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A Helping Hand

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Jun 17, 2011

When I woke up this morning I wasn't exactly expecting this to be a good day. But finding out my boss was plotting to kill me and then getting stabbed in the shoulder was still a bit worse than I expected.

To be fair though, I was plotting to take him down and the stabbing actually didn't turn out too badly. Especially since I was coming back to my territory alongside the one who stabbed me.

Or did that make it worse?

I cast my mind out into my swarm to dull the pain and tried to stand straight and not show any signs of my injury as we walked back in, tempting as it was to lean on Atlas.

Or would that hurt more?

I had sent Sierra a message that we were coming and to let Amy know, but I should have thought to give Amy her own phone earlier. I needed to make sure to remember so she could be ready if I came back with an injury next time.

As it was now, Parian and her half-dozen remaining people she had disguised in their motley rags were drawing a lot of stares as they followed me, -more than I usually got anyway- so I had a feeling she would know soon if she didn't already.

I wondered how much more intent those stares would be if Flechette were in her usual costume and not disguised among Parian's people.

Flechette and Parian themselves were throwing some wary looks over my people and territory, so at least the suspicious staring wasn't just one-sided.

Sure enough we had hardly made it two blocks when she showed up.

"T- Skitter! What happened!?" Amy cried as she reached us, before stopping and giving the people with me a wary look.

"Panacea?" Parian said, disbelieving as she stepped closer. "She wasn't lying; you are here. Why?"

Amy looked to the other cape in the cracked porcelain mask, messy blonde wig and dirty,  blood-stained dress. "Because...Because I don't have anywhere else to go."

The figure disguised in what looked like an old patterned tablecloth sewn into a onepiece suit, that I knew to be Flechette, stepped forward.

"What about the Protectorate?" She asked. "You know they'd love to have you with them."

Amy narrowed her eyes as she edged closer to me. "I don't trust them. And...I know they won't trust me anymore either."

"But you trust her?" Parian said incredulously, gesturing to me.

I was a little insulted, but it seemed better to let this play out without saying anything. Plus, I was still in a lot of pain, and was still trying to focus on not falling over.

Amy stood her ground tilting her chin up stubbornly and pulling herself up to her full, still not very tall, height. "Yes, I do. After I went on the run from the Nine, everyone was hunting me. She's the only one who actually seemed to be trying to find me because she cared rather than because I'm 'the healer'. She's the only one who actually let me choose what I wanted to do." I winced as she began to examine the spike in my shoulder and she frowned.

"Are you sure this wasn't just her Thinker 7 teammate telling her what to say to you to get you right where you are now?" Flechette shot back.

That gave Amy pause for a moment as she stared at my shoulder silently, before glaring up at Flechette. "Even if she was...actions speak louder than words, and she has treated me better than my family or the Protectorate ever did, Flechette. Now please come remove the spike you fused to my...To Skitter's bone."

Flechette took a step back in surprise as Amy recognized her, before she got her bearings back. "She's a criminal, Panacea! She's trying to take over the city; of course she would try to get you on her side. The Protectorate already took in your sister and I'm sure she would-" she cut off as she saw Amy freeze up, eyes wide.

"How...How is Vicky doing?" Her voice came out smaller than I had heard it in days.

"She's recovering, but she won't tell us what happened." Flechette glanced at me. "Did she-"

"No!" Amy interrupted her immediately. "She didn't do anything to Victoria. She saved her from Crawler so I could heal her. She has nothing to do with this."

I could feel my shoulder and arm going numb and losing feeling, and I gave a sigh of relief. I guess Amy realized Flechette wouldn't be taking the spike out any time soon and decided to save me the pain. A small handful of bugs flew over at my command to land on Amy's hand that rested on my shoulder, in case she needed the materials. She seemed to get the message, as I could feel them start sort of 'melting down' as she started healing my shoulder.

The others seemed disturbed by this, and Flechette seemed ready to say something else, but Parian stepped forward first. "This isn't what we came here for. Skitter said you could help my people?"

There was a clatter as the spike was pushed from my shoulder and fell to the ground. I shuddered and winced, even though I couldn't feel it, just knowing what was happening in my shoulder. Bugs being mushed down to replace bone and flesh…

I focused back on the conversation and cut in before Amy could get the wrong idea. "I didn't say she would. I said you could ask her. It's her choice."

Flechette rolled her eyes, but Amy seemed to relax a bit, getting her confidence back. "I might be able to. I'd need to examine them first and see what's wrong."

"The Nine." Parian said, making Amy and the others stiffen.

I could sense people starting to gather around where we were talking in the road, and sighed as the hole in my shoulder sealed and feeling returned to my arm. "We should...go talk about this somewhere more private."

I didn't trust Flechette in my base, so I led all of them to an empty building a block away that my people had finished basic repairs on but hadn't been cleared for people to move in yet. It would be safe and empty enough for us to talk. Once we were all inside they stopped in what might once have been a living room. Everyone eyed each other warily, waiting for someone to make the first move.

"Before we do this," Parian started, "what do you want in return?"

I sighed. I just wanted to help, but they kept expecting the worst. "We just-"

"Leave us alone."

Everyone turned to Amy at her outburst.

"What?" Flechette asked, confused.

"I want you to leave us alone," Amy clarified, staring back intently. "Parian, Flechette and the Protectorate. Stay out of our business.”

“Fine,” Parian responded immediately.

Flechette’s head snapped back and forth between the two rapidly, “Wait, we’re not just going to let you go. And I don’t speak for the Protectorate; I can’t make any promise like that!”

Parian turned back to Flechette, “Please, Flechette!”

I tried to cut in, but Amy overrode me again.

“Just you then Parian. If I help your people then you stay out of our way.” She spoke firmly, her eyebrows pulled down in a glare. She had been so meek since joining me, I was surprised to see her acting like this.

“I was going to offer for you to join us, but she might be right.” I sighed and crossed my arms. “It might be best for you and your people to just leave the city, Parian.” Amy looked at me confused, before turning her glare back on the others.

“What?” Parian said. “You want me to just…” She looked back at her people, in their filthy rag costumes, then at Flechette, then turned back to us with her head hanging. “Fine. Yes, just...please help them.”

I saw Flechette’s eyes widen, but she didn’t say anything as Amy walked over to start examining Parian’s people. She took their hands in turn, and I could feel her shake a little, through the bugs I had on her. Something about what her powers showed her scared her, I could tell. I wanted to comfort her, but I didn’t think anything I could do with my bugs could help, and I didn’t want to undermine her by doing anything more obvious.

“It’s mostly superficial.” Amy said, shakily. “Skin deep, muscle in some places. But...extensive. I’ll need more material to fix the...the legs on one of them.” She gestured to the short girl in the skintight flannel suit that covered everything but her mismatched green and blue eyes. “She was made...shorter, to look more like Bonesaw. I can definitely fix them though.”

I heard Parian give a sigh of relief. “Thank you. Thank you Panacea.”

“It’s Amy,” she replied sternly. “As long as you hold up her side of the bargain.”

“We will…”

I wanted to check on my territory, since I hadn’t had a chance since we got back, but I didn’t want to leave Amy alone with them; so I started gathering my swarms throughout my territory and sent Sierra a message to bring me some equipment I had prepared. I broke off a small part of the swarm to send into Amy’s expectant hand for material and kept the rest

A short time later Sierra arrived with my laptop and security equipment, and I gathered the components from the bag, using my bugs to draw them out and airlift the miniature cameras, microphones and transmitters into the air.  One by one, I turned them on and used the laptop to connect to them.  I clicked through each camera in turn, making their feeds the focus of the main window.

Using my bugs, I drew humanoid forms around each set.  It wasn’t as intuitive as I was forced to use my own eyes to assess the accuracy.  Still, I managed to rearrange each until they vaguely resembled me.  The others watched what I was doing, seeming a little disturbed or afraid. I was happy to see that Amy seemed more curious than anything else, at least, as I marched the figures back out into the street.

I felt bad about leaving my territory as often as I had been.  People were spooked, scared and insecure.  Having a leadership figure that was never around wasn’t helping matters.

This would, I hoped, establish a kind of presence that had been lacking.

Sierra had been coordinating everyone, trying to put people with experience in charge of people who were lacking it.  It was interesting, trying to hold multiple conversations at once with the various project leaders.  Difficult, too.  For one thing, my speech with my swarms was somewhat lacking, missing consonants, but I could still make myself more or less understood.  For another, my ears could only process one thing at a time.  I managed by talking with one or more swarm-clones while listening with one at a time.  After too many misfires and moments of confusion, I scaled down my efforts to a single conversation at once, simply standing silently by with my other selves.

“Done,” Amy announced, some time later. I had lost track of time, but it had to have been at least half an hour to an hour. Still impressive for what she had done. I couldn’t see much through the costumes Parian had made for them, but the short girl was now much taller and her eyes had returned to their, no doubt, original green color from the mismatched colors Bonesaw had made them. And if nothing else, the gratitude they were showering Amy with showed me how well she had done. She seemed uncomfortable with it and hurried back to my side.

Parian rushed over to check on her people and I could feel her shaking as the murmured reassurances to her. Flechette just stared at Amy and me all the while.

“Everything...Everything is fixed now then?” Parian asked with a slight quaver to her voice, turning back to us.

“Yes,” Amy replied simply. “You can go now.”

She just nodded. “I...I kind of hate you both for putting me in this position. But...thank you.” I didn’t know how to reply to that, and it seemed Amy didn’t either, as we both stayed silent as Parian gathered her people and left.

Flechette watched us for a moment before following after them. I heard her murmuring, “…to New York City.  I’ll be finished here in two weeks…”

Once I was sure they were out of earshot, I quietly spoke, “You didn’t have to do that you know. I’m sorry if you thought I was putting you on the spot like that.”

“You were was the right thing to do,” she replied softly, not looking at me. “I know I didn’t have to do it, but...fixing what Bonesaw did, it helps me feel like I’m doing something to make up for what I did wrong. I’m not like her.”

I put a hand on her shoulder and she froze. “You aren’t. You had plenty of chances to go over to their side, but you didn’t. You’re here. Helping people.”

“Thank you…” She put a hand on mine on her shoulder. It felt strange and I looked down. Her left hand, with half the pinky and ring finger missing from Siberian. It should look ugly but instead it was just a...reminder, of what we’d been through. We all had our scars. Some, more visible than others; though Amy was able to cover some of our more visible ones, like Lisa’s scarred mouth. But not her own.

I remembered Brian, strung up in that freezer, and how subdued he has been since.

I pulled my hand back awkwardly and turned to leave. “We should go get some lunch. Then..” I sighed. Never a dull moment. “I have to go again. Coil has another job for me. One that Tattletale told me he doesn’t plan for me to come back from.”