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Trump Card (Worm AU)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Sep 2, 2014.

  1. Zackarix

    Zackarix Not too sore, are you?

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    Alibi's name should be changed to "Kidnapping Bait," because that's her main purpose in life.
     
  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Why, yes she does.
     
  3. Andria

    Andria Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Well, technically he doesn't think he's attacking Hax. He really is after just Taylor here to squeeze for info...not that anyone is really gonna care about his intentions when things play out, I would guess.
     
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  4. godzillahomer

    godzillahomer Know what you're doing yet?

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    ooh, Lung you've done it now

    Contessa: Ooh! Popcorn time!
     
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  5. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka A giant spider

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    At this rate Pwnage should make "Taylor Hebert" their 'un'official 'fourth' member as their designated 'innocent bystander' and then mention the benefits package she gets for it, it would be a great way to increase viewers and help turn their 'shows' into possibly actual shows. :D
     
  6. Psyckosama

    Psyckosama Well worn.

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    Complete with a publicity shot of Uber and Leet as Mario and Luigi, with Hax guest starting as Samus, saving Taylor as Princess Peach, from a Hologram of Dragon!Lung dressed up as Bowser...
     
  7. godzillahomer

    godzillahomer Know what you're doing yet?

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    Why not have Hax as a blue toad, then you have the entire New Super Mario World cast minus the bonus character
     
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  8. GladiusLucix

    GladiusLucix I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Maybe a bonus picture of Hax glaring at a cowering Uber and Leet with a Yoshi costume behind her, possibly burning/in tatters.
     
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  9. Psyckosama

    Psyckosama Well worn.

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    Or They're riding Mecha-Dragon-Hax who's painted green?
     
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  10. seeing_octarine

    seeing_octarine Unverified Colour

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    I know domino masks are shorthand for being disguised in superhero stories, but this still bothers me. In Worm canon they're specifically implied by Tattletale's costume to require a considerable amount of effort to make reasonably effective. Otherwise all you're really doing is putting a giant neon sign on yourself revealing your face and that you're a parahuman.

    Simurgh satellite interference? I know Aleph has far more accurate GPS than that.

    (Also, blech, feet as a unit of measurement. Bloody Americans.)
     
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  11. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Well, for all anyone knows, Uber and L33t are just normals. Anyone can wear a mask, after all. They wear more complete disguises when out and about as criminals; this is more to keep people from getting a good look at their features while they're here.
    When I use my phone GPS to pinpoint my location, it wanders all over the place sometimes. Ten to twelve metres is not uncommon.
     
  12. theonebutcher

    theonebutcher Not too sore, are you?

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    She should ask Lung for a stamp on her frequent kidnappee card.
     
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  13. Datcord

    Datcord Giggling menace

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    Hey! It's an international accepted and used system! Myanmar and Liberia use it, too! Which is weird, because you never really think of those two as having their shit sorted out, but....

    *eyes Ack*
    *glances up at the sky to check for winged figures*
    *edges slowly away from Ack*
    I'm... I'm not with him. Please don't mess with my GPS, too.
     
  14. godzillahomer

    godzillahomer Know what you're doing yet?

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    you reminded me of a certain fic, so

    If she gets 3 more stamps, she gets to be player 4 with Pwnage
     
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  15. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    The accuracy of a GPS fix depends near-entirely on the receiver. A naive receiver that uses ephemeris positions and default ionospheric models only will get within 10-20 meters; the addition of more-sophisticated ionospheric models and/or dual-frequency can get within 3-5 meters; if you have an external data link for a DGPS/PPP fix, you can get within 5 cm. Cell phones usually have something closer to the former.
     
  16. macdjord

    macdjord Experienced.

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    Isn't there an accuracy limit of something like 5m unless you have a military-model GPS, because the data channels that allow accuracy better than that are encrypted?
     
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  17. evildice

    evildice (Verified d4)

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    If that were the case, then this is what your car GPS would sound like:

    GET IN THE LEFT LANE.

    NO. NOT THIS LANE. THE LEFT LANE.

    GET IN THE LANE FIVE METERS TO THE LEFT OF WHERE YOU ARE NOW.

    OH GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING. HOW DID YOU MAKE THAT TURN. THAT SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE.

    EVERYTHING I KNOW IS A LIE.

    Dragon: "I feel you, sister."
     
  18. macdjord

    macdjord Experienced.

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    I've never had a GPS that could accurately determine the lane of a moving vehicle without additional information.

    Checking Google, there is an encrypted band for military use, which offers about 10x the accuracy of the unencrypted, but I can't find numbers for just how accurate either of those are.
     
  19. seeing_octarine

    seeing_octarine Unverified Colour

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    There used to be artificial error inducement, but that was switched off back in May, 2000.

     
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  20. Xilph

    Xilph Well worn.

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    Right, but they mentioned something else. They mentioned something that is the case, there are encrypted secondary channels that allow for more accuracy via comparisons between them, and while it can used without the ability to decrypt the channels it's not quite as good and more significantly it's too slow to be widely usable.
     
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  21. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    My GPS just assumes I'm in the correct lane until I prove otherwise by not doing the thing that I needed to be in that lane to do (e.g., by not exiting the highway). Then it recalculates and tells me to smear bread across my forehead.

    The point is, it only pretends to know.
     
  22. Threadmark: Part Twenty-Six: Return of the Dragon
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Trump Card

    Part Twenty-Six: Return of the Dragon


    Taylor

    Behind my goggles, my eyes opened wide. “Oh, crap,” I muttered. “Not again.”

    L33t didn't seem to notice, being taken up with an examination of Pyrotechnical's wares, but Über looked around at me. “Something the matter?”

    “Yeah,” I said. At that one word, I saw his expression go from curious to worried. “It's Alibi.”

    “Fuck,” he said softly. “What's happened now?”

    I grimaced. “Lung. He just stopped a bus full of kids. He wants me. Do I run or go with him?”

    By now, L33t had apparently realised that something was up. He backtracked, his expression already changing to match Über's. “What's up?”

    Pulling the two of them away from the main group, I lowered my voice. “Lung's about to kidnap Alibi. I guess Coil's little stunt got out, and Lung's decided that I know who Hax is.”

    Fuck.” L33t gritted his teeth. “What are we gonna do?”

    Über looked over at where Dodge was still exhibiting his tech, then met my eyes. “Are you thinking what I'm thinking?”

    “Yeah.” I nodded toward the young Tinker, wishing that I had more time to figure out new applications for his power. “Get the one with the most bells and whistles. We're gonna need to bring the van. Come on, L33t.”

    L33t wasn't quite up to speed yet. “Where are we going?”

    “To the van.” I was already moving toward the doors. “I'm gonna need to get my armour back together, and two Tinkers are better than one.”

    “Uh, I guess?” L33t hurried to catch up with me. “But what's the plan?”

    “Alibi's gonna stall 'em, and then I'm gonna jump in and kick another nine shades of shit out of Lung,” I said grimly.

    “Wait.” He stopped.

    I took another few steps along the pavement, then looked around impatiently. “What? We're burning seconds here. Seriously.”

    “Sending you in isn't the best idea.”

    It took me a couple of seconds to register what he was saying. “What the hell do you mean? Alibi needs rescuing! If we don't get back there as fast as possible, she's -”

    “Hold up.” He patted the air in a settle-down motion. “I'm as worried about her as you are, but think about this for a second.”

    I pointed at the van. “Can you tell me while we run? My armour still needs a little work.”

    “Sure.” He caught up with me. “You're starting to think like a hammer.”

    Without stopping, I stared at him. “Is this a Tinker thing?”

    “No.” His expression was as serious as I had ever seen him. “Well, yes but no. Have you ever heard the saying, 'to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail'?”

    I shook my head and refocused on the van. “Yeah, I've heard it. So what?”

    “So, if you keep jumping in and saving the day, you'll make it clear to anyone who's paying attention that she's important to you.” His voice trailed behind me as he tried and failed to keep up with my flat sprint. “And by proxy, your dad. You want to paint a bullseye on his back, too?”

    I stopped dead and turned to wait for him, frustration welling up inside me. “Okay, fine, what the fuck do I do then?” I asked, restraining myself from shouting by only the barest of margins. “You're talking like you've got all the answers. How do I save her without saving her?”

    So he told me.

    <><>​

    Lung

    "Where is Taylor Hebert?" asked Lung again, scanning the faces that he could see. "Bring her to me, now. You know who I am. You do not want to make me angry." He made sure to enunciate the English words correctly, so that there would be no misunderstandings.

    Almost as if his words were the catalyst for action, there was a scuffle toward the back of the bus. Lung moved forward, advancing down the aisle. A tall gangly girl was fighting her way out of a window seat, pulling away from the half-hearted grasp of the boy who was sitting on the aisle.

    She gained her freedom and stood between the seats, panting heavily, her drab clothing dishevelled. Lung expected a token show of defiance before she gave herself up, or perhaps she would surrender immediately for fear of his anger. But instead, on seeing his advance, she gave a squeak of terror and bolted toward the back of the bus.

    "There is no place to run to, girl." He continued his measured stride in pursuit. After all, she was trapped in the bus with him; there would be no last-minute escape. Even if she somehow slipped past him, his men were right outside the bus doors.

    For a moment, he considered telling her that he only wanted to ask her some questions about Hax of Pwnage – not that he would ever utter that name out loud – but he decided not to. For one thing, Lung never explained himself. He gave orders, and others followed them. That was the natural way of things. For another, the girl was at least peripherally associated with the cape who had so thoroughly earned his mortal enmity, and may well refuse to answer his questions without sufficient inducements. And of course there was the fact that any mention of Hax's name would almost certainly get back to the cape in question and put her on guard, whereas this way she would have no idea that Lung was looking for her.

    The Hebert girl reached the back of the bus, but didn't stop. Those seated in the last row dived to either side as she seized the emergency-exit handles and heaved. Exhibiting a level of panicked strength that Lung would not have credited her with, she popped the rear window open.

    As it clattered to the asphalt outside, he lunged forward, trying to get hold of her. You're not getting away that easily. Glancing over her shoulder, she screamed and launched herself through the now-open window. His reaching hand missed the heel of her shoe by mere inches; she dropped to the street outside, rolled awkwardly, scrambled to her feet, and bolted. The whole time, she didn't stop screaming except to draw breath.

    This was becoming more and more irritating by the second. Scrambling out through the rear window – he was somewhat taller and bulkier than the girl, so it wasn't as easy for him – he dropped to the ground and gave chase. Around the bus, his men were reacting; some were turning the vehicles around while others joined in the chase.

    As he closed in on his prey – she was fleeing like a frightened rabbit, but her incessant shrieking had to be using up precious oxygen – he briefly considered the potential backlash that such a public abduction was going to have on the ABB, and on him personally. Nobody could prove that this was about Hax; for all anyone knew, the Hebert girl was a cape in her own right, and this was a 'recruitment' mission. It had happened before, and it would happen again.

    In any case, it was too late to abort the mission. Not only was the Hebert girl alerted to his interest in her now, but to do so would be to show himself as weak and indecisive. Besides, he had put too much effort into getting his hands on her to give up now. No matter what, he had to follow through; otherwise, it would be all for nothing. He had to learn what she knew. Hax had to die. His pride demanded it.

    Not only was he a big man, but his power ensured that he never got tired. Despite her best efforts, his longer legs ate up the distance between them. The girl glanced over her shoulder, screamed yet again, and tried to dodge between two parked cars. She stumbled, then fell headlong. He caught up as she tried desperately to scramble under one of the cars.

    Bending down, he took hold of her ankle and began to drag her out from under the car. She writhed and kicked and screamed in what sounded like unbridled panic, striving ineffectually to free herself from his grasp. Behind his mask, his lips skinned back from his teeth; her terror was almost palpable. Jaku niku kyō shoku. Whatever else she was, she certainly was incapable of standing up to him.

    “Be quiet!” he shouted at her, but she continued to struggle and scream. “Shut up!” If anything, she writhed even more desperately in his grip. Drawing back his arm, he slapped her across the face; not as hard as he might have done, but definitely hard enough to get her attention.

    It didn't work; by now, she seemed to be gripped by a hysterical panic. He couldn't take his attention off her for a moment; twice, she almost managed to wriggle free from his grip. How can I explain that I'm not going to hurt her in a way that she'll believe and that won't make me look weak?

    In the end, it wasn't going to matter. He would get the information he needed, one way or another. If the little bitch didn't want to give it up voluntarily, he would take it from her. Hax was going to die at his hand. That part was never in doubt.

    Making sure to pin her arms to her sides, he tucked her under his own arm like a sack of flour and started back toward the bus. She never stopped screaming and struggling the whole way. By the time he was about halfway there, her voice had hit a particularly high note that went through his skull like a bandsaw. He gritted his teeth and clamped his hand over her mouth, ignoring her attempts to bite his fingers, and kept walking.

    <><>​

    Velocity

    Cooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnttttttttttttttttttttttttttrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-”

    With a sigh, Robin slowed down until his personal time rate was somewhere close to that of the rest of the world. He'd spoken to Armsmaster about this problem. The Tinker had assured him that it wasn't a problem with the helmet radio receiver, but more to do with the speaker. He was working on a solution, but until he figured it out, Robin would be stuck with a long, low mooing sound every time someone wanted to get into contact.

    -rol to Velocity. Urgent. Come in, Velocity.”

    “Velocity here,” he replied, stopping on a street corner and reflexively looking around. “What's the problem, over?”

    We have a report that Lung has held up a school bus and is taking prisoners. Armsmaster is five minutes out. Where are you?”

    A cold chill shot down his spine. Schoolchildren. Christ. “West and Ward. Where's the bus?”

    It's on the corner of Kilmer and O'Donnell. That's -”

    “I know where it is. ETA thirty seconds. Velocity, out.”

    Contrary to popular belief, the city didn't go by in the blink of an eye when he pushed himself to his top speed. Instead, it slowed down to a crawl. To everyone else, he raced past in a barely seen blur; from his point of view, he jogged casually along with everything around him moving at a fraction of its normal speed.

    The worst part about it was the boredom. To run from one end of the city to the other took time. Even if his body only required food and sleep to the schedule of the real world, it still took him forever and a day to get anywhere.

    It took him about forty-five minutes to get to where the action was going down. Slowing to a gentle stroll, he let himself cool down while he looked around.

    School bus, check. Bullet-holes in tyres and mud-guards, check. ABB assholes in cars, check. And … there's Lung himself. Kidnapping a schoolgirl, no less. Or if he wasn't, Robin couldn't think of another reason for having the girl slung under his arm. With the way she seemed to be kicking and screaming – as best as Robin could tell from the near-frozen tableau – she definitely wasn't going willingly.

    Taking his camera out, he walked around the leader of the ABB, taking photos from different angles. He made sure to capture what he could see of the girl's expression around Lung's massive hand, as well as her wildly flailing legs. Fight that one in court.

    Taking a deep breath, he slowed himself back down to Lung's timeframe, standing directly between the ABB leader and the vehicle he'd been headed for. With his thumb, he pressed the button to send away the photos to the PRT servers, then slid the camera back into its pouch. “Gonna have to ask you to put the girl down and surrender, Lung,” he said bluntly. “I've got reinforcements on the way, and you can't fight all of us.”

    “No.” Lung's English wasn't the best, but even he could make himself understood with a single word. “Step out of the way or get hurt.”

    Robin glanced around to make sure that nobody was about to shoot him in the back. “You can't even begin to touch me,” he assured Lung. “But seriously, kidnapping kids off the bus in broad daylight? That'll get you the Birdcage or a kill order. You know that.”

    Lung chuckled deeply. “You're assuming that I don't already know.”

    “Know what?” Robin wasn't sure where he was going with this.

    “I have enough strikes that if I am captured, I already go to the Birdcage.” Lung's voice held a perverse pride. “You cannot threaten me with that.”

    “Kill orders are also a thing.” Robin knew that it probably wouldn't work, but he had to try.

    Lung shook his head. “Kill orders are for the Endbringers and the Nine. Not for me. Now, stand out of the way.”

    Stubbornly, Robin stood his ground. “No. I'm not letting you take her.”

    The tattooed man's sigh was more of a growl. “She will be released unharmed, once I get what I want.”

    Robin felt a sharp twist in his guts as he looked at Lung and then the girl. “She's only a kid, for God's sake.”

    It took Lung a few seconds to get his meaning, then he shook his head. “That's not what I need her for. Now, step out of the way.”

    Another glance around let Robin know that guns were starting to angle in his direction, but he stood fast anyway. “No. I don't know what you want her for, but I'm not letting you take her.”

    “Step out of the way, or I will order my men to shoot into the bus.” Lung's tone was implacable. “You know I will.”

    Robin gritted his teeth. “Why is she so important to you?”

    “She can tell you when she has been released. I will not tell you to step aside again.” Lung raised his voice. “Aim at the bus!”

    Every ABB man that Robin could see raised his weapon. Aiming at him would be pointless, if he could see them. But there would be no way he could protect the kids in that bus.

    He said she won't be harmed. Anguish twisted inside him. It felt as though he was abandoning the girl, even as he tried to convince himself that he wasn't. He wouldn't bother saying something like that if he wasn't going to follow through.

    From what he could see, he had no choice. Pushing into his Breaker state, he watched the world slow down around him. He didn't know what Lung wanted the girl for, and it haunted him.

    Moving away from the leader of the ABB, he entered the bus, navigating the aisle with the ease of long experience. Nobody seemed to be injured. There were no pools of blood, nobody apparently asleep or dead. I can't save everyone. If they open fire, this'll be a charnel house.

    It was then, as he started to leave the bus, that his radio crackled to life. “Hax calling Velocity. How's things?”

    He froze. The voice had come in at normal speed, with none of the long, low mooing that he associated with radio calls when he was in his accelerated time state. It was a female voice, teenage and confident, and oddly familiar. However, while he'd watched the latest Pwnage clips – the one with the dragon fighting Lung was amazing – he still couldn't be certain that this was indeed Hax.

    “Who's talking, and how are you doing this?” he snapped.

    There was no immediate answer, which ticked off several possibilities for him. Whoever this is, they're not running at my time rate. But they've got a frequency adjuster that allows them to speed their speech up to my level. How they knew the ratio to tune it to wasn't hard to figure out; his upper limit of speed had been common knowledge for a few years. What was more concerning was the fact that they'd tuned into his comms frequency and broken the encryption. That's a Tinker, right there. Which is making it look even more like it's Hax. So what does she want?

    He left the bus once more, and was halfway over to Lung when his radio finally responded. “This is Hax, like I said. I've got a tracer on Miss Hebert. Let 'em go. They can't get away.”

    If her previous statement had caused him to freeze, this put a splash of ice water directly down his back. How the hell did they know about this? Then the name registered on him, and he moved closer to Lung's captive. The big man's hand covered most of her face, but the hair was familiar, as was the lankiness of her body. That's Taylor Hebert, all right. But she is Hax. I've seen her do her trick. How the hell can that be Taylor Hebert when Hax is talking to me over the damn radio?

    Nonetheless, Hax's true identity was one of the more closely-held secrets in the PRT ENE; only those capes who had directly encountered her powers were in on it. Although Director Piggot was determined to prove that she was Taylor Hebert, the prohibition against revealing her identity was ironclad. Which made Robin all the more confused; unless the Hebert girl was playing some sort of weird double-bluff, Hax was somewhere else right now.

    Whatever. This is way above my pay grade. Time to kick this upstairs.

    Sometimes, when he turned his power off, it felt like he was allowing the rest of the world to speed up, not that he was slowing down again. This was his experience now; Lung began to move, more and more quickly, as he turned his head to follow Robin's movements.

    “I'm stepping aside,” the speedster told the ABB leader. “It's not like I can stop you, anyway. But I am going to report this in.”

    “Report what you will,” Lung said. “But if you follow us, people are going to die.” He took the final few steps toward the nearest vehicle and shoved his struggling burden toward the open door. “Take her. Tie her up.” His hand came off of her mouth, and her high-pitched screams filled the air. “And fucking gag her before I kill her myself.”

    Robin's hands clenched hard enough to make his gloves creak; only his inside knowledge of Taylor Hebert's true nature let him keep control of his impulse to dash in. I really, really hope that Hax knows what she's doing.

    Lung hadn't told him to not look at the cars, so he moved to try to get a view of the license plates. They were taped over; he was tempted to try to remove the tape, but being able to move at an effective speed of over five hundred miles an hour was not the same as being invisible. While he'd probably – make that 'definitely' – succeed before any of them reacted, this would probably cause them to react badly, and a bus full of kids was an extremely pressing argument against provoking them just yet.

    Returning to normal speed, he stood near the bus, watching as the ABB goons climbed into the cars. They had tinted windows, he noted. Once they left his sight for any time at all, he would no longer be certain which vehicle held the teenage girl.

    Not that he intended to totally abandon her to whatever fate Lung had planned for her. It was heartening that Hax seemed to be on the case, and had a tracker on the girl. Neither was he going to leave it all to Hax; he himself was backed up by the awesome power of the PRT and the Protectorate … which reminded him. He had yet to check in.

    <><>​

    Director Piggot

    Emily Piggot's desk phone rang. She punched the answer button, leaving the handset on the cradle. “Piggot.”

    Ma'am, this is Lieutenant Janssen in Control. I have Velocity on the line. You're going to want to hear this.”

    She didn't hesitate. “Put him through.”

    There was a moment of dead air as the handshake protocol went through, then she heard the faint background crackle of a radio. “Velocity here. Director Piggot, are you aware of the ABB attack on the school bus?”

    “Only that it's happened. I got a heads-up thirty seconds ago.” As she spoke, her mind flicked through the possibilities. He's not such a glory hound that he'd ask to be put through to me just to report a victory. Nor is he reporting a failure; I'd hear it in his voice. No, there's something else going on. Something odd or bizarre. “You've got something new to tell me.”

    Yes, ma'am.” Velocity's voice held respect. “Lung is on site. There is damage to the bus, but nobody has been hurt or killed. They've only grabbed one person. I've identified her as Taylor Hebert. They've stated that she will be released unharmed.”

    Emily blinked. “Please say again that name.”

    I say again, the only person being abducted is Taylor Hebert.”

    “And you're positive about this.”

    I got a good look at her.” And when Velocity got a 'good look' at someone, it generally meant that he spent several subjective minutes staring at them. “It's her, all right.”

    “They said they'll be releasing her unharmed?”

    That's what Lung said.”

    “And you believe him?”

    I think so. But that's not the complication.”

    Now we get to it. “Keep talking.”

    I received a radio call, while I was in high Breaker state, from a certain person who has a connection to this case. I am not at liberty to divulge the name over an unsecured link.”

    That didn't matter. Emily was well able to connect the dots. While Velocity was disconnected from the real world by a time ratio of a hundred or so to one, someone had contacted him by radio, and apparently been able to communicate meaningfully with him. Given his careful wording, it seemed certain that this person had been … Hax?

    Emily Piggot had been present on the last occasion when Hax had shown the ability to be in two places at once. She knew that Hax was Taylor Hebert; the trouble lay in proving it, especially when the girl pulled off a stunt like this. Twice.

    Also, it means that Hax has penetrated our radio encryption. Fucking Tinkers. How did she even do something like that?

    Irritably, she shelved the question for later. “Understood. Was the person asking for help?”

    No. The impression I got was of someone in charge of the situation.”

    Emily's eyes closed, and she thumped her head gently against the back-rest of her chair. Of course it was. If I don't get an ulcer out of this, I will be mildly surprised. How did Hax find out in the first place? She's allied with Über and L33t, and while Über's a Thinker, he's not that kind of Thinker.

    “Thank you, Velocity. What's the current status of the ABB?”

    Just leaving now, ma'am.”

    “Can you slow them down?”

    I've been informed that if I interfere, they will fire into the bus.”

    Emily grimaced. She hated hostage situations. “Understood. Use your best judgement. Piggot, out.”

    Roger that, ma'am.” The call cut out.

    Piggot spoke sharply. “Control.”

    Yes, ma'am?”

    “Who's closest to Velocity?”

    Armsmaster is about three minutes away. Assault and Battery aren't far behind him.”

    “Good. Once Velocity is clear to leave that site, have him report here at once. I want to hear what he knows, in person.” I want to know what Hax said to him.

    Yes, ma'am.”

    She hit the button on the phone and leaned back in her chair, venting a gusty sigh. Lung just kidnapped Hax. He can't know that it's her, or he would've killed her on the spot. Of that she had zero doubt. But why would he kidnap Taylor Hebert? For her connection to Hax? Is he setting a trap for her?

    “No,” she said out loud to the empty office. “That's not his style.”

    Spinning her chair around, she stared out through the Tinkertech glass at the sprawl of Brockton Bay. It didn't take her long to arrive at her answer. “Information. That's what he's after. Information about Hax. Where she's based from. So he can pin her down and kill her.”

    Slowly, a grin spread across her face. It wasn't a pleasant grin. I don't much like Hax, but I like Lung even less. And she's got a plan.

    This should be good.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    As we neared the van, L33t pulled out the key fob and bip-bipped the vehicle open. I was careful not to touch it before the lights flashed, mindful of the anti-theft device that L33t had in place. However, the sliding door opened without any problems, and I climbed in.

    “How can I help?” asked L33t as he got into the van as well and closed the door.

    She/I struggled in Lung's grip. A red blur announced the arrival of Velocity on the scene.

    “I'm going to need a vocal frequency stepper unit that I can use while I'm in my armour,” I told him. “Recording, speeding things up or slowing them down by a factor of a hundred. Ever made anything like that before?”

    It was a valid question; with any other Tinker, I'd be asking it to make sure that he'd done something like that. With L33t, I wanted to make sure that he hadn't.

    “Pretty sure I haven't,” he assured me. “Give me about one minute.”

    I grinned; it was so damn good to have people at my back that I could absolutely depend on. Even if they were villains. Even if I had to become a villain to get that backup.

    Grabbing my tools, I began to feverishly reassemble my armour. Beside me, L33t dug into the bins of parts – with effectively two Tinkers on board, of course we'd brought parts – and started to kit-bash together the device I'd requested. In the back of my mind, I followed the conversation between Lung and Velocity. My racing mind hit the next step in my plan, and I pulled my phone out of my pocket. Dropping it on to the worktable, I speed-dialled a number and put it on speaker.

    By the time I got an answer, I was closing up my armour, and L33t was putting the finishing touches on his project as well.

    Hey, Hax.” It was Tattletale's voice. “Enjoying your road trip?”

    Without pausing in my work, I rolled my eyes and allowed myself a grin. She just has to do that. I'd been inside her head; I knew how she thought. “Yeah, but there's a complication. I'm gonna need the encryption key for the Protectorate field comms.”

    Oh, I thought you wanted something difficult,she retorted teasingly. “Sending it through in a second.”

    A moment later, my phone chimed, announcing an incoming message. I ignored it while I attached the last section of armour plate. “L33t, how's it going?”

    “And … we're … done.” He gave me a brilliant grin of his own. “This work for you?” On the bench was something that looked half-finished. Or it would have if I didn't have my light-spot on him.

    “Looks good,” I assured him. “Tattletale, you still there?”

    Surely am. What's going down?”

    “Gonna put Lung out of commission once and for all. Want in?”

    She made a rude noise. “It's a Hax plan. Of course, I want in.”

    “Okay, I'm on the clock, but I'll fill you in later.” I cut the call, then addressed L33t. “Okay, give me a hand with this.”

    Together, we wrestled the armour back on to its feet. It was cramped inside the van, but I was able to turn around and get in the right position. Taking a deep breath, I announced, “Armsmaster is a dick.”

    It seemed to me that my armour was responding faster than ever; no matter that there wasn't much room in the confines of the van, it wrapped around me with remarkable ease. I watched the HUD pop up in the goggles, running through a diagnostic, streams of green numerals stating that all was well.

    She/I struggled against Lung's unbreakable grip. Lung was still talking to Velocity, but I figured that the face-off was coming to an end.

    Picking up the phone, I called up the message that Tattletale had sent me. Using my HUD to image the data string, I entered it into the onboard computer memory. Then I opened the faceplate – an option I hadn't had before my fight with Lung – and put L33t's device over my mouth. “Hax calling Velocity,” I said cheerfully. “How's things?” The touch of a button compressed it to a fraction-of-a-second zip-squeal.

    Velocity blurred away, into the bus.

    I pressed the button to send the message. Almost instantly, a zip-squeal came out of my radio, to be automatically translated by the L33t device. “Who's talking, and how are you doing this?”

    Suppressing a sigh, I answered. “This is Hax, like I said. I've got a tracer on Miss Hebert. Let 'em go. They can't get away.” He knows who I really am, but this should make him wonder. He didn't answer me, but I was pretty sure that he'd gotten the message.

    Velocity blurred back into solidity and spoke to Lung. “It's not like I can stop you, anyway. But I am going to report this in.”

    That was all I needed to know. He was going to talk to the Director, which was exactly what I wanted him to do. Piggot had been on my case since day one, but she was also invested in my well-being, so I knew the PRT wasn't about to hang me out to dry. In the unlikely event that they tried, I had other options.

    I didn't think I'd be needing the frequency-stepper, so I clipped it into a compartment at my waist. My face-plate slid back into place, letting me bring my speakers – and voice modulators – into play, should I need them. “Bring the van,” I told L33t. “I'm going back to help Über with the pocket dimension generator.”

    “Gonna build one of those into your armour as well?” joked L33t as I opened the sliding door. There was a hip-holster, Robocop style, for the wireless taser; almost by reflex, I grabbed the weapon and slid it into place. I could've taken the stun rifle instead, but that would've been a little obvious … well, a little more obvious.

    “Maybe,” I answered half-jokingly. “Mind you, I am running out of places to put things.” Perhaps I should find some way to spend time with Armsmaster. He's really good at miniaturising components.

    Sliding the side door shut again, I slapped the side of the vehicle. Not waiting for L33t to get into the front seat, I started off back down the road again toward the convention centre. As I jogged along, I called up one of the less warlike appearances from my assortment of holocloak options. In moments, I had the outer appearance of a statuesque woman clad in urban camo. Her long red hair flowed in the breeze, and a matching red bandanna covered the lower half of her face. A pistol rode in a holster at her hip, directly over where I had the wireless taser. The nametag on the camo read HAX, of course.

    Door security looked me over as I jogged up to the main entrance. Their weapons of choice had been designed by Glace and Pyrotechnical respectively, so aggressors had the option of being fried or frozen. Of course, the other Tinkertech gear they were carrying easily clued them in to the fact that I wasn't exactly as I appeared.

    “Hold up a moment,” the one on the left said. She rested the pyro-rifle on her hip and looked me over. “Hax. You've already been in?”

    “Yeah,” I agreed. “I'm with Über and L33t. Über's already inside, buying something. Can I go back in?”

    “You're wearing powered armour,” the other one said. Ostentatiously, he didn't quite point his freeze-gun at me. “There a reason for that?”

    “It's got no built-in weaponry,” I advised them. “But like I said, Über's buying stuff, and I suited up so I could help carry it.” I leaned forward, trying to catch a glimpse of the Thinker. “Can I go in and see what's going on with him?”

    “No aggression against the stall-holders,” the woman with the Pyrotechnical weapon warned. “You do that, we're authorised to go S-class on your armoured butt.”

    “Roger that. I'm here to buy, not steal.” I stepped forward; the guards moved out of the way.

    <><>​

    Über

    “Fourteen twenty-five.” Über restrained the urge to grit his teeth. He had already bid far too much on the pocket dimension generator.

    “Fourteen fifty.” Right on cue. That was the three-piece suit guy on the left. His bodyguard, the Brute, sneered at Über, then went back to scanning the crowd.

    Über knew what was going on; he would have known it even if he wasn't so skilled at reading people. For some reason, the two suited guys had decided that they weren't letting him buy the generator from Dodge, so every time he offered a price, one of them topped it. It wasn't that they had come to any formal agreement, but apparently their mutual disdain for Pwnage had overcome their animosity toward one another.

    While Über was all for people working together toward a common goal, he could think of far worthier times and places for this to take place. For example, any time and place other than here and now. Normally, he would have conceded defeat and walked away; however, they needed the generator to get back to Brockton Bay and save Alibi.

    As far as he could tell, Dodge wasn't in on it. He would be the one to profit in the end, of course, unless the men decided to simply walk away after pushing Über out of the bidding. But for now, the boy was just watching as the bidding went to ludicrous heights over his device.

    I have to keep trying. “Fourteen seventy-five.”

    There was a pause, and for just a moment, Über thought that they'd tired of their game. Then, just as Dodge was opening his mouth to say something, the other man chimed in. “One point five million.”

    Fuck. He opened his mouth to bid again. Pwnage had reserves that could cover that and a bit more, but they'd be resource poor for a while. Still, Hax is depending on me.

    Just at that moment, Hax herself strolled into the convention centre. Über felt a flicker of hope; this time around, the teenage girl was clad in her armour, which was itself concealed behind a holocloak. Turning his attention back to Dodge, he raised his hand just as Dodge turned to the man who had just spoken. “Wait a minute. I haven't finished bidding.”

    “You may as well drop out,” the suited man told him. “This is too rich for your blood.”

    “Fifteen twenty-five,” Über replied doggedly.

    “Oh, why don't you just fuck off,” the other bidder told him irritably. “You're a fucking loser, and it's embarrassing to see someone like you at a place like this.” He made a motion with his hand, and the Brute bodyguard stepped forward to wrap his oversized hand around Über's upper arm. “Escort him somewhere else, will you?”

    “What the fuck?” blurted Über. “Let go of me, you asshole.” He considered his chances against the man in hand to hand combat, and decided that they were somewhere between 'poor' and 'non-existent'. Being the ultimate martial artist wasn't much of a help when your opponent was immune to most of your attacks. “Hey! Security! Over here!”

    “They're not here for you,” the suited guy informed him smugly. “They're here to protect him.” He hooked his thumb at Dodge.

    “Works for me,” said Hax, from just behind the Brute. An arm snaked around the big guy's neck and locked into place; at the same time, he heard the warble of the wireless taser. The other suited guy's bodyguard collapsed, his eyes rolling back up into his head.

    In his struggles to get free, the Brute released Über's arm; Über turned to the Brute's boss. “Come here, fucker.”

    “S-stay away!” The man reached inside his jacket; Über closed the distance in two quick strides and slammed a fist into the man's solar plexus. He struck something hard and unyielding, so he followed up with a palm strike to the nose and a side-kick to the knee. Cartilage crackled and the man screamed; he crumpled to the floor with blood spurting from his shattered nose and his leg bending at quite the wrong angle. A small pistol fell from his hand and skidded across the floor.

    The other man who had been bidding against Über looked at him, then at where Hax was just lowering the Brute to the floor. Über took a step toward him, and he fled.

    “Okay, what's going on here? Dodge, are you all right?” Two security guards shouldered their way through the growing crowd, Tinkertech weapons at the ready.

    “Yeah, I'm fine.” Dodge pointed at the guy that Über had laid out. “He started it. Told that guy,” indicating Über himself, “to go away and stop bidding, then he tried to make his goon force him to do it. Then the woman in the urban camo put the goon down.”

    “Gun there, by the way,” Über pointed out helpfully. “That guy there pulled it before I put him down.”

    One security guard shook his head, while the other checked the men on the ground. “God dammit. There's always one or two.” He leaned down and retrieved the pistol, then looked at the other bodyguard, who was just starting to recover. “What happened to him?”

    “Wireless taser,” Hax supplied. “I didn't want to have to be holding him off while I choked out this guy.” She drew the weapon, the holocloak making it look as though she was pulling it from the holster, and showed it to the guard. “Non-lethal, low-powered.”

    “That's fine, put it away.” The guard waved dismissively at the taser. “I'm more worried about the gun.”

    “What about when he told his guy to escort me away?” Über was, understandably, still a little pissed. “Isn't that kind of against the rules here?”

    The guard shrugged. “We know what sort of person comes here. By definition, you're kind of supposed to be able to take care of yourselves. A few normals with Tinkertech rifles aren't going to make much of a difference. So we take care of the stall-holders, and let you guys police yourselves.” He pointed at the unconscious Brute. “Like so.”

    “Okay, fine,” Über said. “So, can we get back to the business of actually doing business?”

    “Sure,” the guard agreed. “Knock yourselves out.”

    “Great.” Über turned to Dodge. “Now, before those assholes started bidding me up, I believe I offered a certain amount for your device. You were about to accept before we were interrupted. Is that price still on the table?”

    “Um …” began Dodge.

    Hax stepped up alongside Über. She didn't say anything, but she didn't have to. In the armour, with the holocloak on, she stood over six feet tall. He didn't know she was using his power to bump up her skill of silent intimidation, but she was certainly managing to loom ominously without moving a muscle.

    Dodge evidently came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be wise to try to insist on the artificially inflated price. “Sure,” he agreed. “Cash, card or wire transfer?”

    Über grinned. The generator was theirs. Soon, they'd be on the way back to Brockton Bay.

    It was time to take the dragon down, once and for all.


    End of Part Twenty-Six

    Part Twenty-Seven
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2017
    nox, MaddTitan, monk4u and 44 others like this.
  23. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Ah, nice scenes there. I like Velocity, and Emily shows a rather nice flexibility.
     
    Prince Charon and Ack like this.
  24. Threadmark: Part Twenty-Seven: Setting the Trap
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Trump Card

    Part Twenty-Seven: Setting the Trap



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



    Lung deposited the teenage girl in the chair and held out his hand. “Knife.”

    Hurriedly, Jin pulled out his switchblade and placed it in his boss' palm. Lung snicked it open and sliced the bonds on her arms and legs. “Do not move, girl,” he ordered. “You won't like it if you do.” His massive hand on her shoulder provided a very solid reminder of the threat.

    She turned her head as if listening, which was about all she could do; a thick cloth had been tied around her eyes, and another around her mouth. The screaming had stopped once she'd been in the car and away from the scene of the kidnap, for which Jin had been profoundly grateful.

    Handing back the knife, Lung nodded toward the girl. “Tie her to the chair.”

    Jin blinked; the chair in question was massively solid, and firmly bolted to the floor. Taylor Hebert, on the other hand, was stick-thin, and would have trouble weighing ninety pounds wringing wet. He could not see any conceivable way that she could escape the room, much less the building, even if she wasn't fastened to the chair.

    On the other hand, Lung was standing right there, and to question his orders was a very terminal career move. Especially since this girl was linked to Hax, and in turn to the team which nobody in the ABB dared mention the name of. People died if that happened.

    “Yes, sir,” he said, and began tying knots.

    He had a lot of rope, and with Lung it was always better to go for overkill than understated subtlety. By the time he was finished, the only part of her that could move was her head. Her legs had even been tied to the chair legs, so that she wouldn't have been able to move the chair around, like people did in the movies. That is, if it hadn't been already bolted to the floor.

    “Check the knots,” Lung said. The big man had not stopped moving since the girl was placed in the chair, and seemed to be trying to see into every corner of the room at once.

    Jin checked the knots. They were all secure. “Sir, may I respectfully ask a question?”

    The metal mask inclined toward him. “You may.”

    “Why do we need to tie her so firmly? She is nothing. How can she possibly escape, with you in the room?”

    Lung growled deep in his throat, but the flattery achieved its required result. “Hax is unpredictable and can teleport. I am ensuring that even if she appears in the midst of us, she will not be able to simply vanish again with the Hebert girl.”

    Unless she can simply teleport her away from within the ropes, Jin thought, but quelled the impulse to say it. He didn't want to know how Lung might face that challenge.

    “Unless … she can simply teleport the girl away from within the ropes,” mused Lung.

    Craaaaaap. Jin fought the urge to facepalm. It seemed that he was going to find out anyway.

    Lung turned toward Jin. “We have to guard against that as well,” the tattooed man decided. “Do we have any Semtex left?”

    Jin thought quickly. “From the bank job? Uh, yes. I think we have three blocks left.” What does he want with that? But he could only think of one possible use.

    “Good.” Lung turned away, obviously done with the conversation.

    “Uh,” began Jin, not liking the way this was going. “What do you want me to …”

    Lung turned back. “Get them, of course. Tape them to her. Set up the detonators with a pressure switch under her, so that if she's moved, they go off. Then tie her to the chair.” He threw up his hands. “Do I have to think of everything around here?”

    “It … it will be done.” Jin turned to carry out the appointed task. He swallowed heavily. In his time in the ABB, he had done many bad things, but this was the first time that he'd been ordered to rig a teenage girl with high explosives.

    If I refuse, he'll kill me and order someone else to do it. There was nothing to it. He went off in search of the Semtex.

    Life, he decided, was sometimes little more than a series of bad decisions.

    <><>​

    Gloversville

    Über stepped back from the open back door of the van, dusting his hands off. “Okay, see if it'll fit in there now.”

    Stepping up with the dimensional generator, I slid it into place. “Perfect.”

    “Good,” said L33t. He waved an elaborate Tinkertech screwdriver. “Mind getting your metal-clad butt out of the way so I can fix that thing in place? Time's a-ticking, here.” As I moved aside, he stepped in and held a bracket in place. The screwdriver dispensed a screw from its built-in magazine, then affixed it with a brief, deep whining noise.

    “Hax.” Über pulled me aside. “How's Alibi doing?” I could hear the concern in his voice.

    Inside the armour, I bit my lip. “They've got her back at Lung's base. Currently, someone's wiring her up with plastic explosive. Obviously, they don't want me just teleporting in, grabbing her and 'porting away again.” I hoped that the preparations I was working on would be good enough.

    “Well, if I was them, I might object as well,” he pointed out. “After all, it's the height of rudeness to set up an elaborate trap, just to have your victim bypass it altogether.” We shared a moment of mutual amusement, then he started chuckling.

    “What?” I asked, a grin tugging at the corner of my mouth.

    He shook his head. “Lung is going to be so pissed at you.” Turning, he went over to assist L33t with securing the generator, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

    He was right, of course. I'd roughed out a plan for rescuing Alibi and defeating Lung, but it required several things to go just right. However, if it did go right, Alibi would be safe, and Lung would be behind bars. Along with the rest of the ABB.

    And yes, Lung would be incredibly pissed.

    Opening the side door of the van, I climbed in. L33t and I had decided how the generator was to be connected up to the van's thoroughly non-standard power supply. However, we had agreed that a capacitor was absolutely essential for our plan of action, and the only one of those we had right at the moment was contained within my armour. More to the point, since the battle with Lung, it had become entirely integrated with the armour, to the point that it couldn't be removed.

    So, if the mountain won't come to Muhammad …

    With a sigh, I sat down in the seat that we'd modified. Two power cords lay on the workbench beside me, one coming from the van and one going to the generator. I called up a particular menu in my HUD and selected a specific option. A panel slid aside on the torso of my armour, and I plugged the cords into the appropriate sockets.

    This wasn't the most optimal course of action; however, I didn't see that we had a choice. While the van could handle the normal running of the generator, I knew from my foray into Dodge's capabilities that the startup would require a massive frontloading of power. If we tried to jury-rig the van to supply the burst, it could burn out the engine, and then there would be all that bother with hazmat suits and radioactive waste disposal. The suit could handle it, but it would leave the capacitor virtually depleted. I wouldn't be teleporting any time soon, at least until I could replenish my stored energy supplies.

    If I had even a day, L33t and I could redesign the generator to not require the high-end startup power drain. But we don't have a day. We don't have an hour.

    For the moment, I could let the van keep the suit topped up, but once we got going that would also be no longer an option. I went through power settings, ruthlessly pruning away anything that I thought I could spare, so that I could dedicate power to the essentials.

    Holocloak: off.

    Manton field generator: off.

    Teleporter standby mode: off.

    Lower limb power supply: off.

    External speakers: off.

    Uplink to stun rifle: off.

    Life support: off.

    As I selected the last one, the lower part of my faceplate slid open automatically, and I breathed in the faint smell of ozone that always seemed to permeate the van. I was as ready as I was going to be.

    The rear door of the van closed, locking into place; a few moments later, L33t climbed into the passenger seat. “Ready to roll?” he asked.

    “Just about,” I said. I wasn't, not really. We were just about to trust our lives to someone else's Tinkertech. Tinkertech that I had not personally disassembled, checked over, and reassembled. Intellectually, I knew that Dodge did good work; he wouldn't have a place in Toybox if he didn't. But it still felt wrong just to leap blindly into the unknown without testing it a little at first.

    Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to test it. “Just gotta make a call first, and then we can go.”

    The call would be to Lisa; I had already prepped Alibi with as much data as I could cram into her processors. She would be on her own until I re-established contact; I could only pray that nothing drastic happened to her in the meantime. I knew that she was 'only' a puppet running off cues from my own brain for the most part, but dammit, I was still attached to her. We all were.

    I took a deep breath and made the call.

    <><>​

    Brockton Bay

    Lisa plucked the phone from her belt just as it began to vibrate. “Tattletale here,” she said cheerfully, as if she wasn't currently sitting astride a monster dog on a rooftop in the middle of ABB territory.

    All that aside, it was a pleasant day. The sun was shining; if there had been any birds around, they would have been chirping. Nearby, Brian sat on Brutus, gradually leaking darkness; his posture hinted at absolute focus. Alec, sitting behind him, seemed a little sour for some reason. Irritated that we're associating with Hax, after she made him look like an idiot that one time.

    Rachel, on the other hand, showed nothing but stolid acceptance as she sat astride Angelica. She knew what they were doing, and that they were being paid handsomely by Pwnage for doing it. Not that Lisa wouldn't have done this job for free – staying on the good side of someone like Hax was a good idea – but getting money never hurt, and Hax seemed willing to part with hard cash to get this done right. The intel's almost as good, and she's far better company than Coil. When Hax said 'no strings attached', she meant it. And I kind of like her as a friend. Even if she's an incurable smartass when she gets hold of my power.

    Hi,” Taylor's voice was crisp and to the point. However, Lisa could read the underlying tension. While she couldn't be certain, Lisa was ninety percent sure that the 'Taylor' they were here to rescue was actually some sort of Tinkertech decoy, built using L33t's powers. And that the PRT still hadn't figured it out, which amused Lisa immensely. “They've almost got her tied up again. There's three blocks of Semtex taped to her stomach, a pressure switch under her ass, and there's also a remote detonator. I estimate that they'll be starting the interrogation in about two minutes. Plus or minus a minute or so.”

    It didn't take Lisa's power to determine that when Lung interrogated someone, terms like 'splatter radius' were appropriate to use. Taylor doesn't want that. I don't want that. She waved her hand at Rachel, then gestured forward. The stocky girl took the hint and started her dog moving; the other two followed close behind. “We're a couple of minutes out,” Lisa said. “Can she stall them for a bit?”

    Taylor's voice was still matter-of-fact, but the tension was ratcheting up with every word. “That'll be difficult. I'll be going totally dark about thirty seconds after we end this call. I won't be able to talk to you or give her any prompts. She's been prepped, a little, but I can't guarantee any results.”

    “Dark? How long for?” Under her, Judas gathered himself for a leap; Lisa hung on as the monstrous dog crossed the gap. The building they were holding 'Taylor' in was just up ahead, but there would be a few guards to take care of first. Having their mission control go dark at just the wrong time was amazingly inconvenient. She's not Coil, Lisa reminded herself. She actually wants this to succeed.

    Unknown. Maybe ten seconds. Maybe a minute. Maybe more.” She didn't like it either, Lisa could tell. Whatever she was doing, it would put her out of touch with the ongoing situation, rendering her incapable of assisting, right when they might need it the most. It's essential to the ongoing plan, her power told her. If she gets this right, Lung goes away. Which was a good thing; the Undersiders had escaped his notice with the casino heist, but this would put them squarely in his crosshairs once and for all.

    Well, if it can't be helped, it can't be helped. “Roger that. Catch you on the flip side.”

    You too. And thanks.” Taylor disconnected the call and Lisa shoved the phone back on her belt. She ran over the attack plan in her head, looking to her power to add any last details. None came to mind. Showtime.

    “Guys!” she called. “We're going to have to go in hot. Lung's about to start the interrogation, and she's not going to have any answers.” Brian's head came up at that; he'd figured out the implications almost immediately, and didn't like them. Alec also had it worked out, though he didn't care as much. Rachel wasn't worried either way; attack now or attack later, it was all the same to her.

    Alec shrugged. “So she can stall for a bit. No big.” His lack of urgency showed in his voice.

    “No. She can't. Take it from me.” Lisa pointed ahead at the target building. “Third floor, other side of the building. We won't have time to circle around. We bust straight through.” The original plan had been a lot more circumspect. This one was going to have to be brutal and loud to make up for it.

    “Why can't the bad guys hold their interrogations in spacious warehouses with convenient skylights, like in every movie known to mankind?” groused Alec, but he loosened the sceptre in its loop at his belt anyway.

    The dogs leaped over another gap, their pounding paws now gouging chunks out of the rooftops as they went. “Because convenient skylights are too damn convenient for capes to bust in through,” Brian called back to him, nudging Brutus to greater speed. Blackness was pouring off of him, leaving a midnight-black comet trail. He pulled ahead of the pack; Lisa and Rachel fell in behind. The ABB base was directly ahead.

    The dogs leaped across the last gap.

    <><>​

    Lung's Base

    Jin tested the last knot; it held firm. “Sir, she's ready.” He looked down at the gangly girl with something almost like sympathy in his heart. Whatever connection she had with Hax, it would be far better for her to tell Lung immediately. The gang boss had said she would be released unharmed once she talked, but when it came to Lung, 'unharmed' was relative. The longer she made him wait for the answers, the harder it would be on her. Worse, the angrier Lung got, the more likely he was to take it out on everyone around him. Leaning down, he said quietly, “Girl, your only chance is to tell him everything, fast. Do you understand?”

    Lung had been pacing back and forth in the room, his gaze flicking from side to side, as if he expected Hax to appear out of thin air at any moment. For all that Jin knew, he did. He turned toward where Taylor Hebert was tied firmly to the chair, plastic explosive taped to her body. Before the girl could give a sign to show she had heard him, Jin felt Lung's large hand wrap around his throat. Within the tattooed man's body, Jin fancied that he could feel the furnace heat seeking to escape.

    “What did you say to her just now?” asked Lung, his voice menacingly quiet. “Are you in league with her?” Through the eyeholes of the metal dragon mask, Jin saw Lung's eyes narrow, flames already dancing deep within them.

    “N-no,” Jin managed to choke out. “I told her to answer your questions quickly. I-I meant no disrespect.” Although he was fighting for breath, he willed his hands to stay at his sides. If he so much as reached for Lung's hand, he knew he would die. If he was lucky, it would be fast.

    Lung stared back at him; Jin imagined that he was deciding in his own mind whether it would be more convenient to kill Jin now or forgive him the imagined trespass. After an eternity of waiting, during which time Jin began to seriously fight for breath, Lung tossed him almost casually aside, where he landed heavily on his ribs. “Next time, speak to me first,” grunted Lung, turning back to the girl.

    Struggling to his knees, Jin sucked cool life-giving oxygen deep into his lungs. His throat felt bruised, and would undoubtedly show the markings of Lung's hand the next morning, but he was alive. There were quite a few he had known who were not so lucky, casualties of Lung's temper following the fight with the other dragon.

    Plucking the blindfold and the gag from the girl's face, Lung leaned down so that his metal mask was mere inches from her nose. “Do you know who I am, girl?” he asked harshly.

    She stared back at him, eyes wide. Jin heard a distinct whimper escape her lips.

    Lung leaned closer. “Answer me!” he shouted. “Do you know who I am?”

    If anything, her eyes went even wider. She leaned back as far as she could to get away from him, which wasn't very far. “Lung?” she whispered.

    Yes.” His voice was full of satisfaction. “I am Lung. I have questions about Hax and … the team she runs with. You have been in their base. You will tell me how to find it. Now.” He loomed over her, powerful and dangerous and angry.

    She whimpered again. Sweat was running down her face and tears gathering in her eyes. She was so obviously terrified that Jin was almost cringing himself in sympathetic response. He might be too good at scaring her. She's too frightened to think. Of course, if I say anything, I will probably die.

    “If you don't stop crying like a frightened child,” Lung shouted, “I will give you a reason to cry!” His large hand folded over her shoulder, the thumb pressing on her collarbone. In a person of her size and weight, it would be as slender and delicate as a twig. Jin knew that Lung was easily capable of casually snapping it, both physically and morally. “Now tell me what I want to know!”

    Jin was no stranger to death; he had killed Merchant trash and Empire skinheads, and never suffered a qualm. While he'd threatened mugging victims, and sometimes hurt them, he'd never killed anyone in the process (that he knew about). But he knew, here and now, that if Lung didn't get answers from the Hebert girl, he would start breaking bones. As fragile as she was, it would not take all that much effort for Lung to accidentally kill her. And if that happens, he may well blame us. Blame me.

    “Respectfully, sir, may I speak with you?” Jin made his tone as deferential as he could. Please don't kill me … please don't kill me … please don't kill me …

    Lung swung toward him; Jin smelt the smoke before he saw it, drifting up from behind the dragon mask. “What?”

    I have to word this just right. “Sir, you're terrifying to someone like her. She's never seen anyone like you before. Her fear is so great that she can't speak.” He had to hope that the flattery would help calm Lung down before the man decided to kill someone. Probably her, and then me.

    The sound that emanated from behind Lung's mask was not particularly human; if he was pressed, Jin would have likened it to an animalistic growl. “She'll talk. They all talk.”

    “Yes, sir, of course sir.” With his heart in his mouth, Jin stepped forward. “I merely wished to point out that I am not nearly so imposing and terrifying as you are. She will not be so scared of me, and she may answer my questions without crying so much.”

    “Hm.” Lung sounded a little less angry, even as he preened very slightly. “Speak to her, then. I will listen, and tell you what to say.” He stepped away from the chair to which Taylor Hebert was bound. Now that he was not staring fixedly at her, his eyes began to dart to every corner of the room once more.

    Jin abruptly became aware of just how deeply he had dug himself into a hole. If she doesn't answer, then I'm screwed. He'll still kill her and then me. Why do I talk myself into corners like this? He stepped up to the chair and looked down at the girl. Her frightened eyes stared back at him, so wide that white was showing all the way around the iris. Carefully, he tried to moderate his tone to be less frightening. Although to be less frightening than Lung is no trouble at all. “Girl. Are you listening to me?”

    Eyes still wide, she nodded hesitantly. Her glasses had been knocked askew by the blindfold; Jin reached forward to straighten them. She recoiled as far as she was able, then relaxed fractionally when he took his hands away again. Small kindnesses to captives will sometimes work wonders.

    “What's your name, girl?” He knew it, of course. But he also knew that asking questions to which the answer was readily available made later questions harder to resist.

    “T-Taylor Hebert.” She was still breathing fast, but his relatively gentle tone made for a potent difference from Lung. The 'good cop bad cop' trope was certainly as old as the concept of policing, and possibly older than that, but there was a reason for this. It worked.

    “Hello, Taylor. My name's Jin.” There was a minimal risk in giving his name to her. It wasn't as if she would learn if it was his first or last name. Even if they did identify him, he was already a wanted criminal, and it wouldn't significantly change matters.

    She seemed to be calming down a little, although her gaze kept flicking to Lung as he stood there with arms folded, looking like a particularly vengeful deity. “Uh … hello?” Her voice was still hesitant, but she wasn't crying any more.

    “Get on with it.” Lung's voice was heavy with menace; the Hebert girl cringed back, and Jin had to exert all his willpower to not curse Lung, even inside his own mind. Some fearful corner of him was sure that the leader of the ABB could smell out such treason, spoken or otherwise, and he wasn't taking any chances. He is a dragon, after all.

    “Taylor, Lung would like to know anything you can tell me about Hax's base,” he said, trying to make his voice as soothing as possible. It wasn't easy; he hadn't attempted anything like this for years, not since he'd been a negotiator for the gangs on the Boston waterfront. As a mid to high level enforcer in the ABB, threats came more easily to him than honeyed words, but those same skills told him that threats would do little to loosen her tongue.

    The girl opened her mouth. “Hax -” she began. However, a loud crash, several rooms away, interrupted her. Two more thunderous noises sounded, one after the other, followed by sounds of more complicated destruction.

    Almost in the same instant as the second and third crashes, Lung spun around and gestured to the guards posted at the windows and doors. “Go!” he shouted. “Go and find the intruders! Kill them, whoever they are!” Hefting their weapons – mainly pistols, but with a few submachine guns – they hurried from the room.

    “What is that?” shouted Jin as shots were fired and men screamed. “Who's attacking us?” He could hear some sort of deep rumbling or roaring, which he couldn't identify. All he could really tell was that the crashing sounds were getting closer.

    “I don't know.” Lung's voice was getting deeper, as his body began to expand. He moved toward the doorway. “But whoever they are, they're dea-”

    Before he could finish the word, the wall burst inward, spraying Jin with shattered plaster and pieces of studding. Two great monsters, each an unholy cross between a lizard, a rhinoceros and a dinosaur, thundered into the room. Jin heard a sharp whistle, and the creatures changed course. One of them leaped at Lung, apparently wishing to sink its great shark-like teeth into him. He jumped out of the way, only to land in the path of the other bizarre monster, which slammed its enormous head into his body. Together, all three crossed the room in just a heartbeat, striking the outer wall with a tremendous impact. It gave way, tumbling them all out of the room and into the sunlight beyond.

    A slim figure with curly dark hair and a white full-face mask appeared from the clouds of dust and strode fearlessly toward him. Jin raised his gun – he wasn't even sure how it had found its way into his hand – but his fingers spasmed and he dropped it. Cape. Regent. Monsters. These are the Undersiders.

    Regent, as befitted his name, was carrying an elaborate sceptre of some sort. However, instead of swinging it at Jin, he poked the end at him instead. Jin went to brush it aside, but the prongs found his arm, as he … Prongs …

    He realised the danger too late, as the shock knocked him sideways. Barely conscious, he heard the boy call out, “Found her!”

    <><>​

    Gloversville

    Über climbed into the driver's seat and started the van. “Next stop, Brockton Bay,” he declared in his ringing tones. Putting the vehicle into gear, he pulled away from the parking spot and began to drive away from the convention centre.

    “Where are you going?” asked L33t as he tapped away at the complicated-looking device that went along with the generator. “I'm finding it hard enough to put the right settings in if we aren't moving.”

    “We just pissed off two guys connected enough to rate parahuman bodyguards,” Über told him as he swung around a corner. “I'd rather not deal with them if I don't have to.” He had a good point; while I'd put the the bodyguards down pretty effectively, I hadn't done anything they couldn't recover from reasonably quickly. And unfortunately, people like the guys who'd been outbidding Über were likely to be the types to hold a grudge or two.

    “Yeah, yeah, stop whining,” L33t bitched as he tapped keys. “Okay, I think I got it. Hold on to your brain cells!” His finger stabbed a button on the control device, causing several things to happen. First, the van's engine stuttered, then recovered. Second, the capacitor in my suit underwent a massive drain; I watched the readout go from a solid one hundred percent down to less than five percent in under a second. Third, an opaque grey shimmering rectangle appeared in the street ahead of us.

    Über began to slow down as we approached the portal. “It's a bit small,” he said doubtfully. “And I'm not sure if it'll be high enough …” Leaning forward, I peered through the windshield. I couldn't be certain, but I got the impression that he was indeed correct.

    Then I heard something that grabbed my attention; specifically, the sound of squealing tyres from behind us. I turned to look, and my heart sank; it was an expensive-looking car, and the way it was gaining on us, the driver wasn't just interested in passing the time of day. “Guys, we gotta go!” I shouted.

    “Floor it!” yelled L33t at almost the same time. I grabbed for a handhold as Über floored it; the van might have looked old and decrepit, but a Tinkertech cold-fusion power plant will afford a startling amount of acceleration.

    “Get ready to close it!” snapped Über; he hung on to the wheel, aiming carefully at the centre of the portal. “Oh, shiiit, it's not high enough …” I glanced back over my shoulder again; the car was a lot closer and still coming up fast.

    Just before we hit the hole, I braced myself. But to my surprise, there wasn't even a jerk as the edge of the hole in spacetime impacted the front of the roof of the vehicle. As it was, the entire roof was sliced off of the van; as far as I could tell, the edge of the portal was cutting it like a monomolecular blade. I wondered if Dodge had any idea of this application of his portals.

    I heard a distant clang, which must have come from the roof falling to the road after being cut free of the van. The sound was cut off sharply as L33t hit the button to close the hole behind us.

    Über braked sharply to a halt; the van ended up almost in the exact centre of the space in which we had found ourselves. I looked out the window; a shimmering grey floor met a shimmering grey wall, which in turn became a shimmering grey ceiling. Looking up, I saw more of the ceiling through the space where the roof used to be.

    “Dude.” Über pointed upward. “You're paying for that.” His voice was oddly flat, lacking much of its resonant tones. I wondered if the shimmering grey surface was anechoic, whether it absorbed sound or simply refused to reflect it.

    “Hey, not my fault!” L33t's voice was likewise almost swallowed by the silence that infected this place. “Wow, shit, my voice sounds weird. So does yours.” He worked his jaw, as if he was trying to pop his eardrums.

    “I don't think this place reflects sound,” I suggested, raising my voice slightly to make myself better heard. It was going to take some getting used to.

    “First thing we do, we put in proper walls and floor and ceiling,” Über decided. “Anyway, we've got a rescue mission to complete. Think you can get us back to Brockton Bay without cutting the van in half or landing us in the Boat Graveyard?” His tone as he addressed L33t was only mildly censorious; I would have been astonished if that was the worst mishap that the boys had encountered in the old days. For my part, I could not help feeling anxiety, not only over Alibi, but also the Undersiders; they were the ones going into harm's way to rescue her, after all.

    “All right then,” L33t decided after some more work on the control device. “We're going to need an exit point. Hard numbers. Hax, you were getting those, right?” That was my cue to call up the HUD on my goggles, and access the positional data that I had stored in the armour's memory banks.

    “Yeah, I was,” I said. “You've got the numbers for the exit point we just used, right?” I couldn't just tell him my numbers; it was almost certain that Dodge's devices used a different format for positional data than I had set up for the armour.

    “Sure,” he agreed, and read out the figures. I repeated them back to him, and he corrected one of the digits. After fixing the error, I double-checked with him. This time, he agreed with me.

    Then I put up my figures for location versus his figures for location. As I had expected, they were utterly unlike each other. I had latitude, longitude and elevation in feet from sea level; Dodge's positional data involved some weird three-dimensional transforming formula. Mentally cracking my knuckles, I put the light-spot on to Über and concentrated on understanding Dodge's math. Thirty seconds later, I had it figured out.

    Applying that information to the other figures took only a little longer; within a couple of minutes, I was able to read back to L33t the formula he was supposed to plug into the remote. Über put the van into gear and drove over to a spot on the wall that L33t indicated, and stopped once more.

    “Where are we going to come out?” he asked. I could understand the trepidation; a transposed digit or two could see us ending up underground or a thousand feet in the air. If we even appeared on the right continent.

    Or the right world, for that matter. It was a sobering thought.

    “If my calculations are correct, it should be where we teleported to after leaving Coil's base,” I said. “We haven't put anything new in that spot, have we?” I was pretty sure that we hadn't; since I had joined the team, the boys had actually acquired a grudging pride in their newly-found cleanliness and neatness.

    Über looked at L33t, who shrugged. Then he turned to me. “If you haven't put anything there, it's clear. But how are we going to get the van through to the garage? There's too much stuff in the way.” I could see where he was going with this, but I could also see where he was making the mistake.

    “Dude. We don't need the van. We leave it in here.” L33t gestured at the four walls that now surrounded us. “Don't you get it? This is our new base.”

    The armour was no longer needed to provide the kickstart for the generator, so I unplugged that, as well as the feed from the van. It was only a trickle, given that most of the excess from the van's power plant was going toward the dimensional generator. I had six percent power; enough to walk around with and do minor tasks, but not enough for any sort of brawl.

    Lower limb power supply: on.

    Pulling back the side door, I climbed out of the van. The shimmering grey surface felt smooth under my feet, though there was ample traction. Seeking to test my theory from earlier, I stomped hard on it. My foot stopped, but there was no sound. It was weird.

    “Okay, then.” L33t climbed out of the van and pointed at the nearest section of wall. “If I've got this right, the portal will form there and lead straight back to our base.” He held up the remote and hit the button … and the portal formed, right where he'd said it would. Still a shimmering opaque grey, it was somehow a different shimmering opaque grey from the rest of the pocket dimension.

    Stepping forward, I stuck my head through. Information flooded across my HUD as my armour reconnected to the outside world. Better yet, L33t had hit the mark dead on. We were indeed inside the base. I passed all the way through, looking around, thinking about the next step in the plan.

    With a rush, the connection with Alibi re-established itself. I could hear through her ears, see through her eyes. She was healthy and whole. And, it seemed, riding on a giant dog in front of Lisa.

    Hi,” I said to Lisa through the link with Alibi. “How's things?” As I did so, Über and L33t exited the portal behind me. I turned to them. “Guys, the plan's on track, but we've gotta move fast to be ready for the endgame.”

    Pretty good, you?” Lisa didn't seem the slightest bit surprised that the previously uncommunicative Alibi had suddenly started talking. I pinged Alibi's location beacon and got a rough cut on their speed. Then I had Alibi turn her head to look back past Lisa; not far behind, following relentlessly, was a metallic-scaled and very pissed off Lung.

    “What do we have to do?” asked L33t. No hesitation, no whining about how I was ordering him around. We were a team, and it showed.

    Back in Brockton Bay,” she/I told Lisa. “And just in time, it seems. Gonna need about ten minutes to get some stuff done, then you can come on in. Think you can hold out that long?” To be honest, I was being a little conservative with the ten-minute estimate, but I would rather have too much time than too little.

    At a fast walk, I led the way toward my workshop. Without pausing, I tore down the warning poster on the door, crumpling it up as I went. No sense in tipping him off.

    We'll just have to do our best,” she said. “Make sure you don't go too much over, all right?” I couldn't contact her powers via Alibi – how useful would that be? - but Über's power had given me some pretty effective cold-reading skills, and I knew that she was shading the truth a little. The dogs, were having to push to keep ahead of Lung; the bigger and nastier he got, the harder it would become. They've already been in a fight with him. A second one might not go as well. In addition, I couldn't be certain, but there seemed to be something wrong with Grue's right arm.

    Entering the workshop, I pointed at the elaborate Tinkertech pillars decorating each corner of the room. “We've got to disconnect these and set them up at the corners of the base itself. And we've got ten minutes to do it in.” I was going to try to do it in five; the more spare time up our sleeves, the merrier. And I did not want the Undersiders getting hurt on my account. Or more hurt, if I was right about Grue.

    Über frowned. “I've been meaning to ask. L33t can't make more than one of anything. Nor can you. Or has that changed?” His point was valid; externally, the pillars looked almost identical. The truth, of course, was a little more complicated than that.

    “They're not all the same,” I explained. “There are two activating pillars and two reflecting pillars. I made one of each, and I supplied the plans for L33t to make the other two.” To be honest, at the time I hadn't been certain that little loophole would actually work, but it had come through in spades.

    “Given all the stuff you've helped me rebuild, you're totally welcome,” L33t pointed out. Pulling the Tinkertech screwdriver from his belt, he headed purposefully for the pillar in the far corner. “Come on, dude. Give me a hand here. These things are way heavier than they should be.”

    I moved toward another pillar, taking a screwdriver of my own from the work bench. I just hope we can get set up in time. Despite the urgency of the situation, I had to stifle a grin at the pun.



    End of Part Twenty-Seven

    Part Twenty-Eight
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2017
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  25. Chojomeka

    Chojomeka A giant spider

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    Hmm let's see, Pwnage gets a pocket dimension but did the Undersiders get Coil's base? Because I know Lisa wouldn't say no to a Bond villain base.
     
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  26. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Interesting set up there. Can the Undersiders hold out long enough for the cavalry to arrive, or will this be one teleport too far?
     
  27. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    We shall see.
     
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  28. Threadmark: Part Twenty-Eight: Dragonfall
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Part Twenty-Eight

    Part Twenty-Eight: Dragonfall



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



    Lung's Base

    After the death of Oni Lee, Lung had tightened down on his leadership of the ABB. Lisa could appreciate how he needed to make sure that nobody doubted his power, or his ability to lead. This was a valid concern; Hax had humiliated him personally, and Pwnage had robbed him of three-quarters of a million dollars. Lung had dedicated time and effort to ensure that nobody questioned his orders.

    This had its downsides, however. When the three massive dogs had burst in through the wall of the building, resistance had been sporadic. There was no concerted rush from other parts of the building; it was almost as if they were waiting on orders to move. Lisa suspected that Lung's attempt at proving his strength in a leader had inadvertently removed those with enough initiative to react quickly in such an unexpected turn of events. He ordered them to watch for a teleporter, she judged. Instead, they got us.

    This area of the third floor was relatively clear, both of enemy combatants and Grue's darkness. It didn't mean that there was none of either, but Lisa was able to avoid both with relative ease. Angelica was still rampaging elsewhere on the third floor, with Rachel giving orders and Brian supplying cover; Lisa could hear the occasional shattering crash as the immense beast decided that a wall was in the way. She followed the path of destruction that Brutus and Judas had followed to get to Lung, picking her way through the rubble toward where Regent had called out. A door creaked as she passed it; straight-arming her pistol in that direction, she fired a shot, angling downward. There was a strangled scream, a thud, and some thrashing. Left kneecap. He'll live.

    When she got to the appropriate room, Alec was leaning out through the hole in the wall, looking down at the ongoing fight. Lisa had a good idea of how it would go; early on, Brutus and Judas would dominate over Lung. However, as the ABB cape ramped himself up, he would first match and then overwhelm them.

    “Stop sightseeing and watch my back,” she told Regent, then pulled out the wire-cutters that Taylor had told her to pack. She knew that her teammate was giving her the finger where he thought she couldn't see, but she didn't care. He would be paying attention.

    “Hey, there,” she said to the girl in the chair. It was truly amazing; looking at physical appearance only, this girl was a perfect match with Taylor. Only a certain lack of life in her eyes gave her away, and that was something that Lisa had to watch carefully for. Full AI or semi-autonomous puppet? Puppet, she decided.

    “Hello, Lisa,” the girl said, surprising the absolute crap out of her. “Lung is here.” 'Taylor' didn't say any more than that, but it was still creepy as hell. Whoa. More autonomous than I thought. Worse, she was showing all the signs of human responsiveness; eyes flicking from point to point, skin twitches and even micro-expressions. Is Taylor back in control? No; she's running on automatic. Lots of pre-programmed responses. Responding to my presence.

    “Yeah, I know.” Lisa knelt next to the chair; the girl turned her head to watch. Did I say creepy as hell? I meant creepy as fuck. If this is what she's like when nobody's home, there's no way that even I could tell when Taylor's actually running her.

    Taking a deep breath, she forced her mind back into the game. Plastic explosive … there. Taped on to her body. Detonators … wires … pressure switch. Lung, you're an asshole. Sky is blue, water is wet, news at eleven.

    Separating out one wire, she clipped it, then bent both ends back away from each other so that they couldn't accidentally brush together. Then she started cutting the ropes. She knew how they'd been tied, of course, and how to untie them as quickly as possible. It was just that whoever had tied them was a lot stronger than she was – that guy over there, on the ground – and it was quicker to cut them than to try to undo all the knots he'd put in. He worked on the waterfront. Why am I not surprised?

    Once 'Taylor' was free, Lisa surveyed the plastic explosive, then looked around. “Alec. Get me a shirt.” She turned back to 'Taylor' and began cutting the girl's shirt up the sides. Tape had been wrapped around her, binding the blocks of Semtex to her shirt; it would be literally easier to cut the shirt off than to separate one from the other.

    “What am I, your personal tailor?” snarked Regent. “No, wait. That's her.” But he went over to the guy on the ground, who was starting to come around. There was a snap of electrical discharge as he shocked the guy again, then started dragging his jacket off of him.

    By the time he was finished, Lisa had the T-shirt cut up the sides and under the sleeves, the faux Taylor obediently raising her arms to let her finish the job. She held out her hand without looking. “Gimme. And turn your back.”

    “Yeah, yeah. International sisterhood of women and all that crap.” But she felt the jacket being shoved into her hand. Footsteps indicated Regent moving away, probably to check on the fight down below. Lisa could already tell how it was going; Lung didn't have the upper hand quite yet, but he was getting there. Gonna have to hurry this up.

    After one last check to make sure that there wasn't some sort of failsafe that she'd missed, Lisa cut through the last section of the shirt. Standing up and guiding 'Taylor' to her feet, she pulled the shirt away from the girl's body. Bundling it up, she put it down on the floor, nudging it under the chair with her foot to get it out of the way. Oh, good. She's wearing a bra. Her power told her that yes, the animatronic puppet before her was indeed anatomically correct, but she really didn't need to see that. Holding up the jacket, she guided the girl's arms through the sleeves. Without prompting, 'Taylor' began doing the jacket up, impressing Lisa yet again. Lots of preprogrammed actions.

    “Okay, guys!” she yelled. “Time to go!” And just about time, too, she decided. Lung's getting too powerful for the dogs to handle.

    Only a few moments later, Brian emerged from the clouds of dust and blackness which permeated the rest of that floor. Plaster dust coated his leathers, rendering him into a ghost in the uncertain light. He was limping a little, and his right arm hung uselessly at his side. Bullet wound in the trapezius muscle. It'll need attention soon, but it's good for the moment. Rachel, behind him, just looked like she'd been dunked in talcum powder. At her heels trotted Angelica; the monster dog looked as satisfied as any of Rachel's oversized creations could get.

    Leaning over the side, Rachel grimaced, then whistled sharply. Crunching sounds heralded the monster dogs leaping, then climbing up the side of the building. They scrambled into the room, suddenly making it a lot more crowded. Then there was another crunch. Lisa's power filled her in, and she indicated the hole in the wall. “Rachel!”

    As Lung's face – metallic, flaming and utterly pissed – appeared over the edge of the floor, Rachel pointed and whistled. Angelica thundered forward, lowering her head like a bulldozer. In a move not unlike the one that had sent Lung out through the wall before, she head-butted the ABB leader solidly in the face and chest. Brickwork tore free; this dislodged him from the side of the building and sent him flailing down toward the ground once more. Lisa felt a brief wash of heat before he disappeared; there were scorch-marks where his claws had dug into the floorboards. Oh, yeah. Getting out now is a really good idea.

    “Let's go! Taylor, you're with me!” Lisa scrambled on to the nearest dog – Judas, as it happened – then gave the faux Taylor a hand up to sit in front of her. Not losing her now. Rachel was already on Angelica, and Brian was just using his left arm to haul Regent up on to Brutus. One after another, the dogs thundered toward the hole and leaped toward the building opposite, their riders ducking low to clear the upper edge of the hole.

    Below, Lung roared in fury and leaped upward. He made it to the edge just after Brutus made the jump, sending a billow of flame chasing the dog and its riders. Lisa watched, heart in mouth, as the dog emerged from it looking a little scorched. It landed hard, its right leg almost giving way. Brian nearly came off, only Regent's grip saving him from a nasty spill.

    Brian needs medical attention. We don't have time to do that right now. Here's hoping Taylor gets her shit sorted out on her end real soon. She took a deep breath. “We gotta go.”

    Bitch shot her a sharp look. “Brutus is hurt. Lung hurt him.” She set her jaw. “I'm gonna kill Lung.” Lisa could tell that she meant it. She would go down to the wire to save any of her dogs.

    “Later!” Lisa snapped. “We can't win this fight right now!” She pointed. “We have to go!” Come on, Rachel. Learn to fight another day. She urged Judas forward, toward the far edge of the roof.

    Rachel wavered, then Lung roared, from right at the foot of the building. There was a loud crunch on the side of the building. Lisa looked back and saw the massive metallic-scaled, razor-taloned hand as it reached over and took hold of the stonework. “Come on!” she yelled.

    Brian kicked Brutus into motion, following Lisa, then Rachel followed. Lisa could have kissed them both with relief. As Lung, already more than eight feet tall, pulled himself over the edge of the parapet, the three dogs galloped toward the next building. Snarling, the metal-scaled draconic cape gave chase. Normally, they would have easily outdistanced him, but Brutus was slowing them down.

    Lisa looked back again. This is gonna be close. Taylor, I really hope you can get your shit together soon.

    That was when 'Taylor' turned to her and said, “Hi, how's things?” This was not the same as the other responses that she had made. It had come out of the blue, and did not sound like a preprogrammed response. This is Taylor. The real one.

    Lisa felt a smile spread across her face. Oh, yeah. Let's do this. “Pretty good, you?”

    <><>​

    Lung's Base (again)

    Jin groaned as he regained some level of motor control. The last thing he recalled was facing a boy with a fancy stick … Regent, of the Undersiders. The little shit tased me. He pushed himself to a sitting position, trying not to throw up. Then he looked down at himself. His jacket was missing. Where the fuck's my jacket? Those assholes stole my fucking jacket. It was a good jacket. He'd been very proud of it.

    Ken staggered in from gods-knew-where, covered in plaster dust and nursing a bruise that covered half his face. “Fuck, man, what happened to you?” He stumbled over to Jin and offered him a hand up.

    Jin accepted, levering himself to his feet. “Little fucker tased me.” He leaned on the chair and stared down at the cut ropes. After all the time I spent tying those fucking knots. Unsure as to who to be more pissed at – Lung for ordering the knots to be tied, himself for tying them, or whoever it was who cut them – he collapsed in the chair and vented his feelings with a thoroughly heartfelt “Fuck!”

    “I fucking hear you, man.” Ken wandered around the thoroughly devastated room, poking through rubble. Jin looked out through the hole in the wall, wondering if the boss had caught up with the Undersiders yet, and exactly how many pieces he would leave them in. “Hey, what's this?”

    Jin didn't feel like getting up. “What's what?” Turning his head, he peered at the device Ken was holding. “Holy shit, it's the radio detonator.” That had been his own idea; if Hax got away with the Hebert girl and somehow managed to avoid setting off the pressure switch, they could still deal with the problem, one way or the other. After all, if they'd gotten away and Jin hadn't had some way of killing them at range, Lung would likely have eviscerated him. It must have fallen out of my jacket pocket when they took it off me.

    “Hah!” shouted Ken. “I wonder if it's still got range?” He flipped off the plastic cover, then switched the detonator on. “Hey, it's got a signal! They must be in range still.”

    Jin held out his hand. “Give me that.” He had started out feeling a certain amount of sympathy for the girl, but after being tased and having his fucking jacket stolen, he couldn't give a fuck any more. Sorry, girl, but if it's a choice between you dying and me dying, I'll pick you every time. Nothing personal.

    “Aww, I wanted to do it.” Disappointment chased over Ken's features. His hand hovered over the button. Jin could read the eagerness in his eyes. He wanted to blow something up.

    “You want me to come over there?” Jin hardened his voice. “Give me that.” To be honest, he didn't think he was capable of getting up right now, but the idea of vengeance against the Undersiders, and of being the one who took out Hax, was a strong motivator. He locked eyes with Ken. “Now.”

    “No. I found it.” Ken stared at Jin defiantly. “I should be the one to blow them up.” He slapped his palm down on the button. It didn't move. He pushed again, harder. Nothing happened.

    Jin sighed. “Ken, you're a fucking idiot. Give it to me, now.” So I did have it locked. Good. This means I get to be the one. Holding out his hand, he took the remote from a crestfallen Ken, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. Good thing this wasn't in my jacket as well, or we would have been screwed. Inserting it into a keyhole on the side of the detonator, he turned the key. “Now I can set it off.”

    More men were now filtering into the room. Some were obviously injured, leaning on their comrades, while others were suspiciously unhurt. Jin glared at the latter. “Where the fuck were you?” If they were hiding, I'll fucking kill them myself.

    “The stairwells were blocked,” snapped one of the newcomers, anger in his voice at the unspoken implication. “We only just got through.” He pointed at the detonator. “What's that?”

    “Remote detonator,” Ken said. “We wired the bitch up. If Hax is with her … boom.” He turned to Jin. “Well, what are you waiting for? Hit it, man! Blow the bitch sky high!” His eyes were alight with anticipation. “I hope we hear it from here.”

    “Yeah, me too.” Taking a deep breath, Jin poised his hand over the button. This wouldn't get his jacket back, but it was going to be very fucking satisfying anyway. “Bye bye, bitches.” He slapped his hand down on the detonator button.

    A series of beeps in a rising tone came from directly under the chair. Ken's eyes widened. “Jin -”

    In the instant before the explosion, Jin closed his eyes. Did I say bad decisions? I meant really -

    <><>​

    The three blocks of Semtex blew out the third floor of the building. With many of the load-bearing walls damaged, the floor collapsed in on itself. This precipitated a collapse of the whole building, floor by floor. By the time the rubble finally subsided, it was less than twenty feet high. There were very few survivors.

    The Azn Bad Boyz, as a gang, had functionally ceased to exist.

    <><>​

    Pwnage Base

    I connected power to the last of the tau-field pillars, then glanced at my HUD. 2% power remaining. However, we were three minutes ahead of schedule. Excellent. Alibi was still riding the dog with Lisa, but a glance behind indicated that Lung was starting to gain on them.

    Okay, you can come in now,” she/I told Lisa. “We're ready to receive visitors.” Through Alibi's senses, I felt her relax slightly in relief. Which reminded me; Alibi was not wearing the shirt or the hoodie that she'd put on that morning. But that was a question I would save for another time.

    Best news I've heard all day,” she said, holding up her hand and pointing. The dogs swerved in that direction; the one that Brian and Regent were riding was now limping quite badly. I hoped that they would make it.

    See you then,” Alibi told her. She glanced back again; Lung was definitely closer. Even if they make it, it's gonna be tight. I took hold of myself. Stop thinking like that. They're gonna make it.

    “Okay,” I called out. “Hit it!” I watched the pillar as L33t applied power; lights ran up and down it in the approved sequence. It looked like all the connections were working correctly. Excellent. Of course, the power bill was going to be astronomical, but then, we could handle that.

    Moving more casually – we had plenty of time up our sleeves now – I headed back to my workshop. L33t was working on the control panel, removing everything that could be used to manually shut it off, or even identify it. “Holding steady at a hundred?” I asked.

    “Hundred it is,” he confirmed. “Pretty sure we can't do it for too long, though.” He was correct; I had found that ratios of ten or less could be maintained more or less indefinitely, but anything over that imposed progressively more wear and tear on the system. But then, all we needed was a few hours.

    “Long enough,” I said. I hoped so, anyway. “Timer?” I had worked this out with L33t while we were dismounting the pillars. Part of the plan involved a timer set to go off at a specific moment.

    “I'll rig one up once I'm done here.” He waved impatiently at me. “Stop fussing. Go do what you have to do.” Turning back to the control panel, he finished dismantling the ratio display. There was, of course, no need to let Lung know what was going on.

    Going over to the rack in the middle of the room, I backed into it and let it take hold of my armour; as I did so, the charge meter ticked over to one percent. Just in time. The charge ports opened automatically, allowing plugs to slot into the appropriate sockets; the armour began to power up again. I used the HUD to trigger the opening sequence for the armour and stepped out of it. For the first time all day, my body odour registered on me. “Oof. I need a shower.”

    “Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but …” L33t grinned at me and theatrically held his nose. I thought about throwing something at him, but decided not to do it, mainly because he was doing delicate work and I didn't want to screw it up for him. Instead, I checked the frequency step-down module for the charger, then switched that on too. It would draw power like a son of a bitch, but it would cut down the armour charge time by about ninety percent.

    Strolling into the little nook where I kept my changes of clothing and toiletries while living on base, I picked out what I was going to wear. My towel went over my shoulder and I headed out into the main living area, where Über was lugging the big-screen TV over to the shimmering portal in the middle of the room. “Whoa, hey,” I said. “You need a hand there?”

    “Wouldn't mind,” he grunted. He wasn't weak, but the TV was both large and unwieldy; I could see him dropping it in the next five steps.

    Dropping my clothes and towel on the nearest chair, I moved over to grab one end of the set. He gratefully shifted his grasp to let me take some of the weight, and we carried it into the dimensional hole. I hoped that Lisa wouldn't be too disconcerted at Alibi's sudden lack of animation. If she even noticed it.

    “Thanks,” Über said as we set it down. “I thought I had it.” He looked rueful, rubbing his back. “That could've gone badly.”

    “Yeah, well,” I teased him as we stepped back out of the portal. “It just shows your priorities, doesn't it?” A quick check on Alibi showed that she was still on the dog. I couldn't tell any more, given that it would take too long to make her turn her head and look at anyone. Lung, I had no doubt, was still in hot pursuit. “It's a shower and change for me, so I'm fresh for our guests, when they get here.”

    “And when's that gonna be again?” he asked curiously. “I mean, I'm used to L33t doing weird things to the fabric of space-time, but this is beyond ridiculous.” He chuckled and flopped down on the sofa.

    I checked my watch, then did the mental calculations. “Two or three hours. Call it two and a half. That should be time enough to get everything loaded into the base, right?” I raised my eyebrows to make my point, leaning against the back of the sofa.

    He let out an exaggerated sigh. “So not only do we have two different Tinkertech devices making physics cry in the corner, but now I have to do manual labour as well? The world is truly an unfair place.” His tone, however, belied his words as he grinned up at me.

    I rolled my eyes. “Be careful, or you may find yourself demoted to minion.” Über let out an offended cry behind me, but I ignored him, going instead to where I had left my clothes. Picking them up again, I headed for the bathroom. I grinned as I turned the shower on, only to find out the downside of my preparations; the shower pressure was almost nil, affording only a thin trickle of water. Oh, well, I sighed as I prepared to sponge myself down. Can't have everything.

    <><>​

    Lisa

    “Whoa!” shouted Regent. “Shit! I think Grue's unconscious!” They had descended to ground level a minute or so ago because Brutus was having trouble with the jumps, but the dog was definitely not doing well. With Rachel in the lead, they were riding in vee-formation down the middle of the road, and woe betide any cars that got in their way. As Lisa looked over, the smaller boy tried to steady the larger one on the dog, but Brutus' right front leg was obviously almost unable to hold him up by now, and the jolting motion was not helping.

    “Rachel, catch him!” Lisa called out; however, Angelica was already dropping back under Bitch's guidance. With a pained grunt, Regent made a huge effort, pushing Grue over toward her. Rachel grabbed Brian's leathers and braced herself, heaving him to lie across the dog's back in front of her. Hope there's no spikes sticking into him.

    As soon as she had him steady, she turned toward Regent and grabbed his wrist, hauling him bodily from Brutus' back. “Hey!” he yelled in protest. “What the fuck?”

    “I'm getting you off my fucking dog,” she gritted, holding him off the ground one-handed.

    “Fuuck, this whole day is a bad idea,” Alec complained, scrabbling to climb on to Angelica's back.

    “Think about all the video games you'll be able to buy with your pay,” Lisa called out encouragingly. She grinned at the profane response, but Regent scrambled up anyway.

    They turned a corner, the dogs' scrabbling claws ripping chunks out of the asphalt. “Come on!” Lisa encouraged Judas. “Just a little bit more. Come on, you can make it.” She looked ahead, to the remarkably unassuming building that Taylor had assured her was the base that she shared with Über and L33t. She also said that once we made it, we'd be perfectly safe. I hope that's true.

    Behind them, Lung roared. His voice was hard to make out, but Lisa picked out the word 'kill'. She was sure that it was not a coincidence. Under her, Judas probably hadn't understood the word, but the dog definitely got Lung's meaning; all three of the beasts increased their pace a little.

    Forty yards to go. Behind them, there was a shattering crash as Lung went through the corner that they had gone around. Lisa stared ahead at the building. Was that some sort of field over it? A Tinkertech force field? It'd better be pretty tough to be able to withstand Lung. And what are we going to do? Wait him out?

    Thirty yards to go. There was definitely something going on. The very faintest of shimmering rainbow effects was visible on the outside wall, but only if she looked at it with the right angle. What the hell is it?

    Twenty yards to go. She didn't have enough data to go on. Taylor said we'd definitely be safe. All we had to do was make it there. But she had to set something up first. Argh, not enough data!

    Ten yards to go. The field vanished, and the doors opened. Taylor stood there, clad in gleaming metal power armour. No holocloak. I wonder why … ah, yes. Power issues. The armour's running on minimal power.

    Hax stepped aside, giving the dogs a free run into the building. Lisa and 'Taylor' both ducked as they entered the cool sanctuary; the dog slowed under her commands, as Lisa turned to see what was going on.

    Bitch had stopped outside the doors, and was looking back toward the labouring Brutus. “Come on!” she screamed, and whistled again, summoning. Lung was so close behind him; if he stopped or fell, the monster would be on him in seconds.

    Hax darted outside, the power armour moving with speed and grace. Lisa saw her reach Brutus; she heaved her shoulder under the dog's bad leg, and lifted. With the extra support, Brutus found the strength to push on. Ahead of them, Bitch rode Angelica in through the doors.

    'Taylor' slid from Judas' back, and bolted toward the doorway. Lung, behind them, roared again and let out a long plume of flame. It enveloped dog and power-armoured girl alike, tongues of fire licking into the base itself. They emerged from it, blackened and smoking, but still moving.

    As Brutus' tail cleared the threshold, 'Taylor' slammed the doors. “Now!” she shouted. The shimmering field sprang up again; it was harder to see from the inside, but once Lisa knew to look for, it was there. Silence fell; nothing could be heard from the outside.

    Regent slid off Angelica and flopped on to his back on the floor. His costume had burns all over it, and his hair looked more than a little frizzled.

    Lisa got off of Judas a little more circumspectly and looked him over. He got burned when escaping Lung's base. His body armour protected him from the worst of it, but he's got some first and second degree burns. With proper first aid, he should be fine.

    Über crossed the room and began to help Hax get Brian down off of Angelica's back. There was a large and comprehensive-looking first aid kit on the ground nearby, and as Lisa watched, she saw Brian move slightly.

    His bullet wound is giving him trouble. He's alive but semi-conscious. We need to stop the bleeding and get fluids into him. He won't be able to use that arm for a while.

    Rachel was kneeling next to Brutus, pulling apart the battered flesh as it began to degrade. Lisa went over to assist; the stocky girl said nothing, but made room for her. Reaching the amniotic sac in the centre of the beast, Rachel tore it open. Brutus, unhurt, sat up and licked her face.

    Okay, so we're all safe. We're all going to survive. Lisa stood and headed over to the doors. Grimy windows adorned them, and she rubbed at one to get rid of some of the dirt. That done, she peered outside, and immediately recoiled. Lung was poised there, not five yards away, staring right back at her.

    Wait, something's wrong. Her power picked at the image, and started forming hypotheses. She snatched another glance, and saw that she was right. Leaning against the door, she began to giggle semi-hysterically. Part of it, she knew, was adrenaline come-down, and part of it was sheer relief.

    “You okay?” It was L33t, standing nearby, watching her with a little concern. “You hurt? Need a hand with anything?” His sheer lack of urgency, with a homicidal cape right outside the door, struck her as downright bizarre.

    “No … no, I'm fine,” she assured him. Fighting down the giggles, she composed herself. “This … this is a time-differential field, isn't it? Hundred to one, or so?” The number she plucked out of the air sounded astounding, but it felt right to her power.

    “I'm impressed,” he said. “You got it right first time.” A wry grin crossed his face. “Of course, this is you, so slightly less impressed now. Just saying.” He tilted his head. “We can't let him hammer on the outside for too long, or he'll realise what it is. So we're going into the bolt-hole. Everyone's invited.”

    “Bolt-hole?” She looked around, puzzled. The only two people in sight were Über and Grue, the former supporting the latter as they entered a doorway. Stopping, she took stock of the room itself. It was large, with the scents of having been lived in for some time. But there were things missing; squares on the wall where pictures had hung, patches of dust where a sofa would have been. Her power filled things in. The gaming console would have been there, and the kitchen nook is over there

    “Bolt-hole,” he repeated. “Come on, you're gonna love this. Or freak out. One of the two.” Turning, he headed for the doorway. Not quite sure how she should react, but deciding to go along with it for now, Lisa followed. They passed the decomposing remains of Brutus' monster suit, as she privately called it, and reached the door. Within was …

    “What the hell is that?” She looked at the shimmering grey square that stood in the middle of the room. Benches surrounded it, with enough hints to show her that this had once been an active work-room of some sort. But it was the square that kept drawing her attention.

    “I told you. It's the bolt-hole.” L33t turned back to the doorway and punched a quick code into the keypad which had been screwed into the doorframe. Relatively recently, if the splintered wood was any indication. An hour ago. Wait, one percent of an hour ago. She felt the beginnings of a headache coming on. Having to deal with two different time rates was a pain.

    From outside, in the main room, there came a thunderous crash, as of doors being smashed in. Lung's roar echoed throughout the enclosed space, as if she needed proof as to who actually did it. She stared at L33t, eyes wide. “What did you do?”

    “Set the field to reverse in ten seconds. We need to go. Now.” Grabbing her by the arm, he hustled her up to the grey surface, and …

    … they stepped straight through it.

    Oh.

    A portal of some sort.

    Where am I now?

    She was standing on a shimmering grey surface, not unlike the portal she had just stepped through. Beside her, L33t pressed a button on a black plastic device with way too many buttons, plus an LED screen and blinking lights. “And … done,” he said with some satisfaction.

    Blinking, Lisa looked around. The shimmering surface extended to the walls and the ceiling of the space that she found herself in. Behind her (she checked) the wall was actually solid; she didn't feel like having Lung burst through and join the party.

    Height: ten feet.

    Width: eighty feet.

    Length: one hundred feet.

    Pocket dimension. Holy crap. I'm standing in a pocket dimension the size of a large house.

    Directly ahead was a van that had apparently had the roof sliced off, and another roof hastily welded in place. There's a story there, I'm sure. She suppressed her power when it tried to figure it out, and looked around further. Grue, his jacket off and shoulder bandaged, was lying on a camp bed. His helmet was on the ground – the shimmering grey surface, which I'm pretty sure isn't any type of matter that I've ever heard about – next to him, though they'd given him a domino mask. Regent, his shirt off, was being treated for his burns by Über, while Bitch sat on the ground with Brutus, the two other massively overgrown dogs lying next to her.

    And all around them, piled up almost randomly, was the assorted crap that must have come out of the base. Chairs and a sofa, TV and a gaming console, piles of Tinkertech in progress, and just random everyday stuff. They emptied their base into here, then turned the original base into a trap.

    “Wow,” she said out loud, then stopped. L33t's voice had sounded a little weird, but she hadn't really registered it. But when she spoke, it really showed. “No echoes? That's bizarre. This stuff …” She went to rap on the wall with her knuckles. Felt the impact, but there was no sound whatsoever.

    “It dampens all sound.” The voice came from right behind her. Lisa jumped and turned so fast she almost fell over. Hax was standing there; or rather, Taylor wearing the Hax suit. “I know, it's really weird. But you get used to it.” From the sound of her voice, she was grinning.

    “Right.” Lisa took a deep breath. Pocket dimensions come with air. Good to know. “So, what are we going to do with Lung? He'll figure it out eventually.”

    “Well, you see,” Taylor explained, “we actually called the PRT before we activated the tau field. So they've been on the move for about five minutes.” She sounded very pleased with herself. So pleased, in fact, that Lisa hated to burst her bubble.

    “Uh, you do realise that …” She stopped talking. She's using my powers. Of course she's using my powers. And she knows what I'm about to say.

    “ … Lung's all ramped up, and will be really hard to stop?” Taylor didn't even sound smug. She didn't have to. Her tone was matter-of-fact to the point that it was even more irritating than mere smugness could have managed. “Why, yes. I did actually think of that.”

    So. Very. Irritating.

    In the same matter-of-fact tone that she had to know was pissing Lisa off more than Alec crowing over his high scores, or the fact that Taylor could use Lisa's powers better than Lisa herself could, Taylor asked, “So, would you like to come watch?”

    A number of possible responses passed through Lisa's mind in the space of a few seconds. I should say screw you. I'm better than this. I'm smarter than this. I'm not as easy to manipulate as you think. You can go off and be a smartass somewhere else, thank you very much.

    What came out, however, was “Yes, please.”

    <><>​

    Taylor (Back in the Real World)

    “How long till they get here? I'm bored.” Regent dug his toes in the gravel on the rooftop, sending some skittering away. Beside him, Rachel stood next to her three dogs, all now back to normal size.

    I sighed. Even after being patched up for first and second degree burns, Regent was still irritating. “They'll get here when they get here. It shouldn't be too long now.” Turning to Lisa, I gestured with my free hand. “Any idea?”

    She tilted her head. “One minute thirty. Plus or minus ten seconds.” That sounded remarkably precise. Suspiciously so, in fact. Putting the light-spot on her, I tried to figure out what she knew.

    Ah, of course. Very faintly, I could hear the engine of Armsmaster's bike. There was also a Hummer and two trucks. They're really going all out on this. Good.

    Grue was looking better now; or at least, he could stand without swaying. Über stood near him, just in case he needed a hand, while L33t was caressing the Snitch and whispering to it … or maybe he was just programming it. I was never quite sure, when it came to him and that thing. Alibi stood next to me, on my left, where she wouldn't get in the way.

    “There they are.” Lisa pointed. I activated the zoom on my goggles, and saw Armsmaster's bike, followed by Miss Militia in the Hummer I had heard, and finally the two trucks. Just as I had predicted. Lisa's power really is bullshit.

    “Forty-five seconds till showtime,” I said quietly, even though nobody was close enough to hear us talking. Shifting the weapon I was holding in my right hand, I made sure that the charge meter was full. L33t released the Snitch; it zoomed away, hovering above the building to make sure it had a good line of sight.

    Armsmaster pulled up first, followed by Miss Militia. Third on the scene was Velocity; he'd probably stopped for coffee somewhere. Finally, the two trucks lumbered up and disgorged a couple of dozen PRT troopers. Fully half of these were armed with foam sprayers, and the other half with …

    “What are those things?” muttered Grue. The weapons he was referring to looked vaguely like foam sprayers, but with wider muzzles. I dipped into Lisa's power, and identified the unknown weapons as high-impact fire extinguishers. Really high-impact. Against unprotected flesh, they would leave bruises.

    “Fire extinguishers,” Lisa supplied, half a second before I would have. “They fire extremely high-impact fire-retardant foam.” I took a moment to think about this. They wanted Lung taken down. This was no half-assed effort. But still, if we hadn't been here, some of them almost certainly would have died.

    A few shouted orders later, and the PRT troops were arranged in a double line, the men with the containment foam in front, and the ones with the fire extinguishers at the back. They began to advance on the doors.

    “Three. Two. One,” I said, and triggered the self-destruct on the tau-field pillars. Upon their destruction, the field went down, and Lung came back to normal time. As far as he knew, he'd been in the base for all of ten seconds, looking for us. Given that he was experiencing time at one percent of normal rate, we'd been out here for the last fifteen minutes, patiently waiting for the PRT to arrive.

    Lung!” shouted Armsmaster over some sort of bullhorn. “We know you're in there! Come on out with your hands over your head!” This was not, of course, going to happen. Lung just wasn't a 'surrender peacefully' sort of guy. But they had to make the effort.

    Lung burst out through the already-broken doors; he was about twelve feet tall by now, covered in metal, with flames wreathed about him. His jaws were oddly deformed, so that whatever he roared at them was hardly understandable. It might have been 'fuck you', but I couldn't be sure.

    I brought up the stun rifle and took aim.

    Gathering himself, he prepared to leap into their midst.

    The red outline around Lung's monstrous figure turned green, and I squeezed the trigger.

    ZORCH.

    As the rifle jolted gently against my shoulder, the actinic violet beam leaped out to strike Lung; I kept it on him like a fire hose. He roared, fighting it; purple lightning crawled all over his body. Looking up, he saw me. Made to leap over the soldiers, toward me.

    And then … the beam cut off, and he fell on his face.

    “Okay, now we go,” I said. “They're gonna be looking for us, and it won't be to give us a medal.” In fact, if I'm not much mistaken … On a hunch, I flicked my goggles from standard HUD back to parahuman detection. And not a moment too soon. No less than two dots were closing in on our position; one from the front, and one from the rear. The latter was moving much more swiftly; I had a good idea as to who it was.

    I'll only get one chance at this. The stun rifle was out; there was no way I could traverse fast enough with it. But that wasn't my only armament.

    Everyone except Über and Grue had vanished through the portal by the time Velocity came into view. As soon as he got within range, I put the light-spot on him, and even then I was nearly too late. He got to within six feet of me before I realised what he was doing; at that speed, he would never be able to hurt me, but all he really had to do was attach a containment foam grenade and I was history.

    Using acrobatics learned via Über's power, I rolled out of the way. Pulling my wireless taser, I tracked his movement, led by a fraction, and fired. He frantically tried to dodge, but I followed, keeping the beams on him until the electrical discharge reached him. He went sprawling, just as the head of Armsmaster's halberd clamped on to the edge of the rooftop.

    I retrieved the con-foam grenade from Velocity and stuck it to the wall just under where Armsmaster would appear, then dashed back to the portal. When he came over the wall, his eyes were on me. He stepped over the edge of the wall just as the grenade went off, enveloping him in the yellowish foam. I watched in slow-motion, still using Velocity's powers, as the realisation of what was happening dawned on him. Just before it closed over his helmet, I held up two fingers. That's twice.

    Activating the Manton field generator, I flipped it to its alternate setting and went over to the mass of containment foam. The non-stick field let me draw a large smiley face in the foam covering his helmet. This was all filmed by the Snitch, which was now hovering over my right shoulder.

    My point was made. I mimed blowing him a kiss, and stepped through the portal.

    <><>​

    Director Piggot? This is Danny Hebert. I just thought I'd let you know that my daughter was dropped off safe and sound a few minutes ago. Who? Oh, someone calling herself Hax. I just thought I'd let you know, so you could stop looking. Oh, that's no problem. You have a good night, now.”

    <><>​

    Lung's Cell

    Kenta paced from side to side in his tiny cell. He balefully eyed the containment foam nozzles that tracked his every waking move. It was intolerable that he be caged like this. When I get out, I will have revenge on every single one of them …

    Turning, he frowned. There was a folded piece of paper on the concrete slab that served him as a bed. Where did that come from? It had not been there a minute ago.

    Picking it up, he unfolded it.

    Pocket Dimension Base: $80,000

    Time Dilation Field: $120,000

    Stun Rifle: $76,000

    The Look on your Face: PRICELESS.

    Oh, and guess how we paid for it all?

    Love, Hax.

    The note was incinerated in an instant; his scream of rage echoed through the cellblock.

    <><>​

    Central? Yeah, this is Smith down in Secure Holding. Yeah, it's Lung. Yeah, he's foamed himself. Again.”



    End of Part Twenty-Eight
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017
  29. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Well done! Outsmarting Lung and the PRT, and without Lisa's power!
     
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  30. Gaemnomut

    Gaemnomut Versed in the lewd.

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    Awsome!
    I'm still looking forward to the "surprise" Taylor promised Alexandria for the next Endbringer fight. Which actually makes this the first fic where I kinda want an EB to show up.
    On the other hand, with the ABB gone Hax will probably take on the Empire soon and thats definitly going to be fum. So many shiny powers to draw from :)
     
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