Interlude 3

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The building housing the local Parahuman Response Team division didn’t really stand out. The exterior was all windows, reflective enough to mirror the mottled dark gray of the sky overhead.  Only a shield logo bearing the letters ‘P.R.T.’ marked it apart from the other buildings of downtown Brockton Bay.

Those entering the lobby would find a strange juxtaposition at work.  On the one hand, you could see the various employees in suits, hurrying in and out of the building, talking in groups.  A team of four PRT officers was on standby, each stationed at a different area of the lobby, outfitted in the best equipment money could buy.  All had chain mesh and kevlar vests, helmets that covered their faces, and firearms.  The equipment differed, however, as two of them had grenade launchers hanging from straps on their shoulders with bandoliers of various specialty ammunition across their chests, including a fire extinguishing grenade, an EMP round and various stun grenades.  The other two had what appeared at first glance to be flame throwers; were they to pull the triggers, they would eject a thick, frothing spray of foam, enough to contain all but the strongest and fastest villains.

In stark contrast to this, there was the gift shop that would be thick with youths when school ended, sporting a selection of action figures, posters, video games and clothing.  Four-foot tall pictures of the various Protectorate and Wards team members were placed at regular intervals around the lobby, each backed by bright colors.

There was a cheery tour guide waiting patiently by the front desk, smiling handsomely at anybody who happened to glance his way.  On schedule, he would introduce tourists and children to the PRT offices, the armory, the training area and the parking lot with the parahuman containment vans, showing them what it took to manage the local heroes.  For those willing to pay for the premium tour, wait up to two hours and suffer a PRT squad escort, there would be an additional stop on the tour – a glimpse of the Wards’ Headquarters.

As a beleaguered team of young heroes staggered into the lobby, however, there was no tour, only a heavyset woman with a bob.  She wore a navy blue suit jacket and skirt, and waited with a pair of stern looking men in suits just behind her.  Wordlessly, she led them through a door behind the front desk and into a meeting room.

“Director Piggot.  Ma’am,” Aegis greeted her, his voice strained.  His costume was in shreds, and was more crimson with his own blood than it was its original white.  It was bad enough his civilian identity might have been revealed, if it weren’t for the matted blood and the chunks of meat that had been taken out of him, some of the wounds nearly a foot across.

“Good god, Aegis,” her eyebrows raised a fraction, “You look like hell.  What’s wrong with your voice?”

“Punctured lung, ma’am,” Aegis rasped, “I think there’s a hole in my front and back.”  As if to demonstrate, he stuck his fingers into his chest cavity.

Director Piggot didn’t look away, but one of the men standing behind her looked a touch green around the gills, “I can take you at your word.  You don’t need to stick your arm all the way through your chest to demonstrate.”

Aegis grinned and removed his hand from his chest.

Her expression hardened, “I wouldn’t be smiling right now.”

Aegis’ grin fell.  He glanced over his shoulder at his teammates.  Gallant, Kid Win, Vista, Browbeat and Clockblocker were all wearing suitably somber expressions.

“This was a fiasco,” she told them.

“Yes ma’am.  We lost,” Gallant admitted.

“You lost, yes.  That’s the least of it.  You also caused horrific amounts of property damage.  I’m afraid any and all destruction caused by New Wave’s golden child is also your responsibility, since you invited her along.  Without my say-so.

“I invited her,” Gallant spoke up, “I’ll take the blame, and you can take the costs for the property damage out of my trust.”

Director Piggot offered him a thin and utterly humorless smile, “Living up to your name, I see?  Yes, I’m sure that’s the best way to get the message across.  Your teammates and I know who you are under the mask.  Of everyone here, myself included, you’re the one most able to handle a fine of tens of thousands of dollars.”

“I won’t deny it, ma’am,” Gallant choked out the words.

“I’m afraid I’m a believer in punishment, when punishment is due.  Taking money from someone with money to spare is not going to mean anything.  All of you will share the fees between you.  Since I can’t touch the trust funds the PRT established for you, I’ll have to settle for docking your pay.  Maybe next time, the rest of you can talk Gallant out of inviting his girlfriend along.”

The protests overlapped. “It was her sister in the bank!  She would have gone in anyways!”  “I start college next fall!”

Director Piggot simply weathered the arguments and complaints.  A more cynical person might even suggest she enjoyed hearing them.  When a minute or two passed and it was clear she wasn’t going to reply or get dragged into the arguments, the young heroes fell into a sullen silence.  She cleared her throat and spoke again.

“Kid Win.  I’m very interested to hear about this weapon you deployed on the battlefield.”

“My Alternator Cannon?”  Kid Win asked, cringing just a bit.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Piggot smiled, “The paperwork gets to be a bit much sometimes.  Maybe you know where to find the documentation from our military and science teams, for this Alternator Cannon?”

“Christ, Kid,” Aegis groaned under his breath, with his ruined voice.

Kid Win looked more upset about Aegis’ reaction than anything else, “I, uh.  I didn’t get it officially cleared, yet.  I just thought it would be better to use the cannon and do what I could to stop the robbery.”

“That’s where you’d be wrong,” Piggot told him, “Fact of the matter is, the money that was taken from the bank falls very low on my priority list.  You might even go so far as to suggest I don’t care about it.”

“Director-” Aegis started.  He didn’t get to finish.

“What I care about is the public perception of capes.  I care about ensuring that we get enough funding to keep you Wards, the Protectorate and the PRT squads paid and equipped.  Without that, everything I’ve worked to build falls apart.”

“What are you going to do?” Kid Win asked her.

“The cannon gets dismantled, first off.”

“No!” Aegis and Kid Win spoke at the same time.  Director Piggot looked briefly surprised at the defiance.

“I started on the Alternator Cannon so I’d have something to bring out in case of a Class A threat,” Kid Win said, “Getting rid of it would be such a waste.  I don’t care if I never get to use it again.  Give it to your PRT squad.  I’ll teach someone how it works.  You can mount it on one of your trucks or something.”

Director Piggot frowned, “The amount of time and money that would require, for an event that might never occur… no.  I suppose you can keep the cannon.”

Kid Win practically sagged with relief.

“But whatever the power source is, you’re removing it, and I’m keeping it under lock and key.  If a Class A threat does come into play, I’ll hand it over to you.  And the cannon still goes through the standard review process for all Tinker created material.  If it doesn’t pass the review, if you were putting people and property at undue risk with what you pulled today, I’m afraid you could face a substantial fine or jail time.”

Kid Win paled.

“Director!” Aegis grunted out the word, taking a step forward.

“Be quiet, Aegis,” Piggot snapped, “Your trying to speak with a punctured lung physically pains me, and as much as I admire standing up for your team, your one lungful of breath is wasted here.”

Kid Win turned to Aegis and offered a small apologetic smile.

“Kid Win, you’re coming with us for a disciplinary review.  Everyone else is dismissed.  The tour group is going to be coming by your quarters in an hour, and there’s likely to be more than a few reporters peering in the window.  Try to clean yourselves up for the pictures that are undoubtedly going to appear in tomorrow’s papers.  Please.”

The two men in suits marched a miserable Kid Win out the door after Director Piggot.  Kid Win shot a worried look at his team before he was taken out of sight.

“We debrief,” Aegis grunted, “Gallant or Clockblocker handles it.  You two decide.”

The team trudged out of the meeting room and made their way to their reserved elevator.  It was Tinker-designed to impress the tourists as well as be far more secure.  Interlocking sections of metal unfolded and slid apart as they approached, then closed behind them.  The ride down was so smooth that it was nearly impossible to tell the elevator was moving.

They exited into a long corridor of chrome steel.

“I’m going to have nightmares,” Clockblocker groaned, as he tenderly touched the welts around his nose and mouth, “Nightmares with lots and lots of spiders.”

At the far end of the corridor, they came to a security terminal.  Aegis pointed at Clockblocker.

“Don’t you usually do it?”

“Retina maybe detached,” Aegis admitted in his halting voice, “Don’t want to fail scan.”

Clockblocker nodded hesitantly, then leaned forward to let the terminal scan his eyes.  Steel doors clicked, then whisked open with a barely audible whirr, letting the young heroes and heroine make their way into the main area of their headquarters.

The room was roughly dome-shaped, but there were sections of wall that were able to be dismantled and rearranged on the fly.  Some had been set up to give the various team members their individual quarters, while others framed the doorways that led into the showers, the filing room and their press/meeting room.  A series of computers and large monitors were networked at one side of the room, surrounded by a half-dozen chairs.  One of the monitors was displaying a countdown to the next tourist group, while others were showing camera images of key locations in the city.  The Central Bank was one of them, a dark image punctuated by the red and blue of police sirens.

“Shadow Stalker is AWOL?” Gallant asked.

“Couldn’t make it in time,” Aegis grunted, “Told her to stay put.”

“She’s going to hate that.  Doesn’t she have this huge hate-on for Grue?” Clockblocker asked.

“Part of the reason,” Aegis grunted out the words, “I told her to stay.  Don’t need that.  I’m going to shower.  Patch myself up.  You guys debrief.”

“Sure thing, Chief,” Clockblocker saluted.  “Take care of yourself.”

“Fucking mutant dogs,” Aegis muttered, as he made his way to the bathroom.  He was stripped out of the top half of his tattered costume before he was through the door.

“Vista?  Can you go grab the whiteboard?  Grab two?” Gallant turned to their junior member.  Vista almost skipped in her rush to follow the order.

“What’s going to happen to Kid?” Browbeat spoke up for the first time, “I don’t know how all this goes.  Is it serious?”

Gallant considered for a moment, “Could be, but my gut tells me Piggy just wants to scare him.  He needs to stop testing the limits with the people in charge, or he’s going to get in real trouble at some point.”

“So, not exactly the best start to your new career, huh?” Clockblocker turned to Browbeat.

“Fuck, I wouldn’t mind so much if I knew what happened,” Browbeat stretched, and his muscles began to dwindle in size, “At least then I could figure out what to do better next time.  All I know is that I was suddenly blind and deaf, and when I tried to move, everything bent the wrong way.  Then I think I got tasered.”

Vista returned, dragging a pair of whiteboards on wheeled frames behind her.

“Hold that thought,” Gallant told their newest member, “Hey Clock, you don’t mind if I take point?”

Clockblocker was still using his fingertips to explore the raised bumps on his face, “Go for it.  I’m going to procrastinate as long as I can on the leadership thing.”

“You’re next oldest, after Carlos.  It’s only going to be what, three or four months, before you’re the senior member?”

“And I’ll hold that position for not even the rest of the summer before I graduate and pass the mantle to you,” Clockblocker smiled self deprecatingly, “No worries.  Take charge.”

Gallant took off his helmet and held it in one hand, running his fingers through his sweat-damp blond hair.  He smiled winningly at Vista as she positioned the whiteboards so everyone could see them, “Thank you.”

Gallant didn’t need to use his power to get an emotional response from the thirteen year old heroine.  She turned a bright pink.  There could be no doubt for anyone present that she had a major crush on her senior teammate.

“Okay guys,” Gallant said, “Before we get started, I think it’s important to make some things clear.  First off, most importantly, today was not a failure.  I’d even say that today was a win for the good guys, and we start establishing that here and now.”

He took a second to gauge his audience’s disbelieving reactions, then smiled.

“The Undersiders.  They’ve flown under the radar so far, but more recently, they’ve started pulling higher profile jobs.  They hit the Ruby Dreams casino five weeks ago, and now they just robbed the biggest bank in Brockton Bay.  This time we were lucky enough to get in their way.  That means we finally have intel on their group.”

He turned to the whiteboard and wrote the names of their opponents.  Grue, Tattletale and Hellhound went on the first board, with lines separating the board into three columns.  He wrote Regent on the second board, drew a line and then hesitated at the fifth and last column.  “Did he name himself?  The guy with the bugs?”

“Girl,” Clockblocker corrected him, “I was talking to the hostages after the Undersiders made their getaway.  He said he was afraid to move because she was going to make it bite him.  It took me a bit to realize exactly what he meant.  Poor fella was in shock.”

“But we don’t know what she called herself?”

Nobody had any answer to that.

“Then we need to agree on a name for her, or the paperwork’s going to be inconsistent.  Suggestions for a name for the bug girl?”

“Maggot?  Worm?” Browbeat offered, “Stick her with a crappy name?”

“We don’t want to do that,” Clockblocker sighed, “Maybe if we’d won, we could get away with it, but it doesn’t look so good if the press reports that we got our asses kicked by someone called maggot.”

“Stinger, Pestilence?” Vista suggested.

Clockblocker spun himself around in the chair and punched the names into the computer, “Taken.  Stinger is some villain in California with power armor, a jetpack and homing missiles, and Pestilence is a creepy psycho in London.”

“Skitter?” Gallant put the name out there.

There was a clatter of keys as Clockblocker checked, “It’s not taken.”

“Then it’s good enough,” Gallant wrote the name up on the whiteboard, “Now we brainstorm.  This is where we recoup our losses from the day, figure out an angle so we can win next time.  So don’t hold back.  Share any detail, no matter how insignificant.”

“Grue’s power isn’t just darkness.  You can’t hear in there either.  And it feels strange too,” Browbeat spoke, “There’s resistance, like you’re underwater, but not floating.”

“Good,” Gallant wrote that in Grue’s column, “Next?”

“The mutants that Hellhound makes.  The dogs?  She doesn’t control them with her mind.  They’re trained,” Vista offered, “She tells them what to do with whistles, gestures.”

“Yes, good, I noticed that,” Gallant replied, excitedly adding another note to the whiteboard.

“The girl with the bugs… Skitter.  It’s just the opposite.  She has a lot of fine control over them,” Clockblocker added.


“Also, according to the hostage I talked to, she said she can sense things through her bugs, which is how she kept an eye on the hostages.”

It wasn’t long before most columns were full enough that Gallant had to turn the whiteboards around to use the backs.

Carlos returned from the shower, wearing sweatpants and a towel around his shoulders.  He was Puerto Rican, his hair long.  His body was clean of blood, barring a few residual trickles from the mess of ragged wounds on his arms, stomach and chest.  He had clumsily stitched the cuts and gouges together, which did surprisingly little to make them easier to look at.  He sat down on a chair and added his input for the lists, which didn’t amount to too much.  He had been incapacitated for too much of the fight to have much to say.

There was an abrasive noise from the computer as every monitor suddenly flashed yellow.  The Wards hurried to pull on their masks.  Aegis grabbed a spare from a drawer by the computers.

The entrance whirred open, and Armsmaster strode in, accompanied by the winsome Miss Militia.  She wore a modified military uniform, tight enough in the essential areas to accentuate her curves, sporting a scarf around her lower face with an American  flag embroidered on it, and a similar sash around her waist.  Most arresting, however, was the large rocket launcher she held across her shoulders in the same way a weightlifter might hold a barbell.

“Armsmaster,” Gallant stood up, “Good to see you, Sir.  Miss Militia, always a pleasure.”

“Ever the gentleman,” Miss Militia’s eyes hinted at the smile behind her scarf, “We brought a guest.”

Following behind Armsmaster and Miss Militia was a teenage girl in an enveloping white robe.  Panacea.  She had an ID card on a cord around her neck, featuring her photo and the word ‘GUEST’ in bright blue letters.

“She was kind enough to volunteer to come here and patch you guys up,” Miss Militia told the young heroes, “Can’t send you home with horrible injuries and hundreds of bug bites, can we?  That would give away the show.”

She shifted the position of the rocket launcher on her shoulders, and it dissolved into a blur of green-black energy.  The energy lunged and arced around her for a few brief moments, then materialized into a machine gun.  It only held that form for a few seconds before it flickered and solidified into a sniper rifle, then a harpoon gun, and  finally settled in the form of a pair of uzis, one in each of her hands.  She barely seemed to notice, beyond the automatic action of holstering the guns.

“I wanted to thank you guys for coming to my rescue,” Panacea spoke, shyly, “And for letting Glory Girl come with you.”

Gallant smiled, then in a more concerned tone, he asked, “You two are okay?”

Panacea shook her head, “Tattletale found a way around my sister’s invincibility.  Glory Girl was bitten pretty badly, which is why I didn’t come sooner.  I think it hits you harder, psychologically, when you’re pretty much invincible but you get hurt anyways.  But we’re okay now.  She’s healed but sulking.  I- I’m alright.  Bump on my head, but I’m okay.”


Armsmaster was at the whiteboard, going over the points.  “I like this.  But this one…”  He tapped the column titled Tattletale, “Nearly empty.”

“None of us ran into her, and the hostages didn’t have anything to say about her,” Gallant replied.

“Panacea may be able to help there,” Miss Militia offered.

All eyes turned to the girl.

“I- A lot happened,” Panacea hedged.

“Any detail helps.”

“Um.  I’m sorry,” she said, looking down at the ground, “I got smacked across the head, but my power doesn’t work on myself, and I’m not really the type to go out in costume and get into fights, so having my life threatened, I dunno.  All that… I can’t put my thoughts in order just yet.”

“The sooner-” Armsmaster started.

“It’s fine,” Miss Militia interrupted him, “Amy, why don’t you start taking care of the Wards?  If something comes to mind, anything the Undersiders said or did, or any clues you think might help, share it afterwards, alright?”

Panacea smiled gratefully at the heroine, then turned to the group, “Who needs the most help?  Aegis?”

“I’ll live,” Aegis said, “I can be last.”

Gallant hesitantly raised his hand, “One of Hellhound’s dogs slammed into me.  I think I might have a broken rib.  Paramedics cleared me, but I want to be extra sure I’m not risking a punctured lung or something.”

Panacea frowned, then gestured to the far end of the room, “I’ll take a look at you over there?”

“Go figure, Glory Girl’s boyfriend gets special treatment,” Clockblocker grinned to make it clear he was just poking fun.  Gallant just smirked in response.

The pair went to Gallant’s alcove, and she sat him down on the bed before laying a hand on his shoulder.  She pulled her hood back and furrowed her brow.

“You don’t have a punctured lung.  You’ve got one fractured rib, but you’re not even in that much pain.  Why-”

“I lied.  I wanted to talk to you, alone,” he took her hand.

She scowled and pulled her hand back like he’d bitten her.  As if to make doubly sure he wouldn’t grab her hand again, she folded her arms.

“You know I can sense emotions,” he said, “Everyone’s emotions, like a cloud of colors around them.  Can’t turn it off.  It’s just how I see the world.”

“Victoria mentioned that.”

“So you’re an open book to me.  I know you’re scared.  No… you’re terrified, and that’s why you’re not talking.”

She sighed and sat on the bed, as far from Gallant as she could.

“I never wanted these powers.  I never wanted powers, period.”

He nodded.

“But I got them anyways, and I got international attention over it.  The healer.  The girl who could cure cancer with a touch, make someone ten years younger, regrow lost limbs.  I’m forced to be a hero.  Burdened with this obligation.  I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t use this power.  It’s such an opportunity, to save lives.”


“But at the same time… I can’t cure everyone.  Even if I go to the hospital every night for two or three hours at a time, there are thousands of other hospitals I can’t visit, tens of millions of people who are terminally ill or living in a personal hell where they’re paralyzed or in constant pain.  These people don’t deserve to face that, but I can’t help them all.  I can’t help one percent of them if I put in twenty hours a day.”

“You have to focus on what you can do,” Gallant told her.

“Sounds easier than it is,” Panacea answered, with a touch of bitterness, “Do you understand what it means, to cure some of these people?  I feel like every second I take to myself is a second I’ve failed somehow.  For two years, it’s been this… pressure.  I lie in bed, awake at night, and I can’t sleep.  So I get up and I go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  Go to pediatrics, cure some kids.  Go to the ICU, spare some lives… and it’s all just blending together.  I can’t even remember the last few people I saved.”

She sighed again, “The last person I really remember?  It was maybe a week ago, I was working on a kid.  He was just a toddler, an immigrant from Cairo, I think.  Ectopia Cordis.  That’s where you’re born with your heart outside your body.  I was putting everything in the right place, giving him a chance at a normal life.”

“What made him so memorable?”

“I resented him.  He was lying there, fast asleep, like an angel, and for just a second, I considered just leaving him.  The doctors could have finished the job, but it would have been dangerous.  He might have died if I’d left him on the table, the job half done.  I hated him.”

Gallant didn’t say anything.  Scowling, Panacea stared down at the ground.

“No, I hated that he would have a normal life, because I’d given up mine.  I was scared that I might intentionally make a mistake.  That I might let myself fuck up the procedure with this kid.  I could have killed him or ruined his life, but it would have eased the pressure.  Lowered expectations, you know?  Maybe it would have even lowered my own expectations for myself.  I… I was just so tired.  So exhausted.  I actually considered, for the briefest moment, abandoning a child to suffer or die.”

“That sounds like more than just exhaustion,” Gallant replied, quietly.

“Is this how it starts?  Is this the point I start becoming like my father, whoever he was?”

Gallant let out a slow breath, “I could say no, that you’re never going to be like your father.  But I’d be lying.  Any of us, all of us, we run the risk of finding our own way down that path.  I can see the strain you’re experiencing, the stress.  I’ve seen people snap because of less.  So yeah.  It’s possible.”

“Okay,” she said, just under her breath.  He waited for her to elaborate, but she didn’t.

“Take a break.  Tell yourself it’s something you have to do, to recharge your batteries and help more people in the long run.”

“I don’t think I can.”

They sat in silence for a few moments.

He turned towards her, “So what does this have to do with what happened at the bank?”

“She knew everything.  That Tattletale girl.  She said she’s psychic, and from what she said, what she knew, I believe it.”

Gallant nodded.

“You know what it’s like, to talk to people like her?  Like you, no offense?  You build up this mask, you delude yourself into thinking everything is normal, and you force yourself to look past the worst aspects of yourself… and then these Gallants and Tattletales just strip you naked.  Force you to confront it all.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You said yourself, you can’t turn it off, right?  Can’t really blame you.  It’s just… it’s hard to be around.  Especially after dealing with Tattletale.”

“What did she say?”

“She threatened to talk about stuff.  Stuff worse than what I just told you, I guess.  Threatened to tell me things I just don’t want to know.  Said she’d use what she knew to ruin my relationship with Victoria and the rest of my family,” Amy hugged herself.

“My sister’s all I’ve got.  The only person with no expectations, who knows me as a person.  Carol never really wanted me.  Mark is clinically depressed, so as nice as he is, he’s too focused on himself to really be a dad.  My aunt and uncle are sweet, but they’ve got their own problems.  So it’s just me and Victoria.  Has been almost from the beginning.  That smug little monster threatened to tear my sister and I apart using yet another thing I didn’t want, another thing I had no control over.”

Gallant started to speak, then stopped.


“Does… does this have anything to do with the, erm, rather strong feelings you have towards me?”

Panacea went still.

“I’m sorry,” he hurried to say, “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“You shouldn’t have,” she stood up and started towards the door.

“Look, if you ever need to talk…” he offered.


“You probably won’t want it to be me, okay.  But my door’s always open, and you can call me at any hour.  Just letting you know.”

“Okay,” she replied.  Then she reached over to him and touched his shoulder, “There.  Bruises gone, ribs touched up.”

“Thank you,” he replied, opening the door for her.

“Take care of my sister, okay?  Make her happy?” she murmured, as she hesitated in the doorway.

“Goes without saying.” They rejoined the main group.

Every head in the room turned as Panacea picked up the marker by the computers.  With a grim expression on her face, she began filling in Tattletale’s section of the whiteboard.

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Agitation 3.12

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“Information,” Glory Girl repeated.

Tattletale twirled the keys around one of her fingers, “For instance, it’s not exactly public knowledge that Panacea was adopted.”

“It’s not a secret either.  It’s on official record.”

“Falsified records,” Tattletale grinned.

Glory Girl glanced at her sister.

“Let me tell you a little story.  Correct me if I’m wrong on any of the details.  Eleven years ago, just five years after capes really started showing up, there was a team operating hereabouts, calling themselves the Brockton Bay Brigade.  Lady Photon, Manpower, Brandish, Flashbang, Fleur and Lightstar.  They wind up taking on a villain in his own home and it’s a pretty decent fight.  They beat him, and because he was a real bastard, he got sent straight to the Birdcage.”

“You can stop now,” Glory Girl said, “Point made.”

“Oh, I haven’t even gotten to the good part.  See, they found a little girl hiding in the closet.  His little girl, a toddler,” Tattletale grinned at Panacea, “Given the odds that someone with powers would have a kid with powers, and knowing how the little girl would never be able to have a normal life with word inevitably getting out about her past, they wound up taking her in.”

“We know this story already,” Glory Girl replied, her tone just a touch testy.

Whatever Tattletale was doing, I sensed it was giving us more control over the situation.  I commented, “This is new to me.  I’m sort of intrigued.”

“The point I’m getting at, Glory Hole, is that I know that one detail you two don’t.  Or at least, I’m willing to look at all the little clues that you’ve got floating around your heads and figure out that one thing that you’ve gone out of your way to avoid knowing.  Glory Hole’s curious, but she avoids the subject because her sister desperately wants her to, and Panacea…  Well, if I told her, I suspect she’d do something very stupid.”

I could feel Panacea slump in my arms.  The fight had gone out of her.

“So, Amy, you want to know who your daddy is?”

For a few long moments, there was only the sound of rain pattering on the windowsill, and the buzzing of the insects still in the room.

“It’s that bad?” I asked in a half whisper, as much to Panacea as to Tattletale.

“It’s not the man that would bother her so much.  It’s the knowing.  Every hour of every day after hearing me say his name, she would wonder.  She’s terrified she’ll start second guessing every part of herself, wondering if she inherited it from him, or if she was that way out of an unconscious desire to not be him.  Knowing as much as she does already keeps her awake some nights, but knowing his name, knowing who he is and what he did?  For the rest of her life, she would compare herself to him.  Isn’t that right, Amy?”

“Shut up.  Just… shut up,” Panacea retorted, her voice thick with emotion.

“Why?  I’m on a roll.  That’s not even the most dangerous tidbit of info I’ve picked up, here.  I know stuff that’s just as bad.”

I saw a flicker of doubt cross Glory Girl’s face.

“I’ll make you a deal, Glory Hole.  You go in the vault, lock yourself in, and I don’t speak on the subject.  I won’t say the one sentence that tears your family apart.”

Glory Girl clenched her fists, “I can’t do that.  I’m calling your bluff, and if I’m wrong, I’ll face the consequences of whatever you say.”

“Very principled.  Very self-involved too, that you think the secret and the consequences have to do with you and your overzealous nature.  They don’t.  They have to do with her.”  Tattletale directed the laser pointer at Panacea’s forehead, “You won’t be tickled pink, either, but the aftermath would be hers to deal with.  Humiliation, shame, heartbreak.”

I could feel Panacea stiffen in my grip.

“Offer stands,” Tattletale grinned, “For the next twelve seconds.  Get in the vault.”

“You’re full of shit,” Panacea spat the words.

“Then why are you so tense?” I asked.

“Eight seconds.”

Panacea abruptly tore out of my grip, so violently I had to pull the knife away to keep her from cutting her own throat against it.

Tattletale scrambled to put a desk between herself and Panacea, but Glory Girl slammed into her, carrying her across the length of the room.  They stopped just short of a wall.  Not that Tattletale got away unscathed.  Glory Girl shoved Tattletale into the wall, one hand over her mouth, and held her there.

While Panacea was distracted, I passed my knife into my left hand and gripped my baton.  I pressed the trigger while swinging it, letting the momentum of the swing draw it out to its full length.  Panacea saw me coming, but I don’t know if she realized what I was holding.  The length of metal struck her across the side of the head.  She staggered a few feet, then went down hard.

Unfortunately for me, Glory Girl saw it all unfold.

“Nobody fucks with my family!” she shouted, and her power cranked out full-bore.  My knees turned to jelly and my brain just gave up on rational thought.  Glory Girl threw Tattletale at me like a very strong child might throw a rag doll, and I just stood there like a deer in the headlights.

Tattletale’s body collided with my midsection, knocking the wind out of me.  The two of us collided with a desk, sending a monitor and a plastic box of files to the floor.  Paper and fragments of monitor scattered over the ground.

We were still reeling when Glory Girl started floating towards us.  I was struggling, unsuccessfully, to heave wheezing gasps of air into my lungs, while Tattletale was gripping one of her arms tight against her body, making little whimpering noises.

“I’m going to pull in every favor I’m owed, and put myself in debt with the local D.A. and whoever else I have to, to get you both sent to the Birdcage,” Glory Girl promised, “You know what that place is like?  A prison without wardens.  No communication with the outside world.  No escapes yet, which is pretty amazing considering it houses all of the worst and most powerful villains we’ve been able to capture.  We don’t even know for sure if anyone’s alive inside there.  It’s just a bucket where we dump scum like you, so we never have to worry about you again.”

“Bugs,” Tattletale grunted at me, almost too quiet to hear.

I didn’t catch her meaning, but I was still struggling to catch my breath, so I just shook my head at her.

“And no contact with the outside world means you don’t go fucking talking about whatever Amy wants to keep private.  I trust my sister, I trust she has a reason for keeping it to herself.”

“Bugs.  Swarm her,” Tattletale said, taking lots of little breaths as she said it.

I caught her meaning.  I reached for my swarm, and was glad to find that my power was working perfectly.  Panacea’s sabotage job had been undone when I’d killed the last of the spiders.  I set every bug I could reach on Glory Girl.

Useless.  It felt like I’d set them on unnaturally strong, slick glass.

“Idiots,” Glory Girl’s muffled voice came from the midst of the cloud of insects, “I’m invincible.”

Tattletale used her good arm to prop herself up, groaning, “First of all, I warned you about calling me stupid.  Second, no, you’re not invincible.  Not exactly.”

Then she raised her good hand from her belt and trained a small handgun on Glory Girl.

The sound was deafening.  You don’t really get a sense for how intense gunfire is from TV and movies.  As is, it was enough that it took me a few seconds to get a grip.  Just a heartbeat later, I realized my bugs had broken through.  They found flesh to latch on to, flesh to bite, sting, claw and puncture.  Glory Girl dropped like a stone and started thrashing violently.

“Help me stand,” Tattletale’s voice was strained, “Using my power like that on them took a lot out of me.”

I grabbed her good hand and helped her up.  With one of her arms around my shoulders, we hurried out of the bank, together.  She shoved the gun into one of the largest pouches of her belt.

“What-” I tried, but talking just sent me into a spasm of painful coughs.  We were down the front steps of the bank before I felt like trying again, “What just happened?”

“She’s not really invincible.  That’s just an idea she likes to put in people’s heads.  She has a forcefield around her entire body, but it shorts out whenever she takes a good hit, comes back online a few seconds later.  I knew when I saw she had dust on her costume.  Dust that her forcefield would keep off her.  Fuck, this hurts.”

“What is it?”

“She pulled my arm out of the socket when she threw me.  Can you fix a dislocated shoulder?”

I shook my head.  I knew how, generally speaking, from the first aid classes I had taken, but I doubted I had the strength to manage it, and I didn’t want to waste time getting Tattletale in a good position to fix her arm when we needed to be gone.

The fight outside the bank was still going our way.  Only Aegis was still in action, and he was hemmed in by the three dogs and Regent’s borrowed laser cannon.

Grue stepped out of the darkness near me, holding onto Bitch much the same way I was holding Tattletale.

“Let’s scram,” I said.

“Let’s,” he agreed, in his haunting voice.

“Hey G-man,” Tattletale winced, “Pop my shoulder back in?”

Grue nodded.  I helped brace Tattletale as he shoved her arm back into place.  He asked, “What happened?”

“It was Glory Girl on the roof,” I explained, then I coughed painfully a few times before adding, “Can we please get the fuck out of here?”

“You guys took Glory Girl?” Grue asked, incredulous, while Bitch roused herself enough to whistle for her dogs.

“In a sense,” Tattletale replied, at the same time I nervously pointed out, “She could be coming after us any second.”

We got on the dogs, and Regent fired a salvo of shots from the laser cannon into Aegis, hammering him into the side of a building until the wall around him collapsed.  He then paused to jam his taser into the control panel.  When the gun started to smoke, Regent made his way down, jumping the last four or five feet to land on a dog’s back.  He tucked the skateboard under one arm.

“Leave it,” Grue said.


“Tracking device.  Assume any tinker worth a damn is going to have tracking devices in their stuff.”

“It’s true,” Tattletale answered, as Regent turned towards her.  “Sorry.”

“Fuck!” Regent swore.  He jammed his tazer into the underside of the skateboard like he had with the control panel, then threw it across the street.

We were mounted with Bitch sitting in front of Grue, mainly so he could support her, and Tattletale behind me on Angelica, her uninjured arm wrapped around me.  Regent was alone.

Grue raised his arms, and filled the street with darkness.

Angelica bolted, nearly unseating me, as she made a headlong run into the absolute darkness.  I was on a creature more than twice the size of a horse, without a saddle, and she wasn’t suited for riding in the same way a horse was.  I had one foot resting on a horn of bone that jutted from her side, while the other dangled.  My hands were gripping the straps we’d fitted her with, the only thing from keeping me tumbling backwards, head over heels, as she lunged forward at run that would probably outpace any cars on the road.  Not that there would be any cars.  The police and parahuman response teams would have the area blocked off around any potential cape fights.  To make our escape all the more terrifying, I knew the dog couldn’t see.  She was following Brutus by scent, and Brutus was going by Grue’s directions.  The blind leading the blind.

I should have been terrified, my hands cramping, unable to see or hear, knowing I could tumble off at any second, but I was elated.  Even when Angelica crashed into something hard enough to nearly knock us off, it didn’t kill my enthusiasm.  I hooted, hollered and cheered our victory, barely hearing the noise myself as the darkness absorbed it.

We’d done it.  I’d done it.  We’d escaped without killing anyone.  The only ones who’d really been hurt at all had been the Wards, Glory Girl and Panacea, and that would be fixed when Panacea came to, for sure.  Any property damage had largely been the fault of the Wards and Glory Girl.  I’d maybe made some enemies, I’d scared some innocent people, but I’d be lying to myself if I said that could’ve been avoided.  In short, things couldn’t have gone better.

Okay, they could have gone a lot better, but the way they ended up?  Pretty damn good, all in all.

Aegis would have climbed out of the rubble by now, flown up for a bird’s eye view.  If Grue was doing what we’d planned, he was filling every street and side street we passed with darkness.  Aegis couldn’t see where or if we doubled back or what streets we took, so he could only identify our location by the places where fresh darkness appeared.  If he tried to close in to get us, though, we’d be gone by the time he reached us.  All he could do was follow our general location.

Just when I thought I might not be able to hold on any longer, we pulled to a stop.  Tattletale and I slipped off of Angelica.  Someone, probably Grue, pushed a backpack into my arms.  Even working in total darkness, I managed to change into the set of civilian clothes we’d hidden away before we headed to the bank.  I was handed an umbrella and gratefully unfolded it with my stiff hands.

It was tense, waiting in the darkness, with only the feeling of the rain on the umbrella to give me a sense of the world beyond myself and of time passing.

It was a long time before the world came into view again.  Grue said his darkness faded after twenty minutes or so, but it felt like far longer than that.  As the darkness cleared away, I saw Lisa sitting on the steps at the front of a shoe store, holding aleash in one hand and a paper shopping bag in the other.  Angelica, as normal as she ever was, was on the other end of the leash, sitting patiently.  All around us were shoppers and pedestrians, each with their umbrellas and raincoats, looking around with scared expressions and wide eyes.  The sounds were refreshing after the silence of the darkness – falling rain and the murmur of conversation.

Lisa stood, and winked at me as she tugged on the leash to get Angelica following at her side.  We joined the crowd of disoriented shoppers.

Assuming things went according to plan, Alec would be dropped off next, without a dog, and he’d change into civilian clothes the same way we had.  Bitch, Brian and the two dogs would make the final stop at a storage locker near the Docks.  Inside, they would change into their civies, relax for a few hours inside, and leave the money there for the boss to pick up.  After taking a long enough break that the heroes would have abandoned pursuit, they would make their way back much as we were.

“Everyone came out of this unscathed?” I asked Tattletale in a low voice.  I was sharing my umbrella with her, so speaking together in a kind of huddle wasn’t strange looking.

“No injuries or deaths for us, for the heroes or for the bystanders,” she confirmed.

“Then it’s a good day,” I said.

“A very good day,” she agreed.

Arm in arm, we walked leisurely through downtown.  Like everyone else, we craned our heads to follow the police cars and PRT vans that were rushing to the scene of the crime with sirens wailing.  Two girls who just finished their shopping, walking their dog.

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Agitation 3.11

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I crashed into the office chair behind me and both the chair and I toppled to the ground.  The armor of my mask had taken the worst of the hit, but it still hurt as much as anything I’d ever experienced.

The girl glowered at me from behind her mop of frizzy brown hair.  In her hands she was gripping a fire extinguisher.  Behind her, past the lights that were flickering across my field of vision, I could see the hostages streaming upstairs.  It was disorienting, because the bugs I’d left on them were telling me they were still in the corner of the lobby, staying still.  I could feel one spider shift slightly as the person it was riding exhaled, then shuddered a little, even as I saw that same person stumbling and nearly falling on the stairs in their haste to get away.

I reached for the bugs, tried to tell one to move, and everything went wrong.  There were no words the words to describe it, exactly.  It was like feedback.  If my brain had been a computer, I got the feeling I’d only be getting hundreds or thousands of error messages popping up across the screen.  It was painful, too, just compounding until it felt like my brain was being used as a punching bag.

I pressed my hand to my head, wincing at the pain, and it wasn’t just from being bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher.  The headache was at near-migraine levels now, and I desperately wanted to tear off my mask and try to throw up, if only to relieve of the nausea that was welling up.  I was getting an idea of why I’d been feeling so off.

“What the fuck did you do?” I asked the girl.

“You don’t need to know that.”  She swung the fire extinguisher over her head at me, and I scrambled out of the way, grabbing the edge of a table to haul myself to my feet as I did it.

She didn’t chase me.  Instead, she reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved a cell phone.  She started to punch a number into the keypad with one hand, the other holding the fire extinguisher.  Her eyes were trained on me.

There was no way I was going to let her make that phone call, whoever she was dialing.  I went on the offense, lunging towards her as I reached into the armored compartment at my back and retrieved the extendable baton.  I pulled the trigger and flicked it out to one side.  Eighteen inches of black painted alloy with a weighted tip snapped out from the foam-grip handle.

Her eyes widened as I swung the baton, but she had the presence of mind to drop the phone and heft the fire extinguisher up to block the attack.  Her grip on the fire extinguisher wasn’t good enough for her to keep hold of it, so it clattered to the ground.  She backed away rather than risk trying to pick it up again.

The girl retreated as I advanced towards her.  I stopped when I was standing over her cell phone.  I collapsed and sheathed my baton, then bent down and retrieved the fire extinguisher.  I smashed the phone with the butt end of it.

“Shit.  I liked that phone,” she muttered.

“Shut up,” I retorted, the pain making my voice strained, harder edged, “What the fuck did you do to me?”  I pressed the heel of my free hand against my forehead, as if the pressure could help stave off the pain.

“I… don’t think I’ll tell you.”

“Who the fuck are you, and who were you trying to call?”

“Actually, it was a text, not a call, and it went through,” she said.  Then she smiled at me.

At the same moment I uttered the word ‘Who’, one of the windows at the side of the bank shattered.  A blur of white and gold slammed into the center of the lobby hard enough to send fragments of marble tile skittering over the floor to my feet, halfway across the room.

The figure straightened, dusted herself off and turned to glare at me.  Almost casually, she backhanded the marble and oak table to her left that held all of the withdrawal and deposit slips.  With that lazy swing of her arm, she annihilated the table, doing so much damage to it that nobody would ever be putting it together again.

It’s humiliating to admit, but I nearly wet myself.  I’m not sure my reaction would have been much different if she didn’t have a power that made her flat out terrifying.  Literally, that’s what her power did.  Had I done something heinous in a past life, to deserve going up against Lung on my first time out in costume, and Glory Girl on my second?

“Hey sis,” Glory Girl tilted her head to one side, to look at the brown haired girl, “You okay?”

The girl, who could be none other than Amy Dallon, Panacea when she was in costume, offered Glory Girl a beaming smile, “I am now.”

Glory Girl’s sister had been among the hostages.  Damn it.  At least I knew who she was now.  She could heal with a touch, and if what she’d done to my powers was any indication, that wasn’t the full extent of her abilities.  Glory Girl and Panacea were celebrities, even if Panacea had generally avoided the spotlight as of late.  They were among the most famous of the local heroes, arguably among the most powerful of the kid capes, they were pissed at me, and I was stuck in a room with them.

And my powers weren’t working.

Glory Girl stepped towards me, and I scrambled for Panacea.  She scrabbled for a grip at my costume, trying to grab at my glove, then at my mask,  but the moment I drew my knife, both she and Glory Girl went absolutely still.  I grabbed Panacea’s chin and maneuvered so I was standing behind her, my knife pressed to her throat.

“Count yourself lucky, bug bitch, that your costume covers your entire body,” Panacea murmured to me, “Or I’d maybe give you a heart attack.  Or cancer.”

I swallowed hard.  I wasn’t counting myself as particularly lucky at this point.

“It seems we have a stalemate,” Glory Girl said.

“True,” I replied.

“So are we just going to stand around here until reinforcements arrive for one side or the other, tip the scales in someone’s favor?”

“I could live with that.  Last I saw, my side was winning.”

“I helped Aegis out of a jam on my way in, so he’s keeping your little friends busy.  You should also know that the Protectorate is on their way from a wine and dine with Brockton Bay’s finest at the Augustus Country Club.  Can’t speak for them, but I know I’d be royally pissed if some little snots dragged me away from a chance to have the club’s chocolate mousse.”

Panacea made a little laugh, “It is good, isn’t it?” then in a lower voice, she whispered to me, “What if I fucked up your taste buds, you little terrorist?  You threaten the lives of innocents, I can go that far.  I can do anything with your biology.  Make everything you eat taste like bile.  Or maybe I’ll just make you fat.  Morbidly, disgustingly fat.”

“You can shut up now,” I tightened my grip and pressed the knife a fraction harder against her throat.  Between the stress of the moment, the pounding headache and the fact that fucking Glory Girl was standing not fifty feet away, I didn’t need little sister distracting me with nightmarish imagery.

Glory Girl spoke up, “It’s not just the Protectorate, either.  You just took a member of New Wave hostage, threatened her life.  There’s a pretty damn good chance my mom, dad, aunt, uncle and cousins will be showing up, too.  Brandish, Flashbang, Lady Photon, Manpower, Laserdream, Shielder… how are you going to manage, then?”

Fuck.  I had no reply to that.  I kept my mouth shut.  I was barely able to focus, now, as my head throbbed.  My vision was wavering around the edges, and my grip on my bugs was virtually gone.  Most had freed themselves from my influence entirely, and were buzzing around the light fixtures or crawling for darkness.  It was all I could do to stay standing and keep my hands steady.

“Drop the knife and surrender, and I’ll make sure you get leniency.”

“I’ve read up on the law enough that I know you don’t have the power to make any deals,” I said, “No go.”

“Okay.  Then I guess we wait.”

A few long moments passed.

Glory Girl turned her attention to her sister, “I wanted to go to the mall for lunch, but noooo,” Glory Girl said, “You needed to go to the bank.”

“It was either going to the bank or wind up broke for that double date you’re forcing me into.”

“Ames, the guy I’m setting you up with is a sixteen year old millionaire.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to foot the bill for dinner and a movie.”

“Could you two please shut up?” I growled.

“Do they have to?  It’s all very informative,” Tattletale joked as she sidled into the room.  She hoisted herself up to the edge of one of the teller’s stations, then greeted Glory Girl, “Hey Glory Hole.”

Glory Girl’s face twitched.

“Hey, Tattletale,” I called out, my voice a touch strained, “Not that I’m not glad to see you, but could you avoid antagonizing Alexandria Junior?”

“Eh.  You seem to have things under control.  Why not set the bugs on the prom queen?”

“Prom queen?” Glory Girl asked.

“Um,” I cut in, before either of them could say something that started a fight, “First of all, she’s invincible.  Second, again, bad idea to irritate someone who can swing a schoolbus like a baseball bat.  Third, my hostage here did something to fuck up my powers.”

“That last bit sucks,” Tattletale sympathized.  Then she took a closer look at Panacea, “Shit.  Amy Dallon?  Grue is going to kill me, for missing that.  You look different than you did when you were showing up in the news.  Are you wearing your hair differently?”

“Tattletale,” I interjected, again, “Less small talk, more problem solving.  Glory Girl said the Protectorate and maybe New Wave are en route.”

Tattletale glanced at Glory Girl, then frowned, “She’s not lying.  Let’s start with problem three, since you’re not looking so hot.  Your powers aren’t working?”

“Can’t control my bugs, got a major headache.”

“Think I know why.  Let me fix that for you,” Tattletale said.  She hopped down from the teller’s station and started to walk towards me and Panacea.

“Don’t move,” Glory Girl warned.

“Or what?” Tattletale whirled to face the girl, smiling, “You’ll beat me up?  You can’t do anything while my teammate has a knife to your sister’s throat.  Sit.  Stay.  Good girl.”

Glory Girl glowered at Tattletale, but she didn’t move.

“I think it would be better if you stayed back,” I warned her, “You get in Panacea’s reach, she’ll touch you and give you a stroke or something.”

“Can she?  Sure.  Will she?  Definitely not.  She’s all bark, no bite.”

“Try me,” Panacea taunted.  I reasserted my grip and reminded her of the knife against her throat.

“I’d really prefer to avoid tempting fate,” I said, carefully.

“Fine, fine,” Tattletale said, raising her hands in a placating gesture.  She walked over to the branch manager’s desk and opened a drawer.

“You pull a gun out of that drawer,” Glory Girl threatened, “And I’ll fucking break you.”

“Enough with the threats you can’t follow up on.  It’s not a gun,” Tattletale grinned, raising her hands again.  A keychain dangled from her left thumb.

“Keys,” Glory Girl said.

“The keys of manager Jeffry Clayton.  Type A personality, totally.  Control freak.  The kind of guy who loves to have absolute control over a meeting.”

“First of all, who cares?  Second, how do you know this?”

“Come on,” Tattletale smiled, folding her arms, “Villain 101.  You don’t give info to the hero in a gloating monologue.”

“Right,” Glory Girl agreed, “Always worth a try.”

“I’ll tell you anyways.”

Glory Girl raised an eyebrow.

“No reason not to.  Actually in my advantage to let you know.  I’m psychic.  I read his mind when we had him hostage, like I’m reading yours right now,” the lie was so smooth I almost believed it.

A flash of red caught my attention.  The red dot from a laser pointer settled on the hood of Panacea’s jacket. I looked at Tattletale, and saw that while she had her arms folded, she was holding a laser pointer that was attached to the keychain.  I watched Tattletale draw a lazy circle around the spot she’d pointed to, on Panacea’s jacket.

“Bullshit,” Glory Girl said, “The brainpower you’d need to interpret and decode someone’s unique neural patterns would need a head five times the usual size to contain it all.  True psychics can’t exist.”

“Ooh, someone’s taking Parahumans 101 at the university.  Your parents pull some strings, got you into a university course before you were done high school?”

“I think you already know the answer, I’m just not buying that you read my mind to get it.”

“Why is it so hard to believe?  Legend can shoot lasers from his hands, lasers that turn corners.  Clockblocker and Vista can mess with the fundamental forces of space and time.  Kaiser can create metal from thin air.  Conservation of mass, conservation of energy, basic laws of our universe get broken by capes all the time.  All of that is possible, but I can’t peek into your brain?”

Tattletale was still focusing the laser pointer on Panacea’s hood.  Since I was the only person in a position to see it, it could only be for my benefit.  I pulled the hood back, investigated the interior and found nothing.  But on the nape of her neck, I spotted one of my black widow spiders.

I pulled it off her gently, and felt the pain in my head worsen with the contact, the movement.  Either by impulse or by reflex as I flinched at the pain, I crushed it between my fingers.

Immediately, the pain in my head dropped to a fraction of what it had been.  The relief was so intense it was almost euphoric.  I still didn’t fully grasp what Panacea done, but I was getting a good picture of it.  She’d somehow sensed what I was doing to control the spider, then altered things so the spider wasn’t sending me the right information.  A continuous loop of the wrong information, like when thieves in the movies spliced a video camera feed to repeat the same segment over and over.  Either by accident or design, it had exponentially increased the interference every time my power reached for the arachnids in question.  All building up to a metaphorical short circuit of my power.

I could barely fathom the subtleties and delicacy that would have required to set up.

“Glory Gi-” Panacea began to speak, but I tightened my grip, and she closed her mouth.

“Shhhh,” I hissed at her.

“Scholars say you’re wrong.”

Tattletale grinned, “Scholars want me to be wrong, and their research reflects that.  Telepathy scares the everloving crap out of people, especially since the only suspected telepath out there is-”

“The Simurgh,” Glory Girl finished for her.

“Right.  And when a fucking Endbringer is your precedent, people get spooked, just like you’re spooked right now, at the idea that there’s someone standing in front of you who can find your deepest darkest secrets and tell the world.”

Tattletale was pointing to Panacea’s upper arm now.  It took me two tries to murder the spider.  Before I’d finished, Tattletale was directing me to the final one, which I’d stashed on Panacea’s ankle. I killed it by jabbing at it with my toe.  The headache was completely gone a second later.

“Which is why you call yourself Tattletale, I see,” Glory Girl was saying, “But you’re a retard.  We’re part of New Wave.  We have no secrets.  That’s the whole fucking point of our team.  Heroes with no secret identities, no secrets, full disclosure, total accountability.”

“For the record,” Tattletale said, her voice very smooth and calm, “I fucking hate it when people call me stupid.”

“Yet here the two of you are, and neither of you have powers that work against either of us.  All you’ve got is a knife, and if you use it, you both die in the most painful way I think I can get away with.”

“Oh honey, now who’s being stupid?  I’ve got the most powerful weapon of all, Tattletale purred, smiling wickedly, “Information.”


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Agitation 3.10

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Six good guys were still in action, as far as I knew.  Clockblocker was down, and posed no threat unless someone walked into his reach where he was lying down, or unless we took longer than the ten or so minutes it would take his power to release him.  Angelica and Brutus were playing a macabre game of tug of war, using Aegis as the rope.

The rest of the battlefield was chaos.  Patches of darkness covered everything, and the landscape was distorted.  In some of the areas Vista had warped, the rain wasn’t falling in a straight line.  One spot in particular had the rain moving horizontally before it dropped to help fill a massive puddle thirty feet across, where her power had made an indent in the ground.

Aegis and Clockblocker were more or less dealt with.  As Vista was the last remaining priority target,  I directed my remaining swarm towards her.  They wouldn’t reach her quickly though, as the rain bogged them down, and both puddles and distorted space forced a more roundabout route for the bugs.

Bitch, still riding Judas, came rushing out of a cloud of darkness, splashing through the huge puddle.  Kid Win and Gallant opened fire on her with laser beams and painfully bright blasts of energy.  She was moving fast and unpredictably enough that Judas only took one or two glancing hits.  The distance between her and Vista rapidly closed.

Vista raised her hand, and the surface of the street bulged upward into a short wall.  As it grew, the wall caught one of Judas’ forepaws, tripping him.  He fell, and his rider was sent tumbling head over heels.

Bitch got to her feet before Judas did, but only managed to take a single step before one of Gallant’s blasts clipped her.  I winced.  His light blasts were charged with energy that made the people struck feel a particular emotion.  Gallant could blast you with one that made you hopeless, scared, sad, ashamed…

Bitch screamed, and it was a long and primal noise, filled with rage.  I was still inside the bank, watching things unfold through the window, barely able to hear it, and it still made my skin crawl.  So he’d shot the dangerous psychopath with a blast that made her angry.  Someone would have to explain that one to me at a later date.

Whirling, still screaming, she pointed at Gallant.  Apparently that was order enough, because Judas charged at the teenager that was dressed like a science fiction Lancelot.

Bitch didn’t attack him though.  Without her dogs at her back, essentially without powers, she went straight for Vista.  She was focused enough to stay on the priority target.

Vista was ready, though.  As Bitch tried to close the distance, the roadway between her and the young heroine stretched out, until the distance she had to cover was two, three, four, five times as far.  Vista then pinched the space behind her closer together, crossed a third of a block with a single skip, and then returned it to normal.  I swore under my breath, and not just because my bugs had a lot more distance to travel.  My head was pounding again, and it was getting steadily worse.

Was someone’s power at work, giving me a headache?  There wasn’t anyone in the Wards, I was pretty sure, who could mess with your head like that.  Gallant could mess with your emotions, but he had to hit you with a light blast to do it.  The person on the roof, then?  I was fairly confident there wasn’t anyone in the Protectorate or New Wave who could affect me like this.

Bitch gave up on Vista and whistled for Judas.  The dog responded immediately, abandoning his skirmish with Gallant, who was trying and failing to stand.  A wash of darkness consumed him before he managed to pick himself up.

Kid Win opened fire on Bitch as her dog returned to her.  Given the excessive distance between them – it would have been a hard shot to make before Vista stretched the area that Bitch was standing on – meaning his aim was wildly off target.  He stopped, changed a setting, and fired a fresh salvo.  This time, the lasers came out in more of a staccato spray, like you’d expect from a machine gun.  One of the lasers caught Bitch in the center of her stomach and laid her flat.  Judas guarded his owner by hunkering over her, blocking further shots and obscuring my view of her.

Near Vista, a large figure staggered out of the darkness, shadows still clinging to him, bellowing and screaming incoherently about bugs.  He thrashed for several moments, then collapsed into a heap a short distance from Vista.  Someone that large could only be Browbeat.  Vista apparently reached the same conclusion I did, because she took a few steps closer to him, looking around helplessly for a way to help him.

An instant after I realized that I didn’t actually have bugs on Browbeat, the figure struck Vista across the side of the head, laying her flat.  I saw the briefest glimpse of Grue’s skull mask before he and Vista were covered by a fresh tide of his darkness.

“Bitch, Vista, Clockblocker, Gallant are out of action, I think,” I called across the room to Tattletale, who was still hammering away at a keyboard.  “We’ve got Aegis handled for the time being.  Not sure what happened to Browbeat, but there’s only him, Kid Win and the person on the roof to deal with, now.  We can make a break for it soon.”

“One last thing to do,” Tattletale grinned to me, “I’ll be right back.  Keep an eye on things here.”

“What?  No – Tattletale!  Dammit!” I shouted, but she was already running, heading back into the offices that we’d been through on our way to the bank.

I didn’t have time to dwell on her leaving.  Flickers of light outside the bank caught my attention.  Kid Win was flying fifteen feet above the ground on his hoverboard.  In front of him, pieces of a massive device were materializing, shimmering into existence like you saw with the transporters on Star Trek.  It was only one or two steps away from being complete, but you could tell what it was.  A gun, no less than fifteen feet long, with a barrel three or four feet across, all turret mounted on a circular platform not unlike the board he was riding.

“Shit,” I whispered to myself.  I sent my bugs after him.

He swiveled the cannon to face Judas, who was still guarding the spot where Bitch had fallen.  A bolt of light erupted from the cannon and sent Judas flying beyond my field of vision.  He fired another shot, at a greater distance, presumably at the fallen dog.  Then he swiveled and fired off two more shots in quick succession, blasting Aegis and the two dogs that were gripping him.

The dogs and Aegis were all sent flying into the wall of the office building opposite the bank.  While the dogs didn’t get up immediately, a bloody and tattered Aegis was on his feet in an instant, and in the air a moment later.  He got to a good height – maybe two or three stories up, and stayed there, likely to get his bearings and survey the situation.

As my bugs approached the Kid, he took notice and maneuvered his cannon to decimate the swarm.  I spread them out, but he simply pulled a lever and released a flamethrower-like blast of lightning and sparks, eliminating virtually all of the bugs I’d sent out into the street.  The scant few that that remained, I sent towards his face, to crawl beneath his visor and into his nose and mouth.  It wasn’t enough.

Then Kid Win aimed the cannon straight at me.

I jumped for cover the moment I realized what he was doing.  There was a muffled sound, more a very large person someone hitting a punching bag than what I’d expect a laser cannon to sound like, and the window exploded.

What was he doing?  We had hostages inside.  I turned to check, and saw there weren’t any hostages near me.  Did he know that?  Heat sensors in his visor?  Was someone watching me through the cameras and passing him info?  Damn it!  There was too much I didn’t know, and Tattletale wasn’t around to fill me in.

Grue sprinted between two clouds of darkness, raising one hand to send a blast of his power towards Kid Win, obscuring the Kid’s line of sight.  Kid Win responded by ponderously maneuvering himself and the cannon out of the top of the cloud of darkness.

I swore under my breath and sent a command for more of the bugs I had inside to drop from the ceiling and go outside to attack.  There were a good few bugs near Clockblocker, who were getting free of the time stopping effect he’d laid on them.  I added those to the assault.

My legs buckled as my headache worsened tenfold.  Worse, the response from my bugs was sluggish, like I was ordering them to move through mud.  I felt a momentary panic, but there wasn’t really anything I could do.  I grit my teeth and ordered the attack anyways, then forced myself to run for the other side of the bank, in case he could somehow detect me and shoot through the walls to hit me.

I glanced through the windows for Aegis as I passed them.  Through the rain, and the darkness that lingered on the surface of the windows, I spotted him.  His white costume was wet with rain and ridiculous amounts of blood, and he was diving straight for the bank like a human missile.  Damn it.

Inexplicably, his descent wavered, then curved.  He flew straight into the ground, full force, hard enough to crack pavement.  One of the dogs, I couldn’t tell which, had managed to extricate itself from the rubble of the shattered wall and rushed at the fallen Aegis.

Kid Win was occupied trying to do three things at once – he was maneuvering out of the way of the clouds of darkness Grue was setting in his way, making return potshots at Grue as Grue zig zagged between spots of cover and with every free moment, he was blasting hundreds of my bugs out of the air.  If my power was at full strength, my bugs probably would have reached him already, but something was interfering.  That, or I’d overexerted myself.  The bugs were slow to react, slow to move and some were slipping from my grasp, returning to their instinctive behavior.  Making matters worse, I wasn’t blind to the fact that every time I gave a command, my headache got exponentially worse.

With Kid Win occupied as he was, the dog had a clear path to Aegis.  Aegis didn’t try to run this time.  He stood his ground and reached for his utility belt.  He retrieved something that looked like a miniature fire extinguisher.

Then he pulled the pin.

For the second time in a matter of minutes, I dove away from the window.  It wouldn’t be a grenade, but the option that made the most sense-  I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my ears just in time.  The explosion the flashbang grenade made was enough to leave me breathless, and there was a stone wall and some fifty or so feet between us.

I chanced a careful look through the window as soon as I’d recovered, hands still over my ears.  The dog was reeling, making pained sounds, and Aegis was pummeling it, using his flight to close the distance and add more momentum to his swings.  When the dog, Angelica, I saw, looked like it was starting to recover, he grabbed two more flashbang grenades from his belt with one hand and pulled the pins with the other, dropping them to the ground just below him.

I ducked behind cover again, but they didn’t go off.  When I chanced another look, I saw the tables had turned.  Where the flashbangs had been dropped, there was a smudge of Grue’s darkness covering the ground.  Angelica was having it out with Aegis, and Regent was striding out of the darkness, in Kid Win’s direction.

I’d forgotten about Regent.  It made sense that he was working from a discreet position like I was.  He probably would have been the one to alter Aegis’ flight path.

Seeing Regent approach, Kid Win turned his turret-mounted cannon in his direction.  Before he could fire, though, Regent raised two fingers, and Kid Win lost his footing on his flying skateboard.  The cannon shifted until it was pointing straight up, as the young hero dangled from the handles, his weight altering the trajectory of the cannon.  His board clattered to the ground a few feet away.

Regent made a dismissive wave, and Kid Win let go with one hand, his fingers and arm curling backwards in a palsied fit.  Regent repeated the gesture, and Kid Win lost his grip on the controls, dropping a good twenty feet to the asphalt.

As Regent approached to stand over him, Kid Win reached for his laser pistol.  He scowled in frustration as his fingers continued to twitch and curl involuntarily, instead of closing on the handle of the gun.

With an almost relaxed air, Regent shoved the end of his tazer into Kid Win’s side.

I don’t know if it was the sense of relief, but I couldn’t help but laugh as Regent collected the fallen skateboard and began a wobbly ascent to the floating cannon turret.  He aimed and began firing at Aegis, who was forced to scramble out of the way.

“What’s so funny, psycho?”

I whirled to face the voice, and saw the freckled, brown haired hostage that had been glaring at me when we’d first taken control of the bank lobby.  After that, I saw only stars as she slammed something large and blunt into the side of my head.


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Agitation 3.9

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I can imagine how it looked to the Wards.  One moment they were standing in the rain, waiting with a tense readiness.  The next, the front doors of the bank slammed open, revealing nothing but total darkness.  Just a moment later, eight hostages came stumbling through the darkness, out the doors and down the stairs.

Aegis’ eyes opened wide behind his mask.  He turned to look at Clockblocker, who gestured madly towards the ground.  Turning back to the scene, Aegis bellowed, “Everyone leaving the bank!  Get down on the ground now!”

He didn’t get a chance to see if they listened.  Darkness swelled at the bank’s entrance, then flooded into the street like water from a broken dam.  In seconds, the hostages were hidden from sight and the Wards were forced to retreat several paces to keep from being swallowed up.

Inside the bank, Grue mused, “That should give them a reason to think twice before blindly opening fire where they can’t see.  I’m liking this.  We ready for part two?”

“Just don’t hurt the hostages,” I said, glancing back at the thirty that were still inside.

“The ones we sent out are staying put?” Grue asked.

I felt out with my power.  The bugs I’d put on the hostages couldn’t see or hear anything, and I wasn’t sensing movement.  “They’re doing as we told them.  They ran as far as they could before your power hit them, and then they lay flat on the ground, hands on their heads.”

“Then I’m going,” Bitch announced.  She grabbed a bone spike that was jutting out of Judas’ shoulder and heaved herself up to a sitting position on his back.

“No,” Tattletale said, grabbing at Bitch’s boot, “Wait.”

Bitch glared down at her, clearly annoyed.

“That hesitation before Aegis gave the orders to the hostages… it didn’t fit.”

“If you’ve figured something out, spit it out,” Grue spoke in his echoing voice, “We need to move now, before they get reorganized!”

“Bitch, you’re going after Clockblocker.  Stay away from Aegis, got it?”

Bitch didn’t even respond, digging her heels into Judas’ sides and ducking her head to avoid hitting it on the top of the door as they raced out.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Grue growled, “She’s going-”

“They switched costumes.   Aegis is wearing Clockblocker’s costume and vice versa.”

I would have liked to see the expression on Brian’s face, but as Grue, his mask covered everything.  He just turned his skull-helmet back to the window, silent.

It dawned on me how badly that could have fucked us.  Bitch’s dogs would have attacked the person they thought was Aegis, and gotten tagged by Clockblocker instead.  In one fell swoop, we would have lost the majority of our offensive power.

“Good catch,” I told Tattletale, before raising my hands and directing a good portion of my bugs to drop from the ceiling and flow out the door.

Tattletale only grinned, before she made made her way back to the computer to continue her mad typing.  Grue and Regent headed out the doors, leaving Tattletale and I alone in the bank lobby.

For my part, I walked to the corner of the bank and peered out through one of the tall, narrow windows by the loan officer’s desk.  Tendrils of Grue’s darkness still clung to the window, but I had a pretty decent view of the battlefield.

As I watched, that view distorted, as if I was looking into a funhouse mirror, or through a drop of water.  The street, including the area with the darkness covering it, began swelling, broadening, and widening until the two sidewalks on either side of the street were more like semicircles than straight lines.  It hurt my head to think too much about how Vista’s powers worked.  Or maybe the headache I felt looming had something to do with the fact that I was sending my bugs into the area Vista had distorted.  It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that my brain was having trouble relaying my bug’s positions to me as well as it should, in that area where geometry wasn’t working quite as it should.

Either way, something was getting to me.  I raised my hands to rub my temples, remembered my mask, and sighed, folding my arms instead.

I sent my bugs through the darkness and the warped space of the street.  Each time they collided with someone inside the cloud of darkness, it took me a moment to figure out who the person was.  Grue was the first I ran into, and the easiest to identify.  Some of my bugs had tiny hairs on their bodies that could sense air currents, and the steady output of darkness around Grue generated something like a steady air current around him.  Regent was harder – I almost mistook him for a hostage – but he was wearing the hard mask over his face.  I left him alone.

I found the person I was looking for, Bitch, and tracked her movement through the darkness.  My bugs could feel the vibrations of the dogs’ footfalls on the street, the hot, moist huffs of air from Judas’ nostrils, and the smells of the dog.  His smell made a dozen instincts of mosquitoes and carrion flies kick into action, his scent was one of blood, meat and gristle, the vaguest hints of diseased flesh.  I shivered.  As Bitch and her dogs burst from the darkness, towards Aegis and Clockblocker, I had my bugs follow immediately after them.

She was going straight for Clockblocker, who was dressed as Aegis.

“No, no, no,” I muttered, “You idiot.”

At the last possible second, she changed course and went for the real Aegis.

Aegis bolted the second the dog changed course, but it was too late.  As he tried to fly out of reach, Judas leaped, nearly twice as far and high as I might have guessed something as big as he was could.  The dog’s prehensile tail wrapped around Aegis’ torso.  As they all fell, mount, rider and ensnared captive, Bitch shouted something I couldn’t hear, and Judas whipped Aegis straight down, adding the force of the throw to the momentum of the fall.

I thought I might have heard the impact from the interior of the bank.  Or maybe it was as auditory illusion and my bugs were the ones who heard it.  Either way, Aegis hit the ground hard enough to kill an ordinary person.

He wasn’t down for one second before he was on his feet again.  In the same motion he used to get to his feet, he lunged for the dog and swung a fist at Judas’ snout.  He might have connected, but Bitch was already steering her steed back into the cloud of darkness.  She flipped Aegis the middle finger before disappearing from view.

At the same time, Clockblocker was fighting off the bugs I’d sent out.    Within a fraction of a second of a bug making contact with Clockblocker or his costume, he froze it.  My power simply stopped telling me the bug was there, as if they had disappeared from the face of the planet.  In reality, they were just suspended in time.  Stuck in the air, immobile, untouchable.

But that same power could work against him, I was thinking.  I made my bugs surge forward, surround him, aiming to cover his entire body.  I was pretty sure he couldn’t disable the effects of his power, so if he wanted to freeze all of the bugs I had crawling on him, he’d trap himself in a prison of his own making.

He was good at thinking on his feet, though, or he’d faced similar tactics before, because he had an answer for that.  Clockblocker spun in a tight circle, freezing the bugs as his body rotated, so that they were only affected when the part of his body they were on was facing away from the bank.  The result was that a cluster of bugs was left frozen behind him, and he was free to dash straight towards Aegis.

While I’d been distracted by Clockblocker, Bitch had set Brutus and Angelica on Aegis.  He was fending the two dogs off, but the white pane of his helm – Clockblocker’s helm – was shattered, now, and his costume was torn with one piece of ruined armor dangling by a string of cloth at his armpit.

Brutus lunged for Aegis, but as he passed over the edge of the area Vista had distorted, he fell short.  The dog’s jaws clacked shut a foot away from Aegis’ face, spittle flying.

Aegis responded by slamming both fists, fingers interlaced, into Brutus’ snout.  The dog crashed onto its side, giving Aegis the time to take flight once more, heading straight for the sky.

Angelica followed, leaping through the air just like Judas had a minute earlier.  She missed, and hit the side of a building hard enough to make the windows around her explode in a spray of glass.  I waited for her to fall, but she apparently had no plans to do so.  She gripped the stone of the building and windowsills around her with her four claws, tensed, and leaped again from the side of the building.

If I was surprised to see that display of acrobatics from one of the dogs, I doubted there were words for what Aegis’ must have felt, just then.  Angelica seized the teen hero in her jaws and they plummeted together.

Angelica didn’t land with all four claws beneath her, and she sprawled as she hit the ground.  When she stopped, though, she still had Aegis, one of his arms and half his torso clasped between her teeth.  She whipped him around like a dog might shake a toy.  When she paused, he was still fighting her, slamming his free hand against the side of her head over and over.  Loops and strings of drool mixed with blood hung from her mouth.  At least, that’s what I thought it was, from my vantage point inside the bank, peering through gloom and pouring rain.

Clockblocker had slowed down as I started throwing more bugs in his way.  I kept them between him and Aegis, so he couldn’t close the distance and touch the dogs.  He’d responded by ducking, weaving, spinning and swatting or brushing them off with his hands, so he could freeze them without setting barriers in his own way.

Then he decided to try ignoring the swarm.  I seized the opportunity to bite and sting him twenty or so times.  The surprise and pain distracted him from his evasive maneuvers, and he wound up clotheslining himself as he froze the insects on his face while still running forward.  He went from a head on run to landing on his back with his feet still in the air.

I probably wouldn’t get a better chance.  I set the majority of the swarm on him while he was lying on the ground.

Keep them on the defensive, Brian had told me, while we sparred.  Keep them guessing, change the way you attack.

I directed the bugs to the areas where his skin was exposed, and piloted them into the gaps between his skin and his costume.

Even with innumerable insects biting and stinging him over and over, he managed to climb to his feet and return to his attempts to reach the dogs.  He knew as well as I did that he couldn’t freeze them now that the bugs had made their way inside his costume.  He’d have to rip his costume with his own strength if he did.  I doubted it was that easy to tear, either.

It was ironic.  I wouldn’t have been able to do this if he hadn’t switched costumes with his teammate.  Clockblocker’s usual costume covered every inch of his skin, like mine did.  Probably for much the same reason.

“I’m so sorry,” I murmured, just loud enough that only I could hear it.  I gave the bugs a new order.

When the bugs started crawling up his nostrils with relentless intent, he managed to keep going, pulling himself to his feet and resuming his efforts to freeze the bugs while advancing towards the dogs.  He snorted to try and clear his nose so he could keep breathing, but then he was left with the problem of needing to inhale.  He couldn’t do that without bringing bugs further into his airway, so he made the mistake of opening his mouth to breathe.

When a mass of bugs forced themselves into his open mouth, he staggered and fell.  I think he was gagging, but couldn’t see or hear well enough from my vantage point to tell.

At my instruction, more bugs forced themselves under the gaps in his costume and into his ear canals.  Yet others, smaller ones, crawled in and around his eyes, using deceptive strength to try and force themselves in between and under his eyelids.  I couldn’t imagine what that felt like to him.  Everyone had probably experienced the sensation of having a lot of bugs crawling on them, but these bugs were operating with a human intelligence backing them, to penetrate his eyes, ears, nose and mouth.  They were working together, with a single minded purpose, instead of mindlessly crawling where their instincts directed them.

I don’t know if it was calculated or something he did in a moment’s panic, but he used his power.  Every bug that was touching him disappeared from my reach.

Once I’d realized what he’d done, I pulled away every bug that wasn’t affected.  I didn’t want to suffocate him, and he’d effectively pinned himself to the street with his power.  The worst thing that could happen now was that he’d panic and throw up, choking on his own puke.  I could do my part to avoid that.

I’d won.  I wasn’t sure what to feel.  I felt a kind of elation mixed with the quiet horror of what I’d just done to a superhero.

I could settle that inner turmoil later and decide on a way to make amends to Clockblocker at the same time.  There were still five Wards and a stranger on the rooftop to be taken out, if I wanted to stay out of jail.


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Agitation 3.8

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“Any trouble?” Grue asked Tattletale.

“We’re okay for now.”

We’d gone over the plan until I’d been worried I would start murmuring about it in my sleep. I joined Tattletale, Grue, Bitch and the largest of the three dogs as we headed to the sealed vault door.  Regent watched at the front doors with the two other dogs.  His power had a good enough range that he could delay any approaching opposition long enough for us to get into position.

Tattletale took hold of the stainless steel wheel that jutted out from the front of the vault and spun it, then stopped it. She repeated the process, going right, then left, then right again, for an indeterminably long time.  Just when I had the hopeful thought that maybe she wasn’t able to get in, there was a sound of something heavy shifting inside the door.

The four of us hauled the door open, and Tattletale sauntered off to where the bank manager worked. She sat herself down at the computer, putting her feet up on the corner of the desk, and began typing away.  From there, she could keep an eye on the media, watch the surveillance cameras and remotely control the door locks and alarm systems.  All with the right passwords, of course, but that wasn’t a problem for her.

Grue, Bitch and I started strapping a canvas harness onto the one dog that wasn’t standing at the front doors. I was gradually working out which was which.  I think Bitch called this one Brutus.  He was the biggest, with the meatiest body, and he had a shorter snout.  He’d been the Rottweiler, before.

He turned his massive head towards me, until the deep set eyeball was just to the left of my head.  The pupil narrowed into a dot.  There was just the bloodshot white of the eye and the yellow-gray of an iris as broad as my handspan.

I knew the worst thing to do would be to show fear or nervousness, so I was careful to breathe slowly and focus on buckling the straps and making triply sure they were fastened tight.  I was maybe being a little too firm, just to ensure the Brutus didn’t think I was weak or shy.  Not that it mattered.  I seriously doubted I could make him flinch, even with one of my weapons in hand.

With the harness securely fastened, we headed into the vault, Brutus standing at the door.  The vault was stainless steel from top to bottom with neatly banded bundles of bills organized into stacks.  The stacks, in turn, were organized by the size of the bill, all neatly set up against the wall. On the wall opposite the stacks were drawers like an elaborate filing cabinet.  They were pretty much just that.  The bank kept copies of all important documents for the local branches here, in a fireproof vault, in case of disaster.  The far end of the vault had another door, opening into an elevator that went down to the garage basement, where the armored trucks could be loaded.  It was a shame it wasn’t an option for an escape route. The door, the elevator and the garage itself were all firmly locked outside of specific times and days.

Bitch dumped an armload of bags onto the ground, and she and I got on our knees on either side of the pile and began stuffing one of the bags with cash.  She took off her mask to see what she was doing better.  Grue, for his part, withdrew a short crowbar from within the darkness that smoldered around his body.  He set to cracking open the filing drawers with the squealing noise of metal creaking and bending.

As Bitch and I filled the first bag, we buckled it closed, cinched the accompanying strap tight around it, and with mutual effort, slid it across the slick metal floor towards Brutus. Grue turned away from the drawers to grab the bag, haul it up and attach it to the dog’s harness.

It was a staggering amount of money. As Bitch and I worked, I started trying to count the money I was putting into the bag. Five hundred, one thousand, one thousand five hundred. Bitch was working just as fast as I was, so I could double that. Just taking a second to wrap my head around what the total amount would be per bag made me lose track.

We filled a second bag and slid it towards the door. Grue grunted as he heaved it up to the opposite side of the first bag and clipped it in place. While we filled the third bag, he clipped on one more – a bag filled with the contents of the first drawer he had opened.  According to Lisa’s briefing, the drawers would hold deeds, liens, insurance forms, mortgages and loan information.  Apparently our employer was willing to buy these from us.  I’d speculated about why – the most obvious possibility was that he could ransom them back to the bank.  More intriguing was the thought that he wanted the information itself for his own purposes.  Or, on a similar note, maybe there was something specific that would be found in the midst of the paperwork, and he was willing to buy it all if it meant keeping his true intentions unclear.

“I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” Grue groaned, as he recovered from strapping the bag of papers into place, “And we haven’t even been in a fight yet.”

“Sore and rich,” Bitch spoke.  I glanced at her and saw her grinning.  It was disquieting.  I’d only ever seen her sullen and hostile, so any smile would be kind of creepy.  It was worse than that.  Hers was the kind of smile you’d see from someone who had never seen one before and was trying to replicate one from what they’d read in books.  Too many teeth showing, I suppressed a shiver and focused on the work.

We slid the third bag across the floor.  Grue hooked it into the harness.

“We can’t put any more on here without it being a problem,” he decided.

“The weight is even?” Bitch asked.

“Close enough.”

Bitch stood and crossed the length of the vault to where her creature waited. She rubbed her hand on Brutus’ snout like you might see a horse owner do, except Brutus most definitely wasn’t a horse. She was rubbing her hand on exposed muscle, calcified tatters of flesh and bone hooks that jutted out of gaps and knots in the muscle. She managed to look almost affectionate as she did it.

“Go, baby. Go,” she commanded, pointing to the front door. Brutus obediently loped off to the front of the bank and sat, his prehensile tail absently coiling around the door handle.

“Hey!” Bitch called out, then whistled twice, alternating between short and long. The smallest of the dogs, who was only recognizable now by her missing eye, bounded towards us in her excitement. Some of the hostages screamed in alarm at the sudden movement.

I winced.  I didn’t want to think about the hostages. They were already heavy on my conscience, and they were constantly on the periphery of my attention, as long as I continued using the bugs I’d planted on them to keep alert for any movement or talking.

“That’s the one you call Angelica?” I asked, to distract myself. “The name doesn’t seem to fit with what you call the others.”

“I didn’t name her,” Bitch said. As the creature approached her, Bitch slapped her a few times on the shoulder, hard. It didn’t hurt the animal though – Angelica just lashed her tail in what I realized was a warped way of wagging her tail. Bitch snapped her fingers twice and pointed at the ground, and Angelica sat.

I had already partially filled a bag when Bitch rejoined me.

“She had previous owners then.”

“Fuckers,” Bitch swore.

“They were the ones who made her lose her ear and her eye?” I asked.

“What? You think I fucking did it?”  She dropped the money she had in her and and stood up, clenching her fists.

“Woah, no,” I protested, shifting my weight so I could move out of the way if she got aggressive, “Just trying to make small talk.”

She took a step toward me.  “Coward.  You know you can’t take me in a-”

“Enough!” Grue shouted.  Bitch turned on him, her eyes narrowing.

“If you can’t work over there, then take over here.”  His voice was steady, firm.  Bitch spat on the floor and did as he asked, taking the offered crowbar from his hand as they passed each other.  Grue took over the bag filling where Bitch had left off.  We quickly got a rhythm down, and four more bags were filled in a matter of minutes.

“We want to stay to load up the third dog or run for it?” I asked Grue, then added, “No use getting greedy.” I would be happy to leave as soon as possible. I wasn’t interested in the money, and I definitely wasn’t interested in going to jail for it.

“How much do we have?” he glanced over in Angelica’s direction

Tattletale answered for me, from where she stood at the door to the vault, “Forty one thousand, eight hundred. It looks like that’s as much as we’re going to get. The white hats are here, and it’s not looking good.”

We were out of the vault in a flash, and we joined Regent at the front doors, peering through the gaps in the wall of darkness.

Tattletale hadn’t exaggerated. Our opposition was lined up on the sidewalk across the street, the colors of their costumes bright in the midst of the gloom of the rain and the gray of the city.  Aegis, tan skinned, was wearing a rust red costume with a matching helmet, both with silver-white trim and a shield emblem. The cockroach, I’d come to think of him.  The boy with no weak points.

A dozen or so feet to his right was Vista, wearing a costume with a skirt, all covered in wavy, swooping lines that alternated between white and forest green. She had some body armor worked into her costume design.  Her breastplate was molded to give the illusion of a chest, but that didn’t do anything to conceal the fact that she was still young enough that I could have kicked her ass in a straight up fistfight.  If she was older than twelve, she was a late bloomer.

Clockblocker stood to Aegis’ left. He wore a white costume, skintight, with interlocking panels of glossy white body armor placed wherever they could give him protection without inhibiting his movements. I couldn’t see it through the rain, but I knew from TV that the armor had images of clocks on it in dark gray.  Some of the images on the armor were animated so they drifted across the surface, while others were fixed in place with hands ticking. His helmet was faceless, just a smooth expanse of white.

“Tattletale,” Grue growled in his echoing, reveberating voice, “You know how I say you’re a fucking dumbass sometimes?”

The three weren’t alone. Kid Win was floating in the air to one side of Clockblocker. His brown hair was damp in the rain, he had a red visor and body armor in red and gold. His feet were firmly planted on his flying skateboard, which had a ruby glow radiating from the bottom.  His hands were gripping matching guns.  Laser pistols, or something in that vein.  Kid Win was saying something to Gallant, who was standing a ways to his left.  Gallant was an older teenager in a gunmetal and silver costume that blended the appearance of a pulp science fiction hero with a medieval knight.

On the opposite end of the line was someone I didn’t know. He was big in a different way than Grue was big. The kind of bulk that made you think powers were at work. His muscle laden arms were bigger around than my thighs, and I thought he could probably crush cans between his pecs. His costume was little more than dark blue or black spandex with a diamond print. His mask was full-face, except for the eyes, and had a crystal attached to the forehead.  He was the only person standing there who didn’t have body armor.  He didn’t look like he really needed it.

“Who is he?” I asked, pointing.

“Browbeat,” Tattletale sighed, “He’s a point blank telekinetic, which means that he can move things with his mind, but only if they’re within an inch or so of his skin. He can use it to throw punches that hit like freight trains, or shield himself from incoming attacks. He’s also packing personal biokinesis, which means he’s got a kind of ability to manipulate his own body. He can heal just by concentrating on an injury, and he’s used it to bulk up. He might be capable of doing more on the fly, depending on how much he’s trained since we saw him last. He’s been a solo hero in Brockton Bay for a little while.”

“What the fuck is he doing here?” I asked.

“We crossed paths with him once, Regent and Bitch beat him. Either he’s here for revenge or he’s joined the Wards very, very recently. My power’s suggesting it’s the latter.”

“That’s is the kind of thing you’re supposed to inform us on well in advance,” Grue hissed at her, “And there’s not supposed to be six of them.”

“There’s seven,” Tattletale said, wincing as Grue slammed his fist against the wood of the door. “There’s someone on the roof.  I’m not sure who, but I don’t think it’s Shadow Stalker. Might be a member of the Protectorate.”

“There’s not supposed to be six or seven!” Grue roared in his unearthly voice “There’s supposed to be three, four at most!”

“I made an educated guess,” Tattletale spoke in a low voice, “I was wrong.  Sue me.”

“If we get out of this in one piece,” Grue spoke, his tone low and menacing, “We’re going to have a long conversation.”

I rested my forehead against the window.  An armored section of my mask clinked against the glass, “Educated guess.  It would have been nice if you had said it was an educated guess, way back when we were planning this.”

Of our group, Bitch seemed the least daunted.  “I can take them.  Just let me go all out.”

“We’re not going to fucking risk killing anyone,” Grue told her. “We’re not maiming anyone, either. The plan stands.  We have the money, we run for it.”

Tattletale shook her head, “That’s what they want. Why do you think they’re lined up like that? We bolt with the money from any of the exits, the person on the roof tackles us, incapacitates us or keeps us busy while the rest close in.  Look at how they’re sort of spaced out.  Just far enough apart that if we try to go between them, one of them can probably close in fast enough to nab us before we get away.”

“With my power-” Grue started.

“They still outnumber us. There’s at least five ways they could take one of us down while we’re running, even if they were going in blind… and Vista’s in the equation. Figure any distance we need to cover is going to be much farther than it looks, and things get ugly. It wouldn’t be a problem if there weren’t so many of them.”

“Fuck,” Regent groaned.

“We can’t just stay here,” Grue said, “Sure, they’re getting cold and wet, but our odds aren’t much better if we force them to come in here after us, and if we wait too long, the Protectorate might show, too.”

“We have hostages,” Bitch said, “If they come in here, we take out one of the hostages.”  Somewhere behind us, someone moaned, long and loud. I think they’d heard her.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. It was a bad situation, and worse, I was afraid it was my fault. I’d warned Armsmaster something was going to happen. I could believe that he’d told the teams to be ready to go out in force. Even worse, he could be the unknown person on the roof. If that was the case, and Tattletale caught on, I was supremely fucked.


“We need to catch them off guard,” I didn’t realize I was speaking aloud until the words left my mouth.

“Sure, but how are we going to do that?” Grue replied.

“You guys are masters at the getaway, right?  So we change gears.  We fight them face to face.”

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Agitation 3.7

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Grue was already out of his vehicle and halfway to us by the time Tattletale and I had shut the doors of the van.  He was using his power at a low degree over the entirety of his body.  The darkness soaked into and through the porous leather of his costume, making him look like a living shadow.  Brian had showed me how the visor had vents at the edges, to direct the effect of his power around the sides and top of his head, so it wouldn’t obscure the face.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t see through the effects of his own power – he could.  He’d explained that the vents were there to create an effect where you could see glimpses of a black-painted skull floating in the vaguely human shaped form of even darker black.  When he had the money to spend, he had told me, he was going to get a more complete costume custom made for him in the same way, to expand on the effect.

“Let’s move fast.”  His voice echoed, reverberated, with a hollowness to the sound, like something alien and far away.  He was using his power to play with the sound, “Tattletale, see to the door.  Bug, with me.”

Together with Grue, I returned to the van Lisa had been driving.  Grue grabbed the handle of the sliding door and hauled it open, then scrambled out of the way as the contents came pouring out.

I chuckled at the image of this spooky supervillain being caught off guard.  I’d packed the entirety of the van, minus the driver and passenger seats, with bugs.  As the door opened, they spilled out to pool on the wet pavement beneath the door.

“Got enough?” his voice echoed.  I thought maybe I caught a touch of humor in his tone, behind the influence of his power.

I smiled behind my mask, “Let’s hope.”

A drive earlier in the morning had given me the opportunity to gather this swarm.   It was surprising how many bugs there were in the city, hidden from sight.  At any given point in the city, I could generally draw out tens of thousands of bugs from inside walls, sewers, attics, lawns, trees and even places you would think were too clean or occupied to have any creepy crawlies lurking about, and I could do it over a matter of minutes.

These weren’t just the bugs I could draw in at a moment’s notice, though.  Traveling the city had given me the chance to be picky.  These were the good ones, each of them fast enough to keep up with me, or capable of being carried by those that were.  More than that, though, the majority of them were either durable sorts like the larger centipedes, cockroaches and beetles, or capable of stinging and biting, with bees, wasps, ants and blackflies making up their bulk.  To round out their number, I’d gathered moths, houseflies, and mosquitoes, who weren’t the best attack bugs out there, but were easy enough to get, and served to distract the enemy or bulk out the swarm.

There were three hundred and fifty cubic feet inside the rear of the van. Tattletale had told me that.  When they were packed in just tight enough that they wouldn’t damage each other or spill past the barrier and into the front seats, it added up to a pretty amazing amount of insects.  I called them out of the van and watched as their mass seemed to expand as they spread out.

We joined Tattletale at the side door of the bank. I had to admit, I admired the sheer change she was capable of pulling off when donning her costume.  Rather, I should say, I admired the effort she’d gone into as Lisa, that made her so different from her Tattletale persona.  Her mask was narrow, only really surrounding her eye sockets, covering her eyebrows, some of her nose and some of her cheekbones, but it hid the freckles on the bridge of her nose and changed the apparent lines of her face.  Her hair was down and loose, damp from the rain, in contrast to how it was always in a ponytail or braided when she was ‘Lisa’.  Her costume was skintight, beaded with droplets of water, lavender with bands of black across the chest and down the sides of her arms, legs and body.  An image of a stylized eye, only visible in the right light, given it was dark gray on black, was worked into the costume’s design.  A compact ‘utility belt’ sat diagonally across her hips, sporting a variety of compact pockets and pouches.

Regent was keeping watch, a few feet away.  From what I’d seen while we prepared, I now knew his costume was deceptive.  He still wore the hard white mask with the silver coronet, but he had shown me how the interior of the mask had foam shaped to the contours of his face, with only his mouth left free, so he could talk without being muffled.  In a similar vein, the loose white shirt he wore covered up a mesh vest that was molded to the shape of his body.  He was idly twirling a scepter in his fingers.  The scepter wasn’t purely thematic – apparently the crowned orb that topped the scepter had two electrodes built into the tines, for the taser that was built into it.  It was all about misdirection, misleading and giving the impression of vulnerability.

“The fire exit at the back is protected by a digital passkey,” Tattletale explained while she crouched at the keypad, staring at it, “Every employee has the number to get in if they need to, but that rarely happens because opening the door sets off a bunch of alarms.  That password is easy.  The interesting thing that the employees don’t even know is that the capes and SWAT teams have a special code they can put in if they need to make a quiet entrance with no alarms going off.  To do that, you punch in the regular code, 3-7-1, but you hold the one down, then press the number sign and the asterisk keys down at the same time… Voila.  Try it.”

Grue pulled on the door.  We waited in tense silence for a moment for the angry blare of the alarm, but none came.  Tattletale grinned at us. “What’d I tell you?”

Grue signaled, and we were joined by Regent and Bitch with her three dogs.  The animals were the size of small ponies, their flesh having swelled and expanded enough that their fur had split at the seams.  Muscle and bone showed beneath, and the arrangement of said anatomy wasn’t exactly typical.  The change was slow enough that you couldn’t see it if you were looking for it, but if you looked away and looked back a moment later, you could tell they were bigger, that bone at the shoulder was longer, the eyes were deeper set, and so on.  Spikes, spurs and an exoskeleton of bone growths had appeared to fill or cover gaps and grow in at places where the bone was already close to the skin.  The tail of the smallest dog – Angelica, I think Rachel called it – was twice as long as normal and prehensile, now, and the other two were well on their way.  It looked like someone had torn out a pair of human spines, the meat still hanging off them, and attached them one to the other before tacking the end to the dog’s hindquarters.

Bitch, for her part, was just wearing a jacket with a fur ruff collar and a cheap, hard plastic mask of a bulldog.  The dogs had been given the rear of the second van, allowing Bitch to work her power on them as Brian drove.  Being able to do the change more slowly meant she wouldn’t prematurely exhaust herself or the animals by rushing the job on site.

We made our way into the back hallways of the bank’s ground floor, Bitch’s dogs leading the way, my swarm pulling up the rear.  The clock had started running down from the moment we’d parked in the alleyway; that was the point where people might have thought something was up.  Now that we were inside, though, someone knew, or would know any second.

At this very moment, chances were, some guard in the room with the security cameras would be making a call to 911 and reporting a crime in progress by costumed criminals.  If Tattletale was right, the Protectorate was too far away to be called in, so they would contact the Wards.  We had five or ten minutes before trouble showed.

Each time we passed a room, Grue, Regent and I would double check it.  The first few were empty, but as we reached one room, a dog took notice, and Grue raised a hand to plunge the room into darkness.  A second later, he stepped back into the hallway, twisting the arm of a cringing thirty-something man in a gray suit behind his back.  I hadn’t even realized Grue had entered the room in the first place.

In the next room, Regent grabbed another hostage.  I caught a glance of the man, graying hair and thick around the middle with a pink dress shirt and no jacket, staring at us with eyes wide.  He opened his mouth, I think his intent was to cry for help, but broke down into coughs and sputters instead.  A second later, he keeled over and collapsed onto the floor.  He tried to climb to his feet, but his elbow buckled and he hit the ground a second time.  While he continued to struggle, Regent strode into the room with an almost lazy air, grabbed him by the collar and shoved him towards the hallway where we stood.  Defeated, Pink-shirt didn’t resist, half-walking, half-crawling forward as he joined us.  He met eyes with the other employee, but didn’t say anything.

We only passed a dozen offices, but it felt like three times that number.  Grue was on point, glancing into each room and watching for danger from up ahead, with Regent keeping an eye on rooms to our right.  That meant I was paying attention to the rooms on the left, as well as keeping an eye out by way of the swarm to our rear.  Each time I looked into an office, lunchroom or conference room, I prayed it would be empty.  I didn’t want to be any more responsible for all this than I had to.

When I saw the last office on the left was vacant, I was relieved enough that I nearly forgot my role in the next stage of the plan.

We reached the front lobby of the bank, and Bitch’s dogs charged into the room.  They were nightmarish, barking, growling and shaking themselves in a spray of bits of fur and blood as they abruptly grew another foot taller at the shoulder.  I had a moment’s glimpse of twenty or thirty bystanders and another six or so employees of the bank before the lights went out.  Grue used his power, and the room was plunged into darkness, the volume of the screams and wails dropping to utter silence in a matter of seconds.  We stood in the entryway to the lobby, and there was only nothingness where the bank lobby had been.

“Your move, Bug girl,” Tattletale said, reaching forward to put a hand on my shoulder.

I closed my eyes.  With a mental command, my bugs flooded into the room from the hallway behind us, flying and crawling over, under and around us to spread through the room.  I noted each person in the lobby as my bugs made contact with them, and left several bugs crawling on each individual.  I took five seconds to double check I’d gotten everyone, and belatedly remembered the two employees we had brought forward from the back offices.  A group of bugs returned from the darkness, brushing my skin on their way to make contact with the pair.

“Done,” I said.

Grue swept his arms forward, and the darkness parted.  We moved into the room as a group.  Pink-shirt and the younger guy collapsed to the ground as we walked.  I supposed it was Regent’s work there.  Some of Grue’s darkness clung to the surfaces of the doors and the windows, but the room was otherwise clear in a matter of moments, lit only by the florescent lights.  Everyone except for us was lying on the floor, crouched behind a desk, or huddled in the corners.  Two of Bitch’s dogs were standing in front of the main entrance, while the smallest was standing near the vault.  All three of the monsters were the size of cars, now.

“Fifteen minutes,” I called out to the room, my heart in my throat, “We won’t be here any longer than that.  Stay put, stay quiet, we’ll be gone before fifteen minutes are up.  You’ll be free to give your statement to the police and then go about your day as usual.  This isn’t a TV show, this isn’t a movie.  If you’re thinking about being a hero, don’t.  You’ll only get yourself or someone else hurt.”

I held up my hand, finger outstretched, a familiar spider perched on the tip, “If you are thinking about running, making a phone call or getting in our way, this is a good reason to reconsider.  This little creature and her one hundred sisters that I just brought into this room are under my complete control.”  I had the spider drop from my fingertip, dangling by a thread, by way of demonstration.

“She’s a black widow spider.  A single bite has been known to kill a full grown human, or put them into a coma.  You move, talk, try to find or kill the spiders I just put on your bodies, in your clothes, in your hair?  I’ll know in split second, and I’ll tell them to bite you several times.”

I stopped to let that sink in.  I looked over the room.  Forty or so people.  I saw a full grown man with a tear rolling down his cheek.  A teenager with freckles and brown curls was glaring at me with raw loathing in her eyes.  At one of the counters, a matronly bank employee was shaking like a leaf.

My taking hostages like this?  It had been my idea, so help me.  As horrible as it was, it had been necessary.  The worst case scenario was some regular schmuck in the bank pulling some stunt and getting themselves or others hurt or killed.  I couldn’t let that happen, if I was in a position to help it.  If it meant keeping them quiet and out of the way, I was willing to terrorize them.

As I saw the effect I’d had on these people, that justification felt really thin.

I was going to hell for this.


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Agitation 3.6

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“Think of it as a game,” Lisa said, “A high stakes variant of cops and robbers.”

A steady downpour of rain thrummed against the outside of the van Lisa was driving.  The rain drowned out all other noise of the traffic around us and muted our view of the surroundings, making the interior of the car an island in the midst of downtown.  Traffic was at a deadlock, so bad that Lisa had put the van into park and turned off the engine.  To break the silence, I had asked Lisa why some villains didn’t get their secret identities revealed when they got caught, and I’d apparently stumbled into one of her favorite topics.  I supposed it was good that she was in a mood to talk, because I wasn’t.

“I think,” I ventured, “That it’s a little closer to real cops and robbers than the schoolyard game.”

“No, no.  Hear me out.  Grown adults running around in costume?  Making up code names for themselves?  It’s ridiculous, and we know it’s ridiculous, even if we don’t admit it out loud.  So there’s capes like you and me, where we go out in costume and it’s fun.  Maybe we have some agenda or goals, but at the end of the day, we’re getting our thrills, blowing off steam and living a second life.  Then there’s the crazies.  The people who are fucked up in the head, maybe dangerous if there’s not something or someone to help keep them in line.  The people who take it all too seriously, or those guys you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, even if they didn’t have powers.  Lung, Oni Lee, Heartbreaker,” she paused.  “Bitch.”

I nodded.

“And there’s the monsters.  The really dangerous motherfuckers, who are barely human any more, if at all.  The Slaughterhouse Nine, Nilbog-”

“The Endbringers,” I interjected.

Lisa paused, “Right.  But you have to understand, ninety percent of what goes on when you’re in costume?  It’s the first group.  Adults in costumes playing full contact cops and robbers with fun-as-fuck superpowers and toys.  This mindset applies to the people without powers too.  Way I see it, having a local team of superheroes is like having a sports team.  Everyone’s rooting for them, they make for great media that isn’t about wars or the water crisis or whatever, there’s merchandising and tourists… all good shit that the local government loves.  But what good is having a team if there’s no competition?”

“Which is where we come in,” I figured out where she was going.

“Exactly.  At the end of the day?  We’re not doing much harm.  Property damage, theft.  A few civilians get hurt if they don’t move out of the way fast enough.  But insurance payouts cover that stuff, and people aren’t that much worse off.  The property damage is covered and the injured bystander has a great story to tell at the water cooler.  The city gets revenue in an indirect way, from merchandise, tourism and the rising property that come with being an exciting city.

“Compared to the psychos and the monsters out there, it’s almost in the city’s interests to keep us in circulation.  Far as I see it, we’re not that much better or worse than the so called good guys.  We face more risk at the end of the day, with the possibility of jail time and physical danger, but we get a better payoff.  We just took the path that was higher risk, higher reward.”

“I’m not sure,” I said, carefully, “That I buy all that.”

“No? Then why don’t they send people like Über straight to the Birdcage after his trial, like they are with Lung?  The amusing but relatively harmless villains get a regular jail cell, they inevitably break out before the trial concludes, and the cat and mouse game starts again.  Sure, there’s the three strike rule, and he’ll get sent to the Birdcage eventually, but the people in charge have to maintain some plausible deniability.”

I didn’t think there was a way I could argue against Lisa’s theory without giving too much of my own perspective away.  I just kept my mouth shut and turned my new knife over in my hands.  Direct from our anonymous ‘boss’, it sported a blade a little over six inches long and a textured handle with three symmetrical indents on each side, for grip.  According to Lisa, it was strong enough to use as a miniature crowbar, if I had a mind to.  My extendable combat baton was tucked away in the panel of my armor where I kept my pepper spray.

“But the real evidence to my ‘cops and robbers’ theory,” Lisa continued, “Is the reaction you see when someone crosses the line.  You’ve heard about it happening.  Someone finds out another cape’s secret identity, goes after the cape’s family.  Or a cape wins a fight and decides his downed opponent isn’t in a state to say no if he’s feeling lusty?  Word gets around, and the cape community goes after the fucker.  Protecting the status quo, keeping the game afloat.  Bitter enemies call a truce, everyone bands together, favors get called in and everyone does their damndest to put the asshole down.”

“Like we do with the Endbringers,” I said.  I sheathed my knife.

“Holy fuck,” Lisa said, slapping the sides of the steering wheel with her hands.  I think if the van had been moving, she would have hit the brakes for emphasis.  Traffic was starting to move, though, so she started up the car and put it into gear, “Twice, you bring up the Endbringers in as many minutes.  You’re being morbid.  What’s going on?”

I stared out the window at downtown Brockton Bay, hundreds of people with umbrellas and raincoats, a few intrepid individuals bolting down the street with a briefcase or newspaper over their head, to ward off the downpour as they made their way to or from their work on their lunch hours.

It was hard to talk to Lisa, as much as I liked her as a person.  I felt like I was walking on eggshells.  If I said something, would that give her the puzzle piece she needed to figure me out?  I had been lucky so far, but relying on luck sucked.  I was counting on this ruse continuing, whether it was because I enjoyed the temporary companionship of Brian, Lisa and Alec, or because I wanted to get Grue, Tattletale, Regent and Bitch carted off to jail and prove Armsmaster wrong.  I was aware how paradoxical those two interests were.

But right now, maybe for the first time since Bitch had set her dogs on me, I felt painfully out of place in the group dynamic.  We were robbing a bank, and I was the only one who was guilty about it, apparently the only one who was worried about the safety of the bystanders and hostages.

Then there was the fact that Armsmaster had said that two members of the Undersiders were murderers, and doubt was tainting every interaction I had with these guys.  When I was smiling about a joke Alec made, was I enjoying the joke of a killer?  I liked Brian, but now I was looking back on how he had pointed out how to brutally disable someone in a fight, and I was wondering if he’d ever gone that one step further and snapped someone’s neck.  It wasn’t a hundred percent impossible to imagine that one of the secrets Lisa was so fond of keeping included murder, either.  I felt like every interaction with these guys was spoiled, now, and there was nobody I could ask to clarify the lingering questions.

Still, staying quiet now would only make her more suspicious, and if she turned the full extent of her power on me, I doubted my undercover ruse would withstand her attention.  I confessed with a half truth, “I got in an argument with someone last night.  I think it was mutual disappointment, got pretty heated, hurtful.  I guess I’m a bit angry, and my confidence is a little shaken.”

“Well, fuck them,” Lisa stated.  I raised an eyebrow in response.

She went on, “See, I know you.  Believe it or not, I like you.  Did from the time I saw you on that roof, opposite Lung.  You know how we fear the unknown?  Well, I know stuff, that’s my whole thing, and that motherfucker is one of the very few people who can spook me.  You, Taylor, stood up to him.”

In a manner of speaking, anyways.  The way I remembered it, I’d been curled up in a fetal position when the Undersiders came to my rescue.  I didn’t correct her.

“So this guy or this girl that’s got you down in the dumps?  I say fuck them.  They don’t know you.  They don’t know what you’re capable of.”

I would have stopped myself if I could have, but the irony of her statement was too rich.  I grinned, looking out the window to hide the expression from Lisa.

“I saw that.  Don’t think I didn’t.  So I’ve shaken the doldrums from you.  Good.  Now look to our left.”

“Who uses words like doldrums, anymore?” I voiced my thoughts as I obeyed her instruction.  She only chuckled in response.

As I realized what I was looking at, through the rain and the past the traffic, I swallowed hard.  It was a stone fixture six stories tall, with crenelations on the roof and balconies, stone gargoyles at the corners and iron grilles on the windows. The entryway had wide stone stairs like a courthouse, with statues of rearing horses with wild manes on either side.  The name of the institution was etched into the stone above the doors.  The Brockton Bay Central Bank.  A virtual castle.

“In twenty minutes or so, we’re going to be leaving there, tens of thousands of dollars richer, the adrenaline rush of victory pumping through our veins,” Lisa’s voice was barely above a whisper, “Now tell me.  Can you visualize that?”

Not really.

“Yes,” I tried.

“Liar,” she said.  Then she winked at me, “It’s okay.  An hour from now, you’ll be rolling in money and laughing about how pessimistic you were.  Promise.”

Lisa pulled the van around to circle the block, then pulled into an employee parking lot behind a restaurant.  As she pulled into the parking lot, bringing us right to the back corner of the bank,  I pulled on my mask.  Lisa did the same, then took a few seconds to smear her eyelids with black facepaint so they blended in with her mask.  I wasn’t so lucky as to have any final touches to apply, so I watched the rearview mirror nervously.  It felt like an eternity, but was probably closer to a minute, before Brian pulled a second van into the alley that led into the lot.  He parked his van halfway down the alley, blocking anyone else from coming through.

As I opened the car door and hopped out into the pouring rain, I managed to say the words without choking on them, “Let’s go rob a bank.”

Lisa grinned.


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Agitation 3.5

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“A favor,” he answered me, as if he needed to say it out loud to himself to believe it.  The tone gave me pause.  Had I misread him, that first night, when I gave him credit for Lung and assumed he was grateful?

“Yeah,” I tried to sound confident, “But I should explain things first.  First off, the Undersiders offered me a spot on their team.  I took it.”

His reaction was subtle.  His chin rose a fraction, he shifted his weight fractionally, and  the grip of his armored gauntlets tightened enough on his Halberd to make a faint metal-on-metal screech.

“I think you’d better start making sense, fast,” he spoke in a calm voice, even as his body language was making me want to back away.

I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves, “I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the conversation we had last Sunday.  It seemed odd how you accepted I was a good guy as fast as you did.  Would I be right in guessing you either have a lie detector built into your helmet or some power that works more or less the same way?”

He didn’t hurry to give me a reply, taking a few moments before telling me, “Lie detectors can be fooled, even mine.”

“Well, tell me if anything sets an alarm ringing, or if your instincts tell you I’m lying.  I was a good guy then, I’m a good guy now.  I joined the Undersiders because you said you were having trouble getting info on the guys.  Now I know their faces, I know the names they’re using, I have a pretty good idea about what their powers do, and I know where they’re living.”

His posture relaxed.  He slapped the pole of his Halberd against his back and it snapped into place.  “If that’s the case, then you’ve done us a great service.  Would you be willing to come to the Protectorate Headquarters and present that information to the team?”

My heart leapt.  Meeting the local Protectorate, with Miss Militia, Triumph, Velocity, Dauntless, Battery and Assault?  I could imagine seeing their reactions to everything I’d found, telling them about my fight with Bitch, maybe about my part in the fight with Lung, if Armsmaster was cool with that.  Hearing their stories in turn.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” his response was so quick it was very nearly an interruption.  His tone and posture were both hostile again in a flash.  I was glad he wasn’t still holding his Halberd, because I think he might have pointed it at me.

“There’s one more thing I need to find out for you,” I said, raising my hands in a sort of surrender.  I needed to find out who their boss was.  I couldn’t tell him that, though.  The less he knew, the less likely Tattletale would know I told him anything.  At least, I was hoping that was the case.

“So tell me what you know and then go find that last detail.”

“I can’t,” I answered for the second time in ten seconds, hating myself for doing it.

“You’d better have a good reason, or I’m dragging you to the PHQ and we’ll see how well you tease when you’re in front of the entire team.”

Which would be a disaster.  I swallowed hard, “What if I told you there was a spy in the PHQ?”

“You’d be setting off the lie detector.  Try again.”

I bit my lip.  I’d been hoping that phrasing it as a question would throw it off.

“There’s something at play that’s for all intents and purposes, a spy in your ranks.”

“Mostly true.  What is it?”

“I can’t be any clearer without them figuring out I told.  Just my being here is really risky.”  If word got out as to how Lisa’s power worked, I was almost positive she’d know how.

He stared at me for several long moments, “The Tattletale girl.”

Armsmaster had come to the conclusion more or less on his own.  I hoped that was enough to keep Tattletale from drawing a connection to me.  Still… fuck.

He stared off towards the PHQ for a few long moments.  Without looking at me, he asked, “So you’re not willing to provide any concrete information.  Why did you call me?”

“They’re planning something.  They want me to help them.  I do this, maybe one or two other jobs, I’m sure I can get that last essential detail, and you’ll have what you need to capture these guys.”

He didn’t reply.

So I asked my favor, “I need to know that if things go sour or if I need to sabotage their plan, I’ll have you to pull my ass out of the fire and keep me out of jail.”

“What are they planning?”

“I can’t say,” I admitted.  If I told him, Lisa might know I’d ratted the team out from any changes in the response time, extra guards or whatever else.  However justified my silence was, I could see Armsmaster getting increasingly irritated.

“Is it murder?  Is someone going to get hurt?”

“No,” I said, “I’m pretty sure no civilians are going to get hurt, unless things go really wrong, which is something I’m hoping to prevent.”

He frowned, then stopped gazing out the window to look straight at me. “I’m not giving you any protection.”

I clenched my fists at my sides, “This is the only thing I need, and you’ve got them!”

“You’re a stupid girl,” Armsmaster said.  He gave me a moment to let the words sink in.


He didn’t give me a chance to speak.  He bowled over me, his voice rising as he spoke, “You’re asking for my permission to carry out a major crime.  At least, I assume it’s a major crime, because you wouldn’t be asking otherwise!  You want me to stand by so you can play your little spy game with a team that has two murderers on it!”

Two?  I could believe that Rachel had maybe killed someone at some point, manslaughter if nothing else, but who else would?  Eyes wide, I asked him, “Who-”

I didn’t get to finish my question.  Armsmaster talked over me until I shut my mouth and listened.  “Do you think you’re clever?  In the real world, undercover cops have handlers.  They have someone to report to, someone that can call in backup at any time.  You?  You’re a middle schooler with delusions of grandeur.”

“I’m not in middle school.”

“Oh, well,” he crossed his arms, “I stand corrected on all counts.” The sarcasm in his voice was palpable.

I protested, “And if I did have back-up or a handler or anything like that, they’d know.  The way I’m doing this is the only way this could work.  Use your lie detector, you’ll know I’m telling the truth about this.”

“I know you believe you’re right.  That doesn’t make it god’s honest truth.”

There was something about hearing all this from Armsmaster that made it twice as hard to take.  I opened my mouth, but my brain just couldn’t piece together a coherent response.  I shut my mouth again.

“Abandon this charade, little bug girl, before you bite off more than you can chew.  Tell me what you know, right now, then go home.  I don’t care if you put your costume away for good or if you sign up for the Wards, but don’t go on with the solo act.  That’s my recommendation.”

That stung.  I tried again, “I gave you Lung, full credit.  You can’t give me the benefit of a doubt?”

“You gave me a dying man!” Armsmaster bellowed, startling me, “That was on my shoulders!  I had to put up with two days of losing command of my team, two days where they confiscated my Halberd and power armor!  I was interrogated, all my equipment taken apart and checked!  All because you couldn’t resist using your bugs to give that man a fucking near-lethal dose of poisons!”

His attitude from the beginning of this meeting had been hostile.  Now I understood why.  I held my ground.

“That’s not my fault,” I told Armsmaster, my voice strained with anger.  I gave voice to a suspicion that had been nagging at the edge of my consciousness since I’d heard about Lung being hospitalized, “I didn’t dose him with enough venom to kill him.  What I think is that the tranquilizers that you pumped into his system knocked out his ability to heal, which is what let the poisons do as much damage as they did.”

We glared at each other, as much as people can exchange glares when they can’t see one another’s eyes.  Still, it wasn’t hard to imagine the expression on his face.

“If you contact me again, you’d better be prepared to answer every question I have.  Beyond that, I’m not condoning anything about what you’re trying to pull.  You’re on your own.”

I would have been happy to storm off, or offer my own angry parting words.  Except there was something else I needed from him.  On the assumption that he’d take me up on my offer, I thought I’d ask as a last, minor favor.  Now I was put in a situation where I might have to beg a man I really wanted to punch in the face.

“I-” I paused, trying to find the words, “I’m asking you to please not tell anyone we met tonight.  No records, on paper or computer.  Don’t do anything different because of what you learned tonight.  I know I can’t make you.  I don’t have anything to offer you, besides the information I’m going to get.  But if these guys get wind that I met you, it’s going to go really badly for me.”

“You made your bed.  You have to lie in it.”

“No,” I shook my head, furious he was being so mule headed.  My fists clenched, “Don’t toy with me here.  Maybe you don’t agree with what I’m doing, but I started this because I wanted to do you a favor.  The least you could do is not screw with me on this, and get me hurt or killed because your fucking rep got a smudge on it.”

I regretted my words as soon as they left my mouth, but I could hardly take them back.

“Fine,” he decided, then dismissed me, “You can go, now.”

It was a dick move, that last bit, because I was following his order if I listened and it made me look bad if I didn’t.  Still, if there was any upside to the bullying I’d endured out of costume, it was that I could handle the little maneuvers of bullies and assholes when I was in costume, too.  I left and didn’t think twice about it.

I was pissed, and it was a lot easier to be pissed at Armsmaster than it was to be angry with myself.  This hadn’t gone the way I’d planned.  I didn’t even know if that ‘fine’ of his was an agreement to do as I’d asked, or if I was royally screwed the next time I went to meet with the Undersiders.  There were two ways I could respond to this.  I could either drop the plan and put away my costume like Armsmaster wanted, or I could pull off the undercover gig and prove him wrong.

Fuck it.  I was going to rob the hell out of that bank.  I’d win the trust of the Undersiders, I was going to figure out who was running the show, and then I was going to hand over all of the info.

To Miss Militia, I was thinking.  Not Armsmaster.


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Agitation 3.4

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“I’ll be there.  Yes-” I saw a light in the living room window and put my hand over the lower half of my cell phone while I briefly investigated.  Damn, my dad was home.  I put the phone to my ear, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to run.  No.  No.  Look-”

As I heard the front door open, I snapped the phone shut and jammed it into my pocket.  I’d apologize for hanging up later.  I definitely didn’t want my dad to see the phone.  I didn’t think he would stop me from owning one, but ever since my mom’s death, cell phones had carried strong negative connotations.  That, and I’d have to explain where I got it and how I’d paid for it.

Brian had given me three identical cell phones – all disposables – first thing in the morning, and I’d decided to go with him to the loft rather than head to school.  The way I figured it, I didn’t have much of a chance of focusing on classes with Thursday’s bank robbery occupying my attention on top of the stress of just being there and waiting for the other shoe to drop as far as my skipped classes.  Besides, I rationalized, it didn’t make a lot of sense to go if I knew I would be skipping again to go rob the bank.  I’d promised myself I would go the day after tomorrow.  Face the music.

I’d spent the day with the group.  Rachel had been out of the apartment, the others weren’t specific on why and I wasn’t interested enough to risk looking too curious by asking.  So it had just been me, Brian, Alec and Lisa.  We’d hammered out the fine details of the robbery and I had decided what weapons I wanted Lisa to ask the boss for.  I had elected for both a combat knife and a telescoping police baton.  The knife would serve for emergencies and those people who were just too tough to hurt with the baton.  The baton, twenty one inches long when fully extended, was for more general use, offering more clout than I’d otherwise get with my fists.  Lisa had promised I would have them for tomorrow.

After that, we kind of avoided the subject of the robbery, by some unspoken agreement.  It wouldn’t do to overthink it or risk getting too nervous.  Either way, I had felt a need to burn some nervous energy, so I had helped clear out the storage closet around lunchtime, with Lisa and Brian’s help.  We’d sorted out the stuff, found a place for it all, and set up the room with odds and ends they had lying around.  The stuff included an extendable clothes rack, a dresser, an inflatable mattress and a bedside table with a lamp attached.  It was enough space for me to keep some toiletries, a spare change of clothes or two, my costume and my equipment.  Lisa spent a lot of time talking about what I could do to make the space my own, what I could buy, how I could decorate, but I was happy enough with what we had there.  I kind of liked that it was a bit spartan, because it sort of fit with how I didn’t plan to be around that long while still feeling weirdly appreciative at being accepted as a part of the group.

Having tired ourselves out, we’d all collapsed on the couches and watched some of Alec’s movies from Earth-Aleph, the alternate Earth that our Earth had been communicating with since Professor Haywire tore a hole between realities.  Media was one of the few things that could be traded back and forth through the hole.  Long story short, you could get books, movies and DVDs of TV shows from the other world, if you were willing to accept the price tag. The benefit? I got to spend the afternoon seeing how the other universe had handled episodes one and two of the Star Wars films.

Fact: they were still pretty disappointing.

By the time my dad got in, I had pork chops defrosted, dusted with lemon and pepper and sitting in a frying pan, with vegetables in the microwave.  Cooking was sort of something you started doing when you had only one parent, unless you really, really liked takeout.

“Heya,” my dad greeted me, “Smells good.”

“I started dinner a bit early because I have somewhere I want to be, tonight, If that’s cool?”

He tried to hide it, but I could see a bit of disappointment.  “Of course,” he said, “Your new friends?”

I nodded.

“Let me get changed and then I’ll ask you all about them,” he promised as he headed upstairs.

Great.  I hadn’t had to answer these questions last night because my dad had been working late.  My mind started racing to anticipate questions and come up with plausible details.  Should I use their real names?  Or at least, the names they had given me?  I wasn’t sure if that would be a breach of trust.  I decided to use their real names for much the same reason I’d decided to use my own with them.  It just prevented disasters if my dad ever happened to meet them, which was a terrifying thought, or if they called for me.

I didn’t need to worry about my dad hearing about four kids being arrested, all of whom had the same name as my ‘friends’, since most or all of them were minors and their names would be kept from the media under the law.  I was also under the impression that the courts didn’t always unmask capes when they arrested them.  I wasn’t entirely sure what was up with that.  It seemed like something to ask Lisa about.

By the time my dad had come back downstairs, I’d resolved to try and keep my lies as close to the truth as possible.  It would be easiest to keep everything straight that way.  That, and I hated lying to my dad.

My dad had changed out of his dress shirt and khakis, into a t-shirt and jeans.  He mussed up my hair and then took over the last bit of the cooking.  I sat down at the table so I could talk to him.

“So what’s going on?” he asked.

I shrugged.  I hated feeling this tense around my dad.  He’d never bugged me about the bullying, so I’d always been able to come home and sort of let my guard drop.  I couldn’t do that now, because I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop as far as my skipped classes, and my new ‘friends’ brought a whole mess of secrets and lies into the mix as well.  I felt like I was on the verge of a terminal breach of trust.  One mistake or a single concerned phone call from the school, and my dad would probably flip, and things wouldn’t be the same between us for a long time.

“Are you going to tell me their names?” he asked.  He set the food on plates and brought it to the table.

“Brian, Lisa, Alec, Rachel,” I confessed, “They’re alright.  Get along with most of them.”

“Where did you meet them?  School?”

I shook my head, “I wanted to get away from school for a bit, so I caught a bus downtown to catch a bit of a break.  I ran into them at the library.”  Partial truths.  You couldn’t really catch a bus downtown and back during the lunch break – I’d tried, when I was avoiding the trio – but I doubted my dad would research that.  I did sort of cross paths with the Undersiders at the library, though.

“They go to the library at lunch?  What are they like?”

“Brian’s pretty cool.  He’s the one I’ve talked to the most.”

“A boy, eh?” My dad wiggled his eyebrows at me.

“Dad, stop!  It’s not like that,” I protested.  I doubted Brian had the slightest interest in me, not least because I was two or three years younger than him.  Besides, well, I was me.  I opted not to mention the age difference to my dad.

Changing the subject, I said, “Lisa’s alright too.  Really smart, though I haven’t talked to her all that much.  It’s nice being able to hang out with another girl again, even if she’s pretty different from me.”

“If she’s smart, she can’t be that much different from you.”

I could’ve kicked myself.  I couldn’t explain she was a bad guy, while I was an aspiring superhero, or exactly how she was ‘smart’.  I’d talked myself into a minor corner where I didn’t have an answer ready, and I needed to avoid doing that.  Fumbling for an answer, I said, “She’s only a year older than me, and she’s graduated high school already.”  That was the truth. She cheated, but she did technically graduate.

My dad smiled, “Impressive.  Tell me they’re all excellent students that can serve as good role models for you.”

I could have choked.  Good role models?  Them?  I kept my composure and limited myself to a little smile and a shake of the head, “Sorry.”

“Alas.  What about the others?”

“Alec is the youngest, I think.  Kinda hard to connect with.  He’s an amazing artist, from what I’ve seen, but I don’t really see him draw.  It seems kind of hard to get him interested or involved in anything.  He always looks bored.”  As I said the words aloud, I realized they weren’t exactly true.  The two times I’d seen Alec react to anything had been when he’d played his little prank on Brian, tripping him, and after Bitch and I had been fighting.  A streak of schadenfreude to his personality, maybe.

“And the last one?  Rita?  Rachel?”

“Yeah, Rachel.  I don’t get along with her.  I don’t like her.”

My dad nodded, but didn’t say anything.  I was halfway expecting the typical parental line of ‘maybe if you try to show interest in things she likes’ or some other inane advice.  My dad didn’t pull that on me, he just took another bite of pork chop.

I elaborated a bit, to fill the silence, “She wants things her way, and when she doesn’t get that, she gets mean.  I dunno.  I get enough of that at school, you know?”

“I know,” my dad said.  It was a good lead-in for him to question me about what was going on at school, but he didn’t take it.  He stayed quiet.

I felt immensely grateful, right then.  My dad was respecting the boundaries I’d set, not pushing, not digging for more.  It made this conversation so much easier that it might otherwise have been, and I knew it couldn’t be that easy for him.

I felt like I owed him something for that.  Sighing, I admitted, “Like, at school.  The, uh, the people who’re giving me a hard time?  They sort of ganged up on me on Monday.  Just, you know, taking turns insulting me.  It’s why I needed to get away and went downtown.”  I felt embarrassed, saying it, because it was humiliating enough to live through without having to recap it, and because it felt so disconnected from the rest of the conversation.  But if I didn’t say it right then, I don’t think I would’ve been able to.

My dad sort of went still.  I could see him compose himself and choose his words before he asked, “Not to diminish how much it sucks to get put down like that, but they didn’t do anything else?”

I raised my eyebrows in question as I chewed.  They had, kind of, but I couldn’t really say ‘They used Mom’s death to fuck with my head’ without having to explain the Emma thing.

“Anything like what happened in January?” he asked.

I lowered my eyes to my plate, then shook my head.  After a few moments I said, “No.  January was a one time thing.  They’ve pulled smaller ‘pranks’ since then, hassled me, but no repeat performances on that front.”  I made air quotes with my fingers as I said ‘pranks’.

“Okay,” my dad said, quietly, “That’s a relief to know.”

I didn’t feel like sharing any more.  You’d think I would feel better, after opening up, but I didn’t.  I felt frustrated, angry, awkward.  It was a reminder that I couldn’t have a real conversation with my dad like I used to be able to.  More than anything, I felt guilty.  Part of the guilt was because I’d apparently let my dad think that every time I was bullied, it was like it had been that day, nearly four months ago, when things had been at their worst.  I stabbed at a bit of fat with my fork.

“When were you going out?” My dad asked.  I glanced at the digital clock on the stove and noted the time.

I was glad for the excuse to escape, “Now?  Is that okay?  I won’t be long.”

“Meeting your friends?” he asked.

“Just going to meet Lisa for coffee and conversation, away from the rest of the group,” I told him as I stood up and moved my plate to the sink.  The lie was heavier on my conscience after the open disclosure I’d just had with him.

“Here, wait,” he said.  He stood up and fished in his pocket for his wallet.  He handed me a ten, “For the coffee.  Sorry I don’t have more.  Have fun?”

I hugged him, feeling painfully guilty, then headed to the back door to pull my shoes on.  I was just opening the door when I barely heard him say, “Thank you.”

“Love you, Dad.”

“I love you too.  Be safe.”

I shut the door, grabbed the gym bag I’d stashed under the back steps and headed around the house at a light jog.  I held the gym bag low so my dad wouldn’t see me carrying it.

I took the same general route I took on my morning runs, heading east, towards the Bay.  This time, though, instead of turning up towards the Boardwalk, I headed south.

Back in its heyday, every inch of the city had been a bustling metropolis.  Ships were coming and going at all hours, trains were coming through to deliver goods to be shipped overseas and the city teemed with people.  The northern end of the bay – especially the area close to the water – was all about the industry.  Ships, warehouses, factories, railroad and the homes for everyone who worked those jobs.  You also had the ferry running across the bay itself.

The ferry was my dad’s pet project.  Apparently, it had been one of the first things to go when the import/export dried up.  With the ferry gone, the Docks had sort of been cut off from the rest of the city, unless you were willing to drive for an extra half hour to an hour.  My dad held the opinion that the lack of that transportation to the rest of the city was why the Docks had become what they were today.  He believed that if the ferry were to start running  again, jobs would be created, the people in the low income neighborhoods would have more access to the rest of the city, and the low-class, high-class, no-middle-class dynamic of Brockton Bay would smooth out.

So when I’d been trying to think of a place that was fairly private but easy to find, I thought of the ferry.  I could probably thank my dad for the idea.

I approached the station and found a disused restroom to change into my costume.

The building and the ferry itself were well kept, at least on the outside, which was one of the reasons my dad felt it would take so little effort to get things going again.  Still, that wasn’t the city’s issue.  They didn’t want to provide the addicts and the gangbangers easy access to to the rest of the city, all the while paying to provide the service, for mere hopes of maybe getting improvements for the future.  So the city kept the station and the ferry looking pretty for any tourists that wandered far enough south from the Boardwalk and maintained eternal ‘temporarily out of service’ and ‘coming soon’ signs up around the building and in the brochures.  Aside from the regular replacements to keep them looking new, the signs hadn’t been taken down in nearly a decade.

I ignored the doors to the station’s interior, and instead headed up the stairs to the outdoor patio that overlooked the bay.  There were some large panes of glass to break the wind, and stone tables and benches for those wanting to sit to eat.  It was one of the best vantage points for seeing the PHQ in all its splendor.  The headquarters was a series of arches and spires mounted on a retrofitted oil rig.  Even the platform it was built on was beautiful, though, with hard edges and sweeping lines.  The entire thing was lit up by tinted spotlights and set against a faint corona of shifting colors, like the aurora borealis trapped in the shape of a soap bubble.  A forcefield, forever on, shielding the people who watched over Brockton Bay.

“Wasn’t sure if you would show up,” a male voice broke the silence.

I turned to face Armsmaster, “I’m sorry.  I had to hang up on your receptionist.  Real life called.”

He looked somehow different than the first time I’d met him.  His lips were set in a hard line, his feet set further apart.  His arms were folded across his chest with his Halberd in one hand, the pole resting against his shoulder.  It conveyed such a different attitude that I momentarily wondered if he was the same person under the suit.

“I need to call in a favor.”

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