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Worm: Babel (Worm/Cthulhu Mythos Crossover)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Baked the Author, Aug 6, 2019.

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  1. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Getting out there.

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    Nah. Threadlocked for a brief time. Unnecessarily at that.

    There's a PM system for a reason, after all. Then again, the mods there are overworked like nothing else, so...eh, I'm over it.

    Still, most of my postings will happen here and on FF before anything on SB updates. That kind of prudishness is just off-putting.
     
  2. Sanbashi

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

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    Will you be posting the psudo-baserk cross here?
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 9
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Getting out there.

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    Worm: Babel

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    9

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    "Yes, Chief Director, we're going there now," Emily Piggot calmly replied to her superior's question, the sights of Brockton Bay's suburbs around her blurring as Armsmaster, in his civilian identity as Colin Wallis, PRT Forensic Analyst, drove them to the home of Annotator, the newest Parahuman to show up on the PRT's radar.

    And, according to Panacea, the killer of the Slaughterhouse Nine.

    Nodding to herself, Emily assuaged Costa-Brown's concerns, "Ma'am, we're both armed, and four PRT Strike Teams are taking up positions around the house even as we speak… no, no air support, we don't want to spook them into running or lashing out," which really went without saying, in Emily's opinion; Labyrinth and Burnscar in the same building as Panacea and this… Annotator?

    It was a nerve-wracking situation that made the takedown of String Theory look like a day at the county fair. Labyrinth's ability alone deserved the upmost discretion when approaching her; according to the file Emily had read from the tablet on her lap, the short blonde didn't have a maximum range for her Shaker ability, with the potential to reshape entire cities.

    If that wasn't enough to put the PRT Director on edge, Burnscar's file nearly sent her into panic mode; the only reason the pyrokinetic Shaker/Blaster/Mover wasn't in the Birdcage was because the seventeen deaths she'd inflicted were part of her Trigger Event, one of the most heavily investigated Triggers in history, as a matter of fact. The result was a fraught, mentally-crippled girl who, according to her psychologists, wanted to get better at interacting with others more than using her powers; unfortunately, schizophrenia and her Parahuman ability influencing her mind turned Burnscar into a pyromaniac whenever she used her ability.

    These two Parahumans, alone, would've been bad enough for Emily's blood pressure; now, both were in her city, which, according to the Think Tank, meant that if this meeting went south and one of them panicked, there'd be an actual crisis on the PRT's hands. Hence the backup, and Emily attending personally to make sure nothing went wrong; that, and this was a first-contact scenario with an extremely dangerous cape, one who was, according to Lady Photon, a good friend to Amelia Dallon and one of Arcadia's highest-scoring honor students.

    A part of Emily just wanted to foam the whole house and be done with it; she'd seen the horrendous beast, thankfully in still images from Eidolon and Legend's visor cameras.

    According to Eidolon, who'd arrived from the west via teleportation, the thing battled the entire S9 to a near-standstill, shrugged off a concentrated attack from a wounded Shatterbird before Eidolon placed the villain in a stasis field, which was then torn in in 8 different directions by the thing; just before this, the thing had eaten Crawler, a fate which, Emily felt, was simple poetic justice.

    Additionally, the thing had somehow driven the Siberian's Master completely insane (and wasn't that a revelation and a half?), apparently from eating the Siberian repeatedly, before Legend, arriving from the east, killed him with a laser in the back of the head. Something had all-but erased Hatchet Face from existence (Alexandria had only found a boot, partially charred with the foot still in it), and, to top the whole battle off, the thing Annotator "summoned" (Panacea's words) had only been defeated when Bonesaw used some kind of super-napalm she'd whipped up while Slash ripped into it with a storm of blades… only to be betrayed by the Nine's youngest member at the last second, his body being used as the delivery vehicle after the monster broke his guard.

    Of the seven known members of the Nine, five were dead or presumed dead –

    The Triumvirate hadn't found Jack Slash's body, but, as Bonesaw had latched one of her spiders, the one that'd exploded into an inferno, to his back and the last anyone saw of him was the creature grabbing him by the chest before dragging him in right before the battlefield was immolated, no one was giving the spree murderer good odds of survival.

    – Panacea had already confirmed that Mannequin's body was at her location, and Bonesaw was missing, having apparently escaped with a pilfered Toybox invention.

    But the creature…

    It was something out of Emily's worst nightmares of Ellisburg: a hill of undulating green-black flesh peppered with glowing red eyes and grinning mouths with too many teeth. Vast, horrific, and, somehow, more unnerving than the sight of Nilbog's creations, Director Piggot knew that if this Annotator had any more of these things, they'd need to be contained immediately.

    Something like that on the loose… she really didn't want to think about the PR disaster, or how much damage would be inflicted in bringing the beast down. In fact, if it wasn't for Eidolon, the PRT would've had to condemn Asylum East; as it was, Eidolon had reversed time to make the building good as new… with the exception of most of the furniture. Also, thank god most of the patients and personnel had made the onsite Endbringer shelter before Shatterbird sang.

    However, what was currently frustrating not just Emily, but New Wave, the Directorate of the PRT, and the Protectorate, wasn't that no one knew how someone living in a mildly run-down suburb could've created, or "summoned" or whatever, something like the beast without anyone noticing – Rinke had gone undetected for some time, after all, so there was precedent – but, rather, what the hell Annotator's power actually was.

    Panacea hadn't been very forthcoming on that front, hemming and hawing with New Wave's leader; all anyone knew for certain was that Panacea had been very insistent in affirming her statement that Annotator, in spite of the creature, was not a Bio-Tinker.

    Which was the only reason Emily had agreed to meet this girl in person, with full precautions in place. If something went wrong, that house would get foamed to the rooftop by the four Strike Teams stationed around the neighborhood in unmarked trucks; if that didn't work, because fucking Labyrinth was one of the hardest Parahumans to plan around, Miss Militia and Dauntless were standing by as backup, and the Triumvirate were on standby; sure, they were still investigating at the Asylum, but all three were fast.

    Hopefully, nothing would go wrong; everything Emily Piggot had read about Annotator's civilian identity, Taylor Hebert, said good things. Honor student at Arcadia, speaks twelve languages fluently, working on making it to fifteen before her senior year, a mental defect that keeps her from understanding certain mathematics, only one living parent, a senior Dockworker's Union member. Three city district ballet first-place trophies, placed fourth in State when she was younger, and she'd not a single detention or poor mark on her scholastic record, barring one recent event where a boy pulled her hair in the hallways at Arcadia and she laid into him with a banshee-esque tirade.

    Every teacher had nothing but good reports on her behavior, which made Emily very suspicious, and she wasn't alone.

    Around a terse breath as Wallis hit a pothole, jarring her lower back, Director Piggot replied to her superior's most recent worry, "She might be a Master, ma'am, but we've taken appropriate cautions in the event she is… yes, I realize that no plan survives contact with the enemy, but this girl isn't our enemy, is she?"

    Unless the girl was playing a long, long con on virtually everyone, her widower father possibly included, everything that'd happened today was just as Panacea had related: a series of extremely fortunate but unsettling coincidences that ended up with most of the Nine dead and two dangerous Parahumans rescued from their clutches.

    Her personal worries and the horrific creature the girl had unleashed aside – and she needed to put them aside for the upcoming meeting and debrief lest someone accuse her of being biased – Emily couldn't really see any reason to treat the girl as anything other than a neutral party; that is, thank her for her service, inform her of the… admittedly robust economic windfall she was about to receive – Crawler's bounty alone was 10 million for a confirmed kill, and Shatterbird's was 5, once one accounted for her international crimes – oh, and had she thought of joining the Wards?

    In a different city? Perhaps Honolulu? Or Juneau?

    The Chief Director, to Emily's despair, thought Annotator would do the most good (read: for the PRT's PR department) working with the Wards here in the Bay, an idea the ENE Director replied to with sourness evident in her voice as the GPS alerted their destination was mere minutes away, "If she does show interest in joining, Chief Director, I will recommend a transfer. We don't have the infrastu-… yes ma'am, I understand… yes, I'll have the report ready in two hours' time, four tops."

    The line went dead, upon which Emily Piggot swore loudly and inventively. To Armsmaster's credit, he didn't comment, waver in his driving or run over any more potholes; though, once the GPS announced they'd arrived and he put the car in park, and Emily's brown streak wore away to quiet grumbling, a block away from Annotator's house, Mr. Wallis decided to speak up.

    "Are we going to push her to join?" there was a note of eagerness in his tone that nearly sent Emily to the boiling point.

    Through her teeth, she hissed, "If and when that point comes up, let me take the lead; if she doesn't want to join, we'll fall back, review everything we get from this interview, and plan out the next try. Now, let's meet this new hero," she opened the car door and glanced around before heaving herself out of the bulletproof, air conditioned and leather upholstered Lincoln Continental, right as the trunk popped open and Wallis hopped out himself, moving to the back to collect the suitcase and cylinder package.

    The first were tools for inspecting Mannequin's corpse, as that was the man's job; the latter was a Halberd, just in case.

    While he did that, Emily made sure her own briefcase, containing paperwork and a tape recorder, was secure, her tablet placed in the pocket of her suit jacket, just below her sidearm, and then took a moment to look at the houses before falling into stride beside Wallis as he made his way briskly down the sidewalk.

    A nice if somewhat worn neighborhood; if Emily was remembering correctly, only the Hebert's and two other houses were occupied on this block, an elderly couple housed on the far corner, who were currently vacationing in Myrtle Beach, and a family of four two doors down; surveillance showed they were all out Christmas shopping.

    The exception to that worn look was the Hebert house, with its two stories and wreath-decorated door. Planter box beneath the front window holding some spider plants, some Christmas-themed stickers placed on the glass, lawn a little brown and unkempt, but that wasn't so bad, in Emily's mind; it was supposed to snow in a few days. House looked like it'd been painted in the last year, and the front stairs looked newer than the rest of the house, playing host to a doormat and… a porcupine shoe brush. All-in-all, it was the least-likely looking place where one might find a potential S-rank threat.

    'Appearances can be deceiving,' Emily reminded herself while making her way up the walk; the welcoming mat was simple with its WELCOME sign in large, friendly-looking letters, and the doorbell was set in a metal plaque shaped like a butterfly.

    Pursing her lips, she reminded Wallis in a quiet, hard whisper, "Don't antagonize anyone; that means no mention of the Wards unless I'm the one doing it, and don't let Labyrinth or Burnscar get to you."

    He nodded once, sharply, and straightened himself.

    Nodding back, Emily took a deep breath to steady herself, reached out and pressed the doorbell.

    Bing-dong! It went off merrily.

    "Eek!" a feminine cry of surprise came from somewhere in the house, upstairs by the sound of it; Emily tensed, wondering what the four Parahumans had been up to before their arrival. Given their respective powers and observed dispositions… well, she probably shouldn't worry too much about it.

    A rumble of feet heralded the curtain on the door's viewing glass parting slightly; Emily had the briefest impression of black hair, round glasses, and owlish eyes set in a white face before the curtain closed, the face's owner calling out, "Amy! Bring Mimi and Elle down, please!"

    After a muffled affirmation, the door finally unlocked and opened, revealing the speaker was a tall, willowy girl, smiling brightly in her blue/bronze outfit with… ribboned pigtails?!

    That threw Emily for a moment, wondering who even dressed like that any longer, so much so that she nearly didn't hear Annotator greet them, "Hello, may I help you?" the girl then looked between Emily and Wallis with open but polite curiosity.

    Gathering her wits, Emily put a smile on and replied, "Good afternoon, miss. We're here following up on a message sent to us by a Ms. Dallon, concerning the events of two hours ago. May we come in?"

    The girl blinked once, and smiled, "Of course! Please, make yourselves at home," Annotator replied brightly, opening the door wider to allow entry to a very plain-looking hallway, a kitchen at the end, stairs against the wall with pictures hanging on the way up, and an arched opening that led to a mildly-cluttered living room; Emily took this all in while the teenage girl spoke quickly but happily while closing and re-locking the door, "I'm afraid you caught us in the middle of a movie, hence my surprised cry. To be fairly honest, I'd expected you some time ago, but I simply lost track of time after making sure Elle and Mimi were settled!"

    Which was as good as an admission that Panacea was keeping this girl in the loop. That, and Emily was mildly surprised at the politeness of this strange, wide-mouthed girl. The Director flicked her gaze up and down, taking in Annotator's height and style of dress (tall, and maybe a church girl), before settling on her face.

    Wide green eyes behind thick glasses, which were slightly tinged in worry, but her mouth was set into a welcoming smile.

    If it wasn't for Panacea's report – that this unassuming, dorky teenager wiped out the Nine – Emily might've believed the innocence Annotator was trying to put forward. All the same, manners needed to be observed.

    "Annotator, I presume?" Emily asked after a moment of silence, her tone now all business.

    The girl before her let out a small laugh, "You presume correctly, though it was Amy who suggested the name," Emily hummed thoughtfully and made a mental note of that while Annotator… curtseyed, "You must be Director Piggot, unless I am mistaken?"

    "I am," she replied sharply, glancing at the stairs, where Panacea, in civilian clothes, was leading a blonde girl… wearing a green sundress and jogging shorts… and behind them came a redhead… in the same type of clothing, but her dress was burgundy; Emily figured the blonde was Labyrinth, and the redhead Burnscar… though she could've sworn the latter had cigarette burns on her face.

    Turning back to Annotator, Emily crushed down her worries and stuck her hand out, "On behalf of the PRT and Protectorate, allow me to thank you for your timely intervention at Asylum East. You saved quite a few lives with your actions; though I would like to discuss what you did there, if you have the time," there. It wasn't so much of a request as a demand for more information; Emily didn't believe in coincidences, and this whole affair was a little too convenient for her tastes.

    But Annotator didn't seem to mind the Director's mild tone, and shook her hand readily while speaking breathlessly, "Oh, yes, of course! Amy informed me that you might wish to debrief us on the events of this morning… but, if I may ask?" Emily nodded at the shy request, though she didn't expect the question Annotator posed, "No one innocent was harmed by the shoggoth, were they?"

    …the what?

    It clicked for Mr. Wallis before Emily could recover at the odd name, "I presume you mean the creature that destroyed most of the Asylum's upper levels?" he asked in a nearly monotonous and slightly annoyed voice.

    To Annotator's confused expression, it was Panacea who answered, her voice a little wry, interestingly enough, "Annotator, Elle, Mimi, meet Colin Wallis; he's a forensic analyst with the PRT," the responses were as varied as the powers in the room.

    Annotator chirped, "Oh, my apologies. It's nice to meet you! And yes, that's what it's called."

    Amy Dallon just nodded with a small smile, having met Wallis in his civilian identity before. Labyrinth smiled and waved happily at the tall, bearded man in his crisp navy blue suit, not relinquishing her hold on Burnscar's free hand…

    Speaking of the redhead pyromaniac, she just smiled shyly and nodded awkwardly at Wallis, adjusting the… the… strange, unusual and mildly unsettling orb in the crook of her arm; it looked like it was made of clear crystal, but in the center of that globe was a geometric (or was it?) shape that made Emily's eyes itch to look at. It was like looking at one of Vista's spatial anomalies, except that weird shape looked like it was on fire.

    Blinking a few times, Emily tore her gaze from the object and looked between Annotator and Panacea, "What exactly is Burnscar holding, and why does it itch to look at?"

    "Oh, that?" Annotator smiled, glancing over at the redheaded Parahuman, who'd wilted at the mention of her cape name, "It's a special object I made for Mimi," the pointed inflection wasn't lost on Emily, nor was the serious look she then turned on the PRT veteran, "It helps to contain her flames. So long as it's within, oh, three arm-spans of her person, she can't set anything on fire."

    Mentally adding a possible Tinker rating to Annotator's file, Emily ignored Wallis' interested hum and asked sharply, "And the itching in my eyes?"

    It was Panacea who answered, sounding as confused as Annotator looked, "It itches when you look at it?" the healer glanced at the orb Burnscar was latched onto like a lifeline, hummed, and looked back at the Director to say with a shrug, "I guess it's because you're not a Parahuman; it looks, well, weird to my eyes, but it doesn't make them itch."

    "It's pretty!" Burnscar blurted indignantly, making Emily tense slightly; rather than lash out, however, the girl looked into the crystal's depths and said quietly, "It h-helps… and I don't want to hurt anyone…"

    Emily frowned and hummed to herself while both Panacea and Annotator assuaged Burnscar's concerns, to seemingly great effect, as the girl brightened at their confident words and Labyrinth looking up at her with a small but fond smile; there were quite a few mysteries revolving around Annotator, and this one was, peripherally, mildly distressing.

    Was it a null field, like Hatchet Face's, or was it something more esoteric?

    Wallis, however, seemed to think these introductions were lasting too long, and stated with slight impatience, "As interesting as this is, Annotator, where have you put Mannequin?"

    The girl startled slightly, but rallied quickly, "Oh! Um, yes, it's just out back with Inky. Through the kitchen and to the right. And please take it with you," she ushered with a wave of her hand, Wallis walking that way purposefully, everyone else falling into step behind him, "I'd rather not have that murderer's corpse in my family's backyard any longer."

    "Inky!" Labyrinth cheered, before trying to drag an amused Burnscar away, "Mimi! Inky!"

    Following after them, and admiring the careworn kitchen, Emily asked Annotator, "Who or what is Inky?"

    Before Annotator could answer, Wallis opened the door to the backyard, took one look around the area, and froze.

    "Director, stay where you are." He said in a tone that brooked no argument. It also raised Emily's hackles, her hand inching toward her sidearm.

    "Oh, don't worry, Mr. Wallis," Annotator assuaged in a cheerful tone, coming up to stand at his side and looking into the yard as well, "Inky's harmless, aren't you boy?" Emily didn't see what'd happened, but Wallis' stance calmed somewhat when the girl at his side chirped, "He says he'll protect me and those I care for, Mr. Wallis. Regardless, you're guests, so that means you're safe."

    Emily… didn't quite follow; luckily, Panacea spoke up with a scoff, "Wait, he understands guest right?" Annotator nodded happily, making the healer shake her head in humor.

    To Emily, Annotator reported calmly, "Inky is a sapient being from another dimension, Director Piggot," more than a few alarm bells started to ring in her mind before the black-haired girl continued, "His race are called Nightgaunts, but don't let the name fool you; they are very docile, and keep their distance from human populations. I must warn you, however, not to try attacking him," she finished seriously, looking between Wallis and the Director, "He is the one who killed Mannequin, though that was on my voiced order…" she trailed off, looking a little morose… almost regretful?

    Raising a brow, Emily made her way forward cautiously, asking two questions, "So you don't make them, these 'Nightgaunts' and… Shaggoths?" once Annotator corrected her and stated that no, she didn't create them, Director Piggot followed up with, "Do you regret giving that order, Annotator?"

    "No, ma'am, I do not," the green-eyed girl stated quietly, but in a voice slightly harder than before, "He wanted to kill us, and I wasn't about to let him. He gave me no choice. I… I just…" Annotator sighed in resignation, "I didn't want to become a murderer…"

    Emily nodded sharply; if only more Parahumans were like this girl, "While there's nothing I can say to take the memory of killing someone away, it's good that you didn't enjoy it. That means you're not a monster, which is a damn sight more than what anyone can say about the Nine," Annotator gave Emily a thankful smile, which the Director took to mean that she was feeling better.

    Good. She didn't need some teenager crying on her shoulder.

    Taking another deep breath to steady herself, Emily moved towards Wallis, who hadn't moved, "Well, Wallis? Are you going to just keep blocking the door, or-"

    He moved.

    And Emily saw the thing Annotator had, apparently, named Inky.

    Something deep inside her said what she was looking at was wrong. The way it was so black it looked two-dimensional. The horns winding up from its featureless head. The thirty-foot-long, whipping, barbed tail that… had apparently straightened quite a few grass blades, for what purpose, the Director couldn't figure out, but it brought her up short, allowing her to notice the wrapped bundle lying next to it.

    The thing waved at her, giving Emily a good look at the huge claws on its fingertips and sending a chill down her spine; the still picture of the shoggoth was one thing. Seeing something, especially something a tiny part of her mind insisted shouldn't be, in motion… was something else entirely.

    Movement in the corner of her eye nearly caused Emily to draw her gun, but it was just Labyrinth, laughing and pulling an uncertain but curious-faced Burnscar, still holding that damn orb, closer to the massive, obviously deadly creature taking up a good fourth of the backyard with its wrongness.

    After swallowing a few times to get her mind back in gear, and her fear down to manageable levels, Director Piggot managed to speak up, "Annotator… are you sure this… Nightgaunt… won't attack anyone?"

    The Parahuman in question came up to her side and tried to assuage Emily, "Oh, of course he won't! Inky's been outside for the last two hours, and hasn't harmed anyone. Right, Inky?" she finished to the creature, which nodded its horned, faceless head, then turned its attention to the approaching capes. Labyrinth waved her hands over at the thing's tail, which it then brought over for the two girl's inspection.

    Director Piggot felt a hand on her shoulder; looking up, but keeping the Nightgaunt in her field of vision, she found Annotator looking at her with concern in her eyes, "Director? Are you quite all right? You're looking a little pale…"

    Gathering herself, Emily took one more look around the backyard: Wallis was already over by the sheet, which he'd unraveled slightly to reveal Mannequin's carapace, the living Tinker now shining a penlight into a bloodied hole and muttering to himself. Burnscar was cheering quietly from the ground, orb still in her arms, while a clearly delighted Labyrinth used the Nightgaunt's tail as a swing, Panacea watching wistfully to Annotator's right.

    Breathing in the cool afternoon air and trying not to think of all the surreal things going on around her, Director Piggot answered the girl before calling over to Armsmaster, "A little… unsettled, Annotator. Your creature is rather intimidating, at first glance anyway. What's the word, Mr. Wallis?"

    Around a grunt, the bearded man reported in a frustrated voice, "Some of Mannequin's contingencies are still active, but will only trigger if someone tries taking him apart; I'd advise transporting the body to the Rig soonest, Director," he looked up from his work, mouth a thin line while Panacea called the two Asylum capes away from the Nightgaunt, "Bonesaw might've given him some… gifts."

    Nodding once, Director Piggot looked to Annotator and told her, "We have a PRT transport on the other side of the block, but, if you'd like to come in for powers testing…" the girl was already shaking her head, but looked honestly regretful.

    "As much as I'd love to have professional assistance in understanding my abilities, I'm afraid I cannot, Director," her smile was a tad regretful as she went on, "You see, my Daddy has grounded me to the house; I cannot go further than this very yard, without his consent anyway. Inky can bring the body to the transport, however," she allowed, the Nightgaunt in question nodding eagerly.

    After the Director gave Annotator her blessing to do just that, with the caveat that not a single one of her people were harmed in the process, Wallis raised an eyebrow, and asked the very question Emily had wanted to ask, "So why did you go to the Asylum, if you don't want to break your grounding?"

    Panacea answered, having corralled both Burnscar and Labyrinth, "That's something best discussed over the debriefing… oh, and Director?" the healer's tone implied what she had to say wouldn't make Emily happy, but Director Piggot still nodded for the girl to go on. And Panacea did, bitingly, "One, I'd like to speak with the Asylum's nutritionist, assuming they even have one, and ask why medium security capes aren't getting regular, full meals."

    Emily didn't think there was a nutritionist on hand at Asylum East, but this was news to her, bad news at that. Mentally unstable capes should be kept as stable as possible, to prevent… well, disasters.

    "Two… actually, that can wait," Panacea glanced at Annotator, an unspoken communication passing between them as they walked inside, the healer elaborating a moment later, "It has to do with Burnscar and Labyrinth, though, and where they'll go once the dust settles. Going back to the Asylum," the healer hissed through her teeth, "yeah, not the best idea, given that Mannequin and Jack Slash cut them up there."

    That… made sense to Emily, damnit! On top of this, the two girls looked happy as they darted through the house's halls, Labyrinth yapping about cacti (she'd seen the collection in the living room, and it was quite nice) while Burnscar asking impatiently about a movie and a 'Princess Buttercup'; Director Piggot couldn't remember the last time she'd seen a report from the Asylum declaring these two, infamous as they were, though for different reasons, were in any way happy. They almost looked… normal.

    Which made Emily purse her lips suspiciously as Annotator ushered her and Wallis to the kitchen table, "I'll have an answer for you once this debriefing is over. Oh, and Annotator? I might need you to sign some Non-Disclosure Agreements once we're done, regarding Asylum security. Nothing serious," she added with a waved hand when the girl gave off the impression of a startled deer, "just a couple pages that state you won't reveal anything about the Asylum's interior, or any security measures Labyrinth or Burnscar might've mentioned, to unauthorized persons."

    "Oh. Well, fair's fair, I suppose," Annotator chirped calmly, waiting for everyone to be seated, and Emily to open her briefcase, before offering, "Can I get you or Mr. Wallis anything to drink? Water, tea, lemonade?"

    After Wallis asking for water in a gruff voice, Director Piggot paused, stared at Annotator for a moment, and admitted, "You know, this is the first time any non-Protectorate cape, or their family for that matter, has ever offered me something to drink during a first contact visit? And water, please." Water was safe, and easy to figure out whether or not it was poisoned. Not that Emily was worried much; Annotator seemed more… down to earth, if somewhat overly polite, than most Parahumans.

    Annotator looked a little affronted by that the Director's admission, "Well!" and quickly poured four glasses from a filtered water pitcher in her fridge, "We treat guests well in this house… oh, and Inky's back," she added, glancing out the back window with a relieved sigh.

    Wallis nodded to Emily as she set out the recorder and Annotator distributed the water glasses, "The troopers are already on their way to the Rig, ma'am."

    Nodding curtly back to show she'd heard, Emily took a sip of water, then waited for the slayer of the Nine to seat herself next to a smugly smirking Panacea; no doubt she'd find out what that was about in the next few minutes.

    As for the cape in question, Annotator took a deep breath and looked Emily in the eye, "Ask away, Director Piggot."

    Without preamble, Emily pressed the record button, "This is Director Emily Piggot, PRT ENE, November 28, 2009, conducting an After-Action Report regarding Incident AE-126-2009, sub-category 9-Ball, incident number Final; in short, this interview will focus on the persons and events leading up and in regards to the termination of the Slaughterhouse Nine at Asylum East by the newly-discovered Parahuman Annotator. This recording may contain classified information, and, as such, is subject to review and redaction of sensitive intelligence by the PRT Directorate. Persons present in this debriefing, apart from myself, are," she looked to Wallis.

    "Colin Wallis," he stated clearly, "PRT Senior Forensic Analyst. I will be providing a preliminary report on Mannequin's fatal injuries, which I examined prior to this debriefing."

    Emily nodded, and looked to Panacea.

    "Amelia Dallon, cape name Panacea, of New Wave," the girl stated, still with that smirk in place, "Annotator and I are good friends in our civilian identities, and I will be providing clarification on anything she's forgotten during this whirlwind of a day," she nudged Annotator's arm at the end, making the girl laugh lightly.

    Then Annotator, Taylor Hebert, looked Emily in the eyes, and her expression was sad, her voice serious and sober, "I am Annotator, the subject of this interview and, as Ms. Dallon has informed me, a reality warping Shaker who uses an invented, spoken language to access alternate dimensions for a variety of purposes."

    Nodding curtly and kicking herself slightly for not bringing anti-Master earplugs, Director Piggot folded her hands on the table and prompted, "Start wherever you feel is appropriate," honestly, Emily was a bit curious as to how both these girls ended up travelling all the way to Asylum East and back without anyone noticing…

    As Annotator began explaining, Panacea filling in the blanks here and there, talking about dreamlands, labyrinths, and the things that lived in those places, all of which were at Annotator's beck and call (literally, at that)…

    Emily really wished she could have a glass of scotch without it killing her.

    .

    {/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\}

    .

    In one timeline, Thomas Calvert watched Director Piggot walk between the desks in the crowded briefing room, his curiosity piqued higher than it'd been in… well, since he'd caught wind of a certain high-level Thinker he was in the process of tracking down in his other timeline.

    Piggot had called surprise meetings before, but most of them had ended up being briefings on some snot-nosed Ward; Thomas understood, to an extent. Piggot was scared of the power Parahumans wielded, thought them abominations who should be put down for the betterment of mankind. Which was stupid, from Thomas' perspective; Parahumans should be recruited to further the ambitions of the truly powerful.

    Thomas Calvert's ambitions, for instance. Hence his hunt for the currently missing Sarah Livsey.

    But first, this meeting; every Strike Team Captain in the ENE was present, as were the Protectorate capes that weren't Armsmaster. According to the man that'd gone out with Piggy for some kind of meet-and-greet, this briefing should be about another new Parahuman; that, or it'd be an explanation of why all the higher-ups were running around like there was a wolf in the coop.

    Much to his frustration, Thomas couldn't afford to end his other timeline; he'd narrowed down Livsey's pattern of movement and had concluded that she was somewhere in or around New England, which was good for him, but there were a few approaches he hadn't tried yet…

    "First off," Piggot began without preamble, which was par-for-the-course, "some of you may have heard a rumor that the Slaughterhouse Nine attacked Asylum East this morning," Thomas had, but as it didn't impact his operations, he'd ignored it, "They did. The only reason we're not mobilizing to assist is because the Nine are, with the possible exception of Bonesaw, dead."

    What?!

    Before anyone could as a question, or Assault could whoop in joy, the Director went on in a hard voice, "Before anyone even thinks of celebrating, know this: they were killed by one cape, the cape I went to see today. Her name is Annotator, and I can say from personal exposure that she is literally the nicest person I've ever encountered; she will, however, defend herself and others with deadly force, and no, she doesn't believe in second chances if the person or organization doesn't deserve it. The Nine wanted to torture and, from what she and Panacea have told me, recruit her; they also wanted to kill Burnscar and Labyrinth in the process," Thomas saw Miss Militia's shoulders stiffen, and remembered that she'd visited the Asylum several times; maybe there was an opening there?

    "Annotator took exception to the Nine's plans. The Siberian is dead. Crawler was eaten," Thomas felt a chill run down his spine; in his other timeline, he began looking into the tracker he'd put in his undercover agent's phone. Where did this girl live? "Jack Slash, Hatchet Face, Mannequin, Shatterbird. They are dead, everyone," Piggot's lip might have quirked a bit, "and, as the Triumvirate are looking for Bonesaw before the little bitch tries to get her revenge, drinks are on me tonight."

    Now Assault whooped, picking up and spinning a screaming Battery, which sparked off more than a few cheers; hell, Thomas was smiling himself and shaking his colleague's hands. So what if Cauldron's little experiments failed, and that his plans needed a little revising? All this meant was that he'd be less at risk in the future… so long as he got Annotator onside; which shouldn't be hard. Taylor Hebert, hmm?

    "Calm the fuck down, NOW!"

    The room went from elated to pin-drop silence in record time at Piggot's snarled roar; she looked more pissed off than Thomas could ever remember, and he was including the fuck-up at Waco, where the Fallen were born.

    Those grey eyes swept the room as the ENE Director laid down the law, "Before you all go celebrate, know this: Annotator is the most dangerous Parahuman on the East Coast, and yes, I am including Lung, Legend, and the fucking Nilbog in that estimation," while she took a breath to steady herself, Thomas allowed himself to portray a picture of nervousness even as he discovered Hebert's father's place of employment; yes, that would do nicely, "She is a vocally-based Shaker – Adam Lawrence, if you write that down, I will strangle you – who can warp reality. She can summon creatures from other dimensions, alter the nature of, potentially, any object, and the Think Tank says she isn't Manton Limited.

    "Under no circumstances are any of you to approach her for any reason. No threat assessment will be made for her, as her whole power can be summed up as: Shaker-stroke-Master kill yourself. As such, and seeing as the Chief Director thinks she would be dreadfully useful in an Endbringer fight," now she looked like she'd swallowed a lemon, "we at the PRT ENE are to assume Annotator's safety is of the highest priority, so we might prevent her from calling in… extreme measures. No one wants that, so let's make sure that doesn't happen. With the exception of the Protectorate," nod at the stunned-looking capes, "who will be briefed by Armsmaster, I will be briefing each of you individually in the following days on the particulars of what changes will be enacted, and how we'll deal with living in the same city as Annotator. Now, anyone who isn't an active Strike Team Captain? Dismissed."

    'Well! Finally found a cape that made you roll over, eh Piggy? Too bad you don't have infinite tries on getting things right!' Thomas thought smugly in the lavatory a few minutes later, tapping on his phone in one timeline, informing the leader of his mercenaries that there'd be a meeting tonight; in the other, he'd already formulated a pan to approach Annotator's father, by offering jobs and work to the Dockworker's Union. Once the man was under his thumb, manipulating Annotator would be easy as-

    Coil, in his base, jerked in surprise as a golden rectangle of light opened right in front of his desk. But instead of the immaculate, fedora-wearing woman…

    Jack fucking Slash stepped out, his chest bandaged heavily, with an obvious limp, cold eyes flicking over Coil's person before boredly inspecting his surroundings. The goateed, unsmiling man stepped to one side as Coil slowly reached for the sidearm holstered under his desk…

    And Coil's throat opened up with a casual flick of Jack Slash's hand. There was a razorblade between his knuckles.

    Then Contessa limped heavily through the golden light; her right arm, in a sling, was a mass of bloodied bandages, her trademark fedora had a cut in it, and her trenchcoat was draped over her naked torso, which was so covered in bandages it might as well be a shirt. A saber was affixed to her waist, and a pistol was clenched in her left hand.

    Her eyes burned with fury as they locked with his masked face.

    Coil only barely noticed this in his attempt to stem the blood flowing from his neck, and draw his gun; before he could do either, Contessa spoke, voice hoarse and dry, as though she'd been screaming:

    "She would make you wish the Nilbog ate you. Hands off. Head down. Don't speak."

    Then she emptied her pistol into him, saving the last bullet for his brain.

    In the PRT bathroom, Thomas jerked in shock and terror.

    She was working with Jack Slash?! Jack Slash was alive?!

    Contessa's words wormed into his brain and took hold. Hands off. Head down. Don't speak.

    Or, "Stay away from Annotator. Don't move openly. Tell anyone about this, and I'll fucking kill you."

    "….oh fuck me," Thomas Calvert whispered to the empty bathroom; suddenly feeling very vurnerable, he flushed and got the hell out of the building.

    It wasn't until he'd gotten to his car that he look at his phone; the text to his merc captain was still there, unsent.

    Thomas split time. In one reality, he deleted it, figuring he'd brief the man tomorrow in person; nothing sensitive, just enough to keep him sated. In the other, he sent it…

    There was a tap on his car window. He looked up, already expecting Contessa.

    Nope. Jack Slash. This time he was smiling. "Last warning," the mass-murderer growled, and held up a standard-issue PRT detonator and a six-inch-cube of primed C4.

    Thomas ended that timeline before it could go off. 'I'll just… try to get Livsey. At least she's not off limits,' he thought numbly; turning the car on and pulling carefully out, Thomas Calvert spent his drive home splitting time over and over again.

    In one timeline, he drove safely; in the other timelines, he drove down sidewalks, crashed into crowded busses, and tore through both Lord's Market and the mall, all without the boogeyman coming to get him.

    At least he still had some form of stress relief.

    That, and he was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to contact Cauldron for the near future, if they'd not only taken in Jack fucking Slash but their boogeyman was out for blood.

    All the same, he was interested in just what in the fuck had torn Contessa up so badly.

    Whether it was because he wanted to shake its hand, or so he find a way to kill it before it killed him, he wasn't sure.
     
  4. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Getting out there.

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    And that's the last chapter I'll be posting for the foreseeable future. As my place of employment is in the middle of a move, and they're moving even further from my house than they already were (grrr) I have to find new, steady employment over the next few weeks. Please bear with me in the interim.

    Thank you all for your support with this story, and I'll catch you all later!
     
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  5. Knightfall

    Knightfall Nui Harime lover, Loyal Slaaneshi.

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    Well that would make good start up capital for Taylor and Amy if they want to go into business making stuff like the flower.
     
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  6. eveakane

    eveakane Formerly an Innocent Grammarian

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    Very awesome. While I’m sad that you have to pause this for IRL stuff, I still understand. From your tone, I’m guessing that the movement’s not in another, better place in town.

    For the chapter: nicely portrays the characters; the director has her biases, but chooses the non-threatening stance (as much as strike teams in reserve can be called such).

    I think the debriefing lacked showing pictures of the Shoggoth and Nightgaunt, though I guess they had a reason for it?
     
  7. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Getting out there.

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    Two reasons:

    Not everyone in that room had the credentials to get the full briefing; Calvert, here, is officially a PRT Contractor who can be called in to command a Strike Team if the situation calls for it. That is, he's basically an upper-level paper-pusher who used to be an active Captain. He and several others had to leave, so no detailed briefing for him.

    I mean, Piggot letting someone who shot his own commander at Ellisburg being in charge of her people? Yeah, can't see her doing that.

    The second reason is chapter length; I'm trying not to write more than 7k words a chapter, and going into fraught detail would've dragged the chapter out longer than necessary, both from a pragmatic and plot-relevant standpoint.
     
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  8. Tisaku

    Tisaku I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    utmost
     
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  9. Tortoise

    Tortoise Getting sticky.

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    Some typos and grammar nits:

    all but

    Dockworkers'

    Heberts'

    I think switching to Piggot's reaction should start a separate sentence.

    Again separate sentences.

    girls'

    I assume you meant "while Burnscar asked" or maybe "with Burnscar asking"

    Probably either "by that" or "by the director's admission"?

    par for the course
    I think that if the "Thomas had" part is part of the same sentence, it should be separated by dashes instead of commas.

    Separate sentences.

    plan, Dockworkers'

    Nilbog isn't usually called "the", and the eating would probably be done by his monsters instead of him personally anyway?

    vulnerable

    looked

    mass murderer, six-inch cube
     
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  10. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Getting out there.

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    Thanks you two
    I'll make the corrections when I have the time
     
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  11. Hyrushoten

    Hyrushoten Getting out there.

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    So why was Crawler's bounty double Shatterbird's? Shatterbird has destroyed multiple cities in multiple countries, while as far as I know Crawler just likes fighting strong capes. Not saying he wouldn't have a bounty, but I would have expected his to be at most a quarter of hers not double it.
     
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  12. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author Getting out there.

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    Because, despite Birdy being more capable of widespread destruction, and her five digit kill count, Crawler eats people, and has a kill count nearly as high as Birdy's just from collateral damage added to his personal kills. Plus, he's considered a greater threat due to his adaptive nature; Birdy could, theoretically, get taken down by a Tinkertech sniper round (Masamune or Dragon) from five miles out. Low chance it works, but it's possible. Alexandria, Legend or any Master out there are known hard counters to Birdy.

    Crawler adapts to whatever doesn't kill him. The only hard counter is the one that takes him down before he can adapt; as even the Triumvirate are hesitant to take him on, on the chance that he adapts to them, he's considered a potential S class threat all by himself. The Siberian could take him out, but if Manton doesn't do it quickly, everyone is henceforth fucked.

    That 10 mil bounty has a caveat: the kill must be confirmed by one or more Protectorate capes, either on video or in person. Also, a warning: if you are not completely certain beyond any doubt that Crawler will die to you, stay the super-dandy fuck away.

    As for Birdy's bounty: paid out internationally, 1 mil for each major city she destroyed. And that's just the PRT/USA-managed payout; private payouts are handled separate from the international government, but are still tax susceptible. Once everything's said and done, Birdy's full bounty is in the neighborhood of 12 mil.

    Tl;dr Crawler is a bigger threat than Birdy, more money for his ass
     
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  13. Hyrushoten

    Hyrushoten Getting out there.

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    OK, I can see that. Two things though. One, the way its worded in the chapter makes it sound like Shatterbird's 5mil bounty included the bounties offered by other countries. Two, while Crawler is harder to kill, Shatterbird does more damage. What I mean is that Shatterbird doesn't just kill people, she devastates entire cities dealing billions of dollars worth of damage to the city, so I would expect her bounty to be higher because she causes more financial devastation than Crawler does. Basically you're giving Crawler the higher bounty because he is more dangerous and harder to deal with, but I think Shatterbird would have a higher bounty because she is more destructive and creates a larger financial burden on places she hits. It works the way it is, except for that international bounty issue, so feel free to ignore the rest of my ramblings.
     
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  14. mymatedave10

    mymatedave10 Getting out there.

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    Really enjoyed this story Baked, a nicely done pre-canon fic where the the callous Outer Gods activities lead to the emotionally traumatised or damaged characters getting the help they need, whether psychological or just a good friendship or distraction from unhealthy behaviours.

    Sure, a couple of thugs end up going to hell or a few government agents are able to use the classified reports as a cure to constipation while being a cause of anxiety, but overall Taylor's patron has been nothing but good new for the mental health or those who would otherwise end up suffering.
     
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