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Alchemical Solutions [Worm/Exalted]: STORY-ONLY THREAD

Discussion in 'A BROB is for you! - For all your Roleplaying Need' started by Gromweld, Jan 22, 2014.

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  1. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    THIS IS THE STORY-ONLY THREAD!

    PLEASE DO NOT POST IN THIS THREAD!



    Worm, a fantastic web serial, is owned by Wildbow. This quest will spoil a great deal of the story if you haven't finished it already, so go read it now if you haven't already!

    Exalted, a delightful RPG system, is owned by White Wolf and CCP Games. Support the game by picking up a few PDFs on Drive-Thru RPG, would ya?

    ***
    Story-Only Thread Index:

    Arc 1: Spark
    - 1.1
    - 1.2
    - 1.3
    - 1.4
    - 1.5
    - 1.6
    - 1.7
    - Interlude: Simurgh

    Arc 2: Ignition
    - 2.1
    - 2.2
    - 2.3
    - 2.4
    - 2.5
    - 2.6
    - 2.7
    - Interlude: Coil
    - Interlude: Oblivion
    - Interlude: Piggot

    Arc 3: Fuel
    - 3.1
    - 3.2
    - 3.3
    - 3.4
    - 3.5
    - 3.6
    - 3.7
    - Interlude: Cauldron

    Arc 4: Combustion
    - 4.1
    - 4.2
    - 4.3
    - 4.4
    - 4.5
    - 4.6
    - 4.7
    - Interlude: Jack Slash

    Arc 5: Ember
    - 5.1
    - 5.2
    - 5.3
    - 5.4
    - 5.5
    - Interlude: Citrine
    - 5.6
    - Interlude: Aisha
    - 5.7
    - Interlude: Dragon
    - Interlude: PRT Database

    Arc 6: Flame
    - 6.1
    - Interlude: Exaltation Journal
    - 6.2
    - Interlude: Uriel
    - 6.3
    - Interlude: Chris
    - 6.4
    - Interlude: Saint
    - 6.5
    - 6.6
    - 6.7
    - Interlude: Marrow

    Arc 7: Heat
    - 7.1
    - Interlude: Cenotaph
    - 7.2
    - Interlude: Lisa
    - 7.3 (Voting in Progress)


    ***
    Extras:

    == STORY-ONLY THREAD: [SpaceBattles] [SufficientVelocity] ==
    Primary Quest Thread 1 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 2 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 3 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 4 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 5 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 6 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 7 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 8 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 9 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 10 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 11 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 12 [SB] [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 13 [SV]
    Primary Quest Thread 14 [SV] <-- DISCUSSION IS HERE!

    QUEST CHARACTER SHEET
    QUEST MECHANICS
    QUEST EQUIPMENT
    QUEST CAST LIST (CONTAINS SPOILERS UP TO 6.7)

    Charm Cheat-Sheet (Courtesy of RCa)

    Explanation - How To Play Exalted, A Primer
    Explanation - Social Combat (Courtesy of RCa)
    Explanation - Combat vs Snipers (Courtesy of RCa)

    Explanation - The History of Exalted, In Brief (Posted by GamingGeek)
    Explanation - Creation/Elsewhere (Posted by GamingGeek)

    TV Tropes Page for Alchemical Solutions


    ***
    Omake: (Not Quest Canon unless otherwise stated)

    1.1 - Mrs. Knott (Courtesy of NotAlwaysFanfic)
    1.1 - Madison (Courtesy of Blackout785)

    1.2 AU - Enduring Order Administrator (Courtesy of Daemir Silverstreak)
    1.2 AU - Armsmaster (Courtesy of Daemir Silverstreak)
    1.2 AU - Sophia Hess (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    1.2 AU - Emma Barnes (Courtesy of the DragonBard)

    1.6 - Daniel Hebert (Courtesy of Bozwieval)

    1.7 - Miss Militia (Courtesy of Jinnt)

    2.1 - Drs. Laurel & Hardy (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    2.1 - Mr. Gladly (Courtesy of the DragonBard)

    2.1 - Emma Barnes (Courtesy of the DragonBard)

    2.4a - Glenn Chambers (Courtesy of Daemir Silverstreak)
    2.4b - Taylor Hebert (Courtesy of Daemir Silverstreak)
    2.4c - Glenn Chambers (Courtesy of Daemir Silverstreak)

    2.7 - Resonant Terror Cascade (Courtesdy of Kelenas)
    2.7 - Armsmaster (Courtesdy of Jinnt)
    2.7 - Vista (Courtesy of Jinnt)
    2.7 - Greg (Courtesy of RCa)
    2.7a - Undersiders (Courtesy of Jinnt)
    2.7b - Undersiders (Courtesy of Jinnt)

    Arc 2 Interlude - Director Piggot (Courtesy of the DragonBard, adapted into Canon Interlude)
    Arc 2 Interlude - Kaiser (Courtesy of the DragonBard)

    3.1 - Contessa (Courtesy of Jinnt)
    3.1 - Black Widow #174 (Courtesy of veekie)

    3.3 - Assault (Courtesy of Daemir Silverstreak)

    3.4a - Eye of Autochthon (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    3.4b - Director Piggot (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    3.4c - Jessica Yamada (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    3.4d - Missy & Hannah (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    3.4 - Missy (Courtesy of Dimensionist)

    3.5 - Director Piggot (Courtesy of cosoco)

    3.6 - Chevalier (Courtesy of Chandra Magic)
    3.6 - Glenn Chambers (Courtesy of the DragonBard)

    3.7 - Dragon (Courtesy of Jinnt)
    3.7 - Behemoth & Simurgh (Courtesy of kestrel404)

    4.1 - Possible Battles (Courtesy of Demonic Spoon)
    4.1 - Danny Hebert (Courtesy of LoreOfClark)
    4.1a - Tattletale (Courtesy of LoreOfClark)
    4.1b - Tattletale (Courtesy of LoreOfClark)
    4.1 - Ball 'o Spiders (Courtesy of the DragonBard)

    4.2 - Über and Leet (Courtesy of tomio)
    4.3 - Tattletale (Courtesy of LoreOfClark)

    4.3 - Defenders at PRT HQ (Courtesy of Daemir Silverstreak)
    4.3 - Über & Leet (Courtesy of tomio)

    4.4 - Iron Sun (Courtesy of .IronSun.)
    4.4 - Panacea (Courtesy of LoreOfClark)

    Arc 4 AU - Taylor & Iris (Courtesy of AkatsukiLeader13)

    4.5 - Tattletale (Courtesy of LoreOfClark)

    4.7a - Taylor & Protectorate (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    4.7b - Taylor & Protectorate (Courtesy of wingnut2292)
    4.7 - Taylor & Tattletale (Courtesy of sun tzu)
    4.7 - Emma Barnes (Courtesy of Jinnt)

    5.4 AU - Taylor & Missy (Courtesy of Jinnt)

    Arc 5+ - Parahumans Online (Courtesy of sun tzu)
    Arc 5+ - Parahumans Online (Courtesy of LoreOfClark)
    Arc 5+ - Coil (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    Arc 5+ - Taylor & Daniel Hebert (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    Arc 5+ - Taylor & Dragon (Courtesy of Azure)
    Arc 5+a - Alchemical Solutions/Conquest Quest Crossover (Courtesy of sun tzu)
    Arc 5+b - Alchemical Solutions/Conquest Quest Crossover (Courtesy of sun tzu)
    Arc 5+ - Taylor & Wards (Courtesy of BobTheNinja)
    Arc 5+ - Taylor, Miss Militia, Wards (Courtesy of the DragonBard)

    5.1 - Dragon (Courtesy of Jinnt)

    5.5 - Aisha & Taylor (Courtesy of Jinnt, turned into Canon Interlude)

    Arc 6+ - Chevalier (Courtesy of FunkyEntropy)
    Arc 6+ - Medical Log (Courtesy of uju32)
    Arc 6+ - Matchmaking Through War (Courtesy of charysa)
    Arc 6+ - Matchmaking Through Everything (Courtesy of charysa)
    Arc 6+ - Asymmetric Strategic Threat Workgroup (Courtesy of uju32)
    Arc 6+ - BOLO for Iris (Courtesy of uju32)
    Arc 6+ - Über (Courtesy of tomio)

    6.6 - Number Man Conversation, Evil Version (Courtesy of Jinnt)

    6.7 - Dragon & Taylor (Courtesy of Jinnt)
    6.7 - Coming Clean to the Wards (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    6.7 - Taylor's Diary (Courtesy of uju32)
    6.7 - Out of Character (Courtesy of DragonBard)

    Arc 7+ - Dragon Ascendant (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    Arc 7+ - A Good Day (Courtesy of uju32)
    Arc 7+ - VIVA (Courtesy of uju32)
    Arc 7+ - Finding Iris (Courtesy of vali)
    Arc 7+ - Sarah Nichols Ruins Everything (Courtesy of Random Entity)

    Arc 8+ - Glenn Chambers (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    Arc 8+ - All War is Deception (Courtesy of Slamu)
    Arc 8+ - Dissonance (Courtesy of Random Entity)

    Arc 9+ - Poking Leviathan (Courtesy of vali)

    Arc 10+ - Taylor & Vista (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    Arc 10+ - Assembly & Leviathan (Courtesy of the DragonBard)
    Arc 10+ - Building A Better Gun (Courtesy of Slamu)
    Arc 10+ - Aisha, Queen of the Robots (Courtesy of Random Entity)

    A Bad End (Courtesy of Demonic Spoon)
    A Good End (Courtesy of RCa)
    Strength of the People (Courtesy of Slamu)
    Dragon of Forthright Action (Courtesy of Random Entity)

    Sidereal-Style Poem (Courtesy of linkhyrule5)
    Memory of the Sun (Courtesy of Random Entity)
    Memory of the Waiting Sun (Courtesy of aetherialDawn)


    ***
    Quest-Related Art: (Not Quest Canon unless otherwise stated)

    Taylor Hebert Pre-Exaltation (Art by Hybrid303) (Quest Canon)

    The Simurgh (Art by Scarfgirl) (Quest Canon)

    The Death of Taylor Anne Hebert (Art by assana73)

    Alchemical Taylor (Stylized, Art by Shyft)

    1.2 - Taylor In The Mirror (Art by assana73)

    2.3 - Missy In Suitjamas (Art by assana73) (Quest Canon)

    Miss Militia & Taylor & Iris (Art by assana73)

    3.6 - Saving Chevalier From Iris (Art by charysa)
    3.6 - Taylor/Dragon Collaboration Dress (Art by Shyft) (Quest Canon)

    If Behemoth Was A Week Late (Art by charysa)

    Brockton Bay Wards Beach Vacation (Art by charysa)

    Taylor's Iconic Anima Display (Art by Demonic Spoon)
    Taylor's Iconic Anima Display (Art by assana73)

    Series of Sketches and Comics:
    - Iris of Innovation Sketches (Art by assana73)
    - Taylor, Behemoth, and a Carrot (Art by assana73)
    - Interrupting Lung's Nap (Art by assana73)
    - Line Art For Above - Links Below Art (Art by assana73)

    4.4 - Daniel Hebert (Art by assana73) (Quest Canon)

    Behemoth (Art by BobTheNinja)

    Lung Dressed As Mumm-Rah (Art by assana73)

    4.7 Omake - Taylor & Protectorate (Art by assana73, from This Omake)

    Iris, Jack, Bonesaw & Simurgh (Art by charysa)
     
  2. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    You told your dad this morning that you were looking forward to school today, and for the first time in a long while it wasn't a complete lie. He reacted with the same strained smile as always, though, so now you’re fairly certain he couldn't tell you've been lying about that since the start of the year.

    You make your way through the gates, hurrying to get inside before the drizzle outside turns into a downpour, and keep your eyes peeled for Sally. Despite how gun-shy she was interacting with you before the Winter Break, her lament - about her Birthday being near Christmas always resulted in less net presents than her brother - inspired you to get her two small gifts as a surprise. The two presents rest secure in the pockets of your loose pants: a small kalimba (snagged at the flea market, refurbished by yourself) wrapped in birthday-themed paper, and a reasonably-snuggly scarf with a fairly basic Alexandria logo repeating through it (that you learned how to knit over the break) wrapped in Christmas-themed paper.

    You're quite proud of that last one, as your latest version actually has proper spacing between the large rectangles that you’re pretty sure look like the Tower of Alexandria. From a distance. In the rain.

    Anyway you worked hard on both of these gifts as a testament to how much her friendship/semi-public tolerance of you is appreciated, what with the soul-crushing hell that last year was...

    As if summoned by your darkening thoughts, you briefly catch Emma and Madison watching you through the crowd and flinch reflexively before you notice their gazes aren't overtly hostile. They seem bored, but there’s something else in their eyes that you can’t quite pin down before they turn to giggle conspiratorially with Sophia as she approaches them from the other side of the crowd. You release a breath you didn't realize you were holding and stop walking so close to the wall just in time to catch a glimpse of Sally through the throngs of pubescence. Pushing your way through the morass, you struggle with your best smile - this time, it doesn't feel so forced. How long has it been since you've really smiled? You sneak one hand into your pocket and squeeze the wrapped scarf as you catch up to Sally. Maybe you’ll finally have something to truly smile about.


    ***


    A hand grabs the back of your neck as you try to turn to vomit. This doesn't stop your stomach from finishing the deed, causing your breakfast of pancakes and orange juice to splatter all over the mountain of used tampons, pads, and toilet paper that fills your locker. A hard shove and then your world is nothing but the vomit, the filth, and the smell. And with the slam of hard metal, there is darkness and laughter.


    ***


    Crying.

    Sally’s expression of restrained fear as she covertly takes your gifts and flees back into the crowd without a word.

    Clawing. Scratching.

    The small bubble of people avoiding the space around your locker that you ignore through blurry eyes as you dejectedly spin the lock and tear open the locker.

    Cursing. Struggling. Pleading.

    A pile of retched and fetid biological waste crammed to the roof of your locker, hammering home that they weren't stopping; they were just getting started.

    Retching. Twitching. Choking. Gagging.

    Emma, Madison, and Sophia’s laughs echoing into your prison of filth as the click of the lock shatters any hope of rescue…

    The darkness falls away as you gaze up in numb fascination. The object is too large for you to comprehend, you with a mind limited to three dimensions and a finite number of neurons to comprise it. It twists, folds, expands, and then contracts again but each time it remains the same size and overall shape, as if there is more than one of it filling the space of the original. Images flicker across scales the size of continents, so clear you can make them out from here even though you faintly understand the thing - no, the creature - is an unfathomable distance away.

    The visions flicker in a pattern that seems random at first but then takes on a pattern that you struggle to remember even as you watch them unfold. Futures, pasts, and presents of worlds alien and familiar. Ideas, concepts, and facts compiled and hoarded by civilizations long gone. Your mind reels from information strobing across the crystalline scales, until a shift in the creature’s hypnotic movements breaks you from your reverie.

    No longer smooth in its pulsating movements, the creature begins to fall apart. Slowly at first, with only the smallest scales - even these you feel are the size of large islands - flaking off towards… something. But then the pace increases until your vision is filled by crystal shards the size of continents, each slowly gliding in a way that instills in you a feeling that there is purpose to their movement. You can no longer make sense of time, but the creature has slowly begun to diminish in size - despite it still appearing as large as the planet you call home. Is it dying? Before you can hope to learn the answer to your question, one of the largest spines breaks off and…

    Chittering. Buzzing. Biting. Spinning. Skittering.

    A fly. Another fly nestled on your shirt. A cockroach in between the wall reveals water leaking in from the rain outside. A spider on the ceiling feels the whispers of wind vibrate its web, painting a picture of the air currents space above your locker. A flea on the cat at the far side of the school, fat with eggs, hangs on as the cat bounds over the school’s wall. A hive of hornets in the building across the street feel the humidity in the air drop as the rain begins to let up…

    You seizure under the avalanche of sensory information, moaning weakly before nothingness claims you.


    ***


    Blinking in the darkness, you breathe a sigh of relief. What was that, four times you blacked out from… whatever the hell was going on with your senses? At least it seems to have stopped for the moment. That you can breathe at all is another pleasant surprise - you don’t detect any more smells…

    Terror overwhelms your strange bout of Clarity as you try to flail your limbs in hopes that someone will hear the noise and come to your rescue before you pass out again. Unfortunately, you no longer seem to have limbs. Or a body. How did you sigh before, then? What’s going on? Is this a dream?

    YES.

    The single tick of a watch’s second-hand. Dozens of ball bearings tumbling along with the barest of friction. Hundreds of hammers shaping white-hot metal. Thousands of conveyor belts trickling down an assembly line. Millions of gears seamlessly twisting in perfect harmony. Billions of unfathomably complex machines genuflecting in prayer to their creator and master. The voice that washes over your mind is all these things at once, and more. You are overwhelmed but not terrified, for even though your brain struggles to comprehend the concepts that comprise the voice, you recognize a tone of compassion, of understanding, of sorrow.

    “What? Where am I? Who are you?” You blurt out. How are you even talking, let alone thinking straight after what you've just been through? You simultaneously want to cheer in elation for being out of the locker, wretch in disgust at the recollection of the event, and wail in despair that you may now be in an evenworsesituation.

    YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THE WAKING WORLD AND IN YOUR DREAMS, AS AM I.

    YOU SUFFER AND DESPAIR UNDER THE TORMENT OF YOUR PEERS, AS HAVE I.

    YOUR BODY AND MIND FAIL YOU, AS DOES MINE.

    Despite the overpowering sensations that course through you with every word, you feel the weight of emotion in the voice resonate with your very being. You have no eyes yet you must weep. Just curl up into a ball and wait it out, like always. You can take it. You've never been good at anything else...

    But before the melancholy can take you fully, the spark of realization - that you aredying - hits you. Sophia, Madison, Emma… they've killedyou. You never antagonized them, you never attacked them, you never even retaliated, yet they've only gotten worse and worse for no. Fucking. Reason. You've not given much thought towards what you want to do with your life, but now... now you refuse to let it be wasted so pointlessly.

    Clarity washes over your mind. Cold. Efficient. Ruthless.

    “No.”

    The name-calling. The pranks. The locker. The bugs. These are trivial nuisances.

    “If I die, they win.”

    Emma, the Betrayer. Sophia, the Instigator. Madison, the Cover. Only relevant as examples of how far Order has fallen, to allow such behavior.

    “I will not die.”

    The other kids that did nothing. The teachers that looked away. The legal system that would undoubtedly fail to find evidence to convict them of your murder. Systemic corruption that must be purged if there is to be Order.

    “They will never win.”

    There is silence, the cacophonous void of inevitability.


    CORRECT.

    A smile in the voice - if a harmonious din of machines can smile - , satisfactory and proud. Its next statement, however, is tinged with regret.

    PREPARE YOURSELF.

    “Wha-”


    ***


    Your eyes snap open in the coffin of filth that is your locker but there is a burst of light in front of your face as something slams into your forehead and then there is nothing in the Universe but PAIN.


    ***


    A light breaks over the empty horizon; a light of burnished brass, shining silver, and gleaming gold.

    HEAR ME, TAYLOR ANNE HEBERT, AND UNDERSTAND.

    The planet rises slowly, a clockwork sphere of inescapable beauty, wonder, and potential.

    I AM THE GREAT MAKER.

    Oceans of shimmering oil, clouds of billowing steam and wispy smoke, forests of radiant crystal.

    I AM THE MACHINE GOD.

    The entire planet shifts, splits, and opens, revealing it to be a living, mechanical Eye.

    I AM AUTOCHTHON.

    The Deus Machina swivels slightly and the enormous iris of the Primordial focuses on your formless being, driving all conscious thought from your mind.

    YOU WILL LIVE SO THAT I WILL LIVE.

    YOU ARE MY LAST AND GREATEST HOPE.

    YOU ARE MY VANGUARD AND MY SALVATION.

    The iris snaps open wide and you plummet into the darkness.

    THROUGH ENDURANCE YOU HAVE SURVIVED PAIN, BETRAYAL, AND INJUSTICE.

    THROUGH WITNESSING FRAILTY, IGNORANCE, AND CRUELTY YOU KNOW WHAT MUST BE FIXED TO BRING ORDER.

    THROUGH GUILE YOU WILL ADMINISTER THE REST OF MY CHOSEN IN THIS NEW UNIVERSE.

    THROUGH YOUR SOUL OF STEEL, CHAMPION MY NAME.

    In a sudden eruption, power - Essence - flows through your mind, body, and soul.


    ARISE, ENDURING ORDER ADMINISTRATOR.


    ***

    You open your eyes.

    You are in your locker.

    You are in your empty locker.

    Not just empty. Clean. You’re not sensing bugs (though you’re not sure why you remember that), either. You do get a whiff of an industrial cleaner, though from the strength of the smell they either had to use significantly less than you would have expected or that the smell has had time to dissipate.

    You’re not quite certain how they would have gone about cleaning the damn thing with you still in it, so there’s definitely something strange going…

    …a clockwork sphere of inescapable beauty…

    Your feeling of rejuvenation and mental Clarity sinks sinks into the floor as you realize you likely have had a psychotic break. You've read about this before - trauma victims returning to the scene of the tragedy in fugue states.

    Well, at least the locker door is open. Ah, and it’s night time as well. You step over the small little mess of flowers that your door scattered everywhere, then lean back against the locker in a slouch. What to do?


    ***


    [ ] Now isn’t the time to mope. Now is the time for rest.
    -- Go home. Hope your dad isn’t freaking out about you being out at night. Sleep. Try to feel better in the morning, at which point you can try to piece together just what happened.

    [ ] Now isn't the time to mope. Now is the time for logic.
    -- You may not be playing with a full deck right now, but maybe you can figure out what’s going on if you examine the area and do some investigating before heading home. Your dad can handle you being out a little longer.

    [ ] Now isn’t the time to mope. Now is the time for screaming.
    -- Screaming sounds real good right now. Lots and lots of screaming.

    [ ] Now is the time to mope.
    -- Welcome to the town of Suffering. Population: Taylor Hebert.

    [ ] Write-in.
     
  3. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] Now isn't the time to mope. Now is the time for logic.
    -- You may not be playing with a full deck right now, but maybe you can figure out what’s going on if you examine the area and do some investigating before heading home. Your dad can handle you being out a little longer.

    ***


    Over the holiday break you started looking into doing some form of exercise regimen, as some research into fighting depression said that regular exercise is currently the healthiest - and most effective - treatment method for all but the worst cases. This winter was even more mild than usual, so when your morning running routine got off to a great start you very quickly learned an important lesson: how to breathe.

    Closing your eyes, imagine you’re doing your usual cool-down walk around the back yard. Slow, deep breath through your nose. Hold… and breathe out.

    You breathe in. A tickling coldness flows through your mind, through your body. You breathe out.

    You breathe in. You will not be overwhelmed, you will not panic. You breathe out.

    You breathe in. There is peace, there is harmony. There is Clarity. You breathe out.

    You open your eyes.

    Correcting your slouch and moving away from the locker, you are pleased with the speed and detail in which you take in the environment. Posters for Flowers scattered around where you exited your locker, indicating that they were propped up against it. Foot traffic patterns discernible even in this low-light environment, showcasing that there has been a wide berth given to the area around your locker. Small bit of white chalk is smudged directly underneath where the frame of your locker meets the floor, left over from some form of marking that was cleaned up. Bulletin board covered in posters and papers indicating event and recruitment schedules. Banner hanging over main hallway entrance reminding everyone of upcoming Wards visit. Moon hanging low enough to be seen shining through classroom window.

    It is early in the morning of January 11th. One week has passed since the morning you were shoved into your locker. There was a chalk outline drawn at the base of your locker, meaning they found your body. Flowers have served as a small memorial, indicating that your fate is publicly known.

    The world believes Taylor Anne Hebert is dead. Your father believes his daughter was murdered.

    You feel a dampness on your face and reach to brush it off. Looking at your fingers…

    …your hand - your entire arm - is comprised of a light-devouring black metal. You stare at your palm, the silver substance on your fingertips that must have come from your face ignored ignored for the moment. No, it’s not metal… entirely. Flexing your hand, you see seams that indicate rigid plates and servos, but they seem to shift and glide as fluidly as normal skin would. It’s hypnotic in its complexity, until your eyes begin to notice a tiny, drifting images on the surface of your skin. You raise the back of your hand up near your eyes and at an angle so that it catches the moonlight and…

    …faces, triangular and hollow, mouths silent in contorted anguish, empty eye sockets pleading…

    You start to scream, and you’re not sure if you’ll ever stop.


    ***


    You jerk awake, nearly falling off the toilet upon which you were curled up in a ball. Mind whirling, you quickly discern at least where you are: the bathroom stall that is your regular lunchtime refuge. It’s still dark - darker, even, as it seems the moon has set - but you figure there aren’t many more hours until it starts to get light again and then there will be students and…

    You want to cover your face and press in the strange silver tears that continue to spill from your eyes, but you’re not sure you want to have your hands - your skin - close enough to your eyes to see the faces again.

    Just your lot that you’d get powers that horribly disfigure your body. You’d heard of a few capes that are twisted and disgusting while some are just bizarre, but you hadn’t really looked into it that much. Didn’t Legend have a team of Wards up in New York with a guy apparently made entirely of metal? Fuser or something? They reputably have some pretty crazy superpowers, though, so maybe there’s a silver lining? 'A soulsteel lining’ you darkly muse to yourself.

    Wait, what? Soulsteel? Where did that come from? And why does it… fit? You groan as a headache begins to form, but a shake of your head and a few minutes spent doing calming breaths begins to help. Calm, rational thoughts will keep you sane, here, you can’t let-

    They will never win.

    You blink. The headache is gone, but so is the flash of memory that you could have sworn was your own voice. You feel invigorated, however, and once again priorities begin to reassert themselves in your mind: figure out what happened to you, then get home. You’ll need to be calm and informed when you get back to home so that you don’t bust into your home in a panic and freak out your dad. He might not survive the shock…

    …if he’s even still alive. Mom’s accidental death nearly drove him mad with grief, if he thinks I wasmurdered

    Staving off the traitorous thoughts, you stand up and push out of the stall.

    A cross between your mother and the Simurgh stares back at you through the half-wall mirror across the bathroom.

    The creature is formed of smooth, abyssal-black metal. Its form is at once heart-stoppingly familiar, soul-achingly beautiful, and pants-shittingly terrifying. Featureless gold eyes glow dimly, the gaze taking in everything you are, were, and ever will be with a single glance. Long, elegant curls of ebony hair cascade down past its shoulders, reflective and waving making it almost seem alive and dangerous. Eight spider-like arms extend back from just beyond the hairline like a halo around its head, framing a face so like your mother’s that you’d swear it was ripped right out of your dreams. The body and limbs are wiry with lines alternating between sharp and wicked to curved and elegant, its proportions both full and tasteful. Thin lattices of silver, gold, bronze, and other rich colors dance along to highlight where muscle groups would be in a human, reinforcing an image of durability bordering on Endbringer-level invincibility.

    You reflexively shift to some kind of defensive posture - even though you know you have no hope against this agonizingly beautiful creature of terror - when it shifts to a mirrored stance.

    This is not some creature. This is you.

    And you are very clearly naked.


    ***

    [ ] Victory celebration time.
    -- Sure, you’re probably going to be attacked on-sight by the Protectorate, but wow who cares you are SEXY. Emotional trauma and psychological issues can wait, time to figure out if you also scored on the power lottery!

    [ ] Mourning time.
    -- So much for being a Hero; bed sheets with you on them would be perma-soiled. Maybe you can hide under a lot of armor? Maybe you have some kind of powers that can help with this?

    [ ] Logic time.
    -- Priority number one: obtain clothes or a way to hide.
    -- Priority number two: return home.
    -- Priority number three: determine new abilities.
    -- [Write-in]: change or add priorities

    [ ] Screaming time. Again.
    -- There’s always time for some more screaming. Panicking might help you figure out your powers, though you’re not really sure you care about that right now.

    [ ] Write-in.


    ***

    CHARM SELECTION TIME, EVERYONE!

    I have already picked some charms for Taylor to fit with her canonical powers and abilities, but now is the time for you to choose some as well! You do not know her Attribute or Ability scores at the moment, but I have (hopefully) described enough to give you some good hints as to her stats. One score I will give you outright is her Essence: Taylor is currently Essence 3.

    Notes:
    - As Alchemical charms are straight-up augments, they have a limited number of charms they can house on their body. Taylor doesn't have the max number of slots that can be bought with XP, but she has more than the default amount.

    - It will likely be a long time before Taylor gets a chance to upgrade her Attributes, Charms, or Essence. There are no vats on Earth Bet, nor any of the magical materials... yet.

    - When in doubt, ask yourself if canon!Taylor would have wanted/prioritized a charm.


    Choose wisely!
     
  4. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] Victory celebration time.
    -- Sure, you’re probably going to be attacked on-sight by the Protectorate, but wow who cares you are SEXY. Emotional trauma and psychological issues can wait, time to figure out if you also scored on the power lottery!

    [X] Charmset Cytokel (Corrected)

    ***


    As you stare at the crea-your reflection, the flash of terror that had briefly forced you into fight-or-flight mode gradually dissipates. A smile begins to tug at your face, slowly widening into manic grin filled with perfectly-white teeth.

    By the Maker, you are so hot.

    You push the confusion regarding who ‘the Maker’ is down into the prison where you’re currently suppressing your allotment of existential horror at being a monstrous robot, as well as the creeping dread that your chance to become a hero was ruined before it began. With those niggling feelings out of the way, you are free to revel in the terrible majesty of your new form and whatever powers you may have gained alongside the change.

    Straightening up, you begin to cycle through poses to better take in your form. Starting with, of course, the classic ‘Alexandria Victory Pose’ - arms crossed over chest with hands balled, legs apart, back straight. Stretching, flexing, posing, and quasi-seductively flirting with the mirror gives you a great view of your new assets, in all meanings of the word.

    There’s the silver - moonsilver - lines tracing two parallel razor-thin lines all over your arms, legs, and torso, that a part of your mind recognizes as some form of agility enhancement. A few scales of grey-ish material - jade - form tough pads on the undersides of your limbs and down your back, almost like an echo of your skeleton. Your forearms themselves actually flare out like a blade before they meet the elbows, in a way that implies that you’re wearing some form of bulky-but-streamlined bracers. Starting from the corners of your eyes, a row of diamonds (one karat each, if you remember your research last year in science class correctly) stretches straight back through your hairline and - you feel with your fingers - meet up with a much larger diamond on the back of your head. Not as large as the absolutely flawless oval-shaped diamond in the center of your forehead, which must be at least ten or more karats - which means it’s likely worth millions of dollars alone. Finally, overall, your skin seems to have an even brighter sheen than what you feel is normal for whatever this monstrous metal - soulsteel - comprises your body, giving you a very slight-but-still-surreal glow.

    Beyond what’s visually distinctive, a deep-seated part of you also feels something… somethings… more in your body than just what’s visible on the surface. Your face scrunches up in consternation (which doesn’t appear to make you any less attractive) as you trace the lines along your arms and body trying to determine how to possibly activate whatever these powers are. In the interviews you’ve read and watched of various heroes, most have described learning about their powers when they were up to the wall and in dire need, so you’re not sure if you can just flip a switch to be awesome. Maybe you need to be in the right stance or mindset to make things work? You’re really wishing you’d read more on how capes actually manifested their powers, but if the mainstream media was any indication most capes had a thing for arm and hand movements to correspond with their abilities. You’ve always wanted to fly, so how would you… maybe like this

    The bathroom door opens, a pale light washing in from the hallway as someone takes two steps forward and freezes. Right when your arms are spread open as if you were floating with effortless grace through the air.

    You turn your head slowly, gaze settling on the stilled form of the Winslow High School janitor. A few months ago, he’d found you after school when you’d been trying to put back together an art project that the Trio had torn up and dumped pieces of in each of the girl’s bathroom’s trashcans. Though he hadn’t tried to ask you about why your project spread out through the school like that, he’d still helped - which was more than any other adult in the school had done at that point. Since that point you’d bumped into him a few more times searching for your backpack whenever it was ‘misplaced’ and he always found the time to help out. You had idly mused at one point whether he was secretly a cape that knew where and when people needed his help most, but there was no way the Protectorate would let someone with that great a power daylight as a high school janitor. Besides which, he hadn’t saved you from The Locker.

    Perhaps that last thought had caused your expression to change, because Custodian Ralph Munroe just went from ‘pale and trembling’ to ‘catatonic’. You hear a strangled breath pass his lips that sounds something like “murgh’” before his legs give out and he collapses.

    Perhaps it’s time to celebrate your victory somewhere else.


    ***


    It’s still pitch black outside, making your esca-tactical relocation from the school significantly easier. Straining your hearing and vision, you’re surprised by the relatively quiet atmosphere; the clocks you passed read a little after five o’clock in the morning, so you surmise that this must be that dead time of the night between when most gangs and night-owls turn in but before morning folk are up. Save for Ralph. You’d stared at his comatose form for a bit trying to will a way into wiping his mind before you realized how absolutely heinous that train of thought was, felt guilty for trying to mind-rape someone, then tactically fled the scene.

    The speed at which you slink stealthily through the shadows along the street is actually surprising you a bit, frankly. Shadows seem to cling to you a bit more than you’d expec-oh, right, light-devouring metal body. You let out a sigh as you struggle to keep your despair repressed, which is getting more and more difficult as you approach your home, but overall things could be worse - your senses seem to be noticeably better than you remember, reacting to situations that could have exposed you more quickly than you thought you could, and… well, at least you’re not hideous.

    Suddenly, your senses go haywire as space itself warps around you, causing your next step to place you in the middle of the street nearly a block away instead of behind a trash can. Just as quickly, reality snaps back into place, just in time to hear a young female voice call out.

    “Excuse me, but what…”

    The voice cuts off in a strangled choke, and a stillness settles over the area.

    You direct a very put-upon glare in the direction of where the voice originated, as you are fairly certain you were minding your own business, thank you very much. It’s just one thing after another tonight, you swear you just want to get home and oh Maker that’s two capes you’re going to die.

    Standing on the edge of the rooftop immediately to your left is a small-statured individual in a relatively-tight costume with some sort of mathematical-looking teal-and-green pattern visible between the bits of body armor and subtly-shaped breastplate. You’re not sure why but that last one somehow strikes you as both presumptive and pitiable - maybe it’s the short dress indicating this is a young girl? A green visor that covers the top of her head down past her eyes, a bit like the style Alexandria wears, completes the young cape’s ensemble.

    Floating - on a glowing red skateboard - next to her is a red-and-gold power armor suit shaped vaguely like one of those comic superheros from Earth Aleph. You only saw the Earth Aleph comic once in History class when Mr. Gladly passed it around during his talks about capes and legal suits, so while you’re uncertain of the legal ramifications of the suit floating above you you’re much more certain that it’s a tinker and that you are in a world of trouble.

    You need to get out of here now you need to run you need to hide.

    Several things happen in rapid succession: a feeling of power fills your veins, sparks lash out from the center of your forehead and course through your body, the air ripples around you like a heat mirage, and then you wink out of existence. Or, at least, you feel like you do - your peripheral vision can still see occasional sparks and something like a shimmering outline of your limbs, but in the background of your mind you know that you are hidden. Hidden impossibly well.

    This startles the two capes - Wards, you guess, which means they’re probably just kids your age - who immediately begin to frantically turn their heads as if searching for you.

    “Teleporter?! I can’t… it’s…she’s not invisible, I can’t sense her…” the young female’s voice is panicked but not loud, though you can hear her from the middle of the street just fine.

    Then space warps around you again… except it’s not around you this time, it’s through you. With a very silent crunching feeling, you are sandwiched between the building the Wards are standing on and the building behind you as the distance between them abruptly becomes non-existent. Somehow, you still make out the young girl speaking.

    “She’s not on the street anymore, at least. Couldn’t do that otherwise.”

    There’s a synthesized-sounding grunt before the young male voice of the other Ward can be heard. “That… that was really freaky. It looked like some sort of cross between the Siberian and the Simurgh. And what was with those sparks?-My sensors went nuts for a split-second there before she teleported. I’m going to call this in, keep focusing on the area to see if she pops back up.”

    Being smashed between two buildings that should - by all rights - be hundreds of feet apart is far more painful than you could have imagined. Why isn’t that girl stopping her effect? You want to scream but there’s no air to breathe, you want to flail but your body is trapped in a form-fit concrete impression. Why, why is this happening again? From one prison to another, and you don’t think you’re going to be lucky enough to come back to life again. You need to get out you need to get out you need anything you needeverything.

    With a scream, the world explodes.

    ***

    Your eyes snap open.

    You are in your bed, staring up at your ceiling. The sun is up.

    You do not hear your father stirring, so he’s probably already left for work.

    You feel very drained, but also more alive than you have felt before. Power surges through your heart like two separate pools of unlimited potential, though both reserves feel significantly… emptier… than they may be able to be. You’re certain that’s because you did something before you blacked out, or many somethings, but you’re not sure want to delve into your memory to try to figure out what.

    With a tired gesture, you lift your arm to check if - yep, still deathly-black metal. Except, now you have a small feeling that you can change that?

    Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier...

    Focusing inward, you pull upon the smaller reserve of power - Essence - in a way that feels like you’ve known how to do it your entire life.

    Before your eyes, your horrifically-beautiful skill shifts to reveal thousands of clay-like deposits that pour out over your body with a cool, soothing sensation. In only a few seconds, your skin is once again your skin. Except, maybe a bit silkier and more supple? Turning both hands over in front of your eyes, you see no sign of the blemishes from growing up playing in the back yard. The large scar from when you sliced your left index finger down to the bone while trying to help your mom with dinner is gone as well.

    Tearing off the covers, you scramble over to your mirror.

    You’re no longer some terrifyingly-beautiful monstrosity - now you’re just agonizingly beautiful. Still naked, though - which gives you a great view of just how astonishingly well-sculpted you are.

    You get the feeling that’s a better description than you fully understand.

    But the face that looks back at you now is distinctly Taylor Hebert, though you look like you’ve skipped puberty and gone straight to being twenty-something. Is this what you would have looked like if you had aged normally? Well, ok, you probably would have never had this chest or ass, but the face? It’s a bit longer like your father’s, and you have his eye color but the lips, nose, and eye shape are all hers.

    Maker you miss her so much.

    After spending some time doing a repeat of last night’s exhibition in front of the bathroom mirror - after locking your door, of course - you attempt to get dressed only to realize you really don’t fit into your clothes anymore. Well, you fit but you don’t fit: you’re showing a midrift, your shirts are way too tight and your pants are nearly skin-tight and only go down to your ankles. You do have a few sweatpants and sweatshirts that will work much better, though.

    After enjoying playing dress-up for a bit, you take a few breaths to calm down and try to sort through what you know and what your priorities are:

    What you know:
    - Whatever happened in The Locker gave you super powers. You are now a cape. This is amazing.
    - Not just any cape, you are a terrifyingly-sexy death-metal robot with a lot of really cool powers. So many, in fact, that you’re pretty sure you have most of them disabled right now because they might have overloaded you before.
    - Your powers came with some pretty freaky visions, but all that’s left of them is some sort of echo in your mind. This is a bit disturbing.
    - You have a very deep urge to make something right, to correct some great injustice, but that’s a bit foggy right now. This is confusing.
    - You’re pretty sure you left a corpse in The Locker, and everyone thinks you’re dead. This is much more disturbing.
    - Your first impression with the Wards did not Go As Planned. Not that you had a plan, or that you even remember what really happened, but you have a sinking feeling that you may have been a little over-enthusiastic with your powers last night. Since the Wards are your best hope for being a Hero, this is about as disturbing to you as leaving a corpse of yourself in your locker.
    - You somehow made it home safely and without alerting your dad, because there’s no way he’d be at work right now if you came home looking like… well, however you looked at the time, which was most certainly bad.

    What you need to do:
    - Get some more clothes, as you’re sure sweats will not suffice for everything you need to do now.
    - Check the house to figure out what your dad has been up to while you’ve been… gone.
    - Eat, because for some reason you are a robot that has a rumbling stomach? Huh. Odd.
    - Figure out how to deal with your dad: there’s no way to hide that you’re a cape now, so either you let him think you’re (still?) dead or you tell him at least some of what’s happened to you. You’re not sure your heart can live with that first option, to be honest, especially with how you suspect he may be feeling since you ‘died’.
    - Get in contact with the Wards… actually, you look like you’re around twenty now, so would you qualify for the Protectorate? If they make you reveal your identity, they may match up your birth records and figure out you’re only fifteen and then stick you in the Wards… which brings up last night’s debacle. Great.
    - On further thought, maybe waiting to go to the Wards/Protectorate until you make a name for yourself is the better idea. It’d let you dictate terms, as well as build up a reputation of being a bad-ass (which every part of you in agreement with, strangely) without their bureaucracy. You’ve heard of a lot of capes going into the Protectorate well after they’ve started being a public cape, so it’s not that far-fetched of an idea.
    - Speaking of other capes, you need to research the cape scene, and quickly. Best to do that at the Library, since you don’t have a reliable Internet connection here at home.
    - Figure out the full breadth of your powers. After last night you think you may need a lot of free space for that, however. Maybe the Ship Graveyard? Maybe the Wards/Protectorate can help with this?
    - You’re getting that urge to correct some great wrong again. Probably going to have to spend some time sorting that out, whatever it is.

    You look up from your desk, where you’ve been jotting down these ideas and thoughts in a spare notebook, to see it’s 9:33 AM. You’re actually still pretty tired, so maybe you should add sleep to that list…

    ***

    And with that, we conclude (for the most part) character generation. Congratulations! Taylor’s character sheet is now fully solidified, with the exception of Taylor’s Motivation which will likely be finalized by today’s events.

    Taylor has a great deal on her plate now, including many things of which she is not aware. Since the possibilities right now are so myriad, there will be two votes: one for her attitude going into the day, and then one for the priority for activities until after nightfall (~6:30pm).

    Attitude Suggestions: (Choose one)
    Taylor is still a bundle of insecurities, but changing that debbie-downer attitude is a step-by-step process!

    [ ] Big Damn Hero
    - You are the hottest robot of unearthly terror around, and no one is going to stop you from getting what you want.
    — You hope.

    [ ] Just As Planned
    - This world is not ready to experience the full majesty of your glory, so planning, foresight, and subtlety are paramount in moving forward.
    — Not that your plans have ever gone right before, but things will be different now…

    [ ] Fist of an Angy God
    - Your life up to this point has been non-stop suffering and pain, but now you have the power to exact righteous vengeance on those that would impede your progress.
    — As long as you’re not evil about it, at least.

    [ ] Simurgh Ain’t Got Shit On This
    - This world is petty, broken, and corrupt. To build something new, first you must first tear something down.
    — There are no innocent bystanders. Not after The Locker. Not anymore.


    Today’s Activities: (Choose Three)

    [ ] Sleep (can be selected multiple times, 3 hour increments)
    - You're starting to feel a little winded, but nothing you can't deal with. Maybe just tough it out until tonight so as not to throw off your sleep cycle?

    [ ] Eating Machine (choose one, or if this option is not chosen then Taylor just grabs a bite to eat on the way to other activities)
    - Spend time cooking yourself a fantastic meal and just relax as you savor the flavors.
    - Treat yourself to a gourmet establishment (like Fugly Bob’s)

    [ ] Deal With Dad: Work
    - Go to your dad’s workplace
    OR
    [ ] Deal With Dad: Home
    - Wait for your dad to come home from 3pm onward

    [ ] Shopping Montage (choose one)
    - You have some money saved up from Christmas, and now is as good a time as any to splurge.
    - You don’t want to drain your funds, so keep up your habit of being frugal.

    [ ] Parahumans Online Research (can be selected multiple times, 3 hour increments)
    - Spend time buffing up on the cape community, its past, and its rules. It’ll be a lot to go through, but fore-warned is fore-armed.

    [ ] Visit Protectorate HQ (choose one)
    - Visit covertly: Even robots like to play tourist some times. It’s relaxing.
    - Announce yourself: You’re here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, so where’s the gift shop so you can buy some Dauntless Chew?
    - Infiltrate: Pay no mind the invisible death-bot. She’s just here for your secrets.

    [ ] Ship Graveyard Experiments
    - Get fully acquainted with this new-and-questionably-improved body of yours.

    [ ] Meditation
    - Your memories and feelings are unsettled and distracting. This needs to be fixed; an ordered mind is an effective mind.

    [ ] Write-in
    - Alternately/additionally, you can Stunt any of the above choices by providing more details, motivations, or methods!
     
  5. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Attitude Suggestion:
    [X] Just As Planned
    - This world is not ready to experience the full majesty of your glory, so planning, foresight, and subtlety are paramount in moving forward.
    — Not that your plans have ever gone right before, but things will be different now…

    Today’s Activities:
    [X] Meditation
    - Your memories and feelings are unsettled and distracting. This needs to be fixed; an ordered mind is an effective mind.
    - Stunt: You distantly remember that being comfortable was supposed to be helpful. Or at least it couldn't hurt. So, you slip into some comfortable clothes, and sit down in a soft chair before you get to ordering your mind and memories.

    [X] Parahumans Online Research
    - Spend time buffing up on the cape community, its past, and its rules. It’ll be a lot to go through, but fore-warned is fore-armed.
    - Stunt: Spend time buffing up on the cape community, its past, and its rules. It’ll be a lot to go through, but fore-warned is fore-armed. A big priority is finding out what they are saying about us from last night, if anything. Use this time in conjunction with the third allotment to also go over the stuff we were talking about with dad. If we do go out, make sure that we're not instantly recognizable; our face is probably on the news. Wear our hair differently or don a baseball cap, use a different pair of glasses or remove them all together, and maybe use some makeup to alter the composition of our face. Nothing big - just so that we don't stand out.

    [X] Deal With Dad: Home
    - Wait for your dad to come home from 3pm onward
    - Stunt: Going into the situation blind is probably not the best idea, though. Take some time to figure out what happened in the time after you were... yeah. Maybe see Dad kept any newspapers or the like around the house, or visit a library and look through their archives or use their computer to search the internet. Television news stations are also an option.

    ***


    Looking back over your various lists and train-of-thought musings, you take a moment to calm down and do some basic breathing exercises. It only takes a few minutes, and when you’re done you re-read what you wrote with clearer eyes.

    You can’t recall the last time you ever wrote something so scattered and rambling. This is troubling, but identifying the problem is the first step to resolving it; your idea of meditation feels like it would do you a world of good, and you don’t want to run off half-cocked after so many fundamental changes have been made to your body and psyche. Nodding to yourself in agreement, you stretch a bit in the chair while getting a few good yawns in and then proceed back to your closet to drape yourself in your coziest pajamas - you’re not cold, but your research into breathing exercises mentioned physical comfort being a boon to efforts towards centering yourself. On a feeling, you reach into the back of your closet and pull out one of your mom’s old baggy, oversized that you used to wear to bed and slip it on. You haven’t worn it since… well, at least it’s still as soft as you remember, and it’s just big enough to be loose and free on your skin. Some boxers (none of your underwear or bras fit anymore) and pajama bottoms serve to round out your ensemble.

    You climb on top of your bed and put your back against the far wall - opting not to wrap yourself in your covers for fear of passing out under such warmth - and get in the ‘lotus position’ that you've seen in so many films and yoga diagrams. Could you have managed this position before? You don’t think so, but ultimately it’s irrelevant. You close your eyes, begin your slow and measured breathing pattern, then try to focus your mind on the events of last Monday. The growing ball of anxiety in your stomach is in agreement with your mind; this will not be fun, or easy… but you focus - harder than you ever remember focusing before - because this is important. This must be done. You will remember...

    ***

    …”They will never win.”…

    ***

    …a large diamond - your soulstone - appearing in a blast of light in front of your face, only to slam into your forehead and the PAIN becomes all-consuming… but you distance yourself from the moment to reduce thePAIN you feel now, and you hear the Scream. The sound coming from your throat is inhuman, and you nearly lose the memory as you despair over how much agony you were in for almost a solid minute. In your detached objectivity, however, something through the PAIN catches your attention; a trickling feeling washes over your mind in the process, a sensation of wholeness that you never had thought of before but can no longer understand living without. A soul… and then in another flash of light the soulgem is ripped from your head and…

    ***

    … light breaks over the empty horizon; a light of burnished brass, shining silver, and gleaming gold.

    HEAR ME, TAYLOR ANNE HEBERT, AND UNDERSTAND.

    The planet rises slowly, a clockwork sphere of inescapable beauty, wonder, and potential.

    I AM THE GREAT MAKER.

    Oceans of shimmering oil, clouds of billowing steam and wispy smoke, forests of radiant crystal.

    I AM THE MACHINE GOD.

    The entire planet shifts, splits, and opens, revealing it to be a living, mechanical Eye.

    I AM AUTOCHTHON.

    The Deus Machina swivels slightly and the enormous iris of the Primordial focuses on your formless being, driving all conscious thought from your mind.

    YOU WILL LIVE SO THAT I WILL LIVE.

    YOU ARE MY LAST AND GREATEST HOPE.

    YOU ARE MY VANGUARD AND MY SALVATION.

    YOU WILL BRING ORDER AND JUSTICE TO A WORLD OF CHAOS AND CORRUPTION.

    YOU WILL…

    The iris snaps open wide and you plummet into…

    ***

    With a terrified yelp you flail wildly for a moment before you bang your head against the wall. It doesn’t hurt (you dented the wall, though) but it’s jarring enough to bring you back to your senses. Mostly. Your heart is beating at a million miles an hour and breathing more than panicked, shallow breaths is difficult, but at least your mind is yours once again.

    You were definitely not in control of your memory during that last part.

    Except… now that you remember the initial communion with Autochthon (Aha! That’s who ‘the Maker’ is!) and his revelation to you of his need and of your duty… the terror you were feeling begins to be replaced with a sense of… reverence? Hope? Pride? You were chosen, you know that now. Chosen to save… save Everything.

    Your mouth clicks shut. You may be a little bit in over your head.

    Going over the memories again and again, because you’re still having trouble wrapping your head around a god - no, that’s not right, he’s bigger than a god? Confusing… - choosing you. Taylor Hebert, the loser, the victim, the Girl in the Locker.

    …UNDER THE TORMENT OF YOUR PEERS, AS HAVE I…

    Huh. Now you’re a little freaked out that a bigger-than-a-god being could be picked on, or that there’s other things powerful enough to do that.

    Your mind blanks for a bit, and you blink absently. Really? Gods? Mystical powers? Oh great, you’ve gone insane. Worse, it’s not even the first time you’ve heard of capes losing their minds - most villains are off their rockers, and that Merlin hero in Chicago seems to honestly believe he’s doing magic.

    Except… except… the visions - Autochthon - seemed so real. More real than anything you’ve felt before. It’s just… too good to be true, so it probably is. Can you even trust your mind after what’s it been through? The answer is probably ‘no’, but there’s a deep feeling in the core of your body - your heart, if that even makes sense - that screams ‘YES’.

    Focusing on that feeling, you find a little surprise: your two reservoirs have refilled a little. Essence, you know now. Your core, your heart, it pumps Essence. Pure potential. The very raw energy of the universe. But where is it coming from? You certainly have never felt Essence in your life before - and you’d certainly recognize having felt that - so it’s almost like it’s coming from… somewhere else? No, Elsewhere. Yes, that makes sense… except it doesn’t make sense. You groan and rub your eyes tiredly.

    At least now you feel like you’ve got a better handle on some of the nomenclature and purpose of things, and you’re probably not going to go as nuts as you think you did last night on the Wards (though you’re still worried about what exactly you did do), but you still think it’d be a good idea to go through your abilities - your Charms - in a safe, controlled environment.

    Safe. Control.

    Order. Justice.

    That’s it. That’s what you were missing. Purpose. You knew - fundamentally - that this world is spiraling out of control with the constant rise of supervillains and the Endbringers. If the human race is to have any chance of survival, there needs to be Order. There needs to be Justice.

    You will see Brockton Bay have the Order and Justice it deserves.

    After that? Well… one step at a time.


    ***

    It’s a little after Noon when you make your way out of the house and begin the trip to the Library. You made sure to tie your hair in a ponytail and don a Brockton Bay Protectorate baseball cap to help disguise yourself. Glasses are now (thank the Maker!) a thing of the past, so that’s another point in your favor. To leave nothing to chance, you’ve covered yourself in your dad’s Ms. Millitia hoodie - with built-in American Flag scarf! - and sweatpants, topped off with your running shoes. It’s still a little cool (mid 60’s you guess) so once you finish inhaling this sandwich and start your jog you’ll be one of the crowd. The sandwich itself is just a peanut butter and grape jam sandwich, since it looks like your dad ate everything from the last grocery trip but didn’t do a trip this week. There wasn’t much around the house to indicate what he’s been up to otherwise, so you guess he’s probably been drowning himself in work and only coming home to pass out.

    You try to banish those dark thoughts as you begin your jogging stride. You try kicking up the pace a bit, but as you really start pushing it you realize you're faster than you used to be - much, much faster. A little worried at the looks you're getting, you dial back down to something approximating your pre-change speed to avoid attracting any more attention right now. Except, as you plod along, you’re not really feeling any lactic acid buildup. How long can you keep this up?


    ***

    Stopping your jog at the base of the Library steps, barely out of breath despite running across half the city, you determine the answer: longer than that. You got a few looks along the way, but since your jog wasn’t all that fast and most people only saw you for one or two blocks you don’t think you really raised any flags. Still, that first part was probably a little reckless despite how good it felt; you’re in no way prepared for the cape scene yet, so displays like that need to stop happening. For now, at least.

    Making your way into the Library, you wave your card at the entrance and step casually to the computer cluster. Once there, you pick a station that’s as remote as possible and swipe your card to log in. First up the news: anything relating to your little ‘show’ yesterday morning. A few articles about cape activity, including a fight in the north part of town, but no headlines that scream “Dark Simurgh Devours Wards” or anything like it. Though… would’t “Dark Simurgh” be, using the rule of opposites, a hero? With a chuckle at the thought of the Simurgh wearing an evil mustache and goatee, you save that joke for later use.

    You suspect you might find more information on Parahumans Online (both on last night and on capes in general), so you load up the site. While you’ve lurked its pages a few times in the past during Computer Class, you never had cause to use any of the site’s advanced features - as a result, you never created a username.

    Is this it? Is this the time to define your cape name?

    No, that wouldn’t be smart at all - better to keep away from potential cape names, as you can always just make another account later if (or when) you want to post in an official capacity. Better to go with something generically-pop-culture - as random number strings and baseline generic names could actually be counter-productive - for now so that your searches can’t be immediately linked to your ‘rebirth’. Or maybe something older but still in pop-culture? Ah, yes. Perfect. No one will suspect a thing.


    ***


    Welcome to the Parahumans Online message boards.
    You are currently logged in, KlaatuBaradaNikto (Unverified Member)
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    You have zero warnings.

    Topic: wards fiting blak smurf
    In: Boards ► Places ► America ► Brockton Bay
    Chucknasty420 (Orignal Poster) (Veteran Member)
    Posted on January 11, 2011:

    yo fuk there was sme kina blak simurg fightin the wards outside tho they ran off wen she started screamin n a giant mechaspider lookd like it wuz bout to tear them apart

    she gone now but it been a wile i kina ran too

    oh ya it wuz vista n kidwin i thimk

    Tin_Mother : I've moved this thread to the appropriate sub-forum. Do not post speculations in the Endbringer sub-forum without substantial evidence. This is your final warning. Also, please use the built-in spell-check features.

    aRC (Veteran Member)
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    You saw that too? Well, I didn’t see the whole fight as I thought it sounded like what a Shatterbird Scream would be like and dove behind my bed until it stopped. Since everything glass wasn’t destroyed looked down the street and there was that giant mechanical spider-thing towering over some naked black woman who was glowing? Except she wasn’t black black, it was like some reflective black metal or obsidian. It was hard to tell, since my house is down the block. It looked like there were some cop lights strobing too, but I didn’t see any cop cars. When I went to grab my camera she was gone.

    RoidRules (Veteran Member)
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    Don’t kid around about the smurf, OP. Shit’s not cool.

    Chucknasty420 (Orignal Poster) (Veteran Member)
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    fuk you she wus rite outside so I saw her an she was hot lik teh smurf like unreel hot so hot s scary

    Monster Mayhem
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    Do you have the weirdest boner right now?

    Tin_Mother : User received an infraction for this post.

    Vista (Verified Cape)
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    Not funny. I’m going to have nightmares for days.

    Kid Win (Verified Cape)
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    Whatever she did, it made my suit lock up and activate its emergency return-to-base commands. I could still hear her, though it sounded like she was in pain? Scariest thing I’ve seen.

    Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    Ok, OP, just take a deep breath and calm down. I’m guessing since the PRT and the Protectorate didn’t come down to quarantine your area that it wasn’t actually The Smurf, so stop saying shit that could get you in serious legal trouble. Ever hear the phrase, “the boy who cried wolf” in your life? Yeah, it’s like that.

    Anyway, it’s probably weird timing that this happens right after that new shadow-using guy gets taken down. Related?

    All Seeing Eyes
    Replied on January 11, 2011:

    Three darkness-related capes in BB, two in one night? Could be related. The guy’s name was Hebert, and I get the feeling there’s more to what happened there than what’s being reported.


    ***


    Your hand stills, briefly, before you open a new browser tab. With mounting dread, you do a search for “Hebert”. You third entry from the top: the newest entry, posted early this morning.


    ***

    VENGEFUL FATHER TURNS VILLAIN, ATTACKS BULLY’S FAMILY
    Monday, January 11th, 2011
    Daniel Ray Hebert, father of Taylor Anne Hebert, was apprehended shortly past Midnight this morning after a running engagement with Brockton Bay Protectorate and Wards members. While Parahuman Response Team members were at the scene of the battle, early reports indicate that it was Armsmaster, Battery, Miss Militia, and Shadow Stalker that did the majority of the work in taking down Hebert.

    While initially believed to simply be a new villainous cape terrorizing a civilian family, it was revealed by eyewitnesses that the civilians were the Hess family - leading many to believe that the attack was retaliation at Sophia Hess, one of the several girls implicated in Taylor Hebert’s mysterious, cape-related death at Winslow High School last week. This is corroborated by Daniel Hebert’s reported exclamations during the fight.

    Claims that the shadows around the area ‘morphed’, ‘grabbed’, and ‘swallowed’ members of the PRT and Protectorate are the only leads on what Hebert’s powers may have been, but the time of night and cloud cover make reports spotty at best.

    No members of the Hess family were reported as injured, while Battery, Miss Militia, and Armsmaster were seen needing minor medical attention and extraction from piles of PRT containment foam.

    More information as it becomes available.

    ***


    You re-read the news article for the tenth time before shutting the browser.

    Burying your face in your hands, you try to hide the quicksilver tears.

    Your dad won’t be coming home tonight.


    ***

    You gained a Motivation and a dot of Occult! CONGRATULATIONS! Taylor’s moving on up in the world! The Character Sheet has been updated.

    It is currently 1:30 PM, so you still have most of your “Research Parahumans” action to go through, though you may want to change it now. Your the third choice, “Wait for Dad at Home”, may also want to be swapped out. Just a hunch.

    Actions For Afternoon/Night: (Choose three)

    [ ] Parahumans Online Research (can be selected multiple times, 3 hour increments)
    - Keep researching the cape community, its past, and its rules. This information now feels much more critical than it did this morning.

    [ ] Deal With Dad: Jail
    - Go visit your dad in jail. Maybe you can find out what happened from him?

    [ ] Deal With Dad: Outside Help
    - The news reports are oddly subdued about your Dad’s… episode. Look into private investigators or hackers to ferret out the Truth.
    - L33t is apparently a big-time hacker, but do you want to deal with a villain?

    [ ] Visit Protectorate HQ (choose one)
    - Casual visit: Even robots like to play tourist some times. It’s relaxing.
    - Announce yourself: Sorry for scaring the Wards shitless! They totally deserved it, though! Oh, and you’re here to clear up the whole “Dad’s a villain” thing.
    - Infiltrate: Pay no mind the invisible death-bot. She’s just here for your secrets.

    [ ] Shopping Montage (choose one)
    - You have some money saved up from Christmas, and now is as good a time as any to splurge.
    - You don’t want to drain your funds, so keep up your habit of being frugal.

    [ ] Ship Graveyard Experiments
    - Get fully acquainted with this new-and-questionably-improved body of yours.

    [ ] Meditation
    - Your memories and feelings are more settled and clear, but there’s still some holes there. A little troubling, but you’ve got a lot on your plate.

    [ ] Eating Machine: Mostly Full (choose one, or if this option is not chosen then Taylor just grabs a bite to eat on the way to other activities if she's hungry)
    - [ ] Spend time cooking yourself a fantastic meal and just relax as you savor the flavors.
    - [ ] Treat yourself to a gourmet establishment (like Fugly Bob’s)

    [ ] Sleeping Robot: Slightly Tired (can be selected multiple times, 3 hour increments)
    - You're feeling a little peaky, but nothing that will hinder you dramatically. Maybe just tough it out until tonight so as not to throw off your sleep cycle?

    [ ] Write-in
    - Alternately/additionally, you can Stunt any of the above choices by providing more details, motivations, or methods!
     
  6. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] Parahumans Online Research
    - Keep researching the cape community, its past, and its rules. This information now feels much more critical than it did this morning.
    - [x] We need to know what's likely to happen to our Dad now. What's the procedure?

    [X] Boat Graveyard Experiments
    - Get fully acquainted with this new-and-questionably-improved body of yours.
    -[x] Prioritize managing stealth, senses and Administrator functions if time is limited
    -[x] Stunt: You distantly remember an old tanker or cargo ship of some sort. It's deeper inside the graveyard, further away from BB proper, and should give you both privacy, and a lot of space to work with. You could probably find a lot of scrap lying around there as well, if you want to test your powers on something small.

    [X] Meditation
    - Your memories and feelings are more settled and clear, but there’s still some holes there. A little troubling, but you've got a lot on your plate.
    - [x] As much as you want to go out and do something immediately, you need to be calm, and you need to know more about what happened to you, which means more meditation. That it also helps fill your Essence reservoirs is a bonus, especially if you'll try to figure out more about what you can do.

    ***

    You’re now especially glad that you chose the computer station in the farthest corner of the library because you’re not certain you could deal with someone questioning you about why there’s a mercury-looking liquid coming out of your eyes instead of normal tears. With a great force of will and show of Conviction, you manage to compose yourself before you lose yourself in your misery completely. Now is not the time for bawling like a child, you need to focus; you've got to save your dad, and you’ll need every scrap of information you can get your hands on to do it.

    Cautiously, you wipe your moonsilver-smudged hands on the inside of your hoodie to hide the remnants of your unnatural tears. That done, you use the glare reflecting off the computer monitor as an improvised mirror. Nope, nothing out of the ordinary; looks like your ‘skin’ absorbed the remnants of your tears. Good to know for the future, you suppose. Your appearance now resolved to semi-normalcy, you dive back into Parahumans Online. After a few minutes of hunting through various ‘help’ threads for information on cape politics, legal rigmarole, and juicy gossip, you've got over two dozen tabs open and hundreds of pages of reading to sort through. As the magnitude of the amount of information to pour through continues to grow faster than you can take in, a proverbial light bulb turns on in your mind. Maybe… but is it safe to do here in public?

    You contemplate the idea for a few moments, surreptitiously eyeing the surround area to see if anyone is looking your way. Suitably confident that no one is even remotely paying attention to you or your area, you tug at your ‘subtle’ pool - your personal pool - of Essence.

    Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade

    You’re reminded of the time your mother took you on a hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail. During a long stretch of empty road, your mother had calmly asked you how fast you think the car could go. Being nine at the time, you had plainly stated that one hundred miles and hour was the fastest any normal could go. Then, the sudden rush of acceleration, of the world around you speeding up but the adrenaline flooding your veins magnifying your consciousness to match…

    …you wonder if this is how super-intelligent capes feel all the time.

    With your left hand floating over the keyboard and your right gripping the mouse with a lighter - more efficient - grip, you become a reading machine. Page after page, citation after citation, source after source. The computer can barely keep up with your reading speed, getting to the point where you occasionally are able to read faster than the Page Down button will scroll down a website. Even as quickly as your mind processes words now, your comprehension doesn't suffer in the slightest; it’s possibly even better now.

    Scion’s appearance and notable activities since then. The first parahumans. The Endbringers, their past targets, the names of every cape killed by them since their appearances. S-Class threats such as the Sleeper, Nilbog, Glaistig Uaine, the Three Blasphemies, and Ash Beast. The public history of the Protectorate, Parahuman Response Team, and Wards. The Guild, Toybox, Yangban, Suits, King’s Men, and other heroic parahuman organizations. Empire Eighty-Eight, Geschellcraft, Teeth, Fallen, Ambassadors, Faultline’s Crew and other villainous groups. The members of the Slaughterhouse 9 over its years and where they have struck. The first appearances of highly-mutated parahumans, their classification as ‘Case 53s’, the most notable, and the public information regarding attempts to cure or rehabilitate them. Landmark court cases, such as Salamander vs New York, California vs the PRT, Alexandria vs Florida, Disney-Bet vs Disney-Aleph. Legal precedents for the treatment of created intelligences, minion/henchmen culpability, and the “Three Strikes” rule. The ‘unwritten rules’ of cape society (S-Class truces, no killings, secret identity sanctity).

    So much for Mr. Gladly’s class on superhero history.

    With a significantly more solid understanding of parahumans and the impact they've left on the world thus far, you steel yourself for a much more personal information hunt. Bringing back up the searches on ‘Hebert’ and focusing primarily on ones that involve you and the events since last Monday morning, you begin to put together a timeline of events from news reports, Parahuman Online threads, blog posts, and ParaTube videos.

    ***

    Monday (Last Week):
    - 7:10am - A number of students witness Sophia Hess shove you into your filth-filled locker and secure the lock. Emma Barnes and Madison Clements run interference and ward off those curious and concerned about what just happened. Your muffled screams and shouts quickly fade, and the scene clears when the bell rings for class a few minutes later.
    - 10:00am - Fifteen minutes before the first lunch period, an inhuman wail is heard throughout the relatively-still campus. The wail lasts for almost a solid minute, during which point some manage to record the sound on video and your locker is determined to be the source. Sophia, Emma, and Madison are all visibly present in their respective classes at the time of your wail.
    - 10:05am - Custodian Munroe arrives with a bolt-cutter and opens up the locker to a crowd that is keeping its distance (as parahuman horror stories have ingrained such a fear in civilization by now) but still recording the event. Your body tumbles out on a tide of biological waste. Your face is visibly contorted in a rictus of pure agony, your eyes have rolled up in their sockets, and there is a thumb-sized smoking hole in the center of your forehead. Most of the crowd loses whatever’s left of their breakfast as the sights and smells wash over them.
    - 10:07am - The first threads on Parahumans Online about the event break the news.
    - 10:25am - Police, PRT, and Protectorate forces arrive and lock down the school. The entire hallway containing your locker is quarantined, and all cell phone reception is jammed around the school preventing students from uploading more videos and message board posts.
    - 10:30am - Sophia Hess, Emma Barnes, and Madison Clements are seen being arrested by PRT forces after numerous witnesses provide authorities with detailed reports of the morning’s events. Further testimonies from students regarding the history of your abuse are taken throughout the next few hours.
    - 11:00am - Several local news stations arrive but are kept out by police and PRT officials due to the lockdown.
    - 12:30pm - Lockdown is lifted on Winslow High School and school is dismissed for the rest of the day. The Brockton Bay section of Parahumans Online explodes with posts and videos of the event. Your dad is seen arriving at the scene and is ushered quickly into one of the command tents set up by the PRT.
    - 12:45pm - The first televised reports of the news break.
    - 1:00pm - PRT releases their first official response, stating that you died in a way that does not match any recorded parahuman power. In addition, they state that an investigation has been launched to determine what could have caused the effect, as well as what led up to the events surrounding your demise. Winslow High School is to be suspended at least until Wednesday as experts are brought in to study the area.

    Tuesday:
    - Noon - By now, the Brockton Bay section of Parahuman Online is overflowing with conspiracy theories - that the Trio are the new Three Blasphemies, that the tampons gained sentience and sucked out your brains, that you triggered and killed yourself with your own powers, etc. In addition, a growing number of registered capes on PO reveal that they triggered due to school bullying.
    - 2:00pm - Emma, Sophia, and Madison post bail. Due to the nature of the ongoing investigation, all three are confined to house arrest until the investigation is complete.
    - 7:00pm - Brockton Bay’s Channel Twelve breaks an exclusive first interview with your father. You’re not sure how they managed to convince him to do the interview, because he looks like a zombie and is incredibly distraught and distracted though the whole thing. Not much is revealed, however, as you never really told him much to begin with. When the topic turns to the Trio, his entire morphs to one of barely-restrained rage, and the interview ends soon after.

    Wednesday:
    - Morning - School re-opens, though a PRT squad and rotating Protectorate members are dedicated to the school while it is in session. A small memorial is seen being erected by Sally Heathers, other students soon begin donating flowers to the site.
    - Evening - Multiple news agencies report that a trial date is tentatively set for next month. There is debate about whether Brandish - Carol Dallon - will defend the three girls, Emma Barnes’ father operates out of the same firm as she.

    Saturday:
    - Morning - PRT announces that the first part of their investigation is complete. The results are deemed classified, though Winslow is no longer considered a threatened area. The PRT squad and Protectorate members are pulled out.

    Monday (This morning):
    - 5:10am - Your father attacks Sophia’s home, using powers that turn him into a living shadow capable of manipulating the shadows around him. Battery and Shadow Stalker, out on patrol, are the first to the scene and manage to keep them out of harm’s way during the fight but not without significant difficulty. Shadow Stalker and your father appear to be at a stalemate as each appears to be immune to the other’s power, while Battery takes a beating interposing herself between Hess family members and your father’s attacks. PRT, Armsmaster, and Miss Militia arrive on the scene shortly thereafter and the battle becomes a running engagement as Battery plays keep-away with the civilians while Armsmaster and Miss Militia wear down your dad. At one point in the fight your father engulfs the PRT members and uses their containment foam sprayers on the heroes. At the last moment Armsmaster managed to impale your dad (through his shoulder) to a wall with his electrified halberd, ending the fight.
    - 5:30am - A frantic call from Custodian Munroe at Winslow reveals that something came out of your locker, and that he witnessed what looked like an obsidian version of the Simurgh in the nearby girl’s bathroom. Munroe admits to passing out after the sighting, and is remanded into PRT quarantine for mental and physical evaluation.
    - 5:50am - Vista and Kid Win skirmish briefly with a creature that fits Munroe’s description. The creature showed teleportation capabilities that possibly bypassed the Manton Effect, as it was able to teleport into Vista’s warped space, causing the Ward painful mental feedback. The creature then manifested a massive illusion of a mechanical spider and started screaming (possibly in pain) loud enough to be heard blocks away - one or both of these effects causing some sort of enhanced fear effect. Through either the scream or some other ability, Kid Win’s suit was co-opted and forced him to fly back to base while Vista limped after him in retreat. The creature was seen fleeing the scene shortly after via teleport.
    - 6:30am - ‘Anonymous sources’ leak your father’s identity online and to the press with photos and video. There is suspicion if this was done by members of the Hess family, but the video captures were clearly done by multiple different people outside of the fight. The various news agencies take this information and run with it.

    ***

    As your overcharged mind puts together the publicly-available pieces and paint a (mostly) clear picture of last week’s events, you get the trickling feeling that there’s something larger going on in the background. Besides the fact that you’re not truly dead, of course, you suspect that this would have all played out very differently if Autochthon hadn't Chosen you - and in so doing, causing you to Scream and be discovered with a hole in your head. Would you have died in that locker otherwise? Your recollection of the events through your meditation made it seem horrific, yes, but it probably would have taken much longer to die alone; there was likely a high chance that you would have been found before you starved or dehydrated.

    On further recollection, you notice that your memory of past events is not any significantly better with your charm active. More relevant to your current task, you don’t have perfect recall over what you are reading - you've occasionally had to re-open a page to double-check facts - but you also have the feeling that all this information won’t just evaporate out of your ears once the charm’s effect ended. Though… do you have to ever end the effect? You suspect you can keep it going as long as you want without having to dip further into your reservoirs, and being able to take in the world with such speed and clarity is an absolute rush.

    Slowing momentarily, you let your perception focus more on yourself than on the task of absorbing the wealth of data at my fingertips. You still can read more than triple your normal speed, but as you flit about through search results and statistics pages you are also able to notice your physical behavior with the charm active.

    Each keystroke, each mouse twitch, each shift in posture is measured, precise, clipped. Mechanical. You aren't moving faster than you normally can - you aren't sprouting extra arms or digits - but it’s as if any semblance of organic fluidity has been drained to hone your movements to the razor’s edge of clockwork efficiency. It would be unsettling if it didn't feel so right. Except, if you could notice this…

    You pull back from the computer to take in the scene around you. At first glance no one seems to be paying attention to you, but your mind is automatically scanning the room multiple times in the time it’d take you to process the scene only once. Not trusting your first or second impressions, a third and fourth review of the scene reveal the security cameras stealthily placed at various points along the ceiling between tiles. How detailed are they? You’re not sure you will like the answer to that question.

    The fact that you used your own library card to log into the computer smacks you like a physical blow. It had been so automatic, something you've been doing for months, but you are legally and publicly dead. It’s been almost four hours and there haven’t been any alarms yet, however, so maybe you’re over-reacting? This is a Library, for the Maker’s sake; with no real monetary transactions here and books available for free rental, security is likely an afterthought here.

    You’re also not quite sure how to feel that some of your normal expletives have been so fluidly been overwritten by curses invoking Autochthon. Why does it feel so natural? Does he even mind? The absurdity of asking a nearly-omnipotent being such a question makes you chuckle… which comes out of your mouth like some kind of stilted, mechanical imitation of a laugh.

    Realizing that keeping the charm active while trying to keep a low profile will likely cause more problems than you can handle, you let the charm switch off. After blinking hard a few times to get readjusted to processing the world many times more slowly, you begin to close all the browser windows as you proceed to log out. Except, as you go to close the Parahumans Online window, a thought occurs to you: Vista’s comments in the various thread’s in which she’s posted indicated that you may have truly caused her some mental anguish with your little display - your anima banner - this morning. One of her comments even indicated that she’s having a hard time even closing her eyes. Maybe… maybe an apology would be appropriate.

    ***

    Private Messages with Vista (Registered Cape):
    [16:53] KlaatuBaradaNiktu: Sorry about this morning, you just really scared me when you shifted me out into the middle of the road like that. I tried to get away, but then you nearly killed me by sandwiching me between those buildings and I sort of panicked. I just got these powers and, well, I don’t know exactly what I did. I didn't mean to harm you or Kid Win, so I apologize if I scared you or him in some way.

    ***

    There, you made it clear that you were the victim but you are still taking the moral high ground by apologizing. Though, she probably won’t believe that you’re actually the same person, if the message even manages to make it to her - there’s probably some elaborate filtering system to make sure the crazies don’t drown verified capes in threatening or joke messages.

    Nodding to yourself, you close everything down, log out, and make your way out of the Library. If you do decide to have a cover identity you’ll need to get a new card, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it. If they haven’t disabled your card after a full week of media stories talking about your demise, you doubt they’ll ever even notice your use of the old one anyway.

    ***

    Jogging all the way from the Library to the Boat Graveyard leaves you just as winded as your trip from home to the Library; which is to say, not at all. During the trip, however, you mused over the information you gleaned online about how to tackle your dad’s legal trouble… and your own.

    There’s no question that he was the one doing the attacking during the fight, so the only other option for complete acquittal would be to somehow prove complete mind control… which has only happened twice before that you read about. Attacking a civilian family in their own home with intent to maim and/or kill crosses a very dangerous line, though since there was no lasting damage to the family a temporary insanity plea wouldn't be too difficult to swing in court. As long as he shows remorse for his actions he could even be remanded to the custody of the Protectorate for therapy and rehabilitation, which could potentially land him a full spot if he proves himself during his parole. A good lawyer for his trial - which will likely be held after the Trio’s finishes if only for press reasons - would be critical for securing him a life outside of a medium-security prison, since you’re fairly certain that his current offenses don’t warrant his removal to the Birdcage.

    That thought of losing your dad like that still fills you with a hollow despair.

    So, getting a good lawyer is probably the best thing you can do for him right now. As for yourself, while faking one’s death to implicate others as murderers is a criminal offense, there has been a few cases of people leaving behind bodies when they trigger. Except… those were always because their power revolved around leaving those kinds of bodies. You are very certain that you could not replicate such a feat, and thus would raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Questions that would get even more intense when the PRT undoubtedly gets involved and their tests on your new body reveal that you’re a robot - alchemical - beyond any technology they've ever seen from a Tinker. Which has its own precedent in the cases of ‘evil clones’ being given full citizenship and backing by the US as long as they undergo training with the Protectorate, as well as with a sentient robotic nursemaid created by a tinker for his daughter twenty years ago being considered a legal citizen (again, with the stipulation of PRT/Protectorate supervision). So, they’d either treat you as a Tinker-made robot copy of Taylor and keep you under watch forever, or they’d treat you as the real Taylor, send you back to school, and still keep you under watch until the reason for your corpse’s existence became clear.

    Those thoughts didn't help counter the hollow despair from before.

    Dreary thoughts for a dreary atmosphere, so you find it fitting that your steps have taken you to theHoboken, one of the larger container ships near the far edge of the Boat Graveyard. It was one of the few container ships based out of Brockton Bay, but the only one that was at port when all the ships were seized for use in the blockade. Now listing slightly on it’s right (starboard, your dad would remind you) side, mostly out of the water during this part of the low tide, it serves as a reminder that the blockade was a betrayal to those who had put their faith in Brockton Bay.

    You've managed to find a few handfuls of material through your tour of the ship’s quarters: strips of rusted scrap metal from broken bed frames, rotten chunks of wood from a destroyed chest, and a few ragged strips of cloth that once served as oil rags despite probably originated as something else.

    While you intended to use the captain’s quarters as your lab, someone had already lived there before. Past tense. The stench of a dead body rapidly leads you to reconsider using the room yourself. Eventually you settle on the freezer locker, what with its thick walls, still-intact metal storage racks, and - most importantly - a way to safely open, close, and lock the room from the inside. Even better, it’s on the starboard side of the ship, so you can sit against the room’s far wall and still be facing the door.

    After settling in, locking the door, and placing your accumulated materials on one of the racks, you strip off your clothes and place those on another rack. With that done, you assume a wide, steady stance with your hands in front so that you can see what’s going on with your body as you activate various charms.

    First and foremost is the charm that you have the least information on: Shard of the Perfect Administrator. You close your eyes and focus your mind on analyzing the charm - it seems to be built into your skull, and has a massive essence commitment already allocated to it. You notice three sub-modules but you feel like you’re not capable of activating them yet - your essence reservoir is too small to fully power even the first of the three, let alone the other two. However, activating the main charm itself is only a matter of focus and will, and appears more of a toggle than an empowerment. Opening your eyes and readying yourself for anything, you steel yourself and activate the charm.

    You reflexively void the contents of your stomach before you manage to toggle the charm off.

    The body in the captain’s quarters has 274 maggots in it laid by 78 flies. 92 cockroaches and 35 nymphs also feast on the waste in the room, while there are 301 other cockroaches throughout the ship. 29 crabs rest in the pockets of water and air made by the warping of the ship’s submerged hull. In the ship directly south, there is a wasp’s nest with a queen with 106 wasps protecting it. The wooden boat directly south-east has 1184 termites throughout its hull…

    Bugs.

    So. Many. Bugs.

    And you can feel, see, taste, sense… everything. In that brief flash, however, you also felt them freeze as your mind washed over them - and that you could control them.

    …Chittering. Buzzing. Biting. Spinning. Skittering…

    Staggering back to a standing position takes you a moment. Was this… something you had before? In your meditation you remember a similar sensation, but it felt so wild and insane that you passed it off as a psychotic break from having a bunch of filthy flies crawling on your face. You try to think back to that memory, focusing on when it started…

    …flicker across scales the size of continents, so clear you can make them out from here…

    Unbidden, your Shard of Perfect Administration activates again and you are assaulted by the senses of tens of thousands of insects. Except this time, as your mind struggles to flip the ‘off switch’, the charm fails to deactivate. It feels… not broken, but stuck.

    You close your eyes and grasp your head in your hands in a reflexive move to deal with the sensory overload when your fingers feel the multiple metallic stalks that are apparently now extruding from your skull. Desperately focusing on those sensations instead of the ones provided by your voyeuristic charm, you hesitantly poke and grasp at your new ornaments. At first you think them just straight (and sharp!) spokes, but when you notice that they are erratically twitching like the legs of an insect you make the connection: the spider-leg halo you saw in the mirror at school. And now that they are quite animated instead of the static objects from this morning, you suspect they’re involved with your charm in some way.

    Blinking, you realize that at some point your thoughts became clear again - no longer buried under the maelstrom of insect senses. Except… you can still feel them. You can - yes, so it seems - control them. There’s certainly still an astonishing amount of data flooding into your mind, but it just seems so natural now. Like you were made for this.

    …Enduring Order Administrator…

    You realize that you could disable the charm now, but why would you ever want to?


    ***

    Going through your other charms proved far less dramatic or traumatic, save for the testing of theTechnomorphic Integration Engine; popping out a whole cement flower planter from your chest was a bit disarming. You suspect that it was from when Vista sandwiched you between those two buildings, so following the chain of logic, your blackout was likely from activating every single charm you have at once, and your Technomorphic Integration Engine chose to reflexively absorb the broken planter you were squashed against.

    You put the cement planter against the far wall, next to the smaller metal and wood copies you made with your Omnitool Implant out of the other materials. Smaller, much better looking copies.

    Activating your Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade and turning it towards your Shard of Perfect Administration was also a fairly amazing experience, elevating your already-boggling multitasking and coordination powers with the latter charm to absurd heights; while before controlling the exact movement of a single bug in a swarm made it more difficult to control the rest of them, with Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade active you were able to make every single one of the 98,223 bugs in your 300-yard range do the Michigan J. Frog dance at once. Dynamic Reaction Enhancement System proved effective with it as well, but only in extremely short bursts - there could be some application for that later, you suspect.

    Tests with Industrial Survival Frame were a bit of a bust, and you ultimately figured that a reflexive, defensive charm built to protect you from accidental environmental damage would be difficult to test on purpose… though you’re still trying to wrap your head around how the charm would be able to discernintent from something like an exploding steam pipe. Two weeks ago you’d have instantly called bullshit on such a notion, but now that you’re some kind of equally bullshit magical robot girl you’re willing to at least see it in action before you dismiss the notion.

    Your tests with Optical Shroud were brief but similarly a bit more satisfying. After musing that you didn't have anyone with you to test just how invisible you were, you realized that the bugs - your bugs - were possibly an even better way of testing the charm. Calling a selection of the various local types into the freezer, you noticed that the bugs couldn't detect you until they ran right into you. Trying to cloak the bugs with you proved to have an odd synergy with the activated Shard of Perfect Administration as you felt that any bugs in contact with you were a part of you, and were cloaked as a result. The notion of a full-body bug suit didn't repel you as much as you thought it would have (…why be grossed out? They are a part of you…), but didn't seem exceptionally tactically useful - bugs not in direct contact with your body lost their cloak, so you could only have a few thousand bugs in your stealth field (not enough to give a fighting cape pause). Bugs crawling around on something visible did look suitably freaky, however, so you noted that as a possible scare tactic for later. Finally, you remembered your reading about the Manton Effect and, cross-referencing it with your encounter with the Wards that morning, you got the feeling that the third installation of the charm’s Sense-Countering Upgrades hid you from Vista’s Manton Effect limitation - a fact that you are still having trouble determining is a good or bad idea - given how she wasn't able to sense you… and how she was able to accidentally pancake you between two buildings.

    The Echo Chamber Vocalization submodule gives you all sorts of devious ideas for use with swarms of bugs, though. You've seen enough cartoons to know that Perfect Ventriloquism can have some very potent uses.

    Finally, you count your Optical Enhancement experiments as a solid win: x-ray vision, 360-degree vision, heat vision (made your eyes glow a creepy red), dark vision, emergency shades (actually look cool enough to use just for style), telescopic vision, magnification vision, tactical analysis vision (gave you very bland readings when used on your various bugs), bullet-time vision (made bugs in flight look like they were flying in slow-motion), diagnostic vision (actually redundant when used on bugs, as you could already sense their entire biology). 360-vision couldn’t be combined with anything else, sadly, as you determined it saw through the line of diamonds that circle your head… and somehow saw clearly through your hair. Soulgem sight proved useless, and you have the feeling it may always remain so. Essence sight also proved useless, but you noticed through your bugs it made your eyes glow a bright blue instead of the amber yellow they normally are.

    So, naturally, you started flickering the heat vision and Essence vision on and off in sequence. The results were better than you could have hoped.

    Yes, you are very satisfied with your Optical Enhancement charm.


    ***

    You make it home well into the evening - 10:27pm, after having done a some meditation in the Hoboken to fill up your essence reservoirs a bit from their completely-empty state. You can tell it's that late from what you can see from the clock in the Patterson’s living room. You see it through your bugs’ eyes, of course, but you figure you might as well also look through the wall, two blocks away to be certain.

    No one is home, as you suspect, but you also notice through some flies that the living room has been disturbed - some of the mail has been sorted through, and there appear to be boot prints along the floor going up stairs.

    You’re still getting used to handling the massive amount of insects within your range (which seems to be shaped like a sphere, likely centered on your head), but even without thinking you begin to amass a sizable swarm consisting of thousands of flies, cockroaches, wasps, and spiders (being carried by the fliers) and begin slipping them through the shadows towards your house. Inside, you navigate the few flies to scope out upstairs.

    The flies turn up a sad sight - your dad’s room has been ransacked, as has been yours. Nothing is broken that you can tell, but it’s clear someone (or several someones, judging by the different boot sizes) were very thorough in searching your personal quarters.

    Your cold fury at the gross invasion of privacy subconsciously seeps into your swarm, turning its whisper-silent approach into an ominous droning sound as it gathers around your house. You’re about to command them to enter your house en-masse, but you manage to come to your senses in time; drowning the house in bugs to search for possible listening or spying devices would alert them just as well as you walking in through the front door.

    Instead, you select the smallest fliers (fruit flies, you think they’re called) and spiders and have them slowly, stealthily, creep in and begin the patterned search. You’re tempted to activate again, but your reserves are really running low and you’re feeling the mental drain from your experiments - you don’t want be empty if you trigger an alert or alarm. As a result, you simply exercise patience and restraint as you go through the house with thousands of extra eyes and limbs.

    Ultimately, the only thing you find of note is the bin of empty alcohol bottles in your dad’s room. Which may be a more depressing find than any surveillance equipment would have been.

    Reasonably certain the house is clean of bugs (the bad-…the kind you can’t control), you enter in through the back and make your way to your room. Closing the door, you prop a chair against it (just in case) and then set about re-organizing your room. When you go to take down your findings from the Library and theHoboken, you realize you can’t locate your journal. It’s gone.

    The journal with your notes from this morning is gone.

    This… is bad. Very bad.

    At the maximum distance of your range, a sleek, efficient motorcycle turns a corner and begins to head in your direction. You used to have underpants featuring the rider’s logo.

    Armsmaster.


    ***

    Choose one!


    [ ] I’m Your Biggest Fan
    - Greet Armsmaster enthusiastically, explain what’s been going on, offer to go and speak with the PRT and Protectorate tomorrow because you’re really rather bushed right now.

    [ ] Welcome To My… Lair
    - Put on some tea, get out the serving set. You may be a robot and he may wish he was one, but you can discuss what he wants - and what you want - together like civilized people.

    [ ] I Need Your Clothes, Your Boots, And Your Motorcycle
    - Ambush Armsmaster. Jack him for his stuff. Claim it for your own. Ride into the night.

    [ ] NOW ACTIVATING STEALTH MODE!
    - Hide, flee, observe at range. Trail him when he leaves.

    [ ] Write-in.

    - Stunts will be rewarded, for this or for the other options. A stunt is more than just a description of what you do - it’s a description of HOW you do what you do.
     
  7. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Attitude:
    [X] Welcome To My… Lair
    - Put on some tea, get out the serving set. You may be a robot and he may wish he was one, but you can discuss what he wants - and what you want - together like civilized people.

    Stunts:
    [+1d] Open the door for Armsmaster and invite him in.
    [+3d] "Hi I know this is going to sound hard to believe but I am Taylor Hebert and we need to talk about my Dad"
    [+3d] "I don't really know what happened to me, I think I triggered in the locker and then something else happened but I don't really know what, I woke up in the locker a week later. I know you have my body but I can tell you I'm pretty sure I'm still "me" and not just a copy, but even if I am a copy I researched this today and I know I still have rights."
    [+3d] "Please take me to see my Dad, I know he committed a serious crime, but he's still a good man, I can't imagine what thinking I was dead did to him."


    ***

    You quickly try to go over your options as you scramble for the door (displacing the chair you propped up earlier) and make your way downstairs. Do you hide? Run? Ambush?

    No, Armsmaster is a Hero. He is a symbol of Order and Justice, as are you. Or… you aspire to be, at least. It was always a dream of you to be a Hero, though you recognize it was a childish, unrealistic dream you clung to for lack of anything else positive in your life. But now, with the blessing and directive of Autochthon to guide your steps, you’ll be damned if there will be anyone more Heroic than you when all is said and done.

    So. Tea.

    ***

    You’re still in the same outfit you've been in all day, which is still relatively clean since you no longer appear to sweat and you had wisely stored everything away before your experiments aboard the Hoboken. Not much else fits you, and you don’t feel like having Armsmaster’s first impression of you be tainted by super-tight clothing. Maybe you should explain the Miss Militia hoodie is your dad’s so he doesn't get offended?

    You really do need to go shopping soon.

    The kettle is on the burner, the tea set is prepared, and the living room is slightly less disheveled when Armsmaster’s motorcycle pulls up to the curb outside your house. You've been monitoring him through your swarm, and so you’re slightly confused when he begins talking to someone over the radio. You try to move some bugs closer, but you - oh crap your charm is still on, which means Spider-Leg Halo. Your hoodie hides it pretty well, but it’s definitely noticeable if you take down the hood. Except… you’re feeling really drained and turning off the charm will take almost all the mental focus you have left. Besides, having it active makes things so much… Clearer.

    Noticing him step off his bike, you make your way to the door to open it for him. Striding up the path to your front door, you’re struck with just how much he fits the image of a Hero; the dark blue and silver body armor, the v-shape visor only revealing a powerful jaw with a neatly-trimmed beard, and the sleek 6-foot-long trademark Halberd strapped to his back, all framing him as someone that could only sleep well at night if they spend the entire day doing everything in their power to make the world a better place.

    And then, abruptly, he stops walking only five feet away from the front steps - his gaze still clearly on the front door. He makes no overt motion, but through the bugs placed throughout the lawn and higher in the air, you see a very slight shift in his stance towards one of combat readiness. Did he stop because he can he see you through the door? But doesn't he already know you’re here?

    You remain still for several seconds, as does he. Finally, sighing at how this ordeal is already running out of your control, you slowly - without making any sudden movements - reach out and open the door. His already-serious expression barely shifts (is that a frown?) as you look down at him in your front yard. Might as well get this show on the road…

    “Good evening, Armsmaster. Would you like to come in? The tea is almost ready.”

    Ok, now he’s definitely frowning.

    “Are you planning on attacking me?”

    You abstractly knew he had a reputation for being a very forthright and upfront speaker, but that was considerably more blunt than you were expecting and catches you a bit off-guard. Still, it’s an honest question considering his line of work, so you put your hands up in a placating manner as you answer him.

    “No, no. I’m a Hero, too. I was just trying to be hospitable. No tricks, just tea and talking.”

    His stern gaze on you is more than a little disconcerting, but after a brief moment he nods once and then resumes his assured stride up to your door. You step to the side and wave an arm towards the nearby living room and its visible sofas, but he stops in the doorway and takes in the scene with a slow rotation of his head. Again, the slight confident nod before he walks a few steps in… and then turns back to you before he even makes it halfway to the closest sofa.

    “Are you Taylor Anne Hebert?”

    Even though your face is mostly covered by the American Flag built-in scarf of your hoodie, you suspect your startled look is clear as day. You prepared for this line of discussion, but you had hoped to have made it here with a bit more subtlety and tact.

    “I know this is going to sound hard to believe, but yes, I’m Taylor Hebert. And before we get to anything else, I’d like to talk about my dad.”

    He pauses. but his stern demeanor shifts back into one of semi-neutrality even as he crosses his arms and shakes his head.

    “You’re telling the truth. Interesting, but not the strangest thing I've ever heard. Still, I’m here about you, not your father.”

    You blink. That wasn't a question - it was statement of fact. How would he know that? Did he already know but ask just to see if you’d lie?

    “You being alive makes things even more complicated than before. You need to come down to Protectorate HQ with me so we can get everything straightened out.”

    The chaos caused by your corpse’s discovery is definitely not your fault, you feel, but getting things settled would certainly be a first step in establishing Order - if only so that the Heroes can focus on the actual problems in the city. However, you definitely feel responsible for your dad’s situation and so you’re not going anywhere until you at least establish that things are going to start improving for as quickly as possible. You hold up a hand and put on a smile that hopefully reaches your eyes so that he can tell you’re doing so.

    “Please, take a seat first and let me get the tea. Unless you’re in a rush to be somewhere else?”

    You catch a small flash of frustration in his body language, but Armsmaster eventually relaxes a bit and shrugs. “As long as we both head down to headquarters afterward I can spare a few minutes.”

    You nod and make your way to the kitchen, while you see through the bugs planted through the house that he makes his way to the living room. Before sitting down he unlatches his Halberd and holds it vertically with his right hand; with his alert posture on the sofa and his Halberd being held like some kind of royal staff, he looks to be ready for a fight to break out at any second. You suspect such discipline is what’s kept him alive all these years. But as you study him further (while by all appearances you’re just in the kitchen getting the tea ready) you try to make out just what is going through his head right now, using what you've heard and read about him thus far.

    He’s the leader of the local Protectorate forces, but there’s been talk about how Dauntless might surpass him in raw combat power soon due to the latter’s power-amplified tools getting stronger by the day. Conversely, since Armsmaster is a Tinker - with a specialization in miniaturization - he has to spend days, if not weeks or months, building or improving each of tools. While for most Tinkers that would be enough, Armsmaster prides himself on being close-combat specialist as well; he maintains a grueling daily exercise regimen and trains with his Halberd with a nearly religious fervor. Unfortunately, this means that there will come a day when his baseline-human body begins the slow deterioration of old age and his race to improve himself as quickly as Dauntless will end. For a man with such a reportedly high opinion of himself, he must realize that he has to look beyond the battlefield to keep up his image as Brockton Bay’s leader.

    Securing you in the Protectorate (or, at worst, in the Wards) would also allow you to be leveraged against your dad - who apparently nearly beat three Protectorate members and a Ward - on his first showing. And not to knock your dad’s capabilities (Maker that’s still so weird to think about, your dad having powers) but you feel certain that you've only begun to scratch the surface of your potential. It’s pretty cold-hearted and not exactly heroic, but Brockton Bay is a mess and the heroes are very badly outnumbered right now - Empire Eighty-Eight alone has almost double the number of parahumans at their disposal than the Protectorate and Wards combined, and then there’s the ABB, Merchants, Coil, and the Undersiders to worry about. As the leader of the forces arranged against such overwhelming odds, you almost begin to feel bad for him.

    Except you’re pretty sure he wouldn't react well to pity.

    Discerning his intent to the best of your ability, however, you find yourself conflicted: you agree with his motivation here, but you are wary of turning yourself in right off the bat. Especially since you’re not particularly enthused by the prospect of living the rest of your life under surveillance if they decide that you’re “not actually Taylor Hebert”. At the very least there will be constant mandated therapy sessions… which may not actually be all that bad, as long as they don’t take up too much time.

    You make your way into the living room with the prepared tea set and place it on the coffee table, then pour him a cup. You’re tempted to surreptitiously scan him with your Tactical Analysis Engrams module to see what it would say about his combat prowess, but you don’t want to risk giving anything away yet.

    “Sugar? Cream?”

    He shakes his head, “No.”

    Unruffled, you place his cup and saucer in front of him so that he can take the cup freely with his left hand (since you suspect he’s not going to let go of his Halberd). He seems to study the cup for a moment before taking it in his left and holding it in front of his face for a few seconds. Then he downs the cup with a few swift gulps and places the cup back on the saucer. You narrow your eyes in incredulity, but he resumes the discussion before you can speak up.

    “The reports and your journal said that you appeared to be made of black metal, but you look normal now. Are you a Changer?”

    You had gone through the vague understanding you had for your charms when you read up on the PRT’s power classification system, but after the experimentation on the Hoboken you’re significantly more aware of your various charms’ uses and thus not so certain of what your ‘new’ ratings would be. More importantly, you now understand that capes tend to identify themselves (and thus be stereotyped) by only one classification even if it’s not their highest-rated classification - which means how you answer this question may frame this and every interaction you have with him for the rest of your days. No pressure.

    So, you go with the answer that everything you've read implies the best response. Good thing it’s also true. “No, I’m a Tinker.”

    You’re pretty sure that caught him completely off-guard, and you entertain yourself with an image of him blinking a few times behind his v-shaped visor. He’s quick on the uptake, however, and soon there seems to be something of a conspiratorial smile tugging at his lips. “Prove it.”

    You’re pretty tapped out already, but you have more than enough for a single use of Omnitool Implant. Unfortunately, that just makes it look like you’re a Changer unless you can build something quickly with it - which you’re not sure you can do without also using Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade, a charm that you are much less certain you can afford to use right now despite the Essence you've been regaining during this conversation. However, if what you read this afternoon is true, you suspect one of your cheapest charms may have the biggest effect… if what was theorized about Dragon’s power is correct.

    You extend your right hand to him, palm face up and open. “Can I see your Halberd?”

    He pulls back a bit and tenses up. “No. Why, what do you want to do?”

    You kick yourself for being so direct and try a less show-boat approach. “Then do you have any Tinker-made tools or gadgets? They don’t have to have any offensive capabilities, just something that’s very clearly Tinkertech.”

    While still more tense than he was before you asked him to fork over his most prized possession, he nods once and then pulls out what looks like the base of a screwdriver and places it in your hand. You give it a quick look and notice two concentric circles at its base that - you suspect - cause various tools to pop out the other end. You turn it this way and that in your hand, giving it a good visual once-over, before you hold it up in your palm again.

    Then you activate Technomorphic Integration Engine and the Tinker-made screwdriver folds in on itselfwith a whir and a click, then slips into the compartment that just slid open in your palm. The compartment slides closed with a quick snap and you close your eyes to focus on the information flooding into your mind, but not before you notice Armsmaster’s mouth contort in confusion.

    “What did…”

    You hold up the hand that ate his screwdriver to silence him as you review the data your charm is giving you about the screwdriver. No, it’s far more than that…

    “Wow, that’s... a pretty crazy tool. Both types of screwdriver, variable-sized hex wrench, normal wrench, plasma welding torch, high-frequency vibrating knife, wire stripper, soldering tool that spits out solder as well, digital data interface and storage unit that… links up with your suit and helmet, radiation detector, wireless signal detector… I’m surprised there’s not a kitchen sink in that… Armsdriver? You call it that?”

    You open your eyes to see him leaning forward, his elbows on his knees and hands clasped together to cover his mouth, with the Halberd now sticking up between his bent right arm and leaning against his shoulder.

    An awkward silence hangs over the room as Armsmaster continues to stare at you for at least a solid minute. Finally, holds his right hand up a bit and raises two fingers in a “peace” sign.

    “Two questions: what did you do to it, and how do you know what’s in it?”

    You’re getting dangerously close to revealing your nature, but you’re not going to back down now that you've got his full attention. This might be your best shot to prove that you’re more than just some bargaining chip, as well as to get support for your move into Heroism. You spend the tiny amount of essence to extract the Armsdriver, which you do so with a stage-magician twirl of your left hand. You offer it back to him with a wink and oh Maker please don’t let him think you’re hitting on him. The errant thought causes you to fluster your previously-prepared speech.

    “I-I have a whole bunch of abilities and one of them is to absorb things and store them for later but while they’re stored away I… I can understand everything about them, to the point where I can build a replica or improved version even faster than if I was just looking at the schematics normally. I still remember how to build another one of those now, though, even when I gave it back to you.”

    You want to kick yourself again for fumbling through that, but it almost looks as if he wasn't even paying attention - his focus solely on the Armsdriver and cycling through its various configurations in a way that seems like he’s trying to verify if it’s real. Since you’re now sure that it doesn't normally possess a way to fold in on itself, he’s probably trying to figure out how to replicate that effect. After a few minutes of this, he appears reassured… but there’s a hint of disappointment there, too. Tucking it back in one of his utility belt’s pockets, he focuses back on you. He’s all business now, but there’s enthusiasm in his voice that wasn't there before.

    “If you really are telling the truth, if you can understand Tinker technology, we need you on the Wards. It’s a safe environment to learn about your new powers and the responsibility that comes with them, and as a Tinker you’ll have supplies and a support network. There’s the mess with your identity being revealed, but we have PR and Legal teams for a reason - they’re smart, they’ll figure something out. ”

    And there it is, the big choice. And you find yourself unable to argue against his reasoning; you were always going to join up with the Heroes, just maybe a little later after you had acclimated to your powers and actually put them to use. But this…

    You shake your head.

    “I don’t want to make any decisions until I see my dad. Please… I know he committed a serious crime, but he's still a good man. I can't imagine what thinking I was dead did to him.”

    He seems a bit annoyed that his best effort was still rebuffed, but he nods at your logic. “Have you ever ridden on a motorcycle before?”


    ***

    Getting to the Protectorate Headquarters floating out in Brockton Bay was quicker than you expected: Armsmaster’s motorcycle could project a weak anti-gravity field to let it ride across the water. With nothing else to do during the ride over the water, you focus on getting a good mental map of the ocean floor through the various crustaceans littering the seabed floor.

    The Protectorate base itself was even more majestic, more imposing up close than you would have expected. Perhaps it had something to do with the crackling radiance of the base’s forcefield that cause all your hairs to stand up on end? You are a bit surprised that the effect doesn't seem to be having any effect on your still-active Shard of Perfect Administration charm, nor do the base’s walls when you get inside via the priority entrance on the opposite side of the tourist barge’s dock. There aren't that many bugs that you can detect through the base, only a handful outside of the various garbage repositories (which all seem to funnel into some kind of furnace/recycling machine that would certainly be eating bugs if you weren't actively piloting them away from danger).

    As the incredibly-smooth elevator dings to signal the arrival at the base proper, a secondary tone signals some form of standard Stranger detection scan (which doesn't alarm you too much, since such precautions are apparently standard in PRT and Protectorate bases). It only takes around five seconds before the second light dings green and the elevator doors open up to reveal a futuristic-clean white-and-grey hallway.

    Armsmaster strides forward like a man on a mission. “This way.”

    You take several seemingly-random turns, but your ability to understand where you are in relation to the crabs nestled in the base’s support beams doesn’t allow you to be lost. Finally, you make it to near the center of the base and ride another - much more durable-looking - elevator down until it feels like you are on the lowest level of the base proper. When the elevator door opens this time, it reveals solid-grey walls framed by automatic turrets that are spaced evenly all the way down until the hallway turned. The turrets swivel to regard both of you before focusing solely on you.

    “Your father is over here.”

    He takes you down the hallway, then turns left abruptly and places his ungloved right hand on the wall at waist-height. A red scanner backlights his hand briefly, then turns green, which coincides with the wall to his right turning transparent, allowing light to spill out from it to reveal a prison cell. Pure white, it contains a cot that juts out from the wall at around knee-height, a toilet in the opposite corner, and multiple visibly-automated sentry guns peeking out from the ceiling that twitch every time the cell’s inhabitant does.

    The inhabitant, curled up on the cot and shivering, dressed in an orange jumper with “SPECIAL” emblazoned in large black letters along the side, is your father.

    Your knees nearly give out on you right there, but you manage to make it to the clear wall and balance yourself with both hands against it. With barely a thought you activate your Optical Enhancement’sDiagnostic Overlay to study your father’s form. Within a few seconds you get enough readings to put several of your fears to rest - he’s mostly healthy, though a bit dehydrated, with a slightly elevated body temperature possibly indicating a fever but you can’t detect any signs of an illness that would elevate it in such a way.

    “I think he’s sick. Fever.”

    Through your Ultraperipherial Awareness submodule you see Armsmaster turn his head to look at you. “Panacea healed him earlier. He’s fine. His power elevates his body temperature slightly unless he’s in shadow.”

    You know of many parahumans with powers that have deleterious side effects after your studies today, and you’ll likely be using the excuse yourself, but the knowledge never really struck home until now. Your dad has powers because of you and they are hurting him.

    “Can he hear us?”

    “You want to talk to him? He’s had a bad day.”

    “A bad day because of me. Please… yes, I want to talk to him.”

    Armsmaster presses his hand against the wall again and turns it slightly counter-clockwise. He turns back to you and gives you a thumbs-up in your normal peripherial vision.

    This is it. You take a few meditative breaths to calm yourself, stand up straight again, and lower the hoodie-scarf to reveal your face.

    “Dad?”

    Your father visibly twitches once, but then remains still for what seems like an eternity. You call out again.

    “Dad? Can you hear me?”

    He’s still for several more seconds, but just as you’re about to call out again he jerks upright and looks at you. His gaunt face looks like it’s aged ten years in the week you’ve been gone, he’s unshaven, and his eyes are bloodshot while still moist with tears. You absently notice that his hair is now solid black instead of the grey-streaked brown it was before last Monday, but this pales in the face of the expression he’s giving you now:

    Incandescent rage.

    “FUCK YOU!”

    Your father leaps up from his bed and slams his fists against the wall, only to immediately receive six blasts of pressurized water from the turrets in the ceiling, sending him sprawling back.

    “Dad! Stop, it’s me!”

    Your father won’t hear it though, as he hops back to his feet and looks ready to pounce at the barrier again were it not for the bleating tone of the turrets above him. You suspect the next blast will be PRT-made containment foam, not water.

    “My daughter was murdered! I saw her, I held her body! What the fuck is wrong with you monsters that you’d have someone impersonate her in front of me? Don’t you have any respect for the dead? You couldn’t even get her face right!”

    You’re most definitely crying now, and the moonsilver tears are likely not helping your case here. You dig deep and manage to push pass the overwhelming sorrow at seeing your dad so shattered that he’d fall this low. That’s when it becomes clear what to do next: your dad is beyond reasoning, and you need to snap him out of it, now, if you’re to get him any help before he accidently makes things worse.

    Your clothes melt into your body through the use of Technomorphic Integration Engine, followed by the clay-like mixture covering your form melting and flaking from your body to form a pool of liquid soulsteel around you to reveal your light-devouring soulsteel body - the prelude as you activate the penultimate form of your anima display. Roiling black smoke explodes from your form and crackles with black and blue lighting, framing the howling, cursed metal of your body in all your beautiful, terrible majesty. You pay no mind to all the automatic turrets flailing erratically before freezing up, but Armsmaster’s panicked backpedal away from you concerns you momentarily; you are sure to make no hositle or sudden moves, so as not to give him reason to strike you.

    No, the full weight of your attention is on your father, who falls back and scrambles to place his back against the far wall as his eyes remain fixed on your form. You don’t let the look of abject terror phase you; you've traded one irrational behavior for another, but this one you can control.

    “Five years ago, when I broke my left foot by dropping your old training weights on it, you took me to get ice cream at Baskin Robbins every day you came home for a week straight. I got rainbow sherbet with rainbow sprinkles every time, while you’d get mint chocolate chip. You used to read me poems from an old high school book of poetry you had when I was young and had trouble sleeping. Mom and I made you a chocolate chip pancake breakfast for your birthday every year, and I kept doing it after her accident.”

    As you speak, your anima already begins to fade with the smoke no longer billowing out behind you and the trapped souls in your form going dormant once again - the only thing remaining is the blue and black lighting occasionally flitting off your form and through the protruding, madly-twitching legs of your Shard of the Perfect Administrator charm.

    You’re pretty sure Armsmaster is trying to call for reinforcements but his erratic slaps at the side of his visor lead you to believe that he’s having trouble doing so. His right hand holds his Halberd out at you in a warding gesture, but so far he’s not making any overtly hostile movements. You’d rather stay in one piece, so you keep holding still and hope he refrains from interfering with what you’re doing with your dad.

    As your speech progressed, your father began blinking wildly and staring at you like he’d seen a ghost. Which was true on multiple levels, you realize, but not worth thinking about further. Now, it seems to have caught up with him - tears are flowing freely now and he’s shakily trying to stand back up. He weakly reaches out to you and his voice can barely be heard.

    “Taylor?”

    You nod and smile, though the moonsilver tears flowing down your soulsteel face likely make for a very arresting sight.

    “It’s me, dad. I don't really know what’s going on, I think I triggered in the locker and then something else happened but I don't really know what… I… I woke up in the locker this morning and went home but you were gone… I… I know you saw my body but… I’m still ‘me’, dad. Oh, dad, I’m so so sorry…”

    At that point your 360-vision catches the elevator opening to reveal Assault, Battery, Dauntless, and Velocity, as well as numerous standard PRT officers with containment foam sprayers. The Protectorate members step off the elevator first and assume combat-ready stances, but a mildly-obese woman in a purple skirtsuit and black tie marches out from behind them.

    PRT Director Emily Piggot breaks the silence. “What the hell is going on down here?!”



    ***

    Decisions decisions!


    Attitude Suggestions:
    [ ] Enthusiastic
    - Put me in coach! I've got what it takes!

    [ ] Wary
    - This can go wrong, and likely will, in so many ways.

    [ ] Demanding
    - I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread, so you will do what I say if you want my help


    Goals:
    [ ] Service Guarantees Citizenship: Wards
    - Make sure you have the best arrangement for you and your father before signing anything, but you’re ok with starting in the Wards for now as there’s a much lower chance of direct combat and it’ll also give you a chance to tinker/get yourself ready before you jump into the big leagues. And hey, you've heard the Wards here are pretty nice (aside from Shadow Stalker).

    [ ] Right Into The Deep End: Protectorate
    - Make sure you have the best arrangement for you and your father before signing anything, but demand to be placed within the Protectorate. This means significantly more responsibilities, as well as mandatory Endbringer-fight attendance (not that you wouldn't have gone anyway), but at least you’ll be out of High School Round 2.

    [ ] 24-Hour Rule!
    - Ask to be able to go home and eat, sleep, and think about this. You've had a very mentally and physically exhausting day, so trying to sort everything out right now won’t be good for anyone.

    [ ] Write-In
    - You are dreadfully low on essence and only have one willpower by stint of that stunt at the end. STUNT AWAY!

    ***

    Rolls:
    You and Armsmaster flailed valiantly against each other, both of you failing most of your attacks (due to low dice and poor rolls). Armsmaster succeeded in the end and you blew two WP to ignore and plea to see your dad.

    You rolled all 0's when you went Dark Simurgh to intimidate your dad into seeing reason, which sort of scared everyone and everything else shitless. Whoops.
     
  8. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Attitude Suggestion:
    [X] Wary
    - This can go wrong, and likely will, in so many ways.

    Attitude Stunts:
    [+3d] STUNT: Exercise caution, avoid presenting a threatening stance to the Protectorate members. No sudden movements, no body parts pointing towards any of them, no sudden changes of color or body parts.

    Goal:
    [X] 24-Hour Rule!
    - Ask to be able to go home and eat, sleep, and think about this. You've had a very mentally and physically exhausting day, so trying to sort everything out right now won’t be good for anyone.

    Goal Stunts:
    [+3d] STUNT: Ask for some time and eat, sleep, and think about this. You've had a very mentally and physically exhausting day, so trying to sort everything out right now won’t be good for anyone. Explain that doing what seemed like a good idea at the time has a track record of making things worse every time, so if they can give us the night to rest, even under surveillance, the clearer mind would pay off.
    [+3d] STUNT: You have read about Director Piggot during your research earlier. She used to be a PRT field commander and is generally known as a no-nonsense person. Try to keep your answers as clear, concise and to the point as possible.
    [+2d] STUNT: Apologize for the inconvenience, but you needed your dad to stop and listen.
    [+1d] STUNT: Dad called the PRT monsters. A reaction like that goes beyond just seeing what he thought was a look-alike. You need to talk with your dad before making any definitive decision.


    ***


    In the interest of understanding the major figures of the local PRT, you did some reading up on Director Emily Piggot this afternoon at the Library. The picture painted by your research was not an especially pretty one for you.

    Formerly a ground commander for the PRT, Emily Piggot was heavily injured during the PRT’s first - and only - attempt to strike at Nilbog before the Goblin King’s entire town was walled off from the rest of the world. Since then she’s served behind a desk as the PRT Director of Brockton Bay, and has a reputation as a fierce, no-nonsense Director that refuses to capitulate or back down from the various parahuman threats that have wormed their way into the city. Seeing her now (through your 360-vision since your primary focus is still on your dad), you’re a bit surprised that she came down here herself - she’s unhealthily obese so her physical contribution would be nil. Perhaps a part of “Commander Piggot” still lives on in her heart.

    As much as you want to keep talking with your dad, you suspect that ignoring her right now would be tantamount to attacking her physically. You give your dad the best hopeful smile you can, then turn your head slowly to the assembled PRT and Protectorate members, speaking firmly in a clear and concise manner.

    “Director Emily Piggot.”

    The Heroes remain in their guarded combat stances, but the Director just frowns at you and folds her arms over her chest.

    “Yes, I am Taylor Hebert. I apologize for my outburst and for disrupting your local security measures; my father was in a very poor mindset and would not communicate with me, so I used a display of strength to get him to focus. This had an unintended side effect on your security due to my lack of experience with my powers. My lack of experience is a result of having these powers only since early this morning, when I awoke in my locker at Winslow High School. I am hungry, tired, and anxious. My ignorance compounded with my physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion is leading me to make increasingly poor judgement calls. I am interested in working alongside the PRT and Protectorate, but I request the time to eat, sleep, and think about my options before making any further decisions. I am willing to be placed under surveillance for the duration of my recuperation, if that would ease your concerns. Is this acceptable to you?”

    There’s a long, awkward silence in the hallway, though you think you notice Armsmaster nod slightly as if what you just said makes sense to him. Just as Director Piggot is about to open her mouth, Assault breaks the silence.

    “You chose to be naked in front of your dad?”

    Slowly, very slowly, you move your arms to cover yourself as best you can while your father looks away in embarrassment. Thankfully, it doesn't seem like you can blush while in your “base” form. Also, you have a bit more respect for Battery for laying Assault out after that comment. That exchange also relieved some of the tension in the hallway, with most of the Protectorate members groaning or shaking their heads. Piggot looks ready to tear his head off, but turns back to you with a look of furious consideration. She exhales a controlled breath through her nose, then finally responds.

    “Ms. Hebert, be glad that Armsmaster sent us his recording of your conversation with him before you got here, as otherwise you’d be buried in containment foam right now.”

    She gives a downward motion with her right arm, causing the forces arrayed around her to relax slightly. Except for Assault, who’s still over-dramatically clutching his head and moaning on the floor.

    “I’m sorely tempted to throw you in one of these cells for the stunt you just pulled, but if we went around tossing every newly-triggered parahuman in a cell before they've actually broken any laws then we’d never get anywhere.”

    There’s something about the way she says that latter part that gives you the impression that she’d still be ok with that. You keep yourself from from frowning, but you’re uncertain if you manage to not react at all. Instead, you just nod for her to continue.

    “As a minor with no accessible legal guardians at the moment, you would normally be remanded into the care of child services. Being a parahuman, you would instead be remanded into the care of the PRT and placed in the Wards program. However, since “Taylor Hebert” is currently legally dead, we first need to verify your identity before we can move forward with any paperwork. Doing that right now would involve calling - and likely waking up - many people, as well as keep me up for several more hours. I was on my way out when you decided to overload our prison’s automated security measures, so I’m in no mood to pull an all-nighter for this.”

    She uncrosses her arms walks forward. The PRT officers and other heroes shift a bit more towards combat readiness again when she does so, so you remain physically still even though your nerves are coming apart by the second. When Piggot reaches level with Armsmaster, she nods at him and he assumes something akin to a parade rest with his Halberd held vertically and resting on the ground. Looking back towards you, her gaze firm.

    “So, here’s what’s going to happen: you are going to be escorted to one of the guest rooms we have for visiting Protectorate members. The computer inside will be removed, as well as the room’s internet and wi-fi access. Full surveillance measures in the room will be enabled, save for the bathroom. You will be given a full meal, and allowed to rest until Noon tomorrow. At Noon, we will begin discussing your future.”

    Surprisingly, she turns to your father and nods at him.

    “Mr. Hebert, although you have no legal jurisdiction over your daughter’s actions at the moment, are you opposed to anything I just said or do you have anything else to add?”

    Your father, who seemed to be trying to watch the PRT Director while also avoiding looking at your cloth-less form, turns his head to look directly at Piggot in shock. It takes him a few moments to process what she just said, and it’s clear that he’s still coming to grips with everything that’s happened today - let alone the past few minutes. Finally, he gives a tired sigh and nods his head.

    “It… well, it sounds reasonable. Even if you don’t need my permission, you have it.” He turns briefly to you (keeping his eyes on yours) before weakly smiling and finishing with, “I just want a chance to talk with my daughter… just to catch up, that is. Doesn't have to be now - I think I can sleep better at least knowing she’s still alive.”

    It feels like a great weight has been lifted from your chest when the Director nods in agreement at his request. “That can be arranged. It’ll be in a more controlled environment than the hallway of a prison, however.”

    She gives a hard stare at Armsmaster, who makes no motion to indicate that he cares. Piggot shakes her head and turns back to you.

    “Alright, Ms. Hebert. Let’s get you settled.”


    ***


    True to their word, you are deposited in a “guest” room in the Protectorate Headquarters that feels like a cross between a four-star hotel room and an empty workshop. There’s obviously space for a computer, as well as space for an entire tool shop (likely for visiting Tinkers) that has all been cleared out. Beyond that, the square room has a bed nicer than any in your own home, a small closet with industrial-looking hangars, and a reasonably-sized bathroom complete with handicap-accessible bathtub/shower combo, sink, and toilet. You’re not sure how you feel about the toilet looking Tinker-made, save for that you’re glad you haven’t yet felt the need to go since you woke up. Will you ever need go go again? You still have hunger pains, and you still have… parts… down there, but your new status as a bullshit magical robot girl has given you reason to suspect that direct chains of logic no longer apply to your form.

    Like that ‘bleeding soulsteel’ thing you did back in the prison hallway when you activated your anima display. You saw the PRT officers scooping up bits of it as you were escorted out, but you’re uncertain of what they’ll learn about it when it’s studied. Probably nothing good.

    You push the thoughts away as you focus entirely on your heavenly meal of skirt steak, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and chocolate-tasting nutrient shake. A part of your mind recognizes that this isn’t actually the most delicious meal you've ever tasted, but your exhaustion and hunger have locked that part up and thrown away the key. By the end of it you are full to near-bursting, and you barely manage to stumble contentedly over to the bed and promptly pass out after sliding under the covers.


    ***


    You have barely solidified your anchor to your host when an agonizing, burning sensation tears through the connection. You briefly understand that your host has just died but the anchor still leashes you just as tightly as before and then you are being pulled


    ***


    A loud - but not obnoxious - warning tone shifts you into consciousness. You blink a few times out of habit to clear the sleep from your eyes, but there is none to be cleared. Instead, you have a perfectly-clear view of an unfamiliar ceiling despite it being almost pitch-black in the room.

    Ah, right. Bullshit magical robot girl. Guest room in the Protectorate’s Brockton Bay Headquarters.

    You still don’t have to go to the bathroom. You really hope that carries over to other, more monthly, quasi-biological necessities.

    And wow, you feel so much better. A reflexive glance at your essence reservoirs reveals them to be as full as they’ll get with all your currently-installed charms, which is relieving in a way you didn’t fully grasp until now; without essence, you are very, very vulnerable. Less vulnerable than you were as a mortal - yikes… yes, you are now immortal. That realization grinds all other thoughts to a halt, including any annoyance at the persistent warning tone, as you consider the ramifications of immortality. You’re not invulnerable, no, but you’ll never have to worry about the debilitating effects of aging, such as wrinkles, weakened physical capabilities, and mental deterioration. On the other hand, you’re not sure if anyone else in the world is as immortal as you - Alexandria might be, considering her current age and lack of any visible wrinkles - which means everyone you know will be torn from your grasp by Time sooner or later. Your dad…

    The warning tone stops and the lights begin to turn on automatically. Slowly, at first, until they’re at the same brightness they were last night. Your eyes adjust flawlessly, and after a moment of silence another warning tone bongs from near the door before a female voice with a slight eastern-European accent crackles through some kind of intercom.

    “Ms. Hebert? Are you awake and decent?”

    You had extruded your hoodie and sweatpants last night (after checking with everyone to make sure they were ready for you to do so) and hadn't thought to pull them back in with Technomorphic Integration Engine before you passed out, so you suppose you’re decent enough once you slip your legs out and extrude your sneakers around your feet. You’re not sure what’s in store for today, so you opt to go commando instead of paying the extra mote to extrude your underpants.

    You owe Assault a swift kick to the crotch.

    “Yeah, I think so,” you call out in the direction of the door, assuming that they’ll hear you; this place isTinker-designed, after all.

    A response verifies your theory, and you get the feeling that the speaker is smiling as they do so. “Alright, I’m coming in.”

    The door slides left into the wall to reveal Miss Militia holding a set of manila folders in the crook of her left arm. Her trademark appearance - full military green-brown camouflaged gear with lower-face-covering American Flag scarf - is broken only by her power’s morphing weapon: a holstered six-shooter that looks like it could take down an elephant. As she takes in your outfit - especially your hoodie - her eyes crinkle in a manner that suggests she’s grinning widely.

    “I like your taste in clothes. The surveillance showed that you just woke up - would you prefer a few more minutes to shower and freshen up? We have a few minutes if you need it.”

    Your gut reaction is to agree, but then you remember that your metallic form doesn't produce the usual biological detritus that a standard human body does; no need to clear off dead skin cells and built-up body oils. Still, you did do a large tour of the city yesterday and spent multiple hours in the Boat Graveyard… and lifelong routines are hard to ditch so easily.

    “It wouldn't hurt, I guess. Shouldn't take long, maybe ten minutes?”

    Miss Militia nods, then motions towards your lower body.

    “Do you need a change of clothes? Those sweatpants and shoes look like they have a lot of history, but if you want I can swing down to the gift shop and grab you some new items. My treat, and I promise not to buy entirely Miss Militia merchandise.”

    You get the feeling that she’s enjoying this, so while you would never want to impose on such a famous Hero like that… well, she made the offer.

    “Alright, but I’m not sure about my new sizes. My shoes still fit, at least, but everything else is…” You make a helpless gesture at your new endowments while turning your head and coughing in embarassment.

    The camouflaged hero’s laugh is warm and honest, probably the most genuine laugh you've heard in years. It passes quickly, but she waves a hand to dismiss your discomfort.

    “No, there’s no need to be ashamed. I have to say that even with that black-metal skin and drafty athletic wear, you may be the most attractive female I’ve ever seen. Not that that’s my thing, mind you, just making it clear that you have the opposite problem that most form-altered capes have to deal with. Sure, there’s definitely some… comparisons I’m not sure I agree with so far, but everything I read and seen about you shows that you’re an honest, down-to-earth girl; you’ll be able to dismiss those comparisons when they see you for the Hero you truly are.”

    For a moment you’re stunned speechless by the overwhelmingly genuine complement by such a renowned Hero. Then it hits you: here, a real-life superhero believes in you. Why? Why does she sound so sure that you’ll be a good guy, even despite your terrifying appearance and abilities? Sure, you had your mind made up that you were going to be the Hero Brockton Bay needs, that you had it in you to change the world… but to hear it come from a bone-fide Hero, someone that’s been there in the trenches…

    There’s no doubt in your mind now why your parents favored Miss Militia while you innocently gushed over Alexandria.

    Miss Militia flinches briefly as you throw yourself in her arms and bury your moonsilver-streaked face in her shoulder, but after a moment you hear her drop the folders she was carrying and wrap your shuddering body in a tight hug. A small part of you feels regret at staining her outfit like you are, but the rest of you tells that part to shut up and just let it go.


    ***


    Your shower after that little breakdown felt so amazing that you lost track of time and had to be reminded by the returning Miss Militia that there were still things to do today.

    Now, you are donned in a new Miss Militia hoodie (that fits your form much better, to your slight chagrin), form-fitting beige jeans with lights tracing the seams to simulate Battery’s outfit, and black Assault-themed running boots. You gave Miss Militia some guff about the shoes, but when you explained why she said it’d be even more rewarding to deliver the kick to his valuables with his merchandise. You both shared a laugh over that.

    The room you’re sitting in is closer to the publicly-accessible portions of the base, and was labeled as an “Interview Room”. You noticed other doors labeled “Interrogation Room”, so you’re feeling slightly more confident at your chances of striking an fair deal here than before. The table at which you sit looks to be crafted from a heavy wood, though you refrain from using any of your vision sub-modules to determine the truth of that - no need to try things that have even the slightly chance to give them a poor impression of you right now. Along that vein, you grudgingly focused and disabled your Shard of the Perfect Administrator charm before you left your room, which - as you suspected - allowed the no-longer-twitching spider-like legs to retract seamlessly into your skull when you activated your Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier charm.

    Sitting in your chair, arms folded over your lap and posture straight, you appear to be a perfectly normal 20-year-old girl. Who also happens to be one of the most - if not the most - beautiful women in the world. Who is also legally dead. And the daughter of an exposed supervillain.

    Your sigh catches the attention of Miss Militia, who is standing near the door and absently flipping through her power’s various weapon configurations while she stares at the clock to the side.

    “Don’t worry, Taylor, they should-”

    As if summoned by the thought, the room’s single door opens to reveal a frowning PRT Director Emily Piggot, an inscrutible Armsmaster, and a stern-looking woman dressed in a normal business suit with a dark brown attache case. The two women sit at the table - Piggot at the head and the unknown opposite you - while Armsmaster takes up a spot next to Miss Militia so that he’s facing you directly. Just as new woman looks ready to speak, the PRT Director starts on you.

    “Ms. Hebert, this is Katrina Spector from the PRT’s Legal department, Child Services division. She’s been assigned your case for now, as we are moving forward on the assumption that you actually are, in fact, Taylor Anne Hebert. Should we determine that that is not the case and that you have been lying to us - either purposefully or out of ignorance - things will change drastically. Let us hope, then that that never happens, as it would be wasting a great deal of everyone’s time. Do you understand?”

    Rested, rejuvenated, and fresh, your head is much more clear than it was yesterday and thus you have prepared for this line of questioning. Your instincts ingrained from seeing every authority figure that mattered (your teachers, your dad) refusing to - or being unable to - help end the torment that was heaped on you by the Trio screamed at you to dodge this line of questioning for as long as possible… but you eventually came to the realization that these are the Heroes, the forces of Order and Justice in the world. Not only would it go against your charge to bring Order and Justice to this world yourself, they’d undoubtedly uncover any attempts at deception soon enough to make you seriously regret trying in the first place.

    Piggot’s drilling gaze still unnerves you just a tad, though.

    “While my body is mostly new, my mind… and my soul… are still me. Taylor Anne Hebert. I have all my memories up until I was shoved into my locker. Then I had some… visions… and I woke up again in the locker yesterday morning sometime at around five o’clock.”

    Your response draws various reactions from those in attendance. Piggot looks a bit disbelieving but a quick glance to - and nod from - Armsmaster makes her relent a bit. Katrina Spector seems sad at your mention of the locker and then worried at your effective loss of a week’s worth of memories. Miss Militia’s stare at you takes on an abstracted look when you mention the visions, as if she’s suddenly looking past you, which strikes you as the oddest reaction of the bunch. Director Piggot takes a moment to sort her response to your statement, then continues.

    “That lines up with some of the stories from other parahumans that lost large chunks of time to their trigger events. Related to your trigger event, how caught up are you on current events? We have a report that places you at the Brockton Bay Public Library yesterday, researching parahumans, the worldwide cape scene, and many local news articles with a speed that clocks you as a mid-level Thinker.”

    So much for getting away with using your old Library card scott-free.

    “I looked up what was publicly available at the time but I’d like to hear it from you, if you don’t mind. And any developments since yesterday at noon, I guess.”

    Piggot nods in agreement then gives a wave for Spector to bring you up to speed. When the Child Services agent speaks, it’s quick, clear, and covers only the facts - refreshing, especially after you waded through hundreds of pages of opinion blogs and ParaTube comments to get this information yesterday. While she doesn't contradict anything you pieced together as truth yesterday, she provides more details on how much information the authorities have regarding Emma, Madison, and Sophia’s reign of terror over you - most notably the fact that they had retrieved the journals, email printouts, and photos you had been compiling to both build your case and to provide peace-of-mind that there was some documentation of what had been going on. Spector commented that pulling server logs had verified the harassment emails, the photos could likely stand alone, and testimonies by students on the day of the event about some past events they had seen confirmed some of your documented cases. Further, while what wasn't verifiable before the court case might not counted as hard evidence, it still should help reinforce the case overall.

    You’re once again thankful for Miss Militia’s words of encouragement earlier. You would likely be in tears at these revelations, but you have the conviction to face this news with a stoic mien. Piggot has been very clearly seething whenever your suffering was brought up, and as Spector wraps up it looks like she’s using everything she has to keep control. The all-business Director doesn't strike you as one for that kind of empathy, so perhaps it hits a bit close to home for her? Either way, she manages to compose herself when Spector finishes and hits you with a level gaze.

    “You being alive throws wrenches in a lot of gears right now, but as much as it would please me to lock those girls into a dark cell and throw away the key the murder charges are going to go away. You have some say in what kind of charges are going to be thrown at them, though as a freshly-triggered minor there will be attempts to undermine your position. We’ll fight those attempts, of course, but they’ll be coming.”

    Her scrutiny amps up, her eyes seeming to be judging you for all your worth.

    “So. What do you want done with those three, Ms. Hebert?”

    It’s a question you've been asking yourself ever since the torment began. If you’d have been asked that question before the Locker, you probably would have agreed wholeheartedly with Director Piggot’s wish to see the Trio rot until the Sun burns itself out. But is that what you want now?


    ***


    You gained a new Intimacy! Miss Militia (Admiration)

    Now, suggest the Trio’s fate as well as your own! We will be speeding up the passage of time for a bit, so we’ll be getting some downtime to work and train.

    Suggestion For Trio: (choose one or one plus the extra)
    Note that this decision will play an impact on your "Terrible Trio" Intimacy.

    [ ] Turn The Other Cheek: You are now a bullshit holy robot, for your forgiveness is divine. Argue for reduced charges/punishments.

    [ ] Justice Shall Be Met: Whatever the Law says, they should get. Argue for fair charges/punishments.

    [ ] Vengeful Gaze of God: Suffer not those witches to live. Argue for the harshest charges/punishments.

    Extra:
    [ ] From Beyond The Grave: Additionally, reveal that you did - in fact - die. This will have an impact on how you are treated from here on out, but should help get Murder charges on the Trio.


    Suggestion For You: (choose one)

    [ ] Training Wheels - Wards: Path of Least Resistance and default choice, will give you more time to socialize and experiment with your powers.

    [ ] With Great Power - Protectorate: Probably not possible unless you spin some amazing stunt, so give it all you've got! More supplies and pay, but more responsibilities that can eat away at your time.

    [ ] Role Models Wanted - Neither: The PRT has temporary custody over you, but you don’t have to deal with the Wards just yet if you can get a Hero to take you on as an official Apprentice (which would mean they get guardianship of you temporarily instead). This is a hard sell as well, so your stunt better be damn good.


    [ ] Write-In: For Trio and/or You, stunts recommended.

    ***

    Rolls:
    - You rolled exceptionally well on convincing Piggot to stand down.
    - Didn't get enough successes to remember more than a snippet of the Shard vision.
    - Miss Militia hit you with a bajillion successes to reinforce your Be a Hero Intimacy and inadvertently made herself one to you as well.
    - Succeeded in noticing Miss Militia's reaction to your comment about "visions" in particular.
    - Failed to see past Piggot strong-arm as she hit nearly every social vulnerability you have.
    - Barely succeeded to notice something amiss with the situation as a whole.
     
  9. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Interlude:


    ***


    The Plan was falling apart.

    Occasional glimpses of the original choices and consequences, causes and effects could be seen but even that understanding was tainted. Looking back revealed the existence of an actor that would appear and disappear from the Future at seemingly random points and could only be predicted by watching the Past. Compounding this was a growing field around the actor turning the normally-static Future into a distracting mess of chaotically-fluctuating possibilities, possibilities that cascaded further outwards in Space and forward in Time.

    Worse, much worse, was that this actor would not be alone for long if left to its own devices. This could not be allowed if The Plan was to succeed.

    The Plan was the only hope for survival.


    ***


    Sixty-seven miles above the surface of the Earth, the Simurgh altered her gradual descent.



    ***
     
  10. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Vote Result: (After 40 pages of discussion…)

    [X] Option #1: Forgiveness & Wards
    You ask for reduced charges and sentencing, instead asking if you can help spearhead publicly (meaning no secret identity) a new nationwide anti-bullying campaign... through which the Trio will have to volunteer (split up, of course) to work and make speeches about (amplified by the Trio's trial). You try to parley this into lighter charges and sentencing for your father, on the condition that you join the Wards and he be placed on probation in the Protectorate. Over the next week these deals will be hashed out while you hang with the Wards, be enrolled in Clarendon (nice like Arcadia, just on the opposite side of the city), and get your powers examined by the PRT.


    ***

    “What is the purpose of the Protectorate?”

    You blink a bit at the abruptness of the question, let alone the content of it. Your focus had been on the rest of the room around you - PRT-grey walls covered in maps of various North American cities, sketches and mock-ups of cape (both Protectorate and Wards) merchandise, costumes, action figures, magazine covers, and cartoon shows. There had been time to peruse most of it, having been escorted into the room only to wait on the man inside to finish up a conversation about cereal brands that you immediately tuned out in place of admiring the pictures and objects littered around the room.

    You round back on the man - Glenn Chambers, Head of PRT Public Relations - as he types away at his computer, not even looking in your direction. Even after staring at him for it before, the sight of a pink cashmere turtleneck on a man his size derails any trains of thought you had running.

    “I’m sorry? Were you talking to me?”

    Glenn stops typing and gives you a look that makes you want to slap yourself for asking such a dumb question, then slap him for being so aggressively petulant.

    “Yes, you, Hebert. What do you think is the purpose of the Protectorate?”

    The Wards - Clockblocker in particular - had warned you that this entire meeting would be test after test after test, so you had done at least some preparation for the meeting that would apparently define your public persona. They were also insanely jealous that you at least got a plane ride’s-worth of time to prepare, as Glenn had been too busy this past week to give you a surprise visit in Brockton Bay… which is how all the other Wards had had to deal with him.

    “To give people hope,” you reply with a knowing smile, “against the villains, against the S-Class threats, against the Endbringers. Hope against Chaos.” You think you managed to pull off that capitalized ‘C’ at the end there, so maybe Gallant’s public speaking lesson on the plane ride up was more than just an excuse for him to flirt with you.

    Glenn’s right eyebrow, bleached to match his hair, raises a bit from behind his faux-aviator glasses. His hands move from the keyboard and he turns towards you and leans forward to clasp his hands together on top of his manila-folder-covered desk.

    “Let’s say that’s the case. That the Protectorate is the shining beacon of hope in an otherwise dark world. How do we go about doing that? How do we ‘give people hope’?”

    “We defend the innocent, bring Order, enact Justice.” Ok, maybe you spent a little too much time flir-talkingwith Gallant and not enough studying.

    The eyebrow comes back down.

    “And how do we bring ‘Order’ and ‘Justice’? Examples.”

    “Ah… well, we do patrols during the hours of the day and night that statistics show most crimes are committed. We use non-lethal force to ensure minimum collateral damage and maximum survivability for all combatants. We help out with disaster relief efforts. We volunteer for, and lead, the fights against S-Class threats and Endbringers.”

    He nods absently and looks past you at some of the paraphanelia on the wall. He motions for you to sit, making you realize you had been standing during the entire exchange up till then. You dart into the chair in front of his desk, though he continues to stare past you.

    “Wrong on most accounts. Your file says your Thinker rating is more focused towards your Tinker abilities. Looks like it’s true.”

    Your mind is so focused on trying to reboot itself after being told that everything you know about being a Hero is wrong that you completely fail to notice the insult. Your expression must be giving away your confusion, as Glenn continues after casting a quick glance at your face.

    “We do all those good things, don’t get me wrong Ms. Hebert. The world would have fallen apart long ago if we weren’t leading by example in those ways. But if the Protectorate - and by extension civilization itself - is to survive, public perceptions, not deeds, come first.”

    You were already scrabbling to wrap your mind around this conversation, but that? The notion that Order and Justice come behind looking good? Your mounting frustration and disbelief with the words coming out of this… this insult to Heroism must be coming through quite clearly on your face. Which is good, because you feel like you want to trigger your Iconic Anima just to put him in his place. You… he…

    Wait, is that the hint of a smile? Is this part of the test?

    Oh, fuck it all.

    You exhale the enormous breath you had no idea you were holding and lean back, letting your mind clear of all distractions. No, it would be terribly inefficient to blow up on the man responsible for your public image just for - quite possibly - testing your mettle. This man is clearly an expert at pushing people’s buttons, keeping them off-balance and not giving them room or time to think things through. Well, you have just the thing for that.

    You activate your Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade charm and let your consciousness spit into the usual six parallel threads. And then, just because you really need to get a handle on this conversation now, you push your recall speed to its limits with the Dynamic Reaction Enhancement System charm. Now, to figure out Glenn Chambers’ game...

    With your 360-degree vision you discern where his gaze has been focused during the last part of the conversation. Pictures of Wards? No, pictures of Wards with other kids - usually younger-looking than the Wards themselves. So maybe the Wards program is a key to this? But why those pictures in particular when there are plenty of other pictures and figures of Wards scattered around the room? You leave that mental thread remembering the names and deeds of the Wards in those pictures as well as allocating another thread to remembering if there had been anything note-worthy about those particular photo-shoots.

    Still focusing on the idea of Wards, kids, and public relations, you devote a thread to thinking about the rise of the Wards program in particular. During the early years of the Protectorate there had been an Apprentice program for under-age parahumans; a throwback to the Golden Era of comic books, letting kids live the dream of being a sidekick to a real superhero. Except in the real world, superheroes died a lot more often… and they didn’t come back to life the next week. Not only that, the average age for trigger events was rapidly dropping, to the point where last year the reported average age for first-generation trigger events was only sixteen… and second-generation trigger events averaged a little under age twelve. The trend looked to be continuing: the first reported third-generation trigger was only five. Hence, the Wards program.

    Which syncs up with the fourth mental thread - which you had looking for searching through important statistics throughout parahuman history - when it runs across an interesting factoid: the ratio of villains-to-heroes since the Wards’ program’s inception has been slowly, very slowly, declining. Where the villains used to outnumber the heroes almost 3.5-to-1, it’s now closer to 2.5 or 2-to-one on average in nations covered by the program. At the same time, there has been an accompanying rise in the number of publicly-listed villains participating in Endbringer fights. That leads to thinking about Endbringer casualties - parahuman (thousands), human (millions), and national (Kyushuu, Newfoundland).

    You devote the fifth mental thread - since Glenn has barely started to open his mouth to start saying the next word in the time you’ve been doing all this thinking - to go over everything you’ve seen and heard the Brockton Bay Wards and Protectorate members do and say over the last week: attend school (despite home-schooling being more time-effective for capes), go on patrol during rush-hour times (despite those time slots having the lowest statistical crime rate), complain about their uniforms (as even the bland PRT officer outfit offers more protection and utility), complain about being unable to really let loose against the villains when they get in fights (despite the villains having no such compunctions)…

    Finally, you use the sixth, and last, mental thread to piece it all together. It’s not a pleasant conclusion.

    “The purpose of the Protectorate is to delay the Endbringers until a final solution for them is found.”

    Both eyebrows are up, but his face barely has time to fully register the reaction as your clipped, efficient speech barrels onward.

    “The Endbringers are winning, and no solution is forthcoming. Solutions can only account for guaranteed participants. Participants can only be guaranteed if people have the will to fight, feel it is their responsibility to fight. Heroes.”

    You absently activate Shard of Perfect Administration as your mind sifts through memories, double- and triple-checking your hypotheses against what you've read, seen, or heard. The burst of increased perception of the world around you is easily handled by an empty mental thread, as you've become much better at handling the abrupt deluge of information gained upon its activation. You just feel so much more… reassured with it active. Calm. In control.

    “Parahuman trigger events are usually incredibly traumatic, and usually result in many broken laws - instinctual fear of the law will then drive many to villainy. To reliably overcome such overwhelming trauma and instinctual reactions, people must overwhelmingly believe that the only logical choice is Heroism.”

    Glenn’s eyebrows furrow, but he is now irrelevant; there is only the Truth.

    “Heroes must not be just shown as the ideal, they must be shown as an inevitability. Victory as only a matter of time, defeats only setbacks. Smarter, stronger, faster, tougher. Brighter. Better.”

    That last part felt… different. Like it wasn't really coming from the facts you had compiled - though implications gleaned through the PRT’s actions certainly could lead to that resolution - but instead from some higher part of you. Your attempts at meditation over the last week hadn't netted you any more visions beyond what you had experienced that first morning in your bed, though there was definitely something there at the end that felt familiar in the same way.

    “A novel theory, Ms. Hebert. Closer to the answer I was looking for, at least. Overcoming the trigger trauma is something that comes up occasionally in our policy meetings, but the last one we had was days before your locker incident so I won’t suspect you for eavesdropping. It’s good to see you putting that mind to work on more than gadgets, at least. What I was getting to, before you started speaking like an auctioneer, was that your image is the first thing that needs to be fixed. Because this…”

    Spinning his monitor in your direction, you get a high-res photo from Kid Win’s suit on the morning he and Vista caught you as you headed home, right before you overrode the suit somehow (tests this week still are inconclusive on how you do that with your anima). You’re standing in the middle of the street, howiling to the sky with your eyes glowing bright red. Most of your soulsteel body revealed, though what parts of you that are covered in skin are sloughing off in black-bloody chunks. Most prominent, however, is your Iconic Anima blazing to life all around and above you: a massive mechanical spider - Design Weaver - hovering over a pitch-black world with thousands of strands in each leg like some kind of master puppeteer, itself framed by a fractal-like spiderweb made of black and blue lightening. The whole scene itself is thick with the black miasma of your anima, with smaller arcs of black and blue lightening throughout.

    “…is not Heroic.”

    You try not to dwell on this, but with your mental capabilities enhanced six-fold it’s a bit difficult. You land a fly on the back of your neck and temporarily pass on the ability to it, as Glenn carries on.

    “Now, I've read all the reports from the rating tests and interviews so I’m well aware that it’s a part of your power. I also know that it’s possible for you restrain yourself from summoning this public-opinion-destroying illusion. So, you’re going to keep a lid on Mr. Spider there any time you’re in public, at least until you either figure out a way to make it less of a PR nightmare or you have a high enough public opinion that we’ll have room to spin it better. Don’t hold your breath on that last one.”

    Great, just what you needed - a cap on how much power you can use in a fight. Well, at least your charms aren't super essence-intensive, and you already plan on doing most of your fighting from a good enough distance that you should have time to let your anima die down between charm uses. Your swarm tactics have been coming along quite nicely lately… much to Velocity’s horror. Hopefully Dr. Yamada can help him with that entomophobia…

    “Next, the bugs.”

    You give him a cold look. “They’re a central part of my powers, and my theme.”

    “Again, when people see massive waves of thousands of dark insects, people who don’t immediately run screaming will immediately think ‘villain’ and you know it. We’re not asking you to stop use of the power, however; your methods need to be less… overwhelming. We’ll also be supplying you with more colorful arrays of insects. Butterflies, specific species of moths, beetles, scarabs, anything to break up the amorphous black-and-brown swarms you've been throwing around so far.”

    You’re beginning to seriously regret asking for permission to collect a sizable swarm from the city for use in your training with your Shard of Perfect Administration charm. If only you had waited… ah, this would have come up eventually, you suppose. Better to get it out of the way now when you have more control over the situation.

    “How am I supposed to fight, then? Yes, I’m tougher than average and can go invisible, but if I can’t close the deal then it’s useless.” Reading up on military tactics for use with your swarms has broadened your vocabulary a bit, as well.

    Glenn holds his hands up in a placating manner, as if this isn’t all his fault. “You’re a Tinker, I’m sure you can come up with something. You’re an untested commodity that, frankly, looks like something whipped up by the Slaughterhouse 9 - you need to start with the kid gloves or else your reputation as a Hero will be dead before it even starts. Which brings us to your identity - you’re already outed, but costumes are as much a symbol as your powers themselves.”

    He motions back at the picture of you that’s still displayed on the monitor.

    “We have a few ideas for how to work your metal form into an appealing costume, but it’s a waste of time; you’ve got the ability to be normal and attractive, so there’s no reason to make things more difficult by looking like an inhuman metal creature if you don’t need to. Just ask the Case 53s and I’m sure they’d tell you they’d prefer to look normal in a costume if given the chance. Your powers shaping your body,” he waves as the twitching spider legs extruding from your skull, “will be trouble enough to design around, anyway.”

    This is just disappointment after disappointment. You've started to like being in your ‘natural’ form more and more, and now you've got to give it up? Well, at least it’ll probably reduce the scares you give Vista just walking around the base.

    “Now, about your cape name…”



    ***

    Decisions ‘O Plenty!

    It is currently 1:30pm on Tuesday, January 18th, 2011. Taylor starts at Clarendon tomorrow! Don't worry, there's more to come before we get there, just wanted to break up Glenn's part to allow decision-making.


    In the time since we last saw Taylor, her sheet has changed a bit. More importantly, she had time to train some of her skills and thus now you can select where to spend XP. Costs are as follows:

    - Ability: 4 XP
    - Specialty: 2 XP
    - Virtue: 3 XP
    - Willpower: 3 XP
    - Backgrounds up to 3 dots: 3 XP
    - 4th and 5th dots of background: 4 XP

    Abilites available for increase: (6/6 days trained)
    - Awareness: From learning tricks with bugs
    - Awareness Specialty (Swarm Sense)
    - Bureaucracy: Paperwork every day
    - Craft (Wood): From Tinkering with Kid Win and Armsmaster
    - Presence: Taylor interacted with the Wards a fair bit, which we’ll see more of later
    - Lore: From research and Tinkering
    - Lore Specialty (Parahumans)
    - War: From learning tricks with bugs
    - War Specialty (Swarm Manipulation)

    Other available purchases: (may only purchase one dot)
    - Compassion
    - Willpower
    - Backing (PRT)
    - Contacts (PRT)
    - Allies (Choose a Ward): dots/XP spent on this indicates how often you can call on them

    Check the character sheet for Abilities that are close to being ready for advancement, as you will be able to select what Taylor focuses on training soon (not this update).


    Finally, you get some input on your cape name and costume style.

    ***

    Here’s how voting’s going to work!

    - You can suggest a Plan, or you can vote on a Plan.

    If you MAKE a Plan, format as such:

    [X] Gromweld’s Example Plan
    - [x] 3xp on Compassion
    - [x] 4xp on War
    - [x] 2xp on War Specialty (Swarm Manipulation)
    - [x] 6xp on Gallant, because Drama Bombs!
    - [x] Cape Name: Administrator
    - [x] Costume Idea: Weaver’s costume from canon


    If you VOTE FOR a Plan, format your vote as such:


    [X] Gromweld’s Example Plan




    ***
     
  11. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] Plan Mashup
    -[x] 3xp WP
    -[x] 3xp Compassion
    -[x] 4xp Presence
    -[x] 2xp Craft (Air)
    -[x] 2xp Craft (Fire)
    -[x] 4xp Lore
    [x] Name: Design Weaver
    [x] Costume Style: Iron-Man / Tron-style mashup. Mostly grey Darwin-bark spidersilk with highlighted lines of glowing blue that can be dimmed. Right shoulder has a white spider on blueish-white web symbol. Any additional armor of metal on top of the spider silk is royal blue with white trim / thin line decorative design.


    ***


    “SmurfBot!”

    A loud ‘thwak’ after that outburst heralds your entrance into the Wards’ main lounge area in their section of the Protectorate Headquarters, both coming immediately after you step into view of the assembled costumed teenagers. They had managed to round up the entirety of the Wards - save Shadow Stalker, who was still on out on patrol - for your introduction to them, which was impressive as you had only agreed to join the team a few hours prior. Armsmaster has stuck close to you ever since you finished signing those papers with the help of your lawyer, but judging by his tense stance you suspect that he feels he has better things to do than escort you around the base.

    You eye the teen covered in a white, full-body costume covered in images of digital and old-fashioned-style clocks… who is now stumbling away from the wall on the other side of the room. Miss Militia had warned you that he was liable to have thought up a few possible cape names for you, even on such short notice, and that most of them would be groan-worthy. Armsmaster rumbles a bit; he isn’t approving of that one. “Clockblocker.”

    You can’t see it (because you don’t feel like spending the essence to do so), but you can hear the wry grin in Clockblocker’s voice. “Ah, ok, ok. Sorry, that’s probably a touchy subject. You’re way hotter than she is anywa-” and there he goes, back into the far wall with a resounding ‘thwak’.

    “Darn-I mean damn it, Clockblocker!” Vista, likely the one responsible for dishing out Clockblocker’s last two punishments, holds her visor-covered head in her hands as she stammers out the curse. The other Wards - Aegis, Gallant, Kid Win, and Triumph - are shaking their heads in what seems to be expected exasperation. After a beat, the biggest of the Wards gets up off the couch that most of them are piled around and moves towards you to shake your hand. Dressed in a rust-red costume with matching full helmet, all trimmed with silver-white a finished with a shield emblem, he cuts an imposing figure for a teen: Aegis.

    “I apologize for Clocklocker’s behavior, Ms. Hebert. He doesn't mean any harm by it.” His handshake is firm but polite, which gives his genuine tone of voice an extra measure of sincerity.

    “Nice to meet you - I’m Aegis. Triumph's the Captain right now," he gestures with a thumb back at the Ward dressed in a gold-and-black bodysuit with visor-style helmet shaped like a roaring lion, "but he's having me act the role since he's graduating in a few weeks and I'll be stuck filling his over-sized boots.”

    That gets an indignant "Hey!" from the current Ward Captain and a few chuckles from the rest of the team.

    Motioning with his other hand, the other Wards call out their own cape name as Aegis points to them, ending with Clockblocker who has now opted to simply lean against the wall he was getting thrown against.

    “And now, since I understand you’ve already started the paperwork to join us…” Aegis retrieves his hand from your grip, then reaches up with both hands and removes his helmet in one swift move - that he has to have practiced - to reveal a tan, strong, vaguely-Latino face with dark brown eyes and black hair. He flashes a winning smile, revealing that he’s earned leadership of the Wards by being more than a flying brick.

    “Nice to meet you again, Taylor. I’m Carlos.”

    You see the other Wards begin to remove their helmets as well, and you’re struck by the sheer weight of the trust they are imparting to you. You just signed up and they’re already revealing their identities to you? You’re having a hard time processing this level of genuine faith in Humanity.

    Carlos’ light touch on your arm shakes you from your reverie. “Taylor? You are alright? You’ve been real quiet - Dennis didn’t freak you out with that name, did he?”

    A little alarmed, you re-take stock in the situation and realize that your body language is positively screaming, “Run Away!” When was the last time boys and girls your age looked at you with these kinds of open, honest smiles? Years? The only smiles you can remember now are of…

    You close your eyes, take a deep breath, hold it for a moment, and then let it out again as you lightly shake all the tension from your posture and re-square your shoulders. Meeting Carlos’ eyes, you give him an apologetic smile.

    “No, sorry, that wasn’t Clockblocker’s fault. It’s just… been a while since I’ve had any kind of positive social interactions with people my age. I sorta went into defensive mode automatically.”

    Now that gets some strange responses from the group - restrained ones, too. Well, except from Vista, strangely enough, whose livid frown would almost be cute if it wasn’t… ok, yeah, it’s still cute, even after she spits out, “Ugh, fuck those bitches! Especially Sophia! I can’t believe… just ugh!”

    And then she’s standing between you and Carlos and wrapping you in a hug - space warping to move her there in a way that makes you briefly cross-eyed. You’re a bit freaked out by the close contact you’ve been getting and briefly try to squirm from the hug, but she seems to have latched on fairly tight.

    Which becomes a little awkward when you realize that she may be inadvertently smothering herself in your well-developed chest - even through the Miss Militia hoodie. She seems to realize what she’s doing at the same time and gives a little ‘eep’ before jumping back, her face an adorable shade of red.

    “I-ah, sorry, I didn’t mean-err, I didn’t realize…” she cuts off at the growing sounds of snickering behind her, where the rest of the Wards are rapidly losing their composure at the scene. Her embarassment shifts to indignant rage and she looks ready to tear her hair out.

    “Argh! Boys!


    ***


    “So have you figured out a name for yourself yet?”

    Being able to talk to your dad about your decision to join the Wards was one of the stipulations you had made with Director Piggot when she had laid out the deal. She reiterated that he currently had no jurisdiction over you now that you had been remanded to the PRT’s custody, since it was possible for him to regain custody over you later she reasoned that it was acceptable to go over the deal with him as well. Your lawyer (who had finally arrived to counsel you in the meeting) agreed, and so you had adjourned briefly to give you a chance to talk it over with your dad.

    Now, in one of the the rooms across the hall labeled “Interrogation Room”, your dad sits - bound in the orange jumper and in cufflinks that appear to have some kind of electrical current running through them - while you recount what you remember since waking up in The Locker.

    The non-sequitor takes you by surprise. Maybe he isn’t taking your decision to be a Hero as well as you thought. It’s hard to get a read on him with his face nearly covered in shadow like that. Reflexive use of his power to hide his feelings, maybe?

    “No, I… I haven’t really given it much thought.” Which is partly true. You already know your new name, you’ve just been worried it’s a bit too much of a mouthful for people to accept.

    Again, the barest hint of a nod.

    “I heard that people already know it was me that… did what I did. They asked me if I had a cape name for the press when they were taking me away, but I was too busy…”

    “Dad, I… I’m so sorry. I knew they were covering their tracks and the teachers were just looking the other way - you wouldn’t have been able to do anything, and it would have just made them want to push back even harder afterwards and… I just… I just didn’t want you to worry. I never thought it would get that bad, I thought they were stopping…”

    The shadows melt away from his face, revealing his lined face twisted in disbelieving fury.

    “They tortured you for months! They tried to kill you, Taylor! Fuck, they pretty much succeeded! You should have told me, we could have done something! Anything! We wouldn’t be here-”

    “Mr. Hebert, that’s enough. Your time together is up, in any event.”

    Director Piggot’s abrupt entrance into the room, flanked by a sympathetic-looking Miss Militia and a stoic Armsmaster, interrupts your father mid-condemnation.

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut off that line of discussion there. Time’s up.”

    Your dad clicks his mouth shut and stares at you for a moment before another emotion washes over his face before the shadows hide it again: shame. Armsmaster is soon at his side and the two begin to make their way out of the room. As he passes you, you think you hear him whisper to you faintly.

    You just continue to stare at his empty chair for a long minute, fighting back the tears, before you respond to the empty room.

    “No… I’m sorry.”


    ***

    “What do you think Glenn has cooked up for her cape name?” comes the voice of Chris through the bugs in his room.

    You only put a few in discrete areas (flies in wastebins, spiders in corners, etc.) over the last few days just to test out how your awareness could stand up to paying attention to multiple people going about their business at once, but the small pack of fruit flies in the communal kitchen noticed most of the guys milling around suddenly up and leave together when you had gone back to your room after dinner. Curious, you had kept an eye on where they were doing when it turned out they had all packed into his room for some reason. Much to your dismay, it seems you were the topic of discussion. Just when you thought the Wards would be better than High School… though, they aren’t really talking poorly of your or planning pranks. Just general impressions of you so far, mild curiosity... nothing too bad, you suppose.

    Then Assault - Ethan - walks in, and you suddenly get a very bad feeling about this little conspiracy meeting. Dennis and Ethan together in the same room for an extended period of time almost always spells trouble. Especially with the way he’s smiling now.

    “Thanks for waiting for me, guys. Now,” he clears his throat and drops his voice in an over-exaggerated attempt to be serious, “you may be wondering why I've gathered you here this day.”

    This elicits groans from Carlos and Triumph (Rory), a relaxed laugh from Dean (Gallant), and snickers from Chris (Kid Win) and Dennis (Clockblocker).

    “You see, I have been charged with a task of utmost importance: the escort of a damsel most fair into the lair of a treacherous beast, and then to return with her post-haste with nary a scratch upon her body.”

    What could he- oh Maker. Your trip to New York City tomorrow to meet with the PRT Public Relations team. You groan, though no one else is in your room to hear it. Back in Chris’ room, Assault continues talking - all the boys are now listening with a bit more interest now.

    “Now, it is within my power to take with me a Ward on this most daring of missions, but I find myself wondering who I can trust with such a critical task. A task, I may add, during which there will be ample opportunity to get to know the fair damsel in a more private setting…”

    “Me!”
    “I volunteer.”
    “I’ll wash your car!”
    “I’ll save you from Eliza when she’s angry.”
    “What the- Dean, you already have Victoria! Leave some hotties for the rest of us!”
    “She… sorta broke up with me aga- what’s so funny?”

    Missy was right. Boys.


    ***

    “So, Taylor, have you decided on a name yet?”

    “Dragon, shouldn't we be focusing-”

    “Oh, I think Colin has what he needs under control for now. Though, honestly, I’m not sure whether to complement you on finding a way to make Colin more focused or criticize you for it - it’s only been a few weeks, but I've found that he’s very difficult to distract with casual conversation. I’m just glad he thinks I’m still useful enough to be allowed around even after we finished collaborating on the Endbringer prediction system.”

    “I’m right here, you know.”

    Armsmaster’s primary workshop was far smaller than you were expecting it to be - picturing the premier tinker of Brockton Bay, the East-North-East Protectorate leader, having a massive garage of Tinker-built gadgets and weapons. Perhaps it fit well with his specialization in miniaturization to have a smaller room as his workshop? Either way, ever since the PRT scientists had come back with the tests declaring that your use of Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade on others (through use of the Hypercalibration Benediction sub-module) did not show any of the signs of addiction or long-term control that the supervillain Teacher had been known for, Armsmaster had practically ordered you to use it on him to see if it boost his Tinkering speed.

    It did. By a lot. He and Dragon had completed their collaboration - a system that would hopefully better predict Endbringer attacks - in only a few days instead of the months they had both expected it to take. You and he didn’t really eat or sleep that much, though, and your other abilities had cut down a lot on the busywork…

    Well, at least you get to talk to Dragon while you are down here. She’s far nicer than some of the online message boards paint her as, what with being the primary warden for the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center (aka “the Birdcage”) and “stealing” the ideas of Tinkers around the world, and ever since you've been down here in the labs you've marveled at her ability to multitask. The sheer number of tasks you figure she must be juggling at once makes you wonder if that must be part of her power as well.

    At the moment, though, both you and Armsmaster have been working on a new weapon - a suspended cloud of nanomachines programmed to tear through anything that passes through their number. Through use of your Technomorphic Integration Engine you’ve been doing most of the fabrication for the more basic elements, as well as for all the spare parts you've been going through when tests don’t got exactly as planned. Currently he’s been working with his own fabrication machine to do the nanoscopic work on the tiny machines while you've been assembling the secondary suspension field generators - dime-sized magnets, really. Boring.

    Dragon’s hazy avatar-face in the monitor near you gives you a silent laugh and wink, both unseen by the charm-empowered Tinker, then continues. “I know you haven’t had much time to dwell on it, or maybe even find your Tinker niche, so don’t worry too much about it - it’ll come to you.”

    You snort. Not if what you hear about the guys running the PRT’s Public Relations team has any validity. You give her a half-hearted shrug, passing over a finished dime-magnet into the ‘Done’ pile before grabbing the materials to work on another.

    “My normal form makes even Vista blanche when I walk around in it, activating my powers makes everything - even machines - freak out, I can turn so invisible that the Manton Effect ignores me, I can perfectly understand objects that I absorb, and I control bugs.”

    Left unsaid is that you already have a ‘cape’ name; your continued meditations have hammered your True Name into your mind. But… each time you hear it in your meditations, watching over that Realm of Brass and Shadow, you've felt more and more that maybe people aren't ready for it. Whatever that means.

    “It… is a rather unusual powerset, I will admit. Still, it’s probably best if you think of something before the PRT’s PR team does - not that they’ll give you a name you hate, just that it helps them help you more.”


    ***

    “Now, about your cape name….”

    You nod mutely to Glenn, memories of the past week flaring and fading in your mind’s eye.

    Enduring Order Administrator.

    Ok, you didn’t actually mean to say that. Or make your throat do... whatever it just did. Now he’s giving you that look again…

    “Or... maybe 'Design Weaver'?”

    Glenn ‘hmmms’ to himself, then turns the computer monitor back towards him and begins clicking and typing away. After a brief reprieve from his grating mannerisms, he speaks up again.

    “’Weaver’ was in the list, though we were trying to aim any insect names away from anything with negative public reactions… and spiders rank up there for things people fear most on a day-to-day basis. It was kept on the list because of the more vague connotations with crafting - playing off your Tinker powers - but ‘Design Weaver’? What’s with the ‘Design’ part?”

    You shift in your seat a bit. If you don’t give him a reason then there’s no way he’ll accept it, but the reason you chose it…

    “It’s the name of the spider in my Iconic Anima.”

    He barks an incredulous laugh. “You mean the name for your ‘make everyone think you’re the next Endbringer’ illusion? No. Just… no. No way we’re going with ‘Weaver’ either, now.”

    You start to panic a bit, digging for anything that might help you here. Well, you did read up on the rules for Ward-made Tinker creations in your downtime with Armsmaster, so maybe you can sweeten this deal for him.

    “Wait! No! If… you let me keep at least the ‘Weaver’ part of the name, then I’ll volunteer to spend two weeks fabricating whatever Tinker tech the PRT wants me to. Free of charge. And you've probably seen the records of how fast I can work - as long as I have the materials, I can make a lot of Tinkertech copies.”

    Glenn squints at you, then past you, clearly rolling this over in his head. He picks up a little stress-ball shaped like the Tower of Alexandria and gives it a few absent-minded squeezes before tossing it to his other hand and squeezing it again. He repeats this a few times before stopping mid-squeeze to focus back on you.

    “A month.”

    “Three weeks.”

    He nods. “Deal. Any costume preferences?”


    ***


    You slide through the open door and into the PRT limosuine before leaning back into the comfortable, blackened leather cushions. Still invisible to the world but for the imprint you’re making on the seat, you throw your voice with the Echo Chamber Vocalization sub-module to let the driver - and Gallant, who’s sitting deeper in the limo and looking in your general direction - know you’re in and ready to leave.

    Gallant speaks up after the door shuts and the car begins to move. You remain invisible, though - no reason to waste essence since you just have to reactivate it to go from the limo to the jet anyway. Stupid secrecy measures.

    “New costume that bad?”

    “No, Glenn just took my ideas and told me that he’d have three styles for me to try sent to me in Brockton Bay.”

    “What about the suit you said you were talking about building with Kid Win?”

    “He told me that as long as I chose one of the costumes and then stuck to something close to it then I’d be fine. If the new suit’s out of line, they just won’t approve it for use.”

    Gallant just nods, then laughs a bit. “Yeah, they’re making Kid Win take apart the suit you saw him in last week - he didn't have final clearance to use it when he went out on patrol that night, so they’re hoping that he’ll learn his lesson this way.”

    You've seen a decent amount of Kid Win over the past week, wanting to talk shop and anxious to see what you two can do whenever Armsmaster isn’t abducting you for his own personal use at every opportunity, so you think you know how that’ll go.

    “Kid Win? Learn a lesson?”

    You both share a laugh.

    After everything you've been through for the past week, maybe a second try at high school won’t be so bad after all.


    ***

    Character sheet has been updated to reflect the XP spent. XP can now be spent at any time, unless I specifically say otherwise, but any XP expenditures must have the majority vote to be enacted.

    Choices for next time below!


    High School Priorities: (choose one)

    [ ] It’s Good To Be The Queen: Not only are you a cape and a local celebrity because of The Locker, but you are probably the hottest female most of them will ever lay eyes on. Make way for the ever-benevolent queen!

    [ ] Nothing To See Here: Be humble, avoid talking about what went on at Winslow, dismiss any cape-related topics. You want to try to be normal for once in your life, so maybe this is your best chance?

    [ ] Fear Will Keep The Local Systems In Line: This is a High School, there has to be bullying and other worse things going on. This Ends Now, So Sayeth Enduring Order Administrator.

    [ ] Write-In: Stunts for above choices also accepted!


    Free Time Priorities: (you have 8 hours, each takes 4 hours but can be selected more than once to take up the full 8)

    [ ] In Arms’ Reach: Keep working with Armsmaster, as despite the menial tasks he’s giving you they -are- helping you learn a lot of basic crafting and scientific skills that you can apply elsewhere.

    [ ] Know Thyself: Experiment with your own abilities, trying to work out new applications of your powers. Stunts help direct where you put your effort here.

    [ ] You (Maybe) Have The Technology: There’s a few toys you've wanted to build for yourself - maybe you can try now? Stunts help direct where you put your effort here, and enlisting aid should help increase crafting speed.

    [ ] Fountain of Knowledge: Pick an ability to train, explain in Stunts how you would like to train it. You can also enlist the aid of others to help train you at a faster rate (depending on their own skill in the ability)!

    [ ] Proper Warding: Hang out with a Ward in a non-cape setting. Pick the Ward you want to spend time with, how you want to spend your time, and your attitude/goals towards them via Stunts.

    [ ] Putting the “PRT” in “Party”: Talk with everyday PRT members, getting to know the system and the people that comprise it.

    [ ] Schoooool’s Out, For-ev-er: Study to take the High School Equivalency exams, so that you can test out of school as quickly as possible.


    [ ] Write-In: Stunts for above choices also accepted if not explicitly required!

    ***
    Rolls:

    - Failed Socialize roll to not make fool of self in front of Wards.
    - Succeeded Awareness check to notice Vista name-drop Sophia, but you didn't say anything about it at the time.
    - Botched Socialize roll to cheer up dad, changed Intimacy with him to Guilt. Ouch.
    - Succeeded Awareness check to notice the Wards were up to something, got this extra scene.
    - Lots of successes for helping Armsmaster and Dragon make the Endbringer prediction system.
    - Succeeded Socialize roll with Dragon so that she'll talk with you more.
    - Failed Investigation roll with Dragon to discern something.
    - Glenn, the Social Combat Herokiller, obliterated you. As was expected.
    - Successful Socialize roll with Gallant to not offend him. A little too successful. Sorry, GG.
     
  12. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    School Attitude:
    [X] Nothing To See Here: Be humble, avoid talking about what went on at Winslow, dismiss any cape-related topics. You want to try to be normal for once in your life, so maybe this is
    your best chance?
    - [x] Stunt: One thing you can definitely do, though, is to keep an eye open for anyone at your new school who might be in a similar situation to yours at Winslow, and offer them a helping hand. As with your popularity, you're not sure what you can really do; maybe just talk and listen to them, or introduce them to some people, or whatever seems right, but you know that if you don't at least try, it would make you an utter hypocrite, and more like the Trio than you like.
    - [x] Stunt: Use the time spent in school to train our Social Abilities (Presence and Socialize, mostly).

    After-School Activities:
    [X] Proper Warding: Hang out with a Ward in a non-cape setting. Pick the Ward you want to spend time with, how you want to spend your time, and your attitude/goals towards them via Stunts.
    - [x] Vista, she's friendly and isn't going to be hitting on us endlessly for our looks like the teenage boys would be. And we feel bad about giving her that trauma. Try having an actual friend, after Emma's betrayal, go out to eat, go shopping, etc. See if we can get her comfortable enough to stop stifling a scream every time she bumps into us in the dark.

    [X] Putting the “PRT” in “Party”: Talk with everyday PRT members, getting to know the system and the people that comprise it.
    - [x] XP Expenditure: Buy Backing (PRT) x 1
    - [x] Stunt: Learn how to combat powered individuals from an unpowered position. The common soldier exists for a reason, and they can teach you more about the truth of this war. Our powers, mighty that they are, are still secondary to our skill. In the Makers name, prepare to fight the corrupt in a silent, untraceable fashion.

    [X] Know Thyself: Experiment with your own abilities, trying to work out new applications of your powers. Stunts help direct where you put your effort here.
    - [x] Stunt (Occult): You have learned a lot in the short time since you joined the Wards, but one thing no one seems to be able to help you with - or even mentioned - is regarding Essence. Considering pretty much *everything* you do seems to involve it somehow, it seems important that you rectify this as soon as possible. So, take some time to meditate and get a feel for Essence as it moves around in your body or your close surroundings, or take some time to observe it with your Essence Sight Occulars in as many different situations as possible; while you're crafting, while others are using their Powers, while you're using your charms, while people are interacting, anything that comes to mind. Be careful not to frighten anyone with your glowing eyes, though; maybe wear sunglasses, or use it mostly when you're working by yourself. Failing that, give people a warning and an explanation that you're experimenting with one of your perception-based powers.
    - [x] Stunt: See if you can use your Essence Sight Occulars and other sensory abilities through your insects.

    BONUS!
    [X] Call Sally: If you could forgive the trio for your dad you could forgive Sally for being too scared to warn you about the locker and she might not have taken your "death" well.


    ***

    The date is January 19th, 2011. The clock on your nightstand shows 6:30 AM.

    Has it only been fifteen days since you last went to school? It feel like a lifetime ago, even though you were… unconscious… for seven of those days. Autochthon, your exaltation, your father’s psychotic break, joining the Wards…

    It really was a lifetime ago, wasn't it? The thought doesn't help motivate you to get up and ready for school. Get up and build things, work on your powers, yes. School? Not so much.

    Missy busting into your room with a smug grin only makes you groan and flip the covers back on top of you. Her sing-song voice still resonates through your sheets and pillow, unfortunately.

    “C’mon, Tay~lor! Up and at’em! Time for school, vacation’s o~ver!”

    You come up with an excellent retort that cuts right to the heart of the matter: “Nnnnrrghle.”

    You feel a small pair of hands trying to tug at your covers while Missy laughs at your futile attempts at resistance. After a few seconds of tug-o-war, you decide that two can play at this game. She wants you to get up? Well, you do already have a routine to attend to…

    Shard of Perfect Administration? Already active, much to the dismay of your pillows. You can disable that later…
    Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade: Now activated, need to find Colin to pass it off to him - he normally stops by at 7:00 AM sharp, but you’ll be gone by then.
    Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier? Oh, look at that. Deactivated by your essence expenditure.

    You let go of the covers and bolt up out of bed.

    I LIVE… AGAI- oh, no, wait, Missy I’m sorry don’t go!”

    Ok, you’re going to have to work with her on that. You grab your cell phone off the nightstand - only with the barest of twitches now, instead of the full-on revulsion you had when it was first handed to you last week - and send her a quick apology text, along with an offer for… hmm… ice cream and a movie tonight if she’s up for it. She’s been bugging you to have a “girl’s night” now that there’s another girl on the team that she can tolerate. You’d invite Shadow Stalker too (who is apparently a bitch about revealing her real name, too) but you still haven’t seen her and Triumph commented when you got back from New York City yesterday that she’s probably going to be transferring to another city within the next week. Something about too many compatibility issues with the team. Oh well - you’d worry if it had anything to do with you, but if it means less drama for you to deal with, you couldn't care less.

    Hmm, thinking about drama, you have the idea to try to catch back up with Sally from Winslow. Except... you don't know her phone number, or where she lives. You'll have to look to see if you can find a way to contact her online, because otherwise you'll need to go to Winslow to track her down.

    ...and thinking about school, now, you’re supposed to catch a ride to Clarendon with a PRT officer named Raymond who’s going home after his night shift - he lives near the school, apparently - which means you only have about 25 minutes to shower, dress, and eat.

    Good thing having Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade active can usually cut that all down to 15 minutes.


    ***


    Armsmaster is waiting with Raymond for you to pass off the charm to him, which you do so with a touch and then he’s off with barely even a nod. With a sigh you watch him stride off with mechanical efficiency; you really need to talk with Dragon about pounding some appreciation into his head one of these days. Turning, you get a good look at the PRT officer that’s your ride.

    The well-built, early thirty-something African-American man dressed in PRT baseball cap, loose blue t-shirt and jeans offers you a handshake to go along with his somewhat-tired smile, a few scars making the smile pull in a slightly off-kilter direction. “Raymond Bellows. Nice to meet you Ms. Hebert. You still need’n a ride to Clarendon?”

    Once again you are struck with the notion that, for all its oppressive restrictions and bureaucratic inefficiency, the PRT is still primarily composed of people - average people - that are just trying to make the world a better place. The cultural belief of normal police forces being filled with grown-up high-school bullies - wanting to regain the feeling of power they left behind in school - doesn’t apply here. No matter their position in the PRT, they work in the shadows of giants..

    You take Raymond’s hand and give it a polite shake, along with your most genuine smile.

    “Thank you Mr. Bellows, it’s a pleasure to meet you too. And yes, I still need a ride, though I hope it’s not too much of a trouble for you.”

    A quick laugh, and then he’s ushering you to follow him down to the PRT Employee Dock. “’Mister Bellows’ is my dad, Ms. Hebert. You just call me Ray. As for the ride, don’t sweat it - I drive near the school on the way home, so it’s no big deal - unless you mind walking a block, because I stay clear of Magnolia street this time of day due to all the school traffic.”

    “I used to walk almost a mile to Winslow, so a block should be easy for me, Ray,” you add with a shrug. Ray nods, but grows silent as you make your way through the rest of the base and enter the Tinker-made elevator. As it closes, he speaks in a lower tone - not that any sensors in the elevator would have a problem hearing him anyway.

    “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring up your old school - it’s all over the news, so even those of us on the streets know at least some of what you had going on. Ain’t no one deserve to be treated like that, and you can bet the PRT will do right by you to make sure those jackasses at Winslow pay for letting it go on so long.”

    You’re caught a bit flat-footed by this sudden wellspring of camaraderie, though you’re reminded of your agreements with Director Piggot - you definitely got the impression that the PRT was itching to sue the upper levels of Winslow’s faculty into the Stone Age if you hadn’t pushed for more proactive measures instead of vengeful ones. Though, Piggot did give you an uncharacteristically-respectful look when you pleaded that you were more interested in moving past all the suffering and instead wanted to focus on trying to build a better future for everyone; that punishment for punishment’s sake wouldn’t solve anything.

    “If you don’t mind me asking, why is the PRT so interested in helping me out?”

    He just gives you a smile and a tip of his PRT cap. “You’re in the PRT now, Miss. We look after our own.”


    ***

    The ride to Clarendon is uneventful, as Ray seems content to let you settle your own thoughts, though you’re getting quite a new perspective on this part of the city through the eyes of all the bugs within your range. You’ve been downtown a number of times, but never really ventured that far south past the major businesses and into the higher-class homes - you’re a little surprised that a PRT officer can afford to live in this area, but you decide not to bring that up now.

    You notice the traffic surrounding Clarendon well before you can see the school through the local insects and direct Ray down a side street that will allow him to skirt by the mess. You’re still about three blocks away from the school when you insist that he drop you off - you don’t want him to have to idle through all that traffic - and while he complains at first he eventually relents and wishes you luck on your first day. Just as you’re closing his door, you hear him call out to you.

    “Ms. Hebert! You, uh… still got something on your head, there.”

    You blink at him for a second, then get the gist when he makes a circular motion with his free hand.

    “Oh! Yeah, uh, thanks, Ray. Almost forgot.”

    Which is only partly true - you’re just so much more aware with the charm active that summoning up the force of will to turn it off feels almost a waste. But you made a promise to yourself last night: even though you’re going to try to test out of school as quickly as possible, you’re going to make the most of this time to be as normal as possible. Not a cape, not a celebrity, not a victim, just… normal Taylor Hebert. As ‘normal’ as you can be with your new level of attractiveness, that is. And ‘normal’ does not involve eerily-wiggling metal spider legs sticking out of your head, so… ugh.

    With an effort of will, the world around you fades into darkness except for a relatively-minimal 360-degree view around you, and with a light tickling sensation the eight metal extrusions from your cranium retract into… wherever they go when they’re inactive. Somewhere along your cranium, you figure - might be worth checking out in a mirror one day.

    Ray gives you a smile and a thumbs-up, which you return with a wave and a mouthed “thank you” as the flow of traffic forces him to move away. You turn around and begin to make your way towards Clarendon. Keeping your back straight and moving with as much presence as you can muster, you stride forward into your new public life.


    ***

    Boys.

    Actually, wait, no. Scratch that.

    Males.

    It’s taking everything you've got to not break and run from all the scrutiny, and since you can easily see all around you it’s clear just exactly what they’re scrutinizing. You are exceptionally glad you opted for wearing taking the pants option instead of the skirt one in order to obey the dress code, if only so that you wouldn't have to worry about everyone desperately trying to see up it - it’s not like it’s physically possible for the entire male population to stare any harder at your chest and ass. The girls aren't much better, as your appearance is likely not helping a sizable chunk of the female population with their burgeoning sexual identity issues. Those females that aren't suddenly blushing when they look at you are giving you stares varying from cold indifference to righteous jealousy (the latter usually because boys near them are now completely riveted on your form).

    You’re not looking forward to the reactions of the male faculty, either - you look like you’re in your early 20’s, so if they had any instinctual inhibitions towards younger females you’ll probably blow right past those mental blocks.

    Just great. So much for ‘normal’. You’re almost wishing you could be plain-and-awkward-looking Taylor Hebert again just so you wouldn't be constantly undressed by at least 60% of the eyes in this place.

    Focus, you tell yourself. This is your life, now. As much as you hate to admit it, Glenn is probably right: that you should just think of high school as a way to train your inter-personal relationship skills, since the kids here will likely mean nothing to you in the long-term (which is truer than he realizes - you’re immortal, so you’ll outlive everyone here). If it helps you avoid getting walked all over in conversations in the future, then you can at least put forth the effort to try to learn something in these halls.

    Which are actually quite nice, now that you think of it. While Immaculata is considered the nicest school in Brockton Bay, Clarendon is usually ranked a close 3rd after Arcadia - the latter only because of the not-so-secret presence of the Brockton Bay Wards and New Wave members giving it added funding and security. Clarendon itself is actually the oldest school in Brockton Bay and has a number of very wealthy alumni that give back to the school to keep it even with the “newcomer rival”, Arcadia. While like most buildings erected during Brockton Bay’s foundation in the mid-80’s - short, angular, and tough - the otherwise-imposing architecture is covered in murals to downplay the hard angles and imposing lines.

    All-in-all, your impression is of a very pleasant fortress in which to attend school. This impression is solidified by your meeting with the Principal, who straight-up gives you the hard facts.

    “Ms. Hebert, I’m pleased that you accepted our invitation to attend our school, but I hope you realize that your first few weeks here are going to be dramatically different than your time in Winslow - and not for the best, I’m afraid. You’re one of the most talked-about faces on television right now and I've been on the phone all morning to keep those vultures away from our property until at least after the school-day ends. I’m happily married to the man of my dreams so I have no problem admitting that you are flat-out beyond gorgeous, but in an environment filled with young men and women controlled by their hormones that can be a liability - not an asset - if not managed carefully. Finally, you’re a known cape so you’re going to have even more attention piled on you as people interested in that scene try to use you for information on your fellow Wards, the Protectorate, and whatever activities you and yours get up to outside of these walls.”

    Principal Randolph Haggis, a hard-looking viking-of-a-man in his late 50’s-to-early-60’s, talks calmly and in almost monotone voice despite the pointed words in his speech while standing at parade rest to the side of his desk - his eyes focused on the view through the window of Clarendon’s pubescent populace milling about below. Despite his invective, however, you don’t get the same feeling as you get from the Director - of resentment at the world for some great injustice - but instead the Principal gives off an air of having seen the worst of the world… and simply accepted it for what it was before getting back to whatever he was doing before.

    You’re not sure what kind of statement it makes that a man like this runs a successful high school.

    “I… wasn't expecting it to be easy, Principal Haggis. I’m used to having to keep my head down through the day. I can handle it.”

    Haggis turns his full barrel-chested body to you, the light grey of his pressed suit and tie giving making him seem carved from stone. A low heat burns behind his eyes despite his continued monotone.

    “Ms. Hebert, I need you to understand something very clearly: if you think, for even one moment, that the faculty of this school will not assist you should your life become problematic here, then you are to report to me directly. I trust my faculty, but if any of them try to pull what those jackals at Winslow pulled, they’ll be out on the street with a lower number of functioning limbs before the hour is up. This is not just for you, Ms. Hebert, so if you see a faculty member turn a blind eye to any form of peer abuse you are to let me know immediately. I am trusting you to be honest, however - if you think you can play turnabout to seek out vengeance against figures of authority, I will find out and you will be removed from the premises immediately. Are we clear, Ms. Hebert?”

    Despite the harshness of his words, you feel a combination of relief and regret. Your mother had wanted you to go to Arcadia or Clarendon for high school when you were old enough for it, and maybe your family would have had enough to afford it? Yet another lost opportunity, you suppose; the world really was lessened in her absence.

    With a firm nod, you banish that train of thought to re-focus on the situation at hand. “Yes, sir. Thank you. I won’t let you down.”

    He returns the nod, then turns back to watch over the crowd outside of the window like some kind of basalt monolith. “My secretary will provide you with your class schedule and a map to the school to help you navigate.”

    You get up and head to the door, but as you open it and begin to step outside, you hear him speak up again. “And Ms. Hebert?”

    You peek your head back inside to see him turn his head to meet your eyes.

    “They can only sense the fear you give them.”

    Shutting the door, you see the nearby secretary give you a very apologetic look before she ushers you out and towards your first class, packet in hand and bookbag on shoulder.


    ***

    Come lunch time - a thirty-minute break between third and fourth period - you’re still having mixed feelings about Clarendon. All of your classes are Advanced Placement versions of the normal ones you were taking in Winslow, but if there’s something you don’t already know discussed in class then you seem to pick it up almost instantly. You simply read through your AP History book during class - almost finishing the 450-page doorstop by the time class was over - while in AP Calculus I class you just went to the back of each chapter and did all the problems to see if you could (answer: yes). AP English may prove of some worth, however, as your essay writing is good but lacking in any form or craft; the teacher, Mrs. Marley, made you write a sample essay on any topic you felt like so that she could gauge your writing skills, as the rest of the class busy taking a test on Macbeth and she didn't expect you to have read the book for class. You didn't feel necessary to inform her that you had read Macbeth at Winslow and now could likely answer any test she threw at you.

    Clarendon’s cafeteria could comfortably seat around two hundred students - a little less than half the student body - and since you had to go down to enter it, you suspected that it doubled as an emergency shelter should the school body need to retreat somewhere. Unsurprising, as Winslow was configured similarly, but the reinforced doors here and lack of any windows gave you the impression that this school’s shelter could actually take a few hits before being breached. Not that it was anything close to an Endbringer shelter, of course, but such paranoia in a world with roaming A- and S-Class threats was only healthy.

    Tuning out the stares and hushed whispers around you, obtaining your tray-full of edible-looking chicken Parmesan and green beans proved simple enough. Once out of the line, however, you were faced with your first true crisis of the day: actually choosing where to sit in a sea of already-established social hierarchies. You could see several people making space for you - even at the table populated by the girls you’d instantly identified as the “popular” crowd - and even more failing to hide their curiosity regarding what decision you’d make. But, scanning the sea of interested faces without even turning your head, you manage to spot what you’d been dreading and hoping to see the whole day; the outsiders. Four boys and three girls, their postures and subtle distance from the rest of the crowd screamed social anxieties and awkwardness.

    You do your best to hide your intentions until the last minute, keeping your eyes focused on one of the empty tables near them as if you were planning on sitting by yourself (remembering the months of doing so at Winslow), you swiftly deposit yourself at the free spot on the end of their table. You’re fairly graceful about it, but maybe not as tactful - maybe you should have asked? Damn, maybe it’s not too late.

    “Is this seat taken?”

    You think that came out friendly enough, but they’re giving you deer-in-headlight expressions that are not helping your case here. One of the guys, a squirrelly-looking copy of Dennis, begins to make to leave with his tray.

    “Uh… yeah, just… give us a sec. It’s all yours, sorry.”

    The rest of them pick up on the implication of what he said just as you do and begin to leave as well, while you hold your hands up to wave the idea off.

    “No! No, I don’t mean… I wanted to sit with you all, if that was alright. Please, don’t leave, I have a few questions I was hoping you could answer.”

    This gives the group pause, each of them looking at the others. Finally, the one that initially tried to leave speaks up again.

    “Like what?”

    “Well…” you lean in a bit conspiratorially and keep your voice down, which successfully interests enough of them to lean in to hear your question, “… is Principal Haggis always so… intense?”

    There’s a brief moment of silence before the group begins snickering, and one of the girls across from you - twin to the other, it seems, and Japanese from their faces and hair - answers in a quiet voice.

    “You should see him when he substitutes for his old class: AP Art History.”

    This evokes more laughter and knowing nods from the rest of the table, washing away most of the reticence imposed by your arrival.

    Maybe Clarendon will work out after all.


    ***


    The rest of the day passes uneventfully, as it appears that your decision to sit with Joey (Senior, Dennis-look-alike), Mike (Freshman, Vietnamese, bad braces), Vince (Freshman, Mexican, old friends with Mike), Jesus (Senior, Cuban, pronounced ‘hay-seus’), Bobby (Junior, Italian, short), Lisa (Junior, pretty blonde with facial scars, transferred in Monday from out of town), and Saki and Sakura (the twins) seemed to ward off many of the hopeful glances you had been seeing through the morning. Your other three classes were, in order: AP Biology (actually helpful), AP Physics B (as boring as Calculus), and AP Computer Science A (far more difficult than your class in Winslow, to the point where you might actually need to ask Dragon for pointers if you want to catch up on the curriculum by the end of next week). Worth noting is that most of your classmates are Juniors and Seniors, so it seems like your enrollment test scores really did help avoid the busywork you were dreadfully anticipating.

    You receive a text as AP CompSci is letting out authorizing your use of invisibility to evade the mob of reporters outside, and that a PRT van will be picking you up at 3:30 PM, sharp. You startle the few people you aren't able to break line-of-sight on when you duck around a corner to activate the charm, but otherwise manage to avoid making a scene as you sneak out to the awaiting PRT van. As you approach, try to figure out how to open the door without revealing yourself, when you realize that you’ll just be dropping the invisibility inside the car anyway and just open the door normally and slip inside… which doesn't actually break your invisibility. Huh. During the rating tests you popped out whenever you tried to hit something from invisibility…

    …worth exploring later, you suppose. First, re-activate Shard of Perfect Administration. Ah, much better.

    Second, stop the PRT officer from blowing your head off with the gun she just pulled in the general direction of the invisible intruder next to her.


    ***

    Your driver - Peggy Marie-Halsey - drops you off at the dock for the Protectorate Headquarters public ferry, as she’s on her way to the main PRT base near the center of the Docks proper. You thank her for her time and apologize for scaring her earlier, but she just gruffly (but not rudely) waves you off. As you’re making way to the ferry, your phone buzzes in your pocket: a text from Vista. Seems like she’ll take you up on the offer as her parents are ok with letting her sleep at the Protectorate base tonight, but you’ll have to wait until after 10:00 PM because she has patrol with Aegis this evening. You affirm that that’s ok, then think about how you’re going to spend the rest of the night.

    You've found you’re getting better with less sleep, only needing around six hours, so that means you have around eight hours to play with (since it’s 4:05 PM now). You have an idea for combining a few of the training ideas you had, one of which…

    …eh, not like you have a secret identity anyway. And it’ll be good to see what the base looks like as you approach it - maybe you can spot the forcefield?

    Optical Enhancement: Essence Sight Oculars: Activated.

    The world in your central vision shifts slightly as the dark crystalline - adamant - lens flits across your eye and essence surges through it, causing your eyes to glow an eerie blue with black sparks cascading through them. People looking in your direction react with shock briefly, before they realize who you are and that you don’t seem to be making any overtly hostile actions against them. The PRT officers manning the ferry docks - the ones that can see you, at least - frown under their shaded visors, but make no move to do anything. You have a bit of difficulty paying attention to everyone around you, but that's what you have your bugs for now (which thankfully/sadly aren't affected by the sub-module).

    Your main field of view under this sub-module is still very alien to you, despite your recognition that it’s likely far less bizarre than it could be - the only essence you can reliably detect is the very weak field you project with your Shard of Perfect Administration. Walking around, you also can see a hazy after-image of yourself where you were standing when you activated the charm. Hmm, you hadn’t noticed that before. In fact, examining it more closely, you can see the barest trail leading behind it - almost like a much weaker version - flowing steadily from where you were dropped off by Peggy.

    Are you leaving behind some kind of essence-trail? How come? Maybe it’s all your active effects? You turn your head around and observe the trail behind you now.

    Yes, it does appear to be just a bit thicker than the one originating from your drop-off point. You’re a little surprised you didn’t notice this before, but then most of the time you’ve experimented with this sight you’ve been sitting stationary somewhere in (or on top of) the base.

    If this is, in fact the case, you wonder if anyone else can detect this? This might make a pretty large hole in your stealth plans, but so far you haven’t been able to detect any kind of essence in the world - at least, none like yours. Some of the energy fields that Chris’ various devices put out feel a bit similar, but still seemed to lack… something. You’ll have to ask Chris if you can check out his lab with this sub-module on sometime.

    The ferry finishes docking, so you make your way to it so you can get back to the base. Absently looking over the crowd (who now seem more fascinated by you then afraid), you continue to notice the most unnerving thing this sub-module revealed to you during the Ratings Test:

    Under this sight, people look empty.


    ***


    Your efforts to engage the PRT-everyman/woman have gotten off to a rocky start due to your glowing (well, more than normal) eyes, but when you explained it a set of contacts that lets you see energy fields most immediately go “Oh, ok” and let it slide.

    If there’s one thing you've learned about PRT employees, is that their weirdness threshhold may even surpass most capes’.

    Curious, you ask a few questions along that line - ‘are you used to this kind of thing’, ‘does your training help deal with the craziness that goes on around here’, and ‘what’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen’ and get some very amusing responses. Especially to that last question, which you discover is probably the easiest ‘in’ for starting a discussion with a PRT employee no matter their rank or job - one woman, Samantha, even comments that that question is one of the few job-related pick-up lines most female PRT members tolerate.

    Her weirdest sight was Aegis floating in with Armsmaster’s Halberd lodged fully up his ass, not long after a big throwdown with the ABB. She even had the pictures to prove it, though she said you’d have to get her a date with Velocity if you wanted copies.

    Maybe something worth pursuing, and definitely not something to tell Dennis about.

    You finish your PRT Meet-’n-Greet Tour at Director Piggot’s office, but opt to simply chat up her secretary, Kenneth, instead of bothering the Director. Kenneth’s wierdest tale is relatively tame - he walked in on Assault and Battery in one of the supply closets, which caused the duo to accidentally trigger one of the Containment Foam dispensers by knocking it off a shelf. Took them half an hour to pry the two Heroes out, both missing parts of their costumes.

    As Kenneth gets ready to leave near 8:00 PM, he thanks you for the distraction and offers to expidite the next round of paperwork you turn in… which reminds you that you still have some to go over regarding your application for a Tinker Workshop, so you laugh a bit at your forgetfullness and part ways amiably.

    When you get back to your room - still the Protectorate Guest room, as your official Ward room is a bit smaller and you haven’t been asked to leave this one yet - you finish up that Workshop request paperwork and use the time left until Missy is ready to complete your first night of assignments from Clarendon.

    After finishing with time to spare, you sadly realize that homework in a better school is still just that: homework.


    ***

    You head on down to Missy’s room when she texts you that she’s ready, as you’ve already showered and changed for the Movie Night. You snag one of the portable coolers from the kitchen on the way there and throw two tubs of ice cream, bows, and spoons into it.

    Missy answers the door in oversized black silk pajamas with extremely fuzzy white slippers. You blink.

    “Hey Taylor! What flavors did you grab?”

    Since it doesn’t seem to be acting any different towards you, you delay your own question for hers while walking inside.

    “Strawberry and Vanilla Bean. Did you pick a movie yet?”

    “I have a few ideas, but I wanted to-”

    The instant she closes the door you spin around and interrupt her.

    “Ok what is with those pajamas? You look like you’re wearing a business suit made of silk, which makes me even more confused by those slippers.”

    Missy clicks her mouth shut and begins to blush furiously, looking back at the door as if to double-check it’s shut before answering.

    “I, uh, thought they made me seem more grown up? They’re called suitjamas, I saw them online and thought it might, well, you know… make me seem old. Enough.”

    Alright, so you definitely don’t get the feeling that she’s flirting with you, but this seems like a pretty big issue she’s revealing to you here. Enough for what? Well, she certainly has trouble projecting the image of being a tough fighter, despite having years of experience in the field and being a right pain in the ass to fight in the one spar you had with her. But no, that wouldn’t necessitate a change in casual wear. Maybe to get her more responsibilities? Again, not something one changes their pajamas to get.

    So maybe not what… but who? She’s certainly not crushing on Dennis (unless she’s got that repressed attraction thing going on and nope no more of that train of thought), doesn’t seem to act any differently around Rory or Carlos (despite Carlos being the most physically fit of the Wards…), her constant team-ups with Chris seem more of a casual friendship so… ah. That explains the looks she gave you when you left for New York City, too.

    “Dean.”

    Ah, now she seems more shocked than embarassed.

    “H-how?! How did you know?! I haven’t told anyone!”

    You just nod sagely, as if this is just some universal truth and you are dispensing your wisdom to a young student.

    “You should probably lay off the death glares at any girl he talks to that isn’t you, then.”

    Aww, she’s so adorable when she’s embarassed!

    “Ugh… well, do you think he knows?”

    Dean brought up Missy a few times during your trip, but more in the context of combat capabilities than any kind of favoritism. Since you’re not very sure and don’t feel like leading her one way or the other, you just shrug to show your ignorance and avert to a more interesting topic.

    “So, then… the slippers?”

    Yup, adorably embarassed again. Even in those ridiculous ‘suitjamas’. Wait, is that a silk necktie? How… whatever.

    “My grandmama gave them to me for Christmas, and they’re… well, they’re just so soft! Here, feel them!”

    Which sets the tone for the rest of the night. You’re still terrible at social cues and casual banter, but Missy seems to care not a whit - you’re apparently a big improvement over Shadow Stalker, and she’s been hoping for another girl on the team to have these types of get-together ever since she started on the Wards.

    Apparently she doesn’t have much of a social life at school. It’s something you can commiserate with her. Over ice cream and one of the new teen vampire movies - which is surprising good, especially the intrigue between the very old vampires in civilized society and the ‘neonates’ that only became vampires recently.

    You’re both pretty bushed by the end - Missy even moreso since she had patrol earlier - but there’s one thing you resolved to do this morning that you still need to tackle. As you put away the empty ice cream tubs and Missy gets ready for bed, you broach the subject.

    “Missy? I’m sorry about scaring you with my… metal form… before. The first time, I mean, not just this morning. I sent you a private message through Parahumans Online, but you never responded and I remember you commenting on a few threads about how I gave you nightmares. So, I know I’ve apologized before but I mean it - I’m sorry. Really sorry.”

    Missy has turned a little paler, so you’re glad you didn’t accompany that with a transformation. After a quiet few seconds, she regains some of her color and just nods.

    “What did you do, anyway? I mean, I looked at the video and images that Chris had from his suit, and even from when you were demonstrating your powers for the Ratings Test, but it’s like it was… different when I was right there. Is there a Master part of the power?”

    It’s close enough to the truth that you’ve just been rolling with the descriptions given to you by the PRT scientists.

    “Yeah, the projection has a fear effect to it that can also short out electronics above a certain complexity, so that’s probably why you felt the effect then but not any time after.”

    “So, then that big mecha-spider illusion causes the effect?”

    “No, it’s the… other part.”

    “That black smoke?”

    “No…”

    “Oh, the… faces? And hands? What are those supposed to be?

    You turn aside and cough a bit, a bit uncomfortable with this line of questioning. The PRT scientists didn’t really expect you to know the answer so they never really asked you too much about it while they went about their own tests and recordings. How much can you tell her? How much should you tell her?



    ***

    Intimacy: Principal Haggis (Respect) x 1 Gained!
    Intimacy: Vista (Friend) Increased to x 2!
    Presence +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Socialize +1 Training day (1/6 Days)
    Occult +1 Training Day (3/6 Days)
    Backing (PRT) x 1 Purchased!

    School will go more quickly in future updates, just wanted to lay some groundwork there. Now, decisions!

    What To Tell Missy:

    [ ] The Full Monty: Spill it all, even the stuff you’re not quite sure about. Despite her occasional childlike tendencies, she’s quite intelligent and may be able to help you figure through things.

    [ ] I’m A Teenage Robot: Explain what the PRT scientists have labeled so far - that your trigger forced you to reject your body and built itself a new, more appeasing form with a grab-bag of powers.

    [ ] Fnord: Apologize and tell her that there isn’t much you’re allowed to say (partially true), and you don’t like to dwell on it because it still makes you uncomfortable.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!
    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write stunts in this format!


    School Activities:

    [ ] When God Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade: Despite being massively overqualified for some of your classes, you still try to participate and offer your aid to other class members (and let teachers know that you’re happy to help out). Try to make friends out of the outcasts you’ve met thus far, and maybe even look for more.

    [ ] Just Passing Through: In the classes you can sleep through, phone it in and work on other things. Talk to the outcasts, but since you’re probably not going to be here for much longer it’s more to just practice your social skills than to form any lasting bonds.

    [ ] When God Gives You Lemons, Find A New God: This is all a waste of time, but since you can’t just leave you might as well just use the time you do have to yourself - stay up all night working and then just get your sleep in classes.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!
    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!


    After School Activities:

    [ ] In Arms’ Reach: Keep working with Armsmaster, as despite the menial tasks he’s giving you they -are- helping you learn a lot of basic crafting and scientific skills that you can apply elsewhere.

    [ ] Know Thyself: Experiment with your own abilities, trying to work out new applications of your powers. Stunts help direct where you put your effort here.

    [ ] You (Maybe) Have The Technology: There’s a few toys you've wanted to build for yourself - maybe you can try now? Stunts help direct where you put your effort here, and enlisting aid should help increase crafting speed.

    [ ] Fountain of Knowledge: Pick an ability to train, explain in Stunts how you would like to train it. You can also enlist the aid of others to help train you at a faster rate (depending on their own skill in the ability)!

    [ ] Proper Warding: Hang out with a Ward in a non-cape setting. Pick the Ward you want to spend time with, how you want to spend your time, and your attitude/goals towards them via Stunts.

    [ ] Putting the “PRT” in “Party”: Talk with everyday PRT members, getting to know the system and the people that comprise it.

    [ ] Schoooool’s Out, For-ev-er: Study to take the High School Equivalency exams, so that you can test out of school as quickly as possible.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!
    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!
     
  13. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    What To Tell Missy:
    [X] I’m A Teenage Robot: Explain what the PRT scientists have labeled so far - that your trigger forced you to reject your body and built itself a new, more appeasing form with a grab-bag of powers.
    - [x] Stunt: Explain that yes, you do know more than what the PRT has been able to figure out but you are intensely uncomfortable even thinking of the subject let alone speaking about it. We may never be comfortable enough with it or others to talk about it. Emma was our friend for years before going backstabbing bitch on us after all.

    School Attitude:
    [X] When God Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade: Despite being massively overqualified for some of your classes, you still try to participate and offer your aid to other class members (and let teachers know that you’re happy to help out). Try to make friends out of the outcasts you’ve met thus far, and maybe even look for more.
    - [x] Stunt: Continue using school as an opportunity to train your social abilities. Find out a bit more about the outcasts, but also interact with the various other people in school; you don't want to end up getting shunted into an "outcast" position again, but neither do you want to start shunning people yourself, either.
    - [x] Stunt: Lisa showing up just days before you is a little suspicious, spend a little of you personal essence to take a closer look at her. It probably is nothing but you don't need that essence for anything else in school anyway.

    After-School Activities:
    [X] You (Maybe) Have The Technology: There’s a few toys you've wanted to build for yourself - maybe you can try now? Stunts help direct where you put your effort here, and enlisting aid should help increase crafting speed.
    - [x] Stunt: Glenn keeps trying to add wings to your costume. You are not a ballerina, nor a fairy princess! (Grrr, that man!) Have a tinker jam session with Kid Win to adapt his hoverboard into a set of sleek, functional and appropriately high-tech wings for your costume. Glen: "Just as planned."
    - [x] Stunt: While you're at it, mention you skill with firearms, and muse with Kid about what sort of gun would be good for you to use.
    - [x] Stunt: Get to work on basic combat equipment. Get Kid Win to explain the processes behind his zap guns and hoverboard as you make two sets of duplicates with his cooperation, one as a backup, and one for your own use. Then go to Armsmaster to see about possible ways of miniaturizing the weapons down to a size where you can feasibly wield them through a swarm, so that you can use bugs to fight without resorting to stinging, biting and poisons. We'd need some larger bugs of course, but some beetles and butterflies are positively huge. Use Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade to accelerate Kid Win and our own work for the collaboration.

    [X] Know Thyself / Fountain of Knowledge: / Write-In: Boxing Lessons for Superman
    - [x] Stunt: Continue your training of Occult. It's somewhat strange that the only one truly using essence seems to be you, but you'll just have to work with it. Take some time to try and observe essence interacting with things other than you; see if we can get some time in the workshop - or at least some basic materials that you can take to your room - and work on them in various ways, while observing how our Essence interacts with them.
    - [x] Stunt: One of the benefits of being a Ward is receiving practical instruction that can pay dividends in the development of power stunts. Ask our guidance councilor if we can drop / test out some of our less useful classes and substitute more useful classes for a budding tinker. Metal/machine shop and auto shop are near universal in schools these days, and you're sure the PRT could set up and independent study with the school for fashion design.
    - [x] Stunt: Practicing with your own powers turns into an impromptu group power-use exercise as people stop-by and watch. The Wards are surprised at how creative you are in the application of your power, and that gets them think about their powers, as you ask how their powers work. Vista can bend space, can she bend gravity or time - their interconnected, right? Same goes to Clockblocker. Also does Clockblocker have to completely pause an object, or can he partially pause an object? Gallant, do you have to fire your blasts in a ray, or can they take other forms?
    - [x] Stunt: The Wards in turn ask questions about you and how you do the things you do, all the while the PRT officers on duty lightly bring the sky-high Wards down to Earth on how they would bypass a given Ward's powers. Which inspires a Wards vs PRT game of 'few-holds-barred' capture-the-flag.

    XP Expenditures:
    [X] 3 XP - Bureaucracy x 1


    ***

    You’re really starting to like Missy, despite the age difference. She seems much more grounded than you’d expect a long-term Ward would be, and for all the talking you’ve done tonight you haven’t felt that she’s just humoring you or using you to blow off some steam - Missy seems genuinely interested in being your friend, which makes it all the more difficult to conceal anything from her. But… well, you’re still trying to come to grips with the reality of your new existence (assuming you aren’t, in fact, insane) and it’s so radically different than anything you’ve heard about that you don’t think it’ll do Missy any good to lay the full weight of your troubles on her little shoulders after only one “girl’s-night” together.

    Especially since there are likely tracking devices that will pick up everything you say - you’re not 100% certain the PRT would have constant video and audio surveillance on a 12-year-old girl’s room, but it’s far better to be safe than sorry when it comes to what you’ve figured out about your exaltation. What the PRT scientists came up with during and after your Ratings Tests should suffice for now.

    “Well, I’m not really sure… I had a few ideas at first but, well… the scientists studying the effect think that it’s something to do with the overriding feeling during my trigger event being “trapped”, so their best guess is they’re supposed to be evocative images of people trapped beneath my skin. It’s… not something I like to think about - the whole trigger thing or what some of my changes may mean about my state of mind.”

    For a moment Missy looks like she’s going to be sick, but her resolve takes over eventually and she plops back down on her sofa and wraps you in a hug. She’s very touchy-feely which is still unnerving for you, but you take a few breaths and focus your mind on calming down and letting the physical contact relieve your state of mind instead of hurt; Missy isn’t going to use this hug to throw you to the floor or trip you or squeeze you until it hurts…

    “Oh Taylor, it’s ok. I was a mess for almost a month after my trigger and it wasn’t even half as bad as yours probably was. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

    You let her keep you there for a bit before you free one arm and tussle her hair - which gets the desired reaction of feigned indignation from the little space-warper, resulting in her attempting to tickle you. You never were very ticklesh before, so you’re unsurprised that the only sensations you get are her pokes and prods - nothing unbearable or anything that causes you to even giggle. This seems to frustrate her even more, but she eventually relents.

    “Have you had a chance to see any of the therapists? The PRT has a few they schedule us to see once a week, and I’m pretty sure I would have really blown up at Dennis or Chris a long time ago if it didn’t help at least a little bit.”

    You nod, thinking back on your meetings with Dr. Yamada and Dr. Henderson.

    “I’ve only really talked about my dad and the bullying so far in the two times I’ve gone. I have another appointment with Dr. Yamada on Saturday, so maybe I’ll bring it up then.”

    “Oh! Dr. Yamada is awesome, she’ll totally understand if you want some time to think about it more or talk about it later. She’s my favorite of the three.”

    Missy gives you another squeeze, but breaks into a huge yawn halfway through. You both giggle at the slip, then wish her a good night as you shoo her off to bed and head on up to your own room.

    Arriving in your own room, you double-check to make sure you’ve got everything you need in your schoolbag for tomorrow and then flop into your bed and pass out only a few moments after the lights click out.


    ***


    Missy “wakes you up” again in the morning, but you remember not to freak her out when your skin falls away after you activate Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade. In fact, she even makes the valiant effort of looking at your base form as you slip out of bed (though you’re still mostly covered in an extra-large t-shirt and pajama pants) without flipping out completely - her eyes grow little wider and her palor lightens a bit, but after watching you move about like a regular person she seems to be getting over her (somewhat rational) fear of your black metal body. You’re just glad that she hasn’t tried to inspect the metal closely, as the creepy haunting faces and hands are only really visible up close… until you kick up your anima banner, that is.

    After you pass off your charm’s effects to Armsmaster - who is waiting downstairs next to your ride again - you ask Ray if he knows Peggy Marie-Halsey, the driver who met you for your return ride from school yesterday. He shrugs and gives a negative, mentioning that the PRT is a pretty large organization in Brockton Bay; with the Protectorate Headquarters out in the bay and the PRT Headquarters in the Docks, there’s around a little over a thousand PRT employees in total even if only around two-fifths of those are agents that do actual field and guard work. All employees have some combat and first-aid training, however, which has apparently saved a lot of lives over the years - especially during the “Bad Old Days” when Brockton Bay was barely a decade old and villains practically took over the place.

    Brockton Bay is definitely in bad straits these days, so you shudder at the thought of what the city must have been during that time. You won’t let it get that bad again. Never again.


    ***


    Sadly, you note (through your bugs, from three blocks away) that Principal Haggis’ efforts to keep the reporters away from the school until after classes end have already failed - though your complete bypassing of them yesterday probably made the reporters think that the only chance they’d get to interview you would be before school. The Channel Twelve and Channel Four TV vans are parked across the street from the school proper, and it appears they are joined by at least seven or eight reporters from other news agencies.

    You activate Optical Shroud inside the car - after giving Ray a heads-up that you are doing so - and then ghost out of the car when it’s stopped at a red light two blocks away. You keep your Shard of Perfect Administration active while you’re invisible because, well, why not? It gives you unparalleled awareness of the surrounding area and lets you keep track of where all the reporters are congregating so that you can easily slip through the crowd and avoid them. You manage to slink through the hallways without attracting any attention (you’d be more surprised if someone did notice you, actually), carefully sneak into one of the female bathrooms on the second floor, and then finally disable the Optical Shroud when you’re in a bathroom stall… and, with a sigh and a burst of mental focus, Shard of Perfect Administration as well. Thankfully no one is in the bathroom when you leave the stall, as you pause momentarily at the recollection of the two months you spend hiding in the bathroom in Winslow to eat lunch.

    You shake off the memories. This is a new start, a new life. Best to make the most of it.


    ***

    Now that you can put a name to the face, you manage to spot Lisa in the back-left row of your AP History class. You suspect the reason you didn’t notice her before is the same you almost missed her again this morning - she’s got a hoodie on over her uniform (allowed in the dress code) and is hunched over in the back of the class with the hood up. Likely to hide the large scars that run along the right side of her face.

    Since you’ve decided to make an effort to befriend the ‘outcasts’ you met at lunch yesterday, you forgo your spot in the front row and take up the spot immediately to her right. Your Optical Enhancement sub-modules allow you to notice the scrutinizing look she’s been giving you ever since you walked in, so you try to casually start up some light conversation before class starts in a few minutes.

    “Lisa, right? Sorry I didn’t recognize you at lunch yesterday from this class. You mind if I sit here?”

    She’s silent for a moment before flinching a bit, as if in pain, before she shakes her head and waves an arm to indicate it’s alright. A little strange, as while she seemed a little restrained yesterday you didn’t peg her for this type of morose behavior.

    “You ok?”

    That’s when you catch it, just the very slightest twitch of the mouth and hitch of her breath: she’s holding herself back for some reason. Curious, you activate Diagnosis Overlay to see if that might provide some insight. It does: her brain is constricted almost like she’s having a small stroke, which… seems to be fading on its own? But causing a great deal of pain? In a part of her brain that…

    Corona Gemma. The part of the brain that only parahumans have.

    It is only through sheer force of will that you do not immediately leap from your seat in alarm. It’s clear your face is showing your horrific alarm, however, her reaction is much more muted: she puts a hand to her head as if to assuage a headache, closes her eyes, and hisses a muted curse.

    “Ah, fuck me.”

    You’re well aware of the “Unwritten Rules” by now, so discovering a parahuman’s secret identity is a huge deal. Except you’re very certain that Lisa doesn’t fit any of the descriptions of Brockton Bay’s publicly-known capes… unless…

    You slowly, calmly, open up your notebook partially and write two letters.

    S S

    Keeping your eyes trained on Lisa, you tap the letters firmly enough with your right index finger to catch her attention. She looks absolutely miserable now, but when her eyes drift down to the letters, the pain seems to wash from her face only to be replaced with a growing vulpine grin. She looks back up at you, gives a feigned non-committal shrug, then mouths “later.” Not a few seconds after, your teacher walks in and begins class.

    You manage to keep your sigh of relief from drawing attention, then nod to confirm her request.

    Huh. You were wondering when you were going to run into Shadow Stalker, though you’re a bit surprised she doesn’t carpool with you to school. Oh well, at least that solves one outstanding mystery that’s been bugging you this last week. Actually, now that you think about it, you wonder if any of the other Wards are here in Clarendon - it’d be a fairly brilliant smokescreen for everyone to think that the Wards attend Arcadia when in fact they’re at other high schools.

    You focus back on the class, but now you’re really looking forward to lunchtime today.


    ***


    Except, when lunchtime comes around, Lisa is acting no different than how she did yesterday… though, now that you’re paying attention to it, she’s always looking at someone else or in another direction other than yours. The times that she does look your way you can almost see one of her eyes twitch - does it hurt her to even look at you? That would explain why she’s been doing her damnedest to avoid you this last week, though someone really should have told you that because now you’re starting to feel bad.

    But why would the PRT move Lisa to Clarendon to watch over you - since that’s the only logical explanation for the timing of her “transfer from out of town” - if it’s physically painful for her to do so?

    You’re a bit distracted by this train of thoughts so you’ve just been listening to the running conversations - which is par for the course when it comes to your usual social skills - when you notice a small pack of girls and guys approaching your table from behind you.

    Ultraperipheral Awareness is just the best sub-module.

    “Taylor Hebert?”

    The speaker, a pretty redhead with light freckling, deep green eyes, and a bust to rival your own appears to be leading the pack. Judging from the Varsity jackets worn by the guys and the girls’ matching hair pieces, the group screams the “jocks and cheerleaders” stereotype. This is a conversation the logical part of your mind told you would come, but all the instincts honed by your time at Winslow foretold of nothing but anguish from such an encounter.

    You turn and try to act mildly surprised, as if you hadn’t been tracking their movements through the cafeteria hall.

    “Yes? Can I help you?”

    With a smile that looks genuine but you suspect is anything but, the redhead meets your eyes.

    “We’re sorry, we don’t mean to interrupt, but we just wanted to know if you were interested in trying out for the cheerleading team. We have seasonal try-outs this week, but don’t worry about missing the first few days; we let pretty much anyone that wants to join do so. As long as they’re able to keep up with the training sessions we have, that is.”

    You take a moment to process the offer, keeping the eye contact with the pack leader for lack of a reason to move at all, and then sum up your feelings on the matter succinctly.

    “What.”

    This only seems to amplify her enthusiasm. “Oh, don’t worry about your prior commitments with all your superhero business - we know you wouldn’t be able to make some of games, so we don’t mind. We’d rather you be out saving the city over supporting team spirit, but if you’ve got the spare time we’d love to have you!”

    You manage to restrain yourself from laughing in this girl’s face. You? A cheerleader? The idea is the very definition of ‘mind-boggling’.

    “I… I’m sorry, but…”

    She interrupts you by taking a small white envelope from… somewhere… near her chest and places it in your hands - taking your hands in hers in order to do so. “Oh, wait, our coach said that you don’t have to decide right away! She even gave us this letter to pass on to you, probably with some words of encouragement. So don’t worry: we were all so shocked to hear on the news about what you went through at Winslow, there’s no way we’d let that happen to you with us around.”

    You narrow your eyes. Did she just say what you thought she said? And a letter from their coach?

    “Oh, and I’m Josie, by the way. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Taylor, and I hope we’ll all be seeing you at try-outs this week! Take care, and sorry again about interrupting everyone!”

    She gives you a wink to go with her still-radiant smile, then turns and leads her herd away from your table. You slowly turn back around - letter in hand - and wait for everyone to just let you keep on being silent through their conversations. Except the whole group of outcasts are now very much riveted on you, giving you looks ranging from incredulity (Mike) to wistful disappointment (the twins).

    Joey breaks the silence. “Well? Are you going to open it?”

    You shake your head. “I was going to open it later, in private. Not sure what their coach would want to say to me, might not be good.”

    But he just shakes his head and smirks. “Nah, that’s what they’re probably expecting. Give it a look now. We won’t peek, but if it’s something bad then we can start to plan something to get them back for it.”

    You frown, not especially thrilled with the idea of possibly airing your dirty laundry like this, but you aren’t going to turn down such a blatant show of generosity from Joey and the group like that. Nothing for it, you slide your thumb under the envelope’s lip and tear open the flap, then slide out and folded white piece of paper. On it is a short message, likely done from one of the school computers.

    Hello Taylor!

    My name is Gloria Sato and I coach the girls’ cheerleading team. While I understand that you may have some reservations about joining our team, I firmly believe that you would grow to love the team, its members, and the way we help inspire team school spirit here at Clarendon if you gave us a chance. Practice only goes from 3:30 to 5:30 PM on school days, and though there is some minor traveling for games you would be able to opt-out due to your prior commitment to the Wards program.

    If that isn’t enough, I was recently contacted by a Mr. Glenn Chambers from the Parahuman Response Teams Public Relations department, who advised me to tell you that he would be in contact with you regarding “dramatically reduced restrictions” and “additional costume control” should you decide to join us in helping rally Clarendon’s school spirit.

    I hope to speak with you soon,
    Gloria Sato

    You fold the letter back up, then tuck it in your pocket. You turn back to the rest of the table and sum up your feelings thusly:

    “Fuck.”


    ***


    As lunch winds down, you manage to corner Lisa for a few seconds as you all return your lunch trays to the disposal and wash area. She nudges you with an elbow briefly, then you feel her hand slip something in one of your pants’ left-front pocket. You act casual and and say your goodbyes to everyone - lunch having been a good chance to socialize outside of that Cheerleader Event - then retrieve Lisa’s note when you’re in the bathroom to wash your hands.

    320 history

    School ends at 3:15 PM, so she wants to meet you after classes? And “history” must mean the room where you have your AP American History class in the morning. You nod to yourself and stealthily absorb the note with Technomorphic Integration Engine (as you discovered you can still read written or printed letters while they’re absorbed). Just in case.


    ***


    You invisibly slip into your AP History Classroom just before 3:20, judging by the clock on the wall. Lisa is already inside, and it’s clear from her posture and body language that she’s no longer pretending to be the meek little girl you first thought her to be. Instead, she is almost reagally lounging in the chair she sat in this morning, her eyes trained to just above the door frame, her right arm casually resting on the wall to her right and her left arm partially obscured under the L-shaped desk top.

    As the door shuts behind your invisible body, she grins wickedly.

    “Could you lock the door? I’d rather no one walk in on us like this.”

    There’s still something bugging you about all this, but since you’ve got Shard of Perfect Administration active (and are gathering a swarm on the roof near the room’s windows) along with your cloak and have the capability of extruding multiple batons, stun guns, cans of pepper spray, and containment foam grenades from your absorbed storage, you feel relatively safe. Still, you decide to give Lisa a scan with yourTactical Analysis Engrams sub-module just to figure out what’s…

    …she has a silenced pistol in her left hand. You didn’t think Wards could obtain pistols, let alone silencers for them. Which means…

    “I’m not Shadow Stalker.”

    Lisa’s grin is gone, now, replaced by a look of complete seriousness. You’re a bit stunned - but you prepared for this. You get ready to extrude one of the containment foam grenades and at the same time have your relatively-meager swarm prepare to dive in through the open window. As you go to open your mouth to follow-up on her statement, she beats you to the punch. Again.

    “Who am I? Can’t say right now. I am, however, not a threat unless you make me one. In fact, here: a sign of trust.”

    She reveals the small silenced pistol (.22 caliber, your sub-module informed you) and makes a show of kicking it under the chairs so that it’s across the room from her. Your Tactical Analysis Engrams sub-module confirms that she is now weapon-less, though she has an empty knife sheath strapped to her left calf. You move over to the discarded pistol, silently and invisibly absorbing it with Technomorphic Integration Engine, but throw your voice so it seems like you’re still standing next to the door. Lisa doesn’t follow you, still keeping her gaze directed above where your head should be.

    “If you transfered in on Monday, that means you came here for me. Why?”

    “I am under orders to figure out what makes you tick, robot girl. You’ve made a very powerful person incredibly angry at you.”

    “You work for someone? Who? Are you with Empire Eighty-Eight?” You know the ABB wouldn’t take a girl like Lisa and the Merchants definitely wouldn’t be so manipulative, so that only left one group with the muscle and manpower to pull off something like this. Lisa, however, just shakes her head.

    “I can’t tell you that. I’m already risking everything just by talking to you like this. Here’s the thing: I need your help. If the person that put me here figures out I’m working against them then I’m dead. If this plan fails, I get taken out of this prison and then your father will be the next avenue of attack against you. If that fails, this person will kill you. It doesn’t matter if your father or you are both locked up tight in Protectorate Headquarters. This person is that strong.”

    You can feel your heart - your essence generator - pumping madly as you take in this information. It’s not the threat against you, no, it’s that this person will apparently target your dad just to get to you. You are studying Lisa’s face this entire time and not once has she given any indication that she’s lying - if anything, she seems to be pushing herself hard to possibly just tell the truth, and the desperation is visible just barely beneath the surface of her expression (all gathered with a combination of Diagnostic Overlay, Microscopic Lens, and your own intuition).

    It’s much easier to read people when you’re invisible and nearly face-to-face with them. You continue to throw your voice across the room, making it seem like you’re pacing, which causes Lisa’s eyes to follow the general direction of your voice.

    “The PRT can help. If this person’s as dangerous as you say, we need to throw everything we have at them. They can’t be allowed to get away with something like this.”

    Again, Lisa shakes her head, but you see in her eyes that she’s thinking now - something about what you said, maybe?

    “No, they can’t. Won’t. This person has information that would only be available if they had contacts deep within the PRT, which means they’ll know I turned traitor immediately and then I’ll be dead. They also have, no exaggeration here, almost unlimited resources. This is just another part of that - they either want you working for them or out of the picture completely. I think your mere existence is screwing up their powers, which is hindering their plans. Not stopping them, just hindering them.”

    This is almost a worst-case scenario. The PRT is infiltrated? Corrupted somehow, or at least vulnerable? A part of you almost knew this was coming. Human structures of authority are fallible, as evidenced by everything that led up to The Locker. But no, you can’t take all of this on blind faith. She could very well just be playing you like a fiddle.

    “This is crazy. If someone was this powerful in Brockton Bay we’d know about by now. How can I trust anything you say?”

    Lisa shrugs a bit, but you can tell there’s a growing desperation there - elevated heart beat, increased adrenaline in the blood, spike in brain activity - that shows that she is at least taking this seriously.

    “Anything I tell you to look for will immediately register as abnormal and give this person reason to come down on me. You’re under constant surveillance until the PRT determines you’re safe, since they already suspect something is different with you. Besides, I wouldn’t put it past this person to torture me for information on whether I’ve betrayed them, then somehow make me forget it ever happened if the results turned up negative.”

    Still reading as truth, or at least she firmly believes it to be true. You’re getting a little panicked as well, since - if this is indeed all true - you somehow managed to acquire an extremely powerful enemy before even doing your first heroic deed. Just your luck.

    “Listen, could you do something for me? I’ve pretty much just put my life on the line here with you, so if I’m going to die for it then I might as well figure some things out before I get disappeared. You probably noticed that I had a hard time looking at you, right? Well, just looking at you makes my power freak out and give me the mental equivalent of ten thousand industrial metal songs being played in reverse, all at once. But right now, I’m getting nothing - it’s like you don’t even exist to my power right now. Honestly, it’s really freaky. Anyway, I’ve wondered what I’ll get from you if I see you in your sexy robot form instead - I got a feeling that it’d make a difference when I read the PRT’s internal write-up on you.”

    What?! She has internal PRT information?! And now she’s asking you to reveal yourself and deactivate your disguise? Is she crazy? You have no idea if she can wipe the floor with you if you reveal yourself…

    Except, you are getting truly sincere signals here - which are telling you that she’s almost depressingly resigned right now. This is giving you all sorts of bad feelings, most of them mixtures of guilt and dread. Thinking about it more, you further realize that she’s had ample opportunities to put you down or just get away before she revealed all this to you. If she was actually hostile you wouldn’t be having this conversation. Still, better safe than sorry.

    The window slides open from the outside and thousands of flies, moths, ants, spiders, wasps, and hornets stream in, remaining in a giant black-and-brown droning mass hanging in the air above Lisa.

    “If you even blink at me wrong, I’m going to put a bullet in your forehead, then bury you in a pile of containment foam along with thousands of bugs so they’ll be able to devour you down to the bones before the PRT gets you out. Are we clear?”

    Lisa goes still, but slowly, very slowly, that vulpine grin of hers etches its way across her face. “That didn’t sound very heroic. Are you sure PRT Public Relations would approve of that kind of ultimatum?”

    You deactivate Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier at the same time as you drop your Optical Shroud and spend the essence to extrude Lisa’s silenced pistol in your right hand and a containment foam grenade in your left. The barrel of the gun is inches from her face, even though to her you were just speaking from the far side of the room a split-second ago.

    Slowly, she pans her eyes to meet yours, then take in your whole form. You’re still clothed in your uniform (she didn’t ask you to get naked after all), but you get the feeling that she’s disappointed by this fact. Still, it only takes a few seconds before you get the readings of that mini-stroke in her brain - which coincides with the strained look she’s beginning to get on her face.

    “Ah, nope, not any different… ugh. Is there any other way you can look? You have ‘sexy robot’ and ‘sexy human’ modes, so do you have ‘normal human’ or ‘normal robot’ modes too?”

    Her comment reminds you of one of the sub-modules you’ve been keeping deactivated, one you were unable to determine the purpose of... and thus kept deactivated as you didn't want to have an unknown charm sub-module running in the background doing Maker-knows-what.

    You re-activate Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier (your Personal reservoir dipping to half as as result), and then - after a brief moment to confirm that Lisa’s mini-stroke is still getting worse - activate the previously-thought-useless sub-module: Loom Server Migration.

    Almost instantly, you see the pain start to wash away from Lisa’s face, the mini-stroke begining to recede as well. She sighs, then flashes you that manic grin of hers as she begins to ramble excitedly.

    “Oh, wow. Wow. Wow! That’s it! And you! You’re… you’re you! Hah! Wait, no, what?”

    The grin is still there, but it’s getting lost by the look of confusion that’s dawning on her face.

    “That can’t be right. You’re normal? You’re… you’re Taylor Anne Hebert. Age 15, birthday June 19th, 1995. Father Daniel Ray Hebert, 42, mother Annette Anne Hebert deceased but would be 33. Died July 2nd, 2007. Car crash while talking on phone. Daniel - Danny - nearly gave up, left you alone. Retreated to your friend Emma Barnes oh fuck wow, really? Emma used that information against you when she and… Sophia Hess and Madison Clements bullied you? Wow, fuck that bitch with a rusty fence. Bullying led to locker incident you… ok, now it just blanks out. You just… came out of the locker? What, no, that’s not right… bug powers? Yeah, can see those… gained in the locker after ugh I’m going to be sick… but, ok, this makes no sense.”

    This whole time Lisa’s been talking you’ve just been staring at her in growing horror (how could she know about your mom’s accident? Your dad nearly abandoning you?) then, as you realized that this must be her power, confusion when it became evident by her own increasing frustration that her power was doing something unexpected. Giving her wrong answers?

    You keep the gun pointed at her head, of course, but you ease up a bit as she rubs her eyes as if to clear them, then runs her hand through her hair in frustration when that doesn’t seem to have worked.

    “Ok, so, look, since I’m pretty much dead if you turn me in I’ll show even more trust in you to keep shut for now: my power is, like, super-bullshit sherlock holmes intuition. I just figure things out - as long as I get pieces of information my power just fills in all the gaps. Except, if I push it for answers too far or the pieces I’m given paint a misleading portrait, then my power can go off the rails and give bad info. Which is what I’m getting from you, right now. It’s just saying you’re Taylor Hebert, parahuman who controls bugs. Not a sexy dark-simurgh robot that can go invisible and apparently read minds or however you broke my disguise. See, that right there? Nothing - me just talking can usually feed it info, but… ugh, you’re still on the fence about me. Great. Well, thanks for at least stopping the migraines. I’d hate to spend my last few hours, before I get my brains blown out, with a headache. ”

    You’re getting that Lisa is probably a bit of a rambler normally, but amped up to eleven due to her apparently-haywiring power and possibly-imminent demise. A part of your brain wonders if this is what it looks like when other people have a day as bad as you are used to experiencing.

    Still, you try to break down the situation. First, Lisa does seem genuine about the fact that she was sent here to spy on you, as well as about the fact that just looking at you without your Loom Server Migration sub-module active causes her severe mental trauma. Sending an agent to spy on someone who is physically injured by meerely looking at the target does not seem like a ‘test’ the PRT would set up to test your loyalty to the program (though you’re not sure if you should rule this out completely). Lisa also appears genuine about the threat posed to herself, your dad, and you.

    You figure you have three choices now: disable Lisa now and take her in for questioning (which she believes will get her killed but makes you look good), escape now and report to the PRT about everything that happened here (which she believes will get her killed but makes you possibly look trustworthy but weak), or do nothing…

    “Ok, I’ll bite. If I keep your secret, what next? I’d be risking my own future as a Hero for your life, if anyone found out about this.”

    “I have the feeling that the PRT is going to try to hang on to you no matter what, but nothing conclusive there so I won’t tell you to bet on that, but I’d also like to point out that an organization that would throw you under the bus for trying to protect the life of a young, seemingly-endangered, parahuman girl is probably not a very ‘Heroic’ organization. Anyway, if you do nothing for now, then I play along as well - I’ll feed the person keeping me here enough information for them to think it’s a worthwhile investment to keep me alive and in school. We act like none of this ever happened, and if anything changes on my side I’ll let you know - or try to, at least.”

    That’s… not terrible, you suppose. It’d be betraying the organization you joined to bring Order and Justice to this world but… if Lisa is telling the truth, if there is in fact corruption eating away at the heart of the PRT, then it is your responsibility, your Duty to purge it. Purge it with extreme prejudice.

    You re-activate Optical Shroud, place the pistol back where you picked it up, and then follow your bugs out the window and onto the roof. As you leave, you throw your voice back into the room.

    “See you in class.”


    ***


    You apologize to Peggy for making her wait for you, but she dismisses it - her orders are to wait for you until you show up, so that’s what she’ll do. You argue that that seems a little unfair to her, but she just shrugs it off. In an attempt to make further in-roads with the PRT employees around you, you offer to take her phone number so that you can text her if you know you’re going to be late or getting a ride back in some other manner. She mulls this over silently for a bit, then off-handedly gives you her work phone number - clear that she either doesn’t believe you’d follow up on the offer or doesn’t care either way.

    During the ride home, you decide to activate Essence Sight Occulars just to get a better view of the world around you with it enabled. You still notice the thin field your Shard of Perfect Administration is likely projecting, but you can’t get a good sight behind the van to see if you’re trailing a thicker line of essence.

    Peggy raises an eyebrow at your suddenly-glowing eyes, but makes no comment. That actually reminds you of what you learned yesterday, so you ask her about what’s the weirdest thing she’s ever seen.

    “The entire Wards team tripping balls when Newter from Faultline’s crew managed to tag them all with his psychadelic skin. Gallant was passed out and Vista was trying to eat his feet, Aegis was frozen in a hug around Clockblocker who was screaming about eels, Kid Win was doing constant loop-de-loops, and Triumph was curlled up in a ball near Gallant, sucking Gallant’s thumb. We were all just glad they kept their costumes on.”


    ***


    You shoot Kid Win a text to ask him what he’s up to, which gets you a near-instantaneous reply.

    trying 2 focus building modular I/O port 4 hoverboard

    Replying quickly, lest his attention take him away from his phone again, you ask if he’d be ok with you hanging out with him while he works. Again, near-instant response.

    yes!!!!!

    Putting the phone away, you opt to take the ferry again - you could take the hover-shuttle for PRT employees, but you like the scenic view and it gives you time to study everything and everyone with your Essence-sight. People usually seem weirded out at first when they catch you staring at them, but most get over it and ask to take pictures with you. You grudgingly relent to the photo-ops, though you activate your Flash Shutters sub-module to spring the built-in shades to life. Finally, something everyone can agree on: built-in shades are really, really cool.

    After the ferry ride ends you make your way through the Employee-Only Entrance and take the elevator up to the workshop areas. After a few right and left turns, you make it to Kid Win’s workshop - bigger than Armsmaster’s, but you wouldn’t know it from all the junk everywhere. Well, ‘junk’ is a little harsh - more like ‘unfinished projects left underfoot and occasionally stepped upon’. Right now, however, his primary workbench is a hurricane of TinkerTech - the eye of the storm being his Hoverboard, surrounded by bits and pieces of advanced technology that look like Chris has taken apart and put back together… backwards.

    “Hey, Chris.”

    Bolting up from his crouched position over some soldering efforts, Chris flips up his goggles and hits you with a high-beam smile.

    “Hey, Taylor! Come on in! Come on in! Sorry about the mess, I had to pull apart a bunch of older unfinished projects to get the parts I needed right now for this idea. I’m almost done with it, though, I’m having a hard time shielding the data stream from the interference produced by the primary anti-grav thrusters. Grab a seat, and if you’re thirsty that fridge over there has a bunch of sodas - grab me one if you go for any.”

    You nod as he turns back to his project, so you delicately make your way to the clearly Tinker-enhanced mini-fridge. When you open it, you involuntarily chuckle.

    Rows upon rows upon rows of caffiene-heavy soda, enough to fit a fridge ten times the mini-fridge’s actual size. Well, at least he has his priorities straight.

    You grab a Zoom (Caffiene x 2!) soda for Chris and a regular Coca-Cola for yourself, then make your way over to the teenage Tinker. He doesn’t notice your approach, and you feel bad interrupting one of his rare bouts of focus, so you decide to do him a favor (and send a message to Armsmaster that he shouldn’t rely your generosity so much). Reflexively ending the Hypercalibration Benediction sub-module ofIncomparable Efficiency Upgrade to cause the charm’s effects to revert back to you, you very gently tap Chris on the shoulder to pass it off to him instead.

    Chris freezes, his face (what you can see of it), going slack in rapidly-growing awe. His head neatly pivots to look at you, and his clipped voice is filled with wonder.

    “Whatdidyoudo?”

    You smile and shrug, reminded of the way Lisa did it earlier this morning.

    “One of my powers speeds up mental and physical efficiency, allowing me to multi-thread my thought process six times over. It makes you speak and move like you’re mechanical, though, so it’s not very good for blending in with normals. I can pass it on to another person if I want, but Armsmaster’s been hogging it every waking moment since I told him about it last week - nowadays I tag him with it when I wake up and go to school. Apparently it speeds up Tinker work a proportional amount - let me know how you like it.”

    With a very quick, efficient nod, Chris turns back to his work, mumbling softly in very quick speech about various possible configurations he didn’t even realize he was overlooking before. You leave him to it for a bit, but decide to see what you can make of some of his other projects that he has laying around.

    Actually, no, you’re really just interested in his suit of armor over there on one of the other workbenches. What’s left of it, that is - it’s clear that he’s been trying to re-work it ever since the PRT techs gave him it back in dismantled pieces as punishment for going out in a suit that could get the PRT sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars by Earth-Aleph trademark representatives.

    Yet another case where Earth-Bet just can’t have nice things.

    It’s pretty clear that Chris has given up on it for now, at least - it’s got several other projects strewn about on top where it’s laying - so he probably won’t mind you poking around with it…


    ***

    “Taylorwhatareyoudoiayourhandswhatswrongwithyourhands?!”

    You spin around, hand very much caught in the cookie jar. Well, more like hands (both split into dozens of complex tools) caught in the anti-grav thruster housing. Chris’ eyes look larger than normal because of his goggles, but you’re pretty sure they’re wider now. Hasn’t he seen your… oh, right, he was out on patrol for your Ratings Tests and you haven’t really seen much of him except in passing since then. You hold up your - now very clearly soulsteel, starmetal, and moonsilver - multi-articulated hands, showing off some of the absolutely awesome miniaturized tools they can shift into.

    “Oh, this is another one of my powers. I can turn my hands into, effectively, an entire workbench-worth of Perfect tools. I think I might not even need a solid surface to work on with these, but I haven’t tried it yet. Oh, and they can turn into surgical tools too, check ‘em out.”

    You imagine that this would take a while for Chris to get over if he wasn’t under the effects of your charm, but since he is this barely seems to phase him. Instead, he seems to be analyzing your hands and they way they shift from tool to tool, gears in his head clearly turning over possible applications of your ability - or maybe even ways he can try to build something like your hands for himself?

    “Doesthishavetodowithhowyoucaneatgadgetsandtinkertech?Arethesetoolsyou’veeatenbefore?”

    Eaten? Oh, right.

    “Oh, no, I don’t eat them. I absorb them - doesn’t have to be with my mouth, I can absorb basically anything with any part of my body.”

    Wait, that came out wrong.

    Well, those goggles sure aren’t helping hide Chris’ blush. Well, now you know what someone withIncomparable Efficiency Upgrade sounds like when they stammer. You didn’t think it was possible, what with the multiple thought threads, but all six threads are now probably… yeah.

    “Uh-well-wow-uh-ha!Mandon’tevertellDennisorEthanthatJusttellthemyoueatthingsthey’llneverletyoulivethatdownotherwise!”

    “Ri-right. Anyway! Yes, about what I was doing! Look!”

    Chris mechanically clambers over to where you are standing over the re-worked fusion of one of his attempts to remake his Hoverboard with the upper-torso section of his powersuit. Well, most of it - you’ve only had two hours, you’re not that much of a bullshit tinker robot girl.

    “Whoawhatisthatisthatmysuitandmydeltaboardnowaitwheredidthosefinscomefromisthat…”

    You cut him off from his train of thought to detail what you were doing: you absorbed (withTechnomorphic Integration Engine) the suit and the defunct secondary board (which is shaped like a ‘V’ instead of his usual surfboard-style), then used the spare parts that he had lying around (from when he had tried to rebuild those two projects) to fuse them into a whole piece that could theoretically be controlled in the same manner as his hoverboard (micro-gestures in a glove, brain waves collected by a helmet sensor, etc.). You’re still missing some critical pieces - functional anti-grav tech, primarily, as it seems only exists in his Hoverboard. You lay out everything you’ve learned about the tech you’ve absorbed and played around with so far, then end by pointing out that you’re also capable of pulling it all apart if he wants to use the pieces you commandeered for this project… since you didn’t really ask his permission.

    Chris seems livid at the implication that he would ask you to do such a thing to a piece of potential awesomness, but seems reluctant to allow you to absorb his Hoverboard so you can figure out the pieces you need. Instead, you hit upon a better idea and propose it to him - if he lets you absorb the Hoverboard, you can build him two identical copies of it for his own use and then you can keep one absorbed while you go back to work on your project.

    “TaylorifyoucandothatthenI’llhelpyoubuildwhateveryouwantI…” he pauses, which is strange for someone under the charm’s effect to do, “…yeahIhaven’tbeenabletocopythetechIhadtobuilditinthefirstplacesoIdon’tknowifI’lleverbeabletobuildanotheronewithoutyourhelp.”

    You think you understood all that. Geez, no wonder Armsmaster talks so little when he’s under the charm’s effect. Or is it just Chris? You certainly don’t feel like you’re talking like that when you’ve activatedIncomparable Efficiency Upgrade. Anyway, you nod in agreement and Chris retrieves his Hoverboard - his own project to integrate a signal jammer/receiver for almost any wavelength a success. Handing it off to you like he’s giving you his firstborn son (which is probably a fairly accurate comparison), you give the board a hug that causes it to hiss, click, and fold up improbably into your… cleavage. Well. You were aiming for your stomach, so that’s more than a little embarassing because Chris definitely got an eyeful of… well… the fathomless void that is a portal to Elsewhere in your bust? Hopefully you didn’t just traumatize him again, but you’re not going to check on him like you did with Lisa.

    You have a standing policy to not use the Diagnostic Analysis sub-module on boys when they’re looking at you. Three mental readouts of that is enough for a lifetime.


    ***

    You and Chris manage to finish two of the boards (using partly-unfinished spares to speed up the process dramatically), and then manage to keep Chris from kissing you for helping deal with a nightmare he’s had for years now. With about an hour left of the time you slotted for Tinkering with Chris, you both turn back to the prototype wingsuit and manage to get it relatively functional within thirty minutes. Oblivious to concerns that it’s barely ready for alpha-stage testing (”Itlooksbetterthansomeofmyfinishedprojects!”), he proptly squeezes into the suit to try it out for himself. After a few failed starts due to backwards connectors for the control glove, he lifts off and gracefully hovers around the workshop.

    “Wowthisissomuchsmootherthantheboardholycra-!”

    His exclamation is punctuated by two of the left wing stabilizers seizing up in opposite polarities, causing him to do a quick corkscrew spin face-first into a pile of spare parts. You rush over to him and shut down the suit with the backup control glove you were wearing (precautionary that ultimately became useful), then pry him out of the mechanical mess.

    His face is a bit scratched up but nothing deep or requiring of stitches, but he’s going to have a nice shiner on his left eye for a few days. You patch up the bleeding wounds with the First Aid kit from near the door using your Omintool Implant’s medical suite, but your medical knowledge is limited to basic biology so you stick to cleansing swabs, topical regenerative ointment, and bandages.

    You’d check if he has a concussion, but… nope. Not using that sub-module when it’s clear he’s still blushing from you being all over his face with your hands.

    For the last half-hour before you need to go, the two of you just talk about potential gadgets, powersuits, and weapons you could build to complement your current skills. When you mention that your scores on the firing range were spot-on, it sparks a few ideas from your Omnitool Implant to have a suit or harness that can fold out to carry multiple types of weapons. Connected by arms with ball-socket joins for greater freedom of movement? You suggest cribbing some of Armsmaster’s tech (which you feel you can do because he owes you big right now) to miniaturize the anti-grav projectors, and he follows the idea by suggesting implementing some of the pocket-space tech he has to house an arsenal of floating weapons only limited by your ability to track targets.

    You casually mention that using your bugs you can track hundreds - if not thousands - of targets at a time, causing him to pale at the implication of just how much weaponry you could bring to bear like that. He recovers quickly, however, and suggests that you swing back again tomorrow so he can show you his big gun.

    You both blink at that statement, but you crack up first at the brilliant red he turns when he tries to rapidly explain the massive floating cannon he’s been working on but doesn’t really have authorization to build, let alone use.

    “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Why build it if you’ll never be able to use it?”

    “OhIfigurewheneverthenextEndbringerattackcomesaroundthatwe’reauthorizedtoattendthenIcouldprobablywhipitoutwithoutanybacklashfromPRohgoddidIjustsaythatokyouneedtoeitherleaveorletmeworkotherwiseI’mgoingto…” he stops to take a breath, “yeahokthanksforhelpingoutTayloryou’realifesaverifyouneedanythingjustletmeknowandI’llseewhatIcandoactuallycanyouleavethispoweronmeIjustgotanideaforhowtofixthesuit’swings.”

    You didn’t get all of that, but you think somewhere in there he said something embarassing, recriminated himself, then asked you to leave the charm on him because… something. You shrug.

    “Sure, but if Armsmaster notices you with the effect he’s probably going to get pissed. Actually, wait-”

    You check your phone, only to see two missed messages from Armsmaster and one text from Dragon.

    “Dragon says Armsmaster was pretty pissed I took the effect away from him, but he passed out at his workbench not long afterward. She thanked me for getting him some rest, and then said to say hello to you too.”

    “WowyoutalktoDragon?!”

    “Yeah, she’s surprisingly nice. I got a chance to talk with her a few times while I was stuck in Armsmaster’s workshop fabricating components for him via my absorbtion and omnitool power.”

    “HuhyeahIcouldseehowthat’dbereallyhelpfulforhisspecialtyoklaterTaylorIreallyneedtousethisideanoworit’lldrivemenutslater.”

    You give him a look, then shake your head and say your goodbyes, making sure to shut the door behind you as you leave.


    ***


    Making your way to the Wards’s lounge, you manage to catch Aegis - not Carlos since he’s in costume - and Triumph playing head-to-head on some kind of first-person-shooter game that is probably popular judging by the way they’re into it. Which is surreal to you, still. Superheroes playing videogames? You’ll grow used to it eventually, you suppose.

    They both look up when you enter, the game suddenly forgotten, and wave you over as the lower the headsets they were wearing to communicate with their online teams.

    Aegis is the first to speak up. “Hey Taylor, what’s up? Where’ve you been?”

    “Oh, I was helping Kid Win with a project of his that eventually turned into another, then another, until finally it just became a brainstorming session.”

    Triumph seems to get the biggest kick out of this. “Well, he’s already bad enough by himself so I figure with you there it must have been extra distracting. Didn’t finish anything, did you?”

    You feel your hackles rise at the idea that you’re distracting, but then you remember. Boys. Not your fault.

    “Oh, no, he finished his addition to the Hoverboard, then I helped build him two additional copies of the Hoverboard, then we built a prototpe jetpack-enhanced powersuit.” Ok, you may have said that a little too smugly, but judging from Aegis’ sudden stillness and Triumph’s gape it was worth it.

    “Wait, you finished four projects? And he was finally able to re-create the Hoverboard not once, but twice?!” Triumph’s power probably makes him a talker by default, but you’re gathering Aegis is busy thinking about the ramifications of what you said.

    While Triumph just shakes his head at the world no longer making sense, Aegis looks back in your direction.

    “Taylor, I know you’ve been using some of your power to help Armsmaster, and it sounds like you just really hit it out of the park with Kid Win, so… is there anything you can do like that with non-Tinkers? No pressure, especially since you’re still not a full Ward yet, but one of the theories the technicians posed about the theme of your powers is making a bit more sense: upgrading and efficiency.”

    That… seems like a sensible way to approach classifying most of your powers, you suppose. Shard of Perfect Administration could even be considered “making bugs more efficient” in that light, which strikes you as a fairly factual statement - the spare room lower in the base that you have filled with terrariums of spiders weaving silk ropes of varying sizes is a testament to that. You’re hoping that your request for Darwin’s Bark Spiders goes through soon so that you can try out some of your ideas for bullet-proof clothing for PRT plain-clothes agents. And yourself, and the Wards, and…

    Anyway, you roll Aegis’ idea over in your mind.

    “Well, the big power boost I can give Tinkers allows the mind to have six focused trains of thought at once. Apparently that amplifies the usual Tinker idea generation rate by an equal amount, but I’m not sure what it’d do to non-Tinkers. Or Thinkers, now that I consider it. I’d offer to show you right now but Chris seemed to be really thriving with it on and was focused on fixing the suit we made-and-then-kinda-broke. Beyond that? Hmmm, well, what do you guys do for thinking of or testing new applications of your power?”

    They both sort of look at each other then look at you, and despite their faces being mostly covered (entirely in Aegis’ case) you get the feeling that you’re getting an incredulous look.

    Triumph eventually shrugs and states matter-of-factly, “Taylor, powers don’t really tend to have ‘new applications’ or any kind of reasonable growth. They usually get worse with age, if anything. It’s why Dauntless has so much pressure on him - his power actually does grow if he keeps using it every day on his equipment, so the scientists think that he’ll be able to surpass the Triumvarate and even permanently hurt or kill an Endbringer. It’s why Crawler from the Slaughterhouse 9 is so dangerous - he gets stronger the more he gets hurt. Normal capes only really ever get stronger with Second Triggers, but those are so rare and usually horrific that no one really tries for them anymore.”

    Aegis seems to be reading your mind, however.

    “Taylor, are you noticing your powers getting stronger? Already?”

    You’re not quite how to phrase this, so you try to keep it parahuman-science based, re-contextualizing the bare hints you’ve gleaned from your meditations over the last week.

    “A little, but, well, I think I have the potential for way more. Like, I might be able to upgrade my body once I get more experience using it and the powers I have now - both to increase the strength of my current abilities and maybe even add new ones. It’s just a feeling, though, and probably just a hope that this isn’t all I’m stuck with for the rest of my life.”

    Again, not going to mention the immortality thing. Your readings of parahuman culture show that that’s a somewhat taboo subject. There have been a lot of claims by possibly-immortal capes over the years, but those capes seem to be targeted by Endbringers first on the battlefield. Most people suspect that that isn’t a coincidence. Aegis seems to have bought your story, though it’s hard to tell for certain with that damn mask of his.

    Triumph waves off your concern with a casual gesture. “Eh, a lot of parahumans have those feelings too in the beginning - I know I did - so don’t sweat it too much when you figure out your limits after a month or two of testing. Although, as a Tinker, you probably won’t have much to worry about in that avenue since Tinkers are kind of bullshit with their ability to make up new things as time goes on.”

    “Well, now that I think about it some more, what about Clockblocker? What’s his limits for freezing things? Has he ever tried using, say, projected string or wires to connect to someone and then freeze them that way?”

    Again, both of them look at you in a way you suspect- ok, enough of this. You briefly activate Mass-Penetrating Scan to get a good look through their helmets.

    Yup, they’re giving you an incredulous look. Worth it.

    “Wouldn’t that be, I dunno, insanely dangerous? You’d have clotheslines that could effectively take your head off if you ran into them, suspended through a battlefield barely visible to the naked eye.”

    “Ok, well, maybe put them in his boots? So they’d be barely above the floor but still workable when first shot. People probably would even suspect an attack like that from someone’s foot.”

    They both seem to be nodding their heads now, musing over the idea.

    “And how about Vista helping with Tinkering? I was having trouble today soldering some very small connections but with Vista couldn’t you theoretically expand that space to make it seem huge and then re-collapse it later?”

    Triumph barks a laugh at that idea. “Not a bad idea, but Armsmaster thought of it when she became a Ward. Backfired pretty messily from what I heard, but I don’t know the details - might be worth asking Armsmaster for the nitty-gritty if you think you can make it work.”

    But you’re just getting started.

    “Well then what about…”


    ***

    Halfway through Clockblocker and Vista had wandered in for dinner, which you decided to help whip together from some of materials they had on hand. You were all still brainstorming and laughing over failed attempts to find new applications of their powers when you realized that you had just “whipped together” a five-layer meat lasagna that smelled better than anything you had ever cooked before. Apparently yourOmnitool Implant really does work with everything.

    Dinner halted all discussion because people were having difficulty processing just how good your meal was.

    Which, of course, led to you being made official Team Chef from then on out. Dennis (since they had all discarded their costumes for dinner) even joked that people should pay in patrol duties to keep you cooking, which the others seemed tempted to agree with before each realized that that would mean more patrols forthem.

    You have more than enough extras for about six more servings, so after everyone breaks for bed (repeating their thanks for your meal) you drop off one serving for Chris in his lab (and tell him you’ll turn off the power early if he doesn’t eat it right now - you’ll be watching through some flies on the ceiling) and then swing by the PRT office to give servings to Kenneth and Director Piggot.

    Kenneth eagerly digs in. Piggot looks at the food you’re handing her like it’s a Gordian knot.

    “Hebert, why are you giving me food?”

    You’re a little anxious under her gaze. Is she interpreting this as you calling her fat? She is, but you’re definitely not going to say that of course. You like your head and how it remains connected to your neck.

    “Well, I cooked dinner for the Wards and had a few extra portions so I’ve been handing them out to anyone that wants some. Apparently my power makes me a better chef, because this is way better than I used to be able to cook.”

    Well, mentioning your power having an effect on your cooking - and thus the food in front of her - means she’s now looking at it like it should be under quarantine.

    “I already have a meal planned at home. You can give that to someone else, Hebert. Is there anything else, or can I get back to my work so that I can actually get home in time for dinner tonight?”

    “Ah, but…”

    “On your way back down, drop off the rest of that to the lab - Tinker work is supposed to be examined before it’s used to check for potential hazardous side-effects, so you better hope they don’t find out that food cooked with your power has any. Goodnight, Hebert.”

    Kenneth gives you a pitying look as you leave and quietly thanks you for the best meal he’s had in months. He hands you an update on your father’s probation appeal (seems it may go through by Wednesday next week) and on the Trio’s case (court date approved to be moved up to January 31st, minimum press and public), and sends you on your way.


    ***


    The lab technicians don’t detect anything strange about your lasagna through their myriad of scanners.

    Eventually, they draw straws and one of them eats some while he’s hooked up to a machine to detect changes to the body (”any changes”).

    Your food is deemed safe, so you let them finish it off and head to your room.


    ***


    Your homework takes even less time than last night, made more expedient by your use of bugs to read multiple books at once. It seems like cheating, and it feels so good.

    As you turn in for the night, your final thoughts are drawn to a small slip of paper nestled in a pocket of Elsewhere, yet tied to your very soul.

    320 history

    You kept your word tonight. You wonder when, and just how much that will come back to bite you in the ass.


    ***

    Intimacy: Armsmaster (Respect) Lost!
    Intimacy: Kid Win (Friend) Increased to x 2!

    Craft +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Integrity +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Medicine +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Occult +1 Training Day (4/6 Days)
    Presence +1 Training Day (2/6 Days)
    Socialize +1 Training Day (2/6 Days)
    Stealth +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)

    Bureaucracy x 1 Purchased!


    Oh, boy! Things are starting to heat up!


    Lisa’s Conundrum: (Choose one)

    [ ] Let It Ride: Play along, act like nothing happened, tell no one of what you’ve learned. Lisa stands the most to lose here (her life) if she’s telling the truth, so you’ll see what she plans on doing for now before making any moves.

    [ ] Up The Ante: Confront Lisa, demand that she reveal what’s going on if you’re going to be a part of… whatever this is. At least something so that you don’t feel helpless to act.

    [ ] Call The Bluff: Spill the beans to Piggot in the morning, try to get the PRT’s help in capturing her tomorrow before/during/after school.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!
    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!


    About The Cheerleaders:

    [ ] Smells Like Teen Spirit: In for a penny, in for a pound. You get (more) control of your appearence and available powers, and if there's anyone in the world that knows how to help you train Socialize it's the most popular girls in high school.

    [ ] Et Tu, Glenn?: Call Glenn on this fairly underhanded attempt at getting you to work on your public image, and hope you can come out ahead in whatever new deal you try to spin with him.

    [ ] You Already Got A Life: You've got better things to do with your time. Pass.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!
    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!


    After School Activities: (Choose two)

    [ ] In Arms’ Reach: Keep working with Armsmaster, as despite the menial tasks he’s giving you they -are- helping you learn a lot of basic crafting and scientific skills that you can apply elsewhere.

    [ ] Know Thyself: Experiment with your own abilities, trying to work out new applications of your powers. Stunts help direct where you put your effort here.

    [ ] You (Maybe) Have The Technology: There’s a few toys you've wanted to build for yourself - maybe you can try now? Stunts help direct where you put your effort here, and enlisting aid should help increase crafting speed.

    [ ] Fountain of Knowledge: Pick an ability to train, explain in Stunts how you would like to train it. You can also enlist the aid of others to help train you at a faster rate (depending on their own skill in the ability)!

    [ ] Proper Warding: Hang out with a Ward. Pick the Ward you want to spend time with, how you want to spend your time, and your attitude/goals towards them via Stunts.

    [ ] Protectorate Me: Hang out with a Protectorate member. Pick the Protectorate member you want to spend time with, how you want to spend your time, and your attitude/goals towards them via Stunts.

    [ ] Putting the “PRT” in “Party”: Talk with PRT members (specific people or just everyday employees), getting to know the system and the people that comprise it.

    [ ] Schoooool’s Out, For-ev-er: Study to take the High School Equivalency exams, so that you can test out of school as quickly as possible.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!
    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!
     
  14. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    The Lisa Conundrum:
    [X] Write-In: Me Sherlock! You Holmes: Lisa has super-deduction powers. We have super-perception powers. If we work together, we can identify all the little secrets of her mysterious boss, who's working for him, and who we can trust.

    The Cheerleader Dilemma:
    [X] Smells Like Teen Spirit: In for a penny, in for a pound. You get (more) control of your appearence and available powers, and if there's anyone in the world that knows how to help you train Socialize it's the most popular girls in high school.
    - [x] Stunt: Recruit Lisa as a cheerleader. (Or, as a student coach/manager.) Due to privacy and pornography laws, the PRT can't monitor us in the locker rooms, and practice uniforms are all alike save for size and are always kept at school (even for laundry) so it's hard (not impossible, but reasonably hard) for Lisa to be wired against her will. It would be an appropriate place for us to scan for electronic bugs - what won't desperate tv-stations and paparazzi do to get the scoop, let alone supervillains? If we come to practice early or tarry a bit afterwords, we can exchange information in comparative safely.
    - [x] Stunt: Power CAN be used for good, and popularity is a power too. Be a friend to the outsiders, whether or not you're popular yourself.

    After-School Activities:
    [X] Putting the “PRT” in “Party”: Talk with PRT members (specific people or just everyday employees), getting to know the system and the people that comprise it.
    - [x] Stunt: If we're gonna clean up the PRT, we need as much as possible of the PRT on our side. Keep making friends, both among the grunts and higher-ups.
    - [x] Stunt: Continue working and familiarizing yourself with all the PRT agents. Go forward as normal, but unobtrusively scan all of them with your diagnostic vision and use it to identify whether or not they have a gemma. Use this time to learn more of the ins and outs of various procedures and about the agents themselves. You can kill two birds with one stone here.
    - [x] Stunt: Supplement this action by using the module through your bugs (if feasible), or by combining it with the module that sees through walls, so that you can get more coverage quicker. Do this unobtrusively while doing other activities and don't make it obvious.
    - [x] Stunt: The PRT is a large organisation. As such, communication is both the key to effectiveness, and the easiest part to subvert. Study the PRT Command and Communication net. If the PRT is compromised, There will be evidence here.


    [X] In Arms’ Reach: Keep working with Armsmaster, as despite the menial tasks he’s giving you they -are- helping you learn a lot of basic crafting and scientific skills that you can apply elsewhere.
    - [x] Stunt: Armsmaster has a hardline approach to life, making it unlikely that he has been compromised. While helping him, get him to help you with surveillance and sabotage countermeasures. DO NOT LET HIM KNOW THAT THE PRT IS POTENTIALLY COMPROMISED.
    - [x] Stunt: Establish that you are more than just an efficiency tool for him to use and cast aside. With proper training - and you'll make sure he has the time to do it - you could be a trusted colleague to share ideas with.
    - [x] Stunt: Suggest that you and he spend some time with Chris (Kid Win) working together. Kid has some good ideas but rarely gets anything done - maybe he could use a bit of direction, some mentoring, from a well-established Tinker.

    XP Expenditures:
    [X] Buy Backing (PRT) - 3xp


    ***


    As Vista did not have have patrol last night, Missy slept at home.

    So this morning you are awoken not by your alarm, but rather by your door being buzzed at 6:29 AM by an impatient Armsmaster.

    “Taylor. It’s time to wake up.”

    Not that an extra minute would have really mattered, but you really need to set some boundaries here.

    “Nnrgh. Just a second.”

    The extra cost of turning Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade off when you sleep, then on again when you wake up isn’t too bad but you’re starting to wonder if there’s a way you can avoid that all together. You’ve tried falling asleep with it on and found it almost impossible, so you suspect that actually passing out with it running would produce some very odd dreams - if you even got any actual rest at all.

    You call for the lights and shuffle out of bed. You’re getting better at waking up in the mornings, but you’re still not as much as a morning person as you were before the change - you’ve found that the nighttime is better for you now. You suspect your soulsteel nature might have something to do with that.

    Opening the door, Armsmaster stands less than a foot from the door frame. In full costume, even. You don’t say anything, just staring at him in your default soulsteel form with black-and-blue lightning crackling from your soulgem and through your Shard of Perfect Administration's spider-leg halo. The effect is probably lessened by your light blue pajamas. After a good fifteen seconds, he finally speaks up.

    “Well?”

    You shut the door.

    “See you downstairs. At seven,” you call through the door as you shuffle into the bathroom to shower and get ready for school.


    ***

    You’re reasonably certain that Armsmaster is fuming-mad at you when you see him standing next to Ray. Ray probably has the same impression, which would explain his strained smile and the way his eyes keep switching between you and Armsmaster.

    Taking a deep breath as you approach the two, you hold it for a moment before letting it go slowly. Focus.

    You turn to Ray first and give him a nod.

    “Good morning, Ray.”

    You turn to Armsmaster.

    “This is a gift. Your use of my power is a privilege, not a right. I enjoy being able to help you with your Tinkering, as it’s clear you’ve been making exceptional use of my power’s effects, but if you take that for granted and try to bully me into giving it to you whenever you want? I’ll be passing it off to Kid Win - who may actually need it even more than you with the way it helps him deal with his terrible attention span - or just keep it to myself and figure out a way to make use of it during the school day. Does this make sense?”

    You probably shouldn’t be trying to knock him down a peg in full view of the rest of the morning PRT crew here, but you suspect - hope - that he’s much less liable to blow up at you in public.

    Armsmaster shifts his weight slightly from one foot to another, clearly stewing in simmering indignation. After massaging his lower face with his right hand in an attempt to keep his mouth under control, he seems to come down from a full simmer to a low broil.

    “Understood. We will discuss this later after you get back from school, though - Dragon says I should include you in our next project. When should we expect you?”

    Dragon wants to collaborate with you? Well, you had a few ideas for what to do this afternoon but this takes the cake. Just…

    You try to hold in the sigh of exasperation. “I have cheerleading tryouts until five-thirty, so I should be back around six o’clock.”

    You’ve seen Armsmaster smirk before, but never actually laugh. It’s… humanizing, oddly enough - he’s even relaxed a bit because of it. When you don’t move to laugh as well, he winds down quickly.

    “Wait, you’re serious? You can’t be serious. I thought you were more efficient than that.”

    “It’s Glenn’s idea, though he didn’t tell me directly. He had the cheerleading coach contact me, saying that I’d have more control over my costume and power usage in the field if I joined the cheerleading team. I didn’t tell him to shove it because… well, it’s not an entirely bad idea. It gets people to see me as a person and not another Case 53 monster, and gives me more freedom when it actually matters. I can see where he’s coming from, even though I’m still having trouble not hyperventillating just thinking about wearing the uniform.”

    He’s still massaging his trimmed beard but it’s an absent-minded motion now, and he’s looking above you. Past you.

    “Hmm. Possible. I created the Halberd because I wasn’t allowed to use the guns I first crafted as a Tinker. Not sure where I’d be today if I hadn’t.”

    He shrugs, then turns back to you.

    “Restrictions on a Tinker sometimes can get better results than unlimited freedom. Something to think about. Now, don’t you have school to get to?”

    This is a much more reasonable Armsmaster than you’ve ever seen. Maybe last night was the first time he’s gotten a good night’s sleep in a while? You should probably talk to Dragon about a better schedule for the work-a-holic Tinker, since he actually listens to her.

    You nod, then poke him in the chestplate with your right index finger. As you do so, you swap the charm from the fly in your hair to Armsmaster.

    “See you at six o’clock.”

    Armsmaster nods with mechanical precision.

    “Thank you.”

    Turning, he smoothly marches off like an instrument of pure focus. Which is probably true at the moment, you realize with a grin.

    Ray is just giving you a look of mixed amazement and humor.

    “C’mon now, Ms. Hebert. If you can talk down Armsmaster then I don’t think you’ve got none to worry about at school - cheerleaders or no.”


    ***


    It looks like the reporters have bailed on trying to pin you down outside of the school grounds, so you’re able to walk from the car without using Optical Shroud. Still have to disable Shard of Perfect Administration, however. Maybe you can figure out a way to have the people at school see it as acceptable? If you really are planning on using the girls in cheerleading to help train your social skills, that might be something they can help you make work.

    Lisa is still in your AP American History class, sitting exactly where she was before. You nod to each other, but no more than would be expected from two girls who are possibly becoming friends due to being in the same social circle.

    You think you managed it, at least. And you get the feeling that Lisa’s small sigh of relief is due to your decision to continue use of the Loom Server Migration sub-module, at least while at school.

    Class otherwise proceeds as normal, though you try to let other people answer questions as you know the answer to all the factual questions now being asked - hypothetical and opinion-related questions are still of varying interest, though. Having Earth-Aleph to compare to Earth-Bet’s history makes for thought-provoking topics about what were the possible reasons for varying “deviations” from how life could have been. Questions likely never to receive an answer, if only for one reason: the Simurgh.

    The discussion actually leads you down a different thought path, one specifically regarding what Autochthon has planned. Planned for you, for his “chosen” that you are apparently supposed to lead, and for the world in general. Your experiments with your Essence Sight Oculars sub-module are giving you the impression that Earth-Bet works in very different ways than… wherever Autochthon comes from. Research into “magic” parahumans brought up a number of results, but so far nothing has really hit you as being remotely similar to your own… well, bullshit robot magic. The closest is Myrrdin, the Protectorate leader in Chicago, who apparently can access and project “different laws of physics” - which excited you for a moment, but nothing you read cited examples of his powers working on intent like yours sometimes does. Which is why you chose to leave that little tidbit un-revealed during the PRT Ratings Test - better they think your powers are just erratic, not psychic.

    Because psychic equals Simurgh, and you’d prefer to keep those comparisons to a minimum.

    On the note of bullshit magic and psychic mind-rape, you take a glance over to Lisa. Just what exactly is her power? You’re still not sure just what your Loom Server Migration sub-module is doing, but you get the feeling that it’s… feeding the world around you a lie? That’s what you pieced together last night as you thought about it in bed - Lisa’s power has some sort of information-gathering component to it, but she’s only getting information that you’re a bug-controlling parahuman when the sub-module is active, nothing regarding you being a magical bullshit magical robot girl.

    Still, an information-gathering power has all kinds of amazingly-useful potential, especially if her description about “connecting dots” is true. Combined with your powers of perception through Shard of Perfect Administration, wide array of Optical Enhancement sub-modules, and ability to go invisible to even the Manton Effect, you could really start to make a dent in bringing Order and Justice to this city - there’d be nowhere for criminals to hide, and you’d be able to see/predict their attacks before the criminals could enact them.

    Hmm, you suspect that she realizes you’re still focusing on her despite looking straight ahead, if that look she just gave you of “really, now?” is any indication. Though she’s still keeping up the act of… well, the way you suppose you were acting before the Locker. It’s actually a rather depressing thought, now that you realize it - looking at it from the outside, no longer feeling the pressure yourself, it’s…

    Pathetic. No wonder the Trio kept at it for so long, if Lisa’s act is a re-creation of your own old personality; there was no risk for them in tormenting you, only the twisted reward of causing pain to someone who’d never fight back.

    You shake your head to dispel that train of thought, only for the end-of-class bell to ring. As you’re all making your way out of the room, Lisa manages to slip a piece of paper in your back right pocket. Since no one can see you do it, and it won’t reveal that you’re reading a note, you absorb it with Technomorphic Integration Engine.

    eyes everywhere keep acting
    no teamup till safe
    dont ask us cheerleading
    tell when i know more

    Ok, you are suitably unsettled now. How the heck did she put all those things together from you looking at her once to get a read on her with Diagnostic Overlay to make sure those scars are actually just makeup? And “ask us”? You were considering asking Lisa to join the cheerleading team with you, but the Twins as well? Perhaps you should have thought of that - they may have enjoyed it. Or was that just Lisa’s power going haywire again? If she was being truthful yesterday, you might have to take anything she gets about you with a grain of salt.

    Ugh, this cloak-and-dagger business is more aggravating that you expected.


    ***


    Come lunchtime, you figure you might as well cut off any further awkward advances by the cheerleaders - or, worse, by other teams - and track down Josie and her herd. They’re sitting at the same table as always, so it isn’t actually difficult. No, mustering the courage to do so in public is the hard part. Shard of Perfect Administration would help calm your nerves here, you realize, but no. Spider-leg Halo would be a Bad Idea for this.

    You leave your tray of chicken quesadillas, brown beans, and corn with your normal group, motioning to them that you’ll be back in a moment. You’re not particularly stealthy on your good days, and your singular appearance makes it even more difficult to keep eyes off you, so you’re not surprised that the group of girls and boys notice you coming. Josie is giving you an appraising look behind her seemingly-warm smile as you make the final steps toward their table.

    “Josie?”

    “Oh, Taylor! Here, have a seat!”

    She shuffles a bit side to side, causing the girls sitting beside her to give you a curious glance as they shift a bit to make room for you on Josie’s right. You raise your hands in a placating manner, while shaking your head quickly.

    “That’s ok, I just wanted to let you know that I’m interested in the team, but I need to talk to Coach Sato first. Do you know what periods she has free before tryouts today and where I can find her?”

    The girls at the table all look shocked at your statement, though the three guys with them are giving you a look that makes you think Christmas just came early. Josie recovers first, practically blinding you with her smile.

    “Really?! Oh, Taylor that’s so fetch!”

    What? And why are all the other girls now looking like they bit a lemon?

    “Coach Sato has next period off, just come get me when you’re done eating and we can go down to her office together - I’ve got next period off, too.”

    “Ok, sure. I’ll see you in a bit, then.”

    With a quick hand-wave you gesture farewell and then retreat back to your table and already-cooling food. Saki (identified by the blue hairband, you learned) is the first to inquire about your sojourn.

    “So what did you tell them?”

    “I’ll probably be joining them. The PR guy I told you about yesterday, the one who got Coach Sato to send that note? I thought about it some more and his plan is probably pretty good for me in the long run - and the short run too, if it lets me use more of my powers to keep myself alive.”

    Saki and Sakura seem a little disappointed by your answer, but Mike speaks up over the conversation going on between Vince and Joey about some new video game update.

    “I still can’t believe they’d make you hold back your powers, though. What you said yesterday about appearances and all that seems like it should be secondary to, you know, staying alive.”

    You shrug, not really wanting to delve deep in such a cynical and depressing topic while you’re trying to eat. You make some non-committal responses and instead try to get them to open up about what heroes they like and why they like them. Saki and Sakura are a big fan of Miss Militia, Mike reveals his Chevalier t-shirt under his uniform to show his allegiance, Lisa likes Legend for the courage it took to come out as gay in the 90’s, Jesus apparently has a huge crush on Panacea, Vince supports Assault’s one-man-crusade to make Fugly Bob’s a nation-wide chain (most people want to keep it a Brockton Bay-only tradition), and Joey owns every Eidolon figure ever made. When they ask you about your favorite hero, you find yourself having difficulty answering. Not even a month ago you would have answered “Alexandria” without even pausing, but… well, you think you’re coming around to your parents’ point of view.

    “Miss Militia.”

    This pleases the Twins, but gets some surprised looks from the rest. Vince voices the unasked question first.

    “Huh, I would have thought Armsmaster or Dragon. Isn’t Armsmaster your boss?”

    “Yeah, but, well… Armsmaster is just really… focused, I guess. Miss Militia is more down-to-earth and approachable.”

    This gets some nods around the table, with Mike revealing that Armsmaster’s interview this morning on Channel Twelve’s morning show about the new Endbringer Prediction System didn’t go so hot. Apparently he left a bit abruptly near the end - probably to make it back in time to get your charm’s effects, now that you think about it.

    Yeah, definitely need to make a schedule for him.


    ***


    Although Sophomores in Clarendon typically have a mandatory Physical Education class two days a week, your commitment to the Wards program counted equally as an “after-school physical activity” so you were able to opt-out. As a result, your trip down to the Athletics department offices with Josie is the first time you’ve been down in this part of the school. Your casual comment to that effect manages to change Josie’s chatter about how excited she is that you’re joining “the family” to a more practical history lesson as she regales you with explanations for the various trophies, award banners, and celebratory memorials that line the halls in this part of the school.

    You finally make it to Coach Sato’s office - a small, one-desk room filled with photos of various Clarendon cheerleading teams throughout the years - just as the older woman is getting off the phone. Sato herself looks to be faintly Japanese despite her blue eyes and black-cherry-red hair, which is starting to fade a bit; you’d peg her for a little under forty, though a surreptitious use of Diagnostic Overlay reveals enough wear on her body to put her in her mid-fifties. She loses several years off her face when she smiles warmly at you, however.

    “Oh, you must be Taylor Hebert! And hello, Josie! What brings you two to my office?”

    While you’re still having difficulty getting a complete read on Josie, Coach Sato seems like an open book. Either she’s being incredibly genuine, or she’s enough of an actress to fool even your sub-modules. You’re not certain which possibility is more worrying.

    You motion to Josie with a hand while keeping your eyes trained on Sato for any tells. “Nice to meet you, Coach Sato. I wanted to speak to you about the offer to join the cheerleading team, as well as your note, and Josie helped show me down here. I’m interested in joining, but I wanted to know a few things first. Also, I wanted to see if you could call Glenn Chambers to let him know I’m joining, then let me talk to him as well.”

    Coach Sato takes in your mannerisms and speech with a bit of a sad smile, but brightens up when you finish.

    “Oh, well that’s the best news I’ve heard all day! Glenn told me to let him know straight-away if you decided to join, so let me go ahead and ring him up now. Just a moment, dearie - go ahead and grab a seat over here.”

    You and Josie both maneuver around the boxes of over-sized mouth-trumpets, noise-makers, and - of course - pom-poms to take two folded-up chairs near the coach’s desk. A few moments later, Coach Sato seems to have been cleared through Glenn’s secretary.

    “Hello, Mr. Chambers? Gloria Sato from Clarendon High School in Brockton Bay, we talked yesterday? Oh… yes, yes, it seems like Taylor has already… ah, yes, thank you. I’ll be sure to take good care of her. Oh, before you go, Taylor here said she wanted to speak to you after I was done… Alright, here she is.”

    She passes the cordless phone over to you, and you steel yourself for trying to make this as quick and painless as possible.

    “Hi, Glenn. I got your message from Coach Sato. I get your reasoning. The idea makes sense, so I’ll go with it for now. When should I expect to see compensation?”

    There’s the briefest of pauses, then Glenn’s mildly-amused voice comes through.

    “You’re catching on quickly, Hebert, but I’d recommend against mentioning that your social peers and authority figures are a means to an end in their presence in the future; there’s your first social etiquette tip. You’re due for patrol duty starting next Monday, so you need to make your cheerleading presence known before then if this plan is to work. Humoring the reporters that will be outside your school this afternoon should work.”

    You suspect that that means he’ll be calling reporters to get them to come back. You sigh, but let him keep talking as he seems to be in a rush.

    “For your costume, Kid Win submitted a TinkerTech evaluation form to Piggot last night for a suit you two were working on, so if that’s the route you’re going for now then I’ll shoot you the ideas our team came up with for visuals to go with it. Otherwise you should have an few unpowered prototype suits waiting for you back at the base tonight - there’s an email address in the box for where to send feedback. For your powers, no mechaspider, avoid swarms large enough to blot out the sun or using any bugs that could kill someone, and at least remain visible for cameras when you win. Don’t test these limits, though, Hebert - this is a sign of trust that you can play ball. If people eventually love you enough to not care about your bugs, we can start dropping more restrictions. Clear?”

    That’s… better, but still fairly restrictive. You suppose you’ll have to keep your swarms more for battlefield awareness and support for now and rely on any blasters you can cook up with Kid Win.

    “Clear. Talk to you later, Glenn.”

    Glenn closes with a curt, “Hebert.”

    You hand the phone back over to Coach Sato with a sigh, then rub your eyes. Just listening to Glenn is a draining experience - you’re glad you didn’t try to fight him on anything without a concrete plan and hours of research to back your points up. His first ‘tip’ may have been true though as your opening comment might have been a little tactless. Judging from Coach Sato’s and Josie’s expressions, however, you think you know how to win them back.

    “Want to help me talk up the cheerleading team to news reporters after school?”


    ***


    You shoot a text to Peggy telling her to pick you up at 5:30 instead of 3:30, and you get a simple “ok” back almost immediately.

    The tryouts themselves are actually a bit anti-climactic. No squealing at the boys playing sports, no human pyramids, no flipping through the air, no massive avalanche of pom-poms burying you in a pile of shame and regret.

    That last one may have been borne of your dreams last night.

    Instead, after a rushed change in the locker room to a set of sweats, you spend the first forty-five minutes doing a fairly punishing routine of calisthenics: 10 minutes of increasingly-faster 100-meter laps, going immediately into push-ups, then into sit-ups, then into squats, then pull-ups, then lunges.

    You’re pretty sure you would have passed out at least half-way through before your exaltation, though you’re legitimately pushing yourself as hard as you can go the whole time. Which is sort of causing a small crowd as you perform the feats at near-Olympiad levels, but since you don’t have a secret identity to hide you might as well give them a show.

    After the slow jog around the track for a warm-down (though for you that whole ordeal was barely a warm-up), the rest of the fourteen girls at the tryout mob you with adulation and questions. Common expressions range from “That was amazing!” to “Can you do any more?” to “Do it again!”

    Coach Sato manages to break it up, and then begins to run everyone through various stretches and yoga-like poses that need to be held for five minutes at a time. Simple for you, but even some of the girls already on the team are straining near the end of most of the poses. After that she rounds up the group and heads inside to an athletics room with chairs and a large projection-based screen to watch a cheer routine. Multiple times. After the first time, however, Coach Sato pauses the video at random intervals and grills girls about what position or move comes next. You’re surprised how the older woman that you pegged as genuinely-matronly could be so firm in her mannerisms. You don’t like to think it’s because of her possible nationality, but you’re reminded of those cartoons with kind old ladies turning out to be sword-wielding badasses when shit hits the fan.

    After watching the five-minute routines for what seems like dozens of times (you’re pretty sure you memorized it the first play-through), you all hustle out to perform the routine as a group. Unfortunately, you notice that there is now a crowd - of mostly guys. This… is not good.

    The routine you’re going to be doing has a lot of poses that really… display your assets (even in your sweats). What are you doing?!

    You’re so wrapped up by the thought of having people watch you pose and shout and… when suddenly Josie pairs up to you with a wink and a nudge to clear the cobwebs in your mind.

    “Don’t focus on the crowd or what your body’s doing, just picture the video on the screen. Imagine the routine in your mind. Helps me, at least,” she ends with a slight giggle.

    And then the music starts and there is nothing for it. You take a deep breath and focus. This is all for being a hero - if you can’t stomach posing in front of a bunch of measly normal teenagers, how in the world are you going to deal with risking your life to save innocents?

    Strangely, what you’re about to do seems far more difficult in your mind than risking life and limb. At least if you fail on the battlefield you’ll be too dead to be embarrassed.

    But with Josie’s tip, you realize you’re halfway through the routine already and you haven’t missed a beat. Your body has been in-sync with the music and the girls around you… but how can you tell… oh, damn.

    You can tell how well you’re doing compared to the video because you’re able to see yourself from all the bugs throughout the field and bleachers.

    Except, you’re not getting any negative reactions from the crowd or the girls around you. Judging by the murmurs of the crowd, reactions to the spider-leg halo are ones of enthusiastic curiosity, most of them boiling down to “whoa, check out her head!”

    When the routine winds down, you’re again mobbed by the girls who now seem to be fascinated by your new fashion accessory.

    “It’s part of my power, I guess I must have activated it when I got really stressed at the start of the routine. This is… sort of the first time I’ve ever done any kind of public performance, and this part of my power helps me focus and center myself.”

    Great, that only made them more excited. You think you know where this is going, however, so you start moving a few ‘examples’ your way as the girls excitedly ask you for more details.

    “Oooh! That’s so cool! Is it a power to give you courage?”
    “Gosh you’re so lucky, I wish I had a way to stop being stressed out during routines!”
    “Is there anything else you can do with that? What’s the other part of your power?”
    “Wow are those things moving? Can you control them? Maybe have them braid your hair for you in the morning?”

    That last one actually makes you realize that you’ve never really tried to control the legs consciously. They are pretty sharp and potentially deadly, you’ve determined, but since they don’t even reach past the back of your head at maximum extension you just filed them away as an accessory and nothing more. More to the point, since you try to keep your hair long and straight like your mother did, the braiding idea never came up either. Something for later, you guess.

    “Actually, these are just what happens when I have the power activated. The power itself actually lets me do… this.”

    As you finish your sentence, the few ladybugs and butterflies that you have been pulling stealthily towards you from all around the area descend to land on your outstretched arms. There’s some shock and alarm at first, but then when people realize that not only are the bugs harmless, they are under your control and quite pretty, the gasps turn to squeals of delight.

    “You control butterflies! Woooow! That’s the best power ever!”

    Ok, so maybe the rumors about Anne being a little dim are true. The rest of the girls seem more excited about the prospect of having synchronized butterfly squadrons with the team’s routines.

    “Actually, I can control a lot more than just butterflies. Butterflies, bumble bees, worms, spiders, beetles, lobsters - if it’s a kind of insect, I control it perfectly. One of the cooler things I’ve been doing at the base is having a lot of spiders spin silk threads and then weave it together to form cloth. It’s just as smooth as normal silk but it’s as tough as kevlar - it’s silk that’ll stop a bullet, and it’s free. When I get the Darwin’s Bark Spiders the PRT are shipping to me, the silk will be even more durable - over ten times stronger than kevlar.”

    While there have still been a few girls that looked hesitant at your spider-leg halo and the butterfly demonstration, more seemed to start to gain reservations when you mention bees, worms, and spiders. Hopefully what Coach Sato said about ‘speech pacing’ works here.

    “Which means that I can weave silk clothing that’s bulletproof and, most importantly, free. Pajamas, shirts, pants, dresses, even underwear.”

    There, and now to reel ‘em in.

    “I was thinking of bringing some samples in, if anyone’s interested.”

    Maybe this socializing stuff isn’t so bad after all. It’s just like a war, but with words.


    ***

    “Okay, Taylor. Dish. What else can you do?”

    You’re changing conventionally in the locker room with the rest of the girls, keeping an oversized shirt on over everything as you change, out of habit - the envious looks the other girls have been giving even your partially-revealed body still make you cringe in shame. To distract your mind you’ve been marching out all the bugs from the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms, the latter giving you vision over the boys changing at the same time as you all are. No, you will never admit that you are making that side of the process take longer than strictly necessary.

    Which is how Josie’s question snapped you out of your focus on… right. What did she ask?

    “Ah, what do you mean?” Now focused on the here-and-now, you’re reminded of where you are… and you don’t have any good memories of Lockers and locker room encounters. You can feel your agitation and anxiety spilling into the bugs in the area, causing them to twitch and fidget.

    “Well, you said that the butterfly control was part of your powers, right? What’s the rest? Do you know what the PRT rated you?”

    The tone isn’t hostile, again more “excitedly-curious” than anything, which seems to be catching on with the rest of the girls. You suppose this is the first time most - if not all - of them have been able to associate with a known Hero, and the chance to see what one can do up-close after a lifetime of watching superhuman feats on TV and ParaTube would be rather exciting. You’d be excited in their shoes, at least. Maybe you can push past the driving need to run away right now they might do something to you…

    Through the few bugs left in the locker room, you can tell that you’ve unconsciously scrunched yourself up against the wall of lockers under the girls’ gazes. Taking a breath to center yourself, you push off the locker and assume a more confident stance. If you can act confident, you’re halfway there.

    “I’m a Tinker, actually. I have a lot of powers, but they’re either subtle or really, really blatant. They’re all about “efficiency and upgrades”, mostly. A subtle one is vision - I can see infrared, in the dark, through walls, things like that. Part of that power has a pretty cool effect, however: sunglasses.”

    You activate the Flash Shutters sub-module, to several “wow!”s and “cool!”s and “ooh look into the boys’ locker room!”.

    “I can also make my hands turn into almost any tool I want, so I can build, repair, sew, or craft whatever I need wherever I am.”

    You’re sure to make your hands break apart slowly, so the shock doesn’t frighten the crowd of casually-partially-undressed cheerleaders. When they’re both fully in Omnitool Implant mode, you start to cycle through various tools and attachments. After they’ve all gotten a look, you motion to one of the girls.

    “Claire, right? Want me to repair that seam on your bag?”

    After getting past the shock of being singled out, Claire places the bag on the bench in front of you. In less than ten seconds the seam is flawlessly repaired.

    “Here you go.”

    “Oh my god, I can’t even see where the seam was anymore! How’d you do that?!”

    You hold up your Omnitool Implant-modified hands and wiggle them about.

    “Magic fingers.”

    That gets a laugh out of everyone, even yourself. You’re debating about how much more you want to show them when Coach Sato smoothly strolls in.

    “Alright, girls… who wants to be on the news?”


    ***


    You’re still trying to process the manic enthusiasm of the conversations around you trail out of Clarendon’s main gate with most of the cheerleading team. Coach Sato is walking smoothly with you, answering the occasional question directed at her but mostly just strolling with a pleasant smile on her face. She informed the team about your need to deal with the reporters this afternoon, so the group (everyone that didn’t have prior engagements) is in on the game plan. The “Taylor is One of Us” Plan.

    You’re pretty sure that most of their enthusiasm here is derived from your potential to deliver them free, custom-fitted silken undergarments. That are bulletproof.

    In the grand scale of “halting the Endbringer apocalypse”, a dozen bulletproof panties is a good trade for what you hope to accomplish here.

    The reporters notice your group immediately and are able to pick you out just as quickly - you’re a good head above most of them at 5’ 11”, awesomely-attractive, and have eight large black-metal spider legs cresting out of your skull and framing your head.

    Coach Sato said to keep the legs visible, as they’d help remind people that the girls know you for more than your pretty looks. You mentioned that you could go farther and into your metal form (which got you some surprised looks from the rest of the girls in the locker room), but she suggested to keep yourself still clearly human for a first impression with the press.

    You’re starting to wonder if Coach Sato is why you’re at Clarendon and not Arcadia, but you’re not sure you like the idea of Glenn being that much of a chessmaster; you don’t like your chances at ever besting him - to get all the restrictions on your abilities lifted - if that’s the case.

    “Taylor Hebert! Taylor Hebert! Do you have a few moments to answer some questions?”

    There look to be about six reporters this time: Channel Twelve, Channel Four, and then four reporters from organizations you’re not able to instantly identify. They converge on the group, but since you’re in the middle of the pack they can’t immediately get in your face. The girls between you and the reporters slide out of the way, but the invisible boundary has been formed; the reporters move no closer, so you are instead centered amongst a bunch of bright-eyed, enthusiastic, and attractive high school girls.

    When did this become your life? You’re not sure you want to blame Autochthon or thank him.

    Coach Sato didn’t give you a script, but she laid out a few basic ideas to focus on during your talk with her and Josie in your office. You smile slightly at the reporters in front, keeping an eye on yourself with your bugs to make sure your appearance is neither creepy nor patronizing. So good so far, if you don’t count the spider-leg halo.

    “I don’t want to keep my carpool waiting, so I can only spare a few minutes. What would you like to know?”

    The guy from Channel Twelve in the front manages to snap out his question first.

    “Taylor Hebert, police and PRT officials reportedly had your body since last Monday - marking as legally dead for a full week before you appeared again this Tuesday. Can you explain what happened?”

    Your expression drops naturally, as you don’t need to feign a feeling of mild despair here. Absently, you note that your halo seems to droop slightly, in time with your face.

    “I don’t… remember much of what happened. The last thing I remember before I woke up in my locker on Tuesday was being shoved into it from behind on Monday morning. The PRT scientists think that I may be a Case 53 that’s actually able to remember my life before the change, but for now I’m just focused on living.”

    You almost quoted Coach Sato verbatim at the end there, but it was a good line and a good opening to use it. The reporter from Channel Four speaks up when it’s clear you’re finished with that answer.

    “Ms. Hebert is it true that you’ve asked for reduced sentencing for Emma Barnes, Sophia Hess, and Madison Clements - the three girls facing criminal charges for what they did to you?”

    You think you manage a wistful smile for this, as you answer, “I trust the courts to perform as they should, and I still believe there should be repercussions for their actions, but I feel that their debt to society would be better paid helping make certain that this doesn’t happen to any else ever again. It’s why I’m helping the PRT form a Bullying Awareness movement… which is still in the works, so I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it yet, sorry.”

    The reporters’ questions start to blend together at this point, so you just try give shorter answers to questions as you process them.

    “I’m sorry I don’t feel comfortable talking about what happened with my father right now.”

    “No, I haven’t had a chance to talk to Emma, Sophia, or Madison since I woke up on Tuesday.”

    “Yes, I’m enjoying my time with the Wards.”

    “Yes, my public unveiling as a Ward will be on Monday.”

    “Yes, the little black extensions coming out of my head are part of my power, but no they are not dangerous.”

    Then the Channel Twelve reporter drops a more direct question a bit louder than the din.

    “Ms. Hebert, several reports confirm that the way you look right now is actually a disguise - could you show us what you really look like?”

    Thankfully, Coach Sato told everyone how they were to react to that question: with appalled gasps and indignant exclamations.

    “I’m sorry, did you just ask a fifteen year-old, recently-traumatized girl to strip for you in public?”

    The rest of the reporters look like a live hand grenade just dropped next to them, while the Channel Twelve reporter’s face is the very picture of shocked retrospection. He begins to stammer a response, but luckily the Channel Four reporter strikes while the iron’s hot.

    “Ms. Hebert, you only just started on Wednesday and yet you already appear to be part of the Clarendon cheerleading team. What can you tell us about this?”

    “Actually, the idea was Coach Sato’s - she saw the reports of what I had been going through in Winslow and reached out to me with an offer to join. I was… a little reluctant at first, since I’d never done anything like cheerleading before, but after she told me her reasoning and I met the team I’m really glad I got the chance.”

    “Is that right, Coach Sato?”

    Coach Sato’s smile is that of a patient mother teaching a small child. “Of course. I believe in second chances and fresh starts, and after hearing what happened in Winslow High School… well, I just knew that all Taylor needs to help her grow into the greatest Hero she can be is a stable group of friends. And I’ve already seen how she and the girls get along just on their first day - I had to break up their little circle just a few minutes ago or they all would have been chatting until sun came up tomorrow.”

    She ends with a wider smile and a small laugh, which is shared by the rest of the girls and - strangely - even you. You know this as your cue to break the interview, however.

    “Ok, I really need to go now - sorry I couldn’t answer more of your questions.”

    You turn and thank everyone - more quietly than most of the reporters can hear - and tell them you’ll try to bring some sample spider silk pieces on Monday. A few of the girls, including Josie, give you a hug as you depart which gets captured on the cameras still trained on the group.

    Jogging up to the PRT van, you slide in with an apology to Peggy for holding her up to answer those questions. Again, Peggy just shrugs it off.

    As the van pulls out and away, you close your eyes and finally let go of a breath that feels like you’ve held onto for two hours.

    Now? Now it’s time to Tinker.


    ***

    You find Armsmaster working on what you suspect is a new version of his motorcycle, but since it’s still mostly just a frame you’re uncertain what’ll change by the time he gets through with it - it could very well have anti-grav thrusters instead of wheels for all you know. Judging by the size of the power plant he’s jamming in that thing, however, you get the feeling that there’s going to be many more offensive capabilities in this version.

    “Ah, hello Taylor. Did you have a nice day at school? I hear from Colin that you’re a cheerleader now.”

    Dragon’s vague facial outline is showing on one of the monitors just above the main workbench, her synthesized voice still slightly thick with a slight accent that you’re not sure is just another layer of the disguise or the actual truth.

    “Hi Dragon, hi Colin. Yeah, school was better and yes I’m a cheerleader now. Dragon, do you know if Glenn Chambers has a history with the cheerleading coach of Clarendon, Gloria Sato?”

    “I’m not sure if that counts as classified personal information, but I’ll check for you. Hmm, give me a moment… no, I’m not seeing anything when I cross reference them in the various public personnel databases. Why do you ask?”

    “Oh, just that I got the feeling that if they worked together they could take over the world. She’s really good at socializing and dealing with the press - it’s a little scary, what with how genuine and sweet she seems normally.”

    “That’s quite a bold accusation to make, Taylor, though I’ll try to keep that in mind when I’m helping coordinate PRT Public Relations security details. I’d rather they not succeed and force everyone to abide by Glenn’s taste for clothing.”

    You shudder at the thought and you both share a small laugh at the idea. Yet again you find yourself disappointed that you haven’t found a way to transfer your Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade to her before you go to sleep - touching the screen she’s talking through doesn’t seem to count, despite your attempts to loophole the whole intent notion of your bullshit magic. She’s offered to fly one of her remote suits down to see if that works, however, but you’re not sure what the point of it would be if she can’t keep the suit here in Brockton Bay for you to high-five every night. On that note…

    “Ok, so now that I’m here, first thing I want to do is set out the schedule for my power. I really think Chris should get some time with it, as he showed last night that it really helps him overcome his attention-span problems. He’s kind of hard to understand when he’s under the power, though, so there’s that side effect. Besides that, I’m going to want to use when I start doing my own Tinkering, and then if the idea with your suit on Sunday works then we’ll need to factor you into the equation to, Dragon.”

    Since you’re talking about taking away Armsmaster’s precious Tinkering enhancement, you have his full attention now. Which is still as intimidating as it was the last time he had is charm-enhanced focus on you without his mask on. Still, though, Dragon beats him to the punch.

    “Well, since I don’t need to sleep I’m fine with taking the night hours if our test on Sunday works. That shouldn’t effect the daytime schedule for you, Chris, and Colin. Maybe Colin during the day, then Chris and you when you both get back from school? Here, let me get Chris on the line - he’s in his workshop now. Chris, are you there?”

    There’s a little picture-in-picture in the bottom-left of the screen Dragon is using to communicate through, showing an image from Chris’ camera built into his computer’s monitor. He looks a little startled, then embarrassed, then shocked before he replies.

    “Oh, wow, Dragon! I mean, yes, I’m here!”

    “Chris, Taylor is here with Colin and me and we’re going over a possible schedule - how does this sound…”


    ***

    After a few minutes of haggling, you manage to work out a schedule: Colin/Armsmaster during school hours, Chris/Kid Win Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and you the rest of the time - though Chris did say that since it was your power he was fine with you taking extra days if you needed it. You try to encourage Colin to spend some time with Chris while he has the power running on him - since Chris’ short attention span was one of the reasons they haven’t been doing much work together - but Colin only shrugs and says he’ll think about it. You give Dragon a knowing look, which she just returns with a wink.

    At one point during the conversation you had to take away the Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade effects from Colin and pass them on to a fly in your hair again to stop him from trying to Tinker while he wasn’t being spoken to directly. He complained that he wasn’t needed in the conversation anymore and thus had better things to do, and you simply told him that he was proving your point.

    With the schedule set, Chris gets back to work and Dragon closes the connection. Thinking about a way to help Chris with that, however, you’re struck with an idea.

    “Colin, don’t brush off the fly you feel on your arm in a second.”

    He just nods, and you navigate a fly over to him: the one with Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade active on it. You can feel an echo of the power through the fly’s mind, like it’s speeding up your thoughts the more you push your focus into it. Keeping a mental image of you reaching out and touching Colin, you try to pushthe charm onto Colin through the bug. Strangely enough, it works - Colin’s body shifts in posture and you can see his face light up as ideas start to flood into his mind.

    You immediately end the Hypercalibration Benediction sub-module, but before you try it again you realize this is a perfect test for your Essence Sight Oculars to see if it can catch essence flow in action. You activate that sub-module, then try to repeat giving Colin the charm through the bug, this time directly from yourself to Colin.

    The flash of essence is so fast you almost miss it, but for a split second you can see the surge of essence flow out of your head and down an absolutely minuscule tendril of essence that you didn’t even realize was there before. The surge causes the tendril to bulge like a hose in a cartoon, until it pours out of the tendril into the bug and then into Colin - who now has a visible outer glow that only serves to highlight theemptiness you see in his core.

    Still, this is pretty big. You can tell Colin has puzzled it out, though.

    “You passed me the power through the fly. I thought you had to touch someone to pass the power, but this means that your power counts anything you control as either a part of you or something that you’re ‘touching’.”

    You nod, going over what you’ve reasoned in your own experimentation. “The other powers that work exclusively on myself don’t work on my bugs, though, so I guess the power is considering the bugs ‘an extension of me’ but not ‘me’. For example, I can’t use any of my heightened sight capabilities through them - I’m guessing that’s because the sight enhancements are actual physical components and not something that I can extend past my own body.”

    This seems to have interested Dragon for some reason, as she quickly jumps in.

    “So you could theoretically pass along the power to people all around a battlefield as they need it, without needing to be anywhere near them. That could be extremely helpful during Endbringer attacks when we’re doing coordination planning or if someone needs a quick boost. It doesn’t drain you any more than normal, does it?”

    You take a breath and focus on your mental state and reservoirs.

    “Nope, still the same as before.”

    “Fascinating. You know, if you ever want to come up to the Guild’s in Vancouver for a weekend I’d love to run a few more tests on your powers. We even might be able to figure out a pattern to some of the more erratic powers you have.”

    You grimace a bit, but then shrug it off. “I might take you up on the visit, but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now. Oh, that reminds me - Glenn said that his team’s prototypes for my costume should be here today.”

    That gets a slight chuckle out of Colin. “Dragon?”

    The synthetic smile of the world’s greatest tinker makes your heart drop in dread.

    “Yes, Taylor, the other Wards are currently all huddled around a box labeled ‘Weaver Prototype Costumes’ that’s sitting in their common room.”

    So much for trying them on in private. Maker damn you, Glenn Chambers.

    “Alright, so I’ll be avoiding the Wards common room until everyone goes to bed. Gotcha. So, Colin said you wanted to talk to me about a project?”

    A nod of the head’s digital outline. “Yes, Colin had an idea while we were wrapping up our work on the Nanothorn project. Colin?”

    The physically fit Tinker moves to one of his workbenches and picks up what looks to be a switchblade. He walks over to you and demonstrates its use - careful to keep some distance from you at first.

    “This is a more portable application of a nanothorn blade. Slide it open like a switchblade to engage the swarm of nanites and the shaping field.”

    He passes the activated knife blade - which has a softly-buzzing, misty-grey outline instead of a cutting edge - through a chunk of steel. It glides through with a soft hiss, like the steel isn’t even there.

    “I’m still not sure how your absorbing power works, but you probably want it turned off first before you try it.”

    He deactivates the blade and passes it to you. Nodding at his assessment, you absorb it withTechnomorphic Integration Engine and allow your charm to pass you a full understanding of its mechanics.

    Wow. This is big - the major hurdle you remember them having was keeping the containment field smaller than those plate-sized magnets you were making for them before, but what they did with the rapidly-reversing current…

    “This is really impressive, you two. You mind if I make a copy of this for myself?”

    This garners a frown from both of the older Tinkers.

    “Wards aren’t allowed to wield deadly weapons unless it’s a part of their power. That knife was for you to keep absorbed while you helped us with the project, but if I hear of or see you using it on the field without express permission, I’m confiscating it. Understood?”

    You nod, though you’re slightly bummed as you fail to come up with any immediate applications of the technology that aren’t similarly deadly. Colin speaks up after letting you 'digest' the knife for a bit.

    “My idea was figure out a way to give the nanites the ability to mimic basic functions of red blood cells. You could inject someone with otherwise-mortal wounds and it’d keep oxygen flowing to the brain to keep them alive long enough for a healer like Panacea to get to them during Endbringer attacks - the brain’s the most important part of the body, everything else is replaceable.”

    Reviewing the schematics in your mind, you could see how that might be possible… but there would need to be some major reworking done regarding the control mechanisms for the nanites…

    “That… might be possible? I think I’ll need way more medical knowledge to account for potential catastrophes that such an invasive technology could turn into. Also, we’d need…”


    ***


    You stroll out of Armsmaster’s workshop a few minutes from midnight, feeling more than a little overwhelmed and exhausted. The feelings are mitigated by the satisfaction of making headway on your efforts against the nebulous person that’s possibly infiltrated the PRT: you finished building a dozen devices shaped like small cockroaches that monitor and copy any wireless or cell phone signals in a 100-foot radius, storing the data until a “home base” (a palm-sized device link-able to a normal computer) comes within range of it. You think you’re going to call them “Bug Bugs” but Colin gave you a pretty deadpan stare at that.

    Coming from the guy with an “Armsdriver.” Sheesh. Hopefully he’ll be able to push them through TinkerTech testing faster than you would.

    Still, along that vein you realize that you still need to do your rounds and check out the PRT employees around the base during the night shift. Maybe you can even spot someone with a Corona Gemma - being able to detect parahumans like you can with a glance is apparently almost unheard-of (only Glaistag Uaine is on-record as having that ability), so you’re pretty sure that any infiltrators aren’t expecting to be outedthat easily.

    Sadly, as you make your way through the ranks and make small-talk to cover your scans, no one has a Corona Gemma. You do spot three Corona Pollentia on two women and a man, however, which is interesting in a different way - you’ve read that that part of the brain has been linked to potential parahuman abilities (hence the name), but it can show up at any point in life so doing a costly MRI scan to detect it is usually wasteful. Revealing that you know they have it, however, would reveal that you can detect the Gemma too… so, looks like you’ll just have to keep an eye those three in the future.

    You spend a half-hour in the Command room, where Clockblocker is doing his shift as dispatch along with the five other night shift PRT employees. Clockblocker, of course, is ecstatic about the package you received earlier.

    “Oh man, Taylor, you have to wait for the rest of us before you try on those costumes. That’s the only way you can get our complete, unbiased, objective opinion on how absolutely hot you’ll look in them. Not that we opened the box and saw what was in it, of course.”

    With your sub-module activated briefly you are able to determine that, yes, he is in fact smilingly widely behind that mask of his.

    “I’ll definitely be sure to try them on in my bathroom, with the lights off, then. Besides, I was working with Kid Win on a powersuit with flight capabilities so Glenn already knows that these prototypes probably won’t even work in the long run.”

    He seems to deflate a bit at that idea, but you resolve to not feel bad about that. The conversation drifts from that to your cheerleading try-out today.

    “Well, I guess we’ll all have to start attending Clarendon sporting events now. To evaluate your Team Spirit, of course,” he cheerfully muses before cowering jokingly as you throw him a gaze promising his violent death.

    “Be glad you’re actually on duty right now, or I’d be covering you in spiders.”

    When he’s able to talk again, he quickly switches subjects to more mundane topics like schoolwork, teachers, and your general impression of Clarendon so far. Eventually you mention that you’re tired and want to finish your rounds of the PRT offices before you pass out. He waves you off so that he can return to his pressing business (the browser-based game he was playing when you came in), with a request to at least let everyone see the outfits laid out before you burn them.


    ***


    You walk straight to bed, tossing the package you nabbed from the common room on the floor, and promptly pass out after absorbing your clothes and extruding your pajamas, forgoing a shower by instead simply disabling Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier (since your natural form is automatically cleaned when the charm retracts your ‘skin’).

    With a brief call for the lights, a plan for the weekend takes shape just as you fade into unconsciousness.


    ***

    Intimacy: Armsmaster (Respect) Gained!
    Intimacy: Triumph/Rory (Friend) Lost!
    Intimacy: Dragon (Respect) Gained!

    Integrity +1 Training Day (2/6 Days)
    Presence +1 Training Day (2/6 Days)
    Socialize +2 Training Day (4/6 Days)
    Athletics +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Performance +2 Training Day (2/6 Days)
    Dodge +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Occult +1 Training Day (5/6 Days)
    Investigation +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Craft +2 Training Day (3/6 Days)
    Lore +2 Training Day (2/6 Days)

    Backing (PRT) x 2 Purchased!


    Weekend time! Better prepare for your big reveal on Monday as a new Ward!


    We’ll be using Plans to vote this time again, with a lot more freedom at this point - there are so many options that trying to break them all down into seperate votes will be a nightmare. Plans must include at least three (3) of the following items:

    [ ] Plan Name
    [ ] Primary Goal(s) for Weekend
    - [ ] Stunt: Steps To Achieve Goal(s)


    Various ideas for Goals:
    - Choose a costume and modify it yourself with tech (and hope the scientists approve it in time)
    - Build/weave a costume yourself going from the guidelines Glenn sent you
    - Either of the above, but with help from others
    - Spend time casually with someone with which you are familiar
    - Track down any (or all) of the Trio and talk to them
    - Train abilities by yourself
    - Train abilities with a partner (or partners)
    - Study for tests to get out of school
    - Talk with your dad
    - Try to track down Lisa
    - Fight crime
    - Practice cheer routines
    - Have lunch with Piggot
    - Meditate to see if you can talk with Autochton
    - Build stuff
    - Try to find evidence of corruption in the PRT without tipping your hand
    - Stay up all night to gain more productivity hours
    - Spend XP

    Be creative! Taylor has a great many things she can be doing right now, so Time is really her main limitation here.

    Remember that Stunts tell HOW you do things in addition to WHAT you are doing!


    Example Plan:

    [X] Gromweld’s Example Plan: Da Bess
    [X] Goal: Commune With The Maker
    - [x] Stunt: Meditating for 20 hours straight, you manage to come out on top of playing Texas Hold’em with Autochthon the whole time, 320 to 319.
    [X] Goal: Slumber Party of One
    - [x] Stunt: You take a bunch of sleeping pills, despite the fact that they do nothing to you, and sleep soundly in your bed for the rest of the weekend.


    How to Vote for the Example Plan:



    [X] Gromweld’s Example Plan: Da Bess




    ***
     
  15. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] Plan Gore17

    (Plan is 3.5k words - too long to copy here. Click the link to read what the plan entails.)


    ***


    You had so desperately wanted to sleep in today, but there is simply too much to do and too little time to do it. At least you don’t have to worry about the early-morning exercise routine to keep fit - you are reasonably certain that your body is static in nature unless reworked in some way. You’re not certain what kind of technology it would entail to upgrade or augment your body further, but a feeling in your gut (or whatever mechanical implements lie within your abdominal region) leads you to believe that TinkerTech won’t cut it.

    Which is both disheartening and worrying, because you also have a suspect that you are in a very precarious position as a result; if you need tools and implements not available in this world to heal yourself of grievous wounds, what is going to happen to you if you are critically injured? Lose a limb? You’ve seen small wounds of yours close up remarkably quickly, and any blood, tears, or “flaking” from your Anima display evaporates within an hour (sometimes within seconds), but you’re not willing to try hacking off a limb to see if your bullshit robot magic will just make it all better.

    The idea of crafting prosthetic for your robot body is odd enough to earn a smile from the sheer absurdity of the notion.

    Moving from one ominous train of thought to another, you eye the long, flat box labeled “Weaver Prototype Costumes” resting on your floor. Beyond the name still bothering you - a large part of you feels you’re betraying yourself by not going by your true name - you’re dreading what the PR department cooked up. Still, Glenn doesn’t seem the type to antagonize you for absolutely no purpose - there is likely a deliberate decision for every stitch of whatever monstrosities lie within those cardboard walls. Still, you don’t have to face these terrors alone; access to a support network one of the main reason you joined the Wards.


    ***


    “You still haven’t opened it? Yes! Dennis owes me five bucks!”

    Missy shuts the door behind her, doing a little skip to go with her victory cheer before plopping herself down in a chair. Hannah (Miss Milita's real name, pronounced like 'Sarah'), who is already sitting at the table in your room with a mug of hot chocolate, sips it to cover the smirk on her face. You just roll your eyes and sigh at no longer having an excuse to procrastinate the event any further.

    With a nod to Hannah, the pistol at her side morphs into a Bowie knife which she hands to you. A few awkward cuts later and you turn out the flaps covering the over-sized garment box to reveal a beige card on top of a layer of white styrofoam packing padding. Even though Missy looks to be vibrating in her seat in excitement, you peel open the card and read its contents first.

    Weaver-

    Three prototype costumes. Pick one for Monday. Avoid changes or upgrades until after reveal.

    Costume feedback:

    -Glenn

    You put down the card to see the space around the box abruptly snap back into normality. Missy gives you an innocent look, but since the packaging padding is undisturbed you let her go with a flat glare. Taking a deep breath, you tear off the padding and start to sort out the bits and pieces of the three costumes. It only takes a few minutes to lay everything down on the long table - all the while ignoring Missy’s ‘oohs’ and giggles - after which you take a step back to take in the damage.

    The first costume is by far the most convoluted of the three and takes some help from Missy and Hannah to figure out, but looking at it put together you’re wondering how you’d be expected to run around in the thing: knee-length lightly-armored boots, a floor-length midnight-blue dress framed by silver-chrome breastplate made to almost look like layered spider webs, all worn over a deep black featureless bodysuit that leaves only your head exposed, with a midnight-blue domino mask to round it out.

    The second costume looks like an armored version of your Clarendon cheerleading outfit (a form-fitting one-piece long-sleeved dress that ends a foot too far from your knees) except with similar colors as the first costume, knee-length midnight-blue armored boots, and a light-grey bodysuit (which extends up to your nose to double as a mask) to go under the whole thing.

    The third costume could, without the detachable black armor plates, double as an outfit to wear casually around the city: black high-high boots (again no heels, thankfully), a loose midnight-blue skirt with matching shorts underneath, light-grey long-sleeved shirt with silver-chrome webbing filigreed throughout, and an opaque silver visor that stretches horizontally across your eyes like an oversized pair of sunglasses. The black armor pieces include a breastplate (no obnoxious contours), shoulder pads, elongated wrist guards, and a belt with hip plates that anchor into thin grooves in the skirt.

    While you’re not violently repulsed by any of them immediately, you’re most leery of the first costume due to mobility concerns. At Hannah and Missy’s request, however, you slip into the bathroom to try it on first. After you put everything together (watching yourself through some flies to make sure it’s all in place as you go), you’re surprised to find that those concerns are almost negligible - the dress’s multi-layered construction contains slits to allow for unrestrained leg movement. Tentatively walking back out into the room, you fidget a bit under the scrutiny of the more-experienced female Heroes.

    While Missy gushes about how pretty and regal you look, Hannah silently stands and paces around you, prodding or tugging at the costume occasionally to test its fit or protection. After a few rotations, she nods with satisfaction.

    “The bodysuit is a high-grade Kevlar equivalent, so all the rest is just fluff, really. The armor plates look like they could withstand a few solid hits at least, but they’re not the greatest. You’ll need to buy or build something better if you really want to get armored up.”

    “Wait, that’s true? You have to buy your own armor? Even as a Ward?” You give a look to Missy as well for confirmation of the various bits of legalese and hearsay you’ve encountered regarding costume armor. Missy gives an exasperated sigh while nodding her head.

    “I haven’t invested that much in armor because I’m usually at long range, but right now my costume and the two backups took four months of pay to buy because I wanted more than what PR would give me. Augmented costumes are expensive, and any time I ask Chris for help he usually forgets halfway through making me something with more features than I asked for in the first place.”

    Hannah takes a final sip of her hot chocolate before adding her thoughts. “The armor bodysuit I wear under my fatigues is the highest grade quality available to the PRT right now, and it took my holiday bonus to get it plus the spare when I first got it a few years ago. The PRT may have deep pockets, but any good armor crafters have a backlog almost a year deep. Supply and demand.”

    As you swap between the three costumes the discussion continues, going over details about the various costumes Missy and Hannah have worn though their careers (though Hannah’s has largely remained unchanged since she got approval for the American flag scarf several years ago). Missy prefers the “casual look” costume, while Hannah thinks you’ll have more of an impact with the “royal dress” costume. Both think the cheerleading-style costume will get you permanently labeled a cheerleader, which you all agree is a bad idea.

    For the sake of completeness, you do a run through the three costumes with Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier off. Missy flinches only once when you disable the charm but otherwise seems to finally be getting over the trauma inflicted by your initial scare, while you notice an abstracted look briefly flit across Hannah’s face before she seems to puzzle something out and return to normal. Despite the fact that you have been warned not to be in your base form while in costume, it still appears as though you’re uncannily attractive despite the costumes not being made specifically for your soulsteel coloration.

    Hannah just shrugs at your concern.

    “Black goes with everything.”


    ***

    With help from Missy and Hannah you finally make a decision on the costume you’ll wear on Monday and fire off an email to Glenn about your decision. While you’re at it, you also note the email from him with some pictures attached - the armor suit color/design recommendations. The sketches focus more on making sure any flight methods are kept from reminding people of the Simurgh, while the colors are more of the same from your three prototypes: midnight-blue (which is the same color as the lightning from your Anima), silver-chrome, light grey, and black. Hannah and Missy weigh in on a few of the sketches, commenting that the armored skirts in some of them could be useful if loaded with equipment pouches, but overall they haven’t had much personal experience with that kind of armor so they simply agree with you to avoid any of the designs that make you look unnecessarily girly.

    With that done, you’re about to call the boys in to show off your new threads, but Missy manages to convince you to keep the boys in the dark until the reveal.

    “It’ll be more fun that way!”

    You agree, despite Hannah’s exasperated sigh.

    Thanking them both for their time, you absorb all three with Technomorphic Integration Engine(because there’s no reason not to, at this point) and head down to the PRT Armory to see what else you can requisition; your own Elsewhere armory feels lacking without the containment foam grenades and other weapons you borrowed for your first two days at school, having had to return them to Chris to avoid earning him any suspicion should they show up as missing during the weekly equipment checks.

    Your efforts to get to know the PRT staff has led you through the Armory a few times, so you’re familiar with the pale face that’s behind the reinforced glass right now.

    “Morning, James. Busy shift so far?”

    “Oh, heya Taylor! Nah, there hasn’t been a need to call in any squads from Headquarters in a while - the two squads that got called out earlier to deal with some E88 and ABB messes all came from the main office downtown. You didn’t bring any coffee with you, did you?”

    This gives you an idea to earn major brownie points with the PRT staff in the future, but alas you are empty-handed at the moment.

    “Sorry, no, just got done dealing with the prototype costumes that PR sent me for my reveal on Monday… which is sort of why I’m here now. I was wondering - could I get a list of what I’m allowed to check out?”

    You notice James perk up a bit when you mention your costume, but otherwise he just scratches his scraggly beard and nods quickly before disappearing for a few moments to retrieve an electronic tablet for you to peruse.

    “Here’s the menu, though I’ve entered in the generic Ward account to show you what you’ll be allowed to check out when you’re a full Ward on Monday. It’s pretty slim pickin’s, sorry to say. Let me know if you have any questions.”

    You thank James and start scrolling through the various lists of weapons and equipment, most of which are grayed-out. After a few seconds fiddling with the display options you manage to sort it so that you’re only shown what you’re allowed to requisition.

    The list is depressingly small: police-issue expandable baton (1), PRT-grade zip-ties (unlimited), reinforced handcuffs (2), pepper sprayer (2), pepper spray cartridge (10), taser (2), taser cartridge (10), pocket-sized emergency med-kit (2), pocket utility knife (1), generic grey costume bodysuit and mask (1), PRT-issue radio and earpiece (1).

    “There’s barely anything on here. Who do I need to talk to so I can get access to more?”

    “That’d be your boss - Armsmaster - and Director Piggot. There’s forms to fill out and all that, too, but without their go-ahead there’s no use fillin’ out a bunch of paperwork that they’re just gonna deny. The only times you’ll get unrestricted access as a ward is for S-Class and Endbringer fights - paperwork gets put on hold until you make it back from the field. Really, though, Wards aren’t supposed to be getting into fights with other capes - what’s on that list is more than enough to handle the normal threats you’ll encounter on patrol.”

    Left unsaid is the “should you make it back” clause. You nod your head and de-select the filters so that you can browse through the grayed-out options. Looks like equipment that would be standard SWAT or riot gear: smoke grenades, tear gas grenades, grenade launchers (with lethal and non-lethal ordinance), shotguns, rifles, pistols, containment foam sprayers, containment foam grenades, containment foam dissolvent sprayers, brute-rated handcuffs and legcuffs, heavy-duty tasers, tactical body armor, bomb-rated full-body armor, full-sized medical kits, radiation detectors, radiation suits, and more.

    So much for your dreams of starting with an infinite Elsewhere armory right off the bat. While the limitations continue to annoy you, you try to take solace in the fact that they’ve dealt with tens of thousands of Wards by this point and the restrictions that are in place are not just arbitrary - you suspect that once you’ve proven that you’re more than just some random teenage parahuman that walked in off the street things will turn around for you here.

    Handing James back the tablet and thanking him for the help, you head back up to your official Ward room to sort out the current progress made in the spider-filled terrariums. You’ve been keeping the spiders busy all week making thread - when you’re in range, at least - and so far this morning (while you were busy with other tasks) you’ve been testing how well you can coordinate them to use that thread through your Shard of Perfect Administration charm. As you step into the room and take hold of a matte-grey undershirt that’s nearing completion, you put it through the paces with a series of attempts to tug, tear, or shear it apart with your bare hands. Besides the still-frayed ends at the bottom where the spiders were working before you came in, the shirt appears to weather your attempts to dismantle it with aplomb. However, you do get the feeling that the shirt might have an even better construction if woven together with yourOmintool Implant - that would require you to spend time weaving the garments yourself, however, instead of doing it remotely while you focus on other tasks.

    Looking around the room at the various other projects in construction - two more undershirts that nearly anyone on the cheerleading team can wear and a bodysuit form-fit for yourself to go with the new costume - you figure that if you have the spiders focus on cranking out more undershirts you could likely get around eight to ten done by the end of the weekend. After that, you’ll be out of prepared silk threads and you’ll have to really scale up your spider collection to keep up that level of production in the future. On the plus side, the crate of two dozen Darwin’s Bark Spiders should be arriving by Wednesday - if you can set them to go into breeding cycles like you have with your current collection of spiders, you should be able to increase that two dozen to hundreds within a month, and thousands in two - that should really allow you to start cranking out silk products for use (by yourself and friends) and sale (through the internal PRT market).

    Checking to make sure the protein mixes and meat solutions you’ve been feeding your spiders with are still at acceptable levels for now, you check the time: 11:40. Enough time to grab a bite to eat in the kitchen before you need to head over to the on-base therapist office for your appointment with Dr. Yamada.


    ***

    “Would you like to sit? Or lie down?”

    Dr. Yamada, a woman neither striking nor plain - the very definition of ‘average Japanese woman’ - extends a hand towards the stereotypical therapy recliner and a cushioned chair next to it. You poked a few holes in the recliner last time you were here with your spider-leg halo, so you opt for the chair and slide into its memory-foam embrace. Yeah, you need to get yourself one of these chairs.

    “Thank you for coming, Taylor. How have you been?”

    You think back on the last time you met with Dr. Yamada and your frame of mind then, and compare it to now.

    “Busier, but it’s ok. I have all these ideas for what to do, so it’s annoying not having enough time in the day to work on them all, but it feels like I’ve been making progress over the last week so it’s not all bad. I wish I was like Miss Militia or Dragon and didn’t have to sleep, that’d free up a lot of time.”

    “What about school? Last time you said you were worried it was going to eat up your free time, but did you find that to be the case?”

    “No… well… not entirely. I have a few classes that I could probably take the final AP tests for right now and ace them, but there are a couple that are still challenging or somewhat fun to participate in. It’s so much better than Winslow, don’t get me wrong, but if it was just the classes then I’d probably be focusing on testing out right now.”

    “So why aren’t you?”

    “It’s… well, the people there are just better, too. There’s a group of a people that are kind of like I was in Winslow - I don’t think they have it as bad as I did, though - and I’ve been eating lunch and talking with them in the classes we have together. It’s… nice. And then there’s the… the cheerleading team.”

    “Cheerleaders? Are they harassing you?”

    “No…? Maybe? I joined the team, is what I meant.”

    This gets a surprised look from Dr. Yamada, as well as a few scribbles on her notepad. “You joined the cheerleading team? From everything you’ve told me before that sounds like a large departure from your normal behavior. You weren’t coerced into joining, were you?”

    You shrug, your hands fidgeting a bit with the chair arms out of nervousness. You spend a few seconds focusing your mind on the subconscious-level work you’ve been dedicating to the bugs and crabs within your reach, just to calm your nerves, then bring your attention back to the discussion at-hand.

    “Glenn Chambers contacted the Cheerleading Coach, Coach Gloria Sato, and told her to tell me that he’d relax the restrictions on my costume and powers if I joined the cheerleading team. Then the coach had the captain approach me during lunch to give me the offer. It was… awkward. I get Glenn’s reasoning for wanting me to join - which is why I did - but it was still… insulting? I also get he’s busy, so… ugh.”

    “Did he tell you the reason he wanted you to join, or did you figure it out yourself?”

    “Myself.”

    “What was the reasoning? Did he confirm it?”

    You’re not sure what Glenn would think if you tried to spell out everything you reasoned so far. Maybe couch it in a way that you’re trying to make sure you’re learning from him, in an email so you’re interrupting anything? Maybe worth pursuing later.

    “No, but when I told him I figured it out he didn’t push back. The reasoning I figured was that by joining the cheerleaders I show that I’m still approachable and human, not a black metal monster that’s out to terrorize and corrupt like the Simurgh. My powers and base form can be really unsettling - terrifying, even - if I really let lose so it makes sense to try to keep it in people’s heads that I’m a person first and foremost. Cheerleading is probably viewed as the most harmless and sociable sport out there, and… well… ugh. My new form is really attractive, so cheerleading is probably going to show it off the most, too. Not sure I’ll ever like that idea, but whatever.”

    Dr. Yamada maintains her thoughtful expression during your small rant, jotting down a few notes without looking away from you. When you breathe a sigh and lean back to signal you’re done talking, she sits in silence for a moment before continuing.

    “There’s a few points you brought up, but one that’s come up before: you said, ‘my new form is really attractive,’ not, ‘I’m really attractive.’ Why do you think that is?”

    You were worried that this topic would come up, and you’re no closer to figuring out how to talk about it than when you almost spilled the beans to Missy. Still, it is something that has been weighing on your mind and Dr. Yamada told you that everything in these sessions was private…

    “It’s, well… do you know what the science crew thinks happened during my trigger?”

    “I’m sorry, I wasn’t given that file. Would you like to table this until I have a chance to read it?”

    You fidget a bit more and have a hard time looking Dr. Yamada in the eyes - even disabling your 360-vision to avoid the idea of doing so right now. “No, it’s alright. It’s just… well, my body isn’t really… mine anymore. I mean, I’m in it, I use it, but… I remember my old self. My original self. And… there’s a gap, not just in my memory. It’s really tiny, but it’s there - the feeling that I’m not quite… me. And that the reason that I’m able to think the way I do now, feel the way I feel now, react the way I react now? It’s because I’m just a little bit different than what I was before.”

    Instead of shock or pity or even suspicion, you notice Dr. Yamada nod as if that was exactly what she was expecting to hear. “That’s actually a perfectly normal feeling for parahumans, at least in many of the studies I’ve read and in my own personal experiences - especially with individuals that lose large chunks of their memory to their trigger event. There’s a growing body of evidence that parahuman powers affect the brain in some way, but since everyone’s trigger event is so personal and different the specific changes are difficult to quantify. At the very least, the kinds of events that seem to cause parahuman triggers are known to cause post-traumatic stress disorder - what you’re describing is very much in line with that type of trauma.”

    That’s… not exactly what you were aiming for, but you suppose that it may be best to leave it at that. Lisa’s rambling did seem to mention that you may have triggered in The Locker before Autochthon’s intervention, though. Is your Shard of Perfect Administration charm your former parahuman power? Something else to look into later. In any case, if trigger events do cause personality shifts maybe that’s part of why you feel that… distance from your old self?

    Well, that and the fact that you’re pretty sure you died and had your mind and soul grafted to this new body. Not that you’re going to tell Dr. Yamada that right now…

    “I guess that makes sense. I’ve been thinking of keeping a journal to help keep centered, like I did before The Locker.”

    Dr. Yamada smiles warmly at that idea. “That’s excellent, Taylor. Speaking or writing your feelings and thoughts is the first step to understanding yourself - it’s why we have these sessions - so if that’s something you think you’d enjoy doing then I say go for it. You certainly wouldn’t be the first parahuman to do so, at least.”

    You nod, figuring that it’s probably not worth mentioning that you’d be keeping it in your Elsewhere storage via the Technomorphic Integration Engine charm. Not like anyone should be looking for it, anyway, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    The rest of the session revolves around working through your time between Emma’s initial betrayal and the Winter Break before The Locker. Dr. Yamada ended the session with a recommendation to try to get in contact with Sally again, like you had thought to do previously. You let her know that you’ll make an effort to track Sally’s info down again, but with so many other things pressing for your attention right now you’re not sure you’ll have the time for it before your session next Saturday. She gives you a empathetic look and leaves you with something to think about.

    “For the things we care about, we find the time.”


    ***


    As you head back to the Wards common room to start the pot roast for tonight’s dinner, you shoot off a text to the Wards indicating your plans to provide home cooking tonight. Within a few minutes you get excited responses from everyone but Triumph, who apparently is extremely disappointed by the visiting family members that he can’t afford to ditch on such short notice… without an actual emergency, that is. You let him know that you’ll save some for him to heat up later, earning you an amusing, “Best Teammate before you’re even on the team!” text in response.

    You also send a text to Hannah to see if she’s still up for some practice on the shooting range after you’re done with your cooking, which yields a slightly-panting Miss Militia only two minutes later. When she discovers that you are just preparing the meal now and not finished with it, you find yourself receiving a very grim gaze.

    When you let her try some of the gravy that you had just whipped up to cool her off (even though it’s not quite ready yet), she sighs and quietly grumbles about her patrol schedule for tonight. Again, you offer to save some to re-heat later. The grim gaze from before returns full-force until you manage to reassure her that you won’t forget to save her a portion.

    Miss Militia apparently takes potential high-quality home-cooking very seriously.

    After you wrap up in the kitchen, you both head down to shooting range (which is where she was before you texted her) so that you can get a start on your basic gun safety training course. Since you didn’t have a gun license before your change, nor any record of training or handling legal firearms, PRT regulations mandate that you must complete training equivalent to what PRT officers go through to be allowed to carry any form of ranged weaponry into combat. These courses include: Basic Pistol Shooting, Basic Rifle Shooting, Basic Shotgun Shooting, Metallic Cartridge Reloading, Shotgun Shell Reloading, Tactical Rifle Shooting, Tactical Pistol Shooting, Tactical Select-Fire Rifle Shooting, Precision (Scoped) Rifle Shooting, and last-but-not-least, Home Firearm Safety.

    When you first saw what a horrendous waste of time that would be, you wanted to shoot whoever wrote that regulation.

    Thankfully, Chris explained during your tinkering time together that Miss Militia is certified to teach all the courses, and will likely let you test out of the courses if you can show that you know their content. Which is part of why you are down here at the range with Miss Militia, going over proper gun safety, etiquette, and cleaning techniques. You’re a little surprised she knows how to clean guns, given how her power formlessly shifts between near-perfect versions of any weapon she’s handled, but she mentions how it’s a meditation and focus exercise for her when she’s feeling stressed. You can relate.

    Once again she’s impressed by your skill with ranged weaponry despite your lack of any training whatsoever. You chalk it up to the exaltation, though Miss Militia pegs it as part of your Thinker power to internalize and learn new information more quickly than you used to.

    After running through a few hundred rounds for a .22, .33, and .50 caliber pistols (the .50 giving you a bit of a workout to keep steady while firing), you move on to various shotgun models and then sub-machine guns and automatic rifles. Miss Militia comments that the courses you need to pass don’t cover everything you’re going through, she’s more curious about what your limits are. You even move into grenade launchers (firing rubber rounds to avoid blowing up the target range), but she stops before breaking out the rocket launchers - to your disappointment and her amusement - and instead swaps to classical weaponry: bows and crossbows. You’re a bit surprised by your skill with these as well, though you at least had some archery practice from that sleep-away summer camp you went to during the summer between sixth and seventh grade.

    It takes almost three hours, but you eventually finish showcasing your firearms and archery skills to Miss Militia’s satisfaction.

    “Most PRT officers would have a hard time replicating that performance, Taylor. Excellent work. You still need to work on your reloading skills, but otherwise I’m fine calling you certified for the Shooting-based classes.”

    You breathe a heavy sigh of relief. That’s at least a hundred hours of productivity reclaimed.

    “When you stop relying on your bugs to help with aiming your skill drops a bit, so there’s still room for improvement there. Beyond that, the only things left are experience carrying and proper weapon etiquitte. I can teach the etiquitte, you’re on your own for the experience - you need to clock in some time down here before you’re relaxed enough with a weapon to not be a liability. For all your skill, you’re still too anxious with a weapon and that can get you and others in trouble in the field.”

    Alright, maybe not a total success, then. Still, experience brings up something else you’ve been meaning to speak with her about. You take a moment to organize your thoughts while Miss Militia resumes her own weapons drills, until you manage to catch her between target refreshes.

    “What was your reveal like when you joined the Wards?”

    Miss Militia pauses, then steps back from the firing line with a thoughtful expression on her face. Her sub-machine gun morphs into the usual translucent green-and-black energy of her power before shifting to a holstered pistol at her right hip, while she crosses her arms and tilts her head down a bit, lost in thought.

    “The Wards were… different, back then. Less publicity. The program was still new, so Wards were kept out of public eye until it was clear the program worked. My ‘reveal’ was when I finally wore my costume out on the field with Rage - he was a Brute that scaled like Lung, just with strength and durability - the Protectorate member I was placed under at the time.”

    You nod to show understanding, but most of that was in Miss Militia’s Parahumans Online entry. You try coming from a different angle.

    “Well, you’ve seen a lot of reveals for new Wards members, haven’t you? I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do on Monday. I don’t want to just stand there and look awkward.”

    Miss Militia turns and leans against the opposite firing booth divider, looking at you as she props one leg against the booth wall. With the way her eyes are crinkling at the edges slightly, you figure she’s smiling lightly.

    “The PR team at the event will show you what to do, so don’t worry. Besides, you’d have to make an actual effort if you wanted to outdo Clockblocker for disastrous reveals.”


    ***


    When Miss Militia has to leave for her patrol at six, you head back up to the Wards common room and finish your preparations for tonight’s dinner. With your Omnitool Implant charm activated, following the basic recipes you found online is a snap - you’re still trying to get a grip on the basics of cooking anyway, so you keep things as simple as possible for now: pot roast, home-made gravy, and cinnamon and brown sugar-glazed carrots and green beans. Not the most complicated dish you’ve ever tried, but unlike that disastrous Thanksgiving, you didn’t burn everything to a crisp this time around.

    You’re wrapping up just as the Wards start to trickle in, with Carlos literally floating in through his nose like a cartoon character.

    “I could smell that getting off the elevator! Are you sure your Tinker specialty isn’t ‘Catering’, Taylor?”

    It occurs to you that you haven’t tried storing food with your Technomorphic Integration Engine, so you grab a spare carrot and test it out. Sure enough, the peeled carrot folds up and disappears into your hand - followed by a burst of information about the exact methods used to grow it and the cuts you took to it while peeling the skin. Curious, you grab another carrot while focusing on the one you have internalized and with a blur of your charm-converted hands render it into an exact replica of the carrot in your mind’s eye. Nodding to yourself about another successful bout of Science, you decide to keep the carrot internalized for later use as either food or a prop to thoroughly confuse a criminal. Oooh, maybe you could make some pies…

    Your comedic train of thought is derailed by the synchronous grumbling of Missy’s, Carlos’, and Dean’s stomachs. Dennis tuts at them with mock reproach, only to freeze mid-way when his own stomach voices its disapproval about having to wait for the meal. You thought you made enough for over a dozen people, but it’s starting to look like you’ll have to fight to ensure Rory and Hannah have enough saved for them.

    “Alright, food’s served.”

    Though Carlos tries to look mature in his swift movement towards the buffet line, Dennis and Chris have no such compunctions. You turn your eyes towards the table when Dean calls out Missy’s name questioningly, only to see the youngest Ward still seated primly at the table with a frown on her face.

    “Oh, don’t worry about Missy. I froze her.”

    This gets a few calls of surprise, even from you. Dennis just shrugs to casually deflect the concern before continuing with a wry smile.

    “Eh, she’s been pranking me with her power since our patrol on Thursday. I was waiting for a good way to get her back, and this seemed pretty harmless. Besides, it’ll probably wear off before we’re done eating.”


    ***


    When Missy finally unfreezes, only Dennis and Carlos are still eating: Carlos because he’s on his third helping and Dennis is too busy worrying about Missy’s retaliatory strike for this prank to have completely finished his first helping. It takes pre-teen a few seconds to catch on to having lost a little over ten minutes of time, but when she does Dennis quickly darts over to hide between you and Chris - a successful tactic in abusing Missy’s power’s Manton Effect limitation, as well as (you suspect) a chance for him to hug you.

    “Save me! Save me, Taylor!”

    He’s being amusingly timid and not creepy, so you only poke him in the nose with one of your spider-leg headpieces instead of having the flies in the room dive bomb his ears. This accidentally draws a minuscule pinprick of blood but otherwise startles him enough to make him yelp and fall over on his butt. This elicits laughs from around the table and appears to be enough misfortune for Missy to consider the matter settled, allowing her to warp over to the (still plentiful) remains of dinner to serve herself a large helping. With Missy settled into devouring her food and Dennis returning to his seat while trying to give you an 'et tu?' look, the table falls into a contented lull before Carlos speaks up.

    “So, you ready for Monday, Taylor? Your reveal and first patrol?”

    You give a little start, then shake your head. “I may have forgotten about the patrol, actually. I’ve been so focused on getting ready for the reveal, it sort of slipped my mind.”

    Dean gives you a curious glance - he revealed during your trip to NYC that you don’t register on his empath power - before speaking up. “Is there some grand plan for it? Reveals have a bunch of the press there and there’s sometimes a display of your powers, but besides that it’s usually pretty tame: walk in on cue, smile, do something a little flashy, answer a few token questions from the press, walk out.”

    Carlos furrows his brow, but nods. “I think there might be a little more involved this time because of all the press attention you already have, but the PR team usually is pretty good at keeping things under control with the press. I haven’t heard anything beyond making sure we’re all there in costume to show support, along with Armsmaster and Miss Militia, so you won’t even need to worry about being too exposed - it’ll probably be the safest place in the city while we’re all there.”

    You give a small sigh and relax a bit, some of your concerns eased.

    “What about patrol, then? Chris, do you think you could help me get a flight-suit ready in time?”

    Chris has been quiet most of the dinner, eating with mechanical precision since he’s still under the effects of your Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade charm and he’s now aware how difficult it is to understand his speech while he’s wired up like that (courtesy of Armsmaster nearly blowing a gasket at him earlier). After a few seconds of thought, he turns to you and shakes his head.

    “Forms. Approvals. Notime.”

    You frown but nod your head anyway. Carlos waves a hand to dismiss your concerns, however.

    “Don’t worry about getting around on Monday, Taylor - you should be able to move across the rooftops through most of the city without too much of a problem, especially the residential areas. I’ll be your partner in any case, so if we need to get anywhere in a hurry I can just carry you.”

    He says it so casually, but the thought of being carried in his arms… you’re not sure if you should feel uncomfortable or blush. Missy giving you a wink makes you think it should be the latter, but the not-so-subtle glances Carlos is receiving from the other male Wards leads you to believe it’s wiser to not react at all.

    Boys.


    ***

    After making Dennis clean up the mess from dinner, you wrap Hannah and Rory’s servings before carrying the rest of the left-overs down to the PRT employees on night shift. You stop by the Armory first (since being in good graces with the people holding all the fun toys is a priority), catching James chatting with his evening-shift replacement: Kayla. Though you could have sworn they just shuffled something around as you walked in…

    “James, doesn’t your shift end four hours ago?”

    The fit Armory technician just scratches his large scraggly beard sheepishly. “Ahh, well, Kayla and I were just pla-oof!”

    Kayla, a tan-skinned woman in her mid 30’s with particularly ragged burns covering the left side of her face, elbows James in the gut stiffly before turning back to you as if nothing happened. “We were watching tonight’s football game. The Patriots won against the Bears, so it’ll be the Patriots versus the Pirates in the Super Bowl.”

    That’s so clearly a cover, but you’re not sure you want to pry; the few times you’ve tried to talk to Kayla were a struggle, so trying to ferret out an answer from her will probably just work against you. With a shrug, you chalk it up to something to ask James about when you talk to him next, then pass on the two servings from your cart of food. They take the offerings hesitantly, but by the time you’re rolling out of the Armory even Kayla is making grunts that could pass for delight in between mouthfuls.


    ***


    By the time you roll back into the Wards common room it’s 10:30 PM, and Chris (through the bugs you have in his workshop) is starting to look a little winded. A few bursts of concentration later, you end the effect on Chris and pass on the Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade charm to Miss Militia for tonight. She was willing to test it for an evening when you proposed it during your shooting range discussion, though you probably should have given her some warning judging by the moment of panic you saw her experience through the fly nestled on her costume. The moment passes quickly, however, and then she’s back to work - already tearing through the mounds of paperwork in the Protectorate common room that you suspect she prepared for tonight’s experiment.

    Back in your room (still the Protectorate Guest suite), you brush your teeth, end Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier, absorb your casual wear (jeans, long-sleeve shirt, Miss Militia hoodie), extrude your pajamas, and then finally slide into bed. With a call for the lights, you’re off into dreamland before you even finish going over your outlined plans for tomorrow.


    ***


    As your alarm beeps you into consciousness at 7:00 AM, scattering dreams of the boys’ locker room on Friday, you feel a bit more alert than prior mornings at this time. It’s been more than a week since you got a full eight hours – let alone actually sleep in – so maybe it’s worth going to bed a little earlier on weekdays?

    Then you remember that your time is soon to be impinged by patrol duty and monitor duty. So much forthat idea.


    ***


    Coming back up from the Detention cells, you mentally kick yourself; not only did you forget that visiting hours for prisoners are different on the weekends, but you never thought to ask if your dad’s sleeping habits have changed as a result of his new shadow-based powers.

    Turns out, trying to wake him before noon literally requires water jets – a far cry from his feather-light slumber and early-bird tendencies from before. Since you don’t feel like giving your father a cold shower just so you can talk to him for a few minutes, you trundle back up to your room while absently taking stock of what your spiders accomplished last night. You’ve been pleasantly surprised that your insects maintain their commands while you’re asleep, but the fact that there were fully-completed undershirts folded up neatly speaks of more than basic commands. Are you guiding them in your sleep, or are they getting smarter on their own?

    You note that Hannah is out of range of your bugs at the moment so you can’t warn her that you’ll be taking back Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade now, but looking at the stacks of monthly reports filled and filed neatly in the Protectorate common room it seems like she put it to good use.

    As your mind expands under the influence of your charm, you spare a thread to think about how you might be able to convince Director Piggot to make use of the charm to tackle her own seemingly-insurmountable workload. You wish there were a way for MRIs and other mental scans to pick up mental influence so that you could prove to her that you’re not slowly taking over the local cape forces with mind control powers. Your own Diagnostic Overlay sub-module seems to bring up all sorts of changes to a person’s body and mind, but you similarly doubt that she’d take your own word that one of your powers confirms another of your powers is free of lasting mental influence.

    As your other mental threads pilot your body through the Wards kitchen, idly swiping a brass frying pan for use in your next activity, you pursue that train of thought further: would your Diagnostic Overlay detect Simurgh victims? That would be… big. The scan only takes seconds, and if it truly worked then the entireneed for Simurgh Quarantine Zones would disappear. Heroes would be able to fight fully against her insteadof in small bursts, no longer needing to worry about over-exposure to her Scream. It could…

    All six trains of thought grind to a halt.

    In your readings of possible Endbringer motives and targets during their attacks, any time a cape appeared to have a way to change the way Endbringers were handled, they were almost always the target of the next Endbringer attack. Except the Endbringer that targeted them was the one they were weakest against, and the Endbringer would only retreat if the target died (at which point they immediately left) or Scion – the first, and greatest parahuman – happened to show up to the fight and beat the creature back. Except, if Scion showed up, it only meant a short reprieve; while they'd so far shown an unwillingness to attack the same city back-to-back, Moscow was proof that Endbringers would track a target to a city they've hit more than three months prior.

    The Simurgh especially was known for targeting those who disrupted Thinkers, as well as those who represented the potential for global change. If your Diagnostic Overlay actually works to counter her effects, then that adds ‘game-changer’ to the list of reasons for her to target you.

    Armsmaster and Dragon’s Endbringer Prediction System points to the Simurgh as the next Endbringer, even if the target is still being calculated. The expected battle date is sometime mid-Februrary.

    This... could be bad. Very, very bad.

    Your desire to communicate with Autochthon just turned into a need.


    ***


    Feeling more than a little panicked over your revelation that you may be dooming wherever you live just by dint of existing, you close the door to your room – your actual Ward room, not your Protectorate Guest Suite – and activate your Omnitool Implant charm. Plopping down at the round, four-chair table in the center of the room, you shove those visions of impending doom away and turn all six threads of your mind towards the frying pan in front of you; the clock is ticking.


    ***


    Thirty minutes and this room’s alarm clock later, you are satisfied with the results of your handiwork: a ball of shining brass, embellished with intricate carvings that give the impression of gears, hydraulics, and pipes both large and microscopic. Scoring on the metal gives the semblance of clouds of dark smoke and light steam, silvered engravings appear as crystalline formations, and waves of polished wires look like tumultuous seas of inky-black oil. In the center of this miniature planet is are two cracks that run halfway along its length, which frame two inlaid concentric circles. The space between the circles is filled with even more detail, enough to resemble the peaks and valleys of a human cornea, while the central circle is a cavernous hole.

    Even though a normal human artisan would have to take dozens, if not hundreds of hours to complete something even half as nice as this, you feel this is almost crude in comparison to the real thing. Still, you feel something stir deep within your essence reservoir.

    You have finally taken the first step towards bringing the glory of Autochthon into this universe.

    His name is on your lips as you move to name the recreation of the Deus Machina in your hands, but the feeling stirs again, stopping you. Not yet?

    No, not yet. There are still too many threats in this world, and you have a deep feeling that drawing the attention to yourself right now as anything but a peculiar parahuman would a Bad Idea.

    Still, you didn’t make this little God Machine totem to stare at it. Rising from the chair, you call for the lights and move to your bed to sit cross-legged with your back against the wall. You begin your breath exercises while holding the sculpture to your chest, letting it slowly sink into your body via the Technomorphic Integration Engine charm. The Great Maker’s form icon stored safely within your soul, you slowly let all six threads of your mind clear of everything but the image of the sculpture within your breast, what it represents, and the feelings you had when you looked upon the true form of what it emulates.

    Your senses expanding, you feel the bubbling churn of the essence reservoir inside you turn to the sound of whirs and clicks of perfectly-engineered gears. With every breath, you feel essence flowing into and out of you, spilling out of your peripheral pool to disturb the shroud of clay that covers your true form. Sparks leap and jump across your skin, warm and ethereal as your soulsteel body radiates the majesty of the Great Maker, pushing back the darkness of this world.

    With every precise thrum of your heart, a surge of essence runs through it, felt by every part of your body as it flows into your churning, growing Anima.

    There is… there is a thread, there. Small, smaller than the essence link generated by your Shard of Perfect Administration charm… but if you can just follow it…


    ***


    You see a woman, a priest of some kind, speaking to her peers in tones of righteous fury. The words are unintelligible, but the objective is not: the system is failing, and this woman will ensure change is made before they lose their congregation to those that would pervert and undermine the Maker’s doctrine.

    A young man, much younger than the others around him, stands huddled around a map in a shadow-filled cavern of rust and oil. The din of battle swells from outside the cave’s mouth but the gathering’s focus is entirely on the young man. Slowly, he begins gesturing at map in patterns to indicate troop movements, causing the others around to nod in dawning awe and relief.

    An older woman oversees hundreds of workers in a lab, each looking to her as she passes amongst them with critiques and corrections. She does this with a smile, not with a harsh tongue, and each researcher and worker is clearly more motivated and inspired for it.


    ORICHALCUM


    You see a battlefield set amidst massive churning gears, with hundreds of broken and bleeding bodies littering the expanse. Among those still clinging to life, a man moves with quick and assured motions between those he can still save, tearing strips off clothing and scavenging supplies from those already beyond his care. His medical kit has long since emptied, but with a battlefield of salvage he wants not for supplies.

    A seething, rolling blackness surges over a crystalline hillside like a living, malevolent ocean of oil. Figures below scurry to the safety of the nearby city walls, but some won’t make it in time… until a tide of molten metal comes blasting out of a hole in one of the walls, creating a wall of white-hot slag between the escapees and the tide of oil. Looking out at the scene is a young girl, furiously working the factory’s controls to keep the liquid metal flowing just a little bit longer.

    Warriors garbed in strange mechanized armors clash with swords and spears in tight corridors, but not dozens of yards away a tavern is filled to the brim with idle chatter and drunken debauchery. Amongst the tavern’s crowd is a man playing a game of chips and cards, a man that you understand is not of this nation – which would be his end if such was discovered. Despite all this he plays the game with a smile, all the while memorizing the names and faces of his companions so that he might send such information back to his homeland.


    MOONSILVER


    A young child, a girl, toils away in mines of gold and crystal, humming a tune in time with her strikes. With a solid blow the pick cracks deeper than she was expecting, but a blast of air from the hold sends her flying backwards before she can react. She holds her throat as she tries to regain her breath, but realization of what she is breathing passes quickly to realization that her fate is soon to be shared by the rest of the mine around her. With warbled cry of warning to the others down the cavern, she lights a small stick of explosive and fastens it to the nearby support and collapses, never to rise again. In moments, a shuddering explosion tears the support apart, sealing the leak and the girl inside.

    A squad of soldiers, most fallen from crossbow bolts hurled from a nearby rooftop, lies scattered and writhing in a city’s plaza. Dashing into the open briefly, an older soldier grabs hold of one of the wounded and sprints back to safety. Again, and again, and again the older man comes under fire to save one of his brothers, taking arrows and bolts of his own for the trouble. By the end, the other soldiers have been safely retrieved - the only body left in the open is the old soldier.

    A young medic, her hair covered in grime and blood, works feverishly to stitch up a patient while huddled in a cave formed of black crystals. With the final stitch in place, she breathes a sigh of relief… only to see a dog-sized creature of twisted metal and flesh creep into the cavern’s entrance. Looking back at the young warrior she has just patched up and seeing him barely able to move, she readies her scalpels and syringes as uncertain weapons. As the beast begins to charge towards the pair, she greets it with a charge of her own.


    JADE


    Five soldiers perch on the edge of a rooftop, watching a battle unfold in the streets below them. Their own forces are being routed, a champion of the opposition providing encouragement and direction to his otherwise untrained troops. The youngest of the group, tired of watching his comrades being massacred, leaps down into the fray despite the calls of his small troop’s leader to hold back. With surprise on his side, he lands a mortal blow on the opposing commander, then falls under the overwhelming counter-attack by the commander’s guard. But the damage has been done and the tide of battle is turning.

    A woman stands in front of lawmakers, handing out thin sheets of metal with words imprinted upon them detailing graphs and statistics. Judging from their expressions, these legislators are incredulous at first, but as the matron speaks of sorrows she has seen and the numbers she has predicted, you see their faces turn more to consternation and worry. Before long, doubt has fled these halls and only focused determination towards a better future.

    An old man, grizzled but still hale, stands atop a crystal spire jutting high as the tallest mountain on Earth. Sitting down with a smile creeping through his massive beard, he unravels a large map hammered out on a foil-like paper. Turning it slightly, you see that large chunks of the map are blank – and the scenery you can see from here looks like nothing that is inscribed. Slowly, carefully, and gleefully, the man begins tapping away at the foil with his tools, filling in one of the larger blank spots as he goes.


    STARMETAL


    A man dressed in robes exalting the Great Maker stands at the top of a wide stairwell, shouting down at an unruly, armed mob. He chastises them for selfishly seeking the food stores within – food stores that are meant for the workers tending to the gears of the Deus Machina – reiterating that taking this food risks the lives of everyone within the Maker’s body. But an arrow flies true and strikes him in the throat, and then he is forgotten beneath the crush of the mob.

    Hundreds of miles into their march towards an opposing city’s stronghold, the army’s general calls for a re-direction in course: a massive horde of warped and tainted machines – gremlins – has been spotted making its way to an unknown destination, and the general means to strike them before they can escape. Though his aides and advisers call this move follow, he rallies them – and the entire army – through his explanation that the creatures are the enemies of all, not just their home city, and to ignore the threat is to turn their back on Humanity and the Great Maker himself.

    The halls of nation’s capital ring out with a chorus of conflicting demands and accusations as a summit of diplomats discuss the multinational war currently being waged across the face of the Autochthonia. Then, in a lull between the arguments, the eldest of those assembled speaks up for the first time since the summit’s start. She speaks in even tones and ignores interruptions, laying precise figures for damage done to the various nations’ efforts to maintain the workings of the Great Maker’s body. These figures are followed by exactly-calculated estimations detailing runaway disasters that will befall them should this war not be stopped immediately. As she finishes speaking, the halls remain silent for quite some time before discussion resumes in much more humbled, earnest tones.


    ADAMANT


    You feel the replica of the Deus Machina held within your soul shift and change, becoming more than just a makeshift replica.

    Essence, the divine essence of the Great Maker, radiates from it in your mind’s eye.


    SEEK OUT THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED OUR PAIN.

    BRING THESE BROKEN MINDS TO THE CRADLE SO THEY MAY BE REBORN.

    COMPLETE YOUR ASSEMBLY, ENDURING ORDER ADMINISTRATOR.


    ***


    “…lor? Taylor are you there?”

    You blink your eyes as your various Visual Enhancement sub-modules reactivate, revealing the large power suit standing in your room a few feet from your bed, along with Colin and Chris giving you concerned looks from near the doorway. Judging by the scale-like plating, folded metal wings poking out from behind it, and the various other reptilian-styled features of the suit, this must be one of Dragon’s remote suits. Since it’s having to duck to avoid the 10-foot ceiling, you realize it must have been very awkward to trudge it around inside the living quarter areas – why would she…?

    Oh, you seem to still be radiating your Anima. Not full Iconic, or enough to start the soulsteel terror effects, but enough to smoke up this side of the room and keep a lightning show going. That may explain why Colin and Chris are still by the door and Dragon (in her remote suit) is not.

    You look towards where the clock should be, then remember that you recently cannibalized it for your Auto-totem. “What time is it?”

    Colin’s frown is fierce, but Dragon gives a soft laugh that is warped by the suit’s speakers. “6:30 AM. It’s Monday, Taylor.”



    Whoops.


    ***


    Intimacy: Vista/Missy (Friend) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Miss Militia/Hannah (Admiration) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Clockblocker/Dennis (Friend) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Aegis/Carlos (Friend) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Gallant/Dean (Friend) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Kid Win/Chris (Friend) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Principal Haggis (Respect) Lost!
    Intimacy: PRT (Loyalty) Gained!

    Presence +1 Training Day (3/6 Days)
    Archery/Firearms +2 Training Day (2/6 Days)
    Craft +1 Training Day (4/6 Days)
    Occult +1 Training Day (6/6 Days)

    Occult x 2 Purchased!



    Ah, what a relaxing weekend. So much accomplished and you've got all your worries cleared away...


    Costume Choice: (choose one)

    [ ] Costume #1: The Regal Vizier

    [ ] Costume #2: The Cheerleader

    [ ] Costume #3: The Casual Hero


    Endbringer Fears: (choose one)

    [ ] Straight To The Top: Tell Dragon and Armsmaster, then have them bring your fears to Piggot. They probably have a plan for what to do if they suspect someone is an Endbringer target.

    [ ] Business As Usual: Keep a lid on your fears and act natural. Your theories are just that: theories. Heck, voicing them may actually make them true!

    [ ] Run Away! Run Away!: Pack your bags, because it's time to get the fuck out of Dodge. Start preparing to leave town for a while, at least until an Endbringer attack happens and it's safe to return for a few months.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!

    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!


    Autochthon's Charge: (choose one)

    [ ] The Time Is Now: You don't have time, so start going through the list of people you know for who might fit the visions you had for the various castes.

    [ ] An Eye Out: Make a list of potentials from people you know, but your everyday life will now have an added focus of looking for recruits amongst the common folk.

    [ ] Steady As She Goes: You have a few ideas right now, but you'll probably need to look around the world for people to truly fit your visions - which means taking the time to find and convince them.

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!

    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!


    The Big Reveal - Attitude: (choose one)

    [ ] The World's A Stage: You're the best damn thing to happen to this city, and now's the time to show it.

    [ ] Roll With It: Do what the PR folk tell you to do, but otherwise try to get it over with quickly and without any fuss.

    [ ] I'd Rather Be Fighting Crime: This event is superfluous and wasteful, you'll prove your worth by the Order you bring to this city!

    [ ] Write-In: Something different!

    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!


    Catch-All: (optional, choose one)

    [ ] Write-In: If you have objectives or attitude suggestions not covered by the above sections, you may write one in.

    - [ ] Stunt: Remember to write Stunts in this format!


    A Note On Stunts: Please keep stunts to a MAXIMUM of 3 per choice. People have been going a little overboard lately, making voting take hours to figure out.
     
  16. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Costume Choice:
    [X] Costume #1: The Regal Vizier
    - [X] Stunt: Practice makes perfect. Before going out in front of the cameras, make sure you're comfortable simply walking around in costume.
    - [X] Stunt: Reply to the email address Glenn gave you with your comments, and those of the people you showed it to. Thank him for taking the time to design multiple options. Ask him why he included the cheerleader one, and why he thought it was a good idea? Go on to ask for the focus group results.

    Endbringer Fears:
    [X] Business As Usual: Keep a lid on your fears and act natural. Your theories are just that: theories. Heck, voicing them may actually make them true!
    - [X] Stunt: Gather statistics on Endbringer 'targets', finding out the focus of their attacks, and how they might have changed things. Contrast against other parahumans who have similar accomplishments who did not get attacked. Ask Dragon permission to internalize a copy of their Endbringer Prediction program, and see what an Exceptional version of that tells you of the odds of you being targeted.

    Autochthon's Charge:
    [X] Steady As She Goes: You have a few ideas right now, but you'll probably need to look around the world for people to truly fit your visions - which means taking the time to find and convince them.
    - [X] Stunt: Inspect candidates with parahuman powers and parahuman potential. Given what we've made of our Shard of Perfect Administration, parahuman powers must work into the process as well, granting a much needed aid.
    - [X] Stunt: Download a full database of Cape biographies onto a flash drive and internalize it so you can review them in your spare time.

    The Big Reveal - Attitude:
    [X] The World's A Stage: You're the best damn thing to happen to this city, and now's the time to show it.
    - [X] Stunt: Tinkers and Thinkers may not currently be the most glamorous of capes, but you're going to change that. True victory over the enemies of humanity will come from all parahumans of all kinds working together in harmony.
    - [X] Stunt: If you have time to make something beautiful but useful before the press conference, do so. Then you can reveal it at some point.
    - [X] Stunt: Also bring a swarm of butterflies with you, to make a suitably dramatic and beautiful backdrop.

    Catch-All: (Optional Write-In)
    [X] Write In: Visit your father, or, if that's impossible, speak to him over a video phone.
    - [X] Stunt: Tell him we love him, and we trust him, and we're sure that everything will be OK. The PRT have treated us well, and we're making friends here. He can do the same.


    ***


    Several thoughts run through your mind at once, which is actually normal now that you realize you still haveIncomparable Efficiency Upgrade charm still active.

    First: How did you manage to spend almost twenty hours meditating? Did the visions you received of all those peoples’ lives and the charge you now have from Autochthon take all that time?

    Second: You feel amazing! Except, shouldn’t you be hungry or thirsty? You don’t seem to have moved at all this entire time, but you usually get at least somewhat hungry every six-to-eight hours.

    Third: If you were still pumping out your Anima for that entire time, why are your essence reservoirs full?

    Fourth: Oh crap, you completely missed your appointment with Dragon! She flew a remote suit all the way down here and you stood her up!

    Fifth: Wait, why is Dragon still here? Her time is incredibly valuable, so shouldn’t she have just woken you up earlier so she could go back to saving the world?

    And, finally, sixth: Oh, look, your spiders finished all the undershirts for the cheerleading team, your own spidersilk costume lining, and… what is that? It looks like a massive spiderweb with oversized strands all framing the word “Weaver” in the middle. Did you order them to make that?

    As your trains of thought lurch forward to process the ramifications of the information you’re taking in, Dragon speaks up again.

    “Taylor, are you alright? You’ve had your fear-inducing illusion running for almost twenty hours, despite our attempts to talk you out of the trance you seemed to be in.”

    “I… was meditating, but that’s never happened before. I was trying to get a better understanding of, uh, how I worked. I think I got a little more information than I was expecting.”

    Chris and Colin blink a little in surprise at that, though Colin seems to flinch a bit more, frowning almost like he’s forgetting something. Dragon, despite the enormity of the armored suit she’s piloting, leans forward with interest.

    “What kind of information? We were able to gather a large amount of data on your illusion effect, though so far the tests covering the ‘fear’ you induce only let us quantify the effects – we’re still trying to figure out how you can cause a nearly-identical response in electronic devices as you do in humans, but we have a better understanding of the range, duration, and lasting side-effects of the power now.”

    She turns her head slightly, looking towards the two males still standing near the door, then turns back to you. Her voice has a bit more mirth in it now. “You finally turned off he fear-inducing portion of your power only a few minutes ago, just as we were trying to find a way to wake you up for school.”

    You sigh and cover your face with your hands for a moment in embarrassment. Then you realize that you have – at some point – absorbed your pajamas and instead use your hands to cover yourself while you extrude your pajamas again, and then activate Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier. Have you been sitting upright, facing the doorway, all whilst totally naked, for upwards of twenty hours?

    Dragon seems to understand the source of your mortified expression, but just gives a solemn nod. Perhaps you should have waited on activating Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier, because your base form wouldn’t show the iridescent blush you’re now radiating. You direct your coldest gaze at the two males at the doorway, then activate your Thermal Vision to give your eyes a red glow.

    “Out.”

    With this Optical Enhancement sub-module active, you get a good view of his face – as well as other parts of him - draining of blood before he tears out of the room. Boys.

    Armsmaster, however, seems unaffected by your command, as well as by your previous state of undress. The former upsets you further, but the latter puzzles you a bit before you mentally shrug and count yourself lucky for his decency, turning off Thermal Vision in the process. After looking back from watching Chris tear out of the room, he shuts the door before taking a step forward towards the table in the middle of the room – where there are still small bits and pieces of the clock you dismantled to make your little totem of the Deus Machina.

    “We have other matters to discuss. First: we looked over the videos from the common room and saw you take one of the cooking pans, and this looks like the remnants of your clock. What did you make?”

    “I…” you start to try to give an explanation at the same time looking inwards to check on your totem, only to realize that it has somehow changed. Evolved. And is, actually, still changing at a rate where your usual ‘complete understanding’ doesn’t seem to extend to it at the moment – intermittently it swells with new features, then collapses as some are absorbed and some are shaped into something else as the object shrinks again. All the while, however, you can tell that it’s now positively overflowing with essence and… something else? Lots of somethings, actually. They seem… incomplete?

    You’re lucky this is only taking you a split second to analyze because of your activated Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade charm, but even still just trying to wrap your head around what it is, was, and is becoming is giving you a headache – primarily because you don’t seem to understand even half of what it seems to be doing. No way are you going to try to extrude it now… especially since, you now realize, you don’t think you even can.

    That’s a little worrisome, actually.

    “…I… I’m not sure, actually. I absorbed it, but… it’s stuck? I can’t even get a reading on what it is right now, actually. It’s not dangerous, though. I think.”

    You do not like the look of alarm you’re getting from Colin now, and Dragon seems to be rather still. You raise your hands in an attempt to dispel their growing anxiety.

    “I’m not going to extrude it any time soon, at least not until I figure out what it is. I-I’ll let you know if I ever do figure it out.”

    That seems to calm Colin down some, but he still seems a bit suspect. “Do you remember anything about what it was before?”

    You’re starting to feel like they won’t just let you blow this question off, so you try for some half-truths. “It was a figure from my visions in the Locker, I think. I know it was really detailed when I made it. At least, it was before I absorbed it.”

    Colin rubs his chin - a bit of stubble marring his otherwise neatly-trimmed beard – while turning to Dragon. Dragon shakes her head, causing Colin to nod in a manner that makes you think the matter is settled for him. He exhales briefly, then looks back to you.
    “Besides that, there are a few other matters to discuss. Most importantly is another side-effect of one of your powers that your extended display has helped us narrow down: you appear to have a disrupting effect on Thinkers. Since your appearance there have been reports from PRT precogs that indicated small but erratic shifts in their predictions regarding the city; nothing too far outside the standard deviations seen when a particularly powerful parahuman triggers, but still worth noting. During our conference call yesterday with the PRT Thinkers, when we asked for predictions about this month’s major events – your reveal today, specifically – the Thinkers apparently underwent some form of power feedback loop and we had to end the call early.”

    There were some rumors on Parahumans Online about the PRT having secret precognitive Thinkers on their payroll, but this is a surprise to hear that it’s set up to the point of monthly predictions. Worse, it appears that Lisa’s problem is shared by others trying to pin you down – or was it because you had all your charms disabled yesterday and were apparently throwing out essence like a fountain? You’re still not entirely certain why you suspect essence use is causing issues with precogs – because the hunch you had that essence “makes the impossible possible” is frankly ridiculous – but it would help explain why the person manipulating Lisa is so focused on removing you from the picture if they were also some kind of Thinker/precognitive cape.

    Worse, it’s another check-mark in the “Reasons For Endbringers To Attack You” list. Colin and Dragon are one step ahead of you there, however, and Dragon picks up where Colin left off.

    “We’re revealing this information to you because our Endbringer Prediction System is currently estimating that the Simurgh will be the next to attack, and sometime within the next few weeks. Wards are normally not expected to participate in Endbringer attacks, but if you can maintain any kind of anti-precognitive field then you might be our best bet at providing a defensive line against her, saving dozens if not hundreds of parahuman lives – not just from her direct attacks, but also from her Scream and the lingering effects it’s been known to have.”

    While you’re shocked – flattered, even - that Dragon and Colin think that you can already help against the Endbringers before even going into the theories you had about other ways you could counter them. You’re still wary of voicing all your thoughts until you have actual data to back up your ideas, though. Not to mention that openly discussing the full breadth of your Diagnostic Overlay sub-module’s capabilities could reveal your ability to spot parahumans and potential parahumans, which would put all sorts of crosshairs on you for being able to so easily uncover secret identities.

    Colin takes your hesitance as reticence, however. “You’d be compensated accordingly, of course.”

    You’re pretty sure Dragon is mirroring the incredulous look you’ve giving Colin for that remark, even through her remote armor. He just blinks at your expression, as if what he said was perfectly reasonable. Thankfully, Dragon continues to be more human than Colin the Tactless Machine.

    “What Colin means, Taylor, is that you’d receive additional funding and guidance, as well as further power testing to ensure you’re able to bring your full abilities to bear during the next Endbringer attack. In the off-chance that it’s not the Simurgh that attacks, you’d likely be asked to avoid direct engagement and instead use the opportunity to learn how to help coordinate efforts in the future. We know that this is an incredible burden to place on your shoulders so soon into your career as a Hero, so please don’t feel like you have to agree – no one is really ever ready to face an Endbringer fight, so we completely understand if you want to hold off until you’ve had a chance to get comfort-”

    “I agree.”

    The Endbringers are slowly killing off Humanity; how could you even begin to consider yourself a Hero if you turned this down? No, there was never any doubt that you’d help out against the Endbringers – not that you’re expecting to play Rock‘em-Sock’em Dragonsuits with Behemoth, stop Leviathan’s tidal waves, or fly up to the Simurgh and clip her wings. Besides, this may be the best way to fulfil your new Charge from Autochthon; it takes a truly Heroic mindset to show up to an Endbringer fight, so this would be a chance to see who might be worthy of being Chosen.

    Colin seems pleased, but you also get that probably wasn’t thinking there was any other logical answer. If you didn’t have Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade running you might not have noticed it, but for just a split-second Dragon’s normally exaggerated body language (likely a habit from having to deal with people through her suits) seems to twitch in a way that makes you think she’s… disappointed? Before you can think any more of it, however, she’s back to being pleasant and encouraging.

    “Well you’ll still need to talk this over with your father, as he will have the final say in this decision when he regains custody of you when he’s released to us as a Probationary Protectorate member. If you want we can go ahead and schedule you a visit with him after you get back from your reveal and he’s back from his hearing this evening.”

    “Actually, I wanted to record a message for him for when he wakes up today – I haven’t had a chance to speak with him in a few days, so would it be okay to send him something to tell him I’m… doing alright? I don’t want to wake him up before I leave for school, but with his court hearing today…”

    Dragon just nods and turns to Colin, but Colin looks a little pensive. He mulls it over for a moment before nodding as well.

    “We’ll have to review the video before we show it to him, but that sounds reasonable. You can use the camera on your computer to record the video. Email it to me before you leave for school.”

    You breathe a small sigh of relief that he wasn’t going to make you record it right then – you’re not sure you’d have felt comfortable doing that – but the fact that they still don’t trust you completely still slightly irks you. Will this continue for the year you’ll be a Junior Ward?

    A small part of you hopes you can really show off during the next Endbringer fight and put these fears to rest. The rest of your mind tells this suicidal thought to keep quiet lest it call down Murphy’s Law on your head.

    Dragon shifts a bit, clearly having been waiting for this next discussion topic. “Next, if it was alright with you, I was hoping to try the test we didn’t get to yesterday. If that’s alright with you, of course.”

    You nod, then swiftly stretch yourself out from your meditation position – some soreness you hadn’t noticed before quickly resolving itself as you move around – and approach Dragon’s suit. You reach out and put your hand against the chest of the massive hunk of TinkerTech, then close your eyes.

    “Ready?”

    Dragon’s suit stills, but you feel the slight tremor from the speakers projecting her voice. “Whenever you are, Taylor.”

    “Here goes nothing.”

    Activating the Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade’s Hypercalibration Benediction sub-module, you try to push the effect out and into the suit. For a moment, you get the same feeling from your attempts at passing it through her digital projection - of there being… something… there, but not enough.

    You focus on that idea, however. Maybe this has something to do with the way you’re approaching the sub-module? Maybe don’t think of it as pushing the effect onto her projection, or onto her suit… but instead think of affecting her.

    Using the multiple thought processes afforded to you by the charm currently, you focus your primary train of thought on the mental image that this isn’t Dragon acting through a suit, but rather that the suit is Dragon – allowing any dissenting ideas that nay-say the notion or consider it weird to be funneled off into ancillary trains of thought to be ignored.

    And just like that, the charm clicks over to Dragon.

    Who immediately begins shrieking in pain.

    Colin leaps to Dragon’s side while you reflexively end the charm on her, but it appears the damage has been done; the suit’s voice synthesizer rapidly dissolves into inchoate warbles before shutting off completely, followed by the suit locking up.

    “Dragon? Dragon?! What’s going on?! What wro-ah!”

    You see Colin pull away his hand just as you a wave of heat rolls off the suit causing the air around it to warp like a mirage. Within seconds the suit is no longer just painted red, but is actually red hot – then white hot – as the massive metal frame turns to taffy and begins to melt to the floor.

    You and Colin share a look, then dash for the door. As the door slides open, he slips to the right while you dive to left… with a great deal less elegance or skill. Colin slaps the manual ‘door close’ button, but after waiting for almost a minute there’s no accompanying explosion to go with the Dragonsuit’s meltdown.

    You’re about to ask what to do next when Colin punches in a few numbers in the pad next to the door, causing the door’s controls to be outlined in red. He turns to you, looking focused but a little… distraught?

    “Go back to your Guest room and get ready for school. If anyone asks, direct all questions about what happened here to me. I’m going to go speak with Dragon – we’ll discuss this when you get to your reveal rehearsal.”

    You nod, causing him to start marching off. A few steps away, however, he stops and turns back to you.

    “Could you…?”

    Since you have the charm active on yourself currently, you realize immediately what he’s asking for. You suppose it wouldn’t hurt, and might help him piece together what happened with Dragon more quickly, so you have one of the flies in the hallway land in his hair and pass the Incomparable Efficiency Upgradecharm to him. His posture shifts slightly as yours wilts a bit, causing him to nod mechanically.

    “Thank you. See you at reveal.”

    And like that, he’s off.

    It takes you a few moments to get yourself back together after everything that just happened, but you eventually shake your head a bit. You don’t have long, and you still need to shower, eat, record your message to your dad, and grab everything that your spiders made over the weekend for the cheerleading team.

    No time to worry about Autochthon’s new Charge, the thing in your Elsewhere storage, Endbringers, or whether you just fried Dragon’s brain.


    ***

    “Hi Dad. I’m going to be at school when you get this, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m doing… ok. Things have been a little strange – no, really strange – these last few days, but overall I think it’s been for the best. I started going to Clarendon, and even though most of the classes are easy enough that I could probably teach them now, I managed to meet a few… friends.”

    You blink a bit as you think it over.

    “They’ve been acting friendly, and I don’t think they’re the type to stab me in the back, so yeah. I guess they’re friends. And then I joined the cheerleading team.”

    You sigh, rubbing your face with your hands briefly. Your dad would probably need a moment to take that in, too, so you’re not worried about pausing there.

    “Yes, the cheerleading team. Remember how I told you about the Head of PR, Glenn Chambers? He said that I’d have more control over my costume and what powers I could use in public if I joined. Worse, I actually know why that makes sense. I know, I know, I’m probably making too big a deal over nothing and that I shouldn’t be so wound up about joining them, just… it still feels weird getting all this attention with the way I look now, and being a cheerleader just cranks that up to eleven.”

    “Except… it hasn’t been all that bad so far. I’ve only had less than two days with them, I know, but they already really helped me out when I got caught by reporters on Friday afternoon. They also haven’t freaked out about what powers I’ve shown them so far, and otherwise seem nice, it’s just… too good to be true, you know? So it probably is; I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

    You shake your head as you notice the time on the computer’s clock.

    “I need to get going, so I just wanted to let you know that I’m doing alright and… well, I miss you. I’m sorry I haven’t talked with you more, but once you join the Protectorate then we’ll be able to spend more time together again. I still have some things to talk with you about so I have a visit scheduled for when I get back from my reveal and patrol – should be sometime around ten thirty.”

    You try to give your most genuine, hopeful smile for the small camera built into your computer’s monitor.

    “I love you dad. Talk to you later tonight.”


    ***


    When Ray drops you off at Clarendon, you think back on the cheerleaders’ and spectators’ reactions to your spider-leg halo from the Shard of Perfect Administration charm. It wasn’t overtly negative, and having it active goes in line with Coach Sato’s idea of keeping a reminder of your parahuman nature in your public persona, so you opt to keep it on as you walk into school.

    You already drew every pair of eyes just with your figure, but the surprise and mild shock when people notice your ‘new’ headgear actually makes up for all the objectifying stares from before; instead, you can see the recognition in their eyes now - that you’re more than just a pretty face (and Maker does it still feel weird to think that) - which gives way to some small nods.

    There are still plenty of people undressing you with their eyes, but you weren’t hoping for a miracle, here. This is a high school, after all.


    ***


    Lisa is not in school today.


    ***


    You manage to track down Josie and two of your other teammates, by way of surreptitiously planting a small insect on nearly every member of the student body (which proved to be a fun absent-minded distraction during your more boring morning classes), and pass along ten of the spidersilk undershirts for the team. After she spends the next two minutes hugging you and squealing about how awesome you are, you give her the run-down on how to handle them: normal wash, light on soap, hang-dry (usual fare for expensive underwear, you’ve discovered).

    Josie says that she’s still going to try to bring some of the team by for your reveal, but since only there’re only three cars between the whole team and Coach Sato not everyone will be able to fit – the van used for events is in for repairs, otherwise it wouldn’t be a problem. You tell her not to worry about it and appreciate the thought that everyone wanted to come in the first place.

    It takes you a few more minutes to pry yourself from the Josie and her friends, after which you navigate smoothly through the hallways and catch the Twins, Saki and Sakura, before they duck into their next class. You give them the four other undershirts – two for them, two for Vince and Mike as the other boys are too big to fit this size undershirt - and explain what they are. They are clearly blown away by your generosity, bowing deeply in thanks for your time, effort, and thoughtfulness. You let them go as the final bell rings with an invite (for them and the rest of the ‘group’) to your reveal today. As they duck into class, bowing again, they say they’ll try to make it and pass along the invite.

    With your packages delivered, you stealthily guide the various insect spies you had through the school back to their normal hiding spots before you leave. It wouldn’t do to have your imminent departure result in the insects you have spread through the student body suddenly reverting back to their normal behavior instead of laying silently in clothing folds.


    ***

    You arrive at the downtown PRT Headquarters at around 12:45pm, only to see most of the stage and chairs still being set up by contract workers. There are a few TV stations already set up, however, so you’re quickly ushered into the massive white obelisk-of-a-building before they manage to train too many cameras on you.

    Having never been to the PRT Headquarters before, you take a moment to size it up. While the outside is a huge, sturdy tower with few defining features besides its windows, the inside of the main lobby looks to be designed to be easily defensible; with standard PRT white-and-gray color scheme over obviously-reinforced walls, you can tell that function clearly trumps form here. Coming through the main entryway (or the windows on either side) would leave you exposed for well over fifty empty feet before you got to the first counter.

    Your guide – Katie, from his name tag – takes you through the central elevator up to the fourth floor, after which you navigate through a few turns to be deposited in the local PR department. Or, rather, it was the local PR department until Glenn showed up.

    “Hebert. What are you doing?”

    Lime green jeans, burgundy vest, salmon-pink oxford underneath, yellow square-rimmed sunglasses with orange lenses. You wonder if he ever wears the same ensemble more than once, or if he’s got some sort of ‘random outfit generator’ that selects his clothes for him in the morning. Ah, he’s pointing to your head now.

    “I activated the power on accident Friday during cheerleading try-outs and a few dozen people saw it. They reacted well, and Coach Sato said to keep it going, so I figured it was a good way of blending my ‘normal’ appearance with my true appearance.”

    Glenn tilts his glasses down to look at you over them, just staring at you for a moment before seeming to focus on the rest of you in your school outfit. The moment passes and he is back to dealing with the aides around him, talking with you over his shoulder.

    “Risky, but it has potential. If we see any negative press about it we’ll try to spin it that way, but in the future try not to make extra work for us like that. Now, get into costume and let’s go over the schedule.”

    You don’t have time to be shocked that you managed to convince Glenn of something, as you’re already being whisked away to a changing area.


    ***


    Compared to the five hours of rehearsing the cues, the speech, and what sorts of answers you’re supposed to give to various types of questions, the actual event itself is almost a blur.

    With the Brockton Bay Wards assembled on stage, as well as Armsmaster, Miss Militia, Assault, Battery, and Director Piggot, the Brockton Bay PR Lead – Sam Jaqueson – gives a fairly standard speech about hope and promise that you tune out for the sake of making sure that you nail your entrance.

    Which, considering that you’re already on-stage is more difficult than you expected in front of all the cameras, people you think you recognize from Winslow, Josie, Coach Sato, several of the other cheerleaders, the Twins, Mike, Vince, and Joey.

    “… we give you: Weaver!”

    On cue, the 563 butterflies the PRT brought in for the event flow out from behind the stage and do an intricate spiral dance before converging on your invisible form. Instead of landing, they grab hold of the various spider silk strands of the banner made by the spiders last night, pulling it off you in one smooth motion as you also drop your Optical Shroud.

    To the crowd, it looks like your costumed form (the regal dress style, you ultimately decided) simply materialized from a storm of blue-and-black Mountain Blue Don butterflies, shedding a cocoon of silk in the process that eventually reveals to be a spiderweb-like banner of your name carried by the butterflies.

    You’re glad you asked Kid Win, Gallant, and Armsmaster to record their view of the audience, because you really want to make sure you have something to remember their faces for the rest of your life.

    When you turn and step towards the podium, the spell breaks and you feel the audience’s cheering and applause wash over you. It helps calm your knees – which are still lightly shaking, unseen under your dress – as you make it to the stand and look out over the crowd.

    Next step: smile. Done.

    Next step: Breathe.

    Next step: Notice the glint of the sniper scope in the third window from the left, seventeen stories up, two blocks to the right.

    Wait, that wasn’t oh shit.

    Reflexively, you end Hypercalibration Benediction to get your Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade charm back. You empty the essence from your internal reservoir to fuel your Dynamic Reaction Enhancement System to augment your understanding of the sniper’s vantage point, while also activating your and full suite of Industrial Survival Frame sub-modules. With your remaining thought threads, you begin to gather as many bugs near the sniper's window as you can and have those already nearby swarm at the sniper.

    Who has a spotter, you see now. And that spotter has noticed the oncoming insects.

    With your perception enhanced and accelerated by your various charms, you notice something odd. Through your bugs you hear the soft crack of the suppressed sniper rifle, even see the very slight muzzle flash, well before both register through your own body's senses. Something to look into when you aren’t being shot, you suppose.

    Unfortunately, your incredible awareness of the situation around you coupled with your innate understanding of projectile trajectories - due to your new skills with ranged weaponry – paints a grim picture: either you take the bullet or Vista takes it somewhere near the right clavicle.

    Half-step left, straighten back, turn slightly to the left to avoid deflecting it into Gallant instead. Try to call out “Get down!” but only manage the first word.

    Once again, there was never any doubt.

    As a tearing pain slams into your right ribcage with enough force to lift you off the ground, you have a clear enough mind to notice a second shot. And a third. And a fourth. By the fifth shot you’re busy trying to roll for cover but Armsmaster is already intercepting bullets with his Halberd and Aegis is hunkered down on over you like his namesake.

    You were just starting to like this costume, too. Now you had to go and get moonsilver and orichalcum blood all over it.

    After the fifth shot the sniper and his spotter immediately bolt for the door in the room, pulling pins to grenades that start spewing a light mist – gas that instantly kill all the bugs near them. You’re having trouble pulling more bugs in the area due to the duo being near very edge of your range… oh, right, you should probably tell the team.

    “-hiper twwo bwocks wight hebenteen up winbow!”

    Hmm, you seem to have lost your tongue when that third shot went through your mouth. This could be problematic. Maybe…?

    “Siiine! Fowwow!”

    You’ve been ignoring the crowd's screams, but their antics sure are annoying when you’re trying to bark out orders with half of the important bits of your mouth gone.

    Keeping tabs on everyone you know via bugs, you note that your experiment to use the Mountain Blue Dons to form arrows towards safety seems to work in leading them towards awnings and behind tables. For the heroes, you have a big arrow pointing towards where the sniper fired from – Kid Win and Gallant taking off on the former's hoverboard while Assault and Battery follow them on the ground. You keep new swarms (of less PR-friendly bugs) pointing them in the direction near the sniper's location, but you’ve lost track of them for now – you need to get closer!

    You should probably worry about not bleeding out first, though. Which, as it turns out, takes only a thought. Huh, interesting. Now, if Aegis would just let you get up then you could…

    “Up! Emme up! I khan ffinb bem!”

    Armsmaster and Miss Milita are having none of that, however. Miss Militia is directing efforts through her headpiece while keeping an eye trained on the sniper location and surrounding rooftops with a rifle of her own, while Armsmaster is now kneeling down where Aegis is keeping you covered slash pinned. With a glance and a nod of his head, Armsmaster directs Aegis to haul you up and into the waiting doors of the PRT HQ.

    The Wards and Protectorate teams still out on the field pass from your range of direct vision, but judging from the precision and skill shown by the sniper team, you don’t expect to hear good news anytime soon.


    ***


    Judging by the look on Miss Militia’s face as she walks into your private hospital room in the PRT HQ’s secure medical wing, you’re glad you didn’t keep your hopes up.

    On the bright side, you can feel your tongue and missing teeth are starting to grow back already. Still, probably best to avoid talking for a bit.

    Miss Militia gives Aegis a flick of her head, causing the senior Ward to leave and shut the door behind him.

    “Weaver… Taylor, I’m sorry but I’m not here to give you any good news.”

    You shrug, having figured as much.

    “Eh, ibs ohay. Geb hem nehhs thiime.”

    Not relaxing from her militant posture, the senior Protectorate Hero shakes her head.

    “No, I’m afraid that’s not what brought me here.”

    You’re trying to pin down the look in her eyes. Sorrow? Regret? Shame?

    “The PRT van containing your father and his escort was attacked as he was being brought back to Protectorate Headquarters at roughly the same time as your reveal ceremony. The attackers are a relatively new villain group calling themselves the Undersiders, though we have little concrete information on their roster or abilities. We want to say the Undersiders attacked the van and then left with your father as a hostage, but after reviewing nearby video surveillance recordings it looks like he went willingly.”


    ***

    Intimacy: Brockton Bay Wards (Loyalty) Gained... kinda!

    Occult +1 Training Day (1/6 Days)
    Craft +1 Training Day (5/6 Days)
    Presence +1 Training Day (4/6 Days)
    Socialize +1 Training Day (5/6 Days)
    Performance +2 Training Day (4/6 Days)
    Archery/Firearms +1 Training Day (2/6 Days)

    Artifact: Eye of Autochthon (N/A) Gained!


    Voting for 3.1 will come later. First, it's Intermission Time!


    Intermission Vote:

    [ ] The Lair

    [ ] The Server Room

    [ ] Creation
     
  17. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] The Lair


    Interlude:


    ***

    Finished looking over Taylor Hebert’s medical report, Coil leaned back in his chair and tapped his hands together in a peak. He was nearing his headache threshold, so this would likely have to be the best he could get for now if he wanted to be coherent for the next several hours.

    However Taylor Hebert’s power worked, it disrupted his power in a way he had never previously encountered, nor had even considered possible. Before the girl had arrived on the scene, his own examinations of his power had given him the idea that he controlled Destiny; by splitting ‘timelines’ he could act independently until either one of his timelines died or he deliberately ‘chose’ one timeline over the other. To him, the two worlds would collapse and he would be in the timeline of his choosing along with all the knowledge gained from the other, discarded timeline.

    That had always been the crux of his power: take two, choose one.

    Now? With the realization brought about by the overload Taylor Hebert’s power had forced upon him, the game had changed: take two, choose one or none.

    He was grateful, in a sense, the way a man may be grateful for a nail piercing his foot… if the man then discovered a winning lottery ticket on the ground after bending down to examine his aching foot.

    The first step towards this new understanding of his power had come the morning of Taylor Hebert’s awakening. When the pain-induced haze had finally worn off, he realized he was only halfway through the night, even though his last coherent thought was of collapsing the timelines several hours in the future. More confusingly, he still had all the information that he would have apparently gained from both timelines running to their completion: one sleeping in bed at home until 6:30am (at which point he would have chosen that timeline), the other staying in his base and reviewing news reports, equipment and product schedules, and performing his nightly guitar exercises.

    He still wasn’t quite sure what had caused that first disruption of his power, but what he had pieced together from later reports was that the Wards Kid Win and Vista had encountered been chased off by a fugue-state Hebert only a block from his civilian house, and in so doing jarring his sleeping timeline awake. His old civilian house; he had, of coursed moved shortly after identifying Hebert as the cause of his power’s disruption and then realizing that her own house was only several blocks away from his own.

    It had taken eight further power disruptions (five of them self-induced for the sake of testing his power), as well as hundreds of attempts to replicate the feat on his own before he could reliably opt to forego either timeline, instead absorbing all the information from however long both timelines ran while still standing in ‘the past’. It was incredibly taxing, finally giving him an understanding of just how Tattletale and other Thinkers felt when they had their own power-induced headaches from pushing themselves too hard, but it was a price he would gladly pay for the new level of power it gave him.

    Which brought him back to his latest attempt at getting rid of the ‘nail’ in Brockton Bay. This was the best opportunity to remove her from play in the next month that he could reliably set up - running his power forward in time more than a full month almost instantly gave him crippling headaches - and in the last forty-eight attempts he had tried each produced different results. Even when he perfectly mirrored every step along the way until the assassination attempt… sometimes she’d trip and another Ward would take a fatal hit, other times she would notice the sniper team before they could hit her, and one time she just shrugged off the Tinker-made bullets as if they couldn’t hurt her at all.

    There were patterns, that much he had figured out, general trends towards certain types of responses and general probabilities towards success or failure, but it just seemed so arbitrary sometimes. So random.

    Coil could agree with Accord on that matter: ‘random’ would never be an acceptable state of affairs.

    Collapsing the futures in favor of this one, Coil waited a moment to give his power a time to rest a bit more after physically catching up with the point in time he had opted to keep. Reflexively re-activating his power had been a hard habit to break, but when faced with new obstacles and new opportunities, victory would come to those who adapted.

    Twenty-seven activations of his power later - only a few minutes in real-time - he finally settled on a future.

    As his power predicted, Coil reached over and pressed a button on his telephone, then waited for the secretary’s response.

    “Yes, Mr. Coil?”

    “Please let Mr. Hebert know that I’ll see him now.”


    ***
     
  18. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] Creation


    Interlude:


    ***


    Floating in an endless Abyss, dim embers of powers too invincible to be destroyed even by Nothingness itself serve as the only reminder of the existence that birthed them.


    There are no memories of a Primordial War, here. Nor of the Ages that followed.

    No memory of a great darkness escaping its prison through trickery, only to drown the world in sorrow.

    For those that would have remembered chose Death over Suffering.


    So now, there are no Primordials, no Gods, and no Mortals.


    Only Oblivion.


    ***
     
  19. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    [X] Omake-Turned-Canon Bonus!

    +2 XP as thanks to DragonBard for writing the first version of this!


    Interlude:


    ***


    "What the goddamn hell happened!" Piggot snarled as she slammed her fist on her desk. "How could a simple PR reveal of a new Ward turn into an attempted assassination, and we don't even get the fucking snipers?"

    Ms Milita frowned. She, Aegis, and Armsmaster were sitting in Piggot's office, going over the situation.

    "We have no idea." Ms Militia said. "CSI has gone over the location with a fine-toothed comb, but whoever the sniper was they and their spotter were pros. They left nothing behind, the bullets melted into slag inside Taylor, and no group has stepped forward claiming responsibility."

    Piggot snorted. "Probably because they know that when we find out whoever did it, we're going to make sure they wish they'd never been born."

    "We were lucky." Armsmaster said, glowering. "Hebert appears to be tougher than previous tests reported. Not only that, she deliberately took the first bullet instead of dodging in order to protect teammates. She also should have bled more before we got her to the medics."

    "Brute rating?" Piggot asked.

    Ms Militia shrugged. "We'll have to see. I'm more concerned about the fact her father was broken out right after his daughter was shot. It's obvious something's going on, but what we don't know."

    "I agree." Armsmaster said, nodding. "It's too coincidental. The question is, what was the purpose? Kill the daughter and break out the father?"

    No one had an answer to that.

    Aegis looked at Ms Militia.

    "What's the word on Taylor's condition?" Aegis asked. He'd been worried she would lock up under pressure like she did in social situations (particularly when embarrassed), but her instantaneous battlefield assessment and deliberate move to take a hit for a teammate definitely put his fears to rest.

    "Doctors say that, as far as they can tell she'll be fine, and is healing nicely on her own." Ms Militia sighed. "Glory Girl brought Panacea to help minutes after the event, but it looks like Taylor's makeup is similar to Weld's metal body; Panacea's power doesn't register Taylor's body as organic. Brandish offered New Wave's help in the investigation and take-down at least - this probably brings back bad memories of what happened to them." Ms Militia turned to Piggot. "We're certain Mr Hebert went with them willingly?"

    Piggot frowned. "If there was any coercion, it wasn't something we could see on camera. It's possible a Master is involved, but we don't know for certain yet."

    Ms Militia frowned. "There's no reason for a gang of teenagers to break him out like that. It's completely different from their usual work. At least we finally caught them on camera."

    Piggot turned to Armsmaster.

    "Has Dragon been able to find anything?"

    If anything, Armsmaster's frown got even darker.

    "Something happened, and she's requested time to deal with a personal matter. I suspect a power surge of some kind disrupted communications on her end earlier this morning, which would explain her suit breaking down, and she's been trying to ensure it doesn't happen again."

    "Just great." Piggot muttered, thinking dark thoughts about capes and bad luck. "Any idea when she'll be able to provide support with the investigation?"

    "May be a few days." Armsmaster said.

    "Alright. In the mean time, Ms Militia I want guards on Hebert 24-7." Piggot said. "As soon as she's good enough to be discharged I want her transferred to headquarters. I want her to be wearing at minimum a bullet proof vest, or some other kind of body armor. Someone wants her dead, and we're going to find out who and stop them. Is that understood?"

    The three nodded.

    "Good. When we find the sonofabitch behind this, they're going to get buried so deep they'll have to look up to see Hell. Now get out."
     
  20. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Tuesday Morning Actions:
    [X] Full Disclosure
    - [x] Bring everything you know to Miss Militia (first), including your Diagnostic Overlay abilities. Work with her to root out the corruption that you believe is behind your attack and the attack on your father.

    XP Expenditures:
    [X] Nothing's Gonna Stop Me XP Plan
    - [x] 4xp - Awareness
    - [x] 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    - [x] 4xp - War
    - [x] 2xp - War (Swarms)
    - [x] 6xp - Willpower x2


    ***


    The rest of the Monday after your official reveal as a Ward is spent locked down in the PRT Medical Wing, though after the first few hours of hectic commotion things finally slow down. By the middle of the evening the dreary boredom of your hospital-esque room is only punctuated by the occasional visitor coming to wish you well and commend you on your bravery.

    The Wards and Protectorate are out in force to show that the PRT is not cowed by the despicable attempt on your life, though patrol groups are being sent out in threes instead of twos for the foreseeable future. Though at first there was concern that the attempt was on the Wards in general and not just you, reviews of footage of the event heavily imply that the shooter was only after you - any chance of the other Wards being hit was simply due to proximity and not intent. Vista and Gallant don’t seem to care, however, and make certain that you know that they feel they owe you their lives - the former nearly tackling you in your bed before she realized that doing so could have injured you further.

    The only non-PRT visitors allowed are Panacea and Glory Girl, who arrive within an hour of the attack.

    Unfortunately, Gallant and Vista are also in your room at the time when they enter.

    You’re in your base form when they arrive as the doctors urged you to deactivate as many of your powers as you could to help them work on you without any possible complications, but you kept Industrial Survival Frame active just on the off-chance that something worse happened - not counting it as paranoia, as you had just almost just been assassinated. As a result, when Glory Girl barges into the room in front of the guards that were ostensibly leading her there, you only feel something wash over your mind - not, apparently, the aura of overwhelming despair and rage that has caused Gallant and Vista to back into the far corner.

    “Glory Girl! Victoria! Stop!”

    Experience to Glory Girl’s aura of emotion must have given Gallant some experience of powering through it; Vista looks like she wants to curl up into a ball and die, while Gallant is visibly struggling to reprimand his off-and-on girlfriend.

    You decide that you do not like Glory Girl.

    Oddly, Panacea - Amy Dallon, Glory Girl’s sister - doesn’t appear to be affected by her aura. You give the girl in the white-and-red cloak-and-cowl a glance while she meekly stands behind her overbearing sister. Compared to the vibrant white-and-gold leotard-and-skirt of Glory Girl, the two sisters are a study in opposites; Glory Girl is tall, blonde and fiercely blue-eyed, while Panacea (what you can see of her) is much shorter, with mousy brown curls and freckles surrounding sad green eyes.

    And then your Diagnostic Overlay scan finishes and all other thoughts fly from your mind except one: Panacea’s mind has been warped. You’d heard about her being a regular attendant at Endbringer events, so could this be - as terrible as the thought is - confirmation that you can detect Simurgh victims? Except, as you keep the scan running, you see that those same affected areas (centers that deal with emotion regulation) are ever-so-slightly being influenced right now.

    Trying to remain still as Gallant gets mobbed by Glory Girl - who has burst into tears and is babbling apologies to Gallant while she smothers his armored self into her formidable cleavage - you do a quick scan of Vista and Gallant to confirm your fears. Yes, their brains are also under the influence of some kind of very-slight warping effect… which dies down even further as Glory Girl appears to get herself under control and reduce the strength of her emotion aura. Reviewing the scans of the three, it’s frightening display of the long-term effects of the power: Vista is almost baseline, Gallant clearly has the beginnings of permanent damage, and Panacea is completely mentally scarred by the emotional aura Glory Girl is pumping out.

    You manage to refrain from blurting out your findings right then and there, though you’re not sure you manage to keep the look of horror or condemnation off your face.

    Panacea certainly notices your face, however, her own undergoing a mixture of confusion and concern before another look - hope? - flashes briefly across her features before she settles into a determined mien and approaches the side of your bed. She pulls down the white cloth mask covering the bottom half of her face before bowing slightly to you, though she relaxes slightly into a light smile as she does so.

    “Nice to meet you, Weaver. I’m Panacea. I’m sorry about Glory Girl’s aura - she was really worried about you all when she heard the news, she didn’t mean any harm.”

    You’re frankly a little flattered that such a world-renowned hero would treat you with such respect. This girl saves more lives in a day that you’ll probably be able to manage in the next year! You manage an embarrassed smile and try to wave her formalities off.

    “You can call me Taylor - it’s not like it’s a secret. Are you going to try to heal me?”

    She brightens a little and nods, then holds a hand out towards you

    “You can call me Amy. I’ve actually been wondering what you would look like to my power, ever your Director called us and asked if I could try to help you. Would you… mind?”

    You give a shrug and place your left hand in hers, still paying some attention to Gallant’s attempts to fend off Glory Girl and Vista’s various subtle glares with your 360-degree vision.

    Again, you get the feeling of something washing over you but being rejected immediately. Panacea gives a start and drops your hand as she pulls away quickly with a wince and a yelp - which catches the attention of the others in the room.

    “Weaver/Taylor/Ames? What happened?!” You don’t turn to the trio of cries and Glory Girl moving towards you, instead focusing on Amy, who now looks to be nursing a bit of a headache. Glory Girl certainly notices Gallant call you by your name, however.

    Closing her eyes and rubbing the bridge of her nose, Panacea just shakes her head to ward off the alarmed questions. “It’s ok, just… I could almost see something even though I could tell it wasn’t biological, but before I got a chance to look harder I got… shoved out. I’ve never felt something like that before - did you do something?”

    With your head still turned towards Panacea, you notice Glory Girl giving you an evil eye… which seems to be ramping up her aura if Gallant and Vista are good indicators of its strength. It might not be best to mention that you don’t want to deactivate Industrial Survival Frame with Glory Girl still in the room, as that will lead to all sorts of questions and accusations that you don’t feel like dealing with for the time being - not until you talk to Miss Militia or Director Piggot, at least.

    On the other hand, you just hurt Panacea, the greatest healer in the world.

    “One of my powers keeps me safe from things that would manipulate my body in any way, as well as make me immune to environmental effects sometimes. I can will it off sometimes, but it usually reactivates automatically. I didn’t think it’d hurt you. Sorry.”

    She’s rubbing her temples now, but it almost looks like she’s frowning more from concentration than pain.

    “No, no, it’s ok. Just going over what I saw is actually causing more of a headache than when your power pushed me out. It’s like… my power was telling me you’re both biological and…something else… but when, I try to figure out anything beyond that it just starts giving me this headache that feels like some kind of grinding noise mixed with… screaming?”

    You blanch as well as your black metal skin allows. Maybe it’s best if Panacea doesn’t try to analyze your composition after all. You’d rather her not be terrified into catatonia by the souls trapped in the metal that composes your soulsteel body. You give a grimace and rub the back of your neck, trying to play it off.

    “I, ah, have a low-level illusion effect that’s part of another power, so you may have seen part of that. Sorry.”

    Vista seems to catch on first, though she pales a bit upon recognition of what you’re talking about. “Oh! You mean… That. Right.”

    Gallant gives a look to Vista and shrugs in acceptance, but Glory Girl looks like she wants to tear you a new one for possibly injuring her sister. Panacea, on the other hand, is giving you a look that says she isn’t buying it. After a moment or two, however, she just grimaces lightly in pain and nods her head.

    “I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything for you, Taylor. I’ll let the doctors know that they’ll need to operate to get the bullets out.”

    You feel like mentioning that you could probably get the bullets out and sew yourself up with your Omnitool Implants and its Comprehensive Surgical Systems sub-module, but you realize you don’t know that much about human anatomy and surgical procedures - probably best to leave that to the professionals for now. After a sigh you just nod your head.

    With that out of the way, Glory Girl manages to rope you and the other two Wards into a re-telling of the event. When Gallant mentions that you likely saved him and Vista from the first few bullets, her demeanor towards you visibly softens.

    After a few more minutes of chatter about how you you’ve successfully trumped Clockblocker for having the most shocking reveal on the team, a PRT officer pokes his head in to let the two New Wave super-teens that the PRT squad that the Undersiders banged up have arrived and are ready for Panacea now. Amy pulls up her mask and nods to Glory Girl, who adjusts her costume and golden tiara before they both depart your room with a few more get-well-wishes.

    “Sorry about Victoria, Taylor. She’s… very emotional, and often forgets how that can impact others around her. She means well, even when she fusses over Amy at even the smallest sign that Amy’s been hurt.”

    Vista grumbles something, but it’s low enough that Gallant doesn’t seem to hear it. All you manage to pick out is something rhyming with ‘itch’. You manage not to let your smile at the comment show.


    ***


    As the event was live, trying to cover up the shooting was a lost cause right from the get-go. Glenn, who is still on-hand from earlier, stops by a few times to give you updates on the PR side of things as events unfold - you ask for a tablet or laptop so that you can keep up on your own, but the doctors deny your requests in hopes that you’ll focus on recovering.

    The feeling of helplessness and being trapped is not helped by Glenn in the least.

    “We’ve dealt with Wards causing trouble during their reveals, so this is almost a refreshing change of pace for us, Hebert. You didn’t even get a chance to open your mouth and you’ve already got fan sites, declarations that you’re going to be the next Legend, and calls from nearly every news agency for interviews and up-to-date information on you. You’ll likely come out a star from this, but the Wards program itself took a pretty big hit from outraged parents claiming that the program is unsafe.”

    You give Glenn a flat look, but he just shrugs.

    “Don’t get me wrong here, Hebert; unless you were somehow making enemies just by existing, all our records indicate that you’re in no way to blame for this attack. Since the public has no reason to suspect otherwise either, we’re doing spinning this as an attack on the PRT as a whole instead of on the Wards program, which has the side benefit of allowing Director Piggot the leeway to call in some big guns from out of town. I’ll let her fill you in on what’s happening on that end.”

    Despite Glenn’s claims, you’re reasonably certain that this is, in fact, all your fault. You try not to let your face betray your thoughts, but it becomes more difficult when Glenn moves onto his next topic; rubbing his hands together for a moment before crossing his arms, the PRT Head of PR gives you an expression that almost borders on sympathy.

    “We’re spinning the attack on your father’s escort as a hostage situation, which is allowing us to further the angle that this is an all-out attack on the PRT, but unless that situation resolves itself quickly we’re going to have a mess on our hands if he winds up doing something stupid on camera. With the media attention on Brockton Bay right now, the best thing would be if he somehow turns himself in looking like he fought his way out - that, or some Heroes manage to find him incarcerated in some way.”

    Glenn is at least partially right: no matter the cost, you are going find your father.


    ***


    Glenn’s other visits are more of the same, with updates on interview requests and news trends involving you or your father. Strangely, you’re almost hoping now that all the talk is just about you. At one point he allows a small PRT PR camera crew in for you to give a statement that you’re alive and recuperating well - for which you have to reactivate Integrated Artifact Transmogrifier, though you ultimately decide to keep it and Loom Server Migration running from now on if Lisa’s incorrect power readings are any indication of what it might do.

    As the night wears on, you’re a bit surprised that Director Piggot hasn’t visited you but when you mention it to Assault, Battery, and Velocity during their after-patrol visit, Velocity mentions that the Director returned immediately to the Protectorate Headquarters to be ready for the police and PRT investigation teams’ reports, as well as to start filing requests for temporary reinforcements.

    “Piggot’s been under a lot of pressure lately for not making any headway against the major gangs, so this is probably a pretty big blow to her credibility as well - Armsmaster’s been dealing with the parents of the other Wards today, trying to keep them from calling for the Director’s head.”

    Assault barks a laugh at Velocity’s comment, drawing a few looks.

    “Not sure why they’re letting Armsmaster anywhere near the parents of those kids. He’s liable to piss ‘em off even worse.”

    That gets a few laughs from the other Protectorate members, but draws a frown from you as the idea rings true. Sure, Armsmaster’s the leader of Brockton Bay’s Protectorate division and oversees the Wards, but you really don’t see him as being able to talk down angry parents - that seems more a job for Miss Militia. You add the thought to the pile of suspicions you have about today’s events.

    Though, on the topic of Armsmaster, you hope he doesn’t wear himself down completely today through over-reliance on your Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade charm. You resolve to take it back from him before you go to sleep, if only so that Armsmaster doesn’t go without sleep tonight.


    ***


    The whispered crack of the silenced rifle causes you to nearly fling yourself out of your bed in panic. Every insect in a two-block radius thrums in tune with your panicked heartbeat, until you finally realize that it was all just in your head.

    It is 1:15 AM.

    You thrash yourself against the hospital bed’s railing, Vista’s voice calling your name drowned out by the thunder of your essence-filled pulse in your ears.

    It is 2:01 AM.

    The terrified faces and screams of Coach Sato, Josie, Sakura, Saki, and Joey - distorted through the eyes of your bugs - wrest your mind into consciousness.

    It is 2:48 AM

    You do not sleep well.


    ***


    When a nurse knocks on your door at 8:00 AM, you turn your attention from the programming book in your Elsewhere pocket to answer it. When she strides in to help check your stitches from the surgery yesterday evening, you resolve yourself to not give any indication of your mentally-frayed state - you are a Hero, damn it, and Heroes do not let little things like a lack of sleep get in the way of their Duty.

    You check out alright, though she doesn’t manage to hide her bewilderment at your metallic-yet-somewhat-clay-like skin or the filaments that run along it. She declares that your wounds are healing nicely, which you confirm with another scan with your Diagnostic Overlay. Then you absently scan the nurse.

    Facial reconstructive surgery on nose to reduce size and alter shape.

    After yesterday’s discovery concerning Glory Girl’s aura, you’ve decided to make a habit of running aDiagnostic Overlay scan on everyone you see. It’s only momentarily distracting, not like Tactical Analysis Engrams and Essence Sight Oculars - while they yield a great deal of information, they’re far too distracting (and draining) to use constantly. However, beyond your Shard of Perfect Administration charm, you still don’t quite have a complete grasp of the full extent of your powers - and even your Shard of Perfect Administration charm still has sub-modules that you haven’t figured out a way to unlock - so perhaps a more constant use of them will get you ‘in tune’ with them more quickly.

    Some part of you wonders if you should feel bothered by the fact that doing so would further remove you from the Taylor Hebert you once were, but the lack of any negative responses from the rest of your mind dispells that errant thought.

    After the nurse finishes clearing you for transport to Protectorate Headquarters, followed by a quick extrustion of your costume (repaired now, thanks to Technomorphic Integration Engine’s Pattern-Mending Integration sub-module), Armsmaster and Miss Militia walk in alongside three PRT fully-geared field officers.

    Armsmaster: medium sleep deprivation, muscle fatigue indicative of workout routine.
    Miss Militia: muscle fatigue upper body indicative of recent weapon use.

    The scans of the three PRT officers brings up nothing out of the ordinary either, so you suspect that Armsmaster and Miss Militia may have run through their respective training routines to work through the tension from yesterday’s events. Perhaps you should take up a routine to help with your own stress?

    Almost as if called, your mind absently drifts into the swarms under your control and the natural impulses the insects have been going through when you leave them to their own devices. There’s a soothing nature to their simple minds, their natural desires and instincts free of any human-like motives like greed, jealousy, or even despair - they have no concept of death, so at most there is only the frantic need to flee from a source of pain. You notice, however, that all the Black Widow spiders in your range have congregated overnight to underneath the helipad overhang. You must have ordered them there for collection when you return to Protectorate Headquarters, but you don’t remember consciously issuing that directive. Strange.

    You notice that Armsmaster is giving you a hard stare, so you quirk an eyebrow in response - not, you realize belatedly, that he can see it behind your domino mask.

    “Is that a backup costume, Weaver?”

    “No, I absorbed it to prevent the doctors from cutting it apart to get at my wounds, and anything I absorb automatically repairs itself completely if I keep it stored long enough.”

    If anything, that increases the magnitude of Armsmaster’s stare. Miss Militia’s eyes betray her smile before she voices the thought on his mind.

    “So not only do you understand everything you absorb, you also repair it? That wasn’t in your Ratings Testing report, so is that a new ability?”

    You give a non-commital shrug while shaking your head slightly. “No, I think it’s always been a part of it, I just never… huh, yeah, I guess I must have repaired that flower pot that I absorbed when Vista squashed me into that wall, because I’m fairly certain I remember it shattering.”

    The casual mention of Vista attacking you causes some momentary alarm in the two Protectorate members, but Armsmaster nods in recognition first.

    “The morning when you encountered Kid Win and Vista on patrol. Do you still have it?”

    “Yes, but it’s less a flower pot and more a concrete flower planter - it’s pretty big, so I’m not sure I want to extrude it here.”

    “That’s fair. Besides that, are you well enough to lend your Thinker power out?”

    You roll your eyes and push your Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade through one of the small flies you’ve placed on his armor. After the usual shift of his breathing and change in composure, he nods mechanically.

    “Thank you. We have a schedule. Let’s go.”

    Miss Militia gives him a glance, but you’re used to him with the charm running by now - it’s hard for even you to speak slowly and politely with the charm active, so as long as Armsmaster doesn’t devolve into a chatterbox like Kid Win does with the charm active then you can begrudge him the increased bluntness.

    You’re handed what looks like a Kevlar poncho and a helmet, which you dutifully don before stepping out onto the helipad. Your swarm can also see multiple PRT patrol helicopters in the air besides the one waiting for you on the tarmac, and you hear through your inconspicuously-placed bugs the radios of various officers placed in overwatch positions crackle to life about your impending departure. You turn to Armsmaster and give him a small wave to get his attention.

    “Do you want me to give us cover with my swarm?”

    This seems to give pause to everyone there, Armsmaster included.

    “Will it slow us down?”

    You shake your head, so Armsmaster gives a tacit nod of approval. Judging by the grimaces on Miss Militia’s face and the sudden shifting of the three PRT officers, you suspect they are less than pleased by his decision. Oh well.

    Pulling together the swarm you had building under the tarmac to help deposit the 238 Black Widows into your care, you augment it with a few extra hundred thousand flyers. This gets the attention of the overlooks, but Armsmaster calls them off with a notice that you’ve got them under control.

    And then your team is marching out on the tarmac, into a tunnel shaped of bees.


    ***


    After arriving at the Protectorate Headquarters, you are directed to remain in the Protectorate Guest Room in which you have been staying the past two weeks - the mess from Dragon’s armor is still being cleaned out from your actual room.

    You have your fliers drop off the new Black Widows into your new workshop (much to the alarm of a few PRT employees in the halls as your fly-carried-spiders swarm through), where you see your other terrariums have been moved to while you’ve been gone - a job you suspect was given to a PRT employee who drew a very short straw. You note that all the old spiders are still there, and two new undershirts have been crafted in your absence with a third halfway through completion. Moving some spiders over the two finished products, you see that they’re the same size as the previous versions. Perhaps this means that they’ll follow whatever your last orders were? That certainly makes things easier, though you wonder if that’s the case with all insects that even pass through your control briefly or whether it’s a case of these spiders being instructed with a great deal more regularity.

    As you settle into your room, you see that some care has been paid to your bed to provide you with additional cushioning in case you need further support for your healing body. Considerate, if not exactly needed, and you wonder if you can smuggle some of these memory-foam pillows into your normal room when your convalescence is finished.

    Knowing how thorough the PRT has been so far with regards to equipment, though, you’ll probably be hit with ‘improper distribution’ forms to fill out if you don’t just go through the proper channels. Might as well just requisition them normally.

    You settle in for a bit and get your spiders and swarm-remnants to work on making small adjustments to the terrariums and workshop, as well as set all the new Black Widows to breeding. The eggs from your first 2312 Black Widows should be hatching within the next few days - you can almost feel their little baby insect minds formed in the eggs - after which you should have well over two hundred thousand of the spiders. You’ll need to make sure the newborns don’t get eaten, of course, and provide more than enough food for the burgeoning assembly line, so perhaps there’s a silver lining to your being relegated to the base for another few days.

    And tomorrow the first shipment of Darwin’s Bark Spiders should be arriving! It’ll take a few weeks before you can get their numbers up to what you have for your Black Widows, but you smile as you think about the myriad of ways you can integrate the pinnacle of natural tensile strength into the costumes you plan to make for your friends and yourself. Once you get enough spiders going and have the routine down, you may even be able to start selling your works to the PRT - like Chris does for some of his more basic (and thus more reliable) weapons.


    ***


    Almost an hour after you arrive, you decide to start on your plan to get to the bottom of the plots against you. After a few minutes of searching with the small number of ambient bugs in the Protectorate Headquarters, you locate Miss Militia walking down from her room. With the three flies you have to work with, you have them swirl in a spiral display a few feet in front of her, causing her to stop.

    “Taylor?”

    You have all three hover in mid-air and then bob up and down in the approximation of a nod, then have them clump up and fly in the direction of your room. When she doesn’t move for a moment, you have them circle back and repeat the motion.

    “You want me to follow these bugs?”

    Again, bob up and down.

    You can hear the smile in her voice. “You couldn’t come and get me yourself?”

    Weave side-to-side.

    “Alright, lead the way.”


    ***

    It only takes a few minutes for Miss Militia to arrive, during which you order the facts in your head and prepare a plan of action. You call for the door to open as she arrives, still led by your trio of fruit flies. Before she can begin, you pre-empt her question with your own.

    “Can you shut the door behind you?”

    She quirks an eyebrow, but presses the button beside her to shut the door. You slowly roll out of bed, careful of your stitches, and nod to her while extruding into your hand the journal you’ve been keeping of your conversation with Lisa and your related observations since then. You hold up your other hand to motion for her that you wish to speak without her interrupting for a bit.

    “First, I’m going to go invisible - I don’t think that there’s anything here that can track me when I’m cloaked. Don’t freak out, ok?”

    She nods, but refrains from speaking while you disappear from sight in a heat-like ripple of corruscading essence. You speak normally for the next step of your plan.

    “I can throw my voice into your ear, so don’t freak out.”

    Again, Miss Militia nods, though you can tell she’s growing more and more concerned about these steps you’re taking. Now, using Echo Chamber Vocalizer to talk directly into her right ear, you drop the bomb.

    “I have reason to believe that the PRT has been compromised. I don’t trust this room to be free of surveillance. Can you walk to somewhere we can talk without being spied on?”

    Surprisingly, Miss Militia doesn’t react past the surprise of hearing your voice as if your mouth was up against her ear. You see her mulling it over, her eyes darting around the room as she crosses her arms for a moment before nodding once and then striding out the door. You keep a few paces behind her after she closes the door a few moments later and carries on back towards her own room.

    Locking the door behind you, she turns and claps twice. There’s no audible or visible effect, but it seems sufficient for her - walking casually to the table in the middle of her room, she removes her army-style hat and flag-print scarf before tossing them both casually onto a rack besides her door without even looking. You suspect she’s showing off, but it’s still impressive.

    “Alright, explain why you aren’t going to Director Piggot with this. Why me?”

    You avoid sitting down in one of the chairs to avoid leaving an impression with your invisible posterior, instead opting to stand at the opposite side of the table - not before placing your journal in front of her and watching it materialize as it leaves your grasp.

    “My second day in Clarendon, I discovered that one of the girls in the group I had started to talk to was a parahuman. Her name’s Lisa - I sketched a picture of what she normally looks like in school on the fourth page, and then what I think she looks like without the scar on the fifth - and she’s a Thinker. A pretty powerful one, too.”

    This gets Miss Militia - Hannah, now - to sit up in her chair. She quickly opens the journal to the pages you mentioned, but focuses on the image of Lisa without the scar.

    “What kind of hair does Lisa have? Blonde?”

    You nod out of habit, invisible as you are, before confirming audibly to her right ear.

    “We’ve suspected that one of the members of the Undersiders is a Thinker, as they’ve been able to predict our movements and security measures sometimes before we’ve even started to move against them. What did she say?”

    “She told me that she was being forced to spy on me, even though it hurt to use her Thinker power on me. Apparently she’s being controlled by someone powerful - powerful enough to get to me and my dad even when we were both here in the base. That controller - Lisa said that they want me gone because I disrupt their power somehow.”

    Flipping through more pages of your journal, Hannah is reading along to your journal entries as you explain them. Pointing at one of your notes, she makes the connection.

    “And you suspect that this controller is a Thinker, too, and that you’re disrupting their power like you disrupted the PRT precogs on Sunday.”

    “Exactly. Except with what Lisa hinted at he’s either able to strike directly from range with his power, or he’s got infiltrators within the PRT. The infiltrators make more sense, because then that’d explain how he was able to get the snipers in position yesterday and hit the escort with my Dad.”

    Hannah picks up your journal and begins pacing with it as she reads, flipping through various pistol and knife configurations of her power with her off-hand. She pauses with a long Bowie knife and uses it to tap a line in the journal.

    “It’d explain the shooters, yes, but maybe not the convoy. Lisa says that the controller would kill your father before he got to you, but if that was the case then why take your father alive?”

    Despite the question, you almost get that she already knows - or suspects - the answer. You’ve had time to think on it all night, but even still you dread voicing the answer.

    “They want to use my dad against me.”

    She smiles, and you can see her eyes flit around the room as if she’s looking for you, but eventually she returns to reading the journal with one hand and flicking through versions of old western pistols with the other.

    “Well, that means they either hired the Undersiders or coerced them into attacking your father’s convoy. If Lisa is the Thinker on the Undersiders - Tattletale - then it probably means they’re controlling that whole supervillain team as well. That doesn’t seem like ABB or Empire tactics, and the Merchants couldn’t even begin to plan something like that, so the only possibilities are the new villain named Coil or a completely new villain. Coil has been fairly small-time, but from the small amount we’ve been able to gather he strictly uses non-powered help… though, we still don’t know what his power is.”

    She stops near a dresser and leans back against it, closing the journal while crossing her arms against her chest. Casting a gaze at the table near where you stood to hand off the journal too her, she nods in thought for a moment before continuing.

    “Your ideas in here are good, but you don’t have any concrete evidence. Without that I can’t go to the Director or start and major investigations, but any investigations might tip off whoever this person is that we’re on to them in the first place.”

    Her gaze turns hard as she squares her jaw. She’s clearly thinking, but you take the silence as an opportunity to study her expression and body language before responding yourself.

    It’s clear the way she’s been talking that you’ve at least convinced her that at least most of what you’re saying is true, as it all fits too well with the attack on you yesterday to brush off - even without any hard evidence. Still, she’s clearly having a hard time trying to decide what to do with this information; from everything you’ve read of her public history, she’s been with the PRT almost her entire life, so the idea that it could be so thoroughly corrupted has to be a very hard pill to swallow. Maybe you can work with that…

    “It’s possible that the PRT isn’t corrupted and that this controller is just that good. I don’t know. But even though I want to go out there and try to search for my dad myself, I don’t want to throw away everything here to do it. Do you… have any ideas?”

    She’s still for almost a minute before you see her heave a sigh of confusion mixed with anger.

    “I’ll start looking for possible infiltrators, but I can’t promise anything right now. I think we should bring Director Piggot in on this, however. I trust Colin with my life, but he’s so focused on his own career I’m not sure how he’d react; either he’d brush off the claims completely, or storm around HQ with his lie detector asking people ‘Are you a mole?’”

    She punctuates that last comment with a surprisingly on-character imitation of the overly-focused tinker, causing you both to giggle afterwards.

    “I was thinking about going directly to her with this, but I still don’t quite get her - she always seems so wound up and angry when I’m around.”

    This causes a much more boisterous laugh from Hannah, to the point where she has to wipe a tear from her eye after she stops.

    “Oh, no, it’s not just you, Taylor. The Director’s wound up far too tightly for it to be healthy, but if you can count on one person to not tolerate any form of corruption under them it’d be her.”


    ***


    It takes Hannah several minutes of politely requesting the Director to come to her room, but eventually Director Piggot graces you both with her presence - not that Piggot knows that you’re in the room at the moment, of course.

    When Hannah claps her hands twice after the door locks, however, there’s a soft warning tone heard. This gets them both to jerk in alarm.

    “Emily, you’ve got a bug on you.”

    You have the fly move off Director Piggot, just in case. The Director frowns further, but otherwise doesn’t move.

    “I have an implant to monitor my heart. It sends regular signals to the doctor downstairs, so unless this will take more than ten minutes it won’t be a problem.”

    You whisper to Hannah to go ahead, prompting her to lay it to the PRT Director straight: “Emily, there’s a good chance we’ve been compromised.”

    The Director is very still for several seconds. Eventually, she narrows her eyes to slits as she drills Hannah with a look that could crack diamonds.

    “Keep talking.”


    ***


    As the discussion progresses, Director Piggot calls for a pause so that she can go outside and allow her heart monitor to send its signal. This is necessary two more times before the two finally reach the point at which Hannah planned to reveal your presence.

    As expected, the Director looks like she’s ready to flay someone alive at the news.

    “I should assign you Controller duty for willfully disregarding security protocols, Hebert. Wherever you are.”

    You’re still getting the hang of throwing your voice with the sub-module, so this time you try to make it sound as if you’re ten steps to her left while still keeping the cone of sound directed into her ear.

    “Sorry.”

    Judging by the way the Director reflexively strikes out with her left hand, you suspect you weren’t very successful with that attempt.

    “Try that again, Hebert, and I’ll melt you down for scrap.”

    You revert to simply casting your voice from only a few feet to your right, trusting that the security precautions in Hannah’s room will suffice - not that it really matters at this point, what with both the Director and Hannah having discussed the whole affair openly in the room for the last half-hour.

    “Sorry, Director. If what Lisa said about the way her power works is true, I think it’s better if I remain invisible as much as possible right now. That way, if the controller really is a Thinker, he’ll have an even harder time figuring out where I am and what I’m doing.”

    “Acting any differently means this bastard will know that you’re on to them. You’re going to be under surveillance already, so if you try to dodge it then they’ll know and be forced to escalate.”

    Hannah shakes her head at the back-and-forth, though she looks somewhat glad for not having you talking directly in her ear.

    “If this person is truly a high-level Thinker, the only way to beat them is to find their blind spot. We can’t play ‘I know you know you know’ until we can reliably predict just how Taylor’s power is affecting them and what their power is. Until then, we work on figuring out where the leaks could be and where they lead to.”

    Which reminds you of a suspicion you had last night after Assault’s comment.

    “Director, do you think the attack on me and my dad yesterday could have also been to discredit you?”

    The Director crosses her arms, looking around idly for you again, finally settling on Hannah with a glare, but eventually nods.

    “The board is going to want this investigated down to the brass tacks, but Brockton Bay’s been under a great deal of scrutiny in the past year due to increased Empire and ABB cape numbers. Then they turn around with the same breath and demand I keep Lung alive in case we can get him to fend off another Endbringer. I wouldn’t put it past some of them to call for my head after this.”

    “Then why did you send Armsmaster to deal with the parents of the other Wards instead of Miss Militia? That couldn’t have helped calm them down.”

    This gets a surprised reaction from both of the older women in the room, the Director especially, who turns to Hannah with a frown.

    “I sent both of you to deal with the parents. Armsmaster to stand there and look good, you to do the talking. I wouldn’t trust him to talk a kitten out of a tree.”

    Hannah reacts to that with further surprise, however. “Colin told me that I was supposed to handle the press while he dealt with the parents.”

    Director Piggot practically boils at that, looking ready to storm out and rip Armsmaster right out of his suit. After everything you’ve seen Armsmaster say and do, however, you’re not quite convinced...

    “That self-centered twit better have a good reason for disobeying orders or he can kiss that Halberd goodbye for a week. I thought the man had better sen-”

    “Wait-” you interrupt, stalling the Director’s rant mid-stride. “Wait. Did you give those orders to him directly?”

    For several seconds, the Brockton Bay Director of the PRT is very quiet. When she speaks again, her voice is ice.

    “Kenneth.”

    She snaps out of her focus briefly to point at Hannah.

    “Hannah, you keep watch over who gives orders to whom around here. I want you looking over anything that has to do with the security details for the reveal event, checking to make sure every direction was followed to the letter - any deviations are to be noted and kept under your hat for now.”

    Dropping her right arm, she makes a sweeping gesture with her left in the general direction from where your voice has been originating.

    “Hebert, you’re to keep scanning everyone around with that power of yours that spots parahumans. I’m going to be hauling in every contractor for the event, as well as every agent that was even remotely involved and I want your eyes on them as soon as they hit the door. If someone dodges the interview, I may have you hunt them down. In the meantime if you really can copy Tinker gear then put it to use and make yourself a copy of Colin’s lie detector - if I can have you stealthed in those interviews instead of a fully-suited Armsmaster glaring at them, all the better.”

    You almost feel sorry for Colin, but you realize he’s really not made any friends for himself ever since he’s been putting your power to use. He was getting better with Dragon around, but with her out of commission for… however long she will be (and you remind yourself that you need to check in on her), he may fall back into bad habits. Hmmm.

    Still, the Director has a point.

    “I’ll see what I can do. So... should I go back to being visible?”

    Hannah waves you off before the Director does.

    “Yes, but go back to your room before you do, Taylor. Might as well keep up appearances that it was just us in this room, even if surveillance might suggest that you were here.”

    Director Piggot paces to the door, still clearly clenching one fist in suppressed anger.

    “Follow me out, Hebert.”

    She punches the door release and is out the door, with only a nod to the room’s owner and the barest, “Hannah” as she leaves.

    You don’t feel like disobeying Piggot right now, so you just whisper a quick, “Thank you,” to Hannah as you skirt out quickly with the Director and begin to make your way down to your own room.

    Unfortunately, you can’t seem to locate Armsmaster in the base. A quick check with some flies to the Control room, however, shows that he and Velocity are out on patrol. Since that means he’ll likely be out for the next four hours, you have some time to kill until his return.

    What to do…


    ***

    Intimacy: Vista/Missy (Friendship) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Gallant/Dean (Friendship) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Brockton Bay Wards (Loyalty) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Glory Girl (Distaste) Gained!
    Intimacy: Miss Militia/Hannah (Admiration) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Director Piggot (Begrudging Trust) Gained!
    Intimacy: PRT (Loyalty) +1 Increase!

    Awareness + 1 Training Interval (1/6 Intervals)
    War + 1 Training Interval (1/6 Intervals)
    Medicine + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Lore + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    Investigation + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Stealth + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Integrity + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    Presence + 1 Training Interval (5/6 Intervals)

    Spent: 4xp - Awareness
    Spent: 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    Spent: 4xp - War
    Spent: 2xp - War (Swarms)
    Spent: 3xp - Willpower
    Spent: 3xp - Willpower [Now at Max!]


    Time for more decision-making!

    We’re going back to voting for Stunts, but this time only ONE Stunt per action.

    New Terminology/Rules:
    - One (1) Interval equals roughly 3-5 hours of time, but can vary beyond that. Votes will list how many Intervals will be covered in the next Update.

    - By default, an action takes 1 Interval, so assume an action will only take 1 Interval unless otherwise stated.

    - Tinker projects almost always take at least 1 Interval, if not more. When work has been put towards a project, the Interval count for it will go down automatically in the next vote by however many Intervals were spent on that project in the last Update.

    - You can switch between Tinker projects without losing work unless explicitly stated otherwise in that project’s description.

    - Stunts and Charms can allow you to multi-task, effectively granting ‘extra’ Intervals. For example, you can spend time making a spider-silk outfit yourself (for a higher quality) or Stunt to have your spiders weave the outfit while you work on other projects.

    - Training times have been changed to Intervals instead of Days for ease-of-Questing.

    - We’re going back to purchasing Backgrounds because otherwise you guys just don’t have enough to spend XP on at the rate at which you’re accruing it. Sorry for the flip-flop, and I will list which Backgrounds are available for purchase in the Character Sheet in a fashion similar to the Abilities Training section.


    Tuesday Interval #2-3 (Afternoon-Evening): (Choose Two)

    Medic!:
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Read some books/CDs/flashdrives to buff up on a subject while you do so (Stunt to describe what topic you’re reading/training).
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Spend the time analyzing the thing in your Elsewhere pocket.
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Review your charms and how your essence helps shape their functions so that you have a more complete understanding of how they work.

    SOME PIG:
    [ ] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, arranging the new terrariums for more optimal spider movement and habitation.
    [ ] Get the spiders to work spinning more silk to weave, then get it made into something (Stunt to describe what is woven).

    Private Eye:
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your assassination attempt.
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your father's break-out.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and try to gather what data is available here to put pieces together for both events.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Director Piggot to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Miss Militia to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.

    One With The People:
    [ ] The Wards are in school, so take it easy this afternoon (to facilitate healing) and write emails to (re)connect with Sally, Dragon, Panacea (thank for healing attempt), the Outcasts, the Cheerleaders, and Coach Sato. Also do some light cooking for the PRT day-shift folk, making enough to cover most of their lunches, and talk to them about what's going on and how the PRT is responding to yesterday's events.

    Workshopping:
    [ ] Start fully remaking your costume into powered armor using Kid Win and Armsmaster technology (and left-overs), as well as some innovations of your own. This will take 4 more Intervals, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    [ ] Refit your costume with base materials from the other outfits and items so that it only needs PR Approval and not a Tech Review review. This will take 1 Interval to complete.
    [ ] Work on modular bug-controlled anti-gravity pods, using Kid Win’s technology and your own to start the idea. This will take 8 Intervals to complete, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    [ ] Write-In: Work on something else (if it takes longer than 1 Interval, this will be added to the Workshopping list with an updated count).

    Write-In:
    [ ] Something different!


    XP Expenditures:

    Make a plan for XP expenditures or vote on plans. Example Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
    -[x] 4xp - War
    -[x] 2xp - War (Swarms)
    -[x] 3xp - Willpower
    -[x] 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    -[x] 3xp - Influence (PRT)

    Example Vote For Said Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
     
  21. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Tuesday Intervals #2-3 (Afternoon-Evening)
    One with the People
    [X] The Wards are in school, so take it easy this afternoon (to facilitate healing) and write emails to (re)connect with Sally, Dragon, Panacea (thank for healing attempt), the Outcasts, the Cheerleaders, and Coach Sato. Also do some light cooking for the PRT day-shift folk, making enough to cover most of their lunches, and talk to them about what's going on and how the PRT is responding to yesterday's events.

    Private Eye
    [X] Investigate our father's kidnapping
    - [x] Stunt: Review the video of Danny's kidnapping, burning Essence furiously [2nd Perception Augmentation]. Through replay after replay, some with your microscopic lenses activated, you're resolved to pore over every detail of what happened. Going over their placement and actions throughout looking for details, clues and insight into where they came from, where they might be going, and especially what they're saying.


    ***


    With Armsmaster out of the base, you don’t feel comfortable looting his workshop for anything you could use to craft a Lie Detector. You haven’t had a chance to absorb any of the armor he wears, so you’re not certain where the mechanics of the device are housed but you suspect that the majority of the processing power lies in the visor.

    You idly cycle through your various options for the rest of the day, but nothing seems to be more pressing than getting to the bottom of your father’s abduction. The Director’s suggestion to scan everyone in the base with your Diagnostic Overlay is a good place to start, but just walking through the PRT offices glaring at people is liable to be suspicious.

    You walk into your room, shut the door, then deactivate your cloak in a haze of color that seeps back into your form. After waiting a few moments, you stride back out of your room and head back downstairs to the Wards’ Common Area. Lunch is only an hour and a half away, so if you want to get enough made to satisfy the three dozen-or-so PRT employees still on base around this time you need to get to work.


    ***


    “Oh, wow!”

    “Holy crap this is amazing!”

    “Thank you so much!”

    You let the adulations of the PRT employees roll off you, your attention focused on the scan results appearing in your mind’s eye. So far you’ve noted two more employees with active Corona Pollentias in their minds, though an older PR employee (“Jack Kasper” if you got his name tag right) had a shriveled Corona Pollentia but no Corona Gemma. You’re not quite sure what that could mean, but you make certain to take his name down alongside the others.

    You had to raid the Protectorate Common Area for enough supplies for your Operation: Hunger Scan, but you eventually managed to slap together enough Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato sandwiches to feed most of the base. The side-dish of macaroni and cheese (you hope Assault doesn’t mind you melting down his cheese wheel) has also gone over well for those that had lunches of their own and only wanted a side dish. To wash it all down you managed to whip up some sweet tea from one of the recipes on the “home cooking” flashdisk you absorbed the other day. You’ve never had real sweet tea, and since you were cobbling together various tea bags that looked similar to what you needed it probably doesn’t taste exactly like it should, but the employees seem to be loving it and it tasted fine when you tried it yourself so you chalk it up to good instincts.

    For ‘water-cooler talk’, you manage to pick up a great deal of information as the main body of the PRT chows down on your prepared meals. Everyone, of course, is shocked - horrified, even - that there would be someone wanting you dead (already, at least) and that they’d stoop to assassinations to get the job done.

    Those that are handling the non-powered reinforcement paperwork mention that the city will be getting five more trucks and five-man squads to fill them by the end of the week, as well as two more patrol helicopters. As for cape reinforcements, there’s been a lot of talk around the office about who will answer the call; for situations like this, it’s more a matter of a ‘show of force’ than a need for it, so big hitters like the Triumvarate are likely not to show, though they may send Protectorate members under them in their stead. No Wards are expected, as it’s difficult to explain the sudden, temporary transfers entailed in a way that doesn’t lead to questions around their secret identities.

    Still, by the end of the week at least five to ten new Protectorate members are expected to be transferred temporarily to Brockton Bay. One of the guys in the Staffing department even jokes (with a mouth full of macaroni) that you’ll probably need to move into your actual room now that there’s going to be a need for the Protectorate Guest Rooms.

    You want to make a joke about having them take it up with Dragon, but you still feel responsible for that whole incident so you don’t feel like making an ass of yourself further.


    ***


    It takes you until a little after one in the afternoon to finish making your rounds, your trip ending at Director Piggot’s office to see if she or Kenneth want anything. Your scan doesn’t reveal anything directly incriminating about the Director’s secretary - despite her earlier accusation - so you’re starting to suspect that this ‘controller’ person is using normal people as his contacts and infiltrators.

    Director Piggot actually takes a BLT sandwich from you, but before you can even smile in recognition of the progress you’ve made with her she nearly punches you after she takes a swig of the ‘sweet tea’.

    “Hebert, if you don’t get that foul concoction out of my office right now you’ll be spending the rest of the week running Control Room duty. And if I hear you call that swill ‘sweet tea’ again, I’ll dock your pay as well.”

    Sitting behind her desk with a look that makes you think you just ran over her dog, you cough in your hand once and nod before wheeling the cart out of her office as quickly as it can move.

    Looks like you’ll have to wait a bit more to talk to her about the myriad of health issues that your scans have detected are plaguing her.


    ***

    With your socializing and scanning done for the time being, you fight off the temptation to leave the cleaning to the service staff and tidy up the dishes, kitchen, and serving cart you used before heading back to your ‘guest’ room. Once there, you plop down at your computer to see what information you can gather about your father’s abduction.

    After fifteen minutes of struggling against user account restrictions and classified documents, you realize that the answer to that is “very little.” Well, without turning what you know of hacking against the PRT security, but you decide that attempting your very first cyber-security attack against the PRT of all organizations is probably a very poor plan. Looks like you’ll have to get Miss Militia to help - your eyes in the base spot her going through documents in her room, but if she’s investigating corruption like you suspect she is it might be better to let her work her way through some of that first before bugging her again.

    Actually, thinking of bugs, paperwork, and… well, thinking, you float one of the smaller flies over and land it on the small of her back. With a flicking of mental switches, you strip Incomparable Efficiency Upgradefrom Colin (since he’s not using it for tinkering at the moment) and pass it to Hannah. As expected, this causes her some alarm for a few moments, but she quickly catches on with a determined nod and resumes her investigation.

    Meanwhile, since you’re already at your computer and still have time to kill, you figure it’s worth tracking down the contact information for people you’ve been meaning to get in contact with since the shooting.

    It takes only a quick visit to New Wave’s website to locate Panacea’s email, and The Guild’s website also freely gives Dragon’s email address (though you’re hoping that your official email address will bypass any spam filters both undoubtedly have in place). Tracking down Sally’s contact info, however, requires several minutes of hunting down her MySpace page, since she doesn’t seem to be on that failed start-up ‘Facebook’ site that you heard was all the rage in Earth-Aleph. After that it’s only a quick trip to the Clarendon official website to gather Coach Gloria Sato’s school-issued email before you’re set.


    ***


    To: dragon @theguild.org
    From: weaver @wards.prt.gov

    Dragon is everything okay? I am so sorry about what happened. I can’t figure out what my powers could have done to cause a reaction like that. Have you figured it out from your end? Armsmaster seemed pretty concerned about you. I hope whatever happened isn’t too serious. I won’t lie I could really use your help to find my dad but obviously your health comes first.

    Get well soon Taylor.


    ***


    That took you… far longer than you expected it to take. Since when did you have to rely so much on Spell-Check and Grammar-Check? You never had this much of a problem writing essays back in Winslow, now that you remember it, but when you try to focus on how you went about writing those pieces the memory is… slippery. Is that why Mrs. Marley made such a face at your first example essay last week?

    Worst is that it all looks fine to you when you re-read it on your own - you can easily parse what you write, but… maybe that’s the problem? That you have to parse it at all?

    If only your mother were still here, she’d be able to help you get back into form before you could correct a split-infinitive. A part of your traitorous mind even whispers that she could have made an excellent starmetal caste, and she would have joined your side in immortality, but you shut down that train of thought before you spiral down into despair.

    Trying to focus on the lessons you learned writing that email to Dragon, you start penning your correspondence to Panacea.


    ***


    To: panacea @newwave.org
    From: weaver @wards.prt.gov

    Amy thank you for to trying to heal me I apologize again for my powers. I think might be possible for you to heal me but have to fiddle with powers and I wasn’t really thinking about it last night before all this mess I was actually going to ask Gallant what the best way to get in touch with you would be. I was hoping to have someone to talk to about the whole public hero thing and possibly offer you the use of my efficiency power, since it can drastically speed up peoples actions I thought you might be able to use it to speed up your healing. I’m sure Kid Win wouldn’t mind giving up a few of his hours for a worthy cause. I think a few of my powers might have medical applications as well so I wouldn’t mind getting your opinion on that either. Obviously I understand that you’re busy but since I’m under house arrest anyway hopefully we can schedule something. Like Vista but we can’t really go out together with me risking her identity it’d be nice to have a friend that I don’t have to worry about that kind of thing with.

    Keep up the good work Taylor.


    ***


    Now you’re starting to second-guess yourself, as you noticed a few errors in there that even the Grammar Check didn’t spot, or even made worse. Or you think they made worse? At least the Spelling Check is fairly hard to get wrong… you hope.

    Idly, you do a quick check through the various PRT tools available to Wards, and it seems that there aren’t any available to help write letters or essays. You wouldn’t put it past the PRT to block access to those types of programs (if they even exist) for fear of Wards using them to cheat on homework, so you’re not really surprised by your lack of success there. A quick web search also proves fruitless, save for people that apparently will write school essays for a small fee.

    You don’t think you’re that desperate. Yet.


    ***


    To: gtsato @clarendonhighschoolbb.org
    From: weaver @wards.prt.gov

    Coach I don’t really know how to apologize for what happened at my reveal. If the school or the rest of the team doesn’t feel safe with me staying on id understand. Please tell the team and the rest of my friends how sorry I am I probably won’t be in school for a while but I did want to thank you in less than a week you tried more to help me then the entire staff of Winslow combined I won’t forget that.

    Thank you, Taylor Hebert.


    ***


    This is intensely frustrating. It’s almost as if there’s an ache in the back of your mind that pulses every time you re-read your own writing… except you don’t know what to do to soothe it.

    You make a mental note to grab a few of the writing style guides in the Wards Common Area and absorb them so that you can read them before falling asleep tonight.

    Well, at least Sally probably won’t think much of your decayed writing abilities. Absently, you wonder if any of your charms will help you with this...


    ***


    To: sjjones1996 @winslowhsbb.org
    From: weaver @wards.prt.gov

    Hi Sally its Taylor I hope the official email convinces this is really me and not just bad prank from someone at Winslow I’m not sure what rumors about what happened are is but it really me and not robot or clone first off I’m sorry for not getting in touch with you sooner it’s kind of been a busy week. I wanted to let you know that I don’t blame you for what happened with the locker I’m sure the Trio threatened you to keep quiet about it and you couldn’t have known what would happen. I saw in the paper that you were the one to make the memorial at my locker I don’t actually know how to thank you for that I'll understand if you don’t want to get back to me after what happened at my reveal it might not really be safe to be around me for a while but if you do want to talk here’s my PRT number 555-4532 x0062


    Thanks Taylor.


    ***

    Your fingers softly whir and click back into their normal composition as you deactivate your Omnitool Implants charm, not having found much success using the various tools for simple typing. They certainly sped up your writing speed, allowing you to have full control of every key in the primary 62-key array (and the six-key Home Key block) of your keyboard. It was a little freaky at first, when your hands and fingers continued to split apart again and again into the small little hammers, but you intuitively knew how to use everything in order to type what you needed so it didn't faze you for long.

    While it was invigorating being able to type so quickly, you realized there may be some complications with this setup the first time you absently tried to reach over for the mouse with your right hand and got your hand tangled up in the small device. Something to look into when you start working on programming for your own hardware, at least.

    You’re tempted to also write to the Outcasts and the Cheerleaders that went to the reveal, but in the back of your mind you notice Hannah put aside the last pile of paperwork she had been cruising through (as a result of your charm) and stand up to stretch her back.

    Hoping to catch her before she moves on to her next task, you dart from your chair and over to the intercom system near your door. With a few key punches you dial up her room, silently thanking PRT Tinkers for cramming so many tools into the door controls.

    “Hannah, do you have a few minutes to help me with something?”

    Through your bugs, you watch Hannah mechanically pace over to her door controls to answer your query with a clipped, “Yes.”

    As you explain what you’re looking to do - trawl through all the PRT data on your dad’s abduction while pushing your powers to the limit - you notice something odd in the back-and-forth between you and Hannah: your bugs’ sensory data is reaching you slightly before her words through the speakers, resulting in an odd echo-like sensation as you receive two bursts of the same sounds at slightly different intervals. This brings to mind the realization you had during the shooting, when the sight and sounds your bugs picked up reached you before your own enhanced senses registered the far-off events.

    You already knew essence did some weird things, so adding in the possibility of faster-than-light communication isn’t that far of a stretch but still… bullshit magic it may be, it still deserves some actual testing at some point. Maybe after all this PRT corruption is cleaned up you can utilize the Headquarters’ testing ranges without revealing more of your powers to people who are actively trying to kill you.


    ***

    Up in Hannah’s room, she cycles through traffic camera recordings, police write-ups, and PRT evidence dossiers while you sit beside her in your base soulsteel form and radiate a mid-level Anima filled with sparks, smoke, and eerie black-and-blue light.

    You warned her of what you were planning, so she’s been taking your growing Anima in stride (especially the growing pile of luminescent soulsteel flaking off of you), but you hope you don’t need to push your essence use so far that it reveals your higher-level Anima. Not only would Hannah likely start panicking, you suspect the computer might shut down (or do something even stranger as a result), which would render your essence expenditure useless.

    Under such hyper-accelerated senses - pushed to your limit through your 2nd Perception Augmentation, Dynamic Reaction Enhancement System, and Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade charms - the world slows to a crawl and every nuance, every scrap of detail stands out as if they were five feet tall and surrounded in a blazing corona of fire. Any piece of related information you've seen or heard since your exaltation is cross-referenced against the data presented to you on-screen as you ask Hannah to loop every recording, bring back every report, and repeatedly shuffle through every piece of evidence currently available.

    You are going to have some Words with Lisa the next time you see her. First and foremost being, “how do you manage to fool everyone with just a domino mask?” It seemed so easy for you to see right through it, but you probably have an unfair advantage with your history of using bullshit magical powers against her.

    The other Undersiders are much harder reads, though you suspect you can probably pick two of the other three - Hellhound and Regent - out in a crowd now when they’re out of costume. Besides that, the grain on the streetlight cameras makes it nearly impossible to read lips - especially since it looks like Lisa turns away from every possible camera angle when she speaks - due to all the hard-form masks being worn by the supervillain team.

    You do manage to get something from your father, just before he’s enveloped in Grue’s darkness:

    “...better not be lying...”

    Hannah gives you a raised eyebrow and an exasperated head shake when you reveal that information, but eventually she finishes mulling it all over.

    “I can point the rest of the team at that, so your father will have an easier time of things now; there’s precedent for forgiving manipulation by high-powered Thinkers, so as long as it’s clear that your father isn’t acting independently and in a way that would be breaking the Unwritten Rules again we should be able to stop this from hurting his chances of probationary membership in the Protectorate by too much.”

    She cuts off your relieved sigh with a cautionary hand-wave, however.

    “There was talk of his initial probation term of only being two years, but now it’ll probably be the minimum five before this gets added on. Though, if anything, it’ll add maybe a year to the term... but the whole term can be reduced by good behavior once he’s in the system.”

    Six years as a Probationary Protectorate member? While that seems like a staggeringly-long time, you recall from your reading of the PRT membership guidelines that even as a Probationary Protectorate member he’d be making almost $80,000 (before taxes) and have full insurance coverage - a far cry from what you discovered he was making as the senior manager of the dock worker’s union.

    You had been a bit horrified to learn just how badly you and he had been off as of late when Director Piggot detailed what life improvements he would see as a result of joining the Protectorate. He’d never once told you about the pay cuts affecting him as well, and you had thought he was still making a decent wage with all the hours he had been putting in over the last two years. It did explain why he never splurged to repair some of the worn-down fixtures in your home, at least.

    Coupled with your $50,000 trust fund for joining the Wards (ostensibly for college tuition) and your $400 monthly stipend, maybe you could actually start to bring the house back up to shape - not that it’d take you long to repair the place just on your own and with the bare minimum amount of spare material. But would it be safe to live in your old home now that everyone knows who and what you both are? Something else to talk about with Panacea, you figure.

    Luckily, all these side trains of thought distract you none; having room in your mind for six coherent consciousnesses at the same time affords plenty of time for idle speculation.

    “Do you think there’s a way we can track down the Undersiders now? I could probably spot them with my swarm if we drove around the city.”

    Hannah blinks a few times, going through the ramifications of what you just suggested with widening eyes.

    “Taylor, we could hunt down every single supervillain in the city like that. The Undersiders might be able to give us the slip if Tattletale’s powers prove just as effective against you as she’s been against our own searches, but the Empire, Merchants, and ABB wouldn’t know we’re coming. That’s… I’m not sure if I should be terrified or amazed.”

    “I’m not sure it’s that amazing, but it’s something we could try at least. Besides, we’d still need to actually fight them - and the Empire still has more firepower than we do in a straight fight, while Lung-”

    Shaking her head, Hannah cuts you off.

    “No, Taylor, I mean if you were able to figure out the civilian appearances of the Undersiders so quickly... you could theoretically do the same for every supervillain gang, and then find them out of costume. If it got leaked that we were hunting villains down in their civilian identities then we’d be facing an even bigger backlash than we’re trying to bring down on whomever shot you.”

    You’d pale at that thought, but your black metal form doesn’t lend to that type of expression very well. Hannah continues, though your mind is already racing through the other possible scenarios entailed by that revelation.

    “Worse, with the… scenario that we’re dealing with right now, I bet the moment we try to do anything like that then every villain in town - and some outside - would hear about what we’re trying.”

    “Except…” you begin, something about what she’s saying not quite ringing true in your mind, “... maybe I can hide that? Do it while I’m invisible, since Thinker powers might not even realize I exist when I’m hidden?”

    Hannah perks up a bit at that idea, her left hand idly flipping through different types of knives formed by her power.

    “We might be able to work with that. Maybe disguise it as your first patrol run, but you secretly go off and take a different route while hidden. If your powers of perception are as absurd as you have said, no one would be able to sneak up on you. Even if they somehow knew you were there.”

    Settling on a gleaming silver machete, she levels it at you with a stern gaze. You’ve thankfully stopped shedding glistening soulsteel by now, but her look almost makes you want to break out in sweat.

    “You’d be alone, cut off from any help in the field, and we’d have to punish you for appearance's sake once you got back…

    Her eyes soften, and she smiles lightly before reverting the long blade to a pistol and holstering it on her right hip.

    “...but it’s an idea. I’ll run it by Emily.”


    ***


    A little after 6:00 you detect Armsmaster and Velocity enter the base through your swarm’s senses, just as you are making your way down to your workshop to check on your spiders and their new habitats, a yawn still on your lips.

    What to do…


    ***


    Intimacy: PRT (Loyalty) +1 Increase!

    Awareness + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    War + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Craft + 1 Training Interval (6/6 Intervals)
    Bureaucracy + 1 Training Interval (1/6 Intervals)
    Socialize + 1 Training Interval (6/6 Intervals)
    Linguistics + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    Investigation + 1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)
    Larceny + 1 Training Interval (1/6 Intervals)


    Time for more decision-making! Don’t neglect your arachnid associates again, either!

    Since you all behaved yourselves last time, we’re going to try allowing TWO (2) Stunts per vote this time. Please don’t make me regret this.


    Reminder of New Terminology/Rules:

    - One (1) Interval equals roughly 3-5 hours of time, but can vary beyond that. Votes will list how many Intervals will be covered in the next Update.

    - By default, an action takes 1 Interval, so assume an action will only take 1 Interval unless otherwise stated.

    - Tinker projects almost always take at least 1 Interval, if not more. When work has been put towards a project, the Interval count for it will go down automatically in the next vote by however many Intervals were spent on that project in the last Update.

    - You can switch between Tinker projects without losing work unless explicitly stated otherwise in that project’s description.

    - Stunts and Charms can allow you to multi-task, effectively granting ‘extra’ Intervals, allowing for extra votes. For example, you can spend time making a spider-silk outfit yourself (for a higher quality) or Stunt to have your spiders weave the outfit while you work on other projects (and allowing for a third, or even fourth vote).

    - If you don’t select any spider-related votes, your spiders will continue crafting undershirts that will fit high-school girls. They make half an undershirt an interval at their current pace.

    - Training times have been changed to Intervals instead of Days for ease-of-Questing.

    - We’re going back to purchasing Backgrounds because otherwise you guys just don’t have enough to spend XP on at the rate at which you’re accruing it. Sorry for the flip-flop, and I will list which Backgrounds are available for purchase in the Character Sheet in a fashion similar to the Abilities Training section.


    Tuesday Interval #4-5 (Night-Late Night): (Each vote takes one Interval unless Stunted otherwise!)

    Mind’s Eye Poking:
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Read some books/CDs/flashdrives to buff up on a subject while you do so (Stunt to describe what topic you’re reading/training).
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Spend the time analyzing the thing in your Elsewhere pocket.
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Review your charms and how your essence helps shape their functions so that you have a more complete understanding of how they work.

    Eight-Legged Friends:
    [ ] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, arranging the new terrariums for more optimal spider movement and habitation.
    [ ] Get the spiders to work spinning more silk to weave, then get it made into something new. (Stunt to describe what is woven.)

    Ninja Boots:
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your assassination attempt.
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your father's break-out.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and try to gather what data is available here to put pieces together for both events.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Director Piggot to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Miss Militia to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.

    Tinker Taylor, Soldier Sailor (Fuku):
    [ ] Start fully remaking your costume into armor, Kid Win and Armsmaster technology in addition to to some other ideas of your own. This will take 4 more Intervals, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    [ ] Refit your costume with base materials from the other outfits and items so that it only needs PR Approval and not a Tech Review review. This will take 1 Interval to complete.
    [ ] Work on modular bug-controlled anti-gravity pods, using Kid Win’s technology and your own to start the idea. This will take 8 Intervals to complete, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    [ ] Write-In: Work on something else (if it takes longer than 1 Interval, this will be added to the Workshopping list with an updated count).

    Rest For The Wicked:
    [ ] Go to sleep. If selected once, you will go to sleep for the second Interval in this vote. If you select this option twice, you will go to sleep immediately. If you don’t select this option, you will go to sleep at ~2:00am. Remember that you are operating on almost no sleep since Monday morning! Also, you were shot on Monday, so this will help you heal faster.

    Write-In:
    [ ] Something different!


    XP Expenditures:

    Make a plan for XP expenditures or vote on plans. Example Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
    - [x] 4xp - War
    - [x] 2xp - War (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Willpower
    - [x] 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Influence (PRT)

    Example Vote For Said Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
     
  22. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Tuesday Interval #4-5 (Night-Late Night):

    Tinker Taylor, Soldier Sailor (Fuku):
    [X] Refit your costume with base materials from the other outfits and items so that it only needs PR Approval and not a Tech Review review. This will take 1 Interval to complete.
    - [x] Stunt: Talk to Armsmaster in private, while under Optical Shroud, regarding making a copy of his lie detector for integration into the new costume. Focus on making the helmet component containing the lie detector first.
    - [x] Stunt: With Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade active you are able to multitask and work on your costume as well as supervising the PRT maintenance workers working on your spider-factory.

    Eight-Legged Friends:
    [X] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, arranging the new terrariums for more optimal spider movement and habitation.
    - [x] Stunt: Using Shard of Perfect Administration you gather up fliers from around the base, while you are on the way to your workshop, and form them into a vaguely humanoid mass through which to talk to some PRT maintenance workers. You convince them to help you with arranging your new terrariums in exchange for home-cooked food later. After your swarm clone has brought them to the room where your spider-factory is located, with Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade active you supervise the PRT workers while they position the new terrariums for optimal spider-factory efficiency.
    - [x] Stunt: After the PRT workers finish with their work and tell you what food they'd like as payment, through your Shard of Perfect Administration you start the spiders on weaving you spidersilk as material for the rework of your costume.

    Rest For The Wicked:
    [X] Go to sleep. If selected once, you will go to sleep for the second Interval in this vote. If you select this option twice, you will go to sleep immediately. If you don’t select this option, you will go to sleep at ~2:00am. Remember that you are operating on almost no sleep since Monday morning! Also, you were shot on Monday, so this will help you heal faster.

    XP Expenditures:
    [X] Familiar with food XP Plan
    - [x] 17 XP - Familiar 5
    - [x] 4 XP - Craft 3
    - [x] 2 XP - Craft (Water)


    ***


    Despite the fatigue you’re feeling right now, you understand that Director Piggot has charged you with a task that needs to be completed ASAP: a Lie Detector like Armsmaster’s, for use in ferreting out infiltrators and moles in the PRT ranks. Still, you feel like the current layout of your workshop (as seen through your swarm) is exceedingly inefficient; the twenty-two terrariums are stacked vertically on one side of the workshop, making it more difficult for the spiders to coordinate their actions and drag semi-completed bits together for assembly. The main workshop desk that you’ve been using as a platform to assemble the undershirts is also more than six feet away from the nearest terrarium, increasing the difficulty for the spiders to go back and forth between the two.

    But maybe you don’t need to do all that manual labor yourself? The maintenance team assembled the workshop in the first place, so maybe you can get them to help you out getting everything sorted the way you want?

    Still running multiple consciousnesses in your mind thanks to your Incomparable Efficiency Upgradecharm, you leave two threads to sorting out a more efficient configuration of the existing workbenches, tables, chairs, and terrariums while you turn three other threads towards redesigning the visor from your Casual Costume to integrate the Lie Detector. It’s clear that the PR division designed it to be upgradeable, what with the large pockets of empty space in the frame of the visor, so maybe if you place some of the processors here and a sensor suite there...

    With your primary consciousness, you resume navigating the halls of the Protectorate Headquarters. Armsmaster’s workshop isn’t too far from your own, but your swarm shows there are a few maintenance workers off-duty at the moment in the PRT Employee Lounge.

    You’re tempted to try coordinating your swarm to buzz and chirp in a way that might simulate a voice - and a part of your mind says that it might not even be that difficult - but you don’t feel like terrifying the workforce right before you try to ask them for a favor. You’ve still got a few minutes before Colin arrives in his workshop, since he’s busy filling out his patrol report at the moment, so visiting in person won’t hurt your productivity at all.


    ***


    Though all five of the off-duty maintenance crew members express interest in helping you out, when you voice what the actual job will be…

    “The Black Widows are totally harmless, I promise!”

    ...you find yourself suddenly lacking in willing volunteers. It takes a few more minutes of haggling, but eventually you manage to persuade three of the more veteran maintenance staff members to don hazmat suits and lend a hand. All it takes is the promise of freshly-baked cookies for the rest of the week - something you’ve been meaning to try, anyway, as you have the feeling that you don’t have to worry about gaining weight anymore.

    A dark part of you grins smugly in remembrance of the times you heard Emma complain about having to diet for her photo shoots.

    As you notice Armsmaster making his way to his workshop through your swarm, you assemble a small pile of flies and let the three workers know that you’ll be relaying instructions to them through the shape-shifting blob of bugs. John and Aaron look like they’re going to question the wisdom of this order, but Mako - the eldest of the group (your scans put him somewhere in his mid-forties) - shrugs it off with a ‘not the weirdest thing I’ve done’ attitude, prompting the others to follow his lead.

    You leave them to it and start to make your way to Armsmaster’s workshop. Halfway there, your parallel consciousnesses finally cook up a much more improved floorplan; with the plan now formed in your mind, you absently let your multi-tasking capabilities granted by your Shard of Perfect Administration charm take over to lead John, Aaron, and Mako through the task.


    ***


    “You withdrew your power during the time I was scheduled to use it. Why?”

    Leaning with both hands against one of his workbenches while training his head towards you, Colin’s lantern jaw is firmly clenched as you enter his workshop. While this alone wouldn’t be surprising considering the disorientation the sudden removal of your charm can cause, the scowl on his tan face not one of anger, but rather of suspicion.

    You didn’t see him talk with anyone besides Velocity since he entered the base, so where is this coming from?

    Thankfully, he doesn’t have his visor on right now. You don’t want to reveal too much at the moment, so it’s best to play it safe; it’s not that you don’t trust him, it’s more that you don’t want to deal with the way he might try to help.

    “Hannah and Director Piggot allowed me to go over what we have on my father’s abduction, so I needed my power to cross-reference everything as it was being shown to me. I was able to do some lip-reading from one of the traffic cameras, and it looks like my dad was told something that would have caused him to go with the Undersiders reluctantly.”

    Colin closes his eyes for a moment, clearly thinking hard about something, then re-opens his eyes and nods for you to continue. Shutting the workshop door behind you as casually as you can, you lean back against the door frame and cross your arms as you continue.

    “According to the records I could see, we think it was the Undersider called Tattletale that did most of the talking to my dad. Since we don’t really have anything on her powers or personality, our best guess right now is that she might be some kind of Master or Thinker.”

    This gets Colin to straight up and cross his own arms while rubbing his trimmed beard in thought.

    “That could explain their escapes the few times we’ve been close on their tail. If that is the case, it will help your father’s case when we find him.”

    You’re not sure whether you’re relieved or worried by the steadfast assurance in his tone that the PRT is going to find or father. You’re also not feeling very good about deceiving Colin about your knowledge and plans with Hannah and Director Piggot, but the Director is Colin’s boss as well - you’ll just have to trust her judgement here.

    “Director Piggot also told me that I need to work with you on a project as soon as you’re free, but… well, I know this is going to sound weird, but I need to tell you about it while I’m invisible.”

    After a long pause, Colin’s right eyebrow slowly arches up in response to your claim. When he doesn’t make any move to question you further, you shrug, then straighten up and away from the doorframe.

    Your personal essence reservoir had only just started to refill after you drained it during your investigation efforts, so you still need to twist and pull some from your external reservoir to cloak yourself - not enough to flare your Anima too badly, but a few sparks of blue-and-black lightning manage to pop out from your soulgem before you fully shimmer into apparent nothingness. For a moment, you think you feel your cloak waver as it takes effect, but that’s probably just the sleep deprivation and bullet wounds making you see things.

    “Director Piggot told me to make a copy of your Lie Detector and work it into the visor of one of my costumes. She wants to run some of the contractors we hired for my reveal event through your program while she questions them, but she wants me in the room and invisible while she does it.”

    Ah, there’s the Armsmaster scowl you know. Colin even straightens his back, his thoughts betraying his indignation.

    “She doesn’t need you there. It’s my creation, I know how it works best, and if the people she’s interrogating can’t stand my presence it already means they’re guilty of something.”

    You don’t think you’re going to win the battle with your current tactics, not when he’s clearly buckling down into Self-Righteous Indignation Mode. So how else can you spin this? Well, he’s all about his career and making sure he gets recognition, so maybe something along those lines?

    “I was actually going to ask you if you could help me work a version of your Lie Detector into my armor anyway, once the Director revealed that was how you’ve been so successful at catching people trying to to lie in the past. It just seems like such a useful tool, so maybe we could even try to make a version to integrate into the standard PRT helmet sensor suite?”

    No longer able to focus directly on you, Colin turns back to his workbench and crosses his arms while absently looking over the left leg of his armor that’s partially dismantled there. After several seconds of rapping his fingers against his left bicep, he exhales a deep breath and nods.

    “It is a good tool. I was thinking of making a trimmed-down version for use in Kid Win’s next suit, so this isn’t completely unexpected. I will have to speak with the Director about why she didn’t speak to me first about this, but I have two hours and forty-three minutes to spare right now while the new transistor board cooks.”

    You breathe a quiet sigh of relief while extruding the visor from your Casual Costume into your right hand, but you make sure to cover your bases before de-cloaking.

    “When you talk to Director Piggot about this, just make sure you’re in a secure area. She’s been pretty paranoid since my reveal, which is why she wanted me to be invisible while I talked to you about this.”

    Colin just grunts noncommittally as you shimmer into existence beside him, not even flinching before smoothly taking the visor from your outstretched hand and turning it over a few times.

    “This is one of the standard visor models for Wards, so even though it’s built for later customization it still has a great deal of wasted space. Removing a mis-aligned layer of carbon fiber here will allow you to even carve out more space…”


    ***

    Not long into your collaboration, you hit upon the idea that you could simply repair Colin’s gear by absorbing it. He initially seems leery at the proposition, but you convince him to give you his (mangled) backup right arm guard that he was planning on repairing later tonight.

    A little more than an hour later - not even halfway through your visor project - you drop the freshly-repaired bracer onto his desk with a smug expression on your face. This causes a bit of a detour in your efforts as he checks through the bracers’ systems (all thirty-seven of them) and puts it through his own scanning tools to ensure the armor’s integrity isn’t compromised in any way. You try not to show it, but you’re a little thankful for the reprieve; you needed to clear your muddled thoughts for a bit and shake of the lethargy creeping into your omnitool-digits.

    “It even has the polish I put on it when it was last in working condition; polish that I made myself to enhance conductivity on its surface while also keeping out contaminants. I haven’t told anyone what’s in it. How did you do this?”

    Colin and Dragon have been on your case about your powers since day one, though Dragon is much more personable about her inquiries, so this isn’t the first time you’ve had to talk your way out of explaining yourbullshit robot magic. It’s a bit aggravating, as you haven’t seen anybody else get this kind of attention… but no, it makes sense. No reason to let your frayed wits get the better of you right now.

    With a huff, you shrug. “No idea.”

    You really need to start wearing a camera so that you can get a shot of him with that flat, put-upon expression. It even gets giggles out of Dragon whenever she’s around to see it.

    After the usual badgering to improve your scientific ethic towards determining the methods behind your powers, you eventually manage to get him to focus back on the project at hand.

    After he has you absorb the rest of his beat-up equipment, that is.


    ***


    After Colin’s comments about how the eye-band visor would just end up needing to be taken apart to be put into your eventual armor, he had begrudgingly bequeathed one of his old helmets that he’d never gotten around to fixing after Lung melted a good chunk of the right side clean off. You still haven’t quite gotten over how terrifyingly efficient your Omintool Implants’ generated tools are for cannibalizing existing gear, and judging by his blank expression as the microscopic essence-fueled lasers, buzz-saws, pliers, and welders rapidly tear apart his formerly-sturdy creation, neither has Colin.

    Thankfully, your magic fingers are also just as good at repairing as they are at dismantling, as evidenced by a few mishaps when you try to solder together some of the finer pieces. Colin doesn’t say anything, but you see through your 360-degree vision that he’s giving you some concerned glances.

    However, just as you’re putting the final touches on your new visor-turned-helmet, Kid Win barges in.

    “Taylor! I thought you were supposed to still be in the medical wing?! You got your lung shot out!”

    Colin clearly isn’t amused by the unauthorized intrusion, but you wave him off.

    “I only need to breathe to talk, Chris. I’m ok.”

    Though, now that you think about it, your voice has been a little more raspy since the attack. Not in the “two packs a day for ten years” way, but more like your vocal cords are vibrating with a more resonant, more synthetic pitch. One of your consciousnesses remembers a similar event when you blurted out your true name to Glenn back in New York, so you leave that train of thought to puzzle out if this is going to be a growing problem of something that will resolve itself when you’re healed.

    Colin doesn’t blink at this revelation - likely because it was in your file from the Rating Tests - but Chris looks more than a little shocked. Perhaps you should have had him come in from standing in the open doorway before revealing that?

    “What do you mean you don’t need to breathe? Do you respirate some other way?”

    Once again, you fall back to your tried-and-true explanation.

    “No idea,” you shrug.

    Before Colin starts grumbling about ethics again, however, you turn the conversation back to Chris, idly noting that he hasn’t really reacted to you being in your soulsteel form - activating your Omnitool Implantswith your peripheral reservoir a few hours ago had melted away your organic appearance, and you hadn’t seen the need to reactivate your disguise since then.

    “How did you know I was down here, Chris? I didn’t tell anyone what I was planning on doing tonight.”

    Your scans are picking up a significant elevation in heart and breathing rate in Chris, to the point where you’re starting to get concerned he might pop like a balloon - a red balloon, judging by his incandescent blush.

    “Oh! Uh well I checked your room and it was still locked off from Dragon’s suit melting down in it and then you weren’t in your Guest room so IcheckedyourworkshopandtheguystheresaidyouwereworkingonsomethingelsesoI-”

    You blink as Chris cuts himself off with a gasp for air. Colin voices your thoughts first.

    “I thought he needed your power to speak that quickly.”

    Shaking your head and rolling your high-chair out from the workbench, you give an exasperated sigh. Better cut Chris off before he can start his meandering monologue again.

    “Chris!”

    He pauses, mouth open, blinking in confusion, the open doorway framing his frozen figure.

    “Did you need something?”

    Judging by his expression, it takes a few seconds for his brain to catch up to your question. And, maybe, the fact that you’re in your soulsteel form? He certainly looks terrified, now.

    “Uh! I… ah, no. I mean yes! I was-” he swallows heavily and his eyes (finally) drift away from your chest and focus intently on a blank patch of floor, “just wanted to know if you had eaten dinner, is all.”

    Oh, right, you mentioned you were going to cook tonight. That makes sense - he’s really enjoyed your cooking before, and he did just get off patrol so he must be hungry.

    “Taylor.”

    Colin is looking at Chris, but you swivel your chair to turn to him anyway. You really like this chair.

    “You should go eat.”

    You raise a hand to motion to your almost-finished helmet. “But-”

    “I’ll finish it.”

    That’s… somewhat of a relief. You’re really starting to feel frazzled, and now that food’s been brought up you can almost feel your stomach preparing to rumble loudly - though you thankfully get it under control before it embarasses you.

    Heaving a sigh, more to cover your yawn than out of exasperation, you roll off the far-too-comfy workbench chair and start making your way towards the door.

    “I saw some salmon in the fridge this morning, so I’ll try out a brown sugar glaze recipe. It says it shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes - you want some too, Colin?”

    Colin’s still looking at Chris with a stern expression - probably because he’s still upset about the initial intrusion - but he quickly shakes his head.

    “No need, I have my nutrient paste here. I’ll drop your helmet off in your room.”

    Ugh, you have no idea why he’s so in love with that Maker-awful stuff - even if your previous readings of the bland grey goo indicate that it’s got everything he would otherwise get from a full day’s worth of meals. You give him an over-the-shoulder wave and pass him Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade through the fly on his belt as you leave.

    Chris trails behind you, after a short back-and-forth between the two Tinkers that you don’t quite catch through the lone fly in the room. Oddly, his stiff shuffling movements and hesitant glances towards you give the impression that he’s feeling decidedly unsure of himself.

    Well, he did sort of interrupt your first major personal Tinker project. He must be feeling bad about that, but you don’t really have it in you right now to correct him.


    ***


    Chris tries to make some idle conversation while you’re cooking, but without your charm to allow multiple trains of thought it’s taking most of your focus on the food to avoid making a mess of things.

    You make enough to feed the rest of the Wards that you can see are in the base - Carlos, Dennis, Missy, and Rory - but all of them seem to be occupied with something or other in their rooms. You’re fairly certain you haven’t seen Missy eat tonight, either, but she says she’s not hungry when you call her room on the intercom system. More for you and Chris, you suppose.

    Since Chris doesn’t seem to be up for talking during dinner (probably because he’s nearly weeping at how good the food is), you take the time to focus on your workshop and the newly-improved convoy line that spans three workbenches. You’re rather proud of the way you’ve been able to set up the production so that spiders that have drained spinnerets are the ones doing the weaving now, while fresh spiders focus primarily on producing the densest lines as quickly as possible. Judging by the way they’ve been working since John, Aaron, and Mako left two hours ago, they might even be able to pull off making a full undershirt in almost half the time as before.

    When you stumble slightly getting up from the table, Chris nearly trips himself as well trying to jump out of his seat to help you.

    “It’s alright. I didn’t get much sleep last night, I’ll be ok.”

    Shaking his head fiercely, however, Chris will have none of your excuses.

    “No way, Taylor. You need to rest. C’mon, let’s get you to your room. I’ll clean up the dishes later - it’s the least I can do for that amazing dinner.”

    You don’t really need to lean on his shoulder to get up to your room, but he insists... and you feel bad about not correcting his dejected mood earlier, so you just go with it.

    ...the whisper-crack of the silenced sniper rifle as…

    Jerking and flailing in a panic, your left arm backhands Chris fully across the face as you fall back against the opposite wall with a hard thud.

    What was… where… you don’t remember being so close to your room before? You must have dozed off for a split second…

    “Chris! Oh Maker I’m so sorry! I-I think I fell asleep there and-”

    “...Awwha?”

    Oh, damnit, you really knocked Chris for a loop there if his dazed expression is anything to go by. You struggle to your feet, but by the time you get over to him he seems to have shaken it off.

    “Wha-what the heck was that, Taylor? You closed your eyes for a minute, even though you were still walking fine, but then I asked you if you were alright you screamed and decked me in the face!”

    There’s no heat in his words, just shock and concern. You bite your lip and shrug, then help hoist him to his feet.

    “I didn’t really get much sleep last night. Bad dreams. I guess I had a flashback to yesterday and... panicked. Sorry.”

    You’ve certainly got adrenaline in your system now, but it’s mixed with something more… powerful? Essence is churning in your reservoirs in a way that’s vaguely familiar but you can’t quite place it with everything that’s going on at the moment. Introspection later, injured friend first.

    Thankfully, your scans show him as only very superficially injured - aside from the imprint of your wrist and forearm running from his chin to his temple. Commanding all available fliers, you manage to guide the swarm into the Wards Common Area and swat open the freezer with their bulk. It takes a several tries and a few dozen sacrificed flies, but you eventually manage to hover an ice pack out of the freezer via silk ropes strung by some of the more generic spiders.

    Chris doesn’t seem to mind you looking over your handiwork that’s spread across his face… not until the buzzing hoard rounds the corner and descends upon his face with icepack in tow.

    Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to hear your attempts to calm him down or to keep him from flailing so that you can get the icepack on his face. Even when you pull the swarm away and send each flier and spider back to their strategic locations through the base, Chris just sputters out another thanks for your meal and bolts back to… Dennis’ room? You don’t manage to get any flies in there (having promptly removed all spies from that room when you noticed Dennis browsing... certain websites) before Chris slides the door closed, and you aren’t up to spending any essence to see through all the walls between you and there, so that will just have to be an unsolved mystery for now.

    Thankfully, it’s only a few more turns before you make it to your Protectorate Guest Room. Quickly absorbing your clothes - and the completed helmet laying on your desk - but not bothering with the pajamas, you hit your bed like a ton of bricks and are out before you think to pull Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade from Colin.


    ***

    ...terrified faces and screams of Coach Sato, Josie, Sakura, Saki...

    You jolt awake, cutting off your hoarse wail. Your clock reads 12:37 AM.

    As the adrenaline (or whatever magical bullshit equivalent runs through your veins) washes through you, you cover your face and groan. You’re not sure you can take another night of this.

    No. You’re not going to let this beat you.

    Lying still on your back, covers thrown off and hands clasped atop your bare metallic stomach, you begin to regulate your breathing.

    You are better than this.

    You cast your mind out as your breath gradually becomes a faint sound that matches the rhythm of your heartbeat, searching for the totem that you created in the image of the Deus Machina.

    You are better than them.

    Finding it, you once again are left speechless - thoughtless - as you attempt to comprehend what it has become. Even in the time-locked stillness of Elsewhere, the intricate mechanisms lining the outside of the eye’s frame whir and click to a pattern just outside of your comprehension. The eye’s cornea now spins and shifts… no, you recognize the pattern now.

    They will not win.

    The Eye of Autochthon blinks.


    ***


    Your ringing alarm clock clicks off after only seven chimes; three chimes after you had started groping around for it with your head still ensconced under your pillows.

    Groggily shuffling your head out of the mound of pillows you’ve piled up around yourself during the night somehow, you check your clock for the time.

    9:00 AM.

    You… don’t remember setting your alarm clock to that time.

    More importantly, you don’t remember having an old-fashioned alarm clock.... shaped like a miniature replica of the Deus Machina with... 25 hours on its dials?

    As your mind struggles valiantly to explain how your alarm clock has somehow evolved overnight, a chime from the doorway promptly derails that train of thought. Hannah's voice follows shortly after the chime.

    "Taylor? Are you up?"

    You hurriedly snatch your new alarm clock and stuff it into your makeshift pillow mountain, all while reactivating all your - mysteriously - deactivated charms and sub-modules. You note, idly, that both your reservoirs are full again and your mind feel much clearer than it has in a while.

    "Yes! Come on in!"

    You leap out of bed and attempt to extrude your usual sweater/jeans attire, but suddenly something elsecomes bursting out of your chest.

    There is a soft click of your door sliding open, and then silence. At least, for a good ten seconds or so, before Miss Militia's slightly-muffled voice breaks the awkward stand-off as she points at the brass, basketball-sized eyeball floating a few feet in front of you.

    "Taylor... what is that? And why are you naked?"

    The Eye of Autochthon turns, looks at Miss Militia, and gives her a one-eyed glare.


    ***


    Intimacy: Armsmaster (Respect) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Kid Win/Chris (Friendship) +1 Increase!

    Awareness + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    War + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    Presence + 1 Training Interval (6/6 Intervals)
    Craft + 1 Training Interval (1/6 Intervals)
    Lore + 1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)
    Occult +2 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)

    Craft x 3 Gained!
    Craft (Water) Gained!
    Artifact (Eye of Autochthon) N/A Lost!
    Familiar (Eye of Autochthon) N/A Gained!



    Uh oh.



    Wednesday Interval #2-3 (Morning-Afternoon): (Each vote takes one Interval unless Stunted otherwise!)

    It Can't See You If You Hold Still:
    [ ] Spend some time with your new Familiar, letting it do what it wants and try to figure out what its goals are.
    [ ] (Try to) Lock your Familiar in your room in hopes of keeping its existence a secret while you deal with other pressing issues first.
    [ ] Attempt to stuff your Familiar back into your Elsewhere Cleavage Pocket so that you can sort this all out when you have the time.
    [ ] Run. Encourage others to follow suit.

    A-Through-Zen:
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Read some books/CDs/flashdrives to buff up on a subject while you do so (Stunt to describe what topic you’re reading/training).
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Review your charms and how your essence helps shape their functions so that you have a more complete understanding of how they work.

    The Loom of Undershirts:
    [ ] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, integrating your new shipment of Darwin's Bark Spiders into the well-carapace'd factory line.
    [ ] Get the spiders to work spinning more silk to weave, then focus them towards making something besides undershirts. (Stunt to describe what is woven.)

    I Yam Invisdible:
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your assassination attempt.
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your father's break-out.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and try to gather what data is available here to put pieces together for both events.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Director Piggot to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Miss Militia to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.

    We Have The Technology:
    [ ] Start fully remaking your costume into armor, Kid Win and Armsmaster technology in addition to to some other ideas of your own. This will take 3 more Intervals (2 with another Tinker), and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    [ ] Work on modular bug-controlled anti-gravity pods, using Kid Win’s technology and your own to start the idea. This will take 8 Intervals to complete, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    [ ] Write-In: Work on something else (if it takes longer than 1 Interval, this will be added to the Workshoplist with an updated count).

    Write-In:
    [ ] Something different!


    XP Expenditures:

    Make a plan for XP expenditures or vote on plans. Example Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
    - [x] 4xp - War
    - [x] 2xp - War (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Willpower
    - [x] 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Influence (PRT)

    Example Vote For Said Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
     
  23. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Wednesday Interval #2-3 (Morning-Afternoon):

    It Can't See You If You Hold Still:
    [X] Spend some time with your new Familiar, letting it do what it wants and try to figure out what its goals are.
    - [x] Stunt: Attempt to communicate, working through voice, gesticulation, and impulses from Shard of Perfect Administration until something works.
    - [x] Stunt: Study it with Optical Enhancement, cycling through each of the filters as it does it's thing and responds to communication attempts.

    We Have The Technology:
    [X] Start fully remaking your costume into armor, Kid Win and Armsmaster technology in addition to to some other ideas of your own. This will take 3 more Intervals (2 with another Tinker), and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    - [x] Stunt: have our shiny new familiar help out with the creation of our armor, the Eye's insights should prove invaluable.

    The Loom of Undershirts:
    [X] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, integrating your new shipment of Darwin's Bark Spiders into the well-carapace'd factory line.
    - [x] Stunt: The terrarium rearrangement from the day before had already accounted for the incoming shipment of spiders, with their work and nesting areas pre-established. Ensure that the terrarium is uncovered sufficiently for the swarm to open and close without any human assistance.
    - [x] Stunt: Remotely move the Darwin's Bark Spiders into their prepared positions with Shard of Perfect Administration and get them started on sheets of new, stronger fabric for the armor project. Keep them well fed and breeding as often as feasible, to increase production speed as their numbers grow.

    XP Expenditures:
    [X] Last-Second Addition XP Plan
    - [x] 4xp - Socialize
    - [x] 4xp - Presence


    ***


    Dealing with crisis situations like these is becoming far more easy to handle with judicious use of Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade.

    First, there’s the matter of you being in your… well, you suppose it’s not your ‘birthday suit’ any more. Your ‘magical bullshit birthday suit’, perhaps? No, that would apply to your base soulsteel form.

    You let that first train of thought wander off while your second thread focuses on putting some damn clothes on. Thankfully, nothing else bursts out of you when you reactivate Technomorphic Integration Engine to extrude your casual wear (hoodie, jeans, sneakers, underwear, socks - in that order), the clothing unfurling itself as if there were tiny, invisible elves re-weaving the articles directly around your form in less than three seconds.

    Then there’s dealing with the thing that just burst out of your chest. In a flash of memory from your meditations last night, you seize upon a name: “The Eye of Autochthon.” Except, what does that even mean? Autochthon is, well, a planet. You think. You’re still not quite sure what to make of all the revelations your meditations have forced into your brain as you haven’t had much downtime to really put it all together, but a deep part of you - the part that started to comprehend the sheer complexity of the device floating in front of you last night - resonates with the idea that this thing is beyond anything your world has ever seen.

    Except (your fourth consciousness rejoinders), objects and and things don’t usually glare at people with the semblance of indignation. Is this Eye… alive? That could explain why you suddenly have a new alarm clock and were covered in a pillow fort this morning, but did it do all that from inside… you? Your Elsewhere pocket?

    You leave your fifth train of thought to worry about whether it’s healthy for your mind to be arguing with itself, while your sixth-and-primary consciousness handles defusing this situation.

    Clearing your throat in a closed fist, your clothes materializing around your body in the process, successfully attracts the attention of the Eye and Miss Militia both. Since you’re still figuring out how to even comprehend the Eye’s existence, you focus on dealing with Miss Militia first.

    “Err, sorry. Good morning. What did you need?”

    Either Miss Militia has seen even weirder things than the Eye, or she’s actively deciding to change the subject instead of dwell on what you were doing in your room, naked, with the Eye. After a final askance look at the floating brass-like orb, she focuses back on you and crosses her arms.

    “Your shipment of spiders arrived a few minutes ago, but the maintenance workers would rather you deal with getting them settled since you’re in the base to control them.”

    Having only reactivated your Shard of Perfect Administration a few moments ago, your mind is still unfurling to take in all of the sensory feedback that comes with experiencing life through the tens - no, hundreds - of thousands of insects under your control.

    Which is why the shock only hits you just now: you can feel the Eye through your Shard of Perfect Administration. It’s not at all like the insects under your purview, though - you can’t get a handle on its senses (whatever those might be) and you definitely can’t seem to exert any form of control over it (and you make a conscious effort not to try), but there’s definitely a link there of some form. Thankfully one of your spare consciousnesses takes over for talking while that train of thought reels from this discovery.

    Unfortunately, quickly switching through your mental threads usually makes your speech a bit more clipped and mechanical than normal.

    “I’ll take care of it. Thank you.”

    The camo-clad firearms specialist doesn’t seem fazed by your shifting speech patterns, however, as she simply nods in satisfaction before waving an arm at the Eye.

    “Now you can start explaining what this is.”

    You turn to look at the Eye, which turns a bit to regard you fully at the same time. You let your various mental threads churn over the bare amounts of what you gathered from your studies of it while it was still just a fancy totem in your Elsewhere pocket, then what it changed into on Sunday, and then again when it changed a third time last night. Combining that with what you know of Autochthon, your initial charge by him, and then your most recent additional charge…

    You turn back to Miss Militia.

    “No idea.”

    There’s a few moments of silence for your statement to echo in the small room, punctuated only by the occasional soft whir, buzz, or click from the various mechanisms lining the Eye, and the struggling ticks of your new alarm clock as it suffocates in your pillow fort.

    Finally, Miss Militia slowly reaches up and rubs her eyes and forehead with a hand, mumbling something that you can’t quite catch. She finally breathes a sigh and looks back to you.

    “Did you make it?”

    Even though it’s unnecessary - what with your 360-degree vision - you glance over to the Eye quickly as it continues to regard Miss Militia with… confusion? You’re picking up some sort of emotions through your link, but focusing any attention on the link results in a flurry of information that you struggle to comprehend. When you leave the link to settle back into your subconscious, however, it’s easier to see the forest for the trees.

    “Not… really. I made something like it, but-”

    There, you get a small flash of… frustration? Was it something you said? Carefully, you try rephrasing your last statement.

    “...made something like him?”

    [Incomprehension.]

    Wait, what? Does it… not understand you?

    Him? It’s alive?”

    Turning your full attention back to Miss Militia, you can pick up the barest traces of rising alarm even though she still appears to be only expressing casual curiosity. Her eyebrows are only raised to just under the brim of her army cap, but the slightest twitch and elevation in her heart rate betrays that this is due to her control not her true feelings.

    Perhaps you should rapidly dissuade her of the idea that you’ve accidentally created mechanical life. Even though that may be the truth. You put all your other mental processes - even dipping into your essence pool to accelerate your thoughts even further - to task on going through what you know of parahuman abilities that could serve as a cover for the Eye while you get a handle on the situation yourself. In the space of a breath, you already have a plan formulating.

    “It’s-he’s a… part of my power. I’ve having worse and worse flashbacks, and I think a part of my power responded to the feeling of being constantly under attack?”

    That seems to stop her heartbeat from escalating further, so you press onward despite the continued feelings of confusion and frustration emanating from your link to the Eye.

    “I made a smaller version of him last week, but it was just a… figurine. I think my power took that and empowered it somehow, so it’s... like a projection? I can feel it through my insect control power somehow, so I’m pretty sure-”

    [Frustration.]

    You suddenly have the sinking feeling that Miss Militia is the least of your concerns right now, coinciding with the burst of whirring and clicking of dozens of small metallic arms unfolding from the surface of the Eye. Acting on reflex alone, you dart in between the older Hero and your new mechanical companion, waving your arms madly hopes that it understands your gestures. Miss Militia instantly goes on guard behind you, an automatic assault rifle forming in her hands before she’s even finished shifting her stance.

    “Wait! Stop! No!”

    [Comprehension.][Satisfaction.][Curiosity.]

    “Friend. She’s my friend. Not enemy.”

    [Comprehension.][Indignation.]

    “You… can you understand me?”

    [Comprehension.][Agreement.]

    “Ok, that makes things-”

    “Taylor, what are you saying? What language is that?”

    A few steps behind you, still subtly angling herself towards the doorway, Miss Militia has her weapon trained on the Eye. Her rifle doesn’t waver as she speaks, but her expression is beginning to shift from ‘stern militant focus’ to ‘bewildered confusion.’

    Turning slightly while still keeping your hands up and facing towards the Eye, you give Miss Militia your own look of confusion.

    “Language?”

    “You were speaking a different language just then. It sounded... Polynesian?”

    That doesn’t seem right - you certainly didn’t feel like you were speaking a new language when you started warning off the Eye. If anything it felt… easier, like it was just automatic to talk…

    You turn back to the Eye and focus on the slight feeling running through your mind when you first spoke directly to it. Him. Whatever. Speaking more slowly, you review the sensations your mouth makes when you vocalize your thoughts towards the Eye, making certain you are speaking English.

    “Can you understand me now?”

    [Incomprehension.][Confusion.]

    You try again, this time letting your focus drift into whatever just comes… naturally.

    “Is this any different?”

    [Comprehension.][Satisfaction.][Patience.]

    Yes, that certainly felt different - the words stringing together in a completely different manner than English. And now that you’re actually focusing on the words themselves, your various trains of thought are all brought to bear on analyzing the various phenoms, conjugations, and grammar rules of this new - no, oldlanguage.

    The First Language. Old Realm. That’s what this is. And it feels like you’ve always known it, it’s always been a part of you… except, your memories of life before your exaltation hold no trace of this language. Was this part of what you gained in your rebirth?

    As your various consciousnesses probe and unravel this language in your mind, you’re struck with the feeling that this is more than just familiar: it’s how you’ve been thinking this entire time. Whenever you’ve spoken to someone, whenever you’ve written something, you’ve just been… translating it through the memories of your life before your exaltation.

    This… this is…

    I think I need to sit down for a second.

    [Comprehension.][Concern.][Agreement.]

    You absently note that Miss Militia has lost her eyebrows in her cap, but sitting down and focusing on not freaking out is far more important.

    Yes, sitting down is much better. Breathe in. Breathe out.

    Though your eyes are closed, your extraperipherial vision reveals the Eye retracting its varied arms before it quietly floats down and lands softly in your lap, closing its own eye in the process.

    [Concern.][Relaxation.]

    Miss Militia carefully lowers her rifle and stands a bit taller, her eyes betraying her concern.

    “Taylor? Are you alright?”

    Just-just a moment. I need a few minutes to think. Please.”

    She nods, the rifle dematerializing into the luminescent green energy of her power before settling as a large-caliber pistol sheathed on her right hip.

    “Would you like a glass of water? Something to eat?”

    “Yes, please.”

    “Alright. I’ll just be a moment. Let me know with your bugs if you need anything else.”

    “Thank you.”

    Before you realize it, the door is sliding closed behind her.


    ***


    Moving the Darwin’s Bark Spiders into their new home - just a quick migration from the open boxes placed in the center of your workshop to the surrounding terrariums - proves to be a suitable distraction from the existential crisis brought upon by recent events. Allowing your mind to unfocus, you spend the time it takes Miss Militia to make breakfast (some sort of tomato-peppers-and-eggs meal that looks vaguely reminiscent of red hash browns) sorting out the new living arrangements while also making certain that all the female spiders are suitably fertilized.

    You will not entertain the train of thought that reflects upon how you’re coping with identity issues by making spiders have sex.

    After double-checking to make certain that the spiders can easily come and go from the terrariums with a minimum of fuss, you load them all up with a heaping helping of the custom nutrient-enriched meat delivered alongside the spiders (since the Darwin’s Bark Spiders have a slightly different different nutrient need than the local spider population, something you’ll need to resolve soon) and put them to work spinning their strongest drag line for use in a new bodysuit to go with your armor.

    Having never… administrated these types of spiders before, you focus on the subtle differences in biology and instinctual behaviors that you are overriding to make them cooperate. As with all the other types of invertebrates you control you have full awareness over their limited consciousnesses and biological imperatives, but it still comes as a surprise at how differently the Darwin’s Bark Spiders think and move compared to, say, the Black Widows - the latter being far more aggressive and territorial than the almost laid-back attitudes of the Darwin’s Bark Spiders.

    Checking on the egg sacs laid by your Black Widows, you wonder if there’s a way to speed up the hatching process without causing undue complications - your readings indicated that the hatching cycle should take anywhere from eight to thirty days, with the newborns taking almost a year to mature to the point where they can breed again.

    Perhaps you could start selectively breeding for speedy hatching by only allowing the fastest to live? Now that you have your Darwin’s Bark Spiders there’s less of a need for an overwhelming number of Black Widows to craft your own gear, so there could be good lessons learned there. On the other hand, your ideas for turning your ‘spare’ Black Widow production line towards crafting garments and suits to sell for profit would benefit from having an overabundance of the second-best silk-spinners.

    For now, though, you think it might finally be time to start making bodysuits for the rest of the Wards - you only need four more undershirts to outfit the rest of the cheerleaders, then three larger ones for the older boys of the Outcasts, which should take you around two more days of solid work. Or maybe you could switch to other pieces of clothing after the undershirts are done? Something to decide for later, you reason.

    With not much else left to do with your spidersilk factory, you let the feedback from the rest of the swarm in your range wash over your mind.

    A small tour of visitors to the base are rounding out their visit by way of the gift shop, with a small group of older Chinese women purchasing almost a dozen pairs of various Armsmaster and Miss Militia clothing items each, chatting idly amongst themselves while they ignore the strange looks from the cashier.

    Gerard from Marketing leans against Keith from Logistics’ cubicle, their discussion about the upcoming Super Bowl game devolving into friendly jibes as Gerard tries to goad Keith into putting money down in the local betting ring.

    Samantha, Roger, and Cliff gear up in the Armory in preparation for their patrol shift, James casually remanding them for the sorry state they left their equipment in yesterday after that fiasco with the Empire down by the docks.

    Donna from HR and Quintin from IT are… really? In the Supply Closet? Ugh, you know what kind of filth gets tossed in there - most of your fliers originated in this room. That... can’t be sanitary. Donna is surprisingly limber, though, and you’re hoping that Miss Militia returns after you’ve controlled your blush.

    Director Piggot is on the phone with someone, her typical scowl etched on her face as she argues for more Protectorate volunteers than just the three that have agreed so far. From the conversation you’ve heard so far, it sounds like Rime (Alexandria’s second-in-command from Los Angeles), Mouse Protector (St. Louis’ Protectorate co-leader with Knight-Errant), and Chevalier (Leader of Philadelphia’s Protectorate team) are the only three that have stepped up.

    You successfully fend off an aggressive octopus trying to harvest from the small herd of crabs you’ve been governing in the base of the oil rig’s foundation, feeding the herd on the octopus’ remains. You were surprised by the octopus’ daring at first, but under your guidance the coordinated herd proved overwhelming for the tenacious cephalopod.

    As your six consciounesses drift amongst the invertabrates under your sway, one ultimately latches on to the link between you and the Eye in an attempt to resolve your morning’s first unexpected development. Instead of trying to push or pull on the link like you would normally do with an insect, this time you merely try to monitor the trickle of essence that you’ve learned serves as the backbone of your charm’s mental network.

    Where other links feel like a minuscule thread, invisible without careful observation and enhanced senses, this feels like a fire hose - opening your eyes to the world of essence through your Essence Sight Oculars, the thick tendril snaking out from your head is clearly visible as it streams into the Eye as he rests comfortably in your lap. Looking directly at the Eye now…

    ...your Flash Shutters reflexively snap into place, dimming your sight just as the incomprehensible patterns of the Eye threaten to drown your mind in their complexity.

    [Comprehension.][Amusement.]

    Blinking away the Flash Shutters back into their chambers just under your eyebrows, you instead try to keep the Eye in your peripheral vision to try to get a sense of what the Eye is doing to the environment around you. Surely something as potent as you suspect the Eye is will have an effect on your surroundings?

    After a few minutes of studying the room around you, however, you’re not able to deduce much of anything beyond your Shard of Perfect Administration's essence bubble (which you are getting better at detecting and ignoring selectively now, you feel). In fact, over the last five minutes you think you’ve noticed a wavering in the glow of the Eye - a very small one, perhaps, but each time there’s a minute reduction in its glow you can see a slight increase in the link between you two before the glow re-asserts itself.

    Are you… powering the Eye? You don’t feel a drain on your reservoirs at the moment, but as you sit and maintain your breathing patterns you do feel a very slight reduction in the rate at which your personal reservoir is recharging.

    Since it - he - seems to have some form of intelligence, maybe it can shed some light on this? With your hands still resting comfortably on the top of the Eye as it rests in your lap, you tap it lightly with your right index finger.

    “Can you speak?”

    [Comprehension.][Disappointment.]

    You ‘hrmm’ slightly, which causes the Eye to shift (without actually moving, somehow) in your lap so that it is looking up at you. Banishing the overlays of your essence sight back to the chambers alongside your Flash Shutters, you look down at the Eye and meet its gaze.

    Studying it more closely now, you notice something peculiar: the iris of the Eye has a deep, glossy reflection that doesn’t quite match the rest of the overall design. Where the cornea is a coruscating combination of concentric circles, the sclera a flat bronze that still manages to radiate a dull glow, and the body of the Eye a complex array of minuscule gears, cogs, pistons, levers, and other mechanical apparata (that still somehow manage to look symmetrical when viewed at a distance), the iris itself is oddly opposed in its…solidity.

    “Is this how you always look?”

    [Comprehension.][Anticipatory.][Purposeful.]

    Before you can react, the Eye hovers slightly out of your lap before dropping delicately on the table in front of you. Then, with a great, rising whirring, clicking, and buzzing, the cornea begins to rotate open to reveal more and more of the iris. More and more it opens, the entire eye of the Eye widening further and further as the cornea pulls back further and further to reveal more of the shining blackness of the Eye’s iris.

    But as it does this, it grows. Larger and larger until, with a final - and solid - click, the Eye of Autochthon sheds its ornate cover like a second skin, revealing an almost-featureless black pearl the size of a yoga ball.

    [Pride.]

    Perhaps you should keep the ‘yoga ball’ thoughts to yourself, then. Still, it’s certainly awe-inspiring in its radiance, the rainbow hue of colors caused by room’s lights refraction off its surface mixing with the resonance of power that you can feel rolling off the massive sphere.

    “Wow. That’s… Well, you’re without a doubt the most majestic orb of cosmic power that I’ve ever seen and the envy of every pearl on our planet. And most of all...”

    The tan essence-fueled clay covering your body smoothly withdraws into your pores, revealing your soulsteel form once again. You smile and hold up a hand as if examining it, then turn back to the large globe.

    “... I think you have a wonderful taste in color.”

    [Comprehension.][Agreement.][Gratitude.][Smugness.]

    Looking at the discarded cover, however, another thought occurs to you.

    “If this is your normal form, why have the metal cover?”

    The smooth shell of the massive black pearl-turned-cosmic globe betrays nothing, despite the emotions you feel pour through your link with the Eye.

    [Comprehension.][Frustration.][Exhaustion.][Focus.]

    In trying to understand the pulses of emotion from the Eye, you have a simultaneous realization: you are rapidly being drained of essence. With each passing minute the Eye has been in this new form your external pool has dropped by a single mote, and all additional essence regeneration feels like it's stopped completely.

    “Oh. Oh! Ok, yes, maybe it’s better if you put on your… suit? Cover? Lid?”

    [Comprehension.][Frustration.][Despondency.][Agreement.]

    With the same click that heralded the sequence’s completion last time, a cacophony of shifting mechanisms fills the air as the Eye’s metallic frame slides up and over its spherical form - the orb itself quickly shrinking down to the basketball-sized sphere from earlier.

    When the entire process - which takes a little over a minute - finally runs to its end, the normally placid expression on the Eye droops slightly.

    [Exhaustion.][Homesickness.]

    A little alarmed, you stand up and reach over to gather up the softly-whirring ball of mechanical wonder.

    “Are you alright?”

    As the fingers on your right hand make contact with the Eye, however, you feel a lurching pull, forcing your entire hand to slap up against the Eye. In the same movement, the Eye deflates and promptly folds in on itself before smoothly sliding into the aperture-like hole in your palm.

    And just like that, the Eye of Autochthon is gone again from the world.

    Right in time for breakfast.


    ***


    “So then you talked with it.”

    “Mhmm. Oh, right - pretty sure it’s a ‘he’.”

    “And you realized that... his natural form drained the power reserve you mentioned in your Ratings Test.”

    “Right, but it seemed to tire him out... Colin can you hand me that… thanks.”

    “So he proceeded to shrink back down into his normal size, then retreat back into your pocket dimension through your hand.”

    “Mhm.”

    “But you can still see him in your pocket dimension?”

    “He’s resting, I think. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s doing since I’m back to recharging as quickly as I normally do.”

    “And you don’t think you can ask him to come out?”

    You turn your head towards the screen where Dragon’s digital projection is overlooking your armor project, hoping she finally realizes that when you said you’d already had to repeatedly explain the entire ordeal for Miss Militia, Director Piggot, and Colin, it wasn’t an invitation to repeat it for her two more times. Especially after all the paperwork Miss Militia had you go through to make sure the Eye was properly cleared as an exemption to normal TinkerTech Review and PR Approval.

    She had you hold on to the papers to fill out for the registration of created life forms, though. You left them on the table in your room, as you didn’t feel it prudent to absorb them - you’re not quite sure what the Eye would do if it saw the papers floating in your Elsewhere pocket.

    Not that you aren’t glad to see her again, of course. Though when you explained that you still felt sorry for hurting her with your power, she simply brushed it off with the explanation that she hadn’t actually been hurt - it had just overloaded her conduits and forced a shutdown of the suit.

    “I was a little surprised, but beyond that I’d say your grammar in that apology email was a more serious offense.”

    She may have said it in good humor, but you’re still upset that you’re going to have to spend time re-learning English all over again. Which explains your current sullen mood and overall focus on the armor project instead of chatting up the world’s greatest Tinker. So instead you give her digitized face - which is still analyzing you with hopeful curiosity - a level gaze.

    “I don’t think he can talk, so why do you want to see him so badly?”

    There’s a brief pause as Dragon’s face blinks a few times before looking apologetic.

    “I’m sorry, Taylor. I don’t mean to pry, or distract you from your project. Let me know if you need anything else.”

    As her face winks out on your monitor and pops back up on the screen at Colin’s own workbench, one of your trains of thought picks up the notion that Dragon has appeared a bit more animated and direct today than her usual coy self. Certainly more cheerful, at least - maybe she’s still getting over having to fight off that attack from the Dragonslayers she mentioned?

    Sighing as you turn back to your armor, you review the progress you’ve made in the last few hours.

    The wing structure is mostly finalized, though you still need the antigravity generators from the spare hoverboard that Chris told you he’d provide when he gets back from school.

    The breastplate and greaves are coming together quickly through use of Colin’s spare armor from failed experimental sets, though the need to completely overhaul the skeleton of the armor took a bit more work than you were expecting - you practically have enough metal to form another armor set with the amount you had to take off to fit your form.

    Dragon’s suggestions for your boots helped streamline some of the design work, so those are mostly finished and propped up on the floor at the base of your (well, Colin’s, really) workbench.

    You’re still trying to figure out what to do with your bracers and gloves, however, as you don’t want to deny yourself access to your Omnitool Implants out in the field. Activating the tools when you’re wearing even normal gloves completely blocks them (unless you feel like tearing through the material with said tools), but leaving your hands bare flies in the face of all normal power armor designs.

    A rumbling in your stomach coincides with the end of your progress review, forcing you to admit that a Lunch break (even though it’s almost 3:00 PM) does sound like a good idea.


    ***

    Intimacy: Armsmaster/Colin (Respect) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Dragon (Respect) +1 Increase!

    Integrity + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    Awareness + 1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)
    War + 1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)
    Presence + 1 Training Interval (1/6 Intervals)
    Bureaucracy + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Craft + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Linguistics + 2 Training Interval (6/6 Intervals)
    Occult +1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)

    Socialize x 1 Gained!
    Presence x 3 Gained!


    New Adjustments to Essence Respiration:

    - Eye in Elsewhere: Normal Respiration
    - Eye (Focused Form), within SoPA range: Respiration reduced by 1, to 3/hour. Stunts regain normal amounts.
    - Eye (Focused Form), outside SoPA range: ???
    - Eye (True Form), within SoPA range: Respiration stopped, essence drained by 1/minute starting with peripherial pool. Stunts only regain Willpower.
    - Eye (True Form), outside SoPA range: ???

    SoPA = Shard of Perfect Adminstration charm


    Wednesday Intervals #4-5 (Evening-Night): (Each vote takes one Interval unless Stunted otherwise!)

    Aye Eye:
    [ ] Spend some time with your Familiar, letting it do what it wants while you try to figure out what its goals are. (Familiar will rest in Elsewhere unless called forth… or it feels like it.)

    Higher State of Being:
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Read some books/CDs/flashdrives to buff up on a subject while you do so (Stunt to describe what topic you’re reading/training).
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Review your charms and how your essence helps shape their functions so that you have a more complete understanding of how they work.

    Whistle While You Spin:
    [ ] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, focusing on training your spiders to perform tasks when they are outside of your SoPA range.
    [ ] Get the spiders to work spinning more silk to weave, then focus them towards making something besides undershirts. (Stunt to describe what is woven.)

    Ghost In The (Soul)Steel:
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your assassination attempt.
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your father's break-out.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and try to gather what data is available here to put pieces together for both events.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Director Piggot to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Miss Militia to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.

    Banging Rocks Together:
    [ ] Keep full remaking your costume into armor using Kid Win and Armsmaster technology, in addition to to some other ideas of your own. This will take 2 more Intervals (1 with at least one other Tinker), and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval. (Stunt to add features, define looks, etc.)
    [ ] Work on modular bug-controlled anti-gravity pods, using Kid Win’s technology and your own as the backbone. This will take 8 Intervals to complete, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval. (Stunt to add features, design looks, etc.)
    [ ] Write-In: Work on something else (if it takes longer than 1 Interval, this will be added to the Workshoplist with an updated count).

    All The Little People:
    [ ] Spend time with a Ward. (Stunt to say which, and what you want to do.)
    [ ] Spend time with all the Wards. (Stunt to say what you want to do.)
    [ ] Spend time with a Protectorate member. (Stunt to say which, and what you want to do.)
    [ ] Spend time with PRT employees. (Stunt to say which if you want to specify any, and what you want to do.)

    Write-In:
    [ ] Something different!


    XP Expenditures:

    Make a plan for XP expenditures or vote on plans. Example Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
    - [x] 4xp - War
    - [x] 2xp - War (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Willpower
    - [x] 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Influence (PRT)

    Example Vote For Said Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
     
  24. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Wednesday Intervals #4-5 (Evening-Night):

    Ghost In The (Soul)Steel:
    [X] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and try to gather what data is available here to put pieces together for both events.
    - [x] Stunt: Inform Piggot(invisibly) that the Lie Detector is ready, and we're going to start our investigations. Ask her about anything we should pay particular attention to, Piggot would know who are in a position to access the right kinds of information, any anomalous behavior and if there is anything we should avoid looking into for privacy reasons.
    - [x] Stunt: Pay particular attention to people with slightly suspicious behavior patterns from before, like James, Kayla, Kenneth and Raymond. Follow them around and observe their interactions as the basis for finding out further suspicious behavior.

    Banging Rocks Together:
    [X] Keep full remaking your costume into armor using Kid Win and Armsmaster technology, in addition to to some other ideas of your own. This will take 2 more Intervals (1 with at least one other Tinker), and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval.
    - [x] Stunt: Get Kid Win to help once he's back from school. Apologise to Chris for the incident of the day before and explain that we were very stressed from recent events. Get some work done on his projects while we're at it in apology as well, and offer to give things another shot when the situation isn't so tense to make it up.
    - [x] Stunt: Work out the kinks with the hand protection. We need to devise protection that can fold into storage on demand. Long retracting metal sleeves made of tessellated scales of metal recycled from the metal trimmed when making the breastplate and linked with threads of silk for control and structural support should give us enough arm protection to block bullets with our sleeves, be flexible enough not to interfere with our fingers, and retract them by reeling in the threads when we activate the Omnitool Implants.

    Aye Eye:
    [X] Spend some time with your Familiar, letting it do what it wants and try to figure out what its goals are. (Familiar will rest in Elsewhere unless called forth… or it feels like it.)
    - [x] Stunt: Free Action. Let the Eye out and about if he feels comfortable about it, let him follow and observe us as we go about our day, unless Stealth is involved and we can't hide him with Optical Shroud, in which case he'd have to reside somewhere less visible.
    - [x] Stunt: Get his opinions on our activities, and introduce him to people we meet (barring any stealth missions of course), translating for him between Old Realm and English. Try to make use of his advice when it comes to crafting work, he'd be pretty good at it if his similarities to the Great Maker is anything to go by.

    [X] Social Sense Improvement XP Plan That People Totally Bungled Up
    - [x] 4xp - Linguistics


    ***


    Sliding the tray of cookies out of the oven with your left hand, you absently munch on the ham sandwich with your right, having slapped the basic lunch together while you were busy making this last batch of confections. It wouldn’t do to reneg on your deal with John, Aaron, and Mako from yesterday, so you decided to maximize your time away from your workbench and bake a few trays of cookies while you were already in the kitchen to make your lunch.

    You’re tempted to have your spiders weave you an apron when you don’t have anything else better to craft, though you’d certainly put something more tasteful on it than the “Tinker in the Kitchen, Brute in Bed” apron you saw advertised online.

    Sixty chocolate-chip cookies is probably enough to satisfy the maintenance crew for today, so you toss the last tray’s contents onto the over-sized plate and start your march down to the PRT employee lounge.

    You only arrive with forty of the sixty cookies you left with, having seemingly attracted nearly the entire base with the smell of your baking. In the lounge itself, you have to almost physically fight off the rest of the day crew to keep the plate from being cleaned off entirely.

    The wall of bugs you erect around the cookies should deter any further grabbing until the night crew show up, at least.

    As you lean against the large coffee table in the middle of the lounge, your presence warding off hungry cookie thieves, you take a moment to analyze what the Eye is doing… only to sense it stir under your attention. It’s been almost six hours since it retreated into your Elsewhere pocket, and it no longer feels asempty as it did then.

    You wait a few more minutes for the hungry horde to clear out before you decide to try coaxing the Eye from his nap; with only four other employees crowded around a poker game at the opposite side of the large recreation room, you figure you have enough space to yourself at the moment to see how the Eye behaves in a less enclosed setting.

    Except, when you try to extrude the Eye as you would any other object you’ve absorbed thus far, you immediately start to feel an enormous drain on your essence reservoir for the attempt. Stopping your effort before fully committing to the task, you allow the essence committed to the endeavor to drain back into your external reservoir as you ponder the ramifications of this reveal.

    That certainly didn’t happen this morning, so has something changed? You don’t feel anything different about yourself, but you didn’t focus on the Eye when you woke up this morning so you’re uncertain how it compares now to how it was when you woke up.

    As if reacting to your thoughts, you feel the Eye blink in its Elsewhere pocket. Before you can think about what this might mean, however, your right hand spasms with a burst of essence as the Eye bursts out of the suddenly-opening aperture, a sped-up rewind of how it entered your palm this morning.

    [Comprehension.][Rejuvenation.][Anticipation.]

    Still sitting casually on the coffee table, you try not to make any sudden moves to alarm the gaping PRT poker players any further. Keeping your eyes on the Eye, you take a few breaths and calmly focus on your new understanding of your ‘native’ language: Old Realm. Your mental breakdown earlier had the unintended consequence of hammering home the true divide in your mind between the bizarre-yet-familiar language and English, so you’re finding it to be much easier to slip into the ancient tongue on command.

    “You’re feeling better? Does that usually happen to you?”

    The lids of the Eye tilt down in the semblance of a scowl, making you realize just how much more expressive it is with the mechanical covering. You’re uncertain of how it would communicate at all without your charm’s link and the intricate lid it adapted (and improved) from your figurine, what with its natural form being a massive, featureless black pearl.

    [Comprehension.][Disagreement.][Weakness.][Frustration.]

    Guessing at the true intent of the Eye though its very slight shifts in expression and link-based emotional cues is proving to be difficult when talking about abstract concepts. Hitting upon an idea, you extrude your journal and mechanical pencil into your hands and offer them to the Eye.

    After squinting at the devices in your hands for a few moments, nearly a dozen small arms - each with multiple finger-like extensions of their own - unfurl around the brass-like orb in a din of mechanical whines and clicks, all eventually reaching out to take the proffered items from your hands.

    You’re reminded of Armsmaster’s efforts to review the various devices you’ve absorbed and then extruded via your Technomorphic Integration Engine with the way the Eye is currently dismantling the mechanical pencil and flipping the journal open, closed, and around in apparent fascination. You manage to keep your humor at the display down to a smile, even though you’re not sure the Eye would even notice your outburst the way it is currently focused on the two items (or, rather, their constituent parts now that they’ve been disassembled).

    [Curiosity.][Frustration.][Incomprehension.]

    After a few minutes of watching the Eye fiddle and study each part of the two items - the journal having been unstapled and separated into dozens of double-sized pages, the mechanical pencil dismantled down to the springs - when you finally clear your throat into your hand to get its attention.

    “One is a writing tool, the other is material for you to write on. Do you know how to write?”

    [Comprehension.][Resentment.][Indignation.]

    In a burst of whirling arms and tools, whirs and clicks, the journal and the mechanical pencil are reassembled into… something similar to what they were before. The journal appears to be spiral-bound now instead of stapled together, and the mechanical pencil now has Old Realm hieroglyphics for “Enduring Order Administrator” in brass instead of “Dr. Grip” in silver along the side.

    Flipping the journal open with several arms to support it, one arm extends the pencil back to you while another arm manifests a small brush-like extension, the Eye itself giving you a barely-perceptible smile by way of its raised lower eyelid.

    [Benevolence.][Eagerness.]

    With clockwork efficiency, the Eye measures mechanical strokes inside the journal for a few moments before stopping and flipping the journal around for you to read it, forcing your gaze away from the brass writing on your mechanical pencil (which settled your question of whether you could read Old Realm or not).

    Formal Greetings to Unit 09-00000000-01, Enduring Order Administrator, First of Nowhere Chosen,
    From Unit 01-04782211-01, The Iris of Innovation, Secondary Fetich of Primordial Autochthon.

    Nowhere Universe Existence Devoid of Essence,
    Utilizes Unknown Energy Matrix for Structure of Possibility and Potential.

    Current Capabilities Limited to Direct Physical Manipulation of Unknown Energy Matrix,
    Reliant Upon Essence Stream from Primordial Autochthon Through Enduring Order Administrator to Maintain Unit Essence Structure.

    Directives For This Unit:

    Primary Directive: Magnification of Essence Stream from Primordial Autochthon Until Sufficient Essence Saturation Level Allows for Summoning and Survival of Primordial Autochthon.

    Secondary Directive: Elimination of Elements Hostile to Primary Directive.

    Tertiary Directive: Discover Fundamental Mechanics of Unknown Energy Matrix Comprising Nowhere Universe,
    Utilize Understanding to Accomplish Secondary and Primary Directives.

    Reading Old Realm, somewhat unsurprisingly, comes naturally to you - easier than English these days, you mentally sigh. In an abstract way you’re reminded of the temple engravings seen in your history lessons about the Mayans and Aztec civilizations, though the clean and precise alphabet here is a far cry from the crude glyphs and pictographs visualized in your textbooks and online research.

    Even still there are a few terms that you puzzle over: “Fetich” and “Nowhere”, specifically. You presume the former is probably some title or designation of importance, while the latter makes your head spin a little at the glyphs used to form the familiar-yet-completely-abstract word… which is also a proper name? After a few minutes of puzzling it out, you ultimately shelve the concerns for later - they’re probably not important right now, anyway.

    Especially in the face of these three Directives. That’s what Autochthon meant? What… how… ?

    Where would you even put him? He’s the size of a planet! Well, maybe you could have him gobble up all the asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter… no, no, you’re not going to think of that now.

    You consider revoking Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade from Colin so you can more efficiently work out these revelations without boggling wildly (which seems to amuse the Eye and unnerve the PRT employees watching you even further), but you mentally shove that temptation away. He’s been exceedingly helpful with your armor project, so you don’t feel like betraying your burgeoning partnership on a whim.

    You shift your weight on the coffee table as you deflate a bit, close your eyes, and rub your temples in an attempt to calm your thoughts. In response, the Eye lowers the journal and gives you a blank look.

    [Incomprehension.][Surprise.][Concern.]

    You don’t look up, instead just shake your head in an attempt to assuage the Eye’s worry.

    “Sorry, no, it’s alright. It’s just… I’m not sure where to even begin with those Directives, and this is the first I’ve even heard of them.”

    [Comprehension.]

    [Incomprehension.]

    [Comprehension.][Exasperation.]

    The Eye flips the journal back to face it, pens a few quick strokes, and then flips it back quickly.

    Primordial Autochthon Moves in Ways Mysterious Even to Himself

    You’re not quite sure, but you get the distinct impression from the increased rhythmic grinding of gears that the Eye is… grumbling? You look up and open your mouth to voice the question, but the Eye’s stare makes you reconsider it. Instead, you focus on another point you’ve been trying to work out.

    “I’ve been wondering why my enhanced sight can’t see essence, but you mean that wherever you’re from is made entirely of it? How does that even work? I thought it was just fuel for… well, magic powers?”

    Judging by the very serious expression on the Eye, that was probably a worse question to ask.

    [Comprehension.][Dissatisfaction.][Determination.]


    ***


    Fifteen minutes later, you note Director Piggot moving up from the cafeteria after eating her ‘salad’ and soup lunch (you’re not sure those pale lettuce leaves and yellowed carrots really count as anything healthy). It’s almost four, so you’re surprised she ate so late today, but you’ve seen her skip lunch altogether some times so it’s not completely out of character for her. Still, you’re reminded of her health issues - maybe you could work with Armsmaster to turn his mineral-mush generator into something everyone can tailor to themselves… and then make it edible?

    “Iris?”

    The Eye looks up from where it is still furiously writing in your journal as you stride through the halls towards the elevator closest to the Director’s office.

    [Comprehension.][Anticipation.]

    “Do you think you could go down to Armsmaster’s workshop on your own? I may have some work to do for Director Piggot and I don’t think she’ll take your presence very well.”

    [Comprehension.][Indignation.][Resignation.]

    Iris hands you back your journal - though you suspect he’ll be asking for it back later to finish his dissertation - and you promptly absorb it for safe-keeping (though opt to not focus on its contents just yet for the sake of your mental health). As he turns to head back towards the workshop areas, an idea occurs to you.

    “Do you want to work on my armor while I’m with the Director?”

    Again, the slight raise of the lower lid in imitation of a smile-induced squint.

    [Comprehension.][Agreement.][Inspiration.]

    You’re not certain just exactly what ideas Iris may be concocting, but you’re sure Armsmaster and Dragon will keep him out of trouble. Speaking of…

    “Oh, and if Dragon’s still around be careful about… well… I don’t know. She’s curious about you, so just go easy on her?”

    [Comprehension.][Agreement.][Anticipation.]

    You pause to consider what that might forebode, but you’re already worrying about ways to not anger Director Piggot any further so you simply shrug and extrude the various parts and pieces you’ve been using to build your armor - except the helmet, of course. It takes a good chunk of your personal essence to do so, but you’re not expecting to need recoup most of it before you head back down to finish working on the armor.

    After loading Iris up - turning him into a floating hodge-podge of mechanical arms, gadgetry, and armor pieces - you both offer a curt nod to each other and go on your separate ways. You allow the melange of emotions from the Eye’s link to fade further into the background of your mind, though you catch hints of eagerness and curiosity, mixed with the usual bouts of frustration, as he departs.

    With Colin and Dragon to watch over him, what’s the worst that could happen?


    ***


    Ascending in the elevator, you activate your Optical Shroud and disappear in a ripple of distorted light. Tracking her through your insects, you are unsurprised by Director Piggot as she enters the elevator on the next floor up.

    Should you talk with her now? No, you don’t want to be in an enclosed space with the Director when you start talking to her invisibly - considering how jumpy she was last time, she’s liable to hit you with a taser or left hook. You also don’t want to aggravate her heart condition by making her feel cornered.

    Besides, if you were going to put surveillance equipment all around the PRT, you’d definitely put some in the elevators. That’s just common spy-movie logic. And no, you are not humming the Mission: Impossible tune to yourself as you follow her out of the elevator and wait for the longest stretch of blank hallway between the elevator and her office; no one can hear you do it, so they can’t prove a thing.

    Right as she makes a left turn around the last corner, you project your voice into her left ear - reducing the angle of the sound cone to ensure that nothing besides her ear will pick up the noise, but also trying to make your voice clear so that she knows it’s you speaking.

    “I’m done with the Lie Detector, m’am.”

    The way she jumps and reaches for a weapon makes you glad you waited until now. You keep an eye on her vitals with your enhanced sight, noting the elevated heart-rate and some other statistics that probably have some long-term consequences, but your medical knowledge is still too frustratingly limited to make sense of it all. After a few moments of controlled breathing - likely in an attempt to give the impression she wasn’t actually unnerved by your subtlety - she speaks in a low tone while keeping her lips tight, addressing the blank space in front of her.

    “Good. I’ll get you a copy of the interview schedule.”

    The heads-up display in your helmet pops up a small diagnostic with various percentages in a neat column, all summarized by the last line:Truth.

    Your first use of your shiny new Lie Detector in the field is a little anti-climactic, but at least you have a confirmed reading on someone that’s not Colin, now.

    “And, Weaver? For God’s sake, just arrange a 5 minute meeting with me next time, like a normal person. There’s no need for theatrics.”

    You’re tempted to re-hash the fact that scheduling appointments when you’re trying to counter a Thinker is akin to presenting them your plans on a silver platter, but you control your frustration and keep your response simple.

    “Yes m’am.”

    You’re about to ask her what you should do right now, when she up and storms off towards her office. Although the temptation to follow her and badger her for more instructions is large, you fight it off and take a deep breath. Yes, it would be inefficient to interrupt her busy schedule any further when you clearly have the time, the tools, and the initiative to take this investigation to the next level.


    ***


    As it turns out, trying to get people to incriminate themselves when you’re stalking the halls invisibly is actually far more difficult than you expected. Your bugs already do most of the job of watching for suspicious behavior all around the Protectorate Headquarters, so the only lies you pick up are ones in casual conversation between chatting co-workers.

    And revelations like “No, Jason doesn’t think your girlfriend is attractive,” or, “Susan is avoiding talking about what she had for dinner last night” don’t strike you as ground-breaking strides into this investigation.

    After nearly three hours of spy work, the only lead you’re getting at this point is that either the people you’ve been watching aren’t the culprits, the people that you have been watching don’t know that they’re doing anything against the rules, or there aren’t any leads on this base to begin with.

    Even watching Kenneth seems legitimately sorrowful after being railed out by the Director for his mistake. No secret emails to a conspirator that he’s been found out, just the usual paperwork and emails to names that appear to be legitimate internal PRT addresses.

    Maybe it’s time to take a look at the other PRT offices? The PRT Headquarters downtown might be a good place to start, actually, since that’s where the vast majority of nine-to-five workers put in their time. Though so far you’ve only narrowed your search down onto those who are working at four to seven in the evening on a Wednesday, so you don’t quite yet have conclusive evidence that there’s no sinister infiltration going on - corruption investigations usually take months, from what you understand.

    Thankfully you didn’t have to worry about any distractions from Iris during your spy work, as he’s kept himself busy either taking apart your armor pieces, taking apart Colin’s spares, or trying - and failing - to communicate with Dragon (resulting in many mixed emotions through your link). At the moment he’s writing out the Old Realm primary alphabet and basic grammar rules onto the large whiteboard that covers one side of Colin’s workshop, though Colin had to wash off the ink from Iris’ first attempts to start his apparent Rosetta Stone project when the Eye first began writing on the board with whatever ink he’s been generating with that small brush of his.

    You did manage to notice that Colin discreetly saved the cloth he used for cleaning up the board, however. You’ll have to call him out on that later so that you can find out what results he gets from his inevitable tests on the pitch-black liquid.

    Doing a mental tally of your fellow superheroes, you notice that Dean appears to be looking for you in your offical Ward room - it having finally having been cleared for use only an hour ago. Vista’s out on patrol with Triumph and Aegis - as are Battery, Miss Militia, and the new arrival, Rime - and Dennis is watching them while he does his requisite Control Room duty (and Algebra homework). Colin and Chris are tinkering in their respective workshops - Chris with the benefit of Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade - while John (Dauntless), Robin (Velocity), and Ethan are playing Texas Hold’em in the Protectorate lounge, with Robin beating the pants off the other two heroes. Literally.

    Might as well see what Dean wants.

    “Dean.”

    “Holy shit!”

    Yes, this was an efficient way to test your theory about talking through your bugs; it turns out you only had to gather 83 flies and cockroaches to do it! Yes, they were gathered on the ceiling above him, kept out of his peripheral vision, but that was just training for future stealth operations. No, scaring Dean had nothing to do with it.

    Out of his sci-fi-Lancelot power armor, Dean really does cut a nice figure in his casual clothes: lightly tanned skin, snug white t-shirt, fit jeans, his hair combed back, and… is that cologne? Your bugs do not like cologne, and judging by the way it affects them you’re inclined to agree. Good thing you don’t actually have to breathe anymore, but you’re far away at the moment so that’s not… hmm, maybe he might be able to help you with your investigations?

    “Taylor? A-are you... talking through your bugs?”

    “Yes.”

    “Oh. Alright. Well, are you busy? I was going to go over some strategies for how our abilities could work together, since we’ll probably be paired up some time next week for a patrol.”

    This strikes you as a remarkably sensible way to spend time with a fellow Ward. Except…

    “We patrol in threes now.”

    He shrugs, though it’s hard getting a read on his emotions through your swarm. Focusing through the swarm, you absently realize that you may be relying on your enhanced vision a bit to much these days, and your new Lie Detector ability… huh, that certainly explains why Colin is so brutally direct when he’s in costume.

    “I’m usually the tactician for most of our engagements, so I know everyone else’s abilities almost as well as they do these days.”

    Again, very sensible; his own power would certainly give him an edge at figuring out the rest of the Wards’ combat behaviors, so making him the tactician would be a logical choice. You’ve been meaning to get some training in with the rest of the Wards so that you can get a feel for their abilities - and thus take up the role of tactician yourself - so this sounds like an even better idea.

    You’re in the middle of watching Jason from HR file the last of the paperwork for Chevalier’s temporary transfer - noting that he forgot to dot one of his ‘i’s on the last page of that form - when the realization that the timing of this request, the perfect fit for how you’d prefer to spend your time…

    “Where do you want to meet?”

    He beams a smile at the bugs, though you note that there’s a hitch in response after a second as he watches your swarm twitch.

    “I was thinking down at the War Room if you wanted to use the boards there, but I’ve got a clipboard-sized board here so we could talk it out in a more casual atmosphere if you want - your room or mine works.”

    Still invisible, you narrow your eyes.

    “Is this a date?”

    You think you almost catch him stumble for a bit on that, but it’s gone before you’re sure of it. You could really use that charm now, Chris! But no, you need to make it up to him for yester- wait a second… yesterday, was Chris-

    “If you want it to be, sure.”

    Wait, what were you thinking about? Because you just got asked out on your first date ever by the guy most of the girls at Winslow AND Clarendon drool over. This… what.

    “What.”

    What? No, that can’t be right. Well, ok, yes, you’re definitely a better person than Glory Girl judging by the way she’s throwing her mind-warping aura around, but you’ve been a Tinker-shut-in and covering people in spiders and… this has to be some sort of joke or trick.

    Yes, that’s it. Or, well… oh, you’re not sure what to think anymore. You should ask Missy - no, wait, definitely not-

    You ignore the sudden freak-out that Jason has from your voice suddenly emanating from behind his seat, because you have much more important things to worry about right now.

    Maybe you could use Josie for help, here? You have her number, and she offered to “do anything for you” in return for those undershirts, and this certainly qualifies as “anything” in your mind!

    Wait, crap, you need to respond to Dean!

    “One moment.”

    You lament your rapidly-fraying social abilities while walking out of the HR offices, quickly extruding your phone, and dialing Josie. You opt to remain invisible so that no one can prove that you’re about to have this conversation.

    Dean just nods as if what you said was a perfectly acceptable response, then walks over and leans against the wall to wait for your response. You’re starting to see why Glory Girl would have a hard time resisting him.

    “Taylor? Ohmygosh are you-”

    Interrupting Josie before she can start babbling, you keep your voice projected directly into the phone’s receiver, allowing you to remain practically undetected while you give her a calm and succinct summary of the situation.

    “Josie-Gallant-just-asked-me-out-what-do-I-do?”

    It takes another solid minute to calm her down, during which you absently note Dean is still casually tapping his foot while he listens to some music from his phone with one ear. Eventually you manage to get Josie to stop shrieking in glee and cut to the chase.

    “Ok, dish. Wait, you already told him yes, right?”

    “...no?”

    “Taylor for the love of God tell him yes!”

    “Yes.”

    This startles Dean from his reverie, though it only takes him a few seconds to process what you said before he beams another 1000-watt smile at your cluster of bugs.

    “Great! Where do you want to meet up?”

    “He wants to know where I want to meet him?”

    “When is this happening, Taylor?”

    “...now?”

    “WHAT?! Ohmygod you’re serious?! What are you wearing?! Wait, no, are you with him right now?”

    “I’m talking to him through my bugs, he’s on the other side of the base.”

    You ignore the niggling feeling that you maybe shouldn’t have admitted you could do that to a civilian, but any semblance of rational thought fled out your mind the moment Dean said this was a date. Where did your nice, cold logic go?!

    There’s a pause on the line as Josie digests this tidbit, but she’s back at full speed before you know it.

    “You can talk through your bugs? At the same time as you talk with me? Wow, that’s so fetch!”

    You blink, a penny derailing your train of thought.

    Dean seems curious about your lengthening pauses, however. “Taylor? Everything alright?”

    “Yes. One moment.”

    “He’s asking!”

    “Tell him anywhere! Let him decide!”

    Wait, no, you have a better idea - you needed a way to verify if he was telling the truth, so this will certainly work!

    “Meet me at Maintenance Bay C. I need help.”

    He seems puzzled for a moment, looking away in thought.

    “Bay C? Alright but wha…”

    And then, for some reason, this is the thing to break Dean’s cool. He coughs in his hand, and you can tell he’s a bit flustered.

    “...oh. Uh. Wow. Ok? Sure, I’ll see you there.”

    You watch him regain his composure and depart through your swarm, then relay your plan to Josie. There is a long pause following your revelation, before she finally cheers triumphantly.

    “You go, girl!”

    You don’t get much else out of her from there on out, but you’re not sure why she’d be so enthused by your plan to make Gallant shift through a dirty supply closet.


    ***


    Things do not go as planned.


    ***


    “What are those, Taylor?”

    Sitting in Armsmaster’s comfortable workbench chair, you stare glumly at the TinkerTech devices arrayed in front of you. Looking down from the screen above the workbench, Dragon has asked variations on that question a few times over the last fifteen minutes, but you finally decide to break the silence you’ve been maintaining. With a lethargic wave of your hand, you point to each as you name them in turn.

    The small pile of insect-like automatons: “Motion-activated cameras.”

    The cylindrical device made to look like a can of caulk cleaner: “Pheromone dispenser and harmonic resonator.”

    A small box that looks like a rat trap: “Motion-activated noise maker.”

    This is processed in silence by the digital projection of the world’s greatest Tinker, until she speaks up a good two minutes later.

    “Does this have anything to do with the injuries Gallant is currently having treated in the medical wing?”

    You nod your head, unsurprised by this; you delivered him there yourself.

    “Are you alright, Taylor?”

    You note behind you that Dragon is whispering something to Colin and Iris, though the latter seems oblivious as his myriad of extended arms recompile your armor into something that looks far different than what it started as. Colin stiffens, but otherwise seems to be waiting on something from Dragon.

    Better cut this line of thought off before you cause even more grief for Gallant tonight.

    “I’m fine, Gallant didn’t… I mean, I was immune but he wasn’t, so… I just didn’t mean to trip him over the mop bin.”

    The synthesized voice is softer now, somehow, as Dragon’s digitized face smiles kindly and nods.

    “That’s good, Taylor. Would you like to talk about it?”

    You don’t want to talk about getting flustered when you figured out what Gallant thought you meant when you dragged him to the closet, or about how you noticed his vitals and emotions go haywire when you made him combing through the closet out of spite. You definitely don’t want to talk about the way he started talking to you after that, especially since you had to block it out when he started getting really convincing in order to figure out what was causing the effect. You want to keep quiet about nearly cracking his skull open when you pushed past him to get to the heat source you detected coming from one of the cans in the back, accidentally shoving him over the rolling mop bucket and sending him head-first into the steel shelving frames. You never want to say how you held his head close to your body as you carried him to the medical wing.

    “I’ll be alright.”

    So you don’t.


    ***


    You’re uncertain if your dark and morbid thoughts - about Dean’s bleeding form, about the righteous vengeance you’re going to visit on L33t and Uber for planting those devices in that closet, or about the quiet agony you intend to inflict on the Controller that’s behind your attack and your dad’s abduction - are bleeding into your link to Iris, but you definitely don’t remember your armor looking so…

    ...well, the phrases that come to mind are, “Overlady,” “Spider Queen,” and, “Terror of the Night.” You’re pretty sure this isn’t going to pass PR Approval.

    Though, maybe with some more white, silver, and blue you might be able to make it work?

    “You realize I need to look like a Hero, right?”

    [Comprehension.][Incomprehension.]

    You sigh and extrude into Iris’ multitude of tiny mechanical arms the clipboard-sized whiteboard that you inadvertently swiped from Dean when you carried his torpid form to the medical bay. After a few squeaks and scribbles, the Eye flips the board around for you to see.

    Enduring Order Administrator Must Represent First Among New Chosen

    You’d be very surprised if Dragon wasn’t recording this, but you’re not sure if you can stop her. At least she probably doesn’t have enough to make sense of your conversation. In any case, you shake your head and point at the nearly-completed suit of power armor that looks like it could also double as a dress in which to hold court. Over a dominion of mechanical spiders.

    That is never going to get past our Public Relations department.”

    [Comprehension.][Incomprehension.]

    A few more back-and-forths to explain what a Public Relations department follow, which then necessitate a full explanation of the structure of the PRT, the Wards, and the Protectorate.

    Thus, you are rather shocked when your explanation results in the Eye of Autochthon nodding like this makes perfect sense.

    Mortal Governance Logical and Expected. Focus On Public Image Logical, For Greater Good.

    Though, after a pause, there is a burst of confusion through the link. After taking the small board back for a moment, Iris flips it around while looking at you with a very serious expression.

    Confusion As To Relevance Regarding Design.
    Chosen of Primordial Autochthon Do Not Need Recruitment Drives.

    You give Iris a flat look back, crossing your arms and leaning back in the stool to rest against the workbench.

    “Everyone thinks I’m a parahuman, and it’ll only cause more problems if I tell them otherwise. Or are you ready to fight off whatever would be against your Primary Directive right now?”

    For a few moments Iris is very still, only the smallest of gears and cogs on his covering continuing to whirl to a soft, rhythmic ‘tink tink tink.” Then, there is the eye-smile and the board is quickly cleansed, marked, and replaced in front of you as a jumble of pleasant feelings pours through your link.

    Enduring Order Administrator Acts As Undercover Operative,
    Establishes Self As Exemplar of Soulsteel Caste
    Concerns Regarding Previous Emotional Failings Disregarded,
    Understood Attempted Intimacy As Part of Disguise

    You do your best not to blanch, as well as keep your own internal emotions under control. Can Iris sense your emotions like you can sense his? Did he… when you were…

    It’s only 9:30, but you feel like now would be a good time for sleeping.

    “I’m… going to go sleep, Iris. Do you think you can make it more…”

    Thinking of what you know of the Eye’s frame of reference, you search your mind for anything that it can work with to undo the damage it’s done…

    ...young child, a girl, toils away in mines of gold and crystal...

    “...like a Jade Champion. A Hero of the People.”

    The Eye of Autochthon bobs up and down slowly, the mechanisms along its cover already tink-ing, ping-ing, and whir-ing to some strange pattern that seems vaguely familiar.

    [Comprehension.][Agreement.][Satisfaction.]

    You wave to Dragon and Colin, then head on up to your official Ward room. Everything of yours has been moved from the Protectorate Guest room, including your fancy new clock.

    You disable its alarm function, place it gently back in the cubby above your bed, and promptly pass out.


    ***


    Intimacy: Armsmaster/Colin (Respect) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Dragon (Respect) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Director Piggot (Begrudging Trust) +1 Increase
    Intimacy: Gallant/Dean (Friendship/Crush?) +1 Increase
    Intimacy: Iris of Innovation (Companionship) Gained!

    Socialize + 1 Training Interval (1/6 Intervals)
    Awareness + 1 Training Interval (5/6 Intervals)
    War + 1 Training Interval (5/6 Intervals)
    Stealth +1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)
    Bureaucracy + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    Investigation + 1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)
    Craft + 1 Training Interval (3/6 Intervals)
    Occult +1 Training Interval (5/6 Intervals)

    Linguistics x 1 Gained!


    ARMOR COMPLETE. Stats and abilities will be decided in a separate vote, should the Armor pass Tech Review and PR Approval. Feel free to draft up looks and stats now in preparation, taking into mind the descriptions in the story thus far.


    Thursday Intervals #2-3 (Morning-Afternoon): (Each vote takes one Interval unless Stunted otherwise!)

    Guilty Spark:
    [ ] Spend some time with your Familiar, letting it do what it wants while you make sure it doesn’t turn the HQ into a tiny robot duck. (Familiar will do what it wants unless you tell it to do things)
    [ ] Get your Familiar to follow you in your activities, hoping that it will help with whatever you’re doing. This is a free action by default, but still can be modified with Stunts to describe specific intended interactions.
    [ ] Tell your familiar to recharge in Elsewhere while you Meditate to increase your essence flow and healing rate. Maybe it can improve itself with a less restricted flow of Autochthon’s essence? (Familiar will remain outside unless you tell it to go rest.)

    At One With The Universal Equation:
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Read some books/CDs/flashdrives to buff up on a subject while you do so (Stunt to describe what topic you’re reading/training).
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Review your charms and how your essence helps shape their functions so that you have a more complete understanding of how they work.

    Water Spout Brigade:
    [ ] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, focusing on training your spiders to perform tasks when they are outside of your SoPA range.
    [ ] Get the spiders to work spinning more silk to weave, then focus them towards making something besides undershirts. (Stunt to describe what is woven.)

    Now You See Me, Now You Don’t:
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your assassination attempt.
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your father's break-out.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and try to gather what data is available here to put pieces together for both events.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Director Piggot to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Miss Militia to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.

    Building A Better Tomorrow:
    [ ] Using one of L33t’s surveillance bugs as a base, design surveillance equipment that your bugs can easily carry. This will take 2 Intervals to complete. (Stunt for design of sensor packages.)
    [ ] Fashion a customizable nutrient-paste dispenser using Armsmaster’s tech as a base. This will take 1 Interval to complete. (Stunt for extra options.)
    [ ] Work on modular bug-controlled anti-gravity pods, using Kid Win’s technology and your own as the backbone. This will take 8 Intervals to complete, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval. (Stunt to add features, design looks, etc.)
    [ ] Write-In: Work on something else (if it takes longer than 1 Interval, this will be added to the list with an updated count).

    We’re All In This Together:
    [ ] Spend time with a Protectorate member, maybe even some of the new ones like Rime, Mouse Protector, or Chevalier. (Stunt to say which, and what you want to do.)
    [ ] Spend time with PRT employees. (Stunt to say which if you want to specify any, and what you want to do.)

    The World-Weary Web:
    [ ] Research something online. (Stunt to say what.)
    [ ] Comb Parahumans Online, interacting with the Normals and Capes that use it. (Stunt to look for specific topics/threads.)

    Write-In:
    [ ] Something different!


    XP Expenditures:

    Make a plan for XP expenditures or vote on plans. Example Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
    - [x] 4xp - War
    - [x] 2xp - War (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Willpower
    - [x] 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Influence (PRT)

    Example Vote For Said Plan:

    [X] Gromweld's XP Plan
     
  25. Gromweld

    Gromweld Learning by mistake.

    Thursday Intervals #2-3 (Morning - Noon)

    The World-Weary Web:
    [X] Check your Email, browse Parahumans Online, search for online research topics.
    - [x] Stunt: If our swarm can talk, it can certainly use a computer, even if it has to use the voice activated assistance mode. Set it up before you leave.
    - [x] Stunt: The swarm can even surf the internet downloading textbooks (physics, medical, etc.), dictionaries, and childrens picture books in between emails arriving.

    Guilty Spark:
    [X] Get your Familiar to follow you in your activities, hoping that it will help with whatever you’re doing. This is a free action by default, but still can be modified with Stunts to describe specific intended interactions.
    - [x] Stunt: Pick Iris' mind for ideas on the arrangement of our workspace, costume design and spider eugenics. He might have some relevant experience given his breadth of knowledge so far.
    - [x] Stunt: Properly introduce the Iris of Innovation to the Protectorate members we're meeting. We'd be going around with him a lot, so we may as well get them used to the idea. Visit Miss Militia first to get her opinion of this first however. If she thinks this would be a terrible idea, let the Iris have some independent activity in our workshop area.

    Water Spout Brigade:
    [X] Get the spiders to work spinning more silk to weave, then focus them towards making something besides undershirts.
    - [x] Stunt: Finish optimizing the terrarium arrangement, and spend some time figuring out the best way to feed and breed them to get better quality and faster silk production.
    - [x] Stunt: Have the spiders start work on casual wear, using fashion magazines and the Internet as a reference. Deploy Omnitool Implants to make a complete wardrobe for yourself and Missy, extending to make something for the other Wards if time allows. Silk isn't just for underwear after all.

    Write-In:
    [X] Investigate your assassination and father’s abduction, attempting to trace the people who did it.
    - [x] Stunt: The sniper team may have thought they got away clean, but they didn't. You saw enough through the insects' eyes, and smelt enough from the wide range of olfactory receptors they had to not only be sure of recognizing them if you see them again, but also to produce exceptional sketches of their physiques, and the shape of their faces with Omnitool Implants, and deduce where they had recently been. Director Piggot would definitely be able to do something with this material.
    - [x] Stunt: Trace the Undersiders' digital trail. Go through video footage of their entry and exit times, as well as past actions then cross-reference this with traffic and security camera data, as well as damage reports consistent with the Undersiders canine transport with the help of Dragon to obtain a map of the city with Undersider activity levels. This should be reveal their center of operation.

    [X] Gotta Change The Way We Do Votes XP Plan
    - [x] 3xp - Temperance
    - [x] 3xp - Connections (PRT)


    ***


    You’re pretty sure you turned off your alarm clock, so you suspect that the Eye of Autochthon, the Iris of Innovation, does not endorse your desire to sleep the day away. At least he set it to nine again, instead of your usual six-thirty schedule for school.

    Except, as you blearily stumble into consciousness and mentally catalogue what your hundreds of thousands of insects are doing and feeling, you notice that Iris is down in your own workshop and not in your room. Since you’re certain you left him in Armsmaster’s workshop last night, that means he - at the very least - wandered from there, up to your room, and back down on his own.

    Since you’re pretty sure most of the population of the Protectorate Headquarters has yet to be introduced to him, or even notified of his existence, you hope that he at least behaved himself last night. Someone would have woken you up if he misbehaved... right?

    In any event, it looks like he recompiled your armor (again) last night - this time into something a bit more PR-friendly. You have a few fliers do a couple of loops around the armor (which is on a stand that you certainly didn’t have last night) while you wander into the bathroom and…

    Oh. Seems like you forgot to remove Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade from Chris last night. Judging by his haggard, high-strung glee, however, maybe that was a good thing? The continual manic giggling doesn’t seem very healthy, though. He must have called in sick to school, as it’s way past the start of Arcadia’s school day - probably a good idea, judging by the way he’s acting.

    Looks like he finished that massive gun emplacement he was working on, though! And he’s completely rebuilt the two spare hoverboards into what look like surfboards with… module slots? Interesting.

    You move through your morning routine of showering, repairing your pillows, repairing your sheets, and then head over to the Wards lounge to start cooking yourself… and Chris… some breakfast. Some eggs, a few strips of bacon and sausage links, a couple of green peppers and a dash of chopped onions…

    Humming along in the kitchen, you return your thoughts to your reconfigured armor. Dragon must have somehow managed to inspire Iris, judging by the passing similarities to her Dragonsuit armor (which themselves vaguely resemble knights in dragon-themed heavy plate) that you melted in your room. Maybe she blared sirens at him and then flashed pictures of her Dragonsuits when he started making something that was going to be out-of-bounds again?

    However she accomplished it, you’re wondering if Glenn will approve - while Dragon is a renowned Hero, she’s technically not part of the Protectorate. Having a new Ward flying around in power armor that looks like a smaller version of the iconic remote suits - save for the spider theme instead of a dragon one - may have branding ramifications. Sure, her suits change in appearance fairly regularly, but you’ve put a decent amount of work into the suit so far and you’d like to make sure it gets approved.

    Not like you’re all that eager to have action figures made of you, that is. Though, some kind of cap that mimics your Shard of Perfect Administration would be fun, or… hmm, you should probably get to figuring out a logo or icon before the PRT PR team does.

    Idly, you wonder what kind of spider-theme logos have already been taken - surely that sort of information would be available online, right? As you finish wrapping the breakfast burritos and put them on a plate to carry down to Chris’ workshop, you wonder if this is something you can look into via your swarm and further increase your multi-tasking efficiency.

    By the time you make it to the workshop areas you’ve managed to cover the keyboard of your workshop’s computer with flies and spiders, but getting consistent results with dive-bombing the keys is proving tricky. Talking through the swarm in an attempt to utilize your computer’s speech recognition to tools was also a no-go, likely due to the computer’s high-fidelity microphones considering the hundreds of different tones to be too dissimilar to be a single voice.

    On a lark, you move a few dozen of the flies over to Iris to guide him over to the keyboard - ignoring his current efforts to reassemble an orange from the dozens of pieces he’s chopped it into. You get the usual bursts of confusion and frustration from him as he snatches a few of the flies out of the air, but when you form an arrow in front of him to point towards the keyboard he eventually gets the hint.

    Floating over to the computer, you ‘grab’ a few of his extended arms and try to guide them to the keyboard, though he resists a few times. Though it works for almost a minute, he quickly catches on that you’re trying to use him as a set of arms and not trying to communicate to him directly, at which point you get a more solid burst of emotion through the link.

    [Comprehension.][Frustration.][Indignation.]

    So much for that. You’re about to go back to bug-bombing the keyboard, even though it’s much slower, when you see him turn to the nearby whiteboard and scribble something out.

    Physical Manipulators Inefficient for Use Through Insect Administration
    This Unit Busy With Tertiary Directive

    You’re not quite certain how reassembling an orange pertains to “Understanding the Universe”, but judging by the grumpy feelings rolling through the link you’re not sure it’s worth pressing that any further. His first line gives you an idea, though, so - slowly, one word at a time - you configure a few thousand of the flies into a response on the board.

    When.
    You.
    Are.
    Done.
    Can.
    You.
    Build.
    Insect.
    Computer.
    Interface.
    Please.

    You add the ‘please’ almost as an after-thought, realizing that even though Iris seems to be enthused with helping you thus far, you probably shouldn’t start taking that for granted - his Directives don’t explicitly name you as someone he is required to help, even though he apparently needs you to function in this universe. His negative reaction to your use of him for his arms was strong, too, so there might even be some history there.

    Your after-thought seems to pay off as the emotions flowing through the link flip drastically in response to Iris seeing your bugs configure themselves into the Old Realm word - perhaps more so since you opted for the expression of humility/honor instead of basic gratitude.

    [Comprehension.][Agreement.][Anticipation.][Appreciation.]

    You leave Iris to his citrus reconfigurations and return your primary focus to delivering your meal to Chris. Gradually increasing your knocks on his door to closed-fist poundings, your efforts ultimately prove futile as his headphones appear to now incorporate some form of sound cancellation tech now. Shrugging, you slide open the door with a button press and stride into the room - now much more organized than your first visit a little over two weeks ago.

    Seeing him up-close, you’re glad you didn’t end the charm when you woke up - he’s probably going to collapse the moment you pull it away judging by the sloppiness of his movements under the charm’s effects. You idly wonder if this is what would happen to you if you tried to go to sleep with it active, but push the thought away as you slowly step into his peripheral vision and try calling his name a few times, escalating your volume each time. Luckily, he doesn’t completely flip out when he finally notices you.

    “Ah! Taylor!”

    He leaps out of his seat, his face stretched in a wild, stretched grin and hops towards you with his arms outstretched...

    “You won’t believe what I’ve figured out thanks to your-gah!”

    ...only to be yanked backwards by the cord attached to his headgear, propelling his feet out from under him and his body to the ground.

    On the floor, Chris struggles with his headgear: an old helmet of his rearranged to have several different blank attachment points on it, with a few more containing different sorts of plugs. Untangling himself from the cords and pulling off the helmet proper, Chris mechanically struggles to his feet (looking like a bad imitation of a robot in the process) before giving you a somewhat more sane and subdued grin to go along with a ‘thumbs-up’ pose.

    “I figured out my Tinker Specialty!”

    Silently counting your blessings that his exhaustion is at least slowing down his speech into a range you can understand, you can’t help but smile back at his exaggerated ‘good guy’ pose.

    “That’s great, Chris... but I thought you said your Tinker specialty was weapons?”

    Chris’ smile clicks down to a strained grin, but he shakes the strain off after quickly.

    “Oh, well, yeah, that’s what I told everyone my specialty was… but I sorta… well, I wasn’t really sure. Blasters and weapons were easy, yeah, but I’d keep getting ideas for completely different ways to assemble them even while I had the original blueprint in my mind. Really sucked wasting so much time like that.”

    Without taking his eyes off you, he reaches over and nabs one of the breakfast burritos and begins scarfing it down while continuing his explanation. There’s a brief pause as he shudders a bit after the first bite, his eyes widening in some kind of surprise/amazement, but then he’s off again with his revelation.

    “See, that’s where your power finally made things click! I was starting to think about going to bed around two, but then I started getting ideas for how to add all sorts of features to my bed here - and I never get ideas for mundane stuff like that!”

    You’re tempted to tell him to stop talking with his mouth full - you’re certainly not hungry for your burrito anymore - but his enthusiasm is contagious enough that you’re smiling along with his food-filled chatter.

    “So then I started wondering why it was just features and not, like, a whole new bed or sleeping pod, when it suddenly hit me! All these random ideas I keep getting on how to improve whatever I’m working on aren’tfeatures at all - they’re modules! Each time I try to jam some piece of gear with all the ideas that keep popping into my head it breaks or I get lucky and it works - like my hoverboard - but then I can’t repair it! But! But! Whenever I just focus on one thing at a time, just one small piece of tech, it always works together with whatever else I build - even if I didn’t plan for it to!”

    With his free hand he grabs your right arm out from where you’ve propped it up against his workbench and hurriedly drags you over to the second table with one of his new ‘longboard’ hoverboards, gesticulating wildly with his burrito-filled-hand when you get there.

    “See, you remember the first time you lent me your power and I figured out all those small sensory packages to fit into my board? I was frustrated that the board wasn’t designed for hot-swapping parts like that, so after I had that idea I decided to test it on one of the spares you built! Check it out!”

    Clearly getting his fourth- or fifth-wind, Chris’ explanations start to speed up into unintelligibility as he rattles off details about the two new boards. The first board was more of a test to push his modularity theory to the limit, ultimately reducing the prototype to a useless skeleton with too many attachment points; having no real base foundation of its own, it almost looks like a Tinker-version of a Lego brick set.

    The second (‘hover platform’, he calls it) is still mostly unfinished having only been started two hours ago, but after a few more minutes of gushing over his revelation he suddenly blinks and smacks his palm to his face.

    “WhatamIdoingtellingyouallthisstuffyoucanjustabsorbit! GoaheadseewhatI’mtalkingabout!”

    Since you’re pretty sure he just asked you to absorb the more recent board, you give him a smile and a nod before moving over to the workbench. As you reach for it, however, you pause as a thought occurs to you: with something this big, does it need more surface area than just your hand to be properly integrated? Common sense thus far has made you remove bits of clothing for larger pieces to have access to more of your skin, but… well, it’s bullshit magic. When has common sense stopped it from doing anything?

    Lo and behold, placing your hand on the long, surfboard-sized ‘platform’ and activating Technomorphic Integration Engine doesn’t immediately end in failure. Just as quickly as absorbing something a quarter its size, a thin puff of dark blue-and-black essence (like your anima banner, you realize) dissolves the palm of your hand into a widening ‘hatch’, while the board itself folds up in impossible ways before neatly sliding into the open compartment in the palm of your hand. As the compartment snaps closed with a soft ‘click’, you ignore Chris’ slack-jawed stare and focus on the data being streamed into your subconscious from your Elsewhere storage.

    “This… wow, Chris. I see what you mean - the interlocking power conduits allowing for customization with… yes, and the primary computer is even swappable… oh, and what you’re doing with the jointed skeleton to secure additional lift or drag points...”

    “OhyeahImeanttotellyouaboutthatwellI’mplanningonputting-”

    You manage to react in time to catch Chris as he starts - mid-sentence - to topple towards the workbench, his eyes fluttering as his mind starts to shut down. In one smooth motion you retract Incomparable Efficiency Upgrade and run a scan on the teenaged Tinker to assess the damage done, all while throwing his right arm over your shoulder as he fully passes into unconsciousness with the charm’s removal.

    As you begin the walk up to his room, your continued scans provide a modicum of relief; his mind is extraordinarily taxed, to the point where it looks like he’s been awake and conscious for almost 100 hours. You’re a more than a bit alarmed by this, as you certainly never felt that kind of mental fatigue with the charm running for hours at a time... but now that you think about it, you’ve never really scanned Colin when he had the charm active either. Dragon did mention a few times that Colin usually passed out if he had it any longer than ten hours at a time, however, so maybe it has something to do with the user’s mental focus? Or is this related to your exaltation, or even possibly what Iris mentioned about this universe operating on a completely different energy than essence?

    You let a few of your consciousnesses puzzle on that while others focus on getting your spiders to spin flat sheets of silk for the outfits you’re planning on making after you deal with Chris’ unconscious form. You certainly couldn’t have lifted his form before your exaltation, but with a quick heft you’re easily carting his slumbering form bridal-style; your spider-leg halo is proving to be a deterrent against behind-the-back carry styles due to increased chances of eye- and face-gouging. You’re getting better controlling the legs as of late - successfully only poking Gallant a few times when you carried him to the Protectorate Headquarters’ medical bay - but you’d rather avoid waking Chris with a fresh stab in the face.

    You gracefully avoid the many PRT members that would likely misconstrue this situation as something different, and more obviously dart away from the gathering of Protectorate members that seems headed in your direction; Assault will never let you live this down, and you certainly don’t want your first impression with Rime, Chevalier, and Mouse Protector to be you carting around Chris like some kind of swooning princess.


    ***


    You manage to make it to Chris’ room without incident, thanks entirely to your swarm; you’re pretty sure you would have walked into every possible embarrassing situation possible were it not for the senses of your insectoid... minions? No, villains have minions. Servants? Ah, yes: assistants.

    Your assistants have been busy checking for various outfit patterns, though after you settled on tasteful, elegant outfits for yourself and Missy the insect searchers turned to delving the digital web for more books to use as research and training for both yourself and Iris. In addition, you’ve gone ahead and downloaded the entirety of the library available to your current level of clearance, which includes schoolbooks for classes all the way up to graduate level. Since Iris doesn’t have your capability of absorbing microdrives to study, you’re going to have to build some way for him to interface with a computer or tablet… after you teach him English, at least.

    You’re tempted to download a few children’s books to help him along that path, but after your previous faux pas with him you think it might be better to stick to Rosetta Stone-style programs and books. You were tempted to have Dragon help him with the process when she expressed interest in learning Old Realm - learning languages being a hobby of hers, apparently - but after the discussion you had yesterday with Iris you may want to wait a bit on giving her the tools to decode that conversation.

    And as if summoned by that train of thought, the roaming group of Protectorate members that you easily avoided earlier seems to have made its way to your workshop, having travelled there after asking Colin where you might be.

    Unfortunately, they are instead met by a frustrated Eye of Autochthon who has just failed his 23rd attempt to reassemble an orange inside-out.

    You pick up your pace as the sparks begin to fly, with Miss Militia interposing herself between Chevalier and Iris, the latter showing far more interest in in examining the former than the other way around. You try again to push thoughts of calm, relaxation, or even just restraint through your link to Iris, but so far your efforts are proving ineffectual to stop the many arms of the basketball-sized orb of cosmic bullshit attempts to take apart the armor of a senior Protectorate leader.

    “What the hell is this thing?! Hannah, I’m going to break your new Ward’s toy if it doesn’t stop trying to rip apart my armor!”

    “Taylor! You need to get Iris under control, now!”

    “Iris! Stand down, please!”

    Commanding your workshop’s host of insects to project your voice fills the entire room with the cacophonous sound of Old Realm, halting the combat-ready Protectorate members and freezing the Eye of Autochthon in mid-grab.

    [Comprehension.][Incomprehension.][Anticipation.][Frustration.][Agreement.]

    As Iris backs off and returns, sullenly, to his pile of mangled oranges, you switch to speaking English through your swarm to instead address the mortal inhabitants of the room.

    “I apologize for Iris’ behavior, everyone. I’m on my way to you now, but what did you need?”

    It’s tough to get a good read on Chevalier through his gold-and-silver full-plate armor, but it’s clear that he’s still keeping his focus on Iris even though the ball of mechanical magic doesn’t appear to be looking in his direction any more. Though, from the feelings you’re getting through Iris’ link, you suspect that Iris’ view is not limited to the cover’s field of vision; his half-hearted attempts at orange reconstruction is likely just a cover for however he’s analyzing Chevalier at range.

    With the tension bleeding out of the group, Miss Militia clears her throat and settles into a more relaxed stance before addressing the general direction of your swarm.

    “We were hoping to introduce you to our new guests, since the attack on you during your reveal was the reason for their temporary transfer. I know you can see us now, but I’d rather wait until you’re actually here to do the actual introductions.”

    “That’s fair.”

    “In the meantime, care to explain why your creation tried to attack me and my armor?”

    His arms crossed, Chevalier’s commanding voice doesn’t betray any sense of fear over the attack, rather exasperation mixed with a hint of… uncertainty? You’re still getting the hang of reading people through your bugs, their varied senses not yet translating perfectly in your mind.

    “As an… extension of my power, Iris probably saw something about your armor and wanted to figure out how it worked. I’m sure he would have put it back together when he was done with it.”

    This gets a bark of a laugh from the Philadelphia Protectorate leader, shaking his head afterwards in bemusement.

    “Unless your projection can figure out in a few minutes what no PRT Tinker has been able to with weeks of study, that’s unlikely.”

    You’re considering a retort for that when Mouse Protector - easily identifiable by the costume that looks like Minnie Mouse in fantastical Roman Gladiator garb - follows him up, shuddering and waving at your swarm.

    “Oy, sorry kid I don’t mean to burst your bubble here but I have got to say that this is easily one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. Talking bugs? That’s just… ugh… so wrong.”

    Rounding the corner, you opt to speak at the same time as your swarm as you approach the open door to your workshop, only cutting out your swarm voice at the very end.

    “They’re not really talking, just buzzing, chirping, or clicking in a way that sounds like a voice when I coordinate it. It took me until only recently to even figure out I could do it, so I’m still... working out the bugs.”

    With your bugs no longer making a sound, the room is instead filled with the groans of the assembled Protectorate members as they turn to greet you, though Assault and Mouse Protector are guffawing loudly.

    Except, as you try to hold to your wry grin in the face of the gathered Protectorate members, you’re taken once again by how awe-inspiring the heroes look in full regalia - especially now with Rime (second-in-command to Alexandria), and Chevalier (leader of the Protectorate of Philadelphia, not just a tiny backwater town like Brockton Bay). Mouse Protector kind of ruins the image, though.

    “I take it back, kid! You’re alright!”

    You’re still in your casual attire, so the sight of you elicits some further laughs from Rime and Mouse Protector, though Rime - a black-haired woman in a full-body, skin-tight, arctic-blue costume adorned with white fur in the semblance of a heavy winter coat - is the first to give reason for it.

    “I see you finally succumbed to the lure of dressing up your Wards, Hannah. Were you just waiting for the prettiest Ward ever to be your walking endorsement?”

    Miss Militia looks like she wants to say something, her scowl not really directed at you but at your clothing, before she ultimately sighs in exasperation and rubs her eyes with her hand. You just shrug.

    “I didn’t really have any clothes that fit me after my trigger, all the clothes in the gift shop were free, and I haven’t really had a chance to go shopping yet.”

    Left unsaid is that they’re really comfortable to work in, too - much better than your school uniform. Besides, it’s not like you’re trying to impress anyone here on the base.

    In some of your extra consciousnesses, you note something else during the brief exchange: with your heightened perception and swarm sight, you can tell that Chevalier has gone absolutely still since he’s turned in your direction. You’re starting to get used to guys going slack-jawed when they see you, but as his stillness drags on you’re starting to think it might be something else.

    The others, however, haven’t noticed Chevalier’s sudden lock-up just yet. Miss Militia - now over her small bout of embarrassment - motions with an arm to present you to the three new heroes.

    “Chevalier, Rime, Mouse Protector, I’d like to present the newest member of Brockton Bay’s Ward program: Weaver, also known publicly as Taylor Hebert. Taylor, this is Chevalier, Rime, and Mouse Protector - we were all in the original Wards program together.”

    Popping off the stylized gladiator helmet (complete with large, flexible black mouse ears and elongated nose under the faceguard), Mouse Protector shakes her head to loosen her short, mousy hair before giving you a knowing grin. Besides her slightly-larger nose, you’re surprised the woman known for such irreverence would be so plain under the mask.

    “We can’t let those fuckers disrespect the Wards, now can we? Call me Mary, kid - you’ve already earned the stripes as far as I care, taking a bullet for a teammate like that.”

    Rime is next, pulling down the portion of her suit covering her face’s bottom half to reveal an elegant jawline and full lips to go with her striking blue eyes and long black hair. She tilts her head to you in a slight bow, her arms on her hips otherwise.

    “Kathy. Pleased to meet you, Taylor. Hannah’s brought us up to speed with your last few weeks. The Wards program is supposed to be a second chance at life; I’m sorry to hear yours had such a rocky start.”

    After Kathy’s words, there’s a slight pause where Chevalier was clearly supposed to step in, but his continued stillness only results in an awkward silence.

    Until Mary decides to make it an awkward conversation.

    “Aw, man, Bobby! Don’t tell me you’re hot on the newbie ‘cause she’s dressed like Hannah!”

    Suddenly, there is a combat shotgun in Miss Militia’s hand, though the weapon is pointed at the ground and she otherwise appears unmoved from her previous parade rest. You also detect a sudden shift from Chevalier, Mary’s comment appearing to have broken whatever spell was on him. Assault’s next comment derails whatever he was about to say, however.

    “Pay up, Robin.”

    While Velocity tries desperately to act like he has no idea what Assault is talking about, Chevalier finally clears his throat and slides up the vertically-slit faceplate on his plate helmet to reveal a handsome, scarred face and deep grey eyes that seem to be staring through you.

    “My apologies, I was just caught up in some memories.”

    That doesn’t seem to lessen Kathy’s light snickers, but Miss Milita tenses briefly before relaxing - her shotgun returning to a holstered pistol at her side. You do your best to not give away the notion that you’re not quite believing his admission as Chevalier continues, a strained smile prefacing a brief nod to you.

    “Robert, but if you’ll keep to calling me by public name I’d appreciate it. I wish we could have met under better circumstances, Ms. Hebert - this attack was a low blow, and I’ve already heard of a number of potential Wards turning down the the program as a result of the news.”

    That’s… rather distressing, actually. You almost feel bad for Glenn for having to deal with the fallout from this, despite his recent emails (seen through your bugs) talking about putting you on talk shows and magazine covers after you’re healed up.

    “Miss Militia, Rime, Mouse Protector, and I may be all that’s left of the original Wards team, but we’ll be damned if we let the newest Ward be taken down without a fight.”

    And just like that, all the petty jokes and rough spots are washed away. With such a simple, matter-of-fact statement, you can see the assembled group stand a little straighter, nod just enough to give their faces a more serious light, their expressions turning more… determined. Heroic.

    You’ve seen photo ops of Protectorate gatherings - who hasn’t, really - but a part of your mind had always discounted the strength depicted in those images as just that: photo ops.

    Then, you’d come to see even further behind the masks (literally) and realized just how human the heroes constantly depicted in the media really were. They laughed, they cursed, they stumbled into closed doors, they made social faux pas.

    But in this moment, seen through your thousands of eyes and processed through your many consciousnesses, you catch your first true glimpse of what it means to really look like a Hero.

    ...They will never win...

    For the first time in a long while, you think… just maybe… that there’s a reason to hope.


    ***


    After you mention what you plan on doing in your workshop, the Protectorate heroes hang around for a bit to watch you work - though Kathy keeps a bit of distance from your spidersilk assembly line.

    Using the examples you found through your bugs’ trawling of the Internet, you start work on Missy’s outfit first as it appears to be the simpler of the two designs: a solid black dress that goes from just under the clavicle to just under the knee, all covered by thin black lace that goes from over the shoulders down to the ankles, clinching at the waist to shape the dress.

    With both hands spinning up into veritable looms through use of your Omnitool Implants, the inner dress quickly begins to form under your ministrations - the tools even dying the matte-grey silk into a rich black as they work. You keep Missy’s age in mind as you leave a little extra material in the seam along the back, just in case she wants to have it taken out as she ‘grows into it.’

    With the inner solid dress complete, you deftly move onto the lace covering while you have your idle flies and spiders hang up your finished product on the nearby coat hanger. The original dress’ lace pattern was fairly plain, and while you’re tempted to incorporate the fractal patterns of Missy’s costume as Vista you suspect that she might not appreciate the direct link to her costume identity. Instead, you opt to keep to a web-like pattern that’s subtle enough to appear like the original mesh unless you study it closely - not only is it a nod to the source of the dress’ material, but the pattern actually provides additional structural support in the case that it needs to absorb a bullet or knife strike. Elegant, yet practical - maybe you’re getting the hang of this fashion thing?

    As you combine the two pieces, you finally decide to visibly react to the awed stares of the Protectorate members that have been watching you work these past… oh, only twenty minutes? That didn’t take anywhere near as long as you expected. Holding up the completed work by the hangar that supports it, you turn to the Heroes and grin as you take a small bow.

    “Well? How does it look?”

    Velocity and Assult just let out a low whistle, while you can see Rime, Battery, and Miss Milita eyeing the completed dress with varying levels of awe and desire. Mouse Protector - with her helmet back on - is the first female to speak up, as usual, stepping away from the wall where she had been eyeing the entire proceeding.

    “Damn, girl. You fucking for real? I thought Tinkers were supposed to take weeks to build their awesome shit, not minutes.”

    Trying not to react to the (semi)respected Hero’s brusque language, you shrug and hold up your still-dissembled right hand and flip it through a few different types of tools.

    “Magic hands.”

    That gets a few chuckles from your audience, though you still get the feeling that Chevalier is studying you intently through his closed helmet. You push that thought away and start your mental preparation for your next project while you keep one thread focused on the conversation at hand, pointing out your stylistic decisions in addition to the natural properties of the Black Widow silk you used for this project (since your Darwin’s Bark Spiders are still dedicated to spinning enough for the bodysuit you intend to wear inside your armor).

    “Silk duds that’re tougher than Kevlar? Kid, you’re gonna be the richest Ward ever. You start takin’ orders yet?”

    You shake your head and let out a small sigh as you have your fliers take the dress from your hand via silk threads and hang it up on the rack next to your armor.

    “This is actually the first dress I’ve made. Now that I think about it, if I really wanted to I could probably make a better one in less than half the time. Spider silk is the limiting factor, really - I still don’t have the second generation of my Black Widows yet, only what I’ve collected from around the city, and only the few dozen Darwin’s Bark Spiders from the shipment I got yesterday.”

    As you have your spiders begin laying out the silk you’ll be using for your own dress, you sit back down at the bench and start the process of weaving it into the multiple layers you’ll need while still continuing your discussion with the Protectorate members behind you. It’s not like you can’t still see them with your swarm or your 360-degree vision.

    You decide to deliberately take more time for this dress, since you’re planning on adding a few more features on top of the already-complicated base design. There’s also still the occasional twinge of pain from your wounds to take into account, so patience is probably the better path to take here.

    Now that you think about it, the Heroes assembled in your workshop could help you with the next item on your agenda. You turn your head so that you’re nominally looking in their general direction as you try to shift the discussion away from more ways to turn you into a full-time seamstress.

    “Actually, since you’re all here, I was wondering if any of you had up-to-date information on the assassination or my father’s abduction. I haven’t heard much since I got debriefed Tuesday night in the hospital, but I think I’ve remembered some important details that could help.”

    There’s a few looks to Miss Militia, who nods and takes a few steps forward.

    “We were planning on having a meeting to review our progress in the investigations at one in the War Room. This would normally be above your clearance level as a probationary Ward, but I’ll vouch for your attendance. Or can this not wait?”

    You decide to leave unsaid that you would have been able to ‘attend’ the meeting even without their permission and instead mentally sort through the list of ideas you have for the investigation. After a brief pause, you shake your head.

    “Nothing that can’t wait, no. Thank you.”

    There’s a few shrugs and traded glances, but overall the Protectorate members appear to have seen what they needed to see. All except for Chevalier, who speaks up just as Miss Militia appears to be ready to signal their departure.

    “One last thing, Weaver? Your profile and power rankings didn’t talk about that creation of yours, even though you said it was an extension of your power. Why is that?”

    Iris almost imperceptibly perks up when Chevalier points in his direction, but continues working through his pile of oranges as if nothing happened. The link’s emotional feed tells a better story, however.

    [Frustration.][Hesitation.][Curiousity.][Patience.][Caution.]

    Pausing your finger-looms, you slowly extricate your hands from the strands of spider silk and spin on your chair to fully face the group. You’ve given some thought to how you’d present Iris to the PRT-at-large and the public, deciding to run with the story you went with in the official paperwork yesterday.

    “Iris - that’s what I call him - only manifested yesterday morning when my flashbacks to the attack were at their worst. I think my power reacted to my panic and fear when it formed him, but as far as I can tell he’s just an extension of my Tinker power.”

    That came up as “Partially True” when you recited it to yourself yesterday with your helmet on, so you’re fairly confident that it’s close enough to the truth to avoid tangling yourself up in different stories, but still within the realm of parahuman logic to sound believable.

    “So you don’t directly control it, then?”

    “I have a general feeling of what he’s up to through a mental link, but I can’t control him directly, no. Since he formed he’s mostly been focused on taking apart things to try to understand how they work, which I guess is kind of like my power to understand TinkerTech?”

    Even through his armor, you get the feeling though Chevalier’s rigid body language and tone of voice that he’s not buying everything you say.

    “Fair enough.”

    With a quick nod to Miss Milita, the Heroes - guests and residents alike - say their goodbyes and leave you to your ‘Tayloring’, as Mouse Protector makes clear with her inflection.

    You feel a pang of sympathy for St. Lous’ Protectorate members - and St. Louis’ supervillains - if this is what they have to put up with day-in and day-out. At least Assault has Battery to reign him in now and then.

    Instead of turning right back to your burgeoning clothing line, however, you decide to get to the bottom of what Iris was trying to do with Chevalier and his armor. Leveling a hand made of shifting tailoring implements at the Eye of Autochthon, you revert back to Old Realm for his benefit.

    “So, why did you try to take apart Chevalier’s armor back there?”

    [Comprehension.][Frustration.][Incomprehension.][Anticipation.]

    Setting down his most recent attempt take apart an orange at a molecular level, Iris floats over to the dry-erase whiteboard on wheels that he’s parked near his workbench and begins to write.

    Abnormal Density Readings Returned By Initial Scan
    Conflicting Density, Material Readings
    Nowhere Universe Metasorcerous Enchantment?
    Further Analysis Required

    Puzzling over Iris’ oblique language with your various consciousnesses, you try to compare his observations with what you know of Chevalier’s power: growing or condensing his platemail armor and trademark ‘cannonblade’ to make them larger, lighter, or denser than normally possible. That doesn’t seem too out-there from what you understand of advanced parahuman abilities, but through your link you can tell Iris is very intent at getting a closer look at the Protectorate leader’s gear.

    Since the group is still walking down the hall away from your workshop, you wonder if your own sight can shed some light on Iris’ curiosity. Activating your Mass-Penetrating Scan, you easily peer through the wall of your workshop and then zoom in on Chevalier himself through your Telescopic Lense. You cycle through your various exotic sights quickly (save for your essence sight) and don’t come up with anything out of the ordinary, so you decide to see if maybe looking in the armor will yield any…

    ...and you are saved from falling out of your chair by your parallel consciousnesses, your initial mental thread locking up at trying to even look at the internal makeup of the armor. Each new consciousness you turn to that task yields a bit more information before it, too, locks up, and you eventually give up pursuing that study just when the group turns the corner and passes more walls than you can see through with your own eyes.

    “I… what? How?”

    [Incomprehension.]

    As the rest of your mental threads unfreeze from the mental overload they were each placed through, you start to get a semblance of a picture of the armor’s internals. Except that picture still doesn’t make any sense.

    “I saw… I don’t know what I saw. Steel? Ceramic? Tungsten? Gold? A-and that wasn’t even all…”

    [Incomprehension.]

    Scan Attempted?
    Readings?

    You start rambling about the bits and pieces you saw somehow interposed in the same space, sometimes interrupted by Iris’ written comments about the workings of Essence.

    Infinite Material Possibilities?
    Nowhere Universe Wyld Essence Equivalent?

    Samples Required

    You’re still struggling with the first parts of Iris’ treatise on Essence and its workings, so you recognize the term ‘Wyld’ but not in this context - isn’t it supposed to be an insane vortex of chaos? Opting to avoid the inevitable lecture that would come from expressing your confusion, you instead pacify Iris with a few comments to the effect that you’ll try getting a few samples of Chevalier’s armor for him to study.

    You’re going to study them through absorption before he takes them apart, of course, but you don’t say that out loud.

    As he turns back to operating on oranges, however, you decide to pick his brain a bit on some more practical matters.

    “Oh, before I forget, do you have any ideas for how to improve the workshop? Layout? Additions?”

    [Comprehension.][Agreement.][Enthusiasm.][Anticipation.]

    So much for avoiding a lecture.


    ***


    You spend almost an hour moving everything around in the workshop, taking apart several of the furniture pieces in the process and reassembling them into newer, better pieces under Iris’ directions. You’re not entirely certain how “dragonline flow”, “geomantic imperatives”, and “hearthrooms” have anything to do with your workshop’s layout, or even what those things are, but doing this seems to help take his mind off his previous frustrations if your link with him is any indication of his mood.

    For most of the heavy lifting you opt to don your new power armor, letting you get a feel for how Iris’ reworkings of the armor have impacted its performance. Despite not having your spidersilk bodysuit ready yet it feels just slightly more comfortable (and you try not to wonder how he understands your body’s shape so well), and despite looking more showy than you originally intended it doesn’t seem to have sacrificed flexibility for the flowing pauldrons or elegant plate skirt. You’re torn on the regal cape as a matter of practicality, but you’re especially not sure about what he’s done with it.

    “Is that supposed to be... me overlooking Brockton Bay? Why are my arms stretched out like that? And what is everyone looking at?”

    You’re vaguely reminded of Soviet Union inspirational posters during World War II, which is both alarming and eerie at the same time.

    [Comprehension.][Incomprehension.][Satisfaction.]

    Reinterpretation of Propaganda for Hammer of Progress,
    Eldest Jade Caste of Kamak

    Great. Your first insight into your ‘home’ culture and you’re already a little unnerved. No, now that you think more on it, that’s not your first insight: you remember the visions of people struggling, fighting, and dying…

    Is the entire world like that? From everything you’ve seen of human history here on Earth, a desperate civilization can turn to all sorts of terrible forms of government in hopes of finding an end to their torment. But why are they even there in the first place, then?

    You let those worrisome thoughts work themselves out in your spare thought threads while you focus on dealing with the overly-ostentatious displays on your armor.

    “When I told you to make it Heroic, I meant… you know, like Armsmaster’s or Dragon’s logos?”

    [Comprehension.][Disagreement.][Concern.]

    Unique Iconography Implies Leadership Through Might

    Alchemical Exalted Serves State, Supported By State
    Bridge Between God Machine and Man

    Wait, what? That would mean you’re… what? Bullshit Magical Robot Jesus? Well, you’ve certainly got the craftsmanship part down, at least. Except you don’t get the feeling that Autochthon really matches up with the whole “one true deity” concept, so maybe… No, trying to install yourself as some sort of messiah would just be asking for trouble.

    You sigh loudly in frustration, taking off your helmet and running your hands through your hair. Why does this all have to be so difficult? Why couldn’t you have just had normal parahuman powers? Things would have been so much simpler!

    After taking a few minutes to calm down with some breathing exercises, filing away Iris’ concerns over your reaction to his statements, you have a few ideas for ways to change the designs on the armor (with Iris’ help, since he’s responsible for this mess in the first place) so that you can finally submit it for Tech Review and PR Approval.

    Then? Then you can finally finish that dress.


    ***


    “Taylor?”

    Ok, maybe you will never get a chance to finish this dress.

    “Yes, Dragon?”

    You try not to let your exasperation seep into your voice and fail, though you do your best to keep your gaze even as you lock eyes with the virtual avatar of the World’s Greatest Tinker. She was at least considerate enough to resize her chat window to not block the view of the dress you were about to mimic.

    “I wanted to check in on you, since Rime just informed me that your dress-making skills may result in you making off with the title of World’s Greatest Tinker. Not that I admit to holding that title currently, of course.”

    The warm humor in her voic-aha! That accent hidden under the synthesizer! It’s not just Canadian, but has even longer vowels that make it sound almost Irish. Which means… what? You’re pretty sure that was significant somehow, but where did you hear it? Mr. Gladly, yes, in his class which means History, which means something important in Canada… Oh. Newfoundland. Well, that… explains a great deal, actually.

    Agoraphobia would be a natural response to having your home sunk into the Atlantic by an Endbringer.

    You let a few of your consciousnesses puzzle over what might be the right time to talk to Dragon - or anyone, really - about that, while you keep the conversation flowing without a hitch with your other trains of thought.

    “I’ve only made one dress, so your title is probably safe for now, Dragon. I was about to get started on my next one, actually, if you wanted to watch.”

    “Oh, I see. Who’s getting married, then?”

    That actually stops most of your thought trains, causing you to blink a few times before turning fully to the computer screen.

    “Married?”

    “Yes, this dress here is for the mother of a bride. Judging by the style, it also looks to be for a 1970’s theme wedding. Who’s the lucky couple?”

    “It’s not- well, ok, but it’s not for a theme wedding! It’s for everyday wear. For me.”

    You’re uncertain how Dragon can manage to get her avatar to appear so… matronly… with a smile like that, but you don’t like it. It’s a beautiful dress! You’re sure your mother would have- nope, gonna end that thought train before it gets going.

    “My apologies, Taylor. It’s a very nice dress, then. I’m sure you can make anything look beautiful.”

    Are you getting sassed by Dragon? You’re getting sassed by Dragon. This is actually happening. Truly, there are no more Heroes.

    You throw down your tools (meaning you slam your hands on your workbench) in a clatter and huff at the screen.

    “Well, I don’t see you coming up with dress ideas!”

    “Oh, Taylor, I thought you’d never ask!”

    Maker damn it. If the dresses she’s bringing up on the screen weren’t so gorgeous, you’d turn that monitor right off. But…

    “I can’t wear those! They don’t cover… well, anything! My shoulders are showing, and my back! And my chest! I wanted to make the dress out of spider silk so it protects me, but it can’t do that if it doesn’t cover me.”

    “Protection from what? Where are you planning on wearing this, Taylor?”

    “You know… around the base?”

    “Just around the base? Not around town?”

    “Oh, no, I have my armor for that.”

    This gets a blink from the virtual projection.

    “Your armor? I thought we were talking about casual wear?”

    You nod. “We are.”

    There’s a quiet moment as Dragon stares at you, making you wonder if you said something wrong. But no, you were being perfectly logical. You have someone out to kill you, after all.

    “Alright, let’s focus on your attire around the base. Are you expecting to get shot or stabbed inside Protectorate Headquarters?”

    You manage to stop yourself before you agree, as that line of thought would likely result in Dragon trying to determine why you believe yourself threatened by the PRT Staff. You trust Dragon, and while she doesn’t directly answer to the PRT, you’re not entirely certain where her true loyalties lie; she may decide to bring your fears openly to Director Piggot, which would alert the Controller and his infiltrators.

    “...No.”

    You’re not sure you pulled that off, as you detect an ever-so-slight narrowing of her eyes before she continues on, her voice becoming a bit more serious and matter-of-fact.

    How- oh, right, she probably has a copy of Colin’s Lie Detector. Maker damn it.

    “Well, then, you don’t have to worry about making sure you’re completely covered in spider silk and can flaunt what your trigger gave you.”

    You groan at the line and at the dresses she’s now highlighting. Finally, you stop her when she finally suggests one that covers more than a pale fraction of your body.

    “Wait! That one! How about that one?”

    “It’s quite elegant, yes. But Taylor, you really should consider some of the others-”

    “You can still see plenty, Dragon. Those sleeves are lace and there’s a slit in the front for my legs.”

    Pursing her virtual avatar’s lips, Dragon finally relents with a roll of the digital eyes.

    “I wouldn’t suggest it if I didn’t approve of it, Taylor. Now, what are you going to add to it? Don’t look at me like that, I know what you’re thinking, and no you don’t need pockets for your insects in the dress. A dress can be just a dress.”

    “But that’s just so… inefficient,” you say, the word leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

    Dragon ‘hmm’s a bit, before finally giving an exasperated sigh.

    “If you insist, Taylor. Let’s just go over what you have planned so that I don’t feel compelled to alert the Director that the dress will need a Tech Review.”

    “Well, with the lace here I was thinking of a web pattern…”


    ***


    You do your best to avoid hallways that have people in them as you approach the War Room. Never in your life have you felt so naked - even when you were actually naked! The two PRT officers that you do pass by walk straight into walls, so you’re starting to regret this idea.

    Dragon truly is an evil genius. She made you look too good.

    Monitoring the War Room through the various flies placed strategically on glass surfaces and in high vantage points, you’re able to see the assembled Protectorate heroes, Director Piggot, and the PRT investigation staff start a little when Dragon’s voice chimes in through one of the room’s computer speakers.

    “Excuse me, Director Piggot? Would you mind if I sat in on this meeting?”

    You idly note Armsmaster shift slightly in his seat, though since most most attention is being paid to the Director you don’t think anyone else picks up on it. Piggot, in a dark blue professional suit and her hair pulled tight behind her head today, looks even more grim than usual when she responds.

    “Why? Is there something I should know?”

    Even though her avatar isn’t visible, still get the impression that Dragon is lightly shaking her head in denial before she responds.

    “No, I merely wished to lend whatever aid I could to the investigation. My interactions and collaborations with Taylor thus far have been immensely enjoyable, so I’d like to do my part in delivering whomever struck against her to justice.”

    You’re not sure how she managed to time it so perfectly, but Dragon ends her explanation just as you’re entering the room. So, of course, every head turns your way.

    Through your own senses and your swarm’s, the silence is thundering. You do your best not to flinch and let the long dress settle closed around your legs, flaring out slightly from the waist down to the ankles due to the trim. The handfuls of paper you brought serve you well, here, ensuring your arms - fully covered in the spider-web black lace that adorns the top half of the dress - don’t dangle uselessly by your sides. Most importantly, you hold your breath so that the plunging neckline (ending in a large, gleaming, silver spider) doesn’t cause you to fall out of the dress, even though you did your best to mold the dress to prevent that disaster.

    Assault is the first to speak, as usual, though his voice is almost reverent in awe.

    “Holy shit.”

    Piggot, looking like she wants to break something in her hands, speaks over the sound of Assault being smacked.

    “Are you lost, Hebert? This is the War Room, not a Ball Room.”

    Taking a quick breath to steady yourself, the fear - and the stares - wash over you as you maintain your posture. You can do this. You faced a crowd of reporters and fans. You jumped in the way of multiple bullets. The analyzing gazes of the people that help lead Order and Justice in this world are… well, they mean a lot, actually. But you can do this.

    “Miss Militia invited me to this meeting, m’am, and I wanted to look my best for it.”

    “You didn’t need to doll yourself up, Hebert. If you wanted to impress us, you should have come in your armor.”

    Wait, did the Director just admit that your armor was impressive? You keep going, letting a spare thought thread file that away for later.

    “I came right from my workshop, m’am. Dragon just helped me make this dress, which she said I should wear around the base.”

    Hah! Take that, Dragon!

    “Sorry, Boss, but Dragon’s my new favorite Tinker now.”

    Maker damn it, Assault. Now you’re going to have to find a another way to get back at him, even if Velocity, Dauntless, and Chevalier aren’t saying anything to refute him. Though… you still get the feeling that Chevalier isn’t looking at you that way, which is even more unnerving.

    Rime is the first one to tear her eyes off you, instead looking towards the computer from which Dragon’s voice originates.

    “Dragon?”

    “Guilty as charged, Rime, but Weaver did most of the heavy lifting.”

    Assault wisely chooses to keep his lips sealed despite his evident desire to add to that remark. He does wink wryly at you, somehow knowing that you know what he was going to say, so you add another notch to the upcoming payback tally anyway.

    The Director just fumes and straightens her suit jacket for a moment before retaking control of the situation.

    “I’m done wasting time on this, so be glad I’m not making you go up and change, Hebert. Take a seat and let’s get started.”

    You take a seat next to Armsmaster, since you suspect he’s the only only one in the room that won’t spend most of the meeting staring down your dress, as the Director begins the meeting proper… by talking directly to you.

    “Before we begin, Miss Militia reports that you have important information to share with the investigation team, Hebert.”

    While as much as a statement as a question, you’ve prepared yourself for this and are quick to lay out what you’ve pieced together on your own since your small debriefing Monday evening.

    Clearing your throat while laying out the papers you brought - drawings made with the wide variety of pencils and charcoals produced by your Omnitool Implants - you point to each in turn as you go through what you’ve deduced thus far.

    “It took some time, but I was able to remember what I saw of the sniper team. They were wearing baklavas and suits, so while I didn’t have the time to push my sight past the disguises, the senses of my swarm and my other vision enhancements were able to make out enough to be helpful.”

    You motioning to four of the drawings, two of which are the sniper team exactly as you saw them, the other two of military-fitness-level mid-30’s-to-40’s white males.

    “Using the contours of their tight-fitting disguises outside of their eyes, these models here are good approximations of their facial and body structures.”

    Next, you push forward three sheets of paper with exacting replicas an unknown-make sniper rifle, some knives, and specialty-looking grenades that you weren’t able to identify through online searches.

    “Beyond that, these next drawings here are of their entire outfits - the sniper rifle used, their clothing, the extra weapons and grenades they carried.”

    Finally, one last page with a list talking about certain types of after-shave, weapon oils, and construction materials.

    “-and this is a list of the most common sources for the scents my swarm picked up before they activated their bug-killing grenades.”

    There’s a subdued murmur between various members of the meeting as you rattle off your findings and sketches, though most of the noise is between the PRT Investigation Team members who appear to be regarding your findings with grunts of approval. Miss Militia is quiet throughout, but you notice the eye-smile and nod of approval she gives when you throw her a quick glance as you wrap up.

    The Director remains silent during your speech, but quickly takes the floor as you close.

    “We could have used this information on Monday night, Hebert. However… this is good work. Carver? What do you make of this?”

    The red-head in the group of PRT inspectors stands and begins to relay their own findings alongside your own, surprising you not only with the clarity and concision of her presentation, but that the others around her - all at least a decade older than the early-20’s young woman, who you now notice also has an active Corona Pollentia - defer to her judgement calls.

    Which, in the end decides your first target.

    “Like I said, Madam Director, everything we gathered pointed towards Empire Eighty-Eight or L33t and Uber, but with the evidence presented by Ms. Hebert we’re ruling out the Empire and the villain duo. That only leaves Coil or a new player, and you know how we stand on that, m’am.”

    Director Piggot’s expression sours a little, but she quickly shakes her head and points at your drawings.

    “I don’t care if we haven’t been able to find hide nor hair of that snake bastard, I will not spin my wheels waiting on more evidence when the whole country is looking to us to turn this fiasco around. We drop the hammer on Coil unless he gives us solid evidence that he wasn’t behind this attack and can point us to who was.”

    Inspector Carver remains as stone-faced as she has been throughout her entire presentation, only giving a nod and an, “As you wish, Madam Director,” before sitting back down.

    Exhaling through her nose quickly, Director Piggot turns to another young female in the Investigation group.

    “Donlan? The Undersiders?”

    Though looking around the same age as Inspector Carver, Inspector Donlan is the polar opposite: black-haired, mousy-looking, and a bundle of energy. And attitude.

    “We ain’t found shi-... er, anything, m’am. Sorry.”

    The Director’s expression is ice, which rapidly causes Inspector Donlan to sweat and hurriedly lay out what the her team found regarding your father’s abduction. Despite the wealth of evidence that the team compiled - combined with your own additions that you generated with help from Miss Militia - anything that would pin down motive for the attack or possible retreat locations all turn up just as much as every other Undersider strike: nothing.

    Donlan appears to read your mind (and while she too has a Corona Pollentia, no Gemma to allow such a feat) before you move to ask for information on the Undersider’s previous strikes and sightings, laying out that additional information on the projected holographic display of Brockton Bay on the table.

    “As usual, the Undersiders appear to lost their massive, mutated dogs soon after fleeing the scene, so we weren’t able to track them further past the point where we found the decaying remains left over from Hellhounds power… here.”

    In the brief pause after that bit of information, you gather up your courage and speak up.

    “What about searching the rooftops in neighborhoods that we suspect where the Undersiders base their operations? That might help narrow down the search. ”

    Inspector Donlan gives you a look that makes you think she’s serious reconsidering her previous evaluation of your intelligence, then responds with a hand-wave at the Brockton Bay map.

    “That’s twenty-seven neighborhoods, Ms. Hebert, and we don’t have the means to easily search already-broken-down rooftops that or the people to spare for something like that again - the last two times we thought we had them in their base, they had packed up their entire hideout at least twenty to thirty minutes before we got there. Our best guess is that their Thinker, Tattletale, has figured us out each time with whatever bullshit her power is.”

    One of your consciousnesses breathes a mental sigh of relief that Miss Militia and Director Piggot kept the details of Lisa’s power - at least relatively - secret. You know Miss Militia wouldn’t willingly put Lisa in danger like that, but the Director is a harder read. Perhaps she’s trying to secure Lisa for the PRT, once this mess is over?

    Lisa seemed nice in the little you got to talk to her, and you think Missy would be fine with another girl on the team, so you decide to keep an eye out for advancing that agenda as well. And thinking of agendas, would Lisa be a candidate for Exaltation? Something you need to put some thought into, later - especially with the three new Protectorate heroes here to review for that cause as well.

    Back in the present, your primary consciousness keeps the conversation moving without a hitch.

    “Actually, I could do that kind of search in just a few minutes for each neighborhood. All I need is permission - with my armor or a flight-capable partner, I could comb the city’s rooftops in a day with my swarms.”

    The tomboy-ish Inspector crosses her arms and gives you a one-eyed squint as she takes in your proposal, the rest of those assembled (save Miss Militia, Inspector Carver, and the Director) looking shocked at your admitted search capabilities. Finally, she gives a half-hearted shrug and looks over to Director Piggot.

    “Hebert’s got my vote, Director. That sounds like something the cape side could start easily enough while we work on our end.”

    The Director gives Inspector Donlan another cold glare, causing a grimace and mumbled apology, before looking back to you for a long half-minute in tense silence. Just as you’re about to speak up in your own defense, however, she breaks eye contact and glances at both Miss Militia and Armsmaster, who seem to nod in response to her look.

    Rounding her gaze back to you, she lays her hands down from where they’ve been clenched in front of her face and nods at you.

    “Once you’re cleared by Medical, Hebert, and not a second before. I don’t need the fines for pushing a Ward into active duty while they’re still injured.”


    ***


    Intimacy: Danny Hebert (Guilt) -1 Decrease!
    Intimacy: Kid Win/Chris (Friendship) Changed to (Friendship/Crush?)
    Intimacy: Chevalier/Robert (Respect) Gained!
    Intimacy: Iris of Innovation (Companionship) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Dragon (Respect) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: Director Piggot (Begrudging Trust) +1 Increase!
    Intimacy: PRT (Loyalty) +1 Increase!

    Presence + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Lore +1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)
    Socialize + 1 Training Interval (2/6 Intervals)
    Awareness + 1 Training Interval (6/6 Intervals)
    War + 1 Training Interval (6/6 Intervals)
    Occult +1 Training Interval (6/6 Intervals)
    Investigation + 1 Training Interval (5/6 Intervals)
    Craft + 1 Training Interval (4/6 Intervals)

    Temperance x 1 Gained!
    Connections (PRT) x 1 Gained!


    Armor Statistic and Description suggestions are still separate from the vote, but should still be discussed. Iconography/Logos/Visuals for the “Weaver” franchise based on Iris’ comments are also good conversation topics. Oh, and what to do about THE HUNT.


    Reminder: With no Intervals dedicated to 'Rest' outside of the standard 8 hours of rest, you will be cleared by Medical on Monday morning. If you dedicate all further Intervals to 'Rest' activities, you will be cleared by Medical when you wake up (start of Interval #2) on Saturday morning.


    Thursday Intervals #4-5 (Evening-Night): (Each vote takes one Interval unless Stunted otherwise!)

    Communist Oversight:
    [ ] Spend some time with your Familiar, letting it do what it wants while you make sure it doesn’t turn the HQ into a tiny robot duck. (Familiar will do what it wants unless you tell it to do things)
    [ ] Get your Familiar to follow you in your activities, hoping that it will help with whatever you’re doing. This is a free action by default, but still can be modified with Stunts to describe specific intended interactions.
    [ ] Tell your familiar to recharge in Elsewhere while you Meditate to increase your essence flow and healing rate. Maybe it can improve itself with a less restricted flow of Autochthon’s essence? (Familiar will remain outside unless you tell it to go rest.)

    Mind Over Matter:
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Read some books/CDs/flashdrives to buff up on a subject while you do so (Stunt to describe what topic you’re reading/training).
    [ ] Meditate to recuperate your essence and speed up your healing. Review your charms and how your essence helps shape their functions so that you have a more complete understanding of how they work.

    Tangled Web They Weave:
    [ ] Spend some “me” time with your burgeoning spidersilk factory, focusing on training your spiders to perform tasks when they are outside of your SoPA range.
    [ ] Get the spiders to work spinning more silk to weave, then focus them towards making something besides undershirts. (Stunt to describe what is woven.)

    Go-Go-Gadget Optical Cloak:
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your assassination attempt.
    [ ] Sneak out invisibly and investigate the scene of your father's break-out.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and try to gather what data is available here to put pieces together for both events.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Director Piggot to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.
    [ ] Sneak (invisibly) around Headquarters and follow Miss Militia to see what she’s doing with the information you gave her.

    Make The A-Team Proud:
    [ ] Using one of L33t’s surveillance bugs as a base, design surveillance equipment that your bugs can easily carry. This will take 2 Intervals to complete. (Stunt for design of sensor packages.)
    [ ] Fashion a customizable nutrient-paste dispenser using Armsmaster’s tech as a base. This will take 1 Interval to complete. (Stunt for extra options.)
    [ ] Work on modular bug-controlled anti-gravity pods, using Kid Win’s technology and your own as the backbone. This will take 8 Intervals to complete, and then will need to go through Tech Review and PR Approval. (Stunt to add features, design looks, etc.)
    [ ] Write-In: Work on something else (if it takes longer than 1 Interval, this will be added to the list with an updated count).

    With A Little Help From My Friends:
    [ ] Spend time with a Protectorate member, maybe even some of the new ones like Rime, Mouse Protector, or Chevalier. (Stunt to say which, and what you want to do.)
    [ ] Spend time with PRT employees. (Stunt to say which if you want to specify any, and what you want to do.)
    [ ] Officially submit your armor for Tech Approval, then spend time with the PRT Scientists to see what they do, while also trying to get your armor approved more quickly.

    One-Hundred Zeroes:
    [ ] Research something online. (Stunt to say what.)
    [ ] Comb Parahumans Online, interacting with the Normals and Capes that use it. (Stunt to look for specific topics/threads.)

    Write-In:
    [ ] Something different!


    XP Expenditures:

    Vote for your XP Expenditures like normal action votes, no plan required. Each Expenditure must have at least 16 Votes to win or >50% of the total number of voters, whichever is lower, to be implemented.

    Votes against a specific Expenditure, or any Expenditures at all, will not be counted.

    Examples:

    - [x] 4xp - War
    - [x] 2xp - War (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Willpower
    - [x] 2xp - Awareness (Swarms)
    - [x] 3xp - Influence (PRT)
     
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