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Prodigal Daughter [Worm Alt-Taylor AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Dec 25, 2018.

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  1. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    *wide eyed innocent look* “This is Brockton Bay, sir. A girl needs a little something for protection...”

    The Bay being what it is, I find it hilarious that that would have a better than even chance of working. :p

    Skiddy, Skiddy, Skiddy. You done GOOFED.
     
    Grimrr, doomlord9, Ack and 1 other person like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Part Eleven: Closing In
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Prodigal Daughter

    Part Eleven: Closing In


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


    “Skidmark, huh?” Frankie shook his head. “Always thought he was a braindead sonovabitch. So how’d he do it?”

    I looked across at him. “She was driving, and didn’t know there’d been a cape battle between the Merchants and the ABB. The cops think Skidmark laid down some of his skid-fields over the road. The fight moved on, but the skid-fields hadn’t dissipated by the time she drove around the corner. Her car basically got thrown at a lamp-post. The cops never told Dad it was Skidmark because they didn’t want him going after the asshole and getting killed.”

    Mom had been one of the few people I’d had any sort of emotional connection with. Skidmark had taken that away from me. I didn’t like people taking things away from me. But in a way, I was happy.

    I’d finally found my meaningful kill.

    <><>​

    This wasn’t to say I was going to go all murder-happy on his junkie ass. Once I had the information I needed, I was going to do this subtly. To help me do this, I had an extremely reliable minion in possession of an unreasonable amount of firepower and the wherewithal to pummel the average drug dealer into unconsciousness. Finally, I had the means to engineer Skidmark’s final exit in such a way that I wouldn’t have to sully my hands or clothes with his blood (there would be ample time for that sort of thing later) yet would leave absolutely no doubt as to who was behind his abrupt demise.

    The next bit of information I needed, of course, was where to find him. How was I going to find him, you ask? I’m glad you asked. Pulling off that little trick would be simplicity itself. You may note that I mentioned earlier that Frankie (aka Minion Number One) was capable of pummelling the average drug dealer into unconsciousness? Let’s just say, that particular word choice was not entirely accidental.

    We went and found a drug dealer.

    As Frankie explained it, there were several inherent problems with running a gang that centred around dealing drugs, rather than anything more creative. One: a drug dealer who samples his own product is a moron. Two: the Merchants all sampled their own product. Three: if you want to sell drugs, your dealers have to make themselves visible for the buyers to find.

    Of course, they don’t simply sit around hoping that people such as yours truly aren’t about to come at them out of the darkness. Dealers go armed as a matter of principle. The principle here being “don’t steal my stuff, asshole”. And that’s where we come to four: in order to actually sell the shit they peddle, they have to come within arm’s reach.

    Which was right where I wanted them. Or rather, him. ‘Him’ being the dealer Frankie spotted lurking near the mouth of a dark alley as we cruised slowly down a crap-littered street. I would’ve just taken him for your average run-of-the-mill night-time would-be mugger, but Frankie knew better. This was fortunate; if I’d been on foot looking for a drug dealer, I probably would’ve beat the shit out of him and moved on without a backward glance.

    Frankie had removed his clown nose and I’d pulled my hat down over my eyes. This served to make me look older, and made sure the dealer didn’t see the more striking aspects of my appearance before it was too late. We didn’t do anything about Frankie’s whiteface makeup because inside a darkened car at night, there wasn’t a lot to see.

    So, acting like a hesitant customer, we cruised slowly past on the first round. Frankie eyed the surrounding area, looking for any sign that this asshole might have backup. From under the brim of the hat, I scoped out the interior of the alleyway, my enhanced vision picking out some very interesting details that would have otherwise been hidden by the darkness.

    “Didn’t see anything off,” said Frankie once we were past. “But if he’s got product on him, it must be inside his jacket, because I didn’t see it anywhere else.”

    “It’s in the alleyway, inside a cooler,” I said. “Right beside a guy sitting in a camp chair with a pump-action shotgun resting across his lap. Probably where they stash the money from each sale, too.”

    “Probably,” he agreed with a nod. “So how are we gonna do this?”

    “We don’t need the bodyguard,” I decided. “Just the dealer. Was it just me, or did his hand not move far from his right jacket pocket when we drove past?”

    “It wasn’t just you.” Frankie nodded. “So, probably a pistol in the jacket pocket. He’s most likely got a knife on him somewhere as well.”

    “That really, really won’t be a problem,” I assured him. “Let’s go around the block. This time, pull in so he thinks we want to make a buy.” I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a wad of cash, which I happened to know was composed of tens. Half of it I peeled off and handed over to Frankie. “Forgot to give you this earlier. For the holster.”

    “Awesome,” he said happily, tucking the money away. “We gonna rob these guys too?”

    I tilted my head, considering the idea. “ … nah. You can have whatever he’s got on him, though.”

    “Works for me.” He grinned widely in the darkness. “Gotta say, working for you is never boring.”

    I grinned back, somewhat more widely. With, it has to be said, glowing teeth and lips. “I aim to please.”

    He shuddered and turned his attention back to the road. “That’s still creepy as fuck.”

    I giggled, making it high-pitched. He shuddered again.

    <><>​

    On the second pass, Frankie slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road. I still had my hat pulled down over my face, but the cash in my hand showed through the window so the dealer could see we were interested. I raised the brim just far enough to see that the bodyguard was still sitting in his chair. Then I focused on the dealer’s feet, getting closer. The right hand stayed close to the pocket of his hoodie, which hung down as if there was something heavy in there.

    I pushed out my blue field as far as I could. The longer they both stayed happy and unawares, the better for us.

    “Evening.” His voice was rough, and I was pretty sure the gust of breath held smoke that wasn’t from tobacco. “What’ll it be?”

    Frankie had briefed me on this. “Got weed?”

    “Fuck that noise,” he said dismissively. “Go see th’ fuckin’ Empire. We only sell th’ good stuff.”

    “Fine,” I said. “Eight-ball. How much?”

    Now we talkin’,” he said, much more enthusiastically. “Hunnert dollars. You got?”

    In reply, I held up the wad and waved it enticingly. “I got.” Spreading the notes, I counted off ten, giving him a good solid look at the money. What was left over, I put aside. “How about my eight-ball?”

    “Money first.” He came closer, reaching out with his left hand.

    I held the cash out, then just as his fingertips came into contact with it, dropped the money and grabbed his wrist. With strength that he would never have been able to match on his best day, I heaved hard, pulling him in and smacking him face-first into the window frame. He groaned and slumped, and in the background I saw the bodyguard start to get up. “Go, go, go!” I ordered Frankie.

    “You got him?” asked my loyal minion, even as the car peeled out of there. Behind us, I heard a distant “Hey!”

    “I got him,” I said, and it was true. I had a good grip on his left arm. The rest of him, however, was still hanging outside the car, being dragged along like a rag doll. I hauled on the front of his hoodie to pull him in through the window, then had to make a frantic grab as he started to slide out of the garment. As I leaned halfway out the window, I managed to snag his belt with my right hand, dragging his back around to the car. Then I renewed my grip on his arm, this time taking hold of his upper arm.

    He began to wake up, clawing at my arm, but I ignored the distraction. What was his right arm doing? I couldn’t get that gun out of my mind, and I was still uneasily certain that I wasn’t as bulletproof as Hatchet Face.

    “Need a hand?” yelled Frankie. He must’ve been looking my way, because we swerved perilously close to a parked car. Junkie McDrugface nearly lost a leg when he flailed the wrong way; I heard a crack and a muffled scream.

    “Shit! Watch the road!” I shouted back. “I got this!” I wedged my way back into the car, then started hauling our involuntary passenger in through the window as well. This didn’t go too well, even though I’m the opposite of bulky and Junkie McD was pretty scrawny too. The big problem was that he kept on struggling, especially considering I couldn’t risk loosening my grip on his left arm.

    At this moment, his right hand came into view with a pistol in it. This was, as 1984 would’ve put it, ‘double-plus ungood’. While his intent was to point it at me and fire repeatedly, in reality he was waving it around frantically, with the same grasp of precise aiming that Skidmark reportedly had of basic hygiene. As far as I could see, his chances of shooting one of us were about equal to those of accidentally getting himself. And I’d gone to too much trouble to let him off the hook that easily. I could see the yellow threat beam pointing out from the barrel of the thing, sweeping across the scenery like Glory Girl following a laser pointer.

    (I don’t know that Glory Girl would fly after laser pointers like that. But it’s kind of funny to think about. Or it would be, if I found things like that funny.)

    The last thing I wanted to do was haul Junkie McD into the car while he was holding a loaded pistol. I’d probably (maybe) be okay if I got shot, but Frankie was the coolest minion ever, and I was not okay with him being hurt or killed by accident. Bracing myself with my knees, I let the idiot drug dealer slide out the window again, then stuck my own head and shoulders out into the slipstream after him. I must’ve done it at the wrong angle this time, because my hat whipped off an instant later, followed by my wig, then a string of curses. Foul-mouthed? Me? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Letting go his left arm so that I was only holding him by his belt, I lunged for his right arm. He saw this and flailed it out of reach, pulling me off-balance. A grip on the back of my coat steadied me, and I decided Frankie deserved another raise. Who’s a good minion? You are. You’re a good minion. Yes, you are.

    “Closer to the cars!” I yelled.

    I had no idea what was going through Frankie’s mind right then, but he did exactly what I told him. The car swerved toward the closest parked car, and I reached for Junkie McD’s right hand once more. Predictably, he swung it away, to prevent me from grabbing it. Right into the rear window of the parked car as we roared past it. There was a crash of shattering glass, the crack of bone breaking, and a high-pitched shriek from J McD. When I looked next, he didn’t have a gun any more. Mission accomplished. “Okay, stop!”

    Frankie brought the car to a halt. I dropped Junkie McDrugface on the asphalt, where he lay in a groaning heap. Then I climbed out of the car, breathing hard. “That was far harder than it should’ve been,” I said. With a certain amount of self-restraint, I decided not to kick him. For one thing, because he had at least two broken bones, and he wasn’t the most robust of physical specimens. I didn’t want to kill him by accident. Well, not before I got the information I needed, anyway.

    “At least we got him, boss,” Frankie pointed out loyally. “You want to ask him the questions, or you want me to do it?” Somewhere along the way, he’d put his clown nose back on. His look was pensive as he peered down at our involuntary passenger, like he was deciding exactly which bones to break first.

    I considered his question, then made my decision. “I’ll go first, then if I can’t get answers I’ll turn him over to you.” Pushing out my blue field, I leaned over Junkie McDrugface and hoisted him up by the front of his shirt. “Hey, you. Got a question for you. Answer it and we’ll go away.”

    It took a few seconds for him to focus on me, then he belched. I pushed him away just in time before he puked all over himself. Whatever it was he’d eaten, I had serious doubts about its shelf life. It reeked. His shirt was going to need serious washing. Or maybe just some lighter fluid and a match.

    I frowned in mild frustration. We really needed a cosy little HQ to be doing this sort of interrogation in. Someplace we could take our time and get it right. I shook him by the shoulders; his head lolled back and his eyes wandered all over the place. “Hey, you,” I said more firmly. “I want answers. You understand?”

    His eyes, when they focused on me, held a spark of intelligence once more. He wasn’t as hostile as he could’ve been—my blue field was doing that much. But he didn’t seem eager to talk. In fact, he seemed downright unhappy. This may have been due to the fact that he had a broken wrist and probably a broken leg.

    Always keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, kids.

    “I need a hospital,” he moaned.

    I leaned close and gave him a nice wide smile. “Well, if you’re a good boy and answer my questions, I might be able to help you out there,” I said soothingly.

    He recoiled slightly. “F-fuck,” he groaned. “Who the fuck are you?”

    I rolled my eyes in a show of impatience. “No,” I said slowly. “How this works is I ask the questions and you answer them. Now, where can I find Skidmark?”

    “I, uh, um …” He raised his eyes to mine. “Promise you won’t kill me?”

    Just for shits and giggles, I treated him to another smile. “I won’t touch a hair on your head,” I said. “Just give me what I want.”

    “Okay.” He grimaced. “Skidmark usually hangs out in the back of a bar on—fuck!”

    Either the Brockton Bay city planners had gotten really creative with their street names, or he was reacting to the back window of our car shattering. I was going to go with the latter, especially as it had been really loud, combined with the sound of a shotgun going off and a motorbike revving its engine.

    The shotgun was in the hand of the bodyguard we’d left behind. He was astride the motorcycle I’d heard and riding at us, hell-bent on rescuing his comrade (or possibly just fucking us up for interfering with his gang). As I watched with a certain amount of admiration, he used the handlebars of the bike to work the slide on the shotgun—I had to learn how to do that—and fired again. He wasn’t particularly accurate, given that he was riding a motorbike one-handed, but he didn’t have to be. Shotguns were cool like that.

    “Get down!” yelled Frankie, as pellets smacked into the back of the car parked on the side of the road. A stray one stung my shin, but I didn’t care. As he dived behind the car and unslung the assault rifle, I hauled out my own personal artillery cannon. Holding the Anaconda two-handed, I thumbed back the hammer and pointed it right at the bodyguard on the bike. He racked the slide on the shotgun and pointed it directly at me. Our eyes locked. Harmonica music played. A tumbleweed rolled across the street between us.

    The Youtube videos I’d watched had explained that the Weaver stance was the most reliable way to get your shots on target. Two-handed, legs braced, pistol at eye level. Not held sideways, no matter how cool it looked. Front sight lined up with rear sight (helped by the fact that I could see exactly where the shot was gonna go), and squeeze the trigger.

    That damn bodyguard was getting awful close, and his aim-line was square on my breastbone. Just as it turned red, signifying incipient danger, I squeezed the trigger.

    The Anaconda went off with its characteristic boom, jerking up a little despite my strength. But the bodyguard didn’t fly backward off the bike at all. This was because just before I pulled the trigger, I’d braced early for the kick, and the aiming line of my revolver had dipped slightly. As the front wheel of the motorbike dug in and the entire bike performed a forward flip, I realised that the heavy .44 calibre bullet had gone straight through the front wheel hub, which then seized up altogether.

    I watched with mute admiration as the bike took to the air, dumping the rider as it went. Stepping to one side, I grabbed hold of the window frame of the car and held out my other arm in a classic clothesline pose. As the motorbike soared overhead, the bodyguard hit my arm and folded around it, the shotgun clattering from his grasp and skittering across the asphalt. My shoes skidded a foot back then stopped as my butt hit the side of the car. I let the bodyguard fall on the street beside Junkie McDrugface, as Frankie popped his head out from behind the car to take in what had happened.

    The motorbike hit the asphalt a good thirty feet away and tumbled over and over. I looked down at the bodyguard, then at the dealer he should’ve been guarding.

    “Okay, Frankie,” I decided. “Your turn.”

    <><>​

    The back of the car hadn’t suffered too much from the first shotgun blast. There were a few pockmarks, but the taillights hadn’t been damaged, and the plastic bag Frankie had tied around the license plate was still in place. I straightened up from my inspection as Frankie came up to me. His methods had been brutally efficient and I’d learned a lot from watching him.

    It turned out that druggies were smarter than we’d thought. Each of them had a phone on him with the ability to locate the other guy’s phone. The bodyguard had been following us from the moment we’d gone out of sight. It was just lucky he’d decided to come at us single-handed rather than call in the troops. Score one for drug-fucked judgement.

    “Well, we got our location,” I said brightly. “What did they have on them?”

    He grinned and held up a thick wad of cash. “Fourteen hundred in the cooler.” It had been secured to the bike with tie-down straps. “Plus a couple of knives and the shotgun.” The phones we’d crushed underfoot, and we hadn’t bothered going back to collect the pistol. We’d look for the hat and wig on the way back. Not that it would matter to Skidmark one way or the other, but if I couldn’t find them I’d be that little bit more irritated when I got to his hideout.

    “Nice,” I said, and strolled back with him to where the two druggies—unconscious or dead, I wasn’t worried either way—lay on the asphalt. The cooler sat open beside them; Frankie handed me a road flare. I pulled the tab and tossed it into the cooler. As the smoke started to rise, Frankie and I got back in the car.

    “So how are we gonna take out Skidmark?” he asked as we drove away.

    I held up a single eight-ball of white powder I’d taken from the cooler. “With style.”


    End of Part Eleven
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2019
  3. Wolfman217

    Wolfman217 Hail Hermione!

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    Hello. My name is Taylor Hebert. You killed my mother. Prepare to die.


    Hush little skiddy, don't say word,
    mummy's goin rip you a new breathing hole

    and if that breathing hole don't work
    mummy's gonna sharpen her good dirk

    and if that dirk doesn't make you stay awhile
    mummy's gonna give you a nice big smile

    [​IMG]
     
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Okay, wow? That's not something I want to see first thing after getting up.

    Minus the stubble, it's perfect :p :eek:
     
  5. Threadmarks: Part Twelve: Overdose
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Prodigal Daughter

    Part Twelve: Overdose

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

    The aforementioned “bar on—fuck!” turned out to be a much more prosaic bar on Seventh, near the corner with Main. I was obscurely disappointed; part of me had been busy laying imaginary bets that the street actually sounded something like ‘fuck’. Fucqua, or Fuchsia, or maybe even Phuket. But it was plain, boring old Seventh. Not that I would’ve laughed if it had turned out that way, but my faith in the absurdity of the world took a distinct hit.

    Frankie stopped the car down the block a ways, and we got out to survey the target. I had my trusty Anaconda in its cross-body holster, while Frankie had his shotgun slung over his shoulder, under his coat. I’d found the wig hanging jauntily on a radio antenna, but no matter how much I looked for the hat, it had apparently soared off to wherever it was that odd socks and New Years’ resolutions went to. It didn’t matter; I’d get another hat.

    The city, on the other hand, was going to shortly find itself bereft of any Skidmarks. Not that I thought anyone would complain. Some police precincts may even celebrate. Discreetly, of course. It wouldn’t do to be caught being happy that one psychotic lunatic had disposed of another. The differences between myself and Skidmark, of course, were numerous. Hygiene, lack of a drug habit, teeth that weren’t green, more than three working brain cells, a sense of villainous style, my choice in companions, and of course the fact that I hadn’t used my powers to accidentally murder someone’s mother.

    If I’d had to use my powers to deliberately murder someone’s mother, then sure. I’d put my hand right up for that. But as it happened, I hadn’t. In fact, I hadn’t murdered anyone (as yet) which meant I was far in advance of Skidmark as far as morality went. An unbiased observer might decide that the very act of planning his murder might cause a slump in my theoretical morality rating, but I honestly couldn’t give a diseased sewer rat’s left testicle about whether or not my actions were moral. I’d already been through the whole ‘morality is a zero sum game’ thing in my head, and decided I wanted nothing to do with it.

    If someone fucks with me or mine, I kill them. That’s the beginning and end of my morality.

    <><>​

    Frankie and I skulked up the street, keeping to the shadows. Halfway there, I decided ‘fuck it’ and strode up the pavement like I owned it. My brief stint being hunted by the Nine notwithstanding, I had no special skills at being stealthy, and with Frankie at my side, trying to sneak actually drew more attention than just walking normally.

    Besides, this was Merchants territory. If some drug-fucked loser looked out the window and saw a white-skinned green-haired girl and a big bald guy with a clown nose, there was a strong chance that he’d give his drug of choice an extremely dubious look instead of hauling out his phone and dropping a dime on us to Skidmark.

    With that in mind, I marched along the sidewalk to get to the front of the bar, then cupped my hands around my eyes to peer in through the glass of the window. This was where the powder Riley Grace gave me came in handy. With my eyes treated by it, I could see the room in far more detail than if I’d been straining to make details out of the darkness at any other time.

    “Looks shut,” I said in a conversational tone to Frankie. Interesting trivia: whispering actually carries farther at night than ordinary voices, and is more noticeable. It’s the hissing aspect. “Which puts him in the back or upstairs.”

    Frankie was a stolid, steady guy who probably hadn’t even thought about leaving the Empire until I showed up, but he was taking to being my Number One Minion like a large, ugly well-armed duck to water. I wasn’t quite sure if it was my habit of throwing money at him, the fact that I didn’t fuck around, or his exalted placement in my two-person organisation. Whichever it was, he seemed positively eager to maintain our situation. “Upstairs, I’d say,” he rumbled. “There’d be an office at the back, but no place to shoot up or sleep in any comfort.”

    Which was yet another point in favour of keeping Frankie on. That was something I wouldn’t have known. “Okay, fine.” I threw in a little giggle, just to ensure he hadn’t forgotten he was working for me. “How’d you know that, anyway?”

    With my enhanced vision, his shudder was easy to see, but his voice was steady when he replied. “Robbed the place once, back in the day. Might be a guard out the back, but Skidmark and his people will be upstairs.” He paused thoughtfully. “We burning the drugs here, too?”

    “Nope. We want people to be absolutely sure it’s him.” I waited until he turned his head questioningly toward me. “I’m gonna be in and out, five minutes. Then we go.”

    His brow wrinkled slightly, but he didn’t question my statement. “Need a hand with the guard?”

    “No, I—actually, yeah, why not?” While I could no doubt deal with anyone left on guard duty, it occurred to me that Frankie’s talent for applied violence could be put to use making sure that nobody was going to raise the alarm if they had two guards. I’d still kill Skidmark either way, but the way I wanted to do it was ten times as creepy and horrifying—and thus that much more appealing to me—than just murdering him face to face.

    We eased down the alley to the back of the bar. I took point, because I could see in the dark far better than Frankie could. I had my trusty iron bar out, instead of the knife. Bruises and broken bones were easier to survive than accidentally slashed arteries, after all.

    (Yeah … ‘accidentally’. We’ll go with that.)

    When I stuck my head around the corner, it turned out my caution had been warranted. Two Merchant goons (well, I might have been doing them a disservice by making a broad assumption that two guys wearing raggy clothing, smoking weed and drinking from a cheap bottle of booze were Merchants. But I don’t think so) were slumped on the back steps of the bar.

    Taking a deep breath, I pushed out the blue bubble as far as it would go. In this case, it covered them both nicely. Then I stepped around the corner of the bar. “Oh, hey, guys,” I said with a cutesy little finger-wave that I’d copied off Emma. “Nice night, isn’t it?”

    They stared at me blearily, probably more affected by the booze and the weed than by my attitude-altering bubble. I just strolled right past the first one and approached the second one before they began to react.

    My green hair and white skin weren’t totally unusual; these were the Merchants, after all. Some of them had tattoos and piercings that I wouldn’t have inflicted on my worst enemy. But the sight of my eyes, all the wrong colour and glowing to boot, must have finally tipped them off that something was seriously wrong on Planet Wasted.

    “Hey,” slurred the first one, starting up off his seat on the steps. He began to raise his arm to point at me. “You aren’t—”

    He didn’t get any farther, because he was looking at me, which meant he wasn’t looking at Frankie. Or rather, he wasn’t looking in the right direction when Frankie came around the corner and picked him up, then pile-drove him into the ground. There was a distinct crack, and his neck took on a bend which made sure it didn’t matter which way he was looking.

    While the other guard was still goggling at me and Frankie, I swung the iron bar in a short arc which terminated on the side of his jaw. This time, the crack was from the guy’s jawbone ceasing to be a single contiguous item; he flopped onto his side and took no further interest in the proceedings.

    I paused, waiting to see if the scuffle had aroused any attention from upstairs. Nothing of any note happened; not even a neighbour yelling out to keep the noise down. Gotta love Brockton Bay. Nobody hears nothin’.

    “Okay,” I said quietly. “Wait here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

    “Want me to come up?” he asked, purely as a matter of form. He didn’t sound overly worried for my well-being. If I had to guess, he was more interested in seeing exactly what I had intended for Skidmark.

    “Nope, stay here.” Once I gave the order, I knew he’d comply. He was dependable like that. It might’ve helped that he was the single most well-paid minion in Brockton Bay.

    “Sure thing.” He moved into the shadows and settled down to wait, shotgun in his capable hands. I knew full-well that he was going to guard those steps far better than the Merchants ever had.

    The door was locked, but a quick check through pockets got me a key. I slid it into the lock, and it turned; albeit reluctantly. Rolling my eyes, I tut-tutted in mild exasperation. Would it kill them to oil this thing occasionally?

    Once I had the door unlocked, I carefully opened it, then prowled inside, iron bar at the ready. It didn’t take long to locate the stairs and I went up them, pausing at each creak to listen for movement above.

    No such movement happened. Halfway up the stairs, I glanced around, then retrieved two items from my pockets and tipped a little of the contents of one into the other. Then I put the first item back in my pocket and shook the second one up so that it was well and truly mixed together.

    Once I was ready in that regard, I went the rest of the way up the stairs and started looking for Skidmark. This was harder than it would originally have seemed, even with my enhanced night vision, because I was constantly distracted by the smell. It seemed to consist partly of the rank odour of a place that was never cleaned, overlaid by the stench of unwashed humanity, with an extra added edge of drugs exuding from their pores.

    By the time I found the person I figured was Skidmark—big black guy lying tangled on the only mattress in the place with a white girl—I was about ready to kill him just for making me endure the smell for so long. But I didn’t beat him to death and I didn’t shove every drug in the room down his throat, much as he richly deserved either fate. No, I had something more fitting in mind for him.

    Using a random plastic bag I found on the floor, I went around methodically picking up everything on the small table beside the mattress, except for the grimy mirror. It, and the razor blade lying next to it, I left exactly where they were. Beside it, I put down the eight-ball I’d gotten from the Merchant dealer, complete with the little tiny extra I’d added to it. The bag full of drugs, I stashed behind a busted chair so he wouldn’t see it immediately. The eight-ounce baggie, on the other hand, would be immediately visible when he woke up.

    With that out of the way, I prowled around, looking for any money they had on hand. Frankie had definitely earned himself a bonus tonight, and I didn’t want him thinking I was a stingy boss. There were a couple of rolls of cash in Skidmark’s discarded clothing, so I took those. Each of them was easily worth a few hundred, maybe a thousand. If Frankie had any sense, he’d disinfect the money before using it; I had no doubt the ambient aroma had impressed itself on the cash. As it was, I was going to have to thoroughly launder the coat and the wig before I used them again.

    Slipping downstairs again, I let myself out the back door, then relocked it. Frankie emerged from the shadows, shotgun ready in his hands but pointed at the ground. “Everything go okay?” he asked. “I didn’t hear anything.”

    “Everything went fine,” I said. “Here. Bonus.” I tossed him the rolls of cash, and he caught them out of the air. “Let’s go.”

    We started back down the alley alongside the bar. “So, you offed that druggie asshole?” asked Frankie quietly.

    “Nope. Never laid a hand on him.” Without turning my head, I kept talking. “He’s alive right now, but he’ll be dead in eight hours or less. By tomorrow night, everyone will know it was me.”

    “Damn, that’s hardcore.” His voice held deep respect. “How you gonna do that, boss?”

    I giggled, just for fun. “Now, now. Girl’s gotta keep some secrets.” Lifting my arm, I sniffed myself. “Fun’s over for tonight, though. I desperately need a shower.”

    “You got it, boss.”

    <><>​

    Late the Next Morning

    Adam Mustain woke up with a typical post-binge migraine. Pushing Sherrel aside, he got to his feet and stumbled off to the bathroom where he pulled down his Y-fronts and let go in a noisy splash. The toilet refused to flush when he’d finished, but that didn’t surprise him. It hadn’t worked since Squealer had partially disassembled it to get parts for her latest … whatever the fuck it was.

    When he left the bathroom, Sherrel was stirring. Looking around with her usual bleary-eyed lack of comprehension, she sat up when she saw the one baggie left on the drug table. Where the rest of the shit had gone, Adam had no idea. They’d gotten so fuckin’ wasted last night, he wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had shoved it up their ass.

    That wasn’t to say he was gonna give her dibs on the blow. He was the leader of the Merchants, which meant he had first claim on any nose candy by default. Flicking out a skid-field, he whipped the baggie off the table, just before she got her meat-hooks on it.

    “Hey!” she yelled, looking upset and reaching for it again. “That was mine!”

    “Suck my dick.” He put out two fields next; one moved her back, and the other pulled the baggie toward him. With it came a crusty sock, two Fugly Bob’s bags, a beer can and half a dozen rat turds. Brushing the rest of the shit aside, he plucked the eight-ball off the floor. “Mine now.”

    Heading over to the table, he squatted down and tipped the white powder out on to the mirror. Squinting, he wondered why it looked a little bit purple, then shrugged. Between the shit in his eyes and the crappy light in the room, it could’ve been green with red polka dots and he still wouldn’t care.

    With moves that had been perfected by years of practice, he used the razor to shape the powder into several lines. Throwing out a skid-field, he pulled his clothing to him and went through the pockets for his cash. Nothing turned up, which made him frown. “Okay, which knob-gobbler lifted my stash?”

    “I didn’t do it,” Squealer whined, sniffling and wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “Come on, can I have some?”

    “Need a straw,” he said. “Where’s my cash? Need something to roll up, here.”

    “I dunno.” Sherrel dug into her bra and located a grimy, crumpled five. “Will this do?”

    “Gimme that.” Adam snatched it out of her hand and made a tube out of it. Fitting the makeshift straw into his right nostril, he blocked his left nostril and hoovered up the first line. The tingle as it hit the back of his nose made him roll his eyes up in sheer pleasure. “Fuck, this is amazing shit. Who’d we get this from?”

    As he sat down, fireworks still going off in his brain, he felt Sherrel taking the five from him and kneeling beside the table. “Whoa, fuck, man,” he burbled, a broad grin stretching his lips. “I have got to get more of this shit. It’s a total headspin.”

    “Fuck, shit, yeah,” Sherrel giggled. Adam was vaguely aware that she’d flopped over on to her back. “This is the best yet. We need to double the price on this shit. They’ll be climbing over their grandmas to buy it.”

    The tingling continued, getting more and more intense. Adam couldn’t stop smiling. He giggled a little. “Double? We’ll fuckin’ triple it. Quad … quad … fuckin’ four times. Five times.”

    Sherrel started giggling too, sounding hysterical. Mush was chuckling wetly in the background. Adam found the high was so hard that he couldn’t really see anymore. There was a coppery taste in the back of his throat. Something wet and warm was rolling down his face. The tingling was making his head pound. His smile was so wide it was starting to make his face hurt.

    The first seizure caught him by surprise. He jolted, his muscles screaming and locked, but all he was able to do was gurgle through the blood in his throat, his cheeks aching from the unchanging smile.

    His fingers clawed, he scrabbled at the filthy floorboards, gouging up splinters. Muscles tensed, his heels drummed against the floor.

    He couldn’t breathe. An incipient giggle couldn’t get out of his throat.

    As the consciousness faded from his brain, he still couldn’t figure out what was happening.

    Why the fuck am I smiling? It’s not that fuckin’ funny.

    And then there was nothing.



    End of Part Twelve
     
  6. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    Well, looks like our favorite little sociopath got her hands on some Joker toxin.
     
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  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It's the powder Bonesaw gave her to give the glowing lips and eyes. I already noted that it's horrifically deadly to anyone but her. She mixed a little in with some cocaine, and voila!
     
  8. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    And good times were had all around.

    Well, mostly... alright, just for Taylor and her very well payed minion.
     
  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    He's gone from "Meh, I guess this job is okay," (Empire) to "I LOVE this job!" (Jester!Taylor)
     
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  10. wigg55

    wigg55 Know what you're doing yet?

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    it pays to pay your minions. *sage nod*
     
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  11. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    See, Taylor knows what it's like to be unliked and unappreciated.

    The best way she knows to show Frankie how appreciated he is, is to give him frequent financial bonuses.

    Also, to be first into dangerous situations.

    He's totally on board with this.
     
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  12. Rhyne

    Rhyne Getting out there.

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    Where did QA come from to be pinged off of? I get the Broadcast bud and the PS! ping (although, wait a sec. iirc, pings are caused when an ACTIVE power is directly involved in the trigger, or during cluster triggers. I don't believe Hatchet Face's power null can have an effect on normies enough to be considered for a ping. You could make a decent case about a ping during a second or third trigger, but not a first), but QA? None of the current S9 have QA, as all of these S9 are around (in one form or another) for the post-Leviathon BB visit (HF being one of Bonesaw's abominations). So there are a few possibilities here: 1) I am greatly misunderstanding how pings and triggers work, 2) you made a mistake, 3) there is a 9th (now tenth) parahuman on the camp grounds and directly influencing Taylor right at the end, 4) part of this AU is changing some of the more esoteric shard mechanics, 5) Bonesaw already has some of her cape-fusions (like Murder Rat and/or Hack Job [Hatchet Face X Oni Lee]) and one of them is not only immune to HF's power nullification but also has a link to QA's host and that one in particular Bonesaw used to ensure that Taylor got to the pole
    A theory for why no one blacked out when Taylor triggered is a combination of it being a second trigger, the closest shard being a power null, one of the new triggers abilities being power null that defaults around the brain, the new powers being based on a Broadcast bud, Bonesaw mods, pinging off Queen Administrator that has experience with the host species. Basically, Broadcast specializing in communication between shards, combined with two layers of power nullification is what kept HF from being knocked out; while the second gen trigger's reduced intensity, brain-default-location power null, budding from broadcast, and pinging off QA either made Taylor's trigger vision near instantaneous or nonexistent
    I noticed that the PS! based powers are purely from PS!, and that there is just as many Bc powers as QA
     
  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She had QA from Danny. It was there all the time.

    As the author of this fic, I can exert executive privilege and say, "This is how the trigger event went".

    So that was how it went.

    (Basically, all this stuff about pings and how they work in excruciating detail is all literally WB retconning from after he finished Worm. I can include all the nitty-gritty details if I feel like it. I don't.)
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Part Thirteen: Lucky For Some
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Prodigal Daughter

    Part Thirteen: Lucky for Some

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



    Miss Militia

    “Did you hear? Skidmark’s dead.”

    Hannah looked over at Armsmaster’s pronouncement. They were both on treadmills in the capes-only exercise room in the Protectorate HQ base. He showed no particular emotion at the revelation, but then, he’d never been overly demonstrative at the best of times.

    “Well, that’s a shocker,” she said dryly. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that he OD’d on something. Meth? From his looks, I always figured that was his go-to.” She wouldn’t be treating the death of a human being in such a cavalier fashion in public—PR mandated that heroes be seen to be kind, caring and above all empathetic—but as far as she was concerned, there was nothing there to be empathetic for. At best, the man had been a drug-fucked cape who occasionally used his powers in vaguely unethical ways. At worst, he’d been a wannabe gang lord who sold hard drugs to schoolkids. There was a word for someone like that: scumbag.

    “I’m not a hundred percent sure,” he admitted.

    Surprised, she let the treadmill slow as she looked over at him. “Excuse me? Are you going to explain that statement, or do I have to call Mike-Sierra on you?”

    He snorted at the half-joking reference to Master-Stranger protocols. “The signs point to murder. Him and Squealer and Mush. The cops got an anonymous tip-off that led them to his latest crash-pad. One dead guard outside, one with a serious concussion and a broken jaw. Inside, they found all three capes, dead, as well as two of his followers. They’d had seizures and haemorrhaged from their eyes, ears and noses. The pain must have been intense, because they all clawed at the floorboards so hard they tore the nails clear off their fingers. Oh, and all of them had arched backs and a fixed grin on their faces.” His voice was meditative as he continued. “I’d never really understood the word ‘rictus’ before today. Now I do.”

    “So, blood work?” she prompted him after a few seconds. “Tainted drugs? Some sort of targeted neurotoxin? Were they forced to take the drugs?”

    “That’s what all the evidence says so far,” he confirmed. “Not the forcible ingestion, though. No sign of restraint or bruising consistent with that. Besides, time of death is some hours after the door guard. The investigation officers found a bunch of drugs, all untainted, in a bag behind a chair. At a rough guess, everyone else bolted after they realised their boss was dead.” He shook his head. “It looks like someone took out the door guard, walked in, moved the drugs, and left a bag of contaminated cocaine. That’s the most prominent drug in their systems. We tested what little cocaine residue was left, and found traces of a foreign substance. The chemistry is extremely complex, to the point that it’s almost biological in nature. Chances are, it’s what killed Skidmark, so we’re treating it with the utmost caution.”

    “Wait, they left poisoned drugs so Skidmark would kill himself?” Hannah shuddered. “That’s … cold. That’s also someone leaving a very definite message.”

    “Yes, but what’s the message?” Armsmaster asked. “I can kill any cape I want?

    “No.” Hannah was recalling a report she’d filed not so long ago, under the codename ‘Jester’. “Remember how Shadow Stalker got stabbed by someone who’d been fighting ABB? She and the girl with her said the attacker had a really creepy grin and was giggling and laughing all the time. I’m thinking this might be her, making her mark.”

    “Maybe. I’ve got another suspect in mind. If it turns out they’re all the same person, it’ll simplify things a lot.” Armsmaster nodded to himself. “Earlier last night, a couple of people wearing clown makeup invaded one of the smaller station houses and worked over the officers there pretty good. They all survived, and they described the one in charge as being a petite woman with glowing eyes, and a grin that was way too wide. And she giggled and laughed a lot.” He paused before dropping the final bombshell. “And she didn’t take a thing. All she did was get on the computer system and look up old cases.”

    “Skidmark.” It wasn’t exactly a huge leap of logic.

    “My thoughts exactly. The trouble was, we don’t know which case she was looking for. The last one she looked at had nothing to do with him. But the ones that do … well, there’s a lot of them. He has to have upset half of Brockton Bay at one point or another.”

    “Unless she was just trawling the files to see who she wanted to kill next, and he caught her eye.” Hannah didn’t really like that as a concept, because it didn’t give them a pattern to go on with. Random villains were the worst. “What are the Director’s thoughts on this?”

    He snorted again. “Unofficially, she’s shedding no tears about the fact that Skidmark and his fellow capes are deceased. I believe the actual quote is ‘and not before time’. But officially, we need to track down whoever did it and arrest them as soon as possible, before the other gangs start getting nervous that someone might be gunning for them next.”

    “I can actually see her point there,” Hannah noted. “This sounds like it was very smoothly done. No matter which way you slice it, there’s a cape out there who’s proven that they will remove someone like Skidmark from the scene, just because they can.” She looked Armsmaster in the eye. “Do you honestly think that they’ll stop now without targeting someone else, villain or hero?”

    “If it is indeed the girl in the alley, she’s already shown she’s willing to stab a hero and just walk away.” Armsmaster pursed his lips. “No, you’re right. Even if she thought she had a good reason, people like that are adept at thinking up more good reasons to keep stabbing people. Or poisoning them, for that matter.”

    “Well, it’s not like many other capes have a drug habit,” Hannah offered. “Have you figured out if it needs to be inhaled, or can it be ingested or injected as well?”

    “I’m not at all sure if it needs drugs at all,” Armsmaster said. “We’d need to test it on something living to be sure, but it seems to have gone straight in through the sinuses. Didn’t even need to reach the lungs. For all we know, it just needs to be sprinkled on steak or something similar.”

    “And then you die in agony, with a horrible grin on your face.” Hannah shuddered. “Yeah, we need to locate this girl soonest. If only to find out her plans.”

    She didn’t say what had to be on both their minds. If this mystery cape was going to make a practise of murdering capes (even villains) in their private lives, then every cape in Brockton Bay (especially villains), would soon be after her. And that didn’t even bring the Birdcage into it, as such activities almost certainly would.

    “I’ll get the Jester file to you, so we can correlate data. What name were you giving your suspect?”

    “I was going with Rictus, actually.”

    “Villain-sounding name.”

    “That’s what five counts of murder one gets you.”

    “True.”

    The rest of the exercise period went by in silence.

    <><>​

    Lung

    Leaning back in his most comfortable chair, Kenta switched channels in an effort to find something a little less vacuous than the normal pre-digested American TV pap. A news channel caught his eye and he stopped clicking, just in time to catch the image of Skidmark’s face, the discoloured teeth on full display in a grin that seemed more than half grimace.

    He listened to the commentary with half an ear, most of his attention aimed at the image on the screen. Skidmark had bled from the eyes, he could see, as well as the nostrils and possibly the ears. He’d seen all of this before, just not usually in the same person at the same time. The grin was also more than a little off-putting; for a man who had made it his practise to be the most terrifying cape in the city, that was saying something.

    The PRT spokesman came on screen and spoke for several minutes, managing to say nothing at all in that time. No leads at this time, appeal to the public for information, blah blah blah. When the news switched to another item (a feelgood shot showing Glory Girl getting a kitten down from a tree without actually breaking the tree) he muted the sound then sat back, thinking.

    Skidmark had been, in anyone’s parlance, a waste of space and oxygen. If he’d ever seriously faced Kenta, he would’ve died in that moment. But he hadn’t. The man, though clearly stupefied by far too many hard drugs (Kenta could vaguely sympathise with that) had yet possessed the common sense of a brain-damaged lemming, given that he’d never tried to take on the ABB.

    Still, someone had killed him. Murdered his entire crew. The news didn’t go so far as to state it out loud, but the implication was right there. Someone had tampered with the Merchant leader’s drug stash, and Skidmark and his people had died as a result.

    Kenta couldn’t actually see himself benefiting as a result. The Merchants had never posed a threat to the ABB, or held territory that the ABB couldn’t take from them by the simple expedient of walking onto the turf and staying there. They’d never really been a serious gang, so much as a bunch of overdoses waiting to happen. And by existing, they’d provided every other gang in the city with a veneer of reverse gentility. “At least they’re not as bad as the Merchants.” They’d been an example of what the cape gangs in Brockton Bay could really be like.

    Now, the contest had suddenly devolved to be between the ABB and the Empire Eighty-Eight. Coil’s gang barely even made the radar most days, and jokes like Uber and Leet weren’t worth mentioning. And of course, there was someone out there who thought it was a good idea to kill capes in their own safe spaces.

    The conclusion was obvious. For several very good reasons, the interloper had to die. He didn’t yet know who they were, but that was only a detail. His people would ask questions until they found someone who knew the answers.

    And then whoever this … this ‘Smiler’ was, would die.

    He, Lung, had spoken.

    <><>​

    I sat on the sofa and watched the news on TV. Normally I ignored it, as I ignored everything that didn’t personally concern me, but I wanted to see what they made of my handiwork. Nothing had come of the stash house where I’d recruited Frankie, but this was the first time I’d gone out to make a splash. I’d finally gotten to murder someone, and it was a righteous kill. Skidmark had taken my mom away, so I took him away.

    When they showed the pictures of Skidmark, after the mandatory warning of sensitive images (which almost certainly were calculated to make more people tune in, rather than fewer) it was everything I’d hoped for. He’d died in agony and confusion, wondering why his body was betraying him like this. The only thing better would be if I’d been able to crouch beside him and whisper in his ear, “This is me. I’m doing this for my mom.” But I could deal. I’d even got Squealer and Mush at the same time, so bonus points right there. Go me.

    A smile almost crossed my face as I leaned back against the sofa, ignoring the shot of Glory Girl getting the kitten out of the tree. I’d done it. Skidmark was dead. I’d avenged the death of my mom, only a couple of years late. The only way more fitting would’ve been if I’d run him down in a car then backed up over him a few times, but then again, I’d used the tools at hand and put my calling card out there at the same time. Everyone would see that grin in their nightmares and wonder, “What did Skidmark do to deserve that?”

    Uncertainty was an amazing weapon.

    <><>​

    Panacea

    “You alright there, Ames?”

    Amy turned at the question, interrupted in her quest for finding a snack in the fridge. “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

    “Eh, I dunno.” Vicky dismissed the question with a flick of her hand. “You’ve just been a bit off since you got home. Like something’s bothering you. One too many hangnails to fix at the hospital?”

    “No, actually.” Amy returned her attention to the fridge and spoke over her shoulder. “The PRT asked me to come in and evaluate what happened to Skidmark.” She shuddered. “Scary shit.”

    “Wait,” objected Vicky. “Skidmark’s dead. You can’t fix dead people.”

    “That’s true.” Amy selected a banana and closed the fridge door, then looked seriously at her sister. “Don’t spread it around, but we’ve discovered that if they put electrical impulses through a fresh cadaver, I can read the body. I can’t fix it—there’s nothing for my power to grab onto—but I can definitely determine the cause of death.”

    “Man, that’s creepy Frankenstein stuff right there.” Vicky floated up alongside Amy as they headed for the lounge. “So what killed him?”

    Amy shook her head. “Some kind of weird pseudo-biological stuff. Definitely engineered. Dissolve it in water and it’ll pass straight through cell membranes and go looking for your central nervous system. Triggered the equivalent of a grand mal seizure in Skidmark, only it kept going until he died, with a targeted effect that left him grinning like a loon.” She shuddered. “As far as I can tell, the effect will be one hundred percent fatal in humans, even in tiny doses. The immune system doesn’t even recognise it as a threat.”

    “That still sounds all kinds of creepy,” Vicky agreed. “Can you make people immune to it?”

    “I honestly have no idea,” admitted Amy. “I’d have to see it at work on a living subject first. But it’s … well, you know how viruses aren’t really alive?” She sat down on the sofa and picked up the remote.

    “Yeah, you might’ve mentioned it a time or two,” Vicky said, floating down to sit beside her. “Is this thing like a virus, then?”

    Amy shook her head. “Yes and no. It’s less alive but more malignant. Like the difference between a tiger and a Tiger tank. I have trouble reading its structure in a dead body. And to be honest, I don’t know if the victim being alive would help all that much.”

    “So how long does it take to kill someone?” Vicky just had to be morbid.

    “You don’t want to know.” Amy closed her eyes and put down the remote. Slowly, she started peeling the banana by feel.

    “Yeah, I do. An hour? Less?”

    Amy took a deep breath then let it out again. “About one minute, is my best guess. Of which thirty seconds is utter, horrific agony. Your heart rate goes through the roof, your blood pressure spikes and you haemorrhage out of your everywhere. And you end up grinning so hard you tear muscles in your cheeks.”

    Vicky was silent for about a minute. Amy finished peeling the banana and took a bite. “Well, fuck,” Vicky said quietly.

    “You asked.” Amy raised her eyebrows.

    That got her a dirty look, but then Vicky nodded. “Yeah, I did. Next time I ask a stupid question like that, remind me of this one, okay?”

    Amy snorted. “You’ll still want to know.”

    “No, I won’t.” Vicky turned on the TV.

    “Yes, you will.”

    “No, I won’t.”

    “Will.”

    “Won’t.”

    “Will, and change the channel. This show’s shit.”

    “Won’t, and no it’s not. Your taste is shit.”

    “Yeah, it is. Change it or else.”

    “Or else what? You gonna make me?”

    “If I have to.”

    “Hey, no using your power to make me extra ticklish!”

    “No flying in the house!”

    “You started it!”

    In the ensuing argument, the issue of Skidmark’s untimely demise was entirely forgotten.

    <><>​

    Kaiser

    “Did you hear Skidmark was dead?”

    Max looked over at where Krieg was sitting. “Yes, I heard. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

    “So, what were we going to do about it?” The question was blunt, almost challenging.

    “Nothing.” Max sat back in his seat. “He’s dead, we’re not, everyone can move along in the knowledge that Brockton Bay is just that little bit less of a shithole than it was this time yesterday.”

    Krieg wasn’t letting this go. “Max, he was executed. By a cape. That’s right against your Unwritten Rules. It could be one of our capes next. We can’t risk that.”

    Max rolled his eyes. “No, it won’t. And do you know why it won’t? Because Skidmark wasn’t an actual gang leader. He was a junkie with powers. He didn’t have a base, and he didn’t have an organisation, not like we do. He was one bad trip away from walking up to Lung and punching him in the mouth. He was low-hanging fruit, James. We are not. We are organised, we have safeguards against people finding where we sleep, and most importantly? None of us are moronic enough to be such habitual drug users that we’ll grab the first baggie of cocaine that we see and snort it. In short, he died of stupidity.”

    “Yes, those are all good points,” Krieg acknowledged.

    “And yet, I hear a ‘but’ on the way.” Max raised an eyebrow. He’d practised in the mirror.

    Krieg sighed. “Yes. ‘But …’ we don’t know that this cape will only use a poison that mixes with illicit drugs. They might have one they can use to dope beer with. Or walk up and stab someone with a syringe … yes, alright, that one is a little hard to pull off and survive,” he conceded, holding his hands up. “But food can be tampered with. Alcohol. All we really know right now is that there’s a cape who successfully assassinated three capes with a substance that left them with nightmare-inducing grins on their faces, and we don’t know who they are, what their intentions are, or who they intend to kill next.”

    “True.” Max couldn’t argue with any of those points, no matter how much he might have wanted to. “Though in the Empire, we’ve all got reasonably secure secret identities, and I can’t see someone dosing Hookwolf’s beer and getting away with it.” He smirked. “Lung, on the other hand, has far fewer people than us, and nowhere near the organisation we do. If you were a new cape, ambitious, who’d just taken out the crappiest gang on the block, would you immediately move onto the biggest and most dangerous, or go after the other stragglers first?”

    “So what you’re saying is we should wait and see if they go after the ABB or Uber and Leet first?” Krieg’s tone was thoughtful. “That sounds like the kind of thing that could backfire on us if we’re not careful.”

    “So we’ll take precautions,” Max agreed. “But at the same time, we won’t panic altogether. Hell, depending on who it is and why they’re doing this, we might even see about folding them into the Empire. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

    “Hmm.” From the sound of it, Krieg still had his doubts. But he didn’t voice them, so it didn’t matter.

    “Excellent.” Max dusted his hands off. “Next order of business?”

    <><>​

    Later That Night

    The car pulled up at the right spot, and I climbed in. Frankie pulled out onto the road as soon as I was settled; he had his greasepaint on, but the nose was sitting in the centre console.

    “Evening, boss,” he said cheerfully. “So who are we going to fuck up tonight?”

    I giggled. “You know me so well, Frankie. But to be honest, I’m going to need your input. Skidmark was more personal than business, but now we need to start hurting the other gangs. Do you have any problem with hitting the Empire?” I figured he hadn’t, given the enthusiastic way he’d gone along with my attack on the stash house, but people have been known to get cold feet.

    “Fuck, no,” he said. “I was just a warm body to those assholes. You been nothing but good to me. You wanna hit the Empire where it hurts, I’d say the dog fights. Shitloads of money come in, all the time. Downside, you’re gonna be up against Hookwolf at the very least. Maybe Cricket, too.”

    I smiled, allowing the expression to cross my face until I was grinning wider than a human should be able to, showing glowing teeth inside glowing lips. “How about you let me worry about the capes.”

    He shuddered, and most of it wasn’t even feigned. “Sure thing, boss. The other big thing we could do is hit the ABB. They got this illegal casino that the city doesn’t really wanna risk raiding in case Lung takes offense. Ruby Dreams, or some shit like that. Upside, fucktons of money all in a small area, and no Hookwolf. Downside, Lung or Oni Lee might show up.” He shrugged. “Just saying.”

    “If I could make the ABB capes not a problem, you think the two of us could take the casino?” Here was where I was relying on my faithful minion’s understanding of how these things worked.

    Slowly, thoughtfully, Frankie nodded his head. “You know, boss, I think we could just about pull it off. Is that what we’re gonna do?”

    “That’s the next question I had for you.” I looked at him seriously. “If you were Kaiser or Lung, and you heard about me killing Skidmark, what do you think I’d do next?”

    “Um … shit.” Frankie rubbed his forehead. “Lung’s likely to want to come after you. He’s an asshole like that. Kaiser thinks he’s chill, but he’s just an asshole too. He’d probably hold back to let you take out some of his rivals. They’d both expect you to go after Lung. Maybe not the Ruby Dreams, but the ABB in general. I mean, it makes sense. Lung might be scary powerful, but the ABB’s got just him and Oni Lee. Knock them out, that’s another gang off the streets.”

    “Yeah, I can see that.” I rubbed my chin and grinned. “So, when and where is the next dog fight?”



    End of Part Thirteen
     
  15. Muroshi9

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

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    Ah yes. Classic Joker never do what they expect.
     
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  16. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    As soon as i saw Kaiser dismiss the likelihood of her attacking them next, i knew thats what wluld happen.
     
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  17. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Ah, Smilex. Such a versatile little chemical.
     
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  18. Wolfman217

    Wolfman217 Hail Hermione!

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    YAY. Love it when this updates. Sort of Joker Taylor is so awesome.

    Really excited for whenever everyone finds out who her dad, 'little sister', and 'auntie' is.

    'Don't piss me off, I might just have to add dear old dad to visit along with little Riley and auntie Sib'
    'Who?'
    'Oh you know them by Jack Slash, Bonesaw, and The Siberian'
     
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  19. Threadmarks: Part Fourteen: Wolf Trap
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Prodigal Daughter

    Part Fourteen: Wolf Trap

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

    Hookwolf

    The technically-abandoned warehouse was anything but abandoned right then. People were arriving in dribs and drabs, filtering in a few at a time. This was partly to reduce the chance of law enforcement spotting a large gathering, and partly because trying to get them to arrive all at once was probably fucking close to impossible at the best of times. Far more men showed up than women did, though the chicks who turned up had that same hard-edged look in their eyes that the guys did. There was something deeply visceral about watching two finely-honed killing machines trying to tear each other’s throat out in the ring, that no other sport could really match.

    He’d left word for his door guys to keep an eye on the women coming in, making sure that they were accompanied by men he knew or that he knew them himself. There’d been that one fucking debacle that he hadn’t been there for, where Bitch of the Undersiders herself had walked in as bold as brass, sat near the dog cages, then when everyone was watching a match, had made every single dog in the place grow to monster size. That had been early in her time in Brockton Bay, and she hadn’t done it since, but the injury count had been horrific.

    He didn’t think she was going to try to hit the dogfights tonight, but it was a good idea to keep the precaution going. Nobody knew when the cops might try to infiltrate the place, no matter how bad an idea that might be. If the PRT took a hand—they still wanted to stuff him in the Birdcage, after all—things might get a little problematic. But when it came down to it, ‘problematic’ was what he did best.

    A tall, bulky figure passed nearby, and Bradley frowned slightly. The guy was wearing Empire ink, and in fact Bradley thought he recognised him, but the girl at his side couldn’t have been any older than sixteen. She was also wearing a hideous purple top that did absolutely nothing for her, but he wasn’t there to hand out fashion advice. He wasn’t the morality police either; if the guy wanted to get busted for banging an underage chick, that was up to him. But in public like this, it kinda made the Empire look bad.

    At least he knew for a fact that it wasn’t Bitch; that girl would make three or four of this one. She wasn’t drunk or drugged, from the way she was looking around with alert interest. As Bradley moved toward the pair, he caught a flash of ice-blue eyes and the hint of a calculating stare. It wasn’t interest in him so much as asking and answering the question, ‘could I take him’? And he couldn’t be certain, but he could’ve sworn she was looking directly at him when she asked herself that.

    The last time he’d had someone look at him in that manner was Cricket. This did not make him feel any better.

    As he moved up to the pair and put his hand on the guy’s arm, he went through a mental list of the capes in Brockton Bay who could pass for skinny teenage girls and had the stones to think they could take him. The only one that came to mind was Circus, which also didn’t make him feel any better. Though what that androgynous freak would want at one of his dogfights, he wasn’t sure. The only think he could think of was the money, and Bradley didn’t think the take would be worth getting on the wrong side of the Empire.

    “Hey,” he said as the guy turned to face him. Bradley knew him alright; he guarded stash houses from time to time. Couldn’t think of his name, and he couldn’t be fucked asking. “Mind telling me what you’re doing bringing your side piece in here tonight? She couldn’t be out of fuckin’ high school.”

    He was more than a little surprised when the girl put her hand on her companion’s arm and spoke up in his stead. “It’s okay. He was just showing me where the restrooms were.”

    Oh. Well, that was okay, then. Bradley nodded. “Sure. No problem.”

    He turned away back toward the entrance, totally missing the glance at his back, and the tiny grin on the girl’s face.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    I sat in an inconspicuous area of the stands, pushing my blue bubble out as far as it would go. Everyone who saw me sitting next to Frankie, eating the hotdog that he’d gotten for me, only got so close before they decided that everything was okay and I didn’t need to be bothered. The dogfights were ongoing, though I didn’t care about what was happening in the arena. Dogs were dogs. That is, they weren’t me, or anything I owned.

    Frankie nudged me and I looked down toward where the bookies were still gathering cash. He’d clued me in that they took the money and stashed it out back once a certain amount came in, so nobody got tempted with itchy fingers. The way it was arranged, there was always two sets of eyes watching the money, and each load had an itemised list with it. If a load was light, or missing its list, there were only a couple of guys to question. Hookwolf had struck me as someone who was probably good at questioning people. People who weren’t me, anyway.

    And there they were, working their way down the back of the line of bookies, even as fresh money came in. Bulging satchels went into plastic shopping bags; one carrier, two guards. The carrier just had to worry about the money. The guards worried about people trying to take it.

    Frankie and I slipped out of our seats, ducking down behind the stadium seating that had been hastily erected for the dogfights. We had privacy here, or as close to it as people could get in a building full of neo-nazis drinking booze and watching blood-sports. Moving as quickly as I could, I delved into my bag and pulled out the container of greasepaint. Frankie didn’t have anyplace he could carry one easily, so I handed mine over. He took two big globs on his fingers and started applying it as I took the wig out and began to stuff my hair under it.

    By the time Frankie was done covering his head and arms with the greasepaint, I had the wig and the bio-powder finished; he handed the container back over and I began to apply it to my own face as he pulled on the gloves I’d given him. We’d decided not to go with the jackets, because that made us too conspicuous, but I had my Anaconda in my bag and he was carrying a pump shotgun under his arm, wrapped in his Empire jacket.

    The whole exercise took about thirty seconds, mainly because we’d practised. I was congratulating myself as I put the last touches on the greasepaint, knowing we still had time to catch up with the money guys. But then Frankie, in the process of putting on his clown nose, froze and looked past me.

    “Okay, Circus, end of the fucking—” I would’ve known those gravelly tones anywhere. Turning, I looked into Hookwolf’s metal-masked face. He broke off what he was saying and stared back at me, no doubt taking in my glowing pupils and lips, then blinked. “You aren’t Circus.”

    “No shit, Hookworm,” I retorted with a giggle. Stretching my lips until my smile was at its full width, I let him see my teeth as they glowed in the semi-darkness. “I was going to leave you ‘til later but hey, gift horses and all that.”

    “What the goddamn fuck are you?” To my everlasting—well, not joy, exactly. More like mild satisfaction—he took a step back, then started sprouting blades out of his everywhere. I took a moment to wonder if it hurt, then decided that I just didn’t care.

    Gliding forward, I linked my grey field to the white bubble just as he lashed out at me. I got my arm up in time so he only shredded my sleeve and not my whole top. Metal screeched and blades snapped off against my skin, clattering to the concrete floor. Then I pushed out the grey field.

    It was a pity he was wearing that wolf mask, because the look on his face when all the metal retracted into his body again would’ve been amazing. Well, mildly amusing, anyway.

    I stepped forward again and swung at him with my fist, aiming somewhere around his gut area. All of a sudden, my combat sense lit up, showing that he was going to knock my arm aside and try to get me into a lock. I was a lot stronger than I had been before, but was I strong enough to overcome a big tough guy with leverage on his side? Maybe, but this wasn’t the time or place to find out. At the last second I pulled the punch back and watched him settle into a combat stance.

    “Nice trick, girlie,” he grated. “You missed one detail, though. I was fighting long before I got powers. I can tell you’ve never been a fighter. An’ I got ways to deal with people who can’t be cut.”

    There was motion behind me, then a sharp red line cut past me to the middle of Hookwolf’s chest. I glanced over my shoulder to where Frankie had his shotgun, still wrapped in his jacket, aimed at his former boss.

    Giggling again, this time in a deep bass, I stepped in the way of the shot, hoping Frankie got the hint. While mayhem was definitely the order of the day, I didn’t want gunfire this early in the piece. Dipping my hand into my bag, I came up with my trusty length of rebar. It had served me well in the past, and beating down some piece of shit racist trash asshole was exactly what it was made to do. Then I let the bag slide off my shoulder and fall to the ground as I moved forward.

    “That’s cute,” I said. “You want to know who I am?”

    “Don’t know, don’t care,” he retorted, but I knew he was lying.

    My grin got wider. “I’m Jack Slash’s kid.” Then I pounced.

    I’d like to say that the fight was like a ballet, a deadly sparring contest between the grizzled veteran and the enthusiastic newcomer. It’s tempting to relate a series of feints and jabs as we felt out each other’s strengths and weaknesses before true battle was joined. Mano a mano, expressing the true art and science of combat.

    It was nothing like that.

    I went in without finesse or grace, aiming a punch to his ’nads with my left hand and utterly ignoring his defences. He blocked the punch and smashed me in the face with one of his own. I saw it coming, so I was able to brace for it. My head rang a little, but my right arm was still moving. The bar, in my right hand, smashed into the side of his left knee with enough kinetic energy to entirely destroy the joint. It bent sideways so fast that it hit his other knee, and he promptly fell over with a scream that was only half an octave away from being ‘girly’.

    As he went down, I kicked him in the face then kept kicking until he stopped moving. Heavy hard-toed boots are good for that sort of thing. I heard several snapping and crunching sounds while I was doing this, and the mask was bent all to fuck, so I figured that he wasn’t going to be getting up for awhile, if ever. Either was good for me. If by some bizarre chance he survived and wasn’t stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his natural life, I’d be happy to kick his asshole up through the top of his head any time he felt like it. We could make it a weekly event. Put it on pay-per-view.

    Picking up my bag and dropping the bar back into it, I turned to Frankie. “All righty then,” I said with a high-pitched giggle. “Let’s go see about that money.”

    “Holy fuck,” muttered Frankie. “You just fucked up Hookwolf.

    “Oh, was that who it was?” I flicked him a glance to let him know I was kidding, and giggled again. “Well, he’s roadkill now. Let’s move.”

    “What you told him back there,” he said as we moved toward our target. “Were you fucking with him, or are you really …?”

    I gave him my creepiest grin. “What do you think?”

    He shuddered. “Wouldn’t fuckin’ surprise me in the slightest.”

    The rest of the heist was almost an anticlimax. As the money guy went out through into the back area with the guards, Frankie and I went straight after them, with my blue field telling them everything’s fine, we’re all good here. I clocked one guard with my iron bar and Frankie butt-stroked the other in the back of the head with his shotgun. They both went down, and I grabbed the shopping-bags full of money from the third guy.

    “Hi,” I said with a giggle, grinning as widely and creepily as I knew. “Just making a withdrawal, kaythanksbai.”

    The money guy was at least six feet tall, covered in tattoos and had muscles like he bench-pressed brick outhouses for fun. He wet himself right then and there, stumbled backward, and landed on his ass. “Fuck!” he shrieked.

    That was when two more guards came out of the side room I hadn’t spotted yet. One had an AR-15 and the other carried a shotgun that could’ve been the twin of what Frankie was carrying. They stared at us, glared at us, then raised their weapons.

    (Well, I did say it was ‘almost’ an anticlimax.)

    Frankie and I reacted identically. He was probably working from experience, but I could see where the bullets were going to go. As the two red danger lines (the shotgun diverging into a long skinny cone) came up to point at us, Frankie dived left and I dived right. I let the money bags fall, because money isn’t great for blocking gunfire, and I wasn’t entirely sure that I was bulletproof yet. Especially against a weapon that’s one step down from a fucking M-16.

    This time, when I reached into my bag, I wasn’t going after the iron bar, or even the folding knife. My hand closed around the grip of the Anaconda and I lifted it, bag and all, as the rifle’s threat-beam swept toward me. When its aimpoint was over the guy with the rifle, I pulled the trigger, not even caring that the pistol was still in its holster or that the holster was in the bag.

    There was a BOOM, coincident with Frankie letting loose with his own artillery, and the bag was blown half off the pistol. The goon with the AR-15 stood there for a moment, apparently wondering how the .44 calibre hole had appeared in his breastbone. Then I shot him again, this time in the middle of the face. Of course, this blew a second hole in the bottom of my tote bag, but the world isn’t perfect and we can’t expect it to be.

    My guy folded like a cheap suit—that is, untidily as fuck—and I looked over at Frankie. He was just getting up, a satisfied look on his face. His guy was down as well, with bits missing via the double-ought loads Frankie had been sporting. “You okay, Frankie?” I asked, just to make sure. “No holes that shouldn’t be there?” I got up and pulled the Anaconda all the way out of its holder. Facing the doors we’d come in by, I made ready to shoot anyone trying to butt in on our business.

    “No worries, boss,” Frankie assured me as he went to kick the shotgun out of the hands of the guy he’d shot. “Lou could never hit for shit, anyway. Did you want the rifle?”

    I looked over my shoulder at the AR-15, then down at the Anaconda now out of the bag. “Nah, I’m good with what I got. Knock yourself out.”

    Frankie grinned, scooping up the rifle and slinging it over his shoulder. “Gotta say, you give the best bonuses.”

    I giggled. “Stick with me and we’ll go places.” It seemed nobody had heard the shots, probably due to the rising torrent of noise in the building, but it was probably unwise to wait around too long. Slinging my (now somewhat perforated) tote bag back over my shoulder, I scooped up the bags of cash, keeping one hand free for the Anaconda. Most of the money would go to Frankie again, of course. I really didn’t need all that much for myself. “So, we’ve got two options. Leave quiet or leave loud. What’s your choice in the matter?”

    “Well, I guess we could leave quiet,” he mused. “But … oooh yeah. Whaddaya think of this, boss?”

    I followed his gaze, to where a light cloth had been draped over something with a very familiar shape. “Ooh, is that what I think it is?”

    He chuckled darkly. “Oh, I know what the fuck it is.” Whipping the cloth off, he revealed an absolutely gorgeous motorcycle. I’m no expert, but where it wasn’t gleaming chrome it was exquisite paintwork. Featuring on each side of the fuel tank, a running wolf.

    My eyes widened and I forgot to giggle. For the first time in a long time, I actually wanted to laugh. The urge passed after a moment, leaving a light-hearted feeling behind. I grinned viciously as I ran my hand over the smooth metal. “Let me guess. This is Hookwolf’s ride?”

    “The one and only.” He pointed at the ignition where the key proudly jutted from the slot, a tiny wolfs-head ornament dangling from it. “Who else is so damn sure nobody’s gonna boost their hog that they leave the keys in it?”

    I looked at him and he looked at me. We both had the same thought. “Okay,” I said. “This is too good to just leave here. We’ve gotta either torch it or take it. And I dunno how to ride a motorbike, so you’re gonna have to.”

    This time when I giggled, Frankie laughed out loud.

    <><>​

    So that was how we burst out of the back room on Hookwolf’s bike, Frankie driving with me on the pillion seat. The motorbike engine howled, I cackled loudly, and Frankie ploughed into the crowd with not a care in the world. The cash had been shoved in the panniers before we started off.

    Holding on with my knees, I had my Anaconda in one hand and the AR-15 in the other. We could always get more ammunition, after all. As we tore across the warehouse floor with people scrambling and dodging out of the way, I fired randomly into the crowd to encourage them to get out of the way faster. After all, people who tolerate nazis still make perfectly fine targets in my book.

    Or, to put it another way, we were in a target-rich environment and I was taking full advantage of it.

    And then we were through the crowd and out the doors, leaving just the roar of the motorbike and the fading sound of my laughter as we rode off into the night.

    If that didn’t piss Kaiser off and spark the next phase of my plan, I figured, nothing would.



    End of Part Fourteen
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2020
  20. Threadmarks: Part Fifteen: Lung Shot
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Prodigal Daughter

    Part Fifteen: Lung Shot

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

    Kaiser

    Max raised his hands and rubbed at his temples with his fingertips. “How could this even happen?” he demanded. “How did it happen? Why didn’t Bradley just kill them all?”

    Melody, her Cricket face-cage in her hands, shrugged and glanced at Stormtiger. Max glared at them both. “Why weren’t you there?”

    “Because he said he didn’t need us to babysit him, and if you’ve seen one dogfight, you’ve seen them all,” Stormtiger said defensively. “That was always his thing, not ours. But I talked to the people there afterward. There was a big guy with a white face, like clown makeup, and a red nose. And a chick with green hair, white skin, a crazy grin and glowing teeth. She was just shooting into the crowd. Four people died and about twenty more got hit. Some pretty bad. And that’s not counting the guys in the back room.”

    “That doesn’t explain how Bradley died.” Max was holding onto the barest edges of his temper. “His neck was broken and his skull was in pieces. Someone kicked his mask in so hard, it was pushing bits of his face bones into his brain. But they found bits of his blades nearby, so it wasn’t by surprise. So tell me how it happened.”

    Stormtiger spread his hands. “I honestly have no fucking idea. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Do we have any idea who this new cape is? The one with the glowing teeth?”

    Max let out an aggravated sigh. “We’ve got a police report and a PRT report.” Unspoken was the understanding that neither the police nor the PRT would willingly share their reports with either the head of the Empire Eighty-Eight or the CEO of Medhall. “They’ve got reports of a man and a tall girl or a petite woman of that description, but wearing gaudier outfits, invading a police sub-station. They roughed up the cops pretty bad, but nobody died there. The police took some good images off the security cameras. Black and white, but you work with what you’ve got.”

    “And the PRT report?” asked Stormtiger.

    “Skidmark.” Max didn’t have to say anymore.

    Cricket’s eyes opened wide, and Stormtiger wasn’t far behind. “Fuck! She was the cape who did that?”

    Max shrugged. “The PRT seems to think so. With the giggling and laughing, and the fact that Skidmark and his crew all died in agony with grins on their faces. They’re calling her Rictus.”

    “Hookwolf didn’t have a grin,” Stormtiger said carefully. “At least, we don’t think so, once they got his mask off.”

    Max had seen the photos too. He wasn’t going to be eating rare steak for awhile. “There’s no way we can tell, after the mess she made of his face. The big guy called her ‘Boss’ and she called him ‘Minion Number One’.” There was no way he was going to call anyone ‘Boss’. “We’ll call her ‘Rictus’.”

    “We’ll fuckin’ call her dead meat.” Stormtiger smashed a fist into his palm. Cricket nodded in agreement.

    “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Max looked at the both of them. “Now, how in hell did those two get into the building? If they stopped to put on makeup, why didn’t anyone see them and make a fuss? Did anyone you talked to see anything suspicious?”

    Stormtiger shook his head. “Nada. I asked around. One of the guys on the door caught a bullet, but the other one swore up and down that no girl who looked like that walked in with anyone.”

    Max gritted his teeth. “This ‘Rictus’ has made us out to look like fools. She walks into a gathering of our like-minded friends, literally beats Bradley to death, and steals his motorcycle along with about a quarter of the night’s takings. And then shoots up the place on the way out. It’s a slap in the face. Lung must be laughing himself stupid.”

    “Stupider,” Stormtiger said automatically, then caught himself as Max glared at him. “Sorry, boss. Just slipped out. But yeah, it’s not a good look for us. You think it was a targeted hit?”

    “I don’t know what it was.” Max smashed his fist on the desk. “But we need to find this ‘Rictus’ and her minion, and make a very public example of them. Otherwise, the ABB and Coil are going to decide that it’s open season on us. And we can’t afford that, not with Bradley gone.”

    Cricket decided to put her two cents in at that point. “Not a targeted hit,” she said, holding the buzzing device to her throat. “Rictus is going after the gangs. First Merchants, now us. Next will be ABB.”

    Max considered her words, nodding slowly. “That kind of makes sense. I’ll get Krieg to send out a feeler to the ABB and propose a meeting, so we can all go after her at once.”

    “Right now?” asked Stormtiger. “Lung’s got no reason to. He’s just going to ignore us and keep pushing into our territory.”

    Max recalled the glowing eyes and too-wide manic grin on the girl at the police sub-station. “Not after she hits his operations, he won’t.” He liked to think he had a feel for people, and that girl made the skin on the back of his neck itch.

    “You think she will?” asked Stormtiger. “Nobody in their right mind’s gonna risk turning all the gangs in Brockton Bay against them.”

    Cricket put the buzzer against her throat again. It was nearly impossible to create inflection, but Max understood it as a question anyway. “Who says she’s in her right mind.”

    Max nodded. “Exactly.”

    <><>​

    “It’s a nice bike,” Frankie said, running his hand possessively over the fuel tank. “Can I keep it?”

    I eyed it critically. “Sure. You got anyplace you can stash it that anybody who sees it isn’t gonna instantly know you’re the one who stole Hookworm's bike? Because that sort of thing never gets found out by people.”

    He grimaced unhappily. “Ugh, you’re right. I’d never be able to ride it around town.”

    “Uh huh,” I said brightly. “On the other hand, how do you feel about using it to utterly piss off the ABB?”

    The disappointed look vanished off his face. “I’m right down with that, boss. You got a plan?”

    I grinned widely for his benefit. “More like I’ve got a notion, Frankie. It’s your input that’s gonna make it into a plan.”

    As I launched into my explanation, I spared a thought for the fact that neither one of us had a place we could call our lair. This was starting to cripple our ‘acquire illicit goods’ capability. There was only so much money, and so many guns, that could be stuffed under someone’s bed before people started noticing. Motorbikes, even the really small ones, were right out.

    By the time I finished explaining the bare bones of my plan, Frankie’s grin was almost as wide as mine. “Well, what do you think?” I asked. “Doable?”

    He nodded. “Fuckin’ totally. It'll take a few days to organise, but I can stash the bike out of sight ’till then. Once I get that sorted ... party time.” Showing his teeth, he rubbed his hands together. “They are not gonna know what hit ’em.”

    “Sounds good to me.” I slapped him on the shoulder. “And once we’ve got a proper hideout, we’ll get a bike with an even better paint job, so you can store it there.”

    “Damn right,” he agreed.

    <><>​

    Afternoon of The Next Day

    “Dad?” Wandering over to where Dad was watching TV, I plopped myself down on the sofa. It was time to brush up on my being-a-daughter skills, and find out useful information at the same time. I supposed I could’ve asked Frankie, but I didn’t want to have him think I didn’t know anything.

    “Yeah?” He looked over at me, then blinked. “Huh. That’s a nice outfit. When did I buy that for you?”

    I experimented with a normal smile. It didn’t feel too weird. “I’ve been saving up my allowance. You like it?” It was something I’d picked up when I was shopping for costumes for Frankie and me. The shop assistant had seemed to think it was okay.

    “Yeah.” He nodded. “I’m glad you’re doing nice things for yourself. Hoodies and jeans only go so far. Did you want to ask for an advance? That outfit must have just about cleaned you out.”

    “Uh, no, actually.” I dug in the little handbag I’d picked up. No time like the present to start showing a different façade to my cape face. “While I was out, I found this on the ground. I was wondering what I should do with it.”

    ‘This’ was one of the rolls of cash from the Empire hit. It was forty-nine twenties, secured with a rubber band. When Dad recognised it, he snatched it from me, his eyes widening. “Jesus Christ, Taylor! Where did you find that?”

    “Kicked into the gutter, just near the intersection of Laramie and Oakes,” I said at once, pushing out my blue field to cover him very slightly. I knew as well as he did that there was a large gas station on that corner, and it was right smack in the middle of Empire Eighty-Eight territory; all that I needed now was for him to connect the dots I was laying down for him.

    He ran his hand through his thinning hair, then pulled the rubber band off the cash. Lips moving silently, he counted the stack, then counted it again. “Jesus,” he muttered again, then looked at me. “Taylor. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer me honestly.”

    I shrugged. “Sure.” I knew exactly what he was going to ask.

    He tapped the roll. “There’s one twenty-dollar bill missing. Did you use it to buy that outfit?”

    “Haha no, Dad!” I’d practised the little laugh in front of the mirror, and I hoped it didn’t sound too awkward, or too unlike me. “I used my own money. Besides, I only found that yesterday.” All of which was true. The money Frankie and I had liberated from the Empire stash house had become our money as soon as we walked away from the building. Kaiser’s name wasn’t written on it or anything. “I just wanted to know what I should do with it. Hand it in or keep it, or what?”

    He stared at the cash, and I could see the temptation in his eyes. Nine hundred eighty dollars would pay off a few bills, or keep us in food for a little while. I was actually curious as to which way he’d go with this. Money didn’t mean all that much to me, mainly because having stuff wasn’t a big deal. If I wanted or needed something, I could take it. No big.

    “Did you see who dropped it?” he asked, carefully putting the rubber band around the roll again. “Or was it just there when you saw it?”

    “No, but a bunch of guys on motorbikes rode off just before I got there,” I said. “You know, skinheads. Those guys.” I ran my hand over the top of my head in illustration.

    “Right.” He nodded, and I could tell he was buying the story. Empire skinheads liked to ride around on motorbikes looking tough and wearing leather, and if one of them paid for gasoline from a roll of twenties that fell out of his pocket when he got back on his ride … well, too bad, so sad.

    “So should I hand it in?” I asked. Before he could give the obvious answer—of course I should—I added the stinger. “Who to? The gas station attendant or the cops?”

    And that was the trouble. He knew as well as I did that whether I handed it to the attendant or to the police, the chances were that even if the putative owners never showed up looking for it (because I knew damn well they wouldn’t) I’d never see it again. And I’d been so honest in handing it over, too.

    I almost felt bad for manipulating him like this, but I did have a purpose in mind. At the same time, I was curious as to what Dad’s limits were. I knew that my real father didn’t really have any, but I also knew that Jack Slash was a douche-nozzle and a murderhobo, so I didn’t feel any real reason to follow in those blood-spattered footsteps. Before I committed to taking Dad on as an adult role model, I wanted to know what his moral stance on all this was first.

    If that sounds a bit mercenary, hell yes. I’ll be mercenary all day long. Morality for morality’s sake has always been a loser’s game, as far as I’m concerned. But give me a good solid reason to be moral, and I’ll … think about it.

    Eventually he sighed, tossed the money in the air and caught it again. “Well, it’s probably the proceeds of some kind of criminal activity, so whoever had it doesn’t deserve to get it back. Which makes it finders keepers, I guess.” He held up his finger warningly, as if to forestall an excited grab for the money. “However. I don’t want you blowing it all at once. So I’ll be augmenting your allowance with twenty bucks a week, okay?”

    Huh. I’d actually been expecting him to ‘confiscate’ it altogether. Score one for Dad. But this was the cue for my next gambit. “Okay, cool. Uh, Dad, can I ask a weird sounding question?”

    He shrugged. “Sure. Weirder than handing me nearly a thousand bucks and giving me a heart attack?”

    “Well, not that weird, I guess.” I indicated the money. “If they’re riding around with cash like that, and it’s stolen or something, how would they put it in the bank? Wouldn’t the bank be on the lookout for stolen money?”

    “Oh, that’s easy.” He tucked the roll into his shirt pocket. “They get it laundered.”

    I blinked. “What, washed? That doesn’t make sense.”

    “You grew up in Brockton Bay and you’ve never heard of money laundering?” He raised his eyebrows as if in disbelief.

    “Oh, money laundering. Yeah, I’ve heard about it, but I don’t know what it is.” I really did, but I needed more details.

    He sighed. “This has become a very strange conversation. If someone’s got a load of illicit cash, they take it to a money launderer. That guy takes the cash and gives them back legitimate currency, minus a markup for the guy’s profit. He then takes the cash and pulls some sort of sleight of hand to change it out for clean money.”

    “Oh.” I increased the intensity of the blue field. “Like what would he do?”

    Dad blinked. “Uh, well, one way to do it is to go into a casino and buy a heap of gambling chips. Then wander around the floor, gambling a bit here and there, then go back an hour or so later and cash them all in. You get back all new cash, fresh out of their reserves.”

    “Huh.” That made a weird sort of sense. “Thanks, Dad. I learned something today.” I dropped the blue field.

    “You’re welcome.” He tapped the pocket with the cash in it. “It’s always best to be honest about things like this.”

    “Absolutely,” I said, lying through my teeth. I knew better than to press him on where to find someone to launder my rightly-earned gains, but now I knew more about the topic than I did before.

    We settled down to watch TV, though my mind was barely on what I was seeing. Inside my head, I was turning over ideas and making plans.

    <><>​

    Three Days Later

    “Okay, you ready?” I sat astride Hookwolf’s motorcycle, the engine rumbling under me. Even though I was tall for my age, it was difficult for me to get my feet firmly on the ground on either side of the bike, but I could just about manage it.

    “You sure you want to do it this way, boss?” The concern in Frankie’s voice carried through clearly. He knew how tough and strong I was, and I scared the crap out of him on a regular occasion, but he was still worried about my welfare. Aww, who’s a good little minion. You are, that’s who.

    “Absolutely,” I replied with a too-wide grin and a creepy giggle. “I’ll bail out just before the bike goes through the door. You just make sure you do your thing.”

    “You got it, boss.” Frankie nodded firmly and hefted the AR-15. “Whenever you’re ready to go.”

    Well, that was my cue. The bike was already in first gear so I flicked the switch that had been taped to the handlebars. Then I gave it a little acceleration while letting out the clutch, just as Frankie had shown me. We’d practised starting off like this until I was confident that I could do it properly, every time. It was a little unwieldy, given the extra stuff we had strapped onto it, but I was strong enough to handle it.

    I started off strongly, changing up twice before I’d gone ten yards. The ABB guards lounging outside the front of the entrance to the Ruby Dreams casino straightened up, reaching for pistols. Frankie, who had run off to the left, lined up the AR-15 and shot them both down as I swerved to the right. I had to say, for something that wasn’t quite an assault rifle, it made a mess of them.

    With the guards dead, I opened the engine way out and accelerated for the doors, changing up as fast as I could. By the time I was fifteen yards away, I’d left the pedals behind and I was crouching on the seat. At ten yards, I let the handlebars go and leaped up and backward as high and far as I could go.

    The bike kept on going; about half a second after I abandoned ship, it hit the doors with a tremendous crash and busted on through. I tried to land on my feet and almost managed it, but rolled over and over before standing up anyway. My jacket had a new hole in the elbow which honestly made it look cooler. As I was dusting myself off, Frankie came running up with his shotgun and the new Panama hat that I’d bought. At least my wig had stayed on, this time.

    “Damn, boss, that was badass.” He grinned at me and handed the hat over, just as part of the frontage blew out with a rolling BOOOM. Bits of debris rained around us. Frankie ducked; I ignored it.

    “Your timer was pretty good, too,” I observed, drawing the Anaconda. “How did you manage to get hold of so much C-4?” I figured I might have to try this trick again sometime. High explosives solved so many problems.

    “Most of it wasn’t C-4,” he confessed. “A little bit attached to the timer, but mostly ammonium nitrate mixed with diesel fuel. Bulky but effective. And once the gas tank ruptured, that went up too.”

    We went over to the doors, which were basically hanging off the hinges, and peered in. My danger alert didn’t ping to anything bad about to happen to me, so I took a deep breath of non-smoky air and stepped inside. “Knock knock!” I called out, and added a cackle for good measure. “Anybody home?”

    Nobody seemed up to opposing us, though I did hear what I thought might be pained groans. Oh well, it wasn’t me groaning so I didn’t care. I raised the Anaconda as the smoke began to clear somewhat. Most of the lights had been shattered by the explosion, but some were still operational, and some of the machines were on fire, giving me enough light to see by. A roulette wheel was embedded in the far wall. And that’s double-zero, to the house.

    “Okay,” I said to Frankie. “Let’s grab what we can, and skedaddle.”

    Lung was gonna be so pissed.

    Just as planned.



    End of Part Fifteen
     
  21. blackstar1

    blackstar1 Not too sore, are you?

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    man i am loving Taylor and best minion Franky but i hope she gets more minions for more fun later.
     
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  22. Crazael

    Crazael Could be wittier.

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    More minions should be fun. I'm curious if she'll hit Coil or the PRT next.
     
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  23. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Unless he shot them in the head, or multiple times each, the guards probably survived that. An M-16 is not very powerful as battle rifles go, they wound the target more often than they kill, though like any gun they can kill. There is a reason M-16s fire three-round bursts. The cartridge both rifles use is a small-to-medium game hunting rifle round - to use Australian wildlife as an example, a wombat is on the high end of what the round reliably kills with a single shot. It’s illegal - on animal cruelty grounds - to use them to hunt anything human sized in most places.
     
  24. Death by Chains

    Death by Chains За родину и свободу!

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    Counterpoint: it’s an AR-15 stolen from the Empire Eighty-Eight. It might have started life as a semi-auto-only varmint rifle (or it might not, depending on who it was made for and how much FFL paperwork they held), but even if it did, considering the various other jackasseries they get up to I would not be comfortable betting against the idea that a gunsmith in the Empire’s ranks/employ converted the thing to full rock-and-roll. (If nothing else, simply to exercise their ‘Constipational Rights’ — ironically, a lot of the survivalist nuts and American Neo-Nazi types are really big on the Second Amendment, at least as applied to them.) And for all that the 5.56mm cartridge is maligned on a per-bullet basis, applying rounds by burst-fire or full-auto quickly gets into territory covered by the axiom ‘quantity has a quality all of its own’.
     
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  25. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I beg to differ.

    The AR15 is Different

    The reason M-16s fire three-round bursts is that they were designed to be used in the jungle, where you might not have a good sight picture, but they didn't want soldiers burning through an entire magazine to target one enemy combatant.

    Being shot even once with a high-velocity .223 round will at least put you on the ground. Torso hits have a medium to fair chance of being (eventually) fatal, mainly through bleeding out from shredded organs. Instant kills? Probably not. Out of the game and dying? Probably yes.
     
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  26. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    The M-16 uses the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. While it’s the same size as the civilian .223 Remington the AR-15 typically uses, the propellant load of the NATO round is more powerful. The two rounds are mostly interchangeable in theory, though the civilian ammo can cause cycling problems in an M-16, and low-end quality AR-15s can suffer firing chamber damage from the NATO round.

    One of the reasons the M-16 was adopted was a particularly grim bit of battlefield calculus: If you kill a soldier, you remove one soldier from the battlefield. The enemy buries him and fights on. But if you wound him, you remove three soldiers - the one you shot and two stretcher bearers. That soldier then goes on to consume medical supplies, doctor hours, etc. Any army that doesn’t care for its wounded will suffer even greater damage to morale, and as a result, combat effectiveness, than the loss of a single soldier would cause.

    Humans and deer are about the same size and resist being shot to about the same degree. It is illegal in much of the US to hunt deer with an AR-15 because they rarely cause death with a single shot, and leaving an animal wounded and in pain is considered animal cruelty.
     
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  27. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Okay. Well, in any case, Frankie shot them more than once.
     
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