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Propagation (Worm)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by CnJLC, Nov 26, 2013.

  1. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Given how much how much I've written for this, combined with the fact that I do intend to continue it, I decided to move Propagation to its own thread and stop cluttering the Ideas thread with it.

    1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5

    2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6

    3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5,

    4.0, 4.1
  2. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Propagation 1.1

    The cycle must continue.

    The entity knew this as its massive body collided with millions of versions of the same planet. Too hard. It had landed too hard. But Death was unthinkable. The end goal must be reached. It knew this as its future seeing shard went spiraling off of the conglomeration, as its body degraded. It shored up what it could, preserved what it had to, but there was too much damage.

    The crash had been too much. It hadn’t been careful enough. Now both it and its counterpart would pay. Energy leaked off in quantities that were unacceptable. It frantically tried to assemble a body for itself, to gain a foothold in several realties, but it was slipping. As it tried to grab at more shards, magnitudes more slipped through its grasp. It was fighting a losing battle.

    Too much.

    Fear.

    Too much energy slipping away, just as fast as the entity's knowledge and tactics faded. Powers collapsed and folded in on themselves, going dormant as its mind failed to support them. Its body was barely holding together. It had been too eager to examine the exchanged shards. Now it was paying dearly for it.

    Self-contempt. Grief

    A foolish mistake. With it’s future sight it could have held together, pulled off the impossible, beat any odds, but now? Now there was little time to save anything. It could feel it’s death approaching, coming from the outside in. Its extremities dying as its core faded. Loss was inevitable.

    But still it held hope.

    It could shore up its core within a single reality, isolate the energy loss, craft a body for itself. It burned almost all its thought and computation shards at once, a desperate analysis of its plan. Yes. This was still possible. By preserving its core shards as a self-contained physical system it could maintain them indefinitely. If it could maintain until the Warrior could find it and share its shards and the problem would be rectified.

    Live.

    Death was unthinkable.

    Shards were shed, the energy drained from them. This reduced them, drained them of their experience and knowledge, but it was unimportant. They landed across millions of realities in a sick contamination of the cycle. But it didn’t matter, not really. Its core was being consolidated.

    It chose a world.

    One of the more backwards worlds. Here there was less chance of anything finding its core while it was being manipulated and preserved.

    Confidence.

    Yes it could do this. Even without its future assured it still could survive. More shards split off, scattering across worlds and seeking hosts, seeking direction. It didn’t matter. They were drained and reduced, not fully, but enough. To keep them would threaten the core, threaten the entity's very existence. Besides, the cast offs were weaker to start with. Nothing that could be a threat. Not that anything could threaten it anyway. The entity just needed to preserve itself until the Warrior arrived.


    Its core started to take shape, a torso of the host species, slowly assembled, the shards copied and transcribed, become more real than before. It would be annoying to reverse but entirely possible once the cycle had ended. More shards were gathered; as millions more were discarded. It could only use so much energy to save itself. The rest needed to be saved. The cycle must continue.

    Death was unthinkable.

    It chose the most powerful, the most useful abilities. It cursed its lack of true future sight; it could only barely perceive the future, and only through clumsy and inefficient numerical representation.

    Annoyance. Problematic.

    But it couldn’t choose efficiently enough, it was forced to page through everything it could. To sift through the innumerable powers that composed its self. It was forced to materialize them, to waste energy determining their future usefulness.

    Time passed.

    A conglomeration grew across hundreds of worlds, a garden of flesh and veins and of fractals and light. In a singular world the core began to grow. An imitation of the host species. Gray skinned and elegant. It would tolerate no less than perfection, even in a situation such as this. The torso expanded, arms and legs beginning to sprout along with a neck. It pulled matter and energy from countless shards. The core drew in on itself and the entity felt something like relief.

    Life. Survival.

    It had won. The process it was undergoing was stable. It had won? But of course it had. What else could be achieved? It was all but assured at this point. The final core piece fell into place and the materialization continued. It was going to be close, but there would be enough energy for the cycle.

    If it and the Warrior shared enough there may even be enough energy for –

    Alarm.

    It felt something moving through the tangle of flesh that the non-essential shards had formed. It moved perfectly, without flaw. The entity's future shard. Its own future was approaching. It was hunting her.

    The head of the core's form shaped itself, hair coiled out from its scalp as the cranium was finished. The timing was horrendous. It couldn’t be worse. It’s core was fully picked and sorted, but only half-materialized and the entity still did not fully dwell in the core. It could only now perceive the physical form the future shard had grafted to. A young female of the species. Wielding a weapon.

    It would need to burn more energy in response to this threat.

    Irony.

    A curious sense from its core body. Something previously below even contemplating had suddenly become the harbinger of true harm. The sensation was strange. It would have to investigate what effect this species forms would have on its mentality. But not now. The female accelerated, running through the impassable garden like an open field.

    The entity accelerated the process in kind. Draining from more shards more frantically. If it could just complete the core, it would be safe. It couldn’t use any overt power like this. In this transitionary state it would be suicide. A slightly older female followed the young female. The steps were clumsy. Lacking in grace. No shard. A non-threat.

    Irritating.

    The younger female had just turned a corner; it was now in sight of its vulnerable core. The body that serving as a hub. It stepped closer. The entity could feel the possibilities solidifying, parsing down into an absolute result. Death.

    Death was unthinkable.

    It lashed out, shielding itself from the shard; it lacked the precision, the available power for more efficient means of protection. The possibilities relaxed, expanding again. Death shrunk as more of its body formed. A bit of leg here, a piece of arm there. More shards flaked off and more materialized across hundreds of worlds as the entity was forced to defend itself. A tremendous waste of energy. A contamination of the cycle.

    But it smiled.

    Triumph.

    It would live. With the lack of true surety that she momentarily possessed the young female could no longer decide. An instant sort of addiction. The entity wondered if this phenomenon affected it as well when using the future shard. No matter. It would finish its core, finish tying its lifeline, kill this speck before it and retake its future.

    The cycle would continue.

    It barely even noted the older female entering the fleshy glade. She was below the entity's notice. The entity continued to build its core. Then the females exchanged sonic information. Then, against all expectation, the possibilities pared again.

    They were falling back to its Death.

    Confusion.

    It shouldn’t have been possible. The older female was affecting it? Killing it’s future? An ant, a speck was ensuring its death?

    Impossible. But it was possible. It was all too possible. The power it was using to view the future was massively inferior to the shard in the female before it. But it was still potent. Percentages. 50/50. There were only two options. Two paths to take in response to this threat. Both were deadly.


    The neck of the core body bent under the weight of the artificial brain solidifying, the hair sliding away to reveal it’s neck. The legs and arms were still forming. Not complete. Not close enough. It gave up trying to preserve its substituents. Many became poisonous, toxic to life as it ripped more and more energy from them in an attempt to finish building the core, to save itself. The entity already knew the result.

    It was not enough. The knife rose.

    Terror.

    Its core was assembled, but not fully materialized, not fully inhabited. Reversing it would be possible; it could cast the core away, cancel the materialization. But for it re-enter something cast away at the start of the cycle was impossible. The cast offs were for the hosts alone. To be reclaimed when the hosts were no more. It was how they were constructed. This was a fact of the cycle.

    To cast off the core. To tear out it’s heart. To lose it’s self. It was Death.

    Death was unthinkable. But –

    The knife descends.

    Two choices. Only two. Both deadly. Action and inaction. In that moment –

    the knife moves inexorably downward.

    It chooses.

    Resignation.

    The cycle must continue. A decision is made. This, as everything does, builds towards the ultimate objective, a propagation of the species. The final state. The reinvention of everything. In the face of this fact

    Confidence.

    This is the only path.

    The knife comes down.

    The entity casts the core body away, casts it across space and thousands of realities. To the destination reality. It will rely on one of the strongest of its counterpart’s shards to organize the materialization of the core. A risk. But the only path.

    The knife misses a target no longer in its time or reality and the two females, off balance, fall flat on their frontal sensory organs.

    The entity feels it take root in the future. The core materializing. The cycle being secured. Its own self dying at the same rate. The entity views the situation once more. Its substituents, its parts, what remains of its dying self, gives one last massive shudder, as a last thought races across it for the final time. The species that are the entities think in abstract concepts, beyond true comprehension.

    But at the same time, its dying thought is a very human one.

    Pride. Satisfaction.



    The locker doors and the entire area around me vanished, gone in a thunderclap as I collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath as the vision solidified in my mind. The power I had just used identified itself for me, forming more of an idea than a phrase in my mind. Nevertheless my brain translated it.

    Matter conversion.

    I dimly noticed people staring at me with wide eyes. Emma was among them. I was too lost in what I had seen to care. What I had experienced. The memory, the truth of the being I had somehow taken over, or superseded, or become burning in my mind. The world seemed to swim, senses I never had, or should have, expressing and repressing themselves simultaneously. I struggled to stay awake, the siren song of sleep beckoning me. My thoughts grew fuzzy.


    What the hell just happe –


    I gave in and fell into a heavy slumber.
  3. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Propagation 1.2

    While I slept, I dreamed a feverish dream.

    The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

    The entities were a testament to this idea. Shards were formed and derived from vastly different locations, vastly different realities. This amalgamation of shards, each containing wildly different specializations, data, memories, and capabilities came together to form a being capable of Thoughts and Self. These amalgamations reasoned, sought, and desired. A collection becoming one.

    Unity.

    I woke up briefly, the world around me failing to make any sense. Crystals and fractal-like flesh bloomed off of me just as the deserted school dissolved around me. These massive fronds compressed into my body, each bringing something greater along with it. Another sprouted as one retracted.

    I lapsed back into sleep.

    A base had been formed in my mind. A sort of foundation for building. But it didn’t stop at my mind. It bled out into my body and laid the pathways and trenches for the construction to come. I should have been worried, but I was the foundation. The foundation was I. I was safe.

    Another shard directed and organized the cluster of parts surrounding me, extending itself through the chaotic mass. They descended, practically screaming their purposes, their roles and forms. Where the Organizer touched they danced together as one being, but somehow lacking in completeness. It led them in, attaching them in various ways. The effects from the mind bled over to the body. The principle was never utilized better than here. Another Organizer joined them. This Organizer coming up from the foundation, it’s counterpart I realized, and the process accelerated.

    Addition.

    I woke briefly, only noticing for a moment how small the world looked before falling back to sleep.

    Subtraction and destruction was possible for the shards, but entirely counter to their end goal. Just as a building was built to fit the foundation so were the shards built into me. But it was more than that. They weren’t merely attaching.

    They were describing. Not shaping, but being shaped and changed by the foundation they were molded into. The differences between the foundation and the shards blurred. Not because there was overlap, but because the foundation was assimilating their nature. They were becoming the foundation, extending it, but not overwriting it.

    Creation. Addition.

    I awoke again, feeling less comfortable than before. My sight seemed to be stretched, torn between places that were the same place but different in tiny ways. I was stretchedacross too many places.

    My head swam and I fell back into the abyss of sleep.

    The two Organizers completed their dance before settling into the foundation along with the final three shards, drained and exhausted, they slept. Six Others were discarded. They lacked something, were broken, or were incompatible with me. Three more of these Others slipped behind some curtain of space, expanding as they did. I couldn’t tell where they went, but it seemed like that was the right path for them to take. Two more of the Others settled into the foundation. A remaining three normal shards fell about me at random, grasping and finding a host.

    Completion.

    Slowly, the dream faded into nothing, and I truly slept.
    ∞∞∞

    Where was I? I was…I was dreaming about something? Something to do with pieces, bits of…myself?

    Then I woke up fully.

    There was something very distinctly different from the other times I had woken up in my life. Every other time was just my eyes opening up, my brain firing faster. This waswaking up. My senses didn’t so much appear as they unfolded, like origami. Except instead of folding paper my perception of the world was folding in on itself just as fast it was folding out. Images and ideas grew more complex by the second. They wanted to go places, to look through and into things in ways that didn’t make sense. A burst of pain erupted in my head as angles became nonsensical and images overlapped and blurred and sounds and light –

    It’s refracted? Curved?

    Then they were gone, folded back into themselves and I was left alone in a hospital bed. I panted for breath as the pain in my head vanished as my senses returned to normal. What the hell was happening to me?

    “Who was screaming in – Ms. Hebert? Ah good, you’re awake.”

    I looked up, from my lap, my breathing slowing. A doctor stood in the doorway. At least I assumed he was a doctor by his lab coat and badge. He had closely trimmed black hair, was wearing glasses, and was carrying a bundle of files under one arm. He talked so fast it took me a moment to remember to respond.

    “Uh,” I blinked a few times, “Yes?” There was a pause, a moment of silence as he walked over to the small desk in the corner of the room. He set his stack of files down and flipped them open, looking for the right one, “What,” I swallowed, wetting my parched throat, “What am I doing here?“

    “Introductions first. I’m Dr. Simmons, I work for Brockton Bay Central Hospital and I am an expert on various fields, including neurology as well as parahuman power interactions. I do some consulting work too. Nice to meet you.” All said in under a few seconds with a wide smile plastered all over his face.

    Parahuman. The events of the previous day replayed in my mind. The vision, the locker, the shocked faces on the crowd around me. There was no doubt in my mind. I’d triggered. I had powers. But then I’d revealed that fact to the entire school mere seconds after gaining them. Then there were the strange events of my fever dream. If those things had happened anything like I’d remembered them then you couldn’t scream trigger event any louder to the whole world.

    I’d majorly fucked up getting my powers.

    He smiled as he strolled over to my bed, either oblivious or not caring about the horror that was sure to be all over my face. “As for why you’re here, well that’s a bit of an interesting story. Do you remember when you were trapped in that locker at your high school?”

    “I, saw...” I trailed off. What was I going to say? Certainly not the truth. ‘Oh yes doctor, I saw an alien space whale worm thing get shanked and then it shoved its heart into me.’ Even if it was true, and it definitely was, that was a one-way ticket to the crazy bin.

    “…something, I can’t remember what.” He nodded, “Then the…the locker was gone and there were students all around and –“

    Why was I breathing faster? I felt panicked. Why?

    “Let me stop you, just for a moment. You said, ‘gone’, the locker was ‘gone’, can you elaborate on exactly happened to the locker?” He scribbled something down on his notepad.

    I stopped. I thought about it. The clapping sound, the feeling of the matter around me being burned away, going somewhere, but as I tried to recall it my mind went somewhere else. Somewhere I didn’t want to go. The locker. It was filled with disgusting filth and putrid rotted blood. I could still smell it, hear the laughter, and feel the fear. It was all around me, trapping me. I struggled to inhale and –

    “Simmons!” I jerked back to reality. Another doctor was in the room now, he was shouting. I recognized him; he was the doctor that my dad had gone to see about a broken leg a few years back. Henry something. “Did you really just walk up to a hospitalized girl right after she’s been triggered and then interrogate her about her trauma? What were you thinking? She's not even your patient.”

    Dr. Simmons swagger and smile had turned down several notches, “Henry, I was merely following –“

    “Don't Henry me, Dr. Simmons. If the next words out of your mouth are ‘PRT protocol’, you’ll be transferred so fast you’ll wonder how you ever even worked here in the first place.”

    The older doctor wasn’t shouting like before, but he was still intimidating, his voice low and angry. He didn’t say another word, just pointed at the door. Simmons opened his mouth then closed it and muttered an apology. He scurried from the room as though the accusatory eyes of the other doctor were physically pushing him out. The other doctor waited until the quick footsteps of Simmons had faded before turning away from the door. He sighed and rubbed his forehead, looking up at me. It was a moment before he spoke, but when he did his voice was surprisingly warm.

    “Ms. Hebert, I’m sorry you had to interact with that goon. In fact I’m sorry about a lot of things you’ve had to go through, and probably will have to go through in the coming days.” He sounded sincere and I didn’t know exactly what to say to that.

    “Thank you?”

    He sighed again as he sat down next to the bed on small folding chair. It creaked as it adjusted to his bulk. “Do you need anything? Are you thirsty at all, hungry?” I shook my head, feeling dizzy as the world became like an M.C. Escher work as my senses unfolded again. Motion triggered it then. My senses folded back to normal as I stopped moving my head. Surprisingly, aside from that I felt fine. “Kind of expected that to be honest. You’re probably a bit confused, that’s normal. So go ahead, ask away.”

    “Why am I here, in the hospital?” Another thought slipped into my head, “and where’s my dad?” He should be here. Not because I was demanding that, it just fit with his personality.

    He looked at me and I saw how tired he looked. His eyes had bags under them, so dark and deep they looked almost like someone had plastered grey paint on his face. His face was thick and heavyset, his nose pinched, and his ears were too small. His hair was white and thin and his face was covered in wrinkles. He wasn’t pretty but he seemed reasonable enough.

    “In order, you fell unconscious following your trigger event and your body underwent some,” he paused, “changes. Physical ones. It did some damage to the school and the surrounding property. Surprisingly the mutations more or less fixed themselves in the end. But you were still unconscious and in questionable health with an unknown, possibly a Changer’s, biology. So after the first responders arrived on scene you were taken here in case you needed any medical care.”

    I nodded and then stopped, the quick movements of my head caused the world to unfold again. The world resumed normal orientation as soon as I’d stopped moving my head. I blinked a few times.

    Wow that’s disorienting.

    “Changer?” I asked.

    “Ah it’s a cape term you see. It’s someone who can change his or her form to something else. They’re usually the few capes with medical problems directly related to their power. Well, aside from Case 53’s.”

    I nodded. I didn’t really think that was what I was though. Changer didn’t feel entirely right. “And my dad?”

    “He’s at your home Ms. Hebert. He stayed by you for nearly three days. I had to eventually send him home after promising to call him when you woke up. He was so worried about you, even after you stabilized.”

    “Did you? Call him I mean?”

    “Nah,” he smiled as he held up his phone. “I texted him instead, he and I go a ways back, he got it though. He’s on his way here now. He said it would take him about ten minutes from the Docks. That was about, ah, a minute ago.” He was surprisingly relaxed for a doctor alone with a new vandalism prone parahuman.

    “Ten?” I cocked my head slightly - a formerly unconscious action I was now strangely aware of - as I thought of the commute time between the hospital and the Docks, “There’s no way to get here that fast.”

    The doctor smiled again, groaning slightly as he worked his way to his feet from the folding chair, “I’ve heard of some people making it in five. He loves you kid, hell, he may even beat that record time.”

    I smiled a little at that.

    “Anyway. I’m going to give you a little time to yourself before your dad gets here, let you get comfortable. I’ll make sure no more PRT stooges come to bother you till you're ready for them.” He paused before the door, hesitating over something. Eventually he turned back to me. He looked conflicted.

    “You should probably talk to your father about this, but your trigger event was a much more public event than most. Some idiot with a camera plastered some of the more,” he paused, looking for more soothing word, “dramatic footage across Parahumans Online. It would probably be good to see it for yourself eventually. Just don’t rush it okay? You really don’t need to see it right now. I just want you to know what’s out there.” He looked concerned, genuinely concerned about me. I struggled to speak.

    “I-I won’t. Thank you Dr…” It was then then that I realized I didn't know his last name.

    “Ah, how rude of me. I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself, I was little caught up with Simmons wasn't I? Dr. Henry Griffiths is my name. I’ll just close this door for you now. Get some rest.” The door shut with a click. It was a surprisingly loud sound in the stillness of the room. His footsteps retreated a short distance from my door and there was a faint squeak of a folding chair being pulled out. He was guarding my room?

    A part of the conversation that had slipped past me earlier resurfaced in the quiet.

    He said three days. Dad waited by my bed for three days.

    Which meant that I was out for much longer than one day. Which meant that it wasn’t just yesterday that I had triggered. But when? I looked around the room for some indication of the date. Nothing that could tell me immediately.

    Why hadn’t I thought to ask him? Why hadn’t he told me?

    Probably because I had more important things to worry about than how long I spent playing sleeping beauty, like outing myself in the first second of having powers. Still, I'd like to know how long I was out. I spied a television in the corner of the room and a quick look around the room revealed a remote laying on the table next my bed. I flicked the TV on and changed the channel to the news. I mostly just tuned out the talking heads and waited for the date to scroll across the bottom of the screen.

    My eyes widened as it did. I barely noticed the remote cracking in my hand.

    A week? I was out for a week? Some part of me stirred, reminding me of the current rotation of the planets and pattern of solar flares across the sun across various differentversions. I nodded, feeling a bit confused. Of course it had been a week. Why would I think anything else?

    ...

    Wait.

    What?

    Why would I know that at all?

    I shook my head, and then stopped as every angle in my sight, and a few somehow past it, decided to throw a tempter tantrum. I closed my eyes, stilled my head, and opened them again. The world was once again normal.

    Whatever had been done to me had changed me. But no. That wasn’t quite right. I would have said changed before I triggered but that didn’t feel correct now. It was more like it had extended me. Like everything that was me was preserved and was simply given more room to grow.That core that had grafted itself to me had given me abilities, powers. I remembered that much. I had vaporized the lockers and grown weird tendril things, but beside that I had no idea what abilities I had. I was alone now. It was as good a time as any to find out just what I could do. I mentally reached down into myself in manner that seemed entirely natur -


    My head almost split open from the pain.

    Solrecursiogravitwrptravevoiconver –

    It stopped almost as soon as it had started. I realized my fists were clenched and I slowly relaxed them. Wow. Ok. I had a lot of them. I was a lot of them. I had felt all the ideas that represented the powers, and represented me in some way, cramming themselves into my conscious mind. Of course, with so many each vying for my attention I hadn’t gotten a good grasp on a single one. Was it this hard for other parahumans too? Probably not, they only had one.

    I frowned.

    Now how did I know that?

    No answer leapt into my mind. I sighed, of course, that would have been much too easy. I took a deep breath.

    One. Let’s just focus on one. One I’ve already used.

    Matter conversion

    The idea, the power, rose almost unbidden in my mind. I grasped it and felt it. I sighed in relief. It felt right. It was something like walking or breathing. It was no different really, just something else I could do. I just had to reach out like this –

    There was a muffled sound, like a ballon popping, and a perfectly spherical hole the size of beach ball appeared in the wall opposite me, the matter converting itself into energy and falling into me. I felt a little more awake, a bit more aware, a little more refreshed. I frowned. The feeling was almost like…oh. Really?

    Did I just eat drywall?

    This time an answer did shove itself into my mind. It seemed like I had. The conversion of non-living matter into energy that I could then consume. It served as fuel for something, but I couldn't tell what. The connections that branched off of this bit of me were too numerous and complex for me to understand. I got a headache just trying to follow them. I pulled back up and the idea faded from my mind. The building pain in my head faded almost immediately.

    I looked down at my hands.

    I wonder, what else I can do?

    I reached down again.
  4. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Propagation 1.3

    A week earlier, Winslow High School

    The first sign something was wrong was the noise.

    It was a deep sound, a barely perceptible grinding that reverberated through the air the same way especially loud bass would. It was somehow concentrated. Not like orange juice or something, but the feeling. The state of mind. Davis reflexively put his hand to his chest. He could feel it more than hear it. All around the room the group discussions ended as the grinding intensified. A few students whispered to each other, not eager to break the sudden silence.

    “Road work?” asked Ashley.

    “Nah, there wasn’t anything on the way here,” replied Martin. Davis glanced away from his friends, to look at the rest of the class. They all looked as confused as him, Mr. Gladly looked particularly baffled.

    “That could have changed though. A cape battle maybe?” he sounded like he was more reassuring himself than talking to Davis or Ashley. Davis nodded, but he wasn’t convinced. This felt big. Huge somehow.

    There was a distant noise.

    Different than the grinding but indistinct, soft enough that he was almost sure he had imagined it. Davis cocked his head, looking at the window. The sky was clear and blue. The grinding intensified, sounding less like a distant sound and more like one that was getting closer. The noise repeated itself.

    Thunder? But the sky’s clear.

    A girl screamed some distance off and it quickly multiplied into a cacophony of shouts and expletives. Mr. Gladly stepped over to the door. “What is going on out –“

    Then the wall of the classroom vanished. That was the word he would use to describe it later. Vanished, what his eyes saw, the only thing they could have seen. But in that moment it had seemed like it had exploded. He was blinded and deafened for a moment as dust and light filled the room in the form of a shockwave.

    Davis coughed, waving the dust away from himself as he staggered backwards away from his desk. The air felt hotter, more humid. It was definitely darker. He looked up, his eyes naturally flowing towards the space formerly filled by the wall dividing the classroom from the hallway. It was quiet in the classroom, stillness brought on by surprise.

    “The fuck?” A confused whisper.

    Davis wasn’t sure who said it, could have been him or anyone else in the room. He wasn’t sure. He was sure that that wasn’t supposed to be there.

    The air was shattered. Broken into infinite transparent fractals that seemed to draw the eyes in. Beautiful but terrible. Wrong. He could see things in the air. Half-glimpsed and half-formed things. Forests, cities, in one he thought he even saw himself, before the images shifted and vanished as something moved inside the air. He blinked.

    Flowing through it was something that could only be described as a tentacle.

    It was thick and seemed to occupy more space than the wall before it, somehow extending through the ceiling and floor in a way that was more than purely physical. It was uneven in places, half formed. The outer casing was a layer of greenish blue flesh. Protrusions of various kinds emerged from it. Elongated female hands, delicate glowing fronds waving in a non-existent breeze, and various bony projections flowed off the surface in a complex but orderly manner. It was somehow as intriguing as it was repulsive.

    In the places were the flesh was still knitting together crystalline cores were exposed. These too were growing; growing in a manner that was like a time-lapsed video on YouTube.

    For a moment the students were quiet and terrified. Then another thunderous burst sounded, sending Davis' ears ringing. Another blinding flash. A section of windows and a bookshelf disappeared, leaving unsupported books to fall the ground.Another tentacle emerged, covering the rain-soaked windows and plunging the classroom into near blackness, illuminated only by the glowing veins of crystal in the tentacles.


    The screaming started. The distant cries of fear became a local event as people ran for the door. Strange. Even happening right in front of him it seemed distant. They screamed, it wouldn’t open. Pounded on it. Davis stood there. He felt numb. He wondered where Ashley and Martin had gone. The air was broken where they once stood. There was another peal of thunder. The air broke where the door was.

    Gone. They’re both gone.

    Another formation, this one bulkier than before, burst through the wall to the classroom next to them and disappeared into the floor allowing dim light back into the room. The debris had missed him by inches, somehow missed everyone by inches, but the close shave snapping him into action. People ran for the gap int the wall the formation had created. Davis led them, careful to avoid the broken air, scrambling over the twitching blue flesh.

    He was the first over.

    The classroom next to theirs was almost empty, everyone had already fled, save for two people still paralyzed by the tableau before them. Thunder crashed in the distance, a never-ending series of invisible strikes. Rain beat against the windows and fell through the holes in the ceiling. Something grabbed his shoe. He reflexively jumped off the tentacle, tripped and fell on his arm wrong. Something popped and then snapped as streaks of white filled his vision.

    No pain though. Why no pain?

    He’d lost his shoe. He dragged himself up from the floor to see one of the blue hands clutching it and squeezing it in a pattern. The strength of the hand had already deformed the shoe beyond usefulness. He recognized the pattern the squeezes were making.

    A heartbeat, it’s the pattern of a heartbeat.

    The screaming intensified as students tried to scrabble over the grasping hands. Kicking and scratching when the hands and fronds would grasp at their bodies. The hands weren’t even marred, didn’t seem to be affected, but withdrew anyway when scratched at hard enough.

    Davis pushed himself backwards till his back hit a wall. The grinding was worse now. He could feel his teeth chattering and the ground rumbling. He was scared. His arm was broken. He was to scared to think or act or do anything.

    Calm down. Calm down. Focus and think.

    He took a deep breath in, held it, and let it out, trying to push away the screaming students and freaky tentacles and all the weird shit that was going one around him. The rain beat on his head through a broken window. He sat there, waiting for his heart to slow. He sat there for some time, hiding from the world, how long he didn’t know. Everything grew distant, became less real. Another burst of thunder and light sounded near him as a warm, dust filled breeze ruffled his face. His eyes were closed this time but the light still seared his eyes though his eyelids. He jumped slightly.


    Push it away and think! Go over what you know!

    Weird hand formations had invaded the classroom and likely the rest of the school. The very fabric of reality had decided to bend over backwards in places and had either vaporized or abducted his friends, and some omnipresent ominous grinding sound had accompanied it. He was also covered in dust and water. It was raining when it had been clear moments ago.

    Parahumans. It’s a parahuman attack.

    The situation didn’t become less scary with that realization, not really. But it became more real. He could do something now. Figure out how to act. Whatever exotic power, whatever sick bastard did this, whoever controlled these thing, it was still a human. Just like him. This was no different than the drive-by that had happened last week in the Docks. Another gang-banger. This was just like a gun. A tool.

    The formation near him shifted.


    A bigger gun then.



    Davis’ good arm grasped the edge of a desk and he levered himself against it, pulling himself into a standing position. He dared to look at his arm. It was sagging, unresponsive. He was also sure that his collarbone wasn’t supposed to stick up like that. There was no blood though.

    No pain either.

    That wasn’t good. He wasn’t a doctor but he was pretty sure that wasn’t a good sign at all. There was a crash as the students trapped in the classroom with him managed to bust down the door. They stampeded outwards, ignoring him for the most part. He limped after them, only now noticing his twisted ankle.

    How did I not see them before?

    He was blinded by yet another thunder crash of broken air near him. He only moved once the spots had faded from his eyes.

    The hallway was crisscrossed with formations and tentacles, with their waving fronds and bony hands, all the same greenish blue. He would have sworn the hallway was more empty than that before. Though…were they glowing more now? He could almost feel something physical from them here. A sense of detachment? He shook his head. Now wasn’t the time for this. He limped past an exceptionally bright mound on the floor that was extending fronds through the entire hallway. It looked vaguely human and was almost too bright too look at. The sense of concentration increased. Was that the parahu -

    He kept walking. It wasn't his job to investigate strange shit. His job was to run. Just run. Run.

    He ran.

    He was alone. He couldn’t see anyone else in the hallways. Strange, considering he had seen people run out here just a second ag–

    Another flash of light and thunder blinded him. When he opened his eyes he saw that a tentacle had apparently extended right through the space he had just occupied. The formations were glowing much less than before. They were also much less dense. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. He was still alive so he was willing to give it a check in the good category.

    Close though. Too close.

    He limped on and, hearing shouts, he hurried, catching up to his class at the tail end of a crowd of moving crowd of anxious students. Where had they been this whole time?

    He grabbed someone by the shoulder and they swung around, “Fuck man, you…Davis?!”

    Davis was equally confused, “Martin?” he looked at the girl next to him, “Ashley?”

    “Davis? How? Why are you wet? We saw you fall into one of those air things!?”

    “But I saw you two fall into those things –“ their confused conversation was interrupted by the roof above them lifting itself away as a massive shimmering force field materialized under it. A very tall woman covered in shimmering scales floated above them, a horn corkscrewing itself out of her head. She was standing on a thin flat platform of forcefields that was moving under her.


    “Narwhal?” He looked over at Ashley.

    “Who’s –“ he felt something constrict about his waist and he was pulled upwards towards the blue sky. A quick glance at the others revealed that similar shimming harnesses wrapped around their waists were lifting all the students in the area. They moved quickly and had soon cleared the school.

    It was then that he saw the extent of the damage. The bright clear sky hid nothing.

    Most of the school was overrun in formations of tentacles and he could see heroes flying around the skies, airlifting who they could out of the school and the surrounding area. Chunks of the school and the street would vanish occasionally and the formations would swell near the new hole. Occasionally they would disappear and reappear elsewhere, always within a two-block radius though, nothing moved past that. Some would slither through holes in the air like snakes, pooling in places and flowing in others.

    Massive glowing fronds stretched out from the center of the mass. Stretching so high into the sky he couldn’t see where they ended. Though he didn’t exactly have a good angle the way he was floating. These would vanish and reappear periodically as though they were slipping behind some curtain. He thought he could see some shrinking and some growing, but it was unclear by how much.

    “What the hell?” he said, more to himself than anything.

    Ok. They have a really big gun.

    Davis was so wrapped up in the scene he didn’t even notice how high this 'Narwhal' was carrying them.

    What he though was especially strange were the capes. They weren’t fighting. They were evacuating people, pulling people out of the craters this thing made. But not a single offensive power was being used.

    “Why aren’t they fighting it?” Martin looked over at Davis.

    “Cause it’s not fighting back. Look.” Davis followed his finger, to where a female cape in black was lifting a massive formation to allow a vehicle of some sort to pass though. Alexandria? Could be. The formation simply sat above her, almost limp, only adjusting to keep its ends in the broken sections of air. “It’s passive. Or that's what they announced anyway. It would be a waste of time to try to hit it with things when they could focus on saving people.”

    Now that Davis looked at the mass closer he could see places where the formations were red, like they had been brushed raw or picked at. They had attacked it at one point but it had done so little damage. Maybe that was why they changed tacts? A man he recognized as Armsmaster was stabbing into the side of formation, trying to dig though it for some reason. There was no overt reaction.

    They just continued wave in the wind and expand. Carelessly. Now that he wasn’t completely terrified and only moderately terrified he got that strange sense of concentration and apathy from the mass again, almost detachment. Like everything occurring around them had no real significance. Like it was concerned with things that mattered so much more than property damage.

    There was a sharp crack below them as a series of capes arrived, teleported in. The majority was unknown to him, just more capes. He recognized the hooded figure in the middle though, anyone would. His green cape flapped in the wind as he lifted himself into the air. His shoulder flared and he winced as he turned to watch him rise.

    There’s the pain. Worth it though.

    Nevertheless he continued to turn to get the best view of his favorite hero.

    Eidolon.

    The mass had reacted. The formations stopped moving. The fractals stopped spinning. Frozen.

    Confusion. Concern. Tired.

    Davis blinked as he felt the emotions radiating off the mass. He could feel them so much clearer now.

    Then the mass started to vanish, slipping away like they had been an illusion from the start. You blinked and two more formations were gone. He was mildly disappointed when Eidolon and his cadre of capes merely watched as the last enormous frond flitted into nothingness. There was one last big peal of thunder then...It was gone. The grinding ceased. In mere seconds the entire thing had vanished. All that was left behind was a completely devastated and collapsing school and a massive crowd of civilians and capes. He suddenly felt very tired, like the pure surreal nature of what he had just experienced had hit him all at once.


    The cape that was apparently "Narwhal" set him down gently, separating him from everyone else, maneuvering him over to a series of medics. He was out almost as soon as he touched the gurney.

    But before he slipped into sleep he saw –



    What? What was that?



    Wait.

    What was what?

    Davis slipped into unconsciousness, his eyes closing before anyone noticed them change from to brown to very bright blue.

    ∞∞∞
    Present time, Brockton Bay Central Hospital

    I told myself that getting annoyed after less than five minutes was counter productive. I tapped a staccato on the rails of my bed, waiting for my headache to subside.

    I was annoyed anyway.

    Frustrating.

    If you had to sum up my new state to one word then that would be the word to use. Frustrating. I could feel more shards, thousands more, powerful ones, just waiting to be used but I couldn’t grasp them. Every time I would reach for an idea I would get less of an idea and more of a jumbled mess. Which was even more annoying because it was my own self I was wrestling with. It was like trying to touch your nose and then slapping yourself in the face instead.

    The problem was apparent too.

    I’d figured out during my careful reaching that going too deep too fast was bad. Like, migraine inducing bad. Sifting through the top layer of my shards was fine though. It gave little discomfort and was largely educational.

    I learned as I looked through the mass of shards that, despite seeming like they had no rhyme or reason in their arrangement, they fit together in a way that made sense when looked at from a larger scale. It was like the letters in a word. Different consonants and vowels, in many cases very dissimilar to their neighbors, when looked at in context formed words. This formed sentences, which formed paragraphs, and on and on. I could see the patterns, maybe grasp an idea, when it was separated, but seeing the whole picture was difficult. Hence the headache.

    I pulled my attention back outside myself to the hospital room and everything swam back into focus.

    To sum up the problem, I’m an alien illiterate.

    Ironic, considering. I closed my eyes and dove back into myself. I didn’t so much see myself when I was reaching like this as I felt it. I could feel the edges of the little bits of me, the facets and faces of the shards as they touched and interacted with each other.

    I descended slowly.

    The deeper shards were all but unreadable. All I could pick up from them was where they were directing their efforts or where they were supposed to when they were acting. A large number, were inert, waiting for directions I couldn’t issue yet. A smaller number of other shards were active. Very active. Energy was flowing off them into the deeper core, my foundation. I extended my attention to them. It was like feeling rivers, or oceans of moving electricity or fire. I noted where they were going. Most were flowing to my mind, but a small portion looped around the entire foundation before returning to the mind section of the foundation.

    Like a nervous system maybe?

    I swung my attention back to the surface as my headache built.

    The surface shards were less jumbled than the deeper ones, placed in simpler patterns. The simplest one I could find was the Matter Conversion or the ‘Feeder’ one as I called it. It was connected to others and flowed into them, but it itself was independent. There were a few others like this, scattered around my body, but for the most part, with a few notable exceptions, they felt…brittle?

    Fragile?

    It wasn’t quite right, but I felt like touching the weak ones would be bad. They weren’t as heavy or full like the other rest of the shards. They felt drained and weak. Like they were starving or had just run a marathon. They too were connected to the Feeding shard and they siphoned off just as much energy as any other shard.

    I frowned at that.

    That couldn’t be right.

    If they were exhausted, shouldn’t they be getting the most energy? No. No? Really? I was the way I was for a reason, changing the energy flow, diverting it, would be detrimental in the end. I knew that risking those shards in particular would be dangerous. I mentally grimaced.

    My attention returned to the room.

    I didn’t like that. At all.

    I didn’t like how I would suddenly know things that I wouldn’t know otherwise. How they would just jump into my train of thought like a hitchhiker along for the ride. It made me suspicious that my mind was being altered or affected somehow. It was ridiculous though. Even though I couldn’t directly access most of my parts didn’t make them any less me. It felt like saying my fingernail was conspiring against me because it wasn’t growing on command.

    I blinked and slowly turned my head as I let the headache fade, careful not to trigger my odder senses. My gaze fell on the spherical gouge opposite my bed.

    I stared at the hole in the wall feeling more than a little embarrassed. The first thing I did after getting powers – or was it after becoming powers? – was to eat part of my hospital room. The image that brought to mind made me chuckle, me chewing on the corner of the room’s floral themed plaster.

    I laughed. It felt good, to be able to laugh about this situation at all.

    After a moment of laughter I calmed down and sobered up a little. But I really had done that and it wasn’t really okay. I grimaced; I hope they don’t add that to the bill. Dad probably wouldn’t be too happy with that.My headache had almost fully faded now and I massaged my temples. It was habitual, I somehow knew it wouldn't really help with my headache, but I did it anyway. It was comforting in it’s own way.

    My little exploration of my new abilities hadn’t been entirely without fruit. While the deeper, more complex shards were past my reach, for now, the more independent ones, like the Feeder shard, were easier to understand.

    One was something that I was fairly sure manipulated electricity in some way. Another wasn’t physical, it was for my mind; it had something to do with other shards and felt almost like a book. The final independent surface shard, that didn’t feel like it was about ready to snap in half, was one that had something to do with tearing and sealing things. Without really grasping it though I couldn’t really tell what though.


    I'd tried to use the book-like one and nothing had happened. A bit disappointing. I'm sure I'd figure it out later though. Although this only left me with the electric one and the tearing one to try out in my already vandalized hospital room. Two very physical powers.

    I considered my options and eventually decided I’d try to use and grasp them later.

    If Dr. Griffiths was right then I’d already done some damage to the school when I’d triggered. Then I’d woken up and decided the wall looked like a nice buffet. I really didn’t need to add any more problems to my plate right now. I had more than enough on top of outing myself. So I just leaned back and closed my eyes, letting myself relax to the sounds of muted conversations in the halls and shoes clacking against the tile. I jerked back to awareness a mere moment later. My room was as empty as ever. But I feltsomething coming. What would that –


    I heard shouting in the corridor, someone shoving other people out of the way. They sounded familiar. It was…dad?

    My door swung open and my dad stood there, with a person I recognized as a PRT officer hanging onto his arm. I realized there was one grabbing his shoulder too. I heard more in the hall, one was groaning. Somehow he had pushed past… all 9all nine of them. The ‘how’ became apparent as I looked at his hair.

    It was completely white. White veins ran over the uncovered skin on his hands and face, vaguely following the contours of his skeleton. He looked slightly taller, slightly thinner, not much, but just by a little. He’d clearly triggered and been changed by it.

    “Taylor?”

    And somehow I knew, I didn’t know how, but I knew, it was my fault.
  5. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Propagation 1.4

    “Taylor? Are you…?” his voice was unsure, like he was seeing something he could quite believe. My reply was as equally eloquent.

    “Dad? I – you – why –“ I couldn’t quite get my words out, tripping over the guilty lump sitting in my throat. I’d done this to him. I’d made him like this. I could feel the shard that had once been part of me spread over his body like a cloak, extending its invisible tendrils into his body. Before I knew it his arms were wrapped around me. He had crossed the room in a blur of motion. Speed only a parahuman could posses. I was so caught up in the fact that I’d triggered my dad that I didn’t even notice what he was doing for a second.

    Oh.

    “You’re awake, you’re okay, you’re okay,” he repeated more to himself than to me as he gripped me a little tighter.

    “Yeah, I’m -I'm okay dad.”

    I felt a surge of emotion; the surreal nature of the last da – no, week striking me all at once. I’d triggered in a way I was sure I wasn’t supposed to, and had, possibly my very species, changed by it. On top of that bomb, I’d triggered other people too, at least three if my feverish dream could be considered reliable. One of those had been my dad, I'd apparently damaged my school to some degree, and now I was under what was essentially heavy guard at the hospital. It still wasn’t clear whether I was under arrest or they were guarding me, or what exactly was going on.

    Yeah. A hug sounded good.

    I hugged him back, tears pooling around my eyes and sliding down my face. Why was I crying? I didn’t feel like crying. I couldn’t see his face but I could tell by the way his body was shaking that he was crying too. The bright white veins on his skin and face dimmed to a dull gray, only just standing out from his skin. His hair faded too until it had reached the same shade. I relaxed into him. This was more affection than he had ever displayed for me since mom...

    A boot scraped on the tile floor and I heard a metallic clink. My gaze slowly moved from my dad’s gray hair to the doorway. Three PRT officers were standing outside the door with a few more figures behind them. I assumed these were the nine my dad bowled over in his rush to see me. They were just on the other side of the frame, hesitating to come into the room. The one in the front had an unsure expression on his face, as though he was caught between two opposing courses of action.

    I shot him a glare. Couldn’t he just give us some privacy?

    He jumped as though he’d been slapped and took a step back, bumping into his companions.

    “Right, uh, excuse us,” the door shut quickly and closed with a soft click. At least they were good at picking up expressions. My dad squeezed me tighter. I felt like I should have been feeling some discomfort from that, his grip was quite strong, but I didn’t feel much of anything apart from the warmth of his arms.

    We stayed like that for some time, each of our presences comforting the other. Almost three minutes had passed before he relaxed enough to let go of me.

    “Taylor, oh Taylor, I was so worried,” he said pulling himself out of the hug. He held me by the shoulders looking at my face, examining me, before hugging me tightly again.

    “I’m okay dad, really, I am,” I said trying to reassure him. “You…” how to bring this up? “...you got powers too?”

    He let go of me, letting me settle back into the raised hospital bed and sighed, wiping some of the tears off his face. He was calming down a little bit. “Yeah, I – I was just so worried about you, that I,” he gestured at his arms, where the gray veins still pulsed slightly, “triggered too.”

    “Are – are you sure you’re alright?” I asked him. The change in appearance was bothering me. How he looked so much like he had before, he was my dad, but the slight change in features; the barely longer limbs, the lack of glasses, and the veins and hair were off-putting to me. It was my fault too. I remembered feeling that bit of me fall off, the shard that he had now. It was one of the few clear memories I had of what had happened after my trigger event.

    He looked confused for a second. “Why would I be – oh this?” He smiled a bit. It seemed forced, like he was putting on a brave face but underneath that mask things were chaotic and tumultuous. When he spoke it was softly. “Taylor I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m more worried about you. Do you feel okay? Are you hurt at all?”

    “I don’t think so, I mean, Dr. Griffiths, he didn’t say I was hurt, and I feel fine, I’m okay,” I was stumbling over my words, trying to get everything out too fast. To tell my dad to stop worrying, because I was fine. More than fine actually. My mouth just didn’t seem to be able to catch up to my thoughts.

    He looked at me like almost couldn’t believe it.

    “Dad, I’m fine. I’m awake now. It’s okay.” This time he seemed to relax a bit as the repetition of the words seemed to finally make him understand. He pulled me into one final hug, yet this one was different from its predecessors.

    The others were desperate expressions of emotions. A sense of almost fear mixed with relief and joy, like letting go could cause this happy moment to float away on the wind and we would both wake up in drastically different situations. This was gentler, softer. It was difficult to describe. It was less powerful for its softness, but much more personal and important at the same time.

    “I love you Taylor, I’m so glad you’re safe.”

    “I love you too dad.”

    Then the moment was over. He patted me on the back and broke off the embrace, his face a complex mixture of feelings for a moment before settling into a smile. He wiped the remaining tears from his face. The tear stains somehow made his smile look more radiant. I smiled back and my eyes wandered down the trails of gray that lined his face and hands.

    I hesitated before asking.

    “So while I’ve been, uh, sleeping what have you been doing about the whole,” I gestured towards his hair, “having powers thing?”

    I hoped for some enthusiasm. An utterly unrealistic hope, and I knew it. My dad was never one to want powers. He cared more about other people too much. Most of work at the Union was centered around that. Finding and managing the dwindling jobs for dock workers, keeping a community that was rapidly losing itself to gangs and drugs from imploding on it’s self. A largely thankless task that he devoted himself to. But anger? Disgust? Regret? Things like that would break me. My dad was one of the few…the only person who I really knew who cared about me. To know that I had ruined his life or turned him into a pariah, I didn’t know how I would take something like that.

    He was quiet for a moment, before he spoke. “I’ve been thinking about it mainly. Thinking about what I want to do with this situation. I’ve tried some things, and realized that there are ways that I could make a difference and do some good. I haven’t decided anything yet, and – ”

    There was a knock at the door before it swung open slowly.

    Three figures stood in the doorway. One rapped on the doorframe again. My dad turned to see them. I was about to say something to them. I think it was going to be about leaving us alone or something, but at that moment my brain sorta short-circuited.

    “Sorry to disturb you two, I really am, but I’d like to talk a little with you both. If you two don’t mind that is.”

    ...


    What?

    Hero.

    He was front and center as well as the one who had just spoke. His gold armor and blue mesh suit made him seem like more than he was. He wasn’t wearing his famous Interference Suit or any weapons, but despite that he didn’t seem like just a man in body armor. He was, like I’d said earlier, more than that, he had an almost physical presence. His gem-like golden helmet was under one arm, and from the section of his face that was visible, his lower face, he seemed handsome. The rest of his face was covered in a smooth blue visor.

    To his left was Alexandria. A black visor covered her face, and her heavy black cape fell to the floor behind her. Her outfit was the same as she always wore, a black bodysuit and a black skirt with the image of a tower on the chest. She wasn’t wearing her gloves though, leaving her hands exposed. It was strange to see hands that looked so normal on someone like Alexandria.

    To Hero’s right was a man who was about as famous as you could be without being a hero. William Manton, or Doctor Manton, or even just the Doctor as everyone called him. He was clad in a dress shirt, slacks, and a white lab coat with closely trimmed hair. He had dark circles under his eyes and an intense stare. Just how he looked on TV.

    I looked over to my dad. He didn’t look as surprised as me to see them. I spoke up.

    "No, we, um, we don't mind."

    Hero was the first to step forward, a disarming smile on his face and his hand extended. “You must be Mr. Hebert,” he said shaking my dad’s offered hand, “It’s nice to be able to put a face to that blur that knocked me over on my way here.”

    “Wait, what? You did what dad?”

    “I – “

    “Oh, no, no don’t worry Ms. Hebert,” he chuckled, “I just didn’t get out of the way in time. No reason for anyone to get too upset.” His glanced sideways at Manton as he said this. I looked between Manton and Dad and frowned. They were glaring at each other and they didn’t seem all that friendly either. Had they met before?

    Hero clapped his hands together.

    “Right, well, let’s all just sit down and say our piece, shall we? Make this quick and painless? It’s actually a good thing your dad is here for this, Ms. Hebert.”

    “These the ones you wanted Ma’am?” A PRT agent stood in the door holding a pair of folding chairs. I blinked as he handed the chairs off to Alexandria, who handed one to Manton. A few quick metallic snaps later we were all sitting in a circle. Hero was at the desk with Manton on his right, and Alexandria to the right of him and in front of the door. The whole situation was, well...

    It was surreal. More so than my trigger event had been, even more so than seeing my dad with powers. Alexandria, one of the three members of the Triumvirate, Hero, the leader of the Protectorate, and William Manton, the leading expert on parahuman powers worldwide. These weren’t people to me, or hadn’t been a few minutes ago. These were names. Sure they existed somewhere, I might even see them from a distance someday, but this? Meeting them like this? It wasn’t something that I had ever pictured happening.

    But the question was, why were they, some of the most powerful people in the world, here?

    “If this is the same talk that Manton gave me, I don’t think we need to hear it.” Manton, I noticed. Not William or Dr. Manton. My dad only disregarded people’s titles like that or called them by their last names when he was very annoyed with them. His gray hair streaked with white for moment before returned to gray.

    “Mr. Hebert,” Alexandria was speaking. It was too weird to not have a TV screen between us. “We were acting on certain suspicions that are clearly no longer valid. In addition Dr. Manton may have presented some of our more extreme theories in a rather,” she glared at Manton, who returned her gaze with a rather neutral expression, “clumsy manner.”

    “What theories?” The words were out before I could stop them. Everyone in the room turned to me, the simultaneous attention of the group almost like a physical force.

    Hero was the one that answered me. “Among other things, we were mainly concerned with your mental state.” He must have seen the confusion on my face because he continued. “Some, ah, trigger events have the side effect of changing the mentality of the recipient. With the extremity of yours we were forced to consider that might have happened.”

    Extremity? What had exactly happened during my trigger event?

    “That doesn’t give you the right to suggest that she's not my daughter,” my dad’s voice was even, but there was an undertone of anger to it. A few of his now gray veins pulsed white for a moment.

    Wait. What?

    “Mr. Hebert, in extreme cases such as this a massive psychological shift has been observed. I was merely suggesting that this possibility existed.”

    Manton was impassive in his response, distant. Hero winced slightly at that as Alexandria frowned. My dad looked like he was going to say something in return, but I interrupted.

    “But it’s fine right?” They turned back to me, “I mean, I’m fine now. I feel the same as I did before.”

    Hero smiled. How did he keep his teeth so white? “And we’re all very relieved that’s the case. Besides, that possibility was something that’s in the past, we’re here to talk about the now.”

    “The now?”

    Alexandria jumped in, “We’re here to extend our support to you. After the media storm surrounding you and your identity, you may need it. You’ve gone through a traumatic experience and don’t need to go through the rest of it alone.”

    I paled. Right. I had forgotten, just for moment while I was talking to dad, I had forgotten that everyone knew I had powers.

    “How big was this ‘media storm’?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer. Alexandria pursed her lips before responding, like she was considering the most tactful reply.

    “Nationwide for sure. Some other countries picked it up too. I’m willing to guess to that you don’t remember exactly what happened after you triggered?” I nodded, more than a bit stunned. It was still so weird to see her here, speaking to me. I’d expected something big too, with the way Dr. Griffiths had been carefully phrasing things, but worldwide?

    “It was a very large event. Big enough to cover a couple city blocks, and completely destroy the school. After the whole event was over some of your classmates gave out your identity to the first reporters to find them. Or at least we’re assuming they did, we don't exactly know how your identity circulated so fast. Regardless, the consequence is your identity is known now, to almost anyone in the world who watches the news.”

    Worldwide.

    Anyone.

    I was outed worldwide. Not in the, you could find my identity if you looked sense, but the, everyone knew, sense. I turned the information over in my head, running it backwards. I – I just didn’t know what to do about that, so I focused on something else. At some point I had broken eye contact with Alexandria so I looked back up at her. Only momentarily feeling the disorientation from the sensory scramble that came from moving my head too fast.

    “I destroyed Winslow?” I morbidly noted that I would get that school transfer I had always wanted. It was strange, somehow Emma, Sophia, and Madison felt like such a small problem now.

    “Don’t worry about that Ms. Hebert.” Hero responded again, still smiling slightly. They kept switching; making me turn my head back and forth and giving me sensory salad. Couldn’t they just take longer turns or something? “The Protectorate and the PRT both understand that trigger events are tough things to ride out. You didn’t hurt anyone too bad during the whole thing either, which is another point in your favor. No charges are going to be brought against you from the side of the government.”

    “What about the private side? I’ve had no less than ten suits filled against my daughter. Even one against me, on top of several death threats. Are you going to do something about that?” Dad's tone was calmer now, a blend of curiousness and a strange desire for confrontation.

    Alexandria jumped back in, “We’d like to. Understand that Mr. Hebert. But even we have certain limits to our authority, but that’s why we’re here. Like I said, to extend oursupport to you.”

    “What exactly would that entail?” my dad asked. I realized he was switching gears. He was moving into business mode, the same sort of personality he projected when he was working. Alexandria adjusted too, a slight adjustment, I almost missed it, but it moved away from what I now realized was a familiar and open posture into a stance that projected more formality.

    But more importantly, would I have noticed that before or was it my new powers working? I didn’t want to split my attention to look and feel if a new shard was working inside me. I’d check later.

    “For one, it would entail both you and your daughter joining the Protectorate and the Wards programs respectively,” my dad’s face hardened a bit at that. “You would both work directly under either me, Eidolon, or Hero. We can’t protect you beyond our normal duties if you aren’t part of our organization. But if you did join we could throw our weight behind yours against those lawsuits.”

    “Of course, just to help us, right?” my dad answered in a skeptical tone.

    “I’m not going to say that we don’t have any other motives. We do. We want you to help us as well. With the powers you’ve demonstrated and the clearly exceptional powers your daughter possesses, we’d be fools not to.”

    Is that why they were here? The real reason?

    “But past that, we really do want to help you. To see someone we could have protected being drowned under a tidal wave of lawsuits and petty public opinion isn’t something wewant to see. We are here to help parahumans like yourselves and keep the world safe. Not take advantage of people for power.”

    Sometime while Alexandria was speaking I had found myself drawn into her words, she was a hero, all of them were. If I couldn’t trust them, trust that they were trying to do the right thing, who could I trust? I had to trust that they at least were trying to help me.

    She continued speaking. “I hate to inform both of you of this, but you may not only be in danger from the court's and the legal side of things. From what our pre-cogs can tell us, which is limited in this situation, several villain groups are interested in you both.”

    “Why are they?" I asked, "Interested I mean.”

    Manton’s gravely voice interjected, “Beyond your obvious powers, you, Ms. Hebert, disrupt pre-cogs. When you’re involved with a situation it becomes almost impossible to use any reliable method to determine the outcome. The value of such an ability in the realm of law evasion or enforcement cannot be measured without understating it. The number of people like that in the world can be counted on one hand.”

    Some of the pieces fell into place as the conversation continued. Why the Protectorate had sent some of their best, including their leader, here. Why there were guards around me. On top of being able to, apparently, destroy a school, I was immune to pre-cognition, which was apparently a big enough deal to get a lot of people interested in me. Was that just another part of being the way I was, being immune to pre-cog? I didn’t know.

    “They want me to help them evade you?”

    “We can only assume that’s the reason for some villains, and even other less, ah, friendly legal organizations new interest in Brockton Bay,” said Hero sighing. “They likely won’t even care that you won’t want to help them and will try to kidnap you or recruit you through force. Or to try to kidnap your father to get to you. Some of the people we're tracking would have no reservations about breaking the unwritten rules to capture you."

    I nodded. It sounded dangerous but I was reasonably sure that with all the powers I had I could protect my dad and myself just fine. Once I got them all working of course. But between now and then joining the Protectorate would cut almost all the risk out of my situation. Besides, I was being invited to join by Hero and Alexandria and asked to jointheir teams of Wards. Even more than that they had said that I could help them.

    Taylor Hebert helping the Triumvirate and Hero fight crime. Being a hero. It was an attractive image.

    “How’s that any different from what you’re doing now? Taking advantage of the situation?” my dad asked. A few veins pulsed white for a moment.

    “Because we’re aren’t. We're just trying to inform you of the situation and offer a way out. Ms. Hebert, Mr. Hebert, you are both totally free to decline our offer, no strings attached, but know that we can’t protect you as well on several fronts, as if you’d accepted,” said Hero, looking genuinely distressed by the prospect. I frowned and looked again. He didn’t look distressed. Why had I thought that he had?

    The room was still for moment before my dad spoke, “I’d like to think about it and talk to Taylor some more. It’s a big decision to make, joining something like the Protectorate.”

    Alexandria nodded before standing up. “We understand that. We’ll give you some time to think. I know that a step like this seems sudden or may even seem dangerous, but trust me when I say it will be the right one.” She nodded to Hero and he rose out of his chair along with Manton.

    “We’ll be in the building for the next hour or so, with the exception of a major incident we have to respond to. If you can decide before that time, we’ll be here to personally accept you into the Protectorate.”

    “If we join,” corrected my dad. Alexandria looked at me and smiled.

    “Of course.” She shut the door and their footstep retreated from the door.

    My dad sighed. Tension that I hadn’t even noticed flowing off his body. He was stressed. He hadn’t said anything to me about what he’d had to deal with while I was asleep. Lawsuits, death threats, and villains gunning for us, and he said not to worry about him? How could I not worry?

    “Dad, I think we should join,” he stared at me, a bit surprised.

    “Taylor, this isn’t some decision that can be taken back. It’s something that will define the rest of our lives.” I frowned.

    “Our lives are already affected dad. I’m known worldwide for destroying my school,” he winced a little at that, “and you’re…well you look different too,” I finished weakly.

    “But that doesn’t mean that we need to go out and fight villains like those people do. We don't need to put ourselves in anymore danger.” I felt like he wasn’t including himself in the ‘our’.

    “Dad, we’re already in danger, didn’t you hear them? We’d both be safer if we joined up.” He sighed.

    “I’m - I can't be sure about that…”

    Now that I was looking I noticed that it wasn’t just the changes from the powers that were making him look different to me. The last mental picture I had of him was of him drinking his coffee, getting ready to leave for his union job. He'd been dressed well and looked immaculate. Now he was slightly unshaven and his eyes looked a little bloodshot. His hands were clenched between his knees. He looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

    “But I’m not sure...I'm not sure if that would just be painting a bigger target on our backs or not.” He kept talking softer than before, “what am I supposed to do here?” I got the feeling he wasn’t speaking to me. I didn’t answer and waited for him to continue, when he didn't, I spoke up.

    “Dad, it seems," I paused, then continued, "it seems like the best choice. You won’t have to worry about the threats or the lawsuits anymore. I’ll be safe too. Where could be safer than the Protectorate?” The ticking of the second hand on his watch was the only sound in the room. He took a full minute to answer, wringing his hands as he did.

    “But what if you get hurt again? They could send you out on some mission and you can’t get away or get trapped or…I couldn’t take that again Taylor. Not knowing if you were safe or not, not knowing if you were going to wake up, or not knowing if I'd failed you again…”

    “I’d be with the best heroes in the world, dad, we both would. We’d probably even be on the same team. There’s no safer place for us on the planet.”

    “I know but…”

    He was holding back for a reason. I knew that the thought of joining the Protectorate had occurred to him. He had almost mentioned it before, when he talked about 'doing some good'. He was involved in the Dock community and enjoyed it when he could help people. Why was he holding back now that he had powers and could be a hero? The answer was obvious to me. He was holding back because of me, he didn't want me to get hurt again and wanted to keep me safe. He saw the fact that I'd triggered as a failure on his part, despite the fact that I'd been the one that kept almost everything from him, and he didn't want to fail me again. But I already was safe, I was perfectly fine now. He needed to see that.

    “Dad,” I reached over to him, taking his hand. “I’m okay. We’re both more than okay now. We have powers, why don’t we use them to do some good?” I was confident in my decision. With my powers, with the way I was? I could be a hero and my dad could too, if he could just understand that I was fine.

    He didn’t answer immediately, just sat there holding my hand.

    Then we reached a decision.
  6. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Propagation 1.5


    My first steps were not a fun experience.

    I say my ‘first’ steps because they essentially were. The first steps of my new life. I hadn’t felt it when I was just sitting in bed but my body felt so much different than how it was supposed to. Denser? It was heavier, but lighter at the same time? I couldn’t quite describe it. Add that to my annoying new senses and walking became an event in and of itself. They didn’t give me a headache or make me feel like I was about throw up, like they had before, but it made focusing on my surroundings difficult.

    “Taylor, if you need to stop…” my dad was barely touching my arm, ready to catch me should I fall. I pushed off the wall I was leaning against and back into a standing position. As I did so the world abruptly decided that my vision should no longer be constrained to my eyes and exploded all along the corridor, unfolding into the strange and illogical angles and perspectives.

    I clenched my teeth. “No, no, I’m fine dad, I just have a little headache. I’m probably just dehydrated.” I took another step, the folding and unfolding intensifying. I needed to overcome this.

    Just keep walking. Find Alexandria or Hero. Join the Protectorate. Be a hero.

    I concentrated on keeping my balance, anticipating how my shifting perspective would shift the folding patterns in turn. It was like I was trying to walk in a blizzard. Except instead of raining snow it was raining symmetrical patterns of dancing mirrors. And instead of being cold I was constantly feeling like I’d just spun in circles for an hour.

    Real fun.

    The PRT agents, or officers, or whatever, were following us, keeping a safe distance between us. I guess they were still a little afraid of dad. Getting bowled over like that wouldmake a person a bit more cautious of getting close.

    “Where’d they say they would be?” I looked up at my dad, careful to make the head turn in time with the folding patterns. Surprisingly it worked. The patterns didn’t change, merely sliding across the scene, sort of improving it instead of altering it. Odd. There was a kind of rhythm to them?

    He frowned, “I don’t think they did. I didn’t catch that before,” a pulse of white ran through his hair and the gray veins. “Although I think I know where they could be.”

    “Oh?” I kept talking; trying to distract myself from the kaleidoscope that each of my steps brought.

    “They set up a sort of tent in the lobby along with some PRT officers. It was where I ran into Hero.”

    I nodded, slowly. That made sense, but what didn’t…

    “Dad, why are we the only ones, aside from them,” I nodded back to the PRT soldiers, keeping the motion in time with the rhythm, “here?”

    I had noticed that as I’d walked down the hallway. The rooms were all empty. No sound came from inside them, no talking at all. It was eerily silent, save for the sound of our footsteps. There was a bit of delay before he responded.

    “They told me they were worried about you doing the same thing you did at the school and so the PRT evacuated the hospital.”

    “What exactly did I do at the school?” This kept getting mentioned, but no one was willing to elaborate. How bad had it really been if no one was even willing to tell me about it? My mind threw up the worst possible situations, explosions everywhere, the entire area vanishing in a burst of my feeder power, but those didn’t fit. No one had been hurt severely, so it couldn’t have been all that terrible.

    “I’ll…I’ll explain a bit later.”

    “How bad was it?” My dad grimaced and looked down at me. My dad looked like he had gained an inch or two since I last saw him, since his trigger, putting him at about six three or six four.

    “It wasn’t good.” I frowned, when he looked away from me, an unreadable feeling coming from him. Apparently that was all I was getting out of him at the moment. We rounded the corner, and came to the elevators. The PRT officers lined up behind us and I resisted the urge to look back at them.

    Now that I’d stopped moving the world was folding back up and suddenly flattened out. I blinked as a strange sensation came over me. It was weird, after just a little bit of time looking at the world in however many dimensions I’d been looking it at in, the normal world looked…boring. Like there were things missing that were supposed to be there. Colors were dull, and the angles were off.


    What the -

    I blinked again and the normal world was just as it had always been. The same world I’d lived my whole life in. Nothing was different. The sensation was gone.

    I don’t even know…am I going crazy on top of everything? Or was I just adjusting to the weird vision?

    One of the PRT guys coughed behind me, and a few shifted, their boots clacking slightly on the floor. My dad gripped the hand a little tighter while the elevator dinged as the doors opened. We stepped into the elevator and I let go of my dad’s hand, and the elevator jerked into motion, the faint sound of cables sliding over wheels reaching my ears. I heard the faint rumble as the motors turned and braced myself as the distortion of my senses resumed.

    It was quiet in the elevator. With the way my senses worked I could see from almost every angle inside the elevator. It was disorienting and cool at the same time. I decided to test myself a bit. I counted the screws above the elevator door and once I ran out tried to count the seams in the carpeted interior. With the way my senses were working it was surprisingly easy, almost instantaneous. I counted the stitches next and ran out before we’d moved even a few floors.

    Huh. Well, at least my senses were good for something.

    Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to fight them so much?

    I instantly regretted that thought as the world suddenly stopped making sense. Back, forward, left, right? I didn’t have any of that at the moment. There was just mish mash of stuff everywhere, all folded in and out on itself. It extended much further than the elevator too, I felt like I was seeing almost everythin-

    I blinked and snapped back to reality, my senses resuming their mirror storm state. Okay, not doing that again anytime soon. I fidgeted a little and tried to stand still as the somehow patterned but random kaleidoscope of perspectives swirled around me. I moved the head a little, trying to do the same thing I’d done before, move in a way where everything made sense. To my delight it worked. The perspectives and angles shifted in tandem somehow improving the world instead of obscuring it.

    What if I turn the – my head like this?

    I frowned.

    Why was I calling it ‘the’?

    My dad and I hadn't yet said anything to each other in the elevator. I knew why too, in that same strange way I’d just known things since I’d woken up. Of course the conclusion I came to wasn't something that you needed superpowers to figure out. The sad fact was that we just weren’t used to it.

    After so long of my dad being…not unloving with me, but distant, it was strange to have him so latched onto me, so concerned with me. It wasn’t bad, I liked it, but it was a definite change of pace from what I’d forced myself to get used to in the months since my mother died. I didn’t quite know how to handle it. I got the feeling that dad didn’t either.

    It occurred to me at that moment that we were going up not down. I'm not sure how I missed that begin with.

    The doors dinged again and opened up on the ground floor. In contrast to the hallways and rooms of – what floor had I been on? – the lobby was much more open. A large glass dome comprising the ceiling and several couches and chairs were scattered around the edges of circular area. In the middle, jus as my dad had described, was the PRT tent.

    PRT soldier and officers milled around the tent, talking to each other quietly. We stepped off the elevator and walked towards the tent. My dad put his arm around me. Around us the PRT soldiers stopped talking, looking at us with a blend of fear and curiosity.

    I was a little confused by that. I mean, didn’t they deal with trigger events or parahumans every day? Although mine, strictly speaking, wasn’t exactly a normal trigger event. I was fundamentally different now in ways I wasn’t even sure about exploring. I was different than someone who could breathe fire or just had powers, as I basically was my powers. But I was also pretty sure I looked normal, that there were no outward signs of my new status. So was all this just normal protocol for a trigger event? It certainly didn't seem like it.

    Hero stepped out of the tent, greeting us with a smile.

    “Ah, Heberts!”, he said his smile stretching wider as he spoke. Seriously, his teeth were way too white, “Do you need something or have you already decided?”

    Dad glanced down at me, as though asking whether I wanted to speak or not, I nodded. I looked back at Hero. “We decided that we’d join.”

    I felt like I should have said more there, explained why and for what reason but I didn’t exactly feel comfortable with speaking a lot while feeling so disoriented. For example, I wasn’t exactly sure which Hero I was supposed to be speaking to, given there were three of them. I blinked and they resolved themselves back into one.

    The right one then. I looked over to him, hoping that he didn’t notice the lack of eye contact.

    “Fantastic, that’s great,” he seemed so enthusiastic, “Well,” he looked back into the tent, “Alexandria just left, the some rather notorious villains were sighted near Los Angeles, so she wanted to get back in case she’s needed there. So I guess you’re stuck with me.”

    I felt mild disappointment at that. I’d sort of idolized Alexandria, and while Hero was still Hero he wasn’t Alexandria. Hero frowned, seemingly disappointed.

    “I didn’t mean that literally you know, I’m cool too, right?” his brow furrowed as he looked at me, “Do you know you’re doing that?”

    “Doing what?”

    “Projecting your emotions like that. Apparently you gave some PRT guy a big scare downstairs, he said it felt like he was going to get attacked or something.”

    Oh.

    Oh.

    A couple things fell together. How I was noticing how people were feeling and acting and why they seemed to be able to read me so easy too. The PRT guy jumping when I felt irritated at him how I kept noticing my dad’s and Hero’s feelings when they were speaking. But was I really projecting my emotions or was I understanding other people's? Or was it both? I’d…oh. My dad. I thought back to when I was talking with him about joining the Protectorate. I’d wanted him to understand how I’d felt and I’d pushed that understanding towards him. I'd been projecting my sense of surety and confidence at him.

    It wasn’t just emotions either. My vision turned inward on itself and I felt around my body. A whole section was lit up that hadn’t been active before. I couldn’t decipher the specifics of each power but used as a sort of gestalt it could interpret and generate not so much emotions but…social interactions? It lit up in response to the fact that I was interacting with people?

    Someone was saying something.

    “Yes!” responded, a bit too enthusiastically, excited that I had solved at least one more mystery about myself, and attempting to respond to whatever had been said at the same time. It didn't really work.

    “Taylor? You kind of zoned out for a minute there.”

    “Oh yeah, I was just…” just exploring my super alien body? “just trying to figure out how that power worked.”

    Now that I was aware I was doing it I could sense it. I could feel how my emotions radiated off me, heading more towards my focus than anywhere else. I could feel other’s emotions too. Hero and dad were easier to read than any of the PRT guys around. There was also another easier to read person somewhere in the building, but they weren’t close at the moment. Did it have to do with having powers, having a shard? Did that make it easier for me to read people? Why wasn't I aware of this before?

    Speaking of shards, while I had the chance, I reached out for Hero’s and grasped at it. It was firmly anchored and I didn't want to do anything about that so instead I just felt it.

    It felt like a collage. That was the first thing I could think of. Like someone had taken a hodge-podge of various schematics and concepts, made sure they all fit a certain theme and then shoved all that onto a shard until they all blended together. It definitely fit with his status as a tinker. I let go of the shard letting my attention drift back to the surface. Someone with information like that could easily build -

    I blinked as I returned to reality. What could he build? I couldn't seem to remember. I looked back to him and noticed the exploration of his shard hadn't taken much more than fraction of a second.

    “Well it looks like you got that under control.” I nodded not realizing exactly realizing what he was talking about until I checked my emotion powers again. I realized I’d stopped using them for the moment, broadcasting emotion and feelings as well as accepting them. I was a bit startled how much of difference that made, especially because I hadn’t even noticed I was doing it in the first place, nor did I notice I had stopped. I really needed to figure out how all this worked.

    He stepped back drawing the tent flap to the side, “Why don’t you come in, and we can talk about where you’re going in the Protectorate.” He bowed slightly as we passed, a little bit silly, but that silliness was kind of funny to see from Hero. It made him more of a person than Hero, Leader of the Protectorate.

    The interior of the tent was relatively empty, and there were patterns in the dust on the tables and lines of tape on the floor. It looked like it had been cleaned out pretty recently. As it was now it was just Hero and us sitting at a table in the middle of a PRT tactical tent thing. I took a moment to breathe it all in. Me, with super powers, my dad, with super powers, and the leader of the Protectorate all sitting down to discuss where we’d join the Protectorate.

    A week ago if you’d asked me if this was even remotely possible I would have said no. There was no way Hero was coming along with Alexandria and William Manton to offer me a place in the Protectorate. But now it was real, it was happening. I could see the contract on the table, and both my dad and Hero were already at the table.

    “Taylor, you sitting down?” I snapped out of my reverie and nodded, sitting down in the only available folding chair. I felt it creak slightly as I put my weight on it.

    “So,” Hero said, clicking a pen, “Let’s get started.”

    ∞∞∞
    ∞∞∞

    Legend looked over the sprawling city below him.

    Earth two hundred and seven. One of twenty testing sites. It was like something out of a storybook. The gigantic castle in the center of the metropolis was what caught the eye first, pillars and towers rising out of it, the red sandstone almost glowing in the mid-day sun. It towered over the rest of city, a landmark for the immense population center. From his vantage point he could see the people busy in what he assumed to be a market, roaming the muddy streets, and bartering or discussing in one of the many squares. He could spot some pointing up at his glowing figure. Surprising, considering he was descending with his sun at his back.

    The capital city of this newly united world, Jorvas, was many times larger than any city on Earth Bet. A population that was estimated at around a hundred million, it was almost a country unto itself. It had its own sets of laws and its own elected officials governing many parts of its horizon spanning expanse.

    He had been to this Earth more than a few times. Cauldron was, as a whole, concerned more with some of the other Earths, the ones that had natural capes, and Case 53’s running about, but this one, this Earth, was an exception. Though it had been discovered towards the end of their expeditions and journeys through the portals that the dead Entity had left behind, this Earth, and various ones like it, had quickly become the most valuable to their cause.

    Legend descended slowly towards the palatial castle. Waiting on the balcony he was approaching were his usual reception committee. The Emperor of the Jorvanian Empire, Gregor Eisenheim, several of his honor guard, and the High Priestess of the god of Light, Petralia of Macia.

    Legend felt his hand twitch and his emotions swell as he looked at the priestess. He hated looking at her and all the others like her, it only reminded him of his deception. He hated this whole situation, this charade, what he had to do for the sake of the world, but he did it anyway. He had no other choice.

    They bowed to him, likely scraping their foreheads on the rough floor as they did so. Legend drew on more of his power as he got closer, his eyes and body becoming suffused by brilliant light, which pushed him further into the image he ought to have to play his role.

    Power and presence. It’s all about power and presence.

    “Hail, the glorious God of Light who, in his benevolent mercy, descends to greet us mere mortals!” The High Priestess shouted, somehow still projecting her voice despite being facedown on the floor. He hovered just over the railing of the balcony, positioning himself to that the sun was still at his back.

    Rise,” his voice echoed unnaturally, the soft repetition following his actual words, a combination of his powers and the translator disguised as a bundle laurel leaves wrapped around his head. He wanted to wince, to turn off the humming energy that surrounded him and greet these people as he was, but he couldn’t. Cauldron would lose too much; the world would lose too much, even this world would lose too much.

    They rose slowly; some of the royal guard was a bit shaky. Aside from the three he recognized from before it seemed that the Emperor’s guard had changed. Odd. That didn’t happen all that often. They looked like they were terrified. Only the High Priestess met his eyes. Even she, after meeting with him so many times, was still scared of him. She worshiped him, but at the same time, she feared him.

    Don’t be scared, don’t worship me, I’m only a human. I’m like you.

    He couldn’t say that though. Never could he say that, at least while he was here. “Emperor Eisenheim, High Priestess, I am here for the candidates.”

    “Of course, great God of Light, the candidates await you in the Room of the Gateway.” The group bowed and parted before him. Even the Emperor, the undisputed leader of nearly the entirety of this world wilted under his presence. He hated it. He wished he were back with his teammates or back on his home world. Not doing this.

    They’re all willing? None of them are doing this out of coercion? Last time that woman slipped by.”

    “No, my Lord. I verified myself. All are economically stable and unmarried. Only two have any living relatives. This is out of choice.”

    Legend nodded. It made it better to have her assurance, not by much, but it was better. He didn't know her closely but she had been his High Priestess on this world for nearly eighteen years now. He trusted her to not lie to him. He led the way to the Gateway Room. He’d been here enough times to walk there blindfolded.

    He lightly touched down on the floor as he led the way, his feet going from hanging in flight to a confident stride in an instant. His glowing form looked only more dramatic inside the palace and he knew from experience that his eyes were like spotlights right now, illuminating the path in front of him. The other trailed behind him, the armor of the royal guard clanking in time with the group’s footsteps.

    The massive golden doors to the ornate room were already open, revealing the broken and fractal patterned rift in the air, as well as seven of the volunteers. Four young women and four young men. All were vastly different and all of them were drawn from various regions of the empire, from the lower to the upper classes. The most diverse sample size. He hated describing things like the Doctor did.

    They stood in front of the Gateway, gazing at him in awe for a moment before they bowed just as deeply as the Emperor behind him had. One of the women glanced up at him, before glancing downward just as quickly.

    The Gateway, as the local populace called a rift between worlds, was one of the hundreds that led into a Cauldron controlled facility, as well as one of the ones that the Custodian looked after. She violently repelled anyone who entered, maintaining the image of divinity that Cauldron had worked hard to cultivate, that their domain was the domain of the gods. While they had a limited ability to find and close portals with Eidolon, Maria, and the Clairvoyant, opening new ones was, so far, beyond their reach.

    Rise,” They did so. Keeping their eyes downcast as they did. “Were you all told about the dangers of what you’re attempting?”

    The room was silent, as one by one the volunteers nodded. Legend sighed to himself. Even then? He wanted to scream at them, that it wasn’t but he couldn’t, not with the fate of the world on the line. But still, even considering that…

    “I’ll warn you again then. This may kill you. You may become a monster, unrecognizable to everyone, even your own family. You may even lose your memory. And for certain you can never return home. Is it still worth it? Is what you want still worth that risk?”

    The nods were back, but two of them were hesitant, a second long delay to their actions. Some of them were still hesitant. He could work with that.

    You two, Legend pointed at each of them in turn, Why are you here? Don’t lie, I’ll know if you do.

    The silence returned to the room as his voice faded. The man and woman looked shocked, like deer caught in a semi-trucks headlight, which was fairly appropriate given the way his eyes were projecting light at the moment. The woman was the first to speak up.

    “I want to be strong, I – I – I” she stuttered momentarily as he turned his gaze to her, but then looked up, meeting his eyes. The other occupants in the room stiffened, expecting him to attack. Legend merely motioned for her to continue.

    When have I ever hurt an innocent person with my powers? Do they think that I would or are they just scared that I might?

    “And I want to be safe and have power. I don’t care about the risks, if I can become even a fraction as powerful as you. I want to lead my own life, with my own choices.”

    But joining the, he paused, the words almost ash on his tongue, gods is not about safety. It’s about joining an army. Learning to fight, and preparing to combat the great evil. It’s not safe at all.

    “I still want this. I don’t want my life to be decided for me. I want to take on any risks as my own choice. If I die or lose myself, so be it, but I want it to be my choice and I will live or die with it.”

    Legend nodded slowly as she quickly looked back down to the floor. She was convicted and willing. The laurel crown informed him that none of it was a lie either. He sighed, there was no room to work there, he couldn’t, in good conscience, turn her away.

    He turned to the man, a skinny man of short stature. “And you? Are you willing to risk death? To, for example, drink something that could just as easily heal you as kill you?

    “I, uh,” he stopped, looking for words. “I…I am.” Legend recognized that look. The hesitance, the fidgeting. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t willing enough. He’d seen countless men and women do the same thing, push themselves and deceive themselves into believing they wanted something when they were truly terrified of it. Almost all of them had been failures, the fear manifesting itself in terrible ways when the formula was drunk. Their minds went to bad places, and dragged the formula with it.

    Death from the formula was, now at least, an astronomically low risk, as was mutation. The formula was nearing its final stages. With nearly eight volunteers a day, collected from twenty different Earths, the formula had taken leaps and bounds forward, as had their possibility of an endgame solution. Nowadays the complete power set of a person could usually be determined after a short interview with the Number Man and an examination of the formula in question. But the cost. The cost to come this far…

    Legend wasn’t sure if he would sleep a full night ever again. To risk another failure when he could have prevented it would be something he wouldn't allow. Never again.

    No, he said softly, You aren’t.

    “No! But I - ,” he seemed to remember who he was speaking with and looked down, “I – of course, my Lord.” Legend winced on the inside. The deception, the testing, it was for the best, all of this was in the end. He had to believe that, after coming this far, that he had made a difference.

    It doesn’t make it right. It never will.

    The rest of you have passed. I will now allow the gateway to be traversed so you can reach your destination.The theatrics were easier to perform each time. It as easier to slip into his role as a god, as someone who deserved worship and praise, and each time he returned to Earth Bet he was even more thankful of the way people saw him there as a person and not a deity.

    He fired a brief burst of harmless light through the portal, the whole mirror patterned distortion flashing a rainbow of colors for a moment. Then it resolved itself, Maria, using her power on the other side, made the portal flow into an image. It didn’t change its nature, where it would send a person, just made it look that way, and made it a bit safer. Another bit of theatrics. The cool steel gray halls of Cauldron, illuminated by soft lights running along the base of the walls. Maria stood in the middle, clothed in a reflective black costume with neon blue highlights. To people accustomed to medieval living conditions it was an alien image and, they believed, divine.

    Go forward, my companion will lead you from here.

    The volunteers were hesitant, they always were. But one after another, with the woman who had spoken to him leading, they stepped through to the other side. When the final one had stepped through the portal Legend fired another burst of harmless light. Maria took the signal to stop using her power and the image of the hall shattered and was subsumed by the moving fractals.

    Legend stood there for a moment. Years ago he would have followed them. Made sure he saw what happened to each of them. Made sure he remembered each of their names and that their willing sacrifices to save the Earth, to save every Earth would never be forgotten. But not now.

    Not when there were already so many names.

    I will ascend to the heavens again. I will return in one week for the next ring of candidates. He turned back towards the door and strode back to the balcony.

    “My Lord, before you go may I implore you to answer a single request?”

    He looked back. Petralia, the High Priestess, was the one who had spoken. What is it?

    “The people have grown restless, my Lord, they," she paused as though afraid to speak the words, "they question your divinity. If you could perform another demonstration it would ease many of their minds”

    He knew very well that the people weren’t doing any such thing. He had disguised himself and walked this Earth and the other nineteen testing Earths. The people were almost unilaterally, except for one case on Earth two hundred and thirteen, fooled. They believed him to be a god. The eternal god of Light, Fire, and War. His decimation of armies and flattening of mountains had reinforced that, in this Earth at least. Why she wanted a demonstration was likely for some other reason. Political pull maybe? But he was sure that she was about as influential as the Emperor, she didn't need anymore. He was already tired of acting the god for today. Besides, he had a meeting to get to.

    My time is short, High Priestess,” he replied, The people will simply have to believe in what they have seen. I have larger concerns.

    With those parting words he lifted back into the air, feeling the radiation and light of the sun fill him with more energy and wash away the weariness that his charade brought on. He accelerated quickly, moving beyond the sight of those on the balcony in seconds. He slowed once he reached the clouds, his vision sweeping across the horizon.

    Where…? There.

    He flew towards a ripple in the air, which became more prominent as he approached it. He slowed down before he reached it, allowing his glow and powers to fade.

    When he stepped through the portal into Cauldron’s halls he was himself again. He took off his laurel wreath and the band of tinker technology underneath it. No more charade, no more gods, at least until tomorrow, on Earth three hundred and fifty two with the next eight volunteers. He sighed as he walked down the halls, the route familiar to his distracted mind. Left. Right. Right. Left.

    He passed massive rooms as he did, the one-way mirrors that dotted the hallways allowing him to see into them as he passed. He barely looked. The scenes were all so familiar they were barely worth looking at.

    Hundreds of parahumans, training in martial arts. Others were at testing ranges. Places for the newly initiated to demonstrate and test their powers. Some were fighting arenas, where parahumans could test their powers against each other. Most were visually human, but some of the parahumans had small irregularities, while others had full-blown inhuman bodies. Case 53’s.

    One he could see from his elevated position seemed to be made entirely of metal and another had four arms emerging from her back. But for the most part they were all happy, laughing with each other, squabbling here and there but in the end all dedicated to the cause. The mutated demonstrated a strong degree of camaraderie with each other, identifying through their obvious differences, just as the non-mutated did with each other. This could have been something worrying if not for the clear cross connections that had formed between the visibly different groups.

    He sighed. He should have felt happy that Cauldron’s plan was working. They had an army ready, more than thirty thousand strong and it was only growing. But he only felt tired. Exhausted. This willing and able army had been built on the bodies of the sacrificed. The thousands of sacrificed.

    Thousands of - he clenched his fists - human test subjects.

    Even the willing had their memories altered, the exact procedure they underwent to gain powers stripped from their mind. He was told it helped preserve the mystery, the invisible sense of power that he and a few other top Cauldron operatives commanded among the army. It was true; they did respect him and the others to an absurd degree, though seeing himself and his teammates as gods didn’t hurt either.

    At some point he had stopped walking and started observing an arena where two parahumans were sparring. One was making black sand of some sort from their hands and using it to slow down their opponent, who was some variety of mover. He zipped around the arena, appearing to almost teleport he was so fast. Legend eyed the scene. The only thing that gave him away was the footprint he would occasionally leave in the sand.

    Not enough.

    He kept walking, only feeling more tired. The ones sparring at the moment were the weaker ones. People like that would have no effect on someone like Scion. The stronger ones were in a different wing of the facility. But these people could still help; somehow, he knew that at least. Or hoped that at least. But what they needed, what they were looking for was one big power. They needed something absolute, like Gray Spell had been, but more immediate and more violent.

    If that could be found, that one power that would let them kill the Entity…

    Then it would all be worth it. But it was getting more and more likely each day that it just wasn’t there. That all their work had been for naught. That his charade and his lies had done nothing more than draw people to their deaths and raise a useless militia. He turned one more steel gray corner and came to another portal. He stepped through it without hesitation.

    The scenery was friendlier now, less industrial. The wood paneling and carpeted floors were an odd contrast to the thick steel door across the room from the portal. He didn’t even think about it, just crossed the room and punched in his nine-digit passcode. There was a humming noise as a scanner activated behind the walls and a subsequent click as the thick door swung open. It closed behind him, the secret door disguised as just another wood panel.

    He stepped forward into a conference room. The chair and tables were unoccupied save for a single woman. Doctor Mother glanced up from a folder of notes she was reading, rather intently too, then went back to reading. Legend knew better than to interrupt her when she was like this, at most he would get terse one word answers. He sat down and glanced up at the clock. He was ten minutes early; the others would be here soon. He leaned back in his chair letting out a small groan. It felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

    It was quiet in the room. Doctor Mother turned another page, rustling her papers slightly. Legend sat there for a moment, thinking.

    “Coffee?” He turned. He hadn’t even noticed Contessa leaning up against the corner in her usual suit and fedora. She was frowning and looked actually concerned, like she was worried about him. He appreciated that. That someone was still concerned about how he felt about their plan and his place in it. He nodded as he thought about her offer.

    “Coffee? Yeah. Coffee sounds good right now.”

    She already had an extra cup in her hand. She handed it to him and sat down in the chair across from his. They talked. Somehow she always knew just what to say to keep him focused on the bigger picture.
  7. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Propagation 2.1


    I watched the last piece of furniture being hefted out of our home. It hadn’t even taken them three hours.

    It was a little disconcerting.

    I only had faint memories of moving into my house. They were distant and fuzzy, lacking definition and clarity. The only ones that were defined and real were the ones from long after we had settled in. I remembered the couch that sat in the living room, the small little end table that filled that empty space in the entry, and the rug that disguised the small patch of linoleum that surrounded the door to the garage. These were all constants in my home; these were things that never changed.

    Now they all had.

    In a few hours the PRT had cleared out my house, packed it up, and were preparing to ship it off. We’d gone out for lunch – I hadn’t felt all that hungry so we didn’t eat much – and we’d come back to this. It felt…well it didn’t feel like home anymore. It was too empty, too bare. The walls were blank planes of beige, dotted by white squares and unfaded sections were furniture sat and pictures had hung. I didn’t realize how much the paint had faded over the years. Or how little we rearranged the furniture.

    It wasn’t a surprise either. I knew this was happening; dad and I had talked it over with Hero. But it was still strange to look at my house and not see home.

    “You about ready to go?”

    I nodded, barely noticing the perspective shifts that moving the head brought on. They made sense now in a way. I was seeing here and there; blurred and indistinct images of several places that were the same but different. It was connected somehow to my tearing shard but I wasn’t completely sure how yet. I had my suspicions though.

    A doorway perhaps? Like the one connecting Aleph and our Earth? It seemed to fit with those sections most easily, the bits that flowed around my vision, that were my vision in some way. I wanted to reach that bit of me and experiment with it, see exactly how it could tear and seal things up. I had a few more now too; shards were slowly becoming more familiar, more natural. But now wasn’t the time for that. I didn’t want to freak anyone out and I had a distinct feeling that experimenting too much with my new powers would be a bad idea. It was less of a feeling and more of a certainty.

    It was frustrating. I wanted to explore, to figure out what I could do now that I was going to be a hero. But at the same time I was sure that doing too much now wasn’t good for me either.

    It occurred to me at that moment that I hadn’t answered dad yet.

    “Yeah, I guess I am.” He nodded back, looking a little apprehensive for some reason.

    “You zoned out again Taylor.” Had I really? I checked, my astronomy focused shard feeding me the information I needed to calculate the time.

    I had. Nearly thirty seconds had passed, as I was lost in thought. Why did I even have something like that anyway? Weren’t all my powers supposed to be really useful or critical ones? That was the general impression the jumbled memories of the alien had given me. I blinked and shook my head slightly. I was zoning out again.

    “I, yeah, I guess I did. I’m still pretty tired.” He seemed to accept that, and I was tempted to move energy into my more empathic powers to figure out how he was feeling. I ignored the feeling. I didn't need to use superpowers to talk with my dad.

    I stepped outside.

    Leaving the house, the house that no longer felt like home, felt significant in some way and not just purely sentimentally. Like I was crossing a sort of divide or path that hadn’t even existed before I’d noticed it. That feeling of certainty was back again. Like things, events, possibilities were shrinking and changing. I couldn’t tell exactly what that meant but I could feel something inside me stirring inside me at that feeling. A cluster of shards was activating. It wasn't a bad feeling though, in fact it was a good sort of certainty.

    I felt the shards wink out a moment later and I lost track of them. I sighed.

    Just one more thing to figure out.

    I felt my vision expand as I moved outside. The neighbors were peeking outside or standing on their porches. I saw a few cell phones out, a few camera flashes. Several news vans were parked a few streets over, their irate reporters arguing with rather unflinching PRT officers. I could see everything in a large radius, like I was a fly on the wall. But instead of a fly on a wall I was a fly on every wall. It wasn’t painful anymore, but it was still dizzying. I brought my focus back down the group in front of me.

    Hero was still there, front and center; he’d been around since we left the hospital. It was odd how, well, human, he turned out being after just around him for a few hours. He just didn’t seem like a distant and giant figure anymore. He seemed more real now. Accompanying him were two capes I didn’t recognize, one man and one woman.

    The man was short and broad shouldered. His face was impossible to make out under his gem-like mask but the skin on his exposed arms was a light brown. The rest of his costume was a bodysuit of small interlocking scales, all in a deep green. The woman next to him was taller in comparison and was covered in a grey and white cloak with the hood up. Her eyes were covered by what looked like a bandage with two stylized eyes drawn on it. She was floating slightly off the ground.

    Surrounding them were a group of PRT officers, only three this time. They seemed much more relaxed than the ones we had run into at the hospital. One of them waved at my dad.

    The last of the trucks carrying our stuff rumbled around the corner as we approached the group. I watched it go, extending my vision slightly, following it to the next street. I focused on my own eyes again. I was surprised by how easy it had been to shift back to my own eyes. How natural shifting through my modes of visoin felt. Hero looked slightly somber, none of his absurdly white teeth visible. He approached me first.

    “Tough move?”

    “Yeah, it was a little tougher than I thought to see it, to see my house, so empty.”

    “I can understand that. Didn’t quite seem like it was right?” I nodded, biting my lip slightly, noting the odd lack of give it had.

    He sighed, “Well that even makes me more grateful to both your father and you.”

    Dad was talking with one of the PRT officers. He was at ease and the soldier introduced my dad to the other two. I wonder how he knew him? From the hospital?

    “Grateful?”

    “That you still decided to join up even with things like this. Even deciding to move. I’m grateful for that. That you aren’t afraid to dedicate yourself to something great, to make such a big change to your life. Even if just felt like it was the best way to be protected, I'm still grateful you chose to make a difference.”

    He was smiling again. I didn’t answer for a moment, mulling over his words. I was little confused as to what to say to that.

    “I – thank you.”

    “No need to thank me,” he checked his watch. “So anyway our ride is already here,” he gestured over his shoulder at the woman with the body-enclosing cloak who was chatting softly with the man in scale armor, she seemed a bit annoyed with him, “But we need to wait for her to recharge a bit, she just came down from New York, and that takes a lot out of her. Normally we’d be waiting for another twenty minutes. But that’s what he’s here for.”

    As I watched, the scale-armored cape reached out and placed a hand on the woman’s forehead. A gentle green glow suffused her, flashing brightly for a moment before fading away. I squinted, shifting my vision at the same time and was rewarded with a panoramic view of the woman. Was she still glowing a little?

    I reached out for each of their shards, examining them. The man’s was like battery or a funnel. It ran my focus over it, feeling it out. The shard drew upon energy from somewhere, I couldn’t quite tell where, and funneled it into a certain place, likely wherever he directed it. I switched my attention to the woman and noted the dwindling flow between the two. Her powers were of similar nature to my tearing shard, but it seemed…less somehow. More simple in nature.

    “I’m ready to go Hero,” said the woman in the cloak.

    “Alright," he called to my dad, "Mr. Hebert, we’re shipping out. Los Angeles ahoy!” Hero’s enthusiasm made me grin a bit.

    My dad turned at that, and said goodbye to the soldier and walked over to us. His grey hair and veins only stood out more in the sun and I felt another stab of guilt. I reached out and felt at his shard, trying to figure out exactly what his powers did. I noticed his veins pulse with bright white again.

    It felt…anxious. Like it was waiting for something or dreading something. I cocked my head as he approached. It was strange; from all the others I had gotten a sense offunction, not feeling. It gripped it slightly tighter and the function came to my senses, albeit blurred. It was for, waiting, hiding? Conserving? But not quite, it was waiting for…direction? But no. That wasn’t right either. I pulled back and the world became clear again.

    I couldn’t figure it out. I had the impression it was supposed to feel like something else, but it felt off and that was throwing everything off. Which didn’t make sense. I should still be able to feel or figure out things about it. Right? It had even come off of me at some point, but I still couldn’t figure it out? I could sense it easily but I couldn’t read it?

    Strange.

    Well that's another thing to figure out. Like I didn't have enough already.

    “We are leaving.” The woman’s voice was quiet, but easily audible in the open air. We stepped towards her. “Get closer to me.” Dad and I stepped a bit closer, following the lead of the hero in green and Hero himself.

    “I’m Thura. I’m going to teleport us. You might get a little dizzy. That’s normal if you do.” Each statement was a bit of information, to the point. Very…brisk.

    "You two ready?" asked Hero. I nodded and my dad did too. "Alright Thura, take us away."

    White light appeared under our feet, like we were standing on a glowing disc. A moment later the disc became a window and we all fell through it. Past it. Something. We went down.

    And down again.

    Then up.

    Down?

    Up?

    What?

    My vision went crazy spiraling around itself before folding backwards and outwards, focusing on things not here.

    I saw a massive plain covered huge tentacles and mountainous formations, which were in turn covered in bony spirals and weird ferns and were those hands? More fronds reached up from the larger formations and into the sky, disappearing from sight with their sheer height. In the distance loomed crystalline towers that seemed too large to be real. Each one was in a different there and they weren’t here. I was seeing everything that was there and not here. For some reason this scene, this bizarre vista looked right, it felt like it should have been familiar to me. I shook my head and everything reset into the here.

    “You okay?”

    “What?” I looked up to the speaker. It was the woman who had teleported us. Thura. She was studying me, leaning up close to me. “Yeah, I’m fine, just a little…disorienting is all. Your teleporting is. A little disorienting.” I stumbled over my words as she slowly moved closer to me, squinting as she did. What was she doing?

    “You are fine.” She abruptly leaned back and walked towards the door as I stood up from where I was sprawled out on the floor. My dad offered me a hand and pulled me up to my feet. We were in what looked like a conference room, but all the chairs and tables had been pushed to one corner of the room, presumably to allow for the teleporting, and one of the sides of the room was a slanted glass window. The window looked over a city that I assumed to be Los Angeles. I couldn't really tell by the skyline alone.

    “I will let the others know of our return,” and with that parting remark Thura opened the door and shut it behind her, her retreating footsteps echoing slightly in the hallway.

    “Well isn’t she friendly?” remarked my dad.

    “You’ll have to forgive Thura, she’s not all that good at socialization, but she’s nice once you get to know her,” said the cape in green. He extended his left hand to my dad, “You must be Danny Hebert. I’m Eudaimon, or that's my code name at least, it’s good to meet you.” His head was encased in his helmet so I couldn’t see it, but his voice gave the impression he was smiling.

    My dad’s hair pulsed white for a moment, along with his veins, he paused, switched hands and then shook Eudaimon’s extended left. “Are you going to be –“

    “On the same team as you? Yes, yes, I am. You’re newly triggered, yes? Seven days by my count. Seven days three hours and fifteen minutes. My power is quite an interesting one. It lets me figure out things like trigger times though palm-to-palm contact. I can even boost other powers. It’s quite handy isn’t it?”

    He was still shaking my dad’s hand with his left hand as he chatted away, speaking almost too fast to understand, and my dad was looking distinctly confused. I looked up at Hero, who was grinning, as though he had just been told a joke.

    “Yes, that’s really, uh, interesting.” My dad twisted his arm slightly, trying to extract it from Eudaimon’s grip. The cape must have noticed this because he let go of my dad’s hand. Eudaimon shook his own left hand slightly like it had been hurt.

    “Good grip you have there, don’t worry about my hand though, I’m alright you see.”

    I looked back at Hero, who had muffled a small laugh. My dad seemed to be caught between smiling and grimacing. I felt like I was missing something.

    We were spared any more strange interactions by the door to the conference room opening again. A group of capes in full costume stood in the doorway. Three of them. The one in the lead was a cape I recognized. After all I had seen her not hours ago.

    “Taylor, Mr. Hebert, it’s good to see you here. Hero called and told me all your decision. I, for one, think it was the right one to make.” Alexandria stepped into the conference room, the three others followed after her. One of the three was Thura, whose expression was the same neutral frown she had worn since her introduction. The second was a woman in a light blue armored bodysuit with a shawl-like cape that covered the top of her body. The other was a younger black guy with a rather flamboyant green and silver costume.

    “Welcome to the Los Angeles Protectorate Head quarters, both of you. I heard you were all introduced to Thura." She looked over at the cape in green, "I see you’ve also met Eudaimon.”

    I spoke up, “Yeah, he introduced himself.” Alexandria turned away from me, back to Eudaimon.

    “I hope you were at least a little more serious than you usually are.” Eudaimon shrugged at that.

    Hero shook his head, chuckling slightly, “A little. Not by much. I enjoyed it though.”

    I didn’t really get what they were talking about.

    Alexandria sighed, “Well, wordplay obsessed teammates aside," wordplay? Where was...oh. Wow, that was terrible. "I think you’ll really learn to like it here.” She gestured to the boy in the green and silver, “Taylor, this is Vantage, and he’s the leader of the Wards teams here in LA. You’ll be primarily working with him and the other Wards in your day to day.” She turned to my father, gesturing towards the woman in the armored costume as she did. “Mr. Hebert this is Rime, she’s my second in command, and is going to be the one you'll end up working with a majority of the time, in addition to myself."

    I nodded at Vantage, who smiled and nodded back. I saw a similar exchange between Rime and dad.

    “First things first, we have a few logistical hoops to jump through, and some more people to introduce the both of you to, so if you’ll both follow me, we’ll get started.”

    We followed her out into the hall as she set a brisk pace, walking even with Hero.

    ∞∞∞

    The first 'hoop' ended up being a sort of testing range for powers. Targets of all sorts hung around the circular room, anatomically correct dummies were propped up around the area, lines were drawn in the floor, and what looked like a set of extremely large weights sat in small, relatively, cluster. The room was empty aside from myself, Vantage, and a man and woman in lab coats. Rime and Eudaimon had left for a test of my dad's powers. Alexandria and Hero had left entirely, Alexandria saying she had an urgent meeting to get to and Hero picking up her patrol in Los Angeles for her. I was a little disappointed by that. Vantage was leaning against the far wall of the room, making his intention to only observe quite clear.

    "So what am I supposed to do here?"

    "A demonstration of your powers would be something we'd like to see." The man flipped through a set of papers on his clipboard, glancing down at them as he did so, "Why don't we start with strength? That's usually an easy one to test."

    I shifted my vision and looked over to the pile of weights in the corner. They were labelled, with the smallest one being labelled as one hundred pounds leading all the way up a truck sized weight that was labelled as twenty tons. I couldn't even imagine lifting something like that. I looked down at my arms.

    "So I just have to try to lift one of those weights. Alright. Should I start at the one hundred pound one or the one fifty one?" I felt confident that I could try something like that at least. I did know that I was stronger than before, more able. But looking at some of those weights, well, they looked pretty intimidating.

    He looked at me, then looked over to where the weights were, then back at me. He whispered something to his companion and she whispered something back. He rubbed his chin, "What, Ms. Hebert is the label on the weight that is third from the heaviest end?"

    I checked, "Fifteen tons, why?"

    The female doctor interjected, "How, exactly, did you know the measurements on the weights? The numbers aren't facing you." She looked genuinely curious.

    "I'm..." I was going to say that I was looking at them, but I really wasn't. I was looking at the scientists, at least with my eyes. Even if I had been, the numbers weren't visible from where I was standing. I'd been using my powers without noticing again. "I'm looking at them. I can see things in a sorta non-directional way."

    "How does that work?" she scribbled down something. "Is there a certain range you have? How many angles is it?"

    "So far it fills the room I'm in, so I can see everything inside it, so a lot of angles I guess. It's a full three hundred and sixty from almost every point in the room. But I feel like Icould see further. Seeing like that though, that's disorienting enough as it is." She nodded at that.

    "I'll put that down, we'll worry about that later. Like we were saying before I think that the weight's would be a good place to start. Start wherever you feel comfortable."

    I nodded and walked over to the rows of weights, observing the various scorch marks on the floor dents in some of the targets and weights. This seemed like it was a well used area, presumably Alexandria used it, so it could probably take whatever I could throw at it. Unless I tried to eat the room, I was reasonably confident that I wouldn't be able to do too much damage in here. I reached down with the hand for the first weight, the hundred pound weight, and was surprised to find it felt light. It might have been a pillow for all the resistance I felt.

    "Was that easy for you?"

    "Yeah, it feels," I hefted the weight, "Really light, like it isn't even there."

    Both scientists made a note and I noticed Vantage shift in the corner. He was looking a little more interested now.

    "Move onto the one ton weight please." I walked down the line till I came to weight was much bigger than I was. I looked back at the scientists. Were they serious? "Whenever you feel ready."

    I reached, out hands grasping onto the corner of the weight and I lifted -

    There was a moment of resistance, where it felt like I was pushing against a mountain, then it moved off the ground on just as easily as the first one had. I felt the shifting inside me. I'd done something, turned on another shard or started using some other power. Which was good, because hopefully I'd have some way of tracking it down or having some way of just knowing what to look for. But what wasn't all that great was how these things just happened, I didn't really have all that much control over them. Which was a little annoying. I set the weight down and winced as it crashed onto the floor.

    Oh right. That was heavy.

    "That one felt really easy too."

    I turned back to the scientists, expecting some sort of awed reaction, but they didn't look all that excited or even concerned with the new finger marks in their weight set. They actually looked rather...disappointed? I felt myself flick on the section of myself that governed social interactions on. Their emotions suddenly became more vibrant to me, their intentions more easily apparent. They were disappointed. Not with what I'd done, but how I'd done it.

    They didn't like super strength for some reason? They found it...boring? I let the social shard fade again and they suddenly became more incomprehensible that before.

    No, that's normal. They just look normal now.

    "Hmm, try out the twenty ton weight then," they both scribbled something down on their clipboards. I shifted my vision and then took a peek, then inwardly frowned. They were writing in what looked like Russian or something like it, which I didn't read. Their notes had started in English, noting things about my height, build, and even hair and eye color but switched into Russian after the note about omni-directional vision.

    I wan't sure how to feel about that. Did they not trust me or something? Was there another reason for it?

    I examined the twenty ton weight. It was rather imposing, standing taller than me, and the only handle was located on the top. Which I'd have to be able to fly to reach. The only other option was gripping this weight like I had the last one, and that would . But I couldn't fl -

    Wait. Why not? I had shards for time keeping, why wouldn't I have one for flight? That seemed to be common enough power.

    The trick was figuring out how to draw it out. The other times I had used my powers it had either been a readily accessible shard or it had activate on its own as more of a reflex than any conscious direction. How could I do it consciously? Maybe thinking about it really hard or something? Perhaps that was the problem? Was I being too specific with how I was going about figuring out my powers? Should I try more broad strokes of inquiry? I reached inside myself, concentrating for a moment.

    So if I wanted to fly - no I needed to fly. If I needed to fly right now I would do -

    I felt my feet leave the floor as a line of shards lit up at the same time. They were all separated, different effects individually, but when used together at a fraction of their potential the end result was this. Flight. I was flying.

    Flying.

    I was flying.

    The weightlessness, the sense of freedom. It was amazing. I felt so light, so powerful. Even just ten feet off the ground like I was now, looking down, everything looked smaller, like the world had shrunk. The weight that had looked so big before, so imposing, was now less. The same size as the one ton weight when viewed from this height. I drifted up to fifteen. I noticed a slight blue glow surrounding me, but I dismissed it. That wasn't important at the moment. They wanted to see something impressive? Better than strength? I considered using my tearing shard, making a doorway like Thura had, but I rejected that. I needed something better.

    I reached down into myself focusing on what I wanted. I grinned. With my next thought I extended my newly discovered power towards the weight.
  8. CnJLC Addicted to Italics

    Propagation 2.2


    The distorted prismatic light faded, and the weight set itself back to the floor with a light tap. A major improvement over my previous attempts. I turned back towards the two scientists. It was unnecessary to move the – my body with my sensory powers, but it seemed more natural. The woman was scribbling furiously while the man was frowning. I flicked my social powers on for moment, picking up their intentions.

    Still not pleased. Why?

    I let myself drift back to the floor, the light fading and dissipating. I landed softly, as though it were as natural as simply stepping down a set of stairs. The line of shards slid back into dormancy inside me as the blue glow vanished.

    “Ms. Hebert,” the man took off his glasses, running a small cloth along the lenses before placing them back on his face, “That wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.” I had a moment where it was difficult to tell exactly what he meant by that but it soon passed. He looked a little exasperated.

    Seriously? I’d lifted it hadn’t I?

    He continued. “We were intending this test to be a test of physical strength, to help determine your brute rating, if you had one. This apparently wasn’t entirely clear.”

    That made a little more sense then, but still didn't explain why they looked so disappointed with my initial attempts. I'd used my arms for that. But Brute rating, what was that? He must have noted the confusion on my face because he elaborated.

    “I apologize. I work with capes so often that I often forget that the terms aren’t quite universal yet. While I suppose that brute doesn’t exactly sound all that complimentary it has come, in the cape community, to mean a cape’s general strength and durability. For example, Alexandria currently holds a Brute rating of 9, being almost invulnerable, immovable, as well as possessing a great deal of strength. Other classifications reflect other abilities. I believe that perhaps Blaster or Shaker would reflect well upon the ability you just demonstrated. Likely Blaster.”

    The woman cleared her throat. “I’m inclined to say Shaker, did you note how the other weights glowed and lifted slightly too? It was more of a environmental effect than a direct one.” The man nodded thoughtfully.

    “True, but the intent was directed and wasn’t a true environmental effect. It was more akin to some energy based telekinesis, which is usually a Blaster effect, only in rare cases –“

    “Wasn’t a – are you daft? I’d say that was. It affected the whole environment; it was just increased in a certain area. A Shaker effect if I ever saw one.”

    “Katherine, you know as well as I that very well may be due to a lack of control on Ms. Hebert’s part, and not the nature of her powers.”

    "Control has nothing to do with it, and you know it. It's the fundamental way the power was expressed. Which was as a Shaker effect." she retorted.

    I just shifted sort of awkwardly. Vantage was chuckling to himself in the corner but looked otherwise at ease. I got the sense that this was a usual occurrence with these two. Their voices held no venom, and they were both smiling slightly.

    “I’ll once more disagree Katherine, but now isn’t the time for semantics over Blaster abilities,” the woman rolled her eyes as he turned back towards me, “Where was I? Ah yes. Classifications. There are twelve in all and there’s even a nifty little rhyme to help remember them. It goes,” he paused as though searching for something, “ah yes.”

    “Mover, Shaker, Brute and Breaker. Master, Tinker, Blaster, and Thinker. Striker, Changer, Trump and Stranger.” He spoke in rhythm, and moving his hand like he was conducting an orchestra, demonstrating his familiarity with the rhyme. He smiled afterwards, a sort of self-satisfied smirk. The first three were easy to figure out. Mover was moving fast, probably. Shaker was environmental effects or area of effect, as had been explained. Brute, well I’d already had that explained to me too. Breaker though? I had no clue what that was. Striker, Trump, and Stranger were equally non-intuitive.

    “Ah, okay?”

    The woman, now identified as Katherine, waved a hand in my direction, “Don’t worry about memorizing that or anything, you’ll pick it up pretty soon. Basically what my colleague is saying is we were looking to test one thing specifically, your brute rating, or your strength, but it doesn’t really look like you’re using your strength at all.”

    I was even more confused now. “But I did for the first two.”

    She wiggled her hand back and forth, pursing her lips as she did, “Well maybe. But there were a couple things that made me, and” she glanced over at the man’s notes, “andMark apparently doubt that. The finger marks in the weight for one, as well as the slight delay between when you started lifting and the actual movement of the weight. It looked more like a sort of mass or density modification power instead.”

    I thought back. I had felt something shift inside me, another bit of me activating and providing its power. Density manipulation? I traced the lines of activation that thought brought on inside my body. Maybe.

    “I guess I didn’t. But that’s,” how to explain this? “That’s what feel’s right when I’m trying to lift something. It’s just – that power’s the best fit.” Now that I'd used it I felt like notusing it would be more strange. Like not using your hands to tie your shoes.

    They both raised their eyebrows, and whispered something to each other in another language, probably more Russian, before the man, Mark, spoke, “Powers? As in plural? You wouldn’t happen to know if you have more abilities Ms. Hebert? You talked about fitting. Would you say they each fit certain conditions or situations?” They both looked fairly excited.

    “I, yeah, that’s basically it.” Was that problem or something? They gave each other a look, a sort of shared agreement.

    “How many more would you say you have? Just guess if you can’t tell exactly,” said the woman, Katherine. Yeah they were excited. They looked giddy. A vast difference compared to the reserved and professional scientists of moments ago.

    “A lot,” I had that sense of certainty sweep over me again, revealing too much wouldn’t be good right now. I had to lowball it. “At least a hundred or so.” I winced as the sense came back. That was still too high. It was still lowballing it, but not low enough. “Maybe less, its hard to tell.”

    Katherine nodded, scribbled something, still in Russian, and looked back to Mark, “You thinking Trump too?”

    “Given the wide variety of applications demonstrated, a few distinct ones for sure, and if she does have more, I would say Trump works, or such a wide variety of abilities that it functionally is Trump. Let's go with that, until we dig a little deeper at least.” Mark scribbled something down on his clipboard. “How are we on time?”

    “Not that great, they wanted her meeting up with the rest of the Wards in forty minutes, ten minutes ago. This was just supposed to be a preliminary test, just to get an idea ofwhere to go with her during the rest of the examinations. Not really a lot of time now to go deeper with her.” It was kind of annoying me that they were talking like I wasn’t there, but I didn’t quite know what to say to interject myself into the conversation.

    “Other examinations?” I asked, a bit hesitantly. I wasn’t completely sure if that was a good idea. I didn’t want, for now at least, what I was to become common knowledge. I knew, was certain that would lead to more problems than it would solve.

    “Nothing invasive or that hindering Ms. Hebert,” said Katherine, or was it Dr. something? I didn’t know her last name. “Just a series of tests similar to this one, in addition to a medical examination, nothing to be really all that concerned with. It’s to try and help see where you fit best on the Wards teams of Los Angeles.”

    “There’s more than one? More than one team?”

    “Ah yes,” responded Katherine, “but I’ll leave that to Vantage to explain, that’s more his place. Now, let’s use the rest of our time to get a better idea of how far you can stretch your abilities.”

    She pointed towards a line of mannequins on the other side of the room. “See the one on the far right? Try moving it.”

    I concentrated on that action.

    Moving a target.

    In moments parts of me lit up and a rush of energy filled me, their combination forming the desired result. I pointed at the target with my forefinger. My finger and the figure gained a soft blue aura as I felt a link of some sorts form between the tip of my finger and the mannequin. I moved my finger slightly upwards and the figure imitated it perfectly, amplified across the distance. I flicked it to the side and the mannequin followed, crashing through a row of identical mannequins.

    I flicked my finger again and the figure crashed into the floor, grinding itself against the concrete when it found it couldn’t move any further. I chuckled.

    I flicked it to the side again. Then upwards. I laughed, a real open laugh.

    Awesome.

    It felt so good using my powers. Like I was expressing myself in a way I couldn’t before. Which was silly when I thought about it, but in the same way made sense. I was mypowers, they were formed together as me, it was natural that I would feel an emotional connection to them. I looked back at the two scientists. Katherine was smiling slightly, while Mark looked exasperated, what I was quickly assuming was his default expression. I released the figure and let it fall to the floor. I saw that Vantage had his hand to his ear, and was nodding. Listening in an earpiece maybe? I turned my attention back to the scientists.

    “Once again, Ms. Hebert, you perform above and beyond the call of duty,” said Mark. “But I suppose that works,” he checked a small box he had drawn. He had several more on his papers. Different categories of he was looking for? “Now try something different. Try, hmm, making a force field.”

    A force field? A chunk of shards lit up. Yeah I could do that. Almost like it was second nature I concentrated on that idea and pulled the energy from three separate places. A wave of my hands and an instant later a light green bubble roughly thirty feet across hung in front of me. It glowed softly and distorted what was behind it. I felt that surge of energy flowing through me again. Feeling more alive than I ever had before. I let the bubble fade.

    Mark nodded, “Good, good. We already know you can fly, but what about a beam, or laser of some sort? Keep it smallish if you can, and aim for that target.” He gestured towards a red circle on the far wall about ten feet wide. It had a few divots in it, and scorch marks abounded across its surface.

    I focused again, pushing the idea to the forefront of my mind, a blast, and fired the effect.

    Keep it small. Keep it controlled.

    A thin beam of brilliant blue light speared from my fist expanding as it did. It impacted the wall, and passed through with next to no resistance. A plume of dust flung itself off the target filling that half of the room. Alarmed, I cut it off instantly. The soundless light vanished as fast as it had appeared. I swayed slightly.

    I had felt that one. The rush of power was greater than any of the others had been, but I felt oddly winded? Like I had just run up a set of stairs and needed to catch my breath. Katherine and Mark’s eyebrows were raised and Vantage wasn’t leaning on the wall anymore but was moving over to where the three of us stood. He didn't look as relaxed anymore.

    It’s so quiet too. It shouldn’t be that quiet if it’s that dangerous.

    The first thing I noticed once the dust cleared away was that I had missed the center of the target. There was a hole eclipsing the left side of the target, gouged nearly two feet into the wall. I could see steel in parts of the upper and lower sections, had I broken a support beam? It luckily hadn’t been used long enough to break through to the other side. A small blessing.

    Katherine cleared her throat, looking concerned.

    “Well that was…something. Judging from the dust, it looked like some sort of disintegration beam, we'll review the tapes. But we did say to try to keep it small Ms. Hebert. That didn’t look all that small.”

    “No I was – that was supposed to be small,” I felt the shards that had fired. I could only get the surface details, but it seemed to be a fixed cost for any size of beam. The size I had used…

    “I think it was small.”

    “Well isn’t that ominous.” I turned back towards the group, the two scientists plus Vantage. I had been looking at them without looking at them again. Mark kept speaking, “I would recommend not using that power often Ms. Hebert, or at least not indoors, or you’ll probably end up bringing the whole structure down on your head.” He sighed, “I wish we had more time to work here. Trump powers are often the most interesting powers, so much variety.” He jotted down another note, “try to do something freeform, a less direct effect,” he snapped his fingers, “teleportation. Try for that.”

    He had more? He did. Only half of his boxes were filled in. “Where should I go?”

    “Just there,” he pointed at one of the lines on the floor. “Try to land on the line.”

    As soon as I focused on the idea of teleporting the shard for tearing came up, forcing itself to the forefront of my attention. That was a nice coincidence, to have one of my few independent shards have an ability like teleporting. I used it, focusing on moving from here to the line and then…

    There was a pulling sensation, a slowing like I was being dragged through water, a flash of light, and I was standing on the line. I felt dizzy, winded again. It was fading, slowly, but I could tell using more power wouldn’t feel good anymore. I felt another power working inside me. My feeder power. I frowned, ignoring the scientists for a moment, they were saying something, but that wasn’t important at the moment.

    My feeder power, the one that caused thunder crashes and made chunks of matter vanish was going off. It was consuming things. I could feel it. But...

    Nothing was happening. I could see in a complete radius around myself. Nothing was being consumed, but everything inside me was telling me that it was. It was a contradiction. A strange one at that. I welcomed the energy flowing into me, in moments I felt fine, then more than fine. Physically at least. Mentally I was very confused. Everything I could glean from the feeder power told me it couldn’t act that far from my body, not nearly far enough to be out of sight. Yet it clearly was.

    Someone said something.

    “Hmm? What?”

    “You zone out like that a lot? It was kinda freaky,” asked Vantage, who was suddenly standing directly in front of me. When had he gotten there?

    “It’s just my powers, I was, well, just,” I paused searching for the words, what would let me explain myself without explaining myself. Instead I allowed my social power to engage. Everything became so much clearer. His words, his posture, the radiations coming off his shard. He was worried that my powers were affecting my mentality, that I was potentially disconnecting from the world the more I used them. The words came easily now.

    “Just looking for the one that powered my teleportation, just trying to get a good handle on it.” I felt myself grinning, my mouth moving almost unconsciously, “I have it now, it just takes a little time to get a good handle on a new power.”

    “Oh, it…well as long as you’re fine –“

    “I am, I’m perfectly fine,” my power suggested the motions, the actions I should take. A slight adjustment to my stance here, a bit of inflection there, and the understanding was achieved.

    Vantage nodded. “Yeah, looks like you are. I just got a little worried.” I switched the social power off, and blinked as he suddenly looked…he looked...

    I couldn’t tell.

    I was momentarily confused, was he angry? Happy? The moment passed

    No. He looks calm. He’s...he’s not angry.

    “Ms. Hebert?” asked Katherine. I turned to face her. “We have just one more thing to try out. We’d like you to try to shape shift, change your form in some way. Can you do that?”

    Last one huh? I focused on changing myself, changing my body and received the answer in moments, by a section of shards lighting up. “Yeah, I can.”

    “Go ahead then, whenever you’re ready,” I noticed that the three of them took a small step back. I didn't blame them after my mutilation of the wall. I nodded to the group andreached down into myself. I could shape shift but the options were limited. It seemed like the shards that had responded when I’d focused on shape shifting, on change and growth, were already occupied with something. I couldn't tell what. The ones that weren’t occupied refused to be mixed, leaving me with a little under ten options. I chose one at random, one focusing on protection, letting the effect take hold.

    My skin crystallized, becoming smooth layers surrounding my body and head. It formed itself around my t-shirt and jeans, sliding over like a kind of armor plating slipping aroundme from...somewhere. It jutted out in places, at my elbows, at my knees, but the rest of it was smooth and reflective. It swept up in some sections, bulked up in others, forming symmetrical ridges and bumps until I was wearing what looked like suit of pale blue crystalline armor. My face was frozen in a neutral expression on the front of the helmet, unblinking.

    Even stranger, I could feel it. It felt like my skin would and it didn’t impede my vision, despite having no holes for eyes. I flexed my hand and raised my clawed arm, noting how the crystal restructured itself with my movements. I could feel the power working, the energy flowing through my body.

    I thought the other stuff was cool. But this? This is fucking amazing.

    “Wow.” The words were sort of echoed rather than spoken, reverberating through the outer layer of crystal. I turned my arm over, admiring the way it reflected and refracted the light. “This is awesome.”

    Vantage stepped forward, rapping on the shoulder with his knuckles. It made a sort of hollow echo. “Nice, pretty solid. Looks cool too.”

    “Thanks.”

    “Very interesting, very interesting indeed, similar too...” muttered Mark. He was flipping through papers, looking for one. He frowned when he came to the end, “must have left it in my office.”

    Katherine leaned in a little closer, examining the points and edges of the armor, where it turned slightly transparent. “This looks almost…crystalline? There’s a definite pattern here.” She pointed at one of the tapering edges coming off my shoulders.

    “I think it is. Crystal, I mean.”

    “Did your power tell you that?” She flicked the edge of the armor and it released a small pinging sound.

    “Yeah, it gives me some information on how different abilities work. With this one,” I raised my hand again watching as the crystals rearranged themselves around the body, allowing motion and retaining solidity, “I could tell what it was made of. I can kind of tell how strong it is too, or I feel like I’d be able to tell if I had to.” She nodded. Vantage gestured to her, gesturing with his head towards the door.

    “Well we could probably do this all day, but you do have others things to get to and we have a few experiments to design. It isn’t everyday we get to work with a high level Trump after all.” She turned back to Mark, “What do you think? 8?”

    “Probably 8, based off today's demonstration, maybe 9 given what she did to her school. We’ll figure out the exact rating later. Is she going to swap with her father? Move to the other testing room?”

    Another reference to my trigger event, and I was certain, in the same way I'd been all day, that if I asked they wouldn’t explain it to me. This was getting absurd.

    “Nah, he screwed up the scales. Melted them or something,” said Vantage, tapping his earpiece. "Got word over the radio."

    Wait. What?

    “Dad did what?” I asked. Mark and Katherine looked equally surprised.

    “Melted a hole through one of the brute scales."

    "Why on Earth would he do that?" asked Mark.

    "Apparently his powers sort went a bit haywire or something. They’ve placed him as a Trump too, which makes sense given your powers," responded Vantage.

    I tried to furrow my brow before I realized that my facial expressions were rather unreadable at the moment and it was a wasted effort. “Why does that matter? My powers in relation to his?" The two scientists had traded notes and it looked like they were arguing over their contents rather passionately. In a language I didn't understand of course.

    "Also, can I change back now?” I asked, waving at the arguing couple. As cool as it felt to have living crystal skin it was a bit strange to see my face so unchanging. I wasn't totally comfortable with that.

    "Uh, yes. Go ahead Ms. Hebert, we're done for now anyway," answered Mark, before turning back Katherine and resume their multi-lingual discussion. It looked like it was becoming rather heated.

    I shrugged and released my power.

    I was a bit surprised when instead of receding or cracking, the armor simply vanished, like it had never been there in the first place. My clothes looked oddly stretched and pressed and a few inches on the cuffs of my jeans seemed to be missing. I squinted at the bright light of the testing room, which was strange given how my vision hadn’tseemed to change inside the armor. Were my sensory powers not related to my eyes?

    Vantage, to his credit, was hardly phased by the sudden change in my appearance and merely continued his explanation. “Well the general trend with powers is that families share themes, if you will. Did you ever hear of New Wave?”

    I nodded, feeling my hair. Interestingly enough it hadn’t been deformed from the armor and looked exactly like it had before. I mean exactly. Odd. “Yeah, they were the public team of capes in Brockton Bay.”

    “Well they all had –“ he checked his watch, “walk with me, we've got ten minutes to get to our next stop, I’ll tell you on the way.” He began to walk towards the doors; I followed after him. “See they all had a theme of powers. Force fields, lasers, and flight, most of the time. This isn’t an isolated thing either; it’s pretty common. Families with capes in them usually share a sort of theme to your powers. Your ‘theme’ seems to be something along the lines of energy fueled Trumps.”

    I nodded, that made sense, when a shard split off and reproduced itself it would link to someone close to the original and it would have a similar power set. Altered, of course, to give the cycle more opportunities to experiment and acquire information. So to describe families as having a theme…would be…how the hell did I know that? What cycle?

    I waited for more information to emerge, to give me another brain-blast of knowledge.

    Nothing came.

    That's annoying.

    We came to the door and it slid open with a slight hiss, revealing the hallway.

    “See these lines?” asked Vantage.

    I nodded again. A series of lines were painted on the wall and floor, leading down the corridor and branching off at its intersections.

    He continued. “The orange one takes you to the Wards wing of the base, which is where we’re going after out first stop. The blue, red, and purple, take you to the Protectorate bunks, the Command Center, and PRT wing respectively. We might go to the C.C. later, I'm not sure yet. Green is where we are right now, the testing wing. This is the place for any spars or examinations. Finally, the white line leads down to the public area and some conference rooms.”

    “After that each wing has a numbering schematic. The large the number the closer it is to the center of the base, the smaller the number the closer it is to the end of the wing. The exceptions for this are the white wing, the public area, where it runs backwards and the PRT wing who use letters in combination with numbers. A-D after a room number means offices and the rest of the alphabet indicate anything from storerooms to meeting rooms to armories. Got all that?”

    Surprisingly I did. I thought back and noticed I remembered everything since I had woken up. Where people had been standing, their exact words, what each of the shards I had been able to examine did.

    That has to be a power. My memory wasn’t that good before.

    “Yep. Got it," I replied.

    “Really?” He looked skeptical. I nodded. “Well, we’ll see. We’re headed to the PRT wing to fill out some truly exciting paperwork." He gestured with one silver gloved hand, "Lead the way rookie.”


    ∞∞∞


    George exhaled slowly, letting the cigar smoke flow out of his mouth. He tapped it absently in an ashtray, letting the ash fall from the end of his cigar, careful not to let it drop onto his desk or the new file sitting on it. Blackguard put the cigar back in his mouth.

    Another tough cape to deal with. That’s awful timing.

    It really was. He’d probably have to re-organize a wide number of his operations to deal with a cape of this magnitude.

    He flicked through the pages his mole had picked up on the latest member of the Los Angeles team of Wards. They were incomplete, missing whole sections of data and observations, several theories and predictions missing entirely. The method that his mole used wasn’t all that reliable over long distances. Sometimes whole reports simply came back blank. Blackguard shrugged.

    The price you pay for security.

    I know. I know.

    Already this one was looking like she could be a major problem in the future. He flicked through to the last page, the one with the summary of the girl’s power set, and, more importantly, her rating. Ratings were useful. It was nice to be able to apply a numerical scale to unknowns. He already had a sinking suspicion as to what it would be.

    ...Well damn.

    Trump 8-9. 10 seemed to be on the table. He kept reading. Already the initial theories placed her as a Trump who could potentially rival the Triumvirate. It was likely premature, likely an exaggeration, but it would pay to be careful with her. He could already think of a myriad of problems a heavy hitter like her could cause. When word got out about her presence, the “Monster of Brockton Bay”, in Los Angeles there would very likely be a drop in morale among many of his…staff. Which would in turn hurt his production and operations. Without even doing anything she would likely be problematic. He closed the file, his reading complete.

    But in the end that was all. If all of this was true she was merely problematic. Not dangerous. Annoying. A pest. At the moment.

    At the moment she was just another cape, another person with too much power and too little in the way of brains. Sure, she had an impressive array of abilities, but hers weren’t really anything that could directly compete with his. Not in the way he operated. All in all, the situation was still well in the hand of the status quo.

    For now.

    George stretched as he stood up from his desk, his back popping slightly. He grimaced.

    I’m getting old, too old for this.

    Indeed I am.

    He had been an active parahuman since the eighties when he first appeared as Blackguard. He had been past middle-aged then. He was almost eighty-four now. George’s joints ached and creaked and his strength was slowly leaving him as liver spots moved in. His hair, the traitorous fibers they were, had already deserted him. He moved over to the window, leaning on his cane as his left leg reminded him of his disastrous first night as a parahuman.

    He chuckled as he thought back on it.

    Of all the people to run into during a hold-up he had to run into Alexandria. On her first night out too. She wore white back then, like him, didn’t hold back as much either. His leg never was the same after that encounter, neither was his hand. He could have healed them, he had two capes with powers that promoted healing and regeneration, but he didn’t. They were a reminder of his weaknesses.

    And his strengths.

    He inhaled; relishing the way the brown of the cigar burned and turned to ash. He loved that, the visual. He breathed out slowly. His penthouse provided him with a marvelous view of the city as well as the local Protectorate base. The citadel of his foes.

    It was, in his opinion, the best part about this apartment. He liked, no loved, to observe the base, to catch a view of his life-long enemy flying out to do battle with another one of his ghosts. He loved that he could literally watch his hoodwinking of a self-professed genius, over and over again. He had enjoyed that particular sight just this morning. He exhaled again, smoke drifting out of his mouth at a lazy pace.

    I really should stop smoking one of these days.

    Tough. He shifted slightly, admiring the view, the way the sun reflected off the water of the ocean and the glass of the city. A million glittering mirrors. Beautiful.

    I should retire too.

    His grin widened. He should do a lot of things, didn’t mean he did them. He twirled his cigar in his thin fingers.

    Fighting Alexandria and capes like her directly was pointless. It was like trying to hold back the tide with a net or nailing warm pudding to a tree. He’d learned that over his many years. Nonsensical and pointless. Many capes had disagreed with him, saying that she and capes like her weren’t invincible, weren’t unbeatable, that given careful planning and a bit of luck she could be caught, killed even. Most of them were either in prison, working for him, or dead.

    But really? What had they hoped to accomplish?

    Did they not believe that her allies would avenge her, or rescue her? Even if they even could manage to trap Alexandria or even kill her, could they do the same to Eidolon or Legend?

    No, was the most likely answer. Their powers were too diverse, too different to have a single tactic work on all three of them. Alexandria could throw Endbringers, Legend would melt through near anything you threw at him, and Eidolon, well, he was Eidolon.

    Even if they were killed or captured, what of the Endbringers? Who would organize and lead the fight against them? Dragon? Narwhal? Chevalier? Perhaps. But if the Triumvirate lost that sense of invincibility, of immortality, morale would plummet and even the greatest tinker and force-field wielder couldn’t instantly replace any of the Triumvirate. Hope would be lost.

    That can't happen.

    Very true. The Triumvirate and capes like them were a necessary part of the global structure. Too much ill would come, specifically to him, from deposing them. Thinking otherwise was foolish. It would be akin tearing out the structural supports from a building and then hoping the building wouldn’t fall. They were too powerful, too influential. Heroes gained experience over time. They gained allies and friends. They became connected to the state of the world on a deep level and that made them more powerful than any superpower would in the long run.

    The more powerful, the more connected, someone became, the more dangerous and difficult his or her elimination was. He knew that from experience.

    I know what I have to do.

    Indeed. But a new cape, no matter the potential, was still vulnerable. It was best, he thought, looking down at the handwritten file, to tear them out and destroy them before they even had chance to begin their journey.

    He picked up his phone and made a few calls.
  9. Screwball Smug SD Cabalist

    So much win concentrated in one place.
  10. Racheakt Huh...

    what he said.

    Glad to see this continueing. and glad to hear about the incomeing update. You know how much I like this story (what, with my pestering and all) but I'd like to take the opportunity to say it again: This is awesome. You are awesome. And you deserve the likes.:D
  11. Serous +8 GMT

    Thread watched. One of my favourite worm fics.
    trollface2209 and Larekko12 like this.
  12. uju32 Mad Doctor

    Subscribed.
    trollface2209 and Larekko12 like this.
  13. Subscribing to the critical win mass, with promises of more win.
    trollface2209 and Larekko12 like this.
  14. I have nothing to say, other than I love this idea. This fic is great.
    trollface2209 likes this.
  15. Subscribed. I still can't believe that Blackguard basically just thought "meh, i can take her" about Entity!Taylor...

    I wonder if she has access to the Path to Victory shard.
  16. Racheakt Huh...

    It might be one of the really delicate/drained ones. Now, it's not the same one that Zion had, so we don't know how power-intensive it is- but if it is even remotely on the same level of energy use, she won't be using it unless she ends up fighting Zion or Contessa.

    Also, since Contessa exists, she probably dosen't have access. I say 'probably' because it could fall either way, really. We don't understand all the mechanics- Eden could understand and 'touch' the PtV shard even after she'd lost it, manipulate how it worked, ect.

    So... I guess it'd be a 'maybe'?

    Tough call.

    ...

    I wonder what it'd be like to see Taylor end up in Caulron's basement, personally. Her reaction and whatnot.

    Also, would she be able to re-absorb Eden's body? Big questions, these.
    trollface2209 and TheQuote like this.
  17. Heart of the Star Die by the sword

    It's implied that she already has in some way connected with Edens body as she now no longer considers her body as "her body" on an instinctive level. This suggests that she has another body of some kind.
  18. Racheakt Huh...

    True. Like I said, it's not entirely clear what her connection to all the other shards is/how it works (and since the other shards comprise her 'Eden' Body...).

    Yeah. I was just pointing out that those questions will be asked. At the very least, Doctor Mother might be noticeing odd activity from Eden's corpse.

    ...

    Also, I just realized that Propogation has some interesting parrallels with Jenova from FFVII.

    1. Space critter that crashed onto the planet.

    2. Monster, and arguably one of the 'behind the curtain' antagonists, despite being 'dead'.

    3. Powers used by both the good guys and bad guys.

    4. Maintains some influence over the factions involved in the story through said powers.

    5. Her head got cut off and may-or-may-not still be 'alive' and aware, despite that... maybe, in a way.

    ...

    ...It awaits to be seen if the protagonist gets mind-raped by Jenova Eden this time, however.

    [EDIT]: Well, in theory. We still don't know if it is Eden influenceing Taylor or if it's just haveing that many shards doing it.
  19. Endymion An Operator will be with you shortly.

    As I said over in the Worms Idea thread, poor poor Blackguard. The genre savvy is lacking in him indeed.
    trollface2209 likes this.
  20. Atlan Solidarity

    Meh, he can take her :D
  21. LastChronicler Solidarity

    This has all my likes.

    Also, it's laughable that Blackguard considers that trying to fuck with a Trump 8-9 who shows early signs of being Triumvirate level, directly or indirectly, is smarter than just packing up shop, moving cities and cutting his losses.
    trollface2209 likes this.
  22. Endymion An Operator will be with you shortly.

    Exactly. :cool:
    trollface2209 likes this.
  23. Especially after almost getting a peg leg while fighting a young and inexperienced Alexandria.
    ShadowCub and trollface2209 like this.
  24. Inverness Masochistic Murder-Angel

  25. Yog

    Rather, from what I understand, Eden sent her core shard to Taylor. After said shard connected, it started an emergency expansion, becoming Taylor's real body. I.e. Eden's body and Taylor's body are two separate things, similar in nature, but distinct from each other.
    trollface2209 likes this.

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