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A Helping Hand

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Amy

Jun 18, 2011

Once again I found myself struggling to sleep. Taylor seemed to be doing that to me a lot lately, but I wasn’t going to complain right now. While I had originally been happy when Taylor accepted my slip up and decided to keep it, it bothered me more and more over time. It really was for the best that she had asked me to change her back. And after our talk things were...really nice. If a little awkward.

And now I was struggling to keep myself from freaking out as I felt her arms slip around me from behind. She was asleep; I knew she was since I could read her plain as day as she wrapped her arm around me. She would never do this while she was awake, especially now that I had changed her back to normal.

Right?

For now, I could just enjoy it while it lasted. It was warm. Comfortable. I felt safer than I had in weeks; if not months, or years. Eventually I managed to settle my mind and relax enough to drift off…

How can a night go so well, and yet so poorly?

I woke to a steadily growing buzz of angry bugs swirling in the room and Taylor sitting stiffly on the bed.

"Taylor?" I spoke cautiously, but she still jumped a little at my voice. "What's wrong?"

"He has my Dad," she answered, shaking. "Coil. He took him. Why didn't I spare some relay bugs to watch him? I couldn't watch the base and him, but I should have known Coil would pull something like this. I just...I wasn't even thinking about my dad. How could I forget him!?"

“He…” My breath caught in my throat. Coil took her dad? She had told me about him and what he had done, but it never hit me so directly. I’d never seen it. I just stayed here in her territory, safe. “It’s not your fault Taylor.” I shifted closer on the bed to sit with her and put a hand on her shoulder. “You couldn’t have known what he would do.”

“I should have!” She suddenly shouted, shooting to her feet, the bugs swirling around her in chaotic patterns. “It’s just the kind of thing he would have done. Amy…” She rounded on me suddenly; her posture intense and her face hidden behind the swarm. “I was trying to avoid asking you for anything. I didn’t want to push you so early-”

“It’s fine!” I cut her off immediately. She needed me right now, and I wasn’t about to turn her down. “Whatever you need, just ask. We’ll stop Coil and get your dad back.”

“I need all the relay bugs you can make me. I need to see everything in this city. I am going to find Coil and my dad.” She didn’t hesitate. Now that she knew I would help she wouldn’t hold back, I knew. But I didn’t mind. Not for something so important.

“I will.” I put out my hands and bugs instantly began landing on them for me to change. “We’ll find them.”

x

Taylor

We arrived at the above ground access for Coil's base. Though I supposed it was Tattletale's now, since she had taken it over after I drove Coil out.

Amy let go of me so I could hop off Atlas' back before giving her a hand down. He had only been designed for one rider so she had been clinging tightly to my back the whole way here, even after expanding the 'seat' a bit to make room. I tried to not think too hard about how nice it felt to have someone hold onto me like that. Even after everything I had been through it seemed I still craved human contact. Maybe even because of what I had been through. 

Two of my clone bugs landed behind us, filled out with smaller bugs to give the impression that they might be me. I wasn't expecting trouble, but I still sent one in ahead of us as we entered the base. It was uncanny how well I could emulate my appearance with Amy’s creation. Much as I hated to admit it, her power really was useful on a completely different level. 

As we passed through the halls and reached the main room some of the mercenaries would glance up at us, looking us over before going back to what they were doing. A few of them gave Amy a brief lingering look of wariness at the sleeves of bugs she was still cycling through as she completed her modifications. I could tell they knew about the change in leadership already, but I still had to be careful. If they could be bought once they could be bought again.

Finally, I recognized a pair of the mercenaries; a tall blond man with a long face, next to a big burly guy with a beard. I made my way over to them.

“Minor and Jaw, right?” I asked. I remembered Tattletale introducing us when we went with them to infiltrate the Merchants. Minor was one of her top Captains. One she trusted.

The pair straightened up as I called their names. The blond, Minor, looked at me. “Skitter.” I wasn’t sure if he recognized me as the girl from that job, or just as Skitter, but it didn’t matter.

“Where’s the girl? Dinah?” First things first. As much as I hated what triggered this sudden war with Coil, and how…messy things had gotten, this was the one good thing that came out of it. I’d waited so long to free her, I wasn’t going to wait another second now that I had the chance.

“She’s with the new boss in the meeting room,” Minor replied. “Come on.” He waved for us to follow, and Jaw just gave me a friendly grin and a nod as we turned to leave.

Coil’s base was a maze of twists and turns. A couple minutes of being led through the same concrete halls we stood before another innocuous metal door, but my bugs could sense the figures beyond. And one of them…

Minor pushed the door open ahead of us and there she was. A small, sickly looking girl with messy brown hair was sitting on Tattletale’s lap at the meeting table. She turned her head at our entrance before immediately hopping down. I’d been waiting for this, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I’d imagined this moment since Coil first showed her to us. Before I could give it much thought she was running over and crashed against my side, hugging me. I didn’t need to think about it anymore after that and just slipped my mask off before kneeling down to hug her back.

“Thank you.” Her voice came out like a whisper.

“I’m sorry it took so long,” I said back quickly. I wanted to hug her tighter, but I felt I’d break her. She was so thin.

“It’s okay.” She nodded against my shoulder. “I knew you were trying. The numbers told me you would help.”

“Is this her?” Amy crouched next to us, looking over Dinah’s frail form. I moved the bugs back up to her shoulders to free her hands for the moment.

Dinah turned to her, expression scarily blank. “You’re...Panacea?”

“Yes.” Amy confirmed and held out a hand. “But you can call me Amy. Do you want me to help you feel better?”

“Yes.” I expected her to seem excited or happy, but her expression barely changed as she responded. “I’ve been trying to resist. I need the candy but...I hoped you would come. The numbers kept changing” She put her hand in Amy’s, a small smile tugging at her lips. Like she wanted to be happy, but she wasn’t sure how anymore. “I’m glad they were wrong, things are better this way.” 

I could visibly see the pale, sickly sheen fade from Dinah’s skin as Amy held her hand, eyes closed. Dinah shivered a little and gasped as Amy worked on her, a sheen of sweat forming along her brow. After a few seconds Amy opened her eyes again.

“She’s malnourished, of course, so I don’t have too much extra material to work with, but I flushed the drugs out of her system and tried to balance her nutrition a bit better.” She spoke calmly, probably from all her time at the hospital. She had no doubt worked on both addicts and kids before, though...both at the same time was still probably a first for her, I hoped.  I could tell Amy was more than a little angry, but she was hiding it well. “I...still don’t really know enough about addiction to do anything about that side in the brain, but I got rid of the chemical mess it caused and the physical withdrawal symptoms, which should ease the cravings. Some good food and a few weeks without the drugs and she should be alright.” She gave Dinah a reassuring smile and the smaller girl let go of me to hug Amy as well.

I stood up again, smiling down at the both of them. It was a huge weight off my shoulders to finally have Dinah safe. Amy too, somehow. I didn’t know her well before the Nine showed up, aside from a couple of hostile encounters, and I didn’t feel as responsible for her, but I was still worried. And now they were both safe, here, together.

But it wasn’t over yet.

I finally looked away to take in the rest of the room. The rest of the Undersiders were sitting around the table in the meeting room watching us. Lisa seemed amused, though it quickly faded into curiosity. She sat to one side of the table with Brian, while Aisha, Alec and Rachel sat at the other side just seeming bored. After Coil’s call and the talk with Amy, I contacted the others and we all agreed to meet for an emergency meeting. I hated to leave my people again so soon but...it was an emergency.

As I looked over my team I noticed Brian, slouched over the table. His mask was off and I could see how haggard he looked. Face drawn and bags under his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because he actually hadn’t. I didn’t notice how bad it was at the meeting yesterday, and hadn’t seen him much before that. How much else had I missed while dealing with my own problems? I needed to talk to him but...I couldn’t right now. Amy led Dinah to sit with her near the end of the table as I walked to stand at the head, my expression hardening. It was time for business. He’d have to wait.

“Coil made his move. He took my dad and is trying to use him as a hostage to force me to cooperate.” I put my hands on the table, leaning over it as I started the meeting. Some of my bugs buzzed a little, swirling around the room as I pushed some of my anger into them. I needed to focus and think clearly.

“I’m guessing we’re not going to be doing that though?” Alec replied with his usual casual drawl, throwing his feet up on the table.

“No, we aren’t.” I answered clearly. No time for games. “We’re taking him down. I wanted to make sure everyone is ready and on board. We need to do this right. No more second guessing and no more questions. This ends today.” I looked over everyone, but no one voiced any objections. They'd been waiting for this. "Tattletale, what do you think?"

"Alright!" Her classic fox-grin spread across her face as she stood up, clearly anticipating this moment. "As you've all noticed, this base is ours now. I've been making deals with Coil's captain for weeks, winning loyalty and offering more money; which has been even easier thanks to all the money I've been siphoning from Coil since the bastard ‘recruited’ me. I was planning to wait for a critical moment to flip them on him, but with him running off after just a peek at our hand, it seemed like a good time to grab the little one and take a bunch of his assets away."

"Wait, how long have you been planning this?" Aisha frowned up at her in confusion.

"Pretty much since he threatened me into service," Lisa shrugged and smirked.

"Right, of course." Aisha rolled her eyes.

"Now then, back to the plan. He still has some mercs I couldn't get to and others he bought with more than just money. Things I can't or don't want to provide. Those are the kind of people he has guarding Skitter's dad. The Travellers might be among them since only two of them were still in the base when we took over, so be careful. He's desperate now so he'll be playing dirty, but he doesn't know everything we have either." She nodded to me and I picked up the lead.

"Amy has spent the morning making an entire swarm of relay bugs, along with a few other surprises." I nodded to where she sat to the side, the bugs having spread back over her arms for her to continue changing them. I was impressed by how unbothered she was, being covered in bugs like that. "My range has already spread over most of the city. I'll have full coverage within the next couple hours."

"What if he already left the city?" I was surprised to hear Brian speak up, his voice hoarse as he turned to us.

"He might have in one of his timelines," Tattletale tilted her head a bit in acknowledgment, "but I doubt it. He has always been paranoid, but he is also obsessed. He sees this city as his , and as long as he thinks he still has a chance I don't think he's going to go running just yet. More than that, I think I know where he is probably hiding." She pulled a few folders out of a bag and tossed one to each person. "I've been putting this together for a while now. Since he has broken the unwritten rules again, I don't think it would hurt to do the same." I picked up the folder in front of me and started looking through it. Brian and Aisha did the same, while Rachel mostly just glared at Lisa. Alec picked his up and looked at it without opening it before raising an eyebrow at Lisa.

"I hope you're planning to explain and not expecting me to actually read this?" He said dryly, prompting Lisa to just laugh.

"Not really, it was mostly just for Skitter since I know she’s the only one who would actually read the whole thing. To sum it up, Coil is also known as…" she looked us all over doing a literal drum roll on the table to build suspense. "Thomas Calvert, PRT Consultant."

At the same time I was looking at his profile on the first page of the folder, with the same thing written across the top. Next to it was a picture of a serious looking man with dark skin, thin lips and close-cropped, coarse looking hair. I'm not sure what I expected him to look like, but I guessed that fit as much as anything I might have expected.

The profile went on to give everything from his past as a PRT Trooper, his dishonorable discharge after Ellisburg, his psych profile, everything. She had been working on this a while. I had only skimmed a bit before Rachel finally spoke up.

“The fucker worked for the PRT this whole time?” she nearly growled the words out, making Bastard look up at her from where he lay by her feet.

“Well, they think he does,” Lisa clarified. “They don’t know he’s Coil. His civilian persona is there to gather information. Knowing Coil, he might even be planning to take over after he gets rid of Piggot. But right now? I think he’s probably hiding out there; thinking we wouldn’t go after him and risk a war with the PRT. As long as they think he’s one of them, targeting him would be dangerous. And most importantly, he might be hiding somewhere else in another timeline.”

“One reason why we’re spreading my range over the city.” I cut in again. “Wherever he is, I need to be sure he’s in my range so I can hit him wherever he is at the same time.”

“I...might be able to help with the PRT,” an unexpected voice spoke up, and we all turned to Amy. “I know I’m not really a member but...Assault said he owes me. I can talk to him; tell him about Coil. He might be able to vouch for you during the attack.”

"Well I think that wraps up that issue!" Lisa declared. "I think we have a plan!"

"We do?" Aisha looked up at her, confused.

Lisa was a little ahead of the conversation as always, but I did have the plan set now that Amy had offered us a possible in. I gave her an acknowledging nod before turning back to the rest of the team to lay it out.

"Once my range is far enough I should be able to track down Coil and my dad. We'll plan the strike for noon today, wherever they are, no matter what. That way I'll get him in both his timelines without him getting warning from the other. I'll bring my bugs down in both places, but once we find my dad I want Imp, Regent and Bitch to go help get him out of there. Grue and Tattletale will be with me. Remember, stay out of sight until it's time and watch out for the Travellers." I looked over at Rachel specifically as I continued. "I'd save him myself, but I need to be there when we nail Coil, especially if he is with the PRT. This is really important, and I'm trusting you with this, okay?"

"I'll get him for you." Rachel stared back solidly. Despite our rocky start I knew I could trust her now. I was a part of her pack, and while dad wasn’t one of her’s, she knew he was important to me, and that was enough.

"Thank you. Now," I took a second to relax a little, that issue somewhat resolved, "Coil. Like Tattletale said he's probably hiding with the PRT, so we need to be ready to deal with them. Amy and I will try to talk to Assault first, but Tattletale, Grue and I will be waiting nearby to move in if anything goes wrong. Any questions?" There was a short pause, and then Lisa put up her hand. Of course.

"Two things." She began. "First, hard one. Skitter, you can't react to any move Coil or his people make until we're ready."

"What do you mean?" I turned to her, suddenly wary of what she was about to drop on me.

"Coil is probably going to be doing things in his other timelines to try to make you show your hand; threaten to or actually kill your dad to make you attack and reveal you can see them," she explained. "It's probably what tipped him off the first time in his base. He did something that made you 'have to' put him down, then he closed that timeline and bolted. I know for a fact he’s tortured and killed each of us at least once in one of his throwaways. You just need to remember, he won’t actually kill him and keep the timeline or he’d lose his leverage."

I nodded reluctantly. I didn't like it, but she was right.

“Yeah...so what was your second comment then?” If it was anything like her first- then I caught her smirking.

“Dinah, I’d like to ask you a question.” Lisa asked, smiling. I noticed she specifically didn’t phrase it as a question. It made me wonder if Dinah couldn’t control her power well.

The small girl perked up a bit. “Um, okay.”

“If we follow this plan, what is the chance that Coil will be defeated by the end of the day?” As Lisa asked her question, a small smile spread across Dinah’s face.

“Eighty-seven point three four one percent chance.”

“I like those odds.”

x

We wrapped up the meeting but there were still a couple of hours left until we put the plan into action. I could feel my range slowly expanding as the relay bugs winged their way throughout the city; gaps in my coverage filling in as I spread them out in a searching pattern. It wouldn’t be long until I could see everything. It was like my mind was expanding, I couldn’t help but dwell on the effects this would have on me, being able to see everything within the city in real time. What was I becoming for the sake of this?

“Skitter.” Lisa snapped me from my brooding as we were all filing out of the room. “Could I talk to you and Amy?” I looked at Amy and the others. Amy shrugged as the others just waved and continued their way out. They had to get ready for their side of the mission. Saving my dad.

Once everyone else had left, Lisa walked over and crouched down before Dinah. “I’d like to talk to Skitter and Amy alone for a bit if that’s alright. My friend Minor can watch you in the hall for a bit until we’re done?” Again, a questioning tone, but no direct question.

“I…” Dinah sounded hesitant. Scared maybe; looking between Amy and I.

I sifted through the bugs I had with me and sent a small moth flying over to land on Dinah’s hand.

“Keep this with you,” I told her, trying to give her a reassuring smile. “As long as you have it, I can see you. If anything happens, I’ll keep you safe. No one is going to take you again.”

“Okay…” she gave me a faint smile back, then turned to give Amy a quick hug before hurrying out of the room.

Once she was gone, Lisa closed the door and rounded on Amy and I, crossing her arms.

“So, what's going on with you two now?”

“I know you’re always ahead of everyone else with these things Lisa, but you need to be more specific for the rest of us.” I sighed, a little annoyed at the vagueness.

Lisa just turned her gaze to Amy as she raised a hand to point at me. “She hasn’t looked at my ass once since she got here. What did you do?” My eyes bugged out and I heard Amy start sputtering beside me as Lisa’s smirk widened. “Oh don’t worry, I’m not trying to move in on your territory, it’s a subconscious thing. It was kind of cute, if a little worrying, when your crush on her made you so desperate for her attention you accidentally made my friend start looking at girls like a horny teenage boy. But now she’s changed again, and let’s just say I’m concerned. So I need to know what's going on to make sure there aren't going to be any distractions later. Can’t have anything going wrong when we take down Coil.”

Crush? She mentioned that last time too but was Amy really that interested in me? I thought it was just a momentary thing. A slip up because I reminded her of Victoria or because I was taking care of her or…

I thought about how she acted around me sometimes; all the blushing or going quiet or getting nervous. How she got hostile with Parian or how she seemed so happy when I thanked her for Atlas and the clone bugs.

I thought she was just happy to be appreciated and was nervous about working with villains or awkward around new people. Did she...really think of me that way? I’d never really had anyone show any interest in me like that, so I had never really considered…

I shook my head, trying to push the thoughts away. I couldn’t think about this now. I needed to focus on Coil and my dad. This could wait until after. I had to focus.

“Can’t we talk about this later, Lisa?” I said firmly. “Everything is fine right now.”

“Is it?” She looked between us carefully.

“It’s…” Amy began, nervously. “Victoria came by yesterday. It reminded me of what I did and how scared I was of doing it again and if I could even trust what I did to Taylor before, so Taylor made me change her back to normal to prove she wasn’t just trusting me because I made her…”

Lisa groaned and threw her hands in the air. “I’m thrilled you’re less afraid of your power now but you need to keep your powers and your love life separate. A little tweak here or there for important things might be fine if both of you are fine with it, but if you keep messing with her head like this it’s just going to make Taylor more confused than she already is.”

“She asked me to,” Amy said, unsure. I looked between the two of them, not exactly sure what was going on.

“Of course she did. You couldn’t handle it.” Lisa stared down Amy, almost acting like I wasn’t even here. “You need to decide what you want and who you want to be and commit to it. How do you want things to be between you two? How do you want things to be between you and your family? You and your sister?”

“I...Carol would never take me back now. I can’t go back.”

“That’s not what I asked~!” Lisa sang, advancing on her. “What do you want Taylor to think of you~?”

“Well…” Amy looked at me and blushed a bit before looking away again.

“I thought so,.” Lisa smirked at her again. “Then give her a chance to figure it out without you messing around with her head.”

They were totally ignoring me and it was getting on my nerves.

“I’m right here you know!” I glared at Lisa, but she just looked back curiously.

“Yes, you are, aren’t you,” she said simply. Then she gave me a sly smile and turned to leave. “Still a little over an hour until we need to move out. Make sure you’re ready when the time comes~.” A few moments later the door closed behind her, leaving Amy and I alone.

I looked over to Amy to find her still turned away from me, her cheeks tinged a little pink under her smattering of freckles. The silence dragged for several seconds before I finally broke it.

“Amy…” I saw her flinch at her name. “What was she talking about? Do you really…?”

“I…” She shook her head. “I don’t know, okay? Maybe...It’s only been a few days, and there has been so much going on. You were my enemy a couple weeks ago. But now...You saved me. You’ve been taking care of me. It’s...It’s hard okay?” She finally looked back up again and I saw her eyes were red and watery. “You treat me better than anyone I’ve ever met and see me for me more than anyone ever has. I...how am I supposed to feel about that? I feel safe with you…”

“I’m...not sure what to say to that, Amy,” I admitted. And I wasn’t sure. It was the first time anyone had ever said something like that to me, and it was another girl. With so much craziness going on right now, I couldn’t really put my mind to it. “With Coil, and my dad. I can’t right now. But…” I took her hand in my gloved one and gave what I hoped was a comforting smile. “After this is all settled, we’ll talk okay?”

“Mm...mhm.” Amy mumbled out with a small squeak, her cheeks darkening even more as she looked down. She really was cute. Even not really being attracted to her that way right now, I could tell that. I couldn’t help but feel protective of the girl. She’d put all of her trust into me and I couldn’t help but want to do the same.

Right now though, I had to get down to business.

I gave her hand one last squeeze and what I hoped was a winning smile before letting go, pulling my mask back on and heading for the door.

x

Finally, everything was in place and we were ready to make our move. As my range expanded over the city I recognized the bugs I tagged my dad with down at the south east fringes of the city, in the Shantytown area Regent controlled. It made sense, being the furthest reaches of the city. Coil likely expected my resources to be limited after he managed to slip from my notice, and had spread everything out to restrict my effectiveness. He was about to be in for a surprise. .

That settled, Regent, Bitch and Imp started making their way there, while Tattletale, Grue, Amy and I got ready for our part. Tattletale’s guess was right, and I was able to identify Coil in his Calvert identity at the PRT headquarters. We had already managed to contact Assault by giving him the number for a burner phone with my bugs. He was wary at first, but Amy managed to convince him to give us a chance.

Now it was time.

 

A plague of bugs descended on the PRT headquarters as I walked down the street toward it. I kept a small swarm in my territory and another sent to save my dad, but almost every other bug in Brockton I could gather over the past couple hours was here, bearing down on them. A plague of a scale that could cripple a nation, and it was under my complete control. 

The city’s heroes were gathered in a boardroom for a meeting, alongside Director Piggot and one Thomas Calvert. Assault told us the meeting was planned and helped make sure it was in one of the boardrooms with a window, and that Calvert would be there. I could sense they were all in place as I approached the front entrance.

I made my way toward a side entrance as well.

And the roof.

And the parking garage.

Troopers at the entrances saw me coming and shouted for me to stand down. When I ignored them, they tried containment foam sprayers, only to find them dragged off target with thread to foam their reinforcements. Next they tried containment foam grenades, only for them to be webbed to their hands. The unfortunates who had already primed them were quickly buried in foam.

After that failed, some moved to lethal force and opened fire on me.

The bullets tore through my swarm, but most missed their target as I kept advancing. The me at the side entrance was struck in the torso by one round, but it wasn’t enough to stop me.

I didn’t want to hurt the troopers if I could avoid it and instead resorted to covering their visors in bugs. Blinded, most didn’t want to risk firing their weapons and backed off. The ones that still struggled I buried in more bugs until one of my new ones with the paralysis venom could find an opening to take them down.

I advanced into the building. Thanks to the chaos in the city in recent times, none of the usual tour groups were in the lobby; just guards, receptionists and office workers passing through. The civilians ran at the sight of my bug-covered form walking in, with my swarm pushing in after in a cloud as a blaring klaxon began to sound the alarm. Additional guards went down the same way those at the entrances did. A few wall panels opened and turrets appeared and began firing containment foam, pinning down the me in the lobby, even as I directed the bugs to plug up the turrets’ barrels.

I continued through the building with my other selves, and by now I could sense the heroes beginning to panic. Several rushed out into the hall, beginning to make their way toward me to stop my insurgence. 

Once most had left the room and it was clear those left were staying, I flew in on Atlas and smashed through the huge window covering one wall of the boardroom, a swarm of bugs flowing in after me. Normally it would be reinforced with bulletproof glass, but now it was only plywood and screens. Likely not replaced since Shatterbird’s appearance. It was almost too easy.

Director Piggot still sat at the head of the table in the meeting room, with Calvert standing beside her; an overturned chair near his feet. While some of the heroes had already left to push me back there were still a handful present.

Assault was still here, next to Battery and Miss Militia by the door. Clockblocker quickly moved over near the Director; likely to protect her if I tried something. At the other end of the room Flechette stood near a long-haired woman in strange power armor I didn’t recognise.

I hopped off Atlas’ back and he quickly moved between me and Flechette and the stranger, hissing at them as Flechette and Miss Militia drew their weapons on me; Miss Militia’s forming into some sort of shotgun.

“Stand down, Skitter!” Militia shouted, cocking her shotgun for effect. “Whatever you’re trying, it’s not going to work. There are a dozen capes in this building.”

Ignoring her, I turned to Calvert and Piggot. “Thomas Calvert.” My voice clicked and hissed as I spoke through all the bugs swarming the room. “Also known as Coil.” I advanced on him, my bugs swirling through the room, forming a tunnel from me to him, obscuring the view of anyone outside. I heard a gunshot as Miss Militia fired at me, but the bullets just went through my swarm and missed me. “You kidnapped my father and broke the unwritten rules. It’s not the first time you have, but it’s going to be the last time.”

I heard pounding at the door to the boardroom before I felt it’s texture become slippery somehow and the heroes pounding to get back in stopped having much effect on it.

“Assault!?” Battery’s voice, yelling. “What are you doing? Let them in!”

“You won’t get away with this Skitter.” Calvert growled out as he scrambled back against the wall, staring back at me in fear as I strode toward him. "You can't kill a PRT officer in their headquarters and expect to go without consequences!"

Another gunshot and I felt a few pellets tear through my torso, making me stumble before I recovered and kept walking toward him.

“Everyone will know what you did,” he shouted, fear filling his voice. “Everyone will know who you are! Your father is going to die and the PRT will come down on you and destroy everything you’ve built, Taylor He-”

My clawed hand grabbed him by the face and slammed him against the wall as bugs streamed down my arm to pour into his throat. As he suffocated the rest covered his body, biting and scratching him.

“You broke the rules, Coil!” My voice hissed throughout the room. “All you had to do was keep our deal, but you couldn’t let her go. Then you took my father. Tell me, how many times did you kill him in your throwaways while trying to bait me? You went too far, and now I’m going to tear down everything you’ve worked for. I’m going to destroy you thoroughly, Thomas.” It was only then that I had the Damocles Beetle I had kept on him cut into his leg, knowing the venom would act swiftly. 

“This wasn’t what I agreed to, Skitter!” Assault’s voice shouted over the buzz of the swarm. “You can’t kill him!”

I hissed and pulled my hand back, letting Coil fall to the ground. He wasn’t moving, but I knew he wasn’t dead. Thanks to Amy, I didn’t have to kill him. He wasn’t going to push me that far. As Assault had said, I had made a deal, and unlike Coil I planned to hold up my end. He was theirs to deal with for the moment.

I stepped back and let my bugs clear away a bit to see the heroes.

Immediately several gunshots and the twang of an arbalest sounded out in succession and I felt bullets blast away my mass of bugs and chunks of my torso, before a needle slammed into my shoulder and pinned me to the wall.

Green blood painted the floor and wall as I felt the life fade from my clone bug. Moments later, nano-thorns started tearing through the boardroom door, making Assault pull his hand back from it and jump back.

Elsewhere in the building Triumph blasted away the bugs covering one of my clones so Prism could merge her own clones for a strength boost to dash in and crush the exposed clone against the wall. Meanwhile, Ursa Aurora and Weld tore into my other clone.

But my mission was already accomplished. Coil was finished.

Across the city I could sense our other team finish rescuing my dad. They had some trouble with Trickster it looked like, but Imp took him down and they got my dad without much issue. I’m sure I was going to have some questions to answer there, but...he was alive. That was what truly mattered in the end. 

I don’t mean any harm to the rest of you.” My swarm-speak sounded throughout the building. “I just wanted Coil. He broke the rules and threatened my family. He needed to be stopped. Now that is done, I want to discuss my terms for peace. We can make this city better, together. Meet us out front the building. Bring Calvert.

Message delivered, my team came out of our hiding spot a couple blocks away and began making our way toward the headquarters. It was a risk, if they weren’t willing to talk after that, but I wanted to give them a chance. Coil was finally out of the way and I no longer needed to be a villain for him. I was finally free to be what I wanted without anyone to tell me otherwise. No more acting a part, no more playing a role; I could be what I wanted to be and to hell with whatever label they slapped me with afterwards. There was no reason for us to fight, but I wasn’t about to surrender to them either.

As I pulled my swarm back out of the PRT building, it’s mission done, I tagged the heroes and felt most of them streaming out to meet us, with Piggot and several troopers alongside them.

We approached, concealed in a huge cloud of Grue's darkness. To complete the impression I was going for here, we needed to do this right.

We stopped twenty meters from where the heroes were gathering. I noted that Triumph and Prism had stayed behind, with Triumph carrying Calvert to the adjoining hospital. I didn’t really expect them to follow that request anyway; not yet at least.

More surprising however, was that Clockblocker seemed to have tagged Chariot, freezing him in one of the hallways. Weld and Vista were standing guard over his frozen form while Clockblocker doused him in containment foam.

That left Assault, Battery, Miss Militia, Kid Win, Flechette, Ursa Aurora, Armsmaster and the woman in power armor arrayed across from us. I was surprised to see Armsmaster there, remembering that he had been benched during the incident with the Nine. His armor matched the woman’s dark green armor rather than his traditional blue but I still recognised his build and style. Not to mention his signature halberd.

It was an intimidating lineup, but I still felt confident in my plan. Despite that, I kept my plague of bugs flying overhead in a cloud. It paid to not underestimate your enemy and gave us an intimidation factor of our own.

Our opponents in place and the set up done, I signalled for Grue to disperse his darkness. As the cloud faded to a low, oily fog across the ground and my sight returned to me, I felt the heroes tense up and Piggot's breath quicken in fear.

Now they could see Amy's newest creation.

Tattletale, Grue, Amy, Dinah and I sat atop a massive bug the size of a city bus. It had dark, chitinous armor plating covering it's heavily segmented body and at least a dozen massive legs on either side. The legs grew in size the closer to the front they were until it's very front was almost reared back upright, resting on front legs more like huge, muscular arms covered in chitin, with strange grasping fingers at the end.

Amy named it the Gorillapede, proving both how terrifying she could be, and that she couldn't be trusted to name anything else.

We looked down on the heroes from where we stood in a groove Amy had made in it's back for us to ride in, just behind it's massive head. The Gorillapede gnashed it's mandibles as it stared down at the assembled Heroes.

"This attack was just about Coil," I shouted down to them, my voice amplified by the hissing and clicking of my bugs in the cloud above us. "I don't want to fight the rest of you."

"Do you think you can?" Ursa Aurora called back. I wasn't very familiar with her, but I recognised the glossy, black bear mask and blue, iridescent robe she wore.

I had the Gorillapede lower its head so we could all climb down as I answered. "Maybe. You're strong, and you have us beat in raw numbers, but I don't think it would be worth it for you." I slid down the side of the bug's neck, keeping my eyes on the heroes. Piggot's face had paled, her wide eyes locked on the Gorillapede. "If you attack me, I can have my bugs tear through every person in the PRT building behind you. The whole city if I wanted to. My range covers all of Brockton Bay now, and even if I get knocked out or die, they'll keep following my last order."

I reached back to give Amy a hand down, the bugs covering her arms shifting so I could grab her hand. Relay bugs and other creations occasionally winged away from her still as she was constantly making more unique bugs. Once she was on her feet I broke off a small part of my swarm to gather beside her and she wordlessly stuck a hand in it to begin making me a new clone bug to make up for our losses. I didn’t even have to say anything; she already knew what I needed.

"You wouldn't do that," the woman in the power armor spoke up. "It doesn't match your past actions and motivations. You care about this city and its people. You wouldn't attack them out of spite."

"Can you be sure of that, Dragon?" Tattletale said as she hopped down behind me. "How much are you willing to bet?"

Dragon? I'd never seen her in person. Why was someone as famous as her in Brockton Bay?

"Attention all Protectorate and PRT forces," a sudden shout rang out and everyone present turned to Director Piggot, as she glared at Amy and the growing clone bug she was making. "By my authority as Director of Brockton Bay I am invoking emergency powers to declare Amy Dallon and Skitter as a class-S threat! Shoot to kill."

Everyone froze for a moment in shock, but the troopers alongside her barely hesitated a moment before directing their rifles at Amy and me.

Everyone started moving at once.

I sensed the troopers raising their rifles and managed to jump in front of Amy just as they opened fire. Three bullets slammed into my shoulder, hip and gut, like someone fired red hot pokers at me out of a cannon, knocking me off my feet. I pulled Amy down with me, attempting to shield her from the continuous fire. 

It was nothing like when my clone bugs were hit and I could barely think through the pain. I tried to cast my mind into my swarm to distance myself from it, and I could sense everyone else in movement.

Assault stood before a pair of troopers, bullets clattering to the ground around him. I had sensed him moving at the same time I did. He must have blocked some; likely the reason I was only hit by so few.

Dragon had charged in immediately but only made it a few steps before Grue buried her in darkness. Ursa summoned her bear projections, but I directed the Gorillapede to immediately start hammering on them. Militia, Kid Win and Flechette hadn't moved yet, but Battery and Armsmaster rushed to help Assault and Dragon, respectively.

Amy slid a hand under the fringe of my mask to touch my skin as I brought down my frankly biblical swarm of bugs onto the battlefield.

As the pain eased away my first priority was to shield Amy, Dinah and I from view with the bugs. I hadn't had time to make them silk bodysuits so they only had on spare undershirts cannibalized from my test runs for the Undersiders new outfits. It wasn't secure enough for them to be out of danger.

Tattletale took Dinah to hide behind the Gorillapede as Amy got me back on my feet. Only the bullet to my hip had pierced my costume, but the force of the other two had still been enough to cause some damage, though I could tell Amy was quickly repairing it.

Just as I was about to have the swarm engulf the heroes there was a screech as an impossibly bright flare pierced into the sky over the battlefield, grabbing everyone's attention.

"Everyone stand down!" A voice I recognised as Miss Militia’s shouted over the commotion. Ursa Aurora immediately pulled back, and the troopers lowered their weapons after a nervous glance between Miss Militia and Piggot. Miss Militia seemed to be holding some sort of strange, black and green flare gun. Seeing the troopers standing down, Assault and Battery relaxed as well.

With the heroes backing down, I called off the Gorillapede and signalled Grue to stand down. Grue's darkness cleared and Miss Militia repeated the order as Dragon and Armsmaster's senses were returned to them. With the fighting stopped for the moment, everyone turned to Miss Militia.

Piggot rounded on her with a glare. "I gave you an order!"

"The PRT is under your command, Director, but the Protectorate is under mine." Miss Militia stared back unflinchingly. "And if you give another absurd order like that during what so far had been a peaceful meeting I will have to relieve you of command under suspicion of Master influence, for inciting your so-called class-S threat into violence that could have cost us a city. Now, is everyone going to behave or should we just start doming the city now?" 

Piggot glared back, seething. "You know the protocol for dealing with villains capable of exponential growth. Her range is growing and Dallon is giving her more and more new monsters to work with as we speak. It's the city now, but it could be the whole state in a week!"

Tattletale stepped back out from behind the big bug with Dinah, staring at Piggot.

"You're biased," she said, confidently. "You were part of that last operation against Nilbog. Your PTSD makes you look for monsters where they aren't."

"And you're too close to see the monster they have become," Piggot shot back.

"That's what we're here to discuss," I cut in before Tattletale could push it further out of hand. "We will agree to confine ourselves to this city and cooperate with the PRT if you agree to cooperate with us and meet our demands."

"We're not going to give you the city!" Piggot growled. "And how do we even know you were telling the truth about Calvert being Coil in the first place?"

"You served with him in Ellisburg, Lady." Tattletale said snidely. "You should know better than anyone what kind of person he is. Now that you know to look into him, Dragon can probably find some proof in his records easily enough."

I saw Dragon put her helmet back on and start tapping at some keys on the side. She would probably have our evidence within minutes.

"You promised you wouldn't kill him." Assault said warily. "You said you'd let us decide what to do with him if I helped."

"Is that what all this has been about?" Battery turned on him and smacked him in the chest. "You're working with them?"

"Just me." Amy said, stepping forward. "And Coil is still alive. The venom I made is designed to put him in a deep coma. He won't be waking up unless I wake him up. With his power it was too risky to keep him conscious."

Miss Militia joined Battery in eyeing Assault. He knew helping us risked his position with the Protectorate, as a hero, and maybe even as a husband. But he still did it. For Amy, and for Battery.

"She saved Battery just last week, and has saved all the rest of us at some point or another," Assault said, crossing his arms and holding his head high. It was clear he felt no guilt for what he did. "After all that, all she asked for was my trust, so I gave it."

"Trusting her is dangerous, Assault." Piggot spoke up again. "We have already seen with her sister that she is capable of Mastering people. You could have been too."

My bugs began buzzing loudly as my annoyance fed into them. "We are quite clear how you feel about the situation, Director Piggot, and it's become quite clear we're not going to make any progress with your continued interruptions. So stay out of it!" Part of my swarm split off to swarm around the director, cutting her off from the others and drowning her out. The troopers raised their guns again, but stopped when they saw my bugs weren't actually attacking yet.

The bugs I had on Miss Militia felt her give a small sigh of relief I don't think anyone else but Tattletale would have caught, before she turned back to us.

"That settled, Assault will have to be subject to M/S protocols alongside Director Piggot. But that will have to wait until we're finished here. To start with, who is the girl you have with you?" She nodded to Dinah.

"Thank you, Miss Militia." I said, glad to finally have the opening to discuss that. I turned my gaze to the man in power armor, who still stood to the side, watching us warily. "Armsmaster, do you remember how I wanted to be a hero, back when I originally joined the Undersiders to gather information?" He stiffened up at his name, and the others joined in at my admission. I didn't much care, since my team already knew why I joined by now. "Coil was the mysterious boss behind their team that I had been trying to learn about. But by the time I did, I also learned about her." I stepped over to put a hand on Dinah's shoulder. "This is Dinah Alcott. She triggered with a powerful Thinker ability. Coil was keeping her as a slave; drugged out of her mind as his personal 'pet'." My bugs all vibrated in revulsion at the word. "She was why I worked for him so long. The chance to save her.

"You might be thinking that we'll turn hero now," I continued, "and I have thought about it since Leviathan. The thing is, I've helped more people as a villain than any of the so-called heroes in this city." I reached out and took Amy's hand, shifting her bug sleeves onto her back instead, and she gave it a hesitant squeeze. 

"I'm not leaving the Undersiders, and we aren't surrendering. Nor are we giving up our territory. Brockton Bay is ours, and we intend to hold it; to protect it as you never could. You can help us, and treat us as you would an "independent hero team', but you would look to us as the keepers of this city. Alternatively you can keep calling us villains and attempt to put us down, doing nothing but provoke us as you have with every other villain in this city. The same threat holds for any villains that come knocking; either they turn away or they get the same fate we just handed down to Coil.

"Hero or villain, this city is ours. Call us whatever you want, as long as you accept it." I slowly swept my gaze across the assembled heroes as I finished giving my ultimatum. There was a few seconds of silence as they all considered my words, before Miss Militia gave her answer.

"And what exactly are you proposing then, specifically?" I could feel her hand tensing on the handle of the large rifle her power had turned into, but she kept her finger off the trigger. "You mentioned...demands?"

Finally, I sensed the last party for the meeting approaching, and just in time. They hesitated as they saw us, but I signalled them with my swarm and herded them toward us.

In the front came Mayor Roy Christener, looking a little more confident than the last time I saw him, though he wasn’t doing a good job at hiding the worried glances at the cloud of bugs looming overhead. Behind him was a nervous looking man and woman; the woman having a similar portly build to the mayor.

Flanking them were several police officers on either side. They likely wouldn't make a difference, but if they made the civilians feel safer coming here I would allow it. Worst came to worst my bugs would easily take them down.

"Mayor," I said, trying to sound confident, even as I still felt the shame for what I had done to his family. "Good to see you again."

"I wish I could say the same Skitter." He looked over to the heroes. "What is this about? I was just about to leave for Washington when your officer called saying you found my niece?" The heroes looked at each other in confusion for a moment before Tattletale stepped forward with her fox grin.

"That was me actually." She raised her hand playfully.

Dinah shuffled behind me, seemingly trying to hide, but the Mayor saw her, his eyes narrowing.

"First extortion and now ransom, is it?" He stared us down, tense. I almost felt like he was about to charge us to take her back.

"No, this is us returning her," I replied, trying to gently shift her in front of me. "Coil was the one who took her. We took her back." I didn't mention I played some part in her kidnapping and part of why I did this was out of my own guilt for my small part in that.

"They won't take me back…" I heard Dinah mumble. "They were scared of my power, and now I look weird. Skinny and dirty…"

I kneeled down next to her and rubbed her back lightly, whispering, "They will. I don't have your power, but I guarantee they will."

Amy crouched down with me, looking her in the eye. "And if they won't, we will."

"Dinah…?" The woman with the mayor stepped out in front of him, easing toward us.

"Anna, be careful!" The other man hurried after, grabbing her arm and eyeing us warily.

"I've made sure she is healthy now," Amy said, standing up again and turning to the couple who could only be Dinah's parents. "But Coil had her heavily drugged. She is malnourished and will still need time to recover, physically and mentally. I reduced the withdrawal symptoms, but she may still experience some signs of addiction. No narcotics, painkillers or tranquilizers even near her unless it is an emergency. Take care of her."

"Panacea…?" The man asked, confused. Meanwhile his wife just pushed him off, sobbing and hurrying toward us. People on all sides tensed up as she ran at us, but I just stepped back and gave Dinah a light push toward her.

Shaking, Dinah barely made it a step before her mother fell to her knees and through her arms around her daughter. Her father was only a few steps behind, embracing them both as he reached us.

Seeing them, I was relieved I had been correct that they wanted her back. I knew the way some families were. It made me miss my own parents. My mom...But I still had dad. I needed to talk to him after all of this; there was a lot that needed to be said between us.

"Thank you," Dinah's father looked up at me with damp eyes and a grateful smile.

I felt a lump in my throat. Before I could find my words, Amy did it for me.

"I'll want to see her again in a week for a checkup." She told him, simply.

"Yes, of course. Thank you!" He gave her a grateful nod and led his family away, back near the mayor. I could hear Dinah crying quietly as they left.

"What was the point of this whole display, hm?" Armsmaster's voice pulled my attention back to the heroes. "Win sympathy? Show you're heroes now?"

Now that Dinah was back with her family, I tried to put that out of my mind now to harden my heart and focus on the other point of this meeting.

"No, I told you we aren't trying to be heroes. Think of it as a show of good faith, like the fact I'm here in person at all. With my new bugs, I could take out any of you from across the city. You would have no way to stop me. I am only here to show you how serious I am, and how confident I am in what we're doing."

"By the way, Dragon?" Tattletale cut in. "I know about the reinforcements you're bringing in. All those suits, right? I'm sure that'd cause us some trouble, but that would force our hand and Skitter would use those new bugs she just mentioned. You don't want that, now do you?"

"I...guess not." I couldn't see Dragon's expression behind her helmet, but by her tone I could tell she was annoyed. I hoped that was good for us, since I didn't know about those reinforcements until just now. Tattletale was telling the truth about how much trouble that would cause us. Though, given the Gorillapede, Amy could probably make counters to whatever Dragon brought to bear, though it would take time. It still wasn’t a fight I wanted, even if I thought we could win it.

"I also thought it would be good for the mayor to be here for this discussion." I continued, trying not to think about the looming threat of Dragon suits. "You asked what we had in mind, Miss Militia? Our demands?" She turned back to me with a careful nod to continue. "First, we want you to bring Calvert out here. I want Tattletale to make sure he isn't a body double. Coil has been a slippery bastard and we don't want to take any chances."

"I have been finding inconsistencies in his records, Miss Militia…" Dragon reported. "Times he was declared present but there was no sign of him in the cameras; some of which matched up with reports of Coil's activity. Files he accessed that went missing. Files or troops he requisitioned for unclear or suspicious purposes. There is every possibility he was Coil...They may be telling the truth."

"Fine, we can do that then." Miss Militia nodded reluctantly, then activated her communicator. “Triumph, bring Calvert to our position.” Then she turned back to me sternly. “What else?”

“It’s pretty simple,” I said, crossing my arms and trying to keep my confidence up. “You stay out of our way. Don’t attack or interfere with us or our people and we’ll do the same for you. We can work together to stop any villains who try to cause any problems, but we’re in charge of the cape scene in Brockton Bay now. If you go after some new cape and we tell you to back off, you do. Dinah, for example; I don’t want anyone bothering her for her power. She has had enough. And if we both show up to deal with a situation, you follow our lead. We’re not asking you to ignore crimes, but if any of my people cause any problems, you bring it up with me. You don’t touch them.”

“Why would we agree to that?” Armsmaster growled out. “Why shouldn’t we just take you down now while we can? Like you said, we might not be able to find you again. This could be our only chance.”

“You’ll agree to it because you don’t have a choice,” Tattletale shot back.

“We told you what will happen if you push us or if you attack us now,” I added. “A deadman switch on all the bugs of this city.”

“You wouldn’t,” Armsmaster said carefully, taking a step toward us. “You said yourself, you wanted to be a hero. You wouldn’t attack civilians..”

“A few months ago, no. I wouldn’t have. But I have had to do a lot of things I didn’t want to. Knowing you, you might still take that risk, but I don’t think anyone else here would. Except Piggot of course.”

“Speaking of!” Tattletale smirked and raised a finger in the air, before pointing at the bug cylinder containing Piggot. “She’s going to have to go.”

“What?” Battery exclaimed in surprise. “You can’t dictate PRT staffing!”

“No, but we all know she won’t agree to any of this.” Tattletale pointed out. “If you want any chance of peace, she can’t stay in charge. And be careful who you pick to replace her; we wouldn’t want the wrong person to come in here and force our hand.”

Battery opened her mouth to reply but Miss Militia waved her into silence before speaking.

“We can’t make any promises, but we will bring it up with our superiors.” My bugs heard Miss Militia gritting her teeth as she asked again, “Anything else?”

“That’s it,” I told her. “And to sweeten the deal, I’m promising to keep our activity restricted to Brockton bay outside class-S emergencies as well as offering my services to help track down Jack and the rest of the Nine. End of the world scenarios concern all of us.”

Miss Militia nodded in consideration. Before she could reply, Dragon stepped forward.

“The Guild would gladly accept your aid in capturing Jack Slash. Defiant and myself are about to begin hunting them personally.”

She gestured to Armsmaster as she said ‘Defiant’ and I looked at him questioningly. He just stared back...defiantly. Were they seriously rebranding him and thinking no one would notice? I shot him a glare that would go unnoticed behind my mask and set that issue aside for later.

“Agreed,” I gritted out myself this time. I could tolerate working with Amrsmaster for this. “We can arrange that later.”

“And what about me?” The mayor spoke up, bringing our attention back to him. “Do you have any demands for me as well?” Their group had since shifted to stand closer by the heroes, but still facing us.

“Just the same as we asked of them,” I told him, simply. “Work with us. We are the protectors of the city and I hope you’ll treat us like it.”

“And if I don’t?” He glared at us. “Will you hold my family hostage again?”

“No.” I said firmly, then ducked my head. Amy put a hand on my arm, encouraging me to continue. “I did that on Coil’s orders while trying to save Dinah. I’m not using that as an excuse or saying you should forgive me. You shouldn’t, and I’m not going to hold you to what we agreed then, but we won’t do something like that ever again. I do still hope you’ll argue for the city to be restored in the meeting you’ll be attending. We’ll still be here trying to fix it either way. And...honestly, I’d rather you win this election than any of the other candidates. At least one of them was in Coil’s pocket. But you...let's just say I like your stubbornness.”

His glare fell away in surprise, and he didn’t seem to know what to say. Before he could think of a reply, the doors to the headquarters behind them opened. Prism emerged, with Triumph carrying a dark skinned PRT officer over his shoulder.

“Tattletale?” I looked to her and she skipped forward to examine him.

“On it~.” She stopped halfway between our groups as Triumph laid the man down. From what I could see of him, he did match the picture I saw of Calvert. “Yes. That’s him,” Tattletale confirmed my thoughts, her voice turning grim. This was the man that tormented her for so long, finally laid low.

“Good,” Miss Militia said, turning to the comatose man. “If Panacea could wake him again so that we could-”

“Di-!” Tattletale began crying out, and I sensed the movement but neither of us could react in time.

A loud crack echoed through the air and everyone froze, the heroes looking about for the source. The loud retort of the gunshot made it hard to pinpoint the source at this range, but when the quiet sobbing started everyone finally noticed what Tattletale and I had, too late.

Dinah stood, still clutching her mother’s leg, but her other hand held a pistol she had taken from the belt of one of the police officers that came with the mayor. It’s barrel was pointed right at Coil’s body, where a small puddle of blood was beginning to pool from the hole in his chest.

“Thirty-eight point five nine four percent chance he would have hurt someone again…” she choked out quietly. “I...I couldn’t…”

“What is it now?” Tattletale asked softly. I quickly walked over to her side and saw an unreadable expression on her face.

“Eight point one four two eight…” The gun fell from her shaking hand and she clutched her mother tighter.

I saw Tattletale’s expression harden and her mouth pull in a tight line. She wasn’t smiling. I almost didn’t recognise her for a second.

I felt her hand move, and I could tell what she was going to do. I might have even been able to stop her but...I didn’t.

Another gunshot rang out.

Tattletale turned back to Dinah, lowering the pistol she had pulled from her holster and ignoring all the guns that were now pointed her way. More blood pooled from the new hole in Calvert’s chest, just over his heart.

“How about now?”