1. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. For a trial period of one week, allowed avatar size has been increased to 256kb, up from 51.2kb. During this time, if the forum seems to be loading slow, drop by the topic in the Announcements & Rules sub to let me know.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. QQ will be down for upgrades starting at 2030 EDT. Please be prepared and save any work.
    Dismiss Notice
  5. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  6. To the many new members following Mr Zoat to our forum, I would suggest a quick read of our Rules. Don't worry, it's not a long post. Pay special attention to Rule 8. We are deadly serious about it.
    Dismiss Notice
  7. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice
  8. To make things official, I have added a proper description of the method to appeal a moderator action in the Rules thread.
    Dismiss Notice

Price of Blood [Worm fanfic]

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

Loading...
  1. Threadmarks: Index
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    We take the tale up in early February of 2011, when Sophia incites a group of boys to chase Taylor down and duct-tape her to a telephone pole. It all goes horribly wrong from the moment that they catch her. Things will never be the same again, for Taylor Hebert or for Brockton Bay.

    Disclaimers:
    1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.
    2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
    3) I welcome criticism of my works, but if you tell me that something is wrong, I also expect an explanation of what is wrong, and a suggestion of how to fix it. Note that I do not promise to follow any given suggestion.


    Index
    Part One: Unkind Fate (below)
    Part Two: Investigation
    Part Three: Revelations
    Part Four: One Bad Apple
    Part Five: Incoming
    Part Six: Chasing Shadows
    Part Seven: Mixed Results
    Part Eight: Loose Threads
    Part Nine: Slowly Unravelling
    Part Ten: Legalities and Illegalities
    Part Eleven: Upsides, Downsides and Underside(r)s
    Part Twelve: Connections
    Part Thirteen: Enmeshed
    Part Fourteen: Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward
    Part Fifteen: Doubling Down
    Part Sixteen: Chasing Shadows, Part II
    Part Seventeen: Field Test
    Part Eighteen: Spilled Blood
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
  2. Threadmarks: Part One: Unkind Fate
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    Price of Blood


    Part One: Unkind Fate


    Wednesday, February 2, 2011
    Taylor Hebert

    No, please no.


    My breath burned in my throat. I couldn't run any faster. I had to run faster. Over the thundering of my pulse in my ears, over the frantic rasp of my breathing, I could hear the footsteps behind me. There were five of them, all boys. I didn't know why they were chasing me, but Sophia had told them to, so it probably wasn't to give me a late Christmas present.

    Too late, I told myself that I should have stayed at the bus stop with the other Winslow students. That might have made the boys reconsider. But then, given the number of pranks that had been pulled on me inside Winslow itself, maybe not. I had to keep running. If I made it too hard for them to catch me, they'd give up. Surely they'd give up.

    The fence on my right gave way to a narrow lane between houses. I staggered into it. Maybe I could get into someone's yard, hold the gate closed to keep them out -

    “Gotcha, bitch!” Hands grabbed me from behind. I struggled, yanked myself free, but overbalanced and fell. I put my hands out to catch myself, feeling the skin abrade away on the rough concrete pathway. The breath sobbed in my lungs.

    The knee that caught me in the middle of the back drove me down on to the concrete. I didn't have much air in my lungs; what little I had was driven out of me by the impact. My head bounced off of the path, my glasses coming off. Dizzy, not tracking well, I struggled feebly.

    “Stop moving, bitch!” Someone grabbed my arms. I flailed about, pulling free, driving my elbow back almost by accident. It slammed into something soft that recoiled. “Fuck! My fucking balls!”

    A blow to the side of my head. I tasted blood as my teeth cut into my lip. The ringing in my head got worse. I had to do something. Call for help. I strained to get air into my lungs, then let it out. A wordless shriek of despair and agony. Help. Please help.

    “Fuck! Shut the bitch up!”

    Someone grabbed my hair, pulled my head back. A hand slapped over my mouth, cutting off my scream. I tried to bite, sank my teeth into soft flesh. Did my best to draw blood. There, see how you like it.

    “Christ fuck! Get her off me!”

    Fingers like iron rods gouged into the sides of my face, forcing my jaws open. The hand was pulled free. I tried to scream again. Two hands grabbed my mouth this time, one to hold my jaws shut, the other to block off the noise. There was a ripping sound. “Here, shut her up with this!”

    The hands went away, but before I could let out a proper call for help, something silvery passed before my eyes. It went over my mouth, sticking to my skin, cutting off my screams. I tried to bite at it, but couldn't get purchase. My tongue, probing, tasted something bitter and sour. Duct tape? Did they put duct tape on my mouth? I couldn't breathe; the air hissed in my nostrils, but it wasn't enough.

    Another ripping noise, and I felt my wrists being taped together behind my back. Struggling just didn't help; there were more of them, and any one of them was stronger than me. I flailed my legs, kicking out wildly, not caring if I hit one of them or a fence. Anything that would get peoples' attention. But I felt them being grabbed, held together, taped at the ankles.

    I couldn't get enough air through my nostrils to struggle as hard as I wanted to, but I heaved at the duct tape anyway. It stretched a little on my wrists, and slid up and down on my ankles, but I couldn't make it do anything more than that.

    “Okay, we've got her.” The voice was strained, breathing heavily. “Now what do we do?”

    “She said to tie her to a telephone pole or something.” I didn't know who the boy was, except that he was probably on the track team. Or maybe not. I didn't know. I just knew who 'she' was.

    “I don't see any telephone poles around here.” This was a third boy. He was panting just as hard as the first two. “Just leave her?”

    “Fuck that,” growled a fourth. “She got me in the nuts. Bit Joe. Kicked you in the chest.” I didn't remember kicking anyone, but I was pleased that I had. I hope it hurt. “She's gonna pay for making it this hard.”

    Hands wriggled into my pockets, found and retrieved my house key and the little coin-purse I kept for the bus. I tried to breath steadily. Let them take your stuff. It's just stuff. I didn't know what had happened to my backpack; it had been dropped, somewhere back along the way, because it was weighing me down. It was probably gone by now, too.

    Coins jingled; I heard murmuring. “Fuck, three dollars forty-two? That's not even a pack of fucking gum!” Something struck me on the back and the head; I saw coins bouncing on the ground in front of me.

    “Well, fuck. No money. A shitty plastic watch. She doesn't have a phone. No jewellery. So much for making her fucking pay for it.” A weight on my back, which I had almost forgotten about, lifted off of me. Suddenly, I could breathe a lot more easily. “Fuck it. Let's just leave her.”

    “No.” It was the guy I had gotten in the testicles. “Fuck that. Let's have some fun with her. She owes us that much.”

    “What, you mean -?”

    “Yeah, I mean that.” His voice held a challenge. “Unless you're pussy. Pussy.”

    “I'm no fucking pussy.” There was anger in the voice. The sense of vague hope – maybe they'll just leave me to get free – began to give way to a growing dread. They wouldn't. Would they?

    “Then fucking prove it.” I heard a zipper slide down. “Get some.”

    “I dunno.” It was one of the others. “DNA and all that shit …”

    Yeah, I thought frantically. DNA! Evidence!

    “Dude. I always come prepared.” My heart sank. “Condoms catch all that shit. They won't have anything to go on.”

    The hopeful note in the one boy's voice was one I never wanted to hear. “You got enough for all of us?”

    No. No no no. Please, no. I began to struggle again, to make as much noise as I could.

    “Shit! Hold her down!” Hands grabbed me, rolled me over on to my back. It was hugely uncomfortable, with my hands taped behind me, but they didn't seem to care.

    “She can see our faces. She'll be able to tell the cops.” That was one of the blurry forms in front of me, sounding doubtful. I nodded emphatically.

    “Doofus, she doesn't know us from fucking Adam, and she needs glasses anyway. Now hold her steady.” I felt hands fumbling with my pants.

    “Sketch artists ...” It was the one who had worried about DNA.

    I could easily visualise an eye-roll with the tone of the voice. “Okay, fine then.” A ripping sound was followed by a strip of duct tape coming into view. I rolled my head frantically from side to side, but it was no use. The tape came down, and I saw nothing more. “Happy?”

    That was when I really started to lose control.

    Up until then, I had been determined to let them have their prank and go on their way. Tying me up was worrisome, but I figured that once they were gone, I could get bugs to chew through the duct tape – at least, I hoped they could chew through the duct tape – and I could go home. But tied up, gagged, blindfolded and about to be gang-raped by a bunch of jocks … no. Just. Fucking. No.

    I could easily have brought the bugs in before this point. Chasing them off with a swarm of bees or wasps would have been child's play. But my control wasn't the greatest; more to the point, attacking civilians with a swarm of stinging insects would have outed me and my powers, and not in a good way. I wanted to be a hero. Letting these guys – and, by extension, Sophia – know about my powers would do my heroic career no good at all.

    But this changed everything. I didn't give a shit about my heroic career, about my just-barely-started costume. Not if this was the price to pay for secrecy.

    I could feel every bug in my radius. Normally it was about one and a half to two blocks; right now, it was all the way out to four blocks. I had no idea why, but I wasn't arguing. I grabbed every one of those points of light that could bite or sting or even annoy someone, and gave them the same order. Come here. Help me.

    My top was pushed up. “Fuck, she wears a bra? Waste of time, you ask me.”

    I struggled, whimpering through my gag as the undergarment was pushed up and hands groped me. Other hands grabbed at my waistband. I arched my back, pushing my butt down on to the ground as hard as I could. No. No no no. Don't. I'm begging you.

    “Fuck, what's keeping you?”

    “She's not exactly fucking cooperating, dude.” I could hear the exasperation in his voice. Good. Give up. Go away.

    “Well, undo the fucking pants!”

    The first bugs arrived as the button on the front of my jeans was opened. Despite my best efforts, the zipper went down. I spread my knees apart as far as I could.

    “Oh, for fuck's sake, get her legs together!”

    There was a chuckle. I wanted to rip his throat out. “You won't be saying that in a minute.”

    I felt strong hands pushing my knees together; bucking and twisting, I did my best to struggle, but again, there were too many and they were too strong. But my reinforcements were about to turn the tide.

    “Fuck! Ow! What was that?”

    “Dude, you just got stung by a bee! Ow! Fuck! Was that a wasp?”

    “Is it just me, or are there suddenly a lot of bugs around here?”

    “Fuck, that's a black widow!”

    “No, dude, that's not a black widow! That's about ten of them!” It was only four, but four was bad enough. I decided to hold off the truly venomous bugs from attacking unless things got really bad. No need for any deaths.

    “Shit! Fuck! Ow!” More wasps had arrived on the scene. There were enough bugs here now for me to get a general idea of what was going on. The boys had not retreated, but they were fully occupied with fending off the attacking swarm. I rolled on to my side and started a bunch of cockroaches attacking the duct tape around my wrists. They ate everything else, I figured, so they could probably gnaw through duct tape with ease.

    “What the fuck's going on?” I could hear fear in the tone.

    “Fuck this shit, I'm outta here!” One of the boys bolted, then another. I let them go.

    I eased up on the attacks, concentrating on the cockroaches. That was my mistake.

    “Shit, look at that!”

    “Look at what? Fuck, this is too weird! Where'd all these bugs come from?”

    “They're not attacking her! And those roaches are going for the duct tape!”

    “The fuck?”

    Shit. Shit shit shit. I realised, too late, that I should have waited for them to all go before I started freeing myself.

    “Shit, she's a cape?” The third boy shook his head. “Fuck that, I'm out.” He bolted as well. I began to relax slightly, but the fourth boy was still looming over me.

    “Is this all you, bitch? You a fucking cape? You making all these fucking bugs attack us?”

    I was startled by the venom in his voice. Before I had a chance to react, he kicked me. His boot rammed into my stomach, bending me double as I lay on the ground. The breath drove out of me and I fought not to vomit. Help … attack …

    “Dude, let's just go. Come on!”

    “No, fuck this bitch! No psycho cape gets to pull this shit on me! We knock her out, the bugs go away!” He drew back his leg; I tried to pull my head out of the way, but it was too late. The smashing impact sent me spiralling into the darkness.

    <><>​

    Air. I could breathe. Cold air flowed into my lungs. I inhaled deeply, then bent double with a hacking cough. My stomach felt bruised. Bringing my hands around, I felt at it, then realised what I was doing. The duct tape around my wrists was hanging in tatters, with cockroaches still industriously gnawing away at it.

    I felt at my mouth, which tasted like it was full of blood. Most of the duct tape there was gone as well; I leaned to the side and spat out … blood, with a tooth in there as well, if the fuzzy white dot was any indication. My mouth felt like someone had kicked me there. Which, as I recalled, someone had.

    It took me a moment to realise that I was seeing the blood. Seeing my tooth. I felt at my eyes, then peeled away the remnants of the tape from there and my mouth. My jaw throbbed. It felt swollen, and when I tried to move it, something grated horribly. A shaft of pain shot up into my head, and I clenched my eyes shut tightly, trying not to scream.

    After a moment, as I breathed deeply, the pain went back to a dull background throb. I think I've got a broken jaw. Fucking asshole. When I saw the guy again, or Sophia for that matter, I was going to punch them right in the face. A lot.

    Once I had calmed myself down with images of Sophia's nose breaking under my fist, I checked the tape around my ankles. It had been also dealt with. Oh, good. I have to say, cockroaches are good for something. Rolling over, I climbed unsteadily to my feet. And then my pants promptly fell down. Oh, right.

    Bending over, I pulled them up, hoping that the roaches hadn't gone to town on them as well. Fortunately, they hadn't; I didn't feel any unwanted ventilation. Nor did I feel any unwanted cockroaches; as useful as they were, I still got the creeps when they ran over my skin.

    Skin.

    Reminded of that, I pulled my bra back into position, then yanked my shirt down into place over it. Blushing, I looked around to see who I might have accidentally flashed. There was nobody there. At least, nobody moving. But someone was lying there, about three yards away from me. Face-down. Not moving. I couldn't see any more details, because my glasses were nowhere to be seen.

    Wait.

    Taking a deep breath, I took hold of all the bugs on the ground … and for the first time, realised just how many there were. And how many there were in the air, as well. All around me. For blocks and blocks.

    “Oh, god,” I mumbled. They'd be able to see this swarm from space. I was so outed.

    But first things first. The command I had previously sent to my tiny minions now bore fruit. A bunch of them were clustered around what felt like my glasses. Bending down, I picked them up. For a miracle, only one lens was broken, and the arms only needed a little bit of straightening. I fixed that, then put them back on … and nearly threw up.

    Because right in front of me, the guy lying face-down … was dead. Either that, or he didn't have any problem with having been eaten down to the bone in several areas. Hundreds of bugs were still working away at him; I could feel their satiation as they gorged themselves on his …

    This time, I did throw up, turning to one side and relieving myself of my last meal. And the one before that. This didn't do my broken jaw any favours at all. I spat, painfully, to get rid of the lingering taste (unsuccessfully) then averted my gaze from the corpse. Now that I was paying more attention, I noticed another suspiciously human-shaped mound of bugs not so far down the alley. Oh, god. What have I done?

    I had told the bugs – all the bugs – to come to me, to help me, and to attack. They had done this, even while I was unconscious. And the two boys had died.

    I hadn't known my orders worked like that. I'd barely given any bugs any mass orders at all. Mainly, it had been 'come here' and 'go away'. Of course, I'd gathered black widows to start the weaving process for my costume, but even that wasn't going too great.

    Leaning against the fence, I spat again, then breathed deeply, trying to clear my head. Okay, then. I'm well and truly outed. Everyone in Brockton Bay who's not blind, deaf and dead is gonna know that there's a bug cape here. I glanced down at the corpse, then hastily averted my gaze again. And I've just killed two guys. Another deep breath. Okay. Okay. I can get through this. It wasn't my fault. All I have to do is explain what happened. Explain what they were going to do. Self-defence is a thing, right?

    My jaw hurt like a son of a bitch. I hoped that I wouldn't have to do too much talking. Carefully avoiding looking at the dead bodies, I started out of the alleyway. I just wanted to go home. I'd tell Dad what had happened, and he could call the police and let them know that it was all over. It was all going to be okay.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster

    The mass of bugs roiled and hummed over a section of north Brockton Bay. A circle about eight blocks across had been evacuated. Helicopters criss-crossed the sky above it, cameras pointing downward. The evacuation had been a nightmare; people had barricaded themselves into their houses, blocking every ingress point, and still the bugs got in. PRT drivers, volunteers all, had donned protective gear and driven vans into the area. To get as close to the houses as possible, they had driven over fences and mailboxes alike in their quest to get people on board and out of the area. And still, it hadn't been enough.

    Armsmaster, a hundred yards away from the nominal outer perimeter, called up the latest count of casualties on his helmet HUD. Of the ten thousand, five hundred and sixty-three people living in that area, seven thousand twelve had been stung, bitten or otherwise attacked by the sudden aggressive uprising of insects and spiders. There had been two hundred and fifty-four confirmed deaths, including one hundred and seventy-six from allergic reactions to bug stings. Twenty-nine people were known to be alive in the area, having managed to secure bug-proof shelters. Another eighty-seven were still unaccounted for.

    A beep in his earpiece signalled an incoming call. He flicked his eyes over the HUD and accepted it. “Director.”

    Armsmaster. Any change in the situation?” Her voice was clipped, precise.

    Despite the fact that she could not see him, he shook his head. “None. Are there any suspicious activities anywhere else in the city? Ransom demands?”

    A little looting, downtown, but nothing of note. The police are handling it. Nothing that would indicate prior knowledge of this situation.”

    “Hm.” He almost wished that it was a ransom situation. That way, he'd have someone to hit. “Does Dragon have anything that might fit this scenario?”

    I've spoken with her. She says that she's flying a specialised suit to Brockton Bay as we speak.”

    “Oh, good.” He felt a little tension leave his shoulders. “ETA?”

    Forty-five minutes.”

    “Good. I -” He paused, his eye on one of the camera feeds. “That's funny.”

    I assume you mean funny-peculiar.”

    “Yes, of course. Look at the north-west quadrant of the swarm. It looks almost as if it's breaking up. Dispersing.”

    She took a moment to reply. “You're right. It does. Do you still hold to the theory that the cape creating this is in the geometric centre?”

    “It would make the most sense, especially if this was being caused by a new trigger.”

    So the cape may be leaving that area. Travelling southeast.”

    “I'm still not entirely sure why the cape never moved in all this time.”

    We'll have to ask him or her that question. Preferably in an interrogation room.”

    “Wait. All quadrants are showing bugs dispersing. Is the radius of effect shrinking?”

    Perhaps a Tinkertech gadget, then. If it's running out of power …”

    “That would make it a proof of concept, or a distraction, or both.”

    Still think it's a new cape, Armsmaster?”

    He grimaced. “It fits the pattern. We haven't had a bug cape in the city before, and this one appeared very dramatically.”

    Hmm. You may be right. I've got the swarm breaking up more and more. Chopper Two has just spotted a person walking down the street, toward the perimeter.”

    “Description?” Armsmaster was already zooming in that camera feed as he asked the question.

    Subject appears to be a … teenage girl or skinny boy … long hair, we'll go with girl. Walking a little unsteadily. Dirt or blood on her face and down her front. I think she's wearing glasses.”

    Armsmaster agreed with the assessment; he also had caught the flash of light as the girl tilted her head to look at the overflying helicopter. “And the bugs are definitely dispersing?”

    It looks that way.”

    “I'm on the move.” Swinging his leg over his cycle, Armsmaster sent the signal to start the engine. All the work he had put into reducing startup time paid off now; no sooner had he settled his weight on to the saddle than the thrumming roar built up beneath him, every readout in the green. “En route to intercept.”

    Keep to the perimeter. The bugs might return.”

    “Roger that.” Displaying the acceleration of a much lighter vehicle, the cycle rocketed off down the street.

    <><>​

    Taylor Hebert

    It was only after I left the alley that I felt secure enough to start sending the swarm away. I kept a lot of bugs nearby, of course, but the vast majority were able to disperse and go their separate ways. Maybe I can even get away with this. I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen, but I could always hope.

    Down one street and then another I walked. I was reasonably certain that I was heading in the general direction of home. Winslow was somewhere behind me. I wasn't sure quite how far; as far as I could tell, it had been outside of my bugs' range when I was in the alley. I was also one hundred percent certain that I never wanted to go back.

    There was a bus stop in the distance. I walked toward it, then recalled that my bus fare was scattered on the ground, back in the alley. I hadn't even thought to try to get my coin purse back. So, walking it is. It was just another layer of crap on my already oh-so-wonderful day.

    It was creepy as hell, walking down empty streets. The only thing that broke the silence was the sound of helicopters overheard. I guessed that they'd been there since before I told the bugs to go away, but I hadn't heard them till then.

    Halfway across an intersection – no cars, which was kind of a first for me – I noticed faces peering out of a Denny's across the way. I hadn't seen a public phone, but maybe they'd let me call Dad and get him to pick me up. I might even get a glass of water to wash the taste of blood and vomit out of my mouth.

    As I approached, the faces shrank back, as if afraid. Of me? Yeah, that's gonna happen. The doors failed to open, so I tapped on them. The guy who was closest to the window shook his head vehemently. I tapped again. He shook his head even harder. I tried to indicate by gestures that the bugs were all gone, but I was pretty sure it was wasted on him.

    My jaw was hurting more than ever. I wanted to cry. My stomach was still sore. I turned away from the shop-front, and there they were.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster

    “So where is this mystery girl?” Colin didn't care how abrupt he sounded.

    The PRT officer held up a tablet showing a map of the swarm-infested area. “She's about two blocks away. Approaching the Denny's, the one with people inside.”

    “Oh, shit.” That was Velocity. “What if she's trying to get bugs in there?”

    Armsmaster turned to the officer. “Do you have their number?”

    “Right here, sir.” He held up a post-it note.

    Colin didn't take it. “Ring them. Impress on them that they must not open the doors for her. No matter what she says or does.”

    “Roger that, sir.” The officer turned away.

    “You know, the bugs are almost gone …” Velocity was rubbing his chin.

    “Yes?”

    “What if we just went in there?”

    Colin shook his head. “Bad idea. You saw how they swarmed anyone who tried to enter.”

    “But the swarm's gone, is what I'm saying.”

    Colin considered that. He seemed to be correct; the swarm had attenuated to … well, nothing. While it had been ongoing, the bugs had converged with extreme prejudice on anyone moving into the area. There were two possibilities here; either the swarm-controller had given new orders, or the bugs were waiting in ambush.

    And then there were the people holed up in the fast-food restaurant to consider. If the bug cape really wanted to get bugs in there, it was going to happen. A rock would do it.

    Armsmaster, this is Miss Militia. I have eyes on target.”

    Hannah was lying on a rooftop one block back from the danger zone. She had made her weapon into the most elaborate sniper rifle that Colin had ever seen, with a scope that could pick out individual hair follicles at half a mile. “What's she doing?”

    Just walking. Limping, really. She seems to be hurt. Holding her stomach. There's blood on her face and shirt. I can't get a good look, but there seems to be something wrong with her face, like her jaw's swollen.”

    Despite the fact that she couldn't see him, Armsmaster nodded. “Does she appear to have been attacked by the bugs?”

    I'm not seeing anything like that, no. To be honest, she looks like she's just been beaten up. Pretty badly, at that.”

    This was starting to fit the profile of a new trigger. He came to a decision. “Keep an eye on her. We're going in.”

    “We are? Who's 'we'?” asked Velocity.

    “You, me …” Armsmaster paused. “I could really do with Vista or Clockblocker, but I can't expose Wards to this sort of danger. Just the two of us for the moment, until we get this figured out. Plus some soldiers.” He raised his voice. “I'm calling for volunteers to go in with us. Four men. Two with containment foam.”

    “What's containment foam going to do against bugs if they decide to swarm us?” asked Velocity.

    “It's for us, so we don't get stung to death before help arrives,” Colin pointed out.

    “Oh.” Velocity looked enlightened. “Right.”

    So far, eight men had presented themselves. Armsmaster looked them over. “You, you, you and you. Stay behind us. No hostile moves unless I authorise it. Understood?”

    The highest ranking of the four men picked – a sergeant – straightened to attention. “Sir.”

    “Good. Let's go.”

    <><>​

    Taylor Hebert

    “Miss, I'm going to have to ask you to stand down.”

    The voice was firm and authoritative. I couldn't tell who'd spoken, or even who they were, because they had the sun behind them. As I squinted through the glare, the broken lens of my glasses sent spikes of bright light into my eye, making me wince. Painfully, I brought up my right hand to shade my eyes. As I did so, I saw the men tense. Rifles, or what I thought were rifles, were raised.

    “Don't shoot me,” I mumbled. “Please.” Even trying to speak sent a jag of pain through my jaw, causing tears to trickle down my cheeks.

    One of them stepped forward. He was taller than me by a good six inches, and so much broader that it was ridiculous. As he did so, he blotted out the sun, and I got my first good look at him.

    “Armsmaster,” I mumbled. I took a shuffling step forward, then another. “I just wanna go home. Dad'll be worried.” Armsmaster was a hero. He would help me get home. It was going to be all right.

    “Miss, you're going to have to come with us.” His tone brooked no disagreement.

    “No.” Something grated in my jaw with the intensity of the word, and I nearly screamed from the agony. “Just lemme go home. Please.” I tried to step past him, but something gave way inside me. Sinking to my knees, I hugged myself and let the tears come.

    That tiny surrender paved the way. The tight rein I had been holding on to consciousness slipped out of my grip, and blackness welled up.

    I think he caught me as I began to fall sideways.



    End of Part One
     
  3. Older-Than-Time

    Older-Than-Time Descending into The Lewds

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2015
    Messages:
    195
    Likes Received:
    3,216
    On one hand...she got raped. The trauma plus Armsmaster's probably-nonexistent bedside manner is going to make this a very...very...very bad end if one thing goes wrong.

    On the other hand, it's an Ack story, so there's a very large chance of a happy ending.

    I'm going to watch this and hope there's justice for Taylor and not her compromising, ultimately letting Sophia off lightly.
     
    HuggableFireSquid likes this.
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    She didn't get raped. The bugs dealt with her attackers before they managed to get that far.
     
  5. Older-Than-Time

    Older-Than-Time Descending into The Lewds

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2015
    Messages:
    195
    Likes Received:
    3,216
    Oh good. Less trauma for her.

    Now she just has to get Sophia and things will probably be looking up compared to her life before.
     
  6. john doe

    john doe Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2014
    Messages:
    306
    Likes Received:
    148
    That's a lot off deaths but she was actually unconscious and arms has a lie detector toconfirm that. bug control would be really hard to rebrand though if they want to get her into the wards. Not sure where this story is going but I'm sure that will be clearer in a few chapters. I do hope this goes to a happier place though :)
     
  7. GladiusLucix

    GladiusLucix I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2014
    Messages:
    939
    Likes Received:
    4,276
    Not necessarily true that he has the lie detector working yet.
     
  8. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka Attack on Anus

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2014
    Messages:
    3,097
    Likes Received:
    14,839
    That is something alot of people do forget....Emma and Sophia did escalate a bit after the locker incident passed over, I mean sure IIRC Wildbow did say that the boys wouldn't have raped Taylor had they caught her but well....
     
    Prince Charon and NuclearBirb like this.
  9. sunandshadow

    sunandshadow Impractical Fantasy Animal

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2016
    Messages:
    246
    Likes Received:
    443
    When capes accidentally massacre people when they first get their powers, the protectorate would most likely transfer them to another city where the public won't be as hostile. That goes double if Taylor mentions Sophia's name, and she might well do that because it's largely Sophia's fault those boys died; Taylor would be less inclined to keep secrets when someone other than her got hurt, even when she doesn't know about the high number of deaths yet.
     
    qof and Ack like this.
  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    He doesn't.
    Citation for that? After all, this is a school that's almost literally the definition of 'the wrong side of the tracks', these are jocks, they're chasing a loner loser who nobody ever believes, by the time they catch up with her, they're all full of adrenaline from the chase, she's at their mercy, and if they have no witnesses ...

    I'd be astonished if nothing happened.
     
  11. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    1,706
    Likes Received:
    3,828
    The real issue for Taylor is going to be something else: this WASN'T her Trigger event. So the laws/policies that protect new Triggers might not apply, or at least might not fully apply.

    *edit- Not sure the timeframe of the chapter, but I'd guess it's no more than 2 weeks after she was released from the hospital after the Locker, given the amount Taylor mentions she prepared.
     
    Ack likes this.
  12. Older-Than-Time

    Older-Than-Time Descending into The Lewds

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2015
    Messages:
    195
    Likes Received:
    3,216
    The thing is, the PRT and Protectorate do not know that this was not her trigger event.
     
    Ack likes this.
  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    Correct. Armsmaster is basically assuming trigger event here.
     
    Major Session and Prince Charon like this.
  14. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    1,706
    Likes Received:
    3,828
    The ONLY way I see them not finding out is the PRT being so sure that this was her Trigger, that they don't ask any of the dozens of questions that would have Taylor freely telling them when she Triggered.

    Especially if she says "I didn't know my powers worked like that," or something to that effect.

    And I do believe she mentioned starting the black widows on her costume, albeit unsuccessfully so far. So a search in the wrong place could show evidence she had her powers previously.

    Although...They could easily just publicly SAY it was her Trigger, knowing it wasn't; while Stalker's move to guarding a Simurgh containment zone is quietly mentioned on page 9.



    Also, thought... What are the odds Danny was one of the ones killed when Taylor's powers went out of control?
     
    SwiftRosenthal likes this.
  15. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    1,706
    Likes Received:
    3,828
    A very lousy omake, that's more along the lines of a rough sketch than a real scene:

    ---

    Taylor recounts the attempted rape.

    PRT: thanks, we know it's hard for a parahuman to talk about their Trigger, especially so soon after it.

    Taylor: Oh, that wasn't my Trigger, my Trigger was a few weeks ago when the same girl that sent the guys after me shoved me in a locker filled with.... biohazards... and left me in there for hours, I was in the hospital for a week.

    PRT: So this girl caused you not one, but TWO Trigger worthy events in under a month?

    Taylor: ...Yes?

    PRT: ...and...who was this girl?

    Taylor: Sophia Hess.

    ---

    Like I said, lousy.
     
    Sparfiolka, Chase92, Harpy81 and 9 others like this.
  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    Right now, yeah. They don't know that wasn't her trigger event, and she doesn't know that they think that, or that trigger events are important.

    Nope.
    "So, Shadow Stalker. Congratulations on your new posting."

    "Where is it?"

    "Ellisburg."

    "Aw man. Guarding Ellisburg?"

    "No. Inside Ellisburg. Say hi to Nilbog for us."

    :p
     
  17. SwiftRosenthal

    SwiftRosenthal Well worn.

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2014
    Messages:
    8,627
    Likes Received:
    28,757
    Two weeks later, Stalker emerges from the ruins, Jamie Rinke's head in hand.

    "Best. Employer-mandated vacation. Ever."
     
  18. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    Piggot to Armsmaster: "I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. She pulled two trigger event worthy incidents in two months, right under our noses."
     
    Chase92, Harpy81, Zackarix and 8 others like this.
  19. SwiftRosenthal

    SwiftRosenthal Well worn.

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2014
    Messages:
    8,627
    Likes Received:
    28,757
    I'm still surprised that we haven't seen a fic that inserts Sophia into Far Cry or Borderlands or any other ultraviolent wilderness/survival setting that places a low value on human life. Everything that makes her such a horrible person while surrounded by civilization makes her perfect for someplace more... primitive.
     
  20. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    She even knows this herself. After Levi attacks, she's happier given that the rules of civilisation are more relaxed.

    How do you think she would go partnered with Bitch in such a setting? I think (absent the animosity from the canon setting) they'd do well.
     
    Prince Charon and doomlord9 like this.
  21. Threadmarks: Part Two: Investigation
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    Price of Blood


    Part Two: Investigation


    Dr Hubert Lansing, MD
    PRT ENE Building, Brockton Bay


    “How is she?”

    Lansing looked up from the sleeping girl. Armsmaster stood there, solid and forbidding. His mouth was set in a hard, straight line.

    “Well, she'll live,” Lansing ventured. “She's been worked over pretty good. Broken jaw, broken nose, a couple of broken ribs, suspected internal bruising. She's lucky nothing's ruptured, actually. Depressed fracture of her right cheekbone. Suspected concussion. Lost all the skin off the heels of both hands. Bruising over a fair percentage of her body, both old and new.”

    Old bruising?” Armsmaster leaned forward, intent. “It didn't happen today?”

    “Not today, no.” Lansing led the way out of the surgery; behind him, IV bags fed saline and sedatives into the girl's veins. “If you were to ask me, she shows all the signs of a classic physical abuse case. But there's something odd about this. She was tied up with duct tape. Including over her mouth and eyes. Why?”

    “I can think of several reasons,” Armsmaster replied grimly. “None of them good.”

    Lansing tilted his head in agreement. “Very true. It's pretty difficult to bruise yourself on soft restraints like duct tape. She managed it.”

    “She didn't have duct tape on her face when we encountered her.”

    “Well, I found residue of the adhesive on her face. So it was there. And I peeled the remains of the tape off her wrists and ankles myself. What did you guys cut it with? Your halberd?”

    “It was like that when we found her.” Armsmaster sounded puzzled, which didn't surprise Lansing. This girl had too many mysteries around her. “When can I talk to her?”

    Lansing gestured magnanimously. “Be my guest. But she won't be answering for quite some time. We're going to have to wire her jaw before she comes out of sedation and wait till it heals.”

    “So, months.” Armsmaster didn't sound pleased at all.

    “Well, days. Hours at the very least,” Lansing conceded. “If you're okay with her mumbling a lot, and not being very coherent. And at some point, you're going to have to locate her next of kin and explain to them exactly what happened to her.” Lansing did his best to not show his appreciation that this would not be his job.

    Abruptly, Armsmaster turned and left. With another sigh, Lansing went to his desk. The case notes on this incident were going to be interesting … and not in a good way.

    <><>​

    Emily Piggot
    Regional Director, PRT ENE


    Emily hated days like this. It had been a nice quiet Wednesday, with minimal gang activity, right up until just before four in the afternoon. Then everything had gone to hell.

    The first indication that something was wrong occurred when the frantic 9-1-1 calls started coming in. People were being attacked by bugs in the area of the Swarm, as it ended up being called. Those on the perimeter were the luckiest; they could drive to safety, or in some cases just run away. Further in, it got worse. A lot worse.

    She looked at her monitor screen, at the figure for the final casualty count, then up at Armsmaster. The armoured hero was standing at parade rest, but she fancied that she could see the subtle telltales of tension. Armsmaster was deeply unhappy about something, which didn't surprise Piggot. Right now, I'm not too thrilled either.

    “Report.” Her voice was flat.

    “I've sent in my report already, ma'am,” he replied guardedly.

    “There are still a few questions I'd like answered.” She gazed at him steadily. “Such as why you went into the area of the Swarm without seeking approval first.”

    “The Swarm had dispersed,” he explained. “Miss Militia had indicated the presence of an injured teenage girl. I presumed this to be our bug cape.”

    Emily tilted her head. “Why?”

    His voice was matter-of-fact. “She showed no evidence of being attacked by bugs, and her projected path came from what I estimated to be the epicentre of the Swarm.”

    She considered that. “Very well. Continue.”

    “I decided that it was best to confront her away from innocents. She was unable to speak clearly, so I could not interrogate her, but nothing she did or said made me change my mind about her involvement in the matter.”

    “I'm presuming that you've since investigated further.” It wasn't a question.

    “Yes, ma'am. I'm still writing that report.”

    She leaned back in her chair, to give the impression of relaxation. “Give me the highlights. Start with what we know about the proximate cause of this event.”

    Armsmaster nodded. “I'm ninety-nine percent sure that the girl was indeed the cause of it. Seventy-five percent sure that it was in response to a trigger event.”

    He paused; Piggot absorbed the information. It wasn't welcome news; trigger events complicated everything. “Evidence?”

    “This has never happened before. It hasn't recurred since we took her into custody. She's obviously been through a severe ordeal. That says 'trigger event' to me.”

    Grimacing, she nodded. “So noted. What do we know about her?” The previous report had indicated that the girl's prints had not shown up in any databases, and she wasn't carrying ID. Piggot hated Jane Doe cases.

    “Her name is Taylor Anne Hebert,” recited Armsmaster, surprising her. “Age fifteen. Her father's name is Daniel Hebert. He's the head of hiring at the Dockworkers' Association, and he's currently in the building. Her mother's dead. Car accident.”

    Piggot blinked. “I see. So she's awake and talking then?”

    Armsmaster shook his head. “No. She's still under sedation, and will be for some time.”

    “Really.” Emily raised her eyebrows quizzically. “So how did you get all that information about her?”

    “We backtracked her,” Armsmaster explained. “Where we figured the epicentre was, we found an alleyway between houses. There were two corpses there, male juveniles of around Hebert's age.”

    Emily grimaced. “Two more. Good God. Is that reflected in the casualty count?”

    “It is now. But two pieces of evidence came up when we checked on them. I'm pretty sure I know why the incident was so severe.” His jaw hardened. “One of the boys had his fly open. Not by accident, either. When we rolled him over, he was fully exposed.”

    Emily blinked in confusion. “He was going to urinate on her?”

    “I'm thinking something more serious than that. Much more serious. There was an open packet of condoms nearby.”

    The conclusion was inescapable. “They were going to -” She didn't finish the question. She didn't need to.

    He nodded once, sharply. “That's my supposition.”

    “And did they -” She didn't finish that question either.

    “No, thank God. I checked back with Lansing. No sign of anything like that happening.”

    “Well, the picture's certainly starting to come together.” She relaxed slightly. “You still haven't explained how you got her name. Or her father's name.”

    “The boys were the key here. Not only were they carrying student cards which allowed us to ID them, but one of them had a coin-purse stuffed in his pocket, holding a library card and student card in the name of Taylor Anne Hebert.”

    “Photo ID?” asked Piggot automatically.

    “The student card is, yes,” confirmed Armsmaster. “She matches the picture.”

    “I see.” Piggot folded her hands before her. “Go on.”

    “The bodies have been taken for autopsy, but I fully expect to find that each of them was killed by bugs, given that both bodies had been partially consumed by, well, insects. Investigating further, we found a discarded roll of duct tape, matching the tape which had been used to bind the girl. We also found two strips, each with a ragged hole cut out of the middle of it. The holes match the edges on the tape used to restrain her arms and legs. I'm working on the hypothesis that bugs ate through the tape.”

    “Bugs. Ate through duct tape.” Emily wasn't quite rejecting the idea, but it sounded a little far-fetched.

    “Cockroaches can and will eat essentially anything organic,” Armsmaster pointed out. “In fact, if this is what happened, they saved her life. She has a broken nose. With a strip of duct tape over her mouth, she would have been barely able to breathe, until they ate a hole in it.”

    “Hm. Continue.”

    “Finally, we found coins of various denominations, totalling a couple of dollars, scattered over an area of several square yards. Forensic examination found partial fingerprints on the coins that matched the Hebert girl, as well as those of one of the boys. And there were fibres adhering to the coins that matched the interior of the coin purse.”

    “So he stole the purse, emptied it of coins, was disgusted at the small amount, and threw them at her?” Emily theorised.

    “That's my impression, yes,” agreed Armsmaster.

    “We'll go with that for the time being, then.” Emily paused, frowning. “Getting back to these boys. Which school did you say they went to?”

    Armsmaster smiled slightly. “This is where it gets interesting. According to the student cards, all three of them are, or were, students at Winslow High.” He paused expectantly.

    Emily's head came up. “That's Shadow Stalker's school.”

    “Yes, ma'am.” And isn't that a turn-up for the books, he didn't have to say.

    Silently, she agreed. “Have Triumph speak to Shadow Stalker. We need all the background we can get on the Hebert girl. Especially if she's showing signs of being abused.”

    Armsmaster nodded. “I'll get right on it.” He half-turned, to leave the office.

    Piggot held up a hand. “But before you do, you said that her father is in the building? Why hasn't anyone put him through to me?”

    “Because he's in custody.” Armsmaster paused, then obviously decided not to make her ask the question. “He saw the Swarm on the news, and he knew that Taylor was somewhere near that. When she didn't answer the phone at home, he started driving around, looking for her. He tried twice to get through the cordon around the Swarm, so they arrested him for his own safety. It was only after I put Taylor Hebert's name into the system as a person of interest that I saw his name just above hers, so I checked it out. That was about ten minutes ago.”

    “Has he been told? How's he taking it?”

    “I haven't spoken to the man yet,” he admitted. “I've passed on instructions for them to tell him that she's alive.”

    “We're going to have to talk to him, and soon,” Piggot said. “If he's the one who's been abusing her, we need to find out. Now that she's triggered, more abuse could set off another Swarm without warning. We lost two hundred and seventy-three people this time. I don't want it happening again.”

    “Speaking of which.” Armsmaster's tone was careful. “What is going to happen to her? I know we have an informal policy regarding trigger events, but nearly three hundred people died here. Your average supervillain doesn't rack up that sort of a death toll on purpose.”

    “Oh, if I thought for a moment that she'd done it on purpose, I'd be pushing for the Birdcage, or a kill order, whichever I could get,” Emily stated flatly. “The trouble is that kill orders are specifically aimed at capes who go off the rails in a big way, and keep going off the rails. The ones who just plain need to die. She more or less surrendered herself to you, so she doesn't fit that category.”

    “And the Birdcage?” he asked quietly. She got the impression that he was subtly testing her.

    “We could actually make a strong case for the Birdcage,” she admitted. “I'm almost inclined to do just that, to be honest. The death toll alone would certainly give us a good justification. Her power frankly terrifies me. There are only two things holding me back from recommending it.”

    “Which are?”

    “One; she's only fifteen, for God's sake. I really don't want to send a fifteen year old into that hellhole. Two; as you said, this is very likely trigger event related.”

    “We both know that there's no official policy regarding new capes and trigger events,” he pointed out. Was he playing Devil's advocate for the hell of it, or did he really feel that way? She couldn't tell.

    “No, that's true,” she agreed. “Just like there's no official policy regarding the unwritten rules. That's so we don't get smartass capes leveraging matters to take advantage of such things. But …” She paused.

    “But?” he prompted.

    “From what you're saying, they trapped her in that alley. Tied her up with duct tape. Gagged her. Blindfolded her. Robbed her. And they were going to do … that to her. That's not only ample justification for any trigger event that I ever heard of, but I'm kind of surprised that the trigger event wasn't even more violent.”

    “Two hundred and seventy-three deaths,” he reminded her.

    “Oh, I'm not attempting to justify a single one of those deaths,” she said, then paused. “Well, maybe one or two.” She didn't have to explain exactly which ones she considered justified. “As for the rest … well, I have very bad memories of exactly this sort of thing. However, I'm doing my best to look at this objectively, and I can't see any malice here. Also, she stood down before you even went in there, which is a major point in her favour. So right now, I'm giving her the chance to turn this around for herself.”

    He nodded. “Understood. So where do we go from here, then? Am I correct in understanding that you want to bring her into the Wards?”

    Piggot sighed. “As opposed to what? Leave her to her own devices? If what's just happened is any indication, then Brockton Bay is not a safe city to share with her. This time, it was admittedly pretty bad. People from her own school, no less. Good God.” She shook her head. “The next time, it might be a mugging. Or someone might prank her in class. We really don't know what will set her off, so our best bet is to get her out of Winslow and under our supervision as fast as possible.”

    Armsmaster nodded; if he was feeling doubts as to her sweeping statement, he wasn't showing them. “So when do we start that process?”

    “Today. Now. I'll sign off on it as fast as we can prepare the paperwork. Triumph speaks to Shadow Stalker. We speak to the Hebert girl. See where we all stand. If she can demonstrate willingness to cooperate, as well as a reasonable level of control over her powers, we can talk about getting her into the Wards.” Unspoken were the words and if she can't, then the Birdcage is still an option.

    “And the Swarm? How do we spin that with the public? Nearly three hundred people died, Director.”

    He had to bring that up. Her jaw hardened. “I know, Armsmaster. I've thought about little else since it happened. She certainly can't be a Ward here in Brockton Bay.”

    “Where, then? Boston? New York?”

    Piggot shook her head. “I was thinking Los Angeles. If anyone could help someone with a power like that, it's Alexandria.”

    Understanding crept into Armsmaster's voice. “And of course, it's across the other side of the country, and if she can keep it subtle for a while, nobody will connect the Swarmbringer to the new bug controller in LA.”

    Swarmbringer?” She stared at him. “Where did that come from?”

    “Sorry, Director. It's all over the PHO boards.”

    “Good God.” She shook her head. “But in essence, you're correct. Nobody will make the connection, especially if she keeps things light and fluffy. We'll have to speak to Glenn about that, but I'm sure he'll have ideas. And then there's the matter of her father.” She paused. “Does he strike you as the type to physically abuse a teenage girl?”

    Armsmaster shrugged, very slightly. “I don't know what that type looks like, ma'am. In any case, I haven't had the chance to speak with the man yet.”

    Director Piggot heaved herself up from her desk. “Yes, you told me. Well, then. Why don't we go and do just that.”

    Armsmaster smiled tightly. “Yes, ma'am.”

    <><>​

    Danny Hebert
    Holding Cell, PRT ENE


    Screaming at the walls hadn't helped. Nor had punching the door. There was a camera up in the corner of the room, entirely unprotected; he would have been tempted to try to break it, but something told him that it was a dummy. Any real camera would have been much better hidden. He didn't even have a one-way mirror to make rude gestures at. So when the door finally opened, he was sitting at the metal table, studying his skinned knuckles.

    “At last!” he blurted, jumping up. “Do you know how long I've been waiting -”

    “Yes. I do.” It was the overweight woman in the blue suit who spoke. “I'm Director Piggot. Sit down, Mr Hebert. We have much to discuss.”

    “But I -” he began, then cut himself off when a familiar figure stepped into the interrogation room behind the Director. Danny knew who Armsmaster was, of course. Everyone knew who Armsmaster was.

    “If you do as the Director says,” the armoured hero advised him, “this will go a lot easier for all concerned.”

    Slowly, Danny regained his seat. He had been in strong negotiating positions before. This did not seem to be the case at the moment. He didn't have much hope for the future, either.

    “Thank you,” the Director said, carefully taking her own seat. Armsmaster took up a position beside her, arms folded. “Your daughter's name is Taylor Anne, yes?”

    “Yes,” he blurted. “Is she all right? All I've been told is that she's alive.”

    “She is indeed alive,” Piggot confirmed. “She's injured, but the expectation is that she'll make a full recovery. We're giving her the very best of medical care.”

    Danny jumped up again. “Where is she? Can I see her? What happened? Was it that Swarm thing?”

    The Director did not move; Armsmaster let his arms hang casually by his sides, but there was an air of tension about him. It was Piggot who spoke, biting the words off sharply. “Sit. Down.”

    Danny sat. He took a deep breath to calm himself, then another. “Please,” he said softly. “Tell me what happened. Let me see her.”

    “She's in no danger, Mr Hebert,” the Director told him, her voice quiet. “We'll take you to see her shortly. But first I need to ask you some questions.”

    He looked from her face to Armsmaster's, but neither one offered any sort of comfort. “Are these the sort of questions I'm going to need a lawyer for?”

    Director Piggot raised an eyebrow. “Do you think you need a lawyer?”

    There were many things that Danny Hebert wasn't sure about right then, but that wasn't one of them. “I'll answer your questions. But if I don't like any of them, that's when I get the lawyer.”

    “That's your right and privilege,” the Director agreed. “Now, just for your information, Armsmaster has been working on an algorithm that detects if someone is lying in his presence. While the results are not yet admissible in court, it would be a very bad idea to lie to us. Is that understood?”

    He couldn't help staring at Armsmaster. The man was a statue, his arms folded once more. Was it a bluff? Armsmaster was a Tinker, and Tinkers were renowned for building technology that was just plain bullshit. “... okay, I understand.”

    Piggot smiled very slightly. “Very well. What is your relationship with your daughter like?”

    He blinked. That wasn't what he was expecting to hear. “Uh … she's my daughter? I love her. We, uh, haven't been as close since her mother died. That's kind of my fault, but we still talk, every now and again. Why?”

    She ignored the question, her eyes never leaving his. “Does she have boyfriends, or girlfriends for that matter?”

    “No boyfriends, no. As far as I know, she doesn't have many friends at all,” he confessed. “Just Emma Barnes really. They've been best friends since … Christ, since first grade. Earlier. They used to sleep over at each others' places all the time.”

    The Director tilted her head slightly. “Used to?”

    “Huh. Yeah.” Danny realised what she was getting at. “I never realised it, but it's been years since Emma slept over. Funny how something like that gets away from you.”

    “I'll take your word for it. Now, Mr Hebert. What's your view on parental discipline?”

    “You mean, did I ever discipline Taylor?” The Director didn't answer, but he saw the twitch in her expression. “I always left that to Anne-Rose. My dad had a real temper, you see. I got caught on the wrong side of it a few times. I can get a little hot under the collar myself, so I decided a long time ago that I'd never inflict that on my family. So Anne-Rose always used to handle the spanking when it was needed. She seems to have turned out okay, I guess.”

    Piggot nodded. “Very well. What -”

    “Wait.” Danny held both hands up. “Stop.”

    The Director looked at him, raising her eyebrows. “Yes?”

    “I'm not a stupid man. This is about Taylor, and it's about parahuman matters. And it's about someone who's done something to her. Right?”

    Armsmaster cleared his throat. “Mr Hebert. Taylor has bruises on her arms and legs that she didn't get today. Some of them are weeks old. Do you know how she got them?”

    Danny couldn't help it. He raised his eyebrows and leaned forward. “Really? You don't know what happened at Winslow? What's been happening at Winslow?”

    Without his long experience at the negotiating table, Danny would never have picked the eye-twitch that said, oh shit, there's something I don't know about going on here. The Director's face went blank after that one revealing tell. He would have bet everything he had that she was searching for a response that would get her the information she needed without revealing that she didn't know it.

    “Well?” he asked smoothly, pushing just a little. “Or did you see 'teenage girl with single parent' and decide that was all the information you needed?”

    Piggot's mouth tightened, as if she had just bitten into a lemon. “Mr Hebert -”

    “January third,” Armsmaster stated suddenly. “Your daughter was shut into her locker by a person or persons unknown. She then spent one week in the …” He paused.

    “Psychiatric ward,” Danny finished bitterly. “Then I took her home. She spent the next couple of weeks recovering. I sent her back to school just last week. The school promised, on bended knee, that they'd look out for her.” He stared at Armsmaster. “How did you … wait. Tinker. You can go online with that helmet, can't you?”

    “Armsmaster's technology is not under discussion here, Mr Hebert,” the Director broke in. “You implied that this was not the only incident.”

    Danny felt slow anger building within him. “It's the first one I was made aware of,” he stated tightly. “Turns out that this was just the culmination of a long campaign of bullying. At least a year. Maybe more. Taylor's a smart girl. She could've gotten into Arcadia on a scholarship, but you'd never know it from her grades.”

    “And you didn't know about it?” asked Armsmaster, his tone faintly disbelieving.

    “She never told me.” The anger melted away, to be replaced by shame. Danny dropped his eyes to the table. “We used to talk about everything, until her mother died. Then we … basically fell apart. I fell apart. It's been more than two years, but we're still not really back to normal.”

    Director Piggot's voice was almost gentle as she spoke. “Mr Hebert, I understand that this is difficult for you. But I just need to ask one more question.”

    “And then you take me to see her.” He raised his eyes to meet hers.

    “Yes.” He wasn't quite sure what was going on behind her eyes, but she paused for a long moment. “Mr Hebert … since the locker, has your daughter been acting any differently than before?”

    He had never felt less like laughing, but he snorted with something approaching humour. “Sorry. Seriously. I didn't see the locker, but from what I was told, it would have been a truly horrific experience. I'd be astonished if she didn't show some changes in behaviour.”

    Whatever the Director thought she was going to get out of that exchange, he didn't know, but she didn't seem to have gotten it. In any case, it wasn't his problem. “So. Shall we go and see her now?”

    Piggot nodded. “We will. In just a moment. I need to confer with Armsmaster about something.”

    He knew that he didn't have much choice in the matter. “Fine. Just don't take too long. For some reason, the word 'lawyer' keeps popping into my head.”

    As the door opened, he thought he saw a wince of pain on the Director's face.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster

    “Well?” The question was abrupt.

    “Well, what?” he asked. “I can't tell if he's lying. The software's far from finished.”

    “Not that,” she snapped impatiently. “This locker incident. Could it have been the trigger event for the Hebert girl?”

    “It could have,” he allowed cautiously. “But there's no guarantee. The incident today could just have easily been the final straw. He was entirely correct that a bad experience will -”

    “Armsmaster.”

    He stopped talking, and looked at her. Her glare should have been able to melt steel. “Director?”

    “I am entirely capable of understanding the lasting effects of undergoing an extremely traumatic experience,” she reminded him coldly. “Which one do you think was her trigger event?”

    “I think for the answer to that,” he said honestly, “we'd have to ask her.” He tilted his head. “If it turns out that today was not her trigger event, that does put matters into a new light,” he mused. “For one thing, she's had her powers for a month, and so doesn't have the excuse of not knowing she's got them.”

    “But if that's the case …” The Director paused. “It also means that she's quite capable of keeping them under control. So why did they break loose so catastrophically today?” She put up one finger to stop Armsmaster from answering. “I think you're right. We do need to talk to her.”

    “Doctor Lansing was talking about wiring her jaw,” Armsmaster said.

    Piggot shook her head. “Too slow. We need her coherent and talking clearly. There's got to be zero misunderstanding about what she says.” A look of unhappiness crossed her face. “I'm going to need to call New Wave and ask them for a favour.”

    “What's the matter with that?” asked Armsmaster. “Panacea's a good kid. And her work is top of the range.”

    “Because Brandish is always so goddam smug about it,” growled Piggot.

    “Well, she is a lawyer,” offered the armoured hero.

    The Director shot him a suspicious look. “Was that a joke?”

    “I'm sorry?” He kept his expression deadpan.

    One corner of her mouth quirked up. “Hm. Well, you take Mr Hebert to the infirmary. I'll make the call to New Wave.”

    “Yes, ma'am.”

    <><>​

    Sophia Hess
    Wards Base, PRT Building
    At Around the Same Time


    “Shadow Stalker, can I have a word?”

    Sophia looked around from the TV with mild irritation. “I've already written up my report on the Swarm incident, if that's what you're looking for,” she told Triumph. “I left it on the monitor desk.”

    “No, that's fine,” he said. His voice was deep and resonant; she would have imagined that he was putting it on for effect, except that she knew he didn't speak any other way. “This is about another matter.”

    “Can it wait?” Sophia gestured at the TV. “I'm waiting for the news, to see if they've got any more footage of the Swarm.”

    “No, it can't,” he stated flatly. “I need to speak with you now. This is about your civilian identity.”

    That got her attention; she sat up fast, and glared at him. “I never agreed to unmask -”

    “You're not being unmasked.” His voice was firm. At the far end of the sofa, Vista was staring at them both.

    “What are you looking at, squirt?” Sophia gave her a glare; the younger girl looked away. Satisfied, Sophia turned to face Triumph again. “So what's this about?”

    “It's about someone you know in your civilian identity, and it's private,” stressed Triumph. “Come on, let's go up on to the roof.”

    Now Sophia was puzzled. Emma? What's happened with her? She had checked, after the fact, and found that the redhead hadn't been in the Swarm when it happened. “Okay, let's go.”

    For someone who used sound as a weapon, Triumph was very close-mouthed; he didn't say more than three words to her until they got up to the roof, and two of those were “after you” as they entered the lift.

    Strolling out across the helipad, he glanced around and then turned to her. “You go to Winslow, right?”

    “You know I do,” she retorted. “What about it?”

    “Do you know a girl called Taylor Hebert?”

    The question jolted her to her heels. Hebert? Is she even still alive? The Swarm had blown up not long after she'd run off with Sophia's patsies on her heels. Hundreds of people had died. Hebert was surely so much of a wimp that she was one of them. “Um … yeah. Kinda.” They can check this sort of shit. “I got a few classes with her.”

    Triumph nodded. “Good. What's your impression of her? Does she seem to be having trouble with anyone at Winslow?”

    Sophia's brain went into overdrive. Okay, they know something's up but not what. My name came up, maybe? No, can't be, or I'd be sitting in front of Miss Piggy. This is a nice friendly chat with the team leader. He honestly wants information. So be careful.

    “Well, uh, she's a bit of a loner, really,” she began cautiously. “Not really popular. A loser, actually. You know, a geek? Nobody really likes her. Sometimes she makes up stories of being picked on, but it's basically just her looking for attention. That's what I hear, anyway. I don't know her all that well.”

    “So who does she complain about the most?” He sounded like he was buying it.

    “Oh, usually it's just random. Whoever's most popular that week, I guess.” She tried to sound as if she didn't care.

    “Right, right.” He paused. “Uh, wasn't there an incident with her locker or something?”

    “Oh, god, that old story.” She faked a chuckle. “That thing was blown totally out of proportion. Do you know, by the time the story got told around the school, she'd been in there a whole hour, with toxic waste in there as well? Man, talk about your Chinese whispers.”

    “Oh.” He sounded vaguely disappointed. “So it wasn't that bad?”

    “Hardly.” She snorted. “Like that shit's gonna fly on my watch.”

    “Right, gotcha.” He nodded, the lions-head helmet exaggerating the movement. “Thanks. That's all I really needed to know.”

    “No problem.” She started walking back across the helipad with him. “So what's this all about anyway? What's she done?”

    “Dunno.” He hitched half a shrug. “I just got told by Armsmaster to ask you about her.”

    “Oh well, no skin off my nose.” She stepped back into the lift with him, and didn't speak the whole way down.

    Armsmaster's asking questions about Hebert? Okay, time to keep my eyes and ears open.


    End of Part Two
     
    rifern, AirBreather, Venris and 37 others like this.
  22. SwiftRosenthal

    SwiftRosenthal Well worn.

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2014
    Messages:
    8,627
    Likes Received:
    28,757
    GET HYPE

    If the fic goes Birdcage route despite Piggot being so reasonable, I'll still drop it immediately. Mentor!Alexandria, OTOH, is something that doesn't happen nearly enough in the fandom and deserves to be treasured whenever it's found.

    Edit: Shame about the SV thread though.
     
  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    Oh, it's open again.

    Two temporary threadbans and one warning later.

    Reading between the lines, it seems that one of the two vehement complainers decided to appeal the reopening of the thread.

    And kind of got smacked across the nose.
     
  24. Biigoh

    Biigoh Nothing but Innocent Fluff Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2013
    Messages:
    18,974
    Likes Received:
    51,630
    Oh Sophia... you poor poor bitch. -_-
     
    Alayne, Pyro Hawk and Ack like this.
  25. Biigoh

    Biigoh Nothing but Innocent Fluff Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2013
    Messages:
    18,974
    Likes Received:
    51,630
    Just so you know... Tanuki advocated for you behind the scene... even if it wasn't much of an advocation. XD
     
  26. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka Attack on Anus

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2014
    Messages:
    3,097
    Likes Received:
    14,839
    And so begins the game of cat and mouse in which Sophia believes she's the tiger stalking her prey when the truth is that she's nothing more than a overgrown rat with a Huntsman Spider hanging over her head.
     
    Major Session, Alayne and Ack like this.
  27. RikkuEcRud

    RikkuEcRud Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2016
    Messages:
    162
    Likes Received:
    394
    I wonder what Sophia's strong/weak mentality will make of Taylor gaining a body count bigger than Sophia's total takedown count, all in one go.
     
    ShadowStepper1300, Alayne and Ack like this.
  28. sunandshadow

    sunandshadow Impractical Fantasy Animal

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2016
    Messages:
    246
    Likes Received:
    443
    Danny punched the door? And didn't damage his hand in the process?
     
    Ack likes this.
  29. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2014
    Messages:
    6,471
    Likes Received:
    43,879
    For which I thank you.
    He's not an idiot. He didn't punch it that hard.
     
  30. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    1,706
    Likes Received:
    3,828
    And there's the setup for Sophia pulling a runner...
     
    Pyro Hawk, Ack and Prince Charon like this.
Loading...