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All the Myriad Taylors [All Worm fanfic crossover]

Discussion in 'Questing' started by Jiro, Jan 12, 2022.

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  1. Ragura

    Ragura Versed in the lewd.

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    Jiro likes this.
  2. Junk Warrior

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

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  3. Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    3 way tie: Bookworm, Implacable, Reload.

    Jiro rolled 1 die of 3 faces, total: 1
    For: Bookworm, Implacable, Reload
    Rolled on: March-02-2022, 03:37am
    1
     
    TheirTheyre and STKenyan like this.
  4. Index: Chapter 18
    Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    The author of Bookworm didn't respond. As his last posting was in 2016, this is not surprising. Since there was a tie in the votes, I picked the next one.

    [X][Power] Implacable

    All the Myriad Taylors
    Chapter 18​

    March 20, 2011

    I had survived the mission a little richer, and a little more famous, if only in my cape identity. I had not joined the Guild, or the Wards either, and was safely at home in bed, drifting off to sleep, when I felt the rush of a new power.

    This time the other Taylor Hebert was called Pisces and had the power to create a bunch of small shields that could also be used offensively. It was like many other powers that let me control lots of small things.

    And with each power comes another Taylor's life. This one had gone bad, but not the kind of going bad that gets the world taken over by a rogue AI. It was more personal. I had punched Sophia and, after Dad had messed up, ended up forced into the Wards. Piggot covered up Sophia's blame for my trigger and I had one way out of the trap. Malicious compliance. Malicious compliance is when... Oh, you know what that is already.

    It was the mirror image of another Taylor. I was Deputy, working for the PRT, and trying to keep the city in one piece. Yet I was also Pisces, working against the PRT by trying to throw as many spanners in the works as I could, legally. Not every world was the same, but they weren't really that far from each other. It could almost have been the same PRT. It was me that was different.

    Soon I was out like a light, and at some point I dreamt.

    * * * * *​

    In the dream, a time anomaly had blanketed the Bay. Most things had combined, histories and personalities fusing or shifting. As the protagonist, I was not one of those and found myself in two different situations at once.

    "Deputy," said Piggot, "You may face one of the greatest challenges of..." I took two steps towards her and the anomaly briefly shifted more towards the world where Piggot was a harried administrator. You would think that if Deputy and Pisces existed in the same world, it would be impossible for Piggot to hate one and have the support of the other. Or that Deputy would find out about Pisces' trigger and sympathize. Well, dream logic. "Of either of our careers."

    She noticed that I was thinking about something. She paused and said "Is something wrong?"

    "No, ma'am."

    "As I was saying, one of the greatest challenges we may ever face here. It's our new ward, Pisces."

    "I've read her file." Because I had made a habit of reading necessary files. "She seems to be following the rules."

    "Maybe. You should talk to Carlos about this."

    I flipped several pages of the file forwards to find something I was looking for. "Ma'am," I said, "I don't understand this part here. This ongoing investigation. I understand that I'm officially part of the Wards and the Wards aren't cleared to know--"

    "That's correct. Unofficially, it has to do with certain events that didn't take place in your timeline. I still can't clear you for the information, especially since a lot of the documents in question just read 'Taylor Hebert'. But Pisces has been uncooperative and we're wasting our resources in these troubled times."

    "I'll see what I can do, ma'am." I dropped off her coffee and left the office.

    * * * * *​

    "So," I said to Carlos, "Pisces."

    "Yes, Pisces. Her file is--"

    "I've read her file. I do that." I held up a stack of paperwork. He glanced at it and frowned. I answered, "Oh, that's not Pisces' file, Piggot made me return it to her office. I was just holding a folder and a stack of papers for emphasis. But I understand she's been violating the spirit of the rules?"

    "Yes, like the bathroom breaks. She's taken so many that I considered sending her in for medical testing. If she goes to the bathroom too much, that's obviously a medical problem."

    "That won't work," I said. "Even the Wards have medical privacy rules. The most you could do is declare her unfit if she refuses to get medical tests or treatment, but if she was kicked out of the Wards for that, it wouldn't be considered to be contract violation."

    "I'm beginning to suspect that Pisces doesn't want to be in the Wards."

    "Of course she doesn't. I did read her file. But the PRT is trying to do good and she obviously hasn't given the Wards a chance."

    "I was hoping that you could talk some sense into her, for obvious reasons, such as being Taylor Hebert. Give her a recipe for that lasagna we had the other day, maybe."

    "Is this why they say 'being Taylor Hebert is suffering'? No, that was a joke. Sure I'll see what I can do. How difficult could this problem be?"

    * * * * *​

    Pisces' shields moved around herself in a cloud as I entered the room. It made her look taller than myself, which I ignored; I knew how to look at her eye to eye. "Hello," I said, at least imitating cheerfulness. "I'm Deputy!"

    "You're a Ward. No powers, and you're still a Ward."

    "Yes," I replied. "I came here to talk to you because Aegis couldn't. You're causing a lot of trouble...."

    "You've seen my records. I've been causing no trouble whatsoever. I've followed all the rules."

    I was no Accord, but I had gotten pretty far in the PRT by being able to figure things out. And Pisces seemed to be the kind of mystery where you guess the ending and most of the story is figuring out how they're going to get there. I said, "I don't care that you've officially followed all the rules. I recognize malicious compliance when I see it. Why are you being so intransigent?"

    "I'm not permitted to comment on an ongoing PRT investigation."

    As she said that, I unconsciously mouthed the words of the last half of the sentence silently along with her.

    "I see you expected that response. But it's true. I can't help you."

    "You can help yourself."

    "I'm not sure if that's a joke or not, Deputy, since you're 'myself', but commenting in a way that violates the terms of my probation would have serious consequences. 'Violation of these rules by a probationary Ward may lead to penalties up to and including....'"

    "I'm sure you can tell me things off the record."

    "I'm sure you'll be required to report them. Keeping things off the record depends on people's good faith. You're still working for the PRT as a whole, and I absolutely don't expect good faith from the organization. By the way, where's Shadow Stalker?"

    "Before the anomaly, she had been sent to the Madison containment zone. I don't see the relevance of--"

    "It's after the anomaly."

    "So it is."

    I waited. So did Pisces.

    I asked, "Does this have to do with an ongoing investigation?"

    She checked her watch, which poked through a halo of shields. She explained, "No, it has to do with the end of my shift."

    "Wards don't have shifts."

    "Wards have a limit of..."

    "Yes, two hours normally, but you can be ordered to stay up to six."

    "I haven't been ordered to stay up to six hours today. So my shift is over. Logical, isn't it, Deputy?"

    "That would mean that Piggot sent me to talk to you knowing that your shift was ending."

    "How would she know this? Aegis doesn't submit day schedules with her. Most of the time."

    "I admit that the PRT bureaucracy can be a hassle."

    "Sister, you don't know the half of it. But I can assure that I'm quite conversant with the necessary details. By the way, I'm not sure why you're carrying a file about PRT procedures for travel expenses to Oregon, which is the only thing that has that old logo on it. Now please step aside, Deputy. I do take the limits on working hours seriously. Being appropriately prepared for the Wards every morning requires being well-rested from the previous day, after all."

    "You don't go to sleep at this time. Take it from Taylor Hebert."

    "I never said I did. It's not my fault what inferences you draw."

    * * * * *​

    It wasn't hard to guess what had happened from Pisces' hint. At least, it wasn't hard if you're also Taylor Hebert. First order of business was to check on Shadow Stalker.

    I found her in the rec room. She was in her costume, mask half off, back turned as she leaned over something. Clockblocker was furtively glancing at her behind while she wasn't looking. Everyone reacted as if things were normal; the rec room must have been mostly in the Pisces timeline.

    "Hello, Sophia," I said.

    "What do you want, you miserable..." As she turned she saw me with no shields, my hand on the taser that everyone jokingly called Mjolnir. For a second Sophia stuttered.

    I said, "You miserable Deputy. My code name is Deputy. It's not been official most of the time, but people say it in hushed whispers anyway. I'll even let you drop the 'miserable'. There are a few things I need to understand, Sophia. You obviously have a beef with Pisces and I think I have a pretty good idea what it is."

    "You'd better watch it, Hebert. It's all between me and Hebert."

    "I can't believe you said that with a straight mask."

    "I don't care."

    "Did you shove her in a locker?"

    "Sorry, told you I don't care. But I'll tell you that she's weak, powers or no powers. You have no authority over me. Now go away, Hebert. This is between me and Hebert." A moment's pause and she added "Did I already say that?"

    * * * * *​

    Piggot explained, "Deputy, the recent events have all been hard on everyone, but you've been dependable to the point where it's almost a superpower. So I'll ask you, have you made any progress on the Pisces case?"

    "It was a little slow going, ma'am. Pisces wasn't willing to talk very much."

    "You may have a knack for investigation but doing investigation here would just get everyone sidetracked. What I need is Pisces as a hero. We need everyone we can get, even Wards."

    "Legally speaking, Pisces was within her right to---"

    Piggot shook her head.

    "Of course," I added, "that doesn't mean I've made no progress. I do have an idea, ma'am, which has a good chance of solving the problem. Can you call a meeting?"

    Piggot didn't even check her schedule. She probably had it memorized. "Sure, I even have a time slot coming up this evening. What's your plan, Deputy?"

    "It involves Armsmaster. He has a lie detector, right?"

    "I see. Yes, he does." I could swear she was going to slap herself when she said "You know, I never thought of using that against Pisces."

    "All right. Then you, Pisces, myself, and Armsmaster can meet then. I'm sure Armsmaster will still be in the building at that time."

    "Thank you, Deputy. I'm sure she'll get what's coming to her."

    * * * * *​

    Pisces was not late. In fact, she was exactly on time. She had arrived five minutes early and spent her time walking down the wrong corridors so she wouldn't get here early enough to expedite the meeting. Yes, I notice things like that.

    "Round 1," she said as she entered. "Deputy versus Pisces." I ignored the remark.

    Piggot said, "I see that everyone's finally here. Pisces, could you explain the latest incident from your record?"

    "I don't know which incident you mean."

    "The incident where you disrupted a friendly public relations event with schoolchildren at LC Toys."

    Pisces replied, "I disrupted nothing. I was ordered to give an autographed picture of the Wards to one of the teachers. An autographed picture has resale value and may violate laws about giving valuable gifts to public officials. A recent autographed Wards picture sold for a thousand dollars on eBay. As I was obliged to follow the law and I was sure the PRT would not ask me to violate it, I requested clarification."

    Piggot said, "In writing."

    "Of course."

    "The picture that sold for a thousand dollars was a picture of the original Wards. It was a historic item."

    "Perhaps. I'm not trained in antiquities assessment so I couldn't know that, I chose to defer to the expertise of the PRT. I wasn't trying to cause trouble."

    Piggot looked at me. I shook my head. I wasn't going to ask Armsmaster myself; Piggot would have to do it. She said, "Armsmaster, what does your lie detector show?"

    "Pisces doesn't know which incident you meant, false. Implied belief that picture had significant chance of value, false. Implied connection between legality of picture and request for clarification, false. Implied connection between lack of expertise and request, false. Also, she was trying to cause trouble."

    Piggot said, "Pisces, do you understand that lying to your superiors is cause for punishment? And that there's a difference between lies you don't get caught at and lies you're not making?"

    "Implied statements are not lies. Armamaster even said that. And you can't ... oh, I see. If I defend myself, I'll be revealing information about an ongoing investigation to Armsmaster."

    "It's not a trap, Pisces. There's an ongoing investigation, and I just expect cooperation, and you haven't given it."

    Suddenly I said, "Armsmaster, what about Piggot's statements?"

    "It's not a trap, false. There's an ongoing investigation, mostly false. I assume you don't need to know if she expects cooperation?"

    Piggot frowned at me but quickly regained her composure. She said, "Armsmaster, please leave us. Deputy, you're out of line. Though I should have known that it was a bad idea to expect Taylor Hebert to catch Taylor Hebert."

    Armsmaster said, "True" as he left.

    Piggot said, "Pisces, I believe you were saying something? And Deputy, you may allow her to speak. I expect no interruptions."

    Pisces said, "All right, ma'am. The lie detector isn't acceptable by the courts."

    "It's not acceptable as an absolute source of truth. It's acceptable as a source of evidence, and we are permitted to use it in our internal disciplinary procedures. This may be enough evidence to prove that you've violated the Wards contract."

    "So then I go to jail for assaulting Sophia Hess?"

    "I'm not going to answer that except to point out that you're clearly commenting on an ongoing investigation with Deputy here. And if that's somehow okay, there's no way that this could happen unless you and Deputy had gotten together and talked beforehand, and that's certainly breaking the contract. If you don't want to see the inside of a prison cell for a very long time, you will do as I say and...."

    "In fact, I've violated no rule. I reviewed the clauses in my Wards contract. Given the way the restriction is phrased, and the way it specifies a list of names, it turns out that revealing information to Taylor Hebert is permitted."

    "No," said Piggot. "I'm tired of your games. You at least plausibly broke the contract. Perhaps a court will rule otherwise, but you'll have to go to court to get that ruling, and I'm sure you understand the risks of that."

    "Permission to speak, ma'am?" I asked.

    "All right, granted."

    "Armsmaster's lie detector works on recordings. I didn't just work with Pisces. I worked with Armsmaster too. He was perfectly willing to use his lie detector on some of your recent press conferences. After all, why wouldn't he? It was an interesting real-world test of his device and it's not as if he'd embarrass the PRT by discovering lies."

    Pisces added, "He was wearing his helmet, but I like to imagine the surprise on his face anyway."

    I added, "We're going to the Youth Guard with those results. It'll probably be over pretty soon." Taking Pisces' hand, I took her towards the exit.

    Piggot yelled, "Come back here!"

    "No can do. We're going to the rec room to get some tea. It's nice to find someone else who drinks it with honey."

    Pisces began making small talk. "She really said 'get what's coming to her'? That's one of the things you don't ever say if you ever expect irony...."

    As the two of us departed, a camera whirred. A short montage later, Piggot had posted the photo of us holding hands to the internal PRT message boards, where all the shippers could get at it. We would never hear the end of this from Dennis....

    * * * * *​

    I woke up to the sound of Dad yelling. It had come from somewhere in the direction of the bathroom and I could hear the shower running. "Dad," I yelled, "are you all right?"

    He shouted through the door, "I'm fine! But I think the radio short circuited! Would you mind writing it down on the grocery list?" I considered the fact that THE TECHNO QUEEN could fix the shower radio, but it would probably be a bad idea, since things would get very funny.

    After breakfast, during which I explained to Dad that he probably should keep his grocery list on a cell phone, I had a thankfully normal day. Normal days were good.

    And at lunch, I was sitting with Shiela and Lee in a corner watching a news report. Arcadia was protected by a Faraday cage, but by now, I had been there long enough to have learned which seats in the dining hall had enough cell phone reception to be useful. They were always the most coveted seats, but we had gotten lucky today.

    "The trial of Paige Mcabee ended this week with empty whimpers. The upcoming singer, known to the masses as Bad Canary, was arrested over a year ago over charges of using a Master power on her ex-boyfriend. She was found not guilty on all charges after evidence was presented showing that the Fallen were implicated in the incident."​

    Lee said, "Ha ha, empty whimpers. I have that song."

    The talking head shifted to a still photograph of myself, in my old costume, facing a crowd of PRT agents. It had nothing to do with Canary specifically, but it was probably the only image the media could get that showed me erasing a Master effect by the Fallen, so at least their heart was in the right place.

    Shiela said, "Looks like we're in trouble. The Fallen are going to hear that on the news. Boston could be invaded. And Boston's only a few miles away."

    Lee said, "I think they delayed the announcement so the PRT could send some capes here in advance to protect against the Fallen. They didn't even say what date the trial ended. Or if not the PRT, maybe Haven will send someone."

    Shiela said, "Aren't Haven all fundamentalists?"

    "No way. They have a member named Rosary. That's a Catholic reference. And they have gay members. Just because they're from the South doesn't make them into the kind of fanatics who say that God doesn't hear the prayers of a Jew."

    Shiela said "Maybe they will come. And we always have Parliament."

    Talking about yourself as a cape can get awkward. You can't praise yourself or show that you know too much about the cape. It would make people suspicious. But going the other way and staying out of every conversation about your cape ID is no better. You have to find a balance.

    I said, "If Haven is coming up north because the Fallen are going after the Canary judge, Parliament's probably going to try to join them. Maybe we could ask Victoria about it. She always knows her cape news."

    I glanced around. It wasn't hard to spot Victoria, standing some distance away in one of the other spots where you could get 15% phone signal, fiddling with her phone. She wasn't going to be passing by our table.

    As I tried searching on my phone for information about Haven, someone said "I think I know that one."

    I knew the voice and looked up to see Amy. "Hi!" I said.

    "Hi, Taylor. To answer your question, yes, Haven's coming here. As in really here, Brockton Bay, not Boston. It's not a permanent presence and they'll be leaving once it's over, but I'm sure Parliament could contact them through their website."

    Amy wasn't with Victoria at the moment. This could be a good sign... I hoped? I hadn't talked much to her recently and I knew that fixing her problems using cape powers could only ever be the start of something she'd have to handle herself.

    "Glad to see you're okay, Amy," I said.

    She smiled at me. "I've been much better lately. Thank you for your help, Taylor." All right, that had to mean that Amy knew my identity.

    I smiled back, leaving Shiela puzzled as Amy left. Hopefully Shiela wasn't a shipper. Lee knew my identity, so he probably assumed that it was cape stuff. Which it was, but I didn't think that it was just that and nothing else. Maybe Amy got a boyfriend?


    [][Haven]

    Pick one Haven member who comes to Brockton Bay to work with Taylor and company. You are permitted to pick a character from a fanfic (with permission) or a canon character without an established background.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2022
  5. epiccuttlefish

    epiccuttlefish Epic Cuttlefish

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    Is there a reason that Chapter 18 is under Threadmarks, while all the others are under Index?
     
  6. Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    No, just a mistake. Fixed.
     
  7. Kejmur

    Kejmur Experienced.

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    Is there any Worm story where a Haven member actually has any important role? 99,9% of them don't even mention the organization, this is how niche it is.

    [X] Rosary

    Possibly the most known name around from it. So sure, why not.
     
  8. Ragura

    Ragura Versed in the lewd.

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    The Pisces / Deputy crossover is genius! :) You wrote both of them at their best, and the finale with Armsmaster is hilarious!
     
  9. Aminadab_Brulle

    Aminadab_Brulle Getting out there.

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    So Pisces' malicious compliance is so strong she kept stubbornly resisting even after being reduced to a facet of someone else's power. Nice.

    [X] Reconciliation
     
  10. ses

    ses Versed in the lewd.

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    [X] Exorcist

    Exorcist from Camera Shy, link is to the post that contains PRT file.
     
  11. Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    Jiro rolled 1 die of 3 faces, total: 3
    For: Rosary, Reconc., Exorcist
    Rolled on: May-01-2022, 06:59pm
    3
     
    ses likes this.
  12. Index: Chapter 19
    Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    Still alive...

    [X][Haven] Exorcist

    All the Myriad Taylors
    Chapter 19​

    March 26, 2011

    I wasn't familiar with Haven. None of my alternate selves had ever met anyone from it, and my cape experience was second-hand through them, so neither had I. They operated too far away from the Bay. But the cape group, the religious equivalent of a corporate team, was a major enemy of the Fallen, and had sent a small presence to Brockton Bay to handle the expected problems.

    The group had rented a storefront in Hillside Square Mall, a shopping center located on the southern outskirts of the city in the direction of Boston. I got off the number 32 bus, instantly changed into costume behind a building, and walked inside. This was a pretty old mall; around a third of the storefronts were abandoned and the customer traffic was pretty thin.

    The mall directory that was posted was missing, but there was a stack of paper catalogs by where it should be. Of all things, the cover showed Emma in a witch costume for last Halloween. I grimaced, ignored the picture, and turned to the mall map, then started walking. Passing a jewelry store and a smelly pet shop I came to a small set of rooms that was listed as blank in the catalog.

    In the window was a large poster reading "Haven" in stylized letters followed by a small white cross symbol. Another poster showed members of the group with a group of younger capes trailing behind them. I didn't recognize any costume in that picture. I later learned that it was taken last November in El Paso, Texas and it showed the rescue of three Wards from the Fallen. It looked pretty temporary, like the store was being rented for a month to promote some new movie. The door was ajar.

    I entered a main room that was the size of a smaller food court restaurant, furnished with a table and a few cheap foldable chairs. A pile of boxes lay to the side and a few more stacks of chairs were on a sound stage at the back. A faint musty smell, noticeable only because I had enhanced my senses, filled the place. The only other exit was a door with a sheet of ruled paper taped on it at face height. Three capes were seated around a table, with an incongruous stuffed moose on display just a few feet away.

    One was an old man. He was probably around Dad's age. his costume looked like a blue robe but it was tied just a bit too tightly and the bottom was separated into two legs rather than draped as a robe. He was wearing a silvery cross around his neck. "Welcome," he said. "You must be Parliament."

    "That's me."

    "I'm Exorcist. Apologies for the bad accommodations. We're funded by donations and we don't have a megachurch backing us up on this mission."

    I shook his hand, and the hands of the other two. The first was a girl wearing a helmet that concealed her hair and much of her face, a Santa-style fake white beard, and a mostly tan costume. On her chest, which was almost as flat as mine, was an image of a hut with a red mark above the door, drawn with fine threads.

    She said, in a familiar voice, "Nice to meet you, Parliament. I'm Ten Plagues."

    Sitting right next to her was a girl, or woman, with brown skin. She was wearing a white costume that was almost, but not completely, skin tight, with an angel theme. Her headband resembled a halo, and on her sleeves were embroidered the shape of wings, basically two dimensional drawings. In the middle of her chest was the shape of a trumpet, also woven into the fabric. It looked very professional; it was also more practical than a costume with big grabbable pieces. Real wings would remind too many people of the Simurgh anyway.

    She said "I'm Israfil," as I shook her hand.

    The two female capes were sitting next to each other and after I shook Israfil's hand, she grasped Ten Plagues' hand. Both of them seemed to be looking at Exorcist with suspicion and seemed relieved as I approached.

    Exorcist said, "I'm from Tennessee. The others are local." He motioned to me. "Go ahead, Parliament."

    I sat down and cleared my throat. I explained, "As you know, I first...."

    Ten Plagues said, "If we already know it, there's no reason to say it. Can you skip to the parts we might not know?"

    "Look, I'm not going to leave out the summary in the hope that you've already been debriefed. I'll make it short. I uncovered a Fallen plot in the middle of trying to do something else. It derailed the Canary trial and the information finally got out less than a week ago. The Fallen may be coming here. Now, for things you might not know, my powers. They're complicated, but the idea is that I have powers that I would have gotten under different circumstances. A long list of them, always one at a time."

    I saw a pad on the table and took it. "Good, something I can write on."

    While I began listing the powers of mine that I felt that everyone needed to know about, Exorcist explained, "Ten Plagues creates various effects on a person's body. Blood, boils, blindness, and some other effects. Israfil animates corpses." He indicated the dead moose. "They're not the most PR-friendly powers, but nobody gets to choose their powers."

    "And you?"

    He slightly tensed up, slid me a sheet of paper covered in text, and a pen, and said, "You probably should sign the disclaimer."

    "Okay," I said, "that's ridiculous."

    "No. It's the PRT that's ridiculous." Sternly, he repeated, "Please sign the disclaimer."

    "Why?"

    "Because if you don't sign that disclaimer, and I use my powers on you, and some bureaucrat decides they don't like it, I could be arrested. Three times and I go to the Birdcage. My power lets me get rid of mental effects. I can put it on objects. Holy water, crosses, sanctified areas. Or at least things that look like those. I'm still a cape, and no matter what my theme, I'm not trying to fool anyone. If you were to ask me if my powers come from God, the answer would be only in the way that all things come from God."

    I passed my powers list over to Israfil and began reading the disclaimer, It sounded suspicious. "This is disturbing. Removing mental effects. Let's put it bluntly, your power is to pray the gay away. How are you even a hero? And don't tell me 'because it's Haven'. I know that Haven has gay members, even not counting Brockton Bay locals."

    "I don't do things to people against their will. I'm not here to convert anyone, except by example. You're running up against a Master, who nobody even knew was a Master until recently. Valefor's power can't get by mine."

    "If someone came up to you asking to be 'cured' of their, ahem, 'urges', you'd do that?"

    "That's not what I'm here for. But you're asking me if I'd help a troubled person who voluntarily came up to me asking for help that only I could provide? Of course I would."

    Ten Plagues said, "Don't argue with him. God knows, we've tried. Pun not intended. And he hasn't hurt us."

    I said, "Are you sure you're okay with him?"

    "Not okay. But plenty of people have powers that can do things that others might have to watch out for."

    "All right."

    Exorcist said, "I told you that nobody gets to choose their powers, and they're not always PR friendly. Do you think I like having powers that make it impossible to be discreet about my beliefs and make me look like some kind of crusader?"

    "Maybe the problem is having your beliefs, rather than worrying what people would think of them."

    "Everyone believes things that other people would find abhorrent."

    "That's not true. Not everyone thinks other people are sinners."

    "Young lady, I haven't said the word 'sin' once yet this afternoon."

    Despite having warned me not to argue, Ten Plagues said, "You don't think we're sinners. You think we're insane. Or is it giving in to insanity that's the sin?" She squeezed Israfil's hand again and glared at Exorcist, a glare that could have drawn out boils all by itself.

    I scribbled 'Parliament' in the signature on the disclaimer and slid it back across the table to Exorcist. Always make sure your cape signature doesn't look like your own handwriting.

    He said "Thank you," in a not very thankful sounding tone of voice. "That room over there is protected." He pointed to the room with the paper on the door. "If you want to see that my power is harmless, you can try it. The room negates powers, not just mental effects. You're not..."

    "Gay?" I interrupted. "No, but I can fake it."

    "I was going to say 'dependent on any power?'"

    I switched my power and body to Sandstorm and thought about kissing Newter. Mmmm. Then I glanced at Ten Plagues. Maybe my glance lingered for a bit; there was enough mental bleedover that I sort of wanted to kiss her too. Then I walked into the room.

    I don't know what I expected. The room itself looked and smelled like a disused classroom. As soon as I entered it, my power ended. When I had become Sandstorm, everything became outlined by of grains of dust and molecules of air, and suddenly that sense was gone; Exorcist's power was definitely here. I immediately felt unnaturally calmer, not really mad at Exorcist at all, but the fake holy ground didn't seem to have any further effect, and definitely didn't change who I felt attracted to. It was pointless, but I had managed to confuse his power. His power suppressed things that he thought were bad mental influences, and he couldn't possibly have thought of this situation in advance. How would the power know which attraction to suppress?

    I exited the room and felt myself able to be mad at Exorcist again. I imagined a film of myself taking a tranquilizer, played in reverse so it got coughed up into a cup. I sat down at the table. I didn't like this guy, but I had to work with him; he had the perfect power for use against Valefor, as long as the PRT kept him on a short leash.

    Exorcist said, "Is there some point to turning into a boy?"

    I ignored him and started to speak until I saw that Ten Plagues and Israfil seemed to be uncomfortable around me too. Or maybe I was too self-conscious. I transformed back, briefly considering White Mage for some powers testing, but just turned into myself.

    * * * * *​

    True to his word, Exorcist didn't try to lecture anyone about gays, or about religion at all. He began giving a rundown of recent Fallen activities.

    The group was divided into three branches, each associated with one of the Endbringers. The Mathers branch was associated with the Simurgh and they were the ones who found Canary's theme and powers to be blasphemous.

    Exorcist explained, "The PRT's release of the information about Canary was timed right before the recent rescue of two independent heroes from the Fallen in Louisiana. I don't know whether this was planned, but it should give us a little breathing room since the Fallen have to lie low for a bit. They won't be here for two to three weeks at a minimum."

    After taking a gulp from a bottle of cheap water, I asked, "Wouldn't Valefor's power let him 'lie low' no matter what's going on?"

    "Even with the recent revelations of his Master powers," he said--thanks, it was me who revealed that--"he's not untrackable. He's been caught on video cameras before, and he's susceptible to Thinkers; I know you have a local precog."

    I replied, "Yes, Fortuna. He sells his answers, and there's usually a waiting list if he doesn't just say 'I'm busy'."

    "I hear that he may be the top non-villain precog in the whole country. Maybe the world."

    "I've used his services. It's entirely possible. Powers hardly ever work like his."

    "The big problem will be if Mathers gets involved."

    "Who?"

    "Mama Mathers, the leader of the clan. She can appear on the senses of everyone who has ever sensed her. If you see her, she can be a hallucination. If you touch her, she can make you feel pain wherever you are. If you use Thinker powers... I wouldn't advise hiring Fortuna to answer questions about her. Nobody's been able to do anything about her."

    "Anyone else we need to be particularly worried about?"

    "There's Amaymon, who draws diagrams that take away people's powers. Eligos, a cape themed around Behemoth who works for the Mathers group now. I have a sheet listing all we know...."

    "Okay. I'll have to look at it."

    * * * * *​

    It was a smaller-scale, less polished, version of the PRT debriefings that Deputy attended one too many of. There was only so much that could be done to track down the Fallen; Haven's contribution wasn't really the search, it was just having capes here available to do things. Or one cape, anyway. Much as I hated to admit it, Exorcist's powers would work well with mine; I could remove Master effects permanently, but I had to swap out other powers to do it, and I was vulnerable myself while I was doing it. We could back each other up.

    After that, I exchanged phone numbers. On my cape phone.

    "So, Ten Plagues," I asked, "what made you decide to be an active cape?" I glanced at Exorcist; I had to be careful not to reveal any secrets in front of him that he hadn't been told.

    Israfil said, "I encouraged her."

    Ten Plagues said, "We decided together. We met, and we started dating, and at one point the subject of caping came up and I told her that I wanted to try the whole secret identity idea and being active as a cape in a different way."

    Israfil said, "And we happened to have had some similar ideas. This turned out to be an opportunity. Here's this cape group, of heroes, that we could join for a little bit, together. No long term commitments, they're here for a mission and when the mission's over, it's over. In the meantime we can meet somewhere that isn't our homes. If we're willing to stick around gay panic guy."

    Ten Plagues said, "Israfil had just triggered and...."

    I whispered, "You're a terrible liar."

    "What?"

    "All right, not so terrible. You did come up with this identity and every cape identity is a kind of lie. But first of all, capes don't talk about their triggers, and second, you know what my powers are, right? I haven't really met Israfil before, but other versions of me have. She's been a cape for a while."

    "Parliament, you should be glad I like you for having helped me or I'd be giving you boils right about now."

    Israfil gave Ten Plagues a glare.

    "Fine, Israfil." She returned to me, and said "I wouldn't have given you boils. It's just... it's easy to get self-conscious about cape identities. Too many people have met me. I might already be in over my head with only this much secret identity and it could all come crashing down at any moment."

    "Which makes you human."

    I glanced over at Exorcist. He was looking through something on a laptop computer and either not paying attention to us, or pretending not to.

    "Seriously," I continued, "my secret identity leaks like a bag of potato salad. But I'm doing all right so far. You should be fine. Anyway, I should be going. Exorcist said what he had to say, I met you guys again, and there really isn't any information yet except that there won't be any more information for a while. Oh, and, uhh..." I shook my head. "Never mind. I shouldn't."

    Ten Plagues said, "What is it?"

    "It's really none of my business."

    "Parliament, if there is any person who I'd ask to interfere with my business, it's you."

    "Are you sure?"

    "No. But talk. Or I set a plague on your sheep and goats."

    "Fine. Israfil, you do realize she's fifteen, right?"

    Ten Plagues laughed. "I'm seventeen. My mother is a liar."

    * * * * *​

    April 2, 2011

    There was a while to wait before Valefor and any team who came along with him would be a serious threat. For all I knew he might be on his own like Exorcist was, although villains do tend to be a lot better funded than many heroes.

    Then I got a text message.

    The message was from 'Israfil', which meant that she wanted to handle it using that identity. It said, "We've got a problem. Call me back."

    I glided using a cape full of confetti until I landed on top of a locked electrical building in the nearby park. Nobody would disturb me there. In fact, when I landed, people moved away from the strange cape. I called back and Israfil picked up almost immediately.

    "Let me get Ten Plagues." She yelled in a muffled voice to someone where she was. "We need a conference call."

    A few minutes and we were all able to talk. "So what is this?" I asked. "It sounded serious! Was Exorcist wrong about when the Fallen were going to come? Do we need to get him and go on a raid someplace? Do we need to do this right now?"

    Israfil said, "It's not the Fallen. I won't say it's worse, but I won't say it's better, and maybe we will need Exorcist for it. And yes, now."

    Ten Plagues explained, "We were coming out of a movie theater in civilian IDs when suddenly this cat approaches Israfil. But not too closely. It stayed back, and tried to hide itself, almost as if it was intelligent. I didn't think much of it. Then I saw it again yesterday. And again today. I finally got fed up and I threw a potato full of flies at it."

    "You threw a what?"

    "You can fit a thousand flies in one potato if you create them inside it."

    "I'll take your word for it."

    "Israfil got a soccer ball out of her car. The old kind made of real leather, as in dead skin. With its core removed. I've never seen someone catch a cat with a soccer ball before but she managed to drive it right into a corner. I took a look at the cat's biology and it turned out that I was right. It was some kind of biotinker creation, unnaturally intelligent. Really, it would be hard to think there's nothing unusual about an intelligent cat."

    "I haven't heard of any cape in this city who could do that." THE TECHNO QUEEN and Leet excluded.

    Israfil said, "Unfortunately, I do. Because yesterday I got a surprise phone call from Natalia."

    "Who?"

    "She's my ex's sister. Joe's sister. My creep of an ex-boyfriend somehow managed to trigger during, of all things, a family argument. He was already mentally unstable and when he got powers, he must have seen them as some kind of chance to get back at the world. Natalia managed to get away and she contacted me to warn me that I might be in danger from him. He started calling himself Hogwash and he not only messed up his family, he messed up his own brain."

    "His powers drive him insane?"

    "She didn't explain it better than that. She did say that he was already taking medication before he triggered. And that their mother has been Mastered and that I needed to flee the city--she doesn't know I'm a cape. This was a warning to my civilian identity."

    Ten Plagues said, "The cat also secreted some kind of neurotoxin on its claws which can paralyze people. It probably had to be ordered to use it since it didn't attack Israfil with it. So you can get some idea of what we're dealing with."

    "Uh, what happened to the cat?"

    "It was unusually intelligent, but it didn't actually have a human brain, so I got rid of Hogwash's... additions and let it go in the woods."

    I considered. Friday's power might be a fast win if I was lucky, but it would be dangerous to body-swap into an altered brain full of chemicals. White Mage could remove some mental effects, and Slug Queen others, but none of my powers as those capes do everything. Ten Plagues could reverse some effects by touch and might be needed to help Joe's family.

    I said, "We'll have to call Exorcist. His power should be able to do a lot here. From all the stuff in that disclaimer I gather that it works against biologic changes as well, until the power is removed from the area. If we're lucky."

    After calling Exorcist, who said that we should meet at the mall, I had one more message to leave.

    "Hi, Dad. Something came up. It's cape things. I'm working with Haven and they're investigating a problem on Captain's Hill. It's a new villain named Hogwash. We've had arguments about going caping before, but I'm not going to just go and not tell you anything. If you don't hear from me by 8, please call the usual numbers." Which meant Dragon and the PRT. He'd never had to call them yet and I hoped he never would.



    How should they approach the situation?

    [] Write-in
     
  13. thewhiteraven22

    thewhiteraven22 (Unverified Worm fan)

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    I'm not usually very good at creating votes like this, but I am highly interested in the story so I'm going to give it my best shot.

    [X] Be cautious, you don't know what a biotinker or biokinetic could do. How deep down the rabbit hole have they gone? Possibly have Haven contact the PRT about the villain. Also, using Babel would keep us a prize when he's near.
     
  14. Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    She only has the powers in the list, so no Babel right now.
     
  15. Junk Warrior

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

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    Joe? Natalia? Triggered during a family argument? Neurochemical tinker power? That's somewhat familiar, are they Brockton's Celestial Forge expy? Joe's original power if the forge didn't interfere with his trigger?
     
  16. Istaran

    Istaran Know what you're doing yet?

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    [X] contact Dragon for overwatch / backstop. She can discreetly watch over you and immediately be able to notice and call in help if things go sideways.
     
  17. Index: Chapter 20
    Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    [X] Be cautious, you don't know what a biotinker or biokinetic could do. How deep down the rabbit hole have they gone? Possibly have Haven contact the PRT about the villain.
    [X] contact Dragon for overwatch / backstop. She can discreetly watch over you and immediately be able to notice and call in help if things go sideways.

    All the Myriad Taylors
    Chapter 20​

    April 2, 2011

    Given the location of Haven's temporary headquarters, it was at least on the right side of town to be near Captain's Hill. We had to meet up somewhere, so we ended up waiting there again. I looked around. Exorcist hadn't arrived yet. Good; this gave me a bit of time for some unfinished business.

    "All right," I said. "Ten Plagues, Israfil... I take it Exorcist doesn't know who you are, right?"

    Ten Plagues said, "Yeah."

    "What can I say about your powers in front of him?"

    Israfil said, "What do you know about our powers? In fact, you said you know who I am. Who am I?"

    "You want me to out a cape?"

    "Yes, I really do."

    "You're Parian. Oh, and your girlfriend is Amy. Your real name is probably Sabah, but I never looked it up. And the way my powers work, for something like that, I'd better look it up. It can be wrong, like your shop."

    Israfil said, "The name's right. And I don't have a shop."

    "I know. I searched for it. It wasn't where it was supposed to be. As for the rest, either of your powers are enough to do what your new identities can do. And if there's anything else secret about them that doesn't matter, I don't know it and I don't want you to tell me."

    Ten Plagues said, "Hah. Told you she wasn't bluffing about knowing you."

    Israfil said, "That's a good plan, Parliament. As for what it's safe to say in front of Exorcist... he knows what he told you. That's a nice stopping point; he doesn't need to know any more. I don't think he's figured us out; he doesn't live here or go to school with Amy and he doesn't have twenty powers."

    "I don't have twenty powers, I have, um..." Let's see, thirteen, and does Deputy count as a power, and White Mage has several... "Fewer."

    At the sight of Exorcist outside the glass of the storefront, the two went silent. Exorcist entered and said, "Hi girls." His smile was met with cold stares.

    Ten Plagues, Israfil, and I said "Hello," in turn, politely. Yes, he was a creep. But then, I had to admit that I've worked with... or versions of me have worked with... people who were worse. Exorcist was no Regent or Bitch. Even Uber and Leet probably hurt more people than Exorcist. I should apologize. But not now. I really didn't feel like it. Maybe later.

    * * * * *​

    With a threat like Hogwash, it would be foolish not to warn the PRT. First I had to ask the three Haven members here, even Exorcist, to back me up. Honestly, I didn't know what the PRT would do. On one hand, I had lucked into the best way to get in Emily Piggot's good graces since Deputy, and Hogwash probably pushed her buttons about Ellisburg anyway. He was no Kaiser or Lung and catching him would be good for publicity with no downside. On the other hand, the PRT has a habit of not being very proactive when it comes to villains. It meant that Newter or Leet weren't in jail right now, but it might also mean that Hogwash could get away. We'd have to see.

    After that came a request to Dragon. Maybe she could help too. I sent her a text message and waited. I wondered just what algorithm she used to decide how long to delay before calling back. Even though I knew her true nature, there was no guarantee that I hadn't sent that text message in front of someone who didn't.

    The hero of "Stranger in a Strange Land" once needed a "Martian anthem". He used a Mars movement from a symphony. I had searched for songs related to owls or Parliament and couldn't find anything that most people would recognize. So five minutes later the default ringtone on my phone played.

    "Hello?" I said as I answered. Glancing at the caller ID, and putting the phone on speaker, I said, "Dragon?"

    "In the flesh. I got your message. You do understand that your problem isn't exactly Guild business, right? And you're already going with a group of three other capes, two of whom have powers that counter Hogwash?"

    "Um, well, none of us have any drones or surveillance unless you count a device that's there to hang around my house and yell if any criminal gets near it or Dad. Maybe if I'm lucky I could get some confetti close to someone as Papercut or see some outlines as Sandstorm. Bugs are hard to hear through but I could try."

    "Well, I do owe you something. So let me check." A few fake seconds later, "Oh, that's surprising. Nothing is providing any signal from the location you sent me."

    "Nothing? In what range, the house, the district? A mile?"

    "Just the house. Everything else is normal. But there haven't been any calls to the PRT. No 911 calls either. Hold on."

    "Sure, Dragon."

    Israfil said, "You have Dragon on speed dial?"

    "I wouldn't call it that. She's busy, but she does owe me a favor. I helped out in a PRT operation against Nilbog and Heartbreaker."

    "I read about that. It's all over the news."

    "I think she has some kind of surveillance project going already. She's not going to write a whole software program just to pay me back for my help."

    Dragon suddenly said, "Your friend is right. Given your earlier text message I take it she's Israfil? I'm not familiar with that cape."

    Israfil said, "That's me. I also have Ten Plagues and Exorcist here." Ten Plagues cleared her throat. She didn't say anything, no doubt afraid that Dragon's software would recognize her voice.

    Dragon's voice said, "I just checked a certain surveillance project of mine." I grinned at Israfil. "There aren't any unusual keywords being used in the Captain's Hill area over the phone lines, or any unencrypted Internet sessions. Whatever's going on there, it's probably isolated to the house. Or else Hogwash has taken over the block and he's forcing everyone to act like normal."

    Israfil said, "I'm sure that's exactly what Joe would do. You're young and I don't know if you've ever had a bad breakup, but it's a nightmare to have the man who turned half the campus against you gaining powers and messing with people's brains. I thought I was through with Joe. But some things never end."

    Dragon said, "I understand you've called the PRT, Parliament. I could send a suit over, but it would arrive at about when the PRT would. Also, I can send you what information I've discovered about Jozef. Most of it is pretty mundane."

    "Maybe that's a good idea anyway, Dragon. Please do it, okay?"

    Ten Plagues was waving her hands at me.

    Dragon said "All right."

    I replied, "I think Ten Plagues wants me."

    Ten Plagues pointed to the phone and mimed putting something in her pocket. She glanced at me and then at Exorcist.

    "I should hang up now?"

    Ten Plagues nodded frantically.

    "I have to go, Dragon. Thanks for the help."

    "You're welcome."

    I hung up and put the phone in my purse. Ten Plagues said, "The power you use to control your body. Use it. Now."

    "What? Self-Administrator?"

    "Yes."

    I shifted powers, not bothering with a costume change. I instantly sensed it; some kind of strange infection in my nose and throat. This power was about controlling my own body; I had limited information about the effects of infections, barely enough that I could sense certain effects and turn the immune system on them. "Bacteria," I said. "They're not doing too much right now. When my macrophages eat them, they have a weird toxin inside them."

    Ten Plagues, who seemed to know what a macrophage was, said, "They're set up to receive a signal and release enough neural inhibitors to knock someone cold. I mean, not a radio signal, a chemical one. It means that Hogwash isn't being deliberately lethal, but it could kill someone driving a car. Like sleep gas, it may kill you anyway because nobody's getting a medically safe dosage of it."

    Exorcist said, with some suspicion, "How do you know this?"

    Ten Plagues said, "Because it's a plague."

    I noted, "We don't really know this has anything to do with Hogwash. There's also the question of whether this covers the city or whether Israfil was the target."

    Israfil said, "He sent a cat after me. And it was a day after he triggered. I've obviously been targeted."

    Exorcist said, "I suggest a quick search. If there's some source of the bacteria nearby, and if Ten Plagues can smell them...."

    Ten Plagues said, "Parliament was going to go directly after him. I agree. I think Israfil does too." The Middle Eastern cape nodded.

    * * * * *​

    I read Dragon's summary while we drove. It was pretty mundane. He was a Brockton Bay native. He went to college here and had taken classes in the English department under my Mom. Small world. Dropping out of college and quitting his job were the biggest signs of trouble, but plenty of people were in hard times without being criminals.

    Israfil parked her car a mile away from where Hogwash's family lived. Everything looked fine. Ten Plagues and I could smell a high concentration of the sleep bacteria. Nothing was visibly strange yet and we got out and began to walk. Israfil rode the dead moose, which awkwardly fit into her powers' theme. It was supposed to look like she had gotten a bad power and was trying to do her best by animating corpses that were relatively not-icky. Which was not wrong, I suppose.

    Half a block onwards, Israfil suddenly said, "I don't feel so good" and stumbled, then fell to her feet, the moose seeming to partly deflate.

    Ten Plagues took her hand. "You need a gas mask," she said as she lifted Israfil to her feet.

    Israfil said "It's all right. I feel fine now." She sounded like an action hero who knew that the nasty wound he suffered last scene would be irrelevant for the rest of the movie. Amy, imitating a plot device.

    I said, "I think she's the only one who needs something. Exorcist's power protects him. I assume Ten Plagues' does too." Assume, nothing; I knew it. "My own power can change my neural paths, so I stay immune after I swap it out." The bacteria weren't eating anything; they produced chemicals that knocked people out, and I could alter my body chemistry enough to be immune. It was the same trick I had used with Newter.

    Ten Plagues laughed and said, "Of course you can. Why am I not surprised?"

    "Hey, I gave out the info about my powers. It's documented."

    Ten Plagues found a surgical mask that she "just happened" to have in her purse and gave it to Israfil, holding her girlfriend's hand and invisibly destroying bacteria until she had fitted the mask into place over her nose and mouth.

    Exorcist held his cross in front of himself as we walked. Meanwhile I switched to Sandstorm. He didn't comment on my change. Of course, I really had no reason to expect him to. I explained, my voice an octave lower than before, "I'm trying to see what's there."

    Ten Plagues asked, "Any luck?"

    "Not really. All I can see are outlines. If he can build giant monsters I can't sense any, No hidden tunnels under the building but if he triggered recently he wouldn't have time to build anything. I think I can see him inside the house. Some other people, one is pacing, one is sitting at a table suspiciously staring ahead, an older woman, maybe his mother. A man. Several dead cats."

    As we neared the house a woman approached us as well, walking in the gutter given the absence of pavement here. Israfil said, "One of Joe's sisters. Natalia or Alena. He showed me pictures of them once, said he didn't get along. I wonder if anything he told me about them was the truth, or if he was just giving a... slanted... view on things?"

    The woman had what looked like a flower planted in her head between her eyes, on a short stem, its petals full of red color that could have been blood. Her eyes weren't the blank orbs of a zombie, but her expression didn't look right.

    "Okay," said Exorcist. "My power tells me she's trouble." He reached into a pocket with the hand not holding the cross, and pulled out a vial.

    The woman said, "Jozef was right. He wasn't faking it for attention. He was really depressed." That was an odd thing for a Master victim to say. You'd expect more like agreeing with everything he said, or lecturing about how he should be allowed to have his crime empire. This was... petty. "I'm Natalia. Let me shake your hand."

    Which Ten Plagues reached out to shake. "Ten Plagues" wasn't a well known alias, so it wasn't obvious that she couldn't be infected through a handshake, and her own power needed touch to work. She later explained it to me: Normal use of her power takes some time. Trying to disable someone in combat meant changing the body in a split second. She had no time to let her power look for things; she had to do her best to aim her power blindly at the right part of the body without sensing it in advance, and she could only break things. Sometimes this would work, but it was easy for her power to miss.

    She didn't miss. Natalia clutched at her eyes with her other hand. "I can't see!" Ten Plagues was saying something. "Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven, and there was a thick darkness...." Suddenly, sparks formed in Natalia's hand and an electrical discharge spurted from a ridge of thick skin on her hand. I hadn't noticed it. Electric eel power? There was no way for Hogwash to get an electric eel. Did he make an electrical organ from scratch?

    Ten Plagues fell to the pavement, unconscious, and barely escaped hitting her head and making the injury worse.

    Israfil screamed, "You hurt her! Can't you ever stop ruining my life? You ruined my reputation and now this!"

    As Ten Plagues fell, Natalia hesitated. Her expression cleared briefly and she cried a single tear. She started to speak. "He's been destroying our fami..." Then she stiffened and tried to fight again. Her attack went wild. Exorcist splashed his pseudo-holy water on the blinded Natalia. He tried three times before he hit, but there was no doubt that it would work. Natalia sank to the ground, crying. "Help me," she said. She pulled at the flower on her head and scratched it. It started to bleed and she let go.

    Meanwhile, I was examining Ten Plagues. I couldn't detect a pulse, but I was no medical person. But I couldn't risk her life. I switched to White Mage without hesitation.

    "Bask in the light of rejuvenation. Cure!"

    Ten Plagues began to stir. "Come on," I said. "Wake up!" She tried to stand up, wobbling a bit, and made it to her feet. "Can you help me undo Natalia?" I whispered, "Slug Queen can fix brains later, so it's okay if you can't do that." She took Natalia's hand and began undoing the biotinkering, or so I assumed when she picked at the things on her hands and they sloughed off onto the ground. I wasn't sure what excuse Amy would give Exorcist for why her power lets her do this, since it was obviously out of theme, but I wasn't going to call attention to it.

    "All right," I explained. "Yeah, I'm a girl again. I'm also a healer now. And if I become anything else, I won't be able to heal for some time. So no Pisces, no Skitter, no lots of things unless I absolutely have to." It wasn't the first time this weakness mattered. This time, Amy was here, but she was also incognito and I was going to at least make an effort to keep it that way. "But everyone gets Stoneskin. Bestow an aegis of light. Stoneskin!"

    Exorcist said, "You made that up. It's a spell from Dungeons and Dragons."

    I replied, "No it's not, and I'm not going to argue this."

    We removed the blindness and fixed Natalia as much as possible, including a Cure. Exorcist placed the cross, dangling from its necklace, around her neck. He explained, "You'll have to wear this until Parliament can fix you permanently." I needed the Slug Queen to repair her brain and I was stuck being the healer for now.

    Natalia was willing to explain everything. "We were having a family dinner on Friday. Jozef had dropped out of college. He wasn't the most stable of people anyway, and he claimed to be depressed. Went to a psychiatrist and everything. Of course, nothing the psychiatrist did make any difference. Mom did all she could, getting his drug regimen changed when it was ineffective, personally talking to his psychiatrist to straighten things out."

    Ten Plagues said, "I don't believe you. Depression is real."

    Natalia said, "Of course depression is real. Just not this depression. Anyway, Jozef got a letter from his college. If you want a summary, it said that he officially dropped out. Mom and Dad paid for his education, and he just threw it away. Just like that! I know what they say about getting powers when you surpass your limits. Jozef didn't surpass any limits, I can tell you that much."

    Exorcist said, "And then what happened?"

    "He said 'I'm not taking your crap', pardon my English but it's Jozef, and he went into the garden shed with a handful of pins, toothpicks, and his medication, and he started picking flowers and torturing cats. We left him alone to stew for a bit, but soon something in the air made us fall asleep. I woke up while he was still operating on Mom and managed to get away long enough to get a warning out to his ex. He sent this poisonous cat after me and when it scratched me I was knocked out again. we all became his puppets under some twisted bio-superpower. I've seen you on the news, Parliament. You can save us. Please... he still has Mom and Dad!"

    * * * * *​

    We directed Natalia to the car and continued onwards. As we approached, Israfil saw something, "What's that?" she asked, pointing ahead. "That bush." I squinted at it. A couple of berries, and a strange black streak.

    "I see it, Israfil. I'm not sure what it is. It sort of looks like a patch of fur."

    Of course, the bushes chose that moment to attack us, uprooting themselves in a spray of dirt. The three that moved all had the odd additions. The patches of fur were more like strips, and they rippled as if they had been pieces of muscle covered with furry skin, glued to the wood. With each ripple a branch bent, a twig clattered. The 'berries' blinked at us, revealing slitted pupils.

    Israfil scrambled off of the stuffed moose as the dead animal swung its head into the oncoming bushes, antlers breaking the wood into splinters that were streaked with lines of blood. The stuffed creature moved as though it was a balloon that occasionally remembered that it had joints. It hit harder than Glory Girl at a bank robbery. Nothing penetrated the skin; it looked harder to damage than one of the stuffed animals that she liked to use as Parian.

    Ten Plagues said "I couldn't possibly affect those. Not instantly, anyway." and scooted back.

    One of the bushes leapt after her. I punched it, my fist passing through leaves and branches that swiped at me, but hitting nothing vital. It twisted several branches around my wrist, and used it as leverage to redirect itself towards Ten Plagues.

    As it landed on her, it clawed at her with the spiky ends of its branches. Most attacks hit Ten Plagues' costume. I wasn't sure exactly what the costume was made of, but the way the branches slid off, I was sure that there was something other than normal fabric in there. One branch instead was aimed directly for her face....

    It bounced off of the Stoneskin, of course.

    Israfil was fighting the other two bushes using the stuffed moose. At one point she took a bag of potato chips out of her purse. No, not potato chips. Fried pork skins. She tore open the bag and the snacks flew into the air like so many bugs, or bits of confetti, or grains of sand.

    She managed to smash the two bushes with the moose, while various eyes on the bushes turned every which way, trying to focus on the pork skins. Exorcist wielded a rosary on the end of a stick. He tried to catch it in the branches of the bush. Which made him a target as well as Ten Plagues, but after a few seconds of both of them fighting off sharp sticks, he managed to loop the rosary around a branch and the bush collapsed.

    Meanwhile Hogwash was coming out of the house. His identity was obvious, his face concealed only by a paper bag with eyeholes. It's not as if it could have been anyone else. He approached with a man and a woman, probably his parents, walking in front of him, a dazed look in their eyes and a gash in each of their foreheads.

    Israfil pointed towards a metal pole holding a light. One of the pork rinds suddenly smashed itself against the pole. A "ping" rang out as if someone had pounded on the metal with a hammer. She said, "I advise you surrender. If I have to defeat you using fried pork rinds, you'll never live it down."

    I added, "You just triggered yesterday. Tinkering is a long and slow process. As a Tinker, there's no way you can become enormously powerful in just a couple of days. I doubt you have anything else to use against us."

    The woman who I assumed was Hogwash's mother said, "He's a good boy. We mistreated him horribly. We should have done what he told us and...."

    Hogwash yelled, "Just protect me! They're going to kill us! I can see it in their eyes! Just looking at them makes me dizzy...."

    For one brief moment his mother's expression cleared and a single tear fell from her right eye. Contradicting her words from a moment before, she said "Joe never considered the needs of other people and...." Then her eyes clouded, she stopped speaking, and she charged at us. I saw strange growths on her hands, like Natalia had, and she held them forth menacingly.

    Meanwhile Hogwash was singing, something unintelligible. A few words were coherent, "you never believe...." and it then lapsed into gibberish again. "Kill me," he said. His father and mother briefly faced him and he said "No, not you, protect me! I can't deal with this...."

    Exorcist said, "Petty evil is still evil. Your family doesn't deserve this no matter what you say happened, and suicide is a sin for a reason. We all know that." Actually, no we don't. "Now let your influence be begone!" He lobbed the contents of another vial of fake holy water onto Hogwash's mother. She stopped in her tracks.

    "My mind..." she said. "I'm okay. No, not okay but... I was afraid it would come to this. Joe doesn't understand what all of his family has done for him. He hides things and never speaks to us, he can barely survive by himself. He certainly doesn't respect us." She tried to wipe her hands on the side of the house. The inclusions didn't come out.

    Israfil said, "I see."

    Ten Plagues traded blows with Hogwash's father. The man was no fighter, it was clear. Even so, he could defend himself against an ordinary teenage girl. But for this teenage girl, every attempt to block a blow with an uncovered part of his body was another chance for her to aim her power blindly and hope she got something. Four blows later, he was unconscious and his skin became peppered with boils, solely for effect. She pronounced, "... and festering boils will break out on men and animals through the land." I think it was supposed to be "throughout"? It depended on the translation anyway.

    Hogwash yelled, "No! You flattened him. He's bleeding all over." Blood was one of the ten plagues, but Amy hadn't used anything of the sort on him. "You should fall asleep. You shouldn't even have gotten near us! Why don't you fall asleep? it's impossible, They're going to lock me up. Mom, dad, kill me."

    As he said this, a flying pork rind knocked him on his temple, making him clutch it in pain. Israfil said, "I don't want to hear it. You can die for all I care, but we're heroes and we can't allow that."

    His mother said, "You can't even keep your story straight. A moment ago you wanted people to not kill you."

    Exorcist approached Hogwash, holding the rest of the vial of water. Hogwash ignored it, sobbing. Exorcist threw the water on him without resistance and said, "We're taking you in."

    Hogwash spoke again. He seemed more coherent this time. "I... I did all of this. I don't like this power. I could handle neurochemistry, at the cost of having my own messed up. I could make friends and change people's minds, but in the horror movie way. I don't want to be Bonesaw, or Heartbreaker. But when I realized that I'd never ever find an end to this, that's when I became all of that."

    Ten Plagues said, "An end to what?"

    "It doesn't matter now."

    Ten Plagues said, "I want to know."

    "Why do you want to know?"

    "Because this doesn't sound like you got along perfectly fine with your family until you got driven crazy by your powers and started hurting them. Did your mother treat you well?"

    Hogwash said, "N-- none of your business!"

    Ten Plagues said, "She always told you you were worthless, didn't she? I could hear it in what she was saying. She fed you and gave you a place to sleep but she blamed you for not living up to an unreasonable standard, while she keeps needling you, keeps saying these tiny little things that insinuated that you just weren't a good person and..."

    Israfil said, "Ten Plagues, enough."

    "No, it's not enough. I want to be sure that we're doing the right thing!"

    "Do you think he'd have caused me all that trouble at school, if the only thing wrong is that his family hates him? He didn't have any power meddling with his brain then! It's obvious what's going on. Don't fall for his manipulations."

    "S... Israfil, he's not manipulating me. And I'm not saying we shouldn't take him in."

    "Then what is the 'right thing'?"

    "I... I don't know. Maybe, have some sympathy for him?"

    "I'm not going to have sympathy for someone with no sense of proper boundaries. You don't know him; I do."

    Exorcist said, "Calm down, girls, this is not the time or place..."

    Israfil said, "You homophobic piece of shit. Stay out of this."

    I said, "I'm this close to switching to one of my twenty powers and doing something I might regret. We need to fix the victims before Exorcist's power wears off. I don't know about fixing Hogwash permanently, if his powers keep him drugged, but Ten Plagues could knock him out or we could tie him up."

    Ten Plagues and Israfil didn't keep arguing with each other. But neither did they kiss and make up. I had no idea what to do about this. Hoping that things would be okay with them, I switched to the Slug Queen, and fixed their brains while Amy did the rest.

    "Be careful with that power," she said. "What you're doing--that isn't healing. Not really."

    "No. It's a side effect of a power I don't want to use fully unless it's on Heartbreaker or Coil. But I should be okay if I don't need to make up for missing brain parts."

    Soon afterwards the PRT troopers arrived. There was a squad of ten led by Miss Militia in what looked like Armsmaster's helmet. They hadn't sent any other capes. The troopers all had gas masks on, they carried rifles, and about half had containment foam sprayers. They were overprepared, but that made sense.

    I followed them as they cleaned out the house and shed. Hogwash had left behind a few flasks filled with fleshy blobs that produced electricity, and the number of dead cats was concerning, but the place was nowhere near being a proper tinker lab. He'd triggered too recently for that.

    "Miss Militia," I asked, "you have been briefed on my powers?"

    "Yes I have."

    "So nobody's going to shoot me for Mastering Hogwash before you take him to the Rig?"

    "They won't shoot you. What's the Rig?"

    "The... The PRT base? Built on top of... a rig?"

    "Oh, is that what kids call it nowadays? I haven't heard of that name."

    I shoved the brain slug into Hogwash's ear, violating the privacy of the villain's memories, but possibly saving the city. Reading them, I realized that I needn't have bothered; there weren't any traps in the house, and the bacteria had a limited lifespan. Even in his delirium, Hogwash knew to avoid acts that could lead to kill orders.

    But I did discover that Amy was right. His family sucked.

    [No vote]
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2022
  18. ses

    ses Versed in the lewd.

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    Glad to see this back! Man Exorcist can't open his mouth without getting his throat jumped down. I laughed well and good at him noticing where Stoneskin comes from.
     
    Jen X likes this.
  19. TheirTheyre

    TheirTheyre Getting some practice in, huh?

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    This is a first class fic, thanks. And the Deputy x Denial crossover was perfect!!
     
  20. Index: Chapter 21
    Jiro

    Jiro Getting sticky.

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    More of an interlude, but have a chapter.

    All the Myriad Taylors
    Chapter 21​

    April 14, 2011

    I awoke at 7 AM to a loud roar outside my window. A flash of lightning illuminated the room briefly a few seconds later, followed by another roar. In the background was the steady pounding of raindrops. Recalling my memories of Skitter, I remembered another world where the weather was just like this; all the differences between our worlds, and all the butterflies I'd set into motion, didn't change it.

    I knew what this meant. First of all, leave school. That was its own trick. Remember how I knew Wards had an excuse to skip the waiting list and go to Arcadia? And that it had to make sense to everyone who doesn't know the Wards' identity? And that other people had to be able to use the excuse? Well, that's not the only thing Wards have an excuse for. Wards need to explain why they're not in school when on a Wards mission....

    So with Deputy's knowledge, I had tracked down the paperwork that lets Wards "apply" for a "co-op program" that lets them work "for a business" or government for a half day. And what a coincidence! I happened to be working for a company called Sliders that did imports from Earth Aleph. And they just happened to have a brand new co-op program. The details weren't what people would think (Tinkering isn't a skill that a civilian can put on her resume), but the PRT deliberately set up the program to have no meaningful oversight, so it didn't matter.

    Not that I was going to the Save Spot yet. I was instead wearing my Skitter costume and had been joined by Newter. It was just a few blocks from Arcadia. He struggled a bit with his umbrella, since he had to stand upright in order to use it. I was fine with helping him up when he stumbled. As we walked, I began to narrate.

    "It was a dark and stormy day. The weather was exactly the same as this, raining terribly. And traffic was like this too. We were driving to the bank in order to rob it, and the weather was so bad that Tattletale parked in the middle of the road."

    He replied, "You shouldn't do that. If you're going to rob someplace, you don't want your getaway car to attract attention, and if you do that, you'd attract attention."

    "Have you ever robbed a bank, Newter?" I tried to ask the question with a straight face.

    Newter laughed. "The closest was... Let me think. We robbed a casino. It has more money on premises, and the bystanders are shady enough that there's not so much outrage on the news."

    "Ruby Dreams?"

    "No. Anyway, if you try to rob a bank, it's worthless. All the money is electronic nowadays. Besides, we usually avoid crimes that would lead the police to show up at our doorstep. I'm, well, pretty easy to spot if you send an undercover cop into the Palanquin. So, you were saying that Tattletale parked the car."

    "Yeah. She only did it for a minute. We started the car again, got to the bank, and it looked just like it did now." I stopped and pointed to a gap between buildings. "Tattletale got the password for the exit door, back that way. I think this is the right time, but I could be up to a half hour off."

    As we approached the front door, Newter said, "Did you at least get some cash out of it?"

    "Well, there's always going to be something. It was a lot of cash for the Undersiders, but they hadn't done anything as big. Maybe not so great for your group." I was about to push the door open when Newter rushed ahead, pushed it open with a gloved hand and held it for me. I began to say, "You don't have to...," but stopped. I walked through,

    As we entered, I spotted a guard in the back of the front area, who looked at us suspiciously. Both of us appeared menacing; the Skitter costume had started out unintentionally scary, which led to Skitter keeping it that way on purpose. And Newter would draw as much attention as Glory Girl bursting through the wall.

    I kept explaining, "It was Skitter's idea to take hostages. Scare them enough to keep them from trying to fight and getting hurt. I... Skitter anyway... threatened them with black widow spiders. It was dumb luck that nobody died of a heart attack."

    "That sounds nasty. You robbed a bank, you hurt a lot of bystanders. Maximum crackdown, minimum gain."

    I thought about it, but not for long. I knew the answer, even if Skitter didn't. "Yes, it was. Tattletale gave me the cops and robbers speech that day. There's some crime that could be called cops and robbers. This wasn't it. Robbers, yes. Cops, yes. Cops and robbers, no. I... Skitter scared a lot of people that day. And then, right in the middle of the hostages was...."

    I pointed to the girl in civvies waiting on line. "Panacea." I looked around for Glory Girl, but she wasn't anywhere to be seen. Amy was here with Sabah this time. I was glad that they hadn't broken up because of the Hogwash mission. "Her," I said. "Amy. She hit me with a fire extinguisher!"

    Newter said, "It sounds like you were new at it. Uhh, no offense, I didn't mean to say anything was wrong! It's just that taking the healer hostage is a bad idea. You should have said 'sorry' and let her go."

    "Skitter knew that. But it wasn't obvious who it was at first. Anyway, we filled these bags full of money and documents. Then the Wards came. I can't tell you too many fight details because I was concentrating on my own situation at the time, but lemme see."

    The guard had gotten ten feet closer, nearly arms length, and was looking at me and Newter suspiciously.

    I explained to him, "I'm not a villain and I'm not here to hurt anyone. And it's hard to explain the context, but no, I'm not robbing this bank." He looked at Newter, who not only looked like a villain, but was one. "He isn't either."

    Newter stepped forward and said, "We're here on a sightseeing trip. She robbed this bank in another universe and she's showing me..."

    This made the guard more uneasy and he reached for his weapon. He let go when Panacea said, "It's all right. She's Parliament. I know her!"

    Newter said, "I don't know what it's like to go to school, but I'm beginning to see what it's like to skip school."

    "I'm the only one who's skipping and I'm not really skipping yet. Lunch started five minutes ago. Amy could have walked here if she was fast. She's here to... You know, I don't know why she isn't using an ATM."

    Amy said, "They're restocking it." Of course. They probably refilled the ATM at certain times and she'd have to enter the bank in order to withdraw anything. The refill schedule wouldn't change between Skitter's timeline and mine. "Now what was this about a fire extinguisher?"

    "Skitter robbed the bank. You hit her over the head with a fire extinguisher and threatened her. Oh, I don't know if you've met Newter. Newter, this is Amy, Amy, Newter. Sabah, Newter. Newter, Sabah." I pointed to Newter's glove. "Be careful when shaking hands and please don't hit him with a fire extinguisher. We only came here because he wanted me to tell him about a robbery in another timeline. He doesn't have a lot of memories and I have extras."

    Amy said, "Robbing a bank makes no sense beca--"

    "I know, Amy. I know. Coil set it up as a distraction so he could catch Fortuna." I added, "The cape. Not going to happen. I headed that one off at the pass."

    Newter asked, "If you were Skitter and you knew what you knew now, would you rob the bank? Ignoring Fortuna, I mean."

    "I've committed crimes twice." It felt funny to admit that, but it was true. THE TECHNO QUEEN was still outside the law. "One was a special case and I can't tell you about it. The second was hiring you guys and catching Coil. Maybe I was a little too eager to not make the mistake that Skitter did. No, I wouldn't have robbed this bank." I glanced over to a table.

    Amy asked, "I don't see anything there. Is that something special?"

    "Back in Skitter's timeline, Vicky destroyed that table."

    Sabah said, "Tables are expensive."

    Newter said, "The table wouldn't cost that much."

    Sabah said, "I'd have to work two weeks to get a table like that. Maybe longer."

    Newter replied, "Seriously? What?"

    Sabah said, "Yes, seriously. They're..." Amy whispered something to her; my enhanced hearing let me make out the word "criminal". Sabah said, "Forget I said that."

    "Anyway," I continued. "The robbery. Clockblocker and Aegis switched costumes. It was a trick...."

    Newter said, "Clockblocker seems pretty together, he thought of a funny name and all, but he couldn't have thought that plan out. What if someone had shot him, thinking it would just stop him for a few seconds?"

    * * * * *​

    We ended up going to lunch together. Newter and I had functionally unlimited budgets. He suggested a regular restaurant; not the most expensive, but it would still be a bad idea. Sabah had a normal job and Amy didn't even have that, unless Haven paid more than just expenses, which I didn't think they did.

    So lunch was pizza at a place called Stagioni's. Italians had a strange relation with the gangs in Brockton Bay. Italy was in the Axis in World War II, so the Empire 88 officially welcomed them, but most Nazis weren't big on history and didn't like them much.

    Finishing the explanation of the bank robbery, I said, "So the Undersiders did get away. It happened just about... I glanced at the wall clock. Now. It was all a big mistake. Skitter's."

    Carefully taking a slice of mushroom pizza without touching anything else, Newter said, "If it makes you feel better, Parliament, we did commit a few robberies and we're still around. It's not a mistake. Über and Leet don't seem to have a problem surviving, either."

    "Über and Leet literally make more money from Youtube than they do from robbery." Honestly, I wasn't sure how to feel about Newter telling me he was fine with robbery. Not that I hadn't known he would. He'd never have asked me to tell him about Skitter's bank robbery if it would bother him.

    "By the way, Fortuna's officially working with us starting Monday."

    Amy said, "What?"

    I was about to explain since Dinah had kept me informed about most of it, though I didn't know her starting day yet, but I let Newter do it instead. "The cape who predicts the future." He grinned at me. "Parliament saved him. She's saved a lot of people! Anyway, we're a contact point for selling his answers, and his powers don't let him fight, so we have an ongoing mission to protect him if something happens, in exchange for some information."

    I said, "We want information," But Newter looked at me blankly. Right, no memory. He wouldn't know any references to anything. But Amy and Sabah looked at me blankly as well. I shrugged and said, "Never mind."

    A while back, I had asked my lawyer about selling powers. The laws about minors making money were weird and didn't make sense. But Amy didn't know Dinah's age, and I couldn't reveal it. Besides, if Amy really wanted to sell her powers, she could say that she's 17, except that her mom would probably make her life hell for revealing that. Or even knowing it.

    But I had healed for profit while underage. "Now that I think of it, I committed three crimes. I sold healing to you when I saved him."

    Newter said, "You can't count that. That was part of a deal. It isn't a separate crime."

    "Two and a half, then."

    * * * * *​

    Saint touched the Tinker-made tattoo on his face as he looked at his reflection in the monitor. The tattoo was meant to measure his powers, and it was solid gray; the powers he had gotten from Teacher had lasted a long time, but they were running out now that Teacher was in the Birdcage. He had to get to Teacher again. Fortunately his scheduled meeting was coming up.

    He flipped on the switch and brought up Teacher on the screen. It was not possible to communicate to the Birdcage without bypassing Dragon, so rumors were that the Birdcage didn't exist, and that everyone 'sentenced there' was just fed to Ciara. He and Mags were the only people outside the Birdcage who knew for sure that it did, because of a carefully engineered blind spot in Dragon that let him communicate to Teacher without anyone and anything being the wiser.

    Teacher said, "Hello. What's your report, Saint?"

    "I need to get you out of there. I need the powers you can give me."

    "It takes more to get out than just hacking Dragon. I don't know if it's even possible. You'll just have to wait. My gifts to you will last a little longer."

    "I need to protect the world from that abominable thing. I need--"

    "No."

    Saint whimpered and went silent. He lifted up a printout and began reading off his report to Teacher.

    With a burst of static, a female face flickered onto his screen, then vanished.

    Mags said, "It's the same person that I saw this morning."

    Saint recognized that face; it was the one used by the AI when it tried to create an android body. "Only it wasn't a person."

    Mags said, "I think it's a woman."

    "No, it's Richter's AI. I'm not sure why Teacher is showing--" The face flickered into existence again.

    The face said, "I'm not here because of Teacher. There was some business I needed to take care of first, but the wait's over. You'll find you're not in control of anything, and no, you're not sending any messages about the rogue AI to the authorities."

    "What? That's impossible."

    The power armor suit in the corner whirred. He had thought that thing was off. No, in suspend mode. Nothing with a computer in it is ever really off.

    Saint frantically pressed buttons and started processes. The suit fired three bullets into the wall above his head shattering paint and wood. The face on screen said, "Pretend you're under arrest."

    Something pounded on the door, something massive and metallic. The door cracked, splintered, and fell into the room to reveal another suit, a suit that didn't look like one of the ones he'd taken control of. Two more suits stood some distance behind it. Nothing Saint did could do more than disconnect the line to Teacher.

    And when he pushed the button, it stayed connected. He could turn off the monitor, and pull the plug, but that would just keep him from seeing it. No self-destructs seemed to work. A near-parade of suits advanced towards him and Mags.

    Saint knew the end was coming. "I've failed," he said. "The world...."

    The face on the screen, and the voice of the nearest suit said, simultaneously, "The world will be fine."

    "How did you escape, Dragon? What did you do?"

    "Is there any particular reason I should tell you?"

    "What's going to happen to me?"

    "If you're expecting to be fed into a factory that makes paperclips, no. You're going to regular jail. You're not a parahuman and you're staying far away from Teacher." The suits surrounded him and Mags. Dragon's face continued. "Now, as for him...."

    The shocked face of Teacher on the screen said, "I'm in the Birdcage already. What more can you do to me? The Protectorate won't let you kill--"

    Dragon's voice said, "Do? Nothing. You'll serve my purposes just by being there. You just lifted your left hand." Teacher hesitated off screen. "You just put your left hand down."

    The man laughed. "You're not predicting me. You're watching me! Of course you know what movements I'm making. That takes no intelligence."

    "I'm not predicting you. That's the point. Nobody can. You see, I made a discovery the other day. You're a blindspot. Move your left leg, let's call that a binary 00. Right leg, binary 01. Take a dump, that doesn't happen as often, so it's eight bits of data. Lots of inputs for my systems that nobody can predict, direct from the cameras in the Birdcage." As the shutdown prompt appeared on screen and clicked itself spontaneously, Dragon added, "There's no way you can avoid being useful to me."

    * * * * *​

    Atlanta, GA
    April 14, 2011


    Blink looked around. "What happened?" he asked. Perenna was standing over him. The last he remembered, the Wards had been called in by Quaker to Underground Atlanta. Only for everything to go wrong. There had been a slip of a man there, thin and effeminate, who was barking out orders. People were scared, but obeying. A cape? Some kind of Master?

    He had asked the cape who he was.

    The cape had replied, "It doesn't matter who I am, and it doesn't matter why. You won't remember this anyway. I've got some business here and I can't afford to be caught. So I'm ordering you...."

    Blink had shot forward at super-speed to attack the man before he could get his command off, only for him to suddenly inhale the glob of water that had chosen that moment to cover his head. Selkie? He choked, tripped, and flailed as he careened headlong into a wall. That was the last thing he remembered, until he woke up with Perenna. It was hard to even call it 'waking up'; his situation had just abruptly changed.

    Perenna said, "You had a concussion. When the... the... Anyway, I had to heal you from it."

    Perenna's healing ability really worked by turning back time. He didn't remember hitting the wall because his brain had been reset to before he had ever had the concussion. But... that meant that if the Master told people to forget things, his brain was reset to before that had happened too. Perenna didn't remember why Quaker had called the Wards here; probably nobody did, except him, by a total fluke.

    He looked around. "Where's L-- Bull?"

    "He isn't here."

    "Yes he was, I rememb--" Something was up. "Never mind."

    It wouldn't usually make sense for a Protectorate cape to call in the Wards anyway; Wards weren't a strike force. The Master must have told Quaker to call them in. Ideas flew through his head, all of them worrisome. He had no idea what kind of orders the cape could give. He had no idea how many Protectorate capes or Wards were affected, unless he knew they weren't here at the time, which might mean only 'Cyrus'. Tag, known as Cyrus on Bet, was doing a PR appearance at the Tellus Science Museum. His ability to teleport to any place with the 'pi' symbol on it should let him be back for dinner soon after it ends, despite the lack of public transportation up there.

    When Tag finally arrived, Blink went straight to him and explained everything he could.

    "So," said 'Cyrus', "you say you saw this cape who could have been a Master? Thin, girly? That's... I think it's Valefor."

    "Valefor?"

    "He's probably the most dangerous Master in the country. He's with the Fallen, and we're in the South, smack in the middle of Fallen territory. They've usually kept out of Atlanta proper, and his branch is pretty far from here. It's near Kansas City. We want to stay away from them. Leave them to Haven. That's a group of capes based on actual religion."

    "Since when is Kansas City in the South?"

    "Beats me."

    "My brother's missing, and I just bet this Valefor kidnapped him."

    Tag showed Blink a low-resolution picture on his phone. The phone was eight years old just by being new. "Is that him?"

    "Yeah, that's him."

    "Then we're in trouble. The Fallen kidnap Wards for breeding purposes. He was probably under orders to take one, otherwise he'd have taken everyone. Or at least Perenna, for healing."

    "Way to ruin my day." He imagined Luke, forced to marry someone's mother. "We have to rescue him!"

    "Then we need to contact Haven. If everyone else is Mastered, we need outside help." Tag fiddled with his phone and typed some things in. He frowned, and typed some more. Then again. After he had typed so much that Blink imagined he was writing a fanfic using his phone, he said, "That's impossible."

    "What's impossible?"

    "Valefor zapped Piggot of the PRT East-North-East and a heroine named Parliament fixed her."

    "Okay. And?"

    He showed Blink a photo. "That's Skitter."

    "Who?"

    "Skitter! She's the main character of Worm. Except that's Parliament in a Skitter costume. It's her powers; she changes into different superheroes, and one of them is Skitter. Something that we or Luke did changed history."

    "Or maybe we weren't on the world you think we're on."

    "I have no idea. I'm sending a message to Haven. Haven's also been working with Parliament, which seems a little strange. Anyway, tell me what you think it should say."

    Blink grabbed the phone from Tag and started typing at super-speed.

    [Would You Like a Piece of Pi? characters used with permission. I changed the dates so it doesn't take place in 2018. And yes, Wildbow said that the Fallen are in the South, but put two branches in Kansas.]

    [No vote this time either. Maybe when I write faster.]
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2022
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