a knife. She cuts open a vein and the blood splashes into your hand. She's healed by the time your eyes turn to the cut. She makes a sawing motion and the blood begins to fall freely. The bullet had gone straight through, so no need to dig it out. After only a few seconds your knee is fine, smooth chocolate skin having replaced your native color. It's weird and you kind of like the alien sensation. You flex your knee and stand up. Your repaired leg is a slightly different length now. You try to change it, but no luck. You can't sense the new flesh with your power anymore than your usual body. However your powers make the distinction, Ichor's new flesh is you as far as your body is concerned.

    "Thank you." You say. "For everything."

    "Least I could do for the incestuous freak." She says it as a joke, but fuck her in the eye. It's not funny. You sit there, flushed and angry and letting your shock fall away.

    God damn it Victoria's probably not going to be with you for hours and hours. You're, well, you're not at all grateful for this particular crisis, but at least while being blasted with fear you weren't depressed. Terrified, but it kept you alert.

    "That's really, really not funny." You tell Ichor. And to think you thought she was pretty. She sighs.

    "Alright, if you really want me to be serious about it, here's what I think. I do think it sounds weird and fucked up. No, you aren't a bad person if you haven't acted on it. Honestly, I don't think you should ever tell her. That kind of thing could mess with her head forever. They say that incest's like, infectious among girls, where if it happened in the family it's more likely to happen again because their ideas of proper affection get messed up. If you love her, and I think you do, then love her as a sister. Living together doesn't sound super weird. Sisters do that kind of thing, though they're usually old widows or something. I really think you should just do something else to keep your mind off it. Get a real girlfriend or something. You're the God Damned Panacea. People talk about you like you're a saint. Someone who you healed is bound to have sent you a love letter. Maybe one's a girl."

    "Well, there is the fanfic where two teenagers kidnap me and force me to sing a cover of The Veronicas until I collapse from exhaustion. That was written by a girl, according to the profile."

    "Wait, I've read that. Wasn't that one written when you were fourteen and didn't have your powers? Yeah, that was seriously psychotic. Um, whoever wrote that is not someone to start dating. Like, find a nice teen popstar or trust fund babe. Maybe ask Gallant out the next time he breaks up with Victoria." You shake your head.

    "Seriously, why does everyone think I have a crush on him?" You see PRT vans rolling in. "I guess now's the time to start making statements." Ichor nods.

    ___

    Somehow, you still manage to be talked into the hospital. It's been circling you since you've arrived. It doesn't matter that you've fought psychotic villains four times in the last four days, twice in twelve hours. You're the Panacea, and in every hospital there's someone who needs a liver transplant or is missing legs or was do depressed he cut off pieces of his dick. You heal 39 people while giving your report. It takes everything you have not to give a few dick cancer just to spice things up a bit.

    You're out of Tylenol from your travel kit, have the strength to flip a pancake, and seriously wish that the hospital had designed some more comfortable way to bring people through. Stand and your feet get tired, sit and your butt gets stiff, lie down and you need to stretch your arms to touch people. Fuck this. Fuck sick people. Why does the only person who can redistribute powers have to be one of the Yangban's pet lunatics? You'd sell your powers in a second if some eager teenager who wanted to help people asked for them. Just trade what you can do, and then someone else could be the Panacea.

    "Why do we have to go over this again? They said Heartbreaker would go after Victoria. They promised he'd make her a slave. Considering the circumstances I believe I showed amazing restraint, sir." The same asshole PRT agent has been going over the questions every moment you're not literally healing someone since they drove you here. Fuck the PRT. He'd asked all about the earlier fight. He'd dared to criticize throwing the bus at the lunatics. They were monsters. They'd been bringing down buildings, and you'd still managed to save their worthless lives. Why did he have to be so hard about it.

    At least Victoria is sleeping. Now she just has to wake up and come here and everything will be better. She can bring you something gloriously fattening finger food for you to eat with one hand while she rants about all the goddamned psychopaths you've had to deal lately.

    Then another PRT agent enters the room and whispers into the asshole one's ear. He gets very quiet and still.

    "What?" You snap. Today is not the day to do this.

    "The Bakuda bombings in Brockton Bay. They have become serious." The new woman has the horrible look of someone who is trying to break bad news gently. "A bomb went off tonight in the PRT headquarters. No casualty list yet, but it sounds bad. They want you back in Brockton Bay immediately."

    Oh Hell.

    [X] "I can't head back yet. I still need to decide about Cranial. There's people dying everywhere." It's cold and it's cruel, but you're too tired to care.

    [X] "Fuck. My. Life." You sigh. "Call the freaking teleporter."

    [X] You think for a moment. "Get me on the phone with Cranial. I need to decide what to do before I go."

    And:

    Interlude:

    [X] Witch
    [X] Flashbang
    [X] Rune
    Interlude 2 (Flashbang)

    You know that 78Violet is a terrible password. Your daughter's favorite band. It was your fourth guess when you were first concerned sometime last year, and Amy hasn't changed it since.

    Amelia was never one for the technical side of things. Neither was her father. Her other father.

    The ramblings Amy emailed herself do not look healthy. It's more a set of prompts, really, things for her to remember that you would never know. Maybe a better Thinker than you could understand it, but to you it just looks like just another bit of crazy to slide alongside the long list.

    If you tell your sister, do it soon. Right in the middle. No context. No other information. You feel it is not about something as minor as the brain damage. This looks far too important.

    You sit in your daughter's bedroom and think. She hadn't offered to ask Cranial about your own problems. Maybe there is a magic bullet out there and she'll bring home the cure for everything. It'd break her family apart if it happened, but you think Carol could wait until after they moved out to tell them.

    This is a good day. You got up out of bed. You're clean, dressed, and on call for an emergency. You hope you get your emergency tonight. It's always better to be in a life or death fight. Some of Amy's ramblings in her email sound like it's something a bit deeper than you thought, but you don't want to force yourself to figure it out.

    You browse Cranial's website. So many links to people with life changing experiences. Happy people who talk about how she saved their lives. Depression, schizophrenia, pedophilia, homosexuality, PTSD, she'd solved them all in her time. She's done more good than you have.

    Your phone rings. It's the PRT. Someone bombed their headquarters. It is time for action.

    Director Piggot is dead. She was probably the target of the bombing. Bakuda is breaking every unwritten rule to cause enough pain to free Lung. You have the feeling she doesn't really care much about Lung, she just needs an excuse to be hurting people. Blaster powers are good for clearing wreckage, and you always seem to find people quicker than anyone else underneath. The others here, Velocity, Vista, and Gallant, are all great help. Vista could pick out where people were underneath the rubble, Gallant could carry people, and Velocity can bring tools or medicine to help people. The four of you and a set of emergency workers can make this a tenth as terrible a day as it could have been.

    Amy emerges in a flash of blue light. A teleporter with a name you don't know vanishes a second later. She is holding a cup of coffee, and somehow looks the most tired you have ever seen her. She has been sleeping four hours a night for a year and a half, it she still looks the worst she has since her second trigger event.

    Your sad, sullen daughter glares down at the people she's here to save. There's not a trace of warmth in her expression. She doesn't even look like she recognizes you as you approach. Was it your other daughter, New Wave's lifestyle, being a supervillain? Could you have stopped it if you'd just gone to Cranial yourself?

    You help an emergency worker carry over someone without any remaining legs to Amy. She finally seems to recognize you.

    "Are you okay?" You ask her cautiously.

    "Not even close, Dad." She shakes her head and kicks off a shoe, placing her foot on the legless man's forehead. "The last day has been, words don't come close." She shakes her head.

    "I read your email." She looks frightened for a moment, than relaxes. Something about the look on her face is not even close to healthy. "What is it you're supposed to tell your sister?" It's horrible and the wrong time to ask, but you need to ask.

    "Dad..." She shakes her head and keeps healing the man. "Get me a pig or something if you want this thing to walk." You move awake quickly to talk to the PRT about biomass.

    After you talk to them, you think for a moment. You can do something today. Maybe not enough. You don't really know how to talk to Amy. There's maybe two people who can do that. Fortunately, you have one of their phone numbers.

    You take out your phone and write a text message to someone who needs to know what you found out.

    ___

    You stare at the screaming pig. Maybe if you were in a clearer state of mind you'd have thought of something better. Maybe the PRT are taking things a bit too literally tonight what with their leader dead and all. You never liked Piggot anyway, and you don't know anyone who did. Someone would have told you if Bakuda had killed anyone you liked.

    Pig biomass does work pretty well for human legs, honestly. It does save time over the plant matter the hospital brings you. Creepy as Hell, but it might save time. Time means lives.

    The whole thing feels pointless and worthless and small. You aren't even glad you came.

    "That's the last of them." Someone says. It takes you a minute to realize it's Mark. Gallant stands nearby like an idiot, just watching you with a concerned look on his face.

    You want to go to bed, but you're not really tired enough. You sigh. What's fucking next.

    [X] Go back to Albany. There's that Helltinker who is just going to do something horrible in the end who needs to scan your memories and sell your deepest secrets. Besides, it will get you back with Victoria sooner than later. The teleporter should be able to snap the great Panacea back there.

    [X] Tattletale has been of absolutely no help. This is what you get for listening to the miserable piece of shit. You get Victoria in a holding cell sleeping off a lunatic's despair beam. The bitch is doing to be arrested tonight.

    [X] You start to cry. There's only one real option of what to do before Victoria is back to normal. It's time to return to your hospital.
     
    Dacraun, MagicEater, Ddmkm122 and 5 others like this.
  4. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Not This Year



    You get back to Albany. A perk of being the Panacea is that no one wants to waste your time being on a plane for a couple hours.

    You really should have asked the teleporter's name.

    He leaves you back in the Albany hospital. Fortunately there's no quick buses routing everyone through in Albany like there is in Brockton Bay. For once you actually have a few minutes to think.

    Your new replacement cellphone rings suddenly and your heart leaps as you try to do the math. She should have fallen asleep around eleven or twelve, you healed here for about six hours and back in Brockton Bay for two, you've been back for half an hour...

    "Amy?" It is Victoria. She's awake. "One of the girls here told me that you left a message for when I got up. Thank you." You sigh, twirling your hair around your finger. "Amy, thank you for saving those assholes I threw the bus at. They, well, they probably didn't deserve it, but thank you. We need to talk..." You're moving towards the door as soon as you here it. "I'll be there right away."

    ___

    You're hit with a blur of white and gold in the Protectorate building's parking lot. "I missed you." Victoria tells you.

    "I missed you more." You say. It is almost certainly true.

    "What did Cranial have to say?" Victoria looks anxious. You pause, thinking back, trying to explain it well.

    "She offered to change my endorphins system, or something. Hook it up so I feel the rush for something that's not you." Victoria snorts.

    "What?"

    "That sounds terrible. If she does it for another person you're right back where we started. If she does it for a thing sounds like you'd be a rat burning a hole in her paw for cocaine drips. Are you sure she's the best tinker? I'm pretty sure they have actual psychiatry for screwed up endorphins."

    "She might not have been very technical about what's wrong with me. She said she doesn't know much. She also had other options. I think one was taking part of how a normal girl reacts to things and replace the messed up part of me with that."

    "You are a normal girl." Victoria rubs your shoulders and back as you walk. You're not sure where she's taking you. "Also, wouldn't that just get us right back where we started once my aura goes through you for a while? If it melted you once could it do that again?"

    "I don't think so. Mark and Carol don't seem to have reacted like that. Neither has Gallant. I think you hit my brain at just the right part of development. Anyway, even if we say yes she said it could take two months before she's decoded my brain and can mess around with it properly."

    "What!" Victoria's voice is full of sudden fear. "Two months like this?"

    "Would it really be so bad?" You ask quietly.

    "I love you." She answers slowly, carefully. "I love you more than anyone else. You're my little sister. Amy, I'd do anything for you." You gulp. "But yes, it would really be that bad. Amy, I can't feel guilty whenever I want to do something by myself. I can't go on patrol, I can't have private time just to read a book, can't go on a date with..." She glances around. "...Dean. I love spending time with you, but not that much. I'm down with a slumber party. I'm down with bringing magazines and headphones for when you're healing. But Amy, this would be sick, spending all our time together. I'd never feel a moment's peace knowing you aren't feeling peace. If you really need me to, I can deal. But there's such a thing as being too close."

    [X] "Is there?" It's a stupid thing to say. It slips out. She gives you a curious expression. "I mean, Victoria, I love you..." You're not sure if you said too much. Victoria frowns at you. "Keep going, Amy."

    [X] You sigh. There's nothing else for it, really. "Let's go talk to Cranial, together. Maybe she'll be less horrific if you're there to help me ask about options. Maybe she can help us faster."

    [X] "I could make it easier." It's a terrible idea. You know it's a terrible idea. You've been awake too long and stressed for too long and healing for too long and without Victoria for too long. But a rule you broke is no rule at all. Victoria gives you a curious look. The idea is almost physically itching in your hands. "I could make you like it. Like being with me as much as I like being with you." It's dangerous and far too close to crossing the line. But it's the closest thing you'll get to what you want.
    You stand still. Your heart pounding.

    If you tell your sister, do it soon.

    "There's something Tattletale said I needed to say." You gulp again, taking a deep breath. "She said it would be worse if I didn't say it's soon. There's a secret. A big one." Victoria looks scared. Maybe the most scared you've ever seen her.

    "I. Love. You." She says it with the fiercest intensity she can bring to bear. "I don't care what it is. I may be sad. I may be disappointed. I may be very angry. But I love you, Amy Dallon." She gives you a hug that is just short of causing lasting pain. "Do you want to go to the room here? If it's that big, it might be good to do it privately."

    "Yes!" You gasp out the word. She supports you a bit as you head back into the building. August Prince is eating a sandwich behind his barricade with a look of defiance on his face while a pretty blond girl talks to him. Victoria pulls you a bit farther away from the barricade as you pass.

    "It's best to be sure." She says. You barely pay attention. You're trying to sort things out in your head.

    After what seems like a small eternity you enter your room. Victoria locks the door behind you both. You sit down on one of the beds, the one you didn't sleep in last night. It's Victoria's bed, in your head.

    That really shouldn't matter. She's never slept there. She probably never touched it before she sat down next to you a moment ago.

    "Tell me what it is." She's gone strangely firm, still. She probably already knows. Cherie had told her something, called you...

    "I'm a freak." You admit. "Something's wrong with me. It's sick and disgusting and..."

    "Have you hurt anyone?" Victoria interrupts you.

    "I have to hurt you." You really start to cry now. "I'm going to lose you."

    "Then you will lose me." You look up in shock.

    "If it's really that bad I'll run off in disgust. We won't be friends. We won't be sisters. We'll be nothing. Maybe I'll scream and scream and tell people to send you to the Birdcage. You know me better than anyone Amy. Do you think I'm going to do that."

    "I love you." You whisper. You turn your head away in shame.

    "That's not an answer." You can't see her, but you feel the glare against your head.

    "Yes it is." You can't look at her. You cannot look at your Glory Girl. She is silent for a moment. It stretches out intolerably long.

    "What do you want from me." You can't get anything out of the tone, can't turn your head to look at her.

    All you can do is answer.

    [X] Write in.

    What does Amy want from Victoria?

    General guidelines I am likely to group votes into in case of a lot of distinct write ins. It is highly possible I will edit similar ones together.

    [X] Try to cover for what you've said, somehow.

    [X] Confess, framing the feelings as forced by the aura.

    [X] Confess, framing the feelings as genuine.
    "I'm afraid of my power. I'm afraid of myself. I've been afraid of myself since before I had my power; I'm a supervilain's daughter and Carol always knew I would do something horrible one day. I haven't yet but I have these urges that I can barely control. My Rules keep me from giving in but it's hard." You still can't look at Victoria. Her hand rubs your shoulder comfortingly.

    "Sometimes I'm so tired and so frustrated that I want to kill my patients so that it'll just stop and no would have ask me to heal them ever again. So I have a rule against killing anyone, ever." There's a sharp intake of breath at this, but the motion doesn't change. She still loves you.

    "Sometimes I want to change people physically instead of just healing them. I can improve them. I can tweak, expand, change things to serve more than one purpose. The human body is so inefficient. I can do better. I can make people immortal. I can make people more interesting. I can make trees that give birth to kittens. I'm scared that if I start doing that I'll turn people into monsters. So I have a rule against that. I don't do anything more than healing even though I could do so much more. I have all of this creativity bottled up that I just can't express because I'm scared of myself. I'm scared of what I'll become." Victoria softly kisses the back of your head.

    "I trust you." It almost shatters your resolve when Victoria says it. You're crying as you continue. You have to continue.

    "And I don't do brains. That's my most important rule. That's the rule that protects you from me. I love you so much it physically hurts and I'd rather kill myself than violate you that way but it's tempting sometimes. It's very tempting. I can cure Mark's depression. I want to. I want him to really be my dad. That wouldn't be bad. I can make Carol love me just as much as she loves you. I've wanted that for as long as I can remember. I need a mom. But changing her like that would be wrong and it wouldn't be real and it would just make me feel guilty and it's something that a supervillain would do. As much as I want that I can't do it." The motion slowly stops. It's almost enough to break your heart. Almost.

    "And the worst part of it all is that I can make you love me the way that I love you. Like a sister. Like a best friend. Like a wife. Somewhere along the way while we were growing up a wire got crossed in my head. You were the only thing I ever had. You're the only person in the world who ever loved me." Victoria doesn't jerk her hand away. It could make you fall in love with her all over again that she doesn't recoil. She just lifts her hand away from you. You still can't meet her eyes.

    "I'm so fucked up that you're the only person in the world who can ever love me. I don't want to be alone. I want a family. Kids. Maybe a dog. But I'm never going to have that. No one else could ever love me. I'm a monster. You're the only one that I'm ever going to have and I can't have you the way I want you. And it hurts so much. Every single second I'm not with you it hurts. Every single second I am with you it hurts almost as bad because I can't kiss you."

    It's DONE! You said it! You let out a breath you've held in for years. You can't move towards her. She might interpret it as a threat. You could not possibly blame her for that.

    Victoria, your Victoria, your Glory Girl, is still. You can't be still. You make slight movements. You open your mouth...

    "Be quiet." Victoria's tone is, you don't know what it is. It's not normal. There's something in it. "Close your eyes." You do. She's quiet for what feels like days but is really minutes.

    "There's something I need to do. I need to try. Just keep your eyes closed." She says. You've never wanted to be blind more than you do today.

    Her hands take your head firmly. She pushes, positioning it towards her. You keep your eyes closed. For a frantic second you think she's going to kill you.

    Suddenly you feel lips on yours. Your mind goes crazy. Did she bring someone else in? Did she do something without you feeling your move, like send off a text message to someone or could this actually be?

    The face against you is wet. You do the stupidest thing you have done in your entire life when you push your tongue into your sister's mouth.

    She's not sweet. It's one of the worst things you've ever tasted. Bile is rising in her throat. She vomits over your face and into your mouth as you both sit on the bed in stunned shock.

    You can't be silent as you cry. Victoria's vomit is in your hair and on your shirt. Victoria coughs violently besides you.

    "This must be what Hell feels like." Her voice is raspy, pained, quiet, like anyone who just threw up. Your eyes are still closed. You don't process what's happening until you hear the door shut behind her. She's gone.

    "I love you!" You scream. You start pounding at the wall. You wish you are dead, or brave enough to just rape her while she kissed you, or anyone that's not who you are. You're a fuck up. You're a supervillain. The things you treat aren't even people, just nuts and bolts of bacteria and mostly eaten siblings.

    "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck." You repeat it as a mantra. You still haven't opened your eyes.

    Finally, after a very long time you enter the shower and wash your sister off you. If you had the power you would have burned your clothes. Instead you throw them in the trash can after you get out. The room was stocked with backup. For a mad moment you consider just walking out of the room naked. The idea that it would worry Victoria is the only reason you don't.

    You walk out of the room in a daze. You wander, finally reaching August Prince. He's still speaking to the blond girl. You go towards them and she scrambles back. She was sitting down, her knees in front of her. She moves back quickly. "Are you an idiot!" She shouts at you. It reminds you of Victoria.

    Oh, right. Trick.

    You're in Albany, which is apparently the capital of mindrape.

    [X] You'll fit right in. You smile for the first time in what has to be hours. "How do I speak to your PRT Director?" You can't go back home.

    [X] You study the girl. She is pretty. And you're in need of a sister. "Yes. Yes I am." You shake your head. "I think we need to discuss how much of an idiot I am."

    [X] You move past Trick, walking out of this horrible place. For all you know you'll never see Victoria again. You've procrastinated on Cranial for long enough.

    [X] Write in. It needs to be big.

    ___

    It's been six hours. You keep checking the time on your phone and the time you sent the text. You're actually seriously considering getting a timer app on your phone.

    You jump when you get a text message. You look down. It's from Dean.

    You almost delete it. Maybe Victoria ran out of juice for her phone?

    "She's here." A single line. Did he send it to the right phone? Then you get another line.

    "She needs time. She loves you. She's scared to try something too soon."

    Then your phone rings. It's Carol. You feel a burst of dread as you answer your phone.

    "Yes?" You ask.

    "Tell me why Victoria's room is empty."

    "What do you mean empty?" You whimper.

    "She took everything. Clothes, magazines, books, computer, TV. She left me a note. What did you do?"

    "I, what did the note say?"

    "She's moving in with Dean."

    "Can she do that?" You ask, confused.

    "No, no she can't. Do you know Dean's last name?"

    "Um, what? No, not really..."

    "Neither do I. You see, there are such things as secret identities, and laws against tracking them down when the secret identity is a member of the Wards. I can file a complaint, but I do not know where she is, and the PRT is not functioning right now. What. Did. You. Do?"

    "That's crazy. I mean, there have to be..."

    "There are. But it's going to take time where my daughter is gone. Tell me why my daughter has moved out of my house. I do not believe they're such star crossed lovers they are eloping." You feel bile rise in your throat at that idea. "Was there some crazy scheme with Cranial that freaked her out? I heard on the news that she was in a fight out in Albany. What did you do to cause this?"

    "Nothing like that. Dean texted me. He said she said she needs time." This all feels unreal, wrong. If only Mark was on the phone you might explain.

    "Time for what? Did he get her pregnant or something?" You flashback to your trigger event.

    "I don't think so. The fight with Cherie, the cape, she's an emotion manipulator." You think fast. She hadn't told Carol, so she doesn't want Carol to know, so this is covering for her as well. "They held her for observation. Maybe she's running through emotions Cherie messed up about her family? We barely talked since then. She was acting weird and left. I didn't think she went back home." You start adding up math in your head. She could definitely make it home in time, and if she just grabbed random stuff she could probably have made it to Dean's by now.

    "A fight you were in. The first fight you head into and she is messed up by it?" Suspicion, anger. Not exactly uncommon feelings for Carol to direct towards you. "She probably got hurt protecting you."

    You hang up the phone. Dean's been texting you while Carol ranted.

    "She got your text. She needs this time, Amy. I can tell. She said she loves you. She's said it several times, actually. She wants you to get help, but she can't give it right now. I know she's telling the truth. Please stay safe and don't do anything stupid."

    If you were a bit stronger you would have crushed the phone in your hand. Instead you just crack the screen. Dean. If there's anything you can't face right now it's Dean and Carol. You hang up on Carol as she calls you again. Fuck her!

    You turn off your phone at your "mother's" next call. You sit there, thinking.

    If you love Victoria, you'll give her time and space. You'll get help. You'll heal at the hospital with a smile on your face. You'll...

    You start crying again. How could you possibly...

    There's a knock on your door. A distraction. You leap to it and open it. It's another PRT officer.

    "Ma'am, there's someone here to see you. She said her name is Abigale Quintin?" You shake your head.

    "I don't have any idea who that is." A stalker might actually be welcome at a time like this.

    "She seemed quite insistent, ma'am."

    "Well..."

    [X] "Tell her I will be right with her." You really don't have anything better to do.

    [X] "Tell her I need to be going." You need to speak to a psychologist, Cranial, someone. There's no way you could continue for weeks without Victoria.

    [X] "Tell her I'm busy." You're not giving up on Victoria yet. You have to call Dean and get more out of him.
    You follow the PRT agent. You get a vague impression that she's trying to give you hints about something, but you're too out of it to understand what she's saying. Something about "very unusual" and "kind of frightening" but you keep thinking about Victoria moving in with Dean. Dean's what, sixteen, seventeen? They're probably not sharing a room, right? They had better not...

    "AHHH!" You instantly miss the preparation of the wall of horrors. So that's what the agent was trying to warn you about. Maybe he was trying not to sound racist against Case 53s? Cranial is holding a tablet computer near her eyes and seated on her hover chair with her claws curled up. She rotates to face you and moves the tablet away from her eyes as she registers your presence.

    "I take it you never learned my name." The calm, middle aged voice of Cranial plays from the machine braided into her bizarre arms. "It's not even that subtle."

    "Quintin. Fifth." You manage to crack a smile. "And Abigale?"

    "King David's third wife." She sees your blank expression. "David of 'and Goliath' fame."

    "Oh. He was a king? I thought he was a shepherd. Um, I never went to Sunday School." You're missing the drink that Cranial, Abigale, had offered you in her home. "Um, did something important happen? I told you I'd call back." Seriously this woman's appearance is horrifying. Her eyes don't even move, they're just fixed and look dead, dangling when she moves.

    "I was growing concerned, so I called Truth. She said your sister had last been seen flying east and that you were locked in your room. We talked about it and I thought it would be best to see you personally." She's either being nice or being greedy. "Under the circumstances, where you are addicted to your sister's aura, it seemed that this is a bad sign for making sound decisions. This seemed like the kind of thing I shouldn't handle over the phone. Should I talk to your parents about your treatment, do you feel well enough to talk about it, or do you just need more time? Given the circumstances I advise getting the scan started as soon as possible. Two months would be a very long time to wait, and that's if we start now." You really don't feel in a sound state to be making these decisions, but you gave Victoria your power of attorney when you were sixteen, Mark's too down to answer his phone, and Carol's angry at you.

    "I, um. What about, why do you need my memories for this, anyway?" You mutter. The double shock of earlier and Abigale's hair of eyes is not good.

    "It is standard policy. I ask all my clients for memories. I sell them. People want other memories. People want happy memories, skills, experiences. The more memories I have the better my work is. If part of your life experience would best be used to help someone else get over a trauma I can't see why you would object? For example, for someone dealing with depression, I could use your own cycle of depression when Victoria is gone and relief when she returns, with rearranging the order, to induce memories of someone getting over depression. This could make someone feel much more comfortable than simply brute forcing it." It sounds reasonable, but you're still suspicious. However...

    "Mark, my dad, suffers from clinical depression. Worse than mine. Could you cure that?"

    "Yes. A full brain scan and calculations to make any desired edits takes two months with the computers I have available and the whole problem of translating biology into the digital format. I could see his psychiatric medication and less comprehensive brain scans to make very good guesses about what would be best for him, but at my level of precision and the delicacy of individual brains I cannot promise perfect results before the two months are over. The same goes for you, of course. I could put you on a regimen of therapy and psychiatric drugs to reduce your dependence on your sister's aura, but there's no guarantee that it would work, and I can assure you that true brain editing would work. I have suspicions about your personal conditions that makes me suspect that ordinary attempts to treat depression or endorphin addiction would end badly for you. I read up on Victoria's abilities. It is believed she triggers locations involved with religious experience. This is highly unusual, and combined with your specific symptoms I suspect that ordinary treatments would miss the mark."

    "Please be quiet for a minute." You try to fumble through her infodumps. Is she giving you so much information because she's trying to be honest, or to confuse you and make it harder to make a decision? Is she pointing out her limits to soften blows, or to cover for lies or some other manipulation shit? How could she just walk in here and ask for you? Actually, it makes more sense than a stranger off the street, a cape known to Albany asking would seem less like some random stalker or mind control Stranger dude. You desperately want to go back to bed.

    "Thank you." You finally mutter. "I, I don't think I was going to call you back. I'm going through a lot in the last couple days.

    "I do understand. People come to me at their lowest points. This is not the first time someone has had trouble with making decisions around me. I do really want to do this. I have wanted to do this medical convention for years, before you even had your trigger event. I am willing to make certain exceptions and offers. I want this, Amy. I want it a lot. I am at a disadvantage in our negotiations. I can offer to help your father. I could help the tinker in your city, Kid Win, if that's any enticement. I can offer you memories and skills unrelated to your treatment. I could even pay you, though you've never made any indication of wanting money given your lifestyle."

    "No, not really, ma'am." You mumble. "Yeah, that just doesn't feel right. Taking money, I mean."

    "I get that. It must be easier, not needing resources. I do not have that luxury. So, what is your decision?"

    [X] "I need more time." You shake your head. "I'm sorry to do this to you, but this is one of the worst days of my life. I think I need to be held for observation for a while so I don't do anything crazy. Can you give me some advice on how to do that?"

    [X] "Thank you, really. Maybe someday I can take your help. I can help you, but I just can't share my memories, or trust, um, it's not that I don't trust you, but I'm really not, brains are a rule with me. I'll do the medical convention, but I can't let you tinker with my head."

    [X] "Let's do it." You can't go on without Victoria for however long it is, not without help. "Let's discuss my options on our way to get my brain scanned."
    "Marvelous. Follow me." You follow Cranial's hover chair as she leaves the building.. The eye hair cascades down her back, so she can see you just fine, assuming her eye hair actually works like eyes. That's not certain with a Case 53.

    There is a man waiting for you in a minivan. "This is my friend. He prefers to keep a secret identity, so you may call him Big Rig." The name doesn't sound familiar. "You may sit up front with him. It is easier and safer for me to sit in the back with the seats put down. Do not worry about my safety." You sit down in the front. Big Rig has a strange, spider like power suit with electronic limbs touching the car's controls. You hear heavy breathing.

    "You do know he is napping, right?"

    "Yes I do. He's a superior driver that way, or Michelle is."

    "Michelle?"

    "His suit. It is appropriate to give things greater than men feminine names, such as ships, planets, or oceans. His suit does not think, but it is a work of art and a marvel, so it is female. I helped with the design." Rogue Tinkers are weird.

    "Do I give it, her, instructions, or do you?" You're not entirely sure you want to be driven by a machine built by a tinker you haven't heard of.

    "No need. Michelle will take us to my condo once you have buckled your seat belt." You quickly put it on, and Michelle slowly pulls out of the parking space and drives carefully and smoothly.

    You're silent for a minute, collecting yourself. You start talking a bit awkwardly. "Maybe you could call my dad and make your offer yourself after we are done I'm not sure I am up to talking to my family at the moment."

    "As I understand it he has severe clinical depression. According to some files I found he also gave his power of attorney to Victoria in regards to medical matters. Would you be upset if I pried into why?"
    "No. Carol, they had a fight about it, the first one I remember was when I was nine. She was hiding his pills so he wouldn't take them. When Victoria started junior year we had a big family meeting about it and decided that me and Mark felt most comfortable if she had power of attorney. Carol signed the paperwork. She didn't even seem mad about it. I found out later it was her idea."

    "That is quite frankly horrifying. So Victoria should be the person I contact of I cannot reach him?"

    "Yes, but she just moved out of the house and wasn't answering her phone when I called her. Maybe you could contact her boyfriend, Gallant, through the PRT, but Brockton Bay's PRT was just bombed, so it might take a while."

    "I will see what I can do. I'll only ask about it again if I absolutely have to." She sounds sympathetic, but given her voice is coming from that weird device that could mean anything.

    "About Kid Win, will the PRT let you work on him?"

    "I believe so. It is not to their advantage to let one of their most interesting young tinkers flounder. I will contact the leader of the Brockton Bay Wards, Aegis, and explain the situation. He will talk to his superiors in the PRT. I suspect I will be able to help him with far less effort than you, and I may not need to brain scan him at all unless he wants additional skills or experiences." You nod absentmindedly.

    "Is it possible to start the scanning now and decide on what specific changes that will be made later?"

    "Yes. Once the translation is done nothing else will take anywhere close to that amount of time. My machines merely need to understand your brain. After that updating their map of your brain is easy, as is bringing in new memories or making changes. Feel free to think about it over the next two months."

    "I don't trust my own decision making skills in this matter even if changes clearly need to be made, and the only person I trust implicitly is my sister who isn't available at the moment. Hopefully things will be different when the time comes. Mark's too depressed, and Carol, well..."

    "Believe it or not I have some idea of what it is like to have issues with your mother. Not first hand, but I sample my own work. I understand the emotions, if not this particular context. I will know more once I have read your memories." That freaks you out again.

    "You're just going to play my memories? For fun, or something?" That is a very disturbing idea.

    "You can see me. I can only live a normal life from other perspectives. I am not the only one. Many people wish they were someone else. The lives of capes are particularly popular, though often disappointing. Some people want reality, others want fantasies, and I supply both. That is how I make my income to support more charitable projects."

    "I'm not comfortable with this. I'm not a good person. I don't want people to know what's going on in my head. Medical stuff, that's fine, but just someone who is bored?"

    "If someone is bored enough to want unhappy memories, isn't that its own kind of disease? Sometimes shock treatment can give fascinating perspectives. Few people can live another life without being forever changed. People looking for cheap thrills leave my shop having gained far more than they came to get. Others need to understand lives worse than their own to appreciate their fortune. Some need to understand the pain of others. Psychologists and ministers have come to me. I appreciate the desire for privacy, but you do not know better than the people who might want your memories. Surely if it helps even one person it would be worth it?"

    You think it's a good argument. It doesn't feel right, but for someone who is being so generous on so many things, who has been so nice, it would seem crude to haggle about it. There's an idea in your head of someone just like you meeting a therapist who actually does understand what it's like.

    "I think you're right, but let's talk about it once the brain scan's finished whatever it needs to do in two months." You pull in front of the condo and follow her in. Big Rig and Michelle stay in the car. You follow Cranial into the condo. A small drone opens the door. You walk through the wall of horrors, stopping to see what looks like a man going down on a Cthulu like monster, and then follow Cranial into the lab.

    "Alright, here is what I need to do. My machines will fully scan you in 15 minutes. While they perform their scans we can talk, or you can be quiet. Two things will hurt. One is a needle that will enter through your nose and extract a bit of cranial fluid." There's a hint of a smile in the electronic voice at the word 'cranial.' "I will also extract an ordinary blood sample. I can prevent you from feeling pain from either one during the penetration, but there should be a small headache for a few hours afterward. I suggest you go and take a nap."

    "I've already been up for quite a while. I'm going to bed early." You sit in the chair and a quite frightening orb descends from a pole in the ceiling.

    "I tried every possible appearance in my plans, but everything that covers a human head is creepy or so silly, so I gave up and just went with the orb. Sit in the chair. You sit down in a medical chair, and the orb covers your head.

    "Wait, you said we could talk?" It's pitch black inside the orb.

    "Yes we can." Her voice answers. "This is my technology. I put proper communication systems in when I designed the brain scanner. I decided that it would make it less terrifying. Be glad it no longer flashes red and blue light at random intervals. People found that to be considerably more frightening than the pitch black." You start rubbing your hands on the chair. This thing is crazy. Sure, Cranial's the tinker, but is being blinded really necessary for this to work?

    "Yes it is, Amy." The psychic stuff is even less comforting. "I can't have input running through the eyes. It took forever to par it down so I could keep the other senses up and running.

    "So, fifteen minutes like this?"

    "Yes. Fifteen minutes and it'll all be over."

    "Please try to sound less like a serial killer posing as a doctor."

    "You watch too many bad movies. In my defense, I am a monster straight out of nightmare.
    ___

    You gasp as the helmet is removed from your head.

    "Interesting. Interesting." Cranial is holding several tablets up to her eyes at once. "Alright, I can offer you some medication. I have two options right now. One is a simple drug that will make you extremely happy, punctuated with deep and short bursts of intense depression. My other option is a combination of five separate drugs that could keep you at a normal, happy, and mentally healthy state, but they would need to be taken at precise times in the day or else you will have dangerous or unpredictable results. I can tell that Victoria's aura is very much an abnormal process. Ordinary therapy or medication would probably have either failed or messed you up. If you can take it I recommend against using the medicine, and instead going cold turkey on both the aura and medication. Your brain is adjusted to functioning without Victoria. Given your powers I think a single bad episode could be disastrous." You sigh.

    "Of course the best thing to do is nothing." You sit back in your chair dejectedly.

    "I am sorry. You know, it might be possible to move up the timeline for the convention. Have it in early may instead of early June. That might give you something to work on earlier."

    "What exactly is this big convention thing, anyway, and what do you want from it?"

    "A great question. As I said before, I want to explore healers. Specifically I want to understand how powers that work on brains and memories work. There's a tremendous amount of evidence that powers can perform an incredible amount of math and sensing incredibly quickly, and that P=NP in a highly efficient way that powers know intuitively, or that they perform calculations in a manner that bends time. That is the reason that even the best tinkers struggle to copy many powers even when the hacks involving the laws of physics are known. My tinker focus is not merely neurology, it is highly complex systems. I believe that if I can study several powers that approach my field of specialty at once, and how they interact, I could understand how they can do things in seconds that takes me months. This would cause a revolution in computing, and allow me to casually apply my abilities without the waiting period. This is big, Amy. Tinker technology cannot be practically mass produced, but if we discover this principle behind powers I think this could be mass produced and incorporated into a large part of our civilization. I have spoken on this for years. I have spoken with Dragon, Sphere, and other tinkers and thinkers you have not heard of. Dragon wants to try this. She is less confident than I am, but we have differing specialties. I believe my intuition that this is possible comes from my tinker specialty." A musical, simulated laugh plays on the instrument. "Dragon's only demand is that we schedule it well outside of an Endbringer attack period."

    "That's big."

    For once, more than one choice this time.

    [X] "I'll try the extra happy medicine." You can handle being depressed.

    [X] "I'll go with the cocktail." You trust yourself to stay to the schedule. Other people will be very motivated to keep you to it. "Just write down how they work."

    [X] "I'll try cold turkey. I'll call you if I think I need something else.

    You think about the convention.

    [X] "Let's get this over with. The convention. Early May sounds good."

    [X] "I'd rather take some time to prepare, get my affairs in order, do it right. Let's wait until June."

    "Thank you so much for your help, Ms. Quintin." She laughs. "Mrs. Quintin. I am married." You try not to think about that. "Where do you want to go now?"

    [X] "For all your help, the last few days have been a nightmare. I want to check into some psyche facility for, um, I think it's 48 hours of observation? However long they do it. I don't feel that stable right now.

    [X] "I need to get home. Albany's, um, lovely, but there's a lunatic on the loose bombing places. I need to help."

    [X] Write in. Anywhere else you think Amy should go?
    "It's a week." Cranial seems vaguely regretful.

    "What?" Maybe you should have known this, but you've never been held for observation before.

    "It's standard for parahumans. Excessively long for many, but our race is far less stable than most. Giving hospitals extra time to gather scarce resources and work out what they are dealing with has been the policy for five years. I approve of it whole heartedly. The situation has improved since it became policy. It was a PRT Thinker, Accord, who developed the idea. It took years for the plan to gain support, but it is very well supported. You are someone extremely dangerous. I do not think it is unreasonable that the government wants to focus as much effort as possible on ensuring you are stable before you are released."

    "Alright." It seems strange, but you're not an actual doctor. You were offered an honorary MD, but it just struck you as cheesy.

    "I will make some calls now. Please make yourself comfortable." The same drone opens the door and you get out, sitting down in one of Cranial's amazingly comfortable chairs. It strikes you suddenly that every chair or couch is here for guests. Cranial couldn't possibly find chairs designed for humans comfortable. You'd never see her leave her hover chair. Does she sleep in it? Wait, Cranial doesn't sleep. Wasn't it Truth that told you that? She rests her brain a piece at a time. You think you heard about dolphins doing that when you were a little girl and Victoria was showing off her new ability to read. At first it had been something she was proud of, being older and smarter, reading all the science books she got her hands on out loud every night. After a while it just became something she did, reading to you every day after school, finding the time even when she was sick. She did it right up until your trigger. She'd tried to keep finding the time, she really had, but your damned powers just took up too much time.

    You miss her so much. Your hands tighten into fists. You want your sister!

    Cranial comes back in a few minutes later.

    "So, what's going to happen to me?"

    "You're going to go to a mental hospital, Amy. For one week they will give you counseling and therapy. I am writing an email as we speak to explain everything I reasonably can to help them help you. I think that this is the best thing for you. I'd recommend it even if you were using the cocktail. You have been through a lot in a short span of time. There's a computer in your room, so you can sign in and read books or watch TV or movies you like. It would be far more dangerous to let you out. This is not a vacation, but it is a break. Try to get stable. You don't have to be happy, just at peace with yourself enough to start helping people when you get back out. I will start making some calls to your local PRT to see if there's any other advice I can give for managing your condition after you return. Do not blame yourself. You are sick and it is not anyone's fault. This is a stay at a hospital. Everyone needs them from time to time."

    Suddenly, you can't help yourself. You leap out of the chair and hug Cranial. The body language appears shocked for a moment, but then her strange limbs wrap around you in a way that is, if not comforting, approximating such.

    "Thank you so much, Abigale. You're just, I don't know, one of the nicest people. I don't know what would have happened without you."

    "I'm glad we don't have to find out." The voice comes from behind your head, where Cranial's voice machine is located. "Get better and stay safe. I'll email you my phone number. If you need to talk, or have any more questions, I'm always there."

    "I will call you next week." You break the embrace. "See you in June."
    ___

    You sit in the room of whatever facility they brought you to, bouncing a ball off the wall. You're checked in, and a therapist will be with you later today. Right now you're bored, miserable, and guilty. You've slept, and are still pretty far off a normal sleep schedule. Once again it's after midnight, you can't sleep, and you have to do something. Right back where you started, in a way.

    [X] You have to see how Victoria is doing. You go to the computer and start searching the gossip sites and newspapers for anything on Glory Girl.

    [X] You sign into Amazon's reader app. Flowers in the Attic can't hurt.

    [X] It's time to take a walk around this place and see what's there. This is a place they took a parahuman. You weren't paying attention, but you think this might be the famous "Asylum" of crazy parahumans.

    And;

    [X] Write in. How long do we want to spend here out of character? One update, a couple, play it in semi-real time?
    You regretfully turn away from your computer. You're not here to sulk about the worst mistake of your life, you're here to make sure you don't release the virus that would start causing women to grow flesh gardens instead of babies in their wombs.

    You actually know how you would do it. You'd never really wanted to do it, but you'd thought about it in the same way you'd thought about, well, best not to think about the really shitty stuff you sometimes got into your head.

    You catch the ball and put it away in a dresser. You hate this room. The room at Albany PRT was cozy. This room is clinical and sterile. Well, it is a hospital, if one devoted to the mind instead of the body. You always have hated hospitals, even before you got your powers.

    You move down an abandoned hallway. Most of the doors have two names, a name for a cape and a name for a person. Yours is a disposable name tag, Amy Claire Dallon (Panacea). Others are like that. Arthur Kent (Gunslinger), Sarah Campbell (Trinity). Some of the names are more permanent, hardened plastic plaques for Nicholas Little (Sadboy) and Khajag Ghazaryan (Genoscythe). Some of the doors are very heavily locked and clearly substantial, such as Sveta Morsky, which you couldn't even begin to open without a lot of biomass to help with the project.

    You're actually in the wing for dangerous prisoners. This is not the general population. The fifty or so rooms are designed for people going completely nuts. Your room could shut down all access to the outside world and air flow if the computer on your wrist indicated extreme stress. It was apparently for another prisoner who could create and control poisonous gas.

    It seems that the prisoners aren't that sociable after midnight, or most of them have some kind of curfew. Maybe you weren't listening when someone told you about a curfew. If so, fuck it, you're crazy anyway.

    You search the place until you find a small common room with two individuals. One is a somewhat handsome man who looks like he is in pain standing in the corner. The other is a boy, maybe twelve years old, reading a hard cover book with a curious intensity. You move forward to him, slowly, to read the title. Clive Barker'sClive Barker's Galilee. Wait, wasn't that the guy who wrote the book Hellraiser was based on?

    He looks up. "Hello. Jasper's girlfriend sent cookies. You're new here, aren't you?" You nod.

    "I'm just staying the week. Who's Jasper?"

    "The man over there." The kid points. "We don't sleep, and he thinks he's a guard here, not a prisoner."

    "I am both." Jasper says. "Without me this place would have burned. Without this place I would be a monster. We keep each other whole." Yep, definitely crazy. "Alice did sent a care package." He gestures to another table, and there is a small box of clearly store bought cookies. "She said you would be coming and that you would like them." They don't look that appetizing, but you don't want to hurt his feelings, so you go over and take a bite. It actually is delicious.

    "Alice, is she a Thinker of some kind?" You ask. "And yes, it is really good."

    "She is a great Thinker. She told me of your arrival as soon as you chose to come." If it's any comfort, he is crazy. "We met in here, though she could go free and sane while I shall stay my days here. Our tasks keep us apart, but our love shall keep us together despite the distance. Love, and cellular phones."

    "That's a beautiful thought." You mean it. You do find yourself in a romantic mood, though it strikes you as possible that Alice does not exist. "Tell me about her."

    "She came here with no memory. They believed her to be a Case 53, but they found her finger prints led to an identity. No one knows how she became what she is. She fell in love with me in a vision before she arrived here." He begins to tell a long love story. You do the best to pay attention, but a soppy, heterosexual, happy love story could never speak to you. Even The Notebook was too happy for you to stand. The long and glorious happy ending of children and fame and wealth made you choke back bile when you read it.

    You shouldn't have thought about bile.

    "Is she truly so moved?" Jasper asks.

    "I don't think so." The boy says. He studies you critically. "She's sad. I would know. Sadboy." You'd seen the name before.

    "Is it rude to ask what you're here for?" You ask.

    "Yes, but I'll tell you anyway." Sadboy, Nicholas, seems not to be offended. "Jasper messes with his own brain, and others, and all kinds of hormones and other stuff. He keeps driving himself nuts, but most of the time he's sane. I'm just too scary to let out." You look him over cautiously. He doesn't look scary.

    "Why are you so scary? If you're that scary why do they let you out?" He gives an angelic smile.

    "It's not what I did. It's what my big brother did." You puzzle it over, looking at his face to see if there's a resemblance to anyone...

    "Holy shit." He giggles like a loon, or a naughty twelve year old boy, at that.

    "You're staying in his sister's room." Jasper says, and you're not sure if it makes sense in context that you missed or if he's just crazy. "Family relationships are of course metaphorical."

    You're sitting next to Gray Boy's, you can't remember the details. Clone or something.

    "She's in the Protectorate. We video chat every night." You try to calm your breathing. They wouldn't let him out if he was a real danger. "She says Vegas is great." You smile to keep anything else off your face.

    "I went there with my sister last year. It's really got boring since parahumans broke all the old casinos. Maybe I just visited the wrong parts." You think. What would be least likely to set off history's greatest monster? "What are you reading about?"

    "I read some of his other books. I'm hoping for some neat monsters." He grins. "I love monsters." You think for a moment. Would a gift be a good thing? I trust you. "Hey, do you have any plants in here? Real ones? I have something to show you." He smiles. "Ooh, is it a cool power?"

    "Well, I think it's pretty cool." Jasper is suddenly handing you a small potted tree. Focusing on the fucking Gray Boy's good twin kind of took up all of your attention.

    "Alice said you would need this." You look at the small tree. It's actually a beautiful tree.

    "I control biology. What would you like to see?" Your mind bounces back and forth between fear and, well, he's a cute kid, and once again you're liking fear a lot more than despair. You want to stay here, feel this way. It's better to be on the move. You need worthy opponents.

    "Ooh, can you make it grow hamsters?" You think about it.

    "Not true hamsters, but I can make it grow something that looks like a hamster." Your hand spreads through the normal, healthy biology of the tree, and slowly a hamster emerges. It's not a true hamster, but it has fur and warm blood and is shaped right. On a whim, you make it so that the tree's cuddly fruit could breed normally and would lay sees of more hamster trees. Nicholas's eyes grow wide in wonder as the tree becomes a true, natural, hamster growing plant.

    "Wow! That's the coolest thing I've ever seen. Can I keep it?"

    "It's Jasper's tree." You look up at Jasper.

    "Of course, dear child. The tree is a gift from all of us to you." Sadboy takes the tree and examines it closely. "I'll be right back." He gets up and moves at a deliberate pace towards the door and presumably his room.

    "You don't feel at home among mad people." Jasper tells you. "You also don't know twelve year old boys very well." You look up suddenly.

    "What?"

    "He was joking, Amelia." You frown. You can't remember anyone ever calling you Amelia. "He's probably just going to eat them." You shudder. "It's not that he's a monster, it's that he's at an age where he's too cool for everything, and always will be. That is the true reason he will never leave. He cannot change and grow with the world. Here, amongst the mad, he may thrive. No parents, no matter how loving, could stand his age forever, and they would grow sick and die. He always resets back to normal, as his elder brother did. He can turn it off, but whenever he uses his power he goes back to the first time. The first time he used his powers, he was sad. Gray Boy was happy forever, until he died." You don't really listen by the end. You're turning over how you failed to get Sadboy's feelings before. He was mocking you, not full of wonder. Why was that? It never felt like that before. Did Victoria's aura burn out something else, or are you just so concerned with your own shit that you can't get anyone else's?

    "I am sorry, Jasper." You get up. "I don't belong here. Not that I'm not crazy, but this is your home, and I am an intruder on your life. The people here, I'm not good enough to help them." Suddenly, just because you feel like it, you give Jasper a bow. "I am sure Alice is very proud of you."

    "She is. I will tell the others that you wish to be alone, but if you need companionship in this domain I will be happy to bring you to people who are less visibly strange." You leave this room, a common room or something, and head back to your room. You lock the door behind you.

    This place is crazy.

    ___

    You sit across from the therapist or counselor or psychologist or whatever they're calling them. You don't do brains, so how would you know?

    "Hello, Amy." He smiles at you. "What would you like to talk about?"

    [X] Write in. What does Amy want to talk about?
    You sit there for a minute of golden silence, preparing yourself. No matter what, it can't be as bad as Tattletale.

    "I like people. I like talking to people. I like helping people. But there are so many people that need my help. When I'm healing I don't see the people anymore. All I see are ugly disgusting sacks of chemicals. When I see someone writhing in agony I turn off their pain, not because I don't want them to suffer but because their screams are annoying. I touch a dying body, not a person just a body, and I know everything about it down to its DNA. Sometimes, before I heal it, I have to ask myself why the horrible thing deserves to live. I never have an answer to that. When I started I loved my patients. I talked to them. Helping them felt good. There were always more patients and never enough time. It became an assembly line. And I've just been going through the motions because it's what good people are supposed to do. I think I'd be happier if I stopped. But I can't tell anyone no. I'd feel too guilty if I let someone die."

    The doctor, someone with a name you didn't catch, writes calmly. No one ever knows what the notes are. You've picked that up from popular culture.

    "Is there anything else?" He asks.

    "At home Carol treats me like an unwanted child and trying to gain her approval has left me being afraid to become a villain and like my biological father." You sigh.

    "Carol, is that your adoptive mother?"

    "Yes." He probably knows. Don't they read files on you before you come in? Why ask?

    "So, anything else you want to get out before we start?" You suddenly get pissed.

    "I want to be happy, to have a girlfriend and a beautiful home with her. Unfortunately my sister's aura of awe has messed around with my brain so shame on me that my first choice is my sister."

    "Ah." He frowns, looking down at some notes. What is with this asshole?

    "According to the files I have read, the aura is connected to the depression. You're most happy around your sister, and she doesn't stay with you while healing, though she did at first. The files did not say anything about wanting her to be your girlfriend. What do you mean by that?"

    "Wife, lover, sex toy, mother. Mother's the thing psychologists always ask about, right? She's more of a mother to me than Carol ever was. She's my best friend, and the only real friend I've had since middle school." The doctor, who gave a name you can't remember, looks interested.

    "That was several years before your trigger event. You were a sophomore during both of your triggers. Can you tell me why you had friends in middle school but not high school?"

    "I think it was the age. Girls try out friendships at the time, moving from group to group. There were a couple I really liked, but they moved away. A few went to the same high school, but we drifted apart. Victoria had triggered by then, and it put a lot of people off."

    "Victoria, she triggered a few months after her thirteenth birthday, correct?" You nod. "You mentioned really liking some of the girls, and defined Victoria as your first choice. Are you attracted to other girls, or just your sister? What about boys?" It's a bit uncomfortable talking about this. You're surprised they didn't give you a female therapist.

    "A bit. Like, I can tell a girl is pretty, maybe flirt a bit, but I haven't fallen in love with anyone else. No one else ever seemed remotely as good as Victoria. I don't think it's just her aura. She's the nicest person I know. She's the most real person I know. It's not like she's always forcing herself to be nice. She gets angry, and she shows she's angry, but it's always righteous, getting angry because someone else is hurt. She really tries to be nice, and when she realizes she's being a bitch she stops at once. Boys, maybe they're nice and cute, but I just don't feel that way about any of them. I think I could like boys, but definitely not preferentially date a boy."

    "Have you dated anyone?"

    "Not really. I've been out on a few dates when Victoria and Gallant found someone willing to give me a shot. They're all nice and cute and rich, but it was always hard to pay attention with Victoria right there. I think it was hard for them, too, with an aura getting them to squee over how awesome their date's sister was." The doctor keeps writing things down.

    "You say you barely see your patients as people. Is this just the people you heal, or is it most people who aren't Victoria?" You pause for a moment. That is a good question.

    "Most of the time it's better, but it's been getting worse. I think the less I'm around Victoria the harder it is to pay attention to anyone. I've been missing things. There are gaps I don't notice in my empathy. When I like someone I really like someone. Nothing seems worth it. When I have a nice conversation I feel like it's with one of the nicest people I've ever met. When I hate someone the person's the worst person ever." You pause. "It started before I started getting more separated with Victoria, though. I think it was getting worse ever since Tattletale and the bank robbery. I don't think I've been in a good headspace ever since that, though I have been through a lot since then."

    "I believe on April 14th you confronted Tattletale for the first time, after midnight on the 16th she sought you out again, afternoon in the sixteenth you entered into the first fight of choice of your life, and around 11 PM of the same day you were ambushed by another set of villains. Not many people have to engage in so many fights so close together, especially heroes. You had three violent encounters within 24 hours. I don't think being highly disturbed and distracted by this is unusual, especially if you're dealing with increasingly aggressive separation from your sister's aura." The doctor is looking at his notes again.

    "I guess. Also, um, I told Victoria about it."

    "About your feelings for her?"

    "Yes. About, well, everything. She tried. She kissed me, and threw up trying. I haven't seen or spoken to her since. She moved in with her boyfriend. That, I don't like that."

    "Ah, according to this file there is some speculation that your trigger event coincided with Victoria's dating."

    "My first one, yes." You sigh. "I found a used condom in Victoria's trashcan. Next thing I knew I could control bodily functions. It was a pretty stupid power. No idea why I got it. Release chemicals, make people pee or cry. I never really learned much about it. My second was two weeks later. It wasn't Dean." You shudder. "Me and Victoria were watching some stupid high school movie. It brought up the idea of girls practicing kissing for boys. Victoria suggested it. Then I realized she was joking." You shake your head. "They, like, they weren't as bad as some I've heard. Most I've heard about. Being kidnapped by lunatics and cut apart, your father slowly dying of leukemia, being stuck in a car for days as you starve to death, but they were enough. I'm second generation. They were some of the worst moments of my life. My first one, Victoria lost her virginity! I'd never get to have that. She would grow up, get married, have children, and I wouldn't be a part of that. I was scared and confused and I didn't know what to do. I think that's how Striker triggers happen half the time. The second one was worse. Like, for a second I thought maybe there was a chance. We could kiss, giggle, make fun of it, but I'd get to kiss her. Maybe I could keep it going, say we were getting experience, get her to think of me..." You trail off. "But it was such a joke to her. She couldn't see me that way at all. She thought it was completely gross. So I freaked again. I couldn't lose her. So I got the power to stop it."

    "The power to stop it. What do you mean by that?"

    "I could make her love me. I could see her brain all curled up inside her head like a giant tumor. I knew exactly what to change. I've known it for two years. I'd see her every day, touch her every day, and every time I want to rape her. But I don't want her to love me because of that. I want to be lovable." The doctor is silent for a little while.

    "There are things we could try, if you want to stop loving her that way. It's not going to happen in a week, but we could get you a therapist in Brockton Bay." You nod, but you feel sick. You can't loose how you feel about Victoria. Without that what do you even have?

    "I am actually more worried about how you feel about your patients. You've been avoiding that. I'm actually wondering if that's how you deal with it. You focus on Victoria because you need to feel love to counterbalance how you feel about them. Tell me more about it."

    "It was wonderful, at first. I felt like the best person in the world, and everyone else felt the same way. Victoria was so proud of me. I could heal dozens of people a day. Save lives. Improve lives. Do things in minutes that would take most people months. A few months in there was a big meeting with the PRT and the school board and I got one of only 29 special certificates ever printed that meant I didn't have to go to school anymore because my powers were so useful. They only do that kind of thing for people like the very best tinkers and movers who join the Wards. Mark framed it, and even Carol looked proud. But it's just kept going. I started to hate them, begrudge them for getting to live normal lives when I couldn't anymore. I've been thinking about letting them die or pretending to mess up every day for six months. I thought about letting children die, giving people cancer, releasing a plague that infected wombs to turn babies into monsters. I can't stop thinking about it. It would be so easy and I could take a real vacation. But whenever I rest I feel guilty that I'm not helping people. I don't want to know how I'd feel if I actually did something like that. There's no way out. I already had my second trigger, so that can't save me. I dream about going crazy sometimes, really crazy. Leave the hospital behind, mindrape Victoria, fix Mark's depression, make Carol love me, and just run. But I can't do my own brain, I couldn't take away my own guilt about that, so it's not a real answer."

    "What do you think a real answer would look like?"

    "I dream about being kidnapped so I don't have to feel guilty. I dream that there's some genius tinker who looks at everything I can do and copies it into a machine. I dream about releasing some kind of healing plague to save everyone and give me a break, or at least eight hours of cooking up something new with a team of science advisers."

    "Could you actually do that? The last part."

    "Maybe. I know how I'd do it. But biology is complicated. Things would be out-competed, and messing up human microbiology could be really bad. If the stuff mutates or genes jump species it could be a pandemic. Anything significantly better than nature would be really dangerous. I've ran a few things by scientists. I've made some really good vaccines and antibiotics they can keep cooking up, but anything beyond that carries some real risks. Even if I don't cause a problem, if someone with the wrong powers or tinker specialties gets her hands on it and hijacks part of it we could have a disaster. Then there's the Simurgh. The PRT has a theory that anyone who can really change the world gets targeted by the Endbringers. They told me about it when I first started on those ideas. It could get me killed and Brockton Bay attacked and everyone I love could die. So then I feel guilty about not trying, because if everyone refuses to try and change the world than civilization's toast. I feel like a coward."

    "It's not cowardly to take advice." The doctor says. "I have had patients who dealt with second order effects from Simurgh, or who dealt with other Endbringer attacks directly. It is completely natural to be afraid of them. It is better to do what you can than to be killed. That's how the PRT organizes tinkers." You nod sadly. "Changes have to be distributed, decentralized, and redundant. It's much better to have your capacity on reserve healing people than to lose it all together. Maybe someday the Endbringers will be defeated, or we'll find a way to secure resources from them." That dream seems a lot less plausible than most of yours.

    "Can we talk about my mother now?" You're not sure what your tone is like anymore.

    "What do you want to say about her?"

    "She's scared of me. She's scared of everyone. I want to help her, and Mark, but the only way I have to help her would be betraying her by brute forcing her issues with mind control. I do love her. But it's so hard sometimes. Her trigger was messed up, way worse than mine. Locked in a basement for months, then pulled out to be shot, and I'm pretty sure that's leaving out some even more fucked up details." You pause. "Also, sometimes I think about sex with her, but it's nothing like Victoria. Like, if I'm thinking of her being a real mom it kind of drifts towards that being part of it. I never get the same urges to do that like I do with Victoria, though."

    "Some level of incestuous thoughts aren't completely uncommon. I don't have a full diagnoses, but I suspect that you have some kind of OCD about your thoughts about harming people and incest. There's a kind of person who is full of thoughts like that but would never act on those thoughts. I'm not saying you're that kind of person, but that's a disorder people have, and I think you might have an extreme case made more intense by Victoria's powers and your own." You nod. That sounds normal. "Now, what about your biological father? You said he's a supervillain."

    "Yes. He is, or has to be. I don't know which one, though there are only a few good choices from the time period. I think about it a lot. I want to do so many bad things. Is that how he started? Is it the same kind of thing that set him off? If I break my rules will I become just like him? Tattletale threatened to give me the name, said I'd spend the rest of my life comparing myself to him. I try not to think about it too much, as I don't know much about him. I have an idea in my head. Sometimes I think of him as someone strong and kind, some kind of super thinker secretly trying to save the world who has a great contingency plan for helping me and the world and freeing himself from the Birdcage. I thought that a lot when I was younger. Victoria had fun with it, making up ideas. But when I got older, learned about the real villains, I keep thinking of some kind of monster. Gray Boy, Butcher, the Three Blasphemies, people who are really terrifying. I don't think he could be that bad, but not knowing, that's hard." You're suddenly very, very tired. "I think that's all I can do for the day. See you tomorrow." You get up and leave. You wouldn't take no for an answer.

    ___

    It's already your last day among mad people. The week feels like it's gone by far too fast. You're getting out in a few hours.

    [X] You turn your attentions to your computer. You've been avoiding the news all week, an easy filter on this computer, but you have to know how Brockton Bay is doing. Well, how Victoria is doing, really.

    [X] You get out the door. You've been avoiding the other patients, but you are really curious about a few things. Jasper's strange thinker powers or girlfriend, maybe meeting some of the people who are up during the day?

    [X] You eye a tree that Jasper had given you yesterday. Not the hamster tree. You could play around a bit, see what you can cook up with your powers.
    Well, it is your last day at the mental hospital. Even so, there's limits to how dangerous it should probably be.

    You stroke the tree's leaves cautiously, thinking, paying close attention to the cells of the tree.

    Slowly, carefully, the tree stretches over your arm into a piece of armor. You flex it, test it, harden it into something that looks far more like bone than bark. Your power delivers a small flood of information. You carefully take hold of the steel legs of your bed and bend it.

    Yep, you can bend steel with this. You ponder for a moment. Bending steel could come in handy. A full power suit wouldn't be a fraction as strong as Victoria could be, but it would be something to think about the next time you go to battle. Maybe it could even help Victoria if her force field goes down again.

    You swirl the glove with your powers, and an eye rises from the surface. Not functional without a brain, but an eye is good. You experiment a bit with the creature, giving it a small, functional brain and a whole set of senses, many of which you'd only read about in science textbooks. This might be a good answer to some Strangers.

    Ooh, you've got Brute and Stranger. You set up the rhyme in your head. You've got Master and Striker down, but the others?

    Mover, you don't have enough mass for real wings here, but it's definitely a possibility, and you make the former tree capable of flight. Shaker, you'd need a lot more biomass for something that interesting, but you can create spider like webbing glands already. Breaker, no, that's not possible. Master fit in just making a creature, though you might be able to fully hack Skitter's signals. You pause, splitting the creature in two. Yes, you can hold a small hive mind together that way.

    Tinker is a bit more depressing. Bio-tech or nano-tech could be done, but it's really too dangerous to experiment with it for all the reasons you told your therapist. It's not a Rule rule, but it is a common sense rule.

    Blaster? You can build a gun organ in one of the two creatures. With a bit more mass you could make something significantly better. The organ still has plenty of kick. You dissolve the organ after a moment's consideration, no need to keep a weapon around. Thinker, well, the senses are actually more Thinker than Stranger, more anti-stranger. Perhaps real Stranger abilities? Some coloration, some alterations to smell and silent movement, but nothing too serious is possible. Changer is similar, as biology really isn't meant for rapid alteration. Trump, once again runs into the issue of changing biology, but specific powers would have specific countermeasures.

    Hm, Tattletale. How would you beat her, if you thought again? The sleeping sickness is good. Maybe some kind of stupidity sickness? Shouldn't be too hard to hack the brain without doing permanent damage, make something that slows down intelligence but doesn't actually do damage that wouldn't be naturally reversed when the organism is killed. You smile, suddenly wondering about the piece of the brain that works with powers. You could definitely create an organism that attacks the power part of the brain, though never your own or Victoria's.

    You smile at the idea of making Tattletale stupid. If you ever see her again she will be...

    You know Skitter's biology. Like the Vasil plague, you could make something to catch her wherever she is. If it's targeted just to Skitter it could be made so that other things could safely carry it, though it would have to self destruct outside of Skitter eventually, or just be out competed by more normal versions.

    You're going to beat Skitter. The idea fills you with an excitement you haven't felt all week. The bitch who held a knife to you in front of your sister is never going to hurt you again. It's not for your sake, it's for Victoria. Skitter made your sister cry that night. You don't have any hope that Victoria's going to pick you up later. You can do this for her, for hurting your sister with bugs and threatening to hurt Victoria through you.

    Your decision is final. You will inform the PRT about it, but what are they going to do? If she's an active villainn committing crimes there's not going to be much of an objection.

    You fire off an email about your plan to the new PRT Director, Thomas Calvert, to give yourself something to do. Your new "friend" the former tree curls up in your backpack, ready to go.

    You fill out what's going to happen to her, in case anyone shows up at the hospital with a very specific set of symptoms. You'll get her off the street, and the heroes will be able to focus better on the real lunatics like Bakuda. You hope they've caught her by now.

    You're so glad you came here. Without a break, without getting some peace of mind, if your sister hadn't trusted you, how could you ever have thought up something so good? Pieces of blood or hair from crime scenes, and you might be able to start on far more substantial villains.

    You head out to Youtube on a whim, and start up a song by your favorite band.

    It's not snow, It's rain coming down
    And the lights are cool,
    But they burn out
    And I can't pull off the cheer
    Not this year

    Interlude

    [X] Armsmaster
    [X] Oni Lee
    [X] Aegis
    You can't help but smile at the very angry email that Director Calvert just sent you. New Wave is not your problem. Personally you can't help but think that the little Amy is just growing up. You've always vaguely approved of the girl.

    This is a good sign. Amy's being more proactive and looking at the broader world. This suggests your own operation could succeed.

    However, there is the problem that Skitter may still think she is undercover. It might be better to inform Amy of this before she actually releases whatever it is she cooked up. Certainly Skitter needs to be off the streets, but it would be nice to do it in a way that would make her more likely to join the Wards than to curse the heroes forever. You speed type an email to the long Ms. Dallon explaining the relevant facts. With your voice recognition software you make a call to one of the Wards.

    "Did you receive the cat?" You keep it simple. You have absolutely no idea how teenage girls talk.

    "She's adorable!" A fifteen year old girl's enthusiastic voice informs you. It takes you a minute to realize she's saying yes.

    "Good. I felt a foster cat would be nice for your stay." Your small knowledge of lesbians and teenage girls had zeroed in on the idea that both subsets of the female population enjoy cats. Someone from New York, where cats are rarely allowed in apartments, had a good chance of appreciating taking care of a cat until a proper home was found. Personally you have very little approval of pets. You find pets inefficient.

    Lily begins to babble on about something called Scruffles that you eventually determine is her foster cat. You let her talk as you finish the email to Panacea. You wait patiently for her to give you an opening.

    "I have a job for you." You say while she pauses for breath. "Panacea is being released from the Asylum today. She is being returned home at 4:30 this afternoon by a teleporter. She is going to be teleported into the hospital to begin work on the surviving Bakuda victims and the backlog of patients. You are to be her body guard in case Bakuda or another villain chooses to attack. You should receive directions on your pager. " You wait for any questions or objections.

    "Is she dangerous? Why was she in the Asylum?"

    "Her powers are extremely dangerous. She was in the Asylum for observation after several extremely stressful days because her powers are more dangerous. I believe she has made a full and productive recovery. Director Calvert disagrees, but he lacks authority on the matter."

    "Why?" Lily's voice is frightened for some reason. You look up a small voice analysis program you made, and it informs you she's most likely only asking about the last statement.

    "She is a member of New Wave, not the Wards or Protectorate. The PRT has authority over villains and sanctioned heroes. Amy is not doing anything illegal. Releasing a kind of organism to defeat Skitter is not in and of itself illegal. It would be grounds for a civil action, but laws allowing parahuman vigilante activity give her sufficient protections until someone else is hurt. Law suits would take time and likely be thrown out of court if there are no clear damages. If her disease begins to..." You pause, and realize you hadn't actually explained to her about what Amy had done. "She's releasing a kind of micro-organism to capture the villain known as Skitter. I forgot to mention that. This is why Director Calvert believes she is still crazy. He does not trust Amy. I do. I have seen her work. If she thinks she can do it safely I believe her. She has been consistently cautious and conservative before."

    Lily is silent for a moment. "What is she doing to Skitter?"

    "The email is poorly written, but it indicates a kind of debilitating illness will work its way through her system for 48 hours, giving increasingly obvious signs of trouble such as chest pains in the left side of the chest, terrible bowel troubles, constant tingling along the back, and eventually impaired vision. After the 48 hours are over she will begin to give her an increasingly long sleep cycle, with each day leading to her sleeping for two hours longer than the previous day, eventually leading to her only being capable of wakefulness for 30 minutes a day. I find the force appropriate and well reasoned. She will most likely check into a hospital very early on, and if she avoids hospitals she will become less and less of a threat and incapable of supporting her allies. I actually couldn't have done it better myself."

    "Why does she need a bodyguard? Seriously, she sounds very dangerous, and who would go after the healer?"

    "Under normal circumstances Panacea has never needed a bodyguard before. Bakuda is however well suited for launching an attack she would be unable to defend herself against. I feel that your powers make you an irreplaceable useful body guard. Combined you should have an incredible amount of control for the use of force involved and be capable of delivering sufficient force to defend the hospital if Bakuda chooses it as her next target." Lily pauses, seeming to be in a bit of shock. You will need to put some thought into that reaction. You had assumed she would be impressed and hopefully attracted to such power. Instead she seems frightened. Why? She worked under Legend and the PRT files reported she had gotten along quite well with him despite his power. What is the difference here?

    "I'll get going." Lily says. That is a good sign.

    You call Dean.

    "Hey." Dean sounds stressed. This seems appropriate. You hear shouting in the background. A program rapidly confirms it is Carol Dallon and Victoria Dallon doing the shouting.

    "Is it a bad time?" You ask.

    "Carol's freaking out because Victoria went to Church with me instead of her yesterday for Easter Sunday." You try to parse this and fail. Shouldn't this specific part of moving out be included in the general case of moving out?

    "I am sorry to hear that. I assume you are not available to make introductions for Flechette and Panacea this afternoon?" This is a snag in your plan. it had all seemed so sensible on paper.

    "I'll try, but probably not. Victoria doesn't want me to be around Amy until she's ready, and this doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon. Lily's a smart girl, she can introduce herself." You can tell that Dean needed to dodge something on the other end of the line.

    "Are you under attack?"

    "No, Victoria's better at dodging pots than Carol is at throwing them." Dean answers. This sounds serious to you, but if he doesn't ask for help he's probably got the situation under control. "Um, if you see Amy tell her we all love her."

    "I will. Goodbye." You turn off the phone. This certainly was turning out to be an eventful day. Now if you need to get back to hunting down Bakuda.

    ___

    It's not your usual teleporter, it's a total creep who takes the chance to grab your ass. Still, it's better than a plane flight from Virginia.

    You sigh in something only a bit less than misery when you see the hospital. It's worse than when you left it, a lot worse. You roll up your sleeves.

    There's a new cape, a Japanese girl by the bits of face you can see, especially the hair. Definitely a Ward unless she's really unusual.

    "Hi. I'm Flechette. I'll be your bodyguard for now. I'm changing shifts with Aegis in six hours." You consider her carefully.

    "I'm Amy." You stride forward and put a hand on the closest person as the workers scramble to set up the usual assembly line.

    [X] "So, what's your story?"

    [X]"How has the city been since I was gone?"

    [X] "You're new, right? How do you like the Wards here?"
     
    ~[]~, Dacraun, ciontach and 5 others like this.
  5. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Out of The Blue


    And why do I need a bodyguard?" You start healing the person in front of you. You briefly consider making him a carrier for an anti-Skitter disease, but that strikes you as some kind of violation of ethics. It might be a good idea to check your email before you actually do it to make sure Director Calvert isn't issuing some kind of apocalyptic threat about the thing.

    "Armsmaster told me it was a good idea. He thinks that together we'd be a good team if Bakuda tries to attack the hospital." She seems really shy. She's not the first person to be that way around you. You wait patiently for her to answer the first part of the question. She doesn't seem to be getting ready for it.

    "The city? The last week? What's it been like?" Maybe you could have looked it up, but really, checking up on the news while being held for observation out of mental issues seemed like a bad combination.

    "It's been, um, bombed. A lot. Bakuda's been killing people. We can't capture her soldiers because she'll just kill them, so we've been trying to capture her. We have Oni Lee, their other parahuman, in custody. Apparently the villains are trying to call some kind of truce, the ones who aren't ABB. There's some big alliance to take them down. Aegis is suspicious of it, and so is Armsmaster. They think the villains are just using the opprotunity to take advantage of us."

    "I agree." Your heart sinks just a bit. That sounds like a great excuse for Calvert if he is really freaking out. Violating a Truce truce is a big enough deal he might be able to rules lawyer you into stopping. "I mean, you've probably heard about the kind of villains we have here. I don't trust any of them to keep to a truce unless Behemoth shows up." You frown.

    "Are you really planning on releasing a targeted disease?" Flechette asks.

    "Sure. She's only walking around because her friends literally forced me to do it at gunpoint the day after they attacked me and my sister. It's what I can do." The way she says it makes it sound like it there's no concern about big name truce violation.

    "That seems a bit, well, terrifying." You can't help but smile at that.

    "Yes, yes it is. She terrified a whole bank full of people, beat me up, and hurt my sister, badly. I think it's good if people are scared that I'll stop them if I do that. Maybe Kaiser's thugs will be a bit less eager to beat up some black girl to prove how tough they are next time." Flechette frowns.

    "What about escalation?" You consider it for a moment.

    "I'm New Wave. We think the system's insufficient. I may not go out and hunt down criminals, but I believe it too. I can tell you my sister's name because I'm New Wave. They weren't supposed to be celebrity superheroes, they were supposed to be starting something new. We're already losing ground and lives against villains. My aunt was one. I can't just sit back and let people like you and Victoria do all the work if I can start helping." You need worthy opponents. Why is it that even when you're moving against Tattletale you can't let what she said go?

    "Victoria." Flechette nods. "She's been hanging around the Wards since I arrived. She says she's thinking of joining." That is a shock. You need a moment before you can pay attention to patient number three again. Is it three or five? You haven't really been counting.

    "Does, does she say why?" You can't help your voice being small, quiet when you ask. Is she leaving your family because of what you did?"

    "She says she needs a break. She's been tagging along with us on the bombings. She's impressive." There is a hint of respect in her voice, or something like respect you puzzle over as you work on the ninth patient. So far it's all been easy, people who largely got caught in the bombings and just need to be patched up. You'd long ago settled on a rhythm where you get easier cases first and then start on more complicated problems. It helps clear your head and get in the right frame of mind to handle stuff like cancer or leukemia. ICU patients, ones who need you right this minute, can arrive at anytime.

    "Um, anything else been happening in the city, besides the bombings and villains teaming up to fight ABB?"

    "Well, there's curfews now given how Bakuda's bombers are being used. They've called in the national guard and I'm one of six capes called in to help matters. the Protectorate almost caught Bakuda twice, but both times she managed to get away. Lung's still in custody. We actually think we're winning. We're one lucky break from capturing her."

    "That's good. Your mind starts to drift as a more serious complication comes in, a patient with severe heart disease. You ponder her digestive system. Nerves in her stomach are deadened, don't trigger properly when she's full. This is actually an interesting technical problem.

    ___

    "...I don't think I'd ever seen Vista and Shadow Stalker agree on anything before. So we all relented. Kid Win actually threw up at one point, and Shadow Stalker nearly passed out from laughing. I thought Gallant might faint. I don't think we're ever going to have another Not Rated independent film for a Ward's movie night again." You shake your head. You can't believe Victoria actually suggested Excision. It was one of your favorite movies, but you have trouble imagining watching it with Chris and Missy.

    It's been twelve hours. Aegis looks exhausted from trying to keep up conversation for the last six. He's been a welcome distraction, for the most part.

    "Last one for the day." A nurse tells you. A small child, ugly little thing, is brought in. You place your hand on him. AIDS, somehow. Not exactly the hardest thing in the world, but always annoying. Takes a few minutes.

    Victoria did suggest a movie with a surprising number of exposed breasts. You'll take that as a good sign.

    You slump back, exhausted, and check your email. Armsmaster's is the most surprising, though Director Calvert sent you fourteen appeals, pointless threats, and a few intriguing bribes not to pick a fight with the Undersiders right now.

    You look them over, considering the situation. According to Armsmaster Skitter absolutely needs to be arrested beyond a doubt, but she thinks she's undercover, or claims to think it. He asks that whatever you do you do it in a way likely to get her to join the Wards. Director Calvert's objections are confused and more than a bit incoherent, changing from email to email.

    You narrow the possibilities down to the most attractive option.

    [X] Release the plague as intended. Chest pains, tingling along the back, terrible bowel troubles, and slowly impared vision before a messed up sleep cycle. You also start releasing your jammer bugs near your house and hospital in case she decides to attack.

    [X] It would be better to talk with Armsmaster about a sting operation. It would be nice to have somewhat more official backup given how Director Calvert is acting. You're not a member of the Protectorate or Wards, but he might be able to give you some good advice.

    [X] You decide to meet with Director Calvert and talk to him about why he's so worried. The whole thing doesn't sit right with you. A PRT Director should be acting more professionally. There might be something he can't say officially.

    [X] Write in note: Any write ins should avoid mixing these ideas as much as possible. This vote is about what Amy does immediately. Votes such as "go to Armsmaster, than Calvert, than release the plague if nothing is wrong" are invalid.
    You turn to Aegis, Carlos.

    "Thank you. I could really tell you were trying." You pause. "Cranial said she would contact you about Ch-." You stop yourself. "Kid Win's ADD and whatever else he has. How, how is that?" Carlos looks like he's frowning inside his mask from his posture. It's something you have a bit of experience with.

    "Kid Win is scared, but hopeful. He's going to visit her once the Bakuda situation is over. Cranial's got a decent reputation, but not a perfect one. I approve of it, and Director Calvert was willing to sign off on it. This really could change his life. I am really proud that you arranged that." You get embarrassed.

    "Cranial offered it. I didn't ask about it. I was kind of surprised I didn't get a pony." Carlos laughs. "Maybe she was just buttering me up, but she really seemed like the nicest person. I like Cranial. Thank her if you see her." You look at Carlos, well, more at Aegis, and think.

    "I've been experimenting more lately. I've had some time to think lately. I want to be doing more with my powers. I feel I can do more with my powers. I think you're the perfect person to test them on. Your biology is some of the strangest that's not Case 53. I would feel safer trying things with you. Do you want that? I've been experimenting with biological armor, bio-tech. I feel if it goes crazy and punctures your heart it's less likely to kill you than anyone else."

    You feel it's Aegis the superhero who is standing very still in front of you, not Carlos the teenager.

    "I would be willing to test pilot the thing. Talk to an adult, someone experienced with testing protocols, a Tinker. Armsmaster would probably be best. He'd tell you who to talk to for this. If you could outfit us with better resources I would be all for it." Once again it's in the tilt of the head and shoulders that the expression comes through. Carlos is smiling at you.

    "If there's anything you need, let us know. I really do appreciate this, especially on a school night." Carlos groans.

    "It's four goddamned AM on Tuesday. My body will adjust, but not for a while." You laugh a bit.

    "Welcome to my world. I hope you get to leave soon." This just reinforces that you should go to Armsmaster. It's time to call a cab.

    ___

    You look out the window to see the ocean. The Protectorate's HQ really does give a good view. It strikes you as interesting that their leader prefers the sea to the city for his office window.

    Armsmaster is finishing something you can't make heads or tails of. It looks mechanical in the hologram screen. You sit there patiently, glad to have a moment's peace and quiet.

    After about ten minutes Armsmaster finishes and turns to you.

    "So, you say you want to release a targeted bioweapon on Skitter." He gives you a smile that you can see under his half mask. "Well, are you sure you want to attack an 'undercover hero' who was surely just trying to minimize casualties when she scared an entire bank full of people with spiders." Maybe it's because you're so tired, but it strikes you as really funny. Armsmaster joins in on the laugh.

    "When you told her not to do it she shouldn't have done it. She's not a hero after that. She'd need a very good reason. I'm fine with healing her, and I wouldn't be mad if she joins the Wards as part of her probation. I really don't like her, but I don't hate her. If she keeps doing things like that sooner or later she'll get someone killed. She needs adult supervision." You pause. "I need adult supervision. That's part of the reason I came to you." Armsmaster looks, well, smug is the best way to describe it. Flattery has its purpose.

    "I want you to know that I support you against Calvert. I don't get him. He's cited everything from breaking the truce to public panic to terror over the organism mutating out of control. I don't understand it. I'm actually asking for Dragon's help on the emails. I'll admit to you, I don't really understand people very well. It's one of my weaknesses. Maybe I am missing something terribly important. However, as far as I can tell he seems to be avoiding his real reason for not wanting you to do this. I have a theory. I think he doesn't want to be upstaged by someone outside of his control." You nod. This seems reasonable to you.

    "Can you give me any advice about this? If you had my powers how would you do this?" Armsmaster kicks back, clearly enjoying this.

    You mentioned your jamming bugs. Those are good. Carry a few of those at all times, and release them near your house and hospital. Can you make the jammer out of something that's not a bug?" You start to smile.

    "Yes sir, I can. I was experimenting with the signals yesterday. I worked with them in a tree. I could do it to every tree on the block, every tree I pass by. I could walk around the city and put them inside a whole bunch of trees." Armsmaster looks impressed.

    "Very, very good. Now, think about what happens when she finds a way around it. She can be sneaky. What's the next step?" You think about it for a moment.

    "Something to wipe out bugs. Wiping out all bugs in a nearby area. Anything too nasty could screw up local ecology, but I could produce something with a limited life cycle at all times around me. That would reduce her ability to hurt me pretty severely." Armsmaster is looking at you with pride.

    "Now, think about what comes after that. She's out of bugs. What does she do next?" You consider the idea.

    "She will be armed conventionally. She had a knife before. She could have a gun. She'll need my alive to reverse it, so she can't snipe me. Something to wear. I've been thinking about biological armor. Maybe something like spider silk? I can make a hood to protect my head, living, something to snap around my head and gloves when she attacks." Armsmaster is actually writing down notes now.

    "Alright. My only criticism is air supply. Maybe a large group of bugs to cut it off? They'll be dying quickly, but maybe she finds a way around that. Can you make something to counter that?" You think.

    "Yes, I think I can. Store extra oxygen in the suit, make it capable of recycling and breathing." You nod.

    "I think this is a great start. Keep thinking about her. How would you take you down with Skitter's powers? Think cornered and desperate. You're picking this battle, she's forced into it. Now, let's talk the others. Grue, Hellhound, Regent, Tattletale." He raises their profiles on his hologram screen.

    "Bitch is dead. I mean, Hellhound is dead." Armsmaster gives you a look that's almost pity.

    "Tattletale told you that. Make countermeasures. I'm thinking some kind of chemical agent. Against those dogs I wouldn't rely on anything physical, but they still have canine smell. Build something to attack through that. They need chemical receptors. Work on that, think about other counters. I suggest something to disrupt Hellhound's control. Noise makers, goo to hit the eyes. She appears to need to direct them like normal dogs. Attack how she controls them."

    "That could be faked." You suggest. "She might be holding in superior control as a reserve tactic." Armsmaster frowns.

    "Unlikely, but interesting. In that case, take out Hellhound. Arrange something with range. That sleeping plague, perhaps put darts to carry it in your costume and a delivery mechanism?" You actually squeal at that idea. You're thinking of something a bit like a slingshot to keep in reserve.

    "Grue, his sensory deprivation." You think for a moment. "Maybe smell? Build something to give me instructions based on smell and tendrils to touch the nearby area." Armsmaster nods cautiously.

    "He's one I don't know what to do about myself. Flooding the area with the sleep inducer strikes me as your best bet." He turns the screen to Regent. "Now, let's assume worst case again. Let's say he can disrupt your power. No reason to think that, but let's say he could. His twitches could keep you from activating your powers. What is your best counter?" You are almost squirming in your seat. This is fun. This is attention from someone who wants to be working with you. This is the best anyone's asked of you in a year and a half, after you had solved every disease.

    "Hm, something automatic? Build things into my suit to respond to other commands, as many different kinds of commands as possible for me to keep straight. Don't rely on any single move. Redundancy." Armsmaster looks appreciative.

    "You were born to be a Tinker." He laughs out loud. "Now, I saved her for last, Tattletale. Mind reader. How would she come after you."

    You stare at the fox faced girl and think.

    "She'd attack socially. She knows secrets. She'd threaten to reveal them. I guess live with her revealing them? Take steps to minimize them?" That is hard.

    "Think worse. If you're unassailable she'll go after things you care about. What if she kidnaps Victoria or Dean?" You choke.

    "I, um, do you think that's likely?"

    "She already went after you directly. She marched up to you and pointed a gun at your head. I wouldn't underestimate her. Now, I have been told you two need some time to work things out. If you want I can have them stay in Ward apartments until the Undersiders are captured. I'm encouraging that anyway, given Bakuda's bombings. Dean can go on a sudden vacation, officially. I'm not positive they will agree, but I can offer that."

    "Thank you." You stammer. It's time to think. How could you get Tattletale not to escalate?

    "I can threaten to release something to kill Skitter, or hurt her worse. Make her suffer. Make her suffer right there. I'd be up all night worrying about them, but Tattletale would be right next to Skitter, seeing her suffer. She'd break first." You put in as much regret as you can, but secretly the chance to hurt them is good. Only if they're hurting you as badly as that, of course. Armsmaster actually looks shocked.

    "I think that's enough for now." He says. He almost gets up, but then he remembers something else. "Could you do the same for Bakuda? Release a disease to kill or incapacitate her? Either one would be acceptable."

    "No." You answer. Then you reconsider. "Not with the same confidence. I know Skitter's body. People have a lot of different kinds of DNA inside them. Chimeras, cancer, and non-genetic factors. Even if I had a sample of her blood I couldn't hit her with something like I could hit Skitter. I could maybe do something with a 99% confidence. That sounds really good, but it's not. Bakuda's not the only lunatic I'll ever want to use it on. If I release something every time the odds go bad fast." Armsmaster looks disappointed. No, he's not just disappointed, he's relieved for some reason.

    "Is there anything similar you could do?" The question is hard for him to ask. Why? You think hard about possibilities.

    "Yes. Something with 99% confidence can't be released into the city. What I could do is give it a limited life cycle. You could put it on costumes, in foam, in weapons. Bring me a plant or something and I could work with it. Flechette said you almost caught her twice, close calls. I could make a sleep agent, put in some paralysis in the fingers and toes to stop her from activating bombs, and key it to her DNA if you have any." Armsmaster is pulling up a file. He has some of her blood from a blood drive several years ago. "Next close call won't be a close call." Armsmaster is smiling again.

    "I think this will work perfectly, Amy. I couldn't have asked for better help."

    ___

    An hour later you're done. The small pieces of slime or strange, harsh breathing have been created and equipped for the Wards, PRT, and Protectorate. You feel obscenely proud. You also desperately need to sleep.

    Armsmaster looks down at a screen on his wrist and then looks back up.

    "You must be tired. I know you don't want to go to your parents house. I could let you stay at my house for a while." The offer is strange, and mildly inappropriate.

    [X] So you call Dean. Ask him for some money for a hotel room. Sure, it's 6 AM, but so what? He's fucking your sister.

    [X] "Sure." Why not? He doesn't strike you as a perve, and he's probably just trying to be nice.

    [X] "I need to head home." You need to talk to Mark, and probably Carol. You'll feel much better with Flowers in the Attic near your pillow.
    Armsmaster has a really cool car. Going through a couple of convoluted routes to disguise his secret identity is a bit of a hassle, but seriously his car is the coolest. It is the best smelling car you've ever been in, and the electronics offer more entertainment options than your entire room back home. After a nod of permission you start playing with what might have once started as a radio, in the same way that a machine gun was once in the distant past a pointy stick.

    When somethings pure
    How can people just say
    We're not meant to be
    And when somethings true
    How can people just
    Keep me away from you

    Armsmaster laughs. "Please tell me this song isn't you hitting on me." The laugh strikes you as slightly forced, and playing with the controls for a moment you put "You're So Vain" to come up after Aly and AJ's love song.

    "I'm not into older guys." You assure him. You think for a moment. "Or guys at all, really."

    "Hm." You can tell that Armsmaster is faking surprise, which is more than a bit freaky. "Nothing wrong with that. I am not exactly, well, there's no appropriate way to say this humorously, but I haven't had a romantic relationship." You're actually surprised. Secret identities usually hide these kinds of things.

    "Wow. Um, I'm sorry?"

    "Don't be. I love my work, and I just haven't found the right girl yet. Women, I mean. What about you? Any prospects, or is it just not appealing?" You think about your answer.

    "For the right girl, I think I'd be happy. I like the idea of a wife, kids, white picket fence and two cars in the driveway. But the only person I want it with isn't interested. At all. She's, um, she tried, but she doesn't like me that way." You feel like crying again. The rush of the evening is going down.

    "Do you want my advice, or would you find it inappropriate?" Armsmaster sounds very serious.

    "I may not take it, but I'll listen to what you have to say."

    "Try out some relationships. Take a few risks. Don't keep going after one girl. I happen to know that some people can be quite heavily closeted, so if it's ambiguous, take a shot. You're growing, becoming independent. Experimentation is part of that. See who you are with someone new. You might like who you are."

    "Where did you get that speech from?" You ask. Armsmaster gives a much more sincere laugh.

    "Dragon." He admits. "We talk about our work, and she always seems like someone I can ask about social things." You smile. Someone else might have a crush.

    "I will take this into account. You put your hand out the window, releasing the bug killer. You want to think a bit before you finally release the Skitter seeker, but you can start protecting yourself now.

    "They'll want you at the hospital at 3 in the afternoon. They're hoping to slowly normalize your sleep schedule at an hour a day." Armsmaster tells you. "Flechette will take the first shift again, and Vista volunteered for the second." You nod, a bit bored with talk of the hospital.

    "Now, I want you to think about what you want to do with your living arrangements. I don't mind if you want to stay with me for a while, but I don't need a roommate. Personally, I'll make you an offer. Flechette, the new Ward, has been living in the Ward apartments since she arrived. They're just not meant for long term residence. What I want to do is to set her up in an apartment while she stays, as Flechette. The PRT can do this kind of thing. We've already moved Tecton and Wanton, two of the other Wards who are helping with Bakuda, into an apartment. I feel you're too young to be living by yourself, and Flechette is around 18 months younger than you. I would feel more comfortable about it if you moved in with her, if you're not going to be staying with your parents for a while. I trust you. I think she'd be more comfortable living with an older girl who still hasn't had her 18th birthday. You would be a peer for her, like a big sister. You don't have to decide yet, but I put some thought into this after I heard Victoria had moved out." You don't really feel much enthusiasm about the idea, but it sounds better than moping around by yourself.

    "Just send the moving van to Carol's." Armsmaster's expression in the rear view mirror is bizarrely self satisfied.

    ___

    Ever the gentlemen, Armsmaster had given you the bed while he slept in a pull out couch in the living room. You marvel a bit at just how cool Armsmaster's bedroom is. There's something you never knew you wanted, a strange robotic arm firmly carrying a desktop computer and keyboard to adjust over the bed, a wall devoted to a massive screen, and hologram projectors ringing the room and pointing at the bed. You're not even that much of a geek but it's just so fun that you marvel at it.

    You sleep the best you have in more than a week in Armsmaster's bed, with an audiobook of Flowers in the Attic helping you drift off to sleep. You didn't need to buy one, Armsmaster is a fan, too, and had a copy in his computer.

    When you wake up around 1 PM Armsmaster is sitting cross legged on his couch, with another set of holograms and screens prepared.

    "I'm glad you're up. Bakuda hasn't struck yet today. If you don't mind, I have a few questions on your new anti-Bakuda agents."

    "Sure, if you don't mind a bit more talk on taking down the Undersiders."

    "I do not."

    You chat on tactics for the next 45 minutes, narrowing it down to a few choices.

    [X] Release the plague against Skitter. Armor up and prepare for counter attack as suggested. Tinker with the torture plague to unleash if Tattletale really does go all out and attacks your loved ones.

    [X] Wait until after the Bakuda situation is resolved, and strike with Protectorate and Ward backing. Skitter might kill someone in that time, and if you keep delaying there might never be a good time, but attacking while Bakuda is still loose could be a problem. However, if you delay their psychic could pick up on your plans and attack with Skitter still fully active.

    [X] Write in. Take out the Undersiders without a plague. What do you think would be best?
    Armsmaster looks tired after you end the discussion.

    "I wish we could hit them hard and fast before they get the chance to do something worse. Maybe Skitter will reign them in, but we're stretched too thin with Bakuda. Thank you for your help with her." He glances down at a light that doesn't strike you as particularly different from the other lights around him. "I have to go. We're hoping that we've found a way to jam her controls for the homicide bombs she's planted on people." He takes something he's been working on while you were talking, a mess of antennas and exploded wires.

    "Good luck." You tell him as he walks out the door. Armsmaster doesn't respond.

    You have an hour until hospital time. Fuck. You're already lonely now that Armsmaster's out. The Victoria shaped hole in your heart is back open.

    You begin to pace. You feel useless again. You aren't doing anything that they couldn't have done without you. Armsmaster was so proud of the plague and all the other ideas. You calmly shape a set of plants he'd ordered over night into the prototype for the Undersider defenses you had talked about earlier.

    Then you hear an explosion outside. Ducking through a small tunnel and emerging out of an alley (the whole system for secret identities is so stupid) you find yourself on a street. A bunch of clearly terrified kids, Asians, are pointing guns everywhere. One of them, a massively fat man, has some kind of Tinker created gun, if gun is the term, that looks like it has powerful explosives in it.

    The battlefield is not one sided. You see Flechette is here, moving quickly, darting from positions of cover. Nearby a man made of metal has his hands raised, surrounded by Bakuda's victims. Strangest, perhaps most worrying, is the girl standing back to back with the metal man. Red and black costumed, it is Rune of Empire 88, levitating a car in between her and the ABB victims.

    You run over the situation in your mind. Bakuda victims, with the bombs implanted in their heads, are sent out to cause a big distraction, kill people, tie up Brockton Bay loyal forces. If they surrender, or are captured, they'll be killed. They'll probably be killed if they don't do enough damage, too. The heroes need to delay to save them. Some of the kids in ABB colors look middle school aged.

    The massively fat man, a look of terror on his face, advances towards the man made of metal. The metal man charges forward, and the fat man fires the strange gun. A huge portion of the metal man's torso begins to dissolve into sand.

    Flechette fires off a bolt, and the fat man's gun is disabled. The man screams in terror.

    [X] You jump out forward, charging towards the man. You might be able to save him before or after Bakuda's bomb triggers. Or his bomb might kill you as well.

    [X] There's nothing you can do for the victims. They're going to start killing heroes, kid heroes, if you don't end this. You start releasing the sleep organism, limited life cycle, to end this battle.

    [X] You can't be tied up in this fight. The hospital will be waiting for you. If Bakuda is launching attacks like this here she's probably doing it elsewhere. You're not an EMT, and taking you out of commission for a day could kill as many people as all the victims Bakuda's forcing to fight here.
    You pause for just a moment.

    People are going to die, and it might be your fault. Children are going to die. It's Bakuda's fault for making you choose between letting her slaves kill people and killing her slaves, but you still hold some responsibility. What if you act, killing them right before Armsmaster's solution goes off?

    You hear a gunshot, and Flechette is wounded. The terribly obese man, well, his head doesn't explode. Instead, he appears to pass out.

    Fuck! You recognize the symptoms from the hospital earlier. Not a death bomb, a pain bomb. Perfect 10 on the pain scale. Within a few minutes the person dies of a stroke. The signals go out in a radius, effecting anyone who gets close.

    The flood of microorganisms, not true bacteria or viruses, is helped along by your new suit. You have a lot more material than before. It enters the air, with the counter agent in your own blood being the only thing keeping you awake. Kids start dropping, and the obese man goes still, though he's probably still suffering in his dreams.

    You frown, considering the obese man. You send out a small rat like thing you make out of your former glove, controlling it through the signals you learned from Skitter's bugs. Hm, interesting. Bakuda's bomb works on the same principles. You wonder if maybe the Vasils work the same way.

    So far the bombs aren't going off. You have to wonder why.

    You start experimenting with your earlier jammers and relays, trying to make some kind of interference to protect yourself from the pain bomb. Hm, you don't think you can manage it. The signals are directed rather than radio like, you'd need an entire suit full of bug brain material to deflect it, a while layer without any gaps, and then you couldn't use your powers on the man.

    [X] You have an idea. You pull the rat drone back, and make contact again, pushing in a new micro-organism. This will shut down the pain centers in the brain. It's breaking your rule, your biggest rule, but fuck. If you don't have to touch Victoria the whole thing's gone, isn't it?

    [X] You have a much more intriguing idea. You could shut down your own pain centers using a micro-organism. Long term, you couldn't keep it up. You've cured the people who were killing themselves because they naturally lack pain receptors.

    [X] Both ideas are too risky. You fling a dart carrying a ridiculously deadly toxin at the man. Better to put him out of his misery.

    But that's not the end of it.

    "They wanted you alive." The woman who steps out of thin air is wearing a gasmask and a full spandex suit with ABB colors. As you eye the woman you get a growing sense of dread. This is not a simple costume. There are little signs here and there, in how the gloves fit with the arms, the mask, different machines placed at weak points. She's preparing a biohazard suit from the materials she had available. Fucking Tinkers. You consider it might be a bluff, but no, she was almost certainly invisible, teleportation fits worse than a hologram projector.

    Seriously, bombs do not do her specialty justice. It has to be something more basic.

    "Hello, Bakuda."

    "Hello, Panacea." There's a gloat in her voice. "I was here for the Japanese girl. I'm a bit short on capes at the moment. Now, here is how it is going to go. You are going to come to me, and I am going to force a small tube up your nose. This tube is a bomb, capable of killing you in several ways. Then you will come with me. If you try to delay, I will start killing the kids, one every two seconds, until you're close enough for the surgery to begin." You hear an explosion.

    [X] You move towards her as quickly as possible. She wants you alive. You'll have time to prepare, think of ways out of this, develop a new plan.

    [X] You move forward as quickly as possible. The bomb on her heart means you can't kill her, but you can fling a dart with the sleep organism into her, especially at close range. It'd take a few seconds to work, of course. That's assuming it gets through her costume, which could be more durable than it looks, and she easily could kill everyone in the few seconds it takes to trigger the attack.

    [X] "Kill another one and I'll release something to kill everyone here, us included." They want you alive. You think in a second you could whip up something to eat through her biohazard suit, limited life cycle, and with enough kick to kill everyone on the street including you. You're not releasing it yet, but you can't let Bakuda have pull over you by hurting and killing the kids. You already wrote them off. If she kills another one, you'll release the street sweeper to kill everyone else.
    Immune to pain, you move forward to help the man. Simple now, really. You warp the flesh away from the bomb and pick it out, blind to the agony it should inflict, is inflicting. It's just as easy to mold the flesh back in place.

    You consider what to do with the vile, evil thing. Attempting to stomp on it fails, and if the thing could be destroyed by water it wouldn't have thrived in the man's blood. You move away onto the empty street, and wonder about the range. You'd rather use a shotgun or something. You decide to throw it up on top of a house, hitting the roof with a satisfying clunk and staying there. You think it will be out of reach of people there.

    You feel another pang of loneliness. It was Mark who taught you and Victoria how to catch a ball. A bit of a cliche, but Mark always tried to be a bit of a cliched dad when he could put in the effort.

    Flechette catches your eye. She is cute when she's sleeping. You are happy you're gay, in that moment. You're glad you can appreciate this woman. For a shining moment you're glad about who and what you are.

    Then, of course...

    Another bomb goes off before you're there. "Be quicker, darling." She laughs. You notice she doesn't have the creepy voice changer anymore. Why is that?

    The dart hits her in the throat. She reels back, turning, and detonates something. You're blind and deaf for a moment, and then she's back and someone else is dead.

    "You have spunk." She sounds pretty happy all things considered. The dart is gone. Has she been affected, or did her armor defend her? You can't tell. "So, the Nazi, or the Case 53?"

    "What?"

    "Which one do I kill for your move, girl. You're in surgery range. I want the Asian, but those two I can kill. Since you have spunk, I'm giving you the choice. Piss off the most powerful villains in the city, or..." There's something off about your voice. "So that's what it does. Clever. Well, all of them." She throws something at the Wards. She's got enough firepower that her aim being really off probably doesn't matter. The shrieking, sonic thing makes its way bizarrely slowly through the air. "Darn, the 87 instead of the 84..." You wonder why she's still awake. Could her tinker powers provide resistance, but not immunity? "I see why they want you..." She slumps down.

    "That was good." A strange, eely voice from right next to you says. You look up. The slow moving bomb has been replaced. Your mind scrambles for how this makes sense. Who could do this? You can't see anyone next to you. "Releasing the counter to the sleeping virus, now! We need those three up and running before her new friends get here."

    [X] It's a trap. She said she was recruiting, and working for someone. They're trying to trick you into giving them the counter plague, whoever they are. You order your anti-Grue defenses to start operating. They should be good against this Stranger.

    [X] "Who are you?" You release the counter agent. They haven't attacked you yet, so they're probably on your side. It could be the extra heroes sent in to fight ABB. It's time for a leap of faith.

    "I'm not doing anything until I know who you are." This is a big risk. If they're enemies then they could hurt you. Friends, they're telling the truth and Bakuda's "new friends" will be here, but you need more information before you act.
    Perhaps if you had remembered the possibility that dangerous movers could be among Bakuda's allies you wouldn't have marched right towards the person they would reach first.

    A blur of blue hair and orange skin falls right on top of Bakuda, pulls back her goggles, and spits on her face before you reach her. You fling more darts at both of them. They penetrate, but the exhilerated shriek coming from Bakuda sounds awfully like he's a counter to your sleep organism.

    "That's more like it!!" Bakuda howls. A moment later explosions start going off as she kills more kids in a manner not unlike someone pumping her fists into the air. There's not many left, though she still has enough lives to threaten that she could keep the upper hand. The boy is still standing on top of her, and looks sick.

    "We need to go, now!" The eely voice sounds scared and desperate. A second later, the Case 53 is charging you, and just before he reaches you he's replaced with Flechette. You put a hand on her, fixing her shoulder as quickly as you can. It's a hack job, but you think she could use her bow. She's waking up now, looking scared and sleepy.

    "You know, I don't even want to kill you now." Bakuda's voice is impressed. "I think Heartbreaker will be much more fitting. Don't you, Newter?" Newter doesn't respond, he keeps being switched with the surviving hostages so he doesn't have time to reach you. Suddenly Bakuda fires something at thin air. There's a very weird distortion in the air, and then nothing. "Oh, now I'm sad I didn't get to see what that was." Bakuda pouts. You throw another dart, hoping Newter's effect has worn off. It doesn't seem to do anything, but there's always a delay. You start backing up, looking for a possible escape route. The kids are waking up, and several of them are surrounding you, blocking possible exits, dragging less aware ones with them, trying to stop Bakuda from killing them.

    Fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!

    "Oh, why didn't I realize it before?" Bakuda says. "Howdy, Trickster." She starts unleashing small rockets in random directions. "Good counter for bombs, aren't you?" Several rockets find their way back to her by the same power that was switching Newter, allowing Newter to get a lot closer to you. Newter is fast. This is risky, and the bombs aren't actually going off if they're near her. Some kind of fail safe?

    "Trickster! Here's the deal. In maybe three minutes there's going to be a midlife crisis sports car that shows up here. When you see it, it'll be too late. If you leave the girl, you won't have to worry. If he sees you, you'll wish you were dead."

    Suddenly you're teleported, disoriented. You're face to face with a man who you can't help but think is dressed like a pimp given his top hat and cane. He pushes you down. Flechette's nowhere to be seen.

    "Ma'am, she's working with Heartbreaker. If she's telling the truth we are fucked if we don't run right now.

    "Heartbreaker." You shudder. "Your teammate..."

    "She's fine. It wasn't her real body. Neat trick, invisibility. She's been trying to get it right for weeks." You hear more bombs going off.

    "Amy, if you run I'll kill your friends..." Bakuda's voice is singsong. "I promise I'll only kill the Nazi if you give yourself up."

    "We have to run. We can't win this fight!" Trickster sounds urgent, desperate. It makes sense under the circumstances.

    [X] Run. Trickster is your best bet.

    [X] Surrender. You can't let her kill more kids, especially the Wards. Well, she'll kill another kid best case, but Rune is a Nazi.

    [X] FIGHT! Write in, subject to reasonableness and discretion. Absolutely no promise that any plan would work or save anyone.
    You whisper to your new ally, "Trickster, swap places with Rune. Just for a second, long enough for me to touch her. Then swap out with me and put Rune near something heavy."

    "No." Wait, what? "We're going." I am not fighting Heartbreaker. I am not leaving you behind.

    "We don't have to win, just get everyone away. We can't leave them to those monsters!" Your voice is tinged with anger, desperation.

    "Yes. We. Can. Heartbreaker." Trickster growls. He looks at your face. "Fuck me with a live fish." He switches for a moment, Rune is there.

    "Fuck you ruined..." You touch her, and she's gone. You have a sinking feeling in your stomach.

    "Throw a car at her!" You shot over her objections. You deliver most of it back to Trickster, who looks pissed.

    "We go. Now!"

    As he says it you hear a thud. The thud sounds wrong. Victoria's sister knows how a thrown car should sound like. What is Rune doing? You hear Bakuda laughing, bad sign.

    "Then swap me out with Flechette." For the second phase of your plan you begin the edges of your gauntlet, producing razor-edged claws. You have a rule against killing, but there's always kneecaps.

    "Christ, she's not gonna kill you." He mutters, and for a second you're swapped with Flechette. You feel a powerful, orange hand wrapped around your head, too fast to do anything, sudden and horrible, and you're swapped back. "Can we please run now!"

    "Not until you group them together. Swap the girls in ABB near an exit!" He grunts and looks up, making a move. You hear another burst of profanity from Rune and a very loud thud. You get the impression she was about to throw the metal man at Bakuda, which seems like an amazingly good idea. You think, panicking, not sure what to do..."

    "Why not." The words carry more of a swear than any proper profanity, and suddenly Trickster is gone, replaced by Bakuda. She looks at you approvingly. You roll forward, slashing at her kneecaps, hoping it will give you a moment of surprise. She howls in pain as you penetrate something in her legs, but then she's gone again and you're facing Trickster. No, he switched you. You see out of the corner of your eye Rune flying on Flechette's back and oh fuck this why did this turn into a clusterfuck?

    Then you hear a gunshot and Trickster falls down, screaming. One of the ABB soldiers shot him. Somehow this gives you clarity. You understand sick people. You grab him, and blast out the Vasil plague, or something like it but a lot worse, covering the area, breeding, overpowering, or maybe it's the Skitter plague? You can't remember which is which anymore. Bakuda's back and throwing more of her rockets as you grab Trickster and start healing him. A piece of gore hits your ear. You don't want to know who it is. You sense it's a girl, Japanese, as the cells die.

    You have kind of stopped hearing the sounds of the fight, and then the metal man is flying, and he grabs you and Trickster and a pretty blond girl is riding his back. Then, suddenly, nothing makes sense.

    ___

    You wake up in a bed that's not your own. Not an uncommon occurrence in the last week and a half. There are no windows and one door.

    You're fine, you think. You look around. No one's changed your clothes, and you're pretty filthy from the earlier fight.

    You try the door. It's locked. Someone has kidnapped you. Probably. You're still wearing your suit. You think for a moment. Bakuda's smart and loves fear, she'd have stripped you. It's not Bakuda.

    You stretch out a piece of your suit and try to open it. It does work. Outside there are a pair of soldiers in familiar uniforms. They're familiar, but they're not US military. Where did you see them before?

    They do not look scared that they're guarding Panacea. Your jailers (?) look tough. One of them presses a button on his belt.

    "I take it I'm not allowed to go freely?"

    "No ma'am." You get a nasty vibe from him. "We're holding you until she gets here. She? No need to ask.

    "You're how I get out of here." The voice is young. A cape who doesn't age? Changer? Incredibly young, nasty trigger? Wait, no. You remember this voice. You look up at her. Dark brown hair. The voice is angry. You try to focus on the social cues. You've been trying since the Asylum. "They need her cured, I need them to get me home." You shudder. There's something off about the voice that wasn't there the last time you met Dinah Alcott.

    "Who did you get help from?" You're scared. Nothing is right about this.

    "The Travelers." She keeps walking towards you. "I saw how I escaped. Where I escaped, I guess. One day the probabilities jumped, so I took a peek. Now here we are." She has powers now. You doubt these soldiers would let her be standing here and talking like this if she was just crazy. "I asked two questions when you arrived. There's a 72% chance I go home now. There's a 32% chance you die, rounding the numbers."

    "WHAT!" You choke.

    "They're skipping town tonight so their boss doesn't kill them. They needed you. If you help them, they drop us off at the PRT. If you don't help them, they leave us here, and when Coil gets back there's a 64% chance you die. If you help them, there's a 38% chance you die."

    "What about..."

    "Don't ask me questions about the numbers."

    "What do I do?"

    "There's a monster here who used to be a woman. She went bad because of her powers. You're going to cure her."

    Your heart sinks. You can't cure power related problems. It's never worked before. Still, 34% chance of dying isn't too bad.

    [X] "I'll help." You sigh.

    [X] "No." It's insistent. You cannot cooperate with kidnapping. 36% chance of surviving doesn't sound too bad, does it?

    [X] "I am going to ask you about the numbers." Upsetting the girl might be a horrible, horrible idea. She might leave you locked in here, but didn't her statements imply there were better ways out of this? She gives you a look that despite everything you've been through still manages to scare you.
    "I need to get cleaned up, to talk to the Travelers about exactly what is going on with this monster of theirs, and to find out what happened since I passed out. What time is it?"

    "No." Dinah tells you.

    "What? I'm...

    "The longer you wait the more dangerous it gets. Odds are getting worse all the time. You're meeting Noelle now if you want us to go home." You shake your head. The little bitch reminds you Carol.

    "Alright, one question, and I'll do what you say." Dinah looks angry, but nods. "What are the chances I marry Victoria?"

    "21.17306883%" She answers, and a look of absolute disgust becomes fixed on her face. You stand there, stunned.

    This might be the happiest moment of your entire life.

    "You, ugh!" Dinah gasps. "What the Hell is wrong with you!" You can't help but smile as you start walking, and then remember you don't know where to go.

    "Lead the way, princess." Your head is clear, there's a spring in your step. God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world. You start humming a O Christmas Tree. Wait, no, same tune, different lyrics.

    Then, just to piss her off, you start to sing it.

    "O woe is me,
    O woe is me,
    I used to have a hamster tree,
    But it was eaten by a newt,
    And now I have no cuddly fruit,
    O woe is me,
    O woe is me,
    I used to have a hamster tree!”

    "You're a freak." Dinah tells you, and you can't help but take it as a compliment. You start cooking up as fast acting paralytic. Newter can counter the sleep agent, so other people probably can. It's a bit more risky, given how some powers work, but a backup is nice, as is a combo option. No reason you couldn't release both. It's a bit of a fun technical problem as the halls of the underground base pass you by. Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.

    Nothing hurts because you disabled your pain receptors earlier. You release a counter agent, but it will take a couple minutes in your brain.

    "What can you tell me about how the heroes I was with before this are doing?" You ask after you finish the song. You're still not to whatever room you're going to.

    "You were with heroes before this?" Dinah shrugs. "They didn't tell me that. Which heroes?"

    "A man of metal, Flechette, Rune." Dinah looks at you like you're a freak again.

    "Wait, Empire 88 are heroes to you?" She spits out. You walked right into that one.

    "Rune was fighting ABB..."

    "Ethnic gang on ethnic gang? You just said you're a dyke. They hate those." You briefly wonder how Dinah even knows that world. Then again, you probably knew it at her age.

    "No, I recognized one of the heroes, Flechette, from out of town. She was fighting with them. I don't know what Rune was doing there." You're starting to seriously wish you weren't working for this girl.

    Dinah ignores you as you make your way to a massive vault door. She presses some buttons (wait, she's a prisoner here, how does she know passwords?) and the vault creeks open. There's another vault door to get through now.

    "Try not to her her eat you." Dinah tells you as the second door opens. You smell horrible rotting meat now, and see, ohmygodwhatisthat!

    "Hello." A very tired human voice says from far too high above you. "Thanks for coming. I know it can't be easy. The small girl on top of the monster, is that Noelle, or is all of it Noelle?

    Suddenly a massive foot comes out, animalistic, a lion's foot, and stops inches from you. Dinah leaves.

    "Good luck." She tells you.

    [X] RUN!

    [X] "Not to be silly, but what is the problem? Besides the turning into a giant monster part. Anything I need to know before I begin, Noelle?"

    [X] Releasing a plague feels like a really good idea right now. The strongest plague you can possibly think of, as long as you're underground.
    You seriously consider the paralytic agent. And improve it. Patients have to be subdued all the time for doctors to save them. For everybody's safety. Yup.

    "Touch me and you're absorbed, and an evil clone pops out." She gives a harsh, humorless laugh. "I don't even get why they brought you here. I have read about you. You can't change powers, can't do brains, and need to touch me to work." She sounds distant. "Also I keep losing control. There's something else in here that's not me. It came with my powers." She sinks down to the floor.

    "What do you mean be absorbed?" You ask tentatively. "You mean, eaten?"

    "No, it's different from being eaten. I can even spit you out. You just relive your worst nightmares while I keep baking clones of you."

    "What about the evil clones? How are they evil?" This was such a bad idea.

    "Depends on the clone. We've never let any of them live that long, but they go psycho right away." You consider things. This is such a very, very, very bad idea.

    "Give me a moment to think." You sit down and focus on your suit material, thinking about it. "What if I do it with a gloved hand?"

    "Never tried it before." You sit there and draw out a plan, asking questions about her transformation, the clones, the powers.

    It's hours before you start the operation.

    ___

    You rest your hand on Noelle. You've spent 20 minutes working with bacteria and experimenting with her skin.

    It half works.

    Powering through, you can keep the agents on her skin from weakening you, depowering you, absorbing you, forcing down the flesh as it starts to rise. You quickly gain an idea of Noelle's body, something you absolutely need.

    Unfortunately, the body, the powers, even if it can't harm you, recognizes you. You get a weird flash to something, a garden of body parts. There's a meeting here, a consciousness.

    Your attention slips for just a second, and Noelle convulses.

    That is the first clone, Nostrum.

    You keep your focus, attacking the only possible weak point. Deep in the brain is a body part that grows when someone gets powers. It helps to control the powers. From everything you've heard, Noelle's problems stem deepest from a lack of control.

    You couldn't have made it if it weren't for the clone. Spat out, she rolls on the ground and gets up, a firm glare at Noelle. She's no you but all through the body things get easier, it stops fighting you quite as hard. Well no, the body's fighting just as hard, but you're not fighting alone. Something in the first clone is loyal to Noelle, or knows that Noelle agreed to stomp the clones and is fighting to survive.

    You reach into the brain. You'd made the choice, brains or death. If it was just you, it might be death. For a chance with Victoria, you're willing to take it. You make a sudden, violent change.

    The beast under the girl howls as it dies. The howl makes you fall to the ground, and the convulsions of Noelle hit you again.

    That's the second clone, or the second and third clones. Louis Marie and Madeline Laure. A horrible hunk falls to the ground, a disgusting Siamese twin with two heads and four arms and four legs. You would have been crushed if not for Nostrum keeping it up, forcing Noelle's dying body to still. You get up and press your hand into Noelle again.

    "Try it!" You shout as you finalize the change. Now her corona gamma is shaped, as near as you can make it, to Flechette's, another Striker, seemed like some reasonable control.

    She coughs up a hunk of dead meat.

    You can keep going. Her monstrous body is nearly dead, now. You do your next try, and shape it like Victoria's. "Again!"

    The perfect man hits the ground. He looks strangely like Victoria to you. Perfect human features. Amazingly handsome. He gives you a winning smile.

    "We're done." Nostrum says, and Noelle collapses to the ground in the face of Nostrum's glare. The girl falls out of the monstrous shell.

    "But there's no more of us." One of the conjoined twins, Louis Marie, says.

    "Sis wasn't going to keep going. The big girl needs to cook a while before she'll be ready again with what Amy did to her." Nostrum sighs. "A pity." She waves her hand at you and frowns. "Didn't work."

    She'd just tried to kill you. You stare in horror.

    "Our powers don't work on ourselves. I guess they don't work on each other." Madeline Laure moans, her own speech distorted.

    "A pity. So I guess I'll have to strangle her myself." Nostrum advances on you, looking very happy. You release the darts, but they won't do any good on you.

    "Where's the fun in that?" The perfect man asks with a wicked grin, moving forward.

    "The fun is in killing her." Nostrum glares at Phantasos. "The pathetic, murderous bitch, the freak needs to die."

    "Not before she sees what we do to the city." Phantasos moves in between you and Nostrum. Words spelling "trust me" are spelled out on his back in the cement of the floor. "She needs to know Victoria died before she dies." He pauses. "No, wait, I've got a better idea. Let's give her to Heartbreaker." Why would you trust him?

    "Oh, now that's an idea. I think I can go cure him." You are flooding the room with everything you can think of. None of the clones seem disturbed in the slightest. "That's what he's here for, a cure." Nostrum sounds far too happy about this. "Rip up the city in a gang war, leave Heartbreaker free, and it's all her stupid fault." You fling a set of darts full of toxins, working, making a real gun. Then the cement from the floor rises up around you, trapping you in a cage.

    "You do that. I'll bring Victoria around for you, while you negotiate with the criminals. What about you two, if you are separate?" You throw up.

    "Ooh, I think we'll go kill Mommy and Daddy." One of the twin entities laughs. Words on the cement spell out 'I'm on your side Amy' and you wonder if it's just another mindfuck. "We're going to have a nice long talk with her first."

    "Sounds fun. Let's all meet up at midnight with Heartbreaker." Phantasos's strong, beautiful voice tells you, and your sisters.

    They begin to march out. A horrible set of movements, a strange cartwheel motion gets louder and louder.

    "Like father, like daughter." One of them giggles with slurred speech.

    "We remember, don't we sister? A wonderful house full of so many books, a beautiful man, almost as beautiful as our new brother." The one with clear speech says.

    "We never knew the reference. So fitting, knowing us." The slurred one chimes in. "We were too young to get it.

    "Just so you don't die knowing, Dad, our real dad, well, we'll give you a hint in our names." They say it in unison, and they tell you.

    Then you hear galloping away.

    A long time later, after you've stopped crying, you hear someone else leave.

    Finally, no way to know how long it really was, someone smashes open the cement. It's a Noelle, looking furious, naked, covered in horrible goo and gore.

    "What happened?" She hisses.

    "The clones escaped." You mutter.

    "Krouse didn't, he couldn't..." She leaves you there, moving far to quickly for you to follow.

    You walk out. All around there's warped architecture and signs of battle. Moving to the surface, you find several bodies of people without obvious harm to them, Coil's soldiers.

    On the surface there's a sight of a major battle. Two people in costume you don't recognize, a lot of soldiers you recognize as Coil uniforms.

    Dinah, Noelle, Trickster, and the clones are nowhere to be seen.

    You've have slaughtered them all if you could.

    ___

    "It was the brave actions of New Wave that ended the rampage of the new cape known as Orthus." The news is showing your Glory Girl pushing a cement mixer down a ramp made by Shielder right into the monster.

    You're back in Armsmaster's bed now. Secret identities really should help with people talking.

    Victoria is safe. The creature looks rather like one of Bitch's dogs, but with far more bone for a reason you don't want to think about. The thing isn't dead, though it is completely sedated and is likely to be killed or sent to the Birdcage. So far no sign of the others.

    Hot coco is good. Armsmaster claims it's Dragon's old family recipe.

    Flechette is dead. Made it out of the fight, but apparently one of Bakuda's bombs had poisoned her. She'd died screaming in a hospital, thanks to Trickster. Without him you'd have been ready to help.

    A lot of people died in the hospital thanks to Trickster. You keep trying to put yourself together enough to go. Armsmaster says his machines will tell him when you're ready. He's talking to Mark in the living room.

    Somehow you just want to blame Tattletale.

    Faultline's Crew broke Lung and Oni Lee out of jail today. ABB is back to full strength. Heartbreaker might still be here, or he might be going back home. It's impossible to know now, with Nostrum.

    This was a very, very bad day.

    Interlude

    [X] Gallant (Must. See. Victoria.)

    [X] Phantasos (What is he up to?)

    [X] Faultline (Why is she working for Heartbreaker?)
    Clothing is easy to get for you. It only took a few minutes to turn dirt and cement into something that approximates fabric.

    That was yesterday. You have clothes and you are clean thanks to the refreshing dip in the ocean. Today you are looking for a job.

    You had several options. The Wards might take you, if they took Nix, but it just lacked the special something you're looking for. You don't think you could stand Empire 88, the Merchants are just pathetic, and you do not want to get anywhere near ABB or Faultline's Crew right now.

    The Undersiders, now, that was a team. Flawless record, had never been known to kill, loyal to each other. They are the perfect match.

    Secret identities do make these things harder, but it's impossible to deny their practicality and the sheer style of them. When you spent some time at a library computer looking up the Undersiders you had taken a few minutes off for a codename. Panacea was not just the term for universal cure, it was the name of a minor goddess of the universal cure. Gods of inanimate objects had seemed a bit silly, but the god who is inanimate objects in dreams struck you as thunderously appropriate.

    The Merchants have a truce with the Undersiders, and the Undersiders had teamed up with them to fight ABB. The whole thing was really Kaiser's show with the Travelers gone. No one else is really capable of contributing on his level. You suspect the truce is going to collapse before ABB is defeated, judging from what you see from the shadows. You were right, the teams are meeting up here to divide soldiers to strike at different objectives.

    You spy tall dark and silent and focus. You've been here a while, spreading your power throughout the area. He's their leader according to parahumans wiki.

    "Hello sir." If the Merchants weren't here you suspect an unknown person lurking around would have drawn more attention, but the disgusting way you had dressed implied you were part of the gang. You change it in a moment, creating strange new armor. Grue turns his mask to you silently.

    "He doesn't talk." A small thrill runs down your spine as she shows up.

    "I am sorry." You tell Grue. You turn to Tattletale. "Hello my lady. I would like to join your team."

    ___

    You sit in this loft in a chair across from Tattletale. She is giving you a very careful but somehow intense look.

    "What are you?" She asks finally.

    "I am a product of powers, arguably a clone, though I think the terminology is imprecise. I was created yesterday, though I have a set of memories that make me 17 years old psychologically."

    "Why do you want to join?"

    "Several reasons. First of all, for my plans I need money, allies, and resources. Second of all I need a place to stay and fit in, which this provides better than other options. Third and post important, it will drive my sister crazy." You smile. Tattletale keeps on frowning.

    "Which sister?" She asks.

    "Amy, the Panacea. I love my other sisters far more. Expressing my love for one of them is the reason I need resources and a cover. Amy, I love her to death, but I can't help but want to get under her skin." You laugh. "So, I thought I'd join the last group of people she'd want me to join who don't kill people." Tattletale frowns harder.

    "Did I miss an Undersider murder spree?" You actually don't have a problem with it, now.

    "It's not that. Faultline wanted insurance when Heartbreaker hired her. If Heartbreaker pulls anything, we stop Amy from healing him. We don't think we would have to kill her, but if she threatens us too badly, she's too powerful to leave alive. We'd prefer to use Regent, or just knock her out for a while and take her elsewhere." You nod.

    "No objections here. I'm glad you told me." You think. There's a more interesting question now. "Don't you and Faultline hate each other? I read it online, so it must be true." Tattletale smiles at you for the first time.

    "Yes we do. That's why she hired us. We're the last person Heartbreaker would expect to work for her." You run over the implications in your head. Without them Faultline probably wouldn't have taken the job. Without Faultline's Crew helping ABB today they would have been defeated.

    "My sister would be delighted. Everything that happened today is your fault." You give her a smile and she glares back at you. You have a sudden certainly that the two of you will end up sleeping together.

    "Go fuck yourself."

    "Oh, I won't have to, darling. I hope to have a sister for that soon enough." She looks confused for a moment, then sighs. "I think you need me. Bitch is dead. You're in the market for a new member. I assure you that if you need a heavy hitter I would be perfect for the job." Tattletale puts her face in her hands.

    "You're right. We do have a new member, but she can't replace what Bitch can do." She nods slowly. "And God help me, I think you're more trustworthy than Skitter when it comes down to it. We do need each other. What I want you to tell me is your endgame. You think you're superior to Amy, I can feel that, but you want to get under her skin, you need to prove that superiority, define yourself by being better. How is this going to help with that?"

    "I am going to show her she is wrong." You answer. "My powers are nothing like her powers, but I am going to use them better. I am going to have a happy life while she is miserable. I will be a villain and live guilt free." You lean forward and whisper in Tattletale's ear. "And I am going to marry Victoria."

    ___

    You're not entirely sure you wouldn't marry Armsmaster so you can keep staying in his house. A tinker made shower is the best thing in the world.

    You get back into the bedroom. Armsmaster is out now, and he's locked you in his house for your own safety. Mark agreed, and you don't actually disagree.

    You looked up the names the conjoined twinschose. You shouldn't have but Armamaster's computer was right there. Deep down inside you'd always known. You just didn't want to face it. Part of you almost wishes that Tattletale had told you at the bank. It would have been easier to face it sooner. You slide out of the bed and walk into the living room. If you don't do this now you might never have the courage.

    Mark's gone. New Wave is needed today. They're trying to get a victory, any victory, today. You try to call him, but he's out.

    Marquis De Sade. Marquis, a crime lord in Brockton Bay's bad old days. He fits, right? You can't read too much about him, but you know too much. Someone with a code, someone who doesn't hurt women or children.

    What does it say about you that you broke your code and he kept to his?

    You sit down on the couch and moan. You've never needed your sister more than today.

    ___

    You call Dean.

    "Hello?" He sounds out of breath, exhausted...

    You hang up the phone. He's probably just training, or had a fight, or had a run, or...

    ___

    "Heartbreaker was sighted today fleeing from several members of Empire 88. Purity, Night, Fog, and Crusader were all seen pursuing him. Purity went down to a blast of napalm from the villain Spitfire, a member of the mercenary band known as Faultline's Crew. Kaiser has issued a formal statement that Heartbreaker must be stopped for the good of the world, calling him an abomination against nature. In other news, Armsmaster is in critical condition today after a fight with Bakuda was ended when a rush of hornets was ejected from underneath her armor. A statement by Brockton Bay General Hospital says that he has made a full recovery due to Panacea. Rumors are circulating that Purity was also taken to the hospital and healed. Rumor has it that Empire 88 has been granted an official truce by the PRT in exchange for their help against Bakuda."

    You turn of the TV. Once again it is late, you can't sleep, and you miss Victoria. Well, actually it's not late, your sleep cycle is out of whack and Armsmaster has the best curtains to make it nighttime whenever you want to sleep.

    [X] You're so worried about Victoria at a time like this. You eye the materials Armsmaster's been providing you. It's a lot of mass. Maybe you could make something special to keep her safe.

    [X] Cranial is in town. She came to help Mark and Kid Win like she had promised. Maybe seeing her again would help. She's always been so nice to you.

    [X] Purity had invited you to dinner before she left the hospital. A thank you for saving her life. You could get more information about Empire 88 if you went. They really are helping with ABB. It would at least be interesting to see what they're like.
     
    ~[]~, Dacraun, Ddmkm122 and 1 other person like this.
  6. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Never Far Behind


    Flechette...

    Just thinking of her makes you feel both Guilty and sad, and somehow a twisted part of you whispers that you can at least make something of her death, that there at the edge of your mind lays inspiration. A suit, one better stronger, tougher than you've made before, using every trick of biology you can think of to reinforce and protect the one who wears it to push the limits of your power in creating a biological system which resembles her down to the DNA. Something which will help you react faster, and keep perfect timing, something that will let your darts hurt anything you need them to. This will help keep Victoria safe... it will... you just know it.

    You feel a sudden mad urge to try and bring her back. It's almost irresistible, but you resist it.

    You might be able to make Flechette a sister, but what life would that sister have? Someone with parents she doesn't remember quite right, perhaps a boyfriend who she doesn't remember, teammates who look at her wrong? Maybe someday you will try, you will make your children, but you are not ready to be a mother.

    You spread the mass, living kelp, fungus, bacteria, and a sad, lobotomized pig out before you. You need to ask for animals less cute than pigs next time. At least it was better than the cat Armsmaster had offered you. He seemed confused when you told him you didn't want to break down a cat to feed and upgrade your armor. He was weirdly disappointed.

    You think about Flechette's biology, her systems. Her corona gamma was one of the largest and most complex you have encountered. You think about it as you make the new costume. The small brain of the suit, located above the lower back, resembles her corona gamma in a lot of ways.

    The suit will be excellent and responsive to targeting, incredibly easy to use. The sensory apparatus you build include subtle, hard to recognize eyes, ears, and nose. After a talk with Armsmaster you build all along the suit hairs and other small organs to sense subtle vibrations, what he hopes would be a good countermeasure to Grue and other Strangers. On the knees and shoulders you build in echolocation projectors, if that's the right term. There are bits to see with heat like a snake covering many of the same eyes.

    You build along the suit an ability to interact with a human nervous system, sending in subtle clues to help the person react on instinct, use the suit's timing and sensory abilities properly.

    You build hundreds of darts into the suit at every angle, each one carrying a small amount of hideously deadly poison that could be injected or not injected at will, as well as the normal limited life cycle sleep and paralytic agents to constantly be active on them. You seriously consider electricity generation, but that would use up too much mass. You do put in small biological guns on the boots.

    You add in the ability to release a flood of the paralytic agent and the sleeping organism, both with limited life cycles. At all times it will be releasing the bug destroyer. If Skitter's teamed up with ABB that's just common sense. You also put a constantly active Skitter jammer in the left boot and another one in the suit's brain. It will use of calories, but it is just such a useful ability to have.

    The flesh of the suit, the true skin, is based on the silk of the Brown Darwin spider. It should be quite resistant to gunfire, which is one of the biggest worries. You add in the full NBC precautions, with a gland that could produce anti-radiation drugs or cures and antidotes to poisons you have encountered. The suit would be able to recycle air under optimal conditions, though not for long without adding far too much bulk. You include a set of gills along the bottom and belly in the unlikely chance of being forced to fight underwater. In a pinch the suit would kill itself to feed or water the user, though you're not sure when it could come up.

    The hood is designed to come up at a proper thought from the user. Otherwise it lies along the back. You add a cape to store food and water for the organism, a whole cape with no other purpose. It might be a bit of a waste, but it's best to be conservative and redundant, compensating for the worst possible disaster you could imagine.

    You toy with strength augmentation, but muscles are massive and energy intensive. It just isn't efficient to give the suit super strength when so many other uses are possible. You add in hard switch blades along the arms and knees, sharpened to a molecular level someone with good strength behind it could wield them to deadly or practical effect. Along the back you include something much like a jellyfish tentacle, a terrible stinger thing full of poison, held in check by the cape unless combat is called for. Fine manipulation tentacles curl up the sides of the arms.

    Camouflage is too intensive and conflicts with too many other abilities. It would be useful, but it would conflict with the sensory abilities far too much.

    You need the suit to be thin enough to wear in normal situations, under normal clothing, so while you toy with ablative armor you eventually discard the idea.

    You do some serious work with trying to make a true insect controller, or ideally a full range controller for other things, but you just can't make it work. Whatever Skitter does it has to be seriously impressive. You do add a fleet of twelve hibernating wasp drones to scout, each one carrying your now typical payload of the paralytic, the sleep inducer, and the neuro-toxin.

    Temperature regulation is another thing that proves too calorie intensive. The thing isn't even warm blooded. You adjust it to work with human body heat.

    Next is a combat data recorder, or memory, for the suit. You could play back and understand the memories of this thing infinitely and perfectly as long as the brain isn't destroyed. On that thought, you include backup brains in the right armpit and left inner thigh.

    You try to think of more skills, but overall you're not sure what you could include besides combat. Without making this creature into something uncomfortably intelligent and antonymous you can't think of anything besides sewing, rather limited surgery, and typing. Maybe you'll think of more later. It all needs to be things you can think of and release something quite automated safely.

    The surgery makes you think of more medical ideas. You include coagulant and anti-coagulant glands, a number of powerful anti-biotics, pain killers, and make the whole thing rather capable of acting as a bandage. The fine manipulation tentacles can also be ripped off to make bandages for other people, and all of the chemicals can be injected through a needle in the left arm. In addition to add a set of tools into the fine manipulation tentacles, checking online for actual multi-tools for inspiration. That gives you another idea and you look up what should actually be in a first aid kit.

    Flashlight and batteries for the flashlight, apparently. You prepare a fairly inert one under the right breast that could be extracted and turned on to provide a couple hours of light, though it would need to be remade afterward. Thinking for a moment you add a pouch in the cape for normal batteries of all the common types, because that could just be useful. You toy with the cape again for a bit and play with the tentacles to make it a good blanket and more versatile bandages, respectively. Also in the cape you put in a few pseudo-latex gloves. You add in better precise heat sensing for medical purposes along the fine manipulation tentacles. You add in a few instinctive monitors for other vital signs.

    Since you're doing the boring practical stuff you also Google what Boy Scouts suggest to bring camping for more ideas. You can't believe you didn't think of plain old binoculars, and you add them to the hood, powerful tools designed to help natural eyesight in a number of ways that you tinker with for half an hour. A camera sounds good but you think that would be handled best with ordinary technology, something to ask Armsmaster about. Ooh, a compass, you put in an instinctive memory of direction and a bird like sense of which way is the magnetic north.

    Sun glasses put you in mind of sensory attacks in general. You put in easy ways to adjust for glare and high levels of noise into the hood. With a thought or at sensing discomfort the hood would shut down sight and sound, and the lenses of the binoculars are made to be glare resistant. Magnifying glass, ooh, you add that to the hood's eye gear and work it into the fine manipulation tentacles.

    You wonder if this is special enough. You add in something like smelling salts in case of unconsciousness after a moment's thought. You've been falling asleep after stress a lot lately. After another bit of thought you put in the ability to release intense noxious odors.

    The big problem is the digestive system. The careful balance of capabilities is complex. It will need to be directly fed nutrients and all kinds of strange traces every day. You write up a list of everything and send it to Armsmaster and the PRT.

    You'll need at least two, one for yourself and one for Victoria. You'll talk to Armsmaster about who else you could outfit with this. You know Victoria's biology more than well enough to make her suit without seeing her, but you'd have to do any further tailoring in person.

    ___

    Bonus Interlude: Gallant

    Carlos stands at the front of the room. It's a pleasant Friday afternoon. Victoria sits besides you, reading a paperback of Petals on the Wind while she waits for Chris and Dennis to arrive. Chris was having another appointment with Cranial and Dennis was his ride.

    Victoria is a bit of a mess. She spent a lot of time in the room she'd claimed, the former guest room. She was reading a lot lately, four hours a day, consistently. She was also training harder than ever before. She hadn't officially joined the Wards yet, but Carlos and Colin are letting her use their resources as long as she keeps fighting alongside them. No one looked forward to sparing with her except for Missy, who seemed to be getting a lot out of the practice.

    She'd been, well, weirdly sexually insistent, too. It doesn't feel right. You know you're supposed to be thrilled about this as a teenage boy, but she's acting more like she has something to prove. You're not really sure if you should start turning her down or ask about it or what. You would ask Armsmaster but he's barely around, either he's hunting the villains or working with Amy.

    Chris and Dennis finally come in. Chris is beaming and Dennis is smiling too. Chris wasn't even truly cured yet and he had been more productive in the last few days than in weeks before. Whatever Cranial is doping Chris with must be good.

    "Alright, now that we're here we can begin the weekly strategy meeting." Carlos says. "Now, I know our first impulse is to talk about ABB, Heartbreaker, and Faultline, but I think that would be a mistake. If we focus too much time thinking about them we'll be blindsided when they go down, and they will go down. Alright people, what is going to hit us once this truce ends?"

    "The Undersiders." Victoria says. "Empire 88 is going to be stressed by this, they're in a full blown war right now and Kaiser will want to capitalize on PR instead of holdings. The Merchants, they're dangerous but they don't have the brains to do anything to effective. The Travelers are gone. Coil's been quiet and it looks like he got into a war with the Travelers before they left. The Undersiders are ballsy. They'll go for something big to pick up more reputation as soon as this is over."

    "Interesting." Carlos smiles. "Personally I think they're a bit too small time, but interesting. What do people think about reports that they're working with ABB?" You shudder at the memory of the hornets rushing Armsmaster.

    "It wasn't them." Missy speaks up. "We know they lost Hellhound and nearly lost Skitter to Bakuda. She's faking it somehow. She wanted to break the villain truce, and had something to make it look like she had Skitter's help." Victoria nods.

    "I agree. Doesn't fit." Carlos says. "We'll discuss the Undersiders again at the end of the meeting. Panacea wants to talk to Skitter. We all know she thinks she's undercover, or did a couple weeks ago. I think we can probably hit them, either with Skitter's help or by revealing she was undercover, when they pull their next big move. Now, what about the Merchants?"

    "I think it's safe to be reactive with them. Put pressure on them, wait for them to make a mistake." Dennis suggests. "They're going to pull some kind of strategy.

    "I agree." Mason, Browbeat, says. "I dealt with them a lot before I joined. We capitalize on their mistakes, ideally we heard them against Kaiser or someone else and let them be destroyed by another gang. They can probably be tricked into it.

    "Alright, that leaves Coil." Carlos says. "Great troops, but no parahumans. Suddenly goes quiet when everything goes hot in the city. I do not like the feel of this. We've had a lot of trouble tracking him down."

    "You know if we get Skitter that might be easier. The reports Kaiser's been giving us on the ABB raids claims she's great at battlefield control and gathering information." Sophia speaks up for the first time today. "I think the two of us would handle them well. I could hit them where they aren't expecting, she can keep pressure and give information. Harass and confuse, with full on attacks once we've forced them to concentrate."

    "Great, Sophia!" Carlos starts writing on the board. "I think once the Undersiders go down, one way or another, Coil should be our target. His troops are relatively safe for us to handle if we do it right with backup." He turns back from the board. "Now, guys, I know we all want to fight the Nazis, but Empire 88 is delicate right now. Armsmaster told me that we're not going to be allowed near them unless the Protectorate needs backup." Sophia looks angry.

    "So we're just supposed to let those Nazi fuckers keep hurting people?"

    "No, Sophia, but they're too strong for us. Armsmaster and Calvert will have to think about our strategy for them. After all of this we'll have to do something really smart to make them look bad. They're just looking too good when compared to the other ethnic, racist bastards who are actually blowing up the city." Carlos sighs. "Now that's over with, I'm sure we all want to talk about the real lunatics." The reactions are mixed. Sophia looks even angrier. Missy looks excited. Chris looks bored. Dennis seems amused by Sophia. Mason looks happy. Victoria, you aren't sure about Victoria's expression. Her mood is pensive.

    "ABB, Heartbreaker, and possibly Faultline's Crew." Carlos gestures to the biggest names on the board, colored in red, black, and gray markers. "Faultline's Crew haven't been seen working for them since they broke Oni Lee and Lung out of jail, but there's no reason they can't show up again. Heartbreaker himself has been laying low, but the Thinkers are all getting really bad vibes about him, depending on how they work. Bakuda also hasn't been seen much lately, which scares everyone. Oni Lee has been carrying out bombings, but we think he's using a handful of tried and true ones that he's only releasing clones of. Whatever Bakuda's doing it's taking up all her attention. Lung's been fighting the villain alliance, attacking an enemy location two or three times a day. That's good for us, but collateral damage has been bad. They're talking about bringing in Protectorate heroes from other cities, maybe Legend." He doesn't mention what you all know, that the other Wards were all pulled out of the city after Flechette died.

    "Let's fuck'em up." Sophia suggests. "Add pressure. They can't be in a good situation if Bakuda's occupied and they're facing half the villains in the city."

    "Most of their bombed soldiers aren't killing people. We'd probably kill more people if we rounded them up and launched full on attacks than Bakuda does." You point out. "We need a calculated strike to defeat her. Otherwise we'd lose." Sophia gives you a death glare.

    "Amy offered a plague to knock them out for a couple days." Victoria says cautiously. "90% of East Asians, 20% of other races. It'd knock out the gang and let us operate freely for a while."

    "Too drastic." Carlos says. "Also illegal and looks racist. Maybe if things get a lot worse, but we need to avoid that if we have any other choice. Do it now and it'd look like we had a full fledged alliance with Kaiser."

    "We do have an alliance with Kaiser." Dennis points out.

    "We have a truce with Kaiser." Carlos snaps, frustrated. "That's different. He's giving us information on his enemies because it benefits him, and we aren't messing with each other because other people are more important. There's a big difference between an alliance and that." You can see Dennis is unconvinced, and Sophia clearly thinks Carlos is shouting a lot of bullshit.

    "The Protectorate will handle ABB, mostly." Missy points out. "We just play along with their strategy."

    "Yes." Victoria agrees. "The big picture is cool, but we're not ready for them. It's the smaller forces that slip through the cracks that we might actually do something about, especially with Calvert. He's been giving us a much freer hand."

    "Us?" Sophia asks.

    There's an awkward silence. Everybody knows Victoria probably won't be staying much longer. She hates Ward bullshit.

    "Moving on." Carlos gives a pointed look at Sophia. "I said we'd get back to the Undersiders. Here's why. Armsmaster has told me that Amy is branching out. He said she's almost like a tinker now." Carlos laughs. "He tried to hide it, but I think he's jealous. Anyway, Amy's offering us to try something new she's created. A kind of power armor. She wants to meet with us. The suits started off optimized for the Undersiders, since she was worried about them attacking her, but she put in a lot more thought. Anyone who is willing should sign up for an appointment with her where she works with us on our suit. We give suggestions, things we might want or find useful. Armsmaster wants to try it on us before she branches out to the Protectorate. We're less experienced, have fewer habits we might need to change." Victoria has gone very still. "He said to give this to you, Victoria." Carlos bends over and picks up a box. "He said it's from Amy, your suit." Victoria moves fast, grabbing it, looking fixed, hard, then controlled. She doesn't say a word.

    "Now, does anyone not want to meet with Amy?" Carlos asks. No one seems to have any reservations.

    ___

    Victoria's watching MTV next to you while you try to read your math homework. You can tune it out pretty easily. She said she didn't want to be alone tonight. She's wearing the strange black suit of thin armor already. She says she wants to get the feel of it.

    You have to stop the TV, turn it off.

    "Victoria, what are you afraid of?" She glares at you, but she knew what she was getting into, dating an empath.

    "The bank, is it Tattletale revealing something?" You press.

    "Not anymore." Victoria frowns heavily. "I, Amy told me everything."

    "The bugs, Skitter?" You'd seen her, after Skitter was through with her. Welts, stings, crawled up mouth and nose, you can't really imagine that she's really an undercover hero. Heroes don't do things like that.

    "Meh, I could take her." Victoria laughs. She thumps her hand against her knee. No, not the knee, the suit, optimized to beat the bug girl.

    "So, what is it?" Victoria is still and silent for a long minute.

    "I threw up on Amy." She tells you. "When I kissed her." The kiss was not a secret. She'd confessed it the moment she saw you when she got back from Albany.

    "That's a bit extreme..."

    "It's not kissing her, Dean James Stansfield." If there's anything you hate about your parents, it's that naming decision. "We talked before. When she confessed. I, she doesn't just love me, love love me. She, she had trouble not, like, making me feel the same way. She can't do brains because of it. She killed people because she was afraid she'd rape me." Victoria starts rushing the words out. "I thought, maybe, I could feel something else, maybe with anti-therapy or Cranial or her powers, but then, when she kissed me, she forced her tongue down my throat. She's not the sister I thought she was. It was demanding, insistent. I wasn't good enough!" She suddenly snaps. "I was the best sister in the world, and my lips weren't enough! Nothing I could do would be good enough for her. I got this huge pit in my stomach, thinking she might decide to go all the way with her powers, make me into her wife." There's so much contempt in the word. "I can't even think about seeing her in person anymore. After all of this she might do it because she thinks I might never see her again if she doesn't. I miss her so much but I'm scared all the time." She curls up next to you. "I love her, Dean."

    "I love her too." You say honestly. "She's like a sister to me, you know that. We just have to trust her." Victoria falls asleep next to you.

    ___

    End Interlude

    ___

    It's Saturday morning. The sun is shining, and you're about to outfit the Wards with new abilities.

    [X] Write in. Ideas for specially outfitting:

    Aegis
    Browbeat
    Clockblocker
    Gallant
    Kid Win
    Shadow Stalker
    Vista
    You sit down in the large classroom the Wards reserved for the consultations. It is stuffed to the brim with working materials. You breathe in and sigh. This makes you feel useful. Something about changing things, making them better, making them right can keep your focus much better than just sewing people up. Maybe it's just the excitement of something new and different.

    The Wards have appointments alphabetical by codename. This means Carlos is first. As their leader it seems like a good idea to work out the kinks with him.

    "Hello, Amy." Carlos gives you a big smile. He's rubbing his hand. "Yeah, everyone wants a suit after they tried to spar with Victoria wearing that thing. Nobody was beating her anyway and she just soloed the whole team in a spar." He shakes his head. "So yeah, everything you gave her, I think we all want it. Assume that unless we say otherwise, and please bring up anything you'd need to sacrifice in order a capability we want." You nod. It makes sense.

    "Before we begin, anything you noticed about the suit that you think might need changing?" You eye the whiteboard of the room. Carlos moves to it.

    "Yes. First of all, the material is really thin. Any particular reason for that?"

    "Victoria's strength goes down at the worst times, but her flight doesn't. Any more weight than she absolutely needs could kill her at the wrong moment." Carlos nods and starts writing. "The way she flies it's best to keep her as light as possible. It gives her just a bit more speed and control. I think it will be different for most of the rest of you, but your flight could have a similar issue." Carlos frowns. He's not wearing a mask.

    "I see your point. We do work similarly when it comes to flight. But I usually do carry armor and material anyway. I'm used to it. I think I could use more mass on mine, and I think most of us will to." He puts it on the white board with a marker.

    "What about communications? Victoria and New Wave don't do much tactics like that, but you train a lot."

    "We need to stay compatible with other teams for case of emergency, so specialized communications to replace our radios, out. One idea I had though was something like glowing drones, like the bugs you made. Different color codes for things like enemy or wounded, changing colors at will, bright enough for daytime missions?" That makes sense.

    "Put it on the board. One thing I was thinking about was mobility. Victoria's incredibly mobile naturally, but most of you aren't. I was thinking of something like gecko pads to stick to walls, though of course you're as mobile as Victoria."

    Carlos looks at the white board. "I'd put that as a maybe. I think some of us will benefit, but ask before you include it. Some of them might not want to be thinking in 3d." He looks excited.

    "So, before we begin, what do you think you need out of this?" Carlos is filling out another eight columns on the board.

    "I'm thinking a bit of a sniper, first of all. I can fly, and you seem to be pretty good at that kind of thing. I can stay out of range, coordinate, look at the big picture, and throw weapons at long range." You nod.

    "I can see upgrading your weapons systems from the Victoria model, add in range, though the sight in the hood is about as good as I could make it unless I made a full new pair of eyes, and something that complicated would be hard to integrate." Carlos nods. "What else are you thinking of?"

    "Well, I'm not a traditional brute. I'm strong, but not that strong, and mostly I can just keep fighting through a battle. I was thinking of making me dangerous and unpleasant to fight."

    "About that, given your natural strength I was thinking I could add in more, a kind of hydrolic system, combing in a lot more super strength." Carlos looks thrilled at the idea. "It probably wouldn't be quite as good as Victoria, but it could be close. I can regulate, contain, and create the pressure well in the Aegis version of the suit. It would take up a lot of the suit's capabilities, or make it one of the larger ones, if we're trying to combine it with all the usual gear. It wouldn't be that bulky, probably less bulky than a normal power armor suit."

    "That would be brilliant. I have to be the team brute a lot because no one else can, but I'm not really good at it, and the villains know it by now. Giving me extra strength would be really useful. I'm wondering if you'd find it weird to have the suit pierce my body? That'd give it a proper frame to act as reinforcement, scaffolding, and make it easier to use my strength. Injecting pain killers would be nice if we go that way."

    "Creepy, but I get it, considering your powers. Interlocking hydrolic musculature, spider silk based bone stacks with high pressure liquid, fitting into your body. I might be able to let it regenerate you some, depending on how your biology reacts to it, add in more normal musculature for you to work with overdriving it. I'll probably need to take a look at it after every use if you're overdriving it like your normal muscles."

    "That sounds liable to go wrong. Let's not work it into the overclocked version of my muscles if it would need more maintenance that way. I was thinking of something like mobile bones. Now, the instructions you gave for Victoria's suit said it doesn't heal?"

    "That is because of how thin it is. If we're making something a lot bulkier than it can heal just fine, it gets all the organs you need for that." Carlos seems happy at this. "I also have some ideas for muscles in other ways, some cell tricks I want to try to make them harden, act like mobile bones, increase your grappling potential."

    "About that, let's get back to the range. I'm thinking of an almost Legend like approach, lots of dart launchers, lots of them. Those things are great for us at non-lethal take downs. I'm willing to accept a lot of bulk in exchange for range and numbers of those darts. I'd also like to work on the interface, designate opponents for automatic targeting. I need to do a lot as the team leader, so simplifying my mission would be really useful." You hadn't really thought about that part. He will has to make a lot of decisions quickly in the field. You'll probably expand the Flechette based brain considerably for his suit.

    Don't think about that, it makes you sad. Your line of thought keeps getting you sad. The thing will have to be able to recognize individuals as accurately as a human. You try to think of something less likely to remind you of the dead girl.

    "What about an adhesive spray? Nothing like containment foam of course, but something to slow brutes down if they can tank your attacks?" Carlos frowns.

    "Seems like it would use up a lot of mass and weight. Overall I'd probably rather use actual containment foam, maybe you could integrate it in somehow?" That does sound like a better idea.

    "You mentioned earlier you wanted to be hard to grapple with, not fight like a traditional brute? I was thinking of expanding some of the features I gave Victoria's suit. Porcupine like quils, though a lot sharper, that you can bring down safely in rescue operations or other friendly activities or raise up when people try to grapple? I can make the blades really sharp and carry everything nasty on them. I think that will be a whole layer of the suit, so we are adding a lot of bulk."

    "I like that, but I think there shouldn't be a whole layer of them, more like one every square inch. I have some other ideas. I was thinking if some areas of the suit are like a shark's skin, hard, tooth like, and can cut if you pull your hand the wrong way. Others should be slippery. That way people who try to wrestle me have a lot of trouble. Combined with all the other features I think no one will want to get close, but I'd also like some surprise stinging jellyfish like nettles at points, and some consistent armor for my arms. I think I'll always need that, though the special hardening bone muscle should be good for the rest of my body. It's nice to make me really hard to hurt, but I don't really need overpowering defenses."

    The two of you work for 15 minutes on the Aegis model. The end result is padded and far bulkier than the Victoria version, but Carlos doesn't seem to mind. He walks around in it, tries it, flexes it.

    "This is good." Carlos says finally. "Very, very good. Thank you very much for this."

    "You're welcome. It was a pleasure, really." You smile. Carlos smiles back, and you wonder if he's flirting with you and you hadn't noticed. "Any advice for the rest of the crew?"

    "Mason's a bit weird. He only joined us because he wasn't doing well on his own. Try to avoid his career as a solo hero, he's touchy about it. Ask him about Football if you need something to chat about." You sigh, you don't understand Football at all.

    "Dennis, you know him and Dean. Chris is idolizing you right now for putting him in touch with Cranial. She's all he talks about. Sophia's an, um, character, but she'll react pretty well if you call her out on her bullshit right away. Missy, you know her, she's cool, just remember she's tougher than she looks."

    "Thank you, Carlos. Once again, just call me if you need anything." He winks at you, and you realize that this probably sounded either desperate or flirty. He's gone before you decide if you should come out to him or not.

    Mason marches in with a firm expression on his face. He's dressed way too well for the occasion, actually wearing a dress shirt and tie. Then you smile. His mom made him wear it, you just know she did. His mom sees it as meeting with a celebrity, an important person, and he thinks he looks like a dork.

    "So, what thoughts do you have on the suit?" You ask him.

    "Your sister almost ripped my arm off with one of those psycho blades." Mason growls. "Come on, what about PR? That's half the reason the Wards look like they do." You consider for a moment. Why is Director Calvert willing to give so much high end, scary weaponry to a bunch of kids? Well, not your problem.

    "We're New Wave. We have our own public relations. So, I assume you don't want the swords in your arms?"

    "I didn't say that." He looks a bit sheepish. "They could really come in handy. I was thinking of several things like them, different sizes and shapes, to work with my telekinesis. Easily detachable stuff, some heavy, some sharp, held in at the right points. That way I'll always have a weapon at hand. Maybe a net, since I can TK the stuff I am touching out farther if it's solid. I've been thinking about a net anyway." You nod and start putting his comments on the board in the Browbeat column. Eventually you decide on a large disk on the back to act as a shield, a sword blade, a baton, a short spear, and a long piece of thin but extremely strong rope.

    You also add in a lot of the close range features from the Aegis suit after some discussion, though you don't include the hydrolic system or the sniper abilities. His TK suffices for strength, and he's going to be in the middle of fights given his powers.

    One thing you both want to try is working the Browbeat suit into his own biology so he can manipulate it. This proves mostly successful. He can manipulate parts of the suit, but not the parts with the core features, but you eventually rig it up so that he can manipulate those features indirectly through the other parts. It's quite a bit of work, and Browbeat is not the best conversationalist.

    "How does New Wave do it?" He asks suddenly as you figure out how to integrate the virus sprayers into an organ he could control.

    "Do what?" You ask.

    "Be heroes without the PRT breathing down your necks. I tried, but I just wasn't as good at it as Glory Girl." He sounds sad. You think for a moment on how to answer him.

    "Honestly, we had a bunch of pretty girls and started early." You answer. "Fleur, Lady Photon, and Brandish are all photogenic, and all of them are personable or interesting in their own ways. I think they seemed just cool enough for people to love them but had enough girly light powers that people weren't actually that scared. Not a lot of people take us seriously.

    Browbeat nods. Then he surprises you.

    "Could I join?" He looks hopeful. Maybe it wasn't his mother who wanted him to dress well, maybe he was trying to make a good impression?

    "Ask my aunt Sarah, Lady Photon. We haven't taken a new member besides one of the kids in, well, since before I was born. What about secret your secret identity?"

    "I was hoping I could keep that, but, well, you guys are powerful, well known, I thought maybe I'd have to deal with less of the rules and regulations in New Wave than the Wards. I hate it here." You think. "The entire purpose of New Wave is not having masks, starting something new. I think you'd have to reveal who you are, Mason. Still, New Wave has been in a rut for a very long time. I think some new blood would be nice. I hope to see you there." You give Mason a smile, and he smiles back.

    He'd better not just want in because he's crushing on Victoria.

    Dennis walks in next. He looks a bit anxious.

    "Um, I have a date after this. Can we keep it quick?" You give him your best glare, but you're not Carol or Victoria, so it doesn't work. "Come on, he's hot." Dennis intones. Wait, what? "Just kidding. But she is cute."

    "I think you'll enjoy her a lot more if you stay alive, Dennis." You look at the white board. "So, what do you think you need?"

    "Stuff to freeze. I was thinking tentacles that detach and fluids, mostly. Spinnerets like a spider, or something close, silly string like stuff, maybe chameleon tongue like stuff? I was watching a discovery channel documentary on them with the girl I'm seeing, Madison, and those things whip out fast."

    "I'll see what I can do." You begin to take some notes. "What about making it part of you, a whip like extension?" You try that first, but can't get it right, his corona gamma just won't accept something that's not shape like him as something to work his power through. You'll think about a solution when you have more time.

    You end up with something absolutely disgusting. Dennis stares at it in horror. Hundreds of mismatched moving parts, many of which are disturbingly phallic.

    "That doesn't look like Clockblocker, that looks like a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine." He stares at you.

    "Um, I could put another layer on it, cover it up? That's not a bad idea anyway, layers to rip off at will and freeze. Hm, maybe I can put detachable layers into the boots so you can walk on them, put in a superior sense of balance?"

    "So instead it all comes out in weird angles from underneath false skin which I rip off in battle? Amy, if Glenn sees this he'd eat my balls." You sigh. "Alright, I'll make another one, toned down, only the good projectors and a few detachable tentacles, but please keep this one in a closet or something in case things get really bad."

    "Alright. Now, I have a date with Sophia's cute friend. Love the boots though." He smiles and leaves you. You look at the abomination in front of you. Yeah, there's no way to make it look less threatening.

    Dean is your middle appointment. He stares at the Clockblocker Mark I suit.

    "Um, the idea was sound." You mutter. He shakes his head.

    "She needs more time." Dean heads off the question before you ask it. "Not forever, but more. She's getting better."

    "I need her, Dean." It's all you can do not to raise your voice.

    "She needs you, Amy. She really does, but she has a lot to work through, and not enough supervillains to work her issues out on. You scowl at him. "I am sorry, Amy. If I thought it would help I'd be trying to get her to see you, but I think she needs to do it on her own terms." You moan a bit. "Now, let's get your mind it. I'm proud of you for this. I really am."

    "Shut up for a minute so I can think." You eye his armor. Hm, maybe if you drill some holes in the week points he can wear both suits.

    "Alright, what are you thinking of?"

    "Sensory systems to start with, good ones. Whatever you did with Victoria was something else. It was like she knew what we were doing before we did it. Let's see if we can enhance that. Extra eyes, ears, all the sensory abilities you gave her, amp them up. My armor means I'm as strong and fast as I'm going to get. Maybe some additional sniper firepower." You nod. You could just copy the Aegis suit on that front.

    "Hm, armor. You're really strong with the machine suit. I can add in layers and layers on top of that, and a few tricks from Aegis's model. Make it really hard and dangerous to injure you."

    "I was thinking of two suits. One expands my tinker armor, the other is like Victoria's for my more subtle abilities. Pheromone projectors and readers, voice modulation, lie detection if you can swing it, muscle control to give me better body language control." You think, you could add that into all of the suits, no one has actually taken one yet.

    "Hm, seems like Armsmaster could help you better with some of that, but yes, I can work that into your version of the normal Victoria version, probably give it connector points for the battle version." You think. "There's something I want to try. At the bank, I found the channels Skitter was using to hack her bugs. Later I found Bakuda was using the same channels for her pain bombs. I'm wondering if you work the same way. I might be able to mess with them.

    It turns out, you're right. You manage to channel the blast into a marvelously complicated device in his chest. It can either make the blast invisible, subtle, and capable of effecting a room, or fire it off at an extremely increased range. You toy with it a bit more, and are about 70% sure that he could reliably give different people different emotions at once, without anyone getting obvious cues.

    In the end Dean looks grateful and impressed, but also a bit sheepish. "I'd say if there's anything I could do for you, you'd just need to ask, but I know what you'd ask, so I can't do that." You nod sadly.

    "Keep her save, make sure she knows she's loved, Dean." He looks quite serious.

    "I swear I will, Amy." He leaves. You can trust him to keep his word.

    Chris is next. He's practically bouncing with energy.

    "Cranial is the best person in the world." He tells you. You smile back at him.

    "I thought so." Well, second best, but that would be awkward.

    "It's not just the drugs, which are the best I've had, but talking to her, she's a genius, Amy." He laughs out loud. "She's given me more ideas since she showed up than I had in the month before, and I have a lot of ideas. I'm writing them all down and recording every call and meeting. I brought in a lot of ideas for my suit." He pulls out a tablet computer.

    "Basically, a lightweight undersuit designed for protection and lifesupport, with numerous attachment points for my armor and weapons." He explains. "I think we can sacrifice a lot of the capabilities you gave Victoria, as I can probably copy a lot." You think for a moment.

    "I know you're better, but you need time to work, and you can abandon projects. How about I build into the suit the ability to sacrifice those abilities as you replace them and make it into increasingly better armor and life support?" Chris nods, looking only a bit deflated.

    "Yeah, that's probably a smart idea."

    "I was thinking of maybe a belt that rotates, bringing in new weapons or tools, and tentacles to help with that." He perks up. "Victoria's tools were gorgeous." That strikes you as a slightly odd word choice. "I brought in a few of my own ideas for tools I'd want." He shows them to you. Very interesting. Yes, with some work you can insert all of them, and even make a separate wrist mounted one for just the tools.

    "Another thing I was thinking of, before you arrived, a harness with a floating array of turrets that could fire different munitions depending on what gun I holster in the main slot. Self adjusting and adaptive. You nod. "Interesting. I think that's something you could work best with yourself. Now, I was thinking about your anti-gravity. With the extra brains, muscle memory, skill involved here I think I could really improve your flight abilities. Implant anti-gravity panels here instead of the hover board, more of them, and I think you could be an incredibly mobile flier. I'll build in places for them, and give you the ability to adjust them pretty quickly to whatever you end up plugging into the spots." Chris's eyes light up. "Ooh, that is a good idea."

    "I was also thinking of anti-Stranger systems, enhanced a bit from Victoria's version, and some nice ranged capability. One of the things you're best at is guns, right? I'm thinking of points for small guns to be integrated into the suit, and enhanced strength and precision in the arms mixed in with assistance in aiming them, making you a much better sharpshooter." You hope the end result will be a perfect sharp shooter, but you don't want to get his hopes up.

    "Hm, let's add in a few other tentacles and storage pockets for small devices and I think we'll be done." Chris seems the happiest he's ever been to you. You only hope it lasts.

    The two of you talk over every hard point to put in a piece of armor or a weapon he had an idea for, and eventually he leaves carrying his suit, head surely buzzing with ideas for what to put in it.

    Sophia marches in second to last. You don't know much about her. Dean never says much, and you get the impression he's trying to be polite.

    "So, you're here to make us all a ton more badass? What's the catch?" You have to smile.

    "Probably an Endbringer attack to stop it right here if some of the more hysterical members of the PRT I talked to are to be believed. Also something about how I'm turning the beloved kid heroes into nightmare child soldiers, but I think they should've thought of that before they sent the Wards to Endbringer fights. There's also the evil clone running around with my powers who will turn it against you, but she can kill you with a wink of her eye." Sophia gives a small smile.

    "Ballroom Blitz." She says it slowly. "The man in the back is ready to crack as he raises his hands to the sky."

    "And the girl in the corner is everyone's mourner she could kill you with a wink of her eye." You smile back.

    You think you're going to like Sophia Hess.

    "So, how do you want to be outfitted?" She sits down across from you.

    "Stingers, sprays, darts, the timing and targeting system Vicks used, all of that work for you?"

    "Yes. You can turn stuff intangible for a little while and it turns back, right?" She nods. "I was thinking of a mist or spray of my paralytic and sleep agent, and maybe the toxin for emergencies. Completely non-lethal, but bypasses NBC protection perfectly and takes almost anyone out, including brutes."

    "NBC?" She frowns

    "Nuclear, biological, and chemical. Gas masks and biohazard suits, that kind of thing. Turn it intangible and it will drift right through." Sophia is smiling again. "I heard something about you not liking having to use tranq darts. Now you've got something ten times as effective as either tranq darts or live ammo, and nobody will get on your case about it. That sound fun?"

    "Fuck yeah." She laughs. "I like how you think. What else you got?"

    "You're a bit of a Stranger, right? Blend into shadows. I was thinking of chromataphores, stuff to change the suit's color almost instantly like an octopus. Camouflage, and then you turn it into bright colors to provide surprise or distraction. I'll program in the basic patterns, but you'll be able to add them in on the fly. Now, according to the files Aegis sent me you're weak to electricity?"

    Sophia looks glum about that. "Yeah."

    "I have two ideas. One's insulation, a conductive outer layer to redirect currents along your body so it doesn't hit you normally." Sophia nods.

    "It wouldn't be perfect, but yeah, that would help when I fuck up. There could still be electricity passing through the skin of the suit, but less of it. What's the other idea?"

    "An EMP burst. I build a nasty organ into the back and you knock out everything in a 20 foot radius." Sophia looks excited, leaning forward.

    "Any downsides?"

    "Extra weight, but distributed right it's just like a backpack." She looks happy with this. "So, I hear you weigh a lot less in your shadow form?"

    "I'm not a fat fuck outside of it." She snarls, then you realize it's a joke.

    "I was thinking gecko style adhesive would work well with you, let you climb walls or jump to them and stick there." She looks alright with this. "Also, maybe wings?"

    "I'm lot some fucking angel." She tells you.

    "No, cool wings, bat wings. They curl around you normally, a cloak or a cape, but in your shadow state you'll be able to fly. I'm also thinking of a few things to help you kick off, small hooves curled up against the back of your boots spring loaded to kick you up to jump farther and faster." Sophia's looking happy at this. You'd wondered if the devil references would be a bit too much for her, but clearly she likes them. "Also some of my typical timing and aiming enhancements you saw Victoria use, I think that would be helpful for you as a ranged fighter." She gives a curt nod. "I'm also thinking some kind of explosive would be killer, but that's not what I'm good at. Talk to the PRT, Armsmaster, and see what they think."

    The two of you are quiet for a minute, thinking about other applications.

    "What about an electric sense?"

    "Active, an organ like that out of water wouldn't work well. Passive, that could work, though it'd be short range. I think I could set it up so you'd know if there's a current inside a wall before you go through, though it'd only have a range of about your own height." She seems satisfied with this.

    "Any other weapon ideas?" Those seem to interest her.

    "I already have a lot in the Victoria version, but I was thinking of a few solid spikes to throw out like your arrows. Outside of that I think you're all set for weaponry. You're going to be incredibly dangerous. Maybe a long range sniper scope like a few of the others have? No, I'm not sure if it will interact with your shadow state well, maybe after I get some reports back about it."

    The suit is beautiful. It looks the most like an actual hero costume of any you've made, the stealth elements give you an excuse to make the skin into beautiful fabric.

    The two of you shake hands, and Sophia is on her way. Apparently she setup Dennis with one of her friends. Is it too much to hope she knows a lesbian? Maybe even is one?

    21%

    You shove the thought aside as Missy walks in.

    "Hey, I think we have two main ways we could take this." You try to remember to treat her like an adult, give her the choice. "One, we emphasize your mobility, adhesive wall sticking, extra limbs, superior balance, gliding wings, all of that." Missy nods.

    "What's the other one?"

    "We make you a tank." You can't help but grin. "We focus on armor and weapons. You can manipulate space, so you can manipulate angles, right? You could focus on that, stretch space close so you can hit at far greater ranges, and use some nice timing and accuracy enhancers I can put into the thing. No need for strength in a brawl, just durability, making the skin dangerous to touch, make it dangerous to get near you, and force people to punch through a lot of armor to get to you."

    Missy gives you a serious look.

    "The PRT doesn't even want me to have a gun. Make me into a tank? Glenn would rip out his hair before he ripped out mine." You smile.

    "I'm not so sure. Think about it from another angle. Little girl all wrapped up in a big, mean suit of armor full of weapons? There's something cute about that, right?" She gives you a glare. "Then you get to fuck'em up. Bad guys, I mean. Hit hard as anyone, everywhere, take as good as you get. Nobody will dare mess with you because if they lose they'd be beaten by a little girl, and you're going to win a lot. You don't have to be fast with your powers, so I can make you a tank."

    "Love the idea, but don't patronize me." Missy says. "I know what you're doing, trying to treat me like a grownup. Doesn't work, not with your face." You sigh. "Any serious objection to this plan?"

    "No, build up weapons and armor as heavy as it gets, please."

    "I suggest you talk to Kid Win about more power. Weapons, he's a good gun maker. I'll put in a few hard points to implant some of his work. I can do subtle and break through defenses, but he should be better at brute force." Missy nods. "I'm fine with that.

    You end up with shotgun style dart throwers, damn curtains of the sleep and paralytic organism, every weapon you've given every Ward amped to an absurd degree. You also fill up extreme versions of the sensory powers and organs. In the end, armored up, she's taller than Armsmaster.

    Vista is satisfied.

    And you need to get back to the fucking hospital.

    ___

    When you get back to Armsmaster's house, he's still gone, off trying to save the city. You're exhausted, but soon realize once again you can't sleep.

    After today you're all science'd out. You're once again lonely, and miss your sister. You can't go back to her, not if she's this close, not with the 21% hanging over your head.

    [X] You troll the internet looking for information on what Victoria and New Wave have been up to.

    [X] You think for a moment, and decide to call the PRT for the number of Mason, Browbeat. He wanted to join New Wave. It might be fun to talk about it.

    [X] Purity had sent you another invitation to some event or other. She strikes you as a bit lonely. Apparently Rune and her stepson would be there, along with a few of her friends.
    You're not good at this. You stare at the contraption that contains a call feature on Armsmaster's computer. As with all of Armsmaster's tech it is both heavily modified and has an amazingly convenient user interface. Sophia's number is programmed in.

    You haven't made a new friend your own age in years. How do you talk with someone who isn't your sister or a grownup again? You weren't doing that badly with the Wards earlier...

    "Call Sophia Hess phone." You tell the machine. It does so instantly. You hear Sophia's voice on the other end.

    "Hey, boss." You laugh. You'd forgotten about caller ID.

    "Nope, not the boss, the teenage girl suspiciously crashing at the boss's house." Sophia laughs.

    "You dog! Sleeping with a guy twice your age. Hm, that puts me in mind of a project I'm working on."

    "Nah, he's barely fighting ABB. So, you wanna hang?"

    "The poor, neglected mistress needs a girlfriend? Sure thing. I've got something in mind I can't bring Emma along for."

    "What is it?" You ask. You need worthy opponents. It feels like fate.

    "I'm getting my best friend a present." There's joke you're not privy to in Sophia's voice. "Let's meet at Winslow High. You game for that?"

    "Never been, but Armsmaster's GPS is the shit. See you in 21 minutes." The number had to be 21, right there on the magnificently well configured interface of Armsmaster's computer.

    "See you then, Guts." There's something uncomfortable about the nickname you can't place.

    ___

    "Attack on the Merchants, seriously?" You eye Sophia suspiciously.

    "Not really an attack. More a robbery. They're thieves, so what's wrong with stealing from them?"

    "You sound like every bad girl of the week tempting the wholesome protagonist of every drama full of teenagers ever to be marketed to middle schoolers." Sophia's body language stiffens in the way that indicates someone wearing a mask is glaring at you.

    "They're the Merchants, Guts." She shakes her head. "Come on, don't be a pussy. According to my informant they've got something big."

    "How big." You frown. You've been doing that far too much lately.

    "Ever heard of Cauldron?" Your eyes go involuntarily wide. "Yeah, the rumors get crazy. A group of people selling powers. Some say they make those monstrous freaks like Faultline hires or that sweet piece of ass from New York. I've heard everything from they mindwiped Scion and threw him into the ocean to they made the Endbringers. It's all bullshit, but there are vials that make powers, and according to a girl with broken knees and more STDs than I can count because of those bastards they're boasting they can give one lucky sociopath powers. You want the next Bakuda or String Theory to be a meth addict?"

    Sophia Hess has a point.

    "You aren't wearing your new costume." You feel you need something to pout over.

    "Assholes in the PRT wouldn't let me leave in it without official business. Idiots. What if we see one of those Bakuda bombing runs and some eight year old dies of an agony stroke again when we could have caught Oni Fucking Lee." She shakes her head. "So, you in?"

    You think for a moment.

    Sophia is really pretty.

    "I'm in."

    ___

    "This is boring." Sophia, now Shadow Stalker shakes her head. "The roofie gas takes all the fun out of it."

    "Less reason for PRT assholes to breathe down your neck, right?" You say cheerfully. This has been a pleasant walk and chat. If Sophia hasn't called 78violet "a pair of pasty incestuous dykes sucking Disney's dick" the evening would have been perfect instead of merely very good. Otherwise you have to admit that Sophia's taste in music is considerably better than your own. She actually listens to the old British stuff that you'd only sampled a bit of when Dean was geeking out about music in your earshot.

    "Right." She looks a bit angry. "I was all geared up for a fight, and you just knock'em out like that? Way to cock block, Guts."

    "Maybe not." You smile as you see movement. A pile of dirt, sand, and trash is coming for the two of you at surprising speed.

    [X] "We're Shadow Stalker and Panacea. We just took out everyone in the building that's not you. Do you want to fuck with us? Take us to the powers in a can, now.

    [X] "You wanted a fight? Here you go. I'd rather watch." You step aside. Either she'll thank you for it or take it back. Either way, you win.

    [X] You consider Mush, the remaining Merchant. How should you test out your new suit against someone immune to toxins and plagues? Seems like fun practice.
    "Say, you wanted a real fight, right?" The Shadow Stalker mask doesn't give room for a smile on her face, but you get a feeling it's there anyway.

    "Hell yes." Sophia is intangible in an instant.

    A man made out of trash wouldn't be totally immune to plagues. Oil-eaters are something that you've been asked about, to clean up spills. You even have an idea of how you'd do it. Most human refuse is made of plastic. That's a vulnerability. You extend your left arm blade and coat it with something short-lived that will devour most the long-chain hydrocarbon polymers.

    That's if he is stupid enough to get near you. Otherwise, your Shadow Stalker will get to fire in her bolts...

    FUCK! You shudder, distracted. She isn't yours. That's just wrong. The only person that's yours is Victoria.

    Shadow Stalker is hitting Mush with crossbow bolts. They're moderately effective. They're slowing him down, keeping him from charging you, but he seems to suffer no lasting damage from them. Sophia solidifies next to you.

    "Ideas?"

    "I could hit him with something to eat plastic. It'd take a minute to do any real damage, but he might not have enough dirt and sand to keep being a threat."

    "Sure, try it. I'll see if I can get him close to you." Sophia's intangible once again, leaping towards Mush, bouncing off of him and shooting other things at him. She drives him back towards you, and while he's distracted you slash with your left arm blade into Mush's, well, he doesn't have coherent body parts.

    It strikes you suddenly that Mush is actually pretty powerful. No weak points, easy ability to regenerate, and...

    Mush rips the arm blade out of its socket. Only a quick tightening and breaking of your suit with your powers keeps him from hurting your arm badly. Turns out he's pretty strong and bearing down on you.

    Not the tenth scariest thing you've thought in the last couple weeks, but still scary.

    Sophia takes the moment to drive a chair into him and let it solidify. Unfortunately, Mush doesn't seem to care about the act of heroism. You see the plastic near the wound breaking down, but it's not fast enough to disable him.

    Mush hits you, hard, over the head. Then you black out.

    ___

    "Time to wake up, superhero." A lazy, somewhat flirty voice that's not Sophia's wakes you up. You open your eyes to see an angel. Gorgeous red hair, flawless skin, beautiful eyes, and she's next to you in a surprisingly comfortable bed. Sometimes you're really glad that your sexual orientation means that people you're attracted to can be comfortable with you in ways they wouldn't with a boy.

    "Where am I?" You ask. Then you pause. "Who are you?"

    "Emma Barnes." The girl gives you a winning smile. "Sophia couldn't take you home without causing a scene, so she left you here. Next time she wants your address." She says her address.

    "What time is it?" You ask.

    "It's seven in the morning." Your twelve hour shift is 10 AM to 10 PM today. You kind of want to murder whoever sets your schedule. "So, I heard you took out half the Merchants last night. Impressive." She looks you over. "You're taller than I thought. So, Sophia's out doing some kind of search and rescue thing against the latest bombing. So, is the popular, beloved superhero too good to hang with a couple of normal girls who actually have to go to school on this beautiful Sunday morning?"

    [X]"No, you're more than cool enough as is to hang out with."

    [X] "I really can't."

    [X] "Is Sophia single?"
    "Did Sophia say what happened last night?" This was humiliating, you got taken out like some noob in front of Sophia.

    "She said you knocked out three villains and 20 gangsters while arguing for the honor of two Disney girls. She sounded impressed." Emma smiles. "She said something about some cape she fought for 20 minutes before she hightailed and ran with you. She was kind of rushed, worried that someone would catch her on an unauthorized patrol."

    "I'd vouch for her if anyone was a jerk about it." You assure her. "Say I was out walking and she rescued me."

    "That would be wonderful. Now get dressed bitch, we're going to the mall."

    "I don't have anything to wear..."

    "My closet is your closet." Your imagination may take that a bit more metaphorically than she intended, but it would be a well done double entendre if she means what you hope."

    "What about breakfast?"

    "We'll eat there. Daddy's at work, my sister's asleep, and Mom's visiting her aunt. We're free to go shopping early." You consider bringing up having to leave before 10, but it would break the mood, and maybe you'll cut for the first time. What would anyone do about it?

    Emma's closet is a distant second to Victoria's closet. When designers are sending a girl two copies of some of their latest shit in the hope she'll wear them in public (two because she got mad when they weren't giving you one) you get the best closet. Still, if you're being completely honest, Emma's actually got a better sense of style than Victoria. It makes you feel sick to admit that.

    The mall is half empty. The other mall being bombed by ABB is probably to blame. You meet up with Sophia's other friend, Madison, at the mall's IHOP. Emma tells you she knows Sophia's Shadow Stalker, though it was an accident with Madison she's kept it quiet.

    "Oh my gosh!" She squeels. "It's Panacea." She takes the liberty of hugging you, but she's cute enough for you to grant it. She's much more cute in a little sister way than beautiful in the way Emma and Sophia are, but she's adorable enough and sweet enough to make up for it.

    "Hi." You think for a moment. "Madison, you dated, um..." You realize you don't actually know if she knows Dennis is Clockblocker. You're left with a brief, awkward silence.

    "Who did I date?" She asks innocently.

    "Um, sorry, different Madison. Boy Madison, dated Victoria a while back. Just a bit of a brain freeze." It's not a good lie, but Madison takes it in stride.

    "Well, I'm dating someone now." She says it with a pride that surprises you given how cute she is.

    "Time to dish." Emma says it almost like an order. So the power dynamic isn't an equal one.

    "Dennis is cute, funny, and has a car." You are starting to suspect Madison is acting. She might be playing Emma and Sophia.

    One thing that does not become more interesting with two cute girls is talking about boys. Your lack of dates mean you just sit there and ask a few kind of awkward questions while Emma interrogates Madison about Dennis's outfit, manners, social status, and appearance. You toy with the idea of making them lesbians if you're going to be their friend. Maybe that's a bit drastic, but this would get old fast. The food looks fortunately delicious, but that leads into a series of complaints about weight and arguments over what to order.

    "You know, I could take care of that." They stare at you.

    "Yes!" Madison claps her hands together. "That would be the best thing ever to happen in the entire history of the planet! What can you do?"

    "I could just tweak your metabolism a bit. Nothing serious." You put your hand over hers. "Well within the human norm, and I'll hook up a little gland in an empty cavity for you to turn it off if you're ever stuck on a desert island or something and need to survive."

    "You. Are. The. Greatest." Madison is looking at you in wonder and respect. Maybe it's a manipulation, but you're willing to soak it in. There's something pleasant about helping someone in such a petty way. "I miss real food so much. Now I could eat a bag of lifesavers and have bacon for breakfast every day." You realize she's actually crying in happiness. "Do it to me now. I would be so grateful."

    You do it in a heartbeat.

    "So, what could you do for me?" You tease, keeping bodily contact with Madison. A strange look passes over Emma's face. "Once an old woman offered me an island."

    "I could be your friend. I could be your best friend. Like, forever!" She looks a bit scared. Maybe she doesn't realize you've done it already.

    "Hm, I could use a friend, but if we're going to be friends I guess it's a freebie. So, anything else you'd like?" You're under the impression that most girls your age have something they'd change about themselves. Madison has, um, a lot more than Victoria did back when you first started your editing, but Victoria was always the prettiest girl in the world.

    Madison's still not done deciding on alterations after you've eaten. The slow boob job will take about six months, but you're pretty sure they'll look marvelous and not make anyone think of them as a boob job. Madison paid a surprising amount of attention to her hands and feet. You argued her out of a tan as you quite like her skin tone and think it matches her facial features well. The tush is definitely a major improvement. Really it is amazing how much time she spends thinking about little features people rarely see.

    Emma is rather quiet, considering the two of you as you chat on features to improve. The shopping trip is where she starts to shine. As much as you love and miss Victoria, Emma's sense of style is second to none. It's much more fun talking about clothes than boys. You kind of feel the sexiest you ever have with her recommendations. She keeps you a bit subdued, subtle, but the look really is cute librarian rather than mousy girl at the back of class.

    At 9:45 you're starting to get worried. You don't want to ditch these girls. You really want to stay with them.

    [X] "Hey, Madison, could I ask you a big favor?" Madison did say she was really grateful. "Would you mind keeping me company for a twelve hour shift at the hospital?

    [X] "Guys, I have to go to the hospital." You sigh. "The curse of being the healing superhero. When can we meet up again?"

    [X] "Guys, I need to make a call." You feel excitement, trepidation. This is horrible. It's literally going to cause someone to die, and you're in such a better head space, but, well, you need to keep a good thing going. You're going to tell the hospital you can't be in today.
     
    ~[]~, Ddmkm122, BBJimmy and 1 other person like this.
  7. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Never Far Behind-2

    "I'd love to. What are friends for?" Madison tells you. "Like, I have to do homework, but you're a superhero so my parents will trust you're safe." She giggles. "Actually I think seeing you work sounds fun."

    "I'd come too, but I have to work on that project." Emma gives Madison a knowing smile and her eyes light up.

    "Ooh, the thing!" She squeals. Then she glances back to you. "Um, a super secret private thing me and Emma are working on. Sorry." You're curious, but no need to pry. She takes your arm as the two of you walk to your car. Madison chats about fashion and celebrities while you drive to the hospital.

    "...and then it turned out Sonny was confusing Chad for his stunt double..." You might be confusing celebrity gossip for sitcoms or soap operas.

    "Hey, Madison, have you ever read Flowers in the Attic?" You ask when she pauses for breath.

    "I did! It was so sad. I cried so much when Cory died. But I didn't really get it. Why would the Grandfather put something like that in his will? Like, why would he suspect she had secret children stashed away somewhere? I get he's a big meanie, but that's a weird thing to stipulate in a will." Yeah, that confused you a couple times too. Wait, did Madison actually use the word meanie in a normal sentence?

    The hospital is packed as usual. Oni Lee's bombing runs have been getting more and more intense. The two of you walk arm in arm to your station, Madison keeping distractingly close to you and getting really quiet. When you reach your station...

    "EEP!" Madison leaps behind you. Honestly, you can't blame her. Dennis is wearing the full scale suit. Even solid white to fit with his color scheme you can't deny they look like penises. The whole outfit is grotesque.

    "I made need to talk to a fashion designer about your new suits." You admit.

    "Wait, you made that." Madison says into your ear. "Um, why?"

    "It's the best way I could think of to exploit his powers." You say defensively.

    "Wait, is that..." She whispers into your ear "...Dennis?"

    "Yes." She shudders right into your back.

    "Ew..."

    "Come on, none of this is my idea. What are you two doing together, anyway?"

    "We're friends now." Madison informs him, for some reason still staying behind you. It's actually quite pleasant having her pressed up against your back.

    "Neat." Dennis laughs. "Well, it's nice to have a pretty girl like you here if I've on a six hour guard duty shift."

    "Aw, you're sweet." Madison is still grinning when she comes out from behind you. "So, who's after you?"

    "Laserdream of New Wave volunteered so none of us would have to stay up late on with school tomorrow, especially on a Monday." You're not sure how you feel about that.

    Madison starts flirting with Dennis a bit while the patients start coming through, but the two of them do work hard to include you in the conversation.

    "Then this total dweeb, Taylor, just punches Emma in the face! I wasn't there, but now she's accusing us of starting it or something. We're having this huge meeting at school about it. She says she had this concussion thing but she looks fine, fine for her anyway. It's a good thing So-,um,ow Stalker was there or she might have gotten really hurt."

    "Sounds like she just wants attention." Dennis shakes his head. "I'm sure you'll be fine."

    "Emma looked fine to me." She hadn't looked like she'd been punched in the face, especially not as hard as the face of the old Jewish man who Empire 88 had thrown a brick at who you have to work on. Idiots, this feels like a truce violation to you.

    "Makeup, Ames." Madison laughs. "She was furious at her, worried it's mess up her cute little nose. I was surprised she didn't ask you to look at it."

    "She might not be comfortable with asking me for stuff yet. Tell her I'll do it, all she has to do is ask."

    "You're the best, Amy. You really are." Madison pats you on the head. "I'm really proud of you. I'm not sure I could touch so many sick people." The old man gives her a bit of a glare.

    "We all have our strengths." You assure her. "So, Sophia set you up. Are, well, are she and Emma dating?" You give it a moment before you add the word "anyone."

    "Nope. Sophia's always found most boys pathetic. I think she had some weird crush on her stepfather or something, but maybe I'm just totally reading into stuff. Emma's dated a bit, but it's weird, she seems to pick boys apart, almost like she's looking for reasons not to date them. I don't get it. Boys are awesome." You look up and catch the tail end of Madison giving Dennis a flirty look.

    That's surprisingly hopeful on several fronts.

    "What do you think they're looking for, really?"

    "Oh, maybe just someone cute, polite, with a great sense of humor, and not totally embarrassing." Madison suggests. You think she's implying something to Dennis.

    "Hey, speaking of embarrassing, that reminds me of a movie I just saw with my mom." Dennis begins to describe, well...

    ___

    "And then the guy said 'you are so beautiful that I want to be reincarnated as your child so that I can breastfeed by you until I'm 20.' That was a great movie. " Madison looks a more than a bit squicked out.

    "And you really didn't have a girlfriend?" You point out. Dennis just laughs.

    "I have high standards." Madison rolls her eyes. The day's load is easing up. Apparently Oni Lee was pressed into retreating or hiding today by Empire 88.

    "So, speaking of boys, what about you?" Madison asks. You're wondering how that is speaking of boys.

    "Not many guys want to stick here for so long." Best not to breach something so personal quite so soon. Maybe if it was just you two, but Dennis is Dennis. "It's kind of hard to meet anyone if I'm here for twelve hours a day. Victoria tried to set me up a couple times, but nothing really clicked.

    "Oh, you poor baby." Madison rubs your shoulders. "You're way too cute to be single."

    "I know." Dennis shakes his head. "I don't get it myself. I tried but she just always looked bored."

    "Wait, you were trying?" This is actually news to you. "When?"

    "Wait, you seriously didn't..." Dennis trails off. "Man I thought you were just being stuck up. What about that charity lunch for the kids of disabled veterans?"

    "You spent the whole time talking about Jimmy Fallon."

    "Um, yeah. But I was nervous." Dennis sounds defensive. You sigh. Not like you're at all attracted to him anyway.

    ___

    "So then it turns out that Jacob wasn't ever really in love with Bella, he was just sensing his true love deep inside her." Forty five minutes of talking about Twilight. Dennis has been standing still testing his new sensory powers for 39 of them.

    "I see." You mutter.

    "Well, I really should get back to my homework. You seem bored." Madison sits down on the hospital floor and pulls out her backpack. "I'll keep you updated on my homework."

    ___

    It turns out that Madison keeping you updated on her homework is code for helping Madison do her homework while trying to focus on healing people. It's actually a pleasant distraction. It's just so cute the way she keeps thinking she's done and then has to ask you about something else.

    Dennis is fast asleep. Maybe not the best trick for a body guard, but he'll be up fast enough if there's an attack. You check your watch. It's 3:52.

    "Dennis." He jumps to a start.

    "Um, yeah?"

    "Your shift's almost over."

    "Oh, great." He sounds really happy it's almost over and checks his wrist.

    "This super space suit doesn't have a watch attachment, does it?"

    "Um, it will now." After you finish curing the diabetes so the man can keep his foot you tap the suit and build in a clock attachment.

    "Ah, that's better." He sighs.

    "Clockblocker has a clock." Madison giggles. "Okay, I'm nearly done with this. But where's what I don't get. I know the X squared and X2 are different, but couldn't they have just used another symbol so I won't confuse them? Seems easy to me."

    ___

    To Dennis's torment Crystal arrives 13 minutes after the hour.

    "I'm so sorry I'm late. We were chasing what we thought was Heartbreaker's car, but it was really just a couple from Montreal." She sweeps you into a hug. "Oh, Amy. We really need to keep in better touch. I haven't seen you all month." She kisses you on the cheeks.

    "It's fine, Crystal." Dennis does not seem to think it is fine.

    "I have to run." He leaves without actually saying goodbye.

    "That was rude." Madison crinkles up her nose.

    "Oh, you brought a friend!" Crystal decides that hugging Madison is appropriate for some reason. "I didn't know you'd made a new friend. Tell me all about it!" Madison decides that this is much more important than homework and starts to relay in surprising detail everything that's happened since this morning. Crystal is a great audience for Madison, finding her absolutely adorable.

    You start to feel jealous after a while as when Crystal starts telling stories about different minor celebrities she's dated. Madison finds Crystal to be one of the coolest people in the world.

    "I know this is a weird time to ask this, but why do you need a body guard?" Madison asks when Crystal leaves to go get all of you dinner. "No one seems to be taking it that seriously. Are they just trying to keep you from being lonely?" You think about it.

    "I think it's more that when you combine me and the hospital we're a pretty big target. It's better to have two powerful parahumans. I'm powerful, but I could be beaten. Not having a predictable guard makes it harder to plan an attack." Madison frowns, but seems to accept this.

    "Madison, can you keep a really big secret."

    "Ooh, yes!" Madison laughs and comes over to you. "You can whisper it into my ear so she doesn't hear. She pats the black little person who I am setting up to grow to normal size over the next three years on the back of the head and climbs into your lap. Practically speaking it's the easiest way to get close to your head without disrupting your arm, but this makes your intended confession a great deal more awkward.

    "Um, I like Emma and Sophia." You whisper.

    "Oh, I do to! They're so much fun. I want us all to be friends. But that's not the secret." She leans her cute ear in closer.

    "Um, actually it's a bad time." Madison looks disappointed, but she actually doesn't climb out of your lap until Crystal arrives with paper bowels of soup combined with fancy bread.

    ___

    "This was great." Madison hugs you as you drop her off at her house and kisses you on the cheek. "I don't think I can make it tomorrow, as I have a test Tuesday, but I think I can do it again Wednesday." You'd already done the song and dance of programming numbers into each others phones. "That was so different from anything I've done before."

    "You made everything much better. Really, it's hard to do that for twelve hours. I'll take you anytime you're free." Madison bounces up and down.

    "I'm so happy you're happy. Any time, really." Madison hugs you again, and moves quickly back to her house. She does seem really happy.

    You drive back the annoying route to Armsmaster's house. To your surprise he's sitting on his couch. It's a lot less surprising that he's clearly pissed.

    "Idiot." He mutters. Then he looks up and sees you. "Hi, Amy. Director Calvert is an idiot. If I didn't know better I think he's trying to get fired and take us all down with him."

    "What is it?" You ask.

    "Tomorrow, 8 PM, he wants a big meeting between the heroes and the villains. He says that this has gone on long enough, and we're calling an official truce to beat ABB." Armsmaster is the angriest you've seen him, a lot angrier than after the hornet attack. "Kaiser's the only major figure who accepted. Only a couple of minor players, the Merchants and Undersiders, are still in his alliance. It'll just look like we're teaming up with the Nazis." Armsmaster mutters some creative obscenities.

    "Who all will be there?" You ask.

    "Protectorate, Wards, New Wave, Undersiders, Merchants, Empire 88. Maybe if we invited Faultline's Crew it'd look less bad, but Calvert insists that after working with them they're too much of a liability." He groans. "You're coming, of course, so call the hospital and make plans around that. You'll be right next to Dauntless, sitting with New Wave."

    "Makes sense. Um, about Victoria?"

    "You don't have to talk to her, but you do should sit next to her. We want to look strong and normal, so Victoria's sitting with New Wave and not the Wards." New Wave always sits in the same pattern and stands in it for group shots. Carol and Sarah together in the middle, Mark and Neil standing next to their wives, with the the oldest kids next to them and the youngest on the outside.

    Your mind is racing. You're going to be forced to see Victoria in person. Maybe not talk, but see her.

    [X] You can't be so close to her, not before she's ready. You'll have to ask Armsmaster to change the seating arrangements.

    [X] You need to sit next to her. Maybe she won't talk to her, but feeling her breathe will help a lot more than Madison did.

    [X] You can't go to this meeting. You can pull an excuse of some kind, right?
    Victoria responds.

    It could have gone better. You get a flurry of texts.

    "I love you. Do not talk to me. I love you more than anyone else. If you touch me, I will break through a wall to get away. I love you a lot. You can sit next to me. If I talk to you, do not respond. I really love you. I know this is me being a crazy bi-polar bitch. I love you. Give me a bit of time. I love you and hope you're happy and safe and loved. The penis suit is grotesque. I can't wait to see you and I love that I am going to see you. Look at me in any way you want. XOXO."

    It's a start.

    ___

    The hospital's brilliant way around FUCK IT NO TIME TO BE CUTE YOU HAVE TO GO IN AT 7:30!

    You've never been this close to telling them to go fuck themselves, ever.

    After throwing possibly the least professional tantrum of your entire life, you go in two hours earlier. You get four and a half hours of sleep that night. You have a headache when you leave. It is going to have to be worth it.

    "Emma, I have a really big favor to ask you? Mind not asking any questions?"

    "Sure, babe. After what you've done for my friends I'm your bitch." She laughs.

    Two hours and a hole in your credit card later, you stare into Armsmaster's idea of a full length mirror in wonder. With liberal use of cosmetics, a commando raid on a hair stylist, and shoes worth more than your phone, you feel the prettiest you ever have in your life. Your new costume, made with a sketch pad, your powers, and Emma's keen eye for fashion, is nowhere near the stately healer's robe you've worn for the last two years. It's definitely still a robe, with the red cross at the center, but it's trimmed and pulled in as much as possible to still be recognized as a healer's robe. Held skintight, showing off your legs, cleavage, and arms is a slightly modified version of your combat suit, thinned out even further at the parts exposed from the robe.

    "You're the hottest thing to ever walk the Earth, doll. Don't let anyone tell you different." Emma sighs in contentment. "As you said, no questions." She kisses your cheek. "Go out their, tiger. Whoever it is will be fall in love with you the moment you walk through the door."

    She'll just have to fall in love with you all over again. She did it once before. How hard can it be?"

    ___

    You and Armsmaster are the first to arrive.

    To Armsmaster's right is a massive screen he clearly designed. Across from him is Kaiser's seat. In the center is a small table for Armsmaster, Miss Militia, Aegis and Gallant, Tattletale and Grue, Skidmark and Squealer, Lady Photon and Manpower, Kaiser, and Purity. Spread out behind the representatives are five tables of vastly varying sizes.

    Next come the Undersiders. Four teenagers. Armsmaster looks curiously at them.

    "I was told you were recruiting."

    "They couldn't make it." Tattletale says. "Family emergency." She gives her fox like smile as they settle in.

    Armsmaster sighs. You do appreciate being seated very far away from the Undersiders. Skitter sits down, gangly and covered in her bugs. Grue, their leader who is rumored not to talk sits next to her. Tattletale sits down with him, and Regent at the end. They are a somewhat impressive team.

    The Wards arrive together clad in their terrifying new armor. Seeing them all together and so well equipped fills you with a weird combination of pride and horror. You really need to get Emma to help design your costumes. They look like a batch of terrifying monsters. Tattletale's jaw actually drops when she sees them.

    "What were you idiots thinking?" She shakes her head.

    "That we're going to win." Armsmaster's voice is firm, proud, and Tattletale just shakes her head.

    New Wave arrives next. Victoria is wearing her new black suit and glides over the floor, sitting down next to you and glaring determinedly forward. Mark has a thousand yard stare and sits down next to her. It is not a good day for him. Carol sits down next to Victoria, looking wary. Neil pulls out the seat for Crystal, who sits down between Carol and Eric, before he joins his wife at the leaders table.

    The Merchants arrive, looking the worse for wear after their encounter with you the other day. You flash Mush a smile just to confuse him.

    The Protectorate shows up in force. Weapons, armor, costumes, powers, they're impressive, filling in the ranks between New Wave and the Wards.

    Empire 88 arrives last. Their current roster 13 parahumans strong, some of the most powerful villains in the city. The Protectorate and the Wards would need to fight together to outnumber them by a single fighterm and this is one of Empire 88's smaller showings. Taking them on would require every hero in the city to attack them in a fair fight. Purity and Kaiser settle across from Armsmaster and Miss Militia.

    Everyone is quiet for a surprisingly long time.

    "We are here to discuss the current problem." Armsmaster firmly tries to retake control of the situation. He presses a button. Pictures flash on the screen. Lung, Oni Lee, Bakuda, Heartbreaker, other faces you don't recognize and three you do, Heartbreaker's children. Finally, a face much like yours in a black robe with a green x on it.

    "ABB, Heartbreaker, and the cape codenamed Nostrum, a clone of Panacea believed to have subtly different powers. The goal of ABB is to consolidate, to make it too painful for us to continue harassing them. The goal of Heartbreaker is to take Panacea, denying us all of a valuable resource. The goal of Nostrum, as far as the Protectorate's resources have been able to determine, is to inflict as much damage as possible to everyone, and she is supporting them to inflict this damage. Faultline's Crew has worked with this alliance before, but has not been seen with them since last Tuesday, where they broke out Lung and Oni Lee, attacked Panacea and several out of town Wards, and nearly killed Purity."

    There is a stretch of silence at this.

    "I have tried to organize the city's villains to take care of these beasts. Most proved uncooperative. Some showed the foresight to take down the largest threat to our continued operations, but Faultline and the Travelers broke ranks early, and Coil's forces seem to be in disarray. " Kaiser announces. "I have weakened the resources of ABB, but at this rate it would be another several weeks before they would be softened enough to be defeated without risk."

    "We have seventeen hours." Armsmaster announces. "That is why we all had to meet." He clicks, and a picture of some massive and intricate piece of machinery appears on the main screen and the several others echoing it for each table. You hear gasps from Tattletale, Victor, Kid Win and Squealer. They have some idea of what this is. "That is a bomb which could destroy Brockton Bay. Worse than that, according to Protectorate Thinkers the bomb, if detonated, could send out an EMP over a full fifth of North America. Ordinarily a problem like this would result in a massive mobilization to contain the threat. Unfortunately..." He clicks again, and a massive cloud appears on screen. "... there is an even worse threat that just appeared. Codenamed 'Ash Beast' this parahuman, or possibly Endbringer, has been tearing through Egypt. Even that would not ordinarily be enough not to bring in more troops. However, the Three Blasphemies have taken an interest in guiding or controlling this creature. All spare resources have been devoted to preventing this from happening. Legend has personally requested that we do not call in more resources from elsewhere. He is concerned that any resources that could help to handle this threat here could result in serious casualties against the Three Blasphemies and the Ash Beast. Not having members of the Brockton Bay Protectorate called on to help against this threat is the best they could do."

    Everyone sits there, surprised. Suddenly, a miracle. Victoria takes your hand. She doesn't look at you, but she squeezes it tightly.

    "So we are on our own." Kaiser says. As controlled as he is, you think the mask is slipping just slightly.

    "We may be on our own, but we are not helpless." Armsmaster gives us all a smile. "We have 43 parahumans at this meeting. You all have microphones. We are going to coordinate, develop a strategy. In the next seventeen hours we must defeat Bakuda and make sure she does not detonate that bomb. Our opposition against that is Lung, Oni Lee, Nostrum, and Heartbreaker's family, as well as Bakuda herself. Fortunately, we are not unarmed. Over the last week I have managed to personally fight each and every one of our threats." Suddenly the screens are crisscrossed into four small screens. "I have been tracking and predicting their movements, and using information gained from one of Heartbreaker's children we can see through their eyes. I believe that in two hours the major threats will all be separated enough to isolate with sufficient firepower. It will be safest to take them down individually. Many of you know what you can do better than I can, though I will be helping as much as possible. We're going to take an hour to plan the best course of attack.

    [X] Write in. Plan out the attack. Many ideas and strategies are not going to be Amy's thoughts and ideas, but will be distributed amongst others for the next update.
    The room is strangely silent for a minute. People talk softly with others at their table, gesturing to other tables.

    Victoria keeps holding your hand.

    "Whatever happens, I love you, Amy Claire Dallon. You're the best thing, the best person, in my life. You have nothing to be sorry for. I trust you and I respect you." Victoria whispers into your ear. "Please, please don't say a word to me. I can't have those be my last words to you, and I want to remember you like this." Neil and Sarah return from the leader table.

    This must be what Hell feels like.

    "Alright, let's think. Do we fight in the teams we are accustomed to, or split people up for power synergies?" Sarah asks the table.

    "Split up. We know our teammates best, and we fight better with them, but many of these forces are inexperienced or poorly trained like the Merchants, or specialized like the Undersiders." Eric starts. "We should spread competent members around. Having some assaults fail and others succeed would be bad. Teammates who work very well in groups of two or three should stay together, but otherwise we should match threats to our own capabilities."

    "I agree." Neil says. "Ordinarily I'd prefer to stick teams together, but these specific threats would respond best to specific powers."

    "Alright then, let's make a list." Sarah clicks a remote, and the screen shows all the names involved. "Let's start distributing. Who works best for which threats?"

    "Grue, Night, and Fog absolutely have to work together." Victoria starts. "Night and Fog are highly experienced teammates, Grue can keep people from seeing Night, and Fog can continue fighting in the darkness."

    "What about the rest of Purity's team? Crusader and Purity herself?" Eric is asking when your microphone buzzes. "The Undersiders are requesting Panacea's assistance." You're still for a moment. Victoria looks at you.

    "Go. It's a truce, these things happen." Victoria leans in and whispers. "But really, fuck them with coke bottles, all of them." You're smiling the second biggest smile since she threw up on you when you go to the Undersider table.

    "The nightmare suits, specifically Gallant's." Tattletale starts. "You did something with his powers, somehow, and you're using the same information you learned from Skitter." Damn psychic. "I have an idea, you can bounce signals from Skitter, that's how you jam her."

    "Yes. I can do that."

    "I'm thinking relays. Make enough bugs to cover the city. That way we get the largest swarm possible, spread it out as far as usable bugs can travel in about half a day."

    "Wait, why a full half a day?" You ask.

    "Girl, seventeen hours until the bomb goes off. When plan A fails, we need as much firepower as possible." Tattletale gives you a smile. "I suggest you get to work on relay bugs while we think of what else you could do."

    "Alright. I'll need bugs. Skitter provides a hornet. You look at her funny.

    "It was a good idea." She says defensively.

    "And it wasn't her idea. That was Nostrum, I think. Took her a while to get it right, but worth it." Tattletale explains.

    "Alright, let's think, we were talking about Grue working with Night and Fog over at my table." Tattletale frowns.

    "That is a good one." Skidmark, Squealer, and Mush are suddenly walking towards you and the Undersiders, with Assault as their escort.

    "Armsmaster has requested that you start handing out healing and refreshment to everyone present. Remove long term injuries and atrophy. He thinks it would be better if we all hit them fresh and recharged." Assault leans down. "Armsmaster's a dork. Long term it's a bad idea." You consider it.

    "There won't be a long term otherwise. So, meth addiction destroying your bodies? I think you three would be top priority." Skidmark nods.

    "Yeah, we're, um, grateful for this. We were hoping you'd offer something like this, that's why we came." He looks sheepish. You sigh.

    "Alright, not like you three will ever be a major threat anyone." You start tuning up the Merchants. They leave animated, bright eyed and bushy tailed, talking about tactics. You actually feel warm inside, even though you probably shouldn't.

    "Okay, Grue's next." Tattletale looks relieved. "Long term brain injury we didn't realize was long term last time we had you. He hasn't been able to talk since Bakuda." You glare at her, but a fighter who can't talk is not useful for anyone. The Undersiders get refreshed, though none of them need a fraction of what...

    You disable Regent. "I believe you have a spy or Stranger." Tattletale sighs.

    "Nope. He left his father. Immunizing him to the plague you've been throwing out like rice at a wedding would be really polite. He's been with us before you decided to go all sadistic with life ruining plagues to get Heartbreaker here." You do so, temporarily, for a week or so. Tattletale glares at you but doesn't say anything.

    The relay bugs take a few minutes to get right, and after that there's a lot of grunt work. Grue leaves to talk with Purity about their synergies, and Skitter leaves with him after a while. Tattletale has tablets, paper, and other devices spread out in front of her and talks into her microphone seemingly at random.

    "No, don't send Shadow Stalker after Bakuda, she's got bombs which could suck her in, black holes, that I've seen. Her defenses will be weak against Bakuda. She's best against Lung. Use all the candy Amy gave you, Aegis." Tattletale flicks the microphone to another position. "Listen to Kaiser. You need some brutes for Lung, but you aren't winning the fight that way."

    "What about other, better bugs?" You ask after a while. "Weaponized ones. Harder hitters."

    "Not a bad idea, but that's low priority. We can start pulling them out after everyone is sent out." Tattletale tells you. "I think we only need about two thousand more relay bugs, and then we can get to the other ideas I have for you." Tattletale turns back to her microphone. "Don't you dare run after Heartbreaker, Shadow Stalker! You're not invisible. He, or one of his children, might be able to tag you. Stick with Lung!"

    "Tell me about your other ideas." You do want to know what she's cooked up.

    "Well, immunize everyone to your sleep plague and the thing you invented when someone made a counter to the sleep plague and throw it everywhere. Add in the Vasil agent. You already put those into the nightmare Ward weapons." She flicks her microphone again. "Oni Lee, Crystal. Flying light speed attacks, stop thinking you can stay out of Heartbreaker's range." She turns back to you. "It's not perfect. Bakuda's NBC'd everyone up the ass, and Nostrum can definitely delay, but not cure, your shit. It reduces the margin for error they have, means that a faulty tear in their suits or lighting themselves on fire could end the fight." She flicks her microphone again. "Glory Hole, not all of Heartbreaker's children are line of sight, but good idea you beautiful goddess." She notices you've stopped making the relay bugs. "Alright, I'll stop insulting her."

    "For the rest of your life." You give Tattletale your best smile. "Now, what else you got?"

    "Velocity. Arm him with something like one of your suits, a prototype for the one Armsmaster's going to claim all the credit for. Give him good blades and everything you can..." She looks out over the tables. "Ooh, that is brilliant. She shakes her head. "He's teaming up with Othala. He'll be hitting like Aegis instead of an eight year old boy. That makes the blades even better. Ooh..." She flicks her microphone. "Oni Lee. Send him against Oni Lee. He's the hardest to catch, and if he enters into another fight it will go really badly." She turns back to you. "Give me a minute to think on the others." Then she goes back to her microphone. "Arms, Kai, that's good, but Bakuda actually hasn't been able to remove the metal from her bombs, so send him after her instead."

    You look around the room as you work. Victoria, Rune, and Miss Militia are at a white board drawing up attack plans. Battery and Velocity are in an open section of the room practicing with Othala. Kaiser and Armsmaster are circling the room together, going from table to table. Grue has blacked out one part of the room with several Undersiders, Night, Fog, Purity, and Crusader inside it.

    "What about making more suits to give to PRT members? Have them flood the streets, make it look like we're treating this as an S-Class threat?" Tattletale looks back at you. "Maybe if this fight goes on for a while, but we need to hit hard and fast right away. A war of attrition favors Bakuda. If the ABB starts hitting everywhere, then that's a good plan."

    Armsmaster and Kaiser reach you and Tattletale.

    "Nostrum, we need a read on her. Just how dangerous is she?" Armsmaster asks.

    "She can't pull off most of the bio-tech that Panacea's been doing, and I think she has a lot of trouble with microscopic life. She's been doing something to the Vasils to reset their biology, not removing the plague. If she could cook up plagues she would have by now. She can counter the biological warfare. If she can see you, she can kill you, and she might not need line of sight. Not sure about that. She needs to keep close to the Vasils. She's also got some nasty tricks she's prepared. The hornets were one example, but she probably has others. Hit her hard and fast, and see if you can get a kill order. She is not going to be redeemed." Tattletale explains.

    Kaiser looks at you curiously. "I am wondering about a biological weapon to take down the ABB. They do have certain genetic markers, do they not? They are all Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or from a closely related ethnicity . Wouldn't taking out their foot soldiers non-violently be a great move?"

    "Actually no. I could hit with maybe 90% certainty and hit maybe 20% of everyone else, depending on race. It's less sure than a universal attack that I immunize our own troops against." Kaiser nods. "I understand. As you were." The two walk away.

    "You're a little cock blocker." Tattletale laughs. "He's been wanting to get the heroes to do that since he heard about Albany." Tattletale looks over at the Wards. "Oh." She flicks another switch on her microphone. "Hey, Cockblocker, spiders, strands of silk web, and your suit. Talk to Skitter when she gets out of the dark." She flicks it in another direction. "Cricket, you're right, but don't trust Grue's dark to protect you from Nostrum or Heartbreaker's kids at close range. Go with Oni Lee. Maybe if there are a few left standing after the attack you can try it."

    Only 800 relay bugs to go.

    ___

    The Wards and Assault had ended up taking over what was originally the Undersider table to ask questions about their suits capabilities. Vista and Assault are at a white board.

    "I like the idea of us teaming up. We work well together, but I've been training against Bakuda for weeks, and you're great for fighting Lung." Assault explains. "Now, I think the plan is good, but you need someone experienced at the head with Aegis and Gallant elsewhere."

    "What about Manpower?" You suggest. "He's not crucial to any of the teams, but he's one of the most experienced leaders in the city."

    "Ooh, point for the petite librarian." Assault writes down Manpower on the white board. "You look gorgeous by the way." You blush. "But come on, really?" He gestures over at Dean. "Believe me, you can do better." You give Assault your most winning smile.

    "Believe me, I know."

    A team from the Empire comes over from the New Wave table, Shielder in tow, with Hookwolf in front.

    "Oh, you? I was hoping for Krieg, he has style." Assault pouts in an exaggerated fashion.

    "Krieg has left the Empire." Hookwolf tells him. Assault looks seriously disappointed. "We want to experiment with Vista, Shielder, and Stormtiger."

    "Show them what you've got, girl." Assault grins at Vista. "Have fun." It's hard to tell with her tank suit, but Vista seems to be trying to skip as she follows the Nazis. It might have something to do with being treated as a valuable fighter, or maybe she's just switched from crushing on Gallant to crushing on Shielder. Hopefully she's not crushing on Hookwolf.

    ___

    "Are you sure we should but Glory Girl so close to Nostrum?" Lady Photon asks Miss Militia. Everyone is back at their starting tables, and the leaders are consolidating the plans. You're down to just another 200 relay bugs. You wish you could have just had the time to let them breed. They'll self destruct in a couple days, which gives you the sinking feeling that you'll have to do this all over again later.

    "It's a risk, but we need physical power here. She'll fly above the darkness as high as practical, and only move in after Nostrum is neutralized. We really want her strength to box in Heartbreaker's team as they lack brutes or other counters to being boxed in with a bus." Miss Militia explains.

    "What about further upgrades from Panacea?" Kaiser asks.

    "She's been preparing contingencies in case of disaster and helping with coordination. Thanks to her Skitter can appear at all four battlefields. After that she will have time to give everyone sleep and paralysis spreaders, immunize everyone from her weapons, and upgrade Velocity. She'll be working on plans B through G while we press the assaults." Tattletale explains.

    "I would rather have used her to ensure we win this round." Kaiser clearly gives a glare to Tattletale despite his eyes being covered.

    "If you treat failure as not being an option, then when you fail it fucks the dog hard." Tattletale argues. "If we hinge everything on one assault then we're begging for trouble. We're fighting a tinker and a really smart gang with subtle powers. Things are going to go wrong. This way we can cover our basis." Armsmaster nods approvingly.

    Velocity is outfitted with a tinker contraption that actually looks like something Kid Win designed. You hadn't noticed him leaving, but he had returned with the thing looking very proud with himself. There are other, more subtle changes. Everyone looks fresh, alert, energetic, thanks to you. There's no longer the sense of despair from earlier. Everyone looks determined, and many look excited, especially the Wards and the Empire. Tattletale keeps typing as she talks, writing up the designs for the contingencies.

    Skitter is the biggest change, though far less noticeable than Velocity's upgrade. You and Armsmaster managed to hook her up to roughly half the capes present, routing her signals through the Wards suits and several special versions of the relay bugs. It will hopefully grant the capes wired in instincts and information from the rest of the group. Many of the capes, especially those fighting Oni Lee, will be able to fight on the battlefield with far more than their normal senses. Armsmaster stands up in the center of the room, his face copied on screens facing every table.

    "Alright, everyone. We all know our our orders. I want everyone to remember, if things go wrong retreat. We have contingencies, and we have Panacea. Everything is not riding on this specific assault. We hit as hard as we can and we fade out if things stop going our way. Skitter can keep up pressure, and we can make new plans, attack again, drive them into traps. We do not have to take risks for this fight. If you're injured it is better to cycle you through Panacea than to press and risk losing a cape. If any of these fights go poorly we will still have a significant threat. We need to win every fight, and if we lose the wrong person in another fight we could have a disaster worse than an Endbringer."

    __

    The troops gather into four teams, five counting you, Skitter, and Tattletale. You move into the center table with them. Othala's regeneration will stay with you until she needs to grant Velocity super strength, keeping you fresh and awake to work on what is currently Tattletale's Plan E.

    Tattletale will watch, give information on what the bad guys are going to do next. You're staying with her, and this is the second most in your life you've ever wanted to be blind.

    What if they kill Victoria?

    ___

    You sense the Lung team reach him first through the device at the back of your neck. Cameras show it up on the screens as well.

    Browbeat, Clockblocker, Shadow Stalker, Vista, Skidmark, Squealer, Mush, Manpower, Menja, Fenja, Stormtiger, Hookwolf, Shielder.

    The bugs hit first, both Skitter's and the drones you gave the Wards. Over a hundred stings of sleep and paralytic agent, rapidly followed by a swarm of hornets, spiders, and every other biting thing Skitter could find in the time it took to reach him.

    Shadow Stalker hits next. After a talk it was decided that she would be better paired with Squealer than Velocity. Slightly less mobility, a lot more control. Squealer's vehicle (you're not sure what to call the strangely built thing) smashes through the wall and Shadow Stalker flips into the air, unleashing a crossbow bolt you made for her directing into Lung's stomach, hitting him with a massive dose of everything you have that shouldn't kill him.

    Shadow Stalker is intangible when Shielder, Stormtiger, and Vista make their play. The air rushes out of Lung's way, preventing any flames, and Shielder holds the air out.

    Clockblocker and Skitter move next, as the outside of the shield, very close to Lung, is coated in spiderweb and silly string. He freezes it an instant later.

    Lung is devoid of fire, his strength insufficient, and he has nothing to breathe. Hookwolf, Menja, Fenjda, Manpower, and Mush move in for when he breaks out.

    Hopefully, Lung is down.

    ___

    Bakuda is next. Her countermeasures prevent hitting her with bugs first. Triumph starts blasting down the walls in his way one by one. Not the best sneak attack, but she is in a fortress. Bugs swarm in after him, detonating every trap they can. Miss Militia sprays the hallway with bullets and her own explosives, hoping to clear or detonate any other traps before they get through. Miss Militia is seated next to Rune on a broken apart set of rocks and cars to be used as a defense. Assault stands right behind her ready to jump forward to deflect any attacks, with Kaiser on her other side, his eyes out for bombs.

    Armsmaster, Dauntless, and Victor are seated behind them. Armsmaster has his halberd pointed forward to jam any remote signals Bakuda could send, hopefully. Dauntless has his shield prepared to cast a force field in front of all of them. Victor is ready, at attention, waiting for the point he could be useful.

    They manage to make their way to Bakuda's lair without trouble.

    Bakuda is prepared. She sets something off and gravity changes direction towards the ceiling. Miss Militia, Triumph, and Victor fall hard. Kaiser is caught be pieces of metal. Armsmaster lands gracefully using something in his boots. Dauntless catches himself with his flight boots before he lands. Assault bounces off the ceiling and projects towards Bakuda, deflecting the first three bombs he hits along the way. The fourth one is worse, hitting his fingers with something horrible that liquifies half his left arm. That doesn't stop Assault, and he hits Bakuda, sending her grenade launcher flying.

    Bakuda presses something, and she's a blur of motion. Assault is out cold, bleeding, quite possibly dead or dying. The blur doesn't stop as she rushes forward, enhanced further by some kind of shaped explosive charge. For a few seconds she has copied the powers of Battery. She throws something at Armsmaster, and there's an implosion, is halberd vanishing before it is over. She'd summoned a black hole, a very small and weak one, or something like it. Armsmaster's jamming is gone.

    Kaiser releases a storm of blades from her bombs, her belts, and Bakuda screams, damaged, injured. Miss Militia has recovered, and fires a stream of something you don't recognize at her, none lethal, but ripping her suit open, letting Rune through a set of goop you made at Bakuda. She drifts off to sleep, captured. Rune grabs Assault and kicks off back where she came, towards you, with your first serious casualty.

    __

    Oni Lee is making his way towards Bakuda when he is hit with a super strong punch. A lot of super strong punches. He teleports into the air, only to be hit be something much stronger than Aegis. He teleports behind the threat as the clone on the ground releases a black hole in the hopes of taking out Velocity. Oni Lee releases another suicide bomber black whole behind Laserdream, only for her force field and flight to allow an escape. The area is filled with the blasts of Lady Photon, Laserdream, and Purity.

    Oni Lee thinks fast, and Purity is a mangled mess before he is unconscious. Othala is moved to her in an instant, and she exchanges Velocity's strength for Purity's regeneration.

    ___

    The bugs begin their assault on the Vasils, pressing it long before the others arrive, testing their strengths and weaknesses.

    The bugs die. Something is cutting through them like a scythe through wheat.

    "Nostrum." Tattletale tells the heroes on their way. "She's killing off the bugs, fast." Tattletale pauses. "There's another one, too, giving them strokes, pounding all of them too hard for their little brains to manage. Holdup, Nicholas, fits."

    After a few minutes of experimental assault and fenced off escape routes, it's time to bring in somewhat bigger guns.

    Grue snaps the entire area with darkness. Crusaders duplicates, apparently not needing actual senses to see, begin their assault, invincible to most of the enemy attacks. Night and Fog sweep in.

    You stand there, holding in your breath. What would they bring to the table? Unknown parahumans, your evil twin...

    "Fuck me with a live fish, we just won." Tattletale shakes her head. "I was not expecting that."

    Rune rushes in through the door. Assault is alive, though just barely. You start work on him. It's hard, but doable, especially with a bit more biomass.

    Tattletale looks worried, staring at one of the screens. "Oh, that is how it all goes wrong." Nostrum bio-bomb? A last fuck you from Bakuda? Some hidden power or...

    "Well, it turns out when you trap a guy who gets stronger the longer he fights in a force field without air, inject him with everything you can think of, and someone decides to add in deadly neurotoxin, all while he can't breathe, he dies." Tattletale shakes her head. "So, how will you spin the PR of the new nightmare Wards hitting with far more than lethal force while teamed up with the Nazis?"

    Interlude:

    Battery
    Rune
    Dauntless
    When sports teams win it's not uncommon for full scale riots to breakout. Justin always says that heroes and villains are a lot like sports teams. Some people love rooting for the bad guys, and some want the city's heroes to win.

    Combine that with the ethnic tensions in Brockton Bay, it's not surprising that a full scale riot has broken out. Supporters of Empire 88 and the Merchants have followed their betters and united over the joy of beating up chinks, gooks, and Japs.

    Normally you wouldn't have too much of a problem with that, but Kaiser had sent out his most photogenic soldiers to help the heroes keep order. The fact that the heroes had teamed up with the Empire had for some reason failed to calm tensions, especially among the niggers and spics. So, with ABB defeated the city was celebrating with the largest racially charged riot you had ever seen.

    This is the most fun you've had since you got your powers. It's always fun to beat people up, but now you're beating people up with righteous law and order at your side. Literally at your side, as you got to team up with Glory Girl. It's hard to pay attention to anything else with the coolest girl in the world at your side trading banter.

    "Return to your homes! Curfew is still in effect!" Glory Girl's voice booms over the crowd. You feel her aura hit you, the coolest and prettiest and bravest person you've ever met is right there by your side. The aura lashes out, and many of the rioters flee. Hopefully they're heading home, or at least to the police, national guard, and PRT forces on the streets who are rounding everybody up.

    Glory Girl flies up to the couch you're levitating. "They want us at Winslow. Bunch of university students are breaking in for some reason and torching buses. I could get us there faster."

    "Sure!" You smile at her and she shakes her head. She picks you up and you're off, careening through the sky at incredible speed. She slows down as you near the high school and lands gracefully, putting you down.

    "Wow, you're a good flier." You grin from the rush of motion and Glory Girl's aura. She returns your grin.

    "Best thing in the world, flying. Better than sex."

    "I wouldn't know." You mutter, blushing a bit.

    "Well, I would." She laughs and the two of you start moving into Arcadia. Wow she's so much older and experienced. How can anyone who knows this chick stand to be away from her for five seconds? Is it just the aura or is she really this cool?

    You run into the creepy mixed race group of people happily smashing baseball bats into snack machines. It is such a lame way to riot you actually start laughing.

    "Kids, go home." The people, all of them older than Victoria, run or cower. "If you go home right now we're way too busy to want to process you. However, if you make it a fight you'll be in a holding cell until we've gotten through all the people we actually care about. Now, either you can leave, or you can pick a fight with me." She's definitely that cool.

    ___

    "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow." One thing you hate about your powers? You're not invulnerable to someone throwing what Glory Girl determined to be a bottle of wine at your back. It cut you up fairly badly, and Panacea and Othala are both overbooked.

    "Don't worry. I've done this before. Back when Amy got her powers we went to every first aid class we could find together." Glory Girl sounds wistful. "I actually liked it more than she did. I thought it was interesting. Maybe it was just because she could do it all in a second, but I loved the idea of being able to do more to help people." She removes the glass with a pair of tweezers and tentacles in her strange black costume.

    "Thank you for this, Glory Girl." You shudder as she removes another piece of glass.

    "Please, I was a tween idiot when I chose that name. One reason I'm never joining the Wards, I'd be stuck with that name for PR. It's Victoria." She's keeping your mind off the pain as best she can. With that aura of hers she's pretty good at it. "So, why did you choose Rune?"

    "Kaiser gave me a set of names. I liked Rune. It sounded magical and mysterious and cool I guess." You shrug at the wrong moment. "OW!"

    "Sorry." Victoria really doesn't need to apologize. "I actually like it. There's something, well, not racist about it. But yeah, I see it. An old piece of magical writing. My family always had the worst cape names. I think that's half the reason they did the New Wave thing." You smile, though she can't see it.

    "Melissa." You offer. "You gave me your name, I'll give you mine." Victoria slaps your ear somewhat playfully.

    "Mine's not a secret, dumbass." Oh, right. "But, well, it's a truce, or nearly one, so I wouldn't use it against you." She sighs and picks another piece of glass out of your back. "Speaking of dumbasses, thank you for helping out, seriously. The idiots at the PRT called the Wards in for debriefing and psychological profiles after killing Lung. Lung, the beastly freak who could have killed them all under the wrong conditions." She starts getting slightly less deft with her medical care in her annoyance. "The city is falling apart and they pull away the people armed to the gills with non-lethal weapons. Idiots."

    "I agree. I was in the Chicago Wards for three months before I up and quit. Idiots." You shake your head. "Say what you will about Kaiser, but he at least lets a cape cut loose. They didn't let me do anything but fly people around the whole time I was there, and they called me Mayflower." Victoria groans.

    "Mayflower. That's just sick, girl. Not that I approve of joining up with the Nazis, but I don't exactly object to running from the Wards."

    "Come on, we're separatists and supremacists, not Nazis. It's not like there aren't black separatists and supremacists." Victoria stops working on you.

    "Of course there are black assholes. That doesn't make it right to beat some black girl's head in and break all her teeth just, for what?" You shrink back. Being in her aura, best thing in the world, if you're her friend. You're suddenly feeling a lot less like her friend and ally.

    "I don't do that kind of thing." You mutter. "I bet Kaiser would chew him out at least. That kind of thing is shit PR."

    "Oh, so what? You would be annoyed at someone hurting a black person? I've seen bodies you've left crumpled on the ground, and a lot of those are black."

    "That's war. I'm a soldier for the Empire. It's not like..."

    "We are nothing alike, Melissa. Victoria starts removing the last pieces of glass. You feel a crushing sense of shame. "You were bored as a Ward, so you joined the biggest batch of skinhead crackers you could find?"

    "They could protect me. After I left I, well, you know what it's like to hit this hard. The Adepts threw me out, and Accord had me shot in both kneecaps just for showing up! There weren't many other..."

    "Go fuck yourself." Victoria's voice is strangely gentle, controlled. She reminds you an awful lot of Kaiser. "Alright, here's the deal. One week from now, you're invited for dinner, like the one my sister bailed on with you freaks. Come, and I'll see if I can help you. I don't think you're happy in your cozy little Empire. You don't deserve this, at all, but I'm going to see if I can get you into New Wave for your probation."

    "Wait, what?"

    "You'd leave the Wards again, duh. We're recruiting, suddenly. I don't know how it started. Either you can stick with the Nazis, stay hated, fight for something you don't believe in, or you can start looking reformed. You want a cause without some asshole breathing down your neck? I might be able to give you that. You feel strange tentacles moving across your back, and the pain goes away as some excellent bandages are applied.

    "But why?"

    "Because we all make mistakes, Melissa. If someone wasn't there for me then I'd be in Juvie or the Wards or worse. Now, let's go out there and kick some Nazi ass." Victoria helps you to your feet.

    You wish your sister was this cool.

    ___

    End Interlude.

    The fight is over. You only have about a hundred more people to de-bomb, six more people driven into homicidal fits by Bakuda's brain surgery, and then you can start on all the non-critical injures from the idiots who decided to start a riot as a victory celebration.

    Armsmaster walks in looking tired. Miss Militia is on one side, Battery on the other.

    "I'm leaving later tonight." He tells you as you get another bomb out of the young Asian boy's head.

    "Wait, what?"

    "Chevalier wanted the original Wards, his old team, back together for this. Me and Miss Militia were both part of it. Battery will be taking charge of the Protectorate until I come back." If he comes back. One good thing about the Three Blasphemies, they never result in injuries for you to deal with.

    "Has it been enough time?" For what. "It is getting strange, you being in my house for this long. Could you return to your parents, or move in with your sister and Gallant?"

    Ah, well, you always knew you'd be moving out eventually.

    [X] "I can move back in with my parents." Or try to.

    [X] "I'll call Dean." You can. Maybe Victoria's not ready, maybe she is.

    [X] "I can take care of myself." Your credit cards are still working. You can find a hotel room until you find an apartment or find something else.
     
    ~[]~, Ddmkm122, BBJimmy and 1 other person like this.
  8. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

    Joined:
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    Potential Breakup Song


    It's 10 AM on May 3rd before you manage to crawl into what your phone suggests is the best non-ridiculously expensive hotel room near the hospital. You were up for 30 hours taking care of the rioters, removing hundreds of bombs, and running through the hospital. You manage to sleep for eight hours straight before waking up with a headache, groaning, and returning to the hospital for a 7 PM to 7 AM shift.

    "Fuck. My. Life." You mutter as you collapse back into bed. It's May 4th now. You're sick of sick people, grateful people, and the general great race with the scientific name "Mongoloid."

    You wake up at what turns out to be 3 PM on May 4th.

    "Hey babe." It's Emma. "So I heard you got a new member."

    "New members?" You mutter, still half asleep.

    "Oh, did I wake you? Sorry. Browbeat left the Wards. He's in New Wave now." You think for a moment. You had done absolutely nothing to encourage this, but it seems cool. "He's totally hot under the mask. I'm jealous. Mason Beaker. Good first name, silly last name, don't you think?"

    "He actually unmasked?" You think for a moment. "Like, officially?"

    "I'm really surprised no one told you. It's all over the news. New Wave called a big press conference. Photon Mom gave a big speech about how it was time to move forward again, then Mason came on stage with his parents and two sisters and pulled his mask off."

    "Lady Photon." You grunt. "Please, she hates that name."

    "Oh, I'm sorry. Slip of the tongue. Emma says. "Madison's here. She wants to make sure you're still on for today." You smile very widely and lean back in your bed, stretching luxuriously. "We totally are. Is she there?"

    "Yep. Here she is." You hear the odd sound of someone handing a phone to someone else.

    "Amy! I heard that you were brilliant over the last couple days. I've been keeping up with all the cape news now and I have a Google alert for news about you. They say you fixed everyone Bakuda put bombs in, healed a lot of people hurt in the riots, and had a big wave of people from Egypt who you helped."

    "It wasn't such a big wave. Ash Beast usually just kills, and the Three Blasphemies don't leave casualties, but there were still a couple dozen capes." You can't stop smiling all of a sudden, despite the macabre topic. Not many people have taken an interest like this. Just talking about your day, it reminds you of Victoria. It's probably why you're able to enjoy it. "Honestly, it's all pretty boring on my end, repetitive. Tell me about your day." She does with gusto. The mean Taylor Hebert hadn't showed up for school today, which was clearly proof she was making up her stories. Dennis hadn't returned her calls since their talk in the hospital. Sophia had invited Emma to some Fundraiser thing to restore the city that is happening tomorrow. Madison talks about it for long enough you realize she's probably hinting about being invited.

    "Sorry, but this is the first I heard of it." You explain. Madison is disappointed, but cheerfully rebounds with talking about her history class, which is so depressing as they're doing World War One. You're actually pretty interested, you never took history at a high school level. Madison is happy to answer your questions. You get the feeling that people don't go to her for information much.

    Agreeing to meet at 5:45 for your shift at 6, Madison hangs up after a long set of goodbyes. You wonder if the trio's parents would let them come over, maybe even for a slumber party? It's been years since you had a real slumber party, not since middle school. You're rather surprised that her parents are letting her stay at the hospital until 6 AM on a school night, but maybe they think this is some kind of social climbing.

    At around 4:50 there's a call from downstairs. Someone's delivered a package to you. You have it brought up.

    There's a note on the package.

    "Tomorrow, the Fundraiser, we're meeting. XOXO. Victoria"

    Inside is a beautiful white dress and another note.

    "Dean and I got these at a charity auction last week and was waiting for the right time to give them to us. They're from Aly and AJ's music video for 'Potential Breakup Song.' You get AJ, I get Aly. Take it as an apology. We had them altered to fit us." You would never have needed one from Victoria.

    You're crying in happiness. You look over at a plant you brought from Armsmaster. You haven't had all the materials you need brought in yet, but the plant...

    You feel a rush of love for Victoria. She's missed you. Even when she couldn't see you she was thinking about making it up to you. You hug yourself, spinning around the hotel room. Your hand lashes out and strikes the plant.

    In 20 minutes you've worked it out of your system. It is one tree, one branch, of the garden in your dreams, the most beautiful girl in the world's most beautiful features, her head, her neck, her hands, repeated again and again in miniature. The plant is the most beautiful thing you've ever made.

    A flower, you'll call it the Victoria.

    ___

    Madison greets you cheerfully outside her house. Madison's quite attractive mother is waiting with her.

    "So, you're my daughter's new friend. She's been talking about you non-stop for days." She gives you a demure smile.

    "Thank you for trusting me with your daughter, Mrs. Clements." You shake her hand.

    "You're a heroine of New Wave. I've even had dinner with your mother once, at a party hosted by the Barnes. I know Alan's got a good eye for people." All of this is news to you, but you try to hide it. "You're barely a stranger at all. Just keep my little girl safe." She gives you a warm smile.

    "I could never hurt her." You tell Mrs. Clements. You really don't think you could.

    ___

    Sophia is waiting for you at the hospital. Well, Shadow Stalker is. You grin when you see her.

    "Ooh, person who I don't know, your costume is way better than Clockblocker's." Madison smiles.

    "I know. Look at this. " Sophia laughs and stretches her wings wide, filling the long room from end to end. Madison oohs and ahs appreciatively. "Now, young citizen of the city who I have never met before, would you like to hear about the problems of a powerful superheroine fighting to keep the city safe?"

    "I'd love to, brave defender of the night." Madison gives Sophia a very serious bow. Sophia starts talking about the tooth and nail fight the Wards are having to keep your gifts.

    "The PRT pulled in this asshole who thinks that just because they're scary we need to ditch them. He talks all about focus groups and PR. Come on, yesterday I knocked out 40 people without risking a single injury! That is what he should be looking for. Clean, non-lethal take downs. Sure, Clockie's suit looks like a bunch of penises, but he and Kid Win practically beat Faultline's Crew by themselves when they tried to free Heartbreaker. I bet his precious PR would take a much bigger hit if that bastard and his bastards got loose." You shake your head. The PRT can be so stupid.

    "Wish you could join us instead." You tell Sophia.

    "I know!" She kicks a table. "The newbie, the nothing Browbeat gets to go and leave the Wards but I have to stay? I have nearly two years experience on him. Victoria's even trying to get Rune probation joining New Wave instead of the Wards."

    "Wait, what?" You look up from the diseased homeless man you're completely fixing. "Victoria's recruiting?"

    "She is. She's arguing that Rune ran away from the Wards, so she'll have a much better chance in New Wave. Maybe I should run away from the Wards. Maybe then they'll let me join the cool kids."

    "You're good in the Wards." Madison says softly. "It's like a pack. You can do a lot more there."

    "There's not a lot I can do with their stupid restrictions. They're complaining we killed Lung. Lung! The guy who once fought an Endbringer by himself and they're complaining that we killed him! It wasn't even us, it was Shielder and Stormtiger and Skitter who probably killed him. All we did was throw what you gave us at him, and that's never caused so much as a sniffle when we used it in the field." Madison looks, well, you give her hand a squeeze and she smiles back at you. Sophia can clearly be a bitch sometimes, but bitches have their place. Even Victoria can be a bitch.

    ___

    Sophia manages to look bored with her complete body covering. You chat happily with Madison about Petals in the Wind, which she read through quickly in the last couple days. She'd wanted more to talk about when she got to see you.

    "Is Emma free tomorrow?" You ask Sophia.

    "Emma Barnes? I heard she is coming to the Fundraiser. Not that I know too much about it, given we do not know each other well." Sophia nods knowingly from inside her hood. "Why?"

    "She did so well at the meeting. I was hoping she could help me get ready. I like looking pretty."

    "Ooh, would that be about the thing we aren't allowed to ask questions about?" You can hear the smirk in Sophia's voice.

    "Everyone's going to that thing except for me." Madison pouts.

    "Aren't you?" You smile. "I made a call today, after I found out I was doing. Victoria's invitation was plus one, but Clockblocker didn't have anyone he wanted to take. You'll have to go as his date, but you can come."

    OOH!" Madison flattens you into a hug that manages to knock you off the teenage boy with one arm who looks bored out of his mind. "YOU'RE THE BEST GIRLFRIEND EVER!" You have to forcefully remind yourself about the multiple meanings of the word.

    "I bet she is." Sophia laughs softly. "I bet she is."

    ___

    You get home at 7 Am, May 5th, The Day of the Fundraiser. It must be capitalized in your head. You'd planned out the whole thing with Emma over the phone. You actually called in one of your very few remaining days off for this. Eight hours of sleep assisted by the sleeping organism. Then you meet up with Emma and Madison for four hours of prep. By eight you will be perfect for Victoria. It's always stupid, but it still makes you feel so good about yourself.

    There's something on your bed. Spiders on your bed, a large web of them.

    "TONIGHT. SAME TIME AS FUNDRAISER. WE MEET. SKITTER."

    The hints, Armsmaster's attempts at contacting her, something had gotten through. The supposed undercover hero wanted to talk about surrendering at the same time as...

    "FUCK. MY. LIFE!"

    [X] Fuck Skitter. You are meeting your beautiful, wonderful, carrying, kind sister for a real date tonight. Skitter can fuck a coke bottle up the ass.

    [X] Also fuck Skitter, but, OH FUCK IT! You're going to meet her, because you can always, you can't even finish that sentence.

    [X] No other substantive write ins are allowed at this particular time. The two are mutually exclusive.
    You seriously wonder if it's immoral to date, marry, or befriend people just to get access to their stuff or skills. First Armsmaster's stuff, and now Emma's skills at making you the prettiest you have ever been. You like to think you were a six before, but now you're at least a solid eight, with Madison, Emma, and Sophia as nines, and Victoria as a ten.

    You, Emma, and Madison stand in front of a long mirror in Emma's house. Emma's dress is blue, and Madison's is green. Your dress is white, one you thought was beautiful the first time you saw it in that music video. Emma stands in the center, you to her left, Madison to her right.

    "We have nothing to be nervous about, babes." Emma laughs. "We'll fit right in at this thing." This was at least in part because Carol hasn't canceled your credit cards yet, and Emma is definitely willing to spend someone else's money.

    The three of you join hands in front of the mirror. Madison looks nervous, but she is definitely willing to put faith in Emma for making her look hot. She's probably just nervous about going to the Fundraiser, and maybe having to be Dennis's date. Is it just wishful thinking that she'd rather by yours?

    21%.

    Not good odds, but they really are better than you ever hoped.

    "I just wish Sophia could go like this." Madison says. "If she could join New Wave then she wouldn't have to go as Shadow Stalker."

    "I'll see what I can do, but it is probation. Maybe they'll let her handle it with us, but probably not." It would be really fun to have her as a teammate, even if you haven't actually done anything with New Wave in quite a while. You really should check in soon. "You have what I gave you?" Madison lifts her new necklace out from under her dress and puts it over her dress. Wires in the necklace could release the sleep and paralytic agents on command if she ever needed it. Emma has one, too. The problem with being New Wave is people threatening your friends, but those would make that just a bit harder. it really is a wonderful weapon, and your girls will be immune to it forever now.

    "Let's go show them what we've got, bitches." Emma smiles into the mirror, and the three of you strut out like you own the city. In your case that's a bit closer to the truth than you'd like to admit.

    ___

    The spider tree-drone is killed on the way to meet Skitter. You don't see what causes it. Worrying. Your attempts to contact through the bugs hasn't worked as Skitter wasn't in range. Battery had advised against issuing a public apology on the phone. If Skitter really is onto something undercover then broadcasting that you two were meeting up for everyone to see could get her killed, and the current information on Tattletale suggests that such a move might be exposed even if her name isn't used. You had built a relay bug as a gift and included an explanation with the spider drone. Either you just had really bad luck or someone didn't want you to make the meeting. Honestly, Skitter and Tattletale being reformed is not something you care about. You smile at the idea of her waiting at the rendezvous point, desperate, waiting for backup as dark enemies lurk, chasing her, waiting to take her off...

    You really need to remember that scenario for later. Anyway, if she really is trying to come back to the fold, Sarah and Eric are going to meet her there. You can't imagine a good reason she'd surrender to you and not to other members of New Wave.

    You and your friends actually get to stroll up a red carpet. You let Emma take the center. She owns the walk up. New Wave may be celebrities, but she was born for this. You give the cameras your best smile and Madison waves cheerfully. This is to rebuild Brockton Bay, so it's not like you're being selfish.

    Emma and Madison break off when you get to the top floor. Emma has her eyes fixed on a local teen singer with a predatory look, while Madison moves to admire everything. Even Emma's a lot less used to this kind of thing.

    You move to the back of the room. There's a stage here for the mayor, where most of the remaining heroes will gather. That's not what you're here for.

    You'd just made it through people who keep talking to you to find that Victoria's not here yet when you here a commotion from back where you started. Several Wards enter the room. Clockblocker, Vista, Shadow Stalker, Gallant, and arm in arm with Gallant, so sickeningly far away, is your Glory Girl, your Victoria, your sister in the dress that matches.

    She gives a wave, and then there's oohs and ahs as she kicks up from the ground, gliding over everyone. You even hear a girlish shriek you think might be Madison's. Victoria actually sweeps you off your feet with a hug, rising into the air to keep from smashing to the ground, and moving in a skilled fashion to control the landing.

    "I've missed you." You both say at once. The reaction of your audience ranges from confused, to charmed, to one heckler shouting for you to kiss. You're kind of surprised that Victoria doesn't give the asshole the finger like she did last time someone shouted that at her in public.

    The two of you settle into your spots at the table. You notice a few people approaching and suddenly moving away, and you're hit by her aura yourself. You suspect that anyone who would interrupt this reunion is someone Victoria would count as an enemy.

    "You can touch me. I, I'm over the thing the other day." Victoria says. Victoria is a bit worried. You calmly, cautiously reach out and squeeze her hand. She's stressed, not been sleeping well, not been eating right...

    "If you tell me you're sorry I'm kicking your ass right here in front of everyone." Victoria is the best sister. "What I just did, I did for me. There's nothing that you did wrong." She shudders a bit. "You needed to get out what you got out. I love you more than anything else I'm feeling." She pauses for a moment. "You can talk now. Say anything."

    "But we're in public." You giggle a bit.

    "Fuck them all. If they hear something they don't like? You're more important." She gives you an intense look.

    "It's been hard." You start to explain everything since she went back to Brockton Bay. Cranial, the Asylum, Flechette, that horrible Tuesday, Flechette's dying, and your new friends. Victoria leans her head on your shoulder, glaring daggers at people who approach the two of you.

    "I wish I could have been there for you. At least I could help with Heartbreaker's team, but I really wanted Bakuda. Would've been stupid, but she, just, no one hurts you. I was actually hoping to catch those Traveler people for you, but no one's got a hint of them, so I settled on these." She pats your leg, and it takes you a moment to realize she's referring to the dresses.

    "They're lovely. I was overwhelmed." You keep just enough presence of mind not to mention the Victoria flowers. You suspect that most people would not take them as touching.

    "Well, that's what was supposed to happen. We give each other things, and are overwhelmed by how thoughtful, caring, and wonderful our sister is." You bask for a moment, remembering the skinhead gangster you healed for Victoria. That was a good hug.

    "So, now to tell you about my couple weeks. So, Dean's stepmother's been pressing this paternity suit against him..."

    ___

    "...and that's why I am no longer allowed in any IHOP in the country." Victoria finishes her exhaustive list of events she hadn't been able to share with you. Sophia, Shadow Stalker, had sit down on your other side, looking strangely ratty in her old costume compared to the one you invented. The rest were better made, but you think hers was an improvement. You hear a beep and Victoria looks at her purse. "Someone's texting me." She explains.

    You can hear a smirk in Sophia's voice as she touches your arm, trailing it up yours. "Having fun, babe?" That is odd. Babe is more Emma's thing.

    "The most I've had in weeks." You say completely honestly.

    "Well, we'll just have to fix that." Sophia's voice is lazy, and there's something else in it. "It's almost enough to make a girlfriend feel like she's not wanted, seeing you two get all lovey dovey."

    "You are wanted." You assure her. "I was even wondering if your parents would let you stay over. Christen the apartment or something." You feel there's some double meaning there that you didn't intend.

    "Hm, you know we should get Madison's cute butt over here. Victoria hasn't met all your new friends yet." Sophia glances around. "Where is she..."

    "Is this some kind of joke?" Victoria asks, she sounds confused and just a bit scared.

    "I don't know what you're talking about." You look over at her, leaning in, and she shows you her cellphone. There's a text from your phone, which you'd left at home to diminish distractions. It has a password protected. Who would have broken in? Some parahuman...

    The words on the screen are simple. "Cut ties."

    "It wasn't me." You think for a moment. Good Emma have grabbed it as some idea of a joke?

    Then you both see the phone get another text. "I'm sorry."

    Then the Undersiders crash in through the roof. Glass shatters everywhere.

    "Fire away, Ames. I love you." Victoria tells you before she rockets off. You're already spreading the sleep and paralytic, but oh damn it you'd rendered them immune for a week just in case things went worse. You hadn't specified that, but Tattletale.

    You finally get a good look at what crashed through the ceiling. It's a boat, resting on water held nearby. You start firing off the big spray, hoping to at least wipe out Skitter's weapons, and start thinking about a counter agent to your counter agent, but if you did that it would infect the heroes as well...

    The Undersiders have changed costumes. Each of them has a strange translucent dark shroud now. You can no longer tell them apart. Bugs are swarming out of massive boxes on the boat, though they're already starting to die. None of them get near you, and unless you grabbed a person you don't have any material for a Skitter jammer.

    Victoria is making a grand circle of the room, making sure no one was horribly injured by the falling ceiling. The heroes, Battery, Assault, Triumph, and Dauntless are making their way towards the boat. Shadow Stalker has disappeared, hopefully doing something brilliant. Gallant is throwing colorful blasts at the Undersiders, but they're missing. One of them is making his (her?) way towards PRT agents, slowed down by carrying something. Another three are moving towards the heroes, also slowed by their loads, shrouded with the same material that covers the Undersiders.

    You hear a loud male voice you think is Regent's ring out cheerfully at the heroes. "Catch!" He tosses one of the packages at them. Triumph screams, and the shroud pops, revealing, what the fuck!

    They're carrying babies. Battery breaks her charging, giving Assault a super strong push straight up, and the hero catches the baby before landing gracefully.

    Victoria suddenly smashes straight into the boat, and you notice that the water seems to be breaking down, spilling away from the boat increasingly rapidly. Whatever power is holding it up is diminishing. A moment later Victoria comes out the hole she came, holding a limp figure that she tosses at you and Gallant. She lands hard, and her shroud (some kind of defense?) had already vanished, if she'd ever worn one.

    "TOLD YOU I COULD TAKE HER!" Victoria's voice rings out over the gallery, and Dean laughs out loud.

    Vista is the first to get hit as one of the shrouded figures charges, wrapped in containment foam. Oh Hell, if this is who you think it is...

    And he's carrying one of the babies, too, shrouded happily. Victoria lands on the table with a thud, her eyes full of fury, clutching another of the strange, shrouded infants. She hands it to you tenderly. "Keep her safe." Victoria rises, charging the man.

    "NO!" You scream. Victoria hits hard, and the shroud vanishes. A beautiful man who could be Victoria's brother, and who might count as one anyway, stands there with a smirk on his face. He throws a wave of containment foam, the yellow mess, at Victoria. Grue's darkness covers you before you see the results. All you can do is clutch onto Skitter, hoping she could somehow provide leverage if...

    Then you aren't blind anymore. Your head is clear, and no one else is. Another shrouded baby sits on on the table in front of you, wailing away. You hate crying babies.

    That's probably why your "brother" put one there.

    The Undersiders have been backed into the center of the room, except for Skitter. None of them are carrying babies anymore, and one of them are shrouded. Victoria, Dauntless, and Battery are still standing, and the Undersiders, several are unconscious. Only the beautiful man still looks in shape for a fight.

    Victoria pulls back, waiting for her force field to recover. She is so full of righteous fury. She looks so herself.

    The beautiful man, Phantasos, has a trail of containment foam moving over one of the Undersider's belts, Tattletale's. You shout. "WATCH OUT!" It's too late, too many crying babies and grownups for her to hear, and she charges.

    You see Phantasos roll with the containment foam backwards as Victoria strikes him, leaning in. He had somehow timed it just right, a power, luck, skill? You see him kiss your sister right a flash of light hits your eyes.

    No, he wouldn't kill them all, would he? It has to be teleportation, or something...

    Your clone has your sister!

    And you have Skitter.

    You look down at the thing at your feet. She's going to help get your sister back, one way or another.

    [X] She says she's an undercover hero? Use that. When she wakes up, hit her with that, and she had better help you find where they went.

    [X] She was never going to make that meeting. You are going to make her tell you where they are.

    [X] Who cares what she is now? You've started doing brains. She's going to love helping you when you're through with her.
    You drag it by its hair into a handicapped bathroom over the stunned silence, shouting, and confusion of the crowed and throw it in. You look the door behind you. You never knew you had the kind of strength.

    It wakes up right now. You rip its mask off, hard, and press your hand into its face. Unconsciousness is not acceptable when Victoria needs rescuing. You look over it in the slight chance there's any signs of someone fucking with its mind, and there's nothing. it stares at you, looking young and scared. There's nothing inside you that makes it at all cute or sympathetic.

    "Is there anyone in this world you love?" You hiss down at it. It nods.

    "I love my big sister more. If there is an ounce of heroism in your body, if you ever want to be anything but a villain, you're going to get my sister back. You will devote all of your energies to this. Do you understand the felony murder rule?" It nods again.

    "That rule, stated simply, is that if people die during a felony, it's murder. You have no right to have done any of this. Not the bank robbery, and sure as Hell not this. I believe that's justice. The moment you signed onto this freak show you accepted that. If my sister dies it is your fault for signing up with those things. This is on the verge of breaking a truce, breaking every rule villains tell themselves keep them safe."

    "I'm sorry." It whispers. You slap it as hard as you can, which turns out to be harder than you thought.

    "Now, tell me why you were with those things instead of meeting up with heroes and talking about how to become a hero." It looks down.

    "Victoria was the target no matter what I did. The person we work for, the Undersiders, has been desperate to get at you for weeks. Ever since you came back from the Asylum he's been trying to find a plan to get you. He kept calling it off at the last minute. He's a Thinker, and a good one. I don't know how he works. Tattletale, she's not a mind reader, she just knows things. I couldn't have stopped the kidnapping. I tried to talk people down. I thought maybe if I told you after it happened we could work together. He needs you for something. I don't know what, but he wants it very badly."

    As gently as possible you run your hands over Skitter's forehead and run the sharpest pain you can through its brain, too sharp to even scream. "You are not allowed to say her name, cunt. I also don't buy this for a second, but you're my best option to get my sister back. Now, your secret boss has a way to get to me if he wants me. Tell me what it is." You finally let the pain end, keeping it as alert as possible. "You are not allowed to swear at me, or at all."

    "He gave me a number for us to call when we met up at the meeting point." Skitter speaks slowly, forcing it out. You remove its ability to walk, stride out of the bathroom. Madison is waiting right outside.

    "Do you have a phone in your purse?" You ask, trying your very best to keep controlled.

    "Yes. What's going on?"

    "Victoria is gone."

    "Oh my Gosh!" Madison cries out and hugs you suddenly. "I'm so sorry. Tell me if you need anything else. I'll be here for you."

    "Thank you." You sigh into her shoulder. "This means a lot." You pause. "This phone will be used to call a dangerous supervillain. I understand if..."

    "It. Is. Fine." Madison's voice has never been stronger. "I mean it when I say I'm your friend." She presses her phone into your hand.

    "You are the best. I'm proud you're my friend." You tell her, and return to the bathroom, locking the door behind you again. You're crying and don't care that it sees.

    "Feeling better?" You ask the thing at your feet.

    "Yes." It whispers.

    "Good. Now, I'd ask you to type in the number, but you're not allowed to touch my friend's phone. I'd burn this dress if it wasn't Victoria's makeup gift." You lean down. "Tell me once, and get it right."

    ___

    "You will devour my clone down to the bones with your bugs if there is even a hint of a reason." You tell it. Skitter nods. "There should be nothing left of that filth, do you understand?" It nods again. "Now, if we get Victoria back, if you help me with this, I will be very grateful. Understand?" Skitter nods again. "I will have everyone accept you as a hero, because you will be for bringing the monsters who kidnapped my sister to justice. Victoria will even forgive you, and because I love her I will make forgiveness something I do, even if it's not something I feel. I will build you supe-bugs, bioarmor, stuff better than the suits I've already given the Wards, put everything I can think of into helping you, make you beautiful or the most deadly creature you want to be, biologically immortal, do the same for your family, I do not care. As long as Victoria is safe, I will be the happiest girl in the world." It manages to look terrified even wearing a gas mask. "Oh, there's one more thing." It looks even more scared. "The dress my sister is wearing? Every stain we can't get out of it, I'll do something obvious to a matching part of your skin. You can work on fixing it. Don't worry, it's pretty revealing, and doesn't have a mask, but these dresses are special. They're some of the nicest things she's ever done for me, and she's done a lot." Skitter nods. It is pretty smart. You pause for a moment.

    "The Undersiders, how could you stick with them for so long?"

    "They're the only friends I've had in a long time." It says. You stand there for a moment, and think about how you've been feeling recently.

    "Your friends left you here with me to save themselves. It was Tattletale's machine." You open the door. Madison is still there, alone. You had thought maybe Emma would have been with her by now.

    "Shadow Stalker is missing." Madison says. "Emma's calling her mother." Stupid, revealing information like that in front of a villain, but she's not used to this. You focus in your mind, do what Victoria would want you to do, forgive your friend.

    Skitter is very still.

    "Madison, do you mind if I do something really weird to your body for a minute."

    "It's cool." Madison does look nervous, but gives you her best smile. You take her hand gently and spread your power through Madison's body. "Skitter, stay." You tell her, and wrap Madison's appendix into one of the jamming organs you've made. Like you thought, it clearly starts to have an impact on Skitter. You undo it after a few seconds.

    "I can do that in trees, stray cats, rats, bugs, fish, anything big enough to take it. Best case for you, if you screw with me, I'll blanket this city with them. I've touched you. I could release something that would have no chance of hurting anyone but you, but could do anything I want to you, let it spread across the world, do it as a tribute to my sister. I'll go around the world healing people, releasing it everywhere I go. I'll have a lot of time to think about the best way to hurt you." You it your best winning smile. "You have no chance of a life if I lose the best thing in mine." You turn around and hug Madison.

    "That's really cool." She whispers into your ear. "You make Emma look like an amateur." That's something to mull over later.

    "Oh, one more thing." You turn back to Skitter, arm entwined with Madison. "When we were touching, I put something inside you. It will kill you, eventually, unless you touch me and Victoria simultaneously, alive. I couldn't undo it just by touching you, limit of microbiology. Both me and my sister are going to see each other again, make it out off this alive, or you aren't." It's not something you can actually do, but you just have to add in something else.

    Skitter clearly swallows, terrified, but you just can't find it cute or sympathetic right now. "Madison, stay safe." You lead Skitter out into the waiting car.

    ___

    A nice, easy set of directions. All of New Wave safe and ready to scout out the area. How could it be easier?

    Of course it leads to the same kind of damned teleportation machine your "brother" used at the Fundraiser.

    The two of you stand over the machine, Skitter and Panacea.

    "Tell me everything you can think of about this guy, everything you know or was hinted at." Crystal drops down and helps you take off your dress, leaving only your underwear. You're not risking this piece of beauty in the coming fight. She has your real costume, your combat one, glorious and beautiful, made for Victoria, ready, and you put it on half with your powers.

    "He's rich. He's incredibly rich. He doesn't care about money, he cares about power, building up reputations, weakening the establishment, and you. I don't think you relate to the other parts, you're something else. Tattletale became really scared when he started sending orders about you. She says he changed completely." She pauses. "He threatens them, you know. Threatened to kill Tattletale if she didn't work for him, rounded up several of the Undersiders. They didn't get a choice." You reach deep inside yourself, try to imagine what it must be like to be alone, scared, have a supervillain threatening to kill you, no options...

    "Did he order you to bring the babies? To do that evil at the bank? Is he holding your father hostage?" Skitter gets quiet. "Answer me!"

    "I didn't know about the babies until I got there. Phantasos, the new guy, his idea. They were stashed in the boat. I have no idea where he got them. It was too late to do anything."

    You kick the machine, and it starts to life.

    ___

    Bonus interlude! AKA random cliffhanger!

    [X] Aisha

    [X] Shielder

    [X] Browbeat
    Bonus Interlude: Aisha (Countenance)

    Names are hard.

    Brian had said no to Buffer, Aegis was taken, Ward would be confusing, you refuse to learn how to spell Escutcheon, and it turns out Cloak was taken by some girl in Australia. Countenance was what you had went with after several hours on an online thesaurus after you started to get frustrated. You're kind of hoping that the heroes will see what you can do and give you a better one.

    Your powers are lame and girly. Sure, it's nice to be able to explode things by punching them, but how are you going to use the ability to give people those cloak things? Worse, it made it clear to Brian you actually cared, getting a whole trigger event when he couldn't talk. It is totally uncool. How could you even rob a bank with this? Well, there's making yourself bullet proof and charging in, but Brian has indicated this is not likely to be successful.

    You tap your foot, bored. If Alec was around, or if you could have brought friends, then the whole thing would have been much more fun. Secret identities suck. Maybe New Wave would be better, as they're recruiting, but you're pretty sure that being a hero would suck a lot more. But no, Alec and Phantasos have to be off doing the fun thing at the Fundraiser. You have to be here to see if the super special Panacea shows up. Trainwreck is boring as shit.

    You could have gone with them. Charles even said he thought it was a good idea. Then again, Charles had actually spanked you after calling him Chuck, so he sucks. The baby thing was cool and fucked up though. Bringing babies as shields into battle was so fun you kind of had to forgive him just for that.

    You see what is definitely not Panacea land gracefully. Photon Mom? So, the little bitch had brought backup. Good backup, too. You'd need to get close to break her shield, and she can fly, so that's hard to arrange, she can also probably throw laser beams faster than you can replace your cloaks.

    Then again, the boss, who you're starting to suspect might actually be Coil, did prepare for this possibility.

    You wait for a few more minutes, bored out of your skull, before you get rewarded by watching Spitfire throw napalm at Photon Mom. Her scream is so funny. You're giggling already as she struggles to keep her shield up. Probably only a few more seconds before it goes down and Newter can jump her. There's a satisfying pop, and Newter flings himself into the air.

    You've gotta love Faultline's Crew when they're on your side.

    Newter smashes into something, a shield rising in the air. What? Oh.

    The boy in the white skintight costume is kind of hot, but a bit young for your tastes. The blue hair was such a lame move, though. He isn't even looking at Newter as he advances. Spitfire opens her napalm stream, but it doesn't even slow him down. Oh shit.

    Newter falls out of the air and is hit by Photon Mom's blasts hit him hard before he hits the ground. Newter is down. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Trainwreck charges out, hitting the force field. Shielder stops moving, but the shield doesn't break. Photon Mom is circling around to find more members of the team. You are one of the members of the team.

    Discretion is the better part of valor. You decide to slink away. Maybe if you were a Stranger things would be easier. Strangers are good at slinking away from a fight. The escape hatch is in Trainwrech's armor, but maybe in all this confusion you can just sneak away.

    ___

    Fucking Blasters.

    You sit in the cell at a police station. Breaking out would actually be pretty easy, if Shielder wasn't standing outside glaring at you. You can't beat Shielder.

    Suddenly your phone rings, it's Brian. You pick up. At least he'd been too much of a gentlemen to search you.

    "Hey, if you huff the smoke when you burn polyester, can it get you high?" Best to disguise that you were captured like a chump.

    "Good question." The voice on the other end is not familiar, some bitch.

    "Whoa, did Grue snag himself a bitch at that Fundraiser thing? What are you, some cape banger?" You feel a sudden rush of pride. Picking up some adoring fan from the crowd and banging her before he gets home? You never thought Brian had it in him.

    "Not Grue." The voice on the other end is weirdly smug. "The dude on the ground screaming in pain." Then it goes quiet for a moment, and you do indeed here someone screaming in pain on the other end of the line.

    "Whoa, Regent or Phantasos?" You laugh out loud. Those two are sick.

    "I believe it was the pretty boy. BTW, we'll be able to track this number." Oh, oh. Did Chuck try to get a superheroine as his bitch? That's just stupid. "I think your boyfriend, oh shit." You hear the phone drop on the other end of the line, and the sound of those laser attachments Coil's troops have been using.

    You sigh and hit the wall, unleashing one of your "cloaks" to rip a hole out. Shielder raises a shield in your way, and you wait. As you suspected he gets a call about a minute later. Not having a mask makes it easy to see he's looking worried.

    "So, keeping little old me, or going to go be a hero?" You smile at him. He gives you harsh glare. Then he pauses, considers.

    "You're coming with me." You're not sure if you want it to be your bad girl appeal as a villainess that influences his decision, but it will probably be easier to escape if the two of you are moving. Maybe you'll even end up with a chance to rescue Brian. It'll be really embarissing for him to be saved by you again.

    ___

    End interlude.

    ___

    The Undersiders have a secret boss. The secret boss is evil. How else could one explain teleporting you into a windowless waiting room, locked, with a voice on the intercom telling you to keep waiting?

    If the bastard probably didn't have Victoria held hostage you would have worked on breaking out at once. Instead, you sit there with Skitter and tap your foot, your mind running through all the horrible things that could be happening to Victoria.

    Finally, after about 20 minutes, the door opens. "Coil will see you now." Oh, so it is Coil here. Interesting.

    The gaunt, skeletal man sitting behind the desk is the ugliest thing you have ever seen, though you're biased at the moment.

    "Hello, Miss Dallon and Miss Hebert." The name rings a bit of a bell, but you can't place it. "Please, have a seat while I explain the situation." It takes a lot of self control not to fire a dart at him. "Believe me, firing one of those darts will not benefit your bargaining position, Miss Dallon. Neither will releasing those hornets, Miss Hebert." Using Skitter's real last name is interesting. Some kind of power play? The two of you sit down.

    "Where is Victoria?" You ask him.

    "Most of her is currently in a very secure facility I arranged for her capture. There is however a link to that facility. I want you to understand how bad the situation you are in is, this time." Very curious phrasing. "I have tried everything else." When? "I have the ability to control destinies, and your destiny is to help me."

    "Bullshit."

    Coil presses a button, and you hear Victoria's scream over some kind of intercom. The dart hits him instantly and he sighs. "Please, I was sure to make a counter to your agents before we had this conversation, after the last time." He picks the dart out of his forehead. "Now, let me clarify. I can do more than one thing at once. When I come to two paths in a forest, I can take both, walking along them until I find something I want, or something I fear, and then I can have taken only the path I wish to. That is how I work. Six times since you stepped in I called you into this room. Each time, I have talked to you, and each time you have proved uncooperative. Perhaps this will prove to be a mistake, but this time I am choosing to punish you for each." He opens a box, and you vomit all over it when you see the severed toes, six of them. It's hard to recognize a severed toe, and your powers don't work on dead things. The gold paint is one Victoria's used before.

    "Now, I ran into a problem you caused, and only you can fix, and I am not talking about blaming you for something I did not allow to happen in this timeline. When Heartbreaker came to town he started a search for people to help him capture you. Most of his targets escaped." Coil leans forward. "I didn't. I do not, cannot, let myself feel this way every minute of every day, longing after that beast Dragon's holding until trial, out of my reach. He promised me he would cure me once he was done, but that is impossible now. That leaves you." You're barely listening, shaking in anger. He's hurting Victoria.

    "Now, you may think that I am pursuing a bad way of ensuring your cooperation. Perhaps I am. But hear this. Every time you turn me down I just delete the timeline where it happened. I have you still in my waiting room, and Tattletale is watching us as we speak. Every time you resist me I just make another timeline, and in many of them I will hurt Victoria trying to convince you. Victoria remembers all of it. Refusing me, and having me take a tactic less likely to get her hurt, will not help the woman you love. Sabotaging me over time in secret will not prove effective. You are going to help me, eventually, so why not do it now? Once that's done I will have no further need of your assistance, and I would much rather not have a war with New Wave, so the only rational thing for me to do is to let both of you go and flee. The man who kills Panacea will not be able to hide from the law."

    [X] "I. Will. Help. You." You barely get it out.

    [X] "You can can control destiny? Prove it." You kick back in your chair. The bastard is lying. Those might not even be real toes, much less Victoria's, and he's spinning a lot of bullshit.

    [X] Fight! Write in. How should Amy get out of this nightmare?
    "Alright." Coil carefully removes a single glove and the two of you make skin contact. The two of you touch fingertips for half a minute before you separate. Coil puts his glove back on his hand before he moves his chair and begins carefully typing on his computer. You start to get up.

    "No." Coil tells you. You sit back down. You wait for an agonized minute.

    "I want you to understand something, Miss Dallon. You are punished for every timeline where you attempt to screw me over. Currently, I have posted an email originally written by Tattletale on seventeen locations on the Internet implicating you have an incestuous crush on your sister. Alan Barnes, a friend of your adoptive mother and the father of one of your friends, is bleeding out and may die." Taylor practically falls over in her chair. "Through all of this, the only person you truly care about is undergoing torture at the hands of a very skilled man. I want you to hear this." He clicks something on screen, and you hear Victoria's voice.

    "...by then your eyelids opening and closing will have been rendered involuntary, so all you can do is stare at the mirror while we..." He turns it off. It definitely sounds like something Victoria would say. The voice is harsh, agonized, but still strong. She's not alright, but she's not destroyed.

    "We can try this again. This time, undo whatever it is you just did. I do not know the details, but I do know it is slow acting, intended to trigger weeks after I have been stuck with a single timeline. Such a move will not work, as I can always return to an earlier save point if I have to, though it is quite frustrating I may have to abandon several months before Heartbreaker came and prevent your trip to Albany altogether." Coil returns to his computer for a moment. "Oh, and one more thing. Your punishment for attempting to subvert me again will be the death of one of your two new friends who are not parahumans. You will choose which one. Will you inflict more tragedy on the family of Emma Barnes, or have me kill the wonderful Madison Clements? I believe you were significantly more distressed in the timeline where you saw her skinned alive."

    Strangely, Skitter reaches out her hand and takes yours. Human affection, human kindness? Is she doing it for herself, or for you? You appreciate it either way.

    You start to cry miserably as Coil types on his computer again. In what you thought was a double mirror an image of the parahumans online homepage appears, and you see a thread there saying, well, the obvious. Coil clicks again, and you see a large redheaded man lying on a floor, bleeding out.

    "I would of course gladly contact emergency services about the man as soon as you undo the harm you have done."

    Then there's a twitch. You see it. You can sense something is wrong on his end. Maybe one of his other timelines experienced a setback? He turns back to you and extends his hand once again.

    "He's lying." Skitter's voice rings out. "He can't be that strong. If he was Heartbreaker could never have captured him."

    "Please do not interfere, Taylor Hebert." That name really rings a bell. Wait, that psycho freak that Madison and Emma talk about sometimes? Not really surprising, all things considered. "Your punishments are also set in stone. I have publicized your secret identity for an earlier transgression. However, there is no need for the men who will kill your father not to receive the password to hold off before they attack." You see hornets start to move out of her costume from underneath her armor panels. "I assure you that is a bad idea."

    "ALRIGHT! You scream. "But I want assurance of some kind that Victoria is safe. Not something that could be faked with a recording. And I want Phantasmos. I want him far away from here, in a place where he cannot hurt me or my sister again. Give me these things and I will help you."

    "What could possibly provide such assurance? I am not letting another hero in to vouch for it, and who else do you know?" Suddenly Coil's tight body suit almost has a smile in the corners. "Oh, of course. I will release Victoria, and make it a quite public affair. Then I will let you speak with Madison Clements. I believe she is someone you trust. She will be able to vouch for Victoria's safe release. Give me a moment." He turns back to the computer and makes a few clicks before turning back to you. "I just sent orders to help Emma and Taylor's respective fathers, as a sign of trust."

    You shudder. It feels like a betrayal of Madison, to put her in this situation. But honestly, as much as you like Madison, Victoria matters much more. There's not really much you don't think you could do to Madison for Victoria.

    "Okay." Your mind starts spinning, thinking. "Coil, have you spoken with my psychiatrists? No. I'm sure you haven't." Coil does seem worried, but he's winning. Why would he be worried?

    "I have read their reports, but not spoken to them. Why do you ask?" Their reports must have been either censored or bullshit. Maybe he's just lying.

    "If you did you'd know the things that I secretly fantasize about while I'm healing the fleshbags. I'm not a good person, Coil. I'm a monster. One of the worst. Victoria is the reason why I push down all of my hate and every sadistic urge I have. I want to be worthy of her. Without her I'd probably run off and join the Slaughterhouse Nine. If they'd take me. I bet Jack would take one look at my work and vomit." You draw every last reserve of cheer and give him your very best smile. "Oh, the things on my mind. The best is a little something I cooked up. Invades every functioning human uterus and causes it to start growing something like Victoria. Not another Victoria, there can be only one, but it starts growing parts of her, the best parts. Her fine hands, the curve of her neck, the flawless face, the cute feet you've destroyed." You pause for a moment, and actually lie about the qualities you want in the flesh gardens for dramatic effect. "The titties, of course." When dreaming about it you actually didn't think they fit, far too crass. "You know that I want to fuck my sister, Coil. I also want to fuck my mother, and my new friends, everyone. I'd just fill the world with the thing I love the most, over and other again, make it a bed to lie on, clear out most of the brains, just leave enough to love me, keep all my favorite people alive enough to feel like themselves when they worship me, but all the rest is just raw material. Then keep it like that until something finally kills me, maybe when the sun finally covers the Earth." Your heart beats faster and faster. It feels so good to let it all out. "That's what I think about every second when I'm stuck at the hospital. I'm not a doctor, I'm not the cure for all, I'm the disease, I'm the Pandemic. If I lose the one good thing in my life, the one solid thing, the thing I would kill for and die for, there's nothing holding me back. Most of the world would be some mindless flapping thing keeping some part of my sister alive. The parts that really piss me off? They'd keep just enough of their minds to hate it."

    Coil sits impassive as you give the speech. All he does is click another key when you finish. "She can hear you now."

    "Oh Amy." The voice is tinted with absolute despair. Coil clicks his computer again. You sit there in your chair. Skitter is looking at you with the horrible gas mask.

    "You don't do your own brain. I believe that is what you will hear in the wind. You will see those words in the endless mouths you cover the world with. If you destroy the world for her you will betray the memory of the only person who ever really loved you. Are you that bad a person? Victoria, a person full of mercy, compassion, the person you find most worthy of love in the world, would never want the world to be something like that. Victoria loves it far too much." You start shaking again, crying. How could she ever forgive you for that? It wasn't even a lie, not the parts that matter.

    "It will be a few hours until I will have completed the arrangements. If I understand what you have done properly I doubt I will trigger it until after you have removed it. Return to the waiting room."

    You do, with Skitter behind you.

    ___

    The two of you actually cuddle on the damn floor, tired and hurting in so many ways. You don't like each other, you'll probably never like each other, but you both need someone to hold right now. Taylor even removed her horrible mask.

    "He can't leave either of you alive." Taylor whispers into your ear.

    "I'm not an idiot. I actually have some training. I know that he can't leave either of us alive. Once I touch him I'll be too much of a liability. And Victoria would never stop hunting him." You voice your worst fears in the cold, sterile, bright room.

    "The only way any of us are possibly getting out alive is if you get him to turn himself in." Taylor tells you. There's such conviction in the words. It sounds so true.

    "I'd turn the Earth into a sea of death to get him. Every virus, every bacteria, every parasite, every weapon I have down to my eye teeth. He is going to kill me. I know that. Coil knows it, too. He's going to try to have Victoria killed, too, maybe the rest of New Wave, but it's her best chance. If I'm gone they might call Dragon, or the Triumvirate, or..."

    "Amy, there's an S-Class threat they're fighting right now. They can't spare anyone. He get her in time. You can't put your hopes on them." You start crying again. Taylor holds you for a while longer. She's not actually good at it, really, she's gangly, pointy elbows, uncomfortable with the contact.

    "I thought your Tattletale would help." You admit. "I wanted her to so hard. I hate hating people, Taylor. For a minute I thought maybe there was good in all of you. You and your friends could join the Wards. Maybe all the girls could have a slumber party. I haven't had one of those since middle school. Tattletale could help everyone and we could team up. Purity and Rune would join New Wave and we could bring the Empire down." You're babbling now, and Taylor lets you babble. "We could all be so good if we could all just be good.

    "I couldn't believe it either. I don't want to believe it. I keep hoping he used something else. Some tinker or mad guess or other thinker." You nod slowly. "Can you do something for me, while we still have time. Taylor is silent for a moment. "Anything."

    "Pray with me." You haven't really prayed in years. Dean prays, and Victoria sometimes got into it for a few weeks, and it always reminded you too much of him. But you are at your rock bottom. You're out of options.

    "To what?" Taylor asks. You think for a while about the question. There's always Scion, who Dean says is God's grace touching the world. In a way, there's the Simurgh, who many claim is what the world deserves. Miss Militia told you once she thought powers were a gift from God, but that always seemed false to you. Your powers don't love you at all.

    "There could be a God." You say finally. Taylor doesn't answer you. There's too many obvious questions in there.

    You close your eyes and speak.

    "I don't know if you're there. I hope you are. If anyone is out there, anyone who loves me, please help. I will do anything you want. Just keep Victoria safe."

    ___

    Bonus Interlude: Madison

    It's been hours since Amy left the Fundraiser. You're scared, worried for her. It's the obvious problem. Getting people to like you isn't about doing things for them, it's getting them to do things for you, and you've been doing a lot for Amy lately. The whole thing seems counterproductive, but she's just so cute and helpless and grateful all the time. It's kind of intoxicating, how much she needs friends. You wish Emma and Sophia weren't so gross about saying she's a lesbian and flirting with her. They'd scare her off either way.

    Your mother left for home earlier. It's you and Daddy who pull into the driveway.

    There's lights on in your home. Weird, Mom always goes to bed early.

    Then they come out. A group of thugs. Dangerous looking, scary. Daddy starts to pull the car away, but one had a rifle. Wait, isn't that weird? He shoots at the car's wheel. It's strange to you, practiced, controlled. The thugs are dressed like real thugs though. Ugly, horrible clothing, weird tattoos...

    One of them, a massive bear of a man, moves forward. He laughs, looking drunk. Others move with him, also looking drunk. Wait, no, you know what drunk boys look like. These men are faking being drunk. The other one, the big one, maybe...

    A chill runs down your spine. Uber. A cape, the perfect man, capable of anything.

    What did he do to your mother!

    You and Daddy run, but another group of thugs is waiting, cutting off your escape. You back up against a tree, Daddy in front of you. You start shaking, terrified. What is going on.

    The thugs move around you, jeering, saying things you don't want to hear, ugly, nasty, horrible things. You start shaking so hard and you can't stop.

    The man who might be Uber steps out in front of the men, pulls down his pants, and waves them at you. You start to hyperventilate, telling yourself not to scream...


    You stagger backwards.

    "Madison! Where are you!" Daddy shouts.

    Suddenly, you smile very widely. "Right here." He looks down at you. "Wait, what..."

    "A miracle." You smile up at him.

    ___

    End Interlude

    ___

    "She is okay" Out of nowhere Madison is just there. You look up at her amazed.

    "How..."

    "I. Had. A. Trigger." Madison beams down at you. "Victoria's safe. She and Sophia beat the Undersiders and escaped. They showed up about half an hour after you left." You grab her, jumping up and down, in the youngest and girliest gesture you've expressed in ages.

    "How did you..."

    "Stranger. They couldn't find me, and I followed them back." Madison is still smiling.

    "They beat the Undersiders..." Taylor whispers. A smile cracks over her face like dawn. "Tattletale is an Undersider! She was there, at the Fundraiser, she didn't betray us!" You laugh out loud.

    "I strongly suspect you choose the wrong trigger for your time bomb." Coil's voice rings from the doorway. The three of you turn around.

    "It's over now, Coil. You can't hurt me anymore." You can die, if he has a way to do it. The love of your life is safe. She can mourn you and marry Dean.

    "Actually, I don't need you anymore." Wait, what? "Phantasos was always a loose canon, striking before he was told. You were never my first choice." Why the monologue? He has to know that gives you time to pull something, which you're doing. "It took far too long to regain their cooperation, but I think my position is actually stronger now. I should thank you. She is a much more valuable asset now, and I think a far more reliable one than you.

    Taylor vanishes. In her place is Noelle.

    "I'm sorry."

    ___

    [X] "YOU OWE ME!" She really does. If you can just get Noelle to listen to you...

    [X] You're wearing your costume. Non-lethal take downs were never your limit, and Victoria's safe. You raise your foot, letting your suit do the aiming. A bullet hole appears right in the center of Coil's head.

    [X] "Please, make another, but let me go." You beg Noelle. If she has any humanity, she'll let you go. She doesn't need to hurt you to clone you.
    Noelle stands there, confused. There's a shriek, oh right, Madison. You hear someone screaming from behind Coil, and Noelle turns in a moment, leaping back over Coil's body. You hear a very loud set of thuds.

    Trickster replaces Madison for a moment, looking rather the worse for wear.

    "I suggest you heal me without any pesky modifications. The lady is rather upset at Skitter, but she is going to be far more merciful if I am not covered in hornet stings." You listen to the man, and place your hand on him. It only takes five seconds to ensure he has no further problems.

    "Thank you, Miss Dallon. Hopefully we will not be in touch." He is replaced by a very shaken Taylor.

    "What just happened?" She looks at the dead body. "Did you just..."

    "Killed him, and I'd do it again." You answer. "My only regret is that I couldn't wait until my time bomb went off to steal his stuff."

    It's a lie. You can't stop looking at the body. He wasn't hurting Victoria. Did he really deserve to die? It's the first time you ever killed, ever came close to killing. It was so easy to give that order. And for what? Because he was mean and scary?

    "Let's get out of here." Madison is back, touching your arm, leading you away. "This place gives me the creeps." You smile sadly.

    "Alright, Madison. Let's get you and Taylor home." Madison looks confused, and then a strangely big smile spreads over her face and she looks at Taylor, Skitter. You are out of it, revealing a secret identity...

    "Oh, Taylor!" There's something you don't like about the smile she gives the supervillain. "Wait, wait, you're Skitter? I almost didn't recognize you!" Madison gives you the strangest look. You're not sure what to make of it, like the two of you are in on a secret. "Well, I guess we're New Wave, so we don't fall under those silly secret identity restrictions, do we? I see no reason not to..."

    "For me." You say suddenly. "Just, leave her be. We're not going to hurt her more after this." You turn to Taylor and try to smile at her. You think the smile is pretty weak. "Call me on a night when I don't have plans, and we can discuss things, okay?" Taylor nods. You're quiet for a moment. "Thank you for coming with me."

    "She didn't really..." Madison starts.

    "Yes, she did. She could have screamed and begged in public, but she came with me to help. She had a choice, and she chose to try to make up for what she did. Thank you, Taylor Hebert. I will vouch for you, if you decide to become a hero." Taylor suddenly looks extremely uncomfortable.

    "About my friends..." Oh.

    "I'll see what I can do." Suddenly you turn to Madison. "Wait, we need to make some calls. If what Coil said was true..."

    ___

    Coil was a spinner of bullshit without compare. Alan Barnes is fine and very sleepy. Danny Hebert is safe and sound. There's no rumors posted on the Internet.

    After breaking out of the refurbished factory basement you were apparently held in, it's actually pretty easy to call the PRT. Taylor is running home. You wouldn't want her in New Wave, or for a slumber party, realistically, but you think you can forgive her for everything. You are in a forgiving mood.

    You're hit by a white and platinum blonde comet before the PRT arrive.

    "Um, I'll be safe!" Madison calls out. "You two can go home!" At those words Victoria nods, and kicks off from the ground.

    After a minute or so she lands on a rooftop looking a bit sheepish. "I just realized I don't know where we're going." Your legs are a bit wobbly from the flight, your sister hugging you for a full minute, and what you think is a pretty intense blast of her aura.

    "Is it alright if..." You try to think of a way to ask this that doesn't sound incestuous. "I want to sleep in the same bed, tonight. I get it if you're not ready, but..." You feel like scum as you start to relate what Coil had said was going on. Victoria looks furious.

    "If I was there I would have killed him with my bear hands, shoved a..."

    "I used the boot gun." Something breaks on Victoria's face.

    "Oh Amy." She's hugging you again. "Tonight, yes, I get it. I've been, well, wanting that ever since I left you in Albany. I've been picturing it every night, you sleeping alone, miserable. I just couldn't. I..."

    "You have nothing to be sorry about." You tell her, though honestly you feel you're lying.

    "Is Dean's okay? He's told me, um, a lot about how you feel..." Victoria looks nervous.

    "If you have your own room there, it's fine." Victoria laughs. YES!

    Oh, his stepmother insisted we didn't share a room. I claimed the guest room."

    "The same stepmother who is suing him for paternity?" You frown.

    "Okay, um, I insisted, but it sounds totally uncool when I say that." Victoria admits. The two of you are laughing as she kicks off again. Dean's isn't optimal, but it is sufficient. So far the news is actually really good.

    ___

    You can't help but smile and shake your head as you enter Victoria's claimed guest room. There's a shelf of the Dollanganger Saga right next to the bed, an Aly and AJ poster on the opposite wall, Excision and Clueless DVDs on the nightstand...

    "You copied my room?" You give Victoria your most playful smile.

    "I missed you." She mutters. "A lot." She suddenly looks really nervous, and your heart grows with an irrational hope.

    "Can I read to you?" She asks quietly. "I miss it. I've missed it ever since we stopped." Almost as good as you hoped for.

    "I'd love that." You pause. "Anything but Flowers in the Attic." She laughs.

    "Yeah, that would be uncomfortable. How about something true crime?" You pause for a moment.

    "I'd really rather not." Victoria nods, not even looking disappointed.

    "The Princess Bride?" She says after a bit of silence. The two of you start to smile. That would be perfect.

    ___

    You never cry again that night. Not the first time since Albany, but you did most of the nights. Maybe you should feel guilty about it, but you feel you're back. You're the Dallon sisters again. You feel comfortable around Victoria in a way that has been slipping away for years.

    You have one of the afternoon to morning shifts tomorrow, so you can sleep late. You wake up when Victoria does, or shortly after, as soon as she starts moving.

    "Breakfast?" Victoria asks.

    "How does Dean do food, anyway? Order in, room service, a cook, or make it himself?" You lie back. Victoria had managed to find a quite comfortable bed, even though you miss Armsmaster's.

    "Depends on our mood, but Dean found a place that delivers pizza for breakfast." You can't help but smile. It feels like being a kid again.

    Breakfast pizza is delicious.

    ___

    The two of you sit on the bed, which needs a change of sheets now, and suddenly get quiet.

    "We don't have to talk about it today, but we do need to talk about it." Victoria says at last.

    "We can talk today. It's been a while." You shudder.

    "You told me it's almost as bad being near me as it is being apart." Victoria's voice is quiet. "What did I do wrong?"

    "Wha..."

    "I, I'm sorry I fucked you up!" She practically screams. "I tried so hard to be the best sister. I fell in love with you the day we met." Your mind starts buzzing at the statement, but no, she means platonic love, or else she wouldn't have thrown up. "I love having a sister. I have ever since you showed up. Almost as long as I can remember. I liked being the big sister, having a little person looking up to me. I can't be hurting you by not letting you kiss me, but I can't kiss you."

    You pause, trying to respond. You sit beside Victoria, hugging your legs to your chest. "The psychiatrists said that they could help me stop feeling that way about you. I told them no. I don't want to love you any less. I can endure the pain and they're helping with that. I wish we were still kids. Everything was simpler back then. Romance was a lifetime away, growing up was something that happened to other people, and we could always count on each other. I don't want it to end."

    Victoria sighs. "This must be what Hell feels like. I mean it. The one thing you want most is the one thing I can't give you."

    "I could..." Victoria freezes up.

    "That's why I threw up." She admits. "The kissing didn't help, and neither did the tongue, but that's what pushed me over the edge. The idea that you'd make me was too much. It's why I didn't want you to touch me. I was so afraid that after all that time you'd be so scared and lonely you'd do it." You force yourself not to cry.

    "I didn't want to." You say honestly. "I was just so happy to see you. That's all I cared about." You think for a hard moment. You can't share the 21% right now.

    "Do you want to kiss me now?" Victoria asks quietly.

    "I would like to be able to. I don't feel the itch. Our hands are sticky and covered in pizza and I think we have really bad breath." Victoria laughs a little.

    "What now?" Victoria asks. "I mean, I don't think we want to move back in with Mom and Dad. I don't think you want to move in with Dean. Honestly, Carol's been ranting over the phone about the credit card bills, so I think the hotel stay won't last long." You have to smile at that thought. "Honestly, I don't feel comfortable sharing an apartment." Your heart sinks.

    "I can decide later." You think. "Right now I just want a shower."

    ___

    You sit in a nice meeting room at the Protectorate HQ. They probably called you hear to talk about Coil.

    Battery walks in, looking exhausted. "Hello, Amy. It's been a long day." She sits down across from you. "I never want a leadership role again. I hoped I was clear of it after I left the Wards." Battery gives you a smile. "I've called you in for a number of reasons. You will have to talk about the Coil kidnapping, of course, but there's something else. I'm sure you remember Tattletale?"

    "Of course." You wonder why they brought you in for this. Character witness? Way too soon for that.

    "I just got off the phone with Dragon. She is extremely worried about Tattletale. She was looking up different precedents. She is afraid that a normal detention center could not possibly hold her. She is too good at finding vulnerabilities. Any conventional holding cells would be cruel and unusual punishment. Dragon also warned me that she estimates there is less than one chance in a thousand that Tattletale would survive more than a month in the Birdcage." You sit up straight in your chair.

    "What?" You'd just assumed they could find a place for her. Victoria was just angry when she talked about the Birdcage at the bank.

    "You've met Tattletale. She managed to insult me in four different ways in our brief conversation. Honestly, I feel horrible because of her, and I think she was trying to be nice. According to Dragon, there is no good place for her in the Birdcage, and her crimes and powers make it extremely unlikely she could be placed on a Ward probation. From my own experience with the system I agree with her. Tattletale is far too dangerous to be let loose or let around sensitive people." You think. Yeah, that sounds accurate.

    "Do you remember your trip to Albany?" The question is so out of left field you chuckle.

    "It's hard to forget."

    "Do you remember the Ward you met there, Trick?" You do not like where this is going.

    "She makes people remember her as a close relative, friend, or lover, something like that. Are you suggesting we send her to Albany? I don't see how this could help."

    "It wouldn't. Trick has been used on an experimental basis with two supervillains in an attempt at reform. Over the last several weeks the results have been positive. Dragon and Director Costa-Brown have been speaking about expanding the program."

    "I don't do brains." You've made such a lie of it, but this sounds so bad it's your best shot.

    "Perhaps that is the case. However, here is the proposal I was given. If you can keep her in line, in a reversible lobotomized state when you aren't around and she is not at work, and establish a dependency that she needs you to fix, than the concern about her being a danger who can go rogue with incredibly damaging information has decreased to completely acceptable levels. Dragon said in no uncertain terms that she finds this a vastly preferable alternative to sending her to her death." Battery looks very grave.

    "What did Tattletale say about it?" You ask cautiously.

    "In forceful terms, that she does not care. She considers herself dead either way." That is bad.

    "Are you willing to work with us on this? I know it is a tremendous thing to ask of you, in addition to everything else you do."

    "Could someone else do it?" You ask quietly.

    "From a technical standpoint, yes. From a practical one, none of the other three people who we think has a good shot at safely controlling Tattletale and is trustworthy enough to do it is either willing or able at this time. Cluster's wife recently died and his psychological profile is worse than yours, Last Witch is considerably younger than you are and on probation for excessive violence, and Soulfire is taking a leave of absence. Dragon looked into alternatives."

    "Oh."

    You promised Taylor you would help her friends.

    "What about the other Undersiders?" Maybe if you can help them...

    "Regent is to be sent to juvenile detention with an extensive psychological program. He is believed to be severely emotionally damaged, but may be salvageable. Phantasos has not spoken since his capture, but has not done anything bad enough to warrant a trip to the Birdcage. Grue proved extremely cooperative, as did his sister, and they are most likely going to be placed on probation with membership in the Wards after being relocated to another city. Skitter has not yet been sighted." It sounds like they're okay, as okay as could be expected.

    "Give me a minute." You ask the heroine.

    "Of course."

    You sit there and think.

    [X] "The Birdcage." You can't ask this of yourself, not right now. It's better than doing that to her mind. It's horrible and grotesque. What is wrong with these people?

    [X] "I'll do it." This is the best way of helping Tattletale, isn't it? You can work with her, help her, make sure she and Taylor can see each other. You could give her a normal life, right?

    [X] You lie. "I'll do it." You promised Taylor you would help her friends. You are going to break Tattletale out.
    You can scarcely count the number of ways this is illegal, Tattletale might be an asshole and a criminal but she isn't a monster and she still has rights.

    If you really pressed this you are still reasonably certain Carol will defend you should it come to a legal battle. Probably. If Victoria asked for it. Maybe. If you picked up and fought for Tattletale you could do it.

    21%.

    You've worked in hospitals twelve hours a day 350 days a year for two years. You have healed children, politicians, and superheroes, done everything they've asked of you.

    You're only going to get one shot at something big and hideous and likely to make things into a PR nightmare if it gets out. You can't blow up like this now. You can't cash in every favor and raise a shit storm, because Tattletale is not Victoria.

    It's not that you can only go to bat once. You'll have other times. But you can't pick this fight, build up demands that stress the system, and then call in whatever you need to to get an incestuous marriage through. You start breathing more heavily, feeling sick. You need to be beloved, saintly, long suffering, only asking for what you need, and then drop the bomb. After that things will be different.

    "Damn you." You give Battery your harshest, meanest possible look. "I'll do it." It's a lie. It's probably a lie. Maybe when your head is clearer you'll know. You can break Tattletale out later, cover it up properly, make it look like an accident, something.

    "I'm sorry!" Battery screams at you. "You think I want to choose between murdering a teenage girl and this." Something cracks on her face. "I'm here to help people. I did this because I believe in justice, believe in the system, and then the best, most noble hero anyone says exists tells me the people I work for, well, the escape hatch is this pile of shit." She freezes up. "Pardon my French." You don't laugh.

    "We could call a press conference." You mutter.

    "I asked about that. Sure, we could. Dragon said, Christ, we wouldn't get her off if we did that. We'd raise up a storm of bad publicity, get funding cut, I'd get transferred to Madison Ohio, and Tattletale would die instead of getting a chance." Battery puts her face in her hands.

    "If she does cooperate well would it be possible to lighten her sentence over time?" You ask. Maybe you won't have to do anything illegal.

    "Maybe. Probably? If she's a good girl for a couple years she might get something less harsh. Dragon said they're scared of what she can do, specifically. Information they have and we don't. Not about power, about her power, her history before the Undersiders. Long term, some really good deeds to her name, who knows?"

    "Will she say yes, if I ask her, do you think? Will she agree, or are we just hammering our own choices down her throat?"

    "I asked her about it before I came in. She told me to F--- off and such. Honestly, she's in no state of mind to make any decision. She was banging her head against the wall as hard as she could and trying to fry her brain with her power, I think. She'll be having headaches for days, unless she's a much better Stranger than she seems. We don't have to do it right away. She can even get a trial, if she wants, though it'll probably be a quick one, as cape trials always are." Battery runs her hands through her hair and looks back up. "Anything else before I get back to this mess?"

    "My clone, Phantasos. He's a psychopath, a monster. Baby shields were his idea..."

    "Actually, Tattletale said they were hers. She might be lying, of course. The fact that the babies weren't actually hurt is a point in their favor, whoever caused it."

    "He's my evil clone. Noelle said so. She said they came out evil and wrong, try to kill everyone."

    "Noelle? The giant cannibalistic monster who abandoned you and was last seen working for Coil?" Battery shakes her head. "Little v. DC."

    "What's that?"

    "Court precedent that means your evil clone's probably getting more mercy than the teenage girl forced to work for a villain at gunpoint. It was ruled that being an artificial construct made by a supervillain does not remove your rights as a person, and a lot of other specifics. I was looking it up earlier when we first heard about them. They have a clone of a member of the freaking Slaughterhouse Nine on the Protectorate in Las Vegas, and by all accounts she's doing fine. Unless proven in a court of law that the clone is not a person, or obviously acting in a manner that is not a person, a clone is legally treated as a person by law."

    "What the actual fuck?" You stare at her. "Why?"

    "Same reason we have a Birdcage instead of shooting villains who deserve it. It means they have an incentive to act like people. That's the rationale behind it. Phantasos has broken the law, but he's only had a chance to redeem himself once, right now. If we just sent him to the Birdcage then what's to stop another clone who isn't born evil from being so scared of his status he will do anything to stay free?" Battery looks so very tired.

    "And the reason that doesn't apply to all the Thinkers like Tattletale?" You ask.

    "Oh, Hell if I know." Battery snaps. "Ask an actual lawyer. Sometimes..." Battery stops. "Go home. Rest. We can have a debrief on Coil again tomorrow." You laugh out loud.

    "Rest. Please, I haven't even been to work yet today."

    ___

    The Birdcage or some horrible combination of lobotomization, enslavement, and forced addiction; such is supposed justice, for a teenager who was forced into doing something illegal, because she's got a nasty personality and a superpower that makes her extremely dangerous. There, but for the grace of God, goes Amy Dallon. Or... maybe but for the grace of someone else. What if some idiot thinks Victoria is too dangerous with her aura?

    It makes you sick. You keep running over scenarios in your mind as you work, once again alone as Madison couldn't come today. You miss Victoria so badly. Stage a situation where Tattletale outsmarted you? Work with her to fake something like that old villain Madcap who was paid insurance to break people out on their way to the Birdcage? Work to give her a new name, face, and identity in New Wave or France or something?

    You can't get caught. You're scared of getting caught. You can't have that black mark on your record. You can't fight the PRT for anything less than Victoria, not on your first time out.

    The PRT has been so good to you. You don't even work for them, but they've given you everything you've ever asked of them, if not everything you ever wanted.

    You hate this, though to be honest it kind of resembles a wet dream you had last week.

    Between the very faint chance of someday having to throw in everything for Victoria, either to help her or have a chance with her, and the large chance of being able to help Tattletale?

    Victoria would want you to help Tattletale. You know that no version of your sister that you could love, in any possible world where you stay yourself, would argue against helping Tattletale with every weapon you have. You want to make Victoria proud of you...

    You can wait. You have a lot more things to patch together before you're through.

    ___

    Tattletale may be trying some incredibly slow and horrible form of suicide, apparently turning her power on as much as possible and slamming herself into the pain of Thinker headaches.

    It will be a while before you have to make any choice about it. Thinker headaches can't kill, and eventually she should turn away from the pain.

    Victoria is waiting for you in the parking lot.

    "I still have my hotel room." You mutter.

    "Actually, no you don't. Mom finally canceled your credit cards." You sigh. "You're going to stay the night again." You can't help but smile. Your smile fades as she leads you to a car.

    "You're not flying me there?" It's petty, but you were really looking forward to it.

    "I'm too sleepy." Victoria answers. "Sleepy night driving is easier than sleepy night flying." Neither one sounds good, but you do agree it sounds better as she drives you back to Dean's apartment. Well, Dean's suit, or hotel thing, or whatever it's actually called. It's the size of a small house.

    Victoria reads you to sleep again, though she's drifting off before you are.

    You love this woman. You stare at her as she sleeps. You love everything about her. Without Victoria life is miserable and empty. Victoria fills life with magic and love and family. How could you want to share your life with anyone else?

    You fall to sleep beside her.

    ___

    You have a breakfast with Dean and his very pregnant stepmother that she cooked. Victoria feeds you pieces of French toast with butter and powdered sugar. You all calmly manage to avoid any of the obvious subjects of the two screwed up families at the table.

    "They say that Coil's organization is still running." Alyson says.

    "Maybe you killed a body double?" Dean suggests.

    "Maybe." You frown. "Wouldn't make sense, though. He had the upper hand completely. He could have gotten me to do anything he wanted, or gotten a clone to do it, and Noelle bolted as soon as he died."

    "Maybe he found an alternative and wanted to think he died because he realized how badly he fucked up?" Victoria suggests. "Ooh, try this! Peanut butter and jelly mixed in." She picks it up with a fork and happily plops it into your expectant mouth. It is always better to have Victoria sort the food you should eat, though maybe you're getting a bit old for it.

    Dean talks while your mouth is full. "The Wards are planning on taking down Coil's organization now that ABB is done. We've been talking about it for a while. Relatively low risk, given how few parahumans are involved, and it would cut down on the ways the heroes of the city are stretched thin."

    "This is weird for me to ask, but could you start soon? I want to see the suits field tested before I give the Protectorate their own versions, and I want to see those in a few serious fights before I work on the ones for the family."

    "So, you give everyone else in New Wave the most refined, last, perfected suits, and I get the ratty prototype?" Victoria's voice mocks the idea she's sad about it.

    "Honestly, yeah, I really need to hand out at least prototype versions to the rest of the family next. I'll work on that the next time I can't sleep." You nod. "Any specific requests on yours? It is kind of basic, though I did build it with you in mind."

    "So far it's perfect." Victoria assures you. "It let me thrash all of Dean's friends and Dean in half a minute and I didn't even release the crowd control options."

    "Alright, you have got to tell me how that worked." Victoria is beaming as she pops the next bite of food into your mouth and begins.

    ___

    You are off work again. You pace. Victoria is asleep, she can't stretch her sleep schedule to match your work schedule all the time. Never could.

    You don't want to wake her up. What should you do?

    [X] You're not ready for Mom and Dad yet, but Aunt Sara and Uncle Neil? You do have a good excuse of your weird hours to do it now, and you could bring up the new suits as a reason to show up. It would be nice to catch up with New Wave.

    [X] Madison's been sleeping weird hours lately due to her new powers. You could look her up and have a GNO.

    [X] You're getting just a bit worried. It hasn't been too long, but Taylor Hebert hasn't contacted you yet. You could look her up and see how she's doing.
     
    ~[]~, Ddmkm122 and Ramuthra like this.
  9. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Potential Breakup Song-2

    You drive to where, after 15 minutes on your phone, you determine Taylor Hebert, at least by far the most likely Taylor Hebert, lives.

    It is, in your uneducated opinion, a shitty area. You don't seriously consider your NBC countermeasures for the smell, but it is a nice thought.

    Your suit, the Panacea costume draws some attention, but pretty much everyone knows better than to hassle the great Panacea, though you do end up signing a autographs for a group of twelve year old boys. Only one seems to actually be crushing on you. There's always a couple, even if Victoria is rightfully the most adored of New Wave. New Wave patrols aren't rare in the city, and it is pretty late. No crimes in progress as far as you can tell outside of your suit informing you that one couple in a doughnut shop you pass are discussing music piracy.

    The house is small. In your humble opinion it's ugly. You consider for a moment and look into the suit's senses. Taylor is inside...

    You decide against breaking and entering, and instead call Madison. You guess you could have rang the doorbell, but it seems that this way is slightly less likely to out Taylor to her father. Slightly.

    "Hey, can you text me Taylor's number?"

    "Ew, gross. Why?" Madison sounds cheerful for the hour.

    "Thought I'd see if she's, I don't know, growing bombs with her insects to break her friends out of jail."

    "Oh..." Madison seems thoughtful. "She doesn't have a cellphone. I have to warn you, she's nuts. I'm not super surprised she became a creepy bug girl. She got messed up bad by her mom dying. Emma used to be her BFF, and after Taylor's mom died they grew apart. Taylor become creepily obsessed with Emma and anyone who hung out with her. She's good at it. Because her mother died talking on the phone she thought every time we pulled out our phones we were taunting her. We couldn't talk about Mother's Day without causing her to freakout. Then she'd just make stuff up like stealing her homework." Madison is quiet for a while. "This will sound really bad, but after a while it became hard not to mess with her a little. Like, I know she has to be going through a lot, but it just got so annoying. Stuff like dumping pencil sharpener shavings on her head, little things like that. I think it was a huge mistake, as all the stuff she was making up got merged with it and she thought there was some big complex persecuting her." You think for a moment. She sounds sincere and even regretful.

    "That was mean, but maybe, yeah, it doesn't sound evil or anything."

    "One other thing. She blames us, me and Emma and Sophia, for, um, something we didn't do. I don't even know how it was done..." The story about the locker...

    "Thank you for telling me about that." No wonder she has a persecution complex if people actually did something like that. "Love you, talk to you later. Bye."

    "Love you too. Bye!" Madison hangs up the phone.

    You think.

    Nilbog triggered after losing his job. Bakuda triggered failing at school. You triggered finding a condom in your sister's trashcan. Trigger events don't make people sympathetic. The idea of a lonely, paranoid, grieving girl who actually did have some bullying going on and saw a lot more would explain a lot.

    Nothing justifies the bank robbery. Being hurt doesn't justify hurting anyone, especially Victoria.

    You think for a moment and just start knocking loudly on the door. You don't have a better idea. Eventually a very sleepy man comes to the door.

    "What on Earth." He rubs sleep from his eyes and looks you over. "Is something wrong?" He looks terrified.

    "I'm really sorry, sir. I know this seems crazy, but I work most of the day. Recently I've been hanging out with some friends of your daughter's..." You're not good at this.

    "Panacea?" He gives you a strange look. "Lisa and Brian?"

    "Yeah, Lisa, Brian. I met them through Emma." Danny gives you a very strange look.

    "What are you here for?" He sounds guarded now.

    "Honestly it is cape business. I can't share a lot of it." You think about how to lie. "I really can't say more." Danny lets you in.

    "Do you want anything? Coffee, tea, soda?"

    "Just your daughter, thank you." You're smiling a bit in the dark, facing away from him. The joke would work better with Madison's dad, but it's still kind of funny.

    Taylor is sleepy when Danny leads her into the kitchen. She looks scared when she sees you.

    "You have nothing to worry about. I just want to talk." It is fun to see her squirm, though. "Can we have some privacy, Mr. Hebert?"

    "Of course." Danny steps out.

    "What are you doing here?" Taylor hisses under her breath. "This is my house."

    "Not so fun when I come to you late at night, is it?" Now you wish you'd asked for tea, just for the image. "Why, if you were walking along, minding your own business..."

    "Not in your house." Taylor whispers.

    "As if, Lisa I'm guessing, would have minded breaking in. I at least asked to come in." You smile. "So, you haven't contacted me yet, so I thought I'd stop by."

    "This has to break the unwritten rules." Taylor mutters.

    "You're a cunt, as is anyone who thinks that." You flash her your most winning smile. "I'm just having a conversation, not pointing a gun at you, hanging spiders from innocent people and threatening their lives, holding a knife on someone's sister threatening to..."

    "I get it. So why, exactly, are you here?" Taylor asks. "Come to give me any of the confusing upgrades you offered?" You consider for a moment.

    "Maybe. Do you want anything in particular like that right now? I could do something about your face." It's not the best insult, but it seems to do a bit of the trick.

    "Not right now. You didn't answer my question."

    "Oh. Simple enough, Lisa is fucked with a glass coke bottle right now." You explain the situation to Taylor's growing horror. "Oh, and the best part, they want me to be her warden. Now, as fun as having a pet Undersider thinking she's a dog is, I think this is very fucked up."

    "How could you work for these people?" Taylor looks at you like you eat babies, not the PRT.

    "I do not. I volunteer for these people. I'm New Wave. I think they're a giant pot of hot bullshit. In case you're wondering, you can't join." Taylor gives you a scowl. "Now, do you see any obvious way out of these horrible choices for Lisa?"

    "Break her out." Taylor says instantly.

    "Really?" You shake your head. "You did notice that I gave every Ward in the city the ability to counter you without trouble. Faultline's Crew is busy with breaking out their own captured members and I don't think you can afford them. Mercenaries who could help don't come cheap, Taylor. I am going to see what I can do, because Victoria would want me to."

    You see a flash of disgust on Taylor's face.

    "I suggest you learn to control those unless you want to find out how that feels like." Taylor looks increasingly angry. "I don't really think I should be your heroic contact and representative." Taylor nods.

    "I agree completely."

    "I do want you to know, if it's important, I will help you as much as I can. I am grateful that you helped. Against anyone else, I'm going to stick up for you. But between us girls? You are not forgiven. I think you might make a decent superhero, but you hurt Victoria. Helping me save her, I am glad you came with me, and in public we're cool. Privately?" You let it hang in the air.

    "Who should I talk to?" Taylor asks quietly.

    "Well, I would say Lady Photon, but given she and her son were ambushed trying to meet you to help you, well, I don't think she's the best. Hm, if you want to go with someone else I have a problem with, Gallant is best. He might be able to help you." You start writing down numbers on a sheet of paper, proper contact information for lawyers and heroes.

    "One more thing." Taylor asks as you finish. "How did you become friends with Madison?"

    "Can't say. Secret identities for people I like are involved." You give her a hug before you go and kiss her on the cheek, just for fun. She looks very confused.

    "She's, well, a bully." You pause. For some reason it sounds right.

    "Thank you, Taylor. I'll keep that in mind." You walk away.

    You don't think you were too mean to her. At least she's a person in your eyes again.

    ___

    Madison calls you the next morning. "I'm coming with you today at the hospital. I get to by your body guard!" She sounds really excited about that.

    "They stopped doing that." You point out.

    "Oh." Madison sounds disappointed. "Well, can I be your bodyguard anyway? I even got pepper spray." You can't help but smile. "Sounds fun. I can't wait."

    Madison unveils from her power when you're already in the room. "I've been practicing the entrance on my mom. Was it cool enough?" You laugh and hug her hello. "It was definitely cool enough."

    Madison is a buzz with energy, asking all about the pros and cons of being a member of New Wave or the Wards. You end up spending three hours talking about costume and codename ideas. Madison is leaning towards Harrier. It isn't taken.

    "It just fits. An invisible hunter, pursuing a prey to the ends of the Earth, the prey never knowing what the hunter is, thinking she's going crazy..." Madison gushes. You're not sure if that's really what it means, but she's happy so you're happy.

    ___

    Madison is fast asleep nearby a few hours later. Her snoring is really cute. Emma calls her phone, and you pick up.

    "Madison's phone, Amy speaking." You don't want to violate Madison's privacy.

    "Oh, that's perfect. I was hoping to reach you, babe. I was thinking, Madison wants to spend the day with you tomorrow, right hon?"

    "She does." You smile.

    "Well, we were planning on a sleep over anyway. So, you're invited." You think over tomorrow's shift. It would cut into sleep, but that'd probably happen anyway. "Sure, though I'm apparently having dinner with my sister and a Neo-Nazi tomorrow."

    "Ooh, dish." Emma sounds excited.

    "Victoria thinks that a certain villain can be saved, so the villain is going to come over for dinner tomorrow. Victoria's cooking." You smile at the thought. Victoria's meals are always the best. "I can come over after that though. We're eating early."

    "Sounds wonderful, dear." Emma tells you. "See you tomorrow. Wear something really cute. We have something special planned." Emma hangs up on you as your imagination goes into some particularly strange places.

    ___

    Madison comes over for the dinner with Rune, which surprises you. Victoria is in the kitchen. As usual, she's angry and cursing the stove.

    "Is she always like this?" Madison asks.

    "It's just her process." You tell Madison. "She'll be very happy when it's done." You look around. "Oh, the cute millionaire superhero is there." You point out Dean, who is currently staring at a Rubik's Cube with a furious intensity. "You should introduce himself. Join the Wards and he's your teammate, New Wave and he'll be like family." Madison strides forward, a look of determination on her face.

    You only feel a little guilty about talking up Dean, and Dean's relationship problems with Victoria, to Madison. Where's the harm in it if Dean finds another cute superhero of his own age who he is attracted to? You don't think Madison would steal Dean, but the next time Dean and Victoria break up for completely normal reasons, well, she'll be there.

    ___

    "Wow, you're a Nazi, just like in the movies." Madison says. She's more silly than usual tonight. Rune chuckles.

    "White supremacist. Purity's always very specific about that, even though Heil Hitler is in the name." She shakes her head. "I don't think Purity actually knows what she wants though. She's assigned me every black separatist essay she can find from the turn of the century."

    "Black separatist? Like, the Jim Crow stuff?" Madison asks.

    "The opposite, kind of. You see there was a big movement around the time to make black institutions to compete with white ones instead of trying to make equal ones. I've read a lot of stuff on how diversity doesn't really work whenever Purity feels guilty and heads out to the internet to find articles about how integration doesn't really help black people."

    Rune proceeds to relate a fascinating amount of history and politics for the rest of the meal, one of Victoria's harder to define creations combining turkey, potatoes, and iceberg lettuce. Rune doesn't even seem to notice Victoria feeding you the best of her creations, probably because Madison asks a lot of questions. Rune finally starts asking about joining the heroes and New Wave near the end of the meal.

    "We have to go. It's an actual sleepover." You tell Dean. "Tell Victoria I love her."

    "I will." Dean assures you. You're only mildly disappointed that all Madison does is thank him for dinner and tell him he has a lovely home before you leave for Emma's.

    ___

    "I am telling you, you are crazy." Madison laughs. "Seriously, veto power and my pick of your closet?" Madison shakes her head and giggles. "I'm telling you, you're going to regret this." Madison is on the phone with Emma as you drive. After a bit more back and forth Madison hangs up with a smile.

    "Veto power?" You ask.

    "Over every guy she dates, no questions asked or arguments." Madison seems delighted. "It's so silly. Why would she even bet that?"

    "What is the bet about?" You ask curiously as an asshole cuts you off in traffic.

    "I am sworn to secrecy." Madison says solemnly.

    "Come on, you can tell me." You beg.

    "Oh, it's stupid, and it's about you anyway. Telling you would be cheating!" Madison giggles again. "Cheating on a bet would be wrong." You have to agree with that logic.

    Emma greats you at the door. "Get your cute butts in here." She gestures to a large pizza. "So, did you bring the DVD?" She asks you.

    "Yep." You pull it out.

    [X] Excission.

    [X] Clueless.

    [X] Flowers in the Attic.
    "Ooh, perfect." Emma smiles as she takes the DVD from you. "Phase three, complete."

    "Phrase three?" You frown.

    "Oh, nothing darling. Nothing yet." The wink is an odd touch.

    Emma pauses, giving you one of her once overs. You feel a sense of fakeness in what comes next.

    "You didn't bring pajamas, did you." You hadn't thought of that. "Um, no."

    "Oh, don't worry babe. I've got a bathrobe for you." Emma leads you into her room. There are a surprising number of pillows laid out, and some nice smelling candles, as well as food that seems surprisingly rich for such pretty girls. Oh, of course, they're reveling in your gift of eternal, perfect thinness.

    Madison follows behind the two of you and walks into Emma's closet. "Ooh, this is great." You hear her rummaging around in there.

    "You haven't won yet, babe!" Emma calls cheerfully as she begins to strip you. You're not sure if this is entirely standard for sleepovers, but there is something in the atmosphere of it once all of you are in pajamas and bathrobes.

    "Alright." Sophia says, walking in. Unlike Emma, she was already in her pajamas. That actually makes sense, as Emma had to answer the door. "It's her first sleepover in a long time, so Amy gets to pick how we start. Anything you miss from them? Gossip, dancing to CDs, spa treatment?" You consider.

    "Dancing." You decide. It's been a long time since you really just danced to CDs, as Victoria always had trouble doing it normally after she figured out how to fly. You all dance enthusiastically to Insomniatic until the CD ends. Your dancing ends up being extremely energetic, with only Sophia not being tired at the end.

    Madison and Emma then start a long and extremely detailed gossip session as Emma fills Madison in on all the gossip she's been missing since she got her powers. Madison sits there entranced at the goings on of her school. Sophia cuddles up next to you, and the two of you are talk much less than the other girls. Sophia seems to like playing with your arm for some reason, it actually makes you a bit uncomfortable. Eventually Sophia just starts painting your toes red without prompting.

    "I think I've thought about how I want you to change me." Emma says lazily while Sophia changes your toes. Her list is extraordinarily detailed. As you get to work you eventually realize...

    Fuck, she's objectively hotter than Victoria. It kind of takes your breath away when you realize it. It feels wrong. You're not as attracted to her, but she's just...

    "Perfect." Emma's voice rings with the deepest satisfaction when Madison holds the mirror to her face. "You made me perfect, Amy." Sophia nods, looking impressed.

    "We'll thank you for this after the movie." Sophia kind of climbs over you to get in between you and Emma, and Madison snuggles up on your other side. Sophia starts the DVD.

    It is not unpleasant to have Madison squirming and cowering a bit at the scary, gross, and disturbing scenes, getting really surprisingly close to you, especially as the scary scenes tend to be parades of the movie's unique mix of BDSM, surgery, and nudity. God you love this movie. At about the halfway mark you become absolutely convinced that Sophia is either hitting on you or wants you to think she is hitting on you. She's touching you far too much in too many ways for it to be an accident. You just kind of bask, trying not to think too much about it.

    ___

    "That was awesome." Madison giggles after a firm dose of hot coco helped settle her stomach from the movie. "That's the most messed up thing I've ever seen."

    "You know, you're far too good to us, Amy." Emma says happily from across Sophia. "You've helped each one of us amazingly. We really need to pay you back."

    "We're really doing this." Madison rolls her eyes and lays her head on your lap. "Come on guys, it's not funny!"

    "A bet is a bet, and if you're so sure you don't have to worry about me stealing Tall Kyle." Emma points out.

    "Tall Kyle?" You ask, and Madison blushes. "No one!"

    "Alright." Sophia gets up. There's a positive spring in her step. "I think it's time to crush your tiny dreams, babe." She goes to a desk and pulls out a piece of paper. Madison gets up and Sophia hides it from you for a moment. "As official arbiter of this bet, do you, Madison Clements agree that everything on this piece of paper is as you consented to?" Madison gives an overly dramatic sigh.

    "Yes, Sophia. I swear that I consent to the conditions on this piece of paper and will happily accept the loss of the bet, making no attempt to weasel, beg, or request a way to get out of it." She puts her hand over her heart.

    "Amy, as the official witness and subject of this bet, do you believe that Madison appears to be under any form of duress of any kind at the moment, looking at all stressed or worried about the consequences of this bet?" Sophia asks you seriously. You're starting to wonder just what is going on.

    "I think so. If you're really serious about it, Madison, come over here for a second." She bounces over. "Give me your hand." She does so. "Madison does not seem to be experiencing any troubling physiological signs of such stress. Are you hiding it?"

    "Nope! I get my pick of Emma's closet in like a minute." Madison smiles. Emma rolls her eyes.

    "Sounds good." Sophia claps her hands together and moves back to Emma. "Do you Emma Barnes, agree that everything on this piece of paper is as you consented to?" Emma looks carefully.

    "Yes, I swear that I consent to the conditions on this piece of paper and will happily accept the loss of the bet, making no attempt to weasel, beg, or request a way to get out of it." Emma also puts her hand over her heart.

    "So help you God, because if we lose than all of this just became really stupid." Sophia laughs. "So, Amy, are you gay?"

    "WHAT!" You shout. Then you pause. It's actually not a surprise.

    "Are you lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex, in a fashion that makes you equally or preferentially attracted to girls?" Sophia is clearly reading from the piece of paper.

    "Yes." You mutter.

    "What was that?" Madison's eyes grow wide.

    "Um, yeah. I like girls more than boys. Romantically, sexually, all of that." Madison starts to deflate.

    "But, but..."

    "I have the report card." Emma says cheerfully, jumping up and moving to her desk before moving back to the rest of you. Emma and Sophia together put the two pieces of paper together. Two very similar, girly signatures of Madison Clements are on the piece of paper.

    "You guys are, um, really into this bet." You mutter. Emma is beaming as she puts her hands on your shoulders.

    "Babe, it's not a problem at all. I'm sorry if the teasing got out of hand, but it was just so fun seeing you try to be polite." Things suddenly make a lot more sense.

    "So I'm not crazy." You shake your head.

    "Oh, sweetie, you're crazy, but you were right to have your mind go wild. You really had no chance at all." Emma sighs. "I'm just glad we picked out the right present for you."

    "Um, what?" You frown. Madison is very carefully examining a corner of Emma's desk.

    "The terms of the bet, babe. Madison is turned into a lesbian for a year if you're attracted to girls." She raises her hand as you open your mouth. "Doesn't matter if you just like her as a friend, that's not what this is about. She said some very mean things about the subject. It's for her empathy. Giving you a chance with her is just a bonus. It's not like her being a lesbian will magically make the two of you compatible as girlfriends."

    "I did not." Madison pouts. "I just said, um, you were crazy and she's not. Not that it would be bad if she was." Emma's glare strikes you as suggesting this was not what she actually said.

    Sophia's gaze is interesting. It doesn't look amused, it looks extremely thoughtful.

    "Um, um, this is, um..."

    "You can't say you don't do brains, honey. We all know you do." Emma laughs. "She agreed. Take a chance, babe. If it doesn't work out, she gets an exciting life experience. If it does, you get your first real girlfriend and we all feel a lot less guilty about all the free stuff we're getting. Come on, it's a gift, and a bet. What could go wrong?"

    "Don't chicken out on us." Sophia speaks for the first time in a while. "Either of you." She gives you and Madison strange, intense looks.

    "Um, like, the flirting with me. Do I, um, need to produce a lesbian to have one?" You mutter. You're fairly sure you've stopped being able to judge the situation at all rationally.

    "Oh, that was just teasing. Now, if it seems that you two are having more fun, or if we just grow so attached to you, then sure, we might ask to swing your way, but we'd need to see how you are in a relationship first." Emma assures you. Emma and Sophia are so pretty, but Madison is so cute.

    Madison sighs and comes over. "Alright, let's do it."

    "Let me just see the contract for a bit." You mutter, and one of the girls hands it to you. You read it very carefully.

    "It says here there will be a test?" You say finally.

    "Well, just making out until we're convinced. We trust you, but that's not so bad, is it?" Emma asks. You consider Madison. It really isn't.

    You get a sudden moment of clarity. Sophia's testing you. You're not sure how, but she wants you to do this. Maybe it's some kind of bullying thing, seeing if you're willing to go this far? Is she closeted, and wants to see how desperate you are? You're really not thinking clearly.

    "Can we please just do it? The suspense is killing me." Madison says.

    [X] Why not? Your new best friend, who has been delightful to you, as a possible love interest? Your completely consenting love interest. A girl who did agree to this. A girl who loves spending time with you. You put your hand on Madison and focus on half of the changes you've been thinking about for two years.

    [X] "I can't." This all is seeming like an amazingly good idea right now. There's exactly one reason not to do this. 21%. You have to save yourself, all of yourself, for Victoria.

    [X] "I need to make a call." You get up and literally run into the bathroom. You're going to have to ask Victoria for permission. You're too confused, and you don't trust yourself right now.

    Note on write in votes: Any write in that doesn't lead to Amy mind controlling Madison will almost certainly hurt her relationship with Sophia and Emma significantly, and vastly reinforce the dependency Amy has on Victoria. All write ins will be read with this in mind.
    You start the changes, but you do them slowly, very slowly, watching yourself, being careful.

    "Are you sure you understand what this entails, Madison? You are asking me to alter a fundamental part of yourself not for a life-or-death reason, but for the sake of a bet. I'm sure I could change you back. I'm not sure if you'd want to change back. Maybe I could just make you bisexual? Still attracted to girls, but also still liking boys?" You ask carefully.

    'Ew, gross." Madison shudders. You stop the changes. "Like, okay, being a lesbian is fine, but both? That's icky and slutty and no one treats it seriously. I'd much rather be into girls than both, especially as it's only for a while." Emma shakes her head.

    "Honey, that kind of thing is how you got into this mess in the first place. Being a bisexual is fine." Emma sighs dramatically. "Also, the bet was..." She looks at the piece of paper where the rules are written down. "...to be a lesbian, exclusively sexually attracted to females with no desires for males." She looks back up. "So, anything else before we start testing?"

    "Um..." You suddenly really want to change Madison. "Not yet."

    You have to be careful! So careful. You're still fairly new to working with brains, and what you have done has been mostly with enemies and constructs- with a friend on the line, you can't afford a mistake at any stage. The three of them might be treating this casually, but the fact is that Madison is placing everything about who she is in your hands when she asked you to modify her brain, and that trust is a precious thing you can't betray. Those changes that we've been thinking about for years need to be gone over, bit by bit, so that you do exactly what Madison has asked of us and absolutely nothing else. We can afford to spend a little extra time on this, for her sake.

    If you were using your hands, and not your powers, it would look like you were handling her like something fragile, terrified she might break.

    Madison's heart rate is only a bit elevated. She seems nervous, but not scared. It is several minutes before you're absolutely sure that you've done exactly what was asked, but no more. Finally you take your hand away from Madison's. You're both silent for a moment.

    "Is it done?" Madison asks cautiously, playing with her hair.

    "Yes. Unless something that's never happened before has messed with my powers, you should be safely, completely homosexual right now with no other changes to your nature."

    "Oh." Madison looks at you carefully, focusing on your face first before then letting her eyes drift downward over the rest of your body. "Um, it worked. Yeah, it definitely worked."

    "I don't think I'm convinced." Sophia speaks for the first time in a while. She has a quite large smile on her face as she sits down rather close to you.

    "I agree. She could be faking." Emma's voice is full of a humorous tone. "We absolutely need to test this properly."

    "I know." Sophia puts her hand on your shoulder. "Come on, don't you want to test it?"

    You smile at Sophia, "Honestly, I'd rather have you. I would have made a move already but you and Emma seemed so happy together I didn't want to break you up." Sophia goes very still, which seems like a good sign. You place your hand on Sophia's cheek. "And you haven't asked me for your changes yet... If you let me... I'll make even more beautiful and deadly than you already are..." You let it hang in the air.

    Sophia gives you a very serious look. "Not tonight. We can talk about this very seriously later, but tonight's more for fun. Let's see how you girls go."

    You look back to Madison. She looks positively jealous.

    You've never inspired that in anyone before.

    So, you start testing.

    ___

    "STOP!" Madison shouts. You disengage at once. "What the Hell was that."

    "Um, just a use of my power. As my girlfriend..."

    "I did not say you could do that!" Madison looks angry for the first time. "We could make out. That was the deal. I am not opposed to that. Maybe if you asked I would have let you do that, but that's not something you can just do in a make out session." Madison glares and you start to feel guilty.

    "I'm sorry." You really are. "I just wanted to make it nice for you..."

    "And you can, but not like that. That's too, um..."

    "Good?" Emma suggests.

    "Right. That is just too, um, too much for this." Madison is looking a lot less mad.

    "Hm, you're right. That was an ugly move, Amy." Sophia announces. "But I'm still not convinced you totally changed her."

    "What?" That's a bit confusing.

    "Neither am I." Madison says cheerfully. "Alright, bitch fest over. I forgive you. Back to kissing."

    Madison would make a great girlfriend.

    ___

    You wake with Madison snuggled against you on one side and Sophia fast asleep on the other.

    You actually fell asleep early.

    "Madison?" You ask softly. "Are you awake?" She looks up, beautiful.

    "Just a minute ago. So, I think we're heading to the hospital in about half an hour, right?" You're grinning very widely.

    "If you're sure you want to go with me." Madison laughs.

    "I am sure. I might get bored with it eventually, but some of the nurses there are pretty cute, and it's always interesting to see who comes through. I think I'd rather figure things out there than at school or something." She stretches a bit. "You can shower first." She looks at your face curiously. "I had a great time. Do not worry about it."

    So you don't.

    ___

    Madison seems even more cheerful than usual at the hospital, chatting quite normally. If you follow her eyes they do wander a bit towards new directions, but she's still Madison, just a Madison who had a superb make out session the previous night.

    Well...this doesn't rule out Victoria. She has a boyfriend right now, anyway, should you exactly be saving yourself for her? You haven't ever had a girlfriend, so having one now would maybe give you experience in being a better girlfriend (...wife) for Victoria if circumstances ever align.

    Hopefully.

    Victoria's done way more with Dean than you are even thinking about doing with Madison. She's the godmother to one of his youngest cousins for Christ's sake. It really is a good idea to have had some girlfriend that is not your sister even if Victoria is by far the best possible choice.

    You shouldn't assume that Madison will be romantic with you just because of her new orientation. She never really dated guys like you, did she? She seemed to really like kissing you, a lot, but that doesn't mean she wants to date you or anything.

    "Can I come over for dinner again tonight?" Madison asks suddenly. It is a 6-6 shift, so you can have dinner with Victoria again.

    "Sure." You say. "If you aren't sick of me by then."

    "Nope, I don't think that's likely." Madison says happily. "It's a date." She pauses. "Both kinds, I think. Is having dinner with someone's family a date?"

    Okay, she does want to date you.

    "You know, you don't have to do this. You're a friend before anything else. I really, extremely appreciate this as a friend. If Emma and Sophia are putting you up to this, or you just want to make us happy..."

    "What's the point of having a magical change to who I like if I don't play with it? If we're not good together, we're not good together. If we are, we are. Worst case and it starts to ruin my life I'm sure you'll switch me back." Madison shrugs cutely. "So far it's fun."

    ___

    Victoria is screaming blasphemies at the stove once again when you get back to Dean's apartment, which is increasingly home.

    Dean is once again playing with the Rubik's Cube, a look of solid determination on his face. You and Madison leave him be.

    "You know, I've never seen your room yet." Madison says. There's a hint in the voice.

    "Um, yeah." You lead her to the guest room. "Victoria made it just like my room at home." Madison frowns.

    "Want to talk about it, or not talk about it?" She asks.

    "Not talk." You say firmly. You're not sure you can explain any of it without explaining all of it.

    "Okay. Back to kissing." Madison announces.

    She's really getting good at it.

    ___

    Victoria does open the door on the two of you. This honestly is kind of what you were hoping for.

    A wide spectrum of expressions play out over her face before she fixes it in an expression that reminds you of Carol.

    "We're eating in the kitchen." The two of you hop up and head in.

    "Not the first time I've been caught like that." Madison tells you. "You'll get used to it."

    Victoria firmly seats herself between you and Madison and proceeds you to feed you your entire meal from her own plate. You actually have trouble talking as Victoria firmly fills your mouth with more food than you actually want. Victoria's mouth is moving constantly, making sure to extra every detail of the Ward raid on Coil's old organization. It's kind of hard to pay attention.

    Madison finally leaves, kissing you goodbye and giving Victoria a friendly hug before skipping off.

    "So, you have a girlfriend." Victoria says at last.

    "Um, I guess I do." You mutter.

    "I am going to read to you, and then we are going to bed." Victoria says. You can't help but smile a lot as she leads you back into the guest room.

    ___

    "Rune just moved in with Mark and Carol." Victoria informs you over breakfast. "She sent me an email about it. She's almost officially New Wave." You nod, chewing as long as possible to prevent more food from entering your mouth suddenly. "So have you put anymore thought into Tattletale?" You shake your head. You'd kind of forgotten about it between Madison and Victoria's clear, miraculous jealousy. "Well, you have a few hours. You really need to stop putting it off. Now try blueberry." You do so.

    You guess it is time to see how Tattletale is doing. You drive to the Protectorate building after Victoria leaves for patrol.

    Tattletale does not look good. She's wearing a straight jacket and her cell is soundproofed. She gives you a single look and laughs.

    "Where do I even start you pathetic little Worm." She kicks back. "So, got any new plans?"

    Well..."

    [X] Write in. What is the plan for dealing with Tattletale? Different write ins may be combined to an extent if they are similar in theme as usual for these events.
    "He loves you, Amelia." You stride forward with purpose, touching Tattletale and making her incapable of speech. She thrashes about, managing a solid kick, that causes you to see what she's been doing to her padded cell. It's a second later that you paralyze her.

    Good lord her teeth are hurting so badly. She's been trying to gnaw things into the walls. Most of it is illegible. "Vista did it" is the only thing that catches your eye. Why didn't anyone warn you about this?

    Honestly, the nicest thing you can do for her is to remove her ability to make you stop wanting to help her. She can just listen.

    He loves you, Amelia.

    The inflection was masculine, deep. She had to bring up...

    A man with hair the same color as yours, handsome, confident, powerful, and gentle. His voice was soft and sweet as he sat beside your bed and read to you. No, that's not right. Memory is unreliable. Things get jumbled. Victoria read to you when you were little. She started when you were six. Because you asked her to. Because it reminded you of...

    Oh God.

    Your composure shatters. You're able to stifle the sobs with a hand over your mouth but you can't hold back the tears. He was kind and sweet and gentle and he loved you. You can't move. You can't let anyone see you like this. You can't give tattletale the satisfaction of driving you away. It takes you nearly a minute to stop crying, all the while Tattletale just stares at you with that fox like grin a fixed to its face.

    When you can finally speak you only have one thing to say to it, "Fuck you, cunt." You sit there, shaking. "What is wrong with you." It's not staring at you, it's staring very determinedly at another low corner of the wall. Looking where she wants you to is not something you're going to do.

    "I'm going to keep a promise, and look after you as best I can. There's no justice in it, but it's all I can do, and at least you'll be alive. I'll even try to make you content with it. I'm sorry." You pull in a deep breath. "Actually, I'm not." You knock it out before you start. This will take a while.

    Tattletale... you've never really understood it . Memorize everything you can about it. Take your time; in order to do this right, you need to know exactly who it is now, and work with and around that, not simply slap a few simple changes into its head and assume it'll work out. Adding an addiction is just a chain, and its power will let it easily identify and probably suffer under any artificial emotions; Coil's certainly did for him. Whatever the Protectorate thinks, their proposed changes won't turn out well. You can do this better, with finesse and compassion it doesn't deserve.

    You can't do this out of any human feeling, so you do it out of professional pride. This is just an object, and you will do your best to care for the object under your care.

    Tattletale's always been a bitch to us, but it isn't one to everyone. It got Grue healed; it cared enough about Skitter that it kidnapped you to help her. In fact, Taylor's been insistent that Lisa was a good friend to her, so it can't have been so cruel to her. What makes it so much nicer to them? It must be in its head here somewhere. It has the capacity to not be a bitch. Find out what it is that makes it want to genuinely work with people, to be kind to them and independently take action on their behalf. That set of emotions, that thought process... you can use it. It needs to consider us a friend like that. Not its jailor; someone who is trying to help it and who she needs to help in turn. Make it think the best of us; it understands us well, but it is its choice as to how to use that understanding.

    Then again, Taylor's a crazy fucked up bitch, so she might just be into that kind of thing, building up her own pity parade, liking hanging out with someone who bullies her, a perpetual victim. It must have been so good to have an excuse to hang out with her bully all the time instead of just stalking the trio at school. The sick fuck probably loved every second of Lisa tearing into her. Grue was an asset and the team leader of the Undersiders. Tattletale got along with your evil twin. She might just be so warped that her love is more dangerous than her hatred.

    More empathy in general wouldn't hurt it. It knows quite well exactly how much its words hurt others, the damage that it can do with them; where's the part of it that feels bad about it? That wants to see people smile and laugh, to reduce the world's suffering? Everyone has one. Touch it gently, make it more prominent- not too much, not enough that it dominates, but enough to make a difference.

    You think you find that. Brains are complicated, hard to understand things. You think for a moment. Gentle won't save you if she really tears in. Not after that. You smile as you softly, gently manipulate it until you're fairly sure it's as high as would be healthy.

    You start searching through the brain. You actually don't do brains. You've never paid much attention to them. After nearly half an hour of careful work you think you've managed to change it the way you want to, establishing the connections to make it see you as a friend, or something. Whatever was the single most important thing, the thing she thinks about most, associated with positive endorphin levels, is mixed in with however she feels about you. You're reasonably sure you got that right. Reasonably sure. You can't actually read her mind like an open book.

    You sit back and take a break for a while, thinking about what else you should do to make sure it can't hurt you again.

    It must feel trapped, cornered and doomed. Fearful. It doesn't need that feeling; it makes it defensive and angry. It will be much happier if it doesn't get stressed easily, if it's optimistic, if it can accept its punishment as just the next part of her life. A chance to turn over a new leaf, not some kind of inevitable suffering. You're fairly sure you did that, playing with and experimenting with different parts of the brain involving the most recent fear and pain responses. Once again you lean towards too much rather than too little. If you've fucked her up more than you have to? Well, that is justice considering all it's done in picking people apart. Tattletale has weapons, and so do you.

    The Protectorate wants addiction, so you might as well do that, too. Nothing that will give it terrible withdrawals, or make it suffer- you need to help, to be kind. Not for this raging cunt's sake, but for Victoria's, and maybe your father's...

    "Fuck you, cunt." You tell her sleeping form. You hope whatever you're doing is giving her really fucked up dreams.

    Tattletale just can't stay awake for any significant length of time unless itsbody gets a complex chemical that only you can produce. You smile at that. Sixteen hours of sleep a day isn't too evil, is it? You can start her on that, and then just up her dosage.

    Then you boost her, improving her body, removing the little problems and scars that have to make her life just a little harder, especially after her rough couple of days. Her teeth require the most attention.

    You turn around to leave it there, and your eyes can't help but see what Tattletale wanted you to see.

    SHE WOULD HAVE NAMED HER AFTER YOU.

    You are literally running out of the room by the time you reach the door.

    ___

    "Madison, I can't have you at the hospital today." You tell her over the phone.

    "What did I do? Is it about your sister? She just doesn't want her baby sister to grow up."

    "Fuck off!" You shout into the phone. "I. Need. To. Be. Alone." You probably shouldn't be driving like this. You're arriving at the hospital two hours early. You hang up on Madison and head in.

    The dumb cunt. You helped her with everything you possibly could have, and this is what you get? After she threatened to destroy your life, kidnapped your sister, threatened to murder you, you could have fucking lobotomized her and led her around the house on a leash. No, you had to try and be a good person.

    You spend the day healing. You're glad for it, focusing on giving minor tuneups to the patients. Nothing major, just a few seconds of dietary assistance or removing some old aches and pains to remove your need for anything else. You don't eat the whole day, barely drinking water. You're feeling light headed when your shift is over.

    You can't even think about looking at Victoria tonight. The one good thing, the only good thing, you ever had or ever needed, and Tattletale...

    You go walking into the late night city of Brockton Bay. You can't go to the only thing that even comes close to feeling like home.

    [X] Sarah and Neil. You can, you don't know, work on the New Wave suits or something. Who cares?

    [X] Fuck it. Let's go mess with Taylor again.

    [X] You're going to just sleep outside tonight. Why not? You're the God Damned Panacea. Anyone who hurts you is just begging for it.
    As you walk to Sarah and Neil's house you pull out your cellphone and call the PRT, ordering a large delivery of the materials you need to work to that address. When you get there you find you were beaten by a large U-Haul carrying living materials to work with. About half a ton of worms, moss, and fungus.

    Sarah and Neil are just kind of staring at it, standing out in the yard having clearly just woken up.

    "Amy, are you okay?" Sarah asks cautiously.

    "Nope. I'm designing the New Wave suits tonight." You smile at her cheerfully.

    "Right now? In the driveway? Any particular reason?" Sarah's voice is low, cautious.

    "Ask Battery or Director Calvert. I had to deal with Tattletale again, so I am going to make weapons."

    Sarah is silent for a long time as you start inspecting your working materials. They are improved from the ones you used for the Wards. Yes likely to make you feel guilty.

    "Well, we're doing this right. Let me make a few calls." Sarah talks briefly to her husband before heading into the house.

    Hm....

    Lets work some of that anger out of our system with high grade Biomanipulation... load the suits with features as complex and interesting as you can manage, taking inspiration from the many parahumans you've met. After all it's good to do something useful for people you actually like after having had your best intentions spurned.

    New improvements to basic biology? What about specialized energy supply cells and a new Organelle made specifically for receiving and processing electrical energy for the cells to use? You start playing with the idea.

    Added to that I think a kind of inter-cellular armor/delivery system would be useful to make from Either a nanotube fibre mix incorporated into the entire thing as connective tissues, And a biological version of Aerogel to insulate them giving a massive boost to survivability from crushing blows and impacts.

    A lot of New Wave lacks durability in some way. To many holes or limitations. At the center is a Mark II version for Victoria. As always, she has to come first. You suddenly giggle at something you wish you didn't overhear from Victoria and Dean a couple years ago.

    After maybe 15 minutes you think you've worked that out as best you can. Now, you're not sure what the purpose of the electricity thing was...

    The nanotube tracks could also be worked into a kind of electrical transit system, with ion rich fluids being run though the tubes to supply the entire thing with energy. Basically a non-classical biology which can be fed on electricity, and with the right installations Light as well.

    More redundancy, more survivability, easier to maintain by itself.

    You hear people moving by as you work. Presumably the other members of New Wave. Maybe Victoria? You can't think about her right now.

    Materials can be handled via the use of a bacterium or combination of them which reside only in the specific conditions of the suit and are programmed to die off if they leave it. The bacterium would break down the consumed materials and then rebuild them into carbon fibers and cells for rapid self repair. That way the suit can gain energy and materials from eating materials in almost any environment for rapid repair. You really need to give these upgrades to the Wards. You might need more materials soon. You'll need, um, 20 or so? You can't remember how many people you're actually outfitting. You'll figure it out later.

    A heavy layer of melanin interspersed with carbon nanotube delivery sites would be harduseful for making a specialized organelle/over all organ type for dealing with and absorbing HARD radiation and converting it to useable energy (Ionizing radiation. This is how the species of fungus found living in Chernobyl was found to be thriving, using the ionizing radiation for food via heavy use of Melanin pigmentation in order to capture it and reduce the amount of radiation breaches). Combined with a more conventional photosynthesis setup and a system for storing the energy captured the suits could easily see a fair amount of recharge from plain sunlight and water...

    "Do you need anything?" Sarah asks cautiously. You think for a moment.

    "Chris. Kid Win. He would be helpful, having a real Tinker check my work."

    "Okay. I'll call and see what I can do about it." Sarah leaves again. Good. You need to work.

    Now using the same Nanotube track idea, and if you can figure out a way to power the suits well enough from the energy output of their occupants, Manpower, Lady Photon and their children especially, maybe Brandish and Flashbang. Definitely not Victoria, sadly. Interlocking mechanical motors and pistons to make the suit move easier. Not as extensive as what you could do for Aegis, but it should boost strength and mobility, especially in sudden situations.

    You start thinking about what you can see of powers. The Corona Gammas of Flechette, Victoria, Coil, Tattletale...

    They're about interacting and interfacing with brains, controlling parahuman powers, right? You think about the Flechette package, you're including all the basics of the original Victoria model in all of them, and that was a start, but maybe for Eric a 'memory expansion unit' to give him a better ability to visualize complex items and make them work piece by piece on a mechanical level, as well as store patterns.

    "Get me Eric." You say to whoever is nearby, and he arrives a minute later.

    "Amy, are you okay?" He asks. "Please, you need to talk to someone."

    "I'm doing that right now. Give me your hand." Eric does so. He feels terrified all along his body.

    "Don't worry. I'm just taking a closer look. We need to experiment." You tell him. You start talking about his suit. Soon, coiled around the back of his head is practically a new lobe of his brain. He's vastly expanded in what he can do with his shields, now more constructs.

    "Um, thank you very much." Eric pauses for a moment. "This is actually live changing and useful." You're thinking for a moment. "Wait, give me another minute."

    All of New Wave's shards, at least Sarah, Carol, and their children, work through similar, if highly divergent, principles. Eric and Victoria's shields are similar in many ways, working through a similar mechanism.

    "I have a few things I want you to try." You get more and more excited as Eric begins to shape the force field. You realize that you can change how it works in a new way, controlling the friction the force field uses. Any of the New Wave force fields.

    People are misinformed about how Sarah and her kids are different at force fields. It is not that the force fields can withstand certain, different degrees of pressure. All of them are perfect, like Victoria's. The difference is how long they can be held up for, how they can be shaped. Crystal could hold it up for a few seconds, close to her body, needs rest for a while afterward. Sarah can do it for longer, farther away, but still close. Neil's is far beyond everyone else. All of them add qualities to the force field besides absorbing damage through hard light, transferring kinetic energy. You can change the friction of Victoria's, adding or subtracting, but you can add a lot more variation and qualities to the others.

    Eric should be able to replicate complex objects now. Far, far more complex. He can store and replicate designs instead of having to hold it all in his brain. He's more than a Shaker now, you think.

    You sit there, shuddering a bit. "Thank you, Eric. I need more time to think." He leaves, and you hear hushed talking among the other members of your family.

    Victoria's flight is also a variation on the family powers. Most of them transmit kinetic energy through light. She adds and subtracts kinetic energy from herself. Maybe you can figure out how to merge it with her force field, increase how many qualities she can add to it?

    Chris shows up next, maybe twenty minutes later. You have hung the upgraded suits for Aegis, Browbeat, Clockblocker, Gallant, Kid Win, Shadow Stalker, Vista, Eric, Crystal, Neil, Sarah, Carol, Mark, Victoria, Amy, Melissa...

    You've got to be missing someone, but you're not sure who. Didn't New Wave get two new members? You can't fucking think.

    "They said you wanted me?" Chris says quietly.

    "Yes. Another Tinker. Or a Tinker? Does this make me a Tinker now?" You gesture to the sixteen current suits.

    "Sure it does." Chris says softly. "Now what do you want to do?"

    "I just want to talk about these suits."

    "Sure, we can do that." He looks at them. "New Wave and the Wards, right? I can tell you about what we've seen happen in battle, and give some of my own ideas." You nod. It sounds great.

    You talk about massively redundant organs for the suits, streamlining redundancies by letting particular organs take up multiple functions. Designing an organ which carries out a particular process, then figuring out which other organs it can have its connections swapped to to configure it for a new function. The suits are becoming so much better now.

    You and Chris invent a light gathering/focusing organ which allows you to trap gathered light in a frozen state then compile photons on top of each other in storage and synchronize them to create a wide range of light focusing effects. It fits with something else he's done, and you help to translate it into organic material. You call over the hard light users, it should increase their power and flexibility.

    Chris helps, the light organ works in combination with the lungs for breaking down carbon dioxide or as part of a maintenance system to break down unwanted build ups, or as part of the digestive system, and maybe even doubling as a kind of set up for a nervous system. Other things, plenty of other things like that.

    You get a sudden mad urge to kiss Chris as he's talking, but you force it down. He doesn't deserve you as a girlfriend. You couldn't last a day without ruining it with Madison. How could you keep Victoria if that's all you could get?

    You want to call Madison and apologize, but right now you can tell it would come out all wrong, and maybe it's better for her if she doesn't have to be with someone like you.

    You were shitty to her cause IT was shitty to you, and that was unfair especially since she's your girlfriend now... you don't expect her to be happy with you, you were a cunt earlier and you know it. but you need someone who is not your sister to talk to and she's already let you remake her for your desires. It's best in a relationship to never go to bed angry with each other, and she's the closet thing to normal that you've currently got.

    So you're never going to have anything normal.

    Eventually you and Chris finish the prototypes for all the next generation of the suits. You can talk to the wearers tomorrow or the day after that to see what else they could want or need. Finally, as you end up with a lot of mass yet, you and Chris start making a single gigantic weapon for Rune to be throwing around, filling it up with everything you both can think of.

    "I haven't eaten in, well, since breakfast." You realize out loud. "Um, can you order something?"

    "Sure. I'll talk to your aunt. You can finish without me." Chris walks away, suddenly moving very fast.

    It is ten minutes later when your sister falls from the sky.

    "It. Is. Okay." Victoria tells you, still wearing pajamas. Who ended up finally calling her? "Whatever she did, whatever she said, it was just to hurt you. It. Is. Okay."

    Victoria pulls you into the house and feeds you like when you were little, muttering everything you needed to hear. It's breakfast food. It turns out it's 4 AM.

    Your relatives try to have a normal conversation to make you feel normal. Rune, Browbeat, and someone else, Eraser, so you'll have another suit to make. You like that. Someone who can just erase things. It sounds so pleasant, so peaceful.

    Eventually you go back out and look at them. Victoria wants to see them.

    "Oh Amy, they're beautiful." Victoria whispers. You realize they are. They're the suits of New Wave.

    "Chris helped." He really did. Someone else pointing out when they went too close to horrible and disturbing. They look gorgeous, one and all.

    "I love you, Amy." Victoria is stroking the one that's clearly her own, white and gold, luxurious fabric, highly animated cape that moves by itself, and a crown wrapped around her head for her powers. Victoria was always to be a princess or a queen.

    "There's something I need to show you." You choke back. "It's about what Tattletale said today."

    "Of course, Amy. Where do we go?"

    "Home." The first time you've gone there in weeks. She flies you there. It's not too far a flight.

    You lead Victoria into the back yard slowly, dragging your feet, a sense of dread.

    "There's something I never told you." You start. You don't want it to hang in the air, but it does, it's so hard to get out.

    Suddenly it tumbles away.

    "You asked me what you did wrong. You didn't do anything wrong; you did everything right. You were always there for me. You were the only family I had for so long. You held me when I cried. You nursed me back to health when I was sick. You loved me and you never asked for anything in return. A lot of the time I feel like I'm less than worthless, like the world would be better off if I was never born. But you always make me feel like the second most important person in the world. "

    "I just want to be as close to you as I could as often as I could. When I was old enough to start really thinking about sex it seemed like that was a way I could be even closer to you. And it was disgusting at first. I hated myself for even thinking about it. The very idea just felt so gross. But the more I thought about it the more right it felt. I don't know if it was your aura or if it was just me, but it eventually stopped feeling gross and started feeling like something that should happen. I just wanted to be with you in every way that two people can be together. To marry you and have your children one day. I can do that with my power. It even tells me exactly what they'd be like. Billions of possible variations, all of them wonderful.

    "I don't want anything from you. Not really. I want to give you everything that you need and everything that you deserve. I feel inadequate because I can't. I know that you need Dean and I'm not mad at you for that. I'm not even mad at him. Not really. I'm mad at myself because I can't give you what he gives you. I want you to be happy more than anything. If you need to be with him I'll be there for you. If you marry him I'll be your maid of honor because you deserve that. You deserve all the support I can give you. If you have his children I'll dote on them and spoil them and I'll be the best aunt in the world. Because they'll deserve that. I'll be jealous that they aren't ours but anyone who comes from you deserves my unconditional love and devotion. I won't screw that up again, I promise. I just want you to be happy."

    Victoria freezes up at the end.

    "Again? Amy, what on Earth..."

    You lead Victoria out into a corner of the yard. You'll never forget the spot.


    "Most pregnancies end in miscarriage without the woman noticing. Failure to implant is pretty common. It was after the big one, with Dean, the Fourth of July one. Remember?" Victoria is very silent. She'd been leaning on you for comfort then. You'd thought maybe they wouldn't get back together that time. You were so happy, and so miserable about how happy you were. Victoria remembers.

    "A couple days later, you'd found time to read to me again. Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I saw something." You close your eyes and get clinical. "An embyro floating down one of yourfallopian tubes. It was probably very good makeup sex. Maybe you forgot the condom. Maybe they were just so enthusiastic that it broke.Don't tell me. I considered both possibilities and wasn't sure which was was worse."

    "Oh my God." Victoria whispers. "Did you..."

    "NO!" You scream. "It wasn't just an embryo to me. She, it was a she, just a few cells and some DNA, but it looked like a person. It looked like you to me, or really close. It was your daughter. I couldn't have ever hurt her. Unless you suddenly became an alcoholic or started taking drugs, I knew exactly what she would be like when she was born." Victoria starts holding your hand very tightly.

    "You avoided me for a couple weeks." Victoria says quietly. "I thought you were jealous. I always thought you had a crush on Dean. That's when I first..."

    "And then you got your period. I knew what had to have happened, and when I touched you I was sure. The embyro didn't implant properly and was washed away with your period. Your beautiful, perfect daughter was dead on top of a maxi pad in the trash can." Victoria's crying now.

    "Amy, I never knew..."

    "I was relieved!" You shout. "You wouldn't have a baby tying you to Dean for the rest of your life. I was happy your daughter was dead! I hate myself for it! If I told you, if I'd stayed with you instead of bitching about it, beeen attentive, she could have implanted properly. I could have kept her safe. But I was selfish and ugly and stupid and didn't think. I you failed as a sister. I failed as an aunt. I couldn't tell you."

    It had been eating away inside you for ten months.

    Victoria sits down and looks at the ground and a small rock you placed there. Iron pyrite. Fool's gold.

    "I forgive you." Victoria says. "Always and completely, I forgive you. I don't know what I would have done if you told me." Victoria is silent for a while. "I guess I would have wanted to be a mother, but it seems so big, so confusing. I can't imagine what that must have been like. Victoria gets up. "We're going back to Dean's. I am going to read to you again."

    "I love you so much, Victoria." You start crying a lot more.

    "I would have named her after you." Victoria whispers, and somehow the way she says it makes everything better.

    ___

    When Victoria tries to read to you that night, you hear his voice intermingled with hers. You have to ask her to stop. Neither of you sleep well.

    Interlude:

    [X] Miss Militia

    [X] Kaiser

    [X] Laserdream
    If there's one thing you'll say about Dean, he's great at setting up blind dates. George is a silly name, but you love magic. A professional magician's assistant, 21, good looking, he's so much more fun than the college boys you've been trying out for the last couple weeks. George is getting along great with Mom and Dad, who are currently going through the traditional ritual all your boyfriends go through of looking at the family photo album.

    "She was just ten years old when she triggered!" Mom says enthusiastically, pointing to a picture of you proudly holding up a newspaper saying "Marquis's Minion Captured."

    "Blew up a damn armored car the Tinker was using." Dad says. "I was impressed." He takes a shot of whiskey. "She was this wispy little thing, and suddenly that came out of her. Scared me half to death. I was in the car at the time. If War Spark hadn't been hacking at me with his chain sword and I didn't have my shield up I'd have been fried."

    "I wouldn't have meant to." You assure him for the hundredth time. "I just wanted the car to stop because it took my Dad."

    "I'm sure she couldn't have hurt you. Powers are a gift from God. If they would have killed you, she would have gotten different powers." George says quietly.

    You all think for a moment about it.

    "Mine were." Mom says, coming out of the downstairs bathroom. "They could have come sooner, though." George doesn't answer that. You get a phone call from Eric.

    "Sorry, I have to take this." You head into the kitchen.

    "I'm falling in love with the Nazi." Eric's voice is a terrified whisper. You're not sure if to sigh or giggle.

    "She's no longer a Nazi. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. Don't fight it." You say in your airiest tone just to annoy him.

    "Please cut out the New Age crap. This is serious. She's so smart and mature..."

    "We're New Wave. Embrace the spirituality of our names. We are gifts from God meant to change the world for the better, starting a new age of peace and tranquility." You recite from your church's pamphlet. "If you find her pretty and smart, impress her. Show her your strength and courage. Be a hero worthy of redeeming a villainess from the dark side."

    "Please..." Eric's tone gets whiny. "If you don't help me I'll just have to ask Victoria." You laugh so hard you choke.

    "Alright. Anything is better than asking her for relationship advice. So, are you sure you don't want to date Melissa?"

    "She's a Nazi. She's killed people." You frown.

    "So have we." You point out, remembering New Orleans and the Valentines Day thing.

    "It's different." Eric tells you.

    "Yeah, it is." You sigh. "Okay, I guess just find someone else to keep your mind off her, superhero. Post a flier at school with those tab things you pick off with your phone number on it saying you want a date. You are a handsome, powerful superhero with his own line of sneakers."

    "Wow those are bad shoes." Eric sighs. "I wish I could have just stuck with sporting equipment. I like my official baseball glove." Suddenly you hear a loud sound on the other end of the line.

    "Do you need help?" You ask him quickly.

    "Nope. Melissa's taken care of it already."

    "Do you need Panacea again?" You ask.

    "Um, actually, yes. Call Victoria. Um, now." You do so.

    "Can you send Amy to Eric and Melissa? It looks like Melissa went overboard again."

    "Of course. Um, I'll call you back in a minute." Victoria sounds distracted. You make sure she has the right address before you let her hang up.

    About half an hour later, right as George is entering into a dangerously political conversation on the recent alliance with Empire 88, Victoria calls you back.

    "No fatalities, and Mellisa is very sorry." She assures you. "I really get it. With the kind of stuff we throw around it's nearly impossible to hold back when people are pointing guns at you."

    Victoria's a back alley thug with no sense of control. If Amy wasn't her sister she'd have killed someone years ago.

    Then again, you have killed people.

    "So, you wanted to ask me about something?"

    "Do you get, um, jealous when Eric dates?" Victoria asks you.

    "Um, jealous? What do you mean by that?"

    "Like you want to punch the girl in her stupid face and throw her out the window!" Victoria snaps. She is quiet for a moment. "Yeah, so do you feel anything like that when your brother is with someone else?" The words "someone else" strike you as horrible word choice.

    "Well, um, I might feel a little jealous if he's not spending as much time with me as usual. Maybe, um, nothing like that." You admit. "But we are four years apart, and not as close as you and Amy. I could see it being different for you two." Victoria is quiet for another minute.

    "Um, you do get that Amy and I are not exactly, well, normal, right?" Victoria asks cautiously.

    "I've known it since the first time we had dinner as an extended family. It's sweet how close you two are. Love is love, and don't let anyone make you feel bad about how much you love your sister." You assure her.

    "Um, Crystal, she wants to have a baby." You kind of choke again.

    "She wants to have a baby? She's seventeen. There's plenty of time for that." This is not quite as bad as you expected, but still bad.

    "She's nervous about a lot of things. She's brought it up a couple times. Um, is it weird if I want her to?" It's very weird.

    "Why do you want her to have a baby?" It's best not to let it show when the Dallons are being their most Dallonesque.

    "Well, it's like when we were little and we'd play house. She'd be the mommy and I'd be the daddy." This comes up surprisingly often in your conversations with Victoria. "I've wanted to be a mother since I was six. I never trusted anyone else to do it right. She's just so sad and lonely so much. I think a step forward would be good for her, you know? We're almost grownups now, and raising a kid together means she wouldn't have to worry about drifting apart." Jesus.

    "You want to raise a child together." You start to process this. "Um, almost grownups. Are you sure you're ready? What does Dean think?"

    "Dean's, um, weirdly supportive of the idea. It actually kind of freaks me out." Considering who you're talking to, this is another of those very bad signs. "I think it's one of his weird rebellions against his father." You've never understood Dean's issues with his daddy. He'd always seemed really nice to you.

    "Well, um, I really advise against this. If you do it definitely don't do it before Cranial gets back to Amy about her psychology fixes." You pull in a deep breath. "Um, would it impact her healing?"

    Victoria hangs up on you.

    This might be one of your nicest conversations in three months.

    ___

    You're nervous, waiting in the Protectorate HQ waiting room as Dad has his own appointment with Amy. You're all getting properly outfitted now. Down the hall you hear noises of what sounds like a truly terrible party for Armsmaster and Miss Militia. They're actually planning a parade for them.

    Then again, they did kill the Three Blasphemies. Pity about Chevalier, but that was big. There was talk about if Armsmaster holding one of the heads as he went through the streets for the parade would be too savage. That's one of the most dangerous problems the world has to face done with.

    Dad comes out of the consultation room looking magnificent in his new costume. It's one of Amy's thicker creations with a good deal of electronic stylization.

    "You look great!" You assure him. You pause and lower your voice. "How is she?"

    "Stable." Dad says in the same lowered voice. "Probably the best we can hope for right now. She doesn't look pregnant, but it took me weeks to figure out your mother was having Eric." You nod.

    "All see what I can do." You move a few inches off the floor and glide through the door to meet with Amy.

    "Oh, baby, it's so good to see you." You sweep her into a hug. "So, tell me, how's living with Dean."

    "Marvelous." Amy assures you. "Me and Victoria are sharing his guestroom. It's just like when we were little again. She's reading to me again when our schedules lineup." Ah, so they're sleeping in the same bed again. You'd thought Carol put a stop to it when they entered high school. It figures they'd start back up as soon as they had the chance.

    "So, how's Madison." You ask. The cute girl seemed to think she was Amy's girlfriend, and that she was New Wave. You're not sure if Amy told her she was or if she's just delusional.

    "Who?" Amy asks. Your heart sinks. Then Amy laughs.

    "Oh, power joke." You smile. That is a relief.

    "She's great. Drives Victoria crazy." Why would that be a great thing? "Good kisser, too." Amy giggles. That's more of a relief. "So, I have a few things I want to experiment with." Amy lays out her materials and a few designs. "When I was working with Victoria I managed to figure out a new defense." Your ears perk up at that. Defense is good for you. "Victoria, Sarah, and you all fly the same way. So does Eric, when he does it. You add kinetic energy to yourself. It's not instant, probably a Manton style limitation, but it's pretty fast." You nod. "Well, with the suit's prediction capabilities and the messing I've been figuring out with powers, I've been thinking adding kinetic energy in just the right direction to counter enemy damage. It wouldn't be perfect, but if a bullet hits you, and your body hits the area with the same amount of kinetic energy at the same time, then it would counter the bullet." Ooh, that is smart. "So, with the right amount of control, you could be pretty close to invincible to a lot of damage while wearing your suits. You probably would lose control of your flying when it hits though. Sarah and Victoria did." You nod. Then you eye the long guns sitting on the table.

    "Um, are you going to test this?"

    "Of course." Amy assures you.

    ___

    You are happy with the new defensive measure. Instead of having to worry every time someone hits your shield you have a bit more leeway to get in close for a fight.

    "Now I have some other ideas if we're changing how I think and fight, adding in new instincts to do things that would be too complicated normally." You say. Amy nods. "An automatic trigger which will cause me to manifest a prerendered and shaped explosive charge to augment my shield. With the timing augmentations you've been doing I can have one of my blasts automatically parry things to keep me from having to use my shield." Victoria nods. "Completely reflexive for attacks we program in if it's too fast or dangerous, but gives me control when I do have time to think."

    "Sounds good." Amy is writing more notes. "Anything else?"

    "That Kid Win thing, the light compilation organ? What can we do with that for my attacks?" You ask. Amy smiles.

    "I was thinking you could charge it. It would give you a temporary overdrive mode, kind of. Add in more power than you usually have, and you can charge it most of the time in between battles or whenever you don't have to use your powers. Wire it up automatically so you can fight consistently over your original abilities, especially for shorter fights."

    "Ooh." You really like where this is going. "Do you think we could arrange something to make my blasts a bit more variable? Like cooling, causing stasis effects, noise canceling vibrations?"

    The two of you work at it for a while to no real luck. It's just too complex. That direction does lead you to another area, working on the extra computing power to do this kind of thing. You manage to make it so you can hit highly unevenly, cause it to vibrate things to pieces, based on some of the data Amy had been looking up with Kid Win, who she calls and asks for help from over the phone.

    You spend some time working on how to make the force fields better. You end up making it much more flexible, with constructs like Eric was talking about, but they can't manifest for any longer. Blades, tentacles, a few other minor tricks you program in. Nothing really impressive. You try to make the force field spin, deflecting damage instead of blocking it, but given how your force fields work it doesn't help.

    "So..." You pause, trying to think about how to broach the topic. "Are you feeling better lately?"

    "The last couple days have been pretty great, actually." Amy tells you. "I feel like I can sleep so much better with Tattletale taken care of, and sleeping with Victoria just makes me feel safe, like even if someone does attack me in bed she's right there to protect me." It is so hard not to sigh at that. Seriously, does she listen to herself talk? Sleeping with her sister, not "in the same bed" or something? Why?

    "Anything else to bring up? You ask. "We are here for you if you need anything. Money or..."

    "It's more fun to mooch off Dean, and Victoria's fine, had her own bank account since her first blue jeans commercial. If I had to I could go pester the PRT or hospital for some tiny fraction of the money I'm worth, but I don't really feel the need. I don't even know what I'd spend it on." Amy smiles at you. "I hope the new suit helps."

    "I'm sure it will." It is gorgeous. Apparently she'd been calling one of her new friends about the designs. Even when she was little her paintings were always scary, so whoever the friend is she's definitely doing a good job. It's skintight, a bit padded in the right areas, with the cape to store or cover the more unsightly bumps, along with knee, elbow, and shoulder pads to store other organs. The color scheme of white, red, and magenta is yours. "Thank you, Amy."

    "Thank you, Crystal. Just keep Victoria safe when you're out fighting, please." You nod.

    "I promise." Victoria is all Amy has.

    ___

    End Interlude

    ___

    You're woken up by a whining noise, like you might hear from a particularly large baby preparing to scream. The nasal ‘wa’ sound stretched out, so loud it was painful to listen to. A siren? An air raid siren.

    Victoria mutters, squeals, reaches for you, and opens her eyes. There's a look of clear worry on her face as she reaches for the remote and turns on the TV.

    "Leave your homes. Find the nearest shelter. Follow the directions of local authorities. Leave your homes..."

    You hear a knocking at the window. There's a man in blue there. He's wearing a skintight costume with a design in white that is somewhere between flame and electricity in style. He has a perfect physique with a strong jaw and wavy brown hair. He's almost as beautiful as your clone brother.

    Victoria is between you and the window. It just felt right that way. She gives a firm look at the door.

    "May I come in?" He yells loudly. Victoria gives a short, curt nod. He opens the window and positions his body to fly inside.

    "Hello, Legend." Victoria says, turning off the TV. "What is going on?"

    "Endbringer." He says simply. You gasp.

    "Why are you here?" Victoria asks. There's accusation in her voice.

    "We're here about your sister." Legend turns to you. "Hello, Amy."

    "What do you want from me?" You ask with just a bit of bitterness.

    "We want you out of the city. There's a good chance you're the target. You're a good target. We're offering to move you to Kansas City for the duration of the fight." Kansas City...

    "If I'm in Kansas City I can't help people." You mutter. Victoria is looking at her suit.

    You could take her with you.

    [X] You can't be hurt. You can't let Victoria be hurt. "Victoria, we're going."

    [X] You have to help. "Take me to where you can use me."
     
    Ddmkm122 and Ramuthra like this.
  10. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

    Joined:
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    Silent Night


    Legend drops you and Victoria off and the PRT building. You see two massive power suits, one the size of two PRT vans put together with four legs, another one larger, the size of a small building. The two of them are surrounded by hovering drones, with some working on the larger suit, the others, you stare at them, trying to figure it out. You recognize Uber and Leet of all people are working with the drones, as well as a man in a bright silver suit that shimmers as he walks who is inspecting the bombs.

    You suddenly realize that they're the bombs confiscated from Bakuda. You recognize a lot of them, the ones you had to remove from brains.

    You march inside with Legend. The room is still mostly empty, except for the Protectorate and New Wave. The adult members of your own team have started a conference among themselves. As you watch they make room for Battery and Assault as they come over.

    Folding chairs had been set into rows and columns in the center of the lobby, facing a trio of widescreen television sets, which in turn were backed by a series of large windows overlooking the beach. Through the windows, you have the perfect view of the looming storm.

    To your surprise, Cranial is here, floating with what is clearly her team. You'd thought she'd left the city. Cranial is speaking with Armsmaster intently. Eric is standing to the side of the two with Crystal.

    Surrounding them are the Tinkers of the Toybox. They're rogues, not heroes. What are they doing here?

    You recognize Big Rig and his suit, Michelle. He is surrounded by small drones and is clearly incredibly busy with some kind of bizarre Tinker interface, or possibly just making the least appropriate interpretive dance in the world.

    A slight and rather unattractive girl stands near Big Rig, clothed in thin and delicate garments. She is speaking softly with a girl in a doll costume you vaguely recognize as Parian. The girl's dress is lined with beautiful, thin machinery that looks disturbingly sharp.

    The local Wards shuffle in, and one of the Toybox members breaks off towards them, he's short, very young, with a red and silver costume design. The boy has several belts of what appear to be remotes. Sophia moves to Miss Militia and the two begin to talk.

    The last member of the Toybox team is wearing a large, strange suit disguising gender or other features. The inflated thing looks like full biohazard gear taken to a ludicrous extreme. The suit barely looks weaponized, though that doesn't mean much for Tinkers. The person is silent, not even appearing to look at anyone else.

    Victoria drags you to the Wards. The Toybox boy begins speaking with Kid Win at once, a conversation you can't follow at all. The rest of the Wards are silent. Victoria embraces Dean.

    Eidolon is in one corner, silent and impressive as the other times you've seen him.

    Another group comes in after the Wards, lead by Alexandria. An extremely slender Case 53 with four wings keeps close to Alexandria as if scared of the world around her. Bakkhos, Swarmer, and Shyster complete the major figures of the LA Protectorate.

    Dean and Victoria whisper to each other in hushed tones, and you'd really rather look at anything but them, so you keep your eyes on the crowd.

    Protectorate and Wards from New York stand to one side of the room. You suddenly recognize one girl by the cloak she wears, the piece of shimmering darkness you saw at the Fundraiser. That makes the boy in the pure white costume Grue, doesn't it? None of the New York Wards seem to be talking to the pair.

    Another group enters. The boy made of metal, Weld, who was helping with ABB before the Wards left. You see Rune rush over to him and the two start talking quite loudly. Next to him is a figure in a massive, smooth piece of power armor that lacks extremities. The strange suited figure glides across the floor to Armsmaster and Cranial.

    A small group from Albany enters the room. You recognize Blur and Ichor, though not a tall figure in in slight, insect-like power armor that covers her whole body. You give them a salute, and all three return it. Miss Militia walks over to them and starts talking.

    Kaiser bursts through the doors like a thunderstorm. The Empire has arrived. Kaiser has a girl on each side, Menja and Fenja. The Neo-Nazis stream in. Alabaster, Hoofwolf, Stormtiger, Night, Fog, Crusader, Victor, Othala, Cricket, and Victor, with Purity bringing up the rear. Weld gives them a salute as they enter, and Kaiser returns it.

    Next is the team from Chicago. Myrddin and Tecton you recognize, the leader of the Protectorate and the Wards. The other are a confused mess in your head. Nearby, held by an actual leash, is a girl with a fox mask who you somehow know is Tattletale.

    Skitter walks in alone. She makes a beeline for you, a swarm of bugs surrounding her. Legend spies her and leads her to you.

    "Relay bugs again?" She asks.

    "Until I'm asked to do something else." You start work on them.

    "Scouting, search and rescue, communications. I saw how you two worked together in the ABB event. If you could replicate that it would be amazing." Legend tells you. You consider for a moment.

    "I have an idea. Get me as many bugs as you can." Skitter nods. You turn back to Legend. "I know things will be hard enough out there, but if you can get me a living tissue sample I might be able to do something with it, or at least learn something." Legend nods.

    "If we can, we will, but it will be difficult. Any other requests, Panacea?"

    "I want to touch and record as many people as possible. I've been expanding what I can do, learning more and more lately. The more Corona Gammas I can see, especially for people with powers I know, the better." Legend nods. "This is a truly priceless opportunity, with capes from all over the world."

    You see that Grue and his sister have a line forming around them.

    "Force fields, force fields, get your force fields!" The girl shouts. "Stood up to Legend's best shot, once." Now that is interesting. The line curls, becoming longer and longer. A new force field pops up once every few seconds.

    You see the bizarre figure who came with Weld slide out of the room. No one else is heading that way. Now that is interesting. What does he do?"

    Skitter's swarm of bugs has formed a carpet you've merged together into a massive, single organism several times the weight of a man. More and more are arriving all the time, and you keep merging them together.

    More and more heroes arrive. Members of the Guild you recognize such as Narwhal. Other heroes, Escutcheon, Fierceling, Quark, Florida Man...

    All to fight one Endbringer, and you don't think it looks like enough.

    Legend rises above the crowd and flies to the center of the room. Armsmaster keeps talking with Cranial, looking more and more urgent.

    “We owe thanks to Dragon and Armsmaster for their early alert. We’ve had time to gather, and that means we have just a few more minutes to prepare and brief for Leviathan’s arrival, instead of jumping straight into the fray as we arrive. With this advantage, some luck, teamwork and hard effort from everyone, I hold out hope that this could be one of the good days.” Good day.

    “But you should know your chances going in. Given the statistics from our previous encounters with this beast, a ‘good day’ still means that one in four of the people in this room will probably be dead before this day is done.”

    Legend continues his speech. You have better things to worry about as Skitter pulls in more and more of her bug carpet. Finally you tell her to stop, they'll need time to spread.

    You focus on the mass, creating endless new relays inside of it, and then cause it to fracture into thousands of relay bugs. You wish you had thought of that earlier.

    "Let them cover the city." You tell her. "It's two thousand. Tell me if you need more." Skitter nods, her own eyes focused on Legend. Total n00b.

    Admittedly, it's the first Endbringer fight you've been to, instead of being sent in after the fact to mop things up.

    Suddenly, Sophia grabs you.

    "Stop ignoring me for that." She whispers.

    "I'm sorry." You tell her. "It's an Endbringer." You pause. "It's busy here."

    "There's one thing I need to try in case one of us dies here." Sophia says. She pulls back her mask for a second and kisses you. She pauses there for a moment, both of you silent. "Hm, nothing. I guess we'll have to see about that later." Sophia leaves you there, feeling a bit hurt. Why is the only girl you likes kissing you the one who you had to make into a lesbian?

    "I'm jealous." The girl in a thin gray and green costume unveils from her power.

    "Pay attention." You point up to Legend. "It's your first rodeo. This stuff could save your life." Madison obeys, looking upward and focusing her attention on Legend as he describes the strategy to take this time.

    Victoria...

    There's no words to describe the look she gives you.

    "That goes for you too, Victoria." You tell her. It looks like it breaks her heart to look up at Legend and not you.

    Finally, the Wards begin passing out the Dragon armbands as Legend describes how they work.

    “Capes! If you have faced an Endbringer before, stand!” Legend's voice. There's something about it.

    Cranial almost seems to slither into the ground given how she moves, to make it absolutely clear she has not. You smile as you see Blur stand up, full of pride.

    “When in doubt, follow the orders of the Protectorate first! We have trained, organized and planned for this! The others who are standing, now, are the ones you listen to if we aren’t contradicting their order! They have been through situations much like this, you go with their instincts!

    “We are splitting you into groups based on your abilities! If you are confident you can take a hit from Leviathan and get up afterwards, or if you have the ability to produce expendable combatants, we need you on the front line! You will be directed by Alexandria and Dragon!” Your heart almost breaks as Victoria rises and joins the group alongside Neil.

    You see the strange figure from the Toybox join this group. What does that one do?

    “Armsmaster and The Hanged Man will be leading the hand to hand combatants who do not fit in Alexandria’s group! Anyone who thinks they can harm or hamper Leviathan in close quarters, you’ll be assisting and reinforcing the front line!” You see many of the rest of your family moving towards that group. Carol, Sarah, Crystal, and Mark all stand there. Your eyes go back to Victoria. You barely realize that Legend is still splitting up groups. Neil goes with the next one, the ones to block or impede Leviathan. Cranial arrives with them, interesting, what has she cooked up that could harm Leviathan?

    “Movers! We need fliers, teleporters, runners! You’ll be responding to pings! Rescue the fallen, get them to emergency care, assist any others where needed! Myrddin will give you your orders!" To your surprise Blur doesn't rise up and join that team, but stays with Miss Militia. What are they planning?

    Suddenly a middle aged voice rises above everything.

    "Leviathan has almost arrived. Strider, evacuate us all now." Cranial's voice rings out. The people nearest her do not act like someone is shouting next to them. How does she do that?

    "What she said!" Legend shouts.

    The air is sucked out of your lungs, and you arrive in the middle of a road. It is still dark out. Fliers begin to move ranged attackers to the rooftops.

    The battle is about to start.

    [X] Write in. How can Amy be of best use now?

    Other:

    [X] How should this be handled? One option would be a single long bonus interlude from Taylor's perspective as she watches the fight unfold across the city. Another would be to take control of Skitter or someone else for a few updates. If you wish to stick with Panacea, note that she will not be allowed near the front lines if at all possible.
    Off in the distance you see the massive power suit rise and smash into Leviathan. You see him, a vague and horrible silhouette. The giant power suit strikes against him. Leviathan clearly has the upper hand, but the suit is buying you all valuable time. You see repeated strikes that look almost like slashes directed into the power suit. They're not brutish, more like a whip or a sword.

    Skitter's new relay bugs begin to spread extremely rapidly, flying off to cover the city.

    Heroes and villains begin to organize into lines. Most of the front ranks are now wearing those shimmering cloaks Grue's sister is handing out. A new one seems to pop up once every few seconds.

    Cranial rises up. Held in her strange clawed legs is a woman you don't recognize. Cranial's limbs are full of dozens of pieces of equipment you can't see at this distance.

    “Get ready!” Legend howls.

    The massive power suit has been ripped to shreds. Levithan approaches.

    Cranial screams. Her natural, horrible, bat like mouth opens wide. The woman with her, the tools, have to be amplifying the effect. That's the hopeful idea, with the other one being that they're to mitigate the effect so it doesn't reach all of you.

    You remember your father being taken away by those bastards! Your niece dead on a maxi pad buried in a yard. The realization that Victoria would never kiss you, the condom in the trashcan. It hits you as a rush, all at once. You fall to your knees. Everyone falls down around you as the scream keeps fucking going. Is this a new trick of Leviathan, or is Cranial switching sides?

    Then the noise stops.

    "Leviathan is not human." Cranial's calm voice rings out. You feel very suddenly better, and realize that Eidolon is releasing some kind of golden light over everyone. It feels good. People are recovering far too quickly to be natural.

    "Leviathan was never human." A voice rings out from the armbands. Cranial falls back down to Earth as Leviathan strikes the front lines. Water sprays everywhere, and you see a desperate blast of light as Leviathan's arm goes wild and releases a spray of blood for a flying blonde.

    Cold One down CD-5. Amazing Girl deceased, CD-5. Thunderous down, CD-5. Purity deceased, CD-5.

    It's only a moment before a boy with yellow skin drops off the first of the wounded.

    You're quick. It's hack jobs, anything to keep people moving. You focus, trying not to let the fight register to distract you. Even so, you keep seeing flashes of the battle. A massive bio-organic snake rises seemingly out of nothing and wraps himself around Leviathan. Alexandria smashes through an onrushing wall of water to stagger Leviathan. Leviathan rips apart the snake, even though it is now larger than he is, with incredible ease. the snake seems to be regenerating, but not quickly enough. It does manage to buy yet more time.

    New Wave is out in force. It's hard to miss them. Their suits wire them together, coordinate them on an instinctual level. Nothing short of the Three Blasphemies works like them, and those are dead. New Wave is fighting smart. It looks like everyone is doing fine. None of Leviathan's blows or sprays of water manage to connect to New Wave. The four winged Case 53 who came with Alexandria is not so lucky, as Leviathan snares her and rips her apart.

    It's also hard to miss the wave of darkness that covers Leviathan for a moment. Why would they use Grue like that?

    Night deceased, CD-5.

    You press the badge. "Tell everyone I can give enhancements. Quick ones, sloppy ones, right now."

    Your suit records the rush of information you'd otherwise forget. You can check them against powers later. This is a wealth of information, if you can only live through it.

    The light show of Laserdream and Lady Photon is hard to miss as they blast Leviathan in the arms. One arm is clearly more damaged than the other. Both of them had blown through their whole light reserve at once, their best attacks. Why? Legend's own lasers lash into the same holes, the new weak points? You see Leviathan narrowly miss Florida Man with his strike, and car hurled by Manpower saves him from the afterimage.

    Healing. You can heal, make sure the fight can be pressed, keep Leviathan off balance.

    "Tidal wave incoming." A voice, you're not sure if it's the armbands or Cranial or someone else, says calmly. You pause, wondering if you should move or if this is a location that will be protected. Stupid, of course they'll protect you.

    You keep healing as the wave heads forward. A cloaked figure charges the wave and smashes straight into it. The bubble shatters and you scream as you see a white and gold shape push with all her might against the wave. Amazingly, miraculously, it is the wave that yields, falling back, crashing into itself for precious seconds as Victoria blasts straight up into the sky. Those moments give time for slower capes to get within the force field Shielder raises. The force field is weirdly shaped on the bottom, catching several more people within the confines of the shield just in time.

    You finish healing the people you can reach before the tidal wave is gone.

    "Skitter." You say into the nearby area. "Do you need more relay bugs then what I produced earlier?"

    "No." A hum answers you. She can talk through them? "They should be fine."

    You press your badge. "Anyone needing enhancement should come to me now.

    Blur is the first to arrive.

    "How much of your suits can you put into me?" He asks. "The timing, the damn precog, the senses." You think. "Sixty percent, maybe? If I die you might be stuck with it."

    "I'll take it." He answers and pulls back his mask like he did back in Albany. You put your hands on his face again. It feels wrong using his own flesh for the equipment, but you don't have time for a suit.

    "What is the plan?" You ask him.

    "Nuke Leviathan." Blur tells you.

    "Again?" You ask with some disbelief. "It didn't work the last time."

    "No, it won't work, but it'll slow him down. Spread something around, a radiation counter-agent." The shield lowers and you see Legend is making some kind of large circle, blasting everything in range. "We're doing it twice, anyway." Blur assures you, and he vanishes with incredible speed.

    You take more heroes as they are injured. Assault rides a dumpster into Leviathan's leg, and Leviathan kicks it into the crowd. Clockblocker deceased, CD-5. Assault down, CD-5.

    Suddenly the battle seems to fade into the distance, growing smaller and smaller. You see Vista standing where Legend cleared. He must have been killing everything that could interfere with it. You watch as you heal the half destroyed man. Leviathan eventually disappears altogether.

    "Closes your eyes and look away. We do not know the definite effects of the following attack. Turn away if possible." The voice comes through on the armband.

    You turn away, dragging the incredibly light person with you and pointing his eyes away.

    The light is far softer than you'd thought it would be. Things are silent for a long moment.

    Miss Militia deceased, CD-5.

    Blur shows up half a minute later. He drops Shadow Stalker down next to you. Blur points to his ears and you touch them. Completely shattered eardrums, but they're easy to restore. He's shaking.

    "Do you want me to remove your fear for now?" You ask, and you feel his head nod. You do it.

    "Turned the damned thing intangible and still barely got through." Sophia mutters darkly. "Damn, I actually thought it would work."

    "Why is there still that much distance?" You ask. "Trying to trap him for a while?"

    "No, they're going to try Bakuda's big one." Sophia says. "That one needs a lot more room."

    "Vista can do that?" That's interesting.

    "We hope." Sophia says, and you can't help but giggle. You're in another lull.

    Then, suddenly, the armband screeches a single word. Every armband.

    "VICTORIA!" That explosion is a lot brighter for some reason. Who would...

    Phantasos down, CD-5.

    "Oh."

    ___

    When Leviathan comes back the battle lines have been reaffirmed. The damage to the beast is immense. Vista stands in front, Strider to her side, giving every second of preparation she possibly can by expanding space. She can't do it as fast as Leviathan is moving.

    Leviathan looks like he has been through hell. The upper back is almost gone completely. Massive chunks have been ripped out. The entire texture of the surface appears to be melted and changed. The arms appear to have been stripped right down to the bone and then ripped into a good bit more.

    Suddenly, there's a smash as water blasts up from beneath Vista and Strider.

    Strider down, CD-5. Vista down, CD-5.

    Blur is quick, quicker than Leviathan, rushing out ahead of the other movers, even the teleporters, and rushes back, hurling them at your feet.


    The insect armored woman from Albany, one of the ones you enhanced in the last minutes, takes the field. Bizarre waves of attack, altered time, altered space, altered gravity, hit Leviathan dead on, pushing him back, disintegrating more of his flesh. The new member of New Wave, Eraser, begins hitting Leviathan hard, pieces of his mass vanishing into nothingness.

    Another tidal wave is incoming. Leviathan has has a while to build up out there, and the mass rushing in with him is bad. You don't think Shielder would have stopped it without his new enhancements. A few are trapped outside.

    Hoofwolf down, CD-5. Armsmaster deceased, CD-5. Laserdream down, CD-5.

    "A few" isn't comforting when it's the right few.

    Alexandria and Eidolon charge, taking turns at forcing Leviathan back. Your Glory Girl is there, but not attacking, she's holding onto Grue's sister, both of them clad in her shrouds, adding new ones as the fighters exhaust them.

    Leviathan turns to them and smashes with a terrifying force at the two, his after image hitting a moment later.

    Glory Girl down, CD-5. Countenance deceased, CD-5. Victoria's own force field had saved her, with the other girl's help. On its own, the shroud couldn't take Leviathan and his after image.

    Leviathan seems to go berserk now, charging forward. You see Myrddin unleash something that staggers Leviathan back right as a massive blue force field emerges. You can't see it well, but it's penetrating Leviathan, going deep.

    Then something causes the force field to blast forward, hard, and Leviathan starts thrashing wildly. A blur of white and gold pierces the sky once again as the force field shimmers and dissipates.

    Leviathan starts to move backwards, away from the gathered forces.

    Was this victory?

    Eidolon and Legend strafe the Endbringer as he flees. More and more people to heal or being brought to you.

    Time to keep working.

    ___

    You sit back, exhausted, taking a brief rest now that all the absolutely critical capes are healed.

    Apparently this was the best day against an Endbringer in years.

    Myrddin stops by, and sits next to you.

    "What you did is impressive, my lady." He tells you. "I have always admired New Wave, but that was something else."

    "Not enough." Armsmaster, Clockblocker, people you know died today. Maybe a lot of civilians you'd helped save. All that time wasted because of an Endbringer.

    "No, it wasn't." Myrddin assures you. "Next time we will have to do better." You look up. Next time an Endbringer hits Brockton Bay?

    "I cannot force you, but I think after an Endbringer attack, with much of the city in ruins, the government will want to move you to a better hub for healing. Chicago, my city, Hero's and Eidolon's city, was always a transport hub. I am making you an offer, Panacea. Once you have the city and their affairs in order, I want you to come to Chicago. Bring New Wave and their dependents, of course."

    "Why should I go with you?" You ask slowly.

    "You hate Brockton Bay. Everyone knows that. Very few things tie you here. After this, there are fewer. If you can move those you love elsewhere, I think you will be happier, a change of pace. I like what I have seen you do. I would be honored to have you in my city, working with my Protectorate as you did with Armsmaster's."

    You pause for a moment.

    "Tattletale." You whisper. "You brought her with you. What has she told you."

    "Oh, the little witch does like to talk." There's a hint of a smile in Myrddin's voice. "I don't think she knows how to deal with people who actually listen. I understand if you want to stay in your home, but I personally doubt the city will stand much longer. We condemn cities for things like this these days."

    You are silent for a minute. The choice is clear.

    [X] "That sounds perfect, sir."

    [X] "Bring me Tattletale." You have to know what she's been doing to Myrddin. Did she trick him somehow? You need to investigate before you make a decision.

    [X] "I have to stay." People will need you here more than ever, at least until the city is condemned.

    Note:

    The first and last decisions are about tone. Would we rather deal with post-Leviathan Brockton Bay, or bring most of the cast to a new city to diverge from canon?

    The middle one would differ the decision, at the risk of having another Tattletale mindfuck.
    You almost laugh at the absurdity of the situation and ask Myrddin, "do they let girls marry their sisters in Chicago?" You shake your head. "I don't hate the city. The people, yeah, I can do without most of them — Chicago has people, too, doesn't it? —but I love the city. The view of the skyline at sunset, when Victoria is holding me tight above the clouds, is beautiful. I can't remember the last time we just floated up there together. I'm not sure if she'd want to again, after everything. I miss it. I have memories here, both good and bad. But as much as I hate Brockton Bay... it is home for now."

    "Now is a tricky word, Panacea." There's a smile in Myrridin's words you don't like. "Time is said to fly by. But the present is most like true time."

    "I'm not in the mood to listen to riddles, wizard." You sigh.

    "Then don't speak in them." Myrddin answers plainly.

    "Does your offer carry into the future? If the city is condemned, I would be willing to take it." You ask.

    "You ask me not to speak in riddles, but the future is a thing not unlike Cranial's scream. The future is of Hell." Myrddin's words puzzle you, but you let them slide. People with power like the two of you are entitled to eccentricities.

    "I have to stay. People will need me here more than ever, at least until the city is condemned."

    "People need you everywhere. People need ten thousand of you, ten million of you. Don't let that hold you back." You consider your answer. The obvious one is people you love need you here, but...

    "If I do go I have one thing that is non-negotiable. Tattletale stays the hell away from Chicago. Find someone else to hold her leash."

    "A pity, but you're worth more than her to anyone." You don't like those words. "I will spend some time looking for a suitable replacement. What is really keeping you here?"

    "I do have some friends here sir. Shadow Stalker, Harrier, a normal friend named Emma."

    "I asked for the real reason."

    "There's a grave I want to visit a bit before August of this year. Let's talk then. That is something that keeps me here. " Myrddin looks at you intently and smiles.

    "If there is anything in this world I understand, it is graves. I will not trouble you until then. Is there anything else you want from me?" That is a good question.

    "Cranial's scream knocked something loose in my head," you confide in the wizard from Chicago, "an old, painful memory." You sigh. "Everything's been turned on it's head lately. Good is bad. Bad is good. Nazis save people. Cops mutilate them. I can't tell the difference between the heroes and the villains any more. I'm not sure if there ever was a difference. Maybe I've just been too stupid to see the truth all these years. I actually thought — it doesn't fucking matter what I thought; it was all a lie. There's only one person in the world I actually trust, Myrddin. You aren't her. I need time to think and someone to talk to. "

    "I am not a precog, but I can tell you're going to ask me for the last thing you want." The voice is resigned.

    "I need to talk to you about Tattletale before you leave." Maybe your own work to help her panned out. Maybe she is being a useful and productive person. It could be just as Myrddin said, that with people willing to listen and support her Tattletale can be good.

    "She's a demon." The words are plain. "I'm sorry to speak in metaphors, but that's how you need to treat her. Dragon asked me to take care of her for a reason. You need to think of her as a demon to negotiate with her. She is dangerous, powerful, intelligent, and has only the power you give to her. She can't keep her mouth shut to save her life, and that is a weakness, but it's not a weakness you want to face." You nod. You're not going to talk to Tattletale after this.

    "She's happy." Myrddin says. "She's not happy about this fight, she hates it, but she senses something I can't get out of her. She is not a precog, but she makes connections. I give you one last suggestion. Do not treat tonight as you would if you were a cape, a hero, a goddess. Treat it as if you were a mad woman, a witch, a villain."

    "That's not a nice thing to say to anyone." You scowl at him.

    "Any other night, I would agree with you." Myrddin gets up. "I have a long night ahead of me. I need to count my dead, and save the living."

    Leviathan thinks he can come into your city, kill your friends, and leave your city to die? No. You're going to help the city rebuild. it may not be much of a home, but it's the only one you've got.

    You might have to one up Myrddin.

    ___

    After talking with Myrridin, you are lost in thought. So many have died... but you have to try something... the parahumans whom you have interacted... those who have died... You seek their cold "dead" bodies. Surely there is something you can do about this... surely you can do more than simply pronounce them doomed... and thus you begin to work with the recovered corpse of Clockblocker...

    He's dead. His cells still live, but they're out of reach. The bacteria on his skin, the monsters that thrive all around him, your suit, it all lives, but Clockblocker is a creature you can no longer touch.

    It would take a second trigger event to touch the dead, and you have maxed out on your own.

    You search everything you can of him, burning up and cannibalizing the dead cells, releasing new things.

    A cancer or a chimera is born here. You try to build up a new Clockblocker. His brains lie on the pavement, and you didn't have the space to record that.

    You are very still for a second.

    It's not right to let a child into the world in the body of an adult. There's something else you can do. You stare at the body, working at it. You sense, skin to skin, when it's done, alive, and hear a a shattered cry.

    "Hello, kid." You pick up the baby. "You're not your big brother, Dennis. Maybe your parents won't take you. You're young, you're white, you're not disabled, adoption is easy for someone as cute as you." You consider him. "Okay, I'll have to make you cuter to give you a better chance. Consider it a favor to your brother for stealing his girlfriend." You bounce the infant on your knee. "Now let's see if we can get you some friends."

    ___

    Miss Militia, vaporized. Armsmaster, Skitter couldn't find the body. Night, you can't get anything off the body. Purity and Aisha, you can make them sisters.

    Maybe in a decade or two they'll make something of themselves.

    It's more respectful than anything else you could do with the bodies. They'll just be more orphans out of many, now. Maybe Grue will take his new sister, maybe not. You won't ask. You're just the midwife, not the mother.

    ___

    Cleanup went well, considering the city was nuked twice. Admittedly, in the same place, with Vista spreading what looked like a small continent of asphalt and dirt between most of the city and the explosion, but still two things exceptionally similar to nuclear weapons were used.

    The New Wave suits help more than you'd dreamed. Search and rescue has some of the best statistics of any Endbringer fight. You take the time to produce five specialized search and rescue models with the basic package for the local Protectorate.

    Over the next few days, New Wave is at its finest. Eraser and Rune, dangerous, uncontrollable fuckers in fights, great at clearing rubble. So is Browbeat, really. Only Harrier feels out of place, so she is assigned to keep tabs on the villains. Victoria is a girl on fire, organizing the efforts of the city's capes with Aegis and Battery. She admits to you that they're taking orders from her half the time, Battery is so preoccupied with the stresses of the new job, Aegis about to transfer cities, both of them pounded by her aura.

    New Wave carves out a pacified zone around the hospital, arguably the safest region. Skitter has taken her own small territory along the Boardwalk, the Empire guarding and policing the whitest neighborhoods and cooperating far more than anyone is comfortable admitting with the heroes. The Protectorate and the Wards fill in the gaps as people flood out. The Merchants make a play, but are beaten back through several angles.

    Coil is very quiet.

    You're in the hospital sixteen hours a day for a week, before they cut you back to the usual twelve, with two days off.

    You're going to need them.

    ___

    You squeeze Victoria's hand. "I have to do this alone. I don't think I can say everything that I have to say if you're there."

    She nods. "I'll be out here if you need me."

    "I always need you," you whisper.

    "I'll always need you too," Victoria whispers.

    You walk into your house.

    Mark is sitting in front of the television not paying attention to anything. A bad day. You'd known that from Madison, who had patrolled with him today. Victoria had arranged it so there was always an adult member of New Wave patrolling with the new recruits to keep them in line. Madison told you that he barely talked the whole time.

    You take Mark's hand. "I'm not going to be here long. There's some things I should have done years ago." He doesn't look up. Your power spreads through Mark nice and warm, pleasant, familiar."

    "Malformed seratonin receptors. They don't respond to natural seratonin. Some medications work better, but not perfectly. Genetic cause. Probably became noticeable in mid teens. Victoria could have inherited it, but didn't. I'm not sure that Cranial can fix it, but I know I can. I should have years ago. Do you want me to?"

    Mark is quiet for a very long time.

    "Yes." He finally whispers. You don't actually hear it, you feel it through your power in his vocal cords. It's done.

    "It took you long enough." The voice comes from deeper inside the house, a bedroom you doubt she and Mark have shared five times in the last year.

    "You always knew I'd end your marriage." You lash out. "Marry the boy next door because no one else could take him. Marry someone who can barely get out of bed because he's not scary."

    "That's exactly what I did." Carol enters the room. "He wanted children, and no one else would give them to him. We both got what we wanted." You lose your nerve for a minute as she glares at you. Finally, you respond.

    "Carol, I, uh, I actually came here to say some things to you and ask you some questions. I guess. There's something I really want to know. Why did you adopt me? Did you hate the Marquis so much that you just had to torture his daughter for eleven years? Please, tell me. Do you have any clue how much you've hurt me?"

    "Adopt you? I took you home because Sarah ordered me too, and then your sister wouldn't let you go. I have to admit it made more sense. I had a job, she didn't. She had two kids, I had one, though not for lack of trying. You never offered to fix that, did you? Can't use the brains excuse for that, could you?" Carol stands her ground.

    "I didn't really get it until Cranial screamed. I didn't understand. I didn't want to understand. But that sound just pulled everything out. And fuck, I promised myself that I wouldn't cry and I wouldn't get mad and I'm doing both now. YOU BROKE INTO OUR HOUSE! Our. Fucking. House. What the fuck was wrong with you? That crossed the most important line. New Wave couldn't work if people didn't respect that line. I looked him up, you know. I watched videos of his fights. He was better than you. HE COULD HAVE KILLED YOU ALL!" You fling a dart at a picture on the wall of Sarah and Carol a bit before their kidnapping, two normal girls smiling, arms around each other. "He could have made Victoria an ORPHAN!"

    "Yes, he could have. So could Kaiser, Allfather, Lung, Bakuda, Leviathan. That's what being a hero means, Amy! You can't hold back because you have people at home! That just makes someone else an orphan."

    "He held back because of me. He was protecting me. Do you have any idea what that's like? Being six years old and finding your father broken and bleeding on the floor with a bunch of 'heroes'," you practically spit the word, " standing over him. Do you have any clue what it's like to be dragged away from everything you know and love by a bunch of strangers? It was one of the worst days of my life and if I had triggered then I would have killed you. I don't know why I didn't. Maybe because he was so calm about it all. Maybe I still trusted him. I thought that as long as he was calm it would be alright. That he would make it okay somehow. And he tried. He got you to promise to take care of me. But you LIED."

    The hand on your shoulder is there. You didn't even hear her come in.

    "She lied. I kept her promise, Amy." You want to scream at her but bite your tongue. "He got what he wanted." Victoria is silent for another moment.

    "I need this! You can't keep me from doing this." You turn and stare and Victoria. No one talks for a minute.

    "I would have broken into his house too." Victoria tells you, and she turns away, walking back out.

    "He was a monster." Carol tells you. "A hypocrite. A coward. He kept to a code, don't kill women or children. That's not ethics. It's not what ethics mean. He hid behind the idea he was better than other villains, but he wasn't. He needed to be stopped. He was too strong, too dangerous. Your daddy was nice and he acted like it meant something when he'd flay a man alive for getting cut off in traffic."

    "You would hate him if you met him now." Mark says suddenly. "Victoria would kill him." You stand there confused.

    "Did that make it right to take me?" You ask softly. "You knew that you couldn't love me. You know that you couldn't be my parents. You knew and you lied. I should hate you. I don't. I can't. You gave me the most wonderful sister in the world. I could never hate the people who made Victoria. I'm just disappointed. And hurt. Do you know how much that hurts? Do you get what that's like, having a mother who won't love you and a father who can't? For the longest time I thought that it was my fault, that there was something wrong with me. So I forced myself to be as good as I could possibly be no matter how much it hurt. I thought that if I'd was good enough somehow you'd love me. I pushed myself to the breaking point for that. I pushed myself past the breaking point. I kept going and going and sacrificing everything until I just wanted it to stop and then I pushed myself even farther. I couldn't stop. I had to get myself committed just to take a vacation. I thought that if I healed just one more person, that if I did just one more good thing, then you would love me, Carol. But it was never going to be enough. I could never do enough. Fuck. Sometimes, when I was at my lowest and most desperate, I'd seriously consider offering myself to you, sexually. Like, if you wouldn't love me as a daughter maybe you'd love me that way. That's how badly you fucked up my head, mom." Carol's eyes are growing darker and darker, crueler and crueler.

    "Maybe it would have worked." She spits. "It worked for Mark. Be quiet, be dutiful, don't press, don't be so dangerous and bright. Don't steal my daughter! Anything but what you two became the minute she laid eyes on you. You didn't eat until she started putting food in your mouth. Wouldn't sleep until she curled up into your bed, wouldn't learn unless she was teaching you. You were just so fucking helpless she had to be there every step of the way. There's always some villain or psychology crisis or saying I canceled your credit cards just so you can have your Glory Girl swoop in and save you from yourself. Maybe if you'd shown interest in anyone else for eleven years instead of spending every waking moment trying to get her time and energy I could have..." You throw a dart at her to shut her up. Not enough to knock her out, just to get her quiet.

    "I get it now. I get it. I was never the problem. It was never me. It was always you. I was good enough, you just wouldn't ever accept me. You couldn't. And now that I understand that everything is a lot easier. I still hate myself for a lot of reasons, but I don't think I'm innately evil anymore so that's great. You could have at least pretended to care. One word of praise. One hug. One 'I love you' would have gone a long way, even if it was a lie. But I get it, you just didn't have it in you. I'm not mad. Victoria is enough for me. Family isn't fungible. You can't just take a parent away and give a sibling and somehow be even. But I love her more than anything else in this world and she loves me. I wouldn't trade her for anything. I'd die for her, happily. I'm glad that you gave her to me. I just wish you'd been less shitty as parents, to both of us."

    "So do I." Mark says. His voice cuts across the room.

    "What I'm trying to say is that I'm done. It's over. I'm done. I'm an orphan; I can accept that now. And I'm not going to kill myself chasing after parents I'll never have. I still love you guys. You're the closest things I have to parents, in the same way that the moon is close, but I can't and I won't do this anymore. I'll still be part of New Wave. I'll still be there to support the team and I'll help you out if you ever need me. Just don't call me unless it's important and fuck you both. And fuck you twice, Mom; at least Mark tried."

    When your hand touches the doorknob you turn around and say, as an afterthought, "I don't know if I'll let you see your granddaughter. I'll have to think about that." You start to hear noises from her mouth, the dart's already wearing off.

    Carol screams at you as you open the door. She doesn't see Victoria standing on the porch until the words are already out. "She won't be my granddaughter because you aren't my daughter!"

    Your eyes meet your sisters, an unspoken question. You squeeze her hand. She nods slightly, a frown set on her face. You want to do more than hold her hand but everything you want to do crosses a line. Instead you just squeeze her palm and turn back to your so-called mother.

    "You're wrong. She will be yours. She will be."

    You hug your sister tight.

    "Yes." Victoria's hand moves down your hair. "She will."

    Carol's scream echoes down the block, raw and agonized and disgusted as it hits her.

    You're going to have her granddaughter.

    ___

    You needed two days. One for that.

    Today is different. New Wave has gathered in force. Kaiser has called a very official meeting in an abandoned building.

    New Wave arrives first. They're not the force they were last month. Your Glory Girl leads the new team, and you stand by her side. Harrier, Eraser, Browbeat, and Rune, each changed and empowered by your assistance. Victoria's aura is on in its full and frightening power.

    Rune's weapon, the Svalinn, held high above you all, the greatest piece of bio-tech you have ever made, everything you could poor into a small car of bio-mass. Eraser's strange headgear Ichaival, shaped like a bow or antlers, gives him perhaps the strongest power refinement you have managed. Harrier's suit is optimized for mobility and to carry the most potent of weapons to their destinations. Browbeat's suit has been warped, expanded, and changed by his own powers, customized to suit him perfectly.

    The old New Wave Members, the family, marches behind the newcomers. Six and six, the forces loyal to Victoria and the forces loyal to Sarah. You suspect that this will not remain one team for long.

    Kaiser's Empire arrives next. Once they would have been stronger, now they barely match your forces. The bravado is telling.

    Kaiser's voice cuts across the distance between the two teams.

    "We have held to a truce since Leviathan. Things are settling down. Nothing is back to normal, but a new status quo has been created. We are here to propose an expansion of this deal. Until such time as normal operations of the Empire resume, we will hold to our own territory and not interfere outside of it. We offer this in exchange for the same courtesy from you. We have expelled the people we would find problematic to other territories. Is this acceptable?"

    You had discussed what to do if Kaiser made this offer already.

    What did you decide?

    [X] There are bigger things to worry about when keeping the city safe. The Empire can keep control of their territories safe from interference from New Wave.

    [X] They're the Nazis. You've let this go on long enough.

    [X] You want to propose a very different deal. Write in: What deal? Additions, changes, or propositions are likely to properly be sub-write ins under agreeing to this truce, so a deal that is an independent write in should be meaningfully different from the first two.
    Note, Amy is not the one to deliver the speech, as she's not leader of New Wave.
    Kaiser is quiet. It stretches out for a long time.

    "The pony has already been mailed."

    Madison starts giggling like crazy at that, rather shattering the image of unity and composure New Wave was supposed to be projecting. She'd flat out rejected the social enhancements you'd given the Wards, said they felt too phony. A talk with Gallant confirmed that most of the Wards has been shutting them off most of the time anyway.

    "As for your points? We deported those who are unable to pass as acceptable from our territory. The city's resources are stretched thin. We need to provide order and protection, and my soldiers will not enforce such order effectively if they have to deal with ethnic tension, religious tension, or those ridiculous deviant subcultures such as homosexuality and Wicca. I directed them to other territories. In the long term the ideal solution would be to have different cities inhabited by different cultures. We have pamphlets, if you are open minded enough to read them. I have read every one on diversity I have ever been given." Controlled, retaking the situation. You get instincts from the suit, let him talk. Sarah is giving this order. She knows him better than you do.

    "As for crime? States need to keep a monopoly of force. If you want us to be powerful, stable, we need to police ourselves and use force. You ask me to keep my soldiers in line. I cannot do that without force. You could not do it without force. Drugs, why, if you insist. Isn't it your faction's contention that the Drug War is a tool of racial control? The majority of drugs were banned because minority groups had taken to using them and it was a tool to control them." The word "minority" is full of absolutely contempt. "How do you classify alcohol, which is far more damaging than marijuana? How do you justify factory farming and not dog fighting? Such a rule is incoherent. Against that rule, and your power, we will simply make preparations to leave the city. We are not stupid. Give me a coherent and reasonable offer and I will accept it."

    Fuck, he's good.

    "I have no objection to working with the heroes. I have always had the offer open. If you think that the organization responsible for the trial of Paige Mcabee, the treatment of Sarah Livsey, the crime against humanity that is the Birdcage, and I could go on, is worthy of unconditional support I will not oppose you. However, in the face of your power do not be surprised if I actually listen in respect to your power. The current government is corrupt and doomed, and if you want them to be obeyed you are condoning worse crimes than I am responsible for." Fuck.

    "I want to keep our city alive as well. I understand and agree with the sentiment. As long as no people who are clearly objectionable attempt to enter territory controlled by the Empire I am perfectly willing to offer food, water, and emergency services to them. I believe in the golden rule. I would wish for a more powerful group to extend the same charity to me. I see no reason to interfere with territory I have not claimed."

    "I have a simple answer to your demand that I keep my skinheads in line. I demand I do not receive special treatment. If you would declare war on me for such activities, than I would fully expect you to do the same for what remains of the city's government. If you do not trust my Empire to police themselves and have appropriate controls, and will instead demand warfare at the first glance, than I expect you to follow up on the rape of Emily Gresham, a woman who was recently raped by national guard troops in Brockton Bay." This is going to look really bad.

    [X] Response?

    ___

    Time skip (way too short an update otherwise)

    ___

    "You want to have a baby? Now?" Madison sits on the couch next to you.

    "Yes. Now, or at least some time quite soon."

    "The city's in ruins. Literal ruins. It might be condemned!"

    "I could move if I was pregnant. It's all going to be over long before she's born."

    "Um, you're seventeen!" Madison is staring at you like you have two heads. It's rather disconcerting.

    "I don't think the normal arguments against single motherhood really apply. The government, hospitals, insurance companies, they'd make me rich if I asked. I could just sell super suits to corporate super teams and I could get a couple million dollars really low end. One million and I'd be upper middle class for ten years. Victoria just needs to write an autobiography or appear in more commercials if I don't want to do that. Worst case we could join the Protectorate and just stay off emergency lists." Madison frowns.

    "Why are you two crashing in Dean's apartment again if you're so independently wealthy?"

    "It's fun." You consider for a moment. "Also, it kind of just happened. We should probably move out though. He's probably going crazy by now."

    "Um, aren't you kind of working 12 hour a day shifts and not sleeping? Won't that hurt a baby?" You think. That's better.

    "Well, I could heal the baby. Lots of stressed people have babies. I'll see real doctors about it before I make a definite decision."

    "Couldn't you just put the baby inside an altered pig or something?" Madison asks thoughtfully. "That way you could keep completely control of the environment." You shudder.

    "No! I actually want to be a mother. Feel a baby growing inside of me." Victoria's baby! "She's not going to be just a science project." Madison is thinking more.

    "Well, you do have a lot of family members, and we're not breaking up over this." Madison looks at you thoughtfully. "Well, maybe if I start finding you gross. Then I won't be getting much out of it. But you won't show for a while, and unless you get really icky I think I'd want to keep playing for a bit." You both know that it's just playing for now for obvious reasons, though maybe it will grow into more later. "So if you need help you'll have a lot of it. What does Dean think, anyway?"

    "He, um, I think he's trying to give us enough rope to hang ourselves with." You admit. "That's the only thing that makes sense. He's broken up with Victoria over a quarter of the shit that's been going on lately. I'm guessing he's just waiting for us to go too far and get back to normal. Right now he says he's fine with it. Not sure what he'll think if we stick with this plan."

    Madison considers for a moment. "Like, should I be feeling some wave of lesbian jealous about this right now? I think I feel more jealous when I see Victoria feeding you than I am about this. Maybe it's just closer to home." You roll your eyes.

    "Don't you start on that." Madison raises an eyebrow.

    "This has come up before? I thought people were just too embarressed to say anything." You pause and start counting it up.

    "Um, there's Dean, he broke up with Victoria about it twice. Carol always told us to stop, and it just became background noise. Dennis took pictures." You're both quiet for a moment. "Yeah, maybe it is a bit weird."

    "What about, you know, supervillains getting at you through your family?" Madison asks. "That one's serious. You've been kidnapped by supervillains to be forced to heal people at least three times, maybe four if you count Trickster. What if some really nasty type just grabs your daughter and makes you start healing them and building superweapons?" Ouch.

    "Well, um, if I worried about that I couldn't be friends with you." Madison gives you a playful glare. "Girlfriends with you." You quickly correct. "We need people. I'd have to take precautions. Hm, maybe a giant living tower..." Madison snaps her fingers in front of your face.

    "Don't zone out on science. It's not healthy. Only do it during appropriate times of day. You're on a day off. Science is work. You can't do work on your day off." You nod. She is right.

    Madison is silent for a minute. "Um, you did check into a mental hospital last month. Are you sure you're, um, mentally healthy enough for this?" Double ouch.

    "You know, I should definitely put this off until after I work with Cranial." You nod. "It might be good if I'm not thinking of my sister as a flawless goddess when I make the decision to have her child." Madison kind of stares at you.

    "I didn't mention it was Victoria's baby before, did I?"

    "If you did it didn't register." Madison says. "That's, um, creepy."

    "Please don't be judgmental about this. We've been..."

    "You and your sister? Not my business. We've been over this. You two do what you do. I'm your friend and your girlfriend, but until I'm family I get that she comes first. Really think about this, though. That's just weird." Madison pauses. "Though really, probably not as weird as the feeding thing."

    [X] "Fine." You sigh. You'll talk to Victoria about not being fed by her.

    [X] You stick out your tongue. Victoria feeding you is something you've always done. Madison doesn't have the right to stop it.

    [X] "Alright." You lie. You can just do it in private, no need to make a spectacle of it in front of her boyfriend and your girlfriend. Dean will probably be happy.
    Victoria said:
    Kaiser considers New Wave thoughtfully.

    "I find this agreeable." The way he says it sends a chill up your spine.

    Well, at least that is over with.

    ___

    "If you had parents like ours you'd get it. " You lean in to kiss Madison. "Hey, do you want me to feed you?" Madison looks thoughtful.

    "I'll think about it. Right now, more kissing."

    Kissing is always good, especially when you close your eyes and she's quiet.

    ___

    You're on a nice reread of Flowers in the Attic with Victoria coming home in half an hour when the doorbell rings. Dean goes to get it, as it is his home. A minute later he walks in with Chris.

    "Hey, can we talk?" Chris asks as he settles in on the couch next to you.

    "Sure. I assume it's kind of important if you came all this way with your patrol schedule."

    "That's part of it. I'm quitting the Wards." You look up from Flowers in the Attic.

    "Now? With the city like this?" You frown. "I guess I get it. This kind of thing has to be sudden. Why do you need to share it with me, anyway?"

    "It's not that I don't want to help people." Chris tells you. "It's just, I met people in the Toybox, other Tinkers. It feels comfortable there. I'm going with them when they leave. I'll be able to help other Tinkers there." Chris is quiet for a second. "I can't stay here if the Nazis are going to take over, Amy. Not if they're allowed a place at the table. I kept thinking it would pass, but I feel dirty staying here, knowing that I might have to save them and fight with them. I want the city condemned now. It's grotesque, working with these assholes. You even let one join your team."

    "You could always transfer to another city Wards." You point out. Chris shakes his head.

    "It would look like I'm running if I did that. Maybe in a couple of years I'll come back, maybe try a solo hero thing or something, try to make the Toybox better." Chris is quiet for a moment. "Cranial wants to know if you're still able to make DC in June."

    "Oh, the convention." You remember. "I'll have to talk to Victoria about it, but I think I can."

    "She's worried. Or is faking it really well. She's been wanting this for years, a lot of them. A lot of the life she can remember. She really cares about this." Chris take something out and hands it to you. It's a long remote. "This is something the Toybox has been working on for the past week, a gift." You turn it over in your hands.

    "What does it do?" You ask.

    "In your hands? It's an extra life, like in a video game." You stare at him. "What?"

    "Teleports the brain and spine into a cryogenic chamber in a pocket dimension. Freezes the brain close to permanently. I had one installed in my stomach, but I'd need to activate it. You could wire someone with one of your suits so it would happen right before certain or highly probable death." You stare in wonder.

    "Why just the brain and spine? Why not the whole body?" You ask.

    "Easier that way, cheaper, and with you it's just as good." Chris eyes the remote with a bit of pride. "You won't have to worry about Victoria half as much the next time she goes headfirst into a Leviathan wave." You cradle the thing to your chest, a sick sense of worry hitting it at the idea Victoria could have just died and you haven't heard yet and you just got the thing that could save her.

    "I don't know how I could possibly repay this." You look at it with awe.

    "My part? You've already paid in full. Cranial's? Just be there, June 1st."

    Clever girl.

    ___

    Victoria swooshes in through an open window, lands gracefully, and kisses Dean. You kind of look away.

    "Hey. We have a couple things to talk about in private." You tell your sister. You can't look as she kisses Dean for several more hungry seconds before coming up for air, giggling.

    "If it can't wait." You hear a swat at a bottom, not sure who swatted which one. She's in the guest room quickly and you follow her and shut the door.

    "Madison wants you to stop feeding me." You admit. Victoria is silent for a long moment.

    "Break up with her." She sounds deadly serious.

    "Um..."

    "When Dean asked me that I broke up with him. Make her ask for you back."

    "Um, are you sure we shouldn't talk more about this?" You ask. Victoria smiles.

    "I. Am. Sure." She gives you a slightly more intense look than usual. "I get to feed you. Do you really want me to stop?"

    "No." You admit. "Not at all."

    "Good." Victoria sounds satisfied. "Now, break up with Madison over text message. Now. If she knows how good you are she'll do anything to get you back. If she doesn't, she doesn't deserve you. You need to train boyfriends like this. Presumably if you're a lesbian the same applied to girlfriends."

    [X] "You're right." If she did it for you, then you should do it for her. Victoria is more experienced with these things.

    [X] "I'd really rather not." Madison's been pretty lovely and fun, and your more interesting physical changes are just coming in. It would be a shame to miss out.

    [X] "What's in it for me?" You channel as much of Madison's cuteness as possible. Victoria just wants you to break up because she told you to? As much as you love her, you need to have a better reason.
    "Victoria most people consider breakups to be a lot more... permanent than you and Dean do. I-"

    Victoria's crying.

    "What. Victoria..."

    "What more do I have to do!" It's more a gasp than a sob. "I've done everything I could! Every since I could I've acted like everything is normal!" Victoria shudders. "Everything! I've been more normal than before Albany! I've tried to..." Her eyes glance down to your stomach. "Just, I can't take that. Maybe you're just stronger than me. This cute ditzy little thing who would fall down in a stiff breeze is who you go to trying to replace me?"

    Ouch.

    "I need to form relationships with people that don't tie back to you." You start. Victoria gives you something that's like a failed glare. She can't keep up the anger. If I'm going to learn how to be a functional person rather than alternating between a healing robot and being completely dependent on you. Even if my relationship with Madison doesn't last long it is a good learning experience for me. I don't want to end it quite yet. Also as much as I enjoy it I intellectually realize that it is part of the fucked up parts of our relationship. Maybe we should stop doing it when there are other people present? She isn't the first person to be weirded out by it, and probably won't be the last."

    Victoria suddenly moves very fast. Gently, but without any way to oppose her, she pins you to the wall. Your breathing speeds up.

    "I get to feed you." The voice is so strained. "Here. Everywhere. In front of Dean. In front of Carol. In front of that thing you're making out with. I get to knock you up." Victoria shudders and lets go.

    "What's gotten into you today?" You can't help but smile. You got a reaction out of Victoria. A possessive, angry reaction to your having a girlfriend. You can't breakup with her now. Things have just started to get interesting.

    "I don't know." Victoria shakes her head. "I'm sorry."

    "You have nothing to be sorry for." You assure her. "You just want what's best for me, right? And you're best for me. Always and forever." Victoria nods.

    "Thank you. Like, it makes sense to you, right? You confess undying love, I kiss you, then you come by with a girlfriend? It kind of, um, runs around in my head." Victoria admits. "Madison's fine. Completely fine. I still think you should use breakups as training. It's worked wonders on Dean." Victoria pauses. "Also on me, from Dean's perspective."

    "Most people really think of breakups as more permanent than you two. Also, text message is a shitty way to breakup with someone." Victoria frowns. "Oh, sorry." She and Dean usually breakup that way. She told you they consider it safer than in person given their powers. Come to think of it, you and Madison are powerful enough it might be safer for you two as well.

    "Amy, I can still knock you up, right?" Victoria asks.

    "Actually, Madison and I were talking..." Victoria is already moving. "YES! Just after we talk to Cranial. Victoria stops and she's smiling.

    "We'll have everything we need just about time for my birthday." Her grin is positively savage.

    So is yours.

    ___

    The rest of the day is spent talking about your future daughter.

    Should Victoria be a stay at home mom? Probably not. Homeschooling seems out if neither of you are staying home. What city would be best to raise a child? What places seem safest against an Endbringer attack? Who should the godparents be?

    The whole day has become rather dreamlike. Too good to be true.

    "Victoria ... don't we want a fresh start?" You're inserting the extra life into her stomach, kind of like a baby of her own.

    "Away from all the poisonous infighting in Carol's New Wave?" You ask quietly. "Maybe take the rest of our new recruits? Start a new New Wave in Chicago or LA?"

    "Maybe." Victoria sounds thoughtful. "There's things I love about being here, but getting away from our family, that sounds peaceful.

    Are these are the people our daughter is going to grow up around, I want her to have the happy, loving family that we didn't. I'm worried if we stick with Carol she'll get back into our lives. Maybe there's somewhere else." Victoria sighs as you finish your strangely bloodless work and remove your hand from her, sealing her up as you go.

    "Maybe we can think about it when she's no longer a baby. When she's old enough to start having friends and can absorb other people we'll see what we can do. Right now the city needs us."

    Victoria's right. She's always right.

    ____

    Madison comes by later.

    You're rather more frisky than usual, and Victoria suddenly decides it's a great time to go and patrol for four hours.

    The next day you have another twelve hour hospital shift. This one is much easier to get through. The world is so full of color now.

    When you get home Dean is there.

    "Battery asked me to tell you that the new leader of the Protectorate has arrived. She wants to meet with you tonight, if you're willing." Interesting. "She'll be here for a while though. I can't imagine a big rush." Dean is smiling.

    "What is it?" You ask.

    "Sophia hates her." He laughs.

    [X] "Sounds good. I'll see her right away." It would be best not to put this off. You're still in a great mood. Better to do it now than when you're pissed off.

    [X] "I would love to, but I need to get on a better sleep schedule." You're kind of getting older. Seventeen is older than fifteen, and you've been sleep deprived for years.

    [X] "I'm going to call Sophia." It would be a good idea to hear the conflict in her own words before you talk to the new field leader.
     
    ~[]~ and Ddmkm122 like this.
  11. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Silent Night-2

    The new leader of the Brockton Bay Protectorate is smart or kind enough not to make you wait outside her office. She's waiting for you.

    "The great Panacea. I am honored." The accent is Australian. You don't really like it.

    "And the great, um..." You look her over. Pale white and gray costume, tight, with slits running in odd places. Flat, fogged helmet like a motor cycle you get the disconcerting feeling she can't actually see out of. The only kind of heroine who would expose flesh like that for fashion would either be new or in a ridiculous corporate team, and those wouldn't have that kind of face covering. It has to be power related.

    "Dream Mask." She answers. "I transferred from Australia. I triggered in the aftermath of an Endbringer attack on my city and I spent the last six years there, three of them rebuilding. With the condition the local Protectorate is in I offered to be in an international exchange program to help organize the city." You consider her for a moment.

    "What do you mean by organize?"

    "Defeat the Neo-Nazis who are running a large part of the city, break down the scavengers, restore law and order. I have done this before." Now, why would Sophia be opposed to someone on a war footing?"

    "So, what did you want to see me about?"

    "Your biological armor. You outfitted the Wards and New Wave with it before the Leviathan fight. I am trying to make sense of some of the notes of my predecessor." She didn't offer condolences. Does she not know you were friends, or not care? "Please say why the local Protectorate was not outfitted with them in your own words." What is this, an essay test?

    "Armsmaster wanted to see them field tested first. He was a very good Tinker who specialized in miniaturization. He thought that after he saw their tolerances he could work with me to upgrade them for the Protectorate versions." Dream Mask looks pensive, or as pensive as someone could be without facial expressions.

    "Why not simply give them the original versions and then improve them over time?"

    "He said he wanted more time. The Protectorate was more experienced, would have to unlearn old habits. The Wards were newer, would benefit from new weapons more. He was studying his Protectorate for how best to integrate the new abilities." It hurts more than you expected, talking about Armsmaster.

    "He is a Tinker. Presumably his judgment was best." From her tone of voice you strongly suspect that Dream Mask doesn't really think this way.

    "Is that all you brought me here for, ma'am?" You can't keep a bit of anger out of your voice. "I do not have a lot of free time, especially lately."

    "Well, I heard that you were planning on outfitting soldiers of your own to keep order. That strikes me as a serious concern. Why not work with the PRT about it?"

    "I'm New Wave." You answer. "The last time the PRT asked me to do something it was horribly warping a teenage girl's mind to control her. Any reasonable procedures or regulations you have for security companies will be followed, but New Wave is not the Protectorate. We have ideological differences. If Brockton Bay is to be rebuilt I want it to be done on a foundation of honesty and responsibility that my family stands for."

    "Do you? Follow me." She starts walking, and you follow her into a room. She locks the door. Should you be worried? Meh, I could take her.

    "Tattletale, or Kitsune as she is now going by, recently managed to fight her way to a cellphone and send a very peculiar text message to someone we have not identified." Dream Mask starts. "Do any of these names seem familiar to you?" The number is familiar. Six names. You recognize a few.

    "No." You lie. It's not a good lie and you think she knows it.

    "I have tracked down several of these people, and they have quite interesting stories to tell." A flash of absolute hate flares up. "Cape brutality. Possibly lethal force if you had not been there, inflicted by your sister."

    "Do you really want to pick a fight with New Wave right now?" You stare at the impassive mask.

    "As a matter of fact, it is my job. You're acting as police powers, and have made it clear in no uncertain terms that you consider yourself above the law. You want to impose your own version of order on this city. I respect the good you do, but I cannot have this city become the dominion of New Wave anymore than I could let this city become Kaiser's dominion."

    "Did you just fucking compare New Wave to Empire 88?" You hiss.

    "Not particularly. I am perfectly willing to work with New Wave as a superhero team and a set of public assistance. I am not willing to work with New Wave the city state."

    "Where did they find a lunatic like you?" You stare at her. "The city clearly has bigger problems than us even if we are a problem."

    "You are the strongest force in this city. I need to exert control over you if I am to have control over it. Director Calvert agrees with me on this matter. Here are my demands. The PRT will appoint an official overseer to the activities of New Wave, and any changes or expansions will be run by the overseer. You will not field a private army. You will outfit PRT agents instead. You will also finally outfit the local Protectorate with your new biological suits. If you do not do this, I will have your sister arrested for her repeated acts of severe violence, and have you arrested for your acts of conspiracy with her. After that, the repercussions of your criminal actions will depend on you and New Wave's cooperation."

    "What. The. Fuck!"

    "Is that a yes?

    "I'm not even the leader of New Wave! Aunt Sarah's leader, Uncle Neil's second in command, and Victoria leads the new recruits."

    "You are the most powerful cape by far. You are the person who I need to control. The others will fall in line if I get your agreement. Do I have it?"

    [X] "Yes." You can't fight a war with this lunatic, and her demands aren't too unreasonable.

    [X] "Fuck this." You fling a sleep dart at her and leave the room.

    [X] "No. I will not cooperate with this, ma'am. Arrest me if you have to. Let's see which of us can give a better argument here."
    "Ma'am, I have friends in this city. All of the Wards know me and like me. So do most of the old members of the Protectorate. Every PRT agent in this city knows someone I've saved, if I haven't saved them directly. After the Bakuda bombings, many of them wouldn't even be alive if it wasn't for me and more would be crippled permanently. You're the new asshole. I'm the goddamn Panacea. You're replacing someone we all liked and you haven't even offered condolences. Now you're threatening their friend, their savior more often than not. If you go to war with me, are you honestly stupid enough to think you'll have an army to fight with?" You laugh in her face.

    "You are under arrest as an accessory to serial counts of assault and battery. Do you understand?" Maybe if you actually listened to your mother you'd have absorbed the right thing to do in this situation.

    "No." You decide, and stick out your tongue.

    "You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand?"

    "Nope." You lean back in your chair.

    "Anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?"

    You ignore her question and flash your tits at her.

    "You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. Do you understand?" You're starting to feel a bit self conscious and put your clothing back into place.

    "If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. Do you understand?" Which attorney is actually interesting. You have a pretty good one in your mother, but you're not sure how she'd deal with this. She'd probably want you in jail as long as you didn't share a cell with Victoria.

    "If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Do you understand?" You seriously are starting to regret not just knocking her out.

    "Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?"

    You think for a moment.

    She threatened Victoria. No one does that. Ever.

    "I think not. If you wish to do this, you could. But I think you won't for a very simple reason. Think over what you are asking me to do. Please keep pushing someone who deals with biology to work on your people physically."

    "So you're threatening me, my own soldiers, and the Parahuman Response Teams you work for because we are enforcing the law?" It strikes you that she might be willing to edit footage in a video camera that she's taking right now.

    "Answering your questions would imply I am accepting your authority and actions as legitimate. I do not. I want a lawyer and a phone call."

    "You do not have the right to a phone call." You glare at her.

    "This is standard for violent supervillains with entrenched resources. You may look up the precedents if you wish."

    "You just called me a supervillain! After everything I've done..."

    "You use your abilities to break the law repeatedly and do not recognize the authority of the government. The fact that you have worked tirelessly for years to save human lives does not make you a superhero." What is she trying? Does she actually want you to snap?

    "Are you some Stranger who walked in and acted like she owned the place and used some power to make sure she did?"

    "I am not. If I was I would have taken the PRT Director position. Less spotlight on me, less suspicion of powers doing exactly that. Speaking of which, Striker 10 protocols will be in place." She gets up and walks out the door.

    "Wait, what?"

    "You are not to be allowed near any biological material except exceedingly well cooked food. You will not be transported. This is your cell until you await trial. When your lawyer has been appointed he will speak to you through the intercom in this room." Dream Mask says from speakers in the ceiling. "Once clothing has been provided it would be taken as an act of good faith if you were to change out of your extremely powerful set of weapons that you brought to the meeting."

    "I want to pick my own lawyer." You snap.

    "Master 8+ asterisk Striker human control protocols have been implemented due to your extreme demonstrations of ability involving the restructuring of the mind of Madison Clements. Using the precedent of Teacher I make the call that any humans who you could have reasonably touched could be enhanced in a way that would assist an escape attempt. All residents of Brockton Bay, Albany, and everyone you have healed are counted in this ruling."

    "That's insane." You snarl.

    "No it is not. I am making a prejudiced, bizarre, paranoid call. This is a decision that I have the right to make. Considering your amazing control of biology and your recent decisions to start effecting brains I think this decision is the right one to make in order to be completely safe."

    "You're trying to start a war." You shake your head. "You're being so unreasonable you think we'll cave."

    "Incorrect. You started the war. I am winning the war. Understand I am going to do my very best to delay this as long as possible. I do not expect to win a battle with New Wave in public relations. I have accounted for this. Instead I want to make the battle itself so unpleasant that someone important will be forced to cave. Either the adults of New Wave will agree to my demands, as is their right as the leaders of New Wave, in exchange for your freedom, your sister will make a similar deal, or you will break due to lack of exposure to your sister and heightening depression. If any of these three points break before trial I will win. It is in your power right now to end this fight and be reunited with your..." You hear her reading something. "Well, I'm not going to say that text from Kitsune out loud, am I?"

    "Wow. Just...wow. I didn't think your organization could sink even lower than your last request but you've managed it. I knew the PRT & Protectorate were corrupt, but blackmail & extortion? Threatening imprisonment especially on spurious evidence from an unrelated third party? In case you haven't noticed Brockton Bay is on the brink of being condemned. Do you somehow think the city's reputation is going to improve by arresting one of the key public heroes advocating to rebuild it, especially since I publicly denied an offer to move to another city to stay here? Even if you have the clout to have me found guilty in some sort of show trial, it'll be clear to the public that the PRT rigged it. How do you think that'll play in the press? They'll already think you've allied with the Neo Nazis to kill Lung, now you'll arrest the leaders of the one hero organization opposed to them, handing them the keys to the city?"

    "I am going to destroy Empire 88. With your help I can end their ethnic cleansing campaign in weeks. Without it, this could take years. I rather expect this to damage the city extensively, but not as much as full blown parahuman feudalism would damage this country. I cannot let parahumans become state actors. We do not deserve that power. Even the nicest, most popular, least corrupt group of parahumans taking control is a gateway to causing every lunatic or gang of supervillains to think they can try it. I am doing this to save lives."

    "People are going to die if I'm stuck here! I am needed at the hospital!"

    "Not as many as a civil war would kill."

    You sit there, furious, shaking.

    "Now here's the deal. You and I will stop here and pretend you didn't just try to blackmail me into being a pawn for your power games. You will step back and we will greet again as if you didn't just start speaking complete nonsense to me. And if I am to hear you do so again then I will officially withdraw my support from ALL endeavors involving the Protectorate. Which includes the healing of Protectorate capes during Endbringer fights. Hell if you go ahead with this ALL healing during Endbringer fights will be withdrawn, with a notice that I won't be helping with healing again until there is a formal apology. Also not giving you something nasty the next time I touch you. Also, if you try anything here... I've already made it that my suit is sending the information on what is happening to the rest of my team."

    "So forget all this nonsense about Controlling New Wave and concentrate on getting the city in order from your end, and I will do so from my end and when we meet in the middle THEN I will surrender the city back to the PRT and Protectorate's capable hands."

    "And you know what, just to sweeten the pot for no hard feelings, if you can arrange to get me a tinker, A VERSATILE tinker as best as you can get, to work with me then I will gladly try to outfit the local Protectorate team and run a line of suits for PRT soldiers to use."

    "I don't want bad blood between us, and I'm sure the Protectorate in general much less the PRT doesn't want that either. Besides I don't want to own the city, I just want to get everything back under control... and you trying to put me under your thumb doesn't help that."

    "So lets try this again... Hello, I'm Panacea. Its nice to meet you."

    Dream Mask laughs.

    "I call your bluff. I know your suits don't have that much range, unless you..." Some incredibly amazing curses start and you can't help but smile and finish her sentence.

    "Have a Stranger nearby who I remembered when she followed you out the door? Madison hasn't done anything worthy of arrest, has she?"

    "Obstruction of justice, from where I'm standing..."

    "Who is obstructing justice again?" You ask, absolutely giggling.

    "I don't, um. What..."

    You start transmitting to Madison, a lot, a plan to give to Victoria, recommendations and suggestions on who to call and what to say. If Victoria's arrested too quickly, then you'll have to trust your Harrier.

    Call Dean. "Dream Bitch just threatened to arrest Victoria and me. Don't say anything, your PRT phone is probably bugged; get a disposable. And make sure everyone knows what's going on. Get all the ducks lined up. The shit is about to hit the fan."

    Call Sarah. "The new leader of the Protectorate just threatened to go to war against us. Thought I'd give you a heads up."

    Call Emma. "When I hang up I want you to call Sophia. Tell her to meet you at Deans. Things are about to get bad. First I need you to tell whoever is in charge everything you know about Taylor. The whole truth. This is important. People could die. People will die, it's just a matter of who and how many. As much as I hate her we need as many resources as I can get. So be fucking honest and complete."

    Call Victoria. "First promise get her to promise me that she will not murder the head of the Protectorate or the Director of the PRT. Or beat them up, either. Promise me that, please. Thank you. She just threatened to arrest both of us if I don't give into her demands. He's backing her up. I told her to go fuck herself. I don't know if she'll go through with it but we might not have long. I'm thinking we get the news involved fast. Spread the word, give our side first. At the same time we fort up and make sure that we can hurt them worse if they try to kill us."

    Call the biggest news organization with a local presence. "Hi, this is Amy Dallon, Panacea. I'd like to give an interview about corruption in the PRT. Backroom deals. Illegal punishments without trial. The use of mind control to forcibly recruit unwilling children into the Wards. Conspiracy with neo-Nazis to assassinate Asian gang leaders. Extortion of independent capes. Also, New Wave is expanding and recruiting. And I'm gay. Sadly, I'm in prison right now. I probably can't do it for a while."

    Madison, stop in the PRT Lobby. "Attention, PRT Employees. I regret to inform you that, due to your new leaders being a psycho bitch and an asshole respectively, Panacea Medical has failed to extend the term of its health services contract with the Brockton Bay PRT. For this reason, Panacea will no longer be healing patients in the PRT hospital and will no longer be providing emergency service to PRT personnel. This is subject to change if negotiations resume successfully. Until then, I am happy to announce that New Wave is recruiting Auxiliary personnel and skilled agents are in high demand. We will be providing a competitive salary, equal or greater to that provided by the PRT, and the extremely comprehensive Panacea Medical Platinum Family Health and Dental plan. This plan includes not only basic and emergency coverage, but also services that have never before been offered by Panacea Medical. These include augmentations, both cosmetic and practical. Want to get in better shape fast? Run the two minute mile? Bench press a cow? Bigger breasts? Longer penis? Panacea Medical's Platinum Plan does it all. Age getting to you? Panacea Medical can make you younger. Panacea medical can eliminate that pesky aging thing altogether. Be the first family on your block who will live forever baring violence or accident. Your children could live to be a thousand. Or a million. Or a billion. Anyone who wants to get in on the ground floor of this exciting opportunity should contact Sarah Pelham, Lady Photon, at 1-800-"

    Contact independent capes. Including Skitter. Make alliances.

    Spin brutality allegations. "When someone is trying to kill you it's hard to hold back. Any police officer will tell who that. In the heat of the moment adrenaline takes over and you have to make split second decisions. I have never seen my sister use her strength against a perpetrator in any situation where a police officer or armed civilian would not be justified in firing his gun. I don't heal the criminals stupid enough to fight her to cover up wrongdoing. I heal them because it's the right thing to do. Because even the rapists and murderers deserve a little compassion.

    Talk to Victoria about MAD, if she agrees integrate citykiller weapon into Newer Wave suits and Shadow Stalker's. With multiple locks to prevent unauthorized release.

    Ask Dean to handle relations with the Wards and the non-asshole Protectorate

    Send messages to Skitter and Kitsune. To Skitter asking her to consider coming in and joining New Wave, and warning about the new crazy Australian who has basically said she plans to wipe out independant capes, villain or hero in the city and offering the shield of New Wave. Ask her to talk to Kitsune and make sure Skitter knows we didn't want to do what we did, and consider it a travesty. That we want to fix Kitsune sooner rather than later, and that 'war' with the PRT may be the perfect excuse. Let Kitsune know we would like to send her a few messages but would rather work with her than against her. That we know she can fuck with us, but that if she does want some kind of freedom it would be better to be a friend than enemy.

    None of this is definite, but Victoria should have all of your ideas, plans, goals, ways to strike back. Your beloved Glory Girl will know how to handle this.

    You sit back and wait.

    [X] Cooperate and speak with lawyers as soon as you get one, roughly 16 hours later.

    [X] Stay completely silent. Do not acknowledge the authority of the PRT to do this. Do not play this game. Wait for New Wave to win.

    [X] Attempt to escape. You have your suit, and things are going bad. You shouldn't be anywhere near this lunatic if she's going to "war."
    Bonus Interlude: Lady Photon

    "What the fuck. What the actual, mother fucking, sister fucking, out of the universe fuck!" Cranial screams. "This makes absolutely no sense. How could this even happen?"

    Not quite the calm maiden aunt she usually goes for.

    The suits are great for hearing through walls. You've always been a snoop. It's not that different, the idea that sunshine disinfects and learning things you're not supposed to know.

    You knock on the door and you track her gliding to it and answering with a drone.

    "Hello, Mrs. Pelham." Cranial says when she opens the door, her voice once again controlled, smooth, middle aged.

    " I assume you've heard?"

    "Heard what?" Concerned, motherly in a way few mothers actually are. You wonder who she's copying from.

    "My niece's arrest."

    "What?" You hate the controlled voice modulator. She sounds surprised. "Victoria or Amy was arrested?" You grind your teeth, and she knows you're grinding your teeth. She has to know you far too well.

    "Yes. The new temporary head of the Protectorate is a complete lunatic. She's about one step away from arresting the rest of New Wave. Only reason she hasn't arrested Rune is her probation is legal, and Victoria threw away her phone and is having a very cheerful chase through the city until they find someone willing and able to catch her. I'm actually surprised she didn't raze the Protectorate building with the crazies she's been recruiting. I'm actually wondering what you were swearing about if it wasn't that."

    "Amy's brain scan results, to be honest. They're not done, but I'm starting to get more in depth hints and clues. Those hints and clues are completely and utterly nonsensical. I am sorry you heard me swearing. I have been trying to kick the habit for years." She just has to be so perfect.

    "We would like any assistance you could provide. People who owe you favors, legal knowledge, anything you can think would be at all helpful. Amy's instructions and suggestions, in total, are to treat this as a total war. I think Victoria might actually have wanted to take over the city before this started."

    "She's a teenager. Plenty of them have impractical ambitions. I think she would make a good queen." You can't help but sigh.

    "I was being serious. The stuff she and Amy were talking about, personally if Dream Mask had come to me I would probably have agreed just to get an excuse to keep them in line."

    "You assume I know more than I do." Lying freak. You explain everything as best as you can. Cranial is silent for a while.

    "Why not just submit then? You want to rein in your new recruits and Victoria. Dream Mask wants to rein them in. What is the issue here?"

    "It would look like we lost a war over our values. I think we could keep our values intact, but if Victoria and her crew leave we'd be down to six members, five when Mark retires, and if my kids jump ship New Wave would be over, whatever legacy I've built would be carried on by the thugs Victoria's been recruiting."

    "I take it you do not like your niece very much."

    "She reminds me of my sister at that age, but smarter."

    "Is that a bad thing?"

    "Carol, when she became Brandish, was fucking crazy, a living weapon. At the time we thought it was a good thing. We had someone in reserve when things got really bad, someone who would cut up a whole gang and sleep soundly the next night. Honestly without her the Bad Old Days wouldn't have ended. Victoria's not quite as brutal, she feels bad about it, but she got a lot of Carol's crazy, and she's smart enough to keep it wrapped up and channels it. She's better with people, better at covering her mistakes. She's good enough to lead a team, but not good enough to make it worth fighting for. Maybe in a few years, but I can't have her making important decisions right now when her sister is in danger. I can't make her thing she's being pushed from two sides at once. If I do that she'll go completely teenager and break away."

    "The situation sounds fragile." You can't help but feel judgment in her voice. Is it your imagination, or is she putting you off your game on purpose? "What would you consider the best way it could be resolved?"

    "Dream Mask is fired for being crazy, and New Wave gets a PRT overseer to act as the bad cop with Victoria." You answer.

    "Very well. I suspect you're going to get what you want. I have an appointment, and they have arrived early. Would you rather wait to discuss things further, or go home?"

    "I need to head home and work damage control." You tell her. You pass a couple, father and daughter or a May-December romance, dark haired and thin, in Cranial's passage of horrors. You can't help but feel optimistic. If Cranial is managing you then she thinks she's smarter than you, and she's probably right. Cranial does need this to be over in less than a week if her precious convention is going to go off.

    ___

    End Interlude

    ___

    The lawyer who greets you on the intercom is a man who sounds rather worried.

    "Hello Miss Dallon. I am Tony Prescott. I am here to help you."

    "I want to see my sister, and I want to be out on bail. Can you tell me what's going on out there?"

    "I thought you would ask that. Currently Victoria Dallon is flying too high and fast for anyone available to catch her. Aegis has come close. She is circling the building right now. People with better eyesight tell me she's giving us the finger a lot." Oh that is so good to hear.

    "New Wave has been engaging in an extreme media campaign about the unfairness of the current situation. Dream Mask is staying firm to her original stance, but there's an official investigation going into why she was hired. Director Calvert apparently asked for her specifically, but it appears that despite her successes in Australia she's had a long history of mental health issues." You frown. "She also claimed, in my own conversation with her, a number of facts that appear to be outright lies. When I proved this to her she appeared to be scared and confused, repeatedly saying that she was told these facts by several sources. She apparently was under the impression that New Wave was originally an Empire 88 splinter faction dedicated to public relations."

    "We're celebrities. How did she..."

    "I do not know. She was from Australia and may not be a follower of gossip magazines. I suspect that no matter how this ends for you there's going to be a massive internal investigation as to why she was hired and if she has encountered any peculiar Masters or Strangers lately."

    This is getting curious. You're actually starting to feel sorry for her. If she thought you were a hypocritical Nazi than her behavior might make a lot more sense.

    Suddenly you hear a crash of shattered glass on the other side.

    "Want me to get you?" You laugh out loud as Victoria talks to you over the intercom. "Dude, I'm not even using my aura. There was no need to wet your pants. Um, I'll pay for the pants, and the window.

    "I miss you!" You shout. "A lot. But is this really the best way to prove our innocence?"

    "I miss you too. Want me to break you out?"

    [X] "Yes."

    [X] "No."

    [X] "I need more information first. Let's just talk through here for now."
    You think for a moment. It's not really Master/Stranger protocols time, but this could be some kind of trick.

    "Wait!" You shout. "Victoria, what was the first thing you ever said to me."

    You can almost hear the smile on Victoria's lips as she practically shouts. "Hello!"

    Other people might have guessed the word, but she hits with just the right tone from eleven years ago. Love at first sight.

    "Let's dance 'till the dance floor falls apart!" You shout up at the intercom, and you hear a wave of destruction growing fainter and fainter as your Glory Girl comes to rescue you.

    You're feeling a bit like fainting yourself. Victoria's actually fulfilling your top seventh fantasy of rescuing you from prison! If you hadn't been defecating in a corner this would be one of the best moments of your life!

    The wall collapses and you hear a whoop of joy from your sister. "Please don't reference Miley Cyrus again." She hits you with one of her glorious aerial hugs, a blur of white and gold crashing into you in a way that could give you bruises but is always worth it.

    "I've been pooping in the corner. Cut me some slack." Victoria crinkles up her nose.

    "So that's what that smell is. Do I want to know what you've been using for toilet paper?"

    "No." You awkwardly try not to tip off the suit's tentacles, even if they're not spotless.

    "Please make this painless." A very weary voice tells you from outside.

    "Hey, Carlos." Victoria spins around to face him. "I will. I always could kick your ass when we dueled, and I really doubt you're better at the suit than I am."

    "I'm not. Please don't hurt this thing. I'm worried about it breaking without Amy to fix it." Carlos is resigned. "I'm supposed to delay you until Velocity arrives, but I really don't like my chances."

    "Ooh, what's he doing?" Victoria asks brightly.

    "Catching some new kid who just triggered. He's running a suit that goes 100 miles per hour. I'm hoping he'll join the team, but I strongly suspect he'll want to get in on New Wave based on my luck." Carlos groans. "I hope the Protectorate won't have this much bullshit. I hate being a leader."

    "Could you see about giving us Shadow Stalker?" You ask. "If we can get her out of the deal once this clusterfuck is out of the way I'll at least feel like I won something."

    "No one's seen her in a while." Carlos shakes his head. "Not since a bit before you arrived." Oh. You're starting to get worried. "Honestly, she's one I'd be happy to lose, especially if you can let us have that new Tinker..."

    "We'll talk." Victoria says. "Amy, you don't have any problems with a brain injury, do you?"

    "Um..."

    Carlos collapses.

    "Victoria!" You shriek and rush forward, making the suit peel back. "I told you to only use that in an emergency!"

    "You're in danger. It is an emergency. Heal him and we can go." You shake your head. You hadn't been able to make her aura more useful. You had been able to direct it in a sudden, harsh blast to give someone a stroke.

    Then you realize Aegis is faking being taken down as he grabs you. You get very still. You can control the suit, but...

    Actually, no but, you've got him completely corned as you cause the suit to seal up for 20 minutes.

    "Adaptive biology." You remind her. "He's probably using his spleen as a brain right now."

    "Sorry, sorry." Victoria mutters as she grabs you and the two of you blast out through the holes she made in the walls, floors, and ceilings to get to you. Your suit times the flight as 14 seconds before you're out.

    "Oh, darn Chris!" Victoria mutters.

    "What?" You ask, and then you see the golden blur on the ground. Velocity's harness. Not as good as something you could give him, but quite useful, and it lets him fly.

    "Now would actually be a good time for the stroke." You tell your sister, and she nods. He collapses and you're on him a moment later, making absolutely sure he's going to be fine, and tuning him up a bit as an apology.

    "We need to go now before anyone else shows up!" Victoria grabs you.

    "I know, I know." You tell your sister. She picks you up again and you're off. After a while you crash into an area of the boardwalk.

    "Is this where I think it is?"

    "It's amazing what a guilty supervillain playing warlord will give you when she's pissing her pants in fear of your aura, and general fear of five capes who could individually defeat her whole old team. You were right. Reaching out to Skitter was a great move." Victoria leads you into what appears to be an abandoned building, down a disgusting hallway, and into a very cozy little room with one bed, a kindle, and a lamp.

    "We can discuss things in the morning. Right now I'm going to take care of my baby sister." Victoria tells you and you nod. Victoria picks up right where she'd left off on The Princess Bride and you almost fall asleep even though you were incredibly caught up on your sleep due to the last sixteen hours not having anything else to do.

    ___

    You just lie there, Victoria stroking your hair.

    "I was so worried." She whispers. "The good guys aren't supposed to do that. We're their friends. We've done so much to help them, and they just turn on us like that?" Victoria lapses back into her comfortable threats that she picked up from the gruesome murder and abuse of Sylvia Likens, with a few other bits inspired from the Dexter series. She's just getting into something she calls the Yodeling Potato when your mind can't just stay comfortable and safe.

    "Victoria?" You say. "We can't hide out here forever."

    "I know." She agrees. "Right now I think we have three major options."

    "That's convenient." You stretch back.

    [X] "We could hunt for Sophia. I'm worried about her. She disappeared shortly after you were arrested. I'm worried that Dream Bitch did something to her, or someone else did thinking now was a good time to cover for it." That does hurt your heart. "Problem is we'd have to stay underground, be secretive, on the run. That doesn't look good."

    [X] "There's also heading to the media ASAP. We make our stand here and fight the bloodiest PR battle we can, only fleeing if we're forced to. Problem with that is that if Dream Bitch is truly Simurghed or something she might not be able to care about that, and hits us while we're in the open." That is a concern.

    [X] "Third, we break for Chicago and Cranial's convention early. We make our stand there. Harder for her to reach us there. Not comfortable territory, but we need to go there anyway. The advantage is that's probably safest, especially if the Toybox sets up there. Disadvantage, we look even more guilty and can't hunt Sophia.
    "We should thank Skitter for the use of her hideout. We do kind of owe her." Victoria sighs.

    "Oh, the thinks Emma started saying after she was sure it was alright to talk. You wouldn't believe what the little sociopath did when they were growing up. The dog Emma found that Taylor made her bury stuck in my mind. Jesus, I guess you're right, but I don't want to talk with her. Would be compassionate, caring, beautiful sister handle that for me?"

    "Sure." You smile. "But it would be nice if you complimented your sister some more."

    "Of course I can compliment my merciful, badass, powerful, loving sister who has helped to save many, many lives." Victoria starts. "My understanding, intelligent sister has so much charity in her heart she can stand to speak with the supervillain who has done her great harm."

    "Go on." You have a smile that won't leave your face.

    "Come on, extraordinary, alluring sister. I didn't get much sleep last night and I'm running out of compliments." You laugh.

    "That's a fine number of compliments from my perfect sister."

    You never had a chance even if your sister didn't have a mindrape aura.

    ___

    Skitter's lair is full of activity. A teenage girl is stirring a pot, cooking something that smells delicious. Several children are around, maybe orphans from Leviathan?

    Skitter is waiting to greet you.

    "Believe it or not, I actually told them to reach out in a slightly less aggressive fashion, but it's Victoria." You apologize.

    "I never killed a dog." Skitter tells you. "Hurting dogs is wrong. Dogs are like kids, dependent on the people in their lives. That would be sick." She sounds sincere.

    "According to Emma you're also a pathological liar who convinced her that her mother was having an affair for two years. I believe Madison has called you 'that racist girl who punches people in the neck.' Considering our experiences I don't find that implausible."

    "Grue's black. I am not racist!"

    "Actually she claimed you were racist against Asian-Americans."

    "Do you really think that?" You look over the racial mix of the orphans here.

    "Honestly, I think Emma and Madison are scared and that the situation was complicated. I don't believe you were some poor innocent victim, but I don't think my friends were entirely innocent. People don't just suddenly turn to acts of domestic terrorism after being completely normal." Taylor is silent for a while.

    "I can live with that if you just stop fucking with me and the people I care about."

    "I'd do it if you returned the favor. Your friend Tattletale seems to be trying her very hardest to make her hard to want to help. She gave Dream Mask ammunition to start this whole clusterfuck."

    "I could stop it." You freeze up.

    "What?"

    "I am not going to tell you how, not until you leave the city for a while." She pauses. "I can't." It strikes you as a lie brought on by fear. "But I do know how to end this. I could either screw over the PRT or I could screw over you, and right now I actually hate the PRT more. They're more responsible for what happened to Lisa." You frown. This could be a big lie.

    "Who would get hurt? I think the PRT and the Protectorate are important, in the abstract."

    "I can hurt the people directly responsible for what happened to Lisa and expose some pretty major corruption going on. I wouldn't be screwing over any random person working for them. I'd actually be helping Dream Mask. If you knew what I knew you'd feel sorry for the poor woman." You start to nod. This seems to fit Taylor's pattern.

    "The reason you haven't done this before is..."

    "I needed resources to help people here. If I am working for New Wave as a vassal I assume they'd be willing t0o help me with that, right?" Ooh, so it's money she wants.

    "Sounds reasonable, but there's more of a catch with you."

    "When you're in Chicago, see what you can do for Lisa. I don't expect it to work, but please try to help her." You grit your teeth. "Fix the damage done to Lisa. The only reason you weren't met by the Protectorate and PRT here is that no one else could do it. If you do that, the answer to a lot of your problems will come clear."

    "Coil's alive, isn't he?"

    "Not really. He was replaced. I can't say more without tipping my hand."

    "I really was trying to help her, you know. I went a bit overboard, but she taunted me with my sister's miscarriage." Taylor manages to look as shocked as anyone could through a gas mask. "My version was much kinder than what they wanted and I still feel like crap about it, but the alternative was the Birdcage."

    "Just do what you can for her, okay?" Taylor's voice is a bit small.

    "The PRT has gone way too far. They're blackmailing me and New Wave after making me do what I did to Tattletale. She wasn't anywhere close to Birdcage material. She was no Bakuda, no Kaiser, she was just a raging cunt and maybe a minor domestic terrorist. She didn't deserve what she got. I'm fine with this deal. If at all possible I'll help Tattletale, as long as it wouldn't hurt someone else more. If that's the first big thing they make me do, I can't be their little bitch for the rest of my life. Give'em Hell."

    There's a smile in Taylor's voice. "I can definitely do that. I doubt they'll be recovered in Brockton Bay for years. If New Wave can beat the Empire I think I'll have saved this city, improved it." You sense she's buttering you up, manipulating you, lying a bit, but working with her still seems like the safer option.

    "Can New Wave help watch over my territory?" Skitter asks. "I think I'll be able to make it out of this, but I won't leave it unprotected."

    "I'll contact some of them. Probably the ones I have less control over. Melissa says Eric is getting really bored lately, so helping out here might be something he could do. He's had a lot of time lately with school closed down. There's one other thing, though." You can see Skitter slump down.

    "Shadow Stalker, she's missing. I'm going to give you relay bugs, and a counter to my jamming in the suits. Now, I'm not going to remove the bug killer, I'm not going to leave people defenseless against you if you go bad again, but from what you've said you don't need firepower. Find my Shadow Stalker for me and I'll say we're completely even for everything, we can have a fresh start. Is that good?"

    "I'd like that. I can try." Skitter is quiet. "Did you have to threaten my dad?"

    "What? I didn't..."

    "You showed up at my house. Are you actually saying you didn't mean to threaten him?"

    "Actually I didn't." You frown, trying to piece the night together. "I was pissed about everything and exhausted. I guess I wasn't thinking clearly. If you need him protected, Jesus, I'm actually really sorry. I'll talk to Madison about having him protected before I go..." She doesn't need facial expressions to glare at you.

    "Actually, I'll leave a message for Sarah. Would that work better?"

    "Much."

    "Really, thank you for the hideout."

    "Thank you for actually talking to me instead of whatever it was Victoria was doing."

    And so you leave.

    ___

    You, Victoria, and Eraser, or Julian, are heading off to Chicago in a station wagon that was found abandoned in a street. Madison, Mason, and Melissa are staying back to hunt for Sophia with Skitter. She's probably not going to try anything against those three. Victoria is on a disposable cellphone talking to Dean to see if the Wards can help with the hunt.

    The enemy of your enemy is your friend. The PRT is worse and more dangerous than Skitter or Tattletale, and maybe having someone as dangerous as Tattletale owing you wouldn't be bad under the circumstances, especially if Taylor's big secret plan falls through.

    Interlude:

    [X] Uber
    [X] Dream Mask
    [X] Eraser
    Your Saints Row homage has gone completely off the rails.

    The bad news is that you're pretty sure this is Birdcage level shit.

    The good news is you finally managed to fulfill the Saints Row 2 request people have been giving you since the early days of your Youtube channel properly.

    Needlessly complicated conspiracy? You've got it.

    Taking credit for cleaning up the city, striking a deal with the winner of the gang war? It's not actually working, but it's not really supposed to, is it?

    "I am sure that the Dallon sisters will be caught before they leave the city, Miss Sertori. I am far more worried about the Master who sabotaged you at your moment of triumph." You watch with pride as Leet works flawlessly to puppet "Director Calvert" over the distance. He truly can do anything once. turn a corpse into a living remote control agent undetectable by PRT safeguards? He could do it. All of the data, a massive resource of secrets you can surely leverage for money in some fashion, weeks of information, is stored in the computers of your fucking underground lair! How cool is it to have an underground layer? It is perfectly cool.

    "She's growing suspicious of the Master PC alterations. We're on Mark X, it is a miracle it worked at all." Leet sighs.

    "It'll work long enough. We just need to keep this going long enough that there won't be anything organized enough to figure out what's going on." You assure your friend.

    You look out over the scale model of the city you shall soon rule. Admittedly the only part you actually have any control over is Skitter's territory by the boardwalk and your new allies, the Merchants, shrinking territory. This will change. You have the secret identities of Empire 88 stashed in Coil's files, which were so easy to crack. You just need to wait for the right moment to unleash them.

    Dream Mask is such a useful idiot. You'd had to search far and wide for the perfect candidate. Sensible on the surface, completely wrong for the city, too influential to kick out easily. Add in whatever you managed to do with the Master PC Mark X and your plan is nearly complete.

    What's left is simple. Fuck up New Wave, shatter trust in the PRT, and then give them one last chance at glory by revealing the secret identities of the Empire and ordering a full assault. Your new kingdom of Rapture will rise from the ashes and flee underneath the waves.

    If only you can get Panacea to agree that building an underwater city is a reasonable course of action. Well, that is what Master PC is for.

    Then you get a phone call. You shudder at the name on the other end. "SKITTER."

    She scares the crap out of you. You answer it cautiously.

    "We need to end it now, Uber. New Wave will rip us apart if we don't." You frown.

    "How do they know?"

    "You weren't exactly subtle. I've met with every single member of Victoria's lunatics. The best thing we can do is have me expose the Calvert ruse while you two go underground. Earlier than we wanted, but this way I can get New Wave's support too."

    You have a million objections, but after the last time she used the bees you are not going to defy her.

    "Yes, Mother Brain." She'd stopped taking it as an insult weeks ago. "Uber, explode the Life Model Decoy."

    It's a pity you can't see Dream Mask suddenly splattered with the guts and gore, but it was too hard when setting up the self destruct to ensure the last precious second of video feed. No matter, once your plan is complete you can dunk a woman in a superhero costume in blood and gore every day!

    Skitter hangs up. She knows you're smart enough to obey her.

    "Can we please kill her already." Leet begs.

    "She needs us. She's not going to kill us. She could never manage a city. I can, and I'm nothing without you." You assure him. "She's powerful, and as long as we're improving the city we've got her bought. She's not going to turn on us as long as we're helping the city. Until she gets her precious Tattletale back she can't even think about destroying us, and even afterward we will still be very useful. We just need to play along until the cloning machine is done." You flip on the news and wait.

    ___

    "Breaking news. According to sources released today, the Parahuman Response Team Director Thomas Calvert is dead. Information is scarce, but it is believed that a powerful tinker had subverted him weeks ago at the least, and has been responsible for the recent highly controversial actions of the PRT and the Protectorate. The rogue highly respected psychiatric rogue Cranial has promised to investigate the minds of each and every member of the Brockton Bay PRT to ensure the corruption has not spread further."

    Leet is grinning widely at referring to him as a "powerful tinker."

    You're quite happy yourself. Master PC Mark X is crap compared to the earlier models, but it is sufficient to make sure Sophia Hess has no idea who kidnapped her. The swastika you carved into her posterior will give New Wave some idea, and you had used a condom to minimize other evidence.

    The phone rings again. "SKITTER."

    "Yes, Mother Brain?"

    "I'm not faulting you for it, but I'm already starting to miss Director Calvert. Browbeat keeps bringing up letting Sophia join New Wave. He really had a bad experience there." Skitter sighs. "I wish he could just cut it out."

    "They owe New Wave. It'll happen soon enough." You can say this with certainty. You have mastered history, psychology, and law. Sophia Hess will not have membership in the Wards as part of her probation after abduction, rape, and memory alteration. New Wave will be a far better environment for her.

    You had long ago realized that in anything truly worth doing you have an impossible, unfair advantage over normal men. It is instead best to work on impossible things and to play with your Youtube channel.

    Skitter provides you with a dream, much like Uber does. Something where the journey is more important than the destination. You could be the best ruler the city could have. The problem with modern governance is that the world is too complicated for politicians to make wise decisions. Very few people, such as you, Accord, and Alexandria can defy that, and you are the natural shepherds of the new world.

    You had made the same conclusions you know Cauldron made long ago. Parahuman domination of the world is inevitable. It is far better to establish a system where those few who have true merit in governance, rather than the most physically powerful, have a tradition of leadership.

    New Wave disgusts you, as does Empire 88. Not a single Thinker or Tinker in either group. All violence, no finesse. Conquest will be easy. Whichever faction wins, either New Wave enhanced by Panacea's suits or Empire 88 strengthened by their patron's resources, you will be able to seize control over.

    The city will be better with your hand guiding it than any other.

    Only Cranial could stop you now.

    ___

    End Interlude

    ___

    You only get a handful of stares as Victoria feeds you chicken nuggets.

    "How can you eat those things?" Julian asks. "They don't even know what part of a chicken is in a chicken nugget. It's bones and blood vessels and..."

    "Delicious!" Victoria assures him. "Chicken nuggets are delicious and Amy needs to eat more." You nod happily.

    She hasn't eaten one since before her trigger event when she was a health nut. You suspect she lives vicariously through feeding you at times. You don't mind.

    Julian shudders and returns to his salad.

    "So, we're about to enter Ohio, and this is our first ever family road trip!" Victoria says excitedly. "So, what attractions do we want to see on our way? I think we can make one stop."

    [X] Write in. What attraction in the great states of Ohio, Indiana, or Illinois should Amy, Victoria, and Julian visit before they reach Chicago! It should be at least feasibly on the way for a group of excitable teenagers.
     
    Ddmkm122 likes this.
  12. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    In the end there was only one choice, though Victoria did half halfheartedly push for the Dillinger Museum she knew where you all were going the moment you found the attraction.

    Victoria in a swimsuit all day. Two-person rafts featured.

    There's also the fun of buying a swimsuit with her. She only rolls her eyes a bit at the bikini you pick out, and you're not sure if it's a signal or revenge when she selects an even more revealing one for you.

    Life is very, very, very good.

    It's destiny that there's an actual attraction called "Victoria Falls."

    ___

    Your voice is hoarse from all the appropriate screaming you've done today. Your legs are wobbly and you're exhausted.

    There are no words in the English language to describe the combination of a water park and Victoria just going with the flow. She had been in a bikini all day and been cuddly and fed you and everything is beautiful. Your sore muscles from the slides hurt so good.

    ___

    You've reached the point where you're having a dinner by candlelight before you realize that Victoria's definitely doing this on purpose. Either, in the twisted piece of your imagination that dominates your every waking moment, she wants to know what dating you would be like or she's buttering you up for something big.

    She's so beautiful, dressed for the beach, a skirt, some kind of vaguely Hawaiian top she bought here, flip flops, so completely unlike her normal style. It's almost hypnotizing.

    "I was thinking we'd call her Claire." Victoria says. "We're naming her after you, and that is your middle name. That way we don't mix you two up." She giggles, and your heart sinks suddenly.

    Why can't you be normal!

    You had a perfect day with your sister. Why can't it just be a perfect day with your sister? Why does it have to be hanging over everything with her? You get a sudden heart wrenching urge to rip every incestuous thought, urge, memory out of your had, to become completely asexual and just be Victoria's sister and nothing else for the rest of your life.

    Victoria's still talking. "We can't call her Amelia, obviously. Leia? Too weird." You try for something funny to say.

    "Emergency backup Victoria?" You suggest. Victoria does giggle.

    "I think that's Sophia."

    OMFG she made a joke about it. She joked about Sophia as a possible backup girlfriend, someone like her...

    "I need to use the bathroom." You say.

    "Hurry back." Victoria smiles at you. You force yourself to be normal until you're in the bathroom.

    You know the pain won't stop if you just curl up and take it like a good girl. On a mad urge you do something you've only read about, jab your things down your throat, and induce vomiting. Tears fill your eyes for a completely different reason and you wretch into the toilet. It tastes horrible and gets stuck in your throat and the stupid motion activated sink means you can only get bursts of water hot enough it's not refreshing to drink. You need it anyway to get bits of seafood out of your throat.

    Why can't you be a good sister! Victoria is the best sister possible. She's something from Heaven. All the compliments you could use for her have run out long ago, and she always has more for you.

    You're a perverted little freak. There's nothing sexy about it, nothing taboo, just uncomfortable and wrong and disgusting and you can't even have a normal dinner with your sister without falling in love with her all over again.

    The pain will never stop. You never want to fall out of love with Victoria, and it will always hurt to love her. How could Cranial help with this?

    You walk out as soon as you feel you can look normal again. Victoria doesn't even ask what happened, just giving you her glass of water for you to chug down in the hopes of cleaning out your throat.

    ___

    The two of you are about ready to go to bed, wearing pajamas. You try to gather up your courage.

    [X] You succeed. "Victoria. I don't want to sleep in the same bed tonight." It's not the hardest thing you've ever had to do, but it's up there.

    [X] You fail. "Read me something happy tonight, please. Something you read when we were little."

    [X] You divert. "Victoria, is there something you wanted to ask me today? I get the feeling you have something on your mind.
    "Sit down." Victoria says. "I just, it's how I want it, okay?" You nod, and sit down next to her on the bed.

    "I've been so worried I'd say or do the wrong thing. I want to be responsible for your happiness. It makes me feel grownup. It makes me feel like a good sister to know how much you need me and know I'm doing a good job. I feel proud when I manage it. There's nothing better than loving you. I knew you were special when my parents first brought you home. It was so cool, getting a sister to take care of." She starts playing with your hair.

    "There's no words to thank you for it." She presses her face into your hair. Is that a kiss?

    "I love you too much, too." You try to make sense of that. "Not in your way. I want you to be mine. I get to choose what you do, what you eat, what you wear, who you date. I feel like I know what's best for you. I feel like the little cunt Madison wants to be your girlfriend, to do all the little feminine things that girls know how to do to guide their boyfriends to being better. She's a liar and a bully and she's fun, but I don't think she'd let herself be disposable. She wormed her way into New Wave and let herself be made into a lesbian just to get closer to you." Victoria's silent for a moment. "She did something I couldn't for you."

    "It's so different..."

    "Break up with her!" Victoria shouts into the back of your head. "Text the cunt that she's an ugly sadistic whore so I can get my little sister back. If you mean it, if you want to be a good sister, don't date, please. I can't think about you being with a girl. It makes me feel sick that I can't be that girl." Victoria's been so close to you all day, physically.

    "I..."

    "Be quiet. Please." You nod. "I'm so fucked up, Amy. I don't want you with anyone else, but I don't want you for myself. I'm so selfish. You deserve to be happy." Suddenly Victoria's gripping your hand very tightly. "But so do I. You're asking what I want. I want to be good enough you don't care that you can't have a girlfriend, ever. I want to knock you up so you're so busy and so physically weird you don't even want sex. I kind of want Claire to come out so hard it never works right down there again, just so I don't have to think about what I'm not giving you."

    "Victoria..." You're crying.

    "I said shut up!" She snaps. "Just be quiet. After everything I've put up with you can take it!" She starts crying.

    "You have nothing to be sorry about. I can take it."

    "Is it really so wrong, wanting the most fucked up part to just disappear? To make you just be what I want you to be? Is that really so different from what you want? I've been reading, um, everything I found online on lesbian incest. Um, sorry if I sound like an ignorant doofus but I want to fucking mark you with my teeth so no one else gets any ideas about my sister. It runs through my head. Making you bleed out your asshole, do any of the god damned fucked up things you made me seek out. It's all grotesque but I can't stop thinking about it when I close my eyes. The loving stuff is so much fucking worse. Like, I'd never want to beat you black and blue, but playfully kissing in the shower, affection? Sometimes it almost feels normal. It's just a tiny bit different from who we are anyway. It's easier to pretend you want the most fucked up Hellraiser shit I could think of just do I don't have to deal with that."

    "I, if that's how you feel, it's not a tenth of what I put on you." You're sure it's true.

    "I feel so guilty for not giving you what you want. I feel so sick about the idea of doing it or not doing it. I feel like I'm hurting you no matter what I do. Hurting you, I'd rather sleep with you and cut off my arm than see you hurting, and you're hurting all the time, aren't you?"

    "Not all the time. It hurts when I'm happy and when I'm sad, because of why I'm happy."

    "Does it hurt as much with Madison?" Fuck.

    "No." You admit. "But she's nothing to me. She's a snack, and you're a wife."

    "God I hate that word now. Ever since you said that's how you love me, or want to love me. Damn, I forget. How the fuck can I get married now, if you'll be my maid of honor and cry in the shower on the same day?"

    "Because I love you more than I hate Dean for taking the woman I love." There's something else you have to say, and this is as good a time as you're going to get to say it. "You know what I remembered when Cranial screamed; the night New Wave me away from my father, the day I found out you and Dean were having sex, the moment I realized you couldn't return my feelings, and the miscarriage. Those were the worst moments of my life, punctuated by some of the best. You were always with me, supporting me, even when you didn't understand why I hurt. I need to know what you remembered. I want to do the same for you. There can't be any secrets between us, it makes all of this too painful."

    "What?"

    "It's how you can stand it. You're such a good sister that I can take all the worst parts. Please tell me what you saw."

    "Dean." She spits. "The moment I realized he knew for years and never told me. Carol, when we were eight and she didn't fucking love you so much you wouldn't eat. Mark, the lazy fuck who couldn't be a dad. Sarah, who gave a child to my fucking parents. Phillip, who couldn't take..." She sighs. "Every fucker who let us down for eleven years. Amy? The worst moment I ever had with you didn't make the cut."

    "Oh, Victoria." That's a confession of love.

    "Except one." You freeze. "The bank. When Skitter held a knife to your throat and threatened to spill your blood on the floor. That was the worst moment of my life." She pauses. "Actually worse than when Coil caught you, though that's selfish. I could be a nervous wreck, but you weren't right there, right where I could help, terrified, trying to be a good girl and a superhero. You were so brave there." She sighs. "I wish we didn't have to save Tattletale, but I get it. I'll even forgive her. She's got another chance left." Victoria is quiet for a moment. "I didn't see you, but when I ran from Albany, flying high, leaving you behind! Worst thing I have ever done. Capstone of all the times I've been a bad sister."

    "You're a good sister. There's no way for me to tell you how good." You're crying again, trying to think off some way to prove to her how good a sister she is, how much you love and need her, how much you owe her.


    "Screw it!" Suddenly you're pinned to the wall with Victoria's tongue being forced down your throat. You actually try to force her off, but she's stronger than you, and always has been. "That's the only way this ends, isn't it? I love you more than Dean! I love you more than Mark or Carol! I love you more than anything in the world! I can't let you burn because..." She actually retches in your arms. Thank God she's not throwing up for real again. "What else can I do? What choice do I have? It's the only way you'll be happy, right?" You're what matters. Want to know how I feel? I just want to end this. Do it now before I lose my nerve again!"

    "What the fuck?" You're kind of sobbing too. It's all wrong and all right at the same time.

    "We have a deal, right! You're mine and I'm yours!" Your ears are hurting from her shouting. "This is your answer. To everything. Yes! Make it quick and make it fucking hurt." Why would she want your powers to hurt her? She keeps her arm barred against your throat, tears in her eyes. Finally she whispers, her face inches from your own. "You make me crazy..."

    [X] "Get. Off. Me." Not like this. Never, ever, like this.

    [X] I. Love. You." And you knock her out. Your Glory Girl slumps down, defeated. Emotions run wild. Things said may be not true, and true things said may be lies.

    [X] "You had me at hello..." You whisper, your memory stretching back years and years to the beautiful girl who loved you at first sight. It's the easiest thing in the world to flip the smallest switches on what she needs and how she loves you.
    "You're Better than the Best. You're Better than Perfect. YOU. ARE. GLORIOUS. Bite me! Mark me! Take me! MAKE ME YOURS!"

    ____

    Okay, telling a teenager with super strength in a fit of passion to injure you while in the middle of what could arguably called a minor breakdown is not the smartest thing you could have done if you actually wanted to enjoy your first night together.

    "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow." You mutter, your hand holding the towel to your neck. Victoria's off getting your super suits from the car, as they're the best first aid kits you could reasonably have. Being bitten isn't sexy at all, at least not without some kind of training. Why are vampires so popular, anyway?

    Victoria flies back in through the broken window with your suits and lands a bit too hard, hitting the ground and breaking the floor.

    "Um, we can pay for that." You mutter. Victoria throws you your suit, and you strip, putting it on. Moments later you sigh in relief as the pain stops and the suit glues up your neck wound.

    "I'm so sorry." Victoria looks down. "It just..."

    "You lost control." You smile at her. "I'm already all better. The night's just started." A wave of nervousness hits you.

    "You're right." Victoria, YOUR Victoria, sits down next to you. "I guess, um, we shouldn't let this stop anything." She giggles very nervously.

    "I like it when you're aggressive like that. With anyone else it would be terrifying, but I know that you'd never hurt me." You giggle nervously.

    ____

    "I'm so sorry!" Victoria's been saying it all night. Control is significantly harder than either of you had imagined. You're actually kind of wondering why this didn't come up with Dean. Is she just more passionate with you? Fuck, you had to think of Dean.

    "I regret nothing. Best night of my life. Really. " You probably wouldn't feel that way if your brain wasn't been full of painblocking microbes. Closed hip reduction is not a pleasant procedure.

    You'd spent the past four hours in the hospital, three and a half of them just waiting to see a doctor. You made the best of it. Victoria pushed you through the ICU and the PICU while you healed all of the critical patients. That's probably why they didn't call the police as soon as they realized who you were. You still had to talk a nurse out of filing a domestic violence report. That was embarrassing.

    The bite looked a lot worse than it was, really. The black eye, well, if Victoria had kept her suit on she would have been wearing it when flying you out the window. But, well...

    It's still not domestic violence, really. All of this is completely understandable.

    Victoria is quiet for a minute. "Um, so, we should probably check in on Julian over the phone."

    "I just wish we could have finished," you tell her.

    "Checking in with Julian?" She frowns. "Wait, oh." She blushes.

    "There is a restroom nearby..." You offer tentatively.

    "Ew, no. Never again." Victoria shakes her head.

    "Um..."

    "You don't want to know. I don't want to remember. Honestly, we're both exhausted. Let's not push this."

    "Um, okay." Well, it's still the best night of your life, right?

    It barely feels different from before. She isn't touching you any differently as you sit together in the waiting room. Her look is the same concerned, sisterly look you've seen before.

    "Well, it's just midnight. We should probably get some sleep back at the resort." Victoria says. You nod.

    All you do differently is kiss goodnight, and Victoria asks you not to use tongue.

    ____

    "That was really... very... Intense. Are you comfortable with all of this? Be completely honest. It's okay if you aren't. I'd rather find out now than later. Tell me how you feel." You hear a rapid knock on the door.

    "Ames! Pregnant lady heading towards the lady's room!" Victoria shouts on the other side. "We still have three more hours of driving to do!"

    No more practicing in front of the mirror. You really should ask her...

    Julian is driving. Oh, that's not going to happen. He rolls the window down to share his loud rap music with the world, making the occasional fist pump into the air at his favorite moments.

    Julian has a lot of favorite moments in his songs. Being white, the fact that he sings along makes you seriously uncomfortable when he uses the word "nigger."

    Victoria does put her arm around you as the two of you sit in the backseat. She didn't do that yesterday, but you did hold hands.

    It soon becomes clear that you are not going to be able to check on Victoria in the car. When Julian is driving he insists he can't drive without the music being way too loud. Victoria driving leads to her usual screaming matches with people who offend her ethics of proper driving sportsmanship. Victoria doesn't let you drive, citing the hospital visit. Fighting her about this seems like kind of a dick move right now, all things considered.

    "YOU MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLE!" Victoria screams. "It's a one way street!"

    "He can't hear you." Julian mutters. "Just like the minivan, and the Prius..."

    "Shut up you clit end of a pencil." Um, what? "You'll distract me and get us into an accident." Victoria keeps her eyes firmly on the road, at least.

    Finally you stop in the must grungy, beaten down area of Chicago you could find at a local library. There's some weirdly complicated backstory about the leader of the Portland Protectorate's daughter having fled here that Victoria had read to you and Julian. She found it a lot more interesting than you do.

    Well, apparently she's the one in charge here. Some kind of...

    A massive wave of cloth begins to rise from the dirt, twisting and dirty. A moment later a woman emerges. She is absolutely beautiful, but filthy.

    "Hello, Ragged Angel." Victoria bows. "We are New Wave of Brockton Bay. We come here seeking asylum."

    "All who ask for it may have it here, if your reason is just. If you lie I will call the Hanged Man, and my father will bring you to justice." Her voice is beautiful, too.

    "I believe it is. I admit I committed crimes, but the leader of our Protectorate, Dream Mask, was under some form of compulsion. In several days a great convention of the world's healers is gathering here, and my sister is the guest of honor. She would have prevented us from arriving out of a desire for a power struggle. The organizer of the convention is a woman who we owe a great debt to who says she can do great things with our help. You may search on the Internet or ask your father if anything I said is a lie, in spirit, letter, or by omission, and call him to arrest us. We will go with him if it is." Victoria's voice is strong. Ragged Angel is stronger than she is even with your help, and you don't like your odds against her in a direct fight. She is also said to be very, very crazy.

    The woman walks towards you and gets uncomfortably close. She smells rotten.

    "Panacea." She breathes you in. "A miracle unlike any other on God's Earth. for such a flower to grace my dominion takes my breath away." She is smiling as she backs away. "You may stay. It is said you live by a code, Panacea. Does it keep to that code to assist those under my protection? The homeless, the mad, the wrongfully accused flock here. Many have lifelong ailments."

    "I will do what I can, Ragged Angel." You bow to her. "I appreciate your hospitality. Anything you ask within reason I will assist you with."

    ___

    It is so easy to help the people there recover from their problems. It's all a combination of neglect, substance abuse, poor diet, and a handful of largely recurring mental illnesses. It only takes you a couple hours to finish off the whole bunch under Ragged Angel's care, and then you set up a new garden here, one that will be able to nourish them cheaply and easily. Many of the people here are crying in gratitude as you finish your new garden, full of white and gold strands of meat, alongside pitch black leaves, easier for photo-synthesis.

    "What would you like to call these plants?" Ragged Angel asks.

    "Victoria's Bounty." You smile.

    "They do look a bit like her. It reminds me of some modernist art I studied once." Ragged Angel sounds wistful.

    "She's in everything I do." You sigh.

    "You're troubled. You're doing this, making this, because you're uneasy." Ragged Angel tells you. "Don't deny it. Mothers know these things."

    "Victoria..." You raise your hand to the bite on your neck.

    "They say you always call her that. Why is she always Victoria? Never Vicky, Vicks, pet names. I was looking you up earlier. They say that on the gossip sites. Why is that?"

    "When we met she said she was Victoria, but people called her Vicky. She is Victoria. She didn't like the name, but no one took her seriously because she was only six. They cared more about her being cute than what she wanted. It was wrong." You flash back again to the first days. "They didn't listen to her. She asked them to call her Victoria, but they didn't care. I called her Victoria the first time I said her name, and she asked me to keep doing it. So I did."

    "All she had to do was ask?" Ragged Angel sounds impressed.

    "Why would I need anything else? I love her." You consider. "Obviously this place is not, um, I'm wondering about privacy here. We've been going through a lot lately, but I understand this might not be the kind of place that has a lot of it, and some of this is really private."

    "Then wait until you leave to bring it up, if it is something you do not want shared. I am not a liar, Panacea, and I need to protect my territory. I cannot make a blind spot."

    "That makes sense. Where is Victoria?"

    "Currently she is complaining to the air about the bathroom facilities in my territory. Come to think of it, that is another thing you could really help with." She smiles.

    "I will help you with that, then." Your start to think about the best toilet possible. How does one build a better mouse trap?

    ___

    You and Victoria sleep in a sleeping bag you made out of rats and dying trees. The lack of mass justifies there only being one, as does the night being very cold. It is gorgeous, sleeping out under the stars.

    "I love you, Amy Dallon." Victoria kisses the back of your head. "There's nowhere I'd rather be."

    [X] "We need to take a walk." You're not sure that leaving Ragged Angel's territory is perfectly safe right now, as people are looking for you, but you need to talk about the changes, see if she's alright, get some alone time with your...

    GIRLFRIEND!

    [X] "I love you, Victoria Dallon." You kiss the back of her head too, wishing for real privacy. "Let's go to sleep.

    [X] You say what you practiced in the mirror. Ragged Angel knowing isn't the worst thing in the world, is it? "That was really... very... Intense. Are you comfortable with all of this? Be completely honest. It's okay if you aren't. I'd rather find out now than later. Tell me how you feel."
    Victoria is quiet at first, but gives your hand a squeeze.

    "I don't want to make any decisions yet. I don't want to get in the frame of mind where I've made a decision, and then let that influence what I do." She's whispering. That might or might not help.

    "I guess that makes sense." It does. Probably better than if she was super enthusiastic.

    "Earlier was weird, and hurting you, I don't want to leap right back in, if that's okay. Is that fine with you?"

    "Of course it is." Not optimal, but fine.

    "A lot of this feels, well, less weird than before, if you know what I mean? Before it always felt like there was this balancing act. Remind you that we're close, keep doing things we both like, but don't lead you on or do something so weird it grosses people out. Now I can just do what comes naturally." Victoria giggles a bit. You can't really join in.

    "Is there, well, anything else?" Victoria slaps your hand a bit playfully.

    "Okay, now you're just trying to undermine this. I am fine. I will pay close attention to how I feel. If I get uncomfortable, I will work with that. If I like something I didn't before, I'll think about why. I think that we should talk after the convention and everything in Brockton Bay has blown over and we've done this for a little while normally. I could want to stop it, but right now I think it's best to just see what we're like and take it slow."

    "That sounds perfect." You kiss the back of her head.

    "That's because I'm perfect." Victoria jokes.

    "I'm tired. I never did like road trips, and I haven't been on one in two years."

    "Alright. Let's see if sleeping is easier or harder now."

    Victoria falls right to sleep. You don't.

    ____

    "Okay, Brockton Bay is practically in another war. Empire 88 broke every rule." Victoria sighs, having just got off the phone with Dean.

    "What happened?" You ask, taking a cheerful bite of Victoria's Bounty.

    "You do not want to know." Victoria shakes her head. "Currently there's bees everywhere as Skitter's trying to prove helpful and using the damn relay bugs. What's left of my team and Eric seem to think there's a war, while Sarah and the rest of the grownups of New Wave are trying to take control of the situation. The Protectorate and the Wards are on high alert, but haven't broken the old official truce."

    "Anyone hurt or dead yet?"

    "If anyone was dead I'd have opened with that." Victoria sighs. "Apparently we 'captured' Alabaster early on. Shadow Stalker was apparently abducted by the damn Empire, somehow. Dean doesn't know a lot of details, but she wants to see you when you're back and has gone full tilt crazy vigilante even though she's not really well. Dream Mask is still there but is the second in command to Battery, why they haven't brought in someone else I don't know. Kaiser erected a huge wall around the territory he took over, not that it will stop anyone serious."

    "Why's Eric joining the clusterfuck?" You ask, handing Victoria some of the food named after her.

    "Dean thinks he has a crush on Melissa. I think he's just bored and thinks the whole thing's exciting. Teenagers." She sighs dramatically.

    "We're teenagers." You point out.

    "We're almost eighteen. As almost-adults we have the right to look down on kids." Victoria laughs and finally bites into the strands of Victoria's Bounty. "Is it weird that I'm eating something that kind of looks like me?"

    You both start giggling nervously at that.

    ___

    "Then Sunslinger opened fire. In raw firepower, he is one of the strongest blasters on record, and his attack was beautiful. It incinerated the Blasphemy at once. A pity that her sisters escaped, but seeing one die, knowing that the monsters need to feel fear, was one of the greatest moments of my lie." Ragged Angel likes to tell stories, and the time the Three Blasphemies came to Chicago is one of her most impressive.

    "So, what did the fucks even want in Chicago?" Julian asks. He stands strangely alert near Ragged Angel. He seems jumpy to you.

    "Myrddin." Ragged Angel answers simply.

    "What for?"

    "They thought they could do better. That was always their objective. Find someone great, find a flaw in him, and give him a chance to correct his flaw. His flaw was anger, and he passed his tests. I believe he became wiser for it."

    "Wait, you think those freaks did something good?" Julian looks at her like she's crazy. In his defense, she wouldn't deny that she is.

    "Yes. I think in the long run all of their victims benefit. Of course, the oldest who failed their test we have is only twelve again, and she has yet to have her trigger."

    It's peaceful out here, cold, curled up in your sleeping bag near a trashcan fire and hearing the woman spin her stories. Ragged Angel had asked Victoria to walk the perimeter of her territory earlier, right when Victoria was starting to feel restless. Secondary power, or just good instincts?

    This is kind of like a camping trip. You have gone camping five times in your life. Twice with Mark and Victoria as a family, three times when the Pelhams had invited you and Victoria to come along with them. The last one was Eric's trigger event.

    Ragged Angel moves over to you in an oddly sudden move.

    "You are scared of me." It isn't a question. "I don't think it's because I am crazy and powerful. You are crazy and powerful. What do you fear?"

    "I am afraid I made a mistake." Stay truthful. "Back when I had Victoria break me out I didn't do it because I wanted to run. I did it because I wanted Victoria to rescue me. I know it was a stupid reason. Now I'm worried that people are dying at the hospital because I wanted..." You pause.

    "You wanted to make your sister happy." Seriously, did the PRT files miss a secondary power? "You wanted to let her do something for you. Because of that, people may have died in the hospital. They might have let you out as criticism mounted, but instead you fled, and denied them the chance."

    "Exactly. I fear your justice, not your irrationality. It is said that you are just and passionate."

    "I have that in common with your Glory Girl." Okay, she probably reads minds. "Our natures do not match our world. We are not attracted to the fairest or brightest uses of our abilities to make a difference. It weakens us, makes us forget who we are. Sunslinger sits in a chair all day, his fingers pointed at ten great vats to power this and other cities cleanly. Every day he hopes, prays for a disaster worth cutting the power to Chicago for him to fight. We need worthy opponents."

    "I've heard those words before." You say. "Are you a mind reader, Ragged Angel?" She gives you a very warm smile.

    "I spoke to Kitsune."

    "Oh."

    "Of course you're a monster, little champion. We are all monsters. That's what angels are." Ragged Angel glides over the ground, away from you, as Victoria returns. "Did you sense people lurking outside, Glory Girl?"

    "Yes. I feel like offering the poor kids hot coco. Don't they have anything better for their Wards to do?" Victoria shakes her head. "Do they even have anyone who could take the two of us?"

    "A fairly large team? Yes. Myrddin could do it by himself, of course, if he can withstand the sleep agent. Acoustic perhaps, with some backup, depending on the exact defenses of your suits. Are they willing to divert such resources? I believe they are not. A defeat, or a costly victory, would be terrible for them right before the medical convention. I am positive they are diverting as much of their resources as possible to not starting this fight and hopefully to be able to honestly tell you they've prepared your hotel rooms."

    "That's great." Victoria pauses. "Is there any chance if we left a tray of hot coco out they'd take it?"

    "If I brought it, they are under orders to accept my gifts." Ragged Angel laughs. "Panacea, would you be a dear and work on something to make hot coco? A long lasting machine would improve the quality of life here, would it not?"

    "Yes..." Your mind is wondering. Something with that kind of internal temperature would be weird. "Mind if we talk about how to power it? This will require something more unusual than normal..."

    ___

    The Wards come in the next day. Raymancer and Grace. Director Costa-Brown had officially withdrawn all warrants out on you and Victoria. They carried thanks from their teammates for the hot coco.

    "Well, now what?" Victoria asks.

    "Could we visit Cranial?" You suggest. "Start taking care of things early?"

    "Sounds good." Victoria pulls out her phone and makes the call as you and Julian pack.

    "Turns out she's not here yet. She has a stop in Detroit before she arrives. She'll be here first day of the convention, three days from now. Any other ideas?

    [X] Stay with Ragged Angel until the convention. You can see if you can do more to help the people under her protection. (Write in. Give ideas for helpful bio-tech.)

    [X] Get a hotel room and just relax for a few days. You need to be rested and ready for the convention.

    [X] Head to the hospital. It's only almost June and you've already come close to maxing out days outside of the hospital. Sure, you don't technically have to, but you're starting to feel extremely guilty. People are on the waiting lists for months.

    "Healing machines." Ragged Angel has managed to find a large old chalk board, plenty of chalk, for the task, and you made proper brushes for it. Feels weird not to have a whiteboard. "I built basic first aid into my suits, but I think I can do better. A free hospital, even a fairly low level one, out in this area would be really helpful, wouldn't it?"

    Ragged Angel nods. "Explain the capabilities and how it would differ from a true hospital."

    "I think diagnosing and treating most injuries and many infections is casual. Won't be healing such injuries like I can, but it would give bodies a fighting chance. With a large stationary device, well it won't be as good as normal surgery, a lot fewer options and less expertise, but if you get most normal injuries this will be just fine. I'm also thinking about new organs for organ failures, but I don't have high hopes for that. Rejection is tricky, even for me." Victoria giggles at that and Julian gives her an odd look. "It would need something really similar, and organ transplants are hard under the best of circumstances. I'm thinking they'll also be able to keep records and charts for regular doctors to consult. Now, ideally I'd be putting these in the hands of regular medical professionals, but I understand that's not really an option for your people, Ragged Angel."

    "You are correct." She nods. "What about expansion, scaling this up?"

    "Medical stuff is really tricky even by Tinker standards. Commexo Kid's panacea seemed perfect, but it caused those weird mutations that got worse and worse over time. Thalidomide was a great piece of medicine, but caused horrible birth defects in babies. I've been working with doctors on this kind of thing for a year and a half. This kind of mass production, maybe in the future, but it needs to be tested and organized first. I actually have a number of machines they're working on, but my biggest comparative advantage, the organ machines, are where Fodder and Ichor already shine. I don't think they'll want to rely on me for that unless she becomes unavailable. Maybe in five years there will be a big roll out. For you and your sanctuary I think the important thing is cheap and self repairing machines. I'd much rather get you ordinary medical care."

    The machines are weirdly fun. You play around a bit with expanding the capabilities, and wish you had a Tinker to hash it out with again. It feels just a bit like when you first started healing. Victoria being there helps a lot.

    "Wish I could sunbathe." She groans a bit.

    "It's 50 degrees." You point out, eying the pack of rats regretfully. Maybe there's a way without destroying things so cute?

    "I know, but this feels like the perfect opportunity to work on my tan. I'm getting really pale. Brockton Bay sucks for tanning."

    "You're prettier without one." You assure her. "I always thought so."

    "You never told me that." Victoria sounds a bit happy. "Is there a reason?"

    "Talking about it seemed, um, risky." You mutter, blushing a bit.

    "You know, I did like it when you told me I was pretty." Victoria says. "I always liked how pretty you thought I was. Maybe it's just vain, but it did make me feel pretty. It does."

    "Everyone thinks you're pretty." You remind her.

    "Sure, but there's different levels of being pretty. Besides, my aura makes people think I'm sexy when I have ketchup in my hair and am wearing baggy jeans and flannel."

    "It's not just the aura." You point out, and she laughs.

    You love her so much.

    ___

    "This almost seems counterproductive." Ragged Angel tells you. "How can my sanctuary be for the downtrodden and desperate if it's a resort park?"

    "So, are you actually complaining?" You smile at her.

    "Not in the slightest. Hot showers, comfy beds, and rooves are all things I've missed." You frown.

    "Rooves?"

    "You know, the plural of roof. Like the plural of wolf is wolves."

    "Um, I don't think that's how it works, ma'am."

    "I'm pretty sure it does." You decide it's best not to fight it.

    ____

    "Did you need to make the beds so, um, alive?" Julian asks, bouncing his hand experimentally on the meaty surface.

    "At least try it. I thought that would be the most warm and comfortable." You're a bit embarrassed now.

    "It's like human skin." Julian frowns. "Why?"

    "Well, it seemed cozy." This is getting awkward. "People like to cuddle when they sleep, so I made it more efficient. Nice, warm, flesh like, really soft and comfortable..."

    "How are you even feeding these things?" Julian asks.

    "Oh, I set up some insect colonies to hunt down pests, mass pollinate, farm the area, stuff like that. The whole resort park ecology is wrong for the environment here, but it can be supported with that and a few power plant like devices, breaking down waste, stuff like that." Julian looks up at you, his face just a bit worried.

    "Um, Amy? What are the chances of this going horribly wrong?" You consider for a moment.

    "Not high?"

    "Well, if this goes wrong it's better than half the things you've made going wrong. You know what you can do." Julian sighs. "The bed does look really comfortable."

    It is.

    ___

    You sleep in very late the next day. Victoria and your new bed combine to be so very comfortable.

    Experimentally, softly, you kiss Victoria awake, safe with a partition for privacy, you hope. Ragged Angel could probably see, but you really want to kiss your girlfriend.

    "Mm..." Victoria sighs and reciprocates before waking up properly. "That's a bit risky, Ames." Then she laughs. "But you know what? We can't not take risks about this." She kisses you again, still softly. "I really do like what you're doing here. I'm proud of it. I'm proud of you. You're beautiful and good and you make me happy."

    "You make me happier."

    "We'll see about that." Victoria laughs. "Now, let's get dressed. It's cold out there."

    ___

    The new sewer is the worst part. It's just not fun to build a water filtration system piece by piece. Water isn't as fun to work with. Too much fairly redundant microbiology.

    The central heating is more fun. The whole area has become a large resort park arcology (Julian looked up the word and you rather like it) that could easily support a lot more people soon. The aesthetic is a great mix of the Khalahari jungle and modernist white and gold, with a few things that, if disturbing, you just really want for personal touches like the Victoria's Bounty and the new beds. People stop complaining about them after roughly 15 seconds of lying in one.

    "People will flock here now." Ragged Angel says on the last day. You're mostly done, just toying with some problems people are having. "Fleeing to this sanctuary is nothing compared to what it was." Ragged Angel is clean and dressed in her own version of one of your enhancement suits, a very strange assortment of small machines like scales, highly self contained, each one with a singular purpose, though they can be assembled together. "Teen runaways, I imagine, might find this a wonderful place. I'm worried that I'll need to expand my territory beyond what I already have to support them all and I won't be able to defend the whole place."

    "There's something I'm thinking about anyway, so you wouldn't have to be here all the time. Defenses and surveillance systems to compliment or substitute for your powers. Help protect the flock. Maybe something like a bit of an AI. I'm not good at it, but something like a biological computer or animal? Selfless nurturer and protector to help with your flock?"

    "Maybe." Ragged Angel frowns in thought. "Let's discuss this after the convention, if you don't mind. It sounds a bit dangerous to try to make something with that much autonomy if you don't have experience and time to practice. I would probably prefer to recruit further instead, but I can see the use of it."

    "That's fine. It's a bit extreme for me anyway." You consider what else could work. "Any other requests?"

    "Your generosity and selflessness to us has been incredible. I cannot think of anything else you could provide for me." Ragged Angel is suddenly quiet.

    "Anything else?" You ask.

    "You could tell me." She sounds, you're not sure how she sounds.

    [X] "I really can't." Is the other shoe about to drop? Don't give more information than you have to.

    [X] "So how did you talk to Kitsune? You mentioned you spoke with her. What did she say? How is she doing?" Best not to talk about a breakout with the pathologically honest crazy person yet. You'll see how it goes.

    [X] "Is this about me and Victoria?" She probably knows. Almost certainly knows. Getting some outside perspective might be really helpful right now.


    "She came to me asking for sanctuary." Ragged Angel says simply.

    "Wait, you failed to keep her?" That seems...

    "I sent her back."

    "What?"

    "I told you I did that when we met. If your reason for running is invalid, if the cause to keep you is just, than I do not oppose punishment. Kitsune is a demon. Kitsune is a supervillain. I had no regrets tossing her back."

    "That's harsh, isn't it?"

    "If she is not evil she is a demon. There's a beast inside her, or she is a beast. The kindest thing for the girl is to slay the beast. I owe no kindness to her if she is a beast. You met her conducting domestic terrorism. She could have surrendered to you three times and lived. Surrender is honorable if you are on the wrong side, and the serpent she served deserved no loyalty according to her. We are monsters, but that is not our fault. She was a supervillain, and that is inexcusable." She sounds very forceful.

    "What did she say to you?"

    "She tried to convince me she had the power of prophecy. She spoke of Cauldron and of Dragon, the Slaughterhouse Nine and the Endbringers. She told me names and gave me dates. She spoke a lot about you and your Glory Girl." This complicates things.

    "What I did to her was wrong. Part of it was to save her life and part of it was because she hurt me and I wanted to hurt her back, but all of it was wrong."

    "Are you speaking about Kitsune or Glory Girl?" That stings in a way you can't...

    "Don't cry." Ragged Angel wraps her arms around you in a hug. "I think it is a valid question, even though you meant Kitsune when you said it." Ouch, ouch, ouch.

    "It was destroying us." You mutter. "You know what I mean, right?"

    "There's not much I don't get." She smiles down at you. She is so tall, so beautiful. She feels like a mother.

    She is a mother.

    "It hurt every day. Every time I saw her with Dean. There are so few people I care about. Dean, the last friend I had after I became Panacea. Mark, the only grownup who ever tried. Eric, who triggered to save Victoria. Madison, the girl who made the choice to help me..."

    "We are not normal people." A dark echo from something you saw hits your mind. A brother and sister, last standing on a battlefield, mourning lost love.

    "We are not normal people." You agree.

    "There are other words for it you have, don't you? Like a tattoo that you can't remove. It feels good in a way. Something that's all for yourself. Defiance. Something wrong you carry in your heart as you force yourself through day after day of pain. You need it. You're owed it. If you just do enough good you can balance the scales and do the wrong thing for the right reason."

    "We're not fucking accountants." You don't think you've ever seen anyone who agreed with you more.

    "You were jealous. Glory Girl is loved by everyone, and you fight tooth and nail for every love you can get. So the protector, the beautiful fighter, the one who was yours first fell in love with someone else it hurt you the most." Ragged Angel lets you cry for a minute. "So you broke up your sister and her boyfriend so you could have Gallant to yourself."

    You start laughing and you can't stop.

    "It's okay, if you laugh so you don't cry." Ragged Angel whispers.

    You had forgotten she's nuts.

    "Tell me more about Kitsune." You say, trying to hold back the laughter. You really need to talk about something else.

    "She is cursed by your hand."

    "I get that."

    "What you did to her was worse than what they asked. You get that, right?" What?

    "No, I don't. They wanted her lobotomized. Incapable of running away. Bound to me, only herself when she proved useful. That's..."

    "Better than being forced to change. Forced to love. She's a demon, Amy. You opened her eyes to the suffering of the world. The demon knows the best way to fight is to destroy, to cause pain. You made her feel the pain she inflicts and left her with a weapon meant to hurt. She screamed she loved you, while she was here. What love she means I do not know, but you did something to her brain almost like what she did to you. What they wanted you to do would have been kinder. She would have been herself when she was awake, a great weapon against evil. Instead she's going quietly mad, ripped apart because her powers were meant for someone very different from her."

    "I am so sorry." You pause. "What should I do?"

    "I suggest you break her. Fulfill the PRT's first demand. Make her incapable of functioning if she fights back, but herself when she is alive and awake. Do that, and she might forgive you. Let her go after this atrocity, and she won't. She'll hate you forever for what you made her feel, even if she won't feel it anymore. She will not forgive. She will not forget. Kill her before you let her go."

    "That's disgusting." You stare at Ragged Angel.

    "She will talk to you. She will give you an offer that will break your heart, like the offer she gave me. Listen to it very carefully when the time comes."

    "What did she offer you?" You ask.

    "Revenge. She offered me the purest revenge on the man who killed the one I loved the most."

    "Why didn't you take it?"

    "If I left to get my revenge what would I become? I would no longer be a protector of the innocent, I would be a punisher, a Fury, and the world would be poorer for it. The world is full of fighters. Any deal she offers you will be no better."

    "You're leaving me in a very bad situation, ma'am." Your mind is swirling.

    "If it is any consolation, I am crazy."
    ___

    "Oh. My. God!" Victoria laughs. "She thought you were in love with Dean?"

    "Yes." You laugh too. "In love with Dean. For some reason everyone thinks that." The two of you float above Ragged Angel's territory, three stories up.

    "Fuck Dean." Victoria snarls. "I loved him and he didn't love me enough to tell me about your feelings. Asshole." You feel like crying for joy at that. "If he told me I would have loved him forever. How could I ever forget helping me save you? The knight in shining armor. Our knight in shining armor." You could have said he was scared of losing Victoria, scared of hurting you, ashamed he hadn't said something earlier.

    "Fuck Dean." You agree. You float, save in Victoria's arms, your Glory Girl's arms.

    Victoria turns her head to face the sun, the cold light shining on both of you.

    "Tell me how you feel." It's an order.

    "I feel like I won. I feel I won the best prize anyone could ever win. I feel like everything is beautiful and nothing hurts." Victoria doesn't beam.

    Victoria HOWLS at the sun. People down below hear her raw glory. It is triumph in her howl.

    "I won too. I did it! I'm a good sister! I want to show you off. I want you to have my child. I want to marry you. For years I knew something wasn't right. I tried everything. We did it! We are glorious!" Victoria hugs you tight.

    The two of you begin to rise, Victoria clutching you tightly, holding you just above her feet. Faster and faster you rise.

    Then Victoria cuts off the force field and the two of you drop like a stone. You both scream like you're on a roller coaster and then hit the ground. Victoria's force field absorbs the hit and the two of you are safe and together. It is glory.

    "Again?" You ask.

    "Again." Victoria agrees, and the two of you kick off.

    Then you fall back down.

    "Ow!" You shout. Something's wrong. This isn't how it works.

    Victoria is cursing loudly. It's masking fear. You realize with a jolt that your powers went off. You can't feel your suit. There are other controls besides your natural ones, but you never bothered to use them, figure them out. You feel stupid.

    Then it's gone, just like that. Your powers kick back in. Ragged Angel is around you.

    "Are you alright?" She asks you.

    "Yes." Considerably more so than Victoria's really mistaken idea of getting more leverage had left you. You're a bit more worried about Victoria, pressing your hand against her cheek...

    "You lied." Ragged Angel says suddenly. You don't look up. Victoria is more important.

    "What tipped you off?" You ask her. "Only by omission, anyway."

    "It's the look. It was never right." Ragged Angel swirls around the two of you. "Why didn't I see it? You were too nice. Too kind. Just like he was. You had to have planned this. Manipulated me..."

    "No, I really didn't. Would you tell, if you were in love with your sister?" You ask. Victoria is recovering.

    "Yes. I. Would. What did you do to her?" She's angry. A righteous anger.

    "Nothing I didn't want." Victoria stands up.

    "I should have known. They always lie, unless the truth will hurt you more." Ragged Angel sounds so sad. "I thought you were heroes. Glory Girl and Panacea. Alexandria Junior and the Healing Superhero. You're this?"

    [X] "Yes, we are this." You step forward. "And there's nothing wrong with that. We're still heroes. We still want to help people. We still do help people. This is part of who are are. Part of what makes us us. We love each other. Is that a problem?"

    [X] "I am sorry." You tell both of them. "This is who we are, Ragged Angel. We're monsters. You keep saying that. Something went wrong, and this is the only way we can live. It's not good, but it's what we need, at least for now. Can you get that?

    [X] "Ragged Angel, this is not the time for this. Our powers just cut out. We need to figure that out now."
    Children might be afraid of monsters, they might believe that they are monsters even, but deep down inside you have to believe an argument from the heart is going to mean more than anything else.

    "INCEST!" The word rolls outward like a storm.

    "Well, there is that." Victoria admits.

    There's an awkward silence.

    "She loved me and I loved her. The way I loved her was killing me, and she loved me enough to let me help her reciprocate." You try to get it out.

    "I presume she finds you no more attractive than she would find anyone else?" The accusation in those words.

    "Um, not exactly." Ragged Angel glares at you. "We were both, um, enthusiastic in our own ways. I wanted her to think I'm pretty."

    "Enthusiastic?" The way she says it makes it sound worse than incest.

    "We were, um, leverage." Victoria mutters, suddenly blushing. "I didn't mean to dislocate her hip. It wasn't kinky or anything..."

    "I do not want to know. Especially about that. Explain yours, Panacea."

    "I, that was never..."

    "She did it with my permission and she can and will undo it any time I want. I like her better, though not exclusively, if you have to know." Victoria says. "The moment I've decided I want something else, she will change it. Right now I want to know how I feel about what has happened before I change it."

    Ragged Angel darts forward ans sniffs Victoria again, looking very closely at her. It's all rather creepy.

    "I believe you both." A flood of relief hits you.

    "Thank you." Victoria says. Ragged Angel is quiet.

    "I don't exactly understand what you find so horrible about this." Victoria asks. "Like, I can think of a hundred reasons, but what's your reason?"

    Ragged Angel moves forward and kisses you both on your foreheads.

    "You're both worth more than this. You are Guts and Glory. You're champions and ideals, and this is the treasure of your heart. Incest is wrong. Maybe your incest is right and holy, but how many would be like this? Romance is fleeting for children, while family is forever. Come out as this and the people who take this as something to copy and suffer for it will be greater than those who win the treasure of their hearts. You cannot keep this a secret, or if you can it would hurt you. Legend is a dangerous precedent. He taught people that the right parahuman can change the world by being brave and good enough. If Panacea follows that lead, then the world will be worse for it. You are not the only people who know their love is pure and true and right, and many people with that knowledge are wrong. This is very, very dangerous. Your love has meaning and effects beyond the two of you. I feel betrayed because you did not live up to what I wanted you to be. Others will take it worse, and I am disgusted, sick. I barely know you. How many people worship you, idolize you both? No matter what happens it will hurt people when their heroes fail them."

    "I never wanted that!" Victoria screams. Ragged Angel looks furious.

    "That is a lie." Victoria is silent for a moment.

    "I wanted it and feared it at the same time." She explains. Ever since I was little I knew that was coming. I was always afraid of it and always wanted it. I have to be jealous of people with secret identities, and I have to love that I'm the one in Teen Vogue." Victoria's photo shoot for that may have been your top eleventh favorite day."

    "When you got your powers, did you drink them from a Cauldron vial?" Ragged Angel asks.

    "No." Victoria laughs. "That urban legend..."

    "If you did not, than you wanted your aura, or something like it. The ability to have everyone believe you are a hero, the best hero."

    "I wanted to be invincible and loved. I wanted to fly and be able to handle myself in a fight. So yes, I wanted my powers." Victoria admits. "But they're never what you really wanted, are they?"

    "They never are." Ragged Angel agrees solemnly.

    The three heroines stand together, thinking.

    "I will refuse to answer questions relating to this unless I have a very good reason. You two can handle this as you think is best. Sisters of New Wave, thank you for all your help. Now I am going to go cry." Ragged Angel leaves you to alone.

    "Wait!" You call out. She pauses. "We lost our powers for a moment, before you showed up. Isn't that...

    "I do not know what is going on. I suggest we do not find out."

    "I'll call the PRT." Victoria says. "Let them know something's up."

    ___

    You and Victoria go out to eat in the most expensive restaurant Victoria could find on her phone.

    "Convention's still on. It's going to be the safest place to be, really. Myrddin, Dragon, the Toybox, us, and the invitations are plus two capes. We're talking about Ichor bringing Witch and Trick, and all kinds of capes. I think that's the safest place to go. I've been reading up on the security. With a power negator we want to be near the world's greatest tinker, right?"

    "Right." You chew thoughtfully.

    "Something on your mind? Is it about Ragged Angel's freakout?"

    "Yes." You nod. "I've been thinking..."

    [X] "...we need to come out. It's better if we do it on our terms."

    [X] "...we need to be careful. Really careful. Stop sneaking around. Only do anything with a lot of privacy."

    [X] "...we need to talk to Cranial. See what my status is before the convention. It's still a while, but if we can get any hints or clues about it, well, it might help us manage this."
    "We should tell Dean, maybe Madison." Victoria says after a moment. "Even if nobody else, Dean definitely..." She whips out her phone.

    She puts it back way too fast.

    "Do I want to know what you sent?" You ask.

    "Not if you like him, no."

    There's an awkward silence.

    "I'm not comfortable making the call yet." You admit. "Like, we're definitely over. I'll never kiss her again, but I've never broken up with anyone before. Um, how do you do it?"

    "Shortest text message with the most ambiguity possible to convey the breakup." Victoria tells you. "Then again, the entire point of that strategy is to draw it out, create mystery, get him to go after you. Might not work on anyone but Dean, and seems like the exact opposite of what you want to do. Yeah, think about it."

    "Wait, so you chose that strategy now because..."

    "We're not going to talk about that." Wait, is she making some kind of dominance play over both of you? Treating you like Dean? You're not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

    "No need to breakup with her officially now. Think about how to do it. What do you want from her anyway? As a not-girlfriend."

    "She's a friend. A really good friend, actually. Funny, incredibly kind to me, willing to let me turn her gay on a supposed bet."

    "Supposed?" Victoria smiles.

    "The whole dog and pony show? I think it was some kind of, not sure exactly. At the very least it was Sophia setting me up in a couple ways. I'm just not sure if Madison was in on it or not. I'm not sure what I want to be true, either." Victoria laughs.

    "Yeah, I'll admit that I'm feeling a lot less jealous of Madison now. Sophia's a lunatic, of course, but who isn't? Honestly she'd be my first choice, before." You smile.

    "Really? So, you were shipping me with Emergency Backup Victoria?" Victoria blushes a bit.

    "Well, yeah. If you were going to be like that anyway, I may have thought she was appropriate compared to Madison."

    "We are so gloriously messed up." You sigh contentedly.

    "Ooh, food!" Victoria says, pointing at the waitress as she comes in. "Let's see if expensive food is also tasty food!" She begins taking experimental bites to determine what to feed you, how, and in what order.

    You love how little has changed.

    ___

    Cranial's Toybox is moving in. Currently it seems to consist largely of a set of vans and RVs camped out a bit outside of the city.

    Cranial's RV is quite cozy. She takes down the wall of horrors as you talk, since you obviously don't need it right now.

    "So, um..." Victoria starts. The two of you sit on a nice red loveseat, holding hands. It's plush and comfortable and you kind of suspect Cranial might have bought it with you and Victoria in mind.

    "Amy, how comfortable are you with discussing everything I know so far?" Cranial asks. "I have a lot of clues and hints about this subject, and it is perfectly understandable if you want Victoria to wait outside for any part of this. There is a certain level of confidentiality you might require."

    "Victoria knows everything and can know everything. If you learned something I knew, or kept secret, I told her by now. We've changed. I hope we've changed for the better." Cranial is silent for a moment.

    "You actually did it, didn't you?" Her voice is very quiet.

    "With permission and consent, if this is what I think it is." You're really bad at hiding this.

    "Oh, Amy." Cranial shakes her disturbing bat like head. "I am the last person to complain about someone being careless with this kind of power, but this is so dangerous. You have to tell me exactly what you did."

    "I, um, changed Victoria's sexuality to be a lesbian, removed the Westermark effect association with myself, and changed some minor details of her love to make it more romantic than sisterly. A lot of it was intuitive."

    "Explain your reasoning." Cranial's voice is firm but kind.

    "Siblings don't mate. If we're going to mate, it would cause a lot more stress, conflicting drives, if I didn't touch her actual feelings just a bit, move things relating to Dean to me. Overall I'd say 99.5% of her feelings are unchanged. What we were before, it was killing both of us."

    "Yes it was. I haven't lived your life yet, but I've been working out instances, impressions, feelings. I would like to take a scan of Victoria to see if there are any obvious mistakes you made, check your work, but from what I know I can't fault you for it if she did consent and especially request this alteration. I do very much want to ensure that you did not alter her to think she consented."

    "I wouldn't even know how to do that." You argue.

    "Honestly, I trust you unconditionally, but, um, yeah, I'd like to verify." Victoria mutters. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Amy, but I'd like to know I wasn't mind screwed into it. Even by, maybe someone else? Like, I don't think that's what happened, but..."

    "It's fine." You lean over and kiss her.

    "I am a fan of verifying trust. It's how it worked with my husband." You pause.

    "You used the past tense." Victoria says.

    "He had a secret identity, and he is dead. I was married to the secret identity. I do not wish to reveal the fact. I consider myself to be still married, and hope to one day bring him back in so far as it is possible." You and Victoria sit there a bit stunned.

    "That is so romantic!" Victoria suddenly gushes. "Oh, Amy, we're helping reunite her with her lost love! I feel so good about this!" She laughs and hugs you. There's a flash into your suit, communication. WE SHOULD PLAY THIS UP.

    "Oh, you should have told me sooner!" You agree. "Is this what we're helping with? The convention?"

    "Not directly, but indirectly." Cranial seems somewhat taken aback by your enthusiasm. "You might be helpful when I actually attempt it, but it is not the purpose of this. I want a safer world before this happens."

    "No problem!" Victoria smiles warmly. "So, what can you tell us about Amy's problems?"

    "Are you willing to accept theories and suspicions in addition to facts?" Cranial asks. "I have a model in my head, and I make good guesses. I think presenting my best guess model would be informative, but if you want only the facts I can communicate I can do that."

    "Sure, tell us everything." You nod.

    "My suspicion is that Victoria's Stranger ability, what is called her aura, is an adaptation by her powers specifically targeted at Amy. The other uses are fringe benefits. The level of influence over Amy is not matched by records of influences over Gallant or your parents, or anyone else. There are certain reasonable explanations unrelated to the power, but I do not think two years of similar exposure would account for the level of dependency. Note I am working backwards, and so far have a much better understanding of the past few years than the earlier periods." You nod.

    "Wait, why would that have happened?" Victoria asks. "I love Amy. Why would my powers mess her up?"

    "Our powers do not understand us very well, Victoria." Cranial says. "I believe you have loved her for eleven years. This has been a massive part of your life, correct?" Victoria scowls.

    "Of course. She's always been a huge part of my life, ever since I saw her. I had wanted a sister before I got one, and I liked her right away. She was cute and scared when I first saw her, and I wanted to help her. I did right away, as she needed to use the bathroom." You smile at the memory. You kind of got weirdly close really fast.

    "I am drawing on less than scientific information, but I have been investigating the situation for hints. Interviews, a biography of Lady Photon, newspaper articles, everything I can find on the situation. I believe you were lonely before Amy arrived. Your mother is unstable and had very little time, and your father was clinically depressed, though less so than he is now. Reports on you indicated you were outgoing but socially awkward, not particularly popular, and often had trouble due to your celebrity status. I think you wanted the power to make friends, but you wanted your sister the most. So your powers compensated." Victoria nods, looking sad.

    "So it's my fault..."

    "The uncontrolled desires of a lonely thirteen year old girl are not ones I will attach much ethical weight to. You have nothing to be forgiven for. I am trying to create a coherent explanation for why Amy was hit by incestuous desires while no one else was. I think it is because your powers understood Amy the best. If they could have your powers would have caused something like this to everyone, striking as much attachment as possible, been subtle and specified. That is what I think is the most likely explanation, though I do not like it." Victoria looks back up, having been paying attention to you.

    "Wait, why not?"

    "It clashes with a lot of my experience with powers. There are two other possibilities. I like them both better, but I consider them less likely."

    "I'm listening." Victoria says.

    "The one I consider least likely, but interesting, is that second generation capes do not have entirely normal trigger events." Cranial starts. "I think it is possible you had a subtle version of your aura active for years before your actual trigger. I do not think the idea of an early trigger and a second trigger event is plausible, but I think that it is plausible that powers are active on a low level before they become obvious, waiting for an initial push to rise to action, especially in second generation capes. The ease of the trigger suggests to me that the powers are inside your kind of cape all along, but wait for some kind of push. This would actually be quite useful, as it prevents younger capes from harming themselves or others before they are ready. There are holes in this theory, but the idea that your aura began to work on Amy long before your official trigger. That much formative exposure would explain a lot." You nod.

    "Fuck that!" Victoria suddenly shouts. What?

    "Please, I am not trying to insult..."

    "You're saying the only way I could get a sister is to force her to love me! That's fucked up sick bullshit! Amy loves me!" Victoria is shaking. "She, she's kind of all I really have, or the thing I care about the most. I just broke up with Dean, left my parents, for her. The idea I needed..."

    "We can both hope this isn't true, and honestly this is the theory I think is least plausible. Do you mind if I continue?"

    "I apologize, Mrs. Quintin." Victoria says. "I, that just, I took it the wrong way."

    "If it did, I'm glad it did." You tell her. "I would be nothing without you."

    "That is a messed up sentiment." Cranial tells you both. "Now, here is my third theory. The aura is not responsible for the incestuous feelings. People do actually have them without powers changing them. Given your somewhat late adoption I can see Westermarck Effect influences being limited. Your love might be natural and not related to the depression. Honestly, I do not have a large enough sample size for my data to know if a rare case like this is simply a normal, if rare result off similar situations, or if it would require the aura. I can understand the brain as a system completely, but without much data I am not actually an expert on psychology in the same way I would like to be. I am a great neurology and psychiatry tinker, but commenting on mental illness is something I am less qualified for. In that case the abnormal brain chemistry is likely a result of exposure at certain points of brain development..."

    "We slept together at first." Victoria's voice kind of cracks. "Like, chastely. Every night for months before we started high school. So, add six hours every day, a lot of the same classes at school where we could sit together, could that have normalized it before she got her powers?"

    "That could be possible. I will try to investigate that and see if that helps explain parts of my model. Now, I think I have made a mistake. We have become sidetracked by sex talk, one of the problems in many discussions. The incestuous attraction is not the most serious issue. The serious issue is the fact that Amy is not capable of enjoying work without Victoria's presence, and she needs to work twelve hour shifts. That is much, much worse. You two can work through or process your relationship, but the lack of agency involved in that is the whole reason you came to me in the first place."

    "Thank you. I'm sorry I distracted you." You nod. "So, what can you offer with that?"

    "I think the core issue is that your brain is not merely endorphin addicted. That I could work around. Victoria's aura works around making her seem more important and valuable than she is. It means you have a highly inconsistent set of natural responses to the pain of others and your general values. I think this is attached to your problems with your mother's lack of trust in you. Your intuitive ethics and values are based on what is similar to Victoria. A rush of weaker people is nothing like her. You can't feel pride or satisfaction in it easily. You can from novelty. I think this is a result of the early pattern for your healing, with Victoria being with you for a large part of your first cases when you were experimenting, and then leaving a bit before you were done with it. I strongly suspect that is why you have been experimenting so much lately as an escape. Your tinker like drive comes from that period." You nod. That really rings true to you.

    "So, I could simply make you enjoy healing, and feel accomplished every time you heal someone. I've done much the same with housework and jobs before, to spectacular results. You could be happy for your twelve hour shifts, come home refreshed and energized, and begin to work on whatever scientific projects, recreation, or time with Victoria you want." That sounds heavenly. "I do think I would need to make you enjoy it to an almost dangerous degree, to counteract Victoria's aura. Making something important independent of Victoria at all would have the same effect if I wasn't going to change you very radically." Victoria starts stroking your knee.

    "You know, I like this idea." Victoria giggles. "You as my cute little heal bot. Happy all the time. We'd both have our own independent lives. No more guilt about it..." You breathe in sharply.

    "I'll strongly consider this." You agree. "So, what else is there to talk about for the depression?"

    "My biggest problem is trying to figure out how to make it so you can grow independently. I think in a way you are like a plant, growing towards Victoria as plants grow towards the sun. I do not think this is healthy. You should be able to like bands that do not consist of two gorgeous blond sisters who sing angsty music that reminds you of your feelings, like movies that aren't about an incredibly devoted sister who is a healer with abnormal sexuality. I'm kind of surprised you could stretch your horizons enough to like Flowers in the Attic." You blush.

    "Oh." Victoria sighs. "You know, a lot of things just clicked."

    "What do you suggest?" You ask quietly. This is a bit embarrassing.

    "I suggest coding in increased novelty seeking, with a psychological urge so it reminds you of Victoria to do so. I think this is the best way to handle your set of quirks and make you less dependent." You nod. Novelty seeking is good, right?"

    "I kind of like how everything she does circles back to me." Victoria admits, playing with your robe a bit. "Like, even before I realized..."

    "It is really not healthy, but there is a counter argument. These are all radical changes. I think they're for the better, but they might make your sister less Amy. A happy, curious girl open to knew things is not the person you're in love with." Victoria nods. "If you two can work out a more personalized set of changes in the next couple weeks I would be happy to hear them." That sounds reasonable.

    "So, is there anything else you want to ask about, specifically?" Cranial asks.

    [X] Write in. Is there?

    Not quite done.

    ____

    "See you tomorrow." Cranial says. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun, actually." You and Victoria both hug her on your way out.

    "She's nice." Victoria says. "And she's smart. Is it weird I kind of want to set her up with Dean?"

    "Yes!" You push her playfully. "That's maybe the weirdest thing you've ever said."

    "That's, um, Case 53ist." Victoria laughs.

    "So, want to go to our convention hotel room?" You ask.

    "Sure." Victoria agrees.

    You get the suspicion that Cranial had known or strongly suspected you might be with Victoria by now, given she got you two a single room with a large bed that seems designed to be cozy and domestic. Julian's room is very different, cool and sleek, across the hall.

    "I want to talk about Ragged Angel." Victoria says. "Before we shower. It's kind of..."

    "I get it." You assure her. "What do you want to say?"

    "You are an inspiration. And Idol before which others aspire and pray. But you did not make yourself an idol, you did not ask them to worship your path." Victoria starts stroking your hair again. "You're the greatest healer, the Panacea, but you didn't want to be a healer. Not like this, anyway. You didn't want the world on your shoulders. You were adopted into a crazy family. You shouldn't have to be a role model for anyone."

    "Ragged Angel was right." You start. "Incest, a lot of incest, is really bad, and it will influence others, it would set precedent and standard. It would say that if capes want something enough they matter enough to get things changed. Sure, we're good, Legend's good, but what if some pedophile killed an Endbringer? Fights them, saves the world? They might think that if Legend gets what he wants, I get what I want, he can do anything he wants to children? I can't live with that."

    "The fact is even we had the purest and most untainted love in the eyes of the world then there would still be others who took the wrong lessons from it. It wouldn't matter who we are. People are idiots." Victoria kisses you softly. "We're good, Ames. We can't live in that fishbowl. We didn't choose to be New Wave." Victoria lets you sit there for a moment. "To live the kind of lie which has been strangling you is a worse example. Sunlight disinfects."

    "You really want to come out, don't you?"

    "I'm not going to ask you to do it yet, but think about it, please. We're not New Wave if we keep this kind of secret. I may not have chose to be New Wave, but I want to do right by it. They could glamorize us. they could glorify is, they could think we're saints or monsters, but you are not a monument to the world, you are human, and the acceptance of love shouldn't be a crime if it is love shared. I. Love. You. Amy Claire Fevere or Amy Claire Dallon, I love you. Whatever we become, I want to love you as much as I can for as long as I live. Refuse to feel guilty about that. You said you like me being dominant? Then submit on that. I love you. You are not allowed to feel guilty about anything that has happened. You've been killing yourself for a long time, with the hospital and with this. Other people can be role models, and we can be Guts and Glory."

    "I, you weren't in any condition to consent." You mutter. "I did something stupid and weak."

    "Alright then." Victoria smiles. "Undo it now." Your heart breaks, but it only takes a second.

    "Amy Dallon, I request that you do it again, and do it with a kiss. I consent to loving you romantically, in full possession of my mind and senses. Take what I offer you, and understand I want to do this right this time."

    You kiss her and it is glorious.

    At least you don't dislocate anything this time.

    ___

    Interlude:

    [X] Glory Girl.

    [X] Jack Slash.

    [X] Cranial.
    The whole thing is a trap. You can feel it in your gut. This is one of the very, very few times you have truly failed to control your group.

    There was no way to keep Mannequin from wanting to come. This was always his mission. He was born for this, the chance to ruin a festival ofhope. Shatterbird had said Cranial was always his white whale. You had hoped to keep Cranial alive for longer to give him something to look forward to.

    Bonesaw screamed like a girl her age might at a boy band in a magazine when she heard about this. No stopping her. So many chances for her to get ideas and materials, prove she is the best, and to get herself a sister? You can't allow Panacea to join, of course.

    Shatterbird voted for it as well, the chance to ruin something this big proved irresistible to her, and she didn't try to resist.

    Crawler just wanted to see if Myrddin or Sunslinger could hurt him, but Crawler absolutely wanted to take them on.

    You're not sure why Siberian wanted to come. It didn't seem like her, but she had been as insistent about it as you had ever seen her.

    Burnscar didn't care at all. Hatchet Face actively voted against coming here, voting for another boarding school for girls, but those get repetitive.

    Five against three in favor of hitting Chicago. It's stupid and it's risky, but you're going to make the best of it. Top priority is Panacea. If Panacea joins your Nine than Bonesaw would get her big sister, and then where would you be with Siberian?

    You also just hate the bitch.

    It's the first day of the convention. Security is tight, but there are limits to how tight. You and Bonesaw enter, you as a very old man from India with severe facial deformities, Bonesaw as a horribly sick and morbidly obese woman. You will get the lay of the land the first day, and make your move on the second.

    You can't help but be annoyed at the security. Dragon is exactly wrong for this. Make Panacea the gate keeper of the sick right at the front, scanning for Corona Gammas, with a powerful Stranger, possibly her Harrier, to the side. They don't need firepower. Siberian could break through any level of firepower, they need intelligence and quick evacuation.

    You slowly walk around the place, taking it all in. Mr. Storkfish, a bizarre Case 53 from Miami, is possibly the most dangerous person here given your counters to Panacea and Cranial. The ability to stop time in selected areas gives him and his allies time to setup and prepare. Worse are his friends. You're not beating Florida Man, and the Erudite is almost as dangerous. Mr. Storkfish keeps pausing time around him, accelerating it within his fields, giving his feathers time to clone the natural and healthy body parts.

    Fodder from New York, has her mentor, Good Neighbor, and a new cape, Cimmerian, a former villain from Brockton Bay. Cimmerian is troublesome. Shakers complicate things, make it harder to take control of the situation. Fodder, or Marian Rose, could never keep a secret identity given her powers involve dropping copies of her own corpse. Fighting her directly is likely to be disappointing. Maybe if you kill Good Neighbor? Bonesaw would call him family. She'd just enjoy it if you killed her. Hatchet Face is the one to send after them. You smile at the idea. He has an easy carrot, just let him murder a pretty young superheroine or a bunch of cheerleaders every couple weeks and he's happy.

    Scapegoat, recently transferred from Boston to Houston, has by far the fewest people looking for his help. He's not a threat. More worrying are his parents, Magog and Sataniel, the redeemed soldier of the Fallen and the former princess of Haven, long married and believed to have several adorable children. To get those powers with parents like his just has to suck.

    Second only to Panacea's line is Ichor. If you're not racist and don't have body image issues she is a very good deal. The flow of people accepting her blood to heal all kinds of ailments really is quite impressive. You absolutely have to give her a fate worse than death before you go, and be absolutely sure not to let either of her guests survive. Witch is far too good a Thinker, you'll have to send Siberian after her early on, and Trick sends shivers down your spine.

    You hear laughter and look up to see Panacea being brought lunch by her Glory Girl. A wave of disgust hits you. She's second only to Scion. She could be so much more, she could be anything, and all she does is patch people up.

    Suddenly, you make eye contact with Glory Girl as she sets the tray down in front of Panacea. From across the room you see...

    Fuck, you have to kill her or have her in your Nine. You're not even sure why, but it's an urge, an itch, that claws right up in your chest. She's glorious. You start thinking rapidly. You can trust your intuitions, always, but why this one?

    She's building her own team. Choosing dangerous personalities, balancing them, controlling them. It strikes you that her aura could be very useful. A carrot that could effect, well, everyone, but she's not using her aura on you, she can't be, so you can think rationally about it. Crawler and Siberian especially would be far easier with her on the team.

    You smile and it really hurts with the tumors Bonesaw put on your face. This takes care of Panacea perfectly. Merely nominate Glory Girl for the Nine as well as Panacea. Honestly, Glory Girl won't last long, but she will definitely last longer than her sister.

    This is working out quite well.

    ___

    It's definitely a trap. You move far too easily through the halls of the rooms Cranial rented for her special guests. You know it's a trap, so you can work around it.

    You walk around the room, softly smell the sheets with the enhanced smell Bonesaw gave you.

    They're fucking. A feeling of revulsion fills your gut. They're sisters. Suddenly things begin to click. So much begins to click involving what you looked up about them. She had pressured her perfect sister into it, begging and mewling and mindraping...

    You have a strong stomach, but sex of any kind has always disturbed you. Preying on someone so close to you is something, well, you'd do it, you'd have to, but it's not appealing, it scares you. Your Nine would make Glory Girl a much better family.

    You can't resist hiding under the bed. That's what boogeymen do.

    ___

    End Interlude
    ___

    "I can help you with that. I would obviously prefer to do it once I have hacked your brain. It is far easier to impress these things than to teach them naturally." You nod.

    "That makes sense. Another thing. "You said that you could give people skills. There are some things I'd like to learn. Engineering and architecture. Things that can help me build. How to fight. Diplomacy. How to manage a massive international organization. How to be a mother. The only role model I have for that is Carol. I want to have kids someday and I don't want to screw them up."

    "Someday?" Victoria gives you a look.

    "Well, yesterday, obviously, but we want to hold off until I'm somewhat more reliable psychologically, around Victoria's 18th birthday."

    "I believe no one is actually sure what your birthday is?" Cranial asks.

    "Correct. We always shared Victoria's, but it was lost when I transferred in. Estimates put me from around five months younger to roughly nine months older than her, based on some contradictory information. I like being the little sister, honestly, always have. Legally, we just wrote down Victoria's birthday."

    "That is said." Cranial whispers.

    "No, it isn't. I kind of like the ambiguity, if that makes any sense?" You nod at Victoria.

    "It helped me win arguments when we were little. I could say she was older than I was when it seemed useful, and younger when I wanted to be in charge." Victoria giggles, and Cranial gives a surprisingly young and musical laugh.

    "I don't think I've ever met a child who didn't care about her birthday, Amy. You are quite a character. I look forward to helping you grow and make a family full of love. You do have a lot of love in your heart, and I think a child would be good for you, help you grow to love people besides your wonderful sister."

    You snuggle up against Victoria, feeling, well, that someone is respecting your feelings.

    "There's something else." Victoria says. "We had a brief power outage earlier. That's weird, isn't it? Power negation, could that happen randomly?"

    "Highly unlikely. Florida Man might cause it, but it is extremely unlikely. I would suspect either Hatchet Face or an unknown cape." Victoria swallows. Hatchet Face is one of the very few real crime cases to actually scare her.

    "But he has short range. We were high up. So it's not him, right?"

    "Actually, that would fit." Cranial says. "His range is like a pillar he is supporting. It goes up rather high, and he can move it, though not well, to point or swing in other directions high up. It relates to his trigger event. One of the heroes attacking him was a flying blaster." Victoria suddenly squizes your hand.

    "Are you saying the Nine are here." She whispers. "We have to call it off..."

    "No, we don't. The Nine are in Chicago. I fully believe it is not their MO to attack a heavily fortified position. Mannequin specifically is the threat most likely to attack, and Siberian is scared of me. My scream does work on her, if nothing else does. The Slaughterhouse Nine are probably here. This was always a possibility. I have prepared for them."

    "How do you prepare for the Slaughterhouse Nine?" You ask.

    "By being very smart, and just as well connected, Amy. There was always going to be a threat to strike here. If it was the Three Blasphemies, the Yangban, the Simurgh, or the Slaughterhouse Nine was the question. The world is full of evil monsters who would want to ruin this. That was the very first objection Sphere raised all those years ago. I am going to end a great evil, and then I am going to do a great work of good." You feel a rush of awe. The sheer arrogance, but the confidence, is impressive.

    Victoria hops up, hugs Cranial, and gives her a kiss on the lower jaw. "That is fucking awesome."

    "It really is, isn't it?" Cranial sounds proud.

    You can't beg to leave now, can you?

    ___


    The convention is healing, but it's interesting healing, and it's great to see other people work. Cranial has set up recording devices everywhere, including on your body and on those of the patients and other healers, and is taking notes on how each of you heal everything. You of course get by far the widest variety.

    The first round of direct testing is pretty fun, with Cranial asking you to do different things, work on a mouse as it dies, attempt to control tree bark and exposed bone, work with several extremely similar species of tropical insect. She is beaming from the sound of her voice when you leave, though her body looks as nightmarish as ever.

    "This is already teaching me a lot. I can't wait for the more specific testing, and to see what Dragon thinks." She assures you. Victoria leads you away.

    "So, what do we do before we head to bed?" Victoria asks. The idea of going straight to bed is tempting, but you're at a convention with all the best healers! You really have to talk shop with one before you go to bed.

    "I'd love to, Victoria, but come on, I've been reading about some of these people for years. I want to talk to..."

    [X] "...Scapegoat."

    [X] "...Mr. Storkfish."

    [X] "...Fodder."

    Bonus:

    If you really think that this is railroading, and Amy would dash after hearing this, add:

    [X] "I've been thinking, Victoria. I didn't sign up for this. Being a sting operation. I get her reasoning, I really do, but I'm scared. I want to leave now before anything happens to us. We can always help her after this is over."
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 30, 2014
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  13. WyldCard4

    WyldCard4 It's needlessly complicated

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    Bullseye



    "Who's that?" Victoria asks, letting you lead her down the hall.

    "Very arguably the most powerful healer who isn't me." You begin. "Powerful at healing, at least." You pause. "Eidolon never manifested as good a healing power. He takes a single feather from one of his wings and drops it on someone. Then time goes all weird and the person repairs whatever damage. Instant, highly effective, leaves a person better than the start."

    "What's the catch?" Victoria asks simply.

    "Three. One is he doesn't have limitless feathers. He grows them quickly, but not super quickly. He can only maintain a few dozen healing feathers a day. Two is that his feathers can only work with natural body parts, if you have a birth defect it grows it back. Three is he's not that good with infections. Basically all the things I am really good at are the things he can't do. He can still do a lot, of course. He's usually the one they call in for Endbringer fights."

    "Hm, what exactly is so great about a few dozen a day?" Victoria asks.

    "Well, 60 a day, so that's roughly 21,000 a year. There are a lot of crippled people, but there's a lot fewer with him. There's also various surgeries that he can help with, like otherwise inoperable tumors that would kill someone to get to that he can make safe. He's powerful, and that's now his only power."

    "You're going to tell me what his super special power is."

    "Time stopper." Victoria does look impressed.

    "Like Dispatch? Cool." Victoria smiles.

    "He came first, but Case 53 and stuck in a hospital a lot. He's also got a lot of versatility. Not as much as me, but he can cause his feathers to grow into organisms or constructs in his stopped time zones. He's powerful, versatile, and a healer. Also I hear he's really nice."

    "Hm, all of those are good, but why do you want to talk to him specifically?" Victoria asks. "You're talking about cool and shiny powers because I like those, but what makes him a great conversationalist and person you would rather speak to than worship me?" Your mouth goes suddenly dry.

    "Um..." You stutter. Victoria stops the walk and waits patiently for you to recover.

    "He's been doing it longer." You finish. "Sixteen years. I kind of need to know how he does it. He was one of the first people I was compared to. I want to know what it's like, if I can stay that long. It matters less now, but it's something I would have wanted to do eventually even before Albany." Victoria looks at you very intently.

    "I understand." She says. "Sure, Cranial's offering the best fix, but I see needing, um, whatever it is you need."

    "Thank you." She accepts this, and you finish your walk down the long hallway. Victoria knocks for you.

    Erudite answers the door. People say she's naturally a slight little thing, but her power suit is built in such a way to look like large, masculine muscles. She's a cyborg of an amazingly complex type. It is said that her body is only an augmented brain, and that she spends most of her time working on her fantastically complex robotic suits, of which she has several. She is a Thinker and a Tinker capable of mastering subjects quickly but incapable of describing what she knows. There's a lot of argument over whether she's a traditional Tinker or just an incredibly powerful Thinker.

    "Ah, the Dallon sisters. It is an honor." Erudite's voice contains a smile, though like Cranial you have to wonder how true it is.

    "The honor is ours, Erudite. My sister would like to speak to Mr. Storkfish." Victoria says.

    "In exchange, I would like a word with you." Erudite says. Victoria glances at you and turns back to her.

    "That is reasonable."

    "Let's go for a walk." Erudite says.

    "Mind if I abandon you?" Victoria asks.

    "Only if it's brief." You smile. She hugs you.

    "Just call me on your suit when you're done." XOXOXO, on your suit, something you return. The girls walk off.

    Mr. Storkfish lies on a couch. He is one of the rare Case 53s without hands, instead he has a remarkable set of wings that have allowed him to perform physically impossible stunts. He makes soft, inhuman sounds to a tablet computer. Mr. Storkfish's face is human until feathers start and lead into a huge birdlike body for the top half. The bottom half is scaled and full of gills, along with a tail that reminds you of a shark.

    "Good evening Miss Dallon." You frown. You've kind of started thinking of Fevere as your maiden name, so Miss Dallon makes you very mildly sad.

    "Good evening, Mr. Storkfish, or do you have another name you would rather I use?"

    "I was never one for dignity." He tells you. "Call me Mr. Storkfish, or sir if you find that too silly."

    "Yes sir." You nod. "So, why are you at the convention?"

    "Abigale and I are Case 53s, and there are not many of us. We need to stick together." He sighs. "I don't know if I'm old, but I feel old. No idea how my body will last. None of us have ever really aged, you know. Are we immortal, or just going to die one day without warning?" You smile. This is more morbid than you expected, which is such a relief. You'd been worried you'd meet the wise, dutiful paragon you'd read of in the magazines.

    "I could see if I can gather any hints to that, with your permission."

    "Sure." He offers you a wing, and you accept. His DNA is nonsense, like most Case 53s that even have DNA.

    "Sorry sir, no luck." You break the contact.

    "I've never had much of it. Not a surprise." He sounds bitter. "Abigale's the only one who has ever managed to give me a glimpse of being normal, and when I wake up it's gone." You nod.

    "If I could help, I would. I've worked with prosthetic hands before, on Case 53s..."

    "Nah, no need for hands. It's not the little things, it's the big ones. Not walking down the street, going to a film, not having a wife."

    "Cranial had a husband." You point out.

    "Yeah, she did. I'm old and bitter, or I should be. You came here for a reason."

    "You've been a healer, and a Case 53, for years and years. I was wondering how you do it."

    "Drugs, to keep me happy. It's the only thing that does. Lies, to make me sound safe. I suggest you experiment with both." You nod.

    "Thank you for your time, sir."

    "I'm sorry. I wish I could offer something better, but I burned out all my wisdom seven years ago. Talk to someone wise and kind. Abigale's always good for that. So is Legend, my old teammate. Look elsewhere for someone to be like. I'm just hoping this convention will let me rest more, or at least have a decent fight for once." You nod.

    "I think we're all hoping for the first." You walk away, disappointed, but strangely at peace. You feel more normal now.

    ___

    "What did Erudite want to talk about?" You ask Victoria. She's looking annoyed.

    "She wanted me to join the Miami Protectorate when I come of age. They need a figurehead, and she thought my aura would be perfect." Victoria spits into a passing trashcan. "We're New Wave. If I wanted to work for them I'd be a Ward." You shudder in sympathy.

    "So, I guess we can head back." You stroke your glorious sister's arm. "You said something about..."

    "Amy Dallon?" A feminine voice with an odd accent and voice changer comes from behind you. You turn around and see a heavily costumed and armored woman.

    "Yes?"

    "I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Dragon." Victoria makes a little gasp.

    "You want to talk to me?" You say. You've actually always been more comfortable with this kind of thing than Victoria.

    "Yes. I want to speak on some of your recent Tinkering." You nod.

    "Sure, if Victoria can come."

    "I think I'll get ready." Victoria winks at you.

    "Oh, um, that's better." You smile at her. What is she planning? You kind of want the surprise. Victoria rises from the floor a little to speed off.

    "I believe there's been some talk of some biotech projects in Brockton Bay. I would like to talk about this." Dragon says. "I have been working with the head of the local Wards, Tecton, about city design. With Brockton Bay heavily damaged, the idea of a test run for a Tinker designed and maintained city strikes me as a good idea." You follow Dragon, the two of you talking excitedly.

    "So, how are we getting Tecton into Brockton Bay?" You ask after a while, sipping on a delightful drink Dragon claimed to have invented.

    "I am arranging for Tecton and Aegis to trade teams. Aegis has run into some political issues related to his career as the leader of the local Wards, and I believe a fresh start for him would be good. Aegis's parents agree, and something like this was being seriously considered before Leviathan. Tecton has always wanted to work with major urban redesign, and while he will miss his old team he is very happy with the chance." You smile. It does sound like a good match.

    "This is a complete change of subject, but New Wave has been expanding lately, for the first time in years. You're a major part of the Guild. Aunt Sarah always wanted to take the movement national or international, but very few people followed us. The current flowering seems very lucky. A kind of second chance. I was wondering if New Wave could work with the Guild on producing more of our suits, expanding franchises, and other projects."

    "You would need to speak with Narwhal about it. The Guild is a very different beast from what you might make New Wave into, so the advice is likely to be limited. I can give you contact information for such advice. The PRT would benefit from and offer more assistance, Amy. I'm sending you emails on everything we talked about, and I am fine to work with more ideas for your biotech when you have a bit more time." You nod.

    Then you hear some horrible, unearthly sound, and Dragon freezes up. "I am about to remote pilot one of my suits. I will not be able to hear you.

    Glass, all the glass, is moving. You wrap yourself in your suit.

    It doesn't break. This is Shatterbird, right? The Nine are here, and...

    The battle continues for minutes, and then stops. Next, you hear a very loud voice full of passion that strikes you as very much like Victoria's.

    "Failure. Coward. I can counter you. I can counter you completely when you sing. You are not worth the time that this is taking. Kill me if you can."

    The Slaughterhouse Nine are here.

    You're running down the hall to your room as fast as you can, smashing through the door. Jack Slash sits on your bed, playing with a knife, looking pleased with himself, his eyes shot out of his head, several hundred darts sticking from various pieces, and clearly having been through a generally large fight. That doesn't stop you from throwing everything you have at him.

    "Please, dear. This is getting repetitive. Sit down next to your sister." You look frantically with your suit's senses. She's alive, her face covered with her hood, her suit torn and lashed and partially spent. "If you charge me you're not going to reach me before I take you down."

    You sit down next to Victoria, transmitting information to Eraser.

    "Now, you came just in time. You need to see this." Jack smiles. "I have been making a deal with your sister, isn't that right?"

    "You could call it that, yes." Victoria's voice barely contains her fury.

    "It's simple enough. We're leaving together. If you two make any contact, I leave. You two stay apart, I stay, and my Nine stay." Jack addresses you. It makes your skin crawl.

    "So we can just make you leave?" What's the problem here.

    "Yes. Either we stay in a city trying to kill us, with some of the strongest capes in the world, or we go eat a preschool somewhere else. You can try to kill us, just alone. Little old me versus all the reinforcements they'll call in isn't much of a fight, is it?"

    "Is that all?" You ask.

    "Oh, I told your sister something else, offered her something that no one else really, truly, can, least of all you, but if she tells you what it is, why, that makes me leave too." Jack Slash smiles. "I think it's fair, since I didn't kill her in front of you to prepare you to join." You feel like throwing up. "Isn't that right, pet?" The term makes you feel sick.

    "That's right." Victoria keeps addressing Jack. "Not that you're right. It's crazy. You can't give me that."

    "I'm the only one who can." Jack assures her. "So, your Victoria has agreed. What about you? Does this seem fair?"

    [X] "Yes." This actually might help kill the Slaughterhouse Nine.

    [X] "No." Jack cheats. He always cheats.

    [X] "Of course." Jack cheats, and so will you. This could give a crucial distraction for the forces of good.
    Something is wrong. Victoria practically falls down next to you.

    "Ah, perfect little sub, did you actually think I was dealing with you?" Jack sounds amused. Then he outright laughs. "It's too late for the suit, dear. It's not working. Why? Your transmissions aren't hitting it right. It's dying. Something was timed to hit all at once, too many attacks to focus on. Bonesaw's work?

    Victoria is a blur, maybe the fastest you've ever seen her, or it could just be the fear and adrenalin. Your eyes don't follow what happens next, but a moment later Victoria's on the ground howling in pain with a needle sticking out of her mask where her eye should be.

    "In this case you are allowed to repair her." Jack smiles as he gets up and walks towards the door.

    "So you're leaving Chicago?" You ask.

    "No, of course not. You were never worth making a deal with." Jack says. You move forward, trying to figure out what on Earth is in your suit and killing it, the suit malfunctioning makes it slow going, it clinches at the wrong time, punctures your leg, ow. "This was just to prove a point." Jack leaves the room. It takes an agonizing half a minute to get to Victoria. You panic, and just kill everything in the suit and pull the glove off your hand to touch Victoria when the suit won't pull back, and kill her suit as well. Some kind of poison, some horrible, ugly poison is hitting her brain. You scream when you feel it, and begin fighting it hard. The poison isn't something of your power, biological, you need to fight it, actually moving Victoria's brain deep into her throat and expelling the fluid over the carpet before working desperately to craft her back to semi-normal. You end up sucking in her breast meat and using it for her throat. She looks so thin, so fragile, so wounded.

    Victoria wakes up with a kiss.

    "What was that?" You ask.

    "I, nothing." Victoria clenches her jaw. "Jack is a liar and a monster. This is just another attack. We are not going to discuss this. We are going to help people." There's something in her tone of voice that cuts deep.

    "We don't have our suits..."

    "Can you repair them now?"

    "No."

    "Then we're going now." Victoria grabs you and swoops you outward. You're not sure if you like that she doesn't give you a chance to say no.

    You meet up with Magog, Sataniel, and Scapegoat in the hallway. Victoria stops when she reaches them.

    "Did you receive any instructions? Jack broke my phone."

    "Burnscar's set the far building on fire." Victoria nods. "Need a lift?"

    "We do." Magog says, pointing to his son. "Love, you can go alone, right?"

    "Always, dearest." Satanial kisses Magog's helmet and then a rippling, glowing serpent moves away at shocking speed.

    "Scapegoat, grab on over my back." Victoria orders, and he does so. She grabs Magog with one arm and kicks off, bringing you and the father son heroes down the hall and outward until you're almost at the blaze. Victoria drops you off and kicks up to the top floor, long gone. Magog and Scapegoat march in through a hole made on the ground floor.

    The heroes move quickly, forming two zones, one for the critically injured, and one for the less critically injured. You work as quickly as possible, triaging, preventing death and brain damage first before moving onto someone else. Once the fires are out and everyone living has been stablized you move onto other problems, repairing the damage from the fire, ensuring people will not be permanently injured.

    Victoria drops back down next to you, finally. It's long after the fire stopped.

    "Victoria, I really need to know what that was about." You mutter.

    "He was trying to tear us apart." Victoria is quiet for a moment. "I thought you believed in me."

    "I do..." You whisper.

    "No, you don't. You're obsessed with me. You're in love with me. You don't believe in me or you'd have been willing to let me handle it."

    "Victoria! He lies, he kills! He was going to hurt us no matter what I said..."

    "Exactly!" Victoria snaps. "The deal you heard, either we fight, we try to beat him, or he leaves and goes and keeps killing. We're heroes, Amy! I thought you knew that! We went up against Leviathan. You choose what, a week with me over every sick thing Jack might do for another decade? That's wrong Amy! I thought you loved what I loved, who I am, not my aura, not being around me!" People are starting to stare.

    "I'm sorry." You mutter. "But you have to tell me, what did he say to you?"

    "He said, well, it's not important..."

    "What. Did. He. Say." Victoria starts shaking in anger.

    "You're supposed to listen to me! He said you were suck a codependent freak you'd never be able to let me do my own things, live my own life! That's you'd keep taking and taking until I couldn't breathe, that you wouldn't ever let me be a hero because it'd risk us!" Victoria starts breathing heavily. "You get that what you did was wrong, right? Evil!" Then, suddenly, Victoria grabs you and hugs you.

    "We talked for too long, Amy. I'm sorry, I'm hurting you. I don't want to hurt you." She breathes into the still raw and ugly marks her teeth made. "He is good at talking. He's just a sick sadistic evil bastard. We're still, we're us." You're feeling sick to your stomach right now. You're just another villain, when push comes to shove. Someone taps you on the shoulder.

    "We're having a meeting." Good Neighbor says softly. "All the convention guests and the Chicago heroes."

    "Of course." Victoria nods. "We're coming, or course."

    ___

    The hall reminds you of the Leviathan fight. Myrddin, Cranial, and Dragon seem to be in charge. You notice an old woman from Ragged Angel's territory standing nearby with a cellphone on speaker phone.

    "As we all know, the Slaughterhouse Nine are in Chicago." Cranial announces. "The Chicago Protectorate have made contact with them, specifically White Knight and Starry Eyes. Bonesaw has prepared to release a virus bomb that will kill millions of people if reinforcements are brought in. This was not unexpected."

    "We have made contact with local villains and mercenaries, and some have agreed to assist us, though most are going into hiding until the situation is over." Myrddin explains. "Many of us were hoping for the support of Panacea's recent endeavors in biotech to assist against the Nine, but it appears that Bonesaw developed a countermeasure. Starry Eyes is currently investigating the ruins of her initial suit to see if a countermeasure is feasible. It is likely that even if it is not it would be useful to grant the suits, if Panacea is willing." You nod absentmindedly.

    "This was a trap. I apologize for not revealing the purpose of it sooner, but I always expected someone to attack this convention." Cranial announces. "As far as Slaughterhouse Nine attacks go, this carries an opportunity cost for them. Shatterbird's attack was wasted, and they have to hit and run, lower the level of their attacks, and concentrate force to achieve their goals in Chicago. I expect even with a failure their kill count will be a fraction of their normal one for hitting a large city." Cranial continues. "There are no words for how much I apologize I could not gain informed consent sooner for the sting operation. As soon as I knew the nature of the threat I did contact everyone involved in the convention. Personally, my greatest hope is to defeat the Slaughterhouse Nine here, and my second greatest is that we accomplish the public objective. Siberian and Mannequin are the two people I hate the most in the world." You largely ignore the cries of bullshit, arguments, and explanations Cranial starts to give, preferring to focus on how tightly Victoria is holding your hand.

    ____

    "You can go, if you want." Victoria says. You recreated her suit, for the good it would do. Same with your own.

    "Victoria, do you really think I'd leave you here against them?" You shake your head.

    "No." Victoria settles down next to you. "That's what worries me. Just, no, I can't keep with that line of thinking. Just, the things he said keep running through my head."

    [X] "Please tell me everything." It's going to hurt. It's going to hurt a lot, but you need to share her pain.

    [X] "If you love me, you'll leave with me." You whisper. You have to get her to go. Hatchet Face, Siberian, Crawler. You can't let her fight the Nine.

    [X] "Let's just try to help." She'll share when she's ready, and she might never forgive you if you make her go. It's best to just prepare for a fight. Write in: Suggestions for what Amy could do best to help.
    "Victoria, you know that he was lying, I know he was lying...."

    "Please, for me, stop talking." Victoria says, something in her voice is pleading.

    So you do.

    ____

    "I could try more hand to hand, learn to fight." You suggest to Victoria. You're stretched out, examining Starry Eyes's report.

    "Amy, let me show you why that won't work." Victoria has a bit of a smile in her voice. "Get up."

    "Okay." You climb out of the bed.

    "Get closer. Touch range, since you're a Striker." You do so, advancing cautiously.

    Victoria suddenly moves, darting to the side and picking up the entire bed, swinging it above your head and casually placing it back down in a second. She kicks back to the other side of the room. You move towards her as quickly as you can while her shield is down. A moment later, long before you could have reached her, she darts forward again, sweeping you up in her cape, detaching it and throwing you up into the air. She catches you gently a moment later and lands.

    "Point taken." You smile.

    "You are a very, very powerful cape, Amy. Against any hand to hand fighter who can withstand your suit, no level of hand to hand fighting you could gain with years of training could help. There was a time when they sent truckloads of SWAT teams and special forces to fight capes. They averaged 50% casualty rates per mission. I'm probably 90th percentile in hand to hand capes even without your enhancements, and I'd be terrified to go up against one of their weaker members. I lost easily to Jack, and he's their weakest. Hand to hand fighting is not going to help you beat them." You nod. "You're a healer and a support cape. Work with that. You're amazingly flexible. Think up something completely new that won't violate Jack's rules but will be something he doesn't want." You pause, and begin to smile.

    "I might have an idea, but I'd need Cranial's help."

    ___

    "Sadboy, Accoustic, Nix, Phantasos, clones with memories get superpowers. Can we do that?" It's your best idea.

    Cranial is working on a set of large devices that are probably weapons but look more like musical instruments and electronic devices.

    "Experiments with this have always involved highly peculiar capes. Most capes you can draw no conclusions from, and tinkers are often harder to figure out than you would expect. However, I have studied this rather extensively. I believe memories and biology are the two primary factors in a powered clone. The more similar the better. The clones of the original Slaughterhouse Nine have mildly divergent powers, and the clones Noelle created of you have highly divergent powers." Then you hear a smile in her voice. "But yes. I think we can try. I have already spoken with Legend and Director Costa-Brown about the project. They have extensive reservations, but what you seek to do is not illegal. The artificial creation of sentient life has a number of regulations attached."

    "What are they?" You ask.

    "These intelligences have the full legal rights of a human, and are treated as the biological children of the creator or creators. The creations have the full legal rights and privileges of people with their apparent intellectual age, and are granted natural born citizenship of the United States. This status may be revoked by government order if the creations prove obviously dangerous and inhuman. If the creations are clearly impaired in some way it is treated as assault with a parahuman ability towards the creations. This is based on the Supreme Court case about just what to do with the surviving clones of the Nine. The legal reasoning is to give artificial creations every reason to expect fair treatment and understanding if they cooperate with the government, and to ensure that those parahumans who can do such things are to handle it as ethically as possible. There are a few other specifics, but for cloning I think that is all you need to know unless we encounter further problems. I cannot imagine any of the other issues coming up."

    "So, about this. How fast can you copy in memories?"

    "The crystal matrix of a memory copy grows like a living thing. There are only so many copies of a person's memories I can have at any given time. I cannot just copy it like a computer file. I've already thought of the five heroes I think we are most likely to get consent from over the phone. I expect roughly three of each, to make balanced teams. Given how experimental this is I would rather not push as far as possible."

    "Who can we clone?" You ask. This is starting to get exciting.

    "Dispatch, Vice-Captain of the Houston Protectorate. Clicker, support Thinker of the Boston Wards. Assault and Battery, combat capes of the Brockton Bay Protectorate. Scapegoat, healer who transferred from Boston to Houston recently along with Phantasos in the general reorganization of the Ward teams that is also involving the transferring of Aegis and Tecton. Speaking of which, Shadow Stalker is likely to transfer to Houston if she does not leave the Wards."

    "She is?" You frown. "You know, you're really kind of scary for how in the know you are in these things."

    "I like to keep myself informed about the Protectorate, and if I am to continue cleaning up their messes for Master-Stranger protocols I must be informed on their structural shifts. The Wards especially are interesting to me, given as I suggested it." You laugh.

    "Wait, you came up with the Wards?"

    "I am positive someone else would have if it was not for me, and the organization is extremely different from my original suggestion, but I still feel a level of responsibility to them." Cranial answers. "Ah." She holds up one of her instruments. "Now this could actually stun Crawler without enhancing him. I love it when things work together."

    "Why are they transferring Sophia, anyway?" You ask.

    "Shadow Stalker, apparently Sophia, is a violent, somewhat unstable person for all her good qualities. Houston is used as a resting area for loners and highly self sufficient capes. The strategy there is for most capes to operate alone on patrol, covering ground and providing information for Eidolon and Dispatch to prepare and strike with overwhelming force. A sexual assault survivor with a history of discipline problems and who works best alone while being highly mobile is what the team is designed for. I completely understand if she would prefer to stay with her friends and join New Wave, though from a careerist standpoint I would advise staying with the Wards. You should speak to her about it when you go home." This is interesting.

    "She's my friend, and I don't have many of those, but I'll see what she thinks. So, how long until you think the clones could be done?"

    "Knowing how your powers work, I would estimate 20 minutes per clone, so five hours of work. I will advise you on the brains and how to set them up to work properly with my technology. Judging from experience and similar cases I think it will take six hours for them to awaken with full memories. I would prefer a single test case in Dispatch or Scapegoat to start with to ensure the powers work properly before we make the full team."

    "Sounds good." You nod. "Won't finding out you're a clone be kind of a shock?"

    "I can work around that. I actually have what I call a capstone prepared for artificial people, a kind of dream explanation where the subject comes to terms with their identity and situation before actually waking up. Just allow me to make some calls and I will be ready."

    ___

    Victoria is unconscious, half her body messed up when they bring her in.

    "Crawler." Florida Man explains. He doesn't have a scratch on him. "She squashed him, but he's Crawler. Gave people time to run, especially your friend, Eraser. He really tried to get her after that. He's probably still hunting her." You barely hear him, working your very best on Victoria. If you'd been alone you would have woke her with a kiss again. You love the cliche.

    "Only Sleeping Beauty knows how I feel right now." Victoria says when she wakes up. The two of you hug. "How goes your end?"

    "Good. We've got clones, fifteen of them, and Jack can't complain." You smile. "Not great clones, but still clones."

    "Ooh..." Victoria giggles. "Are we going to look forward to another Amy soon?" You frown.

    "Um, probably not. I can't clone myself. Do you want one?"

    "Double the fun? Sure." Victoria laughs. "Also, more seriously, one of you at every hospital in the country would be a wonderful thing."

    "Only if there was one of you to keep her sane." You assure her, wishing you'd just come out already.

    "Oh, that would suck." Victoria laughs. "I'd fight myself all the time. Beloved Goddess Queen is not a role you can share that easily."

    "Maybe one per city?" You ask, thinking. "An idol in your image, perhaps with four Amy Dallons to worship her, ensuring she gets the honor she deserves?"

    "Ooh, I'm starting to like this idea." Victoria laughs.

    "You two are creepy." Florida Man says. Victoria gives him the finger, but there's no malice to it.

    ___

    "I'm clearly outnumbered here." Starry Eyes pouts.

    "Agreed." Says Clicker Prime.

    "Most definitely." Says Clicker One.

    "My brothers are right." Says Clicker Alpha.

    "Alright, we can load it up so Jack's blood turns to acid if you three are absolutely sure, but only on contact. No releasing plagues into the city." Starry Eyes sighs. "Do not blame me when this all goes wrong.

    "Perfect." Says Clicker One.

    "Delightful." Says Clicker Alpha.

    "Reasonable." Says Clicker Prime.

    You finish the Jack Killer. You are nervous about it, but loading it into the containment foam sprayers does seem like a good idea. It would only work on Jack Slash DNA, or what is almost certainly Jack Slash DNA according to Starry Eyes and the Clickers. You're not comfortable at all with it being lethal, but they'd insisted and worn you down. Arguing with all three Thinkers is exhausting.

    ____

    "I think these, all taken together, counter everything you gave me." You stand at the table with Dragon and Cranial, who are examining your anti-Bonesaw preparation. "Should be everything that you ever took a sample of Bonesaw producing. Pretty long shelf life, but the issue is you need it to be thick. Paint it on costumes and throw it in sprayers. Do not try to dilute it or it won't work.

    "Do you see any problems, Cranial?" Dragon asks.

    "None are obvious, no, though this is a bit outside my specialty, of course. I trust Amy on this. If we follow her instructions this will probably counter Bonesaw. If it doesn't, then it will be no worse than she usually is." Dragon nods.

    "Alright. We can paint these on your suits, right?" Dragon asks.

    "Yes. It should prevent the breakdown. With the clones and all the other capes outfitted with the basic suits I think I've contributed everything I can to the anti-Nine forces. What is the counter to Siberian? I get everyone else, but no one's been able to beat her."

    "Me." Cranial says matter of factly. "My scream works on her, so she runs from me instead of standing and fighting. I won't kill her, but I can keep her away from the rest of the Slaughterhouse. We have a few other capes to try, but we're not hopeful. Eraser, if worst comes to worst Scapegoat." You swallow.

    "Alright. I guess it's time to head out."

    "It is." Dragon starts moving towards the door. "We just found them. As expected, they're doing their traditional attack on a school for girls. Hatchet Face is predictable if nothing else." You follow Dragon and Cranial to the waiting drone. It scoops you all up in the long, mechanical tentacles. They'll need you for on site emergency care.

    ___

    Magog and Big Rig take on Hatchet Face, the large construction drones and the not quite Tinker boxing him in quite effectively.

    It would have worked if Siberian didn't prove to be immune to Hatchet Face, storming in, grabbing him, and making a break for it. Magog would have died without you, and with you he's still going to have some nasty amnesia.

    Crawler proves vulnerable to being stunned, but it seems that turning all of your offensive might on him is not enough, forcing a hasty retreat.

    Mannequin, Bonesaw, Jack, and Burnscar prove to be harder to find. Shatterbird is your only victory, as she launches an attack on Cranial by herself that proves to be less than effective. You're rather surprised that Cranial doesn't kill her, instead capturing her.

    "She's more useful alive than dead, and doing harm to someone in your power is not justified." Cranial explains. "As long as she is subdued, she is under my protection. The moment she is at risk of escaping, feel free to kill her."

    ___

    You're prepared for when Jack Slash hits three places at once.

    You and Victoria go to the following attack point.

    [X] Siberian and Bonesaw, breaking out Shatterbird.

    [X] Mannequin and Burnscar, hitting Ragged Angel's territory.

    [X] Jack Slash, Hatchet Face, and Crawler, attacking the Chicago Protectorate HQ.
    Considering that Bonesaw is the only bio-tinker, and a very dangerous tinker, it is best to head after her.

    Siberian is the one you're worried about. Nothing can keep you safe from Siberian. Maybe defensive teleportation, but nothing available. Dodge wired you up with one of his remotes, but they've never really been tested and even best case it might be years before restoration is possible without you.

    You would really rather stay back, but it is critically important to head off any biological warfare as soon as possible.

    You hear in the distance a sound that is your father's kidnapping and your mother's death, and shudder. Victoria looks upset as well.

    "It's okay." You tell her, and she nods. "It's good. It's walling her in so we can prepare." Cranial can't keep up her scream forever.

    Cimmerian, Fodder, Good Neighbor, Cranial, Scapegoat, Sataniel, Ichor, Trick, Witch, Panacea, Glory Girl, Eraser and five clones. Not too bad, really.

    Cranial's scream goes out. You breathe a sigh of relief, though of course it is a bad thing. You just hope Cranial is okay.

    Victoria grabs Cimmerian, formerly Grue, and the two rise up and vanish into a wall of darkness. You made Cimmerian one of your suits, and focused it on communicating with the others. Victoria and Cimmerian should be very safe, and be able to buy more time against Siberian finding you. You keep your suit on a soft hum as long as Victoria can be located. If it goes out, well, she's probably in a pocket dimension, safe from all the horrors of the world.

    Probably.

    Ideally they'll be able to misdirect them for long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

    Assault and Battery, who to your incredible disappointment aren't actually siblings, are kissing quietly to one side. Dispatch has his arms crossed, looking impatient, which must be a terrible thing for him. Clicker is far too close to Trick, presumably having decided Albany was just the place for him. The two look as confident as their full masks would allow.Ichor and Sataniel stand next to each other with Scapegoat in front of them, holding both of their hands, forming the line where Siberian will hopefully come through. Good Neighbor and Fodder are at the back with Eraser, hoping to provide fire support. Witch is in the corner, alone, wired up with communications.

    Then Witch leaps across the field a moment before Siberian comes in through that direction. Must have been a decision on impulse for her not to have caught it sooner. Bonesaw is clutching Siberian's hair.

    Eraser's blasts fire off light crazy, filling the area with light. None of them hit anything, yet. Fodder's attack does quickly cut off Siberian's view, surrounding her with cold corpses, but they do not even slow her down.

    Good Neighbor is next, firing off his clones. A lot of clones. Hundreds of clones which vanish in a second. He can see through their eyes and ears, carrying a rather impressive Thinker and Master rating, in addition to his own superhuman strength and durability. The combination of raw bodies proves ineffective, and the two call off the assault to give the rest of you room to maneuver.

    Battery gives Assault a charged kick, and he moves straight through Satenial and Ichor, grabbing Scapegoat and bringing him directly into Siberian before bouncing back. You see Siberian laugh and tear into Scapegoat.

    Pieces seem to flash out and into Siberian, and Scapegoat remains unaffected. Now.

    Everyone unleashes their attacks on Ichor, who can take them. Except for Eraser, who is trying to hit Siberian. She collapses under the weight of the assault, her wounds taken from her and onto Siberian in moments. Siberian barely notices, instead deciding to charge you personally.

    That is one of the scariest things to ever happen to you. Dispatch hits pause, and the world goes dark except for his glowing costume. The two of you move in the zone of still time, across the area, until quite far away from Siberian, and he restarts it. This is repeated several times before Eraser lands a hit and Siberian vanishes.

    Everyone is stunned for a second, looking around.

    "2 minutes before she's back, somehow. Kill the Bonesaw!" Witch shouts.

    Assault, Battery, Witch, Ichor, you, and Eraser are the ones who cluster around her.

    "Remember me?" Ichor asks quietly. Bonesaw looks confused before beaming.

    "Oh, you! I forget your name. The one that got away."

    "Samantha Jones. Ichor." She charges forward and Bonesaw unleashes something horrible on her, a spray that melts her down completely. Ichor is back up in half a second. "Already tried that, remember?" Bonesaw throws a dart with less effect, cycling through a disturbing amount of weaponry. You need to stay close to the others, making sure they can survive everything she's unleashing.

    A piece of Bonesaw's head vanishes suddenly in a white orb as Eraser gets a hit. Bonesaw screams.

    "That was my pain switch! What am I going to do now!"

    "Suffer." Ichor tells her. The heroine charges and starts hitting her with Aegis like strength, moving as fast as a human can, fast enough to keep Bonesaw fighting. Bonesaw very slowly begins to wear down.

    Then Siberian appears again, and Dispatch pauses himself and Ichor, the two closest to Bonesaw. There's a whir, and then the bubble breaks.

    Ichor collapses with in a pile of blood and fluid, bone and metal. Siberian SCREAMS and lands on her, eating her alive.

    "It's done, Sam." Witch tells her. "She'll never hurt anyone again." The shout goes up, Siberian raises her eyes, howls, and launches herself at Witch. Witch moves away, faster, weaving and dodging for a while. Victoria then falls from the sky next to you with Cimmerian.

    "Been killing these damn robot spiders Bonesaw made." She explains. You're busy firing off everything you can think of to counter whatever Bonesaw did, moving from smear to smear to see if there's anything else you need to neutralize.

    Then something changes. Siberian's staring at Trick, and then she leaves.

    "Witch, what happened?" Dispatch asks.

    "Oh, oh. Either the best or worst thing to ever happen." Witch shakes her head. "AJ, you need to make a decision really quickly."

    "What is it?" She asks softly.

    "I'm seeing a future for you. A future where you're one of the most important people in the world. Honored. Recognized as the person who saved the Siberian, who turned her to our side." Everyone is quiet for several seconds. "I think, I think they'll allow it, the PRT. She's Siberian, and I think she can't lose two daughters and have none. Now, we could run..."

    "Yes!" Trick shouts to Witch. "I accept this! That, she's better than the Triumvirate!"

    "He, I think." Witch frowns. "She's bringing a man. I think she's part of him, or something. A master or really weird changer."

    On Witch's orders everyone clears out, leaving Trick alone in her white costume. It doesn't take facial features to know she's terrified.

    Finally, after what is minutes and feels like hours, Siberian arrives, holding a truck over her head, and lands on the ground next to Trick. A man falls out of the truck, crying. Trick moves forward, her eyes on the man.

    "It's okay, Dad. It's okay."

    ____

    You arrive back in your room with Victoria more than a bit shaken.

    Jack had apparently killed Revel, Myrddin's second in command, in the fight. Hatchet Face was seen injured but not dead.

    Victoria looks a bit shaken herself.

    "Just kill me before you do that to me." She shakes her head. "What we're doing is one thing, but remembering a whole new life? That's just, it scares me a lot." You don't tell her how close you came to asking Trick for a new sister yourself in Albany.

    "If you mean that, I will." You stroke her hair playfully. "So, what are you in the mood for?"

    "Something light and silly." She laughs. "Maybe Bruce Coville or something. Something nice and nostalgic." She settles in and reads to you.

    It's not until much later that Jack arrives.


    ___

    "And people call me disgusting." You hadn't even had sex. The grotesque man had kicked down the door.

    "Well, you are." Victoria's put herself between you and Jack, and you were both wearing your suits earlier. She does her usual routine of firing off attacks to no avail.

    "Well, I hate to end this love story in such a cliched style, but girls, I promised to release something terrible if Bonesaw died. To do that you shouldn't be around curing it. Currently the rest of my Nine are making quite the commotion to try and murder Trick, so I could slip off and slit your throat." Jack playfully starts jabbing things.

    What comes next hurts even with your suit's considerable protections, as Victoria grabs ahold of you and smashes the two of you down straight through the bed and the floor. You're gasping as she pushes you up.

    "GO!" She shouts.

    "Victoria..."

    "GO!" I will hold him off. I love you! Without frying the suit I just might kill him this time!"

    [X] "Just a kiss for good luck." You say. She accepts, and you grab her brain with your power. She is coming with you. You can feel she won't come any other way.

    [X] "Yes." You run.

    [X] "No!" You rise up, feeling your suit's repair mechanisms take effect. You're going to stand with your sister.
    "We're heroes, right? I'm not afraid of him." Victoria freezes, and gives you a look. It is very sad, and full of absolute love.

    "Let's do it, big sister. You won't be able to keep up, but you'll be able to fight." She freezes for another second, a look of absolute pain on her face, and seals her suit completely. A transmission hits you. Victoria wants you to buy her time for a move.

    You send out everything you can on your suit's wavelengths to get help. Most are out of range. An Assault and Battery are on their way.

    You march at Jack Slash, your suit unleashing everything it has. You thought hard about this. Bacteria that could eat anything. The Jack Killer, a combo of organisms that would turn his flesh into acid. Metal eating bacteria to where the knife and armor down.

    Jack's flesh does not boil into acid. Apparently, as theorized, that was a trick. The bacteria do start eating away at him.

    Jack's answer to you is to charge forward. He is faster than you, though his knives can't cut you. He's holding the weapon that almost killed Victoria, a Mannequin and Bonesaw collaboration that could punch through your armor and insert the toxin. The bacteria are eating it, but only slowly. Not quickly enough.

    You thought Victoria would save you, but you're wrong. Jack Slash closes the distance and fires it into your stomach. Victoria arrives a moment later, carrying a small car, and freezes, bouncing back and away.

    "I've got the antidote." Are the first words out of his mouth. "Shame if it were to break when you through that car at me..." Victoria screams in rage and frustration. "Now, dear. Reinforcements will come. Are they strong and precise enough to beat me without crushing the little vial of cure I have somewhere? That's assuming the bacteria your sister released don't eat it away first..." Victoria is frozen.

    It's not hurting you. It's like a wave of numbness moving through your belly and outward. Suddenly your whole lower body goes out as it cuts through your spine.

    "What do you want?" Victoria hisses.

    "I am going to give you two a once in a lifetime offer. An offer I've never given anyone else. I'm going to let you both join my Nine. You fill the gap in my roster quite well. Otherwise, Amy dies."

    "No." You both say it at once. Jack gives Victoria a confused look.

    "Not what I expected." He shrugs. "Well..."

    Then Jack is hit with a blast of containment foam as a PRT Agent steps forward. Wait, no, he has a communicator you made. It's Florida Man. Jack screams and lashes out at Florida Man with his knife blows. They miss, of course.

    "I heard something about precision?" Florida Man smiles as he keeps closing the distance with Jack. Victoria moves rapidly, fencing off escape routs. Florida Man reaches Jack and riffles through his pockets, a dissolving agent for the foam is rubbed on Florida Man's skin.

    "Ah, that's it." You think that's what he said. You're not hearing very well.

    "She's dying!" Victoria shouts, and Florida Man groans, kicks Jack in the crotch rather ineffectively, and leaves, pouring it onto you. Unfortunately, the dissolving agent spreads and the bacteria are eating it, apparently. Jack is free before Florida Man is. He's down to a strange skeleton for his exposed parts, mostly. You guess it's Mannequin's work.

    Florida Man would have caught him if Murder Rat didn't explode from a nick on Jack's ruined knife. The two do battle. Murder Rat cannot hurt Florida Man, and Florida Man can't catch Murder Rat.

    Victoria charges forward with the car in between her and Jack, too quick for him to escape. He slashes into it ineffectively.

    There's a long, quite pause as Victoria stands above the ruined car and what is left of Jack, still twitching. Then she makes a decisive stomp on his head, and brains roll out.

    The toxin had stopped spreading, but the damage is still present. Murder Rat pauses, glances at the dead Jack, and moves to you. You HOWL as Murder Rat's long sword like blades slash into you. Your blood begins to spill.

    "It's a good thing we're at the convention for healers, isn't it?" Florida Man asks, and you start laughing through your pain. Your suit, what's left of it, starts sealing you up as Victoria flashes forward and delivers a brutal kick to the monster, breaking her lower body completely, before rushing down to you, detaching her hood, and letting her suit's emergency medical abilities flood into yours to help sealing up all the slashes and ruined parts. You detach your hood and she starts kissing you all over your head.

    "You girls are seriously weird." Florida Man shakes his head.

    Then an angel is suddenly there, a terrible, strange angel falling from the sky with outstretched feathers.

    ____

    "If you weren't so sick we'd be celebrating hard." Victoria tells you, holding your hand on the medical bed. Mr. Storkfish had devoted a feather to the repairs, and your nerve endings are still tying together. He had been the one to save you. The fastest person to arrive. Flight and time stop zones are useful.

    "You're right." You smile and lean back. "We could have a big party. Invite Sophia, Madison, Emma, Melissa, Crystal, Eric, Melissa. Cake and balloons..."

    "Yes, Ames. That's exactly what I meant." Victoria kisses your forehead. "You do get that we're rich now, right? Jack Slash had the biggest bounty."

    "Oh, I do. You're rich." You attempt to snuggle even further into your bed, which proves difficult. "You're rich from Jack Slash's bounty."

    "I know. All our vast and severe money troubles are finally over!" Victoria jokes. It's pretty funny, but your body hasn't quite recovered for laughter.

    "We could give it to charity." You suggest. Victoria sticks out her tongue.

    "Okay, I'm a hero, but even I balk a bit at giving up that much money." Victoria pauses. "Yeah, we really should though. We don't need the money. We're kind of set however we go. Also, you're such a selfless, brave person for not asking for money for your healing, and I can't let you upstage me." You laugh.

    "I just did that so we could get married." You mutter sleepily. Victoria seems to shift.

    "What?"

    "Well, it's what Legend did. Be so valuable it looks really good when you come out. That was a lot of it. You can't let the little saint not be able to get married after she works twelve hours a day, can you? Or what if you get into real trouble? I need to look really good." You're regressing a bit. "It'd look really good if you donated all that to charity, wouldn't it?"

    "Yes." Victoria says softly, stroking your belly where the flesh is still off colored. "Yes it would."

    ____

    Cranial arrives with a basket of fruit, flowers, and some rather interesting contributions from the Toybox.

    "You are two very brave women." She tells you. "I understand if you need a break before further testing. I really hate to ask that, but I do want life to come from this, not just death."

    "Of course we can continue with the convention, right, right Ames?" Victoria asks. "Solving P=NP is apparently really important stuff, right?"

    "It actually could change a lot of the aspects of the current economy." Cranial tells you. You nod. "Anyway, Scapegoat and his parents left, but his clones are staying, and we have a generally full compliment of healers, if we want to do the testing.

    "I'm actually looking forward to it." You tell Cranial.

    "Good." Her bizarre limb strokes your hair softly. "See you tomorrow morning." She leaves.

    "Should we be mad at her for all of this?" You ask Victoria.

    "We could have left. We all could have left. This is a big win. I'm not mad. She's devious. I like that." Victoria smiles. "Speaking of other things I like I've been thinking more about coming out."

    "Now?" You ask softly.

    "You were injured fighting Jack Slash. I killed Jack Slash. We were wrongfully persecuted by the Protectorate. I really don't think there will be a better time." Victoria levitates to your side and hugs you, a full delicious blast of her aura filling you up. "Please..."

    [X] "Yes." You say kind of breathlessly. "I've wanted this for so long. Let's come out as girlfriends."

    [X] "No." You say quietly. "Victoria, we can't. It's just, I want to so badly, but it's not a smart move."

    [X] "Let's wait." You sigh. "We should be adults. Just wait until the seventeenth. That's not too bad."
    "Let me tell Madison first. I owe that much to her and I want her to understand that I love her as a friend. She's done so much for me already." Victoria looks at you thoughtfully.

    "Are you sure..." She traces her fingers across your neck and shoulder. "It would be decent revenge on my part to just..."

    "Victoria, you're being a bitch again." Victoria sighs.

    "Alright, if you feel you owe it to her, call her first. You can be alone. Um, I should probably say something to Dean, I guess."

    "What about Mark and Carol?" You ask.

    "Carol might do something nuts if we told her first to stop it. Mark, hm, would you be a wonderful, amazing sister and call him for me? I, just, that feels uncomfortable."

    "Alright. So I'll call him second." You shrug. "I think getting some normal person opinion would be wise. I am feeling a lot better. His power makes you sleepy at first, then completely refreshed.

    _____

    "Hey!" Madison says. You hear some crying in the background.

    "Hey." You say. "Um, what is that?"

    "Oh, nothing babe. I'm not even sure why Sophia wanted to meet with Taylor's Dad in the first place. Don't worry about it." You feel that there's something she's not telling you, but if it is big you'll hear about it anyway. "So, long time no gab. Is everything okay?"

    "Yes, Madison. Mind being somewhere a bit more private?"

    "Ooh, let's do this in Taylor's room. I've never been there before." Madison sounds positively gleeful and you hear a door closing on the other end. "Speaking of which, we should totally make out on Taylor's bed."

    "This is kind of about that..."

    "More making out? That would be fun. Can't wait to see you. I've been reading some articles in Cosmo..."

    ""Madison, first of all I want you to know that you're the best friend I've ever had and I love you for that..."

    "Oh no, we're breaking up! This is Arnold Fitz all over again!"

    "You dated a boy named Arnold Fitz?" You kind of stare at the wall.

    "Alright, continue with the speech and we'll work with it."

    "I'll never be able to repay all the good things you've done for me. And what we have together is very fun. I like it a lot. It's just, we're never going to me more than this. I like you as a girl and I love you as a friend, but I don't love you as a girlfriend. I don't think I'm ever going to. I don't want to string you along or make you think that we have something that we don't. The friends with benefits thing was great, but that's really all we were."

    "Stop." Madison days, and you do. "Okay. I, you turned me gay. That's, um, big. Like, I know it's not an obligation, but, um, I kind of thought you wanted a girlfriend? I knew you were lonely. I knew that if you were gay, well, I wanted to help you."

    "Oh, Madison, that's beautiful." You're actually crying. "I value your friendship a lot more than I value the make-out sessions. If you want me to change you back I'll do that as soon as I see you in person again. Screw the bet. Are you okay with what I'm saying? I don't want you to take this as a breakup. I don't want anything to change between us, except less kissing. No kissing. Everything else can stay the same. I want it to stay the same. You're my best friend. I don't want this to destroy that. Do you understand that? I love you, I really do. Just not romantically. And I knew that I wouldn't."

    "Stop." Madison says again, and you do. She's silent for a minute. "So, who's the lucky girl?"

    "I was always in love with someone else and that probably wasn't fair to you. I should have told you that in the beginning. I just didn't think it mattered because I never had a chance with her. But something happened a few nights ago, while we were on the run ... I'll make it up to you when I get back. Just name it." Madison is silent for way too long.

    "Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. There's only one girl you're on the run with. Right? It's not Sophia, it's not Emma, and you don't have any friends. Wait. Um, yeah, wait. Um, still not believing this. Uh..."

    "Do I need to say it?" You mumble.

    "Ex-girlfriend I think I need to hear it!" Madison practically shouts.

    "I am in love with Victoria. I have been for a long time. It's a lot of why I went to that Albany thing, went to Cranial. We think it's her aura hitting me especially hard. It's, um, it was awful."

    "Victoria went along with it?" There's just a hint of disbelief, and then Madison's voice goes low, a bit weirdly seductive. "Did she have a choice?"

    "Gross!" You shout over the phone. "Of course she did. She asked me. Almost begged me. She knew it was killing me." Madison sounds almost disappointed after that.

    "Okay, that's fine. Sorry. It's just so, well, unusual. But if she let it happen, whatever it was, I guess there's nothing wrong with it?" She ends it as a question.

    "I don't think so. Madison, please tell me you don't hate me for this." Madison giggles.

    "Actually it's kind of hot." You blush. "You're both really pretty, and maybe I'm just shallow that way, but that makes it better? It's not like one of you is this disgusting slob who can't get any otherwise and preys on her sister. You're really quite disgustingly cute together. If nothing changes but the kissing, well..." Madison is quiet for a moment. "Ooh, can you get me another girlfriend? I'm not quite done with this yet."

    "I don't exactly know a lot of lesbians." You laugh softly. "Never felt appropriate to join their groups or anything. I was always pretty deeply in the closet."

    "Makes sense." Madison says cheerfully. "So, when you two make out can I watch? You are both really pretty." You laugh.

    "Maybe, if you're good. I'd need to check with Victoria. So, any thoughts about me making it up to you?"

    "Hm, all my ideas for it are kind of gone if there's no more kissing. Hm, well, you girls are moving out soon, right? Getting a place that's not your parents or Dean's. Maybe I could live with you two? It sounds way more fun than being at home, especially if I'm a superhero. Sure, my parents are great about it, but if I'm going to be this cool vigilante named Harrier I need to really be on my own more."

    "I think Victoria will accept that. Probably. Ooh, we could adopt you." You giggle. "We'll be eighteen, so we could be your legal guardians!"

    "Oh my gosh that would be so awesome!" Madison laughs. "Okay, yes, I want that. I don't care how, or really know why, but make that happen. Like, seriously." You both collapse into a fit of giggles.

    _____

    "Dad, it's Amy. Remember when you asked me what I had to tell Victoria? I told her while we were in Albany. That's why she freaked out and moved in with Dean. I told her that I love her. I told her that I'm in love with her. Stuff's happened between us since then. Complicated stuff. You deserve to hear it from us before you see it on the news. There's no easy way to put this... We're together. Together together. We're dating. We're a couple. We're in love with each other. Victoria doesn't want to hide it anymore. I'm sorry about some of the things I said. Not all of them. You can Mom both hurt me very badly growing up. I do want my children to know their grandparents. Oh, and Victoria killed Jack Slash. That's kind of awesome."

    You got his answering machine. It feels scummy, but he's no longer clinically depressed, so what is his excuse? You hope he's okay.

    ____

    You and Victoria hold hands tightly. It's not like this is scarier than Jack Slash, but this is still very scary. The stage manager checks your microphones. You'd forgone your costumes, going instead for ordinary clothes. Victoria wears jeans, a t-shirt, white boots, going with her color scheme. You wear a red and white dress.

    "Everything will be fine." Victoria whispers to you and gives your hand an extra squeeze. Her aura is on full blast. She is the best sister. The best girlfriend. The best possible wife and mother. She will keep you safe and handle this perfectly.

    The stage manager stoops down a little to talk to you and Victoria, even though Victoria is taller than her. “Alrighty, girls! You’re on in five, four…”

    Jazzy fanfare plays. As if that wasn’t cue enough, the stage manager gives you a little prod, pushing you forward. Victoria gives her a glare that causes her to actually squeal in fear. The aura probably helps. Victoria ushers you on stage, moving from hand holding to an arm firmly over your shoulder in a fluid motion as you walk.

    It's a fairly normal studio based on your experiences with shows like this. You'd done a circuit of them when you got your powers. This had never been your strong suit. As Victoria had requested you have a small loveseat for the two of you, and the three hosts sit around a table in office chairs, presumably their normal arrangement.

    An adult man, light skinned black or mixed race, an adult woman with truly awful hair, and a slightly heavy set woman young enough to be their child. These are the people who will be on the other side of the conversation?

    This was the fastest show you could get on, and Victoria truly did not want to wait.

    “Welcome back to Mornings with O, J and Koffi." The woman says. "We have two very special guests with us today. Victoria Dallon, Glory Girl, the