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Price of Blood [Worm fanfic] (Complete)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Nov 30, 2016.

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  1. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Yeah, Taylor's power may have caused the deaths of 273 people, but she's very definitely not happy about even the five guys who were manhandling her at the time.

    Those deaths are going to be with her for a long, long time. It's kind of a life-defining moment.
     
  2. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    ClF3 is entirely stable. If you have it in a canister made of something that can resist it, it's perfectly safe. It merely reacts violently with nearly everything except air and some pre-treated metals.

    There are, of course, many exceedingly-sensitive compounds around that will detonate if you look at them funny (nitro groups are infamous for causing this behaviour), but ClF3 isn't one of them.
    And hidden within that sentence, Carol, is the true problem here.
     
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  3. preier

    preier Know what you're doing yet?

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    Quite true. Although I was not writing an essay on chemical concepts as differing from common usage


    Ack : thanks for last chapter by the way.

    I especially liked the way coil's short term gains prove quite Expensive long term
     
  4. Psyckosama

    Psyckosama Well worn.

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    That... is a very ingenious way to make sure Coil is in one place. He can't exactly shrug off a PRT meeting now can he?
     
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  5. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    He'd go in one timeline and ignore it in the other, if my read on him's anywhere near accurate; his biggest fear is being caught in the same place in both timelines. Piggot, of course, doesn't know this.

    However, his power's much less useful on the defensive and now that they've hacked his base he's in deep shit whatever he does.
     
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  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    The trouble is, he's got another double-up to deal with. Specifically, fine-tuning Shadow Stalker's first crime. And if he sets up a go/no-go to the PRT meeting and ALSO sets up a go/no-go for the Undersiders plus Sophia, there exists the strong possibility that he might have to choose which one he considers more important. Specifically, if the robbery in the timeline where he shows up to the building goes bad, he has to then balance the setting up of Sophia against his attendance to that meeting.
     
  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Azidoazide Azide. It's been known to explode because it was heated, shaken, exposed to light, exposed to infrared radiation, exposed to noise, or even looked at hard. And of course, it's occasionally exploded after being stored in a cool, dark vibration-dampened container.

    To quote one source: "The compound exploded in solution, it exploded on any attempts to touch or move the solid, and (most interestingly) it exploded when they were trying to get an infrared spectrum of it. The papers mention several detonations inside the Raman spectrometer as soon as the laser source was turned on, which must have helped the time pass more quickly."

    ... and yeah, that's the current state of the relationship between Sophia and the Undersiders.

    It could only get worse if Lisa befriended Taylor and somehow recruited her and brought her home, where she met Sophia.

    At which point, the effect would be the same as if someone started banging enthusiastically on the container with a sledgehammer. Time to ignition would be effectively instantaneous.
     
  8. doomlord9

    doomlord9 Experienced.

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    Which may very well be her plan.

    She does tend to have insider knowledge of the PRT's ops and making everything explode spectacularly is not only within her MO but could also help her if she can manage to shape that explosion towards Coil and away from herself.

    Not as good as a gentle helping hand, but it would be less satisfying to see Coil go down gently instead of in a cataclysmic fiery inferno.

    What are the chances that Lisa would be vindictive enough to just want to really twist the knife in that manner though?
     
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  9. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    I've read that blog, too, and thought of the same stuff, though "azidoazide azide" is not its real name, which is a mouthful (it has three azides, but the 1-aminotetrazole skeleton is a major contributor to why it's so unstable). Just use ethyl perchlorate; IIRC it spontaneously detonates with remarkable power if warmed to room temperature, and it's got a very short name. Or the actually-used ones like nitroglycerin and acetone peroxide.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018
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  10. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Dammit, man, now I want to read a fic, told in pseudo-blog format, called 'Capes I Won't Work With' (or possibly 'Tinkers I Won't Work With').
     
  11. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Suggest something in the Worm Ideas threads. Maybe have a link to that blog, with some examples from 'Things I Won't Work With' to get the general pattern.

    Thoughts on a Tinker who might be on the list: Blasto. IIRC, he has a pre-signed kill order all ready to go if he ever crosses certain lines.
     
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  12. Threadmarks: Part Thirteen: Enmeshed
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Price of Blood

    Part Thirteen: Enmeshed

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

    Hebert Household
    Friday, February 4, 2011
    Taylor


    She couldn't move, couldn't breathe. Her arms were bound at her sides, preventing her from struggling free. She tried to scream, but she couldn't get the air into her lungs to do even that. Writhing, she kicked and threw herself from side to side, desperation growing within her. Hands clutched at her, raising her terror to new heights.

    But then the urgency began to drain away, a sense of calm gradually taking its place. The hands weren't clutching at her, they were unwrapping the bonds from around her body. A voice became audible to her, as if from a great distance and slowly coming closer.

    “Taylor? I know you can hear me. Taylor, it's just a bad dream. I want you to listen to my voice. You're going to wake up now, and it'll all be just a nightmare. It's not real, Taylor. You're going to be all right.” The voice was soothing and calm; by its very nature, it promised better things for her. Just listening to it, she felt her agitation melting away. Cool air found its way into her lungs and she realised that she could indeed breathe; the feeling of suffocation had just been part of the dream.

    Dream. I was dreaming. I was asleep, and now I'm awake. Taking another deep breath, she opened her eyes. Reality reasserted itself, and she became aware of the twisted sheets that she'd somehow managed to tie herself up in. Worried brown eyes framed by frizzy hair looked back at hers, which caused her brain to stutter until it finally rebooted all the way. Panacea. Amy Dallon. She's staying here now. She saw me having a nightmare. Panacea had one hand on Taylor's arm and the other holding the sheet; from the look of it, she'd just finished unwinding it from around Taylor's arms.

    “Ugh,” mumbled Taylor, suddenly aware that she was soaked in sweat. Thank fuck, thank fuck, thank fuck. It wasn't real. Despite the brilliant mote-filled sunlight streaming in between the curtains on the window, the room wasn't all that warm, so the sweat was almost certainly due to the nightmare. A moment later, panic swelled in her chest as she recalled a very important factor; specifically, the bugs. The last time she'd been in a state like this, with her emotions running rampant, nearly three hundred people had died. Frantically, she sent an order out in all directions: Whatever you're doing, stop it right now.

    In return, she got an inpouring of signals, all of which showed that her bugs were simply going about their business; or rather, had been until she told them to stop. There'd been no swarms aggressively hunting people down or gathering suspiciously in any particular location. Even a fly which had been buzzing unnoticed through the bedroom had fallen to the dresser with a tiny thud because she'd told it to stop what it was doing, which apparently included flying.

    “Wow, are you okay?” asked Amy, concern rising anew on her face. “Your worry levels just spiked, hard. What happened?” Though she still had hold of Taylor's arm, she seemed to be trying to get through to her by talking than by using powers.

    Which Taylor appreciated, considerably. It was always good to be treated like a rational person rather than a robot or a potentially dangerous animal. She essayed a wan smile in Amy's direction. “Yeah, that was me just freaking out a bit over having that nightmare. I was wondering if I'd set any bugs off, but it doesn't seem like it.” Her heart rate was slowing again as she let herself relax. “Crisis averted, I guess.” Belatedly, she sent the signal out to the bugs. It's okay. You can go back to what you were doing. Apparently unharmed by its crash landing, the fly took off from the dresser and droned out through the gap in the curtains.

    Amy's chuckle was a little strained. “Yeah. Trust me, if I'd seen or heard anything like that when I was downstairs on the phone, I would've run, not walked up the stairs.” Taking hold of Taylor's hand, she gave it a comforting squeeze. “Trust me, I'm here for you. I know what it's like to have powers that seem determined to push your life down a path you'd never choose for yourself.” She chuckled again, much more darkly. “I guess that's basically all powers anywhere, really.”

    “I suppose,” Taylor answered absently, her mind still on the nightmare. “When I was dreaming, was that you talking to me?” A moment later, she cringed inwardly at the realisation of exactly how stupid the question sounded, but it was too late to take it back. Then she cringed even harder at the knowledge that Panacea had seen her thrashing around like an idiot.

    “Uh huh.” If Panacea—Amy—found any amusement in the situation, she hid it well. “You actually did all right last night. Took forever to drop off, but when you did, you slept like you really needed it. I think you only started dreaming a little while ago.” She seated herself on the edge of the bed and put her hand to Taylor's forehead. “How do you feel?”

    It had to be a rhetorical question; Taylor knew damn well that Amy could tell exactly how she felt. In fact, she probably knew how Taylor felt better than Taylor herself did. But answering her out loud was kind of soothing, allowing her to order her thoughts. Which is probably the whole idea. She's been doing this for years, after all.

    “Yeah, uh, not too bad,” Taylor said, taking a deep breath. Ugh. I stink. “I can't remember too much of it, but it was pretty horrible.” Already, the last lingering remnants of the dream were slipping away. But still, she could recall Amy's calm words pulling her back from the pit of terror that she'd been sliding into. “I could hear you while I was dreaming. How's that even possible? And what did you do?” A recollection of what Amy had revealed to her the previous day had her squinting suspiciously at her new room-mate. “Did you mess with my brain?” Not that she'd be overly unhappy if this was the case, she decided. Having her brain messed with was preferable to being stuck in a nightmare. I just want to know, is all.

    Amy answered so promptly and forthrightly that she must've had some idea Taylor wasn't mad at her. “Not really,” she hedged. “I didn't make any permanent changes. Mainly I slowed down your epinephrine production and cranked up your dopamine levels.” At Taylor's blank stare, she smiled a little self-consciously. “Uh, sorry. Epinephrine is otherwise known as adrenaline, and dopamine … well, a vast simplification is that it makes you feel good. So I pulled you out of the agitation spiral, then bumped up your conscious mind a notch so you could hear and respond to me. After that, it was just a matter of letting you climb out of the rabbit hole all by yourself.”

    “Oh.” It sounded simple, the way Amy explained it, but … “Wow. Why are you not a therapist?” Taylor shook her head. “If you weren't here, I'd probably still be back at the PRT building, drugged to the eyeballs while they debated what to do with me.” Sitting up, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. In lieu of hugging Amy—she was all too aware of her sweaty condition—she squeezed the other girl's hand. “And if they even let me wake up, once I realised what I'd done … I really don't know how I would've handled it. If at all.” Distantly, she understood the amount of gratitude she felt toward Amy was almost pathetic … just for acting like a decent human being. If that wasn't a reflection on the way people around her had been treating her for far too long, she didn't know what was.

    Amy grimaced. “I'd like to think they'd work something out, but … yeah.” Putting her arm around Taylor, she gave her a sisterly squeeze, then briskly changed the subject. “Anyway, why don't you go have a shower? I'll still be here when you get back, and I'll tell you about the phone call.”

    Taylor tilted her head. “Phone call?” This was the first she'd heard of that.

    “Shower first.” Amy made little 'shoo' motions with her fingertips. “You're a little bit sweaty. Go.”

    Fully aware that Amy was lowballing the description—she was a whole lot sweaty—Taylor grabbed some clothes and escaped into the bathroom. It was a relief to get under the hot spray; she could feel it washing away the last fragments of the nightmare. Just this once, she decided she could indulge herself and took her time with the shower. It was definitely worth it; by the time she finished, she felt almost human again.

    Dressed in the fresh clothing and drying her hair with her towel, she came back into the bedroom to find that Amy had not only changed out of her pyjamas, but she'd also stripped the sheets off the bed and remade it. Which was probably a good thing, given the amount of sweat that had been pooling off Taylor, but she hoped it wouldn't happen too often. I hate being like this. I hate being helpless to something I can't fix or avoid.

    “Hey,” Amy said, sitting down on the just-made bed. “Feeling better?” She smiled up at Taylor. “You look better. More colour in your cheeks. Less like death warmed over, to be honest.”

    “Thanks.” Taylor felt herself flush slightly; it seemed even a simple compliment from someone she considered to be a friend (and compliments and friends were few and far between on the ground for her, these days) couldn't help but embarrass her. “I feel better. Less ugh, if you know what I mean.” She sat down beside Amy. “I don't know if I've thanked you for waking me up when you did, but thank you again anyway.” She paused, searching for words that wouldn't sound sappy or stupid. “I haven't had anyone on my side for way too long.”

    Now it was Amy who felt embarrassed, if her awkward chuckle was anything to go by. “That's okay,” she said, flapping her hand to wave off the praise. “I've been stuck in my own problems for far too long. You've helped me get a bit of perspective, and to get away from some of the problems, all at the same time. You and your dad putting me up like this is …” She trailed off.

    Taylor chuckled, pretty sure that she knew what Amy meant. “Yeah.” Putting her arm around Amy's shoulders—sitting down, she was still just a little taller than the other girl—she gave Amy the same sort of squeeze that she'd gotten earlier. It felt nice to give as well as get. “It's like that. I'm just glad you're here.”

    Amy didn't say anything to that, but if her silent nod was any indication of her feelings, she agreed with Taylor's sentiment. They sat like that for a minute or so. Taylor found Amy leaning in on her; whether this was because the mattress was soft or because Amy wanted to lean on her, she didn't much care. It was just nice to have a friend. To have human contact apart from her dad.

    Before the silence could get awkward, Taylor recalled something Amy had said earlier. “So what was that about a phone call?” she asked.

    “Oh, yeah,” Amy said, sitting up slightly. "You know how we were talking about working something out earlier? Well, after I woke up, I was just lying there thinking about things, when I had an idea about how to solve one of your problems. You were still asleep, so I went downstairs and called the Deputy Director.” She ducked her head, looking a little sheepish. “I didn't mean to be away that long. When I got back upstairs, you were well into the nightmare.”

    “Yeah, well, I'm just glad you got back when you did,” Taylor said with feeling. She gave Amy's shoulders another squeeze for emphasis. “So what idea did you have? What problem did you call him about?” She was still getting used to the concept of just casually calling up the Deputy Director of the PRT and having him accept the call.

    “The problem of you being a cape in Brockton Bay,” Amy explained, a little obscurely. “Once I explained the idea, Mr Renick cut Armsmaster in on the call, and they agreed it could work. Of course, they're fully aware that it requires your okay to go ahead with it, but I just wanted to make sure it was even possible before getting you excited over something that might not even happen.” Her eyes, now anxious, searched Taylor's. “I'm not trying to step all over your choices, but I was kind of excited to see if they'd go for it.”

    Now Taylor was totally confused. “Okay, what idea did you have to fix the problem?” As far as Taylor could tell, there were several potential problems that Amy could be referring to. Of course, after what she'd done for Taylor, Amy could've casually announced that she'd figured out how to walk on water, and Taylor would probably have accepted the statement at face value.

    Amy looked overly pleased with herself. “Well, you see, not many people know this, but were you aware Gallant isn't actually a Tinker?”

    This was indeed news to Taylor. “Um, I am now?” She paused. “Not to sound rude or anything, but how does that relate to my problems?”

    Amy's smile widened. “I'm glad you asked. It's all about misdirection …” As Taylor listened intently, she began to explain.

    <><>​

    Undersiders Base
    A Little Later
    Grue


    One of Rachel's dogs—Brutus, if Brian recalled correctly—raised his head and growled. Within seconds, all three dogs were standing and barking, looking toward the entrance of the loft. Brian stood up from the sofa, putting his controller down and reaching for his helmet. “Someone's here,” he warned everyone.

    “Don't worry, it's only Shadow Stalker,” Lisa said, wandering in from the kitchen. Her hair was still unbrushed, but she had a stack of papers in her hand and a look of satisfaction on her face. This wasn't even affected by the fact she had to raise her voice to be heard over the dogs. “She's probably gonna be pissed we wouldn't let her sleep over. Just saying.”

    Footsteps sounded on the spiral staircase; from the sound of it, whoever was coming up was either a big, heavy person or they were (as Lisa had so delicately put it) pissed enough to stomp on every riser. With a look of annoyance on her face, Rachel quieted her dogs, but she didn't make them sit. In fact, from her posture and attitude, Brian had a strong suspicion that she was considering going on the attack once Spectre came in the door. He turned to face her, and shook his head. “No,” he said flatly. “The boss wants us to work with her, so we play nice for the moment.”

    She switched her glare to him. This was nothing new; they clashed once in a while over how things were done in the Undersiders, but she nearly always came around in the end. Sometimes she needed a more physical inducement, which never sat right with him; his father, as rough around the edges as he was, had always taught him not to hit girls. But sometimes her stubbornness and combative nature directly threatened the integrity and safety of the team, and so he had to make the hard choice. It was a small blessing that Rachel never seemed to take his disciplinary efforts amiss; once done, it was done.

    This time, however, she seemed willing to back down before things got physical. At a word and a gesture from her, the dogs sat down again. For herself, she kept her eyes on the doorway; some of the tension left her body, but she didn't take a seat herself. Nor did Brian, partly because he didn't necessarily trust Rachel not to go on the attack anyway, and partly because he wanted to be on his feet when Spectre came through the doorway—just in case.

    When she did walk in, she was in costume and carrying a cardboard box; despite the fact that the tinted visor was doing a reasonable job at concealing her features, she looked annoyed. Just as Lisa had predicted, in fact. Big surprise there.

    “I still can't believe you shits wouldn't let me sleep here,” she snapped, apparently willing to carry on the argument from the night before. “What the fuck's that about, anyway?” The box in her hands, about eight inches square, she tucked under one arm as she surveyed the assembled Undersiders.

    It hadn't been a hard decision to make. Despite his best efforts to show hospitality (some working more at it than others) things hadn't gone well the night before. Spectre hadn't helped when she more or less claimed one of the armchairs and skated it off as far into the corner as she could manage, where she could keep an eye on the rest of them. Brian might've felt mildly insulted, but he knew damn well Rachel was just looking for an excuse to beat the living shit out of the newcomer. He felt that way himself, but as the leader of the Undersiders, he'd decided to keep it to the practice mat.

    About the only way for her to build any sort of fellow-feeling in the group would've been to play shooter games with Regent, but apparently she hadn't felt like doing that either. So she lurked in the corner all evening and glowered at everyone while Brian and Alec played the game, Lisa huddled in the kitchen doing her research and Rachel took her dogs for a walk. At least Alec stopped making Spectre's limbs twitch at inopportune moments, though that had taken dire threats of what would happen the next time he and Brian stepped on to the practice mat together to achieve this.

    In the end, as nobody seemed to be warming to their unwelcome guest, Lisa had contacted the boss and asked for Spectre to be accommodated off-site for the night. A car arrived shortly afterward, and she'd grudgingly gotten in. It seemed, though, that she still thought she was in the right over the matter. Which, given Brian's experience of Spectre (and Shadow Stalker), didn't surprise him in the slightest.

    “Well, it goes like this,” Alec chirped up from where he hadn't budged from the sofa. “I'm not saying we didn't trust you not to slit our throats in our sleep, but … yeah, actually, we didn't trust you not to slit our throats in our sleep.”

    “You're not one of us,” Rachel said bluntly, in a rare agreement with Alec. “Never will be. Don't try and pretend like you are. You don't like it, fuck off.” Her expression dared Spectre to do something about it. “You can't do hero right, and you can't do villain right. You're a fucking failure all the way around.”

    “Don't call me a failure!” Spectre came moved toward her, her fists clenched, but Brian stepped forward into her path. Darkness leaked from his hands and pooled between them as a silent warning. She didn't come any farther, but anger twisted her expression into something ugly. “They're always fucking with me! If he's not making me trip, she's calling me stupid fucking names!” Her tone was almost indignant, as if someone like her should be immune to the casual dickery of the other three. For a moment, he briefly wondered if she was used to being on the other side of the equation. With her attitude, it really wouldn't have surprised him.

    “I've got a scar on my gut that says I've got no obligation to feel sorry for you,” he said flatly. “You've tried to kill all of us at one point or another. I don't know exactly what you got caught for to end up on the wrong side of the law and get shoved in with us—”

    “I do!” Lisa, her smug grin belying her tired look, appeared on the verge of bursting into laughter all over again. “Holy shit, it's amazing. You wouldn't believe what's on the PRT files about her. And what she did to Aegis. It's a good thing she slept away last night.” Without looking away from Spectre, she gestured over her shoulder. “Anyway, the plan's in the kitchen. I've already run the guys through it. It's not too sophisticated, so you should understand it just fine, Spooky.”

    Brian wasn't sure exactly what she meant by the emphasis, but the glare of pure hatred Spectre sent Lisa should by rights have dropped the Thinker dead in her tracks. “I told you not to call me fucking stupid names,” snapped the ex-vigilante, stepping right up to Lisa. “You want some? Let's go. You and me, right here, right now.” Her fists were clenched so tightly that even her dark skin showed white over the knuckles.

    “Sorry, honey, but I don't swing that way,” Lisa purred. “No wonder you're such an unbearable cow all the time, though. You must be so frustrated that you can't find a girlfriend who can stand your shit long enough for you to get into her pants.” Blowing Spectre a kiss, she gave the other girl a fingertip wave, then sashayed back along the corridor toward the kitchen, giving her hips a good bump and grind along the way. “Come on back and I'll show you the plan. I'll even read out the big words for you.”

    “Fuck you, you stupid bitch!” Spectre shot back, causing Brian to mentally facepalm. You did not just say that to Lisa. The blonde Thinker hated being called stupid; to do so was to invite her to retaliate with everything she could bring to bear. Anyone who knew Tattletale knew that. Apparently, Spectre wasn't one of them. Or maybe she was, and was too pissed to care.

    Not even missing a beat, Lisa's voice floated back along the corridor. “No thanks. Like I said, you're not my type. But if you're lucky, you might be able to persuade Regent to wear glasses, a dress, and a long curly wig. He's into kinky stuff like that.”

    “It's true,” Alec said languidly. If Brian hadn't been sure his team-mate was just saying it to back up Lisa and stir Spectre's temper some more, he might even have believed it. “I draw the line at tucking, though.”

    Once again, Lisa's reference went right over Brian's head, but it scored a direct hit on Spectre. They were all lucky, he judged, that the black girl also lacked any sort of spontaneous combustion power; the loft might not have survived, otherwise. “I am not gay!” she shrieked—no, screeched. “I like guys! Guys! Not girls! And definitely not He—her!”

    Brian didn't even bother wondering who 'her' was. It wasn't often that Lisa managed to wind up her targets so thoroughly, but Spectre had obviously been a prime target. He'd never seen anyone actually froth at the mouth before—well, apart from a few Merchants on bad trips, but they didn't count. Spectre looked like she wanted to either storm down the hallway and rip Lisa a new one, or strangle Alec with his own controller cord. Or maybe both, possibly at the same time.

    Alec's phone hadn't made a sound, but he picked it up anyway and held it to his ear. “Hello? Yeah? Okay, I'll tell her.” He put the device down and looked up at Spectre. “Yeah, that was Accord, in Boston,” he drawled. “He wants you to keep the noise down—and he doesn't believe you, either.”

    That broke the deadlock. With a scream of inarticulate rage, Spectre turned insubstantial and leaped toward Alec. Just for a moment, Brian was tempted to let the two mess each other up; if he didn't step in on his team-mate's side and Alec lost, maybe he'd learn not to fuck with people so egregiously. The trouble was, if he won, he'd take that as license to do it even more often. Besides, Brian didn't like Spectre even a little bit. Yes, she was hot, but so was Purity, and Brian wasn't about to ask her on a date any time soon either.

    Alec had apparently been waiting on Spectre's reaction; as she sprang toward him, he brought his sceptre around so that the prongs would contact her immaterial form. Once that happened, Brian knew, it would discharge through her body and drop her on the floor in a twitching heap. But Spectre wasn't the type to be caught napping, or even to attack without a plan in mind. Turning solid halfway there, she lit down on her hands and rolled into a somersault, from where she kicked out solidly toward the sceptre. The heel of her boot connected with the weapon, sending it flying out of Alec's hand. Even though he exerted his power a moment later, causing Spectre to flop sideways as one of her arms spasmed, the damage was done. He was unarmed and she was almost within reach of him.

    With an aggravated sigh, Brian stepped forward, darkness billowing from his hands. It enveloped the other two at the same time, eliciting totally different reactions. While Alec dived forward off the sofa in a scramble to find his sceptre, Spectre stumbled, all her grace and speed gone. Her chest heaved, as though she was having trouble breathing. Of course, neither one could see a thing right now, which suited him just fine. Maybe I can bang their heads together a few times. We don't need Regent poking the bear just so he can watch me beat up Shadow Stalker. Not that he had a moral problem with beating up on Shadow Stalker, but the boss wanted them to let her work with them, so he probably wasn't allowed to smack her around too hard.

    She was just feeling her way out of the cloud when he grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. At that moment, Lisa yelled, “GRUE!” from the kitchen area; the slightly muffled nature of the shout clued him in that the entire loft was now enveloped in his darkness. Spectre went to her shadow form, but only managed to stay that way for a second or so before she popped back into her solid state. Breath audibly rasping in her lungs, she tried to shape up against him, but ended up facing a good sixty degrees to the side. He could work with that. Slapping a hand on her left shoulder, he tapped his foot behind her knee to throw her off balance. The knee buckled and she went down, though he maintained his grip to prevent her from going all the way over. She lashed her right arm over to dig her nails into his wrist, but he took hold of it with his right hand and twisted it down between her shoulder-blades.

    Over the next thirty seconds, during which he allowed the darkness to sublime away, she scrabbled at his hand with her left hand, doing her best to break his hold on her shoulder. Unfortunately for her efforts, his hand was as big as both of hers together, and her other hand was being held securely out of the way. When she tried to prise his little finger free to break it, he just dug in harder, causing her to grunt from the pain as his fingertips gouged into her shoulder joint. Once her ears were clear, he leaned in from behind her. “Quit it,” he said flatly. “Or I'll let Regent zap you stupid with that stick of his.”

    Pushing her hair back out of her eyes, she twisted her neck to glare up at him. “So that's what you're like, deep down,” she sneered. “Big strong guy who needs help to beat up one girl.”

    Her voice almost hit the right note to make him lose his temper, but he gritted his teeth and held it together. “Enough's enough. Cut the shit. We've got a job to do. You've still got to look over the plan Tattletale's made. Regent, turn the game off. Rachel, get your dogs ready. As soon as Spectre knows what she needs to do, we'll be heading out.”

    Letting the girl go, he stepped back to allow her to stand—and, incidentally, avoid any potential retribution. She glowered at him, Rachel and Alec equally as she got to her feet, massaging her shoulder and wrist by turns. “Are you gonna just let them keep sniping at me like that?” she demanded. “Pick, pick, pick. Like fucking vultures, him and Tattlebitch and Hellcow.”

    Shadow Stalker never gave an inch and always demanded a mile, and the only way to reply to that was to attack in return. “I thought you were stronger than that,” he said, curling his lip slightly. “You're acting like nobody ever made fun of you. Toughen up, princess. This ride doesn't get any smoother.”

    As he expected, the 'toughen up' comment got a reaction from her, even though it was more visual than verbal. The glare she gave him should by rights have given him third degree burns; apparently, he'd struck a nerve. Which, to be fair, she seemed to have no lack thereof. Half the things they said seemed to trigger her in some way; or perhaps it was the fact that it was the Undersiders making the comments. On the other hand, Alec was in fine form today. It seemed Spectre brought out his best, or perhaps his worst. Brian decided it was all a matter of perspective.

    Biting back whatever she was about to say, she turned and stomped along the corridor toward the kitchen. Brian went to follow, but was distracted when Alec strolled over and retrieved the box that Spectre had dropped during the struggle with Brian.

    “Wonder what this is?” the curly-haired Master mused as he tucked his sceptre under one arm. Both hands thus freed, he began working to open the box.

    “Hey, that's not yours,” Brian hastened to say, but his heart wasn't in it. “You shouldn't mess with her stuff.” Despite his words, he made no move to either take the box from Alec or warn Spectre that they had it

    “Fuck that noise,” Alec said bluntly. “If it's hers, I want to know what it is before she uses it on us.” Finally getting the top off the box, he peered in at the contents and whistled softly. “Niiiiiice.”

    “Let me see.” Abandoning the high moral ground, Brian stepped in closer to look into the box. Nestled in what looked like memory foam were two bulky devices, coloured in the same urban-camo scheme as Spectre's costume, possibly designed to clamp on to the wrist. Next to them were two collapsible batons, also tinted in shades of grey. Last but not least, there was a purposeful-looking survival knife, the type that carried small items in a compartment in the handle. “Oh, yeah,” he agreed. “Very nice.”

    “Wonder what those do?” Regent prodded one of the bulky objects with his fingertip. “It looks like some sort of really dangerous watch.”

    Brian took the thing out of the box. Under it, there was a row of wicked-looking finned darts, each with a tiny glass reservoir of some sort of liquid. “Dart launcher,” he decided. “That's probably some sort of knockout shit. Or at least I hope so.” If those darts held a lethal concoction, it would make their position in the city very precarious indeed. He looked over the bulky object and worked out how to pop a catch on one side. Part of it flipped up, revealing a series of chambers obviously designed for the darts to fit into. “Six shots per launcher before she has to reload. Very cool.”

    “Yeah, right up until you stop and think about how she's gonna be carrying this stuff. We gotta turn our backs on her at some point.” Alec's voice was uncharacteristically serious. “This is fucking Shadow Stalker here. To quote that Aleph show, it's not if she's gonna pull a sudden-but-inevitable betrayal, but when. She could seriously fuck us up with this shit.”

    “So we don't give her the chance,” Rachel said abruptly. “We make sure she can't use it against us. We've got this stuff, we keep it out of her hands.” When Brian and Alec stared at her, she glowered right back. “What?”

    Brian grimaced. “I'd love to do that, but we can't. If we hold this back from her, she'll only complain to the boss. And when she fucks it up, as we all know she will, we'll be the ones who get blamed for it.” Carefully, he snapped the cover back into place, put the dart launcher back in the box, then closed the lid. Initially, when he tugged at the box, Alec didn't want to let go. Brian frowned and yanked it out of his grip.

    “Hey,” protested Alec. “We could've fucked with her so hard.” He reached half-heartedly for the box, but Brian held it out of his reach. “We still can. She hates our guts and like you said, she's gonna fuck this up no matter what we do. Are we really gonna give her a chance to stab us in the back and screw our rep?”

    “No.” Brian moved sideways so he could look down the corridor. Spectre was leaning over the kitchen table while Lisa explained something. “We give it to her, but one of us is always keeping an eye on her. We don't leave her unobserved even for a second. If she does anything other than what she's supposed to do, we put her down.” He looked from Alec to Rachel. “Got that?”

    “Still don't see why we have to let her have it,” Rachel grumbled. “It'd make things a lot easier if we didn't.” She eyed the box as if contemplating trying to take it away from Brian.

    “Much as I hate to agree with Rachel on anything, she's got a point,” Alec insisted. “Exactly why are we making it easy for Shadow Stalker to fuck us up?” He made another grab for the box, but Brian held it out of the way again.

    “Because that's the way we're doing it. So when she tries, we've got a solid reason to kick her sorry ass to the curb.” Brian realised that if he stayed where he was, they'd keep arguing, so he headed down the corridor. It went against all his instincts to give the enemy their weapons back—and new costume or no, Shadow Stalker would always be his enemy—but he couldn't see any way around it that would keep them on side with their boss.

    “ … and that's about it. Any questions?” Lisa looked around as Brian joined them in the kitchen area. “Oh, hey. Just finishing up here. Everything okay out there?”

    “Yeah.” Brian handed the box to Spectre. “You dropped this. Don't be so careless when we're on the job, okay?” He couldn't keep the curt tone out of his voice; not that he was trying very hard.

    “What the fuck?” She snatched it out of his hand. “You better not have fucked with it,” she snapped. “The boss will be pissed if you make me screw up this job because of some fucked-up personal grudge.” Yanking open the box lid, she examined the contents.

    “Funny, I was thinking exactly the same thing,” he shot back. “Don't fuck us around, and we'll all get through this okay.” He turned his attention to Tattletale. “So, we ready to move on this?”

    Tattletale nodded. “I guess so,” she said. “If Spectre does her bit, we can do ours.” She looked over at the one-time Ward, who was inspecting one of the dart launchers. “That's if she can figure out how to use her new gear in time.”

    “Fuck off,” sneered Spectre. “I've got this shit nailed. You just be ready to do your thing.” She glared at Lisa, obviously unwilling to concede even a fraction of an inch in their battle of wills.

    “Always am, always will be,” Lisa replied cockily. Giving Spectre one of her patented smug grins and another fingertip wave, she headed off down the corridor to her own room; no doubt to get changed.

    Spectre sneered at Lisa's back and snapped one of the launchers on to her own left wrist. Then lifted the memory foam out of the box and put it on the table; under it was another layer, this one with a series of cylindrical metallic bulbs bedded in slots. Prying one of the bulbs out of the foam, she slid it into an aperture Brian hadn't noticed in the rear of the launcher. Then she popped the hatch on top of the launcher and picked out a particular dart. This one, Brian belatedly noticed, was lacking the liquid-filled capsule. While he was trying to figure out the possible use of a dart that didn't deliver any payload, Spectre slotted it into place and locked the loading hatch down. In one smooth action, she raised her arm straight out and fired. Brian didn't see how she'd triggered the launcher, but there was a chFFF of released gas, and the dart thunked hard into an unoccupied section of wall near the stove. Striding over to the wall, Spectre yanked the dart out, then turned to give Brian a superior look. “See? I've got it totally under fucking control.”

    “So I see,” he agreed. A practice dart. Right. I should've guessed. He wasn't sure to be relieved or worried that she seemed to be so adept with the launchers already. “Well, get ready. We're heading out in five, and we don't want costumes showing.” Turning, he went back down the corridor. The others would need to be warned about just how effective the dart launchers seemed to be.

    <><>​

    PRT ENE Building
    Around the Same Time
    Taylor


    It felt strange to walk back into the PRT building, especially under her own power. Following Amy's advice, Taylor and Danny walked in together, trailing Amy by about a minute. The desk receptionists were surely primed with the information that they were on the way, but nobody reacted any differently to them. Even the guards, armed with odd-looking sprayers and grenades, didn't seem to look twice at them.

    Danny led the way up to the desk and leaned in to speak quietly with the receptionist. From the way her eyes switched to Taylor, she'd definitely been told to expect them. Even then, she didn't draw attention to them, but pointed at the public washrooms, discreetly located at the far end of the lobby. With a pantomimed nod and smile of thanks, Danny led Taylor in that direction. Taylor hadn't quite been expecting this level of cloak-and-dagger secrecy, but she supposed they had to have ways of getting people up into the building without drawing undue notice their way.

    Separating from her father to enter the washroom with the female silhouette on it, she was entirely unsurprised to hear the lock click behind her as it closed. In the next moment, a maintenance door opened and a costumed figure stepped out; behind her, Taylor could see a narrow concrete corridor, harshly lit by yellow fluorescent lights. Taylor recognised her immediately, of course; even though she wasn't much of a cape nerd, everyone in Brockton Bay knew of Miss Militia. Her iconic weapon currently rode on her hip as an ornately decorated flintlock pistol. The fangirl in Taylor wanted to ask to look at it, but she didn't want to be rude, especially to such a famous hero as the one before her.

    “Hello, Miss Hebert,” the flag-clad cape greeted her quietly. “It's good to meet you. If you'll come with me, please?” Stepping aside, she gestured for Taylor to precede her into the corridor. Taylor did so, feeling a touch of claustrophobia from the narrow confines, but taking heart from the fact that Miss Militia was there. She won't let me get lost in here. Though in fact, she was fully aware of the bugs lurking here and there in the service corridors, and figured she'd be able to find her way to an exit without assistance … eventually.

    Entering the corridor behind Taylor, Miss Militia pulled the maintenance door closed, then touched her ear and murmured something that sounded like 'female bathroom secure'. Turning to Taylor, she said more clearly, “This way, please.” Without waiting for an answer, she set off down the corridor in a purposeful manner. Despite being a little shorter than Taylor—which felt weird as crap, now that Taylor came to think of it—she covered ground more quickly, forcing the younger girl to half-trot to keep up.

    They turned a corner and then Miss Militia swiped a card of some sort on a reader, opening a door into an equally narrow stairwell leading both upward and downward. Taylor quickly found that the patriotic cape climbed stairs with the same direct focus with which she covered level ground. By the time they got to the next floor, Taylor was feeling a little winded just from trying to keep up. Another maintenance door yielded to Miss Militia's card, and they stepped out into … another bathroom. For a moment, half-dazzled by the bright white reflections from what looked like acres of porcelain tiling, Taylor vaguely wondered if they'd even gone anywhere.

    “We're in one of the second floor staff bathrooms,” Miss Militia explained before Taylor could think to ask. “Your father will be joining us outside.” Moving to the door leading out of the bathroom, she pulled it open and stepped through. Taylor shrugged and followed, to find that she'd been informed correctly. Just emerging from a similar doorway not far down the carpeted corridor was her father, in company with none other than Armsmaster himself. For just a moment, she wondered if the armoured hero had had any trouble negotiating the tight confines of the maintenance corridor. What am I thinking? she chided herself a moment later. He probably practices going through places like that.

    “Dad,” she said, calling their attention to her. “Uh, hi, Armsmaster.” It still felt bizarre to be greeting such a renowned hero like that. Then again, nothing about her life had been normal for the last few days.

    “Miss Hebert,” Armsmaster replied, then nodded to Miss Militia. “Thanks for your help. I've got it from here.”

    Not seeming at all fazed by the curt dismissal, she returned the nod. “No problem. All yours. See you back at base.” Turning to Taylor, she offered her hand. “As I said, it was good to meet you. Good luck.” A movement of her face under the flag-printed bandanna she wore hinted at a smile.

    A little dazed, Taylor shook her hand, then watched her march off with the same rapid stride as before. The suspicion had crossed Taylor's mind that Miss Militia might've been pushing the pace a little as a power play, but this didn't seem to be the case.

    Armsmaster broke the silence. “The Deputy Director is waiting upstairs. Let's go.” He led the way to a more normal elevator, for which Taylor was decidedly grateful—ever since she got her powers, she'd been wanting to get fit, but not that quickly—and pressed the call button.

    The ride upward was brief and devoid of conversation; neither she nor her father had anything to say, and Armsmaster seemed to not be a fan of small talk. While Taylor suspected he wasn't the emotionless robot some of the PHO threads made him out to be, he definitely didn't seem to be overly outgoing by any stretch of the imagination.

    The elevator dinged softly as they got to the correct floor, and the armoured hero led the way to a door marked Conference Room 12G. Opening the door, he stood aside to let them enter. Danny went in first, followed by Taylor. As they entered, three people stood up from the table; the first, of course, was Amy. The second, a brown-haired teenager, was instantly recognisable by his bright red and gold powered armour and the odd-looking board lying half-disassembled on the table in front of him; this had to be Kid Win of the Wards. The third was unknown to Taylor, though she could hazard a guess. Given that Amy said she spoke to the Deputy Director …

    Wearing a business suit rather than a costume, tall and spare with a careworn face and greying hair, the stranger was still a few inches shorter than her father. Stepping forward, he offered his hand to Danny and then to Taylor. His grip was firm but not crushingly so. “Mr Hebert, Miss Hebert; it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Deputy Director Paul Renick. Thank you for coming in so promptly. Figuring out how to deal with your cape identity is of the utmost importance, right now.”

    “Well, that's what we're here for,” Amy said brightly, coming over to Taylor. “See, I was thinking that if Taylor felt as safe as possible while she was out and about, there'd be far less chance of her calling on the swarm en masse like before. And if it's hard to knock her out, then any orders she gave could be rescinded before real damage could be done.” She looked at Armsmaster and Kid Win in turn. “Does that make sense to you?”

    “You're talking about your suggestion of giving her power armour like Gallant's.” Armsmaster's tone was non-committal. Taylor wondered if that meant he didn't like the idea; it was really hard to read his expression when most of it was hidden behind his visor.

    “So we're gonna pretend she's a Tinker?” Kid Win tilted his head to one side slightly, then seemed to realise his faux pas. “Uh, sorry, hi,” he said a moment later. “I'm Kid Win, but you probably knew that.” Rounding the table, he held out his hand for Taylor to shake. “Armsmaster's briefed me on what actually happened, and I want to apologise for the rest of the Wards. I mean, we knew Shadow Stalker was a cast-iron b-uh, bad person, but we had no idea she'd go that far.”

    “Yeah, well, I think I'll hold off on blanket forgiveness until I see how we do here today,” Taylor replied dryly. She'd meant it as a joke but Kid Win winced, apparently not picking up on the subtext. I wonder if that's a Tinker thing. He'd definitely earned points in her book for describing Sophia as a cast-iron bitch, so she decided to cut him some slack. “But yeah, Amy had the idea that I could pass as a Tinker if I had a few gadgets to wow the public with. I don't need anything too complicated or dramatic …” She trailed off. “Uh, is power armour complicated and dramatic?” The answer that her brain was suggesting to her was 'yes'.

    “Less so than you'd imagine,” Armsmaster assured her. “Roughly eighty percent of Tinkers with a purely mechanical specialty build themselves power armour at some point in their careers. It won't need to have as many devices incorporated in it as mine, of course.” Taylor hid a smile at the poorly-concealed note of pride in his voice. Of course, the man had earned every right to be proud about his work.

    “It doesn't have to be too flashy,” Deputy Director Renick agreed. “Simply the appearance of it should be enough to cement the concept in the public's mind.” He returned to the chair he'd been sitting in. “Please, have a seat.”

    “Well, the faux-Tinker thing definitely works with Gallant, so it should work with you too,” Kid Win conceded as he went back to where he'd been working on the odd-looking board. “But what I'm confused about is how you're going to play the whole bug control thing off against the Swarm without people adding two and two and breaking out the flaming torches and pitchforks? Because if the public doesn't get a culprit soon, anyone showing bug control powers of any sort is gonna get crucified the moment he shows his face.”

    “Wait, wait.” Danny pulled out a chair for Amy and another for Taylor, then raised his hand. “Before we get into that, what do you get out of this? I happen to know Taylor isn't going to be joining the Wards, yet you're talking about gifting her with power armour and other Tinker gadgets just so she can pretend not to have bug powers? What am I missing here?”

    Armsmaster hadn't bothered to take a chair; now, standing at the end of the table opposite the Deputy Director, he cleared his throat. “Just because your daughter isn't going to be in the Wards and under the official orders of the PRT doesn't mean she can't work with us.” He nodded toward Taylor. “Miss Hebert, you have a potentially useful and versatile power, one which both the PRT and Protectorate are willing to do a lot to keep on the side of the heroes. A little extra Tinkering work is a small price to pay, especially as Kid Win and I will be sharing the burden. For our part, we get a new hero who'll be unofficially working alongside us; for yours, you get the equipment to help you do just that without attracting unwelcome public attention, as well as needed backup in being a hero. I believe that's what we call a 'win-win' situation.”

    “Okay.” Danny rubbed his chin. “I see.” A moment later, he amended that. “I think I see. What about the other side of things? You could put anyone in power armour, not just Taylor. So she's got to use her power to be more than just someone in armour. How are you going to arrange things so she can do that without public opinion coming down on her like a ton of bricks?”

    Deputy Director Renick cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to him. “That's where the press conference comes in.”

    Press conference? Taylor blinked, suddenly unsure of what was going on. What press conference?

    <><>​

    Hillside Mall
    Nearly Midday
    Sophia


    It was a pain to be walking through the mall with the hood pulled up over her head and the sleeves down past her hands like some loser—like Hebert—but Sophia had to assume that the police weren't in the loop about her mission. If the rent-a-cops watching the security cameras had a picture of her, they might even get off their lard-asses to tell the cops that Sophia Hess was in their mall. They wouldn't put out my real identity in connection with Shadow Stalker though. I mean, I've got a career as a hero to go back to after this. So I'm probably wanted for stuff like shoplifting as Sophia. Which would be fucking ironic, given that she'd lifted a lot of shit using her powers and never once been caught. She was pretty sure that was what 'ironic' meant.

    Tattletale and Regent, strolling through the mall on either side of her, managed to act like they were the popular kids taking their shy weirdo friend to the mall, to get her out of the house or something. The blonde had her hair done up in some complicated braid, and even Regent looked pretty sharp in jeans and a light jacket, though Sophia would rather kick his ass than look at him in that way. It burned her butt that they were treating her like Hebert would've been treated by her friends, if she had any. I'm nothing like fucking Hebert.

    “There's the shop over there,” Tattletale said quietly. “I'm gonna go browse. You two hang out here. Don't get in too much trouble.” She gave Sophia that fucking irritating smug-ass grin again, the one that said yeah, you look exactly like our loser friend. Then she turned and wandered in the direction of the jewellery store. Sophia watched her go, itching to pull up her sleeve and put a dart right between the arrogant blonde bitch's shoulder-blades. Maybe I'll 'accidentally' tag her while we're doing the job. Leave the bitch for the cops. I'll say I was aiming at someone else and she stepped in the way. And if more strenuous measures were needed, she was already working out how to phase a dart into someone's body. The projectiles weren't as big as her crossbow arrows, but even something that small in the right place could do serious damage. I'll tell Calvert I was in fear of my life. He'd probably pin another medal on me.

    A moment later, she noticed Regent had wandered off to study the display of an electronics store. From the way his head was only half-turned, she decided he was still keeping her in his peripheral vision. They don't trust me. Despite the fact that she was fully planning to betray them, this still pissed her off.

    A moment later, she forgot about her annoyance as she registered the type of store. Electronics. I can buy a fucking charger. Her phone, currently residing in the pouch at the small of her back, was below fifty percent charge, and she was starting to get concerned about it. Every charger she'd seen at the Undersiders' base was either carefully watched or had the wrong plug.

    Marching forward, she entered the store and looked around for the phone charger section. Just as she found it, someone changed the channel on one of the big-screen plasma TVs, taking it from an advertisement to a news spot. “- RT building where Deputy Director Renick is holding a press conference along with Armsmaster and Miss Militia to introduce the city's newest independent hero, Scarab.”

    That got Sophia's attention; she'd never heard of any hero called Scarab. Moving to a spot where she had a good view of the TV, she stared up at the screen. The scene was taking place on the steps of the PRT building. Flanked by Halbeard and the woman with a gun for every occasion was a tall figure, made bulky by shiny dark blue and black armour. A helmet with bulbous goggles over the eyes, as well as a pair of antennae, made it impossible to determine the wearer's age or gender.

    Thank you.” The Deputy Director was speaking now. “While we normally don't hold press conferences for independent heroes, this is a special case. Scarab, you see, was instrumental in ending the menace of the Swarmbringer.” He paused as cameras went off like strobes, and reporters shouted questions. Waving them down, he went on. “Allow us to finish, and we'll answer questions afterward. Scarab was in the area where the Swarmbringer created his Swarm, and she took refuge in a location where she had access to plenty of electronic items. This was fortunate, for in her terror, she triggered with Tinker abilities.” Stepping back from the microphone, he waved the armoured woman forward. “If you'll be so kind as to fill them in on what happened next?”

    Thank you.” Sophia frowned as Scarab spoke. That voice was almost recognisable. “My Tinker specialty is, unsurprisingly, to do with bugs. That is, I can build devices that affect bugs, and I can build devices that mimic what bugs can do.” She paused to sigh. “I don't actually like bugs at all, but I want to be a hero, so I have to work with what I've got.”

    There was something not quite right here, but Sophia couldn't put her finger on it. “The first device I built was designed to make sure the bugs couldn't attack me.” Scarab tapped one of the antennae on her helmet. “It was the first iteration of what I've got here. Once I was sure I was safe from the bugs, I went looking for the source of the Swarm. When I found him, he set bugs on me, but he lost control of them when they entered my radius of effect. He attacked me physically then, and beat me quite badly, but he'd forgotten about the Swarm. Inside my device's radius, his powers were inverted. Before he managed to break it, the Swarm was already all over him. The bugs stung him to death before dispersing. I went looking for help, and found the heroes. The rest is history.”

    Sophia's eyes went wide as she recalled the photo Emma had sent her. There was no fucking way Hebert got to be a hero. It just wasn't possible. She stared at the screen as Scarab rambled on. “I've decided not to join the Protectorate for the moment, but they've agreed to let me work with them as an affiliated hero. I'm quite looking forward to it. Armsmaster and Miss Militia are true heroes, and I think there's a lot I can learn from them.”

    “Hey, Spectre. Earth Bet to Spectre.” Regent nudged her again. “When you've finished zoning out, we gotta go change. Tatts just gave us the all clear.”

    Head still spinning from the revelation, Sophia stumbled from the store in Regent's wake.

    What the fuck just happened?

    <><>​

    PRT Building Ready Room
    Thomas Calvert


    - I think there's a lot I can learn from them.”

    “Ladies and gentlemen, they're ready for you.” The ready room TV clicked off as the PRT officer pressed the button on the remote. Calvert rose with the other strike team commanders, preparing to file through into the conference room where they'd be briefed on yet another meaningless policy change. He could've been doing other things today, and in fact he was. In the other reality, he was in his base, searching the PRT's databases for everything they had on Scarab, and the masquerade they were pulling on the people of Brockton Bay.

    He didn't have anything specific against deceptions. Nor was he opposed to people who had done bad things getting the chance to walk away from that part of their past. He did object to not being able to make use of such situations for his own aims; in this case, the phrase 'useful blackmail' seemed particularly apt. He smiled as he followed the others into the conference room. It was just one more step on the path to removing Emily Piggot from the Directorship of the PRT ENE and replacing her with someone responsible enough to do the job properly; namely, himself.

    And then, in the other reality, he stared at the screen of his computer as it flashed red with the words SELF-DESTRUCT IMMINENT in strobing black and white, overlaying the red. Seconds later, even as his other self frantically hit keys, the first explosions went off. Chunks of concrete fell from the ceiling of the underground base, but the shockwaves and fire got to him first.

    “Hey, Calvert. You okay?” Pritchard, a hard-faced woman from Boston, steadied him as he stumbled. “You spaced out there.”

    “It's nothing.” Calvert twitched his arm from the other commander's grip. “Got distracted for a moment.” He headed on into the conference room, his head spinning from the implications.

    What the fuck just happened?



    End of Part Thirteen

    Part Fourteen
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2018
  13. Hye

    Hye Reader of The Long Words

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    God, this confused me a lot, for a second. I don't follow a lot of stories on QQ, yet, and the main one that I've followed over the last year or so is Queen of Blood. Which just ended. So when I saw I got a mail I just skimmed it and only registered of Blood and the fact that it was a new chapter :D Great confusion all around :)
     
  14. Zira

    Zira Getting some practice in, huh?

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2018
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    That's justice, Sophia, not irony. But can't really expect her to realize that when she isn't self aware enough to figure out she's constantly digging a deeper grave
     
  15. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    Yeah, I could see this falling under PtV's 'keep the Protectorate operational until the end of the world' plan. Releasing information about such a blatant coverup for their own benefit like this and blowing the whistle on a crazy Ward that accidentally engineered a massacre with her bullying target would go a long way towards destroying the PRT/PRO's ability to keep operating.

    Sorry, Coil, Contessa can't let you do that.
     
  16. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    That wasn't Cauldron, it was the virus Dragon and Pigot put on Coils computer systems a chapter or two ago.
     
  17. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    ...I find it a little difficult to believe that the Piggot and/or Dragon have anywhere near the level of ruthless disregard for the rule of law it would take to detonate an explosive of unknown power somewhere within the city on the basis that someone hacked their computers.

    This would be an incredibly disproportionate response for them to give and extremely out of character to boot.

    This kind of alpha-strike and disregard for collateral damage smacks way more of Cauldron than of the the Brockton Bay PRT or the Guild.
     
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  18. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It was an unintended side effect. In that timeline, Coil started going through the PRT databases, which allowed the virus to invite more malware into his base computer. Thus increased in complexity, it started mapping out his computer system in detail and digging into secure corners. Coil being a paranoid bastard, he had a setup where unauthorised access to his computer set off the self-destruct. The virus accidentally triggered this, because Dragon didn't think to safeguard against that level of Bond villain paranoia. Boom.
     
  19. Slayer Anderson

    Slayer Anderson Orthodox Heretic

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    Okay, that's much more believable. I can buy an unintended consequence much more easily than Piggot/Dragon deciding to salt the Earth suddenly and inexplicably.
     
  20. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Tentacle Slime

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    I would think that Coil would be more specific in what kind of error messages would precede the base self destruct.

    He'll probably remedy that once manages to get himself back to the base.
     
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  21. Zira

    Zira Getting some practice in, huh?

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    That's if he figures out how it happened. Can't be sure it will happen the same way again.

    I'm imagining it hitting auto door unlocks of the ones in his base that are too heavy for easy manual opening. One to his office opening and beaning him in the back of the head, and him closing the timeline rather than dealing with the headache.
     
  22. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka Attack on Anus

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    ...I kinda want Brian to meet Taylor in this so they can hit it off just to piss Sophia off even more but that's the Brian/Taylor shipper in me talking. :p
     
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  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    May or may not happen.

    If they do meet in costume, Taylor will be wearing power armour, which will put her at about his height and bulk. The voice modulator will put her voice at mid-twenties intonations. Brian will think she's a hot(?) older chick rather than someone two years younger, and react accordingly.

    Lisa will of course know what she's like under the armour and be immensely amused by Brian's reactions.
     
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  24. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    The virus in Coil's computers was the obvious Chekhov's Gun that fired off that self-destruct. Despite frequent jumps to "Cauldron did it" in Ack's fics, he rarely actually does that, unless he sets something up with Cauldron ahead of time; sometimes they don't show up at all. I don't think Cauldron's shown up in this fic at all yet (I'd have to reread it to be sure though).

    But MUCH more relevant... Coil now only has one timeline running, and has just walked into what is most likely a trap.

    Depending on how they handle the confrontation/takedown, Coil could get.... Desperate.

    Hopefully, they'll just gas the room, and he wakes up in a cell.

    *edit- and I imped Ack while replying to a completely different post, lol.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
  25. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    You're assuming he's going to be getting back to his base.
     
  26. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    Yeah, I'd be a bit nervous about going back there, as well (EDIT: and that's not the only reason he might not go there). Can he remotely access his base's computers?
     
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  27. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Tentacle Slime

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    Well in one 'reality' he can certainly try.

    Now you have me thinking something happened in both realities. Or will.
     
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  28. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Well, he used to be able to.

    Until someone introduced a virus into his computer and took control of his back-channel communications.

    Whoops.
     
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  29. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Tentacle Slime

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    I'm suddenly thinking that Dragon's Virus is Deedee from Dexter's Lab and is very much a "What does this button do?" quirky thing.
     
  30. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    If it helps to think of it that way ... why not :p
     
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