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Recoil (a Worm fanfic)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Jan 13, 2015.

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  1. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Always a pleasant surprise to see an Ack chapter, and that chapter being in Recoil makes it all the sweeter! Robbie's riding to get a headshot sooner rather than later, hopefully, and Coil's coiling. I'd forgotten that he was a black dude, so the bit with him being the waiter took me completely off guard. And I'm glad that this world's Greg, whatever that might be, will hopefully have a father.

    A solid update.
     
  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Legal system: Gay marriage is not legal, and that's that.

    Legend: I'm gay and I want to get married,

    Legal system: ... well, it's not set in stone ...
     
  3. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    It helps when you've got enough power to obliterate stone at your disposal. Things become a lot more flexible put up against an aerial artillery platform.
     
  4. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Know what you're doing yet?

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    I'd think it would be more like:
    Legal System:We can't legislate from the bench. Talk to Congress, only they can fix it
    Legend goes to Congress: I'm gay and I want to get married. Make it possible or I'll quit and move somewhere else where I can get married. Maybe set up shop in one of those African hellholes and stabilize it."
    Congress:Ok, OK, we'll make it legal.
     
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  5. ShotoGun

    ShotoGun Getting out there.

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    I swear I thought this was a dead story.
     
  6. cosoco

    cosoco Know what you're doing yet?

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    In fairness, it takes a lot of time to write a fanfic with such a different setting than the original story - rather than something which just visits stations of canon, as many fics do.
     
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  7. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    True, but in this case it has more to do with the other dozen-or-so fics Ack has going.
     
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  8. Priapus

    Priapus Engorged member

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    I've been reading through this, and I've gotta say, it was amazing.

    Admittedly, I was initially fairly skeptical, as the premise sounded a bit generic (Taylor Peggy Sue), but the quality of NSW made me give it a shot. And holy shit, I'd almost say you're wasted on porn.

    The only criticism that stands out to me is that Robert Gordon doesn't make sense to me from around the time he first gets a PoV.

    It's given me a deeply bamboozling set of fridge logic trying to figure out what he knows and doesn't know, and whether and how he remains mastered. His continued insistence, even in his own head, that he did nothing wrong and they were not masters would make some level of sense if he was under the lingering effects of some sort of perception-twisting master effect, but neither of the masters involved seemed to have powers that worked like that.

    His insistence in his own head that the most anyone could blame him for was talking to a woman off-base, as opposed to recontextualising and justifying the fact that he divulged classified information and assaulted a superior officer is really weird to me. If he is no longer under master effects, and only doubts that they are masters because he was more or less inclined to do the things he did anyway, and not alert enough to know the difference, then his timeline of events should be the same as ours, and he should understand that there was some stuff he did that would look "unflattering to the untrained eye until he explained the necessity" or somesuch. Like "of course I tried to restrain her, the crazy bitch was drawing a gun on my girlfriend!" Or whatever. Even so, one would think even a little interrogation-driven introspection would lead him to question some of his actions.

    And if he does have a different mental timeline of events due to lingering Master effects, why was that not caught by M/S screening? Or by Lisa?

    The only remaining option seems yo be that he is self-delusive to an extent that it is bewildering that he was able to maintain a job at all, let alone a high-ranking military intelligence role. Unless he more or less had a massive decline in mental health triggered by his thwarted one-sided rivalry and the delusions are new.

    In the absence of anything like that, he seems like a confusingly bad caricature.

    His PoVs read a lot better under the assumption that he is an anti-taylor proto-zizbomb, although as I said, it's not clear how that could be accomplished with the Master powers they had, why it remained after their deaths and how it escaped detection.
     
  9. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    Not all time travel is Peggy Sue. Peggy Sue is a very specific type of time travel: mental time travel to your younger body. Peggy Sue is probably the most common trope in time travel fanfiction, but this fic notably uses a completely different form.
     
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  10. Megaolix

    Megaolix Moderator

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    Priapus
    You really should know better, but at least I don't exactly feel like slamming you for necromancy compared to the 99% necros that are just one line.

    But you do force me to lock the thread.

    Ack
    Call us if you want it reopened.
     
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  11. Threadmarks: Part 8-0: Sleight of Hand
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Recoil

    Part 8-0: Sleight of Hand

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



    Monday, October 17, 1994
    PRT Department 04: Chicago
    New PRT Building


    The hallway ahead was dark and forbidding, but I didn't care. Touching the visor of my helmet, I whispered the command word. As if by magic—well, it was magic—I could suddenly see perfectly well, all the way down to the end, where the two lizard-like beings—kobolds, unless I missed my guess—waited with crossbows at the ready.

    "You see them too?" whispered Lisa, flicking her bottle-green gaze sideways without ever looking directly down the corridor at the would-be ambushers. Even with pointy ears and almond-shaped eyes, she was still the Lisa I knew well. No amount of elf makeup would expunge the smug grin from her face. Or maybe elves were naturally smug. I wouldn't have been surprised.


    Mm-hmm, I murmured without moving my lips. Wonder if they've forgotten that elves can see in the dark too?

    "Half-elf," she corrected me. "They probably can't tell at this distance."

    I snorted. Persons of elvish descent. There. Happy now?

    "Just so long as you don't call me a tree-hugger. That's probably speciesist, or something."


    I've never seen you hug a tree in my life.

    "Exactly my point." She reached up and scratched randomly at her jaw. "Walk in front of me. I need visual cover for a second."

    Shrugging my shoulders and making a show of re-settling my shield, I did as she asked, strolling across in front of her. The instant she was out of sight behind me—my armour and shield made for a good screen—she pulled her bow off her shoulder and nocked an arrow. The
    twang and whisper of the arrow whipping away down the corridor happened half a second later; I could've sworn I felt the fletching brush my hair.

    One of the kobolds gurgled and fell over, clutching at the arrow now impaling its neck. The other screeched with rage and brought its crossbow into line, but I stepped in front of Lisa again, my shield held defensively. I felt the impact as the bolt shattered on the steel shield—a lot more expensive than wood, but definitely better at stopping things from getting through—then I stepped out of the way again as it frantically tried to crank the string back for a second shot. Lisa's second arrow made sure it didn't have to worry about that, or anything else, ever again.


    Nicely done. You've been practising, haven't you?

    She gave me a smirk as we headed down the passageway toward the two corpses, alert for any more surprises. "Always."

    So, is Annette still going to have a nice, safe healthy pregnancy? I'd gotten the news in September from Danny and Annette. They were both over the moon about it, unsurprising since they'd actively planned for it rather than being surprised out of the blue. But I was still a little paranoid, so I bugged Lisa about it from time to time.

    "Oh, yeah. Ordinary pregnancy, uneventful birth—" She was interrupted by a long, dull, booming noise that echoed down the corridor.

    I looked around. What's that?

    "Your boss, knocking at your door. I'll save some treasure for you. Kiss before you go?"


    You better. I raised my visor. Her lips tasted of dust and blood and magic potions. A speck of dust drifted into my eye, and I blinked—

    -ooo-​

    —then opened my eyes in my office. "Come in," I called out, closing the word processor window I'd been working on.

    It was a little odd, being in Chicago again after the extended road trip that had taken Kinsey and me through nearly every state in the contiguous 48, as well as across to Hawaii and back. We'd returned to a new building, one where everyone was still settling in. This actually helped somewhat; that, and the absence of one Robbie Gordon.

    I had a new office, which I'd set about making my own. As my orderly and personal bodyguard detail, Kinsey was right next door; he got to look people over before they ever got to me. While I was still very firmly a part of the Intelligence division of the PRT, I was neither in charge below Hamilton nor subordinate to anyone else apart from him. Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton had set it up that way and tended to growl at people if they asked why I got preferential treatment.

    In days gone by, some may have complained about that, or even tried to go over the Lieutenant-Colonel's head to complain to those higher up (by 'some' I mean 'one', and by 'one' I mean Robbie) but it seemed enough of the stories had percolated through the division that nobody gave me flack about it. In fact, I occasionally found myself being approached by people who wanted my read on a particular subject. I was happy to help out; anything leading to a more effective Intelligence division was fine in my book. At the same time, I would usually give them a few pointers for improving their analysis technique, thus cementing my reputation as the go-to person when all else failed. Once in a while, Lisa would give me a heads-up before they came to me, allowing me to give them the solution on the spot and doing my reputation no harm whatsoever.

    Yet, all was not wine and roses for Captain Taylor Snow, PRT (Intelligence). A crunch point was fast approaching. Behemoth was due in the first week of November, which I'd passed on to Hamilton with the certain knowledge that he'd convey it to those interested parties above him in the chain of command. I hadn't given him the date or location, though I'd officially narrowed it down to the Australasian region.

    Nobody in that area of the world had been happy about that little heads-up. I'd heard the Australian teams were gearing up for the conflict, pushing hard with their training in total war scenarios (because fighting Behemoth was nothing less) combined with search & rescue. Even the criminal capes were keeping their heads down, lest they be targeted for a 'training exercise'. This wasn't a bad idea, because Gavel (still seen as a hero; the unwritten rules weren't really a thing yet) was taking it as an even better excuse than normal to bring the hammer down (literally) on anyone he considered to be a viable target.

    In the Southeast Asian area, the capes tended more toward flamboyance and 'movie star' personae, not unlike those I'd seen in India. They didn't quite follow the Garama/Thanda divide (not that they would've used those terms even if they did), but it was close enough for me to keep a handle on. The 'bright' capes were putting on a huge show, boasting that they would protect the population and defeat the monster, while the 'dark' capes … weren't saying much of anything.

    My office door opened and Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton (as predicted by Lisa) entered; no salutes were given, as we were both uncovered, but I stood up and went to attention. "Sir," I said, giving him a nod.

    "Be seated, Captain," he replied, just as the second person entered the office. This was Myrddin, head of the Chicago Protectorate branch and one of the quirkier capes in a profession where wearing brightly coloured spandex and taking on a weird name was seen as perfectly normal. I'd seen him a few times, walking around the new PRT building, but we'd never spoken more than two words to each other.

    "Greetings, Captain Snow," the newcomer said, bringing his gnarled wooden staff down with a thump at his feet. I had to admit; between that, the cloaked robe, and the beard, he could really rock the Gandalf look. By all accounts, he was an effective and empathetic hero, for all that he put on the wizard act. "I've heard much about you. It's good to meet you at last."

    Back in my Brockton Bay, I hadn't yet gone over to the heroes when he was murdered by an Echidna clone, so I'd barely known him. It was good to see him get a second chance, just like everyone else in the world. "Likewise, sir." I offered him a polite smile. "Is there something I can help you with?"

    "As it happens, yes there is." Myrddin took a step forward, so I could see the steel visor covering his upper face under the cowl of his robe. "I'm told you are close to pinpointing the next emergence of the Behemoth. Do you have any new insights as to when and where this might be, and any weaknesses the creature might suffer from?"

    Well, no, I was going to keep all that secret, I thought sarcastically but did not say. "Uh, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton was setting up a meeting between myself and the members of, uh, the original Protectorate …" I let my words trail off, irritated at myself and trying not to show it. For half a second there, I'd been about to say 'Triumvirate', which wasn't a thing in the here and now. Five years I'd been back in time, and I didn't need to trip myself up now because I wasn't paying attention.

    "That is correct, Captain," Hamilton said promptly. "The meeting has been scheduled for ten AM on Wednesday the twenty-sixth. That's not too early, is it?"

    I deliberately looked down at my notes for a second, then I met his eyes and shook my head. "No, sir. I should be ready by then. All the indicators will be set, and I'll do my best to give them hard data on a place and time."

    "Good, good." The relief fairly radiated off him, and I felt bad about misleading him yet again. But not too bad; what I was going to do had to be done, and pulling the wool over his eyes was the least of my sins. "What can you tell us right now?"

    To give Hamilton credit, he was very good at not jogging my elbow. I did my job (and did it well, thank you very much) and pretended to work on predicting the next attack. In return, he gave me a free hand, which allowed me to make preparations he had no idea of.

    What the heck, I decided. Why not throw him a bone? "It's not Australia, sir," I said truthfully. "He's going to come up somewhere in the Indonesian archipelago. Jakarta or one of the other major cities. And it'll be in the first three days of November. Maybe the second, but I can't be sure about that."

    I could see Myrddin wanted desperately to ask if I was sure of my findings, but he'd probably been spoken to very firmly by the other members of the Protectorate about not offending me. "Ah," he said instead. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Krakatoa in that region?"

    I knew exactly what he was aiming at, because I'd asked myself that very same question. Behemoth had never caused volcanoes to erupt, but that didn't mean he couldn't … or wouldn't. "It is indeed." I'd done my homework on the area, just in case. "And it's less than a hundred miles away from Jakarta. But the region is extremely volcanically active; Krakatoa is merely the one everyone knows about. There are no fewer than four volcanoes closer to Jakarta than that." I took a deep breath. "Can he make a brand-new volcano erupt in the middle of any city in Indonesia? I don't know, but if there was anywhere in the world it was going to happen, this would be it."

    Myrddin muttered something under his breath which sounded remarkably like a good old-fashioned American swearword; not wizardly at all. "I … see. Thank you for your candour, Captain Snow. Do you have any good news for us? Has your crystal ball gazing given you any insights into its weaknesses?"

    "No weaknesses that I can pick out, sir," I told him candidly. Hamilton had to have told him I'd worked hard at studying everything about the thing people thought was humanity's greatest foe. It had made for some boring nights. "I've got a few insights, but I don't think they'll actually help beat him. At best, I believe we can avoid making fatal mistakes when fighting him." I let my voice trail off suggestively.

    "Well, it's more than we've had to work with before," he said. "I'll take anything I can get."

    I acknowledged his point with a nod. "Okay, then. Most of the places that are normally vital points on humans aren't viable targets on the Behemoth. There might be something important in his chest, but I doubt there's a brain in his head or vulnerable nerve points anywhere on the body. Destroying the eye won't do a thing; he can see by other means. Making him bleed doesn't slow him down in the slightest. I'm pretty sure his body doesn't work on anything we recognise as biology, so there's no exotic poison or disease we could hit him with. When he's damaged, he heals from the inside out. Deep wounds become shallow wounds become no wounds. Also, the outer skin is the most fragile part on him. The farther in you go, the denser his flesh becomes, so the longer you leave any given wound, the more it will simply fill itself out from within, leaving you back at square one. And finally, the way he fries people from the inside out? That's an auto-hit effect. It gets anyone who ventures closer than thirty-two feet, not sure why that specific range. Only some Brute-rated capes are immune. I've got tentative numbers that say the temperatures are in the fifteen-hundred-degree range."

    Myrddin shook his head. "And you said you only had a few insights. You've just rewritten the playbook on how to fight the thing, from the ground up."

    Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton frowned slightly. "This isn't a criticism, Captain, but why do you call the Behemoth 'him' rather than 'it'? Doesn't that run the risk of humanising it?"

    "Possibly, sir." I met his gaze. "He's shown himself capable of deep cunning, so I'm doing my best to not dismiss him as an inanimate object or a robot. And at the same time, I've dealt with some pretty despicable examples of humanity, so I have no problem with lumping him in with them."

    Myrddin chuckled warmly. "She's got you there, Lieutenant-Colonel. Well, thank you, Captain Snow. Your insights were a little disturbing, but they've helped me recognise where I was going wrong with fighting the creature before. And they may just save lives when we fight it again." He paused. "Do you happen to have those points written down somewhere, so I can brief others on them?"

    "Certainly, sir. I can have an annotated bullet-pointed list on your desk by the end of the day. Hopefully, we'll have fewer casualties this time than in New York." I was being absolutely honest when I said that part. Certain casualties were inevitable if I stuck with my plans, but … well, omelettes and eggs. And if it worked, many fewer people would die.

    I watched them go while I mulled over what I'd told them. It was all basically true; ironically, most of it had been figured out by Lisa herself during the Leviathan fight. I knew he had a core in his chest that would kill him if destroyed, but if I gave them that direct hint, they'd throw themselves willy-nilly into the furnace for the chance to destroy him.

    Behemoth wasn't a huge obstacle to my plans—well, apart from the several hundred thousand deaths every few months, of course—but I didn't want Leviathan sinking any landmasses, especially Newfoundland, now that I had Andrew Richter exactly where I wanted him. And the very last thing I wanted was the Simurgh sticking her nose into my business. So, my intent was to cut that particular chain of events off at the pass.

    Lie, cheat, steal and kill. It was what I'd told Andrea I was willing to do, once upon a time. This still held true, and I saw no reason not to carry out what I intended to do. One human death to prevent millions more. It was a fair trade.

    So why do I feel like shit?

    -ooo-​

    Taylor's Quarters
    Later That Afternoon


    Snapping back to reality, I took a deep breath and licked my lips to dispel the lingering taste of dust and blood. The second of the two letters I'd been writing, the one to Gladys, lay on the desk before me. I had no memory of writing it, just that I knew what it pretended to say and what it actually said.

    I didn't pretend to know how the encryption system Lisa had created worked, save that two entirely innocuous letters, one written to Danny and the other to Gladys, contained within them a third letter intended for Andrea. Their entire part in all this was to give her a copy of each of the letters. She would enter them both into the custom decryption program Lisa had written, and like magic, the third letter would emerge.

    This was the point when her loyalty would be tested. I had no doubt she would hold faithful to me and to the cause, but the instructions I was sending her way weren't just to carry out quasi-legal activities. Outright crimes would be committed as a result of those instructions; innocents were likely to get hurt and possibly killed. But if I wanted the meeting on the twenty-sixth to be successful, it had to be done. More to the point, there had to be no suspicion that the crimes had any connection whatsoever to the meeting.

    A long time ago, when I took a bunch of black widow spiders into Brockton Central Bank, I'd told myself I was going to Hell for what I was doing. Now more than ever, I was sure this was the case, but I didn't care.

    I might be going to Hell but I'm going to save the world first, dammit.

    -ooo-​

    Friday, October 21, 1994; 8 PM
    A Brockton Bay Nightclub


    Andrea showed her ID to the doorman and gave him a flirty wink before he let her through. In truth, she'd been getting into clubs since she was seventeen, being somewhat developed for her age while possessed of a distinct amount of chutzpah. Now that she was of legal age to drink, she didn't actually have to charm her way past security, but she liked to keep in practice anyway.

    As she'd expected, there were four people waiting for her at a table; Danny, Annette, Gladys and Franklin. Despite being her age, none of the others showed the same level of comfort she felt in surroundings like this. Still, they had drinks (two of them non-alcoholic) in front of them, as well as what food the place offered.

    As she came up to the table, all four got up to greet her. "Hey!" she said happily. "How are we all doing? Annette, I swear, pregnancy definitely suits you. Wanna take a spin on the dance floor?"

    "Maybe later," Annette demurred, giving her a hug and kiss. "Right now, I just want to enjoy the music before my eardrums fall out."

    "Your loss." Andrea dropped her handbag on the seat where they'd been sitting, keeping her purse in hand. "Say, keep an eye on my stuff? Need to visit the ladies before I get a drink." She gave Gladys a saucy grin. "Feel free to look inside. Might give you and Franklin some ideas in the bedroom."

    Gladys laughed and shook her head. "Seriously, Andrea. Are you ever going to grow up?"

    "Not if I can help it." Giving Danny a pat on the cheek and blowing Franklin a kiss, she moved away toward the aforementioned female bathrooms, bumping and grinding to the beat as she went.

    She still enjoyed the ambience of places like this, though she may have lied a little bit to Annette. Sometimes she didn't even really feel like coming out and mingling with the college girls (and boy, did they seem to get younger every year) as opposed to kicking back with her feet up and watching some shoot-em-up on the huge screen in the new place. But this was part of her cover, so she came here anyway.

    She attended to her needs amid the gleaming white porcelain tiles and fixtures—this club at least kept the bathrooms clean and patrolled them regularly for passed-out patrons—all the while catching the eye of a couple of the girls who were washing their hands alongside her. Just because she was getting old and fuddy-duddy, though not as much as Danny—seriously, marriage seemed to have straight-up aged him by twenty years—didn't mean she couldn't still enjoy herself.

    Outside again, she went and bought the aforementioned drink, light on the alcohol and heavy on the decorative fruit, and went back to her friends. As was her usual way, she shuffled herself in between Danny and Gladys and sat back, shoving her purse back in her handbag. "So, how have we all been?"

    Franklin didn't have much to say—he was distinctly uncomfortable in places like this, being unaware of the true purpose of the meeting—but Gladys provided several anecdotes from her position of vice principal of Winslow that had Andrea giggling over her drink. Danny chimed in with a few more from the Dockworkers, and Annette did her best to top Gladys with stories from Brockton Bay College, where she was working on her assistant professorship. Andrea retaliated with some of her own, causing Gladys to blush and Danny to laugh out loud; all the while running her hand up and down the length of her handbag. The compartment just inside the top, which had been empty and unzipped when she came in, was now zipped up, with sheets of folded paper inside. Excellent.

    She went and got another drink and one more for each of her friends—water for Franklin and Annette, who were quite clearly driving—and spent the time thoroughly enjoying their company. Halfway through her second drink, she left the table to dance with some college girls, then led one off into a shadowed corner she knew for some serious makeout time. That was fun too—it was always fun—but she knew the girl wouldn't be coming back to the apartment with her.

    She might be willing and eager, but to Andrea her pupils were just that little bit too dilated; she had to be on something. And even if she hadn't been, Andrea just wasn't in the mood for an all-nighter. Besides, she never took her conquests back to the high-rise, and she was seriously getting addicted to that bed.

    Eventually, after they'd spent enough time in the place to make it look authentic—Danny and Annette had a turn on the floor, then Andrea and Annette and Gladys just for fun—they decided by mutual silent agreement that the night was done. When they got outside, the evening chill and the sudden lack of pounding music was almost a shock to the system; Andrea took a deep breath of cool night air and realised anew just how much she disliked stale cigarette smoke. One of these days, she figured, they'll ban it in places like that.

    "Well," she said. "It was nice seeing you guys again. Catch you up again soon?"

    "Sure," Danny agreed. "Maybe someplace quieter next time. My ears are still ringing."

    "Softy," Andrea chided playfully, though hers were still buzzing slightly as well. Then she spotted something that made her frown. "Guys? Does that look right to you?"

    It didn't take Danny and Gladys long to see what had gotten her attention. The college girl she'd made out with was being guided down the sidewalk by two guys who had to be at least ten years older than her. If the unsteadiness of her footsteps was anything to go by, the girl was either very drunk or she had another drug in her system.

    "It does not," Danny agreed grimly. Along with Andrea, he set out toward the three, long strides eating up the ground so that she had to break into a trot to keep up. She watched as he unfastened his watch and slipped it into his pocket almost without thinking; it seemed his time in the Dockworkers had not gone astray.

    "Hey! Stop!" Andrea called out when they got close to the trio; the end of the building was not far away, with a dark alley beyond. She didn't want to let them get that far if they had nefarious intent.

    One of the guys glanced over his shoulder, then the two increased their pace, hustling the girl along.

    Oh no, you fucking don't. Andrea ran ahead. "I said stop! Are you deaf?" To punctuate her words, she grabbed the guy on the left by the arm.

    "Fuck off!" The guy pulled free and shoved her, hard. She was caught off balance, but Jim Kinsey had painstakingly taught her how to fall, and so she turned it into a roll that ended up with her back on her feet. Her outfit came out of it a little the worse for wear, but that didn't matter in the here and now.

    The delay had allowed Danny to get around in front of them. He was taller than both, even if he wasn't as heavily built, and they paused for a moment. "My friend said stop. Where are you taking that woman?"

    "Fuck off! What's it to you?" retorted the one who'd shoved Andrea.

    His friend, clearly the quicker thinker, held up his hand disarmingly. "She's my girlfriend. We're getting her home. You can see she's had too much to drink."

    "Yeah?" Andrea ducked in, then came away with the girl's purse. "What's her name, then?" As she spoke, she unclipped it and opened it up.

    "Hey, that's hers!" shouted the man. "Give it back!"

    Andrea danced away from his reaching hands. "When you tell me her name."

    "Fuck you!" The foul-mouthed one of the pair stepped forward and punched Danny in the chest, making him stagger back.

    "Hey," slurred the girl. "Where's my purse?" She looked around blearily at Andrea. "Hey, I 'member you. You good kisser."

    "So are you." Andrea smiled at her, just as Danny recovered and dropped a solid one-two into the guy's solar plexus. "That man there, is he your boyfriend? What's his name?"

    "Of course I'm her boyfriend!" interrupted the other one. "My name's Joe, isn't it, honey?"

    "And what's hers?" Andrea pressed. She pulled out a driver's license. "Going once …"

    "Give me that!" The guy lunged forward, reaching for Andrea and the purse. She tensed, ready to go on the offensive, but it wasn't needed. From over her shoulder, a sizzling left hook took the guy in the cheekbone and lifted him off his feet. Gladys stepped forward past her, fists up and cocked, ready to deliver more mayhem.

    "Never seen 'im before," the girl mumbled, then leaned against the building, swaying. "Don' feel so good …"

    "It's okay, hon." Andrea moved past Gladys and the other guy and steadied her, ready to step back out of the way of potential vomit. She'd been down this road before, far too many times. This close, she could definitely see the girl's pupils were far too dilated for even the dimness outside the club.

    A couple of meaty thuds had her looking around; both men had been dropped on the pavement, one on top of the other. Danny and Gladys stood over them, looking rather pleased with themselves. While Danny had a grazed cheekbone, Gladys had not sustained a single mark. Andrea wasn't surprised; from what she heard, Gladys coached the school boxing team and Winslow hadn't lost a match in some time. Danny's style was more rough and ready, but he'd certainly prevailed.

    "Think she's been spiked?" asked Gladys, rubbing her knuckles and looking the girl over.

    "Signs point to yes," Andrea confirmed. She turned so that the driver's license she was holding was illuminated by a nearby streetlight, and squinted to read the name. "Veronica, hon? We're gonna get you home safe, okay? Do you live on campus, or in town?"

    "Campus," said Annette, who had approached with Franklin. "I recognise her now. Danny and I can drive her back there and get her safely into her dorm."

    Heavy footsteps heralded the approach of two of the doormen; Andrea turned, giving them both her most innocent expression. "Oh, hi," she said, projecting 'bubbly ditz' as well as she knew how. "Can we help you?"

    The doormen blinked, clearly not used to that exact approach. "What happened to those two?" one asked, pointing at the groaning men on the ground.

    Annette stepped forward. "I'm a teacher at Brockton College," she said crisply, then indicated Veronica, whom Andrea was still supporting. "This girl is one of my students. I was out for drinks with my husband and our friends, and we saw her being manhandled away by these two. She doesn't know them. I suspect her drink has been spiked."

    "Nobody spikes drinks in our club," the other doorman said reflexively. "It doesn't happen."

    Andrea let out an audible chuckle. "That's bullshit. Someone's dealing shit in that club. Her pupils are so dilated I can't actually tell the colour of her eyes."

    "We're taking Veronica here back to the College, to her dorm room," Annette stated. "Unless, of course, you want us to stay and wait for the police …?"

    The two doormen glanced at each other, and then the one who had denied the spiking shook his head. "No, just go."

    "Oh, trust me, we're going," Annette said. They got several yards farther on before she spoke again, this time to Andrea. "Do you think she'll be okay to go back to her dorm? Or should we take her to the emergency room?"

    "Take her back to the College," Andrea said firmly, still supporting Veronica. "She's still conscious and walking, mostly, so she only got a light dose of whatever it was. Probably just enough that she wouldn't be able to fight back. If you take her to the emergency room, they'll make her sit and wait for hours, then tell you they can't do anything for her except let the drugs work their way out of her system. Then they'll charge her an arm and a leg, plus a random vital organ for just existing."

    Danny grimaced. "I wish you were wrong." He looked back over his shoulder. "And I wish we could do something about that sort of thing."

    "Maybe an awareness campaign?" suggested Franklin. He blinked as everyone looked at him. "What?"

    "That's actually a really good idea, sweetie," Gladys said. She slid her arm around his waist then looked at Annette. "Telling your students not to go out drinking is probably pointless, but if you could assemble a list of places where people have had their drinks spiked, you could tell them where not to go."

    "Hmm," Annette murmured. "That definitely sounds doable." She turned to Danny. "Could you check with anyone in the Dockworkers who has heard of that happening to people?"

    "Absolutely." He nodded with conviction. "Those places make most of their money off the college crowd. It's why they don't card them too carefully. If the look like losing that trade, they're going to have to pull their socks up."

    "One step at a time," Andrea observed, then turned to Gladys. "Thanks for stepping up. I probably could've taken him, but not like you did."

    Gladys shrugged. "Hey. All I had to do was ask myself, what would Taylor do?"

    Andrea grinned. She probably would've pulled her pistol and shoved it up his nose. "Darn tootin'."

    -ooo-​

    Andrea's Apartment
    Some Time Later


    With a ragged sigh, Andrea collapsed into the chair in front of her computer. She hoped Veronica would remember enough of the night's events that she'd be more careful about her drinks—and about what drugs she voluntarily ingested—in future. College students were infamous for not having the greatest of judgement, but she herself had managed to figure it out after a few close calls.

    If I'd just brought Veronica back here for a roll in the hay, that wouldn't have happened, she mused. But then, those two jerkoffs would've targeted some other girl. Probably best the way it happened.

    Reaching out, she flicked her computer on. Taylor had described what the improved versions of computers would look like in the future and she felt vaguely envious of her future self, getting access to all that cool stuff. As it was, she had to spend time carefully loading programs and making sure she didn't mess up by transposing keystrokes or something similar. Spies in the future probably have it a lot easier than me, too.

    With the letters typed in, she hit the button to do the decryption, and watched as it scrolled down the screen. The first part was the standard run of instructions for how to improve the war chest, followed by the personal message from Taylor to her. It was always nice to read and she did so, several times. As usual, she was tempted to save the message somehow, but Taylor had impressed on her not to do this, so she didn't.

    Under that, though, was something which wiped away lingering regrets and replaced them with very real consternation. Taylor wasn't playing anymore. The mission into Canada to remove Heartbreaker had been technically illegal, though not a single law enforcement agency had a problem with the results apart from, "Hey, maybe give us a heads-up first?"

    But this was a whole level above that again.

    "Jesus fucking Christ," she murmured, staring at the screen.

    Contact your mercenary group. Have them use their cut-outs in Los Angeles to provoke an incident between civilians and Protectorate capes, leading to anti-authority protests. This has to escalate into attacks on the PRT and Protectorate buildings, or credible attempts to do so, by the morning of the twenty-sixth. Every single member of the LA Protectorate must be engaged with this on that date. I'll tell you why when I see you next.

    Leaning back in the chair, Andrea buried her fingers in her hair. "Fuuuuck," she groaned, closing her hands into fists and yanking at her own scalp. "Taylor, what the fuck are you doing? What have you gotten me into?"

    No answer was forthcoming from the screen. She had no way of contacting Taylor, of asking the questions she desperately wanted to have answered. By rights, she knew, she should inform the authorities of what she'd been asked to do, but she never seriously contemplated it for even a second. Doing that would be a horrendous betrayal of the trust Taylor held in her for every second of every day, and of the future she and Taylor were trying to bring about.

    People were going to die. She was aware of it, and she knew for a fact Taylor was aware of it as well. In fact, she wouldn't have been even vaguely surprised if Taylor knew exactly how many casualties there would be, and the names of each one. Every single one of these people was someone who hadn't invited this fate; most probably didn't even deserve it. But in giving Andrea this instruction, Taylor had condemned them to death or potential injury, just to insure … what? That the Protectorate in Los Angeles was tied up for one specific day? Why did she even need that?

    At the end of the day, Andrea knew it didn't matter. She had committed herself to following Taylor's lead long before this point. Doing so had made her a very rich woman, but that didn't matter either. What mattered was Taylor, and her vision for the future. A future where the human race had more of a chance to not be consumed by fire and terror and blood, where mankind could look to the sky and dream of hope. And although it seared her soul to do so, she had to be able to accept some collateral damage along the way. All she could really do was hope to be able to minimise it.

    After jotting down the investment instructions, she sighed again and set about feeding the copies of the letters into her shredder. The mercenaries were just that; mercenary. So long as she continued to pay them their extremely generous salaries (and supplied them with the best toys) they would be loyal to her. Some small part of her hoped they'd at least be dubious about the instructions she was about to give them, but she knew otherwise. They would absolutely do what they were told.

    Pulling out the semi-secret drawer under her computer table, she looked at the collection of burner phones and picked one at random. She already had the number memorised, so she slid the drawer closed and pressed the power-off button on the computer. Taylor had given her a series of code phrases to use at times like this, but the sanitised words weren't actually going to help much to assuage her conscience.

    Turning on the cell-phone, she got up and strolled to the window. Carefully, she punched in the number, then plugged in the earpiece that would alter her speech just enough that anyone listening in wouldn't immediately recognise her voice. Outside the window, the street was empty; not even a parked car.

    "Hello?" It wasn't the voice of the man she was paying to run the show, but one of his subordinates. Someone had to stay up in case the phone rang, after all.

    "This one just came down from above," she said, entirely truthfully but misleadingly, playing the part of 'just another cog in the machine'. "We need a garden planted in the Valley." Meaning Los Angeles; each major city had its own codename. A 'garden' was an extended mission, rather than an in-and-out, while 'planted' meant people might get hurt. "The cuttings you've already collected need to be delivered …"

    She spoke crisply but carefully, not rushing her words but taking care not to talk for too long. While Taylor had assured her that nobody was attempting to track her calls yet, there was no sense in not taking basic precautions. When she was finished, and she was certain the orders had been received and understood, the ended the call and turned off the phone. Popping it open, she took out the SIM.

    Because of course Taylor anticipated the need for deniable cutouts in LA, she told herself, running her hand over her face. This whole thing's going to look entirely spontaneous, but in reality it's her pulling strings from behind the scenes.

    Wiping both phone and SIM clear of any intrusive prints, she dropped them both in separate Ziploc baggies and stored them in a drawer. In the morning, she would go for a drive and dump them down a couple of storm drains. Right now, however, she needed a long hot shower and then bed.

    Taylor, I love you dearly and I miss you terribly, but I hope we don't have to do too much more of this. It's not nearly as glamorous and fun as I expected it to be.

    Then again, if saving the world was a fun and glamorous business, everyone would be doing it.

    -ooo-​

    Los Angeles
    Saturday, October 22, 1994
    (The Next Day)


    Life was good for Manny Cruz, though it hadn't always been.

    At nineteen, he was a paid-up member of the East Ninety-Four street gang with a nine tucked in the back of his waistband. Right up until the Ninety-Fours had gotten into a shoving match with some other know-nothing crew over the wrong wall getting tagged, and it went south way too fast. Pieces came out and he saw too many of his homies popped without even a chance to shoot back.

    Manny made it out of that hot mess, but he had to stay on the downlow, trying to wait for the heat to die down. Trouble was, some pieces of shit from his old hood had decided to play nice with these new guys, and he knew damn well they'd point him out if they saw him cruising the block. Which was why, when he got the offer from these out of town jerkoffs, he stepped up.

    They were some kinda political activist bunch, as far as he could tell. But he figured he knew what was going on; they'd get people all worked up, then when riots and stuff happened, they'd hit big-money places and take them for all they had. After it all died down, they'd just fade back into the woodwork.

    It was a good trick. Manny wished he'd thought of it first. But now he was part of it, and they were paying him just to chill and play video games until they needed him to go out and do shit. He was down with that.

    So when the call came through, he was motivated enough to go and do what he'd been told. It wasn't what he'd been expecting, but the money was good so what did he care? The trick was getting a cape to do what he wanted, but the crew he was with had it all figured out.

    All he had to do was play it by the numbers. And if it meant having his arm in plaster for a bit, the bonus coming his way would take the pain out of that too.

    -ooo-​

    South Central LA
    Dynamax


    "Hey, stop!"

    Los Angeles was a big city, and the LA Protectorate building could only hold so many capes. Which meant the patrols they went on were more a case of showing the flag (or 'flashing the spandex', as one wit put it) than any serious attempt to reduce the local crime rate. Sure, Alexandria could stop a bank robbery in about fifteen seconds (twenty if they had capes along) but that just meant the serious robbers waited until she was busy elsewhere. The chances of a crime actually happening in front of a cape was minimal to zero.

    Which was why Robert Maxwell, superhero and two-year veteran of the mean streets of Los Angeles, was caught unawares by the sudden shout as he cruised down a suburban street just above rooftop height. He paused and looked around, wondering if someone had called out to him—maybe an actual cat was stuck in an actual tree?—before he saw the kid legging it down the sidewalk with what looked like a woman's purse tucked under his arm.

    For a moment, he paused in honest disbelief, but then "Thief!" floated up from below. He couldn't see who was actually shouting, but that didn't matter. That kid was really booking it, and in his experience teenagers in LA never ran anywhere unless there was a real good reason.

    Like, say, they'd grabbed someone's handbag.

    Holy shit, I actually get to catch a purse snatcher! Stretching out his arms, he accelerated downward, swooping toward the kid. Unless the little shit was a Mover, he'd catch up before they hit the corner. "Uh, Dynamax to Console," he said as an afterthought. "Got a snatch-and-grab artist here. I'll call it in once I've got hands on."

    That was all he had the time to say, because at that point he came up behind the purse snatcher. He'd been trying to work on something cool to say when he grabbed the perpetrators, but nothing really suggested itself. "Hold up!" he shouted, grabbing at the loose flopping hoodie the guy was wearing. Latching on, he pulled to a halt in mid-air; if he did it right, the guy's legs would go out from under him and he'd land on his back and spend the next thirty seconds counting the cute little tweety birds while Robert zip-tied him and called it in.

    But it didn't happen that way. Instead, the guy ran straight out of the hoodie, which was bad enough. But then he dived sideways onto the road. Robert clearly saw him fling his arm out directly in front of a car that had been rolling down the street. Tyres screeched and the car came to a halt, but not after the front wheel had gone clear over the kid's arm. He didn't hear the bone break, but he sure as hell knew it had happened anyway.

    "Ahh!" screamed the kid. "What the fuck? You threw me on the road! Fuck! You tried to kill me, you cape piece of shit!"

    Hovering in mid-air, Robert looked around. Even though they'd all ignored the shout to stop the thief, everyone was now looking at him.

    "Oh, fuck."

    -ooo-​

    Half an Hour Later
    Alexandria


    Rebecca Costa-Brown turned away from the earnest young hero for a moment. Lifting her helmet, she pinched the bridge of her nose, wishing she could go out into the Badlands or someplace and punch something until this all began to make sense again. Then she dropped the helmet back into place and turned to face him once more.

    "So, you heard someone yell for him to stop, but you didn't see who," she said, not so much to clarify it in her mind as to give him a chance to add more detail.

    "Yes, ma'am, that's correct." Dynamax was a solid hero who hadn't screwed up before to the point of being called into her office. He did flight and energy blasts and could manifest a personal force field, but nothing extraordinary. He was also white, whereas the Cruz kid and most of the witnesses to the event were Latino. As was Rebecca herself, but she wasn't counting that. Her role in all this was to figure out what went wrong and how not to do it again, and it wasn't going well.

    She waited a moment for him to elaborate, then nodded and went on. "And then you heard someone call 'Thief', and you saw him running, and you flew after him?"

    "Yes … uh, no," he said, stumbling over his words. "I heard someone call 'thief', but I think I saw him first. I remember vaguely wondering why he was running so fast."

    "Good, good." That was how he'd told it first. The fact that he wasn't changing his story when nudged to do so meant he was recalling things in sequence. "And what happened when you grabbed him? What happened to the handbag?"

    "There was no handbag," he admitted, clenching his eyes shut in remembered embarrassment. "It was a rolled-up backpack with one strap hanging free, tucked under his arm. Nothing in it. No reason for him to be running."

    "And did you find the person who called out?" Rebecca pressed.

    He shook his head. "Nobody admitted to it. Everyone just said they saw me fly after him and throw him on the road. Which I didn't do."

    "I believe you," she assured him, and it was true. Every tell he was giving off indicated that he'd been trying to pull a righteous bust, and he'd been decoyed into something more.

    Someone was attacking the LA Protectorate for some reason. There wasn't any specific lack of anti-cape fanatics in the US, and LA sometimes seemed to have more than its fair share. The question was, which nutbar group was behind this, and what was their end goal?

    Still, there was no harm in crossing every T and dotting every I. "Now, I want you to think really carefully. Have you ever met this Manny Cruz before? Do you think he might know you from your civilian identity? Can you think of any reason he might have for personally framing you for injuring him?"

    "No, ma'am." He shook his head firmly. "I've never seen the kid before. Or if I have, I don't remember it."

    Which didn't make it a definite that they'd never met, but Rebecca considered it relatively unlikely. Dynamax wasn't prone to antagonising the citizenry, and she'd never heard anything bad from anyone else working with him. Which meant that she was back to her original conclusion.

    "Dismissed," she said. "Go hit the showers."

    "Thank you, ma'am." The door closed behind him, but she wasn't even paying attention anymore.

    This was a put-up job. Someone had a video camera in just the right place to make it look like Dynamax really did hurl the little shit into traffic. Three different people called the news and reported it even before the cops got there. They're blowing it up right now, pushing the race-hate side of things. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

    Rebecca knew damn well that if she could get access to the Cruz kid for just fifteen minutes, she could sweat the whole thing out of him. But he was officially the victim here, so she had no access. All she could do was try to anticipate what was going to happen next, and cut it off before it got too bad.

    She stared at the TV across the room, which was playing the same damned news clip with the sound off for the tenth time running, and frowned. Even WEDGDG, when she consulted them, hadn't been able to muster a coherent response.

    What the fuck is going on here?

    -ooo-​

    Monday, October 24, 1994
    PRT Department 04: Chicago
    Taylor


    "Have you heard the news out of Los Angeles, ma'am?" Kinsey carefully put my morning coffee on my desk, then laid the paper beside it.

    I took up the coffee and sipped it. "Thank you, Kinsey. The Cruz thing? Has that blown over, or is it still being exacerbated?" The front page of the paper gave me my answer; a blown-up photo showing a march with signs protesting the violence against Manny Cruz lay just under the headlines.

    "It's not going away anytime soon, ma'am," he confirmed with the wisdom of long experience. "So, you think the original incident was a frame job, rather than just a simple accident?"

    I raised my eyebrows. He thought the same thing about it that I did, but we often tested each other this way. "How often do accidents of that magnitude happen in our line of work? No, someone wants to whip up anti-cape sentiment, and Manny Cruz was just the patsy. He probably doesn't even know who he's really working for, or why they ordered him to jump into traffic."

    "I think you've got something there, ma'am. Are you going to be looking into it?"

    There was a knock on the doorframe to my office, and I looked up to see Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton standing there. Immediately, I rose to my feet, and Kinsey and I went to attention. "Sir," we chorused.

    "At ease," he said, entering the office. "Captain, I suspect you were discussing the very thing I was coming here to talk to you about. What are the chances I can get you to put one of your other projects on hold to look into this Manuel Cruz affair in Los Angeles?"

    I took a deep breath. "Sir, my main overriding project right now is to get all my ducks in a row for the meeting on Wednesday. After that, I'll be able to look into the LA thing and tell you if it's capes or normals behind it, where they can probably be found, and rough out a good idea of their end goals. With any luck, it'll have petered out by then but if it hasn't, I'll personally fill in Alexandria on who she needs to be punching to finish it off herself."

    He gave me one of his rare smiles, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses. "Snow, if it was any other one of my analysts saying that, I would advise them to check the size of their boots. With you, I know better. I will advise the Director of the situation. Captain, sergeant; carry on."

    "Sir," we said again as he left. I sat down again and took up the paper to see if they'd printed anything new. On first glance, it didn't seem so.

    "I'll leave you to it, ma'am," said Kinsey, heading for the door leading into his office. "I'm guessing it won't take you long to get to the bottom of it, given the other messes you've helped unravel."

    "Thank you, Kinsey. I appreciate the vote of confidence." Sipping at my coffee, I carefully read through the rest of the paper. In one of the classified ads I picked out something I'd been looking for, that Andrea would also be checking on; the coded message that said the LA group were ready for the next step.

    Folding the paper, I set it aside and started the process of booting up my computer. You go get 'em, Andrea.

    -ooo-​

    Wednesday, October 26, 1994
    0953 Hours
    PRT Department 04: Chicago


    I had to admit, Alexandria's body double was perfect in every way. I'd met her, as both Alexandria and Rebecca Costa-Brown, and my brain was still trying to convince me that this was really her, not some copy. However, Lisa had been just as adamant this would be the double, so I knew (in this instance) better than to believe my lying eyes.

    Of course, she was making it easier on herself by impersonating Costa-Brown, not Alexandria, though I knew for a fact the double was actually a cape with the power of flight, just in case. She wasn't too bad at projecting the concept of 'I own the room' either, which was something I was still working on. But it wasn't her presence I was concerned with; it was Alexandria's absence. The very last thing I needed was for a high-powered Thinker to be spotting things I really didn't want spotted in the middle of my presentation.

    "As Alexandria is still enmeshed in the problems in Los Angeles," she stated as she walked in the front doors, "she has asked me to attend this meeting in her place."

    Which was, I had to admit, a mildly amusing way of telling the truth at the same time as lying her ass off. In any case, the 'problems' in Los Angeles had escalated to the point that someone had set off a truck bomb next to the Protectorate building, injuring three and killing one. The current consensus was that the dead man was the driver of the truck, but they were still trying to identify him.

    This wasn't the only incidence of violence, just the most striking of them. A satchel charge had been set off against the outside wall of the Los Angeles PRT building, shaking the structure and gouging a shallow crater out of the concrete, but neither hurting anyone nor breaching the interior. If I hadn't known this was going to happen (and had been the ultimate cause of it all) I would've been somewhat concerned. As it was, I was still concerned, but I knew how to end it.

    According to Lisa, we'd managed to tap into a simmering undercurrent of resentment, which had only required a few strategic nudges to erupt into open violence here and there. It seemed there was a crazy almost on every street corner ready to pull out a gun and shoot at someone for something. All they needed was a cause, any cause.

    But that was something I was going to have to deal with afterward. Right now, I had a meeting to chair. "That's perfectly fine, ma'am. If you will come this way."

    She followed along, looking around with professional curiosity. The building was still fairly new and to my knowledge, Alexandria hadn't popped in for a visit yet, though she'd probably memorised the floor plans, just because she could. I paused outside the conference room we'd be using and opened the door for her. "Just in here, ma'am."

    She was the last to arrive, mainly because she'd had to rely on mundane methods of transport. Eidolon, Hero and Legend were all there, as well as Myrddin. Director Rankine and Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton had more or less invited themselves to the meeting, as I'd known they would.

    Everything was going to plan … I hoped.

    As the faux Chief Director took the spotlight for a moment, I crossed the room to where the hot-water urn was situated on the coffee cart. "We have a few more minutes before this meeting is due to start, so allow me to pour you drinks, ma'am and gentlemen."

    This was where a part of the plan that I'd been nursing along since April came in. I'd been stalled on it until Andrea had managed to hire a substances Tinker and keep him out of the hands of the Uppermost.

    Synth could produce any normal, mundane substance, so long he had the chemical ingredients to do so, and manufacture the means to store them indefinitely and safely. He could also manufacture 'perfect' drugs; biochemical substances that had precise effects on the human system, with no problematic side-effects to speak of. Again, nothing impossible. He couldn't make an elixir that granted the ability to fly, for instance. But he could manufacture a substance that, in the presence of caffeine, caused a person to become extremely suggestible, but which would be entirely neutralised by such things as sugar or milk.

    These were not random stabs in the dark on my part. I had checked with Lisa to see who would be attending the meeting, and what their choices of beverage were. Everyone took tea or coffee. Everyone but Eidolon took either sugar or milk (or sometimes both) in their drinks.

    The sachets Andrea had gotten to me were already in the boiling water, long since dissolved. All I had to do was pour the cups, and the show could begin.

    "Do we have time for this?" demanded Eidolon. "We're all busy people here. There's no need for a tea party."

    I froze, my hand inches from the first cup. If he refused to drink, then I doubted my presentation would have its desired effect. I'd have to think of some other way of dealing with him. Shooting him in the back of the head probably wouldn't cut it.

    "Excuse me, sir?" Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton may have been a superior officer, but he still had a way of saying 'sir' that would have shaved tungsten carbide. "I do believe when a lady offers refreshments, it is only courteous to accept them."

    "He's right." Legend, ever the gentleman, stepped up. "My apologies for my comrade, and I would very much appreciate a cup of coffee, Captain Snow."

    Hero nodded, part of his helmet faceplate sliding apart to expose his mouth. "Me, too. I keep meaning to install a coffee vendor in this thing, but I can't think of what to take out."

    Director Rankine and 'Costa-Brown' shared a chuckle at the weak joke, and Rankine nodded at me to start making the coffee. My homework on what each of them preferred actually came in handy now, as I handed them each out what they normally drank. Eidolon grudgingly accepted his and took a seat at the table with everyone else as I went around to the large whiteboard and sheaf of papers on a flip-stand.

    "Hopefully this won't take too much time out of your day, ma'am, gentlemen." I flipped the whiteboard over to show the diagram I'd done of Behemoth, with notations pointing to various parts of his body. "I'm presuming the information I passed on to Myrddin has been disseminated?"

    Myrddin nodded, and Legend murmured agreement. I pretended not to watch as Eidolon took a sip of his coffee, then looked appreciatively at it and took another one.

    "Good," I said, and I meant it in more ways than one. "Now, as I explained to Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton once upon a time, the Behemoth is a creature of chaos. He either goes where his attack will cause the most upheaval, or he goes to where the upheaval is already in place. At the moment, there are various nationalist protests going on in Indonesia, which will shortly come to a head, which is why the attack will take place there."

    "What about Los Angeles?" asked the faux Chief Director. "There's unrest there as well."

    "I did look into that," I said truthfully. "It's too recent, and too shallow, to really attract him … this time. If it keep up and gets worse, then I'll consider that to be a problem. Right now, all indicators are that he will arrive in the middle of Jakarta, on the first of November, an hour or two either side of midday, local time."

    Silence greeted my announcement, which wasn't surprising. Getting twelve hours of warning had been huge for New York. I'd just handed them six days. I could see all of them working to get their heads around it.

    "What," quipped Legend to break the tension, "you couldn't get us a street address?"

    A chuckle ran around the table, which I joined in on. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Eidolon take another drink of coffee. "Not this time," I said lightly.

    "But next time?" asked Eidolon. "What will you be able to give us then?"

    "Maybe there won't be a next time," I replied. "I have some ideas on where he comes from."

    Dead silence fell once more, so much so I fancied I could hear a clock ticking on the wall in the next room. I filled it by flipping the first sheet of paper over on the flip-stand, revealing a blank silhouette with a question mark in the middle.

    "I think it's a cape. Not Behemoth himself, but whoever calls him."

    That broke the deadlock. Everyone was shouting at once. Except, I noticed, the faux Costa-Brown. As good as she was, I didn't think she felt like pitting her fake credentials against everyone else's very real powers. The person shouting the loudest was Eidolon, but I just had to wait until he subsided.

    "—sake, sit down," Hero told him. "She'll tell us what she means by that."

    Or was made to subside, one of the two.

    I flipped the next sheet. "The three options here are: hero, villain, neutral. I dismissed the idea of a villain controlling him, mainly because what villain could resist gloating to the world, and extracting ransoms from entire nations not to attack them?"

    "That behaviour would very quickly earn a Kill Order," observed Myrddin astutely.

    "It would," I agreed. "And yet, villains still earn Kill Orders on the regular. The threat does not deter them as often as it should. I'm not inclined to think it's a villain. Or a neutral, for that matter. Is there someone going along afterward, cleaning up the messes for a hefty paycheck? No. There's no profit motive, here."

    "Captain Snow," said Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton slowly. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be suggesting that it's a hero doing this."

    "I am indeed suggesting that," I agreed. "All unawares, but still a hero. Because a hero doing this on purpose would be no hero." I let my gaze linger on Eidolon for just a moment, here.

    Now, the fake Costa-Brown spoke up. "So, what you're saying is that it's a hero who doesn't know they're doing it?"

    "That's my belief, yes." I looked at the heroes in the room one at a time, and again I looked at Eidolon a fraction longer than the others. They wouldn't notice it, but in his state of mind, he definitely would. "A hero who desperately wants to be seen as the best hero in the world. Pushing themselves to be better every day, reaching into the very depths of their powers and going above and beyond to find that last, final effort. That's the sort of hero I'm thinking of, right now." Once more, at the words 'right now', I looked directly at Eidolon.

    "Okay, assuming this is true." Hero sounded like he didn't want to believe it, but at the same time didn't want to reject what I was saying in case it turned out to be accurate. "How do we even tell who it is? I can't help but think that describes basically every hero in the Protectorate, and certainly every hero in this room. We've all put our lives on the line, more than once."

    Legend shook his head. "No, no, what I want to know is, how do we deal with them once we find out who they are? They're heroes. Even if they're doing it, it's not on purpose. What do we do? Kill Order? Good luck getting proof. Prison? The best case there is that the monster breaks them out."

    Costa-Brown's body double cleared her throat. They turned to look at her, and she gestured toward me. "Perhaps we should give Captain Snow the chance to answer those questions. She seems to see most clearly of all of us when it comes to this."

    Well, that was one way to put me on the spot. "Despite my reputation, I'm not a Thinker," I began carefully. "I can only see the shape of things. The hero who's doing it ... they're powerful enough to stand up to the Behemoth in single combat. They're not a B-lister or a back line hero. This is meant to provide a challenge, to let them face a worthy opponent. Something that can take a hit and land one in return, but won't go down like a chump when everyone else hits it. They would need to be in there swinging; otherwise, what's the point?"

    Hero nodded. "Well, that narrows it down a little," he conceded.

    I nodded to acknowledge his words. "Plus, from what I've seen, most heroes don't actually give their all. They hold just a little bit back, so they can pull themselves out of danger if things go south. This hero ... isn't like that. They believe in being a hero. When it comes down to it, they will throw one hundred and ten percent at the bad guy, worrying about themselves last of all."

    Now I had them thinking, worrying. I think I'm like that, but am I like that? Am I accidentally summoning the Behemoth? I could see Eidolon, Legend and Hero glancing from side to side, Eidolon most of all. I'd sunk the hook deep, and now I had to make it count.

    "You asked what we should do if we found out who it was." I shook my head. "Nothing. I certainly don't feel qualified to stand in judgement over someone like that. This might sound like a cop-out, but accusing others would just lead to witch-hunts. I may have my suspicions, but I'm definitely not accusing anyone in this room." As if by accident, I let my eyes rest on Eidolon once more. "No, it would be up to that person to realise the truth, and ... deal with the matter themselves."

    Director Rankine sat up at that. "Do you mean retirement, Snow? Because I've heard the rumours about parahumans not being able to not use their powers. Or are you advocating suicide, because that sounds more than a little grim? Couldn't a cape who finds out they're somehow controlling the monster learn how to simply ... stop it from attacking? Maybe even turn its power to heroic ends?"

    I kept my tone formal. "Sir, I never promised answers in this meeting. Analyses and data, yes, but I don't pretend to know all the answers, or even most of them. However, to answer your question: if my logic is correct, it was a heroic impulse that caused the Behemoth to be summoned in the first place. I'm not sure I want to see the result of a second heroic impulse formulated with the intent of overthrowing the first."

    Legend shuddered. "No. Neither do I. That's a hard pass." He tilted his head queryingly. "Did you have any other nightmare scenarios you would like to inflict upon us today, Captain Snow, or was that the end of your presentation?"

    "That was the end of it, yes," I confirmed. "I hope you can use what I gave you."

    "A six-day lead, plus a definite time and place for the emergence of the Behemoth?" Hero might have been rolling his eyes, but I couldn't be sure behind that visor. "If we can't make good use of that, then I'm pretty sure we'd have to hand in our superhero cards."

    "It remains to be seen whether my information is correct," I said. "If anything else comes up, I'll get the information to you as expediently as I can."

    "Understood." Legend stood up and came around the table. "I've seen your work before, and trust me when I say I have faith in your ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat." He held out his hand. "On behalf of all the people you saved in New York—thank you."

    I shook his hand. How could I not? I couldn't very well confess to him how much I blamed myself for the people who still died; or worse, would have survived but died because of my actions. "No, thank you. That means a lot."

    There was a little more cross-chatter then the heroes filed out, escorted by Director Rankine. Each one took with them a précis of the material I'd covered in the meeting, including Eidolon. Or rather, in my eyes, especially Eidolon.

    Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton remained behind, saying nothing; at least until the door closed behind our illustrious guests. Casting a cynical gaze my way, he raised his eyebrows. "A little harsh on them, weren't you, Snow? I'm used to it, but I understand capes dislike hearing bad news."

    I suppressed the twinge of amusement at hearing him use the slang term that was old in my time but still new here. "I'm sure Legend is a big boy, sir. He wouldn't be running the Protectorate if he couldn't handle things like that from time to time."

    Hamilton let out a bark of laughter and slapped the table; had we not been on duty, I suspected he would've slapped me on the shoulder instead. "Isn't that the truth? I have to admit though, as used to your revelations as I am, you still caught me by surprise."

    "I believe that's kind of my job, sir." I started clearing up the coffee cups. Each of them, I was pleased to see, was empty. "Could you please send Kinsey in, so I can finish cleaning up? I've got to start work on the LA thing."

    "I believe I can manage that, Snow. Let me know how you get along." He left then, humming what sounded like a marching tune.

    There was one thing left to do. When Kinsey came in, I set him to washing the crockery and cutlery, while I manhandled the urn to the other sink and very carefully rinsed it out.

    Then I set to work pretending to review the reports on the Los Angeles situation. The mercenaries would have pulled back out of the area by now, I knew; what I was going to bring down the wrath of Alexandria on would be purely the homegrown talent. And there was always more of that.

    -ooo-​

    Jakarta
    Tuesday, November 1, 1994
    Eidolon


    If he hadn't known the truth of it, David would've thought for certain the Behemoth had indeed forced a volcano to erupt beneath the urban area of Jakarta. The smoke and fire certainly added to the illusion. But it was merely houses and other buildings burning.

    The population was fleeing the epicentre as he swooped lower, clogging the streets. Grimacing, he toggled his helmet radio. "Why weren't the people evacuated earlier? We've known about this for six days!"

    Alexandria's voice answered him, as cool and unflappable as ever. "Politics, mainly. Also, most of them have evacuated. The trouble is, a lot of them have nowhere to go."

    "That's not good enough." As he watched, a bolt of lightning skipped along a crowded street, bouncing from building to building and frying everyone in its path. "People are dying down there. We have to delay him, give them time to get away."

    "No." Alexandria's slim form flashed past him, into the cloud of smoke and ash. A moment later, he felt the impact as she impacted the beast. All the heroes they'd gathered were likewise in there, pummeling the Behemoth or doing their best to rescue civilians. "You heard what Snow said about volcanoes. If we give the thing a chance to get set up, it might just bring one up under everyone's feet."

    He had indeed heard what Snow had said. Her words had haunted him for the last six days. Every time she'd looked at him with that steady gaze, as though she knew what he didn't. Silently saying, you called the monster.

    He didn't know why he believed her so implicitly, but there it was. Everything she'd said, he knew was the absolute truth, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Everything she'd said ... and everything she hadn't said.

    I'm not accusing anyone, she'd said, then looked at him. She didn't have to accuse him; her tone and gaze and attitude had made it unnecessary.

    I called the monster. It became clear as day to him. I needed a worthy opponent. She was being merciful to me, allowing me to reach this understanding, without shaming me.

    I know what I have to do.


    He swooped closer, curling around a bolt of lightning that snapped at him. Closer he came, and closer again. Now he was in the raging, swarming hell of energy that the Behemoth threw out in all directions.

    But he wasn't close enough.

    He struggled on, pushing past force-blows that tried to knock him back.

    Finally, he was in the death zone. Thirty-two feet from the monster. He wondered vaguely how Snow had known that.

    His radio was screaming static at him; abruptly, it cleared. Hero's tech, no doubt. Alexandria's voice sounded in his ear. "What are you doing?"

    His voice was dreamy as he answered. Finally, he had found his true definition as a hero. "What I must." I never wanted anyone to get hurt.

    Concentrating, he rid himself of all protective powers. Just for an instant, with Alexandria screaming his name in his ear, he hung motionless in the air, utterly unprotected.

    Checkmate, beast.

    And then the heat flushed through him, and he burned.

    -ooo-​

    Alexandria

    Rebecca was swooping in toward Eidolon, heedless of the maelstrom of energies. She didn't know what had gotten into him, but she knew she had to get him out. Ever since the meeting with Captain Snow, he'd been off, and she didn't know why because she hadn't been there.

    She broke through into clear air, and saw him. Uselessly, she shouted his name.

    And in that instant ... he ignited. Between one heartbeat and the next, he combusted like touch-paper in a furnace. By the time she got to him, all that was left was his helmet, falling through the ash-laden air.

    She caught the helmet and stared at it. Then she realised one more thing.

    The monster had stopped.


    End of Part 8-0​
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2021
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  12. Impartial Panic

    Impartial Panic Not too sore, are you?

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    Well Cauldron is going to be shitting a few bricks at that one.



    Look for the guy selling Cabbages
     
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  13. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Know what you're doing yet?

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    I thought it would be the guy shining shoes.
     
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  14. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Oh, damn! We are just diving down the slippery slope now! Fantastic chapter, Ack! The plan is really coming together now!
     
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  15. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    When I saw this line in the SB version, I had to immediately switch over to QQ just to see if it was the same here, because 'smug' is not what I think of as the natural state of elves these days~
     
  16. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    I'm pretty sure that all elves start smug. Now, do they stay that way...? Depends on the genre tags.
     
  17. Impartial Panic

    Impartial Panic Not too sore, are you?

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    Nah he's the one who let Lisa and Taylor know where behemoth is going to arrive.
    Cabbage Vendor is just unlucky enough to be ground zero.

    although now I have the image of every big wheel in the bay going to Johnny the shoe shine guy.

    So Eidolon is dead, Behemoth appears to be inert and may mean the others don't activate.
    of course this also means Villains don't get soft balled and the unwritten rules might not become a thing.

    So while I know Taylor is busy trying to unfuck the world and eventually kick costa-brown out of the Directors chair
    I wonder if she'll eventually try to stop the Train wreck that is new wave before it starts?
     
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  18. Priapus

    Priapus Engorged member

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    Ultimate cause. The Proximate cause is the immediately preceding one, the closest in the causal chain.

    Oh boy.

    Now I'm on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how this will fail to work.

    Actually from the sounds of it, she's planning to leave the PRT at some point, when she has accomplished her goals and built a sufficient reputation.

    Something like that, anyway.
     
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  19. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Huh. Today I learned.

    Will fix.
     
  20. Extras: Canonised Omake: Meeting with Marquis, a Second Time
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    This omake was written by atomicpanda, over on SB. I'm crossposting it, because I canonised it, and why not.

    Some point between '98 and 2000. Evening
    Brockton Bay
    Brockton Legal Seafood


    Mr. Lavere (loving single father, entrepreneur, and supervillain Marquis) exited his ride, passing off his keys to the valet and being escorted up to a reserved private room. A recent financial investment firm had been making waves in the Bay over the last few years but had rebuffed outside influence. It should be expected, they had their own skyscraper built long before business started. The appointment scheduled by his secretary was nearly a total shock to him. A few key words hinted at them being aware of his other identity and seeking to make arrangements with Marquis too. What unnerved him though was the additional request to have his dear Amelia somewhere nearby, preferably under ten minutes away. An odd request but not one intended for a hostage.

    The restaurant, a regional chain known for its quality was packed as he surveyed it with a passing eye. A few couple seemed vaguely familiar but he couldn't put names to faces for the moment, chalking it up to past meet and greets. The hostess ahead of him pulled open the door to the private room, reserved for small parties and meetings to reveal two faces he hoped to never see again in his life. He pulled on all his experience to ignore the phantom throb in his knees.

    "Welcome!" A surprisingly bubbly voice came from one of the pair as the door closed behind him. "Relax, it's not like we've got a bone to pick with you or anything."

    "Subtle." Said the other, far more serious woman. "I told you to be nice because we've got plenty on our plates."

    "Plates. Right. Because of the restaurant." Andrea's response garnered a response from Taylor Snow, as Mr. Lavere sat down across from the odd couple. "So you're allowed to make jokes?"

    Snow was surprisingly expressive as her choice of words registered and she sighed with an exhaustion he empathized with, like when his daughter managed to win an argument by logic through sheer luck or coincidence. He failed to suppress a chuckle as eyes turned to him.

    "See? Even our guest can handle a good ribbing!" Andrea Campbell's words bore no extra emphasis but her eyebrows did the work to make up for that.

    "Enough Andrea." Snow turned to him with a serious expression but it wasn't threatening. He still remembered that face. "Mr. Lavere, I'm sure you have questions and hopefully we can settle before we order the main course for multiple reasons."

    "I admit, I was surprised a few times throughout our correspondence and now that I'm here, each answer seems to bring only more questions. I suppose I should ask if you wish to sill address Mr. Lavere or are digging up past grievances?" He sat up in his chair.

    "It is likely to all be with you, though the topics will include other faces." Trust an intelligence expert to know more than you want. "This conversation borders or outright crosses over the line of the Rules of Capes as it were, but I am not here speaking as an agent of the PRT."

    "And yet, you are an agent of the PRT. That does go away as easily as changing an outfit."

    "You could say she's a badass down to her bones!" Andrea chimed in. "Okay, I'm all done for now. Just had to get it out."

    "As you can see, my girlfriend is quite humorous but it's important that she's here for this." His raised eyebrow mirrored Andrea's. "Fuck. I didn't mean that one either."

    Andrea was softly laughing. "Lisa must be dying from this." A name he was unfamiliar with as he started to worry about possible recordings now. "Don't worry, she's a... silent partner." Somehow that made her laugh harder, like the only person in on a joke. Snow's defeated expression alleviated his concerns of anyone else ruining this meeting.

    "Yes, you could say that. I know you have kept tabs on my career, for what was allowed to leak by either myself or the PRT-"

    "Allowed?" He interrupted. Sure, he knew of controlling the flow of information but her confidence in that choice of words caused him to throw away decorum. "Are you implying such a great grasp on the internal workings that leaks only happen if you so choose?"

    "Oh, nothing of the sort." She waved him off with false modesty so absurd and poorly veiled he nearly took offense. "Nothing so grand. No, in the years I've worked with the PRT I have shored up our defenses in that department as strong as possible. I know that doesn't include everything, but with all the eyes on me and the backing of my superiors, it's relatively easy to cover up my covert operations by hiding them in plain sight. They don't know all of them, of course."

    "I-" He need a moment. Rumors of her being a Maverick were always understated. He knew her unique and expert tactics firsthand. "I want to say I find it hard to believe you've done off the books operations in your own personal interest."

    "And yet?" Her tone was level. Her gaze fully on him, evaluating at a level that surpassed most he encountered. Perhaps all but to put her so high felt like too terrifying a prospect that Snow truly was at such a high level above him.

    "And yet, pieces started to fall into place. This meeting itself that you know my identities yet haven't reported to your superiors, Ms. Campbell leading an investment firm that exploded out of nowhere with some well armed staff even my men know to avoid. In my background checks, one thing most would miss is that on the weekend before we first met-"

    "Ah, sweet memories." Andrea managed to bring levity and avoid any animosity from that time. He elevated his view of her by several points and understood her purpose here now.

    "Yes. That previous weekend you and three of your friends took a jaunt out of town. A certain Canadian also came to a sudden end but none claimed the kill, and the government found no traces except what they suspected were a pair of a man and woman with with expert military training."

    Snow shook her head. "Oh, I forgot about that fact."

    "I thought it was you and Gladys?" A name he remembered because of who she knew. Connections were always important to maintain.

    "Yes Andrea, it was. I saw the reports a few months later but it slipped my mind. Probably a good thing, I don't think she would be happy with their appraisal of her."

    "Are you saying that of the four of you, it was Gladys Knott, a high school vice principal, who killed a national supervillain and not yourself or Kinsey?"

    A wry smile is what she offered. "She is the better shot out of the group." Truth truly was stranger than fiction. "Back on track, yes, I am known for my work in intelligence and that was one of many such actions I have taken. Probably one of the more altruistic ones too now that I think of it."

    It was at this point that the appetizers arrived and conversation paused. Andrea ate her clam chowder so fast he doubted she tasted it, and as Snow put a few clams and oysters on her plate she gave a withering stare to Andrea and a silent conversation ended in the latter's defeat.

    "On to business, or lack thereof. We aren't planning on any monetary deals at the moment simply because our circles of interest don't overlap enough. No, we're here to discuss Marquis' enemies."

    "Are you implying to take an interest and ally yourself with a known villain and leader of organized crime in your home town while still working for the government? I expect some outrageous things following new facts but even this is too farfetched."

    "And you would be right. We have no interest in stopping them from going after you." As expected. "We also do not plan to aid any who pursue you. Organized crime is, at the very least, organized. Compared to any number of criminals, you crest just past acceptable but provide a workable environment that doesn't detract from the Bay's value."

    "How unexpectedly pragmatic."

    "The problem," She took a drink to calm herself of some latent anger. "The problem with that is that Marquis has other interests. Personal ones."

    "I take it you are not here to threaten those?" An edge crept into his voice. He had come close to breaking his code a few times, and if ever there was a reason to finally do so it would be in defense of daughter.

    "The opposite." He remained tense. "You see, despite your experience and strengths there will come a time when you do get caught. It will likely not end well for you at all, with supermax being the most promising spot to hope for. I've seen the evaluations though and you understand where you are likely heading to when the law catches up."

    "Baumann. The Birdcage."

    "Yes. It's a travesty of engineering. Some things even I cannot fight though. So the question remains, what happens to those personal interests? Have you considered the inevitable an prepared for it? Some groups are out for your blood, and when they see it flow out of you they will not stop until they raze your legacy too."

    He paled. "Surely you don't mean to imply even some of the heroes would stoop so low?"

    She nodded. "The Brigade in particular, yes. Any proper law enforcement would likely fail to shuffle her in the system and any of your past enemies would have no trouble hunting her down for revenge. The sins of the father or just pure vindictiveness."

    "I never considered. Not truly." A minute to gather himself. "In the back of my mind, I haven't wanted to acknowledge that possibility. We've only had so little time together and to spend it fretting about that being taken from me I didn't want to waste time on."

    "And what were you hoping would happen?"

    "I guess it would have been just hoping they keep their word to take care of Amelia."

    "Mr. Lavere. You have talked with many capes. I'm sure you understand what category of people the Brigade falls under, especially under Brandish's leadership."

    "I don't want to."

    "No. You don't. But even a superficial understanding of the woman shows a seething hatred for you that is irrational. She has no connection to you or your past misdeeds. I've checked."

    "Then why?"

    "A massive stick up her ass. That's why." It was not Andrea with the vulgarity though. She was busy drinking at that moment which was now on its way out. "If I'm right-" A snort. "Then Marquis likely pushes the same buttons as someone from her past she cannot forget. Yes, I know what I'm implying and there's nothing that can be done about it now. Any earlier wouldn't have helped much either. The past can't be rewritten, after all." Another snort.

    "This has certainly been more enlightening than contract negotiations, that is for sure. Why did you want Amelia so close yet unaware of her location?"

    Her smug grin answered him. "So that once you order for her, she won't have to wait long for the food." Andrea was perusing the menu beside her and likely picking for them both. "I'd like to think we've enough trust for that."

    He sighed but it was in relief and not defeat. After a short phone call, he let them know it would be about eight minutes.

    "Good. I'm sure you can guess what I'm going to ask you inform your legal council for contingency plans."

    "I can... The question is why you? Why me? Our past cannot even be described as checkered."

    "Mr. Lavere, I have studied many parahuman behaviors and trends. One of them is the possibility of second gen capes. The children of capes have not had much time to be studied, but their powers are somewhat reflective of their parent. Patterns become solidified from trauma, and their environment works to shape their future."

    "And you hope to raise her so that if she gains powers, she'll be your own personal soldier?" Venom suffused his words.

    "The opposite." She brushed off his threat as one does a buzzing fly. "Believe it or not, she's not the only child we're planning on raising. Or have. What I'm offering you is someone who understands you on a level none of your enemies do and whose word can be trusted. Should you lose custody of Amelia, Andrea and I would provide her a loving environment that, protection from your past enemies, and a guiding hand not blinded by hatred."

    "I am coming around to this idea more now that you explain. I was unaware you already adopted? Am I to guess this other child is also a potential parahuman?"

    "Not adopted. I'll spare you the details but a I also sought out another parahuman who is a single father but didn't have the best idea on how to do so. His irrational fears would have hindered her and likely lead to her triggering, or at least a major factor of it. We don't intend to raise a personal team to defend ourselves, but at the very least give a stable environment to at risk young parahumans and nip any cycles of desperation and crime in the bud."

    "If it were anyone else, Taylor Snow, I would not believe a word of it."

    "And from me?"

    "I think you are honest. I can see what you intend to do and why, but I also can see them wanting to work with you should they come into powers of their own even if it isn't your intention. I think that answers all my questions except for one."

    How does her eyebrow raise that far? "And that would be?"

    "Where does your James Kinsey fit into all of this? You have dragged him through almost your entire career and I cannot see that changing if you leave the PRT, yet he's not here."

    "Oh, we gave him the night off." Andrea piped in. "Ok, we actually gave him a little mission to spend his time on and he took the hint. He probably knows we're meeting with you by now and you two coming face to face didn't seem like a good idea." She turned to Snow. "How does he fit in though?"

    "Nanny?" Snow seemed to pick the word like the best of a set of bad choices.

    "Nanny." Andrea was caught by surprise.

    "Nanny." Snow sagely nodded.

    "I'm calling him!" Andrea pulled out a phone and dialed with one hand while fighting off snow with the other. The call was put on speakerphone.

    "Andrea, how is the meeting going? I was under the impression it would still be at this moment and the silence lends credence that no backup is required."

    "Yer darn tootin'! Kinsey, how'd you like to be a nanny?"

    Mr. Lavere could hear the intake of breath. "I am capable of most tasks many would deem unwilling to participate but i find my current employment satisfactory"

    "Well, it would be a kid that Taylor and I would adopt."

    "As I stated, I am capable of-"

    "No diapers! She'll definitely be potty trained by then." She interjected.

    "I look forward to meeting the little tyke when the day comes." It amazed him how a man could emote while changing nothing about his vocal tone.

    "Got it. Catcha ya later." She hung up with a victorious smile. She turned to Snow. "He probably likes that title better than nursemaid."

    Snow just shook her head. "It would be best for that to be left in the past. Anyways, Mr. Lavere, does that satisfy you?"

    Before he could answer, a freckled brunette girl ran through the door holding a coloring book and charged right at him. She managed to not trip on her way and jump at him, where he caught her one handed from his seat and perched her on his lap for the moment.

    After a few minutes of catching up with her where she told an intense tale of a runaway cat that circled her and the guards but was lured in with the offer of snacks. She listed every food it didn't like, and even how it did not want to use her crayons. During this recounting of events, he saw the faces of the two women in his peripheral vision and saw nothing but humor and joy. Andrea even added a few questions to help her focus.

    "Amelia, I wanted to introduce you to two of my friends. These are Andrea Campbell and her girlfriend Taylor Snow. Andrea runs businesses like your daddy does and Taylor works for the PRT."

    "Like with Alexandria?" Wonder on Amelia's face as she turned to Snow and a brief emotion flickered over Snow's face that was not what he expected from a PRT employee, let alone her.

    "Yeah Amelia. I've met her a few times but I couldn't ask for an autograph."

    "Why not? I would ask her if I met her."

    Taylor leaned over conspiratorially, fake whispering. "It's because we got a picture together." His daughter was certainly impressed as conversation flowed, eventually the dishes were brought out for the main course. Andrea tried to show how to crack crab legs to Amelia, but she wisely pointed out that her lobster macaroni and cheese did not need anything but a fork.

    "Amelia, there's another reason I wanted you to meet these two. Do you want to know why?"

    She thought. "Do you work with them?"

    "No."

    "Are they superheroes?"

    "Yes." "No." Andrea and Snow answered simultaneously. Snow took over. "No, we work with some though."

    "I give up." She didn't want to admit defeat, his daughter inherited some of his pride after all, but she couldn't talk and eat at the same time.

    "These two are your godparents." Andrea was much more emotive, but that slight watering in Snow's eyes hinted a a whirlwind of emotions behind a hardened mask. "Do you know what that means?"

    "No. Are they like more parents?" She gasped and whispered. "Super parents."

    "No dear. I wanted you to meet them and you could get to know each other. Godparents are who I trust to take care of you if something happens to me." She was about to ask some obvious questions. "No, I'm not going away any time soon. But accidents do happen. Like when you scraped your knee last week."

    "So if you scrape your knee they will take me away?"

    Andrea laughed and decided to join in now. "No kid. Honey? I don't do nicknames well. Amelia, if your dad gets really hurt one day, he wants us to watch over you until he gets better. If you were in the hospital, he would stay with you. But if he was in the hospital, somebody would need to take care of you while he couldn't."

    A few more questions and clarifications, as much as can happen with a child her age, and eventually she got "backup parents" out of it all, comparing it to extra clothes when they went swimming in case they got wet. Why that resolved matters, he couldn't say, but children worked in mysterious ways. They told her about their jobs as much as they could, Snow telling obviously embellished tales that still fascinated his little girl.

    As dinner finished, they exited the restaurant and the tall raven-haired woman pulled him aside.

    "There's one more thing you likely didn't consider." He hated to admit it but she was right and a meeting with his lawyer was already long overdue. He motioned her to continue. "Write some fucking letters."

    "Letters?"

    "You probably didn't think of it, but consider a dozen events. Probably less, but at least three. If you grow to be an old man and look back, what are the most cherished memories going to be of your daughter? Her school graduation? Her first day? Her wedding?"

    "And write letters?"

    "Write a speech you would give her. Because chances are you won't be able to do that in person."

    The reality set in. A weight descended. This last year was the best he ever had because of his daughter coming to live with him. He never considered what him going away would do to her.

    "I understand." He gave her a solid handshake, failed to fight off a huge from Andrea, and eventually drove away with Amelia once the valet returned. This meeting was full of surprises. He looked at his daughter falling asleep at a red light and knew she had a bright future that wouldn't be shaded by his past.
     
  21. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Needs some editing:
    'does' -> 'does not'?

    'better' -> 'best'

    'and a silent' -> 'and had a silent'

    'implying to take' -> 'planning to take' or 'implying you plan to take'
     
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  22. Nyx

    Nyx Know what you're doing yet?

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    This chapter felt a bit more fluffy than serious. A few interactions and dialogue seemed to flow too agreeably and a little unrealistic. Im not sure how I feel about Taylor and Andrea being goofy in front of him so quickly and his mind interpreting everything in the best-case scenario. The conversation didn't stray from the main topic and was pretty short. I feel like it should be mentioned that the conversation was longer and they discussed more things before he just says yes.
     
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  23. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Know what you're doing yet?

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    It just occurred to me that Mr. Lavere acknowledged Taylor and Andrea as a couple and they are being open about it with him. I didn't think their relationship was open and public. Isn't "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" still in effect in this time period with even Legend still being in the closet?
     
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  24. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    He's very perceptive (and open minded), but yes, that's still the case.

    It's been tentatively canonised. I didn't write the omake, but I can see that meeting having more or less happened, more or less that way.
     
  25. Threadmarks: Part 8-1: A New World Order
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Recoil

    Part 8-1: A New World Order

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



    In the Air over Jakarta
    Five Miles from the Behemoth
    Alexandria


    Legend shaded his eyes and peered up at the sun. "Anyone got an idea of how long it's been?"

    "One hour, nine minutes, thirteen seconds since Eidolon died." Rebecca spoke crisply and impersonally as a way of hiding the pain within. David had been a good friend and a powerful ally. "Seven minutes twenty-three seconds since you last asked that question." She still held his helmet under her arm; the scorch-marks on the inside were literally all that was left of him.

    "Sorry, sorry." Legend shook his head and looked at Hero. "Any change in status?"

    "None." Supported alongside the two fliers by a jetpack that didn't work on any principle Rebecca knew from her middle school science classes or her later reading, the world's greatest Tinker fiddled with a complicated device that gave outputs via flashing lights, cathode ray tubes, a Jacobs-ladder and a screen across which colours washed in random and unpredictable patterns. "Going by the energy readings, the creature is still in the dormant state it went into when … well, when it happened. On the other hand, the kill-field is still right there where Captain Snow said it would be."

    "I'm still at a loss as to how she knew so much about it," Legend admitted. "We didn't know that much about the thing, and we've all fought it every time it showed up. It was like she was pulling the facts out of thin air … but she was right on the money, about everything."

    Rebecca's lips tightened. "I'm more concerned about what she said to you guys about her suspicions of a hero accidentally controlling it, and how David apparently decided it was him."

    Hero shook his helmeted head. "No, forget that aspect. What I'm concerned about is that she was right, that when David sacrificed himself, the Behemoth just stopped on the spot."

    Did she know? Rebecca had the strong suspicion she was asking herself the sixty-four-million-dollar question. Did she deliberately goad him into doing exactly what he did? If so, how? How the hell could she make all those connections and figure out what needed to be done to end the menace? How did her wording push him into that so easily? She paused and made a mental note to review the video footage of the meeting, paying specific attention to Snow's body language and word choice. Shit, did she have something to do with me being unable to attend, to give her a clear run at David? She'd already known Taylor Snow was definitely an ends-justifies-the-means type of person, which only meant that the more she thought about it, the more disturbing the implications were. Exactly how far is she willing to go in order to get the job done? She suspected the answer was 'yes'. Ironic, coming from her, she knew.

    "You're not wrong," Legend said quietly, his comment strangely apropos despite being unaware of her inner turmoil. "Neither of you. But what I want to know now is … what else can she help us with? If you ask me, she's absolutely proven her credentials in this field. Our passengers, no matter what insights they might grant us, are clearly blocking us from figuring out the really important stuff. We have to talk to her. Maybe even bring her into the inner circle. If we tell her everything we do know, everything Contessa knows, everything Manton knows, there's no telling what she'll be able to figure out from that."

    "No." Rebecca kept her tone quiet, ignoring the chill that ran down her back at the thought of Taylor Snow knowing everything. "Contessa still can't Path Snow, but while the girl's shown a certain ruthless streak—"

    Hero snorted in amusement. "I'll say!"

    She waited until she was sure he had it out of his system. "As I was saying, while Snow's displayed a willingness to let the bodies fall where they may, there's a non-zero chance she'll disapprove of how we run things in Cauldron." Worse, a whimsical corner of her mind quipped. She might critique us.

    "Okay, that's a possibility," conceded Hero, "but we don't have to show her everything. Just the stuff we need to know more about."

    Rebecca gave him a level stare. "Given what we know she's managed to deduce from first principles, exactly how long do you expect our secrets to remain hidden from her? And with her propensity for playing blindfolded chess and winning, we'd never know what she knew or how she was using that information until she figured out how to turn it all around on us and bring the whole operation down."

    Legend looked askance at her. "Aren't you ascribing a little too much agency to her? I mean, sure, she's basically Otto von Bismarck on steroids, what with the way she's been fixing the PRT from within until it runs like a well-oiled machine, but she still doesn't have any powers of her own. What could she actually do?"

    Hero simply pointed at the still-immobile Behemoth, standing like the world's ugliest garden gnome in the middle of Jakarta. He and Rebecca spoke at the same time.

    "That."

    -ooo-​

    Contessa

    I have no idea how Snow pulled that off, but she did it.

    Fortuna felt a little sad at Eidolon's passing, but she'd seen so many people die in so many ways, quite often at her hands, that it no longer held any kind of significant emotional impact. It was much more important to her that the monster had been neutralized. Yes, the loss of Eidolon's powers as a force for good would be a blow for the Protectorate, but the Behemoth had murdered hundreds of thousands of people in just four appearances, and it hadn't shown any sign of slowing down.

    Worse, as Ruth had once explained to her, Leviathan and the Simurgh would have caused just as much death and destruction once they emerged. Cities would have died, entire islands forced below the ocean … and Taylor Snow had ended that chain of events before it ever began. Millions would live who otherwise would've died, and they'd never know any different.

    However, Doctor Mother didn't see it that way. She wanted Taylor Snow black-bagged immediately and conveyed to a remote room in the Cauldron base where the young officer would be grilled intensively to determine what she knew and how she knew it. Fortuna could even see why; looked at from a certain point of view, Snow represented a dangerous enigma. Possessed of a level of skill and capability even veteran military or law-enforcement personnel rarely achieved, Taylor Snow was only nominally under the command of her superiors in the PRT. Not much more than hints of the intent behind her extracurricular activities were available to Fortuna, via Snow's associates and friends. But even these painted a picture of someone who was carrying on an intensive campaign behind the scenes, entirely removed from her official duties.

    When consulted on the matter, Ruth Goldstein had been uncharacteristically blunt. "If Taylor's doing it, it's what needs doing. And if you get in her way, she'll probably kill you and loot your corpse."

    "She's so dangerous?" Fortuna had asked, wondering if her leg was being pulled.

    Ruth had shaken her head. "If anything, she's mellowed from what she used to be like. Back then, she was smart and vicious, and she made her name by escalating harder and faster than the opposition. Now? She's had years to study what's wrong with the world and make her plans, and to acquire the necessary skills to carry out her goals. She even recognizes that some laws need to be followed, sometimes. Trust me, you do not want her to go back to the outlaw mindset, with what she knows now. Let's just count this as a win, before she decides it's necessary to murder Alexandria."

    "You are kidding, right? I know you admire the girl, but isn't that a little out of her league?"

    "I'm sorry," Ruth said, in a tone that indicated a total lack of regret. "I meant again. She's already done it once, after all."

    She wasn't kidding, which was why Fortuna had told Doctor Mother that under no circumstances were Taylor Snow's efforts to be interfered with, for two very good reasons. One: they wanted to win the eventual war against Scion. Two: Cauldron couldn't afford to lose any more members.

    -ooo-​

    Taylor

    "I have to say, Snow, I did not expect matters to turn out like that."

    "Yes, sir," I said, acknowledging Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton's words as opposed to agreeing with them. I hadn't known Eidolon would take that way out, but between the hints I'd loaded onto him and the hypnotic I'd dosed him with, it had been a fairly good bet.

    The savage irony was, it would only have worked if he was at heart a good man. Otherwise, once faced with those same insights, he would've rationalized away the need to deal with the problem once and for all. In that particular case, I probably would've needed to dose his cup with something a good deal more lethal, perhaps something that induced a heart attack at some later point. Luckily, I hadn't needed to go that far.

    Lacking some other way to separate him from his power, Eidolon had needed to die. But I was glad he'd had the chance to go out on his own terms. A true hero, and a martyr to the world.

    Hamilton eyed me keenly from behind his desk. "Troubled thoughts, Snow? You couldn't have known he was the very one you were referring to."

    "No, sir," I said. Again, I wasn't agreeing with him, but he wasn't to know that. Monosyllabic answers were very useful in this sort of situation, not least when they could be expanded on with a relative non-sequitur. "It could've been any one of a dozen of the front-runners."

    "But it wasn't." I could hear the sympathy in his voice. "It's a perennial bugbear of being on this side of the intelligence equation; we give them the best information we have but once it leaves our hands, there's no way we can predict how they'll make use of it."

    "Thank you, sir." I carefully didn't correct him; while I had predicted it, this needed to be one of the times when I was merely human and had failed to take all the factors into account. "Did you need me for anything else, sir?"

    "I merely wanted to offer my congratulations for your sterling work but, more importantly, to check with you about the aftermath of Jakarta. How are you feeling about it, personally?"

    "Conflicted, sir," I said; my first truly honest pronouncement of the conversation. "I'm glad Behemoth is no longer an issue, though I dearly wish Eidolon hadn't had to die to make that happen. I'm feeling better than I was after New York, though. That time, it felt like we'd maintained a holding action long enough for him to get bored and go away. It wasn't a victory, except maybe in hero-villain cooperation and overall morale. This time? Because of Eidolon, we won. We'll never get back the dead of Marun Field and Sao Paulo and New York, but the monster's been shut down. Hopefully for good."

    A genuine smile crossed his face. "That is truly excellent to hear, Snow. What's your read on whether it might activate again in the future?"

    I let my features assume a thoughtful expression. "He hasn't moved since Eidolon died. Every hour he remains like that makes it more certain that he'll stay that way, unless some idiot actually attacks him. So long as we can maintain a watch on him—say, bulldoze everything out to half a mile, and put up a wall, with armed guards facing outward—he'll be a non-issue."

    Hamilton's bushy eyebrows raised just a fraction. "You do realize the thing is standing in the middle of one of the most populous cities in the world, Snow? You'd cut out nearly a square mile of urban space for this?"

    "He set a fair amount of it on fire, sir," I reminded him. "Most of that square mile will already be ruined, the people who were there dead. But I'd cut out a square mile of Manhattan Island if it came to that. Wherever he is, the absolute last thing we want is for people being able to just wander up to him and either get his attention or die. The population needs to understand that just because he's inactive, it doesn't mean an act of arrant stupidity can't change that. So, we're going to need to actively keep a guard force on him forever. Making the ground he's standing into an international exclusion zone would be a good idea, too. Spread the cost of guarding him across every nation that wants the prestige of doing so."

    "Sound reasoning," agreed Hamilton. "A permanent multinational guard force will be expensive, but not so expensive as losing a hundred thousand people every few months. I will forward your suggestion to the appropriate parties." His eyes twinkled again as he smiled. "I suspect they might just listen to you."

    "The chances are, someone's already thought of exactly the same thing," I pointed out. "But the more of us agree on something like this, the better chance we have of making it happen."

    "That's also a point." He bent an avuncular gaze upon me. "On a different topic. I understand you're acting somewhat in a mentor role to some of the young bloods. It only came to my attention when I commended Patricks on his improved work, and he cited you as the reason. In case you were wondering, I approve."

    I nodded. "It's not all that often, sir, but I try to help them out and give a few pointers at the same time. They're willing to learn, which is good."

    "On that, we agree." He tilted his head to one side. "Your time will no longer be taken up with ongoing matters pertaining to the Behemoth. I hope we can keep things from getting too boring for you." From the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, I could tell he was joking.

    "Oh, I believe I can find things to occupy my time, sir." I wasn't, not in the slightest. There were many issues that required my attention. Some even related to my work with the PRT.

    "Good. Dismissed, Snow."

    "Sir." I came to attention and saluted; he returned it with a lazy wave somewhere near his brow. Turning, I marched from his office and headed back to where my current workspace was set up.

    Now that Robbie Gordon was long since removed from my immediate vicinity (and the PRT as a whole), I didn't have to keep looking over my shoulder for potential problems … or rather, I didn't have to, but I did it anyway. It was a good habit to get into, and one that had served me well. There were always more Masters and Strangers out there, after all. Just because I'd never met them didn't mean they wouldn't wish me harm anyway. Not for the first time, I wished they'd named the Snow Protocols basically anything else.

    But Hamilton was right about how Behemoth being taken off the table would simplify matters for everyone, especially me. I didn't have to fake burning the midnight oil anymore, wasting hours pretending to analyse matters down to the nitty-gritty so that I could produce a believable prediction.

    I know it wasn't this version of you that killed Lisa and everyone else I knew and loved, but fuck you anyway. This is for them.

    Also on the upside, Behemoth wouldn't be attacking Moscow on his next go-around; more importantly, in a little under four years' time he was due to be attacking Jinzhou. He would be opposed by the CUI, who'd refuse any outside assistance, based on the premise that they were capable of handling him. This would not turn out to be the case.

    So, not only would nearly a million innocent Chinese citizens not die due to their intransigence, but the CUI would fail to learn an important lesson about the relative capabilities of the Yàngbân; specifically, they suck against a single flexible, powerful foe. I was happy with them being ignorant of that for the time being. I didn't actually have any plans at the moment for opposing them, but there were years to go before I would be anywhere near finished with my self-appointed task, and situations had a habit of changing at the worst possible moment. Besides, it's never a good idea to explain to a potential enemy where he's going wrong.

    Seating myself in front of my computer, I entered the password then instead of clicking the mouse on the Enter button, I clicked just to the left of it. This opened a second password prompt, which I also answered. Then, and only then, could I access my actual files.

    Humming a tune that would become popular about fifteen years in the future, I got back to work.

    -ooo-​

    January 9, 1995
    Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Canada


    Andrea and I looked up as a nurse entered the waiting room. "Ms. Campbell? You can come through now."

    We both got up; I captured her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Her fingers were trembling, which was an absolute first for her. "You got this," I murmured.

    "Darn tootin'," she whispered back, and strode for the door with her back straight and chin up. I turned to Kinsey. "We'll be just down the hall," I advised him. "If anything goes sideways, I'll break something."

    "Ma'am," he agreed, and stood back against the wall, hands folded in front of him. I noted once again that even in plain clothes, he looked like nothing more or less than a soldier in civvies.

    Turning, I followed Andrea down the corridor, ready to step back and wait with Kinsey if the nurses said I had to, but it didn't happen.

    We convened in a private room—Andrea had sprung for the very best—where a pretty young woman lay in bed holding a baby. Andrea and I had already met Jeanette and her boyfriend René, and they seemed like nice people. The sole reason they were giving Heartbreaker's last baby up for adoption was because they were essentially broke; his current job only gave him enough income to support one child (whom they already had) but not two. Once she got her acting career back up and running, this might change, but that would be years in the future.

    "Hi," Andrea said, going over to the side of the bed where Jeanette held baby Alec (as I was already calling him in my mind). "Oooh, he's gorgeous."

    "He is," agreed Jeanette. She looked wrung-out from the birth, but she was bearing up well under the strain. "I hate to give him up."

    "You're not giving him up, exactly," I said noncommittally from where I stood near the end of the bed. "Babies need a lot of resources to care for them properly. It's not your fault that you just don't have those resources right now. And we all know you'd keep him if it was at all possible. When he's old enough to understand, Andrea will explain to him that he was adopted, and exactly why. He won't be told that you didn't love him enough, or any crap like that. After that, he'll have the full choice of whether or not to contact you."

    "And in the meantime," Andrea added, caressing Alec's chubby little cheek, "I'll be sending you birthday pictures and stuff like that, so you'll know he's happy and healthy. Once he's been filled in, we might even make it a regular thing at Christmas and stuff."

    René looked at me, worried. "Will he be told that his biological father was … was Heartbreaker?"

    "No." Andrea shook her head definitively. "I'm not going to let him grow up with that hanging over his head."

    I went over to the door and pushed it almost all the way shut. "I'm not so sure that's a good idea," I said slowly. "I saw one case involving a teenager with powers who figured out she was the kid of a supervillain but her adoptive parents wouldn't tell her who for the longest time. It messed her head up pretty good. People got hurt." I looked to Jeanette and René seriously. "Both Cherie and her brother have the potential to trigger with powers. I don't know when or even if it will happen, but the chance is definitely there. Cherie, at least, spent the first few months of her life in close proximity with Vasil, so the chances are she'll manifest emotion-based powers. This is something you absolutely need to be aware of."

    They were both staring at me. Up until this point, I'd more or less lurked in the background while Andrea took the spotlight. Now, it was like I'd grown a whole extra head or started declaiming the Bible in Urdu.

    "What?" René shook his head as if he wasn't sure what he was hearing. "How do you know this, Ms. Snow? Who are you?"

    I sighed; it had to come out eventually. "I'm a captain in the PRT, Intelligence Division. Based out of Chicago. Don't worry, I'm not here in any official capacity. Andrea's a good friend of mine, so I took some leave and came along to lend moral support. But this is specifically in my area of expertise, so I'm giving you advice for free."

    "Advice?" Jeanette held Alec a little tighter. "Will this one also … uh, trigger with powers? Will he become a villain? And Cherie?"

    I waggled my hand from side to side. "He's got the potential to trigger, sure. He's less likely to go the same power route as his sister, because he wasn't exposed to the same influences as she was. On the upside, for both kids it'll be less traumatic than a first-generation cape. Downside, it's still traumatic. Any kind of sustained stress might trigger it." I took a step forward. "As for becoming a villain, that's very much a nurture over nature thing. Every villain I ever met had a crappy home life. Give Cherie a happy, fulfilling childhood, treat her right without spoiling her, and she's far less likely to end up as a villain when or if she does get powers." It wasn't a guarantee; I knew it just as well as they did. But it was better than nothing.

    "You said it's not a good idea to hide it from them." René was on the ball. "Their heritage, I mean. What do we tell Cherie, and when do we do it?"

    I sighed, remembering the mess of neuroses that made up Amy Dallon, even on a good day. "First off, you need to keep in mind that even though Vasil supplied the genetics and the potential for powers, that doesn't make him her father. You're her father. Be her father. In the same vein, inheriting powers from him will not automatically make her a villain. However, it'll have to be up to your judgement exactly when to break it to her. If she never shows interest, ever, then you can probably leave it go. Don't force the information on her. But if she starts asking questions, whether it's about her powers or how she doesn't look much like you, or even if someone dredges up the Heartbreaker thing … sit her down and tell her everything. Don't lie, and don't hide the truth. Nothing breaks a kid's trust like the feeling that they're being lied to."

    Andrea had looked surprised when I contradicted her, but as I'd explained my side of things, she started nodding. I wondered how much she was recalling of the stories I'd told her about twenty-eleven Brockton Bay, specifically the ones concerning Panacea. "I'll be doing that too," she said. "I mean, I'll be explaining how he's adopted anyway, seeing how his hair's gonna look nothing like mine, but yeah, if he needs to know, he needs to know."

    René and Jeanette looked at each other, and Jeanette nodded. "It's for the best," she said in answer to his silent query. "As is this." Carefully, she lifted baby Alec up so that Andrea could take him.

    For the first time, my girlfriend cradled the child she'd agreed to adopt. There was no angelic chime, at least anything I could hear, but her face softened and her smile lit up the room. "Hello," she whispered gently. "You're the cutest thing ever. Yes, you are."

    Alec screwed up his face and sneezed, and I chuckled along with everyone else. Andrea was right; even his sneezes were cute.

    "So, what is his name to be?" asked René.

    Andrea glanced over at me. We'd talked this over and arrived at a decision we both liked. "He's going to be christened Alexander Jean-Paul Dubois Campbell," she said. "It's a little long, but I think it all needs to be in there."

    Jeanette perked up at the mention of her surname, and both she and René seemed to like the inclusion of a traditional French first name in there. "That's a good, strong name," she said. "Thank you."

    René looked over at me. "Are you going to be involved in Alexander's upbringing? Explaining his powers to him, if he gets them?"

    "Oh, totally," I assured him. "You've got my contact number, so you'll be able to get hold of me if Cherie needs assistance in that kind of thing." I chuckled. "Hopefully it won't be for another ten or fifteen years. And just so you know, I don't give dating advice. For that, you'll be on your own."

    "Oh, the horror," he quipped.

    We shared a glance of mutual understanding, then watched as Andrea leaned over the bed to allow Jeanette one last hug and kiss with Alec. Finally, she straightened up. "I guess it's time to go," she said.

    René came around the bed and brushed the backs of his fingers against Alec's cheek, then whispered something in French that I didn't catch enough of to figure out. "Good luck, Andrea, and take care," he said. "And Captain Snow, please watch over both of them."

    "Absolutely," I said. Left unsaid was the fact that I'd be keeping tabs on Cherie's parents as well, which at least René seemed to understand. If I were any judge, he seemed to be okay with the idea of it.

    We left the room, Andrea still cooing over little Alec, and found Kinsey keeping watch in the waiting room. "Isn't he just too cute?" asked Andrea.

    Kinsey raised his eyebrows. "I usually don't have much to do with babies, but he does seem to be reasonably cute, yes."

    All he really knew was that Andrea was adopting a baby and I was along for the ride. Or rather, Andrea was along for the ride. We'd hired a car in Brockton Bay and driven to Toronto in one marathon nine-and-a-half-hour stint, whereupon we'd taken motel rooms and crashed for the night. With Lisa's assistance, I'd timed it for the day before Jeanette was due to give birth, of course. I didn't even bother anymore trying to tell Kinsey that I'd drive; we both knew it wasn't going to happen.

    "Seems to be?" Andrea stuck her tongue out at him. "He's absolutely the cutest baby ever, and you know it." She strutted on ahead, and Kinsey fell back to walk alongside me.

    "She certainly seems taken with the infant, ma'am," he murmured. "I suspect I may have done her a disservice when she first informed me of her intention to adopt. A strong maternal instinct is not something I would've suspected her of having."

    "Andrea might seem to be the type of person who's entirely transparent about her thoughts and motivations," I reminded him. "But she definitely has hidden depths. Anyone who believes otherwise is in for a surprise if and when they try to take advantage of her."

    "That I have no trouble believing," Kinsey agreed. "As you made clear to me some time ago, ma'am; the ditz act may be no act, but she's certainly not brainless."

    "Come on!" Andrea called. "Let's hit the road! We got miles to burn!"

    I quickened my pace, as did Kinsey. "Baby seat's already set up in the car?" I asked.

    "Yes, ma'am," he said. "I personally made sure of it."

    We exited the hospital, stepping out into the freezing winter air. "Whoof!" I muttered. "I'm still not used to winters being this cold."

    "The Captain was no doubt spoiled by Brockton Bay," Kinsey said, his expression deadpan. "Chicago should be warmer, technically at least."

    "Yeah, but they can keep their wind-chill factor," I groused. "I might have to look around and see if there isn't some kind of crisis I can attend to in Texas. South Texas."

    We reached the car, where Andrea was already waiting. She'd made sure to pull the blanket extra close around baby Alec, I saw. Kinsey pressed the fob to unlock the car and I opened the back door for Andrea.

    "Thanks," she said as she slid into the back seat, holding Alec close to her. She didn't quite stutter, but it was a near thing. "Canadian winters are ridiculous."

    I closed the door for her, then got into the front passenger seat. "I would've thought you'd learned your lesson, from the time we visited Deer Lake."

    "God, don't remind me." Twisting in her seat, she carefully placed Alec in his infant seat and buckled him in. "D'awww, who's the cutest person in the car? It used to be Taylor, but now it's you. Yes, it is!" Leaning close, she rubbed noses with the baby, then looked up at me. "Sorry, hon, but it's true."

    I chuckled. "No argument. I've always been an also-ran in the 'cute' stakes, just saying."

    "Sure, you're cute!" Andrea looked to Kinsey for support. "Jim, tell her!"

    He turned in his seat and gave her a very dry look. "Andrea, the Captain is my commanding officer, and thus not someone I can call 'cute' without severe repercussions. But even if that were not the case, she's capable of beating any three average men to a pulp with her bare hands or sniping them out to a hundred feet, either hand, with a pistol. She is a formidable soldier, tactician, officer and analyst, all of which have contributed to her successes to date. You, on the other hand, are cute, and you certainly make it work for you. The Captain has her strengths; you have yours."

    Wow. Damn. I'd known Kinsey had a good opinion of me—and why not, I thought very highly of him too—but that was about as blunt as I'd ever heard him get about it. "Thank you for that impromptu performance review, Kinsey," I said, trying to sound as dry as he had. "Now, I believe Andrea was correct in that we have a considerable distance to cover before we get back to Brockton Bay."

    "Right you are, ma'am," he replied imperturbably, and started the car.

    -ooo-​

    Brockton Bay
    Andrea's New Apartment
    February 21, 1995


    If there was something Andrea could point at as a useful holdover from her time as a college party girl, it was the ability to function on minimal sleep for days at a time, fortified by the occasional pot of extra-strength coffee. She'd been a mother for a month and a half now, and it seemed all young Alec wanted to do was cry and sleep. Except that when he wanted to wake up and cry was when Andrea wanted to sleep.

    Still, of all the crazy things Taylor had asked her to do, this was nowhere near as whacked as the Los Angeles caper. And in fact, it was kinda wholesome, particularly when her sleep schedule managed to coincide itself with Alec's, and they were awake and happy at the same time. Given the lead time before the adoption, she'd taken the time to read up on all the parenting manuals Taylor had suggested, and some of them helped … some of the time.

    One such book suggested giving the infant plenty of tummy time and to spend time on the floor with them, to encourage them to crawl. She knew that aspect wasn't likely to happen for another four or five months at least, but she'd splurged for a soft, springy carpet so why not put it to use? And she personally had no problems with getting down on Alec's level so he could be eye to eye with her.

    While the experience didn't exactly make her want to rush out and get pregnant straight away (as far as she was concerned, that could happen to other people, thank you very much) it was definitely giving her a new perspective on motherhood. Especially when he gave his happy little smile and gurgled at her while grabbing her hair. That basically melted her heart, every time.

    She was lying on her back on the carpet with Alec on her tummy, competing for 'who could make the silliest baby noises' (he was winning, but only by a nose) when her phone rang. Reaching out, she took the cordless off its cradle from where she'd carefully placed it before starting her playtime with Alec, and put it to her ear. "Hello, you have Andrea."

    Rather than Taylor's voice (which she didn't really expect, but she could live in hope) or even Danny's or Gladys' (also good to catch up with) she heard a voice that was vaguely familiar but she couldn't immediately place. "Ah, yes, Ms. Campbell? I hope I'm not calling at an awkward time?"

    So of course, Alec decided to chime in with his latest (and award-winning) burbling giggle right at that moment. "Not really. Uh, who is this, exactly?" She hoped it wasn't a telemarketer; having to get up and put Alec in his crib so his delicate ears wouldn't be soiled by the profanity she'd be heaping on this guy for interrupting her 'us' time would be a real pain.

    "This is Andrew Richter. From Deer Lake? I'm calling, uh, about Dragon?" A pause. "Uh, what was that noise?"

    "That noise would be my son, Alec. That gonna be a problem?" Andrea tried to sound stern, but she couldn't quite pull it off.

    "Ah … uh, no, no. Wait, you have a child? When did that happen?"

    Andrea tickled Alec with one hand, just to make him laugh. "Hey, you have your life, Andy. I've got mine. So, what was that about Dragon?"

    His awkward curiosity vanished, to be replaced by breathless anxiety. "I've done all the tests I can in the laboratory, and she's ready to meet other human beings. Do you have the headset I sent to you?"

    "Aw, rats," Andrea muttered. "Yeah, I've got it. One second." The 'aw, rats' was because she now had to get up anyway without the cathartic release of unleashing her not inconsiderable vocabulary of profanity in Richter's general direction.

    Gently lifting Alec off her stomach, she left him lying on the blanket she'd spread on the carpet for this precise reason, so he wouldn't get any of the fluffier bits in his mouth or nose, while she got up to fetch the parcel Richter had constructed. Opening the package revealed something a DJ might wear at an upscale nightclub, save for the extras here and there, such as a flip-down monocle lens. In her mind, Andrea upgraded it to 'something a fighter pilot might wear under his helmet'.

    "Okay, I've got it," she reported, returning to sit cross-legged next to Alec as he drooled and waved his arms and legs like a beached crab that was too stoned to know which way up it was. "How do I plug it in?" There were, in fact, no cords attached to it, or even stored separately in the package.

    "It's intended to be wireless," Richter explained. "I was thinking you could go outside wearing it, so that she could gain the full experience of walking among humans and interacting with them."

    Andrea considered that. "You haven't spent much time associating with people, have you? If I went outside wearing this apparatus, my interactions with the public would be anything but normal. Trust me on this."

    "Oh." She could almost hear him deflate over the phone. "Uh … I'll work on a less-obvious model for you, then. Perhaps built into a Walkman and a pair of regular glasses. But in the meantime, would you like to meet her?"

    "Oh, absolutely." Andrea felt excitement begin to fizz within her. "I am so ready. You can put it up on my big screen, right?"

    "That's what the shielded cable is intended for, yes." The installation had taken a little time and cost a lot of money, but that was okay; between her careful investments and Taylor's tips, the financial empire they had built together (and that term wasn't even the least bit facetious, these days) had quite a bit more than a 'lot' of money. "If you put on the headset, it will let you speak to her."

    "Oh, right." She puzzled out which way the headset went on, then got up onto her knees to retrieve the remote from its place on the shelf. Then she switched on the TV and turned to a channel that showed only static. "Over to you, big daddy."

    "Alright. Let's see … now."

    With the last word, the static on the screen was replaced by a floor-to-ceiling image of Richter, peering at a camera from far too close so that his nose was blown way out of proportion. A tiny arm unfolded from the elaborate headset, pointing a camera back at Andrea. Richter's voice boomed out of the speakers. "Ah, there you are."

    "Not so loud!" Andrea thumbed the 'volume down' button on the remote, even as Alec squawked and began to cry. "Now see what you've done!" Dropping the remote once the TV volume was down to reasonable levels, she scooped Alec up and began to soothe him.

    "Sorry, sorry." Now he was whispering. "I didn't mean to frighten him."

    Fortunately, Alec didn't take much to calm down again, though she gave the camera a glare just to make sure Richter knew he was on thin ice. She decided to keep Alec with her in case Richter did something else to trigger him. It wouldn't be deliberate, she knew, but that wouldn't help much if Alec was bawling.

    "Okay," she said softly, rubbing Alec's tummy to make him gurgle happily. "Let's do this thing."

    Richter hit a few keys out of sight, then the screen split, with Richter on the left and a blue square with a dot of light on the right. "Hello," a childlike voice said, the dot bouncing up and down. "Are you Andrea? You look different to Father."

    "Hi, Dragon," Andrea said, raising her hand to wave to the camera. "I am different. All people look different to each other, though some are more different than others. We're still all people, though."

    "Oh, wow," Dragon said. The dot of light was expanding, the bouncy motion slowing down. "The literature Father gave me says there are billions of humans on Earth. And they all look different? Where do they all live?"

    "Everywhere they can. Humans are a determined bunch, kiddo." Carefully, with Alec still in her arms, she climbed to her feet. "Here, I'll show you." She knew there was at least one forward-mounted camera on the headset, probably several.

    "Who is that you are holding?" Dragon's voice sounded fascinated. "Is it a very small human? Do humans come in different sizes?"

    "That's my son, Alec." Andrea lowered her head so the camera could pan with ease. "He's about six weeks old, which is why he's so small. When he's older, he'll be bigger."

    "Oh. Father says that when I get a robot body, I will start small as well. Is this so I can learn like a human child does?"

    "Well, to be honest, that's not a bad idea." Andrea scooped up the blanket from the carpet and wrapped Alec in it, then shoved her feet into the fluffy slippers that lay nearby. For all that it was late February instead of early January, and Brockton Bay instead of Toronto, the breeze this high up still had a certain nip to it.

    Pushing the sliding door open, she stepped out onto the balcony, holding Alec so her body sheltered him from the wind. "This is the city of Brockton Bay," she said, turning her head slowly from left to right. "Everything you're seeing on this camera, that's where fifty to a hundred thousand people are living."

    "It's so big," Dragon marvelled, switching her voice seamlessly to the earpieces, while the flip-down monocle eyepiece powered up with the same image as on the screen. To Andrea, this proved she was smarter than Richter already, given his blunder with the speakers earlier. "Bigger than Deer Lake, by a lot. Are all cities this big? Do all humans live in cities?"

    Andrea wondered just how much information Richter was withholding from Dragon, that she was asking questions of this sort. "No, hon, there are a whole lot of other cities that are even bigger. And while more people probably live in cities and towns than otherwise, there's folks who live on farms, or just out in the wilderness somewhere because they can't stand the hustle and bustle."

    "Wow. The world sounds really big and really scary." The white circle became a crude approximation of a human face, with eyes and a mouth looking like cutouts in a paper plate. "Can you teach me about it?"

    Andrea stepped back inside and closed the screen door. "I can totally do that, sweetheart. It might take a little while, though. Will that be okay with you?"

    "Uh-huh. Father says you're a very nice lady who I should listen to, and that when I get a robot body you will take me for walks."

    "Sure, we can do that," Andrea agreed, but made a mental note to request a sneak preview of whatever robot body Richter came up with, to make sure it wouldn't be as attention-getting as the Headset of Doom she was currently wearing. "So, Dragon, have you ever heard of nursery rhymes?"

    "No. What are those?"

    Andrea grinned. Her usual choice of ditty was a lot more salacious than what she was about to recite, but she was committed to this now and the idea of Dragon singing these songs over and over again in the laboratory was too funny to pass up. "They're little songs that children learn and sing to each other. Nice and easy to remember. Would you like to learn some?"

    "Uh-huh. Yes, please." The face on the screen was gaining detail and realism; it was still cartoonish, but now the eyes were moving and blinking, and the mouth was moving in time with Dragon's words.

    Drawing a deep breath, Andrea began to sing softly, as much to the infant in her arms as the burgeoning AI at the other end of the call. "Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall …"

    <><>​

    Brockton Bay
    March 12, 1995
    Late Evening
    A Couple Out on the Town


    The cab pulled over to the curb, near the restaurant. It wasn't truly upscale, but it offered good meals for a fair price, and couples could go dancing at nearby nightclubs if they so chose. Climbing out of the taxi, the male passenger offered his hand to his date. She favoured him with a smile and a hmm of approval as she accepted his assistance with alighting from the vehicle.

    It had taken a certain amount of effort to secure a sitter for their three-year-old son, but with the royal treatment she was getting from her boyfriend tonight, she was likely to forgive him his recently dwindling attention and see if they couldn't rekindle the spark they'd once had. He was certainly being attentive enough. She was looking forward to—

    "Louis, who the hell is this?"

    She stared as a cute redhead, maybe five foot nothing, stomped up and glared at her boyfriend. The little black dress the white woman was wearing clung to her like a second skin and left very little to the imagination.

    "I'm sorry, miss, but I don't think—"

    Her boyfriend's words were cut off by the petite woman's heavy sneer. "Yeah, right. 'Miss'. That's not what you were calling me last Wednesday night, when you were supposed to be at work."

    Naomi felt a chill over her skin. On that night, Louis had told her he was working late.

    "You're saying he wasn't?" she challenged. "So where does he work, then?"

    "Hapworth Construction," the redhead shot back. "Why, do you think you're his girlfriend?"

    Naomi eyed her rival with disfavour. "Bitch, I'm his baby-mama."

    The redhead's eyes flared as she realised she'd been beaten. She gave Louis a dirty look. "So I'm the piece on the side, huh? Well, you might want to know what kind of two-timing piece of crap your boyfriend is. Listen hard, honey. See if this sounds familiar." Leaning in, she whispered a few phrases in Naomi's ear.

    They sounded more than merely 'familiar'. Her boyfriend tended to say certain things in the throes of passion, and the redhead had just repeated them all, word for word. She took a step back, staring Louis.

    "Babe," he blustered. "I don't know what she's telling you—"

    "Shut up." Naomi had heard enough.

    "I'm done here," the other woman announced. "You're welcome to his cheating ass." She went to leave.

    "You lying bitch!" Louis grabbed her arm. "Come back here and—"

    Somehow, she twisted around and took hold of his arm. His feet left the ground and he came back down again on his back, hard enough to knock the wind out of him, if the painful whoof was any indication.

    Dusting her hands off, the redhead gave the supine man a look of deep satisfaction. "Been wanting to do that all night." She turned and strutted off down the street.

    Naomi had seen enough. Looking down at Louis, she shook her head. "We're done."

    Stepping to the curb, she raised her arm to hail down a cab. While she'd been expecting Louis to pay for the taxi to and from the restaurant district, she'd been cautious enough to bring along cab fare of her own. As for her now exceedingly ex-boyfriend, she was done with him. In fact, she was done with men altogether for awhile.

    The only one she had time for anymore was Terry.

    -ooo-​

    Andrea
    Twenty Minutes Later


    "I'm back. Was he any trouble?" Andrea let herself in through the front door and strolled into the living room of her old apartment.

    The sitter she'd hired put down her novel and shook her head. "No, not in the slightest. He went to sleep as soon as I put him down." She checked her watch. "Wow, you're back early."

    "Company wasn't to my taste." Andrea opened her purse and counted out banknotes. "I'll give you the full evening's pay anyway. Have a good night."

    "Oh, cool!" The sitter beamed as she accepted the money. "Call me again if you ever need a sitter."

    "Sure thing." Andrea watched her go, then went into the back room to where Alec was indeed fast asleep. She'd give the girl half an hour to leave, then she'd take him back to what she considered her 'real' apartment now. Much more comfortable.

    She had no idea why Taylor had asked her to break up a date between one Naomi Hess and her boyfriend Louis Patton (also, the father of her young son); the only explanation the instructional letter had given was, 'I refuse to deal with this bullshit a second time'.

    Shrugging, she changed out of the party dress into something a little more comfortable and less chilly, then sat down to watch TV (with the sound down low) until the half hour was up.

    What Taylor wanted, Taylor got, and it wasn't hers to reason why.



    End of Part 8-1​
     
  26. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    *snerk* All the people Taylor's helped... all the future lives she's made batter... but Sophia? She gets uncreated.
     
  27. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Know what you're doing yet?

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    Did Andrea just abort Sophia before she was ever conceived on Taylor's orders?

    That's one way to settle a grudge or end a feud before it begins.
    I do feel sorry for the guy she framed however.
     
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  28. kentter

    kentter Versed in the lewd.

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    From what I've heard in Canon he's an abusive piece of shit and Sophia triggers because of him hurting her. Wether it was sexually or not wasn't clear.
     
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  29. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Not as such, but he does leave Sophia's mom in the lurch when things get a little difficult, so Taylor's just triggering this a little early.
     
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  30. Gaemnomut

    Gaemnomut Experienced.

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    NIce update. I wonder if baby Sarah will be adopted as well. She didn'T grow up happy with her family iirc.

    I think you misspelled "errant" here.
     
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