1. Due to issues with external spam filters, QQ is currently unable to send any mail to Microsoft E-mail addresses. This includes any account at live.com, hotmail.com or msn.com. Signing up to the forum with one of these addresses will result in your verification E-mail never arriving. For best results, please use a different E-mail provider for your QQ address.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. For prospective new members, a word of warning: don't use common names like Dennis, Simon, or Kenny if you decide to create an account. Spammers have used them all before you and gotten those names flagged in the anti-spam databases. Your account registration will be rejected because of it.
    Dismiss Notice
  3. Since it has happened MULTIPLE times now, I want to be very clear about this. You do not get to abandon an account and create a new one. You do not get to pass an account to someone else and create a new one. If you do so anyway, you will be banned for creating sockpuppets.
    Dismiss Notice
  4. If you wish to change your username, please ask via conversation to tehelgee instead of asking via my profile. I'd like to not clutter it up with such requests.
    Dismiss Notice
  5. Due to the actions of particularly persistent spammers and trolls, we will be banning disposable email addresses from today onward.
    Dismiss Notice
  6. We have added another rule, please check the Rules post for more information.
    Dismiss Notice
  7. Due to some issues with Freenode, the QQ IRC Channel is moving. See here for more information.
    Dismiss Notice

The Body Shop [Worm]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by FirstSelector, Feb 2, 2021.

Loading...
  1. Threadmarks: Prologue
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Summary: It was just supposed to be a drink or two at Dean's Christmas party to mollify her sister, but soon Amy was seeing stars and getting kicked out of her house. Unfortunately, both rent and booze are expensive, so Amy finally gave in and decided to charge for healing — and modifications. And when Amy stumbled upon an injured newbie hero on her way home one cold January night, neither of them were prepared for the royal disaster their lives would become. After all, it made sense at the time...

    C/W: Drugs. Lots of drugs.

    This story was borne out of the idea 'what if Amy turned into a pothead,' and then rapidly spiraled downhill from there. To avoid the inevitable Skitterpan Bugpocalypse, Taylor triggered with a QA-derived Tinker power that puts both Bonesaw and Panacea's Corona experiments to shame. Part of the reason the story is told from Amy's PoV is that Taylor is busy Tinkering. Also, Taylor never encountered the Merchant tweaking out on bus as a child.

    More importantly, this is the 9001th story on wormstorysearch.com! Huzzah!

    Cross-posting this from Ao3.



    Saturday, March 12

    Missy glanced uneasily at the dilapidated buildings and dirty streets. On the surface, it looked like any other run-down parts of the Docks. Abandoned warehouses in every shape and size crowded together as a memorial to the lost shipping industry, casting long shadows for all that the sun was nearly overhead. Surprisingly, the smell of the pizza that Dean was carrying was the only prevalent scent.

    “Dean, something is wrong,” Missy muttered to her companion. “I can’t put my finger on it.”

    Dean nodded, eyes distant. “Not enough homeless people, even for this time of year.”

    Of course the empath would notice that directly. Missy shivered, even under her jacket. “You don’t think…”

    “I hope not. I really, really hope not. They’re not that far gone.” The grimace on his face betrayed his absolute faith in that statement.

    The lack of nearby people had a bit of a silver lining. Missy and Dean were in civilian clothes by necessity, and two kids walking around in what was emphatically not a good part of town were bound to attract attention. But, there wasn’t anyone nearby to notice them.

    Missy was ashamed to admit that she knew the way, so she and Dean turned at the same time into a wide alley next to a small-ish warehouse. On the outside, it looked like any of the other buildings nearby. But she knew that the main door leading into the alley was Brute-rated, and that there was a heavy-duty reinforcement behind the flaking bricks.

    Dean took a deep breath before knocking on the door. A minute later, it cracked open to reveal a displeased, freckled girl holding what looked like a Tinkertech shotgun. Her frizzy brown hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail and she was wearing an old t-shirt and jeans. Her green eyes were bloodshot and slightly glazed over, but they glinted with an unpleasant light.

    “Hi Dean,” she said sarcastically. “Still banging my sister? Oh, you brought Missy. Finally want to get aged up so you can seduce him? I’ll do it for free if it works.”

    “Hi Amy,” Dean replied, voice tight. “We don’t have a patrol this afternoon, so we wanted to hang out.” He held up the box. “We brought pizza from that shop you like on the Boardwalk.”

    Amy stared at them for a moment, clearly considering declining their offer. She rolled her eyes before pointing the shotgun at the ground and flicking the safety on. “Sure, come on in.”

    Missy tried not to gawk at the inside of the lair. It couldn’t be anything other than a lair, no matter how much the occupants insisted that they weren’t villains. Half of the room was the bastard child of an operating theatre and a particularly enthusiastic tattoo parlor. Missy didn’t know where most of those metal bits were supposed to go, but she was quite sure they shouldn’t be inside people.

    The other half was a bona-fide mad scientist lab. Extensive networks of glass tubes and orbs carried a veritable rainbow of glowing liquid around the walls, depositing it into waiting flasks or mixing with others before sending it away again. Piles of unused glassware and jars of raw material were haphazardly arranged on tables.

    Another teenage girl bustled among this part of the lair. She was also dressed in an old t-shirt and jeans, but her black hair was clamped down by a goggle strap instead of done up like her partner. She also sported a pair of elbow-length rubber gloves, which she was using to pour one bottle into another.

    “Taylor! Pizza!” Amy called as they walked past to the stairs. It was unclear if the Tinker got the message.

    “Uh, what happened to all of the plants?” Dean asked. Last time they had been here, which was admittedly many weeks ago, the “surgery” area had been decorated by a wide variety of plants that Missy was pretty sure didn’t exist naturally.

    That was, after all, Amy's calling card.

    Amy snorted. “We got a greenhouse for the roof, now that the PRT is officially off our backs.”

    “Aren’t you worried about theft?” Missy asked.

    “Hell no,” Amy laughed. “I modified one of the plants to produce a neurotoxin that will knock you out in three seconds flat if you try. Merchants learned to stop trying real quick.”

    Dean gulped. “How do you use it, then?”

    “Well, I’m immune, so I can get into the greenhouse.”

    Missy and Dean shared a look. “Why aren’t you worried about the PRT? There’s a special investigation and everything.” the younger Ward wondered.

    Amy snickered, which Missy once thought was a cute sound. Now it worried her.

    The converted living area at the top of the stairs didn’t inspire much more confidence in the alignment of its occupants. The main room was quite spacious, and they had installed a high-quality sound system and a wall-sized television. Three comfortable leather couches flanked a large, ornate coffee table, with the open end pointing towards the television.

    Attached to the living room was a small kitchen with two stools under an overhanging counter. It wasn’t one of those fancy chrome-and-marble setups, but it was clearly well put together. A few doors led to bathrooms and bedrooms. With any other occupants, it would have been a comfortable apartment for a well-to-do young professional couple.

    What ruined the illusion was the drug paraphernalia. Bongs, pipes, and other devices were strewn everywhere, half-filled with whatever plant Amy had dreamed up that week. Complementing that were the bottles of Taylor’s latest inventions interspersed among what Missy now knew were Tinkertech alcohol and other highly illegal substances. She had to push down traitorous thoughts about attempting to arrest them immediately.

    It wouldn’t work, anyways. Even without their numerous other tricks, the PRT was quite certain one of them had reverse-engineered the containment foam dissolving agent.

    Even beyond the illegal accoutrements, the room was still a disaster. Clothes were strewn about. The couches sported several unusual stains. Amy’s iconic robe and scarf had been tossed carelessly into a corner on the floor. Based on the dust and dirt, it was unclear if they had cleaned the place since they had moved in.

    Neither Taylor nor Amy made any effort to tame their shrine to hedonism when the group came upstairs. Thus, Missy had to pick her way around the table carefully before she could settle on one of the couches. Dean followed her a moment later, then started to rearrange things to put the pizza down.

    Amy disappeared into one of the bedrooms while Taylor rummaged in the attached kitchen. “Want anything to drink?” the Tinker asked. Missy could hear the smirk, even without seeing it. “We have water, some unidentified green liquid that I’m pretty sure is safe, and cocktails made from whatever else is lying around. I could also make a tincture out of this orange plant."

    “I think we’re both good with water,” Dean replied, voice stiff.

    Taylor started filling glasses when Amy returned with a framed piece of paper. “Ok PRT brats, take a look at this beauty of a blanket pardon!”

    Missy read the paper, and her jaw dropped. “You can’t be serious.”

    “Fuck yeah I am,” Amy said, radiating smugness. “Turns out that between Taylor and me, we saved enough people at Canberra that Costa-Brown bent over backwards to keep us around.”

    Dean glanced back at the paper. “Amy, this letter is classified. I don’t even think Piggot knows that you’ve been pardoned. Are you supposed to be showing this to us?”

    “Who cares?” Amy said flippantly. “If that investigation ever happens —"

    "Which it won't," Taylor added helpfully.

    "— you can tell them I showed it to you.”

    That certainly didn’t sound suspicious, but Missy wasn’t quite to the point of throwing Amy under the bus. Instead, she asked about the other issue. “What about Shadow Stalker?”

    “She followed me here and tried to kill me. Again,” Taylor spat, rummaging in the kitchen. “If Amy hadn’t already beaten her to a pulp, I might have returned the favor.”

    Missy and Dean shared another look, but didn’t say anything. The other Wards hated Sophia, but this seemed personal. At least Sophia was stuck in Alexandria’s boot camp for the foreseeable future. Taylor returned with water and plates, and they started in on the pizza.

    “Ok so I have to know,” Amy asked, mouth full of pizza. “What the hell happened during that scuffle at the art museum last weekend? You guys got fucking smoked, and not in the good way.”

    “Ugh, don’t remind me,” Missy said, facepalming. “We underestimated the Undersiders, pun intended.”

    Dean grimaced as well. “And we still don’t even know what they wanted,” he complained. “It’s not exactly their thing to show up and terrorize a charity cook-off.”

    The conversation turned from the embarrassing defeat to just general Wards gossip. Despite her abrupt and unpleasant departure from New Wave, Amy seemed vaguely interested in the well-being of the other Wards. At least, Missy and Dean were able to keep the conversation going with a little bit of effort.

    Taylor, on the other hand, seemed much more interested in the PRT’s recent failings. The screw up at the museum was the most obvious, but that was only the most recent link in a chain of failures going back a few months. For whatever reason, the Protectorate was struggling to keep order in the city. Missy knew this firsthand.

    “We sometimes run into… stuff, you know,” Missy pointed out, voice distant. “Apparently your purple plant thing is really expensive and hard to find.”

    Amy snickered again. “Hell yeah it is, you should see what we’ve got coming next. And thanks to Rebecca, we’re totally in the clear.”

    “Don’t you feel even a little bit bad?” Dean asked quietly. “I know Carol sort of just dumped you on the curb, but I’m sure you could have done… anything else.” Missy noticed Amy’s expression darkening at the mention of her adopted mother. The ex-healer seemed to consider that statement before shrugging.

    “Look,” Taylor said, voice exhausted. “All of our stuff is safe and non-addictive. We’re not hurting anyone, we barely sell any, and it’s an excuse to Tinker. Equipment is expensive, security is expensive, medical bills are expensive, and there’s no way in hell I’m ever joining a gang.”

    “And it’s not like I have anything else to do,” Amy continued. “Designing drugs is actually a fascinating puzzle, since you have to try them out to see if you got the mix right. I get more enjoyment out of an hour’s worth of experimenting than a year at the fucking hospital.”

    Missy didn’t really have an argument for that.

    “Every so often there’s a meeting about trying to recruit you guys,” Dean tried. “Even after the whole Sophia thing.”

    Taylor rolled her eyes. “We’re good. The PRT has nothing we want and a lot of stuff that we don’t. And I don’t think they can afford Amy’s time.”

    Amy snorted, then fished around on the table until she found a pipe that had purple plant in one end. She flicked her thumb like a lighter, igniting a flame on the tip. She used that to light the plant, then took a long draw before putting out the flame. “Ok, no offense to you two, but this isn’t a social call. Why are you here?”

    “How do you know it’s not?” asked Missy. There was a note of pleading in her voice.

    “Simple,” Amy deadpanned. “No one just visits us anymore, especially not heroes. Last time I saw anyone I could reasonably call a friend was Canberra. Before that was when I saved you and Dennis.”

    That startled Missy. She had known that most of Victoria’s social circle had abandoned Amy after she left New Wave, but that it had been closer to months was surprising. Granted, the public outcry when she stopped appearing at the hospital had been fierce, so Amy probably hadn’t really been outside much.

    Taylor was even worse off, if Missy understood the rumors that had come to light after Sophia’s departure. In better circumstances, she might have been relieved that they at least had each other. One glance around their lair was enough to dispel that notion.

    Dean looked away awkwardly, and Amy pumped her fist in the air. “Ha! Knew it. Cough up, Taylor.” The Tinker grumbled, but produced a wad of cash from her pocket and gave it to Amy. Were those hundred dollar bills!?

    “What was that for?” Missy asked.

    “Taylor here is apparently still naive enough to think people want to be our friends,” Amy smirked. She took another hit, then waved at Dean. “He’s only here for his mom.”

    “Not only,” he muttered, but his expression made it clear that Amy wasn’t far off the mark. Amy passed the pipe to Taylor and smirked harder.

    Missy opened her mouth to… defend him? What could she say? Amy was right, after all. As much as she missed having Panacea around, neither Missy nor Dean was particularly enthused to be in her lair right now. Maybe they should try harder to get her outside. She closed her mouth and grimaced.

    “Well, I don’t heal for free anymore,” Amy said, dropping into a businesslike voice. “Not money, not from you. Two favors, and I’ll do it.” Dean nodded bleakly. “One, your dad’s company has to drop Carol’s law firm.”

    Dean gaped. “You can’t be serious.”

    Amy shrugged. It was a foreign expression to Missy with regards to Amy’s healing. “Dead serious. I’ll throw in a five year rewind to sweeten the deal.”

    “And the other?”

    “I know you’re having a spring break party next weekend. Let Taylor and I do the, ah, catering. It’s a good opportunity to show off our new stuff.”

    “That’s a bit easier,” he muttered, clearly uncomfortable. “Ok, I’ll ask.”

    “Great,” Amy said, rubbing her hands together. “You know where to find me.” Dean grunted in agreement.

    They sat in silence for a bit while Taylor smoked the weird purple plant. The smoke carried a heady and slightly sweet flavor. “You guys want any of this? Older version but still good,” she asked, gesturing with the pipe.

    “We’re good,” Missy muttered. “Do people really not visit you?”

    Amy snorted. “Of course not. Who would?”

    “I would,” Missy said with a small voice. “I didn’t realize you were lonely.”

    Taylor flinched, and Amy leaned over and started rubbing Taylor’s back while shooting the two Wards a sour expression. “Just because no one wants to associate with us doesn’t mean we’re lonely.”

    Dean swallowed. “Well, if you —”

    “Shut the fuck up, Dean,” Amy snarled. “I spent years of my life bending over backwards, desperately working for the approval of a bunch of people who never gave a shit about me in the first place. It took getting literally kicked out of my home to realize that I needed to do something that makes myself happy instead. And now that I am, I’m not going to listen to any more sanctimonious bullshit about what I ‘should’ be doing.”

    Neither Ward had a response for that.

    “Well, it’s pretty obvious you did what you came to do,” Amy said, forcing the anger off of her face and standing up. “Thanks for the pizza, but we have abominations of the natural order to refine. If you want to help, come back after dinner.”

    Taylor waved the pipe at them. “And if you see Piggot, have her thank the Chief Director for us.”

    The Wards nodded before they caught themselves, then offered abbreviated goodbyes. As they walked down the steps, Missy heard a brief debate about whether a combination of two of their inventions would be really fun or instantly fatal.
     
  2. Threadmarks: Tryptamine 1.1
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Sunday, March 13 2011

    Amy liked that the warehouse didn’t have windows. She was never woken up early by the offensive brightness of the sun shining rudely into her bedroom. It also meant that her biological clock was fucked, but that was maybe to be expected.

    She groaned awake and rubbed her tired eyes. Her hand had turned green. Bringing it closer to her face made it glow brighter. What the hell?

    Meh.

    Amy tried to bury her head under her pillow, only to have the pillow disagree with a muffled complaint.

    Oh, right. Last night happened. That’s why she was naked under the covers. She felt her face heat up in the darkness.

    “Where’s my pillow?” Amy muttered.

    A voice from the edge of the bed answered. “Mrrgh.”

    What?

    Amy sat up and immediately clutched her head when a stab of pain went through it. Mornings like this really made her reconsider her no-brains rule. Once the pain had receded to manageable levels, she took stock around her bedroom.

    The first was that everything was glowing with a faint green light, just like her hand. It seemed to shift with her gaze, and rubbing one eye made it even more faint. Why did she try the eye-glow potion? Well, that was strange. Taylor and Amy had perfected that one early on, and they had stopped testing its interactions with new stuff.

    The second thing she noticed was that her pillow was in fact not a pillow but the newest Brockton Bay Ward. Flechette, or rather, Lily, was also mostly unclothed, lying lengthwise across the bed. Amy had been resting her head on the backs of Lily’s legs. Her eyes were also glowing behind their lids, nearly face down on the stolen pillow. Wait. Why was Lily’s hair multicolored?

    Actually, why was Lily here at all?

    “I hope we didn’t lose the logs, or Taylor’s going to be pissed,” Amy muttered to herself. She picked herself carefully out of the bed in case there were more undiscovered sleeping people and eased her feet onto the floor. A quick search through a pile yielded a wrinkled bathrobe, and Amy donned it before sneaking out into the main room.

    To her amazement, the clock proclaimed that she was up before noon. Just before, in fact. Granted, that didn’t mean much when their experimentation sessions could last several days, but it was something. Amy yawned, then made her way to the kitchen. To her surprise and delight, there were still donuts left.

    Finding a coffee-making solution that was technologically uninteresting enough to not be disassembled accidentally by Taylor had been tricky. Strictly speaking, Amy didn’t need to drink it to get her caffeine fix, but a cup of coffee had long been a fixture of her mornings. So, cursing Tinkers, she got down on her knees to get under the sink, then fished around for the hidden box of filters. Her foresight had paid off; Taylor hadn’t found this stash yet.

    Amy straightened up and idly wondered how far to fill the kettle. Taylor and Lily were still asleep, and she hadn’t seen anyone in the sitting room, but she hadn’t exhaustively searched the rest of the base. Deciding to err on the side of caution, she filled it all the way up before setting it on the stove.

    That set, she wandered into the bathroom. Luckily, there were no hidden surprises there, and she was able to reclaim a modicum of decency from the night before. Her eyes were still glowing, and would be for the next day or so, but that was expected. She returned just in time to take the kettle off, then used the pour-over and some of her custom modified coffee beans to fill her mug.

    After a quick peek into the donut box, Amy plopped down on a couch with a donut in one hand and her mug of coffee in the other. The smell of the coffee brought a sudden flood of memories, most of them focused on sitting on her couch before going into the hospital. In the relative silence of the lair, Amy could almost hear her voice, berating Amy for not meeting impossible expectations or being selfless enough.

    Well, the hospital was shit out of luck, now. Amy stopped hating herself for not trying hard enough to save people when it became clear that no one would try to save her. Mostly. She could get her being-a-hero fix in other ways.

    Speaking of fixes, Amy missed the blunt-passing organism. One of her more inspired creations, it had been planted on and around the coffee table when the latter had been clean, once upon a time. Plants didn’t have much in the way of instincts, and while Amy was perfectly happy to put up with her creations’ occasional missteps, Taylor was not.

    Bad day at school or not, setting her poor plant on fire was totally uncalled for. Even if it did stick the blunt up Taylor’s nose.

    Taylor emerged from her own bedroom as Amy was nibbling on her donut. She had not apparently taken the eye-glow formula, which confused Amy even more. “G’morning,” the Tinker said sleepily. “Do you have any idea what happened last night?”

    Amy snorted, then held up her left arm and shook. The bathrobe fell back to reveal an intricate black tattoo that ran the length of her arm. Taylor frowned, then walked over to investigate. “Huh. That’s clever.” Upon closer inspection, it was words.

    Amy pointed out one line, near the top. “According to this, we went out last night to buy donuts. We lost our notes but picked up Lily.”

    Taylor scrunched up her face. “Ok, yeah. I remember now, I seem to recall you just staring at the cashier while muttering about growing a donut tree. Lily, uh, helped us get home?”

    “The PRT unofficially asked me to collect you two morons,” Lily said, exiting the bedroom in a mismatched set of Amy’s pajamas. “Seriously, what the hell were you thinking?”

    Amy turned and smirked at the Ward. “Look who’s talking. Were you at least off-duty, or are you going to get reamed out for staying with us?”

    Lily blushed, which made her glowing grey eyes stand out even more. “I was off-duty, but they still won’t be happy. Aegis sent me like twenty messages last night.” She turned and went into the bathroom, only to let out a strangled screech. “What the hell happened to my hair?” Lily yelled, staggering back out into the room and holding up her rainbow-colored locks.

    Taylor shrugged and Amy held up her arm. “Haven’t gotten there in the log yet. I’ll let you know.”

    Lily tilted her head to look at the record-keeping tattoo, then blushed again. “That explains why you kept looking at your arm while we --” She clapped a hand over her mouth, then rushed back into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her.

    Taylor snorted. “I’m going to find a computer and see if any compromising pictures ended up on PHO. I don’t think we went out in costume… right?”

    “I hope not, it was just for donuts,” Amy muttered. Taylor rolled her eyes and went back to searching for her laptop.

    Lily eventually emerged from the bathroom to find Amy transcribing her tattoo into a new log book. “So… what did you find?” she asked nervously.

    “Hair will be normal by tomorrow,” Amy said, not looking up. “I think. Do you remember lots of colors last night?”

    “Hell yeah I do,” Lily said excitedly. “That was way better than anything we could get in New York!”

    Taylor looked up from the laptop she had located. “New formula. Turns your color vision up to eleven and adds in a bit of synaesthesia, along with all of the usual tricks. I think that’s why you took the hair-changing potion.” Her face screwed up, and she sighed. “Ok, someone got pictures, but it was just as we were leaving. Nothing compromising, except Amy staring intently at a donut with sprinkles.”

    “It looked and smelled so good,” Amy whined. “Anyways, I’m calling this a success. If we bring this and the eye-glow to Dean’s party, that will work great.” They would bring some of their more tried-and-true formulae as well, but the whole reason they were catering was to get some more extensive testing done. And to show off, a little.

    “Will you bring the hair color changing one too?” Lily asked. “It’s actually pretty awesome, now that I’m not freaking out.”

    “Sure,” Amy said. “Free advertising for the day after.”

    Lily smiled, then bit her lip. “So, um… do you do this often? I had a really good time, but I’ll admit that I really wasn’t expecting, uh, this.” She spread her arms out, taking in the whole of their apartment.

    Taylor shrugged. “Every weekend since we started… two months ago?” Amy nodded in agreement. “Amy told me she could work on plants, I wondered if she could make better weed, one thing led to another, and now I guess we’re PRT-approved drug designers.”

    Lily blinked. “I think you skipped a few steps there.”

    Amy waved her hand dismissively. “Whatever, we did some other stuff too. Not my fault that there’s so few good options for someone with my powers. Point is, this is way more fun than what I used to do, and it pays the bills.”

    She very specifically didn’t mention that it meant that she would never have to go back to that damned hospital for the rest of her life. Lily looked like she wanted to ask more, but thankfully kept her questions to herself.

    “But yeah,” Amy said after the silence stretched. “You’re welcome to come back whenever, if you want. I doubt the PRT will be pleased, but I don’t think they can technically stop you.” She blushed, which made her face look like a Christmas ornament. “And, uh, I had fun last night. We’ve only done limited testing on… that aspect, since Taylor doesn’t, uh…”

    Her admission stunned the room into another silence, and Amy frantically wondered if she should have included that part. She had, to her embarrassment, made notes during the experience. It wasn’t the first time she had done that, but she still felt awkward about it.

    Taylor's face did a tomato impression, and she didn't look up from her laptop. “Ok well, I’ll probably head home to see my dad tonight. Spring break week means that we’ll be busy, and he gets antsy if I don’t see him enough. At least one of my new ideas is going to put us under for a whole day.”

    Amy felt a pang of jealousy. Taylor’s home life was far from ideal, but at least she had one. Hell, it was only once Amy told Taylor about her own dad’s fate that the other girl realized that she should at least try to patch up their relationship. “Well, I’ll just be here,” she muttered. “I may have a customer tonight, their schedule is erratic.”

    “Toybox?” Taylor asked.

    “Yeah. Did you finish their order?”

    “It’s in a labeled box on the table downstairs,” Taylor replied. “Oh. Lily, you probably shouldn’t repeat that.”

    Lily rolled her eyes. “I was already read the riot act about you guys when I transferred in. Literally nobody wants to know what you’re up to. Officially, anyways. Unofficially, are you guys members?”

    Amy sighed and pushed a few errant strands of hair back. “No, but not for their lack of trying. We do a bunch of work with them, mostly because I want a personal pocket dimension and Dodge is crazy finicky.” Then she smiled. “Not sure how or why they found us. I’m not even a Tinker.”

    Once upon a time it would have been anathema to Amy to work with such a group. Black market mercenaries were only one step up from villains, after all.

    “Tech is good too,” Taylor added. “Bauble’s glasswork is the only reason I could mass produce the stuff that we brought to the Endbringer attack.”

    Further conversation was interrupted by Lily’s phone beeping. “Ugh, I need to head over to the PRT building. I swear, they always call at the worst times. It's like they have a Thinker power.” She stomped off to the bedroom to change, and Amy pulled out her own phone to see what was new and interesting today. Taylor started roaming around, looking for anything she would need to take home with her.

    Amy had barely started reading the thread about their donut adventures before her fellow experiment subjects returned. Lily was back to wearing her nondescript civilian clothes, though the illusion was ruined by the hair color. Taylor had decided not to take anything home tonight.

    She waved them goodbye from the couch before turning her attention back to her phone. Toybox expected to arrive in a few hours, and Amy had to figure out both lunch and dinner. Say what she would about her ex-adoptive parents, at least they kept her fed. Even if it was only to make sure she could maximize her time in the hospital.


    **


    “What in the fuck happened to your hair?”

    Lily flinched. The Ward’s common room had, unfortunately for her, been mostly full when she returned. She had managed to fit all of her hair into her hat on the way over, but she had taken it off by habit upon coming in. “Um…”

    A moment later, space warped and Missy was looking up at her eyes. “Wow, your eyebrows too? Why are your eyes glowing?”

    Dean sighed heavily, running his hand through his hair. “Oh god, is that what they’re bringing next weekend?”

    “Um, yes?” Lily replied. “The eyes and hair are separate. I think Amy called it ‘free advertising.’”

    “She would,” Carlos muttered. “Ok, well, we can’t send you out on patrol like that, so you’re on console duty.” He gave the new Ward a hard look. “You’re lucky we can switch things around this time. What were you thinking?”

    “Well, I took Amy and Taylor back to their, uh…”

    “Lair,” Dean said, voice flat.

    “Lair,” Lily continued. “They were pretty out of it, due to testing some new thing Taylor came up with. But they seemed kinda lonely. So I stayed and, uh, I guess I tried it, too.”

    Carlos facepalmed. “Ok, you were technically off duty. Even if you weren’t, I’m under strict orders not to learn anything else.” He sighed heavily. “I can’t believe I’m about to ask this. In the future, please avoid coming into the PRT under the influence of Tinkertech substances.”

    Completely legal Tinkertech substances,” Dennis helpfully pointed out.


    **


    Amy tried to stamp out her jealousy as the portal closed. Given their increasing frequency of collaboration, she and Taylor had built a featureless ten-by-ten expanse of wall in the middle of the workshop purely for the convenience of anchoring Toybox’s portals. Hopefully, once she built up enough goodwill, she could anchor her own there as well.

    The fast path was agreeing to help Cranial with her experiments, but Amy still had some rules left. So, that left her with healing and other services.

    But Amy hated being back on the beck-and-call for medical care now that she was out from under her thumb. She had refused, initially, taking only the highest paying patients on her own time and schedule. No travel arrangements, no concessions, nothing. She named a price, they showed up when she told them, and ten minutes later they were gone.

    Making people pay for her services had been much easier to justify when she needed to pay for room and board.

    To her surprise, people had nevertheless been willing to shell out absurd amounts of money to come to a converted warehouse and be cured of cancer or whatever. Anyone who tried to play scheduling hardball was dropped immediately, and her lawyer took exactly zero shit.

    Then, almost without realizing it, she had enough money to request the services of Number Man. Healing for money, even at her prices, stopped being necessary. Dabling in cosmetic alterations had been amusing for a bit, partially because it was fun to experiment with her power and partially because people had the strangest requests. She had even tried out a few on herself.

    So, now she could sit at home and do something she hadn’t been able to do in years: nothing. Amy only knew one person almost as antisocial as herself, and even Taylor was perfectly happy sitting around at home reading ebooks, trolling people on the internet, and imbibing whatever drugs were within arm’s reach.

    The best way to avoid feeling bad about not fulfilling expectations was to not have any at all.

    Unfortunately, both the Protectorate and Toybox had figured out how to take advantage of her new modus operandi: teleporting injured capes directly to her and paying in favors.

    ***​

    Legend followed the disturbance in the pre-fight crowd. People still clustered by region and team, but a pair of costumed individuals were pointedly ignoring the suggestion of pathways to drag a box-laden cart directly in his direction. One of those was almost instantly recognizable, even if her hood and scarf were down. The dirty looks thrown her way, unfortunately, fit as well.

    “Panacea?” Legend asked when the pair arrived, voice surprised. “What are --”

    “Healing, what the hell else would I be doing here?” she snapped, drawing the eyes of everyone nearby. Snapping at Triumvirate members just wasn’t done. Legend frowned, but not in anger. The wayward healer was accompanied by someone in an armored tie-dye lab coat and oversized goggles. Panacea’s partner shuffled awkwardly, clearly unsure about what they should be doing.

    “Well, we’re glad --”

    Panacea rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you are. I’ll be glad if you can get the PRT off our back.” There were gasps. Panacea, making veiled threats? If Legend didn’t know the exact details of her situation, he might have had to do something. “My associate here is Oeneus. These boxes are filled with three kinds of potions. Green vials grant temporary regeneration. Red vials will temporarily stop you from bleeding out or dying of organ failure. Blue vials give a durability and reflex boost. They all last approximately six hours.”

    Legend’s jaw dropped. “That’s… remarkable. What should we do with them?”

    “Give them to capes?” Panacea asked sarcastically. “I’m a medic, not a quartermaster. First two are designed to keep people alive until they can get back to me. Third should be generally safe, and I can fix anyone who has a bad reaction.” Then she turned on her heel and started walking away, only to have to stop and yank her partner’s sleeve. “The triage area is outside the Simugh’s Tinker-stealing range, right?”

    “We’re not sure,” another cape replied.

    Panacea sighed, her shoulders falling. “Fuck, ok.” She made a quick and heated phone call, and a moment later, a grey portal materialized next to the pair. Panacea gave her partner a hug, and murmured something into her ear. Then Oeneus walked through the portal, which snapped shut behind her.

    The nearby capes stared at the display. “What?” Panacea said, annoyed. “You really thought we would let the Simurgh get her tech? Trust me when I say you don’t want that.” Then she turned and stalked towards the triage area. She left nothing but shocked faces in her wake.

    ***​

    The Protectorate even had another card to play: Amy still wanted to be a hero. It was certainly heroic to heal other heroes, especially on short notice. She knew that the local Protectorate and Wards hated coming to their workshop, but they did it. Even the non-her parts of New Wave sometimes needed help. In return, first Piggot and now Costa-Brown had been willing to look the other way with regards to her slightly less than heroic activities. And Taylor’s, by extension.

    Amy gave the wall another tired glance before turning to go back upstairs. She wanted her damned private pocket dimension, but that was the one thing they never sold to outsiders. Amy could easily afford even the most expensive general-purpose spaces from Dodge, but the personal ones were greatly restricted. But Amy wasn’t a Tinker and Taylor was surprisingly secure for an independent. Worse, due to the necessary emergency evac in Canberra, everyone already suspected that they had joined up.

    If only Dodge weren’t such a pain to deal with, this would be easier. Amy flopped down on a couch, absently picking up a bottle of whatever was nearby and taking a swig. The liquid burned down her throat, literally, and she could feel her vastly improved biology complaining vociferously about whatever she had just imbibed. “What the fuck? Why do we have a bottle of lighter fluid?” Amy asked the empty room.

    Shaking her head, she actually paid attention to the next bottle. It turned out to be a tinker-made whisky that was definitely not legal outside of Scotland. ‘Talisker Super Reserve’ didn’t just strip paint, it dissolved the drywall beneath it. She pulled the cork out with her teeth and downed a significant fraction of the bottle. Her throat burned pleasantly this time.

    “Well, that’s better,” she muttered. “Fucking Dodge. Fucking Toybox. We can’t get the portal tech if we don’t join up, but if we join up we have to hide in the damn portals.” She did a passable imitation of Glace’s cold voice. “You’ll have to move anyways, once people figure out what Oeneus is capable of. You’d both be safe with us. We can help each other.”

    It pissed her off that Toybox was partially right. Amy and Taylor couldn’t camp in this warehouse forever, at least without doing some very dangerous stuff. Threatening a plague in the PRT district headed by the Ellisberg survivor was a risky gamble. And while Panacea’s reputation meant that gangs that attacked would face swift retribution, she was currently dragging it through the mud.

    Ugh. Joining meant structure and dealing with people. Maybe…

    Later. She couldn’t really make this decision without Taylor anyways. Now, she had to figure out dinner. Lunch consisted only of donuts, but even her nifty metabolism couldn't subsist on that alone. Amy made a mental note to buy two dozen next time.

    But before that, she wanted to finish this bottle. And maybe poke around online. She picked up her phone to read the most recent nonsense on PHO, but her thumb froze when it hovered over the messaging app. Taylor was busy, sure, but seeing Missy had been kinda okay. Dean, not so much, but there were other people to talk to, right?

    Her mind flashed back to last night, and she blushed. She had definitely enjoyed herself with Lily, but Amy was particularly bad at calling back the next morning. Well, Emily was out of town a lot, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought. And that time with Taylor…

    Well, that had been fun. Best think about something else. Internet time!

    Unfortunately, PHO could only hold her attention for so long. She hadn’t really been swept up in the whole social media craze, largely due to not having many friends other than Vic-- Taylor. Yeah. Maybe she could message her cousins? Crystal and Eric had been the only two sympathetic voices during the whole New Wave debacle.

    Amy’s belly rumbled, and she splayed out on the couch. “Maybe I should get a sunlamp and set myself up to photosynthesize,” she muttered. Having nothing but a bottle of whisky for dinner was not an experience she wanted to repeat any time soon. The mouthful of lighter fluid didn’t count.

    She finished off the remaining whisky while reading the cape rumor mill, then started to actually consider dinner. Like any other resident of the Bay, Amy had been to every restaurant on the Boardwalk many times over. Going through the mental list was slightly harder due to the Tinkertech liquor, but eventually she decided on Fugly Bob’s.

    Then her lips curled into an evil smile. Her custom high-density energy stores were running a bit low, in no small part due to being too lazy to eat for the past few days. And Fugly Bob’s had the challenger.

    Amy tried to spring up from the couch heroically before striking a pose like Alexandria. It didn’t quite work, and her lack of coordination almost made her faceplant onto the table filled with drug equipment. Her pinwheeling arms instead sent her crashing back down onto the couch. “Curse you, Gravity Man!” she sighed into a pillow.

    It took slightly longer than expected to change out of the bathrobe from this morning, on account of the knotted belt confounding Amy’s best attempts to free herself. Nearby clean-ish clothes consisted of more old t-shirts and jeans, so deciding what to wear was simple, and soon after Amy was unsteadily locking the door and activating the alarm.

    Amy sometimes wondered if people realized that the area around their workshop was cleaner and smelled better than the rest of the warehouse district. She knelt down next to the door and touched the moss-like organism that she had, for the lack of a better term, grown around the block. It couldn’t survive long without her maintenance, nor could it reproduce, but it produced pheromones that naturally discouraged people from congregating nearby.

    She wandered, somewhat drunkenly, in the general direction of the Boardwalk. Part of her desperately wanted to get jumped by some inept gang members, if only because it was fun to watch them go from overconfident to freaking out when the mousy little girl they cornered started breaking bones without really exerting any effort. Or she could try to get the fire-breathing trick right again.

    Alas, it seemed their test-run patrols were a more effective deterrent than expected. Amy wasn’t the only person on the dilapidated streets, but everyone was either coming or going. No one was sticking around to cause trouble.

    Then Amy passed a partially-destroyed building that had a trio of deep gouges along a section of still-standing wall, and her memory flickered back to the time Taylor had convinced her to make a tentacle monster.

    Suffice to say, she had been high. Chasing the damn thing down had been an adventure.

    Amy barely noticed when the pockmarked and uneven concrete sidewalks gave way to a wavy pattern of bricks. The Boardwalk extended a block or two away from the water, but it wasn’t until Amy was standing on the salt-caked planks that she was pulled out of her drunken reverie. The setting sun filtered lazily through the city, shining sporadic red-gold beams while casting much of the waterfront into shadows.

    The number of people out and about surprised Amy. She peered around uneasily at what might generously be called a crowd, looking for potential trouble. Spring break starting this week meant that Sunday evening was no longer constrained by school, which in turn meant that the crowd was bolstered by teenagers out shopping and enjoying themselves.

    Of course, knowing that this was true and experiencing it herself were two different things. Amy almost turned around to head back to her workshop, but she had been cooped up there for weeks. Sure, she went out for groceries occasionally, and donuts last night, but neither of those were going “out.” It just wasn’t the same without Vic-- friends, and hanging out with Taylor meant either working or relaxing in the base.

    So, going out and doing something it was. Amy clenched her fists slightly, then turned to start walking up the Boardwalk towards hamburger salvation.

    Amy had, once, envied her sis--Victoria. She could hardly step outside without being swarmed by loyal sycophants, all of them tripping over themselves to have a I-like-Glory-Girl-more dick measuring competition. Her costume was really just an afterthought, more useful for PR glamour than actual distinguishing between her civilian and cape personas.

    Now, Amy was never more glad that her old costume covered everything except her eyes. Even when her picture and information were on the New Wave website, her face was not what everyone remembered. Except for the most dedicated cape fanboys, the thing that stuck in people’s heads was the red-cross-on-white that was the universal symbol of help.

    She had practically torn that costume off after Canberra, and it had been collecting dust on the floor since. Thus, she could mostly go outside without being swarmed by her own brand of insane followers. Amy amused herself by thinking about beating up the violent protestors who demanded that she return to the hospital.

    Amy’s drunken wandering and daydreaming was interrupted by someone saying her name. It took two or three tries to get processed by her brain. “Amy?”

    She blinked a few times, nearly falling down mid-step while looking for the source. Oh, it was some Wards out on a PR patrol.

    “Are you okay?” Vista asked quietly, rushing over to steady her. Aegis followed behind Vista, frowning. “Why don’t you have a coat on?”

    “Coat?” Amy asked, tilting her head. Was it really that cold?

    “Oh gods,” Vista swore. “Are you seriously outside with glowing eyes?”

    Oh, oops. Amy giggled.

    Vista sighed heavily. “Aegis, do you have that portable breathalyzer?”

    Aegis dug around in a pocket, frowning the entire time. He handed a small Tinkertech device over, and Vista held it up to Amy’s mouth. The shorter girl read the output, and her breath hitched. “Amy, what the hell did you drink? You should be dead three times over.”

    Amy blinked. “Uh, half of a bottle of… something. Illegal outside of Scotland?” She tapped her cheek. “Oh, and some lighter fluid, by accident.”

    “Accident?” Aegis spat quietly.

    “It was the closest thing to the couch?” Amy shrugged. “Anyway, I need dinner. Want to come to Fugly Bob’s? I’m going to eat a challenger.”

    The two Wards shared an unreadable look, then looked back at her. Vista was obviously worried, but Aegis couldn’t seem to decide if he was worried or angry. “We can’t,” Aegis said after a moment, and it wasn’t clear if he liked that or not. “Just… be safe?”

    Amy gave them a crooked smile. “I’ll be fine. If someone tries to grab me…” She held up a hand, and a moment later a dozen four-inch long bone spikes erupted in every direction. “With luck, Panacea will be nearby.” She shook her hand, and the spikes retracted.

    An awkward silence settled over the group, both of the Wards staring at her with shocked expressions. Amy, on the other hand, was trying to get all of her modified bone structures in her hand back in place. The alcohol made it slightly harder to focus, but her power was really good at bringing her back to ‘normal,’ for whatever that meant anymore.

    When she was satisfied that her hand was repaired, she waved goodbye to the Wards and continued towards Fugly Bob’s. The Wards’ unscheduled stop had drawn a few onlookers, but it didn’t appear that anyone had recognized her.

    Amy’s path eventually drifted into the more shopping-oriented part of the Boardwalk. She pointedly ignored the storefronts.

    Fugly Bob’s was decently full, even at this hour. There wasn’t a line, so she shuffled up to the counter and made a show of looking at the menu.

    “Can I help you, ma’am?” the cashier asked. He seemed unnerved. Oh right, the glowing eyes.

    “I’d like to try the challenger,” she said simply.

    Her announcement immediately got people’s attention. Many of the heads turned her way, and a few people pulled out phones. “We’ll, um… You have to pay for it if you don’t finish it,” the cashier said.

    Amy rolled her eyes, then fished out three twenties from her pocket. “Here. If I finish it, I’ll buy as many milkshakes as I can with that.” The cashier blinked and several of the impromptu audience laughed. Of course, now that they were paying attention to her…

    “Holy shit, that’s Panacea!” someone said. “Where have you been?”

    Amy sighed heavily, turning around to face the crowd. She didn’t know who figured it out, but it didn’t really matter. “I’ve been recovering from Canberra,” she said in the most tired voice she could muster. “Do you have any idea how stressful Endbringer attacks are? Especially the Simurgh?”

    Everyone in the room flinched, and people who were holding their phones up slowly set them back down. This was a really underhanded tactic, especially because she knew that they actually wanted to know where she had been since Christmas. But Endbringer attacks were horrifying enough to shut them up.

    She picked up the little number for her table and sat in the most private booth available. A Fugly Bob’s employee came over to describe the rules, and she listened with half an ear. She asked not to be recorded, citing privacy and her desire to unwind, but they still took a picture of her and the meal before starting.

    Amy was halfway through the burger with plenty of time to spare when she had an unexpected visitor. “I know, I’m not here to help her,” Crystal said hurriedly to someone, and a moment later her cousin was sitting across from Amy in the booth.

    “Hi Ames,” she said. Amy held up the burger, then used her adjusted jaw to take a complete bite out of it. The motion would have easily dislocated a normal human’s jawbone. Crystal’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “How… what?”

    Amy swallowed and gave her cousin a smile. She still thought of the Pelhams as her cousins, despite everything else. “Hi. How did you know I was here?”

    “Well, no one has seen you for three weeks,” Crystal said quietly. “Then suddenly I get a text message that you’re wandering around drunk on the Boardwalk, and someone made a PHO thread about you attempting the challenger here.”

    “Not attempting,” Amy said, taking another massive bite. She followed with a handful of french fries.

    “I… see that,” Crystal muttered, averting her eyes. “Sorry, it’s a bit weird, watching you do that. Actually, before I ask anything else, are your eyes glowing?” Amy nodded, taking another bite. Recognition flashed across Crystal’s face. “Oh. Ohhh, Tinkertech. That explains…” her voice trailed off.

    Well, Crystal was known to hang out at the Palanquin. Amy made a mental note to message Faultline.

    Crystal shook herself, and peered at Amy seriously. “Anyway, Mom and Dad have been worried sick about you. They heard about what you did at Canberra, and the PRT at least confirmed that you got home safe…”

    Amy sighed, setting the burger down. “I’ve been busy,” she muttered. “Aunt Sarah has my number. Unless you guys have been getting hurt without telling me.”

    Crystal mimicked her cousin’s sigh. “No, everything has been ok, actually. I took a tumble, but --” Amy reached out to take Crystal’s hand, who nodded briefly. Her cousin’s biology popped into her mind, and she set about fixing a variety of small issues. “Wow. I forgot how good your tune-ups are.”

    “Go get a burger or something,” Amy said, pointing. “You’re running low on fat.”

    “That’s usually a good thing,” Crystal said with a smirk, but she went to order.

    Amy finished the challenger burger before she got back. The Fugly Bob’s employee assigned to watch her stared at her in disbelief, but she didn’t care. She munched on the remaining fries, trying to clear her mind. She liked Crystal, but it reminded her of the whole thing with her.

    “But you’re doing alright otherwise?” Crystal asked, sitting down with her own little number.

    “Yeah, I’m fine,” Amy said automatically.

    “You don’t sound fine. Aegis said you drank lighter fluid accidentally.”

    Amy smirked. “Yeah, I don’t recommend that. Seriously, I’m fine. No reason to worry.”

    Crystal looked at her, clearly trying to figure out what to say. “Amy, you haven’t been out of your…”

    “Lair? It’s fine, I know that’s what she calls it.”

    “Your workshop,” Crystal said heavily. “No one has seen you outside for several weeks.”

    Amy rolled her eyes, but her retort was interrupted by Crystal’s food arriving. “Untrue. I went out for donuts last night.”

    “That’s part of the problem!” Crystal hissed, gesturing with a french fry. “Every time people have seen you outside recently, you’ve been drunk or high.”

    “You only have two data points there, and I do get groceries occasionally.”

    “Goddamnit Ames,” Crystal said, rubbing her eyes. She went silent while trying to find the right words.

    Amy finished off the remaining fries, then drank the large Coke in a single gulp. “Well, that’s that,” she said. One celebratory photo and general announcement later, she was seated back in front of Crystal. The latter was slowly working on her own meal.

    “Um, Miss Dallon?” the employee asked. Amy swore under her breath. It was Lavere, damn it. “Do you still want those milkshakes?”

    Seated in her booth, Amy couldn’t see the stares she was sure that comment provoked from the other customers. “Sure. Four each of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.” Amy sat and Crystal ate in silence while the milkshakes were delivered. A moment’s thought tweaked her metabolism to more efficiently convert the milkshakes into high-density energy stores.

    Amy drank the first shake in a single drag, which finally startled Crystal back into the conversation. “Ok, Ames, that’s some bullshit. How?”

    “I’m hungry,” Amy said simply. “I haven’t really eaten anything for a few days.”

    Crystal groaned, putting her head into her hands. “Ok, you’re definitely not fine. You’re a shit liar, especially when you’re drunk, and everyone is worried about you.”

    She’s not,” Amy replied darkly.

    “Ames --”

    “Please tell me you’re not here to try to convince me to come back,” Amy said, voice dripping acid. Metaphorically, at least for the moment.

    “I’m not,” Crystal said, grabbing Amy’s free hand. Amy couldn’t help but notice that Crystal wasn’t lying, which is probably why her cousin did it. “I’m really not. Your friends are worried about you. Aunt, uh, you know who, she probably doesn’t give a shit. But the rest of us do.”

    Amy sat back, drinking her third milkshake. She was vaguely aware that the Fugly Bob’s employee was still watching, at least from a distance.

    She never gave a shit.”

    Crystal sighed heavily. “Yes, but Eric does. And so does Vic--” She cut off when Amy shot her a hard glare.

    “I could never tell if she was angry that I had powers or happy that she could exploit them so hard,” Amy continued, ignoring her cousin. “At least Aunt Sarah had the decency to treat me as more than the team healer. And she didn’t prostitute me out for PR at the hospital.”

    Her cousin didn’t say anything, but she squeezed Amy’s hand harder.

    “I look like him, you know,” Amy whispered. “There’s photos.”

    “I know, Ames,” Crystal said sadly.

    “I think she hates me almost as much as him. All of her bullshit obsessive lawyer talk about being a hero and not descending into villainy makes sense in retrospect.” Crystal snorted, and Amy cracked a microscopic smile. “Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on me.”

    “You’re not a villain, Ames.”

    Amy polished off another shake, then fixed her cousin with a stare. “Ok, look. How about we talk later, before I drink half a bottle of Tinkertech liquor instead of after? I’m sorry to worry you and Eric.”

    Crystal nodded, but let Amy continue on her milkshake warpath. “Can we come by sometime?”

    Amy’s brain stuttered in confusion, and it took her a moment to replay and parse the question Crystal had just asked. “You want to visit me?” Amy asked, incredulous.

    Her cousin hesitated. “Yeah.”

    “You seem unsure.”

    Crystal sighed. “Your workshop isn’t exactly a prime hang-out spot.”

    Amy blinked. It was kind of a disaster. “Oh, um, I guess I can try to clean it up a bit.”

    For some reason, that made Crystal smile. “So, see you later this week, then?” Her cousin stood up from the booth and collected her tray. She returned after getting rid of it, then motioned for Amy to get up. Amy stood up only to get pulled into a hug. “It’s good to see you, Amy.”

    Amy returned the hug, careful to not squish her cousin. “You too.”

    Finishing the twelfth milkshake apparently warranted another picture. Amy was sure it would all show up on PHO later, glowing eyes and all, but for the moment she didn’t care.
     
  3. Threadmarks: Tryptamine 1.2
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Monday, March 14 2011

    Finding a good couch was an exercise in balance. It needed to be supportive enough to sit comfortably while soft enough to provide a good night’s sleep. It needed to be short enough so Amy could sit back with her legs over the front but wide enough to have room for two people. Or three, depending on the activity.

    Amy sometimes found herself wishing she could have Taylor’s body. She could have it (and had, both literally and figuratively) but she really just wanted the height. It would be a trivial change for her powers, especially given how much other shaping she had already done on herself. But for some reason, Amy just couldn’t convince herself to make it stick, and so the couch was slightly too wide for her to sit back completely and have her legs go over the edge.

    On the other axis, their couches were exactly in the sweet spot of being comfortable for sitting and sleeping. Amy slept in the sitting room almost as often as her bedroom, sometimes even intentionally.

    Ah, having your own place.

    Her morning stretch included a crash, which was probably a bottle or two being relocated to the floor. She could check later, once she was actually awake. Luckily, neither bottle had spilled on her phone, which was a small miracle given how much junk there was on the coffee table. Amy grabbed at it, pushing it around with clinking sounds until she was able to get a grip.

    “Good morning, sleepyhead,” Taylor murmured from somewhere nearby.

    “Blergh,” Amy replied.

    “I thought we were going to share that bottle of Super Reserve.”

    “Blergh.”

    “I was tinkering all morning, but I’m going back out with my dad in a bit. I wanted to make sure you were okay before I left.”

    “Blergh.” The clock said it was almost 1pm. Amy struggled towards something at least in the same building as conscious, which rewarded her with brain fog and a vague ability to communicate. “Wha happen lass nigh?”

    Taylor snorted. “When I came in this morning, you had a visualizer on the TV, your 'getting high' playlist on repeat, had refilled the big bong, and were sleeping like you fell over while sitting. I think you mucked with the new version of purple plant, but you didn’t take notes.”

    “Fuck you and fuck your notes,” Amy muttered. “If it can put me under, it’s too strong.” Taylor was probably right, she was still wearing her clothes from yesterday.

    “True enough,” Taylor said, laughing. “I brought you some doughnuts and a pizza. When Dad and I are done, I’ll be back for patrol tonight.”

    “Blergh.”

    “At least try to be in the same zip code as sober? I have something tonight that should be fun, but you’ll need your coordination.”

    Well, that might actually be interesting. “Ok. Go have fun or whatever.” Amy’s voice was definitely not bitter. And if it was, Taylor would probably understand.

    Taylor’s chuckles followed her down the steps, and the clank of the door closing echoed back up.

    It took Amy another half hour to collect her thoughts. She spent most of that browsing PHO. Her appearance on the Boardwalk the last two nights spawned no fewer than five threads. The last one consolidated everything, including a few anecdotes about seeing her at a grocery store. Shit, there were pictures of her with obviously-glowing eyes.

    She used her official Panacea account to deny everything. Those pictures are definitely not of her, how could she possibly eat an entire challenger and then twelve milkshakes, doughnuts are bad for your health, and so on. She didn’t even get banned. Amy noticed that her private message inbox was filling up, but she paid it no mind.

    Eventually Amy dragged herself off the couch and into the bathroom. After her body had its say, she made coffee and located breakfast -- Taylor had brought her a dozen doughnuts, all chocolate frosting with sprinkles. Amy surprised herself when she fit an entire doughnut in her mouth, and she quickly reverted the changes from last night to her jaw.

    A fragment of the conversation floated through her mind while she nibbled on the second doughnut. ‘You want to visit me?’ she had asked Crystal. Apart from Missy and Dean’s unwelcome surprise visit, it had been the first time in weeks that anyone had expressed any interest whatsoever in coming to visit Amy.

    As much as Amy didn’t want to admit it, that meant she needed to clean up.

    Godfuckingdamnit.

    Memories of her demanding a perfectly clean bedroom surfaced, and Amy pushed them down. Squishing one let another through, of Amy being held to far higher standards than Vicky. Pouncing on that memory reminded her that no matter how much she had helped Mark, she always wanted more.

    Amy balled her fists. She wasn’t going to let her ruin this. Crystal and Eric wanted to visit. Of their own volition. To hang out or whatever. And that meant Amy needed to clean, no matter how disinterested she herself might be in the prospect.

    She briefly considered calling Taylor, but apart from the Tinkering space, Taylor contributed minimally to the disaster zone in front of Amy right now. The other girl wasn’t exactly a clean freak, and had never pushed Amy on the issue, but it really wasn’t her responsibility.

    No, this was Amy’s problem, and Amy’s problem alone.

    Damn.

    Amy wasn’t even sure where to begin. Did she even own a vacuum? She vaguely remembered Taylor disassembling the last one, and Amy didn’t know if either had bought another.

    It took another ten minutes for the fog from last night to clear up enough that Amy could start planning. Before she could even start cleaning, she needed a better storage space for the bottles, bongs, and pipes than ‘on the coffee table’ or ‘on the floor.’ The kitchen was clearly too far away, but there wasn’t any other furniture.

    Amy quirked a smile as ideas started running through her head. In the past few months, she had -- occasionally -- thought of herself as an artist, of sorts. Amy owed a great debt to Taylor for being the catalyst in this vast change in her opinion, if only because plants were a safe canvas for her art and not something Amy would have seriously considered prior to meeting the other girl.

    She had strenuously implied that using her biokinesis for anything other than healing was practically leaping into the arms of villainy. Rejecting that might be why Amy enjoyed it so much. Sometimes, she even wondered what her father would say. If he would approve.

    Thinking about her art reminded Amy of last night, and thoughts about cleaning and furniture design were thoroughly abandoned in favor of adjusting the purple plant. Prior iterations had more or less determined the set of psychedelic effects she had been going for, and now it was up to her and Taylor to get the exact combination right.

    Most of the chemicals had flushed out of her body by now, but Amy turned her biological senses inward. She navigated the room and found the door to the roof steps on autopilot, trying to determine what went wrong last night.

    Oh, the problem was likely that new tryptamine-like alkaloid that Taylor had explained. It wasn’t psychoactive by itself, but maybe in high enough concentration… Hmm.

    The greenhouse on the roof looked ordinary, but it was anything but. All of the glass was custom, triple-reinforced DragonTech lab glass designed originally for observation windows in testing rooms. The metal framework that held the structure together was some alloy that Taylor had been really excited about but Amy hadn’t understood. However, it was very expensive, and the greenhouse had survived every attempt to liberate the plants within.

    The tranquilizing neurotoxin that her vine plant emitted helped. The Merchants had, in a fit of competency, brought a Tinkertech lockpick, only to fall unconscious several seconds later.

    Amy stood at the door and looked over her domain, such as it was. The building was fifteen feet on a side, broken into three long, two-level tables. The middle table was completely overgrown by a vine with a dozen different flowers budding off of it. That was her easiest testing platform, especially for trying to synthesize new chemicals. The table to her left held various potted experiments, such as Amy’s custom coffee plant and a fruiting bush whose juice was limoncello, along with several plants that produced the necessary components for the drug collaborations with Taylor.

    The right table, however, drew her attention. Sitting in a line upon the top and bottom shelves were a line of individual pots, each holding a single specimen of purple and orange plants, respectively. Each had a number and finalization date, along with a small notebook of her and Taylor’s experiences.

    Amy let her finger drag through the purple plants as she walked down that isle. Taylor’s early insistence on reproducibility had long since borne fruit, given the complexity of designing psychoactive compounds. As each plant’s biology snapped in and out of her mind, Amy reminded herself how their particular cocktail of cannabinoids and alkaloids had evolved between generations. She also took a moment to make sure the plants were healthy.

    When she came to the last plant, she flinched almost as soon as her finger touched the leaf. No wonder she had been rendered nearly comatose by this iteration, given the concentration of the troublesome tryptamine and several other compounds. That was definitely not what she remembered from the last time. What could have…

    Oh. Next to the plant was a nearly empty bottle of Tinkertech liquor. Fuck. Amy had been designing under the influence, and that never ended well.

    Still, the new compound was clever and would probably play nice with everything else. If she could get the concentration right, they could probably finalize this version and start mass-producing for the weekend.

    A few minutes later, she collected a small handful of adjusted buds, removed the bottle, and double-checked the routine stuff. The supernutrient feeder and tanks were fine, and the temperature regulator was set, so she locked the door behind her and went back to her original task.

    Right, somewhere else to put everything that wasn’t the floor.

    Furniture was large, which meant Amy had to do battle with her eternal nemesis: finding enough biomass. Various ways to get enough to make a pair of cabinets bounced through Amy’s head while she ground the buds and rolled them into several blunts. She flicked her thumb and lit the first one, hoping that she got the new cocktail right so she could actually clean today.

    Amy puffed a few times. This was… surprisingly good. If she had to bust out the big bong to render herself insensate, a single properly adjusted blunt wouldn’t do much. But it would at least give her a baseline, and it wasn’t like she was some brand-new stoner.

    It only took a few minutes for the psychoactive chemical blend to get into Amy’s brain, and to her delight, she managed to fix most of the damage. She could admit that part of her wanted everything to be seriously out of whack so that she could sit around and hallucinate instead of clean, but it seemed she had outdone herself.

    Well, so far. She could probably sculpt the cabinets and get them moved in before she was too high to function ‘properly,’ as though sitting on the couch wasn’t a perfectly valid existence.

    Luckily, nearby dumpsters were rarely emptied on time, and she knew right where to look. A quick biomass breakdown and rebuilding session rendered Amy two five-by-three foot double door cabinets to house everything. She formed them out of an iron-rich wood not found naturally and embossed every surface with a pattern of vines and leaves.

    She had them walk themselves inside on their vine-like feet, because there was no way she was struggling with cabinets that large, super-strength or no.

    The new furniture was actually quite pretty, if Amy was being honest with herself. And making things was a surprisingly fun activity. She let herself smile a bit at the new addition to the room while sitting on the couch and wrapping the next blunt. Amy was reminded of one of her pipe-dream projects, a plant whose fruit was a wrapped blunt.

    Well, she was doing a terrible job at today’s stated goal. ‘Cleaning’ was only connected to ‘undo stupid adjustments to psychedelic plants’ in that she was cleaning while smoking. And while Amy definitely needed the cabinets, creating them had been an activity in and of itself.

    Worse, now that she had somewhere to store all of her paraphernalia, there was nothing stopping her from actually cleaning. Except, of course, her cell phone ringing.

    Amy eyed the offending device, but picked it up on the second ring when she saw the number. “Quinn, what do you have for me?”

    “Miss Lavere,” the lawyer replied smoothly. “I have been collecting potential clients. Would you like to treat them?”

    Quinn Calle was about the best thing to happen to Amy’s ‘professional’ life since she got her powers. For a quarter of the revenue, he was happy to handle all of the details concerning patients -- finding them, charging them, and explaining the rules. All she had to do was set aside an hour or two every so often and they both made a lot of money.

    It wasn’t like Amy had things to do, but she still weighed her options. “Sure, Wednesday 2pm. How many and how much?”

    “Four people, all various types of cancer. Two million for you.” Amy could practically hear the lawyer’s smug grin over the phone. He would make more than a half of a million dollars for probably twenty minutes of his time and an hour of hers. Cancer was easy. Cosmetic work only took slightly longer, since they had to describe what they wanted to her directly.

    “Good. Anything else?”

    “Nope. Have a good day, Miss Lavere.”

    “You too.” Amy didn’t have to fake her good mood when talking to her lawyer. Between the Number Man, Quinn, and some Thinker-forged emancipation documents, her little operation here was running surprisingly well. Quinn’s timely phone call a few months back had probably saved her life.

    She shook her head. Cleaning time. Or rather, finishing this blunt, and then cleaning time. Unless Amy or Taylor stumbled upon some brilliant insight, this may actually be the last revision of the purple plant. Even the taste and smell were pretty good.

    The nearest ash tray was out of reach, so Amy tapped the ashes onto the floor before remembering that they might not own a vacuum cleaner. By time Amy took the last hit from the blunt, she found herself mildly high. This iteration was definitely a success.

    Part of Amy wished that the couch was slightly less comfortable. She already knew the first step, but actually building up the impetus to round up all of the alcohol and organize it in one of the cabinets was more difficult than she expected.

    Crystal’s hesitation about wanting to visit flashed through her mind.

    With a groan, Amy pried herself off the couch and gazed down upon her domain. Then she picked up two bottles and brought them to the cabinet to the left of the TV. They were stashed on the same shelf, despite not matching. She even put a few bottles of Taylor’s creations that had been left upstairs in with the mundane alcohol. Cleaning was enough of an effort that organizing would have to be its own activity later.

    Before Amy knew it, the bottles in the living room were packed away and she moved onto the bongs and pipes. A bowl of sugar and some biokinetic cleverness yielded a bacterial cleaning solution potent enough to remove weeks worth of buildup. The smaller ones were dropped into the bowl while the larger ones had to be cleaned manually, and soon all of the paraphernalia was packed into the other cabinet.

    Of course, the main room wasn’t the only disaster area. Taylor’s room was her own prerogative, so Amy worked her way through the rest of the building collecting bottles and bongs. A missing gift bottle of rather expensive wine turned up in the bathroom, having long since gone bad.

    Amy’s own bedroom was a veritable gold mine for long-lost liquor. In return, she finally collected most of her wayward clothing from the main room and crammed into the overflowing dirty laundry hamper. Dirty dishes were returned to the kitchen, and the kitchen yielded a few more bottles for the cabinet.

    The workshop was a slightly different story. Amy wandered down to her facsimile of an operating theatre looking for misplaced paraphernalia when her mouth dropped open. “Okay, yeah,” she muttered to herself, taking in the sight of her workshop. “This looks bad.”

    All of the equipment and materials for body enhancement stuff could probably just be packed away or disposed of at this point. Some of Taylor’s sketchy-looking Tinkertech had wandered over, and that could be returned as well. The various full-body sketches for client’s modifications could be taken down. Tinkertech weapons from Toybox should be properly put away.

    Amy only really needed the operating tables and freezers full of biomass. Everything would need a good scrubbing for appearance’s sake, but moving all of the plants upstairs had made the whole area look worse rather than better.

    Despite her increasingly good mood, Amy grumbled to herself the entire time while working. It took the better part of an hour, but Amy’s half of the space resembled the off-the-books shop it was instead of a mad Tinker’s lab. Taylor would have to fix her half herself.

    Amy’s grumbles were cut short when she walked back upstairs and her eyes fell on her Panacea costume. It had been hiding on the floor among the other clothing strewn about, but now it was the last thing to be put away in the somewhat cleaner room.

    She stared at the dust-covered robes. Aunt Sarah had brought them with her during her only visit, right after Amy had quit New Wave. Her argument had been two words: Endbringer battles. Even Amy couldn’t argue against that.

    Sigh.

    Amy continued to stare at her robes for a few minutes, her brain swirling with conflicting emotions. She was cleaning, after all, and they couldn’t stay here. Right. That was all. The robes were bundled into her arms unceremoniously and hung up in the bedroom closet. In the back and without being washed, but hung up all the same.

    The bathroom got a good scrubbing next, although Amy cheated with more bacterial cleaning solutions. Following that was the kitchen, and Amy was halfway through making room in the dishwasher when her phone buzzed. Taylor was going to bring back food and wanted to know if Amy wanted some. An affirmative response meant Chinese for dinner instead of old pizza.

    By the time Taylor arrived with the food, Amy had finished the kitchen and was taking a break on the couch. “What in the hell happened here?” Taylor asked, staring wide-eyed around the room.

    Amy couldn’t help but smile. That was weird. “My cousins want to come visit this week, so I had to clean. I still need to vacuum, if we own one.”

    “And the new cabinets?” Taylor held the takeout bag in one hand while using the other to trace the designs on the cabinet doors.

    “I made them. Can’t have our collection living on the coffee table forever.” Amy was actually proud of her creations.

    “That plan worked up until now,” Taylor pointed out. She set the food down on the counter and started to unpack dinner. “I’m honestly surprised you didn’t just drink everything.”

    “What, and have none for later?” she retorted. “That’s no fun at all!” Amy rolled her eyes, then jumped up to claim a counter seat for dinner. “Anyway, how was time with your dad? Did you do anything fun?”

    Taylor froze, hands in the bag containing food. “Um, Amy… are you high right now? Did you invent some euphoric new plant?”

    “I… huh. No, well, not more than usual, but I do feel… better?”

    “You sound better,” Taylor said, peering at Amy’s face. “Well, hard to be worse than you were when I left, but you haven’t been this excited since you figured out that bacteria that eats containment foam.”

    Amy shrugged, then started opening takeout boxes. “Dunno. Making the cabinets was fun, and I whipped up a nifty bacteria that deep-cleaned our glassware collection. But yeah, I don’t know. Cleaning is a pain but it’s kind of nice to have the space back?”

    “Yeah I can see that,” Taylor said with a small smile of her own. “I’ll help you vacuum and stuff, if you want.”

    “After dinner,” Amy said, pointing at the food. “Gimme a set of chopsticks.”

    Dinner went by quickly enough, helped by both the fact that both of them were hungry. Taylor was torn between being highly amused and vastly annoyed when Amy revealed that she had modified the plant last night while drunk. That then degenerated into a discussion about testing and mass-producing enough purple plant for the upcoming weekend.

    “Your cousins smoke, right? And Lily? Maybe we can get the other Wards to help by arguing a public safety angle.” Amy burst into laughter, and Taylor waited before continuing. “It’s a shame none of us really hang out with normal people, though I doubt it would matter for this stuff.”

    Amy continued to snicker. “We could drop a message to Faultline, she has regular employees.”

    “That’s… a good idea, actually. Gregor would happily take notes for us, if we paid for their time. I’ll drop them a line right now, while I’m thinking about it.”

    Taylor took a few minutes to send the message, which gave Amy enough time to finish up her remaining noodles. Amy then surprised both of them by putting the dishes directly into the dishwasher and cleaning everything immediately.

    “I think we should at least vacuum and stuff while you still have the cleaning bug,” Taylor said.

    Amy rubbed her hands together while glancing around the room. “Just vacuuming now, and maybe wipe down the table? I’ll pick the couches up if you vacuum.” Taylor nodded and went to the utility closet. By some stroke of luck, the vacuum had not actually been cannibalized for parts.

    With two people, the remaining cleaning happened much faster. Amy and Taylor could each lift the couches one-handed, and they were done almost as soon as they started. They even found the errant log book for the new color-enhancing drug. Taylor looked around the room in disbelief. “I’m going to poke around in the lab for a bit, then I’ll be back, okay?”

    “Sure,” Amy said, lying back on the couch. She derived an unexpected amount of satisfaction from the day’s activities, and she hardly felt bad wasting time reading or on the internet. Not that she usually felt bad, but for some reason, she almost felt like she deserved this time off.

    Taylor returned some time later, and the two of them lapsed back into their normal evening routine. Amy sat on her phone and read an ebook while Taylor fetched her laptop and started working on something. They lit up a single pipe of the previous revision of purple plant and sipped a cocktail Taylor invented. Not much else happened beyond the occasional comment until the security system buzzed.

    Amy switched to the security app. The system indicated two inbound people, and a moment’s glance at the video feed revealed who it was. “I’ll get it,” Amy said. Taylor grunted in agreement, eyes not leaving the computer screen. As much as cleaning had put a spring in her step, Amy found herself dreading having to deal with interruptions.

    She let them knock on the door, then opened it a crack. “Hi Missy, Dennis.”

    “What, no wiseass remark?” Dennis replied with a wide grin. “Dean told me about the two-fer they got last time.”

    “I’m tired and spent all day running around,” Amy muttered, but she opened the door and let them in. “Ok, what’s up?”

    Missy was staring wide-eyed into the cleaner space, and Dennis was confused. “I feel like a victim of false advertising. I thought this was supposed to be halfway to what people thought Bonesaw’s lab looks like?”

    Amy fixed Missy with a withering glare. “Sorry, Amy, but it was… bad.”

    “What’s next? An underhanded Nilbog reference?” Amy spat. Whatever dregs of her good mood had just evaporated.

    “Woah, sorry Amy,” Dennis said quickly. “Everyone said you were wound up, but I didn’t mean it like that. My apologies.”

    Amy closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. Then she took another. Dennis almost never apologized, so he must be serious. “Let’s start over. Who’s in a desperate enough situation for you guys to show up at our door?”

    The two Wards shared a look. “Frankly? You and Taylor,” Missy said.

    Amy tilted her head in confusion. “I can say pretty authoritatively that we’re doing fine.”

    “Bullshit,” Dennis coughed. “Just take us upstairs and we’ll figure it out.”

    A dozen conflicting thoughts ran through Amy’s head. Why were two Wards visiting her workshop? Was someone else sick? Did the PRT ask them to come visit? Did they want to buy drugs?

    “Amy?” Taylor called, breaking off her chain of thought. “What’s going on down there?”

    “Nothing!” she called back. “Ok, follow me.”

    Amy led the new arrivals upstairs, but she turned when Missy’s breath hitched. “You okay, Missy?” she asked.

    “What happened to all of the stuff?” Missy squeaked, eyes darting around the much cleaner sitting room.

    Taylor pointed to the new cabinets. “Amy got into a cleaning frenzy.”

    “I see that,” the younger girl said. “It’s, uh, actually pretty nice in here without all of the…”

    “Drug paraphernalia?” Dennis asked, voice heavy with disappointment. “I’ll be honest, Missy kinda sold me on coming with the promise of a shrine to hedonism that would make Lung weep tears of jealousy. All I see is a single pipe!”

    Taylor snorted. “Well, you’re free to partake in anything you can find.” Dennis pumped a fist in the air, but Missy just grabbed him and sat both of them down on one of the couches.

    “So, what are you actually here for?” Amy asked, displeasure and suspicion on her face. “You’ll have to excuse my rudeness, given that two days ago you were here trying to bribe me with pizza.”

    “It did kind of work,” Taylor pointed out.

    Amy turned her frown to Taylor. “You’re just mad because you lost the bet.”

    “Oh shit you weren’t kidding,” Dennis muttered before catching himself. “I mean --”

    Amy rolled her eyes. “It’s the truth.” Missy tried to interject, to no avail. “Seriously, just tell me what you want. These drugs aren’t going to smoke themselves.”

    “I’m trying to,” Missy said, voice strained, and she sighed before continuing. “We’re actually here to hang out.”

    “Hang out,” Amy replied flatly. She traded suffering glances with Taylor.

    “Er, yeah,” Dennis said awkwardly. “I mean, we can leave if you want, but it seems like you guys could use some friends.”

    Well, there was one way to know the truth. “Give me your hands,” Amy said. The two Wards traded worried glances, and Amy was half-expecting them to refuse. She could almost see her two contrasting reputations dueling on their face. Missy cracked first, and Amy reached over and grabbed the younger Ward’s extended hand. “Why are you here?”

    “To hang out with you guys,” Missy said slowly. “You seem lonely.”

    Huh, she was telling the truth. “Dennis?”

    He repeated the gesture. “What she said. We miss having you around.”

    As unlikely as it seemed, he was mostly telling the truth as well.

    Taylor raised a curious eyebrow. “Well?”

    Amy sat back, studying the two Wards. She knew they were nervous from their biology, but they were both hiding it reasonably well. And Amy didn’t really know how to deal with the idea that they were telling the truth.

    Crystal and Eric were practically family, so Amy had no problems believing that they wanted to come visit. Case in point, they had visited on and off for the first few weeks after Amy moved in, but eventually school and New Wave stuff started getting in the way. And now that Amy had successfully cleaned the workshop, they might be willing to come by more often.

    But, other than Taylor, it wasn’t like Amy had any other friends to show up at her door unannounced to hang out. In a pinch, she could label some of the other healing capes ‘friends,’ but Amy only saw them once every three months and under extremely unpleasant circumstances. In fact, those ‘friends’ showing up randomly would be very much worse than the Wards.

    “They’re telling the truth,” Amy replied in disbelief. “Don’t you guys have anything better to do with your evening? Isn’t this spring break or something?”

    “Amy, this is the better thing to do,” Missy replied. “I kept thinking about what you said on Saturday, and I felt bad that you don’t have, uh…”

    “Friends?” Taylor snarked. “We’re not your charity case.”

    Dennis made an unpleasant noise. “Wow, prickly much? We went to school with Amy, and now we miss seeing her around. You don’t need to jump down our throats.”

    “Ok, fine,” Amy said, shooting Taylor a glare. “Fine. Let’s hang out, whatever that means. You probably don’t want to smoke or drink yourself insensate, so I hope you have other ideas because I’ve just run out.”

    “Can’t do that anyways,” Taylor retorted. “Patrol tonight, and we really don’t need a repeat of whatever you did to yourself last night.”

    Amy blushed slightly. “In my defense, I think it was pretty fun. I don’t really remember.”

    “Really remember what?” Missy asked.

    “Amy, in her infinite wisdom, got drunk and modified the most recent purple plant iteration,” Taylor said, giving them an exasperated smile. “Smoked herself into oblivion, which I honestly thought was impossible.”

    Goddamn it, Taylor. “DUI,” Amy muttered. “Designing under the influence.”

    Everyone laughed at that, and some of the tension seemed to leave the room. Dennis shook his head around a smile. “Every time I thought I’ve heard the end of your shenanigans, you pull out another story.”

    “How many have you heard?” Amy asked.

    “Enough,” Missy said, waving her hand noncommittally. “Nothing official, but even then there’s plenty of gossip that never makes it onto PHO. You guys apparently live interesting lives.”

    “I’m kind of jealous that Faultline lets you hang around the Palanquin,” Dennis groused.

    Amy wondered exactly what people were saying, and then wondered if she should be worried about it. “Sometime I’ll tell you about the time the Triumvirate teleported to right where you're sitting and poured a sobering-up potion down my semi-conscious throat.”

    That left mouths hanging. “Amy, are you holding out on me?” Taylor asked after a moment. “You didn’t tell me that one either.”

    “Later,” she said. It had not been her finest moment.

    The room lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. Missy and Dennis glanced around fitfully, clearly unsure what they were supposed to be doing now. “So, I heard you have a legendary collection of Tinkertech alcohol,” Dennis tried after a minute.

    Amy pointed to one of the new cabinets. “You can take a look, if you want. Fair warning, some of it is not actually safe for human consumption.”

    Dennis jumped up and dashed over to the cabinet, then started rummaging through it. He made various sounds of amusement and confusion while he explored their collection. Missy rolled her eyes, then looked back at Taylor. “Do, uh, you make your own alcohol?”

    Taylor blinked a few times, clearly not expecting the question. “Weirdly enough, no. I can’t do food either, so… hm. Well, I could make something that simulates it, I guess.”

    Missy shifted uncomfortably. “Ah. Is that why you stick to, uh, drugs?”

    Amy snorted. “What, finally interested yourself?”

    “It’s just a bit weird, you know?” Missy said, voice small. “Why drugs?”

    Taylor and Amy shared a look. Amy wondered how they got on this path herself, sometimes. Taylor made the plan sound perfectly sensible at the time, even though neither Amy nor Taylor had been really comfortable with the idea. But Taylor had convinced her, eventually. And, as they told Lily, one thing led to another. However, Amy was starting to get irritated that people kept bringing this up.

    “I mean, what else was I going to do?” Amy asked, annoyed. “It’s not like I was left with anything except my powers, and this is about the least bad enjoyable activity left open to me. If anything, blame Taylor for giving me the idea.”

    Taylor rolled her eyes. “Hey now, that’s not totally fair. It made sense at the time. Besides, we really don’t make that much.” Taylor shrugged and gave the Wards a bland look. “Or even sell a lot. Mostly it’s an excuse to Tinker, and the stuff we make is way safer compared to everything else.”

    Amy nodded. “Honestly we blow through most of our stash ourselves. Next weekend is actually an experiment more than anything else.” Then she gave Missy a pointed stare. “Why do you ask? It seems like everyone’s on my case recently.”

    “Well, we’re worried about you, for one,” Dennis said. “No matter how cool and safe your drugs may be, it’s wildly different than what you were doing before.”

    “Yeah and what I was doing before sucked ass,” Amy spat. “I’m having fun with my powers, and I don’t particularly care that the PRT has a giant stick up its ass about biotinkers.”

    “I guess…” Missy trailed off.

    An uncomfortable and awkward silence settled over the group, and Amy was having second thoughts about having people come hang out. If visitors were just going to sit here and spend their time criticizing her on account of society’s bullshit stance on her powers, then maybe it wasn’t worth having visitors. Thank god Taylor understood her.

    The silence stretched for several unnecessary minutes before Taylor looked up from her laptop and introduced more problems. “Amy, I want to bring them along tonight.”

    Amy jumped a bit at the question, then shook her head. That would practically be inviting disaster over for dinner. “Too dangerous, right?”

    “It will be fun,” Taylor countered. Her usual excuse.

    “I… are you sure?” Amy floundered. “I mean, we’re used to it, but we also don’t have anything to lose.”

    It went without saying that Missy and Dennis were already heroes.

    “So change their hair color or bodies,” Taylor said simply. “I’m at the point where I need people other than us to test these things, and I want to find some more challenging situations. Too risky just with the two of us.”

    Amy opened her mouth to retort, but nothing came out. Part of her recognized that this was really not a good idea, especially given what Missy and Dennis stood to lose. And while the Chief Director might cover for her and Taylor’s collective ass, extending that to some random Wards was probably not in the cards.

    Another part of her had to admit that it did sound like a lot of fun. And they weren’t ever really in any danger, since Amy was more than capable of saving them. The trick was doing it without anyone else figuring out what they were up to.

    It was just a question of whether or not the fun outweighed the dangers. For some reason, Taylor always seemed to think that it would.

    “What are you talking about?” Missy asked, curious. “Tonight?”

    Amy gave Taylor a long suffering glare, only to have her partner to smile mischievously back at her. She debated it for a moment, but Taylor’s logic held up. Mostly. Amy just hoped that they weren’t all going to regret this later, because there was no way in hell that Missy and Dennis wouldn’t agree immediately once they figured it out.

    Missy’s eyes practically lit up once she replayed the conversation in her head. “No way. You guys do independent patrols? How come no one ever hears about it?”

    Amy flashed her a sly smile. “Why would you hear about it?”

    Dennis immediately caught on that she was bullshitting them somehow. “Well, I’ve never heard of a Tinker matching Taylor’s powerset going out around here. And you’re nominally a Striker, right? I’ve heard about your other… tricks, but it doesn’t fit anything I’ve heard about.”

    “Admittedly, I have a wide variety of tricks,” Amy conceded. “But they’re secret for a reason.”

    “You’re bullshit,” Taylor muttered.

    “Shut up, you. I gave you a bunch of this too.” Amy smiled at their confused faces. “But that’s not how we patrol.”

    “You’re explaining that later,” Missy muttered. “But ok, how do you patrol?”

    “I’ll give you a hint,” Amy said. It was too much fun messing with them, but it would be good to get this information into the hands of people she trusted. “We wear the absolute minimal costume.”

    “Like a bikini?” Dennis asked excitedly, and Missy smacked him from across the room. It actually got a chuckle out of Taylor, which was saying something.

    “Domino mask, black hoodie, black pants, boots, and gloves,” Amy corrected.

    “That doesn’t narrow it down,” Missy said. “Recently, there’s been tons of -- wait.” Amy could practically see the gears turning in her head. Missy turned to Taylor, who was smirking behind her laptop. “Taylor… You call yourself a potion tinker. When we first met you, said something about an experimental regeneration potion.”

    Taylor hummed in the affirmative, and Missy’s eyes went really wide. “The way your potions work… do they grant temporary powers?”

    Taylor’s smile became positively feral. “Got it in one,” she said quietly, then spun the laptop around. It was a map of the Docks and Boardwalk, with a winding route drawn between known crime hotspots.

    Dennis whistled. “No way. You guys are all of those random capes we kept seeing pop up for a few nights and then vanish.”

    “What did you think, that we were some mini-Eidolons?” Amy asked sarcastically.

    “Actually, that was proposed,” Missy said with a laugh. “You’re driving Piggot nuts.”

    “So, want in?” Amy asked, hoping against reason that they would say no. “I can, uh, change your bodies around if you want extra obfuscation. We’ll do hair color no matter what, because hoods are no fun.” While the two Wards considered that, Amy turned to her partner. “What’s on the menu tonight?”

    Taylor looked up in thought. “I have a laser blaster power, telekinesis, super reflexes, and a shield thing that all need testing. Or at least, that’s what they should do, there’s always variations. They should all be fun.”

    “Variations?” Missy asked. “Actually, how dangerous is this?”

    “A bit, actually,” Taylor said, becoming more animated as the discussion turned to work. “My Tinkertech actually modifies your Corona Pollentia and Gemma temporarily to connect you to the temporary powers. We’ve only had a few bad reactions, but Amy always goes last to be safe.”

    “I heard about this, which is how I guessed the secret. The recent Endbringer fight, right?” Missy asked.

    “Yeah, that was us,” Taylor said proudly. “Worked great, only two serious cases that Amy cleared up immediately.” Amy was just happy all she had to do was clear out the compounds Taylor created to revert the changes. Taylor smiled that feral grin again at the Wards. “You should show Dennis the letter.”

    Amy hooked her thumb over the wall, pointing to where she had hung the framed copy of their official pardon. Dennis jumped up to take a look at it before yelling, “Bullshit! Absolute bullshit! You two are 24-carat solid bullshit!”

    “So that’s a yes to coming tonight?” Amy was a bit uneasy about this, but it would probably be fine.

    Probably. Damn you Taylor and your reasonable-sounding bad ideas.

    “Oh hells yes,” Dennis said, and Missy echoed him. “We can’t let you two have all the fun.”

    “Some quick ground rules, then,” Amy said. Taylor nodded at her. “These potions last six hours. First hour is learning how your power works, next door. Try to do all the usual hero stuff, like avoiding unnecessary force. All of your usual powers will work fine, but avoid them except in life-or-death situations. Worst comes to worst, I’ll take down all of the enemies and put you guys back together.”

    Missy and Dennis shared a look. “You can do that?” Missy asked nervously.

    Amy licked her lips while considering the two Wards. It probably wasn’t necessary to reveal all of her secrets. “Yeah, though I would rather not explain how.” At least, right now. The last thing she needed was more panic about her powers.

    “Well, that’s not ominous,” Dennis muttered.

    “Look, I can keep you safe,” Amy said, exasperated. “We do this for fun, to blow off steam, and to experiment. I wouldn’t take you if we didn’t have a backup plan.” The Wards nodded at them.

    “Last thing,” Taylor said. “When we get back, we’ll need notes from you on everything.” They nodded again. She held their eyes for a moment, then looked down at her laptop. “Well, it’s seven pm now. If we wait two hours, we can be out until three. Does that work?”

    “What do you want to do for two hours?” Amy asked their guests. “Usually we would smoke a bunch of mild stuff and screw around on the internet.” The Wards’ wide-eyed alarm nixed that plan.

    “Costumes,” Taylor pointed out.

    “Wait, you’re not going to keep wearing the clothes you had from yesterday?” Missy quipped.

    “We have extras that should mostly fit,” Amy replied, giving the younger Ward the finger. “Remember the series of changer potions?”

    “Ugh, don’t remind me,” Taylor said, hanging her head.

    “Ok, you have to tell us that one,” Dennis said, snapping out of his shock.

    The next two hours were spent sitting around on the couches and telling all manner of stories. Amy and Taylor provided most of them, including the several times that Amy tried to breathe fire only to ignite her hair. Missy and Dennis mostly contributed funny stories from inside the PRT. Amy did succumb to peer pressure and told the story about Eidolon and Alexandria teleporting into her room with a badly hurt Legend.

    ***​

    A gold flash enveloped Alexandria, replacing the howling winds and smoldering plains of Nebraska with the relative stillness of a comfortable apartment. She blinked, then started moving immediately. Time was short.

    Her target was a young woman splayed out semi-consciously on one of the couches. Due to the various states of undress or incapacitation they regularly found her in, Alexandria had to come first to avoid an overly inappropriate scenario. This time, at least, she was wearing pajamas, so the others could come in immediately.

    “You’re clear,” Alexandria relayed via her communicator.

    The second flash of gold light finally roused Amy from her likely self-created stupor. She turned her head, blinking in obvious confusion at the three Triumvirate members now standing in her living room. Well, two of them were standing. Eidolon was holding an unconscious Legend in his arms.

    “Wha?” the healer mouthed.

    “Panacea?” Alexandria asked, clamping down tight on her anger and disgust. She knew, better than almost anyone, that Amy was in a terrible situation. Everyone was withholding their judgement until Amy got back on her feet, but this went above and beyond anything she had seen or heard of recently. And it was clear that alternative measures were now needed.

    “See if you can get her lucid,” Alexandria said to Eidolon. The latter was carefully laying Legend down on the couch, who had been badly burned and shredded when the Tinker’s device finally exploded.

    Eidolon grunted in understanding, and Alexandria practically flew into Amy’s bedroom. It was almost as much a disaster as the rest of the building, but she didn’t have to search. Amy had, after all, both given them permission and explained what to do in this scenario. Alexandria flew back out of the room an instant later holding a small vial.

    “She’s unresponsive,” Eidolon said. He didn’t even bother to disguise his frustration. This was not the sort of legacy a hero should leave behind.

    Alexandria sighed, then uncorked the vial and poured it down Amy’s throat. Three seconds later the healer sat up and started coughing. “What in the fuck? What are --”

    Despite everything, the girl was quick on the uptake. She blinked at Eidolon’s glowing helmet, then immediately located Legend and started healing him. “Yikes, what in the shit happened here?” Amy muttered.

    “Tinkertech accident,” Alexandria explained. “Sorry, but I had to use one of the vials from your room.”

    “Trust me, I noticed,” Amy murmured. “Ok, I’ve got him stabilized, but he needs to eat immediately so I can finish up. Um, there’s pizza in the fridge, I guess.”

    “I’ll watch him,” Alexandria said. Eidolon nodded, and teleported back with a gold flash. She then stalked over to the refrigerator and located the pizza.

    When she returned, Amy had the injured Legend sitting upright. The rips in his costume still revealed open wounds or severe burns, but he was able to move slightly. Alexandria helped him devour the remains of the pizza while Amy went back to work.


    “Sorry about…” Amy said, gesturing to the localized disaster with her free hand.

    Had it been literally any other cape, Alexandria would have launched a verbal assault potent enough to earn a Blaster rating. But Amy’s goodwill, and much more importantly sanity, vastly outweighed any other concerns. The girl rivaled Eidolon in raw power, even if she didn’t know it.

    “It’s no problem. I’m just glad you had contingencies in place,” Alexandria said.

    Legend nodded painfully in between slices of pizza. “We’re thankful we can teleport here in an emergency.”

    “Well, I’m supposed to be a hero and all,” the girl said bitterly. “Ok, you’re almost done. Eat a bunch when you get home.”

    Indeed, almost all of the gouges and burns had turned back into pinkish skin. Legend was able to eat the last slice of pizza under his own power, so Alexandria stood back up and crossed her arms.

    “You are a hero, Amy,” Legend said carefully. He was well aware of the minefield he was about to step into.

    “Well I’m glad one of us believes that,” Amy replied, even more bitterly than before. “Anyway, the sobering-up potion won’t last much longer. Is everyone else okay?”

    “Yes,” Alexandria said, pleased that the girl still cared enough to ask. “We might have you check some people over tomorrow, if you don’t mind.”


    “Sure,” Amy said, leaning back on the couch. “Just call me when…” her voice trailed off as a large, loopy smile appeared on her face. Her eyes unfocused, only to briefly catch on the heroes before returning to the distance.

    “We should really do something about this,” Legend muttered.

    Alexandria shook her head. “I could kill Brandish for how much she screwed Amy up. I don’t think she’ll implode further, but we have to wait until she exhausts herself with these… activities.”

    “I think we should revisit the plan to free her father,” Legend whispered. “Maybe he can give her some structure.”

    “I’m starting to agree. Are you okay to fly back to New York?”

    Legend patted down his costume. “I feel great, actually. She does good work.” Even if they did have to rouse her from a drug-induced stupor of her own design.

    “David should have the situation well in hand, and I want to watch over her until she wakes back up. This is unusual, even for her.” Alexandria could use Doormaker to retrieve a secure laptop and get some work done.

    Legend eyed Amy, getting a green-eyed glance and giggle for his trouble. “That’s a good idea.”

    ***​

    Amy was surprised to discover that she was able to recover most of her good mood from earlier. Beyond the amusement factor, both Missy and Dennis seemed to be actually interested in what she and Taylor were getting up to. Even Taylor was getting dragged into their good cheer, despite her deep-seated resentment of the Wards program that colored her interactions with the others.

    They just barely noticed when Taylor’s alarm beeped. “Ok, showtime,” Taylor said, rubbing her hands. “Since I made them, I’m taking the shield one.”

    “Can I have the telekinesis potion?” Missy asked.

    “Sure, but only if I get the laser one,” Dennis replied. “I’ve always been jealous of Dean.”

    Amy had a sudden idea, since she was getting the reflex one. “Sounds good to me. I actually have an idea…”

    Taylor’s smile turned brittle for a moment. “Do I want to know?”

    “Can you get everything ready? I need to adjust a pair of pants.”

    Amy darted off to her room while Taylor took the others downstairs. The adjustments were easily made with a pair of scissors -- all she needed was a hole near the base of the spine. Going under the belt meant it wouldn’t compromise structural integrity, though she would need to wear them just right. And hope that the others didn’t pull on it too much.

    She got suited up, as much as their super-rookie costumes counted, picked up three more sets, then made her way downstairs while plotting how to get all of the changes right. Amy would need to adjust everything before taking the potion and hope that her power could figure out how to connect it all up correctly. Otherwise, tonight was going to be much less fun.

    The others were waiting rather impatiently for Amy when she finally came downstairs. Taylor had already distributed the vials, leaving Amy’s sitting on a workbench. “I’m going first, so if there’s an emergency I can help Amy.” There was a round of nods, then Taylor knocked back her vial.

    She seemed to glow for a brief instant, then she raised her hands. A flurry of semi-translucent, appetizer plate-sized discs appeared and swirled around her. “Good enough,” she said, swatting away the shields. “Missy, you’re next.”

    Missy nodded, and took a moment to ready herself. Then she tilted the vial back in a single gulp. She also glowed for a moment, then started levitating. “Woah,” the young Ward said, voice awed. Missy eyed the workbench, and one of Taylor’s tools started moving around.

    Amy placed her hand on both of them, checking that nothing had gone horribly wrong internally. They were both fine. “You’re up, Dennis.”

    He was ready, drinking the whole vial quickly. He glowed for a moment, then flashed a crazy smile. A wave of his hand produced a four inch wide orange laser that left a black scorch on the concrete floor. Amy verified that he was fine, then grabbed his hand before he could blow something else up. “Knock it off. We test next door.” He nodded, still giddy.

    Then it was Amy’s turn, but before she took her own vial, she had to do something first. Amy closed her eyes, focusing on the changes she wanted. She didn’t want to modify her own brain directly, but for whatever reason her power could hook up new things with no problem. “What are you waiting for?” Missy asked.

    Any further questions, and Missy’s presumed yelp, were cut off when Amy’s ears folded up and vanished. She could feel her skull reorganizing, along with the base of her spine. The tail was easy, and she could feel it practically explode through the hole in her underwear and pants. The ears followed a moment later, causing her skin to crawl around. The fur was hopefully the same as her natural hair.

    “-- the absolute fuck,” Dennis was saying when her hearing reconnected. Amy had a brief moment of dizziness as her brain adapted to the new location of her inner ears. Then she did the last piece, lengthening and strengthening her nails.

    Amy didn’t always like her powers. She didn’t even always want them. She had made it even worse, because healing was a responsibility that Amy had been made to bear. It hadn’t mattered how many people Amy had helped, or how much objective good she had done -- she had always pushed for more, made Amy repent for sins she hadn’t even committed.

    But now… Amy was having fun.

    “She didn’t take the vial yet?” Missy asked, eyes wide. “What the hell did I just see?”

    Amy held up one hand. “Meow?” She flicked her ears for emphasis. It had long been her wish that she could at least affect herself a little bit. Now she had it in spades.

    “BULLSHIT!” Dennis yelled. “Since when are you a Changer like that?”

    Damn it, they would ask that. Stupid, stupid. Amy looked away, face darkening. She almost considered not telling them, but they had already seen it in action. “Second trigger,” she muttered.

    “Woah wait really?” Missy asked. “Isn’t that --”

    “Super rare? Yes, I would rather not talk about it.” Amy then grabbed her vial and drank it. She felt the power take hold, then did a complicated backwards handspring with two twists. “Ok, mine works.” She eyed Dennis, who was already getting ideas. “No pulling my tail or you will really regret it.” His face turned to mock innocence instantly.

    Taylor rolled her eyes. “Time to suit up. Let’s go see how this stuff works.”

    The temporary powers worked mostly as advertised. Missy was capable of limited flight and seemed to have a total mass limit on what she could move, including herself. Taylor’s shields could take serious punishment, tested via some Tinkertech weaponry they had traded for some work earlier. Dennis’ lasers were actually quite dangerous at full power. And Amy appeared to have a bit of combat precognition, in addition to some impressive jumping power.

    A quick trick with some biomass coated both Dennis and Missy’s hair. Dennis wanted his bright orange to match his lasers, while Missy opted for black. Taylor pulled her hair back into a bun, while Amy opted for a short ponytail. The loaner costumes fit well enough, and after a few last minute adjustments, the four of them stood ready to set out.

    “What about names?” Missy asked.

    Taylor shrugged. “I think PHO calls us ‘the Kleos,’ after some epic poetry connection to Eidolon.”

    Amy smirked. “Yes, he knows it’s us, and since it makes him look way more powerful, I think he finds it amusing.”

    Dennis rolled his eyes. “Yeah yeah, you know everyone. Let’s go kick some butt before this wears off.” The others nodded enthusiastically, and they set off in search of butt to kick.

    Unsurprisingly, the area immediately surrounding the workshop was bereft of criminals. Amy explained the pheromone trick, which seemed to relieve the Wards for some reason. Luckily for them, however, an interface between Empire and ABB territory was not too far away. Even attempting to keep to shadows, a group of rookie capes would inevitably draw attention to themselves.

    Amy couldn’t find it in herself to feel sorry for anyone who mistook them for rookies.

    “You’re walking weird,” Missy observed.

    Amy scoffed. “Given that you’re floating, I’m not sure you’re in a position to say that.”

    “She’s right,” Taylor said. For some reason, she couldn’t fly on her own shields, like Shielder could. “I think it’s the tail.”

    Amy opened her mouth to retort, but a sudden sound cut her off. Her ears swiveled automatically, and she held up a hand -- and her tail? -- to cut them off. “I heard something. Drug deal gone wrong, I think. Let me check it out.”

    Before the others could object, she launched herself onto the nearest roof. With literal cat-like agility, her landing barely made any noise. Amy scampered across the roof, then found herself looking down on a large alley nestled between two apartments. Two large groups of gang members seemed to be arguing, and it was obviously about to get violent.

    So, she ran back across and motioned to the others. “Drug deal about to go wrong. Levitate everyone up here and we can get the drop on them.” Missy quickly did as instructed, and they all scrambled over to the edge.

    “Ok, what’s the plan here,” Dennis asked, quickly peeking over the edge. “Run in guns blazing sounds fun, but there’s like twenty guys with guns down there.”

    “I can levitate both Taylor and Dennis down. Stand next to each other, and if you can telegraph your lasers, Taylor can open holes.” Missy thought for a moment. “Then Amy and I can pincer them. I’ll get the back.”

    The others nodded, and the sound of gunshots started echoing up. Amy stuck her head up for a status update, but moved almost without knowing when a bullet grazed past her head. “Ok, let’s do this,” she said with a wild smile.

    Dennis and Taylor started floating before the words were out of her mouth. Amy launched herself along the building, dropping down to the ground with an unnecessary flourish at the mouth of the alley. An instant later, orange lasers started flying into the mass of people.

    Amy didn’t wait for the distraction. She jumped at the nearest goon, latching onto his shoulders with her claws. He shouted, twisting the gun in his hands skyward as she pulled him onto his back. As the goon fell, she grabbed his gun with one hand while launching herself off his shoulders.

    Her precog sense tickled, and she twisted in midair to let one of Dennis’ lasers fly past her and into the sky. She tossed her gun away before landing on the next goon, flipping to kick his chest with her feet. Part of Amy’s brain was fascinated at her agility, while the other part was already plotting her next move.

    Damn, sometimes being a hero was actually fun.

    The second goon was disarmed on his way down, and Amy raked her claws over his chest for good measure. Nearby gang members who turned to watch her were quickly shot in the back by Dennis, or were trying to shoot through Taylor’s shields. Amy cracked a smile when she realized that Taylor was angling her shields to ricochet the bullets towards the ground instead of into nearby windows.

    Amy twisted again, using her tail for balance, as another bullet flew past her and into the wall. She retaliated by leaping at the shooter, and he went down with a crack when she landed on his chest. Another orange laser sailed over her head, striking a thug coming up behind her.

    What little Amy could see indicated that Missy was doing fine on her own. There were fewer gang members on her side, but she was using the thugs themselves as blunt objects or shields to defend herself. The gang members were, apparently, unwilling to shoot their comrades. Dennis was willing, though, and Missy would occasionally trip them so that they would get hit by his lasers.

    All the while, Taylor was using her shields to defend herself and Dennis while pulling the dropped firearms into a pile at her feet.

    Amy ducked again as a bullet whizzed past her ear, and she jumped straight up to a fire escape. The confused thug that tried to follow her with his gun suddenly fell over, but he wasn’t Amy’s primary concern. Now that she was up and above, she could see that reinforcements were coming.

    “Rune, Alabaster, and Krieg inbound!” she yelled, and her teammates nodded. The last two standing thugs were distracted enough that Dennis was able to shoot the guns right out of their hands.

    “Are we staying?” Taylor asked. “I think we stand a good chance against them. Worst comes to worst, we run.”

    Amy considered that, but everyone else gave a thumbs-up. “Ok, I guess we’re doing this.” Taylor’s smile in return was worrying.

    The three Empire capes were flying in on Rune’s platforms. Amy waited until they were just near enough, then tapped into her high-density stores and uncoiled her legs. The fire escape groaned upon her sudden departure, and an instant later she had her claws out and into Alabaster. She twisted in midair and landed on him when they hit the ground.

    Rune and Krieg looked momentarily confused when he was displaced, which gave Dennis an opening. A flurry of orange lasers shot above them, and they had to dodge.

    “It’s those fucking rookies,” Rune spat. “I’m sick of their shit! Get them!”

    Amy was aware of Alabaster resetting a few seconds later, and he threw her off him when he stood up. Amy flipped in midair, slightly slower than before, but managed to land with her feet.

    “Fuckin’ freaks,” Alabaster said, then swung at her with his fists. Even with Krieg’s slow aura, it was trivial to dodge his attacks. In return, she laid into him with her claws, leaving terrible gashes on his body and face. For a moment, she could see why Glory Girl was so obsessed with fighting him.

    The rest of the battle was slightly more interesting. Missy and Rune were trading potshots with whatever rubble was nearby while Taylor was trying to fend off both Krieg’s punches and the occasional shot from Rune. Dennis was trying to fire at both, but they were too quick for him.

    Alabaster made another swing, and Amy leapt over him and jumped off his shoulders to get closer to the others. She unconsciously dodged something flung by Rune, then tackled Missy to the ground just as a bigger piece followed.

    “Get in the air,” Amy hissed. “Stop being a target.” Missy nodded, then threw herself into the air and went after Rune.

    The airborne battle took some of the pressure off of Taylor, but Krieg was still moving too fast. He managed to get a good hit in on Dennis, who flew backwards into a wall. Taylor staved off the next hit, but at the cost of getting knocked down herself.

    Amy leapt across the battlefield and intercepted him. She flashed her claws, standing over the other two.

    “You have to be kidding me,” the Nazi muttered. He pulled a knife from somewhere and tried to gut Amy.

    This fight was much more interesting. The slow aura was much more pronounced now, and it was all her slight precog was able to do to keep the knife away. She left a few gouges on his hand, but in response she got a pair of nasty cuts on her arm.

    She let them bleed for a bit, even though she dulled the pain. Revealing her healing factor was probably a bad idea.

    They continued to dance, trading small cuts. Alabaster had gotten up, and Dennis was doing his damnedest to smite the regenerating cape. His orange beams punched right through Alabaster and left a smoldering trail on the ground, but it would only keep the Nazi cape down for a few seconds.

    Amy suddenly leapt backwards, and it wasn’t until an injured Missy fell into her arms that she knew why. A moment later one of Rune’s projectiles exploded on Taylor’s shield. She also intercepted a blow from Krieg, but the Nazis were making up lost ground. Amy took another step backwards just as Dennis threw another blast at Alabaster. Rune brought her platform closer to the ground, a sinister smile plastered on her face.

    Amy felt Missy twist in her arms, and a grin spread on her face. A strangled cry from above indicated Rune falling from her platform, and the Nazi girl fell the six feet to the ground. A flurry of detritus flew at the group, only intercepted by a group of Taylor’s shields. Several chunks still got through, leaving marks on everyone. Amy set Missy down between her and Taylor, then turned to face the others.

    Krieg helped Rune to her feet while Alabaster ran over to the others. Dennis lowered his hand, twitching in pain while he did. A stray laser would easily kill the other two.

    “Not a bad showing,” Krieg murmured. He suddenly surged towards Amy, Taylor’s shield appearing behind him due to his speed. Amy tensed herself, but she was only able to barely tear into his chest before being slammed into the wall behind her.

    Even with her enhanced biology and preparing to take the hit, it still hurt. Her power went immediately into fixing the damaged everything, and Krieg raised his hand dramatically to strike her. However, a muffled thump behind him drew his eyes instead.

    Alabaster was gone in a blast of gold and white, exploding against a far wall an instant later. Krieg immediately stepped back from Amy, then ran to Rune. The younger Nazi had backed the other three into a corner and was keeping up a constant barrage on Taylor’s shields. Missy would fire a few back, but it wasn’t enough.

    “They’re done, get us out of here,” Krieg said. Rune frowned at the pinned group, but nevertheless picked up a piece of asphalt and flew over to Alabaster. The new cape ignored them, opting instead to check on the “rookies.” The Nazis flew off.

    Fuck.

    “Well, you guys are lucky I was here,” Vicky said. Her aura was giving off concern. “PRT is already on the way.”

    Double fuck.

    Amy leapt over to the other three. “Give us some cover with shields,” she said, and Taylor made a whole flurry appear. Amy reached out and quickly healed her teammates and let her power finish healing her own wounds. “We need to go, stat.”

    The others stood up and ran their hands over their damaged costumes before nodding.

    “Wait,” Vicky called. “Stop running off like this! You need to give a statement!”

    “No thanks,” Amy yelled back, and immediately leapt onto the nearest roof. Dennis and Taylor were tossed up rather unceremoniously, and Missy followed. The four of them immediately darted away from the scene, running as fast as possible on the dark roof.

    This wasn’t exactly the life-or-death situation Amy had in mind, but it was close enough. “Missy, stretch space so we can start skipping rooftops.” The younger cape let out a surprised squeak, but the rooftop was suddenly much shorter. And the gap to the next one was a trivial jump instead of needing to levitate over an alley.

    Three roofs later, they found themselves hiding behind an air conditioner on top of an abandoned warehouse. Taylor held up a hand. “I think we’re good here,” she said, looking around. “Let’s stop to get our bearings.”

    A few minutes of catching breath later, Taylor was proven wrong when Vicky landed next to them with a thump. “Ok, you four need to explain yourselves,” she said sternly. Her aura was in full display, demanding their subservience.

    Luckily, the other stayed silent, because it gave Amy a chance to plan.

    Amy definitely, absolutely, completely did not want to deal with this right now. Vicky had betrayed her, and it stung all the worse because she was, at that point, the only person Amy knew that loved her. That Amy loved her back, inappropriately, made it hurt all the worse when Vicky had taken her side during the argument.

    It would be vastly easier just to run. Amy wouldn’t trust her powers to make a knockout gas, lest her anger or infatuation do something horrible to everyone nearby.

    Running away it was.

    “Again, no thanks,” Amy retorted. She tried to walk away, but Vicky reached out and grabbed her tail. “Ow! Vicky, that hurt!”

    Fuck.

    Vicky released Amy’s tail like it was a snake. “Amy?” she asked, incredulous.

    Godfuckingdamnit.

    Amy turned to face the taller girl, and recognition dawned on Vicky’s face. Then Vicky turned to look at the others, eyes flicking over their height and hair. “Ok, what in the everliving fuck are you guys doing?” she asked slowly.

    Amy ignored her, like she was supposed to be doing. “Can you three get back to base for debrief? And probably drinks?”

    “Yeah, we’re actually not that far,” Taylor said, holding up her phone. She led the other two over to a ledge, and Missy crunched space so they could escape faster.

    “You have some explaining to do,” Vicky said. “Are you starting a new team or something? And what happened to your body?”

    Goddamn it, go away Vicky.

    “You’re not supposed to interact with me,” Amy retorted.

    “I don’t give a damn. I’ve been talking to some people, and I’m worried about you.”

    Amy very specifically didn’t want Vicky worrying about her. Because if she worried, that meant she cared. But if she cared, why didn’t she stand up to her? Amy set a frown on her face and stared at Vicky. Her tail flicked around in annoyance.

    “Amy, please?”

    “Shouldn’t you be calling me Amelia?” Amy spat. “What with me being the daughter of a supervillain and all?”

    Vicky flinched. “I’m so--”

    “Don’t!” Amy yelled. “No. Conversation over.” She ran to the ledge where the others had left and vaulted herself across the gap.

    Of course, Vicky was there on the other side. She was going to make this as difficult as possible. “How the hell did you do that?” Vicky asked, eyes wide.

    “Go away, Vicky,” Amy said, voice hard.

    “No. Not until I know you’re ok.”

    Amy sighed in frustration. “Fine, I’m ok. Can I go now?”

    “You’re clearly not ok.” Vicky looked her up and down. “That costume actually fits you. Which means that you do this often.”

    Amy said nothing. Part of her wanted to break down utterly and sob into Vicky’s dress while admitting everything. The rest of her wanted to take that part out back and shoot it.

    “There’s been a bunch of sightings of independent heroes in this area. Always dressed like rookies, but with a wide variety of powers.” Vicky tapped her cheek. “Oftentimes it’s two girls. One of them matches your description, but your old costume is pretty concealing. I wouldn’t have even considered that it could be you.”

    Amy frowned, but said nothing. Her tail continued to flick in annoyance.

    “So the other is your super secret Tinker partner, whose only public appearance was during the Endbringer attack.”

    “Fuck you, Vicky. Fuck you with a rake,” Amy said, suddenly exhausted. “I’m going home now, stop following me.”

    “But Amy,” she tried.

    “No! You’ve already ruined enough tonight. Go away.”

    Amy set off across the rooftops without bothering to check if Vicky was following her. She put as many twists and flips into her vaulting leaps as she could, in an attempt to distract herself. This power was fun, especially with the extra balance that the tail gave her. And since it looked like they were done for the night, this would likely be her last chance to play with it for a while.

    Sailing through the air on her impossible jumps was not quite as good as flying, but she enjoyed it almost as much. Even if her hair did tickle her ears in a funny way. Landing and rolling naturally was also cool, especially since she could leap out of it and keep going. She only had to cheat with her enhanced muscles once, to make a particularly wide leap. Admittedly, that was the most fun jump of the trip.

    Her enhanced speed put her at the workshop door within minutes of dealing with Vicky. Amy vaulted up the steps with a frontflip, then walked into the sitting room to find everyone already recording their experiences. Amy made a beeline for the liquor cabinet before stopping short.

    “You ok?” Taylor asked.

    “No,” Amy sighed. She should really revert her body back to normal before starting to drink, to avoid any unpleasant side effects. Amy barely had to concentrate to bring her body back to normal, but as soon as she did, she nearly fell over.

    However, just as she was about to fall, her enhanced reflexes kicked in and she merely stumbled. She felt the power attempt to correct the motion with her nonexistent tail, and she almost fell a second time. Taylor jumped up from the couch to catch her, and once Amy was mostly stable she returned the tail and cat ears.

    “Well that’s a pain,” she muttered, pushing off of Taylor to stand up straight. Her tail flicked around, mirroring her irritation.

    Taylor poked at her ear. It tickled. “Interesting data point, though.”

    Amy shrugged before walking over to the liquor cabinet and rummaging around in it. She pulled out two bottles, one that was reasonable and another that definitely wasn’t. Cups, she decided, were unnecessary, and she fell down on the couch next to Dennis.

    “Well, congratulations,” Amy declared, proffering the reasonable bottle and taking a long quaff out of the other. “We fought those Empire bastards and survived.”

    The others just eyed the two bottles. “Do you always celebrate by drinking?” Missy asked.

    “Hell no,” Amy shot back. “I’m drinking to forget that I had to deal with my, uh, Vicky.” She took another long drag from the unreasonable bottle. “Let me fix your hair, then I’m going to bed.”

    Amy ran her hands through the Wards’ hair, dissolving the hair coloring organism. “Ok, good enough,” she muttered. Then Amy picked up her bottle and shuffled to her bedroom.

    “Thanks for letting us come along,” Missy called. “That was awesome.”

    Amy paused at the door to her bedroom, but didn’t look back. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “It was fun, until the end.” She almost closed the door on her tail.

    The others were only mildly surprised when Lily showed up twenty minutes later, looking for Amy.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2021
  4. Threadmarks: Tryptamine 1.3
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Tuesday, March 15 2011

    Amy half woke up to the most pleasant sensation she had experienced since… well, the night before, certainly. But it was a supremely relaxing feeling despite being strange for reasons she couldn’t quite place.

    Oh well, maybe she could figure it out later. She snuggled further into her pillow. That seemed to increase the intensity of the pleasant sensation.

    “I’m surprised you’re not purring,” whispered a teasing voice.

    “Too… mmm, complicated,” Amy whispered back, humming in appreciation to whatever was happening.

    “It’s a shame you can’t go outside like this now,” the voice murmured. “What with that video of you guys fighting with Nazis.”

    Amy blinked more fully awake and had several realizations.

    First, Lily was in her bed again. At least this time they were wearing pajamas.

    Second, Lily was scratching Amy between her ears. Her cat ears. Amy could feel her tail flicking around contentedly.

    Third, Amy really liked both of those things.

    Amy twisted around to get a better stock of what was going on. She was stretched out lengthwise on the bed, except that her head was in Lily’s lap. Lily looked down at her with a knowing grin, then used her other hand to poke at Amy’s tail. “Good morning,” Lily said warmly.

    “Good morning,” Amy said around a yawn. “I will literally give you a million dollars if you never stop scratching my head like this.”

    Lily chuckled to herself. “That’s tempting, but I’m sure I’ll need food eventually.”

    Amy rolled her eyes, but snuggled more up against Lily in lieu of a response. She could see the other girl’s biology in her mind, and to her embarrassment-slash-amusement, Amy’s snuggling was having a noticeable effect.

    “So…” Lily began.

    “Yeah, yeah, I'll let you up eventually,” Amy muttered. “I’m tempted to bend my no-brains rule so you can experience this yourself.”

    That was clearly not the direction Lily expected the conversation to go. “Brains?”

    “Tail is easy, humans already have those nerves. Ears have tons more going on, but… hmm. Maybe if I left the inner ear alone, I could just splice on the auditory nerve without having to run new connections…”

    Lily gave her a bemused smile. “Well, I think that’s like third date material anyways.”

    Amy sat up so quickly that Lily’s enhanced reflexes kicked in to dodge. “Er, what?”

    Lily’s smile turned mischievous. “I’m kidding. Mostly.”

    “I hate to know what happens on the first two,” Amy muttered. Lily laughed at that, and Amy blushed slightly. They sat and stared at each other for a minute before Amy looked away. “Ok, I’m going to change back. Why don’t we get up and… something.” She jumped up and stretched, and Lily’s eyes followed her body the whole time.

    Changing back was as simple as last night, but wasn’t accompanied by crippling loss of balance. Amy did a once-over on her body to make sure that there weren’t any lingering effects, and when she turned around, Lily was still staring. “What?” Amy asked.

    “Oh, nothing. It’s cool to watch you do that.”

    Amy smirked at her, then walked out of her bedroom and into the bathroom. The main room was still mostly clean, but more importantly there were no extraneous Wards sleeping on her couches. She wasn’t against the idea, but there would be hell to pay if the PRT noticed that half of their junior team was lounging around in a boutique drug dealership.

    Breakfast consisted of more doughnuts, though it looked like Taylor and the others had gotten into Amy’s stash. Lily joined her at the counter a few minutes later and pulled her own doughnut from the box. “Amy, you’re amazing and all, but don’t you think you’re working a bit too hard on your ‘low-grade hedonism’ facade?”

    Amy looked up from the blunt she was rolling and tried to reply around the doughnut in her mouth. “Facade?”

    “Nevermind,” Lily muttered. “Just… this is the second time I’ve stayed over and had doughnuts for breakfast.”

    “Lucky you, usually it’s cold pizza.”

    Lily snorted. “Seriously though, that’s not healthy.”

    “I’ve completely rebuilt my gastrointestinal tract,” Amy said absently, rolling a second blunt. “Doughnuts for most meals almost works.”

    “Oh.”

    Amy shrugged. “I’m too lazy to cook and I often forget to get groceries. Taylor helps… a lot, but she still mostly lives with her dad.”

    “I see,” Lily replied, and she seemed to have an internal battle before sighing. “So, is this going to be a regular thing?”

    “What?” Amy asked around another doughnut.

    “You know… us.”

    “You mean getting high, fucking each other’s brains out, and eating doughnuts for breakfast?” Amy asked, trying for levity. It didn’t quite work.

    “Amy,” Lily started, but she was cut off when Amy shook her head quickly. Amy took a moment to get her thoughts collected, not that she had particularly complicated feelings. Admittedly, that’s been true since she was six, since the only real feelings she had at ‘home’ were self-hatred, guilt, and an unacceptable attachment to her adopted sister.

    Vicky refusing to stand up to her mother made it marginally easier to deal with the latter. So did having more than one friend, and a place to live that wasn’t toxic enough to require parahuman cleanup. If only that solved all of her problems…

    “I’m not really in a good place at the moment,” Amy murmured eventually. “And right now I’m not doing commitments well. Or responsibility. Hell Lily, I dropped out of high school because I stopped caring.”

    Lily shook her head. “I’m not asking about a relationship, specifically. And I’m not opposed to something more… informal. I just want to know where we stand, because it’s looking like I’m going to be in the Bay for a while and I’ve been kind of crushing on you.”

    Amy looked Lily in the eyes and thought for a minute. She had been expecting this conversation after Lily enthusiastically agreed to come over last night. “I like you. I enjoy spending time with you. I appreciate that you don’t judge me or try to tell me to do things. You’re cute, and you are nice to me.

    “As for a relationship… informal works for me. I liked hanging out with you when I visited New York, and I’m glad you’re up here now. But I need friends more than I need a girlfriend, because I’m still recharging emotionally from… Christmas.”

    “And the sex is just a bonus?” Lily asked with a wiry smile.

    “Doughnuts too,” Amy replied, flashing her own smile.

    Lily laughed at that. It was a nice sound. “Are you and Taylor…?”

    “No,” Amy replied firmly. “We had sex twice, once out of curiosity and once to test a drug she had invented. Yes, we both knew that ahead of time. No, we haven’t done anything since. Yes, she’s straight. Mostly. I think. That’s what she claims, anyway. Sometimes we’ll cuddle together at night, but that’s more…” Amy trailed off, thinking about the first week or two they had lived together.

    Lily seemed to understand, but then her eyes lit up. “What about Parian? Or Spitfire?”

    Amy winced. “Oh god, you heard about that?” When Lily nodded, Amy sighed awkwardly. “Parian just started college, and has a business to run. She’s too busy to deal with my bullshit. And Faultline’s Crew is out of town a lot. Does that bother you?”

    “Not really.”

    “That’s different than ‘no.’”

    It was Lily’s turn to shrug. “Honestly? I need friends here, too. The other Wards are fun and all, but we work together, you know? So more friends, especially with benefits, would be nice.”

    “Well, I can do that. Hopefully.” Amy scowled, doing her best to banish thoughts of Vicky and her ex-friends from her mind. Not that those ‘friends’ ever amounted to much. They were Vicky’s friends first, and only interacted with Amy by accident. And Vicky…

    No. Think other thoughts.

    Pulling her mind away, Amy tried to focus on the day’s activity. “Do you have any plans today?” she asked Lily. “Taylor will be over after lunch so we can put the finishing touches on the purple plant we’re bringing to Dean’s party.”

    “Can I help?” Lily asked, voice hopeful.

    “Actually… yes. Yes you can,” Amy realized. “I’ve done a few passes on upgrading Taylor’s body, so she’s considerably more resistant than a baseline human. We’re pretty good at compensating for that, but if you were here, it would help.”

    “What would I have to do for some of those upgrades myself?” Lily asked.

    Huh, Amy had never really thought about that. Up until last night, she had mostly considered them as necessary security for testing out the power formulae. But, now that she was thinking about it, the durability and strength upgrades could actually do heroes a lot of good.

    So, Amy had to consider. “Let me think about that. I need to standardize what exactly I would put into the upgrades. Taylor is a bit of a hodge-podge that I never seem to get around to fixing, and I’m more or less constantly tweaking my own set.”

    “Well, even if you charge, I’m sure the PRT would be more than happy to cough up,” Lily replied. “I’m surprised you haven’t started selling this sort of thing already.”

    Amy took another doughnut from the box and examined it. “Honestly, I’m a terrible rogue. I basically set the whole thing up to give me maximum revenue for minimal time investment. My lawyer handles everything, and he has almost exclusively found rich businessmen with cancer or heart disease and trust fund kids who want weird body modifications.”

    Lily looked surprised at Amy's admission. “Yeah, you could definitely be doing more than that. Even if you just did upgrades and tune-ups, the PRT would be at your door constantly.”

    “Where does it end, though?” Amy said. “Durability, survivability, strength, speed — those are all easy. What if they start asking for more exotic stuff?”

    “Such as?” Lily asked.

    “Well, I have a working design for a spit gland that does acid and fire. Taylor convinced me to give her attack tentacles once, which was… interesting. Electrical discharge organs, a whole suite of better sensory stuff, retractable claws, venomous bone spine launchers,” Amy said, trailing off.

    Lily was giving Amy a strange look. “Do you have all of that, uh, installed?”

    “Nope,” Amy said. “Why?”

    Lily just gave Amy’s body a once over before shaking her head and flashing Amy a smile. “It’s just weird knowing that you look and, uh, feel normal, but can do all of that.”

    Amy gave her a flat look. “Cat ears are normal now?”

    “Normal enough,” Lily said, smile widening.

    The conversation was interrupted by Amy’s phone buzzing on the counter. She glanced at it to discover that Taylor had sent a message. “Hm, actually… want to get something more substantial for lunch? Taylor hasn’t eaten and her dad had a work thing come up.”

    “Good by me, I need more than doughnuts for breakfast.”

    “I don’t see the problem,” Amy retorted, brandishing a doughnut at the other girl. “Actually, I’m going to take a five minute shower. Taylor will meet us here.” Lily nodded, then produced her own phone from somewhere and busied herself. Amy finished her shower, put on something approximating an outfit, and had nearly managed to comb her hair when Taylor appeared in the workshop.

    “Hello again, Lily,” Taylor said. Like usual, she was dressed in a bulky hoodie and old jeans. Amy was wearing essentially the same, and pulling her still-damp hair back into a ponytail just emphasized how pale Amy’s skin had turned in her weeks of isolation. Lily, at least, looked like she belonged outside in her slightly nicer hoodie and jeans.

    Lily offered a slightly embarrassed wave. “Hey. So, what’s our plan here? I need actual sustenance for patrol tonight.”

    “Well aren’t you all fancy, showing up to patrol fed, sober, and alert,” Amy teased.

    Taylor rolled her eyes. “We could hit up Marleigh’s?”

    Amy nodded enthusiastically. “Ooh, I’m always down for diner food. Lily?”

    “Sounds good,” she replied. And with that, the three of them set out.

    Lily’s head craned back and forth while they walked southwest towards the residential part of town. Marleigh’s Diner was vaguely on the path between Taylor’s house and the workshop, and it was open twenty-four hours. Thus, Amy and Taylor had eaten there many times when test patrols or plant experiments ended late.

    “What’s up?” Amy asked, looking at the Ward.

    “Oh, I was just thinking that this area is strangely calm,” she murmured. “Too quiet, from what I’ve been told about the Docks. Actually… why do you live here to begin with? Couldn’t you do way better, like Downtown?”

    “We like it here,” Amy retorted. “It’s quiet because it’s kind of our territory.”

    “Are heroes really supposed to do that?” Lily murmured.

    Taylor’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, but Amy snorted. “We don’t have to work for the PRT to be heroes,” Amy said. “And we like to keep the area around our workshop safe. I don’t think anyone will begrudge us that.”

    “Besides,” Taylor added. “Amy finally cleaned the place up.”

    Lily snickered at that, and Amy sighed theatrically. “Independent of any cleaning, we’re kind of stuck for a while. And I like where we are. Close to the Boardwalk and Taylor’s house, not to mention a few great places to eat.”

    “I suppose that would be important to you,” Lily said with a grin.

    Despite her levity, the conversation didn’t pick back up. For the middle of March, it was a surprisingly warm afternoon in the Bay. Amy looked around, half-expecting to see more people out and about in the nice weather, but the cracked sidewalks and pockmarked roads were mostly empty.

    On the other hand, Marleigh’s Diner was busy, at least compared to the late night crowd. The restaurant had a well-deserved reputation for its emphatic embrace of the ‘greasy’ in greasy spoon. It wasn’t quite a Brockton Bay staple like Fugly Bob’s, but the diner was a perennial favorite of the Dockworkers and similar who lived nearby.

    Taylor eventually restarted the conversation and described the menu to Lily, including the famous breakfast selections that were all fried in bacon grease. Amy added her own thoughts, including a raving revue of the sourdough toast and the double-thick milkshakes. The practical upshot was that they were able to order immediately after being seated at a table that was probably older than the three of them combined.

    Lily looked around at the other patrons. Their group wasn’t alone, but they had snagged a corner table away from the crowd at the counter. “So, upgrades,” she asked with a conspiratorial smile.

    “Upgrades?” Taylor asked, raising an eyebrow.

    Amy twisted her lips. “Lily brought up an interesting point earlier about maybe standardizing an enhancement package and selling it as a product. I wouldn’t want to give away all of our tricks, but a lot of people would pay for a Brute package of durability, better senses, and faster healing.”

    Taylor considered that for a while, staring off into space. “I suppose that isn’t a terrible idea, but are you sure that everything works in the long term? It would be kinda dumb to constantly have people come by to tweak things. And I’m not sure what I think about revealing one of our more important tactical advantages.”

    “True,” Amy muttered.

    “And don’t forget the whole rogue-neutrality thing,” Taylor pointed out. “I realize that we have a known heroic bent, but I rather not see Nazis running around with your inventions.”

    Lily didn’t seem to take that very well. “Wait, you would sell your stuff to villains?”

    Amy sighed, rubbing her face with one hand. “It’s complicated, and the situation is more that we can’t overly antagonize the gangs here. We’re definitely heroes, but I rather not spend every day fighting off Empire incursions into my workshop.” At Lily’s aghast expression, Amy smiled slightly. “At the moment it’s irrelevant, because as far as they know the only thing either of us ‘sells’ are horrifically overcharged cancer treatments.”

    The reality was that both Amy and Taylor sold stuff to Faultline and had the standing agreement to help Protectorate heroes in emergencies, nevermind the occasional Toybox order. Taylor had occasionally proposed a plan to crush the other gangs and reinstate the Marche, thus alleviating these issues, but Amy was uncomfortable with that plan in many ways. Primarily, it would be an enormous amount of work for very little reward.

    Lily nodded in comprehension after thinking about it for a few minutes. “Well, what about doing upgrades on friends?”

    Amy flashed her a grin. “That’s probably doable. But let’s talk about it later.”

    Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of food. All three girls had stuck to the tried-and-true breakfast menu, ordering a mountain of bacon-fried everything. Sourdough toast, bacon, eggs, ham, hash browns, French toast, sausage, corned beef hash, and so on occupied enough plates to nearly cover the whole table with sufficient grease to torch half the block.

    Of somewhat more immediate importance to Amy was the pitcher of orange juice. She didn’t even bother to check if people were watching before pulling a flask out of her pocket and upending the whole thing into the pitcher. This particular brand of Tinkertech liquor was closest to vodka, and it made the juice churn slightly, as if it were boiling.

    “Isn’t it a bit early…” Lily began uncertainly, but Taylor snorted.

    “For you, and maybe me,” the Tinker said around a small smile. “But I’m pretty sure Amy’s upgrades run on alcohol.”

    Amy gave them a wide grin while pouring herself a glass of the now-alcoholic beverage. “I’ve actually considered that. Along with changing my skin to photosynthesize and running off of Tinkertech batteries.” She downed it in a single pull. “Eh, I would have preferred a Bloody Mary for breakfast, but this works well enough.”

    Taylor and Lily exchanged wide-eyed glances, but both apparently decided to drop that line of questioning. Instead, Lily took her first bite of the sourdough toast and moaned in pleasure. “My god, this is incredible. Can we come here every day?”

    Amy snickered, reaching for her own slice. “Sure. I’ll even scrub the cholesterol out of your veins if you want.” Both Lily and Taylor chuckled at that.

    Not much was said over the table while they ate. Amy very carefully let the others sample everything that they wanted, given that she would be finishing up everything they didn’t eat. Greasy food was energy dense and she wasn’t going to let this opportunity go to waste, especially since Fugly Bob’s probably wouldn’t let her try the challenger again.

    Lily and Taylor eventually ate their fill of food. They also each had a single glass of orange juice, which rendered Lily obviously drunk and Taylor tipsy. Amy declared herself the breakfast victor, then proceeded to clean every plate and drink the rest of the orange juice pitcher. The Ward goggled a bit at Amy’s single-minded eating fury, obviously confused. “I’ll admit,” she said, “I thought your challenger stunt was faked somehow.”

    “Nope,” Amy said around a mouthful of bacon. Her words slurred slightly. “I invented a better version of fat, essentially, and turbo-charged my metabolism.”

    “That’s such bullshit,” Lily laughed. “For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how you look so good when by all accounts you sit around getting high all day. You could sell that, too!”

    Amy snorted. “Maybe we can include that in the upgrades, but no one would pay my rates for something as simple as reducing body fat.”

    “I still think you should just retire now,” Taylor said.

    Amy waved the last piece of toast at her partner. “You just want my stuff out of our workshop. I kept finding your shit on my side when I was cleaning. Actually, that should be my workshop, since you don’t pay the rent.”

    “Wait, really?” Lily asked, turning a questioning eye on Taylor.

    “I don’t pay rent at the moment,” the Tinker stressed. “I’m getting closer. There’s just a few things left I need to understand, then we’ll probably have to move out once I get production going. I’ll have a target on my back you can see from space.”

    “Where would you… oh. Oh!” Lily realized.

    Amy grimaced and swallowed her last mouthful of toast. “Yeah, but they’re being assholes. Taylor and I both have things keeping us in the city, so at minimum we’ll keep a secure place to open the portal.” She looked down at the table, only to discover that they had eaten everything. “Shall we head back? Busy day ahead.”

    Amy paid at the register while Lily took a bathroom break. The cashier must have not have seen her here before, because he blinked a few times at Amy’s credit card. It was a featureless grey rectangle with a sixteen digit number written in gold as the only identifying feature. She didn’t know what the Number Man did to make this thing work, but it had never failed to ring up correctly.

    “Thanks,” Amy said, electing to wait outside for the others. She rummaged in her pocket for a blunt, then flicked her thumb to light it up. Alcohol over breakfast meant testing this afternoon was already delayed, so Amy could indulge for a bit. Chilly wind cut into the unseasonable warmth slightly, carrying the wispy smoke from her blunt down the street.

    And, apparently, into the face of some ABB thugs. Three stocky men in dark hoodies with red and green accents were shooting her baleful glares from halfway down the block. Amy returned their glares with boredom, since none of them appeared to be Lung or Oni Lee. Even in that case, she would only be mildly concerned.

    She put them out of her mind when Taylor and Lily exited the diner. “Bit early for that, isn’t it?” Taylor asked, gesturing at the blunt.

    “Lot of that going around today,” Lily muttered.

    “Shush you,” Amy replied. “And no, we have to clear the alcohol out before we start testing anyways.”

    Taylor blinked at her, then facepalmed. “You forgot, didn’t you.”

    “Er, yeah,” Amy admitted. It just didn’t feel right going to Marleigh’s and not being drunk, at a minimum. Even if it was lunchtime.

    Lily rolled her eyes, then gestured for the blunt. Amy handed it over and Lily took a few puffs, but the next pass was interrupted by the appearance of the ABB thugs. They attempted to surround the three girls, pinning their group against the wall of the diner.

    “Can I help you?” Amy drawled at them.

    “You will tell us who is selling this drug in our territory,” the first goon said. He was trying to be intimidating, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he was trying to intimidate Amy, it might have worked. She cocked an eyebrow at him without moving, and he pulled a gun out of his hoodie pocket.

    The second goon took that as license to do something very stupid. He put his hand on Lily’s shoulder. “And you are coming with me.”

    Goon number three didn’t even get the opportunity to attempt his own spiel before Taylor lashed out and punched him directly in the throat. He staggered back, and she followed up with a rib-breaking kick to his chest. The goon fell back onto the sidewalk with a gurgling smack.

    Lily was in motion before Taylor’s punch connected. She grabbed the goon’s hand on her shoulder and flipped him somehow, using his height as a lever to fling him into the first thug. They both sprawled onto the ground, and Lily kicked his other hand away from his jacket, presumably so he wouldn’t draw a gun.

    The first goon managed to keep his gun in the confusion, and once he was on the ground he took aim and fired off a single shot. It hit Amy right in the stomach, putting a neat hole in her hoodie and shirt before being stopped dead by her upgraded skin. “Shit, cape! R—” was as far as the goon got before Amy was on top of him, kicking the hand holding the gun so hard that his hand shattered.

    Amy didn’t stop there. While the thug screamed at the loss of his hand, she aimed two kicks into his shins that broke both of his legs. That generated even more screams of pain, and she raised her leg to stop him in the chest when Lily caught her arm. “Woah, woah, woah, Amy! He’s already down!”

    “Damn it,” she snarled. “He shot me!” Amy could have easily broken the hold, but she didn’t want to send Lily to the ground, too.

    “And it didn’t do shit,” Lily said quickly. Amy snarled wordlessly at the Ward, but relented. “And you should probably look at the other one,” gesturing at thug number three. Amy gave her a hard stare, which Lily reciprocated. “Do you want the PRT to come sniffing around?”

    “Eh, fuck ‘em,” Amy said, but she still walked over to the gurgling goon and put her hand on his face. There was noticeable movement in his chest and neck, then Amy stood up and shook her head. “He’ll live, but he really won’t like it.”

    Taylor rubbed her hands. “Good enough, and thanks.”

    “Let’s just get home,” Amy muttered. “I need another drink.” She turned from the group and started tramping back to the workshop. Taylor and Lily stared after her for a moment, then jogged a few steps to catch up.

    “Are we just going to leave them?” Lily asked once they were away from the restaurant. “Aren’t you afraid of Lung finding out?”

    Taylor shook her head. “Amy’s healed a few of Lung’s people, and even he’s not dumb enough to come after her directly.”

    “Regardless,” Amy huffed. She knew every intimate detail of the adrenaline coursing through her system, and she could dispatch all of it in an instant if she wanted. But fighting, even against hopelessly outmatched unpowered goons, felt good. There was a reason other capes referred to the ‘thrill of battle,’ because it was definitely a rush.

    Maybe Taylor would want to go on another patrol soon. The Tinker had nearly as much fun as Amy on those nights, anyway.

    Lily pulled Amy into a one-armed hug while they walked. “You doing ok?” she asked. Amy shrugged in response, and Lily pulled her tighter.

    Taylor gave them both a strange worried look, so Amy pulled her into her own one-armed hug. It was a bit awkward to walk with the difference in stride length between the three girls, but they managed it with minimal shuffling.

    “Uh, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Lily said, uneasily. “What caused that? Did Lung get really big or something?”

    Amy followed Lily’s gaze and winced. “Ah, no. Taylor, it was your idea, you explain.”

    “It was a suggestion,” Taylor stressed. “Turns out, tentacle monsters are destructive.”

    “You made a tentacle monster,” Lily said in a long-suffering voice. “Seriously?”

    Amy frowned at her partner. “It was Taylor’s idea.”

    “Stop trying to pin this on me,” Taylor shot back. “I suggested a small one. You declared ‘bigger ish better!’ and used an entire dumpster of biomass.”

    “Hey, it was cute initially!”

    “It spat acid, Amy,” Taylor said, freeing herself from Amy’s hug. “And we only caught it because you are acid-proof!”

    Lily laughed, stepping over and pulling Taylor back into the hug. “I don’t know what to do with you two.” She didn’t release them for the remainder of the trip.

    Once they returned to the workshop, Amy flopped down heavily and face-first onto a couch. Taylor smirked at her, not that she could see it, while Lily sat down near Amy’s head and started scratching the back of her neck and scalp.

    “Please never stop,” Amy pleaded, voice muffled by the couch cushion.

    “Well, if this whole Wards thing doesn’t work, I guess I have a job lined up,” Lily laughed. Taylor gave her another strange look from the kitchen, then wandered into her own bedroom. Lily was content to scratch Amy, and Amy was content to be scratched, so neither said anything until Taylor reappeared and joined them on the other couch.

    “Amy, you have to go get the plant,” Taylor reminded her. “Or make me immune to the security toxin.”

    “The what?” Lily asked, eyes wide.

    Amy turned her head to the side, and thankfully Lily kept scratching. “One of the plants in the greenhouse produces a chemical that puts you to sleep in three seconds flat. Keeps miscreants out of my playhouse.”

    “Ah,” Lily said. “That’s, uh, one way to do it.”

    “Well?” Taylor asked.

    Amy made a displeased noise. “Lily here is still a bit drunk, as am I and probably you. Give us, like, an hour?”

    “Yeah I guess,” Taylor replied. “Is there anyone else we could ask?”

    “Dunno,” Amy muttered. “I could text my cousins.” She fished her phone out of her hoodie pocket and typed for a second. Crystal messaged her back almost immediately with a negative response, and a few minutes of messaging yielded a plan. “No dice, but they’re going to drop by tomorrow after I finish some appointments, so like three pm.”

    “Appointments?” Lily asked.

    Amy rolled all the way over, so she was facing up towards the ceiling. A moment’s struggle had her head on Lily’s lap while the other girl scratched the top of her scalp. “Yeah, cancer patients or something. My lawyer handles everything for me, including transportation and payment and whatnot.”

    Lily paused her scratching for a moment. “Wow, that’s convenient.”

    “Yeah, well, it pays the bills,” Amy replied.

    “Do you still heal for free?” Amy and Taylor both gave Lily pointed frowns. “What?”

    Amy sighed heavily, debating exactly how to explain this to Lily. “Lily, do you like shooting villains? Or swording them or whatever.”

    “Uh, I guess?” Lily replied.

    “Imagine that if every time you went to Wards HQ, you could go on a patrol and shoot villains. Oh, and there’s an endless stream of villains. Literally coming out of the woodwork.”

    “Ok?”

    Amy closed her eyes. “Now imagine that instead, you want to go to the park. And on your way there, you see villains. If you turned around right now, you could go back to Wards HQ, get on a patrol, and shoot them.”

    Lily was silent for a moment. “Fuck.”

    “I had to stop,” Amy whispered. “I never felt like I was making any progress. I was suffocating on my own expectations while being ground to dust by everyone else's. I didn’t have any hobbies, I didn’t have any friends, and I certainly didn’t take any time on my own to relax until, well, almost too late.”

    “Yeah,” Lily said. “Ok, I’m sorry I brought it up.”

    Amy only barely forced a wicked smile onto her face. “It’s fine. I’m pretty sure I gave her nightmares when I copied my dad’s old trick. Sucks for her, because I’m happy now and she’s paranoid that I’m going to start a criminal empire instead of being their good little PR healer.”

    “We could,” Taylor pointed out. “We can even use your dad’s name.”

    “Dad?” Lily asked.

    “Marquis,” Amy said with a small smile. “He was actually pretty badass, and fought off the Nine when they came to Brockton Bay ten years ago. New Wave sent him to the Birdcage, and we got Lung instead. Not a good trade.”

    “He didn’t harm women and children,” Taylor explained. “Lung, on the other hand…”

    “I know,” Lily said, voice flat, then she gave Amy a supportive grin. “Well, your life’s story is mildly horrifying.”

    “Right?” Amy asked. “And people ask me why I started drinking. Or smoking.”

    Lily rolled her eyes at that declaration, then decided to scratch Amy’s head more furiously. That was nice, Amy liked that a lot. It was vastly better than the reactions she usually got to that particular set of revelations.

    They sat in silence for a while. Taylor was poking around on her phone, Lily continued to scratch Amy’s head, and Amy was trying to cuddle harder into Lily’s lap. Eventually, Lily wanted to know more. “So, how did you and Taylor meet, anyway?” she asked.

    ***​

    CRASH!

    Taylor jerked awake at the sound of glass breaking in her immediate vicinity. While her eyes adjusted and she tried to get her bearings, she heard a gulping sound from nearby. A minute later, she nearly jumped out of whatever chair she was sitting in when another crash echoed through the… warehouse? Taylor whipped her head around in confusion, half expecting her hands and/or feet to be bound.

    The fact that the last thing she remembered was pain and being on the ground were secondary to waking up somewhere strange.

    Her panicked search didn’t reveal much. She was sitting on a hospital bed in what appeared to be a mostly unused warehouse. Light was provided by a mismatched set of fluorescents hanging from the ceiling, illuminating a circle that enclosed her bed, a few tables, and a freestanding wall covered in anatomical posters.

    Oh, and the source of the noise. A freckled girl with frizzled brown hair wearing a dark hoodie sat on a nearby stool, and as Taylor watched she drank an entire bottle of liquor in one pull, then gripped the bottle by the neck and flung it into a dark corner of the warehouse. It landed with an almighty crash, but the girl paid it no mind as she reached into the bag at her feet and pulled out the next bottle.

    The mystery girl noticed that Taylor was up about halfway through drinking her new bottle. “Oh, you’re… awake,” she said, voice slurred.

    Taylor blinked in confusion at the other girl. “Um, what happened? Why am I here?”

    “I sh-saved you,” the girl mumbled. “Nasty cut across your ribs, cracked both, uh, wrists when you fell. You a new hero or somethin’?” Taylor blanched, checking that her mask was still on her face, and the girl laughed. “Don’t worry… I know basically everyone’s identity anyway.”

    “And that’s supposed to comfort me?” Taylor shot back.

    The girl just laughed at her before polishing off the rest of her bottle and throwing it across the warehouse. Taylor still flinched at the crash.

    “You didn’t answer my question,” the girl said. Taylor just scowled at her, and she rolled her eyes dramatically. “I’m Panacea, dumbass. Or I was, dunno now…” She punctuated that bombshell with another pull from her next bottle.

    Taylor’s mouth fell open in shock. There had been persistent rumors on PHO that the miracle healer of Brockton Bay was AWOL. She had vanished from Arcadia and the local hospitals, so seeing her here was a huge surprise. “Uhh,” Taylor said dumbly, but trailed off.

    “What?” Panacea spat, voice full of venom. “Going to judge me for finally taking some time to myself?”

    The sudden intensity in the other girl’s voice shocked Taylor, and she shook her head quickly. “No, definitely not. You saved me.”

    Panacea stared at her, bloodshot green eyes boring into Taylor’s skull. “Good.”

    Taylor was at a loss for words, and she sat in uncomfortable silence while Panacea drank and smashed a fourth bottle. She had no idea what could possibly have driven the famous healer to quit her team, run away from home, set up shop in an abandoned warehouse, and apparently attempt to drink herself to death. Supposedly Panacea was immune to poison, which explained her drinking behavior.

    “So are you a new hero or what?” Panacea slurred, gesturing with a bottle.

    “Uh, yeah, hero,” Taylor admitted.

    “Firsht night… out?”

    Taylor nodded. “Yeah.”

    “Tinker with no armor,” the healer muttered drunkenly. “You tryin’ to get yourshelf killed?”

    “How did you know I was a Tinker?” Taylor demanded.

    Panacea shrugged. “Foreign com… compou… shtuff, in your body, and something funny in your brain. Your corona thingies were all weird. Regen power was kinda on the fritz, so I assume you Tinkered it up somehow.”

    Taylor’s mind raced. On one hand, having her powers dissected by someone she had never met was terrifying. On the other, it was Panacea, whose powers let her diagnose medical issues. “Oh.”

    “I’d give you the usual spiel about Tinkers and gangs and the Wards and stuff, but…”

    “But what?” Taylor asked.

    “You’re kinda fucked in terms of heroes,” Panacea shrugged. “Wards shuck, New Wave sucks, and going independent shucks.”

    Given that she was here, drunk in a warehouse, Panacea probably had good reason to dislike New Wave. “What’s wrong with the Wards?” Taylor asked, honestly curious.

    Panacea cackled at her question, and once her laughter subsided she took another long swig. “Dean’s a pompous asshole, Sophia’s a psychopathic asshole, Dennis is —”

    “Sophia?” Taylor interrupted. She had a sudden sinking feeling.

    “Yeah that bitch. Glad she didn’t go to Arcadia with the rest,” Panacea replied.

    “Can you tell me more?” Taylor asked, voice wavering.

    “Sure whatever,” Panacea said. “Good to have someone to… to talk to, no one wants to hang out with me anymore…”

    ***​

    Amy and Taylor ended up telling Lily more than just the story of Taylor’s near-disastrous first night out. They talked about Taylor coming back the next afternoon to find Amy already drunk, Amy’s emotional breakdown following the New Wave fiasco, Taylor setting up her lab, and their eventual foray into psychedelic plants.

    Which, Amy thought, was a nice segue into their project for the afternoon. Once everyone was sufficiently sober, she ran upstairs to the greenhouse and used her powers to grow several buds of the new purple plant. Amy double-checked that everything had stabilized following her corrections from yesterday, then clipped a few buds and brought them back downstairs.

    An argument in the main room stayed her hand when she went to open the door. “... so please be nice to her,” Taylor was pleading.

    “I’m not trying to take her away from you,” Lily said, voice exasperated.

    “I know, but she’s my only friend,” Taylor said, sounding very small. “I… I can’t lose Amy, too.”

    “Who’s lost?” Amy asked lightly, stepping into the room with her precious goods.

    The other two girls clammed up immediately, trading glances. Lily shot Taylor an exasperated eye-roll while Taylor did her damndest to set Lily on fire with her eyes. “Don’t worry about it,” Taylor muttered.

    Damn. Now she was going to worry about it.

    Amy tried to put the conversation out of her mind, ignoring the pang of guilt from seeing her friends arguing over her. “Okay,” she said, shrugging. “Can you grab the grinder and some wraps from the cabinet? I think we should get started.”

    Once equipped, Amy started grinding purple plant and wrapping blunts while Taylor rummaged in her bedroom to find the right log book. They carefully tracked the effects of each iteration of the purple plant in an attempt to better understand the effects of the various neurochemicals.

    “This is version… eight?” Amy asked offhandedly.

    “Yep. I made some notes about your rather embarrassing attempt to adjust the mix yesterday,” Taylor replied. Her earlier melancholy had melted away in the face of Tinkering.

    “I mostly got it back to normal,” Amy muttered. She held up three blunts. Taylor plucked one out of her hand and Lily took another. “Don’t go crazy at first. Start small, write down anything you feel or see. Comparisons to other substances are good, as are complaints. We’ve worked on this one pretty extensively, so we just need a baseline for ‘normal’ people and to see if there are any bad effects.”

    Lily nodded, inspecting the blunt. “I thought you said you screwed it up.”

    Amy blushed and rubbed her face with her free hand. “Yeah, but the important thing is more the actual alkaloids we included than their precise concentrations. We only added one really interesting one from the previous version, so it wasn’t hard to fix.” Amy flicked her thumb for a light, and soon they were all smoking peacefully.

    Taylor, luckily, remembered to fetch an ashtray. Now that Amy had finally cleaned the place, the floor was no longer an option.

    The first twenty minutes passed without much conversation. The log book was handed around as each person made notes while they got progressively more high. Amy noted, with no small satisfaction, that they were mostly right about the effects. Compared to version seven, colors and shadows were slightly more vivid. Only slightly, since purple plant was supposed to be closer to marijuana than LSD, but it was enjoyable and interesting nonetheless.

    “I think we should lay off adding more psychedelic effects,” Taylor said abruptly.

    Lily nodded. “Yeah. This is really cool, and reminds me of the thing from the weekend, but I don’t smoke weed to hallucinate.”

    “Me neither,” Amy admitted. “Ok, we’ll cut back a bit on that new tryptamine a bit.” She made a note in the book.

    Taylor took a long drag from her blunt, holding the smoke in before blowing it out through her nose. “Everything else is great. If I hadn’t found you sleeping on the couch, I wouldn’t know that you had done something.”

    “Hey!” Amy said. “I sleep on the couch normally.”

    “Sure, but not in your regular clothes,” Taylor replied with a smile. She added a few thoughts to the log and handed it to Lily, who wrote a few things herself.

    “Ok, I think I’m done,” Lily said after she finished most of her blunt. “I have patrol tonight, and I need to be sober by then.”

    “No problem,” Amy said. She found herself smiling inexplicably. Why was she in such a good mood?

    The obvious answer was the drugs: the minor euphoric and anti-anxiety effects of the purple plant certainly contributed. But that wasn’t all, given that she spent most of her recent days in various stages of intoxication, and hadn’t felt anything like this recently. Except for Monday, but that was easily attributed to the enjoyment of creating something new and pretty. Hmm…

    The other two girls were eyeing her. “What?” Amy asked.

    Taylor smiled, a rare enough sight on its own. “You’re grinning like a goofball. Everything okay?”

    “She’s smiling and your immediate reaction is that something is wrong?” Lily asked acidly.

    Taylor opened her mouth to retort, but Amy got there first. “I don’t know. I’ve been feeling… better, I guess, recently. Maybe it’s just me having fun with my powers.”

    Lily blinked a few times. “Your first guess is your powers?”

    Amy shrugged, taking the last drag of her blunt. “Sure. You should have seen me before Taylor asked if I could modify plants. I was a wreck, and the morning after I whipped up the first orange plant I felt better than I had in years. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together when I stumbled upon some other capes talking about similar stuff online.”

    “I would have thought, you know, seeing your friends would be more important,” Lily said cryptically.

    “Same thing, right? I mean, I don’t really have any other redeeming qualities apart from my power, it’s just that I’m actually doing cool stuff now instead of healing all of the time.” Amy waved a hand dismissively. “Ever since I got my powers, that’s all anyone’s wanted me for. At least now I get to enjoy it too.”

    Lily’s jaw dropped, and she stared soundlessly at Amy for a few moments. Then she leapt up from her spot on the couch and plopped back down next to Amy before pulling the freckled girl into a tight hug.

    Huh. That was actually kind of nice. Amy hugged her back.

    After a few minutes of hugging, Lily traded contemplative glances with Taylor. “Amy, we like you because you’re you.”

    Amy didn’t have a response to that, so Lily just continued to hug her. They transitioned to full-on cuddling when Taylor decided that further conversation was not happening and pulled up a movie on the tv. It was some Earth Aleph import that Lily recommended, some detective thriller.

    Lily herself had to leave not long after the movie finished. Taylor and Amy had pizza and doughnuts for dinner before lighting up round two of the new plant. Then, to Amy’s surprise, Taylor sat down next to her and pulled Amy into a one-armed hug. Amy threaded her arm around the other girl to reciprocate.

    “She had a point, Amy,” Taylor said after a while. “You’re more than your power to us.”

    “To you, maybe,” Amy muttered. “And Lily. But the rest of them…”

    Taylor sighed. “Well, they’re kind of assholes, then. But you’re my friend and I’m glad you’re happy.”

    Amy leaned back, blunt almost forgotten in her mouth. “Yeah, me too.”
     
    AckSed, Cmdr_Anax, udkudk and 93 others like this.
  5. FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Ok, current chapters are up, and 1.4 will probably be out later tonight!
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2021
  6. Threadmarks: Tryptamine 1.4
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Wednesday, March 16 2011

    Taylor stayed over last night. They had slept cuddled together on the couch; for once it wasn’t because they had been drunkenly commiserating about their broken personal lives and passed out there. Instead, they had already been in pajamas for impromptu movie night and simply decided not to move to either of their respective rooms.

    Amy was hardly opposed to this turn of events. It had become painfully obvious that Taylor was starved for human contact not long after they had met, but Amy wasn’t quite sure about Taylor’s sexuality so she didn’t want to push. Sometimes, like last night, the taller girl was touchy-feely. Taylor didn’t say it, but Amy suspected that those were the days she was struggling in school. Other days she was not, so Amy let her decide how and when to cuddle.

    Occasionally Amy wondered what it would have been like if Taylor was actually interested in her. After all, they had already settled into a lazy codependence and trusted each other implicitly, on top of being the other’s best friend. But they were also a team and dating within your team was universally recommended against. An acrimonious break-up would leave Taylor without a lab (and Amy without friends), and Amy wanted to avoid that at all costs.

    A secret part of Amy wished that Taylor was more interested in sex, because both times Taylor had approached her had been thoroughly enjoyable. The first had started off predictably awkward before Taylor got into the swing of things, but after Amy’s first time with Emily she certainly wasn’t throwing stones. The second time had been much more extensive, mostly due to the drug Taylor had created that was like supercharged MDMA.

    As she had explained to Lily, Amy really wasn’t one for commitments at the moment, and Taylor would probably want something stable and well-defined. Probably. The sort of nebulous friends-with-benefits that she had going with Emily and possibly-more-than-friends with Lily were about all Amy could handle at the moment, but she would still happily take any offered opportunity to cuddle with Taylor.

    Waking up entangled in the other girl’s arms was a pleasant feeling.

    The rather irritating noises being made by her phone and the impressive banging on the door downstairs were not.

    Holy shit, it was 9AM. Who the hell was up at this ungodly hour?

    Amy decided that she was decent enough in her pajamas, so she grabbed a doughnut from the box and wandered downstairs. With her other hand, she pulled out her phone and checked the video feed. What Amy saw jolted her to a halt halfway down the stairs.

    Why were Kaiser and half the Empire right outside their workshop door?

    One of the many benefits of Amy’s power working on herself was the lack of panic response; it gave her the mental clarity needed to consider her options. Amy had to operate under the assumption that they knew she was a non-Manton limited biotinker, and that attempting to ambush her in her own workshop was tantamount to suicide. Amy was far from invulnerable, but she could regenerate from damn near about anything provided that she had biomass.

    And even if they could kill her, it would be a pyrrhic victory at best.

    Still, better safe than sorry. Amy formed the gland in the roof of her mouth that let her spit bacterial spray; it worked great for the metal-eating variety, but not so much for the flammable liquid used in her fire-breathing experiments. She also grabbed the Tinkertech shotgun from its umbrella stand by the door and loaded in a set of metal-eating bacterial rounds.

    When she finally opened the door, it nearly jumped out of her hand. Hookwolf’s fist nearly collided with her face, but the man had well-trained reflexed and managed to pull the punch. Before Amy could speak, Kaiser stepped smoothly in front of his subordinate and stared down at Amy through his intricate metal armor.

    “Panacea, we would like to hire your services to heal one of our injured members. Othala was ambushed by those Asian barbarians last night, and her injuries are not improving.”

    Amy hated his voice immediately. “The barbarians were German, you know,” she said, shifting the shotgun in her grip.

    “Look here you little —” Hookwolf said, but Kaiser made a gesture and he shut up.

    “We are not here to trade witticisms,” Kaiser said. “It is my understanding that you, a nominally unaffiliated rogue, offer healing as a service. We are prepared to reimburse you for our lack of an appointment, a frustration with which I sympathize.”

    Fucknuts, they knew. Amy couldn’t see any of Kaiser’s face, but by the poorly concealed smirk on both Victor and Rune’s faces, they were aware that Amy let heroes drop by unannounced. Even Lung had made an appointment, citing propriety, but the Empire never needed to see her unless Othala herself was hurt.

    She wanted nothing more than to tell them to fuck off back to their little white supremecist hell and never come back. Worse, she could make them do it, and without all that much effort. That the Empire existed at all was an insult to thinking beings everywhere, and Amy was in a position right now to send them to the same hell that their idols were rotting in right now.

    But, she had rules, and was nominally a rogue. Killing them here, now, would invite retaliation by their other capes and regular goons. She could beat them too, and then what? Step into the power vacuum herself? Taylor joked about resurrecting the Marche, but then they would be criminals and Triumvirate would go from rolling their eyes at her operation to shooting it with lasers.

    No, she had to maintain neutrality. It was too much work, otherwise.

    Amy flicked the safety on the shotgun, then opened the door all the way and gestured. “Of course. The healers are always swamped at Endbringer fights, and Othala works hard. Just don’t try anything funny, everything they say about attacking Tinkers in their labs goes twice for biotinkers.”

    If Kaiser was perturbed by her threats, he didn’t show it. “Rune, Victor? Bring Othala in.” And just like that, the Empire was in Amy’s workshop. Kaiser and his bodyguards filed in first, followed by Hookwolf, Victor, Othala on a levitating stretcher, and finally Rune. Victor was surprisingly gentle when he and Hookwolf lifted the indisposed healer onto the bed Amy used for patients.

    “Damn girlie, you have the whole ‘mad scientist’ shit down pat,” Hookwolf said, glancing around the shop. He smirked at the flat look Amy leveled at him, but Kaiser made a contemplative sound.

    “Hm, one wonders what your father would say, to see you like this. Or to hear about your… degeneracy,” he mused.

    “I’m sure he wouldn’t give a shit,” Amy spat, stalking over to Othala and putting her hand on the other cape’s neck. “He would…”

    “He would what?” Hookwolf sneered.

    Amy’s retort died in her throat as she looked at Othala. Amy couldn’t see any of her injuries through her robe, but Amy’s power reported them directly into her brain. Othala was missing a huge chunk in her side and legs, and while it had all been expertly stitched up, without Amy’s timely intervention Othala would minimum need a liver transplant and would likely not walk again. More likely, she’d be dead.

    Oh God, she was just doped up, too. They didn’t put her in a chemically induced coma. Amy disabled her pain receptors as the first step.

    Time. Othala didn’t have time. Working by memory, Amy uncoiled her entire left arm into one of her vastly improved tentacle constructs. It shot past Rune — who yelped in surprise — and into the meat locker. Amy’s other hand was occupied while she manually did all of the things that livers, kidneys, and spleens did for Othala. She was shredded inside, and Amy could hardly believe that she was still alive.

    Amy used her tentacle arm to set the meat next to Othala’s head before growing dozens of sharp edges and slicing the Empire cape’s costume to ribbons.

    “Hey, what the hell!” Rune said.

    “Shut up,” Victor hissed. “Let her work.”

    “What in the everliving fuck,” Amy muttered as she applied her power. She had to first convert the meat into biomass by making Othala's flesh 'consume' it, a process that was frustratingly slow when Amy had so much to do. Once enough meat had been subsumed, Amy rebuilt Othala’s lungs, digestive tract, and kidneys first. Liver was next, rebuilt basically from scratch, and then everything had to be hooked up before flushing the remaining metabolites. “You do realize that had she survived without me — something I find unlikely — she would have needed extensive surgery, right?”

    “Of course,” Victor said, but worried threaded his voice. “We would have done whatever necessary.”

    “Then why did you wait so long to see me?” Amy hissed. Muscles were easy, all she had to do was make sure she had enough meat.

    “We were recovering as well,” Victor replied.

    Amy rolled her eyes and double-checked everything. At the same time, she coiled her tentacle arm back up and formed it back into her regular human arm. She stretched it absently once it was back to normal, ignoring what she could see of the shocked Empire faces. “Ok, done,” Amy said. “And I fixed her eye, somewhat by accident.”

    “Understandable, given the circumstances,” Kaiser said. “However, you destroyed her robe. We cannot return with her as she is.”

    Amy licked her lips. On one hand, sending Rune to fetch a robe was easy. On the other, Amy wanted the Nazis the hell out of her workshop. She walked over to the corner where a square of concrete had been removed to reveal dirt. Amy grabbed one of the tendrils there, growing a spindly plant into a sapling-like stalk. The plant swelled and seemed to unfurl as Amy pulled biomass in, shaping it into a simple green robe.

    “Here, change her into this and I’ll wake her up,” Amy said. Once again, Victor was surprisingly gentle, and a quick touch afterwards roused the cape. While Victor and Othala were conversing quietly, Amy turned to Kaiser. “You owe me one.”

    “Excuse me?” he said, voice carrying his disbelief.

    “You heard me,” Amy said. “You owe me a favor.”

    “We owe you no such thing beyond your standard payment for your services,” Kaiser retorted.

    “Yeah, and that’s favors,” Amy said. “What, did you think the PRT ignores me because Armsmaster is smoking my stuff?” Amy shook her head and smirked at the head Nazi. “No. They look the other way because every so often, they teleport people into my living room.”

    It didn’t escape Amy’s notice that Kaiser, his bodyguards, and Hookwolf had all tensed. The other three were talking quietly and didn’t appear to care. Victor was smarter than that, Amy knew, but it didn’t matter unless Kaiser did something magnimoniously stupid.

    “We are willing to pay a significant multiple of your standard rates, which I am aware range into the exorbitant,” he said.

    Amy shook her head slowly. “No. One favor, within reason. It’s not like I’m refounding the Marche and will ask you to sit back.”

    Well, it appeared that there was something that could crack Kaiser’s cool. He jerked in surprise but covered it quickly. “Are you threatening me?”

    “No such thing,” Amy replied. “Both of our fathers put a lot of faith in reasoned discussion, and I think you would agree that it’s more productive to talk.”

    “Well shit,” Hookwolf muttered.

    Amy shrugged. “Regardless, I’m set for cash and really could use some assurance that no one gets lucky and tries to kidnap me or anything.”

    “What about those new local heroes?” Kaiser asked. “The PRT calls them the Kleos. If you are worried and need help, why not turn to them?”

    Shit shit shit. Kaiser’s voice was perfectly controlled, but the message was clear. Amy used her power to keep her heart rate and other reactions under control, but her mind was racing. Did he know? More importantly, did he know Taylor’s identity? The Empire might well do something stupid to get their hands on her power, even with Amy as a threat.

    Except… wait. He might not know that it was them, specifically. Their patrols were in the area around the workshop, sure, but that could be construed as some sort of agreement. Fuck. They had not counted on their identities staying secret, but this was much sooner than expected.

    “Ok sure, I could ask them,” Amy ended up saying. “And they do help keep the area around my workshop safe, but they’re rookies. I wouldn’t trust them to fight off, say, the Elite.” Hopefully that threw him off of the scent.

    Kaiser said nothing for a long time, and his face mask made it impossible to see what he was thinking. “I suppose it is in everyone’s best interest if you continue to attend Endbringer fights. Very well. Next time we will make an appointment.”

    Cursing internally and doing her best not to show it, Amy nodded. “Acceptable.” She stuck her hand out for Kaiser to shake, which he did only after a delay. If he hadn’t just ensured he had no skin showing, Amy would eat her hat.

    There wasn’t much in the way of discussion after that, except for a profuse thank you by Othala. Rune was even polite enough not to rip a huge chunk of concrete out from the nearby road. Amy was sure she could figure out an organism to fix it by converting biomass into something sticky and durable, and hm, produce heat to bond it to the extant road? Or do it chemically?

    Amy shook her head and locked the door. Taylor was not going to be happy about Kaiser possibly knowing their secret, but there wasn’t much either of them could do about that right now. She made her way back upstairs and grabbed the last two doughnuts from the box before sitting down with a blunt on the couch clockwise from Taylor.

    The Tinker was awake but still splayed out on the comfortable cushions, playing with her phone and generally looking like she still had to wake up fully. After a second, Amy offered her the other doughnut. “What the hell happened down there?” Taylor asked as she took the proffered breakfast.

    “Someone ran Othala through a wood chipper, so I healed her,” Amy replied. She took a hit from the blunt and offered it to Taylor, who refused.

    “Seriously?” Taylor asked. “Why?”

    Amy puffed out a big breath of smoke. “She would have died otherwise, and she does go to Endbringer battles and heal. And sure, we could take those Nazi fucks in a fight, but it would be a gigantic clusterfuck during and after.”

    Taylor eyed the framed pardon from the Chief Director. “Yeah, okay. I don’t like it, but… fine.”

    “It sucks, I know,” Amy agreed. “Oh, and, uh, Kaiser might know that we’re the Kleos. At minimum, he thinks they’re associated with me.”

    Surprisingly, Taylor wasn’t that perturbed. “Makes sense, we patrol around the workshop.”

    “You’re not worried?”

    Taylor tried to shrug, except she was still lying on the couch. “Even if he knows exactly who we are, we don’t mess with his territory. Even Lung is content to leave us alone, because it’s not worth the trouble.” She took a bite of doughnut and glanced at her phone. “Anyway, your cousins are coming over later?”

    “Yep,” Amy said. “And some regular appointments, too.”

    “Gotcha,” Taylor said. “Oh, I bought a hot tub. Where should we put it?”

    Er, what the fuck?

    “Excuse me?” Amy asked, blunt almost falling out of her mouth in shock. She absently put it in an ashtray on the table.

    “Remember that minor hydrokinesis power we tried a few weeks back?” Amy nodded. “Well, Toybox brought on some water Tinker recently, and with the power he was able to solve a problem he had been stuck on for ages. As a thank you, he offered to make me something for just the cost of parts, and I picked ‘hot tub.’”

    What.

    “And well,” Taylor said, voice wavering. “You mentioned that you miss going to the spa, and I don’t know if I can ever really thank you for letting me put my lab in your workshop but I’m going to try, and I don’t know when your birthday is so… happy birthday?”

    Amy snorted. “Thanks. Did you know that New Wave had me officially listed as a year younger to ‘protect’ me? I’ll be seventeen on April 19th.” She stood up and stretched before sitting down next to Taylor and practically falling over on the taller girl. Taylor squeaked in surprise but reciprocated the hug. “Thank you, Taylor. I’m glad you’re here.”

    They hugged and cuddled for a few minutes before Taylor had to finally get up and use the bathroom. While there she decided to shower, and when Taylor returned she found Amy lounging and reading on the couch. “I want to get some Tinkering in before your appointments. Want to order pizza later?”

    “Sure,” Amy replied. “I have my own Tinkering to do as well.” There was no way she was going to let herself get caught flat-footed like that again.

    After some discussion — aided by the fact that the hot tub was being delivered by portal — they decided to put the hot tub on the roof. Amy didn’t particularly want to deal with Toybox at the moment, so she volunteered Taylor to go up and handle the delivery while she went back down into the workshop.

    Specifically, she was headed to the small patch of dirt in the corner.

    It was endlessly amusing to Amy that for all that the workshop looked like a mad scientist’s lab, the really dangerous part was this unassuming square cut in the concrete. She plopped down next to the cutout and put her hand into the soil, brain filling with data about every living thing in contact with her skin.

    Vines creeped out of her fingertips, subsuming the biomass in the soil to grow and extending Amy’s proprioception through the ground. The lack of distinction between ‘Amy’ and ‘nearby organisms’ was one of the more unnerving aspects of her changed power, as evidenced by the spreading fractal of Amy-vines mapping out the soil underneath their workshop. The vines weren’t constructed from human cells and contained no Amy DNA, but they were connected to her body and controlled by her power.

    “Hey, what the hell are you doing down there?” Taylor asked as she stomped down the steps. Amy blinked her eyes open, having shut them at some point to focus on the sensations from her vines, and found Taylor peering down at her with a mix of confusion and bemusement on her face. “I thought we said no more tentacle monsters?”

    Amy snorted. “Oh, come on, what’s wrong with tentacles? And are you calling me a monster?”

    “I guess,” Taylor hedged. “Seriously though, what are you doing?”

    “Priming our defenses,” Amy replied. “I don’t ever want to be caught unaware by capes like that again, but my power can’t create something like I want instantaneously. Also, how did you know?”

    Taylor tapped her head. “The combination of a weak electricity sense, a power that boosts the range of all senses, and a minor human social intuition power gives me the ability to sense and understand humans in a radius. Imagine my confusion when suddenly there’s a web of something triggering that power underneath our base.”

    Huh, that was pretty cool. “Why?”

    “The alarm woke me up too, so I was doing recon and overwatch while you worked.”

    “That’s… actually pretty clever. Did you have that power worked out ahead of time?”

    A rueful smile rolled over Taylor’s face. “I, uh, figured it out a while ago. I was using it in school to avoid Sophia and Emma. I really wanted to avoid using my powers like that, but it was just… too much.”

    “Well,” Amy said, gesturing with her free hand at the soil. “If you want, I can feed them to my new tentacle monster.”

    Taylor rolled her eyes, giving Amy the same slightly annoyed expression she did every time she suggested revenge against Taylor’s bullies. “I’m going to Tinker, but I was wondering if you could make something for me.”

    “Sure, what do you need?”

    “A safe ingestible powder that is orange, sweet, and smells like cinnamon,” Taylor replied as she walked into her forest of glass tubes. “Ideally it could soak up some liquid and stay dry.”

    “That’s tricky,” Amy said, rubbing her chin. Her train of thought was delayed by her fractal vines finally reaching the necessary extent. “Can I make a plant that you grind up to produce the powder with the solution already in the leaves?”

    “It won’t turn out like the pre-ground orange plant experiment, right?”

    Amy winced in remembrance. Orange plant, the prequel to purple plant, had started as a slightly modified marijuana strain, and had to be imbibed as such. One day, having lost their grinder yet again, Amy had decided to create a version where the flowers were full of pre-powered plant matter.

    The resulting inability to control the concentration precisely left both of them insensate for a whole day.

    “No, we’re definitely not trying that again. What do you want in it?”

    Taylor didn’t respond immediately, which signified either a surprise she thought Amy might like or the beginnings of a very bad idea. “A few things. I want to try distributing one of my vials in solid form, plus, um, a cosmetic alteration or two.”

    Amy’s mind was immediately alight with possibilities. “How did it take us this long to realize we could do that?” she asked excitedly. “It’s so obvious in retrospect — drugs that include powers!”

    “Honestly I didn’t have any I thought were safe enough, and then I had a realization about the weird interaction between your catgirl physiology and the reflex potion which led to an experiment to disentangle the precognitive and improved proprioceptive components.”

    “So you’re saying we should run around as catgirls more often, for science,” Amy said, smiling mischievously despite Taylor not being able to see. Taylor just laughed and went back to presumably working on her mystery power drug project.

    Amy, on the literal other hand, started to grow her kingdom- and phylum-spanning tentacle monster. It subsumed biomass in the soil to create a network of anomalously strong, durable vine-like cables directly underneath the building and nearby road. Much narrower streamers drilled up through the concrete floor and started running along the interior walls, gripping the brickwork with countless microscopic tendrils. A few streamers poked up outside as well, both in the alley with the workshop door and around the other edges of the building.

    For simplicity, she even joined it with her prior creation that produced the stay-away pheromone.

    The PRT made a big stink about self-replicating bioconstructs, not that Amy needed the reminder. This new base defense plant — which needed a better name — could subsist on the nutrients in the soil and chemosynthesis basically indefinitely if it was dormant, and it wouldn’t grow or otherwise reproduce without her directly modifying it.

    Of course, the final step was to make it look pretty and nonthreatening. Flowers burst into bloom all along the vines, with rainbow-patterned petals that resembled buttercups.

    “Those are really pretty,” Taylor called. “I like it.”

    “Me too,” Amy replied, eyeing the new decorations running along the walls.

    Oh, and disconnect herself from the thing. With the animal-derived pseudomuscles and fungus-derived cellular scaffolding, not to mention the implanted nerves that let her brain control it directly instead of with her power, the base defense plant was not accurately named.

    “Want anything from the kitchen?” Amy asked as she walked upstairs to get a pot.

    “I’m good,” Taylor said, obviously distracted.

    Well, Amy could use a drink. And a smoke, especially with the stupidity with Kaiser this morning. She snagged a bottle of banana liquor on her way up to the roof, only to freeze with the cork in her mouth when she caught sight of their new relaxation device.

    Taylor must have explained their living situation to Toybox, because the hot tub was protected by a glittering, cubical force field. The device itself was best described as ‘Roman steampunk,’ given the high tech control consoles and piping built into marble surfaces.

    It needed… palm trees. Or something. Amy catalogued a few ideas while sipping her drink before ducking into the greenhouse and fetching an empty pot of soil. Oh, and a few more buds of the most recent purple plant. Those were converted into blunts almost immediately, and Amy was only a few minutes into her smoke break when her phone buzzed.

    “Fuck,” she swore. “Taylor! I have appointments coming in ten minutes!”

    Miscellaneous swearing was followed up the stairs by a clearly displeased Taylor. “Even when you tell me when patients are coming, I always seem to be busy at the wrong time.”

    “Sorry.”

    Taylor’s lips pursed in thought. “You can make it up to me with a blood sample.”

    “Er, no offense, but I would rather not find out what happens if you turn my power off.”

    “Not for that,” Taylor said quickly. “I had… another idea, but I can’t test it on myself.”

    Amy’s stomach twisted. She trusted Taylor with a hell of a lot, but power nullification was about the only thing that could stop her. And with people like Kaiser maybe having reason to hold a grudge, was it safe?

    “Yeah sure,” Amy said after some deliberation. “Let’s go downstairs.”

    It took longer for Taylor to find an appropriate needle and vial than it did to draw the blood, and it left Amy only a minute or two before the appointments showed up. Her part of the workshop was decently clean and definitely usable, so she simply finished smoking her blunt while relaxing on one of the beds.

    Apart from mild confusion concerning Amy’s state of dress (pajamas), the four patients followed her clockwork routine precisely. Show up, sign some forms, verify payment, explain issue, sit down. Amy often didn’t need the full fifteen minutes to help treat disease, but not being rushed let her be careful and methodical. Patient expresses gratitude, Amy expresses gratitude for payment, Amy ignores employment/partnership/etc offers, patient returns to hired car.

    Then she was two million dollars richer and still smoking a blunt in her pajamas.

    Sometimes, life was good.

    A quick text to Crystal and Eric let them know that she was done and to possibly bring their bathing suits, and a quick yell to Taylor let her know that she could get back to work.

    “I called Faultline, by the way,” Taylor said as she came downstairs.

    “Oh?”

    “They’re out on a job now but said to drop by next week.”

    That was easy enough, and maybe they could finally appear in costume instead of sneaking around in the back. Amy hadn’t quite finished the design of her new costume, although that needed to happen before the party on Saturday. And maybe Emily would stop giving her a hard time.

    Version 1.0 of Taylor’s requested ‘orange powder’ plant was actually straightforward, once Amy focused on the design. The powder — mostly inert now until Taylor figured out what she wanted in it — was made from grinding up the ‘bark.’ She placed the plot with her leafy creation on Taylor’s bench, but only got a distracted ‘thanks’ for her work.

    Then her cousins texted back, and Amy heaved an irritated sigh. “Stupid fliers,” she grumbled, stomping back up two flights of steps and throwing open the roof door only to get glommed by her cousin.

    “Heya Ames,” Crystal said, squeezing her in a hug.

    “Hey,” Amy replied. “Hi Eric.”

    “Sup,” he said, waving. “Is that seriously a Tinkertech hot tub?”

    Amy snorted in amusement. “I know, right?

    “Does it have a privacy field or something?” Crystal asked. “I rather not bathe where everyone can see, but I could really go for a hot soak right about now.”

    “I’ll ask,” Amy said, leading them downstairs. “What has you so worn out?”

    “Patrols,” Eric said. “Endless patrols. We’ve been super busy recently.”

    “Oh?” Amy’s question, however, was ignored. Both Crystal and Eric had stopped in the doorway out of the stairwell and were staring with slack jaws at the clean room.

    “Well I’ll be damned, you actually cleaned up in here,” Crystal said. “Good for you.”

    Despite herself, Amy smiled at the praise. “I made those cabinets first,” she said, waving her hand at her newest furniture. “Had to have a place to put everything. Actually, I could use a hand organizing the liquor cabinet, if you want to help.”

    Eric punched the air in excitement, but Crystal grabbed his hand. “Sure, but no sampling. We have patrol later.”

    “Yeah, what’s up with that?” Amy asked as she walked over to the cabinet and threw open the doors. “Why has New Wave been so busy recently?”

    Eric coughed awkwardly. “Um, you, Ames.”

    “Huh?”

    “I know you don’t seem to believe in the idea of ‘public relations,’ but New Wave only works because of our reputation.” Crystal’s voice had taken on a lecturing tone that Amy wasn’t sure she liked. “When you vanished, it was a pretty serious blow to both image and morale.”

    Amy’s head was filled with visions of fleeing out into the cold and dark from… her. No. Now was not the time for such thoughts. She grabbed a pair of bottles and handed them to Eric. “I didn’t ‘vanish,’ I texted you as soon as I was able to sit down.”

    Eric set the two bottles down with a grimace. “One of those is sticky. I’m going to grab a rag from the sink.”

    “Anyway,” Crystal said, opting not to pursue that thread, “point is that New Wave decided to step up our patrols and work harder on outreach to offset the issues from losing the world-famous healer.”

    “It actually feels like we’re making an impact now,” Eric said softly.

    “Excuse me?” his sister asked.

    Eric kept his gaze fixed on the bottle he was cleaning. “Before… I don’t know, I always felt like we should be doing more. And now that we are, you can see the difference. The Empire has really backed off around our neighborhood.”

    Crystal shot a frown at her brother, then bent her head forward in defeat. “I want to disagree with you, but the proof is in the pudding, as they say.” When she picked her head up, Crystal couldn’t hold in an exasperated sigh. “Seriously Ames?”

    Amy froze, holding an uncorked bottle of viscous red-orange liquid inches from her nose. “What?”

    “Please tell me you’re not going to drink that,” Crystal asked in a pained voice.

    Amy rolled her eyes. “I’m just checking to see if it’s still good.”

    “What even is that stuff?” Eric asked, poorly feigning disinterest.

    “We call it Nitro.” Amy took a long whiff from the bottle, making all of her senses flutter and waver for a few seconds before returning to normal. “It’s a dissociative hallucinogen that is sort of like nitrous oxide. Kind of. Taylor didn’t like the sound-warbling part of nitrous and so we developed this instead.”

    Dissociatives — like salvia, DXM, ketamine, and nitrous oxide — worked by blocking a particular neurotransmitter that was especially prevalent in nerves that linked the brain to sensory organs. Several were used as anesthetics in controlled settings; in uncontrolled settings, they caused hallucinations by distorting and twisting perspectives. At high doses, dissociatives could cause full out-of-body experiences.

    Nitro, specifically, made the user’s vision ripple and warp like they were underwater, their hearing echo like in a cave, and generally made them feel as though they were disconnected from their body. It wasn’t ‘trippy’ like psychedelics, but for people that wanted a changed mental state, Nitro was perfect.

    “It’s popular at the Palanquin,” Crystal continued. “That’s actually part of why I’m here, Ames.”

    “Er, you want some?” Amy asked, offering the bottle.

    Crystal’s expression turned hard. “No, I don’t. Ames, I’m worried about you.”

    “I can tell, based on how often you visit,” Amy sniped back.

    Eric winced, but Crystal’s stony expression didn’t crack. “Not cool, Ames. The rest of us have these things called ‘responsibilities.’ I know that you’re the queen of Burnoutville right now, and honestly I don’t blame you at all, but the rest of us have had to pick up the pieces.”

    “Well maybe if she hadn’t kicked me out,” Amy started, but her cousin steamrolled right over her.

    “The point is, I’m sorry that we didn’t visit more often. At the same time, this is the first time you’ve cleaned anything since you moved in. It was seriously awful in here. And you could have come over to our house whenever you wanted. Mom wouldn’t have called Aunt Carol, so part of that’s on you.”

    “We do miss you, Amy,” Eric added.

    “I’ve been busy,” Amy muttered, turning her back to her cousins and fetching the last few bottles from the cabinet.

    “You always are,” Crystal said, sadness threading her voice. “And I almost didn’t want to have this conversation, because for the first time since Christmas, you seem to be doing better.”

    Amy thought back to the past few days. “Yeah, I guess. A little, anyway. Why do you care?”

    “Amy,” Eric said. “You’re our cousin. We love you and want you to be happy.”

    “Then what’s the problem?” Amy snapped.

    Crystal’s mouth twisted while she considered her words. “I’m just worried about your drug habits, okay? Nevermind the whole selling drugs problem. I know it might make you happy in the short term, but…”

    Amy gave Crystal a long, contemplative stare, then flicked her eyes back to the cabinet. “Eric, here’s how this will work. Regular stuff on the bottom shelf, group it by type if you can. Middle shelf is Tinkertech spirits, top shelf is everything else. If it doesn’t have a label, it goes on the top shelf.”

    “Don’t think you’re getting out of this, Amy,” Crystal said seriously.

    After wiping down the shelves to remove residues, Amy finally replied. “It’s not the drugs, at least not directly. I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m experimenting with my powers. Like, eighty-five percent sure, based on what I’ve read online. I never got to have this much fun as Panacea.”

    “Your powers,” Crystal said, voice flat.

    “Yep,” Amy said, hefting a pair of unlabeled bottles. One held a green liquid that she would need Taylor to identify, and the other was gold with glittery flecks floating in it. “The day after the first orange plant, I felt better than I had in years, Crystal. Seriously, it was like I could breathe again after being crushed by one of Uncle Niel’s hugs.”

    Both Pelham kids winced in sympathy. Eric quickly resumed returning bottles to the shelf, but Crystal shook her head. “No, that’s bullshit Ames.”

    “This is a studied phenomenon,” Amy retorted.

    “I’m sure it is,” Crystal said. “But…” A flash of inspiration came over her face. “I want to try out this hot tub. Eric and I brought bathing suits, as you asked, so let’s do that.”

    “Er, okay?” Amy was confused by her cousin’s abrupt change of priorities, but she was kind of done being lectured and the hot tub looked delightful. Even Taylor cracked under its siren call, immediately setting down her in-progress potion when prompted and heading to her bedroom to change.

    Amy took a moment to look herself over in the mirror in her room. She had unapologetically shaped her own body in lieu of actually exercising, though she avoided the impulse to go completely overboard. As a result, she was rocking her modest one-piece swimsuit… not that there would be anyone here to ogle her. Except Taylor. Maybe.

    The cat ears and tail had been pretty fun. It was a shame the video of the fight got out.

    Taylor and her cousins were already in the hot tub when Amy wandered out of the roof door, but to Amy’s surprise the hot tub’s occupants were hazy and indistinct when viewed through the force field. The dark-haired blob reached over and tapped something on a control panel, opening a door-sized hole in the force field.

    “Ohmygod,” Amy sighed as she sank into the hot water. “Taylor, you are officially my favorite person ever.”

    “You’re welcome,” the Tinker replied, submerged up to her neck sitting in a seat made of marble. Her face was almost certainly not blushing due to the heat.

    Eric was also sitting in one of the chairs, but Crystal was floating on her back. The hot tub was big enough that there was a small plinth in the middle where people could sit, surrounded by a variety of seats and chairs with jets. Several colored lights underneath the surface provided illumination, sparkling up through the churning water and dancing off the force field.

    Amy pulled a blunt out of a small plastic baggie and lit it with her finger. She took a long drag and aimed the smoke away from everyone. “Anyone want some of this?” Taylor made a noise vaguely sounding like ‘yes’, but she was on the other side of the hot tub.

    So, naturally Amy uncoiled her arm into a tentacle and snaked it across the water like the kraken.

    “Holy shit fuck!” Crystal yelled when the tentacle popped out of the water and proffered the blunt from inside a pocket. Eric burst into laughter as his sister flipped over in her panic.

    Taylor eyed the blunt. “Amy.”

    “Yes?” she replied sweetly. A moment’s thought uncurled her legs too, and suddenly Taylor was surrounded by a swarm of tentacles. She snatched the blunt and did her best not to smile while re-lighting it from a flaming tentacle tip.

    “Amy, what the fuck!?” Crystal yelled, coming upright and splashing water everywhere.

    “Muahaha, fear the kraken!” Eric laughed.

    Amy wiggled the tentacles a few more times for show, then pulled them all back and reformed her actual limbs. “You know, that’s actually kind of relaxing.”

    Crystal shot her a glare. “Some warning would have been nice.”

    Eric managed to stifle his laughs after nearly slipping further down his chair. “Amy, do you do parties? Because that was hilarious.”

    “I think we’re already pushing the boundaries of what the PRT will accept,” Amy said, pulling out and lighting another blunt. “‘Biotinkered party entertainers’ is probably too far.” She puffed on the blunt a few times and offered it to her cousins. “Want a hit?”

    Eric made a pleading face at his sister, and she cracked after a few seconds. “Not too much,” she said. “Otherwise we’re walking home.”

    “Yes!” Eric said, and a small concave force field materialized by Amy’s hand. It carried the blunt to her cousin, and Amy almost began lighting a third before she realized Taylor was floating over to return the first.

    “Seriously, Taylor,” Amy said, taking the blunt and leaning back. “This was a brilliant idea. I never knew how badly I needed a hot tub until right now.”

    Instead of fleeing back to her corner, Taylor eased herself into a seat next to Amy. “Yeah, I didn’t know quite what I was going to get, but this turned out well.”

    “Hell yeah it did,” Amy agreed, then nearly jumped out of the hot tub when a series of jets started shooting water at her back. “Hey!”

    Taylor gave her a cheeky smile. “You hadn’t even tried the jets yet.”

    Amy glowered, but leaned back into the jets. She didn’t even bother to contain the moan in pleasure, remembering only at the last moment to not let the blunt fall into the water. “Hot damn, Taylor. I think I’m going to retire right now and spend the rest of my life in here.”

    “How will you eat?” Eric asked, eyes slightly glazed over.

    “Photosynthesis or something, who cares,” Amy waved, puffing out a huge cloud of smoke.

    With her eyes drooping, the smoke, and the steam, Amy could only barely make out the contemplative smile around the blunt hanging on Crystal’s lips. “So you’re enjoying yourself?” Crystal asked. “Maybe you should invite over Lily and the others.”

    “Yeah, good idea,” Amy murmured. “Uh, my phone’s downstairs.”

    “Not now,” Crystal said. “But it would be fun, you know?”

    Amy just nodded. It would be a trivial matter to kick her endocrine system back into full alert, but she was enjoying the soothing combination of hot water and purple plant. There was some scattered conversation between Taylor and her cousins, but they were apparently content to just let Amy soak quietly and relax.

    She even managed to ignore the group’s surprise when Eric pressed a button and was rewarded with a glass full of red, carbonated liquid.

    Yeah, this was nice. Really nice.

    ***​

    When Taylor went out on her first patrol one week prior, she had not been expecting to run into a famous local hero. And when Taylor met a famous local hero, she had not expected Amy.

    Not ‘Panacea,’ as more than one drunken rant had informed her.

    “You all set up down there?” the girl in question asked as Taylor walked up into the living space.

    Taylor nodded slowly, noting the pile of bottles accumulating on the brand-new, ornate coffee table. “Mostly. I moved everything over and unpacked most of it, but a few devices need calibrated.”

    Amy took a drag from her bottle and proffered it to Taylor. “Great. Nice to have some company, finally. I was getting bored.”

    The bottle wavered in Amy’s hands, inviting. Just a bit more and it would add to the stains already marring the fabric of the new couch.

    Not for the first time, Taylor wondered if it was a mistake to accept Amy’s offer of booze when she came back after her initial foray into heroing. Sure, Taylor’s bullies had resumed their torment at school, and the truth about Sophia had hurt, but being driven to drink?

    Then Amy had seemed so lonely, and Taylor would be lying if she didn’t admit to wanting even temporary relief outside of her Tinkering, so she had taken a few careful sips. Being drunk, it turned out, was not everything it had been hyped up to be. Sure, it quieted Taylor’s internal monologue, but it did a number on her stomach and head.

    “You don’t want any?” Amy asked, lips curving down in disappointment.

    “Just a few sips,” Taylor said, taking the bottle as she sat down next to Amy. “I still have homework to do when I get home.”

    “Heh,” Amy said bitterly. “Homework.”

    Taylor didn’t have a response to that, so they sat and drank — though in very different quantities. Headaches and stomach aches were not fun. Part of Taylor sincerely wished that Amy indulged in different, less unpleasant vices.

    Actually…

    “Hey, Amy?”

    The healer turned towards Taylor and peered at her through glassy eyes. “Yeah?”

    “Your power works on plants, right?”

    Amy’s eyes narrowed. “They’re alive, aren’t they?”

    “Booze is kind of gross,” Taylor continued, ignoring the barb. “I don’t know anything about weed, but could you… invent your own version? Make it safe and fun?”

    A contemplative expression came over Amy’s face, replacing the usual glower. Taylor could hardly fault her for becoming distracted — her own power was filling her own head with ideas. Oddly, it felt like her power was stretching, which made sense after Taylor thought about it for a moment.

    As Taylor had explained to Amy, she was a power Tinker. But instead of opening people’s heads up and fiddling with their corona pairs directly, her modifications were chemical in nature.

    Drugs, too, were chemical modifications of the brain.


    ***​

    It was unreasonably difficult to climb out of the water an hour later when Crystal and Eric had to go home to prepare for patrol. Taylor had immediately returned to her Tinkering, leaving Amy alone on the roof with her cousins.

    “Hey, Ames,” Crystal asked, once they had dried enough to put their clothes back on. Whatever Tinkertech powered the hot tub guaranteed that there was no strange chlorine smell. “Did you enjoy the hot tub?”

    “Obviously,” Amy said with… a smile? Yeah, she was actually smiling. And stretching, not that it did anything to her body, it just felt good.

    “It’s good to see you happy, Amy,” Eric said, and his sister nodded enthusiastically.

    Amy snorted, but it was good natured. “You keep saying that.”

    “It’s true,” Crystal said. “I have a question for you, though. Prior to Christmas, when was the last time you took time for yourself?”

    “I couldn’t,” Amy snapped immediately, unwillingly summoning her in her mind’s eye. “You know that, Crystal. Any time I wanted to take a break, I either thought about her or all of the people at the hospital. So, no, I don’t remember when I last got the chance to relax, but I have time now and I’m going to fucking take advantage of it.”

    If Crystal was perturbed by Amy’s outburst, she didn’t show it. Instead, she took a step forward and pulled Amy into a tight hug. “And it’s clearly helping, Ames. I don’t think your powers have anything to do with it.”

    Amy squinted at her cousin but made no move to free herself. “What do you mean?”

    “I get that your powers are a lot of fun, but I think what’s actually making you happy is taking time off and making friends. Taylor is really sweet and Lily is supposedly cool, and I know you hang out at the Palanquin sometimes.” Amy blushed furiously, which Crystal ignored. “Point is, I think you should think about what you want.”

    “Maybe,” Amy begrudgingly admitted. “I’m not going to stop experimenting.”

    Crystal shook her head. “That’s not what I’m saying, I just want you to think about what makes you happy. You went and cleaned your loft to encourage us to come visit. Can you do me another favor and just think about this?”

    “Yeah sure,” Amy said, shaking off her cousin’s grip and stepping back. “I’ll think about it.”

    “That’s all I want,” Crystal said. “See you this weekend.” Eric gave her a quick hug, and then Amy watched as her two cousins flew away, flecks of water falling from their damp hair.

    Amy went back downstairs and put on pajamas before grabbing a book from her room and settling on the couch to read. But her mind was too turbulent for reading, and so Amy found herself with a glass of liquor. She stared sightlessly at the wall while she considered Crystal’s question.

    What made her happy?
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2021
  7. Orannis

    Orannis I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2016
    Messages:
    837
    Likes Received:
    842
    This is a great read please keep up the good work.
     
    FirstSelector likes this.
  8. TheMadmanAndre

    TheMadmanAndre Getting sticky.

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2016
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    296
    Why isn't this getting more visibility? It's fucking incredible.

    You should crosspost it elsewhere if you haven't already done so.
     
    FirstSelector and JamesEye like this.
  9. Fencer

    Fencer Weaponized Randomness

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2015
    Messages:
    523
    Likes Received:
    3,826
    Probably the most original concept I’ve seen in months. Writing is good quality and the massive shift i. Priorities means the plot is impossible to predict. Very much hope to see more!
     
  10. Miller At the Wash

    Miller At the Wash Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2019
    Messages:
    2,200
    Likes Received:
    11,734
    I bookmarked this when I first saw it on Ao3 and I followed it when I saw it here.

    For broader appeal while I wouldn't post this story on Space Battles as is (prudes that they are) I suspect it would pass on Sufficient Velocity and/or Fanfiction Net if anyone still use that.
     
  11. darthdavid

    darthdavid That Guy

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2014
    Messages:
    159
    Likes Received:
    939
    I really like this. As someone who indulges, there are too few stories with large amounts of drug use that don't either present it as 100% fine and problem free, or else moralize and treat it as evil.

    It's nice seeing someone really capture the fun of it while also acknowledging that, even if you remain physically healthy, it's easy to use in a mentally unhealthy way.

    I also love how compellingly you've written all the characters, especially Amy. I love how you revealed just how fucked up her mental state is, bit by bit. And watching her friends help her get better. ❤️

    Also, as Miller said, this should be fine to post to SV, as well, if you want a bigger audience.
     
  12. omni001

    omni001 I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Joined:
    May 22, 2020
    Messages:
    721
    Likes Received:
    936
    FirstSelector likes this.
  13. Tetsurō

    Tetsurō Communist Penguin

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2013
    Messages:
    324
    Likes Received:
    71
    I keep expecting for Blasto to pop up.
     
    FirstSelector likes this.
  14. GraphiteCrow

    GraphiteCrow Daemon of Slaanesh

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2020
    Messages:
    1,565
    Likes Received:
    9,857
    And now I am imagining Taylor as Diana.

    Really fun story of Amy putting her life back together with her new friend Taylor and some of the other local heroes and villains around the area to make things interesting. At the moment I am really wondering if Taylor is Lesbian, Bi or just Straight and slept with Amy because she is desperate for friendship and figures the sex would keep Amy by her side. Hoping for the Les or Bi Taylor haha. I am a big fan of relaxed non conforming relationships like Poly and Open relationships so the idea of a bunch of "Friends with Benefits" who live together and just enjoy cohabitation with each other is great.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2021
    FirstSelector, omni001 and darthdavid like this.
  15. omni001

    omni001 I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Joined:
    May 22, 2020
    Messages:
    721
    Likes Received:
    936
    My personal head canon, taken from Devilish, is that Taylor is bi but that her abuse at the hands of all the girls at school gave her a slight phobia of other women.
     
  16. JamesEye

    JamesEye Not too sore, are you?

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2018
    Messages:
    342
    Likes Received:
    2,029
    Very nice read. Love the idea and the flashbacks. The flashback POVs being from other characters is great too. Always nice to see from someone else’s perspective other than the MC.

    thanks for writing,
     
    FirstSelector likes this.
  17. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

    Joined:
    May 20, 2018
    Messages:
    538
    Likes Received:
    1,077
    An interesting fanfic.
    Am puzzled by "tag:rampant debauchery" while not in NSFW section, though it is indeed rampant debauchery.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Tryptamine 1.5
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    A/N: The next chapter fought me a bit (I'm keeping a one-chapter buffer) but it's close enough. Also, thanks for the comments; I wasn't getting notifications so I didn't reply. That will be fixed!

    Thursday, March 17 2011

    “Your power is bulllshit.”

    Amy glanced from her phone to where Taylor was sitting and reading in the chair next to her. They were ensconced in one of the numerous reading nooks scattered around the top floor of the library; like the rest of the library, they were well-worn and comfortable. A large plate-glass window let in the early afternoon sunlight, forcing Amy to tilt her phone to reduce glare.

    Taylor had one hand in her hoodie pocket while the other idly thumbed the pages of the biology textbook open in her lap. She was staring off into space and muttering to herself, which made Amy all the more glad that they were hidden away in their private nook.

    “What did you discover this time?” Amy asked quietly, a small smile creeping up on her face.

    “Chemosynthesis,” Taylor replied, tapping the book with a finger. “It’s horribly inefficient, but I still got it to work. Hm, I wonder…”

    Amy snorted and turned her attention to the books open on her lap. “Well, maybe next time I can borrow your power, and it will help me better understand drugs.”

    TiHKAL and PiHKAL were proof that mundane science had not completely folded in the wake of parahumans, but that might also be because it was one chemist working out of a personal lab. Also, even in the mid-nineties it had been obvious that the supply of Tinkertech drugs couldn’t match demand.

    Detailed in the pair of books were several dozen psychedelic substances, including effects and synthesis steps. The latter made much more sense to Taylor, as her Tinker ability gave her extensive understanding of organic chemistry as a prerequisite for her formulae. But Amy was rapidly building a working understanding of these compounds from their experiments, which let her glean more from the books each time Taylor dragged her to the library.

    “Take a look at this,” Taylor said suddenly, pulling a chunk of greenish biomass out of her hoodie pocket.

    Amy tapped a finger to it and whistled. “Congratulations, you made a plant that runs on rotten egg smell. Please tell me you’re not going to bring this home with you.”

    A ghost of a smile passed over Taylor’s face. “I just wanted to see if I could do it.”

    “Well, you did,” Amy said. “On a different note, what are we bringing to Dean’s this weekend?”

    Taylor jumped up suddenly and stuck her head out into the hallway adjoining their hidden nook, then sat back down with an annoyed scowl. “Can we not talk about that so loudly?”

    “Ah, sorry,” Amy said, much quieter. “But yeah, what’s our plan?”

    “Well, the Chroma is the main attraction, I guess,” Taylor said slowly. “Eye-glow and rainbow-hair potions are obvious addons.”

    Strictly speaking, the latter two weren’t actually psychedelics or even drugs. The formulae were Tinkertech, certainly, needing both Taylor and Amy to create, but they had only cosmetic effects. Chroma was also a collaborative effort, but it was a bona-fide hallucinogen. A relatively mild hallucinogen compared to some of the stuff they had created, but a hallucinogen nonetheless.

    “Are you bringing that new thing? The cinnamon-smelling stuff?” Amy asked.

    Taylor shook her head. “No, because it does something different for parahumans. However, we are testing it tonight, I worked all yesterday to finish the first attempt.”

    Well, that was news to Amy. Good thing she didn’t have a schedule. “Huh, okay. What about, uh, the full-body glow formula? Or a bottle of Nitro? And we should probably bring a whole box of pre-wrapped purple plant blunts.”

    “Yes to the purple plant, maybe on Nitro,” Taylor said. “Probably not on the body glow, Chroma plus large bright objects is probably not a good idea.”

    “That’s never stopped us before,” Amy said with a grin.

    “No, I suppose not,” Taylor replied, grinning herself. “But the whole point of Chroma is to produce visual hallucinations like tracers, fractals, and auras. Bright lights would wash that out.”

    “Yeah, I get it,” Amy said. “We could bring cuddledrug?”

    MDMA was an empathogen — a family of drugs distinct from hallucinogens in that they did not fundamentally alter perception or cognitive processes. The tingling body high, tactile enhancement, and feelings of love and empathy were more akin to the closely related amphetamine family.

    Unfortunately, MDMA could cause damage to the serotonin receptors in the brain, along with overheating and dehydration. Cuddledrug was designed to minimize these issues, granting similar euphoria and body high while avoiding the stimulant effects. It was a delightful time, provided that there were people nearby with which to cuddle.

    Taylor’s face flushed at the reminder of their second time having sex. “Er, maybe not,” she said quickly. “Teenagers, booze, and drugs that encourage cuddling sounds like a gigantic mistake. We’d end up with an orgy or something.”

    “You’re no fun,” Amy admonished. “What about the rest? Bottled lightning? Brain warp? Dreamsauce?”

    Psychedelic hallucinogens formed the bulk of Amy and Taylor’s collaborative drug efforts. Like their mundane counterparts, they had developed several chemically similar families with various effects, and then picked their favorites to give names. Bottled lightning had minimal visual effects but significant body load, while brain warp was the traditional ‘see fractals everywhere.’

    Chroma was much lower-key than most of their creations, in that it only had mild euphoric changes to cognitive processes. The visuals were much more prominent, but stopped short of seeing things that were not there; it almost entirely focused on colors and geometry.

    “Definitely not the last,” Taylor said, shivering. Their first — and only — attempt at making an intense, short-lived, DMT-like psychedelic had been far too successful. Even months later, they still had yet to finish the first bottle.

    “Yeah, okay,” Amy agreed. “We should bring a bottle of Nitro though, otherwise it’s kind of lame to show up with only one new thing.”

    “Nitro isn’t new.”

    “I doubt they would have tried it, the Palanquin doesn’t sell it to under-21’s.”

    “Fine. A diluted bottle of Nitro,” Taylor agreed, then stood back up and stretched. “Ok, enough work. I want ice cream.”

    She didn’t have to try very hard to convince Amy, and soon enough they were meandering north towards the Boardwalk. The unseasonable warmth from two days ago persisted despite the ocean’s admirable attempt at being an enormous ice box, and Amy found herself unzipping her hoodie in comfort. Or to try to make it billow out like a cloak in the wind.

    “What makes me happy, Taylor?”

    “Excuse me?”

    Amy kept her eyes on the sidewalk, and thus missed the storm of confusion that blew over Taylor’s face. “I told Crystal I would think about what makes me happy, and to be honest I don’t really know what the answer is.”

    “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to help you,” Taylor said awkwardly. “I mean, I’m a Tinker. Tinkering is a lot of fun, and every day I inch closer towards being ready to go public is a day that I go home feeling better.”

    “Yeah,” Amy grumbled. “Your ephemeral ‘debut’ that keeps getting pushed back.”

    “Oh fuck you,” Taylor said, sounding actually offended. “Not all of us are damn near impossible to kill and able to take villains down with one hit.”

    “Aren’t you copying my powers right now?” Amy was rather relieved to learn just why Taylor had requested a sample of her blood yesterday.

    Taylor huffed in annoyance. “That’s exactly my point. There’s a dozen criminal organizations out there that would do anything to get their hands on me, and that’s even before I figure out how to let other people use the copied powers. And if I’m not ready…”

    They walked in silence for half a block before Amy said, “Sorry. I get it. Before I left New Wave, I used to worry about the same stuff. But that doesn’t really help me answer my question. You have your plans and your Tinkering —”

    “And you,” Taylor interjected.

    “Me?” Amy asked, blinking in confusion.

    “You know how I didn’t really have friends before I met you,” Taylor said quietly. “You, Lily, even your cousins and the other Wards — I had nearly forgotten how nice it was to just have someone to talk to.”

    “Oh,” Amy said. “Um, you’re welcome?” She sometimes forgot exactly how much of a wreck Taylor had been when they first started hanging out.

    Taylor licked her lips before continuing. “Without your help and friendship, I would have been really screwed, even if I had survived my first night out. I probably would have tried to stay solo and establish myself as a Tinker, and that would have led to me being captured by Coil or something.”

    “Well, I’m just glad you’re not an asshole,” Amy retorted. “I like having you around too. Especially because you’ve helped me so much with my own powers.”

    “Tinkering is fun,” Taylor said with a small grin. “Although… you’re not really a Tinker. Or you’re like half of a Tinker? I’ve actually been having a blast with your powers, so I can totally see why you have so much fun making crazy stuff.”

    “I know, right?” Amy replied, fishing a blunt out her pocket and lighting it. “Crystal didn’t believe me, but she didn’t really know what she was talking about.”

    Taylor shrugged. “I’m not really the one to ask. I like working with my power, I like testing out powers, and I like being free to do what I want instead of being shackled by bureaucracy. We have fun together, which is something I had been missing in my life before we met.”

    “Ditto,” Amy said. She waved the blunt at Taylor, who politely declined.

    “Then, I don’t know, try to figure out what changed?” Taylor tried. “I don’t think it’s the drugs, mostly because this is kind of a new change and you’ve actually cut back a bit.”

    “What, are you my mother?” Amy snapped, blowing an angry smoke cloud out of her nose.

    “Hey, I’m just trying to help,” Taylor said. “Don’t bite my head off.”

    Amy rubbed at her face again. “Sorry, sorry. It’s just frustrating, I like feeling better but I don’t know what changed. I don’t think I’m doing anything new.”

    “Well, there’s Lily,” Taylor pointed out.

    “I knew her already, from when I went down to New York City. And I already had Emily.”

    “That’s another thing,” Taylor said slowly. “I hope you know what you’re doing. Lily’s a nice girl.”

    Ah, Lily. The poor girl had been yanked around repeatedly by her parents, her foster parents, and the PRT, so coming to Brockton Bay was something of an escape for her. Lily was a big believer in the power of friendship, by her own admission, and Amy thoroughly enjoyed being her friend.

    Luckily, Lily seemed perfectly happy with… whatever informal thing they had going. They probably needed to talk more about exactly what boundaries and expectations the other had, but they were explicitly not dating. It was almost too good to be true, from Amy’s point of view.

    “Friends with benefits is a thing,” Amy said, gesturing with the blunt. “And being my friend just happens to come with lots of benefits.”

    Taylor snorted softly in amusement. “Fine. As long as you don’t get hurt, I won’t pry. Just make sure Emily doesn’t have reason to set you on fire again.”

    Amy’s mind churned while they walked in silence. Her powers were fun. Hanging out with Taylor was fun. Spending the night with Lily was fun. Drugs were fun. But none of these were vast departures from what she had been doing since Christmas, and it wasn’t like her life was particularly glamorous. If anything, it was the exact opposite, as evidenced by the fact that Amy had only cleaned her living space once since moving in.

    Although, even that had been oddly satisfying. Cleaning wasn’t her favorite activity by any stretch of the imagination, so why was she grinning like an idiot afterwards? Why had it felt like some unknown weight on her shoulders had lessened suddenly, leaving her able to breathe for the first time in ages?

    Answers were not forthcoming.

    Luckily, there was ice cream.

    Taylor was, unsurprisingly, not the most social person Amy had ever met. But while they spent most of their time lounging around the workshop or experimenting, Amy had had moderate success with getting the introverted Tinker to accompany her outside. Their excursions usually involved the library, bookstores, and often food.

    It was during one of those excursions that Taylor imparted a great secret unto Amy: an ice cream shop tucked away near the south end of the Boardwalk that was a local favorite. Amy was not surprised in the slightest when they arrived to find the shop half full. Sure, it was unseasonably warm, but the ice cream really was that good.

    Amy ignited the last of the blunt between her fingertips as they walked up, crushing the ash into powder. “What’s on the specials board?”

    “The dark chocolate is back,” Taylor said with a tinge of excitement, “and something with cardamom?”

    Excellent.

    The inside of Nor’easter Frozen Treats looked like it had not been updated since the thirties. Pictures of boats, many of them black-and-white, adorned the walls alongside other shipyard paraphernalia like ropes and flags. Amy had a sneaking suspicion why Taylor liked the place so much, and it wasn’t just the delicious ice cream.

    Taylor ordered a cone with their signature cookie dough. Amy ordered an entire pint of dark chocolate; the look on the cashier’s face when she asked for a spoon was priceless. Taylor’s earlier excitement made sense to Amy when she asked for another.

    “I just want a few bites,” Taylor said when Amy clutched the pint to her chest and turned away. “I know you like the cookie dough, too.”

    “Fine,” Amy said, mock pouting as they sat down in the corner booth to enjoy their treats. “Did you want to do anything else while we were out today?”

    “Not really, I actually would like to get back to the lab and test the new compound,” Taylor said, keeping her voice to a whisper and an eye out for eavesdroppers.

    Amy had an unpleasant thought. “Then why drag me out here at all? You go to the library all the time.”

    Taylor considered her ice cream cone for a second before answering. “Ok, Crystal asked me to make sure you went out and did stuff other than sit around at home.”

    “Yeah, that’s what I figured,” Amy said. “Well, it’s been nice to walk around. Shame we lost the loveseat.”

    The ultimate dream of druggies everywhere, Amy had created a loveseat with an ambulatory plant underneath it that could walk under its own power. The vine-like ‘limbs’ had been neatly concealed under the dust flaps, making it seem as though the small couch was simply floating along. Unfortunately, it had gone missing after Amy forgot to bring it inside one night.

    “You’re sure that thing couldn’t reproduce, right?”

    “Of course, everything I make is sterile. A kill order would kind of put a damper on our plans.” Taylor snorted in amusement, but their earlier conversation came to mind. “How are you doing on funds, actually?”

    “Fine,” Taylor said immediately. “Toybox pays a premium for powers that help them Tinker and we make plenty selling stuff through the Palanquin.”

    “You’re sure they don’t resell the vials?”

    “They’re sticklers for contracts,” Taylor replied. “Are you sure you don’t want me to chip in for rent?”

    Amy rolled her eyes. “I’m pretty sure I passed twenty million in my accounts today. Having you around is more than worth it.”

    An unpleasant expression came over Taylor’s face. “Amy… you’re not happy because you’re rich, right?”

    The question caught Amy so off guard that she froze with her spoon hanging halfway out of her mouth. Money had never really been a problem for her, even from the beginning — Quinn had made sure of that, undoubtedly driven by his cut of her profits. And she barely tapped the gigantic well of cash available to her now, except when she first furnished the loft.

    Taylor, on the other hand, had struggled financially in the beginning, which had been one of their main reasons to start developing drugs. Splitting the profits fifty-fifty on all of their collaborative inventions had netted Taylor a tidy sum, enough to get her lab started and buy materials. Now, she had Toybox as a client, and they paid well.

    Did they still need to even charge for their drugs? Could they just give them away instead?

    “It’s never been about the money, for me,” Amy said slowly. “I mean, when I ran away from home I was broke, but that got fixed pretty much immediately. And I know that our joint operations have kind of become a business in their own right…”

    “But that’s not about the money to you, either,” Taylor continued. “I never thought you were a greedy person, even though you gouge the hell out of your clients.”

    “Quinn does that, not me,” Amy replied, but she was distracted. If she wasn’t doing anything with the money, then what good was it? She could live comfortably in the Bay on two million dollars, so twenty was just absurd. Nobody needed that kind of money.

    She resolved to find a charity or something that needed donations. The vindictive side of her wanted to donate to New Wave, just to make a point. Or maybe she should just give Taylor a big lump sum for putting up with her for the past three months.

    “Amy?”

    “Huh?” Taylor pointed to Amy’s spoon, dripping ice cream onto the table. Amy wiped with a napkin and resumed her demonstration of superior metabolism. She demanded a lick of Taylor’s cookie dough, which was reciprocated by Taylor taking a big chunk of dark chocolate. A concerted effort finished off the remaining ice cream, and soon they were headed home.

    “Damn you and your upgrades,” Taylor complained as they walked out of the shop.

    Amy grabbed Taylor’s hand in response, the other girl’s biology flooding into her mind. Taylor was stronger, faster, more durable, healed faster, and was in generally excellent shape due to the changes Amy had already made to her. On the flip side, Amy had developed better versions of basically all of those upgrades, and made them play nice together with regards to resources.

    “Ok, before we do any more testing, I want to fix all of your upgrades,” Amy said.

    “Can it wait until tomorrow? I have a good sense for dosages right now and you will probably change that dramatically.”

    “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”

    Neither girl made to let go of the other’s hand until they were unlocking the door to the workshop.

    ---​

    “You do realize that people are going to try to snort this, right?” Amy said, holding up the glass tube of orange powder that had been given to her by Taylor. “Actually, what was your intended imbibing method to begin with? This isn’t as addictive as the original, right? And shouldn’t it glow blue?”

    Taylor chuckled to herself from within her forest of glassware. “First, it’s strictly non-addictive, unless you added something to the powder.”

    “Like hell,” Amy retorted.

    “Right. I had you make it sweet because it’s supposed to be taken orally, kind of like a pixie stick.”

    Amy nodded. “Ok, and I guess I have to add the blue glow? I need to think about that.” A few ideas for edible bioluminescent bacteria percolated in her head, but she pushed them away in favor of peering at the orange powder. “Something tells me my eyes will glow blue.”

    “Yep,” Taylor said, obviously amused with herself. “When we started this whole operation, I never would have guessed that it would lead to us controlling the galaxy.”

    Amy couldn’t help but laugh at that, and the pair quickly degenerated into rib-aching cackles. Taylor stumbled out of her workshop and steadied herself on Amy’s shoulder, their laughter feeding back on itself and leaving them both gasping for breath.

    “Seriously though,” Taylor said once she had her laughing under control. She held up her own vial of powder and waved towards the stairs. “Let’s go sit down, get a notebook started, and do a pre-experiment rundown.”

    Of course, Taylor had a seemingly-infinite supply of lab notebooks in her bedroom, and she even procured two blue pens to keep with the theme. Taylor wrote the name, date, and some internal identifiers on the cover, only to have Amy object immediately.

    “We’re calling it ‘spice,’” she said, voice flat.

    “I don’t even know if it will work properly,” Taylor retorted. “If it does, we can come up with a better name.”

    “Because we have such a good track record on that,” Amy sighed, running her finger along her dose of the stuff. “Ok, whenever you’re ready.”

    Taylor nodded, distracted by filling the first page with her own notes on the synthesis and expected behavior of her creation. Amy had read the entries on a few of the other drugs, and while it was fascinating, most of it was gibberish without Taylor’s Tinker power.

    Then Amy was given the spice notebook and had to fill in some information about the base powder. She described it as best she could, though given that the plant was still alive upstairs, errors could be corrected later.

    “So,” Taylor said when Amy handed the notebook back. “Most important thing is obviously the precognitive power. I tested it last night on myself — you will probably ‘see’ intermittent and vague ‘visions’ of the future. Interestingly, I didn’t see further than the time when the drug would have worn off.”

    “Huh,” Amy said, eyes wandering back to her vial. “That’s weird.”

    “I know,” Taylor agreed. “Next important thing is the psychedelic effects. Body high, primarily, like 5-MeO-DiPT, and a euphoric effect similar to 4-AcO-DMT. It also has a feel-good effect like MDMA. So, in terms of our stuff, it’s like the watered-down lovechild of Bottled Lightning and cuddledrug.”

    Amy couldn’t quite keep the smile off of her lips. “That sounds amazing.”

    “I haven’t actually tried that part yet,” Taylor admitted. “Um, for cosmetic effects, it will turn your eyes deep blue and make them glow softly. And, of course, the usual lightshow when you use any of my power tech.”

    “Right. Anything else?”

    Taylor shrugged, holding up her dose and shaking it lightly. “The standard sobering-up potion should work if we have issues. If there ends up being some strange interaction between the power and drug parts, clear the power modifier out of my system first.”

    Amy’s rules prohibiting Tinkering with brains had a singular exception — removing the effects of Taylor’s potions. Under normal conditions, neural tissue metabolized Taylor’s nigh-incomprehensible Tinkertech chemicals at a constant rate, and while they were present in the brain, the corona pairs took on a slightly altered form.

    How they were altered and why was a mystery that Amy one day hoped to sit down and analyze. But she did know that forcing the neural tissue to metabolize all of the chemicals in a short burst would simply cause the corona pairs to return to normal with no other side effects. By watching both her own brain and Taylor’s, Amy had convinced herself that nothing else was being modified.

    Flushing a psychoactive neurochemical — mundane drugs, modified drugs, or actual Tinkertech drugs — was not permitted. Luckily, Taylor had developed a ‘sobering up potion’ that would restore lucidity for a short time if there were problems. Worst came to worst, Amy could just put the user to sleep.

    “Got, remove the power modifier first,” Amy said. “So, we just eat the powder? I’m pretty sure the whole ‘eat a tablespoon of cinnamon’ is a prank you play on friends.”

    Taylor rolled her eyes. “You designed it, so it’s on you if you don’t like the taste.”

    “Fine,” Amy said. They held up their vials, uncorked them, and clicked them together. Taylor hesitated with the vial at her mouth, and Amy tilted her head in confusion. “Afraid?”

    "Fear," Taylor said, flashing her a knowing smile, "is the mind killer."

    She downed the vial in a single gulp, and Amy mimicked her immediately.

    Wonder of wonders, it didn’t taste terrible. Cinnamon and sugary sweetness were the predominant flavors, but there were bitter, earthy undertones with a touch of something floral.

    A decent first attempt.

    Both girls glowed with an ethereal light for a brief moment when the power started working, and Amy paid special attention as Taylor’s eyes — iris, pupil, and sclera all — turned a deep shade of blue. They too were glowing softly, but this effect didn’t fade.

    The come-up on the hallucinogenic effects was an intensely enjoyable experience. Unlike their mundane counterparts, Taylor’s Tinkertech drugs kicked in with no unpleasant side-effects like stomach pains or dizziness. And the effects came on slowly, giving the user the chance to enjoy the coming-up experience.

    Amy liked this part. A lot.

    She shivered in delight as an electrifying warmth spread through her body, starting everywhere at once and radiating outwards like her bones themselves were made of molten electricity.

    Everything tingled.

    Everything buzzed.

    It felt as though she had been sitting in a freezing sauna, only for a blast of hot air to whip through the door and under her towel.

    Amy’s nerves fuzzed as though someone was running their finger up and down her spine while murmuring softly, except it was her whole body.

    A tiny voice whispered that Taylor could do that, right now.

    Amy was so caught up in the invisible glow suffusing her body that almost completely missed the onset of the other two parts of the experience. The cuddledrug was intoxicating as always — and the tiny voice whispered loudly about how silky Taylor’s hair would be if Amy ran her hands through it — but it was the totally new part that drew Amy’s attention from her own body and out into…

    … the future?

    Woah.

    Seriously, woah.

    Amy could see the future.

    The overloaded, insensate, and laid out on the metaphorical couch rational part of Amy’s brain was twitching wildly at the vast influx of information, while the drug-addled rest of her could only think one thing: this was awesome.

    The future, Amy found out, was ghosts.

    Amy didn’t particularly want to become a ghost.

    A giggle escaped her lips.

    Ethereal images and sensations floated around and through Amy in a veritable wave of confusing colors and sounds and knowing of such magnitude that Amy had to sit back and wonder just what the hell was going on. But as she watched, ghosts became more solid, sounds became intelligible, sensations became feelable, and the future was suddenly knowable.

    Well, for some value of ‘knowable.’

    It took Amy a subjective eternity — and her considerable experience with mind-altering substances — to break the surface of the ocean of lucidity-with-foresight, like finding the eye of a tempest compared to calm seas.

    Sitting on Taylor’s lap was ghost-Amy, whispering in the taller girl’s ear. Ghost-Taylor laughed, and they both vanished. Taylor continued writing in the notebook, having not noticed.

    Ghost-Taylor was rummaging through the cabinet, but vanished before she retrieved anything.

    “… a good idea…”

    The smell of cinnamon.

    Ghost-Armsmaster stood in the doorway and frowned, then vanished.

    “… synthetic alkaloids…”

    Ghost-Amy and ghost-Taylor were kissing each other very enthusiastically on the couch, then vanished.

    “… alive for six hours…”

    The taste of something sweet and fruity.

    Giggles.

    A dozen more ‘visions’ flitted in and out of existence, leaving traces of future information in Amy’s head like half-forgotten ‘good ideas’ conceived while high on psychedelics.

    Some of those futures were likely. Some were highly unlikely. Some, Amy had vague notions how to bring them about.

    “It’s a rush, huh?”

    Amy jerked her head around at the sudden present sound, finding Taylor grinning at her with an unnerving smile.

    Why was Taylor unnerving?

    The other girl blinked. Right, glowing blue eyes.

    Didn’t Amy have blue eyes, too?

    Amy was suddenly standing, but… wow, running her hands along her legs and abdomen sent waves of nice tinglies up and down her body. And her hoodie was soft, like her hair, and huh, ghost-Amy was doing the same thing except then going to the bathroom?

    Right, blue eyes.

    “… which playlist…”

    Amy stared at her reflection, slightly confused at how or when she found herself in the bathroom. Quite apart from everything else strange about her face, the blue-in-blue of her eyes was weird.

    The line between iris and sclera was so faint, she could barely tell which way her eyes were pointing.

    It made her chuckle to herself, grin stretching across her face.

    Taylor was inexplicably in the doorway. “How are you handling things?”

    “Come-up was nice.”

    “I figured, you were staring into space for like twenty minutes.”

    This was not surprising in the least.

    “The precog visions were a bit much, at first.”

    A grimace passed over Taylor’s face before melting back into her easy ‘high-as-a-kite’ half-grin. “I might be able to fix that, with more testing.”

    “… Claire Lavere! How dare…”

    Words now completely expended, Amy grabbed Taylor’s hand as she brushed past and pulled the other girl back to the couches. They were comfy and soft and so was Taylor, which was why Amy gently found herself on Taylor’s lap while the taller girl gave her a bemused smile.

    “The cuddledrug might have been a mistake,” Taylor murmured.

    Amy nuzzled into Taylor’s shoulder. “This is nice,” she whispered into Taylor’s ear.

    Taylor chuckled and rubbed Amy’s back, sending pulses of buzzing ricocheting along Amy’s nerves. “Ok, it is kind of nice. But I don’t want to…”

    “Fuck?” Amy breathed. “I understand.”

    If Taylor heard the disappointment in Amy’s voice, she didn’t let it show. The hand scratching Amy’s back continued to produce waves of electrifying pleasure, which distracted Amy from the pair of naked ghosts that were rolling around on the couch long enough for the vision to pass.

    Fuck. That vision even came with sounds. The sudden electrical warmth in Amy’s face — and other places — was amazing.

    After some indeterminate amount of time spent in tactile heaven, Amy returned the favor. Taylor sprawled out on the couch with Amy perched on her butt, and the latter was having her back both scratched and massaged.

    “… ask Elle next time…”

    Amy never trusted her powers while under the influence of psychedelics; it was too easy for a stray thought to start making changes. But she could read biology perfectly well, making her into the ultimate masseuse.

    It kept her mind distracted from the increasingly frequent Armsmaster ghosts that were appearing in the room.

    “Oh gods, yes,” Taylor practically moaned while Amy kneaded her lumbar muscles. “You have no idea how good this feels.”

    “I can guess,” Amy laughed.

    “Mmmm,” Taylor hummed, squirming under Amy’s ministrations. “We should put on some music.”

    “Which playlist? I’m feeling something chill.” ‘Feeling’ here was in the emotional sense — Amy’s tactile and proprioceptive senses were still metaphorically on fire.

    In lieu of an answer, Taylor made grabby motions at the phone barely out of her reach on the coffee table. Amy retrieved it for her, and soon the dulcet tones of electro swing were reverberating through the loft.

    A brief struggle for cuddling dominance followed — tickling, complicated by occasional bouts of foresight — leaving Amy leaning back against the armrest with Taylor leaning back against her. Amy idly played with one of Taylor’s hands, running her fingers along the crease lines and along tendons.

    Taylor used her other hand to make notations in their logbook.

    “… loophole or something…”

    An indeterminate amount of time passed, again.

    Amy’s visions became clearer, and she really wished that they had not.

    Taylor shifted in her lap, sending pulses of warmth through her abdomen. “Uh, Amy?”

    “Someone’s going to be hurt.”

    “Yeah.”

    Taylor shifted again, turning to look up at Amy with glowing blue eyes. “I don’t think you should —”

    “I won’t. Do you have regen power potions?”

    “Yeah.”

    Amy wanted nothing more — well, maybe not nothing — than to keep cuddling with Taylor and watching various futures play out in their living room. The responsible corner of her brain pointed out that if ghost-Armsmaster was possibly charging up into her loft, something bad had happened.

    Would happen?

    “… arresting us…”

    Would have happened?

    The security system beeping ten minutes later might have been a surprise had there not been ghost beeps in the room for several minutes running up to the actual event.

    And then Amy’s disappointment melted in a flash when ghost-Lily was suddenly among the possible future people sitting on her couch.

    Taylor and Amy fell off the couch in a tangle of limbs when they both tried to jump up at once. A moment of confused squirming followed before Taylor extricated herself and stumbled into her bedroom; she reappeared wearing her costume lab coat and goggles.

    They made their way to the workshop door just as Armsmaster started to pound on it with gusto, then shared the universal look for ‘I’m not nearly sober enough for this, but we can fake it, right?’ before Amy pulled the door open to reveal… Miss Militia?

    “Battery, right?” Amy said, stepping aside for the heroes and their ghostly preimages.

    “And Dauntless,” Armsmaster said, striding into the workshop with the wounded hero in his arms. Battery was being carried by Assault, and both were set down on the workshop beds with no prompting.

    It took Amy’s addled brain a few moments to realize that all of the heroes were rather battered, with both their costumes and exposed skin torn up. Battery and Dauntless were worse off, both sporting field-bandaged gut wounds. A quick poke to both confirmed that yes, they needed healing.

    “… the fuck happened here…”

    “The Empire picked a fight with the Merchants, and Coil’s people got involved,” Miss Militia said, answering Amy’s unasked question.

    Wait, did she ask it? Or did ghost-Amy ask?

    She shook her head and tried to focus. There were dying heroes right here.

    “Right. Oeneus, get two each of the regen and stabilizing vials,” Amy said, and Taylor darted into her storage to find them.

    “You’re not going to heal them yourself?” Assault asked, voice hard.

    Amy pointed dramatically to her blue eyes. “At the moment I don’t trust myself to use my power on account of tripping balls and seeing the future. The vials will either fix everything or keep them alive for the next six hours, and mine will have worn off by then.”

    The whole future sight thing was a real pain in the ass when trying to focus.

    The heroes regarded Amy with obviously displeased frowns until Taylor reappeared holding a whole box of vials held upright in a foam brick. “I’ve got a few left over from Canberra, or a new version of both that are more effective. Your choice.”

    “You’re sure this is safe?” Armsmaster asked, obviously skeptical. “Unapproved Tinkertech…”

    “Legend okayed it,” Taylor said tersely. “And it’s not like the board’s cherished approval means anything. Weren’t some of you at Canberra?”

    “Yes, I was,” Miss Militia said, turning to Armsmaster. “We can trust them.”

    “You trust me still,” Amy pointed out. “And I trust Oeneus implicitly.”

    Armsmaster didn’t agree so readily, but after a long minute of consideration, he eventually allowed them to use the Canberra leftovers. Taylor administered the four vials, and Amy checked with her power that it was working. Once Amy was convinced they would be okay, she flopped back down into one of the chairs scattered about and sighed heavily.

    Focusing like that — and pushing the future visions away — was exhausting.

    “They’ll be fine in ten minutes or so,” Amy declared, and the heroes were notably relieved. The sour frown on Assault’s face didn’t completely vanish, but it definitely shrank.

    Armsmaster, however, was not mollified. But when he opened his mouth, Taylor shook her head and spoke first. “It wouldn’t work. Beyond my serious personal misgivings about the Wards program, I could never work in the bureaucracy. Strictly speaking, I’m a human biotinker who needs human test subjects. I’ve looked into the regulations surrounding the approval board, and I know I would face literally endless restrictions and red tape.”

    “Ditto,” Amy added unhelpfully. Taylor rolled her eyes, which Amy could just barely discern.

    “But operating outside of the system makes it nearly impossible for you to collaborate,” Armsmaster pointed out. “And from what I have seen of both of your technologies, we could do an enormous amount of good for this city and the world.”

    “Then find a loophole or something,” Taylor said, totally serious. “You’re here right now, aren’t you?”

    “Unofficially,” Battery bit out, prompting conciliatory motions from a relieved Assault.

    “Battery is right,” Miss Militia said. “But if they are stable, we should return to base for debriefing. We’re already stretching the rules by being here.”

    Amy wasn’t really paying attention to the heroes as they helped their two injured colleagues to their feet. Instead, she watched the ghosts swirling around the room. Taylor, similarly, was staring off into the distance where she was standing against their fake wall segment. Her stares could be intense when she put effort into them, but tonight the blue eyes were doing all of the work.

    Eventually they were left with just Armsmaster, but based on his hand holding the door open, he was not intending to stay much longer. “Oeneus, Miss Lavere,” he said stiffly. “I would like to reiterate that you could both do a lot of good in the Protectorate. I understand your misgivings, but I think you should reconsider.”

    It took Amy a moment to realize that she heard his comments in real time, as opposed to a collection of ghost mutterings. “You’d make me go back to her,” Amy said with bitter finality. “If there wasn’t anything else?”

    Armsmaster looked briefly to Taylor for support, but she was staring off into space and didn’t seem to notice his glance. “I see. Thank you for your help.”

    “Thanks for not arresting us,” Amy retorted. The blue-clad hero grimaced at that, walking through the door without a backward glance. Amy wasn’t quite rude enough to slam the door on them, but she made sure it closed soundly.

    “Ugh,” Taylor said as soon as the lock clicked in place.

    “Yeah,” Amy agreed, but whatever she was going to say was preempted by a vision of ghost-Lily striding in through the door and up the steps. “Do you mind if I invite Lily over?”

    “Only if she brings some food, too.”

    Amy giggled, and felt her lips pull back into the wild smile from earlier.

    ***​

    After six weeks of living and working with Amy, Taylor decided that cape life was pretty sweet. She had a teammate to watch her back, a secure lab for her Tinkering, a reasonable — if dubiously legal — income, and most importantly, a friend.

    That said friend and teammate was currently staring at a fractal visualizer, too high to do much else than smile, barely even registered any more.

    Taylor, on the other hand, had a single blunt made out of orange plant and a cocktail. After Amy’s upgrades had saved her from breaking her legs when Sophia pushed her down the steps again, she felt that she deserved something nice while catching up on reading.

    She had only barely opened her novel when the security alarm went off.

    Amy made a concerned noise, but Taylor shook her head. “I’ll take care of it.” Amy’s murmured response could have gone either way.

    Greeting her on the other side of the door were the local Wards, and wow, that was a worrying amount of blood. Aegis and Gallant were carrying the obviously injured Vista and Clockblocker, while Kid Win and Shadow Stalker lurked behind them.

    The visible parts of their faces showed confusion, but Aegis quickly recovered. “Hello, we’re looking for Panacea. There was a crazy fight, the Protectorate are still out fighting but Vista and Clockblocker need help now.”

    Taylor’s mind flashed to her indisposed teammate. Fuck. She should have put on her costume first.
    “Ok, come on in and get them laid out,” Taylor said. “Um…”


    “You’re… Taylor, right?” Gallant asked. “Amy’s friend? Where is she?”

    Taylor licked her lips. She had bumped into the Wards with Amy a few times, but having them show up like this…

    “Taylor?”

    “Amy’s, ah, indisposed at the moment,” Taylor said quickly.

    “Shit,” Gallant swore. “Is there anything you can do?”

    “What could she do?” Sophia muttered.

    “She usually has a sobering-up potion for this scenario, but we’re out right now…”

    “Of all the goddamn times,” Aegis yelled. “Fuck! They’re hurt bad, I don’t know if we can move them again.”

    Taylor glanced back at her lab space. The regen power potions weren’t stable enough yet for her to test them on Wards, which left really only one option.

    She turned on her heel and walked over to her growing forest of glassware. “Wait!” Gallant called. “Where are you —”

    “I’m making more sobering-up potion,” she said. The sharp intake of breath from the Wards told her that they understood what she had just revealed. “Go get Amy.”

    It took her only two minutes to whip up the potion, as she had already prepared the reagents and the formula was simple. Amy went from staring off into space to coughing and swearing to healing in rapid succession, but the Wards were all fixated on Taylor.

    “You’re a Tinker?” Kid Win asked, interest overcoming his exhaustion. “What’s your specialization?”
    “I rather not say,” Taylor said uneasily. “Um, the Unwritten Rules and all…”


    “We know,” Gallant said. “Actually, since we know your identity now, I’m Dean.” He pulled off his helmet and offered Taylor a hand.

    The other Wards followed suit, and Taylor was so caught up in their profuse thanks that she never saw Sophia leave quietly before unmasking.


    ***​

    Lily, as it turned out, was more happy to come visit. She brought sushi from a fairly nice Japanese restaurant near the PRT headquarters, pointing out that pizza made up an outsized fraction of Amy’s diet.

    Taylor won twenty dollars from Amy for correctly guessing what Lily was bringing, based on what they could see from the spice ghosts. Apparently, Taylor got a precognitive whiff of wasabi, which cinched it.

    “So, you really get precognitive visions?” Lily asked, only slightly distracted by deciding which sushi she wanted next. Or maybe it was Amy’s hand running up and down her thigh. “Does it work in combat?”

    Taylor shook her head quickly. “No way. The visions aren’t consistent enough. You couldn’t dodge an awkward conversation, nevermind a bullet.” As if to punctuate that fact, a ghostly Lily stood up and made it three steps before vanishing.

    Lily gestured with a piece of dragon roll stuck between her chopsticks. “Damn. When can I try spice myself? And you can’t be serious about naming it that.”

    “Uh, whenever you want?” Taylor said. “And why not?”

    Lily was momentarily speechless, and Amy used the opportunity to swoop in and eat the sushi off of her chopsticks. Her theft elicited an angry glare from the Ward, to which Amy responded with a one-armed hug. “I like your taste.”

    “Don’t you mean… nevermind,” Lily said with a smile. “And fine, I guess spice is accurate… and not any worse than your other names.”

    Once the food was gone, Amy practically leapt into Lily’s arms and demanded to cuddle while the drug’s effects were still working. Lily was mildly upset to discover that they had a hot tub and that she didn’t bring her bathing suit, but she was content as the three of them simply sat and enjoyed each other’s company.

    Amy was almost relieved when the precog visions vanished abruptly, despite the more mundane hallucinogenic effects winding down. She and Lily were cuddled together on one couch while Taylor wrote in her notebook on the other. They regaled Lily with discussion about the party in two days, and the stuff they were bringing, only to realize that they only had a day’s worth of prep time left.

    Oops.

    Maybe they should have figured out their plans before this morning.
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2021
  19. asdfghjklpoiu

    asdfghjklpoiu Getting some practice in, huh?

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2020
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    35
    The spice must flow

    Also, thanks for the chapter!
     
    Thrackerzod and FirstSelector like this.
  20. Asura

    Asura Demi-God of Wrath

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2016
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    4,187
    If there's one issue that I want to see a flashback about solving, it's depersonalisation. That shit hits hard and it's kind of random too, so I want to see how they got through it or around it.
     
    SinSinNombre and FirstSelector like this.
  21. gcaller

    gcaller Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2020
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    1
    Another great chapter! I'm really loving this.
     
    FirstSelector likes this.
  22. FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Yay, chapter! It took me far longer than I expected to realize that spice was a definite possibility with Taylor's power, and then there was no way it wouldn't get included somehow.
     
  23. Autocorruptor

    Autocorruptor Corrupting Innocent Grammar

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2020
    Messages:
    822
    Likes Received:
    3,949
    And then the Herbet Estate tried to sue Taylor for copyright infringement. Unfortunately, someone misspelled “Hebert” as “Herbet” on the paperwork, and charges were dropped as a family cannot sue itself. :V
     
    SinSinNombre and FirstSelector like this.
  24. Threadmarks: Tryptamine 1.6
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Friday, March 18 2011


    “That will be $27.15.”

    Amy fished her wallet out and extracted her strange credit card, handing it to the cute girl working the register at the donut shop. The girl gave her a knowing smirk in response, as she had been the unfortunate soul who had dealt with Amy and Taylor last weekend when they went on their donut expedition.

    It wasn’t clear to Amy if the cashier recognized her as Panacea or not. She wasn’t recognized often out of costume, especially since she stopped hanging out with Victoria, which suited Amy just fine. People who did recognize her were occasionally angry but most now seemed content to just let her be; maybe the cashier didn’t want to cause a scene.

    Or maybe she remembered Amy being high as balls last week.

    Two dozen donuts joined a collection of muffins and other assorted pastries in the bags at Amy’s feet, and with only a bit of shuffling she managed to pick up the whole pile in only two hands. Additional hands would not help her remain incognito.

    The walk back north to the workshop was almost entirely uninteresting, despite crossing nominal territory lines between Downtown and the Docks. Once again, Amy found herself wishing that she might encounter someone dumb enough to attack her. Bags of delicious goodies notwithstanding, a thought had wormed its way into Amy’s head and she was desperate for a distraction.

    Vicky.

    A blunt appeared in Amy’s mouth, and she lit it reflexively. Vicky would be at the party tomorrow. There was basically nothing Amy could do to change that, short of something drastic like telling Carol about the party or the like, and Amy certainly wasn’t going to sabotage her own debut. In fact, from a purely business standpoint, she wanted Vicky there.

    Vicky.

    Had she ever loved Amy? Seen her as anything other than a —

    No. She wouldn’t get trapped in that hell-thought spiral again.

    Vicky would be there, but Amy could probably just ignore her. Dean’s house was huge, there would probably be tons of people, and Taylor would definitely help her avoid Vicky if Amy asked. They wouldn’t have to interact with each other, Amy wouldn’t start yelling, Vicky wouldn’t casually undermine Amy’s entire life.

    Stop.

    Amy barely noticed when she pulled out a second blunt after practically inhaling the first.

    She forced herself to think about more pleasant things, like what she and Taylor were bringing to the party. Between Chroma, Nitro, and purple plant — and the color-changing accutroments — they had more than enough psychedelic oomph to start a small rave. Or a large rave, depending on how much they made this afternoon.

    The purple plant was the easiest to make but the hardest to distribute. Would it be easier to just bring a bag of buds? Or should they grind them up first? It was obvious why a box of pre-wrapped blunt was off the table — one might be enough for Amy, but it would put an ordinary high school student out like a light. There was simply too much…

    Huh.

    What about a neutral, benign filler plant? Amy’s brain whirled as she considered the most efficient way to design a plant to produce tasteless, mostly odorless filler, pushing all thoughts of Vicky and that night out of her head in lieu of her newest biological puzzle.

    She had it mostly solved by time she was shouldering open the workshop door. “Food’s here!” she yelled, only to discover that everyone was waiting right in front of her.

    “Ow,” Lily said, rubbing her ear dramatically.

    “You’re louder than dad when he can’t find the remote,” Eric laughed, reaching to take some of the bags from Amy. “Ooh, donuts, good choice.”

    Amy was surprised to find Dean and Dennis both eagerly looking through the pastries. “Dean,” she said, doing her best to keep the residual jealousy out of her voice.

    “Hello Amy,” he said, giving her a thin-lipped grin.

    “Dennis is here for the amusement factor,” Amy deadpanned, making the redhead snort, “but why did you come?”

    “I wanted to see exactly what I had signed up for,” Dean replied. “Dennis said that you needed extra hands.”

    “We do?” Amy asked. She had a momentary thought of how enthusiastic Vicky would have been to help, had she any inclination to be near the other girl.

    “We do,” Taylor said, wandering out of her lab space and taking a sprinkled donut. “The only safe way to do this is providing individual doses, and that means lots of time with gloves and funnels. They can help.”

    “I also have a way to package the purple plant,” Amy said. “Pre-wrapped blunts with seventy-five percent filler.”

    “Filler?” Lily asked skeptically.

    “Not all of us are as enthusiastic about drugs as you,” Dennis said with a grin. “The less said about Amy, the better.”

    “Watch it,” Amy hissed, making the Ward wince. “But, yeah, that. Normal people with no tolerance or experience grabbing entire blunts and trying to smoke them individually? Bad idea. We’ll tell people that they’re diluted.”

    “Just like we dilute the Nitro,” Taylor pointed out. “At full strength, it’s… potent.”

    “Makes sense,” Dean admitted. “And you’re sure all of this stuff is safe? Not toxic, no side effects, no permanent damage?”

    “Do we look like idiots?” Amy retorted. “Everything has been checked thoroughly, and if not, I’ll be there.”

    “Not as Panacea, right?” Eric said. “Taylor mentioned something about new costumes while we were hot tubbing…”

    Amy ran a hand over her face. Taylor had needed to modify her costume somewhat, given that her hair was distinctive and she was often seen in Amy’s company. Luckily, an armored hood for her lab coat was easily affixed, and honestly provided protection that not enough capes realized was necessary.

    For her own part, Amy had a few ideas. Something distinctive that would separate her from Panacea. Something bold, provocative. Colorful.

    “I have an idea,” Amy admitted. “But yeah, tomorrow night is my debut in a new identity.”

    Like many capes, Amy had a lot of feelings about her debut in costume. She remembered the naked hope on so many faces when she first stepped out in her white robes; warm in the winter they may be, her robes provided no protection against the attacks on either her body or her mental state.

    Her new costume would provide even less protection for the former, not that Amy was particularly worried. And as for the latter…

    Well, if people didn’t recognize her, they couldn’t try to guilt her into doing things for them.

    “I’m looking forward to seeing it,” Lily said with a smile. “Do you need any help?”

    “Nope,” Amy said, shaking her head. She grabbed an apple danish from the pastry bag and cast an eye out over the group. “At least, not for my costume. How do you guys feel about rolling blunts?”

    Dean sighed heavily, refusing to meet Amy’s eyes, but their other three helpers were various shades of enthusiastic. Lily obviously knew what she was getting into, Eric was awkwardly trying to make it seem like he wasn’t excited, and for all that Dennis avoided drugs, he seemed to find the prospect of playing with them highly amusing.

    A quick trip to the roof yielded two small cuttings of their current version of purple plant. Even Dean watched with wide-eyed wonder as Amy set them in the square of exposed dirt and worked her power on them. The first grew rapidly from one leaf to a bush and finally to the size of a small tree, sprouting flowering buds filled with delicious neurochemicals all along its leafy branches.

    “You can pick the buds with your hands,” Amy said, gesturing at the tree. “Taylor, can you find the grinders, a larger scale, and wraps?”

    The Tinker gave an affirmative grunt, leaving Amy to the new plant. The second cutting was also growing in the dirt, ripe for modification. Plans for a specific filler plant were discarded early in her deliberations, as it was easier to just remove the neuroactive compounds from the purple plant. However, to keep the taste consistent, other compounds had to remain the same.

    Color had to change, though, as it was no longer purple plant.

    Amy felt a grin tugging on her cheeks with even this small change. The purple plant was really turning into a work of art, albeit one that was only displayed in the museum of the mind.

    She stood up with the second plant as it grew to the same size as the first. “Ok, we need three green buds to one purple bud,” she informed her assistants. “Let me know if you need more to grow.”

    A chorus of agreement followed, letting Amy turn her attention to the next project. Of course, that meant fetching another plant from the roof, but this time she brought the entire pot. Nitro required a pair of precursor chemicals that Amy didn’t fully understand, even when they were running around in her own brain. The plant that produced them looked something like a small kumquat tree, except that the fruits were bright orange.

    She carried the pot into Taylor’s work area, only to stop when she saw the Tinker slumped forward on a stool, resting her head on the surface of her workbench.

    Strange.

    Taylor was almost always moving with purpose, bustling between projects or making the most out of her relaxation time. Amy kind of admired the other girl’s single-minded focus on developing her Tinker repertoire, and Amy appreciated that Taylor didn’t look down on her for not sharing her drive.

    Seeing her feeling… whatever she was feeling that had her slumped over, that was unusual.

    “Taylor?”

    “Are we sure we really want to do this?” the Tinker murmured into the table.

    Amy set the plant on an open workbench, then walked over and leaned down next to Taylor. “What do you mean?”

    “It just feels like a big step, I guess,” Taylor said quietly. “And I’ve been thinking about what Armsmsater said, about the whole collaboration issue.”

    “You’d join the Wards?” Amy asked incredulously.

    “No,” Taylor snapped. “Hell no. It’s just… we’ll be labeled villains after tomorrow, especially if something goes wrong.”

    Amy scoffed. “What, exactly, are they going to do to us?”

    Taylor lifted her head up and fixed Amy with a glare. “That’s not the point and you know it. We may be rogues, technically, but we’re heroic rogues. I’m worried we will use up what good reputation we have if our debut is selling drugs at a party. Plus, we don’t even need to go! We could just give the box of stuff to Dean and not have to deal with everything.”

    “I thought you wanted to go?”

    “Yes! No! I don’t know!” Taylor said, surprising Amy with the sudden intensity. “I want to go see how everything works, to see people’s reactions and really test how good our stuff is. But spring break parties are basically condensed teenage drama, which is why I didn’t want to join the Wards in the first place. And putting up with that only to get labeled a villain…”

    “It’s just a party,” Amy said. “My sis— Vicky dragged me to them all the time.”

    “Yeah?” Taylor asked acidly. “Are you looking forward to seeing her?”

    No she fucking didn’t.

    Memories of that night flashed through Amy’s mind.

    “Fuck you,” Amy spat back. “You know why I don’t want to deal with her bullshit! Of course I don’t fucking want to see her!”

    “Really? It didn’t seem to bug you a second ago.”

    “Yeah, because I know how to deal with parties. What would you do if I had Vicky invite that bitch Emma? Her dad works with Vicky’s mom, you know.”

    Taylor flinched.

    Fuck, that was too far.

    Amy took a steadying breath and pushed her anger down. It took her a few seconds to get herself under control, and it was only when she opened her eyes that she realized that Taylor was doing the same thing. The anger drained out of the taller girl’s face, leaving only hurt and resignation behind.

    Their gazes lingered on each other, daring their opposite to be the first to apologize.

    Amy knew about Taylor’s trigger event, just as Taylor knew that Amy had harbored a deep and inappropriate attraction to Vicky. Emma had practically been Taylor’s own sister; Vicky had thrown Amy under the bus at the worst possible moment.

    “I’m sorry,” Amy said at the same time that Taylor mumbled, “Sorry.”

    The silence returned, only to be broken by a very awkward-looking Eric peeking out from behind a workbench piled with equipment. “Uh, Ames…”

    It took only thirty seconds to have the filler plant produce more buds, and when Amy returned to Taylor’s little enclave, the Tinker was distracting herself with work. Amy left her to her devices, sitting down on a stool and waiting until Taylor wanted to talk.

    “I’ve been thinking about Toybox,” Taylor said eventually, not looking up from her busy hands.

    “What about Toybox?” Amy asked, confused by the non-sequitur.

    Taylor held up a large jug of yellow liquid, which Amy recognized as a precursor to Nitro. “Their persistent offers to join, mostly. And what things would be like if I had just joined the Wards from the get-go.”

    “Sophia, for one,” Amy said. “And I like to think that we have more fun.”

    “We do,” Taylor agreed, a small smile cracking through her gloomy facade. “I’m not denying that. It’s just frustrating, that it’s so hard to be a hero unless you deal with the PRT.”

    They lapsed back into silence, and Amy took the opportunity to have the Nitro plant produce the bright orange fruits necessary for Taylor’s formula. She grew a double handful and placed them in a pile on the workbench; Taylor dropped them one-by-one into a beaker full of boiling liquid, where they dissolved and colored the solution orange.

    “There’s no real reason not to go to the party at this point,” Taylor said abruptly. “The special investigation and all keeps us in the clear, and it’s not like suddenly changing tracks will convince the PRT to let me work with Armsmaster.”

    “Probably not,” Amy agreed. “We’ve never cared what the PRT thought or said about us until now, and I don’t see any reason we should start.”

    “Right,” Taylor said, and Amy could practically smell her building resolve. “We’re independent for a reason. We’re not hurting anyone. Hell, if anything, we’re making their spring break safer. Our stuff is way less toxic than alcohol.”

    “So, business as usual?” This time, Amy felt her lips curl up in a grin.

    “Yeah. If the heroes want to collaborate, I’m sure as hell not stopping them.”


    ***​

    Crystal was honestly not sure what she was going to find when she knocked on the door of her cousin’s… workshop. She couldn’t call it a lair, even in her own head. And Amy was still her cousin, despite everything that had happened.

    She touched down in the suspiciously clean alley and strode to the door, banging on the reinforced metal with her fist. “Amy!” she called, knowing that there was a camera that would have alerted her cousin. At least Amy was smart enough to buy a good security system.

    The door opened a minute later to reveal an obviously drunk Amy. A ghost of a smile played over Amy’s freckled face, the expression at odds with her glassy eyes. “Hey Crystal, is someone hurt?”

    Crystal didn’t let the annoyance from the (probably) unintentional accusation show on her face, and instead pulled Amy into a hug. “No, I just wanted to drop by and see how you were doing.”

    “On Valentine’s Day?” Amy asked, voice muffled by Crystal’s shoulder. “Don’t you have, like, a date or something?” When they let go, the smile flitted across Amy’s face again.

    “Nope,” Crystal said, rolling her eyes and covering the old pain of being an outed cape with her own grin. “Can I come in? I won’t stay too long if —”

    “It’s fine,” Amy said suddenly. “Great, actually. Taylor and I are watching a movie.”

    And smoking something probably illegal, Crystal added mentally.

    Crystal did her best to ignore the increasingly disturbing ‘operating theatre’ that was Amy’s primary source of income. Plants of various unnatural colors decorated the area, several growing bizarrely-colored fruit. The other half of the room was not much better, but it was only ‘standard mad scientist’ instead of ‘crazed biotinker.’

    That was unfair to Amy, she knew, but Crystal couldn’t get the words out of her mind.

    The upstairs was not much better off. Bottles and drug paraphernalia were scattered everywhere, having only increased in quantity since Crystal was here the week before. Holiday ‘decorations’ were provided by several five-pound bags of candy spilling out among the glassware. Crystal could handle quite a lot of slobbiness, but this was seriously pushing it.

    Taylor sat on one couch and offered Crystal a polite wave, the smile on her face not quite reaching her own glassy eyes. Crystal wasn’t sure what to make of the mysterious Tinker. On one hand, she was a constant presence in Amy’s life, someone to watch her back and keep her company. They seemed to be quite good friends, as evidenced by Taylor ‘unmasking’ to Crystal the last time she had visited.

    On the other hand, quality of life in the workshop seemed to be accelerating in a downwards spiral. Crystal’s hope that Taylor might be a moderating influence on her cousin had been thoroughly dashed.

    Crystal put all of that out her mind as she sat down on the couch. “What are you watching?” she asked, taking a piece of candy for herself.

    “Some Aleph cape romance,” Amy said. “It’s cheesy, but sweet.”

    “I think it’s just cheesy,” Taylor muttered, but her grin seemed genuine.

    “Want a blunt?” Amy asked as she unpaused the movie.

    “I think I’m alright,” Crystal replied.

    Crystal watched as the two younger girls lit up blunts filled with their own creations, wondering if she should say something. Amy seemed inexplicably happier now than before the whole situation with Aunt Carol, and Crystal was loath to upset that particular apple cart. At the same time, this was clearly not healthy.

    A problem for later. For now, she ate candy and watched a movie with her cousin, happy to see even the hints of a smile on Amy’s face.

    ***​

    When Amy and Taylor emerged from the forest of glass twenty minutes later holding a gallon flask of Nitro, Amy thought that Eric’s eyes were going to pop out of his head. “Holy shit,” he breathed. “That’s a lot of drugs.”

    Dean eyed the viscous red-orange liquid with a wary eye. “What is that?”

    “Nitro,” Taylor replied. “One of our earlier inventions. It’s pretty popular at the Palanquin.” She gave the flask a good shake, but the liquid inside just shifted around lethargically. “I have small vials to make individual doses, but it needs to be watered down.”

    Eric made a disappointed noise and Amy snorted. “Eric, I’m glad you’re excited, but even Taylor and I dilute it by half before taking it.”

    “We do now,” Taylor pointed out. “The first time, Amy just grabbed the flask out of my hands and chugged it; she was loopy for an entire day.”

    Amy laughed along with the rest of the group at that, partially because it was funny and partially because Lily had walked over and squeezed her in support. “Well, I’ve never tried it, so be careful with my dose,” the Ward laughed.

    Taylor took the bottle back and set to diluting it safely, and Dennis followed her to help stopper the vials when they were full. Amy, on the other hand, had Lily and Eric start grinding the purple and filler plants to actually make blunts. They had finished picking not long after Taylor had started the process to make Nitro, and Amy had forgotten to set them to a new task.

    Naturally, they used one of the only free flat surfaces — one of Amy’s hospital beds.

    “You doing alright?” Lily asked while they worked, and Eric nodded in support.

    “Yeah,” Amy replied. “Sorry you had to hear that.”

    “Everyone argues sometimes,” Lily said diplomatically, stepping over and pulling Amy into a hug.

    Support after an emotional upset? Amy had almost forgotten that this was a thing. She leaned into the hug and tried to enjoy just being held by someone who cared about her.

    Amy also wanted to point out that good people didn’t intentionally bring up their best friend’s trigger event, but talking about it in front of someone else would just make things worse. Instead, after she freed herself from Lily’s embrace, she said, “Taylor just wishes she could work with Armsmaster, and the PRT is making it hard.”

    “Well, you guys are rogues,” Eric pointed out.

    “And proud of it,” Amy said, rolling her eyes. “Most of the time, anyway. And we’re pretty heroic, for rogues.”

    Lily and Eric traded a glance, and Lily said, “Yeah, though we wish you hadn’t healed Othala.”

    “Me too,” Amy said. “But we’re not in a position to fight the Empire and everyone else who might come knocking if we stop being nominally neutral…”

    Amy trailed off, a comment from earlier sticking in her head. Toybox had been rather persistent, even if their efforts were mostly focused on getting Taylor to join. Amy had mostly been thinking of the pocket dimension as a safe space that was hers and couldn’t be taken from her. However, if she didn’t need to worry about reprisal, then she could tell villains to fuck off and die.

    Kaiser couldn’t come knocking if there was no door.

    Unfortunately, that sort of obvious bias wouldn’t fly with Toybox. Hm….

    “Hey, Amy, what the hell?”

    Amy blinked back to the present to discover that she had habitually lit and started smoking the blunt she had been preparing. “Oh, uh, I guess it works? I mean, someone needs to test them.”

    “Right,” Lily said skeptically. Even without looking, Amy could tell Dean was frowning from where he was sitting and noodling on his phone.

    Luckily, her artistry had paid off again, and the diluted purple plant blunts worked perfectly. Eric asked about the history of purple plant, so they spent the remaining time while working listening to Amy’s abbreviated history of biotinkered drugs.

    As they were nearing completion of the blunt-rolling operation, Taylor appeared with a large cardboard box that clinked as she shifted it. “The Nitro is all bottled up.”

    “We’re almost done,” Lily said, gesturing to the pile of rolled blunts. “But… don’t you have something more classy than a cardboard box?”

    Amy snorted in amusement at Taylor’s baffled expression. A quick peek in the box of vials gave her a rough estimate of volume, and she only had to extend a small tendril of vine from her fingertip to touch the nearest offshoot of the base defense plant. Once it connected, she had access to a functionally unlimited biomass supply.

    The others yelped in surprise when the vine exploded upwards, growing rapidly in both length and width as it arced from the corner of the operating ‘room’ to rest on the bed. A small, cubical fruit-like protrusion budded off of the tip before expanding into a box-like shape. It was made of the same material as the cabinets, except much more thin.

    Lily’s eyes were fixed on vine streaming from Amy’s finger. “Uh, Amy…”

    The question drew everyone else’s eyes, and Dennis coughed awkwardly. “I think you were underselling yourself a few days ago, Amy. That’s a hell of a Changer power.”

    “It’s pretty neat,” Amy agreed, ignoring Dean’s questioning stare. She reached her free hand into the box of vials and started laying them out so that they fit snugly into the new box. Ten across, two deep, and two high made for a nice size, so Amy made a dozen boxes.

    It took the assembled teenagers only a short time to package the Nitro vials and diluted purple plant into their fancy new containers, and while they were doing that, Taylor reappeared with a second cardboard box of vials. These new ones held an iridescent liquid that shifted colors like the rainbows from an oil slick.

    Amy frowned in confusion. “What the hell?”

    “Chroma,” Taylor said, lips quirking up in a smile.

    “Woah,” Eric said, awed.

    “Last time it was just blue,” Lily pointed out.

    Taylor held up one of the vials and swirled it, turning the liquid inside into a tornado of color. “I made a quick cosmetic alteration. No change to the active ingredient, though.”

    “Awesome,” Lily said, picking up her own vial and shaking it. “Seriously cool.”

    Amy noted that Taylor’s smile widened a fraction at the praise. “I should point out that the vials are the same size, since I get them in bulk from Toybox.” The others took that as a hint to pack the Chroma into its own set of boxes, and while they did that Taylor brought out two more boxes of vials: eye-glowing potion (the liquid glowed in no particular color) and rainbow hair potion (which was pure white).

    “You’re lucky I was already keeping extra of this stuff,” Taylor said, setting the last box down. Eric and Dennis started unpacking it immediately.

    Suffice to say, trading donuts for help was a smart move.

    Dean finally took that as his impetus to stand up and join the others. “So, this is it?”

    “Yep,” Amy said, flipping open five lids. “The rainbow stuff is Chroma. Six hours of vivid color enhancement and hallucinations along with a minor body high and euphoric effect.”

    “Minor?” Dean interjected. “Weren’t you struggling to buy donuts while under that influence?”

    “Well, minor for us,” Amy said. “Lily?”

    “Huh?” the Ward asked. “Oh, right. It’s not that impairing, not like being drunk or high. It’s more… confusing? There’s a lot of cool stuff to look at, and you get distracted.”

    “I see,” Dean said.

    “We also diluted this batch a fair amount,” Taylor added.

    Amy pointed to the next box. “The red-orange stuff is Nitro. One vial lasts about an hour. Ever been put under on nitrous oxide for dental work? It’s like that, except milder, if you can believe it. But the sense dissociation is stronger than the cognitive dissociation, so you can still function while enjoying yourself.”

    “And last but not least, purple plant,” she continued. “Pretty standard, works like pot.”

    “What if someone has a bad reaction?” Dean asked. “Do you have a cure of some sort?”

    Taylor and Amy shared a glance. “It’s too dangerous for us to attempt to make a universal drug cure, it could have really unpleasant side effects.”

    “Like what?” Eric asked.

    “Mucking up your serotonin and dopamine balances, primarily,” Amy said uneasily. While she certainly wasn’t willing to actually put anything like this into practice, she had considered a few different ways of flushing the foriegn chemicals from the brain.

    The implications disturbed her.

    “We do have a temporary sobering-up potion, but that only gives you ten to fifteen minutes,” Taylor said.

    Dean’s face lit up in recognition. “Oh, like that time where —”

    “I unmasked to save you guys, yeah,” Taylor said. “Honestly, the best solution is to have Amy knock them out, or give them a sleeping potion.”

    “That’s not sketchy at all,” Dennis muttered.

    “Look, if there was a better way, we would do it,” Amy huffed. “Hell, if we could find a solution that didn’t involve Tinkertech, hospitals would be over the moon to get their hands on it. But we don’t, so we’ll have to make do with what we have. We’ll just have to keep careful track of anyone who ends up needing it.”

    She pointed to the last two boxes. “Lastly, those are cosmetic only. The glowing one makes your eyes glow their natural color while the white one colors your hair like rainbows. I can cancel their effects immediately, but they’re totally benign.”

    “Oh, is that the reason Lily had to be put on console duty last weekend because her hair was colored?” Dennis asked with a smile. Lily blushed and glowered at thim.

    Amy snickered to herself, but Taylor rubbed her hands together and glanced around the room. “Well, I’ll whip up some sleeping potion later, but it looks like we’re done.”

    “Good,” Lily said. “I want to go hot tubbing. I brought my bathing suit and everything.”

    The others let out various appreciative noises, including a “Dibs on bathroom first!” from Eric as he dashed up the steps with a bag in his hands. Dennis followed on his heels, but when Lily tried to drag Amy along, Taylor stopped them. “Hey Lily, can I ask a huge favor from you before we go upstairs?”

    “Uh, sure,” Lily said, letting herself get dragged into Taylor’s workspace.

    Dean watched them go before motioning Amy towards the other wall. “Amy, could I talk to you for a second? I don’t want to hot tub, so I’m going to head home.”

    Amy glowered, but followed him away from Taylor’s forest of glass. “What?”

    “Vicky told me about her encounter with you guys earlier this week,” he said slowly.

    “Of course she did,” Amy grumbled.

    “I don’t care about the vigilantism,” Dean said, though he obviously did. “What I care about is that you’re still avoiding Vicky. She’s going to be there tomorrow, you know.”

    “I know,” Amy snapped, thinking back to her earlier argument. “Trust me, I know. I can behave myself.”

    Dean shook his head once. “That’s not what I’m worried about. I…” He seemed to consider his words. “Vicky feels awful about —”

    “Oh fuck y—”

    “Amy!” Dean said, the sudden heat in his voice cutting right through her objection. “I know she hurt you. Badly. That much is obvious, since you second triggered. The thing is, she knows it, too. Vicky was completely honest when she said that she wanted to apologize.”

    “I don’t need to let her,” Amy spat.

    “No, you don’t,” Dean agreed, frowning. “But she misses you something fierce, and I think you should at least hear her out. If it counts for anything, she got into several screaming matches with your… er, her mom.”

    Amy heaved an explosive sigh and closed her eyes. She desperately wanted to say that she didn’t miss Vicky, but that wasn’t true. She knew Vicky probably felt terrible about the whole ordeal, because the girl didn’t have a malicious bone in her body and for all that night had been terrible, Amy had never believed Vicky did it intentionally.

    Which, of course, made everything hurt that much worse.

    “I’ll think about it,” Amy said tersely.

    “Amy —”

    “I said that I’ll think about it, Dean,” she snapped. “I won’t cause any problems tomorrow if she doesn’t. Hell, once I’m in costume, she’ll be able to pester me all she wants. That will have to be good enough for her, right now.”

    Dean grimaced, but nodded. “Ok, fine. That’s… good enough. I’m, um, going to go, then.”

    “Don’t want to hot tub?”

    “I don’t think Vicky would appreciate it if I did it without her,” he said with a rueful smile. “I’m sure she would say yes if you inv—”

    “No,” Amy said immediately. That was a can of worms she absolutely did not want to deal with.

    “Sure,” Dean said. “See you tomorrow.”

    Amy followed him to the door and tried not to enjoy his departure overly much. Dean wasn’t a bad guy, really, he just pushed Amy’s buttons. Like, all of them.

    Then she was being engulfed from behind and everything was a little better.

    “Don’t look so sad,” Lily murmured into Amy’s ear, resting her chin on Amy’s shoulder as she hugged Amy from behind. “Instead, I want you to play with my body.”

    Amy jerked in surprise and attempted to sputter out a response, but Lily just laughed and squeezed harder. “There we go,” she said. “Seriously, though, would you be willing to give me a round of upgrades?”

    “Please,” Taylor asked from behind them. “I need a blood sample from someone in a cluster to figure something out, but she would only do it in trade.”

    “Won’t your employer get all pissy?” Amy asked, freeing herself from Lily’s hug and spinning to face the two other girls.

    “Probably, but I can sit through power testing again,” Lily replied dismissively.

    “Can you also do me a favor and take a house call?” Taylor added, somewhat awkwardly.

    Amy had to fight to keep the frown off of her face. Taylor was her best friend, her confidant, and had been nothing but good to her since they had met. If she was asking for favors out of the blue like this, it must be important.

    So, Amy grit her teeth and nodded. “Yeah, I guess. Why?”

    “Same thing. I need blood samples to try something,” Taylor replied.

    “And I can’t help because…?”

    Taylor glanced away. “You can’t fix yourself if something goes extremely wrong.”

    That… didn’t actually answer the question. When Amy gave Taylor a blood sample two days ago, she wasn’t expecting the Tinker to copy her power. That was big. Huge, even, despite the fact that it apparently only worked for Taylor. This new project was probably something similar, and Amy wondered why she couldn’t explain.

    Taylor’s habit of playing her cards close to her chest was frustrating.

    “Sure,” Amy said. “Let’s do the upgrades and celebrate with hot tubbing.” Lily punched the air in excitement, and Taylor even cracked a smile.

    So, mentally preparing herself to fundamentally reshape two of her closest friends, Amy led her two test subjects up the stairs and had them lay out on the couch. She could only copy about two-thirds of her own upgrades, as several of them only functioned due to her ability’s direct use. The rest, as she had been checking over the past few days, were completely self-sustaining.

    “What all goes into this?” Lily asked, her nervousness only known because Amy was reading her biology.

    “The easiest parts are stronger, more efficient muscles and stronger bones that heal more easily. You won’t be able to lift cars, but you should be beyond peak human performance,” Amy started. “To go with that, I have to rework your connective tissue everywhere, but especially around your joints.”

    “Woah,” Lily said.

    “Next is a whole slew of metabolic and digestive improvements, followed by cleaning your DNA out of a variety of cancers and other degenerative disorders. Reinforcing your ears and eyes, better protection for your spine… all of that is potentially within evolutionary reach.”

    Lily blinked.

    “I can reinforce your skin and organs with a carbon fiber-like mesh, upgrade your subdermal tissue with a hexagon-like structure to distribute force, reinforce your bones with a carbon fiber composite, overhaul your eyes for better sensitivity, and armor your neck as the first set of beyond-evolution stuff,” Amy continued. “It involves growing special cells that automatically repair and replenish those parts but, strictly speaking, are not ‘your’ cells. The others require minor tweaks to your DNA, but are self-propagating.”

    “That’s kinda weird,” Lily admitted.

    “Only a little,” Taylor said. “Most of your cells are bacteria, anyways.”

    Amy chuckled at Lily’s horrified face. “Anyway, certain exotic stuff can be made to work. Electric discharge on your hands, venomous spit, retractable claws — that all can be rigged up pretty easily. Does your power work on your own limbs?”

    “No,” Lily said. “But it might work on the claws. Can we try that?”

    “Surely you want more?” Amy teased.

    Lilly rolled her eyes. “Obviously. What did you give Taylor?”

    “Everything that I said, although most of it has newer versions,” Amy replied. “Except the eyesight.”

    “You can do that now,” Taylor said. “I bought some dummy frames.”

    “Let’s start with that,” Lily said.

    Powers were bullshit. It was practically a mantra among parahumans, encompassing the idea that even when you factored in how powers told reality to go sit in the corner, there would always be something else surprising.

    In Amy’s case, it was the ease in which she was able to completely rebuild Lily’s body.

    Lily fidgeted slightly under Amy’s hand. “This kinda tickles.”

    The current set was easier because Amy was copying her own upgrades. Some part of Amy rebelled at the idea of straying too far from baseline human, lest something bad happen and the doctors be completely flummoxed when they opened her up.

    Also, power nullifiers. Requiring your power to stay alive was a risky proposition.

    Almost before she knew it, Amy was done with Lily and reaching over to Taylor. “Try not to move too quickly until you get used to things,” she said absently. Taylor’s upgrades were all over the place, and it would be slightly more complicated to get her up to spec.

    Only slightly, of course, because powers were bullshit.

    Amy felt a wide grin settle on her face as she worked on Taylor, and her patient noticed. “Having fun?”

    “Hell yeah,” Amy said. “It’s kind of crazy looking back on what I had been trying before. It’s good to know everything is stable, but I’ve made so many improvements.” She lifted her hands with a flourish and spread them out. “All done!”

    “Awesome,” Taylor said, pulling off her glasses and looking around the room. “Oh, wow, my prescription was out of date. This is amazing.”

    “I know, right?” Lily said, flexing her extendable fingernails. “Holy shit, I have claws now!”

    Then she picked up a stray fork from the coffee table, scrunched up her face, and sliced a nail clean through it with no effort.

    The metallic ping when the severed end hit the table echoed in a silent room.

    Taylor whistled. “Holy shit indeed.”

    Amy just nodded, eyes flitting between the perfectly cut fork handle and the feral grin slowly curling on Lily’s face. Her new claws were sharp, but not that sharp.

    However, further experimentation was declined in favor of finally putting on bathing suits and going hot tubbing. Lily used her newfound strength to pick Amy up and practically throw her into her bedroom, then grabbed her arm once she was changed and hauled her up the stairs.

    Taylor, the traitor, followed while snickering.

    “About time!” Dennis called as they came up, sticking his head out of the force field. “I thought you were going to leave us in here to prune to death!”

    “You don’t get pruny, thanks to bullshit Tinkertech,” Taylor pointed out. She shifted uncomfortably, and Amy realized that she was embarrassed.

    Figures, Dennis was checking her out. Not that Amy blamed him, of course.

    “I’m almost regretting asking for something other than upgrades,” Dennis asked with a knowing grin. “Because you girls look —”

    Amy coughed.

    “— like pro heroes,” Dennis continued, completely unfazed. “Seriously, I’m jealous. Look at this flab!” He poked himself in the stomach for emphasis. Amy noted that there wasn’t that much actual flab to complain about.

    Lily snorted in amusement, dragging the other two towards the hole in the force field. Taylor was too busy gaping to protest, while Amy was content to just be pulled along.

    “Ohhhh my godddd,” Lily said as she sank down into the water.

    “I know, right?” Eric agreed. “And watch this!”

    Amy watched with some trepidation as Eric pressed a few buttons and was rewarded with a glass of fizzy orange liquid. “What the hell??

    Taylor reached over and did something on a control panel, and Amy paid careful attention as a glass of red liquid popped up from under a hinged cup holder. “It’s soda,” Taylor said, taking a sip. “Don’t you remember the last time?”

    “Not particularly,” Amy said, twisting around to see if she could get her own drink.

    Instead, she was rewarded with a facefull of water when a jet activated.

    The others burst into laughter while Amy flailed, trying to turn off the device. When a few seconds of confusion failed to work, she simply turned around and sat back down against the jet. It was actually quite nice, which offset everyone else’s laughs.

    “Here,” Lily said, putting a glass into Amy’s grip with one hand while using the other to push the wet hair out of Amy’s eyes. “You like pineapple, right? I think you mentioned that last night.”

    Amy took a sip. It tasted like actual pineapple, not the fake knockoff flavor. “Oh, hey, this is good. If we weren’t always out of pineapple rum, I’d go get some.”

    “I wonder why we’re always out…” Taylor muttered, and the others laughed again. “Anyway, the Tinker who makes this sells recharge packs for the soda fountain, and the glasses get recycled internally.”

    “Tinkers are bullshit,” Dennis said. “Present company included.” Amy and Taylor shared a smile at the comment.

    Then Amy squawked in confusion when Lily shifted over and sat down on Amy’s lap. “This can’t be more comfortable,” Amy complained. In response, Lily grabbed Amy’s arms and encouraged Amy to hug her.

    She did.

    “So,” Dennis said, only mostly succeeding in hiding his jealousy. “Now I’m curious. What goes into these upgrades?”

    Lily held up a hand dramatically and flexed her claws, and both boys sputtered in surprise. “Wow,” Eric said. “That’s… something.”

    “Base package is strength, speed, durability, that sort of thing,” Amy said. “A few more exotic changes are possible, but most of my ‘tech’ only works on me.”

    “Like what?” Dennis asked.

    Unable to resist the urge to show off a bit, Amy gently nudged Lily off her lap and into the seat next to her. The changes in her mouth happened rapidly, growing a pair of glands on the roof of her mouth that when combined with air…

    Amy opened her mouth and breathed fire, producing a cone of flame about three feet long.

    For once, she didn’t set her hair ablaze — it was too wet.

    “HA!” Amy said, pumping a fist into the air. “It fucking worked!”

    “Does it not usually work?” Dennis asked.

    Taylor snorted. “Last few times, she set her hair on fire.”

    That triggered another round of laughs, and when Amy sat back down, Lily shifted back onto her lap. She wrapped her arms back around Lily’s waist, who then leaned back on Amy dramatically. Her little show was drawing eyes and snickers from the other hot tub occupants, and Amy blushed slightly.

    “Having fun?”

    “Hell yeah,” Lily said. “This hot tub is amazing. Can you invite us over more often?”

    “You can come over whenever you want,” Amy said, doing her best to shrug with Lily draped on top of her. “It’s not like I go anywhere.”

    “Maybe you should take a vacation,” Eric suggested.

    A vacation did sound nice, but Amy’s mind wandered while the others discussed their dream destinations. She really hadn’t gone anywhere recently, with the exception of the library and a few restaurants. Tomorrow would actually be the first time she had gone somewhere ‘new and exciting,’ as Lily put it, in several weeks. She had been staying home since —

    A brief shudder went through her, prompting Lily to twist around. “Amy?”

    “I was reminded that I have been out of the country recently,” Amy said quietly.

    “Right, Canberra,” Lily said, wincing. “At least tomorrow will be fun!”

    It was only because she happened to be looking towards her that Amy caught the tightening around Taylor’s eyes before the other girl smiled. Amy really did empathize with Taylor’s fear of being labeled a villain, no matter how enthusiastic Lily, Dennis, and Eric were about the upcoming night of debauchery. And at least Taylor would understand if Amy needed time away from Vicky.

    A fragment of conversation brought Amy back. “I would really not recommend drinking a lot with the Chroma,” she said absently. “Bad idea. It works great with the eye-glow potion, though…”

    Amy’s lips quirked into a smile when she remembered Lily’s eyes and hair from their last testing spree. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
     
  25. Autocorruptor

    Autocorruptor Corrupting Innocent Grammar

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2020
    Messages:
    822
    Likes Received:
    3,949
    Lemme guess, its gonna be a fanservicey living garment, that shows off a lot of skin. Perhaps it will be bioluminescent, or change colors like a chameleon?
    Bad Amy! You tempteth Murphy!
     
  26. Zaibech

    Zaibech Getting some practice in, huh?

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2021
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    16
    My guess would also be something like an iridescent Poison Ivy costume, since she's got a plant theme already.
     
  27. slicedtoad

    slicedtoad -

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2015
    Messages:
    329
    Likes Received:
    1,522
    Holy shit, that was a lot of reading for only one page. Excellent story. I really like your choice of not starting at the beginning since I've read too many Worm fics that start with a bunch of depressing stuff and this is a nice change.
     
  28. FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Thanks! I wanted to avoid the depressing stuff, but more importantly I wanted to avoid the boring stuff. Several months of Amy healing for money and Taylor's early Tinkering experiments punctuated by a few key moments makes for boring reading (and writing), so I wanted to just jump into the action where they're actually doing fun stuff.

    A few of those key scenes are popping up as flashbacks (and note, I had to go back and slightly change the confusing language on the Ch 1.5 flashback to make it more clear that Taylor answered the door in civies, and thus unmasked herself to make the sobering-up potion). Other parts (such as Amy and Taylor's adventures at the Palanquin) have been referenced, and we'll learn more next arc.

    But I'm glad you are enjoying the fic, I'm certainly enjoying writing it!

    As for Amy's new costume... you're both on the right track ;)
     
    SinSinNombre, Ack, omni001 and 3 others like this.
  29. Threadmarks: Tryptamine 1.7
    FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    Saturday, March 19 2011

    Amy smoked furiously.

    This had been a terrible idea. She should have let Taylor talk her out of going.

    The weather was offensively nice for the last few days of winter, so Amy had ignored the various goings-on in the house to wander outside and sit on the deck in the late afternoon sun. Dean’s family was part of Brockton Bay’s old money, and that meant a big house on the hill surrounded by sprawling forests. With a heated pool, an expansive deck covered in comfortable furniture, and a well-manicured backyard, it was little surprise to anyone that Dean threw the best parties.

    Amy sat on one of those irritatingly comfortable chairs, alternating her glare between the newly green trees bordering the lawn and the back room filled with teenagers. The large, plate-glass windows let Amy watch as they bustled about organizing the boxes of mind- and body-altering substances beneath posters with labels and warnings.

    Tonight’s party would be one for the history books, that was sure.

    Dean’s comments about ‘cures’ floated back up to the forefront of Amy’s thoughts, which made her glower around the blunt hanging negligently from her mouth. She had to be the responsible one tonight, given her ability to safely put people having a bad trip to sleep. Part of her knew that the experiment wouldn’t be nearly safe enough without her performing that service, but Amy was still upset about being unable to sample their more interesting creations.

    An achingly familiar voice behind Amy drew her gaze away from the treeline. “Aren’t you cold?”

    Amy clamped her lips down on the blunt and took a huge drag to forestall saying the first few nasty remarks that came to mind. In that time, Vicky and Dean walked over to the nearby loveseat swing and sat down.

    “No,” Amy replied eventually. Just because this conversation needed to happen did not make it any less frustrating.

    “Really?” Vicky asked, eyeing the rather skimpy half of Amy’s new costume that she was wearing. “Also, damn Ames, when did you get so ripped? You look great.”

    Well, that was not what Amy had expected. Her mouth fell open, and she almost lost the blunt. "Did you just call me hot?"

    Vicky blinked in surprise. "What? I'm just saying that whatever your training regimen is, it's working."

    “Exercise is a good way to improve mental health,” Dean started, but Amy laughed.

    “Oh please,” she said, rolling her eyes. “If I were any more lazy, I could get legally reclassified as a plant.”

    Vicky eyed Amy up and down, which even now sent butterflies through her stomach. In an attempt to distance the psychedelic ‘Tinker’ Circe from the famously brain-averse Panacea, her costume was much more risque than anything Amy would ever be associated with. She was only wearing half of it, but that consisted of a too-short tank top, a miniskirt, and impractically comfortable boots. These pieces were all a dull, uniform grey, to better accent the rest.

    “How then?” Vicky asked, unabashedly curious.

    Amy snorted. “Vicky, the other night you literally pulled my tail. How the hell do you think?”

    “I thought it was fake,” she said indignantly. “Wait, your powers work on yourself now? So you really did have a second trigger?”

    “Obviously,” Amy said tersely. She was honestly surprised that Vicky, knowledgeable as she was, had not figured it out sooner. Then Amy remembered that their confrontation earlier in the week had been the first time she had seen Vicky since being kicked out of her house. “I’m sure you can figure out when it happened, given that you stabbed me in —”

    Vicky’s voice was quiet, but it cut Amy off easily. “I’m sorry.”

    “I’m sure you are,” Amy retorted sarcastically.

    “Amy!” Dean said sharply. “This is hard for her, too. You are just making things worse.”

    Amy rolled her eyes. “Fine. Apology accepted. Can we not talk about that night anymore? As you pointed out, I went through trigger-worthy trauma before being forced out of my own house at the end of an axe.”

    It was interesting to watch as various emotions went to war on Vicky’s face, and for the first time since seeing her today, a small flare of awe rippled through Amy’s brain. “Sorry,” Vicky said quickly, and the feeling vanished. “I’ve been working on controlling my powers better.”

    “I wish you had learned to control your mouth better instead,” Amy retorted. “Not that it would have changed much, she always hated me. And was afraid of me, on top of it. She had been looking for an excuse to get rid of me for years… you just provided one.”

    Vicky’s mouth twisted in distaste. “For what it’s worth, mom and I haven’t been on such good terms recently. What she did to you — how she had been treating you — was beyond shitty and unacceptable. I just didn’t realize how bad you had it until after you were already gone. I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner.”

    “Really? It took you that long?” Amy said bitterly.

    “Amy…” Dean started.

    “No!” she snapped. “Shut the hell up, Dean. Do you have any idea how shitty it was, growing up with a ‘mother’ that hated your guts? I’m not my father. Hell, I barely even knew my father, which was New Wave’s fault to begin with! Why does everyone else get to grow up with parents that love them and nurture them and don’t treat them like a fucking criminal on the witness stand!?”

    At some point during her tirade, Amy must have jumped up, because she was glaring down at Dean and Vicky through blurry eyes. “And you know what sucks the most? Knowing that raging bitch was at least capable of love, because she treated you fine, Vicky! She loved you! And then here I am, daughter of the big evil supervillain, Nilbog 2.0, and when push came to shove, you FUCKING AGREED WITH HER!”

    It took a conscious effort for Amy to not extrude dozens of bone spikes from all over her body.

    There was more — so much more, even without the whole ‘attracted to her sister’ problem — but Amy didn’t get the chance to keep yelling. Part of that was the strangled sob that finally forced its way out of her throat, but the rest was suddenly being pulled into a bone-crushing hug by Vicky.

    Amy sank into the embrace. It was nice, too nice even, to be held by her sister again. After what felt like hours, she hugged Vicky back.

    Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the fallen blunt smoldering on the deck.

    “I’m sorry,” Vicky murmured, voice barely audible.

    “I know.”

    “I didn’t realize —”

    “I know. I…” Amy’s voice caught. “I can forgive you, but things can’t just go back to the way they were before. I’m trying to put that whole ‘Dallon’ part of my life behind me.”

    Left unsaid was that Amy wouldn’t let things go back to the way they were.

    Vicky didn’t reply, but the sudden tenseness in her body revealed her actual feelings. Amy took that as an opportunity to pull out of the hug, and she fixed Vicky with a hard stare. “They can’t, Vicky.”

    “I get it, Ames. But can we hang out or something? Because I miss you.”

    Amy missed Vicky, too. More than she wanted to admit.

    Even with the residual anger in her chest, Amy couldn’t pass up such a fantastic opportunity. “She would hate it, wouldn’t she?”

    “She would,” Vicky agreed with a smirk.

    Amy took a step back and flopped back into the annoying comfortable deck chair. “Then sure, I guess. I doubt there’s much more she could do to ruin my life at this point.”

    Vicky looked like she wanted to say something, but Dean — who might have finally learned to keep his damn mouth shut — grabbed her hand and coaxed her gently back onto the swing. Amy fished out a new blunt from the paper bag at her feet and set it ablaze with her thumb while pointedly ignoring their whispered conversation.

    Without anything more to say, Amy returned her attention to smoking, puffing out cloud after cloud of the sweet-smelling smoke. However, despite her prodigious ability, she couldn’t fill the awkward silence that hung over the deck.

    Still, Amy tried her best until she consumed all but the end of the blunt. She dragged the last breathful, then held it up the roach between her thumb and forefinger before igniting it with the bacteria on her hand. The heat of the flame barely registered to her skin, so she was able to hold the flaming bits until she could crush the ashes between her fingers.

    The next blunt was retrieved and lit in record time.

    Vicky ended up breaking the uncomfortable silence. “So, I have a question about Taylor’s power.”

    A sense of annoyed dread washed over Amy. Taylor had been trying to keep quiet about the exact mechanism behind her powers, a task not helped by Amy blurting out an irritated question about the regen potions in front of the Wards when Taylor was forced to unmask. Without knowing the secret behind the Kleos, Taylor could pass as a chemical Tinker — a facade they were hoping to strengthen tonight.

    “Unless you’ve been somehow modifying powers by doing something to the corona pollentia and gemma, Taylor must be some sort of Trump Tinker,” Vicky said, half to herself. “There’s rumors that Bonesaw was doing experiments like that, but I don’t think that you would be so eager to play with brains, Ames.”

    Amy groaned, running a hand over her face. “How did you figure it out?”

    Vicky’s smile was equal parts smug and excited. “Dean told me about the first time they met ‘the mysterious Tinker that lives with Amy.’ Someone online mentioned the ‘regeneration potions’ at Canberra, but I didn’t realize what was going on until I ran into you guys the other night.”

    Amy shot Dean a withering glare, and he at least looked embarrassed. “Well, I guess it was too much to hope that things would stay quiet.”

    “Ames, that’s so cool,” Vicky said, enthusiasm completely undeterred. “I mean, I know you know Trumps are rare, but power granting Trumps are even rarer. What kind of powers can Taylor give you? Supposedly during the Endbringer fight there were multiple potions, so I assume you can get multiple powers at the same time. Is there a limit? Can she do anything else?”

    The onslaught of words nearly forced Amy back into her chair. A smile of her own started to creep onto her face, but was stalled when the fond memories of simply hanging out with Vicky turned bitter. She was simply too charismatic for Amy’s own good, nevermind the fact that being in her presence was reminding Amy about just how attractive her ex-adoptive sister really was.

    Fuck. This was not the time.

    “You’ll have to ask Taylor, but please try to keep it quiet,” Amy ground out. “These aren’t my secrets to divulge, and Taylor’s trying to keep a low profile.”

    “Sure, sure,” Vicky said. “What else is new with you, Ames? I heard from Crystal and Eric that you’re doing better —”

    “It’s hard to be worse than when I left,” Amy interjected, taking a long drag on her blunt. “Look, I’m not really in the mood to talk.”

    A pained look crossed Vicky’s face — Dean, the empathetic ass, nodded knowingly — but she quickly plastered on a smile. “Ah, that’s fine. I’m just glad you’re alright.”

    “Yeah,” Amy agreed halfheartedly As a distraction, she attempted to see how much of the blunt she could suck down at once. With her improved physiology, the result was a cloud dense enough that Amy could hardly see through it.

    Vicky barely had time to sputter in amazement before the doors to the house burst open and disgorged a flood of people. Lily made a beeline for Amy, while Dennis and Carlos took a more restrained path that didn’t involve vaulting over a decorative planter. Taylor and Chris followed behind them, probably talking about Tinker bullshit.

    “No Missy?” Amy asked, waving a blunt at the group. Her conversational diversion was promptly plucked out of her hand by Lily, who then took a long drag and sighed contentedly.

    “Definitely not,” Dean said. “This will be a big enough hassle without having kids around.”

    Amy snorted, knowing how upset Missy would be had she heard that dismissal. She made a grabby motion for her blunt back, and when Lily refused Amy simply pulled another out of her bag and lit it. “Makes sense. Everything set up inside?”

    “Yep!” Dennis declared. “But, uh, is that your whole costume? After seeing Taylor’s, I was sort of expecting something… more. Hers is awesome!”

    The comment sent gazes careening towards Taylor, who fidgeted nervously under the sudden scrutiny. Taylor had never been one for being the center of attention, although in the time Amy had known her, Taylor’s self-confidence had improved dramatically. Not enough to not reflexively hide behind the curtain of her long, curly hair, but she wasn’t radiating ‘run away’ like she used to.

    Part of her unease was probably her lack of now-unnecessary glasses.

    At least Taylor had her new costume. Her hair was rather distinctive, and to compensate, Amy had synthesized a new armored lab coat with a hood for Taylor. The coat was tie-dye patterned in the same way as the original, and the new armor protected both her neck and the back of her head. When she pulled up the hood and put on her oversized goggles, it obscured her face quite well.

    Plant-cloth (another terrible name) was one of Amy’s earliest inventions. Since it wasn’t woven, the closest analogue was leather, but the biomaterial was far, far more malleable. Amy could imbue it with useful properties, such as acid or flame resistance, and properly thickened it was very durable.

    Taylor’s new coat had a layer of bone-like carbon fiber armor plates sandwiched between two layers of plant-cloth. The outer layer was resistant to everything they could think of, while the inner layer was soft and shock-absorbent. Taylor was wearing a bulletproof vest underneath as a last resort, along with her combat gloves and boots.

    “Did you tie-dye that yourself, Taylor?” Vicky asked. “Because I agree, that costume is pretty awesome.”

    “No, actually Amy made it,” Taylor replied. “My specialty doesn’t include power armor.”

    Vicky blinked in surprise. “Really? Aren’t Tinkers squishy?”

    Chris tapped on Taylor’s arm. “It’s fine, the coat itself is armored. How much protection does it offer?”

    “We did some destructive testing a while back,” Taylor said, smiling at the memory. “It holds up pretty well to fire, acid, small arms, lasers, and blunt trauma. That was a fun day.”

    “And it looks great, too,” Lily said.

    A quick glance at Vicky revealed that she desperately wanted to ask more but was holding herself back. “Yeah it does. But why does Taylor get the cool colorful costume and you’re wearing…”

    “The world’s most boring cheerleader outfit?” Dennis offered.

    Amy was doing her best to keep that aspect of her costume out of her mind.

    Still, she couldn’t have asked for a better segue. “If you think Taylor’s costume is cool, you haven’t seen anything yet.” She offered the blunt to Taylor, who took it and seemed grateful for the distraction. “To answer your question, Dennis, no — this is not all of my costume. I just haven’t put on the other half.”

    This was going to be fun, and Taylor even pulled out a phone to record. Amy walked out to the yard and stretched a bit, trying to clear her mind. Then, she smirked at the crowd and extended a single vine-like tendril from the tip of her finger.

    The vine lanced towards the ground and burrowed beneath the surface, seeking biomass. The beauty of topsoil was that it was filled with organisms; with a little bit of effort, Amy could manipulate all the grass in the lawn as a single entity. That gave her a lot of workable material, far more than was needed for what she was doing.

    The soil under Amy’s feet shook like jello for a few seconds before a swarm of vines exploded up behind her. They immediately twisted and coiled around each other, flattening and thinning into a flat sheet of wriggling green plant-cloth. The cloak took shape just as it settled onto Amy’s shoulders, and she pruned all of the remaining bits so that it was perfectly smooth and uniformly grey like the rest of her costume.

    She stepped forward dramatically, disconnecting the cloak from the ground. A moment’s thought dissolved the vines still in the ground back into topsoil, and she retracted the original vine. Her new living cape would only survive via chemosynthesis for a day or so, but until then she could manipulate it like anything else.

    The next step made Amy a bit jealous of the people who would get to take the color enhancing drug tonight.

    She reached her power both inside and out, sending lines of glowing rainbow bioluminescence threading through both the cloak and along her skin. They grew like vines, looping fractally into curls and twists along her arms, legs, and midriff; as the colors shifted and pulsed, it looked like her arteries were filled with iridescent paint.

    Unfortunately, the colors were not enough to cover up Amy’s freckles, and a moment's thought turned her skin unnaturally flawless.

    Lastly, her hair. Amy wiped her hand along the inside of her cloak to pick up some biomass, then ran her hands through her mop of frizz. The colored bacteria effectively dyed her hair into a rainbow along with straightening it. For a finishing touch, Amy made a smattering of the strands glow like the lines on her body.

    When Amy was done, she was a walking kaleidoscope of color. The bioluminescence wasn’t bright enough to outshine the late afternoon sun, but it would be pronounced once the sun went down. In a dark room, she would shine like a flashlight.

    This had been a great plan. Amy was already getting ideas.

    Lily wolf whistled in appreciation.

    The others were staring at her with wide eyes and slack jaws, apart from Taylor who was grinning like a maniac with the camera. Their shock lasted until Amy walked back over and pulled her own set of oversized goggles out her bag and set them on her face.

    “What?” she asked, smirking. “I won’t be recognized like this.”

    “You’re a magical girl,” Dennis breathed. “Plant-Cthulhu meets magical girl.”

    Lily gave Amy a once-over before lifting her glowing hand to examine the colors. “This is amazing,” Lily said, switching to examining Amy’s glowing hair before running the cloak through her fingers. “Soft, too.”

    Carlos and Chris were the most gobsmacked of the group, which made sense given how infrequently they had been to the workshop. “Thats, uh, something else,” Chris said, obviously at a loss for words.

    Amy made a set of pockets in her cloak and started transferring all of the contents of her paper bag into them. “So, how long until people start showing up?” she asked, filing away extra blunts, emergency power vials, and her phone into exactly-sized compartments.

    Vicky shrugged. “Soon? When do people ever show up on time for parties?”

    “Well, Amy and I are all set up,” Taylor said. “Oh, Amy, you should probably tell them your name.”

    “Right,” Amy said, licking her lips. “Obviously you can’t call me Panacea like this. Since Taylor’s name is Oeneus, I’m going by Circe.”

    “From the Odyssey?” Lily asked.

    Amy pulled out a blunt from her pocket and lit it with a flick of her thumb. “Yeah, Greek enchantress known for potions, herbs, and turning people who annoyed her into farm animals.”

    “Thematically appropriate, at least,” Carlos muttered. “Not sure what I think about this whole two-identities thing.”

    “Hey,” Amy snapped. “She didn’t give me the chance to even have a secret identity before now, so you can take your complaints and stuff them up your ass.”

    “Who?” Chris asked.

    “My mom,” Vicky said quickly, and a wave of realization passed over the group. “Ok, why don’t we go double check everything inside? If people start showing up and we’re all out here, it’s a bit suspicious.”

    Dennis pointed dramatically at Carlos. “You still owe me a rematch in Smash.”

    Dean hesitated before following the others back into the house. “Amy, thanks again for healing my mom. And for talking to Vicky.”

    Amy glowered at him. “Yeah, sure.”

    With Dean and the others gone, Taylor and Amy were alone on the porch. Amy flopped down into the swing where Vicky had been sitting and continued to smoke her blunt; Taylor followed a minute later after wrangling her hair into her hood and setting her goggles onto her face.

    “That was cool,” Taylor said, vaguely gesturing at Amy’s costume.

    Amy cracked a smile. “Thanks, I thought so too. I came up with a bunch of fun ideas for using bioluminescence that we can try later.”

    Taylor merely hummed in response. Unlike before, the silence that settled over the porch was comfortable and familiar, and Amy felt no need to try to defeat it in single combat with a blunt weapon. However, that didn’t stop Taylor from retrieving a flask from her pocket and offering Amy a sip of the liquor inside.

    What a pleasant surprise — Taylor had filled it with one of her fruity cocktails.

    They had long ago forgone passing blunts around, so after a few sips when Taylor produced her own from the pockets of her lab coat, Amy wordlessly reached over and offered her a flaming pointer finger.

    “I wish we could actually enjoy ourselves tonight,” Amy groused.

    “Hm?”

    “Having to be on-call to help people with bad trips, dealing with the cops if they show up, whatever,” Amy said. “I want to take Chroma and just stare at my hands.”

    Taylor huffed in amusement. “Well, we need to drop by the Palanquin next week, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity. And I think we will still have a good time, even sober.”

    “Yeah, yeah,” Amy said. “Want to activate the telepathy power? It’s going to get loud and exciting here soon.”

    In response, Taylor reached into her own pockets and produced a pair of vials that had been taped together. Amy slit the tape with an unnaturally sharp fingernail, and they cheersed the vials before downing them. As usual, they both glowed with an ethereal light before a new sense manifested in their brains.

    Taylor: Hear me?

    Amy: Loud and clear.

    Taylor: Excellent.

    And with that, their preparations were complete.

    They ended up sitting on the swing, drinking and smoking intermittently, until the sun started to think about dipping below the horizon. The reddening light was already filtering through the trees, throwing the new leaves on the old growth into sharp relief and spreading long-fingered shadows through the yard.

    The picturesque moment was ruined shortly thereafter by loud cheering from the house.

    Amy: Oh look, our lab rats have started to arrive.

    Indeed, the first batch of not-Wards teenagers had started to appear in the back room, and Amy could already tell that they were excited about the substances on display. Included in their number was Eric, identifiable by both his blue hair and enthusiastic gestures to the assembled partygoers.

    “I don’t think they’ve noticed that we’re out here,” Taylor said out loud.

    “Fuck, you jinxed it.” Amy forced the grimace off of her face as the crowd realized that creators of all of those delicious drugs were sitting outside on the deck. Taylor waved a gloved hand, and Amy had a moment of realization when the teenagers stared back in wide-eyed shock.

    Amy: We often forget, but most of them have probably never met an actual cape before.

    Taylor: Shielder is right there.

    Amy: You know what I mean. Yeah, they’ve met my family, but not in-costume doing hero stuff.

    “Ah, right,” Taylor said quietly. “Well, maybe we should go introduce ourselves.”

    Amy gestured with her smoking blunt. “You first, I want to finish this. Can you tell me if there’s food yet?”

    “Sure,” Taylor said, hopping up from the swing and making her way towards the crowd.

    It never ceased to amaze Amy how well Taylor could just put her social anxiety in a box and mail it to not-Capesville. Oeneus, colorful costume or no, always put up a strong face for Toybox, and as the Kleos Taylor was totally committed to whatever idea they were testing that night.

    Here and now, Taylor was inexplicably confident as she threaded through the gaggle of starstruck teenagers. Amy could imagine the barrage of questions being asked, and the group seemed to have temporarily forgotten that Amy existed due to the cape in the same room as them.

    Taylor: I’ve already been asked twice about Canberra.

    Amy: That’s strange.

    Taylor: I think one person told everyone else, because they’re clearly unsure.

    Amy: Interesting.

    Taylor disappeared further into the house after a few more minutes of schmoozing, and a sizable fraction of the group followed on her heels. The remainder seemed split between talking to Eric, reading the labels on the drugs, or staring out at Amy through the windows. She offered a lazy, glowing wave to that third group, which caused far too much excitement.

    Taylor: There’s food. Lots of food, actually.

    Amy: I’ll be right in.

    With a final, long drag from the blunt, Amy modified the bacteria in her mouth and throat so that the resulting smoke cloud lit up with rainbow bioluminescence.

    That caused an even bigger stir. Showing off was fun.

    Just as Amy was leveraging herself off of the swing, Taylor sent her a mental message.

    Taylor: Do you ever think about how we got here?

    Amy: Sometimes. Sure as hell beats what I was doing before.

    Taylor: That’s not a high bar.

    Amy: … True. But I’m having fun now, and that’s enough.

    Taylor: Me too.

    Another blunt did not follow after Amy crushed the last one to ash. She was already decently high, not that it would last long in the face of her altered biology, and Amy didn’t dislike Dean enough to smoke inside his house.

    With a last glance to the pastel colors painted overhead by the sunset, Amy stepped into a madhouse of her own creation. Once inside, her costume immediately illuminated everything nearby in glowing and shifting electric hues.

    She drew all of the eyes in the room immediately.

    “I’m Circe,” Amy announced, cheating with her powers to keep her heart rate under control. “How’s everyone doing tonight?”

    The question hung in the air for all of three seconds before she was swarmed.

    “Your costume is so cool!”

    “Did you really fight the Simurgh?”

    “This is awesome!”

    “Call all Tinkers make drugs?”

    “Are you going to make more?”

    Several people weren’t even asking questions. Instead, they were staring at Amy’s swirling bioluminescent whorls, and it was obvious that a few of them had taken the Chroma. Others in the room sported glowing eyes or rainbow hair, although the light in the room made it harder to see the former.

    Some of them were probably ogling her body, but that was unfortunately expected.

    Amy waited until the questions petered out before flashing the room a smirk. “So, everything's good? No problems? Having fun?”

    “Yes!” a chorus cheered back at her.

    “Awesome, I’m going to grab some food.” With that, Amy left the back room and made her way to the kitchen. While she navigated the crowd, she sent Taylor a mental message.

    Amy: How do you do it?

    Taylor: Do what?

    Amy: Be all assertive and stuff in front of a crowd like this. I had to use my power to keep my heart rate down to normal levels!

    Taylor was taking her time answering or something else had captured her attention, but either way the other girl was mentally silent as Amy walked through the door into the brightly-lit kitchen. As expected for Dean’s house, it was enormous and very fancy. The marble countertops and stainless steel appliances clashed with a national forests’ worth of pizza boxes and beer cases.

    The real prize, however, was the party-sized appetizer sampler. Amy relished the irony in her eating onion rings by the fistful while charging C-suite executives hundreds of thousands of dollars for cholesterol resets. There were even fried pickle chips.

    Maybe this party had not been so bad of an idea, after all.

    “Wow,” someone said from next to her. “A cape wearing an actual cape?”

    Amy turned, finding a small clump of people watching her double-fist fried everything. She vaguely recognized them from Arcadia, which meant that they were some of Dean’s or Vicky’s friends. Turning, however, exposed the not-cape part of her costume, and Amy was once again reliant on her power to keep things under control.

    Oh, gods. Both the guys and girls were eyeing her. Blatantly, and not her colorful aura.

    “Yep,” Amy replied, popping a pickle chip into her mouth to give herself some time to adjust her embarrassment reponses. Clearly, she was going to need it.

    “What’s your name?” one of the girls asked. “Your costume is super cool!”

    Amy traced one of the bioluminescent lines on her arm with her finger. “I go by Circe, and thanks.”

    “Are you seriously a drug Tinker?” one of the guys asked.

    Amy laughed. That, at least, would distance her from Panacea. “Something like that. Are you going to try any of the stuff we brought?”

    “Maybe,” the first girl responded. “I mean, is it really safe?”

    “I can personally assure you,” Amy said with a grin. “Worst comes to worst, we’ll help you sleep it off. My understanding is that Dean’s a good guy, and I pity anyone I find trying to take advantage of someone.”

    Despite the fact that both of these things were prominently displayed on the signs over the table with their products, Amy’s words seemed to reassure the group. They started muttering amongst themselves about trying things, so Amy turned back around to fill up a plate with food. She stepped around the group to get to the pizza, conscious of their eyes on her.

    In fact, she was drawing a lot of eyes. Even people in other groups or sitting at the table were watching her, either because of the color or the novelty. She eyed the rather pitiful liquor collection on the counter — at least compared to hers — and considered just picking up a bottle and chugging it straight as a distraction, but she was supposed to be responsible tonight and it would, frankly, be a waste of liquor.

    Amy: I’m going to eat out front. Are you doing alright?

    Taylor: Yeah. Lots of questions, but people seem like they’re enjoying it. And to answer your earlier question, I don’t really know? It’s just a thing I have to do and I want to do it well, so I don’t let myself be afraid. It’s basically second nature at this point.

    She made it sound so simple.

    With a plate piled high with food, Amy made her way carefully through the maze of people towards the front door. The dim lights in the various hallways made it hard to navigate, especially with her plate held nearly above her head. The bioluminescence along her arms sent rainbows flickering above and through the crowd, which made moving even more difficult when people stopped to watch.

    And, if Amy was being honest, they were looking at her body, too. What a weird feeling.

    Dean’s house was big enough that Amy passed several rooms filled with inebriated teenagers as she meandered through the hallways. The first was a sitting room that was used for parties like this one, and true to its name, all of the couches were occupied. In the low light, Amy could just make out the pile of empty glass vials on the end table; based on the confused wonderment on their faces — and too-wide pupils — they had taken Chroma.

    “You guys doing alright?” Amy asked from the door. Several sets of glowing eyes turned to peer at her.

    Her own colors had immediately stolen their attention, and it took a moment for the question to process. She roughly guessed that they were still in the coming-up phase, which would be pretty disorienting for someone who had never tried psychedelics before. The sensation would pass soon enough, but until then…

    One of the girls went to answer before looking down at her own brightly-colored nails, obviously losing track of whatever she was going to say in favor of waving her hand in front of her face.

    “Yeah, I think we’re good,” a guy said. “Wow…”

    Amy flashed them a smile before continuing down the hallway. A carload of people must have shown up, based on the crowd making its way to the back of the house. Of course they had to stop and stare, which Amy patiently endured.

    Amy: The come-up is too intense for some of our test subjects.

    Taylor: We even diluted it!

    The next room was just as full, but here the drug of choice was alcohol. It went well with the big-screen TV and the Aleph-import fighting game currently being played on it.

    “Nooo!” Dennis cried theatrically as an explosion sent a character flying off of the screen. “I’ll have my revenge!”

    “I’m sure you will,” Carlos said. Neither of the boys was obviously drunk. Fuckin’ Wards. At least Lily knew how to have a good time.

    Amy’s bioluminescence was eventually noticed, drawing the attention of most of the people in the room. “Oh shit, it’s the drug cape,” a girl said, twisting around and nearly spilling her drink. Sarah, maybe? Amy vaguely remembered her from school.

    “Any of you guys trying our stuff?” Amy asked.

    “No way man, can’t game and trip balls at the same time.” That might be… Steven? It had been a long time since Amy cared about random people at Arcadia.

    “Dunno, it might help Dennis,” Chris said. “Ha!”

    Dennis made a big show of dying, and then what looked like a title screen popped up. “Well, that’s that,” he declared. “Oh, it’s Circe. Are those pickle chips?”

    “Er, yes?”

    “Screw a rematch, I’m going to get some food,” he said, edging around Amy to make his way to the kitchen.

    Amy took the opportunity to leave as well, and was rewarded for her persistence by finally encountering the front door. The front lawn was just as protected from prying eyes as the back, and people were already congregating out here despite all of the fun things being inside. A slight breeze made her cloak flap and flutter, which in turn sent waves of light spiraling out from her body.

    Her iridescent arrival drew eyes, but for whatever reason no one approached when she sat down on a decorative rock and started eating. The pizza was standard mediocre party pizza, which was not surprising, but the onion rings were delightful. Amy wondered if there were places that delivered appetizers near the workshop.

    As she sat and ate, people continued to stream into the party. It probably wasn’t the greatest first impression to be sitting on a rock and eating pizza, but Circe was supposed to be the sort of cape that only showed up at sufficiently awesome parties. Some of the newcomers noticeably hurried into the house when they saw her. Many of them stared, which was expected.

    What she didn’t expect was people flying in with boxes.

    Goddamnit, it was Vicky and Crystal.

    “Hey Circe!” Vicky called, floating over to my rock. “We brought something you forgot!”

    Amy took a second to process Vicky’s familiar tone. Since this was Dean’s house, and Vicky was the most popular cape here, it made perfect sense that she would know the mystery drug Tinker. Crystal was also known to visit the Palanquin, which was another possible way to already know Circe.

    “What did we forget?” Amy asked, tilting her head.

    “Glowsticks!” Crystal replied. Her cousin opened the box she was carrying, revealing row upon row of colored plastic tubes. Crystal certainly seemed enthusiastic, and it took Amy a moment to remember that for all of her disapproval earlier this week, Crystal occasionally enjoyed recreational drugs; after all, she could identify Nitro by sight.

    Amy: Taylor, we’re idiots. Glowsticks.

    The telepathic link didn’t convey emotions, but Amy imagined that Taylor was facepalming right now. Amy smiled up at the two capes. “Ok, you got me. That’s a brilliant idea, and I can’t believe we didn’t think of that.”

    “I know, right?” Vicky asked, clearly excited. “Luckily, we remembered before taking the Chroma. We can’t spend all night following you around, after all.”

    Amy just nodded, absently munching on an onion ring. Her mind was suddenly filled with ideas to make a plant that would produce organic glow sticks. It would be tricky to keep them powered for too long, and they would have to be biodegradable, but it was tentatively possible.

    Then again, with her powers, very few things were not possible.

    “Well, we’re going to take these inside and give them to people,” Vicky said, jolting Amy back to the present.

    “Great,” Amy replied. “I’ll be —”

    Taylor: Amy, I need you out back. Someone’s having a bad trip.

    “Glory Girl, can you give me a lift to the back yard?” Amy said quickly. “Someone needs my help.” She tried to keep the irritation out of her voice, but was not particularly successful.

    Vicky nodded once, dropping the box of glow sticks before sweeping Amy into her arms in a bridal carry. Flying like this made Amy immediately feel like a river’s edge under a storm surge of feelings. A part of her desperately wanted to tell Vicky to just keep flying and never put her down; luckily, by time Amy had her thoughts in order, Vicky was practically throwing Amy out of her arms.

    Amy wasted no time in rushing to Taylor and kneeling down next to the person curled up and shaking on the deck. A quick touch to the redhead’s neck revealed the problems. “Chroma, a beer or two… and a panic attack.” It was trivial to have her body metabolise the alcohol — the rest would clear out of her brain naturally — and the panic was only slightly harder. Reduce heart rate, break down adrenaline, even out breathing…

    For show, Amy pulled out a tiny vial of green-colored sugar water and tilted it into the girl’s mouth. Even with Vicky and Taylor playing guard —

    Wait, where was Taylor? Why had she just run off?

    “I think I recognize her,” Vicky said quietly.

    Amy did too, for all that she hadn’t seen this bitch since last summer.

    Emma Barnes, Taylor’s personal Judas.

    Of course she would have crashed the party. Amy and Vicky had met Emma and her sister as kids at her law firm’s parties, and then much more recently when the insufferable asshat was mocking disabled kids at a photoshoot last summer. It had hardly come as a surprise to Amy to hear how she had damn near killed Taylor, and it explained much that she was Shadow Stalker’s only friend.

    Part of Amy wanted nothing more than to pay the bitch back for everything terrible that she had done to Taylor. It would be so easy to tweak her metabolism, or give her rashes on her face, or a dozen other disfigurements that would stop the girl from modeling ever again. Hell, if her parents were rich, Amy could get double satisfaction by turning down their request to heal her.

    The rest of Amy knew that course of action was wrong. Despite the irritation of Emma existing compounding with the irritation of having to deal with people having bad trips, Amy grit her teeth and pushed the very tempting thoughts out of her head.

    Amy: Taylor, where are you and what the hell happened? I know who this is.

    Taylor: Emma recognized me, I think, by my voice. And promptly had a panic attack.

    Amy: Fuck.

    Taylor: Yeah. Can you just knock her out? Hopefully she won’t remember seeing me.

    Amy hesitated just long enough for the disoriented redhead to start to shake off the flood of hormones in her brain that had been holding a panic attack party until a few seconds ago. Emma had time to blink once before Amy flexed her power and put her into a deep, dreamless sleep.

    Amy: I put her under, but only because she probably would panic again if she saw you a second time. But this is kind of sketchy, honestly.

    Taylor: I know.

    “I knocked her out so that she can sleep off the effects of the Chroma,” Amy said aloud.

    Vicky picked Emma up carefully in a bridal carry. “I’ll take her upstairs, then. Dean has some rooms set aside.”

    Amy absently nodded as she pulled herself to her feet. It said something about the party that Vicky’s more discreet option was to fly her unconscious passenger up to a balcony entrance instead of attempting to chart a path through the ocean of people inside. The whole ‘put panicking partygoers to sleep’ was really not the most palatable solution, but the ever-responsible Dean had mentioned plans to keep people safe. Still, Amy made a mental note to check on things.

    Amy: Just so you know, I didn’t invite her or anything. Yeah, I was upset yesterday, but I would never do that to you.

    Taylor: I never thought that you would.

    Amy: Not even a little bit?

    Taylor: Not really, I trust you not to do that sort of thing to me.


    A sudden change in the music blasting from the house made Amy frown from where she was staring off the deck and into the moonlight-shrouded trees. The sound system had been mostly producing Top 40’s hits — it reminded Amy unpleasantly of Arcadia’s prom — only to switch to deep, thumping electronic dance music.

    How anyone danced to this stuff, Amy would never know.

    Then again, Amy wasn’t one for dancing herself, so maybe she just didn’t understand.

    Amy: I’m so tempted to change the music.

    Taylor: The worst part is that Oeneus and Circe are expected to like this sort of thing.

    That elicited a weary sigh from Amy. Was this what it was like for other parahumans to have a secret identity? Or was she channeling her frustration at having to be the responsible one? The EDM wouldn’t be so offensive if Amy could just take a double dose of the Chroma, sit down on a comfortable couch, and cuddle with nearby cute girls — preferably Lily or Taylor — while the music washed over her in a tide of sound.

    “Hey, Circe,” a familiar voice called, and Amy twisted to find a similarly familiar face surrounded by mostly strangers. ‘Mostly’ in that Amy knew she should recognize the other five people from school, but didn’t.

    “Shielder,” Amy replied, flashing her cousin a lazy smile. “Having fun?”

    “Hell yeah,” he said, giving her a thumbs up. The other teenagers made various noises signaling their agreement, too. “This purple plant is perfect.” Eric then offered Amy one of the pre-packaged blunts from the box inside; she took a single hit and blew out a cloud of luminescent rainbow smoke.

    “Woah!” “Wow!” “That’s so cool!”

    When the next kid in the rotation made a confused face when normal smoke came out, Amy ran one hand through her glowing hair. “Trade secret, unfortunately.”

    Eric laughed maybe a bit too hard, but with the whole ‘everyone at the party was high’ it would hardly be noticed. Amy gave the group a wave, saying, “Well, I’m off to do some rounds. See ya.”

    As she walked towards the house, Amy noticed that an increasing number of people were hanging out on the deck or filtering out into the yard. Part of that was undoubtedly that more people were arriving and there was only so much space inside, but Amy thought that with the music and ambiance changing drastically that the more mellow types might find themselves needing air.

    Amy immediately quashed the jealousy that the other partygoers could just lounge around and enjoy themselves, or lay out on the lawn without a care in the world.

    The house, as it turned out, was packed. Amy’s kaleidoscope of color was actually a hindrance now, because enough people had taken either Chroma or Nitro to make ‘stopping to stare at pretty colors’ a significant traffic problem. She wasn’t the only glowing thing, however; the glow sticks that Vicky and Crystal had procured were out in full force, having been worked into headbands, necklaces, ponytails, bracelets, and more.

    Dancing was mostly happening in the big event room that Dean’s parents used for their own social functions, but there were smaller satellite groups holed up in their own spaces. One such group, sequestered away in the library, had their own boombox playing electroswing. Amy stopped, stared, and questioned her ‘no dancing’ policy when she opened the heavy double doors and saw them; their annoyed shout turned into excited squealing when they saw who had disturbed them.

    If Amy spent slightly longer than was necessary in the sound-dampened room watching this group dance, then it certainly wasn’t her fault. She blamed Taylor for introducing her to the genre.

    Speaking of Taylor, Amy eventually located her long-lost partner in the basement, where people were chilling out something fierce. There was a nice visualizer running on yet another big screen TV, but it was synced to the much calmer music that was fighting valiantly to be heard over the EDM. Glowing eyes and rainbow hair were in abundance down here.

    “Circe!” Taylor yelled as soon as Amy’s color explosion reached the bottom of the steps.

    Amy noted the numerous dilated pupils following her from where their owners sat on couches or lounged on cushions on the floor, though her attention was mostly fixated on the goofy smile on her partner’s face.

    Amy: You didn’t take anything, right?

    Taylor: Of course not.

    It wasn’t until Amy picked her way around the sprawled, drug-addled teenagers and flopped onto the couch next to Taylor that she answered. “Hey, Oeneus. How are you doing?”

    “Great,” Taylor replied, sweeping her hand across the room. “I just got here a few minutes ago, but it’s nice to get off my feet.”

    “Yeah,” Amy grumbled. “Any more issues?”

    “None that anyone’s brought to my attention.”

    The ease at which Taylor could say that rankled Amy deeply. There could be people up there right now that were having a bad trip or otherwise needed help, and they were just hiding down here in the basement. Sure, Vicky and the others had Amy’s cell number in an emergency, but would they try that first? Or would they come looking for her?

    Amy practically leapt off the couch, ignoring both the confused and amazed looks from the people around her in favor of shooting Taylor a mental message.

    Amy: I can’t just sit here while —

    Taylor: It will be fine, Amy.

    Amy: No, shut up. I’m going upstairs.

    She pointedly ignored Taylor’s sigh of annoyance as she stalked up the steps.

    However, Amy didn’t stop after one flight of stairs. She threaded her way down the hallway and around the people inexplicably sitting on the stairs to the second floor, only to discover that the second floor was just as packed as the ground floor. There were fewer open rooms up here, but this floor connected to the balcony overlooking the main event room.

    Needless to say, that was popular.

    It wasn’t until Amy made her way to the third floor that she heaved a sigh of relief.

    “Circe,” Carlos said, voice flat. “Do you need something?”

    He was sitting on a chair and reading his phone. “What are you, a guard?”

    “Yes,” he said, accusatory eyes boring into Amy’s goggles. “Dean and Vicky had to help two other people with your sleeping potion, and it’s not like we could just dose them and leave them unprotected.”

    Amy frowned back at him. "That's a good idea."

    If anything, Carlos's voice became harder. "Someone needs to do it, since you and Oeneus are running around enjoying yourselves instead of taking responsibility for this mess. All of your little test subjects are up to their eyeballs in illegal, experimental Tinkertech drugs with absolutely no experience or preparation. It's a miracle this party hasn't become a disaster yet."

    Had he tried to pack more judgement and condescension into his little speech, Amy was sure that Carlos would have spontaneously turned into her. “Fuck you,” she hissed, thankful for once of the loud music. “I am being responsible. If I wasn’t, I’d be down there with the rest of them, actually enjoying myself instead of having to play babysitter! Do you think I want to watch everyone else having a good time but me?”

    “They’re your inventions!” he yelled. “You don’t get a prize for doing the bare minimum to prevent problems if it’s your stuff that is causing the problems to begin with!”

    Amy raised her hand to point at Carlos and yell right back at him, but the words died in her mouth.

    Her hand was glowing red.

    No, her whole body was glowing red.

    Amy ignored Carlos’s suddenly worried visage, closing her eyes and focusing her power. First she corrected her bioluminescence to be rainbow swirls instead of angry red. Then she forced her heart rate and blood pressure back to normal before flushing the adrenaline from her bloodstream.

    Two deep breaths later, Amy opened her eyes and looked pointedly down the hallway. “I’m going to check on them.” She pushed past a conflicted Carlos, and while he obviously wanted to say something, he seemed content to wait until Amy was done checking on her patients.

    So, after a quick poke revealed that all three sleeping teenagers were in perfect health, Amy opened the window above the balcony and eased herself out. She caught a glance of Carlos’s frustrated sigh before glancing down to the crowd beneath her; they were quick on the uptake and left her an open circle.

    As soon as she straightened up from her landing, Amy was beset by awed teenagers. “Holy crap, are you so some sort of brute?” one asked.

    “Nah, I just have practice,” Amy mostly-lied. She did have practice jumping off of roofs, but her altered muscles did most of the work.

    Amy waved off additional questions in favor of jumping once more, vaulting over the railing and down to the deck in a graceful but definitely inhuman leap. With the relative level of sobriety, she wasn’t particularly worried about accidentally seeming like a Tinker with more powers.

    Once her two feet were firmly on the ground, Amy wasted no time making a beeline for the dark part of the lawn. It wasn’t possible to completely remove herself from the party’s sphere of influence, but there were parts of the lawn that were sufficiently far away to at least give the illusion of isolation.

    Tonight was supposed to have been fun. A new costume, a new drug, and a new start where Amy didn’t have to be the responsible hero. Instead, she was stuck in the same old routine — Panacea, the miracle healer, making it so that everyone else could have a good time but never enjoying things herself.

    Amy didn’t know what she hated more — that she had so easily slipped into her old habits, or that she had barely noticed until she had seen Taylor lounging around without a care in the world. What was the point of going through all of this effort to cater such an amazing party if Amy couldn’t even enjoy it herself? Hadn’t she already done her lifetime tour of selfless, soul-consuming nonsense?

    Carlos could take his usual sanctimonious preaching and shove it up his ass, if Amy wasn’t concerned that even he couldn’t adapt to that level of damage.

    Part of her wanted to spit and curse at Taylor, who was apparently having a blast tonight. It was hard to tell through her tie-dyed outer shell, but Taylor did not seem the least bit inconvenienced by the fact that she had to stay mostly sober or that they were on-call for people’s inability to handle funny colors. Some of that was probably her inexplicable need to collect data on her lab rats, Amy knew, but surely that didn’t account for everything.

    Taylor wasn’t a party animal. When they went to the Palanquin, Taylor spent most of her time hanging out with Newter and Elle, playing cards or watching architectural documentaries. Admittedly, Amy herself wasn’t enormously more outgoing — except when Emily wanted to dance — but she had not expected to be the more boring of the two tonight.

    Maybe Taylor was so relaxed because the extent of her responsibilities tonight was ‘give the tripping person a sleeping potion.’ Amy, on the other hand, had to actually use her power to save people and they all just assumed and it was just expected of —

    “Circe?”

    Amy turned around so quickly that the blunt she had habitually procured went flying from her mouth, trailing smoke as it crash landed into damp grass. She discovered Lily, standing a few feet away and peering at Amy through glowing grey eyes. “Hey.”

    Lily gave Amy the once-over; if her eyes lingered, Amy certainly wasn’t complaining. “Are you doing alright?” the Ward asked.

    With a glance towards the deck full of inebriated teenagers, Amy lowered her voice to just barely louder than the music. “Fuck no. Honestly, I kind of want to go home.”

    “What’s the problem?” Lily asked, and Amy felt her heart clench at the compassion in those simple words.

    Amy’s voice sounded as weary as her brain felt after a shift at the hospital. “I’m pissed that I went through a lot of effort to get this party set up, but I’ve been reduced yet again to being the medic. I need to stay sober in case someone needs help, and I can’t take a moment to enjoy myself because those fucks can’t hold their metaphorical liquor. Worse, Taylor seems to be enjoying herself just fine, and I have no idea how.

    “I hate being the responsible one, Lily. No matter how much I do, it never seems to be enough. Everyone wants something from me. I run myself ragged. And the worst part? No matter how hard I try, no matter how I work, there’s an endless flood of people that need my help.”

    And just like that, Lily was hugging her. Tightly. Without Amy’s own upgrades, she would have cracked a rib. “Can you help all of them?” Lily murmured.

    “No. I figured that out a while back. It’s why I had to stop going to the hospital.”

    “If you don’t help anyone else tonight, what would happen?”

    Amy wheezed out a tired scoff. “Honestly? Taylor would probably handle any problems. Or, worse comes to worst, they’re miserable for a few hours and their friends have to watch them.”

    With Lily’s cheek pressed against her, Amy could feel the other girl smile. “What would you do if you didn’t feel pressured to play medic?”

    “Chug two Chromas and two Nitros, light a blunt, and play with bioluminescent plants.”

    Lily squeezed a bit harder, then stepped back and gave Amy a profoundly disappointed look. “Amelia,” she said quietly. “What would you really do? And don’t say ‘go home,’ because I know that isn’t true.”

    Amy blinked behind her goggles. “I was being serious.” Lily cocked a single eyebrow. “Fine, I guess I would want to hang out with you and the others, though I’m supposed to be in costume.” A sudden thought ran through her head. “No one suspects, right?”

    “No,” Lily said, rolling her eyes. “But you don’t need to be on drugs to hang out with us, right? You and Oeneus are, like, the coolest things to happen to anyone here. No one will look twice if you want to socialize. Taylor’s been all over the place, hanging out and chatting.”

    Panacea had always been standoffish and aloof, even among the heroes. Maybe it was how overworked she had been, or misplaced respect for being a healer. Circe, on the other hand, was supposed to be social and interesting, even when talking to people who weren’t Vicky. This was ostensibly not just a party, but a debut. A chance for Amy to finally ditch all of the preconceived notions that came with her heroic persona.

    Taylor: What’s going on out there? People are asking me if you’re okay. Are you okay?

    The sudden intrusion in her mind made Amy jolt in confusion, which in turn made Lily ask, “Circe?”

    “Oeneus says people are asking about me,” Amy admitted. “Telepathy power.”

    To Lily’s credit, she wasn’t the least bit surprised. “Well, you have just been off brooding in a dark corner of the yard…”

    It wasn’t that dark, Amy noted, with her nearby. Her little pool of light and color was an island in the sea of shadow, constantly shifting even when she wasn’t moving. Even without the Chroma, the colors were mesmerizing.

    An idea took hold in her brain, and Amy’s lips curled into a wide grin as the frustration and anger withered next to the fires of creation.

    “Should I be concerned?” Lily asked, obviously already concerned.

    Amy waved her off, distracted by thoughts of pheromones and color. “Just give me a second, here.” She leaned down and stuck her hand in the grass, then focused her power, pushing in every direction on the lawn until she saw the whole lawn-sized grass superorganism in her mind’s eye.

    Her creation needed to be temporary, so that she didn’t need to come back and fix it later. The simplest solution was to nucleate bacteria that lived in the grass and would die in a few hours. Said bacteria were packed full of the organelles that produced bioluminescent molecules, converting sugar into light in ways that nature certainly didn’t intend.

    The true cleverness, however, was to have the bacteria release a very short-lived pheromone that would coordinate their nearby neighbors.

    Amy’s power almost seemed to leap from her fingers, and in moments the whole lawn was converted. “Come on,” she said, practically dragging Lily back to the deck. Amy’s little break had not gone unnoticed, and their sudden return was generating plenty of confused looks among the bystanders.

    “What’s going on?” Taylor’s voice was followed shortly by the girl herself, having pushed gently through the crowds and come face-to-face with Amy. The biokinetic flashed her partner a quick thumbs-up, and Taylor’s shoulders slumped in relief.

    “Can we shut these lights off?” Amy called, gesturing at the LED bulbs in their fancy sconces.

    Someone must have been near the switch, because the lights vanished almost immediately and left Amy as the primary source of illumination on the deck. The lights in the rooms adjoining the yard turned off a moment later, but not before Amy saw that she had piqued the curiosity of a large portion of the partygoers.

    A bit of tweaking installed the necessary gland in her palm. Amy raised her hand dramatically, splayed her fingers, and fired a ping pong-ball sized glob of glowing rainbow bacteria solution into the middle of the yard.

    The party held its breath.

    When the orb landed, the grass exploded with color, starting from the landing spot and radiating out in waves of rainbow bioluminescent splendor.

    Colors swirled and shifted with a coherence length of about a foot, creating discernable fractal-like patterns as the bacteria responded to the pheromones of their neighbors. The light was not terribly bright, but it was more than enough to softly illuminate the entire yard and coat the trees in rainbows.

    It was beautiful.

    The perfect moment of silence was broken when Vicky let out a wild whoop, picked Dean up by his shoulders, and flew into the middle of the lawn. That broke the metaphorical dam, and partygoers rushed en masse to follow them. People jumped, sat, danced, ran around, rolled around or just stared in amazement, turning the yard into an enormous combination dance floor and cuddle pile.

    “I think you’ve outdone yourself again,” Taylor murmured from beside Amy, having stepped up to the edge of the deck while the rest of the party flowed around them. Lily was next to her, a conspiratorial smile plastered on her face.

    Amy scoffed. “Too bad I don’t get to enjoy it.” Then she stumbled forwards, only to find that Taylor had pushed her out into the yard. “Hey!”

    Taylor: Don’t ‘hey’ me, Amelia Claire Lavere. Get out there and go have fun with this incredible thing you have created.

    Admittedly, her creation was pretty awesome.

    Lily leapt towards Amy and looped their arms together. “Come on, everyone else is running around and laughing. You can too.”

    But, people needed Amy’s help —

    Taylor: I’m going to go make sure everything else is fine, so you don’t have to think about it.

    What had she done to deserve these friends?

    Why were they so invested in her being… happy…

    Oh.

    While Amy processed that, a sudden rush of air heralded Crystal touching down next to their little group. She looked once at Taylor, who nodded, then grabbed Amy’s other arm and helped Lily haul her out into the yard.

    Three steps later, Amy darted forward, leaving the two to chase after her.

    She was laughing the whole way.


    ***​

    “I will admit, this is one of the stranger requests I’ve had from a hero. But I see no issues.”

    Sarah Pelham rolled her eyes. “I’m sure the potential profit has nothing to do with it.”

    “It has everything to do with it, Lady Photon.”

    “And the emancipation?”

    “As I said, no issues.”

    “If you can’t contact her, please let me know. I should still have fifteen minutes of your time left.”

    The infamous supervillain lawyer laughed. “Indeed you do. Have a good night.”

    Sarah stared at her cell phone for a long while after the call disconnected. This whole situation was a disaster of the highest order, and yet all she could worry about was Amy.

    In her mind’s eye, Sarah could perfectly picture the terrified girl hiding in the closet while her father fought for her life. Amelia’s fortunes had not really improved since that moment, which was in large part due to Sarah’s own blunderings.

    The PRT could have easily taken Amy and protected her. In retrospect, there was no reason for the Brigade to heed Marquis’s request, but coming off the thrill of battle and the horror of nearly killing an innocent child had not made for clear heads. Case in point, they had Carol adopt Amy!

    And now tonight, Carol had finally done what Sarah suspected she had always wanted to do — rid herself of the living reminder of a man she had hated to the bone.

    Vicky’s panicked, tearful arrival in the Pelham’s living room a few hours prior had certainly been eye-opening, and Sarah had barely possessed the restraint to not go and throttle her sister after hearing what had happened. At least Amy had been thoughtful enough to text Crystal, otherwise they wouldn’t have known that she was okay.

    That is, if ‘hiding in a 24hr cafe from your axe-wielding adoptive mother’ counted as ‘okay.’

    Now that Amy knew the truth, trying to force her to come back to New Wave was probably not a good idea. And it sounded like Amy needed a therapist as soon as possible, or at least a friendly shoulder to cry on.

    Sarah couldn’t provide either of those things — and she certainly wasn’t getting the PRT involved — so the next best plan was to contact Quinn Calle. He was smart, resourceful, and completely without scruples when it came to protecting his clients; Sarah hated suggseting the idea of having Amy charge for healing, but Calle had understood the possibilities immediately.

    He could be trusted to protect Amy, if only because she would make him a lot of money.

    Once things had settled down, Sarah would get her kids to go check on their cousin. If there was a problem, Crystal could probably handle it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2021
  30. FirstSelector

    FirstSelector something else entirely

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2020
    Messages:
    48
    Likes Received:
    1,290
    There will be a short arc-end epilogue coming in the next few days, along with some comments and thoughts about what's next.
     
Loading...