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Taylor, Time Tinker! [Worm Alt-power AU][COMPLETE]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by nezexyzzar, Dec 24, 2021.

  1. Threadmarks: Infinite Taylor

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
    Likes Received:
    Infinite Taylor

    Fortuna woke up gasping. She grabbed David, squeezing his hand tight as she tried to get her bearings. Her legs were gummy and soft; the air-conditioning was a startling breeze as she pulled the blankets off.

    “Hey!” David grabbed her shoulder with his free hand, trying to calm her down. This was the first time he had ever seen Contessa so uncomposed. “Calm down. You’re in the base.”

    She looked around. Metal walls, metal doors. The compound. The med-bay. She was used to the medicinal cabinets at her back rather than on her front. She blinked, trying to adjust to the blinding lights as David squeezed her hand back.

    Kurt handed her a glass of water. She looked at it for a moment, stupefied. Something was missing but she couldn't remember what. She reached out in her mind, grasping in the dark for it as she struggled to move her body. It felt strange, inhabiting her body. Everything was familiar yet different, as if she had been on a long holiday away.

    Then her power came roaring back awake and her hand moved up to grab the glass. Fortuna brought it to her lips and took a large gulp, savouring the coolness in her throat. She wanted to drink more but there was no time.

    Contessa turned her head towards Eidolon. “We’re under attack. Switch your powers,” she said, before flinging the glass, water and all, right at the door.

    A flaming whip sliced through the door at the same time. A puff of steam burst as the glass shattered, while the fire left a searing line through the floor. Eidolon stood up, summoning his helmet to hand while the Number Man was already firing his pistol.

    Taylor Infinite stepped through the slagged doorway. She looked congenial, nodding to them politely as she walked unbothered by the mild gunfire.

    “Greetings,” she said, turning a finger.

    Another string of fire cut down, crashing straight into Eidolon. He brought his arms up — they were cloaked with some kind of shimmering liquid — but the whip suddenly exploded instead, blasting him out of the room through the wall.

    Taylor didn’t let up. Her finger flicked again, this time slicing sideways. Contessa was already lunging off the bed. She tackled the Number Man; her power used the weakness in her legs to let her fall, and they both fell beneath the blistering fire as it swung over them, barely missing.

    The Number Man fired his last bullet. The slug flattened against her eye; Taylor blinked curiously as it bounced off, dinging against the metal ground. Her finger was still raised.

    She drew a line down the air, pointing straight at them.

    Fire rolled over them, rippling over an invisible shield. Contessa squinted, the heat stinging her eyes. Her power told her to wait one beat.

    Then Taylor suddenly jerked up, launched into the ceiling. She smashed against it with a heavy thud, denting the metal. She dropped, stopped mid-air as if held up by something, and was flung up again and again.

    Handprints dotted her clothes, a whirl of impressions that peppered against cloth and skin as they tried to crush Taylor. The lights shattered as she was dragged through it, dousing part of the room in shadows.

    Contessa grabbed the Number Man’s arm and moved left.

    A fiery lance cut through where they were just a second later. Taylor was no longer paying attention to them; instead, she was looking around, fire streaming from both her hands as she tried to find her invisible assailant.

    Dancing between the flames was exhausting. The exit felt like a mile away as they were forced to shuffle back multiple times. The Custodian was helping, trying to push Taylor further away, but she wasn’t going to be able to keep it up. Fortuna’s power couldn’t quite path Hebert, but it could still see the Custodian’s fate.

    A shot of lightning suddenly bounced off the wall, searing a line through the middle of the room. The Number Man jumped back before the bolt of plasma cut through him; he dived towards Contessa, where she pushed a table over for cover. They ducked behind it just as more lightning crackled and arced across the room.

    The mattresses exploded, catching fire as electricity sliced through the bedding. One of the cabinets trembled and suddenly shot into the air. The medicine inside tumbled out as it launched towards Taylor, but it was too late.

    She ripped herself off the ceiling with a thunderous clap, striking the ground like lightning. The space around her was forcefully cleared; the beds, what was left of them, flipped backwards in disarray, bouncing off the walls and shattering the glass displays. The thrown cabinet dropped to the ground in molten slag, cut into pieces by the sudden force.

    Kurt looked at Contessa as they huddled behind their table. Their cover bore the brunt of the power, pushing them harmlessly against the wall. He slid a new magazine into his pistol, but Fortuna shook her head. It wasn’t safe for them to move yet.

    Taylor turned, white-hot plasma gathering around her hand as she looked intently at the air, scanning for any bit of imperfection.

    She suddenly thrust out a fist. A thick bolt lanced through the air. There was a flash, an obnubilating white that blinded the world before leaving the silhouette of a woman etched against the ceiling.

    Taylor smiled victoriously. She stepped forward, hand crackling electric until a craggy root wormed out from her back and wrapped around her.

    She froze up for a second, and in that second more roots spilled out from her back; thick winding limbs that wrapped around and over her, reaching into the ground and pulling her down as they burrowed into it. Branches sprouted over each other as they formed a thick trunk, forcing Taylor down lower. Green was sprouting on its branches, the squatting mass on her back blooming into a wide, billowing tree.

    Taylor yelped as she crashed to the ground. Fire sprouted from her mouth while the floor bent beneath her. She tried to push up. Lightning crackled along her body, searing red-hot lines up the tree. Leaves burst into flames, falling in a fiery rain as she tried to escape but the tree simply healed, fresh bark and leaves regrowing near-instantaneously while the roots wound tighter and tighter around her.

    Eidolon floated back into the room. He was covered in soot, his cape slightly singed at the bottom. One of his hands was outstretched, finger clawed around a glowing green orb. He was shaking with the effort; his other hand came up to grip his arm steady. The tree grew higher, crashing against the ceiling. The metal creaked as it buckled. Taylor gasped as roots engulfed her completely, fire leaking ineffectively between the cracks.

    A burst of light snapped through the wood prison. Taylor shoved her hand through the small hole before the roots could cover it up and slapped against the floor. A tremor echoed through the building. The air whistled like something sharp sheared past.

    Thin black lines etched across the floor, spreading under them up the walls. They looked like a web of concentric circles, a glyph or a maze. Stillness hung over the air, weightless, like the moment before a rollercoaster crests the tip; then the room shuddered and split apart.

    The Number Man saw the changes before he felt it. He tried to stand, but they were already slipping forward as the floor collapsed.

    The Custodian caught them mid-fall. She wrapped them in a hard, invisible cocoon and propelled them upwards, through the falling debris as more and more of their base crumbled apart. The destruction was like a wave, working through room after room on the heels of those silent black lines.

    Eidolon disappeared under a mountain of metal, his green orb winking out. Taylor fell with him, the massive tree on her back pulling her along as it smashed through the falling debris. She roared; lightning writhed in long, arcing bolts, the wet plasma charring the wood black and grey. Taylor gritted her teeth, straining against her bonds; then a terrible crack clapped the air, snuffing out all sound in that moment. White-hot light cleaved through the tree; it splintered into ash as it hit the ground.

    Contessa and the Number Man were deposited on a broken ledge. It was half a room, neatly cut in two. Half a desk was still there, hanging over the edge.

    Kurt looked up. It was as if a hole had been carved into their base through more than a dozen levels, leaving a honeycomb of severed rooms. The sliced floors, walls, metal plates and broken furniture tumbled over each other as they settled at the bottom of the pit.

    Taylor was walking on air. Stairs shimmered under every step she took, forming a flight up from the bottom. Around her the air was sparkling — little dewdrops that spun and rolled, throwing little dancing spots of light across the ground as they grew bigger and bigger.

    “What the hell is she doing?”

    “Molten glass.” Contessa stared through her eyelashes. She needed to see what happened next. “She’s using a few different powers to tune its refractive index.”

    Taylor stretched her hands out, fingers splayed. The scent of ozone grew overpowering as ten blinding lasers blasted forward. They bounced off the first set of glass orbs to hit the next, and the next, until it connected back onto itself in a blinding lattice that boiled the air.

    Then the orbs exploded. The Number Man flinched, jerking back instinctively as an overwhelming light flooded the interior but they passed through him harmlessly. He wasn’t the real target.

    A soundless shriek cut their ears. The Custodian contorted in agony across a thousand flashing silhouettes, her mouth agape — then Taylor was there, her face serene. With one hand she pulled The Custodian up into the world and with the other she plunged it deep into her flesh.

    Kurt had to cover his ears. The Custodian screamed even louder and shriller as Taylor withdrew her arm, the tip of a strange, colourless crystal in her hand. The crystal shifted along its length, warping in on itself like a twisting polytope. The Custodian's skin blistered red and black, turning hard as Taylor continued to pull the crystal out. Tendrils of energy erupted from her body, thin energized lines that drew taut from her flesh to the crystal but Taylor didn't stop pulling.

    Kurt looked at Contessa grimly. “Are we dead?”

    "Help me up," Contessa replied instead. "The armoury is next door."

    The shard came free with a sigh. Lights flickered wildly in a shower of sparks as the Custodian sagged backwards, gasping weakly. Her face was frozen in a rictus of pain as she died.

    Taylor dropped the body. She let the shard spin about in her hand, her lips parting into an unbidden smile as she watched the light sparkle and refract off its whirling dimensions. Floating higher on a ball of dripping glass, she pulled her hair up and set it free.

    The shard shot out, arcing through the space as it darted straight into the base of Taylor’s neck. She exhaled, her eyes fluttering while her skin glowed softly. She seemed completely uncaring of the world around her, totally immersed in the feeling of the new shard.

    Alexandria exploded out from the ceiling just as the shard disappeared into Taylor. She stopped mid-air, her face blank as she looked at the destruction — the new cavernous space, the body on the ground — and the shining figure in the middle of it all.

    The air split apart with a boom as Alexandria shot forward, but she never landed her punch. She choked, stopping right before Taylor while her legs whipped forward. Something gripped her neck hard; Alexandria clutched at the air in front of her but there was nothing there.

    Then she was slammed into the ground, shaking loose some debris around her. Alexandria balled her fists, trying to push herself up, but the invisible force grabbed her again, hurling her upwards. She could see her cape flapping violently in front of her, the ground shrinking before she smashed hard into the ceiling. The metal groaned as it dented in, then Alexandria was flung to the side.

    She scraped against the ceiling, grinding a path along the ceiling through the lights and fans and bits of half-wall still sticking out. Alexandria stretched her arm out, clawing her fingers into the metal as she tried to stop herself. She roared, ripping out a chunk of ceiling as she tried to fly down but the force intensified, pressing up against every inch of her body, pushing her deeper into the ceiling. Her head crashed through something protruding as she looped around a corner. Her armour came apart, tumbling to the ground with her cape.

    Taylor wasn’t even looking up. One hand was lazily raised, turning slowly while she rolled her neck unhurriedly.

    “The Custodian’s power. She really has it. And she’s practicing.” Kurt watched powerlessly from the side. His hands automatically tucked the last pin into the sniper rifle in his hand; he cocked it, easily going through the assembly checks before loading the rounds in.

    “She’s going for the Garden.”

    “Can she actually control all of them?”

    “Unknowable.” Contessa glanced at Kurt, meeting his eyes. “No one has ever done it before.”

    The ground suddenly shifted. Metal ground on metal in an awful racket as a pile of broken pieces started shaking and moving. Alexandria stopped, still flattened against the ceiling as Taylor turned curiously.

    Something rumbled underground, just a second before a slab of flooring exploded off the pile towards her. Taylor cocked her head, batting it away easily; then Eidolon leaped up from the hole in the ground with ten glowing orbs spinning furiously around him as he blasted a massive beam straight into her.

    Taylor immediately had her hands out, pushing forward. Light and heat slithered a circle around her, plasma rippling over her invisible shield. She blinked and squinted while something sizzled against her shoes; rivers of molten metal, glowing hot, pooled at her feet. Her mouth curled into a frown as they started to smoke and blacken.

    Sweat beaded under David’s helmet. He gasped, his breath a loud ringing in his ears. Was this it? He could feel Taylor giving ground. Did he manage to find her weakness? He had swapped all his powers to pure offense for this one shot. His arms trembled as he tried holding steady the surge of power coursing through him. The energy was blinding but he didn’t dare to look away.

    He missed the slow rise of metal all around him, a thousand malleable pieces pulling and twisting into sharp spikes.

    They quivered in the air for a deadly second, and then they fired.

    Alexandria slammed into him, pushing him to the ground. She leaped over him, tucking him under her as the spikes rained down. They cut through her bodysuit, slicing over her back and bouncing off her skin. She hissed, sucking in a breath as a hundred points stubbed blunt against her body and clattered to the ground. Eidolon shifted under her as more spikes buried themselves around them, the orbs around him dissipating as he tried for another power.

    A sharp report of a rifle echoed. Taylor staggered, thrown off-balance to the side as a bullet slammed into her. It bounced off her harmlessly, but it also interrupted her concentration. The metal spikes clattered to the ground as she spun around, eyes narrowed, trying to find the shooter.

    The Number Man fired again just as Taylor spotted him. The bullet whipped her head back, but not before she crushed the room with a clenched fist. He leaped off, dust streaming from his coat as he landed smoothly on a lower deck. Taylor steadied herself, shaking off the bullet from her hair. She could feel him with Custodian’s power, his footsteps landing in time with his heartbeat.

    She thrust her hand forward, grasping at the room he was running to and almost crushing it before another bullet ricocheted off the ground and slammed into her jaw, rattling her teeth painfully and sending her aim wide.

    Contessa walked as she cocked her rifle. She pulled the trigger again without looking.

    Taylor gritted her teeth. She tried to focus, but the second bullet caught her by surprise again, bouncing from the side straight onto her ear. This time, she yelped, clutching her ear as a sharp ringing perforated her eardrums.

    As she stumbled, she missed Eidolon rising into the air, his armour turning black and impenetrable as the void. He reared back as he took a deep breath, and then he screamed. The bottom of his helmet shattered as a soundless wave ebbed out.

    Everything in front of him turned to dust. The broken metal plates, the pieces of furniture, it all turned black and scattered, disintegrating into the air.

    Taylor staggered onto her knee. She held one hand out in front of her, a shimmering barrier at her hand. The dust streamed around her as she pushed back, but she couldn’t block out everything. Parts of her white suit were already turning black, flaking off bit by bit.

    A bullet hit her wrist, rocking her hand to the side. Immediately her sleeve rippled, and long dark gashes appeared over her shoulder.

    Taylor hissed, irritation crossing her face. She clenched her hand into a fist.

    A massive metal blade barrelled out of the side of the cavern, catching Eidolon from the side. He smashed into the ground before he could turn; more spikes grew out, pinning him deeper into the ground. His armour splintered as the tips ground into him.

    Taylor stood up. She brushed her shoulder as a metal sheet popped up to her side, blocking another bullet. More sheets sprouted up, growing wide and tall over her, covering her against the Number Man and Contessa. They couldn’t see her anymore, but she could still see them.

    She turned, focusing on the Number Man first. He was already running, zig-zagging into different rooms but there was nowhere he could hide. He was already in her grasp.

    Taylor watched his steps, anticipated his movements, and swept a hand down.

    Alexandria slammed into her as she crushed him, pulling them both into a pile of debris. Light and darkness tumbled over them as they burrowed deeper into the metal. Alexandria could barely move, the exhaustion of the day catching up to her. She lay in the dark, letting the weight of the world press down on her until a pale hand suddenly burst out and grabbed her.

    Lightning seared the surrounding metal into slag as they exploded from the ground. Taylor gripped her by her head. Alexandria grabbed the fingers holding her, trying to pull them off, but then Taylor swooped down, slamming her hard into the ground. Her vision buzzed out briefly as bells rang between her ears. Taylor continued, raising her head and smashing it down over and over. Alexandria tried to kick her away, but her limbs felt like rubber. Pain radiated in her skull as the fingers around her face tightened.

    Two shots rang out, bouncing between the sheets to hit Taylor. Her grip slackened, just for a split-second, and Alexandria reacted immediately. She forced an open palm into Taylor’s chest, pushing her back enough for her to tuck her legs in and shove her boots into Taylor with all her remaining strength.

    The tinker only stumbled back slightly. She glanced up, ignoring Alexandria for a moment. Contessa had already slipped away, so Taylor crushed the entire swath of rooms she fired from; everything in a wide radius around it was pulverized and flattened.

    She turned back to Alexandria. The heroine was on her hands and knees, gasping as she tried to crawl away. Her head pounded with heat as blood rushed up. She grabbed a rebar sticking out of the ground, trying to pull herself up, but Taylor wrenched it out of her hand. A shoe pressed her down on her back and then—

    There was no pain, no blood. Just a small sensation at the base of her neck, and then she couldn’t feel anything.

    Alexandria flopped flat to the ground, limbs askew. She couldn’t move them — she couldn’t move a single finger or toe, couldn’t feel anything from the neck down. Her mouth croaked wide involuntarily, a stream of saliva leaking from the side. Her eyes darted to the side as she tried to look around, to turn around to see what was in her neck. Something was in her neck.

    Taylor stretched, feeling the kinks crack out along her back as she walked away. The Number Man was probably dead, but there was still Eidolon and Contessa to harvest. She turned towards the mass of spikes in the ground. They were still growing, still pushing into the ground. She frowned. Eidolon couldn’t have simply died like this, right?

    Suddenly, arms wrapped around her waist. They pulled her close even as she tried to wrest away. The world spun like a kaleidoscope as she shoved an elbow behind.

    They split apart on a rocky beach underneath a swirling twilight sky.

    Taylor looked down, her lips curling in disgust as lobsters tried to crawl over her feet. A flick of fire sent them all scurrying away. There were thousands of them, a rolling mass of grey and blue retreating further up the beach or into the sea.

    "Door." She frowned when nothing happened.

    “It won’t work. This world has a natural bulwark.”

    “Oh?” Taylor turned around to see David floating down. His helmet was gone. Dry blood caked the side of his face.

    “It’s over. You can’t go back.”

    Taylor scoffed. “If you can come here, then I can leave. Do you think I can’t pluck that power out of your head?”

    David bared a grin full of teeth. “To force our way here, I had the power burn itself out ten times over. And then I discarded it, cycling through other powers a dozen times since.

    “So, take it. Take them all. You still lose.”

    A solemn expression settled on Taylor’s face. She looked around at the barren islet, the chittering lobsters and the rolling seas.

    “Hmm. Interesting,” she said. “I’ll have to test this theory of yours.”

    David raised a hand, palm up. “Shall we?”


    Kurt woke up with a gasp. He hissed with pain, trying to move, but his legs wouldn’t obey.

    He looked down. They were gone, two stumps ending at the knees, a dirty tourniquet wrapped around them both. He turned around, almost yelling as he saw Taylor Hebert sitting next to him.

    She had green hair. It was a different Taylor Hebert. The one he helped Alexandria trap.

    “You’re awake,” she spoke. “I’m Sage.”

    “You saved me.”

    “You jumped pretty far out of the way yourself.” She wasn’t looking at him, instead fiddling with a small cylindrical device in her hands.

    He hissed, a spike of pain jolting up his thighs as he shifted the wrong way. Kurt shoved the pain he was feeling away and looked at Sage again. Her eyes were composed, no hint of impatience, no trace of anger. The only sign of emotion was her feet drumming against the floor.

    There was an oversized device strapped over her back. Wires stuck out erratically, a mismatch of different parts wrapped together in tape around a glowing core. Kurt recognized some of those parts as tinker devices from their armoury.

    Did she manage to cobble together a time machine?

    “What do you want?” he asked.

    Sage stopped moving her fingers. “Where’s your secondary exit? I know you didn’t just depend solely on Doormaker.”

    Kurt shook his head. “It’s on the other side of the base. We’ll never reach there without... the other Taylor finding us first.”

    “Eidolon just teleported her away a few minutes ago. Trying to shunt her into some random dimension, I’m guessing. It’s a good plan, but it won’t delay her for long. She’ll be back.” Sage stood up and waved the device in her hand. The core on her back glowed as a ghostly green stretcher popped beneath him and levitated up. “So, this is the best time we have. Point the way.”

    “Wait. Where’s Contessa? Alexandria?”

    Sage held a hand up. “Nope. It’s just you and me, or I leave you here for Infinite to find.”

    Kurt was taken aback. He examined the Taylor in front of him more closely, at the small, nervous twitches in her body. She was wary of him, of them. The tinker device on her back was for this green construct, not her time technology.

    “You know,” he started, keeping his tone conversational, “we can be allies. If you’re against the other—”

    "Just because I'm against her doesn't mean I'm with you," Sage interrupted. She didn't give him a chance to try again. "Let me be perfectly clear. I'm fine with looking for the exit myself."

    “The base is huge. You won’t find it,” Kurt pointed out.

    “I’ll find it,” she disagreed immediately. “It’d take longer than I’d like but I’ll find it. You, on the other hand, will die when Infinite comes back. So make your choice.”

    Kurt gripped the stretcher. It felt like a solid piece of nothingness. “You’re asking me to choose between betraying my colleagues and saving my life.”

    “Well, you didn’t use the word ‘friends’ so I assume you’ll be okay.”

    The Number Man worked his jaw. He grabbed the stumps of his legs.

    Taylor never looked away. She met his gaze calmly, patiently until he turned away first.

    “Go left.”


    Victoria found Franklin and Legend in a terse standoff. The blue-haired Taylor was snarling, her hands crackling with energy. Behind her, Newton was slumped against the wall, massaging her neck as she watched.

    “Hey!” She pulled Franklin back. “We’re on the same side here. What happened?”

    “Ask him,” she jerked her chin at Legend. “Alexandria pulled Sage into a portal. He won’t say where or why. He won’t even disable the emitters blocking our tech.”

    Victoria turned to Legend. “Legend. Hi.” She forced herself to slow down her words, to stop the fangirling for a moment. “Look, you can trust the Taylors. We need their help. Scion is on the way. We need to get as far away from town as possible.”

    Legend was looking at them. He frowned when he saw Cardinal. "Glory Girl," he said. He blinked at Victoria's outfit. "What do you mean Scion is on the way?"

    Vista came forward. “We know what he is. We saw how he killed everyone in the MS cells. If we’re still here when he arrives, we’ll all die painfully.”

    Legend’s face was carefully blank. His eyes slid between the two girls, his lips pressed into a thin white line.

    Miss Militia prodded. “Sir? I’ve already told the others to evac to the command tent. Should I cancel that order?” She still had a trace of suspicion; her pistol was subtly pointed at Cardinal.

    “He doesn’t know what you’re talking about.” Tattletale breathed out as she studied the Protectorate hero. “He’s not in the loop.”

    Legend, along with the others, whipped around to her. “What do you mean?” Victoria asked urgently, almost unheeding of the Protectorate hero. He was still silent.

    Cardinal wasn’t paying attention to their squabble. She sat down next to Newton, fixedly not looking at her. Her hand was clenched on her knee, just a warm inch from Newton. She twitched, seized with indecision on how to start.

    Newton grabbed her instead, wrapping a palm around her fist. She gently pressed it flat and hooked their fingers together. “Hey,” she said lowly, her voice still hoarse from the fight.

    “Hey.” Cardinal’s voice was rough for a different reason. She looked up, blinking rapidly as tears suddenly filled her eyes.

    They didn’t speak after that. Newton waited for a beat before leaning into Cardinal, resting her head on her shoulder. She seemed content, casual, but her grip on Cardinal tightened, as if she was afraid the other girl might disappear again.

    “I’m sorry,” Cardinal whispered. The word felt heavy, inadequate. Regret was like a chasm in her heart, a never-ending abyss.

    Newton nuzzled into her as she shook her head. "Don't," she replied simply, like it was nothing that Cardinal left without a word, that Cardinal betrayed them with Infinite, that she left Newton alone for so long.

    Cardinal squeezed her eyes shut as she broke down crying.

    Newton pulled her in, wrapping her up in a hug. “Don’t,” she said again. “I trusted Infinite too, back then.”

    “You know?”

    “Sage tried to shield me, but I put together some bits and pieces.”

    Cardinal unfurled slightly. One of her hands ghosted around Newton’s waist like an old habit.

    “If you ever want to talk, I’m always here to listen.”

    “Even after everything?”

    “Of course.” Newton nudged her with her shoulder, forcing Cardinal to meet her eyes. “We made a promise to each other, remember?”

    Cardinal chuckled. It was soft but genuine, and a feeling of lightness bubbled up in her for the first time since a long while.

    “Hey lovebirds.” A flat voice interrupted the two.

    Franklin looked down at them exasperatedly. “Get up. He’s here. God, I’m happy for you two but I did not miss this.”

    Behind her, Victoria was goggling, her eyes wide with astonishment. Tattletale looked more sedate, but she also could not completely hide her amazement.

    In the distance, the sky was beginning to shift with a golden hue.

    “How long till he gets here?”

    “At current speeds? 5 minutes.” Franklin had a holographic map projecting from her bracer. The blinking dot on it continued to edge closer.

    Legend appeared in a flash. “It’s done.”

    Almost immediately, the Taylors seemed to buzz. The lights on their wrist stopped flashing red while a sliver of themselves phased over them as their tech kicked in. Newton and Cardinal looked completely restored, their injuries gone and their suits repaired.

    Miss Militia walked up to Legend. “All teams have evacuated to the command tent, waiting for further instructions.”

    “You should join them,” Franklin spoke to her. “Then lead everyone further, as far away as you can.”

    Militia twitched, but she didn’t respond. She stood with her hands behind her back, waiting for Legend instead.

    The protectorate hero seemed to be lost in thought. He had been quiet ever since the revelations that he was not completely in the loop, even in Cauldron.

    “Follow what Taylor says,” he finally replied. “You’ll be in charge. Retreat further, keep everyone safe, that’s the new priority.”

    “What about you?”

    Legend was looking at Franklin. “You have room for one more?”

    Franklin gave him an appraising once-over. “I heard you have a pretty indestructible breaker form. If you dare to test it, you can ride with us.”

    Vista looked between the two of them. She opened her mouth to say something, but then Victoria elbowed her lightly. She shook her head.

    Sophia looked at everyone from the side. She hadn’t spoken a word since leaving the alley; she wrapped her arms around herself gingerly as she listened to the others speak. Her eyes had lingered over Cardinal when she curled into Newton.

    “Hey.” Vista gave her a light prod. “You… alright?”

    Sometimes Missy wondered why she kept finding herself stuck with surly teenage girls. And she was supposed to be the kid.

    “I’m fine,” Sophia mumbled. “What?”

    “You were spacing out. C’mon, let’s go. Better get clear before everything starts.”

    Sophia gave one last glance at Cardinal. The Taylors were already in the air with Legend, flying towards the source of the golden glow.

    “Have you seen them fight?” she asked. “How do you know they’re telling the truth?” she added sullenly, more of a complaint to herself.

    “I’ve seen Scion attack. I’ve seen the aftermath of their fight.” Vista snapped her fingers, reducing the long street out of town to a single step. “I don’t care if they can be trusted. What I do know is that you don’t want to be caught in between.”

    As they stepped out of the town, an ominous rumble echoed across the sky. Hannah looked at her hands. The energy — temporal energy — clinging to her seemed to shimmer just a shade brighter.

    “So what’s the plan?”

    Franklin sighed. “Scion can basically destroy matter on an atomic level. Avoid getting hit. Don’t die.”

    Legend frowned. “That’s it? But you beat him before, right?”

    “Yeah, then he came back to life anyway, stronger even. Now all we can really do is just don’t die.”

    “Don’t die until… what? Scion’s not an Endbringer. He’s not going to go away after a while. Are you just planning to fight until something happens?”

    Franklin flashed a wry smile. “Are you gonna panic if I say yes?”

    Legend did not return it. He gave her a hard look before turning to the town. “This temporal energy. What happens if he gets it?”

    "Scion is using the energy to understand further the principles of our time travel. More energy means more material for research. So nothing might happen. Or this might be the key that unlocks the insights he needs."

    “And if he gets that insight?”

    “Then he won’t need us, or this world anymore.”

    “So we need to fight.” Legend exhaled shakily. A flash of fear, of indecision crossed over him. Then he curled his hands into fists and straightened his shoulders. “Alright. I’ll follow your lead.”

    “Let us do our thing first. We’ll tag you in.”

    Scion cut through the clouds, descending naked on Shining Top. He looked past them, his eyes focused entirely on the town. Already Franklin could make out the scattered bits of temporal energy, sparkling like gold as they gathered in the air.

    He raised his hand.

    Cardinal stepped over his head in a pounce, a time-hardened sword in hand. She slashed into his chest from the neck, cutting deep into his torso.

    Scion seemed to freeze. A tremble ran up to his head where a second face suddenly peeked from the back of his skull. Lasers burned from his eyes, two searing lances so thick with energy they electrified the air.

    Cardinal was already gone. She whisked her blade out, hopping down in wide, leaping steps in the air. The beams turned sharply to follow as Scion continued to pull with his hand.

    The temporal energy was already a shimmering band in the sky. Tendrils of power flowed up, routing into a surging river that snaked towards Scion. His hand glowed as he started to absorb it.

    Franklin arrived in a sudden bolt of thunder, crashing into his side. She struck through his shoulder, driving lightning straight down his arm, disintegrating it from the inside out.

    She leaped off immediately, dodging the hand that clawed out of his back to swipe at her. Franklin arced away as Newton came sweeping up. Spheres of crushed rock and debris spun violently around her. With a flick of her wrist, they were set free, flinging straight into Scion, impacting him in a shower of debris. The twin lasers spluttered in the dust, petering out for a moment. Then a red streak pierced through the cloud, shooting out from the other side.

    Franklin fired at the smoke. Lightning had gathered in her hands, burning ozone, the thick ropes of plasma surging wildly around her; she let it go, a torrent of power that leaped from point to point into Scion.

    He appeared with a giant claymore in his chest, forming an ‘X’ with the previous cut. His arm was regenerated, but he still had a third hand sticking out from the back.

    The lightning rushed through the claymore. It spread like fireworks within his body, a bevy of sparks glowing up underneath his skin. He turned towards Franklin, a snarl twisting his face. The emptiness in his eyes was gone; now they were filled with recognition as he looked at them for the first time.

    “LEGEND, NOW!”

    A dozen blinding flares pierced Scion's body. The energies from Legend's beams ignited from the inside, a chain reaction that sent a shockwave of cracks scattering through his body.

    A soundless roar echoed through the night, quaking ripples through the temporal glitter. Then, almost anticlimactically, he shattered. Fire and lightning bloomed in his wake, dissolving into the wind.

    Legend pulled up next to Newton. She was gathering new material, bits of buildings and roads swirling up and crushed layer by layer into the new spheres at her hands. “What happened? Did he just leave?”

    “We broke his projection. He’ll be back in a minute or so, and then we’ll have to do it again.”

    “So this is the plan? We just do this endlessly until…” Legend trailed off, biting off his words before his frustration leaked through. He didn’t understand how they could be so nonchalant.

    “Until,” Newton agreed. She glanced at him, a knowing glint of understanding in her eyes. “We’re used to it. Either a Taylor shows up and saves our asses or we die. There’s no use worrying about it.”

    Before Legend could reply, Franklin called out. “He’s back!”

    Everyone split apart as a beam cut between them. In an instant, a boiling line seared through the town, drawing a molten river. The buildings and roads roiled liquid, like a soup bubbling too hot, and sank red hot into it.

    Victoria set her binoculars down. Even from a distance, she could feel the heat on the wind as it ruffled through her hair. “You were right,” she muttered to Lisa. The other blonde sprawled on the table, her head lying against her arms. “Only took a minute before he reformed.” She shook her head. “I don’t know how they can even win.”

    Lisa glanced at the flashes of light and thunder in the sky. “They can’t. They’re just waiting for a miracle. Another Taylor that will show up to save the day.”

    “You think that’s possible?”

    “Normal people don’t think that way but they’re time travellers, so maybe?” Lisa closed her eyes. “I sure hope they’re right. Because we’re all gonna die if they’re not.”

    “How’s the fight going?”

    Victoria turned to see Vista walking up to them. “Hey. They still arguing?”

    The younger heroine scoffed. “Yeah, it’s annoying. The others don’t believe Miss Militia about Scion. They’re not saying it, but I’m pretty sure they think we’ve been compromised by Taylor.”

    “Well, whatever.” Victoria slumped back in her chair. “I don’t think it matters much how far we are anyway. Look at that.”

    Scion attacked; a beam from him cut through a mountain, carving a deep gorge into its face. A punch broke night into day for an instant. Newton and Franklin were like insects buzzing around him. They flashed red and blue, blocking him every time he tried to absorb the temporal energy. As they disengaged, Newton and Legend covered them, interrupting his attacks.

    It was a tightrope dance. Scion was getting faster, harder to destroy. His beams sliced closer and his counterattacks swept nearer every time. They managed to break his body twice so far, but now they didn't seem anywhere close to it again.

    Victoria couldn’t see how they could continue to hold out.

    Suddenly, Scion vanished. Victoria straightened up, looking around. Did they manage to take him out? But they were nowhere close to it…

    Lisa suddenly jerked out of her chair. “Get up, get up! We have to go!” she grabbed the other two, pulling them away.

    A scream interrupted them. Then more screams started from the camp. The three of them ran around a tent to see Scion amid a crowd. His arms were out, fingers splayed. Ten men writhed in the air around him, their skins and flesh flaking off into dust as energy leeched off them into Scion.

    “Fuck!” Victoria spat out. She nearly rushed forward, but Lisa pulled her back.

    “Don’t be stupid! We have to go!”

    “Wait, where’s Miss Militia and Sophia?” Vista cried out.

    Another hero ran up instead. He was a grizzled man, his features hidden behind a wide helmet and a pair of dark goggles. Thrust, Missy remembered. He had a changer ability.

    Thrust raised his hands. His fingers widened, splitting up his arms as they turned into five-fingered barrels. “Hey!” he roared, “fuckin’ drop them!”

    He fired. Ten red bolts smashed into Scion, sizzling against his golden skin. The golden man didn’t turn around, didn’t even spare a glance. He simply folded one thumb inwards.

    Then Thrust, and everything behind him, vaporized. The ground was sundered black; the command tent collapsed in flames as half of it disappeared while the truck behind it ignited in a rising fireball. One man crawled along the ground, shrieking wordlessly. His lower half was gone.

    The troopers surged backwards, stumbling over each other in panic. Some of them tried to shoot at Scion, but then a second Scion suddenly appeared, striding forward to grab their heads. They lit up in a shimmering flame, the crackle of their bodies covering their horrified yells.

    More Scions appeared, striding out from the tents, from shadows out of sight. They flexed their hands, and more people flew into the air, caught.

    “Miss Militia!” Vista saw her mentor trying to corral the others, but no one was listening to her. One of them shoved her out of the way. She gritted her teeth. These situations were the worst, when everyone was shouting and running all over the place, disrupting her power.

    She slinked between the crowd, using her power in small bursts to force her way through. Miss Militia had her long 50-cal rifle up, shooting furiously at a Scion.

    The golden man ignored her, fixated on the troopers he’d caught instead. He tilted his head, as if in curiosity as their bodies burned to a glittering crisp.

    Vista grabbed her arm when she reached her. “Forget it!” she shouted. “You can’t do anything to him! We have to go!”

    Hannah narrowed her eyes. Her gun rippled into a rocket launcher for a second; then it folded back into a pistol as she turned away. She followed Vista behind the crumpled command tent.

    “Where’s the rest? Did you see Sophia?”

    “I’m here.” Sophia appeared in a burst of smoke, huffing. “What the fuck is going on?!”

    Vista was about to reply when something buzzed at the edge of her perception. Her power. She stomped the ground, pulling them into an island, isolated with a mile stretched in between as a golden hand pierced out of the tent. It was aiming for Sophia’s head.

    Scion cut through the rest of the tent. He looked at them and took a step. In a blink, he was next to them, hand reaching forward again.

    Vista grunted, pushing hard at the earth. The ground unravelled, turning, moving, until the mountains turned to specks and the world became flat, but Scion simply walked along.

    Sophia fired with a rifle she’d grabbed; the gun clicked empty with nothing to show on Scion. No wounds, no sign of a bullet even hitting him. Next to her, Militia was still shooting. She had switched to blasting his feet, hoping to slow him down, but other than the pits her bullets blew up in the ground, nothing changed.

    “I can’t—” Vista managed to say before she coughed out a glob of blood. The world abruptly snapped back as she collapsed; instinctively Hannah went to grab her, but before she could move another step, everything in her body froze. What felt like a thousand tendrils wormed into her skin, pulling her up into the air. Heat filled her up; her insides were pushing into her throat as they tried to crawl their way out.

    Sophia shifted into her breaker state; she broke back almost immediately, screaming. Her clothes started to smoke.

    Suddenly, a clawed chain wrapped around Scion’s hand and wrenched it away. The three of them dropped to the ground gasping.

    Cardinal planted her feet against his shoulders and yanked hard, pulling his hand up around his neck. A sai flipped around in her other hand; she stabbed through one of the links, pinning the chained hand to his throat.

    Scion whirled around, swinging backwards with his other arm. She flipped over him, bouncing against the air to lunge forward. A katana slid neatly into his head, piercing through the top of his skull. Cardinal kicked him, hard, shoving them apart as lightning came striking down onto the blade.

    Franklin streaked past as the projection shattered. “RUN!” she yelled to them before darting off to the other side of camp.

    Sophia grasped weakly at the soil, trying to push herself up. She looked around blearily, but Cardinal was already gone.

    “Run?” Vista cursed as she forced herself to stand. “Where the hell are we gonna run to?”

    Hannah exhaled shakily. “We have to try anyway. Where’s Glory Girl?”

    Victoria leapt up, yanking a man back just as he jerked up into the air. She tried to grab another trooper, but he was already screaming, his eyeballs bursting into flame as smoke curled from his tactical vest.


    She whirled around to see Tattletale running towards her. Behind her, Scion waved his hand, dropping the hollowed corpses to the ground. He strode forward; the earth lurched with his every step; then he was reaching out for her, pulling Tattletale back to him.

    Victoria burst forward and grabbed her hands, bracing against the ground to yank her back. Lisa gritted her teeth as she clamped on. A hiss escaped her as her body started to shimmer.

    "HOLD ON!" Victoria yelled, before darting in. For a second Lisa felt weightless, trawling backwards into death, and then strong arms slid around and wrapped her tight. She breathed in a thick mane of hair as Victoria forced her flight into overdrive.

    They shot off, slamming uncontrolled into the ground. Lisa split apart from her as they skidded across the sand. Victoria spat out the dust in her mouth. She whirled around, trying to bounce back to her feet when a shadow loomed over her.

    Scion flicked a finger.

    She threw her arms up, almost uselessly as a gust of wind buffeted into her, sweeping her hair back. The surrounding ground was charred black, the heat stinging through her clothes. As the ringing in her ears faded, Victoria opened her eyes in disbelief. She was still alive.

    She turned her arm over stiffly. The device on her wrist was a sticky mess, the insides melting out.

    Scion took a second look at her. He seemed mildly curious, but only for a brief moment.

    He flicked his finger again.

    Victoria sucked in a breath. She strained against her muscles, trying to move but her body was still frozen, clenched up. Time crawled as the earth cracked and rumbled underneath an invisible weight, rippling closer and closer to her.

    Someone shoved her out of the way.

    Franklin yelled as she spun backwards, crashing into the ground. Her armour shimmered gold. Lightning sparked from her hand, leaping through the ground and smashing into Scion. Plasma licked across his face, drawing glowing blood as he turned around fully to face her.

    Newton appeared behind him, clapping her hands together.

    The air warbled. Scion opened his mouth as he was twisted, pinched; for a flash of second, an impossible black spot hung inside his chest, pulling inwards a golden spiral, a glowing accretion that split apart Scion, split apart the world and looked to devour everything into its abyssal maw.

    It disappeared in a soundless flare. Newton staggered backwards, blood streaming from every orifice on her face as the remaining bits of Scion dissolved.

    Franklin forced herself up, stumbling over to Victoria. “You alright?” she asked as she pulled the blonde up.

    “I’m—” Victoria stuttered to a stop when she saw Franklin. Her left sleeve was torn off; glimmering crystal peeked from where flesh should have been. “Your arm…”

    "It's fine." Franklin rolled her shoulder cheerily as if to make her point. She sobered slightly when she saw the look on Victoria's face. "Don't worry. I'm not gonna die just yet."

    Newton supported Tattletale as they walked closer. She glanced at Franklin, her lips turning thin when she saw her shoulder. “What now?” she asked. “At this rate, everyone’s gonna get picked off one by one.”

    Above them, Legend rained down a cacophony of lasers onto the multiple Scions, slicing and cutting away at his projections. A bright light washed over him; he roared as his legs dissolved, holding on to his power for as long as possible before he finally fell into his breaker state.

    Franklin looked grim. “I told Cardinal to round everyone up.” She took out a small, innocuous disc.

    Lisa widened her eyes. “That’s a bomb. You’re planning to put us in a time bubble.”

    “Like the one in Brockton?” Victoria frowned, already shaking her head. “Can you even break us out after that?”

    “I’m glad you automatically think there’s gonna be an ‘after’,” Franklin replied lightly, before turning serious. “We can undo our own bubbles. But if Scion tries to interfere, the result might become unpredictable.”

    “So, either this or death?” Victoria folded her arms.

    Franklin met her gaze. “It’s up to you.”

    Cardinal appeared in a red whirlwind. The space around her trembled; then a mass of people tumbled out from her inner dimension, wheezing and gasping for air. Sophia and Miss Militia were in the same pile, with Vista clambering out underneath them.

    Cardinal leaped forward, snatching the disc from Franklin. “No time!” she yelled, throwing it out before anyone could react.

    A grey bubble popped over them just as Scion flickered by. He thrust his hand out, clawing shimmering fires as his fingers smashed against the frozen bit of time.

    More Scions walked up as the three Taylors slipped out from the bubble. Everyone else was safe inside.

    Franklin glanced at the other two. “Don’t die.”

    “I’m not the one who got hit,” Newton sniped back without heat.

    Cardinal shook her arms and legs, letting the jitters settle as adrenaline numbed her chest.

    The golden men raised their hands and fired.


    David grunted as he smashed into the ground. Aftershocks shook the atoll as it cracked cleanly into two. Seawater sloshed up from beneath, washing over his feet as the land sank.

    Before he could even move, Infinite was already looming over him. She grabbed his neck, choking a gasp out of him, and then the ground retreated away.

    Everything hurt. He shifted, feeling his bones creak, bits of pain shooting erratically all over his body. Instinctively, his power switched, and fresh air filled his lungs in a single breath.

    His broken cape hung awkwardly from one shoulder. David could feel it, the uneven weight pulling at him, the fluttering cloth heavy and wet. A crack. His armour shifted unevenly on him. The broken pieces of his chestplate started to fall, tumbling over his body, scattering into the ocean.

    He couldn’t move. He didn’t want to move. His arms dangled while his spine bent backwards as they flew higher and higher, until the ocean’s roar dwindled into a distant, breezy purr.

    Infinite hovered languidly, her hand still tight around his neck. She knew he was breathing but she didn’t say a word. The sun at her back was like a cloak, shrouding all of her in a twilight shadow except her eyes.

    Her eyes shone like gems, twin points of light that seemed to look through him with a glance.

    David knew he was going to die. Somehow, the thought didn’t fill him with dread as he expected it to. Maybe he was too exhausted to feel anything anymore.

    Nothing he did could touch her. Lasers, energy bombs, even matter transmutation; every attack of his merely pushed her away. When he poured all his power into one final blast, all it did was rocket him into the ground. Infinite still floated, unhurried, unafraid.

    The horizon curved as the sky turned to stars. The air hung thin and cold, the noise of the world draining away into the infinite void.

    She lifted him closer, fingers cradling his face. He could feel them running through his hair, her thumb tracing a line over his temple.

    “Any final words?” Infinite finally spoke.

    His lips parted, but no words came out. David could only croak as she started digging in. The point of her nail was sharp and unrelenting.

    “You made a valiant attempt.” She leaned in close, whispering into his ear. “Now, you can rest.”

    Pain. Something warm dribbled down his face. David gasped as the pressure on his head grew more piercing. His vision grew fuzzy and the stars grew bright as Infinite pushed a thumb into his mind. The end of Eidolon, he thought.

    Once, he believed himself to be the most powerful person on the planet. Untouchable, until the Endbringers appeared, and even then...

    The Endbringers. He didn’t know why he was thinking about them now as he died. Dying. The Simurgh’s unmoving, unceasing face appeared in the corner of his eye, her wings blocking out the sun.

    Everything turned dark.

    Infinite stiffened as an enormous hand scooped around her, yanking her away brusquely. She threw her hand out, a dark writhing tendril shooting out from her palm towards Eidolon but The Simurgh already wrapped a wing around him. It bounced off harmlessly against her feathers.

    The Endbringer flicked a hand.

    The wind swirled around Infinite, buffeting her backwards, downwards. Her hair whipped around her as she tumbled through the sky. She forced her eyes open, wrenching at the air as she tried to stabilize herself before she noticed the sea moving.

    The water was receding. The ocean flowed backwards through the craggy floor while millions of lobsters scurried in panic as they found themselves suddenly exposed. They were like a shifting blanket, chittering over each other as they ran.

    Infinite turned to see a massive wall of water cresting over her. White foam folded over the top as the wave rumbled forward, sweeping through the sand, the scuttering lobsters.

    It swallowed her up. The currents rolled her upside down, tugging her in every direction. Infinite gasped, gills popping up along her neck as she activated a changer power. She batted a lobster away as she tried to regain her bearings but the water was too murky. Silt enveloped her, the eddies in the water making swirling shadows in them. Her fingers clutched onto the water, a burst of telekinetic power holding her in place while another power lit up within her to pinpoint the surface.

    Before she could move, a great shadow lunged out. A massive tail knocked into her, crushing her telekinesis and whipping her further into the depths.

    Lightning curled from her fingers, cutting through the brine. It illuminated Leviathan for a second, half shrouded in the swirling silt, four glowing orbs watching her calmly as the crackling energy petered out. Infinite whirled around, adrenaline prickling down her back. She saw him a second too late; his claws smashed into her side before she could raise her hands. As she spun away, his tail flicked out, slapping her down.

    Infinite bounced against the seabed. She flipped around, standing shakily on the sandy ground; she could feel the lobsters swarming, their feelers and legs skittering over her. She looked down at her shirt and blazer. They were torn. Three ragged gashes sliced through the side.

    Something loomed over her. Infinite lunged sideways, trying to dodge, but a wave pushed her back to Leviathan. His foot came down. Infinite yelled, bubbles beading from her mouth as she tried to push back; but he pressed in harder, forcing her into the dirt, turning and twisting his foot deeper.

    Above, The Simurgh suddenly turned towards the churning ocean.

    A grey sphere seized the water.

    Leviathan was already leaping away but it was too late. His foot was left in the grey, cleanly severed.

    Infinite stepped out of the dome. She tore off the tattered remains of her jacket, letting the undercurrents carry them away.

    Leviathan swam around her, his unblinking orbs meeting her eyes. His tail swished side to side behind him, sweeping up the sand and rock and lobsters as his leg regrew out.

    They disappeared in a snap.

    A bubble popped up in the middle of the sea, holding still one of Leviathan’s arms. He tore away, flashing through the water but Infinite caught up immediately, standing in his path with another grey sphere to wrap around him.

    The sea roared, a thousand different currents surging through the water. Leviathan jerked back, dashing a mile backwards. His head and shoulders were gone, his remaining arm hanging on a thread.

    Infinite followed. The sea tried to push her back, but she simply spread her palms and it froze. Every step she took held the waters still, a grey corridor that heralded her way through the dust and silt.

    A song rippled faintly down to the depths. Infinite paused, craning her head upwards. The Simurgh was a white, fluttering blob at the surface of the ocean, but Infinite knew she was staring at her. She could feel her gaze crawling over her skin.

    Something was wrong.

    Water boiled to salt as the ground suddenly erupted. Lightning as thick as a bus sparked off the glowing magma and smashed into Infinite, blasting her through the sea. Her clothes were ash, flaking off as she tumbled and spun, and then Leviathan was at her side, his regenerated eyes burning as he sliced down.

    Infinite clenched the area around her shut. The claw caught her for a brief second before it froze; Leviathan was already retreating without his hand. The ocean swirled, and he disappeared into the murky silt.

    Behemoth burst out underground, lightning completely washing over the grey sphere of frozen water. Infinite narrowed her eyes. Did he think he could break down her time bubble?

    No. They were working together. The Simurgh had Eidolon. She was trying to distract her. Infinite activated Broadcast, trying to read them, but the Endbringers were strange. Their connections felt blocked, like they were being routed through something else.

    Someone else. Someone they came for.

    The lightning continued to burn blindingly, boiling the sea. Infinite glanced upwards at the white, fluttering dot before shaking her head.

    “Ah,” she murmured to herself as she raised her hand. “Maybe I should have brought a gun.”

    She reached for a power. Green, nebulous energy flickered to her side. The shapeless cloud twisted and turned before whipping round, expanding into a thick, translucent sphere. Inside, finer shapes phased into existence layer by layer, slotting neatly into each other. Green wires snaked through it like veins, linking each component to its neighbour until they were all connected to an innocuous orb in the centre.

    And as the device formed, Infinite flickered in and out of existence. She shimmered, glowing temporal energy gathering around her body, swirling into her hand until it seared brighter than the lightning glow around her.

    She pressed that power into her device, into the sphere that looked like a bomb, into the orb that primed the core.

    It ignited.

    The world flashed white as the ocean for a thousand miles across evaporated. The seabed turned to glass, to a glossy black surface etched with the outline of a star.

    Infinite stepped down on the smoking remains of Behemoth. Only a slagged torso remained, still pulsing with energy. Lightning streaked across her naked body, but she stepped through it, ignoring him as she stared skyward towards The Simurgh.

    Leviathan caught her with a swipe just as she leaped. Infinite bounced away, only to reappear back in the same spot, twisting around to lunge at him.

    The afterimage collapsed when her hand plunged in. Leviathan turned around, watching carefully from a distance. He was fully regenerated, but his body looked emancipated, hunched like a starving beast. His claws dripped into the water trickling in. In the distance, the ocean rumbled with a sound of inevitability.

    Infinite returned his gaze, stepping languidly to and fro over the beating remains of Behemoth. Radiation sizzled against her skin.

    Then she leapt. Leviathan darted in again, but this time, she was ready. Without the water, he was too slow to avoid the bloom of grey spreading over his entire body. Only a tail and leg remained free, wiggling stiffly as Infinite slipped out from the bubble.

    The Simurgh turned calmly to meet Infinite as she flew up. Her arms were still hidden behind multiple wings, but Infinite could feel Eidolon there through Broadcast.

    A subtle pressure throbbed within her skull. The Simurgh looked at her, unspeaking, with a blank expression as if carved out of marble. Infinite activated her changer power and shut off her ears but she could still feel her singing rattling through her bones.

    “Who would have thought it was Eidolon all along?” She held her hand out to The Simurgh. “Give him to me and I will make sure he lives. Otherwise…”

    A green cloud flickered at her side again, this time shaping into a cylinder, into a cannon, layer by layer with wires all linked up to the same orb.

    Infinite raised an eyebrow. “I doubt your siblings can survive a second strike.”

    The Simurgh blinked. Her hair floated around her, the gossamer strands like a delicate veil dancing in the breeze. She tilted her head sideways, just slightly, her eyes never leaving Infinite as the tinker started gathering temporal energy.

    Infinite met her gaze calmly. The power in her palm shimmered and glowed intensely. “I rather not do this. After all, all of you are mine,” she said. The cannon’s maw widened, its inner components shifting and unlocking as it spun up. “Or is that the reason why?” Her tone turned hard. “Do you prefer Eidolon as your master?”

    The moment she slammed the temporal energy in, a circular sigil suddenly appeared on the ocean surface below her. The cannon fired, a blaze of searing light sprouting from its barrel; the sigil lit up, sparks burning along its lines as ink coloured the spaces in between; a large pot-bellied creature with the head of an oni appeared next to Infinite with a splitting implosion, clapping his hands together onto her.

    The scene froze as Infinite whipped around, Khonsu’s hands almost on her. The Simurgh peered at the field intently, as if seeing through to the real battle inside. She could chart her new sibling’s path; she could predict this Infinite through the shards she’d picked up; but as the temporal energy inside grew stronger and more profuse, The Simurgh found her vision of the future turning hazy, slipping out of her grasp.

    A thick lance of energy burst out from the side. The air shimmered and broke as the sigil faded. Khonsu fell, his arms cradling a gaping hole in his spherical belly, his head separated and stuck in the air in an unmoving bubble.

    The Simurgh spread her wings, darting away from the beam when she realized — where was Taylor Hebert? Her head whipped up as the line of crackling energy abruptly bent.

    Infinite ran ahead of the beam. Grey panes hung underneath her every step, stopping, tilting, refracting the beam just slightly off its previous path.

    She looked up at The Simurgh as she turned half a circle. Her eyes were ghostly, shrouded in temporal power; then the energy shot around, piercing through The Simurgh, through her wings and through her body.

    These all happened in an instant.

    Infinite landed on the Endbringer as she staggered backwards. She hopped off her chest, landing on her arm, and dashed down towards Eidolon, blasting through the wings fluttering in her way while The Simurgh moved her other hand to stop her.

    She was too late. Infinite reached Eidolon first, plunging her hand into his head. Her hair fluttered in the wind as The Simurgh froze, her fingers just an inch away from her.

    Infinite stood up. She separated her arm from Eidolon’s head with a wet squelch. Blood dripped down her arm as she shook tremulously. She closed her eyes, tilting her head back as little shivers of light streaked along her body.

    “Oh,” she breathed out, her eyelids fluttering open. “What do you know?” she said as she turned to The Simurgh. Power gathered over her again, her pink hair glowing iridescent. “Found it.”

    With a crack, she split open the universe and left.


    Doctor Mother stood up when she saw Contessa. It was the most disordered she'd ever seen the other woman in a long time. She was covered in dust, her hat missing and her hair askew.

    “What’s the situation now?”

    Contessa shook her head. “Eidolon took her away, but I don’t think it’ll hold. She’ll find her way back soon. We need to leave.”

    “Alexandria? The Number Man?”

    “Alexandria is… currently incapacitated. The Number Man has been usurped by the other Taylor Hebert.” Contessa paused as her gaze turned distant for a second. “Right now they just left through the Texas backdoor. We should head there as well.”

    The Doctor pinched her brow, a deep frown crossing her face. “We can’t just leave Eden to her.”

    “We don’t have a choice. I can’t path her. Even now my shard… every path is to escape. It’s almost like it’s panicking.”

    “Oh? Am I so scary?”

    Taylor Infinite smiled as they whirled around. She dropped Eidolon unceremoniously on the floor before walking over to the large observation window, unheeding of the blood or her nudity.

    “Wow,” she breathed. She pressed a hand to the glass as she peered out over the dark and gleaming landscape. The sky was a void, a blank space with no stars or light but still the land shimmered with slivers of rainbow iridescence, erratic little buzzes that could be mistaken for life.

    This was Eden.

    Infinite turned around, her hand leaving a bloody smear on the pane, over the Garden, like a wound that was to come.

    Contessa gripped her pistol tightly. For a second, a path blazed in her mind: to draw her gun 42 degrees at her head, underneath her earlobe, and pull the trigger; but in the next instance, that path vanished as the weight in her hand turned slightly lighter.

    Infinite wagged a finger at her, her smile turning brighter as bullets fell tinker-tack from her other hand. She sashayed nearer, one foot crossing over the other, like a panther stalking its prey. Every step she took closed off one path and another, and another, until for the first time in a long time, Contessa had peace in her mind.

    She stood right in front of her, fingers combing through her hair, one thumb pressed against her temples. Fortuna closed her eyes.

    “Taylor Hebert.” Doctor Mother glanced at Eidolon, at the gaping hole in his head. “You don’t know what you’re messing with. The more powers you take, the more unstable your body will become.”

    Infinite gave her a dismissive look. “Yes, I’ve seen the results of your work. So many lives ruined and you can’t even figure out the stability problem. Please.”

    She turned back to Fortuna. “This will only hurt for a moment.”

    A silvery shard burst out of her eye. The Doctor caught Fortuna as she staggered back clutching her bloody face. Infinite sauntered backwards, her attention entirely on the spiralling top-like thing she cradled. It spun thin and long, then fat and short, light catching on its fractal surface.

    Slowly, Infinite brought it to her chest. She pressed it in, her palm flat against her sternum.

    Doctor Mother watched grimly as Taylor floated into the air. Dots started to shine all over her body, with lines connecting them up her arms, her legs, to various points on her chest, and her sternum, until her whole body looked like a patchwork of light, strung together on a web.

    She turned to them, one eye burning bright. “Ah,” she gasped, she murmured, her voice echoing with many tones. “Now for the main course.”

    The window behind her shattered into fine dust while all the lights in the laboratory exploded in showers of sparks. Taylor flew out towards Eden with her one fist in the air; she spoke a single word.

    The sound covered the world in a single bound. It was long and short, a whisper on your skin and a scream through your head. The Doctor clenched her teeth, her bones rattling so hard it was painful. It felt like a brand steeped with authority, resonant in every language, surpassing just a singular meaning. It was loud, overwhelming, so forceful that the sound wrenched her mind wide open and poured itself inside, drowning all other thoughts until all she could hear was that single word echoing over and over again.


    The world lit at her command. A thousand different beams, a hundred thousand shards flew straight into the sky, casting a technicolour radiance over the midnight land. In the lab, vials shattered as lights streaked out of them, bursting through the freezer doors towards Taylor.

    They gathered around her like a storm, like a swirling galaxy of stars. The sky buckled under the surging power, cracks thundering as more shards continued to swarm in. The Doctor had to avert her eyes; by now Infinite was just a tiny shadow amid the searing brilliance, a dark dot on the purest canvas.

    She stretched her hands out, as if in welcome. She shone like the sun as she took them all.

    Doctor Mother groaned. Her watch slid noisily against the linoleum as she tried to push herself up. She couldn’t remember when she had fallen to the floor. Was it before or after the ringing had faded from her ears?

    She froze when she turned around.

    Taylor Hebert was squatting over Fortuna, one finger pressed against her head. She no longer looked human; her skin was an illuminant silver, stretched taut over her muscles, making her seem like a spindly creature playing pretend. Only her hair remained pink, dangling around her face, a dash of colour on her brow and eyes and between her legs.

    Fortuna lay still on the ground. Her eyes were wide open, healed but empty as they stared unblinkingly at the ceiling. Occasionally, her mouth twisted in a grimace, in step with the muffled pops and cracks echoing from her bones while her body shifted and shuddered. Her skin slowly turned from olive to green, then blue, then red; her hair morphed into tentacles before sprouting into feathers. Slime still clung to the plumage.

    Infinite suddenly looked up. Her eyes were polished chrome, like shimmering pools of mercury, and when the Doctor caught her gaze, she could only see herself in them. Infinite lifted her finger, but Fortuna continued to shudder and frown in her sleep.

    Doctor Mother felt the hairs on her neck prickling, telling her too late to run.

    A small ball of light zipped into her body. She grabbed her chest, pulling at her clothes, but there was nothing. Just normal skin, flesh, against the fabric, against the buttons drawing taut down her shirt. The Doctor squirmed as her blazer pulled tightly around her shoulders. Her wrists started to feel choked by her sleeves while her skirt cut uncomfortably into her stomach.

    Her heart was like a war drum, beating, gnawing in her ears.

    She collapsed as her clothes started to rip apart at the seams. Buttons popped off her shirt as her chest distended out; she pawed at her skirt, frantically trying to undo the buckle but her fingers felt swollen and thick. The bits of fabric still hanging around her cut into her flesh, like a noose squeezing tight. Her watch snapped. It splattered onto the ground like ooze. The last she saw were the various lab equipment collapsing, melting to the floor before a layer of flesh bulged over her eyes and darkened her vision.

    Dimly, she heard footsteps padding past her; the air buzzed electric. Doctor Mother tried to reach out, to raise her arm an inch, but the weight of herself pulled down against her. She slapped the ground instead. She stopped moving. Her chest heaved with the labour of her breath.
    Swift17, Praetrunco, udkudk and 9 others like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Comma Goodbye

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
    Likes Received:
    Comma Goodbye

    Dragon almost stumbled as the scene faded, her gyroscopic sensors spiking madly with random data for a second.

    Taylor was at the hexagon console, fiddling with it. She held a large black crystal, measuring it against an empty slot that Dragon did not see previously.

    “That was a memory?” It felt obvious, but Dragon had to make sure.

    “Yes, it was Rook’s last insurance.” Taylor didn’t look up from what she was doing. She tapped on a floating keyboard, watching carefully as she slid the black crystal in.

    Dragon walked closer. “What’s this?”

    My insurance." The crystal clicked flush into the console. Power buzzed around it as lights formed a complicated circuit bridging to the other crystals. The few remaining intact ones lit up with flickering holograms of different Taylors — their hairs brightly coloured green and blue and yellow and red.

    The central crystal towering over them also shone with a soft, white light.

    Dragon had so many questions. She started from the most pressing. “Did Scion come back because of Infinite?”

    Taylor hummed. “Yes, but not on purpose. She simply didn’t consider what it meant to assimilate a communications shard. Communication is a two-way channel. Whatever information she can gather through it, so can Scion.”

    “But he was dead when Infinite obtained the power.”

    “It doesn’t matter. All shards exist outside of time, remember? Broadcast exists outside of time. Scion might have been dead in the present, but he was alive in the past. And that past self was connected to Broadcast, which was connected to Infinite.”

    “That—” Dragon fell silent, seemingly at a loss. “Just like that?”

    Taylor gave a smile full of teeth. “Just like that. One single moment that changed everything. It gave Scion the insight into time he lacked. It gave him the understanding of us Taylors.

    “It’s easy to conflate his projection and think of him as an unintelligent brute. But Scion is an alien creature that has devoured countless civilizations. Infinite got too impatient.”

    Dragon was quiet for a moment. “If what you say is true, then how do you even kill him?”

    “You have to attack him outside of time. Or go back a few million years to prevent his birth.”

    “That’s—” Dragon clenched and unclenched her fingers, the servos in her suit whirring in the silence that fell.

    “Infinite. Where is she now?” she asked instead.

    Taylor pulled her sleeve up slightly and checked a small, petite watch. “By now, she should be finishing up at Cauldron.”

    “Cauldron?” Dragon took a moment to process. “What does she want—” Too many thoughts came fast, interrupting her. “Contessa? No. The dead entity they have. Is that what she’s after?”

    “Yes. It’s why she was so desperate to get Broadcast. With it, all she needs is a word.”

    Dragon felt like she was still catching up. “A word? Are you saying— are you saying she’s planning to take every shard from Eden?” She shook her head. “How—how would that— what does that even mean? How can a human body handle all that power?”

    Taylor hummed in agreement. "It can't. She'll have to stop being human."

    “Stop being human?”

    “Not completely, just some parts of it. Parts that are incompatible with the nature of shards.”

    “If she’s no longer human, then what is she?” Every process in Dragon’s node blipped, terminating and restarting. “An Entity?”

    “Not completely. Just half, maybe.” Taylor rocked a hand. “A pseudo-Entity.”

    Dragon replayed what Taylor said earlier in her mind. “Does that mean she’ll exist extra-dimensionally as well?”

    Taylor answered with a faint smile.

    “She’s going after Scion, isn’t she? Outside of time. If she exists extra-dimensionally, then she can reach him.”

    “Bingo. You’re catching on fast.”

    “Can she win?”

    “Oh, most definitely.” Taylor laughed. “My human ingenuity combined with the powers of an alien eldritch race? Scion wouldn’t know what hit him.”

    “I don’t understand.” Dragon waved at the console, at the space they were in. “You said you needed my help to fight Scion but now… why did you bring me here? What was all this for?”

    “I never said I needed your help to beat Scion,” Taylor said quietly. Any lightness in her expression was gone. “I said I needed your help to stop the end of the world.”

    "What…" Dragon trailed away, frowning. She froze half a second later, almost like she glitched out. "Do you mean… Infinite?" Her voice lowered to a whisper as if she was hesitant to continue.

    “You’re here for Infinite.”

    Taylor looked at her in the eyes. “Like I said. My human ingenuity combined with the powers of an alien eldritch race. Wouldn’t you be afraid too?”


    The Cauldron backdoor led to a spartan apartment. A bare table stood lonesomely in the center while the shades were all drawn, casting an even darker gloom over the apartment.

    The bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling clicked on as the Number Man flicked the switch, shining a dim yellow gaze on Sage as she crossed the room to pull the window blinds up.

    Texas City glittered quietly in the night.

    “What are you gonna do now?”

    Sage turned back around. “Shining Top is south of here, right?” A green cord flicked from her wrist, snaking into the empty power outlet on the wall. “I’ll need some juice to get there.”

    Before Kurt could say more, the lightbulb in the apartment burst in a shower of sparks. Outside, the city twinkled, a cascade of lights blinking on and off through the streets in waves.

    Wind exploded into the room as Sage smashed a windowpane with a large glowing hand, sliding along the edge to clear out the remaining bits of glass. She clenched it, turning it into a shapeless blob that bounced out into the open air. As electricity surged into her, the blob morphed, various forms and parts shifting in its translucent silhouette until a sharp nose poked out of the front and two wings unfurled from its side. It dipped in the air for a moment, before fiery exhaust burst from the bottom, propping it up in the air. Jet nozzles formed around the heat, then the body of the plane, the fins on its tail and cockpit on its head.

    As the city plunged into darkness, a glowing green jet plane hovered next to Sage, the whine of its engine rumbling through the room.

    Sage stepped onto the wing without a backward glance. The cord disappeared as she hopped into the cockpit. Before the canopy even settled into place, the nozzles were already turning up, its interlocking flaps yawning wide as the engine ignited hotter.

    Glass shattered under the power of its flight as Sage screeched off. She checked her bearings; a screen squeezed out between the gaps in the cockpit panels, showing her a map and directions towards Shining Top. She banked left, aligning herself in the right direction before pushing the jet into overdrive, burning more power to go faster.

    There was no time. How long would Infinite take to get out of Eidolon’s trap? To finish up with Eden? Sage closed her eyes, trying to calm down. The wind settled into a faint howl around her as she started going over the plans of the device she’d been thinking about ever since she saw Infinite.

    Taking Eden would make Infinite a pseudo-Entity. If she clashed with Scion over Shining Top, the aftershocks alone would probably tear through time and space over the area. A model of the shield she thought of flickered in her hand. Pieces flew in and out as Sage optimized the design.

    A beep interrupted her thoughts.

    Her eyes blinked open as temporal energy pelted like beads against her construct. She dipped out of the golden cloud, sweeping around Shining Top as she tried to find the others.

    Lightning pierced the sky from the ground. Sage whirled around in her seat, spotting a large grey bubble in the distance. She could see multiple Scions around it, their searing beams lighting up the night.

    A shadow flew out, crashing head over foot into the ground. Sage thumbed the trigger in her hand as she swooped low over the town. Below, on the belly of her craft, a large missile slid out, its tail already hot.

    She fired as she flew. The payload rocketed ahead of her, a trail of green billowing over her cockpit for a brief moment as it headed for the ground. Sage leaned forward in her seat, one hand pressed against the plane as she poured her last remaining embers of power into the thrust. Pieces of her chair broke off to form a makeshift vest around the glowing reactor on her back. Tubes wormed down into two jet nozzles, the turbines inside cycling up, ready to deploy.

    Three. Two.

    Franklin shoved Cardinal out of the way just as a beam crossed them. Her body flew back, neck snapping as it rag-dolled over an upturned truck before she reappeared again, standing dazed on open ground.

    Newton yanked her away with a yellow kinetic grip a second before another beam could cut her down. “Franklin!” she yelled as her doppelganger landed in her arms. The blue-haired Taylor lolled her head into her neck. Her arm was entirely crystal; under the many gashes over her suit, more crystal peeked out, a grim shimmer in the light.

    “I’m…” she tried to speak but her voice was stiff and strained. Flecks of gold were already creeping up the side of her neck, curling around her jaw.

    Newton held her close as she kicked away to the side. A Scion stomped down on where she was, eyes blazing with twin lasers straight at them. There was no time to duck. Newton crossed her fingers, pointing into the lasers. A tremor split the air as gravity shuddered. A tiny speck of inscrutable black flashed into existence, standing in the way for only a split second.

    She flicked it forward.

    The lasers split apart, swirling around it to form a brilliant accretion. Scion held a hand up to block it, but the black hole easily swam through him, parting form and power. When it hit his body, it bloomed; one beat to cover the torso, two beats to devour his limbs and head. Golden plasma swirled around the hole, thick and viscous, dripping with crackling energy.

    Newton squashed her hands together. Her palms hovered just an inch away from each other like they were pressing on something immovable. The black hole shuddered and swelled, threatening to expand again with a third beat before it blinked away. Newton staggered, letting herself fall with Franklin as the trapped energies exploded over them. Two more Scions stepping out from the sides were swept away, but Newton only managed to breathe for less than two counts before a new golden man appeared. She met his blazing eyes fearlessly.

    Cardinal skidded in between them as he fired. The air in front of her turned hazy, shadows flickering like a mirage. When the searing beam struck, she pushed back, and it disappeared as if sucked into an invisible pocket.

    The gesture looked simple, but Cardinal was gritting her teeth, blood streaming from her nose. Immediately she retreated a step and shoved her other hand out. The air flickered again as the same beam charged out, cutting through Scion and another behind him.

    She was already darting right to meet the new clones before the old shattered. She struck out with both hands, absorbing two beams this time. More blood dripped from her eyes and ears as she trembled, little sparks of fire flickering like ghosts all around her.

    The Scions pressed forward. Their eyes continued to burn while they flicked their hands; golden waves surged forward but the bracer on Newton’s arm whirled with blue light and they broke against thin gray panes stuck in the air like tide breakers.

    Cardinal sucked in a hiss. Newton looked at her in alarm as fiery cracks started splitting the surrounding air. Before she could stop her, Cardinal was already dashing forward, shimmering fires flowing in her wake. She cut between the two Scions before they could turn around to meet her. A rumble shook the earth as a peculiar tremor twisted Cardinal’s body. She wiggled, ducking under their swipes; then energy poured out madly around her from the expanding cracks. Plasma splashed onto the golden men, eating through their forms while all sorts of molten swords and knives scattered onto the ground, melted and bent.

    A new Scion lunged through the old before their bodies fully collapsed. Cardinal jerked back a step too late as one massive hand grabbed her by the neck and lurched her towards him.

    A black pinprick dropped on his shoulder, violently shattering it. It looked as if it would sink further into his body but Scion tilted his head sideways towards and a metallic hand sprouted out from the widening wound and gripped it tight. Immediately the hand turned rusty, a toxic orange-red to a dark brown-black, but it continued holding on, and Scion’s shoulder repaired itself.

    The fingers on Cardinal tightened as light blazed in his eyes. She punched and kicked, but he was unbudging. There was no more time. Cardinal prepared to lock herself in time, regardless of the risk.


    Suddenly, thunder boomed in the distance.

    Night turned to day as a roaring wave came washing over them. The last Cardinal saw was a green fighter jet screeching towards them, a mushroom cloud ascending on its tail. Then dust and sand swept over, a solid wall of air shoving into them. Scion staggered, twin beams searing upwards as he tried to glare through the whipping debris.

    Sage came up from behind. A giant glowing scissor slid up, snipping through the hand holding Cardinal. As he started turning around, the scissors parted and lunged upwards again, snapping shut on his neck.

    The lasers sputtered out as his head rolled. Sage pulled Cardinal away before she could react; the clamorous roar of the bomb stopped short behind them as they slid into the bubble.

    “Sage?” said Cardinal after catching her breath. She frowned as she looked closer at her doppelganger. “What happened to your suit?”

    A green hand hooked in, carrying Newton and Franklin into the bubble as well.

    “Cauldron, long story. No time to explain. Give me some power. I need to build something.”

    Newton walked over, supporting Franklin on her shoulder. “What happened?” she asked as she sent a jolt of energy over.

    A glowing green mass dropped onto the floor, pooling and shifting. Pillars rose out of it, long trusses connecting between them with thick cables snaking between the lengths. More delicate parts shimmered in, pinpricks of light etched along cards to form processors around a floating sphere.

    “I met Infinite. Inside Cauldron.” Sage didn’t look away from her construct.

    Cardinal stiffened.

    Newton set Franklin down, sitting heavily next to her. “Inside Cauldron? Does that mean…” she drifted off. “Eden?”

    “Yes. If she’s not done there already, she will be soon.”

    “She’ll be coming here.” Cardinal looked up at a Scion floating into the sky. Without anyone blocking him, he started absorbing the temporal energy again.

    The construct surged higher, four wide stands sliding outwards to stabilize the added height. It was settling as a skeletal pyramid, the trusses and cables converging on a flat dish at the top.

    Newton watched the structure form with furrowed brows, her eyes focused on the sphere in the center. “That’s a projector…” she mumbled. “Is this a shield?”

    “Can you check if I got the setup right?” Sage shook her head. “It's the best I can think of at the last minute. I’m hoping it’ll stand up once Infinite starts fighting with Scion.”

    Newton peered at the machine. “This is... the sphere’s an amplifier, right? You’ll need a lot of power to keep it from collapsing. You’re riding on the edge like this.”

    “Did you forget about me?” Franklin coughed weakly, shifting against Newton’s shoulder. “I got lots of power to spare.”

    Sage turned to her. She smiled, but her expression was heavy. “Still kicking?”

    “Left arm’s busted, but I still have my right.” She wiggled the fingers on her right hand, lightning crackling between them. “Just give me a cable.”

    “The power output needs to be a steady stream. No surge, no large fluctuations.”

    “I can handle it.” Franklin gave her a look, baring her teeth. “C’mon, it’s not my first rodeo like this. We’ve all danced this dance before.”

    Suddenly, all the Taylors froze. Simultaneously, they looked up to the same point in the air just as a bell seemed to chime. It was a clear tone, ringing over the land like crystal, like flowing water.

    A door floated in the sky. One silver leg slid out, stepping into the night, then another. Infinite ran a hand through her hair, shaking it loose as the door blipped shut behind her. She glanced down at them, her face blank and unchanging, before turning away dismissively.

    In front of her, Scion seemed to stiffen as well. He turned around slowly, eyes peeking through his unkempt hair, sweeping over her silver form. A wild, savage snarl twisted his features as he peered closer at her. His shoulders hunched up and his fingers curled into claws; whatever veneer of humanity he had slipped off as he howled.

    It was the first sound the Taylors ever heard him make.

    The world shook as if struck. Cracks started tearing through the sky; flaming technicolour holes that widened as they lengthened, glimpsing into the whirling phantasmagoria beyond.

    “Cable!” Franklin yelled.

    Sage threw it over. “Newton, now!”

    Power surged into the green machine, pulsing along its body through the veins of wires. The sphere at the center started spinning with an electric whine.

    The construct shuddered as a small black hole blinked into existence in the middle of the sphere. The trusses buckled, nearly bending inwards until Sage grabbed onto them.


    Franklin gritted her teeth. Lightning crackled around her as a streak of white brilliance zipped down the cable, through the structure, forming a ghostly cage around the sphere.

    Newton was trembling, her fingers turning white as they clamped tightly against each other. Cardinal sat down next to her, throwing up a shimmering barrier around the black hole to help keep it in check.

    The dish at the top glowed bright, shooting a white beam through the bubble, into the sky. As thunder clapped, a transparent curtain seemed to ripple over the world.

    Above them, Infinite stepped out of the night. Scion followed her. They stood in a place beyond space, beyond time, in between worlds. Around them, endless universes floated on a prismatic sea of clouds, twinkling like stars. From here, Earth looked like a line, identical planets going to the past and the future, but no matter how long it spanned, it all fit in the palm of her hand. Like she could take it at any time.

    Not yet, Infinite thought, turning towards Scion.

    They attacked at the same time, the first cautious probe between two entities. A dozen other worlds between them burst into smokey confetti, supernovas churning through the sea and clouds. Infinite watched calmly as Scion howled again. His voice echoed through the nebula, the colours of a dozen galaxies swirling together like eddies on the inky void. Half of her body shone as she held a palm up.

    All movement in the stars arrested at the same time. Her hand changed to a grip, clenching tightly, and the void followed suit, wrapping around Scion. He roared, pulling with his free hand more worlds into him. They bombarded the fabric of space, tearing it apart, but in the technicolour chaos Infinite lunged, stabbing her arm through his chest.

    He looked at her, eyes wide. Behind him, his heart beat mournfully in her palm. Infinite grinned viciously as she squeezed, but her delight was short-lived.

    The heart continued to beat against her tight grip. Immediately, Infinite tried to pull back, but her arm was stuck inside his body.

    Scion smiled. His mouth grew wide until it broke his face in two, until it stretched across the cosmos and filled the void. Two eyes towered over Infinite, the pupils like black pits so deep and fathomless that they seemed to suck at all the light in the world.

    Infinite struck out, dazzling lasers sprouting around her arm that sliced his body to pieces but his heart was like a chain, pinning her down to a fixed point. His ruined flesh squirmed over themselves, shifting and climbing over each other to rush up her arm, tendrils reaching out and wrapping over her.

    It swallowed her whole. Infinite tumbled through darkness, hot breath in her ears. Was it her breathing or his? She couldn’t tell. Warm walls slicked against her, pushing and pressing, feeling wet and dry at the same time. She squirmed, letting loose more searing beams from her skin but they seemed to hit nothing. She felt like she was screaming into the void.

    Suddenly, a sharp pain stabbed at her. Her skin puckered, as if bit by something. Teeth flashed white in the black, clenched tight around a shard. It reared back, shaking and wrenching until her flesh started to tear.

    More tongueless mouths appeared in the darkness, the teeth like rows of chattering pearls. They descended onto her like locusts, ripping into her body and biting onto her shards.

    Infinite roared, smashing a bunch of teeth and pulling off more but there were too many. Ruby blood splashed as they sank into her hungrily, clutching pieces of her flesh and plucking them away. She lunged, trying to snatch them back, but more swarmed in, pushing her back.

    Silently, out of the blackness behind her, a golden hand fished out. It wiggled and stretched for a moment before diving between the teeth to plunge into the back of her head. Infinite screamed as it reached for her eye. Agony seized her body as the cold, slimy fingers wrapped around Broadcast.

    Her vision darkened.

    In the darkness, Rook stared at her, unblinking. A spider crawled out from her mouth as she seemed to say—

    The bubble was grey; the inside distorted. If she looked closer, she could almost make out her house in the middle, two blurry shapes by the front of—

    The stars in the sky churned over a golden field. Her eyes lingered on the cracked tower in the center, shattered with the remains of her—

    Infinite woke up. Her remaining eye blinked. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t feel anything from the neck down. Her body was in pieces, connected by the barest threads.

    Was she dead? Almost. But not quite.

    A mouth was at her face, wide and open as it prepared to chomp down. She could see the molars at the back, bits of silver flesh still stuck between them.

    The incisors were on her temples. The edge was cutting in, digging in, biting onto the last shard in her head.

    Her shard. Her power.

    Once upon a time, she had two dreams.

    Taylor watched silently as it was plucked out.

    In one, she walked down the school hallway, tracing a familiar route. In the other, she was in her locker, crowded with filth and fluid.

    The mouth shook the shard between its teeth, strands of flesh and muscle breaking piece by piece.

    She stared down at the lock on the door. She stared up at the darkened vents on the door.

    It flicked upwards, throwing the shard into its maw. The teeth snapped down, about to cut off the final connection.

    She pulled, she pushed, and then Taylor Hebert helped Taylor Hebert out from her locker. Instinctively she clasped on tightly as she looked at herself in shock.

    A hand grabbed onto her power. The teeth shattered against her silver skin; Infinite let the pieces fall away as she looked at the shard glittering on her palm.

    Before she was Infinite, she was Taylor. Before she held all the powers, time always held her.

    The mouths howled as they reversed out from the void. They swarmed around her again, swooping backwards to spit out the flesh and shards they ate. Her blood flowed back into her body, ruby rivulets sealing up the pieces of her body as they returned into her veins.

    The golden hand trembled as it struggled, drawn into Infinite again; its fingers unwillingly unclenched, dropping her eye back into the socket. Infinite blinked and spread her arms out, letting her power slot back into her mind, the final bits of flesh smoothing over her temples as her body reformed whole and hale.

    Then, she moved.

    The cosmos pierced through the void cloak over her. Colourful novas shredded through the ink with a wave of her hand; Scion staggered backwards, crushing universes under his feet.

    On Earth, mountains crumbled as Infinite strode across the sky and struck a hand into Scion. The Taylors spat blood in the aftershock, the grey bubble around them warping and bending underneath the force. Glowing cracks appeared on its surface; pieces of it started to fall upwards.


    “You don’t trust Infinite?”

    “You’ve seen the memory. Can you?”

    Dragon had no reply to that. “If Infinite is like an Entity, how are you going to kill her?” she asked instead.

    Taylor looked at Dragon with a gentle smile. “I just told you how. You couldn’t have forgotten already, right?”

    “I…” Dragon fell silent. The answer echoed unbidden in her mind; she felt adrift, her processes seizing as the world seemed to fall away from her. Suddenly everything felt unfamiliar, the crystalline tower and the hexagonal console she leaned against so alien and monstrous.

    A white, shining gate split the air in front of them, revealing a forest of thin, reedy trees next to a road. The leaves were orange and yellow, scattering as a car passed by. Before Dragon could say more, Taylor waved a hand, sweeping the gate over them and dropping them off in daylight.

    Her internal sensors whirred to re-calibrate, sending a dozen signals to the usual satellites she piggybacked off. Only one signal returned after a long moment.

    Dragon froze as the numbers on her internal chronometer reversed rapidly. The date displayed refreshed to show:

    17 September 1994

    “Taylor Anne Hebert was born on June 12, 1995.” Taylor looked up as she spoke, hands clasped behind her back. She didn’t turn around even as Dragon stepped closer.

    "You'll be killing yourself too," the AI said, desperation colouring her voice.

    “That’s kinda the idea.”

    “Taylor—” Dragon cut herself off. She tried to tamp down her fury, but it was a hot mess of signals that cluttered her computes and left her helpless. “Why the beginning? Why not stop Infinite from getting Eden, or stop her from resurrecting Scion?”

    “Oh, if only it were that easy,” Taylor sighed. She twisted herself around, her gaze bright and piercing. “I wouldn’t need to fight those hundred battles against him in Brockton.”

    Dragon stiffened as the logic of the situation caught up to her. The situation was already fixed. Scion could still remember Taylor meeting Armsmaster even after she changed the timeline. Therefore Scion would always remember the insights for his resurrection even if Infinite was stopped.

    Her shoulders slackened. Taylor smiled knowingly when she saw it. She continued with a light tone.

    “Besides, if I stop Infinite from taking Eden, who else can kill Scion?”

    The question was punctuated with a steep silence. It sucked the air from around them, muffling all sounds and noise. Another car drove by; a boy was staring out the backseat window but his eyes went over them without recognition or inkling.

    Taylor stretched her arms out behind her until her hands sprung free. She bowed as she took a few steps forward, scooping up a stone from the ground.

    She flicked her braid back over her shoulder as she sidled closer to Dragon. Leaves crunched underneath her bare feet. “Danny and Annette Hebert will be driving down this road in 10 minutes. It’s early when they reach home, so they’ll decide to cook a simple meal at home. At night, after the dishes are done, they’ll snuggle up on the couch. The TV is on but they only have eyes for each other. Then— et voilà!”

    Taylor wagged her tongue, a sly grin on her face. It was the first moment of lightness since they arrived in the past.

    No. Taylor had always been upbeat. It was Dragon that felt distressed, that felt like the world was spinning even when her gyroscopes were calm.

    “How would that even work?” She tried again. Her words started out as a whisper but grew stronger as she spoke. “It’s a paradox. You erase yourself in the past, you won’t exist in the present.”

    “Yes, it’s terrible.” Taylor agreed, twisting her body around like she was trying to stretch her back. The grin never left her face. “Worst case, reality breaks a little and deletes me from time.”

    “That’s…” Dragon trailed off. The leaves crinkled as they scattered in the breeze. “And Scion? If you, if Infinite is erased, then your plan to have her kill Scion would be undone.”

    “Scion exists outside of time, remember?” Taylor grew gentler, stepping closer. “That’s how he keeps coming back. But it also means, if he dies, he dies. What happens with Infinite can’t affect him.”

    “But—” Dragon shook her head. “What about everything else you’ve done? Like your mother?”

    “The thing people misunderstand about paradoxes is that it’s never as wide-changing as you think. History resists change. The more things can stay the same, the more they will. Reality only needs to change the parts that break the paradox — usually that includes the person who caused it.”

    “How would you know? How are you so sure about all this?”

    “Because I’ve tested it.” Taylor tugged on her hand, placing the stone on the curl of her palm. “There’s a cat breeder in Brockton. A small base, with prized breeds, pedigrees, and all that. Several generations of cats come from there, enough for me to experiment. And understand.”

    Dragon looked down. The stone was flat and angular, the sides worn down until it all converged on a sharp tip. She twisted it around in her hand, balancing it against her thumb until it was pointing upwards like a rebel finger.

    "What is this?" she asked dazedly. The crunch of asphalt under her jerked her attention; Taylor had already guided them onto the road.

    Taylor stuck a toe into the road, poking a small pit. “A nail. I had to make do,” she said simply before dipping back. “Just wedge it here and you’ll save the world.”

    Dragon shifted, her fingers coming together around the stone. She glanced up at the empty road, then at the hole in the ground; the dark little hollow seemed to suck her in, growing as large as the stone in her hand felt heavy.

    “Why me?” Her breath came out as synthesized static over her speakers. In her room, Dragon clutched the edge of her mattress as she stared forward, stared at Taylor. The twin lights on her dragonflight that made for her eyes shone intensely. “You could have chosen anyone else, you could have done it yourself! Why…?”

    “I couldn’t have done it myself.” Taylor gave a wan chuckle. “I’m really a big coward, you know. I’m only confident because I get to do everything twice.”


    She looked at Dragon, her gaze calm and sharp. “It had to be you,” Taylor said, so sure and certain that her words felt like faith, an ardent truth that punctuated the moment with no way back. “There was no one else.”

    Dragon jolted with the memory of her hand on Taylor, dress parted, her skin warming her touch. She remembered the bare curve, the red lips, and the image of them curling into each other.

    There felt a click; then—

    "You loved her," she said as the realization crystallized. "The both of you were…"

    The silence hung over them in the autumn shade. Taylor fiddled with her braid absently, her hands ghosting down the length while scarlet leaves fell around her.

    She sighed. “I spent the last century of my life with her and more. You’re not her, yet I’m happy to see you alive. I know I’m being selfish, but—”

    Taylor flicked her hair back, stepping closer to Dragon. She tip-toed, pressing a palm against her chest, and stared up into her faceplate as if she could see through to the real Dragon behind the frame.

    “I was there at your beginning. There’s no one else I would have at my end. I’m sorry. Please.”

    Dragon stepped back. She found herself crouching down, the servos in her knees and hips whirring as she placed the stone upright into the small hole.

    It fit perfectly.

    In the distance, a car came around the corner, sliding out behind the trees. It kept perfectly to the speed limit of the road, driving neither too fast nor too slow. Annette was gesturing in her seat while Danny steered the wheel carefully. He smiled, flipping down the shade when the evening sun peeked into the car.

    Taylor and Dragon stood a short distance into the forest as they buzzed past. There was a sudden bang and pop; the car turned to the edge before gliding to a stop. White smoke puffed from the exhaust.

    Behind the car, the rocky nail that popped the tire was gone, chipped off to become perfectly flush with the road as if it were never there.

    Danny popped his head out the window, peering at the wheels. Beside him, Annette leaned in, speaking inaudibly. The engine cut out after a second, and both of them got out of the car to the trunk.

    Dragon watched as Taylor’s father hauled the spare tire out onto the road. Her mother was poking at his arm with a sly grin that looked familiar.

    “That’s it?” she asked, hushed.

    There were no fireworks, no cymbals clashing in the sky.

    “That’s it. The circumstances of her conception have changed. Taylor Hebert will still be born, but it won’t be me.”

    Dragon froze for a second as a few files in her data stack suddenly changed, the numbers recorded down different from how she remembered. A series of error messages flooded her logs, jamming several process threads.

    Taylor noticed Dragon peering closely at her.

    She laughed. “I’m not gonna disappear just yet. It takes a bit of time for history to catch up. Just enough for us to tie up one last loose end.”

    A portal sprang open behind them. Taylor gave one last lingering look at her parents before turning away. “C’mon,” she waved, stepping in.


    “Let’s talk as we walk.”

    Dragon was silent as the bright light faded from her visual lenses. The weight of the past still clung heavily to her.

    They stood at the crumbling precipice of a pit carved through a massive complex. Sparks flew from a dangling cable overhead, bouncing over her suit.

    “Welcome to Cauldron,” Taylor explained. She waved a hand and the floor jolted slightly; debris tumbled as the metal underneath them detached to make a platform. “What’s left of it, anyway.”

    Dragon looked around. Her scans picked up charred scars of heat and energy, along with high levels of ozone in the air. Fluorescent lights cascaded over the scene in long shafts of white, flashing over them as they sailed down silently into the pit.

    “Is Infinite still here?”

    A tremor suddenly shook through the structure. Taylor whisked them upwards with another wave just as a large slab of metal slid past them. It crashed with a groan on a corner of a wall jutting out. It tilted slightly, sweeping more pieces of concrete down the slope, but it came to a stop.

    “No. She’s already gone.” They continued gliding downwards, flying past the large slab. “Cauldron built their base on Eden. Now that Eden’s been hollowed out, there’s nothing supporting this dimension anymore. In about an hour, everything here will cease to exist.”

    Another tremor shook the building. Dragon watched as more tiny crumbs of debris tumbled down the pit, their tic-tapping bounces echoing through the cavern; one managed to reach the bottom, hitting a soft thud against a motionless figure lying on the ground.

    Dragon stiffened as her sensors washed over the body. The large amounts of concrete and metal around them made it hard to tell if she was dead or alive.

    “Alexandria,” she said, taking a step forward unconsciously. “Are we here for her?”

    Taylor breathed out slowly, her lips pursed and her eyes calm. “Well,” she drawled, “now we’ve seen her, it’s not like we can leave her here to die, can we?”

    Dragon glanced at her. She studied the profile of her face, the sharp lines of her jaw to her nose to the shining eyes that seemed to see through everyone; she looked at Taylor as if seeing her for the first time.

    “How long have you been planning all of this?” she asked softly.

    Taylor laughed, not meeting her gaze. She didn’t say anything more.

    They landed gently next to Alexandria. Taylor stepped off immediately, kneeling next to the heroine and grabbing the rebar stuck in the woman’s neck. Inwardly, Dragon winced as she pulled it out without warning.

    Alexandria gasped. Her limbs seized and buckled wildly as she gurgled but Taylor held her down with a firm hand against her back.

    “Calm down and breathe,” she said as motes of shimmering light scattered over them.

    The hole in her neck slowly faded, as if it had never existed. When it completely disappeared, Alexandria suddenly whipped around with a hard fist, but Taylor was already stepping away.

    She sprawled onto the ground instead, punching a hole into it. Slowly, Alexandria drew back, untwisting her body as she pulled herself up into a sitting position. Her breaths were loud, each exhale an iron weight splashing into the silence.

    Taylor waved her hand and wiggled her fingers. The ground shuddered; Dragon almost took a step backwards as the metal underneath them suddenly peeled up.

    Alexandria wasn't so calm. She forced herself to stand, but almost immediately her knees buckled under her weight and she crashed back onto the metal. The floating platform listed slightly, but otherwise continued unhurriedly forward.

    “Relax. I healed your body, but you’ll be feeling the aftereffects for quite a while.”

    Alexandria clambered to the edge instead, watching the slope of tumbling debris sail by underneath them. Her hands curled tightly into fists.

    Behind her, Taylor cocked her head. “If you’re thinking of jumping off, please don’t. It’d be embarrassing for us both when I pull you back up.”

    Alexandria craned her head backwards. Her movements were stiff with exhaustion and her eyes were half-lidded, but her gaze was still sharp. “What do you want?” she growled, her voice hoarse.

    Taylor raised her hands. “Nothing. I come in peace.”

    Alexandria scoffed. She slammed her fists into the ground, knuckles down, and tried to push herself up again; her body trembled violently midway and she slumped back down.

    Her hair hung over her face as she heaved for several breaths.

    After several breaths, she turned to the third person between them. “Dragon,” she said. Her hair parted over her face as she looked up at the tall dragonflight suit.

    “Chief Director.”

    Alexandria clenched her teeth, sucking in a breath.

    “She freed you from your restrictions,” she said, more as a verbal acknowledgement than a question. An exhale. “You know, she could be secretly controlling you and you would never even know.”

    It was a blatant attempt to sow some doubt, but Alexandria was working on the wrong information. Taylor Hebert was already dead. What use would controlling her be?

    Dragon tried not to think about the other reason why Taylor freed her. She met Alexandria’s eyes, the lights on her faceplate shining steadily. “Like how Cauldron did? When ASCALON was active, I knew. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew.”

    Bits of metal shards and debris showered over them as another tremor rumbled through the base. Alexandria took the opportunity to look away.

    Taylor stood at the front of the platform with one hand raised. They flew out of the pit; before them, the floors and walls retreated soundlessly, folding in to reveal a clear path into the heart of the base.

    They continued forward in silence until they reached a massive steel gate. It towered over them, a series of lights overhead dyeing it scarlet. Dragon turned side to side to take in the full span of the gate. She had an inkling of what was behind.

    “What do you want with the Garden?” Alexandria asked. She had shifted to sitting upright, hands clasped at her navel. Her question was calm, but the way her finger tapped against her knuckle betrayed her growing tension.

    “Just picking the last strays.” Taylor looked up at the red lights. She cocked her head and they cycled amber; she straightened up, and the gate washed green. They parted with a cacophonous echo, metal gears shifting and turning within.

    “Oh!” Taylor suddenly turned around. “I almost forgot. Bear with this for a couple minutes, will you?” Before Dragon could reply, Taylor rapped her knuckles on her arm.

    The world plunged grey. Immediately, her sensors blared with error codes. Dragon felt like she was submerged, a distance between her and the surface where she could make out the rippling refraction of the world. The sound of Taylor knocking stretched out as the seconds seemed to turn into minutes. One second the gates were still creaking open; the next, they were already floating past it.

    Everything felt slow and choppy. Dragon raised her hand. She felt it move, but in her eyes, her hand only followed several moments after.

    Taylor flickered off the platform. In a step, she appeared next to a hulking mass, a mountain of flesh grotesquely strangled by bits of cloth hanging tightly to it. Abruptly, they all disappeared; Taylor was throwing an enormous blanket over it.

    The world snapped back into colour. The dragonflight whirred as it reset and re-calibrated.

    “What happened?” Dragon asked.

    “She’s a case-53 with an uncontrollable power. Any technology within sight gets destroyed automatically.” Taylor gestured to the ruined equipment around them, black sludge oozing out of metal cases. “Infinite chose a very efficient way to destroy all their records.”

    A short distance away, Dragon noticed another person. Her skin was red, glistening in what little light there was in the lab. Horns sprouted from her head, matted feathers sprawled around them where hair should have been.

    Despite the changes, she still recognized Contessa. And if this was Contessa, then—

    “Was this… the Doctor?” Dragon examined the massive shape again. Her scans couldn’t pierce the lead blanket. Horror and morbid fascination tangled within her; it left her feeling deeply inappropriate instead. “Infinite gave her a power?”

    “The same power Cauldron tried to use against her. Elegantly ironic, isn’t it?”

    “You think this is funny?” Alexandria growled murderously. Dragon turned around to see her kneeling over another body — was that Eidolon? — hand pressed against his chest. He was dead, eyes wide and a gaping hole in his head.

    Taylor sighed, her face turning sombre. She spread her hands out. "I'm sorry."

    “I know what you’re thinking.” Alexandria jutted her chin. “But that is just torture. It’s worse than death.”

    “Should I leave her here to die then?”

    A large quake shook through the room. Dragon stepped closer to the open deck to watch as a mountain in the distance crumbled under the horizon. Above, the sky looked as if it was crying — streaks of silver light pouring down from the heavens, dissipating into an encroaching void.

    Alexandria clenched her fists. She glanced at the Doctor, at the heaving shift of breath whistling through the blanket, and gritted her teeth.

    Taylor didn’t look surprised. She flicked her hands, levitating both Contessa and the Doctor. A portal opened.

    “It’s human to want to live. Who knows, maybe one day she’ll figure out how to control her power.” She stood next to Alexandria, glancing down at Eidolon. “Can you stand? I can—”

    “I’ll take him,” the older heroine cut her off tersely. Her legs trembled as she forced herself up but she managed, bracing with Eidolon slumped against her chest.

    Taylor waited patiently while she limped stiffly through the portal. Dragon took one last look at the dried, cracking husk of a landscape before following in.

    She stepped on grass on the other side. Leaves swirled around her in the howling wind; two giants strode in the sky, gold and silver silhouettes that towered over the skyscrapers. Dragon didn't need the update from her GPS to recognize where they were.

    “Central Park?” she wondered aloud, surprised.

    Then she noticed the other portals shimmering around her. A crowd gawked as more than a hundred case-53s floated out one by one on metal beds. They looked dazed, cuffed to their bed frame with jingling chains.

    Beside her, Alexandria set Eidolon down. Surprise flickered on her face in a rare slip of expression. She watched the case-53s scatter out on the green with furrowed eyes, before suddenly touching her bare face.

    “Ah, good. That should be everyone.” Taylor clapped twice, shutting off all the portals.

    Alexandria whirled around.

    “What is this?”

    Taylor pulled her arms up over her head in a languid stretch. “You have two choices: leave, or—” sirens blared in the distance, “—face the music.” She exhaled as she swung her arms around. “The PRT are a little swamped today, so you should have some time to decide.”

    For once, Alexandria looked unsettled. The muscles underneath her suit shifted as she tensed up, glancing at the crowd in the periphery. Most of them were still distracted by the case-53s, but some were already pointing at her.

    Overhead, the giants punched each other. Light flashed, covering the world in white for a long second. Alexandria winced as a thick silence pressed into her ears like reverse thunder.

    “For what it’s worth, Infinite never lied about hating Scion,” Taylor continued, almost blithely. Her voice cut through the silence, ringing crystal in her head. “As you can see, Scion will be killed today.

    “With him dead, it means these shards will never leave. Humanity will only ever become more intertwined with them as time passes.”

    A crack splintered through the mirror face of a glittering skyscraper as Scion staggered backwards. Stars scattered across the void with another punch from Infinite; the wind howled even more fiercely, sending some of the case-53s jerking against their chains in fright.

    Taylor caught her braid as it whipped around her neck. “People deserve to know what’s in our heads.”

    “You’re mad.” Alexandria looked incredulous, her lips pressed into a thin line. “People will panic.”

    “That’s not for you to decide.”

    “Why? Why do you even care?!”

    Taylor shrugged, an innocent expression on her face. “I try to do a clean job when I save the world.” She patted Alexandria on the shoulder as she turned to leave. “Leave or stay. You have 2 minutes.”

    The shrill cry of police sirens pierced the air, louder and closer this time. Red and blue lights flashed along the curve of a park road as people started getting out of the way.

    By the time Alexandria reacted, Taylor and Dragon were already gone.


    The first thing Victoria saw when she opened her eyes was the peak of a mountain in the distance shattering. It split into 4 large chunks, sliding down the sides in an avalanche of dust and sand.

    Around her, blobs of grey broke off, dissipating upwards. She turned around to see Lisa fall out next to her, sprawling ungainly over the ground. The others were still stuck in time, the grey bubble cracking and receding.

    "What the hell?" Then she noticed the sky. Victoria forgot about the dirt on her face as she gaped upwards. Night had disappeared, replaced by a swirling expanse of stars, colourful lights flowing like oils on canvas.

    To the side, a beam of light shot into the air. The Taylors were kneeling in front of a glowing machine beneath it, their bodies nearly pressed to the ground as the beam buckled and shook. Bits of lightning skittered around them, scribbling red-hot lines in the sand; the beam split into a dozen lines, almost scattering as the sky trembled under a golden weight.

    Scion tore through the void, the stars churning in his wake. He was so tall he filled beyond the sky. He lunged fist-first at a silver woman, her hair rippled behind her like a cloak, a glittering pink way.

    The earth shook as they collided. Victoria was thrown sideways but she kept her eyes pointed upwards, watching as the silver woman bit down on the fist and wrenched it off his arm. Without hesitation, she bounced forward, kicking Scion away.

    A trail of golden fire blazed from the stump of his arm.

    The silver woman threw her head back, yawning her mouth wide to gobble up his hand. Victoria’s eyes grew wide when she caught a glimpse of her face.

    Taylor Hebert laughed heartily as she pounced. Her fingers were like claws, jabbing deep to pull out large chunks of flesh. Her tongue flicked out like a whip, coiling around the pieces and snaking back with a jubilant grin.

    Victoria found herself clutching her arm. Her throat was quivering; she was rolling on the ground screaming. Next to her, she saw Lisa in the same shape, their faces flushed with veins throbbing down their necks.

    Scion lashed out with a kick but Taylor batted it away. She slid closer and dug a hand into his thigh, twisting it. Victoria shrieked as her leg seized up. Agony pierced deep into her bones as if someone had grabbed hold of them and crushed them.

    Overhead, Scion staggered back, his blood painting the sky golden. Taylor held his leg up high as two hands crawled out from her mouth, untwisting from each other to clamp around the thigh. They wiggled and squirmed, stretching her mouth wider to pull the leg back inch by inch. Victoria felt her leg spasmed, then grow numb, until the hands reached the feet and pulled it straight, crushing the heel in. A sharp pain lanced through her hips, squeezing all her muscles tight. It lasted only for a second, but the feeling lingered, a throbbing that ebbed against the numbness.

    Taylor swallowed with a smile, her tongue dashing out to lick her lips. She ran her fingers through the blood; the golden fire flowed up her arm and over her chest, a fiery wreath upon her brow.

    Tears filled her eyes. The world turned blurry as Victoria looked up into the sky, insensate. Taylor leaped forward, and another arm was pulled off Scion. Her chest felt hollow, the insides clutched and squashed into a ball.

    Hands grabbed onto her, pulling her away as the earth splintered. Victoria watched dazedly as she was dragged backwards, a black line drawing across the sand, nearly bisecting her feet. There were no bright lights or flashy explosions, just a shift, a sudden break in reality as the world seemed to separate into pieces, drifting apart in a cold void.

    “What the hell is going on?!”

    “Just pull her back, man!”

    A trooper was yelling over her. Her head rolled to the side and she saw Missy and Sophia, their faces similarly twisted in pain while their bodies twitched.

    Behind them, the green machine finally collapsed. The beam of light sputtered, dispersed as the sky shattered like glass, into fragments, into a dozen lenses of Taylor clutching Scion by his head and twisting it off. His body crashed with a booming finality; Victoria felt her body shake to the sounds of mountains crumbling in the distance.

    Taylor lifted his head up by his hair and dropped it into her mouth, swallowing it whole. She bent down to pick up the headless body. When she stood up, the scene morphed; suddenly she was larger, dangling the body by her fingers, her tongue unfurled to receive it. She chewed with relish, smacking her lips with a pop and a grin.

    The pain faded. Victoria exhaled heavily, barely finding the strength to curl onto her side. Her breath was hot in her ears, her hand stretched out against the dirt. Faintly, a mirage flickered in the corner of her eyes.

    Taylor Infinite walked languidly across the broken plains. She was glowing bright, her mane billowing wild pink through the air.

    She looked like the silver sun on a golden dawn, stepping over the void with a beguiling lightness. Her pace seemed ordinary, but every step she took covered a great distance. In no time, she was in front of Victoria, bent down and examining her with wide-open eyes.

    “Oh. A newborn. How fascinating.” Victoria suppressed a shudder, holding herself completely still as Taylor brushed a strand of hair off her forehead. Her skin felt cold and smooth — inhumanly perfect, like the rest of her body.

    “Whatever you’re thinking of doing to her, stop.”

    Infinite smiled. Her cheeks rounded up, curving her eyes happily, but there was no warmth in them.

    “Franklin, hello.” Her fingers ghosted over Victoria as she finally straightened up. “How have you been? Do you need a hand?”

    Franklin twitched, her jaw working silently as she shifted against Sage, her arm around the other Taylor for support. Her right side hung stiffly, crystallized.

    “What do you what?” Sage cut in flatly. Her face was expressionless.

    “Did you see?” Infinite held her hand out to Newton and Cardinal as they hobbled close. She ignored their glares. “Did all of you watch? Scion is dead by my hand. Our revenge is complete.”

    Sage raised an eyebrow, glancing at the splinter lines around them. Reality looked as if it could collapse at any moment, the black void stitchings barely holding it together. “And all it took was shattering time and space.”

    “A repairable situation.” Infinite clasped her hands together, still smiling. “No, even better. An opportunity to fix the world. To remake a better world.”

    She whirled around towards the unpowered PRT troopers. They huddled together tighter under her sudden gaze, some even raising their rifles instinctively.

    “Scion. The entities. They only saw us as experiments. Data collectors. Every shard given out was to perpetuate conflict so they could maximize their goal. But now?” Infinite stood straighter, turning more solemn with an air of ceremony. “They’re dead while the shards are here to stay. And I am their master now.

    “No more trigger events on trauma. No more giving powers to those that are cruel.” She flicked her wrist, sending out streaks of light into the troopers. They yelled, a dozen of them rolling their eyes and fainting. The rest stumbled over themselves as they tried to catch their colleagues.

    “We can give powers only to those that are worthy. And for those that are not—” She flickered forward, hand reaching out for Sophia. Horror twisted in the girl’s face as she watched on with her voice stuck in her throat. Next to her, Miss Militia struggled futilely against the thunderous pressure that forced her still.

    “—we can take it away.”

    A hand grabbed her before she could touch Sophia. Cardinal clamped on tightly, her knuckles bleeding white as she tried to pull Infinite away.

    Infinite only looked at her amusedly.

    “What are you doing?”

    “What are you doing?” Cardinal shot back. Her words sounded emotionless, but there was a pinprick of rage hissing underneath, so molten hot the heat burned silent.

    Infinite was unphased. “For the people who abuse their powers, are we supposed to look aside?”

    “You think you’re a qualified judge?”

    “Do you even understand the power I have now?” Infinite jerked her hand free. “I can see into their past, present, future. I know what they’ve done and all they’ll ever do.”

    She spread her arms, swinging around with a quizzical expression. “The heart of every person is an open book to me. If I can’t do this, then who can?”

    “No one needs to do anything,” Sage replied calmly. “We’re not God. We can’t control people.”

    “Wrong.” Infinite raised an eyebrow. She waved a hand, and the land by her side shuddered and pieced themselves together. “You can’t do it. You lack the power.”

    She turned to the other side and clenched a fist. A faint silvery shadow loomed in the sky as more broken pieces of reality started to shift and settle neatly against each other.

    “Are you watching? Maybe something more familiar would be better.”

    An iridescent cloud spiralled out in the air, parting to reveal a hazy screen. The colours shimmered before focusing into an image of Brockton Bay, over the grey dome cutting through the city.

    Victoria craned her head upwards, her arms wobbling as she pushed herself higher towards the screen. People were pointing upwards — could they see them? The crowds were all huddled away from the jagged void lines running through the world there, and now fresh panic surged through them as another crack opened in the sky.

    “Now, for some real magic.” Infinite poked into the cloud. From here, her finger was ordinary, dabbing at the miniature of Brockton Bay; on the other side, a colossal pillar seemed to press down from the heavens, wind roaring through the city as the air split apart with a dull clap.

    Victoria heard faint screams as it hit the dome. The grey surface wobbled, bending stubbornly for a long second before it finally burst open. There was no sound, no flash of cascading lights or waves of energy; it simply vanished, like how a bubble retreats when popped. Colour and movement flooded into the neighbourhood with a sigh.

    Then Infinite turned her finger, and in the midst of the rushing colours, prismatic light flashed over a point, illuminating a house. Sage and the other Taylors shifted, their brows furrowed as they watched their old home fade into the background again.

    “Where—” Victoria wasn’t paying attention. She strained to spot her house. Infinite was already turning around, her arm sweeping up to close the portal.

    “Bottom left,” Lisa whispered.

    Her eyes darted down automatically. In the varying gray-tone hues she spotted the roof with a red streak running across the middle — she'd painted that after the first time she landed on the wrong roof.

    Her shoulders sagged with relief. Victoria exhaled shakily, letting herself drop back to the ground. “Thanks,” she said, glancing at Lisa.

    Sage was speaking, her arms crossed. “Our parents?”

    “Safe and sound at home. As they were.” Infinite chuckled to herself. “They’re gonna have a confusing ‘morning’ when they wake up.”

    "I meant what I said, back in that cell," she continued. Her tone was soft but somehow carried steel. "I said I would kill Scion, and I did. I said I would bring our parents back, and I did.

    “I will fix everything. Every wrong, every tragedy, and along the way I will remake the world for the better. For the best.”

    Finality punctuated her sentence like the crack of a gun. It sealed the air with a suffocating weight, daring anyone to say otherwise.

    “Well.” A sudden voice broke through the growing tension. “I wouldn’t mind if you took a bit more time to fix reality.”

    A new Taylor Hebert greeted everyone as they spun around. White hair in a braid, a turquoise dress; she had a pleasant smile for them as she walked closer with her hands behind her back.

    “After all, I couldn’t be here if you didn’t break time and space like this.” She waved a hand, nodding at the other Taylors. “Hello, you all. It’s nice to finally meet after so many years.”

    Sage blew out a breath, surprised. Her body relaxed, as if a weight had just been lifted off her while Infinite clenched her fists, disconcertment flashing over her face for a brief second.

    “Prime,” she said, no welcome in her tone.

    Taylor looked at her placidly. The smile on her face dipped. “Infinite. I see you’ve succeeded. How does it feel to be a god?”

    “Good,” Infinite replied. Her expression grew stern as she faced the other Taylor fully. Overhead, the silhouette in the sky became clearer, two bursts of starlight glaring down. “Are you here to stop me too?”

    Taylor pushed her clasped hands out behind her, stretching languidly. “What if I said yes?”

    “Do you actually think you can?”

    “I think… you should look at your feet.”

    Victoria glanced down automatically as she heard the words. Her eyes widened when she saw Infinite’s legs starting to fade, a faint impression of sand visible through her flesh.

    It wasn’t just Infinite. It was every Taylor, including Prime — the white-haired Taylor seemed as if she were hovering, her long dress swishing just inches over empty air.

    Infinite jerked back. Her toes drew lines through the dirt but they were growing more translucent as the seconds ticked by. “What is this?” she hissed.

    “12 June. No, nine months before.” Sage looked up sharply. “Did you go back?”

    “I’m sorry I couldn’t consult you all first,” said Taylor apologetically.

    “No.” A wry chuckle broke out from Sage as she shook her head. “There wasn’t enough time.”

    “You erased us?!” Infinite grabbed Taylor Prime by her neck, wrenching her up. In her anger, she seemed taller; or the sky closer; a thunderous pressure forced the world into a bow.

    Victoria gasped as she propped herself up on her arms. The ground beneath her hands cracked loose. Belatedly, she realized there was an imposing mechanical suit next to Taylor, although next to Infinite the large frame looked tiny. Sparks flew from its actuator joints as it shifted forward, but Taylor gave a hard glance backwards, stopping the suit. The white-haired girl looked unruffled as she stuffed her hands into her dress, hanging limply in the air.

    ‘Is that Dragon?’ thought Victoria, her brows furrowed in recognition.

    “What's the trick?” Infinite asked in a slow exhale. “You know I could simply go back and stop you from doing this.”

    Taylor cocked her head in amusement, shrugging awkwardly against the hold on her neck. "There's no trick. What could I ever do to a god like you?"

    Infinite narrowed her eyes in suspicion. She tightened her grip, but it had no effect; her fingers like trying to press into stone.

    Then Taylor was falling to the ground as Infinite disappeared in a flash. Her abrupt exit churned the cosmos overhead while pieces of reality started drifting apart again, hairline cracks seeping in between.

    “Are you alright?” Dragon asked. She shifted closer, her servos whirring freely as the pressure from Infinite vanished.

    “I’m fine. You should step back.”

    “WHAT DID YOU DO?!” Infinite roared as she reappeared, slamming Prime into the ground. The earth buckled and bowled in deep. Victoria sprawled flat against the dirt, her eyes catching Lisa’s as they choked against the crushing weight pressing down on them. Somehow, she felt as if she was sliding down when everything was level; nausea rolled in her stomach, threatening to well up.

    A green shield shimmered over them. Sage walked out in front, holding a light in her hands. Victoria gasped as the pressure subsided. She rolled around, gulping in the air while pressing a hand to her stomach, focusing on the warmth and willing it to stay still.

    Taylor Prime was kicked through the air. She still had her hands tucked in her dress pockets, the golden sash around her waist trailing with a magnificent flourish. Infinite grabbed the fabric and yanked her back, punting a fist into the other Taylor and smashing her into the ground again.

    “ANSWER ME!”

    “I promise you, I did nothing.”


    Prime still looked pristine and untouched even as she sat up from the dirt. She watched as Infinite stalked around her, her silver frame becoming more inhuman with every loping step. Ghostly silhouettes burst from her as she tried to flicker through time again, before returning with a staggering snap.

    Discreetly, she pulled a hand out to pat the ground, as if taming it down. An invisible field pulled in, constricting the thunder and the pressure into a tight circle around them both.

    Sage let out a shaky breath as she let her shield down. Franklin grabbed her gently, steadying her as she wobbled backwards.

    “Shouldn’t we help her?”

    Lisa gave Victoria an incredulous look. “Help how, exactly?”

    “She’ll be fine,” Sage interrupted before they could start arguing. She and Franklin dropped down between them carelessly, sitting with their legs kicked out. The fade was already inching up to their hips; their feet just a faint outline.

    “No matter how hard Infinite tries, there’s no way for her to undo this.”

    “I KNOW YOU DID SOMETHING!” A clawed hand sliced the ground as it wrapped around Taylor, pulling her up. Saliva dripped on her as she stared up at Infinite, the blobs of liquid dancing, gliding over her until they rolled off.

    Infinite hardly seemed human anymore.

    Her mouth was a gaping, lipless maw, hot breath steaming between the protruding fangs. Her eyes were wide-set, her face stretched, with twin pupils overlapping in each eye. Her pink hair floated in the air around her, the strands twined together like a crown of snakes, complete with snapping teeth at the ends.

    Tell me. What did you DO?” The mouths in her hair growled in cacophony while more drool slobbered from her fangs.

    “Look at yourself.” Taylor remained unblinkingly even as a glob of spit dripped onto her face. “You’re already slipping.”

    Infinite flinched at her words. She scrunched her face and shook her head forcefully. For a moment, she appeared human again, genteel and unassuming.

    “I am in control,” she said, her breath tinged with a dark, heavy echo.

    “Why? Because you have the final say?” Taylor drawled. Infinite snarled and tightened her grip when their gazes met — Taylor’s eyes were filled with pity and contempt. “A queen ant is still an ant. There’s no escaping their nature. They’re just a different kind of slave to the hive.

    “Have you already forgotten why the Entities are here in the first place? Why the shards collect data from us? They’re capable of world-rending powers and yet, they need humans?”

    A spark of light dawned over Infinite. Her lips parted, her eyes widened; she jerked and the veneer of humanity slipped off with her skin, the monster coming through with a roar of hot breath.


    Taylor easily slipped out from Infinite’s grip as it loosened. She brushed herself off after landing gracefully on the ground, ducking sideways to avoid a wild swipe from her raging doppelganger.

    “You should know better than I what I’m talking about,” she continued to say, weaving around Infinite as she attacked. Her silver self had even grown a tail, ridged with a sharp dagger end. Taylor bowed, letting it sweep over her, then she tapped her feet and slipped away just as Infinite came gouging into the ground.

    Her sash fluttered by Infinite, the smooth silk a teasing caress against her skin.

    “Why did Scion never attack us before last night? Why did he never make a move in the past when he already knew everything about us from the present day?

    “By existing simultaneously in the past, present and future, these shards live in a closed, deterministic system. They can see all possible futures, but that just means they will forever be limited by it. They can’t change what they’ve observed. Even if all roads end in death, they can only march helplessly into it.

    Infinite lanced forward, claws stabbing out. Taylor stood still and watched calmly as she approached.

    “That’s why they needed us lower lifeforms. That’s why you can’t change the past. I never did anything. I never needed to.”

    Wind whistled and dust blew as the sharp point of her claw stopped a pinprick away from Taylor’s head. Infinite snarled, her skin rippling with worms as she retracted her hand stiffly, squeezing and forcing herself smaller.

    Her eyes opened on a human face. She clenched and unclenched her fist, watching as her palm grew more and more translucent.

    “I—I’m still human. You’re wrong,” she whispered. There was no heat or force in her words, only fatigue wrung dry.

    “You’re a single part out of many,” Taylor corrected. “Did you really think you could absorb a hivemind with no consequences?”

    “You set me up. You knew this was going to happen!” Infinite clutched at her chest, tearing into her flesh. Ruby blood flowed down her hands, her body. “You knew! Why?! Why do this? With our power we could fix the world, we could save it!!”

    “The world doesn’t need saving from the likes of us.”

    "You're just throwing all of it away, you're just wasting—" She whirled around mid-ramble, her eyes wide with madness as she looked at the other Taylor Heberts.

    “Sage.” Infinite reappeared in a clap of air, pulling her doppelganger up and shaking her shoulders. “Sage, you can go back. You can still stop her! I can’t do it, but you can!”

    She turned to Franklin, trying to reach for her as well. The other Taylor scrunched her nose up and batted her hand away but Infinite continued to speak unheedingly. Her words climbed into a shout as desperation seeped in. “Franklin. Please, you can go back. YOU MUST GO BACK! You need to stop her before it’s too late, she’s made a huge mist—

    “Oh fuck off.” Cardinal suddenly cut in, shoving Infinite aside. “Maybe for once you learn to live with what you did.”

    "Cardinal." Infinite looked at her as if seeing a ghost. She straightened stiffly, swallowing a breath. "I know you're angry. I'm sorry. But this is different. Whatever grievances you have, we can settle later but this is urgent, this is—”

    She spoke faster and faster but Cardinal was already walking away.

    "Don't you turn your back on me! All of you!" Infinite barked. Lisa and Victoria watched from the side as the silver Taylor spun around in a rage, the imposing might of her initial entrance gone. Now she seemed mortal, her features twisted with human-like wretchedness. Her hair was already spectral, the pink ends blending into the night.

    “I was the one who killed Scion! I saved the world! I SAVED EVERYONE!!” Infinite howled, spittle flying as her throat turned hoarse. “And this is how I am repaid? Left to die?! Everything I did, I did to save our parents!” she snapped accusingly, stalking towards Prime with an unsteady gait.

    Taylor rolled her eyes. "Please, shut up about Mom and Dad. It's been centuries. I love them, but it's not the same. We all know it. It's just something we don't talk about.

    “You did what you did because you wanted power. You looked at the shards, and you saw a way to become a god. Everything else was just an excuse.”

    Infinite stopped mid-step. She looked ill, all energy suddenly drained out from her. “I didn’t—” she started weakly.

    “You did.” Taylor cut her off. “You did. I know because I’ve been there too. Maybe I would have gone down the same path if I didn't meet a friend.”

    Dragon jerked, staring at Taylor.

    Infinite slumped to her knees. She craned her head back, as if in supplication to the boundless cosmos above. Already, reality was healing. Night slowly blotted out the golden blood hanging in the sky.

    “I could destroy the world,” she intoned, a vacant expression on her face.

    “Is that really the last thing you want to do?”

    Infinite remained unmoving. Silence set in like a hushed breath; then an exhalation — crickets chirped and bushes rustled, the sounds of life returning on their tiptoes.

    “So it’s over?” Missy asked cautiously. She kept her eyes on the silver Taylor, not willing to look away.

    “In about a few minutes, yes,” Sage replied absently. She was watching Infinite as well.

    The Taylors seemed more like spectres now; their legs were the barest outlines while their faces were starting to look indistinct. Yet, none of them looked sad. Cardinal and Newton were curled together with shoulders touching. Franklin sat cross-legged on the ground, her hands clasped calmly together. She looked half-shrouded in gold with the crystal on her still fully visible.

    Victoria suddenly felt a hollow pang in her chest. “What—” she coughed, clearing her throat, “—what about a paradox? I mean, wouldn’t everything get reversed?”

    “What’s done is done. Reality and history are more resistant towards change than you’d think.” Taylor Prime walked up to them as she spoke. Victoria glanced at her warily. Despite her genteel appearance, she felt the most dangerous of them all.

    “You were the one who killed Coil,” Lisa suddenly said.

    Taylor gave her a little bow. “Guilty. Sorry for roping you into this mess. I needed the extra help and I had to do it without letting Infinite know.”

    Before Lisa could reply, Newton made a small gasp. Cardinal was gone. And in the next second, Newton closed her eyes and vanished as well.

    Time was up. Sophia blinked, staring at the empty spot with a complicated expression.

    “Whew!” Franklin shifted slightly, flashing a grin. “Guess it’s my turn now.”

    When she disappeared, the crystals went with her. Her voice echoed in her wake.

    See you on the other side.

    Sage massaged her neck, a serene expression on her face. Missy wanted to ask why didn’t they fight, how were they so relaxed going into oblivion, but the words felt trite. She watched on silently as the girl faded without a word, sinking into nothingness.

    “So this is it.” Hannah raised her rifle up on reflex when Infinite spoke, but then lowered it immediately after. It was too exhausting to keep up. She glanced at Legend standing beside her, but he looked just as lost as she was.

    “What’s next?” Infinite was still staring at the sky.

    “A different Taylor will be born,” Prime replied. “She’ll have a happier, less complicated life, fingers crossed.”

    “Ah.” Infinite exhaled, nodding her head almost absentmindedly. “Sounds good.”

    She let herself fall backwards, dissolving into starlight. They glittered and scattered into the sky.

    I always wanted a younger sister.”

    Taylor sighed. “Oh, right, I almost forgot,” she exclaimed abruptly. She grabbed Dragon and stuffed a piece of paper into her hand. “I left all my files on Cauldron at the address here. It should help you corroborate what Alexandria says to the PRT.”

    Dragon clenched the paper tightly, not even sparing a look at it. “You have a plan, right? I know you do. I saw that black crystal you were handling. A backup plan, right? You won’t just erase yourself like that,” she said urgently. At the precipice, Dragon suddenly found herself unable to let go.

    Taylor continued as if she didn't hear her question. "I also left you a gift there. It just needs a little dusting-off, but I'm sure you can handle that easily."

    "Taylor." Dragon grabbed onto the faint outline of her hand. She could only feel the cold numbers against her pressure sensors but somehow the heat of her skin came through. It reminded her of when she had her hand on Taylor's heart, listening to it beat her secrets bare. They were standing face to face then in her room, so close she could notice her scent; they were standing face to face now, and despite her metal frame, she felt almost human, fragile, like she was going to fall apart.

    Vaguely, she noticed Tattletale elbowing Glory Girl, the two of them gawping open-mouthed, but she didn’t care.

    Taylor was grinning. “Don’t get too hung up on the details. Sometimes, things come down to a coin flip. And I never say anything I’m not sure about.”

    She tip-toed up, pulling herself closer to where her ears were modelled on her head. Dragon wanted to tell her that it wasn’t necessary, that her microphones were sensitive enough to pick up any whisper, but she didn’t. She let Taylor pull in close, her lips brushing against the grill with a static spark.

    “I love you, Dragon. I’m glad to know you, in this life and the next.”

    Then Dragon was holding air. Taylor Hebert was gone.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2023
    Swift17, Praetrunco, Svenity and 20 others like this.
  3. nezexyzzar

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
    Likes Received:
    Hello! Sorry for disappearing for so long. Trying to keep the time travel exposition straight was a massive pain but it's almost done now. Just two more epilogue chapters which I'm still writing.

    Thanks to everyone who's liked and commented on this story! I hope the new chapters live up to expectations :)
    PoDevil, xThomas3, Amrynel and 2 others like this.

    PROTOTYPElu2 Earth-shatteringly, Unreasonably, Fuck-ass Horny

    Aug 29, 2018
    Likes Received:
    Good Lord, what a ride

    Zeus, hunter1933 and nezexyzzar like this.
  5. nezexyzzar

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
    Likes Received:
  6. Troysh

    Troysh Getting sticky.

    Sep 10, 2021
    Likes Received:
    That was a wonderful use of my morning. I love to see wibbly wobbly timey wimey shenanigans and this was just *chefs kiss* a wonderful narrative featuring many parties making a mess of time as each one acts out against the plans of the others in a non-linear but still causal fashion. I love reading alien or eldritch perspectives and you delivered while still writing from the viewpoint of 'mostly' human. Nice.
    nezexyzzar likes this.
  7. Jao

    Jao (Verified Lemon Drop Addict)

    Sep 27, 2022
    Likes Received:
    One of the most unique and Interesting Worm Fics I have read in a while. An epilogue is needed I think. Like one from the perspective of the New Taylor.
    nezexyzzar, Zeus and JoTa34 like this.
  8. Aku-dono

    Aku-dono [QQ]

    Jan 18, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Hot damn, what a show.
    nezexyzzar likes this.
  9. Candcg

    Candcg A Broken God Of Cogs And Gears

    Apr 22, 2020
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    Delightful, top one percent of all time related fiction
    gsteemso, Douglas, nezexyzzar and 2 others like this.
  10. Threadmarks: Hello Tomorrow

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
    Likes Received:
    Hello Tomorrow

    Everything afterwards felt like a dream, soft and misty. A dozen trucks drove out to meet them. The PRT troopers that had been… given powers were still unconscious. They loaded up the injured, packing into the vehicles in silence.

    Victoria huddled down at the end of the truck. Vista was slumped against her arm, fast asleep. Her head rolled back as the truck started to move, pulling her mouth wide open. She snorted; Victoria could feel her snores rumbling faintly through her shoulder.

    The truck rocked side to side, sand crunching underneath the wheels as they climbed the bumpy road. Victoria turned around, peering out over the quiet sands. If she closed her eyes, she could still see the lightning, the crackling wave of power pounding towards her.

    She exhaled slowly. For a moment, she let herself sink into the roar of the engine, the stuttering steps of the gearbox as they picked up speed. The wind lapped against her face, kissing cool through the collar of her suit.

    There was still a line of gold streaking through the sky. It cast a pale glimmer that ebbed over the desert, and over the smouldering pit that used to be Shining Top. Sand was already shifting in. They swept over the road and into the pit in glittering rivers, slowly burying the sins of the past.

    Legend split off from them in Texas. A group of severe-looking men came to meet him, along with two Protectorate members that Victoria didn't recognize. They were all wearing the deepest frowns, their bodies tense as they flanked Legend.

    For a second, it almost looked like there was going to be a fight — Legend reared back and the agents reached for their weapons. The two parahuman Protectorate stepped in closer.

    Then, his shoulders slumped. He shook his head. More murmurs, hissing amongst their breaths; the group hurried away without another word.

    Victoria just watched blankly. Something just happened, but she was too exhausted to even think about it.

    “What’s done is done,” Taylor Prime said. And there was no great shift in the world, no big energy wave washing over them from history. But she needed to see her family first before she could truly rest.

    They only returned to Brockton Bay at dawn, by way of teleporter-cape. The sun was just peeking out, the sky a tinge of red on the horizon. There was still a streak of gold across the sky. Victoria narrowed her eyes at it when they disembarked from the chinook; she couldn’t tell if it was smaller or not.

    Miss Militia managed to pull some strings for them. Victoria felt overwhelmed, like her heart could burst at the lightest touch when she shuffled into the confinement room and finally saw her family. She dashed forward, nearly bowling Amy over as she dragged her over to their mother for a group hug. The next part was a haze. Victoria only remembered beaming, swiping the tears off her face and letting her hair get tousled by her dad. Her cousins were there too; they were quizzing Missy about what happened.

    “What in the world is going on, Victoria?” Carol asked. “These PRT… bureaucrats refuse to tell us anything.”

    Victoria shook her head with a tired chuckle, her eyes half-lidded. “That’s a long story. I’m just happy you guys are okay.”

    Lisa folded her arms and leaned her head against the window pane. She ignored the Dallon/Pelham family reunion, looking out instead. There were multiple lines of people snaking out of the PRT building; a steady stream of cars coming in and out between them. Most people were still in their pajamas.

    “Hey,” a voice suddenly called out beside her. Lisa rolled her head against the glass to see Victoria settling in next to her.

    “Already done with the parentals?” she drawled.

    “Vista’s telling them about everything that happened. Thought I’ll check in with you,” Victoria replied.

    “Afraid I’m gonna escape?”

    “Are you? Going to escape?”

    Lisa was quiet. Her breath fogged against the window.

    “You know, Coil’s dead.” Victoria looked sympathetic. “Whatever you used to do, you don’t have to do it anymore.”

    “So what? Is this a pitch to get me to join New Wave?” Lisa scoffed. She wanted to say something harsher; her power had already conjured up several observations; but she held back. Somehow, it was easier now to not unleash the darker thoughts she had.

    “You’re gonna have to queue up behind the PRT,” she continued. “Bet they’re way more excited to get a thinker as good as me into their ranks.”

    “Mitigating circumstances. You know my mom’s a lawyer, right?” Victoria bumped her shoulder lightly. “And no. I mean, just being a normal person for once. Do something else that’s not robbing banks or thwarting villains.”

    Lisa chuckled, despite herself. “Or not trying to stop the end of the world?”

    Victoria flashed a smile. “Yeah. Like Fugly Bob’s. Man, I could go for their Challenger right now.”

    “And die of a heart attack after surviving all that bullshit?” Lisa blinked at her slowly, tiredly. Her body felt like a giant yawn. “When I crash, I’m gonna sleep for a week.”

    “Sure. I’ll join you,” Victoria agreed. Her voice had the kind of dull monotone that came with exhaustion. “If you can knock me out so my body gets the hint?”

    Suddenly Missy appeared behind them, clapping them both on the back.


    “What the hell?”

    “Doctors are here,” she said, jerking her head towards the door where a team of labcoats just walked in. “Time to get checked out.”

    “Right.” Victoria started to shuffle forward but Missy tugged her back. The younger girl was looking around furtively. “What?”

    “I heard something just now.”

    “What do you mean? You were in the room with us the entire time?”

    "Not important," Missy shushed her. "I heard that Alexandria's been arrested."

    “Arrested?” Lisa raised an eyebrow.

    “Yeah. Apparently, under the mask—” she waved a hand over her face, “—Alexandria was the Chief Director.

    “Rebecca Costa-Brown.”


    Rebecca sat alone in the interrogation cell, this time on the other seat, facing the mirror on the wall. They didn’t bother to handcuff her.

    She was still covered in grey dust. There was blood smeared over her, a red line running up her cheek. The back of her suit was a ragged mess, and she could feel the coldness of the metal chair pressing against her.

    Her fingers raked across her chest. The dried blood piled up on her fingernails and stained them a dark red. She rubbed against her palm, watching them fall off into dust. Eidolon still weighed on her, a phantom sensation in her arms. Rebecca kept her eyes on the mirror, trying to forget the blank, hollow stare of her friend.

    The door opened with a bang. Catherine Kim stepped in, her heels rapping sharply against the linoleum floor.

    “It’s fine, just stay outside.”

    “Ma’am, we can’t advise that—”

    “You remember who’s in that chair, right? If she decides to get violent, no one here is stopping anything. Just stay outside,” she drawled, striding forward and letting the door slam shut behind her.

    She dropped into the other seat heavily, throwing a small notebook and a pen onto the table. The woman folded her arms, lounged back against the chair, and stared at Rebecca.


    “It’s Chief Director Kim.”

    “Congratulations. Tagg must have been unhappy.”

    "Don't." Catherine snapped. "Don't sit there and talk like we're just having lunch in your office."

    Rebecca spread her hands out. “I’m… sorry. Force of habit,” she conceded.

    “Is it really?” Catherine asked, her voice cool. She folded her arms. “Or is it a calculated attempt to ingratiate yourself? You know, I was the one who did your classification. Thinker 6. I should have put that one even higher. I didn’t account for sociopathy.”

    There was a long exhale. Rebecca looked at her quietly without another word.

    “Was it all just an act? Was anything even real?”

    “It was all real.” Exhaustion lined Rebecca’s words. She leaned forward, palms down in front of her. “I never set out to deliberately manipulate you.”

    Catherine tapped a fingernail against the table, the sound rattling loud against the bare walls.

    “Do you remember the night we worked late? You took out that bottle of bourbon in your lower left drawer and poured out two glasses.” The woman continued tapping the table as she spoke. Tap, tap, tick. “I was complaining about my ex-husband. You were complaining about a date you had at a Mexican restaurant downtown.

    She glanced up with a cool gaze, her expression inscrutable. “Tell me that was true.”

    Rebecca seemed to wince slightly. She spoke, slow and tentative. “I was… trying to make you feel better.”

    “You told me to divorce my husband.”

    “Your husband was an asshole.”

    Catherine clucked her tongue. “Yes he was. That’s the problem. I can’t trust what’s true or not with you.” She crossed her legs and let her head fall sideways, looking at Rebecca as if trying to figure her out from another angle.

    “Why?” she whispered. “Why did you do it?”

    Rebecca sighed tiredly. “You saw Scion. We were trying to save the world.”

    Catherine leaned back against the chair. The metal frame creaked, the sound like static pinpricks in the silence. The entire world had seen Scion, fighting against a mysterious woman in the sky. Mount Everest had reportedly split into two. Three dormant volcanoes erupted in Indonesia. Glenn almost quit on the spot when Catherine asked him to draft a response.

    She picked up her notebook and clicked on her pen. “What happened in Shining Top? Scion was seen heading there last. Out of the 100 men you brought there, only 20 returned. 12 of them are now newly triggered parahumans.”

    “Scion was an unexpected development. I was trying to trap Cardinal. Taylor Hebert. Or any of her doppelgangers. We had no information on her then.” Rebecca paused, rapping the table with her knuckles. “I doubt we have any new information now. I was trying to determine what exactly was going on with them.”

    Catherine wrote something in her notebook, circling it several times with a frown.

    “You mean, trap her off-world. Legend said you disappeared into a portal,” she said.

    Rebecca worked her jaw for a moment. “Yes. It was clear that disabling her time technology alone was not sufficient to render her harmless. I took the necessary steps to protect the men and take her out of the equation.”

    "That's an interesting perspective." Catherine laughed humorlessly. "Do you just lie on instinct? You left your command and absconded with our target, and this is somehow you doing us the favour?"

    “Any information I obtained would have been shared with the PRT.” Rebecca took a moment to gather her words. “I’m not going to deny that I worked for two organizations. But our goals were aligned. We were both trying to build a safer world.”

    “Maybe you were,” Catherine acknowledged. She flicked her pen against the paper. “We picked up your colleague, Number Man, in Houston. Also known as Harbinger, from the original Slaughterhouse 9. A designated villain, and also a key member of your group.”

    She curled a page over. "Then, Doctor Mother. The ringleader of your band, right? Legend told me about how you all got your powers from a vial." She glanced up for a moment. "Interesting how the rumours were true after all. He said that he was approached in a hospital when he was there for treatment. Was it the same for you?"

    Rebecca narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

    “This is an interrogation, Rebecca,” Catherine reminded pointedly. “Yes or no, it’s a simple question.”

    The other woman clenched her hands, hesitating with the answer on the tip of her tongue. Her brows furrowed.


    “You were underage then,” Catherine stated matter-of-factly. She continued without waiting. “Were you suffering from a terminal illness as well?”

    “Stop,” said Rebecca calmly, straightening up. Her expression shuttered. “I know what you’re trying to do. I wasn’t manipulated.”

    “Again.” Catherine gave her a piercing look. “It’s just yes or no.”

    “Yes.” The word was forced out tersely.

    "We have her isolated, by the way." Catherine uncrossed and recrossed her legs the other way. She changed the topic blithely. "Along with the other two hundred and forty-six case-53s that were found with you." She set her notebook down, creasing it flat. "Really, Rebecca? Human experimentation?"

    “There are more than 6 billion lives on Earth Bet. The number goes into the trillions when you count the other Earths.” The heroine shifted, her face like steel with lips pressed thin. Despite the blood and the tattered costume, she looked every bit the Alexandria the world believed in — steadfast and unrelenting.

    “We needed an army. We needed a magic bullet. There was simply no choice at all.”

    Catherine steepled her fingers, pressing her hands against her forehead. “I don’t really want to debate morality with you. Do you have their names at least, so we can identify these people? I know you have a perfect memory.”

    Rebecca leaned forward, her head bowed slightly. When she spoke, her voice was low, her expression serious. “I can try to match the ones I remember, but I can’t promise I know them all.”

    “Whatever you can do is appreciated,” was the cool reply.

    “Catherine. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I’m not willing to help. Whatever information you need, I’ll give it to you. I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

    The other woman let out a heavy breath. She looked at Rebecca with a complicated expression, her lips parted mid-word as if she was still stuck on what to say.

    “Alright,” she finally spoke. “Thank you.” She flipped a page back on her notebook, spinning it sideways to show what she wrote and circled earlier.

    “Let’s talk about the name you mentioned previously. Who is Taylor Hebert?”


    The sound of curtains parting on the rail startled the crowd in the room, raising a few heads as a group of doctors stepped out.

    “Anne Hebert?” the lead doctor, an older gentleman with scruffed grey hair called out.

    “Here!” A tall lanky girl hurried forward clutching a crinkled pamphlet. “I–It’s Taylor actually, never Anne,” she said automatically before shaking her head. “Sorry, not important. Are my parents okay?!”

    “Taylor,” the doctor corrected himself. He swept back to let her see her parents. They were already sitting up in bed with two nurses replacing their IV bags. “As you can see, they’re already awake. Just some mild dehydration. I’ve set them up with some fluids and they should be able to check out by this afternoon.”

    “MOM! DAD!” Taylor rushed at them, grabbing her mother in a tight hug.

    “Oof,” the older woman grunted with a weak smile. “Hey there, little owl.”

    “Go easy on your mother, Taylor,” Daniel chimed in from the side. His eyes were shining as he looked at his wife and daughter. “She’s still feeling a little woozy.”

    "What?" Taylor reared back, turning to the doctors again. There were three of them; two stood silently behind the scruffy-haired lead, a man and woman with masks covering their nose and mouths. He wore a pair of thick glasses, the lenses tinted pale blue while she had a dark, intense stare, her eyes glinting onyx on her tanned face.

    “Is she going to be okay? Do you guys need to keep her under observation longer?”

    “You guys!” Annette sounded exasperated as she waved her hands. “I’ll be fine, I’m sure the doctors have more serious cases to attend to.”

    “It’s nothing,” the doctor smiled, his cheeks pushing out against his mask. He looked at Taylor seriously. “Don’t worry, your mother just has a slightly more serious case of dehydration, but it’s still nothing serious. She’ll be fine after getting more fluids in her. If you prefer the added reassurance, we can definitely arrange for another night of observation here.”

    Taylor immediately turned to her mother. “Mom, I think you should—”

    “Thank you doctor, but we’ll be fine,” said Annette, cutting her off. “I’m fine, Taylor,” she huffed, but softened when she saw tears glistening in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing.” Taylor pulled her sleeve down over her hand and wiped her face. “Just feel like I lost you for a while.”

    “Oh, darling.” Annette pulled her daughter in. “I’m alright. I’m right here.”

    Daniel nodded at them in thanks as the doctors discreetly took their leave. They walked in silence, sliding past the overflow of patients stuck out in the hallway until they reached a small, quiet room.

    Miss Militia closed the door behind them. “How is it?” she asked.

    "Their scans are normal, and their bloodwork is normal. From all appearances, both Heberts are completely ordinary, healthy adults."

    “Even Annette Hebert?”

    “She’s completely fine, just mildly dehydrated. No lasting damage.” The doctor combed a hand through his hair, making it even scruffier. “Do I want to know more about this?”

    Militia shook her head. “You probably don’t.”

    The doctor shrugged. “Sure.” He handed the files to her. “Do you need me to keep them in for more tests? I can create a reason.”

    “It’s fine. Just discharge them normally when they’ve recovered.”

    “Alright. If there’s nothing else, I got to get back to work.”

    Hannah watched as he left, the door clicking shut behind him, muting out the busy cacophony outside.

    “How about you? Anything jog your memory?”

    Colin pulled his mask down against his chin and leaned against the table. He fiddled with his glasses — the lens flickered and buzzed with a recording of what just happened.

    He watched Hebert rush at her mother again before pausing the video.

    “Nothing.” His eyes peered through the frozen image. “You said this girl was the parahuman that caused everything last night?”

    “You don’t find her familiar at all?”


    “You saw the recordings from last night.”

    “I know.” Colin rolled his head backwards, pulling his glasses off and pinching the bridge of his nose. “I see the resemblance. But that’s just not what I remember.”

    “In your memories, what does she look like?”

    Colin winced. “I can’t— I see her face, but I can’t describe it.”

    Hannah blew out a breath. “What now then? Should we continue monitoring her?”

    "We could, but… if what you say is true then Taylor Hebert is already gone." Colin folded his glasses, sliding them into his coat. "Anne Hebert is a new person. I doubt shadowing her would give us any new insight."

    He straightened off the desk. “Besides, we might not even have the manpower. Have you heard?”

    Hannah glanced up. “Alexandria?” she asked, her voice bland and emotionless.

    “Yes. Dragon sent me more information. And there are so many clips of her in Central Park with the case-53s. I expect the news will break by tonight. When that happens, who knows if the PRT will still be around.”

    “You still trust Dragon?” Hannah picked at a loose thread on her coat. “You know she showed up with Taylor Prime at the end.”

    “I know. But I’ve worked with Dragon long enough to trust her judgment. And to hear her out.”


    "She'll be coming to Brockton next week after clearing up some things on her end. You can join our meeting if you want?"


    “This is the address?” Narwhal looked at the electronic lock on the door. “Should I break it?”

    “No need.” Dragon stepped forward, waving a hand. She was in a lighter, leaner suit, more suitable for indoor use.

    Gears whirred from within the door and echoed through the wood panels as a bolt slid open. Narwhal glanced at her with a raised eyebrow before pushing the door open. They stepped carefully into the apartment, ready (more so in Narwhal's case) for any hidden traps.

    It was an ordinary apartment. A cramped studio, the bedroom door shut tight. The late afternoon sun came through the window panes in stalks of yellow, the evening slowly curling around its edges.

    Boxes piled high against the walls, along the floor, trailing into the kitchenette area where it even covered the stovetops. The only furniture was a small table pushed against the wall, bare except for a few blank pieces of paper.

    Narwhal flicked a box open and pulled out a random file. Her brows furrowed as she flipped through the contents.

    “What is it?” Dragon pulled out a second file from the same box. “This is… almost 20 years ago.”

    Narwhal flipped through the pages, her eyes scanning rapidly over the words. “It’s a report on the Birdcage. More specifically, it's advising against the construction of it.”

    Dragon took the file from her as Narwhal walked to another box. She wrenched the covers open, randomly tugging out several more files.

    “It’s all the same.” Narwhal breathed out, tossing the last document onto the pile. “Reports on villains, sightings of mysterious portals, all curtailed or diverted. Cauldron really put in their work.”

    “Yeah.” Dragon flipped around the file in her hand. “You’re not gonna be any happier about this one.”

    “What?” Narwhal turned around, squinting. It only took a millisecond for her to recognize the letterhead on the top. She strode forward, snatching the file up. “The Guild?” she growled. “They fucked with us too?”

    “It’s safe to assume they had their fingers in every pie.”

    “If I see Alexandria again, I’m going to break her nose.”

    “She’s invincible.”

    “It’s the pain that counts,” huffed Narwhal. She looked around at the boxes again as she walked to the closed bedroom door. “Your lover really left a treasure for you.”

    Dragon followed behind. “She’s not my lover. It’s a physical impossibility.”

    They stepped into the room, only to stop short when they saw a large glowing vat in the middle. Thick power cables spooled over the floor, the hum of electricity from them so audible it felt like a tangible field clogging the air. Murky green light spilled out from within the vat; inside, a dark shadow floated amid the glowing liquid.

    Narwhal wiped a hand over the glass, breaking through the frost and condensation. Dragon — her human avatar — bobbed into view. Her eyes were closed.

    “Wow. Physical impossibility huh?” Narwhal raised an eyebrow. “Guess the both of you had the same thoughts.”

    Dragon picked a note off the dusty computer next to it.

    If you’re seeing this note, it means I chickened out of giving this to you in person.
    Sorry ;) —Taylor

    "Damn," Narwhal said. "Did she really create an entire human body for you?"

    “It’s synthetic, not fully human.” The computer creaked as it booted up. An intense blue light filled the monitor for a moment. “She must have created it with the Dragon in her timeline.”

    “Alright, hold on for a minute.” Narwhal raised her hands. “Too many revelations and explanations in one day. You still owe me a drink for dropping that AI bomb. Dropping it, mind you, literally hours before you told me about this place.”

    A wry chuckle echoed from Dragon’s suit. Lights flickered in her eyes. “Fine, point taken. I’ve already ordered you a nice bottle of wine.”

    “Not just me. We’re splitting that bottle. Me, and you in this fancy new body.”

    Dragon slowly squeezed her hand shut. She looked away, at the rest of the room. The wall on the other side was filled with paper, photos, and a map, all clinging on timorously with pieces of tape. Underneath was a small desk, overflowing with notes where scribbles ran off the margins, onto the wood and wall.

    “I—I’m not sure.”

    “Why not? It’s a gift, take it.” Narwhal knocked on the glass. Her smile fell off as she turned solemn.

    “People are gonna attack you for being an AI. The PRT might even move against you.

    “She’s giving you leverage. The information outside, the human body here. She’s trying to make you as bulletproof as possible.”

    Dragon walked closer to the wall. She traced the words winding through the pieces of paper and looked at the face that was not quite hers in the many photos of Infinite, Cardinal, the other Taylors. Thick marker lines dashed red on the maps, tracing a path between cities with timestamps neatly printed next to every step.

    “I know. It’s just…” she trailed off, picking up the first sheet on the desk. “...complicated.”

    “Welcome to humanity.” Narwhal sidled up to her. “You know, learning that you were a robot wasn’t as surprising as it should be. You were always so put together, it’s scary.”

    She glanced over the maps and plans. “Do you think she’s really gone?”

    “From the time I had with her…” Dragon trailed off distractedly, her head lowered. The paper crinkled in her hand as she scanned through it. There was only a small paragraph of words, followed by strings of mathematical notations.

    COIL’s power. Straddling two timelines, then choosing one— WHERE IS CONSCIOUSNESS? Outside of dimension? With shard? How. Need to isolate component. Need to integrate power. IF treat erased timeline and new timeline as two separate worlds for COIL power. THEN possible to still jump back after death?

    “She’s not the type to walk into death without a plan.”


    That night, in Brockton Bay, a pale light flickers in the eaves of the Hebert residence. Underneath, the moonlight spills through the window over Anne Taylor as she tosses around, murmuring in her sleep.
  11. Threadmarks: Anne

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
    Likes Received:

    One month later

    “Anne Taylor Hebert?”

    Victoria’s ears pricked as she rounded the corner to see a tall lanky girl hurry towards a nurse at the station. Her hair looked familiar, she thought, narrowing her eyes at the long black curls sweeping down her back.

    She chose a random seat by the corner, automatically folding her arms as she sat down. Amy was running late, as usual, and there was just something about that girl that was familiar.

    The nurse patted her on the shoulder before walking away. The girl seemed to take a breath, squaring her shoulders and turning around and—

    Their eyes met. Victoria stiffened. The world seemed to yawn, a swallowing sensation that rushed through her ears and left her dizzy.

    Taylor Hebert.

    Only not quite. Anne immediately ducked her head, letting her hair cover her face as she walked briskly towards Victoria. She had a strange, contradicting mix of timid mulishness that threw Victoria off for a second and reminded her that this was a different Taylor.

    “Hello,” she said softly. Her hands whipped out to grab the book on the seat next to Victoria. “Sorry, I just wanted to get my stuff.”

    “It’s fine. Ah, hey—” Victoria raised her voice slightly, stopping the other girl in her tracks. “Anne… Taylor, right? I knew someone with a similar name.”

    It was a lame call-out, but it worked. "It's just Taylor, actually," she said as turned around slowly. Her shoulders were still hunched and her hands clutched the book so tightly it was getting crinkled at the edges.

    “Not an ‘Anne’?”

    Taylor huffed, relaxing marginally. “My dad screwed up when he was filling in my birth certificate. He mixed up my first and middle names, so…” She scuffed her shoe against the ground, dragging out her O’s.

    “Oof, bummer. So just Taylor then?”

    “Yeah.” Taylor shrugged. “It’s not a big deal or anything, I just prefer that name. Feels kinda right.”

    Victoria blinked, a pale shiver going down her back. “Oh, you can sit by the way, it’s cool. Sorry for taking your chair.”

    “Ah?” The other girl shrank back, her eyes darting between the seats and Victoria. It felt strange seeing Taylor without her absolute confidence, as someone more cautious, more skittish.

    “I don’t bite, you know.”

    “Right, no,” Taylor replied hurriedly, plodding on the seat. She smoothed out the book against her lap, laughing nervously. “Sorry, it’s just—” her voice dropped into a hushed whisper “—you’re Glory Girl.”

    Victoria offered a friendly smile. “What are you here for?”

    “Oh, I’m just accompanying my mom.” Taylor waved her hand out in a burst of animation. “It’s just some crazy medical thing with her work. Apparently all her records got erased, somehow? In the last 3 years at least, including all her health insurance papers. So she’s here getting a full checkup so they can reverify her insurance.” She swivelled around in her seat, leaning forward, hands clenched and voice full of indignation. “And can you believe it? The university even accidentally hired a new professor for her position! My mom teaches at BBU, you see. They don’t even know how to explain it. Some paperwork error, just like what happened with her documents.”

    “Oh.” Victoria shut her mouth with a click before trying again. “That, uh, that sucks. You said 3 years of records?”

    “Yeah, they’re still investigating what happened but no one seems to be able to remember anything.”

    “Right,” said Victoria, nodding dumbly. Her mind scrambled for something to add, but all she could think about was how strange time travel was.

    Taylor suddenly blushed, looking sheepish. “Sorry,” she said, scratching her head. “I blabber sometimes, didn’t mean to talk your ear off.” Her face fell, looking more sedate. “A friend once said I had a motormouth.”

    The TV in the lounge blared before Victoria could reply and cut through the mild awkwardness between them.

    “—after the PRT’s press release, more information has come to light as hundreds of files have been leaked online by an anonymous group, documenting secret ties between the PRT and Cauldron, an organization with ties to multiple villain groups including the infamous Slaughterhouse Nine.

    “Further links to the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center have also been uncovered, with mounting evidence that suggests approval for the prison was forced through via parahuman thinker manipulation on a wide, unprecedented scale.

    “Multiple senators have called for a thorough audit of the PRT and the previous Chief Director, Rebecca Costa-Brown. Although still unconfirmed by the PRT, Costa-Brown is allegedly Triumvirate member Alexandria, and also an alleged founding member of Cauldron. More questions surround the close nature of this relationship, and—”

    Taylor sighed, shaking her head. “I was a fan of Alexandria.”

    “Yeah.” Victoria looked away from the TV. “So was I.”

    "Is the stuff with the PRT affecting you?" Taylor asked abruptly. When Victoria deliberated a moment too long, she added self-consciously, "Not that it's any of my business if it's top secret or something."

    "No, it's not a secret or anything. New Wave is independent, although we are affiliated with them. But so far, nothing's reached us yet." Victoria raised a hand, shaking it over her head. "It's not like we worked with Alexandria or something. Besides, everyone's still dealing with the bubble."

    “Oh yeah, the bubble! I was caught in that actually.”

    Victoria narrowed her eyes. “Do you remember anything?”

    “No?” Taylor sounded hesitant. Her arms snaked around herself in a loose hug.

    "You don't sound sure."

    The lanky girl struggled with herself for a second. "It's just some weird dreams." She shook her head, letting her hair fall free. "I don't really remember much, except for my hair. I would always have different coloured hair." Taylor laughed to herself. "Like pink! I also didn't know I could look so cool in white."

    Victoria was stiff. She forced her face carefully blank, trying not to react.

    “Sounds like interesting dreams.”

    “Ha, yeah maybe. Like I said, I don’t remember much about them.” Taylor tapped a finger against her lips. “Although sometimes it feels so real I get discombobulated. But it’s probably just some aftereffect of the bubble. The doctors checked us out and cleared us.”

    “Yeah, don’t worry, it should fade. What do you mean by discombobulated?” Victoria kept her voice even as she asked.

    "Oh, it's nothing. Just flashes of weirdness, like sometimes I look in the mirror and my vision goes double. Or I'll see some blurry figure in the corner of my eye but when I turn around, nothing's there." Taylor smiled, shaking her head. "I'm probably just spooked. It's crazy that some tinker froze an entire neighbourhood!"

    “It is pretty crazy. But you don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

    "Yeah, I saw the press release. The tinker died?" Taylor bit her lip. "Funny thing, I know she was crazy or something, but I felt sad when I heard the news."

    One of the doors of the consultation rooms sprang open. A tall, skinny woman walked out.

    “Oh! That’s my mom! I got to go.” Taylor cut herself off, standing up hurriedly. She flashed a wobbly grin at Victoria. “Thanks for talking to me. You’re really awesome, Glory Girl.”

    Victoria barely got her hand up before she was already dashing away. She watched Taylor gesture animatedly with her mother as they walked off.

    “Hey. What are you spacing out about now?”

    Victoria flinched as a finger prodded her. She turned around to see Amy looking at her with a raised eyebrow.

    “Nothing. I just have to make a phone call later.”



    Missy took a deep breath, trying hard not to sigh as she waited for Sophia to reply.

    She sighed anyway when the taller girl ignored her, leaping off the roof in a burst of smoke.

    “Seriously, you’re gonna keep up this brooding act for the whole patrol?”

    "Why, thought you guys weren't talking to me anyway," Sophia retorted snippily. Missy rolled her eyes when she heard it; with a swish and swoop, she appeared next to Sophia and grabbed her.

    “Don’t—” she started, but Sophia had already phased out from her grip. “Stop running! I’m trying to show it to you, idiot!”

    The two of them froze as they looked at each other. One was cagey, the other annoyed. Missy waved her phone, beckoning her over. Sophia slinked closer with her hands stuffed in her pockets.

    “What’s this?”

    Missy’s phone held a map of Brockton Bay, with various blinking points pin over the city.

    “It’s a detection app Dragon made.” Missy kept her eyes on Sophia as she spoke. “It’s linked to a few sensors around town to check if Taylor’s back.”

    “Taylor?” Sophia frowned. “You mean the tinkers?”


    Her frown deepened. “You mean Cardinal.”


    “You think I’m not over it yet?” Sophia looked away as she growled.

    Missy cocked her head, trying to see the other girl’s face. “Are you?”

    “I’m fine,” Sophia bit out. “I’m over it.”


    “I mean it,” she snapped, her head spinning around with a fierce gaze.

    Missy spread her palms out. “Chill. I believe you.” After a moment, she continued with a softer tone. “I heard you told Miss Militia everything. The bullying and stuff. Punishment duty for a year and a new Youth rep?”

    Sophia folded her arms, bristling defensively. “It’s nothing. We’re even now,” she muttered, more to herself than to Missy.

    “How’s your friend? The redhead, right?”

    “She doesn’t remember what happened. But I told her mom about the shit that was going on.” Sophia scuffed her feet against the ground, hunched inward. “Said she should see a doctor.”

    “You did a good thing, you know,” Missy offered.

    “Wait.” Sophia interrupted, her head snapping up. “They’re all coming back? Even the crazy pink-haired one?”

    "No. Well, Dragon doesn't think so. Apparently, there's some big terminal thing that connects all the Taylors together and that's how they're coming back? She didn't really explain the details much. But Evil Taylor disconnected herself from it, so—"

    Suddenly, her phone vibrated with a loud beep. The screen lit up red as the map recentered over an address.

    “Okay, what’s happening?”

    Missy stared at her phone with her mouth agape.

    “Oi!” Sophia punched her shoulder.

    “They’re here! The sensors picked up something!” Missy grabbed the air, pulling the distance to her feet. “We have to go.”

    “What about patrol?” Sophia asked, but she was already running alongside her. The space between buildings shrank while the various pipes and structures on the rooftops flattened, everything merging into a clean, level plane.

    “Clockblocker’s on Control, he’ll cover for us!”

    The wind glided underneath them as they strode above the city in compressed space, beelining directly to their objective. They managed to reach the quiet neighbourhood in 15 minutes.

    "Hebert's house," Sophia said aloud as they landed on a neighbouring roof across the road.

    "Yeah." Missy held her phone out, slowly panning in a wide arc. She double-checked the screen again. "Signal's coming from there."

    “Boy do we all look creepy, skulking on top of some random house like this,” a voice said from above them.

    Missy and Sophia looked up to see Victoria descending with another blonde in her arms. Both were in their street clothes.

    "Tattletale?" Vista asked curiously as they touched down on the roof.

    “She was having dinner at my place,” Victoria answered the unspoken question as Lisa hopped off.

    “It’s just supper, not an agreement to join New Wave,” she clarified pointedly. She swept her hair back, out of the large, oversized sunglasses on her face. “Still need to help settle the other Undersiders too. Ugh, you told her?”

    “Tsk.” Sophia scoffed, looking away.”

    Underneath her visor, Missy was rolling her eyes. “Yeah, I told her. Where’s Dragon?”

    "She said she's running late. Meeting at the PRT." Victoria scanned around the peaceful neighbourhood. It was already past midnight, and the street was dark and silent. "What are we supposed to look for?"


    Missy’s voice died as she started talking. Her mouth moved but no words came as all sounds in the world halted.

    Five dots of light burst out from the Heberts’ lawn. They followed one another, spiralling upwards in a widening circle, a stark white brightness that threw long fluttering shadows across the grass and over the street.

    Victoria watched as the lights flashed round and round, almost hypnotically. In the ringing silence, the world seemed centered on this moment. Unconsciously, she gripped the front of her hoodie, feeling tense all of sudden, like she was on the edge of a cliff, teetering forward but not quite.

    It felt like waiting for a push that didn’t come.

    The lights started to flicker rapidly. They spluttered midair, dropping then catching themselves — and Victoria felt like she fell with them, her heart pumping as quickly as they beat.

    She heard Missy gasp. The sound of her breathing returned to her ears in a rush. The veil over the night seemed to recede, and in that moment she abruptly thought of Franklin, her blue mane spread out wild against a golden blast as she stood in front of her.

    Then the lights froze. They throbbed with an invisible resonance, expanding to the size of a tennis ball and silencing the world again. The shine around them ebbed, revealing a glistening, beating flesh that wiggled and squirmed with the colour red. Tendrils sprouted from each seed, delicate lines splitting off into finer veins that interlaced to form a web of blood and bone. Slowly and carefully, as slivers of muscles grew along the strands, five human bodies formed in the air.

    A trail of fire rocketed overhead. Dragon plunged soundlessly from the sky, the jets on her feet splashing blue flame over the asphalt. The suit split apart as it landed, and Dragon stepped out from the hollow space.

    Sophia was the first to move. She slid down the roof, against the rattling tiles, and dropped to the ground in a cloud of black smoke. The others followed behind Missy, catching up to Dragon in a single step. She was standing near the bodies; the light was almost gone, covered by the slithering flesh, the last layer of skin beginning to fill in.

    The tinker waved to them as they approached. “What’s going on?” Victoria mouthed.

    Dragon held her hand up, shaking her head. Then, five heartbeats echoed simultaneously in the space between them.

    The world exhaled the breath it held with a sigh. A song of crickets accompanied the rustling grass as the Taylors swivelled upright in the air.

    Their eyes sprang open as they dropped onto the ground, wobbling uncertainly on their first step.


    The first of them refocused on the word. She glanced at Dragon sharply, her face lighting up with recognition.

    “Dragon. You got my gift.” She took a deep breath, shaking off her dreaminess. A cloak settled over her nakedness after she clutched it; Taylor Prime ran a hand through the white buzz over her head and looked at them with a smile.

    “Hello you all,” she said. Her white locks grew out rapidly, falling around her shoulders like the softest snowfall.

    A shimmering wall grew up around them, shading them from the neighbourhood.

    Franklin waved cheerily. Gold scars crisscrossed her body, winding naturally around her muscles as if part of her body. Sage came up from behind and tapped her shoulder, cladding her in a glowing green robe similar to her own.

    Behind them, Newton stood hand in hand with Cardinal, sharing a large blanket. The redhead's hair was still shorn, but she had a faint buzz over her head instead of scars. She and Sophia stared at each other for a long moment; they nodded at each other and turned away.

    “How did you come back?” Victoria asked.

    Dragon spoke up. "As long as they have the tiniest bit of cognizance, they can't be killed. They can simply restore themselves." She looked at Taylor, who was listening with a smile. Her eyes were shining, focused on Dragon. "I saw you insert a black crystal into your network, back in that extra dimension. That was Coil's power, wasn't it? The slice of shard you took from him."

    Lisa gasped. Her eyes fluttered as her power kicked in. “Coil had awareness over two timelines. His power retained his consciousness even after death to his other self,” she intoned before jerking out of the trance. Her fingers rubbed against her temples. “But Anne Taylor isn’t you.”

    “No,” Taylor agreed. “But she’s close enough to share the connection to our shard.”

    “You used her as the relay point back.”

    “It was the only chance we had.”

    “Is she a parahuman?”

    “Not exactly. You could say she was essentially given the power but not the means to use it.”

    Dragon widened her eyes. “Like implanting new powers.”

    “Yup. Flashes of memories, dreams not quite hers. Just enough to carry us back maybe, but nothing else.”

    Taylor stared at Dragon, her lips still parted as if to say something more. Then the lamp on the porch suddenly flicked on. Everyone froze, looking at the front door as it swung open.

    Anne Taylor peeked out from behind. She rubbed her eyes underneath her glasses, yawning slightly.

    “Anne, what are you doing?” an older woman asked. Annette Hebert came out from the shadows in the house, wrapped in a long floral robe.

    Lisa didn’t need her power to see the complicated mix of emotions on the Taylors. She heard their breaths hitch as they watched on silently.

    “It’s nothing. I just thought… I just thought I heard something.” Anne Taylor shook her head, letting her mother tug her back inside.

    “Is something wrong? I’ve been hearing you wake up in the middle of—” Annette’s voice faded as the door closed shut. The lamp winked out.

    “Anne, huh?” Newton murmured. Her head settled on Cardinal’s shoulder. “That’s interesting.”

    Missy glanced between the Taylors and the dark porch. “Are you going to tell them?”

    Taylor Prime bit her lips, a sigh of regret escaping. She looked at Sage as she walked closer, an unspoken thought crossing between them.

    “If it’s safe,” the green-haired Taylor replied instead. She smiled wryly. “There’s no hurry to upend their lives just yet.”

    “The PRT doesn’t actually have any orders regarding the Heberts,” said Dragon.

    “Oh? Do we have you to thank for that?”

    “I didn’t need to do much. You exposing Alexandria with the case-53s in New York was already enough.”

    “They’re saying the PRT might get dissolved,” Missy said, her words carrying an accusing undercurrent.

    “If not the PRT, then it’ll just be another 3 letter organization. The government will always need an organization to manage parahumans, especially as the population grows.” Taylor paused, raising an eyebrow as she noticed the stiff expressions on some of their faces.

    “What? You’re not expecting us to take over, are you?”

    Victoria shrugged. “No one can stop you if you do.”

    “Yeah, but why? That shit is all tedious as hell,” Franklin interjected, hollering from the back.

    “So what then?” asked Lisa.

    “Well.” Taylor puffed her cheeks out, sharing a look with Sage and Franklin. Newton and Cardinal stepped up behind them.

    “I think it’d be nice, for once, just to see what’s tomorrow.”

  12. nezexyzzar

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
    Likes Received:

    Thanks you guys for the warm response! I'm really thrilled the time bits hit the spot for you.
    Leodio, Zeus, Amrynel and 1 other person like this.
  13. nezexyzzar

    nezexyzzar Getting out there.

    Dec 24, 2021
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    Story's now finally complete, thanks for following all the way through! The supportive messages kinda made me stressed about the epilogues but I'm glad to see it done.

    If anyone's wondering, I am planning a new fic next, original this time, and it will be posted in the NSFW section :) Thanks again for reading!
    Leodio, Zeus, Beto and 4 others like this.