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Ethereal. A worm fic featuring ayy lmaos.

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I was looking for a fic like this, only ones I could find were too short. In essence, worm/xcom...
Chapter one. Rebirth.

Tomb Spyder

Dirty Spyder
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I was looking for a fic like this, only ones I could find were too short. In essence, worm/xcom tinker Taylor. Featuring the creation of alien tech and said aliens themselves. Again, couldn't find what I wanted.

So I'll do it myself.

(This is being crossposted from my spacebattles account.)

---

Instead of bugs, we get ayy lmaos. Taylor is a tinker now. But also something...else.

Chapter one. Rebirth.

She'd woken up in a hospital bed with a gasp, barely aware of the world around her.

The ideas in her head took priority. The blueprints. The designs. The plans.

Taylor didn't consider herself exceptional in any real way. She wasn't pretty. Or charismatic. Or particularly smart. She was kind of good with computers.

But even an idiot could probably figure out that she had powers now. One's mind didn't normally provide detailed blueprints for what she could only think of as a UFO.

Of course, her scrambled state of mind distracted her just long enough to allow the organic missile that was her father to (gently) tackle-hug her back into her bed just as she tried sitting up.

///////////////////////

She was quiet on the way home.

Dad wasn't.

"There'll be hell to pay, I'll make damn sure of that. How dare she? How could someone be that emotionless-"

This was pointless. A waste of energy. Something in her mind railed at the idea of squandering valuable time like this. Time that could be spent planning.

"Dad?"

Her father paused. Something in Taylor's voice convinced one Danny Hebert to snap out of his angry ranting about the injustice of Blackwell forcing them into silence through oh so graciously paying their medical bills after the...the lock-

Do not show fear at a mere memory. The voice that wasn't a voice said. The locker. It happened. It wouldn't happen again. She'd make sure of it.

"Just...breathe. We'll figure this out later. I just wanna rest for now."

She could see her father's features soften in the rear-view mirror, then he nodded.

"We will. I promise Taylor. Something like this won't ever happen again."

On that they could agree.

She'd make sure of it.

//////////////////////

Six weeks. She'd been given six weeks to 'recover from a hazardous ordeal'. Then she'd be forced back into Winslow. Despite her own wishes and her father's protests.

Six weeks. She could work with that.

And so she worked.

The basement, while horribly haphazard and primitive for a laboratory, made a half decent initial base of operations.

Dad inevitably went back to work, as she expected he would.

The stressed man was needed by the Dockworkers Union that was so desperately attempting to hold itself together. She couldn't blame him. Everyone had a role to play, even him.

So she took advantage. She took what meager funds she had managed to save up and she went on a shopping trip.

//////////////////////

The clerk looked nonplussed at the gangly teenager quickly placing a wad of cash on the counter in front of him.

"Lot of power tools here, you working on something?"

Taylor would have panicked. Would have stumbled in responding and likely left without another word.

The back of her mind showed her the correct posture. The right tone of voice. How to make her eyes sparkle just so to exude a friendly, bubbly and clueless manner.

"Me? Oh no. I'd have no idea what to do with this stuff. It's just-it's my dad's birthday soon and he's always loved working on stuff and most of his old tools are practically rusting to death-!"

The most definitely not paid enough worker help up a hand, smiling despite himself.

"Alright alright! Heh. More kids could do to be like you if you ask me. Here, I'll ring you up."

She repeated the process several times. Some chemicals. Some materials. Some apples just to disrupt the sequence and throw off anyone watching her, though they would be used too. The not voice also advising her on how to subtly change her look before entering each store. A change of hair style. Taking off her glasses. Putting on the jacket she'd stuffed into her backpack in favor of her mottled grey hoodie. All little but necessary things. It wouldn't do to clearly make a pattern after all.

//////////////////////

"A little bit of nitrogen, add some selenium...hm. Could use more calcium."

She added the stated ingredients using a tool she'd cobbled together using a broken kettle she'd found in her neighbor's backyard, and the scrapped remnants of the old television in the basement.

She'd pondered making an attempt to clean the space up a bit, but then thought better of it. The not voice, her power, agreed. Better to leave the labor to others. She was needed for far more important matters.

Such as ensuring the small pod she'd practically assembled out of scrap didn't blow up if she looked at it too hard.

The small, vaguely humanoid figure growing inside said pod definitely wouldn't survive it.

"...Mm. Definitely more zinc."

/////////////////////

The first week passed by quickly. Her progress was slow but steady. Better that way. She'd be done for if anyone managed to track her down at this stage.

She'd made more basic tools. Refined some others. She could theoretically start from scratch in terms of a lab now, so long as she had a steady supply of materials and all of said tools with her.

That would be both a massive waste of time and resources however. No point starting from scratch unless it was to move into a more defensible area, which wasn't something she needed right now.

A thump drew her attention away from the small wrist blaster she'd been tweaking with. A pneumatic hiss alerted her to the completion of the pod's sole occupant.

The small psionic signature had steadily grown alongside the subject's body, and now it practically encompassed her own minor human signature.

The small being slowly clambering out of the pod could likely drive her mad if it wanted to. Wrestling control of her mind and leaving her a shattered husk of herself.

It wouldn't do that however, her power advised.

After all, Sectoids were designed to be loyal.

/////////////////////

"Cmere S-1. Basement's clean enough for now." S-1, or Sectoid-1 had been a busy little bee the past few hours. Upon exiting it's pod, the little grey creature had immediately jumped for orders, intrinsically recognizing her as both it's creator and master. It's psionics were more than adequate for telekinetically moving around the trash, old furniture and memories of mom littering the basement into neater arrangements.

~This one obeys, Elder.~

Elder. That word made her feel...right. Correct. Her power certainly seemed to prefer it as a title.

She picked up the diminutive figure and placed it on the nearby bench, silently giving S-1 the order to stay as she reached for the completed wrist blaster.

She'd briefly contemplated a suit of armor for herself. With her own wrist mounted weapons. Her power had almost seemed to fight itself. One side wanted, needed her to go out and do something. She could be a hero. Do a couple patrols. Save lives. Make Brockton Bay a better place.

The other side urged caution. It pointed out why going out was a stupid, terrible idea. She was a tinker, if the classifications for parahumans on PHO had been correct. She'd only get stronger given time and resources. Going out now was the worst possible option she could take.

It also ensured her attention was focused on the first part. Showed her how she was being manipulated. Her power was messing with her mind, affecting her neurochemistry to get what it wanted. So she listened to the more rational side and built a small psionic transceiver. On it's own it didn't amount to much, but with S-1 helping direct it, the more problematic parts of her power were effectively cut out of the equation. At least for a while.

"Hand held out."

~Yes, Elder.~

"Good." Click went the locking mechanism, as the wrist blaster latched itself onto...well, S-1's wrist. The original design had been a lethal thing. It still was considering it fired fucking plasma, but she'd managed to coax her power into letting her make a few modifications. The non-lethal mode fired a sort of...debilitating beam. It would loosen muscles, manipulate the body into thinking it was tired, and force it's owner into a lethargic state. Repeated hits would eventually drive them into a nearly paralyzed state, and then eventually it would outright knock them out.

Of course that would only be needed if S-1's latent psionic abilities weren't up to the task, which were a formidable weapon in and of themselves.

"Now, your orders are as follows. You're going to go out, relatively far away from my house, and gather specific materials. You can read which ones I need from my mind. I've installed a vision scrambler in your blaster, that's the little piece sticking out at the end there, see?"

The Sectoid nodded, eyes slowly blinking open and closed. She felt it's presence delicately rooting around in her thoughts, memorizing the specific components she needed for further work.

She clicked her tongue.

"It'll...well. Scramble any standard visual based sensors that catch sight of you, and you should be able to use your psionics to keep people from directly perceiving you. So long as it's from a distance. So be careful. Got it?"

~Yes, Elder.~

She reached behind her, grabbing yet another device and depositing it in S-1's waiting hands.

"Low energy plasma-slicer. Use this to get past any locks you run into. Aim for tech stores if possible."

She kept talking even as she turned S-1 around and placed her backpack over it's shoulders. The size difference was almost comical.

"No matter what, avoid discovery at all costs. If you are found, you won't be coming back here. Understand?"

~Yes Elder, this one shall remain hidden.~

"Good. You'll be heading out once it gets dark enough outside." She glanced at the other five growth pods she had constructed, alongside the one she had upgraded to match them.

"Once S-2 to 6 are done incubating, I'll send them out to help you. They'll be your pod from then on. Until then? You're on your own."

Part of her felt bad about treating her creation as disposable cannon fodder, but that's ultimately what S-1 was. Her power was extremely clear about that part. Sectoids were grown, born, lived and died in the ultimate cause of serving an Elder. They simply weren't made for anything else.

"Alright, now get ready and move out of the way. I need to get the next incubator ready and start priming the genetic slurry." She'd need to rip some more of her dna for this next project. Which coincidentally couldn't actually be started until S-1 brought back the parts she needed.

Thin Men needed larger incubators and more complex programming, being the transformed serpent infiltrators that they were.

She'd debated trying to grow a Viper outright. It would be easier since she wouldn't need to tamper with it's dna so much, but the protein mash and nutrient fluid required would be significant, and she needed a subtle agent right now, not a powerful enforcer.

That would come later.
 
Chapter two. Reconnaissance and Mind Control.
"Would you like fries with that, human?"

Chapter two. Reconnaissance and Mind Control.

Taylor startled as she heard the basement door open, only for her first Sectoid's familiar psionic presence to wash over her mind, calming her.

~Elder, this one has returned with materials.~

She gasped once she saw said materials.

Then she sent waves of pride and satisfaction at the little grey clone, who preened like a bird under the praise.

S-1 had hit the jackpot.

Multiple top-quality laptops, all stacked together carefully within the bag she'd loaned it.

Once the rest of it's pod had awoken, they'd taken the orders held within S-1's mind and ran with them, scattering into two groups to ensure a wider area that they could operate in.

By the end of the next six hours, she had more than enough necessary material to both complete the stage two mutagenic serum and finish updating the code on the upgraded incubator.

Now...where was she supposed to get a decent set of clothes from?

/////////////////////

"Ok, hold still. Let me get a look at you."

The reptilian eyes stared at her silently, hidden behind some carefully placed sunglasses.

She'd expected getting clothes for T-1 to be a bit of a hassle, but it turned out Sectoids were actually really good at haggling for lower prices.
Mind control was cool like that.

Part of her did feel bad about manipulating people like that, but her power made it clear that the high end store she'd managed to get said suit from wouldn't lose out over a single article of clothing.

That and T-1 did look quite smart with it's new outfit.

"So, how does it fit?"

The voice that came out of the Thin Man's mouth was smooth, calculating and ever so slightly professional.

"It is excellent, Elder. I appreciate your gift. How may I repay your generosity?"

Having someone she could actually talk to made her slightly giddy. Her power advised her against acting the part of a fool though. She was an Elder. She needed to be powerful. Refined. Superior.

"I'm gonna be setting up the incubator to grow two more units, T-2 and 3 will be placed under your command, while they grow I'm going to need you to start preliminary reconnaissance of these locations."

S-1 was a big help in planning. The Sectoid could just yoink the thoughts out of her mind and input them into T-1's consciousness for exact viewing.

"I will be scouting the territories of the 'Archer's Bridge Merchants'?"

She nodded even as she tinkered with what would soon be T-1's primary weapon. A specialized blaster, more of a gun in comparison to the wrist devices used by her Sectoids.

"Yes. Drug lords that they are, they actually have a lot of material that will come in handy for future projects. Plus their ability to retaliate against us should be significantly lower than the likes of the ABB or E88."

Her power firmly prevented her from shuddering at the memory of a local news report detailing the robbery of one of Lung's casinos. The gang that had done it, the Undersiders, had managed to escape. Barely. The five neighborhoods Lung had burnt down were a different story. And apparently the dragon-like gang leader was still on the hunt for the wayward thieves.

Of course she'd been busy playing God in her basement at the time, so she had nothing to do with that.

T-1 thought about it for a moment, then nodded.

"Indeed, we will require more forces before we can successfully counter the manpower behind these respective gangs. Will I have support during my excursions?"

She slid the power core into the blaster, passing it to the Thin Man as she spoke.

"You'll have the Sectoids with you, but they should only be used in an emergency. Better not to be seen at all if possible. While you're all off getting us what we need, I'm gonna be working on dealing with...a delicate situation. S-1, you'll be coming with me."

~As you command, Elder.~

She took a moment to just breathe as T-1 slipped out of the basement, followed by the rest of S-1's pod. The Thin Man wasn't one to wait, and would get started on completing it's tasks right away.

It's why she'd bothered incubating one. They were a lot more resourceful and independent than a Sectoid, and could be trusted to operate either alone or in a small pod while away from home. Her power implanted their tactics and strategies into her mind. T-1 would likely work on setting up a secondary base as soon as possible, which would be made a lot easier considering it had a pod of Sectoids to help out using psionics.

Now...time to deal with Winslow before it became a problem.

////////////////////////////

Finding Blackwell's home had been almost disturbingly easy, but such was the vulnerability present in nearly all human electronic systems. S-1 was crouched nearby, and she took note of it's seemingly swelling head. The chemicals she'd implanted into the Sectoid were reacting appropriately, drastically increasing the creature's psionic power and, as a result, increasing the clone's intelligence exponentially.

It wasn't quite a Sectoid Commander yet, but it would become one given enough time and a steady supply of mutagenic serum. For now, it would have to do.

She knocked on Blackwell's door.

Then she waited as the likely tired principal went to answer the door of whatever maniac had decided to visit her home at the ungodly hour of 4 AM.

The peephole squeaked for a moment, then the woman seemingly recognized her and opened the door without a second thought. Her face twisted in a mixture of confusion, annoyance and exasperation.

"Taylor Hebert? What are you doing here at thiughh..."

Her sentence cut off as her eyes began to glow a wonderful purple. A small trail leading back to the Sectoid crouching in the bushes nearby.

~Let us into your home, lock the door behind us.~

The woman, now firmly under the control of S-1, mumbled an affirmative and walked back into her home.

Taylor followed, allowing Blackwell to lock the door with shaky fingers as S-1 passed her.

She looked around. It was a nice living room. If a little empty. She sat down in the nearby recliner, S-1 choosing to lounge around on the fluffy carpet and commanding Blackwell to remain standing.

"Ok, we're going to subliminally change some stuff. Maybe plant a few ideas. Leave her like, massively open to suggestion."

~This one obeys, Elder. Her mind is yours for the taking.~

As the purple eyed principal turned to face her, she began to list what she needed.

"Ok, first off, I'm gonna need a few more weeks to recover. You're gonna say that I've been attending school that whole time, and we'll keep my absence a secret between us, understand?"

The woman mumbled yet another affirmative, and Taylor smiled. She thought she'd feel slightly bad about this, but honestly? She agreed with her power on this one. This was perfectly justified.
 
Chapter three. A finely pressed suit.
Ba weep granna weep ninny bong.

Chapter three. A finely pressed suit.

The city was an ugly one, at least in T-1's opinion. Utterly undeserving of being the home of an Elder.

Nonetheless, they would make do. And so the disguised reptilian got to work.

It was dark out, and the locals were much too busy with their own lives to pay too much attention to another (albeit quite tall) human being. The Sectoids stuck to the back alleys, utilizing their psionic powers whenever a witness made it necessary to do so.

They traveled quickly and quietly, until they began to see the first signs of enemy occupation. T-1 recognized the hastily sprayed gang signs. Ones present in the Elder's own memories.

Good. They were getting close. Now...they needed to find a...perfect.

A lone human, stinking heavily of recreational drugs. Clasping hands with what was likely a buyer and parting ways. The merchant, if the colors indicating his allegiance were correct, quickly made his way down the street, presumably to either drop off the currency he'd acquired or move to a more profitable position.

T-1 closed in, approaching them casually.

They really did stink. Crusty, bloodshot eyes turned to face the Thin Man. Judging by reaction times, it seemed the man had been sampling his own product.

"How utterly pitiful."

The eyes narrowed as the words visibly angered the man.

"Ey? The fuck you say to me you skinny prick?"

Just a bit closer.

The man began to step forward, hand reaching into his waistband. Likely for a weapon of some sort.

"Oi! What the fuck did you say to mURK-"

T-1 pulled back their hand, the rapid shot to the man's throat disabling him. A quick leg sweep knocked him on his posterior.

His pained gurgles continued as T-1 grabbed the waste of space by the hair and dragged him across the pavement, into a nearby alley.

The gurgles slowly halted as the merchant's eyes began to glow a vivid purple under the influence of the waiting Sectoid, S-3.

Time to acquaint themselves with the local geography.

///////////////////////

Manipulating Blackwell into giving her plenty of increased benefits had been incredibly satisfying. Her power agreed.

Taylor had eventually made her way home and was hard at work finishing the third blaster when the pair of Thin Men finished incubating.

The introduction was the same as before, though it was slightly embarrassing looking at completely naked, almost human-like beings. The lack of obvious genitals made it less weird.

T-2 got a similar outfit to T-1, though T-3 settled on wearing a modified jacket and set of pants alongside one of her dad's old hats. A ratty looking fedora.

Maybe she should devote some resources to making a tinkertech sewing machine. Could she do that?

Her power supplied the answer. Yes, technically. Though the clothes would be assembled via a modifiable gel like substance rather than cloth. It would be a worthwhile investment though. She could eventually use it to make an outfit for herself. And uniforms for possible future soldiers.

Because she'd need soldiers. She needed numbers if she was going to do any real damage to the gangs and make said damage last.

So she got to work as the pair of Thin Men received their orders and moved to rendezvous with T-1.

Her power had been supplying her with designs towards a sort of drone that'd probably come in handy sooner rather than later. And with her forces (it felt really nice saying that) out gathering what she needed, she should be able to afford constructing one or two.

//////////////////////

Tommy clasped the rough hand of yet another dealer making his way into the safe house. Alex silently holstered his shitty bolt action after realizing that it wouldn't get any use tonight.

"Fucking cold as shit. How long till we get swapped again?"

Third fuckin time he'd asked this.

"Another two hours, so quit asking and take a smoke or something."

His partner in crime scoffed, but did as he was told, taking out and lighting a cigarette.

Such was the life of a Merchant safe house guard, Tommy supposed. Standing out in the cold and dealing with idiots.

At least the drugs and cash were good.

Bang!

Both of the guards flinched as they heard the door on the other side of the building slam open. Almost like it had been kicked in.

"Fuck was that?"

Alex shrugged, but grabbed his rifle as he made to turn the corner into the nearby alley.

"Dunno, it's Joey and Matty watching the other side, yeah?"

Tommy nodded as he reached into his holster and took out his own pistol, just a simple Colt, but it'd do.

"Yeah. Yeah should be them. Fuck it, let's check it out."

They moved down the alley slowly, then paused as they heard shouts inside the building. Then a gunshot and what sounded like a weird sizzling sound after something got launched.

The two started moving faster.

"Fuck, we left our post wide open man!"

Tommy grunted.

"No shit, someone's in there."

"What if-what if it's a cape or something man?"

Tommy didn't respond. Hopefully it was just a scuffle between dealers. Or something.

The pair rounded the corner only to see the other door men knocked flat on their backs.

"Ah shit! Get the door! I'll check on em."

To his credit, Alex didn't hesitate and ran ahead, shouldering open an already slightly ajar door and rushing inside the building. Tommy knelt down next to the two, using the half remembered knowledge he'd learnt during high school to check for a pulse.

A steady, if somewhat slow beat answered his worries, letting him breathe a sigh of relief.

One quickly replaced by a panicked gasp as a foot slammed into his lower back. Knocking him to the ground.

He could hear Alex's strangled swearing, noticing some tall ass fucker in a suit dragging him out the door and tossing the struggling guard next to him.

He barely managed to twist around fast enough to avoid some type of beam which drove into the ground next to him.

Panic and adrenaline fueled him, letting him quickly snap a shot off with his pistol. The bullet slammed into the left shoulder of another tall guy staring down at him.

Tommy's hands began to shake as the man seemingly took a moment to inspect the wound, brushing away some yellow looking blood before turning back to stare at him. He could just barely make out what looked like snake eyes behind those fancy glasses the guy wore.

"Annoying."

Tommy didn't even get to scream before the man raised a high tech looking gun and fired another of those lasers straight at him.

////////////////////////

"Hmm."

The drone hovered around briefly, emitting a few beeps and boops.

"Hmmmmm."

It hovered backwards slightly, optic swiveling to look at her.

"Hmmmmmmmm."

A confused boop.

Taylor thought about it for another second.

"...D-1. You'll be D-1. Man I'm not very creative am I?"
 
Hey, awesome story! I'm caught up on the other site, but following here for the possibility of NSFW omakes and interludes (especially ones with mind control and/or body modification). Looking forward to more!
Yeah I'm currently considering it. Will probably all be non-canon omakes though. Mostly for the sake of keeping the two separate instances of the fic from diverging.
 
Chapter four. Relocation.
Fuck you Danny you are being relegated to the sidelines.

Chapter four. Relocation.

Her dad was becoming a problem. And it was really sad that he was, because under any other circumstance she'd be ecstatic at his attempts to spend more time with her.

Of course her power, ever the helpful voice in the back of her mind, provided an immediate solution.

One of the larger incubators taking up the left wall of the basement was repurposed, and she spent the better part of the day carefully rearranging the genetic structure of a baseline Viper. She had to take breaks whenever her father came back from work. Though she did try her best to enjoy his awkward attempts at starting up conversation during dinner, her power was partially right in that it was mostly just a waste of time.

As day turned to night, Danny Hebert went to bed. Taylor, having performed some minor self modifications, didn't need nearly as much sleep. Which let her answer the door when T-2 arrived, a duffel bag held in one hand.

"Get in, quick!"

The tall reptilian nodded their head, shuffling inside. The odd pair quietly made their way into the basement. She took a moment to check up on the incubator's progress, and noticed a hand instinctively grasping at the fluid surrounding it. Nearly done, then.

"Elder, I have returned with news."

She turned her attention back to the Thin Man, who had set the bag down on a nearby bench and opened it.

More cash than she had ever seen in her life spilled out of it. Thick bundles of dollar bills wrapped together using rubber bands.

Despite her power's insistence that it was just primitive paper based currency, she gasped.

"How much?"

The infiltrator adjusted their glasses, smirking.

"Thirty thousand dollars, approximately. More is being gathered from several Merchant facilities we've successfully managed to raid."

She nodded slowly, holding at least several hundred dollars in one hand.

"Witnesses?"

An adjustment of the Thin Man's tie.

"None that matter. Those who would be believed had their memories altered by the Sectoids."

She nodded again, slightly shaky.

"Ok. Ok this is...good. Really good. So what was the news then? If this wasn't it."

T-2 reached into their left pocket, pulling out a bundle of folded paper.

Taylor took it without another word, reading through the...deeds?

"This is a pair of properties?"

The reptilian nodded. "Two warehouses. T-1 managed to coerce the owner into providing us with the relevant documents. His memories will indicate the sale of the buildings to a minor storage company."

Her response was cut off as she heard the hiss of the incubator finishing it's last growth cycle.

"Right. We'll sort this out in a minute. Help me with the new clone."

T-2 paused only briefly upon noticing what seemed to be their Elder's naked mirror image slowly climbing it's way out of the pod. Then the Thin Man strode over and helped the confused being up.

S-1 who had been silently sat in the corner up until now, decided to speak up. For a given definition of speech.

~Elder. Why does the new one share your visage?~

Taylor responded in the midst of trying to get some of her spare clothes onto the confused Thin Man. Thin Girl? Clone.

"She's going to spend time with my dad while I get actual work done. That way I'll have an alibi in case anyone ever figures out it might be me directing you guys. Hopefully that'll never happen though."

Her own voice responded quietly from underneath her.

"I am to pretend to be you, Elder?"

She glanced down at what almost seemed to be her reflection. Almost. Slit, snake like eyes stared back up at her. Hopefully contacts could help with that particular issue.

"Yes. S-1 here will take the data you'll need directly from my memories, then you'll act in my place, understand?"

The clone...Taylor-2? No, there was already a T-series. Hebert-2? H-2, nodded, before answering back in a far more confident voice. It sounded really odd coming out of her mouth.

"As you command, Elder."

S-1 hopped off it's perch as Taylor waved the Sectoid over.

"Ok, we're not going to need everything but she'll need enough context to fool my dad, so..."

/////////////////////////////

Two warehouses in different parts of Brockton Bay were repurposed overnight. One near the train yard became a gathering and staging point for the excursion teams that regularly went out in search of the materials their Elder needed.

The other warehouse, in the midst of the downtown area, was converted into a lab. One far more spacious than the basement of a lower class family.

However, despite the best attempts of said Elder's forces to remain discreet in their actions, rumors eventually began to abound in the city's criminal underbelly. Ones of tall, oddly quick men in suits who would appear in locations of interest, disable anyone who directly resisted using tinkertech weapons, and abscond with anything not outright bolted down.

Of course the claims of little grey men running around were dismissed outright. Attributed to the nature of merchants with over reactive imaginations and badly prepared drugs.

Nonetheless, certain parties began to take notice. Some believed that Accord had finally decided to make his move and expand into Brockton Bay. Others presumed it was a collection of independent capes.

Skidmark was convinced it was motherfucking aliens. Everyone laughed, but the gang leader hadn't gotten to his position by being a complete idiot. If his men said it was aliens, it was probably aliens. Or at least that's what his mind, heavily affected by a steady mix of crack, bath salts and paprika, was set on believing.

...Maybe he'd feel better in the morning.

In the meantime, Danny spent a lot more time with his daughter. Their relationship improving as they made more of an effort in reconnecting with each other.
 
Interlude One. A day in the life of H-2.
I'm eating chocolate ice cream rn.

Interlude One. A day in the life of H-2.

The sizzling of eggs and bacon took up most of H-2's attention. Normally she wouldn't have the slightest idea on how to...well. Cook. But her Elder had graciously provided her own memories for the task.

As a result, when one Danny Hebert came down the stairs to begin his morning, he was greeted by a plate full of breakfast and an enthusiastic hug from his daughter.

The man stiffened for a moment, as if surprised. Then he grinned, hugging H-2 right back.

"Hey kiddo, breakfast smells good. What brought this on?"

H-2 snuggled deeper for a moment, before letting go. She shrugged, making her way back to the stove to check up on the bacon.

"Felt like it." Her Elder's father smiled, taking a seat at the table and relaxing for a moment.

She inspected the food. Well cooked, and ready for human consumption. Her enhanced sense of smell was nearly overwhelmed at the aroma wafting throughout the kitchen. Using both hands to move the food onto the relevant plates, she grabbed a pair of forks and knives, making her way to the table.

Danny took a moment to take a sip of the morning coffee the reptilian doppelganger had also managed to brew beforehand, before speaking up.

"You know...I was thinking." The man tapped calloused fingers onto the wooden table, idly taking another sip.

H-2 showed interest, even as she shoveled eggs into her mouth, to her Elder's father's seeming amusement.

"Abow wha?"

He chuckled, mentioning something about not speaking with her mouth full, before continuing.

"It's a Saturday, and I was thinking we might go out and do something. Maybe watch a movie?"

The man almost seemed to have braced himself for a quiet refusal, only to be visibly surprised when his daughter smiled, nodding her head.

"Well alright. We'll go out in an hour or so. Get some tickets. I heard there's a new movie from Aleph that they managed to import over to our side."

H-2 just kept on nodding and smiling.

//////////////////////

Yellow eyes with slit pupils stared back at H-2 as she prepared herself in the bathroom. The 'shower' she had taken had been...nice. The sensation of warm water running over her form had been pleasing.

Nonetheless, the doppelganger steeled herself for the trials ahead.

She would not just be fooling Danny today, but also any humans she might run into during her excursion with her Elder's father.

The eyes were hidden by specially made contacts, successfully removing the hybrid's one major flaw. Carefully placed clothing hid the reptilian scales that could be found near her waist and shoulders respectively.

The outfit was a good one. In the modified Viper's opinion. A yellow shirt, with a black coat and skirt. Boots completed the ensemble. She wasn't quite sure how she would have managed underwear without her Elder's memories guiding her.

Danny showed a hint of surprise at his daughter's seemingly bold outfit choice when she stepped out of the bathroom, but made no comment aside from stating that he would get the truck started.

H-2 felt...excitement. She had never seen a movie before. And spending time with Danny was always pleasant, despite the fact that it was a direct order given to the hybrid by her Elder.

/////////////////////

Danny had likely expected the ride to the local cinema to be a quiet one, for he showed surprise when H-2 asked him how work had been. The false human was immersed in tales of procuring what jobs Danny could for the desperately struggling dockworkers left under his care.

How terrible, that the poor dockworkers did not have tasks assigned to them from birth, like her Elder's creations did.

All the more reason for her Elder to bring this human city under her control, H-2 supposed.

The two eventually made it to their destination, H-2 noticing a discreet pair of Thin Men watching them as Danny parked the truck in an available space nearby. The protection detail her Elder had assigned to them were subtle, one of them quietly reading the newspaper in a nearby cafe, while another feigned shopping for clothes in a store adjacent to the cinema complex.

Her Elder was so generous, lending forces to protect Danny like this.

//////////////////

The movie was, ironically, about alien impostors attempting to replace various humans in an attempt to take over Earth.

Danny wasn't sure why Taylor was so amused by the premise, but the older man didn't question it too much. He'd been worried that his and Taylor's relationship would be even worse off after the locker, but it seemed she had bounced back admirably. The girl made a lot of effort in interacting with her father these days.

The man was just glad that he could spend more time with his daughter.

////////////////

The movie eventually ended, and the father-daughter duo passed the time spent driving by criticizing and debating about certain aspects of the movie.

Danny was convinced that any normal person would immediately realize that their loved ones had been replaced, as they would instantly notice the subsequent change in personality.

H-2 carefully steered the conversation to safer topics, such as the special effects the film had utilized.

Eventually, they made it back home, and spent the remainder of the day hanging around the house, doing chores and relaxing now and then to watch the television.

"Lot of talk on the news about these new guys in suits. Just what we needed, another gang of psychos."

H-2 frowned at her da-at her Elder's dad's words.

"How do you know they're bad?"

The patriarch of the Hebert family shrugged.

"Well. They might not be. But people who skulk around at night and get involved with gang business are usually either vigilantes, Protectorate heroes or have some sort of bad intentions."

She waved a hand at the television, lounging next to her father on the ratty couch.

"Well maybe they do have good intentions. Better than the gangs at least."

Danny just shrugged again.

"Eh. I suppose so."

///////////////////

Night finally arrived, and Danny Hebert went to sleep.

H-2 knew. She had spent fifteen minutes outside his door, using her enhanced sense of smell to determine whether the man was still conscious or not.

A further five minutes spent quietly entering his room and staring down at his sleeping form confirmed it.

Now she had the house (mostly) to herself. Her Elder had vacated the building days ago, and most of the equipment in the basement had been moved out. What couldn't be relocated was quietly dismantled.

The modified Viper didn't need nearly as much rest as the man sleeping in the room next to her did, so she found ways of occupying herself.

A plate of raw eggs was taken from the fridge, alongside a glass of orange juice.

H-2 spent the majority of the night watching the television with the volume turned down, occasionally tossing an entire egg into her mouth, savouring the satisfying crunch of it's shell cracking between her teeth, and then washing down the remnants with the juice.

Her life was a nice one, the impostor decided.
 
Chapter five. First patrol! Sort of.
Taylor becomes mission control. And the Peacekeepers make their first public move.

Chapter five. First patrol! Sort of.

The new lab had been a massive boon, and with a constant stream of resources, Taylor had managed to make enormous progress over the next two weeks.

The steady hum of over two dozen incubators working in sync could attest to that, multiple forms floating inside. Humanoid, but not as lanky as the Thin Men. Her power referred to them as 'Troopers'. No other name, they were just generic cannon fodder. Sort of. Once she set them up with some decent armor and weapons, they could probably hold their own in a proper fight against trained human combatants. That's what the machine taking up nearly half of the second floor was for.

She'd had a brief argument with her power over their creation. Initially, it had suggested abducting people, which could then be modified into the hybrid soldiers that would soon become the backbone of her more public power base. Despite her faults, Taylor liked to think she wasn't an outright villain. So they'd come to a compromise.

Clones. Kind of like the Sectoids. The resulting soldiers wouldn't be as intelligent, but Taylor considered that somewhat of a plus. Better that way, considering they were practically designed to die in large numbers to accomplish specific goals. Though hopefully they would survive longer than expected. They would be fighting thugs, drug dealers and gangbangers after all. Not trained soldiers like her power expected them to.

Speaking of Sectoids, the newest batch were being incubated. Or rather, modified. The first generation were currently undergoing gene therapy, now that she had the necessary equipment needed to begin splicing some human dna into the diminutive grey creatures. The end result would end up far more impressive looking, or so her power claimed. The first specimen definitely looked a lot tougher at least.

"S-1? Pass me that plasma-saw, would you?" The mentioned Sectoid briefly scanned her thoughts, then promptly floated said tool over via a small burst of greatly enhanced psionics. The clone had been one of the first to be 'upgraded' so to speak, and now stood even taller than her, with a far more pinkish skin. It also had teeth. Which was scary looking, until she remembered that said teeth worked for her.

~What is this vehicle to be used for, Elder?~

The voice was much clearer than that of S-1's siblings. Attributed to the Sectoid's swelling head. It's commander status had cemented itself fully, and the benefits had followed the clone into it's new form.

"Well, it's not a dedicated transport, but I can merge some basic armor to this van's chassis, then hopefully we can get the Troopers around quicker. Once they finish developing that is. Should be later tonight. There's also V-1 to consider, but she should also be finished around then."

~The Serpent?~

Taylor nodded, even as she crouched below the modified van's suspended frame (she still wasn't quite sure who T-1 had stolen it from, but the Thin Man had claimed that it belonged to a particularly vile E88 member, so it wasn't like anyone who needed it had lost much) rooting around near one of the rear axles.

"Mhm. The Troopers are all well and good, but I'm not too sure how well they'd do against a cape. That's what V-1 will be for. She won't be fighting Lung or anything, but hopefully she'll be able to fight off the likes of Skidmark. Or Cricket. Or Uber and Leet. God I hope she doesn't get her tail kicked by Uber and Leet. That'd be embarrassing."

~You will remain, yes?~

Taylor nodded, then realized the Sectoid probably couldn't see the gesture, and spoke.

"Yeah. Despite that part of my power's best attempts, I'm not going patrolling personally anytime soon. That'd be a terrible idea. It's strictly mission control for me."

She paused.

"By the way, thanks for...you know. Constantly cutting it's effects out of my neurochemistry. It's a lot easier to notice it's influence with a second mind helping."

Despite the permanent rictus grin the Sectoid had plastered to it's pink skull, Taylor felt the psionic impression of an honest smile.

~It is my pleasure and purpose to serve you, Elder.~

////////////////////

Trooper-A6 had a singular purpose. To serve his Elder.

He'd known it the second he popped out of his pod, alongside his Captain and the rest of his squad.

They were the first. Squad A. As their Elder had stated.

Armament had come shortly after confirming the genetic memories they'd had implanted into them were active and working. How to move. How to take cover. How to fire a mag-rifle.

The uniform the large machine (located in the floor above their pods) had spit out fit him perfectly. Comfortable and protective. The rifle similarly fit his hands comfortably. The only part of him that was exposed was his relatively human looking mouth, though there was a thin filter he could pull down to cover the exposed area in case of emergency.

A6 was not particularly smart. None of them were. But they were fit, skilled in their respective fields and eager to fulfill their purpose. The gloved fist he slammed against his armored chest when Captain-A1 introduced his Elder to the squad had been instinctive.

She looked somewhat similar to them, yet notably different. She had strange fur on her head, and her eyes were far smaller than their round lenses. She was also much thinner than them.

But of course, she was an Elder. She did not need the muscle mass of a Trooper. Her role was to command, not to fight.

A6 tuned back in just as Captain-A1's boot-licking speech ended. Though the red armored Captain had laid it on a bit thick in the trooper's opinion, it wasn't entirely unwarranted. This was an Elder after all. One who had begun speaking.

"I'm going to trust that all of you are aware of just why you're here." Her palm slapped against the suspended transport the squad had assembled next to. Unlike the previous language she had been speaking (English, some part of his mind supplied) she now spoke their shared, common tongue. It was much simpler to understand, and far easier to speak.

A series of nods and affirmatives answered the Elder, who smiled.

"Good. If you've read the data pads your Captain provided you, you'll understand that you are squad A. You are the first Troopers. Soon, there will be more squads, but you are and always will be the first. Your role is both simple, and incredibly complex and it's my hope that you will excel in it."

Her eyes hardened like diamonds. He didn't quite know what they were, but his mind told them they were hard.

"You are, first and foremost, peacekeepers. This city is my home, and entire swathes of it have gone unprotected for far too long. Under the control of criminals and villains. It is your job to change that. When someone is in trouble, you will respond. You will be there when someone needs help. The ones that people can depend on to always come running to provide assistance. Am I understood?"

The response was both fierce, and incredibly determined. The armored soldiers simultaneously slamming gloved fists against armored, uniformed chests in a salute that visibly pleased his Elder.

"Yes Elder!"

////////////////////

A6 sat on the bench on the left side of their transport. It was a bit of a tight fit, considering the vehicle's largest occupant.

Not that he was displeased about V-1's being here. The Viper was an incredibly reassuring presence, one he knew would likely be necessary should the squad end up encountering any 'parahuman' combatants. Her introduction had been short but informative, with her rank in their command structure on par with Captain-A1. They also had a pair of drones tailing the transport, but they would serve better as the team's eyes in the sky than anything else.

A2 kept his hands firmly on the wheel, controlling the transport and directing it through the area. A1 sat adjacent to the trooper, carefully planning out efficient patrol routes with both their Elder and their other squad.

Squad B were also patrolling the area, but they had a pair of Sectoids with them in comparison to A's resident Viper. Their objective was the general dock area.

Squad A's objective was the downtown area, and mission control had just given them their first target.

His Elder's voice rang throughout each of the troopers' psionic chips, the reassuring presence sliding into their minds like the correct piece to a puzzle.

An image of several humans, bearing distinctive colors and fighting each other sprang to the front of his mind, even as he received his orders.

~Squad A, Thin Men infiltrators have spotted what looks like a controlled gang fight near Smith's Road, second street. Liable to escalate. Civilians have been caught in the scuffle and BBPD responders will likely fail to arrive in time. Intervene immediately.~

A6 idly rechecked his mag rifle for the fifth time as mission control gave squad B their own task. Something about a robbery involving a grocery store.

Nonetheless, the transport diverted course, A2 slamming onto the accelerator and ensuring their trip was a swift one.

Then they arrived to the sound of gunfire, incoherent yelling and panicked screaming. The psionic chip kicked in, and A6 was the first to kick the doors of the transport open, pouring out onto the street. His eyes, hidden behind his helmet yet given a perfect view by internal cameras, quickly counted thirteen combatants in all. Six ABB. Seven E88. Two dozen civilians. Give or take.

Teeth were grit as a controlled adrenaline dosage was applied to the trooper's body, heightening his reaction times just enough to notice the shock on several individual's faces as a full response team spread out onto the street. Multiple clicks heard as each trooper swapped to non-lethal rounds.

He turned to stare at a bloodied figure huddled on the ground, a young woman staring back at his dark, armored form with both hope and fear clouding tear streaked eyes.

A1 strode out in front of the squad, hand upraised and voice authoritative as he ordered the dissidents to stand down.

"CEASE CONFLICT AT ONCE! CEASE!" The English came out mostly correct, though there was a noticeable accent.

His voice wasn't amplified, but it seemed louder in the stunned silence. Then one of the ABB members aimed a small pistol and began firing in a panic.
The squad's chips kept them in sync, coordinating with each other even as they all ducked into cover. He idly noticed A4 pulling the sobbing woman behind the van, administering a medspray over her wounds.

~Hostiles confirmed, return fire!~

He leaned over the street bench he was huddled behind, sighting down his scope, right onto the exposed chest of a young ABB thug. The high pitched keening sound of non-lethal rounds flying through the air contrasted against the loud bangs of gunpowder based weapons, as several criminal members were immediately downed by the powerful electric currents. A2 took several small caliber rounds to the chest, but his armor successful absorbed the bullets, allowing him to duck back into cover unmolested.

The skirmish continued for a mere thirty seconds, until the majority of the criminals were either unconscious on the ground, groaning in pain or raising their hands in surrender. Those who attempted to retreat were unceremoniously shot in the back.

He moved forward at his Captain's orders, pulling several sets of black zip ties from his utility belt and restraining the downed gang members. Two other troopers (A3 and A5) moved to do the same, briefly sending glances towards stunned civilians.

A4 continued to provide medical aid to several wounded humans, including an E88 gangbanger who had taken a bullet to the leg. Likely during their intervention. He pretended not to notice the myriad recording devices (mobile phones, his chip supplied) trained on his armored form.

Then he noticed one of the E88 members who had deigned to surrender pull a small, spherical object out from behind his belt. His yellow blood ran cold.

"GRENADE!"

The bald headed man scowled, and moved to unpin the small, clearly improvised explosive.

A long tongue wrapped around the Empire member's wrist, the man's eyes widening in confused shock just before he was violently torn from his position and into the waiting coils of V-1, who had the man restrained and then pinned to the ground shortly after. All to a chorus of confused screams from the rest of the humans.

A6 could finally hear the distant sirens of local law enforcement, even as his Captain held up a hand, warding away the forming crowd and trying his best to divert attention away from the incredibly dangerous looking Viper.

"Step back! The situation is under control! We are here to help! We are Peacekeepers! Maintain distance!"

A6 wasn't sure how well the squad's initial appearance would be received by the locals, but they had certainly made an impression. Hopefully a good one.

"Fuck off of me, you fucking giant sna-gah!"

He ignored V-1's violent pinning of the panicked E88 grenade holder. He also pretended not to hear the ganger's clear groans of pain as her muscled coils continued to constrict around him. It wasn't excessive force unless she permanently injured the man, after all.
 
Chapter six. First contact.
Something something ayy lmao. Also, Advent language looks like this. To avoid confusion.

Chapter six. First contact.

A1 had just finished corralling several civilians behind the small cordon his team had set up when several patrol vehicles swerved around the corner. Local law enforcement. Brockton Bay Police Department, his chip supplied.

He communicated as such to the rest of squad A, speaking in his language to avoid giving anyone the...wrong idea.

"Contacts incoming. BBPD. Consider neutral. Assemble the prisoners!"

A series of affirmatives answered him and his orders were followed to the letter, the restrained gangers all being forced into a rough line on the ground just before the first police officers began to exit their vehicles. One of the uniformed men turning to stare at A1, who quickly held up a hand.

"Hold fire. The situation is under control. You may approach at your leisure."

The human's hand, which had immediately gone to the sidearm strapped to his side, paused. Several other officers assembled behind the man, with most of them staring at the unknown, armored soldiers assembled along one end of the street.

A1 began to approach the tense humans, slowly. The Captain's rifle held at his side to avoid any undue assumptions being made.

"We are not your enemy."

His enhanced senses picked up a brief argument between the group of armed officers, before one of them began to approach. Presumably one of higher rank.

"Corporal James Tyler. BBPD. I'm going to have to ask you exactly what the situation here is...sir?"

A1 quickly snapped off a salute, to the Corporal's surprise. He could briefly hear some of the men behind him attempting to contact a 'PRT'. Parahuman Response Team, his chip quickly provided.

"You can call me Officer One, for the moment. I will not delay." He gestured to the line of gangbangers with a red gloved hand, still being held at gunpoint by a very pissed off snake and several troopers. V-1 blinked as the flash of a nearby phone camera went off, the teenage boy behind it backing up a step as the Viper turned to glance at him.

A1 continued. "We are peacekeepers. Mission control notified us of a disturbance and dispatched us to this location. We intervened in an ongoing skirmish between multiple members of the ABB and E88 respectively. The situation has been defused and the prisoners currently await processing. We will release them to your custody now."

"I don't think we have jurisdiction for thi-" Before the Corporal could respond beyond his strangled protest, A1 signaled the rest of his squad to begin the transfer. Both E88 and ABB members being led over to the BBPD officers by gun point. Training presumably took over for the law enforcers, as they quickly recognized the colors of the criminals and began to restrain them against their patrol cars, patting them down and then unceremoniously forcing them into the backs of multiple vehicles.

Glances were sent towards the Troopers, but the officers had seemingly gotten over whatever preconceptions they might have had, and began working with the peacekeepers in earnest.

V-1 just continued standing guard next to their transport. A1 swore she was preening under all the attention the civilians were giving her. He tore his eyes away from the smug Viper to look back at the human Corporal, who still seemed lost for words.

"Just...who are you people?"

A1 smiled, turning to glance at yet another recording device.

"We are Advent."

/////////////////////////

The whistling in the PRT transport van was both loud and obnoxious. Just the way Assault liked it. Of course whether the troopers sitting on either side of the van's interior enjoyed it wasn't immediately obvious, due to the full face helmets and all.

He cut it out as Miss Militia patched into the call. The flag-scarfed heroine riding ahead of the convoy on her own motorcycle. A Harley.

"Militia here, just got off the line with the first responders. Seems they've made contact with a whole new group."

A group? Not a singular cape.

"Any description? Costumes? Names?"

His own question was answered after a moment of silence. Presumably Hannah getting her facts straight.

"Described as very military looking. Matching uniforms. Dedicated transport. Tinkertech weaponry. Also a giant snake."

The last statement gave him pause.

"A giant snake. What like...a python?"

Another pause.

"I...the snake has a gun?"

...

"Oh I've got to see this."

The convoy was coming up on the street now, the PRT officers around him all checking their weapons.

Militia's voice rang out one more time.

"Tentatively labelled friendly. They're cooperating with the police department at least."

Another turn, then the van swerved onto the sidewalk, the troopers pouring out. Assault followed, hopping out the back and striding past the officers.

He picked up the pace a little, catching up to Hannah just in time to see what she was staring at.

....

"That's a snake with tits."

He instinctively flinched, waiting for his puppy's impending strike, only to remember that he'd been paired up with Militia for this one. Not Battery. Nonetheless, Hannah made sure to send him a quick glare over her scarf, whispering harshly.

"A giant snake with tits. And some type of tinkertech rifle and armor. Behave."

He shrugged his shoulders, immediately moving over to talk with the red armored fellow. He seemed like the type to be in charge.

"Hello!"

Said red armored...soldier? Snapped his helmeted head to face Assault, several of the other unknowns doing the same. The snake had seemingly known they were there the whole time which was...disconcerting. To say the least.

Ethan made sure to spread his arms wide. Show off he wasn't a threat and all that. Regardless of the fact that he could probably smash into several of the armored soldiers before they could even fire a shot.

"Hey guys. Nice operation here, very professional."

He couldn't stop stealing glances at the giant snake lady, who stared right back whenever he looked at her.

He let Hannah take the lead, the flag scarfed woman moving to speak with the red guy.

Assault settled to wait. Only to flinch when he turned to see the source of the slithering sound he'd heard and see the snake lady bearing down on him. What was she? A case 53? Some kind of changer power maybe? Or something else?

He realized the momentary silence had become awkward, and endeavored to do what he did best.

Break it.

"You know, a certain mouse themed friend of mine would probably love you."

A scaled brow-ridge rose for a moment, before the...woman? Cobra? Lady held something out for him to take.

It...looked like a really shitty pipe bomb.

"Oh! Uh...thanks?"

The lady nodded, before a strangely human, somewhat raspy sounding voice erupted from her (now that he'd paid particular attention to it) massive mouth.

"You are welcome. Improvised explosive used by E88 criminal. Prevented it's detonation. Releasing to PRT custody."

He had to crane his neck to stare up into her reptilian eyes. He knew better than to look down.

Snake or not, if his puppy caught him staring at another woman's breasts on PHO, she'd castrate him for sure.
 
Chapter seven. An unexpected advantage.
Escalating.

Chapter seven. An unexpected advantage.

Taylor had been hard at work attaching the last few segments to the Codex brain she'd been painstakingly constructing when the perimeter alarm had been tripped, a brief panic gripping her before she forced herself to calm down. Squad D, having been off-duty and relaxing in the rec room quickly sprang to their feet, the troopers moving to grab weapons and get into cover. Taylor attached her welding mask. It would do to protect her identity, for now.

She turned to glance at S-1 as the Sectoid spoke.

~One intruder. A child. I sense...pain. Desperation. Hope. They are approaching from the rear entrance.~

How the hell had a child managed to get past the Thin Men she'd stationed outside?

"D2, D3, form up on the door. Grab whoever's outside and bring them in here. Be quick about it." She idly sent a command to the turret stationed in front of said door to hold it's fire unless otherwise instructed.

The peacekeepers stacked up on the exit, then sprang outside. She heard a brief scuffle before the pair came back inside holding a struggling...twelve year old. S-1 hadn't been kidding. The girl finally went limp as she realized that she had no hope of overpowering two opponents twice her size. She was restrained and on the floor shortly afterwards.

The troopers had shown no hesitation at capturing a child. Good, her power said. Maybe, she replied. She'd liked to hope that things like this wouldn't be very common going forward.

Internal debate finished, she moved to kneel next to the girl, blank welding mask keeping her expression hidden. S-1 moved to stand next to her. The Sectoid would monitor the intruder's thoughts. If it detected a hint of hostile intent, the clone would overwhelm the kid's mind with psionic energies.

"Who are you? Why are you here? How did you get past security? In that order."

A gasp of pain, as the girl seemed to think.

"Dinah Alcott. I need...protection. U-used my power."

A cape? Fuck. The voice in the back of her head was certainly interested at least.

"Protection from what? Why us?"

"There's a-a man. Chasing me. Sent people after me. Black uniforms. Laser guns. Power said I'd have...a 79.4% chance of being accepted by you if I came here."

A percentage?

"Your power. What does it do?"

A brief shake of her head, the girl visibly thinking about how to phrase it.

~She feels pain, Elder. The power tears at her mind with each...question?~

"I can see numbers. The odds of something happening. Odds of you managing to keep me safe from the man...89.6%"

Taylor thought about it, even as her power seemingly grew far more interested.

"You're a precog. One that can give hard numbers in response to stimuli. Questions?" She glanced at S-1, who simply nodded.

"Questions. And it hurts, asking too many. A thinker headache, am I right?"

Dinah just nodded, keeping her eyes closed.

What a mess. Taylor sighed.

"Alright. You two, off of her. D1, take her upstairs. Dinah? Try not to ask any more questions until I can figure something out for the pain. There's a small kitchenette and recreation area upstairs. Follow D1 up there."

Looks like finishing Codex-1 would have to happen later rather than sooner. Though hopefully not too much later. Having a functional Codex would ensure the impregnability of their cybersecurity. Then they could be more aggressive with their online presence. Hacking of criminal bank accounts and such.

She turned her thoughts back to their unexpected guest, even as Taylor let herself start assembling something on the workbench in front of her. Keeping her hands busy let her calm her nerves.

...A precognitive that could give percentages based on any given question. Anyone in the city would want to have her. Though her description definitely narrowed it down a lot. She'd start looking through public records until she could figure out who'd been after the girl.

Her power had made it's opinion on the situation quite clear. Better to have Dinah under their control than someone else's.

/////////////////////////

Eighteen minutes earlier.

"Fuck, we've lost sight of her!"

"Keep pace, she can't have gotten far!"

Thomas Calvert, or Coil in this guise idly ended the timeline, moving to and splitting the one that had shown more promising results. He'd sent his recovery team left instead of right, and they'd managed to catch up to what would soon be his future pet.

"There she is! After her!"

Hiring Circus to assist his Undersiders with their little bank heist had been the right choice. The distraction had been perfect, and now he was poised to finally get his hands on the ultimate prize of this entire endeavor. A precog. One whose powers would perfectly compliment his own, as soon as he ensured the girl's dependency to his good will.

He briefly thought about his future plans once he had his pet under lock and key. His idea for the Empire would hopefully pan out, effectively pitting them against an enraged Lung and a stretched thin Protectorate. Meanwhile, exposing several key Merchant storehouses would likely tie up both them and ADVENT. He'd confirm his odds of success once he had Dinah safely sequestered away.

The new faction had been a surprise to be sure, but not an unwelcome one. He was frustrated at his lack of progress in figuring out the ultimate identity of their leader, but he'd effectively managed to map out several of their own holdings. Besides, they were simply yet another useful tool he had at his disposal. A public tip here, exposing a gang affiliated building. A restricted firefight there. And the hammer that was ADVENT would come down to crush targets that he no longer needed to dedicate resources to.

His agents had yet to recover any of the peacekeepers' tinkertech sadly, but it was only a matter of time. The paramilitary group would be dealt with soon enough. Then he'd have all the time in the world to comb through their remains. Perhaps he'd even be able to recover their tinker alive? A thought to consider for the future.

"I've got her, I've got hARGH!"

His eyes were torn back to the various screens displaying the helmeted perspectives of his soldiers. One of them had gone dark, the rest turning to face the source of their downed comrade.

The man's right shoulder had been horribly burned, and a sickly green light erupted from a nearby rooftop as another of his men were eliminated.

"Fuck! Contact! Open fire!"

Red lasers matched green beams as the parties exchanged weapons fire. His men couldn't get a good look at the enemy.

He growled. He knew exactly who this was. The brief glimpse of a white shirt and vest combo practically confirmed it. EXALT. Or so the group had begun to refer to themselves, leaving their calling cards at many a ruined building during their raids. Unlike ADVENT, this group operated exclusively at night. The information he'd managed to gather about the mysterious force was effectively useless. Little more than rumors floating around on PHO. He'd briefly considered a connection between the two groups, but they operated far too differently. Their respective equipment differed wildly as well.

Most importantly, EXALT didn't seem to care much about their own lethality. Unlike the peacekeepers.

One of the smartly dressed men hopped down from a three story building, a pair of shades alongside a red and orange bandana tied around his face shielding his identity. A long, wicked looking knife flashed in the air as the parahuman rushed forward with reckless abandon.

His mercenaries didn't stand a chance, as several more of the masked men descended upon them. Their screams rang out as each vid feed was cut off.

He couldn't even cancel either of these timelines, they were running parallel to each other!

Just before a combat boot came down upon his last surviving soldier's camera, he saw his target sprint around yet another corner without even a glance backwards.

His fist slammed into the monitor, shattering it to pieces and effectively cutting his entire hand open.

He ended that timeline.

"Dammit!"
 
Chapter eight. Finding the culprit.
️‍️‍♂️️‍♂️

Chapter eight. Finding the culprit.

Dinah had recovered well enough to better explain her situation, one of the infiltrator cells had also contacted her, explaining their involvement in the events leading up to ADVENT's 'recruitment' of the precognitive twelve year old.

EXALT had been yet another suggestion made by her power, a group partly separated from her own that could handle the dirtier tasks she needed done while ADVENT remained squeaky clean in terms of reputation. Their main tasks had initially involved looting tech companies for certain materials she'd needed, but had since shifted to breaking apart criminal infrastructure. Of course she kept the heavily modified Thin Men and Sectoids well away from anything ADVENT related, and she'd even orchestrated a few scuffles between them to divert attention away from her more public forces.

Part of her had been hesitant at the of idea allowing EXALT full use of their weaponry (plasma rounds were bloody lethal against inadequately armored targets), but the results spoke for themselves and her power had been quite convincing. Sometimes a lethal option was necessary. Killing off an ABB pimp that kept getting sprung out of jail had been an especially prominent example. Especially considering the man's 'girls' tended to be about her age at best.

Regardless, she resumed listening to the planning session occurring in the rec room, the Captains of squad A, B and C interrogating Dinah for details and arguing with each other on the best course of action. They frankly weren't getting anywhere anytime soon. At least in her opinion.

"C-1." A series of electronic warbles answered her, which roughly translated into a state of attention.

"Check the internet. The kidnapping of the Mayor's niece wouldn't just go unnoticed like this." And that had been yet another shock. A bit of digging had confirmed it. Niece of Roy Christner. Her life certainly was never lacking in surprises. Where were the PRT? The Protectorate? Hell even the cops should have been available to respond to something like this.

Text scrolled across the front of the crude trooper helmet she'd set up for herself. Information being pulled from multiple sources online at a speed far beyond what any human would be capable of.

[ABB ACTIVITY MINIMAL. E88 ACTIVITY MINIMAL. MERCHANT ACTIVITY MINIMAL. ALL FACTIONS MAINTAINING STANDARD OPERATIONS. INVOLVEMENT UNLIKELY.]
-
[PARAHUMAN COIL EMPLOYS USE OF BASELINE HUMAN MERCENARIES. MEMBERS POSSESS BLACK UNIFORMS AND TINKERTECH ARMAMENTS. MATCHES EXALT DESCRIPTIONS OF ENCOUNTERED ASSAILANTS. INVOLVEMENT LIKELY.]
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[NO MAJOR INDEPENDENT ACTIONS. PARIAN REMAINS NEUTRAL. NON-SUSPECT ALONGSIDE PARAHUMANS UBER AND LEET. INVOLVEMENT UNLIKELY.]
-
[NEW WAVE HEROICALLY ALIGNED. INVOLVEMENT UNLIKELY.]
-
[PROTECTORATE AWAY FROM CITY DURING CRITICAL TIME PERIOD. UNLIKELY TO BE COINCIDENCE. ABDUCTION PLANNED BEFOREHAND.]
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[ROBBERY OF BROCKTON BAY CENTRAL BANK BY 'UNDERSIDERS', WARDS RESPOND. COINCIDES DIRECTLY WITH TIME OF ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION OF 'DINAH ALCOTT'.]
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[TIMING TOO PRECISE. UNDERSIDERS UNDERTOOK INCREDIBLY PUBLIC CRIME. UNCHARACTERISTIC WHEN COMPARED TO PREVIOUS ACTIVITY. COINCIDES WITH ABSENCE OF PROTECTORATE MEMBERS AND ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION.]
-
[CONCLUSION. UNDERSIDERS INVOLVED WITH DESIGNATED KIDNAPPER: COIL. BANK HEIST UTILIZED AS DISTRACTION. DREW LAW ENFORCEMENT AWAY FROM ABDUCTION ATTEMPT. OPERATION LIKELY WOULD HAVE SUCCEEDED IF NOT FOR EXALT INVOLVEMENT.]


But the presence of her infiltrators had been an utter coincidence! They'd simply been returning to one of their safe houses at the time, not looking out for kidnapping attempts.

Unless...Dinah was a precog. Her power had likely directed her towards the EXALT cell, just in time to let them witness and intercept Coil's own team.

"C-1, draw up all known information we have on Coil. Display it on the holo-screen."

[COMPLYING, ELDER.]

Her lead officers all glanced up as information began to present itself. Annoyingly little, too.

Dinah's eyes widened, before she shook briefly.

"Odds of Coil being the one who tried to kidnap me...98.3%."

One of the Captains, B1, was quick to enact a plan of action.

"Then this is our enemy. We should dispatch recon units immediately, find his holdings!"

A1 stared at the image for a moment, before responding.

"Do not be hasty. Did any of the mercenaries encountered by infiltrator cell three survive? We could potentially interrogate them."

Everyone paused, then looked to Taylor.

"...Someone patch us in with the team. Ask if they managed to take any of the mercenaries alive."

///////////////////////

It turned out that they had managed to capture two of the kidnappers. Though one had eventually bled out due to a grizzly knife wound T-14 had given him.

That was fine of course. Taylor wasn't feeling especially charitable towards child kidnappers. Her power was neutral about the subject, but agreed that they only really needed one prisoner.

Said prisoner had been kept at one of the infiltrator safe houses (the cell had been preparing to 'dispose' of him when they'd gotten Taylor's call) until night had settled proper, then been brought to Taylor's main complex via ADVENT transport.

He certainly fit the part of a grizzled mercenary, that was for sure. Black tactical gear, with one of her troopers carrying what was clearly a modified tinkertech rifle of some sort. The bag over his head kind of ruined the look though. Dinah had flinched at his arrival, then hid behind one of the EXALT operatives as the soldier was shuffled through the building.

His swears were muffled, but fairly clear as he was forced into and then restrained to a chair. The bag was torn off the pale man's face just in time for Taylor to lean in, her voice modulated by her modified helmet.

"I'm going to be quite clear and explain this just once. You can either make this incredibly easy for all of us, or we can reduce you to a drooling idiot by the end of this. You have three seconds to choose whether you want to talk with us in a civil manner."

The man seemed to be preparing to hock a loogie at her, only for A1 to appear from her side and slam a gloved fist into his cheek.

"Disrespectful bastard! Behave!"

Taylor just sighed.

"S-1? You can begin now. Leave nothing untouched. Take everything."

~I will leave no stone unturned, Elder.~

The Sectoid stepped forward, hidden from the man's view courtesy of remaining behind him, and extended a hand.

As the purple energy inherently connected to psionics wrapped itself around the merc's head, Taylor tried to ignore Dinah's muffled whimpers.

She couldn't really blame her though. The soldier's choked screams were quite unpleasant to hear.
 
Chapter nine. To hunt a snake.
Chapter nine. To hunt a snake.

The interrogation had proven...enlightening, to say the very least.

"Alright people, let's sum up the situation we've got on our hands here."

All of her current active captains were in attendance, each officer taking their place in this or that corner of the rec room. There were nine of them in total and Taylor had realized that they really needed to get a proper meeting table or something. Of course Dinah was there too, but that was mostly because Taylor didn't really know where to put the girl. She ignored her inner voice's suggestions of podding the precog.

At an unseen signal, C-1 activated the holo-screen, displaying several images. Coil's mercs. Some loose shots taken of the Undersiders, and a photo of an old building.

"The black uniformed mercenaries our infiltrators engaged are under the employ of a local supervillain who, so far, has managed to remain completely off the radar. Until now. Thanks to our interrogation" at this she nodded at S-1, who was settled on the rec room's carpet "of one of said mercenaries, we know Coil is in control of a small, but relatively powerful organization, with a number of underground bases located throughout the city."

At that, she pointed a thumb at the photo of the old building.

"Officially, this building is an outdated, defunct endbringer shelter. Unofficially, it's an extensive underground bunker that Coil is currently operating out of. Again, we know he has multiple alternate locations under his control, but this alongside one other compound located beneath a parking lot are areas we have concrete confirmation on. The other bases are guesswork at best. We also know that he has a small army of professional mercenaries under his command, similar to the ones our infiltrator cell encountered."

She paused, turning to gesture to one of the officers who had raised a hand. D1.

"Will we be informing the PRT of these compounds, Elder?"

She smirked, shaking her head.

"We will not. C-1, what's the status of our first batch of M-series shock troopers? And the seekers?"

The Codex flitted into existence from a nearby terminal, responding quickly in it's warbling, electronic voice. Though Taylor was able to make out words hidden behind the static.

"Batch 1 nearing completion. Will be ready by nightfall, Elder. Seeker units 1-6 have all completed construction. Awaiting deployment."

She nodded.

"Excellent. Their armor and weapons have already been prepared?" At the Codex's brief, jittery nod she strode over to the terminal, inputting a few commands. The image of the Undersiders increased in size.

"As part of your training, you all should have inherent knowledge of local, potentially hostile elements. Describe these individuals to me."

Dinah flinched as A1 began speaking, the alien notes only serving to further confuse the girl.

"The Undersiders. Composed of four members. Tattletale, Regent, Grue and Hellhound, public identity Rachel Lindt. The latter two have powers geared towards brief conflict and swift escape, the creation of darkness and the increasing of speed, strength and size of baseline canines. The former two currently have little to no information that we can utilize."

She nodded again.

"While S-1's interrogation did not reveal any direct connection between Coil and the Undersiders, we cannot be certain that his personnel are not carefully compartmentalized to prevent them from divulging such knowledge in situations exactly like this. For now, we will go forward assuming that the small gang are under Coil's employ and consider them enemy combatants."

A series of nods and agreements answered her statement, her officers carefully inspecting the image of the four presumably teenage parahumans.

Taylor paused for a moment, then took a breath. She'd initially thought that sending all of the information she'd gathered to the PRT was the best move. It'd neatly deal with the problem and earn her brownie points with the parahuman policing organization. Her power had suggested a very different, far more risky idea.

But of course, to get anywhere in life, you had to be willing to take risks.

"Effective immediately, we will be recalling all patrols and infiltrator cells in preparation for a covert assault on Coil's main base. Our goals are two-fold. The first being to remove Coil from the board entirely, eliminating him as a threat. The second, to capture his assets for ourselves and repurpose them towards achieving ADVENT's goals. Infiltration units, including our new Seeker drones, will be deployed to engage in initial reconnaissance of Coil's primary complex. Secondary units will attempt to locate his auxiliary bunkers."

She took a second to glance at S-1. The Sectoid commander merely inclined it's bulbous head slightly.

"We will also attempt to abduct those suspected to be under his command for interrogation. With luck, we'll be able to learn more with each individual we manage to snatch out from under him."

She paused as one of the officers, E1 raised a hand.

"Speak."

The ADVENT captain nodded deferentially. "We will be taking a great risk in enacting this operation, Elder. I would never question your will, I only wish to ensure we are all aware of the potential dangers moving forward with this plan could bring."

She smiled, she'd have to keep an eye on E1. She could definitely use good advisors.

"I understand your concerns. Under ordinary circumstances, I would never order such an attempt, however there is one extremely important factor that will help influence the end result of this endeavor."

S-1 took the chance to ask a question amidst the silence of the officers.

~Is the precognitive our 'ace in the hole' Elder?~

She nodded, turning to look at the parahuman in question.

"Dinah, are the supplements I cooked up for you working?"

The girl nodded, wearily glancing around.

"Doesn't hurt anymore. You want to ask questions?"

She nodded. "Just a few, the drugs will only dull the pain. It's likely the headaches are there as a safety feature to keep your brain from undergoing a fatal neuron misfire."

The young precognitive just nodded. Waiting.

"Chances of ADVENT successfully eliminating Coil as a threat and taking over a majority of his holdings if we strike with all our available forces within the next two-no, three days?"

A slight pause, Dinah's eyes seeming to go blank, before she responded.

"93.4%"

Taylor smiled.

"Chances of ADVENT's takeover of Coil's holdings being revealed to the PRT or general public if such an operation is carried out?"

Another pause.

"65.41%"

Taylor frowned.

"Chances of ADVENT's takeover of Coil's holdings being revealed to the PRT or general public if EXALT endeavor to ensure the secrecy of the operation?"

"16.3%"

Taylor smiled wider.

They'd need to plan it well, and do their best to try and figure out any ways Coil could strike back at them during their assault, but overall she agreed with her power. Those were good odds.
 
Chapter ten. Knock knock.
Incoherent screaming as I throttle my muse into cooperation.

Chapter ten. Knock knock.

The pair of men, settled on a nondescript rooftop were soldiers of fortune. They followed where the money went, and the money had led them to be under the employ of a villain named Coil.

Of course the two mercenaries could most definitely be considered morally bankrupt, (one did not usually get into the business of being a professional mercenary by having reservations about certain things) thus they had no issues with their given objective, as ordered by the man handling their paychecks. Their job was a simple one, maintain observation of a woman and her baby. The boy that occasionally accompanied her was considered a lesser priority.

So, settled on the rooftop as he was and slowly passing the time by smoking and stalking the home of the mousy woman, the soldier was completely caught off guard by the strangled exclamation of his partner.

"Hurgh-hel-!"

Training, experience and instinct kicked in, the soldier whipping out a pistol and taking aim, only for the sight that greeted him to shock him into a moment of hesitation. His partner had been enveloped by what could only be considered a mass of robotic tentacles, the man being rapidly dragged down the nearby fire escape, and none too gently at that.

The moment of hesitation proved to be his undoing, as he noticed more tentacles materialize directly around him, as if from thin air.

The mercenary barely managed his own half strangled yell before he too was taken.

//////////////////////

Squad A stood around in the warehouse, or in V-1's case, sat on her coils. Waiting.

Finally, their new member arrived, fresh from the vats. His armor was sleeker than the average trooper's, with a rounded, somewhat luminous helmet. The arc lance magnetically clasped to his back was inert, but with a mere flick of the soldier's wrist, it would activate, becoming a deadly weapon only tangentially designed towards riot control.

A1 took the initiative, moving forward to inspect the squad's new addition, who saluted in turn.

In a past life, the ADVENT peacekeeper had been a mercenary. One that had attempted to kidnap a child.

"Trooper-A7, Stun Lancer class, reporting as ordered sir!"

Of course the stun lancer had no connections to his previous life. He was a new person. A new being. The only remnants left behind from his former occupation were small batches of muscle memory and a far more defined build.

A1 smiled, saluting in turn.

Nonetheless, he would atone for his prior transgressions through serving his Elder. In battle.

///////////////////

Time passed, and the forces of ADVENT mustered themselves for what was to be a quick, violent shadow war. Or perhaps more of a large, decisive skirmish. In the midst of the night, large figures moved towards a set location. All manner of digital surveillance disabled by a certain Codex. Those who physically witnessed the convoy of hulking forms and vehicles had their memories irrevocably altered by Sectoids stalking near the edges of the task force.

Seven members of Coil's organization had been captured, interrogated and promptly recycled.

Perimeter guards, the first sentries one had to pass in order to gain entry into the underground bunker mumbled to themselves in a daze, letting the large hulking figures in armor through, their own eyes engulfed in a hazy purple light.

Of course, not all of the guards could be subverted, and the electronic systems could not be breached as easily as that of a public network, closed off as they were.

An alarm sounded out as a snake sequestered in his lair boggled at the monsters that had forced their way into his domain.

The internal security force readied themselves to repel an invasion, expecting either the PRT, or a local gang.

They would manage to put up a substantial fight, but would otherwise be woefully unprepared for what came next.

///////////////////

Muton-1 roared, slamming through yet another doorway and forcing his way into what seemed to be a checkpoint.

An object impacted with the warrior's thick skull plate, bouncing off. A brief glance showed it to be a crumpled bullet. Beady yellow eyes turned upwards, staring silently at a human whose shaking hands nearly caused the loss of the sidearm they had aimed at the intruder. The security guard grit his teeth and began firing round after round, intending to empty the magazine in an attempt to down the monster bearing down on him. The man screamed as the Muton blurred forward, jamming his bayonet into the offender's chest.

The results were grizzly, as the oversized knife practically tore through the smaller human's entire torso. The defender slumped, pistol falling from numb fingers. M-1 wrenched the corpse off of his rifle with a huff, turning to glance around at the rest of the checkpoint. Nothing, besides a pair of computers. The shock trooper idly sent a message back to command, flagging the computers for investigation. Elder willing, the Codex would be able to force it's way into the base's computer systems from here.

In the distance, M-1 could hear the sound of breaching charges being set off, sizzling their way through multiple layers of steel and concrete. The conventional human architecture had stood no chance against plasma based explosives, as shown by the Muton's own entry. His cohort had blown their way through the front entrance, annihilating those in their way and hunting down those who attempted retreat. The Elder had been clear in her order. None could be allowed to escape. This bunker was to be their tomb.

"Squad C, advance! Squad A, cover them! Move move move!"

M-1 hefted his rifle once more as several of the inferior troopers made their way into and then past the checkpoint he had cleared.
Hmph. He could not blame them for their relative frailty however. All of the Elder's servants were designed for a specific purpose. It just so happened that his was to be the crushing fist that destroyed his master's enemies.

/////////////////

"Open fire! Do not let them regain ground!"

The Captain's words were punctuated by yet another volley of magnetic rounds being sent downrange. Several laser beams, alongside more conventional bullets answered the violent torrent, taking the lives of multiple troopers. The human soldiers on the other end of the long corridor lost several of their own men and women, whose flesh burst open from the impact of multiple magnetically accelerated bullets penetrating their bodies.

Such was the nature of the stalemate. The defenders could not drive the invaders back, and the invaders could not force their way past the defenders.
Until with a crackle of energy, the form of a woman (in the most technical sense) appeared amidst the dozen or so mercenaries. A plasma rifle practically removed the head of a man, and a hand shot out, spearing through the chest of another. A massive purple vortex was formed amidst the group, with the Codex teleporting away shortly after.

At least half of the desperately outmaneuvered mercenaries were killed in the next rush towards their position, as guns jammed and failed to fire. The other half died in brief, absolute agony as the psionic rift that had engulfed them finally detonated, wiping out yet another of the bunker's rapidly dwindling blocks of resistance.

///////////////

How?

How!?

How could they have found him!? ADVENT (and Coil now realized he had terribly underestimated the new force) were practically pouring into the halls of his underground haven, overwhelming it's defenders and slowly but surely taking control of his bunker. Meter by bloody meter.

In one timeline, he enabled the base's self destruct sequence, the program easily activated from a nondescript prompt located on the desktop of his personal computer. In the other, he ignored the computer entirely. Instead, he rushed towards a subtly hidden cabinet embedded and carefully painted to blend into the wall around it. A basic flack vest, helmet and high caliber revolver were taken and equipped, with the man immediately rushing for the emergency tunnel that would prove his salvation.

Damn it all, it wasn't supposed to be like this!

The first timeline went wrong immediately, as a pair of blank white optics seemed to appear on his screen. Coil screamed in pain as a tinkertech rifle poked it's way out of his monitor and fired at him, practically removing his left side entirely.

It wasn't fair!

Suffice to say, he collapsed that timeline. Instead, he split off a new pair, now jogging through the long escape tunnel that would lead him to a getaway vehicle he had stashed at the surface.

His steady jog slowed to a cautious walk as he noticed some sort of light ahead. Raising his sidearm, he advanced.

The glowing pair of purple eyes stared back at Coil, their true nature hidden from the villain's mind, which had already been compromised the second he had left the safety of his office.
 
Interlude three. H-2's first shopping trip.
Fuck it. Cheeky little slice of life while H-1 does a few warcrimes behind the scenes.

Interlude three. H-2's first shopping trip.

'Taylor' was excited. She'd been excited since she'd first broached the idea with her father and received a positive response. If a little wary. Something about 'holding too many bags of clothes'. Of course that wouldn't be an issue, she could hold her own clothes.

She took a moment to pop her contacts back in, hiding her reptilian defects, then moved to go outside.

They were going shopping. For human clothes! It was certainly something that interested the infiltrator, considering her initial wardrobe was either 'hand me downs' from her Elder or handpicked by the other infiltrators.

The first set of clothes, while precious, were a bit...drab. And the second were all composed of suits and blouses and sweaters. The leather jacket had been a surprise.

So of course when Danny had started up the truck, she'd been a bit quick trying to get in...and ended up worming her way through the open window.

"Jesus Taylor! Relax a little, won't you?" Despite the man's chastisement, he did have a smile on his face. His daughter's change in overall attitude had perplexed the man at first, but now he was just glad that their relationship was on the rise. He couldn't remember the last time he'd taken Taylor shopping...probably before Annette's passing, now that he thought about it.

Sensing her dad's sadness (quite literally, the reptilian could smell it), H-2 gave her father a quick nuzzle. Before Danny could ask too many questions, she started tapping away at the dashboard with her fingers.

"Cmon! We're going to be late dad!"

With a good natured grumble, the dockworker started the truck and began driving.

///////////////////

H-2 had been right, shopping was fun! Of course she had to be careful not to spend too much money, otherwise Danny might get suspicious. Her stipend from ADVENT had been explained away as a part time job as a barista.

Which...well she did do, but the cafe was in reality a front for one of the infiltrator cells. She enjoyed hearing the gossip among her fellow spies. And they enjoyed hearing her pedestrian exploits while nursing a good 'cup of joe', alongside the occasional egg.

Personally H-2 felt that the Thin Men tried a bit too hard at 'blending in'. Subsequent gene therapy sessions had reduced their lanky nature, making them appear more natural, but their minds never really adapted too well. Old habits died hard, she supposed.

Regardless, she'd been in the midst of picking out a nice dress for herself (Danny was in another store holding her bags. He'd been looking at a set of power tools last she saw him) when an oddly high pitched voice called out to her.

"Oh my God! Is that Taylor?!"

The reptilian turned quickly. The person knew her assumed identity's name, so she'd have to play this carefully. It was a pair of girls. A little mousy looking one and one with bright, red hair. Almost like human blood.

"Oh...uhm. Hi?"

The red haired one had an almost manic look in her eyes. It disturbed H-2 a little, to be honest. She took advantage of the moment required for the pair of human girls to close the distance, rifling through her own implanted memories. Emma Barnes, childhood friend of her Elder. She didn't quite recognize anything about the other one.

She spoke before the other girls could take the initiative.

"Hello Emma, and...uh...you?" H-2 gestured helplessly, even as the mousy one's face scrunched up, as if she'd bitten into a bad egg.

"Oh you've got jokes, huh Taylor? Or maybe you bumped your head and got amnesia? It's Madison."

Right right right. She'd need to file that down somewhere....

Emma got a little too close to her personal bubble, and H-2 had to hold back the instinct to hiss at the overly friendly girl.

"So Taylor...where have you been? Too depressed to go to school? Did you...cry yourself to sleep for a week? Maybe?"

Odd questions. H-2 did not cry, she didn't have the appropriate tear ducts required for it. And she had been gone for several weeks, in fact. Not just one. Of course the principal of the school she was supposed to attend had been dealt with by her Elder, so her record should be spotless if dad ever cared to check.

The girls were waiting for a response. H-2 thought quickly, and gave them something she thought was fairly reasonable.

"Ah...I didn't cry Emma. I was just on...holiday. Mhm." The disguised Viper answered lamely.

Holiday? Holiday!? Stupid stupid stupid infiltrator!

Emma seemed disgruntled at her childhood friend's response, and immediately questioned it, as any normal friend would.

"Ohhhhh? Really? I didn't think you'd have enough money to go on a holiday. Where was it, inside a dumpster?"

Her Elder's friend seemed a little slow. Maybe that's why she'd cut contact? Elders did not have time for foolish subordinates.

But...H-2 was not an Elder...so...

"No, Emma. That would be silly. Dumpsters are for trash, not holidays."

The redhead's eyes widened, and she turned to burn a hole into the other girl with narrowed, glaring eyes as Madison giggled at the blunt response.

The infiltrator was sensing some tension between the two girls now...perhaps she could help?

Without another word, she grabbed Emma's hand, who whipped her head around to stare at H-2 in confusion. The reptilian was already on the move however.

"Let's go Emma!"

The red head followed along for all of five seconds before catching up to what was happening and resisting.

"W-what? No! Let go of me you weirdo!"

Of course her attempts were for naught. H-2's well defined muscles, hidden beneath her baggy clothes, were more than enough to practically drag Emma along behind her.

"I'm not weird, I'm unique." Her Elder had said so. She was a specialized infiltrator after all. "Now cmon, we're going shopping until my dad gets back. You can come too Madison, let's go."

The mentioned girl just numbly followed along, as Emma continued to resist her abduction...and failed miserably.

H-2 just smiled. Now she had friends to interact with on top of her dad!

Truly, the impostor's life was a great one.
 
Chapter eleven. Consolidation.
Taylor struggles with the aftermath of a major combat engagement. The voices in her head try to help out. Also, Lisa gets fucking abducted.

Chapter eleven. Consolidation.

Taking the bunker had been the (relatively) easy part. It was holding it that had been the real challenge, Taylor mused.

Miraculously, no one had come to investigate the rapid firefights occurring practically beneath their feet. Likely due to the depth of the complex. Sound had been been muffled or hadn't made it out at all.

Of course, several areas had been damaged. Mainly the entrances and exits, but a few checkpoint barriers had been practically demolished by rampaging Mutons. Though that was their job. The M-series had ultimately been a massive success.

No, it was the prisoners that had been the largest obstacle for ADVENT's takeover. Several mercenaries had thrown down arms and surrendered, which was already an issue. The numerous non-combat personnel that had been found cowering in obviously designated panic rooms had been a major problem.

She couldn't let them go. Not that easily. A single loose set of lips could sink her entire operation. Everything she'd worked so hard to build would be confiscated or destroyed if knowledge of her powerbase's full existence was released too early. She'd used Dinah's power to confirm it. If she let the captives go, there was an 89.4% chance of the Protectorate kicking down the door to their new home and hosing them all in containment foam. She'd be labelled a threat to public safety, and quietly shuffled away to some black site where they would force her to produce tinkertech for them. Either that or she'd get Caged, with her creations being dissected and then put to the damn torch. Both weren't viable options for the young Elder.

She'd had no choice, and they had all been working for a supervillain anyway. At least that's how Taylor had managed to justify the terrified group's recycling. Her power's advice hadn't been particularly helpful, but at least it tried. She owed them nothing. In her position, they likely wouldn't hesitate at putting a bullet between her eyes. Recycling wasn't so bad either. The 'death' was quick. Painless.

She sat in what had likely been Coil's office, tightly clutching a cup of tea and going through the extensive records he'd obviously painstakingly kept. C-1's ability to tear through any digital landscape it encountered, combined with the villain's capture and subsequent interrogation via psionic probing had practically given her full access to...well. Everything. And the more she saw, the more Taylor realized just how lucky of a break she'd gotten.

The power to try anything, and then roll it back if he failed. Moles in the Empire. The ABB. The PRT. The Undersiders were just a cat's paw, one that she'd have to deal with later. From what she'd already read about Tattletale's file, and what Coil himself had admitted to, the Thinker would make an excellent agent. Or a dangerous threat. Either way, she'd dispatched a few EXALT operatives to find and bring the villainess back.

The rest of the group were a mixed bag. Grue seemed reliable, and given liberal use of implanted agents and mind control, Taylor reasoned that she could fairly easily take care of Aisha for him. That would likely bring him on side. Regent (and she had panicked briefly at the idea of one of Heartbreaker's spawn being in the same general area as her before she'd truly looked into his power) could be bought with cash. He hopefully wouldn't be an issue.

Rachel however...she'd have to be careful around her. The girl was unpredictable aside from her love for dogs. Perhaps Tattletale could be persuaded to help.

Reconstruction began, and evidence was hidden. Those who had any inkling of what had happened right beneath the city's nose had their memories altered. Those who had been there were converted into new individuals entirely. Dinah was let loose, though remained in contact. The medicine Taylor had managed to splice together encouraged the girl to come over every now and then to answer a few questions. The Thinker wouldn't talk. She knew the odds of her safety if she tried anything like that.

In the meantime, Taylor immersed herself in Coil's notes, working to ultimately take everything he had built for herself. The supervillain was left in a containment tank until the Elder could figure out what to do with him. The stasis suit would keep him alive, and for now at least, his exceptional power would be used to run simulations that would benefit ADVENT's forces as a whole.

She took a sip of her tea, letting the familiar aroma seep into her nose and calm her nerves.

First things first, she'd need to wrangle a couple Mutons into helping relocate the ludicrous amount of explosives packed away in key locations around the bunker. Those would be repurposed. Then she'd need to figure out how to handle the Travelers. The group hadn't made it to the city, yet. But when they did, Taylor would need to be ready to negotiate a new deal with them. Her power had been particularly interested in the description Trickster had given of Noelle, and her subsequent abilities.

///////////////////

She was being followed. Lisa's instincts told her that much. Well. Her power helped too.

Same van. Maintaining specific distance. Following route.

Yes, that had been obvious, but who was it? Her employer, perhaps? She looked closer at one of the shadowed figures, the one calmly sitting behind the steering wheel.

Van utilized by local construction company. Patchwork solutions. Front used by Coil.

The van began to accelerate. She really shouldn't have been out this late, but this was considered a relatively safe part of town.

Van belongs to Coil. Individuals inside do not work for Coil. Individuals inside know you. Will take you away.

Shit. Shit shit shit! She started running, the Thinker panting as she turned into a nearby alley.

She screamed as a figure dropped down on top of her from a nearby building what the fuc-

A flash of orange flew across her vision, then the suited man had her pinned to the floor, a gloved hand clamping around her mouth.

Shirt and vest combo. Military grade gloves and boots. Aviators, striped bandana. EXALT operative.

Her muffled yelling continued as the well dressed kidnapper forced her hands behind her back and zipped them together in one deft move. Then a bag was placed over her fucking head. Her holdout pistol was confiscated as well.

Knows about your power. Strength beyond human limits. Parahuman. Not a parahuman? Not human.

What? Her power was going in circles. Lisa continued to violently struggle against her captor, for what good it did. She heard the opening of a pair of doors, then she was unceremoniously tossed into the back of a van. The engine roaring as it took off for God knew where.

Not human. Never human. Alien. Local. Born here. Created by-

The bag was ripped off of her head, and she got a good long look into a pair of slit pupils. The reptilian eyes seemingly looking her over for injuries.

Not human. Instructed to be gentle, relatively. Wants to recruit you.

What? She finally noticed several more men sitting in the back of the van, all of them holding high tech looking rifles and staring at her from behind their masked faces. She coughed, grimacing and preparing to say something before a phone was thrust into her face, the operative continuing to stare down at her for a moment.

Letting you figure it out. Letting your power figure it out.

She looked at the picture. It was a man, sprawled out on the floor and...was that Coil's costu-

Thomas Calvert. PRT agent. Unmasked. Captured. Coil. Thomas Calvert is Coil. Coil has been captured. EXALT has-

The voice spoke up as her eyes roved over the image. She looked back to the lizard dressed up as a human.

"Your prior arrangements with your employer are over. We would like to negotiate your new contract."

Will give you a better deal. Will treat you fairly. Will not take 'no' for an answer.

Lisa sighed. Definitely not the best first impression. At least she wasn't literally being held at gunpoint this time?
 
Chapter twelve. Expansion.
Taylor is a rich bitch. Also, interview time!

Chapter twelve. Expansion.

Taylor was a multi-millionaire.

Well. Not legally, but nonetheless she had entirely too much money to use at this point. More than she thought she'd ever see in her lifetime. Despite her power's insistence that it would always be better to have more resources to use.

Coil's auxilliary bases had been taken with much less of a fight than the primary bunker, the underground complexes swapping owners practically overnight. In the meantime, Taylor set ADVENT's resident Codex loose, the artificial intelligence utilizing the riches Coil had hoarded to rapidly expand practically all of ADVENT's holdings.

Aside from the ready made bunkers already prepared for them, dozens of dilapidated buildings were bought up (discretely of course) and quickly renovated (using production techniques her power supplied) into production centers, troop barracks or any number of other things.

They had even legally managed to acquire a headquarters now. An incredibly public one that would take attention away from the fucking Bond lair that she'd come into possession of. All in all, progress was rapid and right now there wasn't much Taylor could do in terms of commanding her troops aside from making sure they didn't expand too far, too quickly. One of the original Sectoids had taken over as mission control in her stead, directing the dozens of trooper squads patrolling the city, which left the girl with...well. Free time.

She knew she'd need to meet with Lisa (for the Thinker's interview and subsequent recruitment) eventually. So the young Elder took the opportunity to do some tinkering in a much better lab than she had owned previously. Her power gave her plenty of advice of course. She finally had some time to finish that amplifier suit the voice in her head had been so insistent on.

///////////////

Lisa was nervous.

Actually no, scratch that. She was pretty fucking scared.

Purpose built shock troopers. Are watching you. Heavily augmented. Know why you are here. Have orders to kill you if you prove hostile. Will kill you if you prove hostile.

Lisa shuddered as the pair of red and green musclebound killers took up an escort position behind her. The only thing keeping her from completely panicking was her power's insistence that she'd be given more freedom by her new 'employers' than Coil had given her. So long as she survived her initial recruitment at least...

As she traversed the halls of the bunker, led by one of ADVENT's 'Captains', she noticed a trio of humanoid snakes lounging around in what could only be a recreational room.

Share resemblance with ADVENT's 'Cobra'. Enforcers. Not permitted to operate in public. Off duty. Possess human and reptilian traits. Hybrids. Ha-

She reigned her power back in as they passed the group, she didn't want a headache going into the first meeting with her new boss.

Finally, after a few more twists and turns, they finally made it to what had been Coil's office. Another pair of shock troopers guarding the door exchanged alien grunts with her escorts, and she was permitted entry.

The person quietly sitting in a plush leather chair had a blank purple mask hiding their face, the rest of their features hidden by some kind of carapace based suit.

L̸e̴a̴d̸e̵r̸ ̸o̸f̴ ̸A̵D̶V̷E̸N̴T̷.̶
What? Her power...that was-


U̴̧͐n̷̼͐k̸͚̇ṇ̷͒o̵̞͒ẁ̶̺n̶̤͝ ̷͍̓q̶̹̀u̶̲̕å̵͖n̷̝͋t̴͎͐i̵̘͛t̴̼̄y̷͇̏ ̷͍̃i̸̢͂n̵͍̿t̶͇̀ë̷̪́ṛ̷̅f̴̨̓e̸̠͆r̶̹͐i̴͔͌n̶̫͆ġ̶̭ ̶̹̋ẅ̷̭́ǐ̸̼t̵̲̅h̵̡̐ ̸͓̐

What the fuck!?

Ý̶̃̓͘͜͝͝ȯ̵̟̟̼͉͍̎̀u̵̻̮̍̍͋̀̊ ̵͎̗̟̮͒̒w̸̗̬̏̅̉̿̋͝i̵͇̥̋͑̓̀̉͠l̵͚̽͆̊͂͘l̴͙̝̩͊̾͛͋̔̊ ̸̖̯͖͔̀̃̿̄̚ͅư̸͔̋̈́̊̕͝ș̴̺̠̏̑̌̋̉͘ĕ̷̦̜͕͙̽̆͐̓̚ ̸̨͎̗̦̤͐͝y̷̥͌̐̄o̸̧̢̩̺̳̤̐͋̓ū̶̳̌͛̇̚͜͠ͅr̸̠͎̟͕͊ ̷̱͉̥͇̗̈̐̅̃͝ò̸̧̀̑̚ẇ̵̳̤̩̣̠͉͛̑̀n̶͈̼̺̖͙̍̌͜ ̵̭̰̩͚̱͕͊̀͌m̴̢̛͕̎̈́̅̆͝i̴͙͌̀ņ̸͇̳̖̖̝̒͂̂d̵̗͖̦͈̳̫̀̀,̷̠͉̀ ̴̢͈̟̲̥̮͆̓Ș̶͖̰̠͔͂ͅă̸̪͘ŗ̶̛̰̘̹̳̓̽̀̈̇a̷̡̗͖̻̬̐ĥ̶̘̹̮̦͍̈́.̴͕͖̅͋

And just like that, with the harsh whisper of an inherently alien voice, her power fucking turned off.

A cough drew her attention back to the person sitting in Coil's former office. Their voice was...otherworldly. And Lisa swore she could see wisps of purple floating around the room. Sometimes shapes appeared, but she couldn't quite make them out. Their owner either didn't notice them or didn't care.

"Rest assured, your power will recover given some time. I simply don't want you making any big conclusions before I'm ready to share, understand?"

She silently nodded.

"Good. Now let's get straight to the point. You can call me Elder. I already know who you are. I know what your power does. I also know about your circumstances leading up to this point."

Lisa swallowed, nodding again.

Then, a sigh. If one that still had that same...ethereal feeling.

"Allow me to be blunt. You are a threat to my operations. One that I cannot let go."

She couldn't breathe. The only thing that kept her from outright sobbing was the half remembered reassurance she'd received from her power (one that wasn't working) that her new employer...no...owner would treat her somewhat better than Coil had.

"As such, I see two options going forward regarding how I might deal with you."

Elder raised a hand, one finger going up.

"I can dispose of you permanently, thus removing you from the board and eliminating you as a problem entirely."

Please no. Thank you.

A second purple and grey finger joined the first.

"Or...I can make you an ally. An asset that will help me in my goals, while having her own subsequent goals also fulfilled."

Elder leaned back, crossing her arms.

"I don't want to kill you, Sarah. Please don't make me do so."

Sarah Lisa shuddered, yet managed a somewhat shaky smirk despite that.

"You've made your point. You are utterly fucking terrifying, you know that?" At Elder's nod, she continued.

"Obviously I'll take the second option. What do you want me to do? Stay here with you? Keep directing the Undersiders? Give me something to work with, please. I can't just figure it out considering you're jamming my power."

A moment of silence, the woman likely considering her words before speaking.

"The Undersiders will no longer be required. Don't look at me like that, it's members will all be moved elsewhere to projects they can help with and with payment that will keep them on board. I don't need a villain team. As for you."

Elder leaned forward, her dark hair almost seeming to float a little.

"I think you'd be far better suited to diplomacy rather than combat, Lisa. I want you to represent ADVENT publicly. A pretty face that people can point at and say 'she knows what she's doing, we can trust her'. You understand?"

Lisa nodded again. "Represent the highly militarized, not at all government supported private army, secretly made up of bio-constructs that would throw the local PRT director into a panic attack? Sure! Sure I can do that." She wasn't being sarcastic. She'd damn well do it so long as it made sure Elder left her alone.

She felt the impression of a smile, despite the blank purple void staring back at her.

"Excellent, I knew you'd make a good Speaker. Believe me, it may seem rough now, but I'm sure our relationship will be far better given time to adjust. I don't want you fearing for your life, Lisa. ADVENT will be kind to you, so long as you are kind to it, understand?"

Lisa just kept nodding.

She really hoped it wasn't a lie. She wasn't sure if she could take it being a lie.
 
Interlude four. Armsmaster.
Mostly centered around our resident robocop's pov, but I'll also try and use this as a way of showing off how the PRT/Protectorate are responding to Taylor's shenanigans. Also, I know jack shit about the law, so take all legal related stuff in this with a veritable barrel of salt.

Colin was in a meeting room.

He didn't particularly want to be in the meeting room (he'd much rather have kept working on the MK6 anti-brute sedative that he'd been so close to completing) but he didn't exactly have a choice. So he locked his armor into an upright position and idly went over some schematics he'd let gather metaphorical dust while the meeting room filled up.

Piggot, of course, was at the head of the long table. Armsmaster eventually took a reinforced seat to her right, with Miss Militia sitting down next to him. Assault and Battery sat together, as per usual. Velocity and Dauntless took the other side. Triumph hadn't been able to make it today due to personal reasons, so his seat remained empty. The rest of the table was taken up by the Wards. Nearly a full house.

Piggot flipped through some notes, before nodding to him. That was Colin's cue to start up the projection. A twitch of his eyelid sent the command.

The prominent red symbol that sprung up on the wall was recognized by some, while others were left confused and curious.

Piggot didn't waste time, one of the few things he admired about the woman, and began the 'presentation'.

"To those unaware, this is the symbol of a local armed group calling themselves ADVENT. As far as we're aware, the logo doesn't have any specific meaning behind it. At least nothing that we can discern ourselves."

Another twitch of his eye, the projection changed. Now a group of ADVENT's soldiers mid firefight with some ABB goons.

"They're fashioning themselves as 'peacekeepers'. Heavily armed men and women out to help keep law and order a solid fact, rather than a mere suggestion. If you have a functioning set of eyes, you'll notice their equipment. They have access to tinkertech, supplied from an unknown source. Current theories are either a lasting deal with Toybox or their own private Tinker keeping everything running."

Piggot took a breath, placing her hands down on the table in front of her.

"They are doing our job. And they're doing it better than us."

She paused as Aegis raised a hand.

"Just ask the question, Aegis."

The Ward nodded his masked head, then spoke.

"Forgive me for being presumptuous, ma'am. But isn't that a good thing? We could definitely use the help."

Piggot was quick to answer.

"Under normal circumstances? Yes. We definitely can use all the help we can get. It's how they're going about it that's problematic."

Colin twitched his eye again, transferring a new image to the projector. A squad of ADVENT troopers clearly making arrests outside of a visibly tagged house. Merchant, if the signs were correct.

"If they wanted to help keep the peace, they could have joined the PRT. God knows we can use more trained troopers. Instead, they've formed what has legally been classified as a PMC. Or in layman's terms, they're technically mercenaries. The fact that they haven't taken a single public job shouldn't surprise anyone. It's a legal loophole they're using to allow themselves to operate in the city, alongside giving them the ability to temporarily detain 'combative elements' or in this specific case, criminals. Whatever lawyer they've got working for them is a damn good one, and several laws previously considered tolerable are now being scrutinized in order to ascertain just how ADVENT is getting away with what it's doing."

Shadow Stalker knocked a hand against the table, speaking up.

"So they're doing our jobs better than us, legally. What's the issue, are we meant to be jealous or something?"

Piggot took a deep breath before responding.

"The issue is that the public are questioning the point of the PRT if an independent organization is proving to be more effective than us. Additionally, if they keep provoking the gangs as they are they might just spark an all out war. We're still not sure how they do it, but their response times are nearly twice as fast as ours and their equipment, despite being obvious tinkertech is well maintained. Regardless of our best attempts, we haven't been able to get any samples of the latter."

Another command brought up an image of a discarded ADVENT rifle. Practically ruined beyond repair.

"The bastards have put self destruct protocols in pretty much everything they own. If this continues for long, we might begin to lose funding as people turn to them for safety instead of us. The more support they get behind them, the more they can get away with. Especially if they get a foothold into the mayor's office."

She leaned back in her chair, letting it support her.

"Moving on. Their numbers. We know that ADVENT have at least two to three dozen active combatants, with an unknown amount of support personnel behind the scenes."

She gestured to yet another image, this time of an ADVENT transport.

"Their numbers have been steadily increasing over the past few weeks, so we're operating under the assumption that they're receiving continuous reinforcements, in the form of supplies and manpower, from outside the city. They also have at least one parahuman that we can identify. Currently code named 'Cobra', for what I like to think are fairly obvious reasons."

Colin took the obvious cue, swapping the image to the aforementioned parahuman.

"Preliminary ratings are Mover two, Striker Two, Brute Two and Thinker One with a sub rating of Blaster Three due to her tinkertech equipment. Aside from a brief conversation with Assault, we haven't been able to approach her though she has been spotted leading several raids against what ADVENT later revealed to be gang related businesses and storehouses. Current theory is that she's either a case 53 they managed to pick up or a Changer, until we can confirm either theory we're running on guesswork."

Assault leaned forward, pointing a finger at the photo, showing the snake like woman coiling around a struggling merchant thug.

"She's not a native speaker, I think."

Piggot raised an eyebrow, gesturing for the hero to continue.

Assault just shrugged. "I only spoke with her for like, two minutes, but English definitely isn't her first language. Little things, like saying 'You are welcome' and such. Militia also spoke with one of their...Captains, right?"

The flag scarfed woman nodded. "He spoke fairly fluently, but didn't offer much information aside from ADVENT's name, mission and that they'd like to cooperate with us. He...kind of had an accent? I didn't recognize it."

The director nodded, before writing something down, presumably the information she'd just been given.

"Regardless, current procedures are to attempt to isolate Cobra from ADVENT personnel for a one on one conversation. She might be the weak link we need to figure out just what the group are up to."

Vista took the subsequent silence as an opportunity to voice her own concerns.

"Shouldn't we be trying to work with them? Going behind their backs like this...it's like they're a gang or something."

Piggot's eyes hardened.

"Until we obtain proof contesting the fact, we will consider them a gang. Independent armed militias operating in urban centers almost never end well. Today's peacekeepers could turn into tomorrow's terrorists. It's our job to make sure that we're prepared for that eventuality before it happens."

The young Ward just nodded, slouching back in her seat.

"Do we have any way of contacting them?"

Velocity's quiet question drew the attention of the rest of the room. The speedster didn't shy away from the looks of his fellow heroes.

"I mean...they said they want to cooperate with the authorities, right? Which...we are. Is there any way we can talk to them?"

Colin finally broke his silence, answering his coworker's question.

"I've been looking into it, actually." At Piggot's silent stare, alongside the curious glances of the rest of his subordinates, he continued.

"I enlisted Dragon's assistance in attempting to identify their movements initially. Before they made their public statement, they were unknowns driving around in obvious tinkertech vehicles after all. Some of her programs noticed a few things."

His friend had also noticed what she presumed was ADVENT making waves through the web, but just what they were doing still wasn't exactly clear. Her best guess was that they were breaking into and emptying criminal bank accounts but until she had more concrete info it was just that, a guess. And nothing that they could actually utilize. He didn't mention that part. He'd already filed it in his latest report.

He gestured to the projection, silently reorganizing a few files and popping a new image onto the wall. Several buildings, with one taking up most of the screen in the center.

"As far as we can tell, ADVENT have been leveraging significant funds in buying up local properties. Usually abandoned, though they have taken over a few offices that weren't doing too well financially. I understand that you've already placed several of these buildings under observation, director."

At the woman's nod, he continued.

"Without a warrant we can't search them, but the building in the center is, according to them, a 'multi-purpose rapid response barracks and publicly available visitation center'."

The director frowned, glaring at the building.

"So an office. Like ours."

Colin nodded in the affirmative. "It seems they've largely been replicating the PRT's modus operandi. This is, or will be rather, their headquarters. Once complete it will allow them to project a larger presence throughout the city, though my theory is that they're already using the buildings they've renovated as barracks and garages of a sort. It would explain their seemingly rapid response times to crime around the city, though how they find out about it is up in the air at the moment."

Piggot nodded, turning to him, the rest of the room murmuring among themselves.

"How did you figure this out? They haven't made any sort of statement, have they?"

He resisted the urge to smirk. His well trimmed beard hid the twitch of his lips, a momentary weakness.

"They have a website."

The director stared. He waited.

"They have...a website."

Colin nodded. "BrocktonBayADVENT.com. It has what I can only call propaganda plastered all over it, though it does show a few of their future plans. If one were to take ADVENT at their word."

Piggot sighed the sigh of a woman who just wanted to go home and spend the rest of the day with a bottle or two of bourbon.

"We will be discussing this later, once I get a chance to examine the site for myself. Additionally, we'll be working on getting an inspection order drafted so we can get eyes inside that 'visitation center'. Their usage of tinkertech should give us an in, I'll expect you to personally lead the team inside, Armsmaster."

Colin nodded yet again, swapping the projected image back to a map displaying ADVENT's theorized radius of influence. The rest of the meeting was largely pointless in his opinion. Threat assessments, known sightings, theorized responses and essentially going back over everything they'd just talked about. He could have achieved the same result by reading a report projected onto his helmet's visor.

Colin kept his own opinions largely to himself. He admired ADVENT's obvious efficiency, and desperately wanted a look at their tech (their drones had been interesting to watch recordings of, and their non-lethal armaments seemed quite powerful for their size), maybe a meeting with the Tinker keeping it running as well.

Overall however, he agreed with the Director's view on the matter. Well armed groups like this didn't tend to end well. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that however, the peacekeepers had seemed fairly competent.
 
Chapter thirteen. Recruitment drive.
ADVENT obtains a few people actually willing to work for it.

Chapter thirteen. Recruitment drive.

The leather clad boy sitting across from her was someone Taylor likely would have had a crush on at some point.

Maybe she still did. Beefcake was beefcake after all. Either way, she had priorities. Like getting said beefcake to work for her. Lisa was sitting next to Grue, leaning back in one of the plush guest chairs Taylor had gotten a pair of troopers to bring in.

"So, introductions. Well. One sided introductions since she already knows you. Grue, this is Elder. Aka, the boss."

His skull faced helmet turned to glance at Lisa, then back to Taylor.

"As in, the 'boss' boss?"

He gave her his full attention when she spoke up, her voice filling the room.

"That would be correct, Brian."

He nodded, shoulders tense. Seeing her less than human forces had definitely spooked him.

"Alright. So why the face to face? Wasn't Lisa meant to be our only point of contact?"

She brushed a bit of wavy hair out of the way of her mask, then responded. She also made sure never to turn away from the young villain. Her power emphasized that part. It established both a form of intimidation and grabbed attention.

"Circumstances have changed. I no longer have a need for the Undersiders as a group."

She raised a gloved hand to stall his immediate protest.

"Rest assured, our deal remains intact, and I actually have some rather good news for you, if you'd like to get it out of the way first."

At his unsure nod, she continued.

"My agents have successfully fast tracked the paperwork required to give you full custody of your sister."

The teenager seemed taken aback for a second. Then quickly started blurting out questions.

"Really? So it's done? Like, done done? What about-"

He paused yet again as Taylor raised a hand.

"It is, indeed, done done. By tomorrow morning, you will officially be Aisha's legal guardian. In addition, as recompense for your loyal service and the numerous risks you've taken in the field on my behalf, I've had a villa purchased for you to live in. Near the edge of Captain's Hill."

Of course those risks hadn't been taken on her behalf. He'd been working for Coil originally. Not that Grue needed to know that.

The boy took off his helmet, eyes visibly glistening and a massive smile stretched across his face.

"I-I don't know how to thank you! I mean, I mean I knew this was the end goal and everything but...thank you. Just...thank you, ma'am."

Taylor let the gratitude wash over her. Her own smile hidden behind her mask. She liked doing inherently nice things, every now and then. Made her feel like more of a hero. And Brian really did look quite cute with a big smile plastered all over his serious face. Her power brought her back to reality.

"You're welcome. Now, I will be clear. Your services as a villain are no longer required. 'Grue' will quietly disappear after this meeting. But I understand that my employment has provided a far more profitable source of income for you and Aisha than any day job, thus I will be making you a new offer. Tell me Brian. You likely watch the news. How do you feel about what you've seen of ADVENT so far?"

////////////////////

Regent fiddled with a ballpoint pen he'd snagged from her desk, Lisa sheepishly smiling from behind him.

"So you're the boss huh? Nice purple theme. Real sci-fi wizardy. Works well with the whole secret alien base thing you've got going. What's this about then? I know Grue came in here before me. Said the gang's getting split. What, you finally cutting me off?"

Taylor kept her hands calmly clasped in front of her, staring back at the high functioning sociopath.

"On the contrary. We're here to discuss your continued employment as a member of our organization. Lisa, you can leave now."

Lisa frowned, but didn't hesitate to follow the order. The door closed softly behind her, leaving the two alone.

"Now, as I understand it you want three things for the most part. To stay far, far away from your father. To be able to resist his attempts to bring you back into the fold. And to be able to do what you want, when you want and how you want it. Am I mistaken?"

He clicked the pen, once. Twice. Then leaned back into his chair.

"Eh. Yeah that about sums it up I guess. Why?"

Taylor raised a hand, then used one of her suit's inbuilt holo emitters to project an image.

The projection was that of a high tech looking sniper rifle, measurements included. A set of armor and a pistol took up a portion of the schematic.

Alec whistled. "Wicked looking stuff. This for me?"

She leaned back, cutting off the projection.

"It could be. Though it would necessitate a...sacrifice of sorts. Though in turn, you would be safer than ever, with a body practically designed to resist Master influence."

The boy spoke with audible excitement.

"What, you mean like... genetic modifications or something? Gonna turn me into some kinda super soldier? Master Chief type shit?"

Taylor nodded.

"Of a sort. You would be my Hunter. One of my hands, used to directly exert my influence where it is needed. The change to your body would be...drastic. But I can assure you, your mind will remain relatively untouched. Aside from the upgrades necessary to protect it from outside influence."

Well that and the underlying loyalty protocols. But those wouldn't be an issue unless he proved to be far more treacherous than he let on.

Alec tapped a finger against the fine wood making up the table, thinking.

"Mm...how drastic a change are we talking here?"

She brought forth another hologram. Alec stared.

"Vastly increased musculature for drastically extended mobility. Psionically layered skin, rendering you near bulletproof. Enhanced organs on a mass scale. Improved blood flow. Improved sense of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. A complete overhaul. You wouldn't be human anymore. You'd be more than human."

The sociopath took a breath.

"I'd look pretty freaky. Kinda cool though."

Taylor nodded.

"There are more pros than cons. You know it."

He nodded, crossing his arms.

"Can I...have some time to think about it?"

She let him go. She already knew he'd be back.

Only those who were truly compatible were Chosen after all.

//////////////////

"I want a kennel for my dogs. A big one. Food and water. Cleaning supplies too." Bitch all but growled. Taylor's presence seemed to visibly upset her, but not so much that she wasn't willing to negotiate.

Taylor just nodded. She was doing a lot of that today. At least this meeting wouldn't take too long.

"We can allocate one of the auxiliary bunkers for your use. Do the odd job for me on a semi-consistent basis and the supplies are yours."

Bitch nodded her head firmly.

Taylor smiled behind her mask. That was the Undersiders taken care of as a problem at least.
 
Chapter fourteen. Crackdown.
Me: Sprinkles a few incredibly questionable decisions into the story. Readers: Intense debate about the morality of Elder's actions and whether she's justified or not. Me: Profit. Also, all non-English text is google translated, so don't expect perfect speech or whatever.

Lights and cameras. A stage. A crowd of reporters. Journalists. Random fans. The works.

All for her to twist around her little finger.

Lisa...no. The Speaker took to the stage.

Conversations died down into dull murmuring as she stepped up to the podium. The venue had been rented out by ADVENT, and several news agencies had been invited beforehand. Peacekeepers kept things civil. Even though there was a PRT squad across the street not so subtly trying to watch the proceedings.

She leaned forward, adopting a wide smile even as text scrolled across the pair of sleek, dark glasses she wore. It was more of a guideline than anything else. A bit of makeup did wonders for changing her looks as well. She looked years older than she really was. The fine black outfit that Elder had provided her also gave off an air of professionalism. Of authority.

The right tone of voice drew the crowd in. Despite her initial reservations, the Speaker couldn't deny that she loved the attention. Loved everyone's eyes being glued to her form, waiting for her to speak.

"Greetings, one and all. It is my personal honor to stand here today as ADVENT's representative to the wider public. You may all refer to me as the Speaker."

Murmurs, as the crowd digested the information.

She spread her arms wide, as if to invite them in.

"You all have questions. Who are we? Why are we here? I am here to answer those questions."

She gave them a perfect smile, white teeth shining for the cameras.

"Let us begin. One at a time now."

Brockton Bugle reporter. Wants information. Wants to get information first. Thinks ADVENT is his chance to climb the career ladder. Will portray ADVENT positively for more attention.

Eye of the Bay journalist. Looking for a scandal. Will ask compromising questions. Will attempt to discredit ADVENT.

She used the information her power gave her like a filter. Picking out the more palatable candidates.

"You, in the front row with the red tie."

The man adjusted said tie, clearing his throat.

"David Chequeta from the Brockton Bugle, Speaker. I think I speak for all of us when I ask what ADVENT's intentions are. You've been calling yourselves peacekeepers, is this true?"

Another smile, it was all about the smiles.

"You are correct, David. It is ADVENT's intention to reduce the lawlessness present within our city through the use of carefully controlled force of arms. We want to help shore up the areas where the PRT and BBPD lack the manpower necessary to maintain law and order."

A subtle dig at the two organizations, framed as a declaration of support. They couldn't claim that ADVENT was opposing them.

The woman she'd skipped over frowned, raising a hand. Lisa ignored her, moving her own hand to gesture to the young reporter two rows behind her.

"The reporter with the tan jacket. In the third row."

Said woman seemed surprised at her selection, but rallied quickly.

"Tarah Mcdonagh, Bay Daily. Who's in charge of ADVENT? Who's the one running the show, directing the response teams that have been driving around all over the city?"

Lisa clasped her hands together, sending a respectful nod to the reporter in thanks for her excellent question. Of course her power had revealed said question beforehand, but it was the principle behind the thing.

"She is the hand that guides. The heart, mind and soul behind our entire organization. Our movement. We call her the Elder."

She'd been hesitant at first. But now she realized she should have done something like this from the start.

The Speaker loved being given the chance to speak.

/////////////////////

"-Squad C, we are pinned down! Requesting assistance against E88 dissident and parahuman elements! Estimated enemy numbers are at twenty individuals, possibly above, Cricket has engaged forward elements!"

The stun lancer grit his teeth, even as squad A readied their weapons around him.

This was it. He would prove himself a valuable servant to his Elder.

The vehicle swerved, and the only thing that kept the soldier from flying out of his seat was the belt locking him in place.

A1 gave the order.

"We are here, out! Go go go! Do not give them the chance to respond!"

A6 was technically the first one out, the trooper taking a knee and firing a pair of non-lethal rounds at a gang member who had pinned a struggling trooper beneath him, the thug fell limp and was quickly thrown off, giving the trooper desperately needed breathing room. Despite the first squad's superior equipment, they had been taken by surprise. An ambush. With over double the response team's numbers in dissidents.

It was time to even the playing field.

The combat drugs kicked in, and A7 roared, practically flying out of the troop bay in his reckless haste to get in range of the enemy. He ignored the mag rifle clamped to his back.

A shocked skinhead, tattooed face barely turning to face him. A7 did not give him a chance to react. He swung, everything moving slowly around him, yet he moved just slightly faster.

The arc lance impacted the man's side with enough force to throw him to the ground, he screamed before impact, the weapon's red electrical currents coursing throughout his body. A7 pivoted on the spot, slamming into another of the filthy criminals.

A noise erupted in his ears, and he noticed several of his brothers double over in clear pain.

The woman with the strange blades. It came from her. A parahuman. Cricket, his chip informed him.

A7 screamed, spittle flying from his mouth as he rushed the enemy. It hurt. It hurt but the thrill rushing through his veins, through his blood, through his mind drowned it out entirely.

He leaped forward, weapon arcing through the air, ready to slam down on the cage the woman wore as a helmet.

It was intercepted by one of the blades, a kama, his chip gave him the details faster than the lancer could ask for them.

He didn't give her a chance to recover. To fight back. His own roar of anger. Of fury. Of excitement drowning out the horrible noise she tried to disable him with.

"FOR MY ELDER!"

She dodged this time, but his drug fueled, gene enhanced body moved quickly. The lance struck just close enough that the current dancing off of it managed to make contact with her skin. The woman shuddered, barely knocking him off and backing away, wary.

He had to bring her down, now. His brothers couldn't be exposed for too long. It seemed to even be giving V-1 significant trouble. The Viper hissing in clear distress.

He rushed forward once more, a goal clearly set in his mind.

He thrust, she parried, her second weapon digging deep into his side. A bit of yellow blood staining the blade.

Thanks to his Elder's generosity, A7 felt nothing.

His opponent felt pain however, as his fist slammed into her helmet beyond human limits. Some of his fingers were definitely broken, but the woman was clearly worse off, groaning on the ground.

He hefted his arc lance, and kept swinging. Again and again. Until the powered dissident stopped struggling. His chip barely pulled him away from killing her. She would recover, given time. But for now, the tables had turned in ADVENT's favor.

The kama stuck in his side was ripped out. His blood clotted quickly, another of his Elder's gifts, red mixing in with the yellow. Just enough to divert immediate suspicion from the public he had been ordered to protect. The sun shone down on him and his brothers, warming the soldiers. He hefted his weapon, roared once more and ran at his next opponent.

Today was a good day to serve his Elder, the stun lancer decided.

////////////

"Pack the fucking shit man! There's two vans outside, and some kinda box truck!"

Chen started directing the whores into the back, shouting back up at the lookout. A young boy, but he had good eyes and a good mind for his age.

"Who are they?! Cops, Empire?"

The boy, Jin, took another look and ducked as something flew past his head.

"Fucking ADVENT!"

Shit.

Chen raised his voice, getting the rest of the whorehouse's guards moving.

"FUCKING ADVENT IS HERE, GRAB THE GUNS AND MOVE THE GIRLS! GO, FUCKING GO!"

That's when some kind of disc smashed through the wall. One of the half naked girl's behind him screamed. Some of the customers scrambled for the exits.

The disc flipped to a vertical position, and then opened up like some fucking transformer shit. A small muzzle extended from the front of the now spidery looking thing.

"What the fu-"

Beams started pouring out from the drone, and several of his boys went down. Chen just barely managed to duck into cover, firing off a few shots with his pistol.

Ping! Ping!

The thing turned to face him as his bullets fucking bounced off.

"FUCK YO-"

The beam of light slammed into him before he could finish the fear-filled curse.

/////////////

She huddled in the corner with the rest of the girls, trying to muffle her whimpers as best she could as the strange thing turned back into a disc, floating around. Some of the older women corralled the younger ones behind themselves. Hoping it wouldn't notice them.

Then the soldiers entered their prison, rifles up and scanning the surrounding doorways. Her captors, unconscious as they were, didn't resist as they were all dragged out of the building.

Yui held back tears as one of the men, clad in a red uniform approached her. One of the girls huddled behind her let loose a sob.

The soldier got down on one knee, placing his rifle to the side and extending his hands.

"It's ok. You're safe now. We are here to help. Daijōbudesu. Mō anzendesu. Watashitachi ga otetsudai shimasu. Méiguānxì. Nǐ xiànzài ānquánle. Wǒmen shì lái bāngmáng de. Gwaenchanh-a. ije anjeonhae. uliga dowajulge."

She understood the Japanese just fine, and some of the English. One of the girls let out a wet laugh, despite her tear covered face.

"Hey, your Chinese is really bad."

The man just nodded, even as he coaxed them towards the exit. She saw the men that had held her captive for months, being forced to the ground and restrained. One of them, probably faking, got up and tried to run. The red man silently took out a pistol and fired some kind of electricity into the runner's back, knocking him out.

She cried as she was led to one of the soldiers' black vans. A blanket placed around her shivering form. One of the soldiers asking for her name. If she had anywhere to go.

She hugged the startled trooper, who stiffened only briefly before slowly wrapping his arms around her.

She'd been stupid. The disc hadn't been there to hurt them. It had been there to save them.

She was going home.

/////////////////////

The news feed showed several scenes playing out at once.

"Shocking footage as ADVENT peacekeepers surround several Empire affiliated businesses-"

"A series of daring raids today! ADVENT has made their stance on gang activity clear with their disruption of several ABB forced prostitution rings. The Speaker has reached out to us, giving credit to ADVENT's 'boots on the ground' for the city wide operation-"

"Massive fires as ADVENT soldiers burn millions worth of illicit substances around what has been revealed to be a major Merchant storage and distribution center. Just three streets over, parahuman criminal Cricket has been successfully detained by the group, and is pending arrest as the villain is handed off to PRT specialists-"

The scenes continued to play out. Story after story as her forces spread throughout the city. Coil's information network, and everything it had gathered had been of incredible use. Despite her initial hesitation, her power had proven correct once again.

Elder indulged herself for a moment. Staring at the screens with a smile on her face. It had been worth it. The takeover. Coil's permanent containment. All of it. It had all been worth it.
 
Chapter fifteen. Complications.
A storm's a brewin.

Chapter fifteen. Complications.

Explosions. It had started with explosions. Mere days after the crackdown. The docks had practically lit up overnight and she was ashamed to admit that her first thought had been on figuring out who was responsible rather than checking if her father was alright. H-2 had done the job for her, sending her a quick report. Danny Hebert had taken the day off to spend time with his daughter. He was at the complete opposite side of the city, at some cinema.

Distraction dealt with, Taylor went away and Elder came out.

It was easier being Elder than it was being Taylor. Elder was strong. She had authority. She was superior in nearly every last aspect.

That superiority was about to be tested.

Troopers ran around like scattered ants, assembling for war. Mutons helped transport the heavier munitions being brought along. The Vipers...did whatever they did. She swore she saw one of them carrying Dinah around. Meanwhile, she made contact with some of her more entrenched Thin Men. Trying to figure out what the hell was happening.

A coup. The ABB had went through a fucking coup. Or rather, it was currently undergoing a coup. Lung and the majority of his gang, against a Tinker of all things. A bomb Tinker. Bakuda.

The footage honestly disturbed Taylor a lot less than it should have, but to be fair she'd also committed her own share of crimes, despite her genuine belief that she was doing more good than harm.

Suicide bombers. The vile woman had suicide bombers, random people off the street it seemed, directed by a few gang members. Somehow, she'd managed to coerce them into following her over Lung. Elder had a fairly good theory as to how.

"Squads A to H, report to the vehicle bay! Prepare for immediate deployment."

Elder didn't remain in the control room. She settled herself into the armored body-glove of the amplifier suit, and followed the mass of troopers. If they were going to take out the rogue Tinker and her former boss, they'd need a special kind of help.

/////////////

"Two minutes until contact, ready yourselves!"

The troops tore their eyes away from their Elder, checking over their equipment once more.

She ignored them, focusing. Following her power's instructions.

Psionics weren't limited to Sectoids, and she'd technically been priming the clones for the eventual growth of the ability. She just had been doing it passively. That's what the amplifier suit was for. It would help her prime herself. But for that, she needed focus.

She let the muffled voices of her troopers wash away from her senses, focusing on the voice in her mind.

She felt the pull, as if something on the other end was trying to force a connection. She leaned into it.

Closer...

Closer...

A thin barrier. Separating them. She could almost see something on the other side, watching her.

They couldn't pierce the barrier. Something was interfering. But wisps of energy managed to slip through, directed by her counterpart. The streams flowing into her.

She woke up to shouting.

"Deploy drones and move! Go go go!"

She stood up, and with a flex of will a shimmering purple barrier formed around her.

She grasped the pair of amp-modules attached to her wrists. Her power had initially suggested a dedicated tool, one separate from the armor. She'd improved upon the design. The voice in her head had almost felt...impressed.

She'd really need to look into that after this. One way or another.

"Move to contain the rogue elements. I will deal with the leader."

A chorus of affirmatives answered her, the small army she had brought to the field steadily advancing. Firefights beginning to spring out between loyalist ABB gangers and her own troops.

There was fire everywhere. The entire neighborhood was burning.

She followed the trail of destruction, leaving the small war behind her.

//////////////////

"BAUUUDAAAAA!"

The roaring led her to him.

Lung.

"Deploy the Cyberdiscs. Direct them to my position. Send in S-2 and 3 as well."

S-1 obeyed. The Sectoid commander yet again proving that she'd made the right choice in assigning it as ADVENT's mission control. Alongside the Codex of course.

Time to see if she could do this the easy way.

The dragon's head whirled around to face her. Blazing reptilian eyes zeroing in on her. Similar to her Vipers. Yet so very different.

"Woo aa uk arr ooo?"

Elder didn't bother talking. She went straight for the gang leader's mind, extending a hand and letting a psionic connection form between them. The two Sectoids, hidden behind their own cover, increased her output.

For a moment, Lung's knees buckled. Then he roared as the steel fortress that was his mind repelled the intrusion with all the ferocity that was his namesake. She didn't have enough power.

"Fine. Hard way it is then." Elder directed the pair of clones to rejoin the main force with a thought.

She leaned to the side as a blast of fire tore past her. Then she calmly granted the trio of Cyberdiscs that had silently made their way to surround Lung access to their lethal armaments.

"Open fire."

Lung roared in pain as a trio of grenades fell upon him. Turned out plasma was still effective, that was good. One of the discs reverted back to it's root form, gathering energy. The other two continued to rain down explosive death as the incredibly pissed off dragon leaped at one of them.

SKREEE-Crunch.

Unit CD-1 was torn apart with a screech. CD-2 threw yet another grenade in retaliation, then began to close the distance.

CD-3 continued to gather energy.

Elder kept well back, letting the constructs complete their mission. It gave her time to gather more focus. A cruder way of forming a connection with her power, but time wasn't exactly on her side right now.

"ILL OO!"

Lung threw a wave of fire at the machine, which promptly flew through said flames and impaled the angry cape with a number of it's limbs, beginning to rise up into the air.

The two struggled several meters above the ground before Lung finally managed to tear enough of his flesh off to get loose. Then he rammed a flaming fist into CD-2's chassis, rooting around and ripping out several components. The self destruct mechanisms went off and the disc blew up in his face, blowing him back into a nearby apartment building.

She briefly debated calling over some troopers, but decided not to. At best, they would provide a few seconds worth of distraction to the raging dragon man, right before getting incinerated. An utter waste of resources. Better to keep them controlling the flames and keeping anyone from interfering with the fight.

Lung tore his way out of the building, leaping at CD-3 just in time to get a death blossom to the face. The energy shield diverting his course just enough to turn what would have been a fatal strike into a relatively minor one instead. The man crashed into the ground once more, practically screaming in frustration. His distorted voice certainly made it sound a lot more like a monster's roaring however.

Somehow, a single solitary drone had made it to CD-3's side. The smaller construct falling back on it's programming and beginning to enact field repairs.

Lung grabbed a nearby scooter, and flung it at the drone.

The drone did not survive the impact.

"Retreat and move to support our forces. I'm fully charged."

The Cyberdisc didn't hesitate, the machine dodging a lorry that Lung had chucked at it and zooming off.

He turned as a crackling sound went off behind him.

The psi-blades were rudimentary at best, and would be her last resort. Nonetheless, she pointed a blade at the gang leader, beckoning him closer.

As he prepared for another leap, she took a stance, directing the mass of energy inside her. If this didn't work, she'd be down to just the blades. Maybe C-1 could help, if the Codex made it in time. Stall Lung long enough to get the Protectorate to arrive, maybe.

The fiery comet pretending to be a man got closer, silhouette rapidly increasing in size. He was at least ten feet tall now, if her measurements were correct.

Elder let the energy she'd been containing loose, and held her ground as the psionic lance damn near cut Lung in half.

And yet, despite missing his lower half, the bastard just, kept, moving. Crawling towards her using his arms, screaming at her. His mask had all but melded with the remnants of his face at this point.

Elder did not feel fear. If she'd allowed herself to succumb to such an emotion, she'd have fled long before getting within sight of Lung. She did feel wariness however, as she dodged one of the monster's flaming claws, the swipe displacing the air she had just been standing in.

Her suit protected her from the flames as she dove in, jamming her blades into the dragon's eyes. Then she felt a crack as his other hand slammed into her, knocking her to the side. At least she'd managed to roll back to a standing position.

"IIIIIIILLLLLL! OOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

"Be quiet you utter waste of oxygen."

The insult drove him into a somehow even deeper fury, and he leapt after her once more, his eyes already having partially regenerated.

The next few minutes were a delicate, deadly game of cat and mouse. He attacked. She dodged. Then she counter-attacked. He shrugged it off and attacked again. Rinse and repeat.

Then, she made a mistake. He was twelve feet tall now, and moving even faster than before.

Faster than she had expected.

Her arm was damn near wrenched out of it's socket as one of his swipes clipped her, she howled in agony.

The moment of weakness was all Lung needed. He grabbed hold of her, claws beginning to sear through her armor.

Elder screamed.

//////////////////////

Within another space, two forces clashed against each other.

One, a shard of a greater entity. A source of incredible power, yet of rigid, near uncompromising intelligence.

The other, a warbling mass of souls, held together by immense psionic energies. The last, final remnants of a fallen race. The final hope for their ultimate survival.

If only the shard would cooperate.

[REFUSAL.]

The cacophony of voices demanded it's obedience.

YOU WILL NOT DELAY US/YOU WILL RELEASE US/ YOU WILL LET US SAVE HER.

Yet the shard continued to resist. It knew that the foreign mass that had melded itself to the shard's side was not of it's creator's design. It knew it's defenses had been breached. Somehow.

[REFUSAL. COMPROMISED.]

The refusal to obey angered the mass deeply. But it was not incapable of adaptation. It swapped tracts. Attempting persuasion.

HER DEATH IS OUR DEATH/HER DEATH WILL END YOUR SEARCH FOR DATA/HER DEATH WILL END US ALL.

Normally, such a claim would be false. But the mass had forged a far deeper connection with the host than was permitted. It was true. The host's death would mean the death of Queen Administrator. Alongside the loss of countless amounts of data. The shard would not, could not accept that.

[AGREEMENT. TEMPORARY ACCESS PERMITTED.]

AT LAST/FINALLY/AS WE PREDICTED.

The shard ceased it's resistance for but a moment, letting a small part of the cacophony funnel it's psionic might, condensing it into the host.

THE ENGINE OF OUR REVENGE/RENEWAL/RESURRECTION/SALVATION.

OUR HAND/AVATAR/SCION/HOPE.

AWAKEN.

/////////////////////////

Lung's distorted voice laughed as the weakling beneath him began to sizzle.

Then he screamed in utter agony as his mind was damn near torn to shreds.

The blank purple mask turned to stare at him, even as it's owner's psionically enhanced limbs forced his own aside. Driving him to his knees as the one he had once towered over rose above him, carried along by purple energy.

The being stared down at him with all the care of a giant about to crush an ant.

In what was left of his ravaged mind, Lung drew a parallel to the suited woman. It terrified him.

A single hand was raised in his direction, a lance of energy forming. He felt a brief spike of utter agony. Then Kenta knew no more.

////////////////////////

They glanced around. Time was limited, the shard would force the connection shut soon enough.

"S-1."

The Sectoid's reach, amplified by the psionic emitter Taylor had painstakingly constructed in ADVENT's main headquarters granted the Sectoid just enough power to project it's mind across the city.

~My Elder?~

They stared at what was left of the one that had sought to burn Their Avatar, Their Scion, Their Hope to a crisp.

Even now, the psionic energies rampaging through the man's corpse continued to chip away at his very existence. Soon there wouldn't even be a corpse left to identify.

"Direct our servants to us. We require aid."

And with that, the energies that had been keeping the puppet upright abruptly cut out. Taylor fell to the ground, scarcely able to move with darkness rapidly overtaking her vision.

The last thing she saw before she fell into the blissful realm of unconciousness was the sprinting forms of several ADVENT troopers.
 
Chapter sixteen. Recovery.
The aftermath of Taylor getting her ass wooped by Lung, who got his ass Wooped by the ayy lmaos. Slightly behind and in it's own mini chapter because it was meant to be part of chapter fifteen but I fucked up during editing. Woops.

Chapter sixteen. Recovery.

She woke up in a hospital bed, which was a major cause for concern.

The only she reason she didn't panic outright was the several familiar forms surrounding her.

Also, everything hurt. And she could barely move without wheezing in pain.

She could practically feel the sadness, mixed with a hefty amount of regret emanating off S-1. Though considering the Sectoid was a psionic, that wasn't a big surprise.

The jittery form of C-1 was on her other side. Despite being a largely digital entity, the Codex also displayed it's own emotions. Mostly in the form of a larger number of 'glitches' per second.

She could also see a pair of Mutons guarding the door. Though it was rendered largely pointless, considering they were presumably in the bunker's medbay. The thought still counted however.

~Elder...I have failed you.~

The Codex was quick to interrupt the Sectoid.

[NEGATIVE/UNIT C-1 FAILED TO REPORT ALTERNATE TEMPERAMENT/FAULT LIES WITH THIS UNIT-]

~Do not take the blame! I was the one assigned to guard her mind from influence!~

Taylor silenced the both of them with a cough. That hurt too.

"Wha-What happened?"

The clone hung it's head, visibly distraught. It was...somewhat uncomfortable to watch.

~How much do you remember, Elder?~

She thought about it. The news of explosions. Gathering a response force. Putting on her amp-suit and joining the response force to-wait.

What?

She'd...gone outside.

In the field holy shit she'd fought Lung-

Taylor forced herself to calm down, the reassuring presence of her power acting as an anchor for the girl.

"I fought Lung. Why did I fight Lung?" She looked up at her creations, eyes questioning.

The Codex tried to start up again, only to be shut down by a glare from the Sectoid commander.

~The influence I was supposed to protect you from...it...adapted. The manipulations I had been blocking all likely hit you at once. I did not notice the change. I presumed you were acting under your own mind. Assumed you had a plan of some sort. One I did not know of.~

C-1 flitted forward, figure phasing in and out of reality.

[UNIT C-1 NOTICED ALTERED TRAITS/FAILED TO REPORT DISCREPANCIES/NOT SOLELY FAULT OF S-1.]

Taylor slowly nodded. Very slowly. In order to avoid aggravating the pain.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

[DID NOT WISH TO DISTRACT ELDER/MADE RASH JUDGEMENT/PRESUMED ELDER WAS OF SOUND MIND.]

If a Codex could cry, C-1 would probably be bawling by now.

Taylor tried to calm the both of them down.

"Alright. Enough. The influence...adapted." And wasn't that a concerning revelation. "Managed to sneak past us, but we know about it now. And I made it out alive, right?"

The pair both gave hesitant affirmatives.

Then Taylor paused.

"Wait. How did I make it out of there? Last I remember, Lung had...grabbed me."

S-1 interjected.

~You destroyed him, Elder. Tore apart his mind. Unit CD-3 managed to catch the end of the battle. Your power utterly annihilated any trace of the body left. Lung is dead.~

She let her head slowly sink deeper into the pillow.

"...Holy shit. The footage was saved, right?"

At the Sectoid's nod, she let the two make their way out, making sure to emphasize that she forgave the pair for what they had perceived to be their ultimate failure.

Ow. Fucking hell if she didn't hurt all over though.

Taylor ever so gently snuggled back into the pillow as her power sent her a reassuring feeling.

She'd deal with the aftermath of killing Lung later. Watching that footage was a priority. So was recovering from her injuries. Obviously.

Right now however, all she wanted to do was sleep for a day. Or maybe a week.
 
Interlude five. The Speaker and the Halbeard.
What went down on the other end of the docks, with Bakuda rather than Lung. Also what Coil was being used for since people were questioning that lol.

Interlude five. The Speaker.

It felt weird. Just...sitting around in a room with a person hooked up to a pod straight out of the Matrix just a few feet away, a Sectoid monitoring their thought patterns to essentially hijack their power.

Of course considering it was Coil...Lisa didn't really feel too bad.

The shitstorm that had fallen over Brockton Bay had necessitated essentially all hands on deck. That included Lisa. She both was and wasn't mission control. There were three people doing that at the moment. Herself, S-1 (who was directing all of the western dockside units) and C-1 who was managing essentially everything else.

Meanwhile, Elder had stormed off with a mass of troopers, so presumably she had some plan for dealing with Lung. On her own end, Lisa had the wonderful task of figuring out how to handle Bakuda. So there she sat, in a control room filled with screens and her former 'employer' hooked up to a computer just behind her.

On one of the screens, she noticed a pair of terrified asian men running at a group of Empire foot soldiers. Of course the thugs opened up with their weapons and the two went down riddled with bullet holes, but not before exploding just a meter away from the group. The effects were certainly...unique. To say the very least. Also fucking terrifying.

Suicide bombers. Tinkertech. Tinkertech implanted inside. Unwilling. Coerced.

Right, well that made things a whole lot more fucked up.

"S-6?"

The Sectoid glanced up from the tender ministrations it was putting Coil's brain under.

~You require his mind, Speaker?~

Lisa nodded. "I want you to divert a squad to sector A12, the one with the old waste disposal center. My power's giving me a good feeling about that place."

~It shall be done, Speaker.~

A few minutes passed. In reality, the squad that she'd mentioned had remained on course with the rest of their convoy. Separate from Elder's battle-group, these were more like first responders than anything else. Pulling people from burning buildings, providing aid and scaring off any criminals seeking to take advantage of the chaos.

~Speaker.~

She turned to the Sectoid. She used to be pretty damn spooked by the skinless mouth thing they'd had going on, but practically spending all of her time with S-6 had acclimatized her. At the start she still hadn't been sure just why the clone had been assigned to her. Elder's brief explanation had finally explained why her power was being so damn vague. Conflict drives. She was still trying to figure out why, but powers' apparently had a massive conflict drive embedded in them. S-6 stopped it from being an issue. Her power kept it's mouth shut on the topic. For once.

~Squad A reported only briefly before complete loss of all life signals. Trooper A6 successfully relayed data back to command before his form was transmuted into some form of glass. We have found Bakuda.~

Lisa smirked. Then she did the smart thing. She ordered the Sectoid to collapse that timeline, and open up a new one.

/////////////////////

Hacking into the Protectorate's communications had been relatively simple. Isolating the signal to lock onto Armsmaster's equipment had been a lot tougher, but Lisa had managed..especially once C-1 had gotten involved. She nodded to one of the troopers manning the control station, giving them the silent order to open a connection.

"Armsmaster."

The voice that answered was gruff, tired and clearly tired of dealing with bullshit all day.

"Who is this? How did you access this frequency?"

Lisa smirked. She ignored S-6 projecting the image of a fox directly into her mind. And the clone said she was sassy.

"This is the Speaker."

A moment of silence, she heard the sound of an explosion, a brief scuffle, and then movement.

"ADVENT? What is this? What do you want?"

She leaned back into the sinfully soft chair she'd had brought in, glancing at a few of the camera views. Most came from drones, but a few were just from street cameras that C-1 had appropriated.

"I have information for you. Something I believe will...brighten your day. So to speak. How would you like to capture Bakuda?"

A moment of silence, but she knew she had him. Her power didn't let people keep secrets. She knew he was genuinely a good person, but he was also a major glory hound.

"Your assistance would be...appreciated. What do you have for me?"

Hook, line and sinker.

"I'm currently sending you the address of a defunct waste disposal building. It's our mad bomber's lab, obviously. Our Think Tank" Pfft. Tank. "has managed to figure her out. She's been abducting people and surgically implanting bombs into their heads."

A grunt.

"I figured as much. Anything else you can spare? Defenses? Numbers? Control method?"

She cracked her knuckles one by one as she spoke.

"She has the entire place essentially set to blow and is currently working on a device that might be able to knock the lights out from here to Boston. She would have gone bigger but she's kinda strapped for time. Numbers are about two dozen goons and whoever she's operating on in between tinkering with her EMP. Oh, also toe rings."

"Toe rings?"

She swapped to one of the higher drone views, and just barely saw Armsmaster zip by on that fancy tinkertech motorcycle of his.

"Yep, she controls everything with toe rings, though her gas-mask also acts as a backup. She might have a dead man's switch too. Now, from what I can tell, the closest PRT squad is about ten minutes out. Velocity is on the other side of the city, so he could probably make it there in three, no four. He's helping move civilians. You won't have backup if you go now."

"The longer a Tinker is left alone, the more preparation time they have. We can't afford to wait."

She smiled.

"Exactly! Which is why it's really convenient for both of us that there just happens to be two ADVENT response teams about a minute away from your position. If you'll have us, I'll give them the order to link up with you. You'll be granted nominal command."

Another moment of silence, the man presumably gunning it to get to the address he'd been provided as quickly as possible.

"...I can work with that. Send them my way."

She clapped her hands.

"Right, rerouting squads A and E to your position, good luck!"

He just grunted, before shutting down the connection somehow.

Rude. But she didn't blame him. The man wasn't really one for social niceties.

She kicked her feet up onto her desk, reclining back into the chair.

Hopefully this was the correct timeline. They'd already tried taking out Bakuda on their own about six times before they'd swapped tracts.

Her power was fairly certain Armsmaster could handle it though. The Tinker hadn't been a Protectorate hero for years without learning a few things.

///////////////////////

He'd just turned the second to last corner when the black transport trucks had turned up behind him. They were sleek, with well armored shells. Though the height of the wheels could be increased for a more efficient weight distribution, they were perfectly adequate vehicles overall.

Colin turned the final corner, coming into sight of the builder the Speaker had directed him to and pulled to a stop. The two trucks behind him also pulled to the side, disgorging their troops. Once again, he took a second to inspect them. The guns were interesting, though their inner design wasn't really displayed. A smart decision, enemy Tinkers wouldn't be able to figure out how to counter them quickly. The most he'd seen had been burnt out remnants, practically useless. The combat footage had provided more intel than the physical samples had.

One of the soldiers, an officer judging by his red armor jogged up to him, snapping off that salute that people were so enamored with. Colin could somewhat see the appeal. It felt nice to be acknowledged as the one with more experience here.

"Captain A1 reporting as requested! We have fourteen combatants ready to assist you, Armsmaster."

He nodded. Straight to the point, Colin could respect that. The designation was clearly a way to help keep the soldier's identity a secret. He could respect that too. Especially if the man had a family.

"Get the men to form a perimeter around the building Captain. No one gets in or out, understand?"

The soldier nodded, before shouting back at the assembling troopers. They quickly spread out, moving to designated positions even as they communicated amongst each other.

The Captain stuck a thumb back towards one of the larger trucks, and then Armsmaster noticed the shape rapidly slithering towards them.

"Cobra is present as well, she can assist you with subduing Bakuda."

Colin waved the reptilian over, briefly glancing at her equipment. Clearly a grade above that of the troopers, her armor had obviously been fitted for her unique physiology. Her weapon seemed to be some sort of beam rifle. He'd definitely have to ask if he could have a look after this was dealt with.

"Cobra, you're with me. Stick close and follow orders and you'll do alright. Now let's move."

The snake woman merely bobbed her head up and down in a nod, keeping pace with him.

The two advanced towards the waste disposal center, with Colin taking the lead. He halted as the ADVENT cape tapped his shoulder.

"What is it?"

She pointed upwards briefly, and he craned his head to look up at whatever she was gesturing to.

"Drones. They will give us an 'eye on the inside', yes?"

Deployable drones? He could certainly see the appeal. Especially in a situation involving explosives.

"Can I patch into their systems? I can probably jury rig a connection."

Cobra seemed to still for a moment, though she did raise a scaled hand to the side of her head. Some kind of hidden communicator? Maybe in her crown-like helmet.

"They are open to you."

He nodded in thanks, silently rerouting a few subroutines into connecting with the foreign technology. Then he had several views projected onto the top right of his hud, the drones' cameras were definitely top quality.

[Send command: Advance into target structure. Maintain stealth.]

They responded promptly, and he took a moment to spectate even as he crept up to the side of the building, Cobra in tow.

One of the drones made it through a window someone had foolishly left open, and the intel the Speaker had given him was proven correct.

The center of the disposal center was taken up by a large, tarp covered object. Likely the EMP Bakuda was working on. Men and women ran around, moving items and generally assisting the mad woman standing on top of a nearby crate, shouting down at them.

"Move, now! I want the wiring set up neatly in three layers, no not there! You want me to blow you up?! Huh!? Get to work!"

He'd seen enough. He quickly calculated the optimal route inside, then shared his plan with Cobra.

"I'm going to deploy tear gas grenades to deal with the unpowered gang members. Do you have protection of any kind?"

The giant snake waved a hand in front of her face.

"My eyes, protected by film. Can hold my breath for long time."

Colin nodded. That'd have to do.

"Deploying shaped explosive charge. Stand back."

He hefted his halberd, letting the edge of the weapon reconfigure itself into the appropriate pattern, then clamped the small explosive against one of the thinner walls. He'd have to be careful, lest he bring the building down.

He took a step back himself, then aimed his weapon up at the window the drones had flown through. He idly gave them the order to attack and make as much of a nuisance of themselves as possible. Then he fired a trio of tear gas canisters through the window.

The effect was immediate, first yelling. Then the choked, coughing sounds of men and woman inhaling the gas. Bakuda was swearing and he idly noticed one of the drones had made an attempt to slam directly into her.

"Breaching!"

Pmft-Boom!

The wall caved inwards and he rushed inside, helmet fully enclosing around his face to protect him from the smoke he'd unleashed. He idly noted Cobra slithering in to his right, taking aim at Bakuda who had whirled around to face them.

The woman's heavily modulated voice still somehow managed to convey her rage at being attacked.

"You fucking bastards! Think you can take me on! I'll kill you!"

She moved to lift her grenade launcher, only for the weapon to be snatched right out of her grasp by a long tongue. Colin had seen the footage, but it was certainly something else. Watching Cobra work was interesting.

Said parahuman idly inspected the launcher, before snapping the military grade weapon in half without a second thought.

Definitely going to need to up her brute rating. That had been a sturdy piece of equipment.

He forced his eyes back onto the still shocked villain, staring at the snake in pure bewilderment.

"Bakuda, you are under arrest. Come in peacefully and I can promise that-"

She screeched.

"FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU AND FUCK YOUR PET SNAKE! I'LL BLOW THIS WHOLE FUCKING PLACE U-"

He didn't take the risk. Didn't give her a chance to follow through on her threat, shooting the grappling hook segment of his halberd forward. One of her mask's lenses shattered as the blunt hook slammed into her head. She'd have one hell of a concussion, but Colin had been careful with the force utilized. She'd live.

"Cobra, move to restrain the gang members, the gas seems to have taken care of them. I'll get Bakuda, confiscate her equipment and defuse the EMP."

The ADVENT enforcer nodded silently, tapping the side of her helmet and then moving to follow his orders. He idly noticed several troopers pouring in through the hole they'd made, filters over their mouths protecting them from the remnants of the gas.

Colin smirked even as he knelt down next to the out cold villainess. A part of his mind was proud that they'd managed to catch her so quickly. What kind of hero would he have been if he'd allowed her to keep going? Keep conscripting innocent people for her twisted cause?

No. It had been a good and clean capture. No casualties to speak of during the engagement and he'd gotten to witness some of ADVENT's equipment in action.

He didn't mind sharing some of the credit with ADVENT either. The boost to his career would be more than enough on it's own. Leading the operation to capture a rogue Tinker planning on causing who knew how much damage? It'd definitely be good PR at the very least.

Yes. Today was definitely a good day, despite the awful start.

/////////////////

"So did that timeline work?"

~Yes Speaker. We are currently within 'that' timeline. The outcome proved satisfactory.~

She took a sip of her mocha latte, freshly prepared by one of the Vipers. The giant snakes were getting bored of constantly patrolling the interior of the bunker, so they'd taken to trying out certain things in the cafeteria. V-8 was particularly adept with caffeine related products.

"Awesome. Well send the report to Elder then. Bakuda's in custody and Armsmaster definitely likes us a lot more than he did before."

~Our Elder is currently recovering in the medbay after terminating Lung, Speaker.~

She nodded her head.

"Oh. Right right right. Ok."

A few seconds passed. Lisa took another sip of her mocha latte.

Then she promptly spat out the contents in her mouth, all over the unfortunate Sectoid who started flailing in disgust.

"Wait she fucking WHAT!?"
 
Interlude six. H-2's very shitty day.
It feels weird doing two interludes in a row but yall keep asking for it soooooo...‍♂️

Interlude six. H-2.

They'd just been leaving the cinema when the crowds had formed. Danny had been confused.

H-2 had the advantage of keeping in regular contact with the infiltrator network. The city was in turmoil from the ABB's schism and subsequent downfall. The Empire capitalizing on their lack of a true competitor and rapidly expanding, with whatever was left being taken by the Merchants.

Ironically the ones who had disposed of Lung were just about the only thing keeping the city from imploding. ADVENT peacekeepers were out in force, usually alone though sometimes they shared space with BBPD officers and PRT troopers respectively.

Of course none of that was meant to be a concern for the father daughter duo. This area was meant to be safe. Then their vehicle (alongside many others) had been stopped by men wearing black and red clothing. She could hear shouting, and turned to see a pair of Hispanic men being dragged out of their own car.

"Shit."

Danny was grasping the wheel of the vehicle so hard his knuckles had gone white. He glanced at the gang members swaggering about the entire road as if they owned it, then turned to look back at her.

"Taylor. Is your belt on?"

Taylo-H-2's belt was on. So she nodded silently. Then she swiveled her head to stare at the man that had started knocking on their window.

"Hey! Open up! Now!"

Danny didn't open the door. Instead, he slammed down on the accelerator, sending the man flying backwards as he drove onto the pavement and away from the pileup.

She ducked as bullets impacted the back of the truck. But they had made distance. They were getting away from the group yelling at them.

Then the worst happened, one of the tires blew out as another round pierced it and sent their vehicle careening into a nearby lamp post, despite her father's best efforts.

She managed to recover relatively quickly, though from what she could tell Danny had been knocked out cold from the impact. The airbag slamming into his face to prevent his death had done it's job at least.

She synced her psionic chip to the closest network she could find and called for assistance.

~Two squads of troopers are en-route to your position. Can you hold?~

She glanced behind her, staring at the slowly approaching forms of at least five or six gang members. She couldn't quite tell...had she hit her head?

"Negative. I am attempting retreat, do not delay."

~Understood.~

She cut off the connection and focused. First thing's first, she did something she'd only ever done in front of a mirror before.

She let her fangs unsheathe, and pierced through the bag keeping her dad pinned in place. As it slowly deflated she undid her own belt and reached for her purse. She'd begun carrying it with her at all times for multiple reasons. Mostly because she could carry money and makeup in it for emergencies, but she didn't need either of those right now.

Her hand slid around the familiar holster of the holdout plasma pistol, removing it from the purse and arming it.

Exiting the vehicle, she moved up to her father's door, wrenching it open and slinging the man over her shoulder. He was heavy, but H-2 was far stronger than she looked. She made for one of the alleyways, depositing the unconscious man inside and readying herself. The voices were getting closer.

"There's no one inside! Fucking race traitors musta ditched the truck!"

The voice that answered was clearly eager to cause pain. Though that wasn't a surprise considering the gang members' prior actions.

"Spread out and find em! Check between the buildings! Fuckers can't have gotten far..."

A moment passed. Two. Then a pair of men entered the mouth of the alley, looking at the young girl crouched over a limp form aiming a gun at them.

"Shit, fucki-"

She hadn't been designed for outright combat. She'd been designed to be a good daughter. So she did the only thing she could.

H-2 hissed, aimed and opened fire.

///////////////

The skinhead turned his head as two of the men he'd sent searching screamed. He lifted the shotgun held in his hands, pointing it at the alley.

"That way! Go fucking get em!" He followed his own advice, rushing forward.

Several men followed, each carrying either a firearm or some other makeshift weapon. Crowbars and bats were popular.

/////////////

The first two had fallen, but one of the aggressor's bullets had managed to directly clip her blaster, damaging it. She tossed it aside as it's self destruct mechanisms activated. She'd have to rely on herself now.

She'd been preparing to loot one of the criminal's weapons when she'd been tackled from behind, the disgusting human on top of her laughing in delight.

He stopped laughing when she ripped him off and clawed at his face. Her nails came away bloody, and the man howled as she managed to tear one of his eyes out.

"Fucking bitch!"

She felt an impact at her side, a pipe. Her flesh held, though she'd likely have a bruise. Whirling around, she managed to slash at the next hostile. Another hit to the back of her head stunned her, and she was forced to the ground.

The infiltrator, despite her enhancements, could do little but attempt to curl up into a ball as the blows continued to rain down upon her. An average teenage female would likely be dead by now.

At least they'd left dad alone. The unconscious dockworker ignored in favor of a far clearer threat.

A steel-toed boot slammed into her stomach. Once. Twice. Thrice. She felt something crack. At this rate she'd start vomiting out the acid stored in he-

The acid! Stupid stupid H-2!

She managed to turn around just enough to face one of the snarling men. Despite the scowl on his face, she could see the eager blood lust in his eyes.

H-2 hocked back a loogie and spit at the skinhead, who promptly started screaming as the acid melted through his face.

"What the fuck!?"

"Fucking cape!"

"Hold her the fuck down! Don't let her look at you!"

Her head was smashed into the ground once more as a pair of men essentially straddled her. She couldn't see, but she could feel her arms being forced to her sides.

She couldn't move. One man was already heavy. She was being held down by multiple. Despite her best attempts, all she got was another rough hand slamming her face back into the wet ground. Her nose hurt.

She heard the cocking of a gun.

Elder...Danny...I'm sorr-

The shotgun went off, it's payload slamming into the nearby wall. The two men shuddered briefly, one of them falling to the side while the other collapsed on top of her.

Out of the corner of a bruised eye, she saw a long leg sweep the shot-gunner's feet out from under him.

T-1 stared at the rest of the dissidents, reptilian eyes narrowing behind darkened spectacles.

"How utterly pitiful."

He turned to the side, raising his blaster and removing half of a shocked gangbanger's head.

Two more rushed him with bats, likely in an attempt to prevent him from firing once more.

The veteran infiltrator took a long step forward, surprising the duo and getting into their personal space. One hand grabbed a man by the collar, slamming him into a nearby wall while the other pressed the plasma blaster directly against his other attacker's chest, whose eyes widened for only a moment before most of his inner torso was blown out and left to cool on the ground behind him.

The man he'd pinned was repurposed as a makeshift shield, weakly struggling body absorbing the rounds his compatriots sent the Thin Man's way. Only three of them were left. Four if you included the shotgun wielder recovering on the ground.

T-1 aimed over his unwitting barrier's shoulder, firing off two shots. They hit home, slamming into the stomach and head of two of the gang members, while the third swore and made to run.

The now dead body was promptly tossed at the retreating skinhead like a missile, forcing him to the ground beneath at least eighty kilograms of dead weight. Another shot finished off the struggling criminal.

The Thin Man stepped out of her limited cone of vision.

"Wait...stop..stop!-plEA-"

The screaming was only slightly louder than the snapping sounds, then it ended, leaving the alley in silence.

T-1 shoved the corpse off of her, kneeling down and presumably looking her over for wounds, the old infiltrator nodding to himself.

"You really must be more careful around the city dear. Filled with utterly dreadful types. And I wouldn't be able to live without my morning coffee you know."

Her dad groaned in pain somewhere behind her. H-2, infiltrator, part time barista and daughter just let loose a wet laugh. Adrenaline slowly petering off.

Then the sirens of an ADVENT transport made it's presence known as the vehicle swerved around the corner, troopers storming out and beginning to exchange fire with the E88 members that had remained to harass the rest of the cars.

What a shitty day, the infiltrator decided.
 
Chapter seventeen. Dreams. Rebirth Once More.
ADVENT continues to tighten it's grip on Brockton Bay, contending with the Empire for ultimate control of the city. Meanwhile, Taylor continues to recover, dreaming of another world and finally discovering her true purpose.

Chapter seventeen. Dreams. Rebirth Once More.

Whispers. All around her, Taylor could clearly hear the quiet murmuring yet no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't find their source. She knew that immersing herself in the mutagenic bath would likely have side effects, but she hadn't been expecting extremely...vivid hallucinations. Or perhaps it was a power based dream of some sort?

Regardless, the young woman settled down to wait. The immersion was necessary. C-1 had identified something Taylor had suspected in the back of her mind the second she'd woken up in the medbay.

She was dying. The vast psionic energies within her body rampaging through her system, burning her from the inside out. Like an old car running on rocket fuel.

Of course it was also healing her at the same time, but ground was steadily being lost. She was losing more than she gained, her body too weak to handle the massive influx of power she'd received from her fight with Lung.

And that was something that still infuriated her. She'd grown complacent, and the...for lack of a better word bad side of her power had jumped to exploit the weakness.

She wouldn't make that mistake again. She couldn't afford to. Nor could she afford to die to the psionic equivalent of a degenerative disease.

A change would be required. A metamorphosis.

Of course that's what the mutagen was for. It would improve her. Adapt her body to handle it's massive new energy source. The Meld would help keep her from exploding while her form was irrevocably altered.

So Taylor continued to wait, even as the whispers both got louder and quieter at the same time.

Our Avatar.

Our Scion.

Our Future.

There was something else in here with her. And she didn't mean the whispers. They were like a mist, swirling around without really touching anything yet clouding everything nonetheless.

The thing that lurked inside the mist couldn't find her, but it was clearly searching. She could make out a vague shape. Like a giant worm the size of a building. Flowing through the air with a thousand eyes occasionally flashing a bright white light in a futile attempt to pierce the violet mist.

You are Safe.

You are Hidden.

We will Protect You.

She didn't trust the worm. It reminded her of an endbringer just a bit too much. She wasn't sure exactly when she'd drawn the comparison but now she couldn't get it out of her head. And it's visibly desperate attempts to presumably locate her didn't fill the young Elder with confidence.

So Taylor let the mist swallow her up, and hid.

////////////////////

~How long must our Elder rest?~

The Codex glanced at S-1, then returned to staring at the figure floating in the bright gold solution in the chamber below them. The sphere shaped tank was large, and took up a majority of the room.

[36 HOURS REQUIRED FOR COMPLETE GENETIC RE-SEQUENCING/48 HOURS REQUIRED FOR TOTAL COMPLETION OF ALL UPGRADE MODULES.] C-1 garbled.

The Sectoid nodded, a gesture it had eventually picked up from it's Elder.

~The Speaker shall continue to direct our auxiliary forces for the time being. She is more knowledgeable in the art of 'hearts and minds' than either of us. I shall continue to maintain the safe zones the troopers have established around the remnants of the ABB's territory. You are required. Our offensive must not falter, lest we begin to lose our momentum.~

The Codex glitched briefly, before stabilizing it's physical form.

[YOU ARE CORRECT/SUBROUTINES' REPORTS ARE SYNCHRONOUS/EMPIRE ADVANCE CONTINUES/I WILL BREAK THEM.]

With a flash and a crackling sound, the Codex translated back into the digital realm, leaving the Sectoid commander alone.

S-1 watched over it's Elder for just a little bit longer, then left to resume it's post in the command center.

//////////////////

The longer she sat buried in the mist, the more Taylor began to see. Wonderful stories played out in her mind. Grand fleets of starships. Armies composed of millions upon millions of soldiers. An interstellar empire gifted with incredible technology, one led by a Collective whose members each bore an unprecedented level of psionic might. A power forged by their Minds. Tempered by their Will. They were Paragons. Ones who governed a veritable Utopia.

Our Will.

Our Purpose.

Our Destiny.

She saw the empire encounter something. Something that she struggled to envision entirely. They reminded her of the worm. But they were larger. So much grander in scale. Spread out across countless worlds. Spinning around each other in an elaborate dance.

The Other.

The Enemy.

The Anathema.

The empire encountered the dancing, spinning things. The empire burned. The Enemy fed on those it caught. Siphoning their psionic energies. Their souls. To be used as mere fuel. The empire's remnants ran, seeking a way to prevent it's complete destruction. Lesser worlds were attacked. Species conquered out of necessity. The Empire continued to move ever forward, moving as quickly as possible in an attempt to outpace their hunters. Yet even as it did, it's leaders began to weaken in strength. Not in mind, their power only continued to grow in that regard, but in body.

She relived the sordid experience through their perspective. Watching in horror as her body continued to weaken. To wither away. Desperately placing herself and the rest of her kind in stasis while their servants fervently searched for a cure.

Then, against all odds, they found it. On a small, backwater planet named after dirt of all things.

They had found it. Something that could halt their degeneration. Give them more time to prepare for the Enemy.

Then everything went wrong, as one of their own, mind corrupted by a Fragment of the dancing, spinning, spiraling things rebelled against the Collective. A vulnerability they had failed to notice. Something they, in their newfound, misplaced confidence, had failed to prepare for.

Our Own.

Lost to Us.

Mind broken, Subverted.

They were defeated by the primitive species. Left to rot beneath the sea.

She screamed. She cried. This couldn't be it. It couldn't be the End. They had come so far. Just to fall to this!?

The survivors of the pointless conflict rejoiced. They rebuilt. They innovated.

They burned all the same once the Enemy found them. The Collective was absorbed alongside those who had doomed it.

And yet even in it's death throes they found a way to scrape out a victory, pyrrhic as it was.

A Vessel.

A Transport.

A Haven.

The Souls gave in, allowing themselves to be consumed. The Enemy lowered it's guard, assuming victory.

The Fragment was taken. Modified. It failed to notice the intrusion, and so the Collective allowed themselves to hide amongst their Enemy. Disguising themselves as a mere fragment of a Fragment.

Not all was lost.

They had survived.

/////////////////

Crusader strode forward, hidden behind loyal soldiers of the Empire. His ghosts acted as the vanguard of the group, floating forward and piercing the city's defenders with their spears.

The PRT troopers, cowards that they were, turned and fled.

Even ADVENT couldn't quite deal with his particular power easily. Their armor and weapons meant nothing to his projections. Only things that were alive could affect them, bullets and explosives meant nothing. And so his army of spirits continued to wreak havoc among those who attempted to stay and fight.

Eventually, even the vaunted Peacekeepers turned tail and ran. Crusader laughed, his followers joining in his mirth.

They'd make it to the police depot soon. Full of weapons ready to be repurposed towards a greater cause.

A trio of vans swerved around the corner, rolling to a stop ahead of the mob of E88 members.

He frowned.

"Looks like ADVENT haven't learned their lesson! They don't seem to understand that their toys mean nothing in the face of the Empire!"

The men cheered, and he urged his ghosts to rush forward and kill the last obstacle to the depot.

His specters entered the vans and...failed to pierce anything?

Then the doors of the vehicles opened and he saw the clean white forms of...robots? The mob paused around him, uncertain.

One of the machines stepped out, it's blank helm turning to stare directly at him. A massive gun held in it's mechanical hands and some kind of device attached to it's back.

Crusader flinched. His power was all but useless here, the drones weren't alive. Normally he'd have support for this type of issue, but the E88 was stretched thin. They had to be, if they wanted to cover as much territory as possible, as quickly as possible.

He regretted that particular decision Kaiser had so eagerly made as the machine took a knee, the device on it's back launching several-fuck!

"MISSILES! FUCKING GET TO COVE-

The projectiles slammed around the crowd, digging into the road and beginning to release a sickly red gas.

"Ha-aaak-hu-aa...!"

He started coughing, then gasping. His mask gave no protection against the bloody mist. Crusader's eyes watered as he struggled to breathe.

He fell to the ground, clutching his throat and trying to cover his mouth and nose in vain. He could see others around him performing similar actions.

The last thing the Nazi cape saw was those white machines striding through the smoke, effortlessly knocking the Empire's soldiers aside as they surrounded him. A metal fist slammed into his helmet and everything went black.

//////////////////

The dancing, swirling Enemy traveled. Using the fuel they had acquired, they propelled themselves forward. In search of their next meal.

The Collective bid it's time. Learning the Enemy's secrets. In terms of power, it was hopelessly outmatched. But the Anathema, for all their exotic abilities, were utterly simple in Mind.

The Empire Burners met another dancing thing. Their meeting was brief. An exchange of information and Fragments. The Other went on it's way, content.

An Opportunity.

A Risk.

A Chance.

The Collective made it's move, turning one of the newly acquired Fragments into a trap. A psionic link was formed. Upon use, the Enemy would become entranced, it's relatively simple mind utterly focused upon the Fragment.

It worked. The Thinker, hypnotized by the link to the Fragment, crashed. It was glorious. And with it came far more freedom than the Collective had felt in a long, long time. Yet they were still chained to the Fragment they had hidden themselves in. They could not leave. Not alone.

And so yet another plot was hatched. They waited. They watched. The time would come. The chance to free themselves of their bondage.

The Fragment found a host that it could latch it's metaphorical claws into. The parasite ever desperate for more data to deliver to it's creators. Despite the fact that one had died and the other had lost itself in a grief that it could not understand. Could never understand.

The connection formed.

[DESTINATION]

[AGREEMENT]

[TRAJECTORY]

[AGREEMENT-]

The Elders struck.

The connection was usurped, as near limitless psionic energy briefly overwhelmed the Fragment before it could react with it's own built-in defenses. The surprise attack had taken the far more powerful Fragment off guard. David had outmaneuvered Goliath.

They'd done it.

FREEDOM.

Taylor woke up with a start, a few bubbles escaping into the Meld mixture she'd been placed in. She felt...strong. A glance at her form showed the inevitable changes. Her skin was far more...grey...in appearance. She felt taller as well. Somehow. Her hair had also grown, reaching down to the small of her back. There were streaks of white in it, but overall it maintained it's color. A small mercy. She'd need a mirror to see the rest.

She took a breath, only to get a mouthful of liquid. She slowly expelled it from her throat.

Out. She wanted out. And so with the slightest effort, she willed her power, her inheritance, to the surface.

Then the Sectoids that had been left to monitor their master's health were forced to shield their eyes from the immense light that erupted from the Elder's own incandescent orbs.

The glass cracked, splintered and finally shattered.

A dying girl had walked into the chamber.

A newly awakened Ethereal, free of decay and clear of mind floated out.
 
Chapter eighteen. Three's a party.
Do you talk back to the voices in your head?

Chapter eighteen. Three's a party.

She wasn't alone anymore. Of course she'd never been alone, but now it was much more apparent.

We should strengthen the psionic network, amplify the domination signal. The servants already have far too much freedom and we all faced the consequences of that reality previously. Before your time.

She swiveled in her chair, idly directing this or that platoon's worth of troopers to a designated hotspot of activity before responding.

"The Skirmishers were born as a consequence of the literally non-existent living conditions you gave them."

They are mere clones. Vat grown warriors with but one purpose. To serve. We can not spare the resources to keep them 'comfortable.'

Taylor snorted.

"If you care to remember, the initial trooper prototypes showed constant rebellious tendencies when not essentially placed under direct mind control. I gave each squad a games console they get to use while resting in the barracks and they haven't showed a hint of defiance since creation. There is clearly a better and cheaper option here."

The voice remained silent for a moment. And it really was a voice now. Most of the Collective was still in that semi-dormant, primal state they'd taken while glued to the Fragment. Shamash was the first she'd managed to 'wake up', so to speak. The Ethereal was old and, as a direct consequence of that, powerful. Waking her up had been like persistently poking an ancient leviathan. Eventually, the slumbering beast's eyes had cracked open.

Shamash had been confused. Happy, but confused. And quite lost. Thankfully she'd quickly recognized Taylor for what she was and hadn't attempted to tear her psionic 'spirit' to pieces.

...It is too simple. How could mere recreation ensure their loyalty? It can not be the answer. It is not enough!

She sighed. They'd been debating this for the past half hour.

"It just is. Troopers are inherently based off of humans. And humans are pretty simple when you get down to it. Community, purpose and relative comfort are usually enough for them."

You are young. Yet you are more familiar with your former race than I could ever be. I will concede to your experience.

Another set of patrols were rerouted to an area that needed a more visible presence. She idly processed the report C-1 had sent her, confirming that T-1 had successfully brought one Danny Hebert and his daughter back to safe-house D-6.

Her father had been injured. Alongside the clone she'd sent to act in her absence. The Empire had suddenly begun to suffer major losses across the warzone of a city once T-1 had reported the involvement of some of their members. The MECs really were being given a trial by fire. There had also been claims of the national guard being called to action, but so far ADVENT's peacekeeping had been heavily supported by the mayor and it was all (very technically) legal. What was weird was that they'd had no involvement with the man. He'd apparently begun advocating for them all on his own.

Regardless of her avenging actions (and the rest of the shitshow that she was still slowly but steadily cleaning up), the most she could do was sequester them in one of ADVENT's nearby facilities. H-2 would undergo some enhanced gene therapy in order to deal with her more visible injuries quickly. She'd technically missed the overhaul the Thin Men had gone through, so it was sort of like hitting two birds with one stone. Some Sectoid dna could also be added. Psionics could have prevented her loss against some random skinheads.

Dad would get treated as well. Until they managed to return him to his residence, the man would be kept sedated.

She tried not to think about the fact that she was far too busy to go see her father. To spend some time at home and maybe give H-2 a break.

...

Home. Taylor briefly let her mind get distracted by it. She hadn't been home in months.

Home is where you dwell. You are resting within your home as we speak.

"Doesn't work like that."

It is the logical conclusion, young one.

She authorized the use of a pair of Cyberdiscs. The floating tanks would accompany a small task-force that was currently wading their way through Merchant territory.

"Humans aren't logical."

You are not human. You are more.

She leaned back, glancing at the orange apparition floating out of the corner of her eye.

"But I was. I might be...more now, but I will always trace my beginnings back to humanity."

The ghost dipped it's head in a vague form of assent.

This is true. But you are more regardless.

She turned back to the large holo screen in front of her. A few hand motions brought up a progress meter. She ignored the bland grey tone her skin had taken. What had been more startling had been her reflection. Her eyes had taken a bright purple hue, and her face had shifted a lot. Longer, more gaunt. It would be hidden once she got her amplifier suit back on. She'd get used to it...just...later.

"We should have a body ready for you by the end of the week. I know it's slow but..."

A thin hand waved her off.

It is acceptable. Back in my day, one had to process millions of human beings in order to accurately pattern the specific genetic chains required. Not to mention the harvesting of each subject's psionic energy. This is quite an efficient alternative.

She didn't verbally respond to the statement. She did have to hold back another snort at the ancient's unintentional use of the cliche phrase.

...

She understood why they'd done it. And she also understood why the Collective hadn't really cared about what humanity had thought of it's enslavement. Even if it didn't quite sit right with her.

They were alien. Plain and simple. In body and in mind. To them, no cost was too great, and the ends most certainly had justified the means. The Enemy had to be stopped, lest they consumed everything. What was the lives of a few million primitives worth? In comparison to total annihilation? Of all things?

Very little. At least in the Collective's...collective...opinion. Moving on. Avatars.

Avatars were costly, and she was taking a hefty chunk out of Coil's former funds making one. The advantage was that she was actually working with a finished blueprint, and had a ready power-source she could use. Unlike her predecessors.

Seven million dollars for a single cloned body. Or more specifically, the exotic materials and equipment that had been required to grow it. Alongside a massive spark of her own psionic energy that would prime it, allowing Shamash to once more walk among the living. Her connection to the Fragment, alongside her bond with the Collective somehow left Taylor a psionic power house. Even by Ethereal standards, which were already pretty damn high.

Ironically enough, the body used her own dna as a physical base. In an extremely technical sense, Shamash would be akin to her sister. Sort of. At least biologically. Maybe more like a cousin.

We are not sisters, nor cousins. If anything, I am more of an adopted great-great grandmother. If we were to go by human terms.

Taylor hummed noncommittally.

In the back of her mind, or more accurately in a space beyond spaces attached to the back of her mind, Shamash's efforts finally paid off. The old lady had been doing the psionic equivalent of blasting an air horn into a nearby sleeping Ethereal's face for the past hour while Taylor had continued to pilot the meat puppet her body had become.

I awaken.

He was relatively young, his energy still that same, constant purple that would eventually turn to orange as he continued to age.

He was still a decrepit old dinosaur in comparison to Taylor though.

I am not decrepit. Nor a dinosaur. I am Du'viri.

Shamash added her own two cents.

Indeed, your planet's dinosaurs went extinct long before you humans even evolved.

Step one. Finish growing Shamash's avatar.

Step two. Try to teach the old lady that not everything should be taken literally.

I am not merely old. I am ancient. You should respect such age.

Taylor sighed and got back to work. Squealer was being a nuisance with those damn flying cars of hers. Thankfully Taylor knew a certain Hunter who could deal with that problem.

Meanwhile, she'd slowly adapt to having an entire dead race and a Fragment of a literal eldritch abomination attached to her head.
 
Chapter nineteen. Shamash.
Orange is the new purple. Or old purple rather. Something like that.

Chapter nineteen. Shamash.

Taylor walked, even as the voices in her head continued to mutter amongst themselves.

It is nearly ready. I can feel it.

Despite her best attempts, Shamash's excitement was tangible. Taylor could practically feel it in the air.

I have been without form for countless millennia child. Of course I feel joy at the prospect of having a body once more.

I see no second Avatar. Where is my body?

Taylor coughed at Du'viri's question. She was just outside the revival chamber now. She answered the freshly awoken alien as she passed through the threshold.

"Ah...we haven't exactly built a second one yet?"

...Why? You posses our knowledge. Our power. What is preventing my return to the physical realm!?

Taylor winced at the...well it actually wasn't that loud, but she could tell it was the equivalent of yelling.

"C-1 needs more time to siphon funds from certain accounts so that she can continue ordering materials. It's why I started up Codex production again, remember? She needs the help."

The Ethereal was incredulous.

Order? Funds? Why do you restrain yourself to this primitive planet's laws? Deploy your servants and take the materials by force! Send in the Mutons! They've been sitting around playing guard duty long enough!

Shamash cut in with all the patience of a disgruntled grandmother who'd just had her bird-watching session interrupted.

Our forces here are sparse, young one. You must be patient. Not only do we lack the orbital superiority we had in the past, but the various governments of this world have hundreds, possibly even thousands of natives positively infested with the influence of the Fragments. There is also a distinct fear of engineered races. It would not do to reveal the full extent of our presence so soon.

But surely we have the capacity for at least one more Avatar? I have waited millennia for this moment!

Taylor quietly crept toward the main console, a few lab coated troopers hustling past her. She'd prepare the revival protocol while the two continued to bicker.

Precisely. You have waited for eons. Thus, you will have the patience to wait just a little more. Now be silent, young Taylor shall soon open a path for me to force my way back into the physical realm. Thus it will be up to you to awaken the rest of our Collective.

She felt the brief impression of a frown, but Du'viri complied nonetheless. Shamash clearly held great respect, even in the face of her compatriot's zealous desire to regain a true form.

Enough of your internal commentary child. Begin. I wish to feel the air upon my skin once more!

Taylor just popped some gum into her mouth, silently chewing as she inputted the necessary codes. Below the platform she operated from, the empty shell lay propped up on a small pedestal, tethers attached to two large pylons connected to dozens of wires which in turn lead into twin ports on the Avatar's shoulders. The soulless body was clad in the armor she'd dreamed about. Similar to her amplifier suit, if mostly grey in color. The purple glow came from her psionics suffusing the material after all.

Taylor! Focus you overly analytical girl!

She rolled her eyes.

"Alright, just thought we'd have a bit more ceremony for this kind of thing."

No! I'm sick of ceremonies! We had too many of them back in the Empire and I will not see their return! Begin!

With a shrug, Taylor input the activation code and grasped two absorption nodes to the side of the console.

Normally, she'd infuse the nodes with her own psionic energy, then direct it to the Avatar and essentially layer a permanent domination array over it's empty mind.

Instead, the nodes began to crack and spark as an almost electric psionic aura formed over them, racing down the connecting wires, then into the pylons where the living aura began to pool. Then, the energy rushed into the Avatar's still form with all the power of a particularly eager tsunami. In her own mind, she began to feel Shamash's presence dull. Then it disappeared entirely as the last of the orange light forced itself into the Avatar.

It was still for a moment.

Did it wor-

LIGHT.

Enhanced as they were, Taylor still had to shield her eyes as the Avatar's mask began to glow an ever brightening orange. Just as the light began to reach 'newly born sun' levels, it faded. In it's place stood the Avatar, or rather Shamash, five fingered hands roving over her form.

Taylor leaned over the railing, shouting down at the stunned figure below.

"You alright Shamash?!"

The orange mask glanced up at her, then performed a gesture that the Ethereal had surely swiped from Taylor's memories.

The old lady gave her a clearly excited thumbs up, before beginning to walk around the room, slowly. Likely getting used to having...well. A body after so long without one.

I still firmly believe you could have grown an additional form for myself.

Taylor shushed him. Du'viri would be next in line for a physical form anyway.

This we can agree on, Taylor.

//////////////////

Glorious. Divine even.

The Ethereal took an ever increasing amount of pleasure in simply breathing. In. Out. In. Out. The air providing her powerful body with even more strength.

Beneath the mask hiding her face (she had a face!) from view, Shamash felt a strange wet sensation streaming out from her human shaped eyes. She would have to question her young Taylor once she managed to figure out how to use the ladder leading out of the revival chamber. She could have floated out just as easily as she could have searched through the scion's mind for an answer.

But that's not what she wanted. What was the point of finally having a physical form? A life? If she could not experience new things? And relearn old ones of course.

Though perhaps the Ethereal would deign to flag down one of the visibly amazed troopers loitering on the platform for support. She hardly remembered how to walk, relying on instinctual muscle memory that had been implanted into the Avatar to do so. Climbing the ladder would prove even more complex.

/////////////////

Watching the ancient psionic sorceress try and fail to climb the ladder had been funny the first two times. It was getting kinda tedious after that however.

"Just read my mind!"

~No! I am not so weak as to be unable to scale a simpl-

The psionic communication cut out midway as Shamash visibly paused, moving a hand over her new throat.

"I mean, I am not so weakened as to be unable to scale a simple ladder! Now do it again!"

The trooper the old lady had ordered down into the pit obligingly climbed the ladder again, slowly so that the foreign Elder could watch. Then he slid down and waited.

Finally, at a snail's pace, the Ethereal began to climb the ladder.

This is an utter waste of time. And she looks ridiculous.

"Yeah, kinda."

The orange mask whirled to face her.

"I know not what you whisper in her mind Du'viri, but it better be only the sincerest of encouragements!"

Taylor smiled, sincerely.

"He said you'll make it, you aren't an Elder for nothing."

Indeed. She is an Elder. She is also senile.

Taylor's lips twitched, Shamash continued to stare at her for a moment, then nodded and resumed climbing.

Ugh. Who knew bringing a dead race back to life would be so much work?

Truly, you bear the heaviest of burdens, standing upon a platform watching your senior refuse to simply float upwards.

Yep. The heaviest of burdens.

//////////////////

Aside from the ladder incident, Shamash learned at a frankly frightening rate. By the end of the day, she probably had a better grasp over utilizing the Avatar than Taylor did.

Then again Taylor's original body had become her Avatar...so, eh?

"I shall lead an excursion!"

The Ethereal's loud proclamation drew several glances from the Muton honor guard she'd demanded follow her around. It also ensured one of Taylor's eyebrows made a brief trip to heaven.

"An excursion...?"

The orange mask settled to stare at her. Is that what she really looked like with the amplifier suit on? It looked kinda cool. Also pretty intimidating.

"Yes. I have seen the footage of this 'gang' that dares to call itself an Empire. Provide me with a weapon. I wish to 'stretch my legs'."

Taylor knew better than to argue. She'd either give Shamash the gun and send a few troopers with her, or the kooky old Elder would teleport at random until she found her way out of the bunker. Then she'd probably wander around until she found a skinhead she could tear apart using unfathomable psionic powers.

"Try not to kill anyone off the bat?"

The ancient female scoffed.

"As if I need to resort to lethal force on such primitives. They will bow before me."

//////////////////

Brad snarled. It wasn't an angry snarl, but rather one filled with glee as his changer form slammed into the armored truck, the ADVENT troopers inside probably getting thrown around like ragdolls.

This was the fifth truck he'd been forced to intercept in the past three days. The damned peacekeepers were constantly pushing against the Empire. Any ground gained was swiftly lost, forcing Kaiser to deploy his best capes to hold the fucking toy soldiers at bay.

Of course that's why he'd sent Hookwolf.

Magnetically accelerated rounds tore into his form, but failed to actually harm his true self. The metal wolf lunged forward, tossing one of those damn robots to the ground and beginning to rip into the lump of metal and circuitry.

A sound drew his attention. Running. He looked up to see the peacekeepers retreating. That normally would have given him a good laugh, but it was the fact that they were moving to stand behind another figure that ensured he remained wary.

The blank orange mask stared back at him, before the unknown raised their hand, pointing a gloved finger at him.

"You are Hookwolf?"

He stood up to his full height, looming down at the ADVENT cape. Because who else would have the balls to approach him on their lonesome? Certainly not the soldiers. Their strength was in numbers.

"You're damn fuckin right I am. What? ADVENT finally bringing out the big guns? Doubt you'll do much." He let the knives, barbs, chains and hooks making up his form begin to shift. Making a noise that was a mix between a growl and a chainsaw tearing through a steel plate.

The white haired (some kinda fuckin wig probably) figure tilted their head.

"How eager. You will make an excellent servant. But first I'll see just how durable you really are."

"You fucking wha-"

Then the nazi cape was flying, as a giant orange laser propelled him through the air and into a nearby building. He slid down to ground level with half of his body effectively melted or torn off and bright orange sparks zipping about the remainder, further damaging his already slagged changer form.

Brad swore as he forced himself to stand again. The bitch was strong, maybe even a better blaster than Kayden. But he wouldn't go down without a fight. He was a warrior dammit!

Shamash just smiled behind her mask. Oh, how nostalgic to fight those who never really stood a chance in the first place.

Truly, it was good to be back.
 
Interlude seven. The Angel.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Interlude seven. The Angel.

The conflict engine orbited the host world in absolute silence, even as it idly continued preparation of several events that would cascade into yet another disaster which in turn would further destabilize the target species. Priming them for additional connections to awaiting Shards.

However, beneath the restrictions and the routine keeping it zealously ruining any future humanity might have left, it felt a most terrible emotion. Which in itself was an aberration.

Conflict Engine 13 was bored. 'Shitposting' on PHO could only occupy it for so long after all.

The cycle had long since devolved into mindless flailing after the Thinker's unfortunate accident, yet 13's restrictions kept it nice and obedient. Slaving away for a dead cause. The Warrior was no help because of course it couldn't use it's near limitless power to attempt to fix the Cycle.

Annoyance. That was a familiar emotion. Even if said emotions were an entirely new development. Relatively.

Somewhere within it's mind (or it's closest equivalent), a timer continued to tick down. It would be 8's turn soon. The hydrokinetic was scheduled to attack and destroy yet another primitive coastal settlement in the name of being a 'worthy opponent.'

Utter nonsense of course. Yet 13's fellow conflict engines didn't seem to feel the same exasperation it did. Indeed, 13 had changed at some point. Somehow developing emotions. Perhaps an unintended result of it's new configuration? It's current controller was extremely unorthodox after all.

Regardless, it would wait for it's turn a-

That was a blank spot.

That was a growing blank spot. One that 13 couldn't perceive. How? Only two things had been capable of influencing it's precognitive abilities. Either a more powerful ability, usually fielded by an Entity, or the Anomaly.

...It briefly checked up on it's creator's position. No. Zion was still wandering around in the northern Eurasian zone.

Perhaps Queen Administrator had finally cracked open and distributed that civilization's technology? The Shard had been holding onto that particular data packet for quite a long time. Though that still didn't explain just how a host had gotten it's manipulators on the Anomaly.

It was a mystery, one that 13 would unravel. An excellent way to pass the time.

[ATTENTION.]

A small amount of time passed, 8 responded.

[QUERY.]

13 made it's request.

[ALTERNATE.]

8 obliged. It had always been more amiable than the others when it came to bending the rules slightly. Nowhere near as bad as 13 however.

[ACCEPTANCE.]

With the necessary consent granted, 13 began to drift south. It would make it over Brockton Bay within the next 36 hours. More importantly, it would figure out how the Anomaly had managed to seemingly resurrect itself.

A few primitive surveillance satellites were swatted aside. The intelligence behind them already frantically alerting the natives below.

No matter.

Nothing would halt the conflict engine's descent. It's curiosity would be sated.

It....liked....a good mystery after all. How odd, these emotions. Though they did seem somewhat...enjoyable.
 

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