The run had helped to wake me up, as did the hot shower and a cup of the coffee my dad had left in the pot. Even so, the fatigue didn’t help the feeling of disorientation over just how normal the day seemed as I made my way to school. Just a matter of hours ago, I had been in a life and death fight, I had even met Armsmaster. Now it was a day like any other.
I felt a bit nervous as I got to homeroom. Having basically skipped two classes the previous Friday, failing to turn in a major assignment, I figured that Mrs. Knott probably knew already. I didn’t feel relieved when Mrs. Knott glanced up at me and gave a tight smile before turning her attention back to her computer. That just meant the humiliation would be redoubled if and when class was interrupted by someone coming down from the office. A part of me just wanted to miss this class too, just to avoid the potential humiliation and avoid drawing attention.
All in all, I felt anxious as I made my way to my computer, which kind of sucked because Computer class was one of the few parts of the school day I didn’t usually dread. For one thing, it was the one class in which I was doing well. More to the point, neither Madison, Sophia nor Emma were in this class, though some of their friends were. Those girls didn’t usually feel the need to harass me without the trio around, and I was further removed from them because I was in the advanced stream of the class. A good three quarters of the people in the room were computer illiterate, being from families that didn’t have the money for computers or families that didn’t have much interest in the things, so they practiced typing without looking at the keyboard and had lessons in using search engines. By contrast, I was in the group that was learning some basic programming and spreadsheets. It didn’t do a lot for my already geeky reputation, but I could deal.
Mrs. Knott was an alright teacher, if not the most hands on; she was usually content to give us advanced students an in-class assignment and then focus on the more rambunctious majority for the rest of the class. This suited me just fine – I usually wrapped up the assignment in a half hour, leaving me an hour to use as I saw fit. I had been recalling and going over the events of the previous night during my morning run, and the first thing that I did when the ancient desktop finished its agonizing load process was to start digging for information.
The go-to place for news and discussion on capes was Parahumans Online. The front page had constant updates on recent, international news featuring capes. From there, I could go to the wiki, where there was information on individual capes, groups and events, or to the message boards, which broke down into nearly a hundred sub-boards, for specific cities and capes. I opened the wiki in one tab, then found and opened the message board for Brockton Bay in another.
I had the sense that either Tattletale or Grue were the leader of the group I had run into. Turning my attention to Tattletale, I searched the wiki. The result I got was disappointingly short, starting with a header reading “This article is a stub. Be a hero and help us expand it.” There was a one sentence blurb on how she was a alleged villain active in Brockton Bay, with a single blurry picture. The only new information for me was that her costume was lavender. A search of the message boards turned up absolutely nothing. There wasn’t even a hint as to what her power was.
I looked up Grue. There was actually information about him, but nothing detailed or definitive. The wiki stated he had been active for nearly three years, dealing in petty crimes such as robbing small stores and doing some work as an enforcer for those who wanted a little superpowered muscle along for a job. Recently, he had turned to higher scale crime, including corporate theft and robbing a casino, together with his new team. His power was listed as darkness generation in the sidebar under his picture. The picture seemed crisp enough, but the focus of it, Grue, was just a blurry black silhouette in the center.
I searched for Bitch, next. No results. I did another search for her more official title, Hellhound, and got a wealth of information. Rachel Lindt had never made any real attempt to hide her identity. She had apparently been homeless through most of her criminal career, just living on the streets and moving on whenever police or a cape came after her. The sightings and encounters with the homeless girl ended around a year ago – I figured that was when she joined forces with Grue, Tattletale and Regent. The picture in the sidebar was taken from surveillance camera footage – an unmasked, dark haired girl who I wouldn’t have called pretty. She had a squarish, blunt-featured face with thick eyebrows. She was riding atop one of her monstrous ‘dogs’ like a jockey rides a horse, down the middle lane of a street.
According to the wiki entry, her powers manifested when she was fourteen, followed almost immediately by her demolishing the foster home she had been living in, injuring her foster mother and two other foster children in the process. This was followed by a two year series of skirmishes and retreats across Maine as various heroes and teams tried to apprehend her, and she either defeated them or successfully evaded capture. She had no powers that would have made her any stronger or faster than the average Jane, but she was apparently able to turn ordinary dogs into the creatures I had seen on the rooftop. Monsters the size of a car, all muscle, bone, fang and claw. A red box near the bottom of the page read, “Rachel Lindt has a public identity, but is known to be particularly hostile, antisocial and violent. If recognized, do not approach or provoke. Leave the area and notify authorities as to her last known location.” At the very bottom of the page was a list of links that were related to her: two fansites and a news article relating to her early activities. A search of the message boards turned up too many results, leaving me unable to sift through the crap, the arguments, the speculation and the villain worship to find any genuine morsels of information. If nothing else, she was notorious. I sighed and moved on, making a mental note to do more investigation when I had the time.
The last member of the group was Regent. Given what Armsmaster had said about the guy being low profile, I didn’t expect to find much. I was surprised to find less than that. Nothing. My search on the wiki turned up only a default response, “There are no results matching this query. 32 unique IP addresses have searched the Parahumans.net Wiki for ‘Regent’ in 2011. Would you like to create the page?” The message board didn’t turn up anything else. I even did a search for alternate spellings of his name, such as Regence and Recant, in case I had heard it wrong. Nothing turned up.
If my mood had been on the sour side as I got to homeroom, the dead ends only made it worse. I turned my attention to the in-class assignment, making a working calculator in Visual Basic, but it was too trivial to distract me. The work from Thursday and Friday had already given us the tools to do the job, so it was really just busywork. I didn’t mind learning stuff, but work for the sake of doing work was annoying. I did the bare minimum, checked it for any bugs, moved the file to the ‘completed work’ folder and returned to surfing the web. All in all, the work barely took fifteen minutes.
I looked up Lung on the wiki, which I had done often enough before, as part of my research and preparation for being a superhero. I’d wanted to be sure I knew who prominent local villains were and what they could do. The search for ‘Lung’ redirected to a catch-all page on his gang, the ABB, with quite a bit of detailed information. The information on Lung’s powers was pretty in line with my own experience, though there was no mention of the super-hearing or him being fireproof. I debated adding it, but decided against it. There were security concerns with my submission being tracked back to Winslow High, and then to me. I figured it would probably be deleted as unsupported speculation, anyways.
The section beneath the description of Lung and his powers covered his subordinates. He was estimated to have forty or fifty thugs working for him across Brockton Bay, largely drawn from the ranks of Asian youth. It was pretty unconventional for a gang to include members of the variety of nationalities that the ABB did, but Lung had made it a mission to conquer and absorb every gang with Asian members and many without. Once he had the manpower he needed, the non-Asian gangs were cannibalized for assets, their members discarded. Even though there were no more major gangs in the east end of town to absorb, he was still recruiting zealously. His method, now, was to go after anyone older than twelve and younger than sixty. It didn’t matter if you were a gang member or not. If you were Asian and you lived in Brockton Bay, Lung and his people expected you to either join or to pay tribute one way or another. There had been local news reports on it, newspaper articles, and I could remember seeing signs in the guidance counselor’s office detailing where people who were targeted in this way could go for help.
Lung’s lieutenants were listed as Oni Lee and Bakuda. I already had some general knowledge about Oni Lee, but I was intrigued to see there were recent updates to his wiki entry. There were specific details on his powers: He could teleport, but when he did so, he didn’t disappear. As he teleported, his original self, for lack of a better term, would stay where it was and remain active for five to ten seconds before disintegrating into a cloud of carbon ash. Essentially, he could create another version of himself anywhere nearby, while the old version could stick around long enough to distract or attack you. If that wasn’t scary enough, there was an report of him holding a grenade in his hand as he repeatedly duplicated himself, with his short lived duplicates acting as suicide bombers. Topping it all off, Oni Lee’s wiki page had a similar red warning box to the one that Bitch/Hellhound had on hers, minus the bit about his public identity. From what they knew about him, authorities had seen fit to note him a sociopath. The warning covered the same essential elements: exceedingly violent, dangerous to approach, should not be provoked, and so on. I glanced at his picture. His costume consisted of a black bodysuit with a black bandoleer and belt for his knives, guns and grenades. The only color on him was an ornate Japanese-style demon mask, crimson with two green stripes down either side. Except for the mask, his costume gave off the distinct impression of a ninja, which just added weight to the notion that this was a guy who could and would slide a knife between your ribs.
Bakuda was a new entry, added to the ABB wiki page just ten days ago. The picture only showed her from the shoulders up, a girl with straight black hair, large opaque goggles over her eyes and a metal mask with a gas mask styled filter covering the lower half of her face. A braided cord of black, yellow and green wires looped over one of her shoulders. I couldn’t pinpoint her ethnicity with the mask and goggles, and her age wasn’t any easier to figure out.
The wiki had a lot of the same details Armsmaster had mentioned to me. Bakuda had essentially held a university ransom and she did it with her superhuman ability to design and fabricate high tech bombs. There was a link to a video titled ‘Bomb Threat @ Cornell’, but I didn’t think it wise to play it in school, especially without headphones. I made a mental note to check it out when I got home.
The next thing that caught my eye was the section heading titled ‘Defeats and Captures’. I scrolled down to read it. According to the wiki, Lung had apparently suffered a number of minor defeats at the hands of various teams, ranging from the Guild to the local teams of New Wave, the Wards and the Protectorate, but consistently managed to evade capture until last night. A blurb read, ‘ Armsmaster successfully ambushed and defeated the leader of the ABB, who was weakened from a recent encounter with a rival gang. Lung was taken to the PHQ for holding until the villain’s trial by teleconference. Given Lung’s extensive and well documented criminal history, it is expected he will face imprisonment in the Birdcage should he be found guilty at trial.’
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I wasn’t sure what to think. By all rights, I should have been angry that Armsmaster took the credit for the fight that could have cost me my life. Instead, I felt a building excitement. I felt like shaking the shoulder of the guy sitting next to me and point to the screen, saying, “Me, I made that possible! Me!”
With a renewed enthusiasm, I switched tabs to the message board and began looking to see what people were saying about it. A post by a fan or minion of Lung threatened violence against Armsmaster. There was a request by someone asking for more information on the fight. I was given pause by one post that asked whether Bakuda could or would use a large scale bomb and the threat of potentially thousands or hundreds of thousands dead, to ransom Lung back.
I tried to put that out of my mind. If it happened, it would be the responsibility of heroes better and more experienced than I.
It struck me that there was one person I hadn’t looked for. Myself. I opened up the advanced search page for the Parahumans.net message board and did a search for multiple terms. I included insect, spider, swarm, bug, plague, and a mess of other terms that had struck me when I had been trying to brainstorm a good hero name. I narrowed the timeframe of posts to search for posts made within the past 12 hours and hit Search.
My efforts turned up two posts. One referred to a villain called Pestilence, active in the UK. Apparently Pestilence was one of the people who could use ‘magic’. That is, he was if you believed magic was real, and not just some convoluted or deluded interpretation of a given set of powers.
The second post was in the ‘Connections’ section of the message board, where rescued damsels left their contact information for their dashing heroes, where conventions and fan gatherings were organized and where people posted job offers for capes and the cape-obsessed. Most were cryptic or vague, referring to stuff only the people in question would know.
The message was titled, simply, “Bug”
I clicked it and waited impatiently for the outdated system and overloaded school modem to load up the page. What I got was brief.
Owe you one. Would like to repay the favor. Meet?
Send a message,
The post was followed by two pages of people commenting. Three people suggested it was something important, while a half dozen more people decried them as tinfoil hats, Parahumans.net’s term for conspiracy theorists.
It was meaningful, though. I couldn’t interpret it any other way; Tattletale had found a way to get in contact with me.