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It Gets Worse [Worm AU Fanfic] Complete

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Dec 5, 2015.

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  1. abyssmal_kismet

    abyssmal_kismet Experienced.

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    Any thoughts on possible costumes/identities for Taylor?
    EDIT: Heh, just thought of something: what if she had a costume without a mask, and yet no one still saw/ remembered her face?
     
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  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    People would see it, but cameras would either break or be obscured if getting the picture meant bad things for her. And anyone wishing her harm would either not see her face or be consistently distracted (or worse) before they could make use of that information.
     
  3. abyssmal_kismet

    abyssmal_kismet Experienced.

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    And this makes me think of something that needs testing: someone has to attempt to prank Danny, to see if he's protected by her luck, and then do so without her knowing.
     
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    We shall see what we shall see.
     
  5. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    My guess is that Tt will figure out Taylor's power, and either try to befriend her, or nope the fuck away, depending on the circumstances.

    She might even turn herself in, if she thinks there's a good chance of Taylor protecting her.
     
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  6. pepperjack

    pepperjack A Variety of Cheese

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    I'm not seeing much (in-universe) reason to suspect that Taylor will be interacting with the (future) Undersiders at all. Unless perhaps you think she may soon become a Ward?


    Edit: Forgot to read the quote you were responding to. Derp.
     
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  7. sshadowwraith

    sshadowwraith -- . .... .-.-.-

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    So, I just found this. I must say that this is one of the funniest stories that I have read recently. Than you Ack... Thank you.
     
  8. inverted_helix

    inverted_helix Connoisseur.

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    I just read this story for the first time.

    I've seen it many times but always passed since canon worm is darker than I can stand so I didn't want to try something even darker.

    Then I skimmed the first chapter and realized it was meant to be ironic.

    Quite an amusing story.
     
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  9. user71s2

    user71s2 Getting some practice in, huh?

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    please sir, may I have more? ( awesome writing ACK!!!!)

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Well, you see, it doesn't say who it gets worse for. (The title was suggested by CinnabarSage if you're curious. So was the basic concept of the story).
     
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  11. CinnabarSage

    CinnabarSage Insatiably Lewd

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    If you speak of the Devil... He shall appear? But you flatter me Ack. I laid out a concept, a mere Idea, it is you who made it come to fruition. I could never create such a tangled skein of motivations. I refer to your characters interacting and reasoning to the point you lose sight of the fact they are imaginary people on a page. You breathe Life into your fiction; so much that it is more real for me as reader than any celebrity or even politician you would see on the telly.
     
  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Wow, thanks.

    Truth be told? The tormenting of the Trio and the trials of Sophia? I came up with what I did by starting off with fairly basic, mundane stuff, then asking myself, "Okay, how could this be funnier?"

    For instance, Sophia was originally going to be KO'd by a ceiling panel falling and hitting her on the head. But then I had an image of Aegis bursting through the window in a flock of seagulls and that won the day for me. (I also had the idea of Kid Win having a weapons malfunction, but Aegis beat him out. Barely).
     
  13. Asheram

    Asheram Know what you're doing yet?

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    There's another possibility, not that it's Bink but something similar...
    Is Taylor Mr.Black?
     
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  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I don't know who Mr Black is. Taylor is Taylor. I'm not specifically basing her power off any one of the myriad of luck manipulators out there.
     
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  15. Xilph

    Xilph Well worn.

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    Mr. Black is not a luck manipulator, at least assuming it's a reference to the Mr. Black I'm thinking of. They are Harry Potter from a fanfic, basic plot idea is Harry goes on vacation because he thinks Voldemort is going to murder him soon so he wants something good before the end, and he gets really lucky which combined with exaggeration leads to the idea of "Mr. Black", it's quite amusing. The story is found here, maybe there'd be an idea for this in there? The character who basically gets by off being lucky and becomes a memetic badass due to the events they go through.

    But yeah, this Taylor doesn't seem that close, some of the stuff is too impersonal and disconnected to happen to Mr. Black.
     
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  16. Drizztgeass

    Drizztgeass Know what you're doing yet?

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    Rorschach's Blot is an awesome writer. I love all of his stories.
     
  17. Theman

    Theman Not too sore, are you?

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    This is interesting.
     
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  18. Keanu Reeves

    Keanu Reeves Hellblazer

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    And that, class, is what we call an understatement. I'm glad I looked past the misleading title.
     
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  19. Wootius

    Wootius I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Extremely pleased this is Worm, Three Stooges Ed. rather then Grim Dark Darker Ed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2016
  20. Dragonin

    Dragonin Hugs Everything

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    I wonder if her power will keep her from doing dangerous things (ie: having sudden clumsiness before entering a firefight) also this is Ack, so it will be interesting. And cathartic to read, I mean, increasingly harmful bad luck based on potential harm? The janitor by simply being unaware, the cop(s) lost a case just in time...
    Then we get to the intentional stuff, with bruises, broken bones and hospital time. Also will be interesting to see how it treats Clockblockers Time Out prank.
     
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  21. Anaja

    Anaja I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    It probably wouldn't do anything about it if she doesn't mind. It's not malicious or harmful. Should be fine as long as it's just a friendly little joke.
     
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  22. Dragonin

    Dragonin Hugs Everything

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    True, but only if she ids it as 'friendly', he'd probably wind up doing something like freeze his clothes, or otherwise turn his prank on himself.
     
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  23. Jefepato

    Jefepato Know what you're doing yet?

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    There might be some limitations we haven't seen yet, but so far Taylor's power makes August Prince look like kind of a chump.
     
  24. Threadmarks: Part Five: Gathering Troubles (Jan 11 2011)
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It Gets Worse

    Part Five: Gathering Troubles


    Emily

    She sat back in her chair and awaited the reaction from the two people before her. It wasn't long in coming.

    “Wait, what? That can't be right.” That was the father, Danny. He frowned as the full impact of her words registered on him. “You're saying … it's Taylor?”

    Taylor, on the other hand, looked at her father then back at Emily. “What? I don't have a guardian angel? But …”

    Then it was Danny's turn again. “Seriously, I think you'd better explain that.”

    The Director laced her fingers on the desk in front of her. “I've been doing this job a long time. While powers come in more variations than even the old-style comic book writers could imagine, there are some aspects that show up, again and again. The first one is that powers are direct. They don't do things half-assed or sideways. If the power effect is the same three or four times in a row, it's not an accident.”

    She took a deep breath. “And the other thing is that people are still people, whether they've got powers or not. I've never come across someone using his power to help someone who doesn't even know him, in secret, without trying to communicate in some way. Capes always want something in return. Always. Even if it's just recognition, or a thank-you.” And powers just make it worse, she thought sourly. Children with machine-guns.

    Taylor was frowning. “But … it's possible, right?”

    “Certainly, it's possible, yes,” agreed Emily. “Possible, but somewhat improbable.” She opened a drawer and pulled out a pad. Pulling her pen from her pocket – it had been checked, and was in full working order – she clicked it and drew a line down the centre of the pad. On one side, she wrote POWER; on the other, she wrote GUARDIAN ANGEL.

    “Now, let's list the pros and cons of whether you're powered or not,” she said. “You've already stated that you don't know who could be doing this, yes?”

    “Well, yeah,” Taylor agreed. “I mean, it could be Greg, but if it was, he'd be dropping hints all over school.”

    “Unless his power doesn't let him tell anyone,” Danny interjected. “Isn't it true that powers sometimes do something like that?”

    “Well, yes,” Emily admitted. “It happens, but it's rare.” On the pad she wrote 'Greg – gagged?' on the 'guardian angel' side. On the other side, she drew a line.

    “Well, that's easy to check,” Danny pointed out. “Taylor can ask him.”

    Taylor grimaced. “Dad, are you sure you know what you're asking?”

    He turned his head to look at her. “Why, what's the matter with Greg?”

    She shook her head. “He's got no clue. Not a single one. People could ignore and ostracise him, and he wouldn't notice. If I even hinted that he might be doing this for me, he'd jump on it with both feet and convince himself that he's doing it.”

    “And if he is?” asked Emily. “What then?”

    Both Danny and Taylor turned to stare at her. “I thought you were saying it wasn't him,” Danny objected.

    “I've also learned that it doesn't pay to rule anything out, no matter how improbable, when it comes to powers,” she told him. “It's unlikely, certainly. But that doesn't make it impossible. So, Taylor, what are you going to do if it does turn out that this Greg has these powers and is helping you with them?”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Both the Director and my father were looking at me; I shrank back under their combined stares. “I … I don't know,” I confessed. “I mean, I guess he kind of likes me, probably because I don't brush him off like everyone else. But he's a little bit creepy, and while I don't dislike him, I don't actually like him all that much either.”

    “And why's that?” asked the Director, almost gently.

    “Well, for one thing,” I said, getting my thoughts together, “sometimes we're placed together for a class project.” A shudder rippled through me as I recalled the debacle that had been the last such project. “When that happens, he spends more time trying to talk to the pretty girls in the class than to me. So it's not even really me that he likes, just the fact that I don't tell him to go away.”

    “Yes, I've known people like that,” agreed the Director. “Well, here's the next question. If it turned out that he was indeed your guardian angel, would you rather he protected someone else – and gave them all his attention – or stayed to help you?”

    “Oh, god,” I muttered. “I'm not sure which would be worse. I mean, unless he can't talk to me about it. But even if that was the case, owing Greg that, and knowing that he's doing it because he likes me, and I don't like him … ugh.” I looked beseechingly at Director Piggot. “Is there any way to prove that it's not him without actually asking him?”

    She seemed to be almost amused, which wasn't too much of a surprise. “Actually, yes, there is. And there is already a weight of evidence to show that this is you causing it and not your classmate.”

    “There is?” asked Dad. “Why didn't you say so earlier?”

    “Because we needed to explore the other hypothesis first, so you'd be ready to look at this one with an open mind,” she explained.

    “Oh, my mind is open, trust me,” I assured her fervently.

    “Very well.” She tapped the pen on the pad. “Let's go through the spectrum of powers that a hypothetical guardian angel would need. Telekinesis, some sort of Master power. Stranger capabilities to be right there and not be seen. Some sort of clairvoyance, because from your own account, more than one thing was happening at once, in two different places.”

    “So what would Taylor need in order for this to be just her?” asked Dad, frowning.

    “Some form of precognition, limited to events that would cause her problems, and probability manipulation to change events to suit her,” the Director recited promptly.

    “But I'm not doing it!” I protested. “I don't see what's going to happen. And I definitely don't deliberately alter events to suit me.”

    “Not deliberately, no,” she agreed. “But it's happening all the same.” Carefully, she laid the pen down and then crossed one hand over the other on the desk. “I had a strong inkling of what was going on before you ever walked into the building. I mean you no harm, and your power knows it.” A dry smile crossed her face. “Bad things happen to people who try to harm you. I have no intention of joining that number.”

    “Wow.” Dad looked from her to me. “You're really serious.”

    “Utterly.” There was no humour in her tone or on her face now.

    “So what other evidence do you have?” I was curious now. “So far it's all been circumstantial.” Dad looked at me. I shrugged. “What? I've heard Mr Barnes talk about this sort of thing.”

    Director Piggot inclined her head. “True. But the clincher is what brought all this on. Have you ever heard of a trigger event?”

    I frowned. “Uh, isn't that where parahumans get their powers?”

    “Exactly.” She replaced the pen in her pocket. “By all accounts, a trigger event is essentially the worst thing that can happen to someone. It's what causes powers to emerge. You've been through a horrific experience, very recently.”

    “Oh. Yeah.” I didn't want to think about it, but there it was. “So … the locker caused me to become … lucky?”

    “Very broadly speaking, that's what I think happened, yes.” She tapped her forehead with her finger. “Also, triggering causes part of the brain to develop in a very specific way. With your consent, a CT scan could pick this up.”

    I shook my head. “No … I think I'll take your word for it.”

    “Yeah.” Dad nodded. “Me too.” He paused. “So where do we go from here?”

    “From here …” Director Piggot rubbed her chin, then obviously came to a decision. “Miss Hebert, I would like to formally invite you to -” She broke into a fit of coughing as a bug flew into her mouth.

    “Are you okay?” Dad was halfway to his feet.

    She waved him away, pulling out a handkerchief. The spasm over, she looked at me. “On second thought, I would like to retract the offer. It seems to be a bad idea.”

    “Why?” Dad looked from me to the Director. “I'm assuming you were going to ask her to join the Wards. It seems like a reasonable idea to me. Taylor?”

    I shrugged. “I guess I wouldn't have any problems with it. But if you say my power doesn't like it …”

    Director Piggot grimaced. “Well, that may have been a random bug, but I'm not going to take any chances. If you wish to join, then we will accept you, but I am specifically not inviting you to join the Wards at this point in time.”

    “I, uh … can I think about it?”

    “Certainly.” She spread her hands. “Take all the time you want.”

    “Okay, thanks.” I looked at Dad. “Was there anything else we wanted to do here?”

    He considered the question. “No, not really.” Turning to the Director, he went on. “We just wanted to let you know about Taylor's guardian angel or, as it turns out, her power. Is there anything else you wanted to know?”

    “No,” she replied. “Let me know what you decide. I'm not going to push you on this one.”

    If anything was going to underscore for me how serious my powers were, and that I had powers at all, it was the sight of Director Piggot, obviously used to getting her own way, very carefully deferring to my wishes in the matter.

    Dad and I got up and he opened the door for me. “Thanks for seeing us on such short notice,” I told the Director. “When I figure out what I'm going to do, you'll be the first to know.”

    <><>​

    Emily

    “I would appreciate that,” she said. She watched the teenage girl and her father exit her office, the door closing behind them. Then she finally let herself relax, the tension of carefully watching her every word slowly draining away.

    She had, in her career, faced many capes, quite often in this very office. Some had been arrogant, some reasonable, some downright obsequious. Though precious few of the latter, I have to say. She could count on the fingers of one hand the number of capes with such a capricious power, one over which they apparently had little to no control, that she had encountered. She wouldn't admit to being scared, exactly, but there was a faint sheen of sweat on her forehead.

    Taking a deep breath, she gathered her thoughts. “Right,” she muttered. “So Shadow Stalker was bullying that girl, huh? Let's see about that.”

    Belatedly, she realised exactly what the bug had been about. Had Taylor joined the Wards, with Shadow Stalker already a member, the blow-up would have been as inevitable as it was devastating. If her power then decided that the entire PRT and Protectorate were a danger to her … She shuddered at the thought.

    Picking up the phone, she dialled a number. “Armsmaster?” she queried. “Good. I need you to meet me here. We have an investigation to begin.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    I hope she'll be okay.

    He was pretty sure he was worrying needlessly, but Taylor's sufferings were still very fresh in his memory. He had to stop himself from getting up and leaving the office, or at least picking up the phone and calling her.

    She's fine. She's got the phone, she can call me if she needs anything. He had left her bundled up in her favourite blanket on the sofa, watching TV and eating cookie dough.

    “I'm good,” she had insisted. “If TV gets boring, I'll read a book. If that gets boring, I'll take a nap. You need to go and prove that they need you at work.”

    She had a point. He was perennially backlogged with paperwork even on the good days; leaving early, as he had been doing recently, was not doing his in-tray any favours at all. So he stopped glancing at the phone and turned back to the report he was reading.

    Picking up the document from the desk, he turned slowly on his chair as he skimmed through it, then settled down to read it more closely. Frowning, he finally managed to engage his mind with what the report was saying, and read it a third time. Then he got up and went to a filing cabinet. From there, he pulled a sheaf of similar reports, through which he skimmed, looking for one piece of data. As he did so, the frown on his face grew deeper and deeper.

    After cross-checking some old roster sheets, with the relevant reports in hand – the rest went back into the filing cabinet – he sat back down at his desk and pressed a button on his intercom.

    Yes, Mr Hebert?”

    “Louise, could you please have …” He re-checked the name on the report. “Lee Adamson paged, please? I need him to report to this office immediately.”

    Lee Adamson, right away.”

    “Thank you.” He disengaged the button and dropped the reports on the desk. While he waited, he checked the date on the latest one. It had been submitted just the previous day; if he had not chosen to come in to finish his working day, it may have languished in the in-tray for at least another day.

    <><>​

    Lee Adamson

    Adamson knocked on the doorframe. “You wanted to see me, Mr Hebert?”

    He'd never been able to figure out how a weedy guy like Hebert had managed to make it in the Dockworkers Association, a trade that was rough and tough by its very nature. But here he was, the union spokesman and head of hiring, not the face of the Association but one of the people who managed to keep it going.

    Danny Hebert looked up from the paper he was reading, the light reflecting momentarily from his glasses. Adamson saw that he looked worn, with a few more lines on his face. Maybe he was losing sleep over something. The rumour that was making the rounds was that something had happened to his daughter. Everyone knew that he'd left work in a hell of a hurry a few days back and he'd been knocking off early ever since.

    Oh well, like I give a shit. It wasn't Adamson's problem. His job was to do the work the Association gave him and, when required, to perform the other duties set him by his real employer.

    “Yes, come in. Close the door and sit down, please.”

    Lee did as he was told, taking a seat in the aged chair before the desk. “What's this about?”

    Hebert took his time answering, picking up several sheets of paper and carefully stacking them together. Finally, he placed them in front of Lee. “Do you know what these are?”

    Oh shit. The tone of voice, the whole attitude, clued Lee in on the fact that he was in trouble of some sort. He desperately wanted to read the papers, but settled for scanning the top lines. “Uh, incident reports, Mr Hebert?”

    “That's correct, Lee,” Hebert said. “Incident reports about items missing from shipping manifests in a regular pattern. Specifically, in a pattern where you're the common denominator in all the work crews that unloaded the items in question.”

    “Now wait just a minute -” Lee began, but Hebert overrode him.

    “No, Mr Adamson, you wait just a minute. I haven't finished talking.” He paused for a moment, to be sure that Lee wasn't going to interrupt, then went on. “I don't know that it's you that's been taking these items, and I don't know why they've been getting taken. Right now, I don't even know what's been taken. But I'm going to investigate all of these things, and I'm going to come to the truth of the matter. Is that understood?”

    Shit shit shit. Lee understood, all right. He'd taken items from cargo being unloaded before; of course he had. He'd been getting paid extra to do just that. But he didn't expect the shift bosses to be as vigilant as they were; after all, he'd been getting away with it so far.

    He became aware that Hebert was looking at him expectantly. “Uh, yes, I understand.”

    “Good.” Hebert looked him up and down. “Now, these are quite serious allegations, so you're being suspended with pay until it's all sorted out -”

    “Wait, what?” Hebert couldn't do that. There was another shipment due tomorrow evening, one that he had to be on the work crew for. “You can't -”

    Hebert slapped the desk with his palm, making Lee jump. “I can and I will. Right now, you're only suspended with pay. If you're found guilty of any criminal activity, the penalties will get a lot worse. Is there anything you want to say to me that might clear this up?”

    Several possible explanations scrolled through Lee's head; unfortunately, each seemed more problematic than the last.

    I'm being set up.

    It's all a conspiracy to get me fired.

    Okay, I took the stuff, but I'll never do it again.

    I'm really working for -

    He cut that last thought off. No way he was going to let anyone know who was paying him under the table. Hebert was well known for not hiring anyone with gang affiliations.

    “Uh, no,” he mumbled. “Nothing.”

    “Very well, Mr Adamson,” Hebert told him. “I'm going to require that you leave the site immediately. We'll contact you with the result of the investigation.” He paused, his expression softening slightly. “Don't worry; I won't tell anyone why you were suspended.”

    Small mercies, indeed. “But I need the work. I -”

    “Perhaps you didn't hear me,” Hebert reminded him. “Suspension with pay. You're getting a vacation. If you're blameless, then you have nothing to worry about.” If we find out that you've been taking stuff, he didn't have to say, then you do have something to worry about.

    Lee didn't want to push the issue. Keep my head down, don't make him wonder what's so special about that shipment. “Uh, okay.” Some part of him wanted to thank Hebert, but what was there to thank him for, really?

    “That'll be all. Hand in your helmet, your vest and your ID before you leave.” Hebert's attention was already on the next piece of paperwork.

    For just a moment, Lee wanted to grab the scrawny pencil-pusher by the neck and throttle him, if only to make him realise what he was up against. It's people like him that screw things up for people like me. But he didn't. His orders were to not make waves, to pretend to be a good little employee. So he pushed open the door and left.

    <><>​

    Hello?”

    It's Adamson.”

    Why are you calling?”

    There's a problem.”

    Those are not words I want to hear. What I want to hear is 'there was a problem but I sorted it out'.”

    No, I can't. Hebert just suspended me. Took me off work.”

    Why?”

    There was a long pause.

    Adamson, why did he suspend you?”

    He might have figured that I was taking stuff.”

    Damn it, you were supposed to be being discreet!”

    I was being discreet. Nobody saw me. But they were keeping a count of items being offloaded and he must have put it together.”

    Christ. Does he know?”

    Hell no. What do you take me for? Right now he thinks I might be a thief, but that's it.”

    Do we have anyone else who can cover for the shift tomorrow?”

    No.”

    All right, leave it with me.”

    What are you going to do?”

    Whatever I have to do.”

    I don't like the sound of that.”

    I didn't ask your opinion.”

    And then there was just the dial tone.

    <><>​

    Triumph

    Rory looked up as the buzzer sounded. “Masks!” he called out. Dropping his cards, he fitted his lion's-head helmet over his head. Aegis, sitting opposite him, was already masked up; Kid Win, at the monitor console, hadn't taken his visor off.

    They all came to their feet as the doors opened. Director Piggot led the way into the room, with Armsmaster following behind.

    “Uh … Director Piggot?” Rory queried. “What's the matter?” Did we do something wrong?

    “Nothing's the matter,” Armsmaster assured him. “You're not in trouble. Though we do need you for something.” He nodded to Kid Win and Aegis. “Could you please leave the room?”

    With quick glances at their team leader, the two Wards headed for the door. Triumph watched them go, then turned back toward Armsmaster and the Director. “Uh, what exactly is going on?”

    “What's going on,” Piggot answered him curtly, “is that Shadow Stalker has been making fools of us all and we're going to get to the bottom of this right now.”

    “Shadow Stalker?” Rory repeated blankly. “Okay, sure, she's a bit abrasive and not really a team player, but …”

    “We've received serious allegations that she's engaging in ongoing bullying activities in her civilian identity,” Armsmaster said grimly. “If she's doing that, then she may be doing other things in her cape identity. We need to open her locker and look for any indication that this may be the case. Director Piggot wants you and me to be her witnesses in this situation.”

    “Wait, but she's in the hospital,” Triumph objected. “You're not even giving her a chance to defend herself.”

    “If we find something suspicious, then she will have the chance to defend herself,” Piggot stated flatly. “If we don't, then she won't need to. As it is, I have recently had one of the most unsettling conversations of my career entirely due to her, and I don't wish to be blindsided like that again. Ever.”

    Rory blinked. Clockblocker liked to make jokes about 'Miss Piggy' – hell, they all did – but he'd grown up around politics. He'd seen the steel in her spine more times than he could count. To hear her admit to being unsettled was a new experience. She's serious about this.

    “Uh, yes, ma'am,” he replied. “Her locker's right this way.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    His eyes ached from reading through forms and his hand was in little better condition from scrawling his signature at the bottom of those same forms. He took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, then replaced them to look at the clock on the wall.

    “Christ,” he muttered. “It's after seven. Taylor will be worried sick.”

    Getting out of his chair, he glanced into the outer office, preparing to tell Louise to go home already. To his surprise, he saw that the desk there was empty, that his office light was the only one still on. Rubbing his forehead, he conjured up a vague memory of his secretary telling him that she was going home; he'd mumbled some sort of reply then gotten back to the attack on his overdue paperwork. If there was another Lee Adamson lurking in the in-tray that he missed because he'd been going home early …

    Turning back to his desk, he saw that the pile in the in-tray had indeed been greatly reduced. There was still a deal of work to do, but not so much that he couldn't get it done tomorrow. And he had to get home to Taylor. Somewhat recovered she might be, but she was still fragile.

    Shrugging into his jacket, he turned off the desk light and then the office light. He was just locking his office door when he heard the scrape of a shoe on worn linoleum. Turning, he watched as someone stepped into the doorway of the outer office.

    “Who's that?” he asked. “Kurt?”

    “No, not Kurt.” The voice belonged to a man, but it wasn't one that Danny knew.

    “Who is it?” Danny frowned. “How did you get in here?”

    “The door was open.” The man's voice was light, almost amused. “Who I am doesn't matter. What matters is what I'd like you to do.”

    “And what's that?” Danny squinted to try to make out the man's face, but the corridor light was behind him.

    “Take Lee Adamson off of suspension.” The voice was flat. “Put him back on the roster.”

    “What? No.” Danny shook his head. “The man's under suspicion of theft.”

    There was a sigh, then the man reached into his jacket. Danny tensed, but the only sound he heard was the rustle of paper against cloth. An envelope, quite visible in the dimness, came into view; the man held it out to him. “Here's an incentive. You never took Adamson off the roster. I was never here.”

    “How much?” The question came out before he thought about it.

    “Five large.” He could hear the smugness in the voice. “I hear your little girl has some medical bills to pay off. This'll cover that with room to spare.”

    Involuntarily, he took a step forward, his hands clenching into fists. “Don't you bring Taylor into this,” he grated. “And don't you ever come in here trying to bribe me for anything. Adamson's on suspension and that's where he'll stay till I find out what he's guilty of. Now get the fuck out of here before I throw you out. And take your dirty money with you.”

    “Now, now.” The voice was still urbane, still calm and collected. “No need for any rough stuff. This doesn't need to be anything more than a civilised arrangement between gentlemen. I'll give you twelve hours to think about it.”

    Danny breathed heavily. “Twelve hours, twenty-four, forty-eight, I don't give a flying fuck. The Dockworkers don't do business with organised crime. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it'll always be. Now fuck off. And the moment I find one shred of evidence that Adamson's connected, he goes too. For good.”

    “Twelve hours. You'll be hearing from us.” The man stepped back then sideways, disappearing from his sight. Danny came forward, snatching up a dimly-seen chair, brandishing it as he moved into the corridor. He saw nothing; all he heard were diminishing footsteps.

    “Damn it,” he muttered, stepping back into the office. As he put the chair down, he became aware of his racing heartbeat, the sheen of sweat on his forehead.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster

    “Damn it,” muttered the Director. She looked over the contents of Shadow Stalker's locker, arrayed on the table. A spare costume, knee and elbow pads, two masks, each bearing the scowling-woman visage, her Tinkertech crossbows and several cases of arrows. Colin had been over the arrows carefully; they were the blunted type or the tranquilliser type exclusively. “I was sure we'd find something.”

    “I'm sorry, Director,” Triumph said carefully. “Maybe she just isn't … what you think she is.”

    “I was given evidence that she is, or rather was, bullying one of her classmates to an extraordinary degree,” gritted Piggot. “Now, do you think she'd do that in her civilian identity and not break the rules in any way as a cape?”

    “I still think it's unfair on her to be targeted like this while she's still in the hospital,” argued Triumph. “She can't even present her own side of the story. She doesn't even know this is happening.” He gestured at the paraphernalia spread on the table. “And it looks like there was nothing to find anyway.”

    Armsmaster was rubbing his chin and frowning. Something was off, here. Something was missing.

    “There's something.” The Director's voice was iron-hard with certainty. “I just -”

    “Director.” He nearly had it.

    “What?” snapped Piggot.

    Colin snapped his fingers; a hard trick in armoured gauntlets, but one that he had worked to master. “Her Wards phone. It's not here.”

    She scanned the table. “You're right. It's not.”

    “Uh, that's because I've got it,” Triumph admitted.

    “You? Why do you have it?” Colin got the question in just before the Director, but only just.

    “Aegis took it off of her after the accident and he handed it over to me.” Triumph shrugged. “I was gonna hang on to it, give it back once she was conscious and lucid.”

    “Sensible,” Armsmaster conceded. “Though you really should have handed it in to one of us.”

    “In fact, you'll hand it over right now,” Piggot ordered him, holding out her hand.

    Slowly, Triumph withdrew the phone from a belt pouch and gave it to her. “What do you think you'll find on it, ma'am? She'll have known you have access to anything that's on it. Even if she's been breaking the rules, she won't be doing it using that phone.”

    “Doesn't she carry a second phone, a civilian one?” Colin asked.

    “She did,” Triumph agreed. “But I heard it got stolen. She was really upset about that.”

    Piggot snorted. “'Upset' wasn't the word. But I'm not interested in her message traffic. I'm interested in another type of data.” Turning, she placed the phone in Armsmaster's hand. “I want you to do something for me.”


    End of Part Five

    Part Six
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
  25. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Nice chapter. Well-reasoned talks, a funny bug moment, and some ominous gang activity threatening Danny - and Taylor. Things will get worse I guess :p
     
  26. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    Force of habit means that SS probably takes her Wards phone with her when she goes on those probation breaking solo patrol. Armsmaster is probably going to be pulling the GPS data from it to see if she is going out as SS when she isn't supposed to.

    It will be interesting to see if Taylor's power works to protect Danny from whoever that guy is. Because catching the guy stealing was very much a lucky break.
     
  27. vyor

    vyor Oh that's cute

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    Get fucked sophia!
     
  28. Threadmarks: Part Six: Bolt from the Blue (Jan 12 2011)
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It Gets Worse

    Part Six: Bolt from the Blue


    Miami, Florida
    01:13 AM


    It started as a minor weather system that came together off the coast, then rolled in over land. There wasn't much to it; a little rain fell, while thunder rumbled overhead. One bolt of lightning crackled down out of the heavy clouds, hitting a power-line transformer. The transformer weathered the strike easily, but an electrical surge went out in all directions. Circuit breakers popped in a dozen different locations, including the refrigeration area of a local airline meal supplier.

    The refrigeration units shut down, but due to poor programming of the computers controlling the facility, no alarm was sent and no fault was logged. Three hours later, the automated system reset the breakers and the refrigeration units hummed to life once more. By the time the human workers arrived on site, everything was back the way it had been, with nothing in the logs to show that anything out of the ordinary had happened. But certain foodstuffs had spent several hours at room temperature, with the expected result.

    In the meantime, the rain had spread up the coast. Weather forecasters on the morning shows would note that it was going to be bumpy flying on the eastern seaboard today.

    <><>​

    Brockton Bay
    08:06 AM
    Danny


    He had been at work for all of half an hour before the phone rang; he picked it up. “Dockworkers Association. Danny Hebert speaking.”

    Mr Hebert, we spoke last night.” The voice was all too familiar.

    “And I've still got nothing to say to you except 'no'.” Danny kept his voice low. “Pursuant to that, I'd like to add 'hell no' and 'go fuck yourself' as well.”

    Mr Hebert, I'd like to point out that I've been authorised to increase the gratuity to ten thousand dollars.” He had to admit, the man was good. His voice was warm and persuasive, and Danny was almost tempted. But 'almost' wasn't good enough.

    “Go to hell.” He put the phone down.

    There was a freedom, he found, in being able to deny another person something they wanted from you, something that you did not want to give. Could he do with ten thousand dollars? Of course he could. But could he accept the inevitable strings that would slowly, inexorably, invisibly enmesh him into tighter and tighter coils if he allowed this first bribe to go through?

    The answer, of course, was 'no'.

    Part of it was his own personal pride, while another part was his need for the Dockworkers to remain the same honest association that they had been in his father's day. A third part, perhaps most important of all, was what Taylor would think of him if she knew he had taken a bribe, looked the other way to allow criminals to act with impunity within the Association.

    Taylor …

    He hadn't been a total idiot about it, of course. On leaving the offices the previous night, he had taken along a heavy wrench that someone had left in the corner. Nobody had been waiting in the parking lot or in the back seat of his car; he had seen enough slasher movies to at least know to check there before getting into the car.

    Taylor had been asleep on the sofa when he got in; woken up, she had eaten dinner with him then stumbled her way up to bed. He had also gone to bed after the washing up, though he had lain awake for a while, going over the implications of the night-time visitor.

    Adamson was connected, of course. He wasn't Asian, so it wasn't to the ABB. Likewise, Danny somehow didn't think it was the Merchants. So it had to be the Empire Eighty-Eight that was trying a move on the Dockworkers. They had tried bribery; he had turned them down. Would they turn to violence next?

    Violence against himself he could deal with. If they beat him up, the police would become involved, something that they most definitely did not want. But if they tried to use Taylor as leverage against him …

    He had only seen a minor demonstration of Taylor's power at first hand. The images of Emma and Madison and Sophia following their attempts to prank her were quite compelling; he found himself praying that the power would be able to protect her just as thoroughly against the new threat as it had against the bullies. Because if I cave once, I'll have to cave again, and again, until it becomes habit. And then what sort of a man, what sort of a father, will I be?

    He had wrestled with the problem until his thoughts became dreams, where he literally wrestled with a shadowy figure who sneered Taylor's name over and over. These dreams were shattered by his morning alarm; he awoke, tangled in his sheets, covered in sweat. Taylor had been a little puzzled by his insistence on driving her to school, but had accepted readily enough. He would pick her up from there as well, just in case …

    “Mr Hebert? Did you hear what I just said?”

    With a start, he shook himself and looked up into Louise's concerned face. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Had a rough night. Must have drifted off.”

    She shook her head wisely. “Staying at the office all hours to catch up on paperwork doesn't help either, Mr Hebert. Plus your home troubles. How's your girl doing?”

    “Uh, fine, Louise, thanks,” he replied. “She's recovering quickly.” Standing up, he stretched, feeling the vertebrae popping. “I think I'll get a cup of coffee.”

    “I think that might be a good idea, Mr Hebert,” she agreed. “After all, we can't have you falling asleep on the job.”

    “No, Louise, we certainly can't.” He took the papers from her hand and placed them on his desk. “And I'll look at these just as soon as I get back with the cup.”

    “Just so long as you go home at a regular hour tonight,” she ordered him sternly. “You need to be a father to your girl as well, you know.”

    “I think you're right,” he said. “I really do.”

    <><>​

    Director Piggot

    She stood in Armsmaster's workshop, trying hard not to look as though she was peering over his shoulder at the computer screen, even though that was exactly what she wanted to do.

    “So, is it working?” None of the uncertainty or doubt that had crept into her mind over the previous night was allowed to show in her voice. It will work, she told herself. It has to.

    “Interestingly enough, Director, it is.” Armsmaster's voice held wary respect. “How did you know?”

    A wintry smile formed on her face. “You may have forgotten that I was once a line grunt. Bad soldiers might hide their bad habits, but they keep a stash somewhere of whatever it is. The dumb ones hide it in their lockers or in the barracks. The smart ones hide it elsewhere, some place they can get to without raising suspicion.”

    “Which for her is the whole city,” he noted.

    “It is,” she agreed. “But she has to carry her Wards phone. And that phone has a GPS tracker, which logs her location on a regular basis. Normally it takes quite a bit of work to scrape those locations out and apply them to a map, but you're a Tinker who works with electronics and computers. And you say it's working?”

    “It is,” he confirmed. “There's a limit to the number of locations that it's stored, but there's enough of them to give us a place to look. It's a building about three blocks from here. She's stopped in there enough times over the last few weeks to make it look fairly suspicious.”

    Piggot's smile showed her teeth. “Good.”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    It was kind of weird to not have to worry about Emma and her cronies for once. I kept expecting them to pop around the corner with some new prank or hurtful comment. But Sophia and Emma were in the hospital and I hadn't seen Madison all day. A few of their cronies were around, but they were leaving me alone, which suited me just fine.

    Head high, I joined the lunch line along with everyone else. Carefully, I made my selections; a pita wrap, a banana, a bottle of fruit juice. A container of chocolate pudding made up dessert; I took myself off to a table to enjoy my meal.

    I wondered what the afternoon would bring. If it was more of the same, I could definitely deal with that. I could get used to this.

    <><>​

    Aboard American Airlines Flight 732, Miami FL to Portland ME
    01:46 PM


    American 732 was an older aircraft, with the usual metal fatigue developing here and there on the airframe. None of it had, as yet, become problematic. However, after takeoff, the aircraft had flown into a region of unsettled weather, with higher than usual turbulence. This had shaken American 732 around a little; a hairline crack on the exterior toilet tank hatch had become somewhat more than hairline.

    The passengers had, after takeoff, enjoyed their in-flight meals, such as they were. Unfortunately, this was followed by a certain amount of gastric distress, given that said meals had been improperly refrigerated over the previous night. Queues quickly developed outside each toilet cubicle; the waste products thus flowing into the toilet tanks were both voluminous and, it has to be said, runny.

    In the meantime, the pilot had decided to climb out of the turbulence; he asked for, and got, permission to gain altitude. The turbulence decreased dramatically, but this had two unforeseen effects. The first was that the outflow from the crack in the hatch was increased due to lower outside air pressure. The second was that the higher altitude resulted in lower temperatures; the blue liquid, comprised of water, disinfectant and human waste products, froze more quickly, adding layer upon layer to the mass already collecting beneath the tail of the aircraft.

    As yet, this had not affected the performance of American 732. This would change.

    <><>​

    Panacea

    “And that should do it.” Panacea removed her hands from Sophia's shoulder. “All the breaks are fixed. You may have a mild concussion; I can't do anything about that. Any lasting muscular soreness may require rest and relaxation. Take it easy for a few days.”

    The dark-skinned girl worked her shoulder. “Yeah, no, feels fine.” Grudgingly, she added, “Thanks.”

    Amy shrugged slightly. “Don't thank me. This was a favour for your Director. Take care now.” She turned and exited through a gap in the curtains. Director Piggot was standing a short distance away; Amy joined her. “It's done,” she reported.

    “I appreciate it,” the Director replied briefly.

    “Normally I wouldn't come in for a single cape,” Amy pointed out. “But you told Mom it was important. Why?”

    Piggot sighed. “We think she might be breaking the rules – and the law – in a big way. We need her on her feet to prove it one way or the other.” She gave Panacea a direct stare. “You don't talk about this to anyone.”

    Amy shrugged. “I don't talk about what I do to anyone anyway. Did you need me for anything else?”

    “No. That should be all.”

    “Okay.” Amy headed off to where she was sure Vicky would be flirting with the most handsome doctor she could find. Because Vicky.

    <><>​

    Danny

    Snapping out of a light doze, he looked at the clock. 2:46.

    “Damn it,” he muttered, standing up from his desk. He had meant to be gone by 2:30, to ensure that he got to the school in time to pick Taylor up. It was still possible to get there on time, but he'd have to push it.

    “I'm heading out,” he told Louise on the way through the office, still shrugging into his jacket. “Picking up Taylor from school.”

    “That's fine,” she replied, not looking up from her computer screen; her fingers barely paused on the keyboard. “Give her my best.”

    “I will,” he promised, then turned and dashed out the door. Along the corridor he went, out through the outer doors and into the parking lot. His car was parked a little way away and he hurried through the ranks of vehicles to get to it. But when he got there, something seemed odd about it.

    It took him a few moments to get it, but when he did, he swore violently. The back tyre had obviously been punctured; the car had settled in that direction.

    Pretty sure I didn't do that coming in, he told himself, even as he opened the door and popped the trunk. Out came the spare and the jack; he worked like a madman, hoisting the car off the ground and removing the wheel nuts. The wheel came off and he fitted the spare into place, twirling the nuts back on with quick, jerky movements of his fingers.

    He only took the time to make sure that the nuts were on reasonably tightly before tossing the tyre and spanner back into the trunk. Letting the jack down, he threw that in too and slammed the trunk. As he climbed back into the car, he carefully didn't check his watch. He didn't want to know how late he was going to be.

    Oh god, Taylor, please wait for me.

    The engine in the old car roared as he gunned it out of the parking lot, but then he had to brake to a halt for traffic. Interminable moments passed before a gap opened up; he fed the car some gasoline and accelerated into it.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    The bus rumbled away from the front of the school, bearing the last of the students from Winslow. With my bag over my shoulder, I shaded my eyes and looked around.

    “Where's Dad?” I wondered out loud. “He said he'd be here.”

    I turned to walk back to sit on the school steps and started slightly, because a man was standing there.

    “I, uh, can I help you?” I asked, nervous despite myself. He can't hurt me. My power will stop him.

    “Taylor?” he asked. “Taylor Hebert?”

    I began to get a major creep-factor alarm right between my shoulder-blades. “Who wants to know?”

    “Your dad sent me to pick you up. He said to say he was gonna be late.”

    Yeah, right. This was about as believable as a three-dollar bill. “Sure he did. I think I'll wait right here, thanks.” I began to back away from him.

    “No, seriously,” he insisted. “I'm Lee. Lee Adamson. I'm a Dockworker. I work for your dad.”

    I began to reconsider my earlier judgement. Maybe I was a bit hasty. He had the look of a Dockworker, all right. “Uh, what's his secretary's name?”

    “Louise,” he replied promptly. “And the carpet in his office is green. The visitor's chair has a wobbly leg.”

    He was right about all those details. “Okay, Mr Adamson, looks like you're on the level. Let's go.”

    “Great.” He looked relieved. “My car's just over here.”

    I followed him to the car; he opened the driver's side door and got in. I walked around the car to get into the front passenger side seat, then paused as I saw that there was someone in the back seat. My creep-factor alarm started going off again, as the back door opened and the man got out.

    I had never seen him before in person, but I recognised him easily enough. He wore no shirt; on one bicep he wore a tattoo of a wolf's head superimposed over a swastika. On the other, a letter and two numbers. E-8-8. Empire Eighty-Eight. Over his face, he wore a metal mask fashioned to look like a wolf's head.

    “Oh, shit,” I muttered. “You're Hookwolf.”

    “Correct.” His voice was a growl, made more echoing by the metal mask. “Now do as you're told and get in the fucking car.”

    Rapidly, I sorted through the possibilities. If my powers were still holding firm, I could get away easily. If they weren't, then I would be quickly captured. Likewise, if I still had powers, going with them would not pose much of a risk to me. Without powers, going willingly would pose less of a risk than forcing them to catch me.

    In any case, I was kind of curious as to how this would play out. So I did as I was told and got in the fucking car.

    <><>​

    Sophia

    "How are you feeling, Sophia? That was such a terrible accident. I'm so pleased that the PRT asked Panacea to heal your injuries."

    Sophia forced herself not to snap back at her mother. I'm fine, don't smother me. But Mom did mean well, and what had happened wasn't her fault. So she manufactured a brave smile instead.

    "I'll be fine," she replied. "But I'm still feeling a little headachey, so I think I might take a nap."

    In fact, the headache was barely there at all; she could ignore that if she had to.

    "All right, dear," her mother replied. "I'll knock on your door when it's dinner time."

    "Oh, uh, I don't think I'll be very hungry," Sophia said hastily. "If I don't answer, I'll probably be asleep."

    "I'll leave a plate in the fridge for you if that happens," Mom agreed comfortably. "I hope you feel better soon, dear."

    Mumbling something by way of reply, Sophia climbed the stairs to her room, then closed and locked the door behind her. It was a bitch and a pain to keep her cape identity from her family – Mom knew but nobody else did – but in this kind of situation it paid off in spades.

    Opening her wardrobe, she reached in to the back and pulled out a removable partition. Behind that was her original costume, the one she had pieced together long before she was forced to join the Wards. Her old crossbows were here too; she had kept them clean and oiled, just on the off-chance that she would need them someday. Finally, she retrieved a small case; opening it, she counted six arrows, their tips gleaming razor-sharp.

    Carefully, she donned the costume, fitting the crossbows into their holsters. The case of arrows went on to her belt. Closing the wardrobe, she frowned. Right now, she had the perfect alibi.

    Hebert has to die. Nobody does that to me and lives. But Hebert had some sort of bullshit luck thing going for her. She's lucky, but I'm good. All the same, I might need more arrows. That's fine; I'll raid my stash.

    <><>​

    Brockton Control, this is American 732. We're experiencing a pitch problem. Autopilot won't hold a constant altitude. Nose keeps creeping up, over.”

    Ah, roger on the pitch problem, American 732. Are you declaring an in-flight emergency, over?”

    Negative, Brockton. But if you could pass that on to Portland, let 'em know that we're gonna need all the runway they can give us, over.”

    Roger, American 732. We will be informing Portland that you are experiencing pitch problems. In the meantime, I see that you're in a higher altitude pattern than normal. Could the problem be caused by ice on your control surfaces, over?”

    That could be the problem, Brockton Control. We were assigned this altitude due to turbulence. What's the weather like down there, over?”

    American 732, we're having a nice warm winter's day. No turbulence to be seen. Turn to heading zero four zero and descend to Flight Level two zero zero, that's Foxtrot Lima two zero zero, see if that doesn't help with your problem, over.”

    Roger that, Brockton. Turning to zero four zero and beginning descent to Flight Level two zero zero, over.”

    I copy zero four zero and beginning descent to Flight Level two zero zero. Brockton Control out.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    The tires protested as Danny fishtailed the car into the Winslow parking lot. He screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust; the car was still rocking on its suspension as he jumped out and frantically looked around.

    Taylor wasn't there.

    "Taylor!" he called, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Taylor, where are you?"

    No answer, save his own voice echoing back from the school frontage.

    She got tired of waiting, so she took the bus.

    It wasn't the only explanation he could think of, but it was the only one he was willing to entertain right then. "Taylor!" he called again.

    She still wasn't there.

    Trotting up to the front steps, he climbed them and tried the main doors, on the faint hope that she was waiting inside. They were locked. Cupping his hands around his eyes, he put his face up to the glass. The hallway within was empty.

    She took the bus and she'll be waiting at home for me. He tried to convince himself of that as he headed back toward the car. It wasn't easy.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    "So what's this all about, anyway?" I asked brightly.

    Kaiser looked around at me. Even if I hadn't been told who he was, the metal armour covering every inch of his body would have been a serious clue. Hookwolf stood nearby, but he wasn't the only other cape there. I didn't know the others by sight, but I could make educated guesses.

    The young woman with scars here and there on her arms and face, wearing a kind of metal cage around her head, might be Cricket. The PHO boards had no solid information about her powers.

    Menja and Fenja were easier to pick out; blonde Valkyries wearing metal armour with closed-faced helmets. One carried a sword and shield, the other a spear. I had no idea which one was which, but I knew they could grow to three storeys tall and got tougher the bigger they were.

    The last cape wore no shirt, but he did have a blue and white tiger mask, which made him Stormtiger. Apparently he had air powers, including the ability to slash at people with claws made of the stuff. Of Purity and Rune, just to name two, there was no sign. I was kind of glad of that; my powers might be cool and all but there were limits.

    "As I said earlier, young lady, the less you know about the business at hand, the better for you." His tones were cultured, though I thought I detected a slight impatience in his voice.

    "Well, hey," I pointed out. "You're the villain, I'm the hostage, you've got me in your secret lair. Why not indulge in a little gloating? Reveal your master plan to me. Come on, you know you want to."

    "I would hardly call you a hostage," he retorted, a little more strain showing in his voice. "It's not as if I'm going to be demanding a ransom for you." He gestured around at the airy loft, with the members of the Empire Eighty-Eight sitting or standing around as they chose. "And this is not what I would call a secret lair." Outside, the sound of jackhammering arose as a road repair crew set to work once more. Stormtiger went over to the window and peered down at the street, then shook his head and stepped away again.

    I waited till the noise ceased. "Well, you've got me tied to a chair," I said, entirely reasonably, pulling briefly at the ropes binding me. "That says 'hostage' to me, loud and clear. Which reminds me. What if I need to go to the bathroom? Are you gonna carry me there, chair and all? Because let me tell you, that ain't gonna work."

    Hookwolf was apparently possessed of far less patience than his boss. "Shut up!" he yelled at me. "Just shut the fuck up, will you?"

    I poked my tongue out at him. "You shut up, Hookworm," I retorted. "I was talking to your boss, not you." A couple of the Empire capes chuckled, but I was suddenly seeing the wolfs-head mask from really close up.

    "Say that one more time, little girl," he grated. "Just once." Freshly grown razor claws rested on my cheek; I felt the sting of the very tips as they broke the skin.

    "Hookwolf." It was Kaiser's voice, low and controlled. "Step back."

    "But she just won't shut up!" Even as he protested, the tattooed villain moved away from me. "It's driving me nuts!"

    I wasn't quite sure where I was getting it from either. Once upon a time, I had been quite the chatterbox. That was before Emma had turned on me, had gone from being my best friend to my own personal nemesis. Isolated and ostracised, tormented at every turn, I'd had nobody my age to talk to and precious little to talk about.

    But now it was back. My powers had done more than make me lucky, it seemed; they had also reawakened that part of me, which I had long thought dead and gone.

    God, I hope my powers are still working. If one of them goes to hurt me, I'll never be able to stop them.

    Kaiser turned to Lee Adamson, who was sitting nearby with a mobile phone. “Try the house again. He's got to show up there sooner or later.”

    “Yes, sir.” Lee pressed the dial button once more. I gave him a glare, which he carefully ignored.

    <><>​

    Danny

    He wrenched open the door and stumbled inside. “Taylor?” he called out. “Taylor, are you home?”

    Silence greeted him. It wasn't the silence of a house with someone asleep upstairs, but the silence of an empty house, one where nobody had been home since the morning.

    “Taylor!” he called again, hopelessly. Oh god, I screwed up. I let them take Taylor.

    And then the phone rang. The sudden noise was shocking in the silence; he jumped and stared at it. Again it rang, and again.

    Jolting himself into motion, he lurched forward and wrenched the receiver off of the cradle. “Hello?” he croaked. “Taylor? Is that you? Are you all right?”

    Hello, Mr Hebert.” The voice wasn't one that he recognised. “Are you ready to talk business now?”

    “Who are you?” he demanded. “Where's my daughter?”

    I'm the man who's got your daughter. That's all you need to know. She's safe and alive and well. Although a little bit mouthy.”

    Danny took a deep breath. “Prove it.” Oh god, Taylor, please let your powers still be working.

    There was a rustling sound, then Taylor's voice. “Dad?”

    “Oh god, are you all right?”

    She sounded positively chirpy over the phone. “Yeah, I'm fine. They've all been kind of polite about it. Except Hookwolf. He's a bit of a douche.”

    There was shouting in the background, then another rustling sound. “Taylor? Taylor, are you there?”

    She's fine.” The man's voice was a little more strained. “I can't guarantee that she'll stay that way if she keeps mouthing off, though.”

    “I knew you were Empire Eighty-Eight,” Danny accused him. “I'm guessing that I'm talking to Kaiser.”

    Very well, let us drop all pretence,” Kaiser agreed. “This is indeed an Empire Eighty-Eight operation. I have your daughter. You will reinstate Mr Adamson on your workforce and cease querying his activities; in return, you will get Taylor back unharmed. As an added incentive, I'll make sure you get the five thousand, plus another five thousand each month.”

    In the background, he heard Taylor's voice. “Tell him to shove it, Dad!”

    If Taylor believes that her powers are still working, then I have to believe also.

    “Kaiser.” He kept his voice tightly under control. “I have a counter-offer. You release my daughter, right now, with apologies for the inconvenience, and we can both forget this ever happened. Don't release her, and I can't answer for what's going to happen to you.”

    There was a long pause. “Was that a threat? Are you honestly threatening me?”

    “No. That was a warning. Unless you release my daughter right now and back the fuck off from the Dockworkers, you seriously will not like the consequences.”

    <><>​

    American 732 reached the prescribed altitude of Flight Level two zero zero, otherwise known as twenty thousand feet, as it passed over the mountains that barricaded Brockton Bay to the south. As promised, the air was a little warmer here, and of turbulence there was little compared to the rain squalls further south.

    However, as the aircraft passed into the warmer air, the airframe expanded very slightly. This, combined with the added warmth and the greater wind resistance, managed to break the tenuous hold that the mass of ice had on the fuselage.

    Within the aircraft, the passengers felt a peculiar jolt, coupled to a thrumming boom as the ice broke away. A few startled looks were exchanged, but nothing else happened.

    Checking the controls, the pilots found that the aircraft was no longer trying to climb skyward, a consequence of having mass shifted to a point behind the centre of gravity. Everything seemed to be operating within specs, so they made note of the strange noise and went back to the serious business of getting their passengers to Portland on time.

    Below the aircraft, the mass of blue ice, reinforced and added to by high-altitude ice particles picked up on the flight, began a ballistic arc toward the ground, far below.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Kaiser took the phone away from his faceplate, which I could see now was perforated to allow him to speak properly. I couldn't see his expression, but his tone was one of disbelief. “The man thinks he can dictate terms to me. It's time we changed that attitude. Hookwolf.”

    “Yeah?” The tattooed man slouched to a species of attention.

    Kaiser pointed at me. “Can you make her scream without doing too much permanent damage?”

    As with Kaiser, I couldn't see Hookwolf's face, but the sadistic sneer was easy to hear in his voice. “With the greatest of fucking pleasure.”

    I watched as a blade, long and obviously very sharp, slid out of his forearm and ended up as a knife in his hand. He started toward me, Kaiser at his side.

    “Now, Mr Hebert, listen very closely,” Kaiser purred into the phone. “This is what happens when men like you overreach themselves.”

    “You don't want to do this,” I stated, a little more boldly than I felt. “This is a really bad idea. Trust me on this.”

    Come on, powers. Come on. Please come on …

    Behind me, Lee cleared his throat nervously. “Uh, hang on. You're not really gonna hurt her, are you?”

    “Cricket.” Kaiser didn't even break step. “Make sure that Mr Adamson doesn't interfere.”

    I tried to lock eyes with Hookwolf through his mask. “I'll say this one more time. This is a really bad idea for you.”

    “Oh yeah?” he sneered. “So what are you gonna do about it?”

    <><>​

    “Kaiser!” yelled Danny into the phone. “Don't do this! I'm warning you!”

    Nobody warns me, Mr Hebert,” Kaiser replied. “This is the -”

    And then, with a tremendous CRASH, his voice was cut off.

    “Kaiser!” Danny shouted. “Taylor! What's happening?”

    <><>​

    I had no idea what had actually happened until much later. All I heard was the tremendous CRASH as the roof caved in; something huge and blue blurred past me, taking Kaiser and Hookwolf with it as it punched through the floor and kept on going. Bits had broken off on impact with the roof – smaller ones, only the size of a human torso – and took on their own lethal trajectories within the loft area.

    Hookwolf's knife had left his hand on impact; it travelled through the air in a brief arc, ending up point-down between the rope and the chair. The rope parted almost immediately and I moved my arms out to the side to free myself. As I did so, Kaiser's phone dropped into my hand.

    Looking at where Hookwolf had gone, I raised an eyebrow. “Something like that, maybe?” I suggested facetiously, then lifted the phone to my ear.

    <><>​

    Dad. It's me. I'm fine.”

    “Oh, thank God.” He felt his heart rate decreasing to merely insane levels. “What happened? Was it your powers?”

    Basically, yeah,” she chuckled. “Holy crap. You should have seen it. I don't even know where Kaiser and Hookwolf are. Cricket jumped out the window just before it happened. Menja and Fenja … I think they got punched out through the wall. In fact, there's just me and Mr Adamson here.”

    “Adamson? Lee Adamson?” Danny gripped the phone white-knuckled.

    That's the one.”

    “Give the phone to him, please.”

    Okay-doke.”

    <><>​

    Lee was still staring wide-eyed at the gaping hole in the roof and the matching one in the floor. I turned to him. “It's for you,” I told him, holding the phone out.

    He took it gingerly, watching me as if I were going to explode or something. I considered shouting 'boo', but I didn't want him to drop the phone. “Uh, yes?” he ventured.

    I tuned the conversation out as I strolled around the perimeter of the hole to where they'd dumped my backpack. Slinging it over my shoulder, I leaned over and peered out through the sizeable holes in the wall. Each of them marked the exit point of an Empire Eighty-Eight cape.

    One of the Fenja-Menja pair had managed to go head-first down an open man-hole while she was still twenty feet tall; her legs stuck out of the round hole in the pavement, kicking wildly. Her sister was in the next man-hole along. I shook my head. What are the odds …

    Smirking at the thought, I looked for Stormtiger, eventually finding him struggling to climb out of what looked like a pool of freshly-poured tar. The workmen were trying to shut off the flow, but through some mischance, the valve was stuck wide open, and more and more of the very hot tar was pouring around him by the second.

    Shaking my head, I wandered back to where Lee was still talking on the phone. More accurately, he was sweating profusely while answering 'yes' and 'no' and 'yes sir' to whatever Dad was saying. He looked up as I approached and handed the phone back to me.

    “Yeah, Dad?” I asked casually.

    Mr Adamson has agreed to drive you home immediately,” he told me. “Do you have any objection to this?”

    “None whatsoever,” I agreed. “Though I've got to take a moment here.”

    Why?”

    I grinned wickedly as I started back toward the windows. “Photos.”

    <><>​

    As Lee and I exited the building, the roof fell in, then the entire building began the process of collapsing in upon itself. Lee stared at me, wide-eyed, then back at the slowly imploding structure.

    “Lucky, huh?” I asked cheerfully. “Good thing we decided to go when we did.”

    “Did you … did you do that?” he blurted.

    I rolled my eyes. “I warned him. You heard me warn him.”

    “Uh, yeah …” he mumbled. “But we didn't think you were serious.”

    I sighed. “People never do.” Glancing down, I added, “Hold on.”

    My shoelace had come undone; bending over, I went to re-tie it, just as something whickered over my head. There was a thunk, and I saw a throwing blade stuck in the brickwork just about chest height. “That wasn't there before,” I remarked as I straightened up.

    Looking the other way, I saw the origin of the blade. Cricket, minus her face-cage, looking somewhat battered and bruised, hobbling toward me. In her hand was another throwing blade. She drew back her hand to throw …

    … and a bus came around the corner, attempted to brake, skidded on some bluish slush, and ploughed straight into her. The impact threw her thirty feet into the back of another bus; she flopped to the ground and stayed there.

    I turned to Lee. “So, about that lift.”

    <><>​

    Shadow Stalker

    Gotta be quick about this. Get to Hebert's house, kill her, get home again. Tell 'em I was asleep the whole time. They'll never be able to prove otherwise.

    Sophia eased her way on to the rooftop and skulked around beside the air-conditioning vent. The grille looked securely attached, but one of the screws holding it on turned easily and she was able to lift it off and away. Reaching in, she lifted out a backpack and placed it next to the aircon vent.

    Arrows, arrows, arrows.

    Reaching into the backpack, she rummaged through the contents. Spare mask, spare costume, first aid kit … where were the damn arrows?

    Finally, losing patience, she dumped the pack out on the rooftop. The arrows were nowhere to be seen.

    “The fuck?” she muttered. “I know I had some -”

    The scrape of a boot on gravel caused her to whirl around, bringing both crossbows up in a practised move. Even when Armsmaster stepped into view, she didn't relax, though she did lower the crossbows.

    “Oh, hi,” she greeted him insincerely. “What are you doing here?”

    “I could ask you the same thing,” he replied grimly. “Were you looking for these?” He held up two of the arrows that she had been seeking, twin to the ones in the case on her belt.

    “Uh, no,” she replied, thinking quickly. “I had a spare phone in here. Or I thought I did.” She made a show of peering at the arrows. “Those look like the ones I used to use, before I joined the Wards. I got rid of all those.”

    “Evidently not,” he said. “These have your fingerprints on them, and the heads have microscopic traces of blood. Pretty sure we'll be able to match these with mysteriously injured muggers on nights you were out on patrol on your own.”

    “Uh, no,” she began, tensing to turn and jump off the rooftop. “You've got it all wrong -”

    A tremendous CRASH, not all that far away, startled her; she glanced in that direction. That moment of inattention was all it took; the next thing she knew, she was wrapped in a sturdy cable.

    “I wouldn't try phasing,” Armsmaster warned her bluntly. “The cable carries a charge.”

    And try as she might, Shadow Stalker could not think of a way out.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    I climbed out of the car, then slung my backpack over my shoulder once more. Leaning back in through the open door, I gave Lee a tight smile. “You stood up for me with Kaiser,” I told him. “That's the only reason you're still upright and breathing. But you helped kidnap me, which puts you on my list. Kaiser was on my list. You don't want to be there. I'd advise you to leave town.”

    “Leave town?” He gulped. “I'm leaving the friggin' state.”

    “Gooood idea.” Standing up, I closed the door; from the way he burned rubber, it seemed as though he was intending to leave town today. This minute, even.

    Which I was just fine with. Strolling up the front path, I noticed the car alongside the house. The front door opened as I approached; Dad stood there.

    “Taylor,” he breathed as I jumped over the rotten step and joined him. “You're all right.”

    “Yup,” I grinned and held up the phone. “And trust me, you should see the other guys.”


    End of Part Six

    Part Seven
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2016
  29. alethiophile

    alethiophile Shadowed Philosopher Administrator

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    Heh heh heh.

    I feel like it's perhaps a little much that Kaiser and Hookwolf are getting involved with this. As far as they know, this is just an ordinary case of leaning on an obstinate civilian; I'd expect some lower-level nonpowered manager to be the one in charge. I suppose it's possible Lee Adamson was doing something unusually important?
     
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  30. vyor

    vyor Oh that's cute

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    Ow, my sides.
     
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